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Blogging my thoughts: Racism

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Having a “Sterling” reputation has come to mean something else. Despite our rampant denial, racism is still a systemic mountain in our society that our faith has not yet moved.

Written by peterkrey

May 1, 2014 at 10:18 am

Blogging my thoughts: Capital punishment

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From the New York Times articles today (May 1, 2014, page A13): Lethal injections have not turned out to be the cure-all that some had hoped for. That comment, which I paraphrased, reported in the Times shows the contradiction that capital punishment represents. Immanuel Kant argued for capital punishment, saying it was required for having ultimate responsibility. But here it can be shown to violate his categorical imperative which relates morality to non-contradictory behavior. One reaction from Britain observed that we miss the point when only feeling remorse about the method, while it’s really about “the very concept of killing in cold blood.” That is what our society condones when capital punishment is planned and carried out by our government. Christians who argue for capital punishment, forget that Jesus, our own Lord himself died because of it, propelling us into his New Testament of undeserved mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

Written by peterkrey

May 1, 2014 at 10:12 am

Blogging my thoughts: the Social Justification by Faith

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Blogging my thoughts:

In packing boxes while getting ready to move, I found some notes jotted down during the writing of my dissertation that I did not throw away:

In my dissertation, I worked with four of Luther’s most popular pamphlets: Sermon on the Ban, Sermon on Good Works, The New Testament, that is, the Holy Mass, and the Freedom of a Christian. In analyzing these pamphlets I found that they follow the same regular pattern in critiquing the church of that day for the wealth and power of the hierarchy, the exclusion of the Christian laity from the spiritual estate, the fact that cardinals, bishops and priests did not consider it their duty to preach, unless called to do so with a different call above sacramental ordination. These factors, among others, brought opposition to the hierarchy of the spiritual estate.

In the Great Peasants’ War of 1525, the peasants were looking to improve their lot. They could work as peasants on the level of being feudal serfs but they could also work as peasants, like farmers as the equals of burghers and the common man.

Patrick Collinson, in The Religion of the Protestants[1] works with the concept of elective affinity comparing laws. He wrote that the many laws of that day were not like the ones the Puritans would have attempted – for a severe and legally enforced religious and moral discipline. The laws in Luther’s days amounted to an unjust legally enforced exploitation of the peasants. A complicity of the laity and clergy existed in undermining the severity of the Christian moral mandate. Karl Holl would also have argued that the legal practice of the church ban was not used for moral discipline. It was used for debt collection for the spiritual estate and control of the laity.

I think that Holl is convincing in arguing that Luther emphasized the conscience and the intensification of the Christian moral mandate. But Luther’s mandate is more than that of a religion of conscience. With conscientia – according to Steven Ozment, heart, soul, and spirit have to be included as well, to grasp Luther’s anthropological concepts referring to the whole person,[2] (and I add) in terms of maturity and creativity as well. Luther’s concept of spontaneity refers to being moved personally, but who cannot see that it is involved with initiating and sparking social movement for justice as well – rather than merely the justification of the person? Thus Luther’s theology should also include shalom or the Russian concept of sobornost. This idea is not one of a collective emotionalism or an enhancement of religious pleasure, but the experience of a new social and personal harmony and creativity in the further approximations of the Kingdom of God, the Beloved Community – or what Luther describes as “the internal Kingdom of Christian Freedom in terms of the circulation of grace for the common good in the joyful economy of abundance” – (to patch in some of my later work)[3] – while realizing that the Christian state is a historical problem not yet at all solved. Basing it as Luther does on reason and law, rather than a particular faith and Gospel, should not preclude greater and greater approximations of justice.

How can justification merely apply to an individual person? That ignores the historical reality of the social dynamism unleashed by Luther: the Wittenberg Disturbances came first, then the Knights’ Rebellion, and then the Peasants’ War or the Revolution of the Common Man as Peter Blickle would have it.

I like to relate Henri Bergson’s first order feelings and reactive ones.[4] A charismatic social movement as well as a charismatic personal response can issue from a first order “feeling,” that is, not a reactive feeling – but a feeling that initiates new thoughts, feelings, and actions.

So Luther experienced justification by faith as an individual; the peasants wanted justification by faith in terms of social justice. I was thinking in those terms when I wrote against systematic racism and justification not by race, but by grace.[5] What would constitute justification on a social level? The way a whole and mature person can be described as self-aware, autonomous, with quality relationships, etc., the basic ingredients of social justification should also be worked out, as Luther attempts to do in the third part of his pamphlet on Christian Freedom.

________________________

[1] Patrick Collinson, The Religion of Protestants: the Church and English Society 1559-1625, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), p. 241.

[2] Luther’s thinking is holistic. When he refers to the anima, soul, cor, heart, spiritus, spirit, and conscientia, conscience, he always refers to the whole human being from a certain aspect. Steven Ozment notes that for Luther this totus homo is operationally united. Ozment, Steven, Homo Spiritualis: a Comparative Study of the Anthropology of Johannes Tauler, Jean Gerson, and Martin Luther (1509-1516) in the Context of their Theological Thought, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1969), pages 89, 95, and 100.

[3] See the Third Mini-Lecture On Christian Freedom for Our Redeemer in South San Francisco. The existential rapture also applies to individuals and in face of personal realities can seem far-fetched. It is some flight of the imagination to take it to a collective level.

[4] Bergson, Henri, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1935, 1954).

[5] See my writing: Luther’s Justification is not by Race and my Social Ethics developed from Luther’s Theology.

