Galatians 6:14

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“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

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We live in an age of ‘multi’ this and ‘multi’ that; an age that is described with words like pluralism and diverse. What is important is that nothing in particular be distinguished. We wouldn’t want to offend, would we? In the life of the church it isn’t any different. The historical-critical approach to studying the Bible, for example, has resulted in scissors and paste pet  theologies that run in every imaginable direction. The aimless flight of reason and experience know no boundaries. God forbid that we should dare speak of ‘The Truth’. 

A small town parade was making its way down main street.  Floats provided by various community groups sailed slowly along as the high school marching band stepped lively, accompanying itself with a rousing march. But the talk of the town, literally, was none of this. For as the parade moved along, the folks gathered on the sidewalks applauded wildly for the six year old boy who marched ahead of the band. Resolute and determined he kept his own pace, all the while sounding one, solitary note on his trumpet.

The purpose of Christian proclamation is to bear witness to Jesus Christ, especially His Cross. The Resurrection must also be taken with radical seriousness but not at the expense of the Cross. For, beginning with St. Paul, the exalted Lord is proclaimed as the One who was crucified. But why? Why this one, solitary note where Jesus is concerned?

The cross surely does say to us that God is there in the deepest valleys and hurts of life, even unto death. But first and foremost, the Cross proclaims that God meets us precisely at the point of our deepest need, the very point where we reject Him, on the Cross itself. This is why the central Gospel word, spoken from the Cross, is the Word of forgiveness. Forgiveness, reconciliation with God is our deepest need.

The cross is also the Church’s solitary note because we proclaim a hidden God, not a God breaking out in all kinds of glory, not in this life. God’s glory parades around in weakness and lowliness; God the Word comes in simple words, water, bread and wine, despised things, even by many in the churches. The purpose of this hidden God is to bury Himself so deeply within the muck and mire of our sin that we simply give up, die and glory in nothing except the Cross of our Lord Jesus, “…through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.”

So, the next time you’re in some church, whatever else they are parading around, hope and pray that you hear little ‘Johnny one Note’ playing the scandalous, solitary Word of the Cross, the message concerning the crucified and hidden God who forgives real sinners and promises one day to raise them from the dead. For in that one note of the Cross is contained the fullness of God’s grand symphony of love and grace – and it sounds for you.

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“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Advent and What We Long For

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The season of Advent (which begins December 2) comprises the four weeks prior to the Festival of the Nativity (aka, Christmas). Advent is a time of contemplation and reflection on our longings. So, what do we long for? 

The marketplace culture has done a masterful job of defining our longings materially. The time before Christmas is filled with frantic activity, much of it tied to the purchasing of gifts. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the custom of gift exchange as much as anyone. But if these are the things that define our longings and their fulfillment, something is missing; at least for Christian people. 

As the culture drives us relentlessly onward (only 35 more shopping days until Christmas!) Advent calls us to slow down and take time to examine what it is we truly long for, to ask ourselves if the balancing act we call our lives is really working. For our tendency is to attach our longings, hopes and dreams to people and things other than the God who has come to us in Jesus Christ.  Advent, like all the seasons of the church year, is meant to bring into sharper focus these realities of the life of faith that accompany us all year long. 

The texts for the Advent season reflect this great theme of human longing, so real yet often so misplaced. They bring us a back to ourselves, to how it really is with us; frightened and fragile, longing for friendship, companionship, real faith, hope and love, understanding and forgiveness. 

The longings that anticipate their fulfillment in the coming of Jesus are best encountered at the Cross. In this respect Advent is what someone once called “the little Lent”. For to face our deepest longings is to be brought, once again, to the foot of the Cross. There we encounter both our deep need and the gracious, crucified Lord in whom our deepest longings will one day be brought to fulfillment and our anxious hearts put to rest.

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“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Colossians 1:17

 

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“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

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Many Christian parents today send their young people off to college after struggling to raise them with a reverence for the God who raised Jesus from the dead only to find them coming back with a reverence for nothing but reason and the environment.

One is tempted to say we are in danger of “forgetting the Weaver for the wonder of his weaving”, as one of my relatives C.A. Wendell wrote in his book, ‘The Larger Vision’. I think he was on to something. The problem is with the assumptions, the big picture. Many of our young people emerge from these institutions with the wrong anthropology.

Humanity’s love affair with reason, science and the idea of progress can mask a kind of pessimism, it seems to me, a radically lowered ceiling of meaning that, in effect, has us all stuck in a very large petri dish, a self-imposed nihilism. It’s a bit like children playing in a sandbox full of toys, stubbornly believing that the sandbox and what it contains is all there is.

