Monday, September 30, 2013

The War Delusion

The word cliché is the French vocable for a stereotype printing plate. Its function is to reproduce the likeness of a given subject over and over again. A cliché does not give an altogether truthful picture of that object. For one thing, a cliché is never more than two-dimensional; for another, it is not alive – once cast, it will never change. And even the best cliché is never more than a rough approximation of the real thing.[1]
-         Uwe Siemon-Netto, The Fabricated Luther

One of the most popular clichés of our day is that religion is the greatest cause of war and violence in human history. This myth rages across college campuses, pervades the minds of modern skeptics, and receives a near dogmatic adherence in the marketplace of ideas. Some of the loudest voices perpetuating the cliché belong to the self-proclaimed four horsemen of the New Atheist movement (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and the now-deceased Christopher Hitchens). In both print and public rhetoric, frequently and with great vigor, they assert that faith and religion are the bane of humanity’s existence. Harris, in particular, likens any and all religious devotion to terrorism, calling it “the most prolific source of violence in our history.” But perhaps the most famous manifestation of this fiction is found in the lyrics of John Lennon’s Imagine
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too

In my own conversations with skeptics both on and off the college campus, I can attest to this claim surfacing with more fervor than the gopher in Caddy Shack. So even if you haven’t encountered it yet, I suspect you one day will. However, whether that occurs on a campus, at the corner store, or while listening to a classic rock station, the question remains the same: Is it true? Simply making the assertion is not the same thing as formulating an argument, much less a cogent argument with credible evidence. So one must ask: Can it be established, based on an examination of the public record, that religion actually is the cause of the greatest acts of suffering and violence in human history?

At first read, this question only leads to more questions. What is meant by religion? Which religions? When people perform acts of violence in the name of their religion, are they being consistent with that religion's teachings? What do religions of the world say about war and violence? You get the point.

Many atheists are clever enough to avoid explicitly saying that religion is the direct cause of war. Since a wild baseless assertion like that can be recognized fairly easily, it usually comes in more subtle and implicit terms. Thankfully, this crafty approach has already been condensed for us by apologist Vox Day. In his book, The Irrational Atheist, Day summarizes the New Atheists’ line of reasoning with the following syllogism.

1.       Religion causes division between people.
2.      Religion provides the dominant label by which people are divided into groups.
3.      Wars are fought between divided groups of people with different labels. 
4.      Therefore, religion is the implicit cause of war.[3]

Again, we must ask anyone who makes this assertion how they know this to be true. What is your evidence? 
Typically at this point the skeptic will launch into a diatribe on one of several, predictable possibilities: the Crusades, the Thirty Years War, the Wars of Religion, and Islamic Extremism. No doubt Christians wouldn’t disagree with the latter entry. But don’t get bogged down there; it only side tracks from the main issue. Focus on the central question: Is religion the cause of war, either explicitly or implicitly? 
According to a recent article published online at the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM), the historical evidence does not substantiate the claims made by Harris and other atheists. Religion is simply not the primary cause or motivation of war. In fact, the evidence overwhelmingly points in the opposite direction, namely, that the cause of war stems mainly from non-religious sources and motivations. Moreover, the chief perpetrators of wartime atrocities (especially in the 20th century) have been non-religious.  Here are a few quotes from the CARM article that illustrate the point well:

“An interesting source of truth on the matter is Philip and Axelrod’s three-volume Encyclopedia of Wars, which chronicles some 1,763 wars that have been waged over the course of human history. Of those wars, the authors categorize 123 as being religious in nature,2 which is an astonishingly low 6.98% of all wars. However, when one subtracts out those waged in the name of Islam (66), the percentage is cut by more than half to 3.23%.

That means that all faiths combined – minus Islam – have caused less than 4% of all of humanity’s wars and violent conflicts. Further, they played no motivating role in the major wars that have resulted in the most loss of life. 
Kind of puts a serious dent into Harris’ argument, doesn’t it?

