Archive for June 2008
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost June 29th, 2008
Jeremiah 28:5-9 Psalm 89:1-4,15-19 Romans 6:12-23 Mat 10:40-42
Karl Barth, a very great theologian, used to say that you had “to do theology with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” Pastor Heinrich Albertz illustrated the words of Barth quite well. I remember when I was being ordained in Berlin in March 2, 1975, the Baader-Meinhof Group of terrorists had kidnapped Peter Lorenz, one of the candidates running for the mayor’s office of Berlin. Heinrich Albertz, the Lutheran Pastor, who was a former mayor of Berlin, had been required by the terrorists to accompany them from the prison to the plane, that to insure their safety. When Pastor Albertz boarded the plane with them, he had newspapers under his one arm and a Bible under the other. The picture was in all the newspapers the next day. He later said that the terrorists had seemed more like boy scouts to him. Seven of them had been freed from prison in the deal for them to release Peter Lorenz, the mayoralty candidate.
Thus I also read the newspapers to prepare for this sermon. What stirred me in them yesterday was reading about the new conservatives who are stepping in for prison reform, the poverty of the Third World, and for concern about climate change. Mark Earley, who used to work with Chuck Colson, had been for mandatory sentencing and now he is fighting to do away with it. He said that he had “an attitude-adjustment by God.” Another prison reformer was also conservative but now fought for prison reform. He said he had gone to prison for two years on a corruption charge. “I went in believing in God,” he said, “and I came out knowing him.” (New York Times, 6/28/2008, page B10)
I had been feeling empty and weak, wondering how to preach for you this morning – because truthfully, we are up against quite a lot, personally and all of us together in this country, and the witness of these conservatives stirred me up. Would that progressives also had an attitude-adjustment by God; that all of us could increase our faith and our maturity in Christ by saying we grew from “believing in God to knowing him.”
That’s why the prophet who foretells good days to come, who says, “Better days are coming!” can hardly be trusted, as Jeremiah makes clear. What does not proceed from that kind of a prophesy is our confrontation with the truth and the righteousness of our faith, which we cannot claim, but is only given us as a gift by the grace of God. When a prophet says, “Better days are coming,” then we do not need to repent….
But, ah, we do!
We need an attitude-adjustment by God and we need to grow and mature in our faith. I really believe what I said last time, that ours is a watered-down Christianity, which needs to become more concentrated, so that our sinful ways are thrown into bold-relief and we all realize that we are Kyrie Christians, who say, “Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy upon us.”
The theme in our short Gospel lesson today is welcome and hospitality for the stranger in our midst, for disciples that our Lord sends to us, and you know that we have often welcomed angels without realizing it. But in the book of Wisdom (19:13-16) it states,
The punishment did not come upon the sinners without prior signs in violent thunder, because they justly suffered because of their wicked acts, for they practiced a more bitter hatred of strangers. (These verses go on to say that strangers were received with hostility and were then enslaved.)
How can we help not thinking about immigrants in our midst and how our welcome seems to have worn out? I do not want to make too much of this issue because I know there are two sides to it.
I believe God is speaking to us in the violence of our weather. Right now our country is pretty much a disaster area – with the Mississippi breaking one levee after another making one town after another look like New Orleans after Katrina. There are droughts in the Southeastern states, and about 850 fires in northern California. A violent thunder storm with its tornado killed four or five boy scouts and injured 49 others in Iowa, and that only looks at the climate, and not the violence of our human nature, and all the killings that we perpetrate on each other here in our society and in our wars abroad.
We need to repent. We need an attitude-adjustment by God! We need to grow and mature in our faith and realize that our faith becomes a life and death matter, and our dying to ourselves and rising up to walk in the newness of life, with Christ really present in us, is a gift offered us by God.
This kind of dying is a gracious gift of God, because it is dying with Christ, so that we die to our sinful ways and become alive to God and the abundant life God promise us. The abundant life is not promised to us by means of money; not by means of earthly power; not by means of sex. (That one is hard to hear when our hormones are raging!) Our faith starts growing when we surrender to God, when we start trusting God more, praying hard, so we immerse ourselves in this faith.
Why should Christ be present only here during worship and when we are having communion? We need to have that sense of the real presence of Christ out there in the community among others. Often you all act as if only the pastor represents God out there. We need to be reminded that we are the people of God living in the real presence of Christ. We are all sent out by Christ, all of us are Christians, who bring the presence of Christ – and Lord, have mercy! Often finding the presence of Christ in those we least expect and where we least expect Christ to be. Thus we find Christians growing in faith and maturity in prison, while our society outside grows more and more violent and ungodly. On the other hand, some return from prison more hardened as criminals.
