Tag Archives: Word

The Light in a Dark Place

Biblical Text: Matthew 17:1-9
Full Sermon Draft

There are so many things in life that we just don’t know. And so much of our problems aren’t what we don’t know, but what we think we know that isn’t so. Discerning the truth is tough. Sometimes truth comes in rough packages. Sometimes it is so mixed up with other things that separating it out is impossible. Welcome to life at the bottom of the mountain. Welcome to life under the cross. The transfiguration, if we believe the older and wiser Peter from 2nd Peter (the epistle lesson), was a proof of something else – the Word of God. If we are trying to figure out the way from false ways based only on our abilities we might as well quit. As Dante would say “in the middle of my years I came to rest in a dark woods and the true way was lost.” Or as Galadriel would give to Frodo “a light in a dark place”. The Transfiguration with its voice “listen to him” vouches for the firm foundation of the Word. Here, in Christ alone, is our light. And it is not a light meant only for the mountaintop. It is a light that is meant to be used at the base. The light in a dark place.

Worship Note: I wish I could have left in the choir, but the recording just didn’t work. (When the men have the strongest line, they get blocked from the main mic. I really need to get the loft mic’d better.) What I did leave in was our opening hymn. LSB 416, Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory. I believe I’ve extolled this hymn before. It is a modern hymn both in its text and the tune, and it is one that deserves to claim its place in the hymnody of the church. It captures poetically the main themes of the the Transfiguration. Glory’s brilliance, yet the move to go down. The surety of revelation, yet the preeminence of faith. The need for our transfiguration passing through the dark place with only the light of Christ.

A Name from the Mouth of the Lord

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Text: Luke 16:19-30
Full Sermon Draft

I broke a rule today. One of the main sermon rules is pick a point or a theme and stick with it. You can’t develop more than one in the time allowed, and your listeners can’t absorb more than one. But today I had three things. There was the highly moralistic point of the lesson in its context following last week. Charity is not a false lesson. It is also one that we need to hear. But the rich man and Lazarus is more than a moral. The second was also short. I’ve heard and read way to many sermons that construct an entire picture of heaven and hell from this example. That is an abuse of the text. The sermon tells you why.

But then I turn toward the point that I think is deeper. “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them.” The moral point is true, but it depends upon two things embedded in that phrase – faith and the word. Everything that happens – even a man rising from the dead – can be interpreted in different ways. People will go to great lengths to ignore or explain away things that are contrary to their monetary benefit or settled beliefs. The message of Jesus – of the cross – is contrary to both in this life. It has always been a stumbling block. But to those of us who are being saved, it is the power of God. And what that power of God has done, by the waters of baptism and the word, is give us a name. Like poor Lazarus, we have a name. The world would surely know the rich man’s name, but we do not. Jesus didn’t tell it. But he knew Lazarus. Like he knows ours.

Worship Note: We had a great slate of hymns today. I didn’t include it in the recording but LSB 845 (Where Charity and Love Prevail) was the hymn of the day picking up on the moral point of the lesson. What amazes me is that the text is 9th century Latin. The church has taught the same things for a long time. Thy hymn I left in was LSB 782 (Gracious God, You Send Great Blessings). It was pledge card collection day, so that is part of the reason, but the hymn gets the order right as few stewardship hymns do. We have received mercy. We have heard the word. We are sustained in this creation. Lord we pray that we your people, who your gifts unnumbered claim, through the sharing of your blessings, may bring glory to your name. We have that name. We don’t do good works because we’ve been told, but because we have been named. That and the tune is one of the most uplifting in the book.

