The text as I read it had two parts. The first being something of a travel itinerary. And it was travel that was done under some uncertainty and stress. First Paul wanted to go West, but the Spirit stopped him. And he drifted north. When he runs out of North he decides to go east, but the Spirit of Jesus stops him. And eventually Paul has a vision, “come help us in Macedonia.” It’s not that Paul was doing anything wrong; he just didn’t have the necessary figured out yet. But when you figure out the necessary, there is only one choice – obedience. The sermon reads Paul’s itinerary as a metaphor for the life of discipleship. The second part of the text is what happens when you arrive at a new point. Paul and his traveling companions have gone to Philippi, a Roman Colony. And what they encounter is different. When we’ve come to something new in our discipleship walk, we have a choice.
Change in the church is always a contentious issue. But even Jesus assumed that it would happen. And the book of Acts gives an example of a significant change. What these biblical texts give us is a Spirit Led pattern. This sermon takes Jesus’ words as the basis and Acts as the enaction of those words. Peter’s “ordered argument” is meaningful. It is not that revelation or vision and experience are meaningless. They are quite meaningful and Peter includes both as part of his argument. But his real argument is “remembering the Word of God.” This sermon looks at Peter’s Spirit led example and encourages us to examine our own changing in the same light.
This Sunday is typically “Good Shepherd” Sunday. The Gospel text comes from John 10. The key verse of that being “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” The first reading assigned in from the end of Acts. And why it is paired up with the Gospel reading is because it is the answer to the natural question: How do the sheep hear the voice? This sermon meditates on the answer based on Paul’s “good-bye” message to the Ephesian Elders.
This sermon takes on a topic that is probably a little far afield for most Lutheran churches, conversion. And in thinking about conversion we have to think about things above and things below. What I mean by that is we live in a sacramental world. The reality above breaks into our reality here. We can call it sacraments. We call it signs. We call it revelation. Depends upon the stability of the inbreaking. The conversion of Saul/Paul is the text to think about this. If you ask how Saul was converted, a valid answer is baptism. Ananias baptizes Saul and he is welcomed as brother and receives the Holy Spirit. That is the reality. But that is not how most of us would describe Saul’s conversion. The road to Damascus is the sudden replacement of Saul’s will which was breathing threats and murder with the will of Christ. This is also the daily conversion of any Christian. The sermon attempts to think through these things. As I said, not a standard subject. I think it hangs together, but sermons are signs themselves. And describing signs is always a bit like interpreting dreams or reading revelation. You are better off experiencing it.
The assigned texts for the Sunday’s after Easter this year selectively read through a couple of books. The Epistles are coming from the book of Revelation. At least right now I’m trying to write about those in the weekly newsletter. The “first lesson”, replacing the normal Old Testament reading, is a reading from the book of Acts. Acts is a book about the formation and life of the early church. This lessons comes from the first months after the Resurrection. And I think it is worth preaching through Acts at this time. Why? Because I think we in the modern church have lost connection with “all the words of life.” That is what the Angel told Peter and the Apostle’s to go preach when he released them from prison. There are complex words, but it isn’t those we’ve lost, its the simple ones. And that is what this sermon meditates on. What are the simple words that make the church?
The service is a Tenebrae, which means there is a dowsing of the lights after each of the seven readings until the we are in darkness at the end. It is a moving service in person. I’ve left the recording complete. In most of the service posts I edit things to the sermon, readings and maybe a verse or two of the opening hymn. I do that primarily because our sound system isn’t so great as to record the congregation. But for this service it doesn’t makes sense. The “sermon” is really 5 mini-ones. Two of the meditations are musical. To give some time to meditate before rushing on to the next scene. The readings are longer and the hymns are present in shorter form, but to give response and guide meditation. It really all hangs together. And this package of homilies I one that I’m putting in the keeper pile. In the hope of the resurrection.
Maundy Thursday, at least when I do it, is usually about the institution of the Lord’s Supper. This is still that, but this year I picked the alternate text. This text is the foot washing from the Gospel according to John. It is a more challenging text, but worth it from a Law and Gospel meditation. Because both are in this. And I’d bet that we miss it normally.
It was Palm Sunday which has morphed into the Sunday of the Passion. The Triumphal Entry is the Gospel of the Day in Advent 1. Maundy Thursday (the institution of the Lord’s Supper) and Good Friday (the crucifixion) have their own days, so I try to preach on the arrest and trials of Jesus. And I have to be honest that 15 years ago I don’t know if I was just naive or if things were really different, but these trials always felt like a different world. But with the number of polically motivated trials and refusals to prosecute that we’ve seen in the past few years, they have become much more real. This sermon meditates on how Luke’s portrayal of Jesus’ three trials: Chief Priests, Pilate and Herod represent three modes of failure to do justice: venality, cowardice and cynicism. How we often succumb to those failures. And How Jesus overcame them and deserves the crown.
The parable of the wicked tenants always feels a little like an overdetermined dead letter. Even the Chief Priests understood that Jesus told it against them. The Salvation History understanding is natural. But the problem is that history alone doesn’t preach. Especially if that history hasn’t been made one’s own. The biblical story, the story of Israel, used to be fully the possession of every Christian. But today I fear we have been severed. We still desire the form of the old things. We desire the sacraments. We desire that the bible mean something. But we want them to mean what we want them to be, not what God has clearly made them to be. And we will kill the heir to make them ours.
This sermon is an encouragement to lay hold of the new things of God, to perceive what He is doing. Before the vineyard is taken from us.