Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lent 1 Sermon

Lent 1 – Feb 26th, 2012 – Matthew 4:1-11 In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Mankind had started out in a garden, where things were lush and verdant and vibrant. Indeed, there was no hint of death anywhere. Four rivers watered this garden, and over abundance of water, and growth, and life. And it was good. But then the Serpent came in, and he told the man, told the woman, that if they just listened to him, that things would be even better. And so, Adam and Eve ate, and they fell. That’s how we normally think of Genesis 3 – when we hear “The Fall” we think of it first and foremost in terms of Adam and Eve falling. We think of it in terms of morality, in terms of spirituality. We also need to think of it in physical terms – and not just for Adam and Eve. Yes, they died… but the world died with them. Their eating of the fruit became the gateway for death – “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.” The earth no longer gladly yields her bounty of life – the earth itself has been stuck by sin, and now instead of simply roaming a lush garden, Adam is going to farm, and it’s going to be hard work. And even then, there will be some places in the earth so touched, so blighted by the impact of sin that nothing will grow there. There will be deserts, there will be wilderness.
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Immediately after His baptism in the Jordan, Jesus leaves behind that watered area and He goes out into the wilderness. This is most fitting. Adam had sinned, and the garden was lost, the world was lost – and so Jesus goes to where that impact of sin upon the world was most obvious – the wilderness. And there stands True God and True Man, on a barren landscape. There stands God, who had said, “Let the earth sprout forth vegetation, plants yielding seed and fruit trees bearing fruit” and yet all He sees there in that place are thorns and thistles at best. Our Lord thus begins His direct confrontation against sin and death and the devil. He enters into that place where the impact of sin is most seen, and there He prepares to make things right. “And after fasting 40 days and 40 nights, He was hungry.” Again, there’s more Old Testament imagery here. When the floods came, when wickedness was so severe on the earth that it would be wiped out, that lasted 40 days and 40 nights. Or perhaps even more to the point – for 40 years the people of Israel wander the desert due to their grumblings, due to their complaining about food. So there you have Jesus, and see where He is at. He places Himself in the under the full weight, the full pressures that sin and its impacts can bring to bear – tired, sore, hungry, and off in a lifeless place alone. As rough as it can get for one who is still alive, that is where Christ is.
“And the tempter came and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’” Understand the temptation. Satan isn’t questioning whether or not Jesus is God. Satan knows. Rather this – if you are the Son of God, why are You of all people suffering hunger this way? Why, at Your Word these stones could become bread and You could satisfy Yourself. And Satan is right – Jesus could. He could simply and with ease satisfy Himself. But that is not why Christ Jesus is in the wilderness, that’s not why He came down from heaven. He did not come down to serve Himself, but He came down to rescue mankind from sin and death – and that is not done by serving the belly. “But He answered, ‘It is written: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Mere bread is not life, Satan. A full belly doesn’t undo the curse Adam and Eve got themselves into. Adam worked hard in those fields and he ate his share of bread, and he still died, and the deserts remained, and the weeds continued to grow. No, Satan, man doesn’t live simply by bread, and man will never live if he listens to you. Man lives by the Word of God, lives by My Word which created him, and man will live again when I beat down every trial and temptation in His place, when I face you down and die and rise again for Him. I am not here to serve Myself, but to fulfill that Word I spoke long ago that said I would crush your head.
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.’” I know who you are Jesus, and I know the Word that You have spoken. Alright – show that Word to be true. Jump. It will be alright. You Yourself has said that it will be okay, that the angels will come. Aren’t you truthful? Can’t you do it? “Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written: You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Oh Satan, I am not here to prove how wondrous I am, I am not here to show off signs and wonders to make the people marvel. I’m here to fix thing – for years and years these people have put Me to the test, have tried Me, have demanded signs and wonders – and they will again. But that is not why I am here – I am here to put and end to testing, indeed, I am here to put an end to your testing, Satan. I will not do things your way, Satan. My Father and I know what must be done, and while my foot will not strike a stone, it will be bruised, bruised when it lands on your head in full – and you will not distract Me from that.
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.’” It seemed like a fair offer. Satan’s domain was sin and the power of death, and all the kingdoms of the world were under that, all were tainted and enshadowed by Satan. And so Satan tries to cut a deal – if you want them Jesus, fine. We don’t need to fight, we don’t need to argue – and more importantly, You don’t need to suffer. You’ve taken on a body, You’ve become man, and You won’t like suffering. You don’t like it now – we can work around it, we can prevent the suffering. Simply give in to me, worship me, and I’ll let you run things the way you want. You can have them… just let me have You. One last bid at the ancient power play, where Satan would be on top and God would be beneath him. 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.” I have come not to simply rule over people, but to free them from bondage to you, to free them from the fear of death. How can that be done if I too worship you, if I too fall into their boat? No – there is One God, and they will worship the True God who has won them redemption and deliverance from You. Your temptations have failed, Satan.
And there, in that wilderness, in that lifeless area, Jesus Christ, not only true God but also true Man, did what Adam and Eve failed to do, did what you and I fail to do – He perfectly resisted the temptations of the Devil. There, in that rocky, lifeless place Jesus Christ was shown to be truly alive – showed that He was living as man was meant and created to be alive, without the fear of Satan. The Lord, the Giver of Life has walked into Satan’s domain and declared that He would not yield an inch of creation to Satan. “Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.” And Satan has no choice but flee before Christ… and then the angels come. That dead, desolate place becomes holy and sacred – we can miss this. Where is the place where God dwells with the angels ministering to Him? We sing part of it on Communion Sundays – this is Isaiah 6 stuff – “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” And there, in the wilderness, far from the that temple where Isaiah had His vision, far into the domain and rule of Satan – there is the LORD of hosts with His angels, and His glory is there.
Redemption is coming. Salvation is coming. The destruction of sin and death is coming. With the temptation, Christ Jesus begins His active ministry, He strides forth into Satan’s domain and He begins dismantling it. He has resisted the Devil, and the Devil has no choice but to flee before Him. And over these coming weeks in Lent we will see Christ invade another domain which Satan thought was his, and we will see our Lord crush Satan there… even onto Good Friday itself, where Christ will enter death itself to defeat it. It is an awesome thing to behold God fighting for you, God Himself seeking to free you from sin and death, see Christ fighting the battle you could not. Let us watch and hear with humility and thanksgiving. In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Reactions are Not Free

One thing that has always amazed me is how reactionary people are. I just saw a headline where it said that Chavez is going to send oil to Syria. Of course he is -- the US is mad at Syria, and whoever the US is mad at, Chavez has to support...

... which means he's not free.

Seriously, the US has determined his course of action. It is no longer a question of whether or not it is good or beneficial for his country - rather, "if it annoys the US, I'll do it."

I remember in college in the late 90s - there was a big wave of being against anything popular (as often in in college)... and I liked the Spice Girls. I enjoyed them - fun, well produced Brit Pop. I had so many friends who just couldn't believe it -- do you see the sort of people who like the Spice Girls, all those fashion conscious people... how can you be like them?

Because I am free to like or dislike and who cares what someone else thinks.

We think opposition is freedom - it's like the teen who does something just to annoy his parents... that's not freedom, that's not you demonstrating your independence... you are still playing along to the tune they set, just going crossways against it.


So, what's the point?

Theological reactions are seldom free. And theologians can fall into the same traps as dictators or teenagers... if someone says something we can automatically oppose it simply because of who said it, or conversely, we can automatically follow the trends. Both of these are unthinking approaches, and neither is free.

I don't care who holds a position. I don't care who came up with it. I don't care if this idea is _______-ist or _______-ian... is it right? Is it proper? Is it in line with the Scriptures?

We see evil, we see problems... and instead of clinging to what is true, we react when perhaps what we should do is reevaluate.

This is important -- not because the gut reaction is wrong... but I will never convince my neighbor that they are wrong by simply reacting against them... I may though, if I have evaluated their position calmly, fairly, appropriately, and then know it's weaknesses, then can show how it doesn't in fact reach what they want it to reach.

