Archive for February 2013
Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 Psalm 27 Phil 3:17-4:1 Luke 13:31-35
“Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!”
We say that in the Sanctus of the liturgy almost every Sunday. With loud Hosannas the people shouted that to Jesus waving their palm branches when he entered Jerusalem. One time I realized that it did not only mean Jesus, but also meant you yourselves. You are blessed when you come to church; you are blessed in the name of the Lord. You are blessed when you come through the doors and come and take a seat in this holy place. When you bring others to church to come and see the love our Lord commanded us to have for one another, and then they too are blessed, blessed because they come in the name of the Lord.
Of course one can come to the church for opportunism, so it really means when we come to seek the face of God, as the psalms says, “O Lord, your face do I seek!” Blessed are you when you come because you realize that your citizenship is in heaven and it is from there that you await, yes, that you expect the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ and when he enters his capital city, the Jerusalem in our hearts we too will shout, “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!”
You are blessed because there are so many obstacles getting in the way to prevent your coming and yet you come. Blessed are you in the name of the Lord! We have to allow Jesus to confront the demons in us and hold still until Jesus drives them out. And sometimes it takes a long time. Some of those demons cling to us for dear life. They say, “May we enter those pigs?” Jesus says, “Go ahead!” and they dive over a cliff and drown. That’s the end of our pornography on the web, that’s the end of our love for assault weapons, semi-automatics, and what not, that requires merely the squeeze of a trigger-finger to kill. That’s the end of our methamphetamine addictions and all the others, like our binging on alcohol, our cold hearted Christianity! We could go on and on of course because the demons are legion, just like that crazy fellow Jesus healed in that cemetery said.
That is why we are blessed! Jesus’ blessings drive the curses out of our souls and make us gather together in the blessed warmth of God’s love, just like little chicks gathering together under the wings of a mother hen. We know Jesus is really present with us and so we have nothing to fear. We can pop our little heads out from under the feathers of that mother hen and check out what is around us, satisfy our curiosity, because we know Jesus will not allow us to come to any harm. Have you ever seen little chicks popping their heads out through the feathers of a hen to look at you? It is the sweetest thing!
In the online commentary, Brian Stoffregen writes:
The image we are given is of God/Jesus as a hen gathering a whole bunch of chickens under her wings. What might that imply about our relationship with those other chickens? It requires a physical closeness to be packed together under those wings. It implies a learning to get along with one another if we wish to stay packed together under those wings. How do we balance our own comfort level of space with this image of physically gathered together under God’s loving wings? being packed together in a pew? rubbing shoulders with others on the way out of church? sharing the peace by touching others with a handshake — or an embrace (when appropriate) — or even a kiss between spouses? [What about the holy kiss?]
I remember being in Nagasaki, Japan where they have subway pushers. Believe it or not, they push the people into the crowded subway car so they are packed in there worse than sardines. If you are in the crush, you can lift your feet up and you still are pushed right into the subway doors.
Some people need a great deal of distance in their relationships and some need a great deal of closeness. You have to discover in a relationship where your comfort zones overlap so you don’t always get upset with each other. But really Christ brings us closer together. Jesus makes us become one. We slowly get one heart and soul together and the heart throbbing in our breast is that of Jesus Christ. I can’t get into calling it his “sacred heart.” That still sounds too Catholic for me. But that’s what Catholics are talking about, because Jesus prays for us all to become one, to have one heart and soul together.
How do we do that? We pray for our enemies. My brother used to say, “Now that we’re married we might as well be friends.” So often husbands and wives turn against each other and have to say, “If we are friends, I’d hate to have enemies.” We hurt each other so often and so much. That’s why relationships are made out of forgiveness. Teenagers often feel like their parents are their enemies and often people in church also feel that way about other members. It’s a process of forgiveness working out of the love of God that draws us together, so that whatever we ask of the Father, God gives it to us. That’s the promise, where two or three are gathered in his name and become one. So we pray for our enemies and behold the miracle: we become friends. Republicans and democrats, conservatives and progressives, European Descent and African Descent Lutherans, we need each other and God’s miracles can progress when we become one. Those prayers are also good turns we do for each other, even in secret. You know random acts of kindness, senseless acts of love. And we can do that because God’s wings are over us, protecting and guarding and healing us with love and forgiveness.
I used to schedule Leadership Training Laboratories for our Vacation Church School and Day Camp staff. We would say, “How can we bring up the kids, if we can’t bring something up?” We would bring up things like, how come you still don’t know the names of your class? We would do role plays of the parables and end up by learning helpful criticism that lifted someone’s self-esteem and then learning to say loving and affectionate things to one another. The growing edge of some was being able to take criticism or others, they’re not always being so critical; that of others, was being able to say a loving word and give a compliment, and others, of being able to accept a compliment and accept an expression of love from somebody else. Love can be as threatening as criticism. Let me tell you there was resistance. I would usually not get off first base, seldom to second, let alone make it to home. They finally said that I was only trying to duplicate the close feeling I had in my family that did not belong in the church. Were they ever wrong! I had never been close to anyone in my family and our family fought all the time. In my huge family I never had anyone to talk to.