Rally Day

decalogue-windowThe second use of the law is as the mirror. It shows us our sins. One of the old Rabbi’s ways of using the Decalogue was to line up one through five on the first side and six through ten on the other and use it as a diagnostic. (Sorry any reformed/evangelical readers, Calvin and Zwingli messed up your order because two commandments on coveting offended their reason and they needed to bolster their iconoclasm. The numbering used is the Jewish, Catholic, Lutheran.) If your community or society was engaged in rampant adultery (sixth commandment), the deep problem was idolatry (1st Commandment). That particular insight is often found in the prophets where Israel is compared to the harlot. Likewise if your culture is driven by coveting stuff (“ox, donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor”, 10 Commandment), the deeper problem is with the 5th (don’t murder). The presenting problem may be late stage capitalism, but we are willing to make commodities of everything because we have already made commodities of each other. We can see this in cases big and small, the over 1 million aborted a year to the Chicago murder rate. And if you take Jesus in the Sermon in the mount at his word that hating your neighbor is murder, well our every 4 year festival of hatred where the people wearing the other color are compared to Hitler and real friends are sacrificed should be troubling.

A particular outgrowth of that media cycle that I find almost like cat-nip is the attributing of the worst possible meaning to whatever the red/blue flag bearer said yesterday. Charity assumes that what was said has some reason behind it, that there is some way in which it captures truth, until the pure malevolence of the speaker is proven. I may not understand it, but it is my moral obligation to attempt to or at the least assume there is one. This is the 8th commandment’s territory. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor which Luther glossed with a positive force of “defend him, speak well of him and put the best construction on everything.” Not being a Pollyanna type, more specifically being a hyper-analytical person who likes winning, I have too often put those traits not in the service of charity but destruction, of figuring out the worst possible meaning and imputing that to the speaker. It has been a conscious effort and struggle of mine to control that impulse. It is depressing how often I fail.

That might be the sin that lives in my members, the battle against the flesh, but if I look at the parallel commandment, the 3rd (Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy), I think I am staring at what the world is attacking. When asking what does this mean Luther wrote that “we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” That Sabbath commandment to Luther is about our handling of the Word of God. As Jesus would say “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Word of God is given to us for our good. If I am willing to intentionally distort my neighbor’s words, that stems first from my willingness to impugn God’s word. When God’s Word is not taken as sacred, it is real easy to treat my neighbor’s word as trash.
We can lament that the world does not take the Word seriously as Alan Jacob’s article in Harper’s a few weeks ago did, but we really should have no expectation of the world doing so. That was part of my response a couple of weeks ago which I posted here. It is another thing when the church neglects the Word. This interview with Kenneth Briggs, the “godbeat” editor for many years at places like the New York Times, talks about what he has seen. His pungent phrase is that the Bible has “become a museum exhibit, hallowed as a treasure but enigmatic and untouched.” Until the church is willing to reform its house back into what Luther called “God’s mouth-house”, the place where the Word forms us deeply, we will find it tough living with our neighbors. The church is the salt of the earth. If we can’t treat each other with charity, how will the world know?

I occasionally get asked why I insist on or put so much effort behind things like VBS, Sunday School, Bible Class and confirmation when the numbers are few. My response is usually something like “that is the call”. If the Pastor doesn’t put the Word first, then who will. Do I worry, especially around budget season, that someday that focus will leave me without a paycheck? I’d be lying if I said no. Another thing to repent from – “each day has enough trouble of its own, don’t fret”. So I turn back to the call, to call out all to repentance for the Kingdom of God is near, and to proclaim that now, in your hearing, is the year of the Lord’s mercy. Or taking that out of the high Biblical register, it’s Rally Day. Sunday School and Bible classes are starting again. I’d invite you to set aside a Sabbath to hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn that Word.

