Monthly Archives: January 2009

Divine Providence – sheep, compassion and feeding

Reading: Mark 6:30-46

The feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle included in all 4 Gospels. The Holy Spirit thinks there is something important about this story.

Jesus tries to get away with his disciples for a short time but the crowds follow. Looking out on the crowds what does Jesus see? Sheep without a shepherd. What does Jesus feel? Compassion. What explicit form does this compassion take? Teaching/Feeding.

When we look at our world, what do we see? Do we see people each one able to competently make their own spiritual decisions be that wicca, atheism, “spirituality” or any number of other false prophets or do we see people without a Shepherd, without The Shepherd Jesus Christ? Do we feel compassion for them or warriness and weariness? What explicit form does our feeling take? Evangelism, sharing our faith or avoidance and letting everyone go their own way? If they aren’t taught, they can’t believe.

Jesus tells his disciples, “You feed them!” You, that means you, feed my sheep. Teach the people.

Our natural reaction is we don’t have enough. Look at them Jesus. There are thousands. We’ve got 5 loaves. That is not even enough for us. And we’d be right. If we are depending upon ourselves to provide the meal it would be a very thin meal. Thanks be to God for the end times feast. Jesus takes what we do have and magnifies it. He supplies when we have nothing. All glory for the meal goes to Jesus. All responsibility for the faith resides in the originator. We never have to worry about supply. This is the God who brought everything into existence with a word. This is the Word that feels compassion and fills his sheep. There is always more than we can ever imagine.

So go, feed my Sheep.

Courage

Reading: Mark 6:13-29

For as sparse as Mark is he gives us the story of Herod killing The Baptist after an infamous dance. The depiction is of a pathetic man. John did what prophets do, cause trouble for those in Power. Call them to live up to their rank. Herod’s wife didn’t like it. For the sake of marital harmony Herod threw John into prison. But Mark tells us – “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe.” Herod knew! Herod believed! But he lacked the courage. His personal peace was more important that the right actions, so that when his wife’s daughter did her dance and asked for John’s head – “the king was exceedingly sorry; but becuase of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her.” Herod thought he was buying peace with his wife, daughter and guests. But the initial glimpse is not a man at peace. He took Jesus to be, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” The king in mortal terror of a wandering peasant preacher.

How many times in our lives do we know what the correct course of action is, but fail to follow it? What are the offers – peace, security, comfort? And we might get them for a short time, but usually not long. The world doesn’t make a separate peace. It doesn’t have to. It just has to separate us from our belief long enough that we lack to courage to go back. The prodigal’s journey is never an easy one. Is there anything in your life you believe to be true and holy, but you are denying or killing? Start the journey back. It starts with the Baptist’s message – repent and believe the good news!

A quick Sorry and a jumping into the Story

Reading: Mark 6:1-13

Sorry for not keeping up with the writing. The daily lectionary I’ve been following on this site is reading through the Gospel according to Mark right now. Mark is also the primary Gospel for this year on Sunday. I have to admit that Matthew was extensively studied in Seminary. John was extensively studied just by growing up Lutheran and in Bible study. I’m sure there are people who would howl but Luke is just more modern, or at least he writes like a Greek Historian, so when you studied classics in school Luke becomes more immediately approachable. Mark is tougher. It takes me longer to wrestle with. So, sorry for the light posting if you have been following.

Jumping back into the story. Jesus has just raised a little girl from death, and then went back to his hometown. And his hometown is rough. “Isn’t this Mary’s son?” Not the son of Joseph, but that first odd one. He was in their synagog teaching. The grown up man who the Jerusalem scholars were amazed at when he was 12 is teaching, but this crowd takes offence. Who is this guy to teach us? And then we get one of the strangest statements in the gospels. “he could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.”

The why questions are tough. God does not answer too many why’s. Why could Jesus not do any miracles? But why would Mark immediately tell us of miracles that his did while there? And why does Jesus immediately send out the 12 after the rejection in his hometown and send them out with power?

The miracles, literally works of power, a called signs and wonders by John. The miracles point at the truth of Jesus. They alone are not sufficient – Satan, the ruler of this age has power. That is what the Pharisees say about Jesus, he does these miracles by beelzebub. I think the key is Matthew 11:23-24. It is not that Jesus couldn’t do miracles becuase of lack of power. He did heal some people. He did not do them becuase of his love. The miracles are signs. The more signs the more responsibilty for rejection. His hometown was rejecting him and his message. Miracles would not have changed that. They already believed that he did them – “he even does miracles!” More would just heap judgement on them.

