Benedict-Wilson Wedding Sermon

I don’t usually add these occasional sermons. They usually are so specific to the event that I don’t think there is much that someone could get out of them without that background. This is one I think a little differently about. I really liked this sermon (if I do say so myself). It is short, a quick read and I think presents the gospel in a light and attractive way. It might be worth your 5 minutes whether married 5 mins or 10 years.

Text: 1 Cor 12 – 13
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…”
Our generation has been chastened from some of those stark statements, but we still gather in joy at weddings. Brides – like Delia here, and grooms –like Curtis – will come before God and their assembled family and friends and promise shortly to love, honor and keep in sickness and in health. They will pledge to each other their faithfulness. In other words, to promise that love never ends.
But St. Paul – the writer of those words – is not naïve about love. Listen to how he defines love. It bears all things. So when the mountain top experience of the wedding day is a distant memory replaced by the mountain of laundry. Love bears it.
Love believes all things. I don’t think that St. Paul is asking us to be intentionally stupid here, but is saying that love puts the best construction possible on your spouse’s actions. So when he’s watching football on your anniversary – it is not because he’s an ingrate, but because he really means it’s a big game. Or when she claims that new furniture is needed or that you need to forget about the game to decorate a room – love believes this is a necessity.
And probably most importantly – love hopes all things. Your hopes are now for each other and jointly as a couple. Love chooses to place its hope in your partner – even when it might not be the smart thing. Love choses to hope in the union – when something else might look more hopeful.
And all of these bearing, believing, hoping, enduring…these actions of love are not easy, but they are your choice. The world wishes to say that love should be easy. From mountaintop to mountaintop. God’s revelation is that love is both easy and hard…and much more defined by the hard…and it is in our hands. We choose to continue to love, even when something might not be loveable.
The truth is that none of us will ever live up to that. But we have been given an example and a promise. Christ loved his bride the church. Such that he bore the cross for her. Believes that she is the best thing even though church history might say otherwise, continues in word and sacrament to hope for her… and Christ’s love for His bride the church does not end. How Christ deals with the church is the ideal for marriage – with hope and faith , with forgiveness, and greatest of all, with love.
So we gather in joy for a wedding, because we commit ourselves to that ideal. And we commit to that knowing that Christ has already lived it for us. That when we are weak, He still loves us…and allows us to renew our lives though His never-ending love. Amen.

Truth in the midst of Ugly

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I would be real interested to know what people actually heard from this sermon. I think it had a high emotional register, but I’m not sure if I used that emotion to the proper end.

The core concern that I think the text addressed is God’s truth. And God’s truth can be real ugly. It can be offensive. Because God’s truth tells us how ugly we are in our nature. The cross tells us and shows us what and who we are. Jesus became our ugliness. And God works in the middle of that ugly. He works through the messy and incomplete and ugly. That task of faith is to recognize that even how ugly this crucified God might appear, his love is revealed there. And it is a love that is wide and deep and more than enough. The scraps that fall, the pieces gathered after the dinner, are enough to fill his people and those like this Canaanite who were not his people but have been grafted in.

Hope and Holiness

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If I’m looking at this sermon critically – it is too much lecture and not enough preaching. Here is what I mean by that: a lecture conveys information while preaching reaches beyond that.

The core of the text (1 Pet 3:13-22) as I read it was a summary of Peter’s argument up to this point, and a reiteration of the purpose. The argument is be holy. The longer form of that is Be Holy because you are a child of God and that is what God’s children do. The purpose – to point the glory and all eyes toward Christ.

Peter’s words are “be prepared to give a defense for the hope that is in you.” For me the summary of the hope that is in me is creeds. The creeds themselves are intellectual things. The make statements of what I take to be facts. (Non-Christians would say that make claims that are probably not facts.) But it is not that intellectual content that is the basis of my or the church’s hope. The basis is the truth that the creeds speak about – the God, Father, Son and Spirit, reigns. Hope rests not in this suffering world, or hope rests not in this ill-at-ease contentment of safety and plenty and its continuation. Hope rests in the fact that God acts and has acted and continues to act. Hope rests in the fact that the God who has acted has revealed himself not to be a harsh judge, but one moved to compassion (I’m bringing back a greek work – splagnizomai), who has his guts torn out over his world.

Our proclamation of that Hope (the church’s proclamation of that hope) is displayed in our holiness. Being prepared is not just about knowing the creed, but also about living it. And living something is always messy.

