St. Paul proven right again or Law & Gospel Markets Edition

St. Paul in Romans 1 gives the standard Christian anthopology, we are sinners. More than that, we invent ways to sin (Rom 1:30). The civil response to that is usually for greater calls for law and order. The problem is that the law does not bring forth obedience but greater sin (Rom 5:20), that whole inventing ways to sin thing. Of course this anthropology, the only empirically verifiable Christian belief, is the one overwhelmingly rejected by man. Especially by the heads of civil government who have all that power at their disposal.

Whatever your thoughts on global warming this notice of the ingenious invention of ways to corrupt the law was the latest proof.

Here is an excellent New York Times story on payments to firms that destroy HFC-23, a by product from the creation of air conditioning coolant. The gas is 11,700 times worse for climate change than C02 so the UN set a price for destroying the gas 11,700 times higher than for eliminating C02. N.B. In a real market prices are based on supply and demand not just demand! Hi jinx ensue:

…since 2005 the 19 plants receiving the waste gas payments have profited handsomely from an unlikely business: churning out more harmful coolant gas so they can be paid to destroy its waste byproduct. The high output keeps the prices of the coolant gas irresistibly low, discouraging air-conditioning companies from switching to less-damaging alternative gases.

…The production of coolants was so driven by the lure of carbon credits for waste gas that in the first few years more than half of the plants operated only until they had produced the maximum amount of gas eligible for the carbon credit subsidy, then shut down until the next year, United Nations reports said. The plants also used inefficient manufacturing processes to generate as much waste gas as possible…

The invisible hand is subtle and difficult to duplicate with manufactured markets. The UN is trying to stop the payment program but, as usual, the rents attracted rent seekers who are now using their profits to lobby to keep the system in place.

In other offset news, Ted Frank’s chicken offset will let you eat at Chick-fil-A and still keep your liberal conscience clean.

A Cruciform Life

Biblical Text: Mark 8:27-38
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I remember looking at these texts and thinking – ugh. There are subjects which the church’s teaching may not be in complete harmony with the culture, but it heading the same general direction. You can think probably anything to do with charity. Church people tend to think charity is a good thing. Likewise anything that pronounces the blessing of God on his people. And then there is the cross or suffering. Our culture – most cultures – have a definition of success that is high on material goods and the pursuit of happiness. Does this make me look better – if yes its success, if no its a failure. What disciples of Jesus have to understand is that God’s definition of success has nothing in common with that. The height of success to God is found at the foot of the cross. Hence the life of a disciple takes on a cruciform shape. As Paul would write in the Epistle lesson – we rejoice in our sufferings. Even Jesus dumbfounded his disciples on that one. Peter rebuked him for saying that the cross was in the future. It never left him, but Luther would talk less the theology of the cross and more the freedom of a christian the older he got. What is a simple parson, and largely a fat, dumb and happy one, to do with “pick up your cross and follow me”?

But there it is. We all will bear our cross. The successful life to God is one of faithfulness – regardless of the call and what it looks like. And the crux is to understand that while suffering – we rejoice in our sufferings.

I ended with a small coda, a poem that I think carried some of the strangeness of this to us. For a while it was possible in the US to life a life of discipleship after the apostle John. I fear we are heading more toward the Peter’s and the Paul. When the archbishop of Chicago says things like – “I’ll die in my bed, my successor will die in prison, and his a martyr in the public square” – the cross sounds more real and less spiritual.

Have you heard the message?…What you going to do about it?

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The Bible un-apologetically holds that God is Sovereign and that we are responsible. Paul hits that wall over and over in Romans 9 and 10. Romans 9 concludes that it is all in God’s election. Romans 10 says we better get busy spreading the word. I’d be lying if I thought there was really a solution to that. It is the same way that Bible holds that God is unchangeable, and yet he answers prayer.

Romans 10 talks about believing with our heart and confessing with our mouth. Christians actively do that, yet both of those are passively worked in us through the word that has drawn near. Hearts of stone turned into flesh. Halting words made to sing. And its the full person. Not a dry confession without the heart. Not the heart without some content. God takes heart and mind and makes them new.

What you can say is that the Christian can put God against God. The terrible unknowable eternal decrees can be place against the promises and the demonstration of love in Christ. God, you said he did it for all. That includes me. I’ll take that.

How did it come to this?…..

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The three texts for this week worked together almost seamlessly in my mind. There are always things that bother us – give us what I call the whys. And God is just not as interested in the whys as we are. Those whys are the crux of faith. Do we feel the need to create our own stories to explain them. And then we busily patch those stories as we inevitably get them wrong. Patch them until all we’ve got are patches. Or do we trust, do we have faith, in the one who does hold the whys. That is what the life of Jesus demonstrates to us – that the God who says he is love, proved it. Do we let him hold the whys, or collapse back into ourselves and our collection of patches?

Do we trust his providence that in the face of disaster we can say with Paul – blessed is the Christ who is God over all? And most shockingly that invitation is free and open. Come, everyone who thirsts…Come, incline your ear…buy food without money or price.

Witness of the Spirit

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The core metaphor of the gospel in the text for the day (Rom 8:12-17) was adoption. We have been adopted and made heirs of God. And that is important. We sang Children of the Heavenly Father as the opening and the hymns carried that message throughout the service. But, that doesn’t seem to me to be Paul’s main point in the text. In Romans 7, which we looked at the last two weeks, especially last week, Paul is meditating on the role of the law in the Christian’s life. And he ends on a depressing note. I serve the law in my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. In and through the law itself I have no ability to keep it. The law is weak. What then is the answer to the law?

