I’ve become convinced that the real “crisis” if you want to call it that in American Christianity is the dismissal of the calls of the spiritual life. Even the church seems to have a very utilitarian view of the faith. It “sells” faith as something that will be good for you. It will make you healthier, wealthier and maybe wise. The trouble is that The Faith makes none of those claims. It doesn’t necessarily rule them out, but the norm would be the life of Christ, which is a life of trial. What the Faith does claim is truth. Christ is Lord. He bids us follow him. Hence the real test, do we follow?
This particular sermon was composed to take part in a specific liturgical situation. We had a baptism at the start of service. It was also helped by one of the great hymns of the Faith – I Walk in Danger All the Way (LSB 716).
There was an ancient tradition, probably coming over from the synagogues, where visitors would share news of what was taking place in the church where they were from. Maybe the salutation (“The Lord be with you”) at the start of the service is the ritual placeholder for that. We welcome you, please share. To which the response would have been to share and end with “and also with you”. The welcome has been given and accepted. This sermon is a bit like that. When you read something that is so profound it humbles you, you really need to share it. I could not come up with a better illustration of “a city on a hill” than the response of this pastor from Wuhan.
It is the first Sunday in Lent, hence the purple colors on the graphic. The traditional text is one of the temptation of Jesus texts. When we think of those we probably think of Matthew and Luke’s stylized accounts with three temptations and three snappy comebacks. Mark’s version isn’t so stylized. His is all of about two verses. But in those two verses he emphasizes four things. 1) It is the Spirit that leads Jesus to the wilderness with Satan and the wild animals. God is not tame. 2) The encounter is presented as a continuing act. He was in the wilderness for 40 days; the entire time under trial or testing. 3) The Angels ministering were also present the entire time. 4) The result of the trial is the proclamation of the gospel – the reign of God.
Temptation is a perfectly fine word, but I prefer the word trial or testing. I think when we hear temptation with do two things. First we minimize the truth. We equate temptation with eating too much chocolate, we dismiss it, or we think it is only a narrow category of experience. Second we think of it as an instantaneous thing. But when we say a test or a trial, since we still have those in the secular world, we take them seriously. The time of trial is a serious thing. What this sermon does is consider the time of trial and the Christian’s response. It also considers how to view testing as an instance of the gospel. I don’t think I trivialize the subject, and hopefully give some comfort for those times of testing.
I have left in a hymn before the sermon, LSB 716, We Walk in Danger All the Way. This Hymn is one of the true gems of the church and should be much better known. It also does some of the preparation or even heavy lifting for the sermon. I also left in a piece of music after the sermon that I normally don’t – the offertory. My youngest son (8yo) is the one bowing his way through the hymn – On My Heart Imprint Your Image – which we use as the Lenten offertory.
Congregationally we were saying good bye to beloved members. The day also had the national overtones of the 15th anniversary of 9/11. I might be wrong in this, but to me part of preaching is giving the hearers ways to understand or recognize the Kingdom of God in our midst, even in sad things, especially in sad things. The primary theme of the texts of the day was not perseverance. The primary theme was forgiveness. But there is a secondary theme that hints at perseverance in the Christian life. This sermon attempted to spotlight that secondary thread for the purpose of understanding the day.
As with most days, the hymnody of the church is so much better than anything we say. Those hymns are sermons that meant so much to so many that they survived in some cases millennia and translation, in others simply centuries. Jesus Sinners Doth Receive was the Hymn of the Day on the primary theme, but I left in our final hymn. LSB 839, O Christ, Our True and Only Light. If one heard the message that we were attempting to speak, this hymn was a good and proper response. It reminds us that in this world Christ is our only true light. It reminds us that here we walk in darkness, the metaphorical equivalent of the text and sermon’s wilderness. It asks for the one to be reunited with the 99, and the perfect 100 to find the eternal joy. And it asks that we might be a part of that. Beautiful hymn.
The Gospel of Mark, per the early church, is the memories/sermons/stories of Peter written down around the time of his death. And I tend to think at the close of sections, like today’s text, you can see just the way memory works. The big story about a point is told, but there are a bunch of smaller sayings and stories that rush into the mind afterward. Those other stories and sayings are important, you can’t imagine the full story without them, but they are footnotes or modifiers on the larger points. After being put in their place about status positions this text modifies just how disciples are to walk with each other. The main modification is an acceptance that the Kingdom is something larger that one tribe or expression of it. But that modifier deserves a second, a don’t let your brains fall out. While you can find joy in an expression of the Kingdom that isn’t yours, the church still has boundaries. Those boundaries involve sin and truth. The church is a community of truth and as such is calls out sin. It doesn’t just accept it as a different expression of church. And the teachers of the church have a scary role in that that could end in millstones and deep water.
