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Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) at Diablo Valley College Philo-225, 11/29/2004

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Philo-225 11/29/2004 Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

Dr. Peter Krey Father of Existentialism


With Søren Kierkegaard we are not speaking of atheistic existentialism as in Nietzsche, Sartre and Camus. Kierkegaard’s existentialism was very religious. Mostly Søren Kierkegaard had been forgotten as well as the fact that he used the designation “existentialism” for his thought. Sartre identifying with it, made Kierkegaard become discovered once again. Kierkegaard like Hamlet was a melancholy Dane, and the way Shakespeare said, “There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark” Kierkegaard would have said, “There’s something rotten in the state of Christianity” to use Shakespeare for our purposes.

The emphases of Existentialism are

1. on subjective truth over objectivity, systems and science

2. for passionate commitment over reason

3. on the authentic self rather than abstract knowledge

4. on the individual and particular over the abstract universal or the impersonal crowd

5. on the importance of inwardness for the authentic self

Kierkegaard believed that the real, authentic or genuine selves of persons or individuals became eclipsed by objective knowledge, by the scientific method, and universal reasoning. They were a diversion from the “courage to be” (to use Paul Tillich’s phrase), an escape from facing the human condition and becoming your own true self in the face of it.

For Kierkegaard existence “is the process of realizing what it means to be a self through personal choices to attain what contemporary existentialist call “authentic existence.”[1]

Kierkegaard studied Hegel but became very critical of that kind of speculation. If Hegel had called his philosophy “merely an experiment in thought” he said, then he would have been one of the greatest thinkers of all time. “As it is, he is merely a comic.”[2] (Journals and Papers) Hegel had tried to embrace all of reality in a system of thought and forgot one thing: existence.[3] Hegel diverted from the individual to the universal, asked people to think rather than to be. He argued that Hegel was like a “man who builds an enormous castle and himself lives alongside it in a shed”[4] (Journals and Papers). What does a great system mean, if the thinker does not even live in it? It is in the subjective realm that we encounter the truth, at least the truth for our own lives and our own existence and it requires our passionate commitment, so that our authentic selves are awakened. We need to enter and reside in our deep selves, going through the harrowing struggle to get there.

Early in his career Kierkegaard studied the irony of Socrates. “Know thyself” one of Socrates’ sayings, as well as “The uninvestigated life is not worth living.” and “Most excellent citizens of Athens,” a city famous for wisdom and power, “are you not ashamed to care for the acquisition of wealth and honor, when you have no regard for wisdom and truth and the perfection of your souls?”[5] But Kierkegaard goes farther than Socrates, who committed himself passionately to a universal, but not to his own authentic, individual self. Kierkegaard realized the paradox that the individual was higher than the universal. But this subjective truth requires passionate commitment and the inwardness of the self has to be awakened for the genuine self to exist.

Some important citations from Kierkegaard: Joan Price, page 312. In Lawhead, page 400. Kierkegaard is the life of the party and everyone is delighted in his wit and he goes home and wants to shoot himself. What’s wrong with this picture? Kierkegaard is the life of the party, but he is quite an existential contradiction! How can he overcome it?

Kierkegaard really used Hegel’s dialectic on the contradictions of his own subjective existence. Stage A contradicted stage B. He would define them as refining the truth of one’s subjectivity from the aesthetic to the ethical to the religious stages. Today a Fritz Perls in Gestalt therapy might say: Dying to your old self and being born into your new self is the most difficult of all things. Facing our inner contradictions means allowing our whole existence to be placed into question. There is true freedom involved but enveloped in a dread lest we leap for a ledge on the other side that is not there.

Kierkegaard feels that knowledge can be a hiding place from our authentic existence. Somewhere Kierkegaard tells a story about Solomon and David to point out this truth:

The young Solomon is walking through the inner chambers

of the palace when he comes upon his father David praying.

Old David’s face is etched with incredible suffering going

through one onslaught of grief after another. Like Christ,

he’s sweating blood knowing what he will have

to go through. Solomon turns around sharply,

and decides to become a man of knowledge.

Kierkegaard tries to frustrate a person into facing the truth about themselves. See Joan Price’s text, page 314. Christians in Denmark were like geese waddling to market over Christmas, oblivious to the fact that they were going to be the roast! He did not just want to make the lives of Christians more difficult, the way Lawhead implies.[6] “Why make things easy if they can be more difficult?” my father used to say. But Kierkegaard is trying to get people out of their superficial existence and into their deep selves where their subjective truth will forge their being. It’s like Mark Twain said, “You have to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” People had become comfortable in constant self-deception and Kierkegaard wanted to face them with their truth.

Kierkegaard could tell the difference between self-deception and genuine commitment. He tells of a gambler in his work For Self-Examination. Imagine a person who has been addicted to a passion. A moment finally comes when he is brought to a halt. (It probably came many times before – in vain.) So the gambler says to himself: “I solemnly vow that I will nevermore have anything to do with gambling, never – tonight will be the last time.”

“Ah, my friend, Kierkegaard says, “he is lost.” “I would rather bet on the opposite,” he continues. However strange that may seem.

If there was a gambler who in such a moment said to himself: ‘Well now you may gamble every blessed day of your life – but tonight you are going to leave it alone.” The one is fooled by his craving, the other fools his craving. For the second one the addiction will have to wait, for the first, the resolve has to. They both weaken by being put off. Thus in the second case, the addiction will weaken. The first is deceiving himself.[7]

Kierkegaard wants us to read this book, For Self-Examination and Judge for Yourself out loud, because he entangles the readers in their own self-deception and then traps them into facing the truth about themselves. He learned Socrates well. See, Lawhead page 402.

Exercise: Have the class get into three groups to present the three stages of life: aesthetic, ethical, and religious and relate them with a party college. Critique of existentialism: a corrective, social life versus social life as escape.

[1] Our text: William F. Lawhead, Voyage of Discovery, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Thomson Learning, 2002), p. 406.

[2] Joan Price, Philosophy through the Ages, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Thomson Learning, 2000), p. 314.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Our Text: William F. Lawhead, Voyage of Discovery, p. 406.

[5] Harold North Fowler, Plato with an English Translation, (London: William Heinemann, MCMXXVIII), p. 109. The citation is shortened.


[6] Lawhead, page 401.

[7] Kierkegaard, For Self-Examination and Judge for Yourself, Vol. XXI, edited by Howard and Edna Hong, (Princeton University Press, 1990), p. 45.


Written by peterkrey

June 28, 2007 at 6:56 am

Posted in Philosophy


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AUGUST 19, 1993





For myself, the credibility of Martin Luther has often become an issue. He stood out with so much certainty in the face of momentous opposition.[1] He himself experienced his Anfechtungen (times of depression and doubt when everything becomes thrown into question). At those times he would ask himself the excruciatingly painful question whether he alone was right and the whole church wrong, whether Christians had been mistaken for a thousand years, and he alone was right. Those were times when Luther lost his staunch certainty about faith and his gospel.


Copernicus might have well asked himself the same question. From the beginning of time people believed that the earth was at rest and the sun, moon, and stars revolved around the earth. It was manifest to the eye: the sun, moon, and stars rose in the east and set in the west. The Copernican revolution proved all former generations wrong, wrong for all previous millennia.


But in comparing Luther and Copernicus, someone could quickly point out that scientific data has now settled the Copernican controversy, while Luther’s justification by faith alone is still controversial today.


Unlike some issues in natural science, the humanities have not developed criteria by which such religious controversies might be settled. Partly, the problem lies in the false authority natural sciences have gained over the humanities. The authority of science is waning. Hopefully the emasculation of the humanities will soon be overcome. While theology might not regain the title of queen of the philosophical and natural sciences, perhaps what is now religiously controversial may become understood and accepted much the way the rotation of the earth has come to be.


Because the authority and prestige of the humanities still languishes in an eclipse, a slight corroboration for Martin Luther’s justification by faith alone comes from far off Japan. What a surprise to discover that a Japanese Buddhist figure, called Shinran (1173-1262) taught salvation by faith alone. In his teachings and life, Shinran resembles Luther in many ways.


