Another Helper – The Spirit and the World


Biblical Text: John 14:15-21
Full Sermon Text

The text is chosen on the basis of an inclusio. An inclusio is a method in an era lacking punctuation to signal a thought grouping. We would call it a paragraph or a section break today. John writes a topic sentence – “If you love me keep my commandments” and closes the paragraph with a repeat – “whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who love me”. So, the stuff between the inclusio is the supporting evidence for the assertion in the topic.

In this case, if all we did was take the topic – “if you love me keep my commandments” – we’d be very deep into legalism. I tend to think Jesus was more of a moralist than most Lutherans, but he was also the greatest realist we’ve ever seen. After all, he made it all. You can’t get more real that that. And as that realist, telling fallen creatures to keep the law is not in the first place about keeping the law. We will fail. What it is about is driving us to some solution for our inability to keep the commandments. In John’s case, until the end of the age the solution is “another Helper”.

That “another Helper” is the paraclete or the Holy Spirit indwelling within us. What this sermon does is trace out the works and means of the Spirit. It places the moral dimension within the larger story. Jesus means “keep my commandments” within both his work and the work of the Spirit. And it looks at the final promises that this helper lasts “until that day” or “into the age”. (The forever of John 14:16 is a not the point of the εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα , which is really an eschatologogical phrase. He will be with you in this indwelling way as another Helper until the new age is fully realized.) At that point, the dwelling of God is with his people. No longer in a hidden way as with the Spirit which the world cannot see, but in a manifest way. This is the Christian Hope – we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Exodus 39:32-40:16 and Luke 8:22-39

Exodus 39:32-40:16
Luke 8:22-39
Opposing conceptions of reality, the tendency to label as insane what doesn’t conform to your reality, absurdity, the necessity of witness

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Exodus 13:17-14:9 and Hebrews 7:1-22

Exodus 13:17-14:9
Hebrews 7:1-22
A thought about Hermenuetics or proper interpretation, typology,the purpose of trial
Program note: These texts are tough because they are not really about direct proclamation or the main story line. These texts, especially Hebrews, are given as examples of proper reading and interpretation. That might be something that the church at large needs to hear, but it doesn’t really fit in a devotional 9 minute frame.

Last Things meet First Things

Biblical Text: Mark 13:1-13
Full Sermon Draft

Eschatology or Last Things circles back around to first things, the alpha meets the omega. And right at the base if first things is identity – who or what do you see yourself as? Do you emerge from a random universe, a brief flowering of dust that will go back to dust having done nothing other than move some dust around? Are you unknowing about such things, better to eat, drink and be merry. Or are you the special creation of a personal God who knew you before you were formed? Who you think you are will have a big influence on where you think you are going.

But being sinful creatures, even if we mentally have our first things in line with truth, we are often drawn to temporal replacements for that identity – the temples of this world. They are big and impressive and often cohesive and can be good, but not even the temples are a first thing. If they obscure our identity as a Child of God, its got to go. We so easily latch on to created things to build our identity. Jesus’ warnings, and the roiling turmoil of the birth pains, are reminders to watch. To remember whose we are. And to remember whose promises we can trust.

The struggles of the last things are a sharing in the sufferings of Christ – The First Thing. God did not choose works or any other means to save us, but he chose faith. A faith that the cross is actually the victory. That a death is actually the life. That God can be found in the depths just as surely as the heights. That God has shared everything that is common to man. Last Things are not so much a peering into the future, but an appeal to faith that the glory of God is concealed, is held, in the present tribulations. That God has not abandoned us, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. For we hold this eternal treasure in jars of clay.

How do you know?

Scripture Text: Luke 24:36-49
Full Text of Sermon

Facts, assertions, methods, inferences, hypotheses, stories. Facts are nice. We all like facts. But lets also be straight: 1) facts are usually boring or maybe better inert and 2) a lot that parades as fact just isn’t. My 3rd grader does a lot of learning of facts and methods. There are some things that come home as fact that I might question. I’ll challenge her every now and then to evaluate or analyze the facts, but that is not the role of a 3rd grader. That is the role of an adult. Unfortunately, in our postmodern world, that is a responsibility that we often neglect.

Probably the biggest reason that we have come to metaphysical despair is simply the question in the title – How do you know? I can (and do) proclaim the wounds of Christ, the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and all of the apologetic strategies. As the great lenten hymn says, proofs I see sufficient of it, ’tis the true and faithful word. Those are the facts of the Jesus story. The question is what to say about them: A ghost, like the disciples at first, a fraudulent conspiracy, a mass delusion, a myth, a resurrection triumph over sin, death and the power of the devil? You can tell most of those stories with a purely materialist mindset. You can’t tell that last one. How do you know that Christ is arisen? The Spirit who spoke by the prophets lives in me, lives in the live of the church, the people of God.

