Tag Archives: Repentance

Remembrance (October Newsletter)

Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. – Isaiah. 44:21

I’ve never been a specific date person. If you asked me how old I am, I’d have to calculate it. Probably after looking at my driver’s license to check the date. And I recognize that there are people who get offended when you forget specific dates, but such things to me have usually been abstractions. It is real hard for me to fix emotion to an abstract calendar. There are concrete things that make me recall past events. For example walking around Darien Lake this summer one of the things that is unmissable is the strollers and little kids being carried on shoulders. Ethan is now past riding on shoulders. But that concrete experience brought to mind the three-year-old we might have been carrying around. Another one would be an upcoming happy event. By the end of the year we will have the car paid off and be back to no car payments. Seeing as the car I drive is almost 14 years old and well over 100,000 miles that might mean it’s my turn. I haven’t driven a new-ish car since the one I leased in 1998 when I got my job at IBM and kids were still just a thought. But I’m in no hurry to lose the Santa Fe. A practical reason is I’m cheap, let’s say frugal to be nice. But that car was my brother’s. He had just finished paying it off when he passed away seven years ago already. Time like an ever rolling stream, soon bears us all away.

Remembrance is a tricky thing. The young are unburdened by it. The old can wallow in nostalgia over things that never actually were. The constant drumbeat of crack church consultants is relevance. Stay in the now looking to the near future. But that has never been the way the people of God have operated. The proclamation of the Kingdom – OT and NT – has always started with the call repent, and repentance is an act of remembrance. It is a remembrance of whose we are – “remember these things, O Jacob…I formed you.” It is a remembrance of His words and His ways – “you are my servant”. Repentance is always an act of memory.

But if that was all it was about, to hell with it. My remembering ends the day I do, maybe earlier. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may as the poet says. But when the bible talks remembrance it may start with repentance, but it always points to something bigger. “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD (Psalm. 25:7)!” “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom (Luke. 23:42).” Our remembrance ultimately fails. As much as I might be willing to fix the Santa Fe, eventually I won’t be able to, as Jerry’s experience with a model year newer recently reminded me. What the Psalmist begs for is not his ability to remember, but that God would remember him according to his steadfast love. Like the thief on the cross asking the innocent lamb, “remember me”. That is the promise. “Israel, you will not be forgotten by me.”

The church’s remembrance is not a false nostalgia, neither is it focused on a myopic short term relevance. It is sustained in the now, by looking far. By looking to the fulfillment of that promise that all Israel shall be remembered. By looking for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Rally Day

decalogue-windowThe second use of the law is as the mirror. It shows us our sins. One of the old Rabbi’s ways of using the Decalogue was to line up one through five on the first side and six through ten on the other and use it as a diagnostic. (Sorry any reformed/evangelical readers, Calvin and Zwingli messed up your order because two commandments on coveting offended their reason and they needed to bolster their iconoclasm. The numbering used is the Jewish, Catholic, Lutheran.) If your community or society was engaged in rampant adultery (sixth commandment), the deep problem was idolatry (1st Commandment). That particular insight is often found in the prophets where Israel is compared to the harlot. Likewise if your culture is driven by coveting stuff (“ox, donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor”, 10 Commandment), the deeper problem is with the 5th (don’t murder). The presenting problem may be late stage capitalism, but we are willing to make commodities of everything because we have already made commodities of each other. We can see this in cases big and small, the over 1 million aborted a year to the Chicago murder rate. And if you take Jesus in the Sermon in the mount at his word that hating your neighbor is murder, well our every 4 year festival of hatred where the people wearing the other color are compared to Hitler and real friends are sacrificed should be troubling.

A particular outgrowth of that media cycle that I find almost like cat-nip is the attributing of the worst possible meaning to whatever the red/blue flag bearer said yesterday. Charity assumes that what was said has some reason behind it, that there is some way in which it captures truth, until the pure malevolence of the speaker is proven. I may not understand it, but it is my moral obligation to attempt to or at the least assume there is one. This is the 8th commandment’s territory. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor which Luther glossed with a positive force of “defend him, speak well of him and put the best construction on everything.” Not being a Pollyanna type, more specifically being a hyper-analytical person who likes winning, I have too often put those traits not in the service of charity but destruction, of figuring out the worst possible meaning and imputing that to the speaker. It has been a conscious effort and struggle of mine to control that impulse. It is depressing how often I fail.