Let me go back to our violent weather. I am not saying that thunder storms, tornadoes, floods, and fires are punishments sent us by God for our sins; not at all. But they intend to warn us to repent, to realize with old Martin Luther that we dare not be self-righteous, but let us beg God, let us pray to God to make us helpful, to make us a blessing, to make us live the Gospel in our modern technological and social wasteland. Let’s pray for God to help us speak the truth in love and never use the truth as a weapon, to stop our lying and to speak the truth, not to judge people by their appearances, but to see them with the eyes of your heart.
Pastor Roger was trying to get into the synod assembly in the Oakland Conference Center, but all the glass doors were locked. He could not get the members to open the doors. They saw a straggly beard, a leather jacket, a biker; but they could not see a pastor, who tries to make you see with the eyes of your heart. But when you welcome such a pastor, then you have the reward of compassion and concern that is rather rare in our society.
As the scripture says, when you receive such a pastor, you receive Christ, the One who sent him, and when you receive Christ, you receive God, the Father of us all, through whom we have all become sisters and brothers, we have all become children of God, who can call upon our dear Father in heaven in any time of need for help.
Often my heart goes out to the punk crowd. They flout every fashion rule imaginable. A knapsack, leather sleeves with studs, black sweater, pajama hanging out, then striped socks and sneakers of an other-worldly color. The black predominates though. Then the singer in a punk concert pretty nearly swallows the microphone and the aggressive music is so loud, you can’t hear the words anyway. Don’t you get the message? They want to see if you will reject them. They want to give you every reason to do so. They don’t want commercial success. They don’t want you to buy and sell their music.
But when I started speaking with them I found that some of them are protesting our society, the violence, and the many things that are wrong with it. Their black garb, from a Christian perspective, knows that our evil ways, our sinful ways, have to die, so that we can walk in the newness of life; there are no blessings without some suffering, telling the truth usually costs you dearly; there’s no crown without a cross.
The old song has it right: “I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there’s got to be a little rain sometime!”
Let’s just grow in acceptance, as we welcome those whom Christ sends to us. Let’s overcome all the reasons we have for rejecting people who are different from us or who disagree with us. On the one side of an issue, let’s welcome the other side. On the other side, let’s welcome the first side again. Look at Obama and Hillary together! They are making a witness. Now politicians should not be making that witness to the church. The church should be making that witness to them. Did you see Obama and John McCain embrace each other at Tim Russert’s funeral? That is a witness, let me tell you, and it took Tim Russert’s dying to get them to do it.
Our reward for this welcome, receiving, hospitality, and this acceptance is that some of the truth, the love and compassion of the prophets, of the righteous, of Jesus Christ, and God the Father of us all, rubs off on us. Amen.
This is the relevant excerpt from Philip and Peter Krey, Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), pages 98-99.
We want to treat the words one after another: the first, “my soul.” Scripture divides the person in three parts. St. Paul says in the last chapter of Thessalonians, “May the God of peace sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound…at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Each of these three parts as well as the whole person is further divided into two parts, called spirit and flesh. This division is not of human nature but of human qualities. That is, according to nature, there are three parts–spirit, soul, and body–which can be altogether good or bad, that is, flesh or spirit, which is not now our topic. The first part, the spirit, is the highest, deepest, and noblest part of the person, through which one can obtain untouchable, invisible, and eternal things. In short, it is the home of faith and God’s word. David speaks of it in Psalm 51: 10: “Create in me a clean heart…and…a new and right spirit,” that is, a righteous and unwavering faith. On the other hand concerning the unbelievers, he says in Psalm 78:37: “Their heart was not steadfast toward God, they were not true to his covenant.”
The second part, the soul, is this same spirit according to nature, but is seen to have the separate function of making the body alive and working through it. In the Bible it is often spoken of as life, because the spirit can live without the body but not the body without the spirit. Even in sleep we see the soul living and working without interruption. It is its nature not to understand the incomprehensible things but only that which reason can understand and consider. And it is reason that is the light in this house. Where the spirit in faith with its brighter light does not enlighten, the light of reason rules and it is never without error. It is too inferior to deal with godly things. The Bible attributes many things to these two parts, such as wisdom and understanding–wisdom to the spirit and understanding to the soul–and likewise hatred, love, delight, outrage, and the like.
The third part is the body with its members. Its work draw upon and apply what the soul understands and the spirit believes. To use an example from the Bible, Moses built a tabernacle with three different courts. The first was called the holy of holies; here God dwelt and in it there was no light. The second was called the holy place; here stood a lampstand with seven arms and seven lamps. The third was the outer court; it was open to the sky and to the sun’s light. This is a metaphor for the Christian person, whose spirit is the holy of holies, God’s dwelling in the darkness of faith without light. For the Christian believes what is neither seen, nor felt, nor comprehended. The soul is the holy place with the seven lamps, that is, every form of reason, discrimination, knowledge, and understanding of bodily and visible things. The body is the outer court that is open to everyone so that everyone can see what one does and how one lives.
