Monday, June 27, 2016

Fire From Heaven

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” [5] 55 But he turned and rebuked them. [6] 56 And they went on to another village.
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus [7] said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:51-62 (ESV)
“But the people did not receive him because his face was set toward Jerusalem.”
Jesus had traveled through Samaria in the past. It was there in a town called Sychar that Jesus spoke to a woman at Jacob’s well and converted a whole village. Then as now, he was taking the unpopular route. The text of John four hints that Jesus took that route to hide from Pharisees on his way back to Galilee. Pharisees who were upset that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John. One can guess that with his face set toward Jerusalem, Jesus was again taking the unpopular route, trying to avoid the crowds, find solitude and quiet in the company of friends as he faced his impending death, the sacrifice that he would make for the sins of the world, for the sins of Samarians that would reject him here.
His face was set toward Jerusalem. It’s the turning point in the gospel of Luke. His ascent to Jerusalem takes up a third of Luke’s gospel. His earthly ministry was coming to an end, and taking on a different stage. Up until now, he could be mistaken for just another wandering rabbi. He had some good sermons. He healed the sick. He was popular. But Jesus knew this was not enough. It was not enough to wander around aimlessly teaching right from wrong, telling people to love their enemies and turn the other cheek, teaching them that to hate their brother was to murder their brother, that to lust after their neighbor’s wife was to commit adultery with her.
No, that wasn’t enough. The law awakened sin, even when Christ preached it. Perhaps, especially when Christ preached it. It awakened envy and hatred in the Pharisees who could no longer hide behind their pretense of righteousness. It would awaken despair among those who wanted to follow him when they had everything in order when they had buried their fathers and would no longer anger their parents with conversion. But today is the day of salvation, and you never know if you have tomorrow. It wasn’t enough, it still isn’t enough.
We know the law. We know right from wrong. Does it stop us? I mean how hard is it to swallow pride at the family dinner table and sit down with that brother of yours, that sister of yours. We all know families are supposed to be held together by love, but most often are torn apart by hate. Jesus knew it too. Brothers who plotted to kill and collaborated with Pharisees before his hour had come. But it would be the love of Jesus that would set his face toward Jerusalem. It was there that he would overcome their hatred with love as he died on the cross. This is what it meant that he had set his face toward Jerusalem.
The Samaritans rejected him because his face was set toward Jerusalem. They did not like pilgrims going to Jerusalem. Their temple was in the hills above Sychar. It was there the sacrificed to the Baals they named Lord and God. The pilgrims going to Jerusalem were a constant reminder that they worshiped a different and false God. Even Jesus would tell them that salvation came from the Jews, that what they worshiped in Sychar was something they did not know. They called him God, but we know that it is demons who hide behind the idols of golden calves. So they rejected Jesus because his face was set toward Jerusalem.
But it was not only Jesus they rejected but James and John, the sons of thunder, who followed Jesus. So incensed they wanted to call down fire and brimstone on the village from heaven. Everything is possible for those who have faith. They would curse those who rejected Jesus.
How often? How often does this thunder roll from the hatred in our own hearts when we too are rejected for following Jesus? How often when we try to forgive and it is thrown in our face perhaps in the form of mashed potatoes slung across the thanksgiving table. How often when we set our face toward Jerusalem with Jesus do we find we are still yet sinners weak with a lust for power and glory in the face of those who would take advantage of our attempts to be forgiving and kind? How often do we find ourselves lashing out with fire and brimstone? Do we call down curses from heaven in a long tirade of hateful words? Do our fists fly with the fury of Mount Vesuvius? Do we hear the rebuke of Jesus?
He set his face toward Jerusalem because teaching the law was not enough. Some early manuscripts, but not the earliest include the rebuke of Jesus, what he said: “You know not what spirit’s children you are. The Son of Man has come not to destroy souls but save them.” Whether or not Jesus said this at that juncture or not is rather irrelevant. (Though it bears striking resemblance to what he told the woman at Sychar about worshiping what you do not know.) It’s true on its own. The Son of Man, Jesus Christ came not to destroy souls but to save them. And this is why teaching the law was not enough. This is why he set his face toward Jerusalem. That James and John, and as well as the souls of the Samaritans would not be destroyed by the law, but saved by the love of Christ who died on the cross to atone for the sins of the world. Yes Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem for you children of thunder, that fire from heaven would fall upon every man like sacrificial salt in baptism through which we all receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and are buried into Christ’s death that just as he rose from the dead to the glory of the Father, we too might walk in the newness of life.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Sexual Immorality Among You

