Dear friends and long time blog readers,
Grace and peace to you in Christ. These are exciting times for our family, as I have accepted a call to serve as "Strategic Mission Developer" for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. I will be serving as missionary to Singapore, and planting a brand new congregation there.
These six months or so, from the end of my service at my congregation until our family's deployment overseas, will be spent gathering a network of supporters - both congregations and individuals.
I will be maintaining this blog, with perhaps more frequent updates, and also changing the format to reflect my new role.
Here is the link to my first newsletter: http://www.pdfhost.net/index.php?Action=Download&File=8db8243765ed9e8b3f5f6348b0b536cc
Monday, July 30, 2012
You've probably never heard a sermon about the rainbow. You probably learned the colors in order as a child, “ROY G. BIV”. And maybe you've seen it throughout your life decorating everything from hot air balloons to scratch-n-sniff stickers. Dorothy traveled “somewhere over the rainbow”. And folk legends say that leprechauns and their pots of gold await at the rainbow's end.
Sadly, today the rainbow has been assumed as a symbol of something that is at odds with God. It has become the symbol of pride in a lifestyle that turns God's created order on its head. But we should not let this beautiful and precious symbol of God's promise go unused by us for that reason. It's is, first of all, God's symbol.
Genesis 9 takes us to the day just after the flood of Noah, when God made a covenant with the ark-builder and his sons. A one-way deal, really, more like a promise. “Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth”.
The world had become wicked. Genesis tells us the thoughts of man's heart were “only evil all the time”. One can only imagine what that means. I suspect it was a time of lawlessness and rebellion, a chaos that we can't entirely imagine. Perhaps an entire world of false worship, violence, and smut of the worst kind. Imagine Sodom and Gamorrah on steroids, everywhere. God is patient. He is slow to anger. What great evil must it have taken to actually grieve God that he had created man in the first place?
So he cleansed this wickedness, quite literally, by washing it all away. He sent a massive world-wide flood to set the clock back, and start afresh. And he wiped out all of mankind, and he did so justly. None survived the devastation but Noah and his family, that is, his three sons and all four wives. Eight souls in all.
God made war on mankind, you could say. He unleashed the fury of his creation against them. He opened the windows of the sky and the fountains of the deep. His destruction spanned the entire earth, so broad was the scope.
But now, the flood is receding. The rain stopped, the ground is drying. The slate is clean and Noah and his family are safe, ready to begin anew populating the world. The warfare of the flood is over. God sets down his bow – his weapon of war. And it's peaceful colors span the entire sky, just as his promise to never bring a world-wide flood again span all time. The face of God's anger has now turned, and he shows mercy.
The same God of both justice and mercy is our God. The same God who hated the wickedness of the world, and destroyed it, showed mercy to faithful Noah and his family, and brought them through the worst of it. The same God who brought both bad news for sinners, also brings good news for believers in his promise, through Christ.
Jesus Christ, who calms storms and walks on water. Jesus Christ, the living word, agent of God's creation, who divided sky from water on day 2, and land from water on day 3. Jesus Christ, who was baptized in the Jordan for us, turned water into wine, washed his disciples feet. As he thirsted for our salvation, he faced death on the cross, and from his pierced side came blood and water. From him springs forth the water of life, which quenches our thirst forever. Jesus Christ, in whom we are baptized, buried into death and raised to new life.
The flood of Noah, which drowned sinful humanity, pointed to the blessed flood of Holy Baptism, which drowns our sinful nature, our Old Adam. Perhaps you are familiar with this connection because of the “flood prayer” of Martin Luther, which is now included in our baptismal rite.
It's true, we need cleansing. Your sin – my sin, is just as damnable as the sin of the wicked world before the great flood. We are conceived and born in sin. We sin by our actions and inactions. We trample the commandments. We despise God and hate our neighbor. We fail to do what we ought, and we do what we ought not do. We are, of ourselves, only evil all the time. The Old Adam in us is brought forth in his father's image, a shattered image smeared with the muck of sin. Our need for cleansing, body and soul, the same. Only let us, in faith, find refuge in the blood of Christ and in our baptism, and in the mercy of the one who has set down his bow.
God will never destroy the world again with a flood. But this world will end, as Jesus warns, and it will happen soon. The ancient church fathers used the rainbow as a reminder of this warning, as the colors move from blue to red, so too the destruction of water is behind us, but the coming destruction by fire is ahead. This world will melt away. Fire will consume the wicked, when God's righteous judgment is unleashed once more on that day.
But as Noah and his family were preserved, so too will Christ preserve us on that day. For those who belong to him, whose hope is in him, there is nothing to fear from any disaster, calamity, or even the end of the world. Christ is always with us, always over us, always for us.
His cross stands as the symbol of his promise for us, that the warfare is over. This instrument of death has become our source of life. A symbol even more beautiful than the rainbow. A promise more expansive and long-standing. Never again will our sins stand against us. Never again will God hold us accountable, for Christ has paid the account in full. Never again need we fear the wrath of God, for Jesus has spoken. It is finished.