Reasonable arguments never come from reaction. Just doesn't happen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Ash Wednesday – John 6
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
As we enter this Lenten season, our thoughts and meditations for our Midweek services are going to be shaped around 7 “I AM” verses from John – seven times where Christ Jesus says, “I AM….” and then informs us who He is. However, remember dear friends, that this is a weighted phrase. In both Greek and Hebrew you would not need to say “I AM” – you could just say “I”. I a pastor. I a father. And in Hebrew, you would never, ever add the “am”, the verb. Why? Because in Exodus, when the LORD talks to Moses from the burning bush, and Moses ask how the LORD should be identified, the LORD responds, “I AM who I AM. Say to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” I AM was God’s own Name, only He uses it for Himself. And so, over and over in the Gospel of John, our Lord Jesus Christ uses this phrase, denoting that He is the LORD, that He is the Word of God come down to earth to win for us fallen men our salvation. And so what we are going to do this Lent is consider 7 of these statements, see what they teach us about Christ Jesus and who it is who goes to the Cross for us, see how His Words, how Who He is for us, shapes our lives. Let us begin.
To start, we have our Gospel lesson today. This occurs in John 6, right after the feeding of the 5000. Jesus feeds the 5000 using just the 2 loaves of bread and the five sardines. But then, Jesus has to run away from the crowd because they wish to make Him king. A few verses later, after walking on water, the crowd finds Him on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. And this is where we begin. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" [26] Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. [27] Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal." And here Jesus addresses the issue – people are thinking here with their bellies, thinking in terms of greed and selfishness. Were the people astonished that they had seen God at work for their care, or were they more concerned with what they were getting – did they care more about God, or the stuff that God had given them? Sadly, it was the latter.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, in German the beginning of Fastenzeit – fasting time – the time of the year when we consider our own bodies and their desires and hungers and lusts, and we beat them down so that we might rather focus upon Christ. Therefore, I ask you tonight, dear friends, to consider your own lives. How often do your own wants and desires drive you, shape you, determine how you go about your life? In olden days, the focus was on food, on gluttony – on the fact that it was often the belly that was splurged upon – but we are wealthy and rich beyond what our forefathers could have imagined – we live where we can have almost every whim of ours satisfied – the finest foods, the softest and nicest clothes, houses that would have been seen as mansions 200 years ago, luxury after luxury… and so often we will grouse at God if He doesn’t provide us even more luxury. Of this, we need to repent. Our Lord warned us in the parable of the sower that the cares and worries of this life, the desire for more and more can choke out our faith. Be wary of this, and turn away from stuff, from mammon – and rather behold Christ.
Why? Then they said to him, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" [29] Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." The crowds want to work, they want to do something to bribe Christ to keep the blessing train coming, and they miss the point. The heart of the Christian faith, the heart of the Christian life is simply to see Christ and believe that what He does, He does for your good. To see and know that He is your Savior from sin, the One who has delivered you from all evil and won for you salvation. Sadly, this is hard to do when our focus is upon the world. So they said to him, "Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? [31] Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' " Do you see what they do here? He has just fed them miraculously – nope, we want more. It’s a new day, a new meal is to be had, Jesus – whip it up for us. Likewise, consider what our life is like as Americans. Do we not crave the new, the exciting? We even wait with anticipation the commercials during the Super Bowl, we love watching how people will sell us the new, tell us we need more! To fight against this, to keep this desire from overwhelming us, this is part of the purpose of the traditional Lenten fast – so that we might learn to tell ourselves no, that we might learn that we do not live by earthly bread alone, or the newest I Phone or do hickey, but rather that we live by every Word that comes from the mouth of God. I do not command you, for in this I cannot, but I would encourage you all to consider what thing, what desire twists at you, and to consider foregoing it – telling yourself and telling it no… so that you might remember what is truly important.
[32] Jesus then said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. [33] For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." [34] They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Their fathers ate in the wilderness, and they died. Those adults who ate of the manna died – they didn’t enter the promised land. And even the children who entered 40 years later – they still died. The things of this life, this world – they offer no true relief, no true security. We all die and are fallen – and these poor people look for nothing beyond that, nothing beyond a full belly, nothing beyond “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” This is all the sinful world can offer.
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But Christ is more than this world – our God is greater than just this fallen place. Jesus is the Bread of Life. He is Himself life, He is Himself the victory over sin and death, and He gives Himself to us to grant us His own life. Your God has seen the fallen, wretched emptiness and hollow-ness of this world, where rust and moth destroy, where age and time ruin and empty, where all turns to dust, to ashes – and in His love, the Bread of Life has come down to give you life.
It is interesting to consider bread. Bread was a punishment – in the Garden Adam ate of the fruit of the trees… yet after the fall it was only by the sweat of his brow that Adam would wrest grain from the ground to make his bread. That bread did not give life… it sustained it for just a brief time, and then Adam died. Yet Jesus is the Bread of Life – He knows that our works, our efforts can save us never, and so He comes down from heaven to restore us. As Adam would plant a seed in the ground so that it might grow – so also Christ Jesus Himself came to be planted in the ground on Good Friday, so that on Easter Life might spring forth. As we hear our Lord says elsewhere in John, “Unless a grain of wheat dies and falls into the ground, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit.” And this Christ does – He brings forth the fruit of life on Easter – and He gives His life to us in His Most Holy Supper, where the Bread of Life comes to us under Bread and Wine, all so that we might live in Him both now and eternally. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. [39] And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. [40] For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." This is what Christ has come to do, this is why the Bread of Life has come down to earth, to save man from their vain and futile works, and rather by His own death and resurrection to give us life, to draw our eyes unto Him so that in seeing Him, in being drawn ever closer to Him and forgiven by Him by the Power of His Word and Spirit, we should have life everlasting, even life lasting through all eternity.
This Ash Wednesday, we repent. We repent of our desire and lust for the failing, fleeting things of this life, and we turn our eyes again to Christ Jesus, focus upon the Bread of Life so that we might learn to hunger for Him and Him alone. He is our life, our hope amidst this world of dust and ashes. Let us keep the fast in faith, keeping our eyes upon Jesus the author and perfector of our faith. In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday – John 6

Will be posted tomorrow

Once Again It is Lent

Sometimes I feel it is strange that I enjoy Lent. I enjoy the readings on Sundays in Lent. I enjoy the midweek services, even though they can be somewhat tiring (especially as the sermons tend to be intense and focused). I enjoy the time of self discipline.

Or at least that's what I think. Perhaps this is nothing less than my old, sinful flesh patting itself on the back, hiding behind my outward actions saying, "Oh, yes, oh yes, what a good Christian am I!"

It's probably Lent. And once again I am reminded that I am both sinner and saint, that within myself I see a war, that I am simul justus et peccator in desperate need of Christ.

Which I suppose is part of the point of Lent. It is why my new man rejoices in it and why the old man tries to hide behind it. Thus is life in this fallen world - let us repent of our sin and of ourselves and fix our eyes upon Jesus, who comes into this world to fight for us.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Christian Liberty vs. "I'm Right"

In a conversation with a friend, I ended up typing the following:

"Christian Liberty and service is completely misunderstood -- and more to the point, no one wants to understand it. They'd much rather demonstrate the fact that they are "right""

This was brought up in terms of liturgy and worship... why we do this, why don't. We do ashes, we don't. You can't worship this way or that, so on and so forth.

As Christians, we have freedom. We are not bound by specific customs. We are not bound by necessity to specific rubrics or forms. But what is true is that we are bound to our neighbor, and while we might have freedom to do whatever, that freedom is gladly restrained for the sake of our neighbor - freely I give up my rights to serve my neighbor, for I do not need to do X, Y, and Z to justify myself - there are no holy hoops I must jump through. Christ has done it all for me, I serve my neighbor.

Thus the discussion should be how best to serve the neighbor... and all neighbors. Not just the members of your own congregation, or that "group you want to appeal to with your awesome outreach", but also to neighboring congregations, to the world at large.

