Wednesday, November 30, 2011

St. Andrew's Day

In a book of daily readings for the Church Year from C.S. Lewis, the following quotation from Mere Christianity was quoted for St. Andrew's Day. For today we remember the work of Christ among his Apostles, especially Andrew who looked not to the world, but to Christ and pointed others to him as well.

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so innefective in this. Aim at heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in'; aim at earth and you will get neither. It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen in other matters. Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more - food, games, work, fun, open air. In the same way, we shall never save civilization as long as civilization is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more. Mere Christianity, book III, chapter 10.

That seems to be a rather prominent theme in the life of the disciples, especially after Christ's death and resurrection. You can find it in a quote attributed to St. Andrew who was martyred on an X shaped cross, "Hail, precious cross, you who were dedicated by the body of Christ; may He receive me through you, who redeemed me through you." And so with that in mind, we join in thanks and praise for the work of Christ through his servant, Andrew.

All praise, O Lord, for Andrew,
The first to welcome You,
Whose witness to his brother
Named You Messiah true.
May we, with hearts kept open
To You throughout the year,
Confess to friend and neighbor
Your advent ever near.

The Treasury of Daily Prayer also has a fantastic quotation from Valerius Herberger on St. Andrew. Here's a portion of that reading:

Reverent hearts, we hold the feast of the apostle Andrew in Christendom the first in the church year not only because it falls near the season of Advent but also because Andrew was called first, before the other apostles, by the Lord Jesus...Now history tells us how St. Andrew together with his fellows conducted their new office. Right away they left their nets and followed Jesus. And again, right away they left the ship and their father and followed him. To them Jesus is now the most precious one on earth - according to his mind they learn, according to his words they teach, according to his will they live, according to his decree they suffer and die. When St. Andrew was threatened with the cross, he joyfully said, "If I feared the punishment of the cross, I would never have preached the mystery of the cross."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Happy Birthday, C.S. Lewis

Today is C.S. Lewis's birthday. He would have been 113 years old, two years past his eleventy first birthday.  So, instead of writing a tribute essay or some such thing - I asked the facebook world today to list their favorite C.S. Lewis quote. If you have any to contribute this is a fine place to do so. After all, this blog, E-nklings, is, at least in part, dedicated to the fine work of the Inklings (of whom Lewis was a major player). And it seemed most fitting to include a few words of the man known as Jack, or now better known as Saint Jack. Thanks for all your writing. I certainly looking forward to seeing this man in the resurrection counted among the many faithful in the great cloud of witnesses. Enjoy the quotes. Under the mercy.

"God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it." Mere Christianity, book 2, chapter 5.

He is not a tame lion. Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe.

 “Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn. My God, do you learn.” - attributed to Lewis, possibly from the Problem of Pain.

"But how can the characters in a play guess the plot? We are not the playwright, we are not the producer, we are not even the audience. We are on the stage. To play well the scenes in which we are “on” concerns us much more than to guess about the scenes that follow it."  The World's Last Night.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up save in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.” - The Four Love.

"The mark of Friendship is not that help will be given when the pinch comes (of course it will) but that, having been given, it makes no difference at all." 

"A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere -- 'Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,' as Herbert says, 'fine nets and stratagems.' God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous." 
"The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning."
     And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at least they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before." 
The Last Battle.
"Oh, Aslan!" whispered Susan...Can't we do something about the Deep Magic? "Work against the EMPEROR'S Magic?"... said Aslan with something like a frown...nobody EVER made that suggestion to Him again..."What does it mean? Is it more magic?" "It means said Aslan, that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she does not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked further back...before Time dawned...She would have known...when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitors stead...Death itself would start working backward". Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe.

Of Mice and Men

Twas the season of Advent and all through the house, not a creature was stirring except for that mouse.

Expectant joy. Readiness. Anticipation. Eagerness. These are all words used to describe the church as she celebrates Advent - as she awaits the return of the King. They also happen to be words that describe one particularly valiant mouse, Reepicheep. Would that we all looked to Advent as Reepicheep yearned for Aslan's country. When it comes to Advent, let us rejoice, hope and expect Christ's coming. For he is coming soon. Ignore the Christmas celebrations of men. We are children of the day. In Advent the church is as valiant as a mouse, awaiting the dawn of the Morning Star and the coming of Christ and his country.

"My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan's country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise and Peepicheek will be head of the talking mice in Narnia."

"Hear, hear," said a sailor, "I'll say the same, barring the bit about the coracle, which wouldn't bear me." He added in a lower voice, "I'm not going to be out done by a mouse."

A blessed, merry and mousy Advent to you all!

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Return of the King

+ 1st Sunday in Advent – November 27th, 2011 +
Mark 11:1-10; Isaiah 64:1-9

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

            Happy new year. Happy Palm Sunday. Happy Judgment Day. A Merry Advent to you all. Well, make up your mind already. Which one is it? All of thee above.

