Monthly Archives: December 2012

On An Untimely Death

Text: Psalm 103:1-22

Law
Usually in the first words we attempt to paint a picture of the deceased. And there are an awful lot of good words to remember. You heard many of them in the family remembrances. Edward, Jr was a sensitive kid. Kind, gentle, and whip-smart. Thinking about others. Always having a cute grin.

There is also something that we will never understand. How all those great reasons to know Edward didn’t add up to a reason to keep living.

We tend to think that is a bright line. But what I want to suggest is that we all have more in common with Edward, with each other, than our safe sides of those bright lines.

The psalmist sings:
14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.

A box, a few words, a spot in the ground…that is all of our fates. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And the wages of sin are death. We are all on the same side of that bright line. The last writing of Martin Luther reflected on that – “We are all beggars”.

Gospel
While we don’t understand the sin that lives within us. While we will never understand the why’s around Edwards actions, it is my job to proclaim to you what we do know with rock solid certainty.

8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.

That cross, and that God-man Jesus took care of sin. God stopped counting. God said this is what I think of your bright lines and erased them all, replacing them with pure grace. We know we call on a God of grace.
4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy

Christians confess in the creed that Christ descended into hell. There is nothing that we might experience that He has not. If I go up to the highest heaven, You are there. If I descend into the pit, you are there. Neither height nor depth…neither death nor life…will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Even in the depths, we know God crowns us with steadfast love.

“All of us who have been baptized into Christ…were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, Just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too…will be united with Him in the resurrection.”

We have called on the God of grace and mercy and love and He has made us His children in those waters of baptism. Where we waver, God never does. He is steadfast. We know that exactly when we might be faithless, God remains faithful to his promises. “The steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting.”

And the last known is that resurrection. “this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” That is our Hope. He’s the first-fruits. The Spirit in baptism in the deposit. It is a certain Hope…a known Hope. A Hope we long for the fulfillment of.

Conclusion

When surrounded and confronted with the things we don’t understand…turn to that we do…we know Our God, revealed in Christ…on that cross, we know the Steadfast Love of God, who redeems our lives from the pit. Amen.

Christmas Service Schedule

The Word of God in the Desert or Preparing the Way

Text: Luke 3:1-14
Full Draft of Sermon

The proclamation of John the Baptist in Luke is catechetical, a big word for it teaches. Being Lutheran one of our stock catechism questions is: What does this mean? Luther asks it all the time and then explains it. The crowds and people who come to John the Baptist ask: “What do we do?” And John answers them. We usually summarize the Baptist under the phrase “prepare the way”. And that is a great phrase, but we need to answer the what. What does preparation look like. Gracefully God has answered through John (and through the apostles).

What does preparation look like? This sermon goes through three things:
1) Come away for a time from normal life to be baptized – come out to the desert
2) Undergo that baptism, renew the Spirit through repentance, renew your allegiance not to the world but to God’s purpose
3) Return to your normal lives, return to the world, but having accepted the challenge to live those lives of repentance…to live as citizens of the Kingdom that is coming, to live as the true Children of Abraham

Within that last one is what is sorely missing in our society, people who truly carry out their vocations or callings. We care not at a loss for labor. We are at a loss for vocations in the Lutheran sense. It is not just priests or monks and nuns who have a sacred calling. Fathers, Mothers, citizens, rulers, employers, employees…the list goes one. We all have multiple vocations. Preparing the way includes living our calling and not just trying to drain them of life.

And all of that, because we fail so miserably, leads us back to the desert…to hear the Word…to be renewed. Not of ourselves, but in repentance and by the Spirit.

