Monday, November 5, 2012

Election Day for those whose Eternal Election is already decided

Tomorrow marks the end of a very tiresome election cycle.  So many adds, so many placards, so many phone calls, so many commercials...

The right to vote is one of our most celebrated American freedoms.  With each election cycle, every day citizens have the power to decide the leaders for the nation and thus the direction of the country.  As great a power as this is, holding it in the hands of the people means that through the course of every election cycle, each candidate and lobby group is competing for the vote of every citizen. 
There was a time when this process involved reason and thoughtful deliberation, yet anymore votes are won and lost by way of slander and smear campaigns, not to mention  out and out lies.  While every American cherishes the right to vote, most people I talk to cannot stand the political ads on our TV and radio and in our mailbox.  By the time Election Day rolls around, it is safe to say that we are feeling "fed up".
One thing that the Christian can't help but notice during the election cycle is the stark contrast between the way business is conducted in the world and the way things are done in the church.  All these attack ads and smear campaigns are evidence that the worldly playbook says "win at all costs".  After all, the end justifies the means.  If you have to break a few rules, tell a few lies it is all okay so long as you come out on top in the end. 
The worldly playbook is built for a worldly kingdom.  Whether Democrats, Republicans, Green Party, or independent, each party fight over the same thing: control of that earthly kingdom.  In this kingdom, government is god and power is salvation.  Christians know better. 
The Lord reveals to us in His Word that government is good and it serves God's purpose of keeping the world in order but it cannot save us.  Christians know that salvation will not be dressed in a navy blue suit and sit in an oval office, rather salvation was stripped bare, beaten and nailed to a cross.
Because our salvation is found in Jesus and because our Kingdom is of heaven and not of earth we are free from the stress and the strain of winning these earthly battles.  While the world sees this election and can think only of all that is to be lost or gained, the Christian understands that that all the world is already passing.  Our desire is not to save or be saved for the world, but to be saved and to save others from the world.  We serve Jesus.  We carry the gospel.  We love our neighbor.
The election still has a few hours to go.  It will be over soon.  I for one, can't wait.  We all will go to the polls and cast our vote but the victor, in the grand scheme of things really won't win much - just 4 short years of service in a limited office over a small nation on an insignificant place called earth.  Ultimately God has all the power and he has given all authority to Jesus.  And Jesus has loved you enough to die for you. 
And so this sets the stage for you and me.  Elections are a small blip on history's timeline.  The work that God has called us to is eternal.  We work for him and we serve him as he saves and preserves us for all time.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Audio from Pentecost 13 Mark 7:1-13

Okay, so I totally ripped off Harrison's opening joke for his District Convention sermon.  It worked for his theme, it worked for mine too.  Other than that, here's the sermon for August 26.

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Pentecost 10 Sermon

It would seem that as of this week, the new test of Christian orthodoxy has to do with whether or not you eat at ChikFilA.  I am sure you have heard of the controversy.  Dan Cathy, CEO of the Atlanta-based fast food chain, told a small obscure Christian Newspaper that he supports traditional marriage and all of a sudden he has been labeled as a hate-filled bigot and his restaurants are no longer welcome in at least 3 major cities around the country. 
In response to these actions, supporters of free speech and the free exercise of religion showed up in droves this past Wednesday to give their patronage to the maligned restaurant chain.  It was not unusual to wait in line at least an hour if not two.  The restaurant drew protests on Friday from those supportive of the gay rights agenda. Clearly Chik Fil A has become the dividing line of the controversy and those who consider themselves defenders of Orthodox Christianity and orthodox constitutional America have a new favorite restaurant.
Yet one can’t help but wonder if Jesus wants more from his faithful few. 
The community of faith and faithful belief was divided all these generations ago when our Lord himself walked the earth.  They were divided by their allegiance to Jesus.  Some sought to make him their king while others wanted to be rid of him, to never hear his name spoken out in the public square (or really even in private for that matter).  Does that sound familiar to our world?  Yet for those who considered themselves to be faithful to Jesus and to his cause, for those who were bold to speak, bold to listen, and bold to follow Jesus, the Lord, the Son of God, Jesus wanted more from them.  Jesus urged them to great understanding.  Jesus sought to push them, to move them beyond their public allegiance to private devotion and private understanding.  Jesus sought to push them to faith. 
In our text today, the orthodox Jesus followers came looking for Jesus.  The Apostle John shows us that these believers came in search of their long awaited prophet, a repristinated Moses.  Moses came with bread from heaven, food from the skies that filled their empty bellies and wowed them with great works and signs from God.  The Lord worked through Moses and through Moses the people were saved from slavery and secured in the land promised to Abraham.  And so now, all these generations later, the people were empty, they were hungry for a new prophet, a new Moses who would save them from slavery and fill them with food from heaven.
Enter the Lord…  Jesus who teaches and heals and performs the signs associated with the office of prophet, who teaches the people and leads them.  And the people took notice.  This must be the long awaited prophet.  This must be the promised salvation of the Lord’s people, Israel.  He taught them on the hillside.  He fed them with bread from heaven.  They were ready to take him then and there and make them their king.
But Jesus didn’t come to be Israel’s king. 
This story parallels our own.  Ancient deliverance from oppression and foundation of a religious society.  Contemporary controversy fueled by a secularly minded few.  A people hungry for a leader to stand behind and stand up for.  And Jesus is at the center. 
Yet when the people thought to make Jesus their king – they saw how he fed the crowd 5000 strong with only a few loaves and fish – Jesus withdrew.  He didn’t come to be Israel’s king.  He hasn’t come to be America’s king.  He isn’t fighting for cultures and societies.  He isn’t fighting to uphold family values and traditional morals.  Jesus doesn’t want to be the king in a kingdom that we have built, that we have established and created and defined.  Jesus already is king.  High King!  Of Heaven no less.  And the issue is not whether we call him King or if we make him King in our Kingdom.  The issue is whether or not we are worthy to be called servants in his. 
Whether you eat your chicken from ChikFilA, KFC, or even McNuggets at McDonalds – this food is earthly food.  These kingdoms are earthly kingdoms and they are doomed to fall. 
 “Do not work for the food that perishes,” says Jesus, “but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”
The food that matters is the food that we receive from Jesus.  The kingdom that matters is the kingdom that is ruled by Jesus.  It is not that we fit Jesus into our kingdoms so that he thinks like we do and so that he joins our battles on our side.  What matters is that we think like he does and we join his side.
His side is not traditional marriage and family values.  It is not a Judeo Christian based morality.  And, if we were honest we would say that is a good thing.  Because traditional family values condemn us just as much as they condemn anybody else.  We talk about traditional definitions of marriage.  We talk about how the family is falling apart.  But then we go out and participate in the things that tear apart the family.  Did you know that divorce rates among Christians are virtually the same as they are among non-Christians?  Did you know that unmarried Christian young people are just as likely to engage in sex as non-Christian young people?  Did you know that Christian men and women are just as likely to use pornography as non-Christians?  Are these family values? 
Or we talk about the free exercise of religion as though it were an absolute value.  Christians should be able to exercise their faith in the public square!  How regularly do we exercise that faith in private?  We have freedom to worship God as we choose, yet in spite of that great freedom, how regularly do we choose to do something else?  All the things we fight for in public condemn us in private. 
And so Jesus gives us a better way, a better work for us to do.  Jesus said, “This is the work of God; that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 
Jesus gives us a better work to do; the work of God is faith.  The work of God is that we believe in the one whom he has sent.  The work of God is simply to confess that Jesus Christ the Son of God and the Son of man is Lord.  It is to confess that he has saved you from your sin through his perfect and innocent death.  And that because of his resurrection and ascension to heaven you will live under him in an eternal and heavenly kingdom.    This is the work of Jesus.  This is what Jesus commands for us to do.
And Jesus’ heavenly kingdom is a much better kingdom than any kingdom we could concoct.  Earthly kingdoms fights for dominance and dominion, they go to war over earthly food and daily bread.  God has those in abundance and he gives them out for free.  The eyes of all look to the Lord and he gives them their food at the proper time.  He opens his had to satisfy the desires of all living things.
Earthly kingdoms fight to set us free from those who would hurt us or oppress us, but only Jesus can truly set us free.  There is no law that he has not fulfilled and no requirement from which he has not set us free.  There is no enemy that he has not conquered. 
The work of God is that we swear our allegiance to the one who came to die for the sins of the world.  He does not command that we jump on board an earthly bandwagon or support and earthly cause.  In fact, He commands that we die to this world, that we deny ourselves in this world, because this world is perishing and passing away.  He commands that we lay it aside and leave it behind and in its place we bow our knees and our hearts to him. 
Psalm 2 asks the question:      Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” (Psalm 2:1-6 ESV)
The Lord has set his king in heaven.  He is the eternal king of an eternal kingdom.  We are not worthy to be called his servants but he has called us to believe.  Let us do the work of his heavenly kingdom.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Should My Child See The Hunger Games