There is something in there about discernment. When we share our faith with others, there are times and there are places and there are people who might be better. Jesus was not the right person for Nazareth. None of

Sermon – Mark 1:14-20 – The Risk of Contact

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I guess I’ve been too tricky for my own good linking the file with the full text to the word cloud picture, so I’m going to start also putting a hard link to the text here –MS Word Link

Wanting to be called or to feel like someone has a job for you is an almost universal desire. Thomas the Tank engine is my son’s favorite toy/book. The original books were written some time ago by an Anglican minister. When you read those early books or see the early cartoons the main virtue being taught is interesting. The highest value for Thomas, given by Sir Topham Hatt, is to “be a really useful engine.” Men fall into that thinking more than women do – basing their entire self-worth on society’s definition of being useful. That requires a sense of call. Someone finds this useful. We are constantly looking for that Sir Topham Hatt character to contact us and affirm us.

The trick is sorting the true call from the all the things that might just be useful. In the Sermon I used the example of SETI. People desperately looking for that affirmation and sometimes salvation from contact from the stars. The people in SETI maintain an almost desperate hope that someone is calling them, but they just need to look in the right place.

We so want that contact and we often look so hard that we overlook our true calling. God has called us in Jesus Christ. It does not depend upon our skills or abilities. God takes the action. God has made first contact. And he does have something useful for you, tell someone else what Jesus has done for us.

The possession of Satan – entering a Strong Man’s House

Reading: Mark 3:19-35

Part of the christian message has always been the we are children of God. We even hear that as part of absolution, “To those that believe in Jesus he give the power to become children of God…” The post christian culture has gone in a couple of directions with that thought. The strongest reaction is that of the materialist or atheist – ‘there is no God, so no children of God.’ The phrase is meaningless to them. There are a lot of defacto materialists, but very few conscious ones. Most of our post christian culture would probably affirm that we are children of God. It is one big warm fuzzy to this culture. The take the second part of that absolution without the first. Or you could say this culture takes absolution with confession first.

That warm fuzzy children of God is not the image that Jesus gives. He says in our natural state we are all part of a strong man’s house. We are all part of the household of Satan. What Jesus did, what he still does is break into that strong man’s house and tie him up and plunder his possesions. That might be a shocking image of the Lord as thief, but that is what Jesus uses. But the point is that the warm fuzziness is only after some messiness. We are not children of God by birth but through re-birth, through baptism.

Now is the time when the strong man is bound. Now is the time that we can plunder Satan’s possessions. All Satan can do is deceive us. He can’t unbind the truth of the Cross and resurrection.

Sermon – John 1:43-51 – What you believe effects what you see

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This sermon is counter intuitive in its message. We naturally think that first we see something, then we sort it out, and eventually form beliefs based on those observations. That is not what John in the text or the small catachism say about faith.

Third article of the creed…what does this mean? I believe that I cannot by my own reason of strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel….

In the text Jesus asks Nathanael if he believes because I told you you were sitting under a tree? The answer is no, but becuase he does believe he will see greater things than that. John is full of these encounters with Jesus and how people come to believe or has deficient belief. The Strongest might be Mary Magadelen at the resurrection (John 20:10-18). She “sees” Jesus, but doesn’t believe it. She thinks he’s the gardener, but then Jesus calls her, and she “sees” Jesus. If your firm belief is dead people don’t rise, you can’t see the risen Lord, at least not without intervention.

The true Israelite, unlike the original Israel is Gen 28:16, “sees” the Lord in this place. The Son of God might be hidden behind a cross, the face of a homeless person, bread and wine, the frailty of a minister, but surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.

I putting the sermon together I stumbled accross the scientist story. I thought it was a great example coming from the ultimate ground of seeing in believing where seeing was shaped by belief.

Ultimately we as Christians have a vocation more like Philip who called Nathanael. Can anything good come from Nazareth? Come and see! We invite the blind to see. And leave the miracle to Jesus.

Absolution

Reading: Mark 2:1-12

I have the feeling that absolution today is one of those artsy words. Like Deliverance or Atonement. They sound great. They still carry the frightening weight of The Story, and 2000 years of reflection. They shimmer in an intellectual’s mind and are then dismissed as ghosts. This man says in his heart there is no deliverance or atonement or absolution. Oh, he wants them to be true, but stumbles over the form of their revelation. He retreats back to safe formulas that offer no solace, to needs he knows he has, like sleep and food and sex, and away from those dangerous deep needs, like atonement and absolution.

Jesus confronts this in the reading. A man is in need of healing. A deeper need than sleep, but still of the physical realm. Christ gives him absolution – “My son, your sins are forgiven.” We are not told of the four men who dug through a roof or the paralytic’s reaction. We are told of the Pharisees. The very people who are in a position to know. They make the correct leap, “Only God can forgive sins.” And they retreat, “this is blasphemy.” We’ve been waiting for the messiah so long. Why has God gone silent? Even the prophets stopped being sent. Can this really be him? No, too dangerous to think about. But Jesus confronts them.

