Tag Archives: Jesus

Grace was Never Practical

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Biblical Text: Mark 10:2-26
Full Sermon Draft

This sermon is a little longer than my typical one. The subject from the gospel text is marriage and divorce. Because the contextual density of the topic and because of its high profile in our general culture this sermon takes its time and spells out all the steps. I believe I arrive at the proclamation of the gospel, but it might not be the gospel we always want to hear.

Thoughts on a Papal Visit

And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say. – Luke. 12:11-12

But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me – Acts 26:25-29

It might be slightly odd for a Lutheran pledged to the Lutheran Confessions, which call the Papacy the antichrist, to be interested in what a Pope says or does. Well, there is always a fascination with the anti-anything, but that is not all the confessions have to say. The same confessions that would call the Pope the antichrist are clear that it isn’t the office as Bishop of Rome that is the problem, but its claims. Bishops are fine human offices, it is when they claim authority beyond what is common to all pastoral offices and do so by claiming the divine name that they function as anti-Christ. (Catechism note 2nd commandment: “we should fear and love God such that we do not…lie or deceive by His name.” The claims of divine authority are a deception through the use of God’s name.) Specifically the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope had three objections: 1) The Pope’s claim by divine right to be above all other bishops and pastors in the church, 2) The Pope’s claim to possess authority in the realms of both Church and state and 3) The Pope’s demands that people acknowledge this authority as a requirement for salvation. The years since Luther have not been humanly kind to that office. Kings and Presidents no longer seek the confirmation of the Pope for their position upon coronation or inauguration, and the Papal States are a single hill in Rome. And the Roman Catechism itself acknowledges that while Luther might be damned as a schismatic, “one cannot charge with the sin of separation those who are born into these communities…the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers. (p818)” But the papal claim of being the Vicar of Christ, holding the Keys by divine right, is still front and center. Melanchthon’s short treatise – The Power and Primacy of the Pope – still has some amazing relevance as do many of the Confessional documents with a little thought.

But the real reason I’m thinking about the Pope is his recent trip to our shores. The Pope is probably the only Christian witness that would be invited to address a joint session of Congress after having an audience with the President. When Paul got his dime in front of Caesar, he didn’t waste time. He didn’t argue about Caesar’s tax plan or the Roman welfare system (bread and circuses!). Paul did two things. He proclaimed Christ risen, and he encouraged Caesar to respect his own laws and eyes. Whether it is Peter or Paul or later martyrs (witnesses!) this is a familiar pattern. Both Jesus is Lord and we Christians are your best citizens calling you to respect what is best among you.

The Pope’s recent address to Congress was interesting in that I believe it was effective at the second portion of that pattern. The Pope cited four Americans: Lincoln, MLK, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. He used well each of those examples well. And each you could say fit well within this current Pope’s frame of mind of social justice. He wished at the beginning, through Congress, to enter into dialog (which seems to be a favorite word) with all Americans. And through that dialog to spur us to live up to the best of us.

Then I searched through the entire speech. Not one mention of Jesus. The word Christ is never used. The Pope opened with Moses, flattering the assembled legislators that they too are engaged in Moses’ task. But I want to quote that section in full.

Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.

In one sense it was very appropriate. In a speech to lawmakers, it was all law. The unity of the people depends upon just legislation. Moses leads directly to God which is merely a stand in for the transcendent dignity of the human being. Right there you have the religion of rational man which knows nothing of Christ and faith. If our hopes for unity are in the law, we have none. If our hope for dignity rests upon Congress protecting us by the law, we are already stripped and in bondage.

I longed for Paul’s plain witness to the gospel of Jesus. Moses does not point to God directly other than the hidden God who never answers. The law tells us our need for something beyond it, something truly transcendent. We always fail the law and it never stops accusing. But that failure tells us our need for Jesus. And Jesus has won. Our dignity is not based in being human. Our human dignity is because Jesus took our humanity into God. That humanity is transcendent not by itself but because of the work of Jesus confirmed in the resurrection. Our image of God is cracked by sin, but God restores it in Christ, in baptism and through the indwelling of the Spirit.

Can you imagine a Pope, speaking to the gathered legislators not about a general human spirit, but The Spirit of Christ? An address that called on them to fulfill their vocations as lawmakers in the best American tradition, but also to trust in the grace of Jesus and to empower the body of Christ, the church, to be that grace, instead of shrinking it to a freedom to worship? An address that would make Chuck Schumer run for the nearest camera and say “Did the Pope really think he could so easily convert a NY Jew?”

That is what we are here for. Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me. Whether dialog or road to Damascus, would that you would hear Christ and believe. You are my witnesses, in Jerusalem and Judea, in Samaria and the US Congress. Don’t worry, the Holy Spirit has a few good words, and they begin with the name Jesus.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Deuteronomy 4:1-20 and Matthew 7:13-29

Deuteronomy 4:1-20
Matthew 7:13-29
Teaching as one with authority (Jesus on the Mount = Cloud of Fire on the Mount)
The difference of starting with the Beatitudes

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Exodus 2:23-3:22 and Mark 14:53-72

Exodus 2:23-3:22
Mark 14:53-72
The Revelation of the name of God, God of the Philosophers and God of History, revealed most fully and finally in Jesus Christ

The Christ Who Can Be Found

Biblical Text: Mark 1:29-39
Full Draft of Sermon

I slipped into something of a philosophical frame of mind this past week – I suppose I should apologize to the congregation for that. Some of it has to do with events and people. Some of it has to do with this year’s gospel – the gospel of Mark. If you are anything like most Christians your image of Jesus comes primarily from John – the good shepherd, the wise and all powerful Word. And we round out that picture from the Gospel of Matthew with the Sermon on the Mount. We bring in some parables from Luke like the Good Samaritan. Looking at Mark is sometimes like looking at a fun-house mirror. Many of the same stories are there, but they way more subversive. How Mark places them in context give meanings or allusions that are slightly different.

One of the big things about Mark that you notice is that unless you are directly healed by Jesus in the course of the narrative (like Simon’s mother-in-law), you end up way off course. You think you are following Jesus, but then you realize a mile has opened up between you. Mark seems to be a gospel for these post-modern times. Because ultimately it all rests upon Jesus, not an idea but a person. We’d like to stay as close as possible in that discipleship walk, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. Ultimately it is Jesus that crosses that gap between the ideal and where we are at. It is Jesus who came to us – that is why he came, to preach. It is Jesus who has the authority. We might despair of knowing Truth in the way the gospel of John talks truth. We might be hopelessly misguided. But Jesus still has the authority. Jesus still heals and has cast out this worlds demons. The response is ours to figure out. And there are better responses. But the healing is pure grace, and it all rests upon Jesus.

Huge (and immensely interesting) timewaster

This is a link to the google labs ngram viewer. Google has been scanning books for a few years. The have roughly 10% of all books ever published scanned. This tool searches and graphs word usage in those books (or a representative subset). Interpretation is left up to you.

Well, here is proof. The Beatles were never more popular than Jesus, but sex is in the running….

I’ll leave the question of the idol of the age, or maybe publishing standards up to you…