The text is the Parable of the Sower and the Soils. You probably know it. To me the two poles of any sermon are proclamation and catechesis. Proclamation is proclaiming something true for you like: Jesus died and rose for you. The rhetoric of proclamation calls forth faith because it is primarily asserted to be true instead of proven. Catechesis is teaching. That is where the faith itself is explained, defended and given examples. Typically proclamation is received as more dynamic while catechesis can be the boring exposition in a movie. You need to know it for the action to make sense, but at least in movies good directors show it; they don’t tell it. Although in preaching there has to be a balance, at least for the every Sunday preacher. This sermon tips a little further to the catechetical than I typically do. And I think that is justified by the purpose of the parables themselves according to Jesus. They are invitations to deeper knowledge and understanding of the kingdom for those who have ears to hear. The sermon ends on the note of proclamation – that you, in your hearing, are those who have been given the secrets of the Kingdom.
I love the Easter story in Matthew. It is just such a living memory. Not that the other Gospel aren’t, but as this sermon starts out, the meaning you attach to a story changes, deepens, layers, over time. The resurrection in Matthew is such an early memory. The meanings haven’t really started to accrue. It’s just bragging, let me tell you what happened. That’s what this sermon attempts to do. Tell the story. Invite you to the meaning slowly.
One of the things that Luther found helpful in his spiritual life was a work he thought was written by Tauler, the Theologia Germanica. It’s a work of medieval mysticism. You might consider it something like “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis. Or even later maybe the “Spiritual Exercises” by Ignatius Loyola. Calvin, being the strictly logical lawyer, rejected it completely. The more radical reformation picked it up and much mischief was done. Those two facts are probably what fed Protestantism’s allergy to even slight mysticism. Of course since it was a Luther favorite, it was eventually banned by the Catholic church in 1612. Although they removed the ban in the 20th century.
I bring that up for two reasons. First, I know that I wouldn’t bring up mysticism inflected things into the pulpit, so in a week that I need three sermons it is safe to use for this article. Second, I do think that a bit of mysticism is healthy for the soul. One of my sources of this is the sayings of the desert fathers. These sayings and honestly their entire lives are just so radically different than ours trying to ponder what they say puts me way out of my comfort zone.
On Easter, pondering the resurrection, I wanted to share a story that strangely enough is repeated in the collection of sayings. The first one by Macarius the Great. He was a monk around 390 AD. The entire movement was inspired just a bit earlier by Anthony the Great. Many men and women born to great families and wealth would give it all up to live in the Egyptian desert. Macarius’ story is of meeting a distraught widow. Her husband had taken a deposit of money on trust and hidden it. But he had died and not disclosed to her where it was. Their children would have been taken in slavery if she could not produce it. Macarius asks where the man was buried and tells her to go home. He proceeds to the tomb and asks the corpse, “Where is it hidden?” The corpse replied. Macarius then tells the man to return to resting until the final resurrection. He tells the widow where it is, and she frees her children.
The second version is about Abba Spyridon. A young girl had been entrusted with a valuable ornament that she hid. But she too died soon after without telling anyone where it was. The depositor came asking for it and pressed the girl’s father. Abba Spyridon went to the girl’s tomb and asked God, “show me, before the time, the resurrection promised her.” His hope was not disappointed as she appeared alive to her father and named the place.
What do I say about these? Well, that is part of what mysticism is about, I don’t exactly know. And it is probably different for you anyway. But this is what I would say. We live in time and are worried about many things. Like where our treasure is buried. The truth is that our treasure is buried with Christ. And Christ is risen. Nothing that we think is lost is truly gone. It is with Christ. Whatever we entrust to him we have for eternity. And that is an eternity that starts today. Do we all have resurrection appearances to us? No. And in our skeptical age I’m not sure we’d see even if we did. But the desert Fathers were open to such things. We are all one in Christ. And Christ is not dead, but lives. He lives to make us free.
This is a Christmas Season sermon. The Christmas season is not something that stops on Dec 25th. It is also not something that came for universal hygge or general comfort. It came for peace on earth, and the world is not going to give that peace without a fight. This is a serious sermon about a serious topic which only finds its resolution is one place, the resurrection.
