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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Humiliation and Redemption


Today we begin with the Second Article of the Apostle’s Creed, specifically Christ’s humiliation and our Redemption from All Enemies.
What do we mean by humiliation? First, humiliation is not identical with the incarnation. We can understand humiliation by illustration. Consider the strongest man you know – someone strong enough to lift the front end of a car or a refrigerator. He possesses great strength, but if he does not use his strength, little children can bind him and render him helpless. This is the way it was with Christ. In his divine nature, Christ always and fully used his divine majesty and power, but in his human nature, he did not always use this power. The humiliation of Christ consists in the nonuse of divine power and majesty that he possessed in his human nature.[i]
Our Lutheran Confessions teach that Christ always had this majesty according to his personal union, and yet abstained from using it in the state of His humiliation. … He exercised this majesty, not always, but when it pleased Him.[ii]
In addition to his suffering, death and burial, the stages of Christ’s humiliation occur during his conception, birth and life. Scripture records that he was born of a woman, under the law in poverty and humility, and that he was obedient to his parents. This shows that Christ’s humiliation was linked with his work of redemption.[iii] [iv]
The entire life of Christ was continuous suffering. He was aware that he bore all our sins and guilt. What he experienced at Gethsemane and Golgotha intensified his suffering until he exclaimed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[v]
We can only understand his suffering through Isaiah, who wrote, “The Lord laid upon him the iniquity of us all,”[vi] for in his conscience Jesus felt all these sins as his own. His physical suffering was no greater than other men crucified, but his heart felt the fierceness of God’s wrath and the torments of hell.[vii] The damned in hell despair, but Christ clings to God and cries, “My God, my God.” Christ died, and the soldiers attest to his death.[viii]
The personal union of Christ’s two natures was not disrupted by the death of his human nature. The soul of Christ was in paradise and the lifeless body in the grave was still the body of the Son of God. The fact that this body did not see corruption shows that it was still in communion with divine nature.[ix]
The death of Christ was a voluntary act on his part. When he gave up his spirit, it was not because of physical exhaustion or any other cause. He died because he wanted to die just at that point.[x]
In this life, we will never understand the depth of Christ’s humiliation, but that should not prevent us from meditating upon these mysteries. For your spiritual benefit, take time tonight to pray about what Christ experienced in his birth, life, suffering and death, and simply allow God’s grace to stir your heart that you may love as deeply as Christ loved. Amen.


[i] Edward W. A. Koehler, A Summary of Christian Doctrine. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House (2006). 147.
[ii] Robert Kolb and Timothy Wengert, The Book of Concord. Minneapolis: Fortress Press (2000). Also see http://bookofconcord.org/fc-ep.php#VIII.%20The%20Person%20of%20Christ.
[iii] Galatians 4:4 and Luke 2:7
[iv] Koehler, 149
[v] Mark 15:34
[vi] Isaiah 53:6
[vii] Koehler, 150
[viii] John 19:32-35
[ix] Koehler, 150
[x] Ibid.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Who are these men? What are they doing?



Brett Favre’s Butcher Shop? Emmitt Smith’s Dance Studio? Larry Allen’s Towing Service? Terrell Owen’s Humble Pies? Brilliant ideas for Superbowl commercials created by Wix, the website builder.[i] The best? Franco Harris’ Immaculate Wedding Receptions. Who else would brides choose to plan wedding receptions than one famous for the Immaculate Reception?
When Wix’s clever commercials air Superbowl Sunday featuring former footballers getting on with their life’s work, you may ask, “Who are these people? What are they doing? Why should that matter to me?”
Anticipating your questions, I ask them as they relate to our Gospel. Who are these people? What are they doing? Why should that matter to me?
First, who are these people? Our passage mentions John the Baptist, Jesus, Simon, Andrew, James, John and Zebedee. I covered John last month[ii] and Mark mentioned Zebedee only as a reference. Hence, I focus on Jesus and his four disciples.
Who was Jesus? We know him by numerous titles – Lord, Son of Man, Son of David, Lamb of God, Rabbi et cetera. Based on verse one, Mark preferred Christ, the Son of God. Yet, titles are not enough to portray a person. As quarterback, running back, receiver or lineman tell us only so much about the aforementioned footballers, Mark needed more to complete his portrait of Jesus.
