Archive for November, 2007

Sermon 11/25/2007 (Christ the King) – “Today”

There’s a great scene from the movie, The Longest Day,

which is about the D-Day invasion of Normandy in World War II.

An old Frenchman who lives on the beach always wakes up first thing in the morning.

The first thing he sees out the window every day is the overweight German soldier

bringing the morning coffee to the men who man the beach guns.

On D-Day, he opens the windows as usual, but this time something is different.

He and the German soldier see at the same time the Allied fleet

massed off the coast,

and when the guns of the fleet open up,

he sees the soldier knocked off his horse and running for cover.

As the bombardment intensifies, his wife is in hysterics, afraid for her life,

but the old Frenchman loves it.

He pulls out the tricolor, the flag of France,

runs to the window and begins waving it for all he’s worth,

screaming not in terror, but in joy.

Sure, the bombs are falling, but what does it matter?

Liberty comes.  The enemy flees.  Freedom is here.

Now there was no French king who was sailing across the Channel that day.

There were only a handful of French who participated in the actual D-day invasion.

But the theme of a king returning from exile

is a powerful one in story.

He invades his own land, not trespassing, but occupying his rightful place.

When he kicks out the ruling party, he does so because the ruling party

has usurped his authority.

Two of the best-selling movie franchises of recent days

are variants on that theme.

In Star Wars it is Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight,

who returns from exile, as it were, to defeat the Emperor and his minions,

to win back his father from evil.

In Lord of the Rings, Aragorn, son of Arathorn,

descendant of the kings of Gondor,

returns to that land to defeat its enemies

and rule justly in the place of the unwise and unjust steward.

But the Frenchman from the Longest Day

is the only image I have of the one who is longing for that return from exile.

Day after day he has to watch as foreigners occupy his land.

Day after day he must endure the humiliation

and ask, “how long? how long?”

And one day, he doesn’t have to wait anymore.

It’s today that the free peoples return from exile,

today that he can bring out the flag that has been hidden away.

Sisters and brothers,

the story of the people of God

is the story of a people in exile.

Whether you’re in the part of the Old Testament where the people of Israel

are exiled in Egypt

or you’re reading the part where they are in Babylon,

they know they’re supposed to be somewhere else.

They’re supposed to be in the land that was promised.

So they are looking for a day when God will bring them back from exile

to that promised land.

God did it once in bringing them back from Egypt,

and they wait for him to do it again.

But what happens when they’re actually in the land?

The story of their lives does not end happily,

but the problems continue –

they are harassed by unworthy leaders,

shepherds who do not care for the flock.

It is not that they are in exile, the people…

but the king is in exile.

They are in the land, but God in the person of his king

is missing.

And so they wait for that promised return.

God himself has promised that he will send them new shepherds,

raise up a righteous Branch, someday.

In between that someday and their present they wait,

watching the foreign occupiers ride past,

living with their own sin and the sins of others,

Has God abandoned them or rejected them?

Is God to be angry forever?

When will the “someday” become “today?”

We might ask the question too.

For we wonder as well sometimes whether or not we are a people

from whom God is in exile.

If we are confident people who build upon past accomplishments for future success,

we may not experience that.

But none of us are that confident all of the time,

and some of us are confident not much of the time.

Perhaps in secret places we don’t talk about readily,

we too know the feeling of that Frenchman,

opening our eyes every morning

only to see the enemy ride past in his security and swagger,

and asking, “How long?”

We look toward the future, half fearful, half hopeful,

asking when will the promised someday become today?

Today.

The angels above Bethlehem cry out,

Today is born to you in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

The young man in the synagogue in Nazareth cries out,

Today this Scripture of release and salvation is fulfilled in your hearing.

The prophet stands with the hated tax collector Zacchaeus and cries out,

Today salvation has come to this house, for he too is a son of Abraham.

The crucified man lifts his head from his chest and cries out,

Today you shall be with me in paradise.

