We talk about the sacraments as “the means of grace”, in the everyday world we might refer to someone as a person of means, but I don’t think we really know what that word – means – means. Nor do we really plumb its depths. We don’t for two reasons. The first is that most of us are secular. We have buffered ourselves from what what Nicene Creeds calls the invisible creation. Not that it isn’t there and doesn’t effect us, simply that we deny it, usually with some fantastical pseudo-science. Although for me the best denials are the straight up “didn’t happen, who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes.” The second though is a spiritual reason. We think we want God to act immediately. We think we want the lightning bolt. This sermon is an exploration of God working through means and or reactions to that fact.
What do me mean when we talk about last things? There of course is the very literal, but
other than 10,000 mile stuff, Jesus really doesn’t answer that. Because that is not what we are talking
about. What we are talking about is
impermanence and our anxiety caused by that impermanence. And that is was Jesus goes after. Even these “noble stones” of the temple will
come down. This thing that centers our
identity will fail. All earthly props
will give way. And Jesus goes on to name
them. And then he gives us a
promise. “Not a single hair of your head
You have both the knowledge and the promise. The knowledge that yes, the world is
impermanent. Don’t place your faith in
it, in any part of it. The promise that
there is a permanent thing, and that you are already a part of it. The Kingdom of God is coming with power and
great glory. So straighten up an raise
your heads. Because this is your redemption. This is your hour.
Advent 2 is John the Baptist week. (Advent 3 would be as well, but that week typically gets taken up by the Children’s program.) And I think that both the Baptist and his message are a little tough for us to understand, although I think we are probably approaching the time and place where they shouldn’t be. They used to require imagination, but the sermon will attempt such imagination is becoming reality. My opening question for you would be: What might make you listen to a street preacher? For I think that is akin to what John is, except that he is wildly popular. That is the space you have to get into to understand the Baptist – where a street preacher is popular. This sermon attempts to paint that picture. It also attempts help us grasp that it isn’t the street preacher antics that make John unique, but the place and the message. Come ponder just what it might the way straight, to raise up the valleys and level the hills, to do so from the desert, to do so with a Word.
Recording Note: The Choice sounded great this morning and I got a good recording, so their piece is in the recording between the OT lesson and the Epistle.
Reflecting Chesterton, it isn’t that Jesus’ teaching on marriage and sexuality is hard to grasp and not worth the time, it is that it is easy to grasp and not desired to give it the time. The teaching is real simple. Marriage is a first thing; sexuality is part of marriage. It is the desires of our heart that wish to make marriage one potential form of a sex life. It is the desires of our heart that take God’s good order and wish to remake it in some other design. This sermon has three parts. The first is an examination of the heart, “where does sin come from?” The second is an examination of Jesus’ teaching from the text and also how it is taught clearly through the church’s wedding liturgy. The last part is an attempt to reconcile “what do we do” when we are so far away from that teaching.
Worship Note: I haven’t been leaving in the music sections as much because the recordings haven’t been as good. I’m not sure this one a great recording, but I want to mention the hymn. It was our opening. I’ve moved it to the end in the recording. LSB 858, O Father, All Creating. It is a marriage or wedding hymn, but we so rarely sing at our weddings anymore as they are special occasions and not congregational celebrations anymore. This particular song is not so specific to a bride and groom standing before the gathered as to prevent general use. It appropriates a good hymn tune familiar from The Church’s One Foundation. And the text well celebrates both the biblical foundations and directions of marriage, and the prayers that we would ask of God for our individual marriages. And our organist had a wonderful introduction.
This sermon completes Paul’s re-upping of the moral law/10 Commandments in the Christian life. It treats the 4th commandment and how we live into the promises of God by honoring the various close authorities in our lives. Those authorities are both temporal and eternal/spiritual, and they are not always perfect. Paul discusses it all under the the banner of being in submission to each other. The world attempts to divide us and councils that we are first individuals. The wisdom of God says we live in a web of proper authority in which we look out for the other. He does this by penning what is often called a household code.
This sermon looks at the elements of that household code and what they ask of the Christian life. That includes the honor between husband and wife, and how that is a sacramental picture of something much greater. But in each case we are called to live toward the promise and not give in to the easy temptations of the way of the world.
This is Trinity Sunday on the Christian calendar. That means a couple of things. The first is that we typically roll out the long creed – the Athanasian Creed. We break it into two logical portions in the service and I’ve tried to capture that here. The second thing that Trinity Sunday invites is a more theological approach. What I mean by that is that the day concerns the nature of God which is something that we can never fully comprehend. If we could, they we aren’t pondering God. This sermon is an attempt to mark out some of the boundaries of pondering God. Not boundaries on God himself, but things that should bind us. And it does this through a contrast between King Uzziah, whom the text starts off telling us died in the year of Isaiah vision, and Isaiah’s vision and call. The contrast I’d boil down to the path of pride and the path of promise. One is the path of life and the other of death. I hope you enjoy this.
