Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Who Is Christian

Here's a brief little video from part of a lecture Rod Rosenbladt gave entitled, "The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church." More on that for another day. The clip speaks for itself: Jesus' blood shed for me. This, my friends, is what the Good News is all about. Enjoy my favorite professor ever.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Chronic Gospel

Disclaimer: this is neither an advertisement for Chronic Tacos - although this Southern California establishment does have amazing tacos - nor is it meant to disparage the good folks of Chronic Tacos. And no, this has nothing to do with Snoop Dogg or Dr. Dre, although I enjoy their music too.

But I couldn't help notice something about their advertising today as I was sitting across the walkway at Golden West College (our local community college) from one of their faithful employees. He was handing out flyers advertising tacos: "Get a free taco*." We were handing out flyers about Christianity: "Get out of hell free...because Jesus paid for your sins." Granted, the two flyers are totally different. It's not even close to the apples and oranges metaphor. Or, perhaps instead I should say, "salsa and guacamole."

As one disinterested person walked by our table, the taco guy proceeded to yell out: "Hey, want a free taco* instead?" I laughed. You had to appreciate the witty, well-crafted segue. Shortly after that I went over to get a free taco* coupon only to notice that free* meant something very different at Chronic Taco. "Free Taco*" really means, free taco with the purchase of one taco. I don't care what planet you're from, what kind of food you like, if you prefer salsa or guacamole, burritos with or without beans, tacos with or without fish...but that, my friends, is not free. Buy one get one free is not free. You still have to buy a taco. Apparently, there's no such thing as a free taco even in Huntington Beach.

Now, can you imagine if the Gospel worked the same way? What if the Christian church handed out forgiveness like Chronic Taco? What if Jesus operated the same way as the As-Seen-On-TV salesman or the free* taco guy at Golden West College: "Buy one get one free!" Or..."While supplies last!" Tragically, Christian churches have tried catching people with the ole' bait and switch. But what really gets switched out is the Gospel. And people are left hoodwinked. Swindled. Disappointed...worse than discovering what a free taco* is really all about. BOGO is not good news. It's not even  free. It's free with an asterisk. Just ask Barry Bonds about asterisks (snicker snicker)

Christianity - in fact - is the only religion that claims salvation to be a free gift. All the others are like the Chronic Taco...free, but with a catch, a hitch, an asterisk. The ever-infamous but. In other words, not free. That's all the other religions - not free. That is the chronic "gospel" - a default setting for sinful humanity. "There's no such thing as a free lunch"..."If you can reject Jesus, you can choose him too"..."the will is not bound and man is not totally deprave, there's a spark of goodness"..." Oh sure, it's Jesus Crucified, but"...and the the list starts. The conditions and terms of the contract are given. Free salvation*. That was the battle that Jesus had with the Pharisees and religious authorities. It was the battle at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. It was the battle that Paul had with the Circumcision party in Galatians. It was the battle Luther and others were enlisted in during the Reformation. And it's an ongoing battle today. Our sinful flesh loves the chronic gospel; it's addictive and deadly. Jesus' cross with the asterisk is no cross at all. The Gospel with condition is no gospel at all.

Unlike the Chronic Taco advertisement...the Good News is unconditional, no strings attached: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world...the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for the many...I came not to for the righteous but the sinners. On Good Friday there is no asterisk by the Crucified Christ. It is simply - and completely - finished. For you. Free salvation. Free life. Free heaven. Free like nothing else in the world is free. And thankfully his supply never runs out.

"But nothing's free," you say. And you're right. There is a cost for this salvation. But not for you. The cost - the heavy price - is paid for by another. Fully and eternally underwritten by Jesus' blood. Or as we confess in the explanation of the Apostle's Creed: "I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, in order that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true."
Or as 1 Peter 1 declares:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you,  Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Jesus: The Biggest Loser

 11th Sunday after Pentecost – August 28th, 2011
Matthew 16:21-28
Grace Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ + Amen.

