Saturday, April 30, 2011

How You View the Holy Spirit is How You View Yourself

One of the complaints leveled against Lutherans by the Protestant hordes is that we don't talk enough about the Holy Spirit. We don't point out the Holy Spirit enough. And, of course, because we don't whoop and holler... we obviously don't have the Holy Spirit.

Or so we are told.

We are going to be moving into the time of year when we do hear our Lord speak about the Holy Ghost, the Comforter. Something stands out - when Jesus describes the Spirit, the Spirit is never talking about Himself, never drawing attention to Himself, never trying to prove Himself, but rather, the Spirit always points to Christ.

It is not that we need to talk about the Spirit, rather the Spirit proclaims Christ through the Word.

But, here's the thought of this morning. You will never understand the humble nature of the Spirit, the fact that the Spirit wants to point to Christ and not Himself, if you yourself are not humble.

Every Denomination that focuses on the Spirit also tends to be egocentric as well. The same people who want to make the Holy Spirit front and center also want to make themselves, their works, their decisions, their power front and center.

I, like the Spirit, simply want Christ Jesus front and center. Simple as that. If you aren't content to simply point to Christ and Him Crucified, you don't understand the Holy Spirit, and are instead moved by another spirit. Just the way it is.

Why Roman Catholics Annoy Me Less than Baptists

How's that for a provocative title?

I have spent 12 years of my life... 5 years in college and 7 years as a pastor... living in Oklahoma, in the heart of the bible belt. And when it boils down to it, Baptist theologies are always so arrogant and egotistical. Decision theology is fundamentally an arrogant approach -- *I* come to God, *I* give *my* heart to Him. *I'll* spread the Gospel, *I'll* win other people to Jesus (so in reality, it's not just my own decision that saves me, but my decisions will save people who are too stupid to believe without my winsome awesomeness).

And it annoys the tar out of me. I could put up with Calvinists who monkey with the Word -- that would annoy me, but at least they realize it's God who is saving them (maybe -- maybe saving, but if it is, its definitely God doing it).

Now, my friend is Roman Catholic -- and she's been having conversations with a Jehovah's Witness who has been coming around. This is what she wrote yesterday:

Great visit today with my friend E (the Jehovah's Witness). Got to actually evangelize, to share the sublime and astonishing message that yes, God did actually die for us. Her companion D was nonplussed but for the first time I felt it's possible the Holy Spirit is beginning to break through to E. Prayers please.

Note how even as she speaks to her own activity (she evangelizes and shares the good news) -- it is all about what God does.

1. God dies for us.
2. The Holy Spirit is breaking through.

Rome gets two things -- That God is powerful and that God uses means to accomplish His goals. R might have spoken -- but it's the Holy Spirit who is simply putting her to use. And what's the point... is it telling the JW that the Church is more fun? Is it offering her a more entertaining worship or really awesome coffee in the narthex? No.

God died for us.

Now, I know that my friend R does not describe every Roman Catholic (just as I don't describe every Lutheran) -- both our denominations have their quacks who have swallowed the crazy juice of either Arimineanism (bait and switch them into the Church) or rank Liberalism (social justice crusades while the proclamation of Christ and Him Crucified is ignored). But when you get a Roman Catholic who gets what her church actually teaches, and you are a Lutheran who gets what you actually teach... you can actually converse.

This just makes me happy. And refreshed.

Do not be depressed, Lutherans in America. Remember, the vast majority of the Church throughout the world is Liturgical and Sacramental. Baptists and Pentecostals are the fringe... even though they are a loud fringe, a banging gong and resounding cymbal (for if you deny the Baptism and the Supper, the very tangible expressions of God's saving love for us... you by definition have no love... or at least don't know love).

Carry on, remain faithful, fix your eyes upon Jesus - the author and perfector of your faith.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Debating Rule Number 1 - No Trump Cards

Here, for your edification, is the first of a potential series -- Brown's Debating Rules. Here is rule number 1:

1 - Don't Play Your "Trump Card" if You Want to Convince People

In any sort of debate, there are certain "trump cards" - certain accusations or assertions that one can invoke to suddenly end debate. Often these are played when things are going poorly and against you -- you drop the card and the other side will (usually) cave. What are these trump cards? Here are some examples.

You're Racist (the American Political one par excellance)
That's Socialist, that's Communist (Another American Political one)

and of course, there's theological ones.

You're not Confessional.
You don't care about the lost.
That's too Catholic.
That's sectarian.

And so on and so forth, even all the way to "you are evil" or "you support evil". All of these are used to quell debate and discussion... they are designed to suddenly make your opponent defensive -- perhaps defensive enough to just shut up, but at least defensive enough to move to defending themselves.

This doesn't convince them. How, if you "attack" someone, do you expect to convince them that you are right? You throw their guard up.

Note, telling someone that they are wrong is not "attacking" them, necessarily -- if your purpose is explaining *how* they are wrong rather than mocking them because they are wrong.

When it boils down to it -- all trump cards are nothing but name-calling. Name-calling doesn't convince anyone.

And if you don't agree with me, you're a godless-communist-liturgical dancing-tree hugger... unless you are liberal and reading this in which case you're a pro-corporate-oppressor of the masses-elitist.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Bit From Thursday Next

I enjoy the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde. The following is a passage from the 5th (maybe 6th?) book in the series: "First Among Sequels". This scene takes place within the bookworld, where all fiction actually occurs, and the leadership is considering radical changes. I find it to be an interesting exchange... and even more interesting if you replace the idea of "readership" with "membership" and "story" with "doctrine." Not a perfect analogy, but rather interesting.

"Item two," said Jobsworth. "Falling readership figures. Baxter?"

Baxter stood up and addressed the room, although, to be honest, the other delegates - with the possible exception of Beauty - generally went with Jobsworth on everything. The person Baxter really needed to address was me. As the holder of the only veto, I was the one he would have to swing.

"The falling readership figures have been a matter of some concern for a number of years now, and increased expenditure in the Well of Lost Plots to construct thrilling new books has failed to grasp the imagination of the reading public. As head of the Readership Increasement Committee, I have been formulating some radical ideas to rekindle interest in novels."

He turned over a paper and coughed before continuing.

"After a fact-finding mission conducted in the real world, I have decided that 'interactivity' is the keyword of the new generation. For many readers books are too much of a one-sided conduit of information, and a new form of novel that allows its readers to choose where the story goes is the way forward."

"Isn't that the point of books?" asked Black Beauty, stamping his hoof angrily on the table and upsetting an inkwell. "The pleasure lies in the unfolding of the plots. Even if we know what must happen, how one arrives there is still entertaining."

