Seeing the Vision – Transfiguration Sunday


Biblical Text: Matthew 17:1-9
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the transfiguration which is described as a vision. But it is a vision that ends with a strange warning – “say nothing until the Son of Man is risen from the dead”. The full vision is that God is present both in the glory and the cross. You can’t see it if you are only looking at on. Embedded in the sermon is a homily written by friend and fellow Pastor David Hess currently in hospice. Through his reflections and witness we get invite to “see” the vision.

What Lies Past Calvary’s Hill


Biblical Text: Luke 9:28-36
Full Sermon Draft

This is the end of the season of Epiphany – Transfiguration Sunday. So, it is also the end of the series of sermons that have been looking at two questions: How do we see God and the derivative How do we know we’ve seen God?

The witness of the Bible and the church to that first question is really easy: we see God first in Christ but since we were not alive at the time of the incarnation we see God in the sacraments, the Lord’s Supper and baptism. We also see God in the Word, the words of absolution, the proclaimed word and the written word. But as we move from sacrament to word we start activating a second sense, and we start dealing just as much with that second question.

In the transfiguration, a visual miracle if there ever was one, the emphasis is not really on the eyes. Everything is about the Word and the ears. The voice says “listen to him”. Moses and Elijah are talking with him. In Luke the entire visual episode takes place “as he was praying” or as Jesus was talking to God. The visual fades while the Word is what provides both the content and the proof. It might take a visual miracle to get our attention, but that miracle is not the point. Seeing God is not the point. Trusting God’s Word is the point.

And that Word has two points. First, Christ has done all that is necessary. Second, the glory is not long here, but lies past Calvary’s Hill.

Side Note, one of the best Hymns I’ve been introduced to in a long time is for Transfiguration Sunday. It is #416 in the Lutheran Service Book, Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory. The title here is just crassly stolen from the hymn. LSB has beautifully matched it with a lilting and melancholy-ish tune called Love’s Light. I know I’ve said to other people that I should just stop preaching on Transfiguration and just sing this hymn twice. The lyrics follow…

Swiftly pass the clouds of glory, Heaven’s voice the dazzling light;
Moses and Elijah vanish; Christ alone commands the height!
Peter, James and John fall silent, Turning from the summit’s rise
Downward toward the shadowed valley Where their Lord has fixed His eyes.

Glimpsed and gone the revelation, They shall gain and keep its truth,
Not by building on the mountain any shrine or sacred booth,
But by following the savior through the valley to the cross
And by testing faith’s resilience through betrayal, pain and loss.

Lord, transfigure our perception with the purest light that shines,
And recast our life’s intention To the shape of Your designs
Till we seek no other glory that what lies past Calv’ry’s hill
And out living and our dying and our rising by Your will.

Choice Wine


Biblical Text: John 2:1-11
Full Sermon Draft

It has been a rough week at the Parson’s household. This is at best an unfinished set of ideas. The only thing I can say in its favor is the invitation to see. In the gospel of John, believing is seeing. What you believe is how you see things. The wedding at Cana is Eucharistic, having to do with the Lord’s supper, it is an invitation to see the reality of Jesus and the Kingdom in, with and under the staples of life – water, bread and wine. As we say after the institution, “welcome to the table of the Lord”. Cana is John’s invitation – the first of the signs – to see the omega, the telos, of where this is heading. The world is a comedy; it ends in a wedding with plenty of choice wine. More than enough. Filled to the rim.

A Thanksgiving Homily

Text: 2nd commandment, Psalm 50:1-23, Luke 17:11-19
As Lutherans we rally around the small catechism, but there are some other catechisms out there. Rita Fedick brought an Eastern Orthodox one to bible study last Thursday. The Westminster Shorter Catechism – a Reformed work of the Calvinist strain starts off with a classic question and answer. What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. That answer captures a truth that humans have been fighting against since the start.

Our first and primary relationship, duty, orientation, end is toward God. Augustine would say, “our hearts are restless until they rest in you”.

And there are all kinds of diversions that we will come up with to deny that. From the simple – in the words of Billy Joel, I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints…to the complex, great theological constructs whose end is to say “God didn’t really say that” when the clear words of the Bible “are that”.

