Biblical Text: Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3 Revelation 12:7-12, Luke 20:17-20 (Appointed texts for St. Michael and All Angels
Full Sermon Draft
The texts are apocalyptic. The day is a rarely celebrated Festival of the church. The last time it might have crossed out consciousness is 2002 – the last time September 29th was on a Sunday. What do these things have to say to us?
I’ve got three points:
1) “Worlds” rise and fall, are born and die. We can mark the time, and toward the dying phase that is what we do because we are avoiding the all too apparent appointed time. The apocalyptic is give to God’s people to capture that sense of a world ending and at the same time remind us that the new creation is just as much God’s as the old. The apocalyptic is solely meant to comfort God’s people. He’s got it all in his hands.
2) The instanced of dying and rising, from our personal experiences all the way to the death of civilizations (and the feelings of exile), are portents of the final rising. On that final day all will rise one last time. A people confident of such can celebrate in the midst of death, and can fast or just mark time when the world is decadently feasting.
3) Sometimes seduced by the utilitarian and material world that has flattened everything we forget where our real strength comes from. We can pound our heads against material walls when the true war is spiritual. Our only true spiritual weapon is prayer. The angels of God, as they tell Daniel, are dispatched by the word through prayer.
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Sermon Text: Matt 5:6, Rev 6:10, Rev 7:9, Lord’s Prayer, Apostles Creed, All Saints Day
Full Text of Sermon
A Lutherans we are trained to think in terms of paradoxes in tension. Here is what I mean by that. The big tension paradox is law and gospel. The law kills, yet is necessary to show us the gospel which makes alive. The gospel without the law just confirms people in self-righteousness. Think the self-esteem movement of today. That is the perfect example of gospel without law. It essentially says that God accepts you just the way you are. Used in the context before the law, that is deadly and leads to a bunch of the dysfunctions we see in our culture today. Likewise the law without the gospel doesn’t work. For a while you get better people as they struggle to keep the law, to be holy. But eventually they figure out it is a rigged game. Hey, I can’t do this!?! That is the proper place for the gospel message of God accepts you through Jesus Christ. Law and gospel go together and the Lutheran emphasis at least in America has been on the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. That is the name of Walther’s LCMS-famous book.
And that works and is true if your primary goal is salvation of the individual. And don’t get me wrong, that is important. But the gospel is about more than my personal Jesus. The gospel is the proclamation of Jesus as Lord. The gospel is the proclamation of the resurrection of all flesh. And when you are proclaiming that – that is law and gospel at the same time.
In this sermon I’ve got a section that I labeled gospel in the text. First it is all scripture. Second it is a listing of the question of the prophets and martyrs – “How long?” How long until the church or people of God is perfected? How long until the martyrs receive justice? How long until the Lordship of Christ is acknowledged by all? To the believer that is pure gospel. The Spirit has already called us by the gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, and placed us on the walk of sanctification. We struggle now and long for that day when we don’t. How long is a cry for justice. For God to act. But that same proclamation if you don’t have faith in the work of Christ is either just lunacy or stark terror. The same proclamation works as law. Either it is dismissed as not applicable. (If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves – 1 John 1:8). Or it should strike us to the core. What if that is true? What if Christ is Lord, and I don’t acknowledge that? What does this Lord want?
The same words, the proclamation of Jesus is Lord is either the most consoling Gospel or the most damning law at the same time. The saints share a communion of hearing that proclamation as Gospel and longing for the day when the church at rest and the church militant are joined in the church Triumphant marching after the King of Glory.
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My daughter’s violin school was invited to play with the RIT Orchestra in a Halloween concert today. It was of course very cute to see 30 costumed elementary students with violins playing ‘Go Tell Aunt Rhody’ backed by the RIT students.
