Time Grown Short

The problem with having three readings in church is that two of them usually get neglected.  You can always stay for Bible Study on Sunday! We usually pick up at least one of them in its larger context. But not everyone does that. The Old Testament Reading usually supports the Gospel reading, but that support is often not exactly obvious or only a word or two.  Like this week, how does Jonah support the Gospel? The implied answer is in the preaching.  Jonah proclaimed to Nineveh, “You guys are toast.”  And they surprisingly repented to Jonah chagrin.  Jesus starts his ministry with “The time is fulfilled…repent and believe the gospel.”  But the real problem to me of three readings is the “hard reading.”   Like this week’s Epistle reading (1 Corinthians 7: 2-35) where Paul says, “It’s time to forget you have a wife.”  Nobody wants to preach on that.  The only thing further down the list would be “wives obey your husbands” or last week’s “do not be deceived” passage calling out the sins of the age.

But there it is in Holy Scripture.  And as much as I complain about the lectionary makers leaving out the good parts, they are not completely spineless. You are the watchman and Israel preacher.  If you don’t tell them, their sin is upon you.  So, what they heck does Paul mean by, “let those who have wives live as though they had none?”

First, he absolutely doesn’t mean this is a free pass for a Vegas weekend.  Nor is it an invite to an open marriage, a polycule or any such nonsense as our age would throw out.  Second, recognize that large sections of Paul’s letters are responses to questions or problems brought up to him by the various congregations. In this case the context of our epistle reading is the larger idea of marriage. Paul pronounces some basic principles for marriage earlier in the chapter. And one of the things that every reader of scripture has to realize eventually is that the Apostle Paul in manners pertaining to marriage and sex is the progressive. What he proclaims is how to live in actual freedom, compared to our popular culture’s disdain for Paul.  For example, “likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does (1 Cor 7:4).”  Try telling that to any Roman paterfamilias.  Paul’s advice boils down to “you are one flesh, act like it.” And it is in the submission of the self to that truth – the one flesh union – that you find your freedom.  Freedom is always found in some form of submission.

But how do we find that freedom?  Because it certainly doesn’t always feel free. It is in recognizing the parallel truth that we are first slaves to Christ.  We submit to Christ.  We have a ton of vocations: Husband/wife, father/mother, child, brother/sister, employee, citizen, elder, office holder.  And they all overlap.  And there are not enough hours in the day to fulfill the claims of everything.  And that causes anxiety.   “The married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wide, and his interests are divided. (1 Cor 7:33-34).” Paul almost always makes the parallel female point as he does here. The freedom comes from this: “the present form of this world is passing away.” When the anxieties of the age stack up, take a breath and realize that they are all temporal.  They are all passing away.  The only person who we are eternally bound to is Christ.  Serve Him.

And what is the way that Christ wishes to deal with us?  It is not by the law that causes all of our anxiety, because we can never keep it.  Christ wishes to deal with us by his grace. “Believe the gospel.” And in that grace, “all things work together for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28).” We are given the freedom in the gospel to live for Christ.  And when living for Christ it is amazing how many other vocational decisions become easy.  When we live in the light of eternity, our temporal struggles become “light passing things.”  Because brothers, “the appointed time has grown short.” And it is always comparatively short to eternity.  Be free from anxieties, do what is necessary by the light of the Lord, and he will prosper your steps. 

All Israel Will Be Saved

Anytime Israel enters the news cycle, things get apocalyptic. And that is usually because of something that is only described with very big words. The short words would be Left Behind or The Late Great Planet Earth. If you have read either one of those works you have dipped your toe in dispensational eschatology of the premillennial variety. Now if I told you that this particular understanding of “what the bible teaches” comes from John Nelson Darby around 1830. It was incorporated into the Scofield Reference Bible in 1907 where it moved from being the peculiar teaching of the small Plymouth Brethren to being the in the air default of American Evangelicals.  If I told you that – all true – you wouldn’t believe me.  That is how potent an end times story it became. And for me it became so potent because of one particular quirk, it offered Christians what appeared to be a free pass to be “nice” regarding Jews after the holocaust.  They are part of an older dispensation is what it offered.

I obviously can’t summarize everything in 700 words. The best I can do is state the Church’s historic teachings and point at where they are based upon. 

1. Salvation is through Christ Alone.  Nobody has their own dispensation.

Jesus would say “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).” He would also say things like “I am the vine and you are the branches (John 15:5).”  Paul would pick that idea up and talk about Gentiles as ingrafted branches and the ability to graft the Jew back in (Romans 11:17-23). Christ has always – even in the Old Testament all the way back to the first promise after the fall in the garden (Genesis 3:15) – been the only way.  Romans 9 through 11 is Paul’s pondering of this in regards to his kinsman. And his abiding prayer is “that they might be saved (Romans 10:1).”  And the meaning behind saved is come to faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed. Darby’s dispensationalism says you don’t have to preach Christ to Paul’s brothers of the flesh, which is contrary to the gospel Paul preached.