The truth is, non-religious motivations and naturalistic philosophies bear the blame for nearly all of humankind’s wars. Lives lost during religious conflict pales in comparison to those experienced during the regimes who wanted nothing to do with the idea of God – something showcased in R. J. Rummel’s work Lethal Politics and Death by Government:

Non-Religious Dictator Lives Lost
         Joseph Stalin - 42,672,000
         Mao Zedong - 37,828,000
         Adolf Hitler - 20,946,000
         Chiang Kai-shek - 10,214,000
         Vladimir Lenin - 4,017,000
         Hideki Tojo - 3,990,000
         Pol Pot - 2,397,0003”

While the full length article on CARM can be read here, this article is clearly built upon the earlier and foundational work of Vox Day in his book The Irrational Atheist. Similarly, Day also quotes the Encyclopedia of Wars as well as his own statistical analysis on the percentage of wars waged in the name of (any) religion when compared to those that are clearly motivated by non-religious figures or factors. In the context of listing all 123 wars labeled as “religious” in the Encyclopedia of Wars, Day’s following words are worth noting: 

“…That is 123 wars in all, which sounds as if it would support the case of the New Atheists, until one recalls that these 123 wars represent only 6.98 percent of all the wars recorded in the encyclopedia…In light of this evidence, the fact that a specific religion is currently sparking a great deal of conflict around the globe cannot reasonably be used to indict all religious faith, especially when one considers that removing that single religion from the equation means that all of the other religious faiths combined only account for 3.23 percent of humanity’s wars.

The historical evidence is conclusive. Religion is not the primary cause of war.”[4]

The real irony about the skeptics’ use of this argument is uncovered by the data in the CARM article. The historical evidence shows that the predominant cause of war is decidedly in favor of non-religious sources. What’s more, the numerical data of lives lost at the hands of notable atheistic figures is staggering (e.g. Stalin, Hitler, and Mao). In the 20th century alone (and going back further to the French Revolution and Enlightenment), the historical evidence is clear: atheism and non-religious sources have caused more war and violence than all the other religious wars combined in recorded history. 

The problem is not God. We have met the problem and the problem is us, sinful, fallen mankind. Guilt, suffering, and death are not God’s doing – that is our contribution. That is our war against God. We are the rebels. We started the war. Thankfully for us, Christ ended it. The incarnation was his D-Day. The Virgin’s womb and a stable in Bethlehem was his beachhead. Jesus came to conquer sin and death once and for all. And how does he fight and win this war against sin, death, and the devil? Not by leading the disciples in a march up Jerusalem’s hill on a magnificent steed. Not by feats of strength and military shock and awe. Not by overwhelming force, but by overwhelming weakness. In the greatest military conflict in human history, life and death contended. Good Friday was the day and Mt. Calvary was the battle field. What happened there was nothing less than a cosmic battle between good and evil. But here’s the shot heard around the world. Our Captain, Jesus, laid down his arms. He fell on the grenade. He took the bullet for us. He stepped into the breach of our sin and death. And that is how he wins. Jesus wins by losing. For the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of men and the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. Jesus leads the charge into the belly of the earth and comes back out again alive and resurrected. Christ holds the field victorious in his death and resurrection.

And that’s the apologetic import here. Don’t lose the Gospel in the fog of war. Tearing down the atheists’ argument is an important part of the job. So, when you come across this argument about war and religion, debunk it quickly and decisively – as well you should; all the evidence is in your favor. But when you do, know that you have not yet completed the job. Christian apologetics is not merely razing your opponents’ views with a single foul swoop of your intellectual war machine. Rather, Christian apologetics must point to the lasting peace in Christ’s death and resurrection by making a positive case for them as real events that occurred at a real time in a real place.  Look the person in the eye and tell them: “Jesus did this for you.” Unless that message is clearly communicated, unless Christ crucified and risen is proclaimed, you will have won the battle but lost the war. One must always be prepared to give a defense of our main assertion, that Jesus died and rose in human history for you. It is historical, verifiable, veracious, and worth fighting a war of words over any day.

