Friday, January 15, 2021

Biblical Background of 'The Augsburg Confession,' Part 35


Ozymandias and New Life


The subject of Shelley's 'Ozymandias' is the Egyptian Pharaoh we know as Rameses II. He was the most powerful of Egyptian kings and is thought to be the Pharaoh from whom God delivered His ancient people, the Hebrews.

In the poem, Shelley considers the temporary nature of wealth, power, and fame: All that's left of the great king's statue are lifeless stone legs and the fallen, half-sunken remains of the king's likeness.

Because we're all born with a desire to be like god, a sinful nature (Genesis 3:5; Psalm 51:5), we're all prone to build our own "kingdoms" and "monuments" to ourselves. But to build our lives on anyone or anything other than the God revealed in Jesus Christ is foolish and vain. Even "the pursuit of happiness" extolled in our country's Declaration of Independence ends in death.

But when we turn to Jesus, day-in and day-out, He gives us life: Life that's new here, made new by the forgiveness of sins, the certainty of His presence with us and His love for us, the power to face each day, and the sure and certain hope that the crucified and risen Jesus can give us life beyond the rubble of earth. "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full," Jesus says (John 10:10). And Paul exults in the New Testament portion of the Bible: "...if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Life can become wearisome when it's lived only for what this world has to offer. And it all turns to dust anyway. When we follow Christ, He imbues our daily lives with eternal meaning and we're liberated to live in love for God and love for neighbor. Rameses II never knew such freedom.

Here's Shelley's poem:

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Biblical Background, 'The Augsburg Confession,' Part 34


Putting Politics In Its Place


I love this, posted on Twitter earlier today. It puts things in perspective, I think.

Politics is, at best, a penultimate concern for a human race confronted by sin, death, and the devil, the evil  in us, around us, and from the Evil One.

What we all need more than anything is to hear God's Law and God's Gospel: the Law that convicts of sin that would condemn us to eternal hell and separation from God; the Gospel that, out of His love for us, God the Father sent God the Son, Jesus, to offer His sinless life on the cross, taking the punishment for sin we deserve, and to be raised to life so that all who repent and believe (or trust) in Him have the forgiveness of their sins and life with God that never ends.

Nothing else matters so much. Nothing.

And that's why I too, can say that I have never had a conversation with a person on their deathbed, even a person who always had strong political views, who wanted to talk about politics in those moments.

They wanted peace.

They wanted assurance.

They wanted to be right with God.

They wanted Jesus.

That's what the Church and pastors are called and privileged to give them: Jesus and Jesus alone!

Baptism, Spiritual Suicide, and New Life

Pastor Ben Meyer posted this quote from Martin Luther: “All of us who were baptized and reborn through Baptism are indeed called Christians, but we do not all remain true to Baptism. Many desert Christ and become false Christians.”

The apostle Peter said that Holy Baptism saves (1 Peter 3:21). Through it, by the power of God’s Word, God does what only He can do through Christ, causing us to die with Christ and rise with Christ (Romans 6:3-11).

But there are members of the baptized who commit spiritual suicide. They separate themselves from the salvation God has given to them by spurning faith in Christ. Jesus says: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)

If you are baptized, I ask you to claim the gift of new and everlasting life that God has given to you in baptism by trusting in Christ.

If you are not baptized and find the good news of the crucified and risen Jesus freely giving everlasting life with God to all who turn from sin and turn to Christ irresistible, as I came to find it after a decade of unbelief, I ask you to believe in Jesus and then seek to be baptized in His name.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Biblical Background of 'The Augsburg Confession,' Part 32


Is there anything good going on?

In the space of a few minutes this morning, one friend on Facebook and an acquaintance over on Twitter asked for positive news in the face of the avalanche of stuff happening in our world. 

Good idea! 

Here’s my start to that list.

