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Why We Need Moses and the Prophets Today

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“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

– Luke 16:31

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Yes, again, the Bible talks a lot about money.

And it is not only God, who, speaking through the Apostle Paul, believes that the love of money is the root of all evil (not a root of all kinds of evil, as the anemic 2011 NIV Bible mistranslates it)

Again, thoughtful persons throughout our history, often thoughtful persons with a lot of money too, have talked about all the problems that money can cause… about the pain and suffering it can bring….

And many see it as driving most everything and creating most every evil. Hence, many incorrectly say that the Bible says that money itself and not the love of it is the root of all evil… 

It in itself is not evil, but money can certainly cause many griefs, exacerbating our issues with foolish and harmful desires. 

Again, even many unbelievers realize – and are right to realize – that the world is indeed “broken”, as they say. With many broken people as well…

This realization mirrors the Bible’s evaluation of the world: The fallen creation groans, groans like a woman in labor, in expectation for its redemption…

Even though, again, there is a wrongness here too regarding the beliefs of many in the world… as many suppress the true nature of the problem — thinking, like the influential 18th c. Frenchman Jean Jacque Rousseau, that man himself is not fallen by nature and that it is only “society” that is bad… causing man’s issues and ultimately being at blame for his problems (instead of man being evil by nature, intrinsically evil, that is, infected by sin…)

So, finding the main problem *outside of themselves* they who are at heart, at bottom, naturally good (they believe), look to inspire others to move ahead with hope… looking for this or that change now! 

Transformation now! 

And a part of this is that many want justice to come…. They want men like the rich and selfish man in Jesus’ parable dealt with, and dealt with swiftly… 

Action!

So, they themselves being the change they are looking for, want a Jesus who helps them transform the world, who can level society by cutting many down to size, and even to help them “heal it and make it a better place…” 

…but do they want this last sentence of the parable?

Do they want this last sentence of the parable?

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“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

This final statement in the Gospel reading for today exalts the Old Testament of the Bible, which you may have heard, is the best-selling book of all time.

Truly, there was a time in this country when what Jesus says here would have not seemed so jarring, so shocking, so out-of-place on the face of it…

It was not long ago in America that you might be able to find people who were not Christians or who weren’t sure what they believed but at least knew that they were supposed to respect, to have reverence for, the Bible.

For even if it was little read, it was nevertheless widely believed to be the Word of God… if not to at least contain the Word of God…

Those days appear to be behind us now…

Not long ago, I spent the day working with a self-proclaimed “crazy Mexican” who was about my age. We had a good time talking about a number of topics, some religious ones too.

You see, earlier in that day, he had said “thank you, Jesus” in a way that was like a sincere prayer, and I took that as an invitation to inquire further. 

I found out that he did not think that God was a personal Creator distinct from his creation but that He was actually impersonal and that the world itself was God. Jesus was not the Creator who at one point became man but simply a good example for us about how any one of us is God and should act appropriately. And the Bible was not God’s Word but a flawed but otherwise valuable book written by wise human beings. 

I also listened to a podcast this past week with Minnesota Public Radio’s Kerri Miller. It was a replay of a 2019 interview she had with the popular liberal religion scholar Karen Armstrong. 

Armstrong was talking with Miller before an audience at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul about “The Lost Art of Scripture” and had some ideas that my Mexican colleague would seem likely to embrace. 

Conflating all world religions as being one in the same, she spoke about how God is existence itself, being itself, which, without any further explanation, undoubtedly meant to her audience that God and the creation or cosmos are one in the same…

Muddling everything together, she said that “Scripture wasn’t telling us doctrines that we had to believe” but rather wasn’t coherent and it created a muddle… and that when we speak of the Divine, we simply go beyond what any words or thoughts can do…

Scripture, she also claimed, isn’t something that we should go back to to live from. Rather, it is an “innovative art” that must always move forward…

You can bet that when Ms. Armstrong said that “You must make those texts written centuries ago speak to now…” she was not thinking about how she could help her audience to better understand Luke 16:31, and to realize how important it is to realize how we should submit to the biblical texts, much less Moses and the prophets….

I know this for sure because right after saying “You must make those texts written centuries ago speak to now…” she goes on to say “…and that means change it…”

To my Mexican friend, I had explained that some more liberal Christians explain the Bible in this way. They say that “some Christians put a period where God means to put a comma… God is still speaking…” and he liked the sound of that.

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And it seems to me that the recently deceased Barbara Ehrenreich, who as an advocate for the poor wrote the best-selling book Nickel and Dimed about her experiences going undercover as a blue-collar worker, would also like the sound of this.

Queen Elizabeth may have passed away recently, but I heard a number of socialist commentators focus on Ehrenreich this past week, praising her for being Our Queen, the Left’s Queen, the Real Queen….

On another podcast I listened to, a man named Gabriel Winant shared something which he thought summed up Ehrenreich’s thought and philosophy. 

Basically, Ehrenreich felt that if we could fully embrace female sexuality and communism as well, rejoicing in the “softness and the permeability of the world around us”, the barriers that divide men and women, the “high” and the “low”, would “crumble in the face of this new energy” and we could all live in harmony; instead of “holding ourselves back in lonely dread…” we could be revolutionaries in the cause of life” (bold mine) 

Revolutionaries indeed. 

As another commentator speaking of Ehrenreich’s influence put it, “we need to transform the totality of social existence…”

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When you are rich, powerful, and successful – when you have most everything your heart wants – you might have a hard time thinking that you need to hear from God, that you need a prophet… In fact, the Bible tells us so.

In like fashion, when you are among the intellectual elites who believe we must  “transform the totality of social existence…” countering the patriarchal and fascist violence that has reigned throughout history, now even “raping the earth” as it seeks Dominion…

…you also might not have much use for a message from some “Father-God” purportedly passed on from one corrupt generation to the next… 

If you’d like to learn more about this kind of viewpoint — and it is good for some of us at least to know our enemies well — I’d recommend reading, for example, Riane Eisler’s book, The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future.

The 19th century German philosopher Karl Marx – one of both Ehrenreich’s and Eisler’s inspirations – also did not have much respect for tradition, particularly Christian tradition.

After all, what had the past brought us except endless oppression of the poor, the great masses of mankind, by the rich, the bourgeois? And who since then, many say today, has caused our environmental issues with their desire for riches and rule?

And so Marx said, and many following in his train have said: “Philosophers [or scientists] have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point[, however,] is to change it.” 

The point is to change it…

Of course, you can’t blame everything on Karl Marx. He didn’t come out of nowhere, after all. Many others had been noting problems before him and had a variety of ideas about how to fix things.

And a lot of those ideas about how to fix things, of course, had to do with getting rid of the influence of the Bible.

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Nevermind that world history, until re-oriented by Christian conviction, actually revealed a general lack of concern regarding children, women, and the practice of slavery… 

Also, in the Greek and Roman world, work was something that was undignified and that those at the bottom, not the top, did. 

How well are we aware of these facts?

And nevermind that now that for all the progress and hope that many of these revolutionaries claim to see…

…racism as a concept is increasingly used only to discourage, frustrate, and demoralize anyone we feel is to blame for the world’s problems, generally those with insufficient levels of melanin

…and in spite of concerns about changing the climate, changing one’s own biology is somehow just fine…. We can no longer be so limited in our imaginations and so it makes sense for girls to cut off their breasts and maybe even become “pregnant men”, boys to cut off their “toxic” member, etc…

…it is OK for schools to deceive backwards, oppressive, even toxic parents who won’t support the transgender revolution. So the revolutionaries not only hide what’s going on but throw fuel on the fires…

…all now all sexual relationships are to be celebrated simply because “love is love” – if the “hearts fit” the parts, whatever they may be, fit as well.

…not only this, but attractive and intelligent college women, for example, see no shame in starting an “Only Fans” site or getting a “Sugar Daddy” as a side gig not even because they feel they need it, but because they think it’s fun and can make some extra spending money…

…and, of course, we all know that “woman’s health care” means their ability to not only contracept but even kill the precious gifts in their wombs.

…finally, we actually seem to be inviting a time when truth only matters insofar as it helps us in war and is selectively used to damage our enemies…

…and even outright lies can be good if they harm the right people

Do not be afraid of the world and the seeming sophistication you often seem to sense from them… 

At bottom, it is corrupt, shallow, parasitic, and foolish. The only relatively good, true, and beautiful things it manages to know are all the good gifts it receives from God and twists and tweaks to its own liking….

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Since the fall, and especially since Cain, the world has always been against God, against Jesus Christ, against those who follow in the train of Abel, Cain’s brother. 

And in an interesting twist, those who reject God most forcibly and explicitly tend to be the powerful who, generally speaking, live lives that seem outwardly respectable to many people… 

So many today, though perhaps somewhat uneasy about some of the things I mention above…

…nevertheless seem eager to push forward, following those elites they think are in the right. 

This was certainly the case with the religious leaders in Jesus’s day. Even as they violently rejected Jesus, these men were the respected pillars of society, the upper and upper middle classes of their people…

And so not too many seemed opposed to killing Jesus when the leaders pushed things this way.

This is true today as well. 

Men and women aspiring to be among the leaders, the cultivated, the sophisticated, the cosmopolitan, see the kind of suffering that Jesus speaks about in in this parable…

… and they do not first see this as an opportunity to examine their own hearts.

… and they do not first see this as an opportunity to examine their own hearts.

Instead, immediately, they either go to or are highly sympathetic to this or that form of thinking that has always been with us but that Marx perfected…

…where all of life is seen through the oppressor-victim lens and even the God of the Bible — particularly as He shows Himself in the Old Testament — is not immune from their condemnation…

So fixing the world that this Oppressor God made, putting it all under their control and slowly and surely repairing it according to what they believe is right — and deftly taking out of the game those raising objections — becomes the overriding obsession…

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And then, God’s changing the rules of your game is out of the picture…

Again, Jesus says ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

Elsewhere, in the book of John in chapter 5, he says something that is similar as well:

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life… How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?… If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” 

Whatever direction the world seeks – whether it seems indifferent to the true God revealed in Jesus Christ, or, in our age, exceptionally hostile to that same Jesus – it will always pursue its own glory, apart from glorifying God. 

The Bible considers the world foolish, and so should we. 

Don’t be so concerned to be “normal”.

The Apostle Paul, after all, speaks of how God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise… Those who are weak and of no account in the world God chooses…

The Christian faith definitely talks about the reality of mystery and seeing through a glass darkly but before that, it is keen to speak the truth and implies the knowability of the truth….

…and even to speak of proof for His work (see Acts 1:3). 

In Acts 17, addressing the truth-seekers or philosophers of the day in the Greek city of Athens, the Apostle Paul was also bold to claim….

“[God] now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.

In other words, please don’t whine that you can’t believe in Jesus Christ. 

Please don’t think you can carefully define and delineate what proof is apart from a consultation with the Almighty.

However practical your ideas about what knowledge is may seem… 

However much traction they might actually get in the world… 

God, particularly in His Christ, definitely gets a say….

…to say the very least!

And yet, again, for many, none of this seems to matter… Look at our parable today, where the rich man from hell in effect complains to God about something he should have done but failed to do… 

Everything is God’s fault. 

But it’s not, of course. God’s word might bring truth, conviction of sin, the knowledge that Jesus Christ is indeed Lord… but the Spirit is also quenched by sinful man and God allows this….

God, in love and fulfilling what He said He’d do, performs miracle after miracle in the Old and New Testaments, clearly revealing His Promised Messiah in the latter… and some will still not believe…. 

Empiricism, that is, a philosophical outlook focused on what we can learn from the outward evidences our senses experience, is evidently overrated. 

After all, shortly after Jesus tells this parable, an actual man Lazarus is raised from the dead by Him and this is attested to by no small army of witnesses…

…and the conclusion is that both Jesus and Lazarus — exhibit A testifying to Jesus’ being the Messiah — must be killed…

“Come, let us reason together” the Lord would always say to us…

And man whines “I can’t – you’re too mean!” or shouts “No! I won’t!”

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We still need the law and the prophets today because we still need to respect… to defer to… submit to… all of God’s words, understanding and appreciating them rightly in the Light of Jesus Christ…

What helps is hearing the word. 

Hearing the truth, spoken in love, embodied in love. 

In many places, in many ways, from many people…. 

Often. Very often. And then, finding yourself, perhaps to your surprise, increasingly hungering for that word…

Let us hear again, anew, the prophet Isaiah: 

“To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”

“To the law and to the testimony!

Believe.

And none of this, by the way, means that we cannot also be encouraged and strengthened when we hear loving, knowledgeable, and wise Christians defending the faith with their own well-formed reasoning… 

As a matter of fact, this kind of thing can ultimately be helpful in renewing our appreciation and hunger for God’s word…

For example, in a couple other podcasts I listened to this week — yes, I have been doing this more lately — I heard some excellent thoughts from a couple pastors dealing with questions and concerns that Christians often have about the book of Genesis, one of the books of the Bible that has faced some of the most withering attacks over the years…

In his great daily Bible Study podcast The Word of the Lord Endures Forever, Pastor Weedon said the following:

We should not bend Genesis to fit with whatever the current assumptions of scientific thought may be. God’s revelation, alternatively, needs to be brought to bear on our human reason. 

He also talked about how Jesus Himself believes that the five books of the law, Genesis – Deuteronomy, were written by Moses, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit. The theories of many scholars today who don’t believe this lead to wild speculation.

Also the host of the daily podcast Issues ETC. answered a challenging question about the age of the earth and Genesis.

He pointed out how incomplete so many of the scientific theories are, quite knowledgeably, and how they are laden with improvable and even improbable assumptions. He also essentially spoke about how the only way that we could know what has really happened is to depend on someone who is there, and God is in fact the Eyewitness (with a capital E). 

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Ultimately, it is good news that Christ, who is your Creator God, died for your sins and rescues you from death, the wages of your sin. 

It is not cosmic child abuse perpetrated by the evil Father-God. No, the Son was “all in” with the plan.

God’s word is not unreasonable. Even if fallen human reason refuses to give credence to and in fact refuses to understand God’s Word, that does not mean that Christians — who have been commanded to love God with all of their minds and have the mind of Christ — cannot begin to use their Spirit-guided reason to exalt and illuminate the Scriptures, but to also answer objections that the world raises to them… 

Death catches up with us all. This world is not all there is. 

We can and should make a difference to our families, our next-door neighbors, and those God throws in our paths, even every living creature, for we are told He loves His whole creation…

But none will heal the world with their Utopian fever dreams… 

Ultimately, only God offers the help that is good and that will last forever. 

Now, more than ever, the church needs to flee to the headwaters, to the pure fountain that leads to eternal life, to the Word of God…

And to take every thought captive to it.

Have you heard the story of St. Augustine’s conversion? It is told in his book Confessions which you can read in full. The world’s first autobiography by the way….

In his account, we learn that at age 31, at the top of his game, Augustine was a professor of rhetoric in the great court of Milan. He was in a prestigious position but also tortured because his view of the world wasn’t working and also encouraged him to give himself over to behaviors and pleasures that were ruining his life… It was at this time, in a public garden behind his house, where the man who had cried out “Make me chaste God, but not yet” heard a little child’s voice, singing out, “Tolle lege, tolle lege.” Tolle lege is Latin for “Take up and read.”

Augustine took this as God’s voice to him, opened up the Bible, and came across a Bible passage from Romans that seemed just for him: 

“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

It was at this moment that Augustine’s life changed.

We might not all have a story like that, but God’s sheep will hear his voice… 

You too, tolle lege… tolle lege… always. 

Because there you will find that Jesus Christ is risen, and, praise the Lord…

…that He is for you and not against you.

Amen

With footnotes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1vHTvwqSW2OzRHtZT0Jxk6tV16ay7aGVq/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=114064425610182039594&rtpof=true&sd=true

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

What’s Wrong with Being Sleek and Strong?

Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church, Sept. 11th, 2022

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“…I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy…”

– Ezekiel 34:16b

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To be sure, the book of Ezekiel has many interesting parts, but one in particular that catches my attention is the story from chapter 8[:1-18] featuring Ezekiel’s vision of idolatry in the Temple.