[1] Siemon-Netto, Uwe. The Fabricated Luther: Refuting Nazi Connections and Other Modern Myths. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2007, p. 22.
2 Harris, Sam. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2005, p. 27.
3 Day, Vox. The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens. Dallas: Benbella Books, 2008, p. 107-108.
4 Ibid, p. 106.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dorothy Sayers on Creeds in Times of Chaos

Deeds or creeds. Mission or doctrine. Christian morality or dogma. Too often we're tempted to bifurcate these words and the teachings behind them. "Deeds not creeds" was the cry of 20th century protestantism. Today the the cry is much more difficult to attune your ears to; it's a chaotic cacophony. Today there are, in fact, too many creeds. Anything after "I believe" is a creed. And we're making creeds all the time. The question is, what will your confession sound like, a clanging symbol or voice of faith?

Therefore, what God has joined together, let no man, or bumper sticker, or church body rend asunder. It is deeds and creeds. It is mission and doctrine. It is Christian morality and dogma. Neither works (for long) without the other. For example, mission without doctrine is much like the snarky old joke about what you get when you cross a Mormon and an Atheist: someone who knocks on your door for absolutely no reason; it is a vacuum usually filled by anything but the Gospel. And yet doctrine without mission is equally absurd, for the church really does have the best news mankind is in need of hearing. And that good news is meant to be shared, like grandmas on their phones after the birth of their grandchildren: "Did you hear the good news? Well, wait 'till you hear this!"

In writing about Christian Creeds and morality, Dorothy Sayers pointed the church of her day to the fundamental importance of Christian dogma in the life of the Church. The dogma is the drama, she was fond of saying. And so it is. It's the substance that drives all the forms; it's the doctrine that informs our practice (to put it into Lutheran lingo).

And in looking around the religious landscape of this present day, both in Christian churches and in the market place of religious worldviews, it would seem that Sayer's question about Creed or Chaos? in her essay that bears the same name is still applicable. She could've written the words below in 2013 just as easily as she did in 1947. Her words provide a welcomed antidote to the saccharine poison flaunting itself today as theology. In a world that is punch-drunk with it's own religious fanaticism, Sayers points us to the sobering fundamentals of Christian theology and the importance of Christian apologetics as the hangover cure.

But, enough of my words. Here's Dorothy:

It is worse than useless for Christians to talk about the importance of Christian morality unless they are prepared to take their stand upon the fundamentals of Christian theology. It is a lie to say that dogma does not matter; it matters enormously. It is fatal to let people suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; it is vitally necessary to insist that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe. It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is , on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting, and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism...The brutal fact is that in this Christian country not one person in a hundred has the faintest notion what the Church teaches about God or man or society or the person of Jesus Christ.

...There are the frank and open heathens, whose notions of Christianity are a dreadful jumble of rags and tags of Bible anecdotes and clotted mythological nonsense. There are the ignorant Christians, who combine a mild, gentle-Jesus sentimentality with vaguely humanistic ethics - most of these are Arian heretics. Finally there are the more-or-less instructed churchgoers, who know all the arguments about divorce and auricular confession and communion in two kinds, but are about as well equipped to do battle on fundamentals against a Marxian atheist or a Wellsian agnostic as a boy with a peashooter facing a fan-fire of machine guns.

This is the Church's opportunity if she chooses to take it...The task is not made easier by the obstinate refusal of a great body of nominal Christians, both lay and clerical, to face the theological question. "Take away theology and give us some nice religion" has been a popular slogan for so long that we are likely to accept it, without inquiring whether religion without theology has any meaning. And however unpopular I may make myself, I shall and will affirm that the reason why the churches are discredited today is not that they are too bigoted about theology, but that they have run away from theology.  (Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos? in Letters to a Diminished Church. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2004, p. 49-50.)

I, for one, am happy to run with Dorothy Sayers towards sound theology and away from the chaos. On Christ the solid rock I stand (and run and confess and live) all other ground is sinking sand.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Sermon for Pentecost 18: "Mercy for Unjust Stewards"

+ Pentecost 18 – September 22, 2013 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C, Proper 20: Amos 8:4-7, 1 Timothy 2:1-15; Luke 16:1-15

 In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

 Right behind religion and politics – talking about money is sure to make most of us squirm, stress, or scream. No wonder the parable of the unjust steward is arguably one of the most difficult of Jesus’ parables.
And maybe we secretly wish that Jesus never said it. The problem with that is, according to Luke – a reliable historian – he did.