That might be the sin that lives in my members, the battle against the flesh, but if I look at the parallel commandment, the 3rd (Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy), I think I am staring at what the world is attacking. When asking what does this mean Luther wrote that “we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” That Sabbath commandment to Luther is about our handling of the Word of God. As Jesus would say “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Word of God is given to us for our good. If I am willing to intentionally distort my neighbor’s words, that stems first from my willingness to impugn God’s word. When God’s Word is not taken as sacred, it is real easy to treat my neighbor’s word as trash.
We can lament that the world does not take the Word seriously as Alan Jacob’s article in Harper’s a few weeks ago did, but we really should have no expectation of the world doing so. That was part of my response a couple of weeks ago which I posted here. It is another thing when the church neglects the Word. This interview with Kenneth Briggs, the “godbeat” editor for many years at places like the New York Times, talks about what he has seen. His pungent phrase is that the Bible has “become a museum exhibit, hallowed as a treasure but enigmatic and untouched.” Until the church is willing to reform its house back into what Luther called “God’s mouth-house”, the place where the Word forms us deeply, we will find it tough living with our neighbors. The church is the salt of the earth. If we can’t treat each other with charity, how will the world know?

I occasionally get asked why I insist on or put so much effort behind things like VBS, Sunday School, Bible Class and confirmation when the numbers are few. My response is usually something like “that is the call”. If the Pastor doesn’t put the Word first, then who will. Do I worry, especially around budget season, that someday that focus will leave me without a paycheck? I’d be lying if I said no. Another thing to repent from – “each day has enough trouble of its own, don’t fret”. So I turn back to the call, to call out all to repentance for the Kingdom of God is near, and to proclaim that now, in your hearing, is the year of the Lord’s mercy. Or taking that out of the high Biblical register, it’s Rally Day. Sunday School and Bible classes are starting again. I’d invite you to set aside a Sabbath to hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn that Word.

Pronouns

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Biblical Text: Acts 2:1-21 (Genesis 11:1-9, Acts 2:22-41)
Full Sermon Draft

Pentecost, especially in the readings this year, is a day about language. For all we depend upon it, language is something that we don’t really think much about. We let writers and preachers do that. But if we don’t have the language for something there is a question how long it can actually exist, or if we can truly experience it. That is one of the spurs for stealing words from other languages – to experience and describe experience more precisely. One of the deep lessons of Babel is that when language breaks down, that is God’s punishment. Babel is God’s Punishment, Pentecost is God’s salvation.

The Jewish Pentecost was the receiving of the law at Sinai. That is the start of our salvation. It starts to make things clear, but the law itself has no power. That is this later Pentecost, when the Spirit is poured out.

The title comes from the diagnosis of a Babel and a call to a new Pentecost.

Our concluding Hymn is my favorite Pentecost one. LSB 500, Creator Spirit, by Whose Aid. The text is an ancient chant from the 8th century that comes to us through John Dryden the English poet. It displays both a sacramental view of the world and worship. At the end of verse two: Your sacred healing message bring, to sanctify us as we sing. But the jewel of it for me is verse three in how it describes the work of the Spirit abiding in us.

Your sevenfold gifts to us supply
Help us eternal truths receive
And practice all that we believe
Give us yourself that we might see
The glory of the Trinity.

Through the working of the Spirit, through His sanctification, we receive the eternal truth which is Jesus Christ. Receiving Christ and repenting, we then seek to follow him, to put into practice the love we have been give. And we do this because of our hope in the resurrection, that we might see the Trinity face to face. Just a beautiful hymn that maintains a bit of its chant origin.

Give Him Another Year

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Biblical Text: Luke 13:1-9
Full Sermon Draft

Today is one of those days that stuff happening in the service is real important. We had a baptism this morning, and when you have a baptism you have an invaluable object lesson. That is absent from the recording, but you will hear it used a couple of times in the sermon.

From the text there is an overriding theme in the spirit of Lent – repentance. But the gospel text itself is abrupt. A report of a happening, a strong reaction to that report by Jesus and then a parable. This is one of the places where we as readers and hearers of the gospel really have to puzzle it out. Why would they bring this report to Jesus? What was their point? Jesus’ response gives us some clues, but the larger context of Luke which last week’s sermon look at as gives us a good idea of what was being asserted.

