John 1

“And the Word became flesh…”


In the Old Testament God is the one who led His people out of Egypt. In the New Testament God is the one who raised Jesus from the dead. In both testaments God is revealed as the God who acts and is involved in what we call history, in temporal time and space.

The progress of the Gospel throughout human history has had real and demonstrable effect not only on individual human beings but also on the whole range of human reality. Institutions, cultures, ideas, etc. have been shaped by the Gospel and its implications. This has often been not because of the Church but in spite of it. For the perpetual temptation of the religious impulses that we naturally associate with Christianity (which is not a religion) always want to spiritualize, internalize or spatialize the Gospel. The Bible, on the other hand, reveals the God who is temporalized in the real world of people and events, including sacraments.

Non-sacramental Christianity which emphasizes reason and the internal character of faith, skates dangerously close to the brink of gnosticism which discounts the temporal for the sake of the spiritual. Martin Luther ran into this mentality among the ‘anabaptists’ of his day. The following is a quote from Luther on this score as it applies to infant baptism.


 “The  anabaptists pretend that children, not as yet having reason, ought not to receive baptism. I answer: That reason in no way contributes to faith. Nay, in that children are destitute of reason, they are all the more fit and proper recipients of baptism. For reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but – more frequently than not – struggles against the Divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God. If God can communicate the Holy Spirit to grown persons, he can, a fortiori, communicate it to young children. Faith comes of the Word of God, when this is heard; little children hear that Word when they receive baptism, and therewith they receive also faith.”

– Martin Luther (1483-1546), Table Talk CCCLIII [1569] .


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


1 Peter 1



“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,…”.


The Boston bombings were a volcanic moment of chaos erupting out of the the deep lava flow of human sin. The magnitude of the event was shocking. The fact that it happened is not. Chaos and mayhem are scattered across the world on any given day in ways great and small. How do we respond?

Some argue cynically that ‘Life is one darned thing after another.’ History moves in a circular motion from Herod to Hitler to Mao to Bin Laden. Nothing really changes. The best you can do is find your little haven of safety somewhere, look after yourself and let the world be damned.

Others see life as a slippery slope. The best is behind us. What lies ahead is degrading, without prospects. They look longingly back to the ‘good ol’ days’ when life was as it should be. The future is bleak, despairing. It is best to live without expectations.

These views are common and perhaps even understandable. You and I may even resort to them from time to time. But they can in no sense be called Christian.

The Christian response to the broken world takes its language from the cross and resurrection of Jesus. It is the language not of cynicism or despair but of hope. 

Coventry cathedral was destroyed during the second world war. When the new church was built, adjacent to the old structure, it included a magnificent wall of glass. On the wall are the images of saints and angels, gathered together in a glorious celebration. Through the glass wall one can see the remains of the old buildings, grim reminders of the effects of human evil.

But that’s just the point. The opaque wall does not block out or deny the chaos. It is a symbol, a vision of hope in the midst of chaos. And it is this vision of hope in Jesus Christ that is to shape Christian speaking in response to suffering and death. Our calling, in this respect, is to invite those who are singing in the chorus of cynicism and despair to sing a new song, the song of the crucified and risen Jesus. To turn from singing the world’s lament, ‘In the midst of life we die’, to the new song of hope in Jesus Christ, ‘In the midst of death we live!’

So, Christian, grab your trumpet, warm up your voice and let’s celebrate that great and glorious future God is preparing for us, even as we give ourselves in service to the suffering and broken world. For God has promised that one day wars will cease, tears will be dried and we’ll be swinging on the chandeliers of heaven!


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











1 Corinthians 1:21

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”


 ‘Actions speak louder than words’. So the saying goes. Or, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me’. Someone once said, ‘Your actions are speaking so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying.’  If we say thing like this often enough and loud enough the impression is left that words are not that important. 

The Church is also caught up in the problem. We hear the same kinds of comments within Church life. A personal experience with God is more important than doctrine. Faith means one does not need to understand, just believe. But believe what? Faith accepts certain things are mysteries. But what mysteries? Somehow or another we thrive on anti-verbal religion.

Faith, belief and mystery do not mean muddle. They do not imply that the Christian can say anything where God is concerned. For faith words are attached, for us, to what has been revealed and made known about God in Jesus Christ.

At the same time words are fuzzy – all words. We may prefer those who ‘say what they mean and mean what they say’ but that’s just an expression. Communication is not that simple. The basic problem, therefore, is that our words are both important and fuzzy.

Finally, it is important to note that words ARE actions. Try yelling ‘Fire!’ in a crowded room and you’ll find out quickly that words have real effect. Martin Luther was so convinced that words equal action that he called the church a “mouth house”. For it is through the Church’s words that the Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens sanctifies” us in faith.