            Behold your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation. Today Advent begins the church year where Pentecost ended it. Prepare. Watch. Wait. The return of the King is near. Every eye will see him. The dead will arise. Every knee will bow. King Jesus is coming – not to conquer, not to condemn or judge. But to save you. Advent means – He comes.
            Today all Sundays are rolled into one. The first Sunday in advent is the true Palm Sunday: Great David’s greater Son rides into Jerusalem. Today we greet King Jesus, but we will not see him as king until he is enthroned on the cross.
            This is the Sunday of the world’s judgment. Today King Jesus rides the clouds of heaven in glory, enthroned on the cross surrounded by angels.
            Today, the King’s feast, the marriage supper of the Lamb begins. Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord. That’s song unites heaven and earth from Palm Sunday to the heavenly divine service. And it’s the church’s advent song here on earth as Jesus rides upon the bread and wine. To heal. To save. To ransom captive Israel.
            Behold your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation.
But you – like the people of Israel – want a King for all the wrong reasons. Pride. Power. Prestige. Earthly possessions. We cheer as long as we think God can do something for us. Otherwise, forget Yahweh and his promises. He’s not my king…I didn’t vote for him. We drop the palm branches and shove our way to the throne. I want a real king. One who’ll give me exactly what I want. That’s right. Look in the mirror. Behold, your king. Our sinful flesh doesn’t like King Jesus. What’re you talking about kings for? I hold supreme executive power. I’m no one’s subject. I’m no slave.
            And that’s where our sinful flesh is wrong. Dead wrong. Don’t fool yourself. We are subjects. We are slaves. Captive in the chains of our own sin. We sit blindly in the shadow of  death.
            The world attempts to overcome this darkness with artificial light. Forget Advent. Go right to Christmas. We like the feast but not the fast. And as a result we neither fast nor truly feast.
            What is your hope this Advent? What do you want this Christmas? A little sentimentality, a little inward uplifting…nice atmosphere? You don’t need Jesus or his church for that. Hallmark will do just fine. Jesus comes to give you something better.
            Just like the children of Israel - all our thrones and rulers – our fear, love and trust in ourselves; our pride, power and prestige - it all becomes our undoing and topples before Advent King Jesus. He comes to pull you down from your self-appointed throne so that he might rule and reign over you in mercy and love; he destroys the tragic kingdom you have made for yourself and replaces it with his everlasting kingdom. The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent. Turn. Clean up. Get ready. The King is coming.

            That’s where Advent begins, in old Adam’s ruins. Up from the ashes. Released from captivity. Only in the depths of our darkness does the Morning Star herald the dawn of a new day.
            Behold your King is coming; righteous and having salvation. Advent King Jesus comes for you who sit in darkness, casting out the shadow of death by his own. The dawn is here. The night is ended. In Advent Christ comes to bring true light and hope to our lives.
            Behold your king comes for you who suffer in a world broken by sin and death. This King dons a crown of thorns – the curse of this creation - to restore his creation by his body broken in death.

            Behold your king comes for you who were captive by the devil. The King has returned. Your exile is over. Advent is your home-coming. Your guilt and shame are replaced with honor and glory fit for a King.
            Behold your King comes not in judgment for he has already judged all things in heaven and on earth by his judgment on the cross. In Advent, neither the Kingdom of God or Christmas come on demand. But in the fullness of time. We await the unexpected party at an unexpected hour. Therefore, God’s people live in expectant joy. Holy fear. Like a mother-to-be in her 8th month.
            Can’t wait. Baby’s coming soon. That’s Advent. History is pregnant with the Promise of salvation; the new creation ready to break chaotic waters. Wars, rumors of war, earthquakes, famines, hurricanes, floods, fires, pestilence. These are the labor pains, Jesus said. The contractions of the new creation are getting closer. She doesn’t know precisely the day or the hour, and so she must watch and wait. She knows the signs. She knows that the day is coming soon. She watches and waits with eager expectation. Are you ready and waiting…waiting and ready?
            Advent is no time for despair. No time for heads hung low. Hope and expectation. He came. He is coming now. He will come again. Lift up your heads you mighty gates. Look up, you who are staring emptily down at the hopeless misery of the world. Look up, you whose eyes are heavy with tears and weeping. Look up you who are loaded down with guilt and burdens. Your redemption is drawing near. The battle is not lost. Raise your heads. Victory is yours. Heaven is bending near to earth. God himself is bending down to men – not as of old a little child, to bear and fight and die but crowned with glory like the son that gilds the eastern sky. Behold your King is coming; righteous and having salvation.
            If we don’t get this we will never be ready for the return of the King – let alone Christmas. For what this world despises, Jesus takes and uses to accomplish his great love.
            That his why Advent King Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey. He goes to die for you. Behold your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation. His Advent is for you.

            On this first Sunday in Advent Mark reminds us that Christianity finds its meaning in the cross. The cross does not come after Christmas but before. The creator of the stars of night plunges himself into the darkness and decay of sin and death. Here in Advent, God is preparing you to celebrate Christmas aright, for you cannot have a Merry Christmas without the King and his coming in Advent. God is preparing for history’s most significant moment. Fetch the donkey. The Lord has need of it. The creator is taking his creation back one creature at a time. A lowly donkey escorts Jesus to his lowly death. Nothing can stop the prophet’s words from coming true: “Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold your King is coming to you.”

