Tag Archives: virtue

Then…And Now

Biblical Text: Matthew 25:1-13
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the wise and foolish virgins which is one of Jesus’ most enigmatic parables of the kingdom. The images are striking, but we often don’t know what to make of it. For Protestants and Lutherans especially the simple reading would seem to give too much play to good works. It doesn’t really fit neatly into any theological system. Which is probably part of its intention as the point is “watch”. What helps me is the word and tense it starts out with: then with a future tense. Then the reign of God will be compared to 10 virgins. Then things are simple – 5 are wise and 5 are foolish and you can tell them easily. The wise have brought oil. The “then” and the future time frame is the end of days. The parable invites a then and now comparison. It describes then and asks us what behaviors and what “watching” has lead to this immutable divide. What lead to the 5 wise having oil, and the 5 foolish not? All fell asleep, what lead to the difference? This sermon is a fleshing out of that.

Worship Note: The recording includes what is one of the top 5 hymns of all time: Wake, Awake, For Night is Flying. That is LSB 516. The hymn tune seems to capture the affect of rising from slumber to a happy tumult. The text is a poetic meditation on the words of scripture applied to the person or the collective Zion hearing the proclamation.

McLean-DeWitt Wedding Homily

Text: Colossians 3:14 (1 Corinthians 13:1-8, Colossians 3:12-17, 1 John 4:16-19)
I’m sure that people who live there get tired of it, but living in Orlando, FL you are ground zero of magic. And magic is something that we are very attracted to, it is whimsical and surprising. But more than that it is immediate. It is like our cell phones. It offers the idea of instant attainment. Especially when it comes to love. Swipe left/swipe right.

But if we listen to the Apostles in the texts you chose, they don’t describe love as a state, but as a virtue. More than that, the highest or the unity of the virtues. And virtues are not things instantly attained. Virtues are acquired by practice and living. How does one become patient? By being patient. How does one become kind, by practicing kindness, especially in hard cases. Now there might be some natural capacity or attraction that starts us on the path to virtue. Love might start out as chemistry and romance. But to have love, we practice it – hourly and yearly.

And marriage is the primary vocation where we practice it. It is patient and kind, does not envy or boast, is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking. It is clothed with compassion and humility and gentleness. It doesn’t fear. The things life throws at us, more true in married life, bring those temptations daily. We practice living love.

We practice not strictly by ourselves, because the perfect love of Jesus Christ has already triumphed. We have been loved perfectly first, so we are enabled to live and practice love to our spouse and our neighbor.

Today, you stand here in faith saying I believe in that love. We will mutually live and practice that love. We will develop that virtue. And we do that, so that 50 years hence, on that golden anniversary, you can look at each other, no longer in faith that love never fails, but in knowledge, deep in your bones, that love never fails. Because you lived it. Your lives have become a witness to the love that never fails. Amen.

The Vine-y Life

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Biblical Text: John 15:1-8, 1 John 4:1-11
Full Sermon Draft

There are seven “I am” statements in the gospel of John. Last week we looked at “I am the good shepherd”. This week Jesus says “I am the true vine”. The two statements share a lot in terms of interpretation and application, but there are some important shifts. The shepherd takes care largely of unaware sheep. When the sheep become aware, they really are no longer sheep. They have a choice, be a shepherd or the hired man. In that way the Good Shepherd is a metaphor for the early Christian life. The vine is a metaphor for those in the midst of it. The vine supports the branch and the branch bears fruit. Over time in vine-y things what is branch and what is vine become difficult to sort out. The repeated word is “remain”. Remain in the vine. The Christian life is one of remaining connected to Christ. The tools for sustaining and cultivating this connection according to this text are the Word and prayer. The text is full of promise and warning. The promise of eternal fruitful life for those who remain, but the warning of the dead branches being burned for those who cut themselves off. The sermon reminds us of how Christ is our life, and encourages us toward living a fruitful by know what is fruit and avoiding what is sure to disconnect the branch from the vine.