My father had been a machine gunner in World War I and he didn’t allow a gun in the house. We were not even allowed to have toy guns. We used our fingers of course. We got close with music and by singing with each other. But I know that in other families fights can get out of control, and they even throw things at each other. When people have lost control it would not be good to have a gun there. I wonder if that is what happened with Oskar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp. The fighting in my family really broke my heart as a kid. Sometimes fighting is a real cop-out. Sometimes smoothing over everything and not daring to fight is. It is wisdom to know the difference. But parents should never have big fights in front of their kids.
Jesus speaks about driving out demons today and tomorrow and then finishing his work on the cross in Jerusalem and being raised from the dead on the third day. The clever fox Herod won’t be able to win the day. That fox in the chicken coop killed a great many innocent people and the Pharisees, now, not all of them, some of them supported Jesus, – but this group was trying to stop Jesus from doing God’s work. Really, Herod did not try to kill Jesus during the trials. Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate and Jesus even made these two sorry characters, these villains into friends. Imagine that? So imagine what Jesus can do for those who have given their hearts to him. Brothers and sisters in a congregation can become closer to each other and more understanding and loving than even our families. As the Psalm says, “Though my mother and father forsake me, you will accept me.” (27:10) There is some incredible healing power under God’s wings, when Jesus makes us friends. He does not even call us disciples any longer. Imagine a huge bird that flies down to us, covers all of us who gather under its huge wings and we become healed. Come Holy Spirit with healing in your wings!
So money won’t make us safe. Guns and weapons won’t make us safe. It is God who makes us safe and protects us, as Jesus says, like a mother hen sheltering her chicks under her wings. It is God in Christ who died on the cross for us outside of the gates of Jerusalem, who draws us and all humanity together. In the words of St. Paul, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. Amen.
Song: “You Can’t Count the Stars”
 Brian Stoffregen, CrossMarks for Luke 13:31-35 .
Luther’s Life and How He Became Justified through Faith, Midweek Lenten Message for February 20, 2013 at ORLC
Midweek Lenten Message for February 20, 2013
Luther’s Life and How He Became Justified through Faith
Martin Luther was born on November 10th in 1483 in Eisleben and died there too in 1546. He was baptized on the Day after he was born, on St. Martin’s Day, and thus named after the great Bishop of Tours of the fourth century. His mother, Margarete and father, Hans were up and coming burghers, because the father went into mining in Mansfeld and they could afford to send him to good schools hoping that he would one day study law and bring them fortune.
Luther was a good student and soon began his law studies in the University of Erfurt in Thuringia. On his way back to school from a trip to his parents at home, he was caught in a thunder and lightning storm near the village of Stotternheim. A flash of lightning struck beside him, knocked him down and he injured his leg. In his fright he shouted, “Save me, St. Anne, and I’ll become a monk!” To the dismay of his fellow students, he turned his back on the world and entered the observant and very strict Augustinian Monastery in Erfurt. There, he says, that if ever there was a monk that could have been saved by his monkery, then it was he. He fasted in his cold cell and used all kinds of self-inflicted disciplines. He would confess his sins for four or five hours in the minutest details and leaving, he would run back remembering something else he forgot to confess. His exasperated confessor shouted at him something like, “Don’t come back unless you’ve killed your mother or some other real sin.” His abbot, Johann von Staupitz, was helpful to Luther and understanding and realized he had to give Luther something to do. He made him become an Old Testament professor, despite Luther’s objections, giving him fifteen reasons why he should not. “And I will soon die!” he remonstrated. “If that is so, it’s all right. God has plenty of work for doctors to do in heaven.” said Staupitz. Luther had to prepare the services for the other monks, especially after he was ordained a priest in 1507. He seemed to have become an assistant to Staupitz, who then sent him to make a pilgrimage to Rome for the sake of the Augustinian order. Luther and a companion from the monastery walked all the way. There Luther tried to pray kneeling on every step of one shrine, but the crowd made it impossible, so he sat down and ate a wurst, a sausage on a bun, instead. He was dumbfounded by the corruption he saw in Rome.
Back in Erfurt, he made his doctorate and was called to become a professor of the Old Testament in Wittenberg, the new university that Fredrick the Wise had just founded in 1502. He lectured on the Psalms and he had to teach Aristotle’s ethics as well. He wrote to a fellow monk that he would rather teach theology, “that theology which searches out the meat of the nut, and the kernel in the grain and the marrow of the bones”  Luther wanted to get to the bottom of things, to the heart of things.
His parents had been very strict and his mother had once beaten him for taking a nut from the table without asking. Christ to him was a wrathful judge with a two-edged sword coming from his lips. Thus you prayed to Mary’s mother, St. Ann, or to Mother Mary, to intercede for you. Then he had his celebrated Tower Experience. You have to know that the Tower was cloaca, that is, the outhouse.
