Bishop Michael Rinehart

Advent 3B – December 17, 2017

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 – The spirit of the Lord God is upon me… he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn… to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.

Psalm 126 – When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter… The Lord has done great things for us… Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb. May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
Luke 1:46-55 – The Magnificat. Mary’s song. My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… (ELW pp. 314-315, hymns 236, 251, 573, 723, 882, 723)

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 – Respect those who work among you in the Gospel. Be at peace with one another. Admonish the idol. Encourage the fainthearted. Help the weak. Do not repay evil for evil. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances.

John 1:6-8, 19-28 – John: there was a man, sent from God. He was not the light, but he came to bear witness to the light. I am the voice in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord.

Advent B Summary

  • Advent 1B Mark 13:24-37: About that day or hour no one knows
  • Advent 2B Mark 1:1-8 The Voice: Prepare the way of the Lord
  • Advent 3B John 1:6-8, 19-28 John: The voice in the wilderness
  • Advent 4B Luke 1:26-38 The Annunciation

A Magnificent Magnificat

Although next week we will have the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38), this week an option for the psalm is the Magnificat (Luke 1:47-55). The Magnificat is a psalm option every year in Advent. In Year A it is a psalm option for Advent 3. In Year B (this year) it is an option both Advent 3 and Advent 4. In Year C it is a psalm option Advent 4.

Mary’s song provides a stark contrast to the backdrop of partisan politics, harassment scandals of those in power, and a recently passed tax plan:

46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant…

51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

This is a powerful, subversive gospel. Who can hear it?


Mary illustration on manuscript

John’s John is Just John

Advent often rolls like this: Week one is on the Second Coming. Weeks two and three focus on John the Baptist. Week four focuses on Mary.

The first lesson for Advent 3B is from Isaiah 61, in which there are echoes of Mary’s song.

The spirit of the Lord is upon me. I’ve been anointed to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to those in prison.

1 Thessalonians also touches upon Mary’s song with Paul’s exhortation to rejoice always, give thanks at all times, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, to not return evil for evil.

Though we are in a Markan year, the gospel reading comes from John this Sunday. To save us from an exceedingly long gospel reading, we read John the Evangelist’s introduction of John the Baptist (sic), skip John’s foray into light and then hear about John’s understanding of his call.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. (John 1:6-8)

A man sent from God is a prophet. John the Evangelist and the other gospel writers hold John the Baptist in high regard. Brian Stoffregen points out no one else in John’s gospel is “sent by God.” In John’s gospel, even Jesus is not sent by God. Jesus is God. “The Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning.”

John the baptist pointingAs Karoline Lewis tells us at Working Preacher, John’s John is different than the synoptic writers’ (Matthew, Mark and Luke’s) John. John’s John is just John. That is, John’s John is never “John the Baptist.” Just John.

Yes, John’s John happens to baptize with water here and there, but this is incidental. John never baptizes Jesus in John’s gospel. Whereas Mark wants us to identify John with Elijah, John’s John quite clearly states he is not. And unlike in the synoptic gospels, John’s John doesn’t eat bugs or wear itchy camel hair. He never asks anyone to repent of anything. He just points to Jesus. In fact, John never even uses the word “repent.”

In our heads we tend to mash up the stories of the four gospels, but to understand John’s theology, we need to, for a moment anyway, get Mark’s John, Matthew’s John and Luke’s John completely out of our heads.

John’s John testifies to the coming of light into the world.

Hear the cosmic mystery of the Gospel of John: In the beginning was the Word. The word was light, the light of all humanity. That light shines in the darkness. The darkness has not overcome it. The Word/Light became flesh in the form of Jesus (who has not yet been named in the Gospel according to John. John “outed” him. “Look! Him!”

Several pieces of the skipped portion are helpful. In verse 14 the Word/Light becomes flesh to dwell among us. And verse 15: 

John testified about him and shouted out, “This one was the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’”

John is the announcer. The testifier. The witness. The Voice in the Wilderness, as we shall soon see. The statement “he existed before me” is a portentous theological statement about Jesus preexisting as the Word/Logos. Even though John is older than Jesus, Jesus “existed before” him, John professes. This is not just a chronological statement. It is a theological statement.

And verse 17: “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” This, now, is the first time Jesus is named in John’s gospel. It provides a picture of John’s understanding of the gospel. Moses = The Law. Jesus = The Gospel. We must not read this equation into the synoptic gospels, but it is clearly here in the Gospel of John. Jesus is the physical incarnation of the preexisting Logos. John is the transition between Law and Gospel, between Moses and Jesus.

If John makes it clear he is not the light, then who then is he?

John tells us in vv. 19-28:

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing. 

He is NOT the light. He is not the Messiah. He is not Elijah. He is not the Prophet.

He IS sent by God. He is a witness to the light. He is the Voice crying in the wilderness make straight the way of the Lord.

The Voice.

John is clear. “I am not the Messiah in Isaiah’s drama. I am the Voice. Karoline Lewis points out that Jesus says “I AM,” many times in John’s gospel. I am the way, the truth, the light, the door, and so on. John says “I AM NOT.” Not the Messiah. Not Elijah. Not the Light.

More importantly, John sees his identity in relationship to Jesus. “Can we say the same?” Lewis asks. Are we also witnesses to the light? What does that mean? Being the Voice? Could we also take our cues from Isaiah: Binding up the broken-hearted? Comforting the weak? Announcing God’s love to prisoners?

What’s your voice? Have you found your voice?

Max DePree, in his book Leadership Jazz, says that your voice is who you say you are and what you believe: your character. Your voice is reflected in your touch (your behaviors). A leader’s actions flow from her character. One of the first things a leader needs to do is find her voice. In my experience, this takes a while, but it is critical. How do we, as leaders, articulate our values, the things that really matter in life? Are we willing to present timeless truths, even when those around us seem reluctant to hear them? Have we aligned our voice and our touch? If people know you love them, they are more willing to hear your witness, what you have to say.