The Jesus Luke proclaims is always the Jesus of “today.”

His very presence is the today of salvation, God’s return from exile

to his own land, to his own people,

to us, to all who long for his salvation.

We could have never expected it,

for by our sin we have cast him out and rejected him,

and lived in a world where his power is unknown

and the power of those shepherds who destroy the sheep of the pasture is rampant.

But he comes, and the miracle is that wherever he is,

in the manger, on the cross, in the Word, on our tongues,

the “today” of God’s return from exile is here.

Friends,

the exiled one is king again –

the guns are still firing and the world does not recognize him,

but he is here among us.

He offers his salvation to a child today.

He speaks his word of authority today.

He feeds me and you with his presence today.

Though the strife of life continues,

we are full of joy,

for the King of heaven has returned to his earth in Jesus Christ,

and where he is, is paradise.

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November 27, 2007 at 12:39 pm Leave a comment

Sermon 11/11/2007 – “They’re So Sad, You See”

The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection from the dead.

That’s why they were sad, you see.

It’s a pretty bad joke,

but it’s true.

The Sadducees didn’t find the resurrection of the dead in the five books of Moses,

the Torah of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy,

and so they didn’t believe in it.

They used to drive the Pharisees crazy with brain-teaser puzzles like this one.

The Pharisees did believe in the resurrection of the dead,

and so for a laugh, a Sadducee would ask a Pharisee a question like this:

“In the Resurrection, will a resurrected person need ritual cleansing

because he is in physical contact with a dead person,

namely, himself?”

There is no answer to this question. 

There was never meant to be.

It’s designed to show the absurdity of this whole idea,

that there can be a resurrection of the dead.

 

When Jesus shows up in Jerusalem

after his long journey from Galilee,

and is preaching and teaching in the temple area,

the Sadducees try one of these arguments out on him.

Maybe they were trying to sound him out on his beliefs,

or maybe they already knew them and wanted to make fun of them.

Nevertheless, the story about the wife and the seven husbands

reveals more than they think it does about their misconceptions

about the Resurrection.

Like many people today who don’t believe in God

because they have a false idea about who God is,

the Sadducees have a false idea about the Resurrection.

They think that it is a re-animation;

a mere continuation of earthly life.

If a woman’s husband died, she was free to marry another.

If that one died, she was free to marry another,

and so on, and so forth.

But if all eight were raised,

who would get her?

It seems an insoluble problem,

but it really reveals a set of assumptions.

 

The assumption is that our earthly relationships

define our relationships in the Resurrection.

And that is the point where Jesus attacks the argument.

He points out that marriage and family

no longer have the defining force in heaven as they do on earth.

Because in the resurrection,

we are defined out of our relationship with God

and we wholly live out of that relationship.

Not that we will lose contact with those who love us in this life,

but we won’t name each other my child, my spouse, my parent.

Instead, we’ll all have one familial relationship –

God’s child.

God names and claims us as his own –

that is the only relationship that totally defines our lives.

And for Jesus, going to the five books of Moses,

the mere fact that God can name the names of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

after they have died is an sign of resurrection, of re-creation.

If God speaks a name, then that person is not out of God’s reach,

that person is not dead to him, but that person lives in him.

 

It would be sad, you see, to think

that the life after this one

was defined by the conventions of this present age.

If it were so, then wars would continue,

conflicts would continue,

seven men would desire one woman as their own,

we would continue to live out of our possessing and being possessed.

But the resurrection life is the life of knowing all from the perspective of God’s love.

And that’s how we can start to live in this life as well.

To start to live a life when we are no longer concerned with what things are mine

because all things are God’s

is to have a foretaste of the resurrection.

 To start to live a life when we are not so concerned about having someone that is mine

is to have a foretaste of the resurrection.

Let there be no mistake,

marriage and family are good things,

and many of us are called into marriage and parenthood.

