Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 (RSV) The Gifts of Wisdom
Does not wisdom call,
Does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights beside the way,
in the paths she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud:
“To you, O men, I call,
and my cry is to the sons of men.
Wisdom’s Part in Creation
The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of old.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth;
before he had made the earth with its fields,
or the first of the dust of the world.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master workman;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the sons of men
Divine Majesty and Human Dignity
To the choirmaster: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of David.
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is thy name in all the earth!
Thou whose glory above the heavens is chanted
by the mouth of babes and infants,
thou hast founded a bulwark because of thy foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars which thou hast established;
what is man that thou art mindful of him,
and the son of man that thou dost care for him?
Yet thou hast made him little less than God,
and dost crown him with glory and honor.
Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands;
thou hast put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the sea.
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is thy name in all the earth!
5 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.
John 16:12-15 (RSV)
12 “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
The Holy Trinity May 22nd 2016
Proverbs 8:1-4,22-31 Psalm 8 anthem v.2, Romans 5:1-5 John 16: 12-15
The Perichoresis of the Trinity
If you look at the Gospel lesson, you would have to say, “I declare!” The word “declare” comes up three times. The word “rejoice” comes up four times in two lessons and the gospel lesson gives us reason to rejoice. If you read the Romans lesson carefully, you will see that every sentence, almost every phrase packs a sermon. “The grace in which we stand,” “Rejoice in suffering!” “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us… these are just a few examples.
But because it is the Sunday of the Holy Trinity, it is with awe that we need to contemplate the triune God of creation, whose wisdom, Sophia drew the circles in space, so that all the planets circle the sun, the moon circles our earth, and our galaxy, the Milky Way swirls around our black hole, like all the galaxies around their black holes in the universe. The universe is created by God through the handiwork of divine wisdom, Sophia, in Greek, causing all children of humanity to rejoice, even as St. Paul bids us rejoice, and Jesus tells us to rejoice because he is leaving to us, i.e., bequeathing all to us that his Father God gives to him. “Rejoice in the Lord always and again Paul says, rejoice!” You know the song.
When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars which thou hast established…
Did you notice the sun-rise lately? I watched it on Thursday at 5:30 am from my Chicago hotel room and while the sun was rising it seemed that a bright full moon was rising beside it. In the Internet it says two suns were rising. How could a second sun be rising? Our sun is no twin. Tonight we will have the full moon, so I would wager it was the moon rising beside the sun. I have never seen that before. I guess Sophia just drew another circle in the sky for us to see.
Our Psalm for today, Psalm 8 is filled with awe and wonder. “What are we that God is mindful of us?” Our New Horizon’s spacecraft is sending pictures back to us on earth of the dwarf-planet Pluto and one of its moons Charon. It has taken ten years for the spacecraft to get there, because Pluto is over four and a half billion miles away. While no life could exist on Pluto, we now know that billions of exoplanets are in goldilocks zones, which are just the right distance from their stars for liquid water and life to exist. They are orbiting their stars like our sun, but they are circling in other far-away solar systems lightyears away from us.
Contemplating the universe is very humbling and imagine how magnificent and beyond conception our God must be to have created it all!
Thou whose glory above the heavens is chanted
by the mouth of babes and infants,
thou hast founded a bulwark because of thy foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
Our psalm says that God chose infants and little children filling them with trust and faith to protect us from those who doubt and become adversaries of faith in God. Just like God is enthrones on the praises of Israel, God’s people, – so ever anew God fills babes and children with pure faith, trust and wonder to witness to us that God is in heaven and sends children like gifts of love as examples of faith for us to love and follow. Oh, what are we that God is mindful of us? But out of the mouths of babes and children, God defends us from doubt and unbelief.
So God is as simple and wonderful for our faith as the little kid who told his parents, “Heaven is for real!”
