Spirit Power: Courage, Teaching, Peace

Biblical Text: Acts 2: 1-21, 22-47, John 14:23-31

This Sunday continues a couple of series. It continues our study of the book of Acts even if we have been “jumping around” in that book. This sermon ends up following up on last week. If last week was about the Spirit’s work “inside” the church before the public work that begins on Pentecost, this week’s is about the “outside” work, what the Spirit empowers in the world. The summary is the three word subtitle. The Spirit continues to empower courage. The Christian life comes with its own power source. The Spirit empowers the teaching of the church. The sermon reflects on the first sermon of the church and how it models ever Spirit filled sermon since. And the Spirit empowers a peace that the world cannot give.

Tell That Young Man

Biblical Texts: Zechariah 2:1-13 NLT, Lamentations 2

This was a sermon delivered for the pastors of the LCMS Rochester Circuits meeting. It is called occasional preaching. In the category with weddings, funerals, and some impromptu times people ask you to speak. What is special to me about these is the audience – preaching to preachers. So the measuring line is pulled a little tighter. But it is also a great occasion to “swing for the fences”. Things that don’t show up in the lectionary – like Lamentations. Things that are built on a deeper collective understanding of the text – like a solid biblical historical framework. Things that might make people mad. As one of the Lamentations verses has it: “You prophets have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes…”. It is an audience you don’t hold back with playing a longer game. (Note, I used selected verses from the Lamentations as a responsive reading introit. It didn’t come off well on the recording because the responses were mostly online and not mic’d.) So that is the background of this one.

Believe and Live!

Biblical Text: John 3:1-17

This is something of a statement about the purpose of preaching. We attempt to put so much on the sermon. We look for all kinds of things there. And I honestly think we look for the wrong things. What the sermon is about is proclaiming the gospel. What the sermon is about is evangelism, our evangelism. And that is what this sermon attempts to do. It isn’t 7 words of wisdom for your best life. It isn’t 5 ways to life hack your way to Jesus. It is “God so loved the world that he gave his son.” He gave him for you. He gave him that we might hear and believe and live. There is a lot else that the Bible teaches that we should do, but preaching – that is about love, what God has done for us.

Feet on the Mountain

Biblical Text: Isaiah 52:7-10
Full Sermon Draft

Christmas Day is always a smaller, more intimate time. Sometimes I wonder what it was like when that was not the case. But anyway, the sermon attempts to honor that. It is less a polished piece of rhetoric and more a personal message. An end to Christmas reflection for those who mostly have been on this church service tryptic (advent 4, Christmas Eve, Christmas day) in two days.

I’ve left in our opening hymn (A Great and Mighty Wonder) which the sermon owes a debt too, and our close, Away in a Manger. The simple invite to keep these things and ponder them in our hearts.

Witnesses to Easter

Biblical Text: Acts 5:28-42
Full Sermon Draft

This is typically the Thomas Sunday, but the first lesson from Acts just struck my imagination too well this year. Gamaliel’s tolerance and wisdom typically gets pride of place, but I think that discounts Saul in the background. The sermon attempts to tell both the foreground story of Peter preaching repentance to the High Priests who a month ago crucified Jesus and the background story of Saul (soon to be Paul) who wouldn’t listen to his teacher’s advice. The point of preaching, of Peter’s and of ours, is repentance and salvation. It is not justice or balancing the scales. It is not getting back at anyone. It is simply repent and believe. That repentance is a gift. It is part of faith. Caiaphas or Annas, the High Priest, heard the preaching and knew what was going on, but they did not repent. Saul, did not repent, yet. The call of those who have repented is to be witnesses to Easter. Pray for the repentance of the unbeliever while bearing the cross for those who won’t, yet. In this we witness to Easter and the Great Easter to come in the resurrection of all flesh.