Naturally these similarities need to be prefaced with very basic cultural and religious differences between 13th Century Japanese Buddhism and 16th Century German Christianity. But it seems that something could well be gained by laying both of these figures beside each other, comparing their persons, their teachings, and the outcome of their teachings, respectively. The object is to understand the character of the teaching of justification by faith alone, or salvation by faith alone, rather than overcome our doubts about the credibility of Luther. All told, faith is still all we are left with, especially for a teaching based on faith alone. Therefore, doubt, the all-encompassing credibility problem obtaining among us, needs to be overcome.




In preface, there are naturally insurmountable differences between Martin Luther (1483-1546) and Shinran (1173-1262), because Luther was a theologian of the Christian faith, while Shinran was a Buddhologian in the Japanese Amida Buddhist one. Amida Buddhism is part of the Shin Buddhist as opposed to the Zen Buddhist tradition in the religious life of Japan.[2]


Luther speaks of justification by faith alone, using a juridical metaphor alluding to the final tribunal, the last judgement, in which God justifies the sinner. That teaching is alien to Buddhism. Shinran would speak of salvation by faith alone. Amida Buddha gives salvation by faith alone by making a believer into a Buddha and the new birth in the Pureland. But there is no incarnation as such. But no God became incarnate in Buddha the way God became incarnate in Jesus Christ. And there is no story of the crucifixion and resurrection of the Christ of God.[3] Buddhism emphasizes the compassion and wisdom of Amida Buddha, giving enlightenment to those who follow in the path.


Other considerations also point to the superficiality of the resemblances and the formidable nature of the differences faced in this comparison. Christians have another canon from those of the Buddhists. For the former the originals have to be traced from English to Greek and Hebrew, while for the latter, Japanese Buddhists need to trace back through Chinese to Sanskrit, for their original documents. And for our purposes, we have to have Amida Buddhist faith translated from Japanese into English, which in and of itself, is not at all an easy language bridge to cross.[4] But even problems exist in Japanese, because European missionaries first discovered the similarities between Luther and Shinran, and translated Shinran in European terms, ignoring exegetical problems from the Chinese and Sanskrit, as well as the context of the doctrinal history and development of both religious figures.[5]


Communication between religions and cultures is certainly a miracle when something original is not lost between a whole series of translations. And in addition, crossing the bridge between religions is more difficult than crossing the cultural one, which in turn is more difficult than crossing the language bridge. It is as if our faith is wrapped in our culture and our culture is enveloped in our language. The Japanese language envelopes their culture, which envelopes the particular faith called Pureland Amida Buddhism. The power of the word in human exchange miraculously finds a way to open up these envelopes.



Now that all the adverse considerations have been said, a large number of uncanny resemblances still present themselves between these two pioneering men of faith.



Shinran went up to Mt. Hiei to join the Buddhist monks at the age of eight. For twenty years he adhered to their strict monastic discipline, to excess it seems, judging by his later one hundred day lock-ins in a temple. But finally he had to leave the monastic rule, because it was not right for him.


Luther also maintained that “if ever a monk got to heaven by his monkery, it was I.”[6] But the more severely he castigated himself, the more stringently he observed the ascetic exercises, the less certain he became of his salvation. Both Luther and Shinran found that the “works” they performed in monastic life did not alleviate their tender consciences. They more than ever questioned whether they were one of the elect, or whether they were doomed to hell. All their ascetic works designed to make them acceptable and mitigate the wrath of God against them, because of their sinfulness, only made them fall lower into the abyss of their consciousness of sinfulness and guilt.


Both Shinran and Luther were then overwhelmed by the revelatory disclosure that they are saved by faith alone, not by their own merit, but for Luther, by the merit of Christ, and by the merit (the eko) of Amida Buddha, in the case of Shinran. Both teach that before God, or Amida Buddha, for Shinran, that they need to be completely passive, and receive salvation as a gift of grace.[7] In Romans 1:17 Luther sees that “the righteousness of God is revealed” as a “passive righteousness, by which the merciful God justifies us by faith.”[8] A passive righteousness, therefore, by which God makes the sinner righteous, and not a formal active righteousness, by which God condemns a sinner for not meriting and earning salvation by a holiness of life. Luther, can we dare say, experienced justification by faith, struggling with this Romans 1:17 passage, so that he felt as though he had been born anew, that the portals of heaven had opened to him, and he saw a completely new face of the Scriptures.[9] Isn’t Luther actually using justification by faith to give an internal view of a metanoia he was suddenly experiencing?


Luther had Staupitz as a helpful confessor. Shinran had Honen, who also seems to have been wise, supportive and understanding. When Shinran suffered a complete loss with monasticism and came down from Mt. Hiei in Kyoto, he needed Honen’s helpful guidance. For Luther one speaks of his “Anfechtungen,” for Shinran, his catastrophe.[10] Shinran locked himself into Rokkaku temple for one hundred days praying for his future life. Then it seems he had a vision of Shotokutaishi (574-622), crown prince of Japan and Buddhist benefactor, noting for him to visit Honen.[11]


Wonderfully for Shinran, Honen believed in salvation by faith as well. One work, however, was still needful, and only one, for salvation: Nembutzu – to think (in the sense of believing in) Amida Buddha and recite his name.[12] Although Shinran remained devoted to Honen, he took his teacher’s doctrine one step farther. Shinran maintained that not any work was necessary – not even one, that good works had no relation to whether a person is saved or not. Salvation is a sheer gift of Amida Buddha.


Shinran featured his teaching by translating a crucial text by Donran[13] from his Jodo-ron, Tenshins, in a passive sense.[14] Shinran translated from the Chinese into Japanese, for which language the subject is customarily left out. But in adding the word, “thankful,” and the word, “allows,” he made the passive sense stand out.[15] In this way Shinran placed the accent squarely on Amida Buddha’s doing rather than the believer’s. The passage concerns giving merits (oso eko) meaning:


Amida, who is born in the other world, comes, by his power to take form, to our world, and teaches the truth to thankful people, and allows all thankful people to be converted together to the way of Buddha.[16]


But to that Shinran says:


Shaka Buddha invites all people to enter Jodo (Pureland) from this side, but Amida Buddha comes out from the other side and invites all people.[17]


To make a long jump into contemporary words, Shinran is proclaiming a down-religion rather than one that demands people climb up a ladder to achieve salvation. Like Luther, the accent falls on God’s coming down to us; the point is what God has done. Amida comes out of Buddhist heaven (Nehan) and invites all people and saves them by his merit. Shaka Buddhism means climbing up the ladder of merits to become saved by one’s own strength and effort. The Japanese word, Jiriki, captures this meaning. To be saved one must remove oneself from the world, enter as monastery, and focus on gaining merits by works. For this opportunity, it is better to live according to a stricter rule than ordinary people do, in order to gain merits and salvation. But Shinran insisted that it is not by Jiriki that we are saved, but by faith alone – not by our own doing. It is a sheer gift of Jihi, of grace.


Much more could be said about Luther and Shinran’s salvation by faith alone and not by good works – and indeed needs to be said. But let us proceed to several other similarities between these men of faith.


Both were celibate monks who broke their vows and married. Perhaps the central factor in this decision in their lives lay in their rejection of asceticism, and therefore, celibacy, because it seemed to be a good work designed to make a person meritorious for salvation – or at least one cut above the common folk who indulged in sexuality. The merit, the treasury of all the merits of the celibates could perhaps expunge or neutralize the sex the ordinary people were having, helping them attain salvation.


Luther watched his Black Cloister empty as the monks left to enter the world and marry. Luther was the last monk left in his Augustinian monastery, claiming he was not thinking of marriage, when he became involved in helping six run-a-way nuns escape, enter the world and marry. But one Katherina von Bora ended by marrying him on June 13, 1525. It was a happy marriage, which became a model for a pastor, a pastor’s family, and a parsonage. Elector John gave Luther the Black Cloister as a wedding present. Luther made it into a boarding house for students and refugees, all of whom Katherina provided for with some trepidation as to how they would make ends meet.