But at the same time the maker of this universe is more complex than anything in the world, because God is the source of the whole creation. In graduate school my theology professor gave me the assignment to tell whether the immanent Trinity preceded the economic Trinity in the philosophy of Hegel. The immanent Trinity is God in Three Persons per se apart from the creation. The economic Trinity is like we heard in the Proverbs lesson, all involved in creating and sustaining this world, sending the Son, raising him from the dead, and sending us the advocate, the counselor, the Holy Spirit to be with us.
Dorothy Sayers, the mystery writer, wrote a book about the Holy Trinity called The Mind of the Maker. She compared the Trinity to authoring a book. So the three persons were one, the idea for the book by the author is the Father, the concrete book itself is Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit is everyone reading the book and getting the same idea first had by the author God. It is all one book, conceived by the author, the book itself taken in hand as the Son, and the whole gist and story received by the readers, the Holy Spirit, one God in three persons.
St. Patrick of course took the shamrock, a three leaf clover and said like it was one plant with three leaves, so we believe in One God in three Persons. My brother Johnnie, a chemistry teacher, liked to show that all of nature and science are triune and can be classified in threes: for example, matter comes in solids, liquids and gases. The great Philosopher Hegel of about 200 years ago, who was a Lutheran pastor, also classified all of creation into threes. When his colleague, the theologian, Schleiermacher, in the University of Berlin hardly believed in the Trinity, (He considered it irrational.) Hegel had his whole philosophy and creation proceed out of the Trinity. Then he used his threefold way of thinking, called dialectics: the thesis, antithesis, and synthesis to think through the whole world, and then his philosophy and the whole creation returned into the Trinity, God becoming all in all.
We have to approach the mystery of the most Holy Trinity, the triune God with awe. Maybe it was because the mystery writer Dorothy Sayers saw the Trinity as a mystery that she wrote a book about it.
William James in his book The Varieties of Religious Experience claims that we are not external to the Trinity, outside looking in, but we are internal to the Trinity. Thus we too can rejoice, because we too are invited to dance in what is called the perichoresis, the dance of the Three Persons, each with fervent and steadfast love, each for the other, standing in for the other, and, participating in the concern and work of the other. The Small catechism, which separates the work of each Person in the articles of the Apostles’ Creed gives us the wrong idea. And also it does not make us mindful of the continuous creation, in which God is sustaining and renewing the whole creation. The creation is not just an event that took place in the distant past. God is not finished yet. God is not finished with us yet.
What awe and wonder the choreography of the divine dance of the three persons of the Trinity inspires in us! Our God is one, but what we call the perichoresis is the communion and mutual indwelling of the three persons of the Trinity. Peri means around and choresis means dance, like choreography, means making a dance. The word chorus and thus singing can also be heard in the word perichoresis. So peri is going around and choresis is the dance of mutual, indwelling love of the three persons of the Trinity.
So we ourselves in the communion of our Trinitarian community can participate in the dance of the Trinity and we can sing the praises of the Trinity because of the witness that God has provided for us by the faith of little children. As the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father and we are in Christ and Christ is in us, so we ourselves become one heart and soul together in a communion that is greater than mere empathy. We are invited to join in the dance of the Three Persons of the One God of all creation, the continuous creation, filling us with creativity. We are invited to dance with the Son to save the lost in God’s great plan of salvation, and invited to dance in the procession of all the saints, who witness to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Blessed Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, invited to dance enraptured by the Holy Spirit, filled with awe for the majesty of God’s Holy name. Yes, how majestic is the name of the Blessed and Most Holy Trinity over all the earth. Amen.
“No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed, the house can be plundered.” Mark 3:27.
Binding the Strong Man
When I asked the anti-racist working group of the discipling team of our synod why we had over a $3,000 deficit and no money in the budget to do anything, even though ant-racism work was a priority of the bishop, I was told that some church in Davis had gotten a resolution passed that the synod was not allowed to run a deficit. (Sorry a quick thought takes all these words to explain.) Now when a synod is not allowed to use debt and the elasticity of credit, its ministry becomes bound.
