Thursday, April 28, 2011

Drought or Flood?

Will the rain every stop? I am sure that is the question we are all asking these days. From the farmers among us who can’t get out into their fields until they dry out to the weekend warrior who wants to cut his grass, to the little child who would just like to go out and ride her bicycle, I am sure that all of us are looking for a break in the clouds and fewer mud puddles.
Yet, while at this moment we are wishing for a hiatus from the rain, the time might soon come when we will be wishing for more. Often it happens that as the summer months drag on, the heat of the summer months dries out the ground and dries up all the water. It can happen that the muddied earth becomes dry and dusty and cracked. In those moments we pray for what we feel at this moment is more than enough.
If there is one lesson we should learn from history, it ought to be that God send His Word often the same way he sends the rain. God gives His Word and grace in torrential downpours that drench us and soak us through, not to bone but to our very soul, with His living waters. That Word refreshes us, causes us to grown in faith and life, it blesses us and strengthens us for our battles with sin and Satan. Yet foolishly sinful hearted human beings often despise this Word of God, feel like we have had our fill of it, and convince ourselves we could get by without it.
Dr. Martin Luther put it this way. “God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been. It has been with the Jews, but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have nothing. Paul brought it to the Greeks; but again when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have [Islam]. Rome and the Latins also had it; but when it’s gone, it’s gone, and now they have the pope. And you Germans need not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay. Therefore, seize it and hold it fast, whoever can; for lazy hands are bound to have a lean year.” [American Edition, 45:353]
Luther was warning the German churches that they take hold of the Word while it was present. When sinful hearts despise that Word, God takes it away and when it’s gone it’s gone. Consider his example of the Jews. They had the Christ, the apostles, Pentecost, the Holy Spirit and the Church. Yet they denied Christ, despised the Word and they have become for the most part and unbelieving people. Consider the Germans. The Lord blessed them with the Reformation. They made a staunch and soled confession of faith at Augsburg. They enjoyed a period of vibrant growth as they held tightly to the faith that they fought for. Yet they eventually gave in to rationalism and in modern times the German church is largely a secular church. The showers came. The Word of God poured down upon the people. They were refreshed and enlightened with faith. They despised that Word and now the Lord has taken it away. (Isaiah 5:1-7, Hebrews 6:1-7)
Our own American churches are following that identical pattern. Consider the mainline denominations. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church USA, they were once vibrant worshipping Christian communities. They have despised God’s Word and laid it aside to subject it to academic scrutiny. Those Churches are withering in the drought. Consider the large mega churches. Instead of preaching the Word of God and Christ crucified they preach pop psychology and self-fulfillment. The world loves these messages and so they have numbers and money and fancy buildings. They do not preach the Word of God. Instead they are like tumble weeds that are blown the direction of the latest fad. (Psalm 1:4) The Church in America has despised the Word of God. His clouds of Grace are beginning to break and the heat of his wrath may soon dry up what remains of his grace.
The question for you to answer, St Paul Chuckery is this: will you go the way of the Jews, the Germans, and follow the footsteps of the churches that remain around you? You have God’s Word. Will you despise that Word so that God takes it away?
Only this past Sunday we were gathered together around God’s gifts of Word and Sacrament to be fed by God for faith and life. Just as your backyard is drenched and soaked with rain, so are you drenched and soaked with God’s Word and Grace. It has puddled up around you so that you have it in plenty. Yet do you despise that Word?
Our catechism teaches us that we ought not “despise preaching and His Word but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” (Explanation to the 3rd Commandment) Have you received God’s Word and grace as that thing that is the most important? Are there other areas of life or even of the church that you have come to see as more necessary to you and your existence beside the Word? What is it that has replaced that Word? Sleep? Recreation? Sports? Money? How to run the church? That person who sits in the pew beside you? There are lots of things that Satan would use to distract us from God’s Word and Grace. (Matthew 13: 18-19) Do not be lead into that temptation. See the warning. Repent and receive God’s grace.
And God gives that grace in plenty. (John 1:16) Just as the rains fall from the sky and have the water ways brimming above their banks so does God give His grace. He pours it out like a monsoon that keeps coming and coming and coming. And the ensuing flood is a flood of forgiveness that washes away sin. The rains fall and cleanse and refresh and well up in a rushing flood that washes away the litter and pollution of sin that we have left to rot along the banks. God’s pure word overwhelms our sin and drowns our sinful nature so that we are once again made clean.
And after the flood comes growth. (Isaiah 45:8, Psalm 46:4) The water gives life to our life so that we become green and grow and bear fruit. We reach up our branches into the light of His grace and offer up our fruit to Him as a sacrifice of praise. (Psalm 1:3, Isaiah 55:10-11, Ezekiel 47:12) He prunes us, digs around us, fertilizes us so that we are a productive garden of believers. (Luke 13:6-9)
So let us heed the warning. Give attention to the history, not be made fools by our own carelessness. Instead let us hold God’s Word sacred. Let us receive it with joy and thanksgiving so that we gladly hear and learn it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Sermon for Palm Sunday, Confirmation Sunday

