Cain and Abel is one of the “Ur-Stories” of the world. Of course the first sibling rivalry ended in murder. You know it’s true. The question for me always was why? And the best answer that I can understand from the text is family expectation. Mom had expectations of Cain, that were not on Abel. This sermon spells out that case. It cleans up what I think is a “preacher story” about the difference in the offerings. Some preacher stories are made up to help the cause, but this one I think hurts it. And then it looks at how families are things of grace, and how our brother – Jesus – is the best brother’s keeper we could hope for.
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.
The text, a quick read, is the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. And these are such clear and tender pictures of the grace of the gospel, a preacher might be doing injustice to them by preaching anything but their simplicity. That is my request for a bit of grace at the start. Because that simplicity is there, but I push a little bit beyond that simplicity here. And the reason is that our context has changed. And I think that we as Christians need to change the context in our heads when we hear these parables. We need to be a little wiser in regards to law and gospel and ears to hear. So jumping off of a Luther himself sermon, this sermon looks at just who are the lost sheep, as well as the grumbling Pharisees and Scribes, and the sinners and tax collectors, both those who come to hear Jesus and those who are riotously secure in houses on the sand.
Any fat, dumb and happy preacher (like yours truly) should shy away from preaching on suffering. But that was the essence of the text in front of us. And the Old Testament text basic said don’t chicken out. So, this is my attempt to proclaim the Word in regards to the role of suffering in the world and in the life of the Christian. I believe this to be right and true. I also believe it to be full of hope.
In some ways it is a harmless diversion. But there are other ways that the lottery, especially when it is so big and has persisted at this level, can be straight from the devil. The first part of this sermon is a old fashioned moral inventory – a preparation for confession – based on the fact of the lottery’s effect on this soul. It seemed appropriate given the text based in camels threading they way through needle’s eyes. Since it is not our typical failing it gets the shorter time, but there is the flip side of money troubles, pride in asceticism. Both of the ditches highlight how it is not possible with man. But all things are possible with God.
We all start off as parents with great expectations. It doesn’t take long, and the older they get, to see those expectations give way to more realistic definitions. Instead of forming the next president we take on goals like stopping them from doing stupid stuff, or in Chris Rock’s formulation “keep them off the pole”. We might think this is miles away from Jesus especially in that High Priestly Prayer on the night he was betrayed. But I think we’d be wrong. His formation of his spiritual children, those disciples, was over. And given the fact of what Judas and Peter were about to do we might even say it was a failure. Yet what Jesus prays is akin to every Mother’s prayer – “keep them away from the evil one”. It is not a prayer of formation or heroic desire, but of salvation and preservation.
And while that prayer often gets a “not yet” response, as it did with Jesus himself. It ultimately gets a “yes”. He will not lose a single lamb that has been given to him. On that great day, his children will be kept away from the evil one. And this is because Jesus consecrated himself, dedicated himself to the purpose of saving sinners. While formation as solid adults, prayer for their well being, and all the other higher goals of parenting good and proper. The highest truth of the job is to relay that truth – whoever has the son has life, and wherever we are at however stupid, we can have the son. Teach them that truth and the good shepherd will keep them from the evil one.
I’m always amazed as how well the word cloud captures my feelings about a particular sermon. If I pat myself on the back I hope that is because I managed to say something and say it well. Usually the core point or theme jumps out in the big letters, and the rest of the words fill in the story. Today’s effort was both a little longer than normal, and looking at the word cloud the theme is a little less immediate. It is still there – eternal mercy. And the means are there, running up and down in this picture – faith and Jesus. But the cloud is dense and complex, appropriate for the parable of the sermon text. World and worldly and things pop out. Of all Jesus’ parables, this one is the most of this world. Most of his parables, at least to me, about halfway through Jesus says something that shakes you out of the pastoral or worldly picture and screams this isn’t just a pretty story. But this sounds like a work story – “did I tell you about the time the foreman pulled one on the boss man?” You have to listen to Jesus’ words after the parable, and apply some type of allegorical method to apply. And that is what this sermon does. It invites us to see the parallels between the unjust steward’s temporal position and our eternal position.
For me Jesus tells this story of how a dishonest manager bet his entire future on lowering people’s estimation of his competence and ability while raising the status of his Lord. God work advice. You rarely go wrong betting your career prospects making your captain look good. And we are invited to do the same thing. Bet it all on His mercy approaching him as sinners. That is the core of the gospel message, but Jesus’ words after wants to say more, and it is tough for Protestant ears. The rest of the sermon attempts to challenge us to think of what a life of faith trusting in the mercy of our Lord looks like. If we are betting it all on the blood, what does that mean.
It is a tough parable. (Maybe tougher than the epistle which our world just doesn’t want to hear.) This sermon is my wrestling with it. I’m not sure if it connects, I might be limping a little, but it was a good fight.
I am always amazed as the lectionary’s ability to be a very appropriate text for the day. In a week of horror, the Gospel lesson was the Good Samaritan. There are no easy answers, but all of the answer start right there in contemplating mercy. This sermon attempts to do that in light of the week’s events, and a lawyer who asks “what shall I do?”
Worship planning is consistently one of those spaces where the work of the Spirit is evident. We plan services typically from a couple weeks in advance to a couple of months. We try to do 6-8 every time we meet, and we meet roughly every other month. So when you pick the hymns that far out, you really have no idea what will be happening. But I’ve rarely had a Sunday where the hymns just seemed out of touch. Much more often they are spookily on point. Often to the point of scratching my head: a) how did we pick this one and b) how is it so right. The hymn I left in the recording was the one we sang after the sermon. LSB 844, Where Charity and Love Prevail. The text is from a 9th century Latin work. It was translated and paraphrased circa 1990. The music it is paired with in the Lutheran Service Book is 17th century common meter work originally for the 24th psalm. The composer, Lucius Chapin was a soldier at Ticonderoga and Valley Forge. The hymn is spot on for meditation this week.
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.