Sermons

Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 20, 2020
Luke 1:26-38

The holy gospel according to Luke. Glory to you, O Lord.

26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin woman engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And the angel came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by the angel’s words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his dominion there will be no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Today’s gospel reading is the story of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel brought the news that Mary would mysteriously become pregnant by the Holy Spirit to give birth to a most holy child indeed.

The chronology here is out of step on this Fourth Sunday of Advent as we approach the Christmas birth anniversary in just a few days. The other festival commemorating the Annunciation happens on March 25, nine months before Christmas, in keeping with the nine months of typical human pregnancy before giving birth.

Third Sunday of Advent, December 13, 2020
John 1:6-8, 19-28

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

    19This is the testimony given by John when the Judeans sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20John confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23John said,

    “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,

    ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said.

    24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

There are many compelling verses among the readings appointed for today, passages full of en-Spirited energies. But the one that draws most of my attention is this, when John the Baptizer responds to the queries of the Pharisees about his identity and what he was up to: “Among you stands one whom you do not know…”

John said this of Jesus, “the one who [was] coming after [him]; the thong of whose sandal [he] was not worthy to untie.” (cf. John 1:26-27)

The religious leaders who were sent to John to interrogate him about who he was were not at the time curious about Jesus. They wanted to know if John was the Messiah. And if not the Messiah, then a return of Elijah. And if not Elijah, then one of the other prophets.

John answered no to all of the above. Then the religious leaders asked with perhaps some exasperation: “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

John’s response was to quote the prophet Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”

That says a lot, but it’s still not a very direct or straightforward answer which no doubt only added to the frustration of the leaders who needed to know.

There’s a lot of mystery, vagueness and uncertainty in the atmosphere of the reading for today from John’s Gospel.

There was a lot of mystery and uncertainty in the religious milieu of John’s and Jesus’ day and decades later when John’s Gospel and the other Gospels were written. In Jesus’ day, there were various religious movements in Jewish territory occupied by the Roman Empire. By the time John’s Gospel was written, the temple had been destroyed altering the nature of Judaism and Christianity was beginning to emerge. All of this change made for social and religious turmoil and uncertainty.

There’s a lot of mystery and uncertainty today all around us amidst the changes and chances of life in the twenty-first century. We live this everyday in one way or another. And reports of change and turmoil fill headlines in the 24 hour news cycles.

In uncertain times, it is human nature to seek after certainty. Enquiring minds want to know. We want to be in control. Knowing and understanding helps this sense of feeling in control.

Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, 2020
Mark 1:1-8

The holy gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

    “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
        who will prepare your way;
    3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
        ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
        make straight the paths of the Lord,’ ”

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “After me one who is more powerful than I is coming; the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I have baptized you with water; but the one who is coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Like one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread, I want to share with you how I am drawn to receive the power of the holy scriptures and how they find their way into the deep places of our lives for our healing.

First Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2020
Mark 13:24-37

The holy gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

Jesus said: 24“In those days, after that suffering,

   the sun will be darkened,

         and the moon will not give its light,

   25and the stars will be falling from heaven,

         and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

26Then they will see ‘the Son-of-Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then the Son-of-Man will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like someone going on a journey, who leaving home and putting the slaves in charge of their own work, commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the lord of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else coming suddenly, the lord may find you asleep. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

“Almighty God grant us a quiet night and peace at the last.” That’s how Compline, or Night Prayer, begins. Compline is the last prayer office of the day in the monastery before monks return to their cells for sleep. Night Prayer begins the period of Great Silence, when no talk is undertaken until silence is broken the next morning.

This opening statement of Night Prayer asks for a good night’s rest. But it also points to the end of life, our death. Each day in the monastery spiritually is a mini life cycle when retiring for bed is a symbol of our own death.

Another version of the opening sentence of Night Prayer is more abrupt: “The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end.”

The remembrance of our mortality is a healthy feature of the Christian spiritual life, especially when such acknowledgment deepens our faith and trust in almighty God. Night Prayer is not just for monks – we can pray it, too, and there is an order for Night Prayer in Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Likewise, we all, not just monks, need reminders of our mortality to be spiritually healthy.

Christ the King, November 22, 2020
Matthew 25:31-46

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

Jesus said: 31“When the Son-of-Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the dominion prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and the devil’s angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Today is the culminating day in the church year, the Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King, when we are invited to contemplate the nature of Christ’s reign and rule.