Luther was trying to interpret the scripture Romans 1:17:
For in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
when he experienced a kind of conversion, which we call his justification by faith. This is how he remembers it as an old man:
Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that God was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punished sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the Decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with God’s righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless I beat importunately upon Paul at this place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.
At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘One who through faith is righteous shall live.’” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous live, by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, the passive righteousness by which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “One who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the scripture from memory. I also found in other terms an analogy, as the work of God, that is, what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us strong, the wisdom of God, with which he makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God.
And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word, “righteousness of God.” Thus that place in Paul was truly the gate to paradise.
This is the experience Luther had in his encounter with the Word of God. Justification by faith becomes most explicit in Ephesians:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is a gift from God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (2:8-9)
Meanwhile, in 1516 Pope Leo X needed funds for building St. Peter’s in Rome. A young Albrecht of Brandenburg, from the Hohenzollern, who was already the archbishop of Magdeburg at the age of 23 and the administrator of the Diocese of Halberstadt, now wanted to become the archbishop of the lucrative See of Mainz as well. Now cumulus, that is to accumulate sees is strictly forbidden by the canon law and simony, meaning to purchase church offices is as well, but money could remove all obstacles for a Renaissance pope who had used three complete papal treasury allowances: the surplus his predecessor, Julius II had left him; his own, and that of his successor. The pope spent money like there was no tomorrow. So long as he would receive half of the proceeds, Pope Leo allowed Albrecht to launch a St. Peter’s cathedral indulgence campaign to repay the 21,000 ducats he had loaned from Jacob Fugger. Other amounts must also have been involved, because Joseph Lortz notes that the pope received 14,000 florins for ratifying Albrecht’s bishop’s chair and 10,000 more overcoming the obstacle of cumulus. Churches were closed as Tetzel came selling the indulgences, which disgusted Doctor Luther.
The little advertising jingle went: “As soon as the money in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs!” “Now how heartless can you be? Will you leave your mother and father languishing there in purgatory, if this small purchase can lift them right up into heaven? What about buying an indulgence for a sin you are planning in the future? Come and get them!” It was all about revenue disguised as purchases for doing penance, much like parking tickets today that are used for the purposes of revenue.
Thus Luther wrote 95 Theses and nailed them on the castle church door of Wittenberg in protest. He sent a copy to Albrecht, not knowing he was behind the indulgence campaign. A professor tried to come up with a hundred points or theses in order to have a debate, a disputation, to which all were invited. Luther came up with 95. But the new printing presses, which had been printing the indulgences, now printed the broadsheet, which traveled like wildfire all through Europe. Albrecht had sent Luther’s 95 theses directly to Rome saying he was a heretic. At 28 years of age, Albrecht was made the cardinal and elector of Mainz. Oh, sorry, they forgot to ordain him!
To understand what was going on, think about what it would be like if California were an ecclesiastical principality and the position of governor could be purchased from the pope, who would make him a cardinal to rule our state, like Cardinal Richelieu over France.
Luther had hit the church in its political power and fabulous aspirations for wealth. When the young Charles the V came to the Diet of Worms, the parliament of the Holy Roman Empire in 1521, Luther was called upon to recant.
Inquisitor Eck: We do not want you to hem, haw, or backbite. Will you or will you not recant?
Luther answered: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust in either the pope or in the councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against [one’s] conscience. May God Help me. Amen.
The emperor turned and said, “No monk is going to make a heretic out of me!”
When Luther returned to his room, he threw up his fist in the air, like a knight who had just won a joust. He thought he was going to be a martyr. The emperor pronounced the imperial ban against Luther making him as free as a bird for anyone to kill. Thereafter he was soon excommunicated. Meanwhile Frederick the Wise had his knights kidnap him on his way back to Wittenberg. But they whisked him out of his oxcart only in order to give him protective custody, we could say in Frederick’s “witness protection program,” there at the Wartburg Castle, where he took the identity and disguise of a knight, Junker George. While Frederick’s knights arrested Luther, he had enough time to snatch his Greek New Testament, which in hiding, he translated in seven weeks. 
Let’s stop there for questions and discussion.
 Martin Brecht writes that Luther was probably knocked down and injured his leg. This incident with the lightning took place on July 2, 1505. It was on his way home for Easter in 1503 or 1504 that he cut an artery in his thigh with the student’s sword he was carrying and almost bled to death. A companion summed a surgeon from the city. Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: his Road to the Reformation (1483-1521), (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), pp. 46 and 48.
 Preserved Smith, editor and translator, Luther’s Correspondence and other Contemporary Letters: Vol. I (1507-1521). (Philadelphia: the Lutheran Publication Society, 1913), p.24.
 Walter von Loewenich, Martin Luther: the Man and his Work, Translated by Lawrence W. Denef, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1982), Page 84.
 See Joseph Lortz,How the Reformation Came, (New York: Herder and Herder, Inc, 1964), p. 93. And Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man between God and the Devil, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), p. 189.
 Some of these last words come from a Luther play I wrote in 1994.
