Archive for August, 2013

Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

August 27, 2013 2 comments

jesus-heals-woman-on-the-sabbathHeavenly Host Lutheran Church

August 25, 2013

Sermon on Luke 13:10-17

Note: As some long-time followers of this blog are aware, I’m a contributor to the Goettingen Sermon Archive.  I was asked about 3 years ago, I guess, to contribute and I’ve been more or less faithful in contributing sermons to it.  Being rather ecumenical, they always follow the Revised Common Lectionary.  The Lutheran Service Book lectionary committee must have decided to depart from it and follow the Roman Catholic lectionary this week as my friends at seem to indicate.   I don’t normally preach on a text that doesn’t appear in our Sunday readings, but this week is was unavoidable.  It turned to to be a pretty good sermon.  As usual the audio can be heard by clicking the embedded player.  


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath and He sees this poor woman all bent over who can’t stand up straight and He heals her.  Her problem, says Luke the physician: she has a disfiguring spirit.  But before we go running off with a modern diagnosis of scoliosis or even osteoporosis, let’s read the Biblical text at face value, with the eyes and ears of first century listeners as much as we can.  There’s a prevailing attitude about ancient peoples that they were just pre-scientific, superstitious people who thought all disease was caused by demonic possession.  I’m certain that’s not accurate.  When Jesus sends out the twelve at the beginning of chapter 9, He makes a distinction between casting out demons and healing the sick.  And there is an interesting distinction in this text too.  Did you catch it?  While Jesus does lay hands on her to heal her, there is no direct exorcism here.  This seems to hint at something about the very nature of disease and disfigurement in the Biblical notion of humanity.  Sure, some people do become completely possessed by the demonic, by individual or multiple demons.  Those accounts are familiar to us (Mt 17:14-23; 8:28-34).  But this woman that Jesus meets and heals is representative of another, more subtle aspect the nature of humankind since the Fall of Adam and Eve.

All of humanity is plagued, oppressed if you will, by power of evil in this world.  While this poor woman might not have been directly possessed by a demon in the same manner as others that Jesus encounters, she has been this way for 18 years, the text says, “bound”.  It says.  That’s a particular word that leads us to think of an oppressive state.  And here’s my point bound up in the language of bondage and oppression.  Jesus has come not just to teach about the bound nature of humankind to disorder and disease and the fiendish powers of rebellion against God’s good order, He has come to set people free from all that binds them.

I just visited an 88-year old woman in a nursing care facility who was distraught over the prospect of the surgical removal of the other 4 toes on her foot.  It is an attempt to stop the advance of gangrene up her leg as a result of diabetes.  “Why?” she asks.  What did she do to deserve this?  And the answer, of course, is she didn’t do anything.  The disease in her body has caused this.  Her pancreas just burned out.  She’s Lois Brock, Jim whom we just laid to rest yesterday.  Pam Stephen’s mom.  Bob Mabrey this week.  We have accepted this state of affairs.  It’s so normal to us now and we forget.  We forget that we were not meant to live this way.  We were not created to live in a world filled with disorder and decay and disease and death.  We were created to live in God’s very good garden where there were no such maladies.  When Jesus came, He came to restore the order of God’s very good creation.  The Church has faithfully preached over many centuries that Jesus’ coming was to forgive sins but the kingdom of God is not merely limited to a spiritual renewal.  Jesus came to restore God’s perfect ordered intent for creation for us.  He came to restore this woman bent over so that she could not stand up straight.  He came to restore Lois in the nursing home loosing toes to death creeping into her flesh.

And what better day to do this restoration work than on the Sabbath, the day of God’s blessing to His people.  This poor woman is loosed from her bond on the blessed Sabbath of God.  Jesus is certainly making a larger point than merely a singular healing because this healing takes place on the Sabbath, this bond is loosed on the Sabbath, setting this woman right again, setting one little corner of the kingdom right again, restoring order to one more person who was suffering from the chaos brought by the rebellion of Adam.  It’s all set right for her on the Sabbath.  Jesus not only sets this poor woman right again, He’s making a further point about the Sabbath.  He’s even setting the Sabbath right.  The Sabbath, which had been given by God as gift and blessing, had over the centuries been turned into a measuring stick for one’s religious piety or even worse, a club to hit others with to make sure they were at least minimally and outwardly pious.  Jesus comes to restore the blessing to Sabbath sets a precedent for the loosing of sins and the healing that comes from the renewed Sabbath.  Jesus is the Sabbath.  He brings the Kingdom of God to lose those bound to sin and its effects.

How are the misguided Jews of Jesus’ day any different than us today?  What have we turned Sabbath into?  Something to get over with as quickly as possible so that we can get on with the rest of our day, so that we can squeeze in a little more shopping, or a little more camping or a little more golf, or a little more football, or so we can beat the Baptists to Cracker Barrel.  And that’s if we bother to come to church at all.  How often do we give into the temptation to ditch church so that we can fit in these other things or make up for having fit in so much of them the night before?  I don’t think anyone’s perfectly remembering the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  I’m certainly not.  I realized this, this past weekend as I led a retreat for a group of Lutheran women.  With the work done, I did rest, even in the leading of the services.  It was a big difference from my anxious Sunday morning “game day” focusing on details to get right rather than on the Word of God to listen and keep.  Is there a way to find a balance for even a pastor on Sunday morning, or a Sunday school teacher, or a faithful fellowship hour attendant, or a nursery watcher or a choir member, or an organist, or elder?

