Wednesday, March 30, 2011

God Will Talk to You and Tell You I'm Right

I hadn't really meant to eavesdrop - but, well, the place was nearly empty and the hostess had sat them next to me, and the one guy was apparently a pastor talking shop with someone... I mean, it's normal busybody curiosity as well as professional interest.

But so there I was, eating my lunch and hearing all sorts of theology from your typical American Bible Belt protestant. And it really sort of made me sad. What did I notice?

1. Everything was about feelings giving you guidance. Seriously, it was this person felt led, or they prayed and then they felt they had made the right decision. Everything was tied to feelings... and they weren't even feelings that were responses to the Word of God - not even, "I read this passage and it slapped me across the face". Just... prayer (or I'd say even "meditation", but that would be my word, not theirs) and then a feeling. For tons of things.

2. Now the cynical. I heard the one pastor, in his story telling, twice go across this scenario - someone is doing something that the pastor thinks is foolish and wrong, and so -"Then I told them that they really need to pray about it."


That was euphemism. Oh, I'm sure he wanted them to pray - but the point of the prayer was to be that "God will talk to you and tell you that I'm right." And it made me think - how often when we in America get told that we should "pray about something" is it really someone telling us that we are wrong and that if we just pray enough God will mystically smack us and make us see reason?

I don't think I'm going to go to your college -- oh, well, you should pray about that.

I don't think I'm going to take this job - oh, well, you should really pray about it.

I don't want to donate to your organization - oh, well, you should really pray about it.

Of course, when you cut yourself off from being focused first and foremost on the clear Word of God - when you expect God to speak to you through your feelings... well, when someone starts manipulating you, what do you think you can expect "God" to be saying after you get the guilt-trip-command-for-prayer.

So much manipulation. So little security. Thanks be to God for the clear Gospel that gives us Christ the Crucified. Thanks be to God that He has taught us that whether we live or die, we live or die to the Lord. Such wonderful comfort.

God doesn't need to tell you that I'm right about what job I think you should take - He just out of love and mercy reveals His Son Christ Jesus as your Savior.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Internet and "safe" Sin

Sin always deals and trades in lies. That's just the nature of the beast - to promise something that looks wonderful but give pain, isolation, and death instead. The affair sounds like a good idea. . . but ends in pain, isolation, and the death of God given blessings. The extra wealth from the cruel dealings seems wonderful - but then there is pain and worry and payback... and then isolation and death.

This is something that we know - especially we of the Christian faith. We know that sin is inherently dangerous. But then there is the Internet. The internet gives a new twist on the lying nature of sin - the Internet promises "safe" sin.

Why is internet porn so popular? It's "safe". You don't even have to leave a store with a brown paper bag -- just you on your own where no one knows. It's "safe" - it eliminates the potential for embarrassment... or at least that's how the temptation goes. It's still porn with its own negative consequences... and that "safe" feeling emboldens the sin until one does something utterly stupid and gives up the game -- and then there is great and huge embarrassment. Walking out of a store in a brown paper bag is nothing compared to being escorted out of work in hand-cuffs... something that happens because of the "safe" sin on the internet.

Or consider comments in blogs and internet discussions. The internet can be a great tool for communication -- but it also gives the illusion of "safe" sin. You can say things to a person who is miles and miles away that you would never say to their face. You can be antagonistic and cruel - as harsh as the most abusive person... but it's "safe" - they won't be able to come back at you. And suddenly, you start thinking in harsher, crueler terms.

And of course, this says nothing of remaining anonymous - If you remain hidden, or just live behind an internet moniker where no one knows who you "really" are - you think it's "safe" to just unload on people, to lambaste, to rail against them. And it's "safe" - they can't really get back at you.

The only problem is it's not safe -- you train yourself with your actions, with what you say -- and your "safe" approach is just teaching, reinforcing in your mind that anyone who disagrees with you ought to be lambasted -- and you will grow in bitterness, discontentment, and cruelty. And the attitudes you think you can safely vent begin to shape not just your "venting" time but even the hours when the computer is off and you are away.

Sin always leads to pain, isolation, and death... even if you think it's "safe" because its just at a keyboard.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lent 3 Sermon

Lent 3 – March 27th, 2011 – Luke 11:14-28

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Excuses in this world are a dime a dozen, especially when it comes to the things of God. This is just part of our sinful, fallen nature. We like to come up with excuses, with seemingly reasonable arguments for why we should ignore the Word of God and just go on doing what we’ve been doing – where we can find an excuse to ignore Christ Jesus, to push His death and resurrection into a corner – treat as though it’s only something that shapes our afterlife and not our very lives and being now.

Excuses are nothing new. We see one in our Gospel text today. “Now [Jesus] was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.’” What these people are doing right here is making an excuse. They want their normal lives to continue without any ripples – and seeing the Messiah come, seeing the kingdom of darkness overthrown causes ripples, causes a change in a person’s life. And so they make an excuse – eh, not really from God – He’s just using demonic powers. Now, yes, we know that this is a silly argument – especially in Oklahoma as we love to key in on that whole “House Divided” theme when it comes to OU and OSU. But, put yourself in the shoes of someone back in that day. They weren’t skeptics like us – they knew, rightly, that demonic powers were very real. And so, the suggestion that Christ might be casting out demons by demons is almost reasonable – you had tales and stories of all sorts of people who would invoke the spirits to their will – so the idea of one guy using a big demon to beat up on a little demon – not so strange in those days.

And Jesus knows that it is just an excuse – and He cuts right though it. Three things. First, there is the idea of a House Divided. Satan isn’t dumb – he’s not going to fight against himself, and this is a fighting against, a beating down of the demonic. Second, Jesus points out that many folks in Israel at this time are casting out demons in Jesus’ Name. This happens – two chapters earlier in Luke the disciples had been sort of freaked out by this – there’s some guy we don’t know casting out demons in Your Name, Jesus! If the sons of Israel are casting out demons in Jesus’ name – any accusation you make against Him rolls downhill on to them – is that the argument you want to make, people? And third, and this is the important one – “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” This is a Messianic statement – this is bold. This is Christ saying, “I’m the Messiah, and I am here to reign and rule, my Kingdom of redemption and forgiveness is here – and you are really opposing that – and that is a horrible thing to oppose.” And so Jesus lays bare what He is doing – He is the stronger man who comes into this world to beat down Satan and wrest fallen creation back from him, wrest you and I from the kingdom of Satan and bring us to the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and His holiness.

Indeed, my friends, this is what Christ accomplished for us in our Baptism – it is what He does to us today through His Word, through His Supper. He comes and brings forgiveness and life and showers it upon us – calls us out of darkness, calls us away from our sins unto a life of love and care. And yet, the excuses still come. And not just from rank and gross unbelievers, not just from the people who have never heard, not just from the people who have been taught lies from their youth – but even from among us, from the Christians who should know better. We make excuses. Need I go over them now? We don’t have the time, for the list is far too long for one sermon. But you know them, at least you know the ones that tempt you. And the thing is – every excuse we make will sort of sound reasonable and okay – until we examine it under the light of the Word of God, and it crumbles. But here is the thing – Satan is going to try to tempt you to minimize the role, minimize the time you spend in Church hearing God’s Word preached, minimize the times when you receive Christ’s Supper, minimize the time you spend studying and pondering the Word of God. And why?

