Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Epipiphany 4 sermon: (Jesus') Authority Always Wins

+ Epiphany 4 – January 29, 2012 +
 Mark 1:21-28

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

            Love it or leave it – in the game of hockey someone starts a fight to get into the other’s team’s head. And get them off their game.
            According to St. Mark, in Capernaum – not a sheet of ice in sight – the game is on. Jesus is teaching and preaching. Filling the synagogue and the Sabbath with His life-giving authoritative Word. And the devil picks a fight.           
            A man jumps up in the middle of Jesus’ sermon and shouts, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are - the Holy One of God!”  It’s not every day you go to church and a fight breaks out in the middle of the service.
            There’s no point trying to get into Jesus’ head or get him off his game; but maybe the devil can get into the heads of those people listening, you know, the other team-mates, the guys on the bench watching it all go down.
            Disorder is always the way of the devils.  That’s a good way to tell the devil’s work – disorder in the home and community, and especially in the church. That’s the way the devil prefers it: disorder, disruption, chaos.
            God, on the other hand, is a God of order.  He orders are days, our deeds, our worship – all things by the authority of His Word, which is really another way of saying by the authority of Jesus’ crucified and risen presence.
            So, Jesus isn’t about to let all hell break loose. In fact, he came to do the opposite. To take hell captive and release you from bondage to sin, death and the devil.
            During Epiphany the light of Jesus casts out the darkness one sick man, one unclean spirit at a time. Jesus fights back. He doesn’t run away. He drops the gloves and astonishes everyone. First he amazed them with his authority over the Word of God. Then he amazes them with his authority over unclean spirits. Jesus the teacher. Jesus the exorcist. He loves to get his hands dirty in the fight to win back his people, his creation.
            But even that too is astonishing. All that Jesus does – his teaching, healing, rescuing from sin, death and the devil – he doesn’t do any of it in the way anyone expected. The only road to life, leads through death, through the cross.
            That’s what our old sinful nature finds truly amazing, unbelievable and even unbearable. As the battle rages on we try to sit down and have a diplomatic discussion with the devil.

            Adam and Eve got into a similar war of words and lost. Satan has tactical advantage over your words – twist, turn, doubt and deceit. But not over Jesus’ words. His words are different. Authority of God wrapped in humility, service, sacrifice, suffering and self-giving love.
            Our words are just like the scribes’ – they have no authority. Our talk is cheap.
            Oh sure we say we’re going to attend Bible study more and be involved in this or that outreach at church or talk to our neighbor about Jesus or whatever. But we rarely follow through.  At best we try to fight the devil on his own turf and lose every time.
            At worst we join the unclean spirit in saying: “What have you to do with us, Jesus? Have you come to destroy us?”  That’s the devil’s big lie: to convince you that there’s nothing more to say. Sometimes it’s not so much what the devil puts into our head but what he keeps out that’s the problem (Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis).
            The devil would love to have us stop reading Mark’s gospel at chapter 1, so we could close up the book and never get to chapter 16 with Jesus’ death and resurrection.  He would love to have you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God without all this stuff about cross, and body and blood, and death and resurrection.  The devil loves “spiritualities” and cross-less, blood-less religion.
            It was a simple question. A skirmish before the all out war.  “Have you come to destroy us?”  Yes.  Capernaum leads to Calvary. Jesus goes toe-to-toe with sin, death and the devil.  Jesus gives His life into death for all and the “Have You Come To Destroy Us” question is answered.  The serpent that brought death and damnation to the world by the tree in the garden is destroyed by Jesus in His death on the tree of the cross.  

            No doubt there were many amazing things Jesus said that day in the synagogue and many more signs and wonders performed throughout his 3 year ministry.
            But the most amazing thing of all is this…God’s authority comes to save, rescue, forgive, heal, speak - wrapped in human flesh and weakness; God exercises his authority by way of sacrifice, suffering, dying and self-giving love.
            He fights by lying down and dying. He wins your life by losing his. He frees you from sin death and the devil by becoming a prisoner in your death and sin.
            He knows full well what this fight with the enforcer of hell is all about. But the devil can’t get into his head. No one can get Jesus off his game to save you. Rather, He gives the devil, the world and our sinful flesh his head for the thorns, and his hands and feet for the nails, and his side for the spear and his death for our life. Nailed to the cross – where we did our worst – God does his best. That is what is most amazing of all. With a word, it is finished.

            With a word, Jesus silences the demon.  Be muzzled. “Shut up!” Of course it’s impolite to say “shut up,” but you can’t be polite around the devil, and Jesus isn’t and neither should you.  “Shut up, devil.” The same word He says to the storm that threatened to capsize the disciples on the sea of Galilee.  “Shut up, and come out of him.” 
            See how easily Jesus deals with the demons.  Just a word.  And though the demon convulses and shrieks, in the end it must submit to the Word of Jesus because Jesus is Lord even of the devil and His demons.  ‘He’s judged, the deed is done, one little word can fell him.”  (That word, by the way, is “Liar!” in case you’re wondering.)            It’s true, that line we sing in A Mighty Fortress, “No strength of ours can match his might, we would be lost, rejected.”  But let not your hearts be troubled. For us fights the Valiant One, Jesus. For the demons, human nature is something to possess, control and dominate. Jesus comes not to possess man but to set youfree; not to control but to love you; not to dominate, but to serve you.

