Archive for June 2016
Søren’s Affirmation of Baptism June 26th 2016 Christ Lutheran Church
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 Psalm 16 Galatians 5:1,13-25 Luke 9:51-63
Keep Your Hand on the Gospel Plow
What a wonderful Sunday, one where we can celebrate Søren’s baptismal affirmation. We remember the blessing of Sophia’s confirmation, with those confirmands of our cluster of churches up at the seminary on Pentecost. (If we consider ourselves a fleet of churches, wouldn’t it be something if we became the flagship and called a youth pastor together? Imagine all the God-Out-There experiences the youth in our churches could have!) In the old days one church had many confirmands. A picture in my bookshelf has my father, a pastor, standing with eleven confirmands from his church. Yet because of the cooperation of our four churches and pastors, thanks to Pastor Barbara, you enjoyed being together with a good number of young people studying confirmation together. Now their confirmation took place on Pentecost, but today we have this lovely Pentecost bulletin cover for your service.
The verse I would like to highlight is “Jesus said to [one disciple]‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.’” Now after a reading we say “The Gospel of the Lord, even though that is really the law. So it is rather rough when you contemplate your discipleship, Søren, and then the Gospel lesson has three disciples, who get reproached by Jesus. But just look at the positive way the Psalm balances the gospel lesson out.
“LORD, you are my portion and my cup; it is you who uphold my lot. My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; indeed, I have a rich inheritance.
My father gave me his white Cadillac as my inheritance. It had angelic wings it seemed where the tail lights swept back, push button windows and a real fine radio. When I drove it out of the garage, because it had been standing for a long time, the tires went, pop, pop, pop: four blow outs. My father said, “There goes the devil again!” The real inheritance that he left me was divine. Psalm 16 continues:
I will bless the LORD who gives me counsel; my heart teaches me night after night. I have set the LORD always before me; because God is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope. For you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your holy one see the pit. You will show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
How do you like that for a confirmation blessing? Who could ask for more? You might want to choose a verse from that for your very own confirmation verse.
But you are not only celebrating today, you are also affirming baptism and baptism means means a washing, a real scrubbing of forgiveness so you become pure, pure in heart so you can see God. Baptism can also mean drowning to the old self and being raised up a new self. Dying to your old self and coming alive to God, becoming the new being that God created you to be.
Now baptism would be unbearable, except that, even the psalm shows us why we can glory in the cross. That’s because of the resurrection. “Christ will not abandon you to the grave; nor let his holy one see the pit, but show you the path of life.”
That is the wonderful gospel promise that paints the colorful arch of the rainbow of God’s covenant over you. Rainbows are water droplets refracting white light into all the colors of the spectrum.
Was it you who put these words into the confirmation liturgy? “We give you thanks for the laws of physics and science that operate in our world?” Mark, Josh, and I were talking about black holes. If all these stars fall into them and add their gravity to the black hole, do the stars of the galaxies swirl and revolve around them like our planets around the sun? I wonder. I like Satchmo’s song: “What a Wonderful World!” You young people will learn more than we’ll ever know.”
But gravitational waves do not keep us together. The love that we receive as brothers and sisters in Christ does that. And like the spiritual says, “We have to keep our hands on the Gospel plow.” “Keep your eyes on the prize and hold on!”
That does not mean that you have to become a pastor, although I wonder if you have considered it. But we believe in the priesthood of all believers. You receive God’s calling in whatever vocation you receive from God. Doing science is also a calling. God knows we need more good scientists. The word “vocation” means calling. Right now your vocation, your calling is studying, so you can make your contribution and become the blessing in God’s kingdom, that God needs you to be.
So keep your hand on the gospel plow and hold on. Perhaps Jesus was thinking of the story of Elisha when he talked about putting one’s hand on a plow.
And Elisha must have been a rather prominent farmer plowing behind 12 yoke of oxen. When Elijah throws his mantle around him, Elisha says, “Let me first kiss my father and my mother and then I will follow you.” The old prophet rebukes Elisha by saying, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” But Elisha slaughters the oxen, uses the plow to have wood for the fire to cook them, calls together a huge feast for the whole village and leaves and follows Elijah to become his servant.
Jesus did not give the three disciples a second chance, but Jesus is setting his face to Jerusalem, where he will be taken up, taken up on the cross. Like in disaster movies, when there is a life and death situation, you often don’t get a second chance.
