A Simple Story

Biblical Text: Matthew 28:1-10

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.

Filling the Void

Today is a tongue in cheek day in the office. Somehow Annessa and I both will root for Duke.  As I say to my boys when they ask incredulously “how can you root for Duke?” Sons, you’ve got to respect greatness. But today Duke is playing the University of Pittsburgh, an institution I am an alumnus of and have been a cheering fan of ever since.  It isn’t the Alma Mater, but Grove City is not in the ACC, so there are no loyalty pangs.  When I was attending the school Basketball was the thing.  The football team was mediocre and had been losing to Syracuse and West Virginia, the real rivalries. The Basketball team had even climbed to a number 1 ranking a few times. But since that coach (Jaime Dixon) left, the team has been on the slide.  But someone got smart, hired a former Duke player (Jeff Capel) and the team got better.  And it really got better this year when Coach Capel finally realized that Pitt was never going to be Duke and started using the transfer portal to bring in talent.  Predicted to finish last, they ended up in what was a 5 way tie for the top. Which places pastor and secretary on opposite sides today.

That is all fine and good, but this is pastor’s corner, aren’t you supposed to say something at least vaguely spiritual if not downright theological? Yes, yes I am.  So here is the connection.  If you have been part of our mid-week bible studies, this past week was the Jacob and Leah and Rachel and Bilhah and Zilpah story.  And I only somewhat tongue in cheek held up that competition as a scoreboard. If you know the story the rivalry was between sisters married to the same man.  The scoreboard was number of sons.  It is a story of competition and longing and attempting to fill that gnawing void.

Any athlete, other than Michael Jordan who is still attempting to crush his enemies and friends, will eventually tell you that winning is great, but what they miss when they can no longer play is being part of the team. That’s why many hang around too long.  They know they can’t do it anymore, but they need that team.  The smarter of them will move to coaching, the smartest to the front office.  The dumb but really good will eat forever on faded glory. When you see one of these in their 60’s you realize your crumbs of adulation mean more to them to fill that void than they mean to you as a curiosity. It is the rare athlete that figures out how to fill that void in other ways. Roger Staubach never had that void being the Navy man. Barry Sanders didn’t need it and even left early while he could still walk. Philip Rivers for me was always a fascinating case. Our sports press is terrible around religion.  They are a bunch of atheists covering usually a group of believers and so don’t get it.  Rivers never won a Super Bowl.  Those Chargers teams with Ladanian Tomlinson and Junio Seau and a bunch of other names were great.  They should have won 2, maybe 3. Most athletes the never-was would eat up.  Seau died early. Rivers is accepting.  I’ve only seen one reporter ask him this question. And Rivers points at his wife and 9 kids and his faith.  That void is more than filled.

That is the place where Leah eventually gets to.  She will have a relapse or two.  Sin is tough, we all do.  But after her 4th son Leah says, “This time I will praise the LORD.”  That child was Judah who would be the heir of the promise.  Leah had been trying to fill the void with a competition she would never win.  And even if she did – and you can argue that she did – it still wouldn’t or didn’t fill the void. Augustine’s famous quote is that we are restless until we find our rest in thee. His confessions are one long tale of competition that never fills the void.  Of stealing pears because he could, but not even eating them. But then finding what fills it.

Finding God, as Leah found out, doesn’t necessarily end the competition. We might even get pulled back into sinful ways of competition.  But when that void is full, we can be happy warriors. The victory is ours. Whether today we win or lose, that distant triumph song steals on the ear.  And hearts are brave and arms are strong.  Hail to Pitt, today at least!

Testing or Temptation

Biblical Text: Matt 4:1-11

The primary text is traditionally called the Temptation of Jesus. It takes place right after his baptism and continues the theme of Israel reduced to one. When Israel fails in the wilderness, Christ succeeds. But, this sermon is about something I think is an important distinction that often gets lost in the modern church. It was important to me to figure out because Luther makes a statement in the Small Catechism that always seemed to fly in the face of reality to me, at least reality if you take the scriptures and the universal experience of the faith as witnesses. And you wish to take ordination vows seriously. Luther says “God tempts no one.” And that honestly felt like this polyanna-ish statement completely foreign to the great man who was always “calling a thing what it is.” So, this sermon attempts to talk about the difference between temptation and testing. And how we can affirm that God tempts no one, even if the answer to that 6th petition of the Lord’s prayer isn’t always positive in the short term. But the will of God is not for this moment alone, but to give you the eternal victory in Christ.