Hearing about a Health Outpost set up in the Jungle, Blogging my thoughts by Peter Krey

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Hearing about a Health Outpost set up in the Jungle

Blogging my thoughts by Peter Krey

 

My friend Ron Moore and I attended a presentation by Dr. Christopher Herndon M.D.[1] on August 15, 2013 at 7:00pm in the Bone Room on Solano Avenue in Berkeley. His lecture or PowerPoint presentation was called, “Learning from Tribal Healers.” Over the last ten years or so, he has been working with remote Amazon tribes in South America, more precisely, southern Suriname. The card advertising his presentation read: “He will discuss his experiences learning from Amazon healers, that is, shamans and the relevance of traditional medicine to conservation and the importance of shamanism to their medical systems – and to our own.”[2]

Dr. Herndon’s purpose was to persuade us about the value of the world of knowledge of the traditional shaman of these remote tribes, many of which were becoming extinct.  This wisdom became lost after contact with the West, when government officials and Christian missionaries considered the shamans to be witch doctors, caught up only in negative superstition and evil spirits. But the shaman like glue held the whole tribe together. Usually from childhood he was brought up to become one and had long, even ten-year apprenticeships on his way to become the accepted shaman of the tribe.

Dr. Herndon told that when a botanist learned the language of a tribe one shaman could designate 2000 different species of trees by merely looking at the leaf from that tree. Usually a western PhD in botany needed another component besides the leaf and could not even name 25 trees in the area in which he lived. A zoologist with a PhD studying bees, asked a tribal member about them, who named 52 different varieties of bees, dumbfounding him by his knowledge of the flora and fauna.  A shaman also knew the healing properties of many leaves and vines, insects and the secretion of frogs, and medicines from under the bark of trees. They had diagnostic capabilities that were dumbfounding to a Western medical doctor knowing what he had learned in medical school. But it took the love to take the time to learn their language and the humility to listen to the shaman and learn what he knew. What opened up for the western MD was his universe of knowledge, his treasury of wisdom, which is ordinarily lost thirty years after a shaman was driven from the tribe. In this way cutting the whole tribe off from the source of its knowledge and culture, it was then placed on its way to extinction. Before that point it was made completely dependent on the West in unsustainable ways. In a medical health clinic set for western medicine, he was discussing a diagnosis with the indigenous staff. He looked through their microscope and discovered that it was broken. They were merely pretending to use it for their take on the diagnosis.

Dr. Herndon set up a traditional health outpost in Suriname in an Amazonian tribe known as the Trio and reinstated the shaman to be the tribal healer.[3]  This traditional health outpost is designed to complement a western medical clinic nearby. After he set it up and invited the shaman who had been shunned to return and do his work, Dr. Herndon did the best thing he could do. He left them alone. He flew to Washington, D.C. returning by plane after a few months. These remote jungle locations are only accessible by air. While landing, from the plane he could see a long line waiting to see the shaman at the health outpost.

Dr. Herndon presented many examples of the diagnostic capabilities and the treasury of wisdom possessed by the shaman lost to us because of our feelings of superiority and complete disregard of their knowledge and culture. Meanwhile contact with the West was destroying one tribe after another and many more are nearing extinction after becoming completely dependent on the West. (Not the pharmaceutical were threatening the tribes quite so much as oil, mineral, and lumber extraction.)

For example, some tribes use 12 to 13 foot long blow pipes with poison darts to hunt the monkeys they consume for food. The poison they use is a muscle relaxant that makes the monkey fall silently through the trees and vines to the ground. (Their “poison” is used in every operating room today, but of course, there is no way to give them intellectual property rights.) After contact with the West, tribal hunters use shotguns, disturbing the whole environment and making all the animals flee, with the wounded animal as well.  Because the monkey’s muscles do not relax, they remain inaccessible because they cling and stay way up in the trees. Then the hunters run out of ammunition and can’t afford to buy more, and to add insult to injury, they no longer know how to make the medicine.

Dr. Herndon’s talk provided me with many theological insights. To preach Christ and do missionary work that decimates the culture of the people contradicts Christ. “Who is as blind as my servant?”[4] asked the prophet Isaiah. To be a missionary means to continue the incarnation of Christ. That requires becoming one of the people, to become a tribal member by learning the language, learning their culture, learning the treasury of their wisdom. Tribal members are still very much in touch with nature and “know the leaves of the trees that heal the nations” as written in Revelation.[5] “Who is as blind as my servant?” The missionaries who preach Christ without continuing his incarnation in their lives impose an alien and unsustainable culture upon the tribal members that contradicts the incarnation of Christ. Why are we so inflexible and why have we lost the sensitivity and capability to become one of the people we are trying to win? St. Paul said, “To a Jew I became a Jew in order to win the Jews…to the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”[6] In a sense in our culture blindness we crucify not only the witch doctors but the whole tribe as well, because the extinction of the whole tribe with its language, culture, and treasury of wisdom is certainly comparable to their crucifixion.

Plus we have to thank God for a secularism permeated with wonderful values that freed an M.D. from the blinders of Christian missionaries and government officials to see the value in shamans, whom the missionaries swept aside as demonic witch doctors. They certainly are sinners[7] caught up in some deception and self-deception but so are we and in the self-righteousness and presumption of our faith we act as if we are not.

Dr. Herndon was not anti-religious or using this critique against missionaries, the way for the sake of self-criticism, I am doing here. But his talk made me realize our vast shortcomings, which we need ourselves as missionaries to become aware of, at this point. What a waste of lives, culture, and wisdom has followed our witness when we do not continue the incarnation ourselves when we preach Christ.

(I want to also include his critique of science and scientific, technological medicine below), but first more about what I mean by continuing the incarnation.  He spoke about the field coordinator of his organization, a David Fleck, PhD, who has lived with an Amazonian tribe full-time since 2008, became fluent in their language, wrote a grammar for it as his doctoral dissertation, and married a member of the tribe. This kind of loving embodiment and of their culture and world, this total cultural immersion by baptism is the continuation of the incarnation and provides the possibility for the grace that brings abundant life to these tribal members and whole tribes rather than their destruction and extinction.