Or maybe we’d rather just skip over or ignore Jesus’ parable of the unjust steward. After all, it’s difficult, makes us uncomfortable or it’s confusing. That may all be true, but those aren’t very good ways of handling God’s Word.
So, let’s begin by listening to Jesus’ words again. And it’s worth noting that Jesus is teaching his disciples, but the Pharisees are in ear shot too.

There was a rich man who had a steward in charge of his accounts. The rich man finds out that this steward has been wasting his money, Luke uses the word squandering in fact, just like the prodigal son and his father’s inheritance. The rich man calls the steward into his office, demands the books, and fires him. On the way out the door, the steward realizes he’s in trouble. When word gets out that he was fired for being a bad money manager, no one will hire him. What’s he going to do? He’s too weak for manual labor. He’s too proud to beg. But he happens to be very good at being a very bad steward.   

So he devises a clever plan. Before anyone hears about his being fired, the steward goes to some of the rich man’s tenants to discounts their bills. One owes a hundred measures of oil. He says, “Quick, take your bill and write fifty.” Another owes a hundred measures of wheat, and he says, “Write eighty.”
No matter how you look at it, that steward was a terrible steward – unjust or unrighteous is the word Luke uses. His unrighteous squandering of money got him into trouble. And his unrighteous behavior also bailed him out of trouble. That’s why the rich man commended his former employee for his shrewdness, cleverness, his worldly wisdom.
Then Jesus follows up the parable by saying, “the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.

In other words, the unrighteous sons of this world are better at living according to unrighteousness than the people of God are at living Godly lives.
Notice, Jesus isn’t commending the sons of this world for what they love. He commended them for how zealously they love and the lengths they will go to in utter devotion for their gods.

Jesus is teaching his disciples to mimic this zeal, but not to follow the ways of the sons of this world. The pleasures of this world are appealing to the eyes and the desires. But the god of Mammon is a demanding pantheon, promising an ever increasing happiness with an ever diminishing return. The cry for “more” always ends in, “never enough.” Fads and trends (earthly and spiritual) will never satisfy because the gods of Mammon never deliver their promises.
Jesus’ words weren’t lost on the Pharisees. They were lovers of money, Luke tells us. They were unfaithful in the little bit of earthly wealth and even more unfaithful in handling God’s Word, which was their greatest treasure. As Jesus points out, they were simply out to justify themselves.

And Jesus’ words reveal the same thing in us.  We’ve all been unjust stewards.  We’re guilty of squandering our Lord’s gifts.  “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” Jesus also said. If you want to see where your heart is, follow the money. You may be surprised at the outcome as you see all the idols to whom you sacrifice. Don’t believe me? Look at your checkbook register or your credit card. Where is your heart and treasure? Whom do you serve – God or Mammon? Do you use your wealth or are you used by it? Does money serve you or do you serve it?

Faithfulness in things temporal reflects faithfulness in things eternal. If we haven’t been faithful stewards of something as fleeting as money, why should God entrust us with eternal treasures? The obvious answer is: He shouldn’t. But he does anyway.

Remember, being a steward means tending and caring for something that isn’t yours. Your money, your talents, your time – they’re all gifts to share, not gods to worship. This is what Christian stewardship is all about. To be sure, the temporal side of life is important: church budgets, expenses, needs, assets and liabilities. But we probably spend more time faithlessly worrying than we should. Jesus reminds us: you can’t serve God and money. Don’t place your fear, love and trust in your temporal stuff because it’s fading away. Economies collapse, currency weakens, but the word of the Lord endures forever. No, we’re not faithful stewards.
But there is there is One Faithful, One Righteous Steward. There is One who served God and never bowed before Mammon, even when the devil gave him a chance. Christ did not serve himself shrewdly. Christ was faithful in everything for you. Faithful in honoring father and mother. Faithful in his treatment of earthly possessions. Faithful in loving and serving God. And he did all of this for you.

Thank God Jesus doesn’t deal with us like the sons of this world. In Christ there is mercy for unjust stewards like us.