            You see, the unclean spirit was half right. Jesus has come to destroy them and us. But that’s only half true. Jesus kills in order to make alive; he brings down in order to raise us up. He destroys in order to create new life in you. That’s the way it is with your Baptism. Baptism is your exorcism. There’s no twisting heads or spewing green stuff. All you need is water and Jesus’ Word of authority. “Depart you unclean spirit and make room for the Holy Spirit. Do you renounce the devil? All his works? All his ways?” Yes. Shut up, devil. This child belongs to me now and nothing or no one can snatch them out of my hand.

            That’s what this sign is all about. Where is God’s authority found? Jesus. He speaks and it happens. It’s no different for the Church today. Where’s God’s authority?  Not in my pious opinions, nor anyone else’s.  Not in some board or synod or district or voters assembly.  Not the powerful majority or the vocal minority.  The authority of God rests solely in the Word, in Jesus. 

            Jesus’ teaching is as amazing then as it is now. “But if only that happened today,” you say. Guess what? It still does. Jesus’ Word of authority fills the church today, greater than it did in that synagogue of old. Jesus’ Word of authority at your Baptism: I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ Word of authority at the Lord’s Supper: take eat this is my body; take drink, this is my blood. Jesus’ Word of authority in the absolution: I forgive you all your sins.  That’s Jesus’ authority. He speaks and it’s done for you. The fight is over. And you are free.
  In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

C.S. Lewis and the Epistles of Paul

This past week we had St. Paul on overdrive in the Church's commemorations, back-to-back-to-back. St. Timothy, then the conversion of St. Paul and last (but not least) St. Titus. Much could (and should) be said individually about these three commemorations. One of the many themes, broadly speaking, that you can pull out of this sequence in the Church Year, is the influence of St. Paul on the Church. And what a significant impact his letters have had on the Church. After all, thirteen books of the New Testament are penned by Paul. There has been a heightened sense of frenzy in recent years about the theology of Paul vs. the theology of Jesus or the so-called "new perspective" on Paul. There is no wedge to be driven between Paul and Jesus, between the Gospels and the Epistles. You may not like what Paul says, but then again, neither did a lot of the people that heard him back in the 1st century either. You'll have to take that up with Jesus; he's the one that sent Paul out after all. In reading a few things this week on Timothy, Titus and Paul, I stumbled across this rather prophetic description of Paul and Jesus by C.S. Lewis. Call it an old perspective on the new perspective. Do not read too much into his "terrifying" comments on the Gospels. Lewis clearly understood that there is Good News to be found in them, merely that they are written in different genres. And perhaps Lewis pushes the purpose of the Gospel's writing a bit farther than necessary in order to make his point. That being said, Lewis makes many good points in the following passage for what it's worth, enjoy:

A most astonishing misconception has long dominated the modern mind on the subject of St. Paul. It is to this effect: that Jesus preached a kindly and simple religion (found in the Gospels) and that St. Paul afterwards corrupted it into a cruel and complicated religion (found in the Epistles). This is really quite untenable. All the most terrifying texts come from the mouth of Our Lord: all the texts on which we can base such warrant as we have for hoping that all men will be saved come from St. Paul. If it could be proved that St. Paul altered the teaching of his Master in any way, he altered it in exactly the opposite way to that which is popularly supposed. But there is no real evidence for a pre-Pauline doctrine different from St. Paul's. The Epistles are, for the most part, the earliest Christian documents we possess. The Gospels come later. They are not 'the Gospel', the statement of the Christian belief. They were written for those who had already been converted, who had already accepted 'the Gospel'. They leave out many of the 'complications' (that is, the theology) because they are intended for readers who have been instructed in it. In that sense the Epistles are more primitive and more central than the Gospels - though not, of course, than the great events which the Gospels recount. God's act (the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection) comes first: the earliest theological analysis of it comes in the Epistles: then, when the generation who had known the Lord was dying out, the Gospels were composed to provide for believers a record of the great Act and of some of the Lord's sayings. (C.S. Lewis, Modern Translations of the Bible).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

C.S. Lewis and the Conversion of St. Paul

Today the church commemorates the conversion of St. Paul. And come to think of it, C.S. Lewis and St. Paul have more than a few things in common. They both possessed an unsurpassed skill at speaking with the pagans of their day. Both men quoted the Scriptures as well as made use of their wit and intelligence to do so, even when it was not received popularly. Both had a firm grasp on the literature and poets of the day (and their audience) as demonstrated by Paul in Athens (Acts 17). All of which leads to the foundational point, namely, that God used both of these men who were formerly enemies (and sworn enemies at that) for service in declaring and defending the Christian faith throughout the world. Sinners both. Converts both. Just another day in the office for the Holy Spirit, turning the hearts of blind wicked Saul and pessimistic, skeptical Lewis to service in his Gospel. It's just like the Holy Spirit to take the "best" qualities of the enemy and use them in service of the Gospel. Oh, and one more thing. Paul had Ananias (and the other apostles). Lewis had Tolkien (and the Inklings). Both apostles to the Gentiles in their own right.

