Thursday, March 31, 2016

Mark's thoughts: The exact opposite of error leads into the opposite error

Doing the exact opposite of an error usually just leads you into the opposite error.  I thought this as I read the post God’s Love Song of Salvation.  On the one hand the author has a valid point. The primary purpose of the Old Testament is not to provide moral examples.  It is instead the revelation of God working out his promise to save all of humanity – a promise fulfilled in Christ.

Yet this is where the problem arises and an appropriate correction turns into error.  The straw man of moralism is set up and then destroyed by the truth of Gospel, grace and forgiveness.  It all sounds so good because now we are really doing “Law and Gospel.”  Now “God is running all of the verbs.”  Now we have escaped the moralism that confounds American evangelicalism.

This is the move that radical Lutheranism and its radical grace set before us all the time these days.  It is so very seductive because what it says is true.  Yet it ceases to be the truth when this is all that is said, all the time.  For if we are to be biblical, we need to recognize that there is another side to the matter.

You see, the saints of the Old and New Testament (and the rest of the Church’s history as well) are examples we are called to imitate.  There is a writer – I don’t know his name – who once talked about them in this very way.  He wrote:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king's edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:1-38 ESV)

Now in this text the saints of the Old Testament are certainly being held up as examples.  They are examples of how a faith that trusts in God’s promises lives and acts. To ignore this is to omit a biblical truth.  This in turn is part of a larger effort that ignores the repeated biblical emphasis that Christians are to live in ways that are generated by faith in Christ. They are to imitate Jesus Christ.  After all, Jesus is an example. At least Martin Luther thought he was.

There is another text that treats the saints of God’s people as examples.  It says:

Concerning the cult of the saints our people teach that the saints are to be remembered so that we may strengthen our faith when we see how they experienced grace and how they were helped by faith.  Moreover, it is taught that each person, according to his or her calling, should take the saints’ good works as an example (AC XXI.1).

Doing the exact opposite of an error usually just leads you into the opposite error.  Don’t follow there.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sermon for the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord - Jn 20:1-18

                                                                                       Jn 20:1-18
When the Chicago Cubs win a World Series during the next couple of seasons, no one here will be able to accuse me of being a bandwagon fan. After all, from the time that I arrived at Good Shepherd I have consistently and openly declared that the Cubs are my team. It is, after all, a family thing. They are my dad’s team. They were my Grandpa Surburg’s team as he grew up on the north side of Chicago and walked to Wrigley Field to watch the scoreboard and listen to the crowd.

In sports, there few labels more derogatory than being called a “bandwagon fan.” The label says that a person is not a real fan of team. Instead they have only started to root for a team as it was having success. Rather than displaying character and loyalty, the person has only joined in rooting for a winner when they are winning.

The term “bandwagon” actually came out of political life during the second half of the nineteenth century. Circuses sent a decorated wagon carrying the circus band through a town in order to get people’s attention and advertise the arrival of the circus.

Politicians saw how the bandwagon captured the public’s attention, and they started to use them in parades through towns while campaigning. As a campaign was successful, other candidates wanted to be associated with a winner. They even rented seats on the band wagon so that they could be seen with a candidate’s campaign. In this way the phrase, “jump on the bandwagon” was coined. Applied to sports, it became a metaphor for people who are not “real” fans.

However our Gospel lesson for the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord teaches us that when it comes to faith in Jesus Christ, there is nothing wrong with being a bandwagon fan. In fact, every one of us is a bandwagon fan and so were Jesus’ disciples. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ the great victory has been won. Now in Christ we are blessed to follow a winner, and we have the certainty that we will share in this victory too.

