The Sunday after the Epiphany for us is always the Baptism of the Lord. And it is an incredibly rich text. Off the top of my head I can think of five “topics” that are justifiable to preach on from it. Looking at the sermon file I had done most of them over the past 11 years. The one that might be the most apparent, but is actually tougher is Jesus’ Baptism connected to our Baptism. Now you can just say Baptism and elide the difference, but if you do that you miss what this theophany in the Jordan tells us about God. Because Jesus baptism is not like ours. As Luther says in his Baptismal Liturgy prayer, it is by His baptism that all waters have become a blessed flood. We get Jesus’ baptism, because God stood with us and took ours. We get brought through the chaos to life, because he defeated death.
Welcome to lent. The season traditionally starts out with the Temptation of Jesus. As the sermon will highlight, the temptation is deeply connected with the story that comes before it, the baptism of Jesus. What both represent are how Jesus has fought the battles we could not win. The Baptism is the start of the defeat of sin. He takes ours, and we get his. The temptation is the defeat of Satan. The resurrection is the defeat of death. We couldn’t win against those great enemies. Jesus, true man and true God, defeated them for us. Then he invites us to follow.
A fun little part of this sermon is using the devil as a witness to the gospel. Imagining that great liar forced into telling the truth was a fun experiment. I don’t know how well it worked, but it was fun to try.
Worship note: I like the Lenten Hymn. The only season that I think has a higher overall quality is Advent which might be because of both the length (shorter) and subject (eschatology). I left in LSB 424, O Christ You Walked the Road, which was our concluding hymn. It borrows the well known tune Southwell, but the text captures the main points of the sermon. Christ has defeated Satan and invites us on the same (lenten) road.
This is part one of what is variously called the Olivet discourse, the Mark Apocalypse or the end times discourse. The Olivet Discourse is so named because of its location on top of the Mount of Olives opposite the Temple. That is actually the name I prefer because I think the other two get things wrong from the start.
There is a way that Mark 13 is about the last days, but it not an easy direct application. Most of Mark 13 I think is talking about the run up to AD 70 and the destruction of the Temple. Jesus condemns the temple, what eventually serves as part of his conviction by the Sanhedrin, and the disciples ask when and what are the signs. Jesus tells them. Within this generation and a fairly detailed amount of signs. But after that, Jesus seems to know that we couldn’t resist attempting to find out the last day, so he says “about that day, no one knows, only the Father.” So Mark 13, for us, is not a step by step countdown. No one knows.
But there is a way it is not a dead letter. The temple was about the end of the old order. The temple specifically was about the sacrificial system. After the crucifixion there is no need of sacrifice. The cross of Christ is the only necessary sacrifice. The old order was over and its symbol the temple came down. But not all of the old order was brought to completion. This fallen world chugs along. Jesus doesn’t answer the when question to that, but much of what he says about the signs of the end of the temple also apply to the world. What are the signs? False prophets, political turmoil and persecution. These are the signs of the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God.
And what Jesus counsels is a watchful hope. We know we have won, because he won. Jesus lives. All who endure to the end will be saved. That is our sure hope. Watchful because we know this world hates us. It is dying and we have life. We are on our guard lest it manage to steal that hope from us. We live in that tension as witnesses to the hope.
Musical Note: I have left in our Hymn of the Day, Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers Lutheran Service Book 515. It is a pretty tune absent the often minor and melancholy of other End Times type hymns. The last couple of stanzas carry the watchful hope that I desired to preach about. The of the start of the fourth stanza: Out Hope and Expectations, O Jesus now appear.
1 Samuel 17:1-58
God vs. gods, Heroic literature
The real point of the story is not our moral lesson (be spunky! and you to can defeat the Giants). That is not a bad lesson, but it is also not always true. The field is littered with spunky failures. The point of the story is that this is God’s anointed. God’s anointed will not fight with borrowed armor, nor will his word be stopped even by his own family. This victory is to God’s anointed.
So, if you are not from a pentecostal denomination, when was the last time you heard a sermon about powers and principalities or demonology? There is probably a good reason. Denominational pastors are by and large an educated lot (often over-educated) and talking about spiritual forces just seems “icky” and doing so feels like sacrificing any respectability. The educated world is thoroughly materialist in philosophy and to preach on the “powers” means a thorough-going super-naturalist stance depending solely upon revelation (unless the preacher has had a mystical experience and then its still revelation for the hearers and no longer biblical but personal). Add in the fact that popular understanding of the powers is summed up in Halloween and The Exorcist part 18, and you just kinda pick a different text. Or worse you preach on the exorcism text and explain it away through various “they just weren’t that bright” mechanisms.
But the gospel according to Mark just doesn’t allow that. If you are going to preach on Mark, you have to come to terms with the powers that be, because that is who Jesus is to Mark. Jesus is the one who breaks the backs of the powers. Jesus is the one sent to put away that greatest power – death.
And right there I think is the intersection with the modern world. Even though we are materialist in philosophy allowing smaller spiritual forces to hide, death doesn’t hide. We try to hide from him. We do our best to move him out of our sight. And the materialist will try even at funerals to say something like, “death is part of life”. But most people react in horror at that banality. We all have an intuitive reaction that this isn’t right, this isn’t how it was supposed to be. We have nothing to support that – other than revelation.
Jesus came with authority to break the back of the powers – including death. From the very start of his ministry Jesus commanded the spirits. His death and resurrection has disarmed them. In Christ as part of His body the church, we are already part of a resurrection body – something that even death has no power over.