Render to Caesar

Biblical Text: Matthew 22:15-22

“Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s” is one of the most quoted saying of Jesus. But I’m convinced that 99.9% of the time it is quoted, we quote it terribly wrong. We use it to let ourselves off the hook on our duty. That is the essence of the trap they were laying for Jesus. Which side of this divide are you on Jesus? And whichever side he is “on” he’d lose the crowd from the other side. They marveled at his answer. Not because it was simply a rhetorical masterpiece of weaving between two poles. We hear politicians daily attempt that, maybe monthly do it successfully. But those are always like the apocryphal saying of Barack Obama – “my superpower is that people hear what they want to in my words.” When Jesus said this what they marveled at was how it convicted everyone. Jesus isn’t on any of their sides. He’s the King of the Reign of Heaven. This sermon attempts to restore some of the marvel of that saying.

Lord and Christ

Peter’s Pentecost sermon – which a portion of it is our first reading today, the full sermon is in Acts 2:14-41 – is worth pondering deeper.

What gives Peter the opportunity to preach?  Something has happened.  We know from reading the story that what was happening is the Holy Spirit has come, but nobody else understands that.  In fact everyone else, all good Jews who have gathered in Jerusalem for one of the travel holidays, think that what has happened is something scandalous and embarrassing.  Peter and the disciples are drunk at 9 AM. The modern environment of the church can be described as being surrounded by good Jews to the extent that Americans right now seem to be in a moralistic and judgmental mood. There are unwritten rules of society that gets enforced in quite extreme ways. You can find yourself canceled.  And what the church has to say on many things is scandalous and embarrassing. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told those disciples this before the passion.  “And when [The Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness and judgement. (John 16:8).”  It is the work of the Holy Spirit in what from the world’s perspective are scandalous things that is the opportunity to proclaim the good news.

How does Peter’s sermon start? He grounds his proclamation firmly in the prior works and words of God. Peter quotes a long passage from the prophet Joel, an apocalyptic passage.  What do I mean by apocalyptic? I mean in the simplest definition of that word, a revelation. God has revealed himself. Any time God reveals himself is in an apocalypse. And there are all kinds of apocalypses.  There are personal revelations.  When the sinner is convicted of their sin, it is an apocalypse. All the way up to the final apocalypse, when every knee shall bow at the revelation of Jesus Christ in all his glory. When the man comes around.  The church’s message is always grounded in the self-revelation of God.

What particular revelation is Peter bringing before his audience?  “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know.” The greatest of these signs is his crucifixion and resurrection. You killed him, but God raised him up.  Whatever prior revelation you are holding onto.  In the case of those Jews Peter assumes it is the Davidic promises.  We all might have revelations that we are holding onto.  Like Peter himself wanting to build booths on the mount of transfiguration. These are all insignificant compared to the bare facts of the passion and resurrection. “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that the Father has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

That proclamation is both law and gospel. It is law to the extent that I and my sin crucified him. To the extent that I want to keep my revelation about him, it is a judgement. But it is also the sweetest gospel.  This Jesus whom we know is Lord and Christ. The Lord is not Caesar or any other tyrant, but Jesus.  The Messiah, the one we have been looking for, is not some political personage or charismatic movement, but Jesus.  This Jesus whom we crucified, but who prayed for our forgiveness.  Being convicted of sin is also being convicted of righteousness.  My sin killed him, but His Grace has given me his righteousness.

Being convicted the crowd asks, “what shall we do?” Peter’s simple answer is “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus.  Receive the Holy Spirit.” This revelation is not just for some Jews.  This revelation is for you and for your Children.  This revelation is for all who are far off whom God is calling to himself.

Peter’s sermon has new relevance in our world. The church scandalizes the world. But the church is still a revelation.  It reveals to the world its sin, its righteousness and its judgement. It places before the world Jesus Christ.  Here is your Hope and Salvation.

