Monday, January 31, 2011

Theology of Glory Fail: Funeral Edition

Look up the theology of glory in the thesaurus and you might just find the word fail under the list of possible synonyms.  There are many things a theology of glory can do for you: fill an emotional vacuum (for a while) with optimistic flattery, satisfy a yearning for spiritual experience (at least until you have to come down from the mountain-top), and improve your self-esteem and self-worth (looking at your own works and not Christ's), not to mention create a frenzied music atmosphere that would rival Metallica (where the focal point is the drums and the screen not Christ Crucified) - and all in the name of relevance, mission and being authentic.  But there's one thing (actually one of many) I've found that the theology of glory cannot accommodate: death.  And more specifically comfort in the face of death.  Theology of glory and memorial services are about as antonym as you get.  Those who have been hoodwinked by the attractiveness of a theology of glory (and you don't even know it until you've left it) don't know how to handle death - what to do with it, how to behave, how to speak words of comfort in the midst of it.  Perhaps that's part of the reason why so many people had extreme emotional responses to Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ a few years back.  But I digress.

Funerals are hard enough to attend, let alone memorial services for children.  Theoden of Rohan was right, fathers aren't supposed to bury their children.  It's moments like those that you realize there is something deeply marred in this world - not just bad, as I heard from the pastor - but deadly and dark.  The word sin doesn't even begin to capture the ugliness.  Memorial services are not celebrations of life; we don't gather to honor their memory or praise what the person has done (save that for the reception) - that is a theology of glory.

He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.  Death is a damn shame - and that is the theology of the cross - calling a thing like it is.  This is not the way the Lord created life to be.  He created us to live forever (thankfully this pastor did get that right).  Sin is death and death is damnation but Christ has conquered both, for you.  But you will not hear much of this at a theology of glory funeral. Instead you will hear things like this: things were messed up and Jesus comes to make them better - True, but how?  The Law assumed is the Law avoided.  And the Gospel assumed is the Gospel denied.   Instead what I heard was, "we're here to celebrate life and memory and what this person has done...tell stories, eat and play video games...yea this is unconventional...this is for the kids and if you don't like it, deal with it." 

The most amazing thing of all is that the Gospel was still to be found - John 14 and Romans 8 were read.  John 3:16 was quoted.  That was the amazing thing, even in the face of a man's best attempt at making a theology of glory comforting in the midst of tragedy (which it is not).  Thankfully, Christ's Word of healing was still heard even if just for few minutes.  Today's real tragedy, however, was not what the pastor said: "God can work good out of any tragedy (true)...and this day would be a tragedy if you left here without knowing how to get to heaven."  That would be a tragic. But the greatest tragedy is what the pastor didn't say.  So you can work a mic stand...but can you proclaim the Gospel in the face of tragic death?  The theology of glory cannot; it has been weighed in the balance and found wanting.  Crux sola est nostra theologia - the cross alone is our theology.   To the Scriptures, my friends:

   Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.  Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.  Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.  Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:  And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?  She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.  And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee.  As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him.  Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him.  The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there.  Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.  When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.  And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.  Jesus wept.  Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!  And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?  Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.  Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.  Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?  Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.  And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.  And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. 

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?"
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The "You-Are-Bless-i-tudes"

4th Sunday after the Epiphany – January 30, 2011
Text: Matthew 5:1-12

Grace Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ + Amen.

            Everyone loves the Beatitudes – presidents and pop-stars, Christians and non-Christians – they all jump on the beatitude-band-wagon.  However, Christians seem to have taken the reigns.  So many misuse and abuse the beatitudes as the duct-tape of Christian living. 
            Having financial problems? Don’t worry, there’s a beatitude for that: blessed are the poor in spirit, your guide to financial success. 
            Having anger issues?  Don’t worry, there’s a beatitude for that. 
            Struggling with your Christian living?  Don’t worry there’s a whole list of beatitudes for that – the perfect recipe for abundant blessings - the Be-Happy-Atitudes. 

            All of these things are not like the other.  Something’s missing:  Christ Crucified and His blessing.  That’s why you don’t do theology by Google search.  This is the trouble with the beatitudes - we think they’re all about us, what I must do and say, how I should live and act.  And if that’s all the beatitudes are, you don’t need Jesus.  You might as well stay home and watch Oprah.
            In doing this the beatitudes are turned into the be-curse-i-tudes.  Caution: beatings will continue until sanctification increases.   Our Old Adam is a pro at this, taking Jesus’ words of blessing and turning them into something we do to please God. 

            This is all backwards.  The beatitudes are less about what you do and more about who you are in Christ.  Less about the things you do to bless God and more about Jesus blessing you by His life, death and resurrection.  He must increase; I must decrease.
            Jesus comes to bear your guilt, not to leave you feeling guiltier going home from church than when you came in this morning.  Jesus didn’t come to guide and coach you into living the abundant Christian life but to place His Name upon you and create new life in you; in Him.  He comes not to curse, but to bless.