It may seem odd to us that God would choose words to be the vehicle of the new creation but should it? After all, the old creation, as Genesis tells us, was spoken into existence. If God could use a word to bring something out of nothing, then He can certainly use the spoken word of the Gospel to create the new life of faith.


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









Colossians 1:18

“He is the head of the body, the church;…”


Our faith is personal and corporate. Both are well-represented in the Bible. Noah, for example, was commanded to build an ark – in the desert. Needless to say, his reaction was less than enthusiastic. Why did he do it? Obviously, his relationship with God was something intense and personal. So much so, he overcame his reluctance and set to work.

At the same time, Noah was commanded to fill the ark with critters and to bring the family. A new beginning would emerge from the flood for the creation and the covenant people.

Isaiah had a profound, personal  vision of the Holy One. That vision brought him face to face with his sin. “I am a man of unclean lips”, he was brought to confess. 

At the same time, Isaiah’s vision brought him to see the larger implications. “…and I dwell among a people with unclean lips”, he concluded. Sin is personal and corporate.

The prophets, generally, were perceived to have a unique word from God. At the same time, that word was always for the people of God. The word was personal and corporate.

Our Lord Jesus called Matthew at the toll gate, the first of twelve. Each disciple was singled out. At the same time, Jesus made of them the nucleus of a new Israel. Twelve disciples, representing the twelve tribes of the covenant people.

St. Paul was singled out on the road to Damascus. Christ appeared to him, called him, set him apart. At the same time, bearing witness to this experience was neither the burden nor the focus of Paul’s message.  He rarely mentions his dramatic, personal encounter with Christ. His letters were written, in large measure, for the sake of congregations, Christian communities, the body of Christ.

We have just celebrated the Resurrection of our Lord. We believe He lives. But this risen Lord is not the private property of the individual. Through Word and sacrament He makes us His own, one by one, to be sure. At the same time, Christ Jesus never leaves it at that. He makes us members of His body. That’s what the Resurrection looks like here and now; persons called by the grace of Christ into community. We are each a unique, living member of the body. This means faith is personal but not private. Like it or not, we belong to one another.


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










“He suffered under Pontius Pilate…”


You can’t do physics without mathematics. You can’t do Christianity without history. The creedal confessions of the church all make mention of a historical figure. Namely, Pontius Pilate. During these days of Holy Week Pilate makes his appearance once again. The story is told of the Roman governor who washed his hands and took the road of political expediency, as any good career-minded Roman would. But he is not remembered in our weekly confession of faith because he walked away from Jesus. He is remembered because he anchors the personal, corporate and cosmic story of Jesus in history, in time.

Looking back at the events of Holy Week is more than a pious exercise. It is a history lesson. The events of that week happened in what we call real time. And there is a dynamism to these events. The activity of God is in motion on every plane. There are the personal stories of Judas, Peter, Caiphas and Pilate. There is the corporate story of disciples, Pharisees, Saducees, Romans and Jews. There is the cosmic story of  God in Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, suffering, crucified and buried. 

The Holy Week story reflects the polyphonic character of the Faith. Taken together, our faith is not only personal, not only corporate, not only cosmic, not only historical. It is all of them together, at once. Holy Week gathers them together and remembers those events when the salvation of God moved in and through time and space until it was lifted up on a Cross, outside Jerusalem, on a Friday afternoon, under the governorship of Pontius Pilate.

Pilate lived in the real world. An inscription with his name was found along the seacoast of Israel. That worn, broken artifact bears witness to the irreducible truth of our faith; God is not separated from our world. Our historical faith is a statement about the God who is not “up there” but Who is enmeshed in the fullness of reality; the personal, corporate, cosmic and, therefore, the historical.  Our historical faith is statement about the forward, promising momentum of life, which is not the same as progress. For the Cross is a statement of the goal of our lives, also. Only the resurrection can draw us forward. And if the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ could be present  there, He is present in all the struggle and confusion of your life, our communities, indeed, the whole cosmic business of life, death, and life beyond death.


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


1 Peter 1:1-2

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappado’cia, Asia, and Bithyn’ia, 2 chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:…”


The vocabulary of obedience and submission has drifted out of our society over the last number of decades. It was not that long ago when a student who cheated on an exam at one of our military academies, for example, was summarily dismissed. Now, they hire lawyers who argue that it is the institution’s fault that the student was ‘forced’ to cheat. The whole machinery of authority and obedience has been radically realigned in our society. We talk about relationships, responsibility, self-determination, rights. Can you imagine starting an obedience movement? How about the Women’s Obedience Movement? How far do you think that would go?! Or, how about the Student Obedience Movement? How would you like be in charge of advancing that idea?

