Monday, April 29, 2013

Basic Christianity

NOTE: The piece below was recently written for my local paper, The Huntington Beach Wave. In the true spirit of Christian thinking and writing, I have done nothing original here. Although the words are mine, the idea was taken (and unashamedly so) from my good friend and professor, Dr. Rod Rosenbladt of Concordia Irvine. After all, all theology is plagiarism.  The piece that I have titled "Basic Christianity" was originally a lecture given by Dr. Rosenbladt at Concordia Irvine under the name "Christianity in Five Verses." (Basic Christianity also happens to be the title of another wonderful little booklet by John R.W. Stott). It is often seen as the sequel to his well-loved lecture titled, "The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church". You can listen to both lectures for free at New Reformation Press in the freebie section.

What is Christianity? There are as many answers to this question as there are people who ask. For some, Christianity is about behavior: “Oh, that wasn’t a very Christian thing of me to say, was it?” Still for others it’s tied to tradition or emotion: “I grew up in a Christian home but I still feel like I’m a spiritual person.” Finally, many people view Christianity either as an intellectual force for good or a juvenile way of viewing the world.

 To be sure, morals, emotions, and the intellect are important in Christianity. However, Christianity isn’t primarily about behavior, feelings, or the mind, but the God who suffered, bled, and died upon the cross for my sins and the sins of the whole world. This is what the Christian author C.S. Lewis famously called “mere Christianity.”

 It’s like when people ask you what a recent movie you saw or book you read is about. You could likely sum up your thoughts for them in a few sentences. And though the Bible may seem like a large collection of books, its main point and overall theme can be summarized the same way.

1. I’m a sinner.

2. Sin results in death.

3. Jesus paid the penalty for my sin by his death on the cross and destroyed the power of death by his resurrection.

4. Jesus gives me salvation as a pure gift, promising that by his death and resurrection he also has power over my death.

5. I can be certain that I’m forgiven all sins – past, present, and future – because of Jesus’ death and resurrection on my behalf.

 What is basic Christianity? I wouldn’t consult public opinion polls or Christianity for Dummies. Go to the source, the Bible, which can be summarized in the five following verses.

1. Romans 3:23 - “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

2. Romans 6:23 – “The wages of sin is death.”

3. Romans 5:8 – “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

4. Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

5. 1 John 5:12-13 – “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Alister McGrath's Biography of C.S. Lewis, Part 1

Thanks to a generous gift from a good friend, Michael Dennis, I recently received a copy of Alister McGrath's new biography on C.S. Lewis titled, Eccentric Genius. Reluctant Prophet: C.S. Lewis: A Life. There is something delightful about finding a new book addressed to you in the mail; perhaps it awakes that joyful childhood exuberance of peering into the stocking on Christmas morning and finding out that there is one last unexpected gift to open. Initially, I had thought to wait until I had finished the book for a thorough review. But, as I approach the end of the first third of the book, I found myself with a few thoughts worth putting down about this recent Lewis biography.

First of all, this is not the only work McGrath has written on Lewis. A scholarly companion to this tome is also available entitled, The Intellectual World of C.S. Lewis (It's already in my Amazon cue!). That being said, this particular volume is anything but slothful or sloppy in regards to its scholarly quotient. It is well researched and documented, and it is replete with footnotes, citations, a timeline, index and a well organized list of works consulted (both primary and secondary sources). So far my only complaint about the book has little to do with not the book at all, but rather with its reviewers. Several of the reviews I have read on this book have felt the need to justify or apologize for a new (or one might say sarcastically, another) biography of C.S. Lewis, as if there were any need for further research and all the facts are known. My first inclination was to agree with them. However, upon further reflection and reading, that notion is quite mistaken and rather short-sighted.

Why should there be any need to apologize for continued research on both a popular and scholarly level concerning Lewis's works? It is a good question, even if the answers are often misguided. and McGrath answers it well in his introduction. In recent years, as McGrath notes, a wealth of information, both on and by Lewis, has been collected in previously unavailable formats. Foremost among these resources stands the collected letters of C.S. Lewis edited by Walter Hooper. (By the way, these letters are a fantastic read and a must have for any Lewis enthusiast). McGrath further notes that as a result of his careful reading of these letters, many of the dates that scholars have long held concerning Lewis's life - particularly his conversion - may need to be revisited. This is especially apparent when comparing the dating of the events in Lewis's own letters to that of his autobiographical work, Surprised by Joy.