            That’s what that little word – beatitude - means.  Blessing.  Not do this and then God will…not a merit, checklist or a recipe.  The beatitudes are a declaration, a promise, a pronouncement – a Blessing.  Jesus opens His mouth and blesses.  Plain and simple.  Of course God’s Word tells you how you live – but that’s no place to start. 
            Jesus is the beatitudes.  That’s where you start.  The beatitudes begin and end in Him.  He is the merciful, the righteous, the peacemaker, the pure in heart – all the things that you and I are not.  For that is what you need most of all, a God-man who is everything that you are not so that you can be given everything that belongs to Him: the kingdom of heaven and all that is His is now added unto you. 
            Jesus opens His mouth and teaches with perfect meekness for you who are rebellious.  He gives the kingdom of heaven away to those who are poor and beggarly in spirit.  Blessed are those who have nothing but sin and death and know it and hate it.  The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as you – spiritually impoverished, meek-and-thirsting-for-righteousness-in-Christ sinners.  Blessed are you - empty of all checklists and rulebooks and sucking up to God.  Jesus doesn’t need your blessing, or your offering or your worship.  And yet for our sakes He offers Himself, He serves you, He blesses you.

            And that’s where you start - with Christ: He is the beatitudes and so are you. 
A new identity in Christ.  You are what He declares – poor in spirit, comforted, merciful, peacemakers, inheritors, blessed.  Blessed are you who have washed your robes in the blood-soaked waters of the font.  Blessed is every man, woman, child, infant who is planted like a tree in the stream of blood and water pouring out of Jesus' side.  Your roots travel through the font to His cross – grafted into the Crucified Vine.  The same Vine that yields heavenly fruit.  Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for His body-and-blood righteousness.  You shall be satisfied in the Supper.
            Blessing from the cross.  You are blessed because Jesus was cursed.  The Kingdom of heaven is yours because a crown of thorns was His.  You are called sons of God because Jesus death brought peace between God and man.  With Roman nails He has inscribed our names in bloody ink upon His palms.  Blessed is He who was persecuted for our righteousness’ sake.  Christ Crucified blessing.  It may sound utterly foolish to the world.  The cross is a stumbling block
            You can no more take Christ away from His cross than you can take Christ out of the beatitudes; Christ and the cross and blessing are inseparable.  That’s why the beatitudes aren’t some checklist of things to do, but who you are in Christ.  Not “do this;” But, “you are.”  Blessings.  Not curses.  Take Jesus at His Word.  You are blessed.      
            From the first Word of preaching to His last Word on the cross, Jesus is living and suffering and obeying, healing, saving and teaching for you.  Jesus opens His mouth and gives you life, saves you, rescues you, forgives you, blesses you.  And so in this way you too are inseparable from Jesus; Christ, His cross and blessing and you.  Christ comes as mercy, for mercy, unto mercy. 

            His cross changes everything.  Christ has taken away your sin; it is no longer yours.  And all that remains is His holiness – you His holy ones, His saintly ones, His meek and poor in spirit, comforted in mourning, peace-bearing blessed ones.  Now you see all of daily life through Christ Crucified. 
            Through Christ Crucified to the neighbor in need of mercy. 
            Through Christ Crucified to those in need of consolation. 
            How beautiful are the feet and lips and mouths that bring the peace of Christ…declaring the kingdom of heaven for those who are poor in spirit.  Blessed.  It’s simply who you are in Christ.

            You are the righteous man of Psalm 1; the robed saint of Revelation; the just and righteous Israelite of Micah.  Now you have a new Name written upon you, inscribed in water and blood upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified.  Called to be a blessed, merciful, compassionate disciple of Jesus.  Just like Andrew and Peter and James and John, the only difference is you don’t leave your nets; You go where Christ has stationed you – mother, father, teacher, nurse, salesman, CPA member of Redeemer... 
            He calls you to the altar and He sends you out – forgiven, redeemed, holy.  All that you have is His and all that is His is yours.  You lack nothing.  You are blessed.  Saved.  Free.  Sent out as mercy, for mercy, unto mercy.

            And so Jesus’ cross also marks our whole life.  This new Name of Christ upon you will cause the hearts of wicked men to revile you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on Jesus’ account.  Blessed are you when you are persecuted for this Gospel, honored to suffer for the Name.  Rejoice and be glad?  Yes.  For that is what it means to be in the Kingdom of God; to be Crucified with Christ; to share in the suffering of Christ even as He continues to bear our suffering.  It is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you.  Rejoice.  You are blessed.  And great is your reward in Heaven.  

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Ballad of Ricky Gervais

I don't usually watch the Golden Globes.  I love watching movies.  I enjoy several of the television shows that were nominated this year.  But for whatever reason it was, I found myself flipping back and forth between the Golden Globes and whatever sports I could find on at the time.  Ricky Gervais was the comedic host again and while some thought his lines were too harsh (I could care less about Hollywood elites getting their ego bubbles bursted), he wasn't nearly as big of a blooming arse as Russel Brand.  Mr. Gervais is normally a very funny bloke.  The Office (British version) is hilarious.