I am reminded that the Greek word for “witness” is μάρτυρ, “martyr.” Brian Stoffregen helpfully points out,  the verb for witness “occurs once in Matthew, once in Luke, never in Mark, but 31 times in John (five times in chapter 1: vv. 7, 8, 15, 32, 34). Similar statistics exist for the noun, which occurs three times in Mark, once in Luke, never in Matthew, and 14 times in John (twice in chapter 1: vv. 7, 19).”

When we witness, we put our lives on the line. It is our martyrdom.

What is your witness?

The good news is, a Christian’s witness is simply to point to Christ. This is not so complicated. It may not be easy, but it is not complicated. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve simply pointed to Christ, quoted his teachings, and received tremendous push back from those who claimed to be Christians. Time and time again I am astounded how often Christ is trampled under the feet of American militaristic capitalism. Preach Christ, and let the cards fall where they may. This is our martyria, our witness. Have you shed blood yet?

The preacher might invite people to consider their witness. What do you believe about Jesus? What does his crucifixion mean to you? His resurrection? How does this find its way into your voice?

Then we might consider how our voice finds its way into our touch? How does our faith in Christ become flesh in our daily words and actions? How might it this week? John prepares the way of the Lord. Let us go and do likewise.

Advent 2B – December 10, 2017

Isaiah 40:1-11 – Comfort, comfort ye my people… A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted. Thou who tellest good tidings to Zion… He shall feed his flock…

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13– Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.  Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.

2 Peter 3:8-15a– With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, The day of the Lord will come like a thief… The elements will be dissolved like fire… Therefore wait in peace with patience.

Mark 1:1-8 – Isaiah: The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord! John appeared in the wilderness. Many were baptized by him, confessing their sins.

The Beginning of the Gospel of the Son of God

Advent B Summary

  • Advent 1B Mark 13:24-37: About that day or hour no one knows
  • Advent 2B Mark 1:1-8 The Voice: Prepare the way of the Lord
  • Advent 3B John 1:6-8, 19-28 John: The voice in the wilderness
  • Advent 4B Luke 1:26-38 The Annunciation

Mark 1:1-8

This Sunday the gospel reading consists of the first eight verses of the Gospel of Mark. Here you have it:

The 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 his paths straight,’”

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, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

john the baptistBefore we dive into the first verses of Mark’s gospel and pull it apart piece by piece, it might be good to step back and reacquaint ourselves with the whole. Here is an Introduction to Mark’s Gospel.

So now let’s look at the introduction.

Luther Seminary professor emeritus Paul Berge points out that the first sentence of this gospel has no verb. He points out that this is Mark’s way of putting a title on his gospel. Keep in mind that Mark was originally written in Greek, with all capital letters, no punctuation, and no spaces between the words. This complicates things. One might not think it matters much, but consider this phrase:


Does it say, “God is now here,” or does it say, “God is nowhere.”? One could have two completely opposite interpretations, depending on how the words are divided. There is interpretation going on in the very act of translation, but there is also interpretation going on even before translation begins, in the dividing of the text into words, and then the words into sentences and paragraphs, and inserting punctuation. By the time we are looking at Nestle’s Greek text, it has already been divided into words, put in lower case letters and filled with punctuation.

Someone once asked in a Bible study if their deceased loved one was in heaven right now. A member of the study quoted Jesus’ words from the cross, “Truly I tell you today you will be with me in paradise.” Ah, but where do you put the comma? Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise,” or “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise.”? One indicates they’ll be in paradise today. In the other, Jesus is saying today, that at some undefined time in the future they’ll be in paradise.

Enough of this tangent. The thief doesn’t even appear in Mark’s account. My point is that the gospel writer would not boldface and center his title giving a space in between. The missing verb clues us in that this is the title of his gospel:

The Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God

Beginning: This is just the beginning. Does Mark intend to write a second volume, as Luke did? We will never know. None exists to our knowledge. But “beginning” hints of Genesis and creation. John uses this in the opening of his gospel as well.

Good News: Mark tells us this is good news. This is not a tragedy, though the main character will be martyred. This is similar to Plutarch’s biography of Julius Caesar, who also meets an unjust death, but, according to Plutarch, is vindicated. This story is good news, not just for Jesus, but also for the world. Mark uses the word more than the other gospel writers. Luke does not use it at all in his gospel. Paul uses it 59 times. Witherington suggests this links Mark’s and Paul’s theology. What, exactly, this good news is, will unfold in the pages of Mark’s gospel that follow.

Jesus Christ: Christ (christos in Greek) means anointed. The Hebrew Word is mesias, messiah. Mark’s good news is about Jesus, who is the messiah hoped for, not only in the Old Testament, but also in the uncountable number of books written in the 400 years between Malachi and the New Testament. During this interim period, apocalyptic fervor and the anticipation of a messiah grew considerably. Matthias Henze, in his book, Mind the Gap: How the Jewish Writings Between the Old and New Testament Help Us, shows how we cannot fully understand the gospels without understanding these apocryphal writings, because they help us understand the early rabbinic Judaism of the first century in which the events occur, a Judaism which is far removed from the ancient religion of Israel we know from the Old Testament, which knows nothing of rabbis, synagogues, Pharisees, Sadducees, demons, or resurrection. There are conflicting views of what this messiah will do. Some view the messiah as a military leader who will overthrow foreign occupation and restore Israel’s power and home rule. Others see the messiah as a spiritual leader and suffering servant who will usher in judgement day at the end of time.

Son of God: Mark clues in the reader that this Jesus Messiah is the Son of God. The characters will not know this throughout the story, but the reader does, like a mystery in which the reader knows the identity of the culprit, but the characters in the story, including the chief detectives only gradually come to realize.

Son of God is a title that is reserved for the emperor, Son of the divine Augustus. It says so on all the coins. So, from the very outset, this is a seditious document, about a seditious person. We should understand this statement as a divinity claim.