If you have kids who happen to be in their adolescent to pre-teen age years, chances are he or she is somehow tapped in to the Hunger Games phenomenon.  There is a movie that has been out for a little over a month that has earned hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office.  The book that the movie is based from has also sold millions of copies and is hard to get a hold of at the local library due to the long waiting lists.  Kids are reading this book and seeing this movie.  Parents have wondered if it is appropriate for their adolescent kids to go see it or to read it.

So why is there a question?
The Hunger Games is violent.  The story is futuristic and dystopian, that is to say some time in the future the world has gotten worse.  The heroine, Katniss Everdeen, lives in one of 12 districts that essentially functions as serfdoms where the residents are required to provide goods that are consumed in the chief city, Capitol.  The means of suppression and control is a yearly event called the Hunger Games where each of the 12 servant districts must provide 2 children aged 12-18, a boy and a girl, to compete in a nationally televised fight to the death.  The lone survivor/winner receives wealth and his or her district receives extra food for a year.  The plot without a doubt is violent.

This might sound like an odd story line for a series of children's booksand you might be wondering why the series is popular.  The story is well constructed and the plot is quickly paced and interesting.  Where the story really shines is in the shaping of the characters themselves.  The author, Suzanne Colllins, constructs likable characters that the reader can easily relate to and root for.  If your kids have read it, ask them about Katniss, Peeta, Gale, Haymitch, Cinna, or President Snow; I am sure the will be able to tell you all about them like they know them personally.   The Hunger Games is a well told story.

So why the concern?  
As already mentioned, a fight to the death among children is a violent plot element.  The thought of kids killing kids is stark and tragic.  Katniss herself tells the story so you see the games through her perspective.  You get to know the other characters through her experience with them.  You feel her tragedy and anger and grief as she lives through this experience.  Parents would be wise to gauge the level of maturity in their children to determine their preparedness to handle these themes.

There is a larger question here that involves the criterion used by parents when they allow their children to consume any type of media.  Is violence of any kind appropriate?  What about sexuality (a theme that the Hunger Games does bump up against at least in the book)? Should Christian families consume any such media?  There are a few things to consider.  The first is the individual child's ability to process such themes and images.  Studies show that violent images in TV, movies and video games increase arousal (especially in boys) and the likelihood of aggressive behavior. 

Often gratuitously violent media creates an image that aggressiveness and violence is more manly and more desirable and can therefore have a negative overall effect on behavior.understood within its appropriate context is likewise a means to understand and appreciate this good gift of God.  

Similar things can be said about sexual images and themes in media.  And just like violent themes can affect behavior, likewise sexually themed media can alter a child's perspective on what they understand to be "normal" and "acceptable" behavior.  Caution is to be urged.

So how should parents set their standards?
Sometimes we want to take a zero tolerance policy.  No sex. No violence. Period.  To hold to such a policy would mean that would need to lock ourselves away in a cave and never  come out, not even to read our Bibles (which contains examples of both).  Additionally we are apt to create new laws for ourselves that God has not written hoping that we can make ourselves holy and righteous by means of what we do and do not do, of what we see and do not see.  This leads us down the path of legalism.  A Christian is righteous by faith for the sake of Christ and in love seeks to obey God's commands in the Bible.  Christians do not make up lots of extra rules to try to make themselves holy.

So what is a Christian to do?
The world is a violent place.  Turn on the news, open a book or a magazine and you will see instances of violence.  Likewise the world is a sexualized place.  Rather than learning to hide from it, Christians and Christian children need to learn discernment.  Again the world is a violent place.  Scripture teaches Christians how God deals withviolence - by the violent death of His Son on the cross.  Scripture teaches Christians where and when violence is appropriate and necessary (Romans 13:4)  and what to do when someone reacts violently toward you (Matthew 5:39).  Therefore, some violent themes are beneficial.  Experiencing them by way of our media exposes us to the violence in the world and helps us to know how to make sense of it.  