“Dear God, forgive us Christians! We are such cultural barbarians! Forgive us for the things we have done. Intercede for us again from the cross, saying: “Father, forgive them they know not what they do!”

Dr. Herndon’s critique of science was similar to the critique I have mounted to our religion. Western science relies on reductionism to more and more simple elements. In that culture complexities and potency were also understood in a way that is outside the purview of our science. Without the unsustainable technology of our scientific medicine, the shaman could make diagnoses like the ones the doctor had learned in medical school. Dr. Herndon argued that because of its methodology of reductionism, science looked through a narrow lens through a tunnel, limiting us by what we chose to see and making us disregard the value of the knowledge of the tribal shaman and the treasury of their tribal wisdom.

While he was speaking, a telling analogy came to my mind: a person lost a ring at night knowing not where but looking for it under a streetlamp. Another coming upon him asked, “Why are you looking for it here?” “Because here is where I have light.” he answered. But the ring could lie anywhere in the darkness outside of the perimeter of the light thrown by the streetlamp. Scientific medicine in its knowledge does not grasp the complexities and intensities from a perspective of an ever greater wholeness, which lets the tribal members have sunlight in the places where our scientific streetlight does not shine.

Dr. Herndon said that the shamans lived in a world densely populated with spirits. Houston Smith claims that Jesus, who was filled with the Spirit, was completely acquainted with the spirit world and used his Spirit attendant powers for exorcism, healing, challenging people, and pronouncing a whole new social order. I guess our missionaries would have shunned and deposed Jesus Christ as a witch doctor!

When I asked Dr. Herndon about their spirit world, he said, “What is an evil spirit? They said a certain forest had an evil spirit. Don’t go in it if you value your life. We discovered a certain kind of rodent there that could give you a disease (He named the fever.) from which you died, because the shaman had no cure. That is what they referred to as the evil spirit.”[8] They may not know about germs and other microbes, like bacteria and viruses, or about radio waves and their frequencies, but they grasp and think through some of these phenomena in terms of personalized spirits in a way that helps them understand some aspects of reality in ways modern science cannot.

The question was asked about how effective the cures of the shaman in the health outpost were. This question could not yet be answered because there was no way to evaluate the practice, but when the missionaries were translating the Bible into the tribal language they had given some members of the tribe the literary skills to read and write and these members of the tribe were writing down the basic medical information about each case that the shaman was treating. [Note how missionaries did make a contribution, too.] These medical notes will provide the basic information to be used for later evaluation. How effective is our modern scientific technological medicine? He asked. Our technology is unsustainable and we really don’t know how effective our practice of medicine is either for cancer, for example.

Somehow, I think that secularism is a complementary place that Christianity provides, or has been compelled to provide, in order to make its faith one that can be accepted freely by persuasion without governmental or even social coercion and if it is not a stepchild of Christianity, it certainly belongs to Christianity in some way. Thank God for it, because it gives some the freedom to explore the world without the blinders that often accompany the faithful. These blinders make us stumble into the self-contradictory place where Christian missionaries would have shunned and driven away Christ as a witch doctor. The fact is that missionaries, especially scientifically trained medical doctors cannot be self-critical enough of their science as well as of their religion.

Now perhaps in a contradictory way, I ask myself, the way science has overtaken the “science” of antiquity and even the “science” of the deep past, i.e. the millennia before Christ; some human understandings in anthropology, linguistics, sociology, and psychology have also overtaken the state of knowledge of humanity represented in our theology. In other words, the science of scripture does not only need to be updated, but our understanding of the human being as well. We are stumbling around in the dark in our own culture, the way our missionaries have been among those Amazonian tribes.  Today we have to continue aligning the incarnation of Christ with the preaching of Christ more and more deeply, like the example given by Dr. David Fleck. That means listening and learning the Gospel of Christ for today. Thus the spirit world will have to be better interpreted to gain the holistic, complex, personal, social, and anthropological dimensions that tribal treasuries of wisdom contained – complementing the understandings of modern science. The spirit world interpreted as personal, internal, subjective wisdom needs to complement our external, methodological scientific knowledge as we seek to listen, learn, and incarnate Christ today.


[2] The Bone Room Presents its August Events, Solano Avenue, Berkeley, Ca www.boneroompresents.com

[4] Cf. Isaiah 42:19.

[5] Rev 22:2, cf. Ezekiel 47:12.

[6] 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.

[7] Dr. Herndon discovered that they knew a great deal about human anatomy and shuddered to think how they learned so much about human internal organs.  Some of their superstitions are quite repugnant.

[8] Studying Houston Smith is well worthwhile: The World’s Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions, (New York: Harper San Francisco, 1991, 1958) pages 318ff.

Written by peterkrey

August 20, 2013 at 3:16 pm

From Greedy Takers to Self-Denying Givers: a Sermon for Shepherd by the Sea, Gualala, California November 11, 2012

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Shepherd by the Sea, Gualala, California

November 11, 2012

1 Kings 17:8-16 Psalm 146 Hebrews 9: 24-28 Mark 12:38-44

From Greedy Takers to Self-Denying Givers

The lessons for today are about stewardship.    The secular principle of psychology goes: self-realization by self-acceptance. That can keep a person quite self-absorbed. The Christian principle goes: self-acceptance for the sake of self-giving. Our self-acceptance becomes possible, because as unlovable and unacceptable as we are, God in Christ has loved and accepted us and given us all things in heaven and earth as spiritual gifts and blessings. What we therefore receive from God, as givers, we share with others. With that a circulation of grace continues that brings life, the life of Christ to our church, our community, our society, our whole country and world.