Shinran left Honen, after being sent to him, and discovered that the “clouds of desire had been covered by the clouds of illusions.”[18] He said to himself:


Oh! Dumb I (me)! You sink into the deep sea of desire and you sojourn on the worldly mountain. You should look at yourself and grieve.[19]


He ran back for another one hundred day lock-in in the temple.


On the morning of the ninety-fifth day, Shotokutaishi again appeared to Shinran. He had the form of one who stood at the side of Amida Buddha. Compassion stands next to Amida on one side and wisdom stands on the other. In the form of the compassionate one, he said to Shinran:


If you, even though you are an ascetic, absolutely have to posses a wife, then I would gladly be that woman. I will take care of you lovingly your whole life through, and also lead you rightly while you die that you receive your new birth there in Pureland (Jodo).[20]


After this vision Shinran went directly to Honen becoming his faithful disciple. His conversion is said to have taken place in 1201. In 1205 he met the embodiment of his dream in a young woman called Eshin-ni, who was nine years younger than he. Theirs was a mystical and religious marriage, and some of her descriptions of her husband are still extent in the writings. Now before Shinran other Buddhist monks had demitted and married, but always to leave the religious life. Like Luther, Shinran married and continued to be a religious leader with a following.


Both Shinran and Luther lived in times of turbulence and trouble, which became the context for a great transformation in religion. The Japanese emperor was fighting to subordinate the feudal nobility. Kyoto experienced a great storm, an earthquake.


When Shinran was four, a fire burned down one third of Kyoto. Famine and starvation were afoot when he entered the monastery. An enemy army invaded Kyoto the next year and did what it pleased to the people. Life was gruesome.


Luther saw the Knight’s Rebellion, the Peasants’ Rebellion, the Turks applying steady pressure and winning battles at the gates of Vienna, and the Emperor Charles V threatening ominously to unleash a military campaign against the followers of Luther. Luther was condemned as a heretic, excommunicated, declared free for assassinating. Shinran was also exiled out of Kyoto, with Honen, along with other Buddhist leaders, (some of whom were executed) whose teachings the authorities found problematic. In exile, Shinran taught peasants and fishermen in a remote region, remaining there another twenty years when his exile was revoked. The he returned to Kyoto and did his writing.


Shinran lived a much longer life than Luther, reaching the ripe old age of ninety. But that gave him the sadness to see his teachings misunderstood and misused. Tatsua Oguro, to whose work this study is completely indebted, compares the “enthusiasts”, the antinomians, and the Münsterites with movements that followed Shinran’s teaching of salvation by faith alone. These are named Honganbokori and Ianshin. The former group was led by Shinran’s own son, Zernan, to the father’s dismay. If even bad people were saved by grace, and if good works were irrelevant to salvation, then there was no need to follow the moral law. Honganbokori resembled an antinomianism that believed there was no need for the law because the gospel was all that mattered. Luther’s colleague, John Agricola, did not indulge, but his teachings tended to open that door.


The Japanese group lived by a mixture of a free interpretation of salvation by faith alone, a practice of Nembutzu, and a special place for sexuality, called Ianshin, meaning “false freedom.”[21] The model for their becoming one heart and one soul was the union of man and woman.[22] (Yin and Yang)[23]


Shinran condemned the movement much the way Luther condemned the antinomians and those whom Luther called the “Enthusiasts.” Luther may have noted that they had charismatic tendencies.


But T. Oguro misreads the character of the heavenly prophets and the Münsterites. Agricola may well have gone astray by misunderstanding Luther’s justification by faith alone, but did not lead a movement that indulged in false freedom. Melchior Hofmann, who influenced the debacle at Münster, might have gained prominence because of Luther’s stand, but no direct relationship seems to exist between Luther’s justification by faith alone and Hofmann’s spiritual and angry Anabaptist teachings.[24] From far away Japan, it may look like these extreme groups were unleashed by Luther’s justification by faith alone, but other issues like Old Testament law as opposed to the law of the land, the interpretation of Scriptures, and believers’ baptism were prominent. Many did not believe in justification by faith alone, but felt that suffering was necessary for becoming saved. The imitation of Christ was stressed over the gift and saving action of Christ in behalf of the sinner.


But in the case of Ianshin, and Shinran’s struggle with it, an important insight is won for the teaching of justification by faith alone. Shinran complains in a letter to his son:


Shinran allows the people to like, what one should not like, to do, what one should not do, and say, what one should not say. He says that the person is allowed to follow evil, because s/he is evil by nature. [But] I never said that one should love evil things, just because they are no obstacle for salvation.[25]


The root of the problem of Honganbokoria is a false conception of freedom. It is not the freedom from having to earn one’s own salvation for oneself, but the freedom for fulfilling one’s lust. One might say they do not celebrate freedom, but license. But these words are not as helpful and clear as the ones coming from an analysis of a far a way culture and religion in ancient Thirteenth Century Japan.


Luther describes the freedom of the Christian person as not having to do anything for salvation, because it is a free gift of grace. Good works pushed before the throne of God actually represent an affront to God by rejecting the life and work of the Son, his grace, his gift, and wanting the credit of having earned it on one’s own terms in the particular values one values most oneself. That way a person gets to define his or her own salvation. But free of that impossible self-saving and self righteousness, one turns thankfully to one’s neighbor and pours out the good works activated by faith into their real needs. From the end of his treatise “On the Freedom of the Christian Person,” Luther writes:


Hence, as our heavenly Father has in Christ freely come to our help, we also ought freely to help our neighbor through our body and its works, and each should become as it were a Christ to the other, that we may be Christs to one another and Christ may be the same in all….


That work for the neighbor is the true freedom, and good works are completely appropriate in this mode of life (coram hominibus, but not coram deo). But good works must be rejected when they are used in an inappropriate place, before God, the God who has worked the whole creation, and since humanity’s fall, our redemption, and gives us the Holy Spirit to work our sanctification, all alike gifts of grace. For us to accept these gifts is freedom. The freedom of God is Christ’s possessing us and doing God’s work even in, with, under, and through us today. That is freedom, and not the license to fulfill one’s lust and love evil. In the words of St. Paul, Romans 6:1-2:


What then should we say? Should we continue to sin in order that grace may abound? By no means!


In The Cotton Patch Epistles, the translation is more vehement. “Hell, no!” So the holy freedom dare not be perverted by us to be used to indulge in sexual immorality, promiscuity, or any other sins.


Finally I would like to end with one other consideration. That is, the characterization of justification by faith alone. This can be considered a teaching, but above I tried to depict it as a theological description of Luther’s experience of metanoia. It was a change of heart and mind. In this sense justification by faith alone is a teaching and a description of an action of God’s happening to us and an experience of this event simultaneously. Justification can be said to be a conscious experience in the sense of the German word, “Erfahrung” rather than “Erlebniss.” As such it is also part of a biography, the narrative of the thought, life, and experiences of a person.


The biographies I have just depicted are those of Luther and Shinran. In the case of both of them, we see that antecedent to the experience of justification by faith alone, they became completely frustrated by trying fanatical exercises of monastic asceticism in order to attain assurance of salvation, certainty of election, in short, in order to receive a gracious God.


But what about ordinary people who do not experience that paradoxical, utter sinfulness and depravity precisely when they are trying in a titanic way to attain salvation? I was going to revise this wording to read: What about people who do not take faith so seriously, who are not so religious….” But although this makes a very important point, there is another rub.


