Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Metaphorically Speaking

There's a reason Psalm 23 and John are some of the most vividly captivating words in Scripture, in a word: metaphor.  "Yea, but Psalm 23 is so over-used."  Perhaps.  All the more reason to appreciate the intricate beauty of metaphor.  Metaphor, not in relation to the minutia in parts of speech (such as simile and synechdoce), but rather metaphor as it is broadly defined: pictorial language, illustrative words and so forth.  I am no philologist or epistemologist but I do love words and their meanings.  And without metaphor it seems that both are impossible.  For if words are to have meanings (and they must, or else this is a waste of time) we must use metaphorical language.  Lewis' insights into this in Miracles are most helpful as they will help us see past all those "horrid red things."

"Very often when we are talking about something which is not perceptible by the five senses we use words which, in one of their meanings, refer to things or actions that are.  When a man says that he grasps an argument he is using a verb (grasp) which literally means to take something in the hands, but he is certainly not thinking that his mind has hands or that an argument can be seized like a gun.  To avoid the word grasp he may change the form of expression and say, 'I see your point,' but he does not mean that a pointed object has appeared in his visual field.  He may have a third shot and say, 'I follow you,' but he does not mean that he is walking behind you along a road.  Everyone is familiar with this linguistic phenomenon and the grammarians call it metaphor.  But it is a serious mistake to think that metaphor is nan optional thing which poets and orators may put into their work as a decoration and plain speakers can do without.  The truth is that if we are going to talk at all about things which are not perceived by the senses, we are forced to use language metaphorically.  Books on psychology or economics or politics are as continuously metaphorical as books of poetry or devotion.  There is no other way of talking, every philologist is aware." - Miracles, p. 114-115.

Pictorial language or metaphor does not hinder objective truth and meaning in words, quite the opposite in fact.  The idea is to understand that metaphor is not abstract but concrete (you see what I mean?).  It allows us to say more not less; to open our minds not close them; to communicate more clearly instead of nebulously; to communicate the less known by the more familiar.  This is why Tolkien, Lewis and the Inklings were not only pioneers but producers - in fact, sub-creators - of some of the most picturesque, fantastical (in a Tolkien sense) language in literature and its natural overlap in Christian apologetics (whether they realized it or not).  And this should not surprise us.

After all, we have the Grand Metaphor, not a fairy story or myth, but a perfect example of the less known being made known by the familiar.  In fact in Christ God has become quite familiar with the creation He already so intimately knew: The eternal Word became  flesh and dwelt among us (John 1).  God comes to us in words; He gives us words.  He communicates to us and then He goes one step further - the God who created us to know and learn by shared experiences, i.e. language - now comes to share the ultimate experience with His own fallen humanity.  He is the incarnate God of language and the senses (not to mention history and the fullness of time), thereby hallowing and elevating both.  In that Babe of Bethlehem God takes on our very human nature not only exalting our humanity but also identifying Himself with us so completely that even after His resurrection, He retains the flesh, even the scars.  He shares fully in the human experience.  And in this way He completely identifies with man: do you suffer?  So did He.  Do you agonize?  So did He, in drops of bloody sweat even.  Do you have pain and sorrow?  So did He.  The remarkable thing is He knows your humanity better than you know yourself and it is that humanity He redeemed.  In Christ God was reconciling the world unto Himself, not counting our trespasses against us.  You see, Jesus really is the Good Shepherd, the Door, the Vine, the Branch of David, the Root of Jesse, the Rose of Sharon and on and on we could go.

Cut an page of Holy Writ and you'll find the blood of Christ flowing, but you're also most likely to find God's gift of metaphorical, descriptive, pictorial language.  And here is the blessing and the danger.  The danger is that we ignore the metaphor or over time lose its meaning.  Just think of the many facets of pictorial language in Luke 15 alone.  Learning the history of the Biblical words and their original audience helps just as earning about sheep and shepherds helps us understand Psalm 23.  In reference to Luke 15, try reading Kenneth Bailey.  But there is another way - a complimentary way.  Biblical imagery and language can become more vivid when we see other metaphor outside of Scripture that reflect Scripture.  Narnia doesn't seem so crazy after all!  It appears to be at odds with the aforementioned methods of interpretation, but the idea is the same: lift the story (context, verbs, tenses and all) out of Scripture for a short time and then come back to it.  And this, I suggest, is why the Inklings' writings are so marvelously Biblical and apologetic.  Language is harnessed and it all rests upon the Word made flesh.

"In the Author's mind there bubbles up every now and then the material for a story. For me it invariably begins with mental pictures. This ferment leads to nothing unless it is accompanied with the longing for a Form: verse or prose, short story, novel, play or what not. When these two things click you have the Author's impulse complete. It is now a thing inside him pawing to get out. He longs to see that bubbling stuff pouring into that Form as the housewife longs to see the new jam pouring into the clean jam jar. This nags him all day long and gets in the way of his work and his sleep and his meals. It's like being in love.

...On that side (as Author) I wrote fairy tales because the Fairy Tale seemed the ideal Form for the stuff I had to say...

Then of course the Man in me began to have his turn. I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday School associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons?
~C.S. Lewis, "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's To Be Said" (1st pub. Nov 1956), Of Other Worlds (1966).

That's all I've got to say about that...for now.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Strange Love

7th Sunday after the Epiphany – February 20th, 2011
Text: Matthew 5:38-48

“Strange Love”

