Tag Archives: sacraments

Great Prophet or LORD

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Text: Luke 7:11-17
Full Sermon Draft

It was an full day at St. Mark yesterday – a baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and a resurrection text. You don’t get a better set up as a preacher than than. And it is one of those rare days that I was content. Oh, I could deliver it better. I’m sure there would have been words here and there I might change. But compared to most Sundays, I felt like this discharged the call of the office.

The hymns also supported the theme beautifully. The baptismal hymn was Gerhart’s great catechism hymn All Christians Who Have Been Baptized (LSB 596). The hymn of the day was the newer (i.e. since 2000) Water, Blood and Spirit Crying (LSB 597). Unfortunately neither of them have the texts in the public domain to link to. I have included in the recording our closing hymn Thanks to Thee, O Christ, Victorious (LSB 548). It is a hymn that ponders what had happened, and forms a very nice closing prayer for that service.

They Have Taken My Lord Away

From John Donne

“…To lose Christ may befall the most righteous person that is; but then he knows where he left him; he knows at what time he lost his way, and where to seek it again. Even Christ’s imagined father and his true mother, Joseph and Mary, lost him, and lost him in the holy city at Jerusalem. They lost him and knew it not. The lost him and went a day’s journey without him and thought him to be in the company. But as soon as they comprehended their error, they sought and they found him, when as his mother told him, his father and she had sought with heavy heart.

Alas we may lose him at Jerusalem, even in his own house, even at this moment while we pretend to do him service. We may lose him by suffering our thoughts to look back with pleasure upon the sins which we have committed, or to look forward with greediness upon some sin that is now in our purpose and prosecution. We may lose him at Jerusalem, how much more, if our dwelling be a Babylon in confusion and mingling God and the world together, or if it be a Sodom, a wanton and intemperate misuse of God’s benefits to us. We may think him in the company when he is not; we may mistake his house; we may take a conventicle for a Church; we may mistake his apparel, that is, the outward form of his worship; we may mistake the person, that is, associate ourselves to such as are no members of his body.

But if we do not return to our diligence to seek him, and seek him, and seek him with a heavy heart…we ourselves cast him away since we have been told where to find him and have not sought him.”

John Donne highlights a big difference between the pagan who knows not Christ and Mary Magdalene for whom Christ was taken away and most of what we might call the post-Christian world. It is not post-Christian in that it does not need Christ, or even that it can’t understand him, but that it finds other roads more amenable. Christ has chosen to be found in bread and wine, in water, in words of absolution. He chooses no other bride than the church. If you do not seek him them, you will not find him. Other roads might appear more amenable, but only one is The Way. Only one continues past the horizon.

Brotherhood of Man?

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Biblical Text: Mark 3:20-35
Full Sermon Draft

The biblical text has two stories turned in to one of Mark’s famous sandwiches. Jesus’ natural family are the outside and the Scribes from Jerusalem are the inside. What this structure invites us to do is compare and contrast. It invites us to learn the lesson at the core or in the meat of the sandwich and apply it to the outside. Part of that core is a three step argument with the somewhat shocking image of Jesus as a thief. The work and words of Jesus are Binding the Strong Man, Satan. His family may think he’s crazy putting them on the outside right now, but the Scribes are saying that Jesus’ work and words are the work and words of Satan. Jesus’ words to them are a judgment. The only unforgivable sin is calling the Spirit a liar. The deliberate rejection of the word of God and antagonism toward those who hold to it, is a dire place to be. All sins and blasphemies can be forgiven, except calling the Spirit a liar. Even thinking Jesus is nuts. The difference is the one who is far off or outside can still be called near and take their appointed place as brother or sister or mother, while the one who says God’s work is Satan’s has chosen the side which is being bound. And what is bound is thrown into the fire.

The sermon looks at these themes in the text and pulls out three applications to our lives. The hymn of the day included in the recording and reflected at places in the sermon is Luther’s A Mighty Fortress with its themes of spiritual warfare against the strong man and what Christ has already done to bring us near. The title here is the biggest challenge application and the one I leave to conscience. The world teaches the brotherhood of man, or attempts to, and it can be a tempting vision. But that is not what Christ teaches. The brotherhood of man would be under the bondage of Satan. The true brotherhood is in Christ alone.

No Kentucky in This Bracket

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Biblical Text: Mark 10:32-45
Full Sermon Draft

It is March Madness. It is also deep lent. The text is from right before Holy Week on the march to Jerusalem. This sermon connects all those 10 seeds or less, all those good teams that draw Duke, to our Spiritual reality. Yeah, we are going to lose. That dance is going to end. We will drink the cup Jesus drinks in the fact that we die, but that cup now contains our salvation. His baptism now saves us. Do we play these minutes with The Spirit, or do we stumble through them like the walking dead?