Our text begins on a Sunday in the darkness of early morning. We learn that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb where Jesus had been buried. Jesus had uttered “It is finished,” and died on the cross on Good Friday. John tells us how Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had placed his body in a new tomb where no one had been buried. The tomb was in a garden in the same vicinity as the crucifixion site. When Mary arrived, she saw that the stone which had sealed the tomb had been taken away and the entrance was open. She ran to tell Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” This began a great foot race as the two disciples ran to the tomb. The disciple whom Jesus loved – usually presumed to be John – was faster and got there first.
He stooped to look into the tomb and saw that Jesus’ body was not there. Instead the linen cloths in which Jesus had been wrapped for burial were lying there. When Peter finally arrived, he actually went inside the tomb. He saw that not only were the linen cloths present in the tomb, but folded up and placed in a different spot was the cloth that had been on Jesus’ face in the burial
Next John tells us, “Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” This disciple saw the cloth and face cloth in which Jesus had been buried, now placed in different spots and we are told that he believed. He believed that Jesus had risen from the dead. Nonetheless, John adds, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” And then the two disciples went back to their homes.
During the course of John’s Gospel, the evangelist emphasizes on several occasions that Jesus said and did things the disciples did not understand until after the resurrection. John’s Gospel is different in that he tells us about multiple trips that Jesus made to Jerusalem during the course of his ministry. In chapter two Jesus goes to Jerusalem for the first time in the Gospel. While there he cleanses the temple.
After doing this the Jews asked, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” They wanted him to do something that would demonstrate he had the authority to act this way. But Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews were bewildered. They responded by saying, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” Herod the Great had begun the restoration and expansion of the temple complex. Even after his death some thirty years earlier, the project still wasn’t finished. In fact it would not be officially done until a time not far removed from the temple’s destruction by the Romans in 70 A.D.
Then John tells us, “But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” This text at the beginning of the Gospel signals us that Jesus is going to say and do things that can only be understood in the light of Jesus’ resurrection. Likewise after Jesus had entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in a way that fulfilled the words of the prophet Zechariah, John tells us, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.”
In this Gospel, John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus himself indicates that he will accomplish this through his death – a death that will take place through crucifixion. On Palm Sunday he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” And later Jesus added, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John tell us that, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.”
Jesus goes to die. But in John’s Gospel this is simply part of one movement that then sweeps upward in Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Jesus describes it as his “glorification.” As he said during Holy Week, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” In fact this departure and glorification is necessary so that the Spirit can be sent. John says in chapter seven, “Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
Jesus’ resurrection and ascension are his glorification. It is only his resurrection that enables the disciples to really understand who Jesus is and what he has done. According to Jesus it is only this glorification that makes it possible for the Spirit to be sent. And it is the Holy Spirit who bears witness to Jesus so that the disciples can fully understand Jesus and his saving work. Our Lord told them, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
This means that when it comes to Jesus, every Christian is a “bandwagon fan.” We have been called to faith in a Lord who has already won! The outcome is not in doubt. We are like the crowd of fans that has gathered in the downtown of a city. They are jubilant and excited as they wait for the victory parade to come down the street.
We wait for that victory parade. It will arrive on the Last Day when Jesus Christ returns in glory. And when he does, the risen Lord will give us a share in his resurrection. Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Now did you catch what Jesus said about you right now? As someone who believes in the crucified and risen Lord; as someone who eats and drinks his body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, you already now have eternal life. The victory is already now yours, even as we wait for the consummation of Jesus’ victory – the day when he will return in glory and transform our bodies to be like his.
Jesus calls us to live in the knowledge of his glorification – his death, resurrection and ascension. Victory is already ours now. Eternal life is already ours now. We know who Jesus is and what he has done for us. And therefore we have confidence and strength as we face the devil and a fallen world. On the night he was betrayed Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
And at the same time, the victory of our Lord guides the way we live right now. At the Last Supper, Jesus did something unexpected. He washed his disciples’ feet. When he had finished he said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.” And then later Jesus went on to say, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ we know that we have the victory of forgiveness, eternal life and resurrection on the Last Day. It is Jesus Christ’s love for the Father and love for us that prompted him to serve us in this way. He was lifted up on the cross and buried in a tomb. Yet the upward movement of his glorification carried him out of the tomb and on to the right hand of God. Because of Jesus the victory is ours. And so through the work of his Spirit we walk in faith toward Jesus and love toward our neighbor as we look for the victory parade to arrive.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Today is Holy Saturday

Today is Holy Saturday, the day in which Jesus Christ’s body was resting in the tomb.  Tonight we have the Third Service of the Triduum – the Vigil of Easter. The Triduum is the one service that runs over the course of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.   In the Triduum we pass through the three days of Christ’s Passover and remember that through Holy Baptism we have shared in Christ’s saving death and will also share in His resurrection on the Last Day. Tonight’s service focuses on how we have been buried with Christ into His saving death and resurrection.  Following the Jewish reckoning of time, a new day in the liturgical practice of the Church begins at sundown.  Thus the Vigil of Easter is also the first service of Resurrection of Our Lord.

Scripture reading:
            When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
            The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.  (Matthew 27:57-66)

Collect of the Day:
O God, creator of heaven and earth, grant that as the crucified body of Your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with Him the coming of the third day, and rise with Him to newness of life, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Sermon for Good Friday - 2 Cor 5:14-21

                                                                                      Good Friday
                                                                                       2 Cor 5:14-21

Stephen Curry is on top of the basketball world. Last year Curry was named NBA Most Valuable Player as he led the Golden State Warriors to the championship. This year he is on track to do the same thing as he leads a dominant Golden State team.

Curry is probably the best pure shooter in basketball today. His ability to handle the basketball and his passing prowess compliment his shooting, and together make him into one of the best players in the game. His greatness is recognized by everybody.

That is how people see Curry now. Yet the shocking thing is that ten years ago when he was graduating from high school, nobody saw him this way. Curry’s father Dell was a good shooter who played his college ball at Virginia Tech and then went on to have a career in the NBA. Stephen Curry wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and play at Virginia Tech. However, Virginia Tech did not offer him a scholarship. In fact, all they would do was to say that Curry was welcome to walk on.

This was the response that Curry received from all the major college programs. Curry was a very good shooter. But when coaches looked at him, all they saw was a skinny kid who was six feet one inch tall, and only weighed 160 pounds. Everybody thought Curry was just too small to succeed in the physical demands of major college basketball.

