Dry Bones Clean Cut Off

Biblical Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14

Recording Note: Sorry about the voice, might be a little scratchy, especially early. A member was nice enough to get me a bottle of water shortly in. Thought the minor cold had past, but it caught me in the pulpit.

That said, if you can put aside the voice, I think the message is a good one. It is Pentecost day – which is Feast Day of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the world. But I chose the OT lesson. Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Which I think is a timely message for the church of today. We spend a good amount of time talking like Israel. We might feel like Israel in exile. And God does not deny the diagnosis. What he does deny is their vision. Because God is not a God of medical therapy or incremental improvement. God works by death and resurrection. A field of dry bones is exactly what God will work with. This sermon expands on that hope. That God will raise us from our graves and give us our own land. He has promised, He will do it.

Liminal Time

There is a word I love – liminal. Yes, nobody knows what it means. Or, you all do, just not as that word, but as a gut feeling. It means a sensory threshold. A liminal sound would be one that you can barely hear.  A liminal vision is that one just on the horizon.  But my favorite use, and probably its most common use, is in regards to things of the Spirit. A liminal space is that sense of walking on holy ground, or the other way might be “walking past the graveyard.” A liminal time is usually only noticed in hindsight. My middle child is in something of one right now in college applications.  As an old guy I can recognize it.  For him, it just expresses itself as procrastination. That’s a common way to know you are in a liminal state, you procrastinate.  You are trying to stay in the known, not willing to give way to the unknown just yet.  Liminal states are necessarily scary, because what is on the other side is unknown or at least unexperienced.

Advent for me has always been a liminal time.  The old year is passing away; the new thing is coming.  You have things like congregational meetings.  You prepare budgets. Officers are renewed.  In the church year sense the old has already passed away, but Advent is a strange season even on the church calendar.  It was added as a season of preparation for the staggering mystery of the incarnation.  Sometimes that preparation was penitential.  John the Baptist appears twice in Advent with his calls to repent and warnings about what is to come. I often try to imagine what a John the Baptist would look like today and usually fail to come up with anything convincing.  The Baptist is a liminal figure proclaiming things are about to change dramatically, repent in preparation. That penitential sense is usually captured in the purples of the season.  But the liminal nature of Advent to me is not so much about those purples, which are constant in this life, as about the blues. They are the blues of right before dawn.  It is still night, but the sun is just below the horizon.  As we sang at the end of last Sunday, “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns.”

And that is what the historic text for the first Sunday of Advent shows us, Jesus on Palm Sunday entering Jerusalem.  Anytime the King arrives it is a liminal space because the King has absolute authority. His word is law.  But approaching the King is always scary because you don’t know the ruling.  But that is part of why Jesus presents himself twice.  The first time humbly, riding a donkey.  The first time toward the cross, which addresses all our sins, so that we know the judgement.  The second time to set us free.  To set us free from those sins that still encumber us.  To set us free from our fears of this liminal space.

Advent is the season we ponder living in a liminal space. Knowing and seeing what is on the horizon – the judgement and the New Jerusalem, the King arriving in power not grace. Yet, that dawn is not yet.  Today is still the day of grace. Today the King still comes humbly, as a little child, as that knocking at your heart.  It is a liminal space that says “repent and believe, for you salvation comes quickly.” A liminal space that reminds us “all idols than shall perish and Satan’s lying cease, and Christ shall raise his scepter, decreeing endless peace.” A Great and Mighty wonder lies just beyond this liminal time.   

Citizenship Glory? – A Pentecost Confrontation


Biblical Texts: Numbers 11:24-30, Acts 2:1-21 and John 7:37-39
Full Sermon Draft

There were several events that kicked off this sermon that are meaningful as Americans, but what Pentecost is a reminder of is that the City and the Unity we thirst for is not found in the Kingdoms of the world – those established by law. The City we long for is the City of God. The entrance to the City of God is Calvary which is the nullification of our self justifications our attempts to earn it. The citizenship we thirst for is only available by grace.

Here is the link to Carl Cannon’s article mentioned in the Sermon.

The Terms of Unity


Biblical Text: John 17:20-26
Full Sermon Draft

…But Jesus prayer for unity continues and we might say gets tougher in verses 22 and 23. The basis of the unity in these verses is the glory. The glory that you have given me, I have given to them…that they may be one.

