Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hearing Voices -- Sermon from the 4th Sunday of Easter

Jesus says his sheep hear his voice. In the midst of voices that try to separate us from God and neighbor, Jesus continues to call to us because he knows and loves.

An excerpt: 
This is not to say that it is impossible to understand Jesus’ voice. We are indeed gifted with the ability to hear his gracious words. But they must be set among his whole teaching of God’s Reign and grace. And we must ask and not assume that everything that sounds good and pious is in fact. Jumping in and accepting those voices without discernment is perilous, but Jesus promises that he will be in our midst helping us discern his words from others...

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Must We Protect God's Sovereignty?

Spurred on by events in Boston, but also through interaction with others throughout the years, often at the death of loved ones, I have been pondering the people who feel the need to lift up God's sovereignty. These are the "It was God's will" voices. Everything that happens they refuse to question, going to great lengths in some circumstances to protect God's sovereignty… and sound ludicrous in the process. They reduce all causes in the world down to one and only one, God's will, as if there were no other agents at work in the world. But there are. The rebellious principalities and powers just to name two.

I turned to David Bentley Hart's The Doors of the Sea today and read it in its entirety. It is a short work from 2005 in response the tsunamis of Christmas day 2004. While inspired by that disaster, his work is not applicable to that event alone. Hart seeks to deal with tragedy in the world, set alongside God's omnipotence and goodness.

Throughout Hart seeks to answer both atheistic objections as well as refute Christian voices who seem to give life to a false image of God, particularly those who say God will evil. Hart absolutely refuses to allow this image. In the latter half of the book, he speaks of divine providence. He writes,
What then, one might well ask, is divine providence? Certainly all Christians must affirm God's transcendent governance of everything, even fallen history and fallen nature, and must believe that by that governance he will defeat evil and bring the final good of all things out of the darkness of "this age." It makes a considerable difference, however --nothing less than our understanding of the natureof God is at stake -- whether one says that God has eternally willed the history of sin ad death, and all that comes to pass therein, as the proper or necessary means of achieving his ends, or whether one says instead that God has willed his good in creation from eternity and will bring it to pass, despite their rebelion, by so ordering all things toward his goodness that even evil (which he does not cause) becomes an occasion of the operations of grace. And it is only the latter view that can accurately be called a doctrine of "providence" in the properly theological sense; the former view is mere determinism. (Hart, p. 82)

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Song of the Lamb -- 3rd Sunday of Easter

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped. (Rev. 5:11-14)

The book of Revelation can be read in many different ways, one of which is to read it as a liturgical manual. The angels begin the song of the Lamb and invite us to join in. 

There is no manuscript this week. 

You can listen to the whole thing. 

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Vices Deadly and Glittering

Honestly, I do not know what the fascination is all about, but there is something about the seven deadly sins that grabs people's attention. The Seven garner such attention that they have begun to be used in ads in direct opposition to their original intent. Searching on for books on the seven deadly sins will provide topics beyond the theological. One finds titles about Lance Armstrong, and and books on topics where you want to avoid particular behavior. My favorite title on such a search was on dressage. Yes, the seven deadly sins of dressage. Maybe the seven deadly sins have become so pervasive they have lost all of their power. They have become reduced to caricatures of themselves.

Nonetheless, it is surprising that young adults catch wind of them, and ask about them. One of the students at the campus ministry was asked by his non-Christian roommates about these seven deadly sins. He, then came to me during our GodTalk time which led to a number of times that the topic kept coming up. And over Lent this year, spent time discussing each of the sins, what they were and what they weren't.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Theologian, Yes. Pastor, Yes. Martyr., ehhh...

I cannot help it. I get a little bent out of shape every April ninth. Bonhoeffer quotes get passed around on the date of his death, which is great, because there are a lot of really powerful quotes from Bonhoeffer. In fact, just this morning I retweeted and included in a weekly update email his quote, “God does not give us everything we want, but he does fulfill all his promises.” In a culture that sees God as a great wish-granter, Bonhoeffer speaks about God's greater reality, to provide what has been promised, not what we think we want.

However, it is common to attribute to Bonhoeffer the status of martyr. Across ecumenical lines Bonhoeffer is frequently called a martyr. A number of his biographies, including the recent Metaxas bio, use "martyr" in the title. The prevalence of the title does make me realize I am in the minority opinion here, but I do not believe Bonhoeffer is a martyr. Both the Lutheran Book of Worship and Evangelical Lutheran Worship omit "martyr" from the their attribution. The former calling Bonhoeffer "teacher," the latter "theologian." But many others use "martyr." Throughout Christian history there are in fact martyrs, people who have been killed because they simply are Christian, or because being Christian prohibited them from worshiping other gods. The early church is rife with martyrs. Every once in a while, even now, there are people who are killed for their faith. But Bonhoeffer is not one those.

As I read Bonhoeffer's story, I understand that he is killed because he got wrapped up in a plot assassinate Hitler. When he was arrested, it was not because he was a Christian. He was arrested because the plot failed and the authorities treated him the way any government would have treated an insurgent.

Do not get me wrong. I respect Bohoeffer's theological acumen, routinely referencing them. One year when the lectionary led us through the Sermon on the Mount, I used Bonhoeffer's section of The Cost of Discipleship that walked through this passage of scripture. But his response to Hitler is more of despair than faith it seems. Bonhoeffer knew the plot was wrong, but he decided he would rather be wrong than do nothing. The reality was, of course, that he was not "doing nothing." He had been living out his call as a pastor and a theologian in the church by participating in the Confessing Church movement when German church became corrupted and controlled by Nazi ideals. He helped raise other faithful clergy in the secret seminary that was the seedbed out of which Life Together came. But rather than keep up with those activities, he got wrapped up in the assassination plot. The strength of the Christian witness is that some who seem to be passively resisting with means such as prayer, fasting, and right worship, are not passive at all. They need not be on the front lines meeting deadly force with force. I am no pacifist. There are some who are called to fight and oppose aggression with aggression. There are however others also called to provide another response that is just as powerful. 

I am not one to speculate much about how I would respond in such a time. Thankfully, I did not live during that time and did not need to make that decision. Nor do I damn Bonhoeffer for his decision to participate in the plot. In my view he might have made a bad choice, and it does not take away from his work as pastor, theologian and teacher of the church. As I said, I realize I am in the minority. I am willing to be considered wrong. Maybe the term has shifted in meaning. But I worry that we so badly desire to hold someone up as a martyr, that we risk confusing the heart of what it means to be a martyr.

Almighty God, your Holy Spirit gives to one the word of wisdom, and to another the word of knowledge, and to another the word of faith. We praise you for the gifts of grace imparted to your servant Dietrich, and we pray that by his teaching we may be led to a fuller knowledge of the truth which we seen in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

I Eat, Therefore I Believe -- 2nd Sunday of Easter

John 20:19-31

An excerpt from the sermon:
We are not left on our own however. Just because we do not see Christ and the marks of his crucifixion in his body, we should not think that our faith is somehow our own doing. That unlike Thomas we are able to wrangle faith out of nothing. Or dig deep and pull it out of our own being. If God is not involved, we will be unable to know anything. But the witness of scripture consistently points to God coming to us. We are not left on our own. The good news is always that God comes to us. We are not saved by our righteousness, but in the waters of baptism, Christ comes and gives us HIS righteousness. We say that this is an alien righteousness. It is not our own.

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