Now Paul asks the God of peace, to make us holy, not in part, but entirely–through and through– so that the spirit, soul, and body may all be holy. There would be much to say concerning the reasons for a such a prayer, but in brief, when the spirit is no longer holy, then nothing is holy. The greatest battles and the gravest dangers take aim at the spirit’s holiness, which stands only in the pure and simple faith, because the spirit does not concern itself with tangible things, as was said. False teachers come and draw the spirit outside. One proposes this work, the other that way of becoming righteous. When the spirit is not protected here and is not wise, it will come out and follow, and it comes upon the outer works and ways and thinks that it will be righteous in this way. Immediately faith is lost and the spirit is dead in God’s eyes.
June 25th 2008 About the soul
Reading about the Soul Theorem in mathematics makes me think of the soul as such and whether or not it is an antiquated concept.
In the New York Times a few days ago, I read the obituary of the mathematician, Detlef Gromoll, who worked out the ‘soul’ idea in his mathematical research. His Soul Theorem prepared some of the groundwork leading to the proof in 2003 of the Poincaré Conjecture, one of the most famous and intractable problems in mathematics. This proof was worked out by the Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman. (In essence, this conjecture says that any shape that does not have any holes and fits within a finite space can be stretched and deformed into a sphere – although Henri Poincaré was conjecturing about shapes and spheres in a higher dimension.)
In the Soul Theorem published in 1972, Dr. Gromoll and Dr. Jeff Cheeger studied the properties of certain surfaces that could have flat regions or curves like the outside of a sphere but not regions shaped like saddles. “They found that the properties of such surfaces, infinite in extent and existing in any number of dimensions, could be deduced from a finite central core region.”
Dr. Cheeger said that it was Dr. Gromoll who suggested calling this finite region the “soul” of the object, because it captured the essence of the infinite expanse around it. “Just like inside a person,” Dr. Cheeger said.
Dr. Lawson called it “a phenomenally beautiful theorem.”
So far the article.
Interestingly enough, in Gestalt Therapy the person can also be represented as a sphere with a core region. Fritz Perls in Gestalt Therapy and his Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, both books of 1973, has a psychological anthropology that fits well with a holistic point of view. Philosophical anthropologies can be dualistic, tri-partite, or holistic, i.e., mind and body; mind, soul, and body; or the whole person, the totus hommo, the total human being in Martin Luther’s mature theology.
In alignment with the latter, Fritz Perls envisions a whole person or a self as a sphere with outside surfaces and an inner core. This perspective is like that of Martin Luther (1483-1546), who derived his concept of the total person from the Hebrew. For the whole person, the concepts of body, soul, and mind merely refer to the perspective from which one holistic person is being viewed.
For Perls the core of the self is where the four emotions explode, not tearing a person up, however, but integrating the person, as in the contained explosions driving the pistons of an finely tuned internal combustion engine. For Perls the four emotions involved are love, joy, fear, and grief, if I remember correctly.
If I can apply Gromoll’s soul theorem, then it does not matter whether the bodily form of a person is apple shaped, pair shaped, hour glass, or a person is a mesomorph, ectomorph, or what have you, the soul theorem could view the person as a sphere and the in-most self of that person, or of that self, as the region of the soul “capturing the essence of the infinite expanse around it.” Thus I am using Gestalt Therapy and Luther’s Hebrew understanding of the holistic person to explicate Dr. Cheeger’s point, “Just like inside a person.”
Understanding the soul from the holistic perspective may be more helpful than the Cartesian dualism of the body and mind or the tri-partite division of the body, soul, and mind of much philosophy and theology. A time came when no one knew what the soul was and the “soul” in the Bible tended to be translated by the word, “life.” We no longer tried to “save souls” in ministry, but save lives and present people with abundant and eternal life via the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I myself, pretty much, stopped using the word “soul.”
Then teaching philosophy with Socrates and Plato forced me to acquaint myself with what they meant by the term. Socrates did not believe that the body was the real person, but that the soul was. What good is it to keep polishing a shoe (the body), if your foot (the soul) inside it, is festering? Why live with a worse self if you could live with a better self? “Know yourself” Socrates commanded and also said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” I loved the way he challenged the Athenians in his Apology when he was on trial: “Ye men of Athens, are you not ashamed that you give more attention to acquiring as much money as possible, and similarly with reputation and honor, and give no attention or thought to truth and understanding and the perfection of your souls?”