No one likes losing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a job, a ballgame, a barroom brawl or even Human Foosball. The runner up doesn’t pat himself on the back: “job well done!” He may be a good sport in front of the camera, smile and congratulate the victor, but inside he hates losing and secretly hungers for victory. You see, we follow the Ricky Bobby playbook: if you’re not first, you’re last. Those are the ways of man.
            But not the ways of God. When it comes to fighting, with and for His people, God is the biggest, and the happiest, loser. For when God loses, we win; and when we win, God wins. He who is first for our sakes, became last – Jesus was made man.

            Jesus turns the world upside down. No cross, no glory. No death, no resurrection. Good Friday must come before Easter. And if you try to save your life on your own terms you’ll lose it forever. If you lose your life for Jesus’ sake you’ll find it. That’s the paradox of the Gospel. The cross is Christ’s glory and yours. Losing is living. Dying is life. No wonder Jesus’ words are so shocking.
            Last week Peter got it right: “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God.” Up until now, everything had been easy. Schooling the Pharisees. Miracles. Healing. Kicking demon butt, walking on water and stilling storms. Who wouldn’t follow Jesus? The crowds flocked to him. And so would we.
            We love this kind of stuff. Power, prestige, ecstasy and crowds. That’s the kind of stuff that draws a crowd on Sunday – power and majesty and glory. That’s the stuff of religion.  It’s attractive, seductive – like a drug - we always want more until it kills us. No suffering, sin or death – not a cross in sight. No pain, only pleasure. No losing your life to save it. That kind of talk will only get you killed. That’s for losers.

            This week Peter gets it all wrong. Suffering and dying didn’t fit into his plans for Jesus. “Far be it from you Lord, this will surely not be you.” “Jesus, reasonable, respectable Messiah’s don’t go off to die. That’s no way to boost membership or pack the hillsides. You won’t be very successful or famous with all this killing and suffering language. No one likes a loser, Jesus.”
            And isn’t that the way of sinful man? We always think we know best what God should do and how He should do it. But honestly, Peter’s way is easy. Pretty up the confession with a precious moments Jesus: group hugs and everyone gets along. Lighten up the liturgy with feel-good music and culturally sensitive language. You know, something more popular or palatable and pretty. Proclaim a bloodless Christianity, a Christ without suffering, a cross without a crucifixion – or better yet, no cross at all. Power, riches and your best life now all you need is more faith or a better attitude.
            This is the broad and easy way: Easy to preach. Easy to tell your neighbors. And even easier to live. But this is no Gospel. There is no life there. That’s the way of destruction, Satan’s deceptive brand of “good news,” where everything which appeared to be good is a trap and a lie, like Edmund and the White Witch’s Turkish delight.

            So, Jesus says the only thing you can say to the devil. He rebukes him: “Get behind me, Satan.”  That was the problem. Peter’s words were Satan’s words. The devil tried this trick before in the wilderness. “Turn stones into bread, jump off the temple. No one will ever know, Jesus. Power and prestige, majesty and glory – you can have it all. Just avoid the cross; give in; bow down and worship me.”
            Subversion. Lies. Temptation. Satan doesn’t want Jesus anywhere near the cross.  Because as soon as Jesus utters the words: “It is finished.” So is Satan’s kingdom. Jesus’ death is death’s undoing. The Law is silenced. Sin is atoned for. Hell is vanquished. The devil is conquered. Satan’s tricks didn’t work in the wilderness and it didn’t work here either.
            Despite himself Peter’s best laid plans failed. Jesus had a better plan in mind: the cross. For himself and his disciples and you.

             “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
            Life would’ve been much easier if Jesus was talking about a figurative cross and not the real thing. Wouldn’t that be convenient? Monday through Saturday we could carry on with our lives and come Sunday morning set aside an hour or so of spiritual self-denial and then we’re off again to our regular lives.
            Thankfully Jesus didn’t bear a figurative cross but a real one because you don’t have figurative sins but real ones. And thank God we – like Peter – don’t get our way. What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his body and soul? What can a man give in return? Nothing. That’s exactly the way God would have it. You give him nothing. You give Him your sin, your death, your condemnation and he gives you His righteousness, His life, His salvation.