But that is not the real point. The conductor, a Dr. Michael Ruhling, gave a great little historical-musical introduction to each piece they played. After the cute kids were off stage, the orchestra turned to two other Halloween-y pieces: Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens and some movements from Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition. His introduction for each commented on a major theme in each. In each the dead/undead/witch/evil builds and is given free reign, but in each it is cut short and more or less immediately goes away. In Saint-Saens the oboe(?) sounds the cocks crow signaling the dawn and the end of the harrowing. In Mussorgsky the witch Baba Yaga is cut off, one movement just ends and moves into the next, which is much grander and was meant to represent the Church bells ringing and the Great Gate of Kiev. Dr. Ruhling said the music was comforting in that the evil builds, but in each only for a short time, and he left that hanging.
He didn’t answer the why. Why does the evil in the music not over-run all? Why does it stop and stop immediately? Its just left hanging why two great pieces of music that get at truth say the same thing. Matt 24:22 – “In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones. (Mat 24:22 NLT)” 1 Cor 15:52 – “It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. (1Co 15:52 NLT)” The tribulation is always cut short. Evil has no power in front of of the risen one. They are allowed to have their day, but never victory.
The true things, the beautiful things like that music, tell a story. We might ignore it or forget it, but it is there. Waiting to be told.
Maybe a little intellectual, but good philosophy.
Although I think it was said shorter in a couple of places like: Luke 12:23-25 (“who can add a single hour to his span of life?) or Philippians 1:21-23 or Luke 17:33 or Matt 6:11 (daily bread) or Exod 16:18-20 (the manna only lasts one day) or a whole bunch of others.
With great effort, pure reason can get us enough truth to despair or at best a stoic acceptance. What it can’t do is provide the complete picture. That requires revelation. And revelation requires faith. It is not a faith grounded in nothing – the resurrection is not nothing. But it is still faith. Faith that while we do not own our future (or our past, or even our present), there is one who does. And he has promised good to us. Are you not worth more than the grass of the field that is here today and tomorrow tossed into the fire?
Let me just say two things about this sermon: 1) I really hate it as a sermon. I think it misses the audience, doesn’t point to Christ enough, lacks a real solid textual foundation and doesn’t have the unity of message it should have. 2) I think some of the parts of it by themselves are bleeding raw and cut right to the heart of life. Modern life has lost the saints and the One who makes them and as a result is childish and soulless. We can’t see the problems even though they are right before our eyes. Being a Christian is a call to a life with a larger canvass, not a safe harbor.
Any sermon is a balance or weaving of separate threads. I have a comfort zone being very textual. In my own walk I can’t get over the fact that God speaks in this book, and I want to know as much about it as possible. That comfort zone moves through to application. Basically I have about five outlines: Very simple text-application, a little more complex 4 pages outline with the four pages being trouble in the text, gospel in the text, trouble in the world and gospel in the world (the individual pages can come in any order, when they are text, text, world, world it reduces to text-app), a three point outline (have something to say and say it well, or if you took debate/speech this tends to be a classic argument outline), a question and answer outline, and a refrain structure (multiple images or examples from life that end with the same biblical refrain). All of those outlines are about relating the text we are reading to our lives, or in reality relating our lives to the text. You could say I’m usually about trying to get people to let the biblical text read their lives. This sermon had a different basis in that the liturgical day (All Saints Day) was really the theme. Textual exposition was greatly reduced and the theology of being a Saint was brought forward. The general outline was compare and contrast – living life and interpreting reality from a secular veiwpoint alone (living with a calendar that only has Halloween) and living life with a church calendar (living with All Saints). Instead of being textual this sermon was theological and thematic.
It needed to be better.