Remember we don’t do on Sunday morning to do, we come to God’s house on Sunday morning to be, not to do.  The Lord who gathers us here is the One who does—He calls us together, He speaks, He forgives, He restores, He makes new, He feeds, He sends.  All that He does, He does for us, blessing us with His presence, bestowing His gifts on us, serving us from His very own table.  In the 1960’s and 70’s, the leaders of liturgical renewal movement made a big deal about the liturgy being “the work of the people,” and it is, but the work of the people is not merely limited to the worship hour on Sunday morning, as if the best expression of the liturgy would be to get everyone doing something during that one hour on Sunday.  A somewhat different understanding is to see the Lord Himself as host, inviting us and gathering us together in His house around His table to serve us.  It would be a poor host, indeed, who calls his guests to do all the work instead of sharing in the benefits of the work that has already been completed. Liturgy is the work of the people but that work is not limited to Sunday morning and in that sense, our understanding of “liturgy” should expand to encompass all the work we do as Christians in our various callings.  The Lord’s Day is His gift to us.

Jesus healed this woman, this child of God, and made straight her crooked back.  He overcomes the evil infested world and corrects it, even if it is but a tiny corner of it.  Today, Jesus makes straight your crookedness.  Your sins are forgiven.  You who have turned the Sabbath into your own day rather than keep it as the Lord’s Day, you are set straight again.  Your life and purpose are renewed.  You have been restored to the kingdom of God through the cross of Christ where He was bent over to carry your burden, where He was twisted in agony for the price of your sins.  This Sabbath day, the Lord extends to you His blessing and His peace.  Keep it all gladly.  Receive it as the gift it is for you.  Here now and in you now Jesus makes right one more little corner of the world, extending His kingdom on earth, even as it is in heaven.  How great a privilege it is to receive such a gift!  What will you do with this week?  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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Homily for the Funeral of James Brock

August 27, 2013 Leave a comment

August 24, 2013

Click the player widget for the audio.  

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

As many of you know, I’m rather new to Heavenly Host but even I know what a central figure Jim has been in our congregation.  Jim was a longtime member of Heavenly Host.  And he was not just on the books here, he was a servant in our congregation.  Since I heard of his passing, a number of people have told me wonderful stories about Jim and his years in our congregation.  Jim was one of those pillars on which the Lord seemed fit to build this congregation.  His life here was a life of service to his Lord.  Jim was deeply rooted here in the community too.  Look at the number of folks who turned out to pay their respects; that was quite a line.  What Jim was in his church spilled out into his family and his community.   There’s a lesson in that for all of us.

As I said, Jim was a longtime member of our Lutheran congregation.  The readings and hymns today confess not only the Christian faith but this church’s faith and Jim’s and Lois’ faith.  These are the solid things when all around us goes shaky.  The readings are a wonderful confession of everything we need to be reminded of today.  As we gather together to hear the word of God in the midst of death, Isaiah reminds us that on another hill far away, Jesus literally swallowed up death by dying to it.  And by dying to death He destroyed it.  By dying to death and destroying it, He has prepared a rich banquet of the best foods and finest of wines.  I can’t help but believe this is a foreshadowing the new testament in Christ’s body blood, His holy Supper, and thus a foretaste of the heavenly banquet table of the Lord our God.  Last month, I brought communion down to Lois.  Jim was there and we all three communed together in Lois’ room there.  I was so glad that Jim and Lois received Holy Communion together that day.  It was a blessed assurance of the forgiveness of sins won by Christ for them, for us all.  Yes, dear friends, these are the sure things, the rocks we can hold on to.  They are the hills from where our help comes.

David reminds us that our help comes from the Lord, the Lord who works out His salvation for His people on these hills.  Did David already see with the eyes of faith Isaiah’s mountain on which the Lord would swallow up death forever, the hill on which Christ would hang on the cross and die to death and by dying to it cancel it out?  We heard from Paul the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, that indeed, the shroud that covers all people, death has been swallowed up in the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection.  Death no longer has any sting.  Like a honeybee that can only sting once, death can harm us none.  Jesus bore death’s sting for us.  We now have the victory over death through Jesus Christ our Savior!

And then the reading from Luke chapter 2, there is one more hill.  Here He is, the infant Son of God, born of Mary, carried up the holy hill of Mount Zion into the Temple to be dedicated on the eighth day.  Simeon was there.  He had been told that he would not die until he had seen the salvation of the Lord, the redemption of Israel.  And then he held the baby Jesus in his arms literally held his salvation and inspired by the Holy Spirit Simeon sang too:

     “my eyes have seen your salvation

31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and for glory to your people Israel.”

Simeon saw with his own eyes what David and Isaiah could only see with the eyes of faith.  And if there is any doubt, the apostle Paul confirms it.  Jesus is our rescuer from sin and the power of death.

That is an important thing to remember today.  Some might say that Jim was an older man and had lived a full life and was ready to go home to be with the Lord.  They would say that death is just a part of life but they would be wrong.  We were not meant for days like today.  We were not meant for death and decay and the frailty of life that has become the human condition since the Fall of Adam.  We were meant for everlasting glory.  We were created to participate in the perfect partnership of God.  And that is the message of God on a day like today.  When Jesus came down from heaven to rescue us from death, He didn’t wave a magic wand to save all people.  He did not just come to give the world a universal do-over.  He came to restore us to the glory God intended for us, to put an end to death itself.