(1) Jesus is still Lord and as you turn to Him each day in desperate trust, you know He’ll always be YOUR Lord.
(2) Despite all the hatred we see, people still regularly pray for others, even strangers they’ve never met. Empathy still exists in our world.
(3) By the grace of God and, building on the work of research done on the SARS virus, we have a COVID-19 vaccine nine months earlier than I dreamed possible last March. Despite problems with vaccine distribution right now, with God’s help, this virus will be destroyed in 2021!
(4) There are so many heroes in our world today, like healthcare workers, medical researchers, and public health officials. They inspire me.
(5) The Word of God is still true. Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Jesus HAS overcome this world. All the nastiness we see represents the last gasps of sin and death for a creation that will, in Jesus’ return, be replaced by new heavens and a new earth for all who persist in trusting in Jesus. Jesus promises: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die...” (John 11:25-26).
The last gasps of this fallen world may end tomorrow or two millennia from today. That’s up to God. Whatever time is left, however troubled it may be, is a gift from God, allowing us to turn from sin and trust in Jesus for life. Peter speaks of this: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
For me, as may be for you, there are other good things, like...
1. My wife and I are joyfully looking forward to the birth of our first grandchild in a few weeks;
2. The people of Living Water Lutheran Church, where I serve as pastor, are still incredibly faithful despite little in-person worship in ten months;
3. By taking the right mitigating steps, most people can avoid both spreading or getting the virus;
4. FaceTime, Zoom, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook have helped us keep in touch with family and friends;
5. These same technologies have allowed our church to worship God together and, here on Facebook, study His Word together EVERY WEEKNIGHT, something we never would have done in-person;
6. My dad, age 91, is still going strong and I’m so grateful to my sisters and their husbands for the care they provide for him;
7. Our kids are doing well...
I could go on. Want to add to the list in the comments?
God bless you!


 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Biblical Background of 'The Augsburg Confession,' Part 31


Why the Baptism of Jesus is a Big Deal!

On Sunday, churches around the world celebrated the Baptism of Our Lord. We do this every January on the First Sunday after Epiphany. For some reason, the day hit me with particular joy and meaning this year. Here, you can see the video of online worship from Living Water Lutheran Church and the text of the message. I hope you find it meaningful. Have a blessed week.



Mark 1:4-11

We’re now in the season of the Church Year called Epiphany. It begins every year on January 6 with Epiphany Day commemorating the revelation of Jesus’ birth to the magi who came from the east to worship Jesus, bringing offerings fit for the King Who would die for the sins of the world. 

The word epiphany comes from the Greek in which the New Testament was originally written. Epiphaneo literally means to shine upon or make clear. Throughout this season, we see how Jesus makes clear first, that He is both the Christ, the saving king God had promised to the world, AND God in the flesh.

He makes something else clear: how He will save people like you and me, sinners who cannot save ourselves, from the sin in which we are born, or the sins that condition drives us to commit, or our deaths, which are the proper punishment for our sin.

Nowhere does Jesus make it clearer how He will save us sinners than He does in the incident that we always consider on the first Sunday after Epiphany, the moment when Jesus appears in the Judean wilderness on the banks of the Jordan River. 

There, John the Baptist is calling people to repent--to turn away from their sin--and to be baptized in the Jordan as a symbol of their turning to God for forgiveness and to prepare themselves for the moment when the Messiah would appear.

As if on cue, the One of Whom John says, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit,” (Mark 1:8) shows up to join the sinners in getting baptized. 

But this raises a question: Why did Jesus, Who never sinned have to be baptized?

The answer is simple, yet stunning. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for Himself or His sin. He needed to be baptized for us and our sin. In this, He showed Himself to be our Savior.

Let me explain what I mean. The senior pastor of a Lutheran congregation out west stopped at a convenience store one day, paid the clerk in cash, received his change, hopped into his car, and drove off. Somewhere down the road, he realized that the clerk had given him too much change. He was late for a meeting. But he felt he needed to make things right. So, he turned the car around and went back to the store. “You gave me too much change,” he told the clerk. “I know,” she said. At his quizzical expression, she explained, “I knew who you were and I wanted to see what you would do.” That woman wanted to have that pastor, that pastor’s message, and that pastor’s Savior authenticated.