"I couldn't agree with you more," remarked Baxter, "but our core readership is aging, and the world's youth is growing up without being in the habit of reading books."

"So what's your suggestion?" asked Jobsworth.

"To create a new form of book - an interactive book that begins blank except for ten or so basic characters. Then, as it is written, chapter by chapter, the readers are polled on whom they want to keep and whom they want to exclude. As soon as we know, we write the new section, and at the end of the new chapter we poll the readers again. I call it a 'reality book show' - life as it really is, with all the human interactions that make it so rich."

"And the boring bits as well?" I asked, recalling my only experience with reality TV.

"I don't suggest that every book should be this way," added Baxter hurriedly, "but we want to make books hip and appealing to the youth market. Society is moving on, and if we don't move with it, books - and we - will vanish."

As if to reinforce his argument, he waved a hand at the Read-O-Meter, which dropped another seventeen books by way of confirmation.

"Why don't we just write better books?" I asked.

"Because its expensive, it's time consuming, and there's no guarantee it will work," said Senator Aimsworth, speaking for the first time. "From what I've seen of the real world, interactivity is a sure-fire hit. Baxter is right. The future is reality book shows based on democratic decision making shared by the creators and the readers. Give the people what they want in just the way they want it."

"Once the ball starts rolling downhill, it can't be stopped," I remarked. "This is the wrong route - I can feel it."

"Your loyalty is misplaced, Ms. Next. What could be wrong with offering readers choice? I say we vote on it. All those in favor of directing funds and resources to an interactive reality-book project?"

They all raised their hands - except me and Senator Beauty. Me because I didn't agree with them and Beauty because he had a hoof. It didn't matter. He was against it.

"As usual," growled Aimsworth, "the contrarian amongst us knows better. Your objections, Ms. Next?"

I took a deep breath. "The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that we're not in the book industry. This isn't a publishing meeting with sales targets, goals, market research and focus groups. The book may be the delivery medium, but what we're actually peddling here is story. Humans like stories. Humans need stories. Stories are good. Stories work. Story clarifies and captures the essence of the human spirit. Story, in all its forms - of life, of love, of knowledge - has traced the upward surge of mankind. And story, you mark my words, will be with the last human to draw breath, and we should be there, too, supporting that one last person. I say we place our faith in good stories well told and leave the interactivity as the transient Outlander fad that it is. Instead of being subservient to reader opinion, we should be leading it."

No, I draw no ties between this fictitious discussion about fiction and very real discussions about doctrine, worship, and practice. Oh, wait -- yes, yes I totally do.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sermon

Easter Sunday

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen +
As we gather on this joyous day, as we are gathered here in Christ’s Church to hear once again the good news of His victory over sin and death, hear of His resurrection, we are presented with something slightly confusing in our Gospel lesson. Easter Sunday is the day of joy, of victory, of celebration. And yet, in our Gospel lesson, as that day dawns, there is nothing but confusion and pain and sorrow. Consider Mary Magdalene – she “came to the tomb early, while it was still dark”. Mourning and grief had left her sleepless, and before the sun even rises, she heads to the tomb of her Friend and Master. That is intense pain. And then there is the confusion – the stone is rolled away, and Jesus is not there. Where is He? Mary doesn’t know – even the ability to grieve, to see the body, Mary thinks that is gone. She lets the disciples know. Then there is frantic sprinting of Peter and John to the tomb – then their confusion. They leave stumped, not knowing what is going on. And Mary is left in the garden to weep – tears so thick and full that she doesn’t even recognize two angels there. Tear so powerful that she doesn’t even recognize Jesus at first. It was a morning, at first, of pain and sorrow and confusion.

John tells us why there is that pain and sorrow and confusion. “For as yet, they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead.” They didn’t understand God’s Word, they didn’t understand that the Messiah, that Christ Jesus had come precisely to die, precisely to suffer on Good Friday, precisely to rise again to defeat and destroy death and sin, to bring wreck and ruin to Satan and the powers of Hell. Because they didn’t understand God’s Word, they saw only pain and sorrow and confusion. And indeed, dear friends, if we were left without the Scriptures, that would be all that we would see in this world. That’s what this life is often like – where one tragedy falls on the heels of another. Where a Tsunami leads to nuclear chaos, where governments flail and flounder around while work remains hard to find and left undone. And we can be left to wonder – is that all there is? Is this how the story ends? That we live too brief lives in a harsh world, where the best we can hope for is to live it up while we can, where we can only try to dull the pain with money and food and distraction? That does nothing. Is this life just one where our lost loved ones remain lost, where the best we can hope for is staring at a tomb, a flag as half mast, or a shared 169 seconds of silence? If we see through the eyes of the world, if we fail to pay attention to the Scripture, that is all there is for us, and it is bleak and it is harsh.

Mary is there before the tomb, and that morning, her world looks bleak and harsh. And there is nothing she can do to break herself out of that harshness – she can’t even mourn properly because the body is gone. And if that were that, if that was all there is who knows how long she would have been left to mourn there in that garden. But then, the wonder of the ages is revealed to her. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Jesus does not leave Mary to her weeping – He comes up to her – why do you continue on in tears? Keep in mind, Jesus is no stranger to tears – He Himself wept at the death of Lazarus not even two weeks before. He knows perfectly well the sorrow and pain of this life – He knows Mary’s pain, He knows your pain. But He doesn’t remain far away, He doesn’t shun that pain – instead, He comes to Mary and asks her the question – Why are you still weeping?

Mary still doesn’t see yet. Grief, pain, sorrow, her own assumptions cloud her view. “Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, ‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’” She supposes… her assumptions blind her. Her grief and pain overwhelm her – tell her that grief and pain and sorrow are all that there can possibly be, that’s it, end of story. And so Jesus does what makes sense. He calls her by name. “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’” And suddenly, Mary gets it. There is Jesus. He’s alive. He has risen. And the pain, the sorrow, the loss – they are gone and destroyed. And why? Because Christ Jesus has called Mary by name, and she now sees that He is alive. She sees that death is undone by Him. She sees that He truly is the resurrection and the life – literally – He is. To be with Christ, to be joined to Him, to be His own is to know that you yourself will rise. Now she understands. Now the pain and suffering that she has seen – it is replaced. Now the suffering and pain that she’ll face in her days and years to come – it will fade, it will go away. Christ has risen, and so too she shall rise. Christ has called her by name – not even death stops Him – and nothing ever shall.

