Monthly Archives: June 2009

Prayer for the day

The prayer book that I have been using has the days scripture readings (OT, Epistle and Gospel), a 4th reading from the church and opening and closing prayers. Tuesdays the opening prayers come from the Book of Common Prayer. The original version was the work of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury – the English Reformation prelate. The book has gone through many revisions and “updatings”, but many of Cranmer’s words survive. It really is a testament to his understanding of human nature and of church teaching that so many still speak. The one that was in today really spoke.

O God, from whom all good proceeds. Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, for ever and ever. Amen.

With our sin clouded mind we see good as evil and evil as good. And even when we see aright, we don’t always act with love. Grant by your inspiration that we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guidding do them. All good proceeds from God and returns to God – by the Word and through the Spirit. Amen

Sermon – “Daughter…” – Mark 5:21-43

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Sermon Text: Mark 5:21-43

In this sermon I did something that probably would have received low marks from seminary profs. I probably strayed too far into allegorizing the text for the application. That is part of the reason why the opening includes the remarks that the reading might be idiosyncratic. It probably comes from studying Hebrews in Bible Class which contains an extended allegory on Melchizedek, an obscure OT figure. A full allegory has four levels of meaning: Literal, Christological, Moral and Mystical. It is not that an allegory can’t be true, but that modern textual methodology calls it a foul ball. What one person sees in an allegory might not be universally applicable. An allegory can be too cute for its own good. The other side of the balance sheet is that the church for 1200+ years primarily read the scriptures as allegory. Only with the advent of the pre-modern university did a heavily literal approach start to take priority. It can be said that the reformation was really and argument over which level of allegory was the most important. The Reformers argued for the Literal and the Christological while the late medieval Catholics emphasized the mystical and then the moral. (And that paragraph is one that could be picked apart to death as to those who really study this stuff that is really superficial to the point of being wrong. Forgive me the brevity.)

When reading a text, and in preaching on a text, those levels of meaning are still important. You can talk about a moral meaning from a text without necessarily allegorizing. The literal events of this text were the faith of a woman in the power of Jesus to heal, and a demonstration of that power even over death. To transfer that text to modern day you would emphasize the power of Christ in the the people who live by faith. I still did that, but in a way that makes the literal meaning of the text receed into the background.

A contrast is established between Jairus who approaches Jesus from the front and the unnamed woman who approaches from behind. I tried to set us or most moderns up as Jairus – the respectable churchman who approaches Jesus desperate but asking for a favor. The flip is that Jesus calls the low status unnamed woman daughter. While we might associate with Jairus, salvation, peace and health are in approaching Jesus like this woman – in fear and telling the whole truth. [Think confession and absolution.] Jairus and the disciples are amazed at the power of Jesus, but it is the woman who is called daughter. In fact it takes a miracle of Jesus – a raising of the dead – to convert us from thinking of ourselves a Jairus (fundametally respectable and ok asking for a favor) to thinking of ourselves as the woman (bloody and unclean with sin). And when Jesus does raise us from the dead, we must be fed with the Word of God. See what I did, certain elements of the story like how a person approached, physical attributes or physical needs are read as symbolic. If you agree with my symbolic readings it makes sense, but you might just as easily think I’ve gone off the deep end.

All that said, I think the sermon conveys truth. I would defend its textuality on the basis of the words and events narrated and how the church has matrixed those words and events through time. Being called a child/daughter by God is the result of accepting the Gospel which follows repentance. True repentance is the work of God in us – a raising of the dead. It is the poor that are blessed with the Kingdom of Heaven. The church has consistenly talked about sin as a disease. This was not an academic’s sermon, but I think it might be closer to the way actual people think.

Burden of Leaders – Laws of the Left Hand Kingdom/The Kingdom of the Law

Text: Deuteronomy 16:18-20, Deuteronomy 17:14-20

One of the great confusions of the day is that between the Kingdom of Grace and the Kingdom of the Law. God is in control of both of them. That is the biblical witness, but He chooses to operate differently in each. In the Kingdom of Grace God operates and rules directly. Jesus is present in the Word and in the Sacraments of the church which He rules through that same Word and those sacraments offering His grace to all believers.