5:1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
 3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. 4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:1-5 (ESV)
Now Paul begins to get to some concrete things that are causing problems in the congregation. There is sexual immorality. It needs to stop. This is any sort of sexual relationship outside of marriage.
God made marriage. He meant for men and women to come together and share their lives with one another, to become one flesh with one another. He didn’t mean for women to be raped, and passed from customer to customer on the street corner, or abused on film, by men who view themselves as nothing but dogs. He gave men and women the capacity for love and means for it to be shared in a sexual relationship between men and women. Outside of the commitment to love and care for one another, to support and cherish each other as gifts of God, outside of that sex is sexual immorality. But where there is that there is a marriage whether or not there is a certificate from a church or government.  Most marriage ceremonies a pastor does today is the blessing of a marriage that has already occurred. Of course, that marriage can only happen between a man and a woman. What ever the state wants to call the relationship between two men or two women or what have you, it is not a marriage and it cannot and will not receive God’s blessing even if a Balaam has been hired for the ceremony.
In this case we have a man who has taken his father’s wife. Evidently they are living together as husband and wife. Not even the pagans would tolerate such a thing. It is an insult to the father. The kind of insult that Absalom meant to give to his father by entering his concubines, which was really the same thing as a wife. (Often, the only difference between a wife and concubine was the status she came into the marriage from, whether she had a dowry or not).
A person scratches his head. There aren’t many details given in the letter as to how the relationship happened. They don’t matter. There isn’t any argument that can be made for letting it remain. They may or may not have “loved” each other. They may have been doing it out of spite to the father, (it seems that had to play some role in the whole matter.) Paul says no. Turn the man over to Satan.

And that is weighty. Give the man over to Satan was Paul’s way of saying excommunicate the man. You either belong to Christ or you belong to Satan. If you are in the church you are Christ’s. If not you belong to Satan. I think we should use that terminology when we are debating excommunication procedures. Let it sink in as to what is really happening. I’m sickened to my stomach when I hear of this stuff happening over lack of church attendance, or a myriad of other things that weren’t acceptable for good a proper folks in the 1950s or whenever it was. It could be that the people have excommunicated themselves for a while and just haven’t come. But the whole point is repentance. The idea is to bring the man or woman to repentance. And that is not going to happen when it is people just not caring or being frustrated with a perceived lack of progress in another person’s life when they should be concentrating on theirs. Our Lord is slow to anger, and we should be too. We ought to really sit and think about whether or not we truly want repentance from this person and if what we are doing is going to bring it about or not. Christ died for them, even as he died for you. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Father Paul

 14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me. 17 That is why I sent [2] you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, [3] as I teach them everywhere in every church. 18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness? (1 Corinthians 4:13-21 (ESV)
“For I became your father in Christ through the gospel.”
Some Christian traditions call their pastors father. I didn’t grow up with this, but I have learned to smile and greet those cordially when I’m at the hospital or about town in my collar and they call me that. I’m good with pastor. In fact, I’m good with Pastor Bror, Pastor Erickson or in most cases just Bror, especially if I’m hanging out drinking a beer with you. I decline to answer to Mr. Erickson if at all possible. I might answer to that at the doctor’s office before asking her to call me Bror. For a while there within different Lutheran circles, there were some asking to be called father. I have always been uneasy with trying to introduce that practice. Seemed unnecessary and frivolous. At the same time, I always had to shake my head when I would hear people saying but Christ said you should call no one father! That needs some context and is somewhat offset here with Paul telling the Corinthians that he is their father in Christ.
This also puts a little perspective on his hyperbole and sarcasm in his previous section. Father’s do this with their children when they are growing up, and when fathers do it, it is a loving thing that they do. If it was a teacher or a pedagogue doing it then it would be different. Paul has a stronger relationship to the Corinthians than these other pedagogues so he takes advantage of it in order to show his love for them. Here he clarifies that he does this out of fatherly love for them in case there was any doubt. And so that everyone understands the respect they are to give Timothy when he comes because Paul will be coming soon himself.

Paul is sending Timothy to help straighten things up, to help the Corinthians find their way again.  He asks them to be imitators of him as he is an imitator of Christ. This is learning how to live the Christian life, which would have been quite a bit different from the way the people around them lived, even as today it is increasingly becoming different than they ways people live. This has never been an easy thing. The hardest thing to overcome is the arrogance that we know better than God how it is we should live our lives in love. But if we let the love of Christ shape us then we will be imitating him. It is love that Paul will put into contrast with arrogance and rudeness. It is love that saves us by dying on the cross rather than lording it over us. 

