Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Lamb of God who Takes Away the Sin of the World

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. [7] 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus [8] was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter [9]). (John 1:29-42 (ESV)
“The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this and they followed Jesus.”
It’s always a peculiar thing to me that after all John has to say concerning Jesus that John ever has any disciples left to take care of him in prison or go as Jesus if he is the one they should be waiting for or should they look for another. When Jesus comes, John’s purpose in life is all washed up. He was to prepare the way of the Lord. The Lord is now here. Here is the one who ranks before him because he was before him. John hints at the divinity of Jesus, his preexistence as the Son of God begotten from all eternity before he was born of the Virgin Mary. John points at his death and sacrificial nature of Christ’s existence by calling him the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.  Finally, this will be the hint that gets two of his disciples to break rank and follow Jesus. “Behold, the Lamb of God.”
Agnus Dei is how you say that in Latin, the Lamb of God. It doesn’t point to a glorious end. For first century Jews concerned with scripture, it would bring to mind a couple images. It would bring to mind the suffering servant of Isaiah of whom it was said that he would be silent like a lamb brought to slaughter, and that he would bear the sins of many. It would bring to mind the Passover lamb that saved the Israelites from the angel of death in Egypt. It would be a graphic memory for all of them who had gone to the temple year after year in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. They would bring their choicest of lambs to the temple in long lines, Father and son, perhaps with the one lamb the family had, raised for this purpose only, almost like a pet kept in the backyard. One of those bummer lambs you see in the classifieds. Not sure how they would have bottle fed a lamb in first century Palestine, but I’m sure someone figured it out. There would be many of them on the temple mount. One by one pulled down to the pavement, and without hardly a bleat the throat slit and the blood collected, tossed on the altar, and running red through the gutters cut into the stone for that purpose. The orchards below the temple always had the choicest of fruit. I don’t know if you have ever seen a lamb slaughtered, but it is rather uncanny how little a fight, how peaceful the whole thing goes off. It would have been the image brought to mind for the disciples of John. The image that would find fruition on the cross, when before the Sanhedrin, before Pilate, before Herod he would make no protest.
Perhaps that is why the rest keep their distance, and those that follow, follow apprehensively.  “Behold the Lam of God, and the two disciples that heard him say this followed Jesus.” But it would be Jesus who would turn and tell them to come. It would be Jesus that would choose them, and show him where he stayed. “Come and you will see.” He says.
What choice do we have? “Come and you will see.” It’s really the point of this text selection for this Sunday, this second Sunday in Epiphany. The season that emphasizes the earthly ministry of Jesus, before he turns towards Jerusalem to play the part of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world during Lent. Come and see. Come and you will have your own Epiphany. Or as it says elsewhere, Seek the Lord while he may be found. It is what the disciples are doing. What are you seeking? The Lord! The one who ranks before John because he was before John, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  But the disciples got to follow, watch from a distance until Jesus told them to come.
Jesus tells you to come. It was a journey that began with your baptism. There Jesus made you his disciple. There he discipled you, as his own disciples followed through on the great commission. “Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.” And so they his disciples, the church, made you a disciple. But they were the words of Jesus that said come and you will see. Where do we go? We go where Jesus promises to be, we go to where Jesus stays. This is not a mystery.
Where two or three are gathered in my name, he says. And so we begin the service with his name, and are gathered in it, and here he is for us and with us, and here he stays. And then it is no longer we who come to him, but he who comes to us. In his word, all of scripture that testify to Him alone. Then it is he who comes to us in the bread and the wine, the body and blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, our paschal lamb that must be eaten. It’s a wonderful thing. Because then he follows us home, to be with us day in and day out around the breakfast table before school and work in family devotions, at lunch when we break bread with coworkers and classmates and console them in hardships with the words of Christ, that perhaps they too like these disciples of John would be inspired to follow Jesus to where he stays. Then he follows us and stays with us in all we do, dwells within our hearts and permeates all we touch. And then the Lamb of God who Takes away the sins of the world blesses all that we do, forgives all that we fail, and sanctifies all that we touch, whether at work or at play, at home or away.