Look at our first story! King Ahab had brought the fertility worship of Baal into Israel. With that an angry Elijah prophesied three years of drought and famine in the land. Probably to escape the hand of Ahab, he fled to Sarephath, a village just south of Sidon, where God had commanded a widow to nourish him.

I wrote a children’s song about the story. It’s called, “God Will Provide.”

God Will Provide

Elijah met the widow

of Zarephath

Picking up sticks

upon her path.

“Bring me some water,”

Elijah said,

“and don’t forget

to bake some bread.”

“The little I’ve left

will make one bread;

Then my son and I

will soon be dead.”

“Have some faith

and put God first

and God will fill

your hunger and thirst.”

“Your flour and oil

will never run out,

that’s what sharing

is all about.”

Selfish people

never have enough,

and those who share

have more to spare.

Those with a lot,

will always want more.

Those with a little

will help the poor.

Seek ye first

the Kingdom Above

and God will provide you

with food of love.

The food of love

Will never run out

Because that’s what

Sharing’s all about!

The Widow of Zarephath was much like the widow who offered her two mites in the temple. A little flour and oil is all she had and the prophet wanted her to give it to him, requiring her to have faith, because he promised that God would see to it that her flour and oil would never run out. Death by starvation was staring her in the face and what was harder for her than her own death, was that of her son. Giving is the test of our faith. It is a tangible way to see if our faith is real or not.

The surprising outcome of her giving was not only being sustained throughout the drought and famine, but her son suddenly died and Elijah resuscitated him and turned the utter tragedy of her life into joyful motherhood once again.

Giving is healthy self-denial and dying to oneself makes the wonder of life and the fullness of God’s grace and glory become revealed to us in the law of love that includes the very least, the least of these.

How else can you explain the way Jesus sees the widow throwing in two mites and showing that she gave more than all the wealthy and bountiful offerings pouring into the treasury of the temple? God’s blessings are involved and because of them, a little becomes a lot and a lot can become a little. The background of power and prestige can make what appears to be giving into taking, so we should not be fooled by appearances. What the rich gave was no sacrifice at all, while the widow did not know where her next meal was coming from. In those days kings provided for widows because they had no property or income and were reduced to begging and gathering sticks like the widow of Sarephath. She really gave more than the widow Jesus pointed out, because she gave the prophet her last meal, which separated her and her son from starvation.

Jesus gave us even more, as Hebrews points out. He gave his life in his once and for all sacrifice. Like Luther says, he purchased us not with silver and gold or money, but with his own precious blood. God had to look at us, who are so angry and ungrateful and ask, “What do you want, blood?” And in our sinful and selfish way, we said, “Yes.” Then Jesus went to the cross and shed his blood for us, so that we might start coming alive to God and alive to our neighbors and those in need and continue God’s circulation of grace, which brings sustainability. The food of love never runs out. We share and the deeper our faith goes, the more our faith increases, the more we can give and share and in consequence, receive God’s blessings.

Our Psalm says, “Don’t put your trust in rulers; in mortals, in whom there is no help.” The systems and policies that administrations put into place are important, but the real flow of the circulation of grace in our lives depends upon our faith in God.

For example, one grain of corn placed and planted into the ground, dies. Notice that it is sacrificed because it is not eaten. Out of it a ten foot plant grows with six to eight ears of corn that can be husked with many hundreds of kernels of corn on each ear. Jesus would say, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear!”

So whether we take the outcome of the Obama and Romney campaigns as good news or bad news, the really good news is the outcome of the campaign of our Lord Jesus Christ. But we also know that systems are important and bring with them a great deal of injustice, so greater approximations of justice are called for. The Gospel of Jesus Christ makes clear that widows, orphans, strangers, and the poor need to be protected from the voracious, who try to swallow up their houses. I wonder about reverse mortgages, sometimes. We should be wary, because the elderly are vulnerable.

What God requires of us is to become people who deny ourselves and die to ourselves in order to become givers and not takers.

Jesus was also comparing the joyful sacrifice of the widow with the voracious appetite of the greedy hypocritical scribes. I would like to point to other people and call them greedy, but then I do a double-take and look at myself. Why does my heart sink and why do I get perturbed when a beggar approaches me? I give him a dollar. Then I’ll turn around and pay fifty to sixty dollars on a meal for my wife and me at a restaurant.

When I give, it is so hard on me and I measure it so carefully. When I use money for myself, I often don’t even consider the limit. I’ll put thousands into the stock market, where I’ve lost them, thinking they would make me more money. If I had only given it away, I’d have some real treasure in heaven.

Selfish people never have enough. We always want more. When we can deny ourselves, we can share and even have more to spare.

I know a woman who was on welfare, back when I ministered in Coney Island. Without pay, she would clean the whole church and then decorate the altar so that everyone could see how much she loved the church. Her son worked for the telephone company, was in the union, and received a high salary. He would come to his mother for help when his money ran out. I kid you not!

So let’s hear Jesus out. For it we have to identify with the scribes. Although I want to, it would be hard for me to identify with that poor widow, in any case. The scribes were different because they could read and write, while the common people in those days couldn’t. They were professional and had more knowledge and power and they used it to their own advantage. Our self-interest is naturally stronger than our concern for other folks and helping them. So like with us, their greed went unchecked. Acting religiously, they were devouring widow’s houses.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I remember in Coney Island in the Eighties, in the time under Ronald Reagan, Mario Cuomo, and Mayor Koch, how homelessness suddenly spread from the Bowery, where it had been notoriously contained for a long time, yes, now spread throughout the whole city and then throughout all the cities of America. That was when homelessness began. Here’s one reason: There were many S.R.O.’s in Manhattan and the other boroughs. Single room occupancies, where large numbers of the poor lived. The owners of these buildings wanted to convert them into condominiums. They dumped all the people into the street, renovated, and sold each apartment, which had been a rental, for hundreds of thousands of dollars, charging a monthly maintenance fee almost as high as the previous rent. Their real estate now brought in mega-bucks, but the homes of millions of people were devoured in that greed. Mayor Koch blamed the churches for being so hard hearted that we did not take in the homeless! Meanwhile their policies were sending countless people into the street.

