The primary text is traditionally called the Temptation of Jesus. It takes place right after his baptism and continues the theme of Israel reduced to one. When Israel fails in the wilderness, Christ succeeds. But, this sermon is about something I think is an important distinction that often gets lost in the modern church. It was important to me to figure out because Luther makes a statement in the Small Catechism that always seemed to fly in the face of reality to me, at least reality if you take the scriptures and the universal experience of the faith as witnesses. And you wish to take ordination vows seriously. Luther says “God tempts no one.” And that honestly felt like this polyanna-ish statement completely foreign to the great man who was always “calling a thing what it is.” So, this sermon attempts to talk about the difference between temptation and testing. And how we can affirm that God tempts no one, even if the answer to that 6th petition of the Lord’s prayer isn’t always positive in the short term. But the will of God is not for this moment alone, but to give you the eternal victory in Christ.
The text is the calling of the first disciples from Matthew’s Gospel, two sets of Brothers – Andrew and Peter, James and John. And right before that calling you have Matthew’s summary of the Preaching of Jesus, at least in the days in Galilee, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” So, the sermon’s main concern is the idea of discipleship. What does it mean to follow Jesus? And a big part of that answer is to learn the meaning of repentance. This particular sermon walks through what I tend to think is the modern church’s biggest problem – worldliness.
I’ve become convinced that the real “crisis” if you want to call it that in American Christianity is the dismissal of the calls of the spiritual life. Even the church seems to have a very utilitarian view of the faith. It “sells” faith as something that will be good for you. It will make you healthier, wealthier and maybe wise. The trouble is that The Faith makes none of those claims. It doesn’t necessarily rule them out, but the norm would be the life of Christ, which is a life of trial. What the Faith does claim is truth. Christ is Lord. He bids us follow him. Hence the real test, do we follow?
This particular sermon was composed to take part in a specific liturgical situation. We had a baptism at the start of service. It was also helped by one of the great hymns of the Faith – I Walk in Danger All the Way (LSB 716).
The text presents us with the basic message of Jesus – “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” – and two ways that this reign of God becomes evident to us. Those two ways are the immediate preaching and miracles of Jesus and his specific calling of the disciples with the promise to make them fishers of men. So this sermon asks us to repent – to change our minds about the order of this world toward Jesus – and to join in discipleship.
Welcome to lent. The season traditionally starts out with the Temptation of Jesus. As the sermon will highlight, the temptation is deeply connected with the story that comes before it, the baptism of Jesus. What both represent are how Jesus has fought the battles we could not win. The Baptism is the start of the defeat of sin. He takes ours, and we get his. The temptation is the defeat of Satan. The resurrection is the defeat of death. We couldn’t win against those great enemies. Jesus, true man and true God, defeated them for us. Then he invites us to follow.
A fun little part of this sermon is using the devil as a witness to the gospel. Imagining that great liar forced into telling the truth was a fun experiment. I don’t know how well it worked, but it was fun to try.
Worship note: I like the Lenten Hymn. The only season that I think has a higher overall quality is Advent which might be because of both the length (shorter) and subject (eschatology). I left in LSB 424, O Christ You Walked the Road, which was our concluding hymn. It borrows the well known tune Southwell, but the text captures the main points of the sermon. Christ has defeated Satan and invites us on the same (lenten) road.
The text is Jesus calling Andrew and Peter and James and John. I probably owe a few former pastors an apology as I use them as a straw man. Those sermons of blessed memory were never as bad as I put in hear. It was probably just my listening. But, the way this text is usually preached never sat well with me. In one stroke it tended to make Jesus unbelievable, ignore everyday discipleship and create lots of holy make work. (Most cries for “relevancy” I think fall into holy make work.) Learning to “walk humbly” is often enough. What this sermon attempts to do is to reimagine the situation that leads to “immediately following” as those disciples do, and to understand what that is. Not as a call to “do something- anything – for Jesus right now”, nor as a “only a religious calling is a true calling”, but to be able to hear the lifelong call as well as the more particular calls.
Worship Note: I’ve left in the hymn of the day, LSB 688, Come Follow me the Savior Spake. You might also notice a slightly different order (although my editing obscures it). Fourth Sundays as Morning Prayer/Matins days which have a massed reading of the lessons.