Transfiguration A: Timely Words

Matthew 17:1-9 Dear Partner in Preaching, “Listen to him.” “Be raised up.” “Do not be afraid.” If there were ever three words of instruction, command, and promise I need to hear right now, it’s probably these. Just to set the scene: six days after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah – and Jesus’ rebuke of Peter’s understanding of what it means to be the Messiah – Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain and is transfigured. That is, his appearance is literally changed right in front of them, so that while they recognize their Lord they also perceive his heavenly glory in a way they had not before....

Epiphany 7 A: Telos

Matthew 5:38-48 Dear Partner, Ahh, the temptations we preachers are going to feel as we read this difficult passage! I’ve preached it enough, and you probably have to, to be familiar with at least two of them. The first will be to not take it seriously. I call this the “Lutheran temptation” simply because when Lutherans get to really difficult says from Jesus, we tend to assume that Jesus didn’t really expect us to do these things, only to remind us of our inability to satisfy God’s commands so that we might flee to Jesus for forgiveness and grace. While I’m not sure this actually reflects Luther’s thought, some of his...

Epiphany 6A: On Love and the Law

Matthew 5:21-37 Dear Partner, What do you think of when you think of God? What picture comes to mind when you imagine what God is like? It’s a tricky question, I realize, as Scripture regularly describes the impossibility of seeing, let alone fully understanding, God. When Moses wants to see God, for instance, the most God offers is facing Moses toward the cleft of a rock so he can see the “trail of God’s glory” as God passes by for, as God says, “no one can see me and live” (Ex. 33:20-23). Similarly, St. John, in the prologue to his Gospel, says that “no one has seen God” (Jn. 1:18a). Despite these biblical affirmations,...

Epiphany 5 A – Promises, Not Commands

Matthew 5:13-20 Dear Partner in Preaching, It’s a promise, not a command. This is, I think, the absolutely crucial element of this passage to keep in mind and allow to shape your sermon. Jesus isn’t saying, “You should be the salt of the earth and light of the world.” Or, “You have to be,…” let alone “You better be,….” Rather, he is saying, you are. As in already are. Even if you don’t know it. Even if you once knew it and forgot. Even if you have a hard time believing it. Jesus is making to his disciples a promise about their very being, he is not commanding, let alone threatening, them about what they should be...

Epiphany 4 A – Recognizing Blessing

Matthew 5:1-12 Dear Partner in Preaching, Matthew tells the story a little differently. You probably know that just as well as I do. Yet when I read the “Sermon the Mount” I sometimes blend Matthew’s account and Luke’s together, blurring some of the distinctiveness. In Luke, for instance, Jesus offers his sermon not on a mountain but a “level plain.” And in Luke Jesus preaches to “a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people” (Lk. 6:17). But in Matthew Jesus has just twelve disciples – the twelve we often call them – representing the twelve tribes of Israel. The crowds,...

Epiphany 3 A: Being Before Doing

Matthew 4:12-23 Dear Partner in Preaching, This is the third time I am starting this letter to you. The first time I felt like it was going in the wrong direction after just a few paragraphs. The second time, even with more than 900 words, it just didn’t seem like it said much. And so I’m trying again. Some weeks it’s like that – you just have a hard time finding something to say and then another hard time saying it. You’ve been there, I’ve been there. It’s part of the call. And that’s what I want to focus on: the call. Except not just our call, but instead the call, God’s call, God’s call to each and every one of...