Which reminds me, the Brits have some great things going...wonderful humor (thank you Monty Python, Mr. Bean, etc., etc., etc.), delicious beer, fun words like "git" and "sod."  And we definitely cannot forget about Harry Potter (pronounced potta), football without pads and my personal favorite, the Inklings of Oxford.  Finally, after all his cheeky jokes were done his closing line caught my ears:  "and I'd like to thank God for making me an atheist."  Which reminded me of his awful movie The Invention of Lying, a movie so bad it doesn't even warrant a review much less a Golden Globe. But this little stunt is nothing new.

Back in December, Mr. Gervais wrote a little piece that found its way into the Wall Street Journal entitled, Why I'm An Atheist.  If you'd like to read the article you can find it here.  In it he tries to answer the question he is frequently asked, "why don't you believe in God?"  There are several things to address.  Many of the things he says are common objections from unbelievers.  Which, by the way, you can listen to on Issues Etc. with the premiere apologist, Dr. John Warwick Montgomery.  He has done several segments on The Existence of God, Miracles, the Scandal of Particularity and Alleged Contradictions in the Bible.  Too bad Mr. Gervais did not hear that from his mother instead of whatever was being taught around the Gervais household or in the church he grew up in.  Instead of commenting on all this and making you drool on your keyboard from dozing off.  I'll focus on one quote in particular:

"Science seeks the truth. And it does not discriminate. For better or worse it finds things out. Science is humble. It knows what it knows and it knows what it doesn’t know. It bases its conclusions and beliefs on hard evidence -­- evidence that is constantly updated and upgraded. It doesn’t get offended when new facts come along. It embraces the body of knowledge. It doesn’t hold on to medieval practices because they are tradition. If it did, you wouldn’t get a shot of penicillin, you’d pop a leach down your trousers and pray. Whatever you “believe,” this is not as effective as medicine. Again you can say, “It works for me,” but so do placebos. My point being, I’m saying God doesn’t exist. I’m not saying faith doesn’t exist. I know faith exists. I see it all the time. But believing in something doesn’t make it true. Hoping that something is true doesn’t make it true. The existence of God is not subjective. He either exists or he doesn’t. It’s not a matter of opinion. You can have your own opinions. But you can’t have your own facts."

Well, I wonder where the objectivity of science was when our good friend (and non-Christian, ftr) Ben Stein went around interviewing so-called objective scientists on scientific theory in regards to Evolution and Intelligent Design (not creationism).    But never mind the bollocks; that's another topic altogether.  Mr. Gervais wants facts.  Agreed.  Nothing but the facts, sir.  And when it comes to the facts, Christianity is far and above any other world religion.  Furthermore, Christianity is the only religion that openly invites investigation (see 1 Corinthians 15).  I'm not sure if they talked about that at Mr. Gervais' Sunday school, but they should have and so should we.  Christianity, unlike the other religions of the world is verifiable.  St. Paul even seems to think it's falsifiable.  If Jesus did not rise from the dead, what does this mean?  But the critic has to answer the other side of the question, if Jesus did rise from the dead what would that mean?  

This kind of clarity, and openness to true scientific, historical, investigative, evidential inquiry is exactly the reason why Christians can rejoice that science and history, faith and fact, belief and reason are not necessarily at odds with one another.  Rather, as Lewis reminds us, in the Gospels, myth and history have met; the Gospels do not have the sound of myth, but of primary history, eye-witness accounts.  The question is not, first and foremost, "how does that make you feel?'  But rather, "is it true?"  Ironically, as much as Mr. Gervais talks about reason and logic he cites no evidence for his disbelief anymore than his mother did for her belief.  Both are grievous errors.  Logic and reason and good science would also dictate that he examine the evidence before making a conclusion, rather than launching into presuppositions before any evidence is given.  And yet this is precisely what Mr. Gervais has done.  You can't have it both ways: claiming to be logical and reasonable and yet ruling out certain conclusions beforehand even if they do have metaphysical ramifications.  You can't claim to have reason and science on your side and not do the investigation of the evidence for Christianity, evidence which, by the way, would pass the bar a court of Law beyond a reasonable doubt.  In other words, you can not claim to have the facts on your side and ignore or dismiss certain accounts that claim to be facts.  That - thanks to Spock - is illogical.
So, for the benefit of Mr. Gervais and others who might be interested in facts and reason.  And for those Christians who are seeking to make a reasoned defense in truth and love (1 Peter 3:15) here are some facts that both Christian and secular scholars (read: atheistic, without agenda or bias, i.e. the hostile witness) agree upon.  If science truly did embrace the "body of knowledge" they would not, for example, rule out miracles as a priori simply because they are recording supernatural events and have eternal consequences.  C.S, Lewis dealt with this in his smashing success, Miracles.  Here is a reliable "body of knowledge," what Gary Habermas calls the "core resurrection data."  This is a minimal base approach, meaning, that there are more items agreed upon and no scholar grants only these.  Do not be fooled by their brevity.  They are multifaceted and complex, full of history, evidence and facts, beyond what is listed.  Sometimes he lists 6 things, other places he lists 9, 10 or 12.  Here are two such lists.

