Category Archives: cross

Ruminations

I usually try and write something at least every other day, but this week it just didn’t really make it to print.

Things tended to come as short intuitive blips, but of the sort that even investing 2000 words, you knew you could illustrate the point, but it wouldn’t make a difference.

For example, take the Casino amendment I commented on prior to the election. Predictably it passed although I was heartened that(just)over 50% of the people in our voting vicinity realized the problem. The libertine wave in America is just too strong. I quickly wrote my underlying intuition as: the libertine wave in America is all about bondage, but not in the way you are thinking. American liberty was traditionally about life and the pursuit of happiness which was tightly bound to the virtuous life. As late as Mr. Smith goes to Washington or almost any Jimmy Stuart movie, it is about the happiness that comes from being a moral or virtuous person, even when the virtue leads to apparent worldly loss. Yes, Hollywood would tack on happy endings mitigating the message, but those happy endings were reflections of the Christian afterlife. The Hollywood equivalent of paying your kid 10% a month interest on their bank account to encourage savings. But gambling, pot, abortion and any of the other “liberties” that we are consistently creating or voting ourselves are not about the life of virtue. They are about hiding from the hard path. They are about wallowing in our propensity to messing things up. We are demanding the liberty to engage in vice and not be called on it. And vice is always about slavery. Anyone who commits sin is a slave to sin (John 8:34). We as a nation still have money to spend. We are not yet looking at pig’s food thinking that looks good. And our “friends” (i.e. our government) is busy enabling our squalor.

Likewise, Mollie Hemingway captured what I think is a defining number. The GOP VA governor candidate Ken Cuccinelli won married women by 8 pts, but lost unmarried by 42 pts. He actually did better with married women than married men. You can either have a culture that encourages virtue, which will have a high number of those married women and their husbands, or you will have a culture that enables vice. You have a culture of liberty, or you have a libertine culture. A libertine culture need two things: 1) someone to help pay for the effects of such a lifestyle and 2) someone to tell you it is ok to keep the party going and quiet dissenting voices.

It isn’t the gospel. The gospel is the proclamation that regardless of your success or failure at pursuing virtue, Jesus Christ has granted you the victory. You don’t earn it, you receive it. But virtue is still important. And the toughest part is that as a Christian you are called to it, even when the world around is going in the opposite direction. You are salt and light. You are light even when the world prefers darkness.

Book Review – Angry Conversations with God by Susan Issacs

Some of you might know, I have a minor hobby of writing book reviews on Amazon.  Hobby is stretching it, because my filter for writing reviews is rather thick.  The first filter is simply how many reviews have already been written and can I add anything.  I’m pompous enough to think I can write a very good review, but if there are already 100’s to 1000’s, why?   In the same way, if it isn’t in a subject from my expertise, why would I comment?  The second layer of that filter is I really only review books where I can in good conscience give five stars or give one star.  I prefer calling out excellent books.  And that doesn’t mean books that I always agree with.  What it means is books that are worth the investment of time.  If I happen to stumble across a book that makes me say “I want that 10 hours of my life back”, I will also write that review.  The last niche is, I guess, because I’ve written enough quality reviews I’ve been included on the Amazon Vine.  If Amazon sends me something for free, I review it.  It is part of the deal.

Susan Issacs BookI don’t always post my reviews here.  Sometimes, like with Pastrix, the review here is a longer or more personal form.  This one is just straight up.

This had been on my radar for a while, and then it popped up on sale for the kindle for $2.99.  As of this writing, it is still at that price, link here.  What follows is my review which I gave a hardy 5 stars.

Susan Isaacs has written a very good book.  It is both an entertaining read and surprisingly deep.  The reviewer’s question is how to describe that.

First the author is primarily an actress or even more narrowly a sketch comedic actress with serious improv skills.  That background is the ground of why this book is so entertaining.  It is not a traditional narrative nor does it have unduly long and introspective sections.  The author’s command of what is the core emotional point, where is the heart-rending funny and quick pacing keep the book moving and entertaining.