That’s what this is all about. “Jesus began to show his disciples that it is necessary for him to suffer many things, to be rejected by the elders and the chief priest and the scribes, and to be killed and on the third day raised from the dead.” So in a way, you can understand why Peter tried to get in Jesus’ way. No one wants to see the one you love suffer. But that’s precisely why it was necessary for Jesus to go to Jerusalem. To suffer and die for you, the ones he loves. You do not suffer alone. You don’t bear the cross alone. Even Jesus needed Simon of Cyrene. In the cross of Christ, you are never alone.

            Here, O Sinner, is your life. God would have it no other way. It is necessary. That is love. The kind of love that will not leave Jeremiah abandoned in despair; that will not leave the children of Israel enslaved in Egypt; that will not leave sons of Adam and daughters of Eve unclothed, unforgiven and outside of Paradise. His love knows no other way than rescue. Christ will not put himself first, but you. He lives for you the same way He dies for you: perfectly, lovingly, mercifully.  Nothing but the cross will do for Jesus, or for you.
            And to do this He must lose. He must suffer many things and suffer them all for you. Bring on the sweat like blood, the sting of vinegar on parched lips. Bring on the hands that bind, hands that slap, hands that nail, hands that bury. Bring on the lies of the priest, the mocking crowds, the silence of heaven. When God loses you win. For the joy set before him he endures it all for you. Let him be rejected, for in his rejection is your acceptance before the Father. Let Him pour out His blood in anguish so you can drink it here in joyful pardon and peace. Let him be killed, for his death is your life. Let him be buried for in that tomb death’s grip on you is broken. Let him lose his life so that you are found in Him. That’s the power of Jesus’ love. Losing to win. Dying to live. Suffering for your glory. That’s Jesus way of things in your Baptism, in Absolution in the Supper and in your daily life.

            Jesus redefines our life with his own cross. Jesus makes his cruciform love the very pattern of our lives.
            "Deny yourself, take up your cross, follow me." Sounds like marching orders, doesn't it? Stuff to do to be saved. Or is it? What sort of things to do are we talking about? Deny yourself - become nothing. Take up your cross - drop dead. That's what crosses do, they kill. Follow me. Where? Where Jesus leads - through death and resurrection to eternal life. It's not about your self-improvement, your self-help or even yourself at all, this is no rehab for sinners. It's about dying and rising.
            That’s your life before God. That’s your life before the neighbor. Christians are professional losers. Daily. It’s rarely glorifying, hardly prestigious – we’re not even guaranteed success – at least the way the world counts it. Jesus works under the cross. His church is no different. Our whole life –meetings, work in the community, Bible studies, congregational life together – it all works the same way: the cross. Cruciform mercy, love, prayer, study, cruciform lives.           
            You see, you don’t suffer, bear a cross and then earn your disciple merit badge. It’s the other way around. You suffer, you bear the cross, you serve the neighbor because you are a Baptized child of God, a disciple. Christian love loses itself in the neighbor. That’s living. Losing your life one day at a time as you raise children, care for the elderly, feed the hungry, serve your church and live in the vocations God has called you. For the cross you bear is not your own it is Jesus’. And he bore it for you.

It’s good to be a loser after all. In Christ, losing is winning. Dying is living and Jesus Crucified is our greatest glory.

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Fellowship of the Cross

This is the kind of sermon illustration that would only work well at Comicon. Or on a blog like this. But hey, even nerds like me need the Gospel. I couldn't get this out of my head this week as I was preparing a sermon Matthew 16 (minus Gandalf and company) for the saints at Redeemer, HB. So, enjoy.

When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. So says Bonhoeffer. But Bonhoeffer was just being a good Christian theologian when he plagiarized Jesus. That's part of what the church is called to do: say what Christ has said again and again and again. All theology is plagiarism. Which brings me back to Sunday's Gospel reading from Matthew 16...Deny yourself. Take up your cross and follow me.

