Archive for December 2009
Christmas Day, December 25th 2009
Isaiah 52:7-9 Psalm 98 Hebrews 1:1-4[5-12] John 1:1-14
Luther Proclaims that Christ is truly God
To prepare for this sermon I read Luther’s long 42 page sermon for Christmas Day and I am following many of his thoughts from it. He called it the Gospel for the High Christ-mass; we would say for the Christmas Day Service. Luther felt that the Prologue of John is the clearest Gospel depicting the Godhood of Christ.
On Christmas Day, we do not relate the intimate details of the story about the birth of Christ: the baby Jesus, Mary, his mother, and father Joseph, being as helpful as he can be. Today we look at what this story means. What does it mean that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us? Today we think about what it means that Christ was born and lived and ministered among us, full of grace and truth.
The Gospel lesson is the introduction to the Gospel of John. John is not like the other three gospels. John starts at the beginning of everything, wants to think the story of Jesus all the way through and get to the bottom of it. He starts like the Bible in Genesis, “In the beginning….” In Genesis we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In John we read, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and God was the Word.” John wants to tell us that the birth of Christ compares in significance to the creation of the whole world, because God was fulfilling the divine prophesies and promises pronounced in the Old Testament. God, Immanuel, God-self would come and dwell with people. Luther explained that the Old Testament is the sealed letter that the New Testament opens up for us, revealing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whom the Old Testament promised.
In the creation story the Three Persons of the blessed Trinity can be distinguished in the very first words of the Bible. John actually thinks out the distinction of the First and Second Person in his first verses. But first, let’s take the light: John says, “The true light which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” In Genesis, “God said, ‘Let there be light and there was light.’” Back to the Persons: if God spoke, then there are the Speaker and the Word and therefore the Word that God spoke, was with God before creation. Further God speaks from the heart, so the heart of God was in the Word. That Word is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Often we Christians say, “The Father, Word, and Holy Spirit,” instead of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Christ is the Word, the Word of God, the Christ of God, whose birth we celebrate today. Thus you see how high John’s presentation of Christ is.
Now the creation story continues with the spirit hovering over the face of the waters, the formless deep. Here you have the Blessed Third Person of the Trinity. So there is the eternal Father; the Son, begotten but not made; and the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. Notice how all three persons of the Godhead are involved in creation.
Now the Bible is not a book of science, but of theology and our faith in God. The science of that day needs to be updated by the science of our day, even if even today, we cannot hold a candle to the science God knows. So when you hear about the scientific Big Bang Theory of the beginning of the universe, then you have to realize that the Christ of God born on Christmas Day, was in eternity with the Father and the Holy Spirit before creation. This Word of God “created all things, made everything that was made and without him nothing was made that was made.” So the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit launched this creation, this universe or multi-verse, as we sometimes say today, where in the first milliseconds, it became as big as a golf-ball, then in a few more seconds following, expanded into the galaxies of the universe light years apart.
Suddenly time, space, and light began, because God said, “Let there be light.” But it all sprang into creation through the Word of God. Imagine the awesome power of the Word of God, flinging the creation with its starry heavens into existence and providing this planet Earth for us to live on and dwell in as it orbits around the sun.
Oh, if we were able to weigh, with [the feeling] that we ought, what it means to be saying, “God is speaking,” “God is promising,” “God is threatening”! Who I ask would not be shaken to their very depths? This is a great word, a great sound, and one to be feared: “Behold the Word of God!”
Here was the Light of the World before the light of the sun, moon, and stars; the Light of the World come to give us life and light by his life now coming into creation to be born amongst us. Yes, the Word of Heaven is now born a human being. That is the miracle of Christmas.
The eternal Father’s only child,
Now lying in a manger mild.
The maker of everything now asleep in a lowly crib; the One whom the universe could not contain, now a little bundle of love, hope, and joy lying helplessly in a cradle.
The Light that preceded our physical light came from the Word, the Word did not come from the light, according to Luther. And God spoke all things into existence by means of the Word.
So the Word of God is not a creature and has no beginning as creatures do, but existed before creation, beyond time in eternity. Time and creation cannot grasp the Word, because they began through the Word. Those who meditate say that we cannot peer into the light that gives us our conscious existence.
Thus Luther maintains that we cannot understand, but we can only proclaim that the Word became flesh – and “flesh” here means a human being. That is the good news that Isaiah is singing about, the event he is announcing, our salvation.
Again, the Word of God is spoken from God’s heart and thus Christ reveals to us what is in God’s heart and God needs to be received through the Word, this Word that became a human being. Luther tells a saying, “What fills the heart overflows out of the mouth.” So we can picture what God is like from God’s Word, from the Christ of God, just like we can tell what songbird is singing, by recognizing the bird’s song, Luther continues. In the same way we can tell who God is by hearing about Jesus Christ and getting to know his life.
If you have God’s Word within you, Luther maintains that you have God’s divine nature in you. Don’t let your reasoning get in the way. “Crawl into the God’s Word and remain in it like a rabbit hiding in the crevasses of some rocks,” because these matters are all hard to believe. Thus our reason militates against these beliefs. So let your reason take a walk, Luther says, and hide in God’s Word like the rabbit. Don’t make your faith go on a walk and don’t let your reason speculate about these divine matters or you will soon mingle and confuse your faith, reason, and God, not knowing what they are.
