Daily Lectionary Podcast – Isaiah 43:25-44:20 and Revelation 11:1-19

Isaiah 43:25-44:20
Revelation 11:1-19
God’s care for his people and the foolishness of idolatry
Measuring the Temple & Two Witness (Two Kingdoms & Law and Gospel)

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Daniel 4:1-37 and Revelation 21:1-8

Daniel 4:1-37
Revelation 21:1-8
Progressive Revelation and God Most High
God’s Rule even of the temporal kingdom
The Fulfillment of that Rule

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Genesis 35:1-29 and Mark 9:33-50

Note, sorry about the length. I attempt to keep this is 7-9 minutes, but today’s readings were 6 mins by themselves and it was a grab bag of thoughts. If you have any I’d love to hear them or if a different section of the grab bag I skipped struck you just leave a comment.

Genesis 35:1-29
Mark 9:33-50
Henotheism, Monotheism and Modern Idols, The Romantic in the Bible, Friends and Enemies and telling the difference

Of Cakes and Controversy

wedding-cake-2Depending upon how much you follow the news you might have caught winds of the “gay cakes” controversy. The basic situation is that since “gay marriage” is now legal in many states one of the traditional elements of a wedding is the cake. A twist on this story is not cakes but photographers. Some of these bakers and photographers are evangelical Christians who would probably agree with my scare quotes around “gay marriage”. They have refused to provide the cakes for the weddings and have been sued. They have lost the lawsuits and at least in one case been forced to shut the business. In others they have been hit with “damages”.

Now the first thing I would typically say is if a matter can be solved with human wisdom there is no need to bring theology or the bible into it. In these cases I’d say to the homosexuals getting married, did you really want someone who doesn’t agree with what you are doing to be providing these services? It is (theoretically) a one-time event. You might be shocked and affronted that there are still “troglodytes” who think in terms of sin and that you are engaging in it, but is bringing down the heavy hand of the government on private conscience really what you want to do. The end result of this is bad pictures and inedible cake served with a fake smile. Nobody wants that. Human wisdom says live and let live. In fact the secular philosopher might go so far as to thank the person for their honesty and the chance to get better service, unless the real point is not to celebrate the wedding, but to force compliance with a different morality.

But we seem to have moved past the point of humble wisdom and to theology. And here I think Lutheranism, and St. Paul in 1 Corinthians, has something to add. Lutheranism is a “two-kingdoms” theology. The short explanation of two kingdoms is that there is a Kingdom that Jesus rules directly which is the church and a kingdom that His rule is at one remove the earthly kingdom. Augustine would call this the City of God and the City of Man. You could also call it the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdoms of this World or the reign of the Gospel and the reign of the law. The earthly kingdom is ruled by Jesus but through means such as us and Satan and the law. You can imagine how messed up things can get when your prime ministers are actually working contrary to your purpose such that when the King does show up the prime ministers crucify him. The reason I bring that up is that most evengelicals, who are from the Reformed or Calvinist theology are not two-kingdoms. They typically believe things like “we are building the kingdom of God right here”. A Lutheran in contrast would say that we experience the Kingdom of God, primarily through the word and the sacraments, in the midst of this fallen world. The Kingdom of God comes where and when it wills apart from our effort as Luther would write in the small catechism.

So, to a reformed baker, baking a cake for a “gay wedding” is taking a step backward in building the kingdom. To a Lutheran it could be a sin or it could just be dealing with the world that we live in. But if it is a sin, the problem is not in providing the service; the problem is how that action impacts others.

Let me expand on that in two ways. First you need to read 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. Paul’s injunctions not to associate with the sexually immoral (or other classes of sin) have nothing to do with those outside of the church. If you bake cakes and a gay couple who do not claim to be part of the church want a cake. Bake the cake and do it well. Judging those outside of the church is for God (1 Cor 5:13). Your participation here is just the messiness of a messy world, but it is also you fulfilling your vocation as a baker. And the Christian baker is known not by political stands but by the quality of their cake. The Christian baker is the one with quality enough that even the gay-pagans would trust their cakes. Paul will expand on this a bit in 1 Corinthians 8:1ff when he talks about meat offered to idols. We know that a “gay marriage” is a pagan thing. It is not marriage defined by God as an image of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:32). The cake is offered to idols. Eating, in this case receiving pay, from such things is nothing because the idols are nothing.