The cost of discipleship was invented by Jesus (and the prophets who pointed to him) long before Bonhoeffer wrote the book. Jesus not only wrote the book but lived it for the disciples, for you, for all. And a disciple is not above his master.

So, Jesus never holds back. Why should he? After all, he's on his way to Jerusalem, where he will, once again, not hold anything back. Unlike us, Jesus practices what he preaches. We say: "actions speak louder than words." For Jesus his words are actions; his actions proclaim. His Word is action.
Deny yourself - become nothing. Take up your cross - drop dead. And follow me. Where? To the cross. Where else? After Peter's outburst of satanic foot-in-mouth syndrome, the fellowship of the disciples - and the church, the fellowship of saints in the body of Christ - had some things to learn on their appointed journey.

Much like another fellowship - a rag-tag band of "disciples" from the mines to the forests, from the kingdom of men to the Shire, a wizard and a would-be king. I don't know whether or not Tolkien had ever considered or even pondered Matthew 16 while the Council of Elrond met at the last homely house in the west. But there sure seems to be an unavoidable, rather striking connection. The cost of discipleship in middle-earth entailed a similar calling to our Lord's. Not a cross but a ring. Nevertheless, a journey full of self-denial, and, in the end, freedom and life.

At Rivendell Jesus' words would have sounded something like this: "Deny yourselves (and they did, even when plagued by orcs and Nazgul). Take up this ring - this curse upon history of men. And follow the path to Mt. Doom. Follow it over hill and under hill. Follow it through rock and marsh. Follow it from Weather Top to the Morgul Vale. Follow it through the Shelob's lair amidst Sauron's kindling glare." But who shall brave such a task?

'None here can do so,' said Eldrond gravely. 'At least none can foretell what will come to pass, if we take this road or that. But it seems to me now clear which is the road that we must take. The westward road seems easiest. Therefore it must be shunned. It will be watched. Too often the Elves have fled that way. Now at this last we must take a hard road, a road unforeseen. There lies our hope, if hope it be. To walk into peril - to Mordor. We must send the Ring to the Fire.'

Follow this path you mighty fellowship. Deny yourselves - drop dead if you must and many of you will. Take up the ring - yes, it is yours to bear Frodo. And follow where dwarfs and elves fear to trod. Yes, it appears to be folly. So let folly be our cloak, a veil before the eyes of the Enemy! Although this heavy burden was borne freely by Frodo he was not alone in his folly. Yes, there is a cost to discipleship even in middle-earth. And this is the way it had to be. There was no other way. Isildur's bane must be destroyed. Sauron must be defeated. Middle-earth must be free. All theology is plagiarism, even when it shows up in epic fairy tales.

That's all well and good you say. But I'm not in middle-earth. Wizards, elven swords and Samwise may have helped Frodo. But that does little good for the crosses of this life. Perhaps not at first appearance. But remember not all the glitters is gold. The answer is often hidden in the cross. Here we are not in the realm of fairy tales, stories to be true - but the real ones. The kind of story that sounds too good to be true. Not about hobbits or magic rings. But a cross. A denial. And a journey to a mountain. The central event in all human history that the good fairy tales (among other stories) points to.

Frodo needed Samwise. At many points (and one in particular near Mt. Doom) he couldn't even bear the ring without him; but even Jesus needed a Simon on the way to Mt. Calvary. The humiliation was so overwhelming - the burden too heavy - the one who went to Golgotha couldn't even carry his own cross. I suppose that is fitting. The cross is never born alone. Not for Jesus. Not for you. He has defeated the Sauron of this world. Adam's bane is destroyed. And the old creation is free. Welcome to the new creation in Christ. And he did it all for the most unlikely, rag-tag band of disciples, then and now.

Even when it appears that the most dangerous thing is stepping out our front door, Christ will never leave us without a Samwise. Indeed, when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. And dying, you live. Losing, you win. The cross is life. No one can doubt the cost is great. But the reward is greater, even the greatest. A Great Eucatastrophe.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Body Gospel?

