The Keys of Grace

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Biblical Text: Matthew 18:1-20
Full Sermon Draft

Jesus’ predictions of His passion each elicit responses by the disciples. Those response are often quite telling. They highlight some false idea which the disciples are clinging to. But there is something else that swirls around the first two – Jesus offering what the church calls the Keys. What you bind is bound and what you loose is loosed. The first offer of the Keys leads to the passion prediction which Peter responds roughly “not going to happen”. In this second passion prediction Peter doesn’t directly confront Jesus, but in this sermon’s conceit starts succession planning. The sermon of Jesus that follows talks about what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like which is nothing to start succession planning over. Instead of leading with the offer, Jesus ends with the offer of the Keys. His followers will be humble or childlike or little enough to not demand the law or their due with each other. The church instead is based on confession and absolution. The church is based on offering and receiving grace.

Fake and Real

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Biblical Text: Matthew 11:25-30, Romans 7:14-25
Full Sermon Draft

I guess this is the cliche/classic “what I did on my vacation” sermon. It centers around the contrast between father and son and the son’s surprising statement that re-centers the entire experience between fake and real, between (pseudo-) law and grace.

A Political Act

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Biblical Text: Matt 21:1-11
Full Sermon Text

The text for the first Sunday in Advent always seems a little off. There is an alternate to the Palm Sunday Triumphant entry, so I had to check if that was because this was a change in the appointed readings that went along with changing Palm Sunday proper to Sunday of the Passion. But that is not the case. I guess someone else just had the same odd feeling that you don’t expect to show up in Advent and hear Palm Sunday.

But the text actually establishes the time. Jesus is committing a political act declaring himself a king. But not like any King the world would recognize. Neither the Galileans marching him in, nor the residents of Jerusalem, as Matthew makes clear, understand. Both want a messiah of their own making. Not this messiah who comes humbly. Not this messiah who stops to give sight to the blind. Not this messiah who is willing to suffer violence instead of inflicting it.

Nothing has really changed. We still want Jesus in our image. But thankfully we don’t get that. We get a King who comes right now in grace. To those with eyes that have been opened, this kingdom calls us to be its witnesses and its hands. One day this Kingdom will come in glory, but right now, it comes humbly. Through flesh and blood, through word and sacrament.

Happy Thanksgiving

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Here is the message from last night’s service – Collecting the Broken Pieces.

Text: Mark 8:1-9
Introduction

As I looked at the forecast on Monday, one of our staple prayers – “for seasonable weather” – came to mind. And it struck me being a very Christian prayer. It is not for Florida weather in New York, or for Fall weather to continue through Winter. It is for God’s good creation to continue to be good. Lord, for seasonable weather…for things to be as you made them to be.

Trouble in the World

Living in a fallen World – if we aren’t in denial about that fact, if we are at all sensitive to those daily and hourly cracks in creation where it is not as God made it – can sometimes pull us into a spiritual ditch. We can look at the accumulation of cracks in creation and say what a mess. How can God let this continue?
Trouble in the Text

And I think that is part of what the disciples are experiencing in the text we chose. In Mark, there are two mass feeding stories. Jesus has already fed the 5000, not too long ago. Our reading is the second, the feeding of the 4000. The audience is different. The 5000 was a Jewish context. This one is gentile with probably some Samaritans layered in.

To good Jewish boys, like the disciples, they had to be wondering – what is our messiah doing out here. Out here is the problem. Out here is nothing. “How can one feed these people, with bread, here in this desolate place?”
Looking at the cracked world can make one imaging our God is a God of scarcity. It can make us forget the abundance of good that this world, even cracked, still maintains.

Gospel in the Text

But Jesus sets them straight in two ways. First, he gives thanks. Seven loaves…he took them and gave thanks…a few small fish…he blessed them. There is a spiritual resonance…he took, and broke and gave it to them…the very word for thanks is eucharist…but he also fed from what was present.

As Luther wrote, “He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink…and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.”

The creation, even cracked, continues with the Father’s goodness and providence…which we rightly give thanks for.
The second way that Jesus sets them straight is in the abundance. The providence and goodness of the Father are not available in small doses parceled out to specific people. The providence and goodness of God the Father is placed freely before all peoples. “He gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and they set them before the crowd…and they ate and were satisfied.”