Easter Sunday – A Chance to Have Faith

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I was asked after church in Bible study if I like preaching on Easter Sunday the best. My answer was not as full a yes as might be expected. It is definitely up there, if just for the crowd size. This is not meant as a theological statement – the effectiveness of any sermon comes from the Spirit in the hearer – but when you’ve got a crowd the speaker does not have to supply the energy. The most draining times to preach are when there should be at least what I call comfortably empty crowds and you are below that. (Special days like thanksgiving don’t qualify because the 10 leper rule, only 1 of 10 returned which gives a different feel.) Those times and places are energy black holes. Again not a theological statement. Easter morning is one that the speaker can reflect the crowd’s energy.

But probably the bigger reason Easter is not number 1 by a landslide is that large audience. This is what I mean. The typical Sunday a preacher can feel comfortable that the Spirit is working in the lives of most of the congregation. The Word has taken root and it is the preacher’s job to water it. On Easter Sunday you get a different crowd. The fundamental job on Easter Sunday is casting the Word to the air. It is giving hard hearts and stopped up ears a chance to respond with faith. It is the gospel proclamation reduced to its core – he is risen! And while the taking root of faith and the word is the work of the Spirit, there is always a deep longing in an Easter Sermon. This might be the last time many gathered might hear the Word. This might be the last time for the Word to take root. And the Sunday after Easter you get a feedback. Too many prodigals haven’t returned. Too many seeds have been fallen on hard ground. Too many cares of the world have crowded out that He is risen. Unlike most Sundays that you know you will see much of the congregation the next week or soon, on Easter you worry. And every preacher is reminded that it is not the eloquence of the tongue but the mysterious work of the Spirit. Who never seems to work on our timetables or with the response we would like. Easter preaching is joyous and humbling at the same time.

This Well is Deep…

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We had a double baptism this week. Yes, it breaks a liturgical rule about lent, but the text was perfect – living water, John 4:5-26. The entire segment of John from Nicodemus through the Samaritan Woman and the well with a picture of actual baptisms(!) in between is full of baptismal images and recognition stories.

Many of my metaphors or ways of thinking come out of the business world. One of the clearest to me is a business/tax term called a safe harbor. Many tax laws create safe harbors where if you do your accounting in this way – you are safe. Lets just say those safe harbors are usually the common sense way you would recognize revenue or cost. Many businesses operate outside of those safe harbors. They are not necessarily breaking the law, but if the IRS pursues them and wins in tax court, the business will owe taxes and penalties. They were not operating in a safe harbor. Businesses do this because: a) they might not get caught, b) their accountants and lawyers say it is within the law as written, c) it allows them to keep and report more income usually and sometimes more cash flow when they don’t have to send money to uncle same, d) it might make sense for their industry and laws move slower than business.

The sacraments are how God wants to deal with us. They are the only sure way that God has given for his grace. Baptism is objectively when the Father puts his Spirit in us and claims us as His children. But we all have our subjective stories to tell. We might practice faith outside of those safe harbors – however risky that might be. Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman are paired stories about recognition of God and how he works. Nick comes in the dark, and leaves in the dark. He doesn’t recognize the birth of water and the spirit. The Samaritan woman comes at noon. At the start she is as far apart from Jesus as, well, as a Jew and a Samaritan. By the end she has embraced the jewish term messiah and hesitatingly applied it to Jesus. She has started to see her subjective story in the light of God’s objective story revealed by Jesus.

This sermon ponders the multitude of layers between our subjective experience of God and how God has revealed himself. The text itself, playfully, in a Romantic Comedy banter, deals with the Bridegroom meeting the Bride at the well. That is a stock OT image. That is what is going on at that Samaritan well. That is what is going on in baptism. If we have been given eyes to see.

Do you have a church?

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A few remarks by people in bible class afterward were interesting feedback. This seem seemed to strike harder than I would have expected. Not that the notes that struck were not there, just that I would have expected a slightly different reaction.

Protestantism and Lutheranism in particular are very polar – either this or that. When you are talking about discipleship or responding to the call of Christ, that isn’t always helpful. Modern protestants have become very able to reduce the gospel to one dimension – believe the right thing. Faith Alone. The dramatic flattening of the gospel in many churches isn’t all Paul’s fault, because Paul is never that one dimensional, but Matthew and the gospels help. The call comes to different people in different ways. The gospel is that it is from God’s guidance and never more than we can handle. That simple faith in the right things – for me encapsulated in the creeds – is the general call given to all humanity. Repent, the Kingdom is here!

