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 my first sermon at Mt. Zion. I think the text hovers around something quite important but rarely talked about. “Will many be saved?” is the question that kicks it off. That question plays on the fears of our loved ones and the doctrine of election. The all too easy answer is universalism. It also plays on our prejudice. Just our people, right? But Jesus’ answer is “the east and the west, the north and the south.” Anytime we become too concerned – taking responsibility for – the salvation of others Jesus and the apostles but the onus back on ourselves. “You strive to enter through the narrow door.” The election of God is God’s business. And the way he has chosen to work it out in time is our witness to our hope in how we live and faith in the work of Jesus Christ. Today is the day of grace for those who would here by those means.
The text is from Jesus prayer on Thursday of Holy Week in John. It is picked because this past Thursday was ascension day, the day 40 days after Easter when Christians mark Jesus’ return to the Father. 10 Days later, next Sunday, is Pentecost when the Spirit is poured out. This is promised is Jesus’ prayer. What this sermon does is first reflect on the foundation for the prayer. Jesus prefaces his petitions with some statements. 1) The World and the those he is praying for are at odds, 2) those he is praying for have been chosen by the Father (election) and 3) It is through the disciples he is praying for that he receives glory. Such is the foundation and purpose of the Christian life. In order to live it, because Jesus is leaving this world, he asks his Father to grant his disciples certain things. All these things Jesus considers that while he was in the World He gave them, and he knows that we need them. So he asks the Father.
I have heard many preachers talk about these things, in particular the first one, as stuff the church should be working on. But that would turn them into laws, not graces. Jesus is asking his father for grace for his people. Grace to be one in the name. Which is true not the least in our baptisms. Grace to be kept from the Evil One. Which is true in that the Satan has been bound and has no way to destroy the church in this world. And Grace to consecrated in truth. Which is granted in the abiding word. Jesus’ prayer has been answered.
The core assertion in the text is that you did not choose Christ, but Christ chose you. And there are three things that flow from that election: joy, love and friendship. Joy in that we have been given both the victory and a vocation. Love in that we are to emulate Christ’s love for us toward our neighbor. And friendship in that we have been invited into a deep union with God. We are no not slaves of the law, but we are friends in the gospel. We have been made children of the royal household who do not need to seek an audience with the law giver, but merely need to ask our dear Father.
The Christian Life could be described as being drug kicking and screaming towards love. While we never reach perfection here in this world, if we are blessed I do think that we can outgrow the kicking a screaming part. The natural sinner in each of us will always be there, but we can become wise to ourselves and know that his or her ways leads to misery and death. Instead we listen to the Spirit and walk where He leads. The main text for this sermon is the Acts 10 story of Cornelius and Peter which I paint as something of a NT fulfillment of the Jonah story. Peter, through the Spirit overcomes his kicking and screaming, while Jonah never does. This is the difference of Pentecost which we are fast approaching, and which Acts 10 is sometimes called the Gentile Pentecost. The sermon seeks to proclaim how God has chosen us, and how we can become wise to ourselves becoming Spirit led.
The assigned lectionary text for today was the parable of the Prodigal Son, but one of the things that I found out in preparation is that the church fathers never really treated the prodigal separately from the two parables preceeding it. And when you do the translation, they do seem to roll together with specific roles for a point. So, this sermon attempts to address these parables as the church fathers did.
We’ve focused on the theme of division in Lent so far, but Luke 15 turns that focus around. It assumes the division, and starts portraying reunion. THe question these parables focus on to the church fathers was not evangelism or restoring a wandering brother. That is a valid moral lesson. We are the body of Christ and have those responsibilities. But instead, these parables were about God’s action on behalf of his elect. The perfect number will not be broken. There will not be 99 sheep, or 9 coins, or 1 brother. God will gather all of the elect no matter where they find themselves and through whatever troubles.
And how God does this is first through the good shepherd who has carried us on his shoulders on that cross. Then he calls, gathers and enlightens us through the church – the woman with a lamp looking for that coin with the image of the King. And the purpose of this is to reunite us with the Father. All that the Father has is ours. That doesn’t change regardless of our actions. He has chosen to give us the Kingdom. It is just necessary that we come in and rejoice.
The gospel text for the day by some commentators is the exact center of Luke’s gospel, or the center of what is called the travel narrative. The commentators that mention this find in this central text the key to interpretation. While not 100% buying that exegetical move or reading method, this sermon tip its hand in that direction. In five short verses there are a couple of gospel deep contrasts. The first is the fears of the Pharisees and Jesus. The second is the love of God in gathering vs. the rejection of that love that divides.
This sermon explores that contrast between the Pharisees and Jesus as the basis of our salvation and freedom. It then moves on to understand the moral choice that difference places on us. Do we accept the love of God in Christ, or do we demand our house be left to us? Finally it explores a frightening implication of that moral choice and how the doctrine of election in a Lutheran understanding should be pure gospel.
On a personal note, I am rarely happy with the outcome of the sermon when election is a doctrine explored, but I still like this one. I think it makes the actual connection between the eternal reality of that election, and the temporal means. The eternal reality is a mystery held by God, but the temporal means are the sacraments.
Doing prep reading for Christmas day this year I was struck by the consistency of the commentary of the Church Fathers on this text. This sermon attempts to proclaim what they would. That the savior, from birth, has always been offered up as the bread of life for our eating. And this eating takes us from animals to reborn humans. Merry Christmas.
This sermon is based on a “level 2” reading of the Gospel of Mark. What I mean by level 2 is that to make the connections necessary you have to look at the locations, characters and actions of what is being told and assume that the writer picked this story specifically to carry meaning. The deaf and mute man was chosen because his disabilities and their healings are symbolic for what the Kingdom of God is doing on a larger level. The first part of the sermon hopefully establishes at least the plausibility of that level 2 reading. The second attempts to apply it to our situation.
Doctrinally this puts me in the realm of election and sanctification. The sermon is about the tension or specific actions that these doctrines call for.
The gospel text today is the second “vineyard parable” in three weeks. Two weeks ago it was the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. Today was the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. Vineyard parables to me are always, at least in the background, parables of election. I suppose I’m using a technical term there, election. The doctrine of election is the Christian phrase for being chosen or God’s choice. It often gets invoked in debate about free will and determinism. I’m also completely convinced that every person has deep within themselves as part of how they understand the world a doctrine of election. That is because election is about love. Who loves you and why and how and how long.
This sermon starts off with secular parable of election of sorts – the TV show The Voice. It then turns to the vineyard parables to think about election in the Kingdom of Heaven and how it differs. Along the way we look at cornerstone vs. head of the corner in building and how that relates to Christ, the alpha and omega, and how misperception of election causes us to reject the stone/son. It finishes with a reflection on living the sacraments, especially baptism, and how we live into the grace of election. I’d invite you along to think about election and how you view and receive the Kingdom.