Monday, March 2, 2015

Lent II

“27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.
31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
 34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:27-38 (Esv)

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
These are the words of Jesus right after he gets done rebuking Peter, calling him Satan and telling him that he has in his mind the things of man, not the things of God. They were harsh words. And they are hard words to hear. They don’t quite make sense to us.
What does this mean, to pick up your cross and follow Jesus, to save your life by losing it?
Peter is having a hard time swallowing the cross. He just confessed Jesus to be the Christ. It is a confession of profound hope and optimism. He knows Jesus has caused a bit of a stir. He knows that Jesus has made his enemies in the world and that people are plotting to kill him in Jerusalem and if Jesus is a mere man it is only a matter of time before they catch up to him. The disciples follow him at great risk to their own well-being. But it is a risk they are willing to take, because they believe he is the Christ, the Messiah.
And for them, this entails the dream of Shangri-la. For them this is the fruition of the Jewish myths that Paul warns Titus about, the type of malarkey you find in the “Left Behind” series, Premillenialism and post millennialism the promise of a golden millennium. It was that sort of fantasy, that has ever plagued the church with fanciful readings of Revelation that whole heartedly ignore the rest of the Bible, or cherry pick and force read it to comply, that caused most of Israel to miss their messiah when he came. Glory and victory factored in to the concept of the messiah, a golden age of government, and peace, that would make David’s reign on earth pale in comparison. These things factored in. Victory over the enemies of Israel as a nation, the vanquishing of the Romans, these things factored in to their concept of  a Messiah. Defeat, the cross, betrayal and death did not.
But the minute Peter confesses Jesus to be the Christ, Jesus begins speaking of his defeat, his betrayal, his death. At least, this is the way the disciples would hear it. Three days and he would rise again? This didn’t make sense to them. What they heard is Jesus predicting his own death. A death they knew could be avoided. A death they didn’t think was necessary because they didn’t quite grasp the nature of the problem Jesus came to recon with. But the death of Jesus would not be defeat but victory.
Pick up your cross and follow me, he tells the disciples. And to follow Jesus is to do just that. To accept his forgiveness and grace is to forsake your own attempts at keeping the law, and to die to yourself. To follow Jesus means to put your life at risk for all the attacks of the devil. “It is enough for a student to be like his teacher.” To follow Christ is to invite the ridicule with which the world reviled our Lord. It is to lose your life in him. It is this that happened in Baptism, when you were buried into his death. It is this that happened in baptism when you were raised to walk in the newness of life.  Now you have lost the life of the old way, the life of the law constantly trying to keep a ledger of good works vrs. Sin. Constantly trying to preserve your dignity, your ability to stand before God on account of your own righteousness, to pull yourself up by your own boot straps. To secure your own place. No, that life is gone. Now you have the righteousness of Christ, the righteousness that comes through death and dying to this world and it’s ways of righteousness. A righteousness that comes with humility, and the indignity of accepting charity, of realizing that when it comes to the righteousness of God, your only option is that of a beggar. And to our Old Adam this comes as a cross. But in the cross there is victory because our Lord rose again on the third day, and we now walk in the newness of life, righteous and having salvation.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tending the Flock

25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, [3] which he obtained with his own blood.(Acts 20:25-28 (ESV)
The Acts 20 is full of great pastoral theology really. Paul honestly believes he will not see these men again. He doesn’t think he will survive Jerusalem. Yet he goes. Here in his farewell speech he talks to the pastors about what they are supposed to be doing. He holds himself up as an example. He didn’t shrink from proclaiming the truth, neither should you. His conscience is clean because he proclaimed the truth, he has no control over what others do or don’t do with the truth. He isn’t concerned for him it was enough that he preached and taught the truth. This is what they should do to. Pay careful attention first to yourself, then to he flock.
A pastor can never be finished studying, learning, growing in his understanding of the word, examining his teaching. The other day I was asked if I ever got a whole day off. I had to think about it. No, not really. It isn’t something I complain about. But how do you take a day off from the faith? It’s sort of difficult. I expect that my members pray for themselves and others and the congregation daily. It’s what I do anyway, and yet something like that is part and parcel of my job. You can’t control when people end up in the hospital. And honestly, the theological study part of it is just something I enjoy immensely, again part of my job. It’s fun getting paid to do what you love, and at the same time, it is a bit dangerous because you need to be able to take a break from your job even if you do enjoy  it. Then again, dairy farmers don’t get to skip milking cows just because they want a day off. The imagery is of a flock is an apt one. Being a shepherd isn’t a 9 to five. But you take the time you need when you can get it.