Reason first received its light from the Light of God, so it cannot grasp its source. Our lives received their life from the eternal life of God and our reasoning and our lives are like darkness compared with the source of our life and light. That is why the light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not comprehend it. Worse still, we love the darkness of our light and lives more than the Light that came into the world to enlighten us.
Our text follows a distinction made by St. Augustine that Luther rejects. Look at verse three: Augustine connects “What has come into being” to what follows and Luther maintains it belongs to what came before it. “All things came into being through him, that is, the Word, the Blessed second Person of the Trinity, and without him not one thing came into being, that came into being.” Our text reads, “What came into being in him was life and the life was the light of all people.” This interpretation lends itself to Augustine’s Platonic belief that all things had eternal forms and souls in the Christ of God before they later existed on earth.
Luther argued that John was not doing philosophy, but was proclaiming Christ. He was not taking us away from Christ and into ourselves, but taking us out of ourselves and into Christ. It is true that “In God we live, move, and have our being,” but John wants us to realize that from the life of Christ, which he is going to tell us about in his gospel, we receive the Light from above, the Light only receivable by faith, the Light that is the source of reasoning and the source of our lives. It is the Light that gives us the eyes that see, who it was born on this Christmas Day, it gives us the ears to hear the Word of God, and gives us the heart that has room for Christ.
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.
There is room in my heart for Thee.
In the enlightenment of Christ, we already get to enter the Light, which comes down from above and enter the life that the Jesus Christ came to us to bring. His life is the source of life that will never die; even crucified, that life will rise again on the third day, because it is the life that overcomes death. It is the source of life in the Christ of God and in all who believe in his name and receive him. In this Word of Life we never taste death.
Luther mentions a certain contemporary of John called Cerinthus, who said that Christ did not exist before his mother, because he was a human being and a mother exists before her child. John angrily refutes Cerinthus and throughout his gospel he shows Jesus confronting his mother, because he wants to show that the Word of God, the Christ of God even existed before time and creation, let alone before his mother.
Now like Cerinthus, if we believe that Jesus Christ was merely a good man, then we consider him only according to the flesh, that is, as a human being, and “the flesh is of no avail.” A human being is like a dim reflection of the life and light of God, like our moon merely reflecting the light of the sun. That kind of belief is bankrupt and loses out on the whole shining Gospel of the grace and glory of Christmas.
If we believe that the Christ of God, the Word of God from heaven was God dwelling with us in the life of Jesus Christ here on Earth, then his flesh is food indeed, his blood is drink indeed, for it is nourishment received from the source of life and gives us a life lived in the Light of God. We receive heavenly life and light from him. With this faith, his flesh becomes the very bread of heaven.
When the “One through whom all things were made and without whom nothing was made that was made,” that is, the Maker of heaven and earth, nourishes us, then the life, which is the light we are speaking about, enriches us with grace, so fills and renews us, that we too live in this marvelous light and life of God.
Verse thirteen shows that those who believe that Christ is truly God and walk in his Light are born of God. Then Christ will exchange our birth for his. Then Christmas will also be our birthday. Name your birthday! Your real birthday will be December 25th and Christ will take your day, which sometimes no one else would ever celebrate.
The Christ of God is a person who is the Son of God and the Son of Man, true God of true God and truly a human being, born of the Virgin Mary. If you take him as a mere human being, then you let the darkness of your reason throw a cloud over the miracle of Christmas and over the way all the saints rise up as the children of God, born not of the blood, or of the will of the flesh or of human will, but of God!
This flesh availeth very much, because this human being, who is God, the Word, has come to dwell with us and launch our salvation. He gives us the nourishment of eternal life, the source of light that changes us in the twinkling of God’s eye, from people bound in the cords of death to people looking forward to the heavenly welcome table, in the marriage feast with the Christ of God. His light cures our blindness and overcomes the darkness. Many are blind, live without this grace, and even persecute it. But thanks be to God, who opens our eyes and ears and hearts to see the salvation launched by the birth of Christ on this day. God gives those who receive him the new birth of the children of God, whose Name be praised for ever and ever, for sending his Christmas Son to save us.
Come into our hearts, Lord Jesus.
There’s room in our hearts for Thee.
 Martin Luther: Ausgewählte Werke: Von Advent bis Epiphanias Evangelienpredigten der Kirchenpostille, herausgegeben von H.H. Borcherdt und Georg Merz, Dritte Auflage, Ergänzungsreihe, Vierter Band, (München: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1960), pages 140-182. This sermon can be found in any edition of Luther’s Advent and Christmas Postil. It is in the Weimar Edition, WA 10.I.j.180-247.
 WA 4:380.15-18. Quoted from James Samuel Preus, From Shadow to Promise, (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, 1969), p. 253.