Against Agricola’s antinomian banning the law from preaching, because it was irrelevant to justification anyway, Luther pointed out that the law was necessary for the recognition of sin and the wrath of God, and by becoming aware of one’s sinfulness, one could confess one’s sins and repent. The wrath of God induces people to long for grace.[26] This teacher of error, Luther maintained, has “Made up a new method that one should first preach grace, and thereafter the revelation of wrath, so that one dare not hear nor preach the Word (Law) any longer….”[27]


Shinran also diagnosed the problem of Honganbokoria and Ianshin as their lack of a sense of sin and their failure to have a standard for sin and goodness.[28]


Perhaps many cannot understand and agree with the teaching of justification by faith alone because they do not share the preliminary experience of trying to attain one’s own salvation. But it is not right to say that such works righteousness is a prerequisite for the experience of justification.


What about the nonchalant, the lackadaisical, the undisciplined, and the religious psychopath? Should they too be told they need do nothing for their salvation? [29]


But perhaps these sorts of people would experience cognitive shock: to hear they need do nothing. That is precisely what they are doing. For them it might be the absurd word that really gets heard.


But leaving religious psychopaths (whatever they are) and the nonchalant out, and speaking of ordinary people who have not shared this monastic order and rule and all the fruitless religious exercises. What about them?


Perhaps Luther is right. Justification by faith needs to proceed in stages. First the law, then the consciousness of sin, and then justification by faith alone. Perhaps then the appropriate places for passivity and activity in the modes of receiving from God and giving to neighbor can be appropriated.


But even Shinran and Luther received the first stage of frustration by grace, so that more grace could be received in the experience of justification by faith alone.


But speaking of religious psychopaths and all who do not know their posteriors from their anteriors, who do not even have a sense of sin, are not these precisely the lost that Christ has come to save? To speak in tongues: Ginakio-gitosuru! Christ came to make the unrighteous righteous! Akunin shoki! If even the righteous can be saved, what prevents God from saving the unrighteous? Are not they the one’s with the better chance at salvation, because they are the low life? If they are graced by faith, if they are chosen, if they are the elected, God comes and confronts them with the theology of the cross, and that ends by softening them up for the experience of justification by faith alone as well. Dying with Christ on the cross, completely mortified, they also begin to expound with St. Paul: that crucified with Christ and raised up in his resurrection, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. It is no longer I who work, but Christ who works through me.



Yes, truly, O Lord, all our works are Thy doing.


Thy Right Hand is at work


in our new heart filled by Thy Spirit! Amen.






Appendix and Glossary



Some basic information about Buddhism:



Buddhism is the teaching that Sakyamuni, the historical Buddha taught. It is the way to become a Buddha. Buddha is not so much a savior as one who enlightens.



Buddhism beginning around the time of the birth of Christ moved south in the Theravada tradition, which now is still prevalent in Ceylon. The northern tradition, Mahayana Buddhism, travelled to northern India, China, Korea, and finally to Japan. Mahayana Buddhism developed two branches: Shodo Mon, the path of the holy, and Jodo Mon, the path to the Pureland. These branches received sudden and remarkable transformation in thirteenth Century Japan. Zen Buddhism is a radical deepening of Shodo Mon. Shin Buddhism can be considered the highest development of Jodo Mon. Shodo Mon believed that peace and rest in Nirvana could be achieved by religious exercises, practices, works, while Jodo Mon thought that all these works were in vain. They taught the joy that Amida Buddha would save them with absolute strength, whereas by their own works they would not find the path.[30]




Amida Buddha: Amida is a Chinese abbreviation of Sanskrit amitayus and amitabha, meaning eternal life and all-encompassing light. Therefore Amida Buddha, is a mental picture of absolute compassion and wisdom.



Jodo Shinshu: the faith founded by Shinran, Jodo is Pureland in the other world, Shin is true, and shu is school: so Jodo Shinshu, or just Shinshu for short, means “the true school, which aims for rebirth in the Pureland.



Nembutzu: Nem means to think about something, and Butzu means Buddha. So Nembutzu originally means to think about Buddha in the sense of religious devotion. Slowly the meaning changed for Amida Buddhism. Here it means to think about Amida Buddha and to say his name.




Jodo Buddhism, or Pureland Buddhism, is the main branch of Buddhism.




Dharma, the truth, the law of the universe, enlightens Buddha and leads him to dharma. But much more would need to be said about dharma, as immanent and transcendent.




Kyoto: holy city of Japan, birthplace of Shinran as well



doso: priest



eko: attained merit transferrable to others



Jiriki: attainment of Buddhahood through one’s own effort


(works righteousness)



bonno: the inability of the body and spirit of a person to find rest. Bon means the body of the person becomes restless no: means the spirit of the person becomes disturbed



Honganbokori: Hubris in relation to the grace of God



Jihi: grace (roughly)



Satori: enlightenment




Bosatsu: in Sanskrit bodhisattva, not only to receive satori (enlightenment) but by one’s works to lead others to satori



Gi: righteousness



Ginakio-gitosuru: to make the unrighteous righteous[31]



akunin shoki: if the righteous can be saved, then the


unrighteous can be saved more certainly. Bad persons have a better chance for salvation.



Nehan: the reception of the same being as Amida, salvation







[1]Now with more insight I have discovered that Luther did not hold with a abstract subjective certainty concerning his point of view, but that he wanted the certainty of salvation that is based completely on God’s faithfulness. See Paul Tillich’s History of Christian Thught, (Cambridge: Union Theological Seminary Lectures, Spring, 1953), (Recorded and edited by Peter H. John, second edition, 1956), p. 189.


[2]See some basic information about Buddhism in the appendix.


[3]In the comparison, never is Luther’s Word of God Theology mentioned, which is also a significant difference with Buddhism.


[4]In this study all material was in German and was translated into English for our purposes.


[5]Tatsuo Oguro, Der Rettungsgedanke bei Shinran und Luther, (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1985), p. IX. This study is very much indebted to T. Oguro’s doctoral work in the German language, which he completed for the University of Marburg in the early 1970’s.


[6]Roland Bainton, Here I Stand, (New York: A Mentor Book, 1950), p.34.


[7]Tatsuo Oguro, p. 63. Jihi for Shinran and grace for Luther. Eko is merit. Shin means faith.


[8] Alister E. McGrath, Luther’s Theology of the Cross, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985), p. 97. WA 54. 185-186.




[10]Tatsuo Oguro, p. 23.


[11]Ibid., p. 25.


[12]The late Chuck Lohmann wanted to work with this recitation of the name of God in terms of the Jesus prayer: “Lord, have mercy upon me a sinner.” I had heard that when the Jesuit missionaries started working in Japan, they exclaimed: How did Luther get here before us? Chuck told me they were referring to Shinran. That was the first I ever heard of him.


[13]T. Oguro, p. 38. Donran is T’an-Luan, who lived in China 476-542.


[14]T. Oguro, p.51.


[15]Ibid., p. 51.




[17]Ibid., p. 71.


[18]Ibid., p. 25.




[20]Takeo Ashizu, p. 7.


[21]T. Oguro, p. 142.


[22]Ibid., p. 143.


[23]Ibid.,p. 152.


[24]See George H. Williams and Angel M. Mergal, eds., Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers, (Philadelphia: The Westminister Press, 1957), p. 196.


[25]Tatsuo Oguro, p. 142-143.


[26]Ibid.,p. 145.


[27]Ibid.,p. 145-146.


[28]Ibid.,p. 144.


[29]It certainly seems that we can do something to insure our condemnation. But that does not mean that the inverse is true: that we can do something to insure our salvation.


[30]Takeo Ashizu, “Luther und Shinran” in Martin Kraatz, ed. Luther und Shinran- Eckhart und Zen, (Köln: In Kommission Bei E. J. Brill, 1989), pages 2-5. These definitions have been taken from Prof. Ashizu’s presentation on Shinran and Pureland Buddhism.


[31]Tatsuo Oguro, p. 144.