We are ask “Why?” occasionally. The honest answer from the bible is that God just doesn’t answer “why” that often, at least not in words. He does provide an answer in the cross. But the Old Testament text for the Day from the prophet Habakkuk is one of the places where God stoops to give an answer to “Why?” This sermon is a proclamation of both the question and God’s answer. It might not satisfy all, but I find it a deep well.
Sometimes you feel like you live in a time of Eli. Just to be clear what that means is old, blind, uncaring, casually cruel, dismissive of almost everything as beyond your ability to do anything or even care. Like Ezekiel staring a valley of dry bones – Can these bones live? And it seems pie in the sky to say yes.
Yet this is how God works. He works by death and resurrection. And the form or the means of God’s work is His word. Just when we might think “the lamp of God” has gone out, it hasn’t, and it calls out “Samuel, Samuel”. And if comes and stands in our presence and speaks to us anew.
The renewal of the Christian life always starts with “Speak Lord, for your servant hears.” That is what this sermon ponders.
The text from Isaiah is one of promise, the anointed one (i.e. the messiah, the royal child) is also the sent one (the suffering servant). The anointed one is sent with one purpose, “to proclaim good news to the poor”. What that means is then accomplished through the purposes of his sending. This sermon walks through that promise. That is the good news which deserves the longest time which answers how Christ binds the broken hearted.
But promises always rest on something. You get the promise from Whimpy and you know you will never see that dime tomorrow. The promises of the messiah rest upon the Character of God who “loves justice…and has made an everlasting covenant.” And attached to this promise and the reassertion of the character of God are a couple of proof points. Israel shall be known by the nations and Israel shall be known as blessed of God. We spend a bit thinking about the promises to physical Israel, and also spiritual Israel, and how these are proofs for us today.
The final bit of the text is the reply of Israel – praise and exaltation.
Biblical Texts: Acts 17:16-31, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21
I gave myself a bit more freedom today. It is hard to describe exactly what I mean. The best I can do is compare proclamation and application. Proclamation is the announcement of what God has to say to sinners. Application is then the “what shall be do” question. I tend to be much more on the proclamation side. That proclamation includes the law – the 10 commandments. My application tends to be big broad strokes or examples. I hope that the Spirit is working in my listeners to bring the seeds planted to fruitfulness. Today though, I felt compelled to talk a bit more about an application. The proclamation is the resurrection life in Christ. The application is how we as Christians approach suffering and risk of suffering in this world. I think we are taking too many of our cues from the world. And we should change that.
It is probably fading from memory, but in the generation passing there was a favorite hymn by lay people that was most despised by clergy – In the Garden. It is the proto-Jesus as my boyfriend song. But it is one that I’ve often thought there was a challenging and orthodox reworking available in its bones. What it expresses is the presence of Jesus with his people. It is expressing the power of the resurrection. Its verse “he walks with me and talks with me…” is the core of what could be. Because that is the core of this text. All resurrection texts speak to the historical reality of the event. They all also proclaim the power of the resurrection to bring us eternal things. What the Road to Emmaus does is show us how this kingdom comes in weakness. While we can’t see him, Jesus walks with us. For a long time, until our faith is strong enough, he walks with us. The reign of the living Christ is one that comes in weakness. Through preaching and teaching. In Word and Sacrament. Things that accompany us. As we are prepared for the full weight of the resurrection to come to us.
We had a glitch in recording today, so I had to rerecord after the fact, but I can’t rerecord the music. And the Hymn of the Day I think was important. Maybe more important that the sermon. This particular hymn is one I look forward to all year. It is a favorite, and I believe it stands up to the best of all time. In our hymnal – Lutheran Service Book 416 – Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory. The text is by Thomas Troeger. The music is Love’s Light by Amanda Husberg. It is a gorgeous pairing.
Swiftly pass the clouds of glory. Heaven’s voice the dazzling light/Moses and Elijah vanish; Christ alone commands the height/Peter, James and John fall silent, Turning from the summit’s rise/Downward toward the shadowed valley where their Lord has fixed His eyes.
Glimpsed and gone the revelation, they shall gain and keep its truth/Not by building on the mountain any shrine or sacred booth/but by following the savior through the valley to the cross/And by testing faith’s resilience through betrayal, pain and loss
Lord, transfigure our perception with the purest light that shines/And recast our life’s intentions to the shape of Your designs/Till we seek no other glory than what lies past Calvary’s hill/And our living and our dying and our rising by Your will.