The crux of the issue is line drawing. Where is the line drawn that creates the division Jesus claims to have brought? Jesus’ answer is grace. The sermon examines the difference between mercy and grace and attempts to show why grace is that line of division. But the people of that day, just like the people of our day, like drawn their own lines. We draw lines that place us on the deserving side. Whether those are lines of race, or class or language or people or behavior. It can’t be grace, because we are on the right side.

Jesus answer is a clear nobody is on the right side. “Unless you all repent, you likewise will perish.”

The application of this is my attempt at encouragement and example of a proper repentance.

Worship Note: I have left in two of the hymns sung today. Lutheran Service Book 611 Chief of Sinners Though I Be, and LSB 610 Lord Jesus, Think on Me. It was a day of rich hymns because I loved our opening hymn and the baptismal hymn as well which all spoke the same gospel, but I left these two in the recording in their places as hymns of the life of repentance.

Repentance Walk

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Ash Wednesday

I like the church year because along with Christmas and Easter and the days that you naturally blow the trumpet it has days like Ash Wednesday. Days that force us to think about things we don’t want to think about.

I’ve been told that the word sin has no meaning in modern English. That what sin means to the vast majority of Americans is an understandable indulgence. The sinful chocolate. The scale says you don’t need it, but hey. The sinful car. Yes, the payment is a little more, but you’ve always wanted that badge and now can swing it. Biblically those really aren’t sins. They might be foolishness, or they might even be just enjoying God’s creation. Jesus was called a drunkard and a glutton by the Pharisees.

Sin biblically is dominated by two metaphors. There are the purity metaphors – clean and dirty. And there are the special metaphors – missing the mark, walking the wrong way, ever before me. A common division of the Jewish law is between the ceremonial and the moral. The ceremonial law is what governs what is kosher and non-kosher. The breaking of the ceremonial law was cleansed by the ceremonial washings and the sacrifices. Purity being the primary way to talk about it. And purity – clean and dirty – tends to be digital. You are clean or dirty, there is no space in between. Eat a bacon cheeseburger and you are ceremonially unclean. Offer the sacrifice and you are restored to cleanliness.

The sacrifice of Jesus fulfilled that ceremonial law for all time. That cross has made us clean. It has washed us, created in us a clean heart.

The other portion of the law is the moral. The 10 commandments are the shorthand for it. This is where those spacial words start to take over. Cast me not away from your presence. Uphold me with a willing Spirit. The word that becomes resurrection is literally stand up, be put aright.

When you read repent in the New Testament, there are couple of different words used. Metanoia, which focuses on the mental. The recognition that we by ourselves are unclean. And the first call of metanoia, repent, is believe. The other word is epistrepho, which is spacial and means turning around and walking in the other direction. We start walking in the ways God intends.

Luther said in the first of the 95 theses, When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. That is not a life of constantly changing our minds, but of constantly walking in the correct direction.

And here is where Ash Wednesday is unique. Our justification is immediate. We are made clean by the righteousness of Christ by faith. But because we went wrong, we wandered a far distance “east of Eden”. And the consequences of sin are death. Abraham never possessed the promised land. Moses never entered it. David’s kingdom fell apart. Dust we are and to dust we will return. However far we walk in the way God intends, this flesh is not going to make it.

But this flesh is not our hope. As the writer of Hebrews says in the chapter of the heroes of the faith.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. (Heb 11:13-14)

Our hope is not here and now, but then and there. Our repentance walk here and now, turns into a triumph then and there. When we are no longer clothed with this mortal flesh, but we receive the resurrection – are stood aright. There are plenty of days on the calendar to celebrate that. But Ash Wednesday is on the calendar to remember that it is not yet a full on triumph. We only share in that triumph to the extent that we seek a homeland. To the extent that we pick up our cross and follow him past Calvary. Amen.

Bear the Fruits of Repentance

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

John the Baptist is always an interesting week (or two if you follow the lectionary. Due to the kids program on Advent 4 we usually move Advent 4 which is Mary’s week up). Luke incudes Isaiah’s words about the work of the forerunner which I can’t help but hear in the strains of Handel. Every valley shall be exalted, and the mountains and hills made plain. You see this work in how rough John is “You brood of vipers! Who warned you.” Bringing the mountains of our pride low. But you also see John building up. When the tax collectors and soldiers, hated and excluded members of society respond to his calls to baptism and ask “what do we do?”, John’s answer is not give up you immoral jobs but do them honorably and without corruption. The Word of God that came to John in the desert leveled and built up. The Word of God still does that today. It calls us to repent. It levels our grand visions and petty desires, and it builds us up through the fruits of repentance into the people of God.