And really, when we think about it, the miracle of Saul's conversion to St. Paul is no different than the miracle that the Holy Spirit continues to perform in the Church today, making sinners into saints through the same Word, through the same body and blood, through the same waters all in the pattern of the same Crucified and Risen Christ. Or, to say it another way, the font is your Damascus Road and the Word, Absolution and Holy Supper are your Ananias. You are dragged, kicking and screaming (for some of us as infants, quite literally) into the Christian faith just as Lewis describes of himself in Surprised by Joy. As Lewis says below, this is the "road back to God." A road that came for Saul with blinding light. A road that comes to make straight the highways and level the mountains and raise the valleys in all sinful hearts the same way Christ did for Saul. From sworn enemies and God-haters, to beloved brothers and servants of Christ Crucified. This, as Lewis says, is the difference in being confident in our own efforts and despairing of ourselves, leaving it all to God. That's also the difference between death and life. Between Charn and Narnia...Mordor and the Shire. In Christ we have come, along with St. Paul, to the Blessed Realm via the road paved by his blood on the cross.

In one sense the road back to God is a road of moral effort, trying harder and harder. But in another sense it is not trying that is ever going to bring us home. All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, 'You must do this. I can't.' Do not, I implore you, start asking yourselves, 'Have I reached that moment?' Do not sit down and start watching your own mind to see if it is coming along. That puts a man quite on the wrong track. When the most important things in our life happen we quite often do not know, at the moment, what is going on. A man does not always say to himself, 'Hullo! I'm growing up.' It is often only when he looks back that he realizes what has happened and recognizes it as what people call 'growing up.' You can see it even in simple matters. A man who starts anxiously watching to see whether he is going to sleep is very likely to remain wide awake. As well, the thing I am talking of now may not happen to every one in a sudden flash - as it did to St. Paul or Bunyan: it may be so gradual that no one could ever point to a particular hour or even a particular year. And what matters is the nature of the change itself, not how we feel while it is happening. It is the change from being confident about our own efforts to the state in which we despair of doing anything for ourselves and leave it to God. (Mere Christianity, Book III, ch. 12)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Eyewitness of St. Peter

Today is the day the Church remembers the Confession of St. Peter.

"Who do you say that I am?"
"You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."
"Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven."

Flesh and blood may not have revealed that confession but thankfully Christ did reveal himself in flesh and blood. For all the things St. Peter is remembered - ready at the quick with a word and a sword, betrayal and restoration, confession and martyrdom - one of the most important things that needs to be mentioned in any list of St. Peter's "accomplishments" is this: eyewitness.

I find it delightfully coincidental that one of the Greek words used most often for eyewitness happens to be the same word we get autopsy from. That was St. Peter's vocation. An autopsy of Jesus, even before He was crucified. Peter, along with several of the others was, an eyewitness from the beginning. Call it CSI: Jerusalem. Go ahead. Interview him. Ask him the tough questions. Put St. Peter on the witness stand. Follow the evidence. It leads you to the autopsy of Jesus: dead and alive. That's the report. On Friday Peter saw Jesus go off to his death. On Sunday morning he saw the empty tomb. And on Sunday evening Jesus stood before Peter scars and all. Locked doors are no problem for the one who unlocked heaven by His death and destroyed the power of hell. Son of the Living God indeed!

St. Peter says as much in the second epistle that bears his name (and his authorship).

For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” 18 And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
19 And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

Today we can thank the Lord - not only that St. Peter was one of those men carried along by the Holy Spirit to write down his autopsy report of Jesus' live and ministry, death and resurrection - but also that the Lord who gave St. Peter that confession is the same Lord who gives us that same confession of faith: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." For we have not followed cleverly devised myths either.

Today, St. Peter's confession is the church's confession, our confession. And the gates of hell will not prevail against you either for they could not withstand Christ. That's the remarkable thing about the Confession of Peter - Jesus is not the wise moral teacher everyone loved (then and now). He is Lord and Savior. Or as C.S. Lewis so famously said:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. Mere Christianity, book 2, chapter 3.

That's exactly what St. Peter did. That's his confession. "You are the Christ!" That's our confession. A blessed Day of St. Peter's Eyewitness to you all.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Epiphany and G.K. Chesterton

   The following article will be published in the February newsletter at Redeemer, Huntington Beach. A blessed Epiphany to you all.      