Here is where we get to the two places where baking the cake might cross into sin. The first is if the couple are having a church wedding and professing to be Christians while engaging in a public sexually immoral lifestyle. “Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge…purge the evil person from among you (1 Cor 5:12-13).” Now you as a baker should never have been put in such a spot. It was the vocation of the ministers and elders of the church to have called out such immorality long before they walked into your bakery. Here is a good warning to the laity about demanding ministers with good doctrine. If they pass the buck, it eventually goes to you. You want the watchman who warns. But in such a time as ours, it might be a sin to bake the cake because if they are professing to be Christian you are giving approval to their actions. It is the way of the cross and the way of love to warn them, even if they will not hear it, that their actions place them outside of the church. The second place this might cross into sin is if you are part of a congregation, like the Reformed, who would take this as a stumbling block. Read 1 Corinthians 8:7-13. My baking the cake, even for a gay non-Christian, might be taken as betraying the faith. Again, notice that proper teaching and understanding would not place you in such a situation. If your congregation knew that idols were nothing and knew that God alone builds his kingdom, then dealing with the world as it is would not give offense. But if building the Kingdom has been made your responsibility, as the Reformed do, then the appearance of making the cake is working against the kingdom and would cause offense to your brother.

Now I bet you didn’t think “meat offered to idols” had any modern application. But I’d also encourage you to look at the complexity of the argument and the number of people I’ve probably managed to offend. While I believe it is right, I think the biggest take away is that our hope is not in the kingdom of the law. Just by existing in it I commit three felonies as day. And that should send me to the gospel kingdom for my deliverance and my hope. And my true hope is that on the last day this body of corruption will be replaced with the resurrected body and the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of my Lord as Satan is put away forever.

What Our Stories Tell Us…

If you have a high nerd/intellectual quotient this is a thought provoking article. Or if you have three kids, pre-read most of their books, and wonder just what we are teaching them. The first paragraph…

The myths, folk tales, and fiction of every culture are part of a feedback loop that both reflects and also shapes cultural values. Such tales provide their listeners with heroes to be imitated and enemies to be despised, with dreams to be chased and errors to be avoided, and, above all, with a sense of what is normal in the world. Through stories comes a sense of shared culture and a shared way of interpreting life. Youths of ancient Greece and Rome were immersed in the hierarchic, heroic culture of The Iliad. Uncle Tom’s Cabin magnified nineteenth-century disapproval of slavery. The Andy Griffith Show upheld trust in the wisdom and authority of sensible, masculine American virtue. These stories all helped to shape the social outlook of young people and to prepare them for entrance into the adult world. In the last forty years, the stories that our culture provides for our youth have acquired a strangely regressive message. It is a change that both reveals and contributes to the tribalism and generational isolation of our era.

The author, Mrs. Mussmann, eventually gets around to The Hunger Games and some others that are on my daughter’s reading list. Personally, I loved the Hunger Games, but then I would. It has taken me 42 years to get as cynical about power and our own ability to fight the “principalities and powers of this dark age” as I am. The Hunger Games portrays power and its struggles exactly as I would expect it. President Snow has it, knows it and can use it to his liking. The technocrats of district 13 are the “1984/Brave New World” version of the same power. Give me Snow any day simply for style and core honesty towards those “in the know”. The (un?)righteous power of the technocrats, and their ability to deny what Snow is honest about, is more dangerous. Snow kills 23 kids a year. You know that the technocrats wouldn’t blink at killing 100,000 if it “made society better” and was attached to a spreadsheet proving the claim. But the core of the story is Katniss. Katniss who starts out fighting for home and hearth. She gets caught up and used by the powers. She almost buys into the alternative power’s story, but in the end finds it just as false. The only truth to be found is home and hearth. All she wants is a quiet life. Which is the one thing neither will give her, because you will be made to care. The soul that sees truly is most to be troubled. But, do I want my 10 year-old to drink deeply of my cynicism? Or don’t call it cynicism, but instead do I want a 10 year old with sense instead of sensibility?