Mark portrayed Jesus differently than other evangelists. In fact, he complicated Jesus’ identity by offering six portrayals: (1) man of authority, (2) man of power, (3) someone feared, (4) someone divine, (5) someone human and (6) someone odd.[iii]
Unlike other ancient biographers, Mark aroused feelings in readers’ minds and hearts with his style and content. He showed Jesus, through his deeds, words and suffering as a man making his way through an anxious world of humans and demons.[iv] While there was no doubt Jesus was the hero of the story, Mark portrayed him as an unrecognized, rejected, humiliated, disappointed individual, deserted by his closest allies and victimized by a hostile environment.  … So, who was Jesus? The answer can fill libraries. Personally, Jesus is my Lord and Master.
What was Jesus doing? Our Gospel opens, “After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’”[v]
Clearly, Jesus proclaimed the gospel of God. He began his ministry in Galilee after John the Baptist, who also attempted to reform Judaism, was arrested. Why did Jesus go to Galilee after Herod, who ruled there, arrested and beheaded John? Was Jesus naïve? Was he challenging Herod by moving into his territory? On the other hand, did Jesus simply realize he would reach more people in Galilee than Nazareth?
Jesus’ first message, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel,” summarized the first chapter. It was also the most basic statement of Christian faith – repent and believe in the gospel.
So, what was Jesus doing? Calling people to repent and believe – to live now as they would in the Kingdom of God. Jesus saw the reign of God in his lifetime, and when others responded to his message and recognized God ruled their lives, he formed a community. Jesus needed and called disciples.
To ask who Jesus was, and what he was doing means I must ask who his disciples were. Mark knew that he not only needed to tell the personal story of a prophet from Nazareth but also needed to inspire others to play their proper part in the movement Jesus founded. So, when we discuss Jesus in Mark, we not only discuss Christology – the study of the Christ, but also discipleship – what it means to accompany him as disciple.
The disciples were a central element in Mark’s story; and discipleship is the proper outcome of a healthy Christology.[vi] In other words, if you are going to talk about Jesus, you need to know and articulate why you are following him.
In verses 16-20, Jesus called the core of his disciples – Simon, Andrew, James and John. Unlike rabbis, Jesus did not wait for disciples to come to him. He went to them. Unlike Greek scholars, Jesus did not entice students with his reputation, but like Elijah, he called people to leave their work and follow him.
Interestingly, Jesus did not call these men to repent and believe, but recruited and trained them to become fishers of men, a skill more difficult than fishing in the sea.
So, who were these disciples and what were they doing? These were fishermen who left their jobs and families and followed Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who called people to repent and believe in the Gospel.
Before I answer my third question – why should that matter to me? – I remind you that for centuries the Church set aside specific days to remember persons and events significant in the proclamation of the Gospel.[vii] The Lutheran Service Book lists January 24th as the Feast of St. Timothy, January 25th as the Conversion of St. Paul, and January 26th as the Feast of St. Titus.
Ancient saints are not our only models of faith. God called countless saints who left opportunities on the table to serve Christ and His Kingdom. Here is an example of a man from St. Louis.
Thomas Dooley captured the imagination of the world, when, fresh out of medical school and the navy, he went to Southeast Asia to do medical work among the world’s poorest. This was especially surprising because Dooley came from a wealthy family and enjoyed a very good life.
Dooley said, “If people can be born with a desire, I guess mine was to have a good time, and good times came easy in our home. There was plenty of money; I had my own horse, went to school abroad, and studied to be a concert pianist.”[viii]
Dooley’s family was deeply religious. He said, “We were the prayingest family you ever saw. We prayed when we got up in the morning, when we sat down to eat, when we finished eating, when we went to bed, and frequently in between.”
His favorite Scripture passage was “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.”[ix] Dooley reflected on this verse after his ship picked up a thousand refugees drifting off the coast of Vietnam. In the midst of his backbreaking job of helping these people, he discovered that the simplest medical treatment brought smiles to pain-filled faces. He also discovered that helping them made him happier than he had ever been.
Dooley wrote that those who mourn are not miserable, but simply more aware of sorrow than pleasure in our world. He wrote, “If you are sensitive to sorrow and try to alleviate it, you cannot help but be happy.”
If you are sensitive to sorrow and try to alleviate it, you cannot help but be happy. Tom Dooley, like the apostles Jesus called, was aware of God’s Kingdom and was ruled by it.
To get to my third question – Why should that matter to me? – I ask – Why should it matter to you to know who Jesus was and what he was doing? Why should it matter to you to know who Christ’s disciples and Tom Dooley were and what they were doing?