Throughout most of Mark’s gospel, Jesus will be the Son of Man. In much of the Old Testament son of man simply means human being. In the prophet Daniel, and other writings of the 400 years before Jesus, Son of Man becomes an apocalyptic figure who will come on the clouds to judge the nations. That Jesus is Son of God and Son of Man, proclaims the early church’s theology of a Jesus who is truly human, and yet truly divine. “Son of God” only appears a half dozen times in this gospel. The first is here in the inscription. Then it is announced at Jesus’ baptism (privately to Jesus?). The demons recognized Jesus as Son of God immediately, but he silenced them. At the Transfiguration it is announced again, in front of Peter, James and John, but they don’t get it. No one gets it until 15:39. At the climax of the gospel, it is only a pagan, Gentile, Roman centurion who realizes who Jesus is, and only upon his death. Jesus’ crucifixion reveals his identity.

Perhaps it is after witnessing, no, overseeing the crucifixion of gentle, humble, innocent man – after seeing how he died – the Roman centurion is the one to confess who Jesus is: “Truly this man was the Son of God.” Not just king of the Jews, as the authorities had posted above his head, as a sign of his insurrection, but Son of God.

I strongly recommend, if you are teaching or preaching on this gospel this year, sit down and read it straight through from beginning to end in one sitting. One feels more clearly the scope and content of the gospel. This is how it was meant to be read anyway.

Beginning, good news, Jesus, Christ/Messiah, Son of God. There is a lot in the inscription, just the first verse of Mark’s gospel.

John the Baptist

In verse two, Mark tells us he is quoting Isaiah, but Witherington points out he starts by quoting Exodus 23:20a, verbatim from the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament). Then Malachi 3. Then, finally Isaiah 40. It is worth mentioning that all of the New Testament writers take their Old Testament quotes from the Septuagint, often word-for-word. Why translate from Hebrew, even if you know it and have it, when a solid translation is available?

 I am going to send an angel in front of you, to guard you on the way…

Exodus 23:20a

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.

Malachi 3:1

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

Isaiah 40:3

Compare this to Mark 1:2-3:

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 his paths straight,’”

Witherington points out that it matters where we place the colon in verse three. Is it:

the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight…”


the voice of one crying out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight…”

Is the voice in the wilderness, or are we to prepare the way in the wilderness? Obviously the NRSV prefers the former. But look at the Isaiah 40 passage above, our first reading for Advent 2B. It indicates the way is to be prepared in the wilderness (between Babylon and Jerusalem). So Witherington believes Mark does not intend to say voice is in the wilderness, but that the way is to be prepared there. This will be important. John’s baptisms and forgiveness are unauthorized. They represent absolution without the temple system, in the wilderness, far from Jerusalem’s hub of sacred activity.

Most importantly, Mark connects the Good News of Jesus Christ the Son of God with Old Testament prophecy and deliverance. Just as Yahweh provided a way through the wilderness for the Israelites and the captives returning from Babylon, John announces that Jesus will offer a way through the wilderness for us as well.

John proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People from the whole Judean countryside and “all the people of a Jerusalem” were going out to see him. If people can get forgiveness of sins without buying animals in the Temple for sacrifice, what will become of the religious economy? Indulgences come to mind. John’s immense popularity probably led to his execution.

John wears camel’s hair and a leather belt. In 2 Kings 1:8, we are told of Elijah, “They answered him, “A hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist.” He said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.” This mode of dress identifies John with Elijah, who is the harbinger is the end times. Mark Allan Powell says Mark believes John is Elijah, who has returned just as Malachi (4:5-6) said he would:

Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.[b]

locustsJohn eats locusts and wild honey. Generally, winged insects are considered unclean in the Torah, but Leviticus 11:22 allows a special exception for the eating of locusts, crickets and grasshoppers: “Of them you may eat: the locust according to its kind, the bald locust according to its kind, the cricket according to its kind, and the grasshopper according to its kind.”

High in nutrition, these were free and therefore the food of the poor. (Even Shakespeare extolled their value: “The food that… is as luscious as locusts…” Othello, Act 1, Scene 3). Fish, on the other hand, were a highly taxed commodity in first century Palestine. It might do us well to consider the things we eat. Who does our diet affect? What systems does it support?

There isn’t really an Old Testament allusion here (though some will make the case that John is literally eating Israel’s enemies for supper…). The point seems to be that John is an ascetic, living a kind of monastic lifestyle, to avoid the pitfalls of the corrupt economic and religious system. Jesus ate and drank with sinners. John preached a baptism of water, with repentance. He made it clear that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Read a power that goes beyond repentance and purity.

John pointing at JesusI like John because he points to Jesus. In the famous altarpiece painting by the German artist Matthias Grunewald at Isenheim, John the Baptist is pseudo-surrealistically painted into the scene. He is, of course, dead when the crucifixion takes place, so this is a marvelous work of dialectical art. John points to Jesus with an over-sized finger. “Him.” This is what we do as well.

How do we make a way in the wilderness? Someone once defined evangelism as “making space in people’s lives for God to act.” God is always acting, or speaking, but sometimes we are so consumed with crisis, or busyness, we don’t perceive it. How can we make a way in the wilderness of people’s lives?

The preacher might consider ways in which our lives point to Christ, like John. Do our ministries point to Christ? Or to us? Do they say, “See how wonderful we are?” or “See how wonderful Christ is?” How might we, like the moon, reflect the light of the sun? Luther said we are all “little Christs.” This is good news. It doesn’t ultimately rest or fall on us. Christ is the light. We are only reflections, not worthy to tie his sandals. We needn’t, indeed, cannot be flawless. Nevertheless, light shines in the darkness of this world. It is only our privilege to reflect it, if God so chooses.