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in South San Francisco
Deut. 26:1-11 Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 Romans 10:8b-13 Luke 4:1-13
Temptation is our subject for the first Sunday in Lent. “Lead us not into temptation.” We pray in the Lord’s Prayer. But there is a big difference between the temptation of the Adversary, whom we often refer to as the devil or Satan and the testing we undergo from God. The Greek word for temptation can also mean testing. St. Paul writes, “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful and will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing will also provide the way out so that you may be able to abide and endure it.” (1 Cor 10:12) Too bad Oskar Pistorius, the Olympic blade runner, did not take this warning to heart, there on the heights in which he stood, to watch out that he not fall. I wonder if he forgot to wrap himself in the humility of Christ. He must have really lost it! But when God tests us it is like a teacher giving us a test. God intends to measure our faith by testing us, like a teacher would do. When a teacher gives a test in the classroom, she does not intend to flunk her students, but to see how much the students have learned. God measures our faith by testing us in order to strengthen it. God is not like a bad teacher trying to flunk us. What kind of a teacher would try to make her students fail? When we talk about an evil spirit, it is different. It really does want us to give up our faith and persuade us to sin. But God’s testing us is designed to measure the strength of our faith in order to increase it.
Remember how Flip Wilson used to say, “The devil made me do it”? It was easy to see that as a cop out. The devil can’t make us do anything; it can only try to convince us. The devil does not have the power of coercion, but can only try to persuade. We learn about what is right and wrong and we usually know the difference, but really it is a matter of our will. We want to do wrong. Sometimes we just want to sin. Sometimes we are bent on sinning.
In Jewish folk lore, the devil came to God and explained how he was bored to tears. He had nothing at all to do. But God said, “Aren’t you busy enough trying to persuade people to sin?” The devil said, “The problem is even before I get there they are already sinning, I don’t even have to persuade them.”
Good thing that God writes straight on crooked lines, because otherwise no good would come of us and our crooked wills and our crooked ways. Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” (17:9) Thank, God Jesus Christ certainly can and Jesus can also change our hearts and fill us with the Holy Spirit so that we want to do the will of God. Jesus gives us freedom so that we can do whatever we please. But because we have had a change of heart, we find that we only want to do what pleases God.
That fills our lives with adventure, excitement, and all kinds of meaning. The devil is there saying, “No, that is only what I can give you.” But the devil is the father of lies and always lies in order to deceive us and destroy us. Just the way he said he owns and rules the whole world. He does not. God does. The devil is busy twisting and distorting and trying to destroy God’s good creation and blow it up right in God’s face. The devil is a liar. He twists and distorts God’s good creation trying to destroy us.
For instance, look at beer commercials. They show the high life: beautiful women and men in a party and they arrive in expensive cars. It might as well be the vision of the wonderful life. Sure thing: An intoxicated student comes home after partying and gets into a fatal accident, gets a DUI, and goes to jail. So much for the promised high life! On picnic day up in UC Davis in the street where many of the fraternity houses are located, the beer cans were two feet deep with drunk students mulling around everywhere. The deception of the beer commercials, especially for the super bowl presented and promised the high life. What the students get is the low life. When we follow Christ we think we will live a low life, but what we get is the high life. We send our children to school to expand their minds with knowledge and because of lies they expand their minds with drugs and alcohol.
Christ tells us the truth. Life is full of suffering and you have to learn to take responsibility, but the love of God gives us a high that chemicals and alcohol cannot give. The commercials of our society give you a mirage of a beautiful oasis with palm trees and flowing water to quench your thirst. You get there and there is nothing there and you are deceived by the banality of sin once again. When you follow Christ, you first have to go through the wilderness, but when you follow, you get to an oasis that quenches your thirst and fills you with amazing grace. God does reduce you to nothing, but to make somebody out of you. You are made a real genuine person filled with integrity ready to stand for what is right. The only trouble with heaven is that you have to go through hell to get there. I found that I can’t take that much hell and I just have to keep banking on the grace and mercy of God.
There was something about being good that I did not understand. I learned that when an alcoholic wants to continue his or her addiction, they choose a really good person to be their co-dependent. In psychodrama, they would demonstrate by letting the person role-playing the alcoholic stand on a wobbly chair. What did that person need? He reached for someone to lean on in order not to fall off the chair. So, he found a good stable person to lean on so that he could keep drinking. Thus goodness can be used by the evil spirit, in this case the demon of the bottle. It is not enough to be good; a person also has to watch that her goodness is used by the Holy Spirit. The demon of the bottle can control many good people and use them for the sake of strengthening their disease. Just try to take the bottle out of a baby’s mouth! For a while they need a pacifier. Taking the bottle out of an alcoholic’s mouth is much harder.
So our society tells us many lies. That is done by distorting the truth. Mark Twain said that he knew a fellow who loved the truth so much he would stretch it. A barrister in England has merely been a legal aid over here. She stretched the truth into having been a prosecutor here in New York, who jailed 29 gangs, handled domestic abuse cases and what not. They caught her in England because she lied about her age and then found out that she lied about her law degree and everything else. She was arrested in New York trying to flee to Puerto Rico. Her husband had forged all kinds of documents for her.