That might be the general story of John, but the way Luke tells it is masterful. This sermon attempts to give Luke his due specifically looking at how he situates John. I’m hoping that the analogies to the world we live in are plain. If they are not, the sermon doesn’t work. But it is just that juxtaposition of the prophet John so clear, and the social reality that Luke brings home. And that gives rise to the hope of the Word of God in the wilderness.

Music Note: I left in the Hymn of Day. Lutheran Service Book 345, Hark a Thrilling Voice is Sounding. Of all the John the Baptist Hymns, and he has many, this one interestingly comes at his preaching from a direct hearer’s standpoint. John’s prophetic clearness and immediacy is thrilling, progresses through startling and then moves on to expectation and praise. It moves from bringing down our mountains to filling up the valleys.

The Best and the Worst

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Mark 5:21-43
Full Sermon Draft

The events of the week offered two extremes. The last fruits of a culture that would listen the church, and the declaration of the end of that listening. This is a little raw, but call it first pass a law and gospel in exile. The fact of repentance and the hope of return.

Three Comparisons

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Biblical Text: Mark 1:14-20
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the emergence of Jesus after the arrest of John the Baptist and his calling of disciples. This sermon looks at three sets of comparisons encouraged in the text by their juxtaposition: Jesus and John the Baptist, Andrew/Peter and James/John, and Jesus and his disciples. Each comparison increases our knowledge of God and the path of discipleship. The sermon explores those especially the role of courage in the life of discipleship.

A note on the recording: I’ve included a couple of musical pieces. Our Choir sang an infectious newer hymn, LSB 833 Listen, God is Calling. It has a dramatic African Call/Response structure. I’ve been looking for about three years for a chance to get it into the service. It is just not something that a congregation can take on cold, but the choir sounded great. The second hymn is LSB 856 O Christ, Who Called the Twelve. It also is a newer hymn with some amazing depth paired with probably a familiar tune, Terra Beata formally, but I know it as This is Our Father’s World. (And I am still convinced that the theme song running throughout the Lord of the Rings movies is inspired by this hymn tune. At every moment of near despair, Frodo or Sam remember the shire and this theme plays in the background.) Both of these hymns are great additions to a Lutheran Congregation’s Hymnbook.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – 1 Kings 11:41-12:19 and 2 Corinthians 7:1-16

1 Kings 11:41-12:19
2 Corinthians 7:1-16
An in the text mention of sources, A heart-warming scene of regret vs. vindication

Apologetics vs. Proclamation – Attempting to Write Again

I haven’t written much here recently. I think that has been for three reasons. First, I’ve been recording the daily lectionary. One of the phrases of the early reformation was ad fontes – to the sources. Emphasizing the habit of daily bible reading and reflection seems to be a prime pastoral example. Second, the stuff that I’ve felt it necessary to write has either been longer in nature or just doesn’t fit in a blog type post. I could write 500 words that might get read, but all they would do is form two camps – those who have the background to understand what I would write and those who would reject it simply because it assumed too much. I’m sure that sounds terribly pompous, but I’m starting to understand Jesus’ phrase “to those who have more will be given, those who have not even what they have will be taken away (Matthew 13:12).” Having just preached through the parables in Matthew 13, the staggering heartbreak contained in that phrase resonates. I could write 1500 words, or a booklet as I did over the winter that starts at the footings of the foundation, but seeing that length would be immediately ignored – TLDR. The division happens anyway – either by hard soil or thorns. Third, writing is expenditure. I felt that I needed to put something back in the account. I needed to do some reading and some thinking.

Part of that thinking was simply about a fundamental choice in pastoral practice. When teaching the faith or in evangelism efforts, what amount of time is put on argument or persuasion verses simple proclamation – call it apologetics versus proclamation. When you don’t think you are far apart, when you think the same Spirit might be at work, love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Apologetics is perfect. When you think it might be a different spirit (2 Cor 11:4, Gal 1:6-8) the apostolic example is not bearing with but rebuking and simple proclamation – here I stand. More and more I have felt that the simple proclamation is the necessary medicine, that apologetics are falling on deaf ears and hard hearts.