So, what do we do with Peter who says “…chosen and destined by God the father for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:…”. Peter could have said a lot of other things here. He could have said, for example, ‘chosen and destined for salvation in Jesus Christ’, or, ‘chosen and destined for celebration of Jesus Christ’. The possibilities are endless. But what Peter did say was “for obedience to Jesus Christ”. And that’s not all. He goes on to say that the Christians should live as obedient children. He talks about “obedience to the truth”. Not knowing the truth or speaking the truth or doing the truth but “obedience to the truth”.

The key is the connection Peter makes between obedience and Jesus Christ. For the phrase that gives definition to the obedience of the Christian is “…sprinkling with His blood.” In another place he speaks of “…the precious blood of Christ.” In another place he dips back into the Old testament and speaks of “…the blood of the sacrificial lamb.” I wonder if any of you can even remember the old gospel song, ‘There is Power in the Blood’? Many of you probably don’t even know that there even was such a song. I don’t think Peter would have had a problem with it. For all that singing about the blood is a stark and unapologetic way seeing to it that we do not forget, or interpret away, or beautify, or turn into an idea, or an interesting story, or a theological device, the Cross of Jesus Christ.

For Peter, with the crowing of the rooster still ringing in his ears, the Cross of Jesus was an unforgettable event and he was determined that those congregations to which he wrote should not forget it, either. I take Peter to be saying that the Christian so identifies with the Cross – the actual death of Jesus, once for all – who so interlaces and internalizes the cross with his or her own life, that that life, like that of its Lord, takes the shape of obedient love, not seeking its own ‘rights’.  The sign of that bloody Cross upon the brow of the baptized must say something about the style, the tone, the shape of the life of the Christian.

Is it really so strange that Peter should link obedience of the Christian with Christ Himself? He who suffered but did not return suffering? He who was reviled but did not seek revenge? He who sought the welfare of others while emptying Himself? Is submission and obedience an entirely inappropriate posture? For the persons bent on relentless self-willing, perhaps.  But for the Christian?


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


1 Peter


“…chosen and destined by God the father…”


“Let freedom ring”, we Americans say. And in saying it we are often referring to what we believe is our inalienable right to choose. If we Americans believe anything in common it is that. We are free to choose. Choice is in our hands.

Where religion is concerned we are free to choose, or not choose. On any given street a Christian, Jew, Muslim and atheist may be neighbors. We affirm this sort of pluralism as a sign of our freedom to choose whatever sort of life we want. In religion especially a person makes his or her own choices.

So, it is jarring, troubling, unsettling , awkward, even offensive to our American sensibilities when Peter writes to people scattered here and there and he writes to us, “To the exiles in dispersion…chosen and destined by God the Father…”. You may choose here and there but in your relationship to God you have been chosen. Peter begins on that note and he never tires of sounding it. He reminds them, and us, that Christians are a “…chosen race…”. How do you like that phrase? You did not choose God. God chose you. Chosen and Christian are synonymous, interchangeable. 

Peter also says that the Christian has been …”destined…”. Not by fate or DNA but by God the Father. Chosen, destined, sent, called, we really don’t like that kind of talk but it is all over the place in 1 Peter. In fact, It is all over the Bible. Peter also speaks of baptism in the context of these words. It is like Noah’s ark, he says. You know, all that water and everything. “Baptism, which corresponds to this”, he says, “now saves you.” But how can that be? I didn’t do anything? That’s the point! God has done some choosing of His own. You don’t save yourself. You are chosen sent, destined, called, saved by Him.

The Christian is not free because we have chosen God. We are free because God has chosen us. The Christian is free to serve the neighbor because he or she is free from having to serve or save himself or herself. And not only to serve but to worry and to sweat and to struggle and to plan about how best to serve, how to help, how to decide, how to choose. 

The Christian also wants to “Let freedom ring”. But it is not the false freedom of self-willing. The freedom we celebrate is the freedom by which God in Jesus Christ has chosen to forgive sins and through which he destines the elect to inherit the glories of life eternal.


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










John 20:30-31

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”


Three words from John’s Gospel are today’s focus. Those words are ‘sign’ and ‘believe’ and ‘life’.

You can find any number of books, sermons, etc, that point to the healing\miracle stories in the Gospels as illustrations of the compassion of Jesus and how we should be compassionate also. No doubt that element is there but it is not primary. The miracles of Jesus were not ends in themselves. Neither were they magic or proof or simply examples of being nice. They were signs, arrows pointing to Jesus. Some got it and some didn’t.

