Monday, November 26, 2007

WSJ on Tithing

The Wall Street Journal has a recent piece on "The Backlash Against Tithing".

For a good Lutheran perspective on tithing, I would refer you to this Q & A from "Ask the Pastor" by Rev. Walter Snyder. I wholeheartedly agree with his entire answer!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sermon (with video) - Last Sunday of Church Year - Luke 23:27-43

It's good to be back from my recent visit to Israel, and I thank you all for your kinds thoughts and prayers for the safe journey of our group from Grace that went along with me. We had a wonderful time, learned a lot, took many pictures, and have many stories to tell. Sometime in January, in fact, I plan to make a presentation of our trip for any who are interested.

Among the sites we saw was the “Via Dolorossa”, or the way of the cross. As Jesus carried his cross from his condemnation before Pilate to the hill where he would be crucified, Christians have marked out the supposed path and the various events along the way. Whether the Via Dolorossa is accurate or not, we will likely never know for sure. But scripture does tell us some of what happened along that road. We read some of it today from Luke's Gospel.... (text)

As you probably know, our church calendar begins in December, and closes this last Sunday in November. And as the calendar draws to a close, the readings highlight the theme of the end times. Judgment day. The final harvest, the resurrection of the dead and the fulfillment of all things.

But here in Luke's Gospel, we find ourselves not on the last day, but on the day of Christ's crucifixion. A dark day in which the forces of evil are seeming to triumph. A day in which a guilty man is freed and an innocent man is condemned. A day of much weeping and moaning and grieving and mourning. A bitter day for the man of sorrows, the suffering servant.
But on his way to the ultimate suffering for our sake, Jesus makes this strange comment about weeping not for him, but for Jerusalem. What?

You've probably all heard someone talk about their own funeral like this, “When I go, I don't want anybody crying. I want it to be a party! No funeral dirges. It should be a celebration!” Such sentiments are usually a statement of the person's faith and trust that their death will not be the end of them, and thus, with the Lord, a happy ending.

Don't cry for me... but how can we not? How can our love for Christ not make us weep at the sight of his execution. Who wants to see Jesus suffer? We certainly view the cross of Christ with a sober and solemn eye. But for Christians, it is also a cause for joy. We know the meaning of the cross, and that the blood shed there is for our life. The sorrow there sets us free from sorrow. His suffering brings us eternal comfort and rest with God. And this cross would not be the end of him, as his resurrection would bring the victory. So don't weep for Jesus. He doesn't want your tears of pity.

But he also isn't simply telling us to think happy thoughts and turn our frown upside down. There will be plenty of weeping to do.

Weep for Jerusalem. Jesus, Son of God but also the ultimate prophet, knew that Jerusalem would soon be destroyed. And history tells us that some 40 years after Good Friday, the Romans did just that. They laid siege to the city, slaughtered her inhabitants, and destroyed the Temple itself. Jesus knew it was coming. He told his disciples as much: “not one stone here will be left upon another”.

But more than that, it was the Jewish rejection of the Messiah that was true cause for weeping. For though some did receive Jesus as the Christ, many did not. And for them, physical destruction such as happened to Jerusalem is really a small concern. Jesus wept for a city and a people who should have welcomed him as the promised one, the long-awaited savior, but instead who rejected him, mocked him, and put him to death. The earthly destruction on their horizon was merely a taste of the eternal destruction faced by all who reject Christ.

Today the church weeps for all the lost. We call out with the Gospel to the nations Jew and Gentile, who do not know Christ and don't even want to. We cry out with words of law, calling for repentance. We are decried as legalists and hypocrites and worse for simply pointing to God's written words of law. No one likes to hear they are wrong, much less the unbeliever.
But we also cry out with the good news of Christ's forgiveness. Like the voice of John the Baptist, crying out in the wilderness, “repent, for the kingdom is near!” The church offers hope to the sinner, the same hope we have received in Christ. And when sinners repent and receive the kingdom, we cry tears of joy, along with the angels in heaven.

And if we weep, it should also be over our own sin, which sent Jesus to the cross. It should be over our continuing failure to do God's will and our ongoing love affair with evil. What wretched, miserable sinners we are. Tears of repentance and sorrow are appropriate. But they are followed by the joy of forgiveness, the blessed peace that passes understanding, the comfort of a holy and certain hope in Christ who takes our weeping and mourning away. And the promise that God will wipe every tear from our eyes.

Today, the New Jerusalem, that is, the Church, also undergoes suffering and trouble. Whether it is persecution for the sake of Christ, or simply the troubles and woes of a life lived in a sinful world, there is always some cause for weeping. We are living in the end times, after all, and creation's birth pangs come and go as the day of fulfillment draws near.

There are days, when we look around us and see the wretched state of the world, we may wish we never had children. Why bring them into a world like this? There are days, when things get bad, we may wish that we were never born, or that we could hide under a rock.

But as bad as things get, even in our text, with Christ there is always hope. Look at what happens here. How hopeless it seems. Jesus is condemned, he is hung on a cross. The final sentence is passed. And yet there is hope.