But we Christians especially should be wary of making being in a relationship

the greatest good.

It’s a lesson that our teens could use, that single adults can use,

maybe even that we married folks could use –

it might take the pressure off.

We are defined by our baptismal relationship to God in Christ.

That is our primary identity,

and our relationships in this life flow from this baptismal relationship.

 To start to live a life when we are not so concerned with hanging on to my life

is to have a foretaste of the Resurrection.

For Jesus, arguing with the Sadducees in the temple,

the question of the Resurrection was far from a mere academic debate.

The question was real,

for his life was hanging in the balance even as he spoke.

To believe that his name would not be forgotten by his God,

to believe that his life was in God and could not be taken from God,

was to believe that he did not have to cling to life no matter what the cost,

that he could confidently go forward in obedience to God and love of neighbor

no matter the threats against him.

It meant being able to forgive those who deprived him of freedom and of life

because he could see them all from God’s perspective –

sinners desperately laboring under the necessity to control and define their lives.

He would free them from that, and therefore he laid down his life,

confident that it was his to take up again, in the love of God.

 

The transformation of resurrection begins now –

it is completed by the resurrection.

The Sadducees were sad, you see, because a continued life

with our own limited perspective

and others with their own limited perspective

would be a resurrection not worth having.

But Jesus describes a God who transforms the world,

and who transforms us

into who we were meant to be,

into who we are in baptism,

his own daughter or son.

Not Americans or Saudi Arabians or Mexicans or French or Brazilian,

not white or black or any other color of the rainbow,

not in this family and not in that one,

not rich or poor, winner or loser, slave or free person,

none of these terms which define us or by which we define ourselves

will be used in the age that is coming,

but just God’s son, God’s daughter:

child of God.

November 14, 2007 at 5:55 pm Leave a comment

Praying the Psalms with Christ – Divine Word, Human Word

This is the third post in a series on praying the psalms.  The previous two posts may be found by clicking the following links:  Post # 1  Post #2

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his Prayerbook of the Bible, asks how the prayers of the Bible can be God’s Word, if they are simultaneously the words of human beings to God.  The two would seem to be mutually exclusive, as he writes:

The Holy Scripture is the Word of God to us.  But prayers are the words of men.  How do prayers then get into the Bible?…are these prayers to God also God’s own word?  That seems rather difficult to understand.  We grasp it only when we remember that we can learn true prayer only from Jesus Christ, from the word of the Son of God, who lives with us, to God the Father, who lives in eternity.  All prayers of the Bible are such prayers which we pray together with Jesus Christ, in which he accompanies us and through which he brings us into the presence of God…

If all prayer is inspired, if all prayer is the voice of God’s Spirit within us, then prayer is simultaneously a human word and God’s Word.  Jesus Christ, who is both God and human, in whom the Spirit dwelt fully, speaks humanity to God  and God to humanity, so the prayers that are in the Bible are first and foremost his prayers:

…If we want to read and to pray the prayers of the Bible and especially the Psalms, therefore, we must not ask first what they have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ.

This again is a problem, for the writers of the Psalms, whoever they were (tradition says David and others, historical criticism has other answers), were not Christ.  How then can we say that the Psalms are about Christ?  Bonhoeffer puts it this way:

…it is important to note that even David did not pray out of the personal exuberance of his heart, but out of the Christ who dwelled in him.  To be sure, the one who prays his Psalms remains himself.  But in him and through him it is Jesus Christ who prays.

Again, there is more to say about this.  But if the Psalms are Spirit-inspired rather than merely human wants and needs, they necessarily are part of inspiration and will that is in Jesus, the Son of God and the One who is filled with the Spirit.

 

 

 

November 13, 2007 at 8:57 pm Leave a comment

Praying the Psalms with Christ: Learning to Pray

Note: Much of this post is based upon a discussion in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Psalms: Prayerbook of the Bible.

