Monthly Archives: March 2009

Knowledge and Love – Grace Alone

Text: Romans 10:1-13

The prayer book that I follow has the 2 year daily lectionary texts (OT, Epistle and Gospel) and it also includes a 4th readings from a wide variety of saints from accross time. The philosopher Pascal (Pascal’s wager, Pascal’s triangle) was the writer of today’s fourth reading. Pascal was for much of his life a Jansenist. A Jansenist might be considered the Roman Catholic version of Calvinism. They consistently claimed they were just Augustinian, which by the way is what Martin Luther was, an Augustinian brother. If you read Bondage of the Will you could be forgiven for not find much difference between Luther, Calvin, Jansen or maybe Pascal. All of them rationally collapse into Grace Alone.

The line that caught my eye was this – “The knowledge of God is very far from the love of Him.” Paul, the original Augustinian, has very similar arguments in Romans. Earlier, Romans 1:21, Paul ascribes to the gentiles knowledge, but not love. In Romans 10:11 he seems to ascribe love but not knowledge to his fellow Jews. Both lackings lead to bondage. Bondage of the intellect to futility and darkness. Bondage of the will to the treadmill of work’s righteousness. Freedom is found in the grace of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ the law has been fulfilled, and on Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, reason can find a solid foundation. We come to this blessed spot by grace. And because it is grace, all glory is given to the Father from which it came.

Shepherded by the Wind

Text: Jeremiah 22:13-23

The Spirit of God is often pictured as the Wind. We do not see the wind itself, but we see its effects. The frightening thing about that what happens when we lose the ability to recognize the true prophetic Word from the wind itself? Martin Luther worried about such a happening. He would talk about it in his Freedom of a Christian saying, “there is no more terrible disaster with which the wrath of God can afflict men than a famine of hearing the Word…” Jeremiah has been speaking the Word to the Kings of Judah right before the fall of Jerusalem. God cries out, “I spoke to you in your prosperity, but you said, ‘I will not listen.'” The result is that the wind will shepherd all your shepherds. To Jeremiah, the Word of God is self authenticating. You know it when you hear it. Your only reaction is to repent and follow, or to deny it. As horrible as the call to repentance might be, being left without the Word is more horrible. It is not that you cease to have Spiritual things, but that you are shepherded by the wind. And that wind blows here and there, knocking things down and eroding the buildings. If we deny the Word, we reap the wind. The world is full of prophets saying ‘here it is’, or in Jeremiah’s vein, ‘Peace, Peace.’ And people without the sure Word get blown from this one to that one, but they never find it or receive peace. That is only found in the Sure Word of Jesus Christ. In Christ we find our rest from being shepherded by the Wind.

Don’t look inward, look outward for our salvation and our mission

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Text: Mark 14:32-42

Two poles – 1) It’s about Jesus and 2) He’s got a mission. That has been the core summary of this series through Holy Week in Mark’s Gospel. Our spiritual adversary tries to push us off that second pole. The last thing he wants is faithful Christians actually sharing the Word that frees us from his kingdom of chains. He will shoot us a variety of lies: You don’t measure up to the saints, you don’t talk well enough, you aren’t a perfect person. Gracefully, it is not about us. If it were, the devil would be right. We aren’t enough of anything. But it is about Jesus and what He has done for us on that cross. Peter, the leader and example of the disciples, is our great biblical example. The disciple who fell asleep and denied his Lord at the hour of great distress, is never told by Jesus to go away, but is always invited along. Peter, after all that betrayal, is told to, ‘feed my sheep’. If the devil has you looking inward, you will never get the mission. Our salvation and our mission come from outward. They come from the one it is all about – Jesus Christ.

Doing the Work of God

Text: John 6:27-40

Jesus says in verse 28 – This is the Work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent. Is the Work of God something that we do, or is it something that God does? Luther’s explanation to the 3rd article starts out, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ…” This is the work of God, that we believe in Jesus. Is it somethign that we do for God? No, God by his grace gives us the Holy Spirit. Grace preceeds faith – by grace through faith. God is big enough to do his own work. What that means is that we do not have to worry about doing stuff for God to be sure that we are saved. We are not to be in constant worry over our salvation. That is in God’s capable hands and He says He will not lose one that the Father has given him. That does not mean we don’t have things to do, just that doing’s God’s work is not one of them. What we can do is love our neighbor here and now. And that applies regardless of their belief.

For God so Loved the World?

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The text was John 3:1-21 which includes John 3:16. The scene set up is Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night and a conversation happens. Nicodemus drops out of the conversation exasperated. And then it turns into a one sided conversation.