In this vision, Ezekiel is taken by God “in the Spirit” to the LORD’s Temple, and, there in Jerusalem, is shown the idolatry that is happening within this most holy place…

In the very inner courtyard of God’s house, by the north gate, is the idol that caused God to be jealous…

Ezekiel is then led to look through a hole in the wall and to make the hole bigger… where he sees the “hateful” and “evil” things that are being done in there. “Go in and see the wicked abominations they are committing here,” the Lord says…

And the prophet witnesses disgusting crawling things, unclean animals, and “all the idols of the people of Israel, carved on the wall all around.” (Ezekiel 8:7-10)

The horror is amplified when we hear:

“[in front of the idols] stood seventy elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah son of Shaphan standing among them. Each had a censer in his hand, and a fragrant cloud of incense was rising…”

This Jaazaniah, by the way, was likely the head of the seventy elders; he was “at least a person of great note and esteem”….

And, as a relevant aside here, most of you are probably well aware that God severely judged His people in the Old Testament for violating His law by chasing after and worshiping the false gods of their neighbors. One summarizes matters like this: 

“Leviticus and Deuteronomy[, for example,] contain detailed and lurid lists of what [these false gods demanded] including: the worship of demonic idols, taboo sexual acts, and even the sacrifice of children to the Canaanite gods.

God[, for example, had made] it clear to the Israelites that it is ‘not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations…’ (Deuteronomy 9:5).

[God’s people] were not to be influenced by the wicked practices and the cultural systems that fostered and endorsed them[!]”

So, back to the inner courtyard of the Temple… 

Ezekiel is horrified to see twenty-five men, between the porch and altar area – the most sacred part of the court! – who have turned their backs to the Temple of the LORD and are instead facing east, worshiping the rising sun (Ezekiel 8:16). 

These were almost certainly God’s appointed priests…

“I will not look on them with pity, nor will I spare them. Although they shout loudly in My ears, I will not listen to them,” the Lord says to the prophet. 

It seems these twenty-five in the temple had thrown in their lot with the rulers of the world, of whom Psalm 2 says this:

“The kings of the earth rise up

    and the rulers band together

    against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,

‘Let us break their chains

    and throw off their shackles.’”

God and His deputies as the Supreme Oppressors. 

Truly, these twenty-five priests in Ezekiel’s vision were wolves in sheep’s clothing. 

False prophets or shepherds…

I think most of us are used to the image of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. 

If only it were so simple though…

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In our Old Testament text for today – as we hear about how God will be sending His Good Shepherd to care for His flock – we learn that He has a problem not only with false shepherds but with those he characterizes as strong, sleek and fat!

Are those who are strong, sleek, and fat some other kind of animal outside His flock? I mean, “Are sheep ever sleek?” we might wonder… 

Are these wolves perhaps?

Actually, no…

God is talking about some of His flock, His sheep, perhaps some of the rams and he-goats… the noble, the wealthy, the leaders.…

They, you see, are causing some problems… 

They use their power primarily to chase their own vanities, to feed their own bellies, to seek their own satisfactions and pleasures… with nary a concern for the rest of the flock…who, it seems, are as consumable resources to them…

These sleek, strong, and fat ones are not prosperous or successful in a sense that pleases the Lord, but their earthly blessings have in fact hardened their hearts and made them forget the LORD… (see Deuteronomy 32:15, Isaiah 10:16-17, Acts 28:27).

And yet, they don’t necessarily think this is the case… 

Suppressing the truth in unrighteousness they believe themselves wise… strong… self-sufficient… attractive… blessed!

Inwardly they are not humble before God… who they believe – for the most part at least – to be absent and disinterested…

And hence, they are unable to see… they do not recognize the ones Ezekiel gives voice to… 

the scattered, 

the lost, 

the strayed, 

the injured, 

the plundered,

the weak, 

the lean… 

the ones that these sleek, strong, and fat ones have taken nary a care for, and steamrolled over… trampling the pastures and muddying the waters so the other sheep suffer.

But, you see, these are the ones that God, the prophet is telling us, in fact prefers… and who He will defend!

These are the ones who His promised Shepherd, His One Shepherd, His Servant David, will not ignore…

Unlike Israel’s faithless shepherds, this Shepherd will govern the flock with justice and equity!

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In the Gospels, we know that the self-righteous Pharisees — generally held in high regard by the people and also in fact God’s duly appointed shepherds of those people (see Matt. 23!) — did not truly have the best interests of God’s people in mind…

Not only did they not restrain the sleek, strong, and fat sheep, but they joined their ranks! 

Jesus accused them of greed, for example, on a number of levels, going so far as to say that they devoured the houses of widows…

Again, in our reading from Ezekiel we see that Yahweh, the True God, judges between sheep and sheep as their Shepherd, rejecting the proud and accepting the penitent and broken-hearted….

And this, we are also told in this chapter, is exactly what the Shepherd He is sending, the New King like David, will do… 

And this, of course, is what Jesus does!

Ezekiel foresees the Good Shepherd, the One who seeks and finds the lost sheep… 

This is the one who even “…welcomes sinners and eats with them….”

And this great love of God is what took Him to the cross at Golgotha, where He, as our Scapegoat forced outside the camp (Hebrews 13:13), was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, and punished that we might have peace and the healing of all our wounds, self-inflicted and otherwise…

I even detect Ezekiel foreshadows the Good Shepherd of Golgotha when he writes in our reading: 

“I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness…”

For on that dark day in which Jesus was crucified, all abandoned Him and were scattered by His persecutors. But He sought out His disciples again, just as He does each one of us… 

This is our God, the God who loves the scared, stupid, and straying sheep…

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And yet, many who hear this good news will continue to reject it… even attempting to do so in spectacular fashion….

One might think it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but in 18th century England, as the Bible’s concerns grew further and further from Europe’s intellectuals and ruling classes, some folks appeared to have taken some real pleasure in aping, or at least “recapitulating”, the story we heard in Ezekiel 8…

The headline from the website, History Hustle, says it all: 

“The Hellfire Club, an 18th-Century Ritual Cult for the Famous and Powerful.”

Philip Wharton was a powerful and wealthy politician who was also the Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge of England.

He clearly was a respectable figure in public life, but he also, along with many friends, lived a double life as a drunkard, rioter, and infidel. 

He was also a womanizer who wasted his fortune with gambling and acts of debauchery. 

His “Hellfire Club” was, according to another history site, a satirical “gentleman’s club” that went so far as to “ridicule religious beliefs through the act of mock religious ceremonies with the supposed president of the club being the devil”. 

While his club and Parliamentary career ended just three years later in 1721 after his political enemies cracked down on him, the club was revived by another noble, Francis Dashwood.

He gave what was once “The Hellfire Club” a much more respectable – and, yes, mocking – title, The Order of the Knights of St Francis or The Brotherhood of St. Francis

Dashwood actually constructed a series of complex tunnels and chalk and flint caverns for the club’s meetings on his estate in Buckinghamshire, England beneath the Church of St. Lawrence. 

Once again, “[the space] was decorated… with mythological themes, phallic symbols and other items of a sexual nature.”

These are today known as the Hellfire Caves or West Wycombe Caves, and in addition to various halls and chambers they also include a Banqueting Hall, the Triangle, and the Inner Temple, “accessed by crossing a faux river meant to represent the River Styx (a river in Greek mythology that forms the boundary between Earth and the Underworld)…”

Members of the club included several prominent 18th-century figures. 

The article states: 

“Many rumours of black magic, satanic rituals and orgies were in circulation during the life of the club, with the notable English writer Horace Walpole stating that “practice was rigorously pagan: Bacchus and Venus were the deities to whom they almost publicly sacrificed; and the nymphs and the hogsheads that were laid in against the festivals of this new church, sufficiently informed the neighbourhood of the complexion of those hermits.”

Even though such details about this club are well-known and not disputed, of course there have been others like it as well and rumors of many more among the elites, even today…

All in “good fun”?

Can this kind of thing ever really be like that? 

In any case, given the casual way things like “The Hellfire Club” are discussed by those who look into it, the seriousness Ezekiel clearly felt over similar activities seems very far from us today, even already 250 years ago….

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Of course, not all rejection of God is so spectacular… 

The reality is that all of this is much more ordinary and mundane…

Dramatic accounts of uninhibited idolatry and sin-seeking aside, ultimately, those who are strong, sleek and fat – as well as those who are lost, weak, and lean – should be understood to exist in a spiritual sense first and foremost.

The first – our strong, sleek, and fat ones – are those who allow their bellies to rule them, and who, in pride, forget God, even if some do create idols that they call “God” or even “Jesus Christ” (as the Apostle Paul says in II Cor. 11, they have a “different Jesus).

The latter – the lost, weak, and lean – are those whose desperation over their lost condition enables them, by God’s Spirit, to see and embrace God’s forgiveness,  love, and rule. 

Unlike the former, they do not mean to subtly undermine in word or practice the teaching that brings blessing and salvation. 

For they understand at some level that false teaching really does kill people spiritually — and that good teaching gives us the care and food we need…

So this may even involve a confession of doubting God’s words which kill and make alive…. That means to deliver what we truly need in our heart of hearts…

In any case, as you can see, there is a world of difference here between these two kinds of people…

Externally both might, in fact, appear righteous… 

They both might live respectable lives in the light of day. They both might seem to largely conform to the second table of the 10 commandments, they both might even profess the Apostle’s and Nicene Creed in a worship service! 

And in this life, truth be told, we must give some real weight to these external appearances – until the “mask slips” and rebellion becomes obvious we might say… 

We must, for all practical purposes, consider them a part of the church. They are us until they show themselves clearly not to be….

Until things come to a head and repentance is clearly and persistently scorned and ignored…

Until they will not confess what the Spirit confesses in the Word, ignoring the pattern of sound words…

Until they themselves realize that when God says “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…” he definitely means them…

Only God, in His Time of Judgment, will perfectly separate the sheep from the sheep, that is, the goats. 

Until that time, as Jesus taught in another of His parables, the wheat and the tares often must grow together… for the tares cannot be forcibly separated from the wheat without damaging it…. 

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But, you see, as dire at this all is, we still want to be among them….

For the pull of the forbidden fruit is strong….

Maybe not overtly, with something intentionally god-mocking and perhaps worse like the Hellfire Club… but more subtly… perhaps in ways not even consciously known to us…

You see, as Christians we so often forget that we serve a humble and simple Savior.

And we serve the God who told Gideon his army was too big and that it had to get smaller and weaker. 

Our God, in this world, finally dwells in weakness with the weak on the cross…

But we, in this same world, place a premium on appearing so confident, being physically attractive, behaving in ways that show we are relevant and cool and “influencers”…

In short, appearing to be culturally powerful and not weak…

We want to be the people or at least follow the people that others are inevitably drawn to, attracted to… 

And the church gets sucked in too. Perhaps we convince ourselves that we are trying to share God’s word in a relevant way when we are…

…really just trying to fit in

…really just trying to remain economically viable within a culture increasingly distant from Christian influence

…really just trying to not have to suffer the cost of the cross….

And we see that the world is scandalized by both God’s law and gospel, so how can all of this be tweaked?!

Well… the world does seem to like the idea of grace, as the tune “Amazing Grace,” which doesn’t mention Jesus, is quite popular with many non-believers. The world loves grace at least when this is turned into the notion of unconditional love where nothing one does ultimately matters… (“unconditional love”, by the way, for me and those I like of course, not necessarily for my enemies…)

Again, even if we convince ourselves that we don’t want to compromise God’s word, we still too easily can become those who those — that is, the world as a whole! — that would abuse the notion of grace… and make grace a license for sin, as the Apostle Peter warned…

The strong, sleek, and fat, will, hating God’s law and gospel, ultimately reject it.

And we, seeking to be acceptable to them at some level, will at the very least attempt to confuse matters, trampling on the pasture of God’s food and muddying the water of his drink….

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Yes, even the weak and doubting but nevertheless true sheep can be tempted to please the sleek, fat and strong… 

And so, shockingly, some among us “traditional” Lutherans might have the absolute temerity to suggest:

  • That sin is not to be understood as anything said, done, or thought against the law of God.
  • That the Holy Spirit is the opposite of the law and the law is only present where Christ is absent.
  • That any attempt to find a positive role for the law in the lives of Christians inevitably leads to self-justification.
  • That “nothing [is] more damnable than someone choosing to act how they think a Christian should behave…”
  • That God does not finally mean for Christians to walk in His eternal law and hence fulfill it.
  • That with God’s eternal law behind us, because of the Gospel which frees us… it would be impossible for us to sin, no matter how hard we tried.
  • That the law “does not give,” but actually “removes faith in God’s word.” 
  • That God did not punish His Son on the cross for our sins.
  • And, perhaps worst of all, that Jesus Christ commuted His own personal sin….

“Relevant” and culturally compatible indeed!

People who say such things will also be eager to say that they are free from the law, and you absolutely will not, like the legalistic Galatians, put them back under it! 

Well, it is indeed true that Christians are free from the law in a sense: from the condemnation of the law! 

What this means though is that we now live in the truth and in the “perfect law that gives liberty,” as the book of James says.

Freedom ultimately means being at peace with God and living in God’s law, fulfilled in love, because of the Gospel, that is, because of God’s forgiveness, life, and salvation for us in Jesus Christ.  

The law is not “for good order” only — as if it could order society well but not but not rightly instruct and lead every single heart! — but rather imperfectly (i.e. without really addressing matters of context) shows us what it really and truly means to be good

And Jesus, ultimately, fulfills God’s law, the 10 commandments, embodying for us what things unmistakably look like in real time. 

And so what the Apostle Paul calls “the law of Christ” externally looks the same as the fulfillment of the 10 commandments because it is the same. 

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If you say the law is not objectively the eternal will of God, for example, you are going to find that you are not really that concerned to follow it…. 

Or, for that matter, be convicted by it – or, at least not all of it. 

In other words, if you don’t think God’s eternal will involves walking in the law you have, in truth, kneecapped the law’s accusation that is continually necessary for us (particularly to prepare us for the Gospel which alone truly frees us from the law’s accusation before God!)

When the Apostle Paul writes that “[some] want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” he might have had others and other things in mind, but still, if the shoe fits…

May this not be the case with us!

And, we pray, not so for those who say such horrible things!

Perhaps when the tender, gentle, merciful, and longsuffering heart of Jesus overwhelms us we will cry out that God would not treat those who propagate these abominations as false teachers— whose judgment will be more strict— but only as false sheep, God willing, false sheep who might still be granted repentance and to regain their status as those who are truly the baptized…

Again, unlike the spiritually strong, sleek, and fat, some clearly know themselves to be sinners who realize that their desires are twisted and destructive and they need a Savior to save them from themselves before they subject all of their relationships to disorder or even destruction…

And please note, in case this is not obvious, that even if someone is physically sleek and strong they can still identify spiritually as weak, lost, and poor…

They realize that God’s words – the “pattern of sound words” delivered to them in the New Testament – are their only hope!

And I also believe strongly that those who in fact subtly persecute the humble who tremble before God’s law and remove none of its sting and accusation can indeed be helped!

For what is truly wonderful is to know that even the worst persecutors of the faithful can be saved… 

Let’s end with the Apostle Paul’s resounding words for those who know themselves not to be strong and sleek, but poor, weak, and lost…: 

“Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”

Upon reflection, the Apostle Paul called himself the “chief of sinners” precisely so we could know that, even now, even for us, even for each and every one of us, God forgives us, through the blood of His Son, all our sins.

In the Name of Jesus,

Amen

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Recent Sermons on YouTube

Sermon preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Waseca, Minnesota, 9/4/2022, Build the Tower. Fight the War.

Sermon preached at Ascension Lutheran Church in Waterloo, Iowa, 4/3/2022, Vineyards Gonna Vineyard?

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Ever More Giving like the Giver

Sermon preached at Clam Falls Lutheran Church, Aug. 28th, 2022

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“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.”

–Luke 14:12

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One of the things that I enjoy doing from time to time is listening to or reading sermons by Lutheran pastors who are online.

One can learn a lot by doing this – as well as get some good illustrations or quotes once in a while for one’s own sermons (as many of you know!) 

There is an LCMS pastor that I have been following for years who is a very interesting guy and who works very hard to do short and sweet sermons.

He says a lot of very good things and tries to do so in a very straightforward but interesting way – and he’s also able to make some rather big ideas pretty easy to grasp, understandable…

Sometimes though, he tries to be provocative and says some things that don’t sound quite right. 

For example, in a recent sermon he seemed to say that what a Christian did… how a Christian lived… didn’t and couldn’t have anything to do with their salvation. 

Emphasizing the work of God’s Holy Spirit, he went so far as to say that “There is nothing more damnable than someone choosing to act how they think a Christian should behave…”

Well, what if they really are conflicted about a matter but ultimately choose what God desires? 

I don’t think he really thought through this statement. I hope not.