The crowds mock him. The Jewish leaders mock him. Pilate mocks him with the sign above him. He has no friends left. Just his mother and a few others who stand by helplessly watching him die. We know that even God the Father would soon forsake him. And yet there is hope.

The soldiers even divide his clothes – his only remaining earthly possessions. He truly has nothing, and it would seem, has nothing to look forward to but a shameful and despicable death. And yet there is hope.

As the thief on the next cross – himself in hopeless – turns to Christ, faith makes a request – remember me. Remember me when you come into your kingdom.

How could a man in the midst of dying for his crimes, a man who was just as bad off as Jesus, a man with no hope – turn to another man with no hope and speak of the future? A kingdom? Does he look like a king to this thief, or to anyone else? Does he look like he has a future?

But faith sees it. Faith believes and trusts in the King of the Jews who came to save Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the world. Faith looks to Christ on the cross, and amidst the blood and sweat and tears, sees life and forgiveness and hope. And faith is not disappointed.

There is hope. Jesus promises paradise to the thief, and to you and me. Not someday afar off. Not only at the last day, or even only at the day of our death. But today. We are in his kingdom. We are citizens of heaven. We enjoy the blessings of his grace, by the gift of faith. And we have paradise.

We have paradise when we hear his word of forgiveness, when we remember our baptism, and when we receive his body and blood. We are then with Jesus, today, even here and now. And with Jesus there is always hope, even amidst weeping. Even for Jerusalem.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007 on Willow Creek

Friends of Preachrblog over at have some comments on the recent admission by Willow Creek that it is not producing "mature Christians".

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Why My Trip to Israel Wasn't "Spiritually Uplifting"

Well, Scott, I guess I should expand on that comment...

I suppose anyone who goes to Israel and has some knowledge of it from their Christian faith would find it departs from expectations. I know mine did in many ways. But I don't think I was expecting to be "spiritually uplifted" in the first place.

Some take trips like this for religious purposes. I did not. I saw, of course, many who were on a spiritual pilgrimage, and found great meaning at these holy sites. Every rock or cave with a purported biblical event attached had a church (sometimes several) built on top of it. And a stream of the faithful would usually be right there to kiss the rock or toss in their dollars and notes of prayer. I found this, in a way, strangely sad.

I wasn't on a pilgrimage, or looking for renewal of my faith. This was no "haj" for me. I didn't kiss the stones, or even touch them. I didn't carry the cross down the Via Dolorssa. I didn't "feel the presence of God" any more or less than I would somewhere else.

I find everything I need for my faith in God's Word and Sacraments. In fact, looking elsewhere for spiritual blessing seems dangerous, to me. So many things, even the explicitly religious things, even Christian shrines and holy sites, can so easily take our focus off of Christ. So much of what I saw there smacked of Roman Catholic suprerstition "Kissing the Blarney Stone for Christians".

This is not to mention the tourist-ification of these sites. I recall several pictures I took which illustrate the crass juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane.

Who knows if these sites were legitimate? In many cases, I think they were not. But in some, they were likely the right spot. Even if they were, so what? God has made no promise of blessing from touching Christ's footprint on the site of the Ascension, or the table where he cooked the disciples breakfast on the beach. God is no more likely to hear your prayer stuffed in the crack of an ancient temple wall than the one uttered in your queit thoughts.

But God has promised that he can be found in his word. He has promised to forgive our sins in his Supper. He has promised to save us by baptism. These promises are not only all we need, but they are the only apporpriate places for Christians to seek his blessing.

Was the trip worthwile? Sure! I found it very educational, interesting, and even fun. But not "spiritually uplifting".

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Back from Israel

Man, what a trip! You should go.

It was amazing and educational and fascinating and lots of fun. I don't know that I could say it was spiritually uplifting, but here are some of my general impressions:

Everything was so much SMALLER than I thought it would be. Even the Sea of Galillee... I never pictured that you could so easily see all the way across. The Old City of Jerusalem, likewise... not so big.

The culture(s) - very different from our own. I was also struck by the stark contrast between the Israeli/Jewish areas and the Palestinian/Arab areas. I do feel I have a better grasp of the complex nature of the dilemma over there now too.

Most of the "holy sites" were not very impressive. Kudos to the Garden Tomb people though for actually sharing the Gospel as part of their tour (talked about sin and the atonement and Christ's work on the cross for us, and everything!) Up until then we hadn't heard any such message from any of the sites we visited. But lots of icons and brass candlesticks and other stuff.

I will try to post some of my 1000 pictures here for you to see, but I won't bore you with them all of course. Sometime in January maybe I will do a powerpoint type presentation for the congregation about my trip - again, an abridged version.

Here's one of my favorite pics, from the window above the altar at the church of Dominus Flevit (the Lord's Weeping for Jerualem). This window looks out over the old city, to the west, from the Mt. of Olives. I just liked the ironwork and the depiction of the Sacrament there in particular.