            All of Old Testament history is culminating in the procession. Here is Abraham leading Isaac to Mount Moriah for sacrifice. Here is David dancing before the ark of the Lord taking back the Holy City as God’s own. Here is Solomon seated on the royal animal, declared to be David’s Son. Here is the High Priest entering the Holy of Holies to offer himself as a sacrifice. Even before you see the crib. You see the glory of salvation laid before you in the cross.

            In the cross, King Jesus brings the kingdom to Himself. It is not in heaven but in the crucified Christ that we find the highest heavens singing: Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest. He’s not the King you expected…but he is the kind of King you need. The Suffering King who has brought you out of the kingdom of darkness and death into his Kingdom of light and life. You bear the badge of his subjects and that badge is a cross. You belong to this Advent King, Jesus, to his Kingdom.
            That’s the joy of Advent. We celebrate his first coming in the flesh because we hopefully, joyfully anticipate his greater and 2nd coming in glory. And yet, even now he comes. There’s no need to worry about Christmas or more importantly, the end of the world. You have it all in the Sacrament. Immanuel, God with us. Palm Sunday Hosannas and Christ coming in glory. Everything you need, Jesus provides. 
            Your King comes to you, through mouth and ear, righteous and having salvation.  Hidden under the ordinary and earthly means of water and word and bread and wine. The King gives himself as the treasure, for you. As he comes into his church in the bread and wine we sing a familiar song: blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!
            Prepare. Watch. Wait. Behold your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation. A Merry Advent to you all.               

 In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

C.S. Lewis and Advent

C.S. Lewis borrowed the following parable from George MacDonald. And I am borrowing it from Lewis.

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a wing here, putting an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. (Mere Christianity, book IV, chapter 9)

Now, the point Lewis was trying to make in the context was about Jesus' words, "Be ye perfect." About which Lewis goes on to say: "He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command." In other words, as the prophet says, "I will replace your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh" or, as the Psalmist sings, "create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a steadfast spirit within me." If we are to talk at all about the Christian life - what we say, do, how we live, etc. - we must talk of Christ who lives, says and does these things for us. Indeed, we must speak louder than all other voices around us telling us that it is our steam that gets the little train of sanctification up the hill. For it is Christ who prepares, blesses and gives us the good work that we might follow in them (Ephesians 2) and he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion on the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 1).

That is where Advent comes into the picture - or should we say, the building plans - of the parable above. In Advent God is not merely planning a remodel job or a slight renovation of this creation - or us, his creatures. He is planning an all out demolition and starting from the ground up...with wood and nail to be precise...a new house, a new creation, a new and everlasting kingdom. I suppose that makes John the Baptizer the demo man with the axe in hand, "Repent. The Kingdom of God is near." And when John gets done there's only one branch left standing on the stump...the branch of Jesse. The root. The shoot. Jesus also specializes in buying condemned buildings, tearing them down and rebuilding them. Where John destroys, Christ makes anew. The blue-print is the cross.
It's no accident that the first Sunday in Advent begins with Jesus entering Jerusalem. He goes to the temple just as he did when he was 40 days old for his presentation before Simeon. An infant horn raised up in the house of God's servant, David. Through His own body - the true temple - he will destroy all sin and raise up a new temple, a new people. Even in Advent his throne is the cross. For in his first Advent he clothes himself in the kingly garments of human flesh that we might be his own and live under him in his kingdom. And it is by means of his first advent that he prepares us - the temple of his Holy Spirit (in Baptism you are the house that Jesus built) - for his second advent by means of that same flesh and blood. O little town of of bread. House of manna. House of Christ's body broken for you. His blood shed for you. Eat and drink his Advent as we await his second coming where once again he will be our dwelling place in all generations.

"For the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are our temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day; there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus."

A blessed beginning of Advent to you all.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Who Needs Sleep?

I used to look forward to the night. The dark. The sleep. The rest. That was before Zoe. Now we often fear the night. The restless waiting. Is she sleeping? When will she wake up? Now the dark is filled by the glow of bottle warmers and baby monitors. Now the sleep comes on her terms. Now the rest is harder to find. At midnight (or one or two or three in the morning) comes the cry. Wake awake, the baby's crying! Be prepared. Food ready. Blanket near by. Comfort, comfort, ye my child. Speak ye matter what time of the night. Parents watch and wait...wait and watch. And we wouldn't want it any other way. That is the way of love...everything revolves around the child.

Isn't that the way Advent works? I think it is. We used to love the night. The dark. The sleep. That was before new life in Christ. But we are no longer children of the night. The Light of the world has come to cast out the darkness. We are children of the day. We are restless until our rest comes in Jesus. We rejoice as Christ is overcomes the shadow of death by his own death. Awake we watch with Christ and asleep we rest in his peace. For we look forward to the dawn of the Morning Star. Wake, awake for night is flying; the watchmen on the heights are crying. Awake, Jerusalem. Arise! The Bridegroom is here. Once he came as a little child.