So it is important to face the truth about ourselves and about others. Even one or two lies can sometimes snowball and make a person start living a lie rather than living in the truth. We also have to see whose mouth something is coming out of. Even the devil quotes scripture, but he is using the truth for the sake of twisting and distorting it. Goodness and good works can be used by an evil spirit. Look at Sandusky, who opened up a boy’s orphanage. What a wonderful thing to do! But then we discover that he did it in order to have access to boys to satisfy his pedophilia.
In some churches there is so much talk of the devil! One preacher said that the devil was out there in the congregation among us. She did not say that Christ was really present among us. Next thing you know someone gets into superstition and looks for the evil eye and such. In my father’s prayers he would always say, “Because Christ lives, the devil is dead.” The devil is dead, when we become alive to God and when you are filled with the Holy Spirit. When people harp on the devil so much, we have to ask them why the devil is so near to them when God should be so much closer. In the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are more than victorious and in Christ we are not at all victims of the devil.
Luther said that there were three levels of temptation for the young, the middle aged, and the elders of the people. The temptations of the young revolved around sex, while those of the middle aged revolved around wealth, property, and power; but those of the elderly revolved around spiritual sins. We often talk about the spirit as if it is only good. The spirit can be good or evil. We need the Holy Spirit to overcome evil spirits. Look how much evil the spirit of White supremacy and racism have done to us. Luther taught us that we are sinners and saints at one and the same time. So we dare not act as if we have only a good side and project our shadow side onto people of color or others who are different from us. The evil spirit of prejudice, bigotry, and racism has got to be overcome with the Holy Spirit.
In the online commentary it said that we criticize churches that only attempt to increase in numbers and see their success only in numbers. We say, we are small, very few in number, but we are the faithful. But that may also be self-deception. When we are faithful then we should be bearing fruit. When we have sunk our roots into the good soil of the Gospel, then we produce thirty, sixty, or hundred fold.
A little Pentecostal church has asked to rent our facility. In two or three years they have fifty members and are growing so fast they need more space. In the Holy Spirit we have to get out of our comfort zones and bring people into the truth of life, the strength of a faith that saves us from our sins.
Let’s listen to Christ and also pray for the Holy Spirit to motivate, guide and direct us, because we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Life lived in the Word of God is an incredibly exciting life. Just like the community meal yesterday. What an incredible and exciting ministry this church has serving these wonderful characters, many of whom are homeless. One thing I certain: they are characters that we will not soon forget. A fellow who had actually attended seminars under Karl Barth played piano and I played trumpet with him. Then a singer came up and sang “Unforgettable” in an unforgettable key. He seemed three sharps too high.
Following Jesus is an untold adventure that really adds to the music of your witness. But, let’s be honest, it puts you through the school of hard knocks. God is our sculptor. When God chisels away the stony marble to create us, face it, it hurts. But with that, God fashions us into our real selves, the persons we are created to be so we can step out of our marble statues and live move and have our being in the mission of God, who sends us to carry out the plan of God’s salvation. Amen.
I’ve Gotten You, You into My Heart
(Du, Du Liegst Mir im Herzen)
(a song translation)
1. I’ve gotten you, you into my heart
Can’t get you, you out of my mind.
For you, you my heart-aches start.
No greater love will you find.
2. The way, the way now that I love you,
That’s the way, you must love me too.
My, my most tender feelings
Are feelings, dear, only for you.
3. But now, now, how can I trust you?
Are you, you still doubtful but true?
Oh, do, do rely and build on me,
My love will forever be true.
4. When, when we are apart
Then, you appear in my heart.
When, when all’s said and done,
I’m hoping our love makes us one.
Pkrey for Valentine’s Day, 2013
(This has got to be a work in progress,
which will work and progress with beer-stein in hand.)
Ash Wednesday Message February 13th 2013
2 Corinthians 5:20b to 6:10 and Luke 6:1-6, 16-21
Luther’s Theology of the Cross
For this Ash Wednesday let’s look into Luther’s Theology of the Cross and for the midweek Lenten Services let’s then plan to take up a number of themes that come from Luther’s life and thought.
First a word about the Gospel lesson: Jesus wants us to pray and fast and give charity in secret. When you do it to be seen by others, then you are really getting some mileage from it in terms of prestige, so you have a reward. It is far better to have integrity than to be a phony, wanting to present a false image of yourself to the world. Doing good in secret does not only provide us with internal integrity, where only God and you yourself know that you did something good and wonderful, but you also set a powerful kind of goodness afoot to counteract all the evil that is done in secret. Then your goodness is accompanied by a spiritual force that will take others by surprise and overwhelm them. You also get help directly from God who strengthens your inner person, making you true and genuine. Otherwise you present yourself as so very good before others while really you are a façade with nothing behind it: nobody of that description there.
Pogo an old comic strip had a 5 cent stand for counseling: A woman comes for help. “What’s the problem?” Pogo asks. She puts her hand to her face and says, “I’m beside myself.” Pogo and Howland, the owl, look beside her and Pogo says, “Yup, nobody there Howland. This woman is really gone.”
