Posts filed under ‘Sermons’

The God Who Seeks Us

The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, III, STS

Pentecost 15 – Narrative Lectionary

Genesis 2:4b-7, 15-17; 3:1-8

2:4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,* and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’

3:1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that theLord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ 2The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ 4But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; 5for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,* knowing good and evil.’6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

 

Today marks the beginning of our nine-month chronological journey through the Bible.

As with any journey, we begin at the beginning.

And yet, Christians are those who live from the end of the story.

God’s ending of the story is this:

we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ,

‘who died for our sins and was raised for our justification,’

we are being made holy by his Holy Spirit,

we will be perfectly holy when his kingdom is fully revealed at the end of all things.

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his lectures on Genesis:

‘The church of Holy Scripture lives from the end.

Therefore it reads the whole of Holy Scripture as the book of the end,

of the new, of Christ…’

‘In the church, therefore, the story of creation must be read in a way that begins with Christ

and moves on toward him as its goal;

indeed one can read it as a book that moves toward Christ

only when one knows that Christ is the beginning, the new, the end of our own world.’1

 

The first human beings were created for the purpose of relationship with God.

God created human beings to be in communion with him.

We are part of God’s creation – adam is taken from the dust, adamah.

We are dust, but dust into which has been breathed spirit –

we may address God and be addressed by God.

We are in relationship with the rest of God’s creation.

St Francis of Assisi speaks of ‘brother sun, sister moon and our sister mother earth,’

addressing with reverence the whole creation as that marked with the stamp of God.2

 

The Bible talks about ‘creation.’

But according to a purely philosophical theory of evolution, there is no ‘creation.’

Creation implies intent and purpose,

but for the person totally committed to a theory of philosophical evolution,

our ancestors had no original purpose.

Instead, we create ourselves, based on what is best for our species’ survival and advancement.

There is no qualitative difference between us and any other species;

we simply happen to have evolved to a certain point.

The relationship between human beings and other animals,

or indeed between human beings and other human beings,

must of necessity be a competition for scarce resources.

According to this theory, we are simply another animal –

with only ourselves to thank or curse

for our ability to accomplish and destroy.

And we must create our own purpose and our own destiny.

 

But Genesis speaks a different reality,

not a reality that we create but a given reality.

The uniqueness of Genesis

is not that things happened in a certain order or time-frame,

but that humankind was put on earth for a certain purpose and with a certain destiny –

to be in relationship with God and with the creation.

God gives the human being a task,

and God speaks with the human being,

addressing him with his Word.

 

The Word speaks of the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Simply as information, the prohibition of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil

has no effect on the human being.

The prohibition is not the cause of the fall of the human being

until desire for that which is denied can be awakened.

That is the story of the serpent,

who engages the woman in the first theological conversation.

Before this, human beings had only spoken with God –

now, the serpent and the woman speak about God,

as if he is not present, as if God is not the subjective reality of all existence

but simply another object in the creation,

on a par with the serpent and the woman and the man.

 

The serpent casts doubt upon God’s Word,

sows mistrust between the human beings and God,

and awakens desire in the human beings –

desire to be like the serpent, who takes and does not merely receive,

desire to be like God, who apparently has more knowledge than they,

desire to be like each other in asserting their own will.

If to live by faith is to believe and to trust in the Word that God has spoken,

then to live without faith is to put the trust in the word of another or in one’s own imagination.

‘We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things;’

that is how Martin Luther explains the first commandment –

‘You shall have no other gods.’

And yet here are the man and the woman,

casting aside fear of God’s warning,

trading love of God as subjects for the desire to be like God as an equal,

and losing their trust in the promises that God has given.

 

The result?

They no longer live in ‘filial fear,’ the confident awe and respect for God

that a child has for a parent,

but live in ‘servile fear,’ the fear of a servant who has trangressed

and must now face the master’s just judgment.

‘You shall not die,’ the serpent promised,

and indeed they live, but they live knowing that they shall die,

knowing themselves under a death sentence –

and trying to wrest life from death they hide themselves from each other

and they hide from God.

 

Now it is important for us to realize that this story is not given us

as a primer on what to avoid, so that we might make a better choice than Adam and Eve.

These stories in Genesis, and the rest of the stories of the Bible,

tell us who we are, and whose we are.