Before Jesus came to earth, death had been successful for generations.  Death had been swallowing up those whose sins had separated them from God.  And when Christ came, death looked at Christ as though he were another David or Isaiah, or one of the other prophets, and thought: ‘I have devoured and swallowed up these others, no matter how high and mighty they were; I will devour this one, too.’ But here death and the devil ran up against a wall.  They crashed headlong against this man, Jesus, who could not die.  He could not die because of His divinity, for it is impossible for God to die.  Nor ought he to have died according to His human nature, for He had no sin, no guilt, and therefore death had no claim on him.  Death has a claim on all mankind, even John the Baptist and all the other saints… But death had no claim on Christ. For this reason it seized him wrongfully and that was death’s downfall.  Death and the devil came with all their might and tried their best.  But Christ took neither sword nor armor; neither gun nor ammunition, but instead remained completely silent and let them rush him strike against Him without lifting a finger.  He let Himself be crushed as they might.  But by such a quiet strategy He ambushed them and by His dying, He overcame sin, death, the devil and hell and not just for Himself alone but for all who are buried with Him and raised up with him.  On that hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus swallowed up death forever.

So we will grieve Jim’s passing and we will mourn our loss and mourn along with you Lois.  But we will not mourn as those who have no hope.  I know that death looks sure and certain.  But more sure and more certain than even death is Jesus.  The death that could not hold him, cannot hold Jim.  That death cannot hold you.  Death was swallowed up by Jesus on that hill far away.

These are the solid things.  They are not mere words.  They are the most certain promises of God Himself.  These are the things that will comfort us in the days and weeks ahead when doubt creeps in and temptation to despair tries to steal away our assurance and our hope not only for our brother Jim but for ourselves!  We should run these hills from where our help comes.  He has promised to be here for us.  Here we behold our salvation at the altar of God, eating and drinking his body and blood, proclaiming his death until he comes again.  Seeing again for ourselves, the salvation that God has worked for our sake.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Categories: Uncategorized

Particularly well-said…

August 27, 2013 Leave a comment

…even if we don’t like it.

HT to my colleague Mark Surburg whose blog is so much better than mine.  Really.  I’m serious.  Stop reading here and go there.

Categories: Uncategorized

Sermon at the Service of Christian Burial for Robert Mabrey

August 23, 2013 Leave a comment

Preached at Heavenly Host on John 14:1-6

 Note: usually at the beginning of funeral sermons I have read the obituary.  Bob’s was not the first one I’ve mangled.  For some bizarre reason “October” came out of my mouth instead of August as the month of his death, I certainly apologize for goofing that up.  As usual, you can click the widget to hear the audio of the sermon.  


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Jesus has comforting words for us all today, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me.”

These may be some of the sweetest and most tender words of Jesus.  They come from His last sermon given on the same night as the Last Supper, the night in which He was betrayed by Judas and arrested.  “Let not your hearts be troubled.”  They are comforting words for Jesus’ disciples, words that He hopes remain with them in the hours and days to come as He is arrested and suffers the pain of the cross.  They are fitting words for disciples of Jesus who are about to be thrown into the pits of despair as they watch Jesus battle against the devil and the world.

It is as if Jesus was saying: “My dear friends, I know very well what will happen to you tonight when I am arrested and you run away and find yourselves alone.  Sheer terror and fear will overwhelm you, your hearts will melt within you, and you won’t know what to do.  I am telling you this before it happens, lest you lose heart and despair completely.”  Now to be sure, even though the disciples had the sure word of God beforehand, they lost heart.  When Christ was arrested by an angry mob, all was lost; they had no courage, even the greatest of them couldn’t stand his ground against a little servant girl asking innocent questions.  In that hour all Christ’s words and works fell by the wayside.  And His word, this comfort, was entirely forgotten.  These words then, are the perfect words for us.  For we too stand too close to death today.  We need to hear the Lord speaking to us these words of gentle comfort.  “Let not your hearts be troubled,” because they are words that point us to the victory of Jesus over sin and death.

As hard as it might be for us to believe it, Bob’s prayers have been answered not just for a time this side of heaven but for all eternity.  Jesus acted through His life, death and resurrection to save people, Jesus acted to save Bob from sin and death.  Today the reminders of Christ’s saving work for Bob are not only in the readings and songs for this service but even in this place and in the cloth that covers Bob’s casket.  He is covered with the pall, a symbol of Holy Baptism, to show that Bob had received the blessing of Holy Baptism and died confessing Christ Jesus as Lord.  He is quite literally covered with Christ, clothed with Christ.  He has joined that great group of those having come out of the great tribulation, who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.  This is why Jesus can say what He does to His disciples and to us.  Jesus knows where Bob is today and has gone to prepare a place for all who confess the name of Christ Jesus.  “Let not your hearts be troubled.”

Spoken on the night Jesus was betrayed by one of their own, these words are also comforting words for Jesus’ disciples to remember as they confront their failures which will weigh so heavily on their conscience.  That’s what happens when people die, especially when they die suddenly.  When the reality of death begins to poke through the shock, it paves the way for all the coulda, woulda, shouldas to come right in and haunt us.  But Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”

Here in these words we see not a Lord who would have us wallow in our despair but trust in the immeasurable certainty of His promises.  Bob was born up north in Detroit and was in school in the years after Sputnik, a time in the United States when there was a concerted push to get more math and science education into the schools.  We needed more engineers and Bob became an engineer with a master’s degree, which in those days was no easy feat.  He did it with a slide rule!  Moving back to Tennessee after graduation, Bob was an engineer who found himself teaching math and science.  First at the elementary level and later at the undergraduate level here at the university.  And he loved it.  He loved math and physics.  He actually understood the formulas and the relationships they represented and he loved helping others see how the building blocks of the universe could be seen and understood, not just to solve the problem but to understand how it worked.  He did for years with his students and was still doing with his grandchildren just last week.

