Though the Chaos, Life

Biblical Text: Matthew 3:13-17, (Romans 6:1-11)

The Sunday after the Epiphany for us is always the Baptism of the Lord. And it is an incredibly rich text. Off the top of my head I can think of five “topics” that are justifiable to preach on from it. Looking at the sermon file I had done most of them over the past 11 years. The one that might be the most apparent, but is actually tougher is Jesus’ Baptism connected to our Baptism. Now you can just say Baptism and elide the difference, but if you do that you miss what this theophany in the Jordan tells us about God. Because Jesus baptism is not like ours. As Luther says in his Baptismal Liturgy prayer, it is by His baptism that all waters have become a blessed flood. We get Jesus’ baptism, because God stood with us and took ours. We get brought through the chaos to life, because he defeated death.

Today, Come, Christ is Risen!

With a nod toward St. John Chrysostom, an Easter Sermon. Today, what we have all gained, come and see. The tomb is empty, the table is full.

Satanic Slander; Man’s Vindication

Biblical Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Full Sermon Draft

Welcome to lent. The season traditionally starts out with the Temptation of Jesus. As the sermon will highlight, the temptation is deeply connected with the story that comes before it, the baptism of Jesus. What both represent are how Jesus has fought the battles we could not win. The Baptism is the start of the defeat of sin. He takes ours, and we get his. The temptation is the defeat of Satan. The resurrection is the defeat of death. We couldn’t win against those great enemies. Jesus, true man and true God, defeated them for us. Then he invites us to follow.

A fun little part of this sermon is using the devil as a witness to the gospel. Imagining that great liar forced into telling the truth was a fun experiment. I don’t know how well it worked, but it was fun to try.

Worship note: I like the Lenten Hymn. The only season that I think has a higher overall quality is Advent which might be because of both the length (shorter) and subject (eschatology). I left in LSB 424, O Christ You Walked the Road, which was our concluding hymn. It borrows the well known tune Southwell, but the text captures the main points of the sermon. Christ has defeated Satan and invites us on the same (lenten) road.

Let’s try and tie some things together…

I had this old game – Fortress America. Think Red Dawn but a lot geekier and without wolverines. Everybody (but Canada, which had declared itself Switzerland) was attacking the United States. The United States defended its turf and expelled the invaders. Think about that for a second. What kind of fears are displayed in a scenario game where the United States in the 1980’s is getting invaded? If you look at the picture of the box nearby it has the unmistakable picture of Saddam Hussein on it. The geek kids of the 80’s played a game that encouraged speculation than Saddam was invading the US.

I want to point at a post by Richard Beck at Experimental Theology. From my reading – and you can ask my wife how we drown in books – what Dr. Beck ponders and scribbles is a treasure to the Christian church. I’d say it should be part of your everyday reading except that it might burn a little too bright. The post that I’m linking to is part of a series mulling over Heb 2:14-15 which includes the phrase, “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death”. In that phrase and what Dr. Beck is poking is the center of some of the things we’ve been looking at around here.

The Lutheran way of talking about just what Jesus has done and is doing for us is to talk about that unholy Trinity of Sin, Death and the Power of the Devil. We often reduce the gospel to just the dimension of sin, but the gospel is larger than that. If we stop at a therapeutic gospel of feeling good by being forgiven we can still find ourselves outside the kingdom. Our lives can still be lived in slavery to the fear of death.

What that looks like is the inward spiral of control that we looked at in Ann Voskamp’s work, One Thousand Gifts. Something bad happens, we experience loss, and we don’t trust God. Our entire life becomes a Fortress America retreat exercise in establishing a perimeter of control and asserting ourselves at that wall. When that wall is over-run, we retreat further and further establishing areas of control. And we do this not realizing how we are living our whole lives in slavery to that fear and how stunted and small our world becomes. When we seek to save our own life out of fear of loss and death, we lose it.

