Monthly Archives: May 2009

A Man who fell among robbers

Luke 10:25-37

The text is (or should be) well known. It is the Good Samaritan. One of the roles of parables is to get us thinking about the relationship between God, the kingdom and us. We have heard this parable over and over and know that it is a moral tale. Go and do likewise. Easy enough to turn off the brain. I’ve heard that sermon.

But what if the matrix of words we use to look at this is a little larger, and let’s focus on the man who is not named – the one who fell in among robbers. In the traditional tale this man is the everyman. He is our neighbor the world. But what if we matrix in Matt 25:31-46? Who is the man who was hungry and thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and in prison? Everyman, yes, but more importantly Jesus himself. When we help that man, we help the Lord himself. The very first question that starts this parable is – what do I do to inherit eternal life? (How do I get in with the sheep?)

Jesus was not against telling parables against the pharisees and the saducees – See Luke 20:9-18. The priest passes by, the Levite passes by, but the hated Samaritan cares for the man who had been abused when he came down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Was not the second question – who is my neighbor – the offensive one that this parable answers? If you want to be saved, take yourself down a notch. Put youself in the shoes of the Samaritan. After all the the law would have you do good, even to this beaten man. It is the gospel that calls for us to be little children (the lowest of the low, those with no standing) to enter the kingdom. It is the gospel the urges us to recognize our plight and stop justifying ourselves.

Does it just collapse into moralism – no, the target is not good works becuase even the law requires those. The question is to look at ourselves – are we passing Jesus by becuase we are justifying ourselves, or do we rightly judge our place and need of mercy.

The parables should cause thought. There are some things that don’t hang together with the above, but this parable does not let us off as easy as some change in the beggars hat.

What form of Christian Worship? – discussion in the comments & American Idol

I’ve been having a good back and forth in the comments with “orthodox protestant” – part of it over the role of music in worship. Dennis and I for the 4th Sunday’s (last Sunday didn’t count becuase it was Memorial Day which overrides other elements) have been searching though “modern” music. By modern we attempt to say 1980’s or later. Not really contemporary, but more one of those ipod shuffle radio stations.

One of the real questions in a religion with a 2000 year history is how much wieght/vote does the past get? Our hymanls are by and large a reflection of a sifting and sorting of hymns/songs over the years. The ones that get to us have been judged by the past as worthy. Every time a new hymnal comes out some hymns get retired and others get added reflecting, at probably a generation time lag, the changing modern tastes. My guess is that Lutheran Service Book will be the end of a chain. It would be interesting to do the work (if I knew German) to see how many hymns from the gesangabuch of the 1800’s are in LSB (probably quite a few). It would also be my guess that this is the last edition that will contain many of the German heritage hymns that are slow moving and musically complex. (I’d point to A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth as an example, but that one has too many intellectual advocates.) LSB is also already out of date just because of the strange decision to use anachonistic pronouns. I find myself singing the you and yours instead of the thee and thous that LSB left in (after they had been updated already in Lutheran Worship ?!?)

Without that prior sorting, the job is tough finding something that passes the “non-cringe inducing” test and is also singable by a congregation. Many contemporary hymns/songs are really meant for performance professionals. Witness this year’s American Idol where two of the final three contestants were Praise Band creations. TMATT at the getreligion blog asks a great question.

So you have two straight church guys vs. the “Wicked” guy with Style…Frankly, I would also love to ask this question: Has Sunday morning in megachurch America already turned into the American Idol minor leagues? Is this victory a sign that the dreaded Contemporary Christian Music niche is getting more or less powerful? Should we start a betting pool on the release date for the big Kris Allen worship-music disc?

That “non-cringe inducing test” might be best summarized by Hank Hill of the now canceled King of the Hill. (HT Rod Dreher)

when Bobby Hill gets involved with some hipster Christians, upsetting his father. Hank remonstrates with the cool dude pastor: “Can’t you see you’re not making Christianity better, you’re just making rock ‘n roll worse?!”