Monday, April 18, 2016


It’s over. Eight years. Eight years ago I decided I was going to blog through the New Testament. I had no idea how long it would take me. But I finished Monday, which is when I’m writing this too. I began scheduling posts early on so something would come up every day, but I didn’t have to write something that day if I had something else more pressing. I started at I Cor. 5 because that was where I was in my own reading when I decided to do this thing. I made it around. There are two posts scheduled yet to come up. 
I’m not sure why I decided to do this really. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Somewhat I viewed it as “practice.” A person goes to college and learns Biblical languages, studies the Bible in class with other students and professors who have forgotten more than you know, more than they can impart to you also, but then you get into the ministry and you are left coming up with a sermon every Sunday. Yeah, I still do that. I’ve recycled concepts but never a sermon. I remember I spent the first year of ministry reading through the Greek New Testament. I learned more. You are always learning, and sometimes you have to say goodbye to cherished notions and beliefs about what the text says as it corrects you. It was fun. I guess when I decided to blog the New Testament I thought this would help me learn too. It did. Very few things teach me better than writing.
I had time to do it. Or I thought I did. I didn’t know how much time it would take! Who knows how much time anyone has? But I did it.  I thought I would approach it like a series of concept papers for future sermons. Tackle the text, analyze it, find something devotional I could say concerning the text and how it might apply today. Somedays that was work. It got easier when I started reading Bo Giertz’s Commentaries before writing.
I don’t have the same amount of time anymore. I was determined I would finish. And I have put other things off that I want to do. I want to write more for Higher Things and 1517 now, do my art critic schtick. I want to translate more. Honestly, I’ve got more translated. Write not I have Two Volumes of Bo Giertz Sermons translated as well as “With My Own Eyes”. I need to get those published but the works are being held up by a Sasse Volume I have been editing and is at the publisher’s now. Then I have these commentaries to translate.
I’m just translating them now. I had been waiting for a friend who said he wanted to translate them 14 years ago. I’ve been translating them in prep for Sunday, and for Bible Studies. I’ve put a dent in them. They are better than anything I wrote. The world of English speaking Lutheranism needs them. English is just a more accessible language for the world of Lutheranism than Swedish. This is especially true where it is exploding in Africa and elsewhere.

As far as this blog goes, I don’t know what its future is. I won’t be posting every morning anymore. My sermons will still go up on Monday morning. Other than that I may put other things up from time to time. 

Fool For Christ

8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! 9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. (1 Corinthians 4:8-13 (ESV)
“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ.”
Paul gives a bit of insight as to what it means for him to be an apostle. He feels like a spectacle to the world, angels and to men. He knows the world looks on to see this as utter foolishness. Paul risks his life every day for the gospel. He has suffered, and suffered again. His life doesn’t look like a success story. Today we look back and are amazed at the success Paul had. At the same time, mission execs and gurus would be rather appalled by the meager numbers.
This is in many ways what is happening. Those who have become Christian by the work of Paul, are now thinking they know better than Paul. Paul knows better. He knows what it looks like. He knows it looks like he is going about the task of evangelism in a counterproductive way. The Corinthian’s are opening up to culture, bending to it to make things more palatable. It is the perennial temptation of the pastor or congregation. In Corinth’s case, it was the use of more ecstatic worship practices that mimicked the ecstatic practices of the temples and soothsayers of the culture. Speaking in tongues to replace the Oracle of Delphi. It was allowing women to preach and teach with the public authority of the church. This too was reflecting and appealing to the culture in which they lived, where women often took the more prominent role in religious rites. When those who had more scruples about listening to what the scriptures say and what Paul taught concerning him, they appealed to religious experience and being moved by the spirit.  But then how does the Spirit tell them to do something different than what the same Spirit is telling Paul?
We have to wrestle with that today. This same sort of fanaticism is constantly being appealed to. The Spirit is moving us they say. It’s funny how in the church the Spirit is always conforming to society, but in the scriptures it never is? Is it really the Spirit, or is indigestion? That’s crass. It’s a well-deserved crass question to be asked. At times, but it is also a bit more materialistic in outlook than I like. The truth is there are many spirits out there, and many that would lead us astray. They often appear as angels of light. The Spirits need to be tested, and the only thing we have with which to test them are the words of a fool, a fool for Christ. We have scripture, in other words. Paul was given the Holy Spirit. This we know. We know even as the other Apostles recognized his ministry and apostleship. His words seem foolish. But it was precisely the foolish things that God chose to shame the wise. That’s the way the cross works. We don’t always understand it, but we have no choice but to believe it, to follow it, to trust it even as Paul did. When it comes to “growing the church” we first have to take into account what the church is, sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd and listen to him.

