Good Omens

Biblical Text: Job 38:4-18

There are two amazing things about Job. The first one is that it unapologetically holds that God owes us nothing. You can go so far as to hold with Job himself, “the LORD gives and the LORD takes, blessed be the name of the LORD.” If it comes from God, we owe him praise, whatever it is. The second amazing thing is that God allows himself to be called as a witness. He is not mute in his glory. This sermon is a pondering of a God who offers a justification for himself without ever abandoning the fact that He owes us nothing.

Out of the Heart…

Biblical Texts: John 7:37-39, Proverbs 2:6-7, Romans 1:16, Psalm 103:17-18

The day was the Feast of Pentecost. That is supposedly the feast that Jesus is speaking out at in the John text. And the first part of this sermon addresses that. The day here at Mt. Zion was also Confirmation. Confirmation is the completion of typically a two year cycle of study of the Luther’s Small Catechism. We throw in a few practical bits as well, like a “how to build a prayer life” and “comparative world religions,” but most of it is knowing the basics of the faith as taught in the Catechism. It ends with a confirmation of the faith of their baptism. One of the traditions of confirmation is usually a specific confirmation verse. It is chosen in a variety of ways by different congregations, but I’m a tyrant. I choose it for all of them. I also try and through it to give them the blessing of a Spiritual Father. The second part of this sermon is those blessings.

(A personal note. I’ve now confirmed my three living children. I went back through my files and gave my older two the verses chosen for them and gave them that personal blessing again. Something like that is the purpose of this. It is something that can be revisited multiple times.)

The Only Real Motivation is Love

Text: Christian Questions & Their Answers 17-18

The first three groupings of questions asked the who, what, when, where and how type questions. The stuff that can be mostly intellectual. These questions ask the why? What motivates Jesus/You? Why? For me this is probably the center of any self-examination. There are all kinds of reasons. But the only valid one is love. But even within the realm of love one has to question is love properly aimed. Lots of things are done for the love of money. These questions help us both understand the proper aim of love – The Father – and how The Father’s love encompasses us through the Son.

What is Love?

Biblical Text: John 3:1-17

The Gospel text is the full text in which “the gospel in a nutshell” is found. Which usually means a springboard into some gaseous ramble about love. Now I’m crazy. The less concrete a word is, the more I hate it. And you don’t get less concrete today than love. This sermon is about say “What is love.” Which is pointing at the cross. You want to know love, look at the cross. That is a concrete as it gets. God works in his way – “The Spirit blows where it wills” – and “the son lifted up is His way.”

A Christmas Season

“Love sought is good, but given unsought better.” – Olivia, Act 3, Scene 1, Twelfth Night

That line is from Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, otherwise known as Epiphany. You might have been forced to read it usually as a sophomore.  The play has two themes that play on Epiphany.  The first is wisdom and foolishness, or what is wise and what is foolish.  The second – like most of Shakespeare’s comedies – is about the true nature of love.  Olivia thinks she is being wise playing a “courtly love” game which ends with her foolishness of falling in love with a woman dressed as a man.  And it is all played as a farce. Shakespeare’s comedies have all kinds of troubles today.

I guess I blame Reformed Protestantism.  If you followed Calvin or Zwingli, they more or less ditched the church year.  Every Sunday was the Lord’s Day.  Elevating any day as a Holy Day was Judaizing (using Paul’s term from Galatians.) And while they have a point, every Sunday is a little Easter, life is not quite that flat.  Romans 14: 5-6 should have solved that.  But the United States was largely a Reformed Protestant project, so we get Christmas Day and grudgingly Easter (although that is disappearing into Spring Breaks not always around Holy Week), but we’ve lost the seasons.

The season of Christmas is twelve days, Dec 25th – Jan 5th.  The carol The Twelve Days of Christmas is an echo of that.  It might also be a Roman Catholic crypto-polemic against the Reformed erasing.  And the entire 12 days were often something of boozy hazy time ending with a big party on Twelfth Night when gifts were exchanged.  After all, it was the coming of the Magi that brought the gifts.  Hispanic Cultures still maintain a bit of this as Tres Reyes.  The Protestant Work ethic couldn’t imagine 12 boozy days, so we pack up the tree the day after.