At the same time, I certainly think that we can understand some of what I believe he was trying to convey if we consider the importance of the doctrine of man’s justification before God.

After all, the Bible talks about how things like faith and repentance themselves are gifts from God – things that He grants to His people! 

The Bible says we are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ and the Bible says we are saved by faith, so which is it?

The answer is that the gift of faith receives the benefits that Christ wins, so it is both. If you ask faith why it saves it doesn’t point inward or to itself but only points to the blood of Jesus!

So that is what faith alone means! Because of the work of Jesus Christ, those who believe in Him have forgiveness, life, and salvation!

All this said, strictly speaking it is not true that we can have no effect on our salvation by the way we live. 

The Bible does, after all, talk about shipwrecking one’s faith…

For each and every one of us has an old Adam. Yes, even the Christian, who is a genuine, bona fide, new creature in Christ with new spiritual impulses that truly begin to fear, love, and trust in God… still has an old Adam. 

So even as the Christian is destined for a resurrection unto eternal life, we also still remain sinners until we die – and so we dare not mess around, coddling and feeding that sinner that remains in each one of us. 

The particular paths that we follow…

The particular goals we find ourselves drawn to, lured to…

The particular places that we end up, here or there…  

Can, and certainly do, deeply affect us… 

Remember, for example, that the phrase “bad company corrupts good character” literally comes from the Bible… (I Cor. 15:33).

In other words, how we walk… where we walk… with whom we walk… is critical. 

The struggle of faith – which includes even if it definitely is not limited to the struggle to walk rightly and safely! – is real. 

As an old Lutheran hymn puts it, “I walk in danger all the way…”

This is why we, Jesus’ sheep, need to always huddle up close to our Shepherd as He leads us through the valley of death and in the paths that are right, safe, and true! 

For as Jesus walked in God’s law by God’s Spirit, He enables and empowers us to do the same, and hence we too will fulfill the law of Christ (see Rom. 8:4, Gal. 6:2, Matthew 23:23).

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Another really interesting thing this pastor said is that when a person feels the accusation of God’s law, it is normal for them to start to hate God.

This, I think, is true – and it certainly coincides with Martin Luther’s experience! 

Luther was in a bad place where basically all he could hear were the commands of God’s law – which he knew he couldn’t do – and so he began to despair.

This is what happens when a person who takes God’s law very seriously – takes it as a word from God Himself – and yet does not possess the Gospel, that is, the message of God’s grace, mercy, tenderness, and long suffering in Jesus for sinners…

All this said, that is not all the pastor said. 

Being provocative once again, he also went on to say this to the person who hates God: “Without Jesus you would be right to hate him…”

Why would he say this?

Well, he helpfully went on to explain. 

It is because a person who feels this way does not really hate the true God, but their wrong idea of God. What they hate, then, is not the true God, but an idol (2x).

Are you following this? This actually tracks with the thought of perhaps the greatest – in terms of influence that is – theologian of the 20th century, Karl Barth. 

Now, I think Barth was a big problem for the church and I think this kind of statement is problematic. 

I don’t doubt that we should be aware that people begin to not only resent God but even have very violent and palpable reactions towards God like Luther – and that we should be ready to deal with that – but at the same time, what does Romans 1 say? 

It says that what may be known about God, His eternal power and divine nature, is clear to all people, and that they suppress the truth by their wickedness. 

Neither glorifying Him nor giving thanks to Him, they are without excuse. Furthermore, even though they know God’s law condemns to death their sin, they continue to do it and approve of sin in others. 

Therefore, God’s law is meant to silence them, and hold them accountable as it makes them become conscious of their sin, of the knowledge that they suppress. 

Now, what I find interesting here is that in the midst of all of these very hard words about the objective guilt of man, God’s convicting man by His universal law, and the abject rebellion of man against God and His eternal will, it doesn’t say anything about how their view of this God they don’t like is an idol. 

No, this isn’t even implied by the text. In fact, they, like everyone else in the world – Christian or non-Christian, rich or poor, black or white, good or bad in the eyes of the world – know enough about God, no matter how depraved they are, to know that He is righteous…

That they are not…

…and that they are indeed accountable before Him, they will answer to Him.   

However much they might hate Him, that knowledge of God that they do have… that they retain even as they attempt to suppress it… is real knowledge and not some “idol”.

Instead, in Paul’s account, it is in suppressing this true knowledge that they proceed to create idols.

So, we should never tell people that they should hate God, but rather that they must stop hating Him… 

Ultimately, things are not about their subjective and imperfect perceptions, but their concrete evil belief and behavior, and about the God Who is There and Not Silent.

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Now, I hope that you found that enlightening…

It is a good thing when theological issues and questions begin to percolate more and more in us!…

In a world where cringe-worthy lawn signs and bumper stickers that announce man’s ignorance to the world are common, it is a good thing to learn to be different… to go much deeper… to think critically about matters divine. 

To be driven to the Scriptures to learn more, to be driven to our God… and not away from Him and false ideas about Him… 

That we might also more actively and publicly subject the world’s philosophies to critique in the light of God’s word! 

So where did this pastor get this idea from? 

Well, that is a much longer story, and I am not going to go there this morning (maybe someday in a Bible class [or you can start with the long footnote 4 here])

The main point, however, is this: 

This is not how the Apostle Paul or the other Apostles, or Jesus Christ, spoke… 

And we should endeavor to speak as they do… as the Apostle Paul put it, to speak according to the “pattern of sound words”… being careful not to go astray…

So, overall, where am I going with all of these things? 

Why start with all of this deeper theological stuff this morning? 

Well, regarding things not sounding quite right again…  maybe you also felt that way when you heard Jesus say what He said in the text I selected to preach on… 

I mean, I confess that is what I think when I hear it…

Jesus, are you kidding me? 

This sounds so wrong! 

Why are you saying this? 

Maybe we should talk about this…

I know I say or imply this all the time, but Jesus always keeps us on our toes, doesn’t He? 

Like that pastor, He says some very provocative things that cause us to wonder, that don’t sound quite right – and should cause us to want to dig a bit… look under this or that rock…

The difference, however, is that with Jesus there is always something solid that we will find…

So, let’s take a look at what He says again here, picking up at verse 12:

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

A few things that jump out to me right away.

First of all, isn’t Jesus the guest of one of the Pharisees here? In light of His being invited to this banquet, it seems that this could be taken as His being a bit rude even if, strictly speaking, he is not criticizing his host. 

In other words, we might think: “Should Jesus right now be talking about what those who have invited Him over to his home for a meal should be doing?” Still, Jesus is not always about manners, to be sure!

Second, this seems to go along with what Jesus just taught about the importance of humility, that is, how everyone exalting himself shall be humbled and the one humbling his own self shall be exalted… 

Here, Jesus teaches about inviting those who society really would see as being at the extreme end of lowliness, the outcasts: the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 

Many would have suggested at this time that people like this were cursed by God, probably because of sin in their lives. 

Something similar is believed in India even today, where the lowest class of persons is such because of bad karma that persists throughout generations, in effect inheriting the consequences of their ancestor’s sins…  

Third, it might seem obvious to some, but I really can’t  blame the Lutheran Study Bible for saying about this passage that “emphasis should be placed on generosity. Jesus is neither criticizing His host nor forbidding people to host their family and friends.” 

We can say this because  we don’t want to just take this saying from Jesus in bare isolation, apart from the fact, for example, that Jesus Himself attended a wedding feast that was no doubt full of family and friends! Jesus is making a point, instead, about generosity vis a vis reciprocity.

Fourth, going along with that, the thing that stands out to me the most: Jesus here seems to really be telling us that we should be placing a priority on inviting those of low status into our own homes, and that if there is a good chance they can somehow repay us then that we are doing this wrong. 

Further, even if we don’t and can’t earn our salvation, we should nevertheless remember that God will remember these actions on our part and will at some point return the favor Himself in ways that we can’t possibly imagine. 

So, it is not that all forms of reciprocity are bad, just that they are incomplete and do not measure up to God, who actually serves men who can not repay precisely because they can not repay… (Luke 6:35, see Fraanzman, CSSC)

Now, I don’t know about you, but I can honestly say I do not feel like I have even really begun to really learn… and put into practice… what Jesus is saying here…

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Truth be told, I believe this passage, in addition to preparing the Pharisees for the next thing He’ll say, also is meant to simultaneously convict and guide them — and us as well!

And in every case this is meant to lead to an even greater proclamation of the goodness of our Father in Heaven, a showing forth and display of His greatness and mercy!

So folks — you who confess your sins and embrace God’s mercy in Christ— you are among the redeemed who have a great future ahead of you… with eternal dwellings that your Lord has already prepared for you!… 

So don’t just stop with having family and friends over or volunteering in this or that way in the community!

Don’t just stop at church by having a Harvest Supper or VBS…

For “when you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid…”

Again, it appears that Jesus really does want to encourage us. To encourage us to live in light of the Kingdom of God today… and to think of matters of eternity. 

He doesn’t want us to do any of these things in order to get things like material blessings in heaven, but He wants us to know that these – along with people we really will know to be our loyal friends whom we enjoy! – will nevertheless be a part of our blessed life that is to come. 

Perhaps even those who are not Christians can begin to understand the appeal here. 

I think of some words, for instance, that I read a couple weeks ago from one of my favorite writers and bloggers, Rod Dreher. 

Speaking of a recent visit to Austria, he said this:

“A few weeks back, I took my son to see the Kapuzinergruft, the burial place of Habsburg royalty since the 17th century. It’s the crypt of the Capuchin church in central Vienna. It is a wonder. Viennese funeral culture is a thing of its own; people here adore a beautiful death. The elaborate tombs of the Habsburg greats have to be seen to be believed. As we walked through, paying our respects, it struck me that these tombs were like spent nuclear fuel rods. Through the bodies of these men and women, immense power once flowed. They used to rule much of Europe, when Europe was the richest and most powerful civilization on earth. Now they are all dead, and warehoused in a crypt underneath a church in a rich, beautiful, democratic city. Sic transit gloria mundi [that is “Thus passes the glory of the world.”] It’s important to visit the Kapuzinergruft for the same reason it’s important to visit the ruins of ancient Rome: to be reminded of what happens to all power and pomp in this mortal world…”

This is looking at things from the negative side but it highlights the corresponding greatness of eternal life and its relationships….

But really, all this said, how encouraged do you really feel? 

If you are encouraged by this kind of insight, how long do you think you can sustain that? 

After all, we saints are still sinners, and we, my friends, also live among a sinful people with sinful lips as Isaiah said…

So, overall, I’d say: 

Doesn’t Jesus’ message bother us?!

How hard it is for us to hear His message here!

How upsetting it is to know that God is, to say the least, unimpressed with our weak faith and our correspondingly weak priorities! 

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So, are you beginning to hate God yet? 

Be honest with yourself: if you don’t feel a bit of anger towards Him – with Him having such high expectations of you – could it possibly be because you are not taking Him seriously enough?!

I’m not saying this is necessarily the case with any of you. Again though, for me, these words seem wrong. Earlier, I said I thought this:

“I mean, I confess that is what I think when I hear it – Jesus, are you kidding me? 

This sounds so wrong! 

Why are you saying this?”

But now let me add this: 

“Lord have mercy! 

Lord, I believe, help my unbelief! 

Lord, I know all your words are good!… help me to live them to the fullest…”

That, I am sure, is the right response!

In our confession each Sunday, we confess that we have sinned before almighty God, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.

We sometimes call these sins of commission – the sins we commit – and sins of omission, the things that we fail to do that we should. 

The “what we have done” stuff is pretty easy to identify, as they are often readily brought to our awareness and confessed. 

We know these faith-destroying and doubt-inducing sins are our sinful habits and weaknesses that we must constantly wage war against! 

At the same time, there are sins of omission and these are a little bit harder to deal with and identify… 

We all know, for example, that Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan definitely condemns the actions of the priest and the Levite… 

…but we cannot always know with certainty about all the things that we could have done and that God expected us to do… whether it was simply a good thing we could have done…

…or the best thing we could have done… (see I Cor. 7).

Nevertheless, we need to take this matter of our sins of omission seriously as well!

And it goes along with our passage this morning! 

This is where our shepherd is leading us – even as He also always gives us rest for our soul, desiring our burdens be light with Him, not giving us more than we can bear…

The 16th century church reformer Martin Luther talked about how everyone must be ready to prove his holiness (AE 21:86).

What he meant to say is that all of us who are believers in Christ should be elated by the knowledge of God’s love for them and also eager to be known as Christians!

…striving to live as Christians for our neighbor’s sake.

How? He talked about “the seven principle parts of Christians sanctification” or “the seven holy possessions of the church”:

“By [using, these seven things: the Scriptures, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Confession and Absolution, Pastors, Prayer and proclamation, and suffering[i]…] the Holy Spirit effects in us a daily sanctification and vivification in Christ, according to the first table of Moses. By [this sanctification] we obey it, albeit never perfectly in Christ. But we constantly strive to attain the goal, under his redemption or remission of sins, until we too shall one day become perfectly holy and no longer stand in need of forgiveness. Everything is directed toward that goal.”

He goes on a bit later to talk about another sign that helps identify the presence of Christ’s church in the world, love for one’s neighbors, the fulfillment of the second table of the commandments:

“[We see Christ’s church] when we bear no one a grudge, entertain no anger, hatred, envy or vengefulness toward our neighbors, but gladly forgive them, lend to them, help them, and counsel them; when we are not lewd, not drunkards, not proud, arrogant, overbearing, but chaste, self-controlled, sober, friendly, kind, gentle and humble; when we do not steal, rob, are not usurious, greedy, do not overcharge, but are mild, kind, content, charitable; when we are not false, mendacious, perjurers, but truthful, trustworthy, and do whatever else is taught in these commandments – all of which St. Paul teaches abundantly in more than one place. We need the Decalogue not only to apprise us of our lawful obligations, but we also need it to discern how far the Holy Spirit has advanced us in his work of sanctification and by how much we still fall short of the goal, lest we become secure and imagine that we have now done all that is required. Thus we must constantly grow in [holiness, that is] sanctification and always become new creatures in Christ. This means ‘grow’ and ‘do so more and more’ [II Pet. 3:18]” (LW 41:166)

The pastor I talked about earlier, God bless Him, was truly mistaken…

What a Christian does… how a Christian lives… certainly does have something to do with their salvation as a whole (in other words, not just their justification, but everything the wider understanding of salvation can entail).

God means for you to be justified, to be continually sanctified, and to be pressing towards final glory… shining more powerfully each day with Christ’s love, compassion, and mercy to the world (see Philippians 2:12-18 here).

So let us all reflect more on how profound and wonderful is the love of God in Christ that overcomes this world! 

This God who “lavish[es] his power and love on the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind..” (Fraanzman) 

As a matter of fact, right after our reading for today He goes on to tell the Great Parable of the Wedding Feast, where He speaks of going out at once into the streets and lanes of the town to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame…

You see, this, actually, in a very real sense, is us. 

This is who we are spiritually, without our Lord’s grace and mercy. 

When we see those of low acclaim and status in this world, we should not only feel God’s mercy arise in us but think of our own desperate spiritual state…

…and the love of our God in Christ that begins to heal us, even as He goes on to make all things new – and would through us as well! 

Behold, your God, crucified for your sins because He loved this poor, crippled, blind and lame world…even you… and was also resurrected in power!

As the Apostle John simply said, “we love because He first loved us”.

So, forgiven in Christ’s grace – and eager to do the good works He has prepared for you to do beforehand – go and serve your King!

Amen. 

With footnotes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1rDFfZIGfacvDTFAr5aGPlKZN_l8EvLarNLFrcXladjc/edit?usp=sharing

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Why You Should Long for Apocalypse!

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”

–Luke 12:49

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What in the world is Jesus saying in our text this morning?

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled? 

But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed?”

What does this mean?

What Jesus is saying here is that He is longing for His work on earth to be completed… for the mystery of salvation that He will finally accomplish to happen! 

To be revealed!

Divine Revelation. 

We know that the last book of the Bible – speaking of the end of the world – goes by that name as it starts with that word. In the Greek, the word is “apokalypsis”, which means “revelation” or “unveiling”…

The Book of Revelation is known as an apocalyptic book, the only one of its type in the New Testament canon. 

That said, there are apocalyptic themes throughout the New Testament and we see one here as well.

Again, what Jesus is saying is that He desires that His purpose would be fulfilled and that that which has been hidden will be revealed, unveiled, “made manifest…”

This, simply, is what happens when Jesus is who He is. When He is present, He shows up… 

Yes, He brings peace with God! 