Where we love wealth, Jesus loved God. Where we pursue comfort, Jesus went to the cross. Where we look for profit and gain, Jesus took loss. Where we gladly bow down to the devil for little more than a sampling of this world’s riches, Jesus renounced this world’s riches and worshipped God. Where we are faithless in little, He is faithful in much. Where we exalt power and wealth and fame, He exalts righteousness and faithfulness and love.
Jesus is the most zealous and shrewd one of all when it comes to saving you. He squanders the possessions of His heavenly father with joyful, gracious abandon – not in wastefulness – but for your benefit.
So, you owe your entire life to God and cannot pay that debt? Don’t worry. Jesus paid it.  Your sins are forgiven.
So, you’ve been poor, wasteful stewards of God’s gifts and worshiped mammon as an idol? Christ has tossed out your record of wrongs and written your name in his book of life.

So, you’ve been so self absorbed in your sin that you’ve forgotten to bear witness and show mercy to others; so, you’ve been the god of your own praise?  Take your bill for all of it, don’t write down 50, or 80, but forgiven.  Debt paid.  Your record of sin – cancelled.  Your money is no good here.  Christ takes all that belongs to the Father and gives it to you. And the Father only deals in one kind of currency - His Son’s holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death – for you.
And he who is faithful in a little is also faithful in much.  That’s how Jesus wants us to treat mammon and the stuff of this world. Hold them with the loose, dead hand of faith and they won’t hold you. As sons of light, baptized and clothed in Jesus’ death and resurrection – the true and only lasting treasure there is – we see possessions for what they are: gifts to be used and shared and squandered for the sake of others, for the sake of Redeemer Preschool and music outreach, for homeless care and tending to the sick and needy, for the work of the gospel here at Redeemer and in our community.

You are sons of light. You are Christ’s great treasure. And you are forgiven much…Therefore love much.

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sermon for Pentecost 17: "Lost and Found"

+ Pentecost 17 – September 15th, 2013 +
Series C, proper 19: Ezekiel 34:11-24; 1 timothy 1:5-17; Luke 15:1-10

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

Ever wonder why Jesus taught so many parables? I happen to think it’s because he likes telling stories and that all these stories point to his cross and his resurrection. But the parables aren’t meant to keep Jesus at a comfortable distance. Jesus teaches us his parables in order to draw us into the story. Jesus’ teaching is no spectator sport.

So, what’s Jesus doing in Luke 15? Jesus is seeking you out. That’s why he often takes what is known or familiar and uses it to teach us what is unknown or unfamiliar to draw you in. Today’s readings are no different.

Now, we’re probably not too familiar with sheep or shepherding. And we don’t usually spend our time sweeping the floor searching for 1 lost penny out of 10. But we’ve probably all lost something.
Nothing kick starts an earthquake in your chest like the panic of losing something. Losing your keys on the way out the door with a kid in one arm, three bags in the other, and 10 minutes to get through 30 minutes of Southern California traffic. Losing your passport the morning before you head out of the country. Losing your hard drive and every last file the night before that final paper for school or presentation to the company is due. Temporarily losing that son or daughter at the park or in the store.

Today’s Gospel reading is about losing things. Luke 15 is about lostness, seeking, finding, and rejoicing – a lost sheep, a lost coin, and in the third parable which you didn’t hear this morning, a lost son.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Even before Jesus begins his parables, there are  a few shocking surprises for us. First of all, it’s wasn’t  the wealthy Israel elites, the religious expert Pharisees, or high society Romans who were drawing near to Jesus, but the outcasts, the poor, and degenerate – the sinners. And this – according to the Pharisees – is precisely the sort of behavior that respectable Messiahs don’t engage in; at least if he knows what’s good for him.
But social propriety matters little to Jesus. Jesus is in the business of finding the lost, going to the outcast, and rescuing sinners. And here’s the second surprise. The Pharisees are angered again. They don’t consider themselves sinners.  But here’s the problem with the Pharisees and our Pharisaical sinful nature.  Unless you see yourself as a sinner, as the apostle Paul says, “the chief of sinners,” you have no need for Jesus as Savior. It’s as simple as that. Those who don’t know their sin and fear the judgment of the Law have no use for Jesus’ forgiveness and the justification that comes by grace through faith for Jesus’ sake. If you have no sin, if you have kept God’s law perfectly in thought, word, deed, and desire, then you have no need for Jesus.

