Vines and Vinedressers

Biblical Text: John 15:1-8

For a second week we have one of the “I AM” sayings in the Gospel according to John – “I AM the vine”. And I think this saying invites us to ponder a couple of things. First what it reveals about God which is central to the mystery of suffering or in this case spiritual struggle. The Father as the vinedresser and the son as the vine with the point being greater fruitfulness invites meditation on pruning coded as struggle and how God prunes or limits himself in some ways. The second revelation is what it says about fruitfulness. Vines and branches are made to bear fruit. It will happen. The deeper question is if the branches stay connected to the vine. Measuring fruitfulness is usually fruitless, because it is aimed the wrong way. If there is fruit you will see it. The main concern of the branch is to stay connected – to abide – in the vine.

What’s in a Name?

Biblical Text: Mark 8:27-38

The text is what includes the confession of Peter, but in the lectionary context what I think it asks us to contemplate isn’t that confession, but what is in the name of Christ? The Old testament has “God Almighty” what the Patriarchs knew God by changing Abram and Sarai names to Abraham and Sarah. Names in the Bible mean things. Moses would learn THE NAME. Eventually it is revealed as Jesus the Christ, and Father, Son and Spirit. But what Jesus wants to know is “Who do you say that I am?” When you confess the Christ, does your Christ match the Christ who is? If you Christ can’t include suffering, cross and death, then you do not have the Christ. But also if your Christ is not the one who rose, you do not have the Christ. The answers that the disciples give Jesus aren’t wrong so much as coming up short. Which might be forgiven, because nobody had seen a resurrection. But we have heard and seen. The Christ is the one who works by death and resurrection. And he bids that we walk in the same way. Is this your Christ?

Labor Day

Biblical Text: Matthew 16:21-28

I suppose I should have used a title like “The Labors of Christ”. The text is what happens immediately after Peter’s confession of Christ. You have a confrontation over what that word means. Peter thinks it means something very earthly. Jesus corrects him. And then he invites everyone to see his definition. What is Jesus’ definition of the Christ? Suffering, death and resurrection. How are we invited? To pick up our cross and follow. Why would we do this? It is the only way past death. It is the only way we keep our life, to lose it. This is how God works. This is the labor of the Christ seen through the things of God, not the things of man.

Are You The One?

Biblical Text: Matthew 11:2-15

The second and third Sundays in Advent are always John the Baptist Sundays. The third one in year A – Matthew’s year – is one of my favorite texts to preach from. Why you ask? Because I think it is a text that gets emotionally to the core of what many Christians feel, but we are usually scared to read it that way. We are too protective of the saintliness of biblical characters. And beyond getting to the core of what we feel, Jesus’ answers are profound in two ways. Jesus does give us the promise, but that promise comes in the very specific form of the crucified one. We get no other messiah. The text is a challenge to the hearers, both to the faithful like John who might not understand, and the crowds who might be pondering the message.

Good People?

Biblical Text: Luke 13:1-9

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.

Signs and Wonders

Biblical Text: Mark 5:21-43 (Lamentations 3:22-33)
Full Sermon Draft

The text is a juxtaposition of a couple miracles of Jesus. One a seemingly minor healing, and the other a resurrection. But this juxtaposition soon sucks in not just the miraculous but everything we like to think about. It is status, popularity, wealth and health, faith and doubt, fear and courage. In other words it is a juxtaposition that cleaves to the marrow of life. It is also a message that cleaves a tough spot in my faith. I accept, but I don’t really understand God’s use of actual miracles. I have an intellectual understanding, but my heart still doesn’t like it. This sermon is my attempt to express both that intellectual understanding, but also to reach for something that might begin an emotional peace. I don’t know if anybody else has such a similar problem. I also don’t know if I succeeded. But here it is. A meditation on signs and wonders.