   If Christmas is the great “Gloria” celebration of unrestrained joy at the news of God’s incarnation in human flesh, then Epiphany is the continued celebration of Christ’s work in human flesh. That’s why Epiphany is not the end of Christmas, but the great rushing river, pushing us ever to run its course with Christ. It all ends in a cascade of blood and water flowing from Jesus’ pierced side, but it flows ever into the font and the chalice – a pool of forgiveness. An oasis of grace. You see in the Church, Christmas and Epiphany never really end. Wherever Christ’s body and blood are received there is Christmas for you. For this is what we discover right at the outset of Epiphany – that our course is to be run with Christ, or rather, that his course is to be run with and for us. That’s why he is baptized in the Jordan River: Jesus is the great stand-in, the substitute for all men dead in Adam.

            That is the joy of Christmas and Epiphany: Christ comes in human flesh to redeem human flesh. Through his becoming man all men are saved. That’s why the shepherds genuflected in worship before this cradled King. The magi, whom we hear about at the inauguration of the Epiphany season, respond thus as well: they bring gifts before the Giver of all gifts as they kneel before their Lord. Christmas and Epiphany are no different for us. The Little Child of Bethlehem calls us to become like little children in him; that’s his gift to you. He became a child like you are so that you can become a child of God too. Unlike most children, Jesus loves to share everything that is his. During Christmas and Epiphany that’s what he comes to do: share in your humanity. Share in your suffering. And finally share in your sin and death, to take it all into himself in order to give you all that belongs to him: peace, joy, patience, righteousness, mercy, love, forgiveness – unlike those three gifts from the magi, Christ’s gifts are too many to number.
            During this season of Epiphany, continue to ponder, rejoice and receive the mystery of Christ, the Word made flesh, as he continues to “Epiphany” (reveal, manifest, appear) among us. You don’t need a star or angels singing “Glory to God in the highest” because you have a better sign: God’s Word, the waters of Baptism, Jesus’ body and blood. You even get to sing the song of the angels in the Divine Service: “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth.”  This same child-like faith in the Child born to save is one of the many Epiphany themes, the renown Christian author and thinker, G.K. Chesterton, writes about in his Epiphany poem. Enjoy. And a blessed Epiphany season to you all!

The Wise Men
By G.K. Chesterton

Step softly, under snow or rain,
To find the place where men can pray;
The way is all so very plain
That we may lose the way.
Oh, we have learnt to peer and pore
On tortured puzzles from our youth,
We know all labyrinthine lore,
We are the three wise men of yore,
And we know all things but the truth.
We have gone round and round the hill
And lost the wood among the trees,
And learnt long names for every ill,
And served the mad gods, naming still
The furies the Eumenides.
The gods of violence took the veil
Of vision and philosophy,
The Serpent that brought all men bale,
He bites his own accursed tail,
And calls himself Eternity.
Go humbly…it has hailed and snowed…
With voices low and lanterns lit;
So very simple is the road,
That we may stray from it.
The world grows terrible and white,
And blinding white the breaking day;
We walk bewildered in the light,
For something is too large for sight,
And something much too plain to say.
The Child that was ere worlds begun
(…We need but walk a little way,
We need but see a latch undone…)
The Child that played with moon and sun
Is playing with a little hay.
The house from which the heavens are fed,
The old strange house that is our own,
Where trick of words are never said,
And Mercy is as plain as bread,
And Honour is as hard as stone.
Go humbly, humble are the skies,
And low and large and fierce the Star;
So very near the Manger lies
That we may travel far.
Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes
To roar to the resounding plain.
And the whole heaven shouts and shakes,
For God Himself is born again,
And we are little children walking
Through the snow and rain.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Epiphany 2 Sermon: "Speaking of Jesus"

+ 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany – January 15th, 2012 +
Text: 1 Samuel 3:1-10; John 1:43-51

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

            Our Lord speaks. And we listen. The Word of Lord comes near and we are made servants. That’s the life of all disciples; the rhythm of worship. It’s the way we pray as David teaches us in the Psalms: “O Lord, open my lips; and my mouth will declare Your praise.”
            That’s the way it was for Samuel, the boy-prophet. He could have easily been listening to that popular Christmas carol on his iPod: “Do you hear what I hear?”
            “Samuel, Samuel,” the Lord called out. Three times.

            Eli couldn’t hear however. He wasn’t deaf. The Lord was not talking to Eli. Visions and prophesies were rare in those days. That’s worth noting – there is such a thing as a famine of the Word of God. Amos said the same thing. Just look at Lutheranism in Africa.

            Anyhow, even though Eli was losing his eyesight, he was not blind to the ways of the Lord. He clearly saw through his ears what Samuel was reporting. By the third time Samuel interrupted his slumber, Eli told Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”
            So that’s what Samuel did. He went back to bed. Laid down his head. And the Lord came and stood, calling out: “Samuel, Samuel!”
            “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.” That’s the Lord’s way of doing things. Faith is born by what is heard. The people of God see things through their ears.