So often I see either "you need to do this" or "well, I can do this and you can't tell me otherwise". I want to see, "This is how I will show love - by doing this." Not "this is what you have to do or you aren't as awesome as me" - not "hey, I can do this, who are you to question it" - not "do this or you aren't a 'real' Lutheran/Christian/disciple/(whatever)".

I don't need to prove I'm right. I need to enjoy my Christian freedom and love my neighbor, all of them.

In worship, that means I don't just go off and do my own thing, not because I can't, but because it doesn't help my neighbor. It means things are repetitive, not because they must be repeated, but because repetition is the mother of learning and this way the things of worship are not merely felt for a moment but learned for a lifetime. It means at my congregation we don't do somethings I would ideally like... and we do some things and sing some hymns that, well, I'd rather not. It's not about me and me making a "right" service... it's about love for the neighbor shaping all things.

Oh well.

Few things

Few things in life are better than coming home and seeing your son playing with his Kermit. Or trying to eat it. He's just shy of 4 months, I'm not sure the two ideas are separate in his mind yet.

Either way, it's a lovely thing.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Quinquagesima Sermon

Quiquagesima – February 19th, 2012 – Luke 18:31-43

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Our Gospel lesson is one of contrasts. On the one hand, you have the disciples, bold, brash, and just so sure they knew the earthly power and glory that following Christ would bring. And thus, when Christ addresses them, tells them that He will suffer, they don’t get it. On the other hand, there is that blind beggar on the road to Jericho, and although he is blind, in Christ Jesus he sees nothing but the merciful Son of David who has come to have pity and aid the poor, feeble, and lost. It is a fascinating contrast – so let us examine it in detail, and then consider how it applies to us, especially as we approach the season of Lent.

“And taking the twelve, He said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem…’” Look, see, behold – pay attention, disciples, we are going up to Jerusalem. Our Lord is telling the disciples that the pinnacle, the focus, the thrust of what He has come to do is approaching – this is that “behold” word, this is that word announcing that something big and important is coming – and it’s going to happen in, where else but Jerusalem. The disciples should be keyed in, they should be intensely focused upon Christ’s words right now. But there is a problem. What does our Lord say is going to happen in 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.” Is this anyone’s idea of a good time? No – and it didn’t seem like a good time to the disciples. Indeed, if we are going to be mocked and shamefully treated somewhere, don’t we just have a tendency to… avoid going? That’s the same type of thoughts the disciples had – that is foolish, that would be terrible. But did you note what Jesus said – “everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” This is something divine, this is something that these students of the Old Testament should have known was coming. If Christ is the Messiah, then Satan must bruise His heel – if Christ is the Messiah, then Isaiah 53 and the Man of Sorrows must happen, then Psalm 22 and its nastiness has to happen. And how bad must it get according to the prophets? “And after flogging Him, they will kill Him.” Jesus tells the disciples that He is going to die… that in just a short time He will be killed by the Gentiles, that the Romans will put Him to death. This is why He came, to suffer and die. And yet, Christ also tells them good news – “and on the third day He will rise.” Yes, according to the prophets the world will do its worst to the Messiah, but He will rise victoriously on the third day. This is what we will be seeing all this Lententide, seeing this Easter.

But the Disciples, they don’t see. Not yet. “But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” They don’t understand, not yet. The refuse to let these sorts of thoughts even cross their mind. They won’t understand until Easter, until they behold the Risen Christ, that’s when it all will sink in – but at this moment – it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t fit their expectations. You don’t follow a leader just to go watch Him die – you follow a leader you think is going to win, and win the way you want him to win. You follow a leader who will crush your enemies, who will bring earthly pomp and power and glory. And this tale of earthly defeat, earthly suffering, it simply makes no sense to them, it’s not what they want.

Now for the contrast. There is a blind beggar on the road to Jericho, a town Christ must pass through in order to reach Jerusalem. This is a man who knows suffering, who knows earthly defeat. He has no visions of power and glory because he has no vision at all. He is lowly, he is in the mire, he is downtrodden. And he hears a crowd going by, so he asks what’s up with the crowd – he knows what sort of traffic his road gets, and it’s too high today. “They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’” Christ is coming, and so this man knows what to do. “And he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” He doesn’t cry for power, he doesn’t cry out seeking to have more stuff than his neighbor or the power to rule over them, humiliate them… he simply wants mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, get me out of this terrible place I am stuck. And what, what happens? “And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent.” Oh, just be quiet you blind, worthless beggar! We don’t want you interrupting us – we’re here to watch this Jesus, surely He has come for the good people like us! They were in front, but they did not see. “But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” He continues his calls for mercy, he doesn’t let the disdain the crowd dissuade him – he calls out for mercy to Christ.

And what happens? “And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to Him.” This is actually a wonderful teaching moment – Jesus stops right in front of those very people who admonished the beggar to be silent, and He tells them to bring the beggar up. That person you disdained … serve him, bring him up to me, lead him so he knows where I am. “And when he came near, He asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me recover my sight.’” So Jesus asks this person what sort of mercy he is seeking. Lord, let me recover my sight. The Greek word there is “anablepso” – that I would see again. And here’s what’s beautiful about this – this man hopes for restoration, for things to be made right by Christ. There was another restoration word earlier – the word for “rise again” is “anastesetai” – again rise. That “ana” at the beginning, it’s the Greek version of“re” – like “re” in resurrection, “re” in restoration. Jesus had told the Disciples there would be restoration, that He would rise again – it goes over their heads. But this blind man, he knows that the Son of David has come to restore fallen creation – the blind man knows his lack, the corruption of his eyes, and he longs for God to restore him, to make him see again. And God does. “And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” Recover, restoration – the Son of David does in part there for that blind man what He will do for all creation – fix it. He pauses on His way to Jerusalem where His death and resurrection will pave the way for the restoration of all things, and He gives a little restoration, a little foretaste on the way. This blind man, his faith, faith in Jesus, has made him well, has “saved him” in the Greek. His eyes will be restored not just for the rest of his days on earth until he dies, but even when those eyes that now can see are closed by death, because of Christ Jesus, they will be opened again – the resurrection will recover everyone’s sight. I won’t need my contacts any more – Christ will fix it all. And that is what He is on His way to Jerusalem to do – to fix creation by taking up the wages of sin and paying it Himself with His own death, by bursting the bonds of death by rising on the third day.

So now, let us consider this passage and how it applies to us. Two options, two ways of viewing Christ are set before us. On the one hand, there is disdain of suffering, there is the desire that Jesus be our meal ticket, our buddy who gives us our best life now and earthly victory and glory. This is spiritual blindness. On the other hand, there is the knowledge of your own lack, of your own need, of your own wretchedness, and from that point of humility and repentance, then you can see who Christ Jesus is, the One who comes to restore fallen man, to give Him life again. Dear friends, there is a reason Lent is known as a penitential season, a reason why it’s a time where we focus on repentance. Satan wants us to focus on living big now, having worldly power and glory – he wants the cares of this life to rob us of the Word, as we heard last week. He wants us thinking like the disciples had been, where the idea of suffering and being restored and forgiven are far, far from us – where we view God as a guy who simply helps out us good people because we are smart enough to follow Him. That’s not the Christian faith. The Christian faith is this: while we were yet sinners, Christ Jesus died for us. That while there was nothing good in us, Christ Jesus shows us love by laying down His life for us, by rising for us, by forgiving us and giving us new life in Him. This is our hope – and as we enter Lent this Wednesday, that is what our focus will be. Repentance, turning away from the desires of the flesh for power and glory, and simply looking at Christ for His mercy, for His love to us.