Pentecost XXV – November 10th 2002 (Martin Luther’s Birthday November 10th 1483)
Pastor Peter D.S. Krey
Amos 5:18-24 Psalm 70 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Matthew 25: 1-13
Bethlehem Lutheran Church West 12th St. West Oakland California
Back in Coney Island when I was a mission developer, we had a Spanish service and I worked with Maria Lopez, a Pentecostal pastor and our congregation grew from about 17 people to 173 in a short time. I had served a congregation that remained at about 55 members attending, and the Puerto Rican service just smashed through every barrier I had ever thought impossible to cross. I know it was the Spirit. But Pentecostal Christians have a future orientation, while mainline churches are often oriented to the past. Thus some Pentecostal churches are called Christo Viene which means “Christ is coming.”
I translated a Spanish corito which illustrates my point and is also relevant to the text for this morning.
“Pon Aceite en mi Lampara, Señor.”
Amado hermano, Christo ya viene,
toma tu lampara, y ponle aceite.
Amado hermano, Christo ya viene,
toma tu lampara, y ponle aceite.
Pon aceite en mi lampara, Señor
Pon aceite en mi lampara, Señor,
Que yo quiero servierte con amor
Pon aceite en mi lampara, Señor.
In my English:
“Pour Oil in my Lamp O my dear Lord”
Sisters and brothers, the Christ is coming
take out your shining lamps
And keep them burning. (Repeat)
Pour your oil in my lamp O my dear Lord
Pour your oil in my lamp O my dear Lord
Like the heavenly angels above
Fill our hearts with your
Faith, hope and love.
Sisters and brothers, the Christ is coming
take out your shining lamps
And keep them burning. (Repeat)
We want to serve you O Lord with all our love
We want to serve you O Lord with all our love
Like the heavenly angels above
Fill our hearts with your
Faith, hope and love.
(My translation, December 2nd 1984)
I believe the way that congregation grew was related to its Pentecostal future orientation: “Christ is coming.” But whether Christ is out there in the future or back there in the past, how does Christ come to us in the present?
How do we get our hearts into the moment we are sharing together and how does Christ come into that moment? And how is it that we can be out to lunch and miss Christ passing through our moment, and then find ourselves outside the door with Christ saying to us: “I do not know you.” as if Christ were saying, “What relationship do we have with each other?” or “I have nothing to do with you.”
That saying is hard. The great marriage feast here has a bad ending, just like the other banquet, where the disciples go out to the highways and byways and invite everybody in. Then in the celebration one fellow is found to be without a wedding garment and he is thrown out into the outer darkness. (Matthew 22:1-14)
How did that fellow lose out? How did the five foolish bridesmaids of our story this morning lose out? It would be good to know so that we do not lose out – much like the San Francisco Giants in the World Series this year, who were so strong out ahead but who seemed to have nothing when they were behind.
How do we receive Christ when he comes? Or will we not be ready? Will we too be out to lunch – and the great entourage, the glory train will pull in and out of the station, and we’ll come running, when our great transport of delight is already gone. With a sinking sensation we will hear our own footsteps and return having missed the purpose and destination charted for us by Christ.
To take another example that may be closer to the feeling of the ten bridesmaids waiting for the Groom, waiting with the Bride, watching at the door, trying not to go asleep:
When an important visitor is expected, coming to our house, and the day of arrival of the visitor finally comes, the whole house is still a flurry of preparations. After the house has been cleaned, the windows washed, everything made as beautiful as possible, on that day my mother sometimes still wanted to change around the furniture so that the room had a fresh look. And then we all went upstairs to get into our finest clothes. We wanted to be presentable when we met the precious person about to visit us. I would be frightened that I might not be ready and everyone would already be in the room visiting and talking, and when I would now enter so much attention would fall on me that I might become too afraid to enter the room. My wishful fantasy would be that my favorite sister like an angel would run to me and pull me into the joy of that presence.
Now the coming one does not want this outward preparation but an inward one. In Luke 12:35 it says: Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet… so you may open the door as soon as he knocks. Blessed are you who are alert, awake and ready, because this master will put on his belt and sit you down and serve you! What a surprise that he comes to us to serve us and not vice versa. But he could come in the middle of the night or at dawn.
Jesus tells us: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” (Matthew 5:14) Once on a visit to Israel I wanted to see the Shepherd Hills of Bethlehem, where they saw the Christmas angels ascending a descending from heaven. It was late and the darkness fell all around me so quickly it took me completely by surprise. I did not know how I could find my way back. Suddenly all the lights of the city came on and it was no trouble at all climbing up to it. What an exhilarating sight! Jesus probably had Bethlehem in mind when he said, “A city on a hill cannot be hid.”
Like that city, no one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel or a cover – St. Luke says, in the cellar, when light is needed up in the house. A light is put on a lampstand so that it gives light to all who are in the house. So let your light shine – [in the darkest hour, even just before dawn – because the darker it is the clearer and brighter the light] – so people see your good works and glorify your father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)
Our faith in Christ is what makes the flame in our heart start on fire and lo and behold, we become like shining lamps of the Lord. And when our hearts start burning with this holy fire, then everyone in the house can walk in the light, can see what is going on. And what is going on? They can see that God is pouring a new strength of love, faith, forgiveness, and hope down into our midst – and like walking on wedding day clouds, Christ comes into our midst, making our lamps burst into burning brightly – so brightly that people notice that mere daylight is darker than the midnight hour, and a lamp burning with the light of God, is ready to escort the Bride to the knock on the door and start the procession to the marvelous wedding banquet, where, to speak like Martin Luther of old, who took light to a whole new level, Christ exchanges his righteousness for our sin, his eternity for our time, his light for our darkness; his love, tenderness and compassion for our hard-heartedness, his glory for our down-troddenness and sadly wanting existence.