December 3, 2017 is Advent 1B

Isaiah 64:1-9 – O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 – Stir up your power O Lord and come to save us.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9 – God will strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Mark 13:24-37 – But about that day… no one knows, neither the angels… nor the Son…

First, An Overview of The Gospel of Mark

This Sunday is Advent I, the first Sunday of the new church year. We say goodbye to a year of Matthew and move into a year of Mark, with a smattering of John. Click HERE for an Introduction to Mark’s Gospel.

Here’s bird’s eye view of the gospels for Year B in RCL:

Year B-at-a-Glance 

A very rough outline of the lectionary year

January 6-February 13, 2018 – Mark 1 And John 1
January 15, 2018 is MLK Day

January 23, 2018 we welcome Mark Allen Powell to address Lenten preaching

January 18-25 is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
February 11, 2018 – Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9)

February 14, 2018 – Ash Wednesday (Joel 2, Isaiah 58, Matthew 6)
February 18-March 18, 2018 – Five Sundays in Lent:

Baptism and Temptation of Jesus (Mark 1:9-15)
Peter’s Confession (Mark 8:31-38)
Cleansing of the Temple (John 2:13-22)
Just as Moses lifted up the serpent, so the Son of Man (John 3:14-31)
Greeks: We want to see Jesus (John 12:20-33)

Three Days
March 25, 2018– Palm Passion Sunday (Mark 14 or 15)
March 29, 2018 – Maundy Thursday (John 13:1-17, 31b-35)
March 30, 2018 – Good Friday (John 18:1-19:42)
March 31, 2018 – Easter Vigil

Easter through Pentecost
April 1, 2018 – Easter Sunday (Mark 16:1-8)
April 8-May 6, 2018 – Easter Season texts from John and Luke
May 20, 2018 – Pentecost (John 15: Advocate will bear witness to the truth)

Time After Pentecost
May 27, 2018 – Trinity Sunday (John 3: Nicodemus)
June 3-July 15, 2018 – Mark 4-6 (4: Parables. 5-6 More Healings)
July 22-August 19, 2018 – John 6 “Bread” texts for five weeks
August 26-October 21 – Mark 7-10 (End of Galilee ministry and Journey to Jerusalem)
October 28 – Reformation Sunday (John 8)
November 4 – All Saints
November 11 and 18 – Mark 12 (widow’s coins) and 13 (the end is coming)
November 25 – Christ the King (John 18: My kingdom is not of this world.)

A Short Outline of Mark’s Gospel

  • Introduction (1:1-13)
  • Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee (1:16-8:26)
  • Journey to Jerusalem (8:27-10:52)
  • Jesus in Jerusalem (11:1-13:37)
  • Passion and Resurrection (14-16:18)

The date of A.D. 70 is preferred because Mark mentions events of the siege of Jerusalem (A.D. 66-70), most notably in Mark’s “Little Apocalypse” in chapter 13, from which is this Sunday’s text.

Here is what to expect in this Advent season of expectation:

Advent B Summary

  • Advent 1B Mark 13:24-37: About that day or hour no one knows
  • Advent 2B Mark 1:1-8 The voice: Prepare the way of the lord
  • Advent 3B John 1:6-8, 19-28 John: The voice in the wilderness
  • Advent 4B Luke 1:26-38 The Annunciation

Mark’s Little Apocalypse

Chapter 13 is the Gospel of Mark‘s little apocalypse. Verses 1-8 will not be read for another year, on November 18, 2018. Verses 9–23 do not get read in the Lutheran lectionary. These verses are important to understand today’s text, which picks up in the middle of this discourse.

model-of-templeJesus and his disciples walk out of the temple. They are marveling at the magnificence of this building. Indeed, the temple probably took up 1/6 of the city of Jerusalem. Ben Witherington III says it would’ve looked like a mountain of white marble decorated with gold from the Mount of Olives. And yet Jesus predicts that one stone will not be left on another. Some of these huge stones are 25 x 50‘. Jesus is not the first prophet to predict the temple‘s destruction (Jer. 7:14; 26:6; Mic. 3:12).

Then Jesus says that his followers will suffer intense persecution. Next he says there will be suffering such as the world has never seen. This takes us to our text for today, Mark 13:24 to the end of the chapter:

24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
    and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he 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. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven 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. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

The sun and the moon will be darkened, and the stars will fall from the sky (almost a direct quote from Isaiah 13:10). The Son of Man will come on the cloud. This would be a good Sunday to sing “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending.” Read the signs of the times. When the fig tree puts forth new branches, you know that summer is near. But as to the exact day, no one knows, not even the Son of Man. So don’t focus on predicting the day or the time, focus on remaining vigilant and being prepared. Apparently they had their false prophets of doom then as we do today.

Mark 13 looks to the end of the world and the messianic return, which Mark says will happen a short time after this destruction (the temple). Josephus says the temple was on fire during the final assault. The messiah will come “on the clouds” in this interval between the destruction of the temple and the end of the world. Mark’s community is living in this short interval time. How long will this short interval be? When will the end come? Soon, is Mark’s response. Just like you know summer is just about here when the fig tree bears leaves, so you can know that since Jerusalem has been destroyed, it’s time for the second coming.

“This generation will not pass away before these things come to pass,” Jesus says. If we are talking about the destruction of the temple, Jesus is spot on. Generations are forty years in he Bible. Jesus would be speaking in 30 AD and the temple was destroyed in 70 AD. But if we are speaking about stars literally falling and the end of the world, then the interval turns out to be not as short as Mark thought. Nevertheless, Mark gave himself a loophole: No one really knows the time: not the angels, and not even the Son. From this, by the way, I read a lower Christology in Mark. Even Jesus doesn’t know. Support seems to be, if Jesus doesn’t now, what are the odds that you have it figured out?

The “little apocalypse” probably is a key to understanding Mark (and Peter’s? and Jesus’?) theology. He reflects the early church’s consensus that the end was coming within their lifetime. Mark thought so. So did Paul, by the way. Recall that Paul said, when Christ returns, the dead in Christ would rise first, and then “we who are still alive” would be second, meeting them in the air. Paul fully expects to be alive when Christ returns, at least early in his ministry.

