Justification from Jonah, sanctification from Peter. Ash Wednesday as something of a yearly reboot of the Christian life. A life which starts in the ashes and proceeds through incorporation into Christ to being part of the divine life.
The text for the day feels like one of those collections of aphorisms. The sermon attempts to place them within the larger gospel narrative. But then spends the majority of time meditating on how the aphorisms “those who are not against us are for us”, “if hand/foot/eye cause you to sin cut them off” and “have salt in yourself” provide a surprisingly robust practical guidance on the problems of division or tribalism. I don’t say easy to live, but understandable with some spine. They are not just a collapse into a limp toleration. Neither are they a simplistic dualism. They are a call to the sanctified life.
This sermon is slightly longer than I normally go, which yes, I realized that means nobody will listen. Way to lead with the glass jaw parson. But more seriously, I think I use the extra 10 mins or so for good effect. I promise you that this is not the typical sermon you will hear on Sunday. In short it is a defense of the law. It is an encouragement to holiness. But Christian holiness should not be something based in fear, because the law has lost its sting. Give it a listen.
We’ve been reading and working our way through the Letter to the Ephesians this summer, and we have come to the core of the back half of a letter of Paul. If you’ve read these enough you know that the back half of Paul’s letters tend to be concrete application. What he was preaching in a rhetorical way in his intro and main points meets actual life. Earlier in the series we identified three main points.
1. The Father through Christ has blessed us with every spiritual gift.
2. We are being built together though the Spirit
3. We are being built with the purpose of showing the rich variety of the wisdom of God
Last week’s sermon looked at the concrete examples for those first two. This sermon starts Paul treatment of the examples of that third point. What does the rich variety of the wisdom of God look like? Paul’s treatment is deeply tied into the 10 commandments and Jesus’ sermon on the Mount. The sermon brings in Luther’s catechism treatment. All of this demonstrating the remarkable consistency of the order or the wisdom of God. The biggest thing that might shock moderns (as it shocked ancients) is that Paul assumes that we can change. When we were Gentiles (i.e. separated from God) it was potentially reasonable to despair of actual change. But we are not Gentile. We have put off that old life and are being renewed in the Spirit. That is Paul’s emphasis. We are being sanctified which is wild in the variety the God bring out of his free people. So, I’d invite you to listen, and to come back for the next couple of weeks. Paul challenges us who have known Christ to imitate him.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
That is one of the most profound and hope filled sentences in all of scripture. And it perfectly captures what it means to live as saints. We are saints now, but not yet saints. This was All Saints Day, so that is why I’m using that world. What this sermon attempts to do is describe the feeling and the facts that make it so. There is a reflection from family life that I think captures it better than everything that follows. But what follows that family picture attempts to follow John’s compact reading through three facts of the Christian life in the now and not yet. The resurrection opens the door which we enter through baptism. We are now God’s children by water and the word. But right now we live by faith. When he appears we will see him as he is, but that is not yet. Now by faith, not yet by sight. The final fact is what baptism and faith set us out on and that is sanctification. “Everyone who hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” The pattern of that is the life of Christ, but as the biblical text continues it is captured in the moral law. Christians do not practice lawlessness, but they practice righteousness.
I didn’t include them on the recording. (If you would like to hear just leave a comment.) But, the hymns today were both some of my favorites and All Saints staples. I didn’t include them because “For All The Saints” (LSB 677) has 8 stanzas. It is great to sing, but our recording isn’t exactly professional. We opened with Jerusalem the Golden (LSB 672. And we closed with Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus (LSB 660). You’ve got a picture of the Church at Rest, a hymn sketch of the Church militant through the church at rest and into the Church Triumphant, and a Church Militant remembrance.
The Gospel of Mark, per the early church, is the memories/sermons/stories of Peter written down around the time of his death. And I tend to think at the close of sections, like today’s text, you can see just the way memory works. The big story about a point is told, but there are a bunch of smaller sayings and stories that rush into the mind afterward. Those other stories and sayings are important, you can’t imagine the full story without them, but they are footnotes or modifiers on the larger points. After being put in their place about status positions this text modifies just how disciples are to walk with each other. The main modification is an acceptance that the Kingdom is something larger that one tribe or expression of it. But that modifier deserves a second, a don’t let your brains fall out. While you can find joy in an expression of the Kingdom that isn’t yours, the church still has boundaries. Those boundaries involve sin and truth. The church is a community of truth and as such is calls out sin. It doesn’t just accept it as a different expression of church. And the teachers of the church have a scary role in that that could end in millstones and deep water.
