Don’t Turn Away. This is the Reign of God…Now.

Biblical Text: Matthew 13:24-43
Full Sermon Draft

Parables and the purpose of the parables have in the last couple of generations of interpreters have had two dramatically different purposes. In the hippy era, the parables were these nice earthy stories that allowed the interpreter to say whatever odd but nice things popped into their heads. Think Godspell, parable edition. Almost as a reaction to that, some interpreters latched on the evangelists’ quotes of Isaiah on the purpose of the parables. Parables were not meant to be understood except by disciples. Parables became an exercise not in creation homey communication, but in esoteric teaching. Both of these, at least in my reading, are horrible over-shoots. (I think the hippy version itself was a reaction to an overly stiff German “there is no allegory, there is only one meaning” parable dogma.) Part of what this sermon does is attempt to avoid both inviting the listener to imagine how the parables could have been a natural development from the actual ministry of Jesus.

I lean quite heavily on Jeff Gibbs for this, but I think he nails it. The parables themselves are preached to the crowds, and they are invitations to not turn away. Yes, this Reign of God doesn’t look like what is expected – a messy field, small, scandalous – but this is God working. In this they are a statement of the now. The sermon comes in two part though. Jesus moves into the house, and his explanations are to the disciples. To those who are following however haltingly, the emphasis isn’t so much on the now. They know the now. Jesus’s emphasis is on the not yet, the eschatological promise.

Worship note: with two “seed” type parables in a row, you really burn through those hymns. One of them, which we sang today is a little tricky. Not a surprise because LSB 654 (Your Kingdom, O God, Is My Glorious Treasure) is a hymn from 2003. Modern hymns so often have tunes or metrical phrasing that is just harder for congregations. So, I didn’t include that one, but instead left in our closing hymn, which is a classic. LSB 921, On What Has Now Been Sown.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Genesis 11:27-12:20 and Mark 4:21-41

Genesis 11:27-12:20
Mark 4:21-41
Abraham’s mini Exodus
The power of the Word

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Genesis 8:13-9:17 and Mark 4:1-20

Genesis 8:13-9:17
Mark 4:1-20
Covenant with all flesh
Rainbow as dual sign – warrior God retired/sign of the cross
Sower as paradigm for understanding the Word in the World

The Proper Work of Mercy


Biblical Text: Matthew 18:21-35
Full Sermon Draft

The word cloud are completely random outside of reflecting the usage in the sermon, but I like the one above for two reasons. I went with the black and white because that is how Jesus present having mercy. It is a black and white issue. Not being merciful to your fellow christian is the same thing as cutting yourself off from Christ. The second reason is the order the big words got spit out in. The Mercy flows down from the Lord God to fellows slaves. Fellow slaves become the conduits, the extra nos or outside of us paths of the mercy of God. It is through our fellow Christians that we hear the good news and the absolution of Christ. This sermon reflect on that through the parable of the unmerciful servant in the gospel text for the day.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Exodus 38:21-39:8, 22-23, 27-31 and Luke 8:1-21

Exodus 38:21-39:8, 22-23, 27-31
Luke 8:1-21
The temptation with numbers/What is needed is always present, The importance of Women to the Jesus enterprise, The Word and the Soils and pastoral concerns

Virtues & A Better Way to Live

sowericonDr. Jacobs writes a post that resonates with Galatians 5 and the sermon last week. Plus he adds a great little story.

These problems are, I think, fairly easy to identify, but tremendously difficult to address — especially when, as if often the case, people enjoy conflict and delight in heaping contempt on their ideological opponents. I might have some ready thoughts for someone who wants to be more charitable, kind, and patient — but how many people really desire those virtues?

A friend recently passed along to me an email from a young Christian who teaches in a public high school and is, perhaps naïvely, trying to smuggle some aspects of the Christian account of the world into her teaching — with decidedly unsatisfactory results:

In an effort to get the kids in my class to do something, I taught the cardinal virtues today and asked them to choose one that they believe they possess and write an essay about it. I had two students approach me and say that they do not possess a single virtue. I asked, “You don’t have anything about yourself that you’re proud of?” Both of them responded (I’m not kidding) that they are bad people and are proud that they don’t have any of the cardinal virtues. One boy asked if he could write about his vices.