Therefore, I ask you my friends, what blinds you to Christ? What temptations lure you away from Him? Is it ego, where you like to think highly of yourself? Is it pride, where you hate to admit your failings? Is it bitterness, where you would rather focus on how you have been wronged than repent of your own sins? Is it greed, where your desire for the pleasures of this life shape how you see everything? Is it resentment, where jealousy of your neighbor hardens you? It probably is for you as it is for me all of these, and many others beside. We each have some that especially stand out in us. These temptations distract us, try to draw our eyes off of Christ. Repent of them, fight against them, beat them down – and know this – that while you are weak and lowly, indeed, whether you like this fact or not, Christ Jesus has had mercy upon you, and in His great love for you and in His desire to restore you, to free you from sin and death, He has suffered and died for you, He has risen for you, He has washed you in water and the Word, and He gives you His own Body and Blood to forgive you again, to be the proof that just has He has died and risen so shall you. This is His love for you.

As St. Paul says in the Epistle – “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” In this life we will struggle against sin, sin will always try to dominate our view – will try to obscure Christ’s love for us – but the time is coming, dear friends, when we will see this clearly, when we see our Lord face to face. Until then, we struggle, we fight against our sin – not just for the sake of some egotistical self-improvement, but so that we might learn of our need for Christ, so that we might be better focused upon Him. Behold, your Lord goes forth to battle against Satan and forces of evil to win you salvation and restoration – all thanks be to God that His Son has come to win us our freedom. God grant to each of us a blessed Lent, that we might once again be given opportunity to see our Lord’s love for us again. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the world. Amen.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Day's Advice

Here is today's advice.

Don't be outraged.

Seriously. Don't let yourself become outraged by what another person does. First, it's not good for you to have rage... it's hard to have rage or anger and not sin. Secondly, if you look at what your neighbor does and are outraged, you will start to try to control your neighbor's actions so as to lessen your outrage. In this, you cease to be your neighbor's servant and instead seek to become his lord and master -- and this is bad.

So don't get enraged even by what Rev. Larry Beane notes about our Governmental tyranny -- because it is the mindless outrage of the populous that blindly gives power to the government so that the government can fix their neighbor.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pro-Neighbor rather than Pro-life

I have as long as I can remember been what has been termed in America "pro-life". I am opposed to Abortion. But I'll be honest, much of the Pro-life rhetoric hasn't sat well with me.

Some of this is because I think there's been bad politics. Yes, I know you want to have government mandates about view ultrasounds to lessen the number of abortions, but you realize that establishes a precedent for the government to mandate procedures in reproductive issues, right -- that's BAD.

But even then -- pro-life is a catchy term. Life is good. It's a great and noble cause, a wonderful value.

But then - maybe that's my problem with it.

Once again, as is my custom, I entered into a contraception debate... and it was in the context that if we are pro-life ought we also be opposed to contraception. After much palaver (on a facebook page, so I cannot link), here is what I wrote:

I find that I become concerned with the impact of Greek Philosophy and wisdom upon how the Church has historically approached some topics. Greek Philosophy was concerned with Truth in the abstract -- what is "good". The Scriptures are much more concrete. As an example, consider our Lord's discussion on Divorce:

1 Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”[a]

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Yes, there is the movement to the ideal - how things were from the beginning. Yet, even as our Lord addresses this idea, He does not stop there. Divorce is not how it is to be -- but what does He say? "whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." First, there is the exception given, an acknowledgement that after the fall the ideal is not going to be met. Second, there is concern for not the abstract reality, but for the specific woman. The first wife would be wronged - it is a sin not only against God, not even a sin against creation/nature, but a sin against her.

There is always, even with the 10 commandments or the law, a specific tie to a specific person. This makes sense as the Law is summed up in love, and love always requires a specific object. You can't talk about love in the abstract until there is an object to love. Yes, love is patient, but to be patient is to be patient with another.

When we move in theology, as has often happened, off of specific care and love for specific people into theologies of God's Hidden Will or what is natural, we become abstract and distant from the very people God has placed into our lives for us to care for.

This is why I would quibble with Luther when he says, "If [women] become tired or even die, that does not matter. Let them die in childbirth--that is why they are there." In that case he follows and abstract idea of nature at the expense of the specific person -- that is a philosophic move, not a theological one.

I think this ends up driving to the heart of what sits poorly with me with the term "pro-life". It's too abstract.

I am not called to love "life"... I am called to love my neighbor.

If my neighbor is the woman who is pregnant and scared, I am called to love her and support her, for she is my neighbor.

If my neighbor is an unborn child, I am called to love and support him or her, for he or she is my neighbor.

If my neighbor is a couple that is fearful about the future, I'm called to love and care for them, for they are my neighbors.

This is Catechism stuff -- we are to help and befriend him in every bodily need, help him to improve and protect his possessions and income, to see that husband and wife love each other.

God's Law is never abstract. It's never just an attempt to do "the good" or that which is "righteous". There is always an person who is cared for....

Or perhaps to think of it this way:

"Faith clings to Jesus' cross alone/ and rests in Him unceasing;
And by its fruit true faith is known/ with love and hope increasing.
For faith alone can justify/ works serve the neighbor and supply
The proof that faith is living."

If you can talk to me on and on about the Law, but it is couched in terms of what I must do to be good, and it's not couched in terms of serving the neighbor... are we really talking about a good work, or rather a man made work that attempts to be pleasing to God? Or even something that ought to be good and of service can be twisted and torn into a burdensome law - which is sad.

The Art of Theology

Here is a simple question.

Is Theology the art of studying the Scriptures to see what they say, or is theology the art of deriving truth from what the Scriptures have said?

There is a vast difference between the two.

The former has as its focus the Word of God, a focus on Christ and His redemption.

The later attempts to build constructs and how things should be on the basis of the Scriptures -- to fill in the frame work the Scriptures establish.

I hold to the former, and rarely do I trust the later.

Is it Scriptural and about Christ, or is it derivative and about... society, the world, order, how I think things should be if we wanted to really be Christ?

Is the person citing and living in the Scriptures, or are the talking about Scriptural principals and how you ought to live?

Is every focus upon seeing Christ and His love for me, or the the focus on making a world (or a Christian) Christ would "love to see"?

By its fruits you shall know a tree - and if the fruit is not Christ, is not pointing to His mercy and salvation, has it really come from Christ?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

As For Me and My House...

Over my door there is a lovely gift from one of my members - it's a wooden curve that reads, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." This is, of course, from Joshua, his address to the people of Israel having entered the Holy Lands.

However, let's look at the full quote (which is implied in the brief one):

“Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

It's interesting what is going on here, isn't it. Joshua isn't harping on the people, telling them what they must do - he isn't beating them over the head. He declares what is good - fear the Lord, serve Him, put away false gods." But... if serving god seems evil to you... go worship someone else.

Seems odd for a preacher to say that -- at least to us today. Was it merely a rhetorical device, as he had just told them it was wrong to serve false gods? Was Joshua just trying to be ironic, or shame them?


Joshua was seeing a point -- forcing outward actions do not create belief. "If it is evil in your eyes" - that's the key. If your eyes see God as evil, see His commandments and promises as odious, if you have heard, if you have seen the promise land and gone "meh" -- jumping through hoops will do nothing for you.

There is no concern about trying to at least establish a nice outward behavior - shoot, he says go worship false gods if that's the case (they'd be damned already, ain't going to do them anymore harm).

Again - I think that we can be entirely too concerned about shaping our neighbor's actions rather than being concerned for our neighbor. It's a distinction. Let us say what is good. Let us demonstrate what is good. Let us point to Christ. Let us scatter the seed. And if they view God as evil and run after false gods... so be it.

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sketch of a Post

Two things hit me today, and the seem related.

One was concerning President Obama's "contraception compromise" - there was a poll at CNN asking whether or not people approved -- the majority did. This struck me... because it is about a law mandating that people do that which they are opposed to.

The second was concerning Confession and Absolution. So often there is the lament that it is under-utilized. Then I thought, "I wonder if it is under utilized in part because so often Pastors can go off on moralistic tangents... where the Pastor is viewed more as the establisher of proper morality rather than the forgiver of sins." If that is the case... well, we retain Confession and Absolution for the sake of the Absolution... it's one thing to come to know you are going to receive forgiveness... its another thing if... well... you've be doing X with is that horrible thing that Pastor Y has been harping on... why would you go to him then? Or evening if you've been doing Z... but if you think of Pastor Y as a harper... why would you reveal your sin to him?