Trim your lamp! That means that your whole person needs to light up in the joy, faith, hope and love of the Light of the World coming to be with us. What is it if we are a depressed lot? If our soul is weighed down with hopeless despair? If we keep up a front on the outside, but our insides snuff out any flame, put out any light that comes near us? If our heart is a sink-hole of nothingness and despair, which we try to hide?
I take that expression “a sink-hole of nothingness” from a philosophy book I use in my college class. It is filled with cartoons to make the “unbearable heaviness of philosophy lighter.” Palmer notes that St. Augustine said that evil was the absence of being, the privation of being, explaining the absence of good. Next to this paragraph he draws the picture of a burglar with a mask and revolver and sweeping his arm before his eyes, the thief says, “Woe is me, I’m a sink-hole of nothingness!”
How do we get our lamps burning so that when the Bridegroom knocks, we can open the door? And our hearts will not be a swamp of depression but a glowing fire and we will be lamps full of fuel and full of light that really shines?
You and I have to clothe ourselves in trust, in trusting God’s Word, because, indeed, “God’s Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.” That Word of God in our hearts, that Word, indeed, will get the oil burning. All the depression, despair and dungeon-darkness of even death, is vanquished by the Word of God – when we let it into our hearts. Because Christ is the Light of the World and Christ is the light that no darkness can overcome: not even the darkness of death, not even the darkness of losing our minds, not even the darkness of cancer, not even the darkness of war and violence. Christ is the light that no darkness can overcome. With the Word of God in your heart, you will change into a marvelous lamp and you will throw the rich wonderful colors of God’s light over this whole world and the fresh new existence of life coming to be in it.
Streaming though you will be a rainbow of feelings in the stirring of the Holy Spirit, who puts a wedding celebration over our whole lives and changes our days into marriage days, with all the promises of heaven, the Garden of Eden, the Garden of Delights! “What delights?” you may ask. Delight in the Word of God and the shining light come into our hearts that gives us the Day of the Lord to walk in, the Day of the Lord to see in, the Day of the Lord to witness in, the Day of the Lord to love God’s people in, the Day of the Lord to change our hearts in, the Day of the Lord to raise us up in, the Day of the Lord to awaken in.
You Bethlehem saints, do you hear me?
The Day of the Lord to speak of the love of God in, the Day of the Lord so happy to repent in, the Day of the Lord to be filled with grace in, the Day of the Lord we need no sun to shine in, the Thessalonian Day of the Lord to be enraptured in. The day of the Lord no curse can stand in. The lamb is our lamp whose rays raise up the saints to shine on a whole new level with an end-of-the-world intensity for the gracious purposes of God.
Our son Joshua has to go across town every afternoon to walk his Iaido Sensei‘s dogs, Frido and Pixel. Sometimes it gets quite late and I have often gone with him for the beautiful and invigorating walk though the hills above El Cerrito and Richmond. Suddenly coming to the crest of a hill you can see all the lights of the city below. It is such a beautiful sight to see. All those lights shining where the people live. But as beautiful as they are, they are only electric lights. What about the people living under them? Are they filled with the light of Christ or only living in electric light? Are they fighting with each other under them, betraying each other, manipulating each other, hurting each other, lying to each other, abusing each other, killing each other?
We have to trim our lamps and keep them burning. We have to receive Christ, the Bridegroom, the Word of God, and receive God’s light. No longer will our churches and we ourselves dwindle and dwindle, twinkle, twinkle and go out! The light of Christ will light our lamps again and take our holy fire to a brand new level. Bethlehem Lutheran Church has to become filled with light like a city on a hill. So lifting our lamps, we will all be ready when the Bridegroom knocks and we open the door and see the glorious train, and enter the excitement of the marriage procession, following the Bridegroom, the Light of the World, into the House of the Lord, to celebrate the marriage feast that has no end – in the Day of the Lord to be glad and rejoice in, the day of the Lord to be enraptured in, O Bethlehem, City of Light, high on a hill. Amen.
Donald Palmer, Looking at Philosophy, 3rd Edition, (New York: McGraw Hill Publishers, 2001) p. 105.
In Hebrew “Eden” means “delights.”
The Japanese martial art of drawing the sword for the sake of ennobling the spirit.
Advent II – December 7, 1997
Malachi 3:1-4. Psalm: Luke 1:68-79. Philippians 1:3-11. Luke 3:1-6.
Let us pray: Stir up our hearts, 0 Lord, to prepare the way for your only son. By his coming give us strength in our conflicts and shed light on our path through the darkness of this world; through your son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.