I leave this as an exercise for the reader: Where would you start if you were trying to show such young people that “there’s got to be some better way for people to live”?

I think there are two answers that you have to explore. First, but not complete, is that the path of vice (the desires of the flesh) lead to slavery and death. Slavery in the fact that you do them naturally. Slavery in the fact that you can’t really stop the desires of the flesh. The addict always needs a bigger dose. Sometimes you can’t get that bigger dose and you end up a pathetic loser looking for that next hit or doing small time stuff – like interdepartmental wars over pencils to fulfill dissension. Death comes from examining those who best display those desires of the flesh. But that is not a complete path. The law alone would just lead to despair, either of the “eat and drink for tomorrow we die” type or just straight up “why bother, the game is rigged”. The second answer then is Hope. Where and why do I find hope in the midst of that despair? The fruits of the Spirit, the Spirit is opposed to the flesh. And in these is life.

They wanted to write about his vices. I’d say fine, but you need to include a mini-biography of a person from the past who embodied the vice you want to write about. Examine that life and tell me how yours would be different and why you want to emulate that life.

Here is the central problem with the church in America today. The soil is either hard packed (Luke 8:5) or rocky (Luke 8:6). Following the explanation of the parable, the spiritual attitudes of many in America today are either nil (hard packed) such that they won’t even consider the Spiritual realm as a possibility or that they might receive the gospel, but only a gospel like the prosperity gospel or happy-clappy spirituality. The gospel of Jesus Christ which includes the cross before the glory is just not even possible. There are no roots, just fast growing fast withering plant (Luke 8:13).

Sometimes the soil needs to be prepared and that (I think, though I am open to debate) is the purpose of the law. And the first part of the law is simply natural revelation. Force the student to ponder and find the natural end of the road of vice and come to a conclusion for themselves of that road.

Space to Grow…with plenty of water

Text: Mark 4:26-34
Full Text of Sermon

We all have a bias to the dramatic. The problem is that the really incredible stuff happens in the quieter times. What the dramatic does is reveal. It reveals those that have grown and prepared. It reveals those who are escaping a burning house. It reveals those who don’t. Mark is the only gospel to include the parable of the patient (maybe neglectful) farmer. Mark is dramatic in that way. He includes the tough, the embarrassing. Mark’s Jesus doesn’t include adultery as a grounds for divorce. Mark’s Jesus – not even the son – doesn’t know the day or the hour of the end. The affront within this dramatic parable is the absence or neglectfulness of God. He sleeps and rises – night and day. He plants seeds and is clueless about the rest. The earth itself bears fruit. Only when the fruit is ready – and this apparently by accident as the farmer hasn’t done anything but watch – does the harvest come. That parable is tied together in the text with the mustard seed. The word is found in small things.

What is more artfully put forward in the sermon is that the very smallness, the obscurity and commonness of the gospel, is what gives us the space to grow. And the farmer’s point is growth and fruitfulness. The promises of God attach to things like bread and wine, water, the gathering of believers and the scriptures. Small things. Things easily neglected and overlooked. But those are the readily available water of grace. That is where you meet and find God in this world. The rest is for the growth of his people. God backs off, provides space, for his people to grow. What is necessary is supplied.

Kingdom Values

Full Text

The unjust manager is a confusing parable primarily because is isn’t a parable in the Sunday School “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning” way. It is more an argument from lessor to greater. Jesus is teaching his disciples, look at the people of the world (this generation). They know how it works and they know what to do to get what they want. The manager wanted a cushy existence and he did what was necessary. Why don’t the children of light act that way? Starting with Jesus Christ there is a new generation. The old one is passing away. Why don’t the children of the light act with Kingdom values and goals?

