I fought the law and the law won…

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What does the law of Moses mean to a Christian? I think that is what Paul is trying to answer in Romans 7. And the text for today talked about the ditch to the right side of the road and the ditch to the left side of the road. On the right, you fall into legalism. You fall into the error that the law still has some role in your justification. Paul takes an analogy from marriage, but compared to Galatians, Paul is subdued in this response. He just reminds us that in Christ we are freed from the law, contrary to legalists everywhere. On the left side the ditch is antinominanism or the thought that the law itself has been banished. It is against this that Paul gets really tough. Boiled down he says – you need the law, you need it to show you just how lost and condemned you are.

Another way I thought about it this week is the right side is religious without being spiritual – the problem in the 16th century. The left is spiritual without being religious – the bigger problem today. Paul takes each in turn and says go back.

Next Sunday’s text looks at Paul’s via media on the law. But to stay out of the ditches both that law we can’t keep and the Spirit in us point toward Christ. Its His way that we walk.

Cross and Glory

I’m a long time basketball fan, although I usually like the NCAA better than the NBA. But somewhere close is an image of LeBron James after the game 6 loss. The Miami Heat were put together with one idea in mind – glory. They were built to win. Yet they lost. LeBron’s face says it all. This was not supposed to happen.

It interests me that a guy often called ‘the chosen one’ who goes around as the new ‘King James’ doesn’t really get the karma he’s tempting. The chosen one may win in the end – the messiah sits enthroned – but it is after the cross. The story of the authorized King James is that God is most fully revealed in suffering. The hour of his glorification is when he is lifted up…on the cross.

We naturally equate losing with the loss of God’s favor. God smiles on us when we are winning. And that is almost exactly the opposite of the truth. Any athlete knows he’s on the right path when the coach is yelling at him the most fierce. There is that moment in Hoosiers when Gene Hackman is trying to explain why he punched that kid all those years ago. “He was the best I ever coached…” Paul tells us to “rejoice in our sufferings (Rom 5:3)” or “that he might share in his sufferings (Phil 3:10)”. But that is not how we act.

What do I brag about or publish? And upward trending attendance line. A successful Sunday School. A balanced church budget or at least close. Why? Because those things mean God is working, right?

Maybe. But the suffering might be closer to the glory. It might be more real. It might be the better preparation. Because suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance character, and character hope; and hope does not disappoint.

Did you ever have a time in your life where you had all the glory but felt nothing? or were completely defeated, but yet new that this was real?

Summer Theological Project

First, I’ve been a slacker at this site. Confession is good for you. Partly because I just didn’t like what I was writing. Too polemical and not devotional enough. Too intellectual and missing some of the emotional range. We never had that level of traffic here, but I also really didn’t like what was going on elsewhere in the theology internet. Basically I saw echo chambers where people who already believed something gathered to hear others say that back to them or tell them they are right or just to pick fights with straw men. If someone who disagreed stumbled in, it usually got ugly. And these were people who if they met each other at church would never say a cross word to each other. Recently I’ve been reading a couple of sites that are different. Dr. Richard Beck’s, Experimental Theology and Dr. Diane Zemke’s, Community Vitality. They manage to bring something worthwhile. They are dialog in the best sense. They are not debate, they might be discussion sometimes, but they aim at dialog. They say serious things, but in an inviting way.

So, my summer theological project is to try and create that kind of space here. Where something serious can be said, but in an open way. It probably won’t be too topical. That turns into debate. I’m aiming at formational things; nobody is formed in debate. It will be idiosyncratic and experimental – what I’m interested in and think is valuable. I hope it is reflective of real life in all its messiness – and the grace that we at St. Mark’s find in Christ.

Its like watching a trainwreck, the horror doesn’t stop…

I can’t really recommend you read this. It has got to be the most cringe inducing thing I’ve read in a long time. Status obsessed, shallow, vain, conceited, silly…and still heartbreaking.

But given all of that, it is a remarkable roadmap for how to kill your Faith or blaspheme the Holy Spirit. It is a modern example of 1 Tim 1:19 when St. Paul talks about Hymenaeus and Alexander making a shipwreck of their faith.

The author starts out at a good place: creed and a recognition that something is wrong with her dealings with God. But instead of dealing with God as those creeds would say (neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance), the author hypothesizes two Gods. Inevitably the Good Jesus and the Bad judgmental guy. Marcion did something similar and so have many others. She is actually not that far from Luther’s key insight. God deals with us in two ways – his law and his gospel. His law does condemn us. His gospel saves us though not from anything in us. To the author’s credit she doesn’t dismiss the law, but instead of living through the grace, she attempts to keep the law or run from it in a variety of ways.

