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.
The text, a quick read, is the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. And these are such clear and tender pictures of the grace of the gospel, a preacher might be doing injustice to them by preaching anything but their simplicity. That is my request for a bit of grace at the start. Because that simplicity is there, but I push a little bit beyond that simplicity here. And the reason is that our context has changed. And I think that we as Christians need to change the context in our heads when we hear these parables. We need to be a little wiser in regards to law and gospel and ears to hear. So jumping off of a Luther himself sermon, this sermon looks at just who are the lost sheep, as well as the grumbling Pharisees and Scribes, and the sinners and tax collectors, both those who come to hear Jesus and those who are riotously secure in houses on the sand.
Any fat, dumb and happy preacher (like yours truly) should shy away from preaching on suffering. But that was the essence of the text in front of us. And the Old Testament text basic said don’t chicken out. So, this is my attempt to proclaim the Word in regards to the role of suffering in the world and in the life of the Christian. I believe this to be right and true. I also believe it to be full of hope.
In some ways it is a harmless diversion. But there are other ways that the lottery, especially when it is so big and has persisted at this level, can be straight from the devil. The first part of this sermon is a old fashioned moral inventory – a preparation for confession – based on the fact of the lottery’s effect on this soul. It seemed appropriate given the text based in camels threading they way through needle’s eyes. Since it is not our typical failing it gets the shorter time, but there is the flip side of money troubles, pride in asceticism. Both of the ditches highlight how it is not possible with man. But all things are possible with God.
We all start off as parents with great expectations. It doesn’t take long, and the older they get, to see those expectations give way to more realistic definitions. Instead of forming the next president we take on goals like stopping them from doing stupid stuff, or in Chris Rock’s formulation “keep them off the pole”. We might think this is miles away from Jesus especially in that High Priestly Prayer on the night he was betrayed. But I think we’d be wrong. His formation of his spiritual children, those disciples, was over. And given the fact of what Judas and Peter were about to do we might even say it was a failure. Yet what Jesus prays is akin to every Mother’s prayer – “keep them away from the evil one”. It is not a prayer of formation or heroic desire, but of salvation and preservation.
And while that prayer often gets a “not yet” response, as it did with Jesus himself. It ultimately gets a “yes”. He will not lose a single lamb that has been given to him. On that great day, his children will be kept away from the evil one. And this is because Jesus consecrated himself, dedicated himself to the purpose of saving sinners. While formation as solid adults, prayer for their well being, and all the other higher goals of parenting good and proper. The highest truth of the job is to relay that truth – whoever has the son has life, and wherever we are at however stupid, we can have the son. Teach them that truth and the good shepherd will keep them from the evil one.
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.
I am always amazed as the lectionary’s ability to be a very appropriate text for the day. In a week of horror, the Gospel lesson was the Good Samaritan. There are no easy answers, but all of the answer start right there in contemplating mercy. This sermon attempts to do that in light of the week’s events, and a lawyer who asks “what shall I do?”
Worship planning is consistently one of those spaces where the work of the Spirit is evident. We plan services typically from a couple weeks in advance to a couple of months. We try to do 6-8 every time we meet, and we meet roughly every other month. So when you pick the hymns that far out, you really have no idea what will be happening. But I’ve rarely had a Sunday where the hymns just seemed out of touch. Much more often they are spookily on point. Often to the point of scratching my head: a) how did we pick this one and b) how is it so right. The hymn I left in the recording was the one we sang after the sermon. LSB 844, Where Charity and Love Prevail. The text is from a 9th century Latin work. It was translated and paraphrased circa 1990. The music it is paired with in the Lutheran Service Book is 17th century common meter work originally for the 24th psalm. The composer, Lucius Chapin was a soldier at Ticonderoga and Valley Forge. The hymn is spot on for meditation this week.
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.
Today is one of those days that stuff happening in the service is real important. We had a baptism this morning, and when you have a baptism you have an invaluable object lesson. That is absent from the recording, but you will hear it used a couple of times in the sermon.