Written by peterkrey

June 26, 2007 at 6:54 am

John the Baptist, June 24th 2007 at Old Zion Lutheran Church

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John the Baptist, June 24th 2007 at Old Zion Lutheran Church in Philadelphia

Malachi 3:1-4 Psalm 141 Acts 13:13-26 Luke 1:57-67,(68-80)

Children’s Sermon

A John the Baptist Song

Of John the Baptist let us sing

He changed our hearts by baptism

Son of Zechariah and Elizabeth

He prepared the way for Jesus

He wore a shirt of camel’s hair

It was scratchy everywhere

Ate grasshoppers and wild honey

(And said), be sure to share your money.

(John said), “Jesus is the great I am,

He is God’s own little lamb.

I’m not good enough to tie his shoes,

To tell about Jesus is good news.

Into the water we all go

And this is what we get to know

We go down and Jesus comes up

and finds a way to save us.

Peter Krey 06/27/2007

For Old Zion’s Children!

The Picture I gave the children came from

and was drawn by Henry Martin.

The children’s sermon told about John the Baptist and explained how he baptized people in the River Jordan. He himself had first gone out into the desert and fasted. He got hungry enough to eat rocks! One of the older children knew what fasting was. I explained how he wore a camel hair shirt and a leather belt and ate grasshoppers and wild honey. I gave each of them the picture drawn by Henry Martin above and then sang the new song to them. We were in front of the baptismal font and they remembered the recent baptisms. It was about washing and getting dunked under so we come out of the water new and refreshed.


Zechariah, the priest, was named after the great prophet who wanted to rebuild the temple after the exile and who wanted to restore the people of Israel with the vision of a just society, of a people with God in their midst, thus the origin of the name Immanuel.

But while Zechariah was carrying out his duties in the sanctuary of the temple, the angel Gabriel appears to him and tells him that he and Elizabeth, in their old age, would have a son and that he should call him John. Now here is a priest, a devout and righteous one at that, and he doubts the message of the angel. He knows that they are too old to have a son. Gabriel says that he stands in the presence of the Lord and “I’ve been sent to bring you the good news and because you did not believe my words, you will be mute until they come true.” Zechariah is struck dumb.

Now Zechariah comes out of the temple, everyone expecting him to preach and do the rest of the liturgy, but he has to sign and motion to them that he cannot speak. That was a humiliating punishment for a priest, not to be able to speak and for nine months!

Now the whole village comes together when Elizabeth, pretty far on in years, has a baby, a boy no less, and the disgrace of her having been barren was now removed. There was ample reason to celebrate.

They named the child on the day of circumcision and the custom was to name the boy after the father or an ancestor. Elizabeth says, “No, we are naming him John.” The name means “a gracious gift from God” or more simply, “God has shown favor” or “God has mercy”, Jochenan in Hebrew.

They protest. “You can’t break our tradition!” So they say, “Forget Elizabeth!” and they ask the father, “What will you name the boy?”

He asks for a tablet and writes: “His name is John” as the angel Gabriel told him to do, and at that moment, as the prophesy is fulfilled and his seeing becomes believing, while his believing should have been seeing, – immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was freed up and he launches into the wonderful verses, which have become known as the Benedictus:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

for he visited and redeemed his people and

has raised up a horn of salvation, etc.

In those days a “horn” referred to a king. A Lord of Salvation was being promised.

“And you child,” Zechariah must have lifted little John up in his arms, “shall be called a prophet of the Most High, for you shall go before the face of the Lord to prepare his way; to bring the knowledge of salvation to the people, the forgiveness of sins, through the tender mercies of God.”

The word in Hebrew for “tender mercies” is again the Greek word, esplachthon, which means a gutt-level feeling of compassion of God for his people.

Now some people marry young. A Puerto Rican woman pastor I worked with was a grandmother at 36. I married when I was 36. My father was 46 when I was born. And sometimes when you have an old father, you do not get that much of an up-bringing. He is 60 or 70 and how much time with the father do you really have? John went out into the desert for his up-bringing, where you fight with your demons, you smash all idols, and you get to know the one true God and how you cannot do without God. The modern equivalent is to go into the inner-city, into the wilderness, where everyone is leaving, and where you make a stand.

So you cannot be surprised when John becomes a firebrand. He wore a coat of camel hair, a leather belt, and he eats wild locusts, i.e., grasshoppers and honey. So outwardly he was not refined, but inwardly he has become a real person, a genuine son of Israel, a child of the Most High.” People that are outwardly refined, but inwardly a wasteland, tell him, “If you don’t love our country, leave it!”

But John had been refined the way all the impurities are taken out of a metal, so that he was not some gold-plated Israelite: he was 18 carat gold! He was the real thing. He had been washed with a cleanser, a fuller’s soap. In those days this soap had a heavy lye concentrate and when it cleaned you it felt like it would take your skin right off. It was so strong it was used to soften flax so that it could be used for cloth.

So many of us today are very much into physical fitness and that is good, because it keeps us healthy. But where are those who get their souls in shape? Where are those who are working out their minds, so they get some muscle in their thoughts: working out their hearts, so they grow in love and acceptance; doing the work of the soul, so they tackle some of the personal problems we have and some of the social problem we face? Where can you go for a boot-camp of the soul, so that everyone stops running away from problems, stops passing the buck, and we start facing our problems, and by the grace and favor that comes down from on high, we start overcoming some of these problems that are tearing us all down?

John said, “Repent!” you have to have a change of heart and mind. You say others have problems, but you are righteous and you do not. No way! John said, “You are unclean.” You are filled with impurities. And do not think because you are gold-plated that that fools God. Get into the water of this baptism. It is not only for the Gentiles, the ones you call unclean. You get into this bath and become a genuine person on the inside and stop seeing your sin in others. Confess it yourself and get a pure heart of gold and start living your life right out of the strength of God. You have to die to yourself as you are dunked under the water. You must come out of the water, no longer living out of your own strength, but out of the strength of God.

John was preparing the way for the one that heaven sent, Jesus Christ our Lord. “I’m not worthy to untie his shoe laces.” he said. “I must decrease so that Christ might increase.” And we have to decrease so that Christ might increase in us. Yes, to get that heart of gold, Christ needs to be born in us and grow and mature. We no longer live, but Christ lives in us while we decrease and Christ increases among us. In this way, in this far off and distant place, we worship and live in the real presence of the Lord.

Now to continue in German (An English translation follows): Wir hören gern das Evangelium in unserer Muttersprache:

Nun, wenn wir auf Deutsch weiter predigen, dann scheint es als ob wir in eine andere Welt einsteigen, in eine andere Welt hinein gehen und andere Menschen werden. Ein Amerikaner der hereinkommt versteht kein Wort. Nun, dass eine deutsche Welt eine Amerikanische Welt begegnet macht nichts aus. Deutsch oder Englisch oder Spanisch, darauf kommt’s nicht an. Wir wollen eine Himmels Begegnung, eine Begegnung mit der Gnadenwelt von Jesus Christus haben, wo der Gnaden-Himmel über uns kommt; darauf kommt es an.

Missionare gehen oft in fremde Länder und die Einwohner bekommen den Eindruck das die USA oder Deutschland, oder wo auch immer die Missionare herkamen, die Gnadenwelt ist wovon der Missionar mit seiner frohen Botschaft gesprochen hatte. Dann verlassen die Angesprochene ihre Länder und kommen nach Amerika. Sie wurden sehr enttäuscht, denn sie können kaum etwas Christliches in Deutschland oder Amerika entdecken.

Ja, wir wollen in ein anderes Land sein, wir wollen andere Menschen sein, aber Amerika oder Deutschland oder ein anderes Land des Missionars sind Nebensache. Hauptsache ist unsere Taufe. Wenn wir Busse tun, und nicht äusserlich so tun als ob, aber uns innerlich durch Christus verwandelt haben, dann schreiten wir – klar durch viel Leiden, ins Vorort des Himmelreichs, wo Gott bei uns ist und wir in Gott sind, wir Gott-gefüllte Menschen werden, halt ganz andere Menschen als wir waren – und jeden Schritt, den wir machen verändert das Land in dem wir leben, denn wir leben nicht, sondern Christus lebt in uns.