Do you see the contrast, the movement from pain and suffering to seeing and knowing Christ Jesus and His life and resurrection, the forgiveness of sins and salvation that are yours in Him? What the world out there says is the end isn’t. The world is wrong, dead wrong. Christ Jesus lives! And more than just that – Christ Jesus has called you by name. He has called you by your name in the waters of Holy Baptism, has washed the sin and grime of this life off of you, and has given you life and salvation. He gave you His Holy Spirit so that you would understand His Word, would grow in faith and understanding of His salvation, His love for you. Because Christ Jesus, the Living God, has called you into His kingdom, has given You life and Salvation, has made you wise through His Word and continues to make you grow in wisdom – you now have the sure and certain hope of your own resurrection, your own place in the New Heavens and the New Earth that will be ours on the Last Day.

And this changes everything. It changes our approach to life right now. As Christians, we don’t have to pretend that the world is all hunky dory and wonderful now – we know it’s not. We don’t have to pretend that sin doesn’t happen – we struggle and fight against it. We see this world for what it is – a lost place, full of lost people. A sinful world full of sinners, us most certainly included. But you know that our Lord Christ Jesus has seen this world, see it in all its ruin, its fall – and that He, as He had promised in His Word through the prophets of old, He has come to rescue and redeem you from this world of sin and to give you life everlasting. And so, we learn to see with compassion. We see pain – but know and proclaim that because of Christ this pain doesn’t last. We see sin – but know and proclaim that because of Christ this sin is forgiven. We even see death – but know and proclaim that because Christ lives, anyone who believes in Christ shall have a share in His life everlasting as well. We see everything through this day – Christ the Lamb who was slain has begun His reign – this world does not get the final answer, the final say. Death does not reign. And so we live our lives with confidence, with hope – confidence and hope not in ourselves, but in Christ Jesus.

Let us close this morning with one final thought, one final idea to help put this all into perspective. It is most ironic that Mary had thought that Jesus was a gardener. You could actually say that Jesus is a gardener, although not in the way that Mary had thought. In the beginning was the Word, Christ Jesus, and that Word spoke, and the world was made, and a garden was made, a paradise. And the Word of God created man – breathed into their nostrils the breath of life, put Adam and Eve there in the garden to… be gardeners. To tend creation. And Adam and Eve messed it up. Sinned. And creation suffered – the ground would bring forth thistles and weeds. And man suffered – pain and death. The world became the sad, sorrowful place that we know. Yet Christ Jesus has come, and He has come to fix and restore His creation, to make us sinful, dying men into forgiven people who shall live forever – to make the earth anew. Jesus has come to make His paradise grow again – and we know that it has already started. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” The Garden is already starting to grow again – we see this in Christ – and we shall see it in full when He comes again to usher in the new creation with joy that will never end. And out of His great love for you, He has called you by name, given you the gift of faith so that you might believe in Him and be with Him for all eternity. This is the most wondrous and joyous truth – the truth that even the gates of hell cannot prevail against. This is the joy of Easter, the joy that shines its light even upon the sorrows we still face here. Because He lives, so shall we. Amen. Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday Sermon

Good Friday, 2011

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
This Lent, we have seen Jesus do it all. Satan comes to tempt Him – and Satan is defeated. Be gone, Satan, for it is written, “You shall worship the LORD your God and Him only shall you serve.” Sin comes crouching at His door as the disciples desire Him to treat a woman cruelly, send her away. Rather, Jesus helps the woman and sends temptation on its way. Christ shows love, and yet doesn’t demand praise or thanks. He cares for people, even does miracles for them, and yet does not elevate Himself. They want to make Him king by force and He just slides away. No, Christ is centered, He is focused on His battle to win us freedom and salvation. The Devil is defeated. Sin is conquered. And now, only one foe remains. Death.

Death is a frightening foe for us. It is always there, looming in the distance, or maybe it is not so distant any more for some of us. It’s the inevitable – death and taxes, the two things that always seem to be waiting. Sometimes even we Christians wish to ignore death, push it off into a corner and pretend it isn’t there – O Pastor, forget that sin and death stuff – tell us about how to live now, how we can have better blessings now – as though God is merely some divine ATM. No, this life is a struggle against sin and death, and often we focus on how to beat down sin, how to resist temptation, how to resist Satan. These are good things, but there is one other aspect of Christianity that we need to look at. You see, dear friends, we ought not forget how to face death – how to stare it down. Indeed, our faith, the Christian life is not about living the good life now – it is about conquering over death. That is why we are gathered here tonight, Good Friday. That is why we meditate on our Lord upon the Cross tonight.

How strange it must have been to be there – to see Jesus Christ, the Son of God, maker of all things – to see this same Jesus beaten and lashed, to see Him nailed to a tree. How strange, knowing that He not only didn’t deserve any of this – we see injustice all the time in this world - but knowing that He could have put a stop to it, that at a simple sign from Him legions of Angels would have come and swept Him away to safety. And yet – there He is. The lash falls. He doesn’t run away. The crown of thorns is placed upon His head. He doesn’t duck and hide. The nails are driven. He doesn’t come down off the cross. And we know the why – we know why He is there – He is there in our place – He suffers in our stead – by His stripes we are healed – and our sin is forgiven. Yet there He is upon the cross, suffering so. To let so many things happen to Him, it is just beyond imagining, what He endures willingly for our sake, truly willingly, for He could have stopped it at any time. And there is one thing yet that Christ had to endure, had to face, had to defeat. When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished,” and He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit. One last thing Christ had to face down, and that is death.

Do you fear death? Does the idea of it make you uncomfortable? It is understandable if it does. Death is wrong, utterly wrong. We were created by God to be alive, to be living beings – body and spirit joined together in harmony and unity. And [God] breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being. That’s how we were made, what we were made to be. Death does away with that – the spirit torn from the body, the body left to decay, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It is fundamentally wrong, death isn’t just a part of life or any of the things we try and tell ourselves, death is the complete opposite of what our lives are to be – and it is frightening. It leads to the unknown. It means we lose control, that we no longer have any say in our fate.

Then that Friday afternoon the cry goes out – It is finished! His Spirit departs. And there, upon the cross, Christ Jesus, the very Lord of Life – dies. The soldiers check – stab Him, just in case He’s putting on a good fake job. No, He is dead. Blood and water flow separated from His side. Christ’s Spirit and Body are separated – the Lord of life’s flesh lifeless hangs upon the cross. Jesus dies.

But we are not to look at this simply with awe or fear or remorse. As in all things, we listen to God’s Word, and when our Lord speaks we give heed to what He says. And did you note what our Lord said right before He died. It is finished. What do you see when you see our Lord crucified, when you see water and blood flowing from His side? Not just another dead human, not just another Body – but you see, dear friends, that it is finished.

Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. Christ Jesus came down from heaven and took on His Body for a purpose – to win you salvation, to win you life, to free you from your bondage to sin and the Devil so that you might be with Him forever. We must remember this when we think of Christ Jesus and why He came down to earth in the first place. Christ’s plan was not just to show you how to live – you know the Law. Christ’s plan wasn’t simply to amaze with miracles – oh look, water to wine, what a swell guy. No, that was just the evidence of Who He is. Christ’s plan was not to establish earthly glory or show you how to enrich your pocketbook. He came to free you from death. This is His task, this is His Goal. It is finished. He has done what He set out to do.

But how – how is death defeated? We know what death is – it is the wages of sin, our just deserts, what we deserve. Christ didn’t deserve death – and yet death takes Him anyway. Satan cackles with glee and greed seeing the Son of God upon the cross, Satan rejoices that Jesus would suffer so. But Satan over steps His bounds – for Christ Jesus has no sin, deserves no death. And He dies – and He declares out it is finished. And so, Death is finished, dear friends. In claiming the One without sin death forfeited its claim upon you. Death overstepped its bounds, and in so doing lost its power. Death has become a temporary thing. When death laid claim to Christ, death lost all claim upon you. And that is the moment – that is what makes this Friday Good. Christ Jesus dies – which means that death is done away with, that it can not hold us forever. Death ends, and when Christ calls forth on the last day, we shall be restored to life, our body and spirit rejoined – because death bit off more than it could chew when it took on Christ. Death is done.

It is finished. The work that Christ set out to do, to win you, to claim you for eternity is done. And all that remains is the pause – the waiting – for we know that in all things Christ pleased the Father, that the Father was satisfied with the job that Jesus has done for us. And the Father will show His approval, will demonstrate that what Jesus did was successful, that sin, death, and the devil are defeated. Joseph and Nicodemus hurriedly take the Body to the tomb – but it will not stay there. The women make their plans for proper care on Sunday morning, but it will not be needed. They heard but did not yet understand. It is finished, dear friends – all of Christ’s humiliation, all the things He suffered in our stead – they are all finished – and all that remains for Him is exultation. Wait and see. In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

John's Gospel - Where No One Understands

I love John's Gospel. Why? Because over and over people don't understand. They don't get it. Even the disciples in John 20 - they don't understand at first.

We live in an egotistical day and age where we think we, by the powers of our reason, know and understand everything. We don't. We can only know by God opening the Scriptures and revealing Himself to us thereby. John gets that. John teaches that. John constantly warns me against trusting my reason or knowledge and instead to be focused on the Word.

John preaches against our day and age - it's such a wonderful thing.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Misguided Solution of Law-based Mission

Many people have rightly noted that folks in our congregations are very lax in speaking or proclaiming their faith to others. That is the problem. However, it actually is a smaller problem than the misguided solution of Law-based Mission programs.

Here's how it goes. The preacher comes in and tells you that you need to start telling more people about Jesus. Note the subject-verb -- *you* need. This is nothing but law. The assumption is simply that people don't have enough urging, so kick them in the teeth to motivate (which also is horrible, horrible doctrine). Toss in recycled Finney New Measures methods as well, and it's just a mess.

Here's the thing this solution forgets. The Gospel actually is good news. If I know that it is good news, I'm not going to need you to beat me over the head to speak it.

As an example, at this week's Church Workers' Conference, I was telling everyone over and over that my wife is expecting. I didn't need to have Chris Hall come and tell me that I need to tell people about the fact that I'm a father. It was GOOD NEWS - and of course I was going to share it with people.

Why aren't people sharing the Gospel? Because they don't see or understand the Gospel. When they get it, when they understand, when they actually have this wondrous hope, then they will defend the hope that they have within them.

"No, no, no - you have to MAKE them tell people the good news." If that is your attitude, I have to ask, do your people even know what the Good News is anymore -- or do they think the Gospel is that they get to be workers in the God's family, proving how wonderful they are.

The Medicine Cabinet of Immortality

If you are on prescription drugs, and you have small children around, do you leave your pill bottles simply laying around where they can get to them, or do you keep those pills closed away in your medicine cabinet? If you love them, if you care for them, you MUST keep them in the medicine cabinet. Why? Those pills that give you life when you use them properly, when you know what they are and use them as your doctor has instructed you can and will give *death* to the child who abuses them. For the child's sake, you must keep them away from those pills.

Likewise, we must practice closed communion if we wish to have any claim of loving our neighbors. We are warned by Paul that the Supper can lead to death for those who do not discern the Lord's Body, to those who ignore the words of the Great Physician. For their sake, we must keep them away from the Lord's Table for their own good.

Do not hate your weaker or erring brother - practice closed communion.

The Idolatry of "Powerful Prayer"

So, I saw this on Facebook this morning:

Keep this going.......Heavenly Father, walk through my house, take away all my worries, any illnesses, please watch over and heal my family, & comfort my friends in Jesus name, Amen. This prayer is so powerful . Stop what your doing and set this to your status, and watch what He will do..♥

First of all... stop what "you're" doing, not what "your" doing. Grammar!

But I do find that deliciously ironic. The premise is that this prayer, these specific words are powerful. That given the power of this prayer, it will make things happen!

This is prayer idolatry. Seriously, it is. The cause, the source of God's blessing is no longer God, but my "powerful" prayer. Sure, I watch what He will do... but that mean old God wouldn't have done it without these powerful words that I have to get to you say as well.

Our prayer is not meant to manipulate God. It's not meant to get God to stop being so mean. "But, but, but... the prayer of a Righteous Man availeth much!"

Yep - and Jesus is the Righteous Man. And He is constantly interceding for you and I even when we are forgetful... but that Righteous Man teaches us to pray, not in order to twist God's arm, but in order that we might learn to be more like Him, learn more to trust in God and be concerned for our neighbor, and that we might not be overwhelmed by the burdens of life and rather remember that He cares for us totally.

"Powerful prayer." The Holy Spirit dwells within me, interceding for me -- like I need to have your specific words that some schlub worked up a few years ago.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Quote from Luther - Why We Don't Like Lutheranism

"A prisoner is sitting in a deep, dense, and dark dungeon. He can see no light, nor does he know in which direction East or West lies. But the situation would be different if a hole were broken through the wall in order to admit the light…. Just so our soul is sitting in the human body as in a dark prison and knows [of itself] nothing of God. But it does want to speculate a great deal about Him and go in search of Him. However, human reason is of no avail here; it must stay with the light of the Divine Word that this light may shine into the heart." - Martin Luther

This quote from a sermon in 1540 shows why there are times I just don't like being a Lutheran. Oh, the quote is completely true, and accurate, and right, and profound. It's just that I as an arrogant, sinful human being who thinks too highly of himself rebels against this (at least according to my flesh). And I would imagine that most of the frustration against Lutheranism centers it's opposition logically speaking upon this point.

