We’ve spent a long while away from the narrative in Matthew. The Easter season through Holy Trinity is often all over the place and does little to focus on the themes of the Synoptic Gospel of the year. So, because of that, it’s easy to jump into a text like the one we have this week and ignore where it falls in the context of the Gospel and why Matthew is introducing this story. So, I’d like to set that context for us today and really lean into the tension of it all. Our text today is a continuation of a long line of interactions that immediately happen after the Sermon on the Mount. To read this Gospel text today as an isolated story would miss a massive movement happening in chapters 8 and 9.
Matthew 28:16-20 (Holy Trinity) – June 4, 2023
We are mere days (maybe even the same day) from the resurrection. Although we today are 50 some-odd days from Easter and have been in John for 7 weeks, this is an Easter text for Matthew. For a Gospel with so much detail and so many encounters, Matthew’s resurrection is abruptly short. Whereas John and Luke have a few resurrection appearances, Matthew has maybe one and a half. But I think this is intentional. But as I referenced way back in Advent, this is not the final judgment. The final judgment, in Matthew, is when Jesus returns. And so, if this is not the final judgment then there is no reason to linger. Now that the ritual sacrifice is no longer necessary, there is nothing tying discipleship to Jerusalem. This is about the transition of ministry to the disciples who have been taught all they need to know and have received the authority they need. And so, the next leg of work must begin. We are in the final transition of prophetic authority. John and Luke emphasize this next era of faith being driven by the Holy Spirit but that is not explicitly Matthew’s claim. This next era of faith, for Matthew, is the prophetic witness and evangelism of the church. The great commission is that final transition.
Pentecost (John 20:19-23 & Acts 2:1-21) – May 28, 2023
We again have very recognizable texts today: The incredibly familiar Acts 2 passage that simultaneously gives us joy and unnerves all of our lectors who have to read the many places in succession and a portion of 2nd Sunday of Easter, John 20, when Jesus meets the disciples in the upper room. We’ve just preached on John recently (including these most recent weeks within the Farewell Discourse) and many of us have preached on Acts 2 or have looked at the many commentaries that are written on it each year. All of this to say, I want to explore a more thematic topic in relation to John and Acts: The Two different descriptions of the Spirit.
John 17:1-11 (7th Sunday of Easter) – May 21, 2023
Eternal life. Two words that carry so much weight. Eternal life. Two words that encompass so much promise, so much expectation, so much hope for a future that is beyond our gaze, and beyond our comprehension. In our Christian tradition, these words are used so regularly to describe the time after a loved one has passed or to speak to the promise that Christ gives us about what comes next. We hear things like, “We will have eternal life with God in heaven.” Or “we will have eternal life with Christ.” These are beautiful sayings that give us so much hope and fill us with comfort. But so often, we only think about that life with God as in the future, yet to come. In a life different from the one that we are in. But in Today’s Gospel we are told, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” And this… THIS is eternal life. That they may know You. What if eternal life is not just the expectation of what comes after this life, but begins far sooner than that? What if eternal life is as simple as us knowing God?
John 14:15-21 – 6th Sunday of Easter (May 14th, 2023)
This week we continue our trek through the Farwell Discourse and much of the context is the same as last week. We continue to hear this promise of Jesus’ abiding connection with God, and we hear the promise of our abiding connection through the gift of the Holy Spirit who will be with us forever. Rather than belabor additional contextual points, I’ll jump into preaching possibilities that I’m seeing.
