This Sunday continues a couple of series. It continues our study of the book of Acts even if we have been “jumping around” in that book. This sermon ends up following up on last week. If last week was about the Spirit’s work “inside” the church before the public work that begins on Pentecost, this week’s is about the “outside” work, what the Spirit empowers in the world. The summary is the three word subtitle. The Spirit continues to empower courage. The Christian life comes with its own power source. The Spirit empowers the teaching of the church. The sermon reflects on the first sermon of the church and how it models ever Spirit filled sermon since. And the Spirit empowers a peace that the world cannot give.
This Sunday on the church calendar – the 7th Sunday of Easter – to me is the strangest one in the entire calendar. The sermon gets into that a bit, so I won’t spell it out here. But sitting between The Ascension and Pentecost is a time of internal preparation. God never leaves His people, but sometimes there are some things to do before going public. This sermon is about the presence of the Holy Spirit with the people of God. It is about what the Holy Spirit enables, and how He enables it. It is about life in the Spirit.
The assigned texts for the Sunday’s after Easter this year selectively read through a couple of books. The Epistles are coming from the book of Revelation. At least right now I’m trying to write about those in the weekly newsletter. The “first lesson”, replacing the normal Old Testament reading, is a reading from the book of Acts. Acts is a book about the formation and life of the early church. This lessons comes from the first months after the Resurrection. And I think it is worth preaching through Acts at this time. Why? Because I think we in the modern church have lost connection with “all the words of life.” That is what the Angel told Peter and the Apostle’s to go preach when he released them from prison. There are complex words, but it isn’t those we’ve lost, its the simple ones. And that is what this sermon meditates on. What are the simple words that make the church?
It was Palm Sunday which has morphed into the Sunday of the Passion. The Triumphal Entry is the Gospel of the Day in Advent 1. Maundy Thursday (the institution of the Lord’s Supper) and Good Friday (the crucifixion) have their own days, so I try to preach on the arrest and trials of Jesus. And I have to be honest that 15 years ago I don’t know if I was just naive or if things were really different, but these trials always felt like a different world. But with the number of polically motivated trials and refusals to prosecute that we’ve seen in the past few years, they have become much more real. This sermon meditates on how Luke’s portrayal of Jesus’ three trials: Chief Priests, Pilate and Herod represent three modes of failure to do justice: venality, cowardice and cynicism. How we often succumb to those failures. And How Jesus overcame them and deserves the crown.
The miracles of Jesus are not just random events. God is not capricious, handing out bennies to some while stiffing others. The miracles have a purpose. This sermon sorts through a couple of different ways of thinking about those purposes. And then it focuses on how we often receive miracles, especially epiphany type. The disciples seeing Jesus walking on the water in quick succession go through the key ones. And Jesus is quick reply answers them. This is for us that we might understand and take courage. The New Creation is already ours.
I didn’t do my normal word cloud for this, instead above is the Icon of Mary Magdalene. She was one of the Mary’s that went to the tomb to spice the body. The icon captures both of those things. In her left is the jar of spice, but in her right is that bright red egg. That egg is a very ancient symbol of the resurrection. That bright red is the blood that bought this day.
The sermon focuses on the uniqueness of Mark. It ends with Mary running from the tomb afraid. It is an existential question. We know what happened with Mary. She took courage and told the others. Mark’s point is a question to us. We’ve seen the empty tomb. We’ve heard the resurrection. It demands we live in hope. Do we take courage? Or do we stay in fear? This Morning is different. Choose to live.
That title is the question of purpose; it is the specter of despair. It is also something that Jesus, in his time on this earth, experienced with us. And in his experience showed us how we should attempt to answer. As with all things Jesus it is so simple anyone could do it, yet not simplistic or limiting in any way. The sermon develops the role of that question in Jesus’ life, the thread of continuity found in the will of the Father through changes in purpose. It then develops that teaching for our lives.
Texts on unclean spirits and demons are tough ones for sermons these days. You can completely spiritualize them, which is dishonest and drains them of all their power. As O’Connor said about the Eucharist, “if it’s just a symbol, to hell with it.” You can take a cessationist line, which could be possible, but ins’t really taught anywhere in the scripture. You could take a charismatic line, but unless you have an active exorcism ministry, that is a stretch. Or you can do what I attempted to do here. I’d invite you to listen. I think this is important stuff proclaimed in a faithful way that has Jesus at its center.
Worship Note: I have left in the record two musical parts. Our choir sang a wonderful little piece today and they were in great voice. That is between the Old Testament and Epistle lessons. I also left in the hymn after the sermon, LSB 583, God Has Spoken By His Prophets. As we were singing it this morning I was struck by how it artistically captured the core of the sermon.
The confrontation of Jesus with the chief priests and elders is the confrontation of the prophet with the stewards of the priest and king roles. It is a confrontation of authority. And the abiding question is how do we know when we’ve heard THE WORD of GOD?
The typical authority granted is of that priestly or kingly type. It comes with the office and the special garb of the office. The authority of the prophet is different. And we still long to hear that prophetic authority. The first part of the hard answer is that the prophetic authority is self-authenticating. You know it in your hearts and guts when you hear it. Our opening hymn was “Hark a Thrilling Voice is Sounding”. That is the part of the response. The second part of the hard answer is that THE WORD comes to us under the cross. It comes in power and can be crucified, the violent can bear it away. It is always “punching up” as it were. If it is not, it might be something you desperately want to be THE WORD, but you are fooling yourselves.
When we hear the prophet the most likely response is repentance. That is the goal of THE WORD – Repent and believe. The Kingdom is here. A contrasting honest response would simply be to have the courage of your convictions. Sit in the seat of the priest or the king and deny that the prophet has any authority. It is at least a courageous honesty response. The worst response is “we don’t know”. Did you hear the Word? “We don’t know”. Stop it. You know. You just don’t like the decision is forces. True repentance or true rebellion. We want it both ways. The safe authority with the romance of the prophet.
Recording Note: You might notice during the sermon a shift in sound direction. For some reason I think the pulpit mic cut out. The altar mic picked it up fine, but it will sound more ambient. I also had to amplify the line just a smidge. We had some great hymns, like the opener mentioned, but I didn’t include any in the recording because it was one of those days where the recording just didn’t sound as good as live. Come to church, a much better experience.
The text is the emergence of Jesus after the arrest of John the Baptist and his calling of disciples. This sermon looks at three sets of comparisons encouraged in the text by their juxtaposition: Jesus and John the Baptist, Andrew/Peter and James/John, and Jesus and his disciples. Each comparison increases our knowledge of God and the path of discipleship. The sermon explores those especially the role of courage in the life of discipleship.
A note on the recording: I’ve included a couple of musical pieces. Our Choir sang an infectious newer hymn, LSB 833 Listen, God is Calling. It has a dramatic African Call/Response structure. I’ve been looking for about three years for a chance to get it into the service. It is just not something that a congregation can take on cold, but the choir sounded great. The second hymn is LSB 856 O Christ, Who Called the Twelve. It also is a newer hymn with some amazing depth paired with probably a familiar tune, Terra Beata formally, but I know it as This is Our Father’s World. (And I am still convinced that the theme song running throughout the Lord of the Rings movies is inspired by this hymn tune. At every moment of near despair, Frodo or Sam remember the shire and this theme plays in the background.) Both of these hymns are great additions to a Lutheran Congregation’s Hymnbook.