Friday, March 31, 2006
Added to sidebar:
1. The website for our forthcoming hymnal, "Lutheran Service Book". I am really excited about this well-prepared resource for the church.
2. The "Lutheran Liturgical Wiki". A Wiki is a collaborative, open-source reference. Thanks to Pastor Petersen of Cyberstones for the idea and the execution on this one.
3. Updated blogroll, as usual, simply stealing from the Ask the Pastor blogroll. Thanks, Pastor Snyder!
4. Check out my article near the back of the recent Higher Things Magazine. "Dropping the G-Bomb" is the title. (You gotta get the magazine - it's not available on the net!)
I may soon get around to posting a sermon I preached, which is really an adaptation of that article.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
"Better to marry than to burn with passion"
(1 Corinthians 7:9)
"Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife"
(I Timothy 3:2)
*Taped April 3, 2006
for WTMJ Lutheran Church Radio Service
“Bread that is not Bread”
White, wheat, or rye? Toast, biscuit or muffin? Buttered? With raisins? Leavened or un-leavened? Flat bread, foccacia bread, fried bread. Bread sticks, bread crumbs, sweet bread, sour dough bread. French bread, Italian bread, rolls, loaves, baguettes. Feel like stopping at Panera this morning?
Isn't it great that the low-carb diet craze has fizzled and, yes, ladies and gentlemen, bread is back! Bread, in all its forms. Carbohydrates galore. We love bread. But there is another kind of bread: The bread of Life.
Jesus had just miraculously fed 5000 hungry listeners. That night, he walked across the sea, returning to Capernaum. And these hungry souls catch up with him in today’s Gospel reading from John 6. As we listen in our their conversation – we hear about bread that is not bread, work that is not work, and see in Christ the very bread of life!
I. Bread that is not Bread
Not all breads are created equal. Sure, Jesus had done something special, in multiplying some bread that was already there. But Moses! He gave mana in the desert – where there was no bread! Can you beat that, Jesus?
Yes. Jesus gives a bread better than Moses did. His bread…
…is the “Bread of God” – in contrast to all other breads.
…comes down from Heaven – it is not of this earth.
…gives life (even to the dead)– unlike the mana which simply sustained life.
…gives life to the world – not just Israel.
We all need bread to live. But "man does not live by bread alone" (Matthew 4:4). Not all breads are created equal, and sometimes the best bread is not bread at all. Jesus gives the bread of God, the bread of life, the bread from heaven – and this is no earthly bread. But it does feed the soul for eternity.
We all hunger. But for what? Sure there are the sinful appetites. These we indulge too freely. But when God’s law does its work, and we are made to see our sin, and he calls us to repent – then we hunger for more. Then our very souls growl and groan for the food of forgiveness.
Would the hungry crowd get the message here? Would they see Jesus’ deeper reality? Sadly, they seemed fixed on earthly bread and full stomachs. Still, they wanted Jesus to give them this bread that sounded so good.
II. Work that is not Work
And he tells them to work for it. Strange-sounding to our Lutheran ears, that Jesus commands work.
We work for our earthly bread, that’s for sure. Our daily bread, we must toil and labor to put such bread on the table. To feed ourselves and our families. We know working for bread. But Jesus means something spiritual here – “the food that does not spoil”. And so a different kind of work is involved.
We all know you don’t have to work for God’s grace. We know you can’t. We might ask, with the crowd, what Jesus means: “So what must we do?” “What works are required to get this bread, Jesus?”
“The work of God is this:” he says, “to believe in the one he has sent”. In other words, the work of God is – faith in Christ!
Did a Lutheran just say that faith is a work? Yes.
Martin Luther says: "Faith is a divine work which God demands of us; but at the same time He Himself must implant it in us, for we cannot believe by ourselves."
Yes, faith is the only work that gets us the bread of life. But is it our work? No. It is a work that God has worked in us – by his Spirit, who calls us to faith – in the waters or baptism, that rebirth and renewal – in the word spoken to us (for, “faith comes by hearing”). And that faith is strengthened as we receive the bread and wine that IS his body and blood. God works this work in us,
Working for the bread that doesn’t spoil – it’s work that we can’t take credit for. It’s work that is not work, for bread that is not bread.
Jesus, give us this bread!
III. “Give us THIS Bread!”
And he is the bread. The first of the great “I am” statements of John – Jesus’ great claim, “I am the bread of life”. He is our food that doesn’t spoil. He is the one that comes from heaven. He is the one that gives life to the world.
Jesus gives himself. He gave himself up as a sacrifice for our sin. He gave himself to arrest, and suffering, and even death on a cross. He gave his life for ours. And in all this giving, he takes away that which harms us – our sin, and its punishment. He takes on himself the very wrath of God. And after it is finished, and death prevails for three days, then he takes back his life again – for death cannot contain the bread of life. And he gives us that same life, the promise of resurrection.