‘We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves;’

these are not merely pious words, but the truth of our situation.

Sin, having entered the world, has ensnared all in its net.

The choice of Adam and Eve is not a choice for us,

but without God’s grace, it is now the destiny of every human being,

to live life under the death sentence,

to live in servile fear of just judgment of transgression,

to desire what we cannot have and seek to wrest life from the jaws of death,

to hide who we truly are from ourselves, from others, and from God.

This state of being, this constantly needing to hide, is our state of being as well.

 

This is true in a particularly nefarious way for the young generation,

blessed and cursed at the same time with the technological capability

to extend our words and images worldwide.

In our world, drenched with social media,

we always want to put our best face forward to the world –

on Facebook, on Twitter, on our blogs.

We have to hold the right opinions, the right attitudes,

we have to be noticed, to be ‘liked.’

And yet the same technology that allows us to put our best face forward

is technology that allows us to control what image we present to the world.

‘Virtual reality’ is just that; virtually real: we are constantly hiding our true selves

and creating a public persona which is designed to win us the coveted ‘thumbs-up.’

In this world, to go unnoticed is simply not to exist.

So people become what they are not in order to be.

Is this not ‘living toward death?’

 

Of course, this is nothing new.

One thinks of the fictional character Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman,

hiding his true lonely, angry, bitter, lost self

behind self-righteous bluster, platitudes, wishful thinking, and outright lies.

One thinks of the real-life tragedy of Jerry Sandusky,

who created himself as a hero and a savior

while preying upon those he was supposed to be helping,

hiding his needy, desiring self behind the self-sufficient, serving self.

One thinks of countless ways ordinary people hide big and little truth,

even from themselves.

An evolutionary scientist might say we hide the truth because it helps us to survive,

to live with ourselves.

On that score that Bible and the evolutionary scientist are not so far apart;

we hide because to be found and and to be found out is to die.

 

And yet God seeks us.

The last verse we are given today seems to be anticlimactic,

but it speaks to our greatest fear

and our greatest hope.

God seeks us out and we are moved to hide,

but after the human beings hide, God calls out to them,

because God created us for relationship and God is satisfied with nothing but.

God seeks us out and we cannot hide from him,

no subterfuge or camouflage can keep us from his gaze.

Our only hope is that he seeks us out not as enemies to be annihilated

but as lost children to be rescued.

 

‘The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost,’

Jesus says after finding Zacchaeus hiding in the tree,

and calling him into the light (Luke 19:1-10).

This same Jesus tells us to ask his Father with confidence to ‘forgive us our debts,

as we forgive those who are indebted to us.’

As Adam and Eve were called out of hiding, they were called back to trust –

trust that though everything had changed, nothing had changed,

that God was still for them,

that he would still work with them,

that they were still made for relationship,

for community with God, with the creation, and with each other.

 

1Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Creation and Fall. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996, 23.

2Francis of Assisi, Canticle of the Sun, http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/wosf/wosf22.htm

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September 10, 2012 at 12:58 pm Leave a comment

The Grace of the Covenant

The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, III

Lent 3B (texts from Vanderbilt Divinity Library)

United and St John Lutheran Churches

11 March 2012

 

Sermon Audio

'The Ten Commandments' St Paul, Loganton

For all of us who think that religion is just a list of do’s and don’ts,

(and mostly don’ts)

for all of us who think that Christianity is a moral code,

for all of us who think that church is a place where children learn right from wrong,

we must read the Ten Commandments again.

We must read them as part of the story of a God

who acts on behalf of his people to rescue them from their oppressors;

a God who passionately wants to restore the relationship

between himself and his people,

a God who came down into human history to be among his people,

to be one of his people.

Firstly, God identifies himself to the people of Israel this way.

“I am the LORD your God.”

He does not say, “I will be the Lord your God

if you obey these rules I am giving you,

he says, I am the LORD your God.

Before Israel even existed, God called Abraham,

and that before Abraham even knew who God was.

I am the LORD your God.

I am the LORD your God.

This God is not an enemy, but a friend.

This is a God who rescued them, who delivered them,

who saved them from a king armed with chariots and horsemen,

who made a way where there was no way

to safety, to victory, to freedom.

I am the LORD your God.