Now we’d love to see glory, because we think we know what it looks like. And our thoughts are glory are not completely false, just out of order. I say that because I’m assuming that most of our definitions of glory would probably be gleaming surfaces, gold streets, never ending crops, basically what John sees in the reading from revelation. But bringing that definition in at this point is out of order. That is the glory of the world to come.

The glory of this world is the cross.

If you want to see how you get from that to Mother’s Day (or at least an attempt) read/listen to the whole…

Walking the Right Way

Text: Mark 3:20-35
Full Draft

This past Sunday we sang one of the most haunting hymns in the Lutheran Tradition – I Walk in Danger All the Way. It is one of those songs where the melody is clear and rather light, but the words are deep. It has a history within the LCMS as it was sung on the floor of a Synodical convention after a particularly ugly fight. My guess is that those there took the wrong message from its words. If I was picking my 10 favorite, this on has a place on that list. But we rarely pick it for the congregation because I think the words are just too far removed from comfortable American middle class existence. We live a daily existence that is largely materialist. Rarely do we give a nod to spiritual things outside of maybe Sunday mornings or that odd deja vu/coincidence. The third stanza talks about death. That is breaking the rules in the United States. It takes those three stanzas to make a turn and the fourth starts to remind us of the gospel. Basically my gut tells me when I have the congregation sing it, in one sense I’m putting falsehoods on their lips. Not that the words are false, just that we don’t feel them.

So what does that have to do with the sermon. Well, that hymn is a hymn of spiritual maturity. The text is a call to belief, and not just to belief, but discipleship. It presents us with three groups of people and puts on Jesus lips the challenge to do the will of the Father. The text doesn’t use the metaphor, but the disciple Walks with the Lord. And that is not always easy. We walk through the valley of the shadow of death (stanza 3), but we fear no evil (stanza 5). The mature Christian will accept that walk.

Memorial Day:Pentecost::Law:Gospel

Text: John 15:26-17, John 16:4-15
Full Draft of Sermon

Poor Pentecost, it is one of the three High Holy Days of the Church Year (Christmas, Easter and Pentecost), and yet it is the one that often gets forced to share its celebration with a secular holiday. A couple of years ago it was Mother’s Day. This year Memorial Day. In a odd way though that might be appropriate. The Spirit doesn’t call attention to himself. The other thought is that its really hard to make a materialist celebration out of the Spirit.

Putting those thoughts aside, the juxtaposition of Memorial Day and Pentecost makes for some tough but I hope enlightening comparisons. The driving force of memorial day is to hallow something, to make it holy. The graves of soldiers who died fighting the nation’s ware we have a good and natural desire to make holy. The problem is that our efforts still are over the dead. Even the most powerful and permanent of our memorials have limits. These too will pass. But Pentecost, the work of the Spirit, is not to make dead tributes but living stones. It is the work of the Spirit that sanctifies our efforts, gives them life and turns them to the glorification of Christ who released us from our dead stone.

Sanctified Freedom or how finance is a great school of the law

Biblical Text: John 17:11-19
Full Text – note, I deviated more from this text than I typically do.

Here is the question you need to ask yourself – are we bound creatures needing freedom, or largely free creatures needing strict guidelines?

How you answer that question will determine how you hear (or don’t hear) the gospel.

The stories come from the papers and the world of finance. The bottom line, the fact that everything can be reduced to a number and measured, and the relentless pressure to turn in a specific number drive home the lessons of the law and how we are all bound to unobtainable expectations. Only in Christ by the power of the Spirit are we free to produce real fruit.

What you find in a run on sentence…

Full Text

Text: Ephesians 1:3-14

Being a Protestant and being a Lutheran Protestant basically means I’m a follower of Christ with Pauline eyes. Most Lutheran ministers would probably point at Romans as there “go to” text. When I collapse back to basics, I go to Ephesians. (I know, all you higher critics laughing about the pseudo-Pauline Pauline. And you friends laughing about when did he ever get past the basics or who let him out of confirmation class.)