“Give us this bread” is the request of a hungry crowd, but it is also the prayer of the faithful – those blessed who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
“Give us yourself, Jesus”. And he has. And he continues. He gives us himself, the bread that is not bread, through faith, the work that is not work. And because of him, we live. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
I. Introduction –
“What have you done for me lately?”
Now there’s a question. A pretty selfish one. It’s an invitation to a fight, usually, more an accusation than anything.
It’s a question God could ask of us, and we wouldn’t have a very good answer. Even if we have done for God, it wouldn’t be enough. Even if it was enough, it wouldn’t be good enough, or for the right reasons. We are sinners, after all.
“What have you done for me lately?” is a question we don’t have to ask of God, though. Because he’s always telling us. He’s showing us, especially in Christ. God is always hard at work doing great and many things for us in Jesus. That’s what our faith is all about, not us doing something for God, but him doing something for us.
The writer to the Hebrews tells us, in this short selection, many things that Jesus does for us. The words come at us, one after another. Suffering, praying, crying, obeying, perfecting, saving. Jesus is busy in Hebrews 5. And once he is made perfect – he makes us perfect too.
II. Suffering and Praying
First, Hebrews mentions Jesus praying. It should be no surprise to us.
Jesus prayed a lot. He prayed for his disciples. He prayed for the crowds that followed him. He even prayed for us, who would come to believe in him. His prayers seem so un-selfish.
Even when he prays for himself, as in the garden of Gethsemane, he prays that His Father’s will is done – no matter what suffering that means. Jesus passion – his suffering for us – is usually considered to begin there in the garden, with his impassioned prayer, his troubled soul, and the sweat which was like blood. This is no fluffy spiritual retreat in a picturesque setting – this is the beginning of a deep suffering that will win the souls of all mankind.
He prayed “to the one who could save him from death”. He prayed that the cup of suffering would pass from him, if possible, if it was God’s will. But it was God’s will that he should suffer. It was God’s will that he should die.
And so he reverently submitted, in obedience, to this, his Father’s will. He suffered. He was crucified. He died and was buried.
But it was not God’s will that he should stay dead. “You will not abandon your servant to the grave, or let your holy one see decay” so the Psalmist wrote, and so it is fulfilled when the Lord Jesus rises from the dead.
So God did hear Jesus’ prayer. And because of Christ, we can expect the same. When we pray “with loud cries and tears” He will hear us, in Jesus’ name. When we suffer, and eventually die, He will raise us, just as Christ is raised.
But Hebrews has more of what Jesus does for us. It says that he was “made perfect”, which might sound confusing at first.
We humans are not perfect. In fact one of the most popular songs on the radio begins, “I'm not a perfect person, there are many things I wish I didn't do”. It’s an admission of our sin and failing.
But Jesus was without sin. We even read it in the same Biblical book, just the chapter before – that we have a great high priest (Jesus), “who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” So what’s this talk about making Jesus perfect? Isn’t he, wasn’t he already?
We hear the word perfect, and think of moral perfection. And certainly Jesus had that. But here, Hebrews means perfect in the sense of complete. In other words, Jesus had word to accomplish, to finish, to perfect.
That work, that mission, was to die on a cross for the world’s sin – for my sin – for your sin. It wasn’t enough just to go around preaching. Even the miracles, great as they were, were not the real point of Christ’s coming. Jesus was made perfect, in this sense, when he himself declared, “it is finished!”, he could have said as easily, “it is perfect!”
We are not perfect in ourselves, instead we need Christ to do the saving. Because of his perfect work, he has become “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him”
Obey – as in, “do what he says”. And what does he say? In John 6:29 Jesus says, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."
And by believing, we are saved. Jesus doesn’t demand works of salvation, but instead he, himself, does the saving. He obeys the Father’s will, and does what needs to be done – for our salvation.
But how can we describe salvation?
My father is a “car guy”. I sometimes tell the story of when he would drive me to school each morning, and we would pass a house with an old car parked out front. The windshield was busted out, there was grass growing through it. Rusted all over. To me it was a junk heap, but my dad remembered driving around in that car when he was a kid. One day the car disappeared from the yard, and my dad found out that the owner was restoring it to original condition.
We are like an old car that has rusted and fallen apart. We are no good for driving around, and not pretty to look at. Left to ourselves, we are without hope, destined for the junk-yard. But then Jesus comes along, and he salvages, saves us. He restores. He refurbishes. He makes us new. So that now we are complete – finished – perfect. Saved.
We are not just saved no so we can be discarded later. We are saved eternally. He is the “source of eternal salvation” for us, and all believers.
He prays, he cries, he submits, he suffers, he saves… He is made perfect, his work is complete, when he died for our sins. We are made perfect by his perfect work, and through our faith in Christ – we are saved. And as he was raised, we too shall rise – made perfectly perfect, once and for all.
With Jesus’ Passion about to begin, we see him in earnest prayer. But all that he does, praying, suffering, perfecting and saving – is for our benefit.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Lent 4 – March 26, 2006
I. Introduction –
Snakes. Creepy, crawly, slithery, snakes. I don’t know about fear, but it seems safe to say most people don’t like snakes. Perhaps it’s the look of them. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing. Or maybe it’s something more than that.