But even if this were not the case, one should hardly apologize or seek to justify a contemporary biography of Lewis. After all, most of the famous biographers, such as Roger Lancelyn Green and George Sayer are both dead and wrote their works relatively early and from the perspective of a close friend. There are many great strengths to that position. But, as we shall see below, McGrath also adds some unique characteristics to the biographer pedigree. He is new biographer for a new generation of Lewis readers. Moreover, the fact that multiple biographies of any given historical figure are written, published, and on the market for any length of time (and the longer their staying power the better) is helpful when cross-referencing research, fact checking conclusions based on primary source evidence, and using multiple sources to corroborate and substantiate well-known facts and conclusions. Proper analysis and research is greatly assisted by having multiple, quality biographies written at any given time. Having several biographies to use, whether for private enjoyment or academic research, is not a hindrance, but rather a benefit to any form of study. As the years progress, I think that McGrath's recent contribution to the Lewis biographical collection will stand the test of time and be added alongside the classics of this specific genre.

Another reason McGrath's biography is so timely is that on November 22, 2013 Lewis aficionados (amateur and scholarly alike) will mark the 50th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis. And for McGrath this was simply another motivation for a renewed look at the life and work of one the 20th century's most influential authors. How has Lewis's work influenced people the past 50 years? How will his works influence readers, writers, and thinkers for the next 50 years? McGrath explores these questions among others.

But perhaps the greatest consideration - and one of the facets of this book I have appreciated above all - is found in McGrath's own words in his preface:

This book aims to tell the story of the shaping and expressing of Lewis's mind, focusing on his writings It is not concerned with documenting every aspect of Lewis's life, but with exploring the complex and fascinating connections between Lewis's external and internal worlds...This biography sets out, not to praise Lewis or condemn him, but to understand him - above all, his ideas, and how these found expression in his writings...This is not a work of synopsis, but of analysis. (McGrath, Alister. C.S. Lewis: A Life, Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013, p. xi-xiii).

McGrath, by his own admission, never knew Lewis personally, especially when compared to other famous biographers who did know Lewis quite well (such as Roger Lancelyn Green, George Sayer, or even Walter Hooper, the executor of his literary estate). Where some might find this a weakness in McGrath's writing, I find it comforting and strengthening. For the manner in which he came to know Lewis's ideas and writings strikes a familiar chord with the modern readers of Lewis. For a wide majority of Lewis's readers, myself included, contact with this beloved author and his works did not occur until after his death. Reading Lewis is often more like reading the diaries and letters of a close family friend or relative whom you were unable to meet before their death than it is the work of a person well known. There is an unfortunate distance and yet the window into the author's world is through his written words.

I have no illuminating memories, no privileged disclosures, and no private documents on which to draw. Every resource used in this biography is either already in the public domain or available to public scrutiny and inspection. This is a book written by someone who discovered Lewis through his writings, for others who have come to know Lewis in the same way. The Lewis I have come to know is mediated through his words, not through any personal acquaintance. (McGrath, Alister. C.S. Lewis: A Life, Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013, p. xv).

In this respect, McGrath's biography marks a different - and welcome - tone. He is representative of the modern reader. And so far he appears to have captured Lewis and his works quite well. Several factors lead to this conclusion.

First of all, he has no personal influences that might sway him one way or another when evaluating Lewis's life and work. There is nothing intimately personal (positive or negative) at stake here. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, McGrath sets out not simply to summarize Lewis's life and work, but to analyze it, not to regurgitate well-known facts but to take those well-known facts, along with Lewis's own published works, and understand the man behind the pen. As McGrath notes in Lewis's treatment of John Milton's Paradise Lost, what really mattered most were the ideas Lewis found and appreciated when reading the book. It is McGrath's position that Lewis's readers should approach Lewis the same way he approached Milton, approaching the ideas and content.

As Lewis emphasized throughout the 1930s, the important thing about authors is the texts they write. What really matters is what those texts themselves say. Authors should not themselves be a 'spectacle'; they are rather the 'set of spectacles' through which we as readers see ourselves, the world, and the greater scheme of things of which we are a part. Lewis thus had surprisingly little interest in the personal history of the great English poet John Milton, or the political social context within which he wrote. What really mattered were Milton's writings - his ideas. The way Lewis believed we should approach Milton must be allowed to shape the way we in turn approach Lewis. (McGrath, Alister. C.S. Lewis: A Life, Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013, p. xv).

