Who are you?

Text: John 1:6-8,19-28
Full Text of Sermon

Who are you? That is an identity question. And it is interesting to me that a world that is constantly giving you something to “build your brand” around or upon there is little talk or understanding of identity.

Colin Cowherd – ESPN Radio announcer – is one of the most bracing and upfront announcers I’ve heard. Especially in sports where most coverage is “rah, rah” type. He’d hate this, or not have the vocabulary to understanding it, but he’s one of the best moralists on the air. But back to the point. Tebow keeps winning – and keeps making Colin’s almost daily rant look dumb. For the first four weeks of the Tebow run, Colin was all about how this can’t work and all the reasons it can’t. For an announcer who is usually so left brained logical it hurts, you could here the emotion. His accumulated logic and wisdom wasn’t working and he didn’t like it. If he could be wrong about this, what else could he be wrong about. But then he stumbled across a new line – “Tebow knows who he is; you can do a lot, even if you are limited, by knowing who you are.” He’s talking about identity.

The world pummels us with appeals to base our identity in titles and positions. Or it entices us and bullies us to forming an identity around cool, or traditions or the right way. What Colin stumbled across, what Tebow and his coach should be recognized for, is that they didn’t listen to the siren calls – “you’ve got to have this type of quarterback/team”. The two groups that came to the Baptist are asking those identity questions. And John confesses. He holds on two the only thing he has – the Word of God – I am the voice calling in the wilderness. He revealed the hidden Word, the hidden savior. He witnessed to the light.

We as Christians know our identities. We are children of God. We are the redeemed of Israel. And like the Baptist we have been sent into the world to reveal the hidden Lord. And all we’ve got is the Word – a simple confession.

[FYI, I wish I had a picture of this, but the hymn captured is our Children’s Choir. If you hear a voice getting a little louder at certain time, one of the Choristers was right behind the Advent wreath. He decided it would be interesting to see if he could blow the candle out while singing. One of those please stop, because if you succeed I will bust a gut laughing and I know I’m supposed to discipline at that moment.]

This Well is Deep…

Full Text

We had a double baptism this week. Yes, it breaks a liturgical rule about lent, but the text was perfect – living water, John 4:5-26. The entire segment of John from Nicodemus through the Samaritan Woman and the well with a picture of actual baptisms(!) in between is full of baptismal images and recognition stories.

Many of my metaphors or ways of thinking come out of the business world. One of the clearest to me is a business/tax term called a safe harbor. Many tax laws create safe harbors where if you do your accounting in this way – you are safe. Lets just say those safe harbors are usually the common sense way you would recognize revenue or cost. Many businesses operate outside of those safe harbors. They are not necessarily breaking the law, but if the IRS pursues them and wins in tax court, the business will owe taxes and penalties. They were not operating in a safe harbor. Businesses do this because: a) they might not get caught, b) their accountants and lawyers say it is within the law as written, c) it allows them to keep and report more income usually and sometimes more cash flow when they don’t have to send money to uncle same, d) it might make sense for their industry and laws move slower than business.

The sacraments are how God wants to deal with us. They are the only sure way that God has given for his grace. Baptism is objectively when the Father puts his Spirit in us and claims us as His children. But we all have our subjective stories to tell. We might practice faith outside of those safe harbors – however risky that might be. Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman are paired stories about recognition of God and how he works. Nick comes in the dark, and leaves in the dark. He doesn’t recognize the birth of water and the spirit. The Samaritan woman comes at noon. At the start she is as far apart from Jesus as, well, as a Jew and a Samaritan. By the end she has embraced the jewish term messiah and hesitatingly applied it to Jesus. She has started to see her subjective story in the light of God’s objective story revealed by Jesus.

This sermon ponders the multitude of layers between our subjective experience of God and how God has revealed himself. The text itself, playfully, in a Romantic Comedy banter, deals with the Bridegroom meeting the Bride at the well. That is a stock OT image. That is what is going on at that Samaritan well. That is what is going on in baptism. If we have been given eyes to see.

Evangelical: What is in a name?

Being a Lutheran puts one outside of normative American religious landscape. Here is what I mean by that. An old joke used to run What is an Episcopalian? A: A Presbyterian with a trust fund. And it would then go on down the socio-economic ladder. Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist. Lutheran’s just don’t fit in that joke. Catholics didn’t either. My guess is that when that joke was actually funny most in those denominations would have said to Lutherans “you’re catholic”. Which would have caused great cognitive dissonance in most Lutherans, but just by being sacramental it has truth.

The ELCA, since the 1960’s has been fiercely trying to barge its way into that spectrum, and it has succeeded just as that entire thing is meaningless. The LCMS has been engaged in internal bouts of are you pure enough to be a genuine Lutheran untainted by American Evangelicals. We’ve been down the path that Scott McKnight is talking about with Evangelicalism. He’s even using the same language – legalism. And I love his definition. Legalism is anything added to acceptance of the Gospel. McKnight is calling the Calvinists legalists, and if the Calvinists knew the term they’d be calling McKnight a fuzzy headed pietist. And like Scott McKnight says, these are ways of saying acceptance and rejection or you’re in and you’re not.

To me there is something fundamentally wrong with that. That type of behavior is exactly what Jesus always got mad at the Pharisees over. Think Luke 18:9-17 and the Pharisee and the tax collector. If you look at the great commission Matt 28:19-20, the chief task given to the church is to make disciples. The supporting verbs are go, baptize and teach. The go is that general while you are living your life as disciples go make more. The order of making disciples is baptize and teach. Baptism is the entry, baptism now saves you (1 Pet 3:21), but one is not made a disciple overnight. It took Jesus 3 years with his twelve and then it took a few resurrection appearances.

