Thursday, April 16, 2015
During the span of less than a decade the "T" of LGBT has arrived on the scene of our culture in full force. What was once called Gender Identity Disorder is now called Gender Dysphoria because it is considered unacceptable to say that a man who thinks he is a woman or vice versa is a "disorder." So strong is the assertion of transgenderism that legislation has been passed and proposed that would outlaw therapy that seeks to help youth with transgender issues affirm the sex determined by the body God has given to them. If you haven't encountered transgenderism, you will. The cultural push suggests it as an option for young people and holds it out as a welcome "solution" to mental anguish.
Walt Heyer discusses how the suicide rate among people who pursue physical alteration to their bodies indicates that transgenderism is not the solution many think it to be. While gender dysphoria appears to be a complex phenomenon, to view transgender change as a solution inherently ignores the real problem - psychological disorder that seeks to rebel against the body God created.
Sunday, April 12, 2015
In 9 AD the Roman general Varus was leading his men through the Teutoberg Forest in northern Germany east of the Rhine River. The Romans normally did not operate this far north and did not know the area well. But Varus had no real misgivings about this. After all he has leading the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth legions – crack professional soldiers of the Roman army. In addition he had cavalry and supporting auxiliary units. All told, he had more than 18,000 men.
The Romans considered Germany to be pacified all the way east to the Elbe River. Varus, a respected administrator, had been brought in to establish the structure of a Roman province. A key part of his work was to establish the taxation system.
The land was not easy for marching. There was dense forest in this wilderness. In this low-lying land there were steep hills in a number of places surrounded by bogs. Varus wasn’t concerned because the course they were taking in their march had been guided by Arminius.
Arminius was a German tribesman. He had served with the Roman army in an auxiliary unit. Varus had come to trust and rely on this German ally. But unknown to Varus, all was not as it appeared. Arminius had served with the Roman army. He had seen it in action. He had studied its tactics. And he had a plan.
Arminius realized that the professional soldiers of the Roman army were highly skilled and disciplined. Far more heavily armed, they maneuvered and fought in their formations, and in a set piece battle the Germans had little chance of winning. However, if the Romans could be engaged in a setting where they couldn’t get organized; if they could be surprised and overwhelmed by numbers, they could be beaten.
And so Arminius led the Romans into a trap. The Kalkrieser Berg was a 350 foot hill. On their march the army went around the hill and through a passage that was located between the hill and a large bog. The passage was only a half mile wide in middle and was four miles long.
At this spot Arminius had used what had learned from the Romans about military engineering and had built a long sod berm. Hidden behind the berm were German warriors with spears. At the moment when the Germans sprung the trap they reigned down thousands of spears on the unsuspecting Romans. The confined area and surprise of the attack prevented the Romans from offering an organized defense. The result was a slaughter as the entire Roman force was annihilated.
The disaster in the Teutoberg Forest was the end of Roman hopes to establish all of Germany as a province. Henceforth the Rhine River would serve as the eastern boundary of the empire. But the Romans did launch several retaliatory campaigns. And few years later a Roman army returned to the site of the ambush. They found there the scene of a land strewn with the bones of Roman soldiers. Some lay where the soldiers has been killed. Some had been laid out in a ritual fashion by the Germans. Some were piled up where they had been offered as human sacrifices to the gods.
The scene in the Teutoberg Forest is a historical example of the kind of thing that the prophet Ezekiel describes in our text today. In a visionary experience he sees a valley filled with bones – the grisly scene of a slaughtered army. Yet God brings this army back to life – he raises them from the dead. Through this experience God reveals to Israel hope for their future. And in this word of God we find resurrection hope.
The prophet Ezekiel wrote at the beginning of the sixth century B.C. He was a priest who had been taken into exile in Babylon in 597 B.C. It was not the entire population that had been taken, but rather like the group taken in 605 B.C., it was an educated and well-to-do part of people. Ezekiel wrote his prophecy in Babylon. He condemned the people for the unfaithfulness – for the fact that they were worshipping false gods of the surrounding peoples. They had even brought the idols and altars of those false gods into the temple in Jerusalem.
The book of Ezekiel follows an exact pattern of Law and Gospel. For the first thirty three chapters Yahweh condemns the sin of the people and tells them that judgment is coming. In chapter thirty three Ezekiel writes, “In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, a fugitive from Jerusalem came to me and said, ‘The city has been struck down.’” The exiles in Babylon receive word that the city of Jerusalem has been taken in a failed rebellion and the temple has been destroyed. All but the very poorest people in the land are taken into exile in Babylon.
From that point on, Ezekiel speaks a word of Gospel. God had not forgotten his people. He will restore them to their land and at the end of the book we learn that he will renew and transform things to be like the Garden of Eden.