What do you mean I *need* God's light... I ought to be able to do it myself.

There is nothing the sinful, human nature rebels against more than being told that it can't do something. Whether or not what we want is good for us, or even possible - say no, and, well... anger and fear kicks in.

With these words Luther reminds us that we don't get to be the intellectual hero - for theology isn't an act of our mind. We don't get to be the great discoverer of new and profound truths - if anything we just see reality by God's light and revelation. I don't get to come up with my own solutions - I don't get to add happy commands that I think would prove my dedication to God or show my devotion to Him, nor do I get to ignore my pet sins.

Everything relies upon revelation - everything relies upon the Word.

What does our sinful flesh hate more than having to rely upon the Word, rely upon Christ Jesus?

And as my flesh hates this, wants to rebel against it, wants me to be both the super nice let everything go yet super pious I do everything (that I want to do) perfectly well super popular hippester pastor selling ear tickling books to the great benefit of my bank account... because my sinful flesh rebels against it so firmly, I know all the more that this is true.

And by the grace of God, the New Man that He has created in me, at the same time utterly rejoices, for in these words, this focus upon the revelation of God, is my freedom from sin, my forgiveness, my hope of life, and the promise that one day this body of darkness will rise again fully in God's marvelous light.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

General Theological Observation and Lament

I get very nervous when a person, in either preaching or lecturing:

1. Tells a story about himself that goes over 3 minutes in length.
2. Tells a story that is supposed to tie into a theme that is over 2 minutes long.
3. Speaks more than 5 minutes without mentioning Jesus.

Now, I know if you are answering specific questions on specific topics... but just in general... I don't want stories and I don't want insights into the text that don't point me directly and quickly to Christ.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lent 5 Sermon

Lent 5 – John 8:42-59 – April 10th, 2011

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
This Lent we have seen our Lord confront many dangers that we can end up facing out there in the world. And each time the problem, the sin that our Lord has to face ends up hitting closer and closer to home. First we saw Jesus fend off Satan and his temptations. Then, a little bit more personal, as our Lord cuts through the disciple’s prejudices and self-righteousness when He healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter. Then a bit more personal, as two weeks ago Jesus cuts through the silly excuses people make. Even last week – our self-reliance and pride was overcome as Christ Jesus fed the 5000 and showed how we rely on Him. Each week just a bit closer and closer to home. And then we have our Gospel lesson today. Here Jesus takes on the perhaps the closest, most dangerous problem we face – the times when we simply don’t like what God’s Word says, when we don’t like the Truth.

To set the stage for our Gospel text – by John chapter 8, Jesus had done many signs and wonders which showed Him to be the promised Messiah – but there was a problem. Many of the Jews, especially of the Pharisees, didn’t like what Jesus was preaching. Jesus preached about our sinfulness and our need for Jesus, and ultimately the people who cherished pride, the ones content in their own so-called righteousness began to reject Jesus, and even argue with Him. Our text jumps into the middle of one of those arguments, and there we hear our Lord say, “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear My Word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.” That’s rather blunt, isn’t it? Jesus absolutely throws down the gauntlet – He has done miracles, He has explained the Scriptures, the Old Testament to them – He has preached about how He, the Messiah, will come and bring forgiveness and salvation. And these people arguing with Him will have none of it. They refuse, they reject. And why? Because, when it boils down to it, they reject the Word of God – they would rather listen to the lies of Satan, lies that tickles their ears. And because they stop up their ears and reject God’s Word – they cut themselves off from God – “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” They cut themselves off from God’s Word, and they are cut off from God.

Now, let’s consider ourselves here. We are the Baptized, we are those who have been joined to Christ in Baptism, born again of Water and the Spirit – born of God. We have been given the gift of faith by which we are able to hear and understand the Word of God. But the danger is this – we can choose to end up stopping up our ears, we can choose to stop listening to God and His Word – we can choose to elevate our wants and desires above what God reveals, we can choose to follow the lies of the world. We can try to think that we know better than God, and that is when we get into all sorts of spiritual trouble, and can even fall away. This is why Jesus is so adamant here that Christians *hear* the Word of God. God’s Word is our connection to Him – whether it is the Word proclaimed, the Word studied, the Word tied to water in Baptism, the Word tied to the Lord’s Supper. God’s Word is how God comes to us, gives Himself to us. We don’t wander around in the dark searching for God in dreams or speaking in tongues – He comes to us through His Word – and if we cut ourselves off from the Word, if we decide that we know better than God, that we don’t want or like what God is offering – we in reality cut ourselves off from God.

And our Lord explains to us very simply why cutting ourselves off from God is such a bad thing. “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death.” Now, this is a profound statement, and we can miss the depth of it. First, that word “keep” – again – that doesn’t mean “do”. That doesn’t mean that if you treat God’s Word like the divine checklist of what you need to do that you can earn your ticket to heaven. “Keep” there means to cling to, to hold fast to, to treasure and protect. When we cling to God’s Word instead of rejecting and ignoring it – we receive Christ Jesus, and as such we will never see death. This here is referring to eternal death – to being dead, dead, dead, that’s it, end of story. Because we are attached to God by His Word, because we receive the salvation that Christ Jesus wins for us, we have life everlasting, we have the promise of resurrection. If any of us die this afternoon, we’re not going to stay dead forever. No, we will rise unto life everlasting because Christ Jesus is our Lord, and He has won forgiveness and life. The Word of God is our connection to Christ Jesus’ salvation and life and forgiveness – and so once again He teaches us to hold fast in faith to the Word, to trust in Him, not in our own works.

And this, dear friends, is why false doctrine, false teaching, is so, so dangerous. Because what happens with false doctrine, with false teaching? People see something that they don’t like in God’s Word – something that goes against what they like, what they want – something they don’t understand, so then, bah, it gets tossed aside – even if it’s just a little thing. But here’s the problem – that starts loosening our grip, our hold onto the Word of God. Once we place ourselves above the Word of God, once we start picking and choosing what Truth we like and what Truth we don’t like, we teach and train ourselves to ignore the Truth… and that can keep spiraling and growing until we star ignoring the Word altogether and cut ourselves off from Jesus, to where we keep and hold fast to nothing in the Word but rather just our own made up dreams. And this still happens today – every false doctrine is a matter of us weakening our grip, weakening our hold upon Christ. Damaging our faith. Let me give an example. There are Churches that deny the Scriptural teaching that Baptism is a gift from God, they deny that it is God actually forgiving our sins and adopting us, claiming us as His children. Instead, they view Baptism as something they must do for God. Do you see how much harder that would make life and your faith? Because we listen to the Word, because we believe it when it says, “Baptism now saves you,” we have such wonderful comfort. Whenever we are left to wonder, “Does God actually love me?” – we know the answer – yes, for He has baptized me. If we think, “Am I good enough for God,” we can say, “That’s not the point – the point is I have been washed cleaned and forgiven by Christ Jesus.” Because we hold fast to the Word, we are comforted. But if we ignore that Word, if we cast it aside… we are left with doubt. Does God love me? Eh, things are rough, maybe I should rededicate myself to Him – as though God is some sort of lousy, abusive boyfriend whom you have to jump through hoops to make love you! Am I good enough for Him, or is He going to leave me? All these doubts – and why – because the Word of God about His gift of Baptism gets ignored. False doctrine is always a burden, it always makes faith harder and harder, and even eventually can lead to the destruction of faith.

