Signs and Wonders, Slavery to the Fear of Death, Resurrection, Freedom
Tag Archives: freedom
I had this old game – Fortress America. Think Red Dawn but a lot geekier and without wolverines. Everybody (but Canada, which had declared itself Switzerland) was attacking the United States. The United States defended its turf and expelled the invaders. Think about that for a second. What kind of fears are displayed in a scenario game where the United States in the 1980’s is getting invaded? If you look at the picture of the box nearby it has the unmistakable picture of Saddam Hussein on it. The geek kids of the 80’s played a game that encouraged speculation than Saddam was invading the US.
I want to point at a post by Richard Beck at Experimental Theology. From my reading – and you can ask my wife how we drown in books – what Dr. Beck ponders and scribbles is a treasure to the Christian church. I’d say it should be part of your everyday reading except that it might burn a little too bright. The post that I’m linking to is part of a series mulling over Heb 2:14-15 which includes the phrase, “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death”. In that phrase and what Dr. Beck is poking is the center of some of the things we’ve been looking at around here.
The Lutheran way of talking about just what Jesus has done and is doing for us is to talk about that unholy Trinity of Sin, Death and the Power of the Devil. We often reduce the gospel to just the dimension of sin, but the gospel is larger than that. If we stop at a therapeutic gospel of feeling good by being forgiven we can still find ourselves outside the kingdom. Our lives can still be lived in slavery to the fear of death.
What that looks like is the inward spiral of control that we looked at in Ann Voskamp’s work, One Thousand Gifts. Something bad happens, we experience loss, and we don’t trust God. Our entire life becomes a Fortress America retreat exercise in establishing a perimeter of control and asserting ourselves at that wall. When that wall is over-run, we retreat further and further establishing areas of control. And we do this not realizing how we are living our whole lives in slavery to that fear and how stunted and small our world becomes. When we seek to save our own life out of fear of loss and death, we lose it.
Christ has come to bring life and bring it abundantly. And here is where this intersects with our stewardship thoughts. We have said in that series that the goal of stewardship isn’t really to fund the church or anything like that although that is a side product. The goal of stewardship is that you recognize and trust God’s providence. It’s our money we say. We as a country are not as rich as we thought and we seem to be playing a never ending game of musical chairs over who is going to take that psychic (and real) loss. We are asserting control. We are retreating. We are running in fear. All fights over “my money”. Stewardship and the tithe that we talked about is a place where God starts punching holes in those chains of slavery to the fear ultimately of death. If we are able to give the firstfruits, from the first dollar, we are starting an outward spiral of grace. God – I’m not retreating anymore. That doesn’t work. I haven’t been able to protect any of my fortresses anyway. You handle it. Does giving that 10% mean you’ll be safe? Absolutely not. In fact it will weaken your ability to guard your turf. Everyone else is using 100% of “their money” and now you are using only 90%. But it places you in Beck’s “fellowship of need”. The goal of stewardship is that you recognize and trust God’s providence. In being gracious, we recognize our need of grace. In stopping claiming “my money”, we are freed from our slavery to fear of loss. We are saying back to the power of
the Devil – do what you will. Though it all be gone, you still have nothing won. The Kingdom’s ours forever.
The slave does not remain in the house forever, the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:35-36) And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! (Mark 3:32-34)
Having two of my own this article on raising boys who read struck a nerve, and yes I have to admit that I fail the Wii test. We have one. The eldest boy plays all the time, and youngest boy watches eldest boy. And yes, there is no way a book will ever compete with the Wii. (Although I will give us credit, we did make them take the summer off of Wii).
The larger argument is one of how do we produce civilized people. Up until Freud, everybody everywhere realized that being and raising the people we’d like to be was tough and necessary. Socrates – “virtue is its own reward”; Aristotle – “We are not studying in order to know what virtue is, but to become good.”; Confucius – “The gentleman understands what is moral. The small man understands what is profitable.” Proverbs – “Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just and fair.” Sometime after Freud all this instruction in virtue was barbaric repression.
Freud was partially right, it is a repression. Luther would call it the “daily drowning of the old Adam such that the new man might come forth” in his small catechism explanation to baptism. The entire world is not wrong. Virtue, otherwise known as the law, is good and right. Which society would you rather live in? One where all boys grow up on Grand Theft Auto X or grow up on Treasure Island or Swiss Family Robinson? Which one would be more just? The process of civilization is tough. Especially for many of this generation who are themselves little more than barbarians having not been instructed in virtue as a child.
