Hearing the Voice of the Shepherd

Biblical Text: Acts 20:17-35

This Sunday is typically “Good Shepherd” Sunday. The Gospel text comes from John 10. The key verse of that being “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” The first reading assigned in from the end of Acts. And why it is paired up with the Gospel reading is because it is the answer to the natural question: How do the sheep hear the voice? This sermon meditates on the answer based on Paul’s “good-bye” message to the Ephesian Elders.

Peace, Healing & The Reign


Biblical Text: Luke 10:1-20
Full Sermon Draft

Program Note: I’m sorry about possible recording quality. I’ve been having a little trouble with the line volume. I think the pulpit mic might be going out, so the altar mic is doing all the recording except for occasional pops. I’ve amplified and leveled the signal such that I think its okay. The altar mic is a real good one and the system isn’t bad, but I’ve got some wire work to do.

The text for the day is often appropriated for mission Sundays, and it can work that way. Biblical texts are multivalent in that there are often multiple appropriate understandings of them. But I don’t think that the sending of the seventy-two is primarily about lay evangelism. Using it to preach that people in the pews should be ready and able to share their faith misses a distinction. That is better preached from something like 1 Peter 3:15. The distinction which is missed using it for that is that the 72 are the new elders of Israel. There are traditions that don’t have an ordained ministry, but the apostolic church, following Jesus here, did set aside those called – think Stephen and the Seven deacons and Timothy and Titus and those Paul sent Titus to appoint and lay on hands. When the apostles did that they were following Jesus here.

What Jesus does here is give the charter for that office. When that office is functioning within bounds as intended what does it do? It preaches peace. It seeks to heal those of the house. It proclaims the reign of God. What this sermon does is attempt to do that while providing examples.

Music Note: I have left in two of the hymns. Our opening hymn Faith and Truth and Life Bestowing (LSB 584) is a wonderful prayer for the opening of service that mirrors Jesus’ words to pray to the Lord of the Harvest. The hymn of the day has a wonderful message, but I left it in primarily because of the tune – We Are Called to Stand Together (LSB 828). Both of them are newer hymns the texts written by people living at the time of hymnal publication (2006) and the tunes as well, although Holy Manna is a new setting of an older hymn tune. The text of We are called mirrors the progression of the sermon moving from Patriarch, Prophets and Apostles through ages to us. The urge is to continue in each generation to proclaim the truth, that the reign of God has come near to you with His peace. That time will end, when we will all be united, but till then we tell the story.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Malachi 2:1-3:5 and Matthew 4:1-11

Malachi 2:1-3:5
Matthew 4:1-11
Marriage & Divorce as an image of covenant and faithfulness
The first person you meet

Daily Lectionary Podcast – 2 Kings 9:1-13 10:18-29 and Philippians 2:12-30

2 Kings 9:1-13 10:18-29
Philippians 2:12-30
The OT is great/God has use of all kinds/The Word of the Lord is fulfilled
God’s provisions is always enough for us to “work out or salvation”

Daily Lectionary Podcast – 2 Kings 5:9-27 and Philippians 1:1-20

2 Kings 5:9-27
Philippians 1:1-20
The attitude of the heart seen in Naaman vs. Gehazi
A shared ministry in the proclamation of the Gospel

Daily Lectionary Podcast – 1 Samuel 5:1-6:16 and Acts 18:1-11, 23-28

1 Samuel5:1-6:16
Acts 18:1-11, 23-28
The jealousy of God, gods vs. GOD, ministers working together, mutual benefit vs. schism

Reaping and Sowing (The Gospel Lived…)


Text: Galatians 6:1-18
Full Sermon Draft

This was the final installment of the series on Galatians. In chapter 6 of Galatians Paul does two things. In the sermon I reversed the order in the sermon because it makes more sense for a congregation or someone listening for the first time. First Paul gives a concrete glimpse of what living the Gospel looks like. He does that using three images:
1) The image of confession and absolution. We all fall and all need to be restored.
2) The contrasting of images of the burden of the labor of day and the load of a ship’s cargo. One we are to help carry for each other. The other we carry ourselves into the final port. The quick summary of this contrast would seem to be: Be quick to take part with the people of God in the work of the Kingdom, while watching and maintaining your personal spiritual life regardless of the work of others.
3) The image he dwells on the most is sowing and reaping.

Paul applies sowing and reaping to three places:
1) Ministry – What does this gospel look like? A shared ministry where the teaching of the word is supported and respected.
2) Personal Holiness – The harvest starts with what you sow. Sow to yourself, and you will reap destruction. Sow to virtue and you will reap eternal life.
3) Good Works (the outgrowth of personal holiness) – If you are well taught and active in the word, if you are sowing to the Spirit through virtue, we do not tire of doing good – first at home with the family of faith and then to others.