John 14:1-14 (5th Sunday of Easter) – May 7, 2023
I often advocate for preaching the narrative of the Gospel. Where are we in the specific Gospel? What might this section mean in relation to the beginning of Gospel and where we’re heading? Looking at the narrative of the story itself and see how it applies to the larger themes of the Gospel. In Lent, this was really easy: Nicodemus, the woman at the well, the man born blind, the raising of Lazarus. All of these are big narrative stories that produce so much thematic relevance to the Gospel. But the tricky portion of the next three weeks is that it is the same context for each. All three are a part of the Farewell Discourse and worse yet, we just went through Maundy Thursday only a few weeks ago. But this happens every year around the 5th or 6th week after Easter. The Gospel hurls us back. 5 weeks after Easter, even though we’ve already walked through the whole passion story. We heard it all, from the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, to the table and foot washing, to the Cross, to the empty tomb. And yet we are transported back to Maundy Thursday to hear these words from Jesus all over again. Why? In many ways, I think the reason is illuminated by the prospect of what the disciples were doing in those days after Easter. For them, as they sit together in the upper room, hiding, and talking wouldn’t they try to remember all the words he told them? Trying to make sense of all that he had said and all that had happened. And as he begins to appear to them after the resurrection it begins to click. In John chapter 12, right after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the Gospel author writes, “16His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.” They did not understand these things at first. But after it all happened. Then they remembered. It’s hindsight. The Gospel of John is always pointing toward the cross and the resurrection as a sign of revelation. Just look at John 3:16-17 as a perfect example. The cross is always in the picture, and it will illuminate everything. Because of this (especially after Easter when we just went through this) we can’t preach on this text like it’s Maundy Thursday and the cross and resurrection haven’t happened. And so instead, we need to preach to the season and to the Gospel of John. So, we ask ourselves, what is illuminated in this text by the cross and resurrection?
John 10:1-10 (Good Shepherd & 4th Sunday of Easter) – April 30, 2023
You could preach entirely on the theme of the Good Shepherd without ever talking about the individual items of these verses today. The Good Shepherd who cares for their flock, who guards and protects, who is safe. Connect it with Psalm 23 and you have sermon fodder for years. But for me, there are two potions of this text that are really ringing out for me: “The sheep follow him because they know his voice” and “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Are there voices in your life that bring warmth to your heart? For me, my family’s voices do that instantly. Any time I hear my parents’ voices or my siblings, it puts me in touch with my history and my childhood. It’s a connection to the love that I’ve felt with them.
Luke 24:13-35 (3rd Sunday of Easter) – April 23, 2023
It’s a bit odd that Road to Emmaus comes up in Year A. We’ve been totally in Matthew and John and now we get this stray text from Luke. And yet, I don’t think many of us mind all that much. Afterall, probably 75% used this as our Ordination text and resonate with it for one reason or another. So, I’m going to ramble and wax poetically here for a little bit and then I’ll conclude with where I think I’m going. It’s an incredible text. It has some of the most beautiful individual lines. I talk about "But we had hoped..." and "Were not our hearts burning within us..." I also share how I think Luke is instructing the early newcomers to the faith: "Well the brilliance of this story from Luke is giving a direction for those who don’t know where to begin in discipleship once Jesus ascends. How do we move from following to leading? How do we much from being passive witnesses to being proclaimers and evangelists? Jesus begins by asking them, “What are you discussing?” He gets them talking and sharing the story of Jesus. If we read too far into it, then it starts to sound like Jesus is a narcissist. But I don’t that’s what Luke is going for. Luke is trying to teach newcomers to the Faith how to start living into the Faith. You have to start talking about it."
John 20:19-31 (2nd Sunday of Easter) – April 16, 2023
I honestly can’t recall someone preaching this way at a service that I’ve gone to, but I’ve often heard rumors that this text was used to preach about the negativity of fear and doubt for many decades: “Don’t doubt like Doubting Thomas.” Or why on earth are the disciples afraid and locked behind closed doors? Didn’t they hear the news from Mary? Jesus is risen! But, I have to say, as I look at this situation, I can relate to it.
Matthew 28:1-10 (Easter Sunday) – April 9th, 2023
"So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples." As much as any other Gospel, Matthew has these lines that talk about fear around great news. There is an opportunity here to preach to folks who are not in our pews for Thomas next week. To hear a little bit about fear and faith. Fear and great joy. On Easter we like to preach a safe message. Alleluia, Jesus is Risen! It’s all over. Don’t worry anymore. Christ has accomplished what we could not and now we need not worry. Afterall, Jesus just explicitly tells us not to be afraid. But that’s not the end of the story. Not in any of the Gospels but certainly not in Matthew. It doesn’t conclude with Jesus telling us not to be afraid. It concludes with Jesus sending us into the world. Jesus is sending us into ALL the world.