In other words, Lewis is not the spectacle to behold in his writings and neither should he be; he does not want us as his readers to view him that way. So too, McGrath is not the spectacle in his biography of Lewis, he is merely the set of spectacles through which we as readers are launched into the worlds of Lewis, both real and imaginary (although they are nonetheless real for it). Of course this does not mean pitting social, political, or historical context against the content of the man's writing. On the contrary, a thorough look at the content of Lewis's writings requires a firm grasp (but not a choke-hold) of the context in which Lewis's ideas came to the written and published page. This, I think, is the endeavor upon which McGrath has embarked, and thus far, succeeded in my evaluation.

Whatever McGrath may lack in personal knowledge he makes up for in scholarly research. You would be hard-pressed to find a more well-read biographer of Lewis than McGrath. Hardly a page goes by in McGrath's book without a direct citation of one of Lewis's primary source documents, most notably his letters.

The reason for this is simple, yet logical. McGrath's own research methods focus predominantly-though not exclusively - on primary source material from C.S. Lewis. As McGrath notes in the conclusion of his preface:

The core of the research began with a close reading of Lewis's entire published output (including his letters) in strictly chronological order of writing, so that the development of his thought and writing style could be appreciated...This process of intense engagement with primary sources, which took fifteen months, was followed by a reading - in some cases a somewhat critical reading - of the substantial secondary literature concerning Lewis, his circle of friends, and the intellectual and cultural context in which they lived, thought, and wrote. (McGrath, Alister. C.S. Lewis: A Life, Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013, p. xvi).

Here, McGrath shows his genius as a writer and a scholar. He focuses on primary source material to begin with. Furthermore, that he read the books in the order in which they were written (note, not the order in which they were published) gives insight into the ways Lewis changed in thought over time (much like scholars are able to do with Luther studies when comparing his writing before and after his "tower experience"). That he was able to read all of Lewis's published works, including the collected letters, in fifteen months is nothing short of astounding. This is what serious scholarship and research look like. And it is a good method for students of any subject to follow but especially for Christians. This way of doing research also sheds light on how Christians should approach evangelism and apologetics in our own day and age. In today's social-religious climate, it is vital to know where the unbeliever or skeptic of Christianity is coming from intellectually and philosophically. There is no better way to find out than to read what they are reading, understand their arguments, positions and reasons. Then, the Christian is able to apply a veritable tool box of Christian apologetics and a specific word of Law and Gospel to the person with whom they have been conversing.

This is remarkably similar, at least in some ways, to the humanist movement popularized during the years leading up to, and during, the Lutheran Reformation. The movement then was known as ad fontes - back to the source. This was, in part, what led Melancththon to Wittenberg. And this is also what led Luther back to the Greek and Hebrew and forward to the German Bible. Although it may sound simplistic, the way forward was to go backwards, back to the source, or, as we like to say today, back to the basics. Not only was Lewis a student of basic, or, mere Christianity. But he also was influenced by the importance of primary source research and classical education. He studied "The Greats", Greek and Latin prose, poetry, and other great works of antiquity in their original languages.

Following the Great War, Lewis continued his studies at Oxford where he became a student of Literae Humaniories. In this field of study, students "were required to engage directly with the literary, philosophical, and historical riches of the classical age in the original languages - not simply as a subject of intellectual interest, but as a means of ensuring England's survival and prosperity. Lit. Hum. was seen as a gateway to wisdom, rather than a mere accumulation of knowledge. It was about moral and cultural preparation for life, not simply the acquisition of factual information. Where other courses of study might aim merely to fill graduate minds, this one set out to shape them." (McGrath, Alister. C.S. Lewis: A Life, Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013, p. 82).

A patient reader can follow Lewis's Lit. Hum background and discover how it, along with his continued education in English Literature, shaped his mind from the earliest poems all the way through the wardrobe into Narnia and beyond. Similarly, McGrath has applied Lewis's own educational background into his research and writing of this current biography. I look forward to reading the remainder of the book as McGrath continues to shape our understanding of this eccentric genius and reluctant prophet.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Lord's Supper 101: Catechism Convocation Youth Breakout Session

The following slides are from the recent Youth breakout session at the Catechism Convcoation for the People hosted at The Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Inglewood, CA. This was the 6th annual convocation. This year we focused on the Lord's Supper, the 6th chief part of the catechism. We also featured the plenary speaker, LCMS President, Rev. Matthew C. Harrison. Additionally, this was the first year that we added a youth breakout session to the day's schedule. It was fantastic to have so many youth there (30 +) daring to be Lutheran and having a blast while doing it. The slides below were a collaborative effort between Pastor Al Espinosa of St. Paul's Lutheran, Irvine, CA and myself. We hope they are a blessing to anyone who reads or uses them. For more information on the Catechism Convocation of Southern California, visit
Stay Lutheran, my friends.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Just the Facts!

