Confronting Fears at the Tomb

Biblical Text: Mark 16:1-8

So much of Easter is the Hymns. I hate chopping them out, but the truth is they just don’t record as well. The place is not mic’ed up for that. But when the text of the day is Mark’s Easter account, you get to preach on something unique. Mark has the two Mary’s and Salome running from the tomb in fear. And that is where the gospel ends. (The early sermon examines that.) But that ending has a deep existential meaning to all of us. We are all confronted with a couple of fears. The obvious one is fear of death. But without dismissing the dread that creep up, you get to a certain age, you’ve made your peace. But the other one is fear of not being in control. Coming face to face with a man who controls death and who has something for you to do is running right into our lack of control. It is also running into the answer to that. That is the fear Easter addresses in Mark, but we all have to make a decision about that. The sermon expands on that.

What About My Dead Cat?

Our mid-week bible study was on the flood this week, so the combination of two by two and recently putting down a pet cat had me thinking about the animals.  It is a cliché question, “will I ever see my beloved pet again?”  And that question is usually treated in one of two ways.  The elder being questioned might simply answer “yes” from a caring but ultimately patronizing place.  It is what the questioner wants to hear, so you say it.  The flip side of this elder is the one who has read Aquinas and thinks it the height of spirituality to tell the questioner, “no, animals have a lessor spirit” thereby initiating them into higher spiritual knowledge.  But let me suggest that the biblical picture is more nuanced.  I’m still going to say yes, but this is more about the reasons why.

The first reason is that God created them and declared it good. “And God said, ‘let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds – livestock and creeping things and beast of the earth according to their kinds…and God saw that it was good.” To do away with something that is good would itself be an evil act. That is ultimately what Satan wishes to do, negate every good thing.  The good has its own existence from God.  All evil can do is attempt to negate it. But one day, that last evil, death, shall be put away and the Good shall be crowned.

The second reason follows that act of creation.  As Luther would add to his explanation to the first article of the creed, God not only made me and all creatures, but “he still preserves them.” The bible is full of passages about God’s care for the creatures of the earth.  My two favorites are from Jesus and Jonah.  Jesus takes the sparrow as his example.  I think he takes it because of its complete humbleness.  Nobody goes, “oooh, a sparrow.” Yet Jesus says, “are not 5 sparrows sold for 2 pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.”   A little bit later he will talk of the Ravens who have always had an air of woe about them long before Poe took up his pen.  “Consider the ravens, they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them.”  God remembers even the sparrow and feeds the haunting raven.  But the one that sticks in my mind is from Jonah.  Jonah is sitting outside Nineveh, the work of preaching done, wanting and hoping for its destruction. The last line of the book is “should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many cattle.”  One gets the sense that Nineveh’s deliverance might be more because of those cattle than anything.  The animals are part of God’s continued providence.

But all of that simply points at stuff within this world.  What gives me a sense of the animals’ spiritual worth?  The funny story of Balaam gives me one point.  We talked a bit about that story in last week’s sermon.  Balaam’s donkey eventually prophesies to Balaam.  But before that there is this humorous scene of Balaam riding the donkey and an angel appears holding a sword.  The donkey can see the angel and it stops. Meanwhile Balaam is blind to the spiritual reality. The poor animal tries to save Balaam by turning aside.  Balaam responds by beating the poor beast.  But the donkey persists in trying to warn Balaam in multiple ways.  The animals can at times be more spiritually aware than we are.

When you layer on top of that potential spiritual awareness two other things.  First being that God’s covenant after the flood is not just with Noah, but is “an everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  The animals are worthy of the covenant. The Apostle Paul talks in similar ways in Romans 8.  “All creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope.”  All creation waits with eager longing for the revealing.  Those animals that are part of the Noahide covenant wait with longing for the final revelation and the freeing of our bondage. All creation has this hope.  If you aren’t going to be there, why hope for it?

I’ll finish this mediation by returning to Jesus’ word’s about the sparrows.  “They are remembered.  Not one of them is forgotten before God.” In this sense all those animals are very much like us.  Our hope is in God remembering his covenant. He has engraved us on his hand and will recall us from the pit.  The same type of statement is given about the sparrows sold for pennies for sacrifice.  God remembers them.

So I think that simple “yes” is correct.  But there are some mighty good reasons behind it.  Reasons that go to the heart of the Gospel.  The entire world is Gods, and he’s going to remake it all good.

Companions of Christ (The Holy Innocents)

Biblical Text: Matthew 2:13-23

This is a Christmas Season sermon. The Christmas season is not something that stops on Dec 25th. It is also not something that came for universal hygge or general comfort. It came for peace on earth, and the world is not going to give that peace without a fight. This is a serious sermon about a serious topic which only finds its resolution is one place, the resurrection.

Do You Believe This?

Biblical Text John 11:1-45

When I first saw these texts for this plague week I felt “wow, lets change them.” But I’ve only changed the assigned texts of a Sunday less than 5 times. And I am glad I didn’t. In the midst of death, or at least the fear of death, these lessons tell us our hope. That is what the sermon does. Hopefully gives the saints God’s word to live in these times.