Now granted there could be frugality and concern for future indebtedness involved in this resolution which is good, but the good can be used by an evil spirit. An alcoholic searches for a very good person as a co-dependent, so the demon of the bottle has full sway.
So let me submit that the resolution can be calling a growing church evil, like big government, and wants to restrict its ministry. Isn’t this the case of binding the good guy and letting the bad guy loose to run rampant? Why does the church bind Christ so that ministry becomes restricted?
A Response to Wayne M. Martin’s “The Judgment of Adam.”
By Dr. Peter D.S. Krey
A Preface addressed to Prof. Martin:
Thank you for leading me to your article, “The Judgment of Adam“ after I responded to your study of “Hegel’s Bad Infinity.” Your thorough analysis of Lucas Cranach’s “Adam and Eve” painting in this study helped me see that there is a whole literacy involved in “reading” a painting that I did not know about. Lucas Cranach seemed to be presenting Luther’s theology through the medium of paint. The painting you analyzed was his Courtault picture of Adam and Eve of 1526. In it all the layers of the interpretation of the snake 1) as the bronze serpent lifted onto a pole by Moses and 2) here painted on the tree with Adam and Eve and 3) as the snake that Cranach used for his signature can be reflected upon. Using the snake in his signature, Cranach following Martin Luther’s lead, probably wanted to imply that his painting like images and art per se were not evil, but just good or evil depending on their use or abuse, – the latter case if worshiped. Islam strictly avoids all images. More relevantly for this study, at the time of the Reformation iconoclasm was in full swing, where Zwingli and Calvin white-washed the walls of their churches and proscribed not only art, but even music, both of which Luther championed.
When I first read the Genesis Lectures about how Luther called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil a church, it seemed bazaar to me. Now I realize that it was under trees that the ancients worshiped and they even sometimes worshiped the trees themselves – was it Boniface (or Winfrid?) who chopped down the sacred Oak tree of Thor? He did it to destroy a false ultimate. And in the book of Genesis, God appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre. That these trees are mentioned with the theophany seems significant. They may also have been a place of worship.
According to Cranach’s painting and of course the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, shame and consciousness were awakened in humanity there so like a lion, we could no longer cruelly eat the warm meat of an animal that had not yet even died. While nature is red in tooth and claw, we received a conscience and we could feel shame. We could do right and wrong. We became aware that there was such a thing as good and evil. The Garden of Eden story can be related to evolution in the sense that we became human by dint of God, the consciousness of the universe, raising us up.
I also thank you for getting to the basis of Luther’s anthropology by declaring that we are in a helpless estate – Luther calls it being passive before God. Finding ourselves quite a way “east of Eden” and then when we are completely honest, we have to admit that we face evil choices whichever way we turn unless the Holy Spirit helps us live out of a new birth and a new strength from God’s consciousness on high. Perhaps the latter could be opposed to what you call our ontological self-consciousness: Adam knowing himself just enough to recognize Eve as his mate, but not yet really having human consciousness and conscience?
To admit that we face evil choices whichever way we turn, I’m thinking about our negative legacy here in the USA: the genocide of the Native Americans that continues in the reservations; the hangover from slavery and colonialism, where so much of our high standard of living has been at the expense of the oppressed. We never gave the slaves forty acres and a mule and have attempted to short change them at every turn for the unfair advantage of us Whites ever since, now as we realize we are in a new version of a Jim Crow era. Where is our protest against these injustices?
Thank you so much for writing that study and getting me to read it.
Part II: Now I am taking one more step in thinking about the symbolism that Wayne Martin discovers in Cranach’s painting:
Through his painting Lucas Cranach is superimposing the later story of Moses lifting up the bronze serpent in the wilderness upon the snake in the sacred tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Paradise of the Garden of Eden. The former serpent, perhaps like a scapegoat absorbed all the evil venom of the people bitten by snakes, allowing them to be saved; the latter snake beguiles Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, making her become conscious and ashamed of being naked.