Note: This is the third and final installment of a three part series submitted and published in Huntington Beach's local paper, The Wave. Part one was primarily an existential argument diagnosing and treating our need for Jesus' resurrection. Part two outlined (in bare-bones fashion) the historical argument for Christianity. Part three narrows the focus directly on the resurrection, using what Gary Habermas calls "the bare minimum facts" approach. You can learn more about the details of his argument (among other things related to apologetics) at and in his excellent book, "The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus," co-authored by Michael Licona. Lastly, bare in mind that this article was confined to 425 words for the column's space limitations.
Is Christianity just pretend for adults, like believing in the tooth fairy or a flying spaghetti monster? Many say, “Yes.” However, Christianity appeals to facts and historical evidence to support its central claim. Namely, Jesus was crucified; then seen alive again three days later. Not a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but in real history. To quote Dan Akyroyd in Dragnet, “All we want is the facts, ma’am.”
Every credible historical account begins with facts. Facts are like bricks. Constructing a building requires a solid foundation. Similarly, demonstrating that Jesus’ resurrection really happened requires facts. So, what bricks support Christianity’s claim that Jesus rose from the dead? The following six facts include 1) well established evidence regarding their veracity and 2) acceptance by a wide range of scholars, including those skeptical of Christianity’s claim.
1. Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.
2. The disciples claimed to experience actual appearances of the risen Jesus.
3. The disciples’ proclamation of the resurrection dates within three years of Jesus’ death.
4. Two people, Paul and James, who didn’t believe in Jesus during his ministry, were later convinced Jesus rose from the dead.
5. Neither Jewish nor Roman authorities opposed to Christianity produced a corpse, despite their counterclaims (i.e. the disciples stole the body). Every alternative theory failing to include these six basic facts is poor scholarship, disingenuous, or both.
6. The disciples were utterly transformed by their conviction that they had seen the risen Jesus, and were willing to die for this belief. Moreover, tens of thousands of Jews, including priests and Pharisees, converted, undermining Christianity’s opposition.[1]
What theory takes all this evidence into account? Only one, Jesus rose. When the plaintiff and defendant in court agree, this yields the strongest evidence. That both Christian and non-Christian scholars agree on these points, lends trustworthiness to the claim. Moreover, these facts derive from a wide range of eyewitnesses, both hostile and supportive, further increasing credibility. Finally, these facts appeal to common ground, building an argument solely on data that is known and generally accepted by scholars in this field.
Because these facts can be known they can also be investigated, trusted, and believed. Since Jesus rose, his promise to rescue you from death is also trustworthy. No fantasy here, just the facts, ma'am, or sir.

[1] These six facts are adapted from Gary Habermas’essay, The Core Resurrection Data: The Minimal Facts Approach, found in Tough-Minded Christianity: Honoring the
Legacy of John Warwick Montgomery
, ed. William A Dembski and Thomas
Schirrmacher. B & H Publishing Group: Nashville, 2008, p. 387-405.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Sermon for Easter 2: "Jesus' Word and Wounds Bring You Peace"

+ 2nd Sunday of Easter – April 7th, 2013 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: Acts 5:12-20; Rev. 1:4-18; John 20:19-31

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

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John’s words may sound like the conclusion of the Gospel. But John’s not just a closing pitcher. He goes the full nine innings. John ends his gospel the way it begins. Take a listen:

9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

So John’s the closer and the opener. But his words are also the constant, echoing refrain throughout the gospel – the steady fastball that delivers strikeout after strikeout. Why are John’s words so important?

Because in reality these aren’t really John’s words. To be sure, he wrote them. But John’s a lot like pastors today – he’s a messenger, a mouthpiece, a megaphone for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Notice he doesn’t have much to say about himself. In fact he’s so concerned about not making the gospel about himself that he simply refers to himself as, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” or the” other disciple.” John must decrease. Jesus Crucified and Risen must increase.

In a few sentences John not only summarizes Easter and Holy Week, but also every sign, word, and teaching of Jesus. All to deliver Jesus Crucified and Risen for your salvation right into your ears.  

For “Faith comes by hearing”(Romans 10:17).  That’s why the church and her ministry aren’t about what’s pleasing to the eyes, catchy or entertaining before men. The eyes of faith are your ears. So ignore the flashy, neon-sign Christianity and look to the one sign – the true light - that really matters and saves you: Jesus’ Crucified for you. Jesus risen from the dead for you.
These words are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Jesus’ Word brings you peace.
Peace. Shalom in the Hebrew. It means fullness, wholeness. A perfect, complete, all-is-well kind of peace. That’s what the Lord had intended the Sabbath day to be like before the Fall, before rebellion, sin, and death. Jesus’ death on the cross has restored peace between your Creator and you, His creature. Peace between the Father and you, His wayward children. In Christ, are reconciled to God.