Advent, at its heart, developed as a season to keep alive this messianic expectation. Stories abound about absentee landlords, who go away and are likely to return any moment. It was in time for the church to reminded itself to remain vigilant.

The parable is similar to the Parable of the Virgins that we had recently in Matthew 25. A landowner goes away, but will return soon. How will that landlord respond upon finding them goofing off, misbehaving, burying talents, and generally not being “alert.” Advent was not originally the time of preparation for celebrating Christ’s birthday. In fact, the startling thing in reading the Church Fathers’ Advent sermons is that there is little to no mention of Christmas in them. These early Advent sermons are about being ready for the second coming.

Whether preparing for Christmas or preparing for the second coming, the theme of “preparation” is clear. The preacher might reflect on how we prepare to meet Christ, whether at the end of the world or the end of your life. Let’s all draft our obituaries. Ponder what you might like the speaker to say at your funeral. How you live now, the choices you are making right this minute, will shape that eulogy. My son and I once watched a show in which Stephen Hawking assured us that the sun wasn’t scheduled to do the things Mark describes for a few more million years.  Not long after that program, I attended a funeral of someone who died too young. I was reminded that, regardless of the timing of the end of the world, we are, everyone one of us, only a short time from meeting our Maker. Maybe today. You don’t know what hour, like a thief in the night. Are you ready?

November 26, 2017 is Christ the King A

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24  I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.
Psalm 100  Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Psalm 95:1-7a  O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
Ephesians 1:15-23  God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, … And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Matthew 25:31-46 – The parable of the Sheep and the Goats

Prayer of the Day
O God of power and might, your Son shows us the way of service, and in him we inherit the riches of your grace. Give us the wisdom to know what is right and the strength to serve the world you have made, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. Blessed is the one who comes in the name | of the Lord.
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our an- | cestor David. Alleluia. (Mark 11:9)

Color: White or Green

sheep and goats

Christ the King 

Christ the King is the last holy Sunday in the Western liturgical calendar. It is the newest of Christian festivals. It was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, to counter the rise of secularism and the rise of secular dictatorships in Europe. Pius hoped:

  • That nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom and immunity from the state
  • That leaders and nations would give respect to Christ
  • That the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast

It is also the last Sunday we will spend in the Matthean lectionary this year. The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats is the last of three parables in Matthew 25. Matthew 25 is part of the last of five great discourses or sermons in Matthew’s gospel, sometimes called the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 23-25), because Jesus delivered it from the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:3). In my post on the November 12 text, I went into this in detail. Jesus’ first sermon (The Sermon on the Mount) is delivered from a mountain. Likewise, his last sermon in Matthew.

This Sunday’s gospel, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, is the last of three parables in Matthew 25:

  1. The Parable of the Virgins
  2. The Parable of the Talents
  3. The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

As I mentioned last week, the three parables of Matthew 25 might roll like this…

Virgins: Be ready for Christ’s coming. Keep your lamps trimmed and burning. You don’t know when the bridegroom is coming. Be ready for the great reckoning at the end of time. What constitutes readiness?

Talents: Perhaps the joyful, risky, equitable use of one’s gifts – using what God has given us for the things that God really cares about. What does God care about?

Sheep and Goats: When I was hungry you gave me food… Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me… God cares about those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, strangers, sick and imprisoned.

A sermon on this parable can be found on my blog. This sermon explores the idea that if Christ truly rules in our lives, then what other things or people are not? Because Christ reigns, death is destroyed, and we are free from our bondage to other gods, so that we might be a servant church.

This parable begins with images of the end times. The Son of Man returns to judge the nations, as in Daniel 7:

I was watching in the night visions, “And with the clouds of the sky one like a son of man was approaching. He went up to the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. To him was given ruling authority, honor, and sovereignty. All peoples, nations, and language groups were serving him. His authority is eternal and will not pass away. His kingdom will not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

Every nation is judged as in Zechariah 14 (note also, the Mount of Olives is mentioned):

Then the Lord will go to battle and fight against those nations, just as he fought battles in ancient days. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives which lies to the east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in half from east to west, leaving a great valley. Half the mountain will move northward and the other half southward… The Lord will then be king over all the earth. In that day the Lord will be seen as one with a single name. (Zechariah 14:3-4, 9)

You can’t miss the reference to the Mount of Olives here. Matthew knows his Hebrew prophets.

This Son of Man comes as a cosmic judge in this little apocalypse. I would quickly point out that it is nations that are being judged, not individuals. We may be too soaked in revivalist theology to hear this text in the way Matthew intends it. His is not a me-and-Jesus gospel of private salvation. One cannot escape the reality that the Son of Man is judging countries here.

Justin Eler points out in Spanish, in a Working Preacher article that The Sheep and the Goats is peculiar to Matthew, and appears to be a continuation of the previous Parable of the Talents. They share the theme of what we ought to do while waiting for the return of Christ. He also points out that this is not just the culmination of Jesus’ ministry, but of his life.

La parábola del juicio de las naciones es propia del evangelio de Mateo y aparece a continuación de la parábola de los talentos que un rico dejó a sus siervos o empleados para usar, invertir, desarrollar y cuidar a otras personas durante su ausencia. 

El tema de esperar el regreso del Señor, o sea el fin de los tiempos, culmina aquí con esta parábola que resuelve las parábolas que la preceden y es la conclusión del ministerio de Jesús. Esta parábola no es solamente la culminación del ministerio docente de Jesús, sino también de su vida.


The parable of the judgment of the nations is proper to the Gospel of Matthew and follows the parable of the talents, which a rich man left his servants or employees to use, invest, develop and care for others during their absence.

The theme of waiting for the return of the Lord, or the end of time, ends here with this parable that resolves the parables that precede it and is the conclusion of the ministry of Jesus. This parable is not only the culmination of the teaching ministry of Jesus, but also his life.