Watching & Being Upset

“The first woman (let’s call her Sally) told me she was having trouble finding an Episcopal Church that she liked. I suggested she try St. Such and Such, ‘Oh no,’ she exclaimed. “I could never go there.’ ‘Why not?’ I asked. To my amazement she said, ‘I would have to look at that big cross they have behind the altar with that figure of Christ hanging on it. It would upset me terribly.'” – Fleming Rutledge

Fleming Rutledge is a great preacher. I say that with a bit of envy at her skill, but also with the recognition that her style is just not something I could pull off. That quote is just the shortest from an even better string of stories making her point. (It is in the book Bread and Wine, a great little Lenten reader.) I could never pull her style off because of two reasons: a) something guilty about using specific people at their worst and b) I always think these are “preacher stories” which are just a little too good to be true. But she makes it work, and stick, and if she used me I’d thank her for putting me on the narrow path instead of being mad (that is her greatness by the way). And her point here is simply that we are told to watch, and that biblical injunction is really to watch ourselves. Because when we do, we don’t like what we see. It is much easier to look away. To look at our neighbor. And to draw that line of grace for thee, but I don’t need it. Staring at a crucifix is recognizing that I put Jesus there. And there is only one way out. His grace, alone.

That is why I came…


Texts: Mark 1:29-39, 1 Corinthians 9:16-27, Isaiah 40:21-31
Full Sermon Draft

The collection of texts assigned for today stuck me this week as wanting to talk about preaching. Jesus confronts himself with a question, what is the chief purpose of his ministry? And his answer set the paradigm of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not one that is advanced as the kingdoms of this world. Instead it is preached; it is proclaimed.

So, this sermon is a basic statement of the power and purpose of preaching. And the source of all preaching which is never the preacher, but the one who commands the message.

What Does a Funeral in The Church Say?

There is a cliche phrase among preachers – the church comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. When you flip the verbs you get a club and not the church – the club comforts the comfortable and afflicts the afflicted. To get that phrase what you need to understand is that comfortable and afflicted is said in relation to the individual conscience and sin. If the person is comfortable in sin, you preach the law and afflict them. If the person is afflicted with doubt and guilt, you preach the gospel of grace and mercy in Jesus Christ. (There is a big strike against this in practice as it requires a church and a ministry willing to draw conclusions – i.e. go read 1 Corinthians 5 which would go over like a lead balloon in most congregations.)

The reason I’m poking around here is a relevant pop-culture item, the death and funeral of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Here are four links: WJS, ABC, RNS, and Roman Deacon Greg Kandra.

Mr. Hoffman was baptized Roman Catholic, but was not evidently practicing at the time of death. His death was the result of heroin overdose. He was also reportedly estranged form the mother of his three children to whom he was never married. There was a funeral mass today at St. Ignatius church in NYC. The priest-presider had this to say.

“Phil Hoffman was not only a baptized Catholic but also a person with a lovely soul, and so deserves a Catholic funeral,” Martin told Deacon Greg Kandra in a column for CNN. “And Pope Francis reminds that the sacraments aren’t for perfect people; they are for the rest of us.”

Deacon Kandra’s post, feeling the need to explain something, does a great job of trying to explain and filling in the relevant sections of Roman Catholic Canon Law. One particular passage he quotes is this:

A funeral Mass can be celebrated for most Catholics, but there are some specific cases in which canon law requires the denial of a funeral Mass. Canons 1184-1185 say:

“Canon 1184 §1. Unless they gave some signs of repentance before death, the following must be deprived of ecclesiastical funerals:
1/ notorious apostates, heretics, and schismatics;
2/ those who chose the cremation of their bodies for reasons contrary to Christian faith;
3/ other manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful.