I would like to suggest that the Christian faith actually proclaims a far more hopeful view of humanity and the future. The very doctrine of sin, for example, which receives such bad press, is actually a profound reflection upon the value of every person. For it assumes that the human being is no cosmic accident but a creature created in a spiritual, moral and ethical relationship to God, the neighbor, the self and the creation. To call myself a sinner is to acknowledge that I have been created for more than environmentalism and the scientific method. It is to acknowledge that love and relationship, though misused and abused, are the words that give clear definition and solid purpose to my life.

On the Cross, the One who gives meaning to all things – and that means your life, too – has given expression to ‘the larger vision’, this love that refuses to leave us in the dead certainties of our nihilism and pessimism, where reason alone must paint with an ultimately drab, lifeless palette.

So, to you college students and young people I say, enjoy the gift of reason. Explore the world, the universe. Be good caretakers of the world in which live. At the same time, look ‘beyond the sandbox’ to the larger vision!  Look to Jesus Christ, the Source of all wisdom and the fountainhead of love. He will add innumerable colors to the palette of living and in Him you will find that love through which “all things hold together.”

 

May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hebrews 11

“And so from this one man (Abraham), and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one.Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

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If you do not have one, how do you become a member of a family? Should you go to someone into whose family you wish to belong and ask them for the qualifications?  This would hardly do. Meeting requirements or keeping rules is not how one qualifies for the status of a child. To be recognized as a child within a family is not a status that is earned. It is a status conferred either by birth or adoption. In the case of becoming God’s child, it means both.

We are not born children of God. We are born creatures of God. This is how the Bible describes us and it is an important distinction. This is not to say that we were not created to be sons and daughters within God’s family. It is to say that from birth we reject that high status. Cut adrift from the moorings of faith, hope and love, our status is diminished from child to creature. We become little gods unto ourselves, choosing an orphans path of wandering willfulness, with no direction to call homeward.

Among the several great mysteries unfolded in Christ is that through Him we are restored to the status of God’s child, God’s son or daughter. Your status as God’s child is not earned like the wages of an employee; it is not paid for like the rent of a tenant; it does not come as the result of begrudging obedience, like a citizen obeying the law. The Bible tells us that this restoration is sheer gift, by God’s grace alone.

When the writer of Hebrews wrote of this restored status it was important for him to refer to Abraham. The gift of faith was the key. Abraham was invited to go to a place of promise. No details were provided. But like a trusting son or daughter, Abraham went. It is this living relationship of trust that is restored in Jesus Christ and through which we are reborn and adopted into God’s family, by His grace. 

When God declares in your baptism that your sins are forgiven and that you are raised to new life with Christ, you may trust that promise.

When all doors seem shut and there is no obvious way forward, you may trust God’s promise that he will never leave you or forsake you.

When prayers seem to fall into empty silence you may trust that even the most trivial of them is heard.

When the harshness and chaos of the world disillusion and you long for a better place, you may trust the promise that God has prepared a place for you, his beloved child, and will one day bring you safely home. 

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Matthew 26:6-13

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6 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

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The reaction of the disciples to the woman’s outrageous, costly gift to Jesus is instructive and revealing. Funny thing how the heart-gushing pious appeals for the poor move in so quickly to take the spotlight off her radical outpouring of faith and love focused on the Living God, revealed in Jesus. After all, to be a really serious Christian you need to have your nose rubbed in the tribulations of the world, right? You have to be doing something. And what could be a more conspicuous example of doing than giving money to the poor.

But Jesus does not side with the lesser god of social work. The woman’s offering was a reflection of the costly grace and love of the Living God she had come to know in Jesus. Like Mary, the slacker sister of Martha, who sat at the feet of Jesus instead of helping her sister in the kitchen, this young woman made the right choice. Her radical gift reflected her radically changed heart.

“The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me,” Jesus said. Someone unique, precious and irreplaceable was among them. The Living God was and is graciously at work in the Word, Jesus, to rescue, redeem, save and forgive that creature whose failure to love continues to be the cause of poverty and the myriad griefs of the world.

The woman is vindicated by the Lord in this story because her gift was an acknowledgement of what is ultimate – God’s amazing grace revealed in Jesus our Lord. This story is meant as a corrective to all those would reduce the Christian mission to nothing more than a food pantry or rental assistance. 

Finally, Jesus said, “When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”  Notice His words; “..this gospel…”. That is to say, the gospel concerning the Son of God by whose bloody Cross and glorious Resurrection lost and condemned sinners are reconciled, forgiven and set free.

So, to those who are perpetually identifying the church’s mission with the latest social agenda, God has seen fit to keep her story alive just for you. Take a moment from all your doing and sniff the air. You just might get a whiff of  the pungent aroma of some wildly expensive embalming ointment. She’s at it again. Calling attention to your Glorious Lord, who for your need His life did give.
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“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
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Colossians 2:13

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“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,…”

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I can just see Jesus standing at the tomb of Lazarus hands folded and silent, surrounded by the weeping entourage as one of the exasperated, grieving sisters tugs at His sleeve;

‘Jesus why don’t you do something?’

