On Providence (1st Article)

This is the 2nd of the Midweek Lenten series where we are walking our way through the “Word” portion of the catechism. Last week we took the law. This week the 1st article of the Creed is our basis. This is usually taken as simply the doctrine of creation, but I don’t think that goes far enough. It is better to say it is about the Providence of God. The sermon is a meditation on moving from creation, which any God of the Philosophers does, to Providence.

What’s in a Name?

Biblical Text: Mark 8:27-38

The text is what includes the confession of Peter, but in the lectionary context what I think it asks us to contemplate isn’t that confession, but what is in the name of Christ? The Old testament has “God Almighty” what the Patriarchs knew God by changing Abram and Sarai names to Abraham and Sarah. Names in the Bible mean things. Moses would learn THE NAME. Eventually it is revealed as Jesus the Christ, and Father, Son and Spirit. But what Jesus wants to know is “Who do you say that I am?” When you confess the Christ, does your Christ match the Christ who is? If you Christ can’t include suffering, cross and death, then you do not have the Christ. But also if your Christ is not the one who rose, you do not have the Christ. The answers that the disciples give Jesus aren’t wrong so much as coming up short. Which might be forgiven, because nobody had seen a resurrection. But we have heard and seen. The Christ is the one who works by death and resurrection. And he bids that we walk in the same way. Is this your Christ?

The Law – Fear, Love and Trust

This is the Wednesday Lenten Mid-Week. My general theme this year is “The Word.” We will be walking through the first three parts of the Small Catechism, giving the most time to the Creed, taking each article of the creed individually. But, the catechism starts with the 10 commandments, otherwise known as the law. And all the commandments are captured in the first commandment to have not other Gods. The question really is “What does it mean to have a God?” Luther’s answer is deep, because it is existential. Whatever you fear, love and trust about all things is your God. This homily examines two things about the law and that answer. First how one can have an external keeping of the law – driven by fear or by wisdom – that is not necessarily bad, but not sufficient. The keeping of the law due to love is a true keeping. The second examination is how we so easily give our love away to things other than God. And it is in those realizations that the law has done it’s work which is pointing out that the law cannot save us. We need a perfect source of love.

Wild Animals

Biblical Text: Mark 1:9-15

The text is the Temptation of Jesus in the gospel of Mark which is different than the others. The introduction to the sermon runs down some of those differences. And this sermon then in very specifically framed around the what those unique parts of Mark’s telling are. I know that the others Matthew/Luke often get told as a “how-to manual” for temptation and testing. Which I think is completely wrong. One, we are not Jesus. Two, Satan is so much smarter than us. Getting into a bible quoting contest with Satan means we most likely lose absent the Spirit giving us the words. No, it is Mark’s account that I believe is a picture of the Christian in testing or temptation. Your God has to be big enough for the Spirit to lead you out into the wilderness. That testing or temptation is like walking with the Wild Animals. The sermon elaborates a bit here. But we also walk with angels all the way. The Kingdom of God is always near. Even in the midst of testing. The Spirit does not desert us in the desert. The angels are ministering. Repent and believe.

Different Audiences (Ash Wednesday)

I didn’t capture the recording, but here is Ash Wednesday’s Sermon with a little reflection about a recent commercial embedded…

Text: 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10

I’m often stumped on Ash Wednesday or in the season of Lent itself.  Here is my general thinking why. Lent is supposed to be this penitential season. And Ash Wednesday has this extremely heavy call to repentance.  “Remember that dust you are.”  And maybe my history or understanding is off, but in the days of Christendom, the days with a name – like Ash Wednesday – were days of Holy Obligation. Everybody showed up for services.  So the Christendom preacher actually got the chance to proclaim to those far off, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.”  And the beginning or the renewal of Faith is always repentance.  A holding before sinners the cross of Christ.  “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

But today, the preacher rarely gets such a chance. Today, those who show up for Ash Wednesday, or a midweek service, are most like those who already keenly feel their poverty of spirit.  The law has already done its work.  Proclaiming “repent” again feels like whipping the defeated.  It risks turning the deadly serious into play acting.

This is the tragedy of the “He Gets Us” Superbowl add, but reversed. It is not exactly that the ad’s message is wrong, but it misses its audience.  I can take that ad and proclaim it here tonight completely.  “We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” Today is the favorable time.  All those failures that have brought us here with our cry to God.  Today He has listened to you.  What those later Ashes represent – our death due to our sin, “now is the day of salvation.” Christ has become sin, that we might have his righteousness.  He had washed your feet already in those waters of baptism.  He washes your feet every time we receive the absolution. Don’t receive the grace in vain – but believe it. God has heard you and has saved you.  Let that mighty work of God strengthen your faith.  There is nothing that Satan or the World can do that shall take the Grace of God away from you.  Not afflictions, or hardships or calamities, beating or imprisonments. Honors or dishonors, slanders or praise.  There is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the grace of God – from the absolution of all our sin by that cross. Receive the grace of God for you – today.