It should matter to you only if you call yourself Christian. It should matter to you only if Jesus is your Lord and Master. It should matter to you only if one day you want to be in God’s Kingdom.
If you call yourself Christian, if Jesus is your Lord and Master, and if you want to be in God’s Kingdom, it should matter that you repent and believe in the gospel – for – like the people of Nineveh – time is short. Death offers no 40-day notice. … That is why it matters to us who Jesus was and what he did. He offers us what no one else can. He offers eternal life. How will we respond?
Few people, like Tom Dooley, who have money, respond to Christ’s call as he did. Few people, who have time, respond as Dooley did. When we enjoy the comfort of money and the leisure of time, Satan tempts us. So, I end with a story of three devils.
Three student devils in hell were packing their bags. They were about to be beamed up to earth for some on-the-job experience.
When all was ready, they reported to their teacher for last-minute instructions. The teacher asked them what strategy they decided to use to get people to sin.
The first little devil said, “I will use the tried-and-true approach. I will tell people, ‘There is no God, so sin up a storm and enjoy life.’” The teacher nodded approvingly. Then, he turned to the second devil and asked, “What about you?”
The second little devil said, “I will use the contemporary approach. I will tell people ‘There is no hell, so sin up a storm and enjoy life.” Again, the teacher nodded approvingly. Then, he turned to the third devil and asked, “What about you?”
The third little devil said, “I will use a down-to-earth approach. I will simply tell people, ‘There is no hurry, so sin up a storm and enjoy life.’”[x]
When you have time, you succumb to the temptation that salvation will be there when you need it … later. When you have time, you succumb to the temptation that the church will be there when you need it … later. When you have time, you succumb to the temptation that you will be there for others … later.
If you are not there now for others; if you are not there now for the church; if you are not there now to respond to Jesus’ call to repent and believe in the gospel, will you have time later?
The good news is that Christ offers salvation here and now through Word and Sacrament. The good news is that our merciful Father invites you into his kingdom now. The good news is that all you have to do is accept God’s invitation – and live each moment guided by the Holy Spirit.
To paraphrase Dave Ramsey, live like no one else so that – in the fullness of God’s Kingdom – you can live like no one else. Accept God’s invitation, and may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.[xi] Amen. …


[i] http://www.wix.com/
[ii] See my blog entry, “Better Than I Deserve.” http://bit.ly/1Cs9WUr
[iii] James Voelz, Mark 1:1 – 8:26 St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House (2013), 41f.
[iv] R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (2002), 4ff.
[v] Mark 1:14-15
[vi] France, 28.
[vii] http://www.lcms.org/page.aspx?pid=435
[viii] Decision, p. 83.
[ix] Matthew 5:4
[x] Mark Link, Challenge. Valencia, CA: Tabor Publishing (1988), p. 119.
[xi] Philippians 4:7

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Happy People Satisified with Life and Looks



      On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court invalidated 50 state laws and made abortion legal and available on demand throughout the United States in the now-infamous decision of Roe v Wade.[i] Although main stream media under-report the story, 650,000 people will gather in the Annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of thousands more will march in San Francisco, Chicago and state capitals throughout the nation.
This week, the Lutheran Church holds its annual life conference in Washington. Our students entered the essay contest sponsored by Lutherans for Life. Today is Life Sunday, and I focus on three P’s – the people of Corinth, the passage we heard and a pro-life church.
First, the people of Corinth.[ii] … Our knowledge of early Christianity would be diminished considerably without Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. We find in them a portrait of a community whose life was a mixture of confusion, pettiness and ambition, combined with enthusiasm and fervor. The community struggled to define its identity as the church of God in a complex and sophisticated urban setting.
The letters also reveal Paul’s relationship with the beloved but stubborn community he founded. This relationship forced Paul to delineate his understanding of his mission and apostleship, and the implications of these for his authority.
Corinthians were the first to face the problems that proved to be perennial for all Christian communities: how to live in holiness and freedom within the structures of society. Here, we discover the difficulty of defining an identity within a pluralistic context. These days, we turn to the Letters to think about issues and rely upon principles to solve problems. In other words, these letters guide us as we struggle with issues and try to identify ourselves as a Christian community in a pluralistic world.
As a people, Corinthians were difficult.[iii] Their faults came from their overenthusiasm for the powers of the Spirit. Spiritual elitism infected the community. Some were so awed by their knowledge, freedom and capacity for ecstatic speech that they considered themselves fully mature and perfect. They judged each other while neglecting the moral demands of Christ. This elitism led to factions that Paul addressed in the first chapters.