He brings internal peace – the peace that passes all understanding, we say – in the hearts of individual people the world over!

He brings the knowledge that one truly is God’s beloved child and destined for heaven above like one’s Lord…

At the same time, the result of this true joy, contentment, and peace in the hearts of His chosen people is the hatred, the contempt, of the world…

The world, rightly, senses at some level a fundamental incompatibility, and realizes that there is a division…

And we who believe then see that this incompatibility that may have previously been hidden to us is revealed…. 

As Jesus puts it, sharing painful words:

“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Why? Why?

Why because God’s purposes, God’s goals…. and the goals of others are at cross-purposes… 

No, the desires and designs of the men of this world will not stay hidden forever… 

The presence of Jesus and the holiness, the purity, the Light that is His alone… will flush them out into the open, scatter the cockroaches operating in the darkness… and they will be truly revealed for the wicked men they are…

+++

We see a similar phenomenon happening in the world itself don’t we?

In some sense, people, seemingly like Jesus here, have this real urge to unveil certain things, to know and make known certain things that are hidden…

In the early days of the internet in the mid-1990s, the days of Netscape, AOL, and Yahoo, there was a real sense of freedom and openness in this new frontier, this wild west…

A lot of companies then moved online, and started doing their business there. 

Soon, many of us were signing online forms saying that we agreed to these or those terms and conditions, seemingly trusting these companies and organizations enough so that we did not really need to actually read all of that stuff! 

Now, a lot of that early freedom and liberation some felt about the internet has evaporated, as the powers that be attempt to herd all the cats that participate on the internet. 

Tracking down all the nooks and crannies that are out there, cataloging and organizing and algorithmizing things with the intention of getting them under their control, in line with their purposes…

Since the pandemic, for example, many more people began working at home, seemingly getting more freedom and flexibility. Many say they would love to work at home.

At the same time, this has given more companies than ever an excuse to go into what their employees may consider their private space… .

I recently read up on some of the “bossware”, which some call “tattleware”, that is out there… software with names like StaffCop, Clever Control, Controlio, Activ Trak, and Sneek…

One article gives us the lowdown:

“Once the software is installed, an employer has deeper access and even live monitoring tools for everything you do on your computer, including which applications you open, what websites you visit, and how much time you spend doing different activities. Employers can use this data to track your attendance or periodically snap screenshots of your screen. Some software can even monitor the music you listen to, your facial expressions, your tone of voice, or your writing tone throughout the day…”

Indeed, some of these programs brag that their “comprehensive tracking functionality can capture any user activity”, and also, importantly, that they operate “entirely in stealth, invisible to the consumer.”

Hiding, I suppose, with the intent to reveal what was previously hidden and it is felt must be known… 

Perhaps showing not only that this or that employee is not really productive or efficient… but also that they are not really fully in line with the purposes, the mission, of the organization’s managers…

We see similar things happening not just in companies, but in national governments. People are watched regarding what they say, what they read on the internet, how they behave, where they go….

In China, for example, there is a social credit system where the government tracks the movements of its citizens and dishes out rights and privileges, rewards, and punishments, accordingly.

Don’t want to have difficulty finding work, being admitted to university, or getting a bank account? 

Don’t want to have a hard time renting here or there or buying this or selling that, perhaps in a land where there will one day only be a highly regulated digital currency and no paper money? 

Well, maybe stop hanging out with Christians, for example, and try supporting what the Party says!

Even Christians who are wary about being End Times Prophecy Fanatics regarding things like “Vaccine Passports” – providing an opening for them to be under full government surveillance – will not be able to help thinking about what the book of Revelation says: 

“And the second beast required all people small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark—the name of the beast or the number of its name…”

+++

The world wants to be in full control. 

The masters of the world, convincing themselves that they are doing everyone else a favor, increasingly are exercising their dominion over every area of human life that they can.

And in the end, for them, the ends will justify the means. If half-truths, deception, and lies are necessary to govern the world, the New World Order, so be it.

Now, in truth, God, in the beginning, did indeed give man dominion. 

But when God gave Adam and Eve dominion in the Garden prior to the fall, this was, in fact, a trust from Him.

They were not to exercise mastery of the world as they pleased, but to exercise good and faithful stewardship in line with their Master’s purposes and possessions…

The reason that the church has traditionally been opposed to hidden societies, that is “secret societies” like the Freemasons, for example, is because they are essentially a religion with purposes opposed to God’s: they demand a loyalty that supersedes Christ and His people; even if they do give lip-service to a god of sorts, an “Architect of the Universe,” they nevertheless undermine the proclamation of the free grace of Jesus Christ.  

In Martin Short’s 1993 HarperCollins expose on the Freemasons, Inside the Brotherhood, he writes that contrary to ideas of ‘purity of conduct’, ‘compassion’ for the ‘errors of mankind’ or the ‘pleasing bond of fraternal love’; for the Masons “relief and truth are restricted to a very small circle, beyond which it is acceptable to tell co-ordinated lies to achieve the economic ruin of others” (Maria, summarizing Short, 57-58).

And that is not all. Short writes in detail about what kinds of rituals and oaths have been historically involved in becoming a Mason, the “1st degree of Entered Apprentice,” as well as entrance into the “2nd degree of Fellow Craft”. Of the latter, Short tells us: 

“…should the candidate betray his oath of secrecy he submits himself to “‘having my breast laid open, my heart torn therefrom, and given to the ravenous birds of the air, or devouring beasts of the field as a prey.’” (Short, 51).

Now, I understand if one is skeptical about these seemingly spectacular claims about the Masons. If that’s the case with you, check out Alvin Schmidt’s 1980 academic book on the topic, Fraternal Organizations.  

The wider point, however, is that there is a desire for many powerful people to operate “behind the scenes”, in secret, in loyal solidarity with one another, and in larger and larger networks, in order to increasingly unveil those people and plans and things that do not please them, and are at cross-purposes with their own goals, designs…

Again, hiding, I suppose, with the intent to reveal what was previously hidden and it is felt must be known… 

Perhaps showing that this or that person is not really fully in line with the purposes of those who would increasingly gain control, for our own good of course…

But, you see, all who ultimately work in this fashion, who ultimately seek to rule in this way, will fail, and fail miserably, because the world’s schemes will be unveiled….

For rejoice! 

Christ has come to bring fire to the earth, and how He wishes it was already kindled! 

An important Bible passage to chew on from Psalm 2:

Why do the nations conspire

    and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth rise up

    and the rulers band together

    against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,

“Let us break their chains

    and throw off their shackles.”

The One enthroned in heaven laughs;

    the Lord scoffs at them. 

He rebukes them in his anger

    and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,

“I have installed my king

    on Zion, my holy mountain.”

In truth, proclaiming this message about the coming King is what the church is to be all about. 

The world wants us to listen to it – “you have two ears and one mouth for a reason” it says – and of course, we know that listening is good, taking time to care for your neighbors by listening to them and their concerns is good…

And yet, many in the world have absolutely hardened their hearts against their Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ. 

As one man puts it, instead of “renouncing Satan and all his works” as our baptismal liturgy declares, they look to renounce Christ and all His works.

But, as he also points out: 

“The difficulty for them is that “His works” include every last molecule and atom. That work includes what He does in holding everything together. [For as the book of Colossians puts it:] “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Wilson)

So the world is full of foolish evil. 

This evil must be unveiled and overturned. For the rejection of the creation as creation and this King the Bible speaks of as King is no laughing matter. 

You heard our Old Testament reading this morning in Jeremiah. The ante is upped further, not less, in the New Testament. 

There, Love in human flesh, Jesus Christ, the Creator and King of the Universe Himself, speaks firmly and decisively about Hell, a place of eternal torment, where the fire is everlasting (Matt. 18:8); utter isolation, where there is outer darkness (Matt. 8:12); and personal disintegration, or destruction (Matt 7:13) (Wilson). 

I read some words from a wise pastor this week, talking about how the church really does not so much need to listen but to proclaim. 

Pushing back against the current Pope’s admonition to be a listening church, he said: 

“God knows the hearts of men, the thoughts of men, and the works of men. He does not need His agents to listen and tell Him what they have heard. He needs His messengers to repeat what He has said and end the reign of darkness and the captivity of sin and the hopeless end of death. It might be too late for Pope Francis but it is not too late for us to learn anew this ancient wisdom.” 

Amen to that! 

The great 4th century theologian Basil the Great put it, spoke about the weak church of his own day that had rejected the glory of the cross for the wisdom of the world:

“Men in authority are afraid to speak, for those who have reached power by human interest are the slaves of those to whom they owe their advancement… (Letter 92)”

And while the church is weak, the world – increasingly drunk with pride and confidence! – wants its words to be able to create reality as it makes and re-makes itself. And in its most extreme forms, it looks, in futility of course, to destroy and rebuild that which God holds together with his powerful word… 

But this is an absurd tower of Babel clearly built on a foundation of sand. 

And yes, perhaps right now, they have pushed too far and too fast. And eyes are beginning to be opened… 

Regardless, we need to proclaim our Rock, the only Rock that can withstand the storm.  

+++

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”

Here, again, Jesus is expressing that He longs for apocalyptic judgment! 

The fire which will reveal and purify!

-That which is concealed will be disclosed; the hidden made known; things spoken in the dark will be heard in the daylight; that whispered in inner rooms proclaimed from the housetops (Luke 12:1-3)!

-His baptism of fire will also bring not peace, but salutary adn necessary division: setting son against father and father against son!

-And truly, all the hypocrisies of man – which He goes on to speak of – will be laid bare and dealt with in His work! 

And how will it take place? 

Jesus in one sense is speaking about everything that is to come, but particularly about the centrality of His cross for everything!

In the book of I Peter, the Apostle says: 

“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”

In the context of I Peter what this means is that God always judges Christians first. 

Not in a way that ultimately condemns us, but, through suffering and persecution, in a way meant to discipline us and ultimately strengthen we who believe in Jesus.

And… our beloved King, Jesus Christ, as the head of the church, God’s house, indeed in a sense fulfills this passage about judgment beginning with the household of God to the greatest degree… because when Jesus paid for all of our sin on the cross, God really did mean not to just discipline Him, but to issue judgement on all of our sin in Him… to even condemn Him in our place.

Jesus did not come to judge the world. Strictly speaking, He came to save the world. 

But He could only do this through His Father’s intention to lay our sin on Him, afflicting, striking, piercing, crushing, and condemning our sin in His body on that tree.

The world kills Jesus, judges Him, and God, using evil men, judges Him as well…

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled?”

It.

Is.

Finished.

And then, resurrection. 

As we read in our long Epistle reading in Hebrews 11, God always brings His people through the suffering and the opposition they face from the world, the flesh, and the devil…

And we see this ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the Promised One who all those good Old Testament saints were looking forward to!

And as we heard: 

“For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart…” (Hebrew 12:2-3)

+++

And make no mistake about it, even if Christ does not come in order to judge, to condemn the world but rather to save it, He will, in the end, by its Judge.

You see, He doesn’t even need to do anything, really. His very presence, in fact, would be enough for this necessary action to take place… 

For if He is oil, the world is water….

The world is full of hypocrisy. 

Hypocrisy is not just doing the opposite of what you say you believe. 

Hypocrisy is about deception, play-acting and putting up fronts. 

Hypocrisy is valuing the approval of others more than God’s. 

It is being focused on externals, appearances – the world and its glory – at the expense of truly seeking to know God in the secret place of one’s heart (Rom. 2:29).

Therefore, hypocrisy is ultimately a deep inner corruption and hostility towards God’s word (Luke 19:44).

And hence, hypocrisy is always opposed to Jesus Christ. 

Hear Christ’s piercing words from John 16!:

“When [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”

As Jesus is revealed, the reality of the prince of the world’s sin and the world’s sin stands revealed…

Even the world sometimes says, the truth will out! 

That is correct.

Hiding places will be flushed out…

…all the secrets and evil plans laid bare… 

…the whispered words and plans shouted from the rooftops… 

…the “righteous” of the world shown to be anything but…

…and “whoever lives by the truth will come into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (John 3:21)

When I was reading about “bossware” I came across this quote:

“…I would feel uncomfortable if someone was looking over my shoulder as I compose every email that I wrote,” [one expert] said. Imagine if your boss had access to your boring daily processes, where you may delete and rewrite an email, say, or correct a minor mistake before anyone else notices…”

Some people see God like that, but we know He isn’t like such a boss…

Even if we know that His word is indeed like fire and like a hammer that breaks a rock into pieces, we also know that, through His beloved Son Jesus – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! – He longs to be tender and gentle and merciful to us poor sinners…

We might fear the revealing of our sin, but we shouldn’t! 

It is the devil who will always and only accuse us. But we – to the absolute delight of our Father in Heaven – have an Advocate and Defender in our Lord, His Son Jesus Christ! 

So let us look to Peter as our example!… 

Around the time Jesus was calling His disciples, our Lord ordered some of them, fishermen, to cast their net on the other side of the boat.

The net became full of fish… and Peter, astonished, just knew He was in the presence of God! 

Jesus did not need to say a word to Peter about His sin, his own hypocrisies, for Peter simply knew…

“Lord, go away from me, for I am a sinful man…” 

But you know how Jesus responded? 

With grace, acceptance, and reassurance:

“Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men…” 

You. 

Too.  

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled?”

Amen!

With footnotes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/13lB_K4LF9xkehSGqcw4b8pl9IiurtCXlv2Nvunp7jik/edit?usp=sharing

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Do Your Possessions Possess You?

Greed? What does that mean?

+++

“I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry…’”

–Luke 12:19

+++

Physically demanding, difficult, and sometimes dangerous work. Long and odd hours – not 9-5, to say the least – but the rewards, the financial rewards I mean, are really good. 

Because of personal experience, I’ve recently become much more familiar with a number of men who are working very, very hard in order to, as they say, “make a living”…

The jobs these men do are in high demand. 

The company is always looking for good workers and even though not a whole lot of training is required — and the company will even pick up the tab for it! — not a lot of folks will do these jobs. 

…even many who realize they can never afford to be lazy… 

When the women’s movement got rolling in the 1960s and 1970s and more equal representation was sought in this or that profession, women were, strangely enough, not thinking about or looking at this kind of “blue collar” work… 

In fact, by doing this kind of work, no one is achieving high social status in the wider world by virtue of the job they hold…

And yet – that does not seem to be the main concern of any of these men. 

The men who do these jobs appreciate that the work that they do is finally understood to be valuable and will make them a decent income.  

Understandable. And yet, what is the deeper motivator for doing such a job? 

Well, some of these men will say that they have no choice: they need to do this, earn what they can, to survive in what amounts to a dog-eat-dog world. 

Others hope to work hard for 3-5 years and make a good chunk of money to get a good start in life: make some investments, save for college, maybe even buy a home…

Others will say that they do this kind of work because it is the only way they can support a family where mom is able to stay at home with the kids… Jobs that actually meet this need are definitely fewer and farther between these days, but some of these men have found an answer to this problem here…

That said, these are not the only reasons. Some of these men will admit that they subject themselves to the work they do because they like having their “toys”: the latest and greatest machines, technologies, and furnishings that can make their living space more comfortable and also allow them to participate in the leisure activities, hobbies, fun, or even thrill-seeking they enjoy. 

It seems then that some of these men at least are looking ahead – not only to the weekend or that next vacation when they can do the things they love doing – but to a time when they, having achieved a measure of security, can really enjoy their possessions and…

Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’”

And they, of course, are not alone.

Also those fixated on achieving elite social status in the world often love their “toys” – the “goods”, from nature or invented by us – that bring them comfort and pleasure….

And why not? Why should anyone be ashamed of any of this or even ever think twice about it?  

After all, didn’t Jesus once say to Judas, “the poor you will always have with you…”?   

+++

Of course, before Jesus tells us the parable we heard today about the rich fool, He first says this: 

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.

Even if several people in America have argued that greed can be seen as a good thing – driving capitalism and finally, counter-intuitively, raising the “standard of living” for everyone as a “rising tide lifts all boats” – this is a relatively new opinion in world history. 

Most cultures throughout time have, of course, seen greed as something quite bad. 

