Hearing the Voice of the Shepherd

Biblical Text: Acts 20:17-35

This Sunday is typically “Good Shepherd” Sunday. The Gospel text comes from John 10. The key verse of that being “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” The first reading assigned in from the end of Acts. And why it is paired up with the Gospel reading is because it is the answer to the natural question: How do the sheep hear the voice? This sermon meditates on the answer based on Paul’s “good-bye” message to the Ephesian Elders.

If You Find Me Faithful, Come and Stay

Biblical Text: Acts 16:6-15

The New Testament is about Jesus. Knowing Jesus as Paul would be the first to say is the only important thing. But Jesus is perfect. Jesus is a plumb line, a measuring rod. When you look at Jesus he is true man. The struggle around Jesus is all about how people react to this truth. Paul though is a character all about struggle. Because he is THE Apostle I think we miss just how great were Paul’s struggles. Not only against those opposed to the gospel, but also against himself. It pulses in his writings. And if we read carefully, Luke shows us as well. Paul is The Apostle because he shows us the living faith which includes a need for the gospel and a growth in Christ.

This sermon examines Paul’s struggles around the start of the 2nd missionary journey. Struggles with individuals, struggles with the Spirit, and struggles with self. Paul finds his way to faithfulness in his response to the vision to come and his actions. And he hears the invitation, “come and stay”. The sermon invites us to ponder for ourselves, what are our invitations to faithfulness.

Be Opened – The Kingdom Inbreaking in Unexpected Ways


Biblical Text: Mark 7:31-37
Full Sermon Draft

This sermon is based on a “level 2” reading of the Gospel of Mark. What I mean by level 2 is that to make the connections necessary you have to look at the locations, characters and actions of what is being told and assume that the writer picked this story specifically to carry meaning. The deaf and mute man was chosen because his disabilities and their healings are symbolic for what the Kingdom of God is doing on a larger level. The first part of the sermon hopefully establishes at least the plausibility of that level 2 reading. The second attempts to apply it to our situation.

Doctrinally this puts me in the realm of election and sanctification. The sermon is about the tension or specific actions that these doctrines call for.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Numbers 16:1-22 and Luke 19:11-28

Numbers 16:1-22
Luke 19:11-28
Vocation & Faithfulness with what has been given
Lukewarm and our conception of God

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Malachi 2:1-3:5 and Matthew 4:1-11

Malachi 2:1-3:5
Matthew 4:1-11
Marriage & Divorce as an image of covenant and faithfulness
The first person you meet

Daily Lectionary Podcast – 2 Chronicles 31:1-21 and Philippians 4:1-23

2 Chronicles 31:1-21
Philippians 4:1-23
The place of tithes & contributions
How the glory of God flows through is people

In Marriage a Reflection of Christ and the Church

goats_butting_heads“No one ever asks how did you two stay together? Everyone always asks how did you two meet?”

That is an insightful comment coming near the end of this likewise insightful article.

A further snippet…

And an enduring marriage lacks an obvious narrative structure. There is no climax, no decisive action. Even if an unfaithful spouse vows never to see the lover again, there may be other potential lovers in the future, and there’s still a fractured marriage to repair. A wedding is a climax; so is a divorce. How do you tell a story that’s all aftermath—all epilogue?

That’s relying upon the classic definition of a comedy as a play that ends with a wedding (cross reference your Riverside Shakespeare, compare and contrast Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night. Extra-credit, what is Henry V?)

One of the images of the end of the world in scripture is the marriage feast of the bridegroom and the bride. (Extra credit, what kind of story is being told and why should that effect our demeanor?) The end of the fallen world’s story is a wedding. But what is interesting is that while the church is the bride and Christ the bridegroom (if we wanted to be more exact including the OT better we would say the bridegroom is messiah and the bride the people of God), the interactions of God and his people are described in marriage terms. St. Paul says in Ephesians 5:32 that the marriage, the epilogue, is the image of Christ and the church. There exists in this world already a proleptic, an out of time order, relationship. And the core truth of that relationship is covenant faithfulness.