Ja! I am Hans and he is Franz and we're here to pump...you up like Sampson! Granted I don't live in muscle beach; but Surf City has its fair share of beach bodies, not all of whom are flattering and most of whom need to wear more clothing in public. But fear not you faint of heart when jogging. Let not your arms feel flabby. There's hope for you. Tired of the same old law? You know, the old routine of getting up and counting points; kicking your rump-roast with a little P90X and then feeling guilty when you snacked a bit around 3:00 in the afternoon? Well, you don't need the law anymore. No more jocks and oiled up Governator wannabes telling you what to do every morning. No, you are past the law. You need Beach Body Gospel.  Seriously, I wish I were making this up. It's the best new thing to come along for Christian fitness (whatever that is) since the pope of evangelicalism started the Daniel Plan or Christian pole dancing became a sad, tragic reality. No, I'm not kidding about that last one either. 

Now, I don't mean to poke fun at health issues. There are real, serious health problems in this country - including over-eating, weight issues, dietary and eating disorders. And of course a healthy diet, exercise, etc. are good things for any person to consider. As Christians we can even go so far to say that it is good stewardship of creation, of the body created by God. However, this is not the Gospel. Reminds me of something St. Paul once said in Galatians...

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel  from heaven [or a visionary church leader or a diet guru or a well intended Christian or anyone] should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

This is what happens when felt needs take over the Church; she loses her identity (and so do her people) she loses her confession or trades it for another one and ultimately worships the creature rather than the Creator. And all the fat and fluff clouds the Gospel. It's like cholesterol in the arteries of the church. Don't stop the blood flow. Don't clog it with the trans fat of this world. Jesus' Word, Jesus' Baptism, Jesus' body and blood are the life of the Church. Jesus is enough. The cross is a stumbling block enough. We do ourselves no service in putting the law - i.e. Christian diet plans - where there is no law. And we do the Gospel no service when we mince words that have less to do with Christ Crucified for you and more about how you look walking the pier at Huntington Beach, or wherever it is you. Thank the good Lord for our daily bread. For our health and for a full and free salvation - no matter what you look like, no matter what your BMI is, no matter if you can fit in your high school jeans or not. The Gospel is not about what you do or don't drink that makes you a Christian; it's about the one who thirsted for you on the cross. The Gospel is not about what you do or don't eat, do or don't smoke but about the one who wouldn't even turn stones into bread so that he might smote the ruin of the ancient serpent, first in the wilderness and then on Good Friday. The Gospel is not about fancy fads and diet plans but the Jesus in the Eucharist - the give thanks as we receive our daily bread in Jesus' body and blood, meal. You can't eat enough at Jesus' table. Gluttonous forgiveness is Jesus' way of things. Thank God he still loves to eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners. For the Gospel is not how good you look standing before the mirror but how - in Christ, covered in the blood of Jesus, saved by His all sufficient sacrifice on the cross, baptized, fed, and forgiven - you look (and you are) perfect before our Father who is in heaven. You are clothed in Christ because Christ was sent to take on our human bodies - flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone - frailties and all and go to the cross. Because unlike the Body Gospel - this Gospel really does save you...here and now and forever. And it won't cost you 2 monthly payments of $39.95. Jesus has already paid your way into a perfect glorified body in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting with his own body broken on the cross.

And now for something completely different...

Monday, August 15, 2011

No Atheists in Bookstores

I must admit I was befuddled that Christopher Hitchen's book - God is Not Great - was found in the religion section on a recent jaunt to the local community college's (Golden West College) bookstore. Surely this had to be a misnomer (it wasn't; and don't call me surely). What were these bookstore employees thinking? Don't they have a new atheist section? At least they had C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity right next to it; indeed a brilliant corrective. And though I'll never be sure if this was intentional or not, the more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that this is exactly the right place for this book, unlike the Dawkins books in the science section below.