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.’” This may be one of the more chilling things that Jesus says. But think about it for a moment. Take the person who has always been an unbeliever, who’s never been a Christian. When they are up to no good, at least their honest about it – at least they admit that they are just out for themselves, that they are just looking out for number one. But what happens to the person who knows better, who knew what is good and right… and then ends up ignoring it and falling away? They’ll be just as wicked and self-centered as the other guy, but what do you hear from them? “Oh, how dare you, I’m a good person!” Won’t even admit their wickedness – and that is being truly depraved. It’s one thing to do bad because you are foolish and think its fun or just better to do things your way – it’s another thing entirely to do things that are bad and then say that you’re a good little Christian. The worst, the most obstinent people are the ones who used to be faithful, who were put in order… but then stopped paying attention, and just started to go along with the flow of this world, and slipped and slid and became worse and worse while pretending that everything was just fine. This is what Christ is warning us against here – this is a warning to us. It is possible for the Christian, for the one who had believed, to stumble and fall away into vice and shame and even all the way into utter unbelief, where on the last day they will be those crying Lord, Lord, and who hear, “Depart from Me, I do not know you.” This is a warning against letting complacency and self-confidence lead to an utter fall.

So, how is this to be avoided? We hear at the very end of our lesson. “As He said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!’ But He said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!’” Now, dear friends in Christ – you need to hear our Lord’s Word’s rightly. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. We hear that Word “keep” and suddenly the works righteous preachers are off to the races – oh, you’ve got to do this and that and if you drink or smoke or use playing cards you’re just kicked off the holy bus. Not the point – in fact – not even the right word. I don’t like going into Greek in the sermon too often – that’s what Bible study, where I have my nice big white board, is for. However – the Word here is “Phulassontes” – which means “guards”, or keeps safe, or protects. The idea here isn’t one of going and doing a giant checklist, but of holding tight to the Word, paying attention to it. This is not a call to action, but a call to attention – that we are to be hearers of the Word – those who hear the Word of God and believe it, who continually hear it and remain in it – as opposed to those who hear it, and then end up making excuses and ignoring it and falling off into all sorts of wickedness.

And lest you think I am just making stuff up – that keep doesn’t mean to simply protect and listen to the Word, let me ask you a two questions that all of you over the age of 10 should have down pat. What is the 3rd Commandment? Remember the Sabbath day by KEEPING it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Do you see how that works? As Christians we are to hear the Word, we are to treat it as valuable and continually pay attention to it – we are to protect and safeguard our time in the Word. That’s what this is about. And why is this to be our attitude? “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” Because it is in hearing the Word of God, in hearing the Gospel of Christ Jesus, in hearing of His battle against Satan, His victory by His death upon the Cross and the Resurrection, that Satan is defeated in our lives. The Word of God gives to us what it says, what it proclaims – and so when the Word of God proclaims Christ’s victory and forgiveness, it drives Satan away from us and forgives us our sins. Moreover, with the Word of God there is always the Holy Spirit – wherever the Word of God is being proclaimed, there the Holy Spirit is – and when the Word of God enters through your ears, the Holy Spirit enters there as well. And what does that mean? It means you are not left like that empty house, simply waiting to be consumed by wickedness – it means that you are a filled house, filled by God – indeed that you are God’s own temple. Do you see how this works – the way to avoid the fall into self-righteousness is to hear the Word of God. You hear the Word of God which cuts across your excuses and casts them down. You hear the Word of God which pricks your conscience and drives you to confess your sins. And then most wonderfully, you hear the Word of God which brings you Christ Jesus and gives the life and salvation He gives to you – and then you are full, then you are safe, then you are rescued out of Satan’s Kingdom and rejoice knowing that you are in the Kingdom of Christ.

And so dear friends, be wary of the appealing excuses to avoid the Word of God that Satan will throw your way – for the old evil foe knows that while he is stronger than you and can over power you, he cannot overpower Christ and His Word. As such the devil will try to convince you to separate yourself from Christ and His Word. Instead, keep His Word, hold fast to it, safeguard it in your life – for in the Word you are given Christ Jesus, the priceless treasure, the source of life and salvation. Christ has defeated Satan, and by the continual and constant and repeated proclamation of His Word and by the His holy Supper, He beats down and defeats Satan in your own life. God make us to be partakers in His victory. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Post "about" Nursing Homes.

Let us ponder for a moment the issue of nursing homes. In many ways, they are a very, very sad thing. Many folks are slightly weirded out going there -- me, not so much, as I grew up in them - my mom was a nurse at a nursing home, and she'd bring me in sometimes while she worked and I got to go and play with the old people. Rather enjoyed it.

However, the fact still remains - they can be sad places. But more than that - they are so often abused by the children who put their parents there. After all, part of the reason for children to exist is to care for their parents in their old age - that is part of why children are a blessing - they care for you when you get old. And yet, we see so many kids in their 40-60s just unthinkingly and selfishly shuffle mom off to the home... when there's no reason why mom couldn't move in with them.

This is wrong and sad. Nursing homes are often overused - and the family is better when it is multi-generational -- living in the same house with my grandparents for a brief time when I was young was one of the great blessings of my life.

So, how do we fix this? The common assumption, the general popular idea has just become "When you get old, you go to a nursing home. That's just how it is." And this gets abused and love is forsaken. How do we fix this? How do we cut off the unkind and uncaring abandonment of parents to lonely isolation in their old age? I can see two options:

1. We denounce all use and forms of nursing homes as wicked and evil and against God's natural design of the human race. It is an artificial, abhorrent thing and must be avoided at all costs.

2. We say, "Part of your duty as a child is to care for your parents, using your best judgment. As such, consider how you handle your parents. Do not just wantonly shuffle them off to the nursing home - but can you care for them, can you still handle their health issues and provide companionship and company for them? Consider more than just financial stuff - and how their care would negatively impact you (for then your fear also clouds the positives that comes from having them around). If to the home they must go - normally because of some health problem that you simply cannot care for - so be it. But think, consider your duty as a child, and seek first to show love to your parent."

I would argue that the second approach is more in line with Scripture. We don't start forbidding things that are not forbidden in Scripture simply because they can be abused in an obviously wicked way. That becomes a matter of us, in our own wisdom, trying to prevent sin by adding to God's Word, rather than using our wisdom in the service of the various people God has placed into our lives.

