Ash Wednesday – Neither Flight nor Fight but Submit

Biblical Text: 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10

Paul’s extended argument in 2 Corinthians is an argument with what we might naturally want to do in s stressful situation. We might want to fight it, which means defeat and domination of the enemy. Or we might want to avoid it, flee from it, which means by varying degrees denial and disappearance. Paul could flee by just never seeing the Corinthians again. Paul could fight by “defending” his apostleship and proving it all over again. But neither of those things are what an Ambassador of Christ does. The one who has not received the grace of God in vain, is the one who can control themselves and not fight or flee, but submit to what God calls them to be. That may look like all kinds of paradox, and the world doesn’t know how to respond to it. But that is the way of the grace. That is the way of Jesus

Living Toward the Promise

Text: Ephesians 5:21-6:9 NLT
Full Sermon Draft

This sermon completes Paul’s re-upping of the moral law/10 Commandments in the Christian life. It treats the 4th commandment and how we live into the promises of God by honoring the various close authorities in our lives. Those authorities are both temporal and eternal/spiritual, and they are not always perfect. Paul discusses it all under the the banner of being in submission to each other. The world attempts to divide us and councils that we are first individuals. The wisdom of God says we live in a web of proper authority in which we look out for the other. He does this by penning what is often called a household code.

This sermon looks at the elements of that household code and what they ask of the Christian life. That includes the honor between husband and wife, and how that is a sacramental picture of something much greater. But in each case we are called to live toward the promise and not give in to the easy temptations of the way of the world.

Lord, Son of David

Biblical Text: Matthew 15:21-28
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the Canaanite woman’s request. In a week of Nazis and violence it would have been harder to pick a better text. The sermon explores the relationship between Christ and Tribe or between Christ and all the various things that we base our identity on. The text, with its blunt sayings, allows us to work in two direction. The woman’s repeated title of choice is “Lord”. Jesus’ responses to the disciples and then the woman allow us to understand just who this Lord is. He is not OUR lord, the Lord of created to back up our preferred identities, but He is THE Lord. The Lord is also the Son of David. Salvation comes from the Jews. It is that joint truth that is a God large enough to save, but particular enough to be human. I believe that in such a week this sermon offers both truth and hope.

I don’t address it in the sermon, because it is a speculative or allegorical reading, but it is a reading that captures this religious imagination. This anonymous woman has been called the mother of the gentile church. The woman’s request is for the healing or exorcism of the her daughter. The woman herself as a Canaanite from Tyre and Sidon stands in for the entirety of the Gentiles. In the OT time period the nations were given over to the idols. The woman’s request is to drive the demons or those idols from her daughter – the church growing. At that allegorical level where characters are not just themselves but stand for larger entities or truths, the request is to make the gentile church clean. Even more so, admitting being “dogs”, being outside the old covenant, to still share in the new. Does the Christian have to become a Jew first, the question of Acts 15, is addressed allegorically here. The Canaanite woman’s faith in the abundance of the Lord Son of David, that the lost sheep of Israel includes Canaanites, spurs Jesus to grant the request. Hence the mother of the gentile church. Not provable in a modern way, but it rings a lot of poetic images.

Analog and Chronic

Digital:Analog::Acute:Chronic (Digital is to analog as acute is to Chronic). If you get that analogy, you probably can already guess where I am going. If you don’t, I’m not sure what will follow will help. But, I like the sound of my own voice, and I’m trying to understand it myself, so here goes. Digital is 1’s and 0’s; there is nothing in between. The only thing that digital can do to fill in the spaces in between is increase the frequency. Analog is a continuous stream capturing all the fuzzy stuff in between. The easy things like 1/2 and the transcendental like .14159…(PI-3). Acute is a medical term meaning short lasting and either curable or quickly leading to death (or zero). Chronic is the other medical term meaning long-term ongoing. You don’t cure Chronic; you manage it. We live in a world that wishes to treat everything as digital or acute. Reality is analog and chronic.

Ezra Klein in a wonderful reported piece looks at a medicare experiment that worked. It both reduced cost and added quality of life. It is also being killed because it takes the world as it is.

…Health Quality Partners is all about going there. The program enrolls Medicare patients with at least one chronic illness and one hospitalization in the past year. It then sends a trained nurse to see them every week, or every month, whether they’re healthy or sick. It sounds simple and, in a way, it is. But simple things can be revolutionary.