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

            What does it mean to love your enemies?  To love your enemies is to be like David, hated and hunted by, King Saul, through every field and cave of Israel; to play the harp to soothe his anger only to be repaid by a spear being hurled at you; to have served king and country only to have both betray you.  Love for your enemy is to be so close to Saul to be able to cut off a corner of his tunic with your own knife, but instead to stay the blade from your enemy’s flesh.  Love for your enemy is to stand over him while he sleeps in his camp, able to pin him to the earth with one stroke of your spear and yet instead to pardon him, spare him, and even rebuke those who tried to convince you otherwise.
That is love for your enemies.  Well, at least a kind of love, but it’s not perfect love.  There’s still more.
            What does it mean to love your enemies?  To love your enemies is to be like Hosea, commanded by God to marry Gomer, the harlot, in order to show God’s faithfulness to His people; to face ridicule and judgment for following God’s command.  Love for your enemy is to bring shame on yourself for the sake of the people so that in remaining faithful to faithless woman, Israel’s redemption might be revealed.  Love for your enemy is when a husband has mercy on adulterous Gomer, making known the mercy of God’s faithfulness to His bride, Israel.  That is love for your enemies.  Well, at least a kind of love, but it’s not perfect love.  There’s still more.
            What does it mean to love your enemies?  To love your enemies is to be like Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, hated by the religious authorities, falsely slandered and accused of blasphemy, seized and brought before a kangaroo council.  Love for your enemies is to be surrounded by your executors and to face them – not with retaliation but with Jesus’ words of repentance and forgiveness of sins upon your lips.  Love for your enemies is to cry out: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” - even as they stone you to death.  That is love for your enemies.  Well, at least a kind of love, but it’s not perfect love.  There’s still more.
            Love your enemies.  Jesus says.  Love your enemies – not as David, or Hosea or Stephen but as your Father in heaven.  To truly love your enemies is to be like God; to seek to embrace your fallen children only to have them shove you away and spit in your face; to heal the sick, only to have them reject the Great Physician; to feed the hungry only to have them grumble about the taste; to clothe the naked only to have them protest that you haven’t clothed them in name-brands; to open your hands and offer them everything the Father has to give, only to have them pierce those hands with nails, raise you in the air and watch, mock and chuckle as you slowly bleed to death.  That is perfect love for your enemies.  There is no greater love.
            For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners – rebels, enemies of God - Christ died for us.
            It’s easy to love those who love you.  Even the tax collectors knew that and they didn’t have thousands Facebook friends.  The real reason loving your enemy is so difficult - and by your old Adam, impossible – is because you love yourself too much.  You think others might take advantage of your kindness – and they might.  But all free gifts and true love hold the possibility of being abused and rejected, otherwise they wouldn’t be free, it wouldn’t be love.  So while you expect others to be understanding of your shortcomings and patient with your failures and thank you for everything you do for them you do not hold yourself to the same standard. 
            Yes, you are very good at loving others, but only when it suits your purposes.  When it comes to those who have hurt us, injured our pride, or stabbed us in the back.  We want justice: eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth; you bite me I bite you back; you take what is mine, I’ll take what is yours.  That makes sense.  But justice will not bring love, only recompense.  Love comes from mercy. 
            It’s not pacifism.  It’s not tolerance.  It’s mercy…mercy in the shape of the cross.  Mercy in the pattern of Him who poured out His reckless crimson love for you.  It is true that you love yourself more than your enemies, but it is far better – of infinite truth – that our Lord loves His enemies more than Himself.  For you who were like King Saul, the Son of David pardons, spares and defends.  For you, the New and Greater Hosea bears your shame and buys you back through His faithfulness unto death.  
            Jesus loves even the worst of His enemies, chief of sinners – yes, even you.  Your sin is no match for His love.  Perfect love is shown in Crucified mercy. Jesus withstands evil by not taking a stand against evil – He takes evil into Himself where it dies forever.  He offers His left and right cheek to the scornful slap of the Sanhedrin and then turns His whole body to the whip; He lets the Roman soldiers take both His tunic and His cloak as they cast dice over him; He picks up His cross and walks more a mile to Golgotha.  Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.  And that is the fullness of what it means to love.
            For the love of Christ is not like your love.  His love does not seek the lovable, the likeable, the one who will love Him back.  God’s love finds you before you were created, formed in your mother’s womb.  That is the kind of love that now fills you.  The Love that creates you, calls you, forms you, you are salt and light and love. 
            What does it mean to love your enemies?  It means that you are Baptized sons of the Father.  And the bloody, watery cross of Christ is traced upon your forehead and your heart forever.  You’ve traded sides – or better yet – been captured behind enemy lines and taken hostage by the Holy Spirit whose love proceeds from the Father and the Son to you.  Now you are love.  And don’t let anybody tell you anything different.
            For the real definition of love is to love those who hate you.  To love your enemies is to pardon those who hate you; to forgive and love for those who would seek to harm you in body or soul; To love to the loveless, to be mercy to the unmerciful.  To live in reckless generosity for the neighbor in need: offering your right and left cheek, giving your tunic and cloak, walking more than a mile, giving to those in need.  Sure, this merciful generosity will be taken advantage and abused.  So be it.  In this way, you show forth the reality that you are sons of the Father.  Jesus shows no partiality and neither do His disciples.  And in this love is perfected.

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Letters from Luther

In memoriam of this day, February 18th - the day our Lord called His servant, Martin Luther, to his seat at the marriage supper of the Lamb - I am reminded of one of my favorite letters Luther wrote to George Spenlein on the 8th of April in the year of our Lord, 1516.  For he was a man of many masks - husband, reformer, writer, professor, monk, musician, exegete, scholar just to name a few - but the one thing that summarizes them all is pastor.  That much is apparent in the extended quotation below.  Much has been written about Luther today and that is proper, fitting for one who labored so vigorously in the vineyard.  And since I can hardly add anything worth saying that hasn't been said or written already in such profound acumen, it seems fitting, then, to let the genius and God given wisdom of the Swan of Wittenberg to speak for himself.

"To the godly and sincere Friar George Spenlein, Augustinian Eremite1 in the monastery at Memmingen, my dear friend in the Lord Jesus Christ

Grace and peace to you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ

My dearest Friar George:

…Now I should like to know whether your soul, tired of its own righteousness, is learning to be revived by and to trust in the righteousness of Christ. For in our age the temptation to presumption besets many, especially those who try with all their might to be just and good without knowing the righteousness of God, which is most bountifully and freely given us in Christ. They try to do good of themselves in order that they might stand before God clothed in their own virtues and merits. But this is impossible. While you were here, you were one who held this opinion, or rather, error. So was I, and I am still fighting against the error without having conquered it as yet.

Therefore, my dear Friar, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to praise him and, despairing of yourself, say, “Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, just as I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and have given to me what is yours. You have taken upon yourself what you were not and have given to me what I was not.” Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner, or to be one. For Christ dwells only in sinners. On this account he descended from heaven, where he dwelt among the righteous, to dwell among sinners. Meditate on this love of his and you will see his sweet consolation. For why was it necessary for him to die if we can obtain a good conscience by our works and afflictions? Accordingly you will find peace only in him and only when you despair of yourself and your own works. Besides, you will learn from him that just as he has received you, so he has made your sins his own and has made his righteousness yours.
If you firmly believe this as you ought (and he is damned who does not believe it), receive your untaught and hitherto erring brothers, patiently help them, make their sins yours, and, if you have any goodness, let it be theirs. Thus the Apostle teaches, “Receive one another as Christ also received you to the glory of God.” And again, “Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, [did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped], but emptied himself,” etc. Even so, if you seem to yourself to be better than they are, do not count it as booty, as if it were yours alone, but humble yourself, forget what you are and be as one of them in order that you may help them.