One of the most pernicious of those diversions is Psalm 50 or 9 of 10 lepers. “Not for you sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me.” The majority of the lepers went to the priests as Jesus and the law told them to do. And we should be clear here – God doesn’t say don’t do these things. The Psalmist doesn’t have God saying stop those sacrifices. Jesus tells the 10th leper to go. And elsewhere Jesus would say things like “you ought to have done [the tithe requirements] without neglecting justice and mercy and faithfulness”. Jesus was not against ritual itself – we baptize, we eat the Supper, we absolve sins, all at His direction. What he was against was magic by his name. The use of the name of God not toward our end…but toward our ends.

What you might be asking is how this eventually gets to a warm-fuzzy thanksgiving homily?

Well, I think it has to do with two types of stories we tell ourselves, a current kids movie and which of those two stories the best of American History likes to tell. One story we tell is the glory story. We’ve overcome, we’ve accomplished, by our knowledge, skills and abilities we’ve won the day and taken the medal.

There are traces of the glory story in American history. Anytime you hear Teddy Roosevelt talking about the man in the arena he’s telling a glory story. Both candidates in this past election like to tell glory stories. “I won” just might be the summarizing quote of a presidency. And Ayn Rand’s John Galt floated around team red. All narratives of glory.

Wreck-it Ralph, at the start is a simple glory, the Video Game Bad Guy Ralph wants to win a medal. And he’s told of a game where climbing and destroying things gets you a medal…two things he’s very good at. So he game jumps to “Hero’s Duty” and takes his medal.

The other story is the thanksgiving story – the one about grace. It would be easy to tell a glory story about the pilgrim’s journey and how they overcame oppression and won their rights and land by their heroism. But that is not how they talked about it. From the letters of Gov. William Bradford of Plymouth Colony talking about the first Thanksgiving…”And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.” Likewise in 1789 after the Revolutionary War and the Adoption of the Constitution, a glory story might be in order. But the act of the inaugural congress, proposed by Rep. Elias Boudinot of New Jersey, reads “to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many signal favors of Almighty God.”

Just to let you know that our fundamental arguments haven’t shifted that greatly, the act was originally opposed in Congress for three reasons: 1) Rep. Aedanus Burke of South Carolina objected on the grounds that a Thanksgiving was too European. He “did not like this mimicking of European customs, where they made a mere mockery of thanksgivings” 2) Rep. Thomas Tudor Tucker, also of South Carolina, raised two further objections. “Why should the President direct the people to do what, perhaps, they have no mind to do?” he asked. “If a day of thanksgiving must take place,” he said, “let it be done by the authority of the several States.” And 3) Proclaiming a day of Thanksgiving “is a religious matter,” he said, “and, as such, proscribed to us.”

As with things of grace “the Thanksgiving resolution passed—the precise vote is not recorded.” President Washington issued the proclamation starting with these words, “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God…”

As for Wreck-it Ralph, I’ll just say it has a great ending that is in perfect accord with the last verse of Psalm 50 – “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me, to the one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God”.

Glory stories are tempting, but they are ultimately hollow. Glory fades. That was not our end. Our end is to glorify God. “I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” is what the psalmist records.

The call of the gospel is to give thanks for the salvation of God. To order our ways rightly, in accord with the way we were created. We were created to tell stories of grace – stories of the deliverance of God, of the salvation of God…or as the Westminster Catechism would say of the enjoyment of God forever. Because unlike glory which fades, God’s grace in Jesus Christ is eternal. Amen.

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.

Last Judgements

Gospel Text: Matt 25:32-46
Full Sermon Text

I hate to say it, but this is an example of decent sermon prep that lacked editing and carry-through. At least 1 point two many. About a page and a half too long. And missing a story element. Although I do have to add that I’m amazed I didn’t see more yawns. Probably because I didn’t have it down enough to deliver it and was looking down at my paper too much to see them.