This is the audio from Palm Sunday, Sunday of the Passion, which was also Confirmation Sunday at St Paul Chuckery

Monday, April 18, 2011

Jumping the Shark While Wearing a Meat Dress

In television they call it "jumping the shark". A particular series has run its course and is no longer producing interesting content. The producers need some way to keep the audience tuning in, so they create some outlandish and over the top scenario to generate interest. In the waning episodes of the Happy Days series, the Fonze jumped a shark on water skis in an Evil Kanevalish sort of way. Hence the term.

Over the weekend it was reported that Lady Gaga is releasing a new single in which she romances Jesus' disciple Judas via the perspective of Mary Magdalene. I think Lady Gaga is perhaps one continuous study in jumping the shark. She dresses in meat. She dresses up like an egg (when she dresses at all). I wonder if the musical content lacks the musical quality to generate its own interest so that it becomes necessary to draw the audience through some other means.

The irony is that she is attacking Jesus by means of Judas, someone who is already a Biblical scoundrel, and Mary Magdalene, who has already been pegged as a prostitute. Much more offensive was the implication of a carnal relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus via Dan Brown and the DaVinci Code. But even then, Mr Brown was far from the first to make that connection. It appears that Ms. Gaga is trying to concoct some new controversy, but with this latest attempt it is doubtful that few are going to care. If she is going to perpetually jump the proverbial shark, she might generate that attention she so craves if she were to make the shark less than proverbial and dig the famous meat dress out of her closet (or would that be her freezer?).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Promises Promises Reflections on Confirmation

This coming Sunday is Confirmation Sunday at St. Paul. We have three young men who will stand up and publicly confess the Christian faith and promise to be faithful to Christ and His Church for the duration of their lives and suffer all even death rather than fall away from it. This is a remarkable thing.

To begin with it is remarkable because kids are making a promise that most adults these days would not be able to make. We live in a world where people make their promises a lot like an insurance company. They make their promise to get what they want from you (your money, your respect, sex, etc.) But then, when that promise comes back to cost them something they look for an excuse to get out of it. Not much of a promise, if you ask me. Our teen aged kids are making promises of greater weight and with greater commitment than most of the modern adult world.

While this promise that they will make is truly remarkable, it does not occur in a vacuum. They are not blindly devoting themselves to a lost cause. They are not foolishly committing themselves to a god who may or may not honor their commitment. This is not Islam where the only guarantee of salvation is death in jihad. This is Chrstianity. We make promises to God. But these promises are based upon promises that he has made to us. Promises that he has made and kept.

God does not ask us to promise anything that he has not already promised to us. In fact, each promise that these kids are about to make has a companion promise that God himself has already given and already delivered upon.

