Archive for August 2015
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 16th 2015
Proverbs 9:1-6 Psalm 34:9-14 Ephesians 5:15-20 John 6:51-58
We Need the Word and Sacrament
For Eternal Life
In our pastors’ bible study, a woman pastor was definitely going to preach on Proverbs. It is a real feminist text. Wisdom, Sophia in Greek is presented as a woman and she is not at all passive. She runs the household and is in the center of production. She is in charge. Like I say to my wife: “tu es la que manda.” Sophia, this woman of wisdom is filled with power and wealth, and sends out her servant-girls to help everyone walk in the way of insight. Wisdom entails mature knowledge, which is sometimes expressed as considering rational as well as the emotional mind.
Sophia is wisdom and philos is lover, so philosophia is a lover of wisdom. Logos in the Greek sense means reasoning and understood in the Hebrew sense as Dabar, it means the word that brings things into existence, the word that creates and does what it says. Sophia or wisdom is what logos or reasoning is shooting for and is personified as a strong woman, a honky-tonk woman. I was close to a family in seminary, who named their youngest son Ashley, after Ashley Montegue, the anthropologist who wrote the book, The Natural Superiority of Women. So we also named our first son, Ashley, because we men have to put that into our pipes and smoke it! As we used to say.
Now the Ephesians lessons in asking us to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord in our hearts is not only underscoring all our emphasis on hymn-singing this month, but also our open mic, music nights. What a time we had Friday night. People did not want to leave. Singers were still starting new songs at 9:30 and we got home pretty late. A lot of the night is turning out to be sing-a-long. Still we enjoyed all the performers and those who attended did not stop making requests! The musicianship, the voices, the talent: it was a night to remember!
But how can we not tackle our Gospel lesson when it is all about eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood? It is tempting to just spiritualize it and say that he is speaking metaphorically about teaching as bread. Thus Jesus could be speaking about Sophia or wisdom, logos or reasoning or dabar, meaning powerful words, as teaching, referring to it all as bread that we need to eat, take in, and digest.
But much more is going on here. We certainly receive Jesus into our hearts when we hear him preached. Last time I quoted Luther: “…by my bodily voice, I bring Christ into your heart, so that you may form him within yourself.” Now how it happens that the words bear him into your hearts through your ears, we do not know. Luther says, Christ does not need to poke a hole into your heart to be in it, just like he does not have to poke a hole into the bread to be in it. But Jesus also wants us to receive him through our mouths, through the eating and drinking in our sacrament. We really don’t know how the bread and wine become Jesus’ body and blood, but he wants us to receive him like food. Not only are we to become his flesh and blood by nurture, but also by nature. Jesus wants us to receive him like food that goes through our whole body, like nourishment that goes into our blood and through our blood into all our cells of our body, from those of our little toe to our earlobes, as the commentary said, so that we become completely filled and nourished by Christ, who is life-giving bread. The way bread strengthens the heart, according to the psalm,  Luther said, this bread we take in communion, strengthens the Christ within us.
People argued with Luther that because Christ had ascended into heaven, that he could not be in the bread and the wine. Zwingli in Zurich taught the real absence of Christ. But Luther held with the real presence and felt that in the end they would not believe that the Word had become flesh, a human being, that is, and dwelt among us in Christ. Being at the right hand of God meant that Christ could be inside all creatures and beyond them all, inside the smallest seed, for example, and still be greater than the whole universe. We can understand this miracle to which Luther refers better today: just think, each cell in one of your hairs contains your whole genetic code, which is the blueprint of our whole body. In a similar way the living bread will contain the blue print perhaps for our new bodies when we are raised.
Christ wants to emphasize that our bodies are really important and the lowly and mundane chewing, eating, swallowing, and becoming nourished by Christ has to do with raising us up on the last day and the resurrection of our bodies in the glory of life everlasting. Luther says that baptism raises us up into the new life, while communion guides us through death into eternal life. So the word itself is not sufficient, it has to be the word and sacrament.
In his commentary, Brian Stoffregen noted that soma the Greek word for “body” is used for communion, while here in John’s sixth chapter the word for “flesh,” sarx is used. John has foot-washing, where the other Gospels have communion. But in a very general theological way, he does seem to refer to communion. The word became flesh sarx and dwelt among us. “Flesh” was the word the Hebrews used for a human being. Thus the meaning is that the word became a human being and dwelt among us. The word, like ourselves, became enfleshed, became incarnate, and we too have to become the flesh and blood of Christ, so that we also become and further the incarnation as we become Christs to one a another.