Then we watched hurricane Katrina take out almost all the houses of the great City of New Orleans. Just a little later, the deluge of greed from Wall Street infected what used to be called, “real estate.” Everyone wanted equity income on their houses and were speculating by flipping them for profit and the banks were putting questionable mortgages into speculative derivatives and millions of houses went under water. Being “under water” was not a figure of speech for New Orleans, but being under water was just as real for the millions of people, who have been losing their homes by foreclosures each year since the Wall Street debacle.

It is our greed that has devoured all those houses across our country. We learned to live with the inhumane condition of homelessness. What goes around comes around. From homelessness going across the country, it has gone to the disaster in New Orleans, to the millions who have lost their homes in this great recession, to the new disasters now striking us in lower Manhattan, Statin Island, and the New Jersey shore. When we’re under one blanket, it’s not right to pull it over ourselves and expose other to the cold.

Perhaps unchecked human greed and selfishness can be compared with the fertility religion of Baal that Elijah fought, where parents would commit human sacrifice of their children to assure them of prosperity. Because of his protest, Elijah had to leave Israel quickly to escape the wrath of Ahab.

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. The voracious appetite of our greed needs to be checked by self-denial and dying to ourselves so that we come alive to God and alive to the love and sharing and giving of the new life in Christ. Our conversion, because of God’s acceptance of us, changes us from takers into givers.

Giving is really a test of our faith. In baptism, not our house, but we ourselves go under water, in self-denial, in dying to ourselves, dying to greed and all the other vices and sins, so that God lifts us up out of the water into our new selves, into a wonderful world filled with love and compassion, sharing and self-giving. Then grace will abound even on a deeper level than just giving money.

Money, of course, can really be our secret god that we believe in and cling to for dear life. What we discover is that it robs us of our life and of the human value of our lives. When we cling to and trust in the one true God, then we check our greed, we deny ourselves, we die to ourselves, and to sin, our separation from God, who even gave his only Son, so that we would not perish but have everlasting and abundant life.

After baptism we find ourselves in our new selves and we enter the wonderful new world that Jesus proclaimed, where sharing and self-giving become the new order of the day, where the first come last and the last come first. This new world becomes filled by grace and truth. The grace of God begins circulating amongst us, and we come alive receiving a world full of God’s gifts and blessings. And new houses will be built first for the poor and needy and then the millions in the middle class, who have lost them. Homelessness will recede until it becomes contained in the Bowery once more and everyone will figure out how addictions and insanity can be healed to bring shelters to them as well. The greed for the almighty dollar will decrease and faith in God will increase, because everyone will experience the self-giving and sharing that real faith brings. Then widows and orphans, the poor and the strangers in our land will lead us further into the life of giving and sharing that mark the children of God. Amen.

Reformation Sermon at Christ Lutheran in El Cerrito, California

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Reformation Sunday, October 28th 2012

Christ Lutheran Church in El Cerrito, California

The Continuing Reformation

Pastor Sharon Lubkeman: Peter, we are honored to have a Luther scholar like yourself in our midst today.  Would you entertain some questions from us?   In all your studies of Luther, what is something you find surprising?

*Martin Luther was very radical in his day and we have domesticated him and made him a jolly-good fellow, just like one of us. Ah, but he wasn’t. He stood up for his free conscience to serve Christ in truth even before the Emperor and the Pope.

When Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X and declared an outlaw by Emperor Charles V – that meant he was as free as a bird for anyone to kill, the people who followed him no longer dared to call themselves Martinists or Lutherans. His name had become too dangerous. They now called themselves New Believers as opposed to Old Believers.

Luther was no paragon of virtue and he did not pretend to be. He did not want followers to name themselves Lutherans after him. He said,

“people [should] call themselves not Lutherans, but Christians. Who is this Luther? My teaching is not my own, nor have I been crucified for anyone. Why should it happen to me, miserable stinking bag of worms that I am, that the children of Christ should be called by my insignificant name? I am not anybody’s master, nor do I wish to be. With the one church I have in common the teaching of Christ who alone is our master.”[1]

In one place he comically referred to himself as mouse dirt mingled with pepper. He had a real sense of humor.[2]

Pr. Sharon: He was definitely a man of great courage and conviction.  How did Martin Luther define faith?

In his Commentary on Romans Luther himself writes:

“Faith is a divine work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God (John 1). It kills the old Adam [and Eve] and makes altogether different people, in heart and spirit and mind and powers, and it brings with it the Holy Spirit.

Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. And so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly. It does not ask whether there are good works to do, but before the question rises, it has already done them, and is always at the doing of them.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a [person] would stake his [or her] life on it a thousand times. This confidence in God’s grace and knowledge of it makes [people] glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all [God’s] creatures.

And this is the work of the Holy Spirit in faith. Hence a [person] is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace[,who has shown her this grace].”[3]

Pr. Sharon: How did Luther separate works from faith?

“[He said] it is as impossible as to separate burning and shining from fire. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers, who would be wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools.

Therefore, pray to God to work faith in you. Else you will remain forever without faith, whatever you think or do.”[3]

Yes faith “is a living, busy, active, mighty thing.” According to Luther it is a solid trust in God that allows God to work through us. “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace.”

Pr. Sharon: Could you talk about how that confidence in God’s grace related to his understanding of justice?

