This is a stand alone sermon (most of mine are) but with John the Baptist at the center it is something of a pair with last week. It is a scene of taking stock. John’s in prison and going to lose his head. Has his work been at all meaningful? The one he said must increase doesn’t look exactly like what he was proclaiming the loudest. Jesus, are you sure what you are doing? Is the prophet and his prophetic words true? Does this grace that can be seen in this hour align with that word? How do grace and truth go together? They go together in the one Christ. Blessed is the one who is not scandalized by me.
The texts are following along in Luke’s gospel. What is unfolding is the divide between people who are answering Jesus is “a great prophet” and “God has visited his people”. And what I think Luke is attempting to show is how just answering “a great prophet” is necessary but not sufficient. A “great prophet” faith will fail, and it will often fail before it has even started. That is Simon. He thinks he is sitting in judgment of the prophet, but he has failed to treat Jesus even as a prophet.
I’m not sure I completely got there, but this I think is something the modern church often does. It thinks it is inviting Jesus over, but when it does, it sits in judgment of Jesus. It assumes like Simon that they owe nothing, that God owes them. And consequently it presumes to question the love of God. That is a place where any “great prophet” can go. We ourselves are our own best prophets. And the less the great prophet conforms to our desires, the less He looks like a prophet. We think we are sitting in judgment. The woman on the other hand knew her sins, but she also assumed the love of God. This love is not a complete assumption because she has witnessed Jesus. It is not a compete assumption for us also, because we have seen the cross. The picture as it develops to me is that we should always presume on the love of God. Especially when we don’t understand what is happening or we are undergoing trial. In those times we might question God’s love, but his revelation of self is that whatever we are experiencing will be brought about for our benefit. Such is God’s love.
It was an full day at St. Mark yesterday – a baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and a resurrection text. You don’t get a better set up as a preacher than than. And it is one of those rare days that I was content. Oh, I could deliver it better. I’m sure there would have been words here and there I might change. But compared to most Sundays, I felt like this discharged the call of the office.
The hymns also supported the theme beautifully. The baptismal hymn was Gerhart’s great catechism hymn All Christians Who Have Been Baptized (LSB 596). The hymn of the day was the newer (i.e. since 2000) Water, Blood and Spirit Crying (LSB 597). Unfortunately neither of them have the texts in the public domain to link to. I have included in the recording our closing hymn Thanks to Thee, O Christ, Victorious (LSB 548). It is a hymn that ponders what had happened, and forms a very nice closing prayer for that service.
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.