And as regards possessions and wealth specifically, arguably the most well-known philosopher in the Western world, Plato, had a definite opinion, saying: 

“The beauty of proportionality that has led one on, because one loves it, would cause one to abhor a situation that would bring one into disproportion with everyone else… [This happens when] the impersonally sublime is internalized into personal virtue…” (Plato at the Googleplex, p. 392, 393, see Gorgias 507e-508a, Philebus 64e, and Timaeus 47b-c)

I mean, it is not just Plato. So many men and women see the basic inequality in the world – the lack of “proportionality” regarding possessions, let’s say for now – and they simply know something is wrong and want to fix it… 

How though? 

Well, there are some pretty creative ideas out there… Have you heard about “prospect research” and “wealth screening”? 

What’s that? 

Well, I’ll get to that in a minute, but for now we’ll say these are things many non-profit institutions in America, for example, do…

And what are non-profit institutions? 

There are a number of non-profit organizations in the world devoted to any number of causes – some are Christian, some are more secular, and some of them are decidedly post-Christian or against Christianity. Many of them seem good on the face of it. 

I am sure you can think about many of them, perhaps many that you have supported. The Red Cross, World Vision, Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children… 

Many of these organizations are interested in assisting those with little, who are “down and out”… lending people a hand, helping folks get a leg up, making opportunities or things more equitable, as we say today, as much as they can…

Some want certain kinds of people or groups in certain circumstances to have more opportunities to succeed, for example. 

Sometimes this means things like scholarships for hard-working individuals and sometimes this means long-term programs, “long marches through ”, that are really geared towards changing the way that society works – and that will work towards achieving more similar “outcomes” for this or that social group… 

+++

In any case, back to “prospect research” and “wealth screening”. What are these?

Well, let’s do “Wealth screening” first. As one site assisting non-profits puts it: 

“Wealth screening is a way that organizations assess their donors’ assets to learn how much they can give. This information informs how much your organization should request when making an ask.”

Of course, as another website puts it: 

“[j]ust because a donor has the capacity or wealth to donate to charity, it doesn’t mean they have the willingness or affinity for giving.”

This brings us to the importance of  “prospect research which: 

“…is a technique used by fundraisers, development teams, and nonprofit organizations to learn more about their donors’ personal backgrounds, past giving histories, wealth indicators, and philanthropic motivations to evaluate a prospect’s ability to give (capacity) and warmth (affinity) toward an organization.”

So, finally, what are the brass tacks of how you really can find out who to ask? 

  • Use publicly available data on “wealth markers”: a person’s demographic location (and with this their estimated household income), business affiliations, club or group memberships, real estate ownership, political donations (FEC.gov), their participation in auctions, whether they serve as a foundation trustee, their stock holdings (SEC.gov), their clients, their social media profile, and their full employment history. Analyze, analyze, analyze!
  • Also, as you seek to “track each stage of the major gift cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship process” be sure to try to take into consideration their past giving as well as its recency and frequency, their giving to other organizations, their patterns of support, and the potential appeal to them of “getting a match” for any of their donations.
  • And… be winsome, wise, strategic, about how you target encounters with major prospects at things like fundraising dinners or other networking opportunities. If you can get to know their peers and friends who’d be willing to do the ask on your behalf this possibility should certainly be considered! 

One company brags of a novel solution to do this important work of targeting and tailoring donation solicitations from constituents who are wealthier: 

“[we have] proprietary techniques to screen as many as 25 different data sources to identify donor assets which are combined into a simple donor giving-potential score that can be used to drive targeting and ask levels…”  

Is this a good way to try and make the world a better place? More fair? Just a good tool for the toolbox, so to speak?

What should we think about this? 

When the book of James talks about not showing favoritism to the rich who attend one’s congregation or Jesus speaks of the overriding value of the widow’s mite, how should this impact our own thinking about matters of wealth and possessions and our approach towards others who have them?  

Whatever you feel or think – or suspect we all should feel or think! – about “prospect research” and “wealth screening”, they certainly cause me to think a lot more about my late grandfather’s massive donations to a Christian University… which was facilitated through one of these fundraisers… 

Whether one is trying to earn money or secure donations, whether one is trying to purchase possessions or seeking to distribute them more equally…

…we are certainly challenged by mammon, that is, worldly wealth, and its tests and temptations.

With many sins, they are obvious. Often however, with things like possessions and greed, the answers do not come to us so easily… they seem less than obvious! 

I just want to point out that even Jesus didn’t seem to want to get involved with personal disputes over money: 

“Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 

So, what does it mean to trust God regarding all of this?

+++

Do you question yourself regarding issues of wealth and possessions often? 

If not, why not?

Jesus isn’t going to pry or force His way in here, it seems, but that doesn’t mean that He doesn’t want us to reflect on these matters…

And yes, as we do this we should guard against envy and greed, but we should also recognize that it was not only the philosopher Plato who had these ideas about the appropriateness of men being somewhat proportionate regarding one another…

Let’s look, for example, at what Paul says to the Corinthians about giving in 2 Cor. 8:

“….since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little…”

Paul is doing some serious fundraising here, isn’t he? And his approach sounds a bit like Plato’s here doesn’t it? 

Nevertheless, let’s not turn the Apostle Paul into a contemporary, full-blown social justice warrior just yet. 

First note that he gives us some sense of what he means by equality, equity, fairness or proportionality (all potential translations for the Greek term): he references God’s gift of manna to the Israelites in the desert, and says that when they worked to gather “[t]he one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little…”

Also, note that even as Paul is asking for financial help for the Jerusalem church quite vigorously and appealing to them to “put the ball in the hoop” so to speak, he is still asking, not demanding, nor, of course, forcing anything…

In like fashion, we also note that this “ask” on Paul’s part is in fact not an ongoing thing… Basically, this special need arises at one time, in particular circumstances, where out-of-the-ordinary needs have presented themselves and need to be tackled…

In a venerable book from the mid-nineteenth century, Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, we read:

“Christians should contribute liberally while they have the means. In the vicissitudes of life no one can tell how soon he may be unable to contribute, or may even be dependent on the charity of others himself. A change in the commercial world; losses by fire or at sea; lack of success in business; loss of health, and the failure of his plans, may soon render him unable to aid the cause of benevolence. While he is prospered he should embrace every opportunity to do good to all. Some of the most painful regrets which people ever have, arise from the reflection that when prospered they were indisposed to give to benefit others, and when their property is swept away they become unable. God often sweeps away the property which they were indisposed to contribute to aid others, and leaves them to penury and want. Too late they regret that they were not the liberal patrons of the objects of benevolence when they were able to be…

Every Christian brother should bear his due proportion….”

This is both convicting and helps us to be wary of those who would use Paul’s words to in effect demand some sort of absolute equality, and hence major “leveling” of society…

It is not so much that all those who long for some kind of “socialist” or “communist” solution are evil… their impulse is exactly right in a lot of ways…

As a co-worker attempting to explain things to me this past week said, “Everything is out of balance….”

“Some are successful…. higher than other men. Of course though, compared with another, they are relatively unsuccessful….”

And sometimes the “out of balance” is out of all proportion. Recently hearing about the insanity of NFL quarterback Tom Brady making $135.00 every 30 seconds comes to mind also…

+++

People succumb to greed and then there always appears to be a reaction….

Where history consistently teaches us that others — many who are perhaps genuinely troubled and rightly concerned about an extreme lack of proportionality — succumb to the envy that goes hand in hand with the coveting and greed that inevitably leads to thievery… perhaps even as “governments” more akin to mafias are formed and corporate robbery is the result…. 

So, in a sense, it all comes back to coveting and greed, which the Apostle Paul reminds us is idolatry…

Luther talked about how temptation was like the birds over our heads. 

We can not prevent them from flying over us but we are able to prevent them from making nests in our hair….

But we seem to not only enjoy bird-watching, but getting as close to them as we possibly can….

And even when human nature wants to correct things related to the problems of greed…. it is like we can’t escape the circle and circular motion we are trapped in….

No, in the end, Communism is no answer…. 

It is simply that Communists underestimate the evils of human nature… 

Nevertheless, might some socialistic-kinds-of-things be possible here or there? Where people by genuine mutual consent agree to share their possessions?

I don’t see why not. At the same time, it is one thing for a mature congregation or maybe even a group of such congregations, fueled by deep and thoughtful Christian love, to somewhat pull this off — and even then, perhaps just for a season or two when it is most needed…

It is another thing to think that this can be done by unregenerate men and women without force – without cracking a whole lot of eggs to make an omelet.

All attempts at and forms of socialism have thus far degraded into this or that form of tyranny…

The word “Utopia”, coined in the early 16th century, literally means “nowhere” for a reason. 

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Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes come to mind here as well: “This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind…”

This could also be translated as: “this also is vanity and vexation of spirit”.

What Solomon means to say is that those who operate according to the wisdom of the world – including those who think that they can solve all the problems of disproportionality – will inevitably be frustrated, annoyed, and worried in their spirit.

But things are worse. Damnably worse. The world does not see the real extent of the problem at all.

The bigger issue, of course – and one that the world fixated on wealth, possessions and inequality often does not see – is that this is a very deep spiritual issue.

One that ultimately affects not only our communities but each and every individual as he or she stands naked before God.  

Yes – this goes straight to the heart of our relationship with God…. 

Cue Proverbs: 

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;

    give me neither poverty nor riches,

    but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you

    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’

Or I may become poor and steal,

    and so dishonor the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:8,9)

The Bible is not always easy to understand when it comes to the matter of rich and poor, the importance of possessions, or just what it would mean for us to pursue equality… as Paul admirably does on behalf of the Jerusalem church… Even Jesus, after all, talks about some having responsibility for more cities (mansions?) in heaven than others…

Looking at things more closely, the book of James, even if it is written to a particular congregation, really does seem intent to carve up the world into two primary categories, the rich and the poor… The book of Luke also gives the impression of this as well, further indicating this distinction is important…

And even though the Bible ultimately wants to talk about the importance of spiritual poverty – being “poor in spirit” which means being rich in God’s blessing – it also more often identifies these as being associated with the materially poor and not the materially rich.

In like fashion, it is very clear about how easily we can deceive ourselves, thinking that material blessings, temporal possessions, blessings in this world, inevitably come as a result of our own personal goodness, or perhaps simply all the good that we have done in the world with the help of God’s Holy Spirit!

The beginning of the book of Revelation, for example, contains this striking line for the church in Laodicia: 

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked….”

Let that sink in.

One commentator, Wilson, says: “There is only one thing worse than being wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked, and that is to be all five of those things and add to it the sixth misery of not [realizing it].”

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Speaking of Ecclesiastes’ “This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind…”, Martin Luther said this: 

“In short, the pious truly possess the whole world, because they enjoy it with happiness and tranquility. But the impious do not possess it even when they have it. This is the vanity which the impious possess…”  (comments at the end of chapter 2)[xii]

That is some wisdom. 

Luther is just echoing the Apostle Paul here: Christians… “even while having nothing, possess everything (cf. 2 Cor. 6:10)” (44)

“….sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything…”

Money, alternatively, hides God from a man… (What Luther Says, 975), Luther says…

The world will be stubborn, caught in life’s faith-destroying riches, cares, and pleasures. Feeding the lust of the flesh, the eyes, and the pride of life….

Never acknowledging the truth of God…

We are all so very poor…. And God wants us to know this…. 

To be poor in spirit….

This past week, not a few days ago, I was on the job and noticed someone had affixed a sticker to the back of a road sign we were driving past….

“You honor me with your lips, but your heart is far from me….” — Jesus

That was familiar, to be sure. But Jesus had said this to who? I couldn’t remember….

The Pharisees, after all, did not honor Him with their lips.

As such, the statement on the sticker seemed more relevant to those who did honor Him with their lips at least… Feeling particularly aware of my shortcomings at that moment, I certainly was feeling convicted!

But who else did he speak this to, actually, in the Scriptures? I was ashamed — convicted here also! — that I could not remember the context of this verse… the verse itself had, I guess has… been far from me….

Truly, how little I know God’s word! How little I know Him….

And then I remembered: I thought this was a quote from Isaiah, and that Jesus had indeed quoted it to the Pharisees to show them that just as their hearts were far from Him, so it was in Isaiah’s day with His Father, whose voice was in fact His also!

As I found out later on, I wasn’t exactly right — in Matthew 15, Jesus was in fact confronting the Pharisees about nullifying God’s commands in favor of their own traditions, interestingly, traditions that were to their financial advantage! — but the primary point is that when one is hid in Christ some of His word is hidden in our hearts as well and hence here God’s Holy Spirit had both convicted me and comforted me — by bringing His word to remembrance, within the span of about five minutes….

Speaking of which, our time on earth is short….

The man in our parable did not have anything like this full experience… 

His heart was set on worldly things. Rejecting God’s work, he did not attend to the matters of his soul, spiritual matters…. 

Other matters, he foolishly thought, were more urgent….

My brothers and sisters, do you hear? Can you see? The end draws near! The Lord approaches!

The time is now.

In James 4 we read: 

“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil….”

Indeed. And to Whom can we go? 

Worry not, fear not, distrust not… For one’s life does not consist in the abundance of one’s possessions, but the One who possesses you, who is your very life!!!

For as we heard in Colossians 3:

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Amen

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Walk Worthy, Saints of Christ!

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“…that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way…”

–Colossians 1:10

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How does a person know they are living a life worthy of the Lord? 

Is this the same question as asking “How do I know that I am saved, that is, that I am at peace with God and will live with Him forever when I die?” 

Well, it could be the exact same question….

Which might appear to connect with the question that we hear from the lawyer in the Gospel reading, Gospel reading this morningright? “Teacher…what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus says the lawyer is right with his answer: love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself…

The lawyer then asks, “Who is my neighbor?”

And here, frankly, he likely had part of our Old Testament reading in mind! In Leviticus 19:17 and 18, we read: 

“Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.

“‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Jesus, however, doesn’t directly answer the man’s question about who his neighbor is. 

Instead, He tells this lawyer a parable that is perhaps more famous than any other Jesus shared!

You know it well, right?  

A man takes the dangerous path from Jerusalem to Jericho, and falls among robbers, who leave him naked and half-dead.  

A man of the upper classes, a priest, then sees his plight and yet passes him by… 

There has been much speculation regarding the reasons why the priest may have acted in this way, but it’s probably safe to say helping the man would have been terribly, terribly inconvenient for him to say the very least!

And then, in like fashion, a Levite passes the man by as well! Even if it would have almost certainly been less of an inconvenience for him, he nevertheless passes by too… 

Well, the man was half-dead and naked after all… And without being able to identify someone by accent or clothing, one would not have even been able to tell if this was a fellow Israelite who needed assistance!

Finally, as I am guessing the vast majority of us, growing up in the church, learned as children… that there actually is one who is sensible!

There is one who does the good thing, the right thing, the humane and even obvious thing that probably most all of us as children believed should have been done!: the Samaritan (the least likely person!) helps the man.  

Just like God in the Old Testament is said to bind up the wounds of His stricken people, this Samaritan cleans and softens the half-dead man’s wounds with oil, disinfects them with wine, and then binds them up! He puts the man on his own animal and brings him to an inn, where he continues to care for him at his own expense…

And then we hear Jesus speak: 

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.

Jesus tells him, “Go and do likewise.”

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So to the Jews who, generally speaking, hated the Samaritans – and to the Jews, many of whom did not believe that one should give to the ungodly or help sinners (see Sirach 12:1-7) – Jesus told this striking story of the Good Samaritan… 

Who is my neighbor? In one sense, the answer is indeed “Everyone!” 

Jesus has removed all limits as to who the neighbor could be, is….

And what about how Jesus transforms the Golden Rule here as well? 

While at this point in history Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism had all basically said, “Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you….” 

Jesus, of course, says that the whole of the law and the prophets isdo unto others as you would have them do unto you…” 

So there you have it, right? 

If you want to be sure that you will inherit eternal life… 

If you want to be sure that you are at peace with God and will know His grace and kindness when you die…. 

If you want to know that you are living a life worthy of the Lord… then take this parable to heart!

“…be radical and proactive and energetic in doing good to others…” as one man puts it!

Don’t worry about who the neighbor is that you are required to take care of – be concerned about being a good neighbor, a merciful neighbor… and keep on doing that!

Don’t just thank God that you are at least enlightened here… you know, far more advanced than small-minded and racially-insensitive folks like that lawyer and the audience of the parable — but don’t be proud about this of course!

With an eye towards heaven, do good to your neighbor, do more good, and then do some more!

Perhaps you might want to consider giving something to anyone who looks like they might be in some kind of distress… 

I live in the Twin Cities area, and I confess that I, cynical to the core, have gotten quite used to ignoring beggars and panhandlers… maybe you could be different though! 

