The Gospel text assigned for today is the second half of a pair that occurs in all the Synoptic Gospels (Matt, Mark and Luke). The first part is the transfiguration, when Peter, James and John are taken up the mountain and see Jesus transfigured in glory. The second part is this story of arguments, crowds, fathers, sons and evil. It is a story of the confusion that reigns here on the plain, here at the bottom of the mount. And since they are always juxtaposed the text invites us to ponder, what is the difference between the mountaintop experience and life down below. The big difference is the role of faith. The mountaintop is not about faith, because you see. You might have trouble comprehending what you see. Integrating what you see might be tough. But you don’t have to have faith in it. Life on the plain is about faith. This sermon ponders that difference and the meaning of a prayer, “I believe, help my unbelief”, and prayer in general (“This kind only comes out by prayer”) in the life of faith lived here on the plain.
The text is from Jesus prayer on Thursday of Holy Week in John. It is picked because this past Thursday was ascension day, the day 40 days after Easter when Christians mark Jesus’ return to the Father. 10 Days later, next Sunday, is Pentecost when the Spirit is poured out. This is promised is Jesus’ prayer. What this sermon does is first reflect on the foundation for the prayer. Jesus prefaces his petitions with some statements. 1) The World and the those he is praying for are at odds, 2) those he is praying for have been chosen by the Father (election) and 3) It is through the disciples he is praying for that he receives glory. Such is the foundation and purpose of the Christian life. In order to live it, because Jesus is leaving this world, he asks his Father to grant his disciples certain things. All these things Jesus considers that while he was in the World He gave them, and he knows that we need them. So he asks the Father.
I have heard many preachers talk about these things, in particular the first one, as stuff the church should be working on. But that would turn them into laws, not graces. Jesus is asking his father for grace for his people. Grace to be one in the name. Which is true not the least in our baptisms. Grace to be kept from the Evil One. Which is true in that the Satan has been bound and has no way to destroy the church in this world. And Grace to consecrated in truth. Which is granted in the abiding word. Jesus’ prayer has been answered.
The core assertion in the text is that you did not choose Christ, but Christ chose you. And there are three things that flow from that election: joy, love and friendship. Joy in that we have been given both the victory and a vocation. Love in that we are to emulate Christ’s love for us toward our neighbor. And friendship in that we have been invited into a deep union with God. We are no not slaves of the law, but we are friends in the gospel. We have been made children of the royal household who do not need to seek an audience with the law giver, but merely need to ask our dear Father.
There was an ancient tradition, probably coming over from the synagogues, where visitors would share news of what was taking place in the church where they were from. Maybe the salutation (“The Lord be with you”) at the start of the service is the ritual placeholder for that. We welcome you, please share. To which the response would have been to share and end with “and also with you”. The welcome has been given and accepted. This sermon is a bit like that. When you read something that is so profound it humbles you, you really need to share it. I could not come up with a better illustration of “a city on a hill” than the response of this pastor from Wuhan.
This text is one that I think has had much harm done to it over the years by overly pious preachers and translators. They promise things that Jesus himself is contradicting. And their promises often make God out to be a monster and a liar. I don’t know if I manage to do it, but I hoped to set it straight. The persistent widow is not a tale about how we should pester God. That oddly feeds into a prosperity gospel trope of “asking consistently and believing”. Instead it is much more specific. What is she asking for? Justice? When does Justice for the Christian happen? At the return of Jesus. Until then we live in the now and not yet. The Kingdom is now ours; it has not yet been fully revealed. Hence we persevere is asking “deliver us from evil”. And we do that because we have faith in the one who promised. Because the Character of God is not one that needs pestering, but one slow to anger and abounding is steadfast love. Persistence in prayer is just outward proof of persistence in faith.
The right use of God’s name always ends in thanksgiving.
That I believe is the message contained in the story of the 10 healed lepers. It is not just a miracle, although it is that. Neither is it an overly simple, “aw shucks, we should give thanks” lesson, although giving thanks is a good habit. It is really a lesson on who has used the name of God rightly. There are three groups named at the start: Jerusalem, Galilee and Samaria. All three think they know how to use the name. The 10 lepers use the name in seeking mercy. But only one receives the grace. Only one receives the kingdom. This sermon contemplates the 2nd commandment from Luther’s catechism, which is a spiritual classic. And it ponders our lives, our prayer, praise and thanks, in light of the command and the text. What does it mean to use the name of God rightly? Think about it.
I stole the main points and general outline of this sermon from one by Luther. I have to admit that I typically find Luther either so much part of who I am that he isn’t that helpful, or his context so different from ours that translating is likewise tough. But the shorter sermon I ran into was both interesting and immediately useful. I talk a little bit more about why it shocked me in the sermon. But the main points itself are answers to: what is necessary to be sure that your prayer is heard. Luther said five things are necessary. This sermon looks and them and fleshes them out for us.
Based on a Promise of God
Faith to Receive it
Lack of Bad Faith – this might be the big point for us and it is explored in the sermon. The big point is rely on the goodness of God.
Knowing our unworthiness
Trust God’s actions, don’t unnecessarily limit God in your requests
The text is Mary and Martha which has had an outsized influence on Christian history. It is not stretching it to think that the interpretation of this passage shaped Christianity from the 200’s to the Reformation. What I’m speaking of is the separation of the Christian Life into the Active and the Contemplative. But that division, isn’t really fair either to the historical reality or to the larger reality presented in all of Luke 10.
What this sermon attempts to do is understand Mary and Martha in the full context of Luke 10. It ponders how and why Mary represents the one thing needful, while at the same time giving Martha her place as one addressed doubly “Martha, Martha” by the LORD. (Ponder for a second the full list of those addressed this way. It is like finding yourself on a list with Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Barry Bonds.) And then it answers how we move from an anxious and troubled place, to the place of holding the one thing needful.
This sermon is a traditional mission day sermon. The sending of the 72. But I took it in a different direction. I wanted to ask a different question, or maybe I should say a question that I think is on many minds. For all the talk of missions and growth in the church, why does it seem like we see little of it? Why knowing that we need revival, does it not happen? To me there are three answers. The first is denial. Hey, it is not so bad. The second in to blame God. And the last is to examine ourselves. And this is where I think our text helps us. Jesus gives a bunch of advice to those on mission. 1) Pray earnestly. 2) Don’t take the moneybag. Depend upon the providence of God as you step out like lambs amidst wolves. 3) Receive the word of peace. And finally, 4) rejoice that your names are in heaven, which I take a reminder to put first things first, which is simply God.
This message might be a bit hot. I admit that. But I think it is true. I think it is a valid answer as to why revival tarries. It is a honest examination of why we know we have a spiritual problem, but it doesn’t go away.
I like this one. If I was going to edit a volume of sermons this one would go in there. It is built around what I think are the three big lines of the text.
– O faithless generation, how long will I remain
– All things are possible for the the faithful one (my translation, listen to the sermon)
– This kind only comes out with prayer
Each one of these lines addresses a problem of faith. Each one of them points us as the solution which is Jesus himself. We think of the exorcism as the healing here, but the true healing was done to the father and the disciples. The child was the sign. The child was the proof that Jesus is the faithful one.
I didn’t leave it in simply because of recording quality, but the hymns today were perfect. I was a very good day.