Paul is logical, but really that is secondary. Paul is primarily a mystic. Those great chapters in Romans 7 – 11 are similar, but I think we often let the logic roll over the mystic. Paul tells us we have all the spiritual blessings in heaven, and he tells us what those are: 1) standing spotless and 2) adoption into God’s family. But then we press for surety of this, because let’s be blunt, right now we don’t see our spotless garment nor does any government recognize our adoption certificate. And Paul’s surety – we have the spirit. Logically, its a circular argument. Its a mystical argument. In baptism you have the Spirit. God has promised. God keeps his promises.

Also Paul wonders into predestination like those Roman’s chapters, but the predestination here to me is clearer. We are predestined in Christ. We receive our eternal status because we are joined to the eternal one. And this is because all things are moving toward unity in Him. We are being conformed to the likeness of Christ. You don’t get more mystical than that.

And that causes trouble with the logical world. You either get it, or you don’t. It also causes all kinds of trouble in the church. Because we are all being conformed at different rates and paces and on different paths. Just when the church wants to say this is the path, the Spirit seems to blow in a different way. Mystics and dogmatics don’t get along well. Dogma is often the worn path of the mystic. To be a Pauline Christian, to be a Lutheran, is to maintain that tension between the dogmatic better way and the Spirit led path. All the time resting secure in our adoption. Knowing that God’s grace has us covered with all the spiritual gifts of heaven that matter – primarily forgiveness for those “Spirit paths” that are actually detours.

Sermon – “God does not pass by…” – Mark 6:45-56

Full Text

One little bit of widsom that stuck in my head is a maxim “preach Jesus – he’s preachable”. Its a pithy phrase that sums up Luke 24:27 and elsewhere. That phrase is easiest when you are talking about Jesus’ works and deeds, or when you are talking about the divine nature of Christ. It becomes much more difficult when you are talking mental thoughts or emotional feelings of Jesus. Everyone is happy talking about the love of God, but anger or desire tread on difficult ground. The preacher is climbing inside the head of the Christ – a very dangerous task. The text has the phrase – “He desired/wanted to pass by them.” And yet Jesus doesn’t do that, in fact the phrase is just odd as it is againt everything for which he was walking on the sea. The sermon works that out.

The only other thought thought in this vein has to do with what and how our adversary is attacking people today. There is a meme that each generation is tempted in specific paths. The task of the church and the preacher is to confront that temptation. The pressure on the church is to synchronize with or condone that temptation. The formula of Concord says something like that in Article X paragraph 4. I’m beginning to think that our modern temptation in many ways that we’ve forgotten what it means to be human. We have never been real good at parts of it (suffering, being created creatures, being both body and spirit), but never have we been so able to ignore or change our fundamental nature. Death is always held at bay until we have no time to prepare. We create special places and classes of people to segregate real suffering – like hospitals and doctors or government housing and social workers. We deny the spirit becuase it doesn’t conform to a test bench and so we become materialists. Our humanity is being limited and we are happily giving it away.

The counter to that is not the divinity of Christ, but His humanity. Jesus desired to pass by. Jesus desired to reveal the glory to his closest followers…but instead he climbs in the boat with them. A very human act in the middle of a calm sea of miracles.

Pentecost Sermon – “The Half-Known God”


Full Text

On reflection this might have been a better sermon for Trinity Sunday, but the text was John 15:25-26 and John 16:4-15 and that came up on Pentecost. The core statement is that we moderns just don’t biblically undertand the Spirit or the personhood of God. We push Father, Son and Spirit together into a giant gnostic generic Spirit-God. When you do that, your God ends up looking like you and not like He revealed Himself in the Scriptures.

Specifically the Holy Spirit is not a mushy person. His first job is to convict the world: To convict it of sin, convict it of true righteousness, and convict it of who is the judge. After that conviction, the Spirit leads His people into all truth. A great text pointing to law and gospel. First we are convicted by the law and then restored in truth by the gospel. The Spirit does this through His means of Word and Sacrament through that fuddy-duddy place called the church. The adversary tries to sow a bunch of FUD becuase we’ve mushed the persons together. He tries to get us to find the Spirit everywhere but right there in the Word and Sacrament to the point we often denigrate the gospel offer thinkning God can’t really be there. But God keeps his promises. He’s there in that Word, Water, Bread and Wine.