Bob was a faithful member of this congregation for 40 years, almost since its beginning.  And he served in various offices, as trustee, elder, and youth group leader.  Bob not only was a member and leader of this organization but was a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ.  I didn’t know Bob for very long, as I’ve only just arrived at the church, but I got a the sense in visiting with him that he was the kind of man who did not check his brain at the church door.  He believed that truth of the Scriptures made sense, as much sense as the equations he knew to be certain and sound.  He confessed as much with his own mouth on Monday, the day before he died, when I went to visit him.  Early the next day, he and Judy had been giving God thanks for feeling so much better.  So much better he was up walking, making laps around the nurses’ station there on the floor.  Up until his very end, Bob confessed with his mouth the saving truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and was certain of it.  He would be happy knowing that you all heard these words from Jesus today and heard them to your comfort.  Bob was certain of Jesus’ promises.  “Let not your hearts be troubled.”

Sometimes, I think we can hear a message like this and feel even worse that it doesn’t comfort us as it should.  We know these words from Jesus should be a comfort to us, but they aren’t.  The pain is too sharp.  He died so unexpectedly.  Quite frankly, we were expecting a significantly different outcome on Tuesday morning.  And yet it’s into this very real pain the words of Jesus are a soothing balm.  Jesus knows our hearts.  He knows are fears and our doubts and it’s even to our lack of faith and our anxiety about the future that He speaks these words.  “Let not your hearts be troubled.”

But perhaps our greatest fear is even more subtle, that it all sounds good right now, here in this place with the preacher talking and the sunlight filtered through the stained glass but what about out there in the real world?  Why does it always feel so different out there?  When we’re out there why do we feel so alone, and stranded?  If Jesus was really able to help us, He would do it when we’re out there where we need it.  And so we worry, “Maybe Jesus isn’t really talking to me.  Maybe he’s just talking to the good people, to the nice people.”  But that’s not true because just as Jesus was speaking these words to his disciples, the most extraordinary thing happened.  One of the good people, one of the nice people, one of the disciples, one of the twelve apostles spoke his fear, “Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”  Thomas!  Thank God for Thomas, right?  He’s like that guy in class who doesn’t even know what a dumb question is so he just goes ahead and asks it.  Everyone else was thinking it but they thought that by now they should know what Jesus was talking about, but they didn’t.  “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”  Thomas’ question is a good one.  And Jesus answer is certain and true.  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

Regardless of all the details that make our lives different from one another, we do share a lot in common.  In situations like these many people start looking at their lives and their unmet goals, and their unfulfilled dreams and wonder about the paths their lives have taken.  We are forever caught up with what hasn’t happened yet, with what we thought we’d have accomplished by now, with what remains unfulfilled in our lives.  We seem trapped in thinking about our lives, our ways, and our perceptions of the world and everything in it.  And then Jesus taps us on the shoulder and says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  In those simple words Jesus gives us a deep and abiding comfort.  He reassures us that He isn’t judging us for not being there yet.  Jesus tells us that our goals in life are not the true way.  He tells us that His way—the way of vulnerability to the world right up to the point of crucifixion—is the true way, the way of life.

But the way of true life goes through the way of death for Jesus.  I mentioned earlier that real world was out there, outside these walls, outside these stained glass windows.  But what if it’s not?  What if this is the real world?  What if this is the real world and all that out there is just a mere shadow of the way things are supposed to be?  What if the real world is supposed to be about truth and life—real truth and real life—not the lies and death that lie in wait for us out there as soon as the music fades and the door opens?  Because Jesus’ truth is real truth and His life is real life.  The way of true life goes through the way of death for Jesus and for us.  And that is truly Good News on a day like today.  That death tried to grab hold of Him, but it could not.  He was raised, the firstborn of the dead.  Death could not hold Jesus and death cannot hold Bob and death cannot hold you.  So don’t fall for death’s lies.  Whenever there is anything that tempts you to despair, to think that God is a figment of human imagination, that if He does exist, He doesn’t care—between that and you stands the Jesus the sent One from the Father who came to die for you and was made alive again for you.  And so before they can destroy you, they have to destroy Him first, and they’ve already done their worst.  This isn’t just church fluff, it’s the real stuff.  This is what’s real and what’s true.  “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

You know how sure, how true, how freeing, and enlivening those words are even as you hear them now.  And they are even surer and truer and more enlivening in the in the doing of them because Jesus doesn’t just talk, He does them.  We trust them even now as it is painful to do so because Jesus was raised from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, and by His true Word and Spirit He puts His death in your place and give you His life just as he did for our brother Bob.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Categories: Uncategorized

Sermon for Weds in Pentecost 13

August 23, 2013 Leave a comment

Click on the widget for the audio 

I know the New Testament reading is, rather blessedly, a much more familiar passage to you than some of the past few weeks.  But if you can, try to hear it with fresh ears.  This is not just some good corporate teamwork speech writ for Christians.  Paul is not just saying, “There’s no “I” in “T-E-A-M.”  Paul is trying to address and even settle the divisions in the Corinthian congregation by emphasizing the priority of the Gospel and the reordering of God’s creation that happens as a result of the Gospel coming to bear in the church.  What Paul is saying has profound ramifications on our understanding of who we are not only in relation to Jesus who is the head of the body, but in our life together under the Gospel.