Other times violence is bad.  Other times violence is portrayed for the sheer pleasure of it; the enjoyment of watching someone in pain or enduring a gruesome death.  This is wrong.  People are made in the image of God.  To enjoy suffering and torture is to enjoy the destruction of God's image. 

Similarly with sexual themes.  God made sex.  Sex is a good gift that God has given for the benefit and mutual love of a husband and wife.  To consider it as an aspect of human relationships that should be

A high level of discernment is needed here by Christians and Christian parents because our society and culture has adopted so many harmful opinions about sex.  We are led to believe that sex is "just sex" - a recreational activity with zero complications or consequences.  It's not.  Sex is a lot like fire: keep fire in the fireplace and it warms the house, take it out of the place that was made to contain it and it can burn down the homestead.  Much of the portrayal of sex and sexuality is purely gratuitous and dishonors the good gift of God and treats those it portrays as mere objects instead of one made in God's image.

So let's get back to The Hunger Games?  
Is there violence? Yes.  Katniss as the heroine does fight and she does kill.  Note that her acts of violence are different.  Some kill for sport.  Katniss does not.  She kills twice; once in defense of a friend and once to end the suffering of an enemy. This might introduce a good discussion: was Katniss right to kill Cato?  What about sex? The Hunger Games contains no sex. That said, Katniss does struggle to understand the romantic feelings she experiences as she finds herself caught between two male characters.  (Again, this might  be a good opportunity for discussion between parents and their kids)  There is a very minor sexual tone to these engagements that parents, especially of younger children, should be aware of.

Parents need to learn discernment when answering questions of appropriate media consumption for their children.  There are many angles to consider; from the appropriateness of the material itself, to the readiness of their child to handle such material.  A discerning parent would want to teach discernment to their child.  This would mean that parents must know what media their children are consuming.  It is always easiest to draw lines in black and white, but parents must take advantage of situations that are presented and use them as opportunities to teach their child 
 to discern for themselves what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong.

Proverbs says, "Train up a child in the way he should go and when heis old he will not depart from it." 
Being a parent is your Christian duty.  God gave you that job.  God gave you to your children.  Teach them.  They will be blessed by it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

His Body has been Raised. Your's will be too.

For the last few thousand years the Church has confessed to believe in the “resurrection of the dead”.  We confess it in the ecumenical creeds.  The Apostle Paul teaches it.  Jesus himself teaches it.  But, as he does with every other doctrine or Word from God, the devil wants to take that away.  The devil has attacked this word of God in several different ways.
To confess the resurrection of the dead is to confess that God has honored the body.  We can see in the Bible just how greatly God values his creation of our bodies.  In Genesis 2, when God first gave us a body he implemented a very deliberate process, forming Adam out of clay and then breathing into him.  This was different from how he made the other bodies – animals and fish and birds.  With them he simply spoke them into existence but he honored the human race with a very deliberate and “hands on” approach to our creation. 
Through the Old Testament we can see that God cares for the bodies of his people.  When he gives the law to the Israelites through Moses he adds provisions for the body.  When he leads his people through the wilderness he feeds their bodies and he makes sure that they are clothed.  Their shoes don’t wear out and their garments don’t wear thin. (Deuteronomy  29:5)
With the New Testament and through the Epistles we can see God’s care for the body.  The sacraments are not just spiritual but they are visible and involve the body – baptism wets the forehead, the Eucharist feeds the soul and the body with spiritual but also physical food. 
The greatest sign of God's honor for our bodies is the fact that He himself has one.  When he decided to save us he went out and got for himself a body.  He was incarnate. He was en-fleshed.  He took for himself even those aspects to having a body that we might find less honorable (diapers, trips to the toilet, acne) and he honored our bodies by himself engaging in them.   His honorable body even died, as our dishonorable bodies do.
But then Christ was raised.  Paul calls him the first fruits from among those who have died.  After our sins were paid for, Jesus took back his body and glorified it so that now the One who sits enthroned in heaven has a body.  He is a flesh and blood human being just the same way that we are.
Satan wants to dishonor what God's Word teaches us that God has honored.  Satan does a lot of things to dishonor our bodies.  There are lots of examples that we see in our own contemporary society.  They are subtle attacks on the resurrection.
God defends our bodies in the commandments.  Satan undermines these commandments to dishonor our bodies.  God defends our bodies from being dishonored by violence in the 5th Commandment.  Satan responds to this honor by inciting our culture to glorify violence.   Explicit gore and gruesomeness are top dollar entertainment (Saw I, II, III, IV etc.).  Bodies of little babies are dismembered and discarded as part of the abortion practice.  Bodies of adults are euthanized when people have determined they are no longer useful. 
God also defends and honors our bodies in the 6th Commandment.  Satan dishonors our bodies by teaching us that sex is just sex and the body is just a commodity to be bought and sold and used up.  This is the message given in the "hook up" culture, in prostitution, in pornography.  Paul reminds us that our bodies should not be united to a prostitute because God has honored them by making them the temple of his Spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

I will inch out on a limb a little and make a claim.  I believe that the trend of tattooing is an example of Satan's attack against the resurrection and against the body.  To begin with, much of the tattooing seems to have neo pagan influence - many of the designs are tribal or naturalist.  Neo-paganism is dualistic in nature.  It emphasized the spirit at the expense of the body.  In addition, there is physical violence and pain that is endured through these decorative procedures that becomes addictive according to many who have submitted them.  Is there also a connection between the sex industry, prostitution and pornography  and the tattooing?  I think so.  I believe that at the heart of this trend is a notion that the body isn’t important – it’s just meat and skin.  It can and perhaps even should be decorated and improved.  I believe there is a connection to Satan’s attack on the body, especially his attack on the 6th commandment and the 5th commandment and today’s neo pagan cultural influence.
Sometimes even within the church Christians are tempted to overlook the importance of the body.   Jeff Gibbs has observed that Christian funerals often leave those dead in Christ in heaven when they neglect to preach the resurrection.  Overly spiritualized sacraments that neglect the forgiveness of sins in the eating and drinking and in the baptizing neglect God’s care for our bodies.  This leaves the door open for Satan to sneak in and disrupt the Church through those egregious and more obvious cultural temptations.  