(and if you don't get what this is also "about" - remember that there are varying reactions to the various false assumptions in this world about the other side of a parent/child relationship)

+ + + + + + + + +

Just so you guys know - I in no way endorse "option 1". In fact, that is more an homage to the knee-jerk, overly legalistic view that can often arise to any sin or shortcoming. See also no TV, no movies, no popular music, no drinking, no dancing, no face cards.

Nursing homes can indeed be fine things.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lent 2 Sermon

Lent 2 – March 20th, 2011 – Matthew 15:21-28

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
If you would understand the battle our Lord wages against Satan this Lent, indeed, if you would understand the Christian faith, you must abandon pride and be humble. This is what we see in our Gospel lesson today, for if you view your life and the world with eyes that are proud and self-focused, you will miss, you will fail to see your humble Lord Christ Jesus and the salvation He wins for you. I know this is a bold statement, but what we see in our text is the second half of a comparison, a comparison between the pride of the Jews, on the one hand, and the humble faith of the Canaanite woman on the other.

Before we look at our Gospel text, we need consider what happened before hand – after all, our lesson starts, “and Jesus went away from there…” Away from where? Well, Jesus was in Judea, and if you read chapter 15 from the beginning, you see that Pharisees and Scribes from Jerusalem had come up to Jesus and started grilling him about commandments and tradition. Now, we are not going to look at the first 20 verses in detail, but what we see in them is pride. You have this pride that these Jewish leaders show in their heritage, in the fact that they are Jews. You have pride in their works, how good they are, how wondrous they are. In fact, when Jesus responds to them and teaches them, they get offended – the disciples actually come up to Jesus all worried because He said something that offended such good, fine Jewish folks. The disciples too hold on to their Jewish pride a bit too much – they too view themselves as good people because they are nice Jewish folks who try their best to follow all the commandments and rules.

So Jesus leads them away from Judea, and He “withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’” So they leave the Jewish lands behind, and suddenly this foreign woman shows up begging for mercy. First, let’s consider this. At that time Jewish men didn’t like non-Jews, by in large. Jewish men didn’t like women, by in large. So basically there is no sort of type of person that a guy holding onto Jewish cultural pride would disdain and despise more than a Canaanite woman. Just would be repulsed by her. So here you have a contrast between the “Good” Jewish folks and the despised Canaanite woman. Bear this in mind. And this woman comes up and begs for Jesus to help her daughter who is possessed. And she asks beautifully. First, she calls Jesus “Lord” – calls Him God. Calls Him Jehovah. She calls Him “Son of David” – not only God but also the One who by rights should be the earthly ruler, the Ruler who should dominate and crush her own people. When she calls Jesus the Lord, when she calls Him Son of David, this is a powerful statement of who Jesus is. True God, true Man. So this gal is spot on theologically. And as Christ comes to fight of Satan and destroy His power, casting out the demon that is bothering her daughter is right up His wheelhouse – simple, easy, knock this one out of the park.

“But He did not answer her a word.” Jesus doesn’t say anything. Now, a lot of people will make this the focus of the text – and their sermons on this text will become sermons on how we should be persistent in prayer, how even when it seems like God doesn’t answer us we should keep on praying. And that is true – be persistent in your prayer. But I’m going to say that Christ isn’t quiet here in order to teach us to pray more – He’s quiet to drive home a point with the disciples, with us. So there Jesus is, just letting this woman wail at Him, and finally the disciples intervene. “And His disciples came and begged Him saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’” And the disciples fail miserably. Send her away. Not “please heal her quickly, Jesus.” Not, “Hurry Lord, and beat down Satan.” So strong, so powerful is the disciples’ self-pride, and so powerful is their disdain of this woman that they beg, beg Jesus to send her away. Send her away, cast her away from us as though she herself were a demon, not a mother pleading for aid against a demon.

Jesus will now throw the disciples’ pride right back in their face. “He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’” Note, Jesus isn’t talking to the woman here – He’s answering the disciples. Alright disciples, you think you are so high and mighty because you are Jews, you think you are the only ones worthy of interacting with the Messiah – fine, I guess I can’t deal with her since she’s not as cool as you – you’ll just have to put up with her begging. Jesus just throws their pride and arrogance right back at them.

Then a thing that is wondrous happens. “But she came and knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’” The woman is adamant – she knows that Jesus is the one who can help her, and so she is going to Him to seek His help. Excellent on her part. But before He aids her, Jesus is going to have her help in teaching the disciples. “And He answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’” That answer is true – I mean, if any of you let your children starve because you gave their dinner to the dogs, well, that would just be horrible. But the answer, well, if you imply that a woman is a female dog, that was insulting in Jesus’ day just as it is in ours. And remember what I said earlier – the Pharisees had been offended by what Jesus had said earlier in this chapter – if anything then we should expect this woman to be offended, to say, “How dare you Jesus.” Her pride would surely be thoroughly cut by this statement.

But it’s not. “She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ tables.’” Jesus says to this woman, “you are lowly and you do not deserve My help.” And the woman says, “You’re right, Lord, I do not deserve your help – I am a lowly dog, but masters care for their dogs, so I know You will care for me.” Do you see what happened? Because the woman isn’t trying to defend her own position, because the woman isn’t concerned with her status or how respected she is, because she does not act in pride, she can see Christ Jesus for who He is, the gracious master who cares even for one as lowly as her.

And we know what happens next. “Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” The woman understands. When it comes to her faith, to her relationship with God – it is not determined by how wonderful she is. She can claim no noble birth – she’s not from the right family. She doesn’t point to her works. She doesn’t say that she’s been a good little girl who deserves blessings. Rather this – her eyes are focused in humility upon Christ and who He is. She simply confesses that He is God and that He is gracious – and so she sees and understands. By faith she sees Christ.

Dear friends, I cannot overemphasize how dangerous pride is, how dangerous a reliance upon works is. Whenever we start thinking prideful thoughts, be it pride in our heritage – why we were born and raised in this Church – or pride in our works – why, I’m a pretty good person and I do things pretty well – whenever we think along these lines we put our faith in jeopardy. Why? Because thoughts like these focus us upon ourselves. I was raised rightly, I’m from a good family, I do good stuff. I, I, I. And it’s such a false focus. Who cares if you were raised right if you are doing wickedness and foolishness now? Who cares if you came from a good family if you disdain God now? Who cares that you are nice – we’re supposed to be perfect – nice doesn’t cut anything. And yet, in sinful pride, we can want to focus on ourselves, and we forget God, we write Him off, we don’t see our need for His mercy, for His forgiveness. This place, this service becomes less and less important – we start thinking we don’t get anything out of it… which is really saying that you think the forgiveness of sins is worthless, that you don’t need it. That you don’t need God, who comes here to be present for you. And pride crushes and kills faith.

Our pride is a problem, and so Christ Jesus calls us to repentance, calls us to humility. He calls us to not think highly of ourselves, but instead to confess that we are both lowly and in need. To confess that we do not deserve any benefits from God, that God doesn’t owe us anything. But rather, simply because He is good, because He is full of love, because Christ Jesus stands and pleads for us, because of these reasons we seek forgiveness and mercy from God, and God does give His forgiveness to us.