What is easier forgiving sins or healing? A maddening question – especially when you don’t really believe in either. But this man and his friends believe – they dug through the roof! And Jesus knows. That you may believe the son of man has authority over the greater need, to forgive sins, to give absolution, He heals the lesser need of physical healing.

We are all left with that dangerous proof. Do we accept the absolution and the conclusion it requires – This one is my God and my Lord. Or, do we retreat to safe formulas – like sin is just a cultural understanding, or that is not my understanding of who God is. Do we retreat because the form of absolution is abhorant?

From sickness to service

Reading: Mark 1:29-45

It looks like the daily lectionary is taking us through big chunks of Mark. For that I am greatful as this year the Sunday Gospel lessons are also from Mark. One more chance to read through what I will most likely be preaching on.

The reading for today has one of the funniest lines, at least to me. Peter’s mother-in-law is described as laying sick with a fever. Peter, Andrew, James and John tell Jesus about it and He goes and heals her. The line is – the fever left her, and she served them. Peter’s mother-in-law goes from her sick bed immediately to the kitchen. The sacastic wit says, “yep, just like men, heal the woman so she can cook.” When you read Luke 4:38-39 it sounds even worse with the disciples begging Jesus to heal her. Were they begging for her, or for their meal that night?

Putting aside the comical lines there might be a stronger parallel to our existence. We all find ourselves sick and burning with fever. We are sinful creatures, and that sin manifests itself in a dying and decaying world. We are and our world is sick with sin. But, Jesus heals that sickness. Everywhere he goes he heals that sickness and restores the created order. The response to healing is service. And that response is not the sacastic frame of mind above, but a gracious one. This one, Jesus, has given me life. A life I did not deserve and could not hope to merit. I don’t have much, but I can make a meal. Please, sit down at my table for the evening.

May you find your grace and find peace in your service.

Theology, The Modern Persuit & Mission Statements

Now I’m sure that I am comparing apples to oranges, but I take these two contrasting facts to be symbols of health in the Body of Christ. And a good reason to constantly remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing (i.e. have a vision/mission statement).

This guy has sold over 40 million copies of this book. Large numbers of people must have found it meaningful. I hope you have read it. From a Theology perspective it is a good representation of Reformed thinking. That is OK, they are part of the Body of Christ too. In the 500th year of Calvin, they get the benefit of the doubt.

This is the page of the annoncements for the Templeton Awards for Theological Promise for 2008. This prize is given to the best younger academics in Theology. The linked site gives a summary of the work the prize was awarded for and a statement of continuing work. Not having read the works this is grossly unfair, but from the summaries, of the 12 maybe 3.5 would be readable. That statement comes from reading too many abstracts and then reading at least parts of the publication produced by modern theological scholarship. Scholars by their nature are writing for a small audience, but modern scholarship has specialized and segmented itself out of any meaningful relations with the larger audience who might find the research meaningful. If Christ were not its head, you could say that the thinking parts of the Body of Christ have said to the rest of the Body we don’t need you. Paul had something to say about that.

What I wonder is how much of this work is funded through the auspices of churches? How many of these 12 received substantial support from congregations or confessional polities? If not for their current work, how much previous work was supported with the assumption of producing laborors for the fields?

Two quick points. I am hopeful for three reasons: 1) There are ~3 of the 12 that do sound meaningful. Not enough, but not completely empty as I might have feared. 2) People still find meaning is Theology even if the academy doesn’t produce it. Theology still has the ability to speak to people (i.e. Warren).

The third reason is something that we as a member congregation of the LCMS can be proud of.

Concordia Seminary serves church and world by providing theological education and leadership centered in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ for the formation of pastors, missionaries, and leaders in the name of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

That is the mission statement of Concordia Seminary – St. Louis. It does good work. I imagine most of the scholars working there have taken career lumps because of it, especially if you compare their work to the work that receives the awards. The difference has something to do with that mission statement. Being purpose driven is a good thing, especially when “centered in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Sermon – The Baptism of Jesus

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Liz made a comment on the way out that as a teacher an object lesson – i.e. a real baptism – would have been nice. I had to say a whole hearted yes.

Just a couple of stray thoughts. For many of us, remembering our baptism does two things – 1) it draws us toward our family and the community of God and 2) it points us in the right direction for living. For many of us were baptized as infants. Not being baptist, a rememberance of baptism immediately directs us to parents or grandparents or elders in the church. We are reliant upon them to tell us, yes you are baptized. We are reliant upon the church to be the people of God and remember who has been brought into the family. That is not a bad thing to remember that there is a corporate entity – the church – that has a role to play in our lives. It is not just us alone or me and my personal Jesus. Remembering baptism also points us in the right direction in that while the sacrament is a once for all act, the life it enables is an ongoing thing. Luther’s small catechism would say, “it indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned…” When we live the Christian life we are baptized each day or each hour when we recognize our shortcomings, but most importantly when we see the way through the water that Jesus sanctified.