Dec 2012 Pastors Corner – Hymns We Sing – Advent Meditation

The season of advent is my favorite. I don’t think there is a clunker in the hymnbook for the entire season, and it contains my very favorites. If you asked me why, I’d say look at the names down at the bottom. For example LSB 332 – Savior of the Nations, Come, which I hope to hear the kids sing on the 16th. Originally written in Latin by Ambrose, bishop of Milan, teacher of the faith to Augustine. Translated into German by Martin Luther. The English translator is not a name you’d recognize, but when you find out the other hymns he wrote or translated, he did his part. Just paging through the names: Paul Gerhardt, Charles Wesley, Catherine Winkworth as translator again and again, Charles Coffin, Latin (i.e. old enough to have been sung and cherished and translated for at least 1500 years). The rest of the world rushed on to Christmas. It still rushes on to Christmas. The decorations were in the stores before Halloween this year. I saw the Corona lighted palm tree on Oct 28th during a football game. The best that the church has nurtured through the ages have pondered and written about Advent. Ricky Bobby liked the little baby Jesus. An unknown Basque writer held off and pondered that pregnant time, when the great and glorious Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came and praised the lowly maiden Mary, most highly favored lady.

Why has Advent called to the best or at least brought out their best work? Again, I am making a wild guess, but Advent is the time on the calendar that speaks most to our actual felt situation. Christmas and Easter and Ascension have happened, but we didn’t see them in the same way. As Jesus once said to his disciples, “For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Mat 13:17 ESV).” We are more like ancient Israel. Like Israel, by the rivers of Babylon, we ponder Zion. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel. The Christian is a sojourner, a stranger in a strange land, one whose citizenship is in a different kingdom. We long to sing the coronation hymn and proclaim to the City Lift Up Your Head, You Mighty Gates, the King of Glory waits. In the midst of the birth pains, the wars and rumors of war, we hear Isaiah, What Hope An Eden Prophesied, Where tame live with the wild. The lamb and lion side by side, led by a little child. When we look around and all seems lost, On Jordan’s Bank a Baptist’s Cry, announces that the Lord Is nigh. Hark the Glad Sound. A Thrilling voice sounding and filling hearts with hope. Make straight the way.

Advent is not unsure of the fulfillment, but it feels pulled by both the now and the not yet. It employs all the metaphors we have. Like Mary, it put the hopes and fears of all the years in its heart and ponders them. That is what I’d encourage you to do this December, this Advent. Don’t rush on to the child at the manger, the Christ child has surely come, but ponder the coming – the ways and byways and means Christ enters in and makes our sad divisions cease. Are you prepared? O Lord, How Shall I Meet You, and welcome you aright? Those are the questions of Advent.

If it can’t go on, it won’t – updated (Or Bell, Babies and Bishops, Oh My!)

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to have Ross Douthat’s email inbox. If people are willing to print things like this (headline with Ross’ picture right next to it: Do Not Have Sex With This Man), I don’t want to think about what would be said without an editor. Mr. Douthat himself had a follow-up, here worth reading. This is a First Things divide. How you answer what is the purpose of marriage determines many things. Different civilizations come from different answers to first things.

The Archbishop of Philadelphia says some similar interesting things.

Catholic life needs to be reignited. American culture is a new kind of mission territory. It’s a cocoon of marketing, entertainment, and manufactured appetites; a narcotic of noise, distraction, and relentless propaganda for self-absorption and confused sexuality. Being in the United States in the weeks before Christmas is an education in what the culture really worships. It worships commerce.

Real Christian discipleship rejects and resists the kind of radical personal license and acquisitiveness that animates a consumerist society. So when the Catholic Church teaches about the dignity of the unborn child, the purpose of human sexuality, economic and immigration justice, the rights of religious communities and believers, and the nature of marriage and the family—she’s not just unpopular. She’s hated as the enemy of individual privacy and personal freedom. That shapes the way the Church is treated in the mass media.

The New Yorker gets cool to Rob Bell. I still like Bell. He says some things that should be said in interesting ways. But I also think what you are seeing in Bell is an attempt by one really smart and emotionally sensitive guy to create a Christianity in the hyper-individualistic America, a form of religion acceptable to those who are spitting nails at Ross Douthat. And I understand that desire to build such a thing, but after reading that New Yorker article, especially the last scene, you get a sense of the sadness and futility of the attempt.

Mark 13 – a deeper look – part 2

So, in part 1 we made two conclusions about Mark 13. First Mark 13:1-31 is talking about AD70 while Mark 13:32-37 is talking about the Last Day. Second, based on Mark 13:14 and specifically the authorial comment, we readers must be meant to get something out of Mark 13:1-31. Even though it is about AD70, it is not a dead letter. The way it is not a dead letter is to read it typologically.

