The text is from Jesus prayer on Thursday of Holy Week in John. It is picked because this past Thursday was ascension day, the day 40 days after Easter when Christians mark Jesus’ return to the Father. 10 Days later, next Sunday, is Pentecost when the Spirit is poured out. This is promised is Jesus’ prayer. What this sermon does is first reflect on the foundation for the prayer. Jesus prefaces his petitions with some statements. 1) The World and the those he is praying for are at odds, 2) those he is praying for have been chosen by the Father (election) and 3) It is through the disciples he is praying for that he receives glory. Such is the foundation and purpose of the Christian life. In order to live it, because Jesus is leaving this world, he asks his Father to grant his disciples certain things. All these things Jesus considers that while he was in the World He gave them, and he knows that we need them. So he asks the Father.
I have heard many preachers talk about these things, in particular the first one, as stuff the church should be working on. But that would turn them into laws, not graces. Jesus is asking his father for grace for his people. Grace to be one in the name. Which is true not the least in our baptisms. Grace to be kept from the Evil One. Which is true in that the Satan has been bound and has no way to destroy the church in this world. And Grace to consecrated in truth. Which is granted in the abiding word. Jesus’ prayer has been answered.
This sermon owes a bunch to Luther’s Postil sermon on this text for this 1st Sunday after Christmas. That published sermon of Luther’s is one of those great overstuffed things. There are about 6 different sermons attempting to break out. In some ways I imagine the great man might have been under some of the similar pressures. He’d probably preached three times in the week already and had a few other things due. And then the next Sunday is there. What do you say? There is always a lot in God’s word, the real work of preaching is picking and expressing one specific thing. But sometimes you just don’t have the bandwidth for that work. So you offer up a smorgasbord.
Solid potato dish – The faith of Simeon & Anna/Joseph & Mary.
Vegetables – The humility of Christ in this group
Fish – Typology, Anna as Old Testament Saints/Temple; Mary as New/Church
Desert (don’t take too much) – Some numbers, 7 & 84
Picture of Perfection might not be the best title for this, although that is where is ends up. Maybe the path of maturity, or Growing to fullness. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians makes the switch that his letters often do in the second half. He has a main point to express which has been the last three weeks of chapters 1-3. The sermon does a quick recap of that before digging in. The back half of Paul’s letters turn to concrete practical matters. How does the theology that he’s just proclaimed become real in our lives both personal and congregational. In the case of Ephesians how does every spiritual gift that builds us together look?
It starts with love. It is helped by the concrete gifts of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers. And when is all strives toward maturity, we get a picture of the perfection or the completion intended. A church not blown astray or led away by some pied piper because it is perfectly fit together in the bond of love. This sermon expands on this growth to maturity.
This text in my reading is really about one thing, Jesus’ definition of the office of Christ and its work. To understand Christ and his work requires for things.
1) Christ works in and through His church
2) That Church will not fail
3) It will not fail because to it has been given the key of heaven, the forgiveness of sins
4) That forgiveness was won on the cross
This sermon is an exploration of those points and how those point all rest on the rock of confessing Christ and the cross.
Worship Note: We lost a memory card, so this is a recording after the fact. Which means we lost the great music we had in church today. Great Day: LSB 609, 949, 645, 575. Moral? Come to church!
Recording note: I had to rerecord the lessons, but the sermon is live. It is a skinny recording this week, sans the music, for that remix reason.
The point of a church is to make disciples. To make disciples is more complicated than it might sound. The hard truth is that Jesus was never about just getting someone to recite a creed (as important as it might be) or say a prayer (as meaningful as it can be). The disciple, as the reading from Romans would highlight, is someone that has “the word near you, in your mouth and in your heart”. The disciple is someone who has made the faith given to the apostles their own. To do that requires a work of the imagination. Sadly, it is that very imagination that I think our modern world fails at. If the ancient heresies were due to over-active imaginations, the modern are due to a lack. If they thought there was more in the text than actually there, we think there is much less. Ours is a spiritual poverty.
This sermon is an attempt to encourage the imagination of discipleship. The text is taken as a surprisingly deep, yet easy picture of the Christian life. There are two images, Peter getting out of the boat and Jesus and Peter getting in the boat, and then one image of narrative conclusion. All applied to our lives, to build up live in the boat.
An internet buddy’s church recently celebrated their 150th anniversary as a congregation, and they opened the cornerstone time capsules. The stuff they found is interesting. Here is a link to some pictures and his write up.
Pastor Jackson had a quick summary of his thoughts. 1) We are illiterate compared to 8th grade educated bilingual German-American farmers. 2) Confessional movement has lost its swagger and 3) They were not afraid to address social issues.
I agree with those, but I corresponded that when I read things from that period I walk away with three thoughts. 1) The Sermons, and they were popular. Most of the publications lead with a sermon on the front page. And it is not my 1500 word, 12 minute specials. These are 3000 – 5000 word works. 2) The ease with which they dealt with a rather large standard deviation of language/culture/experience. We think we are so cosmopolitan, but our cosmopolitanism is so very narrow compared to what German-American farmers in 1890 were exposed to. My third is perhaps my deepest reflection. You can’t help but be struck by the juxtaposition of innocence and profundity. “Mayor goes for a walk” is news. The swagger that Pastor Jackson talks about is earnestly endearing and witty, but without a single sniff of knowing irony that all our wit today requires. Those earnest 8th grade educated farmers reading about the mayor walking were on the next page contemplating Chemnitz and the two natures of Christ. It is almost unbelievable, except that I’ve got my grandfather’s books that have marginalia that prove it. I think we long for something of that innocence, but we can’t imagine giving up our “knowing”. What we don’t realize, or refuse to realize is that our “knowing” is what Jesus says to Laodicea “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked”.