The Lord honors our bodies.  He cares for our bodies.  He made them.  He gave a body to each one of us.  He feeds and clothes those bodies.  He has given his law to defend and protect those bodies.  He has taken a body for himself so that he could use his to die for ours.  His has been raised so that ours can also be raised.  Satan wants to take this away.  The Word of God won’t let him.  The better we study that Word the better equipped we will to defend the thing that God has determined is worth dying to save.  

Monday, March 26, 2012

I adapted this sermon and preached it at St Paul Chuckery this past Sunday.  It is from the book  Selected Sermons from Norman Nagel.  Follow the link to buy the book.  It will be well worth what you spend to have in your library.

Here is audio if you want to listen.

In our reading we have the third and last prediction of the passion, the fifth Sunday in Lent, Judica, which comes from the Introit, "Vindicate (or Judge) me O God."  Who dares to pray such a prayer?  Jesus does.  Through Lent we have been following Jesus toward Calvary.  Our Judica Gospel tells of the last stretch of that journey.  "They were on the road going up to Jerusalem"  Who dares to take such a journey?  Jesus does.

The Disciples hung back in foreboding and fear.  They were amazed and afraid.  Twelve disciples.  Twelve tribes of Israel.  He who leads the disciples is the Lord of Israel, just as the statement of His presence, the bright cloud, led Israel on her journey to the Promised Land, which was entered by way of Jericho.  That is where Bartimaeus is given his sight.  He sees as the twelve failed to see.

Jesus told the twelve, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles."  (Mark 10:33)  The twelve did not get it.  They did not see.  What blinded them was their lust for power and the fear that they might lose out or lose their lives.  First James and John, then the others, were indignant that they might only get third or fourth place or even - perish the thought - twelfth place, the bottom spot.  They were looking to get the top spots.  "One on your right hand, and the other on your left hand in your glory."  (Mark 10:37)  The two brothers just wanted to keep in in the family.  The fight about who gets the right hand spot can wait until later, so long as its one of them.  When we see that sort of thing going on today - nepotism, influence peddling, heads rolling, you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours, jostling for the power spots, simony, who gets to call the shots in the church and who has the greatest influence and clout in the voters meeting - when we see that sort of thing going on it just makes us want to puke in disgust.

Jesus does not puke.  He continues on his way to Jerusalem.  And he draws us along with Him, which means leaving all that putrid and enslaving stuff behind.  How gently Jesus draws the disciples on. "You do not know what your are asking," He tells the brothers.  The place is at his right hand and at his left.  We know who gets those places when Jesus is crowned, proclaimed king, and enthroned, as John says.  Those at his right hand and at his left are those who are crucified with him.  All three of them are numbered with the transgressors.

One of the criminals who hung next to Jesus on the cross mocked Him, "If you are the Christ save yourself and us." (Luke 23:39)  The other rebuked the thief saying, "And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." (Luke 23:41)  The just for the unjust, Jesus is judged as the one who bears the iniquity of us all.  He drinks the cup of God's wrath on sin, before which he shuddered at Gethsemane, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you; take away this cup from me.  Never the less not what I will, but what you will." (Mark 14:36)  Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise him.  He put him to grief when him made himself an offering to for sin.

"For Christ also has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." (1 Peter 3:18) Those words are  Peter's words, preaching in his first Epistle.  Yet In Gethsemane Peter also slept, "For their eyes were heavy," (Mark 14:40).  Then he  thought power, (swinging a sword), would help Jesus.  At Caesarea Philippi, Peter spoke for Satan.  Peter wanted no crucified Christ.  In today's Gospel he is indignant with James and John for trying to get the top spots.  Jesus had a long way to pull them when he, walking ahead, went up to Jerusalem.  There is death for them in that Lenten journey.

Jesus speaks of the cup that is His to drink at his baptism, his death that is His to do.  Are you able?  We are able.  "Yes" says Jesus, "they will be yours, and that will put an end to your worrying about who sits at the right hand and who sits at the left.  When yours are the cup and the baptism, you will no longer carry on as those who are not Mine.  Those who are not Mine think of themselves great by how many people they can push around, get on top of, lording it over them, laying it on them from above, great by how many you can make serve you.  That is not where Jesus does His thing.  Jesus is at the bottom of the pile.  The whole weight of it comes down on him.  He is one lump with all sinners.  All sins' enslavement He is slave to - judged, damned.

Jesus spoke of it as giving his life as a ransom for many. Ransomer is Redeemer, go'el and the price is his life.  For many, as in Isaiah 53, Jesus speaks His disciples into that many, as He does also when He gives His body to eat and his blood to drink into our mouths this morning. His blood is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Our liturgy follows Luke at this point and says, "For you".  The phrase "for you" evokes faith.  Yes, for me too.  We say, "Amen" as Jesus gives into us His body and blood.  Those to whom our Lord gives His body and blood can pray, "Judge me O God"  If he tosses you out, he is tossing out the body and blood of his son - and He cannot do that.

God did the judgment on you when He did the judgment on your sins on Jesus.  That death for your sin was given you.  It is yours at Baptism.  His cup, His baptism - yours.  There was a putting of you to death in your baptism by words and water and a new "you" was born, a you no longer enslaved to sin.  "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20).  It is no dead inert stuff that the Lord gives into your mouth this morning.  As he forgives and enlivens you with his body and his blood, his body and blood are alive  in you in the same way when he spoke of them as a ransom for many, for you, not to be served but to serve.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Vocation and Sport

It's March, the time of year that Michigan State Basketball fans start to salivate and this year more than ever.  After all, Michigan State is coming off a great season as Big Ten co-champions and conference tournament champions.  They are headed to the NCAA tournament as a number one seed with expectations high for a return trip to the Final Four.

What a difference a year makes.  Last season the Spartans were loaded with talent.  Last season they were preseason favorites to return to the Final Four and maybe even win a national championship.  But it didn't happen, far from it.  Instead it was a season marred with disappointments.  They barely made the tournament and bowed out with a first round loss.  

