Most weeks it takes translating, a little reading and a little pondering to come up with a sermon idea. And then it takes a grind to shape it into something I’d want to give. This week I thought I had a great idea already leaving church from last week. I still thought I had the great idea until Friday afternoon. But to be honest, what I had was more of a collection of ideas, and they didn’t fully hang together. Or I wasn’t as brutal as I should have been in cutting some parts. Or what I needed to do here was go full old style Baptist and just demand folks take out their bibles and go line by line exposition. When the Rhetoric isn’t working – which I should have known by late Thursday when I couldn’t get the general outline to work.
But, putting that aside, when I made the word cloud I was shocked to see centered what might be the theme – Good Son. And what the Good Son knows is whose house he is part of. Maybe part of my troubles is know that this message has dual effects. And this is the role of the Luther quotes. (Honestly Luther’s sermon on this text is a little scattered as well. He essentially abandons the text and just preaches a sermon.) But Luther recognizes that the commands of God are greeted in two ways. To those who know their Father and are comfortable in his house, the commands flow naturally from faith. God is good and the law is given for our benefit. But to those lacking faith, or to those who have not found real faith, those commands eventually become simply a work and a grudging one at that. (Think the response of the Older Son in the parable of the prodigal.)
The parable of the unrighteous servant is a commentary on the gospel parables that precede it. The children of the world know whose house they are in, and they act in appropriate (sinful) ways. The Children of Light should do the same thing. Be the good son. And in being the good son, you have your proof of authentic faith. Because a good tree bears good fruit.
I broke a rule today. One of the main sermon rules is pick a point or a theme and stick with it. You can’t develop more than one in the time allowed, and your listeners can’t absorb more than one. But today I had three things. There was the highly moralistic point of the lesson in its context following last week. Charity is not a false lesson. It is also one that we need to hear. But the rich man and Lazarus is more than a moral. The second was also short. I’ve heard and read way to many sermons that construct an entire picture of heaven and hell from this example. That is an abuse of the text. The sermon tells you why.
But then I turn toward the point that I think is deeper. “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them.” The moral point is true, but it depends upon two things embedded in that phrase – faith and the word. Everything that happens – even a man rising from the dead – can be interpreted in different ways. People will go to great lengths to ignore or explain away things that are contrary to their monetary benefit or settled beliefs. The message of Jesus – of the cross – is contrary to both in this life. It has always been a stumbling block. But to those of us who are being saved, it is the power of God. And what that power of God has done, by the waters of baptism and the word, is give us a name. Like poor Lazarus, we have a name. The world would surely know the rich man’s name, but we do not. Jesus didn’t tell it. But he knew Lazarus. Like he knows ours.
Worship Note: We had a great slate of hymns today. I didn’t include it in the recording but LSB 845 (Where Charity and Love Prevail) was the hymn of the day picking up on the moral point of the lesson. What amazes me is that the text is 9th century Latin. The church has taught the same things for a long time. Thy hymn I left in was LSB 782 (Gracious God, You Send Great Blessings). It was pledge card collection day, so that is part of the reason, but the hymn gets the order right as few stewardship hymns do. We have received mercy. We have heard the word. We are sustained in this creation. Lord we pray that we your people, who your gifts unnumbered claim, through the sharing of your blessings, may bring glory to your name. We have that name. We don’t do good works because we’ve been told, but because we have been named. That and the tune is one of the most uplifting in the book.
I’m always amazed as how well the word cloud captures my feelings about a particular sermon. If I pat myself on the back I hope that is because I managed to say something and say it well. Usually the core point or theme jumps out in the big letters, and the rest of the words fill in the story. Today’s effort was both a little longer than normal, and looking at the word cloud the theme is a little less immediate. It is still there – eternal mercy. And the means are there, running up and down in this picture – faith and Jesus. But the cloud is dense and complex, appropriate for the parable of the sermon text. World and worldly and things pop out. Of all Jesus’ parables, this one is the most of this world. Most of his parables, at least to me, about halfway through Jesus says something that shakes you out of the pastoral or worldly picture and screams this isn’t just a pretty story. But this sounds like a work story – “did I tell you about the time the foreman pulled one on the boss man?” You have to listen to Jesus’ words after the parable, and apply some type of allegorical method to apply. And that is what this sermon does. It invites us to see the parallels between the unjust steward’s temporal position and our eternal position.
For me Jesus tells this story of how a dishonest manager bet his entire future on lowering people’s estimation of his competence and ability while raising the status of his Lord. God work advice. You rarely go wrong betting your career prospects making your captain look good. And we are invited to do the same thing. Bet it all on His mercy approaching him as sinners. That is the core of the gospel message, but Jesus’ words after wants to say more, and it is tough for Protestant ears. The rest of the sermon attempts to challenge us to think of what a life of faith trusting in the mercy of our Lord looks like. If we are betting it all on the blood, what does that mean.
It is a tough parable. (Maybe tougher than the epistle which our world just doesn’t want to hear.) This sermon is my wrestling with it. I’m not sure if it connects, I might be limping a little, but it was a good fight.
This is my attempt to read or make sense of what might be the hardest batch of text in the lectionary. The three texts for the Day were Amos 8:4-7, 1 Timothy 2:1-15 and Luke 16:1-15. It is days like today that a lectionary is actually built for and why you follow it. There is no way and sane preacher would choose these texts to preach from today. And in all truthfulness you would probably not even read two out of three from the lectern because just reading them raised blood pressure.
The sustained argument throughout this sermon is that what raises blood pressure (or just baffles) is not the texts themselves, but what we import into the texts in reading. The problem is that we have trouble reading the Bible. Not that we can’t read, but we have not developed the habits of mind and heart that go to understanding. The foremost of those habits is reading the word in submission to the word. That means a bunch of different things, but I primarily think about it on two lines. First, scripture interprets scripture; second, we give the word the benefit of the doubt. We assume that it is right and can be made clear if we are willing to understand. Part of making it clear is understanding the context of the writing, social context and the larger purpose of the book.
So, as I started with, this is my attempt to publicly read, or interpret for modern ears. To come at these hard texts with proper habits of mind and heart.