That’s the way it was for Jesus’ first disciples too. Jesus spoke: “Follow me.” And Philip followed.

            Philip listened. Samuel listened. But what about you? Do you have ears to hear the Word of the Lord? Or will you mute the messenger? The question is not whether anything good can come out of Nazareth but whether anything good can come into our sinful deaf and dumb ears. Your ears are plugged. God’s Word falls silent on crusty, wax hardened ears. We sinners have perfected the art of selective listening: gossip, slander, doubt, words of anger and hatred towards our fellow Christians. And that’s just the 2nd Table of the Law. We are good listeners when it comes to hearing our own voice. But not when it comes to listening to the Lord above all things. So much for the 1st Table of the Law.

            Notice that Samuel didn’t listen to his own voice. There was no “little voice inside” – it’s not to say there aren’t little voices around…you probably just shouldn’t be listening to them. No, it was the Word of the Lord who spoke to Samuel. He was persistent with him. Three times.
            He’s no less persistent with you. He’ll break through your ears: sometimes with the thunder of Sinai. Sometimes with the whisper of Elijah. But always outside yourself. Always through His Word. Always through His Son, Jesus. For in many and various ways God spoke to his people of old by the prophets, but now in these last days, he has spoken to us by His Son.
            Your ears are like that rocky soil Jesus talked about with his disciples. There is no such thing as ears that hear – not without Jesus opening them. And there’s no such thing as good soil, that is, until Jesus plants his Word in your ears and His promise grows, creating life and faith out of nothing. Our Lord speaks. He opens our ears. And we listen. God’s people see through their ears.

            That’s the first job of a prophet or an apostle or a disciple or a Christian…listen up. Hear this!
            So, Samuel became a prophet through his ears (Just like Mary became the Mother of God). A mouthpiece of the Lord. And whoever hears the prophet hears the Lord. In the years that followed Samuel’s calling, YHWH made him into a great man. Through Samuel, YHWH delivered Israel from her enemies. Through Samuel, YHWH anointed both King Saul and King David. King David is best known for his greatest Son…The Son of David, the greatest king of the nation of Israel. Jesus, the King of Kings.

            That same Word of the Lord that stood before Samuel and called to him and all the prophets long ago also came in human flesh. Now you can put a face to that voice. The face and flesh of Jesus. “Come and see” – just like Nathanael says. For us Jesus hears the Father’s voice: “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” He obeys for us who have been disobedient. He opens his ears for us who had closed ears and gives us ears to hear his Word. He even listens on our behalf.
            And more than that speaks on our behalf. He’s always bending the Father’s ear. “Remember your covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Remember my blood shed for them. Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He is your Advocate. Your great High Priest. Your mediator. He lives to speak and fulfill the words of Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”
            Jesus hears the Father’s voice. And He speaks for the Father.  Whoever has seen Jesus has seen the Father. And whoever has heard Jesus has heard the Father. That was Samuel’s vocation. Prophet. Mouthpiece. Megaphone of God’s Word. Just like Jesus told his disciples later: “He who hears you hears me.”
            His name fits his calling. Samuel means: “God has heard.”   Through Christ, you are all his beloved Samuels. Hearers of His Word. Read. Mark. Learn. Inwardly digest that Word as it comes to your ears. And today as it comes to your mouth as well.

            The Good Shepherd has laid down his life for the sheep.  “My sheep hear my voice,” Jesus promises. “I know them. And they follow me.” Samuel did. Philip and Nathanael did. And so do you – in Baptism through the forgiveness of sins to the Altar.
            You may only see water from the sink…but what do you hear? “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” You may only see another sinner standing in front of you…but what do you hear? “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus, I forgive you all your sins.” You may only see bread and wine…but what do you hear: “Take eat; take drink. This is my body. This is my blood – broken and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. God’s people see with their ears.

            We celebrated Christmas. Now we celebrate Epiphany. A season to hear the Word of the Lord revealed and made known among us. To come and see the Word of the Lord in action: in the Scriptures; in the Font; at the Altar – for you and for your neighbors.      
            Here can you echo the disciple’s message: “come and see.” And their words ring true. Come and see Jesus in bread and wine for you. Come and see Jesus consecrating all water for Holy Baptism by his Baptism. Come and see Jesus healing, teaching, and standing before you with his Word: “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.” Listen to your neighbors pleas for mercy.

            For as much Epiphany is a season for speaking - Our Lord speaks. We listen. It is also a season for listening. It is a season for all God’s Samuels. The question is, once we listen, will we speak so that others may hear? Will we echo the disciple’s words to our neighbors, friends, co-workers: “Come and see.” Come to church with me. Join me tonight at Bible study. Come and see Jesus. He is here. And he is here for you.

            Come and see with your ears: Christ was born for you. Christ lived for you. Christ suffered, died and rose for you. And now he continues to speak to you. Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening.