After his concrete statement on the gospel lived, Paul returns to his major points: Apostleship, grace and Walking in the Spirit.

I started the sermon with some personal pondering. I probably should have cut it out as not really on point, but Paul’s swift conclusion got me pondering those things. Paul gets to the end and what do you say? How do you end an address on the Christian life. (Galatians may very well have been the first such letter ever written). Elsewhere Paul collapses into greet so-and-so and laundry lists of good wishes. Here, he concludes simply with what we know as the apostolic greeting: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. (Gal 6:18 ESV)” Which in the context I take as a sending. Go live the Gospel. God live by grace through the spirit. In that faith and in that Spirit, brothers and sisters. We want so much tied up neatly. But so much of the Christian life – the freedom of the Gospel – is untidy. Go live it. Fail at it. Come back for repentance and absolution. And try again. But in the midst of that struggle we have peace. The Lord Jesus Christ bought it on the cross and now lives and reigns to all eternity. What are our struggles compared to that?

“An Inadaquitely Trained Priest…”

This Stanley Hauerwas article is a little heady, but it has a great paragraph to ponder…

If I am right about the story that shapes the American self-understanding, I think we are in a position to better understand why after 11 September 2001 the self-proclaimed “most powerful nation in the world” runs on fear. It does so because the fear of death is necessary to insure a level of cooperation between people who otherwise share nothing in common. That is, they share nothing in common other than the presumption that death is to be avoided at all costs.

That is why in America hospitals have become our cathedrals and physicians are our priests. Accordingly medical schools are much more serious about the moral formation of their students than divinity schools. They are so because Americans do not believe that an inadequately trained priest may damage their salvation, but they do believe an inadequately trained doctor can hurt them.

Especially when you think in terms like Todd Wilken (Issues, Etc. host) and the LCMS’s SMP program.

Denominations, Congregations and Christendom

I feel like I have to explain that last one, Christendom. That is simply the word that described a time from roughly Constantine to circa 1965. What it meant was that anywhere you went in the west two things were roughly true: 1) Christianity even if of various shades or just nominal was a shared foundation which meant that biblical stories were a shared vocabulary and 2) The church had a teaching role to play in the larger society. Even if you didn’t accept the gospel, the church’s law was the curb or the minimum basis of civil law.

There were two articles stumbled across that have spurred the following reflection. Here is Sara Hinlicky, an ELCA pastor living the ex-pat life in France writing about church life in the reaches and how it can be very different. Here is another ELCA pastor mulling over that amorphous group know as “young clergy” and what they would tell you after three beers. (The Seminary limit is two, so if you see Pastor on his third its either that he’s put on enough weight to handle three, or something is eating him.) I think both of these articles are talking about the same thing.

It is only 10 AM – echoing St. Peter at Pentecost- and writing some of this is more likely to send me to drinking that third beer, but what the hey.

1) Christendom as described above is dead. In the USA, where freedom of religion is enshrined in the constitution, mayors are telling Chicken sandwich places they can’t build (Chick-fil-a) over the owner’s Christian beliefs, and national laws are being written that force Roman Catholic organizations to do what they think is anathema. The church’s teaching role is no longer acknowledged and that was the core of Christendom.
2) A corollary to the death of Christendom is the slower death of denominations.
3) The collapse of denominations is not the same thing as the collapse of the church.
4) The church is found where the gospel is preached and the sacraments are administered rightly. (AC7) That transcends our little law boxes known as denominations that we build to protect it, but most importantly the church is found fully in the local congregation.
4a) It is a confusion of law and gospel to find the church in the larger structures that we build de jure humano (by the law of man). That is not an excuse for anarchy. [The Confessions’ Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, especially starting at paragraph 60, is magnificent on this.]
5) The calling of this generation is to train and equip (Eph 4:12) – to restore to the first love(Rev 2:4) – many congregations that are actually wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked (Rev 3:17). You find the church in the congregations; you also find the rot there.
6) That is the shared calling of every generation, just some are more deeply felt. Human structures fall faster when the foundation is rotten. In the final flowering of Christendom and its teaching of the law, we forgot to preach the gospel.
7) Christendom’s rules included a “career path” for ministers. A career path and calls were about location mobility. Which if we are being honest led to the abuse of the small and weak and a chasing after the winners when the gospel is rightly about the cross and identifying with the losers (Matt 25:31-46). Career paths are replaced by the more biblically relevant overseer or elder found in 1 Tim 3:1-13, which are fulfilled by someone from the local community.
8) Worldly success (i.e. numbers, budgets, et.al.) is not guaranteed by being faithful to the gospel. If fact the opposite might be true (paradox of the cross). But, Jesus says to pray, and what you ask will be granted (Luke 11:9). We pray weekly (daily!) your kingdom come. If even we evil ones know how to give good gifts, what about our Father in heaven? (Luke 11:5-13) In His grace, through the means of prayer, God’s Kingdom certainly comes. And what Luther describes is that we pray it come to us. In whatever form it takes, may we recognize your Kingdom.