It Will Not Be Taken Away

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Biblical Text: Luke 10:38-42, (Gen 18:1-10, Col 1:21-29)
Full Sermon Draft

Luke has a habit of telling a powerful story (The Good Samaritan) and following it up with a minor correction (Mary and Martha). That minor correction is the text of this week. (A couple of other examples are the Sermon on the Plain’s teaching about loving you enemies and not judging other (Luke 6:27-42) followed by a tree and its fruit (Luke 6:43-45). The net effect is love your enemy, don’t judge him, but don’t let your brains fall out. Two chapters later you have the parable of the sower & the purpose of the parables (Luke 8:4-15) which emphasize the roll of election followed by the short teaching on a lamp under a jar (Luke 8:16-18). The net effect is that you can’t guess the yield, and many who hear won’t understand, but don’t be overly discriminating is sharing the gospel. Election and mission are not to be placed in opposition.) The Martha and Mary story reminds us of the “one thing needful”. As important as being a neighbor/service is, the one needful thing is Christ. Christ is our neighbor, he came to serve us, so that we could serve others. And the means of that divine service to us is the Word. So this sermon is about the importance of Faith Alone and Word Alone – two thirds of the Reformation Solas – and how because they are Christ’s work, they will not be taken from us.

Recording Note: I’ve left in our closing hymn LSB 583 God Has Spoken by His Prophets. I think the stretch from prophets to now and the focus on the unchanging message of Christ alone captures the solidness of the promise. Nations rise and fall, the world’s despair and turmoil seems never ending, but God abides with us. We have a sure anchor. And it will not be taken from us.

Assurance of the Word

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Biblical Text: Luke 8:26-39
Full Sermon Draft

The text is one that still has resonance in the popular culture due of Horror Flicks. It is the possession of a man by “legion”. Leaving aside those trifles, the text stands as an important part of Luke’s narrative argument. Jesus has turned to parables, the chief of them the parable of the sower and the soils. The Word is being spread, and its reception is varied. Amid the varied reception, there is also a pattern. Those who should know, do not. Those who would seem to know nothing, are given full healing.

What this sermon attempts to do is examine the assurances of Word in the midst of such variance. That assurance is not some small trifle, but merely the promise of sane peace, and that nothing happens outside the command of heaven. And that command is given for our good.

From the Days of John Until Now

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Biblical Text: Matthew 11:12-19
Full Sermon Draft

There are two lectionary gospel texts for Reformation Sunday. This is the alternate text. It is actually my favorite because I think it reminds us of something necessary. The nature of the Kingdom here is not one of apparent power and victory. The Kingdom is comes in weakness. It is often veiled. It is violated, and violent men seize her. Yet the victory is won. Christ is risen, and there is always an angel with that eternal gospel. You might have to go to the wilderness to hear it, but the Word remains.

Recording note: I’ve left in the Hymn of the Day which was Lutheran Service Book #555 – Salvation Unto Us Has Come. A Mighty Fortress is often considered The Reformation hymn, but my money is on this one. We sang the odd verse which tell the full story of grace. I also left in the concluding short Hymn, God’s Word is Our Great Heritage, LSB 582. I think if Luther was around to say what the purpose of the Reformation was, 500 years later removed from the arguments of the day he would say what this hymn does. We have been given and entrusted with the Word. We betray the Kingdom if we forget this.

God Has the Power…Hold On!

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Biblical Text: Mark 7:1-13
Full Sermon Draft

The text is one of those that is actually real easy to apply today, but preaching that sermon to this congregation isn’t matching audiences. I think you have to look a little to correctly apply it. Putting it in doctrinal terms the text is one about the simplicity of scripture or the perspicuity of scripture. What that means is simply that the meaning of scripture is plainly available to those who read it fairly. That doesn’t mean we accept it, just that we can understand what it says. What Jesus gets mad at in the Pharisees is not that they reject it outright, but that they end up putting forward theological arguments and rationalizations that negate the simple word of God. Their higher theology allows them to break the law yet claim they are keeping it. And this is done with the blessing of the institutional form of the religion. The easy marks are in the introduction. To correctly apply though means understanding the simple or catechism word and then looking at how we might deny it.

