Tag Archives: reign of God

The Things of God

Biblical Text: Matthew 22:15-22
Full Sermon Draft

The text contains Jesus saying, “give to Caesar the things of Caesar, and to God the things of God”. It is possible simply take that answer as a simple dodge, but that is not what this sermon does. This sermon looks at Jesus’ saying in four ways. In the literal time frame it was a way to confront and avoid the politics of division. It encouraged the hearers to ponder both what was the state’s and what was God’s, and how they might or might not over lap. If we look through a lens of Christology one of the creedal confessions is that Christ sits as the right hand of God. He has defeated the powers and principalities and now does reign. What that rules out are the simple poles that the state’s things are always God’s things or that the state’s things are never God’s things. Caesar, like Cyrus and Pharaoh, is accountable to the God of Israel, the only God. In sorting out the things of Caesar, we can’t find ourselves at the extremes. If we look through a moral lens, Jesus encourages us to look at whose image or whose icon is on things. The coin bore the image of Caesar, but humans bear the image of God. Morally, when we see the least among us, we are to see the image of Christ, and act accordingly. Yes, that image is cracked due to sin, but it is that image that Christ repaired. It is that image that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is renewing in us. Finally, we are encouraged to take an eschatological view (a completion or end view). In how we dispose of the things entrusted to us, do we use them for temporal ends, or do we use them for eternal ends? Jesus invites us to put God in our debt. He’s good for it. If we give the things of God to him we will not lose our reward.

Worship Note: I moved our Hymn of the Day after the Sermon in the recording. LSB 851, Lord of Glory You Have Bought Us. I did this because the sermon was a little longer today. So if you just listen to that you can get to it quicker. I also moved it after because the words of that hymn I believe capture the Christological and Moral force of the message exactly. The eschatological is there as well, but not quite as direct, or not put in the same vocabulary. I use treasure in heaven as the vocab sticking with the monetary theme of the text. The hymn switches to theological virtue language: faith, hope and love.

Peace, Healing & The Reign

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Biblical Text: Luke 10:1-20
Full Sermon Draft

Program Note: I’m sorry about possible recording quality. I’ve been having a little trouble with the line volume. I think the pulpit mic might be going out, so the altar mic is doing all the recording except for occasional pops. I’ve amplified and leveled the signal such that I think its okay. The altar mic is a real good one and the system isn’t bad, but I’ve got some wire work to do.

The text for the day is often appropriated for mission Sundays, and it can work that way. Biblical texts are multivalent in that there are often multiple appropriate understandings of them. But I don’t think that the sending of the seventy-two is primarily about lay evangelism. Using it to preach that people in the pews should be ready and able to share their faith misses a distinction. That is better preached from something like 1 Peter 3:15. The distinction which is missed using it for that is that the 72 are the new elders of Israel. There are traditions that don’t have an ordained ministry, but the apostolic church, following Jesus here, did set aside those called – think Stephen and the Seven deacons and Timothy and Titus and those Paul sent Titus to appoint and lay on hands. When the apostles did that they were following Jesus here.

What Jesus does here is give the charter for that office. When that office is functioning within bounds as intended what does it do? It preaches peace. It seeks to heal those of the house. It proclaims the reign of God. What this sermon does is attempt to do that while providing examples.

Music Note: I have left in two of the hymns. Our opening hymn Faith and Truth and Life Bestowing (LSB 584) is a wonderful prayer for the opening of service that mirrors Jesus’ words to pray to the Lord of the Harvest. The hymn of the day has a wonderful message, but I left it in primarily because of the tune – We Are Called to Stand Together (LSB 828). Both of them are newer hymns the texts written by people living at the time of hymnal publication (2006) and the tunes as well, although Holy Manna is a new setting of an older hymn tune. The text of We are called mirrors the progression of the sermon moving from Patriarch, Prophets and Apostles through ages to us. The urge is to continue in each generation to proclaim the truth, that the reign of God has come near to you with His peace. That time will end, when we will all be united, but till then we tell the story.

Knights Errant

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Biblical Text: Acts 1:1-11, Luke 24:44-53
Full Sermon Text

We observed Ascension Day yesterday. The core teaching of Ascension day is right in the creed. He sits at the right hand of god. Christ reigns. Simple teaching, plenty of proofs throughout history. But there are two standing complaints, both express right away by the disciples. THis sermon looks at both of those complaints. It suggest a reasoning, part of it is where the title comes from. God does not desire courtiers, but Knights of Faith. It ends with a comparison of everything that we might find “more real” than an ascended king with a challenge to compare their realities. When you do that, you’ve answered the second complaint.

The final hymn in our worship I think captures the message of Ascension Day perfectly. LSB 830 Spread the Reign of GOd the Lord. It is also paired with a pretty tuned that I’ve been humming for the last day.