Snakes should remind us of the Ancient Serpent, the tempter, who first led Adam & Eve into sin. The Devil. And maybe that’s why so many revile the snake, because of its associations with evil.
Today we read an account from Numbers 21, near the end of the 40 year wanderings of Israel. As the people are about to enter the promised land, they grow impatient, and begin complaining. In judgment, God sends venomous snakes into the camp. But then God also shows mercy. And we don’t have to look too hard to find Christ in the story either. Put aside your heebie jeebies this morning, and meditate with me on Numbers 21 and “Snakes!”
II. Venomous Complaints
The people of Israel had become venomous in their complaints against Moses, and against God.
Particularly Blasphemous is their ingratitude for the merciful gifts God has been giving them – freeing them from slavery, feeding them with heavenly bread for 40 years, protecting them from enemies, not to mention the blessings of the tabernacle and the sacrificial system.
Sinful man has a way of spitting his venom at God. And we are just the same. We despise the gifts God gives. We speak careless, thoughtless, hurtful words with forked tongues. We speak against the good, and praise the evil. We gossip. We slander. We lie. Sinful speech of all kinds which makes each of us as much a snake in the grass as all the other sinners. We confess, we have sinned in thought, deed, and word!
And so the punishment fit the crime. Sin always brings death, but here in Numbers the link is so directly seen. The venomous complainers are stricken by a just God with venomous snakes. And many die.
III. The Antidote
So often it takes a shake-up to bring people to their senses. Here the suffering prompts an attitude adjustment – we call it, “repentance”. The people turn from their sinful complaining, confess their sin, and ask for a reprieve from the snakes. And merciful God gives them that, and much more.
Many of you have seen the common symbols on medical building (actually taken from Greek mythology): a serpent on a pole, or two winged serpents on a pole. They are the signs of the modern practice of medicine. But the Israelites needed more than just some doctor’s anti-venom for their bites. The real problem was God’s wrath. The snakebites were only outward signs of the anger and judgment of God over sin. And this, no doctor can cure.
But merciful God provides the cure. The serpent on Moses’ staff is the only antidote for their suffering. Simply look on it, and live, God said. And they did.
Likewise, only God has the cure for the venom of sin pulsing through our veins. A venom which we ourselves have caused and deserved. That venom which paralyzes and destroys us cannot be removed – except by Jesus Christ. We have only to look to him, and live.
IV. Look…and Live
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” So Jesus told Nicodemus during their evening chat. So Jesus interprets these Old Testament events for us in our Gospel reading for today. He says it’s really about him!
The Israelites were complaining about the mana God gave them to eat – bread from heaven. Jesus Christ is the bread from heaven that sustains us. He even gives his true body with the bread of the sacrament, But like the Israelites we often despise such heavenly bread – and the blessings it brings. Yet still God promises blessings.
Jesus is the intercessor between God and Man. Like Moses, who pleaded with God on behalf of the People, so Jesus takes our side, “Father forgive them” he prays.
And just as the serpent was lifted high on Moses’ staff to bring life to all who saw it, so Jesus is lifted high on the cross to bring eternal life to all who believe. Why a serpent? Because Jesus becomes the embodiment of all our sin. He becomes – sin – for us, and the object of all God’s wrath. He takes the fatal blow, he bears the venom, he faces the punishment for our sins.
And so the fulfillment of Genesis 3:15, that the seed of the woman, the one offspring that is, crushes the head of the serpent, though the serpent bites his heel. Jesus crushes the Devil at Calvary, and though fatally wounded himself – death has no power over Jesus. He rises victorious.
The people had prayed that God would take away the snakes. But notice, God didn’t actually take away the snakes, or their bites. Even after his forgiveness some people got bit. But the bites had no sting for those who turned in faith toward God’s promise of life.
Likewise, God does not make us sin-free in the way we might expect. He declares us free of sin. He forgives us. He doesn’t consider us sinful now that we are in Christ. But we are still bitten by sin and death. Even those belonging to Christ still face the grave. We still suffer by our sin and the sin of the world around us. Even the Serpent is allowed to assail us in this world. But there is something more going on .
Jesus said, “He who believes in me will live, even though he die, and he who lives and believes in me shall never die”.
Paul says that at the last day the “saying that is written will come true: ‘Where oh death is your victory? Where oh death is your sting? The sting of death sin and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”.
That victory, that life – is the eternal, spiritual AND physical life that God promises to all believers in Jesus Christ. That we shall rise again, and in our flesh, see God. That life begins at the baptismal font – and it continues throughout our wanderings in this desert – and in finds fulfillment in the new heaven and earth which have been promised.