First a note about typology, this is how the apostles thought. You can see Paul using it in Rom 5:12-21, Peter in 1 Peter 2:1-10, John in 1 John 3:11-24, and even the unknown author of Hebrews in Heb 3:1-6. There are a bunch of other examples. What I would assert is that this is exactly what Jesus taught them in Luke 24:44. All of scripture talks about Jesus. It is interpreted Christocentrically. At a more basic level what I mean by typology is that a person or event in the past has continuing relevance for the present and future by means of being fulfilled. A typology that Jesus refers to is the sign of Jonah. Jonah is a type of Christ in that his three days in the belly of the whale are fulfilled by Christ’s three days in the tomb. (Luke 11:29-30) If you want to read more about typology the Wikipedia entry isn’t bad.

So, the typology that I want to look at specifically is found in Mark 13:14, the verse that the author says “let the reader understand”. The phrase I want to look at is “The abomination of desolation”. This phrase has a well-defined OT history and a well-defined history in AD70. Because of that I think we can make safe typological statements. Not statements that I would bring into the pulpit simply because the background and depth necessary are just too much, but solid defend-able interpretation. For the OT background please read Daniel 11:31, Daniel 12:11, Daniel 9:27 and Mal 2:11. To be solidly grounded in that OT usage, which the original AD70 hearers would have understood, is necessary. That OT end of the type narrows and limits our usage for the fulfillment. I am going to paraphrase Dr. Robert Stein from his commentary on Mark. (The full citation would be: Stein, Robert H. “Mark.” In The Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, edited by Yarbrough and Stein, 601-605. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.)

Paraphrasing, the 4 “rules” of the abomination of desolation would be:
1) It deals with the Altar and Rituals of the Temple
2) It is recognizable to serious adherent
3) Early enough that “fleeing” is meaningful
4) A person instead of a thing (reflecting the grammar of the phrase and Dan 9:27)
Dr. Stein puts forward Phanni, a high priest appointed by Zealots, as the fulfillment in AD70. The recognizable abomination was that Phanni: a) wasn’t qualified according to the law, b) allowed murder and division in the temple and c) profaned the Holy of Holies. All of that would have been easily recognizable by the common Judean Jew. He was appointed sometime in 67-68, so well before Rome encircled the city. And he is a person and not a thing.

I want to pause for a second to reflect on what this excludes. The abomination of desolation is not something in the political realm. Based on the original types we would not look for this in politics. What it really leads to is the end of a religious institution. The temple came down. It is the sign of impending judgment on a religious establishment. AD70 was a sign of the Lordship of Jesus. A religious establishment that has gone off the rails can be called to repentance, but if you see the abomination of desolation, it is too late, flee. We know from Acts and the letters that the Apostles continued to meet in the temple (Acts 3:1). They called for its repentance (Acts 3:17-19). They knew it would come down because Jesus predicted it, but it was still the center of religious life, and who knows maybe God would be merciful, until the abomination. When you see that, flee.

So, here is what I would say is the payoff. Looking at AD70 as a type, we might see its fulfillment among ourselves in divine judgment upon church bodies that are irredeemable. If you see a church body that has profaned the sacraments and altars what you are seeing is an abomination of desolation. If you see such a thing, that is the time to flee. The time for calls to repentance are over. The faithful can see that fall as proof of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the head of the church and he will not be mocked. None of this calls for or expects a perfect church. There is a lot of ruin in a church before you get to abomination.

The final jump is yours, let the reader understand. Do you see an abomination? If there is one, this generation will not pass away before the fall happens. I would be pretty sure that something like this might qualify. Altar and Ritual, check. Recognizable, should be. Early enough, yep. People instead of things, yep. Please note that I’m talking about the church here. I have made no comment about the political or even the social realm. The abomination of desolation and any judgment is reserved for religious institutions. I also want to re-iterate again that this is something extreme. I don’t think this happens “all the time”. Really what this amounts to is a final warning to any believers remaining in these church bodies. If all the calls to repent have been rebuffed and the institution is “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” into flagrant heresy then you might see this as the final sign, flee.