Before Socrates the soul was considered a shadow, a breath of life, that was sometimes consulted after death, if their ghosts still hovered about, but the body was considered the real person. Socrates taught that the soul was the real person, not the body. In the holistic account both are part of the unity of the whole person and neither is disparaged, whether formerly the body or now the soul.
In the time of Socrates, they believed that there were disembodied souls in heaven waiting for a new birth, upon which occasion they could enter another body. This recycling of souls is called metempsychosis. In those days in Greece, they debated whether it would take twenty bodies or an infinite number of bodies to wear out a soul. In this kind of an argument, the soul must have been quite generic. It could have been universally real, but could not have been a really unique individual person. According to Nicholai Berdyaev, the Russian existentialist, Plato never did grasp the particular. For him it merely spelled the copy of an eternal form.
But a perfectibility of the soul, which we might call its greater maturity, was understood as possible. When the soul had died and gone to heaven it already knew everything, all the wisdom of heaven. Now in the theory of metempsychosis, it waited there to enter another body, and did so when a new baby was born. In the birth trauma, however, the soul forgot everything that it knew in its pre-existence and the whole of its life was then involved in a recollection of what it had forgotten. With each bit of dying, new insights and new maturity in knowledge and virtue could be achieved, until the body died again and the soul would regain omniscience and perfection in heaven.
For Aristotle, the soul was the form of the body. Although Ockham’s razor would be an anachronism, we could say that Aristotle used it on Plato’s theory of forms. (William of Ockham was born in 1280 C.E., while Aristotle died in 322 B.C.E., thus William of Ockham was born 1,602 years after Aristotle.) Aristotle also argued that forms could not be external to objects and persons. Forms for Aristotle were internal and dynamic. There were no heavenly realms filled with eternal forms, or souls, for that matter, and he shaved those realms a way, arguing that there was only a natural world, and we were smack in the middle of it.
The soul for Aristotle was the form of the body, internal and dynamic, because matter and form were required for substances, which themselves were composed of essences and accidents, the whole of it moving or maturing from the potential to actual teleology of the four causes.
Thomas Aquinas would accept Aristotle but not his position that the soul was not eternal. I believe that St. Thomas sometimes followed Plato or Biblical revelation, where Aristotle became problematic. St. Thomas combined the soul with the body and the body with the soul, but saying that for persons “it is a high dignity to subsist in a rational nature” and that “the person is what is most perfect in all of nature.” When he cited Aristotle, he also said that the soul was the form of the body, “only the word ‘form,’” and here I’m citing Emonet, “is not to be understood in the sense of outer shape. It means inner, dynamic, formative, ‘principle’ (concrete basis), the molder of matter….‘the form of a natural body having life in potency,’ …the ‘first act of an organized natural body.” (Thus when I spoke of pair-shaped and apple shaped bodies, I would have been misrepresenting Aristotle.)
But note how Aristotle’s “inner, dynamic, formative, ‘principle’” is somewhat like the central core region from which the surface properties of the sphere, “infinite in extent and existing in a number of dimensions could be deduced,” i.e., in the soul theorem.
I do not think that the controversy of whether the soul is more real than the body or the body is more real than the soul applies to a holistic anthropology, because the person is seen as a unity, with which even St. Thomas agrees.
Because Luther’s theology is concretely expansive, different nuances need to be kept in mind. I believe that his teaching about the whole person, the totus homo, applies to interpersonal psychic realities of the extensive self, and his tri-partite presentation of the spirit, soul, and body in the Magnificat, plummets the intrapsychic space of the deep self. For the latter, he uses the three courts of the temple as a metaphor to explain it. (I will place a copy called “The Metaphor of the Temple and the Body, Soul, and Spirit in Luther” in my next posting so that you can refer to it.)
In terms of St. Paul’s flesh and spirit orientations, Luther speaks of the total person, interpersonally. Here he says, “This division is not of human nature but of human qualities.” He designates the intrapsychic as nature, the interpersonal as extending qualities of the self. Thus in the Magnificat (1520-1521) he presents the intrapsychic, threefold division of the spirit/soul/and body, while he describes the interpersonal, extensive self from the holistic perspective.
In the intrapsychic dynamics of the self, he explains that the spirit is the noblest and deepest part of the human being. The soul is the same as spirit, according to nature, but is seen to have a separate function of making the body alive and working through it. Wisdom belongs to the spirit, understanding to the soul; and the soul is the seat of the emotions, as well as being the part where reasoning takes place.
The outward body and all its members has the work of drawing upon and applying what the soul understands and the spirit believes. At this point Luther uses the metaphor of the three courts of the temple to explicate the spirit, soul, and body.
I think the long and the short of it is, that the whole person is saved, body, soul, and spirit – to use Luther’s terminology, and a kind of physicality will not be lost, if for the resurrection of the body, we follow St. Paul’s discussion of heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, sown as earthly bodies and raised as spiritual bodies (See 1 Corinthians 15:35-49).