The symbolism of the snake or serpent has so many phenomenological layers, because one can take the next step into the New Testament as well: because Jesus also refers to his crucifixion with the same symbol: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” And thus the Lenten prayer:
Who by the tree of the cross gave salvation to all humankind, so that where death arose, life might rise up again, and that he (the snake) that once overcame by a tree, might also by a tree (the cross) be overcome, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Now we will not go even further and relate the serpent, Tiamat, the nature god of the sea, the personified ocean, representing chaos or Tohu va Bohu in Hebrew. Nor will we delve into the ubiquitous medical symbol, where two snakes are depicted climbing up a pole. Nor will we relate how a stick can be used to render a snake more harmless or the strange fact that poisonous snakes are milked of their venom to be used in vaccinations against snake bite.)
Lucas Cranach himself additionally, uses a winged snake with a crown, also looking like the primordial dragon, for his painting signatures. In this 1526 Courtault painting of Adam and Eve, he places his signature right onto the trunk of the sacred tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
As already mentioned, Luther believed that that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the place of worship in the Garden of Eden, and Adam and Eve’s eating the forbidden fruit brought about the Fall of creation. Perhaps we could identify the cross of Jesus Christ as the Tree of Life, which brings about our human ascent and that of all creation, so that God’s will can be done on earth as it is in heaven. We may not be able to experience the feature presentation here on earth, but we can get the previews of coming attractions. We can go in reverse as well and say the same about hell.
Painting as an art deals with pictures and images and can be enhanced into sculpture so that churches are filled with statues and paintings. In Cranach and Luther’s time an iconoclastic movement was in full swing. Image makers had become image breakers. Zwingli in Zurich and Calvin in Geneva emptied their churches of all the images and paintings, white-washing the walls of their churches. They did not even permit music, except perhaps, for intoning a psalm. On the other hand, Luther argued that Moses lifted up that bronze serpent in the wilderness, so an image was not good or evil per se, it all depended on its use or abuse. Thus to worship an image makes a person guilty of having a false ultimate and being idolatrous, but when someone like Cranach expresses Luther’s theology in paint, so that people can “read” his painting, then it represents no abuse, but a perfectly appropriate use of art. Wayne Martin asserts the latter conviction to be the most likely reason Cranach, Luther’s close friend, used the winged snake as his signature.
From the cross of Christ, absorbing all the sin of the world and becoming the scapegoat for the forgiveness of all our sin and evil, Christ was like that serpent raised up on the pole by Moses in the desert; and like that serpent in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, people trying to be like God, made all things ambiguous, now vulnerable and at the mercy of their use or abuse, able to be used for good or evil. But in the eating of the forbidden fruit consciousness was won as conscience, so that Adam and Eve realized that they were naked and became ashamed; but they became aware as well that they would one day die. After Eve eats the apple, the animals on her side of the painting also awake and the lion gets ready to pounce on the doe and take that poor creature out of Paradise. Thus consciousness was won, but Paradise was lost. They experienced how the earth also could be cursed and not yield its fruit, even with hard labor and the sweat of their brows. But Christ transformed that curse into a blessing on the tree of the cross, when he was lifted up like that serpent in the wilderness, drawing all of humankind heavenward too God:
“For when I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.”
These are some of the symbolic layers of interpretation:
- Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness to save the snake-bitten people
- Christ describing his crucifixion by means of the Moses story
- Luther seeing Moses’ action as an affirmation of painting, sculpture, music and all the arts, because images are not evil per se, but good or evil in their use or abuse. Images cannot be done without in thought, language, and culture.
- Cranach superimposing the Moses story upon the story of the Fall. He depicts the sacred tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden as a snake on a pole once more, where consciousness and conscience are gained but paradise is lost.