We naturally ask the sparkly and hot questions – “How did you meet?” – hoping for the cute and emotionally fulfilling “meet cute” story of romantic comedy. You can’t read the biblical stories of meeting at a well (Moses, Jacob, Jesus – Gen 29:1ff, Exo 2:15ff, John 4:5ff) and say that God ignores that, but that is not the question. Jesus turns from the meet cute repartee with the Samaritan woman to the deeper concern – “Go call your husband” (John 4:16). The hour is coming when that relationship between God and his people will be in truth. And the truth is found in faithfulness. We know true love not by pixie dust and cute story but by living the epilogue. The story that survives the fire is that answer to “how did you stay together”? By Grace. Tell me a story full of grace.

Stewardship 3: What does faithfulness look like in Stewardship?

This is a link to post #1 in this series.
This is a link to post #2 in this series

Short Recap. Stewardship is part of the sanctified life or part of living the gospel. It would be easy to make a law of it, but we break the law. That is what the law does. It shows us where we fall short. But, the law remains a good guide of how God intends for us to live. Instead, by looking at the parables of the talents and mina, what God desires of the sanctified life is faithfulness. God has given every baptized Christian the Holy Spirit indwelling. God has given a mix of gifts to every church. What He is looking for is faithful use of those gifts. The return is not really what matters. God will bless that. The amount of original gifting is not what matters. That varies and is from God. What matters is the use. The faithful Christian does not bury the talent or wrap the mina in a cloth, but he/she uses them or you can even say puts them at risk.

Now the question is what does a faithful use look like? What I want to start with is the Ur-Story of Cain and Able in Genesis 4:1-16. Take a minute to look read the story.

In Gen 4:3 how is Cain’s offering described? “In the course of time, Cain brought to the Lord an offering from the fruit of the ground.” Now I’m going to get a little geeky here. The “in the course of time” translation is fine, but the Hebrew Idiom is literally more interesting – “it took place at the end of the days”. In other words, Cain finished everything first, and as an afterthought said, ‘maybe I should offer something to God.’ Compare that description to Abel in Gen 4:4. You can read the pretty translation at the link, I’m going to skip to the geeky one – “Abel himself moreover brought in from the female firstborn of the flock and from the fat ones”. Catch the difference? 1) Abel himself, the implied contrast is that it wasn’t Cain himself that brought the offering. 2) Abel brought in the firstborn of the flock. (I’m not going to read anything into the ‘female’ portion of that. If you want to push it you could say that offering a female was more valuable in that the female would produce milk and more sheep.) 3) Not just the firstborn but also the fat ones. The sheep that had been well fed and taken care of.

So, where Cain’s stewardship was an afterthought given without a real measure of thanks from the remains of the day, Abel’s was the first part in every way. Abel acknowledged in his offering where everything came from. Cain was checking off a box. Abel was living the gospel. Cain was living the law.

God favors Abel’s offering, but Cain’s he pays no attention to. Cain gets angry at this. [Enter grumbly voice] Stupid God, doesn’t like everything I’ve done for him. I’ll show God. [Voice off] God even warns him the sin is at his door. He needs to get control of it. But we know the rest of the story.

But for our stewardship study the message is plain. If you are treating stewardship as a law. If you are coming in at the end of the week or month out of cash and offering $5 in the hopes that God will superstitiously bless you, you are treading the path of Cain. You would be better off not putting that in the plate. Instead the gospel stewardship is a recognition of where all good gifts come from, and the deeper recognition that sacrificing the first and the fat is not a “dead weight loss”. That God is a God of abundance and living the gospel is having faith in Him to provide for all our needs.

There are all kinds of questions and buts and ifs and legal codicils that could be raised. If you want to the comments are open. But I’m out of space for today. For the next part please read Mark 12:41-44 or Luke 21:1-4. We’ll talk about some of those buts, and then transition into some very practical matters.

Stewardship 2: The Importance and Return to Faithfulness

This is a link to post #1 in this series.

The texts we will discuss below: Matt 25:14-30 and Luke 19:12-27

I wanted to look at the parables of the talents in regards to stewardship first, and I put them both on, because I think they help each other.

The Matthew form is probably the most familiar. A man goes on a journey and gives his servants a large amount of money to watch until he returns. One he gives 5 talents, one he gives 3 talents and one he gives 1 talent. The first two double their amounts and are welcomed. The one with 1 talent goes and buries it afraid of losing it. He is “cast into the outer darkness” when the man returns. The stinging question is why were you so dumb to bury it? At least give it to the bankers to collect interest.

