Technically next Sunday is Rogate (if you listen to the sermon you’ll find out), but the calendar got a little scrambled and the texts this week fit the old liturgical practice better. The selected text is sometimes called Gentile Pentecost, but what I’ve portrayed it as here is how the living and active Word – Jesus Christ – precedes us and calls us to be an active part of the Kingdom.
Jesus’ saying “I am the true and vine my Father is the vinedresser” is one of those sayings that is immediately accessible but almost limitless in imagination. This sermon starts out with a contemporary example of the negative, cutting oneself off from the vine. It then explores from the text what it means to stay connected. There are two things to staying connected that come from Christ, call them the life circulating in the vine and branches, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Then there are two things that are part of the sanctified life, trials or pruning in this context and prayer. We might focus on that pruning as the big asymmetry of the Christian life, but I think that is simply life in a fallen world. If anything knowing that the Father is going to make use of them is a benefit. They could just be bad luck. The big asymmetry to me is in the time frames considered. Those branches that remove themselves wither and are burned while those that stay connected have a perpetual growing season – eternal life.
After the last month of parables, today’s text was a shift to miracles. But the feeding miracles are almost a category of their own. The way I categorize miracles is typically: healings, nature or power, and restorations to life (I don’t use resurrection because that is a special term meaning the resurrection body which is no longer subject to death). All miracles reveal or invite us to ponder a specific part of who this Jesus is. Healings, like the man lowered in the house, invite us to ponder the Great Physician and how the one who can cleanse of of disease, more importantly cleanses us of sin. Those categorized miracles invite us to see how Christ has beat: the devil, the world and our sinful nature. The feeding miracles could by the nature miracle, but that is not the reaction of those who were there. Instead, the feeding miracles ask us to imagine how the Kingdom works in this world.
It works through compassion for those who might be our enemies. It works not through offering the world a worldly solution, but by offering Christ. It works not through direct power, but through means. The church or the disciple in this world is invited to follow Christ, and go and do likewise. This sermon explores that.
The text is the Road to Emmaus. Luke likes road trips. Chapters 10 through 19 are known as the road narrative as all the action is suppose to take place while Jesus is walking from Galilee to Jerusalem. The Emmaus Road I think is Luke’s poetic description of the Christian life. I don’t comment on in in the sermon, but imagine Luke himself for a moment. He interviewed all these people: Peter, John, James, Mary, Paul. All these people who knew the physical Jesus and testified to the resurrected Jesus. Luke knew him through them, and through the breaking of bread.
Life is full of expectations. The road to Emmaus present in the sermon is how we have wise expectations instead of foolish ones. The main part of that is recognizing Jesus. And we are given to recognize him in the Sacrament and the Scriptures – Word and Sacrament. Our life here, after that recognition is a walk toward the New Jerusalem. Now the walk and the witness, next year in Jerusalem. And as on of the metaphors has it in the sermon, next year happens. I’m a Cubs fan. It does.
The assigned lectionary text for today was the parable of the Prodigal Son, but one of the things that I found out in preparation is that the church fathers never really treated the prodigal separately from the two parables preceeding it. And when you do the translation, they do seem to roll together with specific roles for a point. So, this sermon attempts to address these parables as the church fathers did.
We’ve focused on the theme of division in Lent so far, but Luke 15 turns that focus around. It assumes the division, and starts portraying reunion. THe question these parables focus on to the church fathers was not evangelism or restoring a wandering brother. That is a valid moral lesson. We are the body of Christ and have those responsibilities. But instead, these parables were about God’s action on behalf of his elect. The perfect number will not be broken. There will not be 99 sheep, or 9 coins, or 1 brother. God will gather all of the elect no matter where they find themselves and through whatever troubles.
And how God does this is first through the good shepherd who has carried us on his shoulders on that cross. Then he calls, gathers and enlightens us through the church – the woman with a lamp looking for that coin with the image of the King. And the purpose of this is to reunite us with the Father. All that the Father has is ours. That doesn’t change regardless of our actions. He has chosen to give us the Kingdom. It is just necessary that we come in and rejoice.
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.
One of the things I think is constant in our experience is a desire for the transcendent. I’ll use as a quick definition of the transcendent something that is larger that we are. Augustine recognized this in his phrase “we are restless until we find our rest in you”. The biblical text is the Transfiguration, a direct experience of the transcendent and the reaction of Peter. What the sermon attempts to do is first demonstrate that we aren’t any different. We long for transcendence and we cling desperately to its signs. It does this primarily by looking at pop music which in my head expresses openly our common longings. The second step is to point out what actually happens on the mountaintop. Jesus is left alone and the voice says listen to him. Instead of clinging to the fleeting signs of transcendence, we have the reality, Jesus Christ. And his words tells us where we can find him. We are restless until we find our rest in him.
The hymn of the day captured in the recording points at one of those places we see face to face: Lutheran Service Book 631 – Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face. All the words and some history of the hymn are here. Here is the LSB link which has an extra verse and is set to an interesting/different hymn tune compared to the most standard.
The text is the presentation of Jesus and the purification of Mary. It is a text deeply rooted in the religion of Israel. It is also with Simeon and Anna a text populated with the advent of the Holy Spirit. What the sermon does is look at what happens when we treat the Spirit and Religion as either/or instead of both/and. From Anderson Cooper and Gwenyth Paltrow to Anna/Simeon as models for the church.
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.