Turning on evil Parson Brown (i.e. you won’t probably like the following guy). A pointed question might be how does this not give scandal to the faithful? How did Mr. Hoffman, a public figure, not ring canon 1184. We are not talking about some anonymous person here whose funeral entourage would be 15-20 people, but someone who has received coverage from national networks. Evil Parson looks at this and say the only message getting out is that you can do whatever you want, live however you want, and the church will still say “yes, yes, he’s in a better place.” Take special note of the Priest’s comment that the deceased was “a lovely soul who deserved a Catholic funeral”. And then the nice segue into questioning anyone who might be so nasty as to question – “sacraments aren’t for perfect people, but the rest of us”. Isn’t there quite a bit of difference between the Christmas & Easter Christian who didn’t worry much about these things but who never-the-less was a present father, who actually married the mother of his kids, who works a job every day to pay taxes and keep clothes on everyone and an actor who shot heroin leaving his children fatherless and never married the mother of his kids? Since when is the deceased “the rest of us”? And that doesn’t get to evil Parson’s problem with “deserving a Catholic funeral” because he was a “lovely soul”? Can Catholic Priests now see the soul, or read the hearts? The advice we get from Jesus on such things is that “you will know them by their fruits” not by reading lovely souls. And for that matter, none of us deserve the sacraments. We are granted them by grace. They are received by faith. They do no good absent faith, even if you have a lovely soul, which can’t really be lovely without the indwelling of the Spirit. Turning off evil Parson; He’s getting a little grumpy.

What does a funeral in the church say? Is it possible to hold a funeral for someone who the best thing you can say is “he was baptized”, and for any message other than “yeah, what we teach is a bunch of bunk that we don’t really believe” be the one received? The current conventional wisdom, to not be evil Parson, is that you do the funeral for the living and use it as a chance to “preach the gospel”. My question is: can anyone hear that gospel today over the yell that is simply doing a funeral such as the above, or is all anyone hears “the church doesn’t even believe what it preaches” simply because of the act. What does a funeral in the church say? That is a serious question which we should answer.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Ezekiel 36:33-37:14 and Romans 5:1-21

Ezekiel 36:33-37:14
Romans 5:1-21
Faith and Truth and Life Bestowing (584), God’s Word as the Basis of Life, Sources of the Word

A Little Web Project – Pastrix

I put up a couple of posts ago an interview with Nadia Bolz-Weber and mentioned that she gets it in a deep way. Somewhere around the 40th minute of that NPR/On Being interview is really what I was talking about. This is a link to another interview where she says something similar. Just in case you didn’t watch that hour before.

Is there a chance of being too vulnerable, though?

I only preach from my scars, not my wounds. I don’t mind putting my stuff out there. It doesn’t bother me, but if I do that with a wound and my parishioners respond by wanting to bring me bandages, so to speak, I have failed. Then it is about me.

A lot of preachers from previous generations were taught not to talk about themselves in sermons because “it’s not about you.” Well, nobody wants to hear about your addiction to internet pornography from the pulpit because that makes them uncomfortable in a way that’s not going to illuminate the gospel, it’s only going to point to you. I’m very careful about that.

If I’m going to reveal something about myself in a sermon—which I almost always do—the purpose has to be to show the people how much in need of God’s grace we are. If you aren’t convicted by something how are you ever driven to the foot of the cross? If nothing can convict me, if I’m great and I have all of my shit together then we just leave Jesus idling in his van on the corner.

Beyond her understanding of the gospel, the reason I said I’d trust mom & dad with her is that. She has an understanding of the office and preaching. If you are telling a story about yourself, it is probably going to make you look bad. The preacher points to Christ. Preaching is not therapy, something she says in that interview, what she means by scars and not wounds, because therapy is about making you feel better about yourself. Preaching is about making you feel like crap about yourself, but over-joyed at what Christ is doing with you anyway. This clip is a perfect example of the conflict of therapy and preaching. Jesse needed a preacher and a call to repentance. Something that within that show he never really got. He had chances, but not blunt chances.

Anyway, the web project is reading Bolz-Weber’s book and reacting to it. Right now I’m about three chapters in, so I figure I’ll start next week.