And false doctrine can seem nice. There’s a new book making the Christian rounds where the new hip pastor, Rob Bell, basically says that in the end, love wins, and everyone goes to heaven. I’ll admit, I’d love it if that were true, I’d love it if there were no hell. I’ve got friends and family who don’t have faith – I don’t like the idea of hell. So it could be very appealing to reject hell, to deny it. But what does the Word of God say – how often does Christ teach and warn us about hell? And ultimately, if you teach that everyone just gets to heaven, when it boils down to it, you’re saying that people don’t need Jesus, don’t need to keep His Word, to have faith in Him… and that sort of teaching will just lead people to the very hell you’re so eager to deny. Satan was a liar and a murderer from the beginning, and through false doctrine he still is today. We must beware of false doctrine.

But our Lord does not simply abandon us to a world of false doctrine. Even as the Pharisees here fight, deny, reject truth, Christ Jesus, He who is Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life, continues to preach and proclaim Life in His Word. We hear this. Jesus says to the Pharisees, “’Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day. He saw it and was glad.’ So the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet 50 years old, and have you see Abraham?’” So Jesus makes an appeal to these Jewish folks – be like Abraham, Abraham who looked forward to My coming, in fact, He saw it and was glad. The truth of this statement is shown in our Old Testament lesson – by rights Isaac should have died – as we all should, for we are sinful beings. Wages of sin is death. There’s another one of those unpopular truths. But what does Abraham see – God provides a Ram, a substitute, and Isaac lives. Abraham sees a precursor of Jesus – who is the ultimate, the final and full substitute for our sin, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And even as Jesus speaks these words, Abraham rejoices in the Lord’s salvation. But the folks here – they just don’t get it. They just think Abraham is moldering in the ground somewhere – so how can Abraham who died almost 2000 years before have ever seen Christ? To which Jesus responds, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus here lays it out – He says, “I AM” – He says that He is God, for that is how God revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush – I AM. Jesus says, “Abraham saw Me and My salvation in My Word, and He rejoiced over it, and because of Me He shall live forever, for I am his God and His Savior.”

Dear friends, in His Word, Christ Jesus, True God, speaks to you, tells you how He has won your salvation. In His Word, He brings this salvation and forgiveness to you, works it in you, builds up your faith. By His Word, Christ Jesus shows you your sin, so that you might repent and not fall further away from Him, and He gives you Himself and His salvation, so that with confidence in Christ you might endure in these trials of life. He is the Lamb of God who has taken away our sin. He is God almighty who by His death and resurrection has won us life everlasting. His Word is Truth, and it is blessing and good for us. All of it. Beware of any lie of Satan that would tell you otherwise, and instead delight in the forgiveness that Christ Jesus wins for you with His most Holy Passion. In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cover Band Theology

One of the things I am sort of interested in, musically speaking, are "covers". Covers are the times when one band plays a song that another made famous -- they "cover" the song.

As a rule of thumb, most covers aren't nearly as good as the original. Just saying... sometimes they can be neat, but most of the time, no.

So why do a cover? Well, often because the song that one is covering is popular - it might help grow a following or resonate with another audience. But the thing is, most of the time, the cover is foreign. It doesn't sound like your band... the lyric, the melody - they don't mesh right. And if you play nothing but covers, you never develop your own sound. And if it goes too far - you become nothing but a cover band, never doing your own thing, just parroting someone else.

Theologically, Lutheranism in America has fallen into Cover Band Theology.

Seriously. We end up aping everybody else, following what popular with the Evangelicals, seeking after the latest trend, or even waiting for the latest thing from Rome to respond to. We don't bother to do theology for ourselves - we have become cover band theologians.

We used to be better - we used to be like a Punk band doing covers - where you would take some trashy song that someone else had written and fix it - pull out the bit of awesome and get rid of the dross. (As an example, compare Mandy by Barry Manilow as compared with the far more awesome by the Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. The later brings out the best of the first and adds lots of awesome!) But we don't even do that - we don't even try to Lutheranize stuff anymore... we just swallow it wholesale in the hopes that someone will like us.

Rise up! Quit playing off of the latest fads! Study the Scriptures! Read the Confessions! Open those books you haven't cracked since Seminary (and probably didn't even crack open then). Quit doing cover theology of stupidity - go to your roots!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Short (and off) Cut of "Creative" Thinking

As I continue to read the Scriptures, I marvel more and more at their depth... and as I've been reading lately in John's Gospel, I note how blunt and honest Jesus is about people not understanding. People just don't get it - they see but do not see, they do not understand, they refuse to hear the Word.

Which is, of course, utterly sad. There is such depth and wonder in the Word. I was looking ahead to Maundy Thursday and noted the following: Christ takes off his outer garment, wraps a towel around Himself, and thus, with that towel cleans the disciples. How incarnational is that! Though He was in form God, though He had on a spotless outer garment (that perhaps even shone with unbridled glory not too long before), He lowers Himself, becomes Man, and with His own Body cleanses us of sin.

Peter doesn't get it - Jesus tells him, you'll understand. Indeed, we understand the entirely of the Scriptures in light of Christ's death and resurrection - it all, always drives towards that one magnificent and wondrous truth - that Christ Jesus dies to atone for the sins of the world and rises to defeat death. Always drives to that.

But here is the problem. Too often we, instead of waiting for understanding, are tempted to the short cut of creative thinking. We want to create a theology... if you call it theology that is quick, simple, and has no depth. And thus, we make it all about ourselves. It's just about service. It's just about morality. It's just about "love" - where the one teaching on "love" doesn't even recognize or ponder the highest and greatest act of love - the Crucifixion.

We want things simple instead of deep, but when dealing with the things of God, you are dealing the mysteries of the ages - not simply pithy statements that a person can look at on the back of the book cover and say, "Oh, I better shell out a few bucks for this".