First she just tries to “be good”, then she runs away “during her college years”, then she finds a church that connects her guilt to “racism and structural inequality”. Yes, there is racism and structural inequality. Yes, Christians are called to do something about it. But, no, that is not the gospel. It might be the gospel in motion, expressed through love, but it is not the gospel itself. The author was still trying to keep the law – “talking about Jesus asking us to do good work, waiting for us to make the world a better place.” Eventually, she does what is the ultimate expression of the religious law – “God called me to be a priest”. Because where else could you work harder? This is heartbreaking.

From there it gets worse. She is obviously very smart – after all, Harvard Divinity School accepted her. At Cambridge “her relationship with God deepened”, but “she quits going to church”. [Hint, leaving the body of Christ is never a way to get closer to God.] She “learns” all kinds of theologies, but “quotes the bible less”. “Her congregants didn’t mind she said”. [Yes, they did, but they’d seen it before. They knew where this narcissism train was heading and did there best to find something in the thin gruel offered probably while praying for you.] Eventually she finds a “guru” and art. [If her guru really cared about her, Dr. Kaufmann from the Harvard school would point out her error and ask her to repent. He might even say those words with her realizing that it was his teaching, God have mercy. He might point out to his bright student that grace is given to those with low IQs and simple theologies as well. He’s probably too busy being celebrated and flown around to notice.]

And so she ends up “breaking up with God…I know he’s not the right God for me. I try to remember that.”

The ultimate horror is that Jesus is the right God. She’s just never heard the most important word.

Neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance…

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Not that it matters to the reader, but our sound system was “re-tuned” this week. Projecting voice and presence is not always easy, but it got easier. Thank you Mr. Bayer.

This last week was Trinity Sunday – the end of the festival season and the day confessional churches bring out something called the Athanasian Creed. When the Western Church speaks of its three creeds it means: the Apostles which is the creed the developed from the church at Rome used during Baptism, the Nicene which is the universal creed (if we in the west dropped ‘and the son’ in the Spirit’s procession) stemming from the council of Nicea in 325 AD, and the Athanasian which is a little clouded in origin if not in how it speaks of the Godhead and of Jesus Christ.

It has two driving doctrinal points from which everything else grows.
1) We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.
2) It is also necessary for everlasting salvation that one faithfully believe in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

You might ask why that is important. Can’t we just leave it a squishy spiritual concept? I’m typically all for squish primarily because we don’t know anywhere near as much as we think we do, but as this creed says – this is the Catholic Faith. These things have been revealed: the triune nature of God and the incarnation of that God in Jesus Christ. [Just a question, what does it mean that my spellcheck doesn’t know triune but instead suggests triumvir or tribune? Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.] They have been revealed because of a spiritual truth – you become what you worship.

Read the sermon for the support of that statement. But this creed states that: Although He is God and man, He is not two, but one Christ: one, however, not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh, but by the assumption of the humanity into God. Christ, through the incarnation, has redeemed our very nature. The disciple of Christ is being conformed to His likeness. In you the Spirit is reforming the image of God. We are exacting about who we worship, because that is what we are being made into.

What does this mean?

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Having lived in Missouri for a while I can say I was a “show me” state resident. We have that vague “show me” attitude about a lot of things. We naively think that if I see it or experience it I know what it means…I’ve got a fact. But that really is not the case. Two people can sit through the same thing and come away with completely different impressions or interpretations of the event. If my wife and I go to the latest Katherine Heigl film – my wife will probably come out thinking that was sweet. I will probably come out thinking, “wow, I didn’t slash my wrists, it was touch and go there during that one scene”. The opposite could be said of the just passed game 6 of the NBA finals. “Wow, Dallas just beat King James without Dirk playing well. That was a great game.” vs. “I’m going to bed.”

We confirmed four this weekend. They confirmed their baptism through a public confession of the faith. They also received their first Lord’s Supper. What does this mean? My parents want to see this and I’ll get some good brownie points…or…God has acted on me and in me through his Word. From a pastoral point of view – that is the maddening nature of the gospel. It is thrown to the wind like the seeds. Some of it takes root. Other seeds quickly die. And there is little that a pastor can do. You teach, you encourage, you proclaim, you point to the cross, and you pray. But each individual has to answer what does this mean for themselves.