Today was All Saints (observed) on the church calendar. In Lutheran circles All Saints is not a celebration of some spiritual elite but the celebration of the church in all its dimensions – the church militant, the church at rest, and the longed for church triumphant. Given special notice are those who have entered rest in the past year of the congregation’s life. Because of this juxtaposition of those of us still struggling and those at rest, as well as its position toward the end of the church year, it opens itself to a meditation on our now and not yet existence. Now we are children of God; not yet do we fully know what that means. That is John’s writing. We see the Love of God, but every time we see it, it is met with challenge. Satan challenges it, the world refuses to see it, and even our own weary flesh can challenge what has been revealed to us. God loves us. When Christ appears, we will be like him in glory, in that resurrection body. We know this because we’ve seen it, or have accepted the witness of the apostles. That is what we know by faith and by hope. And because we hope, we live into that not-yet reality now. “We purify ourselves as he is pure.” No, we will not always be successful. But blessed are those who hunger for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
The text is the conclusion of the parable sermon. It encompasses three parables, the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price and the net. In this preaching I’m, resting almost exclusively on work done by Dr. Jeff Gibbs. Parables are interesting in how we treat them, in that they are often simply free floating stories. And we tend to interpret them divorced from the speaker or the context. But the parable sermon didn’t come from nowhere. It came from the building opposition to the advent of the kingdom in Jesus. It came from the anxieties of the John the Baptist, Jesus’ family and even the disciples themselves. The standard gloss on these parables I compare to a pep rally (remember those?). Pep rallies can be fun, but they don’t really change anything. As often as not, those pep rallies can turn into something cruel just a few hours later. If these are a discipleship pep rally, I’ve got to sell everything and commit to Christ, there is a way that it it true, but the second you go out of the house failure is waiting around the corner.
Instead of a pep rally, these parables are a promise. You are God’s precious treasure. Christ sold everything to buy you through the Incarnation and the cross. Yes, he sticks us back in the ground and goes to complete it, but even that conforms to the parables of the kingdom – the yeast hidden in the dough, the wheat and the weeds together. They are not statements of discipleship cheer. They are statements that actually change things. God has bought you. The only choices left are to believe it or shun it.
Worship Note: I left in our opening hymn: LSB 573, Lord, ‘Tis Not that I Did Choose Thee. I think it captures the real purpose of the text. It also has for my money one of the most affecting hymn tunes – O DU LIEBE MEINER LIEBE. It is the same tune used for Jesus, Refuge of the Weary – Savonarola’s great hymn. It has that “heartsong” effect of a steady beat going up and down with the occasional extended beat. The meter is listed as 87 87 D. What that means is that each measure of a stanza has 8 syllables followed by 7 syllables, 8 followed by 7, and then doubled. When I look at the other hymn tunes following the same meter, I find a list of many of the most beloved, but I’d bet that when they are played people walk out singing the tune, but not exactly remembering the text of the hymn. Hymns that hit the heart carried by the music.
It is the last Sunday of the Church Year, often called Christ the King Sunday. The other years of the lectionary that typically means an eschatological parable like the 10 virgins trimming their wicks. When we are in Luke, it means Good Friday. Luke’s Good Friday scene is unique because there is a divergence from the other Gospels. One criminal sees something that the others don’t. The world is united in seeing “This is the King of the Jews” placed above Jesus as a great joke. One naked criminal sees the King. One naked criminal sees His Grace. It is like all acts of God – hidden and revealed. It is done plainly before all the world, yet it is faith alone that perceives the revelation. To those without God’s acts remain hidden. The sermon is a meditation on this and what we see – mistaken peasant or King.
Worship note: The text drives some different hymns than normal. The opening hymn was “The Head the Once was Crowned With Thorns”, but I’ve left in the Hymn of the Day. LSB 534, Lord, Enthroned in Heavenly Splendor. The tune right after the alleluias is tough, but the words uniquely to me capture the day’s theme. The cross as throne, the acts of God hidden in humble frame.
Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. – Isaiah. 44:21
I’ve never been a specific date person. If you asked me how old I am, I’d have to calculate it. Probably after looking at my driver’s license to check the date. And I recognize that there are people who get offended when you forget specific dates, but such things to me have usually been abstractions. It is real hard for me to fix emotion to an abstract calendar. There are concrete things that make me recall past events. For example walking around Darien Lake this summer one of the things that is unmissable is the strollers and little kids being carried on shoulders. Ethan is now past riding on shoulders. But that concrete experience brought to mind the three-year-old we might have been carrying around. Another one would be an upcoming happy event. By the end of the year we will have the car paid off and be back to no car payments. Seeing as the car I drive is almost 14 years old and well over 100,000 miles that might mean it’s my turn. I haven’t driven a new-ish car since the one I leased in 1998 when I got my job at IBM and kids were still just a thought. But I’m in no hurry to lose the Santa Fe. A practical reason is I’m cheap, let’s say frugal to be nice. But that car was my brother’s. He had just finished paying it off when he passed away seven years ago already. Time like an ever rolling stream, soon bears us all away.
Remembrance is a tricky thing. The young are unburdened by it. The old can wallow in nostalgia over things that never actually were. The constant drumbeat of crack church consultants is relevance. Stay in the now looking to the near future. But that has never been the way the people of God have operated. The proclamation of the Kingdom – OT and NT – has always started with the call repent, and repentance is an act of remembrance. It is a remembrance of whose we are – “remember these things, O Jacob…I formed you.” It is a remembrance of His words and His ways – “you are my servant”. Repentance is always an act of memory.
But if that was all it was about, to hell with it. My remembering ends the day I do, maybe earlier. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may as the poet says. But when the bible talks remembrance it may start with repentance, but it always points to something bigger. “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD (Psalm. 25:7)!” “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom (Luke. 23:42).” Our remembrance ultimately fails. As much as I might be willing to fix the Santa Fe, eventually I won’t be able to, as Jerry’s experience with a model year newer recently reminded me. What the Psalmist begs for is not his ability to remember, but that God would remember him according to his steadfast love. Like the thief on the cross asking the innocent lamb, “remember me”. That is the promise. “Israel, you will not be forgotten by me.”
The church’s remembrance is not a false nostalgia, neither is it focused on a myopic short term relevance. It is sustained in the now, by looking far. By looking to the fulfillment of that promise that all Israel shall be remembered. By looking for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.