The day on the church Calendar is the last Sunday of the Church Year, sometimes called Christ the King. The sermon completes our reading through Jesus’ last things sermon from Mark 13. You might call it the distinction between the end of a world, a time of tribulation, and the end of the world, the deliverance of Christ the King. The first of those we should be able to recognize by the “sign of the fig tree.” The last of those, we do not know, but we await that day. For that day is the day the Kingdom comes in its fullness. The Day of our deliverance.
The Gospel text that is the basis of the sermon is a continuation of the scene from last week. The result of last week’s questions and parable is that the Priests have been clearly understood as illegitimate authority. The question that gets answered with this weeks parable is what happens under such illegitimate authority, along with what does legitimate authority look like in the current vineyard – the current people of God.
Legitimate authority is only authority that is built on the cornerstone which is Christ. Of course the church constantly experiences “wretched leaseholders” – those that want to build their own towers of babel instead of building on Christ. What happens in these cases? The answer that Jesus puts forward I believe is two fold. First, the vineyard – the people of God – remain fruitful. A bad leader might “withhold the fruits”, but the people of God remain fruitful. Second, the LORD will come and put an end to all such schemes in the proper time. And that proper time is not excessively long because the fruits will be turned in “in their seasons.”
The larger spiritual reality is that we all labor under such a bad leaseholder – Satan, the powers and principalities. They have been given their notice to vacate. And the the LORD will make it so. But today, the vineyard remains fruitful building on Christ. And the fruits will not be lost.
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.
Maybe it is just getting older, but two things I experience daily that a younger man wouldn’t think could happen together. It could just be becoming set in my ways, but that isn’t how I experience it. Daily I am more convinced both of basic Christian doctrine and also with specific Lutheran doctrine. I’m a contrarian by nature. It is the last thing I would have expected. At the same time as becoming more sure of that doctrine, I’m becoming less militant. What I mean by that is while I can’t imagine something that forces a rethink on Augsburg Confession doctrine, I’m also much more willing to say with Paul “and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Phil 3:15-16)” We are all straining toward a goal we have not attained. I save my militancy for those situations where I see people deliberatively leaving the narrow way, and those tempting them off it.
A Great and Mighty Wonder is my favorite Christmas hymn. It helps that it is set to Es IST Ein Ros (Lo, How a Rose is Blooming), but that isn’t everything. When you understand a little of the life of the writer it becomes all the more powerful. This sermon hopefully proclaims the savior’s birth, reflected through St. Germanus, while living in the eschatological hope. Germanus’ life is a life that is incomprehensible outside of doctrine. It is also one that understands how that doctrine itself can deny the hope that is only Christ. His hymn is a moving meditation moving to the great hope when all idols – seen and unseen – shall perish and satan’s lying cease. And Christ shall raise his scepter, decreeing endless peace.
The text is one that still has resonance in the popular culture due of Horror Flicks. It is the possession of a man by “legion”. Leaving aside those trifles, the text stands as an important part of Luke’s narrative argument. Jesus has turned to parables, the chief of them the parable of the sower and the soils. The Word is being spread, and its reception is varied. Amid the varied reception, there is also a pattern. Those who should know, do not. Those who would seem to know nothing, are given full healing.
What this sermon attempts to do is examine the assurances of Word in the midst of such variance. That assurance is not some small trifle, but merely the promise of sane peace, and that nothing happens outside the command of heaven. And that command is given for our good.
Today was Transfiguration Sunday which is the last Sunday in the Season of Epiphany. Lent Begins mid-week with Ash Wednesday.
Transfiguration to me is a tough preaching assignment because it is fundamentally a visual experience. Parables are about words. Miracles are just as often about reactions to the happening. Both of those are easily pondered and preached in words. But with the transfiguration, it is an icon. What I mean by icon is that it is a picture that invites you to ponder fundamental reality, to contemplate and enter eternity. What this sermon chooses to ponder of that reality to time. We live, especially we moderns live, in a culture that at a minimum emphasizes tick-tock time. It sometimes goes as far as to deny there is anything but. But all icons are invitation to see beyond or underneath that press of the everyday. The transfiguration as the ultimate icon invites us to see all of eternity in one moment. The alpha and omega present on a mountaintop.
The sermon moves from the lessor to the greater. It posits hopefully a couple of more common icons in our lives that telescope time into an icon. Then it moves to the transfiguration. Finally it moves on to the demands and promises of knowing any icon. The what I put it here is that knowing eternity, we are freed to live in the moment. Not for the moment or obsessed with tick-tock time, but fully present in it. We are so freed to be truly present in good and ill because we are part of Jesus exodus. In Christ our time has been redeemed, reconnected to eternity. We have eternity, so we are free to enjoy time.
Worship note. Can I share a pet peeve? I understand the point of copyright. I believe that musicians and composers need to get paid. But copyright just kills the culture of hymns and sacred music. Here is what I mean. Today as a close we sang Lutheran Service Book number 416 – Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory. It is a very modern song. The text is copyrighted 1994; the tune (Love’s Light) in 2000. To me this hymn is one that I’d put in the list of all time greats that every Christian should know. Think Amazing Grace or A Mighty Fortress. The tune is gorgeous, contagious and singable. The words are deep, emotional and challenging. And part of the magic is that they fit together. That is a hymn that should be shared. I can’t. It’s copyrighted. Church music, like preaching, isn’t really a commercial endeavor. You do it for the good of the church.
The text is Jesus stilling the wind and the waves. What this sermon does is first examine the language or the story itself. It then based on that language look at two different points of the text. The first point is Christological, “who is this one?” This is the original meaning of the text, but there is a second more metaphorical meaning long read devotionally by the church. Not only is this one The Lord, but he is the The Lord with us in the midst of storm and tempest. The sermon attempts to present both.
It is bolstered by the included Hymn of the Day – “Jesus Savior Pilot Me” – LSB 715.