1. Jesus died due to the process of Roman crucifixion.
2. Once a persecutor of Christians, Paul became a believer because of an experience that he believed was an appearance of the resurrected Jesus.
3. The disciples had already experienced what they also thought were actual appearances of the risen Jesus.
4. The apostle's proclamation of the resurrection dates from an exceptionally early time after Jesus' death.
5. James, the brother of Jesus and a skeptic, was converted after experiencing what he also thought was an actual appearance of the risen Jesus.
6. The disciples were utterly transformed by their conviction that they had seen the risen Jesus, even being willing to die for this belief.

1. There was an empty tomb thought to be Jesus'.
2. Believers and unbelievers alike had access to it.
3. The earliest reports are too early to be legendary (mythical).
4. The account is simple, showing earliness and accuracy.
5. Women were the first to declare that Jesus rose.
6. The unbelieving Jews knew they had to come up with a counterclaim.
7. Many Jews in power converted to Christianity, weakening their story.
8. The disciples went from being scared, depressed and disorganized to confident, assertive and willing to risk everything on this one single claim, namely that Jesus died and rose from the dead.
9. The disciples were certain they had seen the risen Christ.

You see, facts are stubborn things.  It may even sound strange - a God who takes on human flesh, enters history, time and space, dies on a cross, and rises from the dead appearing to hundreds in the flesh - too good to be true perhaps.  However, in the words of Sherlock Holmes, "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."  Please, parents, pastors, Christians, teach your children and parishioners and friends about these things so that when they are asked the question, "why do you believe in God," they are able to give a ready answer and defend the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Good Fisherman

3rd Sunday after Epiphany – January 23rd, 2011
Text: Isaiah 9:1-4ff; Matthew 4:12-25

In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit T Amen.

            You’ve heard it said that Epiphany is a season of Jesus revealing, making known, manifesting God’s salvation– it’s the true season of Light – where the glory of YHWH shines forth in the flesh and blood of the man Jesus Christ – the Light of the World; the light of the Gentiles, of Huntington Beach.  This is all true.  And yet it sounds rather odd to talk about darkness in Southern CA, where we average over 266 days of sunshine a year. 

            But you and I both know that Isaiah isn’t talking about the weather and Jesus didn’t come to Galilee to make sure every home had the proper CFL energy-efficient illumination.  Isaiah uncovers what we modern, “civilized” people have largely forgotten, or at least tried to cover up, what in the not so distant past was quite apparent – that darkness is death. 

            God’s people in Isaiah’s day knew this – they sat in the darkness of exile, awaiting the Dawn of the Messiah.  It’s no different today.  For as hard as it is to find darkness and bad weather in California, it’s even harder to admit that you sit in darkness, sin and death.  That you have sinned in thought, word and deed.  You see, sitting in the dark is a lot like being lost you don’t really know how lost you are – or how thick the darkness is - until someone shows you a map or turns on the lights.   
            Jesus exposes the darkness of our sin in one short little sermon.  He cuts to the heart.  “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  The light also exposes the way we sprint blindly into arrogance and gossip, lust and disobedience – obeying false gods in order to brighten our day for just a little bit.  Yes, believe that you are indeed a great sinner, but believe that Jesus is a far greater Savior.  Jesus’ comes not in terror or judgment or punishment; He comes to scatter the darkness with His Good News.