Christ has come to bring life and bring it abundantly. And here is where this intersects with our stewardship thoughts. We have said in that series that the goal of stewardship isn’t really to fund the church or anything like that although that is a side product. The goal of stewardship is that you recognize and trust God’s providence. It’s our money we say. We as a country are not as rich as we thought and we seem to be playing a never ending game of musical chairs over who is going to take that psychic (and real) loss. We are asserting control. We are retreating. We are running in fear. All fights over “my money”. Stewardship and the tithe that we talked about is a place where God starts punching holes in those chains of slavery to the fear ultimately of death. If we are able to give the firstfruits, from the first dollar, we are starting an outward spiral of grace. God – I’m not retreating anymore. That doesn’t work. I haven’t been able to protect any of my fortresses anyway. You handle it. Does giving that 10% mean you’ll be safe? Absolutely not. In fact it will weaken your ability to guard your turf. Everyone else is using 100% of “their money” and now you are using only 90%. But it places you in Beck’s “fellowship of need”. The goal of stewardship is that you recognize and trust God’s providence. In being gracious, we recognize our need of grace. In stopping claiming “my money”, we are freed from our slavery to fear of loss. We are saying back to the power of
the Devil – do what you will. Though it all be gone, you still have nothing won. The Kingdom’s ours forever.

The slave does not remain in the house forever, the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:35-36) And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! (Mark 3:32-34)

The Puzzle of Reformation Day

Scripture Text: John 8:31-36
Full Text of Sermon

Traditions tend to pile up. There is nothing inherently wrong with traditions. Most traditions are in fact healthy and good. But they tend to pile up. Just think about Christmas. How many things are there that you “have” to do? Does the holiday just stop if you miss baking the sugar cookies or you don’t get the lights hung? Have you ever said the holiday has been ruined because we didn’t get to do X (fill in with your X)?

Churches are like dumping grounds of traditions. Churches hold on to traditions long after the last people who knew what they were about have been carried out the door. To make matters worse, they often add theological reasons for a tradition. Here is an example. You probably have a US flag at the front of your sanctuary. Why is it there? Are the Kingdom of God and the United States equivalent things? What would happen if it wasn’t there one day? My guess is that someone would make an argument – put it back, Jesus and Paul both said something along the lines of Caesar is the appointed authority, that flag is our recognition of that authority, so put it back. A theological fig leaf for a tradition. Not that the tradition is bad, just that it is a human tradition.

But traditions can pile up to toxic levels. To levels where the core of what we are about as Christians becomes obscured. The original creed was Jesus is Lord. If you listen to the stirring reformation hymns – especially A Mighty Fortress – that is what you will hear. The reformation was about stripping out some toxic levels of tradition and reminding people that our salvation is found only in Jesus, that Jesus is Lord. Our lives should be shaped by that very direct statement. At all times and in all places, a people willing to live like Jesus is Lord do revolutionary and remarkable things. And the best part of that is that if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. You will be part of the house forever. That is what this very personal Lord has done for you.

Sin, death and the power of the Devil – post 2

First post in series.

Ask yourself what is the summary or shorthand for the gospel. Go ahead, think for a second, what is the gospel……
My guess is that most would answer something like: the forgiveness of sins.

That is good news. It is gospel. But is it the full gospel or even a good summary?

If forgiveness is the gospel, where does the story start and where does it end? If I think of the gospel purely in those terms it starts when I sin and it ends with a sacrifice on the cross. Can you see anything missing in that or slightly off?

Here is my list. First it starts with us – the finite driving the infinite. We sin so God reacts. That doesn’t seem right. Second, in that scenario there is absolutely no need for the resurrection. All you need is the perfect sacrifice. [The resurrection might lend credence to the sacrifice i.e. be proof that it was accepted, but it is not necessary.] Third, the story doesn’t seem to go anywhere but a repeating loop. I sin, God forgives, I feel good until I sin again. Rinse, Wash, repeat. That is one of the most boring and mocked lines ever. If you are trapped in that boring story, no wonder some Christians just want to be raptured. Is that really all the gospel is?