And then it is the honor that God makes you overseers of the flock which he obtained with his blood. He entrusts to your care those whom he values more than his own life. That’s incredible. He values you the same.  

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Righteousness of Man

“22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:22-24 (ESV)
Passionate words from Paul. It is hard to imagine this. Knowing the hardships that are going to face you for the gospel and yet being compelled to go at the same time. Paul has never intentionally looked for trouble, we have seen him try to avoid murderous plots before. But then he won’t let it keep him from doing his job either. Compelled to go to Jerusalem and yet still warned by him concerning the trouble that awaits him there.
He doesn’t count his own life of any value. He writes the Philippian’s that to live is Christ and to die is gain. He knows that he will be better off in heaven. He signed away this life with his baptism, it has been claimed by God. He will do his Lord’s will, he knows his life is forfeit.  All he cares about is testifying to the grace of God. The Lord died for him so he is now ready to die for the Lord.
This is profound faith, the result of having been forgiven much. Paul who once considered himself the most righteous of the righteous. But then he saw where the righteousness of man leads. The righteousness of man is good for what it is, serving the peace and tranquility of community. But when it is confused with righteousness before God, it becomes an affront. Before God our only righteousness is his forgiveness alone, confirmed in the death and resurrection of Jesus, whom Paul’s earthly righteousness of man had led him to persecute. It was through this righteousness that Paul had sought to secure his life. Now that he has the righteousness of Christ he is willing to give up his life entirely.
Today you hear people say, “I can be a good person without Christ.” Yes, you can. And no, you really can’t. This is the kind of reliance on the righteousness of man, earthly righteousness that is an affront to God. It confuses God with your neighbor, and your neighbor isn’t near as forgiving as Christ. It’s the kind of righteousness that in the end isn’t righteousness at all, but sin, because it despises the forgiveness that is given us in Christ. Yes, when we examine ourselves we find we really aren’t any better off than Paul was. We too have been forgiven much by Jesus Christ who purchased us with his holy and precious blood, his innocent death.

Monday, February 23, 2015

First Sunday in Lent

 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; [4] with you I am well pleased.”
12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God.”(Mark 1:9-15 (ESV)

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan and he was with the wild animals and the angels were ministering to him.
Every time I read the first chapter of Mark on the temptation of Christ I envision a version of Alfred Hitcock’s movie “The Birds” with the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove dive bombing Jesus and pecking at him as he gets driven out into the wilderness. The impetuous character of Peter, who gives Mark his story line, comes out vividly in this section of Mark’s Gospel.
Mark doesn’t dwell much on the temptation. It happens after baptism and it happens before Jesus begins preaching the gospel. He spends 40 days there and is tempted by the devil. He lives among the wild animals, and is in the end ministered to by angels, that is, helped by angels. What that help amounts to? Who knows? Perhaps keeping the wild animals at bay.
Forty days being tempted by the devil. These forty days are commemorated by us during the forty days of Lent. Jesus is not overcome by the temptations, as we so often are, giving in to the basest desires of our flesh, which we try to teach ourselves to subdue during Lent by giving up small indifferent things we enjoy that perhaps we can teach ourselves to endure and thus prepare for those times when endurance will be required, and then absentmindedly we find ourselves eating that chocolate. No, Jesus conquers the temptations. He conquers the temptations by choosing the cross, by picking up his cross and going to Jerusalem, by determining to die for the sins of the world, to count his earthly life as naught, that he might secure for us eternal life. This is really at the center of Christ’s temptations. And it often makes our temptations look trivial in comparison.
By refusing to give into Satan’s temptations Christ picks up his cross. It is what he came to do. And he did it alone because no one else could help him do it. He was victorious over Satan and rescued us from sin death and the devil while we were still enemies of God, while we were yet dead in our trespasses, while we were still children of the wrath of God, still yet servants of the devil.
Yes, this is who we are apart from Christ and his victory over temptation in the wilderness, his victory over the devil’s temptations on the cross, who spoke by the crowds saying he saved others let him save himself. No, in order to save others, in order to save you he had to forsake himself, he had to pick up the cross, he had to be forsaken by his father.
The temptations, they really weren’t the things of this world. Jesus who knew the splendors of heaven could hardly be tempted by even the most glorious nations of this world marred as it is by the devil’s handprints. Temptation, it’s a word that we don’t often give enough credit too. We think the devil tempts us with the allure of hedonistic living, we think of temptation as that chocolate while you are trying to diet, gluttonous feasts, money, prestige, power. All of these Jesus forsook. All of these things for which we vie in this world at work and at home, that we lust after as we escape into an evening of entertainment on the television, or at the movies. And in that sense these can be real temptations for us, but the devil’s temptations go much deeper. It comes about as we suffer in this world, as Jesus suffered in the desert, and indeed his whole life spent with hunger and thirst, strained family relations, and poverty, the son of man poorer than these beasts of the wilderness, the foxes with their holes, the birds with their nests, and where has the son of man to lay his head? Perhaps a stone for a pillow like Jacob on the run, the same stone Satan would ask to have made into bread.  And all this for what? So that he could end up lifeless in the noon day sun, stricken beaten and afflicted? Buried in a borrowed tomb? Yes, so that there he could finally fulfill the Sabbath rest for us laying upon that same stone his head when he was cold, stiff, and dead.

