Acting on Faith

Biblical Text: Luke 6:17-26

I’ve grown to love this series of texts for the Epiphany season from Luke with a late Easter. The early ones are about what and where we can expect to see God (i.e. have an Epiphany). The middle ones are about the proper reaction to that. And now we will have Luke’s version of the sermon on the mount which is about discipleship. What does the good Christian life look like? What does not just reacting but enduring in the Christian life necessitate? When you get into this territory you get into the wisdom tradition, or you have to start talking about virtues. In this case the virtue of faith, but of a very specific kind. To live the Christian life requires faith in the world to come and that you are already part of it. The Christian does not act simply on maximizing the good in this world alone. The Christian works under the assumption of eternity. And that will bring them into some temporal conflict. The blessings are for those who endure and persist. The woes are for those who take their share now, forgetting the age to come.

Sent Stability

Biblical Text: Mark 6:1-13
Full Sermon Draft

As I was preparing for this sermon this week I kept bouncing back and forth between two parts of the text. Jesus visiting his hometown is just a fascinating text, especially for someone like me who has lived a few different places in his life, but my kids have only really lived in one. But I was also pulled toward Jesus’ directions to the twelve apostles right after that hometown seen. He is sending them out two by two, but one of the restrictions he puts on them is if a place receives you, stay. The other restrictions, basically go out with nothing, would feed into that stability. After bouncing around it ended up a meditation on a paradox of the Christian life. The Christian life has a motion and a direction to it. We are sent. We are not at home here. The Christian life is one of stability. It can be lived anywhere it is received. How do we reconcile that paradox of sent stability? That is what this sermon ponders. How the spiritual life of the Christian moves out from the childhood home and can’t really stop until we reach the New Jerusalem, but it also it a spiritual life full of stability. I hope it might be a fruitful meditation on living the paradox for you.

Great Expectations

Biblical Text: Luke 24:13-35
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the Road to Emmaus. Luke likes road trips. Chapters 10 through 19 are known as the road narrative as all the action is suppose to take place while Jesus is walking from Galilee to Jerusalem. The Emmaus Road I think is Luke’s poetic description of the Christian life. I don’t comment on in in the sermon, but imagine Luke himself for a moment. He interviewed all these people: Peter, John, James, Mary, Paul. All these people who knew the physical Jesus and testified to the resurrected Jesus. Luke knew him through them, and through the breaking of bread.

Life is full of expectations. The road to Emmaus present in the sermon is how we have wise expectations instead of foolish ones. The main part of that is recognizing Jesus. And we are given to recognize him in the Sacrament and the Scriptures – Word and Sacrament. Our life here, after that recognition is a walk toward the New Jerusalem. Now the walk and the witness, next year in Jerusalem. And as on of the metaphors has it in the sermon, next year happens. I’m a Cubs fan. It does.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – 1 Samuel 6:19-7:17 and Acts 19:1-22

1 Samuel 6:19-7:17
Acts 19:1-22
Word vs. miracle, being conformed to Christ, repentance and leaving the old gods

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Joel 2:18-32 and Romans 11:25-12:13

Joel 2:18-32
Romans 11:25-12:13
Church as a body, The Church’s One Foundation (LSB 644)

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Joel 2:1-17 and Romans 11:1-24

Joel 2:1-17
Romans 11:1-24
Vine & Branch or Organic Metaphors for Justification and the Christian Life, O Blessed Spring (LSB595)

Desiring Mercy and Ripping out the Mulberry Tree


Biblical Text: Luke 17:1-10
Full Sermon Draft

Most of the commentators on these verses take them as a disconnected jumble of aphorisms. The equivalent of Luke saying, “hey, I’ve got these sayings I’ve got to include somewhere, might as well throw them together here”. Not that this might never happen, but I think that reflects the strengths and weakness of our age. As far as strengths I think due to the scholarship on the last century we know a lot more about how we got the bible we got (and its fundamental reliability) than probably any generation since the death of the apostles. The weaknesses are that to get that information we atomized our understanding and neutered what I’ll call our story imagination. We know a whole lot about trees, and we can’t see the forest.