The tricky walk is to find hymns, psalms and spiritual songs that are faithful expressions of the gospel that speak to the contemporary society. The very best of those are timeless and cross cultures – Amazing Grace or O Come, O Come Emmanuel (a 12th century latin original). Some are completely bound in time and culture – Shine Jesus Shine (an example of a catchy turn of the century USA song that has been passe for a few years already.) Personally I don’t find the time/culture bound songs wrong, but what I fear is Hank Hill’s worry about Bobby if the scale would tip too far in that direction…

BOBBY: When I turn 18, I’m going to do whatever I want for the Lord. Tattoos, piercings, you name it.
HANK: Well, I’ll take that chance. Come here, there’s something I want you to see. (Hank takes down a box from the shelf and opens it up) Remember this?

BOBBY: My beanbag buddy? Oh, man, I can’t believe I collected those things. They’re so lame.

HANK: You didn’t think so five years ago. And how about your virtual pet? You used to carry this thing everywhere. Then you got tired of it, forgot to feed it, and it died.

BOBBY (looks at a photo of himself in a Ninja Turtles costume): I look like such a dork.

HANK: I know how you feel. I never thought that “Members Only” jacket would go out of style, but it did. I know you think stuff you’re doing now is cool, but in a few years you’re going to think it’s lame. And I don’t want the Lord to end up in this box.

The edge of the cliff

Text: Hebrews 6:1-12

Hebrews is not a book for the lighthearted or the new Christian. Its argument is the centrality and sufficiency of Jesus Christ and it assumes a large background of knowledge about the OT and How God interacted with his people. The ultimate purpose as I’ve read it is to argue apathetic or stagnating Christians to a fuller living of the faith. Our text quickly reviews just what the writer takes as basics of the Christian faith: 1) Repentance, 2) Faith, 3) Baptism (i.e. ablutions), 4) Laying on of hands (ministry?), 5) resurrection of the dead and 6) eternal judgement. When you think about those things, they can all be intellectualized or made point in time events. A person can give assent to them (i.e. express belief in them) without attempting to live out that belief.

The background to the next portion is Israel on the verge of the promised land. They send out 12 spies. These are people who witnessed the Exodus and who stood at Mt. Sinai. They expressed belief in God and took part in the ritual life of the community, yet when they came back from spying out the land, they did not live out what God intended. (Numbers 13 – 14) And the punishment was death in the desert. Not a single person of that generation would enter the Promised land. The writer of the Hebrews says be careful that you do not receive the same fate. If you have been to the promised land, tasted the heavenly gift (forgiveness of sins), and turned away, there is no restoration.

This does not speak of sin and repentance, but the sin against the Holy Spirit – calling God a liar in his promises. Just how far can one go in apostasy before committing that sin? We don’t want to know. If you walk up to a cliff, do you want to find out where that tipping point is that throws you over it? Instead son’t be sluggish,”but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Press on in the faith. Live and grow in the faith. Don’t map out that cliff edge.

Christian Worship – What is its purpose? What is its form?

“Orthodox Protestant” in the comments has asked a few great questions. (You can see more of them on the comments toolbar.) The most recent was this.

So,,,is the purpose of worship for the people of God to assemble corporately to hear the gospel preached, confess our sins and partake of the sacraments? Or is evangelism the purpose of worship? To the former I say yes and the latter, no. Worship began its wobble when churches began to feel the need to cater to the world….Classic protestant who loves orthodoxy

The first thought is that evangelism and worship cannot be allowed to be defined against each other. It must be a false dichotomy. The great commission is Matt 28:18-20 – “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them…” As Christians that is our mission in the world – to find the lost. That is God’s mission in the world. Jesus came from Heaven, leaving the glory that was his from eternity (John 17:5), to find, call and save sinful humanity. The Father and the Son send the Spirit to continue that mission (John 16:7-8). Saving the Lost is the very mission of God. If you put something up against that, guess which one takes priority?

But the direct question is what is the purpose of Christian Worship? Orthodox Protestant’s definition – the purpose of worship is for the people of God to assemble corporately to hear the gospel preached, confess our sins and partake of the sacraments – is correct. (Hence why it must be a false oppostion). Christian Worship is not about what we give to God. We have nothing to give to God. Christian Worship is about what God gives to us in Christ and through the Spirit – strengthening of faith and forgiveness of sins.