We can only speculate about what the mysterious interactions were between God the Father and Jesus, God the Son, that led Jesus to go to the Jordan River that day. But we can see that Jesus was, at the moment He submitted to John's baptism, authenticated by heaven as God’s own Son, the One for Whom John had been preparing the Judean crowds. 

I’ve come to believe that apart from His crucifixion, Jesus’ baptism is the greatest proof of Jesus being the God and Savior to whom we must turn in repentance and faith if we’re to know freedom from condemnation for our sin and freedom to live with God forever. 

I think that Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan is even a bigger deal than the Transfiguration, where, you’ll remember Jesus’ face blazed with the glory of heaven as He spoke with the long-gone Old Testament figures of Moses and Elijah. There, Jesus’ transcendent deity was revealed. 

But at His baptism and His crucifixion, we see the glory of God not in power, but in humility, submission, and in the choosing of the interests of others over His own interests

Sinless Jesus chose to cover Himself in the unrighteousness of those who acknowledged their sin, as you and I did a few moments ago when we confessed our sins together and not with the self-righteous who were certain they didn’t need God’s saving. 

No one who chooses power over servanthood, self over neighbor, or violence over charity and understanding is of God

And no one who made those choices could possibly be our Savior.

Jesus’ baptism is a big deal because, on that day, He chose us and our good over His own glory

He chose our forgiveness over His comfort

He chose our deliverance from sin, death, and the devil, over the perks of heaven and the ease of a perfect life with no suffering.

And so, some thirty years after the events recounted in today’s gospel lesson, the apostle Paul, urging disciples of Jesus to take on the mind of Christ, sang Jesus’ praises as the One Who, “...being in very nature God,  did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:6-11)

It’s no wonder then that at the moment when Jesus chose us--you and me--by taking our sins onto Himself at the Jordan, a voice from heaven--the voice of God the Father--said as the heavens were torn open and God the Holy Spirit settled onto Jesus: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

At the Jordan, Jesus makes it clear how He’s going to save you and me. 

Bearing our sins, He’s going to die on a cross we deserve so that He can give life to those who repent and trust in Him. 

As a fine young Lutheran theologian, Dr. Jordan Cooper, put it this week over on Twitter: “[Jesus] takes all that is ours (our sin and brokenness), and gives us what is his (his life and righteousness).” 

That is what Jesus began to do at the Jordan the day He was baptized. 

That’s why God the Father and God the Spirit couldn’t contain their love and joy in Him, or keep themselves from showing their pleasure in Him, for choosing to save us. 

We who are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, who are claimed by Him at our own baptisms and wooed by the Spirit into believing in Him, should feel no less love and joy over the choice Jesus made for us!

Jesus’ decision for us, made at the Jordan, definitively enacted on the cross, is our good news, our gospel! 

It’s good news for others too, good news we’re called to share!

So, how should we respond to this gospel of undeserved love and grace? 

I think it should be exactly the one Jesus asked of the crowds later in the first chapter of Mark’s gospel: “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15) 

Repent and believe in the good news Jesus brings to us through the cross and resurrection He clearly saw ahead of Him at the Jordan. 

Repent and believe. Today and tomorrow and every day. 

This is the right response to the Lord Who makes clear not only Who He is and how He saves us, but also, through His baptism and His cross, how much He loves us and stands with us. 

He’s the right Lord to follow, and no other, now and for all eternity. Amen




Friday, January 08, 2021

Now That Evangelical Pastors Are Ruing Their Political Involvement

Although many evangelical leaders are now repenting for syncretizing the Gospel of Jesus with their own political preferences in supporting Donald Trump, they have already done damage to the witness of their wing of the Church and of the whole Church, who get lumped in with them by the world.