How shall we spend the time waiting for Christ’s return? Keep your light shining, your lamps trimmed and burning. Use your talents, what God has given you to invest in God’s reign. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Welcome the stranger. Visit those sick and in prison. As I said in a recent Reformation sermon, “Now that you know you don’t have to do anything, what are you going to do? How will you spend the days of grace God has given you under this beautiful blue sky?”

Carla Works points out in another Working Preacher article that this parable summarizes what Jesus’ ministry has been about all along:

Christ has announced the arrival of God’s kingdom while he cures the sick (e.g., 8:28-9:8, 9:18-38; 12:9-14; 14:34-36; 15:29-31), welcomes the despised (9:9-13), and provides food for the hungry (14:13-21; 15:32-39). He orders his disciples to carry on his ministry by doing likewise (10:5-15, 40-42). 

There is a clear note of judgment here. Therefore, there is also a great temptation to preach works-righteousness. It will be easy, I’m afraid, for our people to hear the examples of sheep feeding Jesus when he is hungry, welcoming Christ as a stranger, and so on, as an individual’s entrance requirements for heaven, except for one thing: those who feed, clothe, welcome and visit Jesus, don’t know they have done so. “When did we see you hungry?” They are dumbfounded. They didn’t do it to get into heaven. In fact they didn’t know.

Antiquity is filled with stories of divine visitors who come in disguise. The king comes in pauper’s rags. The king judges based on how he is treated, even as a pauper.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, because through it some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)

When you help someone in need, you never know who you are helping. You might be helping an angel. In this story, Jesus suggests any time, every time we help those in need, we are helping Christ.

And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, whenever you did it for one of the least of these, you did it for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

Any time we help those who are needy and suffering, those on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder, we are helping Christ. This is a mystical and yet incredibly tangible teaching. It is the culmination of Jesus’ parables of the kingdom. It is a mystical union. Christ comes to us in this holy way.

True to form, Jesus then retells the story for the benefit of the goats. I love to divide the congregation down the center aisle into sheep and goats as I retell this story. It drives home the force of the drama in Jesus’ words.

Notice those on the right don’t “go to heaven.” They “inherit the kingdom.” You may recall earlier in Matthew that the meek inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). Whoever has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for Jesus’ sake will “inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). Jesus teaches the disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come,” not that they might be sent there. God’s kingdom comes to us.

Those on the left are banished into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and all his angels. Note a couple of things.

First, the devil has angels in Matthew. The Son of Man has angels who will separate the good from the righteous at the end of time (Matthew 13:41, 13:49, 16:27, 24:31, 25:31). Apparently the devil has angels too. Demons are mentioned nearly a dozen times in Matthew. Why not here? This has always perplexed me. Perhaps I am making too much of it, but I can think of no other place in the New Testament where Satan has angels. We may have to dig in apocryphal literature to shed light on this. At the very least, this rings of something foreign to the synoptic tradition. This story, only in Matthew, may have been solidified in poetic form with its own language, perhaps borrowed by Matthew for his narrative.

Second, there is a fairly vivid depiction of hell in this sentence. Hell isn’t mentioned here, but it’s implied. Matthew doesn’t use the word “hell” per se, but he speaks of a fiery Gehenna, which often gets translated “hell.” The idea of hell is still under development in the first century, as Greek mythology collides freely with Hebrew mythology in the expanding Roman Empire, but we all too often superimpose Dante’s popular medieval mindset on Matthew’s Jesus. This would be a mistake. In Matthew the devil has a fiery Gehenna garbage dump that burns constantly, where evil will be tossed out and burned. In Matthew, God intends to bring the wheat into God’s granary and burn the tares up for good. The final sentence of the text is intentionally ominous: “And these will depart into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

This text reads like an apocalypse. Revelation is an apocalypse, as is Daniel. Dicken’s classic, “A Christmas Carol,” is an apocalypse. Ebeneezer Scrooge asks the Ghost of Christmas Future if these are visions of things that will be, or may be. The Ghost is, of course, silent.

The truth is, the future is unwritten. John the Revelator knew this. Matthew did too.

So, how do we preach this text with grace and faith? We preach it not in isolation, but with the texts that came before it in mind. We recall that good works are fueled by the oil of faith. We recall that it is God who gives the oil, the wedding garment, the talents and, thus, the will and capacity to do the good works mentioned in this parable. We recall that it is communion with Christ that we seek in serving those in need.

We recall that any separation of faith and works is artificial. We remember Luther’s words:

Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire. (LW 35:371)

We remember that both sheep and goats are surprised when their actions are pointed out. Good works are not a put on. They flow freely and unconsciously from a life of faith, from a heart in communion with God. Or not.

November 19, 2017 is Pentecost 24A, Proper 28A

Judges 4:1-7 – Read the whole chapter to get the context. Israel did evil, so God turned them over to Canaan who had 900 chariots with iron-rimmed wheels. They cried out to the Lord. Deborah the prophetess, who sat under her date palm tree settling disputes, summoned Barak, telling him to gather 10,000 troops, for God would deliver General Sisera and his chariots over to them.


Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18  – silent before the Lord, for the day of judgment is almost here. I will punish those entrenched in sin. It won’t be pretty. Neither silver nor gold will deliver them from the Lord’s angry judgment. Their blood will be poured out like dirt.

Psalm 123 – Four verses: my eyes look up to you enthroned in heaven, like a servant to a master. Show us favor. We have had our fill of humiliation.


Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12 – Lord you have been our protector through all generations. You make us return to the dust. To you a thousand years is as a day. (The days of our lives are 70, maybe 80. They pass quickly, then we fly away.) Teach us to number our days, consider our mortality that we might live wisely.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 – no need to instruct you about the times. You know the Lord will come like a thief in the night. So stay awake, and sober as children of light. Put on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of hope for salvation.