Part of the preaching task is to try to not only distill the essence of a text turn it into three points and poem, but rather to try, as best I can, help foster understanding of the text itself and so that we can figure out what to make of it for ourselves as individuals and our common life together.  Recently, I’ve been reflecting more and more on the thought of just how unfavorably the deck is stacked against us when it comes to understanding the Bible better.  Not only are we separated by time, place, language, and culture, but worldview.  Our culture praises the individual and honors self as the supreme authority.  This couldn’t be further away from Paul’s world which consisted of groups, always family and then, community, and then perhaps city or region.  They thought of themselves as integrally bound to one another for the common good.  This is somewhat simplistic as there were divisions in society as reflected in the Corinthian congregation, but Paul wrote to them to erase those divisions, to recognize that they were in a common community in Christ, in the Body of Christ.

Paul uses a rather easy metaphor for him and people of his day, head and body, to express His point about the unity of the Body of Christ but we don’t fully appreciate it because we don’t think that way.  The head governs the body but is not isolated from it.  The body serves the head but cannot exist without it.  If the head suffers, the body suffers too and vice versa.  But outside the church what is head of us?  The government?  I don’t think many would admit that.  We might have once said that the law itself was higher than us.  But when so many think they are above the law, it becomes increasingly hard to make a case for that.  Those attitudes that we have about our lives in the civil realm tend not to stay there.  They tend to inform our attitudes and behaviors in the God’s realm.  Some people in the Church are very quick to say that God is truly head of us, but then proceed to eviscerate His authority over most aspects of doctrine and life.  Like a poker player, their tell is the phrase, “I could never believe in a God who would… fill in the blank.”  Whenever they use it, they are not submitting to God as head, but submitting God to their headship.  There are significant consequences to those kinds of attitudes and behaviors because they are a rejection of God’s order in his realm.  We don’t fully appreciate Paul’s metaphor of head and body because we’re predisposed to reject it outright.

Paul then extends the metaphor of Head and Body to the relationship of members within that body to suggest that God may actually even have a suggested order for us in our life together with one another.  God is not just ordering our life with Him in the Church, but our lives together in the civil realm.  How about that?  God is the head of both His kingdom and the civil realm.  And so what Paul is saying is not just that we all just need to get along better, which we do, but that each needs to act toward one other in the way that it has been given them.  There are serving roles in the Church and there are leadership roles in the wider Church like the Apostles.  It would be far more godly to if we were to heed our leaders, those who were appointed by the Lord over us, instead of thinking we have a better way, a better angle on understanding the truth today.

We know from other examples of Roman orators that this idea of all of Roman society was like a human body.  But the point they made, quite clearly was that, just as different parts of the body were more high profile, more honorable, so some in society were of higher status and the others lived to serve them.  Paul took this idea common in his day and completely turned it on its head.  “No part of the body can say to another, I have no need of you.”  Paul even acknowledges that while there are some parts of the body that are less presentable than others, they are given greater honor!  What does Paul mean by this?  In his society, the most important were not seen in public; they were protected from view.  An emperor was never seen walking in the streets, only the minor officials would do that.  In a twofold sense, then the parts of the body that would otherwise be shameful, we cover up, because they are too important for every passer-by to gawk at.

And so everyone is a member of the Body of Christ, the most vulnerable are the most important and worthy of highest honor.  And on us all God bestows His gift of baptism to make us part of the Body of Christ.  In some philosophies, the body is despised, seen as dirty, shabby and nothing but a shell, to be tossed away as soon as shuffle off this mortal coil, but not so in the Christian worldview.  The eternal Word of God took on human flesh and dwelt among us to show us that the body is good and a gift from God.  The theology of the body is always made apparent in our funeral and especially out committal rites.  [insert quote from rite here]  God applies water along with His name to baptize to make our bodies members of the Body of Christ.  He cares for our bodies by providing for them everything we need to sustain this body and life.  Jesus Christ even puts into our mouths His very Body to establish and confirm us as part of His very own body.  How can I look down on one fellow redeemed creature, one who has been washed and fed by the Lord, as I have?  I cannot.

As individual members of the Body of Christ suffer, those who are mourning, those who are ill, those who are poor, so the whole Body suffers.  As one portion of the body of Christ suffers in the Sudan or in North Korea, the whole body of Christ suffers.  And as our relationship with one another grows, it has implications for our common relationship with God.  We know that as the body suffers, so the head shares in that suffering.  The suffering of Christ our head sanctified the suffering of the saints through the once-for-all sacrifice on the cross.

In this reading tonight we have a clear view of the Church and what the Church in relation to Jesus Christ.  The Church is the Body, Christ is the Head.  There should be no division in the body.  Paul is seeking to unite the Corinthian congregation by emphasizing the order God established in His creation and the priority of the Gospel in both the civil realm and the realm of God, after all He is head of both.  The sin of selfish inward thinking plaguing the Corinthians still disrupts congregations today when roles of service are not clearly defined or valued and when Christ’s headship is denigrated.  Yet also today, Christ unites us in Baptism and makes us His very Body.  Though wounded and afflicted, His Body can never be destroyed but carries out God’s loving purposes.[1]  Amen.

[1] Edward A. Engelbrecht, The Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 1967.

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Sermon for Pentecost 13 – 18 August, 2013

August 20, 2013 Leave a comment

A sermon for Pent 13 – Luke 12:49-56

LWML Retreat, Camp Linn Haven, 2013

Note:  This sermon was preached at the LMWL Carolinas District Retreat at Camp Linn Haven.  This might one of those cases when the written sermon is better than the preached one.  It certainly has more detail.  At any rate, that’s why they are both posted here.  Click the widget for mp3 audio.