Jesus rose from the dead, and crushed the head of the serpent. We will rise from the dead, as sin and serpent have no power over us who trust in Christ. Snakes? Ha! Look to the cross, and don’t be afraid of snakes. For you will live, in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
The Bronze Snake of Moses points to Jesus who was “lifted up” for us. Though sinful venom would poison us, we have only to look to the Cross of Christ and live!
Friday, March 24, 2006
"They turn moral issues (like abortion) into political issues, and political issues (like immigration) into moral issues".
This struck me, because I try to limit my comments as a pastor to the realm of the moral and NOT the political. But what happens when these overlap, or the distinction is not as clear?
Take immigration, for example. Faithful Lutherans can certainly disagree about what should be done on this issue. But isn't there also a moral component to the problem to? (*that being, the violation of the 4th commandment and disrespect of governmental authority by illegal immigrants)
"Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die," said cleric Abdul Raoulf, who is considered a moderate and was jailed three times for opposing the Taliban before the hardline regime was ousted in 2001.
Is conversion from Islam to Christianity an "insult to Islam" as Afghan clerics argue?
I say yes.
Any time you convert from one religion to another, you make the claim that your former religion is not true. Some of us call this a public "confession". Just as it would be insulting to God if a Christian falls from the faith, so it is insulting to Islam (and to the false god Allah) when someone leaves Islam behind.
Now, that doesn't mean we kill someone who insults our God or faith.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Truthiness is the quality by which a person purports to know something emotionally or instinctively, without regard to evidence or to what the person might conclude from intellectual examination. Stephen Colbert popularized the word during the first episode (October 17, 2005) of his satirical television program The Colbert Report, as the subject of a segment called "The Wørd."
While ruminating and discussing this week's OT text, from Numbers 21, I was reminded of Colbert's recently coined word. Since Numbers 21 is so rich in typology, with many connections and foreshadowings of Christ, could we say it has high "Typey-ness"?
Sunday, March 19, 2006
Afghan Man Faces Death for Allegedly Converting to Christianity
Sunday , March 19, 2006
KABUL, Afghanistan — An Afghan man who allegedly converted from Islam to Christianity is being prosecuted in a Kabul court and could be sentenced to death, a judge said Sunday.
The defendant, Abdul Rahman, was arrested last month after his family went to the police and accused him of becoming a Christian, Judge Ansarullah Mawlavezada told the Associated Press in an interview. Such a conversion would violate the country's Islamic laws.
Rahman, who is believed to be 41, was charged with rejecting Islam when his trial started last week, the judge said.
During the hearing, the defendant allegedly confessed that he converted from Islam to Christianity 16 years ago when he was 25 and working as a medical aid worker for Afghan refugees in neighboring Pakistan, Mawlavezada said.
Afghanistan's constitution is based on Shariah law, which states that any Muslim who rejects their religion should be sentenced to death.
"We are not against any particular religion in the world. But in Afghanistan, this sort of thing is against the law," the judge said. "It is an attack on Islam. ... The prosecutor is asking for the death penalty."
The prosecutor, Abdul Wasi, said the case was the first of its kind in Afghanistan.
He said that he had offered to drop the charges if Rahman changed his religion back to Islam, but the defendant refused.
Mawlavezada said he would rule on the case within two months.
Afghanistan is a deeply conservative society and 99 percent of its 28 million people are Muslim. The rest are mainly Hindus.
As the mood has shifted this Lenten season, and our tone gets more and more serious, we come to John’s account of Jesus clearing the temple. So many people today want a Jesus that is always happy, always loving, never judging – and certainly not angry. But here John shows us Jesus at his fiercest.
Not only does he get angry, but he even makes a whip to drive out the moneychangers and merchants. There is a bit of violence from our usually peaceful Jesus. But is this the “dark side of Jesus”? Was he just having a bad day, or was he out of control in some way? No. His action is highly symbolic, and loaded with meaning for you and me.
The Old Testament Temple, first built by Solomon, was destroyed by the Babylonians. When the exiles returned, they built a new temple. Later, King Herod the Great – builder that he was – did a major renovation project on that temple.
It was in this “third temple” where Jesus was presented as an infant, stayed behind as a 12 year old boy, and now caused a ruckus by overturning tables and scattering coins.
3 temples. But today we look at the temple in three different ways: The temple of the Jews, the
II. The Temple of the Jews
Sin, corruption, perversion. Jesus sees it and gets angry. But what sin gets Jesus the most angry? Perhaps his rebuke of the hypocritical Pharisees – false teachers that they were. But just as fierce is Jesus’ reaction here to corruption in the place of public worship. It’s not the secret sins, or the personal sins that he reacts to like this. It’s the public corruption of God’s word and worship. This should be a stern warning, especially for Christian clergy.
And it wasn’t just that there were some shady deals going on here, though there probably were. The point was that honest or not, God’s house was not meant to be a marketplace. By turning a special, holy place into a secular swap-meet, the Jews had desecrated the house of God.
An affront to God’s house is an affront to God. And we are just as guilty. I’m not talking about having a bake-sale in the narthex. That’s harmless enough. But when we make God’s house, and our worship, into something other than God means it to be… the sin is just the same. And God’s wrath is rightly directed at such sin.
