The Deleted – No Longer


Text: Luke 24:1-12
Full Sermon Draft

He is Risen. Alleluia!

So much in our world we deal with by deleting, or attempting to delete by shoving in some memory hole. We delete everything from pixels to inconvenient people. And we all eventually become inconvenient.

God does not delete. God does not deal with problems by covering them over. God deals with problems (like sin) by absolution…by transfiguration…by resurrection. That is the conflict of Easter and the triumph of our Lord. Sin, the World and Satan want to erase, delete and hide. Christ rolled back the stone and lives.

On Good Friday the Spears were Real

The great English-American poet W. H. Auden once heard a lecture in which, as Edward Mendelson recounts the scene, the speaker said that, “Jesus and Buddha were the same in effect: they were both attacked by spears, but in the Buddha’s case, the spears turned into flowers.” Auden bristled at this, shouting from the back of the lecture hall, “ON GOOD FRIDAY THE SPEARS WERE REAL.”

I knew I liked Auden. Source, Wesley Hill. The rest i worth reading, painful, but real.

Maundy Thursday – Anticipation and You


Text: Luke 22:7-20
Full Sermon Text

Luke’s record of the Last Supper is interesting. He has a fuller passover meal when he captures two cups. Over that first cup Jesus says:

For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
(Luk 22:16 ESV)

Which places a strong emphasis on eschatology or the things to come. The central image anytime you are dealing with wine and banquets is a Wedding. What this explores is the eucharist as engagement and the sense of anticipation for its fulfillment.

What We Leave Out

roman-swordsHe said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. Luke 22:36

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Luke 2:34-35

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. Matt 10:34

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Heb 4:12 ESV

There are the official approved readings from the lectern every week, and then there are those bits that we leave out. This is one of the reasons I like our Good Friday Service so much. It is a communal reading of the entire passion narrative interspersed with some hymns for reflection and the gradual darkening. Once a year the congregation hears the story in its entrancing entirety. And hearing it out loud by your fellow congregants is meaningful in a way you might not expect. But if you don’t go to Good Friday, and you don’t read it yourself, you won’t find Luke 22:36. You will get those other verses I put up front once every three years. I’d suggest you take out you concordance and look at the word sword. See where else it is used and how it is used.

We like to preach on the love of God. We preach on the acceptance of God. We preach on the resurrection. We don’t spend much time on swords. And isn’t that exactly what our culture, encouraged by our prevailing church culture, leaves out? Even when your heart is pierced with a sword, God loves you. In fact those swords might be exactly the time you draw the closest to God. Christ came to bring a sword. He came to divide soul and spirit. He came that the thoughts of many hearts my be revealed. It is only in those times of the cross, when we are asked to carry the cross and follow our Lord, that we find the truth of faith. When every earthly prop gives way, He then is all our hope and stay.

If we are always running to the next promise of love or prosperity or whatever bit of magic is being pushed this month as the hallmark of a true Christian, we never draw near the heart of Christ. It is only in submission to the cross that we find ourselves with Christ. And I don’t want to take this is a masochistic direction. Lord, take this cup from me is a common prayer. And many do get taken. But some are not. Sometimes the prayer is simply your will be done. As Jesus told the disciples in that Garden – “rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation”. Your will be done…and deliver us from evil. Because we fall asleep too easily. We don’t like contemplating swords.

Passion Absurdities


Text: Luke 19:28-48, Luke 23:1-25
Full Sermon Draft

The sermon is somewhat pointillist. There is one theme, the absurdities in the Palm Sunday and Trial before Pilate sections of the Gospel according to Luke; and how those same absurdities play in our day. That choice of structure seemed fitting. Luke tells a story full of irony and absurd details. The modern world is the one that ceased making sense captured as the arts turned from form and beauty to abstraction and shock.

But of course the over-riding absurdity of the Palms and Passion is why did He do it? For a bunch of inconsequential dust. For creatures that strut about in stubborn defiance and invincible ignorance. Christ took to the cross to redeem all the absurdity. To redeem our absurdity.

And to compound it, he left us as His ambassadors. He gave us a roll to play. The only question is if we know the things that make for peace.

Interesting Stuff that Didn’t Find a Place

Interesting interview on technology and society with Jason Lanier. (HT Alan Jacobs)

Yes. If you have the biggest computer and the biggest data, you can calculate how to target people with a political message, and have almost a guaranteed deterministic level of success. Politics then becomes about who has the biggest computer instead of what the agenda is. The way Obama won the last US election was by having the best computer strategy. That method of winning an election works, but if that is to be the future of politics, it will no longer have meaning. The path we are on is not compatible with democracy.

A review of a new book from Naomi Schaefer Riley, ‘Til Faith Us Do Part‘ This is the type of thing I used to put under either “gods of the copybook headings” or “the great relearning” depending upon if I was feeling hopeful. I’d also throw out that settling on the core of what you believe was the purpose of an education. But when education is now about purely ‘pragmatic’ things and emotionalism is what we are about you get you get Ephesians 4:13-14.

Thus many Americans begin their marriages believing that love will conquer all, including religious differences. But when the honeymoon is over, love proves less than omnipotent, and religious differences may reassert themselves, especially after children arrive. “Deciding how to raise children,” Ms. Riley writes, “is probably the highest hurdle interfaith parents face.”