Yes, that was exactly why, so that he could do that for you, that there he could be forsaken by God for you, to free the captives of sin death and the devil, the children of the wrath of God, the enemies of God who we were, to reconcile us to our Father in heaven, so that believing in him, trusting in him, being baptized and buried into his death we could pick up our own crosses and follow him through borrowed tombs, knowing they no longer have any power over us. They can’t hold us anymore then the grave of Christ could. That we too will rise again. We too because we have died to death. Now we live in the newness of life. And whatever comes our way we know, Christ bore this for us, Christ is here with us even now holding us in his hand. Now we live because to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

In Public and At Home

17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:
“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:17-21 (ESV)
Paul stops at Miletus and calls the Ephesian elders. Later in this narration they will be called bishops, or overseers as it is translated. You see the same interplay of words here as you to in Paul’s letter to Titus. Elders in the New Testament were what we would call pastors today. What we call pastors would have been called deacons at that time. He can call these men to Miletus and not be delayed in his travels because they don’t have the wherewithal to host him there. Instead you have something of a pastoral retreat happening in which Paul is encouraging his brothers and giving them direction.
A large part of his direction is autobiographical. He holds up his own life as a model for these pastors. They should do what he has done. This includes teaching in public and from house to house.
When it comes to pastoral work both are needed. But things can be addressed in a person’s home that perhaps shouldn’t be addressed in public, this is true even of “public” sins in many cases. Sometimes the most public of sins is the sin of addressing a sin done in public publicly. But it isn’t just a matter of addressing a sin. The home setting often provides an intimate atmosphere for instruction that allows the instruction to take in a manner it wouldn’t in the context of a public sermon.
Though even here I wonder what is meant by public and house to house. Paul would lecture in public halls, salons of learning, and so on. He would lecture in the market place if possible. This allowed other people to join in on the lectures, to overhear, to listen from the sidelines and perhaps be drawn in. This was the model of evangelism. The worship service with communion was for those who had been brought into the faith. This was often done in the homes as one sees them breaking bread in the homes in the second chapter of Acts. Worship wasn’t a means of evangelism, primarily because worship without faith is not worship. One has to believe in order to worship. So one had to be baptized in order to participate properly in the worship service.
We live in a different age today. Today we invite friends to church regardless of faith or background, and this is a good thing. They can hear the word there, be introduced to the pastor, and they can in fact learn a lot, especially from the first half of the service, the service of the word. Though the second half, the service of the sacrament is perhaps not as helpful until such time as they can partake of the sacrament. It is perhaps even torturous to them. And I think we as a church in the LCMS need to come to grips with the fact that it even serves to send mixed signals when we pronounce forgiveness to them in the service of the word in confession and absolution, and even the sermon and then deny them this forgiveness in the Sacrament of the Altar. One sees why visitors and catechumens were sent out before the offering in the early church. In the early church the offering was a privilege of the believer, again, worthless without faith in Christ who has atoned also for your “good works.” The offering is in response to the salvation given in Christ, never an attempt to buy salvation as in a pagan context offerings, sacrifices, were given in an attempt to purchase favor. So this was done in homes, a more semi-private setting.

But it is vexing today. Where is the public square? Where does one go to lecture in public? The opportunities are scarcer today. Sure there is the internet. It is great for what it is and should be taken advantage of. And yet, you find yourself being heard in Timbuktu, and no one in your own community where you are called to be a servant of the word, hears a thing you have to say. It is problematic. We don’t have a culture even that attends public lectures. Our society is so closed you can live next door to a person for over a year and not know who they are. I know this because as outgoing as I am, I know people three and four houses down from me, even across town, and yet have hardly had opportunity to say  hi  to those living in the domicile next to mine. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ephesian Hospitality

13 But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go by land. 14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. 15 And sailing from there we came the following day opposite Chios; the next day we touched at Samos; and [1] the day after that we went to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 20:13-16 (ESV)

