There are these series of “songs” in the book of Isaiah often called the servant songs. The most famous is the one most associated with the passion in Isaiah 52 and 53. “Behold, my servant…shall be high and lifted up…he was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows…” Our Old Testament Lesson for this week (Isaiah 42) is another one of the servant songs. And it contains one of the most fascinating descriptions in the Bible of the way that God will operate with men.
The first thing it does is make sure that we understand who and what we are dealing with. “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” There are three unique things here that we should absorb. The first is that the mystery of our election is tied up in the mystery of the Trinity. The son is the only-begotten of the Father. This is the one in whom the soul of the Lord delights – soul here meaning being or essence. The delight of the Lord being with his people has always been tied up with his people being connected to the only-begotten son. And from where does this delight come? The choosing. This one is my chosen. And this chosen has chosen his own. As John says at the start of his gospel, “given the right to become Children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (Jn. 1:13 ESV),” And for what have they been chosen? They are servants of the most high. Now it is the paradoxical nature of this God that he raises up his servants. And the one who is the servant of all now sits at the right hand of God. The church is the servant of Christ, his chosen, and the delight of his eye in an analogous way to the son and the Father.
How is this made known? “I will put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations.” The Spirit was placed upon Jesus in his baptism. There is a long-standing fight between the Western and the Eastern churches over the Nicene Creed. The Eastern one confess that the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. The Wester adds: and the Son. The Spirit placed upon Jesus in His baptism then proceeds from the Son to us in our baptism. He took our baptism, so that we might receive his. Just as Jesus was anointed by the Spirit for his service, we have been anointed by the Spirit for our service. And what is this service? To make known to the nations what the justice of the Lord is.
And all of that brings us to the toughest verses. How is this done? Can we bring this justice to the nations by brute force? What about by the wisdom of the world? “He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.” All of the straightforward ways of power and authority of the world are to be shunned. The gospel proceeds by “left-handed” ways. It is not that the gospel denies truth and justice. No, “he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged.” This is the same God who “created the heavens and stretched them out.” His law stands. But that rule is to be accepted and longed for. “The coastlands wait for his law.” Because Christ will not have the might of the law crush the weak. Christ has chosen us and his election is sure. That “left-handed” way is by faith. The Servant has chosen us and the will of God will not be confounded. Our faith is not in vain. The One who made all things, will make them all new in due time. “Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare.”
God operates with us by telling us exactly what he has done. By giving us His servant “as a covenant for the people.” And all those who have faith in this covenant are the chosen, those in whom the soul of God delights.
Cain and Abel is one of the “Ur-Stories” of the world. Of course the first sibling rivalry ended in murder. You know it’s true. The question for me always was why? And the best answer that I can understand from the text is family expectation. Mom had expectations of Cain, that were not on Abel. This sermon spells out that case. It cleans up what I think is a “preacher story” about the difference in the offerings. Some preacher stories are made up to help the cause, but this one I think hurts it. And then it looks at how families are things of grace, and how our brother – Jesus – is the best brother’s keeper we could hope for.
This text used to be a standard wedding text. It is also one of the texts that people use in a certain way that gets under the skin of a certain type of minister – bringing up the mid-wit meme. For my money, Ruth is the best book in all of scripture to really get the gospel. This sermon using that mid-wit meme as a start, attempts to see how Christ is in Ruth, and in so far as our marriages are icons or images or Christ and the church, Ruth’s pledge of faith is exactly right for a wedding.
Biblical Text: Mark 7:14-23, Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Both of these texts are holding up the law. Moses encouraging Israel about to cross the Jordan to remember it, to keep and do it. And the Jesus describing the natural state of our hearts in regard to the law. Out of the heart come all evil thing. But in each case the law serves a specific purpose. It isn’t salvific – it doesn’t have the power to save. Neither is the point purely to damn us. The point is to hold before us the love of God, to point us to the gospel. And it is that love of God held before our eyes that keeps it in the heart – that give us a clean heart and renewed spirit.
This sermon is slightly longer than I normally go, which yes, I realized that means nobody will listen. Way to lead with the glass jaw parson. But more seriously, I think I use the extra 10 mins or so for good effect. I promise you that this is not the typical sermon you will hear on Sunday. In short it is a defense of the law. It is an encouragement to holiness. But Christian holiness should not be something based in fear, because the law has lost its sting. Give it a listen.