But that’s enough dissembling, or maybe I’m just in a Christmas Season mood and can’t think straight. Olivia’s middle of the play statement captures something about the Christ child and the love of God.  It is good that we love God.  For God has sought our love.  But the better is that he has loved us unsought. When we were lost in darkness, God sent His light.  Whether that light is the fuller light of prophetic revelation, like “out of Egypt I have called my son” which ties the entire story of Israel to this Israel reduced to one, or a light given in a star to a bunch of foolish astrologers, God sought us out wise and foolish, while were all in the dark.  He gave us His love unsought.  When we were still sinners, Christ loved us.

The church built in a season, and then a fuller Epiphany season, to absorb the immensity of that truth.  She can proclaim the reality in an hour.  Your head can hear the message.  But the heart doesn’t always work on the same timetable. And lots of wisdom and foolishness happens as love moves from head to heart.

A Great and Mighty Wonder

Biblical Text: Hebrews 1:1-12

The assigned reading for Christmas Day from Hebrews is an interesting one. It is the start of an argument why Jesus is greater than the angels. The background of the argument is that angels took on an outsized role in the popular piety of the intertestamental period. You could almost say that the angels had been turned into idols. The writer of Hebrews was concerned to make an argument to compare the surpassing worth of the Son to the angels. It is an argument for the right ordering of our loves and right worship. The sermon attempts to get us to contemplate what we have placed where the 1st century Jews had placed angels. And how we worship aright.

Behold and Rejoice

Biblical Text: Zephaniah 3:14-20

The third week of Advent is often labeled Gaudete, Latin for Rejoice! It’s a command word. But commanding someone to rejoice is a non-starter. True Joy is pulled out of us. It is the natural reaction of the loved seeing the lover. This sermon reflects on these themes and how God coming from outside of us brings for that Rejoicing.

A New Hope

Biblical Text: Isaiah 2:1-5, (Romans 13: 8-14)

It is the first Sunday in Advent, the church new year. Advent is a season set aside to prepare for Christmas. Like the secular New Year that looks backwards and forwards, Advent as a season looks at the past and then toward the future. At least for me its overriding theme is about Hope. The Bible is a book grounded in our human reality. If you think GRR Martin is salacious, read the Bible. Although the players in that Game of Thrones have reasonable motivations behind actions. In the bible the motivations are as often as not that we are just sinners and like sinning. And that we are all in this Empire of Sin. Advent is about the hope, the rebellion of the Kingdom against that Empire. The downfall, already accomplished and yet to come, of the tyrant and the coming of the Reign of Justice and Peace which is founded on love. Things are broken, but there is a New Hope.

Maundy Thursday

Biblical Text: John 13:1-20, 31-35

Maundy Thursday, at least when I do it, is usually about the institution of the Lord’s Supper. This is still that, but this year I picked the alternate text. This text is the foot washing from the Gospel according to John. It is a more challenging text, but worth it from a Law and Gospel meditation. Because both are in this. And I’d bet that we miss it normally.

Measure by Measure

Biblical Text: Luke 6:27-38

The text is part two of “The Sermon on the Plain”, Luke version of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. And what this sermon (and last week’s) encourage is what seems to be a specific audience shift in the way Luke presents it. The Sermon on the Plain is to the disciples, or this week specifically to “those who hear.” It may sound strange coming from a Lutheran, but the Law is Good. The Law does have a place in the Christian Life. The deeper question is how does one take that law? And that is what I think Jesus is getting at in Luke’s version. This is the 3rd Use of the Law version of the sermon. And that rule is the rule of grace. The golden rule is to act today, toward your enemies, toward those who won’t pay you back, as the Father and the Son have acted toward us. Do so understanding that you probably don’t get paid back in this world. Which is fine, because as a disciple of Jesus, you are living out of the eternal measure of God.