Cursed is the righteousness of the man who is unwilling to assist others on the ground that they are worse than he is, and who thinks of fleeing from and forsaking those whom he ought now to be helping with patience, prayer, and example. This would be burying the Lord’s talent and not paying what is due. If you are a lily and a rose of Christ, therefore, know that you will live among thorns. Only see to it that you will not become a thorn as a result of impatience, rash judgment, or secret pride. The rule of Christ is in the midst of his enemies, as the Psalm puts it. Why, then, do you imagine that you are among friends? Pray, therefore, for whatever you lack, kneeling before the face of the Lord Jesus. He will teach you all things. Only keep your eyes fixed on what he has done for you and for all men in order that you may learn what you should do for others. If he had desired to live only among good people and to die only for his friends, for whom, I ask you, would he have died or with whom would he ever have lived? Act accordingly, my dear Friar, and pray for me. The Lord be with you.

Farewell in the Lord.

From Wittenberg, April 8, 1516"

- American Edition, Luther's Works, vol. 48:11-14

Soul Surfer

Living in Surf City, USA, a headline like this certainly piques your interest: Bible Edited Out of Film 'Soul Surfer' to Appeal to Non-Christians, Added Back In.  Maybe you've head of her.  Bethany Hamilton is the young girl who went from surfing one day only losing an arm in a tragic shark attack (2003) only to courageously recover and go on to win a championship months later.  This girl's got more moxy with one arm than most surfers do with two (the sport is hard enough with both arms.  It's easy to get caught up in the swell of accolades and miss the real point of this story.  Hollywood almost did, but not out of ignorance, no this was intentional.  Soul surfing and spirituality sell movies, but put in the Holy Bible and a girl not just with the courage of a Lion, but with the faith in Christ, and well, you might just not make enough money.  I wonder if movies with watered down Christian themes really attract the Non-Christian market anymore than a movie with overtly Christian themes.  I am inclined to think not - just like Christian churches who water down doctrine and practice in order to accommodate or "reach out" to a wider "fan" base.  Talk about a wipe out.  Does Christianity, much less movies with any degree of Christian imagery or themes, gain anything by leaving significant parts of the story out?  There's a reason millions of people flocked to see the Narnia movies as of late, all of which had explicit and implicit Christological themes (even if Caspian was bastardized, in the classic sense of the word).  More importantly, if you take the content out of the faith, what is left?  What kind of faith are we passing on - the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), or the faith that is most palatable to the world?  Christ Crucified as Savior with His Word and Sacraments or Jesus the good teacher and spiritual handy-man?  The means used to "bring people in" is the faith in which they will live.

And now for something completely different.  I will illustrate this point, about the absence of the central thing and losing its essence, with a conversation from Joseph Heller's Catch-22, a conversation between Colonel Cathcart and the chaplain regarding prayer before flight missions:
"I think that prayers before each mission is a very moral and highly laudatory procedure, sir" the chaplain offered timidly, and waited.
"Yea," said the colonel.  "But I want to know if you think they'll work here."
"Yes, sir," answered the chaplain after a few moments.  "I should think they would."
"Then I would like to give it a try...look how much good they've done those people in England.  Here's a picture of a colonel in The Saturday Evening Post whose chaplain conducts prayers before each mission.  If the prayers worked for him they should work for us.  Maybe if we say prayers, they'll put my picture in The Saturday Evening Post."
"...Then we'll begin with this afternoon's mission," said the colonel..."Now, I want you to give a lot of thought to the kind of prayers we're going to say.  I don't want anything heavy or sad.  I'd like to keep it light and snappy, something that will send the boys out feeling pretty good.  Do you know what I mean?  I don't want any of this Kingdom of God or Valley of Death stuff.  That's all too negative.  What are you making such a sour face for?"
"I'm sorry sir," the chaplain stammered.  "I happened to be thinking of the 23rd Psalm just as you said that."
"How does that one go?"
"That's the one you were referring to, sir.  'The Lord is my shepherd; I -"
"That's the one I was referring to.  It's out.  What else have you got?"
"Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto -"
"No waters," the colonel decided...why don't we try something musical, harps and willows?"
"That has the rivers of Babylon in it, sir," the chaplain replied.  "'...there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.'"
"Zion?  Let's forget about that one right now.  I'd like to know how that one got in there.  Haven't you got anything humorous that stays away from waters and valleys and God?  I'd like to keep away from the subject of religion altogether if we can."
"I'm sorry, sir, but just about all the prayers I know are rather somber in tone and make at least some passing reference to God."
"Then let's get some new ones.  The men are already doing enough bitching about the missions I send them on without our rubbing it in with any sermons about God or death or Paradise.  Why can't we take a more positive approach?  Why can't we all pray for something good, like a tighter bomb pattern, for example?  Couldn't we pray for a tighter bomb pattern?"
"Well, yes, sir, I suppose so," the chaplain answered hesitantly.  "You wouldn't even need me if that's all you wanted to do.  You could do that yourself."

Right...sorry; back to the soul surfing.  What kind of story is this without the Christianity?  Sure, you'd still get to see an inspirational film but where does the inspiration come from?  Sure, there's courage, but who gives such hope for courage in time of tragedy?  Sure, it's about faith and strength, but what do those words mean if they are not defined by Christ, in fact embodied by Christ for the believer and in the believer.  A story is not really a story without its central theme.  It's like trying to surf without a board (which only Jesus can do btw).  It's like looking at Narnia and not seeing Aslan as Christ or looking at Tolkien's work and ignoring his world view.  For the Hamilton family, it was enough get them to talk to Mandalay Pictures about their relevancy fail.  The story just isn't the story unless it's told in its fullness.  And so it was for the Hamilton family.  Their Christian faith was the heart of courage in the midst of this tragedy turned triumph.  For now it appears the story has a happy ending: Mandalay Pictures put the words "Holy Bible" back on the good book after digitally removing them in a scene where Scripture is read by Ms. Hamilton's bedside.  And apparently there are several scenes that prominently feature Scriptural references. But we'll have to wait until April when this movie breaks to see if it's a real Betty or a total Benny.  And that's all I've got to say about that...later, bra.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Miracles, Episode IV: The Question Behind the Question

"Those who wish to succeed must ask the right questions."  So says Aristotle.  And he's in good company.  Dr. Naomichi Masaki said the same thing at seminary (CTS, Ft. Wayne).  In theological inquiry (not to mention historical, legal, etc.) asking the right question is important.  Just ask the rich man who came to Jesus: Teacher, what must I do to be saved?"  Is wrong question.  Not to mention Law questions deserve Law answers. 

