Tag Archives: witness

The Love You Had at First

The Apostle Paul acknowledges something of a split personality. He was weighty and strong in his letters, but his bodily presence weak and his speech of no account (2 Cor 10:10). I understand this tendency. Our modes of communication, such as texting, can blur the boundary, but in person one is often not willing to be quite as strong as with a pen. The reality of a physical person stirs empathy and fellow feeling where writing quickens the blood toward polemic and argument. That is definitely one of the reasons I write my sermons prior. If I didn’t have the text, I might not have the nerve to say some things that are necessary.

I haven’t written much recently not for lack of topics or subjects, but more because of that distinction. So much of what I want to write ends up falling into the “why” bucket. Nobody has ears to hear. It will just cause divisions. Those who show up on Sunday morning are different in that I am the called Pastor here at St. Mark’s. Newsletters have the same functions. Musings and speculations I’m not as sure they have any real worth other than as grist for what eventually is preached. This one I think does.

Rob Foote, the Pastor over in Ithaca, is a great preacher. It comforts me that a preacher as good as he is feels the same struggles over numbers that I do. That is no excuse and might be a sin in itself, but if the man with five talents is breaking even, the man with three talents has some space. Pastor Foote in what was essentially a homiletical footnote (it was that good a sermon that I could ponder of footnote for a week) made a comment about the Letter to the Church at Ephesus. If you don’t know it, it is the first of the seven letters of Jesus in the book of Revelation, specifically Revelation 2:1-7. The seven letters depict seven churches is various states of health. There are different schemas, but most people recognize a decline. Ephesus being the most healthy to Laodicea barely being a church. All the letters have roughly the same outline. Jesus praises them for something, but then he rebukes them for something, finally he leaves them with a promise. Ephesus is praised for: its works, its toil, its endurance, its testing and wisdom in doctrine, its bearing of the name. If you were trying to put metrics on discipleship, Ephesus is taking it to 11. But then Jesus notes “I have this against you, you have abandoned the love you had at first.” Being about love it is obviously very important to the God who defines Himself as love. But what does that mean, especially in the context of endurance they are praised for?

Pastor’s Foote’s speculation hinges on what comes next. Ephesus is correctly called out for “hating the works of the Nicolaitans, which Jesus hates.” The juxtaposition of love and hate is enticing. Who were the Nicolaitans? Clement (1st Century) is quoted by Eusebius (4th century) in his work Church History as saying that the Nicolaitans were: a) a heretical group led by Nicolaus, one of the first seven deacons chosen (Acts 6:4) and b) a heretical group given to “unrestrained promiscuity among the members”. A story is related that Nicolaus, “had a beautiful young wife, after being commanded to ‘treat the flesh with contempt’, he brought her forward and said that anyone who wished could have her.” The result of originally perusing such asceticism was eventually a rejection of the law. The works of the Nicolaitans were gross immorality and rejection of the law. These Jesus rightly hates. But Pastor’s Foote’s speculation was the falling from their first love was a giving into hate of the people. Instead of sincerely desiring and working for their repentance, which is the act of love, the Ephesians cast them out without a moments regard.

The first love of Christ was for sinners. “Forgive them, they know not what they do.” “While we were still sinful, Christ died for us.” We are not far removed from the passion story. What those disciples wanted, what we often want, is exactly what the Chief Priests were hurling at Jesus. “If you are the Christ, come down from that cross.” The implied action is to come down and kick some butt. Kill those who nailed you to the tree. Deliver your people, Israel. Restore the Kingdom. Man up. In a time where the church is the butt of many jokes, is pushed the edge of respectable society and feeling the pressure within to capitulate to gross immorality by changing the law, that feeling is recognizable.

Let me share a more personal example. Recently there have been rumors of a second Supreme Court Justice retiring. As someone who thinks the Roe vs. Wade stands as the most inhumane and evil rulings in Unites States history (and yes that includes slavery, how can you compare the death of 1 million babies a year and turning mothers against children to anything else), that is welcome news. But my thoughts quickly went past simply replacing say Justice Kennedy. They flew to the thought, wouldn’t it be great if Ginsburg were to die tomorrow. My hate of her works is justified. My hate of her is a sin. The proper thought is a prayer. “Lord, forgive her, she does not know what she does. Convert her to the truth.”

The first love of Christ was willing to endure humiliation and death to save sinners. We have fallen from our first love when we can no longer witness to the truth even if it is tough. We have fallen from our first love when we give in to hatred not of the works, but of the person. In reality, that is a fine line. It calls for being as strong in person as in letter. Something that even Paul struggled with. Christ ends the letter of the Ephesians with this promise, “to the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life.” In Christ we are right now more than conquerors. He has already given us the victory. Our life is hidden with Him. We should live like it. Not being given to hate, but to love. Not to love in a weak way as in “I love you man”, but love in a strong way, a way that endures the cross.