Compare that to this season.  The Spartans started the year un-ranked, were picked to finish somewhere in the middle of the conference. They didn’t appear on anybody’s radar even as a dark horse. But then the season began; two losses to North Carolina and Duke, and then 15 straight wins, a conference championship, and hope for a national championship.  What an amazing turn around!

But that's college basketball. 

Then again, that's human nature.  

In comparing the two seasons, the biggest problem with last year’s team had nothing to do with their talent pool. It had everything to do with performance. The team was virtually intact from a 2010 team that went to the final four.  They should have been awesome. But they were not.  They were a huge disappointment; and the biggest problem was sin.

Now you don't typically hear sports analysts discuss sin as a factor in the outcome of a basketball game. But it’s there. And just like it affects everything else, it also affects basketball. It affects baseball, football, tennis, track & field, downhill skiing, and the luge.  Why?  Because sin affects sinners and the people who play sports are sinners.

So what does that have to do with the Spartans?  They had a roster full of sinners. And that sin got in the way. It’s well documented.  Players were dismissed mid-season for "being a bad teammate".  Locker room squabbles led to on court performance issues.  Star players disappeared at crucial points in the game. And sin was at the heart of all of it.

Sin messes with your head. It hurts your confidence. It creates poor team chemistry.  It makes it difficult to come back from “adversity”.  It does all of these things because it insinuates selfishness pride, greed, shame, lust, anger, all into the minds and hearts and psyche of each individual athlete.

Here's how it works.  Let’s say a point guard steps up to the free throw line after a foul for a one & one.  There can be any number of things that go through his mind.  Much of it is psychological, but it is also spiritual.  He steps up to that line not just as an athlete, his Old Adam steps up to the line with him.  The devil is not far behind.  He experiences pride and lust for glory, anger, covetousness, jealousy, greed, all pulling at him to succeed so he earns glory and fame and power.  It feeds his ego and motivates him so that nothing and no one stand in his way.  It also shakes his confidence.  It hovers around with fear and anxiety.  It diminishes his worth and value apart from his success and threatens him with failure.  He is eager for success and opportunity and at the same time he fights with fear.  Athletic competition is a prime outlet for the Old Adam. It pushes him out from hiding and can encourage bad behavior, just think Shaq & Kobe, Ndamukong Suh, or Cincinnati-Xavier.  Each athlete (or team of athletes) is a sinner and this sin has an impact on his or her athletic performance.

So back to the Spartans.  Does this mean that they had a bad season because they were sinners?  In part.  Are they winning this season because they are no longer sinners?  Of course not.  The Spartans are winning because they are playing together as a team.  Sometimes the law can have that affect.  The law motivates sometimes by threats (a hard week of practice, getting kicked off the team) sometimes by reason (hard work's cause to success's affect is solid logic) sometimes by emotion.  The Spartans are hard, going all out and focused on their goal.  They are playing with emotion, with love for the game, and with each person understanding and accepting his role.  With each person looking out for his teammate.  This is good when it works.  It is much easier to do and to sustain when you are winning.  Losing a few times can really make the wheels a fall off that good behavior. 

There is another way.  For the Christian there is hope for addressing this temptation and sin.  For good or bad I am or have been an athlete. I have competed at the high school level and at the college level and more recently at the recreational level. That is never to say that I was very good. But I played. I participated. And I have experienced these things first hand. I will personally say that an understanding of life under the cross and Christian vocation made me a better teammate, a more consistent performer, and less prone to the attacks of Satan. It all has to do with Christian freedom

I am a sinner. I experienced in game temptations to covet, glory, lust, greed, conceit, selfishness and pride. I experienced the fear of failure that can cause an athlete to disappear in a game. I have had competitors try to get in my head. Understanding myself to be a redeemed child of God enabled me to call those sins what they are, they are sins.  Sure basketball is just a game  but it is also an opportunity for sin and temptation. Confessing those sin gives the right diagnosis so that you can apply the right cure. 

The right cure is the gospel. Christ on the cross forgives those sins. Yes I am tempted with them and yes I commit them. But yes Jesus forgives them. He washes me clean from them so they are gone. What's even better is that as a baptized child of God my sinner is matched to a saint. My God given saint is free from sin and no longer mastered by temptation. That saint is free from fear and free from the devil and is not enslaved by sin and temptation. 

I have played against dirty opponents. Their anger and hotheadedness tends to rub off on other players. But as a Christian I know that Jesus died for my desire to make the game about him and me. I also know that Jesus loves him and died for him and so I can love him too.  I can play the game without losing my composure.

My understanding of Christian Vocation is also a great boon that pays off in athletic competition.  It makes me a better teammate.  On every team, every player has their role.  These roles are defined by their ability and by the game plan set by the coach.  I have been the go-to guy who needs to take the shot.  I have also been the support player who needs to play defense and rebound.  I have been the bench warmer who needs to cheer the team on and provide a moment's rest for the guys on the floor.  Each is important.  Forcing a shot because I want points on my stat sheet is selfish.  It doesn't help the team (my neighbor) so I shouldn't do it.  Hogging the ball or showboating doesn't help the team so I shouldn't do it.  Playing half hearted defense doesn't help the team so I should step up and make the plays that need to be made; hustle, move my feet, take a charge all for the good of the team.  Whatever my role on the team I should play it as a servant to the other members of the team.  My Old Adam says no.  The Gospel sets me free to say yes, to fill my role on the team.

I love college basketball.  As a college basketball fan, I love Coach Izzo.  I think he's a great coach.  I love the way he coaches and the teams he puts together. I love the way his teams thrive on hard work and 110% effort.  But that's not vocation.  It's a system built by reason and logic and hard work.  It's a system that works and produces success.  

The doctrine of vocation is not a system.  It's not built for NCAA tournament success.  It's God's gift to sinners.  God calls them out of slavery to their Old Adam and calls them to freedom and to service.  Vocation doesn't give skills where there aren't any (I can personally attest to that).  But it does call sinners to serve their neighbors (and teammates and opponents) as forgiven saints of God.  It gives the Christian athlete freedom and brings back the joy of God's good gift of sport.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Gospel or Relationship: You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin'

Lutherans are about as warm and fuzzy as Statler and Waldorf. In case these names are not familiar, they are the theater critics/hecklers from the Muppet Show who like nothing and criticize everything.  While light hearted comedy would take place on the Muppet stage these two stiffs sat in the balcony pointing and laughing at the ridiculous frivolity.