I’m waiting’, He replies.

‘Waiting for what?’

‘I’m waiting for Lazarus to make a decision.’

The trouble with Jesus was that He refused to play by the rules of conventional, religious wisdom. That wisdom stated that God rewards the good and punishes the sinner. But Jesus unsettled the conventional wisdom. He forgave people who by their obvious misconduct revealed themselves to be truly wicked. And, to add insult to injury, He blasted the good religious folks who by their obvious outward conduct appeared to be godly. With Jesus on the loose nobody knew what would happen next. Sort of like grace. Jesus spoke and acted as if He were actually in charge, as if He had the final authority over life and death.

That, of course, is our problem with God.

We too have a conventional religious wisdom. And that wisdom tells us that we have a free will that must choose God. God may be the Creator of the universe, the One who is beyond time and space, eternal and almighty, but where we are concerned, God stands with His hat in His hand waiting for us to decide.

We like this conventional, free-will view of God because it keeps us in the center of the action, where we can work on our variously defined programs of godliness and success, showing God how serious we. This is precisely what Jesus ran into among the religious of his own time. Claiming to be all about God, they were actually all about themselves, even if their intentions were good. That, in the final analysis, is what free will religion comes down to. It’s not about God, it’s about me. And the insistence on hanging on to even a little bit of freedom where God is concerned, reveals that the will has already made its decision. It has decided for the self, and that leads not to life, but death.

Jesus came to the grave of Lazarus to say something and to do something full of grace – free, unmerited grace. He came in His own time and on His own terms. And when He arrived He took control of the funeral. He commanded the grave to be opened and he called Lazarus out of the cold grip of death by a word.

Hanging on to the illusion of free will is about as useful as the dead hand of Lazarus clutching his burial shroud. So, that same Word of death-defeating grace and power must be spoken to you. God saves you by His grace. God chooses you. 

In the absolution and your baptism, this same Jesus who was plunged into death, wades into death’s deep waters to find you – and does some free-will choosing of His own.

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Luke 15

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“But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

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Someone pointed out long ago that that the parable of the Prodigal Son could easily have three titles; ‘The Prodigal Son. ‘The Forgiving father’, The Unforgiving Brother’. 

When we examine the parable, it is plain to see where our Lord Jesus placed the emphasis. The story concludes with the dialog between the father and the unforgiving brother, the moral bookkeeper.

The older brother had no doubts about the kind of treatment his morally bankrupt brother should receive. And he was right. The young man had squandered his inheritance and corrupted himself. He brought shame on himself and his family. He had no right to expect anything but scorn, punishment, even rejection.

The older brother, on the other hand, stayed home, worked for his father and kept his nose clean. if you don’t think so, just ask him. He kept careful records. And when the older brother, much to his dismay, discovered that his father was not a moral bookkeeper, he was outraged. He watched from afar, sulking, saturated in righteous indignation as the house lit up with rejoicing and partying. The father was ecstatic! His son was home! The lost one was found! How disgusting.

Jesus ticked off a lot of people with stories like this. And the ones that he ticked off the most were the moral crusaders who sit in the front pew on Sunday morning, bibles open, taking copious notes on the latest set of Godly principles for living. They know better than to suggest that God is actually gracious, loving and merciful. They know that God is a moral accountant, keeping careful track of every slip, every error, every sin. Sound familiar?

  • You see, what our Lord Jesus was doing in this parable was exposing those religious, church-going folk who actually get wind of God’s Word, God’s mercy, God’s grace and find the whole business to be upsetting, distasteful and dangerous. The older brother was not clueless. He threw up all his righteous defenses precisely because the unconditional grace of God had come upon him. This grace put enormous pressure on him, on his self-centered moral and religious outlook. So it was either give in or fight. He chose to fight God’s grace in the name of God’s law. One just can’t up and forgive, after all. I have to do something don’t I? 

 

There is no question that the younger brothers’ immoral, whore mongering life had exposed him.  What’s not quite as easy to absorb is that, at the same time, the older brother exposes himself, his utter lack faith and love of God or love for his brother, in his sanctimonious reaction. Like many church-going folks he was convinced that when it comes right down to it you can’t run the world – or a church – on grace. What would people think? They might start running amok, thinking they can do whatever they please.

We tend to forget that our Lord Jesus aimed this parable not at sin-soaked, immoral n’er-do-wells but at “good” religious folks, soaked in the sin of their own moralism and half-baked religiosity. People who, in spite (literally) of God’s love for them, find little to celebrate. They dutifully go to church, successfully using their religion to defend themselves against the unconditional grace God. 

 

“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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