Thursday, September 28, 2006
Monday, September 25, 2006
- Looking forward to using the new hymnal. Spent some time this morning paging through it, and I LIKE what I see. Favorite fun little improvement: The triangles that tell you when to stand for a doxological verse! (It's the little things that make me happy).
- I've been out of the loop for a while, so catching up still on the major news stories. But what's up with the pope? I see today a story about his continued amellioration of over-reactive muslims. What he said was in quotation of someone else, anyway! (Even though it was basically true). I find it ironic that critics of Islam receive death threats for simply pointing out Islam is not a "peaceful" religion.
- Rosie O'Donnel bashing Christians again. What a surprise.
- The Lord has called home a good and faithful servant in Dr. Kurt Marquardt. I've never had him as a professor, but always appreciated what he wrote and said.
- Somehow I missed "talk like a pirate day"! Drat.
- Lutheran Carnival 32 is up at Be Strong in the Grace. You find the link, I don't have time right now. Sorry.
- More updates to the Lutheran Blog Directory are coming soon. I have about half a dozen to make but need to get some stuff done around here first. So I better stop blogging too.
Hopefully that catches me up a little. Now, back to "the stack"!
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
(September 10th, 2006)
“To Whom Shall We Go?”
Today we conclude our series of readings from John 6, in which Jesus expounds on his role as the Bread of Life. But now something strange happens. Some of those who had been listening to him and following him decide they just can’t take it. His teaching is too hard to accept. And they desert him. Many, we are told, turned back and no longer followed him.
I have to admit that as a preacher, it’s nice to know that even Jesus’ sermons weren’t always what we might call “well received”. It’s a reminder to be faithful to the word, and leave the results to God. Let’s meditate today on the reaction of the crowd and of Jesus’ disciples, and answer the pivotal question, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”
Not everything about Christianity is easy to swallow. There are always those “hard teachings”. As a pastor, I am often challenged to explain those things that people don’t like or don’t understand. There are lots of “hard teachings” about our faith, and some people struggle with some more than others.
Does the Bible really say that only men may serve as pastors? Why does your church practice closed communion? How or how much money should I give in my offerings? Hard teachings. And I don’t think it’s any accident that today’s Epistle is the one where Paul says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord”.
And yet as important as these things are, they are not the hard teaching that Jesus was speaking about. None of these caused Jesus’ followers to stumble and forsake him. It was his teaching concerning himself, his role, and his work for them. The idea that he was the only source of life. That he was sent from heaven and that no one could come to the Father or have eternal life without him, Jesus.
Today this is a hard teaching too. The idea that there is only one way. And that way is Jesus. It’s hard for us Americans because our culture and society repeat the lies that “all roads lead to God” and that “we all worship the same God” and that doctrinal differences don’t matter, as long as you have “the basics”. But Jesus doesn’t call people to generic faith in a generic God. This is his scandal.
He is exclusive. Only he gives life. There is no other. Not the Greek gods or the Roman gods. Not Allah or Mohammed. Not even Moses and Elijah. Only Jesus saves. You can’t just “be good”. You can’t just “try hard”. You can’t just “believe in yourself”. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, you have no life in you.” He says. He alone, Jesus, is the savior.
But that doesn’t stop people, even believers, from trying to go elsewhere. From turning away from the Lord and turning in sinful directions.
Would we turn to another religion? We may not think so, but the influences are all around us. From new age to secular humanism to false teaching Christians, I’ve heard many good Lutherans deceived at times by the winds of false teaching. Does this happen because we are negligent in our study? Does it happen because we are attracted to easy teachings, and challenged by hard teachings? To whom shall we go? Where shall we turn?
Shall we go to Hedonism? An unthinking pursuit of our own pleasure? Living for the moment, for our stomach, for our urges? To whom shall we go? Where shall we turn for comfort?
To Science? Modern medicine is amazing, but it has its limits. Technology promises much but cannot save us from death. Science cannot free us from guilt, or restore our spiritual brokenness. Where shall we turn? To whom shall we go?
To Ourselves? “Believe in yourself” we are told, “Learn to love yourself”. But ourselves are the problem. We make our own misery. We are our own worst enemies. And we certainly don’t have the answers. Where shall we turn?
Shall we rely on the Flesh, or on the Spirit? To whom shall we go?
I love Peter’s answer here. It’s one of his shining moments. “You have the words of eternal life.” YES! Peter was listening! We recall and repeat these very words of Peter often when we are about to hear Jesus’ “Words of eternal life” written in the Holy Gospel reading.