You shall have no other gods before me.

We can read this as a rule,

Or as grace.

And I would like to suggest that when we read the Ten Commandments,

we might do just as well to read them not as laws,

as we just did a few minutes ago,

but as grace.

It is grace to have no other gods but the God who rescues Israel.

It was grace for the Israelites not to have the gods of Canaan

who demanded child sacrifice.

It is grace to have a jealous God,

who cares about us,

who jealously guards our relationship not to stifle us,

but to free us,

who hates it when we run off with other gods,

the gods of success and pride and prosperity and self-fulfillment

who do not give us liberty but slavery.

You shall have no other gods before me.

To be free of the gods which people have set up for themselves

for millennia –

what grace!

What a gracious God who guards his name

so that it may be named at all times in prayer, praise and thanksgiving?

What a gracious God who bids us trust

that there will be time for all our work,

that we are not made for work

but that there is always time to live in the freedom

that is found in relationship with him?

What a gracious God who bids us keep the boundaries between us

whole and inviolate,

that we may not claim for ourselves the honor due our parents,

that we may not claim for ourselves power over life that belongs to him,

that we may not claim for ourselves bodies that belong to others,

that we may not claim for ourselves another’s property or good name,

that we may desire nothing but the freedom and peace of the other?

So that none of us may set ourselves up as gods over another,

But all might live in community with God and each other.

What a gracious God who gives a law

which would keep us free –

from the ravage of rivalry with himself and with each other?

It is not his doing that we see his law as stifling,

as keeping us from what we desire,

whether independence or vengeance or our heart’s desire

or what is rightfully ours or to be lifted up above another.

It is not his doing that we perceived his grace as tyranny,

That Israel was all too willing to turn to other gods,

some of whom demanded the sacrifice of their children,

and that we do too.

It is always the weakest who suffer the consequences of idolatry –

the children whose lives or childhoods are sacrificed

for an adult’s desire for fame or pleasure or independence

or for the exercise of their bitterness,

young people who die for no reason in school or on the streets

or on the battlefields:

the women and men who have no assets but their bodies,

the elderly who are denied the honor due their age,

the poor who are denied a Lord’s day

so that the rich may get what they want whenever they want it,

the relationships that are broken because we can’t keep our mouths shut.

The Lord is not angry because a line has been stepped over.

The Lord’s anger comes when the innocent suffer

because his life of grace has been rejected.

But in his righteous anger God would cleanse.

In our class on Mark we’ve been learning

that Jesus’ first public act during Holy Week

was the so-called ‘cleansing of the Temple.’

In the Gospel of John it is Jesus’ first public act period.

Jesus comes to his Father’s house,

and finds it a place where the life of grace has been rejected.

And he acts to restore the true worship of God.

He acts as a sign of his great action on the cross,

when his body will become the true temple,

the body that we are made part of by baptism,

each individual self a dwelling place for God’s Spirit,

and when we come together, we become a people

among whom God’s Son dwells in Word and Sacrament.

In his righteous anger God would cleanse.

And so may God cleanse us in this holy season.

May God cleanse his church,

As Jesus cleansed the temple.

May God cleanse us as individuals and communities of faith

and take from us all that would reject his gracious offer of life with him.

In Jesus’ cross, may we find all that we need,

so that we may hear God’s Word to us,

as he spoke to others so long ago:

I am the the LORD your God,

who in Jesus Christ set you free from sin, death, and evil

to live in the freedom and peace of the Holy Spirit.

You shall have no other gods before me.

March 12, 2012 at 10:26 am Leave a comment

Living Under the Cross

I remember reading an article once
about the large megachurches that were going up like shopping malls
around large cities in the 1980s and 1990s.
They had everything –
thousands of individual padded seats,
wide enough to fit even the Goliaths among God’s children,
coffee bars and food courts,
stages and screens and sound systems
which would be the envy of theatres anywhere.
Everything but the cross and the altar in central place.

In at least one rising megachurch,
it was asked where the cross was.
‘When people come here,
we don’t want them to feel like they’re in church,’
the answer came.
‘The cross is a depressing symbol.
We want people to feel good when they come here.’