Scott’s post is really worth thinking about primarily for this purpose – how do our local congregations or even our denominations avoid becoming clubs or sects instead of incarnations of the universal/catholic church? We really need the church to show up. In a society of niche marketing and demographic segmentation, the church claims to be universal or catholic. It claims authority and responsibility for all. How do we do that without resorting to least common denominator Christianity? Since the reformation that is the unanswered question. How can we acknowledge our Christian brother be they Reformed, Catholic or Lutheran while at the same time excluding ourselves from communion with them? That is an easy answer to live, most of us do it every day, but a hard one to think about.

Two things you might not associate…

Full Text

This Sunday there were two things going on. In our community, we had a baptism. In the larger world – the disaster in Haiti. We might not link such things, but the biblical answer is actually very close. The Bible talks about Baptism as being a dying and a rising. In Baptism we are burried with Christ so that we will also rise with Him.

There are some common refrains when looking at disasters – what did they do (a la Pat Robertson), why would god allow this (the agony of theodicy), or just how do I avoid them. Jesus is pretty clear in Luke 13:1-5. Sorry Pat Robertson, but disasters are not special judgement. That does not mean we don’t deserve them. Jesus’ answer is that it is only grace theat the whole world doesn’t get them. The entire world is that sinful. That response really answers the second – why would God allow if he was good? The answer is that a non-loving and graceful God would have destroyed everything long ago. Both of those answers are heavy on the law. They are good and true, but hard words for sinners.

The gospel is the answer to the last question – how to I avoid disaster? In this world, you really can’t. It is a fallen world that is groaning under that curse. But God came to share it with us and to redeem it. We pass through the disaster. In baptism, God pulls us through the disaster.
Putting on eternal eyes, this world is one big Haiti to God. It is one big disaster operation. And Baptism is the rescue operation. The hopeless, poor and defeated of this world, find the cure in the waters of Baptism. We die to this world, but we rise to the next through the promises of Baptism.

Sanctifying the Waters – Lk 3:15-22

Full Text

The text was Luke 3:15-22 which is Luke account of Jesus’ Baptism. I had three questions in this sermon. Why the silence? Why does Luke (or the other gospels for that matter) go from a 12 year old in the temple to this adult standing in the Jordan. This account is one of three things in all four gospels, yet they all “look away” and report this event very matter of factly. Think about that, there is a voice from Heaven, John the Baptist, the start of Jesus’ ministry, and a bunch of weighty theological stuff. And books dedication to a theological view, all look away, why? The last question that springs to mind is: where is the fire? John the Baptist promised a baptism of fire, what happened?

The answers are all tied up in the baptism Jesus got, which enables the one we get. His sanctified the waters for ours.

The Day of the Son of Man

Text: Luke 17:20-37 (cross reference Hebrews 6:1-3)

In our Sunday study we’ve been looking at Hebrews and the above link ties into what must have been the outline of the basic catechism or teaching: repentance, faith, baptism, laying on of hands (ministry/healing), resurrection and judgement. I’ve been thinking about that list and the current state of the church. The author to the Hebrews says those are the basics and encourages his readers to greater understanding. Of those six subjects for lack of a better term, which of them are emphasized? Which are missing? Are any over done?

My gut reaction is that in many places the only one of the six that receives its due is faith – but the even that is not a grounded faith in the person of Jesus Christ but a vague warm fuzzy of faith in faith, a sing-songy “My faith will see me through”. Part of that is the shortening of our vision. As in our primary text, things go on as in the days of Noah or the days of Lot. People are born and die; People get married and give in marriage. We eat and drink, buy and sell, and build. And we think that it will go on like this forever gradually forgetting the judgement. When there is no judgement, who needs repentance? If there is no need for repentance, who needs a preacher or a baptism? When there is no New Jerusalem, what does resurrection mean – aren’t we just going to be spirits in a utopian heaven?

This is not to fall into the Hellfire and Brimstone mode of preaching, but to lift our eyes out of the insignificant toward the significant. That is what the judgement does. The things that go on here and now will continue and they deserve their time. There is a time for everything under the sun. But in light of the judgement, the captial letters DAY OF THE SON OF MAN, they are somewhat insignificant. Of true significance is the acceptance of a personal small letter day of the son of man. On that capital letter day there will not be time. It comes like lightening. One is taken and one is left. Today is the day of grace. Today is the day we repent and have faith in the works of the Son of Man – Jesus Christ – who washes us in the waters of baptism and puts his Spirit in us. Our faith rests secure in that Day of the Son of Man.

Sermon – The Baptism of Jesus


Liz made a comment on the way out that as a teacher an object lesson – i.e. a real baptism – would have been nice. I had to say a whole hearted yes.

Just a couple of stray thoughts. For many of us, remembering our baptism does two things – 1) it draws us toward our family and the community of God and 2) it points us in the right direction for living. For many of us were baptized as infants. Not being baptist, a rememberance of baptism immediately directs us to parents or grandparents or elders in the church. We are reliant upon them to tell us, yes you are baptized. We are reliant upon the church to be the people of God and remember who has been brought into the family. That is not a bad thing to remember that there is a corporate entity – the church – that has a role to play in our lives. It is not just us alone or me and my personal Jesus. Remembering baptism also points us in the right direction in that while the sacrament is a once for all act, the life it enables is an ongoing thing. Luther’s small catechism would say, “it indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned…” When we live the Christian life we are baptized each day or each hour when we recognize our shortcomings, but most importantly when we see the way through the water that Jesus sanctified.