Most care-management systems rely on nurses sitting in call centers, checking up on patients over the phone. That model has mostly been a failure. And while many health systems send a nurse regularly in the weeks or months after a serious hospitalization, few send one regularly to even seemingly healthy patients. This a radical redefinition of the health-care system’s role in the lives of the elderly. It redefines being old and chronically ill as a condition requiring professional medical management…

Graefe has been a nurse for 28 years. She has worked in cardiac wards and with patients in rehab. She has been in hospitals, in call centers, and now on home visits. “This is the best nursing I’ve ever done in my life,” she says. “And that’s because it’s really all about nursing.”…I asked a half-dozen seniors what difference Health Quality Partners made in their lives. Every one of them began the same way: They could ask their nurse questions, they said with evident relief. They could get help understanding and navigating their doctor’s orders. They didn’t feel like they were being a burden if they needed to ask one more thing, or have their medications explained to them again…

Coburn’s basic insight is a discomfiting one. He doesn’t really believe in “better,” at least not for elderly, chronically ill patients. He wants someone going over frequently to see if they’re depressed, if their color is good, if they understand their medications, if there’s anything they need. This isn’t medicine so much as it’s supervision.

At another time, these functions would have been filled by the family, who would be right in the other room, and who would know if their mother looked different than she had a few weeks ago. But few of today’s elderly live with their children. Many don’t even live in the same state, or they don’t have any contact with their children, or they don’t have children…

I quoted larger sections there because Mr. Klein has some great points, but ultimately his point is polishing the government system of healthcare. He is staring at the analog chronic and trying to produce acute answers (i.e. single payer is the only workable system that can push these things, which reduces the world to 1 = gov’t med care, 0 = leave). Please notice that what this experiment highlighted has done is reproduce some of the elements of a church: a “cleric” that visits, gentle encouragement of better action, explanation of basic doctrine in a safe place, and a place of contact that recognizes subtle analog changes like mood and color. The analog chronic problem is best captured in those last two paragraphs. “He doesn’t really believe in better”, and “these would have been filled by family”. Things that have or want to have a digital acute relationship with you (like the healthcare system) can improve, but still miss the point. What is missing is recognition that we are analog and chronic. We are built for long standing relationships, and we are tragically flawed creatures. Our society tells us lies on both accounts.

First polite society tells us that relationships, people, place are fungible and secondary. Got a better job offer a world away? Take it, you can always join something there. (Without telling you that “Oh, you won’t or won’t have time to do so” and “those long time bands just can’t be recreated”.) And second it tells you that you aren’t so bad and are always getting better. The reality is that we rarely change and then only when we die to ourselves and rise to something new. Those long-term relationships know all about your sharp points and love you anyway. Leaving the analog and chronic behind and joining the digital and acute world leaves us searching for those spaces in between. We long for that simple intimacy of an extended family and that transcendental place of love with wife or husband. But all the digital world can do is increase the frequency. One more bad relationship or hook-up. One more church hoping. One more job. One more gadget. High frequency, but still 1’s and 0’s, still chronic longing.

I keep being attracted to a specific group of writers because I think they capture this modern problem better than anyone else. And in a way it makes sense. At the epicenter of our modern replacements for the analog and chronic – sex and money/work – is the homosexual community. According to this next author my previous paragraph might stumble into a problem of “blaming society”, but that is not really what I’m after. Yes, society tells us certain things take priority. I disagree with those messages and think they are deeply wrong. But, the point is not to find a scapegoat and retreat. The point is to call Christians to make better choices. To understand when we choose: home, job, mate, church we are deciding things that will govern us, not the other way around. Christians should make better choices. But, back to the core point. This is Melinda Selmys on longing and chastity.

This frustration is caused by a lack of companionship and solidarity. All forms of chastity demand communion and community because chastity is the virtue that is ordered towards the communio personarum. The most common cause of sexual sin is isolation and loneliness. The sexual appetite is an urge to overcome isolation, to give and receive another person. A person who is fulfilled in their daily life through other forms of “knowing and being known” will find that chastity frees them to be generous and loving and to receive love and generosity without the clinging neediness of sex. The problem is that most people in the contemporary world are literally starving for human communion, and sex fills that need at least temporarily.

This is Wesley Hill on the order of primacy in those deep choices.

If I am a Christian, then I belong (like it or not) to the Body of Christ. By virtue of baptism, I am no longer “my own person”; in belonging to Christ, I also belong to the other members of his body, the church. And so, these days, I find myself less and less interested in asking where each gay Christian, myself included, “stands” on the question of the morality of gay sex. Instead, I want—even, or precisely, as an Anglican—to explore the question Eve Tushnet, a Roman Catholic, raised recently: is there a way to see my own convictions as somehow less important than the matter of my membership in the church of which I’m a part?

And this is Eve Tushnet reflecting on what I’ll call the paradoxical reality that we only grow beyond ourselves, we only truly connect, when we limit ourselves.

I have this hilariously conflicted relationship with authority, in which I simultaneously long for like real, awesome authority and yet rebel against and get cranky about the smaller everyday authorities which come into my life, like my teachers and the Man, man. Society! I’m right though. Chesterton said so! “Break the conventions, keep the Commandments.” The merely-human authorities are often pretty awful, abuse of power comes as no surprise etc etc, and yet without submission to authority our lives are only as big as our own minds can make them.