In 10 verses, as Jesus gets toward the end of the walk to Jerusalem, he turns to the disciples and gives something of a summary of the Christian life. Jesus affirms that divine justice is sure. The stumbling blocks that must come will get their punishment. But that shouldn’t be the disciple’s focus or hope. The disciples watch themselves and live law and gospel or repentance and forgiveness. The disciple’s joy is found in repentance and forgiveness, not in justice.

And this is where I think it takes the story imagination to keep it all together. Disciples of every time and place eventually get to that point where they want justice. The world lives by the Chicago rules – “they put one of yours into the hospital, you put one of theirs into the ground”. Moses brought the law which said an eye for an eye. Jesus is telling the disciples in the Kingdom of God – if the sinner repents when warned – let it go, forgive. If they don’t repent – leave the justice to God. And they reply to Jesus – “increase our faith”. We can’t do that. And Jesus gives one of those mysterious replies about trees being uprooted and planted in the ocean. This is core message from the sermon…this is what I take Jesus answer as. How did that work for you? Following the world’s advice you end up in the kingdom of the dead. Following the law’s advice you end up in the kingdom of the blind. Follow me – and crazy things will happen. Small things loom large, like mustard seeds. Things that are rooted yards deep and immoveable – mulberry trees, bitter hatred, generational grudges…sin…these things will come up and fly away. Imagine if you can…its easy if you try.

The disciple’s heart, the heart that is being made right, desires mercy. Along the way, turning all justice over to God and desiring Mercy, we find those things so deeply rooted in us that we don’t know who we are without them, are pulled up and we are changed. This is the point of the kingdom. This is the basic nature of the kingdom in this world. And if we are disciples, servants of Jesus, we can’t dodge this.

End of an Age – Couple of Stray Thoughts & Elder Discussions

lot-leavingI’m just back from one of the best pastor’s conferences I’ve been too and I’m still thinking on some of those items. The most amazing thing is that for the first time I actually heard back some of what I’ve been seeing and experiencing. The pastors, at least the presenters, have taken a decidedly theological turn. If in the past I’ve felt that much of these conferences have been about forms of therapy, the sense of trouble has risen to the point we are talking about serious things in a serious way. I don’t want to bash therapy too much, but if you take Jesse on Breaking Bad as the current culture, therapy is about acceptance. There are things you accept, and there are things that your don’t. As Jesse breaks down in “Problem Dog”, “do you accept that?” The whispered answer is no. Sin is not acceptable, but it is forgivable. The church is in the absolution business, not the acceptance business. We’ve been hiding that for too long. And of course absolution only works if you believe that Jesus Christ has the power to forgive sins. That is the deep difference. Therapy can be broader. You can make people without any faith feel better for a time with therapy. Real freedom and joy requires faith.

The LCMS likes to say that we are a confessional church. Yes, there are the ultra-confessionals for whom nobody is confessional enough. But even they serve a purpose. They are the first to spot things that we should consider. They are standing on a wall issuing warnings and taking the flack for making us uncomfortable. But at its core, to be a confessional church means what each portion of the Formula of Concord starts out with – “we believe teach and confess…”. Our experience of the risen savior Jesus Christ and our wrestling with his word, sometimes all the long night, have lead us to say these things are true. Building your life on these things is building your life on the Rock. When tides or tempest rise these things are a solid foundation that will not be moved. Getting back to Jesus, what confessing the confession means here is that we believe not just in a name Jesus, but a person who lived among us, taught us and sent apostles. The revelation of God is a thick one and not a thin veneer. And we were made to find it out (Prov 25:2).

While away, Rod Dreher had a couple of thoughts in the same vein. The release of an every 10 year study of American Jews was the source point. These are the two posts: post 1, post 2. I wanted to quote a couple of things. The first from his reflection of practicing the faith.