The great composer Ludwig van Beethoven used sometimes to play a trick on polite salon audiences, especially when he guessed that they weren’t really interested in serious music. He would perform a piece on the piano, one of his own slow movements perhaps, which would be so gentle and beautiful that everyone would be lulled into thinking the world was a soft, cosy place, where they could think beautiful thoughts and relax into semi-slumber. Then, just as the final notes were dying away, Beethoven would bring his whole forearm down with a crash across the keyboard, and laugh at the shock he gave to the assembled company.

A bit cruel and impolite, perhaps. And of course in many of his own compositions Beethoven found less antisocial ways of telling his hearers that the world was full of pain as well as of beauty—and also of making the transition in the other direction, bringing joy out of tragedy, including his own tragic life, in wonderful and lasting ways. But the shock of that crash of notes interrupting the haunting melody is a good image for what Jesus had to say at the end of Luke 12.[1]

Welcome to one of the most difficult Gospel readings in the lectionary.  This is not, “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”  Luke has given us a glimpse of Jesus the fiery eyed and fiery tongued prophet.

Since the end of chapter 9, when Jesus has set His face toward Jerusalem, He has been traveling there.  Jesus is headed to Jerusalem because Jerusalem is the goal, the end point, the place where it will be completed, to borrow language from John, finished.  Jesus is speaking about this here in our reading this morning, albeit in a sorta sideways manner.  But the language is there in the word accomplished in the ESV translation.  If they had used the word “finished” here, we would have gotten to thinking about the cross sooner.  But it’s here and Jesus is talking about heading to the cross, heading to the completion of His work of salvation.  But that’s not the first thing that catches our attention in this text.

The first thing is the first word.  “Fire!” Jesus says, “I came to cast on the earth. And would that it were already started.”  I think we see and hear something of the frustration of Jesus that the people around him don’t “get it.”  Don’t get what’s he’s about, don’t get what the kingdom of God is, don’t get what is about to happen once he reaches Jerusalem.  It’s not the same kind of frustration we might have trying to explain something to someone that they just don’t understand.  It’s like trying to explain something to someone that they are simply incapable of understanding, given their limited understanding of the world.

My dear brother, Tom, spent some time in Afghanistan a few years back looking for bad guys.  Part of his job was questioning local Pashtun tribesmen about the comings and goings of people in the area, particularly any 6 foot 4” Arabs who might be travelling through the area.  In one of his interactions with a local he was trying to impress the man that dealing with the United States was a good thing.  It would be a good thing to make friends with the most powerful nation on earth.  After all, we have sent men to the moon.  My brother Tom, said that the man just smiled and said, “You think I am only a simple Pashtun tribesman, but even I know that the moon is far too small for a man to fit on.”

As Jesus has been traveling from Galilee up north to Jerusalem, the only people He seems to meet are people who don’t get it.  Even as after His death and resurrection, as He is preparing to ascend into heaven, the disciples ask him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore your kingdom to Israel?”  The disciples don’t get it for ten more days, until the Spirit is poured out at Pentecost and then they understand.  “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified… [He is] both Lord and Christ,” says Peter in the temple precincts. Keep in mind, Peter, a devout Jew, was standing in the temple and proclaiming Jesus to be Lord, that is Yahweh, the God of Israel, and the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed One of Yahweh.  That’s called guts, by the way.  And we are usually impressed by the number of converts that day, three thousand, it says, but that something less than five percent of the crowd who might have been in the vicinity.  (Acts 2)  The rest are like that smart Pashtun tribesman who realizes the moon is too small for a man; they simply cannot conceive of all the fullness of Yahweh dwelling in human flesh, dying for sin, being baptized with a baptism of repentance and being baptized with a baptism of judgment on the cross.  And yet that is the mission of God for the salvation of His people.

Jesus has come into the world bringing the Kingdom of God, bringing order and life and restoration to a world that is disordered and full of death and disease and fundamentally broken.  He is headed to Jerusalem, to the baptism that awaits him there, a baptism of judgment.  We get the sense that even amidst the misunderstanding of His mission, Jesus longs to announce that His mission is finished, God’s plan of salvation has come to completion. “How I wish that fiery baptism was already kindled.  Or maybe even, how I wish the fire of Pentecost had already come. It would prepare the disciples for what’s coming in Jerusalem.  Jesus has already looked forward to what awaits Him there and He knows what’s there.  He’s even looked forward to what will happen even to families who will hear the message of the kingdom.  There will not be peace because some will reject his message, his work, his mission, and that will cause division.  And yet they can’t see it.

They can see other things clearly.  They can forecast the weather in Israel.  It’s not hard.  The prevailing weather pattern is from west to east.  If they see a cloud rising in the west, they’ll get a thunderstorm.  If the wind starts blowing out of the south, up out of the Arabian peninsula, it will just be miserably hot.  They can read the signs of the weather, but they can’t read the other signs of what’s coming.  It shouldn’t be hard.  Jesus comes proclaiming a kingdom in region already ruled by Herod and the Romans in the political sphere and the wealthy arrogant high priests and the false piety of the Pharisees in the religious sphere.  It’s into that powder keg that a fiery preacher comes preaching and end to every current power broker and a new beginning for everyone in the kingdom of God He came to bring.  It should be clear to anyone, as clear as the weather, but it’s not.  Not for them then, not for us now.

And this brings us to the heart of the message of Jesus.  Jesus did not just come to tell us to be nicer to everyone for a change and got himself crucified for his trouble.  The message of the Gospel is that the broken world is being fixed.  Through the centuries, the Church has almost always understood that Jesus calls each generation of those who follow after him to decide what is most important for them, too.  That is each generation must learn to read the signs of the times and react accordingly.  I can all but guarantee that message of the Jesus’ kingdom is not being proclaimed in the halls of power today by any political party, nor is it being reported on the channels of any cable news outlet.