Matthew 25:14-30 – The parable of The Talents. Three slaves steward 1, 2, and 5 talents. When the master returns to settle accounts, two have earned 100%. The one who buried his talent is scorned.

Prayer of the Day
Righteous God, our merciful master, you own the earth and all its peoples, and you give us all that we have. Inspire us to serve you with justice and wisdom, and prepare us for the joy of the day of your coming, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. Abide in me as I a- | bide in you;
those who abide in me | bear much fruit. Alleluia. (John 15:4, 5)

Life’s ROI: Risk or Paralyzed by Fear?

Last week we heard the first of three great parables from Matthew 25:

  1. November 12, 2017: Matthew 25:1-13 – The Parable of the Virgins
  2. November 19, 2017: Matthew 25:14-30 – The Parable of the Talents
  3. November 26, 2017: Matthew 25:31-46 – The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

This Sunday’s gospel is Matthew 25:14-30. Matthew 25 is part of the last of five great discourses in Matthew’s gospel. It is sometimes called the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 23-25), so called because Jesus delivered it from the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:3). In last week’s post I opined about the Augusta Victoria Hospital, located on the Mount of Olives where Jesus might have been speaking these parables. There are 800 olive trees on the Lutheran World Federation’s property on the Mount of Olives. Your church can plant a tree on the Mount of Olives. The ELCA is supporting a housing project on the Mount of Olives. Christians have been leaving Jerusalem. The Christian population has fallen from 30,000 to 10,000 since 1946. The dramatic settlement of East Jerusalem combined with the demolition of Palestinian homes has led to a housing crisis. The project has been delayed due to fact that Israeli authorities have not issued building permits, but in time 84 apartments will be built on LWF property, God willing.

In Matthew 24 we have Jesus’ description of the end times, and the persecution/tribulation that Christians will endure before the final victory. Some see this as a prediction of the Roman persecution and the destruction of Jerusalem, while others see this as a cosmic battle at the end of time. The Left Behind series parlayed this into a fictional series playing on the idea of the rapture, a concept that faithful Christians would be preserved from this persecution and taken to heaven before the tribulation. This theology emerged in American evangelicalism after the 17th century and is rejected by traditional Lutheran and Catholic theology.

This week we read the Parable of the Talents. David Garland (Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary), says,

The parable of the wise and the wicked stewards (24: 45-51) and the parable of the talents (25: 14-30) give more precision to what it means to watch and be ready. Vigilance is not a passive waiting and watching but consists of active, responsible service. When Christ returns, he will not ask if one had the date right but “What have you been doing?”

Stanley Hauerwas (Matthew: Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible) points out the intentional connection of this parable to the earlier one in Matthew 25: “It is as if…” makes it clear Matthew intends the second parable to help interpret the first. We’ll get to this at the end of this post.

So the story goes, a man goes on a journey and entrusts his property to three slaves. The word is δούλους (doulous), so it should be translated “slave” and not “servant.” To the first he gave πέντε τάλαντα (pente talanta), five “talents.” To another he gave two, and to the final slave he gave one talent. A talent was a measure of mass or weight. It varied in different times and cultures.

Picture1The talent is the largest weight mentioned in the Bible. From Exodus 38:25-26 someone good at math worked out that a talent is about 3,000 shekels. This is the Canaanite system (based on Ugaritic), and not the Mesopotamian system, which divided the talent into 3,600 shekels. I believe both “shekel” and “talent” originally meant “weight,” hearkening back to a time when business was done not with minted coins, but by trading certain weights of grain, wool and the like. 10 gerah made a beka (Gen. 24:22; Ex. 38:26). 2 beka made a shekel (Gen. 23:16, 2 Sam. 14:26). 50 shekelim made a maneh (mina in NRSV translation; Ezekiel. 45:12; Ezra 2:69; Nehemiah. 7:71, 72). Luke uses the maneh (lit. mina) in his parallel to today’s story in Luke 19:12-27. 60 manim made a talent. Eventually weights were made corresponding to these amounts. These weights eventually morphed into coins. In New Testament times, a talent was around 130 pounds. I know, more information than you need (or want, perhaps), but that’s how we roll.

Left: A 1712 woodcut of the Parable of the Talents.

We can’t be sure what this much weight would correspond to American dollars in a November 2017 economy. Some folks estimate a talent would have been considered over 8,000 denarii. Since a denarius was a day’s wage, this means 8,000 days of pay, or something like 22 years. At an average income of $50,000 today, that’s over $1M. 5 talents would then be well over $5M. So, while the details may not be important, the astute reader might like to know that we’re talking about a vast sum of money here, not a pittance. The point here is that it’s an absurd sum of money. As usual, Jesus uses outrageous images to capture his listener’s imagination. Like the image of gouging out your eyes if they cause you to sin, or a camel fitting through the eye of the needle, Jesus is being provocative. One might start a sermon with the question: “What would you do if someone gave you a million dollars to manage?”

So, let us say the master gives one slave $5M, one $2M, and one $1M then takes off. The ones with five and two talents double their investments through trading. Risky but profitable. The one with one talent buries it out of fear of the master. The first two are praised by the master. The third is chastised for being wicked and lazy. The story is designed from the get-go to inspire outrage. It still works today. People hear this story and flinch. What? Those who have much receive more, and those with little have even the smidgeon they have taken away? What? The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer? And the slave who returned the master’s original sum gets thrown out into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth? What kind of master is this?

Many thoughts bounce around. First of all, on judgment day there will be a weighing of sorts. An accounting. This is a God of accountability.

Second, I recall Henri Nouwen saying there are two ways to live: a safe way with arms folded, and another, risky way, with arms open to embrace. The latter is vulnerable. Life is risk. None of us gets out of this alive. Or as one person put it, ships may be safer in the harbor, but that is not what ships are built for. How are you investing what God has given you? What is your life worth? Your body? A million dollars? All of it is on loan to you from God. How will you invest it?