The surprising depth comes from two points.  The first is that the author, like any great comedian, is unflinching when going for the jugular.  What makes that amazing is the she is going after God’s jugular and her own.  In mythical language this is a modern day Jacob wrestling with God through the night.  The second depth is that even though this is the tale of “middle-class white girl problems” as the author calls it, they are her problems and they force what Christianity would call a dark night of the soul.  The humor of that juxtaposition is not lost on the author, but she tells her story with such vim and pathos that you recognize the universal condition.  At one point she summarizes her problem as “the man who’s stuck in the desert because God put him there looks exactly like the man who’s stuck in the desert because he’s lost.  And I don’t know which one I am.  I don’t know if I’m here to find friendship with God, or if I’ve been left to die (loc 2924).”

What starts as a potential cliché of marriage counseling with God becomes a lively and deeply honest wrestling.  Does this faith that the author has carried since childhood as a gift from her mother die, or is it cleansed, renewed and blessed?  What emerges from the book is both a picture of a mature and maturing faith and a highly personal and living faith.  And that is hidden in, with and under the form of a funny read.

Reformation Day – Hero or Human?

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Biblical Texts: Rev 14:6-7, Romans 3:19-28, John 8:31-36
Full Sermon Draft

Reformation Day to me is always a tough day to preach. For all my formative years and if any of the examples that I sampled this week are representative, the general approach to Reformation Day is full on Triumphalism and spiking of the football. And it is not that I can’t or won’t defend my side. I think Luther in particular and the reformers in general were right on a lot more than they were wrong. But if there is one thing that the gospel doesn’t really accept it is heroes. We have heroes of the faith, usually called saints, but ask why they are saints. Many of them are martyrs with a subset dying gruesomely. The next batch are those dedicated to outcasts – like the priests in leper colonies or Mother Teresa among the untouchables. There are the scholars and teachers and theologians. They often avoided the deaths, but the exchange seems to be that the society around them was passing away (c/r Augustine). Usually the equivalent of the Chinese toast, “may you live in interesting times”. What gets you on the list of the Saints is not usually someone confused with “winning”. The more we make a Hero out of Luther or the Reformers, the less they actually have to instruct us. The more we make them great men and women, the less we allow them to influence us.

Not an argument to tear them down or deconstruct them or even psycho-analyze them (although I suppose I do a little of that). The argument is to see them in context – fully human. When we do that, it is not bringing them down to our level, because according to the law we are already all on the same level – in deep trouble. But when we allow them to human, we are set free. We can admit the flaws (repent) and accept the grace. Both for them, and for us; both for their impossible circumstances, and for ours. We can hope to mend what was broken instead of building monuments. One of Luther’s most famous lines for theologians is: “A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.” It is the harder road, but you don’t get real glory without walking through Calvary.

John Calvin, Baseball Fan

interference

We have a natural tendency to mess things up. We can’t help it. Even when we think we are doing good we very likely are in the midst of mortal sin, or at least the next royal mess. Everything from bringing democracy to the middle east to expanding healthcare, from trying to comfort a friend to advising daughters on boyfriends. Intentions are rarely bad. And we can imagine a universe where this goes well. We just don’t happen to live in that universe. We don’t get to make clean choices and pick between good and evil. We don’t see that well. Most of our choices are actually between bad and worse. Welcome to the triage center known as a fallen world. And just because we didn’t intend to, doesn’t let us off the hook. We are morally culpable – sometimes to the third and forth generations.

Sometimes two great plays lead to a limp off loss in the World Series.

But unlike Boston, whose only recourse is game 4, we have Hope. The law is not the final word. The righteousness of God is by Grace.

Two Great Business Metaphors for the Law and the Gospel

Without Pants.I’m only about 100 pages into it, but This is a Great Story. It is about the company and the coders behind WordPress. If you don’t know what WordPress is they might even take that as a compliment. Right now, something like 20% of the internet, including this website, functions on WordPress. The program or content management system is GPL which means it is free and anyone can look at and use the code. Usually you get what you pay for, but WordPress is different. (I’ve been playing with it since they were calling releases by great jazz musicians. Once upon a time I had some skills to mess with the code. Alas, no longer.)

Anyway, two great quotes in the first 100 pages. One, the author is doing the George Plimpton (Paper Lion), and actually working a job at the company. The company starts everyone for a month in customer service working on bugs. Everything done is captured. Tickets worked, posts made, hours spent and it all turns into one great leader board (or loser board) if you are at the low end. This is a great description of the theological law at work…

It actually felt great, for the first week, when I helped someone. It was like unblocking a little stream so the happy little fish could swim on. Every closed ticket gave me the sense that things were a little more right in the world. But as weeks wore on, my resentment grew. Even with tickets that required ingenuity to figure out or to explain, it bothered me that only one person would benefit from my effort. And when that person succeeded because of my work, he or she would throw it away and never look at it again. There was no motivation for me to do great work, only good work….writing tickets was the opposite proposition of effort, and with each day, my morale declined.