But broadcasting that message to those who have not repented is proclaiming acceptance, not absolution.  And that also makes vain the grace of God, just as much as not believing it.  If God just accepts there is no need for sacrifice, there is no purpose in the cross.  God wishes to absolve us, so that in Christ we might become the righteousness of God.  God does not say “poor child, I know that you will never be different” and leave us in that sorrowful state.  For that is ultimately what acceptance would do, leave us in our sins.  It would not really be a listening and certainly not a day of salvation. But the grace of God has come to us and creates a clean heart and renews the Holy Spirit within us.  And does this so that we might become righteous.  To the extent “He Gets Us” is proclaimed to the unrepentant, it confirms us in self-righteousness.  Not the righteousness of Christ.  It says don’t worry about repentance or holiness or receiving the Grace of God, because you are just fine.  It makes the cross vain.

An old saying from the world of salesmen, “stop selling when you get to yes.”  Stop preaching the law when people are desperate enough to show up mid-week. Today, you are reconciled to God.  The Father has heard and sent Jesus.  The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The one through whom all things were made, who will gather our ashes and remake us on the day of salvation.  Amen.

Out of Time

Biblical Text: Mark 9:2-9

The normal way the Peter’s words at the top of the Mount of Transfiguration are taken is comic relief or babbling. But if you take what he suggests (tents) in the context of what Jesus has just been predicting (his passion), what he is discussing with Moses and Elijah (per Luke His Exodus), and the glorious appearance, then it isn’t so much dumb as just out of time. This sermon reminds of the sequence and meaning of the three great Jewish pilgrimage festivals – Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. Those feast are a structure of the Christian life in time. Peter’s suggestion understands what he is seeing, but it just out of time. And Jesus’ suggestion is the same for us as it is for Peter. Will you walk down the mountain, in time, in the proper order, with Christ?

Public and Private

Biblical Text: Mark 1:29-39

In any religious life one has to make some type of decision if it is primarily a private thing or a public thing. In fact I’d go so far as to say the world wants to force you to choose. In the Pagan world all religion was public. You could believe anything you wanted, so long as you did the correct public rites. Today, the state would grant you freedom of worship, by which they mean you can do anything you want privately, but it better not affect your public life which must be lived as if you were an atheist. This sermon ponders that split through the how Mark depicts the ministry of Jesus leading up to an emphatic statement as to why Jesus has come out. We are obviously not Jesus, but this still has meaning as we sort our own religious lives out in private and in public.

Be Silent

Biblical Text: Mark 1:21-28

The text is specifically an exorcism text. And if I am being honest, these texts are outside of the philosophy and experience of many people. If you’ve had an experience of spiritual evil, you’ve been forced to change your philosophy and these texts are strong comfort. “Even the Spirit’s obey Him.” If you grew up early accepting Spiritual reality, then the Biblical accounts are formative on your philosophy of them. But if you are part of the great sweep of de-mythologized WEIRD de facto atheists, exorcisms and real spiritual evil are embarrassing stories. The purpose of this sermon is not exactly to defend the idea of personal evil. Let’s just say I know that it is a fact. The purpose of this sermon is two-fold. First to proclaim the gospel which is that Christ has freed us from anything such uncleanness can throw at us. Yes, the unclean spirit is partially correct. We initially have more in common with them than we do with Jesus “the Holy One”. But Christ has taken mankind into himself. We now have a place and our sin is cast out; even if it leaves kicking and screaming, it is forgiven. The second purpose is to think about a way that might give even a sceptic second thoughts.

Discipleship 101

Biblical Text: Mark 1:14-20

The text is Jesus’ calling of the first disciples – Andrew and Peter, James and John. But prior to that there is a one sentence summary of the preaching of Jesus. “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.” Making disciples in the mission of the church. Jesus gave that to the church in the great commission. But what does it mean to be a disciple? That is the question of this sermon. Because the first think you have to confront is does it mean for everyone what it meant for those first 4? They left their nets and the father and followed. This sermon ponders that a bit. And it does so in the light of that summary of Jesus’ preaching. A summary of preaching which I think serves rather well as the basics of discipleship shared by all from Apostles to the present age.

Your Servant Hears

Biblical Text: 1 Samuel 3:1-10

The text is the calling of Samuel, but this sermon I think focuses a bit more on Eli. And theme is How to Hear the Word of God. Eli himself is a stunning negative example of how not to hear the Word and the effects of that. But in this text even Eli is prodded into being a good teacher for your Samuel. This sermon both examines that negative example of how we lose the ability to hear the Word and then lose the vision itself, and then it examines how Eli’s Words to Samuel are the foundation of any ability to Hear the Word. The Light of Christ, even in the darkness of Eli, never goes out. And God uses Eli to set Samuel on a good path to Hearing the Word. In those examples we also find our way to hearing the Word of God.