Let It Be So For Now

Biblical Text: Matthew 3:13-17, (Romans 6:1-11)

The occasion on the church calendar is the baptism of Jesus. If we stop and think about it, the baptism of Jesus doesn’t make sense. It is one of those moments that just feels wrong. Even John the Baptist gets this in his reply to Jesus. Jesus replies in two ways: a) let it be so for now and b) to fulfill all righteousness. This sermon explores how and why Jesus undergoes a baptism of repentance through his answers to John.

The Power of the Resurrection

Biblical Text: John 20:19-31

What is the power of the resurrection? That is the question I was asking myself. And there are a bunch of answers, but this text gives us two clear ones. The peace of God which Jesus comes and brings to every disciple. And the power of the Word to bring joy to hearts. The world gives peace as cessation of conflict. The world thinks of joy as happiness or earthly delight. These are temporal things easily lost. But the resurrection brings eternal peace. And eternal peace wells up in joy. The power of the resurrection brings eternal things in the midst of temporal strife.

Come and See; Go and Tell

Biblical Text: Matthew 28:1-10

The recording is the full (2nd) service. The resurrection account in Matthew has an interesting pattern. There is a “come and see” portion. The angel bids the Mary’s to come and see the empty tomb. Jesus greets them and they grab his feet. There is proof of the resurrection. “Come and See”.

The second part of the pattern is “Go and Tell”. The angel tells the Mary’s to go and tell the disciples. Jesus as bids them go and tell. When you have seen the power of the resurrection, go and tell.

The final part is the promise. “You will see him”. Today we see by faith, although it is not a faith without proof. The tomb was empty. Jesus had feet. Tomorrow we see.

Do You Believe This?

Biblical Text John 11:1-45

When I first saw these texts for this plague week I felt “wow, lets change them.” But I’ve only changed the assigned texts of a Sunday less than 5 times. And I am glad I didn’t. In the midst of death, or at least the fear of death, these lessons tell us our hope. That is what the sermon does. Hopefully gives the saints God’s word to live in these times.

Service note: We are splitting our services to say under 10 people locally (everyone has their own pew), 9 AM and 11 AM with roughly the same number online. So, we don’t have music. We are using responsive prayer 2 in LSB. It is also wired up to produce the best sound for those online. I’ve put the entire service out. The back half after the sermon is collective prayer.

Though the Chaos, Life

Biblical Text: Matthew 3:13-17, (Romans 6:1-11)

The Sunday after the Epiphany for us is always the Baptism of the Lord. And it is an incredibly rich text. Off the top of my head I can think of five “topics” that are justifiable to preach on from it. Looking at the sermon file I had done most of them over the past 11 years. The one that might be the most apparent, but is actually tougher is Jesus’ Baptism connected to our Baptism. Now you can just say Baptism and elide the difference, but if you do that you miss what this theophany in the Jordan tells us about God. Because Jesus baptism is not like ours. As Luther says in his Baptismal Liturgy prayer, it is by His baptism that all waters have become a blessed flood. We get Jesus’ baptism, because God stood with us and took ours. We get brought through the chaos to life, because he defeated death.

Satanic Slander; Man’s Vindication

Biblical Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Full Sermon Draft

Welcome to lent. The season traditionally starts out with the Temptation of Jesus. As the sermon will highlight, the temptation is deeply connected with the story that comes before it, the baptism of Jesus. What both represent are how Jesus has fought the battles we could not win. The Baptism is the start of the defeat of sin. He takes ours, and we get his. The temptation is the defeat of Satan. The resurrection is the defeat of death. We couldn’t win against those great enemies. Jesus, true man and true God, defeated them for us. Then he invites us to follow.

A fun little part of this sermon is using the devil as a witness to the gospel. Imagining that great liar forced into telling the truth was a fun experiment. I don’t know how well it worked, but it was fun to try.

Worship note: I like the Lenten Hymn. The only season that I think has a higher overall quality is Advent which might be because of both the length (shorter) and subject (eschatology). I left in LSB 424, O Christ You Walked the Road, which was our concluding hymn. It borrows the well known tune Southwell, but the text captures the main points of the sermon. Christ has defeated Satan and invites us on the same (lenten) road.