My Sheep Hear My Voice

22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, [1] is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” (John 10:22-30 (ESV)
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life.”
Today we know the Feast of Dedication as Hanukah. Yes, even Jesus our Lord celebrated Hanukah. It was/ is a beautiful holiday celebrating the victory against all odds of the Maccabees over Epiphanes Antiochus who wanted to force assimilation of the Jewish people into the Greek/ Hellenistic culture of his empire and so desecrated the temple with Pig’s blood. The Maccabees led a revolt and managed to gain independence for the Jewish nation and rededicate the temple. The people rightly saw this as divine intervention. And so even without explicit command in Scripture, the holiday came to be celebrated every year. It was a patriotic festival and a religious festival.
Today there are many who would pass judgment on Christians for celebrating a festival or new moon or a Sabbath as it says in Colossians where we are told not to let anyone pass judgement on us for such things. We are free to celebrate what holidays we want, though we might take care in how we do so. We do not need an explicit command from scripture saying we can celebrate this holiday but not that one. We can point to the example of Jesus who celebrates his freedom at every turn, healing on the Sabbath on the one hand, and celebrating military victory on the other.
“My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they listen to me. I give them eternal life.”
It’s winter in Jerusalem. Hanukah, the winds blow down from the Levant, the Syrian hinterland, and they blow cold across the desert and through the city. The people huddle under the lee of Solomon’s portico, an Eastern wall of the temple that gives shelter from the winter wind. The Jews decide to take the opportunity to catch up Jesus, trick him so they can stone him. “Tell us true, are you the Messiah?”
There had been many pretenders, many who tried to say they were the Messiah, who would lead men into battle hoping to be the next Maccabee. Perhaps the same way you see presidential candidates clamoring to be the next Ronald Reagan. At a patriotic celebration of independence long lost, the atmosphere was charged with intrigue here in the temple Jesus would say had been turned into a den of robbers, the term the Romans used for terrorists, those the Jews called freedom fighters. The kind with whom Jesus would be crucified. Most of these men came from the land of Galilee.
So Jesus doesn’t answer. He knows if he tells them he is the Messiah they will take him for an upstart, a rabble rouser, and a political pretender. The concept of the Messiah had become muddied so that even today people think Jesus is going to come back to be the Messiah and set up a new world order if he truly was the Messiah. They don’t get it. But Jesus had told them who he was before and they didn’t listen because their hearts were hardened. Cynical of so many failed revolts they didn’t even believe in the Messiah anymore. So worried about temporal problems, they couldn’t hear what Jesus had to say about their spiritual condition.
“My Sheep hear my voice. I know them. They follow me. I give them eternal life.”
In Palestine, shepherds would call their sheep with a song. It was a bit like yodeling. Each shepherd had their own. Their sheep would easily be separated if they got mixed with sheep from another fold. They would hear the voice of their shepherd singing his song. And like the parting of the red sea, the two flocks would separate.
So Jesus speaks and his sheep listen. They hear his voice. His Song of Love Unknown. They understand who he is. And he knows his sheep.
He knows them. He knows you. Jesus has been there through every turn of your life. He poured water over you in his name when you were born. Put his brand on you, tagged your ear, gave you the penicillin shot against sin, death and the devil. He knows you, because he watched you play in the green grass accompanying the spring of life, even as he leads you through the seasons of life, finding water for you in the heat of summer, and nourishing your soul through the fall and winter. For man does not live on bread alone, but every word that comes from the mouth of the Father. And he and the Father are one. He knows you. And so you follow.
So you follow him. This is what sheep do! They don’t know where the shepherd is taking them, but they follow his voice through the craggy mountain passes, the rocky cliffs of the desert, the lairs of lion and wolf, the valley of the shadow of death. Then? The green grass of Bashan opens to them in mountain meadows. And he lies you down by still waters. You listen to him, follow him. It’s perilous at times, treacherous, and sometimes it is just hard.
I mean what does it mean to follow him? You don’t do this alone. You are not the only sheep in his pasture. There are other sheep as helpless as you, as nasty and selfish, conceited and arrogant. There are other sheep whom the shepherd knows as he knows you even to the darkest recesses of your soul, prone to lust and envy, slothful and lazy. Other sheep like you who in the valley of the shadow of death let their fears run rampant, get stuck in briars, caught in crags, spooked by every rustling of the wind. And he calls them as he calls you, all a part of one flock where you hear his word together, bow in prayer together, kneel at the alter together forgiving each other’s sins, supporting and carrying one another in their weakness, bearing with one another along the way, because you belong to the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. You hear his voice. You follow him because he knows you and gives you eternal life.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, Keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord Amen.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Boasting in Gifts?

6 I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, [1] that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. 7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1 Corinthians 4:6-7 (ESV)
If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

Salvation is a gift, and so is everything that comes along with it. Everyone is given different gifts. Sometimes people are tempted to boast about the gifts they are given, as if it is some great accomplishment. When a gift is being used in such a way as to build yourself up at the expense of someone else it is being abused. This is what Paul has to say about that matter. This is something that applies to all of us. What matters is the gift of salvation, and all our other gifts should be used in such a way that they work toward the salvation of others, that is in service to the whole church.