In prepping for sermons and bible studies and teaching moments you become a hoarder of stray thoughts. The internet has only made that much easier because people actually write it down for all the world, and really good ones stay like tabs on my browser taking up space like all the junk in a house before a good cleaning. These are a few recent good things that I’ve run across, but I don’t think have incorporated (i.e. stolen for use) anywhere.
First comment, the Thanksgiving sermon was the better sermon this week. Page down and read that one if you didn’t hear it. That one was winsome and inviting and still crunchy, which by that I mean it had a message behind it that didn’t duck reality. This Sunday sermon was crunchy, but winsome…not so much. Which is a deep error when you are trying to get people to do something. In this case pick up the bible and read it.
It was the first Sunday of Advent which means it is new years day in the church. The lectionary rolls over to a different gospel, this year Matthew. The text was Matt 21:1-11 which is the triumphal entry or Palm Sunday. The main textual point is the welcoming of a king. That day 2000 years ago they welcomed a king who came humbly, but wanted the one who came in righteousness. Somewhere in the future, we welcome a king who comes in righteousness, but what is our impression of Jesus? How do we prepare for the coming of a King?
If the Gallup pole is right, we don’t prepare at all. We probably spend more time preparing for Santa than for Christ. And there are many multiple ways of preparing. Reading the scriptures is not the only way of being in the Word. But it is the seedbed. The scriptures are the authoritative way that God has chosen to speak to us. And here I go ranting again. Being open to the scriptures is just that important. Emotionally, I’m grabbing everyone I can by the lapels and shaking – these words are life. Its that important. Make time for it. Make sure your lamps have oil.
I ended the sermon with three questions. Three questions that a Bible literate loving people could chew on. I think these three questions might get to the core spiritual problem of today. I’ve got some personal answers to them, but they are dangerous and tough. And they require a people grounded on the truth of scripture.
1) What does it mean for how we should be living if the first time he came humble, but with righteousness the next time?
2) Where are we like the Galileans hailing the Galilean messiah today, going home and letting Jerusalem do to our messiah as it wills? [That is a question for laymen and women – because we clergy are probably the Jerusalem.]
3) How does a church forced out to the margins of society – forced to live from the Mount of Olives – respond like David – “weeping for the son who forced him out”?
I hope you didn’t mind the reading from Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation. It’s a little longer than normal and not biblical, but if you have never read it, it is a short classic and an amazing document of vision.
It a vision I think shared by Paul writing to Timothy. Paul encourages Timothy to pray for all people. Ask God to help all of them – and give thanks for all of them. Because God’s vision goes beyond the current strife. God’s vision is that all would be saved and come to know the truth. God’s vision is that all would live under proper authority in peace. That we would live lives marked by godliness and integrity. When you are still angry with your brother or jealous of your sister that vision is real tough to see. When our eyes are clouded by covetousness or envy we miss the good gifts that we have been given.
And that is where Lincoln is amazing in this proclamation. This is from Nov of 1863. Let me list the things Lincoln saw in the preceding year.
– The first military draft leading to the NY draft riots killing hundreds.
– The imposition of the first Income Tax
– The suspension of Habeas Corpus (which if you are a civil rights fan was a dark day making TSA pat-downs look like child’s play)
– Losses at Chancellorville and Chickamauga – the costliest 2 day battle of the war
– The Gettysburg victory at the cost of over 50,000 lives union and confederate, which to Lincoln were all Americans
– The switching of Leading Generals 3 times until finding US Grant
In the midst of all that, Lincoln could still say – “The year that is drawing to a close has been filled with blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies…” His vision was larger than the struggle he was persevering in. “No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
Among those mercies also included in Lincoln’s year were:
– The passing of the Lieber code which ordered respect for private property during times of war; a nation he hoped to restore would not pillage and plunder
– The Homestead Act, the west would be open for settlement and expansion and railroads uniting a continental nation. Some of those benefiting from that act would be my ancestors, and of course the Perry County Saxons who would found the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.
– And the preparation of the Emancipation Proclamation – the nation would live up to its founding documents
Lincoln concludes his listing of graces visited upon this nation where Paul starts – with a call for prayer – a prayer for the other, for the all.
“I recommend that while offering up the ascriptions justly due [God] for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers…and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it…to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union.” (Lincoln)
“I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them. Intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.” (Tim 2:1)
Thanksgiving is a wonderful vision larger than us. We will not see these things fulfilled in our lifetimes. Lincoln saw the cessation of war, but not the better angels of our nature. We do not see the culmination of all those we pray for. But we thank God for them and for their work. Thanksgiving is a wonderful national day set aside to look at the larger picture. The “peace that has been preserved… and the harmony that has prevailed.” And to give thanks for the ultimate peace that has come to us and to all people. Peace with God, a cessation from our strife through that man on the cross. Thanksgiving invites us to find our place in that larger vision – our place marked with dignity beside our neighbor.