How do we get ready? How do we take away all the roadblocks, so that Christ can come straight to our congregation, St. John’s, here on 55th Avenue in East Oakland? And not only here. Now. This seventh day of December, Pearl Harbor day, when our Pacific fleet got blasted to the bottom of the sea. But that was years ago. What about today?
Today in the sixth year of the presidency of Bill Clinton, with Pete Wilson in Sacramento, the governor of California, and Elihu Harris, the major of Oakland, and Willie Brown major of San Francisco, can the Word of God come to us? That is, the way it came to John the Baptist in the wilderness? They had to mark their calender in those days by naming all the kings and governors because they didn’t have simple dates on a wall-calender to read the way we do. But with our calendars and all our clocks and watches for telling time, do we know what time it is?
Norma Dawson gave me old annual reports from this congregation. No longer is Judge Duncan the president, nor Norma herself, nor Cyril, but Moses Walker, who was a lay associate in this church, and now is the President – and we are in the time of three deacons: Joy Branch, John Davis, and Norma Dawson. There is a fourth deacon, Marylynn Montgomery. But I’ve never met her – so I wonder about her deaconate.
Does this catalogue of our leaders tell us what time it is? St. Paul says: “I am confident that the one who began a good work [in St. John’s Lutheran Church] will bring it to completion by the Day of Jesus Christ.” When Christ returns, then your pastor, your president, maybe your secretary, Ether, and Pandora and Rosa, our financial officers, and certainly the deacons, will have to present an account. The ball was in our court – how did we play it? We had the ball. What was our defense, what was our offense? Our team is at bat. Are we getting any hits for Christ?
How come we are not packing this church? How come we are not making news? Now you probably think I mean making news in the newspapers, radio, or television – that is not wrong – but that is not what I mean. I mean, how come the Word of God is not coming to us as it came to John the Baptist? How come it is not making good news in our midst?
The difference between the news cast, the newspaper and God’s good news – is that the Word of the Lord makes good news happen here in our midst. Then we all become the witnesses to the fast breaking news the Word is making. We give an eye-witness account of the way the Word of the Lord came straight into our hearts, placed our feet on solid ground, straightened out the crooked ways of our desperately corrupt hearts; made our ways straight, so that we could walk on the narrow way, through the straight gate that leads to life.
Now that goes for me, your pastor. That goes for you in this congregation who bear the highest responsibility. It goes for all of you here. Your hearts need to be stirred up. The way to your hearts have to open up, so that Christ can come and enter them again. So that not you live, but Christ lives in you. So that your Christ-life continues to bring the fruit of love and a harvest of justice in our violent and heartless times.
Maybe as Pastor I have not shouted, yelled, and hollered enough. I know, that Moses has not yet tried to choke me.  But then, our game here is much more important than NBA basket ball! What will it take for us to start winning games for Christ? What will it take for us to get this church moving again? To turn the people back to the Lord, who are turning away. It is a matter of death and life. A matter of the baptism of this whole
congregation; not only Marchellos’, and Marshayla’s, whom we are baptizing here today, but what matters is a mighty baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of St. John’s sins, so that we hear the voice of God crying in this God forsaken wilderness:
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord!”
Open up the pathways to your hearts, open up the way to your hearts, so that Christ, the body of Christ, can come into them, and physically move you to reach out to our neighbors, to figure out what to do about the hungry, how to house the homeless; to study the industrial prison complex and figure out how to set the prisoners free, in the marvelous freedom of Christ.
What did Christ found this congregation for? Christ began a good work in it. What was it? Where are we in the doing of it? Have we forgotten the church work, the homework, which God has assigned to us? It will be no good saying our dog ate it. That excuse doesn’t even work for students anymore, you know.
We certainly know that we cannot do it. But in our Christ-life, Christ will accomplish one task after another among us, and be able to give us more difficult assignments – so that an intense and bright light can shine on the dark paths of this murky world here in our church.
We have to prepare ourselves and get ready! What a wonderful accomplishment the installation was! But I was careful to install your leadership as well as mine. I have to decrease – Christ has to increase.
That summer program was so much more important. We really ministered to new people, and we touched a great many lives. We learned our song. That was the first verse. How do we learn to sing the second one, and what will be the bridge, what the chorus – and will you all sing at the top of your voices in the Holy Spirit of God?
This congregation is in Advent. Christ is coming – and we are going to get ready. Let us prepare ourselves that Christ has a way straight to our hearts, that our hearts get strangely warmed, and we become moved in the light of the Holy Spirit – so that we, the flesh of this generation of St. John’s, will also see the salvation of God. Amen.
 The Prayer of the Day from the Lutheran Book of Worship.
 A very prominent basket ball player became so angry with his coach, he tried to choke him.
Trust Patiently, My Soul
1. Trust patiently, my soul, trust in the Lord.
Let God your burdens hold and loving help afford.
Don’t give up hope; the trumpet sounds the note.
Morning breaks and springtime follows the winter clime.
In all life’s trials and every need,
Faithfully God protects you, God’s true, indeed!
2. Trust patiently, my soul, trust in the Lord.
Let God your burdens hold and loving help afford.
When all things fail; God will still avail.
Greater than the Helper, there can be, no adversity.