Service note: We are splitting our services to say under 10 people locally (everyone has their own pew), 9 AM and 11 AM with roughly the same number online. So, we don’t have music. We are using responsive prayer 2 in LSB. It is also wired up to produce the best sound for those online. I’ve put the entire service out. The back half after the sermon is collective prayer.

Ash Wednesday Meditation

Text: Matthew 6:19-34

The assigned Ash Wednesday gospel would have included the lines on prayer, fasting and almsgiving that we read a couple of Sunday’s ago, and stopped with the aphorism “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

All of those items are a build-ups. The payoff comes after the “therefore”. “Therefore I tell you…” That is the introduction to a summary point based on what came before.

The piety practices aren’t because we need to eat our veggies. Just think for a second what each of those practices force us to do. Prayer forces our attention, our meditation, away from this world and toward the Kingdom of God. Fasting forces us to think about our hungers – physical and spiritual – and how they are satisfied. What is true food. Almsgiving forces us to give away what is probably our biggest rival idols, money and what we spend it on – ourselves. We give our own in support of someone else. The practices move us out of ourselves and toward God and others. Augustine would call sin the “incuvatus in se” the turning inward on ourselves. The practices, straighten us out.

Why? Why should we not care about old #1?

Jesus answer, listening to the ‘therefore’ is twofold. You are going to die, and your Father knows this.

Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? Peter Theil thinks he can, or at least he’s throwing hundreds of millions at it, but Jesus didn’t expect and answer. Instead Jesus makes two comparisons to things whose lifespans are shorter than ours. The lilies of the field which are here today and tomorrow thrown into the fire. Not even Solomon could rival their dress. God showers a day or a short season with his finest – you think he doesn’t see you? Take the sparrow. It flits from here to there. It doesn’t have the flashy red of the cardinal. It doesn’t’ have song of the best songbird. It doesn’t have the size of the ostrich. It is a sparrow. Two a penny. Yet Matthew would say just a bit later that not a single one falls without your Father’s knowing. They neither sow nor reap, yet they eat. You think you Father doesn’t notice you?

Like Sparrows, like lilies, we are going to die. Instead of turning inward and attempting to horde what we can in an effort to avoid that, we should do what we were made to do.

Don’t lay up treasures in this world, but love the Lord your God with all your heart, and mind and strength and spirit. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be. Don’t be devoted to ourselves, or money or our status. The gentiles do all these things. The gentiles love those that love them. Instead love your neighbor as yourself. Like the lilly was made to give beauty to all, we were made to Love God and our neighbor.

Ash Wednesday has the most direct memento mori – “dust you are and to dust you shall return”. Sometimes we are so sick it takes such a shock. But don’t be anxious about tomorrow. Your Father knows. Seek first the Kingdom, and all these things will be added. God work through death and resurrection. Amen.

No Kentucky in This Bracket


Biblical Text: Mark 10:32-45
Full Sermon Draft

It is March Madness. It is also deep lent. The text is from right before Holy Week on the march to Jerusalem. This sermon connects all those 10 seeds or less, all those good teams that draw Duke, to our Spiritual reality. Yeah, we are going to lose. That dance is going to end. We will drink the cup Jesus drinks in the fact that we die, but that cup now contains our salvation. His baptism now saves us. Do we play these minutes with The Spirit, or do we stumble through them like the walking dead?

Two recording notes: 1) I think I’ve solved some of the quality problems by knocking down the line level before the recording and 2) I included our opening hymn – Come to Calvary’s Holy Mountain (LSB 435) – which contains many of the themes in the sermon and service. I wish I could have included our choir piece, but not being directly mic’ed, knocking down the line live made the start just a little too quiet.

Apocalypse: Distress at the roaring of the Sea


Biblical Text: Luke 21:5-28
Full Sermon Draft

The jumping off point for the sermon is a veteran’s tale of the end of a world (Iraq) and where he goes from there. It is a well told tale of an apocalypse of the City of Man. Based in truth or at least true emotion and experience. Told well. Strengthened by a deep bit of truth related to The Apocalypse. The apocalypse of the City of Man is always about accepting its end. And that is the deep truth; the city of man ends. The question is does your identity end with it, or does it just transfer to another city of man. It too doomed to end, just in a way yet unseen. Or do you look for your residence in the City of God?

The world’s advice is always acceptance of death. The world’s advice is the true opiate, that all of this is meaningless, a striving after the wind. But Jesus says to us: “when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your head, because you redemption is drawing near.” Right now the world groans. Right now the nations are in distress and perplexity because of the roaring of the seas and the waves. People faint with fear and worry about what is coming. But not you. Straighten up and raise your heads. Your redemption is near. The creation waits with eager longing for the children of God to be revealed…to be set free from its bondage to corruption (Rom 8:21).

If your hope is in the City of God, if you identity is found in Jesus Christ, the roaring of the seas are but a receding sound before that last trumpet.