The kingdom of Jesus turns everything “upside down.” We settle far too easily for a tame and non-threatening gospel where grace does not surprise us. This sermon was preached at Lutheran Church of the Master, Carol Stream, IL, on June 11-12. I share it because I hope it will edify and encourage you if you like to hear a biblical sermon as an audio file.
The life of our Lord Jesus Christ had an intentionally designed dramatic climax. He was “born to die.” This was not just any death for any person but a death which revealed the depth of God’s love for the world (John 3:16).
In John’s Gospel the glory of the Savior ultimately is his cross. In the death of Jesus we see his glory in the cross for at least five reasons:
1. His greatness is revealed by dying.
2. His work is completed by his dying.
3. He must obey the Father and thus glorify God by dying.
4. His cross is not his end – the resurrection will follow. Vindication is real. It is as if God pointed at the cross and said, “This is what men think of my Son.” But God pointed at the resurrection and said, “This is what I think of my Son.” The glory of the resurrection removed the shame of the cross turning it into glory.
5. The cross is the way back to God. The gateway to glory.
John 17 gives us
In late October I visited with Michael and Nancy Ristau, two dear friends who live in Lexington, Kentucky. I met Michael while speaking on a mens’ retreat for several churches in California years ago. Michael and Nancy are like other people I’ve met in my travels here and there, persons who feel drawn to form a deep and growing friendship with me. Michael and Nancy, along with their lovable German shepherd Quincy who tolerates me, have grown in Christ’s love for me and vice versa. I have twice visited the Ristau’s lovely home and stayed for several days as their honored guest. Their hospitality is real and they are so easy to spend time with because their home is a comfortable context. They place no demands on me or my daily life.
This recent trip included a visit to Asbury Seminary, where I shared the work of the Acton Institute with faculty. I also saw Alabama play Kentucky on a lovely Saturday evening at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington.
On a previous visit to Lexington I attended Calvary
Several years ago Father John Riccardo, a priest from Plymouth, Michigan, preached a sermon in the pulpit of the Kensington Community Church (MI), titled: “Shameless.” A better sermon on the gospel could not be found, at least in my judgment. For those conservative Protestants who insist that a Catholic priest cannot, or does not, preach the gospel here is a living, breathing example that you are wrong. Fr. Riccardo says that we should know Jesus, not just know about Jesus. Knowing Jesus is much more than knowing facts, truths or propositions. It is not about saying the words of the creed or about going forward at the end of an appeal. It is not even about saying the words of the sinner’s prayer. It is about knowing Him. This is about 35 minutes long but in your leisure be sure to watch it
I have many favorite authors. Some are theologians. Some are pastors. Some are missiologists. Some are novelists. Not all are Christians. The ones I appreciate the most make me think the best.
One of my favorite writers is a United Methodist Bishop by the name of Will Willimon. I am not sure when I first began to read Willimon but it has to have been at least 35 years ago. I like Willimon because he is a contrarian and a provocateur. He's been a pastor, a university chaplain (Duke University) and now is a Methodist Bishop (Alabama). If you ask Willimon what he is he will tell you that he's a preacher first. He says that he is called to be a truth-teller of Jesus Christ. A Pulpit and Pew Research Center study discovered that he was one of the most widely-read authors among mainline Protestant pastors. Willimon feels most at home behind a pulpit. If you've heard
Depending on your church background and experience many of you may think of the gospel (and almost exclusively) as a written message. The first Christians did not think of it this way at all. Let me explain.
While reading the Book of Acts recently I noted this again and again. Take the beginning of this book:
1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John
The apostle Paul writes of preaching:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believe in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"
When I was ordained, back in August of 1970, the text my pastor used was 1 Timothy 5:17:
"The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching." I still recall him saying this means we should support, both personally and financially, those who labored in preaching. I knew almost nothing then but I was sure I was called to preach. There was, in my soul, that sense that said, "Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel."
This past Lord’s Day (May 11) was Pentecost Sunday. For many it passed with little or no recognition of this great truth of our Christian faith. But for me, and the congregation of First Reformed Church in South Holland (where I am preaching regularly until the new pastor is installed on June 15,) it was a great day to worship God the Holy Spirit in the fullness of joy.
I preached from the Lectionary and thus the Gospel text was John 20:19-23. This text seems not to be appropriate to the feast of Pentecost since the events presented here happened on Easter eve. But it actually fits perfectly with John’s great theme of “sentness.” This is connected to the Spirit’s power coming upon the disciples (corporately) in order to give witness to Christ and thus to speak with authority and power. This is John’s emphasis here without doubt. I think we sometimes get caught in a bind of trying to create a “harmony”
I have been out of the pastorate of a stated congregation, except for eight months as an interim, since May of 1992. I am sometimes asked, "What do you miss the most?" (There are several things about pastoring I do not miss at all, I assure you. One is the warfare that swirls around people’s dissatisfaction with the pastor, which is common to every church I know.) But there is one thing I miss very profoundly and I was made aware of this again when I preached in the pulpit of my "home" church this morning, First Reformed Church (RCA) in South Holland, Illinois. I miss doing faithful, regular exposition of the biblical text.
Now I do preach a lot. And I do still preach expositions, in fact I do this primarily. But I also am asked to tackle subjects, themes and special events a lot. What made today so different was that I was asked to consider preaching from one of the Lectionary texts of the day. I chose Jeremiah 32. I chose it, I think, because I too rarely choose an
William Willimon is a Methodist bishop who can preach. In fact, he is quite frankly one of my favorite preachers today. He tells an important story about preaching and the motives that those who preach often bring to the process of homiletics.
Willimon once heard a preacher begin a sermon, with great drama and more than a trace of theatrics, by saying to the congregation, “It is very hard for me to say what I feel I must say to you today in my sermon.” An elderly woman, sitting in the pew in front of Willimon, whispered loud enough to be heard by many, and said, “I’ll bet it’s not that hard for him to say this.”
If you preach ask yourself, “Why am I saying this and what do I hope to accomplish by saying it?” Don’t use humility to cover up your own opinions, which are often more related to what you really want to say rather than to what God wants you to say. Know the difference and you will be a true servant of the Lord of