Parables are strange little things. Everyone loves a good parable. If there is a part of the bible that remains common knowledge it is probably some of the parables, like the Sower and the Soils. But what makes them strange is that while the crowds might remember them, they don’t really hear them. If you are hearing the parables alone, it is because your ears aren’t working. The understanding, the explanation, only comes by faith. And that understanding is often at great odds with the surface friendliness.
In the case of the Sower and the soils, them point is not really to identify soils which is what we so often do. The point is to recognize the overwhelming grace of the sower. And to understand that you are good soil. You who have heard and accepted the Word, you are good soil and will be made fruitful. Because the Word of God does what it intends.
This is my attempt to preach the doctrine of election which is way outside of the American Overton Window. Which is deeply odd and might explain our historical moment better than anything. For most of American history, the doctrine of election was born in the morrow of Americans. From the Shot heard round the world, through manifest destiny to the early progressive movement, Americans knew in their bones what being chosen was about. As Lincoln himself said “an almost chosen people”. But today, we insist not on a God who chooses, but we are free will maximalists. Which is how we’ve arrived at this deeply troubled day. Because it just ain’t so. The most important things in life aren’t our choices. This sermon, reflecting on Jesus’ words both about the Father’s good pleasure and the easy yoke, is my best attempt to proclaim election, and how it works itself out in time. The biggest step being that God chooses you in this hearing. You can’t choose Him, but he has chosen you. All you can do is opt-out of his grace.
The gospel text today is the end of Jesus’ missionary sermon, and it contains one of the hardest sayings of Jesus. “I have have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” That is actually understandable from Matthew’s Gospel, which I hope the sermon brings to life. It is just that we are more used to Luke’s Christmas story. Understanding peace and swords is the first part.
The second part is about why anyone would take up the call and what that means. It is an expansion on what should be the greater phrase, but we go ho hum to “the one who received you receives me, and the one who receives me receives the one who sent me”. What that phrase tells us is that we get God. We get the Father. Our reward? God. That should be stunning.
Sometimes you have one of those spooky encounters. This includes mine floating in a pool a few years ago. But the points is about the warning and the blessing of being a follower of Jesus. The warning could cause fear, a little like my story. But it shouldn’t, because the blessing is so much greater.
I also left in a great hymn at the end that captures everything. LSB 836
The essence of the text is a list, a list of names. Sermonic suicide, right?
I think the list, when you add the stuff around it is more meaningful than that. And it goes right at our problems with evangelism. We grumble, we come up with all kinds of excuses why we can’t, why things are going good. We look at this text and say, “if you gave me those powers.” But that is simply a surface reading. Give is a good read. List out what the tools for the work of mission actually are. And then ask yourselves, are you willing to pick up these tools? That is what the sermon does.
This was a sermon delivered for the pastors of the LCMS Rochester Circuits meeting. It is called occasional preaching. In the category with weddings, funerals, and some impromptu times people ask you to speak. What is special to me about these is the audience – preaching to preachers. So the measuring line is pulled a little tighter. But it is also a great occasion to “swing for the fences”. Things that don’t show up in the lectionary – like Lamentations. Things that are built on a deeper collective understanding of the text – like a solid biblical historical framework. Things that might make people mad. As one of the Lamentations verses has it: “You prophets have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes…”. It is an audience you don’t hold back with playing a longer game. (Note, I used selected verses from the Lamentations as a responsive reading introit. It didn’t come off well on the recording because the responses were mostly online and not mic’d.) So that is the background of this one.
The Sunday after Pentecost is always set aside as Trinity Sunday. And the key piece of Trinity Sunday worship is the Athanasian Creed. Creeds can unfortunately be turned into dead letters. Something read or looked at, but not pondered within one’s heart. Not a symbol of a living faith. When they are dead letters they turn into checklists of mental assent or legalisms or even worse esotericism. What this sermon attempts to do is show them as invitations. “This is the catholic faith”. When you hear/say them as that, they become deadly practical. They help us remember what this sermon attempts to bring back.
Note: Here is the “funny” that the sermon starts off describing.
Biblical Text: Pentecost – John 7:37-39, Confirmation Verses: Ephesians 3:17-19 and Job 28:28
I love the conjunction of Pentecost with Confirmation Day. I just think so many things converge theologically and it gives you a real live image to point at in the public confession of faith. It is also just one of my favorite days to preach. We are not a large church, so I don’t have massive confirmation classes. And that allows me to craft something for each confirmand. It is something out of my heart. And that phrase in a couple of different ways is the theme of this address – “out of the heart”, what comes out of your heart?
Peter’s letter is really written to those who are or might be experiencing hard times. And as he is summarizing and wrapping that letter up he ends with three imperatives. As you are going through the fiery trial , do this. And each of those do this rest on a know this. Know who and what God has done and is doing for you, so that you can act in this way.
At least to me it in our current situation is was meaningful as I prepared and practiced it. It was a necessary message for me. I hope it is so to you. Blessings.
Biblical Texts: Acts 17:16-31, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21
I gave myself a bit more freedom today. It is hard to describe exactly what I mean. The best I can do is compare proclamation and application. Proclamation is the announcement of what God has to say to sinners. Application is then the “what shall be do” question. I tend to be much more on the proclamation side. That proclamation includes the law – the 10 commandments. My application tends to be big broad strokes or examples. I hope that the Spirit is working in my listeners to bring the seeds planted to fruitfulness. Today though, I felt compelled to talk a bit more about an application. The proclamation is the resurrection life in Christ. The application is how we as Christians approach suffering and risk of suffering in this world. I think we are taking too many of our cues from the world. And we should change that.