2. The modern nation state of Israel is not The Israel of God.

The idea of Israel is being a “chosen people” (Deuteronomy 7:6). This chosen-ness is to be in Christ by faith.  It is not based on anything in us, but in God’s faithfulness to his promises.  Paul says in Romans 9 that “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel…the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” Israel is not Israel by genetic descent, but Israel is Israel by faith. This is how Peter can say the same words in 1 Peter 2:9 that “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” to the church – Jew and Gentile.  The Israel of God is always by faith by God’s sovereign choice in Christ.

3. This does not mean that “The Jews” are without purpose.

The opposite of dispensationalism’s desire to be nice has often been a Christian hatred of “the Jews”. Luther himself was not beyond such, but it should also be said that Luther was basically expressing common ideas. This misses Paul’s warning in Romans 11.  “Do not be arrogant toward the (cut off) branches…”. If God can graft in wild branches, how much easier to restore the cultivated ones?  It also misses Paul’s prophecy, “a partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.  And in this way all Israel will be saved.” Paul doesn’t elaborate on that, and given the shifting meanings of Israel the saying is complex, but what most have thought is: a) even unbelieving Israel is a witness to the faithfulness of God in that they are not lost to history in that God preserves a remnant and b) all Israel – Jews and Gentiles who believe – will be saved which very well might include a ingathering at a late date after the fulness of the Gentiles.

What does this mean for our current intrigues?  The purpose of the Apocalyptic (Revelation, Daniel and a few other places) is not to establish a timeline or a checklist of events.  “You know neither the day nor the hour (Matthew 25:13).”  Don’t be searching for Gog and Magog to meet at Megiddo.  This is just an image of the nations of the world at war.  “There will be wars and rumors of war (Matthew 24:6).” “Why do the nations so furiously wage together? (Psalm 2:1)” Because the nations of this old world have always usurped the power of Christ. Gog is always meeting Magog at some Megiddo.  But the end is not yet. Likewise, don’t worry about 3rd Temples.  The 3rd Temple is already built. It is built of living stones on the cornerstone of Christ. The end has already come in this way.  The purpose of the Apocalyptic is to remind you that however big and wild things appear in this old earth, God is steering them for his people.  And you have eternity. “But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the Kingdom forever, forever and ever (Daniel 7:18).”

I’ve blown past my allotted limit. None of this says anything about what our national foreign policy should be.  Which is in the realm of sanctified practical wisdom anyway. What it hopefully has done is remind us of the basics. This world is passing away. Its ruler, Satan, knows his time is short. But all Israel will be saved. Have faith.

5 Wise and 5 Foolish

Biblical Text: Matthew 25:1-13

This parable has so much to teach us…if we don’t ask for it to teach us too much. That is always the trouble with eschatology, end times things. We want to know more that is ours to know.

The biggest thing I think it means to tell us is to know the time. It is a parable about the Day of the Lord, the time of fulfillment. As such the most important things in that time are different that today. Today things like wise and foolish are not locked in. Today is a day of grace. Today is a day when the oil may be procured and the lamps prepared. For the night is coming when no work may be done. Sleep comes to all. And that is why Jesus tells us this parable. Not that we might know everything about That Day, but so that we may prepare for it.

The Beginning of the Gospel…

Biblical Text: Mark 1:1-8
Full Draft Sermon

All of the canonical gospels have their own spirit, a spirit expressed often at the very beginning. This is “year B” in our three year cycle of readings, so we are in the Gospel according the Mark. Mark’s spirit is one of immediacy, of now. It is a spirit of beginnings and ending. It relentlessly presses us with the oddness of the inbreaking kingdom. And with that very wonder and strangeness invites us to begin. To prepare the way. To make the paths straight. Now. Because you know not the time. The mighty one comes right behind, and all flesh will see the glory of the Lord. This sermon is a attempt to capture that strangeness, to experience the beginning of the gospel. To hear and fear the word to make straight the paths to our hearts.

Worship note: I have left in two hymns. The one before the sermon and the one after. Both share a word – Hark! It is the call of the herald, the Baptist, listen! Important information follows. LSB 349, Hark the Glad Sound, I believe reflect the pure Gospel content of that message. The greater one comes bringing a baptism of the Spirit. A baptism that bursts the gates of brass, and make the iron fetters yield. LSB 345, Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding, captures well the immediacy of the Hark and the pressure it puts on us. “Cast away the works of darkness, all you children of the day!” And that pressure it recognizes coming from its eschatology. “So when next he comes in glory, and the world is wrapped in fear…”. Two marvelous advent hymns that happen to have a couple of wonderful tunes as well.

