Discipleship Itinerary

Biblical Text: Acts 16:6-15

The text as I read it had two parts. The first being something of a travel itinerary. And it was travel that was done under some uncertainty and stress. First Paul wanted to go West, but the Spirit stopped him. And he drifted north. When he runs out of North he decides to go east, but the Spirit of Jesus stops him. And eventually Paul has a vision, “come help us in Macedonia.” It’s not that Paul was doing anything wrong; he just didn’t have the necessary figured out yet. But when you figure out the necessary, there is only one choice – obedience. The sermon reads Paul’s itinerary as a metaphor for the life of discipleship. The second part of the text is what happens when you arrive at a new point. Paul and his traveling companions have gone to Philippi, a Roman Colony. And what they encounter is different. When we’ve come to something new in our discipleship walk, we have a choice.

God’s Work; Our Growth

Biblical Text: Mark 4:26-34
Full Sermon Draft

The year preaching on the Gospel according to Mark is one of the most interesting. Mark’s gospel has the most cryptic and odd parts. It is no wonder that the current reigning academic model puts Mark as the earliest. It makes sense that some thing like today’s parable or last Sunday’s visit by Mary would be smoothed out later. It makes sense, but I’m not personally convinced. Of the four gospels Mark simply seems to have a sense of the absurd. How crazy and paradoxical and wonderful at the same time life and the God of life actually is. This sermon attempts to ponder the odder of the seed parables. “The earth produces by itself.” It invites you to think of it as a parable of the work of the Spirit. God doesn’t seem to know what he is doing – “he sleeps and rise night and day”, “he scatters everywhere” – but the plants grow and produce a harvest. The Kingdom of God can be absurd that way, but it is God’s work. And he grants us the growth.

Beginnings and Endings – A Cruciform Existence


Biblical Text: Mark 6:1-30
Full Sermon Draft

Under the biblical text I put the full text I was drawing from. The reading is only Mark 6:1-13, but I think that cuts off a significant element of interpretation. What we see in this text is Jesus marveling at his rejection by his hometown because of what they “know”. They don’t really know anything, but what they “know” gets in the way of actually seeing. What this represents is the start of the hard opposition and rejection of Jesus. His ministry which has been one of crowds and superficial acceptance up until this point makes a turn toward the cross. At the same time he sends out the twelve. This is the beginning of their ministry. So we have the beginning and the beginning of the end in the same story.

What that highlights for us is the nature of Kingdom growth. The Kingdom grows not because of any individual ministry, but it grows through multiplication, through death and resurrection. A seed falls to the ground and produces a hundred fold. Jesus’ successful ministry healed people one at a time. We he was nailed to a tree, he healed the entire world. God’s power is revealed most sure in weakness, in the midst of the trial. And that is what the stories the church tells, the lives of the saints reflect most clearly.

Recording note: The hymn left in is Fight the Good Fight (LSB 664). The lyrics and the music reflect that cruciform nature of discipleship in this world. Success is not about the outward appearance, but about Fighting the Good Fight, Keeping the Faith, because God’s definition of success is found in Christ.

Silent Seed Growing


Biblical Text: Mark 4:26-34
Full Sermon Draft

Mark chapter 4 is a chapter of parables. In the midst of many familiar ones from other gospels is one that is unique to Mark – the seed growing silently. Not that any of the parables are easy, but some, like the parable of the sower and the soils, come with an explanation. Other, like the parable of the mustard seed which is pared with the silent seed in Mark, are more obvious in their intent. And the more obvious, the more likely we’ve heard sermons on them or grasped them ourselves. This sermon focuses on that unique one.

In many ways the parables of seeds are all attempts to describe what the seeds planted on good soil experience. Wheat and weeds together sown (Matthew 13:25ff) describes our experience of living in a fallen world. The mustard seed describes the way churches always surprise. They are not what you’d expect when you look at what is planted. But the seed silently growing talks about the experience of being a seed planted I think.

1) The seed is helpless in its growth. We individuals or the church depend completely upon God for growth. We can’t force it. We might hinder, but have not power to make grow.
2) Never-the-less the kingdom of God grows: often imperceptibly, constantly at the will of God, and inevitably. It takes constant effort to kill organic growth.
3) The reign of God includes a harvest.

This sermon ponders those three elements of the parable.

I included on the record two interesting hymns with organic growth metaphors. The first is a modern hymn, LSB 654, Your Kingdom O God is My Glorious Treasure. The hymn is a compilation of many of the Reign of God parables: treasure, pearl, yeast, mustard plant, field, seeds, weeds and wheat. The last hymn I included is one of the oldest the words taken from the 2nd century Didache, probably the earliest catechism. LSB 652, Father We Thank Thee. Both I thought were worthy examples of response to the Word of the parable.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Zechariah 10:1-11:3 and 2 Timothy 3:1-17

Zechariah 10:1-11:3
2 Timothy 3:1-17
Word of God as a rain shower, God’s Word is Our Great Heritage (LSB 582), repentance and nourishment under the word

Don Draper & Church Aesthetics

Jantzen-Swimsuits- Actual
One of those things that has been occupying my spare brain cycles has been Mad Men. For some reason I watched season 6 on the TV this year.