But now you get to the really sticky question. What form does this worship take? Some things like the sacraments are very prescribed in the scriptures with the words from Jesus himself (baptism – Matt 28:19; Communion -Mark 14:22-25). But other things like the Word are not prescribed in scripture. We have many descriptions of sermons given in Acts (Peter at Pentecost Acts 2:14-40, Stephen before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7, Paul in Athens in Acts 17:16-32). We have Paul’s directions to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11:2-34. The first part of that description (verses 2-16) is usually taken today to be arguing for respect, but not binding in particulars (i.e. It is no longer the cultural expectation that women have headcovers, and so God’s churches are free in this regard. The principle holds, but not the particulars.) In regards to music we have desciptions in Acts 16:25 when Paul is in prison, in Ephesians 5:19 where Paul encourages the singing of Psalms and Hymns and in Colossians 3:16 where we “teach and council (i.e. practice the ministry of the Word)…with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” The picture that emerges is of a very strict sacramental ministry, but a ministry of the Word that is culturally bound. Respectful worship, but done in Christian freedom. And here might be a fundamental difference between the Lutheran confession and the Reformed tradition. In the Lutheran Confessions, in things that are not prescribed by scripture, we have freedom.

The Lutheran Confessions, specifically the Formula Concord actually address this problem of worship style. It came up during the Interrims, which were the periods of Roman Catholic dominance after Luther’s death. Epitome article ten addresses it directly.

2. We believe, teach, and confess that the congregation of God of every place and every time has the power, according to its circumstances, to change such ceremonies in such manner as may be most useful and edifying to the congregation of God.

5] 3. Nevertheless, that herein all frivolity and offense should be avoided, and special care should be taken to exercise forbearance towards the weak in faith. 1 Cor. 8:9; Rom. 14:13.

So…the church has a great amount of freedom in it worship practice. Arguably, like Paul’s advice to the Corinthians regarding women’s headware, the church’s worship practice should be a valid cultural expression not to cause offense to those outside the faith or to interfere with the primary mission to save the lost.

But here is the really hard part. That culturally valid expression should not offend the weak in faith. There are other interesting parts like what about freedom in a time of persecution (take a look at Ep X.4). Ultimately it is left to every generation to faithfully carry out the ministry of the Word in a valid cultural expression for their time and place. That is a high and tough calling.

And from that stems my bigger concern. The church used to set the tone of the culture. It found places for the creatives of society and gave them the challenge of faithful cultural worship and the expressions of the faith. Too many churches of the reformation since at least the 19th and 20th century have lost those creative people. Lack of opportunity, hide bound tradionalism and a suffocating form of cultural orthodoxy caused many of those formerly faithful to go elsewhere. They are not the better for that split as the creative tension of art in service to God has been lost and art for its own sake has degenerated into just strange expressions. And the church is poorer for that split as we have lost our ability to talk to very important portions of society.

Part of any vision for the modern church must include a healing of that split – A church that can effectively carry out its mission to the lost with creativity while maintaining faithful worship.

Sermon – Memorial Day – Two Kingdoms

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This is a sermon that I am probably too proud of. I have the feeling that is was a pastor’s sermon – that I was communicating with myself, but not too many others. But even with that, I still like it and here is why – it offers something for the head, the heart and the hands. It presented a common emotional question and answered it in both intellectual terms and emotional terms. It also managed to address a secular event and bring in a Christian framework. I think and feel that it was solid and balanced.

The theology was the two kingdoms. Jesus prays in the text for the Sermon (John 17:11-19) for his disciples “not to be taken from the world, but to be protected from the evil one.” The are not of the world, but they are sent to the world. Combined with the secular calendar Memorial Day and the Christian calendar Ascension Day, the question is why? Why if Jesus Christ is enthroned at the right hand of the Father do we still have days like Memorial Day? The temptation is always to theodicy, or explaining the ways of God to men. God is a big boy, he can explain himself. But he does explain how he works in this world most of the time – through us. In the Kingdom of Power or of the left, God works through means. What that mean is that the crooked timber of humanity provides the material of the Kingdom of Power. And that often results in evil as we go our own way. What we are assured of though is that the Kingdom of Grace, which is the Kingdom that Christians are citizens of, is only under God’s control and action. In Jesus Christ, God has done everything necessary for our salvation. So, we as Christians are in the Kingdom of Power, but we are not of it. We have a mission in it to proclaim the Kingdom of Grace – your sins have been forgiven in Jesus Christ.

