I always laugh when I hear someone say the church is so political, although I think I understand what they mean. I laugh because it really isn’t. The lessons from this Sunday’s lectionary are the only ones that I think call for explicit political preaching. And to be honest, in my entire time pew sitting, I probably heard less than one handful of explicit politics from the pulpit. Most ministers would avoid it completely. But what I think they are expressing is not so much “vote for x” from the pulpit as the complete subordination of “things temporal” to “things eternal”. (Don’t miss the collective prayer I left in the recording.)
Jesus’ “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” saying is not an invitation to some type of church state separation. One can have a purely secular politics. Just stop at the first part. And that makes sense. That is the way of the principalities and the powers. But if you want to follow Jesus the call is to give to God what is God’s, which includes the things of Caesar.
Neither Jesus nor I get explicit about the answers to this. Honestly in Jesus’ day it might have been easier, or at least the average person would bear no responsibility for the actions of the gov’t because they were subjects, not citizens. But when you vote, when you are a citizen, you bear responsibility. This sermon attempts to lay out what discharging that duty in a Christian way looks like.
The Christian in called to live in two kingdoms at the same time. There are the kingdoms of the law. What we call the state is the typical representative of the Kingdom of the law. And in the Kingdom of the law the primary responsibility is Justice. Because this Kingdom is ruled indirectly by sinful humans (and fallen powers) justice isn’t always perfect, but that its responsibility. Christians also life in the Kingdom of Grace. And how we are called to live is thinking of the Kingdom of Grace as a millennium’s worth of work compared to the law’s as three months. Three months is a lot. Most of us don’t have three months in the bank. Three months is real. And legally we can demand it. But the Christian who wishes to reside in the Kingdom recognizes that those three months are as nothing compared to the 10,000 talents.
This is the way of the cross. The way of grace. Trusting that God’s justice is better than the best we could ever provide.
This sermon is slightly longer than I normally go, which yes, I realized that means nobody will listen. Way to lead with the glass jaw parson. But more seriously, I think I use the extra 10 mins or so for good effect. I promise you that this is not the typical sermon you will hear on Sunday. In short it is a defense of the law. It is an encouragement to holiness. But Christian holiness should not be something based in fear, because the law has lost its sting. Give it a listen.
Law and Gospel is a beloved Lutheran theological slogan. For my money though it has moved from being something that is life changing to being a doctrinal formulation that is barely understood. And part of the problem is how it has been preached and used for the past 50 years or so. It has been used not as law AND gospel, but law and gospel have been set contrary to each other. That is both an abuse of the law, expecting from it what it can’t do, and a misreading of the gospel.
This sermon is my attempt to move law and gospel from a dead doctrine to a life changing reality.
The text is Mary and Martha which has had an outsized influence on Christian history. It is not stretching it to think that the interpretation of this passage shaped Christianity from the 200’s to the Reformation. What I’m speaking of is the separation of the Christian Life into the Active and the Contemplative. But that division, isn’t really fair either to the historical reality or to the larger reality presented in all of Luke 10.
What this sermon attempts to do is understand Mary and Martha in the full context of Luke 10. It ponders how and why Mary represents the one thing needful, while at the same time giving Martha her place as one addressed doubly “Martha, Martha” by the LORD. (Ponder for a second the full list of those addressed this way. It is like finding yourself on a list with Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Barry Bonds.) And then it answers how we move from an anxious and troubled place, to the place of holding the one thing needful.
The pastor’s of LCMS circuits get together on the monthly basis for worship, study and commiseration. The host is responsible for the worship and preaching. When it is my turn, as it was this month, I take it as an opportunity to preach to a unique audience. This is the text I preached.
When I say a unique audience the biggest thing I assume is a familiarity with certain texts and theological concepts. The second thing I assume is something of a contemplative practice by which I mean a willingness to examine the effects of our theological concepts played out in the lives of people. We all have these concepts. The difference is that pastors should be and usually are acquainted with theirs. And because they will be held responsible for those effects, they need to examine them in the light of scripture. That is what this sermon does. Which focuses on our lack of use of the law or God’s word of power.
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.
The image and the reality is all over the new and old testaments. We pray for it constantly in the Lord’s prayer. But moderns have no idea what the world King means. We don’t have a good concept what it means to receive one. And even the examples that we have, like the Queen/King of England, are not what we are talking about. When those places use the world or the thought King they don’t mean a statutory figurehead. They mean a real one. One like a lion, however nice they might be at play, all you can think is “those claws, those claws”. This sermon is an attempt to recover some of that meaning. It is also an attempt to understand how this King is still different that all the others. And finally it is an attempt to understand how we receive a king – here in time and their in eternity as Luther would explain the Lord’s prayer petition.
This sermon completes Paul’s re-upping of the moral law/10 Commandments in the Christian life. It treats the 4th commandment and how we live into the promises of God by honoring the various close authorities in our lives. Those authorities are both temporal and eternal/spiritual, and they are not always perfect. Paul discusses it all under the the banner of being in submission to each other. The world attempts to divide us and councils that we are first individuals. The wisdom of God says we live in a web of proper authority in which we look out for the other. He does this by penning what is often called a household code.
This sermon looks at the elements of that household code and what they ask of the Christian life. That includes the honor between husband and wife, and how that is a sacramental picture of something much greater. But in each case we are called to live toward the promise and not give in to the easy temptations of the way of the world.
New Year’s Eve is not something on the Traditional Church calendar, it is the 7th day of Christmas for those who follow the liturgical calendar. I know that other Protestant traditions (typically Reformed) have a long history of worship on New Years, but here, as I mention in the sermon, it is the first time in my pastorate that I’ve had the pulpit on the Eve. A new year automatically creates a looking backward and a looking forward. What this sermon attempts to do is ground it in the saintly examples of Simeon, Anna and the Holy Family. Instead of wishing the old gone and the new on our strength alone, the old is our grounding and the new we look for is the strength of God. Happy New Year, and may the consolation of Israel be found in your hearts.