You see, many atheists (at least the so-called new atheists, a.k.a. the four horsemen) spend a ginormous amount of time fighting Christians (among other religions, to be fair, but none as much as Christianity it seems) whom they think are less intelligent, more foolish and incredibly dull. They even dub themselves the "brights". Maybe that's why they are so hell-bent atheistic evangelism: deep down they think they are better than everyone else who is religious in any way. They proselytize; they believe in things; they have faith in things; they have ideology, philosophical presuppositions and assumptions; standards of objective truth (whether they admit it or not). Are you getting the point yet? Atheism is not the lack of religion.  It may very well be an ideology, a philosophy, a way of life, etc. that claims not to believe in god; but that's simply not true. Atheism is the opposite in fact; it is thoroughly religious and many of its adherents are just as fanatic as your stereo-typical Bible-thumping fundegelical.

In Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton observes the same dogmatism in the strict materialist and makes a few helpful remarks about miracles along the way:

I am forced to it by a conspiracy of facts:the fact that the men who encounter elves or angels are not the mystics and the morbid dreamers, but fishermen, farmers, and all men at once coarse and cautious; the fact that we all know men who testify to spiritualistic incidents are not spiritualists, the fact that science itself admits such things more and more every day. Science will even admit the Ascension if you call it levitation, and will very likely admit the Resurrection when it has thought of another word for it. I suggest the Regalvisation. But the strongest of all is the dilemma above mentioned, that these supernatural things are never denied except on the basis of anti-democracy or of materialist dogmatism - I may say materialist mysticism. The sceptic always takes one of two positions; either an ordinary man need not be believed, oran extraordinary event must not be believed...

...The greatest disaster of the nineteenth century was this: that men began to use the word "spiritual" as the same as the word good. They thought that to grow in refinement and uncorporeality was to grow in virture. When scientific evolution was announced, some feared that it would encourage mere spirituality. It taught men to think that so long as they were passing from the ape they were going to the angel. But you can pass from the ape and go to the devil (Orthodoxy, 161-162).

Chesterton is right - on several accounts here. Atheism is every bit as dogmatic and full of fundamentalists. The difference is found, ultimately, in the playbook. The god of atheism is the god of self. You see, there is no such thing as atheism. We all have gods. Our minds are perfect little idol-factories, pumping out custom made deities faster than a Ford in its heyday. The question is which, if any of these gods, is true? What evidence is there for the claims your god makes? In the case of Jesus Crucified and Risen and the New Testament, the evidence is overwhelming. See my last post, the Bible on Trial, for a brief introduction. This is a regular topic around here at E-nklings. And if you're looking for more books to read about the historicity of Christianity, the trustworthiness of the New Testament documents, or good reads on apologetics, send me a message and I'll give you a few tips. Perhaps an annotated bibliography is in order. That will have to go in the cue for another day.

That's why Hitchens' book is in the perfect section - religion. No matter what you call it - Materialism, Naturalism, Secularism, Humanism, Atheism - it doesn't matter. We are our own favorite gods. We love to worship ourselves, our reason, our scientific methods, our assumptions. The only question that really matters is: is it true? How does the evidence stack up, historically - not theoretically, not millions and gazillions of years ago - but in history where events, no matter how bizarre they sound must be checked out by rigorous historical methods. The same ones used for identifying whether or not Alexander conquered Tyre around 332 B.C. or that Abraham Lincoln was shot in Ford's Theater on April 14, 1865. Are there supernatural, metaphysical ramifications to the kind of historical inquiry into the life of Jesus and the New Testament documents? You bet. So be it. The other side has metaphysical consequences too.