Pastor’s Circuit Sermon

Biblical Texts: Psalm 34, Genesis 7:23-8:12, Mark 3:20-35

The pastors of LCMS circuits typically get together monthly. Part of that is time in worship. The host is the preacher. It was my turn to host this month. In one way this sermon is a continued meditation on the texts from last Sunday. But that is really just the starting point. The texts I chose are the Lutheran Service Book’s daily lectionary texts. I don’t often post occasional sermons (funerals, weddings, winkels) because the audience is so specific. But this one is different that most of my sermons. In most of my sermons I try for a very specific point or doctrinal teaching. If I’ve got 15 mins a week (month, quarter, year) to preach to people I’m going with the necessary core. But with the gathered pastors, I risked a bit of a contemplative devotional sermon. I really like this sermon, but I also feel like it just missed something much more worthy. And I can’t think what that is. It will haunt me for a while. (Sorry, no audio.)

From Heaven Above (A Shepherds and Angels Children’s Pageant)

Today was our Children’s Pageant. The pageant this year was built around the hymn “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”. That is LSB 358 is you would like to see all 15 verse by Luther. The recording here is my homily introducing the kids followed by the children’s songs and sayings. The photos are parson’s wife’s as I didn’t get a chance this year (thank you!). They did an outstanding job. Lend and ear and a voice if you would like to sing along.

Lord, Son of David

Biblical Text: Matthew 15:21-28
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the Canaanite woman’s request. In a week of Nazis and violence it would have been harder to pick a better text. The sermon explores the relationship between Christ and Tribe or between Christ and all the various things that we base our identity on. The text, with its blunt sayings, allows us to work in two direction. The woman’s repeated title of choice is “Lord”. Jesus’ responses to the disciples and then the woman allow us to understand just who this Lord is. He is not OUR lord, the Lord of created to back up our preferred identities, but He is THE Lord. The Lord is also the Son of David. Salvation comes from the Jews. It is that joint truth that is a God large enough to save, but particular enough to be human. I believe that in such a week this sermon offers both truth and hope.

I don’t address it in the sermon, because it is a speculative or allegorical reading, but it is a reading that captures this religious imagination. This anonymous woman has been called the mother of the gentile church. The woman’s request is for the healing or exorcism of the her daughter. The woman herself as a Canaanite from Tyre and Sidon stands in for the entirety of the Gentiles. In the OT time period the nations were given over to the idols. The woman’s request is to drive the demons or those idols from her daughter – the church growing. At that allegorical level where characters are not just themselves but stand for larger entities or truths, the request is to make the gentile church clean. Even more so, admitting being “dogs”, being outside the old covenant, to still share in the new. Does the Christian have to become a Jew first, the question of Acts 15, is addressed allegorically here. The Canaanite woman’s faith in the abundance of the Lord Son of David, that the lost sheep of Israel includes Canaanites, spurs Jesus to grant the request. Hence the mother of the gentile church. Not provable in a modern way, but it rings a lot of poetic images.

Great Prophet or LORD


Text: Luke 7:11-17
Full Sermon Draft

It was an full day at St. Mark yesterday – a baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and a resurrection text. You don’t get a better set up as a preacher than than. And it is one of those rare days that I was content. Oh, I could deliver it better. I’m sure there would have been words here and there I might change. But compared to most Sundays, I felt like this discharged the call of the office.

The hymns also supported the theme beautifully. The baptismal hymn was Gerhart’s great catechism hymn All Christians Who Have Been Baptized (LSB 596). The hymn of the day was the newer (i.e. since 2000) Water, Blood and Spirit Crying (LSB 597). Unfortunately neither of them have the texts in the public domain to link to. I have included in the recording our closing hymn Thanks to Thee, O Christ, Victorious (LSB 548). It is a hymn that ponders what had happened, and forms a very nice closing prayer for that service.