Again spiritual overtones…God is super abundant in his means of grace. But also something very real. The church comes from all tribes and peoples and languages. The disciples daily set Christ before the nations.
The church daily picks up the pieces of this cracked world. And marvels at the abundance of grace in such broken pieces.

Conclusion

Thanksgiving invites us to see the fundamental goodness of God’s providence that cracks can’t fully obscure, and marvel at how his grace redeems the broken pieces. For things as they are, we give thanks. Amen.

Christ the King whose Throne is the Cross

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Biblical Text: Luke 23:27-43
Full Draft of Sermon

The last Sunday of the Church year (today) is often called Christ the King Sunday. The appointed reading from Luke is the crucifixion. I usually dodge preaching directly on this text. For those who have been around Holy Week at St. Mark’s, Good Friday has been our collective reading of the passion text. We let the gospel preach itself in our midst. If you can’t be moved by the text itself…what am I going to say. I couldn’t dodge it today, but today compared to Good Friday the purpose is slightly different. Good Friday is more about the lens of atonement – the cross as what buys our salvation. Christ the King is about the revelation of the God. When we say Jesus is Lord, what kind of King or Lord do we have. It is that word – King – that the text can tell us about. “There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews’”. It is here, at the place of the skull, we are to see most clearly, to learn the type of King we have.

This sermon looks at the text and application to our knowledge and lives through looking at three pictures that are concluded by memorable phrases of the gospel.
1) For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry.
2) The mocking contrasted with the criminal’s – “remember me when you come into your kingdom”.
3) And Jesus’ words from the cross – “today, you will be with me in paradise.”
So, what what this sermon does is invite you to ponder three pictures or three phrases.

Resurrection Certainty

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Biblical Text: Luke 20:27-40
Full Sermon Draft

The first part of this sermon is a little snarky-er than usual. Sometimes you read something that just makes you want to say “well, what did you come out to see(Luke 7:24)”. Or in most cases it is more akin to desiring to say something like – well, I can’t refute your experience, and a bunch of people are harmonizing with you, but c’mon, grow-up, actually crack a book, or stop beating up on straw-men and turn to the real sources.” Beating up on American Mega-Church culture and feeling burned by what is obviously a 10K gold earring destined to turn your lobes green as if it were Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin or even Wesley shouldn’t be taken seriously.

But we are reaping the 30 years of that culture in the American church, so we have to. 30 years of shininess distracting from the deep wells. 30 years of assuming the gospel. 30 years of emotionalism (what the reformers called enthusiasm). And we have a bad hang-over or have trouble walking a single block, let alone picking up the breastplate of righteousness, because we are so out of shape. So we have to take it seriously. But that makes me snarky.

After getting that out of my system, the answer is the same as always. Ad fontes, returning to the sources, listening to the voice of Jesus. And the first word that needs to be heard is the gospel proclamation of the resurrection. Can these bones live? Absolutely. Because He is the resurrection. This is what Jesus does.

Wrestling with the Promise

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Biblical Text: Genesis 32:22-30
Full Draft of Sermon

This text is one of the strangest in the Bible, but I think it might be one of the most important for churches that baptize babies to understand.

The sermon is a character study on Jacob. You can read the entire story yourself starting in Genesis 25:19ff, but the core of my take away is that Jacob came into the world a child of promise and proceeds to attempt to earn it or escape from it. And he continues in conflict…until he can’t. Alone, in the night, scared he’s losing it all…Jacob prays. And then Jacob wrestles through the night..until he gets his blessing.

The blessing once taken from a blind Father by trickery is granted face to face. The blessing once traded for is accepted freely. The blessing that once came by grasping…is gained by letting go. And the name is changed. Not that those blessings were not true, they just were not claimed. They were not believed. But now, walking with a limp, no longer running. Israel no longer strives in conflict, but rests on the promise.

We baptized a child today. In baptism that child is made an heir of the promise – Just like Jacob. The promise is true. It doesn’t matter what we do because baptism doesn’t depend upon us. But why this text is important, is because we can turn our back on that gift. To learn the lesson of Jacob is wrestle with the promise. To hold onto God and not let go until we have made the grace and the hope ours. The christian life, lived with a Lutheran accent, is about those wrestling matches where we receive as ours what God has already given. Where we learn to live by grace in hope, instead of conflict.