So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’
8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins,  if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Once again, Jesus’ parables are surprising. One thing’s for sure. He wouldn’t make a very good businessman – at least not in the way the world measures success. A wandering sheep is bad for business. And given the odds, 1 out of 99 isn’t all that bad. Most businessmen would mark it off as dead loss. After all, you’ve got 99 sheep safe in the pen. Why go mess things up and run off after the one. Well, thankfully for the Pharisees and for us, Jesus isn’t like most businessmen.
The same is true for the lost coin. It’s kind of like picking up the occasional penny in the crosswalk, you spend more time and energy looking for it than it’s worth. Again, the business of the Kingdom of heaven isn’t measured by profit margins and spreadsheets, by numbers and books. That’s not how Jesus works. God’s economy is measured out in mercy, grace, and unmerited, outrageous forgiveness. 

That, of course, is the whole point of these parables. Jesus won’t settle for 99 out of 100. He wants all 100. He wants all to be saved, not some, or many – All.
That’s why Jesus goes to the Pharisees. In one of the most glaring ironies in Jesus’ parable – it is the Pharisees, even though they considered themselves closer to God by their works – they were actually the lost ones, just like the older son in the parable of the two sons. Jesus is calling them to repentance, to leave behind their works and religion of self and find true joy in him. Jesus came to rescue them.

And that’s good news for us too. Jesus came for sinners and Pharisees like us today too. Jesus still loves eating and drinking with sinners. He does it here every Sunday.
Jesus’ parable reveals our sin. We’re the lost sheep. We’re the lost coins. The losers. The outcasts. Each of us – the chief of sinners. Isaiah was right about us, “All we like sheep have gone astray, each to his own way.” This is why confession isn’t about admitting our mistakes and promising to be on our best behavior. Confession is an admission that we are dead – and lost – in our sins and that we have no power to save ourselves or convince anyone that we’re worth saving. Confession and repentance is the recognition that our whole life is entirely out of our hands and that if we do ever find our way out of this lostness of sin it’s going to have to come from someone else.

Yes, this parable is about losing. Losing your sin. Losing your death. Losing it all in Jesus.
But Jesus’ parable reveals something greater than your sin and mine– something more shocking, a joyous surprise. This parable is also about finding. About Jesus’ outrageous, undeserved grace. The Shepherd, the woman, the Father – these parables are all about Jesus saving you, raising you from the dead.

Isaiah has more to say about your sin…the Lord has laid our iniquity – all of it – on Jesus. Jesus is your finder, your searcher, your seeker, your rescuer, your deliverer.  That’s how valuable you are to God. God refused to write you off as a dead asset, but instead made you the object of His seeking and saving love. God turned over every rug, He looked under every pillow and sofa cushion, He turned the world upside down in order to find you in your lostness. Our value is completely in Christ who saw something in us that we could not see in ourselves.
Thank God the Pharisees were right about this: Jesus delights in sinners, real dyed in the wool wandering sheep like you and me. You are the joy set before Him that endured the cross and scorned its shame. You are the reason that Jesus ate with sinners in the first place.

This parable gives us a picture of what heaven is like: a bunch of wandering sheep and lost coins and wayward sons enjoying fellowship with God for no other reason than Jesus found you in His death.
Rejoice. You are found in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus seeks you out, throws you over his crucified and risen shoulders and rejoicing, brings you home, seats you at his table, and feeds you as an honored guest.

And God loves a party. No expense spared. The finest of wine in Jesus blood. The best food in Jesus’ body. A feast of forgiveness where Jesus still delights in eating and drinking with sinners.  Rejoice with me, for I have found that which was lost.” 
In the Name of Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Funeral Sermon for Bev Krueger: "Ending and Beginning in Christ"

+In Memoriam – Beverly Krueger - June 6, 1931 – September 4, 2013 +
Revelation 21:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I didn’t have the joy of knowing Bev until the end of her life. But from what I’ve heard she had enough spunk and energy to power all of Southern California if you could just find a way to harness it all. Well, we may have never been successful at finding a way to do it, but our Lord sure was. After all, everything we love and cherish about Bev – all those dear memories and moments growing up, growing old, and growing together – are all a gift from Christ.