I’ve left in two hymns. Part of hymn selection is simply matching metaphors in the text and hymn. The first hymn is an older staple – “Chief of Sinners Though I Be” (LSB 611) which reminds us at the end of the first line even though I might be such a sinner, “as the branch is to the vine, I am His and He is mine”. This is exactly why Jesus came, to graft in sinners to eternal life and set them “on the way that Enoch trod”. The hymn at the end is a newer text with a beautiful tune that is new to LCMS hymnbooks, Christ, The Word of God Incarnate (LSB 540). As a hymn it is a meditation on the various biblical metaphors most that Jesus uses for himself. Each verse takes one of the I am statements from John and expands. Three and four capture the last two weeks, and I love Holy Manna as a hymn tune that gets stuck in a good way in your head.

Christ, the shoot that springs triumphant/from the stump of Jesse’s tree/Christ, true vine, you nurture branches/to bear fruit abundantly/Graft us into you, O Savior/Prune our hearts so we remain/Fruitful branches in your vineyard/Till eternal life we gain.

Chirst, our good and faithful shepherd/Watching all your lambs and sheep/Christ, the gate that guards the sheepfold/Never failing vigil keep/When we stray Good Shepherd seek us/Find us, lift us, bear us home/Lamb of God, our shepherd, keep us/Let us hear Your voice alone.

Of Wolves and Shepherds

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Biblical Text: John 10:11-18
Full Sermon Draft

There are certain biblical images that are ingrained in our heads just from cultural osmosis. Even at this late date, the Good Shepherd is one of those images in the larger culture. I feel okay saying that because even Hollywood called a CIA movie staring Matt Damon The Good Shepherd recently. The movie didn’t do so hot and I can’t recommend it, but they expected the Biblical allusion to have enough currency to use the name. But what I am always amazed at when the lectionary throws up one of these common images (one portion of John 10 with shepherd images is always on Easter 4) is that the common gloss on the text is at best half the story. In the case of the Good Shepherd we jump straight to Calvary. In theologically squishy places the Good Shepherd is the perfect image to pitch Jesus the great teacher or a Unitarian all loving spirit. But the text itself is intensely Trinitarian as it is about the relationship between the Father and the Son. The Son is the Good Shepherd and not the hired man because he shares the love of the father for these sinful oblivious sheep.

But the metaphor goes beyond that gospel image. Love is defined as aligning yourself with the Father’s commands. Love is defined as putting yourself between the sheep and the wolves. It is defined contrary to the hired man who does what it natural. When you see the good shepherd, when you comprehend in a meaningful way the gospel, at that point you are no longer a sheep. You have a choice – hired man or good shepherd. It is the first real choice in your life, and it is also one that the sheep are oblivious to. Don’t expect applause. Except from Father and Son. This sermon attempts to proclaim that love of the Good Shepherd and give it some form of what it really looks like in the Christian life.

Two Good Sentences

If you’re a parent, and you’re sending away to college kids who’ve never been asked to do a task that was too hard, or been given a responsibility they didn’t believe they could bear, or have never been asked to suffer a single moment for the sake of another—you haven’t succeeded. You’ve failed. – Michael Graham on Courage

Imitation can be as good as the real thing, when the real thing is itself bankrupt – Rita Koganzon on Honesty

Both of those from a good read – The Seven Deadly Virtues

Legal Principles – Sermon on the Mount – part 2

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Biblical Text: Matt 5:21-37

Full Sermon Draft

This is the second part of our reading of the Sermon on the Mount. (Here was the first.) In the text Jesus starts to confront the 10 commandments, and even more directly interpretations of them. What he provides is the authoritative interpretation of the law in the Christian life.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Ezekiel 37:15-28 and Romans 6:1-23

Ezekiel 37:15-28
Romans 6:1-23
Sanctification as the Fruit of Justification, Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus (685), Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (686)

Ruminations

I usually try and write something at least every other day, but this week it just didn’t really make it to print.