The Way of the Cross

Biblical Text: Mark 8:27-38
Full Sermon Draft

The first natural reaction to suffering is simple avoidance. Run away from it and anyone associated with it. But life is too tough for such a simple strategy to work forever. And too many people suffer for the spoils of society to go to cowards. The second reaction is more nuanced, more full of wisdom, but I’m not sure it is greatly different. We turn our reactions to suffering into a merit game. The merit going to the one who handles and by their handling avoids feeling the suffering. This is partly what is going on in virtue signalling and victim culture. This also goes on in religion and philosophies as diagnosis of problems turns to recommended paths. The sermon highlights two examples.

This is not the way of the cross. Christ did not seek to avoid sufferings, but he embraced it. He did not come to tell us a path, but to give us the way to walk. Not around Calvary, but with it. This sermon attempts to speak without being trite or overly simplistic about that way of the cross.

What are We Here For?

Biblical Text: Mark 1:29-39
Full Sermon Draft

That title is the question of purpose; it is the specter of despair. It is also something that Jesus, in his time on this earth, experienced with us. And in his experience showed us how we should attempt to answer. As with all things Jesus it is so simple anyone could do it, yet not simplistic or limiting in any way. The sermon develops the role of that question in Jesus’ life, the thread of continuity found in the will of the Father through changes in purpose. It then develops that teaching for our lives.

The Moral Calculus

Text: John 9:1-41
Full Sermon Draft

The question of suffering is one of the constant ones of modernity. The curmudgeon in me wants to draw a graph showing interest is the problem of suffering going straight up over time and actual suffering has gone down over the same time, but a smart person once told me that “yes, suffering may be comparatively less, but it is still mine.”

The disciples ask a question that is full of assumptions about how God and the moral calculus works. Jesus’ answer bears directly on suffering, and gets to the heart of the gospel. The moral calculus doesn’t balance. At least not how we think. This sermon attempts to examine that fact in the light of Jesus who says “I am the light of the World”.

I’m not going to add more other than say give it a listen.
Worship note: I left out the hymns primarily because the sermon and Gospel lesson are longer than normal and I try to keep the total recording time around 25 mins or less.

He Preached the Good News…

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Biblical Text: Luke 3:15-22
Full Sermon Draft

The day on the Church calendar was the Baptism of Christ and the text recognizes that. I think in the sermon there is recognition of baptism. If not, all the hymns of the day picked up on it as their connecting theme. But as I was preparing the sermon verse 18 (“So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people”) combined with a comment by Origin (2nd Century Teacher quoted in the sermon) made me look at John the Baptist himself. What was the gospel, the good news, that John preached?

As he would say, “Christ must increase, I must decrease”, so as a preacher the core of that Good News was simply the bridegroom has come – Jesus. That is the core of any preaching. But John’s good news, just from this brief snippet (Luke 3:1-22), is expansive. And Luke’s version of John has a striking and touching emphasis. After pointing out the bridegroom – the kinsman redeemer of Israel, John preaches against a false in everyway redeemer, Herod. Jesus & Israel are the bridegroom and sanctified bride. Herod and Herodias are the mocking of that redemption. John calls him out, and pays with his freedom and life. John’s preaching of good news, includes the role of suffering.

I didn’t make the connection in the sermon because the sermon itself is more breadth than depth. Pulling together all the threads of levirate marriage that this text relies on would have been explaining too much for a sermon. Better suited for a study. But marriage as the symbol of what God does for his people, and the mocking of marriage made by the state, and John’s suffering caused by that confrontation, seems applicable.

Recording Note: I have left in our opening hymn Lutheran Service Book 405 To Jordan’s River Came Our Lord. The congregation sounded great, and that hymn really captures the core message of the festival – “This man is Christ our substitute!” Also, they sang it post the OT reading, but I’ve moved it after the sermon here. These recordings can’t really capture the full service. We don’t really have the recording equipment for that, so the focus is really on the spoken parts (i.e. texts and sermon). But, I included our Choir singing a wonderful Epiphany piece. I included such things as markers to the full live experience. Worship really is about being there.