Scandalized Hearts

Biblical Text: Matthew 5:21-37
Full Sermon Draft

We continue reading the sermon on the mount today. The Sermon starts with a very quick recap of the past two weeks before turning to the text. At a very basic level Jesus re-ups the 10 Commandments as part of the law that not a jot of tittle will disappear from. While this section of the Sermon on the Mount could be used as case law, Jesus’ purpose is really beyond just looking references. Instead what he is doing is demonstrating what we tend to do with the law, and telling us what we should be doing with it. We tend to look for an easy way to externally keep the law. We want the recognition for keeping it without the actual work (virtue signaling). What Jesus says back is that the external matters little, what he desires is that we attempt to keep the spirit, the internalized law. The real definition of privilege as that term is used today is the extent to which we can claim to keep the law while relaxing its claims on us individually. Part of keeping the law inwardly, is being willing to be scandalized over our own behavior. Hearts of flesh contrary to hearts of stone are able to feel the effects of sin, know where it leads, and be willing to make personal changes and sacrifices to avoid scandalizing our hearts, and not just to avoid scandalizing the neighbors.

Worship Notes: I have left in one of my favorite hymns, LSB 716, I Walk in Danger All the Way. This is the opening hymn of my funeral right now. The text and the tune mesh together perfectly. It is the rare example of the slow burn hymn. The open verse states a true problem, and things get worse from there, but there is no immediate delivery or magic as so often happens. It doesn’t deny the reality of this world, but it develops over the last three verses our solid hope both here and for eternity. Powerful text if you let yourself hear. The second item is that you might hear a missing note. Our organ decided to drop a note this morning. Providentially, we have a new organ on the way.

Pastor’s Corner – March 2014 & Sermon on the Mount pt4

[Note: Due to my inability to count, I messed up the continuity of the Sermon Series on the Sermon on the Mount.  The following is my newsletter article which attempts to put a small finish on that Sermon Series.  The other parts are here: pt1, pt2, pt3.]

We are at a confluence of sorts.  Through at least part of the season of Epiphany this year we have been reading the Sermon on the Mount.  I thought I had one more Sunday in Epiphany than I do, so that promised conclusion of sermon series will have to take place in a different way.  I said that after giving an authoritative view of the law (you have heard it said…but I say…), that Jesus would turn to issues of practice.  The law is foundational, but how do we practically put Jesus’ words into action?  By practically I don’t mean the typical liberal Christian answer of “God didn’t really mean that, we’ve grown so much since then” or the conservative Christian answer of cheap grace especially for those in the clan.  How do we practically live avoiding the ditches of denial and despair?

The rest of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapters 6 and 7 is a string of practices, observations and examples from Jesus.  Three of them are the historic practices of lent.  One of them is our congregational focus.  That is the confluence.  Our Epiphany and Sermon series is flowing into our lent.

The three historic practices of lent were: prayer, fasting and alms-giving or direct charity.  The first words of the Sermon after love your enemies are “when you give to the needy (Matt 6:2)”.  That “when” will establish a new pattern.  Jesus does not say “if” in this section.  He does not say here are good ideas.  What he will say is “when”.  If you are a practicing Christian, these are things that will sustain the life you have been given.  These are practices that will keep you on the narrow way between denial and despair.  They are not laws in the formal sense but they are the practice of love, against which there is no law.

And the first of them is charity.  When we turn things into a law, what we want is for the scales to balance here.  What Jesus has been concerned about is his followers not legally weighing the moral calculus but living love and trusting the Father.  The “philanthropists” of our day always come with a sponsored by tag-line; sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or for Masterpiece fans the Bill and Darlene Shiley Foundation or take a stroll around any institution and read the names engraved.  Leaving aside the question of if these are “the needy”, what they are is a balancing of the scales.  “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward (Matt 6:2).”  The practice that sustains the soul is the one done for the love of your needy neighbor trusting in the promise of the Father.

Such trust is not just a natural thing.  It grows out of a relationship.  And that relationship is developed and sustained in prayer.  Right after charity, Jesus teaches to the Lord’s Prayer.  Pray then like this “Our Father…”.  It is prayer that we are going to be focusing on this lent.  I’d invite you to take and read my little book called “Living Prayer” and come and be part of our conversation.  We are going to look at four types of prayer encouraged by the Apostle Paul and how each finds its place in our lives.  And prayerfully how this feeds the faith.

The last practice is one we don’t practice much and I’m an awful example.  But it is what Jesus brings up next right after the Lord’s Prayer, Matt 6:16-18, fasting.