How do we desecrate God’s house?
- By not worshipping regularly.
- By worshipping regularly and making it a point of pride.
- Or by acting like a Christian only at church on Sunday.
- By getting distracted when we are here, so that it’s like we’re not really here.
- By thinking God owes us something for our worship and praise.
- By expecting other things from worship that God doesn’t promise- like entertainment, an emotional high, or the answer to all of life’s problems.
It may not be cattle and coins, but we clutter up God’s house with all sorts of filth – and the temple needs to be cleansed. We need to be cleansed.
And so the Jewish authorities, rather than deal with the corruption itself, change the subject. They ask, “By what authority do you do this? Show us a sign”. Jesus was stepping, stomping on THEIR toes – and they wanted answers. “Just who do you think you are!?”
And in giving answer, Jesus points to the coming reality that would cleanse all corruption once and for all. “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days” “But the temple he had spoken of was his body”
III. The True Temple
You see, Jesus is the
In the previous chapter, John 1, we read that “In the Beginning was the Word…. The Word was with God and the Word was God” and then, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” That is, he made a tabernacle, a tent, among us. The son of God took on the dwelling, the temple, of human flesh. Jesus is that temple.
The sign he offers the Jewish leaders, and us, is the sign of his authority over the temple building and really, over all things, is this: When his temple is destroyed, he rebuilds it in three days.
His temple, his body was destroyed, of course, at the cross. There, Jesus did what needed to be done to cleanse more than just the temple, but the world of all sin.
Though now the money changers saw their tables overturned, soon 30 silver coins would clink on the floor of the temple, the blood money paid for Christ’s betrayal. And rather than swinging a whip made of cords, Christ would submit to the flogging of the Roman soldiers. And at his death, the temple curtain will be torn from top to bottom – as this holy and ancient building becomes obsolete.
And then, on the third day, the
IV. The Temple Today
Finally, then, what of the temple today? Where is it? Well the Muslim shrine, the Dome of the Rock sits where the Jewish temple once was. For 2000 years no sacrifices, no priests, no temple worship have we seen. So it’s not there.
You might say that since the body of Christ is the temple, theChurch is the temple today. Christ dwells within us. The church, never free of corruption either, are we? As a whole and individually – much desecration takes place in the church. Sin is an ever-present interloper – and Jesus is always there to drive it out. Not with a whip and a shout – but with his word and sacraments.
Where is the temple, today, that is, God’s house? It is where he makes his presence known. Where Christians gather around His word and sacraments. So here – and every Christian place of worship becomes the temple of the Lord. We see that most clearly perhaps as Christ is truly present in a real presence – in, with, and under the bread and wine – that truly is his body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.
And finally, if were to ask where the temple is today, you might point to yourself. For Paul teaches that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. And that Christ lives in us, too. By our baptism, our originally sinful temples are cleansed in a washing of rebirth and renewal. Our temples are destroyed and rebuilt.
And we receive the promise of Christ – that though this temple one day be destroyed in death – that he will raise us up at the last day. When the first-born of the dead returns, then our resurrected, glorified bodies will live with him forever.
And when Revelation paints us a picture of the heavenly city – we see there is no temple there. “The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple”. For we will live with God forever.
“Zeal for your house will consume me” The disciples saw it, and we see it, in the Christ – who cleansed the temple, and cleanses the world by his blood shed at the cross. May that same zeal consume us, his little temples, as we gather here in his house – and wherever we go. For in the
At Jesus’ first cleansing of the temple, he is already planning to die and rise again. May his death and resurrection also cleanse us from our sin.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Apparently Ford is DEEPLY involved in promotion of the homosexual agenda.
Go to the website and check out some of the picutres of their ads (if you can stand it!).
Now, I don't typically go around endorsing boycotts. Faithful Christians could probably find fault with almost any well-known company. But really. Doesn't this seem a little over the top?
By the way, if you mispell the website, with only one "t" in "boycott", it takes you to a gay and lesbian marriage website. Great...
Perhaps one of the best explanations I have heard is from Ms. Sandra Ostapowich, who once aspired to be an ELCA pastor herself. Here is a paper she presented on the subject - well worth the read!
Monday, March 13, 2006
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Lent 2 – March 12th 2006
“The Things of God”
I. Introduction –
We all have our good days and bad days. Some days everything seems to go right, to fall into place. But some days, we are just not on top of our game. Those are the days you wish you had just stayed in bed. St. Peter too had his ups and downs too, it seems.
Here in Mark 8 Peter had just made his great confession that Jesus was “The Christ, the Son of the Living God”. And as Jesus commends him for his excellent answer, he also explains that this was revealed to him by God in heaven.
But Peter’s bright shining moment doesn’t last. For now when Jesus begins talking about suffering and dying, Peter rebukes him. But Jesus rebukes Peter harshly, “Get behind me Satan!”