I think we’ve come to a day when most Christians are like the salon audiences Beethoven entertained.  We are too comfortable.  I’m thinking of famous television preachers who preach the Christian rather than preach Christ.  I’m thinking of the reports I’ve heard of some churches where all reference to sin and judgment in the service, like confession and absolution have been removed from the service.  I wonder in how many churches this week, this Gospel reading will be replaced with something more warm and cozy.  Maybe now is the time, when, like Beethoven, like Jesus, to wake people up with a crash.

As you wrestle with so great a challenge, take comfort in the One who calls you. He is faithful.  He longed to go to the cross for you, to be baptized with the baptism of judgment for you.

[1] Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 158-59.

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Sermon for Weds in Pentecost 12

August 15, 2013 2 comments

2 Samuel 1:1-27 and 1 Corinthians 7:25-40

Heavenly Host, 2013

Click the widget for mp3 audio

So tonight’s readings are David’s hearing of Saul’s death and what might appear, on first glance, to be a fairly arcane passage from 1 Corinthians about marriage.  Let’s face it, the last time you were facing a spiritual crisis you did not say, “Wow, that Scripture reading about David executing the Amalekite messenger really pulled me through.”  And so with that, we’ve probably reached the point where I should probably explain a little about the readings we’re using for these Wednesday night services.  But before that I need to back up one more step.

When I figured out there was a Wednesday night service, which I don’t think was until after I accepted the call, my first question was, “What is it?”  I know what it could be.  I know that Baptists have Wednesday night church as a part of their tradition, oftentimes a shorter prayer service with breakouts to other groups.  I actually grew up in a Lutheran congregation that did something similar.  I have fond memories of those times.  But we’re not Baptists and we don’t have other programs on Wednesday night.  But we Lutherans do have a tradition of midweek services at least in Advent and Lent but again those are preparatory seasons, penitential seasons when it makes more sense to set aside time midweek for communal prayer and a renewed focus on God’s Word.  Certainly we haven’t stretched Lent out to last all year long.  We have inherited an even deeper tradition of daily prayer in the Church which goes back to well before the Reformation. Interesting side note, every Lutheran hymnal printed in English in America has had the services of daily prayer for morning and evening, Matins and Vespers.  So, a daily prayer service is part of who we are, if not a very well explored part.  Is Weds night linked to that tradition in any way?  I hope so but to what extent here I’m not entirely sure and then we add Holy Communion to services here which really is outside that weekday daily prayer context and is something more of an extension of the Sunday Divine Service into the middle of the week.  So what is Wednesday night service?  It’s probably a little bit of everything we just mentioned but it’s still not all that clear yet to me.

Maybe a better question is, “Who comes and why?”  There are some of you who only come to Wednesday night service, which is fine, it’s great actually.  I’m glad you’re here and I’m glad we can offer this time as an alternative to Sunday mornings.  And there are some of you who come to both a service on Sunday and come to Wednesdays too, which is also great.  I’m glad we can offer this time to you provide another opportunity for you to pray with the visible Church and like tonight, receive the Sacrament of the Altar.  And yet, this is still a midweek service, not a weekend service and that means that we probably can’t just rehash Sunday’s service and sermon for Wednesday night, not if we expect many of you to keep coming anyway.  So what to do?  What Scriptures should we gather round?  What should form the core of what we do together?

We have connections to all those traditions I mentioned, some closer to us and some further away.  We shouldn’t just see ourselves as existing unto ourselves.  On Sundays we follow a common lectionary, a series of readings over three years that is common to congregations not just in our own synod or even the Lutheran tradition but one shared with the Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Episcopalians, even the Methodists, Presbyterians, and the Reformed churches.  There are a few differences occasionally but a truly significant number of churches essentially read the same Bible readings each Sunday.  But if we’re not going to use the Sunday readings on Wednesday night, what should we use?  There is a two-year daily lectionary with three readings like we have on Sundays.  It was adopted by the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship in the second to last hymnal revision.  It came from the daily lectionary in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.  That’s certainly a viable option and may be where we go in the future.  But for now I have chosen the one-year daily lectionary from the Treasury of Daily Prayer, a resource published by our own publishing house.  There are a couple of strengths to it.  First, the readings are longer but of reasonable length and are typically continuous.  That is, between this week’s second reading in First Corinthians chapter 7 and last week’s reading in chapter 1, there were 6 other readings.  Unless you’re using the Treasury, you probably didn’t read them, but they’re there to be read.  The other strengths of this set up are that throughout the year, we read almost the entire New Testament and about a third of the Old Testament.  The readings are in tune with the seasonal movement of the Church Year but aren’t hard to follow.  Not only are the great Bible stories covered but also some portions more often neglected.  And also for us as we meet on Wednesdays, the readings will shift year after year as each Wednesday happens to fall on a different date with an assigned lectionary reading.

By the way there’s also an app called Pray Now (available for both iOS and Android)  that is essentially the Treasury of Daily Prayer sorted out for you each day.  If you’re interested, you can click the links here.

So you finally have an explanation of the readings we’ve had since I arrived and will understand, I hope, why some of these reading are the way they are.