The Gospel of John, for example, tells us of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. One can definitely not conclude that because Jesus raised the dead, we should hang around in graveyards praying for the ground to open up. Don’t try this at home! Jesus raised Lazarus as a sign to bring the focus on Himself. “I am the resurrection and life”, he said, ” The words and works of Jesus, taken together, are a tapestry that spells out His name. The signs are given that you “may believe” in Jesus.

John’s Gospel likes the phrase “believe in” where Jesus is concerned. By all accounts this phrase appears nowhere else in classical Greek. It is, apparently, unique to John. That’s different than believing Jesus. I may believe what you say but that sort of belief implies no necessary relationship or commitment of trust or faith. It may mean nothing more than intellectual assent. If I believe in the one who speaks, that’s different. 

The identity of Jesus was never obvious. That has not changed. The Church at times may speak as if His identity as “true God and true man” should be obvious but this is nothing more than triumphalism. 

The outcome of trust, of faith, is life; “…that you may have life in His name”, is the way John states it. But we make a mistake if we think this means only eternal life, if we assume we already have life and the life Jesus gives is just icing on the cake. We may want to talk that way but John does not. He is saying if you don’t have Jesus, you are dead. You may be walking and talking, putting a day together and so forth, but that is not life.

Read John’s Gospel as we begin Holy Week. For among the four great witnesses to Jesus – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, none speak with more clarity, simplicity and urgency than John. And the urgency with which he writes points us to Jesus and to the fact that trusting, believing in him is a matter, in every sense, of life and death.


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









Colossians 3



“He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities —all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”


Our world appears to be a hopeless, fragmented mess. The world appears to be in the grip of competing, destructive interests and powers that stubbornly resist all efforts at reconciliation. While recognizing these realities, the New Testament has something else to say about not just our tiny planet but the entire cosmos.

 All things were created for and through Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ comes first among all things in all creation. 

All things find their cohesion in Jesus Christ.

By His death on the cross Jesus Christ has reconciled all things to God.

We tend to think of reconciliation as a people word. But the greek expression here in Paul’s letter to the Colossians is a neutral form. All things means just that; rocks, trees, earth, wind, sky, far-flung galaxies and people.  The expression is all-inclusive and unapologetically so. There is great comfort here, and here’s why.

First, there is nothing in all creation, and that includes your life, that is alien to God. God is closer to you than you are to yourself and that nearness is characterized by God’s desire to be for you.

Second, you have been reconciled. There is no need to become something you are not, some special kind of person where God is concerned. He may do great things with you but you are His because of His grace, not because you have done anything. There are no ladders to climb, simply a Cross to behold.

Third, belonging to Jesus Christ, being a member of His body means that you never need be lonely. You were meant to be here and, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “all things are yours”.  Walk with your head high!


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











Philippians 2:9

Note: A reader was kind enough to send me the precise quote of President Dwight Eisenhower (which Tuesday’s blog entry hacked up a bit)  together with a brief comment which I think is worth considering. Here it is:

“In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

Address at the Freedoms Foundation, Waldorf-Astoria, New York City, New York, 12/22/52

“The point he might have been making…is that theological detail is not relevant to shared national belief.  (Incidentally, in an increasingly irreligious society, that core belief may no longer be true).”


Now, on to today’s entry.


 “Therefore, God has given him the name that is above every name…” 


Nothing is peripheral when it comes to the Christian life. That is to say, when the import of the Christian faith grasps us we come to see that life is to short to monkey around on the circumference of things. No matter where we are in our personal lives, our reading of the Bible, our worship life, our personal decisions or in our struggle to get along in the world, the Christian is driven back again and again to the question of who is Jesus Christ.


Today, the Christian is enmeshed in a great, confounding set of questions. Jesus and a host of ‘isms’ blend in and out of one another. In the current environment of unrestrained pluralism the whole business of Christian identity and commitment can get very fuzzy, to say the least. In this environment, if we are going to bear the name of Christian, the name of Jesus, we must do so, I believe, more energetically. And to do so, the Christian and the Church as a community, must turn to the Bible.


The classic formula for Lutherans, in this regard, is that the Bible is “the final authority in all matters of faith and life.” Not theonly authority but the final authority. What this means, at least for me, is that if we are to know who Jesus Christ is and, therefore who we are, we must – finally – turn to the witness of the Bible. For, although there is great diversity of expression in the Bible, there is only one message and that message has to do, unerringly, with Jesus Christ.


The diverse witness of the New Testament to Jesus mirrors our time. They, like we, were struggling to confess “the name that is above every name” in an environment of religious pluralism, conflict and hostility. The New testament witness can help us today as we, too, seek to tune our faithful witness, sounding that one, clear graceful note of Jesus Christ in the midst of the din and confusion of our time.


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