By the time the question is asked, more often than not, the answer is already determined.  This is not fatalism or determinism, just the outcome of the point that Aristotle makes and C.S. Lewis begins with in his famous tome, Miracles.  The reason is simple: presuppositions determine the answer.  Where you start determines where you will end up in theological, apologetic, historical, etc. discourse.  The problem isn't necessarily the presuppositions (although it usually is) but that people make propositions based on assumptions that can be either true or false.  There is no doubt that everyone brings baggage to a conversation, text, and so forth.  The real question is, what is the question behind the question.  This is something Lewis covers marvelously  in the opening chapter of Miracles.  Here are some extended director's cuts:

"In all my life I have met only one person who claims to have seen a ghost.  And the interesting thing about the story is that the person disbelieved in the immortal soul before she saw the ghost and still disbelieves after seeing it.  She says that what she saw must have been an illusion or a trick of the nerves.  And obviously she may be right.  Seeing is not believing.

For this reason, the question whether miracles occur can never be answered by experience.  Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our senses, something seen, heard, touched, smelled, or tasted.  And our senses are int infallible.  If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been victims of an illusion.  If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say.  What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience. 

Many people think one can decide whether a miracle occurred in the past by examining the evidence according to the normal rules of historical inquiry.  But the ordinary rules cannot be worked out until we have decided whether miracles are possible, and if so, how probably they are.  For if they are impossible, then no amount of historical evidence will convince us.  If they are possible but immensely improbable, then only mathematically demonstrative evidence will convince us: and since history never provides that degree of evidence for any event, history can never convince us that a miracle occurred.  If, on the other hand, miracles are not intrinsically improbable, then the existing evidence will be sufficient to convince us that quite a number miracles have occurred.  The result of our historical enquiries thus depends on the philosophical views which we have been holding before we even began to look at the evidence.  This philosophical question must therefore come first...it is no use going to the texts [the Gospels and other historical evidence for Jesus' life and resurrection] until we have some idea about the possibility or probability of the miraculous.  Those who assume that miracles cannot happen are merely wasting their time by looking into the texts: we know in advance what results they will find for they have begun by begging the question."
- C.S. Lewis, Miracles, p. 1-4, Harper Collins, 2001.

Next episode, we'll take a brief look at the presuppositions behind both the naturalist and the supernaturalist, evaluating the various biases and truth claims. 

And that's all I've got to say about that...for now.  Stay tuned for Episode V: The Naturalist Strikes Back.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Procession or Parade?

It goes without saying that parents teach their children.  No matter what they do – more to the point, in everything they say and do – parents are teaching their children.  Perhaps then, it is easy for the “old, wise and learned” adults, to take for granted the fact that we also can learn a great deal from children.  Just spend a day with a preschooler or read Dr. Seuss again.  You can learn a lot from a conversation with the youngest among us.  For their youth is, by no means, an evaluation of their sublime intelligence and their unequivocal capability to learn the things we “wise” adults deem “too difficult” to understand.  

As we consider the topic of ritual and ceremony in the church – in particular, the procession at the beginning and end of the Divine Service and the Gospel procession - we do well to keep our children in mind.  Everyone, you see, has ceremonies or rituals – again, just spend a day with a preschooler.  Rituals are a part of our lives from the day we are born to the day we die (and even in heaven), not to mention in and outside of church.  But what does ritual or ceremony in the Christian Church teach our children to believe, teach and confess?  And what can our children teach us about the liturgy?  You can imagine the following conversation - between a parent and a child – at lunch or in the car on the way home.

Chloe:  Mom, dad?
Mom and dad:  Yes, dear?
Chloe:  Can I ask you a question?
Mom:  Of course, you may.
Chloe:  Why did we have all those parades in church today?
Dad (chuckling a little to himself): Well, that’s a good question, Chloe; but those weren’t exactly parades.  We call those processions.
Chloe:  What’s a procession?  It looked like a parade to me.
Mom:  Well, it’s kinda like a parade, but better.
Dad:  Chloe, you remember when we went to the Rose Parade last week?
Chloe: Yea, that was fun, can we go again?
Mom:  We’ll just wait and see.  Do you remember who was at the center of attention in the parade?
Chloe: Princesses and roses and horsies and men with shovels.
Dad:  Now, think about church this morning; who was the center of attention at Church?
Chloe:  Jesus!
Mom:  Are you just saying that because you know it’s almost always the right answer in Sunday School?
Chloe: No…I saw the pastors and the big kids holding candles and a giant book and they were all following the cross with Jesus on it.  Was that a Jesus parade?
Mom:  Well in a way it was, Chloe.  But not all parades are the same.  A parade is very different from a procession in church.  A procession happens during the Divine Service and points us to Jesus on the cross and His love for us.  What was the Rose parade celebrating?
Chloe:  Daddy says it’s all about football.
Mom (laughing to herself):  Yes, that’s part of it.  Parades usually celebrate something we do or someone important who has done something special.  But processions at church point to what Jesus has done for us.  Did you see Jesus on the cross at the Rose Parade?
Chloe:  Hmmm, nope.  Why would Jesus be there?
Dad:  Good question.  Of course Jesus is with us always, just like He promised to His disciples.  Where does Jesus come to us?
Chloe: At church?
Mom:  That’s right; Jesus promised to be there for us, In His Word and the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.
Chloe:  So, Jesus comes to us every Sunday?
Mom:  Yes, isn’t that good news? 
Chloe:  Yup! 
Dad:  Say, Chloe, this reminds me of a Bible verse we memorized at Christmass time; let’s see if you remember it.  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” – John 1:14.
Mom:  Do you remember who “the Word” is?
Chloe:  It’s Jesus!!
Dad:  Right again!  Just like Jesus was with His disciples in real life a long time ago, He is with us on Sunday whenever the pastor reads the Bible, when we go to the Lord’s Supper and even on the day you were baptized!
Chloe:  Then, why don’t we have a pro…what did you call it again?
Mom: Procession.
Chloe:  Yea, why don’t we have one of those every Sunday.
Mom: Well, we certainly could, many churches do.  At our church we usually have processions on big church festivals: All Saints’ Day, Christmass, Easter, Reformation – and those are just a few.
Chloe:  Wow, we have a lot to celebrate at church; we should have processions more often.
Dad:  I agree.  What a great way to remind us that Jesus is with us and that His forgiveness won on the cross is the center of attention:  Jesus Crucified for you!
Chloe:  See, I told you Jesus was the right answer!  What’s for lunch?  Are we almost home?