The Corinthians text we heard is all about the Theology of the Cross. Theology is the study of God, who has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ and him crucified, to use the words of St. Paul. The Greek word logos is in the word “theology” like it is in biology, sociology, and all the other “ologies” and it can mean the study of or the disciplined reasoning about something in order to attain some reliable knowledge about it. So in the revelation of Jesus Christ, our theology has to revolve around the word of the cross. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
The scriptures say “Cursed by God is the one hanged on a tree.” (Deuteronomy 21:23). But in Corinthians St. Paul says, “We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Once I was reading the poetry of William Blake and in one line he wrote that the tail of the serpents swished under the cross, identifying Christ with the serpent! I was outraged and thought that was blasphemy! But then I remembered how Christ himself said, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15) That is not what you would think the Son of God would become: our sin! But St. Paul said that God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. It is through all that darkness on the cross that Christ brings us into the light.
Paul says as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way. He should say as suffering servants of God because check out that list, that catalogue of trials: “through great endurance in affliction, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger…” (When my mother read a similar catalogue of St. Paul’s suffering in 2 Corinthians 11: 21-29, she cried.) Then Paul swings over to their commendation “by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God, with weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and see – we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”
Can you see how St. Paul is seeing everything through the cross? The surprise about the suffering we do for Christ’s sake is that we step over the threshold of glory. It is a life that changes curses into blessings.
When Luther had nailed the ninety-five theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, he was asked to come to do a disputation for the Augustinians in Heidelberg. For it he wrote another 40 theses or points that would be debated by the doctors there. His Theology of the Cross comes from these theses:
18. It is certain that a [person] must utterly despair of his [or her] ability before [she or] he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.
We have to be at the end of our rope, we try everything else, before we return to God. Only when we have no alternative, do we finally say, “God, I have now come to nothing. I can’t go on. My own fire went out. Now I can only stand up and live my life out of your strength.” So we shouldn’t think that only alcoholics have to hit bottom. In our spiritual lives, so do all of us. It’s called the theology of the cross.
It’s foolishness to young people that still have so much strength that they can pull trees out by the roots and roll up their sleeves to change the world. But life has a way of catching up with us and we realize that we cannot live by our own strength, but only out of the strength of God, which we call grace. So it is through this foolishness that we get wise.
19. The person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks on the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things that have actually happened [Rom 1:20].
God’s majesty and almighty power are hidden. It is not helpful to talk about God as ubiquitous, omniscient, and omnipotent.
20. He [or she] deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.
21. A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.
22. That wisdom which sees the invisible things of God in works as perceived by [persons] is completely puffed up, blinded, and hardened.
Luther continues that without the theology of the cross people end up using the best, our best gifts in the worst ways. (Thesis 24) Instead of wanting to do many good works, we should try to increase our faith in Christ: “The law says, “do this” and it is never done. Grace says, “believe in this,” and everything is already done.” (Thesis 26)
Luther says that God makes us sinners so that we become righteous. Luther quotes First Corinthians 1:21, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”
“Now it is not sufficient for anyone,” Luther continues, “and it does [one] no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless [she or] he recognizes [God] in the shame and humility of the cross. Thus God destroys the wisdom of the wise, as Isaiah [45:15] says, “Truly thou a God who hidest thyself!” [Truly you are a God who hides yourself!] “True theology and the recognition of God are in the crucified Christ.” God is hidden in suffering.
So in a surprising way it is through our weakness that God manifest divine strength: (A pastor worked his heart out for a congregation, which remained completely passive and just let him do everything. It brought him to despair. Then he was diagnosed with cancer and could do nothing. The whole congregation became active and started carry out its ministry.) And it is through the suffering of the cross that we can tell it like it is and also get a glimpse of the surprising way God works in this world.
We will need to work with the Theology of the Cross throughout our Mid-week Lenten Services. It is not easy to understand. Some of the themes I have lined up for the mid-week Lenten services are
1. Luther’s life and how he becomes justified through faith
2. Reading Luther’s Small Catechism again
3. Luther’s best-selling pamphlet, “The Freedom of a Christian” and what I call the existential rapture
4. Jacob’s Ladder in Luther’s Spirituality
5. Luther’s theology is Theological therapy because he was acquainted with episodes in which he is attacked by doubt that we call Anfechtungen.
6. Let’s learn some of his hymns along the way.
To recap part of the theology of the cross: the people who suffer can see things as they are and can tell it like it is. The people making them suffer just don’t get it. They are blinded by the theology of glory.
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in South San Francisco
Transfiguration of Our Lord
Exodus 34:29-35 Psalm 99 2 Cor. 3:12-4:2 Luke 9:28-36 (37-43)
In the Light of Glory
Let’s look at the prayer of the day again:
Holy God, mighty and immortal, you are beyond out knowing, yet we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Transform us into the likeness of your Son, who renewed our humanity so that we might share in his divinity, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns, etc.
“God is beyond our knowing,” it says, but through Jesus we get to know God and we get to know ourselves through who Jesus is.