I mean, I know lots of reasons that that might actually be a really bad idea — after all, I really have rarely taken any action here and I have my reasons! — but some of the kids in the congregation today might be a bit confused about just why we shouldn’t double our efforts here… 

Or think of creative ways that really could be helpful to those who need us!

So, are you thinking you can’t pull this off? 

Then let me encourage you with the example of Mother Teresa…

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Do you know about Mother Teresa? 

Let me tell you a bit about this woman, and the man who introduced her to the world, Malcolm Muggeridge, by way of some quotes from a short article from a Roman Catholic source: 

“Mother Teresa of Calcutta is one of the best-known saints today. Even before she was canonized [by the Roman Catholic Church] in 2016, in life she was sometimes referred to as the “saint of the gutters,” because of her work among the poorest of the poor [ – the “untouchables”! – ] in the slums of Calcutta.

But relatively few people know the person who made Mother Teresa so well-known.

In 1971, British writer Malcolm Muggeridge published Something Beautiful for God, a book about Mother Teresa and the work of the Missionaries of Charity. Muggeridge had been an atheist earlier in life but eventually became Christian. He was so impressed by Mother Teresa’s witness that he became Catholic in 1982, at age 79.

…Muggeridge was educated at Cambridge and began his career as a teacher in Egypt in the late 1920s. Shifting into journalism, he worked for newspapers around the world. Marrying Katherine Dobbs in 1927, he had an idealistic view of communism, and when the couple moved to Moscow in 1932, they felt that they would live out the rest of their life there.

But Muggeridge became disillusioned with communism. He and Gareth Jones, the Welsh journalist, were the only two to report on Stalin’s forced famine in Ukraine in 1932. Muggeridge’s reports, however, were heavily censored by the Manchester Guardian, his employer.”

Now, skipping ahead in the piece, more on the woman he helped make famous….

“Something Beautiful for God was based on a film Muggeridge had made for the BBC about Mother Teresa’s work in India. He related how during filming, one scene was taken in a “dark, cavernous building where the Sisters bring the dying from the streets outside.” The scene was “expected to be unusable because of the poor light,” he wrote.

“Actually, to the astonishment of all concerned, it came out bathed in an exquisite luminosity,” Muggeridge said. “Some of Mother Teresa’s light had got into it.”

Toward the end of his life, Muggeridge reflected on meeting Mother Teresa. In his 1988 book Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim, he wrote

When I first set eyes on her, … I at once realized that I was in the presence of someone of unique quality. This was not due to … her shrewdness and quick understanding, though these are very marked; nor even to her manifest piety and true humility and ready laughter. There is a phrase in one of the psalms that always, for me, evokes her presence: “the beauty of holiness” — that special beauty, amounting to a kind of pervasive luminosity generated by a life dedicated wholly to loving God and His creation. This, I imagine, is what the halos in medieval paintings of saints were intended to convey….”

One of the few things I agree with the recent Pope on is his contention that we live, in his words, in “the throwaway society”. 

As one put it, Mother Teresa certainly did pick up the throwaways and brought them within the folds of Christ’s love….

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I remember well the words one of my own spiritual mentors shared with me: 

When we learn how to die, we learn how to live. 

When I think of the sacrifices someone like Mother Teresa made – the little deaths she seemingly endured in this world – that phrase takes on increased weight for me. 

I remember one of her actions particularly well. In the 1990’s she was involved in some convention about the well-being of children in Washington D.C., also attended by President Bill Clinton. When the topic of abortion came up, Mother Teresa looked everyone earnestly in the eye, and said, “Give them all to me”.

She could have taken care of a bunch of them, given the support she had gained for her work of compassion…

When I think of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, it is difficult for me – in spite of the late famous atheist Christopher Hitchens’ attempts to destroy her reputation – to not think of Mother Teresa…

Since I mentioned Hitchens here, I’ll just say that I read his awful book on Mother Theresa, The Missionary Position and so perhaps I should say a bit more. 

To get a sense of Hitchens’ overall posture here, in a debate with Dinesh D’Souza where D’Souza suggested that Mother Theresa did what she did for others out of love for God, Hitchens was disgusted by this. 

As one commenter who enjoyed Hitchen’s arguments and antics put it: “My favorite part [of the debate] was Hitchens standing the[re] with his drink in his hand snorting dismissive[ly] into the microphone while D’Souza was talking about Mother Theresa’s “love of Christ” for the suffering.” 

Hitchen’s argument was similar to Satan’s in the book of Job, even if Satan, unlike Hitchens, would not technically be an atheist. 

Satan told God that Job only served Him because He blessed him on earth.

Hitchens said that Mother Theresa only did good because she believed God – who Hitchens did not believe in – would reward her in the life to come. 

No, contra such ultimately childish argumentation such as Hitchen’s, one might say that Mother Theresa walked worthy indeed! – perhaps, it seems, even getting close to fulfilling that which Christ commanded the young lawyer in our Gospel reading to do… 

Her life, in fact, is in part a salutary refutation of the Belgian humanist and euthanasia doctor Jan Berheim, who spoke of “a philosophy of taking control of one’s own existence and improving the objective conditions for happiness. There is an arrow of evolution”, he said, “that goes toward ever more reducing of suffering and maximizing of enjoyment….” 

For Jan, this is all about us avoiding suffering, inconveniences, and increasingly exercising control over our own life and death….

No, again, contra such ultimately childish argumentation, one is hard-pressed to look at the writings, pictures, and films of Mother Teresa interacting with the poor of India and to think that she didn’t know that doing good – particularly by helping others with their most basic of needs and even entering into suffering with them – was certainly in one sense its own reward… 

And I personally admire her for what she said about the unborn who she was told were unwanted — and hence were slated for elimination, abortion… —  in a major public forum.

This woman called Mother, with the multitudinous resources she had been given by those wanting to support her good work at her disposal, looked her challengers in the eye (which I  believe included the American President) and said to all “Give them all to me…”

So she radiated joy, compassion, and conviction….

On the other hand, we do also hear about her struggles….

In her diaries, this indeed saintly woman of Calcutta India cries out: 

“I want God with all the power of my soul — and yet between us there is terrible separation.”  

Elsewhere, Mother Teresa wrote: 

“I want to love him as he has not been loved, and yet there is that separation, that terrible emptiness, that feeling of absence of God.”

Or even: 

“I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.”

Evidently, this kind of thing is not unknown among certain heroes of the church.  

Another Catholic man named “St. John of the Cross described [this dark night of the soul that] many saints have experienced – [seemingly] a form of suffering exemplified by Christ himself, when he cried out on the cross…” 

As one writer puts it: “In the striking words of [G.K.] Chesterton, this was when God himself seemed for an instant to be an atheist: ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’”

It certainly makes one wonder. 

About the book of Job and beyond….

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Why was Mother Teresa haunted by such thoughts? 

Why was someone who seemingly devoted the whole of her existence to the work of the Lord apparently so unsure of where she stood?

Even if many Lutherans would likely insist that this was because Mother Teresa was relying on her own works to be saved I do not know for sure – and indeed, knowing even the horrible suffering and angst our own Lord knew when He suffered on the cross for our own sins I would not venture to answer such a question rashly or definitively… – but I do know what a good Lutheran preacher would have said to her in her distress…

Riffing off of today’s Colossians reading, something like: 

“… [H]e has rescued you  from the dominion of darkness and brought you into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom you have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

This forgiveness is for you too. Christ forgives you all of your sins. Do not trust your feelings, but His word of peace to you…You are His… He will never abandon you. ” 

And these words would not just be for Mother Teresa…. 

Because she, for example – and not a lot of you other folks! – deserved it (while you do not)!

Of course not! None of us, not even Mother Teresa, deserve such a gift, even as He is eager to give it to us.

And to follow-up a bit more, maybe if we were given the chance to comfort Mother Teresa with the sweet suave of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we could have also talked about this question: 

How does a person know they are living a life worthy of the Lord? 

And, again, is this the same question as asking “How do I know that I am saved, that is, that I am at peace with God and will live with Him forever when I die?” 

The answer is that it could be the exact same question, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Because, of course, the Apostle Paul is in our Epistle reading encouraging we who are saved to walk worthy of the Lord… He is writing from the assumption that the Colossians already know forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus Christ! That they are secure in Him…

As an organization that two of my younger boys are involved with puts it the following way, explaining Colossians 1:10: 

“This struggle to walk worthy isn’t what saves us from God’s judgment – He’s already demonstrated His love toward us in providing a means of salvation through His grace – but we are called to live a life which demonstrates gratitude towards Him and shares His good news boldly with those who don’t have salvation (Ephesians 6:19; Mark 16:15; Rom 10:13-17).

So the ideals that we hold as our standard for “walking worthy” stem from learning all about God through His word. Walking worthy of those instructions comes from a proper sense of gratitude for His love, grace and mercy which has been demonstrated to us in the most precious of ways: the sacrifice of His only son on our behalf to save us from our sins…” (Trail life website)

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Back to the parable, which, on the face of it, might seem to suggest to us that our salvation is ultimately by our works, that it is our “walking worthy” that earns us eternal life and rescues us from God’s judgment!

Not at all! 

It does us well to remember that we are told that the lawyer both wanted to test Jesus and to justify himself

That is, of course, rather important. 

God does not want us to merit the Kingdom, after all, but to inherit it… because of His cross and resurrection…. by grace, through faith…  for good works. 

And so Jesus turns things around and tests this lawyer. 

We can’t miss two points about this Gospel reading. 

First of all, as Matt Perman puts it: 

“…the point of the [Bible] in teaching the Golden Rule was not simply, or even mainly, to point the way to right behavior [much less tell us how we could do good the right way or enough to be saved]. It was first of all to say: “Look, you don’t live this way. None of you. And that’s a big deal. Israel went into exile for this. So you need a savior. You need to be rescued from your sins, from your hypocrisy in treating others the way you precisely would not want to be treated if you were in their position.”

Second, we can’t miss the true point of the Good Samaritan parable – and I would like to think that even as there are many millions of Christians trapped in a Roman Catholic doctrinal system that would teach them otherwise – most any other Christian who has access to the Gospels would be able to see this too…

That is, Who, ultimately, is the Neighbor? 

Who is the Good Samaritan? 

Who is the One who comes to not snuff out the smoldering wickick and break the bruised reed? 

Who is the One who comes not to tie heavy burdens on our back but to remove them, and to invite us to work with Him in joy and not weariness or fear? 

Who is the one who right after this parable in the book of Luke extols not the one who is busy trying to serve Him, but the one who is sitting, resting, at His feet? 

Remember Mary and Martha? 

Yes, this grace is for you, for me, for all!

Whether we are Mother Theresa, Malcolm Muggeridge, Christopher Hitchens, Jan Berheim, or worse – we must see that our need, the need of us all save none, is for Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan who binds up the wounds of those maimed and robbed by the devil, and who, as God’s True Lamb, takes away the sin of the world!

Be healed, breath easy, be blessed and rest!

And then, indeed….

Walk worthy in the salvation that is yours in Christ Jesus! 

Amen.

With footnotes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/15nCIf_S8cnxRuLF5TQzjPhLLK_XhRXu4-47hzoIkApk/edit?usp=sharing

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Confessions of a Steven Paulson Fanboy

First of all, I know a lot of folks who know what I have written about Steven Paulson in the past probably just snorted out their coffee.

That said, it is all true. Read on if you doubt… 

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So, yesterday, I finally stopped re-tweeting this tweet every day: 

About time!

It is true that I have written many things criticizing Steven Paulson (do a search for Paulson on my blog). At the same time, it is also true, to say the least, that I am sympathetic with some of his emphases. 

For example, when 1517’s Caleb Keith tweeted this out a couple years ago: 

…we had a good exchange about it, publicly (check it out!) and privately. Even as I felt led to attack Steve Paulson two weeks later (info about this here), leading to Caleb blocking me, before that we had this private exchange about his tweet: 

Me: “Re: your tweet, that is the way I try to preach (I’m vicaring…now) — it comes out in my sermons more than my blogposts, because there I am always thinking more about the kind of thing you are saying in your tweet. If I get good material from commentaries to inspire me, I want it to be applied very personally right to each person, finally when it comes to announcing God’s forgiveness, absolution, peace.”

Caleb: “….I think this a rather important distinction in Lutheran preaching as Nestingen puts it you “hand over the goods” it’s not just about exhaling the text or pointing out there is law and Gospel but wielding them. It is in this way that we can say preaching delivers the promise of Christ like Baptism and Communion. Anyways glad to hear that the proclamation permeates your own thinking when it comes to delivering Christ and his promises to people. Though I know you have more reservations about Forde and Paulson than I do, this is at the heart of what they present.” 

Me: “Caleb — I have far more reservations about those men than you do, largely b/c of the concerns Montgomery expresses in the new [issue from] Lutheran Concerns [this]. Those views can’t not affect their views of law, which also will affect [their] view of gospel. As regards their powerful personal preaching, there are men who are vs. them who also do this very well as well (see Weedon, Petersen, others) That means, in my view, orthodox Lutheranism needs to up its game, with more sanctification, more existential and penetrating preaching, and the the richest gospel possible…. Pax.”

So this is one of the emphases of Steve Paulson that I agree with. I also believe, with him and Oswald Bayer, that Luther’s confrontation with Cardinal Cajetan was an absolutely critical moment in the Reformation. In addition to this, as I already mentioned, I have another bit to confess here: I have alluded to this before, but what is very hard about my opposition to Steve Paulson is that there is a bit of a love-hate thing going on here with me and his teaching. 

Now, I know Paulson’s teaching and style hold no appeal to many folks, even many highly intellectual folks. They find him confusing, even uninteresting, and ultimately not worth listening to. I, on the other hand, am drawn to it like a moth to the flames. Paulson is highly educated, knows his historical theology inside and out, is highly creative and sensitive to human nature, skewers contemporary philosophical outlooks (and ancient ones as needed), deftly alludes to and addresses our current cultural moment, and uses intense rhetoric which is clearly backed up with intense conviction and thought. In my mind, there is basically nothing not to like. 

I also think he sounds like a pretty decent human being – someone who realizes that actions speak louder than words, and that those who only speak of love sound like clanging gongs. 

And yet, at the same time, to my mind, all of this makes him all the more dangerous… not to the world, but to the word.

Why? Well, I’ve made my case quite fulsomely in the past, and even if I have had doubts about the vigor with which I made that case, I continue to believe that everything that I wrote is needed. 

If you are not familiar with what I have written, start here (probably the best thing I’ve written). 

All this said, I will confess that when Paulson is speaking about Christ and the forgiveness, life, and salvation that He brings, the man truly speaks to me. I can’t help wanting to be wrong about him. I can’t help wanting to be wrong about him about everything I have said. I have lost no number of online acquaintances and even friends because of my vigorous challenging of Paulson’s statements and the statements of others like him (like Gerhard Forde and other relatively “conservative” Lutheran scholars who fudge here and there on more classical views). Part of me wishes that I had no knowledge of the words he wrote in his 2011 book, Lutheran Theology, where he stated that Christ committed his own personal sin… (see here for more ; again, a follow-up, when doubt came…).

For if he had not written that book that said such things about Christ’s cry of dereliction, I would have had no concerns about the way he talks about things in the following talks:

 

And:

https://www.1517.org/podcasts/outlawgod/good-friday

Finally, after listening, re-listening, reflecting and praying, I don’t find anything objectionable in these talks, and must in the end say that they seem very edifying and encouraging and even helpful to me.

And yet, he also wrote the things he did in his 2011 book.

And he has never taken them back… nor tried to explain them in anything other than a superficial way (see his comments to Pastor Donofrio, prompted by my challenges, here). 

1517 doesn’t say anything definitive about this either. Not long ago, a man who follows me on Twitter gave me permission to share what 1517 told him. Here is what he said: 

“I submitted a question from [1517’s] contact form on their website…

1517’s response:

Note they can’t do a simple “we disagree with X-point”. I really am not a fan of a guy like Soren Kierkegaard, but one really appreciates his “Either/Or” here… a bit of clarity and simplicity please! Or Luther for that matter: he talks about asserting, and how Christians can’t not assert, but 1517 runs from that here, when I believe it’s needed the most.

We are left with the “he likes to challenge us” approach. And the “we didn’t publish this”…  

I have to ultimately agree with a fellow layperson, who put it this way: “For Paulson to claim that Jesus on the cross thought ‘I committed sin’ is not what Paul says in Corinthians. Jesus becoming sin is not the same as Jesus sinning. That isn’t difficult to differentiate.”