The emotion is the just as we cause wars in the that kingdom of power, such as the carnage of the civil war, and carry their effects, so also did Jesus Christ. Jesus submitted to our justice, to the authority of the Kingdom of Power. God does not answer the why question, but he does ask us to have faith in him that He is in control and looking out for his Children. His deeds speak to why we should have that faith.

Mother’s Day Sermon

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Catching up from a new baby and a week of vacation still.

Back from Vacation to meet the “Living Creatures”

Text: Ezekiel 1:1-4, Ezekiel 1:24-28

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I read the Scriptures and just fundamentally go, “huh?!?! What the Heck do I do with that?” It is not just the OT either, but some scenes in the NT like this one – Luke 22:36-38. No other gospel writer records the talk about swords although they do mention the cutting off and healing of the ear of one of those arresting Jesus. Ezekiel can be the OT version of Revelation – apocalyptic literature filled with figures and strange signs. In the texts above we have the 4 living creatures with four faces around the the throne. I’m not kidding here, in trying to interpret passages like this one I’ve seen everything from very elaborte allegories (four levels of meaning for each face and everything in the passage) to just dismissal as not God’s Word to claims that this “vision” is proof of UFOs.

If you spend any amount of time reading the Church Fathers which the easiest place to do so is through these books you eventually pick up on the fact that they liked allegory, but that allegory had a consistent interpretation key – Jesus Christ. The world is full of a lot of “isms” and each one wants to look at and interpret the world through a particular starting point. If you were a Marxist it is the dialectic or the class struggle. If you are a feminist is it gender. If you are a capitalist it is the dollar (or yen, or pound…). You get the point. There is some point in existence that is taken as constant, unmoving or of supreme importance. For most of us, we are really just hedonists or narcissists and that point is our own gut.

Here is Irenaeus of Lyon, a second century bishop, on the living creatures.

…For the cherubim have four faces, and their faces are images of the activity of the Son of God…the lion, signifying His active and princely and royal character; the ox, showing His sacrifical and priestly order, the human face, indicating very clearly His coming in human guise, and the eagle making plain the giving of the Spirit who broods over the Church. Now the Gospels, in which Christ is enthroned, are like these…

For the Christian that reference point is Jesus Christ. The question that all people must eventually ask themselves is – “Do you have the unmoving reference point?” The confession of the church in all times and places has been that the Word of God, Jesus Christ, is that true point. Everything else will melt away, but the Word of the Lord stand forever.

The Value of Sunday School Teachers

Filling Sunday School Teacher rolls is always the toughest. (A great big thank you goes out to Nancy C., Ethel Louise K. and my wife Ellen this year, along with Jay and Judy for sub’ing)

This link goes to a great story.

Biblical Inerrency

John Bayer asks in the comments –
“…Also, Raymond Brown is criticized by tradionalists for denying Biblical inerrancy. Is this criticism unfounded? What is the Lutheran view and particularly what is Parson Brown’s position on Biblical inerrancy…”

To the first question, the criticism is not unfounded. Raymond Brown absolutely would deny a tradionalist statement of inerrancy. When I wrote that Raymond Brown was a critical scholar, you’ve used the technical/theological term for what that was pointing at. Raymond Brown puts reason over scripture to the point that if there are percieved “errors” the problem is with Scripture and not with the interpreter. Raymond Brown is not beyond using the text as we have it to “peer behind and reconstruct” the “original text” in his understanding. This form of Higher Criticism is why I could not recommend Raymond Brown for a layman. (Sorry, that sounds snobby.) It is also why I thought it fair to point out that I was reading him. Many people would not find him kosher. That said, I have found Raymond Brown to be helpful and insightful, especially if you know his starting point. He is a writer that one can argue with, sometimes loudly.

To the second point, a hearty and loud yes! to scriptural inerrency is my personal confession. I’m going to sketch out that case really quickly here, and maybe elaborate a little over the next few days.