But look at what Elisha was doing. He was turning back, he burning his bridges behind him. He was giving up the plow on the farm to put his hand on the prophet’s plow, like we put it on the gospel plow in any vocation that God chooses for us. listen to St. Paul:
“For Freedom Christ has set us free.” says St. Paul. “Stand fast therefore and do not submit to the yoke of slavery again.”
Elisha was pretty high and mighty if he plowed with 12 oxen. But then he became Elijah’s servant. You may know what Luther said in “The Freedom of a Christian,” after all, you played the young Luther. “A Christian person is a free sovereign over all, subject to no one.” That’s because of faith. But at the very same time, “A Christian person is a dutiful servant, subject to everyone.” That’s because of love. A popular song long ago put it this way: “If they made me a king, I’d still be a slave to you.” That’s what love and passion do.
You have to slave away in your calling. Our faith lifts us up giving us the strength to love and serve God’s people. Elisha became the great prophet’s servant in order to learn how to be one himself. Are you now a junior? When you become a senior, don’t get senioritis. Studying is slavery; but we can endure it because of the freedom we have in Christ. So we have to work hard. I think people hate immigrants because they work so hard and we have gotten very pampered and rich and we don’t like hard work and there is a lot of work we won’t even bend our backs to do. So to follow after Christ we have to work as hard as immigrants and stop rejecting them.
The old spiritual talks about the gospel plow. When Jesus says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” You have to realize how wonderful God is. God makes us fit to put our hand on that plow. God forgives us more than any human being could or would until we become mature by God’s grace and mercy. It is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ that you become fit to handle the plow that turns up the earth in straight furrows so that it can grow a harvest.
So keep on keeping on. It takes our whole life to get there. On your life’s journey Christ will always accompany you and be the closest to you when you think God is not even there. Now that you follow, don’t look back. Hate traps us in the past, while love opens the future. If we plow a field looking backward rather than straight ahead, the furrows are going to be crooked. If you already drive a car: it’s better to look forward through the windshield. Like Elisha, you can glance at the rear view mirror, but you can’t drive a car and you’ll be sure to crash if you only look at the cars behind you in the rear view mirror, instead of the way and everything in front of you.
In Revelation it says, “Be faithful until death and Christ will give you the crown of life.” By grace Christ will make you fit for the kingdom of God, for your calling, for the contribution that you will make, for the blessing that you will be.
Christ will keep your hand on the gospel plow and help you hold on. Keep your eyes on the prize and hold on. God bless you for following Christ, who will show you the path of life, and hold you in his presence for the fullness of joy.
The first thing you did right,
was affirm your baptism in God’s sight!
So keep your hand on the gospel plow
and hold on! Amen.
 Soren played the young Luther and his father Lars played Professor Luther in the preview of our Luther Musical on Reformation Sunday, October 25, 2015. Soren’s mother, Bertha played Katie von Bora.
Verse 1 She bathed his feet with her tears
she dried them with her hair.
Line C That’s the lovely way that she
anointed Jesus there.
Verse 2 Come unto me, dear maiden,
your soul will receive rest.
weary and heavy laden
Have faith, repent, be blessed.
Line C Again and again
his sweet words she hears.
Filled with new hope
she breaks down in tears.
Everything she’d kept hidden
would in her new life be forgiven.
What could she possibly bring
for such a gift
as her offering?
Verse 1 She thought of one possession
from Himalayan hills afar
her valuable perfumed nard
in an alabaster jar.
Verse 2 Rushing out to find him
She saw him entering a door.
Truth to tell one she knew quite well
because she had entered it before.
Verse 1 You bathed his feet with your tears
You dried them with your hair
You broke the alabaster jar,
its fragrance filled the air;
Verse 1 you poured the oil upon his head,
it ran down through his hair.
That’s the lovely way that you
anointed the Messiah there.
Verse 2 Come unto me, dear maiden,
your soul will receive rest.
weary and heavy laden
Have faith, repent, be blessed.
Verse 1 You bathed his feet with your tears
You dried them with your hair.
And now your story will be told
with the Gospel everywhere –
with the Gospel everywhere!
(Over the years: June 6, 2013, March 9-19, 2015 by peter krey)
Mark and I sang my Anointing Song before the sermon: “She Bathed his Feet with her Tears, She Dried them with her Hair.”