Pentecost was one of the major and required festivals of the Jewish faith. Jews were required to be in Jerusalem for this holiday, which is why there were so many on the day of Pentecost after the resurrection. I think we often forget that Pentecost was a Jewish festival. It was at festivals like this that a man would spend his tithe buying booze and meat. Perhaps also why people would accuse Peter of being drunk at nine in the morning. Today we read that as sort of an insult directed at the disciples, and though there might be some aspect of that in the accusation it would not have been so weighty an insult as it is today. These holidays were meant to be celebrated and moderate inebriation was pretty much expected to be part of that celebration.
This would also be a time that people who had taken a Nazaretic vow would complete that vow in the temple, and resume life as normal. It seems this is something Paul is anxious to do. He bypasses Ephesus. I find this a little funny. He loves the Ephesians, and the Ephesians love him. He knows if he stops, he won’t be able to resist their hospitality and he will be stuck there for quite some time. So he doesn’t even bother to stop. There will be time enough for him to return later, at least so is his thought.

Obviously the Ephesians would know as would others, when reports come of Paul in Jerusalem that he had skipped by them. It would be natural for them to feel a little slighted by this. I hate it when I have opportunity to be in the local vicinity of old friends and yet don’t have time to visit with them. It’s also a bit of a letdown when you realize friends have passed through and didn’t have time to drop in. But life is like that. Sometimes there just isn’t time. Luke feels it necessary to explain why Paul passes Ephesus, there is a note of apology in the explanation. In its own way it is a testimony to Ephesian hospitality. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Listen to Him

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one [1] on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, [2] it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; [3] listen to him.” 8 And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only. 9 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”  (Mark 9:2-9 (ESV)
“This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” We have heard it before. These words spoken as the heavens are rendered open. These were the words of an overjoyed Father at the baptism of Jesus. Now they are the words of the Father’s blessing upon the Son of man who goes to Jerusalem for you that he might rise from the dead, that in his resurrection we would behold the same divine glory seen by Peter, James and John. Listen to him, says the Father.
Listen to him. Not an easy task. To listen to the Son, is to believe the son, to fear, to love, to trust the Son above all things. To listen to the Son is to hold firm with him, to obey him when he says turn the other cheek. To obey him when he says Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your mind and strength. To love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will live, he says.
But of course, Jesus wasn’t the only one to say these words. There was Elijah who said them, and Moses before him. The spokesmen of the law. These two men on the mountain talking with Jesus, they had lived by these words and they had died by these words, well Moses did anyway but Elijah didn’t keep them perfectly either. Even Elijah had to experience a death of sorts as his body was transformed in the twinkling of an eye, purged of its sins in the fiery chariots as it was brought into the presence of God. Those who live by the sword also die by the sword. And make no doubt about it, God’s word is a double edged sword, sharper than a scalpel and it will cut right through your soul, the law will leave you lying on the ground with no hope.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your might. And the first three commandments barely register on our radar as we go about our business. Love your neighbor as yourself? Right, that coworker smacking her food at the lunch table, who just grates on your nerves with that self-righteous tone as she talks to your boss? Hardly.
Who of us can really say that we have listened to Jesus when it comes to these words? Who of us can say that we have anything to boast of here? None, not even Moses and Elijah could say that they had lived this law perfectly, that they had practiced what they preached when it came to these words. And that is why they are here talking to Jesus on the mountain. They are talking to their savior, the man who will atone for their sins. They are talking about what he must do in order to fulfill the law and the prophets. For it is from here on the mount of Transfiguration that Jesus turns, here his earthly ministry starts drawing to a close as Epiphany gives way to Lent. He will descend from this mountain that he might climb Golgotha, and it will be there, where Jesus himself loves God with all his heart, soul, and strength, where Jesus shows what it means to Love God, by loving his neighbors all those whom God loves, all those whom he created, every last person on earth. Jesus loves God by loving you. Jesus loves you by dying on the cross. And it is there that the words of the Son are heard, the words of the son of whom the Father says, Listen to him. And there his words are “It is finished.”
There is the other edge on that sword, the gospel that cuts through the straps of the law binding us to death, freeing us from sin with the love of God. It is finished? What is it that is finished? What is it that is completed? It is your salvation. It is the completion of the law, the fulfilment of the prophecies. It is here, the command to love is fulfilled in totality, that having been loved we might be free to love. Here, are the words of Jesus Christ. It is finished. You are forgiven. The love of God is complete in the love of the son for you. And there his glory is made manifest in the resurrection of the Son of Man who gives you life.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.