- Cranach uses the image of a snake in his own painting signatures, even placing that signature on the trunk of the sacred tree affirming his vocation as an artist. But, of course, when culture represents the worship of elite secular people, it is an abuse of art. When art expresses the human condition before God, places a mirror before people, in which they can see themselves in, (like the deer in the painting seeing its reflection in the pond from which it drinks) generating consciousness and conscience for good and evil, right and wrong. Art can even be the painting the Gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified showing the way of salvation.
 Pope Gregory I (590-604) noted that “the illiterate could contemplate in the lines of a picture what they could not learn by means of the written word.” In a sense, Wayne Martin contemplates Cranach’s painting and in its lines reads Luther’s theology.
 Gen 18:1.
 Numbers 21:4-9.
 John 3:15.
 John 12:32.
Wayne M. Martin’s essay, In Defense of a Bad Infinity: A Fichtean Response to Hegel’s Differenzschrift. To see his essay in the Internet:
A response by Peter D.S. Krey
Again, I would argue that Hegel is a Lutheran philosopher and he gets a good deal of his philosophical inspiration from Luther’s theology. For example, one could interpret Luther’s justification by faith experience in terms of the bad and true infinities: locked into one’s own finite effort and strength one cannot fulfill what the infinite God demands. Thus to bring Aristotle’s critique of Zeno to bear: finite moments cannot traverse the infinite moments of infinity. But those that are infinite can traverse the moments of infinity. So the infinite effort and strength of God can fulfill God’s commands in Luther’s justification by faith experience. The passive finite understood in a Pauline sense becomes filled with infinite grace in Luther’s divine linguistic event. His experience needs to be understood in the contours of a language event, because he was struggling to understand the Pauline Passage, Romans 1:17:
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
Hegel thought that an infinite limited by the finite was a bad infinite. (I will go along with Wayne Martin and not call it a spurious infinite which would mean that a bad infinite was no infinite at all.) When the Holy and Absolute Infinite enters the finite and fills it, we have the fulfillment of the infinite demands, by the infinite traversing the infinite.
In Luther’s eighth point of his “Freedom of a Christian” he writes:
The commands teach and prescribe for us many good works. Merely prescribing them, however, does not make them happen. Laws point the way, but they do not help; they teach us what we ought to do, but they do not give us the strength to do it. They are set up only so that persons become aware of their incapacity for good and learn to despair in themselves. That is why they are called “old” testament and why they belong in the Old Testament.
Luther then shows in point 9 how faith in Christ, how the Infinite accomplishes what the finite or even a bad infinite could not do:
Believe and you have it; don’t believe and you won’t have it. For what is impossible for you through all the works of the commandments, which are so many and are of no use anyway, is quickly and easily done by faith. For I have placed all things in a compact form inside faith, so that whoever has faith has all things and whoever does not have faith has nothing. In such a way the promises of God provide what the commandments require and accomplish what the commandments demand, so that everything belongs to God, command and fulfillment. God alone commands and God alone fulfills. Therefore, the promises of God are the word of the “new” testament and belong in the New Testament.
Faith is the way the infinite (God) enters and fulfills the finite such that the promises of God through their true infinity can fulfill the infinite requirements and demands of the law, because “everything belongs to God, command and fulfillment,” meaning that the infinite is at work though the finite.
Another way to say it: the finite through faith receives the power to grasp and contain the infinite. This is the way William Blake describes it in his famous poem, “To See the World”:
See a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
Thus justification by faith is the way infinite grace transforms the person, who no longer limits the infinite. In the Incarnation, God became a human being, as the Word became flesh. Mary can be beheld as the Mother of God, the Theotokos. The infinite body and blood of Christ is in the Eucharistic bread and wine. And while the finite “I” of Fichte cannot live the infinite Christ, the infinite Christ comes and enters and lives the life of the believer. Thus Paul can write, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” I first could not see how Wayne Martin could resolve the Pauline infinite demands with the teaching of kenosis or the emptying out of a person. But perhaps he means that the finite ego must become nothing so that the Infinite can completely enter the finite person.