It is tempting to put a specific meaning on each one of these foundational practices, but I don’t think there is any one meaning.  Different people might find a different motivation.  The one I would suggest, why I think these three, prayer, fasting and charity are core sustaining practice of Christian love, is because they intentionally move us outside of ourselves.  The problem of the law is that it focuses on ourselves.  Either we deny that God’s law applies to us, or we too easily excuse ourselves.  We walk past the cross without really observing it.  Giving stuff away, refusing to add to our bellies, talking with something that is more numinous than “real” gets us outside of ourselves.  We put the purely physical, what we are most likely to be enslaved to, in their proper place for a time.  In what I take to be a summary of these basic practices of Christian love, immediately following Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt 6:19-21).”  These are the practices of those who “long for a better country” (Heb 11:16) and trust in the Father to bring about that city.

Jesus has another chapter, Matthew 7, in which he continues what Christian practice looks like, but that is further down from the confluence we are at.  Right now, approaching lent, these three are enough.  And again, I’d invite you to be part of our congregational study on one of them – Prayer.

Sermon on the Mount – part 3


Biblical Text: Matthew 5:38-48
Full Sermon Draft

In this sermon we continued to look at how Jesus delivers the authoritative interpretation of the law. But the last two examples take a dramatic turn from the first four. Jesus fully spells out the way of the cross which is the way of love. A way which he alone in this life fulfills. We, until the resurrection, are called to follow, to grow in love and all good works.

Legal Principles – Sermon on the Mount – part 2


Biblical Text: Matt 5:21-37

Full Sermon Draft

This is the second part of our reading of the Sermon on the Mount. (Here was the first.) In the text Jesus starts to confront the 10 commandments, and even more directly interpretations of them. What he provides is the authoritative interpretation of the law in the Christian life.

The Law of Love – Sermon on the Mount pt1


Biblical Text: Matthew 5:13-20
Full Sermon Draft

In the text Jesus gives the call, initial vision and the foundation for his new covenant people. The entire sermon is about how his people should live and how they should look at what came before. He gives the basics for interpretation of scripture and the living of it. We will be reading good portions of this sermon over the coming weeks. This sermon lays down the conceptual framework and attempts to give protestant ears a different way to hear it. The center-piece is a switch from thinking about sin causing death, but the fact of death leading to sin. It points toward the basic biblical case (which is Eastern Orthodox in its core) and where you can find it in Luther’s preaching against the “Unholy Trinity” of Sin, Death and the Devil. This is a both and case, but for reading the sermon on the mount and coming to grips with what Jesus says about abounding righteousness, we Lutherans (and protestants in general) need some way to think about this without setting off works righteousness alarms. I think this is a good way.

On a personal note, I think this is one of the best things I’ve written. If you are going to be in church in the next few weeks, but you weren’t here, please take 20 minutes and give this a listen or a read.

A Poem on the Mount

A challenge that was too good not to try. I didn’t get into a serious vein, but the conversation angle seemed to flow.

I enter through the door. Pure gift. For I am certainly poor. Yet the Kingdom is mine. Right now.
So tell me about your Kingdom. What are its glories? What subjects does it bring in train?
The mourners, the meek, the hungry, the merciful
The poor, the pure, the peacemakers
The persecuted. Theirs is the Kingdom. Right now.
Doesn’t sound like much of a realm.
We are just getting started.
In this Kingdom, you’ll notice a difference. It’s in the flavors and the light that comes in in a certain way.
That sounds better. Do you have some coastland to really catch the salt?
If you want the beach, you better start in Nebraska.
What? You mean go out with the pigs.
Well the pigs are ok. I’ve fulfilled that. But there is a law to large spaces. If you want the beach, you you better concentrate on Nebraska First.
Too close together might lead to anger. Get along with your neighbor a mile away first.
Too close together can lead to odd glances. A mutual using so pleasurable at first. But it leads to a cutting.
Eye from eye, limb from limb
Heart from heart.
That’s what happens. Although you don’t see it
This Nebraska sounds like a tough place. Wouldn’t the crowds at the beach be nicer?
What would you do when that guy without a beach umbrella takes yours?
I’d get it back.
Better go back to the door.
What are you talking about? It’s mine.
Track him down and give him your towel also.
He’s a thief!
He doesn’t have what is required.
How is that my problem?
If you want the light to be different at the beach – it just is.
There is no way that I will ever live in your Kingdom.
You are not without a prayer. The door is always open. The bread is given.
You won’t need that other bread here. You need the kind that doesn’t decay. Good for you it is provided.
Where do I get this? I haven’t seen it. How many hours work does it take.
It doesn’t take work. Don’t worry. Your Father’s got it.
Can I get out of Nebraska? The neighbors are just so rough.
Sounds like you need some more time there.
But there is something you can ask for.
I’d suggest a fish, or some bread.
Back to the bread. Ok. Can I have some bread, oh, and by the way could you give my neighbors some? They really need it and it doesn’t seem fair if I’ve got it and they don’t.
Now you’re catching on, maybe a trip to the state fair.
I’ve heard that is a confusing place.
Not every blue ribbon is on a real prize winning hog.
How do I get the good stuff?
Stick to fruits. Avoid the junk food.
But deep fried snickers bars taste so good.
Yes, and houses built to flip to the next fool seemed like a good idea.
So what about that beach?
Do you really want to build your house on the sand?
Where would you suggest?
Its poor land, but the Appalachians might be nice.
That’s ok, I hear poor lands offer great doors.