Do you believe in God the Father Almighty? ... In Jesus Christ, his only Son? ... the Holy Spirit? They then confess the Apostles Creed. This creed is the baptismal creed, confessed by Christians prior to baptism since the Church first began. And there at baptism God made promises to them. In baptism God promised them forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38 Acts 22:16). God promised them salvation from death (Romans 3:5). God promised them Christ's righteousness (Galatians 3:27). God promised them that they would be rescued from Satan and the world (Colossians 2:11-12). God promised them salvation (Mark 16:16 1 Peter 3:21). God promised them eternal life (Romans 6:4) God promised them the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

These kids will promise to be faithful members of Christ's church and of their congregation, St Paul Chuckery. I think Christians these days tend to take that promise for granted. They think of this promise as a pledge that they will be Christians in a general sort of way and that they will belong or attend some church, although not necessarily this congregation. They make this assumption to their own spiritual detriment.

When Christians come to faith and become believers it is not and has never been a strictly individualist sort of thing. God unites Christians together in a body, a community. (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12ff) God promises Christians that as they are joined to him they are joined to each other for their mutual benefit and building up. "If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honored all rejoice together." And so we are able to share with each other the love of God that we have received. When a Christian promises to belong to a congregation they are blessed by God through that community of faith.

The biggest and scariest of the promises that Confirmation students make is the promise to be faithful unto death. Here in the USA we can make that promise without breaking too much of a sweat because it is the rare occasion that we are called upon to keep that promise. Christians are free to practice their religion and faith however they choose without threat. This is guaranteed by our constitution. But it could happen. Regardless, this promise is made in light of a promise that God has made and that God has kept. We promise to sacrifice our life for Christ in light of the promise that he kept to sacrifice his life for us. Jesus died for us. He gave his life as a ransom for ours.

Confirmation is about promises. Promises that kids make to God and these days that is a remarkable thing. Most teenagers are thinking about video games and sports and movies, etc. Not these kids. They are thinking about transcendent and eternal truth. They are staking their lives on it. But their promises are only a response, the second beat of the rhythm initiated by God as he made and kept promises to them.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On Pitying the Evolved

I recently ran across an article from CNN's Beliefnet website entitled "Would Jesus Believe in Evolution". It's by Karl W Giberson. Find it here.

The author has very much to say and goes on for quite a bit, but his premise is easy to debunk on a fairly fundamental level. Elementary Logic warns against a common error that is made in argumentation. This is known as “begging the question”. Question Begging occurs when one assumes one's premise to be true without actually taking the time to prove it.
The author assumes that evolution is true. Based on this assumption he assumes that Jesus, being a practitioner of truth, would agree with evolution. He does not prove his assumption. He makes lots of strong statements about evolution being true, saying things like “It’s more certain that the earth going around the sun.” and “it has been established by careful study and research.” This is only rhetoric and does not prove anything.
The fact remains that there are plenty of scientists who practice their craft with just as much diligence and care as any other, yet who do not share this particular author’s belief in the current evolutionary dogma. There are many scientists who are quite capable of releasing the air from his balloon and have successfully made the case. (There are links to some of these works if you are interested to do further research)
As to Jesus believing in evolution. This again is only rhetoric. Jesus was definitely one who was concerned with truth. The Gospel of John records him as saying, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Jesus also said, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John18:37) In other words, Jesus is truth. Those who want to know truth listen to Jesus. (Compare that to the author who has purported that he has decided what is truth and everyone must listen to him). According to Jesus, who is truth, the Genesis account is more than myth and it is more than general nice words. Jesus viewed it as historically authoritative. In Matthew 19 Jesus quotes Genesis 1 that says that God made Adam and Eve from the beginning. Clearly Jesus, who has claimed that he himself is truth and that those who are interested in knowing truth will listen to him, believes the Genesis account of creation to be historically accurate and authoritative. Jesus would not have believed in evolution.
Ultimately I have three problems with this man’s article. 1. He argues poorly with a logically flawed argument, assuming his conclusion without proving it. 2. He has constructed a theory that he believes explains the origins of life. That is fine. But it is a theory. It is nowhere close to being as certain as what he claims. To say as much is to leave science behind and enter into the realms of a religious dogma of sorts. This makes him a hypocrite. 3. His attempt to assimilate Jesus into his dogma is to undermine the Gospel that tells us that Jesus is the perfect sacrifice for sinners so that there is a hope of salvation that transcends this man’s hope of a next great mutation. He turns down what is wonderful in the interest of what is mediocre at best. In my mind, he is to be pitied.