To the Other Side


Biblical Text: Mark 4:35-41
Full Sermon Draft

The text is Jesus stilling the wind and the waves. What this sermon does is first examine the language or the story itself. It then based on that language look at two different points of the text. The first point is Christological, “who is this one?” This is the original meaning of the text, but there is a second more metaphorical meaning long read devotionally by the church. Not only is this one The Lord, but he is the The Lord with us in the midst of storm and tempest. The sermon attempts to present both.

It is bolstered by the included Hymn of the Day – “Jesus Savior Pilot Me” – LSB 715.

Christmas Eve – The Angelic Pronouncement

The Angelic Pronouncement
Text: Luke 2:10
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luk 2:10 ESV)
The people…which people? I hate to be a grammar scold on Christmas Eve – that’s like being the parent who gets to give the socks and underwear.
But it is not all the peoples. The angels’ pronouncement is not a multi-culturalist parade, at least not in a Disney, it’s a small world after-all, way. It is not all people – the angel choirs cannot be claimed to be universalists. The angel pronouncement is specific – the people. “Fear not and pay attention – I bring you good news of great joy – for all the people.” Who gets the good news? Who gets the joy?
To understand that requires looking at what the claim of Christmas is – what is the angels’ pronouncement?
Today, to you, has been born a Savior. This baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger is Christ the Lord.
Everything – of heaven and earth, visible and invisible – everything came about through this infant. In the beginning was the Word…through Him all things were made. This babe is the Lord.
Caesar is not the Lord. Great Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census. And he had his purposes. His coffers needed funds. Support needed to be assured. The Cult of the Ceasar needed to be spread. But the Lord used Caesar to take the Holy Family to Bethlehem.
The regional ruler is not the Lord. Quirinius was governor of Syria and he carried out the census. The apparatus of the state – the smaller lord fulfilled their function – to bring the Lord to the town of prophesy.
The local ruler is not the Lord. Herod – “the great” – sought the child to kill it. One less Chirst. But the child escaped to Egypt – to be called out like Israel of Long ago.
The wise men of the age are not the lord. They saw the star and followed it. Giving homage to the new born king.
Even the heavens bowed down. That star rested over the spot where he lay. The heaven’s knew their Lord.
The creator of the stars of night – the Lord of everything – wrapped in cloths lying in a manger. The Lord chose the humble.
He was born of a virgin. Mary, 12 – 14, not yet wed, but pregnant. Trekking across the Judean countryside at the orders of gentiles, and taking up residence in the place of the animals. The Lord – not in the palace – but with the poor and oppressed.
He was announced to shepherds. There was no court waiting to greet him. No joyous celebration among men at the birth of a prince. No tables laden with food or games given to celebrate the day. Heralds were not sent throughout the land to the noble and grand. There were shepherds watching their flocks at night. And the angels appeared to them.
It’s no wonder that “he was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.”
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
The good news, the gospel, is that Jesus is Lord. Not any of those people that claim the title, but the humble infant. He came to the poor, the humble, the needy. He came in the midst of squalor. He came under oppression. He came under shame. He came to us. He came to sinners. The Lord of all chose to become incarnate amongst sinners. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. He came to us not as a conquering, vanquishing and damning Lord…but as Savior. His glory was not the glory of men and all those false lords. His glory is full of grace and truth.
No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found. He rules the world with truth and grace. He makes the nations prove, glories of His righteousness and the wonders of his love. The lords of this world demand tribute. The Lord comes with grace and love.
Behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people?
Which people? You. You who hear the proclamation of the Angels and take it to heart.
Jesus – this humble baby, born of the Virgin Mary – is the Lord. He sits on the eternal throne of His Father David. His reign will never end.
This light shines in the darkness.
All the people – receive it.
All the people – The Children of God – you Children of God – born not of natural descent but from God.
Receive the joy prepared for you this night.
O come all ye faithful. Come and behold him, born, the King of Angels. Amen.

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.