              That’s the difference between Isaiah and Matthew.  We no longer wait for the Messiah.  New Light has dawned.  The Day of the Lord has come in Jesus.  In Christ’s forgiveness, God’s verdict of the Last Day slips out.  For the Light of Bethlehem’s manger has moved from the Jordan River to the wilderness to Capernaum for you.  The reign of God on earth has arrived in the flesh and blood of Jesus.  And wherever Jesus reigns, He reigns with forgiveness of sins, life and salvation abounding like an ever-rushing river.
            To the world around us, the light of Jesus’ ministry looks rather dim, dull even some skeptics say.  Calling disciples, healing, preaching, casting out demons…dying and rising; none of this really sounds like the kind of kingdom or King anyone would have expected.  Where’s the conquering?  Where’s the victory; where’s the healing? 
            Because if it’s hard to see the darkness of our sinful condition, it seems just as hard, if not harder, to see the light of God’s salvation when the gloom of this sinful world overshadow the ones we love: where growths and tumors intrude on our family and friends; where little 8 year old boys are killed in tragic accidents; where wicked men slaughter innocent people – a creation held captive to sin and death – shrouded in darkness.  
            Into this darkness walks Jesus: God of God, Light of Light- in Him is life and that life is the light of Zebulun and Naphtali, of Capernaum and all people; light and life for you.  He is your Good Shepherd; He is your Good Fisherman.  See how easily He calls His disciples.  With a short sermon and two performative little God-does-what-He-says words: “Follow me.”  Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  The Word is spoken and all is accomplished.  Jesus speaks and His disciples follow.  Jesus preaches and sinners are forgiven.  Jesus heals and the afflicted are restored.  Jesus casts out demons and the prince of this world is thrown down from his self-imposed throne.  
            The God who gave victory to Gideon’s 300-man light brigade is the same God who now comes and shines with heavenly light in the flesh and blood of Jesus; He wins victory on a Friday afternoon amidst clouds of thick darkness.  The glory of the Lord is no longer in the temple; He has taken up permanent residence in human flesh.  From Bethlehem to Capernaum and from Capernaum to the cross.  Follow God’s glory as He goes, not in a pillar of fire or smoke, but in a pillar of skin and bones.  Jesus the Greater Gideon goes once again to fight in battle for us.  There is God in crucified, blood-shed-and-poured-out-for-you glory. 
            Shall anything separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus? The forces of Midian or the devil himself? Disease or famine, sword or persecution? The ICU or tragedy – even death?  No. Nothing will stop this Savior.  For the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light and those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness on them – on you – Light has shined.  And not just any Light; for that was no ordinary darkness. 
            Matthew tells us John was arrested; handed over.  The forerunner is at it again – always pointing to the Crucified Lamb of God.  Jesus too is handed over, betrayed, arrested.  John goes where Jesus goes – birth, baptism, arrest and death.  And Jesus goes where you go – birth, baptism, obedience, temptation, bearing diseases and suffering, yes even death so that in His death you are given life, consolation.  The oppressor’s rod is broken, the yoke of your sinful burden has been laid to rest on the arms of Jesus and Satan’s rule is cast out as easily as Jesus casts His saving nets.  This Good Fisherman; He rescues you, pulls you through water to Himself– fishes you out of the darkness – with a Word as strong and powerful as the call to His first disciples: I baptize you...follow me.  Not maybe, not sort of, not kind of…but immediately – the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand in Jesus.

            I’m sure it was a beautiful morning when Jesus walked into Capernaum, fished his disciples out of their boats and set them about the Father’s business.  But there is no more beautiful morning this side of heaven than when the light of God’s Word breaks into our lives and speaks a Word of hope and eternal comfort: the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. 
            Do you find yourself suffering tragedy and in need of comfort?  Jesus is at hand.  Are your loved ones or friends sick or distressed; do you find yourself overwhelmed by the shadow of death.  Are you blinded by this world and in need of saving light?  Jesus is at hand.

            That’s why Jesus calls His disciples: to spread the light of His Gospel, to rescue, preach, teach – the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  So, He sends them fishing with the same Word He used to pull Andrew and Peter and James and John from their boats and into His net.  And that’s the same Word He uses to cast His nets and gather His Church.

            For the reign of heaven is not a “what.” But a “who!”  You need look no further than Jesus; in Him, God’s Kingdom has come and continues to come.  Wherever you find Jesus, there’s the Kingdom. 
            Thy Kingdom come.  Thy Kingdom poured over you in the water.  Thy Kingdom fed to you in the Supper, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily body and blood.  Thy Kingdom proclaimed into your ears: “I forgive your trespasses as you trespass against Me.”  What joy.  You go where Jesus calls you: Come, Follow Me.

In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit T Amen.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

