Spiritual Children, Consecrated Parents

Biblical Text: John 17:11-19
Full Sermon Draft

We all start off as parents with great expectations. It doesn’t take long, and the older they get, to see those expectations give way to more realistic definitions. Instead of forming the next president we take on goals like stopping them from doing stupid stuff, or in Chris Rock’s formulation “keep them off the pole”. We might think this is miles away from Jesus especially in that High Priestly Prayer on the night he was betrayed. But I think we’d be wrong. His formation of his spiritual children, those disciples, was over. And given the fact of what Judas and Peter were about to do we might even say it was a failure. Yet what Jesus prays is akin to every Mother’s prayer – “keep them away from the evil one”. It is not a prayer of formation or heroic desire, but of salvation and preservation.

And while that prayer often gets a “not yet” response, as it did with Jesus himself. It ultimately gets a “yes”. He will not lose a single lamb that has been given to him. On that great day, his children will be kept away from the evil one. And this is because Jesus consecrated himself, dedicated himself to the purpose of saving sinners. While formation as solid adults, prayer for their well being, and all the other higher goals of parenting good and proper. The highest truth of the job is to relay that truth – whoever has the son has life, and wherever we are at however stupid, we can have the son. Teach them that truth and the good shepherd will keep them from the evil one.

A Simple Sentence

Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. – Romans 1:32

When the pro-choice group, RH Reality Check hosted a conference call today… I asked the call participants, “What is the distinction between what [Gosnell] did, and what a late-term abortionist like, say, LeRoy Carhart does?”

Tracy Weitz, associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), explained: “When a procedure that usually involves the collapsing of the skull is done, it’s usually done when the fetus is still in the uterus, not when the fetus has been delivered.”

From TP Carney.

If you can say that sentence and not understand the immensity of the degradation and wrongness…Lord have mercy.

(One other link to understand that Gosnell is not some one off technicality but a sign…)

The Problem of Evil, or Not…

Here is David Brooks echoing our Thursday Morning Bible Study.

I said something like “I never really had that much of a problem with evil, I believe in original sin.” Here is Mr. Brook’s explaining it in light of SSGT. Bales. And catch the last paragraph. That daily struggle, think the series on Spiritual Practices. Which I’ll have #3 tomorrow. Until then, David Brooks.

According to this view, most people are naturally good, because nature is good. The monstrosities of the world are caused by the few people (like Hitler or Idi Amin) who are fundamentally warped and evil.

This worldview gives us an easy conscience, because we don’t have to contemplate the evil in ourselves. But when somebody who seems mostly good does something completely awful, we’re rendered mute or confused….

In centuries past most people would have been less shocked by the homicidal eruptions of formerly good men. That’s because people in those centuries grew up with a worldview that put sinfulness at the center of the human personality…

According to this older worldview, Robert Bales, like all of us, is a mixture of virtue and depravity. His job is to struggle daily to strengthen the good and resist the evil, policing small transgressions to prevent larger ones. If he didn’t do that, and if he was swept up in a whirlwind, then even a formerly good man is capable of monstrous acts that shock the soul and sear the brain.

The Powers That Be

Biblical Text of Sermon: Mark 1:21-28
Full Text of Sermon

So, if you are not from a pentecostal denomination, when was the last time you heard a sermon about powers and principalities or demonology? There is probably a good reason. Denominational pastors are by and large an educated lot (often over-educated) and talking about spiritual forces just seems “icky” and doing so feels like sacrificing any respectability. The educated world is thoroughly materialist in philosophy and to preach on the “powers” means a thorough-going super-naturalist stance depending solely upon revelation (unless the preacher has had a mystical experience and then its still revelation for the hearers and no longer biblical but personal). Add in the fact that popular understanding of the powers is summed up in Halloween and The Exorcist part 18, and you just kinda pick a different text. Or worse you preach on the exorcism text and explain it away through various “they just weren’t that bright” mechanisms.

But the gospel according to Mark just doesn’t allow that. If you are going to preach on Mark, you have to come to terms with the powers that be, because that is who Jesus is to Mark. Jesus is the one who breaks the backs of the powers. Jesus is the one sent to put away that greatest power – death.

And right there I think is the intersection with the modern world. Even though we are materialist in philosophy allowing smaller spiritual forces to hide, death doesn’t hide. We try to hide from him. We do our best to move him out of our sight. And the materialist will try even at funerals to say something like, “death is part of life”. But most people react in horror at that banality. We all have an intuitive reaction that this isn’t right, this isn’t how it was supposed to be. We have nothing to support that – other than revelation.

Jesus came with authority to break the back of the powers – including death. From the very start of his ministry Jesus commanded the spirits. His death and resurrection has disarmed them. In Christ as part of His body the church, we are already part of a resurrection body – something that even death has no power over.

My Father’s World…

A better example of preaching on the theology of the cross. And how dumb it makes you feel.

And what of our long list of beliefs and the desire for certainty? When we let the mystery of evil open us more fully to the mystery of love, that need goes away. On this point, I am edified by the words of the great Catholic historian Eamon Duffy, from his Faith of Our Fathers.