Luther spoke of a similar presence of Christ in the Gospel, saying, “For the preaching of the Gospel is nothing else than Christ coming to us, or we being brought to him.”  Luther’s quotation is brought to life in the midst of the Gospel procession, where the Gospel reading is brought down into the midst of the people.  For here in the Word, as in the Sacraments, the Crucified and Risen Lord who was incarnate of the Holy Spirit by the Virgin Mary is the same Crucified and Risen Lord who is present in, with and under His Church.  Parades are nice, but they are not the Gospel.  Christ Crucified is not the focal point of secular parades.  If a procession is just like any other parade, then there’s no business doing it in the church.  A procession, however, points to Christ, His cross, His salvation and His Word given for us, spoken in the midst of the people.  What a joy!  What a confession:  Christ Crucified and His salvation are present here among us according to His Word and promise.  And any time Christ and His saving Word, life-giving water and forgiveness-bringing body and blood are present, there’s more than enough reason for celebration, thanks and praise. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Salty City Full of Light

5th Sunday after the Epiphany – February 6th, 2011
Text: Matthew 5:13-16

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

            You have to appreciate the irony: the same week the government issues a warning about your salt intake is the same week you hear from the Gospel reading: you are the salt of the earth.  And though today’s Gospel reading offers us an opportunity for several sermons, I promise to give only one. 
            Although that hardly makes Jesus’ teaching any easier to understand.  Light of the world – now that makes sense.  But sometimes He says the strangest things:  “you are the salt of the earth.” 
            Salt was sprinkled by the priest with the sacrifices of Israel.  Whether it was a bull or grain offering it was seasoned with salt, consecrated with fire and given for the holiness of the people.  Salt purifies, sanctifies, makes holy.  Where there’s salt, there’s a sacrifice – better yet a covenant, a testament cut between God and His people to purify, sanctify and make them holy.  And where things are made holy, God is pleased by the aroma.
            And there’s no greater sacrifice than the one cut between God and man on the cross – in Jesus.  Crucified.  Broken.  Beaten.  Consecrated in the fire of God’s divine wrath a perfect offering.  To purify, sanctify and make us holy.  He is the temple, the priest and the Lamb all in one perfect fleshly covenant.  Jesus’ death is a pleasing aroma, a suitable sacrifice, acceptable in God’s sight.  There’s even salt – mixed in sweat and blood –sprinkled in Christ’s sacrifice, flowing from His cross to atone for the sins of the world – for your sins.
            No wonder the early church used salt at baptism – a liquid covenant cut with water and Word and Spirit – pure, sanctified, holy.  A touch of salt on the tongue, oil on the eyes and lips and forehead.  What a confession!  Salted with Christ in the font – Baptized into His death. 
            And here you are today, the baptized, the salted, His holy people, His kingly priests, lighting the world around you with His light.  Salting it with everything you say and do in this world.  This is why He was preaching to His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount – for their sakes, yes.  For the world, yes.  But for you as well.  To bring that Word of salt and light – Christ’s perfect sacrifice, the radiance of His salvation – to you through water and Word and Spirit; through absolution and body and blood. 
            You went into the water a bland, tasteless, lukewarm dead sinner and you came out covered in the pleasing aroma of Christ’s death and resurrection – a holy, priestly, salty, lighty, blessed child of God.  Sprinkled – not just with water – but with the Spirit – the Lord and giver of life - and wherever the Spirit is present, there’s Jesus.
            You are who He says you are.  His proclamation lights you up. His words salt you. Salt in all His saltiness. Light in all His brightness. 

             And being the salt of the earth carries with it a responsibility.  Christ seasons us with His sacrifice and then scatters us throughout the world as a preservative.  You are Abraham pleading for Sodom and Gomorrah; you are Noah building the ark while the world carries on; you are John proclaiming in the wilderness: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  The world exists for the sake of Christ’s suffering church; and the church salts the earth with Jesus’ salvation and lights the way to the Crucified One with cruciform mercy.  There’s no running away from who you are.  To reject this salt and light is to reject Christ Himself.
            If salt loses its saltiness, it ceases to be salt; it has lost its purpose.  Hiding the light is as absurd as salt losing its saltiness.  It’s worthless, thrown out.  Trampled under foot.  No such thing as unsalty salt or hidden lights or invisible cities – or Christless Christian Churches or disciples of Jesus who do not believe, teach, confess in thought, word and deed.  The congregation that fails to carry out its purpose – of preaching Jesus Christ and Him Crucified - ceases to be the church.  The lamp-stand can be removed. 
Which is why Jesus’ warning horrifies you.  Or that it doesn’t scare you, horrifies you more. 
            For you aren’t salty by yourself.  You aren’t a light at all. Not even a flicker or a pinch.  You are blessed, holy, pure, sanctified because He is all the blessedness, holiness, purity and sanctification you need.
            And wherever Jesus is…there’s His salt and light – His sacrifice for sins and His life of mercy for those in need.  Your sins forgiven.  Mercy shown to the poor, food to the hungry, homeless given shelter, compassion for the needy.  Jesus’ teaching and good works go together – like a tree and fruit; He is the Vine you are His branches, fed and nourished in the Sacraments to feed and nourish the world – to salt the earth.
            Wherever the church is there will be care for the poor and the sick.  Salt of the earth preaching and teaching – Christ Crucified for you.  Light of the world mercy and love – Christ Crucified in the neighbor.  You can’t have one without the other.  Jesus teaching – the doctrine and good works go together: faith without good works is dead and yet good works without faith are meaningless, empty.  And in Christ you have both – faith and good works.  Jesus is the flavor of our saltiness, the brightness of our light, the foundation of the city of God.  You are His blessed ones, a salty city full of light.
            So that the world out there would see your lamp and glorify Him - not you. This hasn’t been about you at all, but about the One who brought you out of darkness into His wonderful light - your Father in Heaven.  A city on a hill shines. A lamp on a lamp-stand gives light to the whole house. And salt, it gives flavor - Jesus flavor. His sacrifice.  His forgiveness. His eternal life.
            He’s your salt. He’s your light. Given to you in His gifts. Gifts which salt you, light you, holy you, priest you, to salt, light, holy, and priest for others.  A living sacrifice – that’s who you are, St. Paul says…a pleasing aroma… Philippians.    Through your sharing the Gospel and your life of mercy – the world sees the God who is merciful to sinners.  These sinners see your good works and come to see that God is also their Father. 
            It is good to bear abundant fruit in your life as a Christian, but it is far more important to remain in the One who is the apple of the Father’s eye.  It is good to let your light shine before men, but it is far better to be sheltered under the shadow of your Father’s wing.  It is good to strive with all your might to keep the commandments of God, but it is of everlasting importance to know that all the commandments of God have already been kept for you by Christ.
            And so today, He sends you from here, given to, lit up with His light, and forgiven. His salt. His light.  Shining when you aren’t even trying to shine and salting everything you say and do with His Cross.  For the same lips that salt and light the earth are the same lips preserved by His New Testament.  Jesus’ great and never-ending covenant in His own body and blood – sprinkled – no, poured out, given and shed for you.  Pure.  Holy.  Forgiven.  Come, eat and drink.  See His good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