The adult task of the Christian is to work with the Spirit – in word and deed. Be in the Word on a daily basis. Live that word out in our daily lives. We are witnesses of the resurrection – starting in Jerusalem.

Hope and Holiness

Full Text

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.

A few links I need to clear out

In prepping for sermons and bible studies and teaching moments you become a hoarder of stray thoughts. The internet has only made that much easier because people actually write it down for all the world, and really good ones stay like tabs on my browser taking up space like all the junk in a house before a good cleaning. These are a few recent good things that I’ve run across, but I don’t think have incorporated (i.e. stolen for use) anywhere.

Simcha Fisher on weight-loss and conversion or sanctification.
For poetry lovers, Dave Wheeler on Advent Ghosts. (HT: the High Calling, a great site for laymen and women pretty much by laymen and women.)
Christianity Today on The Leavers. When I asked that question in the Sermon about living from the Mount of Olives, this is in the background.
Into deep water here. The Monday Sermon for preachers. What does Ambrose and Celibacy have to say to a sex drenched culture.

Sentences to Ponder

Our litany of prayers on Sunday usually includes a line, “for all those in need…for all those in prison.” That line, even though as Christians we are supposed to care about prisoners (Matt 25:36), I’m sure is a stumbling block. The typical middle class response to prison is something like Paul’s line, “but if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing.” (Rom 13:4).

Now here is the sentence to ponder. From David Brooks…

“The average corrections officer [in California] makes $70,000 a year in base salary and $100,000 with overtime (California spends more on its prison system than on its schools).”

Now that line would typically get used as a club by the political left to argue for higher education spending and by the political right as a club about prisoners getting bread and water only. Maybe both sides should take it, instead of as a chance for talking points, as a chance to repent. The society matters. Any society that is producing that many people that need to be locked up has something wrong at its core. The people matter. Lock’em up and throw away the key isn’t a valid answer.

The Advice Generation Gap

There are a lot of religious ghosts in this article.

The article is a short cute story about “kids these days” and how they don’t value the oldsters advice like they used to. The 4th commandment (5th if you go by the Reformed count) is Honor your Father and Mother. Luther’s explanation, like all his explanations, enlarges the domain. Father and Mother are the stand-ins for any authority figure. The trick is of course what does honor mean? Do exactly and everything they say? Or do the Democrats of four years ago with “protest is the highest form of patriotism” have a claim to honor? In either case a certain respect for experience would seem to be needed. And the church, that entity that likens itself to a mother, is in many ways the real oldster on the block. Some of its advice goes back 4000 years.

Now read this clip…

“Age is no longer the qualifier for being the go-to person for advice,” says Jason Dorsey, 32, a cross-generational consultant who helps companies understand Generation Y. “Yes, if I go into a hardware store, I want advice from someone over age 60, because he could build my house with a screwdriver. But if I walk into an Apple store, I want the young person with blue hair and stretched earlobes, because he can talk to my computer.”

In short, “if we want to learn how to tie a tie, change a diaper, mix a drink, or cook a lobster, we can go on YouTube and find a video,” says Mr. Dorsey. “We don’t call mom and dad.” …Now an actuarial analyst in Atlanta, Mr. Borg says he often challenges advice he receives from older people. For instance, they’ve counseled him to buy a house because prices are low. “Older people think renting is throwing away money,” he says. “But I think owning a home is throwing away financial freedom. I couldn’t pick up and move to a new city. I couldn’t go back to Japan to see my old friends. I’d be tied to the house.”

What do Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Borg both have in common? They’ve both replaced mom and dad or lets just say family with something more nebulous or distributed. YouTube and financial freedom. Is that form of freedom really the way to thrive? The church says no, honor your father and mother. And that is the only commandment with a promise – that is will go well with you and you will live a long life.

The advice of the church runs smack into the conceits of 20 – 30 year olds. Now that is always the case. The church is always confronting sin and stubborness. But, this is a generation that does not take advice. Just because the church has been around 2000 years, its teachings have born out time and again, and your parents say its good for you does not mean that the kids will listen. The mode of teaching has to be more experimental. The church does not put down its claim to authority, but it probably needs to wear it very lightly, and make arguments for it where it didn’t in the past testing its own virtue of patience and hope.