30 March 2013

The Easter Sermon of St. John Chrysostom

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting? 
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour, 
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour, 
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And she that arrived after the sixth hour, 
let her not doubt; for she too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour, 
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And she who arrived only at the eleventh hour, 
let her not be afraid by reason of her delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour, 
as well as to those that toiled from the first.
To this one God gives, and upon another God bestows.
God accepts the works as God greets the endeavor.
The deed God honors and the intention God commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! 
First and last alike receive your reward; 
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, 
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of God’s goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty, 
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that she has fallen again and again; 
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
Christ has destroyed it by enduring it.

Christ destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
Christ put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God. 
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

29 March 2013

Sermon for Good Friday: "The Kingdom of God - Revealed in the Cross"

Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri
"'Ecce homo - behold the man!'  In him the world was reconciled with God.  The world is overcome not through destruction, but through reconciliation.  Not ideals, nor programs, nor conscience, nor duty, nor responsibility, nor virtue, but only God's perfect love can encounter reality and overcome it.  Nor is it some universal idea of love, but rather the love of God in Jesus Christ, a love genuinely lived, that does this.  This love of God for the world does not withdraw from reality into noble souls detached from the world, but experiences and suffers the reality of the world in the harshest possible fashion.  The world takes out its rage on the body of Jesus Christ.  But he, tormented, forgives the world its sins.  Thus does reconciliation come about.  Ecce homo - behold the man!   The figure of the reconciler, of the divine human Jesus Christ, steps into the middle between God and the world, into the center of all that happens.  Through this figure, the mystery of the world is disclosed, just as in the same figure the mystery of God is revealed.  No abyss of evil can hide from him through whom the world is reconciled with God.  But the abyss of God's love encompasses even the most abysmal godlessness of the world.  In an incomprehensible reversal of all righteous and pious thinking, God declares God's guilt toward the world and in so doing extinguishes the guilt of the world.  God sets out upon the humiliating path of reconciliation and thereby pronounces the world free.  God wills to be guilty of our sin, and takes over the punishment and suffering sin has brought upon us.  God answers for godlessness, love for hatred, the saint for the sinner.  Now there is no godlessness, no hatred, no sin which God has not carried, suffered, and atoned.  Now there is no reality, no world that is not reconciled and in peace with God.  God did this in God's beloved son Jesus Christ.  'Ecce homo - behold the man!'"
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics
Yes, behold the man.  Behold the kingdom of God - revealed in the cross of Jesus Christ.  In the Gospel of Luke, we read, “Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid.”  Joseph of Arimathea, looking for the kingdom of God, found Jesus hanging on the cross.  The sign above his head read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  Pilate intended it to be a message:  this is what happens to those who threaten the rule and power of Rome.  The message God proclaims, however, is different:  this is the kingdom of God - beholden to no power of throne or violence or sin or death.  On the cross Jesus takes everything.  The loving reign of God is established from below.  
You know the lament of the psalmist, “Out of the depths I cry to you!”  You have cried it yourself.  “I am alone!”  “I am afraid!”  “Is my faith enough?”  “Will God be merciful to me, a sinner?”  “Does God know my fear?  My anger?  My failure?  My trial?”  These laments are answered on the cross:  “It is finished.”  “It is accomplished.”  Now there is no depth of creation or sinfulness that remains unplumbed by the self-emptying love of God.  God does know your loneliness.  God does know your fear.  God does know your failure.  God does know your trial.  The kingdom of God, revealed in the cross, is where God meets the worst of all we are and refuses to abandon us.  It is finished - Jesus has loved his flock to the very end.  Behold the man - Jesus Christ our Lord.  Behold the kingdom of God, revealed in the Cross of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Sermon for Maundy Thursday: "The Kingdom of God - Founded in Glorious Love"

28 March 2013

Why I Don't Wash Feet In Church On Maundy Thursday

It's Maundy Thursday today.  The word "Maundy" is a bastardized version of the Latin mandatum, meaning "commandment."  Liturgically, we remember this day as the day Jesus gave his last meal and commandments to his disciples before his betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection.  We will gather in worship tonight to remember Jesus' last words to his disciples:  "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another." (John 13:34)

In some congregations, this service will be marked by foot washing.  It won't be in ours.  Here's why.

27 March 2013

The Genesis of a Sermon

I don't know if you've ever wondered how a sermon comes about, but I'm going to tell you anyway.  At least, I'll tell you how this sermon came about.  Actually, it's how this year's entire Triduum (Three Days) series came about.

New Podcast - "Music and the Making of a Preacher"

The sermon from Lenten Luncheon a few weeks ago in audio format.  This is fun!

22 March 2013

A Letter to the Editor of Metro Lutheran

To the Editor:
I was so very disappointed to see information regarding faculty eliminations and retirements attributed to people speaking on the condition of anonymity in your recent article, "Layoffs, retirement of staff, faculty reduce Luther Sem’s debt."  I realize Metro Lutheran is in the news business and that this has been a very important story for the Lutheran community within the Twin Cities.  However, given the openness with which Luther Seminary has approached the situation since it has come to light, the seminary administration, faculty and staff deserved the opportunity to manage the release of information regarding staff and faculty eliminations as they felt most appropriate for those affected and their family and friends.  It appears that your use of anonymous sources forced the seminary to release that information earlier than they had intended, and your irresponsible and uncharitable reporting may have exacerbated the already painful losses the seminary community is undergoing.  

On your website, you claim that "Metro Lutheran is supportive of Lutheran church bodies and the institutions and agencies through which they carry on their work."  These are your brothers and sisters in Christ, some of whom have been serving Luther Seminary for more than thirty years.  They deserved better support than to be outed by a source who would not reveal their name.  

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Scott Alan Johnson (M.Div Luther Seminary, 2003)
St. Petri Evangelical Lutheran Church
Story City, IA

17 March 2013

13 March 2013

Music and the Making of a Pastor

Our local ministerium is doing a series of Lenten Luncheons this year, touring area churches and inviting one another to tell how we became pastors.  Today was my turn.  Here's the story:

There is a text of Paul’s that comes to mind when I think of my faith story.  Philippians 3.5-6:  “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”  In many ways you could tell my faith story in this way:  “If anyone has reason to be confident in midwestern European Lutheranism, I have more:  a member of the people of Sweden, and also of a tribe of Missouri Synod Germans, a Johnson born of Johnsons; as to the farm, a native son; as to zeal for all things Cornhusker, a fanatic within the state religion; as to righteousness under the lutefisk, blameless.”  I’m a farmer’s son going back four generations in my hometown, baptized and confirmed at the same church my great-great-grandparents joined when they emigrated from Sweden in the late 1800s.  My mother’s family emigrated from Germany in the early 1900s and my uncles still live on the farm they owned seventy-odd years ago.  I grew up walking beans.  I’ve harvested Rocky Mountain Oysters.  I know what it’s like to stack straw bales in the loft of your barn and blow brown snot for the rest of the week.  I can put a fence together made up of rusted gates and baling wire.  I know how to hook a manure spreader to a tractor and spread fertilizer.  In many ways I could not be a more stereotypical midwestern farm boy.  But that is not the whole story of my faith, and frankly, I'll bet it's not the whole story for any of you, either.  

01 March 2013

2013 Book List: March Update

Here's the list of books I've read in 2013, updated monthly, for fun or for some sort of edification, professional or otherwise. Recommended titles are in bold, and formats are +(Kindle/eBook), *(audio/iPod).