If Something Can’t Go On, It Won’t

How to say this? There are some long running arguments about society and social structure that seem to be coming to watersheds or settlement points.

Here is the anchoress as First Things talking about the Priesthood in the Catholic Church. It has seemed to me for a long time that “the spirit of Vatican 2” crowd and the “typical every sunday” Catholic was something that couldn’t go on. If I’m reading this article correctly, it sounds as if it won’t. The being nice to each other phase is over.

That debate is related to this next item in a way. Ask yourself the question does marriage precede the state? Then ask yourself the question: is a fundamental of the essence part of marriage children or is marriage simply a personal arrangement? This is the original NYT column where Ross Douthat would call those who would say “no, simply a personal arrangement” decadent. Here is my favorite finance columnist, reacting to that column and the many mean-spirited responses.

We used to live in a society where:
a) marriage was about four things: a picture of Christ and the church, mutual support, lust control and children (please look up the liturgy of marriage on LSB page 275 to see these things spelled out, I’m not making them up).
b) marriage was an institution that preceded the state and in fact formed the stable foundation (Gen 2:24 and Mark 10:7, and the 4th commandment and Luther’s explanation)
c) bright lines were drawn between expected choices, accepted choices and choices out of bounds

The emerging society: a) marriage is only about mutual support, it is an individual contract, b) it can be redefined by the state, and c) drawing of bright lines is judgmental which you have no authority to be and might even need to be “re-educated”.

If you live or believe in that old society you see the new one as decadent and narcissistic which ultimately leads to collapse. If you live in the emerging society – “Hey, don’t harsh my buzz, you evil troll”. That is a divide in worldview that can’t be sustained or bridged. If something can’t go on, it won’t.

Football and Sons; Paragraph to Ponder

As a father of two sons, one of whom is likely to be big enough to play serious football, you have to think about the concussion stuff. My instinctual answer is – “yeah, its a violent sport, but man is it fun when you are 16”. And I’m sure it would be fun when you are 20 and 24 if you were good enough to play at that level. But Ace of Spades has a remarkable paragraph that channels my favorite Cranmer quote (“what the heart wants, the will chooses and the mind justifies”) and does what the best preaching does – turns the spotlight away from the desires of the heart to the heart itself.

Thus, we’re all kind of complicit in this, or, putting it a different way, we’ve all accepted the violence as a necessary evil for a bit of entertainment. The athletes accept the cost-benefit tradeoff; the teams accept it; NBC accepts it; the public accepts it. We all accept that to have the game as we’ve had the game, and as we want the game, there are going to be some serious casualties along the way, the most serious of which involve the brain and spinal column.

And that’s kind of a heavy, ugly idea. But it’s true. Ninety percent of human thought is, I sometimes think, devoted to rationalizing why things which are obviously true are not true. And we reward people who give us the best, most plausible falsehoods denying the obvious truth.

Just because I love the game, especially the NFL, would I minimize the cost? Would I sacrifice or risk my son for my continued entertainment? Can I come up will all kinds of justifications for that which sound right? The only correct answer is “Yes, Lord have mercy”. And then sin boldly. Our choices are not between good and evil, but usually between mitigated evil and concentrated evil. Football doesn’t at least right now seem to tip toward concentrated evil. It is more the mitigated kind as the lessons learned from team sports and competition, including the self knowledge of just how far you can push yourself, are good lessons hard to duplicate.

Mark 13 – a Deeper Look – Part 1

The last two weeks of the church year are traditionally given to the apocalyptic. This year it was Mark 13:1-37. There is no part of the scriptures that might be more given to extremes of interpretation. Flights of fancy about the end times, which for some reason are always about our time, are built on the smallest of connections. At the other extreme are folks wishing to avoid that ditch by just saying that these parts of the scripture are a dead letter to us. What I want to do here is outline what I think is the road between those two ditches. I didn’t, and wouldn’t, take this into the pulpit because bluntly that time is too precious for what is in the end speculation however well grounded. But this is prime stuff for bible study. And that is where this comes from. In prepping two sermons a whole bunch of reflections were churned up. We spent a couple of Sunday morning bible studies laying groundwork and attempting to look a little deeper. How is Mark 13 not just a dead letter, but also well grounded?