We can’t keep the law. When everything we do it tracked and always before us, even the good we do becomes negative. We turn from doing the work to figuring out how to game the work good enough or lower the expectation. WordPress as a company seems to get around that problem of the law by two ways. One is the sense of mission which the gospel quote will capture. The second is the company culture embodies transparency as the anti-witch hunt. We are all guilty and have fallen short. That would be apparent looking at everybody’s stats which are available from everyone from new hire to CEO. “At least at Automatic, the rules were clear and fair, everyone, not just executives, had access.” Everything that is hidden will be revealed in the age to come (Matt 10:26).

The gospel according to WordPress:

In August 2005 he asked three well-known volunteer programmers from the WordPress community to quit their jobs and join Mullenweg’s bootstrapped new company. He was completely honest: he told them there was no venture capital firm behind them and fully admitted that at age twenty-one, he had no experience doing any of what he was about to do. He also reminded them that the core philosophy of this corporation would be open source, which made it all sound even crazier, as it would mean they’d use a GPL license on all the code for everything they made. They said yes, and work began.

Hey, this is a path to the cross, come along and die. Ok, sign me up. We’ll figure it out on the way to Jerusalem.

End of an Age – Couple of Stray Thoughts & Elder Discussions

lot-leavingI’m just back from one of the best pastor’s conferences I’ve been too and I’m still thinking on some of those items. The most amazing thing is that for the first time I actually heard back some of what I’ve been seeing and experiencing. The pastors, at least the presenters, have taken a decidedly theological turn. If in the past I’ve felt that much of these conferences have been about forms of therapy, the sense of trouble has risen to the point we are talking about serious things in a serious way. I don’t want to bash therapy too much, but if you take Jesse on Breaking Bad as the current culture, therapy is about acceptance. There are things you accept, and there are things that your don’t. As Jesse breaks down in “Problem Dog”, “do you accept that?” The whispered answer is no. Sin is not acceptable, but it is forgivable. The church is in the absolution business, not the acceptance business. We’ve been hiding that for too long. And of course absolution only works if you believe that Jesus Christ has the power to forgive sins. That is the deep difference. Therapy can be broader. You can make people without any faith feel better for a time with therapy. Real freedom and joy requires faith.

The LCMS likes to say that we are a confessional church. Yes, there are the ultra-confessionals for whom nobody is confessional enough. But even they serve a purpose. They are the first to spot things that we should consider. They are standing on a wall issuing warnings and taking the flack for making us uncomfortable. But at its core, to be a confessional church means what each portion of the Formula of Concord starts out with – “we believe teach and confess…”. Our experience of the risen savior Jesus Christ and our wrestling with his word, sometimes all the long night, have lead us to say these things are true. Building your life on these things is building your life on the Rock. When tides or tempest rise these things are a solid foundation that will not be moved. Getting back to Jesus, what confessing the confession means here is that we believe not just in a name Jesus, but a person who lived among us, taught us and sent apostles. The revelation of God is a thick one and not a thin veneer. And we were made to find it out (Prov 25:2).

While away, Rod Dreher had a couple of thoughts in the same vein. The release of an every 10 year study of American Jews was the source point. These are the two posts: post 1, post 2. I wanted to quote a couple of things. The first from his reflection of practicing the faith.