 This article, by Kenneth Chang is in the Obituary Page of the NYT, June 19th, 2008 on page C-17.
 My words about the soul theorem hug the words of this article very closely.
 William F. Lawhead, Voyage of Discovery, Second Edition, (Belmont, California: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2002), page 39.
 His citation is taken from S. Morris Engels, The Study of Philosophy, 5th Edition, (San Diego: Collegiate Press, 2002), p. 72.
 Pierre-Marie Emonet, The Greatest Marvel of Nature: an Introduction to the Philosophy of the Human Person (New York: a Herder and Herder Book, 2000), page 105 and 103.
 Ibid., page 88.
 Philip and Peter Krey, Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), pages 91-103.
While exploring a Middle High German Dictionary, I came across an interesting nugget from lobges. 77? That seems like Lobgesang 77 and I can’t find this source. It seems to pun on the words rihten and wagen. The first word can mean to ride (reiten) and judge (richten). Then a shift of the sense of the word “wagen” takes place from “scales” for judgment to a “wagon” for carrying folks to the land of laughter:
Got, von dir sagen
kan rihten ûf der saelden wagen
der uns sol tragen
da man sol iemer lachen.
God, of you it is said, You try us
in the blessed judgment-wagon
that we gently ride,
till it carries us to the land
where we are forever laughing.
Wilhelm Müller, Georg Frierich Benecke, and Friedrich Zarncke, Mittelhochdeutsches Wörterbuch in Google Books, page 644.
I wonder if the operetta „Land des Lächelns” came from the above source? It is so fresh to call heaven “the land of laughter”!
Today, August 18, 2008, I just looked it up and it comes from a Franz Lehar operetta that refers to the Chinese and the way they are always smiling. I doubt that this early German had anything to do with the Chinese or Lehar operetta.
I found that Luther has something in his “Fourteen Consolations” (1520), where he says “Christ is his most precious ‘wagon'” and he is referring to being carried by the righteousness of Christ. He has been talking about the brothers telling old Jacob that Joseph, his son was alive. Jacob could not believe it until he saw the wagons from Egypt. So if I can become rapturous,
Christ is the wagon God sent us
to carry us
into the land of laughter.
I’ll work the poem above twice to capture its two meanings:
O God, of you it’s said,
you weigh us on the blessed balance,
with grace that’s really baffling,
because Christ welcomes us,
into the land where we’re forever laughing.
O God, of you it’s said,
you send us Christ,
the blessed wagon,
in whom we hide
and safely ride,
into the Land of Laughter.
Helmut T. Lehman, ed., Martin O. Dietrich, ed. Martin H. Bertram, translator, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969), page 164.
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost 6/22/2008
Jeremiah 20: 7-13 Psalm 69: 7-18 Romans 6: 1b-11 Mat 10:24-39
Christ’s Life-giving Death
The lessons are all rather rough today. There are the painful lamentations of Jeremiah and those of Psalm 69. Some commentators even believe Psalm 69 is from Jeremiah. He is thrown into a cistern like a dungeon and he has to stand in the mud and the mire, the way it says in the psalm. His enemies left him there to sink in that mire and die, but a friend rescues him.
Jesus’ account of what the future holds for the disciples that he is sending out, could be Winston Churchill all over again: “I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”
Like, the tensions are going to be phenomenal! Your following Christ brings conflict in the family, conflict in the congregation. Imagine the conflict in some societies! In the Moslem country of Pakistan, a law is being drafted stipulating the death sentence on Moslem men that become Christian, life imprisonment for a woman, taking away their children, and confiscating their property, to boot. Hopefully the law will not pass. Secondly, you may not realize that when a Jew becomes a Christian, an orthodox family can perform a Shiva, a funeral service for that sister, brother, or child. They consider that person to have died and perform a burial service. When you think about the cost of discipleship, don’t you get the feeling that we are living a watered-down Christianity?
Jesus said if they called him a devil, then don’t think they won’t call you a devil as well. And when you speak the truth, don’t think they’re not going to call it a pack of lies; and when you proclaim the Gospel, you know they’re going to call it heresy.
You can certainly see that Jesus Christ was Martin Luther’s Lord, (Martin Luther of old, 1483-1546). When he experienced God’s grace overcoming him and started spreading the Gospel, that God is not a wrathful judge, who is out to get us, but a compassionate Father or Mother routing for us and finding ways to help us at every turn, forgiving all our sins freely, and without the need to purchase of indulgences, did the church thank Luther and make him a saint? No way! If Frederick the Wise had not protected him from the Old Believers, who were outraged at him, he would have been martyred. If they had gotten their hands on him, they would have burnt him at the stake. (We sometimes roast each other in fun. In those days they really roasted you!)