For where Jesus speaks, there are the words of eternal life. NO one else has those words. Nowhere else can we find them.
Not another religion. Not in living for the moment. Not in science. Not in ourselves. Only Jesus has the words, those precious words, of eternal life.
“I forgive you your sins”. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. Those precious words, “This is my Body, This is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins”. The words of eternal life, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” “I am the resurrection and the life” “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. And he who lives and believes in me will never die”.
In Jesus Christ, we have the words of eternal life. Words that can be found or heard nowhere else, from no one else but him. He alone died for the sins of the world, and rose to give hope for eternal life. He alone can always be trusted in everything he says, never deceiving, never equivocating, never revoking his promises. Always there with his word of Gospel – that life-giving treasure to our ears and music to our heart.
This too is a hard teaching. That we get to live forever, simply by believing the words of a man who lived far away and long ago. That someone we’ve never seen, never met, but only heard of – has promised us something we can’t imagine. It’s hard to believe. Faith is not easy.
And it would be impossible. We, too, would turn like the crowd away from Jesus – were we not enabled by the Father. Were we not granted faith by His Spirit. We turn away in little ways every time we sin. Every time we turn somewhere else for hope, comfort, or well-being. But the Spirit keeps calling us back – to repentance and faith. He keeps turning us back, so that we do not forsake Jesus too. So that we too believe and know that Jesus is the Holy One of God. The one who has the words of eternal life.
Lord, to whom shall we go? No where else. No one else but you, Lord Jesus. Amen.
God sends forth no magistrates or angels when He creates, fashions, or preserves something, but in all this is the peculiar work of His divine power. But if He is to create and preserve it, He must necessarily be present and create and preserve his creation both in its innermost and outermost particles, around it and about it, through and through, below and above, in front and behind, so that nothing can be present or within all creatures byt God Himself with His power.
His divine being can be entirely in all creatures and in each individually, deeper, more intimately, more present than the creature itself, and yet again be encompassed nowhere and by none, so that He, to be sure, encompasses all things and is in all things, but without having any creature in Him and without being encompassed by any. (Bornkamm pp. 53-54)
Read this quote carefully and you will see not an Oriental Mystic or a Christian Scientist or New Age Guru, but a thoroughly Christian (and, of course, Lutheran) understanding of God's "Omnipresence". Lots more could be said here - lots of connections to Luther's thinking about the Sacraments, the Incarnation etc... but I am not done with this excellent book yet either!
Sidenote: What a pleasure to read the Sunday School story of Daniel in the Lion's Den with the eyes of Typology. What a total foreshadowing of our Lord's brief sojourn in the tomb, complete with large stone rolled away and all!
Alert reader of poetry and avid parishioner Diana brought forth the following poem by Theodore Tilton, which "rang some bells" with her regarding our study. It's also a really groovy poem, too.
EVEN THIS SHALL PASS AWAY
Once in Persia reigned a king,
Who upon his signet ring
Graved a maxim true and wise,
Which, if held before his eyes,
Gave him counsel at a glance
Fit for every change and chance.
Solemn words, and these are they;
"Even this shall pass away."
Trains of camels through the sand
Brought him gems from Samarkand;
Fleets of galleys through the seas
Brought him pearls to match with these;
But he counted not his gain
Treasures of the mine or main;
"What is wealth?" the king would say;
"Even this shall pass away."
'Mid the revels of his court,
At the zenith of his sport,
When the palms of all his guest
Burned with clapping at his jest,
He, amid his figs and wine,
Cried, "O loving friends of mine;
Pleasures come, but not to stay;
'Even this shall pass away."
Lady, fairest ever seen,
Was the bride he crowned his queen.
Pillowed on his marriage bed,
Softly to his soul he said:
"Though no bridegroom ever pressed
Fairer bosom to his breast,
Mortal flesh must come to clay-
Even this shall pass away."
Fighting on a furious field,
Once a javelin pierced his shield;
Soldiers, with a loud lament,
Bore him bleeding to his tent.
Groaning from his tortured side,
"Pain is hard to bear, " he cried;
"But with patience, day by day,
Even this shall pass away."
Towering in the public square,
Twenty cubits in the air,
Rose his statue, carved in stone.
Then the king, disguised, unknown,
Stood before his sculptured name,
Musing meekly: "What is fame?
Fame is but a slow decay;
Even this shall pass away."
Struck with palsy, sore and old,
Waiting at the Gates of Gold,
Said he with his dying breath,
"Life is done, but what is Death?"