There are some take-away points, of course in the readings tonight.  In a classic reversal of “don’t shoot the messenger” David executes the Amalekite who helped Saul to kill himself, which was tantamount to murdering the Lord’s own anointed king of Israel, an offense punishable by death.  There is a clear difference in the Scripture between murder and killing, which is not merely semantics.  God is the author of human life and desires that innocent life be protected from harm.  Hence the commandment, “You shall not murder.”  And He has also given authority to proper government to punish wrongdoing, hence David’s order that the Amalekite messenger who took Saul’s life be executed.  Arguing for capital punishment today on the basis of Biblical precedent is a little more difficult.  It’s far easier to argue for the idea of capital punishment in general than it is a specific instance where the situation is not as cut and dry as it was here in aftermath of Saul’s death.  It might also be startling to us to read of David’s lament not just for Jonathan, his dear friend, but sang of his love and respect for King Saul, a man who had forced him to live as a fugitive for more than 12 years.  David does not delight in the downfall of his enemy.  There’s more here than just a different political climate in David’s day.  David exemplifies the heart of God toward His enemies, toward us sinners who have received His amazing grace in Christ Jesus.  If you’re looking for Jesus, here He is.

The second reading is perhaps even harder.  Paul seems to be speaking about a particular situation, in a particular place, relevant only to particular people, specifically, those who have not yet married in Corinth.  Paul alludes to a situation there, “the present distress” but doesn’t spell out what it is.  Some have speculated that Paul may be thinking the Day of the Lord is near.  He certainly does so in other letters.  Others have suggested a local persecution.  But extrabiblical sources indicate that the region experienced a significant shortage of grain[1] around the time Paul wrote his first letter to the Christians in Corinth.  If this is the case, Paul’s recommendation not to marry makes more sense immediately.  I think that in general, Paul gets a bad rap on his views on marriage.  I think that typically happens because they don’t understand the context of what he says.  Paul says here that, given the situation, probably a famine, it might not be the best time to get married.  It would be hard enough to get married in normal times but to get married and try to establish a household and start a family in the midst of a famine would be next to impossible.  And if as a result of this famine, Paul had begun to the think the coming of the Lord was imminent, a la the apocalyptic sayings of Jesus (Lk 21:11, 13) then all the more reason for folks to remain as they are.  It won’t be long now.

Now, we also know this text has been pulled into service for all kinds of mischief, too, including the idea of celibate priests in the Roman Church.  But it certainly wasn’t meant to be used that way.  And that leads me to another point about learning to understand the Bible better.  Last week, of course we learned to look for Jesus.  This week that’s pretty hard but Jesus is there in the amazing grace of David toward Saul and in inspiring the faith of Paul to act and advise others as if Jesus’ return could be any time now.  If last week the key was to look for Jesus in the text, this week the key is to understand better the times in which the New Testament was written.  Paul notes in Galatians 4, that it was “when the fullness of time had come, [that] God sent forth his Son…” (Gal 4:4)  There’s a whole lot caught up in that phrase.  There’s a new book out about Jesus, written by an author that I have come to respect and admire, at least up till now, Reza Aslan.  The book is called Jesus, the Zealot.  I don’t think it’s a particularly good book and Aslan certainly has an axe to grind as a former Evangelical Christian returned to the Islam of his Persian heritage.  Aslan essentially rides out on the hundred year-old horse of the distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, a distinction first made by Albert Schweitzer in 1910 with his Quest for the Historical Jesus.  In case you’re wondering, the distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith is a false distinction and made mostly by those folks who reject the Church as any authority to speak for Jesus.  They tend to like Jesus sounding like a cross between a prophet and a hippie rather than Messiah of Yahweh.  But one of the big points Aslan has made in his interviews on the book tour is absolutely right on the money: most Christians today simply understand far too little of the historical and social context of the Scriptures and end up treating them as fairy tales from God.  The case in point is not from Aslan’s book about Jesus but from Paul’s comments here about marriage.  Without understanding from extrabiblical sources that there was a severe famine in the region, Paul’s comments on marriage here take on a really weird character that don’t fit with the rest of Scripture.  With that bit of background in mind, they make perfect sense.  Aslan may be wrong about Jesus but he’s right about us.  We don’t know as much as we should about the texts that are the norm for our faith and life.

God acts in human history.  God intervened at just the right moment in human history to send His Son to be born of Mary and to die on the cross.  We usually think of the important language of the Church as Latin and it will come to be so in about 300 hundred years.  But when Jesus is born the important language is a leftover from the previous cultural imperialists, Alexander’s Greeks.  No other culture has spread as far or as wide as Hellenism.  The Romans provided the relative safety of the empire, think of Paul’s citizenship, and they provided the roads and the mail system, the first of their kind.  But the language of the day was Greek and everybody knew quite a bit of it. It’s really quite marvelous, from the perspective of history to see the confluence of conditions to make a hothouse for Christianity to spread throughout the entire Roman world.  God intervened at just the right moment, “when the fullness of time had come.”

And so, for now at least, we have an opportunity for longer readings, for continuous readings, for readings that cover almost the entire New Testament and about a third of the Old Testament, and readings that flow with the Church Year so that we can understand the Scriptures better and understand its context better and understand better what God is saying to us today about who we are to Him and how we should then live out the truth we have been given.  Because God has, in Christ, acted to save us for the sake of all people, He acted in Christ, for your sake.  Amen.

[1] Numerous Greek states were affected by food shortages in the a.d. 40s and 50s. From that period there is important epigraphic evidence regarding Tiberius Claudius Dinippus, who was responsible for grain during three shortages in Corinth. One of these occasions has been placed during Gallio’s proconsulship of Achaia in a.d. 51 (cf. Acts 18:12), another seems to have preceded Gallio’s term and Paul’s first visit to the city, while the third has been placed later. Dinippus was honored with inscriptions and possibly a statue, indicating the Corinthians’ great appreciation of his services. (Lockwood, 1 Corinthians, p. 253)

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