If it produces, well and good; if not, cut it down…


Biblical Text: Luke 13:1-9
Full Sermon Draft

Sometimes data visualizations just get it. The word tree above gets its. We are in the middle of lent which is a penitential season, a season for repentance. Now there are some really good questions that we might ask about that. What is repentance? What does it include? How do we do it? Why? Who?

This text is at its core about answering those questions.

Who? Everyone.
Why? Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Because the assumptions that we have been taught by the world are not what the Word of God tells us. Hear the Word.
What does that Word assume? No one is good. The word itself accuses us (the law), but that same word is our salvation (gospel).
What does repentance include? A change of assumptions from the world’s to the Word’s. A fruitful living according to the Word.
Where do I go to understand fruit? Look it up in the Word.

Ash Wednesday Meditation


Text: 2 Cor 5:20b-6:10; Psalm 51:1-12

“We implore you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God…we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain…behold, now is the favorable time, behold, now is the day of salvation.”

Not to receive the grace of God in vain, isn’t that a strange string of words? What does it mean to receive the grace of God in vain?

We are not talking about pure unbelief or the enemies of the gospel. They do not receive the grace at all but deny that it exists. Instead we are talking about someone who has received it, but it does no good, or it doesn’t do what it is supposed to do. So what does the grace of God do?

It breaks down and it builds up. It kills and it makes alive. It cleanses and creates anew. Both the law and the gospel are a grace. By the law we know our sins. As the psalmist says, “I know my transgression, and my sin is ever before me.” That is the peculiar grace of the law. But the overwhelming grace of the gospel follows, “create a clean heart….renew a right spirit…restore to me the joy…the joy of you salvation…uphold me with a willing spirit.”
So what does it mean to receive grace in vain? The core of it is to have heard the law, but never applied it to ourselves. Our ears have heard the 10 commandments. Our intellect has turned them over, maybe even memorized them along with a bunch of scripture and catechism answers. Our parents, physical or spiritual, have led us in green pastures. But the terror of that imposing law has never got to our hearts.

To receive it in vain is to receive the grace as if you don’t need it. To stand in the light of the law and think as the Pharisee, “Thank God I am not like that publican”. To stand in the light, and not see the darkness of our natural heart. To be put next to purity and think oneself not to shabby. To be shown just how lost we are, and not ask for directions thinking we are fine. We are rich, we have means, we have years, we will get out of this and be the stronger for it. We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.

The entire passage, maybe like the ashes of today, might seem a little overboard. We implore…we appeal…behold, now….a second time, behold, now. To the one who receives in vain, why all the histrionics? We’ve got this under control, calm down. But we don’t. The proclamation over the ashes, dust you are and to dust you will return is true. We don’t have this under control. We can’t add a single hour to our given time. Yet, we can receive that in vain. Never let that sink into our hearts.

Yet God holds out his grace for us. He proclaims it in many and various ways – as Paul talks about in the rest of the passage. In Christ God has declared us reconciled. God has stopped counting. He’s drawn up unilateral terms of disarmament with the most beneficial terms imaginable. We get the kingdom, as long as we don’t think it is ours by right, it is only ours by grace. And now is the time to sign that peace treaty. Now is the time to let that grace move our hearts. To break our stone hearts…and to receive new clean ones.

We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God…now is the favorable time…a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Amen.

Preaching the Good News to the Poor


Biblical Text: Luke 4:16-30
Full Draft of Sermon

Following the season of Epiphany texts we’ve been looking at the ways that God reveals himself. We’ve structured it around what I’ve asserted is the question of the age: How do we see/meet God? Our culture and even many of our churches have attempted to claim or put forward an unmediated experience of God. And if we don’t have that direct access, then we turn away or search in another spot. The biggest problem with that is that God has promised to work, to be present, through means. The grace of God comes to us through the means of grace. The last couple of weeks were baptism and the Lord’s supper. This week was first confession and absolution. Those are the proclaimed word reduced down to their essence. Today, in your hearing, is the year of the Lord’s favor. The eternal Jubilee has been proclaimed by Jesus and the church has been proclaiming that release ever since.