Tangent Warning: I know. Everybody who watched it from the beginning of time complained about this year. Well, I didn’t know anything when I watched this season. I was a complete blank slate or in some ways against it. Being a contrarian, since ‘all the smart people’ were watching Mad Men, I concluded it must be a complete suck-up and stayed far away. Also I’m like James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams, as soon as someone starts talking about “the ’60s” I want to get my can of pest spray. Season 6 was some of the best TV I’d watched, so I’ve been catching up now half way through season 4. My general take is that season 1 was so good that people were still talking about that during season 2 and 3. The Kodak scene is worth the entire show, and its a great book end to season 6 scene where Don tells the real story and “s***s all over the table”. In reading the bible you’d call that an inclusio. But overall the experience at the end of season 3 was something like the Hunger Games books. You read Hunger Games over-night because you can’t put it down. It reads that well. Then you read the next two on the vapors of book one. You’d put it down half-way through book three if not just for the “how does it end?” question. Season 4 while not reaching the emotional toll of season 1 is better than 2 and 3. The tough thing to keep in mind is that even “bad” seasons are better than most television, but the nostalgia for season 1 is almost painful. /End Tangent

OK, back to main point. Don Draper as the head of creative, and Peggy Olsen the understudy in an interesting sequence with a priest, basically hold “the customer” in contempt. It is not really contempt, but “I know what will sell widgets and connect emotionally, and you don’t”. That is the hubris, in Don & Peggy’s cases earned, of the professional. Peggy expresses this with the priest after the CYA council has savaged her beautiful flyers. “Your job is to make them accept the idea, not split the difference” – or something to that effect after the priest with the older ladies kills the entire creative flyer by watering it down. Don expresses this multiple times, but when he “fires” Jantzen swimwear is the essence. The client is selling bikinis, but they don’t want to be “too sexy”. The add that Don actually creates meets the letter, but rubs the spirit in their face.DraperJantzen (The pictures are the ad from the show and a real ad from the era. Notice how Don has a girl in pig-tails and doesn’t actually show anything, but the entire ad is a mild tease at least by today’s standards.) When they don’t like it, Don tells them to leave, he doesn’t want their account. And he is right from a business stand point. Don knows their business better than they do. There are times when the customer is just flat wrong, sometimes embarrassingly wrong. As Steve Jobs would say, the customer doesn’t know what they want.

Now Don and Peggy’s purpose is to increase sales. The church’s purpose is to make disciples (Matt 28:19-20). There is a bottom line sales portion there, but only concentrating on that is a big mistake. The purpose is not to goose attendance but to create disciples who persevere even in the hard times. You can take a customer-is-always-right approach, but that approach is never really good creative. It is always lukewarm mush. Those who are left behind in the old “Sterling Cooper” at the end of season 3 in season 4 express just that. The better account man, Ken Cosgrove, who is also an published artist, complains about the idiocy of the merged entity enough that he is willing to subordinate himself to Pete Campbell to reclaim some integrity. Now think about what that means in church. What kind of church do you want? One that takes a “customer is always right” approach and that is always trying to find out what that is and serve it? Or one that acts like Don & Peggy – we have a better way. Which church is expressing confidence? Which church would make disciples?

Now ask the next question, is the low-church praise band the warmed over mush or Don & Peggy? Can you see Don or Peggy in the typical suburban mega-church? (FYI, one of the funniest if sacrilegious tweaks of the show was Peggy creating a “Mom Icon” to sell popsicles.sterling-coopers-popsicle-sacrament Here is an article that is trying to express some of the same things I’ve been thinking about while watching Mad Men. The funniest point is the “serve yourself” communion. That would be the essence of the mush, the customer is always right, church. When you feel like it, please come take the body of Christ that we’ve left out on the table along with the grape juice to wash it down. The church has (or should have) better taste.

VBS Ending

First some pictures…

Here is the Spotlight Drama CD as a zip file. Just download and extract to disk to see the story we built this week. (Warning! This is a large file. It could take 20 mins to download. If you have trouble downloading, give me a call or an email and I’ll forward that way or mail you a disk.)

Finally, this was a great VBS. If I had to admit it, I was a little worried about the theme at the start. But, by the end this was a great VBS. It got the core gospel message across very simply for many who might never have heard it, or only heard it at long interval. Let me tell you a little way I mean. Here are the five/(six) phrases that someone who attended this VBS will leave with.
1. God Created You
2. God Listens to You
3. God watches over You
4. God loves you no matter what
5. God gives good gifts
(The sneaky Lutheran liturgical propaganda response (inside joke, sorry) to all of them was #6. Thank You God!)

The exacting theologian in me would hem and haw and tweak things. (Most of that has to do with one thing. What we see as good gifts and what God sees are often quite different especially for the young in faith. That Gap in understanding is what leads to things like the prosperity gospel or Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.) The practical theologian says yeah, it’s that simple. It is all by God’s grace in Jesus Christ. In an age that is largely biblically or theologically illiterate, that introduction is a good proclamation. That is the milk of faith. As we live the Christian life we discover the riches of the Kingdom. Give me the Pandas at the start.