I guess he underestimates theological academics though. 

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Now, all of this said, I have nevertheless continued to think that Paulson is often untreated unfairly by some of his critics! 

For example, when David Scaer, in a recent CTQ book review article said that:

…I remembered hearing a couple prominent theologians saying that Paulson denied the atonement, and actually got upset!

Even if the atonement does not play the same exact role in Paulson’s theological approach as it might in some other Lutherans, why would that be bad? Someone like David Scaer, I thought, could appreciate this! After all, he appreciated Robert Preus recognizing the value of his own “from below” approach regarding Christology compared with his own “from above” approach! Why couldn’t other theologians put the best construction on Dr. Paulson’s theology here, simply saying that Paulson and Forde are not necessarily the same? Why could they not see that Paulson did not deny the atonement and that it actually played an important role in his theology – even if where it was located in his theology was different? Paulson, after all, is not wrong to want to highlight the critical nature of proclamation: how the spoken word is central to all of life, here and in the life to come! 

Yes, I knew that other prominent theologians I have heard have also said that Paulson, like Gerhard Forde before him, in the end actually denied the atonement. I, however, had read a lot of Paulson and listened to a lot of Paulson and had never detected this….

Then, however, a Paulson fan on Twitter put out a statement from his book The Outlaw God that I appeared to have missed, or at least not thought of sufficiently….

(https://twitter.com/PsBruceFlanagan/status/1526482798122455040)

To this I asked: 

“So did Jesus take our well-deserved punishment or not?

I think that offends even more… God does not disregard the law when He forgives sins. If He were disregarding the law, there would be nothing to forgive.”

The man replied “That’s why he discards it because all the sin is on Him and forgiven, no more accusation, sweet silence and freedom,” I said all of the following, in that last part finally remembering how I had ended probably my best article challenging Paulson: 

And so this tweet that I have been re-tweeting for the past year now takes on new significance for me… And I am thinking that I need to listen even more carefully, and that theologians like Dr. David Scaer can see better than I can what is really going on.

Finally, I need to confess that my continuing to listen to (and even enjoy listening to!) Dr. Paulson probably is not helping matters at all… So, after reading old commentators on Romans 16:17 this morning, I am realizing it is probably best if I avoid listening to or reading anything that Steven Paulson says.

I do think that heavier hitters need to tackle this though – that is, Paulson on the atonement… I am hoping that they will get in the fight, because I think its best if I now sit this one out.

FIN

*Interestingly, the first part of this tweet, regarding how people are not offended by the idea of God “expect[ing] us to fulfill the law with the help of grace” is something I happened to tweet about yesterday as well: 

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Will You Plow Ahead by God’s Grace?

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Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’

–Luke 9:62

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Lately, I have been working through a book written by a mid-nineteenth century Danish philosopher and Christian. 

The book is called Attack Upon Christendom by Soren Kierkegaard, and it, I believe, was his final work before he died at the young age of 42.

Maybe you have heard a bit about Mr. Kierkegaard. To be sure, he was quite the character. Engaged to his sweetheart earlier on in life, he cut off the relationship because he did not feel that by marrying he could be faithful to himself or his philosophy…

So the book. It is largely – so far at least as I’m still reading it – a collection of articles that he got published in a popular Danish political magazine, the Fatherland. 

In it, he attacks the state church in Denmark, claiming that this church knew nothing about the cross, agony, suffering, crucifying the flesh, suffering for doctrine, or the poverty that Christ required… 

There was no striving to really be Christian, Kierkegaard said! “Official Christianity” was not Christianity at all, he accused, but rather its opposite! 

The passion of God’s Kingdom, Kiekegaard insisted, is to NOT be of this world. 

The Danish church, with its “royal commission” showed the exact opposite. 

The clergy were unwilling to be salt in the world and to be sacrificed like their Lord. In fact, all 1,000 Christian officials were actually against Christianity!

Why? Because they were those who had presided over the death of the Christian church as everyone simply just assumed that they were Christian. These clergy were spiritually asleep even as they fully enjoyed the salaries and privileges associated with being state officials…

…content to “make a living” by in effect wearing the skin of what I can only assume Kierkegaard believed to have been the formerly faithful… or relatively faithful church…

Mockingly, he said that if one could convert Kings to Christianity, monetary advantage (“pecuniary advantage”), material power, and delicate refinement – silk, velvet, long robes – could be theirs!

So these men, he claimed, were hardly “witnesses to the truth,” but rather were a part of an institution that had basically had its heart and soul carved out of it…

Kierkegaard’s relentless accusations leave us with the impression that there were very few true Christians in Denmark…

He, of course… in spite of all of his own doubts… considered himself to be one of these… a “Knight of Faith”! 

Which, of course, made it all the more shocking and scandalous when he went so far to say that true Christians should no longer attend the worship services of this state church…

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Whatever you finally think of ideas from a man like Soren Kierkegaard he certainly gives us a lot to think about! 

I could not help but think, in fact, about some of his hard words when I read the last part of our Gospel reading for this morning, particularly as Jesus responds to two men who say they want to follow Him, and after He asks another to do the same….

I read a comment on the words “Lord, I will follow you” in a non-Lutheran book, The [Eastern] Orthodox Study Bible. 

It said, matter of factly, this: 

“There is a cost to discipleship. Jesus talks of three such costs:

  1. Provision for personal security does not mix with true discipleship. The disciple will be no more secure than the Teacher. If the Teacher has nowhere to lay His head (v. 58), neither will the disciple. 
  2. Discipleship demands singular commitment to the Kingdom of God. A disciple must be willing to let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead (v. 60).
  3. Discipleship does not look back to reconsider, or operate by delayed response. It means taking hold of the commission given by Christ and moving forward” (OSB, 163).”

Wow. 

Given Jesus’ responses, this sounds right, doesn’t it?

Where are we with all of this? Where are we with all of this? 

Well, before we get to that, let me say some things Soren Kierkegaard might not like, exploring a bit more each one of these points… trying to put all of Jesus’s jolting words into a wider frame and context…

First of all, we have to admit that in our text for today… because of our incomplete knowledge… there are likely some wider cultural nuances that we do not fully understand here. 

So for instance, while I am convinced that some of what Soren Kierkegaard said was unhelpful and even very wrong I need to admit that I know little about just what the Danish church of his day was really like (I mean, I can’t help but think it probably did have really good biblical words in its liturgy and hymns)…. 

And so, just like we probably don’t have a real handle on what things were like in Kierkegaard’s day, we don’t know as much as we could or even should about Jesus’s day as well. 

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Let’s look at point number 1 from this study Bible: “Provision for personal security does not mix with true discipleship… If the Teacher has nowhere to lay His head (v. 58), neither will the disciple.” 

This study Bible note could be taken to mean that a person should have absolutely no concern for personal security. 

Well, people like the commentator Ken Bailey, who has taught the Bible in the contemporary Middle East where he also lived for many years, talks about how in this text, “foxes” may refer to Herod’s family and “birds” to the Gentiles, particularly the Romans, whose symbol was the eagle. 

In this interpretation, Jesus is asking the first would-be follower if he really wants to join the ranks of those who are without worldly power (Wendt, Parables of Jesus). 

Whether this is the case or not, I think what the study Bible means to say, more specifically, is that concern for personal security should not be at the top of the disciple’s list – but rather “restless devotion” to the Kingdom of God (Fraanzman, CSSC. 23). 

In other words, personal security is not their primary concern nor a priority, even if it must be addressed.

Here, we might think about the Apostle Paul’s statement that “we brought nothing into the world, so we cannot carry anything out of it.” He goes on to talk not only about how if he and other preachers of the Gospel have food and covering they will be content with that (I Tim. 6:8), but also, in the book of Philippians, he goes so far to say: 

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

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Regarding the point about the dead burying their own dead meaning letting the spiritually dead bury the physically dead…this one is certainly a zinger!

Again, Ken Bailey offers his cultural commentary based on his knowledge of today’s Middle East. He says the man here Jesus asks to follow Him was most likely wanting to abide by Middle Eastern standards of filial piety – meaning that he was going to wait to follow Jesus until after his father died… 

An argument here is that if his father was dying or already dead after all, wouldn’t he be at home right now, taking care of family affairs? So, in other words, he was not dead yet, and the delay might be many, many years…

Once again, in any case the main point Jesus seems to be making is that those burying the dead need to understand that the Kingdom of God is even more important than honoring those who have fallen in the fallen world. 

With the coming of Christ, something new and better, something absolutely death-destroying is coming and all of us should want to be a part of this! 

Should we ultimately be concerned to bury the dead or, rather, raise the dead? (Jon McNeill, Hard Sayings of the Bible, 464). 

Or as the Lutheran theologian Martin Fraanzman put it “with Him is life, the only life in a world of the dead…” 

Finally, the point about delayed response not being an option is certainly true, even if we might wince or worse at Jesus’ insistence that a man saying he wants to follow him not say goodbye to his loved ones….

So what about this man? Bailey, again, says that it is possible that he might mean that he needs to first get permission from his family, particularly his father… 

Evidently, even today in the Middle East, an engineer of 40 years of age will travel from his large city to his village birthplace to get his father’s permission – basically as a formality but still as a sign of respect – before undertaking foreign travel, or before some other job change or business venture…. (Wendt, Parables of Jesus

Whatever the case may be, it is of course likely that in going back to say good-bye to one’s family one might find one’s self tempted to not follow Jesus after all…

And as the Lutheran Study Bible puts it, dealing with the plow imagery…

“It took one’s full attention to hold and press down on a plow with one hand as it cut though the earth. The plowman’s other hand held a goad for the animal pulling the plow”. 

So here, I suppose, the hope would be that every family member would see and understand that not only some of us but all of us must take Jesus’ mission seriously, realizing that nothing is more important than the Kingdom of God and His Gospel. 

That is, the good news of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension

…the only thing that brings everlasting hope to the world!

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Now, I think that kind of information is helpful….

Even as I imagine that someone like Soren Kierkegaard might say that, perhaps a bit like the 19th century Danish church, it seems to domesticate Jesus a bit…  

En route to creating a complacent church…

Well, and if he would be inclined to say this, I think I’d have to disagree overall… and double down. 

Saying a bit more about necessary context in light of the whole of the Scriptures…  

For example, even if Jesus does command His disciples to “count the cost” of downplaying personal security – and to embrace practices that downplay our worldly attachments – we must nevertheless be wise… 

The book of Proverbs, after all, has much to say about issues surrounding property and money. It even tells us that a good man leaves an inheritance not only for his children, but his children’s children – as Soren Kierkegaard’s father did for him and perhaps beyond!

And the Apostle Paul also does not contradict Jesus when he speaks about how ministers are worthy of their wages, how believers who do not take care of their own family are worse than pagans or, also, when he says to the Thessalonian congregation to be – gasp! – “respectable”…: 

“…we urge you, brothers and sisters, to [love one another] more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody….”

And the Apostle Paul also does not denigrate the Apostle Peter – who was married, appeared to have had a thriving fishing business, and owned his own home in Capernaum (see Matthew 8:14-16) – when he says in I Corinthians 7 that he wishes all men were like him… that is, 

not tied down to the affairs of this world[!]…

not needing to have their attention divided between family on the one hand and the Kingdom of God on the other[!]…

And let’s also keep in mind that even if, somehow, someway, Jesus Christ did not have anywhere to lay his head we learn from the book of Luke that His ministry was in part supported by wealthy women (see Luke 8:1-3) and also that His disciple John at least had a home that he could take Jesus’ mother into following his Lord’s death on the cross (also see Acts 12, where we see the early disciples retained property).

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So… have I domesticated Jesus here? 

Set up a situation where radical challenge can’t be heard and complacency must reign?

Should I be warned that I have tried to remove all the offense of the passages like from our Gospel reading? 

If so, I really think I’d appreciate the warning… the concern… but then would also offer my own warning that we can’t be like Martin Luther’s proverbial drunk man who falls off of one side of a horse only to get back on and fall off the other….

A man like Kierkegaard wanted to be a devout Lutheran, Christian, and he strove to lead a higher and better life – but I sometimes get the impression he forgot some fundamentals as well… 

I can’t help but wonder what he might have thought of the 16th c. reformer Martin Luther’s words in His Large Catechism regarding the:

“…cursed presumption of those desperate saints who dare to invent a higher and better life and estate than the Ten Commandments teach, pretending (as we have said) that this is an ordinary life for the common man, but that theirs is for saints and perfect ones. And the miserable blind people do not see that no man can get so far as to keep one of the Ten Commandments as it should be kept, but both the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer must come to our aid (as we shall hear), by which that [power and strength to keep the commandments] is sought and prayed for and received continually.”

Again, Jesus’ words in our Gospel reading are arresting. 

It is true that we must not attempt to shave off the edges of Jesus’ words…

At the same time we must also not overstate what He, in fact, finally wants us to conclude, to learn….

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So, with all of this said, do these not remain, do they not continue to be… very difficult passages?!

They do – and we might even feel offended…

Still, again, all of us must take Jesus’ mission seriously, realizing that nothing is more important than the Kingdom of God and His Gospel. 

For did He not come, after all, to reverse the curse? 

To bring the new heavens and earth? 

To destroy the devil’s work on the cross? 

Is this not why He sets His face like flint towards Jerusalem in our reading? 

And does He not now – by His Holy Spirit – involve all of us in His work?

What battle does not need fully committed soldiers?

And the call that Christ makes is certainly of even greater importance than Elijah’s calling of Elisha we heard about in the Old Testament reading this morning! 

Do we not see how the heightened need is emphasized in Jesus’ arresting words today?! 

And especially now – in these last days when God has poured out His Spirit on His church after Christ’s death and resurrection – the times are becoming increasingly perilous for we who believe! 

The Apostle Paul’s words in I Corinthians 7 about our living in the last days have always been timely and relevant – even if we haven’t perceived this – but it is now, for those with eyes to see, becoming increasingly obvious. 

I mentioned this earlier… Again, in this chapter, he talks about faithful servants who are not encumbered… weighed down… by the “affairs of this world” and who can give “undivided devotion to the Lord…” to His work. 

For this reason, he urges those who can do so – who are not consumed by a passionate “burning” or desire – to abstain from marriage to give time to this battle. 

Even if those with the gift of celibacy end up being relatively few, one can fully understand this need Paul speaks to!

Jesus does, in fact, call all to follow Him and to carry their cross. 

To not be those who give in to complacency! 

To not be those who would attempt to domesticate the Lion of Judah!

To realize that if the world hated the Teacher, and caused Him to suffer, it will do the same to His disciples! 

The thing is, He knew where each one of these people He responded to were at personally…  

He knew what they were thinking… 

What claimed their hearts and attention…  

He knows where each of us is at as well!… 

And He does not call each and every one of us the same way…

God’s word in each instant to Nicodemus, to the rich young ruler, to the Pharisees He ate with (Luke 14), to each of the disciples, and to the Philippian jailer through the Apostle Paul all take different forms. 

And so the way He gets us to where He wants us to be…

…the way He helps us to see what He wants us to see

 …and to help us strive for what He wants us to strive… 

…will vary.

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Again, these are, these remain, very difficult passages…

We, with Kierkegaard, know that the church has often become corrupted by worldliness… 

And I trust we see the problems in our own individual hearts as well!

How does this happen? 

How do we not only not grow, but diminish?

I think “What kind of disciple am I? What kind of disciple could I be, is He calling me to be?” are the questions Jesus means us to be asking in our text today…. 

How would the Lord get us to not only understand why He says what He does but also live as He desires? 

Two things come to mind:

First, before anything else, God chooses us by grace, through faith – inviting us to His wedding feast! He desires we believe His words of sheer grace to us like a simple child would….

Second, He means for us to grow in faith and mature, to increasingly become the kinds of persons for whom hard words like His do not frighten us or make us sad, but rather energize us and fill us with exhilaration, making our daily vocations not a hum-drum thing that we must get through… but helping us to imagine the possibilities about just how we, in our various stations, might help His Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven….

So, I think, finally, in the end, this is rather simple. 

It involves us meeting Jesus, His looking us in the eye, His speaking both hard and faith-creating words to us, and we saying “Amen”….

What do I mean? 

Well, again, let’s go back to Luther, as he explains the Christian catechism. By “catechism” I mean not so much what he wrote, but what things like the 10 commandments and Creed say – and what these clear words reveal and give us…

Luther begins by extolling the 10 commandments, pointing out how they, when taken seriously, will convince us of our need for God and His grace. 