The Time after Pentecost (IV) Lectionary 11 – June 12th 2016
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15 Psalm 51 Galatians 2:15-21 Luke 7:36-8:3
God’s Deep Love and Complete Forgiveness:
But We Have No License to Sin
You’ll notice that in the second lesson Paul warns us not to allow the grace of God to give us a license to sin. Our text reads, “So in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant to sin? Certainly not.” This translation is problematic because we believe that “we cannot by our own strength or effort believe in our Lord Jesus Christ or come to him.” The New International Version translation is better: “If while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!” In the Cotton Patch Epistles, which contains some crude language, please forgive me, it says, “Hell no!” Christ does not promote sin. If we have died to sin, how can we let it come alive in us again?
But consider the story of David and Bathsheba. David, who cherished God so very much that he wrote all those psalms, playing their tunes on his harp, and as great a king as he was, was still a real sinner. He commits adultery with Uriah the Hittite’s wife and then has him murdered to marry her!
Luther often writes that we should take comfort in the way God forgives real sins, because God forgave David and Bathsheba. The name “David” means darling and David remained God’s darling. Jesus, God’s Son is even celebrated as the Son of David. So his adultery and murder were forgiven him. Thus we can take comfort in the fact that God forgives us our real sins, not imaginary ones. So the way God forgave David’s sins, ours too are therefore forgiven.
Their consequences, however, remain. David’s son Absalom rebelled against him. When he took his father’s throne, his advisors told him to sleep with all of his father’s wives – they had harems in those days – to assert his kingship. Joab David’s commander Killed Absalom. Riding on a royal donkey, his long blond hair was caught in a tree, and while hanging there, Joab ran him through with his spear. David returned to his throne and grieved his son’s death bitterly: for weeks he walked through his palace, saying, “Absalom, my son Absalom” over and over again, not accepting any comfort. The sword never left the House of David thereafter and he did not have peace in his reign again.
But what a way the Prophet Nathan brought this rotten spot in David’s cover up out into the open. David thought he had gotten away with his crime and continued to ride on God’s grace. But Nathan nailed him and the scandal became open knowledge to everyone. David had to undergo falling into the abyss of guilt and shame. In that state he writes the 51st Psalm: “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and renew a right spirit within me. Do not cast me out of your Presence, Oh God, and don’t take your Holy Spirit away from me.”
And David was forgiven. Of course, David was different from Herod, who had taken his brother Philip’s wife. David, after having experienced Nathan’s speaking truth to power, did not say, “Off with your head!” as in the case of John the Baptist.
David repented and was forgiven.
The woman who anointed Jesus feet was also forgiven. We do not know why, nor do we know her sin. But she loves, adores, and worships Jesus in gratitude for it. Perhaps she was the woman caught in adultery, when Jesus confronts her attackers and says, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone,” saving her life. She may have been Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus cast seven devils. This story is read on the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene.
Now in those days they did not sit at a table the way we do. She did not have to crawl under the table to anoint Jesus’ feet. They ate in Roman style at a triclinium: they lay on cots with their elbows on the table. Three tables were set up in a U form, so that the food could be served. Four tables would have made a square, shutting out the servers. Thus the feet of those at the meal were easily accessible.
But what lavish love she pours on Jesus! And her story will be told wherever the Gospel is preached, because she anointed the Christ, the Messiah, which means the anointed one in Greek and Hebrew and she had the honor of anointing him, even though she was a sinner much like David.
Now does that give us license to sin? In no way. We are to die to sin and come alive in Christ as new human beings.
Perhaps Luther’s “Sin boldly!” comes to mind. When Luther told Melanchthon to sin boldly, but more boldly still believe, he was encouraging him to stop militant Anabaptists, who claimed that they could not be criticized because they were filled by the Holy Spirit. Violence had no place in the spreading of the Gospel and they were aligned with the Anabaptists of the Sword, like Thomas Müntzer. Luther said, “They swallowed the Holy Spirit, feathers and all.” The Anabaptists of the Staff were pacifists, but these Anabaptists were part of the Wittenberg Disturbances, who were not pacifists. Melanchthon thought he might sin against the Holy Spirit if he stopped them. Luther wrote to Melanchthon that he had to stop them. “Sin boldly, but more boldly still believe.”
When priests began to marry in the Reformation, they had to sin boldly, but it was against what human beings at the time named a sin, which really was no sin. The celibacy of priests by dint of the canon law, fostered untold corruption, perhaps it is the cause of it even in our days. Back then for a fee paid to the bishop, a priest could have a concubine. Then he merely paid another fine for each child he conceived. But the marriage could not be legal and the child had to be illegitimate. Meanwhile the bishop was cashing in! Erasmus of Rotterdam, the Prince of the Humanists, was the illegitimate child of a priest. He remained so upset that he never spoke Dutch, only Latin his whole life, except when he died, his last words were, “Oh God!” in Dutch.