It would be unfair to judge that person.
We all want to feel good.
It would also be unfair to judge all megachurches by that answer.
But it’s no wonder that some of those churches,
carefully packaged to the taste of the American consumer,
have a shelf-life like any other consumer product.
It may or may not interest you to know
that Salona and St Paul Lutheran Churches
will probably outlast the great and mighty Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California.
Ownership of the building has passed to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange,
and in three years it will become the cathedral of the Diocese.

Well now.
I suppose that’s enough superiority for one day.
Lutherans of course, are proud (but not too proud!)
We historically have known that the point of church and life
was not to make you ‘feel good.’
Now some of us have interpreted that to mean that the point was to make us feel bad.
That’s not quite what Jesus meant.
Not at all.
Jesus’ cross, and the cross he enjoins upon all his followers,
is not simply a punishment laid upon us,
as if being told all our lives that Jesus took away the sin of the world
we were then told that we had to bear our punishment with a pious look.

The one who wants communion with God,
to live in covenant with God,
upon that one a cross will be laid
by a world still in thrall to the satanic promises
of a quick way, an easy way, one’s own way.

Last week, we heard that after his baptism
Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
In Mark, we are not told of the content of the Satanic temptation
until this point.
A life keeping covenant with God
will incur the wrath of the world.
Jesus has already accepted that,
but now he must show his disciples.

It is now that Peter has answered the question, “Who do you say that I am,”
with “You are the Messiah,”
that Jesus can tell his disciples the second part of the mystery;
that the life of the Messiah is suffering, death, and resurrection.
Real suffering, real death, real resurrection.
Peter can’t bear to hear it.
Neither can we.
We try and keep suffering and death as far away as possible.
Isn’t that obvious?

But in Christ,
God entered into our suffering and our death.
In Christ, God himself took our suffering and death
and made it his own,
so that we could have what is God’s own –
the life together of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
In Christ,
God kept covenant with us and with all humanity.
And he did so by walking the way to the cross,
by making his entire life a sharing in the suffering of humanity,
and in that suffering uncovering the joy of being in communion with God.

He calls us to take up our cross and follow him.
What can this mean?
It means that as Christ lived for his Father,
so we live for Christ.
And living for Christ means not living for ourselves anymore.
You are making a sacrifice,
however small,
to be here this day.

You could be doing something else with your time.
Something for you.
Wal-Mart is open.
Your bed, made or unmade, is at home.
The money that you give you could use for yourself.
But you are here, giving glory to God
and hearing his Word.
The cross is usually not splinters of wood,
a heavy beam across your back,
it is being where God calls you to be when he calls you to be there.
And sometimes we’d prefer to carry a beam
than to be where God calls us to be when he calls us to be there.
We have our ears full of the siren song of the world,
with its promises and possibilities and soothing sounds
saying “you can have your best life now”
and cannot hear the still small voice of God
calling us into community with him and with others.

The cross is often not splinters of wood,
a heavy beam across your back;
it is your nearest neighbor
whom you are called to carry;
that neighbor’s sins and sorrows,
that neighbor’s faults and foibles,
that neighbor’s life and death,
in all that person’s givenness.
And that is precisely what a megachurch is designed to avoid.
In a megachurch, you pays your money and you takes your choice,
and you need not encounter anyone whilst you are there.
Least of all God.

In community, Jesus dealt with all his disciples;
the headstrong ones like Peter and James and John,
the misunderstanding ones like Philip and Thomas,
the betraying ones like Judas.
He bore them and forgave them, daily.
We are called to live in community with each other
and with others,
bearing with who they are, forgiving them daily,
as we have been forgiven.
Forgiveness is a much-abused and much-misunderstood term,
but we have often not even tried the life of forgiveness
because we understand that it will involve giving up our natural rights –
to anger, to a life free from anxiety,
to our best life that we determine for ourselves.

By ourselves, we cannot lose our attachments to the world
and we cannot forgive others.
If we have failed to do so,
if with our first steps under the cross, we have fallen,
we join the great company of disciples, Peter first among them,
who have done so.
That is why Jesus’ command, ‘Follow me,’
is so important.
We are called to bear Jesus’ cross in community with him.
With our eyes on him and not on ourselves,
we see him with us,
we lay our burdens on him
who carries every burden,
not so that we can avoid discipleship,
but so that we can know that we are never disciples alone.
We cannot keep covenant with God
without believing that in Jesus Christ God kept covenant with us,
and that the suffering, death, and resurrection
we share with him
is worth more than all the world’s golden store.