Pregnant women are not the only image or metaphor of Advent. - expectant joy, etc. A child is a ready reminder of our Lord's return. Everything in your life now revolves around this child. These are some of the things I think about at night. And I wonder - what did Mary ponder as she held Jesus, crying in the middle of the night? Perhaps much the same thing. Everything in her life now revolved around that holy child. Although I am sure he still cried, infant holy though he was. No doubt Simeon's words continued to keep her up at night as well:

"Behold this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword shall pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."

The sword will come soon enough. For it is true, everything revolves around this child, the Holy One of Israel. And though he is utterly dependent on his mother, his mother and all humanity are utterly dependent upon him. It was true at his first Advent. It is true as we await his final Advent. And it is true as he continues to make his Advent among us. His food is ready. Your garment is prepared. Comfort, comfort, ye my people. O Bride of Christ, rejoice.

God dwells with us in darkness
And makes the night as day;
Yet we resist the brightness
And turn from God away.
But grace does not forsake us,
However far we run.
God claims us still as children
Through Mary's infant Son.
- LSB 337:5

Monday, November 21, 2011

Counted Sheep

+ Last Sunday of the Church Year  - November 20, 2011 +
Ezekiel 34:11-24, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, Matthew 25:31-46
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

            In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis’s famous book about a bus-ride from hell to heaven, Lewis observes that, “there are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”
            Or as Jesus says in Matthew 25, there are sheep and there are goats. Sheep, who are counted righteous, blessed by the Father before the foundation of the world. And goats, who attempt to count their own righteousness only to come up short.
            Which one are you? We want to know. We need to know. For according to Matthew 25 it’s judgment day. The Last Sunday of the Church Year. Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead. When? Soon. Today is one day closer to the Last Day. And yet, even now, Christ is at the very gates; the bridegroom is advancing, his advent is upon us.
            So, who are you? That’s the question of the day. You see, this sorting and separation of sheep and goats - it’s not done on the basis of what they do, but who they are.
            The sheep are called “the righteous.” Counted. Reckoned. Declared. Covered in the righteousness blood of Christ the Passover Lamb. They’re placed on Jesus’ right, the place of honor. And their works are judged, it’s true. But they’re not judged by their works – but by Jesus’ works - his perfect life, his perfect death. The talk about works comes after the separation. First, Jesus does what he does best: he blesses. “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” And this inheritance can only be received one way: the one who makes the will and testament must die and give it to you.

            Then comes the shocker. Jesus reveals the mystery of their works. “I was hungry and you fed me; thirsty and you gave me drink; a stranger and you welcomed me; naked and clothed me; sick and you visited me; in prison and you came to me.” The sheep are astonished. “When Lord? When did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked or in prison?” They had no idea that Jesus was hidden in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner. “As you did these things for the least of these my brothers you did it to me.” It’s not about what they do but who they are. They simply did what needed to be done. Sheep don’t count. They don’t need to. Jesus has already counted them righteous, blessed.
            And then there are the goats. Those on Jesus’ left. No inheritance. No blessing. Only dismissal. “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Notice that hell isn’t made for you or any human being; it’s for the devil and his minions. God’s will is that all would be saved in Jesus, that goats become sheep through the Lamb. If anyone is cursed, if anyone ends up in eternal fire, it will be entirely against God’s good and gracious will to save.
            And you thought the sheep were surprised. Well, so are the goats. But for a different reason. They were keeping track of all their good deeds. For it’s who they are that leads to what they do. “I was hungry and you gave me no food; thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and no welcome; naked and you did not clothe me; sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” The King was there in the losers all along but they refused him.

