The fancy word is typeology or archetype. The meaning is a person or character or action that is a distilled example of human experience. What makes the scriptures so powerful, at least if you catch the vision of them, is that the experience of Israel with GOD is the distilled archetype. The New Testament is THE specific example. The life of Christ is the fulfillment of all the archetypes, because in this one life we have God meeting one in on Christ. And seeing as our lives are conformed to his, they are going to rhyme with Israel’s experience. This sermon first looks at a couple of the rhymes of Elijah and Elisha in broad strokes. Then it looks at the specific call of our text and how our lives might rhyme with “the chariots and horsemen of Israel” and asks if we want them to.
The text is Jesus calling Andrew and Peter and James and John. I probably owe a few former pastors an apology as I use them as a straw man. Those sermons of blessed memory were never as bad as I put in hear. It was probably just my listening. But, the way this text is usually preached never sat well with me. In one stroke it tended to make Jesus unbelievable, ignore everyday discipleship and create lots of holy make work. (Most cries for “relevancy” I think fall into holy make work.) Learning to “walk humbly” is often enough. What this sermon attempts to do is to reimagine the situation that leads to “immediately following” as those disciples do, and to understand what that is. Not as a call to “do something- anything – for Jesus right now”, nor as a “only a religious calling is a true calling”, but to be able to hear the lifelong call as well as the more particular calls.
Worship Note: I’ve left in the hymn of the day, LSB 688, Come Follow me the Savior Spake. You might also notice a slightly different order (although my editing obscures it). Fourth Sundays as Morning Prayer/Matins days which have a massed reading of the lessons.
The normal way we talk about free and bound is in regards to sin. That comes under the doctrine of the keys. But in this sermon we are looking not at that doctrine, but at the bets we all place at the foundation of our lives. We all place some. Sometimes we might not know it, but they are there. What these two passages do is give us a glimpse of two foundations and how they bind and free us.
There are several applications, but today we were saying good-bye to a man and family that is off to study for the pastorate. We as a congregation were wishing them farewell and Godspeed. We were freeing them for this larger call as much as it pains us, but we along with the entire church were binding them to the Word. The plumb line that makes us free from sin and the crookedness of the world, binds us all to Christ. We might be separated in the World, but we are still one in Christ. The hymn at the end – The Church’s One Foundation – perfectly expresses this.
I usually try and write something at least every other day, but this week it just didn’t really make it to print.
Things tended to come as short intuitive blips, but of the sort that even investing 2000 words, you knew you could illustrate the point, but it wouldn’t make a difference.
For example, take the Casino amendment I commented on prior to the election. Predictably it passed although I was heartened that(just)over 50% of the people in our voting vicinity realized the problem. The libertine wave in America is just too strong. I quickly wrote my underlying intuition as: the libertine wave in America is all about bondage, but not in the way you are thinking. American liberty was traditionally about life and the pursuit of happiness which was tightly bound to the virtuous life. As late as Mr. Smith goes to Washington or almost any Jimmy Stuart movie, it is about the happiness that comes from being a moral or virtuous person, even when the virtue leads to apparent worldly loss. Yes, Hollywood would tack on happy endings mitigating the message, but those happy endings were reflections of the Christian afterlife. The Hollywood equivalent of paying your kid 10% a month interest on their bank account to encourage savings. But gambling, pot, abortion and any of the other “liberties” that we are consistently creating or voting ourselves are not about the life of virtue. They are about hiding from the hard path. They are about wallowing in our propensity to messing things up. We are demanding the liberty to engage in vice and not be called on it. And vice is always about slavery. Anyone who commits sin is a slave to sin (John 8:34). We as a nation still have money to spend. We are not yet looking at pig’s food thinking that looks good. And our “friends” (i.e. our government) is busy enabling our squalor.
Likewise, Mollie Hemingway captured what I think is a defining number. The GOP VA governor candidate Ken Cuccinelli won married women by 8 pts, but lost unmarried by 42 pts. He actually did better with married women than married men. You can either have a culture that encourages virtue, which will have a high number of those married women and their husbands, or you will have a culture that enables vice. You have a culture of liberty, or you have a libertine culture. A libertine culture need two things: 1) someone to help pay for the effects of such a lifestyle and 2) someone to tell you it is ok to keep the party going and quiet dissenting voices.