Things tended to come as short intuitive blips, but of the sort that even investing 2000 words, you knew you could illustrate the point, but it wouldn’t make a difference.

For example, take the Casino amendment I commented on prior to the election. Predictably it passed although I was heartened that(just)over 50% of the people in our voting vicinity realized the problem. The libertine wave in America is just too strong. I quickly wrote my underlying intuition as: the libertine wave in America is all about bondage, but not in the way you are thinking. American liberty was traditionally about life and the pursuit of happiness which was tightly bound to the virtuous life. As late as Mr. Smith goes to Washington or almost any Jimmy Stuart movie, it is about the happiness that comes from being a moral or virtuous person, even when the virtue leads to apparent worldly loss. Yes, Hollywood would tack on happy endings mitigating the message, but those happy endings were reflections of the Christian afterlife. The Hollywood equivalent of paying your kid 10% a month interest on their bank account to encourage savings. But gambling, pot, abortion and any of the other “liberties” that we are consistently creating or voting ourselves are not about the life of virtue. They are about hiding from the hard path. They are about wallowing in our propensity to messing things up. We are demanding the liberty to engage in vice and not be called on it. And vice is always about slavery. Anyone who commits sin is a slave to sin (John 8:34). We as a nation still have money to spend. We are not yet looking at pig’s food thinking that looks good. And our “friends” (i.e. our government) is busy enabling our squalor.

Likewise, Mollie Hemingway captured what I think is a defining number. The GOP VA governor candidate Ken Cuccinelli won married women by 8 pts, but lost unmarried by 42 pts. He actually did better with married women than married men. You can either have a culture that encourages virtue, which will have a high number of those married women and their husbands, or you will have a culture that enables vice. You have a culture of liberty, or you have a libertine culture. A libertine culture need two things: 1) someone to help pay for the effects of such a lifestyle and 2) someone to tell you it is ok to keep the party going and quiet dissenting voices.

It isn’t the gospel. The gospel is the proclamation that regardless of your success or failure at pursuing virtue, Jesus Christ has granted you the victory. You don’t earn it, you receive it. But virtue is still important. And the toughest part is that as a Christian you are called to it, even when the world around is going in the opposite direction. You are salt and light. You are light even when the world prefers darkness.

The Vocabulary of the Spirit

David Brooks gets it, at least from a secular point, and in a way (especially if you look at the comments from the clueless multitude of Times readers) that is terribly sad. In this essay, he preaches half of my sermon this week much better than I could. The problem, as Babel told us, is not the system. The problem is the individual human heart. As Brooks talks about, the individual no longer resonated to words like fortitude and courage. Aquinas and virtue theologians would put those as the cornerstone of the virtues. If you don’t have fortitude, the others will fall as well. When you no longer build virtue, you resort to the law to force something like virtue. Hence,

Meanwhile, usage of words associated with the ability to deliver, like “discipline” and “dependability” rose over the century, as did the usage of words associated with fairness. The Kesebirs point out that these sorts of virtues are most relevant to economic production and exchange.

The law is always quid pro quo; it is a market. And it is always inadequate to the task. If the law can’t convict you of sin (second use, mirror) and move you toward virtue in the gospel (3rd use, rule) the best it can do is be a curb (first use or civil use). Hence,

The atomization and demoralization of society have led to certain forms of social breakdown, which government has tried to address, sometimes successfully and often impotently.

That is the result of turning away from the call of the Holy Spirit. The only solution is the recovery of the vocabulary of the Spirit. A re-moralization is not about the law, although it has a role. It starts with repentance. And repentance doesn’t come about until the old Adam is dead, until we no longer want to keep our life but are willing to lose it for the gospel. And that might be why David Brooks can be so melancholy. Walking that necessary path is going to hurt. Our Polis, our politics, is not about virtue but about mere technique. Which technique do you want – delay and deny (liberal) or time to pay the piper (conservative)? A more wise Polis would be talking about prudence, patience, fortitude and temperance along with faith, hope and charity. But those require belief in something beyond the market. A belief we no longer have the Spirit for. “Take not you Holy Spirit from me (Psalm 51:11)…”