The Luke form has 10 servants instead of three. Each servant is given the same amount – 1 mina. 1 mina is a much smaller amount than a talent. 1 talent contained 60 minas. 1 mina was roughly 100 drachmas or 100 days wages. So the poorest servant for Matthew gets 6000 days wages or about 16 years. The second difference is the context of the parables. In Matthew the talents is in the middle of the “End Times” discourse. Jesus is answering the disciples’ questions about what the end times will be like and when they will be. In Luke the parable is right at the end of the travel narrative before Palm Sunday and after a Rich ruler fails to enter the kingdom but a blind man and Zacchaeus are welcomed. Obviously the purpose of the story is different in each gospel, it illustrates something different about the Kingdom of God and the amount of money means something different.

In one parable the servants are treated vastly differently but still opulently. In the other they are more modestly treated, but all treated the same. In what way are all Christians treated the same? The simple answer is that in baptism all Christians are given the Holy Spirit. Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as a deposit or a down payment or guarantee until the return of Jesus. (1Tim 6:20, 2Tim 1:14, 2Cor 1:22, 2Cor 5:5). Is it a stretch to see the individual indwelling of the Spirit at the equal deposit given to all the servants?
If we take the individual mina in that sense, then the rest outfolds this way. They all perform differently in the Lukan parable – One returns ten, the next 5. One comes back and has done nothing with the mina. That one is thrown out. Individual Christians from baptism through the sanctified life all live more or less faithful lives. And that is what the king says in Luke – “you have been faithful in little, you will be put in charge of much”. The only unfruitful or unacceptable course is to guard the deposit passively. Essentially say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church…” and then live as if you don’t.

In the Matthew version of the parable it is not the individual deposit of the Spirit in question, but the vastly more variable outpouring of gifts. Just looking at the church through the ages – why do some churches get apostles, prophets, miracles and strong teachers while others get thieves and abusers? We do not know. It hasn’t been revealed. What has been revealed is that this variance is how God says he’ll act until the end times. One gets 5 talents and another 1 talent. Either way the capital stake is enough to do at least caretaking business. (Put it on deposit with the bankers or maintain the capital). In this form the only unacceptable outcome is to whittle away the deposit of faith.

So, the lesson out of both is faithfulness. All the endeavors are risky. Any business is risky. Many lose money. In both of these parables those risking the deposit are all rewarded handsomely. 5 talents, a staggering some, a lifetime’s earnings, double! 1 mina becomes 10! God’s word does not return empty. If an individual or a church is faithful in their walk, God prospers it. [I should make a side note that this is not an endorsement of what we think prosperity always is. This is not a material prosperity gospel message. We might be humanly disappointed in God’s idea of prospering when he sends a church a raft of homeless to take care of instead of that bright shiny intact family.] If his people are faithful with what has been entrusted, large or small, corporate grouping or individual, God will prosper and reward the work.

So what does this mean for stewardship? The most pressing question to answer to me is: what does it mean to be faithful in stewardship? All Christians have been given the Spirit, but they have been given a great variance of material means and spiritual means. What does it mean to be faithful in our use of that variance? That will be the topic of post 3 in this series. The foundational text will be the story of Cain and Able in Genesis 4.

By what authority…?

Full Text of Sermon

This is sermon is one of those all or nothing affairs. Its football season, so I’ll use a football analogy. Sometimes you are handing the ball to the running back on a dive play. Its going to get roughly 3 yards and move the chains. Most sermons move the chains. Teaching is moving the chains. Sometimes the dive play opens up and you get a 20 yard scamper. Sometimes in sermons you don’t just teach but can inspire as well. And then there are the go routes. You tell your fastest receiver to go. You hold the ball as long as you can without being sacked, and then you throw it as far down the field as you can hoping that speedy guy runs under it. It is all or nothing with a side possibility of a turnover.

Jesus took his chances. He was always asking ‘who do you say I am?’ It’s an all or nothing question. The specific topic is stewardship. Churches need tithes and offerings to operate. But stewardship is a secondary question. If you haven’t committed to an answer to the authority the church works under, then stewardship is just dues. So stewardship sermons ask that primary question. Who do you say the crucified one is?