The second slowly dawning epiphany that this should point toward is the false spirit nature of any movement or group that says you don’t need a church or a congregation. Because the church is the focus of those means. Where ever two or three are gathered, or as the text for this sermon says, it was Jesus’ custom to go to church on the sabbath. That is an anachronistic claim, the real word is synagogue, but it stands as the text shows the basic structure of that OT service. The synagogue was brought together around the word – written and proclaimed. The OT sacramental word was found in the temple. We are the inheritors of Word and Sacrament. God has always primarily worked through Word and Sacrament. It has always been grace, through means. Those means following Christ are found in what we call a church.

Saturday Book – One Thousand Gifts – Part 4

Part #1
Part #2
Part #3

This is on chapter 3 of Ann Voskamp’s book. This chapter is the real soul of the book. This is also what the American church is really bad at. We might get to “saved”, but we don’t get to disciple. How do we live Eucharisteo is the question. The old theological word is sanctification – the life of holiness. If you think of the book as a play, this is the climax. It addresses the big questions and opens the widest understanding of happenings. The following chapters expand on it. They build deeper meaning and understanding. They push it to the tough corners of experience, but Chapter 3 is the beating center.

I. Opening question – is grace/eucharisteo/gospel as static thing? Is it something purely comprehended or primarily mental? How yes, how most definitely no?

II. AV p43 – “You’ve changed…out the glasses…I may have always known…I knew what to do.”

Two biblical/gospel ways of talking about change…

Metaphor #1 Metaphor #2
John 3:3 Luke 13:5
1 Peter 1:3 Mark 6:12
  Luke 3:8
  Rom 2:4

What is metaphor #1? What is metaphor #2? What does #1 imply? What do you hear implied in #2?
Which metaphor do you think AV is more comfortable with? Why? {NB – repent in the original greek is a much larger word than what we think when we hear it in translation. It has two overlapping domains if you will. It has a cognitive domain. “I’m going the wrong way and I recognize that.” It has a physical domain. “I am turning around and walking 180 degrees the other way.” Our English emotional domain of sorrow really isn’t in the greek word. Repent in greek is a “new birth” type of word. A sudden event that continues in a new direction.}
New birth/Repentance is the start of a new life a new way of walking. What does it mean that AV, although being a lifelong church go-er, “doesn’t know what to do?”

III. AV p44-45 – “It is the beginning of list season…sure, whatever?”
How does AV start her new walk? How could this be helpful? What are some of your ways or “strategies” for the living of the sanctified or new life? How/where do we learn these things? Where should we?

A helpful quote (I think) from Confucius:
At 15, I set my heart on learning
At 30, I was firmly established in my way
At 40, I had no more doubts
At 50, I knew the Will of Heaven
At 60, I was ready to listen to it
At 70, I could follow my heart’s desire without transgressing the right
What is Confucius talking about? What is AV learning about? Are the virtues obsolete? Can you name them – 4 cardinal and 3 theological? Are we creatures of habit? What is our original habit – take a look at almost any 2 year old? What are the habits of the “new birth”? Is any of that easy? Read Philippians 4:11-12, Paul writing from Prison at the end of his life, does he sound like Confucius @ 70?

Luther’s method was learned in the monastery, the life of a monk – “prayer, study, trial”. It also applies to the life of a Christian. Read Philipians 1:9-10. Prayer wrapped in love, for knowledge and discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent and be pure on the Day of Jesus. Prayer, study and trial. When first you pick it up, the prayer and study seem to come after the failure. Why did I fail that trial? When you are 50, the prayer and study precede the trial. You still probably fail. When you are 70, they precede and you stand.

IV.AV p. 50 – “because that habit…pin of gratitude.”
What do you think of AV’s hammer and nail analogy for the sanctified life? Discuss the implications of that.

AV p 55 – “Some days, ones…Driving nails into a life always is.”
AV p 57 – “A lifetime of sermons..precedes the miracle.”
First, ouch. Then discuss the difference between: Offensive grace or hard grace vs. Cheap Grace; disciples vs. crowds looking for bread (John 6); practice vs. something you pick up and put down. (Hint the sanctified life vs. “saved”)
Why do we need a lifetime of sermons? Why does the Christian faith need to be practiced and not just picked up on Sunday morning? Hint: Does the law (10 Commandments) make sense? Does the cross? Lutheran understanding moment: Law is written on our hearts, gospel/grace is known by proclamation or hearing. God chose the foolishness of the preaching starting with his son’s preaching. The gospel sticks through Word and Sacrament.
AV p 58 – “Why would the world…life grows.”
Why would we go through such nailing? Why would we struggle so?
Joy…life. The outward spiral. Even in failure, we give thanks. Because the grace is bigger. Because joy is not transient. The purpose is joy – now and in the age to come.