On that first Easter night, the disciples needed Jesus’ word of peace. After His death some denied, others ran, but they all hid. Even after hearing the women’s eyewitness report: “He’s risen!” Even after seeing the empty tomb. They were still afraid. Locked behind closed doors. Disbelieving. It wasn’t just Thomas. It was all of them.
Sin does the same thing to you and me as it did to the disciples. We want to run and conceal our guilt like Adam and Eve foolishly hiding in the fig bushes. Sin causes us to fear, love and trust in ourselves. Sin locks us in prison.

“Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.”
Jesus breaks into their little prison house of fear, newly risen from the dead. “Peace be with you,” He declares. His words give what they say: Peace. With His words come the visible sign – His hands and His feet, pierced by the nails. This is the very same Jesus who hung dead on the cross. He has the marks to prove it.

And just as the locked doors of the upper room were no obstacle to the crucified and risen Lord, so too the locked rooms of our sinful lives are no match for Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus breaks into your prison, bursts the bars of death from the inside, finds you, rescues you and speaks to you: Peace be with you.

Jesus Words and his wounds bring you peace.
That sin you tried so hard to cover is buried in the wounds of Jesus. That guilt you tried so hard to remove is washed away in the blood of the Lamb. That death that stares you in the face has been died for by Jesus. That unbelief that nags and gnaws at you and never seems to leave, is blown away by a simple, yet life-giving, Word, Jesus’ Word: peace be with you. Jesus’ Word and wounds bring you peace.

Why then does He show them the wounds if he’s risen? Isn’t that Good Friday stuff? Because the cross is always at the center of the Christian faith, even at Easter. Especially at Easter. Good Friday and Easter are two sides of the salvation coin. By his dying, He has destroyed death. And by His rising, He restores us to everlasting life. As Jesus proclaims to you in Revelation: “Fear not,” Jesus says, “I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”

Even in his resurrection Jesus still proclaims His cross: “See my hands and my side…”  It’s no different in the Church, Christ’s cross marks everything we say and do. We preach Christ Crucified even as we rejoice in Christ’s resurrection.
For us – as it was for the disciples - the sacrifice of Christ Crucified is never simply a past event. Christ’s death is always a visible, tangible, present reality. He showed them his hands and his side. He shows you the same thing here in the Lord’s Supper: His Word and His wounds are open to give you peace. Here you receive the first fruits of His death. Even your Baptism is no simple metaphor. Daily you’re drowned in your sin and daily you rise to new life. Daily you’re buried with Christ and daily you rise with Him.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
As He once breathed over the waters of creation in the beginning, as He once breathed into the nostrils of Adam turning his lifeless clay into a living being. As He once breathed life into the valley of dry bones, Jesus breaths on His disciples.

Out of Jesus’ death and resurrection flows the apostolic ministry and apostolic church. Jesus sends His disciples as His apostles, His sent ones (that’s what apostle means after all). They’re sent to make forgiveness audible to those who have not seen. This is why Jesus sends pastors to His church. This is why Christ has a church in the first place, that forgiveness of sins would be preached and heard and believed and lived. God isn’t concerned whether or not we’re entertained on Sunday, or even if we feel “spiritually uplifted” (whatever that means). Jesus wants you to hear that your sins are forgiven in Jesus’ Name.  He wants to give you something concrete and tangible to believe, something outside of your selves, namely, that Jesus died for your sins and that He was raised for your justification.

So He opens His mouth and speaks His peace-be-with-you-Word. And He opens His wounds to heal you.  Jesus’ Word and wounds bring you peace.
So, rejoice and be glad. Join the disciples in their wonder and amazement. Join King David in singing, I was glad when they said to me, let us go up to the house of the Lord.”

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go up to Redeemer. Let us go up to the Divine Service. Let us go up where Jesus’ words and His wounds are given to you.” Are you troubled? Afraid? Imprisoned by guilt and sin? Crying out with the centurion, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief?” Then you’re in the right place. Hear the words of your Savior in the liturgy, spoken from the altar, where the Body and the Blood of Christ are there for you to eat and drink: “Peace be with you.”

But don’t come alone. Bring your neighbors, family members, and friends you know are hurting and need Jesus Word and wounds to heal them. Bring them here to the one place you can guarantee Jesus’ Word and wounds continue bring you peace.