An Overdue Dawn Treader Review

There once was a boy named Eustace Scrubb and he almost deserved it, after all he didn''t read the right books.  And there once was a director named Michael Apted and who didn''t read enough of the right books (and from recent news reports, neither has Liam Neeson, a.k.a. Aslan's voice in the movies).  This could be the kind of post that goes through and petulantly nit-picks everything the new Voyage of the Dawn Treader missed and/or added to Lewis' book that is so beloved by many, including this current critic.  I shall save such an endeavor for a sequel: Dawn Treader Review: The Nerdy Edition.  Much could be said for much was lost in the details.  As I have mentioned with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows it's the substance of the books that is in the details.  Theology is in the details.  And in this case it's the Christology or should we say - Aslanology that's in the details.  So here's some of the details I thought the new Dawn Treader movie got right, even if they did embellish a little or add here and there.  Sometimes creativity can be a license for good not ill (how do ya like that Beastie-blast from the 90's?).  Here they are in no particular order, well, except for the last point; the closing line was the piece de resistance.
  • Eustace Scrubb was brilliantly cast.  His mannerisms, his snooty, bratty arrogance and idiocy were done quite well.  Not sure how much the child actor read the book to become familiar with the character, but he pulled it off smashingly.
  • The opening scene in the Edmund's room at the Scrubb's home.  The painting moved.  The ship really did look Narnian and the water came rushing in the room only to find the children no longer in a cramped bedroom but in Narnia.  I thought this scene wonderfully captured the magic of being brought into Narnia.
  • The Dawn Treader...what a noble Narnian ship it was.  The careful attention to detail, the real boat they built to create the set - it was money well spent (unlike the $ I spent to see it in 3D - not a fan of that at all; 3D is for suckers).  Both the ship and her crew seemed to fit the part well.  Here you can tell they payed fairly close attention to the details of the book - dragon head and tail, the gilded  and green sides, her sail, even down to the Aslan icons on board. 
  • You must allow one nerdy moment though.  Eustaces' baptism was well done -albeit differently than in the book, however it was a nice parallel.  In the book it was done near/in a pool of water in the dark of night.  Eustace was unendingly overwhelmed at his dragon nature that had consumed him.  He was clawing at it and scratching.  The movie showed that briefly, but it was much more intense in the book.  He could not shed his dragon skin.  Aslan had to do that for him.  And it felt like claws - again, the movie portrayed this - but Aslan did not touch Eustace in the movie, only in the book to you get such rich intimate (let the reader understand) God-with-you details.  Now the fiery baptism in the movie was cool though too since it had some Biblical backing to it.  I'd love to know how they decided to go that route in the movie and what the conversation was that took place.  At any rate it was good they had it despite placing too much emphasis on accentuating the positive of Eustace's dragon nature.
  • Reepicheep; the song he sang: He was singing it in the beginning of the movie on the bow of the Dawn Treader.  He's the Elijah of Narnia, leaving not his cloak but his sword behind as he enters Aslan's country through the chariot of shell and water.  He's the first one to mention Aslan's country in the utter east and he's the first to taste the sweet water that signals the utter east.  Reepicheep is one of the most endearing characters in the books and I'm thankful the movies captured that well.
Where sky and water meet
Where the waves grow sweet
Doubt not, Reepicheep
To find all you seek
There is the utter East.
  • The lillies.  Easter.  Aslan.  Nothing more needs to be said.  Even the water was calm.  That a Revelation type scene complete with the wave.
  • Jill Pole is mentioned at the end...anyone heard any rumors about the Silver Chair?  They sure left it open at the end.
  • But they saved the best for last.  The quotation at the end by Aslan.  "You'll find me in your world but I go by another name...I have brought you here that knowing me here for a little while, you may know me better in your world." (pardon the paraphrase).  The correct quotation in the movie covers a multitude of Hollywood sins.  If there was one thing I was hoping they hadn't messed with it was this.  And they got the line right.  That;s the whole point of the Narnia books, pointing to Jesus.  Lewis used these books, the fantasy genre and all his creative genius to sneak past those watchful dragons.

If you think I missed anything I'd be curious to hear what you thought of the movie and where it was faithful or untrue to the book.  As I said earlier, perhaps I'll post something of a geek-squad review with more critical elements, but that's all I've got to say about that...for now.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Water and Blood and Jesus

+ The Baptism of Our Lord – January 9th, 2010 +
Text: Isaiah 42:1-9; Romans 6:1-11; Matthew 3:13-17

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

            The greatest events in Scripture all have to do with water.  Think about it: Creation, the flood, the exodus, wandering in the wilderness, the entrance to the Promised Land, Jesus’ miracles and ministry – His crucifixion – there’s even water flowing from God’s throne in Revelation. 
            You're welcome to challenge this, but I think you could only add blood to the premise.  Which only helps strengthen the case.  Water and blood and Jesus.

            Everything is there for you in Jesus’ Baptism: the Son is in the water, the Spirit Hovers and the Father’s voice resounds.  Creation, redemption, sanctification, fulfillment – it’s all in the water – liquid salvation.

            So, Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan River to John to be baptized by him.  At Jesus’ Baptism, John is still the forerunner.  His entire identity is wrapped up in water.  The same is true for Jesus.  Baptism and Jesus always go together.  So, it’s no coincidence that Jesus’ is anointed into His public ministry in the Jordan River.

            The Jordan River appears to be an ordinary river - more like a creek – the people of Israel have been crossing and bathing in this river since the days of Moses.  But, oh is it ever polluted.  I’m not just talking about the silt and reeds.  Think of all those people coming to John to be baptized in repentance for the forgiveness of sins; it’s unholy water.  This time, when Israel wades into the Jordan River something new – a new Promised Land, a new Paradise – happens under the sun and in the water – God in the flesh goes to the Jordan River to be baptized by a sinner with sinners for sinners.  That’s what Jesus wades into, a slough of iniquity.  A dirty, sinner’s bath.  The Sinless for the sinner.  So much for a nice dip in the river. 

            And John calls Jesus out on it too.  He blurts out the elephant in the river:  “What are you crazy?  I need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?!”  John knows what kind of runoff is in that river.  He knows the kind of people he’s been baptizing – no sin, no baptism; that’s how it works; Jesus is not one of them.  He bears no guilt.  He has no sin.  He is innocent, a spotless Lamb without blemish.  Heaven is already open to Him, His Father is already His Heavenly Father from all eternity; all that the Father has is His; and the Spirit dwells with them in eternity.  John is right.  Jesus has no need of Baptism.

            But you and I do.  We need His Baptism – we need what happens to Him in that water.  We were in bondage to sin, death and Satan and the worst part is was no one’s fault but ours, we the liars , the gossipers and backstabbers, murderers, cheats and scoundrels – we, the chief of sinners were in prison and could not free ourselves from darkness and separation - sin and death.  And you might think that you are alone.  But you are not.  He has not come to break bruised reeds and snuff out smoldering wicks.  He comes to the Jordan for you.