We Lutherans today are not out front on justice issues, not like the Quakers have been or the Unitarians even. I thought that perhaps it was because Luther wrote about two kinds of righteousness that perhaps divided it and allowed our concern for justice to be overcome. I reread his pamphlet under the title of that name and found just the opposite. He argued that the spiritual righteousness of Christ in us was the source of our hunger and thirst for justice in our lives. Spiritual freedom is not an alternative to social, political, and outward freedom, but its source in the freedom from sin as well as freedom for love and service of our neighbor.

In “Two Kinds of Righteousness” Luther wrote,

“Through faith in Christ, therefore Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all that [Christ] has becomes ours; or rather, [Christ] himself becomes ours.”[4]

Yes, the righteousness shall live by faith. The just shall live by faith. The righteousness of Christ

“is an infinite righteousness and one that swallows up all sins in a moment, for it is impossible that sin should exist in Christ; on the contrary, [a person] who trusts in Christ exists in Christ; he [or she] is one with Christ, having the same righteousness as {Christ]. It is impossible that sin should remain [in such a person]. This righteousness is primary; it is the basis, the cause, the source of all our own actual righteousness.”[5]

Luther always has justice proceed from Christian love. Faith becomes active in love and love seeks justice,[6] love hungers and thirsts for justice. Righteousness and justice was not separated in those days. Today righteousness usually revolves around personal and individual morality, which is very important, but justice and fairness involved in the systems we live in, is crucial as well.

Luther was very much a Christ-figure and Christ worked through him. But he had many failings and he was the first to say: “Follow Christ and his teachings, because you will be able to find real faults in me.”

Pr. Sharon: We certainly all have our faults. As a faith community how is it we can continue to reform?

The church always has to be ready to continue reforming itself in head and members. That goes for our Lutheran church, too. Because of the Internet, we stand in a very opportune place in that regard.  Maybe the invention of the Internet will provide the possibility of another wonderful Christian renewal as the invention of the printing press was crucial for the great Reformation. Also the great Orthodox and Catholic schism took place in 1054 and the Protestant Reformation took place in 1517. If a great renewal in the church happens every five hundred years, then we are due for another big one after the second millennium. We are now celebrating the Luther Decade, because 2017 will mark the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.

You can see that we need another reformation of the church and you can see that you and I like Luther before us, have to take a deeper commitment to Jesus Christ our Lord, because that will ensure that we are on the way, full of truth, to a life pleasing to God. Yes, the just shall live by their faith and faith is a living, busy, active and mighty thing. It makes us come alive to God and die to sin. Yes, faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, upon which we stake our lives, put our bodies on the line. It makes us glad and bold and happy before God and all God’s creatures, rejoicing even in the faith that brings social, political, and even environmental renewal! Amen.

Some quotations: Gottes Wort und Luther Lehr vergehet neimals und nimmer mehr. (God’s Word and Luther’s teaching will never ever pass away.)

Luther wrote in a letter, when he was turning from Aristotle’s philosophy to theology, that he meant a theology that searches out the meat of the nut, the kernel of the grain, and the marrow of the bone.”[7]

A note that was not preached: In throwing the canon law into the flames on December 10th 1520, Luther undermined and disqualified two ecclesiastical judicial systems, thee old arch-diaconal and the episcopal courts, as well as a great many canon lawyers and church legislation involved in the benefice system. The concept of receiving a salary for professional services began with the officiale, the judge of the episcopal court. The cardinals or archbishops, for example, would own and receive the income in tithes of a cathedral, several churches, and a string of monasteries in his “portfolio.” Because he could have no heir, the pope sold these benefices over and over again.

N.B. This was a twelve page sermon, from which all the historical material was taken out, so that it was reduced to five pages.


[1] Diana Griffith, Martin Luther in 3-D,  http://synodresourcecenter.org/wma/worship/sermons/drama/0007/luther_3d.html

[2] Philip and Peter Krey, Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), p. 123.

[3] Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, Trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), xvii.

[5] Timothy Lull, ed., Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, (Minneaplis: Fortress Press, 1989), p. 156.

[5] Ibid.

[6] William H. Lazareth, A Theology of Politics: Christian Social Responsibility, (New York: Board of Social Ministry, 1965), p. 20. In this place Lazareth writes: “[The Lutheran] concentration on the gospel has energized a sound evangelical personal ethic: ‘faith active in love.’ But the whole vast realm of corporate structures and institutional life has thereby been deprived of the normative judgment and guidance of God’s law by the church’s neglect of any corresponding social ethic: ‘love seeking justice.’ Though responsible for the proclamation of the whole Word of God, Lutherans have been traditionally much stronger on the personal appropriation of the gospel (for politicians and statesmen) than on social demands of the law (for politics and the state). What is desperately needed today is a prophetic counterpart to the priesthood of all believers.”

[7] Preserved Smith, editor and translator, Luther’s Correspondence and other Contemporary Letters: Vol. I (1507-1521). (Philadelphia: the Lutheran Publication Society, 1913), p.24.

Written by peterkrey

October 30, 2012 at 11:54 pm

A Sermon on Marriage: Becoming Nothing for God to Make Something of Us

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Shepherd by the Sea –

October 7, 2012- The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Gen 2:18-24 Psalm 8 Hebrews 1:1-4, 2: 5-12 Mark 10:2-16

Marriage

Becoming Nothing for God to Make Something of Us.