The title of this post might be confusing.  “Learning to pray?”  Many people think that prayer is not something we learn how to do.  It comes from inside or from the heart, or it’s not prayer. 

But let’s think a little bit about this.  If prayer is a language, language for speaking to God, then it is learned, because all language is learned.  The reason why my children speak English is because their parents and all the people around them spoke English.  They were immersed in the language from the day they were born.

Children listen to adults talk, and they imitate the way adults talk.  Language-learning is one long process of mimicry.  From the individual sounds of vowels and consonants, to speaking in complete sentences, language is imitation.

So in order to learn the language of prayer, we need to go through this same process of imitation and experimentation with words that are not our own yet, but can become our own.  We need to hear God speaking to us and speak back to God with his own Word. 

When Jesus’ disciples observed him at prayer, they begged him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  He responded by giving them the prayer that was his own (Luke 11:1-4).  They, and we, are given the grace to speak to God not in our own words, but in the words of the Son of God.  We, in a sense, pray the Lord’s Prayer with the Son of God, and his prayer becomes our prayer.

On this side of the resurrection and ascension of Christ, we too can ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  God gives us his own words, in the Scriptures, and we can pray those words back to him.  We will explore this a little bit more in the next post.

November 8, 2007 at 10:57 am Leave a comment

Praying the Psalms with Christ – Psalm 1

NOTE: This is the first of a series on praying the psalms in Christ.  It is also a class I am giving Wednesday evenings in November and December. 

Psalm 1:1 reads thus, in the New Revised Standard Version:

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers.

This is good advice.  We are to assume that we are the intended subject of the psalm.  If we avoid these things, we will be happy.  It seems to be a logical conclusion.

Here is the translation in the King James Version:

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

Aside from the difficulty with saying “walk-eth, stand-eth, sit-teth,” there seems to be a definite advantage to using “they” rather than “the man” as that which is happy or blessed.  It applies to everyone, whether man or woman.  If we are applying this psalm to everyone as a meditation on the blessed life, it might be helpful to use a plural.

However, what if we asked “who is the blessed man?”  A possible answer might be any of the faithful, or the whole people of God.  But if we would have asked one of the early Christians about the subject of this psalm, they would not have hesitated to say that the blessed man is Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the only one who has never walked in the counsel of the wicked, stood with sinners, or sat in scorn upon anyone.  All of us have done these things, but he is innocent of them all, instead:

His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his Law he meditates day and night.

When we read the Psalm in this manner, it becomes not good advice for us, but a proclamation of Christ’s life and love.  Instead of a general exhortation to good living, it can be prayed as a meditation on God’s goodness in Christ.

We are present also in this psalm.  In John 15, Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”  Psalm 1:3 proclaims of Christ:

He is like a tree planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; whatever he does shall prosper.

In a sense, both ways of praying this psalm – from our perspective, and from Christ’s perspective – are appropriate.  But to put things in a Lutheran key, praying the psalm from our perspective makes this a Psalm of Law.  The Law commands us to be the blessed person, avoiding those things which are bad and delighting in what is good.  It is that blessed person that we find it often so hard to be, and we wonder – no, we confess – that we are that sinner who will not stand in the council of the righteous.  We can only approach this psalm in aspiration, measuring our life by how well or how badly we approach the status of “blessed one.”

But to pray this psalm in adoration of Christ, the Blessed One – ah, that puts things in a whole new light.   It is the light of the Gospel, it is what God has done for us, not what we can do for God.  We are indeed called to the blessed life, but it is not something we do out of our own strength or goodness.  Rather it is a life of imitation: to model our lives after the life of the Blessed One who lived his obedient life to save us.  We are also reminded that “the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked is doomed.”  God’s vindication of Christ and his holy ones cannot be far away.  We need not fear the snares of the world or those who would harm us.

Psalm 1, New American Standard Version

November 7, 2007 at 10:43 pm 1 comment


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