It isn’t the gospel. The gospel is the proclamation that regardless of your success or failure at pursuing virtue, Jesus Christ has granted you the victory. You don’t earn it, you receive it. But virtue is still important. And the toughest part is that as a Christian you are called to it, even when the world around is going in the opposite direction. You are salt and light. You are light even when the world prefers darkness.
NPR had a short segment on a question that was sent to Tyler Cowen (Marginal Revolution). The hook was for those upcoming graduates who are lucky enough not to get sucked into the maw of this economy, what should they pursue if they didn’t really have “a passion”? And Dr. Cowen expressed some inability to answer it describing it:
The fact that Max and other young college graduates can even entertain this question — “What is my passion?” — is a new conundrum, and still a luxury not everybody enjoys. Yet, Tyler recently told me, it is “a central question of our time.”
So what’s the best, most rational answer for Max? It seems like economics could help; after all, it’s about costs and benefits and modeling complicated decisions.
But, Tyler says, “it was a truly difficult, tough question to make any progress on.”
For Christians St. Paul has a simple answer. 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12, which is deeply rooted in the summary of the 10 commandments: Love God and love your neighbor. What are you called to do, even when you don’t feel a call? Love God and love your neighbor. What does loving your neighbor look like?
1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
Now given the difference between the 1st century and the 21st century, the working with your hands might not be a directly possible. I don’t think that St. Paul was saying everyone should be making tents or plumbing. What that meant was do something that was not just being idle. Work is important in itself. One of the large idols of the day is that there are only specific roles that are “meaningful”. That is a false and destructive idol as people idle away waiting for meaningful work. No, serving your neighbor, a proper thing to follow, consists in living quietly, minding your own affairs and doing something that allows you to walk properly before outsiders. How boring! How suburban! But there it is, the bedrock of Christian calling, rooted in the 10 commandments.
It is a truth of this world that the really important things are usually hidden right in our midst. Think “rosebud” from Citizen Kane. All the great stories are about going out and returning home. When we leave, we don’t know what we are leaving. Think the prodigal. And when we stay, we don’t recognize the good. Think the older son. The good stuff is hidden in our midst. And it takes a revelation for us to see it. [By the way, this is the story of the Odyssey. In The Aeneid, Aeneas stops in the underworld to talk to the mighty hero Achilles and asks him if he would rather have the glory of renown promised, or the years at home. Achilles the shade answers he’d rather have had the stuff he turned down to get on the ship.] And in our moderns world – it is usually the things that shout the loudest that get our attention. The 6-year old sees a commercial and asks for whatever piece of junk it is pushing. He mocks me now he’s heard it enough, but I usually answer him “if it has to be advertised it’s a piece of junk”.
This is true for congregational life is spades. All the really important things God has hidden in our midst: The sacraments, the Word proclaimed, the communion of saints. None of them call out. All of them tend to be neglected. We don’t always recognize them for what they are. Yet these are the real, the important things. Yet we so often react or treat them as the residents of that town of Nazareth. We are scandalized that they are not bigger, or grander, or that they claim too much. This is how God acts? Water, Bread, wine and some fool flapping his mouth? The Word Hidden in our Midst.
The jumping off point for this sermon was Jesus’ statements on being the good shepherd. The way John writes about it, in modern terminology, Jesus is defining his job requirements. If you want to be the Good Shepherd this is what is required: intimate knowledge of the sheep and laying down your life for them. And Jesus truly is the Good, in all its philosophical meaning (closer to model), Shepherd. And Jesus fulfilled and continues to fulfill that vocation: Cross, Sending of the Spirit, Sacraments. He knows his people so intimately that his Spirit resides in them. He gave up his life for them and continues to supply his body and blood. All the eternally important stuff, the defeat of Satan, the world and even our sinful nature has been accomplished by the Goodness of Christ.
What does that mean for us? Well, we also have been called to a variety of vocations: Son, daughter, husband, wife, employer, employee, elder, trustee, councilman, maybe even banker and politician. Being in Christ we are called to be a good one. In the Lutheran tradition, vocation is a large concept. We all have our vocations. What is in front of us is our vocation. And it is rooted in how our Lord carried his vocation. Our life flows from the Christology, it flows from Christ himself.