I think Mrs. Mussmann has an argument, but it isn’t quite as strong as it might be. She wants to attack the single age clique, the cult of “my generation”. That is a worthy battle, but the Hunger Games is not a recruit there because Katniss isn’t fighting for her friends. She might be fighting for her tribe, but her tribe is simply those who want to be left alone. That is a great many people of all ages. And, Mrs. Mussmann can only forward the argument by ignoring one set of youth books, Harry Potter. Harry has many of the elements of the story of Katniss. The ministry (of Magic) representing the mass of “old people” is corrupt or useless when it is not actively wrecking things. But the point Mrs. Mussmann finds lacking, “one is never dependent only on one’s peers, because powerful and benevolent forces exist and will come to one’s aid”, is found in the Potter Series. In fact, as the books progress, you become aware that the single generation school environment is a small protective part of the real story. Love protects and saves spiritually, even unrequited love (Snape), especially unrequited love. It is possible to use power responsibly if not without blemish, thinking of Dumbledore, who hides things from Harry and often uses him just as District 13 would use Katniss. Even the Dursleys, comic relief or small people who don’t get it, are acting with the wisdom given them. Magic killed her sister, maybe her husband Vernon has a point in trying to keep it away from Harry. Denial is not good wisdom, and Harry can’t see it at the time, but the Dursleys do come to his aid.

Given the endemic nature of divorce which is itself becoming a quaint notion as the child of divorce is one step ahead of the child of the never married, such cynicism of adults is justified. One can see the power of such flights of fancy as Percy Jackson discovering his “dad” is Poseidon. At least a “god” has some excuse compared to the reality that so many are faced with that “dad just didn’t care enough (or at all)”. (And “he” at least left Percy something powerful.) The truth hidden in these stories is a good one. To me they are ultimately two-kingdom tales. This dark and fallen world is as a whole un-reformable. Use of power ranges from Dumbledore to district 13 – gray to black. Dumbledore who means well, but who uses Harry as a means to an end, and who ultimately is about fulfilling your vocation instead of your desires, to District 13 where you are but a number. After following the pied-piper of Obama (thinking he was Dumbledore instead of the head of District 13) they will more quickly glimpse the truth, the other half of the two-kingdoms truth. This world might be un-reformable, but we also are called to live in another kingdom, a Kingdom coming in its fulness. And we live in that Kingdom when we take responsibility for how we then live, when we live according the things that need no law: love, joy, peace, patience, self-control (Galatians 5:22). That second kingdom has freed us for those things, not for hopeless societal progress defined by the gray and the black.

Thoughts on an Election Day

Sir Thomas More liked to compare the English King (Henry VIII) to a lion. One of his expressions was simply, “if the Lion ever came to know his own strength” [fill in the blank with the evil that could be done]. The other was commenting on dealing with that king. Paraphrasing, to him you can play with him and scruff his golden mane, but to you all you see are “those claws, those claws, those claws”. Thomas was eventually beheaded by those claws when the lion did know his own strength.

Why do I start there? Well, primarily because the Christian, like the Catholic in Henry VIII’s England, is now playing on hostile turf. This is something that hasn’t been true in most Christianity since 325 AD at a Milvian Bridge. And if my darker thoughts are true, the lion is starting to know his own strength. In the United States we have always has a separation of church and state, but that was primarily understood and read as “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. In other words, a two-kingdoms understanding was built into the American understanding. Two-Kingdoms is theological shorthand for the a temporal and spiritual realm each with their own legitimate ways of doing things. They interact with each other, both claim allegiance, but both are valid. What the US constitution said was Caesar won’t mess with the workings of the church. What we as American’s don’t realize is how fortunate we have been to have had that theology undergirding our political order. Why when the rest of the world in the 20th century saw vicious totalitarian states did we not? Because it was never our understanding that everything was subject to the state. The state was limited in regard to the church. Also in the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments the state was limited in regard to the individual/family as a sovereign sphere. (The state could not without due process enter your house or business.) All of that has been brought into question at this time.

Religion, as the theory recently advanced by the current administration at the Supreme Court and in the Health Care Law, is purely a private affair. The first amendment freedom of religion acknowledging a separate and valid authority (another kingdom) is being redefined as under the state. (Likewise with the patriot act (thank you GWB) the freedom of the family is also being usurped.) You now have the freedom to worship, so long as that does not restrict the state. You cannot take your teachings out of the worship hall and actually live them so long as they challenge the state. Now I am being a bit extreme in the fact that the Supreme Court in Hosanna v Tabor told the state 9-0 to butt-out. The ACA has also likewise just started to be challenged on 1st amendment religious grounds. But the fact that the state is aggressively pursuing rights and putting forth these challenges points toward the lion finding its strength.