The hymn being sung is Blessed Jesus at Your Word LSB 904 [or Dearest Jesus we Are Here LSB592 the baptismal hymn].
German to English to African French. Acapella to piano to organ to drums. The Word translates. The Word incarnates within cultures. My only question would be what those African Seminarians think of that hymn. Do they see it now as part of their heritage, or is it something still alien or imposed? Hymns are or should be simple enough to ‘go native’ or become thought of as part of my heritage in my tongue. The cultural content of say pop-music or Hollywood or anything that tries to ape them is much higher. You either take it as an invading culture or you leave it. Its hard to translate Lady Ga Ga.
Christ the King is the last Sunday of the church year. This coming Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent or the church’s new year. The emphasis of Christ the King is the pretty simple – the ascended Christ is Lord of All – hidden now, revealed at times, revealed for all times on the last day. The lectionary specified the crucifixion reading from Luke, which is different. The Matthew (Year A) and Mark (Year B) readings are the sheep and the goats and the the lesson of the fig tree. Year C with Luke focuses on the thief on the cross. Do you see the world aligned with the priests, and soldiers and skeptical thief? Or do you see it from the position of the other thief? Is the cross just a scandalous death, or is it a coronation. Is the one on it, The King of the Jews?
If you side with the thief in paradise – it has all kinds of implications. The world today really wants us to separate ourselves into separate little fiefdoms – this is my private life, this is my public life, this is my work life, this is my life life, this is my financial life, and this is my spiritual life. And the world wants us to act differently in each – to act as if they are all disconnected, as if we could isolate things in one life from things in another. That path just leads to broken selves. Harry Potter’s Voldemort is a great example. He divides himself into multiple horcruxes. It allows him to go on living, but he misses the entire point of being human, in fact in that very act he gives up his humanity.
Instead, God made us Body and Spirit. He made us whole and wants us healed and restored. Restored under the one rule of Christ the King – coronated on a cross. If Christ is King over the heights of heaven and the depths of the pit, then there is nothing mundane or secular. Whether that is money or holiday celebrations or the clothes we wear, it has all been redeemed by the divine. And how we use it, how we live, reflects our king. Do we live as if we have split ourselves – barely human? Or do we live as if Jesus, true man also true God is one Christ – King?
1. America is a liberal Catholic publication. It might go too far to say that they are proud supporters of the cafeteria, but they have problems with certain doctrines that are not changing.
2. That said, this article is heart rending. You can’t read it and not hear the true love for Christ represented in the devotion to the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper), and in some sense for the church itself.
What doctrines are immediate disqualifications (gross error)? What ones do we need to be able to say, ‘you know, we disagree, but I can see your love for Christ and we need to continue to walk together?’ How does that impact a Eucharist, a communion? If you say that you have to be united in confession (a strict LCMS teaching), are we ever united in confession on all doctrines? Isn’t that obsession the problem with the Pharisees – always on the outlook for minor errors but missing the big things?
This has been a heart-wrenching time for the practice of my faith. A confession: For the first time in over thirty years of active, committed, adult Catholicism, I have weighed leaving the Church. I don’t mean considered the option: I mean really wrestled with the idea that perhaps God is calling me to leave the Church I love as a statement of conscience.
I love the Church because I believe in the Eucharist. I know that’s how Jesus feeds me. I find that going to Communion is a visceral experience, as well as a spiritual one: when I eat Christ’s body and drink Christ’s blood, I feel full. Sated. And for a few moments, like I’ll never have to eat again…
This is Mollie Z. Hemingway, a journalist and LCMS member of an Orthodox Lutheran stripe, critiquing a NYTimes magazine piece on Priscilla Shirer who is an evangelical “preacher” who attempts to live out complementarian or what used to be called headship in marriage. If you understand that last part, preaching and headship are like squaring a circle. You can read the article to see how they solve it or ask me about it.
I hate to question Mrs. Hemingway’s journalism, but she seems a little rough on the article. Yes, there are the verbal ticks like using the word despite where a believer might use because. Yes, the author reduces incredibly complex theological concepts to the litmus tests of ‘does he change diapers?’ The only thing I would add is: think of the audience. Who reads the NY Times Magazine? To me, the article was amazingly fair for such a topic; much more fair than I would have expected. (My expectations would have been of a ‘look at what the rubes are doing’ variety.) To me, an upper east side woman could read that article and come away with a changed attitude toward complementarian teaching. I would not think it would change their personal minds to live that way, but it might become an ‘acceptable’ thought or practice. And that is a major battle. If the typical reader of the NY Times magazine all of sudden didn’t fear or belittle the teaching, the large guns of the culture not make it so radio-active.