It is a beautiful contrast we will see in Lent, in our Lord’s Passion. We can be so proud, we can struggle with this pride, we can easily disdain folks and applaud ourselves. But in contrast to this, in contrast to our sin and failure, consider Christ Jesus and His passion. Where does His pride enter in? It never does. Even though He is true God, God Almighty, the very Word which called forth all creation into existence – He lets Himself be arrested, even though legions of angels would come at His command. He lets Himself be mocked and beaten and sorely abused, even though lighting or brimstone could come at His whim and smite those who abused Him. He is not worried about His dignity, but is instead nailed naked to a cross, exposed to the elements and for all the world to see, and left to die. But there, His thoughts are not about His own pride and dignity – His thoughts are upon you, upon wining Salvation for you and forgiveness for your sins of pride and all your sins. This is our Lord’s great humility, His great love for you.

With humility, humility God brings forth in us by the power of His Word and Spirit, we are taught to see this, taught to believe this. We learn more and more to call out to God, “Have mercy upon us” – knowing that He will have mercy, not because of our goodness, but because of Christ Jesus’ goodness. We know and believe that Christ does not hold Himself aloft and away from us, but He Himself comes down under humble, simple elements of bread and wine, and in His Supper He comes to give us His true Body and Blood for our forgiveness. Pride would have us ignore these mysteries and wonders; pride would have us doubt and complain against them – but Christ Jesus is indeed Your Lord, and He has given you the gift of faith, and He forgives you your sin and gives you strength through His Word and Supper so that you might learn more and more to beat down pride and all sins, and rather to ever more see His love for you more clearly. God grant such grace to us all. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Minority View on Lent 2

Here is what the 1 Year Lectionary Summary for Lent 2 says:

Jacob wrestled with God; he would not let Him go until he received a blessing from Him (Gen. 32:22–32). So it was with the Canaanite woman. Though Jesus seemed to ignore and reject her, she continued to call upon His name and look to Him for help (Mt. 15:21–28). Even when the Lord called her a little dog, she held on to Him in faith and would not let Him wriggle out of His words: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” This Gentile woman shows herself to be a true Israelite, who struggles with God and man in Christ and prevails. “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (Mt. 15:27–28). This is the sanctifying will of God (1 Thess. 4:1–7)--to test your faith in order that it may be refined and strengthened. For tribulation produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope. And hope in Christ does not disappoint (Rom. 5:1–5).

I think what is said here is all true -- I just don't think that this is the main point of the Gospel Lesson. We end up viewing this text on its own - in the abstract, and what stands out most is how Jesus is seemingly cruel to this gal - and then we jump to the times when God doesn't immediately answer our prayers and is seemingly cruel to us.

But that's not the point of this area of Matthew. Chapter 15 begins with a big discussion on the Pharisees and their love of their own tradition. And Jesus' answer, which is true, offends the Pharisees. The good, Jewish boys take offense when they are told they aren't wonderful.

Then you have this Canaanite woman, one who is so low (in Jewish understanding) that the disciples don't even want to address her directly. The disciples give into their pride in their heritage and culture - they are blind and they despise her.

And then Jesus speaks a hard word of truth - you don't deserve anything from me because you are as lowly as a dog. And unlike the Pharisees who hear the truth and are offended, she hears the truth and confesses it - yes, I am a dog - but YOU are good.

If we are to understand Christ's passion, understand what we see this Lent - we must forgo our own pride, our own self worth, our own love of our own actions. Instead, we must confess that we are sinners for whom Christ died.

This isn't about how good Christians will be persistent in prayer - this is about how Christians will in faith believe what the Word of God says and trust solely in Christ. It's about the wretchedness of man and the goodness of Christ - not about how you can be a good little Christian.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A good definition of Adiaphora

Those Cagey Wisconsin folk over at Intrepid Lutheran give a great definition of adiaphora that introduces some important context to the discussion that is often lost.

The Great Sin of Explanations and Verbal Self Defense

We all (or at least most of us, even non-Christians) know the instruction to turn the other cheek - if someone strikes you on your cheek, let them hit you on the other. We often think of this in physical terms - don't get into fights, don't cause pain. Even if we don't live up to this as an ideal, we know it.

But what if someone verbally strikes you - what if someone criticizes you unjustly (or even worse, justly!)? Well, then we open out mouths and out spew all sorts of things. Someone is upset with us, and rather than trying to sooth their anger, we first want to defend ourselves. We want to explain our actions (and why they aren't really that bad), we want to defend our actions - to show how silly the person who is upset with us. We parry their verbal attacks, and if we can turn that parry into a riposte, fantastic!

So often this falls into sin. So often any concern for the neighbor who is upset with us goes out the window as we become first and foremost concerned with showing ourselves to be in the right - you know, self-justifying ourselves. We want to say that we are better than the other person - we'll drag them down.

"Well, do you mean if we are falsely accused we can never defend ourselves?" Well, I'm not going to say that - but why are you so concerned about defending yourself? If someone is just upset, why do you need to defend yourself? I mean, if you are being falsely accused at work and might lose your job -- show your work, I guess. But even then, go, settle with your accuser - don't focus on trying to show how wonderful you are.

Just something to consider. Explanations can be fine, defense can be good - but what are you trying to accomplish? Is it simply for your own good or for the good of your neighbor? And if it isn't for the good of your neighbor, why are you doing it?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Church Membership.

The first rule of Church Membership is you will attend services.

The second rule of Church Membership is you WILL ATTEND services.

The third rule of Church Membership is you will strive to grow in knowledge by reading good books and showing up to bible classes.

The fourth rule of Church Membership is when you go to bible classes, you go to learn, not demonstrate how smart you are.

The fifth rule of Church Membership is you will be polite - you are a member, not a boss, not a tyrant. You don't become a Church Member to beat on other people - that's some other club.

The sixth rule of Church Membership is you will support your congregation with cash and talents and time.

The seventh rule of Church Membership is you will remain an active member as long as is required - i.e. death or the second coming.

The eighth rule of Church Membership is this: if this is your first time as a Member of an LCMS congregation, you have to take an extensive theology class.


Nothing is more wretched than self-righteousness, because it keeps one from repentance and because it makes one a harsh and cruel judge of the neighbor (who obviously isn't as righteous as you are).

And what does one gain from self-righteousness? Only delusional self-gratification that is always in danger of being shattered. A horrible thing... and yet, so common, so, so common.

Want proof. Ask someone why they don't bother attending Church.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sermon For Lent 1

Lent 1 – March 13th, 2011 – Matthew 4:1-11

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Lent has begun, and we see our Lord begin to wage his war against Satan, see our Lord do what He came to earth to do – to be True God and True Man who would come and rescue us sinful, fallen people from the clutches of Satan. He came to be the Savior who would both pay the penalty for our sin and win us life everlasting with His resurrection. And in our Gospel lesson, we see Him take on the very root of our downfall – Satan and his temptations.