Like we believe in the continuous creation and not that God created the world back a few thousand years ago or in the Big Bang 14 billion years ago. With that we also believe in a continuous incarnation, meaning that we all also become Christs here for our neighbors. So in a sense eating and drinking Jesus means that we become filled by him from head to toe and completely absorbed by him, so that when we are awakened we shall be like he is. When we used to do Vacation Church School and Day Camp, we used to say we had to eat, drink, and sleep it, because it was all consuming. The same goes for our faith. We dare not just try to get our tippy toes wet in baptism, when like learning a language, it requires total immersion. Not in the water, in the sense of the fullness of the sign, but in the matters of faith and in the following of Christ in self-denial and cross-bearing.
Brian Stoffregen notes that the devil was called a flesh-eater in Aramaic. And eating a person’s flesh and drinking their blood were ways to talk about murdering that person. So in one sense, Jesus was saying that he would be crucified in that horrendously cruel execution designed by the Romans. But we don’t want to leave all of this as being metaphorical. We believe that we receive the body and blood of our Lord in, with, and under the bread and wine. His body would also include his flesh, and in some way that is life-giving, like true living bread, that nourishes us beyond the ability of words for being raised up on the last day.
And were you there when they crucified my Lord? “Yes, indeed, with hammer and nails in hand,” the way William Sloan Coffin used to say. Some people insist that the Romans or the Jews crucified Jesus and Antisemitism used to be justified by quoting, “Let his blood come upon us and our children.” We are the sinners that Christ came to save and if his blood does not co me upon us and our children then we are not forgiven. So we confess, “I crucified him” and Jesus pronounces his wonderful forgiveness: “Father, forgive them they know not what they do.” So God was able to take what was absolutely evil and change it into a blessing, the same way God transformed the cross, which was a symbol of torture and execution into the symbol of the greatest love that the world has ever known. The people from Emanuel AME Church in Charleston just demonstrated that strong love and incredible forgiveness once again. That makes us Christians proud!
So in the sense of this text, let’s take the bread that a member baked and put it in our mouths, chew it, swallow it, because in it Christ is feeding us for everlasting life. Let’s drink the wine, the same way. It doesn’t matter if it’s intinction. But if you drink it, it is even all right to slurp. In Japan they get the most joy out of slurping their soup. When leaving the Tokyo airport in an airplane, the stewardesses served us soup, and first everyone slurped away and then realizing they were leaving Japan, everyone gradually stopped slurping and then it became appropriately quiet.
Jesus is not embarrassed by our bodies or by our bodily needs and thus we hear the word but also receive the sacrament and believe the promise, that Jesus uses our eating and drinking in this sacrament to invite us into communion with one another and with all the saints, and to raise us up in the bodily resurrection in glorified bodies, because we became his flesh and blood, bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh in this communion sacrament. Amen.
 Timothy Lull, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), p. 319.
 Psalm 104:15.
 Timothy Lull, Op. cit., page 246.
 Ibid., p. 260.
 Cf. 1 John 3:2.
 Matthew 27:25.
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, 9th of August, 2015
Kings 19:4-8 Psalm 34:7-8 Ephesians 4:25-5:2 John 6:35, 41-51
The Creative and Promised Life We Receive with Christ in our Hearts
You may not have heard this song:
Be kind to one another, be tender-hearted too; forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven you. These words are very precious. They’re also very true. They are found in the Bible: Ephesians 4:32.
An African American teacher in our Vacation Church School and Day Camp in St. Paul’s Coney Island taught us that song. She came to work in our school and day camp with her friend, who was a small but strong woman, who became our bus driver. These were the first jobs these women had, which our church provided for them. Later she worked in security for the Parks Department and her friend became a bus driver. Her husband had married her down South and brought her up to Brooklyn keeping her like a captive in their apartment in a thirty story high-rise. He refused to let her out of the front door to start working. She had to have a fist-fight with him to get out of the door, but then after starting with us, she entered the work-force.
Those are memories. But we need to make things happen here today so they become future memories for tomorrow. To start something where there was nothing is a divine prerogative. Some of you have helped out Pastor Doris Ng in Grace Laotian where she had a one week music camp. A six to eight week Vacation Church School and Day Camp like we had in Coney Island would not work here, because we don’t have oodles of deprived children trapped in projects with nothing to do all summer. But we could have a music night with an open mic on Fridays. If we all picked it up, we’d be surprised by what could come of it. A whole throng of people, young and old gather for the open mic at the East Bay Coffee House in Old Pinole and it seems to be like a mission headed toward becoming a church. Just before Pastor Marty started here at Christ Lutheran in 1974, the congregation started a Senior Center. Now there are two Spanish classes, a German class with Sylvia its teacher, regular speakers, a wonderful dinner; and last time I counted, 24 people learning how to play the Ukulele. Don’t you wonder what Christ will make of Brewing Hope that Pastor Barbara is shaping? Or what might come of our choir singing in Bethlehem Lutheran Church and their Gospel choir singing here at Christ? Wow! Hold tight. God is not finished with us yet.