I think the lectionary makers have stuck us with the end of one devotion and the start of another. I think 2:1-3 complete the chapter 1 thought. Peter then picks up a new thought in 2:4. The first devotion moves from new birth to craving pure spiritual milk. It is a devotion about growing up in Christ. The second devotion moves from that individual and early growth in faith to the communal nature and its maturity. As individuals we are newborns (baptism), babes (milk) and eventually grown up into salvation. As the church we are living stones built into the new temple, the royal priesthood, a holy nation. When we are grown we come into our maturity which is as a people.
This being mother’s day, the childhood analogy works well. The bridge from the childhood to the communal is that the church is the feminine or mother image. God is building his church, and he builds it from the stones that are rejected by the world. We living stones conform to Christ, the rejected cornerstone, with all the rough angles of the cruciform life. In this there are always two building projects: the world’s and God’s, the false house and the high house. Mom, the church, is the means by which we are built as the living stones of the High House. (Note: I’ve stolen those labels from an enchanting work of fantasy (The Evenmere Chronicles by James Stoddard).
Music note: I lost most of the music in the recording, but I think I kept the best piece, although as a congregation we got off to a rough start on it. LSB 645, Built on the Rock, captures the spirit of the text and the sermon quite well.
Recording note: I’m sorry for the overall quality. The volume level was quite low (our line volume ghost came back). I had to re-record the lesson as the early parts were unusable. I’ve normalized the volume levels to the best of my ability, but you will notice the change from a studio sound to the live static.
It was an full day at St. Mark yesterday – a baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and a resurrection text. You don’t get a better set up as a preacher than than. And it is one of those rare days that I was content. Oh, I could deliver it better. I’m sure there would have been words here and there I might change. But compared to most Sundays, I felt like this discharged the call of the office.
The hymns also supported the theme beautifully. The baptismal hymn was Gerhart’s great catechism hymn All Christians Who Have Been Baptized (LSB 596). The hymn of the day was the newer (i.e. since 2000) Water, Blood and Spirit Crying (LSB 597). Unfortunately neither of them have the texts in the public domain to link to. I have included in the recording our closing hymn Thanks to Thee, O Christ, Victorious (LSB 548). It is a hymn that ponders what had happened, and forms a very nice closing prayer for that service.
John includes a third resurrection appearance in his Gospel. He has the first Easter represented by The Magdalene, John and Peter’s trips to the tomb. He has the second represented by Thomas. And then the third is this fishing trip. There are two things that stand out about this third day to me. The first is the exact number – 153 fish. That has stood out to a bunch of other people as well, and this sermon looks at it a little. The second item is how meaningful it is to compare this fishing trip to a fishing trip at the start of the ministry of Jesus. Luke records it as the calling of the first disciples.
THe developed points in this sermon are the simple importance of the material, or the bodily resurrection. If you are asking me the 153 fish are just 153 fish. It is one of those rediculous details that stick out about great days. The point is not a meaning on deeper reflection but the readily apparent meaning that Christ is Lord over the material as well as the spiritual. It is all his. The second half of the sermon does develop a meditative meaning in contrast to the first fishing expedition. In that sense John’s resurrection account is a looking forward to our resurrection, to pulling all the fish to the shore.
“…To lose Christ may befall the most righteous person that is; but then he knows where he left him; he knows at what time he lost his way, and where to seek it again. Even Christ’s imagined father and his true mother, Joseph and Mary, lost him, and lost him in the holy city at Jerusalem. They lost him and knew it not. The lost him and went a day’s journey without him and thought him to be in the company. But as soon as they comprehended their error, they sought and they found him, when as his mother told him, his father and she had sought with heavy heart.
Alas we may lose him at Jerusalem, even in his own house, even at this moment while we pretend to do him service. We may lose him by suffering our thoughts to look back with pleasure upon the sins which we have committed, or to look forward with greediness upon some sin that is now in our purpose and prosecution. We may lose him at Jerusalem, how much more, if our dwelling be a Babylon in confusion and mingling God and the world together, or if it be a Sodom, a wanton and intemperate misuse of God’s benefits to us. We may think him in the company when he is not; we may mistake his house; we may take a conventicle for a Church; we may mistake his apparel, that is, the outward form of his worship; we may mistake the person, that is, associate ourselves to such as are no members of his body.
But if we do not return to our diligence to seek him, and seek him, and seek him with a heavy heart…we ourselves cast him away since we have been told where to find him and have not sought him.”
John Donne highlights a big difference between the pagan who knows not Christ and Mary Magdalene for whom Christ was taken away and most of what we might call the post-Christian world. It is not post-Christian in that it does not need Christ, or even that it can’t understand him, but that it finds other roads more amenable. Christ has chosen to be found in bread and wine, in water, in words of absolution. He chooses no other bride than the church. If you do not seek him them, you will not find him. Other roads might appear more amenable, but only one is The Way. Only one continues past the horizon.