It is so good to be preaching God’s Word for you again this morning. Let me begin by making some observations about our lessons. They are obviously about marriage, and the beautiful Psalm 8 is also one of them. Out of the mouths of babes and children come the praises that build a bulwark, to use an old translation, for the heavenly kingdom that we can only enter as children. When I took a course on the Psalms with Prof. Norman Gottwald, he translated “the fish and creatures that swim in the paths of the sea, as those that migrate through the sea, because we know that like the birds, whales and other fish migrate through the oceans. That course on the Psalms inspired me to write a paper on the way a Psalm can open up for a distressed person and become a healing experience. Many Psalms shift from lamentation to praise, when the Psalmist feels heard by God, which makes all the difference and then like the Psalmist, the reader of the Psalm starts out on a new life thereafter. Thus I believe Psalms are very therapeutic. The paper is called Psalm Therapy.

What everyone hears in these lessons is of course the big “no” to divorce. We have to try to deal with that. Let me quote an online commentary by Brian Stoffregen:

When we ask, “What does the Bible say about divorce?” we come up with a number of different answers. (he writes)

  • Moses says that you can divorce a wife (Dt 24:1)
  • Paul says that divorce is permitted in some instances — when an unbelieving partner requests it (1 Cor 7:15).
  • Jesus says that you can’t separate what has become one (Mk 10:8-9)
  • In Ezra, it is the sign of a good husband to divorce his foreign (unbelieving) wife (Ezra 10:2-3, 44).
  • Paul says that it is the sign of a good spouse not to divorce his or her unbelieving mate (1 Cor 7:12-13).
  • Joseph, a “righteous man,” felt that it was his duty to divorce Mary (because he thought she had been unfaithful to him) (Matt 1:19).

Stoffregen continues:

Divorce is not God’s intentions for marriage; but, because of human sinfulness it happens, and we need divorce laws for protection. (Divorce is probably better than murder <g>). Divorced (and remarried) people are sinners, but so are all of us. Jesus refused to condemn and punish the one who had been caught in adultery. I believe that that same grace and mercy is extended to all of us sinners — even those who have been through divorce and remarriage. How much more does someone whose life has publicly been torn apart need the comfort and love and acceptance from a community?[1]

We have come a long way, since divorced people had to deal with rejection from the community. A pastor going through a divorce used to have to demit the ministry. Today, even some bishops of our church are divorced. I have always used Luther’s observation that Jesus was not a law-giver like Moses. So what he says here about marriage and divorce should not be considered law but gospel. He invites us into the wonderful arrangement of marriage and alludes to Adam and Eve and the paradise marriage can represent, when God is walking through the garden with us.

But God made us a little lower than the angels. Psalm 8 really says that we were made just a little lower than God. But then in the last days, God has spoken to us through a Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who knows how to fill us with grace, a grace that softens our hard-hearts and makes us into human beings. A pastor in Berlin used to say, “In marriage a husband and wife can push and pull each other into heaven.”

But we have to always consider our expectations, which can be way too high. God did everything for us and no husband or wife can do that, not a wife for the husband nor a husband for a wife. We have to let God be God, so we cannot expect our partners to be the world for us and we should not expect that of ourselves. We are limited creatures. We are sinners standing in the need of prayer, standing in the need of mercy. And we have to cling to God like children and be faithful to God’s Christ, Jesus, and trust him like children. Then we will discover “what eye has not seen nor ear heard nor our hearts been able to conceive the wonderful marriage that God can give those who believe, who are called to his purpose.” This marriage exceeds our greatest expectations and does not come by our own efforts and strength, but out of the mercy and grace of God that is new every morning.

People trying to be God, usually turn into devils. Pascal said, “Qui veut fair l’ange fait la Bête.” That means “those who try to be angels become beasts.” If we try to be more than human we become less than human. And sexuality is very much part of being a human being. Although some have to keep it dormant and other have little trouble doing so, marriage is really a God-given way for us to find delight in another person – from their very spiritual nature, like a marriage of minds, to the most physical and sexual intimacy and love that we share. In the text that we had in our pastors’ Bible study, there was one more verse that is not included in this Celebrate: And Adam and Eve, that is, “the man and his wife were both naked and [they] were not ashamed.” That’s paradise! Of course, we recognize the patriarchal and sexist language, because it should say the man and woman or husband and wife, not the person of the man but only the role of the woman. We pastors used to always pronounce married couples “man and wife,” but we should say “husband and wife” for the sake of equality.

But Adam delights in Eve as a gift of God and exclaims, “At last bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called “woman” for out of the man this one was taken.” She was taken out of man’s side, so she does not belong to the man, but the man and woman belong with each other, side by side.

It says that Eve was taken out of Adam, the woman out of the man. Of course it is really the other way around: physically the man was taken out of the womb of the woman when he was born. I wonder what happened spiritually? How did a human being first become reborn as a real self, a person? Men provide abstraction while women by nature, even spiritually tend to be more practical and concrete. The mother endured the physical birth and spiritual birth came after. In our patriarchal past, men have prevented women from coming to themselves in their full spiritual stature, as if they were the source of rebirth, but God is. Rebirth takes place by the grace and love of God.

In our Gospel lesson we can see how Jesus is stepping in for the women and children, because basically men treated women like children, who were without status, or worse, they treated women like their property, like slaves. That is why Jesus steps in for them. Being baptized, by the grace of God, we drown and die to our old selves and are raised up in new selves, who walk and live by the Spirit of God. We who follow Jesus become like nothing, so that by the grace of God, God can make something out of us. God takes you and me, who are nobody and makes us somebody. Christ has always been making women somebodies, too in spite of their oppression by men.

According to Luther,

A Christian person is a free sovereign over all things, subject to no one [because of faith].

A Christian person is a dutiful servant, subject to everyone [because of love].

But that has to be mutual and apply to both men and women and not be a one way street!

But the men, who have not undergone living out of the strength and grace of God, live by what they have. They live out of power and wealth and want women to be their slaves. These Pharisees were like that. Always wary of those who threatened their control over power and wealth, they put Jesus to the test and even the disciples wanted to prevent the sick and vulnerable children from approaching Jesus, because greatness meant that a man had nothing to do with children.