Taking the side of Fichte and the bad infinite’s ideals, Wayne Martin keeps looking at our human condition from a human and finite point of view. Reinhold Niebuhr also spoke of our being responsible for ever increasing approximations of justice. Just because a person cannot do everything is not an excuse to do nothing. A person remains responsibility for the little something that the person can do. The bad infinity is like the perfect becoming the enemy of the thing that is possible.
I wonder what made the early Greek Philosophers, Aristotle as well as the atomists look askance at the infinite regression and progression. It does not lead to nothingness, but perhaps it defines the edges of the finite, beyond which the Creator God, the Absolute Infinite, as consciousness and word, is out there coming to us in continuous creation, incarnation, and the use of the sacraments.
Thus what I am arguing for is Hegel’s true infinity, in terms of being filled by the Holy Spirit or concretely, by the Word of God, Christ, so the dynamic of the Infinite accomplishes untold wonders amongst us finite being. From the view point of the ideals of the bad infinite, we are locked into the incremental approximations, but they also will not be possible without the power of the True Infinity giving us those breakthroughs.
 Philip and Peter Krey, editors, Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), p. 73.
 Glaubstu so hastu; glaubstu nit, so hastu nit. (In Luther’s German)
 Ibid., page 74.
 William Blake, Fragments from “Auguries of Innocence.”
Blogging my thoughts: Divine Performative Promises 15. Nov. 2014
I’ve worked and reworked my book on Creation via Language over and over again for many years, after taking John Searles’ language philosophy class and hearing about his supernatural declarations, which for him merely constituted a thought experiment. Then I became discouraged with my work in the book and I thought, “Good thing I did not publish it, because God’s speaking seems inadequate, to say the least, in the face of evolution and the physics of this universe.”
But today I started thinking that perhaps God’s speaking is enfleshed, embodied, and concrete and, for example, the development of God’s thought could be the evolution of plants and animals on this earth biologically and, in the more elemental physics of God’s thoughts, they could become manifest in the big bang, the expanding universe, the galaxies, their black holes, the solar systems in those galaxies, our own particular “third rock from the sun” — our planet, earth and our very own moon.
When I was saying that Christ is the Word of God and (continuing with Luther), that we become Christs, by God’s grace, and therefore we too become Words of God, and then (I extrapolated and I wrote in Creation via Language) we do become the vocabulary, the living biological vocabulary of God’s language in a new social syntax.
Now language is an organic system that abstracts from our socio-biological reality of being human, but in terms of Hegel’s concrete spirit, language can incorporate, can become filled with its referents thereby becoming socio-biological and physical, in terms of the physics used to understand our universe. In God’s speaking everything into creation and thus into its existence, the theological comes into play.
In an analogy, an author can write a story, which is more abstract than if as a playwright he or she writes a play with real actors on the stage. At that level the author is thinking in terms of persons, (the terms as the persons) their relationships, and the speaking has gone up into the grammar or syntax of a plot, in which an acted story moves to its climax and dénouement from the in medias res in which it was begun to its end in the same.
Now people leading their daily lives and experiencing crises and their resolutions by calling upon God in their distress and being rescued and then embarking on the plan of God’s salvation, are on another level from a play performed by actors, in which life and death are merely imagined. In our real lives there are also stories and plays in which they take place, but pace Christian Scientists, people really live and die. But people could live in the Gospel in God’s speaking, in divine speech-acts, language acts, language events, and the salvation history in which they are nested, and continue in the Holy Spirit’s continuous creation (the living theology of God’s thought brought to speech) and continuous incarnation, as we live out the Gospel stories again and again in becoming Christs, the Words of God addressed to one another, the performative promises of God’s people in but not of this world.
David Brooks writes in his OP ED piece in the New York Times (8/15/2014) page A21: “Every type of new hero is like a new word added to our vocabulary.” That was the kind of insight I was developing in my Joseph Book. If a word can already be a message, a promise, and a whole language-event, like a sermon or lecture, why can’t it also refer to a person? Brooks makes it do so here. So I say that the children of God are Words of God — and we become the vocabulary in the language of God.