Law and Gospel is a beloved Lutheran theological slogan. For my money though it has moved from being something that is life changing to being a doctrinal formulation that is barely understood. And part of the problem is how it has been preached and used for the past 50 years or so. It has been used not as law AND gospel, but law and gospel have been set contrary to each other. That is both an abuse of the law, expecting from it what it can’t do, and a misreading of the gospel.
This sermon is my attempt to move law and gospel from a dead doctrine to a life changing reality.
The text as I read it has two clear parts. There is the introductory part which is the crucible around the man with dropsy. This part to me carries the full gospel – Jesus embraces sinners, heals us and releases us in peace. The second part is the parable or the parables. But these stories are not the cute little tales of fathers and sons or sheep and shepherds. These parables are less invitations to understand the goodness of the Father and are more warnings or wisdom sayings. (Hence the OT reading being from Proverbs.) They invite us not to ponder who God is, because Jesus has already demonstrated that clearly and completely in his action. Instead they invite us to consider how do we live having seen the revelation?
The world seat people, chooses honors and awards, in a certain order by its rules. Jesus knows this and gives that order the side eye. The warning is that we should know this as well. How the Father honors is different. How eternity with order itself is different. And if we are made for eternity, we should be acting that way today. As another parable puts it we should be using today’s mammon to be welcomed into eternal dwellings. If we eat up all our providence today, claiming the great seats now, when that day comes the shame will be known to all.
This might be the first sermon I’ve written that I think needs a soundtrack. If we were a big megachurch, I’m sure it could have been a multimedia presentation, but that is not us. We just depend on the spoke Word and the hymnbook. The Word this day is one of the mot plaintive passages in scripture – “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I longed to gather you…”. The passage is a dance between the necessity of the path that Jesus walks, and the desire of love. And a certain type of pop song, one not made much these days I think, hits all the right chords. The sermon explores those songs and their feelings, and how that represents the weakness and risk of the gospel – a God who ain’t too proud to beg. Who longs to hold you again.
We continue reading the sermon on the mount today. The Sermon starts with a very quick recap of the past two weeks before turning to the text. At a very basic level Jesus re-ups the 10 Commandments as part of the law that not a jot of tittle will disappear from. While this section of the Sermon on the Mount could be used as case law, Jesus’ purpose is really beyond just looking references. Instead what he is doing is demonstrating what we tend to do with the law, and telling us what we should be doing with it. We tend to look for an easy way to externally keep the law. We want the recognition for keeping it without the actual work (virtue signaling). What Jesus says back is that the external matters little, what he desires is that we attempt to keep the spirit, the internalized law. The real definition of privilege as that term is used today is the extent to which we can claim to keep the law while relaxing its claims on us individually. Part of keeping the law inwardly, is being willing to be scandalized over our own behavior. Hearts of flesh contrary to hearts of stone are able to feel the effects of sin, know where it leads, and be willing to make personal changes and sacrifices to avoid scandalizing our hearts, and not just to avoid scandalizing the neighbors.
Worship Notes: I have left in one of my favorite hymns, LSB 716, I Walk in Danger All the Way. This is the opening hymn of my funeral right now. The text and the tune mesh together perfectly. It is the rare example of the slow burn hymn. The open verse states a true problem, and things get worse from there, but there is no immediate delivery or magic as so often happens. It doesn’t deny the reality of this world, but it develops over the last three verses our solid hope both here and for eternity. Powerful text if you let yourself hear. The second item is that you might hear a missing note. Our organ decided to drop a note this morning. Providentially, we have a new organ on the way.
Actually hearing Jesus is tough. What I mean by that isn’t that listening is tough, but that what he is attempting to teach is just so foreign to both our natural ways of thinking and our learned ways. The text today in the context of the the Gospel according to Luke is actually a non-confrontational part. Things should be low key, but Jesus’ teaching might be at its most extreme. And that is part of the mystery of faith and its danger. Wisdom rightly would tell us to avoid the extremes, except when the extreme is what is true. That is the mystery of Jesus. He is extreme, but he is true.
This sermon develops that theme. It suggests that this mystery is grounded in the two natures of Christ. And it suggests that our experience of of being bound either to sin or to Christ is also an expression of this mystery. We so want to be in the middle, in the mean, but truth is at the edges. If you listen I hope it inspires some good contemplation, a hearing of Jesus. And at hearing an attempt not to settle for the mean, but to live the tension of Christian extreme.
I did not include any of the hymns today primarily because the recording quality wasn’t quite there. Hymns are so much better live. (Sermons too for that matter.) So please, take this as an invite to come next Sunday. Blessings.