The sermon attempts to have an artistic flair. Parts of a one man show, the remembrances of Peter. And those remembrances are brought forward in application to our situation. I’ve succeeded if you’ve heard the voice of the Apostle.
Music Note. I left in the recording our hymn of the day which is in my top 5 hymns. My guess is that you wouldn’t here this one in many churches and definitely not in the local mega-church. Mainly because it is a little slow do develop and has a strong poetic structure. The first three verses get darker before the last three speak of our reality in God. It fit with my understanding of these verses. Yes, we will all be salted with fire, but that is as the living sacrifices. We walk toward truth and peace which is with Jesus and heavenward all the way. Even in the midst of trial. I Walk in Danger All the Way, Lutheran Service Book 716.
This sermon is based on a “level 2” reading of the Gospel of Mark. What I mean by level 2 is that to make the connections necessary you have to look at the locations, characters and actions of what is being told and assume that the writer picked this story specifically to carry meaning. The deaf and mute man was chosen because his disabilities and their healings are symbolic for what the Kingdom of God is doing on a larger level. The first part of the sermon hopefully establishes at least the plausibility of that level 2 reading. The second attempts to apply it to our situation.
Doctrinally this puts me in the realm of election and sanctification. The sermon is about the tension or specific actions that these doctrines call for.
This is the second part of the Jesus’ discussion in Mark chapter 7. The first part (last Sunday) focused more on the centrality of the Word of God. In the words of the Lutheran confessions that would is the sole norm of life and faith. It is the norming norm. All of our traditions must conform to the Word of God. The second part Jesus turns from false source of authority to the source of our problems with it. It is not that we don’t know the Word of God, but that naturally, out of the heart of man, come evil designs. What we take into the body cannot defile us as Mark comments settling the question of foods once. But we naturally take part in wickedness and fall into foolish ways.
The sermon examines Jesus’ comments on both wickedness and foolishness and puts it in the context of the larger bible’s discussion of understanding and foolishness. It then bridges into the good news. Out of our natural hearts come wickedness, but God is about replacing those hearts.
This is the third and last sermon on the “Bread of Life Discourse” in John 6. The typical and easiest way to understand the entire discourse where Jesus says we must eat his flesh and drink his blood is as a reference to the Lord’s Supper. That isn’t wrong, but we do have to ignore that fact that when Jesus said it the crowds who heard it had no recourse to the sacrament. What this sermon attempts to do is proclaim the gospel from this most perplexing text with the sacrament not as first resource but as an gift that embodies for all time the truth.
What I latch onto is Jesus’ embellishment of eating the flesh and blood as the gateway or image of Christ abiding or indwelling in us. Just as the Father dwells in Christ or Christ as the perfect icon of the Father, by eating Christ he dwells in us. Creation has always been about building a dwelling place or a temple for God. In Christ we have the perfect temple, and we are made the living stones as God dwells in us. As Christ is the icon of God, we become the body of Christ and icon of a sort (although that might be a little strong this side of the New Jerusalem). That flesh and spirit incarnation is always a scandal to the world which wants to keep them separate.
Yet as Peter says – these are the words of eternal life. The second part of the gospel explored is Peter sequence where we believe first and then come to know. We must eat first – take Christ into us – to know. The body and blood of Christ give us a sure foundation. We can know because he is the bread that has come down. If we keep it outside of us, we can’t know. Belief comes first and it is belief from the heart.
A one worshipper said, “I felt like I went to church today”. It was Trinity Sunday so we confessed the faith with the Athanasian creed. We had a baptism at the start or service, and we celebrated holy communion. The recording trims most of that stuff, but it is that stuff which the sermon points toward. What this sermon attempts to do is two fold: a) it outlines potential mistakes in how we think about worship and b) it points to the primacy of worship in the Christian life.
The fact is that we were made to worship. Everyone worships. Religious and non-religious. And true worship is seated in the Soul. Situating it in the body or the mind leads to serious problems. The sermon examines those problems and points at the salvation from them. True worship is a gift of God through the Spirit. To worship rightly one must be born of water and the Spirit. True worship, instead of draining us, feeds us. And when our worship is rightly ordered, our lives are on the path to being rightly ordered directed at resurrection.