A. Inerrency of scripture is the universal testimony of scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-16 and 2 Peter 1:20-21 as the clearest examples, Luke 24:44, John 2:22, Acts 1:16, and several other supporting passages)

a.1. Yes this is a circular argument, but all interpretation/understanding of our world begins somewhere. To make a mathematical analogy, all geometry rests on axioms taken as truth. Arguing with Euclid over parallel lines never touching is lunacy, because that is an axiom of Euclidian Geometry. The interpretation cycle of the church begins with Jesus Christ as the revelation of the Father. Christ testifies that the scriptures are all about him. They are Christocentric and every word they contain was or will be fulfulled in Christ (Luke 24:44). Scripture is the bedrock and norm or everything including itself. Scripture interprets Scripture, or Sola Scriptura.

B Inerrency of scripture is a statement of faith. Just like the universal church, the Una Sancta, is a statement of faith. Ultimately you cannot “prove” revelation. Like the message of the Gospel, revelation is accepted or rejected. The Nicene Creed states in the 2nd article that “on the third day He rose again accoring to the Scriptures” putting forward the Scriptures as the valid and true testimony of Christ. It also holds in the 3rd article the “Holy Spirit… who spoke by the prophets” which affirms the old testament Scriptures. The creeds, the rule of faith and the summation of the scriptural witness which we confess, hold the scriptural testimony to be true.

C. Our recent Synod’s writings on inerrency give a fully rounded view. This link takes you to the Commision on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) document on “The Inspiration of Scripture. Pages 10-11 address inerrancy. The money paragraph in my mind is the quotation in II.A.2 (p 11):

Inspiration was not mechanical dictation but rather an operation of the Holy Spirit
that allowed a function to each author’s individuality in writing the Scriptures.
Therefore the predication of inerrancy to the Bible does not imply that when the
New Testament reproduces and applies Old Testament statements this must
always occur by means of verbatim quotations, or that there must be verbal
correspondence between parallel accounts of the same event wherever they are
found either in the Old or the New Testament.
Each writer inerrantly imparted God’s truth as the Holy Spirit moved him to do so
in his own way, from his own perspective, and for his own purposes. Far from
impugning the veracity of the Scriptures this multidimensional application of
whatsoever was spoken aforetime and this multidimensional view of events
reported serves to impart more fully the truth which God reveals for the
edification of His people. The Biblical conception of inspiration does not see
these differences as errors, but as inspired variety which we should recognize
with thanksgiving and study prayerfully imploring the Spirit’s help so that we may
receive all the instruction He wishes to imparts.

This is getting a little long, so I’ll stop there. If anything is really unclear, let me know, or if anyone wants to take me to task.

All of Gaul is divided into three parts….

Text: Colossians 1:15-23

The title is an uber-geek joke. Julius Ceasar’s Gallic Wars began with that phrase, and ever since it has been fashionable to divide things into three parts. Faith, Hope and Charity. Past, Present and Future. The three point sermon/speach. Three branches of civil government. Body, mind and spirit. It seems like there is nothing in this world that someone, somewhere, has not divided into three parts. But there is another division scheme in nature, the polarity. Male and Female, the right and the left both physically and politically, two chambers of Congress, Body and Soul, the American League and the National League. The lists could go on. Why do so many things in our natural world take on the appearance of twos and threes?

Maybe it is just blind chance. Threes are a stable form that got passed down by natural selection like three legs for a stool, and twos promote genetic diversity. Or maybe the physical universe is patterned on its creator. Paul makes that argument in Romans 1:19-20. And isn’t that the argument Paul is stating here in Colossians 1:15-23? All things were created through him and for him…He is the beginning…that in everything he might be pre-eminent. The warp and woof of the creation points to the creator. Of course that is proof or support only for those who already believe. Another standard trope is the numerologist nut or the person who sees patterns where there aren’t any (reference the movie A Beautiful Mind about mathematician John Nash.)

The threes reflect the Trinity and the twos the nature of Christ – True Man Jesus, True God the only begotton son, the word of God, together in one Christ. The creation reflecting and revealing the profound mystery of the life of God which we can only approach through Christ who came to us to reveal the Father. Not to go off the deep end, but just your mystical thought for the day…