And so our Lord took Bev’s vivaciousness and used it in service to others, whether it was at church or home, with the neighbors or even complete strangers. No one Bev met left untouched by her joy. And that too is a gift from Christ. Christ was and is her Joy of joys, her Hope of hopes, her King of kings, and the great Captain of her salvation.
She loved much because she was forgiven much. Bev always loved children so much because she herself is a beloved Child of our Heavenly Father. In Baptism Christ declared to Bev, “You are my dear child, I gladly say it. You belong to me now and forever. Fear not your life’s end… for 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.  (Rev. 1:17-18). Jesus is Bev’s Alpha and Omega, her beginning and her end and her new beginning in the resurrection.

Jesus’ words from Revelation remind me of a conversation Al and I had last week.  He told me about his last words with Bev. They said their ABC’s, and when she got to the last part of the Alphabet she said, “X Y Z…I love you.”
And in Holy Baptism that is precisely what Jesus has said to Bev and to all who are called as his children in those holy waters. Christ is your Alpha and your Omega, your beginning and your end and your new beginning in the resurrection. Though weeping may tarry for the night; joy comes in the morning.

You see, for the Christian, death is not the end. For it was not the end of Christ. Christ took all the sin that we and the world could throw at him and he nailed it to the cross, buried it in his tomb, and that’s the end of your sin. And the beginning of your life. Christ died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. In Christ’s death your death is defeated. Death no longer has dominion over him, or Bev or you. In Christ’s death, Bev now rests safely until the day of resurrection. In Christ’s death, you rest today in peace and comfort even as you grieve. Death and resurrection.
That is the way of our Lord, the way of his saints, like Bev who now rests asleep in Jesus until the day of resurrection. We long for that day. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. What a happy, joyous day that will be. A day where we’ll be reunited with our loved ones who have died in the faith. A day when tears and sorrow and death will be no more. There will simply be life. Life for Bev. Life for you. Life in Christ. No more endings. Only an everlasting beginning.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. (Revelation 21:1-7)

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


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sermon for Pentecost 15: "Exalted in Christ's Humility"

+ Pentecost 15, Sept 1, 2013 +

Redeemer Lutheran, HB

Series C, Proper 17: Proverbs 25:2-10; Hebrews 13:1-17; Luke 14:1-14

 In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Everything Jesus says and does revolves around these words. Jesus’ words are a stern warning and a gracious, abundant promise. 

For the Pharisees and the Pharisee in us – these words are a death sentence. But for the sinner in each of us, humbled by the Law, these words are comforting. Christ exalts us in His humility.

In Jesus’ words we see our lives in Baptism, we come to the Table acknowledging before God that we’re only sinners and deserve nothing but his present and eternal punishment – and yet, we’re invited to the feast. Our names are in His book. You’re his guest.

But these words aren’t just about your life in Christ. These words are about Christ who took the lowest seat in life and asked nothing for himself. Everything he did and said was for you.

For though he was in the form of God, He took upon himself the form of a servant and humbled himself unto death on the cross. You are highly exalted in Christ’s humility.

Usually when we hear the word “humility,” we think of that embarrassment, modesty or congeniality. Those are all acceptable uses of the English word, but that’s not exactly what the New Testament means by humility.

The irony about humility is, the more you self evaluate whether or not you’re humble, the less humble you are. Humility doesn’t look to itself or its popularity level. It’s similar to every WWII veteran I’ve met. Call ‘em a hero and they say those other guys out there who died; they’re the heroes.

You don’t get humility by looking at yourself or keeping a score sheet on all the ways you’ve been humble. That’s what the Pharisees were up to – thinking of themselves.

For Jesus, humility is the complete opposite. Humility is related to death. Humility is sacrifice.

That’s why Jesus is going to Jerusalem - to take the lowest seat on the cross for you and exalt you in his humiliation on the cross.

One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”

It’s no coincidence Jesus is at dinner with the religious experts of his day. Keep your friends close but your enemies closer, the Pharisees thought. Well, beware of Pharisees bearing gifts…and dinner invitations. They were watching Jesus closer than the NSA on Facebook, just waiting for him to break one of the 39 rules they had made to keep the Sabbath. Leave it to sinful man to take YHWH’s gift of a day without work and create more laws about not working.