Sound Lutheran?   Maybe clich├ęd Lutheran.  But perhaps there is a kinder, gentler Lutheran that doesn’t get the same recognition that your stereotypical Statler & Waldorfian Lutherans receive.

Perhaps the caricature is rooted in the contrast.  After all, Lutheran Christians are not usually thought of as “touchy-feely”.  They are thought to be cold and aloof, especially when compared to what you might find in your average American Evangelical worship center.  What you might find there is most likely to be categorized as what I like to call a Gospel of Relationship.

So what is the Gospel of Relationship? 

It is not the Gospel – or at least not the Biblical or Christ-centered, cross-focused Gospel.  That Gospel is all about Jesus.  It is about what Jesus has done to save sinners from sin, death, and Satan.  The Biblical Gospel is about God’s gift of His Son to die for us on the cross so that we might receive God’s gift of eternal salvation and avoid our much deserved punishment in hell.  The Biblical Gospel is about that gift delivered to you through God’s Word and His Sacraments.

The Gospel of Relationship is about your relationship with God.  Now this is tricky, because the Christian does have a relationship with God.  That relationship involves emotions such as love, joy, excitement, and even elation.  These emotions are good and they are a natural response to God’s love for us.   But that is what they are, a response.  The emotions are not the sum and substance of the relationship; likewise the relationship is not the sum and substance of the Gospel.  In the Gospel of Relationship, instead of proclaiming the Christ centered, cross focused Gospel of Scripture the proclamation is all about relationships. 

There is a view of relationships popular in the secular world today that teaches us that relationships are all about feelings.  Making a marriage work is all about romance.  Romance is all about an emotional experience. The emotional experience is all about intimacy and openness and vulnerability and chemistry.  If you have those things with another person, then you have romance, then you have a relationship that will supposedly last and stand the test of time. 

As one who has been married for 15 years, romance and chemistry and intimacy and openness are great.  They are an exciting aspect to a relationship with another person.  But as great as those things are, you can’t build a lasting relationship on them.  After 15 years most of my mojo has worn off and my wife has heard all of my best jokes.  While I might think my jokes are still funny, they are hardly enough to keep our marriage intact; especially when it comes time to get up in the middle of the night because the 3 year old has nightmares or the 8 year old has a tummy ache.   Likewise, my mojo won’t cut it when it comes time to pay medical bills or taxes.  There has to be something more, a stronger glue that holds us together than just simply an emotional spark.  If human relationships based on feelings are shaky, how much more so will be that relationship with God?

Relational Worship
If you want to see this gospel of relationship in action, the best place to find it is in the worship service.  After all faith is as worship does (lex orandi lex credendi).   The Gospel of Relationship is on full display in the worship service of those evangelical churches.  If relationships are all about intimacy and feelings, then the relationship with God must also be about intimacy and feelings.

Consider the music.  Much of today’s Contemporary Christian Music can be categorized as love ballads to Jesus.  Cartman from South Park has observed that you can take a love ballad, remove the name of your girlfriend, swap in the name Jesus and it would work as a contemporary worship song. The formula works in reverse as well.  Take Jesus out of your favorite contemporary worship song and insert the name of your girlfriend and the song probably works just as well.   Consider the lyrics to this song by Casting Crowns:

Your love is extravagant
Your friendship, it is intimate
I feel like moving to the rhythm of Your grace
Your fragrance is intoxicating in our secret place
Your love is extravagant

Spread wide in the arms of Christ is the love that covers sin
No greater love have I ever known You considered me a friend
Capture my heart again

Spread wide in the arms of Christ is the love that covers sin
No greater love have I ever known; You considered me a friend

Capture my heart again
Your love is extravagant
Your friendship, it is intimate

The song contains a weak allusion to the cross with the mention of sin.  But even if I left that in all I would have to do is replace Christ with the name of my wife and the rest could stay the same.

The Gospel of Relationship is also apparent in the person who is leading the worship service, that is to say the pastor or worship leader.  Having the right guy is absolutely important.  He has to have the right personality, the right wit and humor, the ability to work the crowd and make them feel at ease and welcome.  He has to be the poster boy family man (or woman) who has his (or her) family life all together.  The family has to look picture perfect, like a JC Penny catalog.  If this seems too cynical, picture an frumpy, overweight, middle aged balding guy with a dull personality and jokes that fall flat filling the role of pastor or worship leader in a mega church.  It wouldn’t ever work.  The pastor has  to be the model for the relationship.  He has to look and act and be the part.

Sometimes the Gospel of Relationship also gets shoehorned into the liturgy, and with disastrous results.  The liturgy is adapted to fit this new theology.  Custom creeds and confessions of sin are home baked to reflect this relational gospel. 

Take the creeds.  The ecumenical creeds don't quite fit so new ones are written.  They reflect a new gospel.  In this new gospel it is less important what God does and more important how we relate to what god does or how we relate to each other.    

We believe in God, Creator of the world; and in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of creation. We believe in the Holy Spirit, through whom we acknowledge God’s gifts, and we repent of our sin in misusing these gifts to idolatrous ends.

We affirm the natural world as God’s handiwork and dedicate ourselves to its preservation, enhancement, and faithful use by humankind.

We joyfully receive for ourselves and others the blessings of community, sexuality, marriage, and the family.

We commit ourselves to the rights of men, women, children, youth, young adults, the aging, and people with disabilities; to improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and dignity of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities.

We commit ourselves to the rights of men, women, children, youth, young adults, the aging, and people with disabilities; to improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and dignity of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities.

We believe in the right and duty of persons to work for the glory of God and the good of themselves and others and in the protection of their welfare in so doing; in the rights to property as a trust from God, collective bargaining, and responsible consumption; and in the elimination of economic and social distress.

We dedicate ourselves to peace throughout the world, to the rule of justice and law among nations, and to individual freedom for all people of the world.

We believe in the present and final triumph of God’s Word in human affairs and gladly accept our commission to manifest the life of the gospel in the world. Amen.

There are definitely a number of different theological dynamics in that creed.  But you can't help but notice that much of its underpinnings have to do with the relationships of men, women, children, youth... community, sexuality, and so on and so forth.