Ash Wednesday

This morning we took psalm 51 as our text. We know the famous portions – restore unto me the joy of your salvation – but the last four verses spoke a couple of points to me.

Psalm 51: 16-19
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem;
then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Two points:
1) The purpose of repentance is restoration to the community of God; it is not just private.
2) The purpose of repentance is not a hang-dog sorrow, but a preparation for joy.

Look at the progression in the verses. The Lord refuses the formal sacrifice which leads to a broken spirit. The broken spirit (repentance) leads to God rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. That is a communal ideal, Jerusalem the city and people of God. Being restored to the city of God leads to being part of the community’s worship; sacrifice is accepted. Personal repentance is necessary, but repentance is not just a personal bath. It is a rejoining to the people of God.

The Lord welcomes and restores sinners. Dust I am and to dust I will return, but I have not been cast away from God’s presence. The Lord has promised salvation. He builds the walls and does good to Zion. We are a people held in His palm, in His memory. The restoration first seen in Christ, is then displayed in this collection of remembered and reformed dust. The Lord remembers his dust.

The Disciple’s Life of Repentance

Full Text
Text: Luke 17:1-10

Luke 14:1 – 17:10 in my reading is one long extended teaching on being a disciple. The text for this sermon is the summary or conclusion of that section. I drew that boundary because in Luke 17:11 Jesus is no longer ping-ponging back and forth between disciples and Pharisees, but he is back on the road to Jerusalem. The entire Jerusalem road narrative is about discipleship, but this inner part has been more intense. It has been much more about how the disciple acts while Jesus is not present here and now.

The focus on being a disciple gives the section a heavy law feeling and it does end with millstones and the blunt saying about being an unworthy servant. But it is right there where the gospel enters. Of course that is how we would act. If we had a field slave and he came in we’d tell him to go clean up and make dinner. But that is not how God acts. In Christ – God serves the dinner and washes the feet. The unworthy slave is told to sit, eat, drink, rest…while the worthy son is crucified.

It is just that love for the unworthy slave that should inspire the life of repentance. We no longer have to look pious. We are not part of a religious club where membership depends upon our status or appearance. We have been seated at the table. We repent not because it atones for sin or gives us any merit. We repent because we desire to be closer to the heart and mission of the God who loved us first. We repent as a plea – Lord come quickly and finish what you started.

Deep Lent

Full Text

I’ll just say I hated the text this week. It was harsh and rough, and I couldn’t escape it. Everything I read to prepare for preaching just lead deeper into the heart of repentance. Everything lead to heart rending stories. A better preacher would have been more winsome. Me, all I’ve got is a little logic and I’m too stupid to dial it back a bit and too slow to dodge. I hope and pray that the Spirit used this better than the words said.

What did you come to see? – Luke 7:18-28 – Advent 3


Full Text

Text: Luke 7:18-28

The middle two weeks of advent are the weeks of John the Baptist. He’s a forgotten figure in modern Christianity. He doesn’t seem to have much meaning or purpose. We continue to read the stories of the patriarchs. We will talk about the OT prophets. We will give due to the apotles. The later church fathers will also be discusses. John the Baptist, who Jesus declares to be the greatest born of woman, gets left out.

One really good reason is that he more or less gets subsumed under Christ. The life and mission of Jesus overwhelm John who doesn’t leave any writings outside of the voice captured in the gospels. But that doesn’t account for it alone. I think it has more to do with the baptist’s message. It is a sparse and clear proclamation -repent, be baptized and bring forth the fruits of repentance. It is a message that Jesus picks up (Mark 1:14-15).

