Pay attention to the stories people tell you over and over. They are telling you about themselves. The stories that we as Americans tell over and over right now are toxic. They have erased the old stories. Their only fruits are division, death and lethargy. This sermon is about a better story. It is a story that Jesus tells about the Kingdom, which of course is a story about himself – God. And it is a story full of mischievous life. There is always work in the Kingdom. The pay is unfair, but always right, and better than we deserve. Go work in the vineyard. You won’t regret it. You won’t regret an identity built on this story.
Most of the parables tell us more about God – Father, Son or Spirit – than they do about us. The stuff they tell us about ourselves we already know, like that we are prone to insane double standards. Like, I never have to pay my debts, but you, pay it right now. What the parable of the unmerciful servant tells us is that staggering amount we have been forgiven by God, and how God did that while we were still trying the play the con on him.
The difficult thing that this sermon attempts however briefly to think about is what is demanded of disciples in this world. The radical forgiveness of Jesus is required of us for those within the church. That is Jesus’ answer to Peter, “seventy times seven”. That is the moral lesson of the parable. “Should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant as I had on you?” To fellow disciples we must practice forgiveness. The question then extends to the world? And this is where you cross into the imitation of Christ. We are not the messiah. On the one hand radical forgiveness of the world is not required and may not be wise. On the other this is the model of Christ and it is an open and costly road. Such forgiveness as Christ is an act of faith that the Father repays.
I started using the word clouds a long time ago for the image. Originally I thought it was artistic cute: a Word cloud for preaching the Word. But, as I made them I started to realize they did have something to say, and what they had to say too seeing a few. There was always the simple surface fact of the most commonly used words. Like above – Luther and Jesus. I learned and adapted over the years that if “God” was the biggest word, the sermon was probably too generic. I looked for Father or Jesus or Spirit to show up. But there are a variety of shapes that show up. The clouds that are dominated by 2-3 big words and everything else is small are usually the simplest. They tend to be more about proclamation. At the other end are ones like the above. There are lots of words that are large enough to be read, but none that really just pop. Those tend to be less pure proclamation and more teaching or invitation to ponder. The every Sunday preacher has to have a bigger repertoire than the occasional. The lectionary preacher even more so, if he wants to preach the text and not just what is on his mind that week.
Matthew 18 is a deeper text than we normally treat it. Depending upon if our preference is for Young Luther or Old Luther (listen to the sermon), we tend to reduce it to “The Process” for solving disputes in the church, or reduce it to the ridiculousness of even thinking about the law parallel to Jesus’ hyperbole about cutting off body parts. We aren’t going to do that and the Father would not want that, so thinking in sin counting terms must be just wrong. I hope that this sermon was an invitation to think beyond those simplistic reductions. The Christian Life has a simplicity to it, but those are caricatures. That simplicity is the one found on the other side of a complexity.
I suppose I should have used a title like “The Labors of Christ”. The text is what happens immediately after Peter’s confession of Christ. You have a confrontation over what that word means. Peter thinks it means something very earthly. Jesus corrects him. And then he invites everyone to see his definition. What is Jesus’ definition of the Christ? Suffering, death and resurrection. How are we invited? To pick up our cross and follow. Why would we do this? It is the only way past death. It is the only way we keep our life, to lose it. This is how God works. This is the labor of the Christ seen through the things of God, not the things of man.
This sermon is an attempt to talk about what it means to convert – to come to an authentic faith in Jesus Christ. There are three parts to the sermon. The first part is simply a reflection that the way the church converted people for a very long time was baptism, Christendom and Christian families. For all the worries over cultural Christianity (paging Soren Kierkegaard), it was a lot better than the worries. But big chunks of Christendom let it go. And so the church is confronted with a different type of conversion problem. What is necessary to bring a pagan into the faith. The second part reflects on Jesus’ initial question and the disciples answers. “Who do people say that I am? John the Baptists, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” This is Jesus as true man. The convert has to have a sympathy with Jesus as true man. But that isn’t the fullness if it is necessary. The third part reflects on Jesus’ refinement of his question. “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter’s answer “you are the Christ the son of the living God.” That is an encapsulation of the need to confess that Jesus true man is also true God. This also includes the wrinkle that we can’t force this recognition. “Blessed are you Simon bar-Jonah…”. Conversion is a work of preparation that the church needs to be about. But conversion is also solely the work of the Spirit.