What do these two have to do with each other?

I think more trouble is caused in this world when we try to force other people to do something. A Contraception mandate is an attempt to force people to do something - and you know what? I'll be charitable. I'll say its done under the best intentions, that people think it's for the "greater good". And you know what... it will backfire and build up resentment. And it treads on religious freedom.

Likewise, I think in the Church we can be more interesting in shaping the result of hearing the Word rather than simply proclaiming the Word, especially when it comes to morality. We do not content ourselves with saying, "This is good, this is wrong." Instead, we want to hammer the wrong out of people... or even set up fences around them to make sure that they don't come close to what is wrong. And all for the greater good. And you know what... it backfires, and the Gospel gets spun off into a corner and grows dusty, which some laud how wonderful they are where as others become resentful.

The great danger is the desire to control your neighbor for your neighbor's own good. To not simply say, "know the Lord" but to grab them by the scruff of the neck and see that they get around to knowing.

It's like trying to make sure that the seed hits good soil and to keep digging at it and poking it until it sprouts the way you want it to. And that... that's not trusting God to work with His Law as He wills, nor is it trusting Him to work with His Gospel as He wills. And it becomes ego centric.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. This is what you are to teach -- you cannot think that your teaching is supposed to change that fact. Yes - people sin. Yes, they are forgiven on account of Christ. Some will grow, some won't... teach the truth. That's all we are given to do.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Dangers of a Living Document

I realize that everyone is shaped by their culture, is influenced by the times in which they were raised.

Consider politically the times in which I have been raised (age: 34). The Constitution is in theory the Law of our Land. Yet how is it viewed? Is it the Law of the Land, or do we read intentions into it? Do we read between the lines and say, "Oh, surely the Founders would have liked my wonderful idea"? Or, do some of us, even folks on the Supreme Court, basically view the Constitution as obsolete?

This is the age in which I have grown up - when politics and leaders in this Country worry less and less about what is written and go on and do their own thing. The past 11 years this has just increased all the more, and the rule of the written Law of the Land is ignored. And the result is chaos and strife and factionalism that is based on naked powerplays and mass manipulation. And I despise it.

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Now - knowing this, consider how I approach theology.

We have the written Word of God, everything revealed to us that is necessary for Salvation.

Do you understand why I don't trust and do not care for theological statements that are not clearly there? Why I don't trust what you claim to be God's obvious intent (that He did not say)? Why I don't trust the wisdom of man who claims to know what is good and righteous (even though God didn't see fit to spell it out)?

That is the path of chaos and strife and factionalism, replete with naked power plays and the desire to manipulate one's neighbor.

And I don't like it.

Hence: Show Me the Scriptures!

Do what you want, follow your conscience as long as the Scriptures don't countermand it... but don't tell me I need to follow your conscience as well. That path reeks of tyranny, and I wish nothing of it.

Lent is About Jesus

The Season of Lent is about Jesus.

It isn't about what we give up. It isn't about our fasting. It isn't about hurriedly planning Easter parties. It is about Jesus.

You know how we get those "Jesus is the reason for the season" things floating around in December. It holds true in Lent as well.

Do I encourage you to give something up in Lent, or even fast. Sure. But not as a means of changing you, but as a tool with which to focus upon Christ - as a self discipline that teaches you to turn your eyes off of your belly and onto Christ.

Because Lent is all about watching Christ - it's about watching Him take on Satan and temptation, watching Him take on sin and suffering and death... and then watching Him die, and watching Him rise.

Lent is the season where we watch our Lord, where we take care to remove distractions, where we focus intently upon Him. Don't let it become the season of what you do for Jesus.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Why So Passionate?

I was asked in a comment below why I was so passionate on the whole stuff with Contraception. And thinking and reflecting about it - it's not so much that specific issue (well, it irks me... I strongly dislike attempts to change society... God forbid we ever adopt a "Changing the Culture for Christ" sort of attitude... blech. Let's work out our own salvation with fear and trembling... and ya'll can do what you want, but as for me and my house, we'll follow the Lord. That's enough for anyone's plate!), but rather what really gets me fired up is the theological approach.

In our zeal to make people recognize blessings, we are approaching on making a Law, and a Law not found expressed in the Scriptures, a Law not specifically commanded, but a Law that "seems good to us" - that seems to be the intent of what God said.

Consider the parallel:

1. Children are a blessing (Scriptural)
2. Many reasons for avoiding children are foolish (I'll concede)
Solution: Teach that a Christian isn't to use contraception. (Huh?)

1. The Lord's Supper is a blessing (Scriptural)
2. Many reasons for avoiding the Supper are foolish (I'll concede)
Solution: Teach that a Christian must attend the Supper so often.

These two patterns are exactly the same. And they are wrong patterns. When people pushed Luther on how often one needed to attend the Supper - he wouldn't give an answer. We think he said "4 times a year" -- but that's not what he said. He said that if you don't attend at least for times a year you should examine yourself and consider whether or not you are still a Christian.

See... not a rule, not a hoop - but a drive towards self examination.

This becomes the thing... repentance always involves self examination, reflection, looking at ones own actions and evaluating them. Not simply conformity to outward behaviors.

I'd argue that the better approach would be as follows:

1. Show the Scriptural teaching (Both children and the Supper are blessings)
2. See that some reasons for avoiding are foolish (both children and the Supper)
3. Show what are foolish reasons, while having compassion for those who have legit reasons for what is going on.

I'm not going to hammer about having kids when there's the gal with the health issues in the congregation. I'm not going to hammer on attendance at Supper to the person who has some other issues that creep up.

Or in other words -- attack the foolish causes with the Law... and then simply let the New Man arise by the power of the Gospel... not by attempts to establish new rules to coax him out.

The Law never gives life. Us the Law only to attack that which hinders the Christian - sin and fear. Then the Gospel will give growth, then the Gospel will cast out fear. In God's own time... not yours.


(Update and Addition)

The thing is this - this isn't just a silly fear or apprehension -- this same reasoning has popped up in other places.

Or why do some religious groups forbid blood transfusions?
Or why do some forbid all drinking?
Or why do some forbid all dancing?
Or say you need to handle snakes?
Or make Confession and Absolution mandatory?
Or have days of obligation?
Or mandate fasting?

It's the same theological steps, the same shift that is taken. And always for the best of reasons, always for an attempt to be good and God pleasing... and always going beyond His Word and substituting our own ideas and trying to lay these upon our neighbor.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Seeing Through Dame Reason's Stylish Sunglasses

It was pointed out how I end up approach things from a more modernist perspective, rather than the approach that was taken classically amongst Lutherans in terms of my epistemology (the study of how one thinks). This is fair.

It was noted that classically there was more of an ontological approach, where the focus was upon what a thing is, where it's form determines its function. Nature itself reveals what something is to do. I take what some have apparently termed the "strong divine command ethic", where the focus is upon simply what the Word of God has said.

First, let it be noted that there is validity in both these approaches. There is ontological reality - a woman's body is designed to be able possibly to carry a child - a man's is not. Simple as that. There is a real difference in nature. On the other hand, I'm sure none of the people who get all bent out of shape on my approach to contraceptives would say that we should ignore the Word of God, or would denigrate the Word of God intentionally in any fashion.

But when it boils down to it, when push comes to shove, the question becomes which is the higher, better, more trusted way of thinking -- looking at the ontological nature of a thing, or looking directly at the Word of God.

I have to go with the latter.

Why? Well, consider Romans 1:18-20: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

"But wait," one might say, "this is just confirming that ontological approach - things should have been obvious to them, clearly perceived in the things that have been made - that's ontology!" Yep. You are right. And here's my question. What happened to all those people who had all that wonderful ontological evidence to consider?

They died condemned. Romans 1:21-23: For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

They moved to their own wisdom, their own thoughts, they claimed to be wise and became fools, and then made up religion of their own devising. And they were lost.