So take courage and witness that Jesus Christ is your Lord – the one who lives in your heart and guides and directs you in all that you do. Then Jesus will be your witness before the Father. Not only that, Christ lifts you up, helps you grow from one maturity to the next.
Now, say a woman has found her calling and wants to go to college. There are her traditional parents trying to stop her. They tell her, “You should be having babies; you should be a good wife to your husband and clean the house.” That does not mean you will not honor your parents, your father and mother, but Jesus warns us and wants us to know where the opposition will come from. And when Jesus calls you, if you love your mother or father more than the One who saves us, then you are not worthy of Jesus. We cannot rightly honor our parents if we do not love God more.
Every time I read Jesus’ words, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” – I always do a double-take and have to struggle to understand it once again.
The truth is that the death of Jesus is life-giving. Our faith in God has to do with how we face our own death and dying. Just think of Professor Randy Pausch, and the witness he has been making, giving his last lecture, and showing people the way of life before he dies.
Look at the gracious way Jesus died on the cross: “Father, forgive them they know not what they do.” There’s the criminal beside him and he says, “Tonight you will be with me in Paradise!” And he lets his beloved disciple, John take Mary for his mother in order to take care of her.
Our baptisms are supposed to make us mindful of our dying. Under the water you go! “Hey, I can’t breathe under water!” The point is that you die to yourself and come up out of the water a new creature in a marvelous light and life that you live for others.
There is power in that kind of a death. Sometimes for shorthand, we refer to it as “blood,” when we say, “There’s power in the blood of Jesus!”
So when someone pushes you to the limit and you ask, “What do you want, blood?” The answer is “yes.” When we are witnesses we are martyrs. (I think some of us would rather die than witness.) In Greek the word “martyr” means a witness. So as witnesses we are martyrs and if you lose your life you will gain it. It is through death that we receive life, through the death of Christ. I’m speaking of a spiritual dying, not a physical, biological dying, although I believe God will raise us up after that death to be in Heaven, too. This dying is a deeper dimension of faith, a selfless, more complete surrender to God. The death I’m talking about is one that is in the grasp of the resurrection, and it is your end, only because God has a new beginning for you.
Our baptism into the death of Christ translates us from one quality of existence into the next. Not, first of all, in terms of our morality; no, in terms of our receiving a new maturity. Then our morality becomes a by-product of that greater maturity, which we receive. We have to be careful with moralism, because it is often used to block a person from this new maturity. Moralism is self-righteous, judgmental, and unhelpful. It is a rejection of the other that does not know forgiveness.
There is power in dying to yourself so that Christ is raised up in you by God. Look at Jesus himself, completely deserted, counted as a criminal – because “zeal for the house of the Lord consumed him” (Psalm 69: 9), nailed like a block of wood on a cross, condemned, suffocating in his own fluids, hanging there until death; and over 2 billion people have seen his light today. They have had their hearts stirred and have been baptized into his name. Calculating our number for the middle of 2008, there are about 2 billion, 380, million Christians in the world today and in the Third World, the growth of Christian churches is phenomenal – while we tend to struggle and diminish. We need to ask “Why?”
We often ask ourselves, “What are we getting out of this church? If we feel we are not getting anything we leave.” That is a wrong question. What is the witness we bring to a church? Can we deny ourselves and live the gracious forgiveness and reconciliation of Christ? Of course, there has to be giving and taking. With taking or giving, it is not either/ or. It just can’t be one way, as if you could be a consumer in the church. The relationship has to be reciprocal.
We come together in the congregation, because there are wolves out there, and we are the torn-up sheep. Here we need forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing. The wolves are out there, let’s not be wolves to each other in here.
“How does the church entertain me?” wrong question! Dying to ourselves and being raised up into the new life of Christ is a life and death matter. Suffering and dying to enter into this new life is no entertainment. But we shall experience a joy beyond all imagining in the Gospel. Entertainment cannot hold a candle to Gospel joy!
For what I’m talking about, our faith has to envelop our whole lives at work, at leisure, at home in our families, at school, at play, while at church we reorient ourselves to Christ and let Christ become our center again, so that from this congregation we can go back out there and witness.
“Are the people in the church nice?” Wrong question! We are sinners like everybody else. We are all sinners. All of us have fallen short of the glory of God! (Romans 3:23) That is why we beg God, we pray to God, to help us die to sin and come alive to God in Christ Jesus. We need to come alive to the marvelous, wonderful Gospel of the forgiveness of our sin; and we pray God, we beg God, to fill us with the strength from on high to witness to Jesus Christ our Lord, to be the martyrs, who are living out of the strength of the resurrection. And although we ourselves are suffering and dying in Christ, everyone that we touch with the Word of God dies to sin and comes alive in a new life of love and compassion. Thanks be to God for the life-giving death of Jesus. Amen.
