The Text is the Good Samaritan. When you are preaching on such a story you really have to be content with telling the old old story. And as a Lutheran that Old Old story is captured in this incredibly compact story of law and gospel. The law story is clear and is the direct text. You have a lawyer, arguing points of the law, and a command to go and do likewise. The gospel? The gospel is the subtext of the story. Because you eventually realize that the text is impossible. Something or someone must deliver us from this narrative that we have been living. That someone is Jesus the Good Samaritan.
The text is Jesus sending out the 70, or is it the 72? That is one of the few textual questions of the New Testament. Which like all textual questions is ultimately unanswerable. It becomes a matter of faith. But if you side with the King James Version and the manuscript that usually “wins”, 70 opens up a bunch of old testament references that could see their fulfillment in these 70. There is a tie in with Moses’ 70 elders who received a part of his Spirit. The fulfillment being the Priesthood of All Believers where Moses’ wish that all would have the Spirit becomes true. There is a tie in with the teaching authority of the 70 members of the Sanhedrin. The called and ordained ministry sent out with the authority of the Word. And there is a fulfillment of the 70 nations from the table of nations in Genesis 10. The proclamation of Jesus being sent to all the world.
The Gerasene Demoniac is one of those stories that is so vivid for me it stands a proof of the rest of the biblical story. Nobody could make it up. And it is such a perfect living symbol that only God could be behind it. This sermon ponders the demonic for a bit and how at least compared to my childhood, it is so much more apparent today. We live among the tombs, in Phillip Rieff’s word, among the deathworks. But you Christian have been cleansed and put in your right mind. Which causes its own problems. We know the trouble of demons. We know we have enemies. And that our very existence reminds them that they have been defeated and their time grows very short. Yet Jesus bids us “go home and tell what God has done.” The right mind knows what kind of request that is. It also knows that our Lord is with us and does not ask more than he has given.
It was Trinity Sunday. Probably the one Sunday a year where I don’t have a very specific biblical text as the basis of the Sermon. That’s ok, because the Creeds in the Lutheran tradition are part of the Confessions, sometimes called the symbols. The Bible is the Norming Norm, but the Confessions are the Normed Norm. The creeds are meaningful texts for preaching because they are faithful expressions of the faith. They are norms of doctrine and life which have been normed by the Scriptures.
In this case I had a specific teaching I wanted to cover: the faith which believes vs. the faith which is believed. Then I wanted to think a bit what it means to ponder the faith which is believed. The creeds point at that Holy Spirit given stuff – the faith which believes – while giving us sound Spiritual words to talk about the faith which is believed. Call it a teaching with an invitation to meditation on the unity of the Trinity.
This Sunday continues a couple of series. It continues our study of the book of Acts even if we have been “jumping around” in that book. This sermon ends up following up on last week. If last week was about the Spirit’s work “inside” the church before the public work that begins on Pentecost, this week’s is about the “outside” work, what the Spirit empowers in the world. The summary is the three word subtitle. The Spirit continues to empower courage. The Christian life comes with its own power source. The Spirit empowers the teaching of the church. The sermon reflects on the first sermon of the church and how it models ever Spirit filled sermon since. And the Spirit empowers a peace that the world cannot give.
This Sunday on the church calendar – the 7th Sunday of Easter – to me is the strangest one in the entire calendar. The sermon gets into that a bit, so I won’t spell it out here. But sitting between The Ascension and Pentecost is a time of internal preparation. God never leaves His people, but sometimes there are some things to do before going public. This sermon is about the presence of the Holy Spirit with the people of God. It is about what the Holy Spirit enables, and how He enables it. It is about life in the Spirit.
The text as I read it had two parts. The first being something of a travel itinerary. And it was travel that was done under some uncertainty and stress. First Paul wanted to go West, but the Spirit stopped him. And he drifted north. When he runs out of North he decides to go east, but the Spirit of Jesus stops him. And eventually Paul has a vision, “come help us in Macedonia.” It’s not that Paul was doing anything wrong; he just didn’t have the necessary figured out yet. But when you figure out the necessary, there is only one choice – obedience. The sermon reads Paul’s itinerary as a metaphor for the life of discipleship. The second part of the text is what happens when you arrive at a new point. Paul and his traveling companions have gone to Philippi, a Roman Colony. And what they encounter is different. When we’ve come to something new in our discipleship walk, we have a choice.
Change in the church is always a contentious issue. But even Jesus assumed that it would happen. And the book of Acts gives an example of a significant change. What these biblical texts give us is a Spirit Led pattern. This sermon takes Jesus’ words as the basis and Acts as the enaction of those words. Peter’s “ordered argument” is meaningful. It is not that revelation or vision and experience are meaningless. They are quite meaningful and Peter includes both as part of his argument. But his real argument is “remembering the Word of God.” This sermon looks at Peter’s Spirit led example and encourages us to examine our own changing in the same light.
This Sunday is typically “Good Shepherd” Sunday. The Gospel text comes from John 10. The key verse of that being “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” The first reading assigned in from the end of Acts. And why it is paired up with the Gospel reading is because it is the answer to the natural question: How do the sheep hear the voice? This sermon meditates on the answer based on Paul’s “good-bye” message to the Ephesian Elders.
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.