Whatever clouds gather on your horizon, whatever rain and storm mark your life in these days, whatever flood waters threaten to overwhelm you.... remember the rainbow, and the promise of God's mercy. Remember your baptism, which cleanses you and connects you to Christ. And remember his cross, where eternal promises are rooted, and where divine blood was shed to seal you in them forever. And remember him as you receive his true body and blood this day, for your forgiveness and salvation.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
“The Wow Factor”
You know, I like to keep up on the lingo. Not because I'm cool at all, but I think language is fun, and I like using new expressions. One newer expression you might have heard or used is when something is said to have a “wow factor”. It's a very descriptive way of saying it – that something is astonishing or amazing, even unbelievable.
The Grand Canyon has a wow-factor. A gourmet meal might have a wow-factor. An amazing basketball shot from half-court – there's a wow-factor. But the wow-factors in the Bible are way more wow-ish.
Today's reading from Mark has a couple of wow-factor moments. Jesus goes back to his home town, Nazareth. And with Jesus, there comes a wow-factor. He was doing amazing things. Healing, casting out demons. Astonishing, so far out of the box... and even moreso, he was teaching like no one else, with a wisdom and authority that brought astonishment to his hearerhs – another wow-factor. But that's when things turn....
They did not react the way you'd expect. They did not greet him joyfully, and turn to him in faith. They didn't even show him respect. Those people from the Nazareth synagogue were astonished by Jesus, but in a very different way. Their reaction: to take offense.
“Who does this guy think he is? Come in here, doing all these miracles, teaching all these things.... where does he get all this? He's no better than we are – we know his family, he grew up right here. We know what they whisper about how Mary was already pregnant before Jospeh married her. Sure, he's always been a little different, but he's one of us, and no one special. Who does he think he is, anyway?”
They are indignant. No doubt because Jesus was clearly calling sinners to repentance, like he so often did. No doubt these old “friends and neighbors” of his didn't take kindly to him calling them out for their sin. No one likes it, really, to have our sins pointed out. People often take offense at that.
But the law offends. In fact, it kills. And it kills us, too.
But that's not the only astonishment in our reading. The next wow-factor is even more astonishing – because it is Jesus who is amazed. He “marveled because of their unbelief”. I, for one, find it pretty amazing that even Jesus is amazed.
But it is amazing that people would reject what Jesus brings. Yes, he must have showed them their sin. But surely he also held out the promise, the invitation to come to him for mercy. Like he offered living water to the woman at the well. Like he offered new birth by water and spirit to Nicodemus. Like he called his own disciples, and prostitutes and tax collectors to trust in him and follow him. Like he had compassion on so many other sinners in their weaknesses and frailties and sins.
And yet, amazingly, some would reject such a gift. Some would, and some do, even today, turn a blind eye to his salvation, and a deaf ear to his word. I'm sure Jesus is still amazed at the lack of belief in our world. At the growing godlessness of a nation too wrapped up in everything but Christ. At the number of Christians who fall away and neglect the Sabbath day. At the bibles dusty from lack of use. At the churches that sit empty, while the bars and sports stadiums expand and multiply. This world is a mess. Sin, death, and the devil are having a field day. It's really rather amazing.
But here's some more wow-factor for ya. Look at the lengths Jesus will go to bring his salvation. Not just being rejected by his hometown synagogue, but much more. He will go to the cross. He willingly, of his own accord, lays down his life. He drinks the cup of God's wrath – for sinners – for all sins of all times – wow – even your sins. And God turns his back on Jesus. Wow. How does that even happen? And then, wonder of all, God, in the person of Jesus Christ, dies. The creator dies for the creature. He dies for you. What should wow you about that is his great love, that would go so far to save you, to forgive you.
Pile on some more wow-factor with the resurrection. And the Ascension. And the promise of our own resurrection, and our own joyful life with God forever. Wow. Think of what's in store for us, and be truly amazed.
Yes, with Jesus, there's constant amazement. And while some of it is unbelief, some of it is faith. While many will reject him, thanks be to God that by the power of the Spirit, we believers receive his amazing gifts with wonder.
There are many amazing things about this faith we have received. How can God be three and one? How can Jesus be God and Man? How can we be sinners, and yet saints? How can water do such great things in Baptism? How can Jesus' body and blood be truly here in the meal for each of us? And how can he forgive even sinners like me? Who is this guy?
We know, from the word, by the Spirit, that this wisdom comes from his Father in heaven. For he is the only-begotten son. And through him, all our offenses before God are nullified. By his cross, he does amazing things. And in his gifts, we are constantly wowed.
And it's also worth nothing the last section of our reading, where Jesus sends out the 12. Who are they, of all people, but a rag tag band of fishermen and ne'er do-wells? Amazing, astonishing that he should give them authority to preach and do miracles in his name. But he does much the same today, as he sends pastors to preach and administer the sacraments in his name, and as he sends all of us in our vocations to bear his name as witnesses to the world – witnesses of the amazing, wonderful, astonishing, marvelous things we have seen and heard and received, from Jesus Christ our Lord. Wow. He calls us, but he also sends us. Just, wow.
When it comes to Jesus, our words fail. But the Gospel never does. Even if some reject it, the wow-factor of his love and mercy remain. Thanks be to God for all of this, in Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.