If you are part of a whole, and the whole is doing something you don’t like, you have two paths (actually three). Hirschman’s two paths were exit or voice. You can vote with your feet or take part in politics. (The third path not discussed is submission.) Our society explicitly rejects submission. And as much as it thinks it revolves around politics, every whole that is truly important has been sheltered from real politics. (As the article would point out, the public school gets your tax money regardless of what and how it teaches. And when those tax rates are high enough even exit becomes tough. High Tax Rates + Poor Schools = Home School Movement.) Our society, based on the market, is based on exit strategies. It is hard to build and maintain social institutions and social trust when the only strategy is exit.

Exit is forceful, but it rules out using voice later. However, the reverse isn’t true. Voice, the default tactic in social groupings, is reusable but messy and not necessarily persuasive. When it’s easy to bid adieu (say, to a brand of detergent), voice isn’t worth the trouble. Firms must rely on the third leg of Hirschman’s stool, “loyalty.” Or as he put it, “Loyalty holds exit at bay”—a truth not lost on the folks who conjured up airline frequent-flier miles.

Loyalty carries no weight, of course, in the stock market, where “exit strategy” is an honored term. And since the appearance of “Exit, Voice and Loyalty” more than four decades ago, financial markets and American culture generally have only become more fickle. Loyalty to geography, religion and firm struggles with the pace of modernity. Professional sports are less appealing because players desert their teams; pensions have fallen into disregard because corporations, which once prized their workers’ loyalty, now value their exit more. And the Internet enforces an exit bias: Habits of behavior and even “friends” are dispatched at a keystroke.

Preschool Registration Season

preschool logoI don’t say enough here about how great our preschool teacher is. I might be a little biased, but if you or anyone you know has preschoolers, or a mom of a preschooler who would like a morning or two free, you could not find a better teacher than Cate Marks.

Please Check out the preschool tab.
Call for tour so you can see also: 585.334.4130
Or drop her an email: catiemarks at yahoo dot com (I’ll avoid creating a bunch of spam for her.)

Carts and Horses

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matt 6:31 ESV

One of the great catechism questions of all time is from the Westminster Shorter, What is the chief end of man? Now you might ask what a good Lutheran is doing linking to a Reformed document. Isn’t that a form of unionism? Well, they might not have the sacraments, but they’ve got some things right when the first question asked sets you in the right direction. The answer the Westminster Divines gave to that question was: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and and enjoy him forever. The horse is seeking God. Everything else is in the cart. If all you are doing is rummaging around in the cart then you don’t go anywhere.

The quote from Jesus that I started out with was directed to peasants whose biggest problems were exactly what those questions address – How do I live in a survival sense. Jesus turned those possibly starving people from that pragmatic question to a philosophical or theological question – How should I live? If you are directed correctly on ‘How should I live’ then all these others will be added. (We might stop and take note that they might not be physically added, the desire might be subtracted. All those monks for thousands of years were not seeking God to add a Philippe Patek. Although as Rick Santorum was used to reminding people, that if you get married before having kids and stay married, graduate from high school and get a job, you don’t end up in poverty. Righteousness even in a purely legalistic sense has its rewards.) In our prosperity we are no longer desperate but we also no longer have that excuse. How do we live, what are our lives directed towards, are important questions we should answer and keep in mind.

I’m pondering this because of a couple of articles and a phrase in the Declaration of Independence. We Americans are aimed by default by that declaration toward an answer to How should I live. Jefferson’s answer is the pursuit of happiness. Even in Rick Santorum’s answer the goal or chief end of man is happiness defined as not being in poverty. If we are so aimed, if our chief end is happiness, we are rummaging around in the cart. And like a really old country song, all the gold in California, is in a bank in the middle of Beverly Hills in somebody else’s name. Happiness is elusive. It is a lousy answer to How should I live.

Here is Christina Hoff Sommers in the Atlantic responding to Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg argues for women to ‘lean in’ by which she means to find true happiness double down on your work life with the goal of more female CEOs. Sommers responds,

An up-to-date manifesto on women and work should steer clear of encounter groups and boys-must-play-with dolls rhetoric. It should make room for human reality: that in the pursuit of happiness, men and women often take different paths. Gender differences can sometimes be symptoms of oppression and subordination. But in a modern society they can also be the felicitous consequences of liberated choice—of the “free to be you and me” that women have been working towards for generations.

What they are arguing over is How should I live. And both of them are directed toward the pursuit of happiness. But the deeper question is which one might allow for you to discover the horse? Could some of those women that Sandberg is telling to ‘lean in’ actually be coming to the realization that they have the cart before the horse? Whose answer allows for a deeper and more correct understanding of the good life?

This is writer P.E. Gobry
in Forbes taking a look an admission of economics professor and writer Tyler Cowen.

I would bet a goodly sum of money that if you picked at random ten tenured economists from top-20 economics departments, and asked them to list what an 18-year-old should do to increase his chances of getting high wages, none of them would say “get married and stay married”–even though the data on the marriage wage premium supports this conclusion to the same extent as it does going to college.

Read his whole article. It is too good to really summarize fully, but again we are arguing over what creates happiness defined as greater material prosperity. Gobry’s point in my words is that the economics profession is aimed at carts. Economics can tell us a whole bunch about where to find the gold in the cart – go to college, make yourself more productive – but it dismisses as correlation vs. causation problems things like Marriage and Kids. I, and Gobry, would say that marriage and family are much closer to the horse than what economists would say.

Jesus points us toward the horse. Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness then all these things will be added. And here is the really tough problem. We can construct a legal society that encourages putting the horse first. Arguably that is what we had coming into the 20th century. But if we are only being virtuous because of the law that society eventually breaks because we can’t keep the law. We are natural lawbreakers. It takes the Spirit to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify in the Gospel. If you are worried about our society the correct prayer is “your kingdom come”. Seek first the Kingdom.