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

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Oratio, Meditatio and Tentatio of Jill Pole

Jill who?  Jill Pole of course.  We first met her on a dull autumn day crying behind the gym because some boys - as they are wont to do - were picking on her.  But not all the boys were picking on Jill.  There was Eustace Scrubb, however no longer one of the "bad sort" of boys.  After all, Aslan had changed Him, as He does for everyone who comes to Narnia and returns to know Him by His better name.  Jill wasn't the only one - everyone at school had in fact - noticed that Eustace was changed.  He called it Magic.  But it was really more of a Baptism, but that was in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, this is the beginning of the Silver Chair.  And Jill Pole is in for an adventure - not to mention a change that only Aslan can bring.

She has been called many things, compared to many Biblical figures (Jonah, women of the NT) but I think she is more like David.  And if not exactly like David at least one who follows in the footsteps of David who follows in the footsteps of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, David's son yet David's Lord.  The one who gives His Word to David, most notably in the Psalms especially, Psalm 119.  As I was re-reading The Silver Chair recently I couldn't help but notice that Jill (and Eustace and Puddleglum throughout the story) are ones who depend on (in fact you could say their very lives depend on these) words, words in which they live and move and have their being in Narnia as they embark upon the task for which Aslan had appointed them. 

Jill however is the only one to whom these words of Aslan, signs he calls them, are given:

"I will tell you, child," said the Lion.  "These are the signs by which I will guide you in your quest" (emphasis added).  First; as soon as the boy Eustace sets foot in Narnia, he will meet an old and dear friend.  He must greet that friend at once; if he does, you will both have good help.  Second; you must journey out of Narnia to the north till you come to the ruined city of the ancient giants.  Third; you shall find a writing on a stone in that ruined city, and you must do what the writing tells you.  Fourth; you will know the lost prince (if you find him) by this, that he will be the first person you have met in your travels who will ask you to do something in my name, in the name of Aslan."

..."Remember, remember the signs.  Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night.  And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs.  And secondly, I give you a warning.  Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia.  Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken.  Take great care that it does not confuse your mind.  And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there.  That is why it is important to know them by heart and pay attention to appearances.  Remember the signs and believe the signs.  Nothing else matters.  And now, Daughter of Eve, farewell - "

David is given the Word of the Lord.  Don't worry, I won't copy and paste all of Psalm 119.  Here's just a few of the signs given to David:

49 Remember the word to Your servant,
         Upon which You have caused me to hope.
 50 This is my comfort in my affliction,
         For Your word has given me life.

97 Oh, how I love Your law!
         It is my meditation all the day.

 105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
         And a light to my path.

147 I rise before the dawning of the morning,
         And cry for help;
         I hope in Your word.
 148 My eyes are awake through the night watches,
         That I may meditate on Your word.

176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep;
         Seek Your servant,
         For I do not forget Your commandments.

Of course there is not a one-to-one correspondence between the story and the psalm.  The Silver Chair is not really an allegory of Psalm 119 either.  It could be that this is one facet of richness to be found, or one mine shaft to be explored in the vast caves of Narnian treasures.

Throughout the quest Jill struggled (as David did during his life as king) and even failed; forgetful of the signs, she wandered.  Through the snowy wastelands of the north to the halls of giants, from the fortress Harfang to the Queen of the Underland, Jill Pole (and company) was afflicted; for in the words of David, "they draw near who persecute me with evil purpose; they are far from your law" (vs. 150).  One could even say that Luther's theological insight into Psalm 119 - oratio, meditatio and tentatio - applies not only to Jill, but to all who call themselves Narnian in the best sense of the word.

Do not fret, however; I will not spoil much more of the quest and all its adventure.  If you've read The Silver Chairmarshwiggles await you - marvelous stories, full of insight and symbolism.  But, for now, it is time to go back to "our world" where all good Narnian tales point us, back to the Word of the Lord that came to David.  "Forever, O Lord, your Word is firmly fixed in the heavens...and fixed on the cross so that we, with David, may cry out together, "I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight" (vs. 174).

And in a similar way, Jill and Eustace were comforted unto the end.  "I have come," said a deep voice behind them.  They turned and saw the Lion himself, so bright and real and strong thast everything else began at once to look pale and shadowy compared with him.  And in less time than it takes to breathe Jill forgot about the dead King of Narnia and remembered how she had made Eustace fall over the cliff, and how she had helped to muff nearly all the signs, and about all the snappings and quarrelings.  And she wanted to say, "I'm sorry" but she could not speak.  Then the Lion drew them towards him with his eyes, and bent down and touched their pale faces with his tongue, and said:
"Think of that no more.  I will not always be scolding.  You have done the work which I sent you into Narnia."
"Please, Aslan," said Jill, "may we go home now?"
Yes.  I have come to bring you Home," said Aslan.  Then he opened his mouth and blew.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Cross, The Crescent and The Cult

I know I'm not the first to notice this, but it occurred to me recently as I was preparing for a youth group bible study on world religions that Mormonism and Islam have a lot in common with one another..  I'm not speaking exhaustively or comprehensively, but perhaps more functionally with some specific examples aside from the classic nomenclature of religion of works (all world religions except one) vs. religion of grace (Christianity).  Or, in the words of Pastor Mark Jasa of the chapel at UCLA, free and not free.  The similarities between Mormonism and Islam, however, go deeper than this.  And yet they are at the core mutually contradictory.  They both require their followers to be wholly involved in the worldview of each.  Which should remind us that all religions do not say essentially the same things about God - as the PC crowd would have us believe - but rather, the thing that is most common to all religions in the world is their mutual incompatibility with one another.  That being said, there are many glaring connections between Islam and Mormonism.