The US has never seen a truly totalitarian impulse move ahead. We have always lived in the tension of multiple sovereigns: Federal, State, local, church, family and civil society organizations. We found our civil liberties best protected by that balance. But the Federal leviathan has grown large. Its mane has become luxuriant. Its claws look sharp. This election will not settle that, but that is the larger political question. Do we as a people still acknowledge two kingdoms? Do any of those other sovereigns have the strength to rebuild, or is the US seeing its first, even if it comes in the form of a nanny, totalitarian state. “What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?” (W.B. Yeats)

Romney, Mormonism and Christians

Luther in one of his more famous quotes (and very shocking for the time) said, “I’d rather be ruled by a wise Turk than a foolish Christian.”

I’ve read two stories about Mr. Romney lately that were surprising. The first from Megan McArdle’s Atlantic blog (by a guest writer).

[O]ur family had out-grown our small home, so we found a larger one and put the word out that we would appreciate any help in loading and unloading our rented moving truck. Among those who showed up that morning was Mitt Romney, now the governor of Massachusetts, who had just completed his unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. Mitt had a broken collarbone, but for two hours traipsed between our home and the truck, carrying out whatever he could manage with his one good arm.

The second from the NYT through Rod Dreher.

Nearly two decades ago, Randy and Janna Sorensen approached Mr. Romney, then a church official, for help: unable to have a baby on their own, they wanted to adopt but could not do so through the church, which did not facilitate adoptions for mothers who worked outside the home.

Devastated, they told Mr. Romney that the rule was unjust and that they needed two incomes to live in Boston. Mr. Romney helped, but not by challenging church authorities. He took a calculator to the Sorensen household budget and showed how with a few sacrifices, Ms. Sorensen could quit her job. Their children are now grown, and Mr. Sorensen said they were so grateful that they had considered naming a child Mitt. (The church has since relaxed its prohibition on adoption for women who work outside the home.)

What both of those stories tell me, and let’s be clear these are not from right-wing sources seeking to put a halo on Mr. Romney, what they tell me is about something at the core of the man. For a guy who seems to be open the the charge of “there is no there, there”, both of those stories tell me there is a significant there, there. Think about that first one for a second. Mormonism isn’t exactly a big thing in Massachusetts. This article says that Mitt’s stake (what mormon’s might call a circuit or a district in lutheran speak) was about 1000 members all told. Those 1000 members would have been distributed over 5 – 10 individual congregations. So, Mr. Romney’s own congregation was probably similar in size or maybe a little bigger than St. Mark’s. It was not a mega-church outpost. The sitting governor of your state, who has broken a collarbone and just lost a senate campaign, shows up to move furniture. That is an outrageous use of time from a utilitarian standpoint. Then Gov. Romney could probably have paid a couple of college kids to do it and still been dollars ahead. Heck, he could have sent a couple of intern staffers. But, he saw something about his church community that it was more valuable to express community by his own person showing up.

The second story is about how Mr. Romney approached what my be labeled as a typical “feelings” story. Church doctrine said something: families are important enough to have in a quaint term a homemaker. The church would not place a child into a home that did not have one. That doctrine created a conflict with a felt need. The parishoner had a felt need to adopt a child. Anyone who has been part of at least mainline churches in the last 30 years knows that when a doctrine meets a felt need, the doctrine collapses like a house of cards. What do we need to honor these dusty rules for, people are hurting!

What Mr. Romney did was: a) uphold the doctrine as both good and proper, and b) put himself on the line to show how it might be followed and actually help one’s life. Folding the doctrine was the easy way out. Mr. Romney himself was not going to change it immediately to help his person. It would have been very easy to agree with the felt need, write a stern note about how it should be changed, commiserate with the parishoner about the heartless church and point her to secular sources. But instead of painting himself as the emotional good guy, Mr. Romney did the hard thing. He taught and built and sustained a mature relationship.

I say this completely as a Lutheran minister. While I think the Mormon doctrine is a dangerous Christian heresy, the most attractive thing about Mr. Romney is his Mormonism and how he lives it. The wisdom shown in those two stories is deep. Luther’s quote I started with is a shocking application of the Two-Kingdom’s theology. What is needed in the kingdom of the left, the political kingdom of the here and now, is not necessarily piety but wisdom. Not that piety is bad, but one can be a pious fool. That person should be kept far away from the sword of government. (As was said of King Steven – “a good man who did no justice”.) The Mr. Romney in those two vignettes would easily qualify as a wise Turk.