From the text there is an overriding theme in the spirit of Lent – repentance. But the gospel text itself is abrupt. A report of a happening, a strong reaction to that report by Jesus and then a parable. This is one of the places where we as readers and hearers of the gospel really have to puzzle it out. Why would they bring this report to Jesus? What was their point? Jesus’ response gives us some clues, but the larger context of Luke which last week’s sermon look at as gives us a good idea of what was being asserted.
The crux of the issue is line drawing. Where is the line drawn that creates the division Jesus claims to have brought? Jesus’ answer is grace. The sermon examines the difference between mercy and grace and attempts to show why grace is that line of division. But the people of that day, just like the people of our day, like drawn their own lines. We draw lines that place us on the deserving side. Whether those are lines of race, or class or language or people or behavior. It can’t be grace, because we are on the right side.
Jesus answer is a clear nobody is on the right side. “Unless you all repent, you likewise will perish.”
The application of this is my attempt at encouragement and example of a proper repentance.
Worship Note: I have left in two of the hymns sung today. Lutheran Service Book 611 Chief of Sinners Though I Be, and LSB 610 Lord Jesus, Think on Me. It was a day of rich hymns because I loved our opening hymn and the baptismal hymn as well which all spoke the same gospel, but I left these two in the recording in their places as hymns of the life of repentance.
An honest appraisal first. This I think is one of those sermons that is rich content wise, but attempting to put a title on it and looking at the word cloud makes me think it was probably too full. I can’t tell you exactly what the “sparkler” that one would take away from it was. There are several potentials, but none of them sparkle enough, and there are too many. Looking at it with hindsight, I think I would re-focus it on that title I picked.
The emphasis I believe in the story is on Jesus’ definition of himself. What is this Son of God going to be like and do? The demons and the people are challenging him to smaller definitions. The demons want him to just go away. Go back to heaven and leave creation to its just reward. But Jesus silences them and gives mercy through healing and exorcism. Mercy is not receiving what we deserve. The demons aren’t wrong. Being sinners we deserve them. But Jesus in the incarnation takes on our flesh. God’s not going away. He is bringing mercy. The second challenge is to leave it right there, just mercy. But again God does not go away. He proclaims grace. Grace is when we receive what we do not deserve. We do not deserve the Kingdom, but that is what Jesus is here to give us. In the incarnation God gives us grace, and through the sending of the Spirit to indwell in us we are partakers of divine grace. That is the fullness of the mission of Jesus. Jesus defeats the temptation to sell himself short.
We also struggle with self identity, but our struggle is really the opposite of Jesus. As the sinless one, Jesus is self-actualizing. As those full of the sinful nature, self-actualization in this world is a bad goal. We will know everything we can be in the resurrection. In this world our call is more humble. Learn to love. Instead of holding on and hoarding the good things for ourselves, our end is to learn to serve others. To love our neighbor as ourselves which means giving away ourselves in faith that God will fill us back up. Simon’s Mother-in-law in the text is our example, or at least the more reachable example.
This sermon works through those thoughts I think in a meaningful way, but it is full. It requires your meditation.
On such day’s I’m always glad when the surrounding liturgy and hymns are great supports. I’ve left in a little more than usual. It was a 5th Sunday, so we pull out the bells and whistles of the liturgy including having the choir sing/chant the introit, gradual and alleluia/verse. The introit in particular was gorgeous this morning. I also left in the Hymn of the Day “Son of God, Eternal Savior” Lutheran Service Book 842. It takes the congregation a verse to get going, but they pick up. And I have to say as we sang the song my smile got bigger. You pick hymns in worship planning sometimes weeks in advance. You think the service holds together as a whole. It usually isn’t terrible, but today, I felt the Spirit while singing that hymn. When it so clearly reflects or in this case prepares for the sermon, you know someone else is there working with your terrible material.