If relationship is found in the way we define the faith, then it certainly has an impact on those thing we do that interfere with that faith.  It has an impact on the way we understand sin.  When there is a confession of sins, those confessions are less about Biblical themes of  iniquity contrasted with God's sacrifice and propitiation.  They more about hurts we have caused, journey’s we have taken, things we feel in our hearts.  While it is true that sin interrupts relationships and takes away closeness in those relationships, that is hardly the most necessary thing to confess when we are face to face with God.  Our biggest problem is not that someone has been hurt or disrespected or treated poorly.  Our biggest problem is that we have disobeyed the commands of the Almighty God.

An important thing to take notice of is that the solution for human hurts to human relationships is always a man made restoration.  If my biggest sin is that I was selfish with my wife, then I can restore that relationship by buying her flowers or writing her a card or saying "I'm sorry."  The false assumption is that we have the power to create Christian Fellowship through our love and our forgiveness.  That's not how the Bible says it works.  The parable of the Unforgiving Servant from Matthew 18 demonstrates that our forgiveness is always and only fueled by the forgiveness we have received.  Our restoration with each other only truly happens when we have been restored to Christ.  It is as we keep our focus on what Christ has done and the debt that he has cancelled that we are able to be restored to each other.  This relationship Gospel makes it all about you and me (and Jesus might get an Oscar for a supporting role).

The historic, Christ-centered, Cross-focused Gospel is a different gospel.  It is a better gospel.  It's better because it is all about what God has done and does for you in Christ. God himself in all his power and majesty and holiness and faithfulness shows up every Lord’s Day to care for, protect, serve, and love his very own people.  This Gospel is sacramental  and therefore it is sure and objective.  Christians have a rock solid sign and guarantee of God's love every Sunday regardless of the feelings.  It is Christ centered worship.  It may or may not be “intimate” or relational. 

This is why Historic Christ centered Cross focused Lutheranism is truly the Gospel of Relationship.  The Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners is the only way to a truly restored relationship first with God and then with one another.  It is in the gospel that we have community and fellowship (koinonia)  and love (agape).  Jesus fixes our relationship with him by way of the cross and then by the outward signs of the Gospel found in the means of grace.  With the Jesus Gospel there is no doubting fellowship with God.  It is there in the supper.  There is no doubting God's forgiveness it is there in Baptism.  There is no fear that perhaps some of our sins have not been forgiven because when you privately confess them to your pastor he has attached Christ's forgiveness directly to them in the absolution.  The forgiveness that Christ gives for sure undoes the lies of the Devil and then drives away your bad conscience that used to have you living in fear of your guilt and sin.  You can approach God's throne of Grace in confidence and then you can approach your neighbor in love.  When your neighbor sins against you, you can truly forgive him because as much as it hurts you can look to the cross and see your own forgiveness and then pass that on to your neighbor.  Without this, the relationships we might build are just a dim or hollow or a complete sham.  Without this gospel we are left scrambling to find other ways to make them work with things like Love Dares or Sexperiments.  

The true Gospel doesn't need these any gimics.  It doesn't rely on personal enchantment or chemistry or wit or fresh thinking.  It doesn't need a 40 day long program to make it work.  The Gospel does what it does because God says it does it.  It makes us alive.  It refreshes us with God's love and then it creates in us love for our neighbor.  The true Gospel is a gospel of relationship but it is God's work and God's effort and God guarantee.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Of Quarterbacks and Character

I was in the car listening to ESPN radio the other day. The announcer had some statistical data comparing Kyle Ortom and Tim Tebow. Based on his data he was making the point that Orton was actually better quarterback than Tim Tebow. He had an overall better pass completion percentage and a better quarterback rating. This seems to me to be an oversimplification of the data. Sure maybe Kyle Orton has a better overall rating. But I would be interested to see a more specific analysis of the information. How do those completion ratings change in high-pressure situations? Do the quarterbacking decisions result in points on the scoreboard when it matters most and when the game is on the line? I am not a football expert and the tale of the tape might reveal something different but it seems to me that Tim Tebow has something that most quarterbacks don't. An ability to perform at his best when he needs it most. To be fair, it does matter who we are comparing him to. He's not an elite quarterback like Tom Brady or Drew Brees; that seems to be self-evident. But does he offer a better chance to win then Kyle Orton? I think he does. I think he possesses something intangible and immeasurable. Tim Tebow is a fierce competitor. When the game is on the line he finds a way to make plays. He doesn't ever give up. He keeps fighting until the last whistle blows. I think this is the character that he possesses that makes him so popular. I think this is what ESPN sports analysts don't understand. In a world of high priced sports athletes who only are interested in themselves Tim Tebow stands for something greater than himself. He sees professional football not as a means to promote himself and make himself wealthy, instead he sees his position as an NFL quarterback as an opportunity to help others. He gives sick kids free tickets to watch him play. He uses his huge salary to build hospitals in the Philippines. He talks about being grateful for the opportunity to play a game instead of promoting his own talent. In a world of athletes who only talk about themselves and leave their team behind in the interest of making the most money Tim Tebow is a breath of fresh air. And I think Tim Tebow is a reminder for all those sportscasters of exactly what they are not. Selfless. Kind. Generous. Not self seeking not overly impressed with himself. The mass media wants Tim Tebow to fail. They criticized him. They tear him down, all because his greatest success is a reminder for them of their greatest failure. Tim Tebow is a role model. He might not be the greatest passer the NFL has ever seen, but he is certainly a better person than what the NFL has seen in quite some time. Perhaps his most ardent critics aught to take a page from his play book. And while he may not be great isn't all that bad either. And in the meantime he is given the city of Denver something worthwhile to cheer about

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sermon on the Lord's Prayer - 3rd and 4th petitions

This is a preview of this coming Sunday's sermon (January 8) that I will preach at St. Paul Chuckery.  We are beginning 2012 with a series on the Lord's Prayer.  Enjoy!

Grace mercy and peace be to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

“Here we now consider the poor bread basket, the necessaries of our body and of the temporal life.”
Today in our ongoing series on the Lord’s Prayer we consider the 3rd Petition as well as the 4th.  Thy Will be done and Give us this day.  We have begun with the bread.  We have begun with the 4th.