Today, we don’t think much about temptation. As Modern Americans, we just don’t think in those terms all that often. When we consider wickedness and sin in our life – we don’t view it as springing forth from temptation, as a matter of us coming under the assaults and attacks of Satan. We rationalize it away. Yes, yes, what I did wasn’t nice, but you know, I had had a really long day. I know I probably should have done that, but you know, I was just kind of tired and I just didn’t. Is that type of language familiar? Do we think of those sorts of situations as being times of temptation? Do we sit back and say, “I know I was supposed to do something, but I was tempted, tempted away from doing it, and I gave into temptation”? We are much more apt to explain away our sin, come up with excuses for it, rationalize it, than we are to simply admit what happened, than we are to simply call a spade a spade. I was tempted, and I gave into temptation. It doesn’t matter that I had a rough day, I still yelled, and I shouldn’t have, I knew better. It doesn’t matter that I was tired – I did not show love like I ought to have, and I ended up ignoring the neighbor I was created to love and care for. I was tempted, Satan tempted me using my weakness, my frailty, and I gave in, I swallowed his temptation hook, line, and sinker. We may not often think this way, but this is the way the Scriptures teach us to consider our sin.

As evidence of this, consider Genesis 3 – we all know that what happens there is temptation. It’s the cause of the fall, it’s the occasion of the first great sin, where Adam and Eve are tempted by Satan, and they fall. There’s your very definition of what temptation is. What do we hear? “[The Serpent] said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” First thing, Satan twists the Word of God. God never told them they can’t eat of any tree – but what Satan does is introduce doubt about the Word. Confusion. Misquoting and twisting the Word of God. There’s temptation step 1, muddy the waters, confuse people about God’s Word. Happens often enough today. “And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” Eve resists there – she knows what God has said, and so Satan moves on to temptation step two, directly contradict the Word of God – call God a liar. Often happens with temptation – oh, if you do this, it’s not that bad. God’s just being an old-fuddy-duddy with those commandment things. And now, here’s the kicker for us today. How does Eve react? “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” Do you see what they did – it’s the same thing that we do. Eve isn’t thinking, “I am being tempted away from what God said” – she’s worried about rationalizing her actions. Eh, it looks tasty, so it must be okay. Eh, who doesn’t want to be wise, that’s a good thing? It’s the same thing that we so often do when we are confronted with temptation. Eh, I’m not really hurting anyone. Eh, I’ve been pretty good, a little bit won’t hurt. Well, it’s all their fault for making me so angry in the first place. Temptation isn’t always Satan cackling away at us saying, “Go on, be evil” and us saying, “Yes, I want to be evil, bwahahahaha!” Temptation is when Satan comes and by playing off our wants, our desires, our weakness, he tries to convince us to do things we know that we shouldn’t – it’s when he tries to get us to call something good or okay even though we know is wrong, know that we shouldn’t do. Do you see and understand, O Christian, how much temptation is your life? When we examine our lives, when we confront temptation instead of just sweeping it away, we see just how much of our time is spent in battle against sin and wickedness and the temptations of Satan. And God knows this – this is why Christ would have us pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Satan still tempts us mightily… sometimes we resist. All too often we fall, for like we are sinners.

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit in the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.” That “then” is an important word. Immediately before our Gospel Lesson, Jesus was Baptized. True God has become True Man, and at His Baptism Jesus declared that He, totally righteous and perfect, would take His place standing by our side, that He would stand with the lowly sinners like you and I, and that He would be our champion. And so, our Lord is led from the waters of the Jordan to the wilderness by Holy Spirit – Mark’s Gospel says that the Spirit throws Him into the desert. Why? Because if Christ is to be our Champion, if Christ is going to be True Man, Man as Man was meant to be, He must face down Satan and His temptations for us. The old Foe has to be confronted, and we of ourselves do a rather poor job of confronting Satan. And that is what our Lord goes out in the desert to do – to fix, to override those times when you give into temptation. And so our Lord goes and fasts for 40 days and 40 nights – let My flesh be weakened as well, so that when I confront Satan and defeat him, he’ll know he’s defeated.

So Satan comes, and he makes his first play. “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Satan says to Jesus, “You’re God, why should you suffer any lack, any trouble? Satisfy Yourself! Just as Eve saw that the fruit of the tree was tasty, make Yourself something tasty. Give in to the God of Your belly.” This is a temptation we are all familiar with, the temptation that is a lack of discipline, where we just give into our bodily desires, whether they be for food or for coarser things. We often give into this, live by our desires. Jesus will have none of it. “But He answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”” I know what true Life is Satan, for I am the Word of God that called forth creation and life, and life is not giving into my own desires, but true life is living as God would have you live. I was sent here by the Father and Spirit to face you down – I’ll eat when you’ve been put in your place, not before then. Temptation 1 – overcome.

Satan tries again. “Then the Devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, He will command His angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.’” And here’s temptation 2. Satan says, “I can tell that you are a good little God-fearer. Well, shouldn’t that have some benefits – shouldn’t things be easier – why lookie here – you’ve got a no hurt foot clause – well, let’s see that get put into play. Satan here is throwing a temptation that he commonly hits us with – you’re a Christian – doesn’t that mean your life should be better, should be easier, should be full of power and might – full of awesome signs. Now, we might not expect angels to come and grab us as we jump off a building, but can’t we be tempted to think that as Christians we should get some divine kickbacks, some extra “blessings”, some extra cash, power, wealth because of our faith. Can’t we even be tempted to tell God He owes us? We rationalize it away – if I’m a good little boy, God should give me my cake and let me eat it too. We bite on this temptation all the time. Jesus will have none of it. “Jesus said to him, ‘Again, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’’” Why, oh serpent, should I start telling the Father what to do? In fact, why should I worry about not striking my foot against a stone – I told you back in the Garden what would happen to My foot – it’s going to be bruised not by a stone, but when I crush your skull with my Crucifixion. Jesus doesn’t come to earth to get brownie points and prove how good He is – He doesn’t come for a life of luxury, He doesn’t come to make demands of the Father. Rather, He comes to fulfill the Father’s Will, and that Will is to win you Salvation by dying and rising. No thoughts of serving Himself, or demanding to be served – The Son of Man did not come to be served. Temptation 2 – overcome.

