This is one of the rare sermons where I think in the preaching I added a bit compared to the draft. 16 years in, I’ve got a hand of oral writing, so the drafts are usually pretty clean compared to the preaching. That and I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist about what I take into the pulpit. As I’ve said elsewhere, I’d like a really good idea of what I’m saying if it is supposed to be the Word of God for those people on that day. But in composing this sermon I had a rough time. First there were too many different themes or ideas jostling to be expressed. Then the one that I thought I was going to go with, when I started typing – when I actually started preaching to my keyboard and myself – isn’t the theme I was thinking of. What comes out of this text for me, every three years as it comes back around, is the strangeness of God. How little we understand Him. And in that strangeness how Good he is and yet that goodness can appear monstrous to us. The Revelation of God to us, which is the revelation of His Grace, sets us on one of two paths. And right now is the season of light. Right now is the season work can be done. Right now is when to invitation to know God in his grace is yours.
This is the 4th Lenten Midweek service. We have been working our way through the Christian Questions and their answer from the Small Catechism. These Questions and Answers are a model of “fitting preparation” to receive the Lord’s Supper. To me they run in expanding cycles. The first cycle is the simple proclamation of sin and salvation. The second cycle expands on that from the creed. This third cycle is very Lutheran. It always goes back to faith, but it also is not afraid to ask the question “why should or do I believe this?” The Lutheran understanding of the faith has an answer. That answer might not be satisfactory to all, but it has the advantage of being how the Bible talks about the origins of faith. And it has the advantage of being grounded in the cross. We remember and proclaim the cross as the ground of our faith. This sermon meditates on that.
John 4 is a New Testament example of a “well scene”. It’s a stock backdrop that comes with some expectations for what is going to happen. John plays with these expectation is playful and revealing ways. If we are willing to hear, I think it reveals our desires that we often chase in all kinds of places – appropriate and inappropriate.
This midweek service sermon picks up from last week. The apostle Paul says we are to examine ourselves before receiving communion. The Catechism gives us a series of questions and answers that are a model of that self examination. This midweek series is walking through them and meditating on what they encourage us to think and live. This second grouping is what I’d call creedal stuff. (Stuff, a highly technical term there.) Part of a good self examination is some solid understanding of the God we are worhsipping as He has revealed himself. That is what these questions and this sermon meditate on.
The Gospel text is the full text in which “the gospel in a nutshell” is found. Which usually means a springboard into some gaseous ramble about love. Now I’m crazy. The less concrete a word is, the more I hate it. And you don’t get less concrete today than love. This sermon is about say “What is love.” Which is pointing at the cross. You want to know love, look at the cross. That is a concrete as it gets. God works in his way – “The Spirit blows where it wills” – and “the son lifted up is His way.”
In preparation for the Sacrament Paul tells us to examine ourselves. The Small Catechism provides a section of Christian Questions and their Answers that is given as a fitting examination. The Lenten Mid-Week services this year are going to be looking as these as our fitting preparation for Easter.
The primary text is traditionally called the Temptation of Jesus. It takes place right after his baptism and continues the theme of Israel reduced to one. When Israel fails in the wilderness, Christ succeeds. But, this sermon is about something I think is an important distinction that often gets lost in the modern church. It was important to me to figure out because Luther makes a statement in the Small Catechism that always seemed to fly in the face of reality to me, at least reality if you take the scriptures and the universal experience of the faith as witnesses. And you wish to take ordination vows seriously. Luther says “God tempts no one.” And that honestly felt like this polyanna-ish statement completely foreign to the great man who was always “calling a thing what it is.” So, this sermon attempts to talk about the difference between temptation and testing. And how we can affirm that God tempts no one, even if the answer to that 6th petition of the Lord’s prayer isn’t always positive in the short term. But the will of God is not for this moment alone, but to give you the eternal victory in Christ.
I’m going to pat myself on the back here. Takes some guts to title a sermon “Yawn”.
The text is what I usually call Jesus re-upping the 10 commandments, while turning them to 11 on the dial. And if you are reading them the interpretation is rather straight-forward. Having focused on the law last week, and given the basic understanding, I turned this week to how we receive Jesus’ preaching. The focus is on what I label the strangeness of Jesus. We are able to “Yawn” at reading something like “leave the altar immediately” or “cut the body part off” because it is old hat or because it doesn’t get past the surface that this is GOD ALMIGHTY saying this. 2000 years can make any claim venerable. Those hearing Jesus were hearing that claim for the first time. How strange. And it hit them with a crisis. Do you believe it? If you believe it, the preaching demands something deep. Something more than a “yawn.”
I might end this on a questionable story, but it comes from a group that is no longer yawning. Waking from our spiritual slumbers is first hearing anew the claim of messiah.
I don’t do these types of sermons that often. Most Sunday’s I try and proclaim the gospel. That proclamation of the cross of Jesus for you is the primary job. But occasionally the text seems to call for a catechetical or teaching sermon. In this case the question both the OT and the NT passages want us to ponder is: What is the purpose of the law? And this is a very important teaching of the church that we have simply lost today. This sermon looks at the two ways the church can lose the true purpose of the law: works righteousness (over-playing the role of the law) and antinomianism (underplaying the role of the law). It then turns to the catechism and confession’s three uses of the law with a specific meditation on almost a precursor to the formal law, a 0th use or a an expanded 1st use. Why expanded? Because none of the teachers of the church could imagine a people rejecting the natural law at such basic points.