Religion and Truth in a Pluralistic Culture

This short write up is well worth the 3 mins on Pope Benedict’s conception of interfaith or ecumenical interaction. Its starting point in an event that just took place in Assisi. 25 years ago the previous pope was at the same place involved in prayer with “Buddhists chant[ing] to the accompaniment of gongs and drums, Zoroastrians tend[ing] a sacred fire, and an American Indian medicine man in traditional headdress smok[ing] a peace pipe and call[ing] down the blessings of the “Great Spirit.” Benedict has a different view, even if the picture nearby might not say speak that.

The great religious question of our age is inclusivity vs. exclusivity. Were all those people praying to the same God, or was it an example of syncretistic worship on the level of ancient Israel’s “high places”? (1 Kings 12:27-32) Do all roads go up the same mountain, or is Jesus Christ the way, the truth and the life? (John 14:6) Let’s make it real clear. We read it in worship a couple of Sundays ago. Isaiah 45:5 – “I am the Lord, there is no other, beside me there is no other.” If the bible counts as your scripture, you can’t hold the “all roads view”. And holding worship services with people chanting, tending and smoking to other dieties hopelessly confuses things. It is no wonder people might just assume that there is no truth in any of them. Then Cardinal Ratzinger said as much:

The cardinal later wrote that “multireligious prayer” of the kind offered there “almost inevitably leads to false interpretations, to indifference as to the content of what is believed or not believed, and thus to the dissolution of real faith.”

Such prayer should occur only rarely, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, and to “make clear that there is no such thing . . . as a common concept of God or belief in God, that difference not merely exists in the realm of changing images and concepts” but in the substance of what different religions claim.

It is the now Pope Benedict’s next step that is almost uniquely Lutheran.

As he told a European ambassador last week, social justice is based on norms accessible to all, derived not from divine revelation but from “reason and nature”—that is, from “universally applicable principles that are as real as the physical elements of the natural environment.”

He is using Catholic natural law language there. A Lutheran would appeal to two concepts: a theology of two kingdoms and the fundamental law and gospel distinction. We are able to work together in social justice areas because social justice is part of the law or part of the kingdom of the law. The law is universally written on all hearts. (Romans 2:14-15) And the law is good and wise. There is a righteousness that comes from the law – a civil righteousness. But the civil righteousness is not the saving truth of the gospel. In worship – we are separate. Because all roads don’t lead to the same place. Because we proclaim Christ crucified, risen and ascended as Lord. He is Lord, there is no other. Confusing law and gospel only leads to loss of faith.

Sentences to Ponder

Our litany of prayers on Sunday usually includes a line, “for all those in need…for all those in prison.” That line, even though as Christians we are supposed to care about prisoners (Matt 25:36), I’m sure is a stumbling block. The typical middle class response to prison is something like Paul’s line, “but if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing.” (Rom 13:4).

Now here is the sentence to ponder. From David Brooks…

“The average corrections officer [in California] makes $70,000 a year in base salary and $100,000 with overtime (California spends more on its prison system than on its schools).”

Now that line would typically get used as a club by the political left to argue for higher education spending and by the political right as a club about prisoners getting bread and water only. Maybe both sides should take it, instead of as a chance for talking points, as a chance to repent. The society matters. Any society that is producing that many people that need to be locked up has something wrong at its core. The people matter. Lock’em up and throw away the key isn’t a valid answer.

Joseph Bottom has been Listening to the Lectionary…

Here is an essay by the above mentioned Joseph Bottom at First Things. Warning, it is deep and political and not a simple read. Truly about First Things as an American.

We come across these hard sayings like, “I’ve not come to bring peace but division (Luke 12:51)” or the refrain “the first will be last and the last first (Luke 13:30)”, and they shake us a bit. All political orders are built on the law. And the law is good. We understand the law. The law gives us sure ground to stand upon. But when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away (1 Cor 13:10). And the perfect has come in Jesus Christ. The perfect is the gospel of grace. Just like those sayings, the gospel is counter-intuitive. That’s why it needs repeating. It is also why any institution or political order, as good as the law is, must make room for something other than itself. It is very hard for any institution or order to admit to another sovereign. Primarily because we make them up, and we aren’t too good at it ourselves.