            Jesus stands in the Jordan for all of Israel, for you Muttering Moses’, for you Conniving Cain, for you Desiring David, for you Betraying Peter, for you chief of sinners .  Christ goes down into the water without guilt.  Without sin.  Innocent.
            And He comes up out of the water guilty, impure, unclean – the greatest sinner of all.  A reverse Baptism.  John resists, but Jesus insists.  There is no other way.  “Let it be for now,” Jesus says, “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  So, John pours the water; Jesus is anointed for death.  And like a divine sponge He soaks up all God’s wrath for you.  There’s no one so bad that Jesus did not die for them, none so good that they do not need Him.  In Him is the liar and the cheat, the pervert and the thief; you are in Him.  He is doused with your death so that you are drown into His life.  Every Baptism is a successful drowning into life.

            The tides have turned.  Jesus’ Baptism is a great reversal.  A super exchange, a sacred swap – the Holy for the unholy, the Sinless for the sinner, the Living for the dead, the Son of David for the all sons of Adam.  Jesus Baptism is your Baptism.  Jesus’ death is your death.  Jesus’ life is your life.  He is the stand-in for all humanity.  One life for all.
            Heaven is open.  The Son is in the water; Spirit hovers and the Father’s voice resounds.  Nothing pleases the Father more than this Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.   “This is my Beloved Son in whom I was, I am, I will continually be pleased.”  His sacrifice is a delight to the Father.  Through Jesus’ Baptism – life death and resurrection - God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. 
            For Jesus, the cross looms large over Baptism.  Baptism in the Jordan.  Baptism on the cross.  Water gives way to blood and fire.  Death gives way to resurrection.  Death has sheathed it’s sword, the angels no longer guard the way to paradise, Jesus leads you there through His Baptism, through His death, into life.  “Behold, my chosen Servant in whom my soul delights.”  The Spirit is upon Him from all eternity.  You see Jesus, you see the Spirit.  And in Him, the Spirit now rests on you.

            That’s why it had to be a dove descending.  The feathered Spirit rests on Jesus, having found a perfect fleshly olive branch.  Peace with God.  Jesus has suffered all God’s wrath for you.  Jesus is the end of punishment for you.  The Victor.  The Fulfiller.  The Accomplisher.  The hell destroyer.  The former things have come to pass and new things He declares:
            A new and greater flood gives way to a new creation set free.  Jesus’ ministry is your Freedom.  He releases us from sin’s captivity for fruit bearing life.  Heals and bears our diseases.  Casts out Satan and his hordes.  Raises the dead.  The Key of David unlocks heaven and slams the gates of hell shut with a flood of water and blood.  He is pierced and Heaven is open.  Who do you see through the torn curtain? 
            Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, takes away your sin.  And if He has taken it away it is no longer yours, but His.    Your apathy, your lies, Your sins – whatever they may be, great or small, it matters not – they no longer belong to you, but Him.  Sin, death and evil are gone. 

            Into your empty hands He puts His peace.  Into your ears He sings a new song of absolution.  Into your open mouth He puts His own body and blood.  He gives you faith in Him and fervent love toward one another.
            And over your head He pours forth a new and saving flood that drowns all sin in you which you have inherited from Adam and which you have committed since.  It may only look like water, but Jesus is there.  For no one who goes into the font after Jesus comes out the same.  Down with the old and up with the new.  All of your guilt and shame is covered by His robe of Baptismal death-and-life-fulfilling righteousness.

            Water and blood and Jesus – it’s all there in your Baptism.  Should your sin disturb you or Satan fire his darts at you, point to the font and soak his lies in the Promise: “I am Baptized.  There my Savior was baptized into my death and there I was baptized into His.”
            In Jesus, Baptism is your ark, your exodus, your anointing, your death and resurrection.    Your Jordan where the Son stands, the Spirit hovers and the Father’s voice resounds: “You are my beloved child with whom I am and I will eternally be pleased.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Christmass for the Outsiders

The Epiphany of Our Lord, January 6th 2011
Text: Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ + Amen.

            Where is He who has been born King of the Jews for we have seen his star in the east and we have come to worship Him?  That’s what the magi asked Herod.

            And now that the bowl games are all but over, the after-Christmass sales have been picked through, tossed aside and replaced with pink and red hearts and all those cookies and treats have moved from your counter-top to - well, let’s just say, your stomach - it appears that Christmass is finally over.  For some this brings sadness –loved ones are gone, it’s time to go home and put away all the decorations.  For others this means reprieve: the relatives are gone, you finally get to go home and what a relief, no more schmaltzy Christmass music repeating every hour at Target. 
            After all the tinsel and glitter you’re left asking the same question:  “Where is He who is born King of the Jews that I might go and worship him?  Where did Christmass go?  It was over before it even began!”