I’m seeing the seeds of this within the Orthodox Christianity we practice. Our pastor says that if we don’t come to vespers on Saturday night, we are not to present ourselves for communion on Sunday morning. The idea is that you should prepare yourself spiritually for the central event of your week. It’s hard to do, in the sense that from 6pm until about 7:10 every Saturday night, you are in church for evening prayer. I had to leave watching the LSU-Georgia game last weekend in the fourth quarter to make it to vespers on time. This was not fun! I did not want to do this! But it shows one’s children, and oneself, what it is to make church a priority. I’m by no means totally consistent on this, but I’m better than I was, and God willing, will be more faithful next year. The point is that it’s a practice that sets one’s community apart…Now, do I think fasting and vespers are essential to one’s salvation? No, not directly. As our priest reminds us about fasting, “This is medicine.” That is, it’s meant not as a punishment, but as an aid to holiness. Learning to deny oneself is part of acquiring salvation, certainly, and preparing oneself property for Holy Communion is as well. The point I’m trying to make here is that I don’t believe that God is not especially interested in us following specific rules. What He is interested in is our faithfulness to Him. Over time, I’ve come to see how these practices bring us closer to Him by reinforcing in us the fact — or what must become a fact — that He is our God and we are His people. It doesn’t really matter that you can’t eat a steak on Friday night, or go to the ball game on Saturday evening. What matters about that is that you have made obedience to God such a priority in your life that you are willing to sacrifice those good things for His sake. If you are part of a family and a community that practices these sorts of things, it seems to me that they really will move you closer to a conversion of the heart. After all, as a minority faith within American culture, you have to really believe this stuff in order to fast as the Orthodox church requires you to fast (and many Orthodox do not, let me be clear).

The second is the reflection that leads to some of the Elder Board discussions we have had and what I would credit the renewed seriousness of the pastors meetings to.

To paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, if you don’t push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you, you are going to find yourself shoved to the margins. In the future, Jews will be Orthodox, or they won’t be at all. In the future, Christians will be some form of small-o orthodoxy — Roman Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox — or they won’t be either. The pressures to assimilate are just too strong for a go-along-to-get-along faith.

Nobody wants to hear that, but it’s hard to argue with the trajectory of religious belief and identity across generations.

The great commission (Matt 28:18-20) is to make disciples. We make disciples by baptizing and teaching. And in something that I’d say is characteristic of Jesus, we are given the tools and told to go use them. We are not given exact ways to do this. Go wrestle with it. A big part of my experience in the last five years is that the culture wants us to 100% baptize and 0% teach. They want the rite of passage, but they don’t really want to hear or understand much less live what it is about. I’ve argued, at a much more lenient place than Mr. Dreher’s Orthodox Priest about Saturday prayer in preparation for Sunday Communion, that preparation for the sacrament of baptism is appropriate. I’ve argued that we need to push back against the culture a little harder. Does that preparation ensure anything, especially the efficacy of baptism – no. The Spirit does what he wants. But this side of baptism we co-operate with the Spirit in living the Christian life. We can oppose the Spirit – despising His gifts of Word and Sacrament. Or we can put to death the flesh and our sinful nature so that the new man would arise. And that is the Spiritual truth behind Rod’s conclusions. Only things that die get to rise. Only when you’ve lost your life are you given a new one (Matt 16:25). Or said another way – those who have, more will be given, those who have not, even what they have will be taken away (Luke 19:16). Go-along-to-get-along faith, vast swaths of American Christianity, don’t want to experience that death. They are afraid of it. Let us hold on to a little of this life. Let us turn our heads for one last look at Sodom. They offer therapy. A confessional church, a confessional people, are about absolution…are about living into the Kingdom of God

Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber – A Book Review

Pastrix Book CoverFirst the who, what, where and why facts. The author of Pastrix, Nadia Bolz-Weber, is an ELCA pastor at a church plant in Colorado called House for All Sinners and Saints. You could say she is a second career minister if you accept a prodigal life as a first career. The cover photo gives you the arm tats and the general ancient-future vibe by using the illuminated bible artwork. Pastor Bolz-Weber and her congregation are an interesting blend of that no longer useful word emergent and liturgical churches. She planted this congregation about the same time I arrived at St. Mark’s and started with roughly the same number in worship on an average Sunday. Just that horrible comparable intersection makes the book necessary reading for me; we are sharing a path of building congregations. The other portion that makes the book, for me at least, necessary reading is that when I read or hear her preaching, I hear many of the same Lutheran-ish concepts. I can hear the gospel and find myself saying Amen. Hearing the gospel as clearly as I can from her preaching is not an everyday thing. And yet she and I would not see eye-to-eye on many things. And that would not, at least from my viewpoint, be caused by general political ideology. (She is a creature of the left, and I am in general a man of the right). We would seem to share the same low anthropology and high Christology that is a reformation and Lutheran must. (One political comment, I don’t know how you can be of the left and hold a reformation anthropology. Being progressive would seem to mean that you think we can progress. The low anthropology of the reformation would say back – “no, you are a sinner, you may change the sins you indulge, but still the same”. My politics of the right really starts from that point; it is a politics of managing the crooked timber which in general means creating as many break-walls as possible. My political nightmare is large scale uniformity which always ends in large scale tyranny and misery.) Back to the book, sharing that theology, I was hoping to see how she makes it work in a completely different way. I wanted to be able to write a review that was more glowing. Instead I have that quizzical and queasy feeling when people are using important words with strangely different definitions.