But why you ask?  1 John reminds us to test the spirits that go out claiming to know and speak on behalf of God (1 John 4:1ff).  And it is equally important (so John says) to test these spirits on the basis of the same question that Jesus asked of Peter - who do you say that I am?  Do the Muslims and the Mormons confess the same Jesus as the New Testament?  What do they say about Jesus?  And how can that be used to share the true Gospel (not a false one delivered by angels or alleged messengers) with Mormons or Muslims we may meet and have an opportunity to speak the truth in love with (1 Peter 3:15). 

There really is nothing new under the sun.  You can't teach the devil new tricks.  Mormonism and Islam are - in part - re-used and recycled anti-Trinitarian and Christological heresies, albeit in new packaging.  Fun for the whole family...except the women.  Nevertheless, they are controversies which the early church (and our Lutheran confessions) have struggled with a great deal already and soundly answered (for example, Augsburg Confession, article 1 condemns the Muslims and the Arians and the Formula of Concord continues its defense of the New Testament witness of Jesus with sublime Christology).  This is all part of the apologetic task.  Of course, the issues needed to address both Muslims and Mormons in Christian evangelism and apologetics differ for both (intellectually and existentially), but the "homework" necessary for the Christian to answer and engage these objections/positions can be found under some common loci (or topics for those of you who don't sprechen sie Latin).  In no particular order.  Here. We. Go.

Eye-Witness Accounts.  Or rather, a lack there of.  This is especially helpful in the next section on the historicity and authority of the holy texts for each respective religion.  However, before the Book of Mormon and the Qu'ran were written, both Joseph Smith and Muhammad claim to have been visited by an angel - Joseph Smith by Moroni (and I will partially refrain from using a clever Latin ad hominem here) and Muhammad by the angel Gabriel.  Now, It is entirely possible that they were visited by an angel, but as with the textual problems in the next section, there are no eye-witness accounts to corroborate these claims besides that of the one alleging they saw the angel and that angel told them certain things.  I don't find it odd that men claim to have seen angels (to limit such a possibility would be no different than the pure naturalist).  Not all angels, however carry good news in fact Paul makes it pretty clear that they can carry other things.  So, it's possible that they did see an angel and just as likely that the angel could have been -hmmm, Satan?!  Thank you, Church Lady.  But more on what the angels said in a moment.  What a contrast when compared to the reliable and historically trustworthy eye-witness accounts of the NT and Jesus' claims vindicated by His death and resurrection.  Both Joseph Smith and Muhammad's story would not hold up under cross-examination.

Both Muhammad and Joseph Smith claim to have been told by their respective angels that the religions of their day were corrupt and that they were the chosen ones to usher in a new and pure religion.  Joseph Smith was allegedly told that he must “join none of them, for they were all wrong... that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight, and that all those who taught these religions were all corrupt...” (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith 2:8-19).  Similarly, the Qu'ran writes: "Yet the Sects are divided concerning Jesus.... Truly, the unbelievers are in the grossest error.” And in Surah 30: “Do not split up your religion into sects, each exulting in its own beliefs.” And in Surah 3 we read: “The only true faith in Allah’s sight is Islam."  Ironically, both Mormonism and Islam are just as divided as any other world religion in terms of sects and splits, many of which came early in the history of both religions.  Conveniently, these new revelations of both Joseph Smith and Muhammad earned them political as well as financial power, not to mention the "benefits" this had in their personal life (one man's benefit is another woman's degradation).

The Veracity and Historicity of the Texts.  In contrast to the overwhelming amount and quality (both in terms of content and dating) the NT manuscript far out weigh both the Book of Mormon and the Qu'ran.  As the eye-witness accounts go so does the veracity of these respective holy texts.  The aforementioned angels were the ones who allegedly delivered the message to write the new texts.  In the case of Mormonism it was the golden plates of Nephi (none of which have ever been found) given to Joseph Smith and then taken by Moroni back to heaven (isn't that convenient) and the "mother book" delivered through Muhammad in Islam which resides in heaven.
These men were also very good at redacting Scripture they had access to at the time - the Old Testament in particular.  One primary reason for such blatant redaction (if not out right plagiarism and then falsification) was the fact that they both believed the Bible - OT and NT - to be lost, corrupted, altered and defiled in transmission, therefore rendering it unreliable.  According to both Joseph Smith and Muhammad, their text was the perfectly translated, transcribed corrective.  And this is the objection many Mormons and Muslims throw at Christians.  "Our text is perfect, incorruptible, etc. yours has been altered and corrupted in transmission."  Both claims are hardly accurate.  In fact many apologists are looking forward to the critical edition of the Qu'ran.  Should be interesting to see what Muslim scholars run on the PR front when that gem hits book shelves.  And while I can only assert this here, the evidence for the veracity of the NT documents is anything but scant or circumstantial.  I recommend books such as John W. Montgomery's Tractatus Logico Theologicus (for this and any issue apologetically related), Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses and FF. Bruce's The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Just to name a few!

Women.  Christianity is often - and unjustly I might add - associated with being patriarchal, misogynistic, etc., etc., etc.  In reality, the NT portrayal of women is a far and above anything in terms of the current practices at the time and greatly surpasses the treatment of women when compared to both Mormonism and Islam.  The first people to discover the empty tomb of Jesus were women, no small thing.  Many followers of Jesus were women - some of whom were significantly involved in His life and the life of the early church including deaconesses.  I would love to know where groups such as National Organization for Women are when little Muslim girls are being killed in "honor" ceremonies and undergoing clitoridectomy, or when they are scheduled to protest against the massive human rights violations and degradation of women in Islamic run, shariah law based societies throughout the world.  I guess the jury is still out on that one too.  Both Islam and Mormonism promote (to greater and lesser degrees) polygamy.  One of Muhammad's wives was even 6 years old.  And no, that is not a typo.  Polygamy does not create more love it destroys families and profoundly hurts women.  And if you've ever watched Sister Wives on TLC you know exactly what I mean.  But no shocker, after all, Mormonism also teaches that the only way a woman – who is intrinsically inferior to a man – can enter into heaven is by being married to a Mormon man. 