I’m seeing the seeds of this within the Orthodox Christianity we practice. Our pastor says that if we don’t come to vespers on Saturday night, we are not to present ourselves for communion on Sunday morning. The idea is that you should prepare yourself spiritually for the central event of your week. It’s hard to do, in the sense that from 6pm until about 7:10 every Saturday night, you are in church for evening prayer. I had to leave watching the LSU-Georgia game last weekend in the fourth quarter to make it to vespers on time. This was not fun! I did not want to do this! But it shows one’s children, and oneself, what it is to make church a priority. I’m by no means totally consistent on this, but I’m better than I was, and God willing, will be more faithful next year. The point is that it’s a practice that sets one’s community apart…Now, do I think fasting and vespers are essential to one’s salvation? No, not directly. As our priest reminds us about fasting, “This is medicine.” That is, it’s meant not as a punishment, but as an aid to holiness. Learning to deny oneself is part of acquiring salvation, certainly, and preparing oneself property for Holy Communion is as well. The point I’m trying to make here is that I don’t believe that God is not especially interested in us following specific rules. What He is interested in is our faithfulness to Him. Over time, I’ve come to see how these practices bring us closer to Him by reinforcing in us the fact — or what must become a fact — that He is our God and we are His people. It doesn’t really matter that you can’t eat a steak on Friday night, or go to the ball game on Saturday evening. What matters about that is that you have made obedience to God such a priority in your life that you are willing to sacrifice those good things for His sake. If you are part of a family and a community that practices these sorts of things, it seems to me that they really will move you closer to a conversion of the heart. After all, as a minority faith within American culture, you have to really believe this stuff in order to fast as the Orthodox church requires you to fast (and many Orthodox do not, let me be clear).

The second is the reflection that leads to some of the Elder Board discussions we have had and what I would credit the renewed seriousness of the pastors meetings to.

To paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, if you don’t push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you, you are going to find yourself shoved to the margins. In the future, Jews will be Orthodox, or they won’t be at all. In the future, Christians will be some form of small-o orthodoxy — Roman Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox — or they won’t be either. The pressures to assimilate are just too strong for a go-along-to-get-along faith.

Nobody wants to hear that, but it’s hard to argue with the trajectory of religious belief and identity across generations.

The great commission (Matt 28:18-20) is to make disciples. We make disciples by baptizing and teaching. And in something that I’d say is characteristic of Jesus, we are given the tools and told to go use them. We are not given exact ways to do this. Go wrestle with it. A big part of my experience in the last five years is that the culture wants us to 100% baptize and 0% teach. They want the rite of passage, but they don’t really want to hear or understand much less live what it is about. I’ve argued, at a much more lenient place than Mr. Dreher’s Orthodox Priest about Saturday prayer in preparation for Sunday Communion, that preparation for the sacrament of baptism is appropriate. I’ve argued that we need to push back against the culture a little harder. Does that preparation ensure anything, especially the efficacy of baptism – no. The Spirit does what he wants. But this side of baptism we co-operate with the Spirit in living the Christian life. We can oppose the Spirit – despising His gifts of Word and Sacrament. Or we can put to death the flesh and our sinful nature so that the new man would arise. And that is the Spiritual truth behind Rod’s conclusions. Only things that die get to rise. Only when you’ve lost your life are you given a new one (Matt 16:25). Or said another way – those who have, more will be given, those who have not, even what they have will be taken away (Luke 19:16). Go-along-to-get-along faith, vast swaths of American Christianity, don’t want to experience that death. They are afraid of it. Let us hold on to a little of this life. Let us turn our heads for one last look at Sodom. They offer therapy. A confessional church, a confessional people, are about absolution…are about living into the Kingdom of God

End of Christendom & The New Church

There is an infographic below that I want to spend a few words thinking through (Source: Barna).

The question at the top is the important/not important question. Is church attendance important or not. Roughly 20% of millenials say yes. What I would say is that the millenials, compared to previous generations currently, are being truthful. Previous generations say yes at higher rates, but about 20% act in accord with answers. And that comes out in the next graphs. When asked have you been to church (just once) in the past 6 months – 52% of millenials said no, while 47% of all American’s said no. In actual life there is not much difference between the millenials and older Americans.

But the really fascinating bit of the infographic is the answer to why did you attend and why didn’t you attend. Not fascinating as in surprising, but fascinating as the answers align with theological expectation.