Recording note: there are a couple of rough things. 1) We were still having some trouble with the sound system. We’ve got a temporary cheap mic while the good ones get fixed. The result is louder and just higher pitched fake sounding. 2) I was under the weather. You can probably hear the scratch in the voice. Sorry.
That said, I tried to say something meaningful with this sermon. I’m not sure I accomplished it. But it comes down to two things: 1) The church has a calling to be The Church to all peoples. That starts with Jesus being the messiah who comes from the Jews, not the Jewish messiah. While things like nation, people, tribe and language are important enough they have signifiers in the eschaton, they must be secondary to our unity in Christ. 2) Making these things clear – as Jesus does in this text – is often contrasting the good with the nice. Sometimes pointing out ugly things isn’t nice. Getting to reconciliation required a cross, not something nice, but it is on Good Friday.
There are two amazing things about Job. The first one is that it unapologetically holds that God owes us nothing. You can go so far as to hold with Job himself, “the LORD gives and the LORD takes, blessed be the name of the LORD.” If it comes from God, we owe him praise, whatever it is. The second amazing thing is that God allows himself to be called as a witness. He is not mute in his glory. This sermon is a pondering of a God who offers a justification for himself without ever abandoning the fact that He owes us nothing.
Do we go out to the desert anymore? I don’t think so. I think we do everything in our power to avoid time in the desert. Of course we just end up in a desert of distraction then. That’s part of the meditation on the familiar passage of the feeding of the 5000. This sermon is a meditation on the abundance that God provides and the ways in which He provides it. It looks at three images from the scene: the location, the rarely provided inner thoughts of Jesus, and the provision of abundance.
I’ve learned over the years that trying to grade sermons is impossible. Oh, you can grade them as pieces of rhetoric, but then they aren’t just pieces of rhetoric. Your worst sermon I guarantee is the one someone walked out with their lives changed. It isn’t you. Whatever scraps you brought the Spirit worked. I’ve come to two ways of thinking about grading. The first is preaching intent crossed with baseball. The every Sunday preacher has a variety of things they have to do. Not everything is going to be a homerun. Sometimes you climb into the pulpit with the intention of a single, of moving along the runners. (This is usually a teaching sermon.) Some weeks the text is obscure enough that getting a walk is good. And some weeks you better get that extra-base hit. Of course, like in baseball, unless you are Barry Bonds on PED’s, you might not get on base. And the reception in the congregation is probably everything from HR to K. The second thing is always did you find the core of emotion in the text. If you didn’t the best you’ve got is a walk. I say all that merely to say, I liked this one. I think it is workman-like as a piece of rhetoric. There is only one phrase that feels more than average and even then it is probably one of those darlings that you are supposed to kill. But as a sermon, it touches the bases.
Recording Note: This recording is done after the fact. Our equipment glitched on us this morning.
This sermon is the completion of Jesus’ Parable sermon. It is a string of parables of the Kingdom. And I think we often miss the gospel in these. The way we immediately try and understanding them betrays the “Yes” that the disciples give to Jesus when he asks if they understand. Because we almost always take ourselves as the main character, when the main character is God. This sermon attempts to preach the good news of that before how it relates to the Christian Life.
The gospel lesson continues the parable sermon of Jesus, the 3rd of 5 sermons that make up the Gospel of Matthew. The parable is often called: the wheat and the tares. I remember it by a line from a hymn – the wheat and weeds together sown/unto joy or sorrow grown. It is a hard teaching parable, as may or may not be apparent from that hymn line.
The background summary that I’ve taken in my sermons on the parables is that these are some of the deeper teachings that would be taught to newbies in the faith. The sermon on the mount is rather straightforward first teaching. The missionary discourse (Matthew 10) is a presentation of how the Word comes to us from outside of us and how the call to discipleship is not all sunshine and roses. But then Jesus turns to parables for what are harder questions. Why are the reactions to hearing the word all over the place? (The Parable of the Sower and the Soils). And the biggie of the Wheat and Weeds – Why is their evil in the world?
And the answer of the parable isn’t the most satisfying, but it is an answer. While that might be the question that the parable is an answer to, the parable wants to turn our attention to something better. Yes, there is evil. Yes, we live amid weeds. But there will be a harvest. The weeds do not stop the wheat from being fruitful. And polished by the parables sandwiched between the parable and explanation, that eternal hope is not all we have. The Kingdom is working now, like a mustard seed, or like leaven. The devil sowed his weeds, but the kingdom has its own trickery that overgrows those. And that is Hope. The eternal Hope seeps and grows into this life. And Hope does not disappoint us.