Ceremonial Niceness

Biblical Text: Luke 2:22-40

The text for the Sunday after Christmas this year was the Purification and the Presentation of Jesus at the temple. These are actually two separate things. The Old Testament laws that are being fulfilled are from two separate places. The OT text of the day is the basis of the Presentation of Jesus. The Purification is from Leviticus. The Sermon is an attempt to ponder what odd ceremonial laws have to do with us today. I think they might mean more than we would give them credit for.

Authority of the Cross


Biblical Text: Luke 20:9-20
Full Sermon Draft

All of Chapter 20 in Luke is Jesus teaching on proper authority. It is set in the conflict between Jesus and the Temple, and this text is the parable that Jesus uses as the loadstone of the entire teaching. You find true north in regards to authority by pondering this parable.

It happens to be a fortuitous text as the political season moves in strange ways this year. It also comes up at the same time as a situation I have been pondering simmers. This sermon attempts to think through the text and those situations. What it emerges with I hope is a picture of what authoritative leadership looks like. In this world authoritative leadership looks like the cross.

I don’t bring it up in the sermon itself, but Luther once attempted to talk about the marks of the church, how you would find it. His biggest mark was the cross. You will know you’ve found the church when what you are looking at bears the cross. It is only that type of authority and leadership – a leadership that is directed toward God and neighbor willing to bear the burden – that is truly fruitful.

I hope that this is helpful in your meditation. Also, I want to add a note about the recording. This is a re-recording after the fact, because the recording at the time something went wrong. Which is a shame, because the choir sounded wonderful, and we sang one of my top-5 hymns. LSB 423, Jesus Refuge of the Weary. The words are by the original Bonfire of the Vanities Girolamo Savonarola. The author is a cautionary tale. He rose is acclaim and fortune castigating a corrupt authority. He was later hung and burned at the same time. I believe the text of the hymn comes from his prison meditations. It might not be true, but I hear the confession of a man who got lost but came to see the cross anew. A historical support for the limits I attempt to point out in the sermon.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Isaiah 32:1-20 and Revelation 4:1-11

Isaiah 32:1-20
Revelation 4:1-11
The eschatological age: good government, seeing eyes, open ears, hearts seeking wisdom
God’s people joining all creation in the eschatological hymn

Daily Lectionary Podcast – 2 Samuel 11:1-27 and 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

2 Samuel 11:1-27
1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Vocation & Discernment, the Alien vs. the Proper work of God

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Genesis 13:1-18 and Mark 5:1-20

Genesis 13:1-18
Mark 5:1-20
Hidden Choices, God is not left without a witness, Discernment
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence (LSB 621)

A collection of reactions

1) This is the President of Union Theological Seminary answering Why Seminary?

…How do we discern a truth that can grasp us fully, and what is demanded of our lives when we stand, humbly, before this truth? A seminary education centers on thinking about the “why” of existence, and making it come alive in a vision for both what the world is, and could be…

Now I’m not sure that its the place of a humble parson to squawk back to such an august position, but if you are going to seminary to ask “Why?”, all you will get is what Job got. (Job 38:4) Her first question is the better one. You’ll have to read the rest of the article to realize that she is talking to two audiences. The problem is that for all her talk of standing before truth, I have a sinking suspicion that when she talks about “making church life more pertinent” she’s never actually heard the gospel. The most pertinent thing about church life is the proclamation of Christ for sinners. That is making us stand before truth, before The Truth as Jesus would call himself.

2) 10 Signs you should not be getting married in a Church. Are we getting to a place in society where it is acceptable to say such things? Green Shoots.

3) It has been in interesting week in “by heresies distressed” news. The Episcopal church was meeting in convention. The Onion couldn’t write some of their resolutions. The WSJ with an even tempered reflection. Basically the body is lost. There is no use shouting. The faithful remaining need to give serious consideration that it is time to find a new home as the heresiarchs consolidate what is left.

4) Not a counterpoint, but a decent reflection and something for those of us tempted to pride looking at the Episcopal church. The fact of the matter is that circa 1965, when all this stuff reaching its end point now really got going, “getting right with the culture” looked like a good and appropriate thing to do. Even the Vatican caught wind of it in Vatican 2 with aggiornamento. Discerning what are good and appropriate ways of being the church from ways that are heretical is not easy. And the truth is that we are sinners who see poorly. We hold these eternal truths in jars of clay. Which vessels are noble and which are made to break is a tough call.

5) Last snippet, David Brooks on “Why our Elites Stink”. Will the guy stop hinting around all worried about his NYT street cred already and just get on that soap box pulpit and say it – “What this group needs is conversion”. Ok, I’m not holding my breath for that, but that is really what the problem boils down to. The older leadership generation had its own sins (all the -isms that we rightly decry), but they also had a well grounded theology of human nature. If they themselves didn’t have faith itself, they still listened to what The Faith taught. That is not true anymore to all of our detriment.

The best of the WASP elites had a stewardship mentality, that they were temporary caretakers of institutions that would span generations. They cruelly ostracized people who did not live up to their codes of gentlemanly conduct and scrupulosity. They were insular and struggled with intimacy, but they did believe in restraint, reticence and service.

Today’s elite is more talented and open but lacks a self-conscious leadership code. The language of meritocracy (how to succeed) has eclipsed the language of morality (how to be virtuous). Wall Street firms, for example, now hire on the basis of youth and brains, not experience and character. Most of their problems can be traced to this.