Jetzt ob wir Englisch, Deutsch, Spanisch, oder Swahili sprechen, sprechen wir eine Sprache der Liebe, die alle verstehen und das Fülle des Lebens für alle verbreitet.

Daher können wir ruhig Deutsche-Amerikaner sein, aber darauf kommt’s nicht an. Dass wir in Jesu Namen getauft sind, dass wir im Namen des Vaters und des Sohnes und des Hl. Geistes getauft sind, darauf kommt’s an. Sonst kann man so sein wie mein Vater einige beschrieben hat: in der Tasche hat er Gold, im Munde hat er Silber, aber was er redet ist Blech. Mit der frohen Botschaft haben wir Gold im Munde, wie St. Chrysostom, können wir auch Chrysostomos (d.h., Gold-Mund), genannt werden, weil wir mit güldnen Munde die frohe Botschaft verbreiten.[1]

Diese frohe Botschaft wird nicht um die deutsche Sprache oder Deutschlands willen verbreitet, sondern die deutsche Sprache und Deutschland sind nur golden, wenn sie gesprochen und dort oder hier gelebt um die frohe Botschaft willen, damit der Gnaden-Himmel sich über alle Länder und alle Menschen sich verbreitet. „Denn alle Zungen sollen bekennen, dass Jesus Christus ist der Herr zu nennen, den man Ehre geben muss.“

Wenn mein Vater in Amerika war, wollte er immer nach Deutschland. „Wenn ich nur in Deutschland wär!” seufze er. Ja, wenn er in Deutschland war, wollte er so schnell wie möglichst zurück nach Amerika. Als ich vier Jahre in Berlin war von 1971-1975 und auch dieselbe Entscheidung machen sollte ob ich dort bleiben oder zurück nach Amerika kommen sollte, auf einmal ekannte ich dass wir in Gott leben und wohnen. Wenn wir in Gott unseren Platz haben, dann können wir in Deutschland oder Amerika wohnen, und wie gesagt, jeder Schritt ist Christus der in uns wandelt und uns seine frohe Boten macht und wobei wir auch viele andere Menschen einladen diese Johannes Taufe, diese Himmels Taufe, diese Taufe des Vaters und des Sohnes und des Hl. Geistes mitzuteilen für eine sonderbare Auswanderung und eine gnadenreiche Einwanderung. Amen.

A translation into English:

We all like to hear the Gospel in our mother tongue. But now if I preach in German, then it seems as if we are going into another world, entering into another world and becoming different people. If an American enters, s/he cannot understand one word. Now that a German world is encountering an American one is not at all important. German, English, or Spanish, that is not the crucial thing. We want to have an encounter with heaven, with the world of grace of Jesus Christ, where the heaven of grace spreads over us. That is the point of it all.

     Missionaries often go into foreign countries and the natives, the indigenous people receive the impression that the world of grace that the missionary is speaking about is America, or Germany, or whatever country the missionary came from and they think that the Good News they bring describes that country. Then those addressed with the Gospel leave their countries and come to America, for example, and they get the biggest disappointment of their lives, because they can hardly discover anything Christian about America or Germany.

     Yes, we want to be another country, we want to be different people, but America or Germany, or whatever country the missionary comes from is beside the point. The important thing is that we are baptized. When we repent, and not outwardly only acting as if, but inwardly changed by Christ, then we takes strides, certainly enduring much suffering, into the forecourts of the kingdom of heaven, where God is with us and we are in God, we become people filled by God, yes, completely different from the people we were, and every step we take, changes the land in which we live, because we no longer live, but Christ lives in us.

     Now if we speak English, German, Spanish, or Swahili, we speak the language of love, which everyone understands and it spreads the fulfillment of life to everyone.

     Therefore, rest assured, it is all right to be German-Americans, but that is not the important thing; but that we are baptized in the name of Jesus, that we are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, that is the crucial thing. Otherwise we could resemble the fellow my father described: in his pocket he has gold (money), in his mouth he has silver (fillings), and what he says is made out of tin. (Blech, tin in German is worthless speech.) If we speak the Good News with our mouths, then, on the other hand, we have golden mouths. St. Chrysostom’s name means “the golden mouth,” because he was a golden mouth orator, and we too could receive the name Chrysostomos and become those who spread the Gospel with golden mouths.

     The Gospel is not spread for the sake of America or Germany, but English and German are only golden if they are spoken and we live in them for the sake of the Gospel, so that the heaven of grace spreads over all countries and over all people, because “every tongue on earth shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11).

     When my father was in America he always wanted to be in Germany. “If only I were in Germany!” he would sigh. When he was in Germany, he could not return to America fast enough. When I was in Berlin from 1971-1975, I also had to decide whether I would stay in Germany or come back to America. That was a difficult time. Suddenly I realized that we live and dwell in God. If we have a place in God, then we can live anywhere, in Germany or America. So as already said, every step we take is Jesus Christ, who walks (wandelt in German means both “walks” and “changes,” too) in and with us, and makes us his Good-News reporters, but not only reporters, but also the makers of the in-breaking, history-making, Good News, because we invite many other people into John’s baptism, the baptism from heaven, this baptism of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit to share a special emigration and an immigration filled with the richest grace. Amen.

[1] Wir haben “Ich will Dich Lieben” gesungen, wo es in einer Strophe sagt: „ich danke Dir, Du güldner Mund, dass Du mich machst gesund.“

Written by peterkrey

June 26, 2007 at 3:41 am

Posted in Selected Sermons

The Freedom of Christ, Pentecost VI: July 16,1995

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Pentecost VI: July 16,1995

1 Kings 19: 14-21 Psalm 16 Galatians 5:1, 13-25 Luke 9: 51-62

Receiving a Shiny, Brand New Person:

In the Freedom of Christ

St. Paul presents us with the Magna Charta of Christian Freedom. “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand fast, therefore, and do not submit to the yoke of slavery again.” You know about how the nobles of King John gathered around him and made him share some freedom. That is what the Magna Charta is about. Also notice how St. Paul immediately bids us to become slaves as well. This freedom gives the power of love which turns us into slaves for one another. That’s why Luther in his treatise on the Freedom of the Christian Person spoke of the two sentences: “The Christian person is the free sovereign of all subject to no one. And the Christian Person is the dutiful servant of all, subject to everyone.”

Luther feels that the freedom of a Christian is more precious than political freedom or any freedom of the flesh. What St. Paul calls the “freedom of the flesh,” we might refer to as “material freedom.” An example of an experience of material freedom: when a teenager gets a car, a new freedom is experienced, an ability to get where you are going. It feels like almost anywhere. And that is freedom. But that freedom cannot hold a candle to the freedom we receive from Christ. Political freedom is an important value; it is a downright need, and countries that are controlled by others politically and economically, find that the dominating country fills the needs of its people first, and usually at the oppressed country’s expense. Political and economic freedoms are very important, but again, they cannot hold a candle to the freedom we receive from Christ. “If the Son sets you free, then you are free indeed.”[1] Thus whomever Christ sets free is truly free. “When you continue in God’s Word, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”[2] The truth is the person, Jesus Christ. A life in Christ is a life in truth. Thus it is Christ, the Truth, who sets you free.

Mostly in our day and age material freedom is valued over the freedom of Christ. But reading Luther’s commentary on Galatians can change one’s mind. For Luther one drop of the freedom of Christ is worth more than an ocean of material freedoms. One needs to see this freedom with spiritual eyes. Common sense pretty much will let us down here. According to Luther, the “freedom for which Christ has set us free” is enormous and infinite. Not even speaking in the tongues of men and of angels, or of women and of angels, for that matter, gives us a language adequate to its description. Eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor can we at all imagine the beauty of that freedom. For Luther that gift of freedom means instead of law and sin, instead of death, and facing the wrath of God – forgiveness of sins, righteousness, eternal life, and a God who is forever gracious and kind to us.