Carts and Horses

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matt 6:31 ESV

One of the great catechism questions of all time is from the Westminster Shorter, What is the chief end of man? Now you might ask what a good Lutheran is doing linking to a Reformed document. Isn’t that a form of unionism? Well, they might not have the sacraments, but they’ve got some things right when the first question asked sets you in the right direction. The answer the Westminster Divines gave to that question was: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and and enjoy him forever. The horse is seeking God. Everything else is in the cart. If all you are doing is rummaging around in the cart then you don’t go anywhere.

The quote from Jesus that I started out with was directed to peasants whose biggest problems were exactly what those questions address – How do I live in a survival sense. Jesus turned those possibly starving people from that pragmatic question to a philosophical or theological question – How should I live? If you are directed correctly on ‘How should I live’ then all these others will be added. (We might stop and take note that they might not be physically added, the desire might be subtracted. All those monks for thousands of years were not seeking God to add a Philippe Patek. Although as Rick Santorum was used to reminding people, that if you get married before having kids and stay married, graduate from high school and get a job, you don’t end up in poverty. Righteousness even in a purely legalistic sense has its rewards.) In our prosperity we are no longer desperate but we also no longer have that excuse. How do we live, what are our lives directed towards, are important questions we should answer and keep in mind.

I’m pondering this because of a couple of articles and a phrase in the Declaration of Independence. We Americans are aimed by default by that declaration toward an answer to How should I live. Jefferson’s answer is the pursuit of happiness. Even in Rick Santorum’s answer the goal or chief end of man is happiness defined as not being in poverty. If we are so aimed, if our chief end is happiness, we are rummaging around in the cart. And like a really old country song, all the gold in California, is in a bank in the middle of Beverly Hills in somebody else’s name. Happiness is elusive. It is a lousy answer to How should I live.

Here is Christina Hoff Sommers in the Atlantic responding to Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg argues for women to ‘lean in’ by which she means to find true happiness double down on your work life with the goal of more female CEOs. Sommers responds,

An up-to-date manifesto on women and work should steer clear of encounter groups and boys-must-play-with dolls rhetoric. It should make room for human reality: that in the pursuit of happiness, men and women often take different paths. Gender differences can sometimes be symptoms of oppression and subordination. But in a modern society they can also be the felicitous consequences of liberated choice—of the “free to be you and me” that women have been working towards for generations.

What they are arguing over is How should I live. And both of them are directed toward the pursuit of happiness. But the deeper question is which one might allow for you to discover the horse? Could some of those women that Sandberg is telling to ‘lean in’ actually be coming to the realization that they have the cart before the horse? Whose answer allows for a deeper and more correct understanding of the good life?


This is writer P.E. Gobry
in Forbes taking a look an admission of economics professor and writer Tyler Cowen.

I would bet a goodly sum of money that if you picked at random ten tenured economists from top-20 economics departments, and asked them to list what an 18-year-old should do to increase his chances of getting high wages, none of them would say “get married and stay married”–even though the data on the marriage wage premium supports this conclusion to the same extent as it does going to college.

Read his whole article. It is too good to really summarize fully, but again we are arguing over what creates happiness defined as greater material prosperity. Gobry’s point in my words is that the economics profession is aimed at carts. Economics can tell us a whole bunch about where to find the gold in the cart – go to college, make yourself more productive – but it dismisses as correlation vs. causation problems things like Marriage and Kids. I, and Gobry, would say that marriage and family are much closer to the horse than what economists would say.

Jesus points us toward the horse. Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness then all these things will be added. And here is the really tough problem. We can construct a legal society that encourages putting the horse first. Arguably that is what we had coming into the 20th century. But if we are only being virtuous because of the law that society eventually breaks because we can’t keep the law. We are natural lawbreakers. It takes the Spirit to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify in the Gospel. If you are worried about our society the correct prayer is “your kingdom come”. Seek first the Kingdom.