The 10 commandments show us our disease! Deep down we are idolaters, blasphemers, rebels, thieves, adulterers, murderers, liars, and coveters!

We are not spared pain here! These commandments show us what we really look like in the mirror! 

Indeed, they always, to one extent or another, reveal our need for Jesus, who we then hear about in the Creed… (SOS! – shows our sins – so God can show us our Savior… SOS, again!)

Luther explains this in his Large Catechism

“Thus far we have heard the first part of Christian doctrine, [the Ten Commandments,] in which we have seen all that God wishes us to do or to leave undone. Now, there properly follows the Creed, which sets forth to us everything that we must expect and receive from God, and, to state it quite briefly, teaches us to know Him fully. And this is intended to help us do that which according to the Ten Commandments we ought to do. For… they are set so high that all human ability is far too feeble and weak to [attain to or] keep them. Therefore it is as necessary to learn [the Creed] as the [Ten Commandments] in order that we may know how to attain thereto, whence and whereby to obtain such power. For if we could by our own powers keep the Ten Commandments as they are to be kept, we would need nothing further, neither the Creed nor the Lord’s Prayer.”

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In the end, I think that a man like Soren Kierkegaard was very right and also that he was very wrong…

In advising Christians to stay away from the only church they knew, he was making a terrible mistake! – ultimately advising people to stay away from God’s gifts!

The Old Testament prophets certainly showed us that God’s servants in His institutions could become corrupt, but at the same time, it was in the worship services – the divine service – where God provided the sacrifices for His people…

And for us, it is where the fruits of the Lamb of God’s sacrifice for us are given – even if by imperfect or even corrupt ministers!

Even when things go very wrong with the church’s clergy, we still have God’s promises that He serves us in His Word and the gifts like confession and absolution, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper that He instituted for our encouragement and comfort. 

How does God’s Kingdom come among us? 

As Luther said, in his explanation of the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer in the Small Catechism

“Thy Kingdom Come.” 

“What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.

How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”

And this kingdom always comes anew in the gracious words of God we hear in this place, in the readings, in the prayers, in the hymns, in the sermon, in the benediction, in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper!

The Bible says that an earthly inheritance is important, but this is the ultimate, the eternal, inheritance! 

God forbid you neglect these things! 

Don’t let your children and grandchildren neglect these things!

There is a true spiritual war going on! A war that would utterly corrupt your soul and pull you away from the only Life in a Sea of Death. 

But corruption within the church itself will also never negate the real gifts God gives to His people!

And so, may the Holy Spirit give us all those gifts deep in our souls!

May these things be true of us, and for us and to us – each and every one of us! – more and more and more so, until our Lord returns.

Amen

With footnotes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BwWWUue1ISS2slDmnDtQFqg0fdgDfnmpTqOwBiq12fk/edit?usp=sharing

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

Meeting the Eternal Wisdom of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Human Flesh

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“I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge…”

–John 8:49b-50

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What do you know about the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses? Have you ever had one come to your door?

In the past, when I felt like I had a couple hours to burn, I’ve invited them into my house or gone outside to talk with them.  

Because, you see, someone needs to tell them the truth about who Jesus is!

Many people often believe that these folks pretty much believe what we Christians do. They do, after all, tend to be people who are quite devoted to “conservative principles”, to living well, to virtue! 

And yet, both of these groups, for example, do not believe that Jesus is God, but “a god”! A “demigod” of sorts….

And the Mormons also ultimately teach that he is a god like you can become a god too… 

When they talk about Jesus you might think they are talking about your Jesus but what they cannot abide – what they will not abide – is the fact that there is a distinction between the Creator of all things and His creatures and that the Son of God is in the former category, not the latter. 

He is not a creature, but He is the Creator. Like the Father is the Most High God, the Son is the Most High God as well, God the Son.

And all of this kind of thing is at the heart of our Old Testament reading this morning from the book of Proverbs! 

Starting in the 4th century, 1700 years ago, this reading from the book of Proverbs has been controversial over the years, but it shouldn’t have been. 

For it is about the Wisdom that existed with God from before the creation of the world, and that brings order out of chaos, and this should sound familiar to us (think, for example, of Genesis 1 and Jonn 1…) 

Even though chapter 8 of Proverbs uses the literary technique of personification – making wisdom into Lady Wisdom and contrasting her with Woman Folly, the seductive woman spoken of in Proverbs 7 – this creative way of presenting wisdom ultimately gives way to actual  fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

In sum, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are being encouraged by Solomon in Proverbs to flee the path that leads to death and to instead marry wisdom… to have a relationship with wisdom…. 

And now, in light of the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh in history, we know that the ultimate way this happens is by knowing the Holy One, the Son of God, who is also referred to as the Logos of God, or Word of God, or Reason of God – and the Wisdom of God as well (I Cor. 1, see also Colossians 2)!  

We should not lose sleep over this passage from Proverbs, wondering why the wisdom of God, ultimately revealed as Jesus Christ, is personified here as a woman. It is a literary allusion that probably also has to do with the fact that the Hebrew word for wisdom is a feminine noun…

What we should be concerned about are readings of the book of Proverbs that miss the fact that wisdom is ultimately about heeding the voice of God, believing in His Word, and trusting Him for forgiveness, life, and salvation. 

If you go to the website of the Mormons, “the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints”, you will read this about wisdom in Proverbs: 

“Like all Hebrew intellectual virtues, wisdom … is intensely practical, not theoretical. Basically, wisdom is the art of being successful, of forming the correct plan to gain the desired results. Its seat is the heart, the centre of moral and intellectual decision [see 1 Kings 3:9, 12].” (J. D. Douglas, ed., The New Bible Dictionary, s.v. “wisdom.”)

This is called missing the heart of the issue.  

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And God, really, is to be believed for His own sake. His words about who He is believed for His own sake. His commands followed and promises trusted for His own sake. This is how we honor Him…

And, shockingly, passages like Luke 11 actually tell us that it was the wisdom of God that knew full well the Old Testament prophets would not to prosper in this life, but suffer instead!…

So, these Mormons, God bless them, need to hear a hard word. 

Like the Athanasian Creed, which many good Lutheran churches are confessing this Trinity Sunday, says: 

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith [catholic here should be understood as “universal”]. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal…”

Yes, folks like the Mormons might strike us as pretty moral people… 

But in their words and deeds their highest “prophets” do not give evidence that they are in the truth, and, as the Athanasian creed goes on to say, they “shall give an account for their own works…” 

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What are some things that people like the Mormons need to begin to learn, and that we need to always learn better?

I think there are three key truths that we should focus on today, on this Trinity Sunday…: 

First of all, Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, 100% God and 100% man. 

Second, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit perfectly reveal to us what it means to faithfully follow God’s commands, even if it appears to the world that this ends in utter failure. 

Finally, all of this should drive us to reflect on the ultimate nature of the Triune God as love. 

As regards the first truth, Jesus Christ is God in human flesh, we see this today in our Gospel reading. One of the most important statements in the whole of the New Testament I believe is found at the end of the reading: 

“‘Very truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’ At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.”

The Jews in our reading picked up stones to throw at and kill Jesus because they knew exactly what He was saying here: He was saying that He is God!

How? Because God revealed to Abraham that His name was “Yahweh”, that is “I am”. “I am who I am,” he said (Exodus 3:14). When Jesus says “I am” of Himself, He is clearly meaning to share that He in fact did not come after Abraham and that He not only was before Abraham, but that He was and is Abraham’s God. 

Second, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit perfectly reveal to us what it means to faithfully follow God’s commands, even if it appears to the world that this ends in failure.

When the so-called “Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day saints” speaks of the divine wisdom contained in God’s commands, they focus on the aspect of success in this life. 

Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit however, reveal to us that what the world considers success and what God considers success are two very different things. 

For the Christian, we succeed not when we obtain material blessings and rewards – which yes, will generally happen as well when God’s commandments are respected – but when we grow in faithfulness to God, increasingly trusting our Lord’s promises and then going on to fulfil God’s commandments. 

These are summed up in loving God with our whole heart, soul, strength and mind and loving our neighbor as ourselves (see Romans 8:4).

We can do this because Jesus Christ fulfilled the law on our behalf, doing what sinners cannot do. And so we are free to follow Him not to be saved, by climbing a ladder to heaven or something like this… but because in Him we are saved and know true love…. 

Christ teaches us the commandments by His words and He shows us more deeply what He means by His deeds. He “embodies” things perfectly for us. 

In like fashion, the Holy Spirit reminds us of what we already know in embryonic form as followers of Jesus Christ – reminding us of what Jesus teaches us about who God is and what God commands and promises by His words and example. 

And I was reminded of all of this by my own pastor last week. In His sermon He used a couple illustrations about the Holy Spirit that will stick with me…

[story about how as a boy my pastor learned a little bit by watching his friend be coached in tennis, but his friend actually had a personal coach… the Holy Spirit is like our personal trainer]

And…

[story about how my pastor had a piano teacher who was really good at piano and knew her stuff, but he could not focus when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw her writing down things whenever he made a mistake… the Holy Spirit is not like this either, but intelligently and patiently guides us…]

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So Jesus and the Holy Spirit teach us to realize and see what it means to love.

And this then brings us to our third point that folks like the Mormons need to begin to realize and that we need to more deeply realize: 

All of this should drive us to reflect on the ultimate nature of the Triune God as love. 

Take some of the other things that Jesus says about Himself in our Gospel reading for today…

To the Jews in our Gospel text Jesus says 

“I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge…” 

Shortly after this Jesus says 

“If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me….”

In his Large Catechism, explaining the command to honor one’s father and mother, Martin Luther said this: 

“…it is a far higher thing to honor than to love one, inasmuch as it comprehends not only love, but also modesty, humility, and deference as to a majesty there hidden, and requires not only that they be addressed kindly and with reverence, but, most of all, that both in heart and with the body we so act as to show that we esteem them very highly, and that, next to God, we regard them as the very highest. For one whom we are to honor from the heart we must truly regard as high and great…”

Even if it is not the same as it is with us, can anyone doubt that Jesus Christ honors His Father in heaven?

And while the Son of God does this according to His human nature, we also know that the Son of God is eternally begotten of the Father – and He is eternally the Son who honors the Father! 

And before the foundation of the world – before Adam and Eve had sinned and thrown the world into chaos and disintegration and death and even before time began – the Father determined that the Son of God would be sent into the world to save the world. 

And this the Son, who is the very Word of the Father, gladly embraced! 

As the Father sent the Son, the Son gladly sent Himself as well, honoring the Father who begat Him, the Father who, mysteriously and wondrously, was the Source… the Origin… the Beginning… of all that is, in heaven and on earth, both created and uncreated…!

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Here, some of us might start wondering though: even if all three persons are God is there nevertheless a kind of “hierarchy” in the Trinity?

In truth, I do not know. I know that man needs hierarchy and that we see all kinds of indications that there is hierarchy in heaven. 

In seeming contrast to any thoughts about “hierarchy” though, we could also mention that Jesus teaches us that the disciples were all brothers, that the church’s rulers would not be like those of the world who lorded it over their subjects, and that “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first”….

I simply do not know if there is something we could call “hierarchy” in the Trinity… I believe in large part this is mysterious and difficult to understand…

What I do know is that there is neither any coercion or unwillingness in the Trinity, for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equally God, one in will, action, power, and glory!

As a friend put it to me “[t]he reality of [man’s] sin makes us much more familiar with compliance than obedience, [which is from the heart and not just a matter of external conformity,] but that’s not exactly an issue in the Godhead.”

So what can we say with certainty about this question – regarding hierarchy…?

We can say that as the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, exists in itself it is love, and that matters of honor always go hand in hand with love.

And we can also say that we creatures, even we who are Christians, are not this insofar as we are sinful men and women, and need His help…

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It is important that we human creatures confess what the Athanasian Creed says: “the deity[, or Godhood,] of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty…”

Also that “in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal….” 

And yet – again… we must nevertheless remember that there is an order in the Trinity, an “order of flow” in the Trinity perhaps with the Father listed as first, then the Son, and then the Spirit – and yet these three Persons do not have any sin problems like we who abuse authority, for instance, and are in no need of confessing those bits from the Athanasian Creed or exhorting One Another to do the same!

You see, it is we who are the problem here. 

So great is our wickedness, for example, that we need to be told not only that it is enough for earthly servants to become like their masters (Matt 10:25), but even admonished to not seek our own glory (John 8:50, 54) and to rather consider others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3)! 

The Triune God, on the other hand, being love, simply is this way

For the Father, this can be seen as He delights in His Son.

For the Son, this can be seen as He embraces the fullness of love and harmony which originates from the Father.

And the Spirit can be seen to exult in and proclaim this blessed eternal relationality that always bears good fruit…

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This is the great Triune God… 

So what, ultimately, is wisdom?

Fearing and knowing God! Life is about knowing Wisdom, knowing God in the whole truth and nothing but the truth!

Ultimately, nothing can be more practical than that!

Again, let Jeremiah 9:23-24 fire up your imagination and strengthen your resolve!

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom

    or the strong boast of their strength

    or the rich boast of their riches,

but let the one who boasts boast about this:

    that they have the understanding to know me,

that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,

    justice and righteousness on earth,

    for in these I delight,’

declares the Lord.”

So… how do we do that? How to reach this goal of knowing well the great Triune God?

First and foremost, by knowing the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who shows us the face of God in our own human flesh!

And by getting to know Him even better than we now do! 

For remember, He is the not the One who – as the NIV translation Proverbs suggested today – was “made” or “formed”… but rather was established, appointed, ordained…. (a better translation…)

For as the book of John tells us, in the beginning, the Word was with God and the Word was God!    

This man Jesus Christ is the God-Man. Fully God, He is not so much a creature but your Creator who, at a particular point in time, took on a human, or created nature! 

And what a good God He is!

In Proverbs 8, we heard the Holy Spirit sing that “Wisdom was constantly at his [Father’s] side… and… was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in [the Father’s] presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.”

Again, this is our God! Sit at His feet brothers and sisters! The Lord Jesus, in particular, invites you!

Then what about the Father and the Holy Spirit? 

Won’t they get jealous if we fixate on Jesus? 

Not at all, for, ever eager to honor the other, they are God and not man!

Lutherans in particular are often accused of not speaking enough about the Holy Spirit, but consider what happened on Pentecost!

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, preached about Jesus…. 

The Holy Spirit is always pointing and leading people to Jesus!

This is why, in our Acts reading, Peter preaches like this:

“…let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

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Saints who are baptized, set apart for God and His work –  set your hearts and minds on the things above; by that I mean our great and glorious Triune God, the lover of mankind!

The Son of God is truly God, for He says to us “I am”, just as God did in the Old Testament! 

And it is God the Son – this second person of the Trinity – who God the Father decided before the world began would become man, taking on our flesh… not only becoming one of us, but becoming the lowest among us…

As the book of Philippians tells us, He did not consider the equality He had with His Father something to be grasped, but took on the form of a servant or slave – dying a criminal’s death on the cross because of the evils we had done…  

The wages of our sin was our death, but our sin became His death…

And yet, death could not hold Him, and the man Jesus Christ, that is, the Son of God according to His human nature, was made Lord and Messiah over this fallen world!

And because of this divine plan executed in history – because, as we heard Peter say in our Acts reading, “[t]his man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge – we have salvation… eternal life in Him!

Foolishness? 

Well, yes. 

Remember our Psalm for today?: 

“Through the praise of children and infants

    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,

    to silence the foe and the avenger…”

Again – this crucified Christ, this man Jesus Christ, has been raised from the dead! 

Vindicated by the Father as the King of this world, before the eyes of the world – the God-Man indeed! – this means that you and I and all people have hope! 

I can’t sum up things up better than Martin Luther, speaking about the Triune God’s actions in light of our fallen, our sinful condition… He shares this encouraging message to all of us in his great hymn “Dear Christians, One and All Rejoice”: 

He spoke to his belovèd Son:

“It’s time to have compassion.

Then go, bright jewel of my crown,

and bring to all salvation.

From sin and sorrow set them free;

slay bitter death for them that they

may live with you forever.”

The Son obeyed his Father’s will,

was born of virgin mother,

and, God’s good pleasure to fulfill,

he came to be my brother.

No garb of pomp or pow’r he wore;

a servant’s form like mine he bore

to lead the devil captive.

Amen. 

With footnotes: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1T8XF96SI313ySVU0zOJJeq-RWP6dHmoVOCbr4wcvAVA/edit?usp=sharing

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2022 in Uncategorized