From Luther one can get the conception of “a heaven full of grace.” He writes that “God stretches an immense heaven of grace over us….” and does not count the sins against us, that we committed.[3] Because we take hold of Christ in our hearts by faith, Christ opens this heaven full of grace to us. That is having much more than a new car and the experience of freedom it gives us. Or a new house with a swimming pool, with the freedom to go and take a dip. Or having a thriving business with the money you can roll in. And that is having much more than a free country. The freedom of Christ is that freedom out of which any country can have a new birth of freedom. But what’s more, it is more than just the freedom a new possession can give us with its powers, but it is the world given to us in a fresh creation, our lives, our relationships with those we love, and it is all we are, but under the smiling promises of God – with the immense heaven of grace stretching out over us, knowing that God’s full heart of compassion is beating with love for you and for me, not because we are such “cool people” or nice guys, or so wonderfully creative. Not at all. But because we are sinners. Christ loves us even though we are still the sinners that we are. Even though we are the ones who have fallen short, we are the ones who have fallen on our faces, or just in short, we are a fallen people – Jesus died for us – and paid the precious drops of his blood for us, for you and for me. Those precious drops of blood put us into God’s precious presence, and together we live in a little bit of God’s precious time, with God with us, and the freedom that spells for us.

Just think! The freedom we enter by faith is really Christ entering us – and Christ being ours, our very own. We are speaking about the very Lord of the Universe. Christ in us and that precious life is ours. Christ here in worship in a little Oakland church. What matter that it is a small congregation in a large building! Christ comes and gives christself to you – and you grasp and take hold of this Christ in faith – and yours is the freedom for which Christ has set you free.

Now this is radical freedom. We are no longer under the law. But then Paul says: Do not use this freedom as license, as an opportunity to gratify the desires of the flesh. When we hear that the law is no longer over us, we figure that anything goes. And in come the powerful desires of the flesh. But not so is it to be understood.

We are therefore to walk in the Spirit and not give in to the desires of the flesh. As soon as we give in to the desires of the flesh, we go back under the law and our freedom is lost.

Oftentimes people want to maintain that Paul is speaking only about sex by the term, “desires of the flesh.” And certainly the latter can be one example of gratifying the desires of the flesh. But when you look at Paul’s catalogue of these desires, only the first three refer to sexual matters, then he lists idolatry, sorcery, making enemies, fighting, anger, quarrels, factions, envy, etc.. The flesh to Paul means the whole person turned away from God and neighbor. Spirit means the whole person turned toward God and neighbor. Thus a person in worship for purely selfish reasons is gratifying a desire of the flesh, and sexual intimacy communicating the wonderful love of God can be pure in the Spirit.

One of the favorite tricks people like to play is acting as if sexual sins are the only ones in order to divert people from seeing sins related to power and greed, as well as sins that relate to false and unloving spirits. According to Luther the young are more tempted with sexual sins, the middle ages with those of power and property, and the elderly with spiritual sins. Now in reality the latter are the very worst. After spiritual sins, those of power and greed come next, and sexual sins are the least evil. Here a caveat is necessary. It is now possible to spread AIDS and therefore sexuality can now inflict a slow but inevitable death upon a partner. Luther did not know about AIDS, but syphilis was rampant in his day. People were dying of it. One thinks of Ulrich von Hutten, who was a leader of the Knights’ Rebellion, and later died of this disease. But just how many more people get a slow death because others devour them economically and use them for their purposes politically. “If you devour one another, take care you are not consumed by one another.” And when we contemplate spiritual sins, such as the false spirits of nationalism, militarism, racism, patriarchy, and capitalism, then we are speaking about millions upon millions of people lost.

The so-called “Christian Serbs” are falling upon the U.N. designated safe-areas, cutting men’s throats, even those of boys and youth, and raping women, even twelve and fourteen year olds, in one case, and doing this because they hate Moslems! They speak of “ethnic cleansing!” Their false spirits are as dirty as those of the NAZIS. That evil there has to be stopped. And we Christians have to speak up for those Moslems, because Christ loves them too, and died for them. Serbia is flouting the U.N. and is not only taking us into the time before the Cold War, but could well be opening the refrigerator door to an ugly future filled with religious and ethnic wars, that will make the capitalistic-communistic confrontation that has just closed look like child’s play. Let us Christians stand up for those Moslems and say, “No more!”

So racism, religious hatred, and religiously inspired violence are spiritual sins far worse than the other categories, and often the perpetrators of these sins along with those who perpetrate the ones revolving around greed, try to hide them by acting as if sexual sins were the only ones. In our ignorance we are easily fooled.

Notice how a brand of fascism is growing in our country with the militia Movement, the conspiracy theories, and bigots who are planning race wars in our country. Read the Turner Diaries which are being used as a guide for these false spirits. It even describes how a government building can be blown up by a manure bomb. The suspect in the Oklahoma City bombing had been selling this book for $5.00 each.

Today the sins looked at are pornography, abortions, homosexuality.[4] In the attack on sexual sins is hidden some much more evil spiritual and power sins, sins that could set our country back, and rob our country of its integrity and the little soul it had.

Luther felt gratifying the desires of the flesh were to forget the poor and not open up opportunities for them, not give and share from what we have in abundance so they can live.

Pornography means evil. In that sense, that war over there in Bosnia and Serbia is pornographic and has to be stopped. The mean spirit against the poor and the immigrants in this country is pornographic and has to be stopped. So is the militia movement, and the ugly face of fascism. And the demeaning and depersonalizing illustration of human bodies as well, in sexual relations for the sake of profit, where men and women become completely dehumanized, give away or are robbed of all their dignity: that pornography has to be stopped. Human love and the bond holding together families and the community becomes lost when the most intimate expression of love becomes images sold on the market for profit.

When freedom is used for license to satisfy the desires of the flesh, the freedom of Christ is lost. That means we go back under the law, and get the wages of sin, which are paid out in death. But for all who take hold of Christ in faith, receive the freedom for which Christ has set us free, and with it the forgiveness of all our sins. With the immense heaven of grace stretched out over us, God will pardon us, because we accept Jesus Christ, who died for our sins. Now no longer do we live, but Christ loves in us. No longer are we the world, but the Kingdom. We can even be God’s own most favored nation. But right now we really need to pray against very evil spiritual clouds threatening us as they race across our sky, clouds full of hate moving over us. God help us! Amen!

Communion Blessing:

For freedom Christ has set us free. No longer do we live, but Christ lives us.

[1]John 8:36.

[2]John 8:31-32.

[3]Jeroslav Pelikan, editor, and Walter Hansen, Associate editor, Luther’s Works Vol. 27″ Lectures on Galatians 1535 Chapters 5-6 and Lectures on Galatians 1519 Chapters 1-6, (Saint Louis: Concordia publishing House, 1964), p. 86.

[4]Homosexuality per se is no sin, because it seems God created us more diverse than we thought. But sins can be committed in homosexuality as in heterosexuality.

Written by peterkrey

June 20, 2007 at 7:22 pm

Posted in Before Old Zion

If your Eye Offends you…. Sermon Preached at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Oakland, CA 9/28/1997

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Pentecost XIX (Proper XXI) Sept. 28, 1997

Numbers 11: 4-6,10-16,24-29. Psalm 19: 7-14. James 5: 13-20 Mark 9: 38-54.

Needing to be Cruel to be Kind

Children’s sermon: I taught the children how to march, and taught them to chant in step with their time:

Two, four, six, eight:

we think Jesus Christ is great.

Eight, six, four, and two:

Jesus died for me and you.

Marching song, each line is echoed by children:

I don’t know, but I been told.

Jesus’s got a heart of gold.

He teaches us to do what’s right.

to march with him is out of sight.

Sound off. Sound off.

One, two, three, four,

One, two, three, four.

The sermon is about those difficult sayings in our Gospel message which speak of cutting off an arm, leg, or tearing out an eye. What does Jesus mean? I have some brutal stories the point of which, is to illumine Jesus’ meaning: we need to get into a new life-adaptation, and we have to do what it takes to stop our adaptation to and our acceptance of death.

