The Christian in called to live in two kingdoms at the same time. There are the kingdoms of the law. What we call the state is the typical representative of the Kingdom of the law. And in the Kingdom of the law the primary responsibility is Justice. Because this Kingdom is ruled indirectly by sinful humans (and fallen powers) justice isn’t always perfect, but that its responsibility. Christians also life in the Kingdom of Grace. And how we are called to live is thinking of the Kingdom of Grace as a millennium’s worth of work compared to the law’s as three months. Three months is a lot. Most of us don’t have three months in the bank. Three months is real. And legally we can demand it. But the Christian who wishes to reside in the Kingdom recognizes that those three months are as nothing compared to the 10,000 talents.
This is the way of the cross. The way of grace. Trusting that God’s justice is better than the best we could ever provide.
This text is one that I think has had much harm done to it over the years by overly pious preachers and translators. They promise things that Jesus himself is contradicting. And their promises often make God out to be a monster and a liar. I don’t know if I manage to do it, but I hoped to set it straight. The persistent widow is not a tale about how we should pester God. That oddly feeds into a prosperity gospel trope of “asking consistently and believing”. Instead it is much more specific. What is she asking for? Justice? When does Justice for the Christian happen? At the return of Jesus. Until then we live in the now and not yet. The Kingdom is now ours; it has not yet been fully revealed. Hence we persevere is asking “deliver us from evil”. And we do that because we have faith in the one who promised. Because the Character of God is not one that needs pestering, but one slow to anger and abounding is steadfast love. Persistence in prayer is just outward proof of persistence in faith.
This is a reformation sermon reflecting on the divisions and questions of our day. My central contention is that in Luther’s Day people assumed the Justness of the collective: the unity of the church and her pronouncements, the majesty of the mass and the sacraments, the divine right of Kings and the entire sacred order. And if the society was just, then it should produce righteous members. That was Luther’s conflict. He didn’t see or feel righteous. I think ours is somewhat the inverse. We assume that at least my tribe is righteous. And if we have righteous members, we should be able to build the just society. Both of these quests are quests for righteousness/justice (the same word in the biblical languages) are pursued through the law.
But we hold that no one is justified by works of the law. One is righteous by the blood of Christ given by his grace and received in by faith. The just society is not found or made with human laws or efforts, but is see from a distance – the New Jerusalem. One day we will get there. Now, we do not seek our justice in the law, because we will be forever angry as it slips away. Now, we live by faith. And only if we life by faith are we truly free.
Given the events of Las Vegas, it was a week of horrors. This biblical text is the parable of the wicked tenants which turns on the horrors perpetrated by those tenants. This sermon is a meditation on what we as Christians should discern in horrors. Also what is a Christian response to such horrors. In a search for “why?” that so often ends unsatisfactorily, or ends in too easy answer, the Christian is able to focus on the justice of God. And this justice is good news. I’ve pondered three forms of that justice. 1) Those wicked men will come to a horrible end. We might not be used to this as a good news proclamation, but it is. God is just. 2) That phrase should inspire a holy fear in us, and the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. That wisdom should lead us to repentance and a return to the Lord who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 3) The vineyard will be fruitful. The horrors that we might witness are the groaning’s of the world longing for the revelation of the son’s of God. They are the rage of Satan and those aligned. But the Justice of God will replace them, and the vineyard will produce its fruit.
I have left in our final hymn, LSB 753, All for Christ I Have Forsaken. The melody is the Southern Harmony Restoration which has an interesting minor key feel (give it a listen and you’ll know what I mean). The lyrics are From Calvin Chao, a mid-20th Century Chinese Christian, the chair of the Chinese InterVasity in the WW2 years. He had quite the life as a missionary. Here is an old article on his wife I unearthed. You can get the feel for the source of the powerful words.
Biblical Text: Mark 14:1-11, Mark 14:53-65, Mark 15:1-15, Mark 15:25-37 Full Sermon Draft
The appointed texts for Palm Sunday have morphed into The Sunday of the Passion. The introduction to the passion story in Mark is the story of the woman who breaks an alabaster jar and anoints Jesus with perfume worth a year’s wages. This sermon uses that as the main text with the two trials of Jesus as the supporting texts. Its focus is upon the human fascination with Justice and what these trials have to tell us about our justice. The woman’s beautiful act or good work marks Jesus response to our calls and his alternative. We can always do justice. What we have we can do. But calls for justice miss the instruction of the passion of Jesus. The better path is mercy – sweet, pure and costly.
Musical Note: The season of Lent to me has the best Hymnody (which I know could just be because of the inherent drama), and it really ends on Palm Sunday which has a huge stable of great songs. All Glory, Laud and Honor and Ride on, Ride on in Majesty are two of them. What I left in the recording here is a modern hymn that is climbing my personal favorites – No Tramp of Soldiers Marching Feet (LSB 444). Many of the Palm Sunday Hymns reflect the irony of the triumphal entry being followed by the passion, but this hymn makes that its central theme. In the service it makes the perfect transition hymn from the festivity of the Palm Procession to the Passion Readings.
That title is Peter’s question that leads to the aphorism: the first will be last and the last first, and the parable of the vineyard. This sermon looks at in sequence:
a) the literal facts of the parable, that God provides our daily bread
b) what it reveals to us about God, that He is never less than just, but full of surprising grace
c) a moral teaching, that comparisons within the vineyard are dangerous and instead we keep our eyes on Christ
d) the end times hope, that in the regeneration/new world the heat of the day of the vineyard gives way to pure light.
The sermon text was Luke 18:1-8, but if you want the very important context you need to read Luke 17:20 – 18:8.
The Pharisees ask when. When is the Kingdom coming? The disciples ask where literally, but are really asking who, who is in the kingdom? Jesus responds now and you. The kingdom is within you. (Luke 17:21) The real question is how. How does that one to whom the Kingdom has come act? They act like this widow.
This widow is under an unrighteous judge. She has no reason to expect justice, but still she pursues it. We as residents of the kingdom in this unrighteous world have no reason to expect justice here and now, but still we work for it. We work for it here, because we know the perfect is coming.
This sermon was a little longer, and I’m pretty sure that reading it isn’t the same as hearing it. My proof reader, my sainted mother, thought it was nuts. She just didn’t get it. Then I preached it over the phone. And she liked it much better. A reminder that the Word of God is primarily oral. The Word comes by hearing. It also makes a difference that we as a congregation had a baptism. Reading this you would not see or be part of that. And Baptism is an important visible sign of the kingdom and part of the How answer.
The word Justice can bring forth two completely different responses. It can bring a law response. That repsonse ranges from the “I’ll get you” attitude of Herodias to the “what must I do to be saved” response. Either you accept the law proclamation’s validity and need to repent, or you deny that it applies along a scale of response. Justice is also a gospel proclamation. In a time of poor government and corrupt leadership, justice is a gospel proclamation to those under the rod. Those with the rod in their hand will get their due and justice will be established in the land. We can never expect full justice in this creation, but we are even now being re-created in Christ. That new creation will be ruled in justice. Of course, since we have the down payment of that new creation, the Holy Spirit, we have the responsibility to govern ourselves and those entrusted to us in justice.
This sermon is easily open to claims of being preached to the wrong audience. Those who are called to the carpet or mocked were not in the room. In that sense there was not a valid law proclamation before the gospel. But in a democracy we bear some burden for our own rulers. We picked them and continue to pick them. In that sense our quietism, our not wanting to get involved, is the sin. The gospel is that we have a king whose rule is justice, and today is the day of grace. That King has risen and will reign forever, but today is given for grace. Repent an rule your life and those entrusted to you in justice.