Luther taught that God’s law was to marry, because in Genesis it said, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Human vows had to be temporary unless a priest or nun had the gift of celibacy. But very few people do.
In Berlin Germany, in St. Philips, where I was a vicar, we had two Lutheran sisters called deaconesses. Their celibacy vows in the Lutheran way were humanly conditioned. When the pastor’s wife was killed in a car accident, one of the sisters gave up her vows, married him, and became his wife. The other sister continued nursing the sick and elderly shut-ins of the congregation. She was happy to continue her call in that wonderful service. Imagine if we had two deaconesses who were nurses regularly visiting our shut-ins?
We are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. And God has mercy on us all. Even, as hard as it it, on those who are self-righteous, like the Levite, Simon, in our story today. He may even have wanted to test if Jesus was a real prophet by setting the whole thing with the woman up, according to one commentary, although I don’t believe it. But he argues that when Jesus raised the dead son of the Widow of Nain, which was the story last Sunday, all the people said, “A great prophet had arisen in their midst.” The Levite could have said to himself, “I’ll invite Jesus to a dinner and see if he is a real prophet or not. If he was for real, he would reject that sinful woman.” But Jesus compared the lavish love of the one with the smug and judgmental self-righteousness of the other – and whether it was a test of Jesus or not, the self-righteous Levite is tested and falls short. Love covers a multitude of sins.
When testing, trying, and judging Jesus, like in the case of Jesus before Pilate, Simon the Levite and Pilate are the ones really being judged and are shown to fall short.
Smugness often provokes the passionate to sin. Self-righteousness causes a lot of sin. But does someone’s smug self-righteousness give us the license to sin? In no way! I don’t have to repeat what the Cotton Patch Epistles say. We have died to sin and it is no longer we who live, but Christ, who lives in us! “We don’t need another scandal. We’ve got all that we can handle.” Mark and I could sing another song. But our wonderful God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and forgiveness! Amen.
 From the explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed in Luther’s Small Catechism.
Blogging my thoughts this morning: June 1st, 2016
I dreamt last night about vertical insight and learning versus horizontal insight and learning. (I was cognizant of a much greater concept in the dream, but I could only come up with “insight and learning” after waking.) I think the dream stemmed from my thoughts about revelation versus reason. Reasoning seems so very superior to taking verses from the scripture and seemingly proof-texting with them. But it is not proof-texting when coherently arguing from revelation. For example, a great deal of contextualizing thoughts and words precede the great oracle in Habakkuk 2: 1-2. But then in verse two, the prophet writes, “And the Lord answered me.” The revelation is the oracle that has its heart in verse four: “Behold [someone’s] soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by faith.” A number of other insights proceed from verse four, but just to take that verse, shows that revelation can be taken seriously and arguing from it can be very coherent reasoning. It would be profitable to explore if revelation in different forms could be the source of all reasoning per se.
Much reasoning can be instrumental and revelation could be the vertical insight that needs the horizontal fashioning, clarification, and precision that such a tool can bring to it. So in a sense, revelation is what reasoning requires in order to get its inspiration, which its instrumentality alone does not provide.
Reasoning always relies on what follows, whether what follows is formally or materially the case. It is valid formally when the structure of the argument, for example, a conditional argument or syllogism, is valid. It follows materially if the best evidence and reasons can be marshaled for a proposition. But when a thought or sentence or proposition follows another, then a spark of revelation could be involved. Revelation could provide the basic source of instrumental rationality or be a continual or continuous source.
In the revelation of Habakkuk, “the righteous shall live by faith,” which is an oracle, the vertical insight most likely produced a horizontal renewal in the thought as well as the realities of the prophet’s day. St. Paul used the same oracle to form the renewal of his theology and the faith that included the gentiles in what had only been the Judaic faith. In the theology of Luther, the same oracle formed the guiding light of the reformation and the vertical revelation brought about a very far-reaching horizontal change.
NB: I tried to learn what the name Habakkuk means in Hebrew and it seems to mean “ardent embrace.” That fits in with knowledge in the Hebrew sense of involvement, participation, commitment, i.e., Adam knew his wife Eve, and she bore a son, etc. It is the insight and knowledge that derives from intimacy, while other insight and knowledge of a complementary nature can be derived from distance and detachment.