This is the point, the thing I fear. As Luther has pointed out, Dame Reason is a whore.

What do I see what I see constructs on the basis of natural law? What do I see when I hear people then make logical jumps and arrive at conclusions that God has not revealed in His Word? I just see the creation of new idols, new righteous fertility gods which we must worship in order for people to think we are good.

I see people dimming the light of God's revealed Word by choosing to look through dame reason's stylish sunglasses.

"but, but, but," one might say, "look how often the Lutheran Fathers took this approach, look at how Luther took this approach." Yes - and what schools was Luther trained in? Classical education, scholasticism, even humanism. And what's always running around in there -- well, what's Luther's beef with transubstantiation? That it's an attempt to apply a system of human logic to a mystery of God using terminology not present in the Scripture and binding people to accept it.

Hmm.... Reason moving beyond what is revealed in the Scriptures.

You know - maybe on the basis of ontology, you make a wonderful observation. Perhaps you even come up with a wonderful, useful connection, a great philosophy or approach to life. It may even be good... but without a clear Word from God, how do I know you haven't just been cavorting with the old harlot for your own pleasure and self-aggrandizement? This is what happened throughout the Old Testament, whenever people chose new ways to worship God - either in Samaria when it was to be in Jerusalem, whether it was new laws designed to aid one in keeping God's revealed Law (revealed in the Word), whether it was syncretic hedging of the bets, whether it was the establishment of Korban and things like that.

All seemed reasonable derivations, but all abandoned what God has said. And that's tragic. But the Word of God - ah, now that is a lamp unto my feet that is constant and flickers not. Thus, I will make my stand there.

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The counter that may come up is this - "alright, well tell me where the clear Word of God is that says that you *can* use contraception!"

There's not.

But tell me this. When have I ever claimed that using contraception is a holy and righteous way of worshiping God? I haven't. I've only claimed that it is neutral and free, not forbidden. And if you come across folks who argue that "as good Christians we must limit the number of kids" I'll gladly join with you in ripping that apart. That too is establishing a new righteousness on the basis of reason.

But that's not what I've been arguing for. (Nor, frankly, am I interested in trying to prove myself righteous or fall into some American-Finneyesque attempt to use the Christian faith to make the world a better place as though the purpose of the Church was to improve sinner's postures. If you have been talking for a while and have not talked about forgiveness, or it's just sort of appended on -- oh, I suppose there's forgiveness if you aren't as righteous as I -- then I'd rather just go listen to an old timey Methodist if I could find one)

You see, our lives are not about demonstrating our righteousness, or showing forth our own holiness by how proper we live. Christ is my righteousness, why would I ever point to my own acts as "righteous".

Rather this - I am concerned about showing love for the neighbor. And telling a neighbor "you must" when God has not said "you must" does nothing but crush them.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Let us attend

Wisdom from Pastor Hall.

Seriously. Read it, and see how it is focused upon the neighbor.

The Fall and Its Impacts Upon Nature

Thinking a bit more on folks and the approach to Natural Law, here are some thoughts.

1. I acknowledge an ontological aspect to creation - that things are created for a purpose and function and ought to generally be used in those functions (yes, I know folks will complain about that "generally" but give a dog a bone here).

2. However, after the fall, things do not work properly in nature. Our existence is fraught with difficulties and trials and dangers that would not be present absent the Fall.

3. It is good and proper to face trials and dangers with trust in God.

4. However, it is also an act of love to attempt to deliver or rescue your neighbor from the dangers and trials they face, and indeed to prevent them if possible. (Putting the little plastic plugs in the electrical sockets is a good thing)

5. It is not an act of love to simply tell ones' neighbor "you ought to trust God" and then do nothing to alleviate their burdens. (Consider James: "If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?")

6. Because off the fall, because of the burden of life in a fallen world, there will be some things that are permitted or allowed that are not ideal, for so allowing prevents greater trial and trouble.

7. I acknowledge that the above is a dangerous statement, because one can always justify an action "for the greater good".

8. Therefore, the lines which are not to be crossed in terms of behavior are not to be established by the wisdom of man, nor the desire to obtain some natural state of perfection which ignores the neighbor. Rather, the lines which are not to be crossed in our attempts to alleviate the impact of sin are to be established by God, revealed in His Word.

Just some thoughts.

Someone Tell Me What is Wrong With This Flow of Logic

Here is a challenge.

I am going to write something below which is wrong. There will be flaws and faulty movements and poor theology (as I think should be obvious). But I want someone to tell me why it is wrong, why it is flawed. Here it goes.

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A Christian is to be open and loving to his neighbor. And further more a Christian is to avoid greed and possessiveness. Indeed, our Lord even teaches us, "To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back."

Now, consider your door. It has a lock on it. Why? Why should you worry or fear the one who might take your goods - you should be glad to give -- if he take your cloak, give your tunic, if he takes your goods, do not demand them back.

What business do we have putting locks on our doors, striving vainly to protect what we think is "ours"? Trust God, not masterlock, and the Lord will protect and your goods as He sees fit.

To use a door lock is a sin, it is not commanded in the Scriptures, it denies the power of God (who passed through the locked door in John 20). It is wrong to lock your door.

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There's the challenge of the day - what's wrong with the above?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Mistaking the Symptom for the Cause

Again, I have been pondering the shift against Contraceptives that I am seeing in Lutheranism... and I have just had a bad feeling about it -- the argumentation, the approach, the tact that has been taken just hasn't sat well with me. I don't like how Scripture isn't cited directly - how there are moves that just don't quite logically have to follow.

I can be all in favor of people having large families without saying, "You can't use birth control ever" -- just as someone can be opposed to violence and murder while still supporting the right to gun ownership. It seems to me that the focus has always been upon the tool - that if we can just eliminate a tool we will eliminate its abuse.

I was pointed to a sermon that Pastor Esget wrote for the Right to Life march in Washington, and I was in particular directed to the following section:

Have you been unwittingly part of that war, on the wrong side? It’s taken me a long time to figure out that while our church says all the right things about abortion, little is done to address all the scaffolding of the abortion culture. Where are the Lutheran crisis pregnancy centers? Where are the Lutheran adoption agencies? Birthrates among Lutherans have drastically declined along with the general population. For the pro-choice mindset has already been adopted when contraception is embraced. The use of contraception says, “We will decide when to have children, and what number is convenient for us.” Thus we make ourselves out to be God, and children are viewed as the result of our choice, decision, and will, instead of received as a gift from God. Until we as a church become a community that welcomes the unwed mother, the unexpected child, the unwanted child, how can we expect others to welcome the children growing in their wombs? (Emphasis Mine)

I love Pastor Esget dearly - he's one of the major reasons I am a pastor today... but there is something about this that I think is off (and this isn't an attack or anything, just something I have noticed). Abortion is the great issue of the day - for many "Planned Parenthood" is the great enemy -- and so anything associated with this must be tarred. Okay, I can understand that - however, is this how the Scriptures speak.

Oh, I know that the Scriptures speak of children being a blessing. Oh, I know that they speak of children being a gift of God, of God opening the womb. Without a doubt this is true. But... does that mean that there is no place or part of man's will involved. The verse that I keep thinking on is this: But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

The contrast is the birth of faith, the creation of faith as opposed to human birth. We get that we cannot by our own reason or strength come to Christ Jesus -- so what's the other side, physical birth. "not of blood or of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man..." Man's will is placed right there in with procreation.

Man's will being involved in childbirth is not wrong. Are we going to condemn the couple who wishes to have more children - who takes temperatures and looks at calendars and the like to make conception more likely? That's an exercise of will and choice... no one would say to them blanketly "just accept what God gives you and worry not about trying." Of course, there might be times when you say, "Okay, your desire for children is going too far in your attempts to have 10 frozen embryos made"... but the basic question of will or desire isn't in and of itself bad.

Back to what was meant to be my main point.