This sermon reads that one sided conversation of Jesus as starting out with a barbed question that He can’t believe Nicodemus doesn’t know these things, goes through the question How can you understand heavenly things, and ends with a realization that the only way to believe is through the cross. It reads Jesus’ words as a record of Jesus’ own self understanding. According to His human nature, we know that Jesus grew. Luke puts its that He grew in wisdom, stature and favor. Did that growth stop?

The story immediately before Nicodemus is Jesus clearing the temple. A righteous and good act, but one that could easily be placed in with the OT acts of the Snakes in the desert that Jesus refers to in this text, or the call for the sacrifice of Isaac which is recalled in any giving of an only son, or the summary of the 10 commandments. Is that was God sent his son into the word for? To add one more judgement or law or method of death and condemnation?

Jesus comes to the conclusion in an emphatic no, not judgement but salvation, not enthonement but being lifted up. He comes to this conclusion based on his knowledge of who the Father is – for God so loved the world. Before the cross, that Loving Father might not have been so evident, or it had to be taken even more on faith. Faith that Hebrews ascribes to Abraham at that very sacrifice. The cross stands as the witness to just how much God loved this world.

Becuase of that cross we are no longer in the dark. We can walk in the light. Just believe the testimony of the one and only Son – God loves his creation this much. We can refuse and bring judgement upon our selves. That is the choice of the cross. Believe the testimony, or don’t. Our reaction doesn’t change the facts or the reality. Our reaction only moves us into the light, or confirms the darkness of our souls.

Ritual – Mark 14:22-26

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Wow, it was a busy week. This text was the core of my lenten devotion last week. Prepping for Mauday Thursday as well. It was Mark’s account of the Last Supper. In these lenten devotions, we’ve been walking through the Markan account of Holy Week. I’ve also been using a phrase to look at the events. It’s about Jesus, and He has a mission.

The cloud of biblical images around the last supper supports that bi-polar sentence better than many. The OT cloud is the passover. In the Last Supper Jesus redefines every element as pointing to him. A 1500 year old ritual is redefined in startling ways. Not the least of which is it becomes forward looking instead of a remembrance meal. The passover remembered when God acted. The Last Supper/Lord’s Supper recalls/longs for the day Jesus drinks again in the Kingdom. The NT cloud is all about mission and it is in parables. The wedding banquet at the end of time. In those parables the Kings says go bring everyone in. The city dwellers and the country folk, the crippled, the blind and the poor. That missional imperative is something we definitely know. We would often rather argue about theological points or fine shadings. We don’t know much of that for certain. What we do know – It is about Jesus, and He’s got a mission…and he wants us on that mission.

In finance there is a term – safe harbour. What it means is that there are gray areas of tax law and accounting rules. You can explore those grey areas, usually through the tax courts. If you lose, you will owe penalties. There is usually a safe harbour, behavior spelled out at appropriate. The tax courts may eventually rule the behavior wrong and change the regulations, but if you were in that safe harbour there will be no penalty. Theologically speaking there is a safe harbour – personally, believe and be baptized; as a church, be about mission.

The Law, repentance and hypocrisy – and a quick note

Last week I know I was hoping to get back to writing these more regularly as we got into Jeremiah and Romans. My wife is roughly 8 months pregnant and is starting to run out of steam much quicker. Short answer is that the family has been taking more time of necessity. I need to get better at time management or just write faster.

Text: Jeremiah 7:1-15

For me Jeremiah has always been a scary book. One that cut to the quick in multiple ways. Maybe it is just that Jeremiah speaks to my fears more than the others.

There are fundamentally two types of religion. There is the religion of a law. That law could be the 10 commandments. It could also be the law of nature, the words of Mohammed, the path of the eastern religions, or any other system known by man. The other religion is a personal relationship with the living God.

Under that law, if you do x, it doesn’t matter how you do x, just that you do it. It all ends in some form of incantation – religion as magic. That is what Jeremiah levels at the people of Judah. They have turned their relationship with the God who gave them the land into incantations. Bobbing and chanting – “This is the house of the LORD.” Standing in that house, asking for forgiveness and yelling “We are delivered!” and then going back out and doing all the same things as if nothing changed. Under the law you can do those things, because it is all just a game. Say the right words, do x, and everything is better.

If you have that personal relationship, doing those things is a betrayal of the other person. Asking for forgiveness is not some incantation. It comes with costs for both people. God wants that relationship. He calls you to that relationship. As Jeremiah has God saying – “I called you persistently…” And here is the kicker. Even in the old testament, that land of the law, the law can’t save. Judah was doing the law. They did the appropriate sacrifices. They were in the temple. The sang the song of deliverance. They just didn’t want that personal relationship – Too tough. When God called, they didn’t answer. They did not live life as if the LORD was really there.

Do we treat prayer, worship and the church as incantations, or do we answer the call to talk with God? Tough question. Are we under the law, or do we have a relationship with the living God?