We of course refer to Jesus Christ as the Word of God. When Luther said in “The Freedom of a Christian,” that we all become Christs to one another, then becoming words of God is just another extension of this insight.
Mother’s Day Sermon at Shepherd of the Hills, Good Shepherd Sunday: Christ is the Gate, May 11, 2014
Shepherd of the Hills
Fourth Sunday of Easter May 11, 2014
Acts 2:42-47 Psalm 23 1 Peter 2:19-25 John 10:1-10
Christ is the Gate
Greetings on this Good Shepherd Sunday to you in the Shepherd of the Hills of Berkeley! This is the fourth Sunday after the Festival of the Resurrection so let us exclaim: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Halleluiah.
Christ is our gate to the abundant life. Can I hear a testimony? Our family certainly has one. Our landlord is selling our house, one that we rented for 22 years. But God sent us an angel in the form of a real estate agent named Florian Santos, who found us a reasonably priced house in the Hilltop Village. We are now moving into a Champagne house on a beer income. Our landlord is also a devout Chinese Christian woman, who through all these years only raised our rent once, really helping us, because even after receiving a doctorate, I have been mostly unemployed. But God is good. God’s been good to us all this time. All the time God’s been good.
But ours is not a gospel of prosperity and success. We face realities and suffer with Christ. In his first Letter St. Peter describes us who follow the Good Shepherd as those who do not return abuse, nor do we threaten those who make us suffer. We bear the sins of others in our body, so that the wounds inflicted on us for the sake of Christ begin the process of healing for many of those who God is still bringing into the flock.
The Good Shepherd teaches us about vicarious suffering. How can I explain that? We used to speak of mothers who were home-makers who tried to experience their husbands’ careers vicariously. Now it is the other way around for many of us unemployed men. My wife is the director of a mental health clinic in San Francisco and I try to vicariously experience her trials and tribulations as she tells me about them.
Now vicarious suffering is taking the sins of others upon ourselves and overcoming them. It is the exact opposite of scapegoating others by means of prejudice, bigotry, racism, and even conspiracy thinking.
In our epistle lesson, St. Peter attributes vicarious suffering to Christ. Christ takes our sins and those of others upon himself and forgives them by overcoming them in himself. Prejudice on the other hand takes the sins in our own hearts, many of which we are unconscious, and projects them onto women, Americans of African Descent, Jews, Arabs, what have you, and persecutes and discriminates against them, because we do not realize these sins are inside our own selves. In that way racism, for example, makes others into scapegoats, making them bear our sins, while Jesus did just the opposite. He himself bore our sins in his body and by his wounds, we are healed; by his stripes, we are saved. Our real love for our neighbors is not to gossip about their sins and shortcomings, but by covering them and bearing them as if they really were our own until they can be forgiven and overcome.
The militia movements that gather together with conspiracy theories are like that too. They claim that the threat comes from the government or immigrants or African Americans or what have you, and meanwhile they are training to inflict their violence on others. They project the violence in their own hearts on a target group. Often hate-mongering backfires on the perpetrators themselves. You may remember the case of the Neo-Nazi father down in Riverside, whose son shot him while he was asleep.
I wonder if you have any questions. Don’t forget. Taking the sins of others upon ourselves does not turn us into scapegoats. That’s because of the resurrection. The life of Christ overcomes sin, death, and the devil. The power of the resurrection makes us more than victorious! (The devil is just “evil” with a “d” in front of it, personifying evil. Devils just come to steal, kill, and destroy. Angels are ministering spirits sent by God to serve those who are being saved.) The Holy Spirit even overcomes addictions.
Now I could provide you with another testimony at this point but let me say, although it entails suffering, following Christ in this way is the gate, the doorway to the abundant life.