In the previous chapter Yahweh has said that he is going to do something new. He says through Ezekiel, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” God says that he is going to do something dramatically new through the work of his Spirit.
To illustrate this for Ezekiel, God takes him in the Spirit to see a valley filled with very dry bones. Yahweh tells Ezekiel, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’”
There is a rattling sound. The bones come together; they are joined by sinews and covered by flesh. But there is no life in the bodies. And then, just like in the creation when God formed Adams body out of dust and breathed into it the breath of life, Yahweh has Ezekiel prophecy the breath into the bodies. They live and stand as a great army.
And then God provides the explanation of what this means. He says, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”
In our text, bodily resurrection is a metaphor for the restoration of Israel to their land. But if that was all there was here, this text wouldn’t be of all that much significance to us. However, the Scriptures teach us that Israel’s return from exile was a type. As our catechumens will tell you, a type is person, institution or event in the Old Testament that points forward to something even greater God that does in the New Testament.
At his baptism, we learn that Jesus Christ is Israel reduced to One. He is Israel, the Son of God who is faithful where Israel the nation failed. And the mission that he fulfills is God’s intention for Israel to be blessing to all peoples. During Holy Week we saw Jesus go to the cross as the suffering Servant who bore the sins of all. He died and was buried. But on the third day – as the vision in our text describes – God opened the grave and raised Jesus from the it. By his death and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sins, God fulfilled his promise to Abraham: “In your seed all nations will be blessed.”
God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. And after his ascension and exaltation to the right hand, Jesus Christ poured forth the Holy Spirit just as he had promised – just as God says he will do in our text today. The Holy Spirit who gave you new spiritual life in Baptism is within you. And this changes everything, for as the apostle Paul told the Romans, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
The Gospel message of forgiveness and resurrection is one that we desperately need. In our text the words are spoken for Israel, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.” It is easy to look around at the movement of our culture on issues of sexuality and marriage and feel this way. It is easy to look at the circumstances of our own lives – the hardships caused by physical and mental illness – and feel this way. It is easy to look at the continuing presence of sin – those occasions when yet again we fall into temptation – and feel this way.
But the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ means that you are forgiven and have hope. You are forgiven. You are a child of God. You have been clothed with Christ in your baptism. Our Lord himself declares you forgiven in Holy Absolution. He gives his true body and blood given and shed for you in the Sacrament of the Altar.
It means that the Spirit of God who raised Jesus dwells in you and that Christ’s resurrection life is already at work in you in order to conform you to Christ. Is the old Adam still present? Yes. That guy is a good swimmer and though daily you drown him in repentance as you return in faith to your baptism, he keeps popping up out of the water. But nourished by the Means of Grace through the work of Christ’s Spirit our God does bring about change. He enables you to struggle against the sin in our life – indeed he gives you the desire to struggle against it and to live in ways the please God.
And it means that this struggle takes place with hope. This past Monday, Duke University won the men’s NCAA basketball championship. When a team wins a championship, they always say that it made all of the struggles – all of the work, and the ups and downs of a season – worth it. What would it be like if a team started out a season, not knowing how the season would go, but knowing for sure that they were going to be champions? They wouldn’t know the path that would take them there, only that if they kept at it until the end they would win. They would have the encouragement needed to push through the setbacks because they knew what awaited them.
That is how things are for us as Christians because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We walk by faith in the midst of the struggles, but we know how it ends because the end has already started in the resurrection of our Lord. Because Jesus rose from the dead through the work of the Spirit, we know that same Spirit who dwells in us will raise us up. The final and ultimate restoration to which our text directs us will be ours. It’s certain. It’s sure. Just as we hear in our text, “Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”
Thursday, April 9, 2015
Bill Buckner has gotten a bad rap. Buckner is remembered as the goat of the 1986 World Series – as the player who “lost” the World Series for the Boston Red Sox when a ground ball went through his legs in the bottom of the tenth inning and allowed the winning run to score for the New York Mets. This single play has become his legacy to the point that when a sports fan hears someone talk about “pulling a Buckner” – they immediately know it refers to choking in some huge and costly mistake.
However, Buckner has gotten a bad rap on two accounts. In the first place it ignores the fact that numerous others shared in the Red Sox’s collapse in 1986. The Red Sox entered the bottom of the tenth inning ahead five to three. Before Buckner’s famous error, two runs had already scored to tie the game. These runs had occurred as a result of three consecutive singles with two outs. The tying run itself scored on a wild pitch. Before the ball was ever hit to Buckner others had missed opportunities to close out the game. Many other players shared in the Red Sox collapse that night – not to mention that all of this occurred in game six and not game seven of the World Series as so many people seem to now believe. The Red Sox as a unit share the blame for going out and losing the next game in order to lose the World Series.