All false doctrine jumps the gun - it doesn't want to ponder the mystery of the Incarnation and Salvation... and it always misses the point - and the point is Christ Jesus for you.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Piety and Pietism

I will admit, I feel very nervous, very hesitant when it comes to instructing in piety. I am willing to do a very simple baseline - be respectful, things like that. Or I will explain things that I do from my piety - I have no problem teaching why I make the sign of the cross when I do. And, if someone is assisting me in the service they will reverence when I want them to.

But I am not likely to write a handbook on "this is how you should do things" -- because of a very simple reason.

I view the distinction between piety and pietism as this:

Piety are those things that one does in order to focus ones self upon Christ and His promises. One should be able to articulate the why of these (as an adult).

Pietism occurs when one says that others *must* do one's own piety. Why does not come into play (either why they must or even why I do something).

I'm not going to tell someone that they must kneel during the Confession, even though I do. I like the humble posture - it reminds me that of myself I dare not stand before God almighty. But I'm not going to say, "If you don't kneel... bad!"

And of course, this applies to things outside of worship. I may choose, out of a desire to exercise self-control and discipline, to forgo X... but I can't tell another, "You need to give up X." I can explain, or even suggest if they ask -- but to command - no.

I cannot assume that I know better how to face the trials you face in your life than you do. I can warn of sin - I can suggest... but to say "Thou shall" when our Lord has not said "Thou Shall" terrifies me. It is too audacious for me. Piety suggestions must always be that - suggestions.

Because ultimately... while piety is good, the specific shape of piety doesn't matter... the size and shape of the sign isn't nearly that important, as long as the sign points to Christ.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The World's Freedom is Nothing But Slavery

So, the topic on ESPN's Outside the Lines this morning was about a woman's college basketball athlete who has declared herself to be a man, and is still playing on the women's team - when her (his would be the Politically Correct pronoun) time playing ball is done, then there will be a surgery (the horomone therapy associated with the surgery would violate NCAA eligibility).

The world would want to make this a discussion about freedom - see what this person is free to do - see the control, the self determination, the power *he* has.

I see slavery. Is it freedom to be overwhelmed with desires? Is it freedom to totally alter your body, endure years of surgery, in order to satisfy your passions?

And lest people think this is just some "homophobic rant" - this is the same slavery I see all over the place in the world.

It's the slavery that drives people to spend countless dollars on whatever pleasure or vice they "choose".

It's the slavery that drives people to countless cosmetic surgeries that are nothing but vanity (I'm think Hollywood style horror stories here).

It's the slavery that comes up whenever we see *any* passion, want, or desire, and let it dominate our life.

True freedom involves "self-control" - the freedom to look at your sinful flesh and tell it "no."

The freedom of the world, which delights in the passions of the flesh, is nothing but slavery.

Lent 4 Sermon

Lent 3 – John 6:1-15 – April 3rd, 2011

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
We are basically midway through Lent – three weeks down, three weeks to go – the midpoint, if you will. And so this week we take a pause from texts and lessons that deal intensely and fiercely with sin, and instead we have a Gospel lesson that is about refreshment and being filled and satisfied, all so that we might be prepared to dive on into the rest of Lent. This Sunday in Latin is known as “Laetare” – Rejoice – the first word of our Introit. And so today we will see a miracle that will give us cause to rejoice, not only in this miracle itself, but in the greater miracle it points forward to.

So, what’s the situation? Jesus heads off beyond the sea of Galilee, “And a large crowd was following Him, because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick.” Jesus had been healing people – and this was interesting, and so a bunch of people follow Him, even as He goes off into the wild, into the desolate, desert area beyond the sea of Galilee. And then we hear this: “Jesus went up on the mountain and there He sat down with His disciples.” With this verse, John is telling us that Jesus is going to be teaching us something very important. Whenever Jesus goes up on a mountain – there’s going to be some teaching. You have the sermon on the Mount, you have the Mount of Transfiguration. Teaching happens on mountains. And not only that – Jesus sits down. Teachers, at this time, always sat down to teach. We think of standing up to say something that everyone needs to listen to – just the opposite then. You would sit down to teach. So here we see in big, bright neon letters that Jesus is going to teach His disciples. And He does so in a very Jewish way – He poses them a question.

“Lifting up His eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward Him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we going to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.” Jesus poses a question to His disciples – how are we going to feed these folks? Now, understand that this question would have put the disciples off guard. “We’re supposed to be feeding them – we were supposed to be thinking about that?” Let me tell you, as a teacher, few things are more delightful than posing a question that your students hadn’t even thought of. So, Phillip speaks – “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Phillip doesn’t have a good answer – 200 denarii is 200 days wages – if all the disciples went and worked for 3 weeks they’d barely have enough to buy everyone a morsel. Or in other words – Phillip is stumped.

Andrew comes up next – “There is a boy here who has five barely loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Now, we hear this and think five, big crusty loaves of bread, and maybe a couple of big, 2 pound fish. No. These are tiny barley rolls – these are small little fish – it’s what you’d pack for a kid’s lunch at school. There’s not really extra to share – some kind mother sent her son off with a packed lunch. That’s it. Andrew’s hope – well, maybe folks brought stuff. That’s it. Neither Phillip nor Andrew nor any of the Disciples really have any clue what Jesus is going to do, even though they have traveled with Him for so long. But Jesus has them make everyone sit down – which is the sign of meal time. You went to sit down for dinner – and then, “Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.” We know what happens – Jesus feeds the 5000. The loaves and fish are multiplied, expanded. There is enough for all – 12 baskets of leftovers – bushel baskets of leftovers.

So then, what is the lesson? “When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’” Jesus is the promised Messiah – this tops what went on before in the Old Testament. This tops God sending Manna and quail, this tops Elijah seeing that the widow’s flour and oil don’t run out, tops Elisha feeding 100 people. This is a huge miracle – and so these people see and recognize that Jesus is the Messiah, the One promised to come. And here, with this miracle, we do see something very important about Jesus. He cares for our physical needs. He has compassion upon the hungry, He knows the weakness of the body, the fatigue we can face. And He cares for our bodies. This should be a great comfort to us, a great source of security. Indeed, the only real security we have in this life is knowing that Christ Jesus cares for us. That is indeed the only way any of us stand, the only away any of us endure in this life. We live, we exist only because of the bounty that God provides – whether He provides it in the spectacular way He did here with the 5000, or even just in His normal, providential care.

