Revelation and Challenge

Biblical Text: 1 John 3:1-3 (Psalm 136)
Full Sermon Draft

Today was All Saints (observed) on the church calendar. In Lutheran circles All Saints is not a celebration of some spiritual elite but the celebration of the church in all its dimensions – the church militant, the church at rest, and the longed for church triumphant. Given special notice are those who have entered rest in the past year of the congregation’s life. Because of this juxtaposition of those of us still struggling and those at rest, as well as its position toward the end of the church year, it opens itself to a meditation on our now and not yet existence. Now we are children of God; not yet do we fully know what that means. That is John’s writing. We see the Love of God, but every time we see it, it is met with challenge. Satan challenges it, the world refuses to see it, and even our own weary flesh can challenge what has been revealed to us. God loves us. When Christ appears, we will be like him in glory, in that resurrection body. We know this because we’ve seen it, or have accepted the witness of the apostles. That is what we know by faith and by hope. And because we hope, we live into that not-yet reality now. “We purify ourselves as he is pure.” No, we will not always be successful. But blessed are those who hunger for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

By what authority…?

Full Text of Sermon

This is sermon is one of those all or nothing affairs. Its football season, so I’ll use a football analogy. Sometimes you are handing the ball to the running back on a dive play. Its going to get roughly 3 yards and move the chains. Most sermons move the chains. Teaching is moving the chains. Sometimes the dive play opens up and you get a 20 yard scamper. Sometimes in sermons you don’t just teach but can inspire as well. And then there are the go routes. You tell your fastest receiver to go. You hold the ball as long as you can without being sacked, and then you throw it as far down the field as you can hoping that speedy guy runs under it. It is all or nothing with a side possibility of a turnover.

Jesus took his chances. He was always asking ‘who do you say I am?’ It’s an all or nothing question. The specific topic is stewardship. Churches need tithes and offerings to operate. But stewardship is a secondary question. If you haven’t committed to an answer to the authority the church works under, then stewardship is just dues. So stewardship sermons ask that primary question. Who do you say the crucified one is?

The Beatitudes – Vision and Challenge

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One of the things that I am constantly amazed at is how the Church or Christianity is usually placed in the narrow, weak, small-minded, etc category. To me the simple facts are usually just the opposite. It is the church that requires disciples of Jesus to a) look up and see with eschatological or eternal eyes, b) recognize your real pitiful condition and c) look for salvation from outside yourself and d) start living that eternal reality here and now even though the kingdom has not been completely revealed. Each of those elements takes more courage and greater vision than anything those who attack the church have ever tried.

Everything the world tries to do can be condensed to getting you to narrow you focus to something you think you can control. As long as you don’t ask the big questions or get outside of a comfort range, then you can fool yourself in a high self-esteem. Christ says blessed are the poor in spirit which is point a and b. If you look up with eyes that see beyond your immediate plot you should recognize just how poor and pitiful we are. You can recognize that and run back immediately to your little plot. The Christian recognizes it and confesses it – I am a poor miserable sinner. Which takes more vision and courage – retreat into the seemingly safe self, or confession? Which is more limiting – finding yourself in within a much larger plot, or going back to your small one? The world wants you to stay so small that you don’t even think you need anyone else let alone a savior. Christianity says its hopeless absent God’s action in Christ. Which takes more courage: trying to keep everything in your own hands, or turning your very life over to someone else? And then Christ says go be merciful, be pure in heart (read as seek God first), be peacemakers. You know what happens to those kind of people in this world. But Christ says his disciples do these things. These are what my blessed people will look like.

It is one of those truisms that the world will throw at the church that only weak people need religion, or that the church is for those who are small minded. That truism is demonstrably false. It is those attempting to follow Christ, to live out their religion, that are given much larger vision and challenges. It is much easier to run back to the deceptive safety of one small plot. But running back to that small existence casts away the blessings. Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Let’s go to the other side – Father’s Day – Mark 4:35-41

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A hat tip needs to be sent to the Lutheran Hour Ministries and their Men’s Network for some of the ideas in this sermon.

Part of being the parson is being immersed in the Scriptures every day. And maybe even more importantly is the interaction with the Scriptures at a detailed level. For most of my life I have had a reading plan and would spend at least 15 minutes a day reading the Scriptures, but often that was rushed or just done at a devotional level looking for what stuck me at the moment. Even worse was some of that 15 minutes was spent reading the footnotes instead of the Word. When you start looking at what the Scriptures say about Jesus and the Christian Life at a more intimate level, you start to see the disconnects with popular understanding and the Christ presented by the Scripture. Even good pious saints with sound theology think in ‘words about God’ terms (my pejoritive God-talk terms) instead of the Word of God. Too much of the former drains the vitality from the latter. The person of Jesus Christ is who we as preachers preach each week, or should. That person is much more dynamic and alive than our God-talk language. The ways to meet that Living Jesus are in the living Word. Pick up the Gospel according to Mark and start reading. If you haven’t done it for a while get the New Living Translation (NLT) which is wonderful modern English that you can actually read like a story. If you want a more ‘word for word’ translation the ESV is what we read from on Sundays or the NIV are both fine if less readable. Don’t worry about the study notes. Just read that Gospel as you would a book. If necessary get a small pocket edition. It will open you eyes to a Jesus who is constantly challenging his followers, constantly saying things like ‘let’s go to the other side…’ as an invitation to an adventure, or constantly correcting our clouded visions of reality.