This was my final sermon at the call at St. Mark’s Lutheran in West Henrietta, NY. A wonderful church. A great part of the body of Christ. We were there for just over 14 years. Leaving was a hard decision, but I believe the right one. Both for the call I am heading towards, and for the good of St. Mark’s. Some problems are bigger than just one congregation, and nothing happens on those problems in the LCMS until there is a vacancy. But that is not the sermon. The lectionary texts of the day (proper 13, year C, Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2: 18-26 and Luke 12:13-21) were tough texts for the purpose of a final sermon, but worth pondering. They challenge you about how you take stock. The way the Kingdom of God takes stock is completely different. In reality it doesn’t. Because the needful things are assured in Christ. The work we have to do is from the hand of God, and to recognize it as such is an enjoyable toil.
Ok, I start off with something a bit hokey – Tony Stark/Iron Man – but this is about Fathers and Sons. (And yes it includes daughters, but the language we are given in Father.) The Lord’s prayer in Luke is a revelation of the Father of Jesus Christ. The Father of Jesus Christ is good, compared to all of us earthly fathers who are by nature sinful. This sermon is a meditation on what that means. The biggest hurdle is what Luther’s catechism emphasizes about it – believe it. The Father of Jesus Christ has been made Our Father in Christ, and he gives us good gifts.
The text is Mary and Martha which is usually taken as a compare and contrast of two symbols. Martha representing the active life and Mary the contemplative life. But I think that is a bit facile. And I’m basing that on both the immediate context – largely Luke 9-10 – and the life situation that is being displayed. Martha and Mary are not simple cut outs. Both are making choices about actions. And Martha’s request and Jesus’ words are not directed at action, but disordered action. Mary is acting. She is just acting after contemplating the good of the Kingdom. Not what her own anxieties and troubles desired, but what Jesus desired. As a sermon, it is probably a bit subtle. But the take away if I were to force one would simply be ordered action. A gift of the spirit is self-control. In the spirit we have the ability to act with kingdom purpose, not out of our anxiety.
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.