Tag Archives: sanctification

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.

Saints Now Saints Not Yet

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Biblical Text: 1 John 3:1-5
Full Sermon Draft

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

That is one of the most profound and hope filled sentences in all of scripture. And it perfectly captures what it means to live as saints. We are saints now, but not yet saints. This was All Saints Day, so that is why I’m using that world. What this sermon attempts to do is describe the feeling and the facts that make it so. There is a reflection from family life that I think captures it better than everything that follows. But what follows that family picture attempts to follow John’s compact reading through three facts of the Christian life in the now and not yet. The resurrection opens the door which we enter through baptism. We are now God’s children by water and the word. But right now we live by faith. When he appears we will see him as he is, but that is not yet. Now by faith, not yet by sight. The final fact is what baptism and faith set us out on and that is sanctification. “Everyone who hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” The pattern of that is the life of Christ, but as the biblical text continues it is captured in the moral law. Christians do not practice lawlessness, but they practice righteousness.

I didn’t include them on the recording. (If you would like to hear just leave a comment.) But, the hymns today were both some of my favorites and All Saints staples. I didn’t include them because “For All The Saints” (LSB 677) has 8 stanzas. It is great to sing, but our recording isn’t exactly professional. We opened with Jerusalem the Golden (LSB 672. And we closed with Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus (LSB 660). You’ve got a picture of the Church at Rest, a hymn sketch of the Church militant through the church at rest and into the Church Triumphant, and a Church Militant remembrance.

Kingdom Memory, Kingdom Walk

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Biblical Text: Mark 9:38-50
Full Sermon Draft

The Gospel of Mark, per the early church, is the memories/sermons/stories of Peter written down around the time of his death. And I tend to think at the close of sections, like today’s text, you can see just the way memory works. The big story about a point is told, but there are a bunch of smaller sayings and stories that rush into the mind afterward. Those other stories and sayings are important, you can’t imagine the full story without them, but they are footnotes or modifiers on the larger points. After being put in their place about status positions this text modifies just how disciples are to walk with each other. The main modification is an acceptance that the Kingdom is something larger that one tribe or expression of it. But that modifier deserves a second, a don’t let your brains fall out. While you can find joy in an expression of the Kingdom that isn’t yours, the church still has boundaries. Those boundaries involve sin and truth. The church is a community of truth and as such is calls out sin. It doesn’t just accept it as a different expression of church. And the teachers of the church have a scary role in that that could end in millstones and deep water.

The sermon attempts to have an artistic flair. Parts of a one man show, the remembrances of Peter. And those remembrances are brought forward in application to our situation. I’ve succeeded if you’ve heard the voice of the Apostle.

Music Note. I left in the recording our hymn of the day which is in my top 5 hymns. My guess is that you wouldn’t here this one in many churches and definitely not in the local mega-church. Mainly because it is a little slow do develop and has a strong poetic structure. The first three verses get darker before the last three speak of our reality in God. It fit with my understanding of these verses. Yes, we will all be salted with fire, but that is as the living sacrifices. We walk toward truth and peace which is with Jesus and heavenward all the way. Even in the midst of trial. I Walk in Danger All the Way, Lutheran Service Book 716.

Be Opened – The Kingdom Inbreaking in Unexpected Ways

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Biblical Text: Mark 7:31-37
Full Sermon Draft

This sermon is based on a “level 2” reading of the Gospel of Mark. What I mean by level 2 is that to make the connections necessary you have to look at the locations, characters and actions of what is being told and assume that the writer picked this story specifically to carry meaning. The deaf and mute man was chosen because his disabilities and their healings are symbolic for what the Kingdom of God is doing on a larger level. The first part of the sermon hopefully establishes at least the plausibility of that level 2 reading. The second attempts to apply it to our situation.

Doctrinally this puts me in the realm of election and sanctification. The sermon is about the tension or specific actions that these doctrines call for.

Out of the Heart…

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Biblical Text: Mark 7:14-23
Full Sermon Draft

This is the second part of the Jesus’ discussion in Mark chapter 7. The first part (last Sunday) focused more on the centrality of the Word of God. In the words of the Lutheran confessions that would is the sole norm of life and faith. It is the norming norm. All of our traditions must conform to the Word of God. The second part Jesus turns from false source of authority to the source of our problems with it. It is not that we don’t know the Word of God, but that naturally, out of the heart of man, come evil designs. What we take into the body cannot defile us as Mark comments settling the question of foods once. But we naturally take part in wickedness and fall into foolish ways.

The sermon examines Jesus’ comments on both wickedness and foolishness and puts it in the context of the larger bible’s discussion of understanding and foolishness. It then bridges into the good news. Out of our natural hearts come wickedness, but God is about replacing those hearts.

The Indwelling Word

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Biblical Text: John 6:51-69
Full Sermon Draft

This is the third and last sermon on the “Bread of Life Discourse” in John 6. The typical and easiest way to understand the entire discourse where Jesus says we must eat his flesh and drink his blood is as a reference to the Lord’s Supper. That isn’t wrong, but we do have to ignore that fact that when Jesus said it the crowds who heard it had no recourse to the sacrament. What this sermon attempts to do is proclaim the gospel from this most perplexing text with the sacrament not as first resource but as an gift that embodies for all time the truth.

What I latch onto is Jesus’ embellishment of eating the flesh and blood as the gateway or image of Christ abiding or indwelling in us. Just as the Father dwells in Christ or Christ as the perfect icon of the Father, by eating Christ he dwells in us. Creation has always been about building a dwelling place or a temple for God. In Christ we have the perfect temple, and we are made the living stones as God dwells in us. As Christ is the icon of God, we become the body of Christ and icon of a sort (although that might be a little strong this side of the New Jerusalem). That flesh and spirit incarnation is always a scandal to the world which wants to keep them separate.