Eternal, faithful, Helper in need,
Rescue us and save us, dear God, we plead!
Translation of Harre, meine Seele by Peter Krey
(Dec. 16th 2009)
Harre, meine Seele, harre des Herrn;
Alles ihm befehle, hilft er doch so gern.
Sei unversagt, bald der Morgen tagt,
und ein neuer Frühling folgt den Winter nach.
In allen Stürmen, in aller Not
Wird er dich beschirmen, der treue Gott.
Harre, meine Seele, harre des Herrn;
Alles ihm befehle, hilft er doch so gern.
Wenn alles bricht, Gott verlässt uns nicht;
Grösser als der Helfer ist die Not ja nicht.
Ewige Treue, Retter in Not, rett auch unsere Seele, du treuer Gott.
(Friedrich Räder 1848)
This translation is a work in progress. I’m still unhappy with some of the lines and suggestions would be appreciated. It is a powerful song of assurance and confidence. I wonder if the German word “Harre” comes from the Hindu word, “Hare” as in “Hare Krishna“?
1. For maturity is the integrity in and through inter-relationships, which makes it possible for each individual member of a group to be him or herself in togetherness and in togetherness each to be him or herself. (Paul Lehman)
2. While in psychoanalysis, maturity is self realization through self acceptance, Christian maturity is self acceptance through self-giving. (Paul Lehman)
3. Self mastery: the battle we fight with ourselves is the toughest battle we will ever fight and it is the sweetest victory we will ever win. (My father often said this.)
4. The tone of a classroom: There are two kinds of order. We do not want the conscious order that ends in respectability, but the unconscious order that looks like chaos on the top, but is the hustle and bustle of real learning. (Sylvia Ashton Warner)
5. We do not want uniformity but unity. A false habit of mind sets off the individual against the group. True unity differentiates, it does not confound. (to paraphrase Teilhard de Chardin)
6. There is no system given whereby we must be saved.
(I’ve gotten this by interpolating law into system and Galatians 3:21: “For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law.” In other words, the law is no longer the way of salvation, but our Lord Jesus Christ is.)
7. We need the freedom to make a choice as well as the freedom of the context to make it in. Baptism and holy communion supply this freedom of Christ’s truth for us, as well as the truth of his freedom.
(That insight came to me after reading the existentialist philosopher, Nicholai Berdyaev. See his book, Dostoevsky, (Cleveland and New York: Meridian Books or The World Publishing Company, 1968), page 68ff. This work of Beryaev was first published by the YMCA Press in 1934.)
8. Hatred locks us into the past; love opens the future.
(This insight came to me reading Berdyaev’s The Origin of Russian Communism, translated from the Russian by R. M. French, (London: Geoffrey Bles, Ltd., 1955 and first published in 1937), page 184. Berdyaev writes: “Hatred always turns to the past and always depends upon the past. A man who is gripped by the emotion of hatred cannot be concerned with the future, with a new life; only love turns a man towards the future, frees him from the heavy shackles of the past and is a means of creating a new and better life.”)
Some of my sayings:
On dying: When you come to the end of a sentence, there is a period. Suddenly you wonder what it is that your whole life said. (12/07/1970)
We have to bear with each other until we are born.
The congregation is the womb of Christ.
How can we bring the children up, if we can’t bring something up?
You can plan all day long and things can still go wrong.
Groping and muddling through: is that the best we can do? (7/27/2011)
Balancing ignorance with knowledge results in mediocrity. (1/28/2013)
Three funny sayings that Peter Moogan, my brother-in-law told me:
“If you haven’t grown up by the time you’re fifty, you don’t have to.”
“Peter Rabbit has a psychotic break when he realized he had pulled himself out of a hat.”
“I’ve gone to find myself. If I should return before I get back, keep me here.”
Sunday of Joy, Advent III – December 13th 2009
Zepheniah 3:14-20 Psalm Isaiah 12:3-6 Phil 4:4-7 Luke 3:7-18
Mission: a Movement for Improvement
I listened to NPR’s Forum program, with Dave Iverson, Friday morning about a certain Greg Mortenson, who promised to build a school for a remote village in Afghanistan, after its people had nursed him back to health. He had failed climbing the second highest mountain in the world, K2, a particularly treacherous peak and wandered lost into their village. What an inspiring story his is! The book Three Cups of Tea describes what he experienced and what he did. Relationships, strong relationships are the key, he said. With the first cup of tea, you are a stranger; with the second, you are a guest; and with the third, you have a relationship, a friend. He did not only succeed in building that school for the village called Korphe, but he has started a movement, where hundreds of girl schools have been built and in the most remote areas of the world.
“Educate a boy,” he said, “and you educate an individual. Educate a girl and you educate, a village, a community.” We men need to look at ourselves. I remember, my sisters would all go into the bathroom together and I could hear them talk and talk. We boys always went into the bathroom by ourselves alone. It was unthinkable to allow someone into our private space and we really couldn’t talk with each other. I wonder why we were like that?