To know what kind of people Corinthians were, examine chapter 13, often read at weddings. They were not patient or kind, but thought only about themselves. Arrogant and rude, they sang their own praises. Irritable and jealous, they kept track of wrongs. They were happy with injustice and not the truth. Some stopped believing and hoping. Others gave up.[iv] Nevertheless, Paul loved them so much that he spoke to them as a father speaks to his sons, “Act like men. Be strong.[v] Imitate me.”[vi]
From people to passage, my second point. In chapter 6, Paul addressed the importance of the body. Corinthians believed that no physical action had any moral significance.[vii] Their reasoning went like this.[viii] The body has no permanent value because death sweeps it away. Because God permits the destruction of the body, anything done in and through the body has no moral value. If no physical act has a moral character, anything goes. Eat what you like. Do whatever you like with whomever you like.
That is not to say Corinthians denied the possibility of sin. Sin was possible but only on the level of motive and intention, and that you could not judge. This is why they said, “Every sin a person commits is outside the body.” … They did not consider themselves to be sinning because they did not intend to sin. They just did what they felt like doing.
Paul sought to convince them there is no such thing as purely spiritual Christianity. If Corinthians were to imitate Christ, they had to accept that the body is the sphere in which commitment to Christ becomes real.
Read verses 12-20 as a dialogue. Twice, society said, “All things are lawful for me.” Paul said, “Not all things are helpful. … I will not be dominated by anything.”
Society said, “A thing is good because I want it.” Paul said, “Untrue. Conflict is inevitable because at some point your desires encounter the needs or rights of others.” Paul pointed out not all things I want are good or helpful, and if you follow society, then, to quote the Eagles, “Somebody's gonna hurt someone.”
Some actions tore apart the community and destroyed the Christian’s freedom. When this occurs, Paul taught, the Christian returns to the state of enslavement to sin. We read in Romans, “You were slaves to sin. But I thank God you have become wholeheartedly obedient to the teachings which you were given. Freed from sin, you were made slaves who do what God approves.”[ix] Do not return to the state of enslavement.
Paul then turned to the heart of society’s argument. The basis of his counterargument was that God raised Christ from the dead. Hence, God would raise those who are ‘in Christ.’[x]
Because the body is relevant to one’s faith, Paul rejected the thought of Corinthian society that said, “Every sin a person commits is outside the body.” Paul taught, “The sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”
Here, Paul based his counterargument on Genesis, where God’s creative creatures were to bring others to life. We read, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united with his wife, and they become one flesh.”[xi] To use the body for any other selfish gratification was wrong – is wrong.
Paul helped Corinthians make the connection between their acceptance of Christ as the risen Lord of Glory and the implications for their lives. What God achieved through Christ was brought about by his physical presence in the world. Humans needed to see living life that imitated Christ was a real option and not merely an ideal to be discussed. The physical presence of the bodies of individual believers was intended to produce the same effect as that of Christ – bring others to salvation through Him.
If they were committed to Christ through a confession of faith, and strengthened by Word and Sacrament, they had to show the world their commitment through their physical bodies. They had to show their commitment through their bodies.
Finally, from passage to a pro-life church. One reason I joined the Lutheran Church is its support of traditional marriage and human life. Our Biblical teaching of marriage – between one man and one woman – and the sanctity of life – from conception until God calls us home in His time – is God’s will for all people.
As Lutherans, we embrace the biblical teaching regarding the sanctity of human life, with a clear Law and Gospel approach according to the confessional witness of our church.[xii]
When we talk about the sanctity of life, we include all stages of life, including abortion, euthanasia, care of the developmentally disabled, chastity, education, medical research, adoption and family life. As Christians committed to imitating Christ, we must educate others about the consequences of abortion, and encourage the spiritual, emotional and physical care of those experiencing post-abortion syndrome.
You know, next to my wife, the person who brings me the most joy is our granddaughter, Emma. Fortunately, Emma is a healthy one-year-old. Unfortunately, not all children are as healthy as Emma is. Not all babies will have the same opportunities.