So it is that the gospel reading appointed for today is the parable of the judgment of the nations, where the Son of Man in glory separates, as it were, the sheep from the goats, rewarding some and sending the others to punishment. In wonderful ways, appointing this parable for Christ the King turns upside down our expectations concerning kingship, monarchial rule.

In short, the message becomes clear that Christ’s throne as ruler is not in some gilded palace. No, Christ’s throne is down and dirty among the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick, the prisoners – in short, among the least of those who are members of the Son of Man’s family.

Pentecost 24A, November 15, 2020
Matthew 25:14-30

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

Jesus said: 14“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Today is our stewardship Sunday when we ask to receive in various ways and formats your pledges to financially support Resurrection Church in the coming year. On first glance, what a perfect coincidence it is that today we have the parable of the talents from Matthew as our gospel reading for the day. A talent in the Bible is an ancient unit of weight that measures value. So, a biblical talent is more about money than about a gift or skill, as in the way we use the word ‘talent’ in English.

A once-over-lightly reading of the parable of the talents suggests that it prescribes a strategy for investment. Those entrusted with talents by the wealthy man who went away on a journey were not instructed what to do with their talents. They had to take their own initiative. Two of the three servants invested their talents and made more talents. One dug a hole and buried the talent. The first two were rewarded. The last who hid the talent was condemned.

The seemingly clear message? Be bullish with your talents and your investment strategies. Be bold and you’ll win, and you will be rewarded by the wealthy man upon his return. In contrast, timidity has no place in the divine investment scheme of things. In fact, timidity will be punished.

Pentecost 23A, November 8, 2020
Matthew 25:1-13 

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

Jesus said: 1“Then the dominion of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Sir, sir, open to us.’ 12But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Seasons are changing all around us. Autumn is definitely in the air. The days are shorter and cooler. Winter is coming.

We’ve just had our national elections, ending seemingly interminable seasons of campaigning. Whatever the forthcoming final results and other outcomes of the elections, this will be a new season in our life together as a nation.

We are also entering a new season with the pandemic as the weather cools and people are spending more time indoors. Covid cases are surging throughout the world and nation, where we are in the midst of a third wave of the disease.

In the rhythms of the seasons of the church year, we are also approaching the end of an annual cycle. A new liturgical calendar will begin on the First Sunday in Advent at the end of this month.

All Saints, November 1, 2020
Matthew 5:1-12

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Today, once again, we celebrate all the saints, the countless throngs, the nameless, who themselves are not honored on particular saints’ days at other points in the year. All Saints Day has come to be blended in practice with All Souls Day, November 2, on which day we remember all those others among our family members and friends, especially those who have died in the past year, along with those whom we wish intentionally to call to mind.

Thus, we will incorporate into our prayers of intercession for home worship today a listing of those whom members of Resurrection have requested that we remember.

All Saints is an occasion to look back, to remember those who have gone before us. Our memories may make for wistful nostalgia for perceived better days of yore, particularly when we were united in our lives and routines with our loved ones.

All Saints Day also has a future orientation, when we look for that day when we’ll be reunited with those who have already died in the faith.

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, October 25, 2020
Matthew 22:34-46

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

34When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked Jesus a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”   41Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42“What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 Jesus said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,

44‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet” ’?

45If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46No one was able to give Jesus an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Once more, the religious leaders, this time a lawyer, question Jesus to test him. If you’ve been following these sermons each week recently, you know that this kind of interrogation of Jesus has been going on in the gospel readings Sunday after Sunday.

But I love how the passage ends: “No one was able to give [Jesus] an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask [Jesus] any more questions.” (Matthew 22:46) Maybe we’re done with all of these difficult passages from Matthew which feature religious authorities trying to trap Jesus….

Today happens to be Reformation Sunday, the day when we may be given to a bit of Lutheran triumphalism, an occasion for pride in our Lutheranism. But let’s resist such temptation and be about preaching the gospel of Christ, still with admittedly Lutheran accents.

Today’s readings for the twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost focus a great deal on the commandments, the Law of God.

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, October 18, 2020
Matthew 22:15-22

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to Jesus, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then Jesus said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Or in an older translation, perhaps more familiar in the popular mind, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

According to the commentators I read in preparation for this sermon, this well-known phrase attributed to Jesus is not Jesus’ definitive teaching on the separation of church and state.

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