Here’s a Middle High German poem by Freidank (His name means Free-Thought) Vrîdanc in MHG. He writes in the early 13th century. This is a work-in-progress and I think I have it right, but would love help, if I have translated some of it wrongly.
A friend is more useful near to me,
Than to have four pigs or three.
It’s very easy for a relative to fly,
When a friend you’ve made keeps standing by.
A sure friend and a trusted sword
In need, are worth their weight in gold.
If you have no way with words,
Be silent and as a wise man be heard.
When an ox comes into a foreign land,
He’s taken for a steer at hand.
Wash as much as a crow might,
it will never that way get white.
Poor arrogance is the slander of a clod,
Rich humility is loved by God.
Arrogance forces the short man to go
Walking about on tippy-toe.
Riches are not from a blessed source
And no good takes place by their force.
In this world there may be no sweeter rhyme
Than to say the little word, called “mine.”
I think, it’s like a bed you’re sleeping in,
Which, in your back, has stuck a spring.
Many beautiful flowers grow
With very bitter roots below.
(from Knowledge of Life)
Here it is in Middle High German:
(early 13th century)
Ein friunt ist nützer nâhe bî
dan verre zwêne oder drî.
Gemachet friunt ze noeten stât
dâ lîhte ein mâc den andern lât.
Gewisse friunt, versuochtiu swert
sint ze noeten goldes wert….
Swer niht wol gereden kan,
der swîge und sî ein wîse man.
Kumt ein ohse in fremediu lant,
er wirt doch für ein rint erkant.
Sich badet diu krâ mit allem flîz
und wirt durch daz doch niemer wîz.
Armiu hôchvart ist ein spot,
rîche dêmuot minnet got.
Hôchvart twinget kurzen man,
daz er muoz ûf den zêhen gân.
Der rîchtuom ist von saelden niht,
dâ von nieman guot geschiht.
Zer werlde mac niht süezers sîn
dan ein wort, daz heizet mîn…
Ich waene, daz iht bettes sî,
da’n sî boesiu veder bî.
Vil manic schoeniu bluome stât,
diu doch vil bitter wurzel hât.
(taken from Bescheidenheit)
From the Heath Anthology of German Poetry, edited by August Closs and T. Pugh Williams, (Boston: D.C. Heath and Company, Undated, 1950?), page 96.
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost 6/15/2008
Exodus 19: 2-8a Psalm 100 Romans 5: 1-8 Matthew 9: 35- 10: 23
The Kingdom of Faith
Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Hear the Gospel message of Jesus: “The Kingdom of Heaven is very near you!” In another translation: “The Kingdom of Heaven is near at hand!” It is a kingdom that becomes real through faith and our mutual, faithful acceptance of it. Listen to St. Paul: “Since we have become righteous and alive by faith through our Lord Jesus Christ, we have obtained access to this grace.” (Grace is favors that we do not deserve.) It is by grace that we can come into the presence of our wonderful God. So in the words of the 100th Psalm,
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Jesus gives us access to the Kingdom of Heaven, so that we come into God’s presence with joyful singing, enter the great city of the Kingdom of Heaven with thanksgiving, go into the heavenly courts with praise, and join the wonderful campaign of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Again we have the Old Testament time, the New Testament time and our time. In Old Testament times, Moses and the children of Israel were wandering through the wilderness – on that “long and winding road” leading to the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey. That land flowing with milk and honey was the Kingdom of Heaven, because God made a covenant with the people to rule over them. That is why Moses was only the servant of God, Ebed Yahweh, in Hebrew, and not the king of Israel.
The way-stations in their wilderness wandering may not have been real place names, but stages in their journeying. “Rephidim” means resting places or beds. In this place God reminds the people why he has a claim to them and not Pharaoh, because he delivered them out of the slavery in Egypt upon eagles’ wings.
That metaphor requires some explanation. Eagles build their nests high up in cliffs and when the eaglets are ready to fly, the mamma or papa eagle pokes and pushes the little ones out of the nest. “Hey!” the little one screams. “They are trying to kill me! My papa has become a monster!” Holding on and clinging to the side of the nest as it might, it goes into the drop. If the little bird freezes and does not flap its wings, the big eagle swoops down under the little one, and on eagles’ wings, lifts it back up to the nest. Then it happens all over again, until the little one learns to flap its wings and fly, flying into all the promises of God, just like we have to learn to fly into the Kingdom of Faith, which is a reality, if you believe it.