Desiring Mercy and Ripping out the Mulberry Tree

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Biblical Text: Luke 17:1-10
Full Sermon Draft

Most of the commentators on these verses take them as a disconnected jumble of aphorisms. The equivalent of Luke saying, “hey, I’ve got these sayings I’ve got to include somewhere, might as well throw them together here”. Not that this might never happen, but I think that reflects the strengths and weakness of our age. As far as strengths I think due to the scholarship on the last century we know a lot more about how we got the bible we got (and its fundamental reliability) than probably any generation since the death of the apostles. The weaknesses are that to get that information we atomized our understanding and neutered what I’ll call our story imagination. We know a whole lot about trees, and we can’t see the forest.

In 10 verses, as Jesus gets toward the end of the walk to Jerusalem, he turns to the disciples and gives something of a summary of the Christian life. Jesus affirms that divine justice is sure. The stumbling blocks that must come will get their punishment. But that shouldn’t be the disciple’s focus or hope. The disciples watch themselves and live law and gospel or repentance and forgiveness. The disciple’s joy is found in repentance and forgiveness, not in justice.

And this is where I think it takes the story imagination to keep it all together. Disciples of every time and place eventually get to that point where they want justice. The world lives by the Chicago rules – “they put one of yours into the hospital, you put one of theirs into the ground”. Moses brought the law which said an eye for an eye. Jesus is telling the disciples in the Kingdom of God – if the sinner repents when warned – let it go, forgive. If they don’t repent – leave the justice to God. And they reply to Jesus – “increase our faith”. We can’t do that. And Jesus gives one of those mysterious replies about trees being uprooted and planted in the ocean. This is core message from the sermon…this is what I take Jesus answer as. How did that work for you? Following the world’s advice you end up in the kingdom of the dead. Following the law’s advice you end up in the kingdom of the blind. Follow me – and crazy things will happen. Small things loom large, like mustard seeds. Things that are rooted yards deep and immoveable – mulberry trees, bitter hatred, generational grudges…sin…these things will come up and fly away. Imagine if you can…its easy if you try.

The disciple’s heart, the heart that is being made right, desires mercy. Along the way, turning all justice over to God and desiring Mercy, we find those things so deeply rooted in us that we don’t know who we are without them, are pulled up and we are changed. This is the point of the kingdom. This is the basic nature of the kingdom in this world. And if we are disciples, servants of Jesus, we can’t dodge this.

Which Way Out of the Desert

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Full Sermon Draft

Biblical Text: Luke 15:1-10

These are both parables of prodigal grace and repentance. Dogmatically this is one of those areas where you are forced to nod your head yes to a couple of things in contradiction. It is all grace. The shepherd calls and carries home. If so, then why repent? State of grace, oh happy condition, sin as a please and still have remission. But it is grace. Repentance is the first step of the Kingdom. If that is the case, then why do I need grace? I just do the work of repentance. But that requires grace. Aquinas had it all worked out. Unfortunately Aquinas was out of favor intellectually when Luther came around. But that is neither here nor there.

My take is that these texts set in their context are suppose to be funny. They are absurd in a way that illuminates both our lost condition and the prodigal nature of grace. You have to get the joke, you have to accept the premise of grace, for the rest to make sense. But once you accept he premise it is one of those “oh, crap” moments. I was lost, but now I’m found. Grace comes with a hidden imperative. Home is that way. Go joyfully.

Neighborhood Watch

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Biblical Text: Luke 10:25-37
Full Sermon Draft

I am constantly amazed at how the perfect text seems to appear to match external circumstances. What are the odds that the one time in three years that you read the Good Samaritan with its question of “Who is my neighbor?” would appear at exactly the same time as a verdict in a trial of a Neighborhood watch. A trial which is really about answering that question – who is the neighbor?

This is one of those sermons that stands as piece. It is a meditation on the gospel scene of a lawyer and Jesus with our lives woven in between the lines.

Here is the conclusion, but if you’ve got 12 minutes, give the entire thing a read or a listen. I’m pretty sure that none of the 24 hour news commentary has this.

The law can’t do anything about our refusal to see our neighbor. The law leaves a dead 17 year old and a man whose life has been beaten and robbed and left out in the open of the public square. If we insist on the law – what must I do – that is what we get. But Jesus, by being a neighbor to us first, has shown us a better way. A way of grace and mercy. Go and love likewise, as you have first been loved. Amen