This sermon takes on a topic that is probably a little far afield for most Lutheran churches, conversion. And in thinking about conversion we have to think about things above and things below. What I mean by that is we live in a sacramental world. The reality above breaks into our reality here. We can call it sacraments. We call it signs. We call it revelation. Depends upon the stability of the inbreaking. The conversion of Saul/Paul is the text to think about this. If you ask how Saul was converted, a valid answer is baptism. Ananias baptizes Saul and he is welcomed as brother and receives the Holy Spirit. That is the reality. But that is not how most of us would describe Saul’s conversion. The road to Damascus is the sudden replacement of Saul’s will which was breathing threats and murder with the will of Christ. This is also the daily conversion of any Christian. The sermon attempts to think through these things. As I said, not a standard subject. I think it hangs together, but sermons are signs themselves. And describing signs is always a bit like interpreting dreams or reading revelation. You are better off experiencing it.
This was our “Rally Day” or recognition of the start of School week. (We delay a week typically due to the labor day weekend.) So, there are parts of the service – like the installation of Sunday School teachers, and blessing of backpacks – that I couldn’t get on the recording. Physically we did them down in front where our various mic’s don’t capture too well. That blessing was probably the key to thinking about this sermon unfortunately.
In my head the sermon is an existential one. It points out a common thought, looking up at the night sky and what do you see? There are naive answers, but nobody really holds those long. That is the purpose of the Lion King reference. The existential question of that sky (a sign) is: is their order or is it all just chaos?
The answer revealed to us by the Word of God is that there is an order. In our sinful condition we are like the deaf and mute man in our text, unable to hear the music of the spheres. But Jesus has come to give us back the ability to hear. That same Word that tells us of God’s loving order, opens ears and loosens tongues. And in the application to educating, learning/education/wisdom which is based on that word is a worth endeavor, because God desires to be known just as we are known by Him. The universe makes sense, the foundation of which is revealed to us in the Word of God, so we can grow in Wisdom just like Jesus. It is not the dark forest nor the great filter that haunt our minds when we tune out the music of the spheres.
John intentionally uses and structures half his gospel around a different word than Matthew, Mark and Luke. Those synoptics describe what we call miracles as works of power. John calls them signs and the first twelve chapters of John are structured around seven signs. And I think John tells us the difference at the end of Cana. To John the signs due two things: 1) they manifest glory and 2) they inspire belief. What this sermon attempts to do is three things: a) ponder that difference between works of power, both natural and supernatural, and signs, b) flesh out what specifically Cana as the first of the signs encourages us to believe and c) apply those encouraged beliefs to our lives.
I’d add here, something that the sermon doesn’t, that works of power can also inspire belief. They are just as much signs as the ones John picks out like Cana. The big difference is the emphasis between the two aspects. Is the primary purpose a manifestation of glory, or has that manifestation worked itself into our understanding of ourselves and our actions. Does seeing the glory change us in deeper ways.
I’d also add here a second note about this sermon. A better preacher could make this much better, but my reflection after delivery is that I rendered a very deep text in a meaningful way. It is one of the rare times preaching on John that I don’t feel defeated.
There is one big difference between the world say pre-1750 and post-1750. Now that date is rough and the change not uniformly distributed, but what I’m really pointing out is a change with the Enlightenment. A pre-enlightenment mindset could look at events in the world or things right in front of you and see a larger sign. Another way you might describe this is that the universe as enchanted. You could swing to extremes, like the purchase of amulets and other charms to ward off all the things that go bump in the night. And all that stuff is actually what the bible comes down harshly on – see Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19:17-20) or see the story of Saul (1 Samuel 28:3ff) or look at the law (Lev 20:27, Deu 18:1-12) where the practice of such things is placed alongside child sacrifice. But there is a different form of enchantment that was thrown out with that superstition. The bible would just call it having ears to hear, or eyes to see. Jesus would complain that his contemporaries could read the signs of upcoming weather, but they couldn’t read the important signs right in front of their noses (Luke 13:54-56).
That is what is happening in the text of Luke across these chapters and our text is another example. The man’s illness, dropsy, is a sign. The Pharisees are intending it as one sign, but Jesus is reading it rightly. This is a great example of the prophetic office. The prophet could tell the future but what the prophets of Israel really did was read the signs for the people. Jesus tells then parables that illuminate the real purpose of the sign.
What the reading of the sign, the observation of an enchanted universe, is really about is a call to examination of personal conscience. Where have I fallen short? How is God calling me back to the path? Because the grace and mercy of God, the invitation to he feast, goes out to the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. Jesus eats with sinners. The means of grace are for those who need it. If you don’t need the healing (or more truthfully don’t think you need healing) they are not for you. What this sermon attempts to do is read some signs…and then issue an invitation.