Silent Seed Growing

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Biblical Text: Mark 4:26-34
Full Sermon Draft

Mark chapter 4 is a chapter of parables. In the midst of many familiar ones from other gospels is one that is unique to Mark – the seed growing silently. Not that any of the parables are easy, but some, like the parable of the sower and the soils, come with an explanation. Other, like the parable of the mustard seed which is pared with the silent seed in Mark, are more obvious in their intent. And the more obvious, the more likely we’ve heard sermons on them or grasped them ourselves. This sermon focuses on that unique one.

In many ways the parables of seeds are all attempts to describe what the seeds planted on good soil experience. Wheat and weeds together sown (Matthew 13:25ff) describes our experience of living in a fallen world. The mustard seed describes the way churches always surprise. They are not what you’d expect when you look at what is planted. But the seed silently growing talks about the experience of being a seed planted I think.

1) The seed is helpless in its growth. We individuals or the church depend completely upon God for growth. We can’t force it. We might hinder, but have not power to make grow.
2) Never-the-less the kingdom of God grows: often imperceptibly, constantly at the will of God, and inevitably. It takes constant effort to kill organic growth.
3) The reign of God includes a harvest.

This sermon ponders those three elements of the parable.

I included on the record two interesting hymns with organic growth metaphors. The first is a modern hymn, LSB 654, Your Kingdom O God is My Glorious Treasure. The hymn is a compilation of many of the Reign of God parables: treasure, pearl, yeast, mustard plant, field, seeds, weeds and wheat. The last hymn I included is one of the oldest the words taken from the 2nd century Didache, probably the earliest catechism. LSB 652, Father We Thank Thee. Both I thought were worthy examples of response to the Word of the parable.

The Reign of God has Drawn Near to You

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Biblical Text: Matthew 3:1-12
Full Sermon Draft

I attempted something in this sermon through a couple of methods that I think most people would say don’t. John the Baptist is an enigmatic figure. He was a huge deal to those in Jesus’ time. The whole “there is not one greater born of woman” phrase that Jesus employs. John had disciples that lasted long in to the first century. The apostles in Acts run into them as “ones who’ve had the baptism of John” but didn’t know about Jesus. Even in secular literature John gets more time. Josephus records the extent of the Baptist’s following which was enough to cause Herod to come after him. But in our day and for most of Christian history John is just an almost forgotten per-cursor. He would have liked that. “He must become greater, I must become less.” But preaching from John to me has renewed vitality. My intention was to create the picture of how we and those people streaming out to John are very close, probably closer than we have been for at least 500 years if not 2000. Want to hear more of that take a listen.

The pay-off is that the proclamation of John can be the direct proclamation to the people of God today. Not that it couldn’t have been 50 or 100 years ago, but I think, if I was successful with the first part, then the second part becomes one of those “ah-ha” type experiences. That is what was so powerful, combined with oh, and it applies to me in some very specific way.

So, my guess is this either “works” or you wonder what the heck I’m talking about. Either I was successful in casting “in those days” over today, or the proclamation falls on deaf ears.

Inequality & Spirituality

Here is NPR with economist Tyler Cowen on his new book, Average is Over. The core of Cowen’s thesis is that we have become used to looking at things like the average or median wage to gauge the economy. In post-WW2 USA, and really in the US for most of its experience, the economy (GDP) grew and everyone got richer. Labor was always scarce, there was always the frontier, the competition was lying in smoking ruins allowing monopoly-like cartels that could share the wealth. All that is over. Outsized returns are now accruing to the 1% alone. Because of data tracking, which is really just getting started, we will identify the contributors easier. If you are talented it will become easier to get real rich. If you are not, well, robots and computers are going to replace you. The end result is increasing financial inequality. Not the 1% and the 99%, but to Cowan the 15% and the 85%.

There are two things that Cowen completely misses. Actually I don’t think he misses them so much as dismisses them as not credible. First, his explanation of happiness for a large group not in the 15%:

“Imagine a very large bohemian class of the sort that say, lives in parts of Brooklyn,” Cowen explains. “… It will be culturally upper or upper-middle class, but there will be the income of lower-middle class. They may have lives that are quite happy and rewarding, but they may not have a lot of savings. There will be a certain fragility to this existence.”

What does he mean by this? Well, I’ll take a stab. What he means is a class of poor enlightenment liberals. Let’s get even more explicit. A group that will largely practice self-restraint and late couple-pairing to raise their one child, but has no problem with: no-attachment sex, unlimited abortion, no-fault divorce and recreational drugs. Because they will have pseudo-prestigious (not real prestigious or they would be in the 15%) credentials they will be able to separate themselves from the riff-raff. They will socially amplify the difference by culturally associating with things the opposite of Monster Truck Rallies, say Shakespeare in the Park, which will be funded by a grant from the NEA in conjunction with the ABC foundation.