Then…And Now

Biblical Text: Matthew 25:1-13
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the wise and foolish virgins which is one of Jesus’ most enigmatic parables of the kingdom. The images are striking, but we often don’t know what to make of it. For Protestants and Lutherans especially the simple reading would seem to give too much play to good works. It doesn’t really fit neatly into any theological system. Which is probably part of its intention as the point is “watch”. What helps me is the word and tense it starts out with: then with a future tense. Then the reign of God will be compared to 10 virgins. Then things are simple – 5 are wise and 5 are foolish and you can tell them easily. The wise have brought oil. The “then” and the future time frame is the end of days. The parable invites a then and now comparison. It describes then and asks us what behaviors and what “watching” has lead to this immutable divide. What lead to the 5 wise having oil, and the 5 foolish not? All fell asleep, what lead to the difference? This sermon is a fleshing out of that.

Worship Note: The recording includes what is one of the top 5 hymns of all time: Wake, Awake, For Night is Flying. That is LSB 516. The hymn tune seems to capture the affect of rising from slumber to a happy tumult. The text is a poetic meditation on the words of scripture applied to the person or the collective Zion hearing the proclamation.

Abominations and Consolations


Biblical Text: Mark 13:14-37
Full Sermon Draft

This week we read the rest of Mark 13. The sermon is really divided into a macro and a micro part. The consolations are the macro. If you read Mark 13 as a whole there is a great rhythm to the sermons. The horrors seem to increase, but each increase ends with a promise. The point is not to stoke worry or even less rage as so much of the world’s narratives are designed to do. The point is to restore sanity. He’s got the whole world in his hands. He really does sit at the right hand of God. It’s going to be okay.

The micro part is when you start focusing on the words and tracing out what they mean in scripture and history. One part of that is listening carefully to Jesus’ time markers. When we listen carefully we can make the distinction between those times by which Jesus means the time around AD 70 and the destruction of the Temple and that day and that hour by which he means the last day. Those times have a specific sequence and will end within this generation. And they did. That day and that hour are unknown. That is necessary to set some ground rules, but the word that this sermon hones in on is abomination or more specifically the abomination of desolation. It is actually a well defined term or concept in the Old Testament and history. We can’t use it to make a timetable; that is foolishness, but we can think about endings of old orders. This sermon lays out that groundwork and does what a watchman does, it cries watch.

Musical Note: This morning was our matins week which I always realize when formatting is so defined by its music and continuous in one way it is difficult to cut pieces. But cut I did. I left in two musically bits. Our Choir sang “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns” which is a great Last Sunday of the Church Year or Advent piece. And I left in the final hymn, Rise My Soul to Watch and Pray Lutheran Service Book 663, which is fast becoming one of my favorites and captures the key thought of Jesus’ sermon – watch. It is a great tune that you find yourself humming all day. The text is a typical Catherine Winkworth translation by which I mean crisply poetic and poignant if sometimes pietistic. (I’ve been told that her translations are often quite free. Nothing wrong with that because they work.)

A Watchful Hope


Biblical Text: Mark 13:1-13
Full Sermon Draft

This is part one of what is variously called the Olivet discourse, the Mark Apocalypse or the end times discourse. The Olivet Discourse is so named because of its location on top of the Mount of Olives opposite the Temple. That is actually the name I prefer because I think the other two get things wrong from the start.

There is a way that Mark 13 is about the last days, but it not an easy direct application. Most of Mark 13 I think is talking about the run up to AD 70 and the destruction of the Temple. Jesus condemns the temple, what eventually serves as part of his conviction by the Sanhedrin, and the disciples ask when and what are the signs. Jesus tells them. Within this generation and a fairly detailed amount of signs. But after that, Jesus seems to know that we couldn’t resist attempting to find out the last day, so he says “about that day, no one knows, only the Father.” So Mark 13, for us, is not a step by step countdown. No one knows.

But there is a way it is not a dead letter. The temple was about the end of the old order. The temple specifically was about the sacrificial system. After the crucifixion there is no need of sacrifice. The cross of Christ is the only necessary sacrifice. The old order was over and its symbol the temple came down. But not all of the old order was brought to completion. This fallen world chugs along. Jesus doesn’t answer the when question to that, but much of what he says about the signs of the end of the temple also apply to the world. What are the signs? False prophets, political turmoil and persecution. These are the signs of the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God.