Life is not always easy. Sometimes people struggle with complicated, messy choices. Expectant parents, who receive a prenatal diagnosis that their child will have an extra chromosome resulting in Down syndrome, choose to abort 90% of the time.[xiii]
Rayna Rapp, a former abortion clinic worker who aborted a baby with Down syndrome herself, surveyed women and couples who sought amniocentesis to screen for Down syndrome and other problems. All interviewees intended to abort if the baby had Down syndrome. Here are comments made by parents who intended to kill their babies if they turned out to be challenged.[xiv]
“… I couldn’t think about raising a child with Down’s. I’m something of a perfectionist. I want the best for my child. I’ve worked hard, I went to Cornell University, I’d want that for my child. I’m sorry I can’t be more accepting, but I’m clear I wouldn’t want to continue the pregnancy.
I couldn’t be that kind of mother who accepts everything, and loves her kid no matter what. What about me? Maybe it’s selfish, I don’t know. But I just didn’t want all those problems in my life.”
And finally, “If he can’t grow up to have a shot at becoming the president, we don’t want him.”
My friends, Bob and Ruth, are the parents of three adult children – a son and two daughters. Their older daughter, Liz, was born with Down syndrome. They chose life. Liz opened doors for them that most parents cannot enter. Through support groups and other activities, Bob and Ruth led rich, full, Christian lives.
Here is a story they told me. Bob and Ruth agreed to become lay ministers in their church. They assist with communion during worship and visit the homebound. When their pastor installed them as lay ministers, Liz and her sister attended church with them. After the installation, Bob and Ruth returned to their pew. Liz stood on the pew between them, put one arm around each of them, and exclaimed loudly, “I’m so proud of you two!” They told me it made them feel like a million bucks.
This should not surprise anyone who knows people with Down syndrome. 79% of parents report their outlook on life is more positive because of their child with Down syndrome.
Among adults with Down, 99% are happy with their lives; 97% like who they are; and 96% like the way they look. You do not find such numbers among the public. Down syndrome children grow up to be happy adults.[xv]
As Christians, we are called to be happy adults. That is, we are to live joyful, blessed lives ‘in Christ.’ We are to be happy with our lives, because no matter our circumstances, we are ‘in Christ.’
We should be happy with our lives even when we, like Corinthians, face problems that prove to be perennial, for our problems are like those our grandparents and ancestors faced.
As Christians, we struggle to define our identity as Church in a complex and sophisticated world. We grapple to live in holiness and freedom within society’s pluralistic context.
Sometimes, like the Corinthians, we tend to be arrogant, rude and irritable. At times, we think only about ourselves; do whatever we choose, and do not consider ourselves sinners.
We may echo the parents quoted in Rapp’s survey, and accept society saying that physical actions have no moral significance. When we accept that reasoning, we must remind ourselves that God the Father, who raised Christ from the dead, will raise us who are ‘in Christ.’ Otherwise, we, Christians freed from sin by Christ, return to the state of enslavement to sin.
Brothers and sisters, our bodies will be raised. Therefore, glorify God in your body for it is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Glorify God through your worship of the Trinity and your love of neighbor. Love the least ones among you. Love the unborn.
In your bulletin is a flyer on the sanctity of life. Support Lutherans for Life and agencies that promote the sanctity of life. If you cannot March in Washington this week, mail a letter to your public servants. If you cannot write an essay, send an email to your representative in the House and Senate. Let them know that we value life from conception to natural death. Let them know we do not accept everything society deems as good, lawful and right. Tell them you live ‘in Christ.’ Tell them you vote.
Friends, when you love the unborn, the least among you, you love God. You send the message that Paul sent to the Corinthians. “Act like men. Be strong.[xvi] Imitate me.”[xvii]
When you send that message, may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.[xviii] Amen.


[i] http://marchforlife.org/about-us-2/
[ii] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament. Minneapolis: Fortress Press (2010). 261ff.
[iii] Johnson, 263.
[iv] 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
[v] 1 Corinthians 16:13
[vi] 1 Corinthians 4:16
[vii] Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, 1 Corinthians. Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, Inc. (1979). 39ff.
[viii] Murphy-O’Connor, 51f.
[ix] Romans 6:17-18.
[x] Murphy-O’Connor, 52.
[xi] Genesis 2:24.
[xii] See LCMS Life Ministries strives to achieve the following goals at http://www.lcms.org/life
[xiii] http://liveactionnews.org/if-down-syndrome-parents-wont-defend-their-right-to-life-then-who-will/
[xiv] http://liveactionnews.org/pregnant-couples-who-plan-to-abort-down-syndrome-babies-defend-their-choice/
[xv] Ibid.
[xvi] 1 Corinthians 16:13
[xvii] 1 Corinthians 4:16
[xviii] Philippians 4:7