Peace be with you in His absolution: Go your way, your sins are forgiven. Peace be with you in the waters and promises of your Holy Baptism: you are cleansed, holy, and clothed in Christ’s death and resurrection. Peace be with you as you eat and drink Jesus’ body and blood.

Today we join Thomas and kneel before the Crucified and Risen Lord. His body and blood are here. Eat. Drink. Touch. Taste. Hear. The Peace of the Lord’s body and blood be with you always. Here we join Thomas in confessing: “My Lord and my God.”

In Jesus’ Word and His wounds: You are forgiven. You are free. You have life in Jesus’ Name. Peace be with you.

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


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Make that Kid a Doctor of Theology

Martin Luther wrote in the Smalcald Articles, concerning the Church that, "Thank God, a seven-year-old child knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd" (SA, Part 3, Article XII, 2).

"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and the follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:27-28).

The more time I spend with the pre-schoolers during Redeemer's weekly chapels and talking with them around the playground, the more I come to appreciate these words of Luther. And the more I come to realize how greatly adults take for granted - and even dare to look down - upon this child-like faith. It's easy for adults to forget that faith is a gift, not some kind of intellectual, emotional, psychological (or any other kind of adjectival) effort on our part. "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him..."

Ultimately Luther's words reflect Jesus' Words. That's what faithful sheep of the Shepherd do. They listen and they follow. They hear and confess. What a delight and sublime joy it is to hear the confession of these little ones, especially when they put their confession down with crayons. The picture below depicts exactly what I'm writing about. The artist is one of the kindergartners in my sister's class where she teaches at Amazing Grace Lutheran School in Renton, WA.

In hued, waxen prose, this kindergartner illustrated an Old Testament Christological masterpiece. Too many Christians find it hard - if not nearly impossible - to find Jesus in the Old Testament. And yet, this kindergartner gets it far better than many adults no doubt. Jesus isn't just some thread in the Old Testament; He is the Old Testament, every jot and tittle. There's the ark, the animals, and the bow in the sky. And there, standing as a captain before the bow of His ship, stands Jesus. This little sheep has confessed well, even if it was in crayolas. If Christ was the rock and Israel was baptized in the sea, then He was also the captain of the holy ark that saved Noah and eight souls in all, rescuing them. They were saved through water. Sound familiar? It should. This is a picture of your salvation, the flood of forgiveness you receive. Your deliverance through water and your entry into the Holy Ark of the Christian Church.
That's what leads to such a beautifully painted confession of faith: Baptism. In the font, sinners are made saints, goats transform into sheep, rebellious children of Adam become children of the Heavenly Father. Rising up from the water we cry, "Abba, Father!" We confess with our lips. And sometimes we confess as we color. God's own child I gladly say it, I am baptized into Christ!
Thank God for this little one's confession. For in this picture we see Jesus' words to His disciples after His resurrection come to life: "The books of Moses, the Psalms and the Prophets...testify to Me!" And out of the mouth (and hands) of babes, Your praises are confessed. So, make that kid a doctor of theology. She gets it. The Old Testament - indeed, all of Scripture, it's center and circumference - is about Jesus crucified and risen for you. 
May we be so bold with our lips as this little one was with her hands.
Water, blood, and Spirit crying,
By their witness testifying
To the One whose death defying
Life has come, with life for all.
In a watery grave are buried
All our sins that Jesus carried;
Christ, the Ark of Life, has ferried
Us across death's raging flood.
Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying - LSB 597:2-3

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sermon for Easter Vigil: "Salvation Days"

+ Easter Vigil – March 30th, 2013 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What a difference a day makes.
Yesterday the cross and darkness. Tonight the light of Christ’s resurrection consumes the void of darkness. Yesterday the earth mourned and quaked with injustice. Tonight the earth trembles with joyful anticipation. Yesterday the devil laughed. Tonight we dance on his grave. Yesterday the tomb was sealed. Tonight the seal of Jesus’ grave is broken. Yesterday: death. Tonight: eternal life. Yesterday: the end. Today: the beginning.
 “In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth.”