1 Peter Series Comments

As a Lutheran (or as a Protestant in general) our canon within the canon, the books we read to understand everything else the bible says, are Paul’s letters. That is a generalizing statement and not universal, but most Protestant churches could be said to be more Romans less Rome. That is actually somewhat funny as Peter will affirm those letters but also speak of them as being “hard to understand” and “the ignorant and unstable twist to their destruction”. (2 Peter 3:15-16).

When I saw 1 Peter coming up in the assigned readings, and I saw more of the Gospel of John which to me is more for study and less for preaching, I said that would be interesting or at least different. On the other side of that series, what Peter does is much like his character in the gospels – he lives. He confesses Christ, he denies Christ, he repents. He walks on water, he sinks and is rescued. He pulls a sword and then flees. Peter lives, no mater what happens, he keeps on knowing one big thing – “where would we go, you have the words of eternal life.” Paul thinks about stuff – he ponders the fate and purpose of Israel, he lays out instructions for dealing with authorities, he waxes poetic about love. Peter’s letter talks about living. Be who you are – a chosen people. Live like it – be holy. Live the faith – let it grow up in you to salvation, be living stones. Not all of it is applicable to the context of Christian life in the USA. A big portion of the letter is given over to suffering, and unless you extend that concept to mental anguish, ennui and spiritualizing interpretations, we don’t experience that directly. But if the fiery trial is not universal right now, we still undergo individual trials. We are still called to live the faith.

The rest of this summer on non-festival days (i.e. not Pentecost and Trinity) the assigned epistle readings are from Romans. We revert to form. But, I’ll miss Peter.

Sermon Posts on 1 Peter
Impudence – 1 Peter 1:3-9
Resident Aliens – 1 Peter 1:17-25
Chains of Being – 1 Peter 2:19-25
Paradox Maintained – 1 Peter 2:2-1-
Hope and Holiness – 1 Peter 3:13-22
Satan and Suffering – 1 Peter 4:12-19 , 1 Peter 5:6-11

We don’t believe in one, and turn our eyes from the other

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It struck me yesterday, if he would have been open to hearing, how applicable Peter’s final words would have be to Rep. Wiener. Peter, more than any other apostle, uses the life of Christ as our example. And he ends his instructions for Christian living with three imperatives (verbs in the command tense, i.e. go, do): be humble, be sober-minded, resist Satan.

Be humble – yes you are a congressman and powerful, but do you really think people want pictures of your privates? Be humble…

Be sober-minded, be watchful – You wouldn’t think that such a thing would be necessary, but NY has had two congressmen flame out in the last couple of years for essentially the same thing. You have a beautiful wife – go home and get off the system.

Resist Satan – Is there any world where x-rated pictures are really appropriate? Only one where you think more of yourself than you do and you aren’t paying attention. Right where that roaring lion can devour you.

The core message of the apostles is relevant day in and day out. Not the least of which is the hope it rests on. The God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore.

Hope and Holiness

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If I’m looking at this sermon critically – it is too much lecture and not enough preaching. Here is what I mean by that: a lecture conveys information while preaching reaches beyond that.

The core of the text (1 Pet 3:13-22) as I read it was a summary of Peter’s argument up to this point, and a reiteration of the purpose. The argument is be holy. The longer form of that is Be Holy because you are a child of God and that is what God’s children do. The purpose – to point the glory and all eyes toward Christ.

Peter’s words are “be prepared to give a defense for the hope that is in you.” For me the summary of the hope that is in me is creeds. The creeds themselves are intellectual things. The make statements of what I take to be facts. (Non-Christians would say that make claims that are probably not facts.) But it is not that intellectual content that is the basis of my or the church’s hope. The basis is the truth that the creeds speak about – the God, Father, Son and Spirit, reigns. Hope rests not in this suffering world, or hope rests not in this ill-at-ease contentment of safety and plenty and its continuation. Hope rests in the fact that God acts and has acted and continues to act. Hope rests in the fact that the God who has acted has revealed himself not to be a harsh judge, but one moved to compassion (I’m bringing back a greek work – splagnizomai), who has his guts torn out over his world.

Our proclamation of that Hope (the church’s proclamation of that hope) is displayed in our holiness. Being prepared is not just about knowing the creed, but also about living it. And living something is always messy.