So much of life is spent finding the middle way. And that is usually the course of wisdom. Stay away from the extremes. Find the middle path through the mess. Just that in regards to truth, finding the middle way leaves you with nothing. God’s grace is not found by splitting the difference with the Baptist. I’ll admit I sin, but living the life or repentance seems extreme. Why this thing called baptism? Isn’t there something grander or more meaningful? The middle way would seem to ask for more than baptism as a sign and seal. In Luke even John seems to have questions. John has not followed the middle way, but things aren’t looking like he expected. He asks Jesus, “are you the one?”

And Jesus doesn’t apologize for the form of grace or the proclamation one bit. In fact he turns to the crowds and asks what did they come to see? They all came to see a prophet. They recognized a truth in John (and in Jesus) that was not just natural wisdom. And that recognition requires more than a middle way response. If you came to see a prophet, and the prophet says God’s grace is here, in water and word, in a crucified peasant, then we should align ourselves with that grace.

It is a great question to many people who come to churches. What did you come to see? If you came to see anything other than the presant grace of God, you’ve got the wrong purpose. Ask youself, what did you come to see? Does the answer require you to make changes?

The Day of the Son of Man

Text: Luke 17:20-37 (cross reference Hebrews 6:1-3)

In our Sunday study we’ve been looking at Hebrews and the above link ties into what must have been the outline of the basic catechism or teaching: repentance, faith, baptism, laying on of hands (ministry/healing), resurrection and judgement. I’ve been thinking about that list and the current state of the church. The author to the Hebrews says those are the basics and encourages his readers to greater understanding. Of those six subjects for lack of a better term, which of them are emphasized? Which are missing? Are any over done?

My gut reaction is that in many places the only one of the six that receives its due is faith – but the even that is not a grounded faith in the person of Jesus Christ but a vague warm fuzzy of faith in faith, a sing-songy “My faith will see me through”. Part of that is the shortening of our vision. As in our primary text, things go on as in the days of Noah or the days of Lot. People are born and die; People get married and give in marriage. We eat and drink, buy and sell, and build. And we think that it will go on like this forever gradually forgetting the judgement. When there is no judgement, who needs repentance? If there is no need for repentance, who needs a preacher or a baptism? When there is no New Jerusalem, what does resurrection mean – aren’t we just going to be spirits in a utopian heaven?

This is not to fall into the Hellfire and Brimstone mode of preaching, but to lift our eyes out of the insignificant toward the significant. That is what the judgement does. The things that go on here and now will continue and they deserve their time. There is a time for everything under the sun. But in light of the judgement, the captial letters DAY OF THE SON OF MAN, they are somewhat insignificant. Of true significance is the acceptance of a personal small letter day of the son of man. On that capital letter day there will not be time. It comes like lightening. One is taken and one is left. Today is the day of grace. Today is the day we repent and have faith in the works of the Son of Man – Jesus Christ – who washes us in the waters of baptism and puts his Spirit in us. Our faith rests secure in that Day of the Son of Man.

In later days you will return…

Text: Deuteronomy 4:25-31

Dangerous territory the later days. Especially when you ponder the Jewish people. Over and over again in history Christians have looked for the wholesale “return” of the Jews to belief. It is one of those thoughts that is just too tantalizing. And when it doesn’t happen in a person’s lifetime the results are not often pretty (see Martin Luther’s late writings on the Jews). There it is in today’s text – “in later days, you will return to the Lord your God and hear his voice…” Paul in Romans ponders the question and answers “all Israel will be saved.” (Romans 11:26) What both this text and Paul have in common is disobeidience. Moses says, “that the people will be few in number amoung the nations and there you will serce other gods of wood and stone….” Paul writes (romans 11:32), “God has bound all men over to disobeidience so that he many have mercy on them all.”

Becoming infatuated with the hereditary Jews misses Paul’s and Moses’ distinction. All Israel will be saved. The elect, the chosen, Israel – not the hereditary line, but the line of faith. “When you are in tribulation and all these things come upon you in the later days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice, for the Lord your God is a merciful God.” The disobeidient will hear the voice and repent. All have fallen short. All have been disobeidient. All have been called by the Gospel. All Israel hears the Good Shepherd’s voice. (John 10:5, John 10:27)

And how is Israel chosen? “Oh the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out… (Romans 11:33-36)”