Ash Wednesday – Neither Flight nor Fight but Submit

Biblical Text: 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10

Paul’s extended argument in 2 Corinthians is an argument with what we might naturally want to do in s stressful situation. We might want to fight it, which means defeat and domination of the enemy. Or we might want to avoid it, flee from it, which means by varying degrees denial and disappearance. Paul could flee by just never seeing the Corinthians again. Paul could fight by “defending” his apostleship and proving it all over again. But neither of those things are what an Ambassador of Christ does. The one who has not received the grace of God in vain, is the one who can control themselves and not fight or flee, but submit to what God calls them to be. That may look like all kinds of paradox, and the world doesn’t know how to respond to it. But that is the way of the grace. That is the way of Jesus

Baroque Angels and Wooden Shepherds


Biblical Text: Luke 2:8-20
Full Draft

The format was lessons and carols, so the main part of the service, singing all the great carols reflecting on the lessons, isn’t on the recording. But, this is the first Christmas Eve sermon in eight years that I’ve felt solidly good about. So, if you are ok with a single lesson and a homily for Christmas Eve, give this a listen. I think it comes close to the strangeness, the holiness, of the night.

And you can still come to Christmas day Divine Service tomorrow at 9 AM. Merry Christmas.

Prayer Paradox

Text: Mark 9:14-29
Full Sermon Draft

This text itself is something of a paradox. It has two of the most memorable phrases from the gospels. “I believe, help my unbelief” which in the story context is this heart rending plea of desperation. And it has Jesus’ summary to the disciples, “This kind only comes out through prayer” which can seem oddly tacked on to the story, seems to add a differentiation to spiritual evil and makes a comment on technique that is wholly absent elsewhere, and added to that is the manuscript tradition adds fasting to prayer. Our two best manuscripts do not have fasting, the first corrector of one of those manuscripts added it, almost all the other manuscripts have fasting. The best textual scholars all say fasting was an early churchly scribal addition, but the evidence of it being original is somewhat staggering for such an easy verdict. The reason that is interesting at all is that driving out spiritual evil by fasting would be a long term thing while just by prayer is an in the moment operation. The disciples did not fast because the bridegroom was with them (Mark 2:18-19). With fasting Jesus’ words would seem to be directly addressed to later hearers after the bridegroom had ascended.

And this is the paradox, with all that interesting stuff to ponder, this episode has been sparsely preached and commented on. Interesting sayings and emotional scenes are usually sermon goldmines. You can here preachers everywhere saying, “That will preach”. Not so much here.

My approach was to struggle with what I think is the central paradox. The father in the story is example. We are the disciples, or they are our entry into devotion. The time that prayer is most necessary, is exactly when you don’t believe in the person you are talking to. When you are thinking – “My God, why have you forsaken me?” is exactly the time you need to say “Into you hands I commit my spirit.” A paradox of prayer.

Less brought out in the sermon, but still something of a paradox is the question of exactly who believes and trusts? Is it our belief and trust that enables miracles? Or is the one who believes really Christ alone? His belief is given to us. His belief helps our unbelief.

Both of those will preach. Both of them point to a deep promise – “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory – Matt 12:20.” At those breaking moments are when we can be most sure of grace.

Paradox Maintained

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There are a bunch of paradoxes that are part of how the church talks about reality, but one of the biggest is about the end times. Side one of the paradox is that the end has already come. Side two of the paradox is that we are still here. With the resurrection of Jesus, the last day has happened. The age to come has arrived. But the current age still roles on. And we live in that tension.

As we saw the past week, living in a Divine tension is not comfortable. We’d like to resolve it. We want the old age to be done with, now. Hence the rapture warning, but also the much larger number of apocalypses and Armageddons predicted from a wide variety of folks religious and secular. Or, we’d like to just say – same as it ever was, world without end. Hence the lukewarmness, the despising of church and sacrament, the lack of holiness. We collapse the paradox, on our terms, on our time, in our way.

But Peter calls us living stones, placed on The Living Stone. Think for a second about that juxtaposition living…stones… Can you come up with a stranger notion? And we are living stones for God’s purposes. Those purposes are: growing up to salvation, to take our place in being built up into a spiritual house on the cornerstone (i.e. the church is important, its a corporate image), to proclaim Jesus who has called us out of darkness into his light.