Then, in answer to the king,
Fell a sunbeam on his ring,
Showing by a heavenly ray,
"Even this shall pass away."
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
I looked through this poster-size booklet and found God mentioned about 3 or 4 times, and Jesus by name only ONCE! (And even then, it was theology of glory). But all the church marketing buzzwords were used quite freely, and the famous speakers were pictured prominently along with their impressive credentials. All this for only $435!
What a joke.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
The last couple of weeks our readings have highlighted the theme of food. Bread, in particular, as Jesus describes himself in John 6 as the “Bread of Life”. Today we turn to the Old Testament book of Proverbs, and see an extended metaphor – a picture of Wisdom personified as a woman – who throws a grand feast. But this is no mere detour into a quaint but irrelevant Old Testament passage, for Wisdom’s call to dinner brings us to Christ and the Cross.
Throughout the Proverbs, Solomon contrasts the concepts of wisdom and foolishness. The fool is anyone who despises God’s word, whereas anything associated with truth and faith and God is wise.
You’d be insulted if someone called you a fool, wouldn’t you? But that’s who is invited to this feast. To all those who lack judgment, “let all who are simple come in here!”
And so this invitation requires a degree of humility. It means you have to admit that you don’t know it all, don’t have it all together, that you are lacking. That you are not the wisest, or even wise. You have only a need. You are a fool.
We don’t like to think of ourselves as fools or foolish, but that’s how Proverbs would describe us in our sin. Sin never makes good sense, it is never wise, and yet we do it anyway. Sin sets ourselves up to be wiser than God, and can there be anything more foolish?
So much of our world wants to explain immorality and evil by a lack of education. But the lack of judgment and the simple-ness spoken of here is not simply a shortage of information. It’s not like if we only knew more we would be just fine. The foolishness here is a willful ignorance, a purposeful predicament we put ourselves in.
We are simple people really. We are sinners by nature. It’s what God says about us in his Word, and therefore it’s what we say about ourselves in confession. Poor, miserable sinners. Or in the words of Proverbs 9, fools.
But wisdom – God’s wisdom – stands in contrast to such foolishness.
Here the concept or idea of wisdom is personified as a woman (and ladies, before you point this out to your husbands, remember that later on “Folly” is also a woman). She is the host - busy preparing a feast and inviting her guests. Just who is this wisdom?
Let’s shed a little New Testament light on the idea. Paul speaks of wisdom and foolishness, saying, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” And, “we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God”.
Wisdom, here personified in the Old Testament, in the New Testament is revealed most fully in Christ. He is the wisdom and word of God in human flesh. He is the heart and soul of God’s entire plan for us foolish sinners – that through him we would receive wisdom, that through him we would become wise unto salvation and ourselves be saved.
Now, God’s wisdom can be a little perplexing to us. It includes the suffering, sacrifice, and shame of the cross. Why would God, how could Jesus destroy our enemies by being destroyed? It’s like waving the white flag to win the battle. No man wise in worldly wisdom would do such a thing. But Jesus Christ can, and he does.
And what foolishness that a man could rise from the dead? And yet this too he does, and promises us the same resurrection. “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies”. Ah, but what wisdom from on high that God’s own Son would promise us a forever, and also give us the faith to believe it.
And while the world thinks we are fools for believing in such things, while they mock and jeer at Christians who pray to a God we can’t see and trust in a promise that goes against everything we’ve ever seen – we know where the true wisdom is, it is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
In our selection from proverbs, the woman called wisdom invites fools to her home, and she throws them a marvelous feast.
It’s no accident that our wise Lord himself also speaks in terms of food and banquets. He too invites the sinner to feast on the food he provides. He invites the fool to be wise.
The feast he gives is a smorgasbord of blessings. It is the bread of heaven that is his own body – given for the life of the world. It is a feast that brings forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation to each of us.
When we approach in repentance to this altar, and hear, “welcome to the Lord’s table”, we join in that feast. When we hear the words of Christ – which promise his body given and blood shed for us for forgiveness – we join in that feast. When we commune with God and with each other here together – we join in the feast also with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.
And it is also a foretaste of the feast to come. For just as man’s first home in Eden was lost by sinful eating, so in the meal that brings forgiveness we are restored to a future feast. There in heaven, at the marriage feast of the Lamb in his kingdom which shall have no end.
The feast is Christ. He is the host, and he is the meal. He invites us to the feast today, and he promises us a feast to come. The table is set. The meal is prepared. Let all who are simple and lacking come forth, and join in the feast his wisdom has prepared. And let us taste and see that that Lord is good! In Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.