In addition, Buckner has gotten a bad rap because this one play has caused a very fine career to be completely forgotten. Buckner had a lifetime .289 batting average over 22 seasons. He won the National League batting title in 1980 while playing with the Chicago Cubs. His 2700 career hits means that only fifty players in the entire history of the game have had more hits than Buckner. Bill Buckner was a very good player and it is not right that one play has caused all of this to be forgotten.
In John 20:24-31 we hear the account of Thomas’ encounter with the risen Lord. The mention of Thomas almost immediately brings to mind the phrase that many of us have used at one time or another: “doubting Thomas.” Yet like Bill Buckner, Thomas has also gotten a bad rap. This becomes clear when we consider this account in the context of John’s Gospel.
John’s Gospel begins with that grand prologue in which we hear about Christ: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him and apart from him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:1-2). John lets the reader know from the very start that Christ is truly God, the One who made the world. He captures the mystery of the God-man Jesus Christ – the mystery of the incarnation – in the statement, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The reader begins the Gospel in the knowledge that Jesus Christ is truly God – the God-man, the Word become flesh. Yet we wait in vain as the people interacting with Jesus bumble about and fail to recognize and confess this truth. We wait throughout the whole Gospel for someone to get it right. We wait, and wait, and wait, and then in John 20 we finally hear the correct and full confession. We finally hear someone say to Jesus: “My Lord and my God.” We find that the Gospel reaches its culminating confession on the lips of … Thomas?
Thomas gets it right? Our so-called “doubting Thomas” is the only one in the Gospel to this point who believes and confesses correctly? It may seem surprising. It may not fit with our label for Thomas. But the fact of the matter is that the true and correct confession of Christ in John’s Gospel is found on the lips of Thomas.
This fact becomes all the more emphatic when we read what follows. Thomas had refused to believe the testimony of the disciples. He demanded visible proof and on the following Sunday the Lord provided it to Thomas. Thomas ceased to remain in unbelief and instead followed his Lord’s command to believe. He confessed, “My Lord and my God” (20:28).
And then immediately after this Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (20:29). Jesus parallels Thomas’ belief with that of those who will follow him – with us. Our belief is to be the same as that of Thomas. And in fact, the next statement in the Gospel tells us that this same belief has been the purpose of the whole Gospel. We hear: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; 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” (20:30-31).
As John 20:30 indicates, John narrates for us signs that Jesus did. At the beginning of the Gospel, we are told after Jesus turns water into wine at Cana: “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him” (John 2:11). The miraculous signs in conjunction with Jesus’ words of explanation help reveal the glory of God incarnate who is removing humanity from the darkness of sin and death.
The ultimate sign by which Jesus glory is revealed and by which he is glorified is his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Christ had entered into the world – the Word had become flesh – in order to carry out the will of the Father on our behalf. We saw on Good Friday that the glory of God was revealed in the crucified flesh of Jesus Christ. There we see the depth of God’s love for us. In our Lord’s wounds in John 20 we see that Jesus continued to bear the signs of his glorification for us on the cross when he continued into the glorification of the resurrection.
In John 20 we encounter not “doubting Thomas” but rather believing and confessing Thomas. We hear the correct confession addressed to the God-man, Jesus Christ: “My Lord and my God.” Thomas saw the crucified and risen Lord with his own eyes and so believed. Yet what about us? What about those of us who live 2000 years later and have not seen with our own eyes the wounds of the risen Lord? There is an important distinction between Thomas’ experience and our own. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (20:29). Where then does all of this leave us?
John 20:30-31 provides the answer as it states, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; 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.” We see Jesus’ signs – and most importantly the sign of his death and resurrection - through the words of the apostles. We hear in our text that Jesus sent forth his disciples. Those apostles have shared with us the testimony of what Jesus did in their presence.
Yet this testimony is not simply the testimony of men. It is the testimony of Christ carried out by the Holy Spirit who is present through their witness in our midst. Before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed to the Father regarding his apostles, “As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). Jesus prayed not simply on behalf of the apostles, but on behalf of us, “those also who believe in me through their word” (John 17:20).
We have not seen the wounds of the risen Lord with our own eyes. Yet through his Spirit, our Lord has revealed them to us through the apostolic Word. Jesus promised to his disciples, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26). Jesus said, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify about me, and you will testify also, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26).
Through their Spirit guided Words we have beheld the sign of our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection. Through this Word of God we have been called to faith as we join Thomas in confessing to Jesus Christ: “My Lord and my God!”
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Today is Easter Wednesday as we continue to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord. The Gospel lesson for today is John 21:1-14.
After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:1-14)
Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, by the glorious resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ, You destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light. Grant that we who have been raised with Him may abide in His presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.