Ash Wednesday Sermon – Mark 13:24-31


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Text: Mark 13:24-31

Wants, needs and our one real need – Jesus Christ. The text always intringued me. It is not just the bad stuff or just the fallen world that passes away. The best stuff also passes – heaven passes away. It is all headed for the ashes. Everything except the Word of God Jesus Christ. Good news – in baptism you have become the body of Christ. You are made a new creation. The Ashes of Ash Wednesday are redeemed in the resurrection of the dead. Baptism is your guarantee. So, if you receive the ashes, remember that baptism.

Fat Tuesday & Ash Wednesday

Text: Matt 9:14-15, Matt 28:20

I have read it said of our society that we want a continual Fat Tuesday, we want the Carnival to go on without ever needing or ending in Ash Wednesday. That always sounded like an appropriate curmudgeony thing to say – and the Lord knows I enjoy a good curmudgeon.

It might be completely inappropriate, but I can’t get too upset. We served over 60 people last night – about 10 lbs of dry pancake batter, 7 lbs of bacon and about 5 lbs of sausage. A Fat Tuesday indeed. There were 8 people in Ash Wednesday service this morning. The curmedgeon stirs, except for one thing.

Look at the texts I’ve smashed together. Jesus says his disciples will fast when the bridegroom (Jesus) is taken away, but then he says after the resurrection He is with us always. It is not that fasting is not appropriate – as Jesus is away from us, but not fasting is also appropriate – as He is with us always. It is a curious twist in the strange now and not yet overlapping of the old age passing away and the new creation. Lay people get this better than ministers usually if intuitively. The piety (i.e. the rituals and liturgy and prayers) are made for the disciples, not the disciples for piety. Encouragement toward greater piety is often appropriate as it can be a good hedge against the prowling lion. Being in the Word is a good thing. But getting curmudgeony turns it into a law which does no one any good. We are not saved by Ashes or by pancakes, but by Jesus Christ and his work for us.

I can’t help on Ash Wednesday being hopeful that the ashes will one day be resurrected.

Transmission of Faith

Text: Hebrews 2:1-10

How is faith passed on? That is not the main point of this text, but the writer of Hebrews summarizes how faith came to him and to those he or she write to.

So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose. (Heb 2:3-4 NLT)

First this great salvation came by the Word of the Lord Jesus himself. We find this Word today in the sacraments – baptism and the Lords supper. We also find this consoling Word in the absolution offered by the fellow disciple of Jesus. These are direct experiences of the Lord’s proclamation. Second our great salvation was delivered to us by those who heard him speak. The writer of Hebrews is talking about the apostles. We have their accounts for us in the Gospels and in the Scriptures. We also find it in the prophets of the Old Testament – those who originally heard the Word of God. And God – the Father – confirms the Word – the testimony of Jesus and the apostels through the Work of the Holy Spirit, signs and wonders and gifts given whenever He chooses.

So, the transmission of Faith is an active thing. It requires being told. It requires someone to proclaim or present the claims of Jesus and the apostles. And it requires the confirmation of the Holy Spirit. Someone may hear the Word, but is the Holy Spirit does not deem it time, they are just words. But the opposite would also be the case. We might have a wonderful spiritual experiece, but if the Word is not present, it will not lead to correct faith. The Word calls and the Spirit testifies and confirms. The Son and the Spirit work together in the transmission of Faith. And we should not overlook either. What we who have accepted this great salvation can do is move others in the path of the Word and pray for the Spirit’s movement.

May the Lord grant you both the hearing of the Word and the confirmation by the Spirit.

Sermon – Mark 9:1-10 – Under the Gospel there is no fear


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Transfiguration sunday. Exactly what we do with this picture of the Glory of God in Jesus is tough to talk about. Fundamentally, the image is too bright for our mortal eyes. What we can look at is the reactions of the disciples in contrast to the reactions of other people who have glimpsed the glory, primarily those healed like the leper or the deaf man in Mark’s gospel. Those two can’t keep the joy and the word in. Jesus tells them to be quiet, but they run and tell everyone, and there is no crackdown.

The Disciples don’t do that. They do three things. 1) They equate Jesus the messiah with Elijah and Moses – just another teacher, and they want to build an institution around them. Let’s build three tents. When God works in his glory we often want to domesticate it. We are scared of God working so we try and put Him in a box. The world and the church is full of sad empty boxes where God used to work. 2) They react out of fear. The text says they were terrified. The leper and the deaf man come to Jesus, unafraid or at least uncommented. Jesus drags the disciples up the mountian, and they cower. This view of the glory before calvary was for their reassurance, but run in fear. Fear is the power of the law. In Jesus God is doing a new thing. Fear is not called for. 3) They keep the word to themselves. They have just glimpsed the glory of God. Would this not have been something to share? If they had been healed like the leper, if they had been under the gospel, they would have told everyone.

Don’t build institutions, but follow Jesus where the Spirit wills. Don’t cower in fear. The law has no claim on you in Jesus Christ. And please, pass the Word on to those still in cowering. Under the Gospel we are freed from fear. The little kids know it best. Jesus loves me this I know. Hide it under a bushel – no! I gonna let it shine!