What’s going on here? Why is Peter rebuked so harshly, and how can we avoid the same? What does Jesus mean when he speaks of the things of God and the things of men? And what does it all have to do with me? Let’s take a closer look this morning.
II. The Things of Men
What was Peter thinking? He was thinking the things of men.
On the table for discussion was Jesus’ plan for the future, which he now spoke about plainly. No parables or riddles here – “Hey guys, I am going to suffer and die and rise from the dead”. There it is. He lays it out.
But something about this rubbed them the wrong way. Peter, (Mr. initiative), takes it upon himself to talk some sense into Jesus. For surely, suffering and dying don’t make much sense. Let alone this rising from the dead business.
I wonder what he said. Maybe, “Jesus, look, you are scaring people with all this talk. You don’t have to die. We’ll just avoid the authorities. Maybe if you toned down some of the rhetoric a little. Look. You’re of more use to us alive than dead anyway. You have so much to teach us…” And I wonder how long it took for Jesus to turn his back on Peter and answer, “Get behind me Satan! You have in mind the things of men, not the things of God.”
Have you ever tried to talk some sense into God? Have you ever thought that your way was better than God’s? “Look here, Lord. You’re making this too hard on me. If you would just answer my prayer now, then I could trust you even more. Why do I have to suffer this way? Can’t you give me what I want? I don’t deserve this. Look at all that I’ve done for you. Isn’t there another way?”
But Jesus rightly says that such thoughts are of the devil. They are not of God. For Peter tempted Jesus with the same material the Devil used on Jesus in the wilderness. “Take the easy way out Jesus” “Don’t make it too hard on yourself”. “You don’t have to starve – just turn some stones to bread”. “You don’t have to die, just float down from the temple’s peak and they will all believe you.”
And when we have in mind the things of men, we too fall for the same temptation. Looking for, sometimes taking the easy way out. “I know God wants me to tell the truth, but a little lie here would be so expedient.” “Sure we’re supposed to give back from what we have been given – but the more I keep for myself the easier it is to pay the credit card bill.” So many ways to let my way, the easy way, win out over God’s way. Wide is the road that leads to destruction.
There’s a popular commercial on TV these days, which imagines what life would be like with an “Easy Button”. Just press it, and your problems are solved. It appeals to us, doesn’t it? The things of men. Always the easy solution to the problem.
It is this form of sin that Jesus so harshly rebukes. A subtle form, but no less satanic than any other sin. Anything that takes us and our minds from the things of God is of the devil. The temptation to turn to ourselves for answers, instead of looking to Christ. The things of men, instead of the things of God.
III. The Things of God
What then, are the things of God? They are what Jesus was just talking about – the suffering and dying and rising. All that he would endure and accomplish for us. In other words, the Gospel. Christ crucified for sinners. Jesus’ blood shed for you and me. These are the things of God – the things of Jesus. They are the main thing – the only thing.
The things of God, it seems, are always a surprise to us who think the things of men. His wisdom beyond our own. His plan so much better than ours.
The things of God are different than the things of men. For where man would take the easy way, Jesus took the hard way. He did not turn away from suffering, but endured it. He did not shun death, but submitted to it. Even while being crucified, his adversaries mocked him and tempted him to end his suffering, to come down from the cross. To “hit the easy button.” But Jesus does no such thing. Shame and pain, suffering and sorrow, nothing would keep him from accomplishing salvation for us.
This is the Gospel – that Jesus accomplished our salvation not in power, but in weakness. Not in apparent glory, but in shameful suffering. He endures the full measure of God’s wrath and finally, when “it is finished”, commits his spirit to the hands of the Father.
Not even death itself could deter him. For where man cannot save himself from death, Jesus Christ is Lord of life - and death has no power over him – and so he rises from the grave. Always connected to Good Friday is Easter Sunday – always after the suffering and death, there is life. Not only for Jesus, but for us too.
And the things of God – the cross and the empty tomb – are the only antidote to the things of man. For only Jesus – crucified and risen – provides forgiveness for our constant taking of the easy way. Only he frees us from the satanic thoughts and actions and words – and the devil’s claim on us. Jesus does for us what is so difficult- yes even impossible. But “with God, all things are possible”.
IV. The Meaning of Suffering
Whoever thought the Christian life was free of suffering, thought wrong.
Granted, suffering, for the Christian is NOT what saves us. Christ alone, by his suffering and death has done that already. His cross goes first, we take our crosses and follow. Yet a certain amount of suffering seems to come with the territory. That’s what these hard words of Jesus say.
What makes it even harder is that this is the same Jesus who also says, “Take my yoke upon you… for my yoke is easy and my burden is light”. So which is it? What does Jesus mean by all this?
In one sense, it is easy. There is no hard work needed on our part. Jesus has done all that. The burden of our sin he bore up the hill to Calvary. And there he made our yoke eternally “easy”.
And yet, the life of a disciple is not a “walk in the park”. It involves suffering. It means “taking up your own cross”. It means “losing your life”. It is not the easy way. But the promise of Jesus is that in him and his gospel, our lives are saved – despite the suffering.