The first thing I would recommend any time you are reading “end times” scripture is getting your toughest and most literal translation. Why? It will slow you down and make you look at each word and phrase, and the more readable translations often have an interpretation embedded already. What that means practically is getting out the old family King James or the ESV. I’m going to give you an example here comparing Mark 13:32 in the ESV and the NLT.

ESV: But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows (Mar 13:32 ESV)
NLT: However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen (Mar 13:32 NLT)

The NLT just reads along easily. Both translations give you the central idea that “no one knows”. But what the NLT steamrolls over is what “these thing” are. It elides the transition that is present in the original language. In Mark 13 Jesus is talking about two things:1) the fall of the temple in AD70 and 2) the end of the world. The NLT’s these things keeps the distinction squishy. The literal ESV, reflecting the clumsy Greek, reflects the positional emphasis of the words. “Concerning that day or that hour”, the verse signals a transition of subject. Jesus has been speaking about AD70 up until this time. But now, concerning that day or that hour, the Last Day, the End of the World, no one knows. The tougher translation slows you down to get that temporal transition.

So, that is the first big interpretation decision. Mark 13:1-31 talks about AD70 and Mark 13:32-37 talks about the Last Day. The main thing you can take away from the Last Day answer is no one knows so be prepared. Repeat that like a mantra anytime you are tempted by the “Left Behind” ditch. There are no signs. There is no way to figure out a timeline and where we are on it. No one knows.

But what about Mark 13:1-31? If it is all talking about AD70, is it a dead letter to us? If it is a dead letter why does Mark write verse 14? “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains (Mark 13:14 ESV).” Let the reader understand? Who is the reader? Even if you answer something like – “Mark wrote in the 50’s and the reader was Jewish Christians living in Judea”, you still need to deal with the idea of the Holy Spirit as the author. This is my second big interpretation decision. While Mark 13:1-31 in its full context is talking about AD70, the parenthetical remark “let the reader understand”, says that this is not a dead letter. We must avoid the Last Day ditch. We can learn nothing about that day from here, but it does mean something to us. What does AD70 mean to a Christian living today or at any time post AD70?

It is here that I like to introduce a distinction. There is the capital letter Day of The Lord, and then there are days of the Lord. We all have a personal day of the Lord at the time of our death. And a fair history admits of times that seem unthinkable, times when we say surely the Lord was at work either in judgment or in deliverance. (We don’t know that and can’t say for sure, but we don’t have to be idiots. These are the times when you fall into the divine passive – “we were delivered on that day”. The passive hides the true subject with a sense of mystery, but only one without ears wouldn’t get the point.) What I am going to suggest is that AD70 becomes for us a type of those small letter days of the Lord. And I am going to flesh out how that typology works in this case. Given the scriptural context of Mark 13:14, it is a well-grounded and narrow typology, but one that I think has amazing resonance. I’ll continue this tomorrow.

A Specific Peace

The word peace in the Gospel according to Luke is a big word. This was the First Sunday in Advent and the gospel lesson is often the triumphal entry or Palm Sunday. The theological theme of the that text is the Kingship of Jesus. No different in Luke, but Luke adds this strange cry from the crowd leading Jesus into Jerusalem. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! (Luk 19:38 ESV)” Did you catch the strange word? Peace in Heaven. The entire phrase is an echo of the Angels at Christmas, but instead of peace on earth, now it is peace in heaven. And if you do the word study, roughly midway through Luke you find this, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. (Luk 12:51 ESV)”

The peace of God is not a generic peace. The Angels were never singing just “peace on earth”. They sang “on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! (Luk 2:14 ESV)” The specific peace is the Kingdom of God, the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The specific peace is one imposed…through grace. You can take it or you can leave it, but you can’t work for it. You can’t earn the peace. The Father just declared it. The war was over on the cross.

The only question is our response. Do we accept the peace, or continue an insurgent war. Which Kingdom do we choose, the Kingdom of this World, or the Kingdom of Heaven. The tyrant Satan or the humble Christ. Choose your prince.