So Curry ended up playing at Davidson University. There he finished his physical maturation as he grew to six foot three inches and gained some weight. During his three years there he put on a show as he led Davidson to NCAA tournament success. In his junior year Curry led the nation in scoring and was a First Team All American. He entered the NBA draft where he was taken as the seventh pick.

College coaches looked at Stephen Curry in only one way. They saw a skinny kid who was just too small. Yet because they viewed him in this way, they completely missed out on a great player. They failed to see him for what he really was.

In the epistle lesson for Good Friday, the apostle Paul discusses the problem of viewing Jesus Christ in one way that completely misses what he really is. The world looks at a man dying on the cross and sees a nobody – a nothing. But Paul declares that this way of looking at things is all wrong. Instead Jesus was on the cross because God was reconciling the world to himself. And when we see this, it changes everything.

The text for tonight is found in 2 Corinthians. In this letter, Paul is defending his apostleship because some very slick people had come to Corinth. Public life in the Greco-Roman world revolved around rhetoric. The process by which a person generated arguments, expressed them in language and presented them in speech dominated all of life. The entire education system sought to teach this one skill. It formed the basis for how the culture evaluated individuals.

When judged on this basis, the apostle Paul probably wouldn’t even have been considered average. And that was the problem. The Corinthians lived in a culture that prized rhetoric above everything else. And so when some Christians came to Corinth who had rhetorical skill and opposed Paul, the Corinthians were very impressed. They found it easy to look down on Paul and his message. Paul didn’t deny that these other teachers were better in rhetoric. What he wanted the Corinthians to understand was the reason that he and his coworkers like Timothy had come to them in the first place. He begins our text by saying: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Paul says that Christ’s love for us controlled and guided what the apostle did. Jesus had died on the cross. But this was not just another example of some poor schmuck getting crushed by the machinery of the Roman Empire. Instead he had died on behalf of all. In fact, because he had died on behalf of all, Paul can say that through Christ all have died.
It is not until the end of our text that Paul explains in more detail what was happening. He writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The reason Jesus Christ died was sin.

Now talk about “sin” is very uncool these days. You see, for there to be sin, there must be some ultimate standard. There must be some absolute right and wrong. And for a Christian understanding of sin there must be a holy and just God against whom all sin is committed. There must be a God who will pronounce eternal judgment on the Last Day. And this is no fun. Because it means that I don’t get to do whatever I want. It means that don’t get to be god in my own life.

Trying to be more than what we are – trying to be like god – is what got us in this whole mess in the first place. That’s how the devil got Adam and Eve to commit the first sin. And once sin got rolling, it has never stopped. In thought, word and deed we just keep putting ourselves first even as we put God and our neighbor second.

We were created in the image of God, because we were created for fellowship with God. But instead, sin had made us enemies of God. And there can be only one outcome for enemies of God. They are judged. They are condemned. They are damned.

And so God acted to reconcile us to himself. Paul says in our text, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

How did this reconciliation work? How did God do it? God is just and he had to remain just. Where there is sin, it must be judged; it must be condemned. And so the apostle says at the end of our text, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Although Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God was free from sin, God made him to be sin in our place. Like a sponge, he soaked up all of the world’s sin – all of your sin – into himself. And then God poured out his wrath and judgment against Jesus. He condemned sin in Christ, so that now you have received God’s salvation – his righteousness. Because of what Jesus has done in your place you are now able to stand before God as one who is justified. You have been forgiven and will be declared “not guilty” by God on the Last Day.

In our text Paul describes in theological terms the meaning of the event that our Gospel lesson narrates. Those who lived in a world where crucifixion was an ongoing reality knew that there was nothing good about the cross; there was nothing heroic and meaningful about it. Instead, it was a painful, degrading and humiliating way to die.

But the knowledge of who Jesus Christ is and what God was doing through him has made everything look completely different. That is why Paul says, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.” To regard Christ according to the flesh is to think about him in the way of the world. It is to see the crucified One as weak, abandoned and futile

But the apostle Paul says we no longer consider Christ in this way. Because Jesus has risen from the dead and revealed through his Spirit what God the Father was doing on Good Friday, we now marvel at the mighty work God accomplished. We see not folly, but divine power graciously poured out for us. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Because we no longer view Jesus Christ according to the flesh – in the way of the world – we rejoice in the foolishness and weakness of the cross. As Paul went on to say, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

This wise foolishness, this powerful weakness, has won salvation for us. And because we have seen God work in this way in Christ, we are able to trust in him when the events in our life look like foolishness and weakness. We do not look at these things according to the flesh - in the way of the world. Instead, we view them as those who are a new creation in Christ. We have seen God work our salvation through the cross, and so we know that in faith we can entrust ourselves to him. We can be confident that he is still the One who loves us and has redeemed us. He remains in charge, even if we don’t understand what he is doing. We know this is true, because of what happened on Good Friday.

Today we remember that Jesus Christ died on the cross for us. He did it on our behalf - in our place – in order to reconcile us to God. This fact now determines how we look at everything. It guides how we do everything. As Paul says in our text tonight: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”