See - I think we see fewer and fewer kids being born, even in Lutheran Circles, and we want to find a villain, a terrible cause for this that we can correct. And I think many have set their eyes upon Contraceptives and their availability. And thus the assumption is that if we just get people to not have or use these, then everything will be better.

But that's just eliminating a tool... that's not the cause, the source of the problem.

We have pictures of some of the founding families of my congregation, and 100 years ago you see these farm families with 8, 9 kids. I thought of my home church in the Chicago Suburbs... and even 100 years ago, the families weren't that big. In the city, you had 3, 4, 5. On the farm, you more often had 5, 6, 8, 10.... And it made sense -- you had more help with the farm. But in the city (even well before the advent of Birth Control) you didn't see that nearly as often.


I posit this: Wealth. As you have an increase in wealth, you see less kids. As you move from an Agricultural set up to an urban one, you see less kids. As your agriculture gets industrialized, you see less kids. As you get more wealth and luxuries and less chores that need to be done... kids become more and more of a financial cost and less of an economic benefit to the family.

And so folks have had less. And it's been that way for a long, long time.

Why are Lutherans having fewer and fewer kids -- money. Greed.

So, we see that money and greed thing popping up anywhere else in the Church? Do we see tithing and good donations to the Church like we used to?

I don't think we can pin birth rates on contraceptives. I don't think vilifying them would change this pattern (it's an issue in Ireland too, where stuff is illegal). I think much, much more this driving to a simple truth:

We are rich in this country, and we are selfish, and we tend to think of how things will impact our pocket books, and spoiling your kids today is expensive.

We aren't going to fix things by saying, "Contraception is evil!" All we will do is put a terrible burden on people who have good and proper reasons for seeking to hold off or delay or even avoid pregnancy. (And these happen. If you think they don't, you are just wrong, and you don't talk to enough people in strange and hard situations -- learn some compassion.) And for what? Outlawing a tool won't fix the problem.

You want to see more kids? Delight in children. Delight in your own. Encourage folks, support them. Help out new parents. Argue against the overpopulation nutcases (this is probably the big one - there is social pressure against big families... support the families you see, whether they are big or small -- don't berate the small families and don't berate the big). Delight in the blessing that your own kids are and the blessing that your neighbor's kids are (even the difficult ones... both neighbors and kids).

And then... let people grow. The Law doesn't give growth. Beating people with a stick will not make them rejoice in the gift of children. Attacking a symptom will not effect a cure. It will only produce an artificial litmus standard that goes beyond the Scriptures, a crutch by which we might fall into a false and arrogant pride in our own self-made self-righteous decrees.

And yes, I still think Pastor Stuckwisch's approach is by far the most eloquent that I've seen on this issue as it is faithful to Scripture, considerate of the neighbor, and preserves Christian Liberty and Humility. Good stuff.

Some thoughts again, sure to rile

Over on Pastor Peter's Blog there was this article chronicling six things that are impacting the younger generation today. Let me copy the 6:

The big six changes, in Lost in Transition’s view, are: (1) the extension of formal schooling into the 20s and the consequent postponement of entry into careers; (2) the delay of marriage; (3) a changing national and global economy that has replaced the prospect of stable careers with frequent job changes, a need for ongoing training, and a heightened sense of insecurity, all contributing to a general disposition in young adults to maximize options and postpone commitments; (4) the willingness and ability of many parents to support their children well into their 20s and even 30s, thus enabling them to take a long time to settle down into full adulthood; (5) readily available birth-control technologies that have severed the link between sex and procreation and fostered uncommitted sexual relationships; and (6) postmodernism, a philosophy that has promoted subjectivism (there is no objective truth) and moral relativism (what’s moral depends on your point of view), both of which now thoroughly permeate the educational ethos, mass media, and youth and adult culture.

All of these are interesting, and to a certain extent accurate. However, in particular, it's 5 that struck my interest: readily available birth-control technologies that have severed the link between sex and procreation and fostered uncommitted sexual relationships.

There is an interesting link there - sex -> procreation -> committed relationships. The idea is that since there are no kids, well, we don't have committed relationships, or that they aren't as apt to happen.

I've noticed more and more that there is a tendency to put the availability of Birth Control as just the cause of so many societal troubles... and historically I just don't buy it. I think this is an attempt to try and find a quick and simple solution to the perceived increase in promiscuity... but here's the thing...

What increase in promiscuity? Do we really think today's culture is really anything new when it comes to sex? I mean, things might be more open (a little less "behind closed doors") - but it's not as though for centuries the 6th Commandment was well respected but then there was birth control and everything went chaotic. There has always been sexual immorality.

And do we think the solution is to let uncommitted, flippant sex result in pregnancy? IS that the solution to immorality -- to basically encourage our daughters to get knocked up so they can at least rope in their fella? I mean... it seems like this is a matter of the horse already being out of the barn... if they are already having sex outside of marriage... the idea of commitment leading to sex is already gone.

I don't know - it just strikes me like an attempt to find the quick fix - the "magic pill" if you will that will fix things.

Maybe we need to come to grips with a simple fact. The world is very evil. It is full of sinners. Really, it is. And it always will be. But I think when it comes to a lack of commitment, I think the presence of birth control is pretty far down the list on what causes badness.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sermon for Septuagesima

Septuagesima Sunday – February 5th, 2012 – Matthew 20:1-16

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
As we prepare for Lent, as we get ready for that intense season with its focus upon Christ, with its traditional fasting, our Lord reminds us of a truth in our Gospel. It’s not just giving up whatever for Lent that makes our life hard. No, in our Gospel lesson, Christ Jesus lets us know that following Him will always be hard work, will be full of effort and toil. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a master who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. That’s how Jesus chooses to describe our lives as Christians –as workers in a field, baking under a hot sun. Let us examine this parable this morning, and see how our Lord shapes our lives by it.

After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them out into his vineyard. As Christians we are sent out into God’s vineyard, that is, the world, and we are sent out to work. The Lord sets before us many things on our plate. If you want to consider this there is no better place to look than the Small Catechism. Look at the Table of Duties. We are instructed by Luther to examine our relationships with other people and see what it is that we owe them – how we ought to serve them. As a Christian, your primary work for God is to serve your neighbor. God sends us out into the vineyard. The parable doesn’t describe God hiring housekeepers to sweep the golden streets of heaven, it’s about workers in a vineyard – it describes working out there, in the world, serving and tending your neighbor. If you are a parent, it’s about serving your children. If you are a son or daughter, it is about respecting and caring for your parents. If you are a worker, it’s about serving your employer. If you are an employer, it is about serving and providing for your employees. The work we are sent out to do is nothing strange because we are Christian – there is no magical, special training that is required. We simply live in the world, but do it knowing that we are here not for simply our own pleasure, but here to love our neighbor. That is our work, what we do.

And make no doubt about it – this is hard work, especially hard for us sinful folk. A vineyard is apt way to describe hard work. Everything has to be done by hand – you have to tend each plant individually, you have to pay special attention and possibly carry water. And the best vineyards are where it is hot, where there is intense sun – you put them on the sunny, harsh side of the hill. And the harvest, all by hand - you didn’t get a scythe to just slice wheat down. You didn’t just get to pick the corn, or even pull the plant up. Pull the grapes, but leave the vines behind so that they bear a crop again next year. Hard work, done over and over again.

We are called to love our neighbor. Grapes are known as a temperamental plant – they require things to be just right, and they need a lot of care. Likewise, our neighbors can often be temperamental, and quite often our neighbor requires a lot of care from us. I want you to think back with me on this past week – and think how many times someone asked something of you, needed something of you, took up your time. That is your work in the vineyard. That is your service to God. Now think on it again. How often were you annoyed with those very same people? How often did the unkind thoughts pop into your head, how often did you have to fight back a sigh, or even a grimace or a scowl? How often did you look with annoyance or disfavor on anyone, even the casual person on the street, in a store, wherever, who inconvenienced you in the slightest way? That is our old evil flesh craving sin. That is Satan tempting you to abandon the work God has set you to. Our work in this world as Christians is hard. We are to show love. We are coming up on Valentine’s day, and the stores are full of tacky cards and the like – big emotional displays. When Scripture talks about love, it’s not talking about emotion – when Christ tells us to love our neighbor, he’s not telling us to look at them and sigh dreamy-eyed and wistfully. Love is an action, it is a verb, it is something that is done. It is our work – and it is hard for us sinful folks to love. Beware of Satan’s temptations, beware of your own sinful flesh trying to pull you away from your duty of love.