March 4, 2012 at 8:09 am Leave a comment

‘Living in the Covenant’ – audio

Here is the audio for yesterday’s sermon, ‘Living in the Covenant.’  Please excuse my atrocious French pronunciation.

February 27, 2012 at 10:07 am Leave a comment

Living in the Covenant – Sermon 1 Lent 2012

‘Living in the Covenant’

The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, III, STS

United and Salona Lutheran Churches

Sunday in 1 Lent

February 26, 2012

 

Yesterday, for his thirteenth birthday,

I took my son Michael up to Syracuse

to see the twenty-fifth anniversary production of the musical Les Miserables.

We tend to pass on our interests and our passions to our children.

Some children learn to go fishing and hunting

because their dad has taught them how.

Some enjoy certain foods or movies because they are family traditions.

My wife and I have music and literature to pass on to our children;

and I pass on my love for sports,

which I’m proud to say that Michael does not only like to watch sports,

but is more physically fit than I ever was.

So we made the trek to northcentral New York

to see the musical based upon a book written by the French author Victor Hugo in the early 1860s.

Les Miserables was translated very quickly into English,

and around the time of the battle of Gettysburg,

many officers and men of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia

were carrying it around in their knapsacks.

Some sarcastically referred to themselves as ‘Lee’s Miserables.’

 

The main character of Les Miserables is a man named Jean Valjean,

who spent nineteen years on the chain gang:

His family desperate with hunger,

He broke into a bakery and stole a loaf of bread.

For that crime he served five years.

Fourteen years were added to that sentence for his attempts to escape.

Released at last, he finds nowhere to turn but to a kindly bishop,

who takes him in and feeds him for a night.

The embittered Valjean repays the bishop’s generosity by stealing some silver.

When he is caught, the bishop maintains Valjean’s innocence,

and says that he has forgotten the silver candlesticks the bishop has also given him.

Humbled by the bishop’s mercy,

and terrified by his own sin,

Valjean turns from his old life

and takes up a new name.

Within eight years he has become a factory owner

and the mayor of a small town in France.

 

But he finds that his identity cannot escape him.

He discovers that a man has been caught and identified

as the parole-breaker Jean Valjean,

and that this innocent man will receive a sentence

for the crime that he has committed.

The real Jean Valjean is confronted with a desperate choice.

He has responsibilities,

He has people dependent on him,

He has hidden himself so well that he would never be suspected.

He has done so well – living as an upright citizen and helping those in need.

And yet, he has made covenant with God to live for God.

Who is he? Can he escape from who he had been –

Or is he always the convict who must live as a convict,

bearing his shame and his name to save another?

 

The idea of covenant runs through the entire Bible.

Two parties who make a covenant agree to be faithful to that covenant,

to abide by the covenant,

no matter what may come.

This Lent, we will hear read several Old Testament covenants

that God made with his people,

including the covenant of the Ten Commandments:

God promises to be our God,

and we promise to be his people.

 

Today we heard of the covenant that God made with Noah and his descendants,

that never again would the inhabited earth be destroyed by the waters of a flood.

The sign of the covenant was the rainbow.

Nowadays the rainbow is supposed to symbolize diversity of people,

but that is not the biblical image.

Instead, it is God hanging up his bow,

renouncing this weapon –

never to be used again.

Perhaps that understanding has faded over the years,

but it can easily be recalled:

The rainbow is a sign of peace – peace between God and humanity.

 

The remarkable thing about this covenant is that it is unconditional.

In other covenants, there are stipulations when the covenant is broken

by one party or the other.

Not in this covenant.

God makes an everlasting covenant,

that the earth shall never be destroyed again by a flood.

God binds himself by his Word.

He declares his unbreakable intention toward humanity;

to preserve life, to continue life, to maintain life.

 

One wonders whether or not God ever had second thoughts.

Having witnessed the barbarism of humanity over the years,

how we haven’t changed since the time of Noah:

our cruelty to each other,

our ignorance of his commands,

our despoliation of his creation,

our pride and our despair and our indifference,

one would think that God would have ample reason to abrogate the covenant.

