The parable of the wicked tenants always feels a little like an overdetermined dead letter. Even the Chief Priests understood that Jesus told it against them. The Salvation History understanding is natural. But the problem is that history alone doesn’t preach. Especially if that history hasn’t been made one’s own. The biblical story, the story of Israel, used to be fully the possession of every Christian. But today I fear we have been severed. We still desire the form of the old things. We desire the sacraments. We desire that the bible mean something. But we want them to mean what we want them to be, not what God has clearly made them to be. And we will kill the heir to make them ours.
This sermon is an encouragement to lay hold of the new things of God, to perceive what He is doing. Before the vineyard is taken from us.
The text for the 2nd Sunday in Lent is the short 2nd part, Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem. But that part is so intimately connected to what came before. It is a meditation and instruction on salvation and will. Someone asks Jesus, “will few be saved?” It’s a comparison question. But Jesus doesn’t deal in comparisons. The salvation of one doesn’t uniquely impact a second. But Jesus doesn’t reject the question outright. That is what we moderns would do. Jesus turns the question toward “will you be part of the saved?” It becomes a personal reflection and chance for repentance. But we moderns reject the entire question. This sermon ponders that conflict with how Jesus approaches the question of salvation. Which eventually ends in the question of will. Jerusalem has a will. And Jesus laments over that. It is also necessary that Jesus go to Jerusalem. This sermon in a mediation on that conflict of wills. The will of God to go to Jerusalem, and Jerusalem’s will.
The text focuses on two things, first the reiteration and extension of the covenant promise to Abraham and not explicitly through Sarah, and second circumcision as the mark of the old covenant. That first point focus is about the sovereignty of the God. The Kingdom of God comes how and when it wills. That second point invites the comparison of the old covenant and the new. What are the signs that the Kingdom has come to us? Namely baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Along the way we talk about ways we try to hurry the kingdom and where our hope comes from.
This is something of a statement about the purpose of preaching. We attempt to put so much on the sermon. We look for all kinds of things there. And I honestly think we look for the wrong things. What the sermon is about is proclaiming the gospel. What the sermon is about is evangelism, our evangelism. And that is what this sermon attempts to do. It isn’t 7 words of wisdom for your best life. It isn’t 5 ways to life hack your way to Jesus. It is “God so loved the world that he gave his son.” He gave him for you. He gave him that we might hear and believe and live. There is a lot else that the Bible teaches that we should do, but preaching – that is about love, what God has done for us.
The text is the shocking one of Legion and the Gadarene Swine. As with all such exorcisms, it represents the power of Jesus. He’s one. Satan’s power is over. Even when Legion doesn’t want to go to the Abyss, He goes to the Abyss. But in this message, part of what I want to look at is the reality of evil and Satan himself. We get a little kickstart from an interview Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave a little before his death where he shocks what passes for the American intelligencia by confessing to belief is Satan. And we follow in the jurists tracks a bit. But the man who was possessed by Legion gives us the clearest message. He starts off naked and among the tombs. We look at what that means, because we find Satan in the same situations today. And then we look at where he ends: at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. How can we be made so right?
Technically next Sunday is Rogate (if you listen to the sermon you’ll find out), but the calendar got a little scrambled and the texts this week fit the old liturgical practice better. The selected text is sometimes called Gentile Pentecost, but what I’ve portrayed it as here is how the living and active Word – Jesus Christ – precedes us and calls us to be an active part of the Kingdom.
Jesus’ saying “I am the true and vine my Father is the vinedresser” is one of those sayings that is immediately accessible but almost limitless in imagination. This sermon starts out with a contemporary example of the negative, cutting oneself off from the vine. It then explores from the text what it means to stay connected. There are two things to staying connected that come from Christ, call them the life circulating in the vine and branches, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Then there are two things that are part of the sanctified life, trials or pruning in this context and prayer. We might focus on that pruning as the big asymmetry of the Christian life, but I think that is simply life in a fallen world. If anything knowing that the Father is going to make use of them is a benefit. They could just be bad luck. The big asymmetry to me is in the time frames considered. Those branches that remove themselves wither and are burned while those that stay connected have a perpetual growing season – eternal life.
After the last month of parables, today’s text was a shift to miracles. But the feeding miracles are almost a category of their own. The way I categorize miracles is typically: healings, nature or power, and restorations to life (I don’t use resurrection because that is a special term meaning the resurrection body which is no longer subject to death). All miracles reveal or invite us to ponder a specific part of who this Jesus is. Healings, like the man lowered in the house, invite us to ponder the Great Physician and how the one who can cleanse of of disease, more importantly cleanses us of sin. Those categorized miracles invite us to see how Christ has beat: the devil, the world and our sinful nature. The feeding miracles could by the nature miracle, but that is not the reaction of those who were there. Instead, the feeding miracles ask us to imagine how the Kingdom works in this world.
It works through compassion for those who might be our enemies. It works not through offering the world a worldly solution, but by offering Christ. It works not through direct power, but through means. The church or the disciple in this world is invited to follow Christ, and go and do likewise. This sermon explores that.
The text is the Road to Emmaus. Luke likes road trips. Chapters 10 through 19 are known as the road narrative as all the action is suppose to take place while Jesus is walking from Galilee to Jerusalem. The Emmaus Road I think is Luke’s poetic description of the Christian life. I don’t comment on in in the sermon, but imagine Luke himself for a moment. He interviewed all these people: Peter, John, James, Mary, Paul. All these people who knew the physical Jesus and testified to the resurrected Jesus. Luke knew him through them, and through the breaking of bread.
Life is full of expectations. The road to Emmaus present in the sermon is how we have wise expectations instead of foolish ones. The main part of that is recognizing Jesus. And we are given to recognize him in the Sacrament and the Scriptures – Word and Sacrament. Our life here, after that recognition is a walk toward the New Jerusalem. Now the walk and the witness, next year in Jerusalem. And as on of the metaphors has it in the sermon, next year happens. I’m a Cubs fan. It does.
The assigned lectionary text for today was the parable of the Prodigal Son, but one of the things that I found out in preparation is that the church fathers never really treated the prodigal separately from the two parables preceeding it. And when you do the translation, they do seem to roll together with specific roles for a point. So, this sermon attempts to address these parables as the church fathers did.
We’ve focused on the theme of division in Lent so far, but Luke 15 turns that focus around. It assumes the division, and starts portraying reunion. THe question these parables focus on to the church fathers was not evangelism or restoring a wandering brother. That is a valid moral lesson. We are the body of Christ and have those responsibilities. But instead, these parables were about God’s action on behalf of his elect. The perfect number will not be broken. There will not be 99 sheep, or 9 coins, or 1 brother. God will gather all of the elect no matter where they find themselves and through whatever troubles.
And how God does this is first through the good shepherd who has carried us on his shoulders on that cross. Then he calls, gathers and enlightens us through the church – the woman with a lamp looking for that coin with the image of the King. And the purpose of this is to reunite us with the Father. All that the Father has is ours. That doesn’t change regardless of our actions. He has chosen to give us the Kingdom. It is just necessary that we come in and rejoice.