And that is a practical holiness or sanctification question. Know which generation you are part of and act appropriately, act shrewdly according to its rules. And the rules of the Kingdom? The King wants to call sinners. The king wants the banquet hall to be full. Are our lives, both personally and as a congregation aligned around Kingdom values. If we can’t be trusted in little – this stuff which is passing away – how will we be trusted with the greater?

The core of Lutheran preaching is Law and Gospel. Jokingly it is to make you feel really really bad and then make you feel really really good. It is also supposed to be a little thing called scriptural. And by that I mean taking its general outline and shape from the text. Instead of using the text as a pretext to talk about what you want, the text itself is proclaimed anew to a new generation. This text is very law centered. There is a first use of the law (civil) is the parable itself. Look at how the world works. That is law. And unsurprising in a fallen world, law leads to unrighteousness. There is the third use of the law (a rule for life), Jesus’ exhortation about being faithful in little. That third use can also be a second use (a mirror to show us our sins). How one hears that depends upon how one thinks of themselves. The gospel is less evident.

This sermon takes the whole structure of Jesus’ argument to be the gospel. This unrighteous generation is passing away. With Christ the new one starts. That is the gospel. The proclamation of a new order directed as the poor, the blind, the lame, the prisoners. If you are part of that new generation, if you are part of the kingdom, how then should we live?

Our Economy vs. God’s Economy – Seeking and Finding

Full Text

Text: Luke 15:1-10

Parables tell us about how God and his Kingdom work. Jesus’ parables has this tendency to get us nodding our heads in agreement as our minds slip off into warm fuzzy images of precious moments sheep and shepherds. But we should be struck by the fact that this is not how we work. We lose 1 of 100, we give a cursory look and say oh well. We lose 1 of 10 and we look a little harder, get a little frazzled, but still no real change. We lose 1 of 2 (the prodigal comes after the text parables), and we are changed, but our goal is acceptance of the change. Our economy is about dealing with the losses.

God’s economy says no. I will fix this. I will search. I will search until I find. I will restore the wholeness. That is a far reaching understanding of God’s ways compared to ours.

On the meta side there are two things. The first was my joy in being able to use wholeness and restoration as the gospel/justification metaphor. The bible uses many ways to talk about what God has done for us in Christ. Wholeness or restoration strikes me as one of the more powerful ways to a modern audience. We are so used to being separated and fractured that talk of a God who seeks, finds and restores at all costs is powerful stuff. The danger is in the equating of theological wholeness with therapeutic wholeness. The contrast of our economy’s goal of acceptance vs. God’s goal of rejoicing is the difference.

The second meta thought that I couldn’t get into the sermon is the wonderful female image for God used in the parable. Jesus equates his work to a housewife with a broom. Even pointing that out might be sexist, but by putting it in parallel with the lost sheep, Jesus has placed that woman and the broom on the same level as the shepherd with his crook. That is typical of Luke’s gospel. He has an ear for equality.

The Reign of God comes… – Mark 4:26-34

Full Text

Test for this sermon was Mark 4:26-34, a pair of parables about seeds.

This is an exerpt…
The Reign of God comes as an offense to the ways of the world. It comes small, when the world likes its rulers to come in pomp and circumstance. The reign of God grows silently and where God wants it, when the world likes things known and planned and controlled. The reign of God grows like a shrub, the mustard, something organic, where the world prefers things mechanical and controlled. That plant grows untended, where the world wants its order. And most offensively, the reign of God invites all the birds into the garden, where the world wants to keep the garden for a special and chosen few. The world cannot stop the reign of God. It has and will continue to grow large. The reign of God will mature and reach a harvest, a judgement. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come. But in that harvest, some will have chosen to weed their garden. The offense of how the reign of God presents itself – in a crucified savior, in a factious and often hypocritical church, in the foolishness of preaching and the mysticism of sacraments – those offenses to the world will cause some to dig out that mustard seed. They will reject the reign of God for that of the world – a world that is even now passing away.