And yet, God remains faithful,

because he does not break his promises.

 

When Jesus is baptized, anointed with the Spirit,

And the Father declares, ‘You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased,’

The Spirit immediately drives him in the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

The Gospel of Mark does not relate the content of the temptation.

But a more relevant question for us is ‘why?’

Why does temptation follow so quickly upon baptism?

Why, after the baptismal covenant is made,

is it immediately tested?

 

It is tested because only there can faithfulness be discerned.

The devil tests the Son’s faith in the covenant declaration about him.

Does God really have the ability to deliver on his covenant?

Jesus himself knows that God has hung his bow in the clouds –

That he will refuse to intervene even if Jesus suffers the death of the cross;

That God has chosen another way – the way of love –

To conquer human rebellion.

Satan asks – can you really trust God?

Wouldn’t it be safer – wouldn’t it be smarter – wouldn’t it be easier –

to rely on yourself rather than upon your Father?

 

We will hear more on this in the Gospel lesson next week.

But let us return to the fictional Jean Valjean.

He has a choice before him –

To give in to the temptation to hide behind the lie he has created –

A lie for a good purpose – but still a lie –

And to let an innocent man take his place;

Or to emerge into the full truth,

Living in the covenant that God made with Jean Valjean

And not with any other man:

‘I will be your Father, and you my adopted son.’

Does he trust that God will provide for him

even if he emerges into the light?

Or does he trust in himself,

in his own cunning, to steal another man’s meaningless life

for the sake of the good life he has created?

Wouldn’t it be safer? Wouldn’t it be smarter? Wouldn’t it be easier?

If the meeting with the bishop in the beginning of the story

was Valjean’s baptism,

then the scene where he appears before the court

and rips open his shirt to show the convict’s tattoo upon his chest

is his victory over temptation.

Valjean believes that God will keep covenant with him,

And so Valjean is empowered to keep covenant with God, no matter the cost.

And he does so throughout all the rest of the story.

'Who am I? I'm Jean Valjean!'

In doing so, Valjean follows in the steps of his master, Jesus.

For Jesus, alone among all of us,

Remained in the covenant which God made with him,

Trusting in the promises that God made,

No matter how distant or full of trouble they seemed.

And in Lent, we are invited,

Gathering around Word and Sacrament,

in fasting and prayer and works of love,

to live ever more deeply in the covenant God made with us

through Holy Baptism,

answering Valjean’s question, ‘Who am I?’

with the answer, ‘I am my sinful self,

but I am also the Father’s adopted child,

forgiven and claimed by his faithful Son,

and I will live each day in this trust and in this promise,

keeping covenant with the one who will always keep covenant with me.’


February 26, 2012 at 9:19 am 1 comment

To Seek the Truth: Ash Wednesday 2012

The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, III, STS

United and St Paul Lutheran Churches

Ash Wednesday (texts from Vanderbilt Divinity Library)

February 22, 2012

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

For many years I have heard this familiar refrain

from well-meaning ministers and Christian people:

‘This year I’m not ‘giving up’ something for Lent,

I’m ‘taking on’ something for Lent.”

I must confess that I find it rather cheeky

that suddenly in these enlightened times

our generation has suddenly found the secret

to improving the ancient Christian practice of Lent.

Granted, during Lent we always are called upon to refocus our priorities,

to give money to the poor we might not think to do at other times,

to give extra attention to the Word,

to devote more time to prayer.

All of these are well and good.

There is always a sense in which we are doing something more.

So why am I uneasy?

Maybe there’s a good reason well-meaning people

suggest taking something on for Lent rather than giving something up.

Maybe it’s that the practice we all grew up with,

giving up a favorite comfort food or a leisure activity,

is quite frankly so little of a sacrifice for many people

that it hardly qualifies as a sign of repentance.

You give up chocolate? Dunkin’s got lots of stuff without chocolate.

You give up a game on the computer? There’s something else to distract you.

Maybe I have not understood for many years

that the impulse behind a taking on of an extra something

is motivated by the unspoken sense that for many of us,

our Lenten discipline is not really such.

Certainly it is not the response to the urgent calls of Amos for public repentance,

to the fervent pleas of St Paul to be reconciled to God.