There are three points that stuck out to me a stumbling blocks or scandals to just shouting Amen at the end. First, while Pastor Bolz-Weber is able to say some nice things about people like her parents or like the LCMS, she seems oblivious to the difference in how she treats them verses how they treat her. She almost always goes back to “beating the fundy” to maintain her differentiation, while they display love. Stringing a couple of such situations together.

I knew that I had to get out. I was a strong, smart and smart-mouthed girl, and the church I was raised in had no place for that kind of thing even though they loved me. (loc 170)… Church, for all its faults, was the only place outside of my own home where people didn’t gawk at me or make fun of me. I could go to church and be greeted with my actual name and not a taunt. I could go to church and be part of the youth group. I could go to church and no one stared (loc 278)… But I soon learned that there was actually a whole world of Christians who take Matthew 25 seriously, who believe that when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for the sick, we do so to Jesus’ own self. They weren’t magical fantasy creatures, they were just a kind of Christian I had never heard of. (loc 487)

It goes on like that throughout the whole book. What she gives and acknowledges with one hand she punches and takes back with the other. What she says she wants to be, her parents are – welcoming the stranger, even when the stranger is your own little girl. When she actually says something that offends her erstwhile political allies, it is mean old LCMS’er Chris Rosebrough who calls and who flat out stops the attacks and calls her friend. While she is worried about hurts thousands of miles away that we can’t really do anything about, it is “the mean people” who love what is given to them. That is one Lutheran concept that Pastor Bolz-Weber did not pick up. What is our vocation? Do what is in front of us.

The second item, and the queasiest I got, circled around her pastoral and liturgical reactions to a transgendered parishioner. What Pastor Bolz-Weber did you would not find even in the ELCA agenda book (at least not yet). They set up a “shrine to himself as a girl (loc 1430)” which is populated with pictures of this person as a young child in dresses and pigtail and they put a candle in the middle “which caused the (given) name to move and change hue”. “We decided that at Baptism of our Lord Sunday, we would include within the liturgy a naming rite. Mary would become Asher in the midst of a liturgy where Jesus was named “Son” and “Beloved (loc 1435).””

My first reaction here was simply pagan, the setting up a shrine to our ancestors but in our narcissistic age the shrine becomes to ourselves and how we want to mold ourselves. Turning more theological I thought about the day they chose. When Jesus was baptized what he does is two-fold. First he is declaring his solidarity with sinners, with us. Jesus stands under those waters of repentance not needing them, but taking them for us. The second thing he does is declare his own blessing on the incarnation. It is speculation to think about those 30 silent years, but here in Jordan’s waters Jesus declares that he is messiah. This body, this incarnation, is God standing with and for His people. The Father affirms this with the voice from heaven – “This is my son” – and the Spirit descends as a grant of truth. This created liturgical rite denies the incarnation. The body that was created for this child of God would be denied. That beautiful name, Mary, would be obliterated. It is somewhat surprising that the written name wasn’t burned in the candle. Mary to Asher or Mary to Ash. Instead of following Jesus and being incarnations, God’s creation is denied and the blessings declared on it are appropriated for our own higher spiritual conception.