Christ’s suffering saves us from eternal suffering, and gives meaning and purpose to our present sufferings. Paul says “rejoice in… sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us.”
The cross, shameful suffering that it is, brings hope. It brings hope to all of us who suffer our own crosses. A sure and certain hope that no matter what are sufferings are now, they are temporary. God has better things planned for us, even if we don’t see them in this life.
Martin Luther once said it well…
If we consider the greatness and the glory of the life we shall have when we have risen from the dead, it would not be difficult at all for us to bear the concerns of this world. If I believe the Word, I shall on the Last Day, after the sentence has been pronounced, not only gladly have suffered ordinary temptations, insults, and imprisonment, but I shall also say: "O, that I did not throw myself under the feet of all the godless for the sake of the great glory which I now see revealed and which has come to me through the merit of Christ!Christ doesn’t call us to follow the easy way, he calls us to follow him. And his way is a way of suffering. But it is the only way that leads to the glory of Easter, and life from the dead.
He doesn't promises easy. He does promise life. The things of God, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
V. Conclusion Christ speaks plainly about his cross and resurrection, but Peter couldn’t swallow it. May we set our minds on the things of God, and persevere in suffering for the sake of Christ. Amen.
Monday, March 06, 2006
Lent 1 – March 5th, 2006
“Where is the Lamb?”
I. Introduction –
And so we embark on the ancient church season of Lent. As Christ was in the wilderness for 40 days, struggling with the temptations of the Evil One, we mark our 40 day journey to the cross, and wrestle with our own sinfulness. But even in this meditative, reflective time, we do not forget that Christ has vanquished both the Devil and our sin, and by his perfect life and death made atonement for us. Though we put away our Alleluias for a time, we know they will return with the bright glory of Easter. Though we grow sober, we know joy is just around the corner. And so Lent doesn’t essentially change what we are about as God’s redeemed people. It’s just a different way of looking at things.
Last year on the first Sunday of Lent, I shared some thoughts on the Temptation of Christ from Matthew’s Gospel. This year, we read the shorter account of the same from Mark. But we also have this magnificent story of Old Testament faith from Genesis. It’s here we will focus this morning, and as Issac asks the pivotal question, we will wrestle with the same, “Where is the Lamb?”
II. Sin – Death - Blood
There are some things in life we don’t want to think about. Some things that are hard realities. Things that don’t make us feel good. One of these is sin. The idea that there is something very wrong with us. That we have offended God. That we, by our actions, are guilty and deserve punishment.
We don’t like to think about death- which always comes along with Sin, so God has declared, “The soul that sins shall die”. We whisper about death in hushed tones, we find less offensive euphemisms like “passing away” or “leaving people behind”. But the hard reality is still there. Sin means death. And not just you die and that’s it. There is the living death of the sinful life without God. Then there is the eternal death of an eternity without God. Death is never a pretty picture. But it’s always what we deserve.
Sin and death also mean the spilling of blood. Most of us don’t think much about blood. Some can’t even stand the sight of it. It’s gross. But more than that, it means someone has been harmed. Someone is suffering. Violence has occurred. Death is in the air. Bloodshed is a stark reminder of the reality of sin – of our sin – and its consequences. And we may not like the sight of that. But God draws our attention to it. Here in our reading from Genesis, blood will be shed. Abraham’s knife will find its mark. This is serious business.
I’m sure that Abraham didn’t want to think about what God had commanded him. We who have children can relate. For we know few stronger impulses than to protect our own children from harm. Imagine if God asked you to sacrifice your own child, with your own two hands. It’s the unthinkable. Yet Abraham knew that sin is serious business, and that it brings a heavy price.
Perhaps it was this very sentiment that the prophet Micah was aiming for when he wrote:
With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? (Micah 6:6-7)
We find ourselves in a similar predicament. We, like Abraham, are sinners. We, too, owe God more than we could hope to pay. Our sins are grievous, inescapable, and our powers to please God leave us no hope. And the reality that we may wish to avoid is that sin means death and blood. A sacrifice is in order. If only we had one that sufficed. We don’t. But God does…
III. Where is the Lamb?
I love the honesty of the question Issac asks. “Where is the lamb?”
And we can identify with Issac’s apparent anxiety. For the dagger of God’s judgment and wrath would hang over us all the same. We too stand at the point of the blade, which would rightly cut us down in punishment. There is blood on our hands from sin – and a price must be paid in blood. “Where is the lamb?” or must I die for my sins?
But there is good news: Abraham answers his son, “God himself will provide the lamb…” And surely, God does. Just as Abraham is about to deliver the lethal blow – a voice calls out to stop him. This was only a test, you see.
And wonder of wonders, the story doesn’t stop with the angelic cancellation. No, sin is still there. A sacrifice must still be made. But “God will provide the lamb”. And God does… A ram caught in a thicket becomes the substitute for Issac. Sin still means death and blood, but not HIS death and blood. And what a mystery that what God demands, he also provides. Well and good for Abraham and Issac, but how does this help us?