But I still am concerned,

because Lent is not to be about what we can accomplish for God’s sake,

but about humbling ourselves before God.

The essence of Lent is not throwing ourselves into a frantic race

to live the faith we should live every day.

The essence of Lent is to seek the truth, for the first time or the hundredth;

and that means emptying our lives

of all that is superficial and needless

so that we might devote ourselves to seeking that truth.

The essence of Lent is to seek the truth.

The truth about God, and the truth about ourselves.

The truth is we were made for relationship with God,

but we want to control that relationship.

The truth is that we want God, but we want him on our terms,

living mostly for ourselves and squeezing God in when it is convenient,

filling our lives with things we can see and touch and taste and manipulate,

and daring to praise ourselves and to seek praise from others

for our piety, for our little faith, for our religious behavior.

The truth is we are created,

dependent upon God for everything.

God gave us our parents, who fed and sheltered us,

God gave us our community, who nurtured and educated us,

God gave us the Church, to tell us that we were sinners

but that God himself had found us in Jesus Christ.

Having learned from the Word,

we humble ourselves in the silence of our hearts,

emptying ourselves of the pretension

that we might be able to accomplish something for God,

something that would make God and others sit up and take notice.

We do not seek the praise of others

nor even for God to praise us,

but only for the grace to live in God’s presence.

It is then that God gives us himself,

so that he might accomplish what he desires through us,

no matter how great or little it might seem to us.

The ashes on our forehead today

can remind us of at least three truths.

When we are lifted high, puffed up and proud,

they are there to knock us down,

challenging us to remember that our lives are not our own,

that we are not made of eternal stuff,

and that the one who made us from the dust of the earth

will return us to the dust.

But they are also a reminder that it is from the earth

that God causes fruit to spring forth.

To be a creation of God

is to be imbued with God’s potential,

for he may implant in the ground seeds that can bear fruit for his glory.

We need do nothing but be empty, waiting for God to accomplish his will in us.

And finally, the ashes in the shape of a cross are testament

that in Jesus Christ, God himself came down to the dust,

Jesus shared in our guilt and bore its consequences,

Jesus was the fertile soil from which the Church sprung forth.

And Jesus is the one who makes both dust and cross

not merely symbols of death

but promises of the new life

which is given to us to seek truth:

the truth about us, that we are sinners always in need of grace;

the truth about God, that he is grace who comes for sinners,

and makes us sons and daughters.

February 22, 2012 at 1:00 pm Leave a comment

Unveiled – Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday 2.19.12

”Unveiled”

The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz III, STS

St Paul Lutheran Churches, Loganton and NittanyValley

The Transfiguration of our Lord

(biblical texts from Vanderbilt Divinity Library)

19 February 2012

First atomic explosion, "Trinity," July 16, 1945

The area fifty miles from Alamogordo, New Mexico is a desert wasteland. It was called “Site S” by American military scientists. The native peoples who had populated the desert for years beyond count knew the place as Jornada del Muerto: “Death Tract.”

At Jornado del Muerto, on July 16, 1945, at 5:30 a.m. local time, “Trinity,” the first atomic bomb, was test-fired. The results could not have been imagined, even by those who had designed and built the weapon. Within a mile of Ground Zero, all plant and animal life, including rattlesnakes, cacti, and desert grass, was utterly destroyed. An antelope herd that had been seen from the air grazing miles from the blast simply vanished.

When Harry Truman heard of it sailing across the ocean to meet Churchill and Stalin, he muttered, ‘This is the Second Coming, in wrath.’ A writer who was a witness described the scene: “…It was as though the earth had opened and the skies had split. One felt as though one were present at the moment of creation when God said: ‘Let there be light.’”  Robert Oppenheimer, one of the scientists who had created the bomb, was reminded of two passages from the Hindu scripture Bhagavad-Gita: “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst from the sky, that would be the splendor of the Mighty One,” and “I am become Death, shatterer of worlds.”[1]

Today we read verses from the Psalms that describe God in similarly powerful terms: Out of Zion, perfect | in its beauty,* God reveals him- | self in glory. Our God will come and will | not keep silence;* before him there is a consuming flame, and round about him a | raging storm. He calls the heavens and the earth | from above* to witness the judgment | of his people.[2]

And yet we modern people are not used to thinking of God in this way. Our modern-day Gods have become so domesticated, so tame, that the words of the Gospel of Mark to describe Jesus’ transfiguration and the horrified reaction of Jesus’ disciples scarcely scratch the surface of our limited imaginations: “He was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them…”[3] God’s glory was being revealed to them, God unveiled, of whom the Bible said that no one could see and live. No wonder they were overwhelmed and terrified.