Yet as Peter says – these are the words of eternal life. The second part of the gospel explored is Peter sequence where we believe first and then come to know. We must eat first – take Christ into us – to know. The body and blood of Christ give us a sure foundation. We can know because he is the bread that has come down. If we keep it outside of us, we can’t know. Belief comes first and it is belief from the heart.

True Worship

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Biblical Text: John 3:1-17, Athanasian Creed, Baptismal Liturgy
Full Sermon Draft

A one worshipper said, “I felt like I went to church today”. It was Trinity Sunday so we confessed the faith with the Athanasian creed. We had a baptism at the start or service, and we celebrated holy communion. The recording trims most of that stuff, but it is that stuff which the sermon points toward. What this sermon attempts to do is two fold: a) it outlines potential mistakes in how we think about worship and b) it points to the primacy of worship in the Christian life.

The fact is that we were made to worship. Everyone worships. Religious and non-religious. And true worship is seated in the Soul. Situating it in the body or the mind leads to serious problems. The sermon examines those problems and points at the salvation from them. True worship is a gift of God through the Spirit. To worship rightly one must be born of water and the Spirit. True worship, instead of draining us, feeds us. And when our worship is rightly ordered, our lives are on the path to being rightly ordered directed at resurrection.

The Problem of the Will

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Text: Luke 2:40-52
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the boy Jesus at the temple. It is the only picture we have of Jesus and his family between the infancy narratives and the Baptism by John. In it Jesus interacts with two groups, the teachers in the temple and Mary and Joseph. What this sermon does is ponder how Jesus reacts to each and how he addresses different problems in the Christian life. It uses Jonathan Haidt’s work as an entry point. Connects that to the Reformers view of fallen man and then to how Christ heals the fallen mind and then the fallen will.

George Washington & Men With Chests

If you’ve ever read a good biography of George Washington you can’t walk away from it without a higher, if that is possible, appreciation of the man. Unlike Jefferson, who the more you read comes out pale in comparison to his foundational words, Washington grows. Ron Chernow has written the most recent “massive tome”, but I appreciated Richard Brookhiser’s shorter Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington. That book’s purpose was not so much to recount the life but to understand what made it great. Washington, for the first 175 years of American History was the indispensable man. Even though Jefferson wrote the documents we quote, Washington was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen”. And per Brookhiser, the reason is not anything inherent in the man – not a first class intellect, not a great natural general losing more than he won, given to pomposity at times with a volcanic temper – but the developed character of Washington. Washington strived to be a better person than he knew himself to be, and his country took heart at his example. He became a man for which other men would endure New York winters dreaming of Virginia summers, as Washington, childless, would dream of his “distant posterity”.

I couldn’t help but think of Washington when I read a much different understanding from New York Times editorial columnist Charles Blow. Quoting,

I would slowly learn to allow myself to follow attraction and curiosity wherever they might lead. I would grant myself latitude to explore the whole of me so that I could find the edges of me…I wasn’t moving; the same-gender attraction was. Sometimes it withdrew from me almost completely, and at others it lapped up to my knees. I wasn’t making a choice; I was subject to the tide….I would hold myself open to evolution on this point, but I would stop trying to force it. I would settle, over time, into the acceptance that my attractions, though fluid, were simply lopsided. Only with that acceptance would I truly feel free.

For Washington, character and freedom were in exercising will over oneself. For Blow, character and freedom are in being subject to the tide. For Washington, one struggled against our natural natures toward something better. For Blow, the greater good is accepting what our natures want to be.

Neither Washington nor Blow differ in their diagnosis of the human condition. Neither is actually that far from St. Paul’s lament, “I delight in the law of God in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (Rom 7:22-23)” All three had an ideal in their minds to which they were not living up to. The real question is one of will. Is the proper course Washington’s – willing his recalcitrant self in line with his ideal? Or is it Blow’s – willing his ideals in line with his nature?

St. Paul’s answer accords with Washington. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. (Rom 8:5-7 ESV)” This process is never complete until the resurrection when we will have the renewed flesh, but it is already starting now. It starts in our renewed minds and moves to a renewed will. Only in Christ can we actually be free, because only in Christ can we actually exercise our will. Collapsing our ideals to our nature is not a free choice, but a surrender of our freedom to the tides.

C.S. Lewis had an arresting image of modernity he called “men without chests”. Modernity produces lots of people with strong heads. Some who even know what is right. It also produces lots of people with strong guts. In the ancient world the guts were the seat of the emotions, so what is meant by that is lots of people with strong emotions. Some of them even right. What it fails to do is produce a Washington. It fails to produce men with chests, men who have hearts or wills that desire and put into action the best of the mind and gut while denying to bring into reality the worst.

This is what James meant when he would say “faith without works is dead (James 2:17)”. A sentiment Paul would agree with when he would say, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed (Rom 12:2)”. Likewise Peter, “do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, (1 Peter 1:14-15)”. Do some cardio, workout your chest, your heart. In Christ, will to do the right.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – 1 Samuel 28:1-25 and 1 Corinthian 6:1-20

1 Samuel 28:1-25
1 Corinthians 6:1-20
Amalek (Exodus 17:16), What is Amalek in our day?, Disregard for the law, Temple, Dwelling place of the Holy Spirit vs. the spirit of Amalek