I did a simple search on the word forgiveness in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Take a guess as to how many times the word forgiveness is used in the gospels? Go ahead, even with having read the above take a guess…7. There are seven passages in the gospels that use the word forgiveness. Let’s widen it a little bit and include the verb forgive, not just the reception of forgiveness but the action of forgiving. That adds another 17. Total mentions in the gospels of forgiveness – 24. So it is not unimportant. And some of those passages are key understandings, but 24 mentions in four books can’t be the sum total. Ask a different question. How many times in the gospel is life mentioned? 72 verses. Three times the number of verses as forgiveness.

If you start in genesis 3 with the fall you only need to read until Matthew 27. But that is a shortened gospel. The scriptures start with Genesis 1, with God creating life. They end in Revelation 22 with God re-creating the heavens and the earth and the River of Life flowing from the throne. The gospels include a resurrection and one of them the ascension. The gospel, the good news, is something more. The gospels tell a bigger story.

Two verses from the Gospel of John. John 10:10 – “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 17:3 – “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you , the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

God created you. But the thief – Satan, our accuser – came to steal you and kill you and destroy you. Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, so death spread to all men (Rom 5:12). The gospel is that Jesus Christ has come to give life, life in the full. You might ask what is this life? The sent one’s answer – that you might know God. The life of the world to come is build around the throne of God and the lamb in the midst of their people (Rev 22:1-2). That life starts now. Those waters of life flowed in baptism. The church, the people of God, gathers around Christ – body and blood.

We might know God not just because Jesus has forgiven us, but also because he has won our victory over death that covered all and cast that thief into the pit. Sin, death and the power of the devil have been broken through the advent of the Kingdom of God. More on that next time.

Sin, Death and the Power of the Devil – part 1

That is a beloved phrase of Luther. The explanation of the 2nd article of the creed goes, “I believe the Jesus Christ …has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil.”

There is a woodcut from the Book of Concord – Power and Primacy of Pope with the same phrase nearby showing Christ’s victory over hell as an active bursting of the gates.

There are three things running in my head as I start this. The first is the emotional heft. Our church organist and choir director has been sick and remains so. Two other items are the intellectual fodder. Here is Richard Beck working on a series he is calling the slavery of death. And here is Scot McKnight talking about his book and what he sees as a poor shortening of the gospel.

Most protestants probably operate with what Scot McKnight is calling the soterian gospel. The soterian gospel is all about being “saved”. A more theological way of saying that in Lutheran terms would be saying that ‘the church stands or falls on Article 4 (of the Augsburg Confession on justification)’ or what I would label as using only legal metaphors for what God does. It is not that the statement “God declares you righteous through the atoning sacrifice of Christ” is wrong, but that it is not the whole story. The legal metaphors apply greatly to sin. We feel in absolution that God has moved our sin away from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). We see Jesus having the power to forgive sin with his word. (Luke 5:20) This is very legal and very in the moment.

But the legal metaphors feel like a sham in the face of death. We still experience something that in our personal experience can’t be undone. If being saved, if being declared righteous, still ends up here – tell me why this is important?

Read for a second 1 Cor 15:54-57.

“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1Co 15:54 ESV)”

While sin might be a legal metaphor, when the Bible talks about death or the devil it talks victory…it talks freedom. The gates of brass are burst. The iron fetters yield. If the gospel is just about clearing my conscience and making me feel better about myself – well rubbish. I can go to a shrink and say my daily affirmation. And there is no need to think about supernatural things. But the gospel is bigger. The gospel is about who is Lord.

This one who was crucified. Who was placed in the ground for three days. This Jesus Christ has been raised. He has defeated death. And those who are baptized into Christ are baptized into his death so that they might also rise like him. (Rom 6:3-4) This risen one is Lord. Satan doesn’t want us to know that, or he wants us to despair of that.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. (1Th 4:13-14 NIV)

What I hope to do in this series is unpack that a little and see how we make more real in our lives not just the forgiveness of sin but the victory over death and the devil.