Sermons

The Forgotten Epistles Titus 3:3-8 8/2/2020

I am the Church; You are the Church

This morning we begin our summer sermon series with a reading from the letter to Titus – and with an important distinction. Saint Paul did not write any of the letters we will be exploring. Instead, these are classified as “letters of Paul” in the same way that many of the later psalms are classified as being “psalms of David.” That is, they were almost certainly composed by people who came after Paul and in the manner, style, and tone of Paul, as a tribute to Paul and his work.Continue Reading

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Twice in the last three weeks, Jesus has concluded his parables with the admonition, “Let anyone who has ears, listen!” Maybe it’s less an admonition than pleading. What you seek, what you ask for, what you say you want is all around you, on every side. Can you see it?        Continue Reading

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Last week’s text, the parable of the sower, focused on where that seed landed and how God would provide the increase. The parable of the weeds (sometimes called ‘tares’) focuses on the judgment that will befall “all causes of sin and all evildoers” (Matthew 13:41). It appears to describe a “them-and-us” situation, tempting you and me to decide who are the evildoers and who the children of the kingdom – a trap that is unfortunately easy to fall into.Continue Reading

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Nothing like the Parable of the Sower to stir up a little good old-fashioned Lutheran Guilt. We are a denomination rooted in immigrants from Germany and from Scandinavia, immigrants who found in the new world a land and a soil that reminded them of the homes they had left, and who responded by planting and farming, by sowing and reaping. And so for a lot of us, when we hear about seed landing on good soil, on rocky soil, among thorns, and on paths, our collective first thought tends to be: Uffda! I should have been more careful about wasting those seeds then.Continue Reading

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost Matthew 10:40-42

Admirable Accommodation

The story is told – in the gospel according to the Internet – of a pastor visiting with a new member. The pastor says, “How is your relationship with God?” The new member replies: “There’s not much to tell. I like sinning. God likes forgiving. We get along just fine.”Continue Reading

Third Sunday after Pentecost Matthew 10:24-39

We live in a time of fearful hearts, encountering tension and disagreement seemingly at every turn, and we seem to need more than ever what Anne Lamott, who is a writer and theologian in California, calls “the beggy prayers.” Help. I got nothing. Do something. Fix this.Continue Reading

Second Sunday after Pentecost Matthew 9:35 — 10:8 [9-23]

In the classic Rankin-Bass television production Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, with Fred Astaire narrating and Mickey Rooney as Kriss Kringle, the young toymaker’s kindness and generosity and love finally melt the heart of the icy and wicked Old Man Winter. When Winter understands, he sings, “If I want to change the reflection/I see in the mirror each morn/you mean it’s just my election/to vote for a chance to be reborn!”[1] Each morning with the gift of a new day, each of us has been invited to serve as a mirror to reflect Jesus to the world, through our words and our actions, our prayers, and our faith.

In the Gospel reading, we hear first what Jesus himself is doing: Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.

And we see that part of Jesus’ mission has been to entrust to others the work of the Kingdom. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Jesus gives them instructions that sound almost exactly like the work of Jesus: As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

In other words: reflect to those you encounter a mirror image of who I am and what I do.

But this is impossible! It’s too big, too much, and we are not Jesus! (I did actually check; turns out we’re not.) We can’t mirror him to the world!

Funny thing about mirror images.

The mirror as we know it – the sheet of glass treated with a deposit of wet silver that gives you and me a discouragingly accurate reflection of ourselves – dates back only a little more than a hundred years. In Jesus’ day, and in the time of Saint Paul, a “mirror” was little more than a small piece of metal or stone that required frequent polishing and yet still gave back a dark, blurred, and distorted image. At best, it might be a little like seeing your face in the back of a spoon or on the side of the toaster at breakfast. This is why in First Corinthians Paul says that now we see as in a mirror, darkly.

In other words – when Jesus was sending the Twelve out to be reflections of him to the world, it was in a time that reflections were dim and imperfect. Deeply flawed. Nothing like the reality. But this is what Jesus wants of you and me. Knowing that we are far from being Jesus ourselves. Knowing how blurry smudged we are. Knowing how pitifully short we are going to fall at being laborers of the harvest. He invites us to bring the good news anyway.