One of the things ministers (at least Lutheran ministers) talk about all the time is what do you lead with. What I mean by that is this. The proclamation of the Lutheran is Law and Gospel. The law, in all its fierceness, says repent you poor miserable sinner. The Gospel announces the grace of God on all who do repent. The problem with that is followed to its human logical conclusion means being the human sandwhich-board walking down main street with ‘Repent-The Kingdom of God is Near’ painted on it. That may be the reductio ad absurdam of the the law proclamation, but it is rarely effective. It is my impression today, to get someone to hear the law rightly, that you almost have to sneak up on them. I think the culture assumes that the Gospel applies to them universally – we are all universalists when it comes to heaven. Jesus was anything but a universalist (Matt 7:13-14) and the entry gate on that narrow way is repentance. Stealing a line from a fellow circuit minister – “people know about Jesus, they don’t know Jesus.” Where is Martin Luther’s day the public perception about Jesus was a cruel tyrant (I think Luther actual used that term to descibe Him in Martin’s days in the cloister), and hence the society was ready to hear the gospel as it was already cowering under the law, today the public perception is one of the ever accepting Jesus – so accepting that he’s ok if you worship him under anygiven name, as long as you are true to yourself. Fostering a true encounter with Jesus means getting people to have a healthy fear of God first.
Text: Romans 1:16-25 (also Jeremiah 2:11-13)
Between being sick and what seemed like a random bunch of texts the last couple of weeks in devotion have not been very fruitful. It looks like the daily readings are bringing a couple of heavyweights out for a little while. Jeremiah will be the OT reading and Romans the Epistle all the way until Holy Week. Prayfully this will be more fruitful.
Arguments or apologies for God while good things are by necessity secondary. Nobody has ever come to belief because of the perfect argument. Faith itself is a miracle. It is the work of the Holy Spirit and the gift of God. Think Luther’s explanation to the 3rd article of the Creed. What they are good for is a calling back to faith. They speak to Spirit within us. Our baptisms are not in vain.
Aquinas classically outlined five arguments. These arguments have been restated and retold and refuted over and over. Of the five the one that always made the most sense to me is the argument from degree. Stated simply – we make judgements every day on the qualities of objects. That woman is evil/good. That sermon was heretical/truthful. That woman is ugly/beautiful. Those judgements assume a standard of perfection; There is standard of good/true/beautiful. Therefore there must be an ultimate good/true/beautiful. We call that ultimate God.
That is what Paul says. Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible nature, his power and diety, has been clearly perceived. We should, by just looking around us, understand that there is something greater. To deny that is to make our thinking futile. To deny that is to exchange the creator (the highest) for the created (things of lesser quality). In a way, God Himself makes that argument through Jeremiah. Even though they are false, does a nation change its gods? – rhetorical question with assumed answer of no. But Israel has given up the God who saves, who made them a people and brought them out of slavery, for things that do not profit. They have given up the living water for broken cisterns that can’t even hold water.
The first call of Jesus is to repent. Turn from the broken cisterns and futile thinking toward the one. The one incarnated for us and revealed for us on the cross.
Readings: Rev 18:15-24, Rev 19:1-20, Joel 1:1-12, Joel 1:13-20, Joel 2:3-11
The daly readings that I’ve been using interestingly don’t take us through the end of Revelation. But it picks an interesting place to stop – the victory of the Lord. The Harlot – false religion – has been thrown down. All heaven, saints and elders and angels rejoice over that in song. Then Christ the King appears – the original rider on a white horse – backed by the armies of heaven. This rider and His army throw the political beast into the lake of fire. All that remains is final end of Satan himself and the new creation. Revelation is a very hard read because everything is pictures. Nothing is straight – but this section. We have seen cities fall in smoking heaps. We have heard merchants (maybe today we do hear them given the wailing about getting in on the bailout) crying about trading partners that made them rich evaporating (where is Bear Stearn and Lehman). We have seen commanders at the front of armies. We have seen wedding receptions. There is nothing fantasy or odd about the victory of Christ the King. The images are hard and real and true. Just as that Cross that produced the blood that dipped the riders gleaming white robe in blood is hard and real and true; the victory won on that cross for us will be completed. We can have no doubt. And that is the ultimate message from this hard book. All kinds of scary things, things we don’t understand will happen, but the Lord Jesus reigns – and he reigns for His people. And when their number is full and complete – everyone will see that hard and real and true reign.