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

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Tolkien on the Liturgy

I've never understood how people can just sit in the pew and not sing. If you don't like the liturgy here, you're going to really be bummed out in heaven. It's one endless Divine Service with an endless liturgy sung by angels and men. Now, I can understand (with sensitivity) the timid in voice, those who are afraid of "how it might sound," but just to sit in silence without as much as a quiver of the lip, or a silent hum-along. That I don't understand. Neither did Tolkien.

Even if you've only spent a short time in Middle-earth it is quite apparent that men and elves, hobbits and wizards, even the trees love to sing. They sing of sorrow and joy, dark days and homely day dreams. All of life is encompassed in song in Middle-earth. Come to think of it, that's the same way it is in the Church. The liturgy envelops sings along with our sorrow and sadness as much as it does our great joy and celebration. Whatever day we might be having, the liturgy gives us a song to sing, filling our lips with the Word of God. The liturgy is what fulfills and consumes all songs (even our very lives) in heaven and on earth, even in Middle-earth.

In a letter to his son, Christopher, Tolkien makes a similar point:

"If you don't do so already, make a habit of the 'praises'. I use them much (in Latin): the Gloria Patri, the Gloria in Excelsis, the Laudate Dominum; the Laudete Pueri Dominum (of which I am specially fond), one of the Sunday psalms; and the Magnificat; also the Litany of Loretto (with the prayer Sub tuum praesidium). If you have these by heart you never need words for joy."

The liturgy not only gives our voice God's Word to sing, but it shapes our lives with the very Word of Christ, the forgiveness of sins and above all, the liturgy points us, leads us and woos us to the Sacrament, from whence all liturgy leads to and flows out of. The road to the Altar goes ever on...even unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures (of earth and Middle-earth) here below. Praise Him above ye heav'nly host. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Dwarfs and Pastors: "At Your Service"

The dwarves (ahem...dwarfs) of middle-earth had it right: "At your service" was the repeated refrain as they crowded Bilbo's doorstep and then his Hobbit hole followed swiftly, as dwarfs are wont to do, the dinner table, pantry and keg. "At your service." Fitting words for dwarfs about to embark upon an adventure seeking to reclaim treasure and (more importantly) honor. And even more fitting words for pastors. "At your service." Whose service? Well, first and foremost it is Christ - the great servant of all - who gives any Christian in their vocation the humility to say: at your service. But pastors in particular have this unique vocation. That's the way Christian ordination begins for pastors. And it continues to the bedside of the ill and dying: "at your service."  Or driving the elderly to the pharmacy and the post-office: "at your service." Or at the home of a shut-in: "at your service." Or to the homeless and hungry: "at your service." And it all comes out of (and leads back to) that great "Hobbit" feast known as the Divine Service. There's always room for elevensies, second breakfast and more when our Servant-Savior, Jesus is involved. He calls pastors to be dwarf-ish. Not much to look at...simply a task given by the Servant of all. Feed my sheep. Serve my sheep. Love my sheep. Say to those in need, declare the Gospel, preach the forgiveness of sins and administer the Sacraments all in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ. And through Christ, according to their vocation(s), all Christians are given to say: "At your service." 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Epiphany Sermon: "Lost and Found"

+ Epiphany of Our Lord – January 6th, 2012 +
Text: Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
Theme: Epiphany is a season where the lost are found in Christ

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

            The season of Epiphany shines brightly with themes of Christ’s saving work. Literally it means “appearing or revealing”; Christ appearing in human flesh. Christ revealing who He is and what He comes to do for all people, even the nations, the goyim, the gentiles.
            But the image stuck in my head all week was the Lost and Found bin. You know what I’m talking about. Who hasn’t scored a nice t-shirt or new pair of gently-used jeans from a local lost and found? At some point we’ve all rummaged around to find some forgotten hidden treasure.
            It’s great, you receive something that wasn’t yours to begin with; it didn’t belong to you but you get it anyway. It’s free. Take it home. Wash it. Good as new. It’s yours.

            Epiphany is a lot like that: a season for the Lost and Found. A season where Jesus comes and rummages through this world – not for some special over-looked treasure, but for the forgotten, for the lost, for the dead sinners not even looking to be found, for you and me. He searches until he’s found every last one of His wayward sheep, until he’s found his lost coin and welcomed home his prodigal sons. Epiphany is a season where the lost are found in Christ.

            That’s where the magi come in. Israel, once exiled in the east, now beckons astrologers from the east to seek Israel’s true King. That’s who they were looking for - not an after-Christmas-bargain but a king. “Where is he who is born king of the Jews?”

            Only problem is, Herod has no answer. He’s too busy trying to protect his throne of lies to care about the real King of the Jews. Thankfully, the prophet Micah has the answer:
But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
      Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
      For out of you shall come a Ruler
       Who will shepherd My people Israel.

            Micah points the magi in the right direction. That’s God’s way of things. Through his Word to Jesus. The lost are found in Bethlehem, and wherever Jesus makes himself known. So it is for all who are lost.