The fellow in Three Cups of Tea started a movement of improvement, that’s for sure. He saw eighty-two children sitting in the dirt that they called their school and they had no teacher. One teacher was shared by two villages. The children sat there without a teacher, scratched their multiplication tables into the dirt with sticks. Some few had slate tablets to write on. When Greg saw that, he promised to build them a school. He came back here to the East Bay, lived in his car, worked until he had 3,000 dollars; school children had emptied their piggy banks to help him, and now hundreds of schools have opened up with the slogan, “Books, not bombs.” If you want to know the end of the story, read the book! (That’s how we ended some book reports.)
What an inspiring story! I’m rather proud that he was a son of Lutheran missionaries in Tanzania, because he started a movement of improvement.
John the Baptizer started a movement as well, as we can see from our passages in the Gospel of Luke. His baptism was a call to repentance. The Jews considered themselves the chosen people. They felt that the Goyim, the Gentiles, they needed baptism, not us Jews. They were unclean and needed to be baptized; they needed to be purified with the washing for becoming fresh new human beings. Or be totally immersed in order to drown the old self and arise up out of the water into a new self. John confronted his own people, the people of his own religion and said, “Don’t tell me you have Abraham as a father! God can call children out of these stones. John was making a pun. The word for “stones” in Hebrew is eben and the word for “son” is ben, so you could get a ben from an eben, so you hear the Hebrew.
But truthfully, we have to challenge ourselves as Christians as John challenged his own. When we have been lying around in the garden of our religion a long while, we can be like fruitless stones, blocking and preventing the growth of the good plants in the garden. As the declaration goes, “We accuse ourselves for not standing up to our beliefs more courageously, for not praying more faithfully, for not believing more joyously, for not loving more ardently” (The Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt, 1945).
When we do not bear fruit, then the ax is laid to the root of the tree. Only because God is merciful, are we not chopped down to the ground. The roots can stand for several things. One way to understand our roots, like Alex Haley, is that they mean our ancestors. The way the Jews said that they had Abraham as their father, we might say, we’ve had Will Herzfeld as our pastor and Julius Carroll. Or we might say, “We’ve been members of this church for a long while.” John lays the ax to your roots and says,” It means nothing if you do not bear fruit.
To bear fruit, we have to have been born of the water and the spirit. Your natural ancestors do not give you the power from on high. Face it, some parents can be natural disasters. But even good parents can hold you back, because to become a child of God, you become conceived by the heavenly Father, become born, nourished, and mothered by the Holy Spirit, and your big brother, Jesus puts his arm around you.
Jesus actually speaks of hating your mother, father, sisters, and brothers. Jesus’ family thought him to be crazy and wanted to take him home. “Who are my mother and brothers and sisters? Those who do the will of my Father in heaven.” Jesus responds. At one point in our journey that detachment becomes necessary, because natural families want you to be rooted in them rather than in God. But we have to be rooted in God, if we want to start a movement of improvement.
Some parents are in the right place and are very Christian. Yet and still a person has to be born of the water and the spirit for him or herself, like, you can’t stay in the nest and grow up too. A chick has to break out of its shell to start out in life.
When you have become a child of God, then you can rightly love, respect, and honor your parents, too, because you’ve become a good plant in the garden. By giving you a natural birth and natural relationships of nurture, your parents want for you, what in the end only God can give you, and that is, the upbringing of your life, the wonderful new life in which we grow and mature as children of God in the stature of Christ. And bearing fruit is our mission, and a mission is a movement for the improvement of this sorry war-torn and violence-riven world.
Let’s take another metaphor. When we are baptized we enter the song of our salvation. At best naturally, each generation is one new verse in the same family song. Some families, however, suffer six generations of alcoholism. The little rhyme goes, like father, like son, an awful second verse, a little louder, a little worse. That goes for daughters too, of course. But in the power of our baptisms, we are translated out of a song of addiction or destruction and into the song of salvation that Isaiah sings about.
What must we do to be saved? If Bethlehem stood before that voice crying in the wilderness, the way John first hurled insults at them, imagine if he hurled those insults at us? – saying, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee the wrath that is to come?” How would we respond? I don’t know if I could take it. In boot camp, the drill sergeant calls the new recruits, “You maggots!” They break down the human being and put together a soldier, who takes orders, is ready to kill and be killed, or so they hope. As Christians we have to become the new selves who give life, penetrating through uniformity to inner unity. We have to get through the uniforms and into the heart!
With shaking knees, we’d have to go down before John the grizzly Baptist, into the cold water and feel like it was going to snuff the dear life out of us, then just surrender and go all the way under, and see all the bubbles float up over our head, and know that we are lost; then lo and behold, the right hand of God lifts us back up out of the water into the fresh new risen life of being a Christ to our neighbor. Baptism is a movement of improvement, that’s for sure.
So Bethlehem, too, goes up to this formidable figure in the wilderness and asks, What must we do to be saved? Surely we are saved by grace. We see what God has already done for us and there was nothing we needed to do there but let it happen to us, go through it, face the music that let God take us out of our old existence and straighten us up in our new one. But while this is the first thing, our baptism, it is not the last thing. Now that we have been changed and we have the freedom of Christians, what will we have the freedom to do? Greg Mortenson, the fellow who bore so much fruit, was free to live in his car, and go back and build that first school, then another and another.