Two recording notes: 1) I think I’ve solved some of the quality problems by knocking down the line level before the recording and 2) I included our opening hymn – Come to Calvary’s Holy Mountain (LSB 435) – which contains many of the themes in the sermon and service. I wish I could have included our choir piece, but not being directly mic’ed, knocking down the line live made the start just a little too quiet.

A Hard Man or the Icon of Love?

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Biblical Text: Matthew 25:14-30
Full Draft of Sermon

The response of the slave who was given 1 talent is remarkably relevant. He ends up saying three things.
1) He knows his master to be a hard man
2) The master will reap where he doesn’t sow
3) The master will gather where he doesn’t scatter

This sermon hazards an interpretation of those three things for our day. The first is a claim to know God. The second and third involve the claims of universalism, not my job and not enough given to accomplish.

The gospel response to all of these is “You know this, do you?” Jesus is the revealed God that we do know and instead of being a hard man he is the icon of love. He does sow abundantly through Word and Sacrament. And part of how He does that is scattering his people in the midst of the world.

Instead of the false beliefs that so much of today’s church is involved in, we would be better to recognize the gifts that have been given to us and get about the job we have been invited to join. That job isn’t always easy. It is a call to the cross. But Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him. Likewise we have the joy set before us.

You say po-tay-toe, I say po-ta-toe

For a long time the various church bodies shared more than they disagreed. The core of this really is the Nicene Creed. The various churches have different sacramental practices and ecclesial structures, but in beliefs, even the non-creedal churches, they believed the ancient creeds. The spillover effect of this in the West was that even if splintered the idea of Christendom was just observable enough to continue granting mutual recognition to each other’s ceremonies and rites. What this meant at a practical level was that one church never questioned the baptism of another church unless that baptism was by a clear cult like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Marriages were universally assumed to be valid. Yes, the argument could be heated and real, but they might have been so because the differences were so small.

Looking at the world today things are not as clear. What the state means by marriage is no longer what the church means by marriage. The church will have to deal with that in some manner. The first step in dealing with it is simply admitting it. Likewise within the church recognizing a baptism is tougher. It is not uncommon to find churches baptizing in the name of the creator, redeemer and sanctifier. Is that the same God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit that Christ told his disciples to baptize into? Of course there are the fringe churches within mainline denominations that substitute mother, friend and comforter. In each case the form of the triune God is hinted at, but is that the substance or is a different god and a different gospel at work in those waters?

Two generations ago if a church body expressed something it stood for the body. Today, that might not be the case. We have pretended it still held for a generation, early on it was a “no, they can’t really be doing that” while later it was more a conscious looking away like Sgt. Schulz (“I see nothing”). And that is simply within church bodies. What about the thousands of free standing “non-denoms”? You used to be able to assume they were Baptists, but today many of them are prosperity gospel-ers of various stripes. When the Nicene Creed which testifies to Christ “who was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried” is replaced with health and wealth, are sacraments valid? Can they be?

These questions go beyond the ancient questions about sacraments performed by a priest who later caved to Roman persecution. The ancient church held those sacraments valid because their source was clear. The status of the preacher’s faith does not impact them. But what about when the God invoked is Christ, but not any Christ that the church has known for 2000 years?

Again, I think we are just waking up to a world where things that have been assumed can no longer be taken for granted. The first step is admitting the changes that have happened. I wanted to share some of the articles that spur these thoughts.

This is Ross Douthat bringing up the idea that the church could decide that marriage laws in many countries no longer fit the pattern for valid natural marriage.

This isn’t the church, but “What Happens when your Rabbi decides He’s Gay”? The work is a piece of assertion and propaganda attempting to state “this is what all good people will think”, but it places the fundamental question of identity. Do I find my identity in God (Christ), or are there other things that are allowed to take precedent, like my view of my sexuality? What is the place of the law in the life of the believer?

This is the inverse of that situation, a woman who believes in the Catholic teaching of marriage but finds herself outside. Here plea is don’t accept what I am, but continue proclaiming the truth.

The last two are political and religious poles that I think help point the way forward. Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post calling marriage amendment backers “snake oil salesmen”. I think she is right. But accepting that means accepting that we the church must change how we act. And this is a call about one of the ways that parishes could be re-organized to address the problem.

The apostle Paul would write that we have no business judging those outside the church, but those inside are our responsibility (1 Cor 5:12-13). I guess I see the current moment as a Joshua moment. You do what you want, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. That starts with subtly and civilly declining to accept and use bad definitions of sacraments. The benefit of the doubt is no longer granted.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Leviticus 17:1-16 and Luke 10:23-42

Leviticus 17:1-16
Luke 10:23-42
The place of sacrifice, How do you know what “god” you have met?, Revelation, Covenant or binding to a place, The strangeness that we have life at all

Sacramental Life – A Maundy Thursday Meditation

ChristWashingFeetIcon John’s gospel is what is sometimes called thick. This is my attempt to ponder John’s Last Supper, which is a Last Supper and not one at the same time. The icon at the left is the footwashing. That is what John talks about when the synoptics relate the institution of the Lord’s Supper. This sermon meditates on how John captures the sacramental life: Baptism, Lord’s Supper and Confession in one scene. And then relates how we live that sacramental life.

