A quick note about this sermon. It is really a short one at the start, and then the rest. With NY State becoming an open infanticide state it was necessary to say something from the pulpit about this deep wrong. That is the short clear start.
The second part hopefully ties that in. The text is about the authoritative Word of Jesus. When He preached everyone recognized the impact of what he said. And that impact wasn’t really the healings or the exorcisms which were the signs and wonder. The impact was that His Word demanded a response. The text gives us three examples of responses. The sermon looks and them and how we respond in our lives.
In Last week’s message we pondered What is an Epiphany answering that a Biblical Epiphany was seeing God. Following the Star is not just about a mental change or even a change of habit, but it is about meeting God. The question then becomes how does this happen? The texts of the season answer that for us. This message ponder’s Luke’s unique portrayal of the baptism of Jesus which is one that cares little about the actual baptism but instead pairs it down to the simplest presentation- The Word of the Father and the Presence of the Spirit. How do we see God? In the Inspired Word.
This was our “Rally Day” or recognition of the start of School week. (We delay a week typically due to the labor day weekend.) So, there are parts of the service – like the installation of Sunday School teachers, and blessing of backpacks – that I couldn’t get on the recording. Physically we did them down in front where our various mic’s don’t capture too well. That blessing was probably the key to thinking about this sermon unfortunately.
In my head the sermon is an existential one. It points out a common thought, looking up at the night sky and what do you see? There are naive answers, but nobody really holds those long. That is the purpose of the Lion King reference. The existential question of that sky (a sign) is: is their order or is it all just chaos?
The answer revealed to us by the Word of God is that there is an order. In our sinful condition we are like the deaf and mute man in our text, unable to hear the music of the spheres. But Jesus has come to give us back the ability to hear. That same Word that tells us of God’s loving order, opens ears and loosens tongues. And in the application to educating, learning/education/wisdom which is based on that word is a worth endeavor, because God desires to be known just as we are known by Him. The universe makes sense, the foundation of which is revealed to us in the Word of God, so we can grow in Wisdom just like Jesus. It is not the dark forest nor the great filter that haunt our minds when we tune out the music of the spheres.
Christmas Day is always a smaller, more intimate time. Sometimes I wonder what it was like when that was not the case. But anyway, the sermon attempts to honor that. It is less a polished piece of rhetoric and more a personal message. An end to Christmas reflection for those who mostly have been on this church service tryptic (advent 4, Christmas Eve, Christmas day) in two days.
I’ve left in our opening hymn (A Great and Mighty Wonder) which the sermon owes a debt too, and our close, Away in a Manger. The simple invite to keep these things and ponder them in our hearts.
The confrontation of Jesus with the chief priests and elders is the confrontation of the prophet with the stewards of the priest and king roles. It is a confrontation of authority. And the abiding question is how do we know when we’ve heard THE WORD of GOD?
The typical authority granted is of that priestly or kingly type. It comes with the office and the special garb of the office. The authority of the prophet is different. And we still long to hear that prophetic authority. The first part of the hard answer is that the prophetic authority is self-authenticating. You know it in your hearts and guts when you hear it. Our opening hymn was “Hark a Thrilling Voice is Sounding”. That is the part of the response. The second part of the hard answer is that THE WORD comes to us under the cross. It comes in power and can be crucified, the violent can bear it away. It is always “punching up” as it were. If it is not, it might be something you desperately want to be THE WORD, but you are fooling yourselves.
When we hear the prophet the most likely response is repentance. That is the goal of THE WORD – Repent and believe. The Kingdom is here. A contrasting honest response would simply be to have the courage of your convictions. Sit in the seat of the priest or the king and deny that the prophet has any authority. It is at least a courageous honesty response. The worst response is “we don’t know”. Did you hear the Word? “We don’t know”. Stop it. You know. You just don’t like the decision is forces. True repentance or true rebellion. We want it both ways. The safe authority with the romance of the prophet.
Recording Note: You might notice during the sermon a shift in sound direction. For some reason I think the pulpit mic cut out. The altar mic picked it up fine, but it will sound more ambient. I also had to amplify the line just a smidge. We had some great hymns, like the opener mentioned, but I didn’t include any in the recording because it was one of those days where the recording just didn’t sound as good as live. Come to church, a much better experience.
Recording note: I had to rerecord the lessons, but the sermon is live. It is a skinny recording this week, sans the music, for that remix reason.
The point of a church is to make disciples. To make disciples is more complicated than it might sound. The hard truth is that Jesus was never about just getting someone to recite a creed (as important as it might be) or say a prayer (as meaningful as it can be). The disciple, as the reading from Romans would highlight, is someone that has “the word near you, in your mouth and in your heart”. The disciple is someone who has made the faith given to the apostles their own. To do that requires a work of the imagination. Sadly, it is that very imagination that I think our modern world fails at. If the ancient heresies were due to over-active imaginations, the modern are due to a lack. If they thought there was more in the text than actually there, we think there is much less. Ours is a spiritual poverty.
This sermon is an attempt to encourage the imagination of discipleship. The text is taken as a surprisingly deep, yet easy picture of the Christian life. There are two images, Peter getting out of the boat and Jesus and Peter getting in the boat, and then one image of narrative conclusion. All applied to our lives, to build up live in the boat.
I was on vacation, so I didn’t deliver this sermon, one of our members gave it. I hope I didn’t throw him off too much writing in my own voice. As I say at the start, this is a favorite text to preach on and to worship with the hymnody associated with it.
I must apologize, I don’t have a recording. I could record it I suppose, but that wouldn’t be the sermon delivered. So, I’d invite you to read and ponder. The main hymn that is echoes through the sermon is Lutheran Service Book 584, Faith and Truth and Life Bestowing.
The text is the fascinating precursor to the “good shepherd” passages. In the context, precursor is the wrong word because the first 6 verses of John 10 are the basis. Verses 7 through 10 are an expansion or a change of emphasis. The good shepherd verses are elaborations on these initial “truly, truly” sayings. What this sermon attempts to do is meditate on those sayings. It asks the confirmation question “what does this mean” about the structure. After answering is examines three things: a) how God acts in this world as explained by the parable, b) our duty after “hearing the voice” and c) what Jesus means by abundant life. I think this is a rather thick sermon, but worth a listen
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.
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.