Lenten Midweek 5- Lord’s Prayer

This is the final sermon in the Lenten Midweek series. We reviewed the first portion of the Catechism with emphasis on the creed (MW 2,3 & 4). The Law was MW1 and this MW5 is the Lord’s Prayer. We used the third petition as the text. The arrangement of Luther’s catechism in the Word section drops leaves you at prayer, which is part of Luther’s teaching. The Christian life is a life of prayer. This sermon reflects on what prayer accomplishes and how which are the two questions Luther asks in the catechism: What does this mean? and How is this done?

Religious Taxonomy

I’m sure it is passe, or as discredited in elite spaces as the resurrection, but Bloom’s taxonomy for education still makes sense to me as an intellectual model.  A Taxonomy is simply a description of the way things are. The glaring error, if there is one in Bloom’s description, is that it is intellectual.  It makes no room for emotional reality.  And if you think we are first emotional elephants with little riders occasionally with great effort altering the course of the stampede, that is a big error.  But it’s the best I’ve seen.  It holds that the foundations of all learning are: Knowledge, comprehension and application.  Knowledge is simple facts, 2+2 = 4. Comprehension means not just memorization of facts, but some understanding of what they mean.  That in 2+2 you are doing addition. And then application means some of the facts can change. If you know 2+2 is 4, and the concept of addition, you can then answer 2+3.  Learning things like facts is deeply out of fashion, but without a broad base of facts that you understand and can apply, the rest of the taxonomy is meaningless.  The rest of the taxonomy is analysis, synthesis and evaluation. The levels do tend to blur together a bit, but analysis would be something like realizing 2+3 = 3+2. The order of addition doesn’t matter.  Synthesis takes multiple analyzed things and creates something new. It’s how you would go from addition to multiplication. But then evaluation at the very pinnacle would ask things like what am I multiplying and should I?  Running gain of function research on a virus in a Chinese lab to escape US laws is an amazing act of synthesis. It is a terrible act of evaluation. Somewhere you hope that your rulers are skilled at evaluation, which could also be known as wisdom.

Most of Catechism class is knowledge, comprehension and application. Do you know the 10 commandments? What do they mean? Can you apply them to your life directly?  There is a reason that we still half-heartedly attempt to memorize the catechism.  It gives everyone a foundation of what the Christian religion teaches. Because I do happen to believe that we are emotional elephants with little riders, catechism also tries to teach a bit about prayer.  Prayer is arming the rider or giving him some reins.  But I attempt to end catechism with a bit of those higher level skills.  Hopefully having a basic understanding of the religion you were baptized into, that your parents have attempted to hand onto you, can we look at other world religions in analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

If anyone went to college and was forced to take a comparative religions class, this is often the exercise that schools used to tear down a naïve faith.  Sometimes intentionally, sometimes just because that faith never matured beyond knowledge, comprehension and application.  Generations of students who had little depth in knowledge, comprehension and application would be lead through a project of analysis of all religion and fed an evaluation that they were all the same and all false. I run through it in catechism more as an inoculation.  You can do this and come to a much different evaluation.  Also as an invitation to a mature faith, opening a door that says you have only scratched the surface, and the making of a good theologian is life with reflection.

As my framework I use something original with Dr. Stephen Prothero. His primary categories for religions are: problem, solution, means of solution, exemplars, texts, and organization. So as an act of analysis answering this for Christianity should be easy for a confirmand.  Problem: Sin. Solution: Salvation. Means: Grace, Faith and works/love. (As Lutherans we dramatically downgrade works, but we have a tight distinction between justification and sanctification.) Exemplars: The saints. Texts: Bible, The Confessions (which for the students is the catechism.) Organization would be the various denominations or theological traditions. As a comparison Islam. Problem: Pride, Solution: submission, Means: 5 pillars of Islam, exemplars: Muhammed, texts: Quran, Hadith, Organization: Sunni, Shia.  When you introduce a second set you can do some evaluation, like asking the question what is the difference between saying the problem is sin and saying it is pride?