Spiritual Practices #3

When we talk about Spiritual Practices I can think off of the top of my head of at least three different takes on this:
1) Acts of Mercy. Dr. Beck captures this very well here and here. Another way to view these might be the St. Therese’s ‘little way’. If I live a life of mercy, of seeing Christ in those I serve, I am constantly in the presence of God. Not a bad way to live life. The basis here is Matt 25:31-46 which is the scene of the last judgement.

2) Evangelical Counsels. This is a very old Catholic understanding and the basis of monasticism getting its start from Matt 19:21 in what Jesus says to the Rich Young Man. The RYM says he has kept the commandments. Jesus says if he wants to be perfect go sell everything. The counsel taken by the monastics is a life of poverty, chastity and obedience. These are not placed on everyone in Catholic teaching. In Lutheran teaching these are dangerous. The Augsburg Confession in Article 27 on Monastic Vows gives the Lutheran warning and rejection. But, you might hear people putting these forward.

3) Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving. This is what I’m going to concentrate on. As we’ve developed this it comes from Matt 6 and the sermon on the mount. At this point in the sermon on the mount we’ve been told we are part of the Kingdom in the beatitudes and then we’ve heard the law in its amplified form. Each one of those should send up back to that first beatitude – blessed are the poor. But what is the way forward, or how do we persevere in the sanctified life?

Matt 6:1-4 Jesus talks about almsgiving or charity to the needy. One comment here – you can probably view this in a large sense as a practice of mercy. All of the items in that last judgement scene could be read into the care for the needy which goes above and beyond simple duty. Jesus issues a warning – “beware of practicing your righteousness before others”. First we can take from that warning that he expects us to practice righteousness. Second that righteousness can be practiced in giving to the needy – acts of mercy. The warning assumes a positive.

The warning itself talks about the attitude of our heart. If we are doing the acts of mercy to be seen doing the acts of mercy – we’ve already received the reward. The core of a Spiritual Practice is that it is something that connects us to God; it is in the vertical dimension. For acts of mercy to be communion with God we need to see Christ in those we serve. If our gaze is away from Christ or attempting to see something other than Christ present, we have lost the Spiritual Communion of the practice. Not that the act isn’t a worthy act, but the attitude of the heart is off for a Spiritual Practice.

If the attitude is correct, “your Father who sees in secret will reward you”. The reward is simply the presence of God. In doing these acts out of love for God we are acting in Christ – we are living out of the Gospel. We are persevering, and it is God’s presence that enables that perseverance. We are persevering because this is a fulfilling of the law, a fulfilling of how God intended His people to live.

In the next post I’ll look at Matt 6:5-14 which is Jesus on prayer as a Spiritual Practice.


Full Text

This sermon isn’t so easy to break down. It is really a longer argument around that call to be perfect. We don’t hear perfect the way the disciples did. First I had to try and restore that original sound which is more completeness and wholeness and maturity. In a world of children demanding their rights, their honor, Christians were to be mature. That maturity would be salt and light.

The modern world, miracle of miracles, learned something from the church. That is good news. The modern world is better for that. The common good has increased. Something has been restored. But it has left Christians a little less salty, looking a little less mature. Figuring out how to again be salty – to be whole – to be perfect, is part of the disciple’s call.

Righteousness – Salt and Light, failing and striving

Full Text

The call to be a disciple of Jesus is a call to failure. But it is in that very failure that we find our Hope. The disciple is called to keep the law. We are called to do and teach it. To strive with it. But the disciple knows that is an impossible task. It is a striving against the wind. We are not able to keep the law. That doesn’t mean we get to neglect it or cast aspersions against it. What the law does is instruct us. It points us to the better way. Blessed are the poor in Spirit. God raises up the lowly. The law is not the final word. It points us to God’s final word, Jesus Christ.