One more try for Satan. “Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’” Luther refers to Satan as “This world’s prince.” That’s what he was. When we fell, when Adam and Eve jumped ship in the garden, they had signed themselves over to Satan. We are born in sin, born enemies of God and slaves of Satan. And so here Satan tries to cut a deal. I know you want these people Jesus, and I don’t want my head crushed – let’s cut a deal. Do things my way – follow me, and I’ll give you all these people. You’ll have them, You’ll have power and might – just do things my way. Again, a familiar temptation for us – lie, cheat, and steal to get ahead. Abandon what is good and right for the easy and quick path to power – get everything we want, just quicker and easier. We know this temptation, and we often give into it. Jesus will have none of it. “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’’” There will be no truce, no capitulation. Christ will not bow the knee to Satan, instead, His head will be bowed upon the cross, under a crown of thorns, as He gives up His life to rescue us from death and Satan’s kingdom. There is no stopping Christ, Satan. He has come to be our champion, and as He faced you down in the wilderness, so He will utterly crush you with His Cross, and so with His resurrection will He destroy your kingdom of death.

So then, what does our Lord’s victory over Satan in these temptations mean for us? Here I would direct you to your Baptism, because there in the Waters of your Baptism, Christ Jesus joined Himself to you. He is with you now. When Satan tempts you, when your old sinful flesh kicks in, you are not alone. Christ Jesus stands with you – and He gives you strength to fight against temptation. Recognize temptation for what it is, and remember your baptism, and shelter behind Christ in the face of temptation. You can fight now, for indeed, for you fights the valiant One. Christ’s victory over Satan’s temptations mean that now you can struggle, you can fight against your sinful flesh. You won’t always win, for you are still a sinner and will remain so until your death – but this is the other beautiful thing. On the Last Day, when you rise, you will rise being like Christ. He has become your Head, your leader – He is your champion – and you will not bear any longer the sinful flesh which you have gotten from Adam and Eve, but you will be holy and righteous as He is, your body and flesh will be like His. The day is coming, dear friends, when no temptation will ever tempt again – and it is coming because Christ does not rest on His laurels after beating temptation – He will stride through this Lent towards the Cross, so that by His death and resurrection, His victory is given to you, and is made your victory. When our time in the wilderness of this sinful world is done, because of Christ Jesus, we will be raised to life victorious, life everlasting. And Christ will be with us in the midst of all the struggles we face until then. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Friday, March 11, 2011

The False God of Rage vs the Quiet Protest

I just saw that a "Day of Rage" is being planned in Saudi Arabia. There's protests all over the Middle East. Protesters shut down the Capitol in Wisconsin. Riots, people shouting angry slogans, sometimes spilling into violence where property and people are burned.

This is why I hate the term Protestant, and why I loath it when I get called a Protestant as a Lutheran. We equal protest with rage and the expression there of. Oh, to be sure, there was plenty of rage being expressed during the Reformation - Zwingli went to war looking for glorious battle, Muenster fell to Anabaptist hordes, Henry cut off heads not for the sake of doctrine but for politics and sex. Plenty of violent protest, plenty of rage.

But with Lutheranism, with the Lutheran ideal? No. Ours was no modern style protest that glorifies the rage and anger of the individual. Our great protest was simply crafting a document, the Augsburg Confession. We had it read in Latin and in German. And the princes there who signed it did not demand bloody revolt, they did not call for the head of the Emperor... rather in humility they offered their heads to him, saying that they would rather die than give up the faith.

Today, so much focus is upon not only expressing your anger, but trying to change, manipulate, and force others to change. Seemingly gone is the quiet protest - the person doing what is right even if it brings him harm, the person who loves the neighbor instead of bludgeoning him with a stick and demanding that he accede to your demands.

Do you feel rage and anger? They are not fruits of the Spirit - but peace is. And love. And self-control. Bend not your knee to the false god of Rage. Instead, power your head in prayer, and if called upon to suffer indignities, still show love. Defend your neighbor firmly and adamantly, but without rancor towards the guilty... indeed, they should be pitied. Anyone trapped in sin deserves our pity and prayers.

We are Lutherans. We are the people of the quiet, humble protest - not the ravings of the world. God grant us peace.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

1/9th of a Year - the Bold Time

40 days. 40 out of 365 a year. . . if we round it down, basically 1/9th of the year. That's the length of Lent, which begins today. 1/9th of a year. Not really that much - but for some people Lent seems SOOOO long.

I tend to like Lent. It is a time of introspection and self-examination, and I tend to be a bit of an introspective fellow. Lent is the time of year when most pressures to be happy or wild or what have you go away. Seems a honest time to me.

But Lent is not a sad time - I think we should think of it as a time of boldness. Beholding Christ's fight against sin and Satan, we are emboldened to spend time facing down our sin with renewed earnestness. We are emboldened to strive for more bodily discipline. We are emboldened to see just how vile our sin is - and why? Because Christ is striding towards the Cross for us -- he's seen all of our warts, our disease, our failings. And still He goes to the Cross for us.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Sinfulness of the Patriarchs and Prophets

We must guard against being too zealous in trying to defend the honor the Patriarch, Prophets, and Apostles, for in the Scriptures we often see them err and fall into sin and vice. We can be tempted to whitewash their acts and deeds and say, "These are the holy men of God, surely it was for a good reason that they said and acted as they did."

The Scriptures are not concerned with the honor of the individual, they are not concerned with making Abraham or David or Jeremiah or Peter look good and righteous - they are concerned with teaching us that all honor, praise, and glory be given to Christ alone, and that the saints of God are not define by their own righteous and holy living, but rather they are defined by the fact that they are declared righteous through faith in Christ on His account. The over-praise or whitewashing of the men of God in the Scriptures undercuts this. We should never think of them as having moved beyond sin or petty temptations because they were men of God - indeed, as they were men of God, Satan was surely to be around them all time with his temptations and all the more vehement with his attacks.

We must not think that the men of God of old were above the attacks of the Devil, for then we too will think, "I too am a man of God - see how I have conquered and grown." We then can subtly be twisted by Satan to look more and more to our own righteousness.

In the Scriptures we see that no man is righteous, not one - except Christ Jesus, True God and True Man. If you reading of the Scriptures leans towards over-emphasizing the righteousness of anyone other than Christ, then you are in error.

(Conversely, don't rejoice in the errors you see committed in Scripture - rather, repent yourself, and pray that you do not fall into similar shame and vice.)

The Odd Blend - What Does This Mean?

So, I've looked at the Ash Wednesday service that came out of the LCMS's Creative Worship, and it is just such an odd, odd blending. On the one hand, you have all the tinkering that comes with "Contemporary" worship - newly devised confessions, absolutions that aren't really absolution, collects and introits before the Confession, stuff like that.

Yet, at the same time, there were oddly traditional elements. The imposition of ashes - highly defended - even with the opening, pre-service paragraphs. The prayer - nothing created, but rather the Litany. This has set me to thinking - why this seemingly strong grasp at the old in the midst of all the new tinkering? I can think of two options.

1. It's just a sop to the conservatives.
2. We want a sense of depth and age, even as we assert our "independence" and "freedom".