Codex Sinaiticus & Gender Inclusivity

This takes you to this 4th century books home page.

This came up in bible study on Thursday night. The basic question was one of “gender-inclusive language”, when and where is it appropriate to use human/person or other non-gendered language where man or mankind or other “the male embraces the female” traditional language is used. Part of the answer relies on the underlying language. Is the word used the broad general one, like the older english “man”, or it is the specific, “a/the man”. The particular passage we were looking at was James 1:12-18 which in the NIV is translated “blessed is the man…” I firmly expected to find the very general word in that. In that case in today’s language “blessed is the person…” would be very appropriate. And in fact the New Living Translation does something like that with “God blesses those…” We found an interesting tangent. The generally agreed greek text actually used the specific male word, but some manuscripts including a key 4th/5th century codex contained the generic man. Why would a scribe change the specific to the general? By asserting that the specific is the original, that is the remaining question.

The Holy Spirit in inspiring the writers still used their knowledge, skills and abilities. The inspired scriptures contain a human element. Did James mean to exlude women from the blessing? No. Would he have expected a woman to be reading his letter? In his time, probably not, especially with the letter addressed to the 12 tribes scattered (i.e. Jewish Christians). Would we today consider James to have been a chauvinist? From our culture, probably. From his culture, we should probably admit the the Christian apostles and writers were the most inclusive bunch present. Would a scribe in the 5th century had different cultural assumptions? Those are the types of questions to consider in gender inclusive language. Scrubbing the text completely loses part of that original writers humanity.

But back to Sinaiticus. The book was “found” in the monestery at Mt. Sinai and basically plundered in the 19th century. The majority is now in the British Library (probably next to the Elgin marbles, ha). But the link also contains a mechanism for the web viewing of this treasure. Essentially a complete bible from the 4th century in glowing vellum parchment that probably took the hides of about 360 goats to produce. It is known that Constantine ordered the production of bibles to replace those burned in the persecutions. It is surmised by the romantic that this was the first of that production effort.

House, Coincidence and the Hiddenness of God

House has been one of my favorite TV shows since its debut. It is one of the few shows that can manage to tread on moral and/or religious issues without just being plain stupid or offensive. (This might be one of the reasons why.)

The episode that was broadcast on Monday has all of the fairness that I’ve come to expect and it adds to the general weight of the show. If I give you a very quick sketch – athiest doctor, priest and potential abuse/AIDS – what would you expect the fuller story line to be? Something like – Heroic atheist doctor battles qualms about treating heinous abusive priest while attempting to heal his victims. Sound about right? Instead this episode was more – Heroic atheist doctor is engaged by heroic priest faltering under unjust burden. Both men are changed.

The line of the night went to the priest – “That is an awful lot of coincidence.” The show does not explain away suffering or excuse it. It does not produce miracle changes in people. Neither House nor the priest express explicit faith, but both have no answer for that line. They are both wrestling with coincidence and the hiddenness of God. We would like the glory, or a simple demonstration proof. That is not what we get. Instead, we get mystery and hiddenness. A very complicated and deep theological pondering for an american TV show.

Authority and Justice Potter

Reading: Mark 11:27-12:12

The taxonomy of authority is interesting. You have hierarchical authority – i.e. I’ve been here longer or knew the right people or proved my worth to the institution and so I’ve got a title like VP or Chief Priest. You have moral authority – i.e. I’ve done something unusual in the past worthy of respect like serve in the military during a war, or Elder. You have the authority of knowledge – i.e. I have spent a lifetime studying and learning about some area of life so people defer or consult me, like the scribes. All those have a clear human basis even the moral authority.

Jesus’ question to the chief priests, scribes and elders is: Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men? John’s authority to baptize, the authority of a sacrament, the authority of a prophet, do they fit nicely in a human taxonomy of authority, or are they something wholly other? What they desperately want to do is say “of men” and so subordinate, exclude or domesticate the prophet. If that authority is “of men” then it can be denied. But the crowds won’t let them. Like justice Potter’s dictum around pornography – “I know it when I see it” – the crowds knew the John’s authority was not “of men”. Likewise Jesus does not teach as the scribes, but as one with authority. Fallen though we are, we recognize truth when we hear it. The real question is do we react like the chief priests and elders and scribes and try to apprehend and crucify it, or do we accept its authority over our lives? Does Jesus’ authority come from men and so he has no real authority, or does it come from God? Pick one, no whimp-outs.

Sermon – Mark 1:40-45 – The clean get the mission


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Allen Bauchle asked a great question/observation in bible class after worship about something called the ‘messianic secret’. That is a technical term for those times when somebody is telling who Jesus is (the messiah/the son of God), but he tells them to be silent. The demons obey. The humans do not. Strangely, the disciples do. Many words have been spilled on this theme, and while it is present to some degree in Mathew and Luke it is primarily something in Mark, the gospel for this year.