The answer is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God has placed his Spirit in us which wars against the sin in our body. The power of the Spirit gives us the ability to strive after the law. It is not to our credit. We are debtors to the Spirit. But, all who are led by the Spirit are children of God and put to death the deeds of the body, and they will live. But even though we are debtors, we are debtors as a child is a debtor to a Father. It is written off the moment of the expenditure.

Using real old words, we mortify the flesh. We do that through the Spirit. And if you are wondering about that Spirit, Paul points at four ways we can observe it. Read the sermon to find out…

More on ‘not reading Romans 7’

From Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan (via WSJ)

Recognizing the cancerous effect of this corruption, voters of the first State, acting through referendum, enact several campaign finance measures previously approved by this Court. They cap campaign contributions; require disclosure of substantial donations; and create an optional public financing program that gives candidates a fixed public subsidy if they refrain from private fundraising. But these measures do not work. Individuals who “bundle” campaign contributions become indispensable to candidates in need of money. Simple disclosure fails to prevent shady dealing. And candidates choose not to participate in the public financing system because the sums provided do not make them competitive with their privately financed opponents. So the State remains afflicted with corruption.

Voters of the second State, having witnessed this failure, take an ever-so-slightly different tack to cleaning up their political system. . . . The second State rids itself of corruption.

Anyone who understood or read Romans 7 would know that “rid itself of corruption (through yet more laws)” is not how we humans work. What the law does is expose just how completely controlled we are by corruption (otherwise known as sin). Even when we might be enlightened enough to agree with it, we find ourselves doing just the opposite. Supreme Court justices should realize this. That they don’t is a big problem of the modern American state. But then the Christian is not to put their faith in princes. The state is the state. It is not our hope and salvation.

The law in my members…

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I’ve done two things in this sermon that I don’t usually like doing. I’m not sure either of them really worked, but I had reasons for them. Also, the Thursday Bible study got a preview of this sermon subject. I’m pretty sure it played better there. I’m also pretty sure the reason is just time.

First the time issue. Most of my sermons are 10 – 12 minutes or roughly 1400 words. This one was a little longer at almost 1700 words. It is really hard to talk about the theology of the cross and the reality of the law in the Christian’s life in 12 minutes. On Thursday, we explored it for about 90 minutes in two way communication with a 1200 word itself supporting story we read. We really only stopped because we were just exhausted, or at least I was exhausted and they were exhausted of hearing my voice. It it that kind off topic. Another reason why every christian should be engaged in some regular group study. This could be a really bad analogy, but worship is the cardio workout. It is the base of any healthy regimen. Those group studies are the weights. That is where growth in spiritual muscle happens.

The two different things.

1) While I do use political examples from time to time, I try to be balanced. Those examples today were not. I think this goes to a fundamental and dangerous direction in our American political body. A small c conservative – of which there are very few in politics at any level – understands Romans 7. The human creature is fundamentally flawed. In Paul’s words, in my flesh I serve the law of sin. And, that sin in my own members is very strong and devious. The older American political order understood this and was reticent to pass any sweeping law or sweep away traditional ways of doing things. Laws, because of the human creature, invite corruption. Sweeping laws invite sweeping corruption. We are that corrupt and we are not that smart to see it all beforehand. When the law is kept small and local, the stakes are not as big. But that is the not the society that we have structured today where everything is big. And where the law gets big, corruption proliferates. According to Paul that is the very function of the law – to show how sinful we are.

2) The second thing was that I ended the sermon on what was probably a cliffhanger. Romans 7 naturally leads to Romans 8. Romans 7 is a true description of the role of the law, but it is not the complete picture. There is something else that supplies power and fights the law of sin in my members. And it doesn’t come from me. In myself, I can’t win. But I am not alone. That is the Romans 8 story continuation. I chose to stay textual and have a two part sermon. Those who were present on July 3rd probably will be present the next week. Preaching through Romans is more like watching Lost or any story drama. Missing an episode might leave you scratching your head. The gospels seem to be more episodic, or more like Law & Order. I think that is because Romans is essentially a long argument and not a collection of stories telling one larger happening.

Reformation Day Sermons

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Two choices with any Special Day sermons, preach the day or preach the text. Preaching the day is by far the more popular. People expect it. It is actually easier (maybe why it is more popular) – no translations to do, find some simple stories preferably cute about the people involved. But I think that puts the cart before the horse with most things Christian. The text or the Word drives the Christian story…drives the Christian. Preaching the day drains it of its vitality. The day becomes just another museum piece. One more birthday, anniversary or commemoration to remember. Preach the text and the living Word might show up.

Russell Saltzman here has heard or given one to many sermons on the Day. He gives some great examples of the species. It is also a great example of loss of hope. When the day has lost its vitality, it can’t inspire hope. The Word that inspires is absent.

Red flag of the parsons own views here – we made/make too much of the politics and the piety that came out of the reformation, and not enough of the original insight. For centuries the camps of Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed have gloried in their people and places and documents. And those things are important, but they don’t capture the complexity of the people – their tragic incompleteness. The original reformation insight allows for that incompleteness, and lets God complete things. And that insight came from the Word.

For no one is justified by works of the law…but now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the the Law – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 3:19-22).

If you read Saltzman’s last paragraph – he put his hope in the wrong place. Even the church, which will be protected until the end, is an imperfect and incomplete vessel – waiting to be made complete…waiting for the saints to be revealed…waiting for the righteousness of God through faith.

Two things you might not associate…

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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.