And while the cynic in me wants to lean towards 1 - there's just too much... promotion of the old, of the ancient, as a good thing. Actually, I suppose it could just be internal politics and division, but it is interesting to contemplate. Ah well.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Quiquagesima Sunday

Quiquagesima Sunday – March 6th, 2011 – Luke 18:31-43

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
We have two stories in our Gospel, two events, and they shed light on each other. In the first, we have the disciples acting like blind men, like deaf men, not understanding what our Lord says to them about His upcoming passion. In the second we have a blind man whose vision is healed by the mercy of Christ. These two stories highlight, contrast with each other, and thus they bring into focus what our own thoughts and preparations should be as we begin Lent this Wednesday. So, let us begin.

“And taking the twelve, [Jesus] said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.’ But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” Jesus lays it all out on the line. In Jerusalem I will be beaten, tortured, and killed, yet I will rise again on the third day. And Jesus had told this to the disciples before – but still, they just don’t get it. They don’t understand – they can’t grasp it, get their minds around it. Well, why not? It’s straightforward enough – suffer, die, rise.

The problem is that this didn’t fit the disciples’ expectation of what life with the Christ was supposed to be. They all knew Jesus was mighty and powerful – He heals, He casts out demons, creation itself is at His command. Since this is true, since Jesus is so, so powerful, how could it ever happen that He’d be caught by the Romans and killed? No, surely, if it came to that He’s simply slip out of their fingers – or maybe even better – Jesus would finally lead the holy war, the holy revolution where the children of Israel are restored to their rightful independence. This is the way the disciples, even after following Christ for so long, are still leaning. There’s a reason Peter is wearing a sword in the Garden of Gethsemane. They all, at this moment, view Jesus primarily as merely a fixer, a future earthly leader, the guy who is going to run things on earth – a power broker. He’s on the way up, and when He hits the apex of His earthly power, we’ll be along for the ride. And as such, what Jesus says here is completely beyond their ability to understand. Suffer? Tortured? Die? No, no, Jesus, you are too powerful and strong for that to happen to you. I’m sure You’ll find a way out of it, You’re tougher than those lousy old Romans.

That is the disciples’ view of Christ at this moment. He’s simply a Being of earthly power and might, approved by God to smack bad people around, maybe to give them some sweet blessings too. They don’t understand. But there is one who does. “As He drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ And he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” Here is a different view, a different understanding of who Jesus is. The disciples understand that Jesus is powerful, but they are His followers, they’ll ride His coat tails, they too expect to be the powerful ones in the kingdom to come – remember, James and John want to sit at His right and left. They’ve been thinking in terms of power – both Christ’s power and the payback they will get for following Jesus. But this blind man – he’s not thinking about power. He’s not thinking about some mythical future kingdom where he’ll get to boss some gentiles around – no, he wants something else. He wants mercy.

There this blind man sits, and ironically, he sees his life perfectly well. He has no delusions about how wonderful he is, how much He has given to Jesus, how much he deserves. He knows what he is – simply a poor blind man – nothing to give, nothing to offer, no position to bargain from. He’s simply there on the side of the road, suffering, blind, in need. So he does that which makes perfect sense – He cries out to Jesus for mercy. Mercy. He doesn’t ask for power, He doesn’t ask for might, He doesn’t demand blessings because he’s been such a good little boy – he simply wants mercy. He simply begs of Jesus underserved blessing. I am poor and miserable Jesus – You can see how pathetic I am, how great my need is, have mercy upon me.

“And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” This is understandable. The crowds were getting their chance to see this mighty Man Jesus, and they too were wondering if He was going to come and finally kick out the Romans. Jericho was on the road to Jerusalem, the glorious revolution could be at hand… and then you have the screaming blind beggar. What a downer. When you have power and pomp, you don’t want whining beggars. So they try to shush him, be quiet you. All the more he cries out for mercy. Even though the world despises him, tells him to be quiet, to just shut up and die, this blind man still calls out to Christ for mercy. “And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to Him.” And suddenly the big procession, the noisy parade stops, and this blind man is brought to Jesus. “And when he came near, He asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And he said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he recovered his sight and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.” And Jesus heals him. Again, no surprise – we understand that Jesus is all about restoration, about healing. Indeed, even us here who have bad vision, who do not see so well, we know that we will receive healing from Jesus – it may not be until the last day, but when Christ returns, I know I’m not going to need these contacts that I wear anymore. This is what Christ does – this is His work, restoring fallen man.

The blind man understood this. For him, there were no thoughts of earthly power and might, no hopes of glorious victory in battle or wealth unimaginable. Why? Because this blind man knew his need, his lack. He couldn’t see. The fact that he was a sinner in a sinful, fallen world, where things fall apart, where things don’t work right – that was obvious to him. Every time he opened his eyes and saw nothing, it was clear that he was in a messed up, fallen place. It was clear that he lacked, that he was short of what he should be. And so, he knew to call for mercy.

Compare this with the disciples. They didn’t understand when they are told that Jesus will suffer, die, and rise in order to fulfill the Scriptures. They don’t get it. And do you know why? Because they didn’t see their own lack. They didn’t see that they needed Christ Jesus, True God and True Man to suffer and die for them, they didn’t get that they needed Christ Jesus to rise from the dead for them. They thought they were good people, they were the nice people, the heroes – all they thought they needed was power, was a share in the rewards to come. They didn’t think that they needed mercy – and because of that, they didn’t understand. Thoughts of power and glory and might consumed their thoughts, and mercy and confession and repentance was far from them. And so they did not understand.

Lent approaches. This Wednesday we begin with Ash Wednesday. We will watch both during the midweek services and the Sunday services our Lord begin His march towards Good Friday and the cross. And if you would understand this, if this would make sense to you, you need believe what the Scriptures say of you and your sin. You are a poor, miserable sinner. That is how you need to think – not just for a minute on Sunday morning when we read the words of the Confession, but all through the week. Abandon the thoughts of how good you are, of how it’s not really your fault, how you aren’t as bad as that person. That’s the reason the disciple didn’t understand yet in our Gospel; that’s the way of spiritual blindness and arrogance and pride, and ultimately, damnation. Hell is filled with people who were just sure that they were pretty good. We are not. We are sinners. We do not do what we ought to do, we do not show love like we ought to show love, we do not care for our neighbor and put their needs above our own. We are selfish, petty, easily angered, easily upset, quick to disdain, greedy, lustful, hateful, defiant, self-righteous sinners. And when we see this, when we confess this, when we understand our own lack and call out to God, not for the blessings that we think we deserve, not for Him to pat us on the back because gosh darn-it we’re such nice Christian folk, but when like this blind man we call out to Christ Jesus for mercy – we receive it in full from Christ, who willingly goes to the Cross, carrying our sin. When we see the death that our sin merits, the death that our sin actually is, and call out to Christ for mercy, we see Him rise from the tomb, and give His own unending and eternal life to us, so that even should we die, yet we shall live. When we enter the season of Lent with hearts that are repentant, we see and understand the wonder of the ages, we see that which the Moses and the Prophets proclaimed, we see what Paul preached with such vigor – we see Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, having mercy upon us. We see Him taking the battle to Satan and crushing Him. We see the Lord overthrowing the powers of hell. We see Him showing mercy and forgiveness to all, even the lowest and most despised. We see Him give to His Church His Supper, in which He gives us His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sin. We see that Body crucified, that Blood shed so that forgiveness is won, and we see life restored on the third day.