            “When did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, and did not help you? If we had only known we could have kept a record.”  They are as ignorant of their sin as the sheep were of their good works.  When confronted with their sin they do the faithless thing - try to justify themselves.  “We didn’t know it was you. ” Exactly.
            In rejecting the least and the lost, they reject their hidden Lord.  Their refusal to be numbered with the losers reveals their rejection of their Shepherd.  And in the end, their rejection becomes their own condemnation.  They don’t get what they deserve, they get what they desire.  They wanted nothing to do with their Shepherd, and now their will is done; they will live without Him forever. 
            So, have you figured it out yet? That is – who you are? Sheep or goat?
            If you look at yourself in the mirror, all you will see is the face of a goat staring back at you, horns and all. You will see your denial and rejection of the least - the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the unwelcomed stranger, the sick or imprisoned - the least of these your brothers that you did not visit and comfort. You’ll see nothing but a stinky, stubborn goat.
            Oh, you can try to get in by bookkeeping and counting. But that will only count you out. Christ died for all your not doing. But if you don’t want that. If You insist on trusting in what you have done on the Last Day that’s all you’ll have. But there’s no comfort in having it all your way. Starving for life. Thirsting. Naked and a stranger in a prison locked from the inside. That’s who you are apart from Christ. Dismissed. Cursed. Sinners. All natural born goats. 
            But there is another way to see yourself. Although in Adam all are goats, in Christ all are made sheep. Dead in Adam. Alive in Christ. Goats in sheep’s clothing, covered by the blood of the Lamb. After all, sheep don’t follow themselves; they look to their Shepherd. In Christ you are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his loving, pierced hands.
            This King. This Judge. He is also your Good Shepherd. “Behold I, I myself will search for my flock and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so I will seek out my sheep and I will rescue them…”
This is the kind of shepherd that others think a fool. For what kind of shepherd thinks that the life of his sheep is more important than his own? What kind of shepherd, to save his sheep from being devoured, would throw his body between the sheep and the wolf? What kind of shepherd loves the least of his brothers so much that he would hang hungry, starved and naked as a prisoner in our sin and death? There is only one sheep. The rest are all goats. One innocent. One perfect Lamb. He stands alone and prays to the Father: “Thy Will be done.” For the goats, the Lamb is led to the slaughter. For this Shepherd is dead set on giving sinners what they don’t deserve.
            “I am your Good Shepherd,” Jesus says “I know my sheep by name and I lead them out. For you who are hungry, I will feed you with my own body; take, eat. For you who are thirsty, I have thirsted on the cross; take drink, this is my blood poured out with forgiveness on your sin parched lips. Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world. You are no longer strangers here. You are no longer a goat. You have been set free from that pen. Your naked guilt is covered by pure Lamb’s wool, dipped in blood. And all that was once was scarlet is now white as snow.”

            Christ knows his sheep better than you know yourselves. Look to Jesus.  He will tell you who you are. Soak yourself in Baptism.  That’s your identity in Christ.  In Adam, you’re 100% goat on the left.  But in Christ, you are 100% sheep on the right.  Embraced in the death of the Lamb, goats become sheep in the eyes of the Shepherd.

There’s no need to panic in these Last Days as we await Christ's return. You see, Christians know the future better than they know the present. For Jesus has already faced your judgment on the cross. Cleansed from sin. United with Christ forever. You are fed. You are clothed. You are healed. You are free. That’s who you are. You are in Christ.
            And Christ is in the neighbor hidden for you to serve. To show mercy. To feed. Give drink. Clothe. Welcome. Visit. “As you did it to the least of these my brothers you did it for me.” You don’t do it to become a sheep – you already are one. It’s not about what you do – that’s goats work. No, it’s about who you are. You are a Sheep. And Christ is your Shepherd. Your King. Your Savior. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen

Thursday, November 17, 2011

E-nklings Cloud of Witnesses: Internet Monk

In a new segment here at E-nklings - Cloud of Witnesses - I am happy to share a little something passed along from some mutual friends at New Reformation Press. If haven't read anything by the now sainted Michael Spencer, the original Internet Monk, you should. You can check out the archive under the following link. But the work continues thankfully. And the following quotation is but the conclusion of a very succinct overview of modern evangelicalism and some of its influences and consequences on the clear preaching of the Gospel and administration of the Sacraments (not all of which are good). Thankfully the author has included some of his own insights that have resulted from an exploration into Lutheran doctrine. If you have any suggestions for future guests, please let me know. So, without further adieu, enjoy the guest appearance by Chaplain Mike, the author of this fantastic three-part series.

1. Part one of the full length article can be found here. And you can enjoy some highlights below.

In May 2010, after Michael’s sad passing, I wrote a series of posts called, “My Issues with Evangelicalism.” In those pieces, I identified three main areas of disillusionment with the culture of American evangelicalism: (1) Worship, (2) Pastoral Ministry, (3) Missional living.
Let me say, by way of concluding this overview, that I have been thrilled with what I have learned and experienced in the Lutheran tradition with regard to these three areas.

  • The Word and Table liturgy of the Lutheran church, rooted in the historic tradition of the church rather than the revivalist movement, restores the priority of worship in the local congregation.

  • Pastors are not CEO’s or program directors in the Lutheran church as they have become in much of evangelicalism. Rather, they represent Christ in distributing the means of grace through Word and Sacrament. Preaching is embedded in the liturgy so that worship does not revolve around the charisma of the preacher, but the Word Himself who meets us in the gathering of his people. Pastoral care and catechizing the congregation are essential components of his or her work.

  • The doctrine of vocation is one of the gifts the Lutheran tradition has given to the larger Church. Luther, himself a monk, came to appreciate the priesthood of all believers and the integrity of every calling, “sacred” or “secular,” as a means of showing Christ’s love to the world.
This is just a start in showing how the Lutheran tradition has answered some of my concerns with the system of evangelicalism dominant in America today.
More to come.