            And maybe that’s where you find yourself this New Year. Maybe you’ve lost something this past year. Job. Home. Money. Health. Something or someone special to you – although truth is, the dead in Christ are never lost. It’s easy to lose hope. Lose patience. Lose your way in the darkness of sin and death in this world.
            That’s where we find ourselves apart from Christ; apart from his Word; apart from His sacraments: Lost. We need His Word daily, by the hour, by the minute, by the millisecond; and his sacraments – we can never get too much of Christ’s good things. The Sacrament is our “star” where Jesus does one better than the magi, he points to himself and gives you himself.

            Fear not. His Epiphany is for you. Not for you to find your way to him, but for Jesus to come and find you who were lost. The Light of the world comes to shine upon you who sit in darkness. In Epiphany, the Sun of Righteousness shines from Bethlehem all the way to Huntington Beach to you.           
            God gave the magi a star. But you don’t need a star. You have something better, more tangible. You have the prophets and apostles. You have Christ, the Word made flesh in bread and wine. All that you seek – all that you need - is found in Him who finds you. Epiphany is a season where the lost are found in Christ.

            That’s our Lord’s work in Epiphany. Lost sheep. Lost coins. Lost, prodigal sons. If the world was a department store, Jesus’ favorite department would be the Lost & Found. He finds you. Brings you home. Washes you. And you are his. Good as – no better than – new, reborn. A lost sinner found in Christ.
            Jesus is a spendthrift for your salvation. He’s a shopaholic when it comes to your sin – He shops till he drops dead in your sin. Your debt is paid in full; you are redeemed. He’s not satisfied until he’s paid for every last sinner and every last one your sins; and he does it not with gold or silver but with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. That’s not cheap grace…that’s outrageous forgiveness for undeserving sinners. That’s the joy of Epiphany. A season where the Lost who are found in Christ.

            You see, the Christmas cards are all wrong. Jesus isn’t the reason for the season. Jesus didn’t come to earth to throw himself a party. He wasn’t bored. He wasn’t being a super-duper heroic guy. He came for you. You are the reason for the season. You are the reason Christ took on human flesh. You are the reason He located Himself in a specific time, at a specific place in history. Jesus comes to find you.
            That’s the great irony of the Magi’s visit. The king they had travelled so far to find was actually the One who was finding them and seeking them all along. His star. His Word. He finds the lost. So they did the only thing you can do before Jesus; they bowed before the King of the Jews playing around Mary’s ankles. A Divine Service of sorts. And here’s another irony: they brought Jesus gifts – much like our offerings and lives – we give thee but thine own. A living sacrifice. That’s faith. That’s the gift the Christ Child gives to shepherds and magi, Jew and Gentile, even to you and me.
            That’s another reason why the church celebrates Epiphany. It’s the other Christmas. Christmas for the outsiders, the nations, the goyim, the Gentiles. This is good for us because most of our ancestors were running around in animal skins and long hair, dancing around fires worshiping pagan gods just like the magi worshiped the stars.

            But over the years the Gospel made its way into our ancestors’ home by the blood of missionaries. The Gospel went out like a star signaling the nations once again. Yes, God gave those magi a special sign – the star. But it wasn’t until they read the prophet Micah that they knew where to go. That’s your sign too. The Word. The Word made Flesh. The Word that remains flesh and blood for you in the Supper. You want a sign – that things will get better, that there’s hope, life, salvation, daily bread - it’s all here in Jesus death for you.

            It’s not until the end of the Matthew’s Gospel that we get the answer to the Magi’s question…”Where is the one born King of the Jews?”
            Everyone wants to know if Jesus is the King. Even Pontius Pilate doesn’t get a straight answer out of Jesus. But there above his head on Good Friday is the answer. There on the cross is God’s epiphany. There is no star in the sky…only a sign above his head as he hangs crucified for all men: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. O, come let us adore him.

            Unlike the Magi, you didn’t need to hop on your camel and travel hundreds of miles across the desert to worship Jesus this evening. And you don’t need a star to guide you either. Here is your Bethlehem; your house of bread. Christ the Lord comes to you here. Leads you here. Brings you home. Washes you. Makes you his own. You, and all who are lost, are found in Jesus.

            But you are like the Magi in this, that you go home another way, a new person, carrying the Light of Christ with you into the world, into your vocations, to your neighbor in need with the light of Christ. Because Epiphany is a season where the lost are found in Christ.

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

E-nklings Cloud of Witnesses: Lutheran Satire vs. Bart Ehrman

If you haven't watched Lutheran Satire yet I suggest you hurry on down to youtube and check out the mad genius that it is. Anyhow, this little video is part of the 12 Days of Christmas Special that happens to touch on apologetics related issues that have been covered here before and will be again in the future. Namely, Bart Ehrman and the alleged errors in the Bible. He's famous for books like Misquoting Jesus and Forged. A more serious critique is overdue but for now, enjoy the well crafted satire. It pretty much sums up Ehrman's position in 54 seconds.

