A Sword Will Pierce Your Soul – Pondering Cultural Lostness


Biblical Texts: Luke 2:22-40, Romans 1:18-32, Psalm 34:4-8
Full Sermon Draft

There have been a string of national and then local tragedies. Unfortunately this sermon is something of a continuation of one just two weeks ago. I never meant for there to be a continuation, but events experienced called for it. In the middle of joyful events – like Christmas – as Simeon will say to Mary, there are swords to the heart.

I reviewed that sermon from Dec 16th a little, and I think it is the proper response for an individual. And one individual, ourselves, is all we can actually control (the fruit of the spirit of self-control – Gal 5:23). But that sermon left something unexplained or unexamined. What about the collective us? We ask questions like “what have we become?” And that question comes off the lips of a man who in no way has become what he is pondering, yet he supplies the “we”. It is another form of the “why?” question – why do such atrocities happen, one that actual betrays a developed conscience in that responsibility is placed on the right people. If we are asking “why me”, that individual question is not something that God tends to answer. But, if we are asking collectively, “why us” or “what have we become”, then I believe God has given us an answer, through St. Paul in Romans 1.

The first sin is forgetting or abandoning God. A trespass of the first commandment. From that trespass come all the others. Sin is both the cause of our troubles and the judgment. When we abandon God, He hands us over to our sins. When you are looking at a larger culture, that can get very evil very quickly. And if Paul is right (which I believe he is), the end point of that isn’t just sins but a collective culture that gives approval to their practice (Rom 1:32).

Why have we become a greedy, violent, lustful, callous, warlike and spiritually barren people? Because we have collectively abandoned the fear of God. And He has handed us collectively over to the rot of our collective culture.

What is the gospel? First, Simeon’s song. My eyes have seen your salvation/That you have prepared in the presence of all peoples/A light for revelation to the Gentiles/And the glory of your people Israel. God has sent a savior in Jesus Christ and we have seen his light. God doesn’t make false promises, and today is still a day of grace. Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near. Second, our hope is not in this flesh or this collective people. Our hope is in the resurrection and the New Jerusalem. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them (Psalm 34:7).

The Gospel is a Proclamation (but even Jesus gave the sign of Jonah)

Joe Carter actually advances a “gotcha” argument. Which is really hard to do. He’s commenting on GQ playing gotcha with Sen. Rubio, but it goes far beyond that to real insight. Week in and out the preacher produces a sermon. And the core of any sermon is a proclamation. The simplest form of that proclamation is that Jesus is Lord. But we don’t exactly get what that means all the time. There are a bunch of other metaphors that the bible uses to talk about the proclamation. Jesus rose victoriously (Christ the victor). Jesus died for our sins (Christ the sacrifice). Jesus is the long expected prophet. Jesus is the bread of life. And a bunch of others. We call that bag of metaphors the gospel or taken out of Greek the good news. That proclamation is thrown out for faith to be awakened or the Spirit residing in us to respond to the truth.

And this is the point where Mr. Carter’s article is really good. Proclamations are usually followed with attempts to back them up. When I say Jesus died for our sins a natural question is why can I say that? My natural tendency would be to say lets look at the story. 1) Jesus claimed he could do this. 2) He gave that authority to the apostles. 3) He rose from the dead. That last point is the proof of his statements (i.e. the sign of Jonah). I could just as easily quote the Nicene creed – “I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins”, and say that this has always been the church’s teaching for 2000 years. Both of those answers to “Why?” are different and would/should be valid to different people.

Finding out which “whys?” resonate with people and using different ones is at the same time: a) respecting them and b) respecting the truth. A story way of saying this might be that paying attention to the “whys?” is the difference between the street preacher and the spiritual director. One flings out truth to largely deaf ears. The other seeks to let that truth illumine the life of the person under their direction. Figuring out when to be each is important.

God just usually doesn’t answer the “why” questions…

What we are talking about is theodicy. Milton would famously set out to “explain the ways of God to man” and ended up with an attractive Satan. Theodicy happens anytime you try and harmonize: all powerful god, good god, existence of evil. When I worked finance I used to joke that all the executives demanded was: Revenue growth, unit sales growth and profit margin growth. Every conversation was an explanation which of the three they were not going to get that quarter. In a logical world you can pick two of the three in both cases. But unlike economics which is almost always rational, the ways of God are not so. Deal with it. The two ways to deal are: a) this is a bunch of junk or b) where can I go, you have the words of eternal life (John 6:68). That is the faith question. And since a god who is not all powerful is not god, and the existence of evil is provable, the faith question is if God is good. God’s proof of that to us is Jesus Christ. Can you look at the life of Jesus including the cross and say, “you know God, it might not be something I can understand right now, but I’m going to trust you.”

That is what a Senate candidate recently stumbled into, and a clueless national media refused to understand. The senate candidate tried to explain his reasoning behind being against abortion even in the case of rape. And his reasoning is exactly that of faith. A child as the product of rape certainly doesn’t look good. Would a good God allow such a thing to happen? His answer in its core was: I don’t get it but I’ll take it on faith. The national media decided to declare the candidate “pro-rape” and certain predictable republicans quivered about being turned into “the party of rape” and used it as an opportunity to “ooga-booga” religious members of his party. (I’m not adding that link just because it infuriates me how a neo-con war drummer can fret about social conservatives in such a gross way and yet they have never had to pay one red cent in accountability for Iraq/Afghanistan and every other war they’d like to start. Sorry, rant mode off.)

Leaving the world of partisan politics, what this does expose is just how much Christians are the “away team” in this current cultural moment. The “home team” gets all the calls. The refs whistles are always a little bit faster for the home team, and that home team player always gets that extra half step on the way to the bucket. Christians need to get used to identifying trap questions and need to so understand their own beliefs such that they can explain them sympathetically to “away team” refs. The away team doesn’t decide not to show up. Christians don’t withdraw, but we need to be smarter and more practiced to win. If you can’t turn the why questions back to Jesus, then the next best strategy is probably to emulate God and just not answer theodicy’s “whys”. They aren’t answerable outside of Christ.

Here are a few other’s on the same subject: Douthat, fellow LCMS’er Molly Hemingway, and the parallel universe of questions that would be asked if Christian’s were the home team.

How did it come to this?…..

Full Text

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.