The truth of the matter is that I have received view, one that I’ve been told and strikes me a very close to truth, but I have not given enough pray and study to hold a view of my own. The only piece that I’ve done some work on is catagorizing the who and why.

The text of this sermon has one of the secret events. Jesus tells the leper to be quiet. The leper goes and tells – in loaded terms the former leper – “proclaims/preaches the word”. I don’t know why our more “literal” translations give us things like “talk freely about it and spread the news.” The New Living Traslation gets very “literal”…”the man went and spread the word, proclaiming to everyone.” The juxtaposition of proclaiming the word by the man made clean and the command to be silent seem to be core. The leper is doing more than just talking about an event.

Part of my answer has to include the why’s of the people told. The demons, who have no interest in spreading the gospel, shut up at the command. The leper breaks the command, the law, for the sake of the speading the gospel. That is a slippery slope. Which laws can be broken? When are you breaking them for the sake of the gospel? Martin Luther’s quip about ‘sin boldly’ would seem to be appropriate.

Ultimately, it is those who have been cleaned by Jesus Christ that are given the mission to save others. Jesus can’t go into the towns, but everybody is looking for him. They are coming out to the desert places. It is the cleansed, the healthy, that can give directions where to find him.

Handling of Glory

Text: Mark 10:32-45

American Idol ends up being NASCAR for the creative set. All the contestants so desperately crave fame- they need glory. I have trouble watching the early episodes because of the horribly deluded people. It makes me mad that they don’t have a parent who loves them enough to tell them they can’t sing. The inevitible cry and hugging of mom who is saying, “Simon doesn’t know what he’s saying” is just wrong. In many ways Simon might have been the first parent those kids ever had. But the part I really like is watching how the really good contestants handle the approaching glory (or the disapointment). If something in society gives me hope it is often how the american people vote on this show. The winners of American Idol are usually balanced people as well as being great singers – they somehow realize that the glory of winning is something to enjoy but does not define them as people, that the glory has come at a cost already paid. The great singers who are fundamentally unhinged – who can’t deal with the glory well – usually lose and you hear about their crack up later.

In our text James and John are not dealing with the glory well. Jesus – the messiah – is heading to Jerusalem to claim his rightful throne. James and John, ignoring the Galilean teachings, get first in line to ask Jesus for a special share of the glory – the left and right thrones. Jesus has just told them what the glory will look like – the Son of Man will be killed first, and then he will rise. But James and John don’t get it. The messiah doesn’t die. He takes power. Jesus calls them on it – didn’t you just hear me? You don’t know what you are asking! (They in reality are asking to be crucified on the left and on the right.) We are able! Just like those unhinged singers who try to sing another song or start trying to beg the judges – “oh you don’t see it, we are so ready for the glory.” No they aren’t. And Jesus tells them as much. Come back later. Now is not your time. Let’s review what is necessary. “The greatest shall be the servent of all…”

Lord, the cross comes before the glory, prepare and strengthen us for the cross, so that we can handle the glory.

Camels and Needles and TARPs

Entering the Kingdom, leaving behind the stuff that you thought was very important and gave you meaning is very hard – like a camel going through the eye of a needle.

The United States could be having just such a moment right now. Wealth and privilege and a continuous increase in those things (such as the value of a house) seem to be the only things that held importance to us over the last 16 years. And I mean that 16 years. Two terms of Clinton (it is the economy stupid!) where we overlooked the rot at our center and betrayed our better visions to protext sex with an intern becuase times were good. Two terms of Bush where we overlooked the rot at our center and betrayed our better visions to condone captivity and butality instead of justice because we had to keep the world safe for good times.

Re-read President Obama’s Yes We Can speach.

The core quote…

But there are real differences between the candidates. We are looking for more than just a change of party in the White House. We’re looking to fundamentally change the status quo in Washington.

It’s a status quo that extends beyond any particular party and right now that status quo is fighting back with everything it’s got, with the same old tactics that divide and distract us from solving the problems people face, whether those problems are health care that folks can’t afford or a mortgage they cannot pay…

We’re up against the conventional thinking that says your ability to lead as president comes from longevity in Washington or proximity to the White House. But we know that real leadership is about candor and judgment and the ability to rally Americans from all walks of life around a common purpose, a higher purpose.

But right now istead of candor and judgement – i.e. we partied like it was 1999 for 16 years and now the bill is due, times will be economically tough but this is a chance to re-examine and re-align ourselves with our values – instead of candor and judgement we have stimulus and TARP and TARP II and all the programs telling us we can continue to live as we did from 1992 – 2007. All of these things telling us not to think about what we could be, but focus on the material only, that the only thing that really matters is the good times. All these programs without a thought of – “Americans from all walks of life around a common purpose, a higher purpose.”

Don’t look to princes for your higher purpose. They are but human and soon blow away. Instead, look to Jesus Christ. God is giving us an opportunity. Jesus has a better vision of what we can be, do and accomplish in Him. With God, nothing is impossible. Truly, he says, we will receive a hundred fold now…and eternal life in the age to come.