Care must be taken to not use this text to presuppose any economic system as Christian, or to misuse it to promote a particular work ethic. None of the slaves earned the talents for which they were given responsibility. Hauerwas reminds us we must read this text in its apocalyptic context, and in light of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom in Matthew. “After much time,” the master was delayed in returning. The critique of the last slave is that he feared the giver. Hauerwas: “In other words the one with one talent assumed that he or she was part of a zero-sum game.” He has played it safe. Garland: “He buried his silver—the best security against theft (see Mishna Baba Mesi‘a 3: 10).” The master acts generously, but the slave views the master as a petty tyrant. How do our people view God?

Garland (p. 246):

This parable illustrates that the “delay” (24: 48; 25: 5, 19) is not a meaningless interval. It presents a window of opportunity for servants who love their Master to put to good use the resources given them for gain.

I find it interesting that the word “talent” today, meaning “a special aptitude,” originated from this very passage. The traditional interpretation of the passage was that Jesus was talking about the use of the gifts that God has given to us. So the ancient weight “talent” came into Middle English as “special natural ability,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. In other words, this word, that originally meant a measure of weight, came to mean a special aptitude because of Jesus’ use of it in this parable. Did you know Jesus was responsible for the creation of an English word?

Another point that is clear is that the master gives a vast amount. We are blessed with immeasurable gifts. They all ultimately belong to the master, but they are ours to use for the time we are on this earth. Like the stories in which Jesus curses the fig tree, we have the sense that the master expects fruit, results. The gifts God has given us are to be used for God’s purposes, and not wasted. This seems to be a theme that Jesus hammered. Consider his words in Luke 12:48, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”

The poet John Milton seemed to understand it in this sense:

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent, which is death to hide,
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He, returning, chide

Perhaps we are the ones with only one talent.

Joachim Jeremias saw this parable as a critique of the Scribes and Pharisees, who were given charge of the invaluable kingdom of God, and had squandered it. Will Herzog has a completely different interpretation, based on liberation theology. This interpretation requires us to forget everything we’ve ever read on this passage. The master is not analogous to God, but rather a very bad absentee landlord. He’s a slumlord, who praises those who exploit the poor for unrighteous gain. After all, as Calvin pointed out, lending money at interest was strictly forbidden in the Hebrew Bible (Exod. 22:25-27, Deut. 23:19-20). These stories are recorded in Matthew half a century after they were told. Each gospel writer appropriates the story in a way that speaks to the community to whom they’re writing. (We need to do the same. How does this story speak to your people?) It is hard to say, maybe even impossible, what point Jesus might have been making to his original hearers.

Luther noted that a tree is either growing or dying. This is true of our spiritual lives as well. Luther said the Christian life is semper in motu, always in motion. Bernard of Clairveau noticed that people who do not progress in spiritual life tend to regress. There is little stasis. Lange also likes the idea of these talents as spiritual gifts, or the spiritual life. Are you growing spiritually? What is the fruit of that growth?

Here’s what the story does for me. It causes me to ask the question, “What am I doing with what God has given me?” The preacher might want to consider this question for the entire congregation. Luther said that one of the most important qualities of an excellent preacher is boldness. The good news is that God has generously given the world so much: natural resources, our talents, our gifts. The question is now, how will we use them?

What has God given us? How are we using it for God’s glory? Consider our wealth, for starters. Professor of Economics and Finance (University of Michigan, Flint) Mark Perry notes that even the poorest 5% of Americans are richer than most of the world. The poorest 5% of Americans have more wealth than the richest 5% in India. We are the wealthiest people in the world. How are we using those gifts? From a divine perspective, are we using them well? Are you using your wealth for God’s purposes? To wit: Are you using your money for the things God really cares about?

There’s no way to get around it. This is a stewardship text.

What about your gifts, talents, abilities? We know what God cares about. Just read the Bible. Are we leveraging our gifts for God’s purposes? As we step back and look at our congregation, what assets do we have as a body? Is our congregation using its assets for God’s purposes, or are we sitting on our assets? (If you say it that way in a sermon, be very careful to pronounce assets clearly.) A bold preacher might dare to title the sermon, “Are You Sitting on Your Assets?”

Taken as a trilogy the three parables of Matthew 25 might roll like this…

Virgins: Be ready for Christ’s coming. Keep your lamps trimmed and burning. You don’t know when the bridegroom is coming. Be ready for the great reckoning at the end of time. What constitutes readiness?

Talents: The equitable use of one’s gifts – using what God has given us for the things that God really cares about. And what does God care about?

Sheep and Goats: When I was hungry you gave me food… Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me… God cares about those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, strangers, sick and imprisoned.

Next week, we’ll take a closer look at this third and final parable from Matthew 25.

Reformation 500

Monday, October 30, 2017 – Leipzig



Reformation Day, Tuesday, October 31, 2017 – Leipzig, St. Thomas Kirche

Pr. Martin Henker

All Saints Day, Wednesday, November 1, 2017 – Eisleben

Guide Dorothy


All Souls Day, Thursday, November 2, 2017 – Dresden

The Houston Astros won the World Series.  Some folks stayed up 1:30-5:00 am Leipzig time to watch.

Dresden after the 1945 bombing.

The Zwinger, Art Museum

Frauenkirche, Church of our Lady



The Royal Palace and Museum

Friday, November 4, 2017 – Wittenberg


Schloss Kirche

Stadt Kirche

Confessing and repudiating the sins of anti-Semitism.

Christian Neichel at Karlstadt’s workshop

Luther House, the Augustinian house where Luther lived from 1511 until the end of his life, first as a friar, and then as a married man.


Saturday, November 5, 2017 – The Wartburg, Eisleben

Eva Hedwig

All Saints Sunday, November 5, 2017 – Erfurt, Buchenwald 

Worship at the Augustinerkloster

The Rev. Dr. Irene Mildenberger

Aimee reading the gospel.




Monday, November 5, 2017 – Erfurt






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