And what Jesus counsels is a watchful hope. We know we have won, because he won. Jesus lives. All who endure to the end will be saved. That is our sure hope. Watchful because we know this world hates us. It is dying and we have life. We are on our guard lest it manage to steal that hope from us. We live in that tension as witnesses to the hope.

Musical Note: I have left in our Hymn of the Day, Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers Lutheran Service Book 515. It is a pretty tune absent the often minor and melancholy of other End Times type hymns. The last couple of stanzas carry the watchful hope that I desired to preach about. The of the start of the fourth stanza: Out Hope and Expectations, O Jesus now appear.

The Marshmallow Test


Biblical Text: Matthew 25:1-13
Full Sermon Draft

The sermon text is the the parable of the 10 Bridesmaids. The title of this post comes from a comparison I make between the parable, a famous psychology experiment and the situation of the Christian life. If you know the test, it is done leaving a toddler with a marshmallow and a promise. The comparison is made in questioning exactly what type of test this is: willpower, trust, taste or just a cruel joke. I think those are how many people would categorize the second coming of Jesus: a test of holiness, a test of faith, a factor of election or just a joke. The parable would say simply faith. All fell asleep ruling out holiness. The Wise actively prepared ruling out pure election. The bridegroom promises return ruling out joke for those who believe. The over-riding point is faith, with a secondary point of the necessary things to remain in the faith.

And the that secondary point is sticky point. Nobody can share their oil. How you prepare, how you keep faith, is up to you. The church can point at wise ways. It can point at foolish ways or ways sure to shipwreck the faith, but nobody can give you their oil. You must live your Christian life.

Program Note: I’ve left in more than the typical number of hymns as they seemed to record well and were tight with the overall theme. The choir sings Rejoice, Rejoice Believers. I then at that end leave in the hymn after the Sermon and the closing hymn: Rise, My Soul to Watch and Pray (LSB 663) and The Church’s One Foundation (LSB 644) respectively. Take those two as a couple of the wiser ways of preparation.

Where Jesus is, There is the Temple – A Temple built for All Peoples


Biblical Text: Luke 17:11-19

Full Sermon Draft

I was somewhat shocked this week when I went to read what the church fathers had to say when commenting upon the text. Not shocked in a bad way, but maybe I should say surprised. Maybe it is the limits of my sources which are basically those contained in the ACCS. The ACCS is an updated form of the Catena Aurea or Golden Chain, a string of quotations and gloss that past commentators felt important. But the 10 lepers did not attract much comment, and the comments it did attract were not moralism. While I would not call them moralists, the church fathers were not ashamed to encourage holy living or acquiring virtue. (Again the could be because of later editors felt that was what was worth copying and preserving). Instead what was present was what I would call beautiful and clear allegory.

Now we think of allegory as meaning flight of fancy. I’ve read enough of it to know it can be that, but I also think that is an awful label for what was essentially a method of pondering the scriptures. After preaching for five years week in and week out, what I now recognize is a tool for preaching. The literal level is the basis, and it grounds what you say in history and the text. This is trying to understand the text in its own time. The typeological level is about bringing the specific literal to the eternal. A good reformation way of thinking of this is how does the literal story tell us about who Jesus is and his purpose and work. What does faith latch onto? The third section then asks the question: Knowing that eternal truth how do we live in the now? Having generalized the truth, how do we realize it today. The last section never loses sight of the final day. What is the final fulfullment, the eschatological or resurrection reality contained in the text. What is our hope derived from the text? Over the entire method it is a way to be grounded in the words of scripture and history while connecting it (and ourselves) to the grand story of salvation.

So, this sermon takes the form of an allegory. Not those flights of fancy, but just a way of structuring the proclamation. And to ground it further, the Hymn of the Day was A Great and Mighty Wonder. Celebrating Christmas in October might seem odd, but the hymn dovetails perfectly with what the Father’s said and what I tried to proclaim. As so often is the case, the hymnwriters preach better than the preacher.

The Terms of Unity


Biblical Text: John 17:20-26
Full Sermon Draft

…But Jesus prayer for unity continues and we might say gets tougher in verses 22 and 23. The basis of the unity in these verses is the glory. The glory that you have given me, I have given to them…that they may be one.

Now we’d love to see glory, because we think we know what it looks like. And our thoughts are glory are not completely false, just out of order. I say that because I’m assuming that most of our definitions of glory would probably be gleaming surfaces, gold streets, never ending crops, basically what John sees in the reading from revelation. But bringing that definition in at this point is out of order. That is the glory of the world to come.

The glory of this world is the cross.

If you want to see how you get from that to Mother’s Day (or at least an attempt) read/listen to the whole…