In what was one of the largest discordant notes, Pastor Balz-Weber first does what we see in the first point. She bashes the fundies. Mary/Asher came from the same Church of Christ tradition as she. First bash, “not unlike soldiers who survived the same bloody battle”. Attempting to live the Christian life, Mary/Asher saw a “Christian” therapist who instead of following repentance and absolution as many as 70 * 7 (i.e. infinite), prescribes behavioral therapy – when you have homosexual thoughts snap yourself with a rubber band. Aristotle might agree with such therapy, but Chrsitian? No way. After bashing the silly fundamentalists, she turns to justifying by interpreting the lives of Paul and Luther. Her interpretation of Paul:

And then he went from Saul to Paul, from being the best at being a Jew to being the best at being a Christian. Only, at some point he realized that no one could really pull that off. That’s when Paul finally understood grace. (Loc 1444)

As far as I can read Galatians and Acts that pretty much gets everything backward. Paul insists that he understands grace because of his Damascus Road vision of the living Christ. Paul tells the story himself in Galatians 1:11-2:2. Paul would never claim to be a “super-christian” as she says, although he would say things like follow me as I follow Christ much later than Galatians. She takes a true inner change – the meeting of the living Christ where everything that came before is worthless – and applies it to an outer change (female to male) so that the person feels like who they have always been. Likewise she appropriates the Luther story as “standing up to the angry vengeful God from the church”. As far as I can tell, the grace on offer to Mary/Asher was: you are who you feel you are, stay who you feel you are, and God will complete it. That is scarily close to the medieval church’s, “do what you can and buy the indulgence and trust the saints”. The dependence upon God’s action is the gospel, but the proclamation to just be what you think yourself to be is of this world.

And that brings me to what I might call the third idol in the book. Pastor Bolz-Weber consistently and rightly sees that she falls in love with an image of herself. The one she keeps returning to is the romantic idea of dying young. She is in love with the idea of herself as a “bad-ass”. This is something that she has recognized and worked on. Toward the end of the memoir she states what might be the mission statement of House for All Sinners and Saints. If it is not the formal one, it is a guiding idea. “When one of the main messages of the church is that Jesus bids you come and die (die to self, die to your old ideas, die to self-reliance), people don’t tend to line the block for that shit.” The problem with that is I never actually see her pastoring her people in that way. She is constantly bleeding for people far away – Haiti, New Orleans. She is constantly patting herself on the back for her welcoming the stranger. She herself has experience a dying and a rising – alcoholism, her dreams of what HFASS is and should be (her story of “rally day” is one that pierces me). But she never proclaims this to “her people”. She doesn’t say to poor Mary that maybe your conception of yourself as a man is what needs to die, and you will struggle with that your entire life, unless God agrees to remove the thorn. She wants to say that HFASS is “a place where difficult truths can be spoken and everyone is welcome, and where we pray for each other (loc 604)”, but “The Bible is simply the cradle that holds Christ. Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority (loc 542).” That is an opening not only for denying the difficult truth, but for the substitution of lies in the form of truth. She says she believes in portents but only in retrospect (loc 669), but her life is full of portents that she still doesn’t get. Her parents’ constant love and that of all those evil bad benighted fundies. Pastor Bolz-Weber still has an image of herself she is in love with. It is one shared by most of her church as the real loving ones and not those hateful sectarians. The trouble is that it’s an idol. As she herself says, “every single time I die to something—my notions of my own specialness, my plans and desires for something to be a very particular way—every single time I fight it and yet every single time I discover more life and more freedom than if I had gotten what I wanted (loc 1987).”

Even given those serious troubles, I can still hear the gospel through Pastor Bolz-Weber. And I think it might go back to her calling story. “It was long before I went to seminary and got ordained, but doing PJ’s funeral—as his only “religious” friend—was the first time I realized that God was calling me to be a pastor to my people. (Loc 1736).” What I must confront is the experience of hearing the gospel in a place that is exceedingly heterodox. We are not privy to the counsels of the most high. While the actions might grate and the bible be dismissed and all kinds of error not only accepted by endorsed, that might be as close to the gospel as “her people” can get. And Jesus might have said, “it’s enough”. And as much as I could be like Peter complaining pointing at John – “what about him”, the answer is that is none of my business, work your field. And, Love covers a multitude. If there is one thing you can’t deny, it is that Pastor Bolz-Weber loves “her people”. Yes, I wish she loved them enough to share a little more truth, but she is sharing what she knows. And we must wrestle with the fact that it sounds like the gospel.

Walking to Jerusalem/Marching to Zion

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Luke 13:22-30
Full Draft of Sermon

I received more comments about this sermon than almost any in 5 years. The pessimist in me is saying “and you are going to pay for each one of those comments.”