And God ordered days and seasons…why? So that Adam’s life – and the life of his descendants – would be ordered around the Lord’s gifts and filled with praise. But this Sabbath rest wasn’t only meant for God to rest from His labors, but for man to rest in the holiness of God’s labor for him.
But Adam’s peace was short lived. Rest turned to restlessness. Peace turned to rebellion. Sabbath turned to sin. Life turned to death. Paradise turned to exile. Days of holiness turned to days of suffering, guilt and death.
Now our days are filled with trials and illness, suffering and shame, guilt and death. Our days are spent not in Sabbath rest but in sinful chaos.
But we are not alone. Jesus lived – every day of His life – for you. From His birth to His death and resurrection, Jesus spent his living and dying day to save us from ours. The Creator, whose arms stretched out and painted the heavens, stretches his arms upon the cross between the heavens and the earth. But he who overcame by the tree of the garden is overcome by the tree of Christ Crucified.  And God saw that it was good.
            And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
 “And the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the heart was continually evil.”
Then the fountains of the deep were opened. Fain fell 40 days. The Lord flooded the earth. Creation undone by her Creator. Such was the wickedness of man. But the Lord remembered Noah. Through the water. In the ark. 8 souls saved in all. And the Lord remembers you, wicked in heart though you were. You too are saved, through the water and Spirit, into the Holy Ark of the Church. A new and saving flood has drowned your only-evil-ways and you are preserved in Christ’s death and resurrection. He is your true man of rest. The Captain of your Salvation. And God saw that it was good.
And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

 “And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord…’Are there no graves in Egypt so that you brought us out here in the wilderness to die?’”
They utter a hopeless cry. A shout of despair, doubt, and unbelief. We’ve all asked similar questions before: Have you abandoned us, Lord? Will you keep your promises? Will you deliver me from certain death?
But all questions are silenced by Moses’ words: “Stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord which he will work for you this day.” The Lord was with His people in the pillar of cloud and fire. In the water parting. In the Red Sea rescue. Once again God’s people are delivered through water. And so are you. Our doubt and despair are silenced as the Son of God camps between us and death. He leads us from slavery to freedom, from death to life in His death and resurrection. The same death and resurrection into which you are baptized. You pass through the liquid veil into paradise. The Pharaoh of hell lies drowned and your sin is washed away. Christ leads His people on a new and greater exodus over the dry ground of His open tomb. And God saw that it was good.
            And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

 “And the Lord said to Ezekiel, ‘Son of Man, can these bones live?’”
Ezekiel needed to know the answer; and so do we. The briskness of those opening words of Lent still haunt us: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Those words began Lent. The ashes marked our death. But they also traced the Baptismal cross upon our forehead. You are marked by Christ the Crucified. Now at the end of Lent the Lord proclaims a new beginning for Ezekiel and for you. “Thus says the Lord, ‘I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people.” Jesus rises from the dead and shakes the dust of your tomb from his resurrected feet. “You shall live forever…I have spoken and I will do it, says the Lord.”  And God saw that it was good.
           And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

 “And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God…”
Job suffered. Job questioned. Job prayed. And then Job suffered some more. But Job was not forsaken. Job confessed.
I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
26 And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,

For you who question and pray – wondering like Job, where is God in the midst of my pain and death? – for you Jesus prays: “Father, if you are willing take this cup from me, nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.” And Jesus questions: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” See how Jesus prays and questions for Job, for you. All so that you are not forsaken in your sin or abandoned to die alone forever.
With iron Roman pens your salvation is engraved, not in wood or stone, but in the flesh of Christ. Wounds that forever inscribe your redemption in the Lamb’s book of life. Your Redeemer lives. Jesus suffered more and He suffered it all willingly for Job, for you and for the world. He prays on your behalf. He was forsaken so that you are welcomed. He dies and rises so that you can confess with Job, I know that my Redeemer lives…and in my flesh I shall see God. And God saw that it was good.
And there was evening and there was morning the 5th day.
            “And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.”
The Ninevites’ repentance condemned Jonah’s pride, and later the Pharisees (Matthew 12). But instead of joining in their repentant cry, we echo Jonah’s lament and begrudge the Lord’s mercy. But our chief sin of self-righteousness – along with all your sins – is paid for on the cross and covered in Christ’s righteousness. Your sin is dead and buried in the tomb. Whereas the fish swallowed the prophet, Jesus swallowed your death. But unlike the fish, Christ’s tomb is not empty; it is full. Full of your sin, full of your death, but empty of its power over you. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. And behold, one greater than Jonah is here. And God saw that it was good.
And there was evening and there was morning the 6th day.
Thus the Lord’s salvation of the heavens and the earth was revealed. Mark them well. For these are the days of your salvation foretold in Scripture. These are the days fulfilled in this most holy of weeks, the Great Week.
 On Palm Sunday your beggar King rides to his bloody coronation on the cross. On Maundy Thursday Jesus mark a new day of salvation by taking bread, the food of the fall, and making it the food of redemption in His body. The winepress of God’s judgment yields a cup of blessing in Jesus' blood.
On Good Friday the serpent strikes again. Another tree adorned with fruit, but a whole new Adam. Christ’s hands and feet and side are pierced. But the serpent’s head is crushed. As in Adam all die so in Christ all are made alive.