Chronological Discrimination

No this is not a post about the young vs. the old. These two posts – post 1, post 2 – from the Faith & Theology blog summarize my thoughts on quality hymns.

Our hymnbooks (we have two in the pews) have collected the best that certain traditions have offered. Lutheran Service Book sifts the best of the Lutheran tradition and includes just plain english staples – like those by Isaac Watts or the occasional Wesley Hymn. It basically covers the years 1520 – 1995. Hymns for the Family of God aims for the larger Reformed stream and covers roughly the same time with its “golden age” being later.

There is a newer hymnbook bring written and produced right now. The disadvantage we have with new songs is picking through the dross. Or even tougher, of picking through the merely catchy from the truly good. Another way to see this is take a look at the Elvis Pressley song list. Everybody knows and still likes “Hound Dog” but who even knows what “Hot Dog” is? You can do the same thing to the Beatles. What song on the radio today will you hear 50 years from now? 100 years? And it would still have the power to speak to people?

There are times when Chronological Discrimination is called for. Sometimes you just want to hear something new and modern and it speaks simply because it is new. Who knows if it will speak a year from now. Sometimes you need to hear Amazing Grace or since we are in Lent – O Sacred Head, Now Wounded – that chart topper of the 1100’s by the monk Bernard of Clairvaux with a setting by J. S. Bach.

Not everybody’s discrimination is the same, but we are called the Children of God. Remember how mom made sure everybody got a chance at riding the the front seat?

Theology of the Cross – 1 Cor 1:18-31

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The story of Jacob wrestling God all night is a little like each sermon prep. Sometimes you are exhausted, but have feel like you have extracted something worth sharing. Some weeks you feel like the Rock just slammed you from the top rope about 10 mins into the match.

The technical word is the theology of the cross. Giving a sermon on it, for a hyper-rational person like me, is a what-were-you-thinking idea. The cross ultimately falls under the Louis Armstrong quote, “Man, if you gotta ask.” Ultimately the architecture of our congregation (thanks Ethel Louise for the idea) speaks more. When we gather for communion, we are all placed kneeling at the foot of the cross. All of our wisdom and intellect and strength reduced by a sacrament with bread and wine where all all welcome. That image says more than 1500 words. Those perishing have all kinds of questions about what is going on. Those being saved – don’t need to ask.

Theological Ghosts & The Year of Jubilee

I’ve got it in the blog-roll on the right – a web site dedicated to a critical look of media coverage of religion called Get Religion. One of the contributors, a long time major newpaper religion beat writer, talks about the blind spot or the religious/theological ghosts in news stories. Reporters who don’t “get religion” often miss key drivers of the stories they are writing. They attempt to fit a type of secular framework that just doesn’t fit.

This article is by a very good columnist in the Wall Street Journal (just in case the article is behind a paywall here is a mirror). In it he is starting to make some connections, although he has probably missed the source in the Presidents thinking. This chart is in the President’s budget.

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Mr. Henninger goes on to write that, “Whatever its merits, their “Top 1%” chart has become a totemic obsession in progressive policy circles.” And right there is the Theological Ghost. He also writes that “Messrs. Piketty and Saez have produced the most politically potent squiggle along an axis since Arthur Laffer drew his famous curve on a napkin in the mid-1970s. Laffer’s was an economic argument for lowering tax rates for everyone. Piketty-Saez is a moral argument for raising taxes on the rich.” The key question to ask here is why has this 1% chart become an obsession, and why is it a moral argument? Mr. Henninger even says, “What is becoming clearer as his presidency unfolds is that something deeper is underway here than merely using higher taxes to fund his policy goals in health, education and energy.” What is that something deeper? The theological ghost.

Read Luke 4:16-21 and then read Isaiah 61 and finally Leviticus 25:8-55. That is the scriptural basis for the theological ghost. Those passages are the core of liberation theology. Liberation theology has been and largely remains the theology of the religious on the political left. And please don’t take this as the negative it might read as, but President Obama was listening closer to Jeremiah Wright than he might want you to believe.

The religious left reads those passages in a very “this worldly” economic way. The religious right tends to make them “otherworldly” or spiritualize them. The left views it as a Christian duty to work to correct the economic imbalance here and now often through governmental means. The right tends to read liberation as freedom from sin, and that the left’s readings are dangerous and miss the main spiritual point.

Many people probably don’t think: 1) that they have a theology, 2) that if they do it influences them in any solid way and 3) ignorance of theology is dangerous, or knowlege of theology is helpful in understanding our world and our existence. The above is an example of a theological debate. It just looks like an economic and budgetary debate. If you don’t know what you are debating, how do you even know what a good outcome looks like?