Ok, done beating myself up. At an intellectual and a personal piety level this text is a grenade. What I will say is that the Last Judgment from Matthew confronts and contradicts so many of our doctrinal and de facto pieties that it would be tough not to lapse into homiletic underwear and lecture. On its face the judgment is based on ethical reasons. If all you had was the last judgement from Matthew you’d have to say that Pelagius was the saint and Augustine then heretic. I think I describe the web of texts to evaluate that, to put it into the larger story, but it would be much better to have the bible open in front with the possibility for questions and conversation. Putting that aside, our culture in general has moved beyond that debate of works and grace. The phrase translated eternal punishment just isn’t believed by most people. There are different scriptural ways of addressing it that give due pause to abyss we are staring into, but most of America just doesn’t lend credence to the concept of hell. The way I typically describe it for bible study folks is that my impression is most of America has accepted the gospel without hearing the law. They don’t know what they are doing in other words. They take the cheap grace without pausing to think if it is fool’s gold.

The last part which dominates the sermon and would have been the core point is that we modern Americans just don’t understand monarchy. What lands the goats in fire is not that they are evil to their core. They answer Lord. They wonder when they haven’t been good. Thinking of a human King – arguing from lesser to greater – you can immediately see the times when it is what you didn’t do that got you in trouble. It is what you don’t do that typically brings into question the kind. If the King says – “do the will of my Father” and then you proceed to ignore the law completely…

So, I’m glad we have a lectionary that forces these texts. I’m also glad it only comes up once every three years.

The Communion of Saints

Sermon Text: Matt 5:6, Rev 6:10, Rev 7:9, Lord’s Prayer, Apostles Creed, All Saints Day
Full Text of Sermon

A Lutherans we are trained to think in terms of paradoxes in tension. Here is what I mean by that. The big tension paradox is law and gospel. The law kills, yet is necessary to show us the gospel which makes alive. The gospel without the law just confirms people in self-righteousness. Think the self-esteem movement of today. That is the perfect example of gospel without law. It essentially says that God accepts you just the way you are. Used in the context before the law, that is deadly and leads to a bunch of the dysfunctions we see in our culture today. Likewise the law without the gospel doesn’t work. For a while you get better people as they struggle to keep the law, to be holy. But eventually they figure out it is a rigged game. Hey, I can’t do this!?! That is the proper place for the gospel message of God accepts you through Jesus Christ. Law and gospel go together and the Lutheran emphasis at least in America has been on the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. That is the name of Walther’s LCMS-famous book.

And that works and is true if your primary goal is salvation of the individual. And don’t get me wrong, that is important. But the gospel is about more than my personal Jesus. The gospel is the proclamation of Jesus as Lord. The gospel is the proclamation of the resurrection of all flesh. And when you are proclaiming that – that is law and gospel at the same time.

In this sermon I’ve got a section that I labeled gospel in the text. First it is all scripture. Second it is a listing of the question of the prophets and martyrs – “How long?” How long until the church or people of God is perfected? How long until the martyrs receive justice? How long until the Lordship of Christ is acknowledged by all? To the believer that is pure gospel. The Spirit has already called us by the gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, and placed us on the walk of sanctification. We struggle now and long for that day when we don’t. How long is a cry for justice. For God to act. But that same proclamation if you don’t have faith in the work of Christ is either just lunacy or stark terror. The same proclamation works as law. Either it is dismissed as not applicable. (If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves – 1 John 1:8). Or it should strike us to the core. What if that is true? What if Christ is Lord, and I don’t acknowledge that? What does this Lord want?

The same words, the proclamation of Jesus is Lord is either the most consoling Gospel or the most damning law at the same time. The saints share a communion of hearing that proclamation as Gospel and longing for the day when the church at rest and the church militant are joined in the church Triumphant marching after the King of Glory.