When the people asked John what they should do, he answered mostly with economics. If you have two garments, give someone without any, one of yours. Now, giving our clothes is not too much of a need here. We had so much trouble giving away all the clothes we got. So that is not the need here. John says, if you have food, do likewise. Really the poor are helping the poor in this story. If you gave away one garment and you had only one left, then you were still cold, but your neighbor would now no longer die of exposure.
There are more and more people going into poverty among us and we have to have three cups of tea with some people before we discover their real needs and be able to be of real help. The secret is forming relationships and learning to listen to each other, so that the lives and needs of others become visible to us and shared by us. Greg Mortenson learned to see with the eyes of his heart. We have to remember where we came from and what we went through when we were having hard times. Remember when we were young and needed a job? They said we needed experience and no one gave a person a job to get experience. Or you ask a group of older people, when do you plan to retire? They answer, “We’re unemployed, what job can we retire from?” We have to give people a break, young and older, people need another chance and we have enough backing from God and all our blessings to do that. Thank God, some leaders in this congregation have had the courage to give someone another chance. It can be sheer suffering to do it, when a person fails again, but that all adds to the music of our witness! Compassion never leaves us without suffering. It is suffering with someone else, bearing with them until they are borne.
Have you seen The Blind Side with Sandra Bullock and Quinto Aaron? He’s the big guy, I think. There is a triumph of compassion in the very courageous response that Sandra and her family show in the face of real human need. There were times in the movie, where we could not prevent our tears from streaming down our faces. Why do we flee from need rather than facing and responding to it?
Once I invited a needy person into our house, our foster house, like that. He was a very strange fellow, and he walked through the dark rooms of the house in the night with a large kitchen knife and scared us all half to death. The mother told me that if I let somebody crazy overnight again like that, I’d have to leave.
Never imitate, you always have to respond in a God given way, the way for which God gives you a talent. But respond you must. In Luther’s words, “[Faith] is a mighty, active, restless, and busy thing, which immediately renews the person, gives a second birth, and leads the person into new ways and into new being. It is impossible for this same self not to do good works continuously, spontaneously without interruption” (WA 10.3:285.24-30). When your baptism takes, you can’t help responding.
Mostly John answers the people with Old Testament Law and with Christ, we have to ascend up into the Gospel for life. As our commentary says, “Even judgment is good news, when forgiveness and repentance are available” (Crossmarks). As in football, every play is supposed to be a touchdown, so everyone who is baptized is supposed to become a Christ to his or her neighbors, just like Greg Mortenson, who is building schools all over the world.
Now what makes a man live in his car and work to fulfill a promise to build a school in a remote village filled with poverty? He saw the need. He shared three cups of tea with the people, formed a genuine relationship with them by listening hard to what they were saying. We need to pray that God reveal to Bethlehem the needs of the people who are in this place, then take up a mission, and formulate a mission statement that everyone can take to heart and do.
If Bethlehem does not have a mission now, will it have one with a new pastor? Will it ask the new pastor if he or she has a mission? If you have no real mission, won’t Bethlehem just flounder even with a new pastor? Pastor Richard’s word “membership-driven” is a good one. We are the priesthood of all believers, remember? Thank God some leaders of Bethlehem are responding powerfully. But the members of this congregation need to do evangelism and stewardship. Are you leaving that to the new pastor? But how will a church get members if it does not have a mission? We have to discover a need and respond with mission and then we will receive the vision, in which we will see our way. Without a vision, the people perish. Mortenson had a mission and his whole purpose in life concentrated on fulfilling it.
John said that he was not the Messiah to come. He baptized with water, but the Christ would baptize with wind and fire. The word for “spirit” Ruach in Hebrew, can also mean breath, wind, and spirit. When I read that I thought of the fires that rage in the hills here and the wind storms that make them rage and swallow up one house after another in a raging inferno.
Christ is a firebrand come to set our hearts on fire! Have you heard Natalie Merchant sing, “Your house is on fire”? The Holy Spirit is a creative fire, like the fire that Moses saw in the burning bush that did not consume the branches, but called and created the people of God. This is a fearful fire full of love and compassion that caught up in the wind of the Holy Spirit can engulf one house after another here in Oakland and the East Bay, beginning with the Flatlands this time and not the skyline hill tops. Can’t Bethlehem start that loving and gentle fire and don’t we wish it could already be burning? We need such a fiery movement of faithful improvement.
Now in whatever way God is calling and baptizing each of us, because God is not finished with us yet, know that when we repent, receive forgiveness, our response sets God and all the angels rejoicing. Listen to the Prophet Zephenaiah: God will exult over those who repent and respond, so that the feet of our God will set to dancing. God will burst into song. It is God loudly singing for us, over those who stride into their divine nature as children of God, who are born not of the blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of human will, but born of God (John 1:13). God bursts into the song of those who did not put a new verse into an old song, but sang the new song of joy, the song of salvation, because the Lord of Song, is rejoicing over the new born children of God and all the glorious fruit they can’t help bearing with the strength that comes down to them from on high. Amen.
Communion Blessing: We’re saved! How come? We are baptized!