In the Kindgom of the Law God operates at a remove. He allows freedom within rules. Some of those rules are the physical rules of the universe. We can discover what those are and they put boundaries and safety on our existence. In a more biblical way think of what God asked Job – were you there when I streched a plumb line over the universe or who keeps the sea in its boundaries? It is pretty hard to transgress the law of gravity, but other “laws” are still binding but can be transgressed. Some of those laws are the expectations placed on those who have power in the Kingdom of the Law. Rulers have been given the authority for a purpose – to rule justly and ensure order. When Israel takes the land the judges and officers are to rule justly, not pervert justice, don’t show partiality, don’t take bribes. Those that are set like a king receive that power and authority not to ‘multiply silver and gold for himslef.’ They should instead have the book of the law at their side in their own hand. [Imagine copying the entire Torah yourself. It would ensure at least one reading.] The judgement on those given authority is surely harsher.

We get these kingdoms mixed up all the time. We are always ‘looking for God’s will’ in the Kingdom of the Law while trying to take God’s authority in the Kingdom of Grace. Believers usually make the mistakes in looking for God’s direct involvement in the Kingdom of the Law when that is exactly where God has given us freedom. We want surety about choice of wife/husband or even something as mundane as monetary investments. God does not give surety in those places, but does counsel wisdom. Read Proverbs or Ecclesiastes. Wisdom is rarely followed, but it is something we can learn and follow.

And then there are the multitude of ways we confuse the Kingdom of Grace. We try to usurp God rule by turning grace into a law – works righteousness. Or trying to apply the Law to grace like this article by a Scientist. Here is the money quote…

So while scientific rationality does not require atheism, it is by no means irrational to use it as the basis for arguing against the existence of God, and thus to conclude that claimed miracles like the virgin birth are incompatible with our scientific understanding of nature.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that these issues are not purely academic. The current crisis in Iran has laid bare the striking inconsistency between a world built on reason and a world built on religious dogma.

Perhaps the most important contribution an honest assessment of the incompatibility between science and religious doctrine can provide is to make it starkly clear that in human affairs — as well as in the rest of the physical world — reason is the better guide.

Of course the Virgin birth is nonsensical to the Kingdom of the Law becuase it was God’s direct action as part of the plan of salvation. It was an act of the Kingdom of Grace. God rules both. Occasionally to further Grace the law is superceeded.

The only way we know this is by the grace of revelation. I completely argee with this scientist that in human affairs reason is the better guide. The path of wisdom is the best one in that Kingdom. In fact in human affairs that is the only path. For Christians to be looking for Special revelation beyond the dictates of Wisdom is a confusion of the Kingdoms. But just becuase Christians (or Iranian Imams) have tried to enlarge the kingdom of Grace beyond its borders doesn’t mean that the revealed truths of it don’t exist – like the virgin birth.

Confusion of the Kingdoms is one of our fundamental flaws, but those Kingdoms are part glory of how the universe operates both giving us freedom and salvation. They each have things to say to each other, but usually we are too busy trying to usurp each Kingdom’s unique rights.

Let’s go to the other side – Father’s Day – Mark 4:35-41

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A hat tip needs to be sent to the Lutheran Hour Ministries and their Men’s Network for some of the ideas in this sermon.

Part of being the parson is being immersed in the Scriptures every day. And maybe even more importantly is the interaction with the Scriptures at a detailed level. For most of my life I have had a reading plan and would spend at least 15 minutes a day reading the Scriptures, but often that was rushed or just done at a devotional level looking for what stuck me at the moment. Even worse was some of that 15 minutes was spent reading the footnotes instead of the Word. When you start looking at what the Scriptures say about Jesus and the Christian Life at a more intimate level, you start to see the disconnects with popular understanding and the Christ presented by the Scripture. Even good pious saints with sound theology think in ‘words about God’ terms (my pejoritive God-talk terms) instead of the Word of God. Too much of the former drains the vitality from the latter. The person of Jesus Christ is who we as preachers preach each week, or should. That person is much more dynamic and alive than our God-talk language. The ways to meet that Living Jesus are in the living Word. Pick up the Gospel according to Mark and start reading. If you haven’t done it for a while get the New Living Translation (NLT) which is wonderful modern English that you can actually read like a story. If you want a more ‘word for word’ translation the ESV is what we read from on Sundays or the NIV are both fine if less readable. Don’t worry about the study notes. Just read that Gospel as you would a book. If necessary get a small pocket edition. It will open you eyes to a Jesus who is constantly challenging his followers, constantly saying things like ‘let’s go to the other side…’ as an invitation to an adventure, or constantly correcting our clouded visions of reality.