But we do, in this text, also see an error which we are to be warned away from. “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.” The text ends with Jesus basically running away. Why? Because people, seeing physical blessings, want to make Christ simply a king of physical blessings, simply a king of making our lives here and now better. They see the physical blessings and gifts that Christ brings, and they want Him to be simply that sort of king, a king of earthly stuff. Likewise, even today, so many Christians can become focused on wealth and material possessions. So much of American Christianity is focused on stuff. Let me give an example. If I wrote a book on how you could understand God’s forgiveness more and more, and then someone else wrote a book on how if you just said this prayer, organized your life in a purposeful way, had a positive attitude, did whatever - that then God would bless you with tons of stuff – which one would sell more? The one about getting stuff. As Americans, we’re rich, we have homes and food, so much food we have industries that teach people how to lose weight – we have closets full of cloths we don’t wear. We have so much stuff that we can afford to buy things that we use once and then throw away. And, given the culture we live in, we tend to focus on stuff. But that isn’t the real point, the real focus – our worship, our focus shouldn’t just be on stuff.

That is why Christ leaves this crowd – Jesus’ focus is not simply upon material things, upon temporal blessings. Where is Christ’s focus? It’s upon something far, far greater. John told us near the start of the lesson – a simple little line that just seemed to stick out and not fit in. Verse 4 – “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.” This isn’t just any Passover – this is the Passover with the Last Supper, with Good Friday – the Passover that leads to Easter. That, dear friends, is where Christ’s focus is – that’s why we get this text in the middle of Lent. We pause and remember temporal blessings, remember God’s care for us now – but then we turn our eyes towards holy week, we dive back on into Lent – because it is there, in Holy Week, where everything happens. And even as Christ feeds these 5000 here in this text, He is already thinking about a much greater feeding – that which takes place on the night when our He is betrayed – His most Holy and Sacred Supper. What we have is a move from the lesser, the smaller miracle here with the 5000 to the greater and more wondrous miracle in the Lord’s Supper.

Consider – compare this feeding with what our Lord does in the Supper. “Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them.” This is familiar language – right? What are we going to hear in a few minutes right here in this place as we celebrate and participate in the Lord’s Supper? Jesus “took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples…” Jesus’ focus is upon the Passover, upon His passion – He’s training and preparing His disciples for that great meal by the feeding of the 5000. When they all hit the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday, the disciples are going to see and hear Jesus and know that He is doing something wondrous – something even more wondrous than what He had done with for the 5000. In His Holy Supper, Christ isn’t just giving bread to sustain physical life – instead – Take, eat, this is My Body, given for you. Take drink, this is My Blood, shed for you for the remission of sins. Instead of just bread given for the care of a person’s body now, along with the bread and wine Christ in His Supper gives Himself, His own Body and Blood, attaches Himself to us, brings us all that He does in Holy Week, His death, His resurrection – so that we have from Him the Life Everlasting that He wins and displays for the world to see on Easter Morning. And if you think taking a few loaves and feeding 5000 people is something – wait until you see the Lord’s Supper. Consider this day – we aren’t alone in receiving this Supper – Christ Jesus will feed tens of Millions, hundreds of millions of people with His life giving Body today. He comes to be our King, not just in this life where moth and rust destroy, but to be our King of Eternal life, who rules not just a few people 2000 years ago in Judea, but gathers His people from all places and all times unto Himself, a countless throng to be gathered before His throne, never to be separated from Him – a righteous people purchased not with denarii or silver or gold, but with His precious blood. That is where Christ’s focus is – upon His passion that wins us salvation, and upon His Supper that brings His passion to us whenever we are gathered to His table.

And so dear friends, as we too turn our eyes towards Holy Week, as we prepare to intensely ponder our Lord’s passion the rest of this Lenten season – be refreshed, be secure, rejoice in the salvation that Christ has given you. He has come not simply to be your king for a brief time, not simply your bread king for a day, but He richly cares for you, body and soul now, and He shall bring you to His eternal kingdom, where He will be your good and gracious king forever more. While the battles He takes to win you this salvation may be fierce, while the trials we see in this fallen world may be harsh – take heart, for Christ is determined to win you forgiveness – His eyes are upon the Great Passover of His Passion, where He rescues you from death evermore. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Lens - Focus and Distortion

I am a very big fan of Church Year Preaching. What I mean is this -- one views the given text in light of the themes of the part of the Church Year. What are these themes? In brief:

Advent - Expectation of Deliverance
Christmas - The Incarnation
Epiphany - The revelation of the Deity of Christ
Lent - Christ's Struggle Against Sin
Easter - Christ's resurrection and it's implications for us
Trinity - Teaching and Instruction (and you can break this into chunks)

The time of the Church year helps to shape and focus us upon the text, it zeroes us in on a particular part or aspect - it gives focus. This is wonderful - it helps keep us from wondering onto our own personal pet bones to pick, and it gives a rhythm to the Church year where both Christian Faith and Life are covered.

However, like any lens that focuses us, there is also some distortion.

I thought about this while looking at John 6:1-15, which is this Sunday's Gospel lesson. It's on Laetare - the Pink Sunday - Rejoice! - the Sunday of refreshment. And so, when I preach on the Feeding of the 5000 there will be a strong focus on how Christ refreshes us - and also how He flees in order to go to His passion (which was at hand).

But you know, if this text were in Epiphany -- hmmm, well, Thomas Lemke talks about John 6 and Psalm 23 really well. It could be easily a fantastic focus on "See, Jesus is the Messiah." Or if it were Easter - huge focus on Christ who cares for us. Or in the Trinity season - it teaches that while Christ provides us bread, the greater gift is the Salvation He wins at His passion. In Advent, there is the sense of the impending passion - a focus on what Christ is coming to do. Indeed, you could even, I suppose, put this in Christmas - this is very much a God with Us thing.

So, what is the point of this? Am I saying the Lectionary and Church Year are bad? By no means. They are fantastic tools - and the focus they give is wonderful.

But we need to remember that the Word of God is richer than we normally give it credit for. One of the things where I slightly disagreed with my Preaching instructor, Dr. Fickensher, whom I respect greatly, rests in this. His adage was that you preach the main point of the text. That was his question - what is the main point of the text? Preach that. My problem with this is that it can lead us to forget that there are so, so many points and aspects of a text... preach the one appropriate to the season, bringing out nuances that your congregation needs to hear.

But even then - no text is covered fully in a Sunday Sermon. Nor even in an hour bible study on Sunday morning, if you do a text study there. Scripture is rich, deep, and full. It's not a painting on the wall to be viewed from only one angle - it's a statue that you can walk around, see something new almost all the time.

Don't think that you've "got a text down" - there is always more to see and always new things in your life to ponder in light of the text. Use the lens of the Church Year, but don't in arrogance think you've gotten the whole text down.