I stood up for some things I believed in during my seminary years and thus I was ordained in Berlin Germany four years after leaving the seminary. My fellow classmates received plum churches in Ohio, while I learned all about a whole other church system in Germany, traveled around the world, spent Christmas with Mother Theresa in Calcutta. When following Christ we have to face the cross, but surprise! We receive the abundant life. Just think of Joseph in the Old Testament. He was sold down the river into slavery, had to go through the school of hard knocks, but ended up Pharaoh’s right hand man.
Christ and Christ crucified is the gate, the doorway into life abundant. Like a mother is the gate through which a newborn comes into this world, so Christ is the gate, the doorway, into the new life, the abundant life, the life that overcomes sin, death, and the devil. The newborn from a mother comes into this world through her ordeal with a cry, and we enter the world in which God reigns through the contractions of suffering that give us the new birth of being children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. John bore witness when he saw the soldier pierce our savior’s side with a spear. “At once,” he said, “blood and water came rushing out.” (John 19: 34-35)
In the water and blood of our baptisms, Christ, mother-like, bears us up into an existence well described by “the Lord is my Shepherd,” our Good Shepherd 23rd Psalm: we are refreshed by the still waters of the Holy Spirit; in and out of the gate of Christ, we enter the lush green pastures that restore our souls; the Good Shepherd’s rod and staff keep us in the straight and arrow. Around the table he spreads before us, God changes our enemies into friends. With our hand planted securely in the hand of the man from Galilee, we walk without fear through the valley of the shadow of death, knowing our Good Shepherd is the gate, Christ is the door and gives us the keys to the house filled with many mansions, in which we will dwell forever.
In his wonderful pamphlet, “The Freedom of a Christian,” Luther writes that we become Christs to our neighbor. So let’s not be nominal Christians or those who give Christ a bad name. Many of us Christians have brought his name into ill repute. That’s why we pray, “Hallowed be thy name.” If we become Christs to our neighbors then we will be the people of promise, who are gateways to the abundant life. But it spells suffering and the cross. Have you cried your ocean of tears? I used to call that a baptism of tears. Christ with his passion and resurrection is the gateway to a renewal of your life. Remember “Christ is for you.” Thus it’s also your and my passion and resurrection as the gateway to a renewal of our lives, in which we receive ears that hear in order to recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd and eyes that see, and a heart full of love and compassion.
Luther claims that born from Christ we all receive the new last name, Christ. Mine would be Peter Christ. The worship assistant would be Sam Christ. Gretchen Christ is playing the organ. Like a woman used to take the name of her husband, we now receive Christ’s name.
Luther called us all to be shepherds when he developed the slogan, “the priesthood of all believers.” The name “pastor” means “shepherd” in Latin. So if we remain nominal Christians who are not growing and maturing into the full stature of Christ, then we are thieves and bandits. (I remember a brother-in-law of mine, who always said he was making out like a bandit when he received a gift!) But rest assured, we always show our strength by bearing with those who are still weak in faith, those who can’t find their growing edge. We are all sinners and saints and like alcoholics, we keep on confessing that we are sinners so that we recover on the way to being saints.
I could show how the leaders in South Sudan are thieves and bandits willing to steal the lives of millions by a coming famine because of their power struggle. But our shepherds in Washington are also into a power struggle of full time campaigns that has overwhelmed their ability to govern and to provide much needed legislation. So for example, immigrants keep dying on our borders and millions of families keep being broken up by deportations. But on this Mother’s Day let’s speak about those mothers who really demonstrated their Christhood for us. I could speak about my mother, but what about yours?
(In the congregation people gave testimonies about their mothers. I also told about mine.)
Have you watched how the NBA MVP basketball player, Kevin Durant, gave a tribute to his mother? You can hear his speech on Youtube. He called her the real MVP.
So you and I have to go in and out of Christ the gate to feed on those pastures, drink those pure waters, sit around God’s friendship table and help others go through those dark valleys with all the hope and faith and strong – death, sin, and devil – overcoming life that Christ came down to us to bring. Amen.