In the worship service as a whole there was an interweaving of hymns and songs including one of my favorites, I Walk in Danger all the Way, Some of the VBS kids shared with us a couple of the songs from the week including “Stand Strong” and the one I reference in the Sermon Marching to Zion. But you don’t need that thicker worship setting to get the sermon.

The gospel point, the core of the text, is that it is Jesus alone who is walking to Jerusalem. And that walk ends outside the city walls. At the place of the skull. We can’t march into the city of God. We only enter through the narrow door, at the foot of the cross, through repentance. There is no “we” marching to Zion. The question is are you walking there? Is your walk with Jesus all the way?

The audio will be added later. Our guy who volunteers to convert the files (and has the stuff to actually do it) took a much deserved break. His son did the recording (thank you!), but the digital conversion is coming.

Fire, Baptism, Peace and Division

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Text: Luke 12:49-53
Full Sermon Draft

You don’t get much more raw than this text. This is the Jesus that tends to get submerged. This is the Jesus of a sign of contradiction (Luke 2:34, Acts 28:22). So much of Christianity and church has been scrubbed and sanitized, domesticated and made safe…and then you read passages like this. And if you are going to be apostolic and orthodox, you have to make room for them. You have to talk about fire and division. And you have to see them as good news, because it is passages like this that are at the core of the Christian proclamation. Repent, for the Kingdom of God is here. Settle before you are thrown in debtors prison until the last penny. (Luke 12:58ff)

The Good News of Jesus Christ – aka The Gospel

As a minister, especially one who tends to preach 51 out of 52 weeks a year, you don’t get many chances to hear the preaching of others. An occasional recorded piece. Every now and then a quick check at what the TV preachers are doing, until you feel like you need a shower. But live, rarely. That one week you actually go out of town…if parson’s wife hasn’t scheduled “fun” for Sunday morning. And the occasional funeral that you are not presiding at.

If there is one place that everybody should be able to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ it is at a funeral. You’ve got a body, or some ashes, or even just a picture of a dead man there. People die every day. Death would seem to be the definition of natural. Yet, everyone gathered there knows in the pit of there stomach that THIS IS WRONG. Something has gone terribly wrong. Now they might not know why they feel that way. They might have been trained out of that feeling by grief counseling, by repeating evolutionary dogma, or by just despair. But that wrongness won’t go away.

Any preacher worth the name should be able to say simply – that feeling you all have, it’s right, this is wrong, something has gone terribly wrong. Sin entered the world and the wages of sin are death. The common readings support it, like 2 Cor 4:16 – “the outer self is wasting away”…but it continues “but the inner self is being renewed day by day”. How can we say that? Stop blathering about inner and outer self. There is only one self, and he’s dead. But we can say it, because “while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened– not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life (2Co 5:4).” We don’t want to put off this flesh, but the promise, the gospel is greater. This sin burdened flesh has been put off, but we put it off in the hope of Jesus Christ. Just as he was raised from the dead, so will we be. All this wrong, that scream in your gut, Christ is setting it right. We live by the Spirit of Christ now, and then we will be clothed in the perfect tent, the resurrection body. Because Christ has defeated death. This momentary affliction is nothing compared to the weighty glory of that real body. And how do we know this, isn’t that just some fairy tale? No! The tomb was empty. Jesus appeared to Mary and the disciples. And now sits at the right hand of the Father. That man on the cross who shared, who took our death, is our case. In Christ shall all be made alive. Now we live through the indwelling of the Spirit, the downpayment. Then we just live…through Jesus.

Everybody was a great person at their funeral. You know what? St. Francis died. All the good works in the world are meaningless. Where is my hope? Preacher, tell me where my strength comes from! It comes from Jesus. Everybody loves mom and dad at the funeral. Although maybe being around at the end would have been a greater testament. You know who was there? Jesus…all the way to the bloody end. Probably in the form of a nurse. Please stop the narcissistic navel gazing. Don’t encourage me to grab the cup of life with my best life now. Please don’t tell me about the Lord of the dance. I don’t want to hear about the Lord of the Dance. I need the LORD of the universe who has transcended death and the grave and opened the gates of heaven for all believers. Who is that? Jesus.

I need the Gospel. The Good News of Jesus Christ. If it has been a while, and the Bible is boring, listen to the liturgy. The only place I heard Jesus today was in those strong words. I don’t need the anonymous God. I’ve got plenty of him. He’s got nothing. I need Jesus.