My dear friends in Christ, may God give you wisdom and humility this Lenten season, so that with repentant hearts you might behold the mercy and love that God has for you, and the salvation that is yours in Christ Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Friday, March 4, 2011

Evolution and the promotion of sin

We are taught that we "evolve" personally... that we grow, that we are the sum product of all the mistakes and calamaties that we have faced, that the mistakes of the past have shaped us and turned us into who we are.

I suppose, to a certain extent, this is true.

But, am I now who I ought to be, or am I less than what I should be? Am I a triumph of evolution and growth, or am I bruised, battered, and so much less than what I could be.

A friend of mine wrote: "No way will I disown or regret for one instant the path and decisions which have brought me so humbly and gratefully to this most beautiful, inspiring, vibrant and evolutionary place."

On the one hand, I get that. As a person, I do. I can look at the wonderful beauty of my bride and realize that I would not have her as my bride if I hadn't been so lousy with other gals in the past - that those mistakes paved the way for the present. I can see that, I can even want to romanticize all the toils and heartache... and even utter folly of the past.

But on the other hand, as a theologian, I'm horrified. This boils down to the justification of sin.

1. My mistakes helped to make me grow into who I am today.
2. I am a good person now.
3. Therefore, my mistakes ultimately had a good result.

That's the logic. It's seductive, it's appealing, and it's wrong. At all points.

1 - mistakes don't bring growth - they tear down, they crack, break, bruise and batter. Sin always destroys. And it's an utter lie of the devil that we can only know good in light of sin.

2 - Okay, so I suppose socially I'm an okay fellow... but I ought to be so much more. I am bruised, I am broken, I do carry scars that make me slow to act, hatreds and fears that make me passive when I should be active. I'm not now what I should be... so while I should give thanks to God for what I have and am, I can't pretend that this is some sort of wondrous ideal. No, I know what I could have broken into - and there but for the grace of God go I.

3 - It's not that sin has good results. . . it's that in His great mercy and undying love, God does not always let sin have its full, unbridled impact upon us. It's that with forgiveness and grace we can grow in spite of our sin. It is not a matter of me conquering my past, it is God in His mercy making me to endure.

But... we're evolving. We're growing... we're overcoming obstacles, even of our own devising, and we are so much the better for it. Poppycock - I've never been the better for my sin, and I long for the day of resurrection when I will have to struggle against it no more.

If you want to know. . .

If you want to know how sin works. . . simply watch a few commercials.

Seriously. Present an object. Tell you it will give you pleasure and joy. Tell you that you need it. Really, you NEED it... you aren't completely without it. . . there will be no joy, your life will be filled with fear without it.

Oh, and pretty women will like you, and everything that comes along with that.

What temptations, what ads for sin does Satan throw at your mind? Whatever they are, recognize them for what they are.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Empty Promises and Unfulfilled

Empty Promises Broken (a poem on sin, temptation, and the emptiness of so many pop songs)

Just go a little bit more,
a bit beyond right and wrong
find some new sweet seeming vice
and then let it come on strong.

The first hit is always free
always seems so lovely sweet
now just grab and grasp some more
untold pleasures to complete

Friends tell you it's destruction,
Their warnings seem dull and drag.
Step up and ignore the end
Take everything you can grab.

It never quite satisfies, does it?

Always the call for a bit more,
always the best around the bend
Always dragging deeper down
Depravity without end

That's the point.

Every lust, every passion
every untamed desire
whispers pretty promises
that fall apart, expire

Then it wears and breaks you down
On it goes, the worse it gets
Your Body falls to ruins
Because you weren't made for this

Wake up worn wand finally see
Empty promises broken,
Simply lies left unfulfilled
they leave you cold and broken

We end up bringing our lives
So much heartache and such pain
doing things we know are wrong
Striving to feel "that" again

That's the trap
That's the lie
That's the ultimate reason why
we listen to lies
and always try
to get some new silly so called high
that just leave you wanting to die
On and on in a cycle cruel
ignoring things we know to be true
Sin just isn't good for you.

God grant us repentance to turn away from our own pet sins.

What are you trying to do

I've been thinking about preaching a bit lately. I have a question for all those of you out there who are preachers.

What are you trying to do?

Seriously. What are you trying to do? When you begin to write your sermon, what are you hoping to accomplish, what shapes the way you approach the text of Holy Scripture, what shapes what insights and thoughts that you bring forth? What are you trying to do?

Are you trying to fix your people?

Are you trying to impress them so they'll come back next week?

Are you trying to show them the nuances of the Scriptures that they might have missed?

What are you trying to do?

There are times I will read or watch a sermon on line, and that will be my thought - what is this pastor trying to do, what is he hoping to accomplish. And of course, there are a whole sort of mixed motivation in preaching... my sinful ego wants my congregation to "like" my sermon... but I try to beat that down when I write. There are times I want to drop the hammer, prove my point to them. Again, I don't know how good that is.

I have a simple thought about what we should be trying to do, and it is two fold.

1. Proclaim what the text says and teaches about your hearers' (and you yourself hear as well) sinfulness.
2. Proclaim the forgiveness and deliverance from Christ that the text shows.

Nothing more, nothing less.

I don't need to be interesting or witty or tell a neat story or be engaging (where engaging means I throw a bunch of folksie tripe in). I don't need to demonstrate my superior knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. I don't need to wow the people with my "edumacation" or wisdom.

Simply this - behold what the text says about sin and Christ, about Law and Gospel. This text is also speaking about you, dear listener.

That's it. That's what every sermon should be doing - applying the Law and Gospel of the text directly onto the people there.

And then let those do their work.

The Law, where it needs to, will curb, will crush, will guide. The Gospel will revive, strengthen, and encourage and give life.

I don't need to curb or crush or guide or enliven - I simply need to see that I show that this text does indeed rest upon you... or in other words, I simply am to proclaim.

And really, when it boils down to it - that's all I really want in a sermon as well.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Prayer Request

Well, I ask that you keep me Bride, Celia, in your prayers, as well as our incredibly small child - she's apparently 4-6 weeks pregnant.


I could write something more profound but. . . eh, this suffices.

Back from the Wilderness

Well, I'm back.

Celia and I left on Vacation after Church on the 20th - headed down to New Mexico to visit family and explore such. The only problem - I started spiking fevers on the 18th... and did so until the 25th (nasty virus!). It was a good vacation considering that I was up at 102 degrees for the first 6 days of it. Now I am feeling better. . . but just dragging.

it's an interesting contrast... physically the past week was just really, really draining. I am still recovering and will be probably for another week. Yet it was a really good mental break. But I am back, and perhaps more things will be coming in a bit here.