Looking back on his own dark night, occasioned by the death of a good friend, Duffy wrote:

[N]ow I know that faith is a direction, not a state of mind; states of mind change and veer about, but we can hold a direction. . . . The difference between a believer and a non-believer is not that the believer has one more item in his mind, in his universe. It is that the believer is convinced that reality is to be trusted, that in spite of appearances the world is very good.

I don’t know if I was the only one to hear it but the next time you see any of the Lord of the Rings movies – listen real close to the Frodo Theme – the music that plays anytime all seems lost for the hobbits with the ring. I swear it is variation off of the simple “This is my Father’s World”. This is my Father’s World. God rest me in the thought. All nature sings…. At the darkest of moments the music says reality is to be trusted. The theologian of the cross calls a thing what it is.

Identity Crisis

Full Text

It is probably unseemly for a minister to express too much pride, but this sermon works. The core meaning of the text is who is this Jesus – he is God’s son, he is the new Israel. The question is what does that mean for us? We could imagine a world where God would send his son on a victory tour of sorts. Ha, Ha – losers, you are all going to hell. Bet that is not the identity of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. The Jesus we know is the new Israel. He fulfills, his is faithful, he is obedient where we were not. He comes meek, and humble and putting his power aside. As the new Israel, he starts the new people of God. He makes us into God’s children. As we struggle in this world, we should be formed by that simple recognition, we are the children of God through Jesus Christ. All the devil is trying to get you to do is forget your identity. But nothing in all creation (and that slanderer is part of creation) nothing can separate me from the love of Christ.

A phrase left hanging….

My daughter’s violin school was invited to play with the RIT Orchestra in a Halloween concert today. It was of course very cute to see 30 costumed elementary students with violins playing ‘Go Tell Aunt Rhody’ backed by the RIT students.

But that is not the real point. The conductor, a Dr. Michael Ruhling, gave a great little historical-musical introduction to each piece they played. After the cute kids were off stage, the orchestra turned to two other Halloween-y pieces: Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saens and some movements from Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition. His introduction for each commented on a major theme in each. In each the dead/undead/witch/evil builds and is given free reign, but in each it is cut short and more or less immediately goes away. In Saint-Saens the oboe(?) sounds the cocks crow signaling the dawn and the end of the harrowing. In Mussorgsky the witch Baba Yaga is cut off, one movement just ends and moves into the next, which is much grander and was meant to represent the Church bells ringing and the Great Gate of Kiev. Dr. Ruhling said the music was comforting in that the evil builds, but in each only for a short time, and he left that hanging.

He didn’t answer the why. Why does the evil in the music not over-run all? Why does it stop and stop immediately? Its just left hanging why two great pieces of music that get at truth say the same thing. Matt 24:22 – “In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive. But it will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones. (Mat 24:22 NLT)” 1 Cor 15:52 – “It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. (1Co 15:52 NLT)” The tribulation is always cut short. Evil has no power in front of of the risen one. They are allowed to have their day, but never victory.

The true things, the beautiful things like that music, tell a story. We might ignore it or forget it, but it is there. Waiting to be told.

Born in a grave…

The gospel text for the day was Mark 16:1-20 or the ending of the gospel. The non-scripture reading that was paired with it just bowled me over to the point that you wonder if it was just another “preacher story” – truthfully I would hope that it was a pious fiction, but sorrowfully knowing that it was real because our fiction doesn’t imagine stuff like this. I’m probably breaking 50 copyright laws (although the readership is not so great that even on the internet it might be considered private use 🙂 ), but I’m just going to type it out.

From Paul Tillich:

In the Nuremburg war-crime trials a witnes appeared who had lived for a time in a grave in a Jewish grave-yard in Wilna, Poland. It was the only place he – and may others – could live, when in hiding after they had escaped the gas chamber. During this time he wrote poetry, and one of the poems was a description of a birth. In a grave nearby a young woman gave birth to a boy. The eighty-year old gravedigger, wrapped in a linen shroud, assisted. When the new-born child uttered his first cry, the old man prayed: ‘Great God, has Thou finally sent the Messiah to us? For who else than the Messiah Himself can be born in a grave?’ But after three days the poet saw the child sucking his mother’s tears because she had no milk for him…When I first read it, it occured to me more forcefully than ever before that our Christian symbols, taken from the gospel stories, have lost a great deal of their power…it has been forgotten that the manger of Christmas was the expression of utter poverty and distress before it became the place where the angels appeared and to which the star pointed. And it has been forgotten that the tomb of Jesus was the end of His life and His work before it became the place of His final triumph. We have become insensitive to the infinite tension which is implied in the words of the Apostle’s Creed: ‘suffered…was crucified, dead and buried…rose again from the dead.’ We already know, when we hear the first words, what the ending will be: ‘rose again;’ and for many people it is no more than the inevitable ‘happy ending.’ The old Jewish gravedigger knew better. For him the immeasurable tension implicit in the expectation of the Messiah was a reality, appearing in the infinite contrast between the things he saw and the hope he maintained.