Winter is Coming


Biblical Texts: Mark 1:9-15, James 1:12-18 and Genesis 22:1-18
Full Sermon Draft

The texts for the first week of Lent in year B are distinctive and rough and play on each other in my reading. The central concern is testing. This sermon, following James, attempts to create a distinction between temptation and testing. It then looks at the testing of Jesus and the testing of Abraham as examples of standing under testing. The parallel is OT Israel who strayed under their testing in the wilderness. The application section then looks at a couple of example of modern day testing at the hands of ISIS. It ends by making a comparison between a spirituality that survives the Winter vs. the seemingly sunnier spirituality that ultimately fails in the cold winds.

The opening hymn is Christ the Life of All the Living (LSB 420) which is a classic Lenten hymn emphasizing exactly our wintery reliance on Christ alone. The choir echoes after the OT lesson with teach me your ways Lord. I didn’t get recorded, but after the sermon we sang one of my favorite hymns that captures this wintery Spirituality, Rise! To Arms! With Prayer Employ You (LSB 668). Our effort is not to moral perfection but to prayer. Of course part of the greatness is the chance to sing the hymn tune Wachet Auf.

Winter Christians

Dr. Beck has a great post up today. Here is a snippet…

With these understandings in place we can now see how modernity has affected us. Modernity has increased the foreground relative to the background. That is, things that used to be assumed and taken for granted have now moved into the foreground and have become objects of choice and reflection. Think about the choices you face that your forebears a 1,000 years ago didn’t even consider:

What should my career be?
Should I change the job I’m in?
Should I get married? When? Should I get divorced?
Where should I live?
How many kids do I want to have?
What church should I go to?
Should I be Protestant or Catholic?

In the not so distant past all these things were taken for granted, they were in the background. People a 1,000 years ago didn’t worry about what their college major should be or if they should change careers. Their “life work” was largely determined by circumstance. And importantly for our purposes, people 1,000 years ago didn’t think about what religion they would adopt. This was taken for granted.

In short, modernity didn’t undermine the contents of religious belief. What modernity did was change the location of belief in the mind. Specifically, faith moved from the background to the foreground. From taken-for-granted to an object of choice.

He continues on eventually to a 4 fold reaction to the foregrounding of faith. I’d like to suggest that Lutheranism, especially in the early Luther, is a form of Winter Christian. Luther would talk about the hidden God and the revealed God. In most things we throw ourselves against the hidden God. We want to know. We want to know things that are not given to us. And God essentially answers these assaults as he answered Job – where were you when I did this? But contra that hidden God we have Jesus Christ, God revealed. We still live in a hidden world, but we do have the proclamation of Jesus. The reformation solas walk that path. Grace alone, nothing in our power can save us. Faith alone, we only grasp that salvation by faith, but even more important, faith itself is a gift. Jesus Christ is the author and perfecter of our faith. (Heb 12:2) It is by the faith of Jesus Christ. Rom 3:22, Luther’s Gospel breakthrough passage, is a genitive. The simplest translation is: the righteousness of God through the faith of Jesus Christ into all the ones who believe/trust. And we receive that faith through the Word Alone. The proclaimed word and the sacramental word are the two ways it comes from outside of us. Cut off from those faith waivers. From our perspective, some days the kingdom is clear and others we seem to be far from it if it exists at all. But it doesn’t depend upon us. Grace, faith and the word all come from God outside of us.

I believe, help my unbelief (Mark 9:24) is an acceptable cry. Because that is exactly what the revealed Jesus Christ does. He perfects our faith. He does that when we turn from the hidden things that trouble us to the revealed love of God on the cross. And we need to do that constantly because this world – the powers that be – want to rip that away from us.