The first thing that Cowen misses is that we’ve seen that world before many times. A real power upper-crust, a cultural power broader based club like group with exclusionary behaviors and markers, and the people of the land. In the New Testament that equates to the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and the crowds. What was the big problem with Jesus? He challenged and made fun of the Pharisees pseudo-prestigious markers. He ate with tax collectors and sinners – the equivalent of going to a monster truck rally. What eventually breaks out in such a world is Mary’s Magnificat – “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy (Luke 1:51-54).” That has happened many times.

The second thing that Cowen misses or discounts to nothing is the Spiritual understanding of prior American generations. Is it a co-incidence that great inequality is emerging at the same general time of a great falling away from Christian teaching among the real ruling class? Cowen is an economist and it makes sense to explain to concentration as economic rationality. Talented people are more in demand, so their pay has become outsized. That is part of the happy justification for actually using position to extract the rents – I deserve it, I’m a meritocrat. Did not previous generations have such justifications? (The answer is yes). Sometimes they acted on them, but in the west they were typically bounded by Christian teaching if just the parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) or the Rich Man and his barns (Luke 12:13-21).

In a world oppressed by the rich and the oral law (your credit score record combined with all that big data), where the bread and circuses have lost their enchantment but we continue to rut around anyway because that is all there it, where society has become highly segmented class wise – hear this proclamation: Christ has come to set you free. There is neither Harvard nor University of Michigan, Temp employee nor Junior exec, beta-bohemian or alpha-elite. For you are all one in Jesus Christ. In Christ you are heirs. Through the Spirit you can live a life not of passing moments like envy and drunkeness and orgies and the like, but of of love, joy, peace, self-control. Because Christ has set you free.

Think that might preach?

Adventures with the Ark

Texts: 1Samuel 4:1-11, 1Samuel 5:1-12, 1Samuel 6:1-16

The three text sections above carry the full tale of the Ark. The Israelites under old Eli have gone to war with the Philisitnes and were being slaughtered, so they think “let’s bring the Ark out with us!” This of course is the Indiana Jones Ark, along with the spear of destiny and any other “holy” artifact that would give anyone – even Hitler – the victory. Sorry for the sarcasm. Indy is a great movie, but the theology is horrendous. A bad theology shared by the Israelites of the time. “We’ve got God in a box. Let’s take him out to fight for us.” That ends badly as the Philistines capture the ark.

The Philistines have their own bad theology. “Since we defeated the Israelites, our God must be stronger. Let’s put the Ark of their God in our temple as a lasting tribute.” The theology is suffering equals punishment from God or in a multi-god worldview -“Nah, Nah, your god is a 98lb weakling.” But the “winning idol” falls over twice and plagues start appearing in the land. The Ark becomes a hot potato being passed around among the cities of the Philistines, and plague travels with it.

Eventually the Philistines just want the Ark gone. What is interesting is that the Philistine priests acknowledge the Exodus. The warning is don’t be like Pharoah – let the thing go now! The hook it up to two cows, put images of the plagues inflicted on them next to it and send it on its way driverless. Never-the-less the cows go the right way and the Ark is returned.

It is probably a moral failure in me, but I find stories like this one amusing. We moderns think we are so advanced, but the two theological errors of the Israelites and the Philistines are still with us. When things are going bad, the first response for the christian is often to play the religion card – “God, get me out of this.” Or should we call it is the Jesus Take the Wheel theology. Not that God is not there, it is the easy and thoughtless manner of the call for divine intervention. When we think we are on top an easy triumphalism enters or maybe “Our God is an Awesome God” theology. Again, not that he is not awesome, but He claims everything is his and not just one side in a petty dispute.

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob whose Ark this was has his own ideas. Ideas as crazy as “I am God – there is no other. (Isa 45:5)” Ideas as crazy as dying on a cross actually being victory. Whose ideas have ultimate reality? God has a way of poking fun at our bad ideas about Him – like a driverless cow cart bringing back the Ark with gold tumors next to it.

The Reign of God comes… – Mark 4:26-34

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Full Text

Test for this sermon was Mark 4:26-34, a pair of parables about seeds.

This is an exerpt…
The Reign of God comes as an offense to the ways of the world. It comes small, when the world likes its rulers to come in pomp and circumstance. The reign of God grows silently and where God wants it, when the world likes things known and planned and controlled. The reign of God grows like a shrub, the mustard, something organic, where the world prefers things mechanical and controlled. That plant grows untended, where the world wants its order. And most offensively, the reign of God invites all the birds into the garden, where the world wants to keep the garden for a special and chosen few. The world cannot stop the reign of God. It has and will continue to grow large. The reign of God will mature and reach a harvest, a judgement. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come. But in that harvest, some will have chosen to weed their garden. The offense of how the reign of God presents itself – in a crucified savior, in a factious and often hypocritical church, in the foolishness of preaching and the mysticism of sacraments – those offenses to the world will cause some to dig out that mustard seed. They will reject the reign of God for that of the world – a world that is even now passing away.