Part of the reason we don’t think of God in these terms may be because God seems so distant, so absent. Or maybe it is not this at all. Maybe it is not this, that God is not present, but we are not often present to him – the glory and power of God are always discernible if we but look and listen, but if we refuse to be open to him, the power and glory we deny cannot be revealed to us.

In his book Beginning to Pray, Orthodox Archbishop Anthony Bloom tells the story of a man who came to him and demanded, “Show me God.” Archbishop Bloom said that he could not show him God, but even if he could, the man would not be able to see God, for it was his opinion that in order to experience God, one must have something in common with him. The man pressed him, and the Archbishop asked the man if there was any passage in the Bible which held particular meaning for him. The man answered, “Yes. The story in the 8th chapter of John of the woman caught in adultery.”[4] “Good, that is a beautiful passage,” the Archbishop said, and asked him to whom he related in the story: the woman with nowhere to turn; Jesus, full of compassion and mercy; the older men who knowing their own sins refused to cast the first stone; or the younger men who reluctantly followed their example. The man thought for a moment, and said, “No, I am the only Jew who would not have left but who would have stoned the woman.” The Archbishop replied, “Thank God that he does not allow you to meet him face-to-face.”[5]

“Our God will come and will | not keep silence;* before him there is a consuming flame, and round about him a | raging storm.” In Jesus, the kingdom of God has come in power, power more real than an atomic bomb: power not to destroy us, but to annihilate his enemies: to bind the evil One and plunder his house,[6] to rescue from condemnation those who are under the judgment of the Law,[7] to swallow up death forever.[8] Our God is indeed a consuming fire; He comes to consume all that would keep us from him.

On the mountain, Peter, James, and John are given a glimpse of Jesus’ glorious Power, the Power that Moses and Elijah served, the Power that eclipses the Sun, the Power that the ancient Israelites believed it would b death to encounter. Then Jesus once again veils his power in weakness and descends into the valley, into his own Jornada del Muerto, the way to the cross, the place from where we must understand his true power in weakness and humility before we encounter it in the glory of the Resurrection.

In New Mexico in 1945, power could only be measured in kilotons, in the ability to destroy. That’s how human beings understand power, as the power to destroy. The power of God is love which has the ability to create. That is why this power is veiled in weakness, in the God-become-human Jesus, in his words and deeds, and in his character so that we might be drawn to him, not to be annihilated by his glory but to be transformed by it, so that our lives might be translucent with the light of his love.

‘This is my Son, my chosen One: listen to him! the Father says. Indeed, this is our joy, to listen to him, and then to walk through life bearing his cross, preferring Jesus to the power of the world and preferring to bear with others than to cast them off,[9] to proclaim Jesus as Lord and be the servants of others for his sake, to be transfigured into the image of Jesus. ‘For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’[10]

And so God is indeed unveiled in this world, not in the flash of light, fiery blast and swirling winds of death, but in the life-giving words and deeds of Jesus and in the transfigured lives of those who hear and do them. Let us glimpse him, let us hear him, let us taste him, let us worship him today, let us allow his light to shine through us, so that this Transfiguration Day may be an anticipation of the great day of the unveiling of his life-giving glory before the whole world.


[1] Manchester, William. The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of America 1932-1972. New York: Bantam, 1974, pp. 377-78.
[2] Psalm 50:2-4 (RSV)
[3] Mark 9:2-3 (NRSV)
[4] John 8:3-11 (NRSV)
[5] Bloom, Anthony. Beginning to Pray. Blackstone Audio, 2010. This story is related in Chapter One, “The Absence of God.”
[6] Mark 3:27
[7] John 8:10-11
[8] Isaiah 25:7
[9] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Discipleship. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003: “Suffering and the Cross”
[10] 2 Corinthians 4:5-6

February 19, 2012 at 7:59 am Leave a comment

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