By the way, there's a delightful parody on this whole "bright" and "dull" moniker in a recent book entitled The Loser Letters. It's like Screwtape Letters meets snarky atheism; everything is flipped on its head. And it's wonderful. Stay tuned for the book review.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Bible On Trial

Skeptics love to play the conspiracy card when it comes to the Scriptures, especially the New Testament and the Gospels in particular. The classic straw-man sounds something like a sordid game of telephone drawn up by a master-mind group of power-hungry, money-grabbing, fame-seeking egotists. Finding alleged contradictions and discrepancies in the manuscripts of the NT has been the proverbially dead horse, beaten since the Enlightenment down to today's regurgitated methodologies of the same era found in NT studies professors like Bart Ehrman. And while his latest book, Forged deserves to be read and rebutted with actual, academic and rigorous scholarship, that will have to be another blog post for another day. The videos below, placed onto YouTube from the Lutheran Men's Network, are a fantastic course corrective to so much of the prevailing winds that guides and shapes worldly wisdom these days. Craig Parton, Esq. - a brilliant lawyer and apologist in his own right- brings his experience, knowledge and insight to bear on the series, The Bible On Trial. Because the videos speak for themselves, I will let them. Redeemer Lutheran, Huntington Beach - where I serve as pastor -will be going through these in the next 6 weeks and as a result, I am confident that there will be more fruitful discussion and writing on E-nklings on the veracity, historical accuracy, and trustworthiness of the Scriptures as we continue to make a ready defense of the Great Eucatastrophe to those who ask us about the hope that is within us. So, for now, enjoy the videos.

Monday, August 1, 2011

If Jesus Was a Grocery Store

 7th Sunday after Pentecost – July 31, 2011
In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

            Today’s Gospel reading begins and ends in abundance. Abundant compassion. Abundant food. Abundant Jesus. Even when he withdraws to a desolate place to pray and mourn the death of John the Baptizer – even then - Jesus gives and gives and gives and it doesn’t just burn him out, it kills him. And even in death he’s giving – bountiful life for our bountiful sin.That’s the way of the Gospel, always more.  5000 men – and more counting all the women and children, all fed from 5 barley loaves and 2 fish. All were satisfied. And there were more than enough leftovers: 12 baskets full. With Jesus, there’s always more.  More food. More forgiveness. More compassion than we ever deserve or imagined.

            Jesus was tired, grieving and needed rest but what did he do? Send out a disciple to announce, “Sorry crowds; take a number and have a seat in the waiting room while you fill out some paperwork; the Great Physician will see you when he can; he’s running a bit behind today?” No! Jesus looked on the great crowd and had compassion on them.
            He didn’t wait. He didn’t form a task force. He didn’t talk about it for hours.
            He simply healed their sick. Abundant compassion in body and soul. And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus fed them all too. Jesus never stops at, “That’s enough.” Jesus, our Greater Elijah, always makes sure the chalice, the font, the absolution – is always overflowing. Jesus keeps pouring out His forgiveness. Again and again and again.

            To any sensible person this whole scenario seems utterly crazy. The disciples even call Jesus out on it. “Jesus, look, we’re in the middle of nowhere. The day is spent. The people are hungry. Send the crowds away to the villages to buy food for themselves.”

            The disciples were right. The sensible thing would’ve been to send them away. There was no 24-hour Vons or Gourmet Galilean drive-thru nearby.

That’s our way of doing things: the sensible way. We measure. We limit. We decide what is fair. We live our lives quid pro quo: "I help you, you help me." “Oh you shouldn’t have, no really; now I am socially obligated to give you a gift in return.”
            But it’s not just the petty things in life that work this way. Showing mercy to others seems too risky, too uncomfortable. Will they really truly appreciate what I do for them? What if I show mercy to that homeless person or that family on Slater St. or that neighbor in need? They might take advantage of me.
            Yes, we live sensible lives, constantly comparing and measuring others by our own standards and rarely looking in the mirror. And that’s the ugly truth: deep down we think we’re better than others; I live as if I mattered most, not my neighbor. You see, the first commandment really is the fountain of all the rest. You shall have no other gods before me.