The Day of the Son of Man

Text: Luke 17:20-37 (cross reference Hebrews 6:1-3)

In our Sunday study we’ve been looking at Hebrews and the above link ties into what must have been the outline of the basic catechism or teaching: repentance, faith, baptism, laying on of hands (ministry/healing), resurrection and judgement. I’ve been thinking about that list and the current state of the church. The author to the Hebrews says those are the basics and encourages his readers to greater understanding. Of those six subjects for lack of a better term, which of them are emphasized? Which are missing? Are any over done?

My gut reaction is that in many places the only one of the six that receives its due is faith – but the even that is not a grounded faith in the person of Jesus Christ but a vague warm fuzzy of faith in faith, a sing-songy “My faith will see me through”. Part of that is the shortening of our vision. As in our primary text, things go on as in the days of Noah or the days of Lot. People are born and die; People get married and give in marriage. We eat and drink, buy and sell, and build. And we think that it will go on like this forever gradually forgetting the judgement. When there is no judgement, who needs repentance? If there is no need for repentance, who needs a preacher or a baptism? When there is no New Jerusalem, what does resurrection mean – aren’t we just going to be spirits in a utopian heaven?

This is not to fall into the Hellfire and Brimstone mode of preaching, but to lift our eyes out of the insignificant toward the significant. That is what the judgement does. The things that go on here and now will continue and they deserve their time. There is a time for everything under the sun. But in light of the judgement, the captial letters DAY OF THE SON OF MAN, they are somewhat insignificant. Of true significance is the acceptance of a personal small letter day of the son of man. On that capital letter day there will not be time. It comes like lightening. One is taken and one is left. Today is the day of grace. Today is the day we repent and have faith in the works of the Son of Man – Jesus Christ – who washes us in the waters of baptism and puts his Spirit in us. Our faith rests secure in that Day of the Son of Man.

In later days you will return…

Text: Deuteronomy 4:25-31

Dangerous territory the later days. Especially when you ponder the Jewish people. Over and over again in history Christians have looked for the wholesale “return” of the Jews to belief. It is one of those thoughts that is just too tantalizing. And when it doesn’t happen in a person’s lifetime the results are not often pretty (see Martin Luther’s late writings on the Jews). There it is in today’s text – “in later days, you will return to the Lord your God and hear his voice…” Paul in Romans ponders the question and answers “all Israel will be saved.” (Romans 11:26) What both this text and Paul have in common is disobeidience. Moses says, “that the people will be few in number amoung the nations and there you will serce other gods of wood and stone….” Paul writes (romans 11:32), “God has bound all men over to disobeidience so that he many have mercy on them all.”

Becoming infatuated with the hereditary Jews misses Paul’s and Moses’ distinction. All Israel will be saved. The elect, the chosen, Israel – not the hereditary line, but the line of faith. “When you are in tribulation and all these things come upon you in the later days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice, for the Lord your God is a merciful God.” The disobeidient will hear the voice and repent. All have fallen short. All have been disobeidient. All have been called by the Gospel. All Israel hears the Good Shepherd’s voice. (John 10:5, John 10:27)

And how is Israel chosen? “Oh the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out… (Romans 11:33-36)”

A question I left with the Sunday Bible Class

Text: Hebrews 4:12-13

We are studying the book of Hebrews for about 6 weeks on Sundays. Last Sunday we read Hebrews 3:1 – 4:13 which is one sermon or section of the book. The theological start by the writer of Hebrews was an assertion of the superiority of Jesus as the son and heir compared to Moses as a faithful servent in the entire house. The implication was that if disobeidience to Moses brought 40 years in the wilderness and eventual death of that generation, don’t ask what disobeidience to Jesus would bring. Today! if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.