And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, “You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.” So they went. And he does the same at the 6th hour, and the 9th hour, and even the 11th hour, when there is only one hour of work in the 12 hour work day to go. And so people come into the vineyard at all different hours – some work the whole day, through all the heat. Some have come only as the cool of the evening comes, as the sun sets. And then it comes time to be paid. And when those hired about the 11th hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. Economically, what the master does here doesn’t make sense to us. If I work more, if I work harder, I should get more. That’s how we tend to think. If you have two workers, side by side, and one works 5 hours a week and the other works 60 hours, doing the same job – we would find it to be a gross injustice if they were both paid the same amount, we’d be indignant. Shoot, if this happened today, you might have “occupy the vineyard” movements popping up. And in our parable, those who started working at the beginning of the day act up as well. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day.”

They grumbled at the master. Oh, how sad it is that this often describes us. How often we grumble and complain about God. It’s nothing new. After the fall, Adam grumbled – it’s not my fault, it’s this stupid woman you gave me. Eve grumbles about the snake. In our old testament lesson, even as they are rescued miraculously from Egypt the people of Israel grumble. And in our parable, the workers grumble. We want what we deserve! We want what we’ve earned!

The workers forgot one simple thing. It’s not all about them and what they do. Yes, indeed, they had a task laid out before them, and they were to strive to do it, but it isn’t all about them. If the master of the vineyard had not come to them, invited them, offered them work, would they have gotten anything? No. They were not masters of their own destiny – they were simply waiting for an opportunity, they were dependent upon the Master. And the Master gives to them what He promised. But [the master] replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?” All that happens, all that goes on, isn’t about these workers and what they deserve – it’s about the master and what he gives.

Consider what is going on here. Instead of just paying attention to their own work, their own tasks, and rejoicing in their own payment, these workers start looking over covetously on what their neighbor has, they start lamenting how easy it is for the other guy – and then there is discontent and sorrow. This is the exact same thing that happens in our own lives when we start comparing how hard our lives are or how someone else has more than we do. This is why there are commandments against coveting – because our sinful heart wants to grouse and complain whenever it gets the chance. And that sinful heart will always assume that we deserve more, that we are the best, and ego goes unchecked and it gets ugly. This is sad and dangerous to faith, because when we focus on our own works, we forget what is much, much more important – we forget the mercy of God.

In this parable we are reminded that Christ’s mercy and love reigns supreme. Thanks be to God Almighty that we are not judged on how well we show love – for in this we have failed, often and often again. We can’t point out how much we deserve reward, for we sin often. The very thing which disgusts the workers “you have made them [those who have done little] equal to us” is our hope of salvation. We have been made equal – equally forgiven, equally redeemed. There is not a flaw, there is not a sin that has not been covered by Christ upon the Cross. We have an equal share in forgiveness, and one that we by no means earned. And God gives this out to all – whether they have worked in His fields a lifetime or whether it has been only at the last hour. I’ve buried those who have been Baptized Christians all their life, and I’ve buried those who I’ve baptized on their deathbed, and thanks be to God Almighty that in His sight they and we are all equal, equally forgiven and redeemed children of God. It’s not about what we do for God in our life, it is all about what Christ Jesus has done for us with His life, His death, and His resurrection. Our life is centered, is established, survives, in Christ and in Christ alone. God is more than fair to us, He treats us more than rightly, for solely and completely out of His great love and mercy to us, He grants us the gift of faith, calls us out of darkness into His marvelous light – and makes us His own children.

God is generous – and we are not to begrudge Him that generosity. It is out of His generosity towards us that He had compassion upon us and sent His Son into this world to go to the cross for our sake. And so, my friends, as we prepare for this Lent and Eastertide – do not approach things arrogantly or thinking that you deserve these blessings – rather see how diligently Christ works and suffers for your sake in order to win you Salvation. Your Heavenly Father gives you tasks to do in this life, and you should go about them comfidently, because the task of wining you salvation has been accomplished by Christ Jesus, and your reward is great and wondrous in and because of Him. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the world. Amen.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Letting Jesus be the Hero

I love stories. I love the hero's journey, the quests, the adventure. I simply like the art of storytelling -- and as such, I like to apply storytelling to theology. Here it is, Brown's guide to evaluating theology from a story point of view.

Consider your theology. Who is the hero? If the hero isn't Christ, your theology is off. Consider your approach to spirituality, your "faith walk", whatever you've been calling it. Who is the hero? If the hero isn't Christ, then you've been looking at things the wrong way.

Simple as that.

Now, I've often said that Jesus is the hero - I am the "damsel in distress" - that's the shape of the relationship, of the Christian faith. But what got me thinking about this again was a discussion I had about penance on-line with a convert to Roman Catholicism... and we posted at the same time.

Let's look at the dialog at the end:

Me: Of course - I dig simul justus et peccator - I get that Paul had a thorn in his flesh and was told that Christ's grace was sufficient for him. I'll gladly sing, "this world's prince may still scowl fierce as he will/ he can harm us none, he's judged, the deed is done." And I will confess my sin, strive to make amends, and strive to love my neighbor because that is whom Christ has made me to be, for I am His workmanship. God grant that I see this ever more clearly until the day He comes!

Him: Maybe the fact that you don't see it clearly, just means that you don't really understand it...

Me: ‎... ever more clearly. You know... becoming clearer... But that's not really a response, nor, if I don't understand (as you seem to think) does it bring clarity. I expected a better answer, _____.

Him: If you truly seek seek that clarity, Eric, You will find it.

Me (at the same time): Of course, I stand in good company hoping to see more clearly - "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known."

Me: Hmmm... interesting, is it my seeking that will bring clarity, or will I know it because Christ has fully known me? Interesting cross posts there. Come, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith!

Here's what got me thinking. In my approach (what I would contend is the biblical approach) - I'm not the hero. I'm not on a quest, I'm not the one doing the seeking. I am one who is saved, and I understand more and more how wondrous my Savior is, and I grow, He aids me more and more. But in the other approach -- it is supposed to be my journey, my development, what I do to grow and mature, how I can do it.

Maybe this is part of the reason why so many people feel disconnected from the Scriptures. The Scriptures are the story of Christ winning salvation for you -- but so much theological talk shifts the focus onto "our journey", our works -- it's like we turn the Christian faith into a lousy spin-off...

That's the analogy -- the Christian faith is like the Original Star Wars Trilogy... and so often we want to turn the faith into those lousy made for TV movies about the Ewoks. And we miss the point entirely.

It's not about you, it's not about your works or your praise or your strength or the justice you bring -- it's about Christ and His salvation and His righteousness. Come, let us fix our eyes not upon ourselves, but upon Christ Jesus, for He gives us faith and He brings that faith to its full end and flower in the life of the world to come!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

One Month Done Already

Well, we are one month into 2012 already. And it wasn't a short month that went by - nope, it was a full 31 day month.

The passage of time is an interesting thing - simply because from our subjective point of view it seems to change speeds so much. This past month simply flew by for me - of course, it was an insanely busy month. But there there are those days or weeks that just seem to drag on, to last forever, those "long watches of the night".

This is one of the reason why I love the Church Year - there is a rhythm to it - there is a movement, a pattern - a little bit of common familiarity to that wildly vacillating thing I know of as time.

We're starting to get ready for Lent and then for Easter. The next two months or so will probably be quick and busy as well. And by then... who knows... my son may be learning to crawl, which will make life even more busy.

It's good to pause and ponder Christ's love for us - it is very good.