Alleged Miracles.  Unlike the miracles of the NT done by Jesus and vindicated by His resurrection from the dead the miracles in Mormonism and Islam lack both the eye-witness accounts and the historical analysis capable of either confirming or denying them. This relegates such events as the moon flying through Muhammad's tunic and the vision of the angels in the woods or the miracle of the seagulls to the logical positivists category of nonsensical truth claims (i.e. nonsense in the scholarly and junior high definition of the word).  And yes, that is a link to Mormonpedia.  Thank you, Micah!

Cult of Personality. Not much needs to be said here.  Suffice it to say that it seems to be no coincidence that the personality of both Muhammad and Joseph Smith had a great deal to do with the early expansion and continued theological devotion of their followers.  The chief difference with this kind of allegiance in distinction to Christianity is that Muhammad and Joseph Smith never claim to be god, but men who claimed to be appointed prophets of God in order to bring about their religious truth claims.  Much has been written about this aspect of both religions.  The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion by Robert Spencer is a good one for historical background and personal inquiry with regards to Muhammad and the beginnings of Islam.

Who Is Jesus?  This is the big one.  All theology is Christology.  This is where the early church is extremely helpful - battling Arians (not the hand-waving types), Nestorians, Eutychians and the like.  So, if you're going to spend some time with a Muslim or Mormon this - along with the reliability of the NT - is where you want to spend the time.  Simply because who Mormonism and Islam say Jesus is happens to be radically different than what the NT believes, teaches and confesses about Jesus Christ.  Both Islam and Mormonism have taken a similarly popular position on Jesus: He's a great prophet.  Now this is more nuanced in Mormonism.  But as C.S. Lewis reminds us Jesus did not leave us with that option - calling Him a great prophet.  He's either a liar, lunatic or Lord.  Islam's picture of Jesus is different than Mormonism in that He is a prophet of Allah, but not the Savior/Messiah that Christians make him out to be (Sura 61:6).  One wonders what kind of Christians were around in Muhammad's neighborhood confessing the kinds of things they did.  Perhaps it was Coptic - not known for their allegiance to Chalcedonian Christology or something else - but this is pure speculation on my part.  Islam's Jesus was totally human and that those who regard Him as divine are infidels for whom is reserved a special place in hell.  It's almost as if Jesus was some kind of Islamic John the Baptizer, a forerunner for Muhammad.  But the historical coup de grace is found in Surah 4:157: "They did not really slay him, neither crucified him; only a likeness of that was shown to them."

Whereas the Muslims deny that Jesus was the savior of the world, the Mormons use the terminology but mean something entirely different than orthodox Christianity does.  So, don't be fooled when they say things like: "Jesus was the son of God" and "he is the founder of the faith" and the "savior and redeemer."  Mormons reject the idea that Jesus' divinity implies that he is God, the Son, exclusive of all others.  Lorenzo Snow crafted this saying which reveals their true position on Jesus (and humanity for that matter), namely, that as man is God once was, as God is man can become.  This is a far cry from: There is one Christ, Jesus; yet He possesses two natures, human and divine which are inseparable, indivisible, unconfused and unchanging.  For that which God did not assume He did not redeem.

The other interesting point to make is that what both texts say about Jesus would be inadmissible in a court of law.  The author was not an eye-witness of the events in question and the texts they claim to have written were not anywhere near the time of the events they are want to describe.  These three views on Jesus are also contradictory.  Either Jesus is God Almighty come in human flesh to save the world or he's just a prophet of Allah preparing the way for Muhammad or he's some kind of strange first born spirit creature of God which you too can become with enough work and obedience to the principles and ordinances.  All 3 could be wrong but not all 3 can be right.  And as I've presented elsewhere the evidence points glaringly in the direction of Jesus and the NT.

Political Realm.  This is not meant to be a political position or commentary, merely an observation.  Both Mormonism and Islam rule by theocracy.  There is no separation of church and state.  There's also nothing even close to Lutheran's understanding of the two kingdoms.  Not to mention those who are not Mormon or Muslim are often ostracized in the places where these theo-political rules are the law of the land.

The Spin-Zone.  Glenn Beck.  Need I say more?  Regardless about how you feel politically, the fact that Mormonism (and Islam too) have gone mainstream is intriguing. What it all means is something to save for another day.  But both have undergone huge efforts to make themselves more palatable, more tolerant, less radical and family friendly especially in the United States.

Assurance of Salvation.  It comes down to one phrase:  "Free..and Not Free."  In Islam we hear: "To all those who believe and do deeds of righteousness hath Allah promised forgiveness and a great reward (Surah 5:9).  And according to Surah 10:109, a Muslim who hopes to escape the wrath of Allah and the torment of hell must diligently strive to fulfill the requirements set forth in the 5 pillars.  In Mormonism we hear these familiar words with a new twist: "We labor diligently to write, persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe Christ, and to be reconciled to God; For we know that it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do" - 2 Nephi 25:23.  In both, salvation is promised, but contingent; available but not given freely.  In other words it's entirely based upon works.  What a contrast to Jesus' life and ministry: "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many" - Matthew 20:28.

Furthermore, there is no assurance of salvation in either Mormonism or Islam.  How do you know you are saved?  How do you know if you've ever done enough to earn the great reward?  You don't and that's the problem.  No wonder we hear passages like this in the Qu'ran: "Allah will lead into error whom he pleaseth, and whom he pleaseth he will put in the right" - Surah 6:39.  If salvation is up to you, there is no assurance.  But if it's up to Jesus; it is finished.  His death atones for us and there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.

Revelation.  Both men also claimed that the version (of the Koran or the Book of Mormon) that we have in our possession today is identical to what God revealed to them – and that there are no parts that are lost, altered, or corrupted. Of course the proof that these claims are invalid is found in two books.  In terms of revelation one chief difference is found between progressive revelation in Mormonism and what is called abrogation in Islam.  The former adding new revelations (such as the 1970's proclamation that blacks can now be priests in the Aaronic order) and the latter removing passages previously held to be authoritative in Islam.

Well, congratulations if you made it all the way through this "Jedi training" of sorts.  Here are a couple other books I would recommend in this arena:

The Great Divide: The Failure of Islam and the Triumph of the West and How Christianity Changed the World, both by Alvin J. Schmidt.

Encyclopedic Dictionary of Cults, Sects and World Religions by Larry A. Nichols, George E. Mather and Alvin J. Schmidt.