The last line is that the Word of God is living and active. The question I left the class with was how is the Word of God living and active in your life? Maybe I’m wrong, but the more I pondered my own answer to that question that more I thought that this is the key problem of the modern American Church. Too much secondary theology. Too much talk about the Word, and not enough Word itself. The Reformation understanding of preaching and teaching and the interaction of disciples was right there (Today!) was the Word of God. The Desert Fathers sought to apply the Word directly to themsleves. We moderns talk about the Word. We talk detached from it and at a distance. We are comfortable talking about the Word, but we rarely read it ourselves. That Word is living and active. The Spirit asks us to do hard things. We don’t like hard things. In this world where trust has been drained from almost everything, that is the challenge. Open up the Word and don’t read it at a distance. Put yourself in the story. Let the Word read you. Today! Don’t hardern you hearts.

The Reign of God comes… – Mark 4:26-34

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Test for this sermon was Mark 4:26-34, a pair of parables about seeds.

This is an exerpt…
The Reign of God comes as an offense to the ways of the world. It comes small, when the world likes its rulers to come in pomp and circumstance. The reign of God grows silently and where God wants it, when the world likes things known and planned and controlled. The reign of God grows like a shrub, the mustard, something organic, where the world prefers things mechanical and controlled. That plant grows untended, where the world wants its order. And most offensively, the reign of God invites all the birds into the garden, where the world wants to keep the garden for a special and chosen few. The world cannot stop the reign of God. It has and will continue to grow large. The reign of God will mature and reach a harvest, a judgement. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come. But in that harvest, some will have chosen to weed their garden. The offense of how the reign of God presents itself – in a crucified savior, in a factious and often hypocritical church, in the foolishness of preaching and the mysticism of sacraments – those offenses to the world will cause some to dig out that mustard seed. They will reject the reign of God for that of the world – a world that is even now passing away.

Trinity Sunday – “Here I Am, Send me”

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The OT text for the day was Isaiah 6:1-8 but I lengthened it to Isaiah 6:1-13. Anything less felt like taking stuff out of context.

When you read the rest of that passage the first reaction is, “How did that get in there?” But without the rest you don’t get the gospel. Without the failure of the law, without the reduction of Israel to one, the seed in the stump, Jesus Christ, you don’t get the gospel. Sitting on the other side of Jesus we have something similar. Our call by Jesus is to pick up the cross and follow him. The call is not to victory and glory in this world. Salvation is free and clear – by grace through faith. What God is asking is for those who will jump up and down saying Here I am, send me! because they trust the one who saved them. Trust Him freely, even though crosses come first. Trust him knowing that placing your life into those nail marked hands is the only sure thing in this world.

Pentecost Sermon – “The Half-Known God”

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On reflection this might have been a better sermon for Trinity Sunday, but the text was John 15:25-26 and John 16:4-15 and that came up on Pentecost. The core statement is that we moderns just don’t biblically undertand the Spirit or the personhood of God. We push Father, Son and Spirit together into a giant gnostic generic Spirit-God. When you do that, your God ends up looking like you and not like He revealed Himself in the Scriptures.

Specifically the Holy Spirit is not a mushy person. His first job is to convict the world: To convict it of sin, convict it of true righteousness, and convict it of who is the judge. After that conviction, the Spirit leads His people into all truth. A great text pointing to law and gospel. First we are convicted by the law and then restored in truth by the gospel. The Spirit does this through His means of Word and Sacrament through that fuddy-duddy place called the church. The adversary tries to sow a bunch of FUD becuase we’ve mushed the persons together. He tries to get us to find the Spirit everywhere but right there in the Word and Sacrament to the point we often denigrate the gospel offer thinkning God can’t really be there. But God keeps his promises. He’s there in that Word, Water, Bread and Wine.