Why I’m writing today is that I read a piece of recent research that captures this feeling directly. This is Dr. Mark Regnerus highlighting some of the results from His Relationships in America study. I’m going to post in one of his telling results tables.

Regnerus Data

Among the survey questions, asked of Americans between 18 and 60 years of age, were positions on the seven activities listed on the left. Orthodox Christian teaching on all seven of these activities is clear. Pornography is a sin. Premarital sex (I take Premarital cohabitation as a euphemism) is a sin, likewise sex outside of marriage (i.e. no strings attached) is a sin. Marriage is to be for life. It would be acceptable for a Christian to separate, but separation does not imply re-marriage unless the first marriage was to a pagan. All of these are actually basic applications of the sixth commandment and Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10:1-12 or Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:1-16.

The total sample representing that population, again Americans 18-60 years of age, was 15,738 represented by the “Population Average” column. Regnerus splits out four subsets out of that group. He finds 233 non-christian gay and lesbians. He finds 191 gay and lesbians who report as Christian. He finds 990 people who attend church regularly (churchgoing for this survey means at least 3 times per month) who support SSM. Dr. Regnerus writes, “In order to ensure this is not just an exercise in documenting the attitudes of Christians “in name only,” I’ve restricted the analysis to churchgoing Christians—here defined as those who report they attend religious services at least three times a month and who self-identified with some sort of Christian affiliation. And I’ve restricted the analysis to those who report a position either for or against same-sex marriage. (I’ve excluded the one-in-four who reported they are undecided.)” He also reports the responses of the 2659 church-goers who don’t support SSM.
Now let me attach this to what I was thinking before about apologetics and proclamation. I don’t know how this is possible but there are 5.1 percent of folks who attend church at least three times per month and oppose SSM but never-the-less think that no-strings-sex is OK. Now I’ve got to believe this might be a butterfly ballot and hanging chad problem akin to those Palm Springs Jews who voted for Pat Buchanan, but if not this is a group that you would use apologetics with. They might go to their grave with a wrong belief, but we all do that in some ways. Love covers a multitude of error. When you look at the response of the gay/lesbian cohorts this is clearly in the proclamation territory. This is the teaching of the church, when you are willing to give it a listen come back, but the first step is repentance. The troubling case is what do you do with the 33% of church-going Christians who support SSM and also agree that key parties are just groovy? The church has said apologetics for decades.  This is not what that word actually means, but it has been issuing apologies for clear teaching for a long time.  I think what this research shows is that apologetics is the wrong answer. The right answer is a clear call to get your thinking in line with that of Jesus.  (It might take longer to get practice in line, and we struggle with the sinful nature entire lives.  But it starts with orthodoxy, having the open heart to admit the truth comes first.  If I say I have no sin, then the truth is not in me – 1 John 1:8-9.)
Now we turn to the effects of such a turn. The good news, my guess is, is that a large majority of folks in the first column would feel heartened if the church stopped being a squish. But let’s explore the bad news. First, only 17% of the total population is with you. There is another 6% of the total population that are church go-ers. Some portion of that group would repent, but some portion would stick around and “fight” ala the Catholic Spirit of Vatican 2ists and the agitators that have lead the ELCA and the PCUSA off the cliff, and some portion would just melt into the non-churched. You would have dissension for a time within the church itself until it sorted out and the majority learned to ignore the agitators on simple questions of the moral law. (I think some of that is what has already happened, so that may not be as big a concern.) The second implication is that the reduced Christian church would be dramatically at odds with the society around it. Now maybe God is merciful and grants repentance, but it is just as likely that the simple proclamation leads to clear polarization. Good news is that the population at large is not completely with the non-christian gay/lesbian worldview depicted. But what those numbers also indicate is that at current course and speed there is a lot of ruin still possible. Imagine a world where roughly 80% had no qualms about porn vs. 31%. Instead of being late-night Cinemax it would be on NBC prime-time. PBS would be staging Masterpiece Theatre that had the refined take on what I shall not write.

What part of my thinking has been about is just how does a church that is 17% (or less in some places) work? And maybe just as importantly, how do you talk about that emerging reality when, for those say 60+ to match what the survey left out, this is not their experience nor the answers they attempted?  There are some very hard choices to be made.