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

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Sunday, January 8, 2017

I Have Need to Be Baptized by You

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, [2] and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, [3] with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17 (ESV)
“I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
Then Jesus comes. That’s how Matthew puts it in the Greek. Perhaps, it doesn’t sound right in English because the rest of the story is in the past tense. But Matthew wants to punctuate a new chapter by slapping the grammarian across the face. Then Jesus comes. John is baptizing on the river.  The people are asking him what it is he is doing. He just got done telling them that his baptism isn’t the one they really need. His is water for repentance. When the Messiah comes, he will baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus comes.
Then Jesus comes to be baptized by John with his baptism of water for repentance.  When John says he baptizes with water, he is emphasizing that it is only water, and that it was only repentance. It was based in the law. John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was strict with the law, neither adding to it, nor taking away from it. He was calling people to repentance. He was showing them their failure to live up to the standards of the law. Showing them their need for this one who would come to baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit.  And he, who Jesus would says was the greatest among men born of a woman, would know his own need of this baptism.
Today, you have a lot of people who don’t think they need it. I think most of this stems from a confusion of John’s baptism and the baptism of Jesus, but also from a confusion regarding the law and the nature of grace. Somehow, people think they can be quite good enough without baptism, and don’t need baptism to show their faithfulness to God. There are other people who see baptism as more or less a ceremony of dedication in which they pledge to live a righteous life according to God’s law. Of those who see baptism in this manner, the smart ones don’t get baptized. If you are going to go that route, you will have to live a life that would perhaps resemble John the Baptist’s, and even he failed. Even he recognized his need to be baptized by Jesus. Yet, Jesus who came eating and drinking, managed to live the better life, the perfect life that John couldn’t live by avoiding the pitfalls or worldly pleasure.
John separated himself from the world. He had disciples that followed him out there in the wastelands. They fasted, and they avoided drink as the Pharisees point out to the disciples of Christ who did neither. And yet he knew he needed to be baptized by Christ. He knew he wasn’t perfect, he wasn’t righteous, that we wasn’t even worthy enough to wash the feet of Jesus much less baptize him. It really shows the futility of sanctification by way of the law.  People think they can do it. That they can make themselves holy by following the law. And then they fail. So they add to it.
Now, John had a special commission from God to be who he was, to be as it were a Nazarene even from birth. That is to live his life in accordance with the Nazarite vows of the Old Testament, that any Jewish person could take upon themselves from time to time in devotion to God. Paul even did it as a Christian. These were the vows he was completing when he was arrested in the Temple in Jerusalem. But some men would be set aside for this from birth. Men like Samson in the book of Judges. To this day, there is warrant for this sort of thing in the Christian life too. Some Christians do things similar to this at lent. Or at other times in their life, to exercise discipline in their lives perhaps, to help turn their attention to things above, to bring added focus to prayer and daily devotion. Perhaps as training their bodies to withstand temptations when they come so  they do not fall in the midst of persecution, or let their own greed and lust get in the way of showing love to their neighbor in the name of Christ.
But for the most part to live a life in the manner of John would be sinful in and of itself without the commission from God. To take it upon yourself to live a life that would spurn the earthly gifts of God as evil. I mean this is one of the reasons I just love the book of Ecclesiastes. There the wisest of men, King Solomon, at the end of his life in which he pursued the meaning of life which he finds to be vanity outside faith in God, lays out what God has given man to enjoy in this world: the wife of your youth. It’s a strange phrase, but in it I think he shows that joy that comes with a mature relationship that has weathered the storms of life and raised children together, as well as the joys of the youthful relationship when Meatloaf considers you doubly blessed.  Then he says wine which God has given you to cheer your heart. He counsels against drunkenness and the abuse of this gift easily abused. But nevertheless, would consider neglect to also be abuse. Bread, by which he means food. It’s not something that is supposed to merely nourish you, but it too is supposed to bring joy to your heart. Something that you share with those you love, and allow to nourish your soul. Finally, there is the work of your hands. Work isn’t supposed to be drudgery. In this sinful world it often is. It is not for nothing that God condemns Adam to eat by the sweat of his brow. Yet, even in the drudgery of modern day jobs, God gives us a glimpse of the heavenly paradise to come when we take pride in our work, and those moments where we find joy. But it’s not just the job that is meant here. It’s perhaps hard to find any satisfaction working the cubicle farm, where the florescent light is a poor substitute for sun. But here is also meant the joy that comes along with working a garden in the back yard, or tinkering with cars, welding, knitting or any other number of hobbies. All this to say, God does not intend for your life to be one living in the wastelands of Palestine eating locusts and wild honey. Nor, does he consider anyone holier because they avoid drinking. Love anyone more because they abstain from marriage and sex. These are temptations sinful temptations, actually. Perhaps John the Baptist knew this most. It’s funny, he never counsels anyone to live the way he lived. He tells the soldiers to be content with their pay. Tells the tax collectors not to over tax. Tells the people to share in their abundance. But he never counsels a life divorced from the world living like hermits. He condemns King Herod for taking his brother’s wife, but doesn’t have anything to say about his life of luxury.
John knows what the answer to his sin is. It is not a more strict life, but being baptized by Christ. And then Christ comes.  But Christ demands to be baptized by John to fulfill all righteousness. “Let it be so now” he says. It came from heaven, John’s baptism. It did not bring with it the Holy Spirit promised in Ezekiel 36. It did not bring with it the forgiveness of sins. Those who were baptized by John would later have to be baptized with Christian baptism as is made clear in the 19th chapter of Acts. But it was from heaven, as is the law of God. And along comes Christ. He has no sin to repent of. But he submits to the baptism of repentance. He repents not for his own sins, but for your sins. In bowing to repentance with you, in bowing to repentance with all those who submitted to John’s baptism of repentance, he accepted your repentance as his own. And with that repentance, he paid the price for your sin with a baptism of his own, the baptism that we are baptized into, the baptism of his death and resurrection. In this way Jesus fulfilled all righteousness for you. That when his baptism of death and resurrection were done, we who are baptized would be buried with him into his death that just as he is risen from the dead we too might walk in the newness of life.  This is the baptism in which we live a holy life. It’s a life not made holy by works of the law, but by the life Christ lived in accordance to the law out of love for us, that in his love the holiness of Christ might permeate our life in love.  His love, the life he laid down for you his friends, the death you were buried into, would permeate your life with newness. And it is this love with which he washes your feet, his death that we proclaim until he comes, when he washes away our sins anew in his body and blood given for you.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

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.
Amen. 

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.