Thanksgiving Message

Text: 1 Tim 2:1-4, Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

I hope you didn’t mind the reading from Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation. It’s a little longer than normal and not biblical, but if you have never read it, it is a short classic and an amazing document of vision.
It a vision I think shared by Paul writing to Timothy. Paul encourages Timothy to pray for all people. Ask God to help all of them – and give thanks for all of them. Because God’s vision goes beyond the current strife. God’s vision is that all would be saved and come to know the truth. God’s vision is that all would live under proper authority in peace. That we would live lives marked by godliness and integrity. When you are still angry with your brother or jealous of your sister that vision is real tough to see. When our eyes are clouded by covetousness or envy we miss the good gifts that we have been given.
And that is where Lincoln is amazing in this proclamation. This is from Nov of 1863. Let me list the things Lincoln saw in the preceding year.
– The first military draft leading to the NY draft riots killing hundreds.
– The imposition of the first Income Tax
– The suspension of Habeas Corpus (which if you are a civil rights fan was a dark day making TSA pat-downs look like child’s play)
– Losses at Chancellorville and Chickamauga – the costliest 2 day battle of the war
– The Gettysburg victory at the cost of over 50,000 lives union and confederate, which to Lincoln were all Americans
– The switching of Leading Generals 3 times until finding US Grant
In the midst of all that, Lincoln could still say – “The year that is drawing to a close has been filled with blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies…” His vision was larger than the struggle he was persevering in. “No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
Among those mercies also included in Lincoln’s year were:
– The passing of the Lieber code which ordered respect for private property during times of war; a nation he hoped to restore would not pillage and plunder
– The Homestead Act, the west would be open for settlement and expansion and railroads uniting a continental nation. Some of those benefiting from that act would be my ancestors, and of course the Perry County Saxons who would found the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.
– And the preparation of the Emancipation Proclamation – the nation would live up to its founding documents
Lincoln concludes his listing of graces visited upon this nation where Paul starts – with a call for prayer – a prayer for the other, for the all.
“I recommend that while offering up the ascriptions justly due [God] for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers…and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it…to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union.” (Lincoln)
“I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them. Intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.” (Tim 2:1)
Thanksgiving is a wonderful vision larger than us. We will not see these things fulfilled in our lifetimes. Lincoln saw the cessation of war, but not the better angels of our nature. We do not see the culmination of all those we pray for. But we thank God for them and for their work. Thanksgiving is a wonderful national day set aside to look at the larger picture. The “peace that has been preserved… and the harmony that has prevailed.” And to give thanks for the ultimate peace that has come to us and to all people. Peace with God, a cessation from our strife through that man on the cross. Thanksgiving invites us to find our place in that larger vision – our place marked with dignity beside our neighbor.

All Saints – Two Calendars telling a story

Full Text

Let me just say two things about this sermon: 1) I really hate it as a sermon. I think it misses the audience, doesn’t point to Christ enough, lacks a real solid textual foundation and doesn’t have the unity of message it should have. 2) I think some of the parts of it by themselves are bleeding raw and cut right to the heart of life. Modern life has lost the saints and the One who makes them and as a result is childish and soulless. We can’t see the problems even though they are right before our eyes. Being a Christian is a call to a life with a larger canvass, not a safe harbor.

Any sermon is a balance or weaving of separate threads. I have a comfort zone being very textual. In my own walk I can’t get over the fact that God speaks in this book, and I want to know as much about it as possible. That comfort zone moves through to application. Basically I have about five outlines: Very simple text-application, a little more complex 4 pages outline with the four pages being trouble in the text, gospel in the text, trouble in the world and gospel in the world (the individual pages can come in any order, when they are text, text, world, world it reduces to text-app), a three point outline (have something to say and say it well, or if you took debate/speech this tends to be a classic argument outline), a question and answer outline, and a refrain structure (multiple images or examples from life that end with the same biblical refrain). All of those outlines are about relating the text we are reading to our lives, or in reality relating our lives to the text. You could say I’m usually about trying to get people to let the biblical text read their lives. This sermon had a different basis in that the liturgical day (All Saints Day) was really the theme. Textual exposition was greatly reduced and the theology of being a Saint was brought forward. The general outline was compare and contrast – living life and interpreting reality from a secular veiwpoint alone (living with a calendar that only has Halloween) and living life with a church calendar (living with All Saints). Instead of being textual this sermon was theological and thematic.

It needed to be better.

Sermon – Sept 6, 2008 – “In my flesh, I will see God”

Full Text

I’ve heard it from at least two preachers who I really admire for their wisdom and their craft that “all good sermons are first preached at the preacher.” The main point is that if the preacher himself doesn’t need it or resonate with the message he is delivering it probably can’t be a good sermon. This one falls squarely in that camp for me. I pray that my congregation was able to get something out of it as well. If you are going to read it, the thing you probably need to have in your head is that my brother died on the 24th of August at the age of 35. After spending a little over a week in Baltimore, MD cleaning out and settling his place, this was more first week back in the pulpit. The primary text was Isa 35:4-7