Full Sermon Draft

Why Calvin and not Luther?

This is required reading. The first paragraph…

Why is Calvinism so influential among American Evangelicals while Lutheranism is not? We might describe the statistically modal convert to Calvinism—that is, the most frequently observed kind of convert—as a person like this: A young adult, usually male. Raised in a broad though indistinct Evangelical (and sometimes nominally Catholic) home. Bright. A reader. Searching for better intellectual answers to questions about God, Jesus and the Bible. Is open to becoming a pastor. Why does this young man so much more often become a Calvinist instead a Lutheran?

This first paragraph is something I bang my head on a daily when I interact with American Evangelicals or read descriptions of American Christianity. It is like Lutherans and Lutheranism is the invisible man. Evangelicals who know “something is missing” will experiment with Episcopal (even though they think they are heretics) or Rome (even though they don’t get the whole Mary thing) but Luther isn’t even on the radar. And even when they do come in the door the place “feels different”. This article gets it exactly right.

I’d emphasize one thing that came up in Bible Class Sunday. In 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 Paul talks about the various factions of the church at Corinth. I think these factions are highly identifiable to anyone who has spent time in the church. Paul = those who knew the founder, Apollos = those who are more intelligent and learned, Peter = those who are the simple members and wish Paul and Apollos would get off their high horses and “I follow Christ” = those who just want everyone to get along (while recognizing us as being more spiritual for saying so). If you are having fights in a church, those are the camps to this day. The advanced cases of church fights are when those camps have become identities such that you can’t imagine sharing fellowship with a Paulite or a Peterine.

So what does that have to do with Calvin and Luther? Well…Peter = Rome (here comes everybody), “I follow Christ” = Pentecostals, Paul = Luther and Apollos = Calvin. Paul/Apollos, Luther/Calvin, have a natural antipathy. And that antipathy is grounded in the fact the while Luther was first he didn’t change enough and really reform the church. Luther kept the sacraments in what any “learned modern Apollos” would see as medieval superstition.

So, that is my ecumenism is short. I think our “denominations” might be fine if they were like Augustinians and Franciscans and Dominican and Jesuits and so forth. One of the great tests is Gamaliel’s: leave them alone and if it is not from God it will go away (Acts 5:34ff). By this time 500 years later not even Zwingli has gone away, so in some way God is present in all of these. We would be much better off focusing on what unites and get over claiming an identity. And as much as I think Luther gets it right, and wish that American Evangelicals would give him a listen, our baptisms unite us and we are fellow pilgrims under the power of the cross (1 Cor 1:17).

Vision and Endurance – An All Saints Meditation

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Biblical Text: 1 John 3:1-10
Full Sermon Draft

All Saints on the Christian calendar is a “High Holy Day”. In Roman Catholicism it has a very clear purpose – the remembering of All Saints which are those who have official church recognition. In Lutheranism, or Protestantism in general, it sometimes seems to be a day looking for a firm meaning. Some Lutherans just bring over the Roman Catholic idea which they are free to do following the Augsburg Confession article 21. Some, perhaps most, let it pass without mention other than singing the Hymn For All the Saints, which is one of the strongest in the book. As such it can be a gauzy day sometimes bordering on ancestor worship. My take has been to turn All Saints into a festival of the church akin in Pentecost with a slightly different focus. Pentecost tends to focus on the Work of the Holy Spirit which often turns to missions. All Saints turns more to the result of those missions – the life of the body of the church. The hymns hold before us mostly the vision of either the church at rest (those who have died) or the church triumphant (the New Jerusalem). The missing element is often the church militant i.e. us. So that is what I try to do with All Saints, remind or meditate on the now and the not yet of the life of the church. Now we are the Children of God. But the fullness of the Kingdom is not yet made manifest. Not even for the Church at rest who continue to ask “How Long?” (Rev 6:10). The goal is to see the unity of the church in Jesus Christ.

This sermon, because it is John I grumble, flips the normal outline. Paul and Lutherans are much more comfortable experiencing our fallen nature and sin and looking to Christ as our savior. A progression of law to gospel. John holds a vision before our eyes. We are now the children of God. Any troubles we have, the existential problems that cause Paul and Luther anguish, are mere trifles to John and that vision. He doesn’t deny them, but each time turns our eyes back to the prize which is God. That is what this sermon attempts to do. And that view might actually make more sense for a day when you are admitting new kids to the sacrament. With Paul or Luther, once you find a solution to the existential problem, the pressure can be off so to speak. (Insert joke about confirmation and bats.) With John we are never at the manifestation of the vision in this life. We experience the now and the net yet of the Christian life more fully. The joy which is now ours and the pain of it not yet being completed.

So, I’ll admit this is dense, but I also think it is worth of listen or a read. The saintly calling of vision and endurance in the midst of the great multitude.