It’s no accident that his instructions to his disciples are virtually identical to this passage’s description of what Jesus is doing. A mirror image, you might say.

Flawed, smudgy, blurred and imperfect as you and I are – reflect Jesus anyway. Short-tempered, self-centered, distracted, and fretful as you and I are – reflect Jesus anyway.

But I can’t do that! That’s impossible! It’s too big a job! How can I possibly get through this list of what Jesus is inviting me to do?

Remember Old Man Winter? “If I want to change my reflection/I see in the mirror each morn/You mean it’s just my election/to vote for a chance to be reborn.” By now, Kriss Kringle has shown Winter enough persistent love and compassion and kind words and kind deeds that Winter is actually excited at the prospect of changing his reflection.

But that comes later in the song. At first, Winter is overwhelmed and discouraged. I’m too old to change. There’s too much that I would have to do. I’m not you – I’m never going to be able to do what you do.

And when Kriss Kringle is inviting the desperately lonely and frozen hermit to be a new creation, Kriss knows that it’s vital not to get overwhelmed. So he tells Winter how to tackle what seems like an impossible task – how to go about changing his reflection.

“Put one foot in front of the other/and soon you’ll be walking ’cross the floor. Put one foot in front of the other/and soon you’ll be walking out the door. You’ll never get where you’re going/if you never get up on your feet,”[2] he tells Winter. Yes, the first step is the hardest – but there’s a lot to be said for momentum.

My dad, who is approaching eighty-seven years, continues to be active in community theater, lately by participating in brief reader’s theater productions via Zoom. He has some wisdom for anyone who wants to reflect Jesus, however imperfectly, but finds it too overwhelming, too big a job. This is something he learned as a young person in a Baltimore theater company. “Once the curtain falls on the final performance, everyone pitches in to help return the stage and dressing rooms to their clean, empty original condition,” he says. It’s called striking the set. “Scenery is disassembled, lights disconnected and removed, props, costumes, makeup, everything goes, and the place is thoroughly cleaned.”

Even now, he recalls his first experience with striking the set. “All around me, things were happening fast. I had to jump out of the way as battens bearing lights and scenic drops were being lowered from the loft, and set pieces were being carried off. I kept standing around, getting in the way, waiting for someone to tell me what to do. No one did, so I picked my way through the activity to a backstage corner, grabbed a large push broom and started sweeping. Before long, others joined me as we put the final touches on the cleanup.

“So that’s how it is, I thought. If you haven’t been assigned a specific task, make one up. Do something useful.

“Grab a broom.”

Every day, every hour, every word we speak and every action we perform, is an invitation to reflect Jesus, to be a mirror in which others can see the Christ – both in us and in themselves. “If I want to change the reflection/I see in the mirror each morn/You mean it’s just my election/to vote for a chance to be reborn.” Put one foot in front of the other. And grab a broom.

 

[1] “One Foot in Front of the Other,” by Jules Bass and Maury Laws. © Warner Chappell Music Co.

[2] “One Foot in Front of the Other.” © Warner Chappell Music Co.

The Holy Trinity Matthew 28:16-20

Once upon a time.

That’s how all good stories begin, with those four beguiling words: “Once upon a time.” And we’re immediately hooked. We want to know what happens next. And the next line could be anything!Continue Reading

Day of Pentecost John 20:19-23

Today is a day to celebrate, and rightly so. From the urgent and earth-shattering messages by way of the Son of God, a small group of students were charged with spreading the Word: Go and tell. Go and make disciples. Go and baptize. And on this day, less than two months out from the resurrection, something astonishing happened. Just as the baptism of Jesus symbolized a healing closure to the Flood, the understanding of many languages on Pentecost symbolized a healing closure to the Tower of Babel. Where once God caused misunderstanding and disunity, on this day God brought understanding and unity. It is absolutely a day to celebrate!Continue Reading