            Thank God Jesus doesn’t stay within our boundaries or do things the sensible way; we’d never make it through the checkout line. He doesn’t pull out the scales and weights and measure out each according to their wages. Isaiah knew it well too: abundant pardon. Abundant food without price.
            Jesus takes a recipe right out of Isaiah’s cook book: “Come! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come; buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
            How ridiculous! If Jesus was a grocery store he’d be broke and out of food in no time. But that’s the kind of Savior you have: abundant compassion. Abundant food. Abundant, gluttonous forgiveness. There beside the still waters and green grass of Galilee, the Shepherd fed his sheep. “They don’t need to go away. You feed them.”
            “But we only have 5 loaves and 2 fish; it’s not enough,” the disciples cry.
            “Bring them to me; it’s more than enough.”

            Jesus prepares the food, sets the table and seats the people. Then, looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Jesus blesses and gives thanks so the people are blessed and give thanks. He took bread. Broke it. Gave it to the disciples. And they distributed it.
            Do those verbs sound familiar? They should. On the night when he was betrayed, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to His Disciples. “Take eat My Body given for you. Take drink my blood of the new testament shed for you for the remission of sins.”
            Although that Galilean diner was a good, it was only a glimpse – no, an appetizer– of the real feast in heaven and on earth. Jesus blesses and gives thanks so you are blessed and give thanks. The Lord’s Supper. The Eucharist. The true Thanksgiving dinner.                      Jesus feeds you the same way he fed that Galilean crowd; without price, without limit. Abundant Compassion. Outrageous forgiveness. Reckless, unabashed love in body and soul.
            Christ is Crucified tips the scale in your favor. Jesus, who knew no sin, is made to be sin for us. All your debt is his. And all his life is yours. For all the sinful pettiness you measure out to others, He pours out his blood without measure for all. For all times you are unmerciful; He looks on you in compassion. For all the times we lived as if we mattered most, Jesus lives and dies because you matter most. Jesus loves you with uncommonsensible love.
            That’s why you feed your children, isn’t it? Of course, it’s good for them. Food is an enjoyable part of God’s creation. And family and church fellowship happens around the table. It’s all of this and more. You care for and feed your children because you love them.
            Your heavenly Father is no different. Although he’s perfect at it and a better cook too. Just look at his Son, the host, waiter and food at the best table in town: the Lord’s Table. He provides all creatures with daily bread. We have fellowship around our dinner table and the Lord’s table.  And it all happens because he loves us. Abundantly. Freely. Without limit.

            And while our earthly parents may tell us - “That’s enough; if you don’t eat your meat you can’t have any pudding” - Jesus never says, “That’s enough forgiveness for one day; No compassion for you.”  When Jesus gives, he gives bountifully. Abundant compassion. Abundant food. Abundant Jesus.
            That’s the life of the church to eat and feast on Christ’s gluttonous forgiveness, like hobbits and teenagers. Eat as often as you can; you can never get enough. With Jesus there’s always more.  More forgiveness than you have sins; more compassion than you could possibly need. So much that there’s leftovers: abundant love, abundant compassion, abundant forgiveness overflowing for your neighbor. Without limit.

            For how can we, who have received Christ’s blessings, say to our brother in need: “Peace be with you,” yet leave him hungry, naked or in need?  Our Great Physician calls us to be abundantly compassionate to all in need.  Our Great Chef calls us to wait on those in need of daily bread, feeding them food that lasts into eternity and food that lasts through the night.  Our Great High Priest calls and ordains pastors – to feed his sheep with his forgiveness. He doesn’t stop there. He calls all Christians to be priests, to offer your lives as living sacrifices. Your priestly work is as close as your neighbor in need.

            As YHWH fed Israel with manna in the wilderness,  from the shores of Galilee to the shores of Huntington Beach - by hillside and bedside – Jesus is feeding his people.  Jesus heals, feeds and Saves - in body and soul. He does the same for you.
            That’s why we confess the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. We eat and drink Jesus’ body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. He strengthens you in body and soul into life everlasting. We know that much about heaven; there will be eating and drinking and plenty of it. More Jesus. More life. More joy.
            The dinner bell is ringing: “The Lord be with you; Come and get it!”
Come, Lord Jesus be our guest and let your gifts to us be blessed. For the eyes of all, O Lord, look to you and you give them their meat in due season; you open your hands and satisfy the desires of every living thing...

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