Christmas and The Last Battle

One of my absolute favorite themes in Lewis's writing is the "small made large," or the narrow doorway that opens into unimaginable joy. In other words, the great reversal. Lewis is a master artist at painting his stories into a corner, only to have found that in that corner, or through that door the story (and the world as it were) becomes larger, even larger than life. There are countless ways that Lewis develops this theme throughout his writing. No doubt, many authors have made use of this literary device, but none so skillfully as Lewis (although Tolkien perhaps matches this but in a different sort of way in Middle-earth). And yet it's more than mere rhetoric; when all is said and done, it points to the very heart of the Christian Gospel - that what looks weak and poor and lowly is in fact the very joy and eternal peace we are in need of. Here are just a few examples to illustrate what I'm talking about:

In the Magician's Nephew the pool in the wood between the worlds. It is a rather small pool and yet it is the gateway to a new world.

In Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe it is (among other examples) most clearly the wardrobe itself. On the surface it looked like a quick fix for children escaping the chastisement of the Macready. And yet once they move through the overcoats, the pine needles poked them into reality. The wardrobe was much larger on the inside than it appeared.

In The Silver Chair the narrow passage of escape from the underworld is but a hole and yet the great joy that abounds once Jill pokes her head through to a celebration of victory.

In Dawn Treader Edmund, Lucy and Eustace enter into Narnia through a painting on a wall and Aslan sends them home again through a passage in the wave, both into a world larger than their entrance, especially in the case of the painting and ensuing adventures in Narnia.

It's the same for Prince Caspian, where the children find themselves in a cave upon a sudden change of scenery as Susan's horn had been blown. Out of the cave into the light of Narnia.

And finally, in The Last Battle, there are the memorable words, "further up and further in" - words that could easily accompany the Gloria of the angels in heaven. And all of this is centered around Lewis's grand ending (or should we say beginning) of the Narnian series. It all centers around a stable. What the stable means in its totality I shall not say too much here. I do not want to spoil the ending of the book for someone who has not read it or has forgotten how it ends having read it some time ago. And yet we must say a few words. The stable is the beginning of the end of the world in The Last Battle. It leads to Narnia's version of Matthew 25, the separation of the sheep and the goats, or the true Narnians and those who refuse Aslan's grace, such as the dwarves. In the midst of all the action at the end of the book - where the pace is so well timed (like a river rushing to its meeting with the edge of a cataract) that it must be read more than once, which I am sure is part of the point. It's like the Gospel - you can never read too much Good News - it is here, at the end of the world, where Christmas comes to Narnia again (you might recall the first time it came in Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe). As Tirian, Lucy, Lord Digory and the others go through the stable doors the following conversation strikes chord of that great reversal theme again:

"It seems, then," said Tirian, smiling to himself, "that the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places."

"Yes," said the Lord Digory. "Its inside is bigger than its outside."

"Yes, said Queen Lucy. "In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world."

Lucy was too happy to speak. Just as I am sure the shepherds were, at least until they left the side of the stable that Lucy is referring to. Then they could no longer hold back their joy. But Lucy is right. Through her we see that Lewis gets the incarnation (which reminds me of his introduction to On the Incarnation by Athanasius - exquisite); it's not so much God-made-small as it is man-made big. One small leap for God, one giant leap for mankind. And yet there in the mystery of the Word made Flesh, the infant Jesus holds all things even as he clings to Mary's breast. The manger encompasses the Alpha and Omega. It is, for sinful men, the beginning of hope and the end of sorrow. Christ is born. The end of the world is near. Come, further up and further in to His stable, to His altar, to the Lamb sacrificed to set us free that we might see Him seated on the throne and rejoice in the Lamb laying in a stable in human flesh, for you and for the world. No matter how big sin and death seem to be, there's more than enough room in that stable for all of it; your sin, your death, are taken up by this Christ Child so that He can gather you into his stable, his storehouse, a great barn forevermore. A blessed 11th day of Christmas to you!

O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is
My paradise at which my soul reclineth.
For there, O Lord, doth lie the Word
Made flesh for us; herein Thy grace forthshineth.

He Whom the sea and wind obey
Doth come to serve the sinner in great meekness.
Thou, God’s own Son, with us art one,
Dost join us and our children in our weakness.

Thy light and grace our guilt efface,
Thy heavenly riches all our loss retrieving.
Immanuel, Thy birth doth quell
The power of hell and Satan’s bold deceiving.

Thou Christian heart, whoe’er thou art,
Be of good cheer and let no sorrow move thee!
For God’s own Child, in mercy mild,
Joins thee to Him—how greatly God must love thee!

Remember thou what glory now
The Lord prepared thee for all earthly sadness.
The angel host can never boast
Of greater glory, greater bliss or gladness.

The world may hold her wealth and gold;
But thou, my heart, keep Christ as thy true Treasure.
To Him hold fast until at last
A crown be thine and honor in full measure.