2. For part two, click here.

3. And for part three, click here.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Beginning of the End of the World

Sometimes you just need a good burglar. It's as true in the fictional world as it is in the real world. We all need a Bilbo Baggins, a good burglar, from time to time. In our world he is not known in the flesh of a hobbit, but the flesh of man. Although he very much likes eating, drinking and, well, burglaring. Consider Jesus' own teaching on the Last Day (Matthew 24):

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.  But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.  But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

St. Paul agrees: "The Day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:2).

The Gospel of Mark is, among many other themes, the "Burglar Gospel." Mark 3: "No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house." Jesus is that strong man, that thief. His first coming was in the night, under the cover of darkness, hidden in human flesh to take the devil captive, to come as a thief to bind Satan, the prince of this world and then plunder all his goods. And this is good news. For when Jesus the burglar is on the prowl we are released us the clutches of sin, death and the devil. And Jesus' second coming too will be like a  thief in the night. However, the cover of darkness will be lifted and all will see the glorious return of the King.

And yet questions arise. But why doesn't he return now? What's the delay? Why won't Jesus do something about this messy, sinful world if it really is as bad as Scripture says it is apart from him? To be sure, he already has done something about this messy, sinful world. That's what his first coming was all about. As we look to his second coming we have the reality of his first as a guarantee of his return. There's no need to worry about judgement on the Last Day. Jesus has already been judged in your place on the cross; he has robbed hell of it's eternal claim on you. There's no need to wonder if you are a sheep or a goat; the Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world, your sin. And this Lamb is also your Good Shepherd and he leads you unto himself. You are more than a sheep; you God's own dear child. There's no need to ponder or calculate the exact date of his return; he will come again as surely has he rose from the dead. It will be impossible to miss the trumpets blaring. Or, as Lewis comments in Mere Christianity, "You will see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else, something it never entered into your head to conceive - comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others...For this time God will come without disguise, something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature."

Because of Christ - the judgment he bore, the punishment he endured, the death he died for us - Christians have every confidence that the last day will be one of joy. Jesus teaching is, above all things, a teaching for consolation. Christians know their own future in Christ better than they know the present. For Jesus teaching on the subject is known by three propositions: "1)  That he will certainly return. 2) That we cannot possible find out when. 3) And that therefore we must always be ready for him" (C.S. Lewis. The World's Last Night).

So, how do you prepare for this gracious burglar? Watch. Be sober. Live in the joy of Christ's Last Day verdict that comes to you ahead of time in the absolution. Even now you are gathered around the Lamb and his marriage supper in the Eucharist.

Therefore concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).

Rejoice. The Last Sunday of the Church year is upon us. Even now, the King is at the gates. He is ready. The dragon is defeated. You are free. You belong to Him now and forever. And no one can snatch you out of his hands or rob you of his crucified and risen joy. Even so we pray, "Return, O great burglar and restore your lost treasure...Come quickly, Lord Jesus."

Monday, November 7, 2011

All Saints Day Sermon: Behold A Host, Arrayed In Jesus

+ Feast of All Saints (observed) – November 6, 2011 +
Revelation 7:9-17; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

            What Jesus describes on the Mountain in Matthew 5, St. John sees in his vision of Revelation 7. But before John sees, he hears. That’s how God’s promises work, you hear them and then you see them. What does John hear? A heavenly roll call. Tribe after tribe, 12,000. The perfect number: 12 x 12 x 1000. Israel had 12 tribes. But this is Israel as it never was or will be on earth. God’s Israel, His chosen people, holy nation, royal priesthood.  His baptized believers who bear the mark of Christ Crucified upon their foreheads.

            And what does John see? An countless multitude. Every nation, tribe, language and people. Heaven is busting at the seams. It’s a perpetual Palm Sunday: palms waving. The Lamb’s victory. A cosmic homecoming celebration. And John hears more. This white-robed choir is singing: “Salvation belongs to our God and the Lamb who sits on the throne!”

            Salvation belongs to the Lamb, yet He gives it away to men. “Who are these clothed in white robes and from where have they come? You know some by name – Marilyn, Merlin, Rita, Carson and Barbara – just to name a few of this countless number. And yet God knows each and every one of his saints by name.
            These are the ones who were poor in spirit yet made rich by the grace of Christ. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Mourning. Hunger. Thirst. Pain. Suffering. It’s all over.
            So their song continues: “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to the Lamb forever.” A 7-fold blessing; it’s all His. And he gives it away to men. These are the ones who are coming out of the great tribulation. Sinners are now saints. Covered with Christ’s righteous robe of white soaked in his holy, precious blood. As Christ has given to the faithful departed, so he gives to us. We who are alive have already died with Christ and those who are dead in Christ are alive in Him as well. Dead to sin and alive in Christ. Blessed are the dead who die in Christ. And blessed are you who mourn, for you shall be comforted.
            For what John saw in Revelation comes to you here on bended knee. Here before the Lamb and his altar. When you receive his body and blood, heaven invades earth. For heaven is wherever Jesus is. And Jesus is right where he promises to be. Among his saints in heaven and on earth giving his heavenly gifts. Forgiving sins and giving us life in his Name. We rejoice with Saints and angels and all the company of heaven resounds: “holy, holy holy.”