It is finished. Jesus’ body was buried. The tomb sealed. The guard set. The women wept. The disciples hid. And the earth was formless and void and darkness covered the face of the earth and the abyss of the grave. And his Father saw everything that he had done, and behold, it was very good. And on the seventh day the Lord of the Sabbath rested in the earth from all his work that he had done. But not for long.

 “And the angel said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen. He is not here.’”
Yesterday was Good Friday. Tonight is the dawn of Jesus’ Resurrection – the 8th day of the week. This is the endless, everlasting day in Christ’s resurrection. No more evening and morning, just as God had intended in the first garden. No more sorrow and sickness. No more sin and death. The former things have passed away. And on the 8th day, Christ rested from all the work that He had done for you. So Christ blessed the 8th day and made it holy, an eternal Sabbath rest for you. And behold, it is very good.
“Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light”. Rejoice! The devil is defeated. Your death is destroyed. Your sin is paid for. Rejoice! The cherubim have sheathed their flaming swords. Paradise is open to you once again. For Christ is risen.
What a difference a day makes.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.



Sermon for Easter Sunrise: "Easter Exodus"

+ Easter Sunrise – March 31st, 2013 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: Job 19:23-27; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; John 20:1-18

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

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! (He is Risen indeed. Alleluia!)

“I will sing unto the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea.” (antiphon for Easter Sunrise)
I will sing unto the Lord for Christ has triumphed gloriously; death and his rider He has thrown into the grave behind him.

I will sing unto the Lord for Christ has triumphed gloriously; the angel rests upon the stone rolled away, mocking death. Death is undone. Christ has put the grave in its place. The Scriptures must be fulfilled.
I will sing unto the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously; Mary Magdalene and Peter and John saw the folded linen cloths and the empty tomb where Jesus lay.

I will sing unto the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously; and the angel asks, “Why are you weeping” for this is no time to weep. Christ is risen. Death could not hold him and neither will it hold you.
I will sing unto the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously; Why are you still weeping? Whom are you seeking? For the good and gracious Gardener has fallen into the earth like a grain of wheat and died. But now he rises and bears much fruit.

I will sing unto the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously; Jesus speaks her name, “Mary.” And she believes. Faith comes by hearing.
I will sing unto the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously; Fear not Mary, fear not, oh Christian haunted by your sin and death…I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One. I died and behold I am alive forevermore; and I hold the keys of Death and Hades.

I will sing unto the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously; And because He has died and risen, death no longer has dominion over you. Death is dead. Your sin is forgiven. The devil is powerless. And you are free. In Christ you too will rise again.
I will sing unto the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously; Now go and tell your friends and neighbors the Good News as Mary told the fearful disciples. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.

I will sing unto the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously; For Christ’s death has reversed everything. The Just for the sinners. The Master for the slaves. The Free for the captives. The Physician for the sick. The Happy One for the wretched. The Rich One for the needy. The Seeker for the lost. The Redeemer for the sold. The Shepherd for the sheep. The Creator for the creature.

Now let the victory song begin. Blow the trumpets. Call a feast.

Rejoice now, O heavenly choirs of angels;
Rejoice now, all creation
Sound forth, trumpet of salvation,
And proclaim the triumph of our King.

Rejoice too, all the earth,
In the radiance of the light now poured upon you
And made brilliant by the brightness of the everlasting King;
Know that the ancient darkness has been forever banished.

Rejoice, O Church of Christ,
Clothed in the brightness of this light;
Let all the house of God ring out with rejoicing,
With the praises of all God’s faithful people.

(Exsultet of the Easter Vigil)

             For the Son that was lost is now found. He who was dead is now alive. The Temple that was destroyed on Good Friday has been raised again on the third day. The Greater Jonah is expelled from the belly of the earth. Christ walks out of the valley of dry bones wounded and scarred, but alive in your flesh and bone. Job’s Redeemer, and yours, stands upon the earth having fulfilled his hope and ours. Today we receive our Greater Brother Joseph back from the dead – what we meant for evil, God meant for your good. The Greater Isaac has returned from the sacrificial mountain alive and well. And the Second Adam leads Adam’s descendants back into paradise through His death and resurrection.
"O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!

Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!

Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!

Christ is risen, and life reigns!

Christ is risen, and the dead will not remain in their tomb!

For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that have slept. To Him be glory and might unto the ages of ages." (John Chrysostom)

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