“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39)
And so it’s not by sacrificing a ram like Abraham that we attain eternal life. Nor is it by appreciating or emulating the story. It is by finding in them the testimony of Christ – who IS the Lamb that God provides – and having the faith of Abraham – that in Christ, “the Lord will provide”. You see…
Issac was the only son of Abraham, but Jesus Christ is the only Son of God.
Issac was the heir to the Messianic promise. Christ is the fulfillment of that hope.
Issac bore his own sins and deserved, like all of us, to die. Christ bore no sin of his own, but bore all the sins of the world.
Issac carried the wood for his own near-sacrifice. Christ carried the beam of his cross and was not so spared.
Christ takes our place. Not on the altar of Mt. Moriah, but on the cross of Mt. Calvary. He sheds his blood for us.
Not the ram caught in a thicket, but the Savior crowned with thorns. A once and for all sacrifice for us and our children for thousands of generations. His blood, his death pays the price, and takes our sin away.
“Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Good question, Issac. “God will provide” and God did. Where is the lamb for our sacrifice? We have only to look to the cross, and see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – including ours.
IV. Where am I?
So where does that leave us? Like Abraham and Issac, we walk away. But we can’t forget what happened on the mountain of sacrifice.
When I hear of something happening to someone else’s children – abuse or harm of any kind, I often just want to go hug my kids. I wonder if Abraham didn’t feel the same when this was all over. Appreciating what God had done for him, Mt. Moriah gave Abraham a deeper understanding of God’s love in Christ. A God who loved so much that “he spared not his own son , but gave him up for us all”.
I suppose the events of Mt. Moriah had an effect on young Issac, too. I suspect he remembered that day quite well for the rest of his life. He probably told his children and children’s children, of the sacrifice the Lord provided. Maybe he appreciated his own life a little more after almost losing it there.
Was it a life changing experience for Abraham and Issac? Did each become a different person? Who knows? What does seem clear is that God had brought them both to faith before Moriah, and kept them in that same faith to the end. For Abraham to take the sacrifice as far as he did – what greater example of faith is there? And for young Issac, who obediently submitted to his Father’s will, he too showed a striking depth of faith.
And so Abraham and Issac went, in faith, to Moriah to worship, and returned strengthened in their faith. So too with our worship. God brings us, by his Spirit, to gather in his house. God confirms on our weekly “trip to the mountain”, that HE ALONE deals with sin. HE ALONE provides for his people. HE ALONE makes the sacrifice. We receive the blessings in his word spoken, and his sacrament received.
Some Christians seem, even today, tend to think they can please God with their own sacrifice. By living a holy life, by a long list of good works, by enthusiastic worship - by sacrificing something – something important - to the Lord. But these are all the wrong sacrifice – they are not what God truly wants of us.
And they may look at us who believe so strongly in God’s grace in Christ, and say, “Look, they aren’t sacrificing enough”. But the truth is, we sacrifice nothing. We earn nothing. We bring nothing. We have nothing. Nothing but the lamb that God provides. We have Christ alone. And that is more than enough.
So where does that leave us? It leaves us with Christ. Like Issac, we are not under the knife of judgment. Like Abraham, we don’t have to pay a price for our sins. We know that Christ has done it at the cross. And we go forth from the mountain in peace. For the Lord has provided, and always will. In the name of Christ, Amen.
As Lent begins, the mood changes. We ponder the seriousness of our sin. With Issac, we ask, “Where is the Lamb?” And then we see Christ, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”.
Saturday, March 04, 2006
Friday, March 03, 2006
Thursday, March 02, 2006
March 2 2006 Ms. Lee Jai Cook, Roaring Springs, TEXAS USA. [1.806.348.7315]
Arrival of the Prophet Elijah
Christians expect the arrival of Jesus in the not too distant future in fulfillment of his promise to come again.
However, the prophecy in the Bible at Malachi 4:5,6 seems to state that God will send Elijah to earth before Jesus returns:
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers . . .
Just where Elijah's arrival might fit into the Events of the End Times I don't know. However, it appears certain that we can expect the arrival of Elijah in the near future.
Anyone else get this too?
Interesting story from the online "Reporter" here....
LCMS astronaut plans to worship from space
By Paula Schlueter Ross
His Christian faith is important to astronaut Jeff Williams, who wouldn't dream of leaving home -- or earth, for that matter -- without it.
Williams, a member of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Houston, says he plans to stay in touch with his congregatioastronaut/Williamsn even though he'll be off the planet -- orbiting 250 miles above the earth during a six-month stint aboard the International Space Station.
In fact, if Williams has his way -- and NASA technicians can make it happen -- the Gloria Dei lay minister will "join" fellow congregation members in a July 2 worship service. Williams, still aboard the space station, will receive only audio from the service, but if all goes well the congregation will be able to see and hear Williams via a live video feed from space.