            In a twist of irony it seems that once all the ribbons and lights, trees and ornaments are down you finally find the real and enduring meaning of christmass in the Church.  Here in the Church the real Christmass never goes away. 

            That’s the promise of Epiphany.  It’s a continuation of Christmass, and yet it’s a season unto itself.  At Christmass the Word was made flesh.  During Epiphany we see God’s glory revealed in the flesh and blood of the man Jesus, manifested in Jordan, at Cana, calming the sea, seeking and saving the lost.   Which is why Epiphany has also been called “Christmass to the Gentiles.”  The Magi – the first gentiles to worship Jesus – were led by the star to Bethlehem where they found Jesus.  Christmass for the outsiders.      
            But it’s not so much about the wise-dudes searching for the newborn King, as it is the Light of this newborn King finding them; not so much about the gifts they bring – although they’re important – but about the One they fall down and worship: Little child Jesus.

            We probably have a camel-load full of questions about Epiphany: how many magi were there, 3, 33, 300?  Where did they come from?  How long did they travel?  Was the star a natural or miraculous phenomenon?  Was Jesus closer to 6 months or 2 years old?  And the list goes on and on.
            Where is He who is born King of the Jews?  That’s the Epiphany question.  And if you answer this question right the rest of Jesus’ life – and the whole church year - falls into place.
            The magi asked the right question, but in the wrong place, Jerusalem.  The capital.  The holy, royal city.  King Herod the Great was there.  Although as history reminds us, he wasn’t really a king and he wasn’t all that great either.  But it makes sense that the magi would go there.  If a king of the Jews was to be born, where else would he be but crawling around the halls of Herod’s palace? 
            However, Herod was not the Great King foretold by the Micah and Isaiah and the prophets.  To find this King, they had to find Bethlehem.  And to find Bethlehem they had to go to the Word of the prophets:

And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.

            So it’s off to Bethlehem.  The star reappears - like a divinely ordained global positioning unit this light guides the magi to the Light of the World.   the star was amazing, the journey was arduous, the gifts were fit for a king – but the magi fall down on their knees and touch their foreheads to the ground, the deepest sign of respect there is in the Middle East, and they worship the little Child. 

            Where is He who is born King of the Jews?  The Magi do not worship God in the highest heavens.  They worship the Child, the baby Jesus.  The glory of the Lord is not in the burning bush or in the pillar of fire, nor in the tabernacle or the temple but in the flesh and blood of Jesus, this little baby who bears your flesh and blood.  This little baby, who can’t even articulate a meaningful Hebrew word is the eternal Word by whom all things were made.  The magi were led by a star to the Child Jesus, through whom all stars were created.  They fall down and worship the Star of Jacob who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.

            Jesus’ birth may have been poor and lowly and His crib no more than a feeding trough.  But, His manger is wide enough for the whole sinful world and all the havoc and chaos in it.    The radiance of God’s glory manifested, made known, revealed and shining through the flesh and blood of Jesus. 

            Maybe Epiphany finds you lonely after a rough holiday season with family….maybe Epiphany finds you mourning, waiting, hopeful, overwhelmed, confused or lost in the darkness of sin, death and the devil.  When the world is at its absolute darkest Christ’s salvation is most radiant.
            Where is He who is born King of the Jews?  He is nailed to a tree.  Behold the Light of the World whose death is covered by the darkness of sin.  This too is epiphany…the One mounting the cross is God in our flesh.  He reigns from His crib, His mother’s lap and now the cross.  No kingly accessories in sight: only a crown of thorns; a throne of wood; and a robe of blood.

            When the world is at its darkest hour.  The sun shrouded in darkness.  God is hung on the cross.  Jesus’ greatest glory.  Your greatest glory – Jesus, swaddled in your death destroying death.  That’s how far God is willing.  To bring you back to Him.  To save you from sin, death and hell.  To find you.  To Epiphany Himself for you.  And again the sign: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.  Arise, shine; your light has come.  Go and tell your neighbors, friends, co-workers that they too might come and worship Him.

There’s no need for a star; that was for the Persians.  God has other signs for you and the world. 

            What God began in Bethlehem He continues in the Lord’s Supper.  After all, Bethlehem means House of Bread.  And that’s exactly what this altar is: your bread box, your Bethlehem.    That’s why Christmass is never really Christmass without Holy Communion and the Holy Communion means that God’s people are again celebrating Christmass.  You don’t need to go on a 700 mile camel-journey to find God; just get out of bed on Sunday morning – or Thursday evening - and come to your Bethlehem.                
            Where is He who is born King of the Jews?  In His Word, a Lamp shining in dark places.  In your Baptism, a daily reminder that Christmass never ceases.  In the Lord’s Supper - His House of bread and wine.  Every Lord’s Supper celebrated is Christmass all over again.  Here the Living Bread who comes down from heaven is the Child in the manger and is now given to us at the altar.  Here you worship and adore on bended knee The same Jesus who was worshiped and adored by the magi. A Child, a King, your Savior.
In the Name of Jesus+ Amen.