The only other quibble is that I would wager the opposite as Ms. Hemingway on the number of people living this view of marriage. She holds that more than just evangelicals embrace it. That might be true on paper, but when was the last time any of them heard it preached or taught? (FYI, I attempted here on May 9,2010 on a Mother’s Day sermon that task, so you can’t call me a coward, maybe a fool.) This is a very counter-cultural view that I’d have questions about even evangelicals following.
I love this fight, because I think it is an example of things we divide over, but the Biblical view is don’t. Here is the short-hand. If you have ever been part of Protestantism not of the Lutheran variety you were probably in a group that is “Reformed”. The reformed have two theological camps: Calvinists who roughly emphasize the sovereignty of God neatly expressed in TULIP and Arminians who emphasize man’s free-will response to God’s grace. (Ok, there is probably a third camp that just says roughly we don’t care about those things, just give us the Spirit and tongues.) Lutherans have roughly the same divide between the high theology of what became known as Lutheran Orthodoxy and the pietists represented by the Moravians, a guy by the name of Spener and I’d go so far as to claim a certain Wesley who “felt a strange warming in his heart” coming away from Aldersgate Moravian meeting. This argument goes all the way back to Paul and James. If you are willing to read the complete Paul and not just selectively – its Paul vs. Paul.
What we are talking about here is theology. These are ways to understand our experience. If you were not a believer, and then one day you heard someone talk about Jesus and “felt a warming in your heart”, said the famous Jesus prayer and changed your life around (ex-President Bush’s alcoholism experience is a great example) – your subjective experience feels like Pietist/Arminian. If you are more intellectual, were baptized as an infant, and have always been part of the church – your subjective experience feels like Calvin/Orthodox. The Calvinists and the Orthodox have all this intellectual firepower. It all makes sense, but it leaves large numbers of people feeling cold. The Arminian/Pietists have all the feelings and the best convert stories and struggles, yet there are times when the feeling leaves before the need and nagging little doubts.
Go read Acts 15 and you’ll read about the first theological encounter and how it worked out. Paul and James agreed to disagree. Why could they do that? They were both following Jesus Christ to the best of their ability. Why does Barna find protestant pastors roughly evenly split? My guess…because as a pastor you’ve got a primary way of thinking, but we aren’t following a theology. We are following Jesus. I may think there are all kinds of problems with thinking as an Arminian, but they have the better songs. Being able to live together in one church – doing what Paul and James did – is important. Orthodox keep everything from being a syrupy mess. Pietists keep the church open to wonder – that we don’t have God in a box. Both are important.
Talking about end times or eschatology always inspires lots of speculation. But that is exactly what Jesus says don’t do. The false prophets claim “I am he” or “the time is near”. Pop Christianity waits for a rapture, which is flatly against Jesus’ teaching. The troubles that come on the world are the Christian’s opportunity for witness. The compelling message out of Jesus’ end times words are comfort. This world is constantly trying to get you to fear. And out of fear run to some false savior or false messiah. Jesus does the opposite. Even though you will be persecuted and some will be put to death, not a hair of your head will perish. The purpose of Jesus’ and Christian eschatology or end times teaching is incredibly here and now focused. When the whole world is losing its head of fear of what is coming into the world, the Christian is free and fearless. She know her redemption is drawing near. Which means that we can act with purpose and resolve here and now whatever comes, because its all in the Father’s hands.
Its peculiar to me that the “reality based” label afixes or is claimed by atheists or agnostics. I understand that the resurrection seems a fantastical event. I would go so far as to say it is an absurd belief – in the same way that Paul says Christ crucified is foolishness to the gentiles. But here is the difference, the fundamental story the Bible tells of the world gets proven to me time and again. And Christian eschatology is a great example (which dispensationalism or rapture belief throws away for fantasy). Jesus says these things will happen (famines, wars, persecutions, etc.) and they are necessary. God is directing them. People not grounded in Jesus’ teaching are easily led away to false saviors of every strife that comes into the world. Either wanting to know when like global warming to stop it, or claiming they are the savior like most political movements of the right claiming rescue from big government or the left claiming rescue from big business or the ills of society which are just the results of a sinful world. The christian is freed from those and with a clear eye can focus on what is within their power – being Christ to their neighbor. That is much more real than any large plan. Don’t be led astray.