The sermon attempts to have an artistic flair. Parts of a one man show, the remembrances of Peter. And those remembrances are brought forward in application to our situation. I’ve succeeded if you’ve heard the voice of the Apostle.
Music Note. I left in the recording our hymn of the day which is in my top 5 hymns. My guess is that you wouldn’t here this one in many churches and definitely not in the local mega-church. Mainly because it is a little slow do develop and has a strong poetic structure. The first three verses get darker before the last three speak of our reality in God. It fit with my understanding of these verses. Yes, we will all be salted with fire, but that is as the living sacrifices. We walk toward truth and peace which is with Jesus and heavenward all the way. Even in the midst of trial. I Walk in Danger All the Way, Lutheran Service Book 716.
(Recording note: Sorry I forgot to start the system, so I didn’t start recording until the gospel text. The OT and Epistle lesson of the day which I usually include are missing.)
The text might or might not be the familiar episode of Jesus walking on water. In the Gospel according to Mark the story is a little shorter and has a little different purpose than Matthew. Matthew has Peter getting out of the boat. Mark is about Jesus “passing by” and deciding to get into the boat. The two main points from both are: 1) this Jesus is God and 2) trust him, but with different context. The trust in Matthew is more a focus on Peter and hence our ability to trust Jesus in or out of the boat. When we get out, Jesus will put us back in, more like the lost sheep parables. In Mark we have Jesus deciding to get in the boat and those inside deciding how to react to God being with them.
What this sermon does is examine two common reaction to God passing by and the third that he text desires you to do – trust Jesus in calm and in storm. This is looked at in the context of how we pass through life. We have a tendency to sand of the edges and use euphemisms to avoid dealing with the really bad stuff. What Jesus does is not bid us to euphemize ourselves, but to “be not afraid”. The Christian calls a thing what it is. They life in trust that Jesus has this.
Under the biblical text I put the full text I was drawing from. The reading is only Mark 6:1-13, but I think that cuts off a significant element of interpretation. What we see in this text is Jesus marveling at his rejection by his hometown because of what they “know”. They don’t really know anything, but what they “know” gets in the way of actually seeing. What this represents is the start of the hard opposition and rejection of Jesus. His ministry which has been one of crowds and superficial acceptance up until this point makes a turn toward the cross. At the same time he sends out the twelve. This is the beginning of their ministry. So we have the beginning and the beginning of the end in the same story.
What that highlights for us is the nature of Kingdom growth. The Kingdom grows not because of any individual ministry, but it grows through multiplication, through death and resurrection. A seed falls to the ground and produces a hundred fold. Jesus’ successful ministry healed people one at a time. We he was nailed to a tree, he healed the entire world. God’s power is revealed most sure in weakness, in the midst of the trial. And that is what the stories the church tells, the lives of the saints reflect most clearly.
Recording note: The hymn left in is Fight the Good Fight (LSB 664). The lyrics and the music reflect that cruciform nature of discipleship in this world. Success is not about the outward appearance, but about Fighting the Good Fight, Keeping the Faith, because God’s definition of success is found in Christ.
The texts for the first week of Lent in year B are distinctive and rough and play on each other in my reading. The central concern is testing. This sermon, following James, attempts to create a distinction between temptation and testing. It then looks at the testing of Jesus and the testing of Abraham as examples of standing under testing. The parallel is OT Israel who strayed under their testing in the wilderness. The application section then looks at a couple of example of modern day testing at the hands of ISIS. It ends by making a comparison between a spirituality that survives the Winter vs. the seemingly sunnier spirituality that ultimately fails in the cold winds.
The opening hymn is Christ the Life of All the Living (LSB 420) which is a classic Lenten hymn emphasizing exactly our wintery reliance on Christ alone. The choir echoes after the OT lesson with teach me your ways Lord. I didn’t get recorded, but after the sermon we sang one of my favorite hymns that captures this wintery Spirituality, Rise! To Arms! With Prayer Employ You (LSB 668). Our effort is not to moral perfection but to prayer. Of course part of the greatness is the chance to sing the hymn tune Wachet Auf.