Joel is a short book. He is one of the 12 minor prophets all collected in our bibles before the new testament. The Jews also collect these together as the book of the 12. In Sunday worship we’ve been reading snippets from some of these 12 prophets. They can be harsh. Almost all are calling to repentance and warning about exile and ruin. Joel is no different, but he tends to be softer and has an analogy. A locust swarm has devastated Judah. The crops are gone. The vineyards are picked clean. These locusts are used as a prefigurement of the Day of the Lord. Judah has received a call to repent through the locusts before the greater army comes in judgment. The Babylonians will come. The Romans after them in 70 AD will come. All are small letter days of the lord. The Day of the Lord will come and it brings judgment – who can endure it. In Christ we are able to stand. In Christ that day of judgment is our day of victory.
Today’s reading is Rev 17:1-18. The symbols are the harlot and the beast. The beast is the first beast that came out of the sea – the political beast. He still has 7 heads and 10 horns representing his authority. The Harlot is the ever-changing 2nd beast – the religious beast. We’ve seen that beast early on in service to the political beast – make people worship its image. We’ve seen this beast as the false prophet. And now we see this beast in it full form – the harlot, riding the political beast.
False religion takes many forms. Sometimes it supports the state. Sometimes it tries to control the state. In all forms it plays the harlot. It sells the things of God for the things of man. Trading blessings and “gospels” and healings and authority for prestige and office and money. What is the best line in this reading is the fate of the harlot. The horns of the beast eventually lead the charge against her. The political beast representing Satan and supported by the second beast eventually turns on the Harlot and does the work of God. [This is Parson Brown speculation, but it is interesting how the nations of old europe were the Kings who claimed divine right to rule. The popes and national churches supported that. A new horn – the US – denied that right and separated church and state. And history has seen those nation states one by one turn on the state religion that supported them to the point that “the church” in those nations has been devoured.]
The real church has a witness to Jesus Christ and a consistant witness. The false chruch combined with the state can do great physical damage to God’s people – the Harlot is drunk on the blood of the saints and martyrs. But even these members of the unholy trinity do the will of God. Their destination is the pit. So the next time you hear someone saying they are speaking prophetically, ask what is their purpose in this prophesy. Does it call attention to Jesus as your only savior, or does it aggrandize their power/authority/position? The real church stands on the rock of Christ and His apostle’s teaching.
Alternate Readings: Zeph 3:8-13 and Luke 13:31-35
Rev 16:1-11 is the reading assigned for the day. In that reading we see the third of seven cycles start – the bowls of the wrath of God. Two textual notes of interest. During the 1st cycle (trumpets) the plagues only effected 1/3rd of anything where with the bowls that limitation is removed. Also, the trumpets were preceded by the prayers of the saints (rev 8:3-6). The plagues that followed the trumpets can be seen as the answer to the prayers of the saints. The bowls are God’s initiation alone. The voice from the temple tells them to go. The only voice from the temple is God.
Enlightenment thought made God (if he existed) to be the galactic watchmaker. God became high above it all. He created the rules and then more or less phased himself out. If anyone is an Anne Rice Vampire fan the God of the Enlightenment resembles the vampire queen – like an marble statue. The beauty and latent power are present, but the rules so complete that no movement is necessary. The ancient greeks ended up at the same place – Aristotle’s unmoved mover. That is not the God the bible portrays. The God of the Bible is scarier. He is personal. He has attributes not like the God of the philosophers attributes of immutible or beyond suffering and physicality. The God of the bible gets angry. Is jealous. He compares himself constantly with a cuckolded husband. He also describes himself as someone who loves that unfaithful spouse so much as to buy them back out of prostitution (go read Hosea, its a short book).
Even in the midst of passages like today’s when the wrath of God is poured out, the goal is to bring people back to himself. But the refrain is – they did not repent of their deeds. This personal God wants to be in a relationship with humanity. He wants his people. But, they do not want Him. The impersonal God in a box is better. He doesn’t interfere with my plans, or I can discern His ways and control them. This personal God wants change. He wants us to repent. He wants to welcome us back. Going home after years away is scary. Letting someone else help chart your course is scary. But that is what the God of the Bible is after.