Knights Errant

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Biblical Text: Acts 1:1-11, Luke 24:44-53
Full Sermon Text

We observed Ascension Day yesterday. The core teaching of Ascension day is right in the creed. He sits at the right hand of god. Christ reigns. Simple teaching, plenty of proofs throughout history. But there are two standing complaints, both express right away by the disciples. THis sermon looks at both of those complaints. It suggest a reasoning, part of it is where the title comes from. God does not desire courtiers, but Knights of Faith. It ends with a comparison of everything that we might find “more real” than an ascended king with a challenge to compare their realities. When you do that, you’ve answered the second complaint.

The final hymn in our worship I think captures the message of Ascension Day perfectly. LSB 830 Spread the Reign of GOd the Lord. It is also paired with a pretty tuned that I’ve been humming for the last day.

A Thought on Kim Davis, Citizen

Someone on Quora asked me to answer this question: Is Kim Davis morally responsible for the marriage licenses that she certifies?

I answered in the following manner.

That is actually a quite involved question. The writers of the NT were writing to people who were largely powerless. Having a government position just wasn’t on the radar. The first people to start addressing it are later, and then the most comparable questions I would say would be: can a Christian be a soldier? There has always been a strain of Christianity that has said no to that question, although the large majority have said yes. Their reasoning was that the citizen had both a moral duty to the government and the moral duty to the law of God not to kill. These moral duties were in conflict in the vocation of a soldier who was often a conscript. The mainstream of Christian theology absolved – note that this is absolution or forgiveness, not just saying it is not wrong – they were absolved of killing because the greater moral weight would rest upon the commanders and leaders who put them in that position. They too could be absolved under the “just war” conditions. In both cases they were still morally accountable for the killing, but that accountability was not the grave sin it would normally have been due to other duties. This situation is what Luther would quip “sin boldly” about. Whatever we do, we are sinners, so admit that and trust in the greater amount of God’s mercy. That is the same Luther who at Worms in 1521, being told to recant or otherwise follow the law, said he could not because it was against his conscience.

Now to Kim Davis. If she was just a hired person, her moral responsibility I think would be akin to that basic soldier, but she is not a hired person. She holds office. She is elected, so she, however low on the totem pole, is more akin to the commanders. Being a mere clerk her accountability is not great, but it is not nothing. Nuremberg understood this very well. The clerk that affixed his name and handled all the paperwork for the gas chambers was held morally responsible. He could not just say I followed the law. Kim Davis’ request is a reasonable one for a clerk. She is not saying change the law on my account, she is just saying come up with a way that I as a simple clerk do not have my name or the office I run on this. As long as it is her name or her office that issues the certificates, she bears a moral responsibility for them. A higher authority that bears more responsibility has given her an order to do this, but it is still her office, so she is not without moral accountability.

The question then would become what do you do. The easiest way is what many people have said, resign. But the problem there is that the Christian faith has always held that we are placed into circumstances and drug before magistrates often not for our own desires but simply to witness to the truth. A Christian who simply resigned is understandable as Amos would write “the prudent keep silent at such a time, because the times are evil (Amos 5:13).” The Christian who resigns is practicing prudence over courage, both of which are virtues. They might not be the one with the calling to witness. But eventually, all virtues require courage. Someplace the courage to stand will be called for. That is the point of conscience. Like Luther being asked to recant and saying he could not, Kim Davis found that point in herself. Now the question is what do those who have more moral standing do. They can impeach her which would establish a religious test for that office. They can accept the moral responsibility of what they are telling her to do by changing whose name or office issues and making her office more akin to general soldier. They could join her in witness and tell those even higher up (i.e. justice Kennedy) that he has missed the truth. But in any case, Ms. Davis has stood. Right now, even if she was in jail, she might be the most free person in America. A true citizen and not just a subject.

Can I Get a Witness?

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Text: Acts 1:1-11, John 17:11-19
Draft of Homily

On the Sunday we celebrated Ascension Day (actual Ascension Day was Thursday) we had a mission Sunday. This seems fitting because the last words of Jesus at His Ascension were that we, his disciples, would be His witnesses. We would also be clothed with power from on high, the promise of the Holy Spirit fulfilled 10 short days later on Pentecost. For this reason we invited Scarlett Aeckerle, the executive director of LINC-Rochester which is the local Lutheran mission society for the city of Rochester, to come speak. So, my little homily served a couple of purposes. The first was a mission charge. Don’t fall in the ditch of being mute or the opposite ditch of distorting the witness of the sake of “effectiveness”. The power is the Spirit’s. We get to take part. The second was to introduce Scarlett. So, you’ll hear me and then Scarlett.