In summary, many of the concerns by the “young clergy” article, as much as it intellectually admits the death of one model, to me come across as a lament or a clinging to it. It is only when you are willing to die to what you’ve known (Bishops and Synods and Chairs and Budgets and Calls) that you find the Gospel power of resurrection. It is still the church, just a resurrection body, not that mortal one. We don’t force the change. God accomplishes that all on his own. You can cling to the vestiges of the life that is passing away, or in prayer grasp the already given resurrection. Hinlicky’s article strikes closer to the surprising truth of the Gospel.

Ministerial Purpose

I found this article interesting for the quotes which were highly revealing of what I’ll call the narcissistic tendency within the ministry that can’t but shipwreck the faith of a bunch of people. Here is what I mean.

1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus are called the pastoral epistles. Critical scholars debate if the are truly written by Paul, but tradition holds that they were written by Paul to Timothy and Titus his traveling companions who were often left to build churches after their missionary start. These short letters are called the pastorals because they are short instruction manuals for what a pastor does. All in all they are rather pragmatic documents. You might sum up their message as – “don’t be stupid”. But, there is an over-riding message first: 1) 1 Tim 1:3, the first words of the letter – “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine…” 2) 2 Tim 4:1-5, “preach the Word, in season and out” and 3) Titus 2:1, “as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine”. The doctrine, the Word, comes first in the office. Everything else is secondary. There is a phrase that could lead to a bunch of mischief but it also captures a truth at its core – “A layman can be a heretic, the pastor can’t be”. That is because the chief ministerial purpose is according to 1 Tim 4:12-14, “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching”. The preacher and teacher needs to watch closely what he/she is preaching and teaching such that it is in accordance with the Scripture, and that accordance is “in season and out”. Seeing that the Word is often offensive being out of season is part of the job. Saying hard things is part of the job.

Compare that with this quote from the lady who just stepped down from the Vice Moderator of the PC-USA.

“I am a pastor,” McCabe stated in her speech Wednesday. “That is who God has called me to be.

“As I reflect on what’s happening now, I think I am embodying the reality of a growing number of pastors who find ourselves caught. We are caught between being pastors – being with couples in those sacred moments when they make their vows to one another – and having a polity that restricts us from living out our pastoral calling, especially in states where it is legal for everyone to be married.”

What is the key thought of being a Pastor to the former Vice Moderator McCabe? Is it teaching the meaning of marriage? Is it preaching how marriage is a symbol of Christ and the church? Is it encouraging those marriages to reflect the truths of Scripture? No. Her definition of a Pastor is – “being with couple in those sacred moments”. That is a deeply narcissistic thought. Leaving aside the “sacredness” of a moment, seeming to think that the role of pastor is to stick themselves into such moments, that their own personal presence makes it more special, is something creepy. The office places you there. The purpose of the office is to teach and preach. A simple question should be asked. Would I have been invited to this moment – i.e. to be part of the gathered friends and family – outside of the office? If the answer is no (which it almost always would be), then being with that couple is not your primary job.

And it is exactly those narcissistic tendencies that get in the way of doing the job. Vice Moderator McCabe officiated/signed the papers for a homosexual union. While the PC-USA seems to be going the way of the ELCA, they hadn’t yet. At a minor level she did that going against her own judicial body. The major level would be looking at Scripture. What she did is the definition of lawlessness – not recognizing scripture, nor her brothers and sisters, but forging ahead of her own authority. But the point here is more from her quote – “the polity restricts us from living our pastoral calling.” The narcissistic tendency is to want whoever is before you to “like” you. There is no way that homosexual couple would have liked what the job required. (Eph 4:17-24, Eph 5:3-14 and those would not exhaust Ephesians – chastity is the calling of all Christians, marriage is the vocation of some men and women). But if you want to be liked, and if it is your personal presence instead of your teaching presence that is there at those “sacred moments”, then the job of the pastor and the truth suffers.