We had VBS last week, so what I used as the simple Word were the daily slogans from VBS which told the really simple faith – creation, comfort, healing, forgiveness, eternity. And then it mulls these over a little deeper and takes a look at how we, not others but ourselves, might elevate a higher theology against that simple faith. The bottom line is that any higher or deeper theology must be consonant or allow the simple faith. I’ll make a physics analogy, Quantum mechanics must allow for Newtonian Physics. Quantum mechanics can never completely negate Newtonian Physics. We are being Pharisees when we negate portions of the law yet say we aren’t because of complex rationalizations. Like the response line to the simple VBS statements, we Hold On to the simple word.

Desire the Good Stuff

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Biblical Text: John 6:22-35
Full Sermon Draft

The assigned readings take a three week tour though John 6. This chapter of John often gets called the bread of life discourse. That is fancy language for an extended teaching session between Jesus and the crowd after the feeding of the 5000 which was read from Mark a couple of weeks back. In this first section of teaching we have Jesus at what I would say is his most cryptic. The main thread is his claim that “I am the bread of life.” The background biblical story is the OT text of Israel in the desert after the exodus receiving manna. Manna, is actually a direct transliteration of the Hebrew and it simply means “what is it?” It is Moses that tells the it is the bread from heaven. Jesus picks that phrase up and encourages the crowds not to want temporal things (i.e. bread that spoils or after which you grow hungry again) but to desire the good stuff (i.e. eternal things) – the bread from heaven. The crowds pick up his drift as they ask about Moses, but they are still stuck on temporal things. They are still desirous of physical bread, hoping that this Jesus is a better Moses who can grant the manna for a longer time. Jesus’ response is the staggering “I am the bread of life.” He is not a Moses testifying about the bread, nor is this bread like that manna which did go away, but this bread is eternal. The Word of God himself has appeared. The Father wants to give us this bread. And the only requirement is believe.

So this will continue for the next couple of Sunday’s, but right now Jesus wants to get across a couple of items. If we are aiming for temporal things, however worthy they might be, we are missing the target. The Father wants to give you eternal things. Raise you eyes. Desire the good stuff. The second part of this is that the good stuff is the Word of God incarnate. When we live by the word of Jesus, when we believe him we have life. And that bread brings us through this temporal world to eternal life.

The hymn we closed with which I left in captures this theme and the images of the lessons perfectly – Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer LSB 918. (If you know your hymns, yes, for some reason the worship committee of the LCMS decided to mangle the first line of the more common “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah”. I’m not sure why, but it probably has to do with the term Jehovah for God which is something of a mishmash. It came about through a mistake of reading the vowel pointings of Adonai (Lord) that are usually placed over name of God tetragrammaton in Hebrew. The Jews would not say the name out loud but instead by looking at the vowels would substitute LORD. Something that was carried over in most of our Old Testaments when you see capital letters LORD what you have is the name of God. If you try and pronounce the name consonants with the vowels from Adonai you get Jehovah. So, a mishmash, and then one used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, so probably the cause for the rewording.)

Perfectly Free, Perfectly Bound

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Biblical Texts: Mark 6:14-29, Amos 7:7-15
Full Sermon Draft

The real question in free and bound is: to what?

The normal way we talk about free and bound is in regards to sin. That comes under the doctrine of the keys. But in this sermon we are looking not at that doctrine, but at the bets we all place at the foundation of our lives. We all place some. Sometimes we might not know it, but they are there. What these two passages do is give us a glimpse of two foundations and how they bind and free us.

There are several applications, but today we were saying good-bye to a man and family that is off to study for the pastorate. We as a congregation were wishing them farewell and Godspeed. We were freeing them for this larger call as much as it pains us, but we along with the entire church were binding them to the Word. The plumb line that makes us free from sin and the crookedness of the world, binds us all to Christ. We might be separated in the World, but we are still one in Christ. The hymn at the end – The Church’s One Foundation – perfectly expresses this.

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

Leviticus 17:1-16
Luke 10:23-42
God choosing to act through specific means
Continuity and discontinuity