Scarlett brought visuals, so at the end she moves away from the mike. I’ve amplified it in line with the rest and think it sounds ok, but if the background sounds a little louder, that is why.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Isaiah 43:1-24 and Revelation 9:13-10:11

Isaiah 43:1-24
Revelation 9:13-10:11
A Spiritual Desert Blooming
The consistency of evil & the necessity of the proclamation of the Word

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Daniel 6:1-28 and Revelation 22:1-21

Daniel 6:1-28
Revelation 22:1-21
An Allegory of Law & Gospel – The Law is followed, but the Gospel Saves
The role of The Bride, our role, in the progressive revelation of God

Another Helper – The Spirit and the World

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Biblical Text: John 14:15-21
Full Sermon Text

The text is chosen on the basis of an inclusio. An inclusio is a method in an era lacking punctuation to signal a thought grouping. We would call it a paragraph or a section break today. John writes a topic sentence – “If you love me keep my commandments” and closes the paragraph with a repeat – “whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who love me”. So, the stuff between the inclusio is the supporting evidence for the assertion in the topic.

In this case, if all we did was take the topic – “if you love me keep my commandments” – we’d be very deep into legalism. I tend to think Jesus was more of a moralist than most Lutherans, but he was also the greatest realist we’ve ever seen. After all, he made it all. You can’t get more real that that. And as that realist, telling fallen creatures to keep the law is not in the first place about keeping the law. We will fail. What it is about is driving us to some solution for our inability to keep the commandments. In John’s case, until the end of the age the solution is “another Helper”.

That “another Helper” is the paraclete or the Holy Spirit indwelling within us. What this sermon does is trace out the works and means of the Spirit. It places the moral dimension within the larger story. Jesus means “keep my commandments” within both his work and the work of the Spirit. And it looks at the final promises that this helper lasts “until that day” or “into the age”. (The forever of John 14:16 is a not the point of the εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα , which is really an eschatologogical phrase. He will be with you in this indwelling way as another Helper until the new age is fully realized.) At that point, the dwelling of God is with his people. No longer in a hidden way as with the Spirit which the world cannot see, but in a manifest way. This is the Christian Hope – we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Exodus 39:32-40:16 and Luke 8:22-39

Exodus 39:32-40:16
Luke 8:22-39
Opposing conceptions of reality, the tendency to label as insane what doesn’t conform to your reality, absurdity, the necessity of witness

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Exodus 13:17-14:9 and Hebrews 7:1-22

Exodus 13:17-14:9
Hebrews 7:1-22
A thought about Hermenuetics or proper interpretation, typology,the purpose of trial
Program note: These texts are tough because they are not really about direct proclamation or the main story line. These texts, especially Hebrews, are given as examples of proper reading and interpretation. That might be something that the church at large needs to hear, but it doesn’t really fit in a devotional 9 minute frame.

Last Things meet First Things

Biblical Text: Mark 13:1-13
Full Sermon Draft

Eschatology or Last Things circles back around to first things, the alpha meets the omega. And right at the base if first things is identity – who or what do you see yourself as? Do you emerge from a random universe, a brief flowering of dust that will go back to dust having done nothing other than move some dust around? Are you unknowing about such things, better to eat, drink and be merry. Or are you the special creation of a personal God who knew you before you were formed? Who you think you are will have a big influence on where you think you are going.

But being sinful creatures, even if we mentally have our first things in line with truth, we are often drawn to temporal replacements for that identity – the temples of this world. They are big and impressive and often cohesive and can be good, but not even the temples are a first thing. If they obscure our identity as a Child of God, its got to go. We so easily latch on to created things to build our identity. Jesus’ warnings, and the roiling turmoil of the birth pains, are reminders to watch. To remember whose we are. And to remember whose promises we can trust.

The struggles of the last things are a sharing in the sufferings of Christ – The First Thing. God did not choose works or any other means to save us, but he chose faith. A faith that the cross is actually the victory. That a death is actually the life. That God can be found in the depths just as surely as the heights. That God has shared everything that is common to man. Last Things are not so much a peering into the future, but an appeal to faith that the glory of God is concealed, is held, in the present tribulations. That God has not abandoned us, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. For we hold this eternal treasure in jars of clay.