That’s what All Saints Day is about. The white paraments. The hymns, readings, prayers and liturgy all remind us that in Christ, we are blessed. Covered in Jesus’ blood. We are all his saints.

            But what do you see when you look around? Perhaps you’re tempted to look at your neighbor? “He’s no saint. Did you hear what she did? Thank God I’m not like that sinner over there.” Repent. Remove the log. Ignore the specks. Saints don’t compare or measure their holiness by others. Holiness is measured by God’s standards, not yours. We who are so quick to judge who is a saint and a sinner need only look in the mirror. And the reflection is hideous: doubt, worry, cursing God’s name, despising his Word, hatred, lust. Sin. Death. Just run down the 10 commandments – there’s plenty there to condemn us all before lunch.
            That’s the trouble with looking at yourself to see if you’re a saint. All you see is sin and death. All you hear is the devil’s accusations, “You’re no saint.”
            Who then are these saints robed in white? What’s the secret of their purity? Simply this: Their robes are washed in the Lamb’s blood.  Only His blood will do.  Their blood cannot cleanse from sin.  Nor can the sweat of their labors or the tears of their contrition.  There is no such thing as sinless saints, only forgiven ones. 
            For All Saints Day isn’t about you at all, but Christ for you. Christ for sinners on the cross. That’s what makes you a saint. The name saint can’t be achieved. It is received. Given. Placed upon you. You are marked. You are Baptized. You are holy, washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. Rejoice and be glad, for he who is holy gives you his perfect holiness freely.
            Blessed are those who are given to. You are the poor in spirit the beatitudes talk about. Our hope of being numbered with the saints comes only in God’s rescue. For God gives only into empty hands, not into hands full of what we would boast before God. God’s not interested in your filthy rags. He has a better garment to clothe you with, one soaked in Jesus’ perfect blood. Sometimes, with drastic mercy, our Father empties our hands so there may be room for His gifts. That’s the way it is with God’s saints, their holiness is in Christ, not themselves. You are blessed because you have nothing to give God; and everything to receive from Him.

            Now, in Christ when the Father looks at you He does not see your worry or doubt, your hatred or anger, lust or fear. He does not see your sin or death. All He sees is his Son, Jesus. His perfect life lived for you. His perfect life laid down for you in death on the cross. God looks at you and sees the blood of the Lamb washed over you in Baptism. God looks at you and sees the blood of the Lamb poured on your lips in the Supper. God looks at you sees the blood of the Lamb marking the doorposts of your ears: you are forgiven. Death passes over you and onto Jesus. And the father loves what he sees.  In Christ all things are reconciled to the Father. In those holy wounds Christ has made all things new. Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that in the death of His Son we are called children of God.      

            That little word, “all” is very important today. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace. Christ was lifted up on the cross to draw all men to himself. And the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. All saints in heaven and on earth join in unending praise to this Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. All Saints are holy in Christ.
            For the saints in heaven they see with their eyes what they always had on this earth by faith in Jesus.  Done is the daily dying to sin.  Their eternal Sabbath rest is won.  No more struggling with sin.  No more temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. The former things have passed away.
            And what John describes in Revelation 7 isn’t just about “them”, the saints of God. You are there. St. John looked and saw all saints, including you, in white robes, with a palm branches waving, singing: "Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might are His." One song. One church. One Lord and Savior of all.
            The only difference between them and you is that they have passed through death and you must still abide in it. Your day will come. Your sins will end. Your sorrow will flee. But even now, like them, you are blessed in the Lamb. Held by Jesus’ pierced hands. The saints are not in some distant land far far away. They are in Jesus and you are in Jesus.
            O blest communion, fellowship divine. We feebly struggle they in glory shine. Yet all are one within thy grand design.
            That’s your future in Jesus – we, along with the dead in Christ, await the resurrection on the Last Day. But Jesus gives us his future today. You don’t have to wait till you die to go to heaven. Heaven comes to you in the Sacrament of the Altar. Wherever Jesus is, there’s heaven. And wherever heaven is, there are your loved ones, all God’s saints – past, present, future - gathered around the Lamb and his gifts. 
            Today you get a glimpse into heaven as Jesus comes to us with His body.  Jesus is here and he brings all of heaven with Him. Angels, archangels and all the company of heaven. Heaven and earth cry out: holy, holy, holy.
            What else is there to do but say Amen and sing? Christ’s work is done. All is prepared. Come and feast with the Lamb. Rejoice and be glad. Yours is the Kingdom of Heaven. Yours is the blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might. For yours is Jesus. You are washed, forgiven, counted in the number. You are all saints in Christ forever. A blessed All Saints Day to you all.

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.                            