Simon Tshenu Farasani of Venda, South Africa, told me about the torture he had to undergo when he refused to buckle under Apartheid. He told me about when they would hang him on poles on the bare ankles and wrists and let him swing there until he became unconscious with pain. He told me that at one point Christ took over and bore the pain for him.

What does it take for us to get out of the forces that make us die, and into a new adaptation of life?

Mad Max in a wretched scene at the end of the movie finally brings down the merciless villain, who did not spare his many victims. He chained him to a car about to explode. He gave him a hack saw and said: “If you cut the chain, the car will explode before you are done. If you cut off your leg with it, you will save yourself.”

His whimpering proved he would not choose life, through all that pain, but would die. He was not like some wolverine, or some animal caught in a bear trap, that would chew off its paw, its leg, to escape and break free.

Did you hear that the demonstrators, who were trying to save the giant redwood trees from being cut down, were pepper-sprayed before they were arrested? What an ugly thing to do! The police should know that over forty persons have already died from the effects of pepper spray. They were not using it on criminals, but on people who want to save the trees for future generations, who should also be able to admire them, who do not think profit is the bottom line. It seems that even the giant redwoods have to fall before the almighty dollar. And the giant redwoods stand like symbols for people that are bulldozed under for the sake of more profits, immigrants torn from their families, welfare mothers cut off from their sustenance, and down-sized workers – who cannot find reemployment.

One way of understanding downsizing in corporations is that they are pruning the vine, much like we prune back the trees in front of our church. Do-nothing workers, who do not bear fruit, get laid off. Even fruitful branches are cut back so they bear more fruit. But that might not be the real motivation for downsizing. It may be just another way to press down the people to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Don’t go gentle into that good night.[1] Don’t adapt to dying and adjust yourself to it. Once I had to struggle with a woman who had discovered she had a tumor in her breast, but would not go to the doctor until it was too late. Choose life, although the way goes through pain and much suffering. But there is hope beyond it. There is no hope if we adjust ourselves to dying.

We can be like children, who fight and holler, and don’t let a person get at the splinter in their finger. Now it does hurt to have it taken out. But that is pain with recovery on the other side. But an infection is much more pain. We hold the child, and take out the splinter.

To relate a more humorous story: if you read Sweet Thursday

and Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck, then you know how the high-brow doctor can’t get together with Thursday, even though they need each other, love each other, and could make their life together. She finally gives up on him, and packs her suitcases to leave.

Now there is a whole community of homeless, who are all involved in their love story. One of them is an idiot, who feels the incredibly heavy burden of responsibility to help them. He goes up on a hill to think what to do. It is difficult, Steinbeck says, because his ideas tend to get into a traffic jam in his brain. His ideas had to work themselves out of gridlock. Suddenly he realized what he had to do, and crying with pity for himself, that he had to do it, he took a baseball bat, and went where the doctor lay sleeping, and struck and broke his arm with it.

Thursday heard about it, just before stepping into the Greyhound bus, came rushing back, and nursed the doctor to health, and thus they were married.

How to pull out of the forces of death and dying, and to get into a new life-adaptation! Sometimes you hear of a person, a real specimen of health, real buff, to use a youthful expression, with perfect limbs, life, and plenty of money – and he jumps off a building, killing his whole body, committing suicide.

Then you hear of a person who loses an arm, a leg, or both legs, or an eye – and suddenly, whack! They enter a new life. They realize they had taken their whole body for granted, and had not appreciated anything in life.

What good is a dead congregation? What good are people who are the living dead? Who are really corpses, but who refuse to lay down? Who have eyes that don’t see; ears that don’t hear; hearts that are not moved by compassion, without rage against the injustices – and compassion without rage is said to be impotent!

What will it take for us to be the salty kind of congregation that seasons our whole community and gives it the gloriously delicious taste of living to the glory of God and in the enjoyment of God forever?

What will it take to adjust to children coming into worship, not knowing how to act in church, disturbing us so we cannot hear, and distracting us? What will it take to get up an hour earlier on Sunday, and get here for Sunday School? And what will it take to have new members come in, have them sit in our seats, places we have sat for ages, and have them take the positions we have held, take our places? Why not remain cozy and comfortable in our old habits and ways? No way!

Let us rise up into a new life-adaptation in this congregation, whatever we have to cut off, so that life prevails, and salvation, and justice, and renewal. The living children of God need to be born in all the travail, labor pains, contractions, in the laying our lives down on the line the way a birthing mother does, to usher in the new congregation and its new members. Amen.

From the Prayer:

What good are arms if they do not carry out the will of God?

What good are our feet, if they do not walk in the way of the Lord? What good are our eyes, if we don’t see the beautiful world and ourselves that God made, a precious gift, filled with God’s love?

Communion blessing: What good is our whole body, if it is not the body of Christ? Pastor Peter Krey

[1]Dylan Thomas’s poem.

Written by peterkrey

June 20, 2007 at 5:37 am

Posted in Before Old Zion

Miriam’s Song (Revised)

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I will sing to God[1]

A Jewish Folk Song (Revised)[2]

I. A. I will sing to God a song of triumph and of victory

we’ll throw our prejudice into the sea.

I will sing to God a song of triumph and of victory

our bigotry will drown right in the sea.

B. The Lord, my God my strength my song,

Has now become my victory. (Repeat)

C. O Lord, you are my (X)[3] God, and I will praise you

now and evermore, I will exalt you! O my Lord

you are my (X) God, and I will praise you

now and ever-more, I will exalt you!

II. A. I will sing to God a song of triumph and of victory

the horse and rider thrown into the sea.

I will sing to God a song of triumph and of victory

But Egyptians are also dear to me.

B. By ‘horse and rider’ Miriam meant

violence, murder, tyranny. (Repeat)

A. I will sing to God a song of triumph and of victory

our enmity is thrown into the sea.

I will sing to God a song of triumph and of victory

See Isaiah 19:23. (or 4).

B. God has chosen Egyptland, Assyria.and Israel,

that makes three. (Repeat)

C. O Lord, you are my (X) God, and I will praise you

now and evermore, I will exalt you! O my Lord

you are my (X) God, and I will praise you

now and ever-more, I will exalt you!

III. A. I will sing to God a song of triumph and of victory

Baptized we’re thrown into the sea.

I will sing to God a song of triumph and of victory

fished back out, marvelously free.

I. B. and I. C.

IV. A. I will sing to God a song of triumph and of victory

all our sins are thrown into the sea.

I will sing to God a song of triumph and of victory

all nations now a peaceful family

I. B. and I. C.

Written for AOS at Bethlehem’s Compline. November 2, 1996 Andrew’s birthday.

[1] The melody goes through three phases, A. B. and C. B. and C. from I. can be used as a refrain where only A. appears in III. and IV.

[2] AOS asked me to rewrite this folk song so it would include the Egyptians in the realm of God’s love too.

[3] (X) means to clap your hands just before the following note.

Written by peterkrey

June 20, 2007 at 3:01 am

Posted in My Songs


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bear one another’s burdens

The Refrain:

the law of love, the law of love

it comes right down from above

it is sharing, truly caring,

and it’s bearing one another’s burdens.

1.  Christ is a weight‑lifter,

a champion strong,

presses up our heavy wrong,

lifts the barbells,

the crushing weight

of all our sin and guilt and hate.

2. people are dragging

their weight and their shame,

get your work-out, no gain without pain,

Put your sneakers

in the traces

in their shoes is where your place is.

3. shoulder up their baggage

you’re muscular, strong

under their burdens is where you belong

through the sorrow

in their faces

christ will rise and show what grace is.

4. we are like shut-ins

communing alone

but now their sins become our own

christ the strongman

christ the thief

stealing our sin and guilt and grief.

Peter Krey 1980 – October 8, 1996 for Joan Randall, her paper as a seminarian in PLTS helped me solve a problem in this song.

Revised again and again 10/15/96.

Written by peterkrey

June 20, 2007 at 2:26 am

Posted in My Songs