But the same also goes for your calling out in the world. You may want to get the capital together to start a business; then your enterprise becomes something where there was nothing. But it has to be designed to fill a real need and not be a mere façade rigged up to rip off people. My son received a loan offer from an outfit call Springleaf. Their slogan: Lending made personal. Their interest for a $5,250 loan was first 35.61%, then on a second try, 32.53%. “Get a fast, friendly, affordable loan,” they write! Anything over 5% can be considered the sin of usury, because it is theft. For four years he would have to pay $1,166 a year to pay for that small amount of money. Where is the consumer protection agency?
Our lesson says, “Thieves give up stealing; rather labor and work honestly with your hands so as to have something to share with the needy.” In Coney Island the Mob gave loans. We were not supposed to call them the Mafia, but the Mob. They were loan sharks, but they didn’t charge 35%. Of course, they would break your legs or shoot you if you didn’t pay up.
A business should not be a thin disguise designed to rip off people. A company came four times to fix our refrigerator, charged thousands of dollars to the maker who guaranteed it and never fixed the problem. Another company was honest and really fixed it in two visits.
A good company meets a need and honestly fills it; but it really requires those who start it to work very hard; at least at first. With his partner one of my sons started two vegan restaurants called Sluggos, one in Pensacola and one in Chattanooga. They only hire musicians, who receive their livelihood from their work together and they then go out and do their musical gigs and tours. He found a way to help artists who can’t make a living nowadays with their music.
Being creative is part and parcel of having the marvelous freedom of Christians. The guidelines that Paul gives us are not so much obligations as gifts. Christ comes and lives in our hearts by faith and that makes it so that we will never ever be hungry or thirsty again. “By the power [of Christ] at work within us, [God] is able to accomplish abundantly more than all we can ask or imagine.” That is real. I can witness to it. I remember how we took our first bus into Coney Island and the way 66 children packed it and seemed to be hanging all over it coming to our first day of vacation church school and day camp!
God can do great things because we get a change of heart: from one that is not to be understood, desperately corrupt, and deceitful above all things to the living and vibrant heart of Christ, throbbing with compassion for the needy and lost in this world.
So these strictures in Ephesians are not obligations, but descriptions of our new life in Christ. We put away falsehood, like Jon Stewart, and speak up when we smell the baloney. (I can’t use the language of the Daily Show), but we should certainly be able to discern the phony news and deceptive politics from the entertainment that masquerades as news, real politics, or real advice on the business channel. And that of course also goes for worship. We can’t replace worship with entertainment. We enter the presence of God and we open our hearts so that God can transform them. Then we worship Christ and him crucified, so the cross is always in our midst. And we confess our sin to be forgiven to overcome our sin so that we do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.
For example, it is all right to be angry. But it is no excuse for becoming irresponsible. And we have to bring up what is upsetting us and talk it through. When we remain angry over many days, then it can grow cold and turn into apathy and hatred. We still don’t know how to cure the common cold, but Paul tells us how not to catch a spiritual cold. Paul wants us to imitate God and live in love, the way Christ loved us. That is the promised life!
Elijah was fighting for this very same faith way back in the Old Testament; the faith that promised us Jesus Christ. Queen Jezebel introduced the fertility religion of Baal worship into Israel and elected 95 priests for Baal worship. King Ahab and Jezebel were out to kill Elijah and he was on the lam. He had come to the point of utter exhaustion under that broom tree, a kind of juniper that grows in the desert. But an angel baked bread for him on hot stones woke him up, bid him eat, and gave him a jar of water. But because he still could not get up, she gave him seconds. On the strength of that food he was able to journey to Horeb, the Mount of God, for forty days and forty nights. The number forty is short-hand for a time of suffering.