To heal or not to heal? That was the question. And it’s hard for us to appreciate how shocked the Pharisees were by Jesus. Picture a naked, grungy homeless man looking for food, clothing and a cup of water who waltzes into the Ladies Spring Tea, plops down at the table nearest the front while the hostess quickly helped him with no thought of anyone else.

Do you see? Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath ruffled every Pharisee feather, it was a crime against the Sabbath Law and against common decency. Jesus flips the table on everything the Pharisees cared about: purity, cleanliness, holiness – especially when it came to food.
Jesus is completely reversing the way they relate to God and the people around them. And it has nothing to do with social status or keeping the Law, but living by faith in his undeserved forgiveness.

Today, healing on the Sabbath can be just as repugnant to us in the church as it was to the Pharisees. Just think about how we react when homeless people visit Redeemer for church or food. Do we move pews, plug our noses and try to ignore them (hoping they’ll go away), or think, well, if we feed them they’ll just keep coming back. Or think about how we treat visitors from different social, ethnic, or economic groups. We say all are welcome, but do our actions reflect that regardless of the size of their house or their offering envelope? Will we only look at our community and evangelism if there’s something we gain in return?

Repent of exalting in yourself. Repent of counting yourself as more significant than others. It’s hard – if not impossible to humble yourself. It must be done outside of you. Humbling is God’s work upon us. His Law humbles you to death. But that’s right where he wants you. I have come not to call the righteous but sinners, not for the healthy but for the sick.

What’s truly remarkable about this dinner party is that Jesus accepted the invitation in the first place. That should tell us something about God’s character. Jesus ate dinner with religious elites who hated him as well as the dregs of society. Jesus was socially indiscriminate. That’s redemption story. Christ came to the world to save a world entirely opposed to him. While you were still a sinner, Christ died for you.

Having ruined the Pharisees appetite with that healing, Jesus goes on to plagiarize the Proverbs in the next course…

 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.

Again, Jesus is teaching us about His work. Jesus left the highest place to take up the lowest seat in the house, a cross and a grave. It doesn’t get any lower than that. He humbled Himself to death for you. And from that place of humility, the Father highly exalted Him and seated Him in our humanity at His right hand. And in Christ, we are seated there too.

Jesus isn’t trying to ruin your party plans for your next big shindig. But to exalt you in his death and resurrection. Boast in your goodness, and the Law will put you in your place, it’ll humble you. Take your place with sinners, and you will be exalted. All you bring to the Lord’s table is your confession and a plea for mercy, and you will hear “Friend, come up to a higher place.”

Jesus came to dinner that night to tell the Pharisees – and us - that life isn’t about bookkeeping. Not your life towards God. Not your life towards the neighbor. Jesus came to announce that the entire bookkeeping department has been done away with. Forget about getting into the Guinness Book of Spiritual Records. Forget about making a social or spiritual buck. Jesus isn’t interested in making a list and checking it twice. What’s the point in keeping records, Jesus doesn’t.

For your record of sins – every single one of them – is nailed to the cross. And God’s not the least bit interested in hauling out the books and going over them ever again.

Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. And… Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

That’s what Christian humility looks like. Don’t look to yourself, look to the person you know who’s in need. We count the lives of others more significant that ourselves because Christ considered your life more significant than his.

Our lives of sacrificial service flows from the sacrifice of Christ’s cross. You’re brought up to the best seat in the house, the Lord’s Table where the humble means of bread and wine are Christ’s body and blood. Here at the Lord’s Table, you who were humble and lowly in sin are exalted in forgiveness and salvation. Here you who were sick unto death receive the medicine of immortality. You come to his Table, not with a laundry list of good deeds, but simply as forgiven sinners. That’s what it means to live by faith.

Faith which delights in simply being a guest. And that’s what you are. Christ has taken the lowest seat on the cross and made you his honored guest. For Jesus’ dinner invitation to you reads “Friend, move up higher.”

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Lego Micro Scale Argonath

And now for something completely different...Lego Micro Scale Argonath. These are just a few photos from a couple of MOCs recently completed depicting one of my favorite scenes in The Fellowship of the Ring. Enjoy!