The world (outside of Freud) is not wrong on virtue, but it only has half the story. The struggle of virtue is not one we can win on our own. The Christian understanding is called sanctification. God has placed His Holy Spirit in us to will and to do that which is good (Phil 2:13). As we grow in faith, as we grow as free humans no longer bound to sin and satan, we practice virtue. Sanctification is the process of becoming what God intend – of becoming a fully free human being.
It would be nice if the larger culture would at least return to the secular notion of virtue. But my guess is that is too hard to fill 500 TV stations with content. But the culture’s abandonment of virtue, doesn’t give us leave to abandon our duty. It does mean we have to be more intentional about it. It does mean making choices that will mark us and our children out from the barbarian hoard.
Text: Luke 14:1-14
“…The human economy runs on quid pro quo. We buy things to signal status. We look at each other for affirmation of our status. We give and get expecting repayment. Those who can’t repay or can’t help are either in our debt or never considered. But Jesus is talking about the wedding feast, the resurrection of the just. In the Kingdom of God, there is only one person who can give status – the Father alone. And the Father has chosen to give the Kingdom to the crucified. The Father has chosen to give the good news to the poor, the blind, the dead…”
Took the kids (7,4) to the local summer youth presentation of Beauty and the Beast tonight. The kids performing did a great job. And I suppose it shouldn’t shock me, but it still does. How many people choose to live their life, to live the great moments of that life, behind a screen or in a box. The number of cameras, cell phones and video devices set up and how guarded the operators were was shocking.
The central song of Beauty of course hums, “tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme…” Can you ever have such a tale or a song if everything is perpetually new and captured on film? The finished product of a film, obscures the unreal life that went into its making. But we have a world dedicated to capturing the “real” moment never giving a second thought to the uncertainty principle – that the act of observing something changes it.
Maybe I’m a fuddy-duddy. But it seems to me that in trying to capture our greatest moments, we have of necessity lessened them. What if you had a camera with King Arthur? The sword in the stone wouldn’t have seemed as grand. A camera following even 5000 scruffy Galilean peasants wouldn’t look as significant. Just another peasant hung on a cross. We’ve traded a real living truth for a virtual promise of meaning and immortality. This says something about us.
This article from the WSJ is not surprising but eye opening. The jumping off point is President Obama meeting with the Dalai Lama and the Chinese response.
But China’s angry response to the news that Mr. Obama will meet with the Tibetan spiritual leader tomorrow in Washington goes straight to the point. “If the U.S. leader chooses this period to meet the Dalai Lama, that would damage trust and cooperation between our two countries,” said Zhu Weiqun, a Chinese Communist Party official at a Feb. 2 press conference. “And how would that help the United States surmount the current economic crisis?”
The background is that the US owes China a bucket-truck full of money, and China is one of the few places that has the ability to buy more of our nation’s debt. As a nation we like to support things such as religious freedom and self determination, we also like to spend more than we make. When confronted with the choice of reduced spending, or quietude on freedoms, which path does the nation choose?
The Bible and specifically the Gospel of Luke is pretty clear both what it would expect Caesar to do, and what Jesus asks us to do. Luke 16:10-13 – you can’t serve two masters. Luke 22:24-27 – gentiles and great men lord it over their people.
The lord was a patron – “the friend of the people” – and his clients were obliged to him. In the west, under the teachings of the church, that kind of vassalage, while not going away, had to be hidden. Read the quote from the Chinese official again. That kind of vassalage is coming back. He is shockingly blunt – a patron state telling a client state to look where its bread is buttered.
The message of freedom in Jesus is that we have no real Patron but the Father in heaven. Instead of serving the things of this world – serve God first. Serve the God who came to serve us. Serve the God who adopted us into his family. In the church we are all heirs and children of God. That is a much different status than a client. It recognizes the true differences between creator and creature.
You can’t serve two masters. Either it’s the hierarchy of Caesar and money or it’s the household of God. We owe Caesar and money respect, but they should not be our master. We should also not be surprised when the American Ceasar chooses to protect client relationships. If I were the Dalai Lama, I would not expect more White House visits.