Unworthy

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Biblical Text: Luke 7:1-19, Luke 5-7
Full Sermon Draft

Liturgically this is the fist Sunday after the festival half of the year. Every preacher tends to have their pet peeves or things that frustrate them. One of mine is this Sunday which just drops us into the middle of the gospel’s account in a way that you lose all context. One of my home grown crackpot theories is that a big problem with Christians today is that none of them know the story. And I mean that in a small way and a large way. The small way is the Jesus story – what the gospels tell us. Every Christian should know the Jesus story well enough such that when any given text is referenced they know the context. In the larger way I mean the biblical story: Patriarchs, Exodus, Judges, Saul & David, Kings & Prophets, Exile, Return and waiting; John the Baptist, Jesus, Apostles, waiting. Doctrine is great, and I tried to offer a defense of it last week on Trinity Sunday, but sermons that are doctrinal first tend to be static to me. It is the story, the good news, that comes first. So consistently missing the Galilean ministry as the current lectionary does, bugs me.

So, this sermon spends a little longer than I might normally catching us up. It is important for the lesson in that we understand the statement being made in this appearance of the centurion. What is being made is a statement of just what this Kingdom is about? Neither nationality, nor works. Not pedigree, or merit. It is based on Jesus. Worthiness has nothing to do with anything other than Jesus. This sermon explores that and our reaction to that fact.

A Specific Peace

The word peace in the Gospel according to Luke is a big word. This was the First Sunday in Advent and the gospel lesson is often the triumphal entry or Palm Sunday. The theological theme of the that text is the Kingship of Jesus. No different in Luke, but Luke adds this strange cry from the crowd leading Jesus into Jerusalem. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! (Luk 19:38 ESV)” Did you catch the strange word? Peace in Heaven. The entire phrase is an echo of the Angels at Christmas, but instead of peace on earth, now it is peace in heaven. And if you do the word study, roughly midway through Luke you find this, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. (Luk 12:51 ESV)”

The peace of God is not a generic peace. The Angels were never singing just “peace on earth”. They sang “on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! (Luk 2:14 ESV)” The specific peace is the Kingdom of God, the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The specific peace is one imposed…through grace. You can take it or you can leave it, but you can’t work for it. You can’t earn the peace. The Father just declared it. The war was over on the cross.

The only question is our response. Do we accept the peace, or continue an insurgent war. Which Kingdom do we choose, the Kingdom of this World, or the Kingdom of Heaven. The tyrant Satan or the humble Christ. Choose your prince.

Religion and Truth in a Pluralistic Culture

This short write up is well worth the 3 mins on Pope Benedict’s conception of interfaith or ecumenical interaction. Its starting point in an event that just took place in Assisi. 25 years ago the previous pope was at the same place involved in prayer with “Buddhists chant[ing] to the accompaniment of gongs and drums, Zoroastrians tend[ing] a sacred fire, and an American Indian medicine man in traditional headdress smok[ing] a peace pipe and call[ing] down the blessings of the “Great Spirit.” Benedict has a different view, even if the picture nearby might not say speak that.

The great religious question of our age is inclusivity vs. exclusivity. Were all those people praying to the same God, or was it an example of syncretistic worship on the level of ancient Israel’s “high places”? (1 Kings 12:27-32) Do all roads go up the same mountain, or is Jesus Christ the way, the truth and the life? (John 14:6) Let’s make it real clear. We read it in worship a couple of Sundays ago. Isaiah 45:5 – “I am the Lord, there is no other, beside me there is no other.” If the bible counts as your scripture, you can’t hold the “all roads view”. And holding worship services with people chanting, tending and smoking to other dieties hopelessly confuses things. It is no wonder people might just assume that there is no truth in any of them. Then Cardinal Ratzinger said as much:

The cardinal later wrote that “multireligious prayer” of the kind offered there “almost inevitably leads to false interpretations, to indifference as to the content of what is believed or not believed, and thus to the dissolution of real faith.”

Such prayer should occur only rarely, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, and to “make clear that there is no such thing . . . as a common concept of God or belief in God, that difference not merely exists in the realm of changing images and concepts” but in the substance of what different religions claim.

It is the now Pope Benedict’s next step that is almost uniquely Lutheran.

As he told a European ambassador last week, social justice is based on norms accessible to all, derived not from divine revelation but from “reason and nature”—that is, from “universally applicable principles that are as real as the physical elements of the natural environment.”

He is using Catholic natural law language there. A Lutheran would appeal to two concepts: a theology of two kingdoms and the fundamental law and gospel distinction. We are able to work together in social justice areas because social justice is part of the law or part of the kingdom of the law. The law is universally written on all hearts. (Romans 2:14-15) And the law is good and wise. There is a righteousness that comes from the law – a civil righteousness. But the civil righteousness is not the saving truth of the gospel. In worship – we are separate. Because all roads don’t lead to the same place. Because we proclaim Christ crucified, risen and ascended as Lord. He is Lord, there is no other. Confusing law and gospel only leads to loss of faith.

What do you think about the Christ?

Sermon Text: Matthew 22:34-46
Full Text of Sermon

The text is the last in a sequence of questions that the various leaders of the Jews in Jerusalem were quizzing Jesus with. In the Synoptics (Matt, Mark and Luke) Jesus is only in Jerusalem once, and the leaders are testing him. Finding out where he falls. The first of the questions is tricky and political. The second by the Sadducees was just the sniggering expression of a cynical elite. But this last one by a representative of the Pharisees is serious. What is the summary of the law?

And Jesus treats it seriously. He doesn’t cryptically answer it or just swat it away. He gives an answer. Love God; love your neighbor as yourself. We don’t always see it, but there are three loves in there: God, others and self. The core of the law is to love them all.

We all have more or less success with that, but the law only goes so far. In the middle of the puzzlement of how do I balance those, Jesus asks a question. What do you think about the Christ? The Pharisees answer – he’s the son of David. A King. A representative of the law. But Jesus pushes them. Why does David, the highest law – the great king – admit to another Lord? And he leaves the question hanging.

I try in this sermon to put that same hanging question on the hearer. What do you think about the Christ? Does he fulfill the law? What does it mean to call him Lord? The answers are yours. I think that is the difference between a theology from above and one from below. If you are working with a theology from above, you proclaim the majesty and Lordship. (And the hymns for the day did that proclamation for us.) If you are working with a theology from below, you invite, you portray, you ask people to observe and draw conclusions. Both can bring forth faith in the hands of the Spirit. The first invites the Amen! The second challenges to thought. Look deeper. Put aside the standard answers and come up with your own. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). The church needs both. The Christian needs both – the amen and the reflection.