Over the years, as I’ve run this final exercise I’ve started to think of another religion.  We have all been catechized to some extent in a new dominant religion in the west. What does it say the problem is?  Not pride, certainly not sin.  I think it would assert the problem is intolerance. The solution is acceptance.  I’ve got my own synthesis of what the default religion of the US is. It has means, texts and is creating organization. But it’s an interesting exercise for understanding the world you live in and the mission of the church in it.  And then the deeper question is one of evaluation.   How does this new dominant religion compare to Christianity (or other world religions)?  For me I think its problem and solution are as oblivious of actual humans as Bloom’s Taxonomy not even thinking about emotions, but such things are the mediation of a mature faith.

Pray, Praise and Give Thanks

Biblical Text: Luke 17:1-11

How does one use the name of God?

The right use of God’s name always ends in thanksgiving.

That I believe is the message contained in the story of the 10 healed lepers. It is not just a miracle, although it is that. Neither is it an overly simple, “aw shucks, we should give thanks” lesson, although giving thanks is a good habit. It is really a lesson on who has used the name of God rightly. There are three groups named at the start: Jerusalem, Galilee and Samaria. All three think they know how to use the name. The 10 lepers use the name in seeking mercy. But only one receives the grace. Only one receives the kingdom. This sermon contemplates the 2nd commandment from Luther’s catechism, which is a spiritual classic. And it ponders our lives, our prayer, praise and thanks, in light of the command and the text. What does it mean to use the name of God rightly? Think about it.

He Preached the Good News…


Biblical Text: Luke 3:15-22
Full Sermon Draft

The day on the Church calendar was the Baptism of Christ and the text recognizes that. I think in the sermon there is recognition of baptism. If not, all the hymns of the day picked up on it as their connecting theme. But as I was preparing the sermon verse 18 (“So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people”) combined with a comment by Origin (2nd Century Teacher quoted in the sermon) made me look at John the Baptist himself. What was the gospel, the good news, that John preached?

As he would say, “Christ must increase, I must decrease”, so as a preacher the core of that Good News was simply the bridegroom has come – Jesus. That is the core of any preaching. But John’s good news, just from this brief snippet (Luke 3:1-22), is expansive. And Luke’s version of John has a striking and touching emphasis. After pointing out the bridegroom – the kinsman redeemer of Israel, John preaches against a false in everyway redeemer, Herod. Jesus & Israel are the bridegroom and sanctified bride. Herod and Herodias are the mocking of that redemption. John calls him out, and pays with his freedom and life. John’s preaching of good news, includes the role of suffering.

I didn’t make the connection in the sermon because the sermon itself is more breadth than depth. Pulling together all the threads of levirate marriage that this text relies on would have been explaining too much for a sermon. Better suited for a study. But marriage as the symbol of what God does for his people, and the mocking of marriage made by the state, and John’s suffering caused by that confrontation, seems applicable.

Recording Note: I have left in our opening hymn Lutheran Service Book 405 To Jordan’s River Came Our Lord. The congregation sounded great, and that hymn really captures the core message of the festival – “This man is Christ our substitute!” Also, they sang it post the OT reading, but I’ve moved it after the sermon here. These recordings can’t really capture the full service. We don’t really have the recording equipment for that, so the focus is really on the spoken parts (i.e. texts and sermon). But, I included our Choir singing a wonderful Epiphany piece. I included such things as markers to the full live experience. Worship really is about being there.

Every Spiritual Blessing in the heavenly realms

Text: Ephesians 1:3-14
Full Draft

The textual basis for this sermon is one long sentence. The English translations break it up because that is good English. But what it does is miss the catechism like effect as the clauses build up. The core sentence is short and clear – God be Praised. The rest of the text reads like Paul starts asking questions and answering them in phrases and clauses attached to that simple sentence.

Which God? The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. A Very specific one. One that you know.

Why praise? Because he has already blessed or praised us with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING.

What are these blessings? You were chosen to be Holy and Unblemished before the foundation. And not just that but you have been adopted into the family of God. You are part of the Royal ruling family.

How was this done (after all I don’t think I did anything)? You didn’t. It was through and in and because of Christ. First by his blood. Redeemed by the blood. Second you have been enlightened with the wisdom and insight of his grace to know the mystery.

What is the mystery? The cross primarily, but also the resurrection and the ascension (i.e. the Lordship). These things which have been hidden in plain sight.

How do I know this? You have been sealed with the Spirit which is the down payment. Outside of the revelation of Christ and the illumination of the Spirit the mystery would remain. But you have it right now.

Why has He done this? For the Praise of the glory of his grace. We are that praise. Our lives, our walks, our confessions and our worship. God be praised.