In the 4th Petition we pray for bread, but this prayer is for much more than just mere bread.  Bread is only the finished product.  It is that thing that we need to eat and to live.  But bread doesn’t appear all by itself.  Before there can be bread there must be someone to bake it, there must be flour and grain and eggs and sugar, there must be a farmer to grow and to harvest the grain, cattle and chickens for milk and eggs, land to plant the seed, sunshine and rain to make it grow.  Daily bread is much more than just a prayer for bread.  IT is a prayer for everything that goes in to making and preparing that bread.  It involves all of commerce and all of life.  This simple prayer is a prayer that God would provide all of those things as much as we need them.  We pray that God would support us in our earthly and physical life.

Last week we mentioned that the prayer that God’s Kingdom come was not a prayer for our election cycle – God’s Kingdom is not of this earth, so a prayer for God’s Kingdom has nothing to do with who is president in Washington, Beijing, Moscow, Baghdad or Tehran.  But, here in the 4th Petition good government is included.  (we can’t after all make a living and eat our bread in peace unless there is a government to help us protect it.  God provides this.  God takes care of us, of his world and his whole creation by creating our various stations in life: bakers and farmers and presidents and autoworkers and soldiers and teachers and mothers & fathers.  He gives each station each office for our good and then he calls various ones of us to fill those stations.  Tom, you bake bread; Marsha, you be a nurse to bandage and heal; Al, you go farm – plant and harvest; Jill, go paint and draw – and since you’re so good at it teach others to do it! 

It’s God’s world, God’s creation.  He makes it.  He keeps it running.  He enlists us and calls us to participate in this work together with him.

When you, the Christian pray this prayer you do not simply pray it for yourself – Lord I want my pantry full.  You pray this prayer for all people, for your neighbor.  Notice that the prayer is not singular.  Give me this day my daily bread.  It is profoundly plural.  Us and Our!  We pray not just for ourselves but for each other.  Lord you have blessed me with more than I need,  but I have noticed that my neighbor has a need.  You pray for your neighbor and for that need.  And if you are going to pray for it, you also should help to fill it.
Remember the words of James in chapter 2 of his epistle.  What good is it my brothers if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace be warm and well fed.” without giving  them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith, if it does not have works is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

Remember the preaching of John the Baptist?  “Whoever has two coats is to share with him who has none.  Whoever has food is to do likewise.”

Even as we pray that God would fill us it is our duty to fill others.

So we pray this prayer on behalf of our neighbor.  But we also pray this prayer against Satan.  Luther says that “for all his thought and desire is to deprive us of all that we have from God and to hinder it.  He is not satisfied to obstruct and destroy spiritual government by leading souls astray with his lies and power.  He also prevents and hinders the stability of all government and honorable, peaceable relations on the earth.”  [LC III p 80]

 Wherever there is dissention and disagreement know that the devil is at work.  Wherever there is want and poverty and need, know that the devil is at work.

“If it were in his power and our prayer (next to God) did not prevent him, we would not keep a straw in the field a penny in the house, yes even our life for an hour.” [LC III p 81]

In the 3rd Petition our Lord teaches us to pray, “Thy will be done.”

I will warn you dear Christians, think twice before you pray this prayer.
This first petition that we have covered is one that we can readily agree to pray and eagerly get behind.  Lord give me bread, preserve my wealth and health and stability.  While you’re at it do the same for my neighbor.  We like that prayer, but this next one – the one that comes directly before it – Thy will be done – that is a terrifying prayer.

It’s terrifying because it means you have to die. 

The Small Catechism tells us that the devil, the world and our sinful flesh get in the way of God’s will.  They do not want God’s Kingdom to come or his name to be kept holy and so they fight against it.  You are on the devils side in this fight.  You might not agree.  You might not care to hear that.  But it is true.  The Catechism says that it is. St Paul says it is.  “For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good but I cannot carry it out.” (Romans 7:18)

The Apostle John says the same thing.  “Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the father is not in him.  For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”  (1 John 2:15-17)

In order for God’s will truly to be done.  In order for God to really and completely and totally have his way with you, it is necessary that you die.  It is necessary that your will, your priorities, your aspirations, your pursuits, your pleasures, your achievements to be set aside.  And there are many of them.  Some of them are temporal – careers, personal records and achievements, family goals, financial goals.  These become gods that take the place of the One God.  Some of these goal are even spiritual goals – your commitment, your goodness, your effort to do the right thing, your rightness and righteousness ,your prayer life!  The Christian does not look at herself and say, “I need to be a better Christian, I need to be a more devout Christian.  I need to pray more, be more sincere, be more faithful, be a better husband or wife or sister of brother.”  The Christian looks to Jesus and simply prays, Lord may your will be done with me.  And if you are to do better, to know more, to grow more deeply, God will do it.

God’s Kingdom first came to you when He first gave you His Name.  Our Lord fulfilled the first two petitions – Hallowed be thy Name and thy Kingdom come – when you were baptized.  He gave you his name through His Word and according to Faith he made you an heir of His Kingdom.  The Gospel has come to you and made you a Christian.  And that’s just it.  That’s where your death began – you died to yourself and to your sinful flesh and to your own quest for wealth and power and glory – to you own will on the day that you were baptized.

Paul writes in Romans 6:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:3-11 ESV)

In the Large Catechism Luther writes, “In God’s Kingdom, although we have prayed for the greatest need – for the Gospel, faith, and the Holy Spirit, that He may govern us and redeem us from the devil’s power – we must also pray that God’s will be done.  For there will be strange events if we are to abide God’s will.  We shall have to suffer many thrusts and blows on that account from everything that seeks to oppose and prevent the fulfillment of the first two petitions.” [LC III p 61]

So your death that began at your baptism and is God’s Will for overcoming your will is accompanied by trials, by struggles, by temptations.  Our sinful flesh always wants these things to be gone as soon as possible.  Our sinful flesh wants to return too quickly to the 4th petition where God gives us bread and peace and prosperity.  That is the god we want.  But that god is a false God.  Jesus calls you to die.  Jesus calls you to take up your cross and follow him.  Jesus calls you to postpone present glory for the sake of that which is still to come.  Heaven.  Un-spoiled peace.  Unspoiled prosperity.  And more than just bread – a feast.

The Christian faith is a faith that is lived in the present with an eye to future.  We live today, but in the hope of tomorrow.  The gifts of today can seem to sparkle and shine but they will fade when compared to the future hope of eternity.  Lord get us to that day.  Give us bread for today.  But as far as tomorrow, as far as forever is concerned – may your will be done and not mine.