I'm no more sanguine about an active pastor being elected to the US Senate from the other side of the political spectrum. Raphael Warnock seems like a good and intelligent person. But there is simply no way that Christian leaders and denominational bodies can prevent the cause of the Gospel being hurt when their political engagement seems to say, "To follow Jesus, you have to agree with these political ideas."

That's an example of "syncretism": conflating the Gospel of new life through repentance and faith in the God revealed in the crucified and risen Jesus with human inventions--political philosophies, human thoughts, political idols.

To follow Jesus, according to Jesus Himself, we pick up our crosses and follow. We confess and turn from our sin and embrace the new and everlasting life it's only His to give.

As much as I love and revere Dr. King, the moral arc of the universe does not bend toward justice. This world is fallen. We are born sinners. We're out for number one, which is why when God came into the world, calling us into His kingdom of love, grace, and justice, we took a pass and nailed Him to a cross to die. By our arrogance, indifference, and antipathy to God and the people God made and for whom Jesus died and rose, we still crucify Him.

We all have our political preferences. As long as we see them as our preferences and don't pretend that they have the imprimatur of heaven on them, we see and act aright, it seems to me. 

Yes, the Church, pastors, and laypeople must demand that our leaders not be arrogant, racist, venal, evil, treasonous, or incompetent. 

Yes, we should all feel free to have our opinions (though one hopes those opinions will bear some relationship with facts and not just to our feelings, resentments, prejudices, or sense of entitlement). 

Yes, Christians are free to engage in politics, run for office, be civil servants.

But when pastors become king-makers or run for office, which I, to my shame, once did and for which I have repented, we hurt the cause of Christ.

In short, I hope that all of us called to positions of servant leadership in Christ's Church--to ministries of Word and Sacrament--will renounce the pursuit of political power and instead, embrace Jesus and His Gospel as our cause. 

Pray for those in politics. 

Offer advice when asked. 

Write to public officials in your private capacity as citizens.

Donate to the political campaigns of your choice.

Publicly call officials and political candidates to the carpet when they misuse Scripture, command us to worship idols (including themselves), or perpetrate, excuse, or otherwise give comfort to injustice. 

But don't grab for political power itself. Our power as proclaimers of the Gospel is perfected in weakness and in the incessant, loving proclamation of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Period.

The Gift I Need Today

A thought I had during my quiet time with God today: Every time I read a Bible verse and think, "So and so should read this" or "This doesn't apply to me," I'm actually the one who needs to read and it applies to me.

Jesus says in Matthew 4:17: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."

When God the Son took on human flesh, the kingdom of heaven invaded our world.

When I encounter the God revealed in Jesus, I need to repent.

That means I need--desperately need--to turn when He calls, admit the reality of my sin, frailty, and mortality and, setting aside excuses or rationalizations, receive the gifts only Jesus can give: forgiveness, freedom from condemnation, hope for eternity, His righteousness covering me so that when God the Father sees us He sees Jesus, the Holy Spirit setting me apart for God's good purposes, and God's permission and freedom to love, honor, and enjoy Him and to love, serve, and forgive others. 

In short, repentance is a gift of God that always culminates in joy over being restored to the One Who made me and loves me most!

Father, this morning, as I begin my day, I repent. I turn away from sin and death, MY sin that leads to death, I renounce both my pride and my self-loathing, and I trust in Jesus to carry me through life and death here and into eternity with You. Thank You for giving me gifts I don't deserve and help me to submit to the regular habit of heeding You through Word and Sacrament so that Your Spirit can be about the sometimes painful but always perfect process of readying me for resurrection life with you AND allowing me to be Your Child right here and right now, In Jesus' name, I pray. AMEN!

[The painting is The Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni, painted in 1773. It portrays the moment when the younger son of a rich man turns to his father after he has squandered his father's money on prostitutes and wastefulness. It shows what repentance is: In it we turn from our slavery to sin, self, death, and darkness to the One Who freely gives us forgiveness, community, life, and light. He gives us our true selves! Repentance ends in joy! See Luke 15:11-32.)