But the life of Faith may contain individual calls that go beyond that. They are part of the individuals call to follow. They are part of separating out the disciple of the Kingdom from the admirer.

That title questions – Do you have a church? – is from a story used in the sermon. It is important to ask. Do you have a community of people responding and guided by the call of Jesus, or a club of Jesus admirers?

[Another deeper point not touched on in the sermon directly, but broached in bible class and always floating in Matthew is: are the disciples the embryo church or are they the apostles? When you hear the call to be fisher’s of people, is that given to the entire church, or to the ministers? Same in Matthew 28:18-20. Is the great commission to the church as a whole, or those who normally baptize and teach? It is not as clean as we’d like it. Although I’m sure that many would not like this, how you answer that question is probably a bigger difference today between Rome and Protestants than justification. And that also has an impact on Do you have a church? Rome traditionally said Protestants didn’t. Now we are just imperfectly in communion. Is there a church structure – an ecclesiology – that acknowledges the ambiguity?]

Its the end of the World as we know it…

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Text: Luke 21:5-28

Talking about end times or eschatology always inspires lots of speculation. But that is exactly what Jesus says don’t do. The false prophets claim “I am he” or “the time is near”. Pop Christianity waits for a rapture, which is flatly against Jesus’ teaching. The troubles that come on the world are the Christian’s opportunity for witness. The compelling message out of Jesus’ end times words are comfort. This world is constantly trying to get you to fear. And out of fear run to some false savior or false messiah. Jesus does the opposite. Even though you will be persecuted and some will be put to death, not a hair of your head will perish. The purpose of Jesus’ and Christian eschatology or end times teaching is incredibly here and now focused. When the whole world is losing its head of fear of what is coming into the world, the Christian is free and fearless. She know her redemption is drawing near. Which means that we can act with purpose and resolve here and now whatever comes, because its all in the Father’s hands.

Its peculiar to me that the “reality based” label afixes or is claimed by atheists or agnostics. I understand that the resurrection seems a fantastical event. I would go so far as to say it is an absurd belief – in the same way that Paul says Christ crucified is foolishness to the gentiles. But here is the difference, the fundamental story the Bible tells of the world gets proven to me time and again. And Christian eschatology is a great example (which dispensationalism or rapture belief throws away for fantasy). Jesus says these things will happen (famines, wars, persecutions, etc.) and they are necessary. God is directing them. People not grounded in Jesus’ teaching are easily led away to false saviors of every strife that comes into the world. Either wanting to know when like global warming to stop it, or claiming they are the savior like most political movements of the right claiming rescue from big government or the left claiming rescue from big business or the ills of society which are just the results of a sinful world. The christian is freed from those and with a clear eye can focus on what is within their power – being Christ to their neighbor. That is much more real than any large plan. Don’t be led astray.

God’s Word is ______ – the VBS Litergy

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Text: Luke 12:49-53

One of the VBS kids said something profound in the way only children can. The second day’s bible point was: God’s Word is Comforting. In quizzing the kids the next day what that main point was, one stood up, emphatically waving his hand in the air saying I know, I know. And when called on said – “God’s Word is comfortable.”

Comforting vs. comfortable. “I’ve not come to bring peace on earth, but division.” That isn’t comfortable, but it should be comforting.

In the background I continue to be amazed how often the appointed lessons for the lectionary match up with the life together in the church. Either as a reflection on events or as preparation for struggles upcoming. Of course that is the chicken and the egg problem. Since these texts are usually read first on the Sunday the prior week as I’m locking up the church, they impact the entire week. It might be just as easy to say that I’m obsessed with them for the week and so everything becomes about them regardless. But without going completely mystical – there are weeks that events over-ride the texts appointed. What I am amazed at is how infrequent that happens. When I read – “I’ve come to bring division” and saw the picture on the bulletin (flowing lava with those words) last Sunday, I said we’ll see. It didn’t seem promising. By Tuesday – divisions and events of all kinds had happened that made this sermon a easy write.

I was probably too tough in the law section. Not that these activities are not true, it is just that the people of God assembled are not really the ones to which it applies. But the text of the day, especially the OT Jeremiah 23:16-29, demanded the rough exposition.