That is the food that Jesus is also talking about. He is the bread of heaven. He feeds us with his own self, offers his life for us. Thus his body is food indeed and his blood drink indeed. We receive him through the word that is preached. Hearing the word of God we receive him into ourselves as we digest his word, which is the bread of life come down to us from heaven. In his writing, “The Sacrament of the Body and Blood – against the Fanatics” Luther says, “Again I preach the Gospel of Christ and with my bodily voice, I bring Christ into your heart, so that you may form him within yourself.” When we die with Christ in our hearts then we are also raised in his resurrection. But even here and now Christ within us strengthens our hearts and therefore not only to go through everything here on earth, but also for the life that we will be raised to live on that day. Christ with the strength of God also has the power to take humanity out of today’s nose dive and raise us all up to be new creatures, making everything new, like watching an early morning sunrise and seeing the world become new and everything in the world coming alive again. So we too can get up in that great day that the Lord has made and imitate God by making something out of nothing. So let’s have communion together here and anticipate the great banquet to come, when we share the bread of heaven. Amen.
 Cf. Ephesians 3:20.
 Jeremiah 17:9.
 Timothy Lull, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), p. 319.
God gives us Angel Food and Growing into the Full Stature of Christ, Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 2, 2015
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost –Hymn-sing- August 2, 2015
Exodus 16:2-4; 9-15 Psalm 78:23-29 Ephesians 4:1-16 John 6:24-35
God gives us Angel Food to Eat and We Grow and
Mature into the Full Stature of Christ
It is a hymn-sing Sunday and we are singing hymns today of your own choosing. Out there on the East Coast I received a text message: “Do you want to preach?” I answered, “Sure,” because I love to preach. But I will just touch each lesson briefly:
First I will touch upon the theme of bread. God provides angel food, (like the communion wafers we receive) even to the rebellious Hebrews in the wilderness, even to us sinners. Then I will touch upon our becoming Christs to one another and growing up into the full stature of Christ.
God feeds the children of Israel bread from heaven – Manna – what is it? – a kind of dew which settled on branches that could be eaten like bread. God gave them this angel food even though they said, “If only we had died in Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill!” They conveniently forgot their slavery and had lost their faith and yearning for the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey. (So let’s not forget the vision and mission of our church!)
How did all these quail flop down on them for them to cook and eat? When quail migrate flying over the Mediterranean Sea they finally reach land in the Sinai. They land completely exhausted and the people could easily catch them.
If you look at the Psalm, it says, “God gave them what they craved,” but because they chose bread and meat and eating their fill over their faith in God, they had to contend with an angry God and then things did not go well for them. Look at Russia. The people chose prosperity over the value of a democratic government. They have been left with a thug called Putin ruling them. Now they are sorry. Jesus also reproaches the crowds for whom he multiplied the loaves and the fishes. Don’t just follow me because you want to eat your fill. You need the bread of heaven; Jesus said, believe in me for I am heaven sent to show you the way of life. Seek ye first of the kingdom of God and its righteousness and all these things, like prosperity, will be added unto you. Seek money and material possessions first and all these things will be subtracted from you. If we put Jesus, the great I am, first, then we will never be hungry and we will never thirst. That’s the way it works. (We should not understand this in terms of getting rich, but in terms of the quality of our relationships and all our needs being met.)
The Ephesians lesson is filled with sermons. It would be well worth meditating on, when you get the chance. “Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called:” integrity is its own reward, building us up. Almost every sentence of this lesson is so rich it could be a sermon title: “Bear with One another in Love” and “Speak the Truth in Love” and “Have the Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace.” This unity is explained by the wonderful sentence: “one body, one spirit, one hope and one calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, above all and through all in all.” That is also the sacred space through which Christ ascends and descends to get to the source of life and love and all God’s gifts for us.
“Taking captivity captive” means that Christ sets us free, gives us freedom. In one of his Galatian commentaries, Luther calls this way of speaking “delicious language.” He says that Christ put death to death to give us life, told hell to go there to open heaven, sinned against sin to make us righteous. Thus when Christ takes captivity captive, he becomes the source of our freedom and the source of all our gifts. We receive them in different magnitudes and capacities becoming apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. It’s in this way that Christ equips you saints at CLC for the work of ministry, building up the body of Christ.
So it is not enough to call ourselves Christians. We grow in the knowledge of the Son of God measure by measure, maturing to the full stature of Christ. Like in football every play is a potential touchdown, every one of us who are baptized need to run with our lives into the end zone for a touchdown and become a Christ to our neighbor.
We grow up in every way into our head, Jesus Christ, for the growth of the body of Christ, which is not only our congregation, but the synod-wide and church-wide expressions of that body as well as the world-wide procession that leads to the promised kingdom of heaven. Amen. But let’s not stop singing.