We see the glory of God in the face of Jesus, because in the transfiguration, we see his figure changed from the human form into the form of God.
Then we pray to be changed into copies of Jesus, the Son of God, who renewed our humanity by the new birth we received through the love of God, so that in becoming children of God, we share in the divinity of Jesus Christ. These are the points made in the prayer.
There is a lot in that prayer and saying it is one thing, but it takes a whole life of prayer and serving God to make it real. How many of us go out all alone in the wilderness and spend the night praying? How many of us go up and climb a mountain in order to pray up there? I usually say my prayers in the comfort of my bed just before going to sleep and sometimes I don’t finish them, because I fall asleep. That does not represent much disciplined prayer. Once I took my confirmation class into the White Mountains in New Hampshire and we did a lesson up there, way up on Mt. Chocorua, hiding behind a rock. The wind was blowing so hard we could not hear ourselves talk.
Let’s step back, however, and think about where we are with this Transfiguration Sunday. It is the culmination of the Season of Epiphany, the season of light. It is like a mountain-top experience that strengthens us to get all the way through the valley of Lent. Ash Wednesday already comes this week and our service takes place here at 7:00pm and now the five Sundays in Lent follow and then Palm Sunday and Holy Week.
Thus the transfiguration is about being lifted up and strengthened. The transfiguration strengthens Jesus in order to get him all the way through the passion, his crucifixion, and burial, until God raises him back up in the resurrection. The disciples, Peter, James, and John saw Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah about his departure that he would accomplish in Jerusalem. When Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, he knew he was going to die there. He was going to the cross to become our sin, to take the sin of the whole world upon himself and get it forgiven by God’s resurrection. He was renewing the whole creation and giving us a new humanity to get dressed up in. That is what he would accomplish in Jerusalem.
To enter our new humanity we have to understand the experience of our baptisms. The voice from the cloud tells Peter, James, and John what the Father said when the heavens opened and Jesus was baptized. When we go to Luther’s Small Catechism, we read:
What does Baptism mean for daily living? It means that our sinful self, with all its evil deeds and desires, should be drowned through daily repentance, and that day after day a new self should arise to live with God in righteousness and purity forever.
We can say that baptism is a process or that it begins a process of daily repentance that washes away our old sinful self and stands us up into a new self, a new being in the form of Christ. In our new humanity we receive the likeness of Jesus Christ in order to also share in his divinity. Jesus is the real epiphany, the manifestation, the revelation of God in human form. St. John, who was also up there on the mount, says, “God is light:” not only light, but the light in which we see light. In his Gospel, he says, “God is spirit and those who worship him must do so in spirit and truth.”
Peter, James, and John were getting a glimpse into heaven up there. Peter does not seem to know what he is saying about building three booths, but he is attempting to make Moses, Jesus, and Elijah stay with us. Moses stands for the law, Jesus stands for the Gospel, and Elijah for the prophets. Peter was unknowingly speaking of things to come: that there would be Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; that there would be Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. All in threes like Peter, James, and John. From Heaven, things are seen from the perspective of eternity.
Peter, James, and John looking into heaven see Jesus in the light of glory and speaking with Moses and Elijah, who are alive in God. Again, transfiguring means that the human figure of Jesus they saw there changed into the Person of the Son of God, who is up there in the blessed and Holy Trinity. Jesus starts shining in the light of glory. There is a Hindu song, about a god whose face shines like a thousand suns. There are of course stars that are far larger than our sun, so that does not get at it. The light of glory is the light in which we see light. It is what opened up, when God said, “Let there be light!” and it was shining before the sun, moon, and stars were created. It is the source of life, which is the source of thought, which is the source of love and the radiance of love must be the last which is really first as the source of all life. What good would the whole universe be if no sentient conscious being was there to appreciate, perceive, and bask in the wonder of it all! How hurt God must feel, when we fail to praise and glorify him for it?
The light of glory shines through love. The different words used for the transfiguration could give us more insight into it. In the Greek it is metamorphosis: that Jesus’ human form becomes his divine form. In Hebrew, they speak of Shekinah, the majestic manifestation or revelation or presence of God, who descended to dwell among us human beings. Do you remember the three angels that visited Abraham? That was a theophany, the appearance of God, before the fullness of the birth of Jesus. On that mountain top the radiance and glory of God suddenly bursts through the veil of this world and shining on Peter, James, and John, it really also shines on us, because of the peculiar power of words, which have the tendency to gather us together to have that experience with them, so that we too can gaze through the window of heaven into the light of glory.
At Jesus’ baptism, the voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” On the mountain top, the voice from the cloud says it to Peter, James, and John, but also through them to us, adding “Listen to him!” We all become dressed up in Christ, when we listen to him, when we have ears that hear, and we too become children of God, God’s beloved, with whom God is well pleased.
There is a passage in the first letter of John that helps us understand what it means to grow up into the full stature of Christ, and it is worth thinking about again and again. I just noticed the passage before it: God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. (1:5) Beginning chapter 3:
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called the children of God, and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-3)
And John reminds us to have pure hearts, because the pure in heart will see God.