The New Testament Kingdom is just the same. That’s why Jesus chooses twelve disciples to match the twelve tribes of Israel. Moses was the servant of God; Jesus was God’s suffering servant; indeed, God’s own very Son sent to save us. And we ourselves have been traveling on this “long and winding road” trying to find and enter the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven over which our God in Christ rules and reigns forever.
Jesus Christ is really present also here with us. Jesus looks at us sitting here in this congregation Immanuel (Lutheran Church), which means God-with-us (Lutheran Church). Jesus is looking at you dear people in Alameda, and has compassion for you, because you are like sheep without a shepherd, if you haven’t entered the holy gates and God does not rule your life.
“Look at the hills!” Jesus exclaims. “They are white with harvest!” All the people who are picked and who fill the overflowing bushel baskets of the faithful are the harvest Jesus is referring to. They are the wheat and have to be separated from the chaff. Chaff is the inedible shells “husking” the real kernels of wheat. We should not think of some people being wheat and others, being chaff, so much as our casting the chaff out of our own selves, and becoming pure wheat. We are the people whose whole quality has changed from chaff into wheat, and by faith we enter into the wonderful city of God, enter Eden, the garden of God’s delights, enter the Kingdom of Heaven, following our Lord of Life, following the Champion of Faith, who declares the new kingdom, making it exist and giving us access to it by our faith. Believing it will make it so. By our believing, God will make it come true.
Thus the harvest means people that are growing and maturing in faith, who realize that Jesus Christ is the entry-way into the promised community that is filled with all the promises of life. “The harvest is plentiful, the laborers are few.” We have to organize this campaign. So how does it stand with your maturity? Can Jesus summon you to drive out unclean spirits, cast the chaff, all those empty shells out of our hearts, so that the rich kernels of wheat remain? Do we stand ready to cure every disease and heal every sickness? Jesus lets us know that life in the Kingdom of Heaven is healthy and even death becomes a mere stepping stone into our face to face encounter with the One who loves us from Eternity.
“So bring them in! Bring the little ones to Jesus” and the big ones, too. “Bring them in!” Jesus is summoning you to be a disciple so you bring the people in. You can read his instructions: you need no gold, silver nor copper. That means, for this mission, you need no gold coins, silver dollars, or copper pennies that people now no longer even pick up anyway. That means you need no money in your wallet, no purse in your handbag. A woman may not even need a handbag, let alone some that are the size of duffle bags! You don’t need a change in clothes or several pairs of shoes. You don’t even need a staff, like Moses used to part the Red Sea. People will feed you and care for you, because campaigning for this Kingdom is labor indeed. It is the work of the soul and worthy of support.
The welcome are worthy and the worthy are welcome. But before we shake the dust off our feet, let’s remember that the gospel is, the good news is, that the unworthy are also welcome. But we need some with more maturity in their faith, about twelve in number, to bring about a renewal in this place right here in the homes and streets of Alameda.
What! It is a community of faith that rises up as our champion faith, Jesus Christ, sends us to proclaim “The Kingdom of Heaven is near at hand!” “Cure the sick, raise the dead, shelter the homeless, put a heart into the breast of the heartless, change a stone-cold picnic into a heart warming Father’s Day barbeque of sloppy Joes and a gathering ready to live out the faith and enter the gates.
What I noticed in Paul’s writings is that the deeper dimensions of faith or the lack of it are life and death. Like “the righteous live by faith,” the ungodly die in their despair. Faith ushers in life, a life filled with integrity, a quality of life, filled with God’s saving purposes.
A lack of faith, an absence of good faith, ushers in despair and a deterioration of life that plagues the desperate. (In the goodness of this faith we have a resting place. In it we can make decisions. Decisions we make when we are desperate are not good decisions.) The unrighteous meet their death because of a lack of faith. It takes faith to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and without faith we are shut out. If the Kingdom of Heaven were like the United States of America to day, which it is not, then the faithless would be illegal aliens. Have you seen the movie, The Visitor? What a sad statement of affairs! How heartless we have become in America today! Have we Christians become alienated from the Gospel? We can be aliens in that sense no matter what our legal status a citizens. We are alienated without the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven and we embark on harmful ways outside it.
Our life and death depend on our faith and what is more, the life and death of Jesus Christ, the Lord of Life, depends upon our faith. Our unbelief brings death to the Lord of Life, Jesus. But God raises him up from the dead, in the deepest level of faith, because faith is the power of God working among us and the good news is, that the way God raised Jesus from the dead to sit at the right hand in the Kingdom of Heaven forever, so we too are raised up from the dead. Just like Jesus.
So enter into his gates with singing and into Heaven’s courts with praise, because the life-giving death of Jesus is even for us, the ungodly. Jesus died even for us sinners until the unquenchable flame of faith starts burning in us. Amen.