Why attend said: To be closer to God, to learn more about God and the church is the hands and feet of God in the world. This is 100% the teaching of the church. God has promised to be present in that gathering, and he is present in the sacrament. You want to be closer to God? Attend to Word and Sacrament. One of the missions of the church is teaching everything I have commanded you (Matt 28:18-20), so learning more about God takes place in that community. That also makes sense because if you want to learn more about something, go to where it is at. And the last answer is exactly the purpose of the church. We are the body of Christ in a sin sick world. Those who attend get it.

The why not attend said: church is not personally relevant, find God elsewhere, and teach myself what I need to know. Again this is exactly what the church’s theology would expect. First is the degree of narcissism, not personally relevant and I am self-sufficient. If you are not a sinner or lost, you have no need of grace. You will not find the church relevant is you find yourself ok. Man has always found god elsewhere and has always longed to find god on their own terms. The problem is that God has decreed where he is to be found – in the proclamation of Jesus Christ – and rarely grants personal revelations. When you think you’ve found god outside of the church, you’ve probably found an idol. You’ve actually probably found yourself posing as an idol, but it could be something else.

Jesus came to find the lost, bind the broken and eat with sinners. As long as you think you are relatively healthy, you won’t need that. And huge sections – a majority of the American public – thinks they are just fine. Now the Christian knows they are lost. And as the body of Christ offer a hand and a roadmap – come join me brother. But we shouldn’t expect an immediate answer. In fact, since what is probably needed first is a stark confrontation with the law that shows our shortcomings, we should probably expect to be despised first. The old self-sufficient man must die for the new man to arise.

The list of what has made your faith grow is just the classic Christian life: prayer, study and trial (oratio, meditatio, and tentatio). God is faithful, even when we are not.

The title for this post, and the deeper question of this survey, I would think is aligning the church’s actions with the external context. In Christendom, that time when you could assume the everyone was “christian”, the church focused on gospel alone and the shepherding of culture. In exile, law and gospel are necessary and the church has no claim on culture but is purely counter-cultural. There are times for gathering stones, and times to cast away.


The Cost of Discipleship


Text: Luke 14:25-35
Full Sermon Draft

Luke 12 to 14 is tough to preach on in the current context. Even the “easy” text of Luke 12:22-34 if you are preaching it in context is not so easy. I think most of us here those words and immediately think – “ok, this Jesus thing isn’t going to mess up my life, don’t worry, I can still have my stuff.” And that is almost exactly the opposite of the intention. A disciple is to be a fearless witness (Luke 12:4-12), and the assumed context of witness is persecution. Jesus is heading to Jerusalem and the cross. In the midst of that, don’t worry, your Father takes care of the sparrow, right? So keep walking. All these things that might be taken away here, will be added in abundance in the Kingdom. (Luke 12:31-34)

Then you careen through “not peace, but division (Luke 12:49ff)”, “the barren fig tree”, “the narrow door”, “Jerusalem’s hardness of heart”, “the great banquet – where the invitation are cast off for meaningless excuses”, and it culminates in this text.

Sometimes Jesus sees a crowd and his gut is churned because the are like sheep without a shepherd. But just as often Jesus gathers a crowd, he turns and says something that causes most to flee or go home. I’m importing that more full account from John 6:52-71, but you can take Luke and observe the lessons Jesus teaches when he turns toward the crowds. This would seem to be one of those second crowds. We are on the way to Jerusalem, to the cross, he thinks we should know.

Why it is tough, it because of the quote from Dr. Beck at the start of the sermon. The church today operates on a different model than the early church. The church today gathers crowds and tries to keep them no matter what. Oh it tries to encourage them to places and things where spiritual growth can occur, but what it never does intentionally is what Jesus does – spell out our spiritual state. That is left for you to intuit. The church at different times would force a counting of the cost first. Are your priorities Kingdom priorities? If you don’t hate the best things in your life (wife, husband, family, job) when they get in the way of your walk with Jesus, you can’t be a disciple.

In that counting is also the grace. Like Peter realized when others turned away – “Where shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.” This is Jesus at his most Protestant. You have a choice to make – the hard narrow path to life or the easy path to destruction. And once you choose, don’t turn back – because what good is salt that has lost its saltiness? Where can it be re-salted?