Baptism is designed to wash out our hearts and make them pure, like deep clear water that you can see yourself in. We can be launched into the God’s mission of saving this world and still have very unclean hearts, filled with filthy rags. Thus Luther tells us that our struggle has to continue on a daily basis: we have to drown our old sinful selves, repenting of all its evil deeds and desires, so that we get up in our fresh new selves, our brand new selves. We die to our old selves in order to live for God. And our prayer has to struggle against sleep.
Jesus was praying up there on the mountain and the disciples were trying not to go to sleep. Because they stayed awake they saw Jesus change into that glorious angelic form with the two men standing and conversing with him.
How can we wake up to the wonder and glory of God that envelopes this whole planet, our whole world, when sleep is like a veil over our eyes, making it impossible to see the shining face of God? Luther talked of nature and even we ourselves being a mask behind which God remains hidden, until it is removed and we behold God in the light of glory.
The culmination of our baptisms is the enlightenment of our lives, our knowing God and who we are meant to be. It’s knowing ourselves, like old Socrates said we should. The old Greek philosopher Diogenes was not fooled by possessions. He gave advice to Alexander, the Great, helping him win a crucial battle. The great conqueror came to him where he lived in a barrel. “Ask of me anything you desire up to half of my kingdom!” Diogenes asked him, “Would you please not stand in my sun?” So Alexander stepped to the side, flummoxed, because this was his request!
Diogenes would run around in the full light of the day with a lantern looking to see if he could find one human being. People all around, but he could not see one, even with a lantern.
What does it take for us to wake up? How do we rise and shine? How do we get out of the closets that we are hiding in? Jesus is the way, the light of the world; we need but listen to him. It takes the daily struggle of dying to our sin and coming alive to God. What it takes is the cross and Jesus did what it takes for us, coming down off that mountain top going all the way down into that valley of his passion and death for us. That’s why we can all sing:
Shine Jesus shine, fill this land with the father’s glory.
Blaze spirit blaze, set our hearts on fire.
Flow river flow, flood the nations with grace and mercy.
Send forth your Word, Lord, and let there be light!
Let’s pray for the Holy Spirit and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In the Bible study this week, I heard a pastor say, “We Lutherans have thrown the Holy Spirit off the cliff!” That is partially right. We have a different understanding of the Holy Spirit from the one that is only enthusiastic and emotional. But with our superior knowledge, do we think we can do without the Holy Spirit?
Coming off that mountain top they immediately confront the depth of human misery and the condition that our human condition is in. A father is trying to get help for his son who seems to be having epileptic seizures. Out of the strength of Jesus’ glory, fresh out of God’s new creation, Jesus restores the boy to health, the only child of a desperate father.
Then there is our church, the ELCA, the “Elca,” as we like to call it. Let’s pray that the transfigured Christ helps us. It has been losing membership and churches every year. The Lutheran magazine on its cover the other month asked what to do about our shrinking churches. It is the 25th Anniversary of the ELCA and it wanted to have 10% of its membership come from the minorities and we have achieved only about 3%. We have lost many churches since taking a stand for gay pastors, but that is a loss for the sake of righteousness, which Jesus will bless. But how will we become more diverse and begin to grow again? How do we get Jesus to turn us around?
We need the Holy Spirit and we need to listen to Jesus. Let me end with a few thoughts about listening. Silence is the mother of sound. There is chatter in ourselves that we listen to and it drowns out what God is saying to us, but also what others are saying to us. We have got to step on the brakes and be able to stop talking so we can listen.
Listening is not passive and speaking active. Listening is active and it is hard work. We do not only speak before we think, (which is one of my troubles), but we often speak before we listen. In the commentary it said, we therefore give a person, who is drowning in deep water a sandwich and we throw a life saver to someone sitting at the table. We send someone who drives people away, but has a gift with numbers to do evangelism, and a natural evangelist becomes a troubled treasurer.
Active listening opens a world to us that is invisible to sight. The ears that hear start to see with the eyes of the heart. That kind of listening leads to some suffering, because it’s a jungle in there, where you see people who don’t know themselves and there you are in there without knowing yourself either. You realize that you don’t have a handle on yourself and nor do they on themselves.
“Father,” Jesus prays, “forgive them they don’t know what they are doing.” We don’t know who we are either. But when we keep on, keeping on, when we persevere, then Jesus can take us through the dark vale into the light.
No longer will we be the blind leading the blind, but seeing Jesus as he is, we will become like him, part of the new creation. We get to this Gospel-land by hearing, that means, listening to Jesus, hearing him, and obediently denying ourselves, picking up our cross, and following him. Through Jesus we get to know God and also get to know ourselves. We ourselves and others stop being cats in a bag. We will be able to see others as they are. Jesus was revealed there on the mountain top and John says that we will be like him, because we will see him as he is. It means dying to live. I love the end of Psalm 17: When I awake, I shall be filled gazing at your likeness – transfigured, beholding the beautiful face of God. Amen.