First of all, the Pharisees were probably not even interested in the Biblical teaching about divorce. Herod had just divorced his wife, a Nabatian princess, in order to marry his brother’s wife, Herodias. John came right out against this divorce and Herod handed his new wife John’s head on a platter. The Pharisees probably wanted Jesus to hang himself the same way by coming out against Herod.

But in his response, Jesus steps out of the legalities of marriage, and alludes to the creation and the marvelous goodness of a man and a woman becoming one; or two persons in a same sex marriage becoming one flesh and one body. It is not good for us to be alone, and marriage is a wonderful gift that even a life time is all too short to fully receive.

That is because it is filled with the joy and fulfillment of Holy Communion, the way the Church has become the Bride of Christ. This Holy Communion makes such a divine love possible, that from this marriage children are born into this world. In our spiritual communion, the children of God are born out of the love of God, through the body and blood of Jesus. Sexual love in marriage brings physical children. The new birth of the children of God takes place in the virginal and celibate dimension of Holy Communion.

The trouble throughout history has been, that just like these Pharisees trying to get Jesus killed, men have wanted to be like Gods and control all the power and wealth or otherwise, they used the little of it they had, to grind women into the ground. How do you control a woman? Keep her barefoot and pregnant. That was their strategy. And a real man kept himself aloof from children. You’ll lose your manhood, they said, if you relate to children and have too much to do with them. That’s why the disciples tried to keep the children away from Jesus. We’ve come a long way, but ask yourself, how many Kindergarten teachers are men? [A woman in the congregation knew about two men, who taught kindergarten. But they still remain exceptions.]

Like the children women also had no rights. They were merely considered the property of men and handing a woman a certificate of divorce, was considered an insult to her father; she did not even count. If a man found his wife – again only considered a role and not a person, objectionable, he could divorce her, but she did not have the right to divorce him. The school of Rabbi Shammai restricted the objection to unchastity, but theirs was a minority position. The school of Rabbi Hillel held that the offense could be a spoiled meal, or if they did not accept their husband’s control, or even if he found another wife fairer than she!

You can see how Jesus is stepping in for the women and children in his response. He lifts the woman up and gives her the same rights as the man, and the man, whose wife did not count, so he could live by a double standard, had to hear that he was committing adultery against his wife, not against her father, but against her. And meanwhile Jesus says that we all have to become like these children in order for us to get into the kingdom of heaven. That is not over there, over yonder, but a paradise right here in the quality of our relationships in our marriage on earth, that Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve, and the wonderful love, faith, hope, and fulfillment, that we already receive glimpse of here and now. We can get a foretaste of heaven. We can’t get the full feature presentation, of course, but God gives us a preview of coming attractions.

It is so sad how our hard-hearts prevent us from going through dying to ourselves and coming alive in God and for our wife, husband, child, neighbor, or even our enemy. In order to enter the kingdom, we need to give up power, status, and our sense of self importance. We die to ourselves so that our power, status, importance, and life can come from God.[2] We live, not by our own strength and effort, but out of the strength, grace, and love of God.

So we cannot expect our wife to die for us, if we can’t die for her. A woman cannot expect her husband to die for her, if she won’t die for him. Love is to die for! and it brings about a relationship made in heaven that brings Holy Communion to a couple, who have become children of God. The marriage, however, should not be predominantly need-based, but based on mutual love and Christian freedom. When a marriage is filled with abuse, being faithful might be a cowardly self-deception that makes a spouse an accomplice in the crime being committed against her – or him, there are rare times when a wife is abusive, too.

In emphasizing dying and being raised back up, I’m talking about a spiritual reality. The oneness in marriage requires that rebirth that makes us into the children who are ready to learn and grow and be that life-long lover of the other.

For example, my wife has laid down the law. Now I have to cook on Wednesdays and my son Josh has to cook on Tuesdays. Fridays are Burrito night. She has become the director of her clinic and she has a private practice, and she had to come home and clean and do all the cooking. She just said she was tired and stopped. Well, I have to lay my studies aside and fret and moan, “What can I cook?” But now I’ve already made macaroni and cheese, shepherd’s pie, and Josh and I cooked a wonderful salmon dinner for her just before she left for Florida – there to help her aging parents. For cooking I need the coaching of my son Joshua. But there you go, we have to be ready to change for the other. Everybody is different, of course. Some men love to cook. But me, it makes me feel like I’ll have to die.

As old as we are, God continues to give us grace filled with love and strength. We can become like children learning to do something for the love of the other that we thought was completely impossible.

Nora has been completely practical. Now having become a director, that is a short-coming and she has to read books about leadership and policy making and I really love discussing them with her. It’s so wonderful that we are sharing ideas together like never before. Me, I’m practically completely theoretical. But we are children of God and so are you and God is not finished with us yet. By God’s grace, we can always start learning and growing for each other again.

So Jesus was not a law-giver and sometimes because of our hard-heartedness we do have to get divorced and often that makes children have to suffer a great deal. The Gospel of Jesus Christ invites us into a marriage that becomes filled with grace and grows and grows from one level of mutual maturity to another. I could tell you about wonderful marriages that I have observed, marriages that were really made in heaven and blessed so many people. There are also marriages made in hell. But Jesus has died for us and a marriage, like a Psalm lifted up by the love of God can shift from fighting and lamentation into promises filled by praise. Amen.


[1] Brian Stoffregen’s exegetical Notes in CrossMarks: http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/mark10x2.htm

[2] This sentence paraphrases Brian Stoffregen’s exegetical notes in his online commentary in CrossMarks.

Written by peterkrey

October 27, 2012 at 7:48 pm