We all have a chronic problem, sin. We will have it as long as we are in this body. There is no acute care for sin. The only care for sin is analog. It’s this thing called the body of Christ that has a multitude of parts, or is drawn from every people, tribe, language and nation. That is the call of the church, to be the analog and chronic care for sinners.

Sermon Grist File

RossettiInstead of ghoulishly watching the pictures from Boston, I’m cleaning out my “Sermon Grist” file.

Jonathan Haidt who recently moved to NYU Stern school of business on the ethics of MBA students vs. Psychology students. Sometimes I wonder to what degree the people we spend most of our time with shapes our beliefs. By that I mean if you spend you time surrounded by “feeling” people who are generally well adjusted, to what extent does that encourage you to generalize that is humanity? How has my history (vs. what I would say is biblically gleaned) shaped my rather bleak anthropology.

Two great articles by Eve Tushnet. This is a look at a Pre-Raphaelite exhibit. If nothing else the Rossetti Annunciation is worth viewing. This is a reflection on a beauty of another sort – the fact that we all trust or are obedient to something. And the danger in picking (or refusing to pick).

Knot Yet looks at how modernity by modifying and refusing the strictures of marriage have often ended up places much more sordid.

Whether or not they realize it, today’s twentysomethings are entering wayside stations that, as the “Knot Yet” report makes clear, lessen their chances of ever entering the promised land of stable marriage. The marriage passport fee seems too expensive, and they can’t give up other choices. So instead they opt for locations that, according to Wharton and implied by Austen, are “smaller and dingier and more promiscuous.” It seems by not choosing to give up some things, it’s possible to give up everything.

This is Hunter Baker making an insightful comment about sanctification, based on a Tim Keller Comment to this guy’s question.

When asked about obstacles to revival, Keller pointed to fornication. In other words, it is difficult to spiritually awaken people who have hard-wired a particular sin into their lives and have essentially committed to it. If repentance means a large structural change, such as ending a co-habiting, sexual relationship, then it becomes that much less likely.

What I would say running throughout all those things is the idea of submission. From the very general, what ethics do MBA’s submit to (basically is it legal?), to the specific, a submission to the will of God that offers a witness to the world.

The Elder’s Turn

Biblical Text: Ephesians 5:22-33
Full Sermon Text

I was on vacation this Sunday, so our Elders filled in. One elder in particular, Dr. Warriner, you will hear on the podcast delivering the sermon.

I didn’t want to appear like the biggest chicken selectively picking the week of one of the toughest texts to modern ears to be on vacation, so I ghost wrote it. I would make a lousy speech-writer. I’m too much of a narcissist to get into someone else’s voice. Anyway, the text is St. Paul on marriage. The attempt is to find the grace in tough words.

Chains of Being

Full Text

Text: 1 Peter 2:18-3:7

That title is a reference to what you might have heard as a medieval way of thinking – The great chain of being. Really it goes back to the Greeks and Romans and the ancient world. You might also have heard it referred to as the order of creation which I take as the Christian attempt to baptize the chain of being. There is a truth buried within it. God is sovereign. But natural man can’t understand that correctly. We think chain of being or order of creation and immediate jump to hierarchical org charts. We think dominion. Roman philosopher Seneca held we couldn’t make progress until “we conceived the right idea of god.” The right idea of God put forward by Peter is Jesus – the suffering servant. The one who submitted himself to our bad justice.

I preach within a denomination that holds to what the larger Christian world calls complementarian sexual roles. They hold this view largely on the basis of an order of creation. Here is the page with the various studies that have been done by the LCMS. The most recent one being the Creator’s Tapestry in 2009. Bluntly, any order of creation argument is missing the point. To derive dominion for the husband out of 1 Peter requires completely misreading and selectively quoting. (The CTCR report doesn’t look at the entire passage, nor does it put it in historical frame, it just quotes the wife/husband part.) The entire passage is a household code. That form is not an OT form but a Greek form. In the sermon I’ve quoted what some of those greek codes said from names like Aristotle, Plato and Seneca. Peter uses the form, but completely subverts it. He starts with slaves. Slaves who didn’t have any moral ability in those greek codes. Slaves would never have been addressed by a greek writer. In Christ the slave comes first because he/she is the closest model to Christ. Only then does Peter move on wives and husbands. The teaching is live holy lives of mutual submission reflecting Christ. Find that the other has more value than yourself. Uphold the society you live in where possible, Christian freedom is not to tear down society, but know that your dignity comes from God having chosen you. You are not chained in being or orders of creation instead you willfully submit to Christ, who submitted himself to the cross. Any theology or politics of dominion must meet its end at the cross.