Saturday, November 5, 2011

For All the Narnian Saints

With the Feast of All Saints (observed) approaching a sneaking suspicion crawled into my mind. It happened, of all things, while listening to the audio version of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. What of saints and Narnia? Could such a thing be said of Lewis's magical world of Narnia? After a good deal of thought and paging through some of my favorite sections, both in Voyage and in The Last Battle, I am convinced they do exist, that is saints in Narnia. At least the Old Narnians in Prince Caspian were convinced, which is enough to convince me. After generations of persecution under foreign kings (the Telmarines), the Old Narnians - a faithful remnant - still looked to Aslan for rescue and believed in the "old tales" of the high kings and queens, the Pevensie children of  Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe. These children, among the others, were the saints of old. Similar to the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11 and 12. What's more, these Old Narnians had good reason to believe they would receive help them as did the saints of old, precisely on the basis of who Aslan is and how he works in Narnia. Or, to say it another way, the Narnians always did things "by the Lion's mane." For in Aslan they live and move and have their being. This is a constant theme throughout the books, from the foundation of Narnia (Magicians Nephew) to the beginning of the end of the beginning in The Last Battle.

And I believe that's not the only thing in which saints in that world look a lot like (although not perfectly alike, for otherwise it would be the real thing instead of the shadowlands) saints in this world. That is to say, the saints in heaven and on earth are one. One Church. One song. One faith. One Baptism. One Lord and Savior of us all. It is not that different in Narnia after all. One Lion. One hope. One Emperor over the sea. One Aslan's country.

All over the Scriptures one finds this striking, yet delightful paradox, that there are saints below and saints above and the thing that unites them, or rather the One that unites them, is Christ Crucified, the Lamb slain now living. The only difference between them and you is that they have already passed through death and you must still abide in it. Your day will come. Your sins will end. Your sorrow will flee. But even now, like them, you are blessed: Jesus, your Holy Lamb, is in your midst. He gives all saints their life and all saints find their life in Him, whether in heaven or on earth. So it goes in the great hymn for the festival:
For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
This hymn beautifully portrays what the theologians call this Scriptural paradox: the church militant and the church triumphant: "We feebly struggle; they in glory shine."The one, holy, catholic (yes, that's not a bad word) and apostolic church. Saints in heaven and on earth united by Christ, in Christ and for his sake. We are gathered around the Lamb and his Table, much like the children at the end of the world in Dawn Treader.

The children got out of the boat and waded - not towards the wave but southward with the wall of water on the left...they never felt tired. The water was warm and all the time it got shallower. At last they were on dry sand, and then on grass - a huge plain of very fine short grass, almost level with the Silver Sea and spreading in every direction without so much as a molehill...Between them and the foot of the sky there was something so white on the green grass that even with their eagle's eyes they could hardly look at it. They came on and saw that it was a Lamb.
"Come and have breakfast," said the Lamb in its sweet milky voice. They sat down and ate the fish, hungry now for the first time for many days. And it was the most delicious food they had ever tasted.
"Please, Lamb," said Lucy, "is this the way to Aslan's country?
"Not for you," said the Lamb. "For you the door into Aslan's country is from your own world."
And perhaps there is no better example of this saintliness in Narnia than the valiant mouse, Reepicheep, who embodies this militant/triumphant paradox most nobly. In the early pages of the adventure, we find Reepicheep longing for Aslan's country, yearning for his "heavenly Jerusalem." For Reepicheep had a higher hope:

"As high as my spirit," said he. "Though perhaps as small as my stature. Why should we not come to the very eastern end of the world? And what might we find there? I expect to find Aslan's own country. It is always from the east, across the sea, that the great Lion comes to us."
"I say, that is an idea," said Edmund in an awed voice.
"But do you think," said Lucy, "Aslan's country would be that sort of country - I mean, the sort you could ever sail to?"
"I do not know, Madam," said Reepicheep. "But there is this. When I was in my cradle, a wood woman, a Dryad, spoke this verse over me:
Where sky and water meet,
Where the waves grow ever sweet,
Doubt not, Reepicheep,
To find all that you seek,
There is the utter east.
"I do not know what it means. But the spell of it has been on me all my life."

And though Reepicheep did not know at the beginning of his adventure, he would soon find out. As they approach the wave at the end of the world, Reepicheep rides his miniature boat over the wave. " where I go on alone." They did not even try to stop him, for everything now felt as if it had been fated or happened before. They helped him lower his little coracle. Then he took off his sword (soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest). "I shall need it no more," he said. And he flung it far away across the lilied sea. Where it fell it stood upright with the hilt above the surface. Then he bade them goodbye, trying to be sad for their sakes; but he was quivering with happiness.

You can almost hear Reepicheep singing as he rides the wave into Aslan's country:

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!
But that was not the end of Reepicheep. No, he comes back at the end in The Last Battle. As Tirian and the others enter the stable that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, they come to a garden of the same nature. And out of the gates came walking a Talking Mouse: "welcome, in the Lion's name. Come further up and further in." That's the way of things with God's saints. They are always pointing us to Jesus, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, whether in heaven or on earth. You too will see the faithful departed again. And it will be better than you could have ever imagined.

A blessed All Saints Day to you all as we Behold a host arrayed in Jesus, in heaven and on earth, gathered around the Lamb's high feast.

          O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!