Saturday, January 13, 2007

Senator Boxer, Did You Mean to Be Bigoted?

President Bush's speech announcing the so-called "surge" of 25,000 additional troops in Iraq should have engendered a serious-minded debate in Congress and the country. In many ways it has.

But California Senator Barbara Boxer put her foot in her mouth the other day when, as a member of the prestigious Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she allowed her questioning of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to move from aggressive to insulting. As The Washington Post reported:
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., noted Rice has no children of her own to lose overseas. "Who pays the price?" Boxer repeatedly demanded. "You're not going to pay a particular price," she told Rice, because the secretary has no "immediate family" at risk.
Boxer was making clear reference to the fact that Rice is single and childless.

Now, it should be said that there is resentment among some parents of children in the military or children of military age toward the architects of the Iraq War who either have no children of such an age or whose children stay away from military service. They're represented by a woman quoted in Wednesday's Cincinnati Enquirer:
President Bush's plan is too much for Donna K. Tumbleson of Felicity. Three years ago, she sent her son - a soldier in the 216th Engineer Battalion - off to Iraq for 14 months of war. If the president wants to send more young Americans to Iraq, Tumbleson said, "let Bush's own daughters lead the way."
But Boxer's comments to Rice were, as her comments often are, tone deaf, seemingly reflective of a widespread prejudice in American culture. In fact, it's a prejudice I was discussing with a friend a few days ago, before Rice's appearance before the Senate committee. It's the prejudice many people blessed with children seem to have toward the childless. These folks often regard those who've been unable to have children as second-class adults, devoid of the normal complement of human emotions or even intellectual capacity. I see these prejudicial attitudes toward the childless all the time.

To think that a childless adult is incapable of empathy or concern for the young people who may be sent to war is unfair.

My belief in this regard springs from personal experience. My childhood experience was enriched by the involvement in it of a great-uncle and great-aunt who never had children. I saw them often. Occasionally, as I grew up, we visited my Uncle Marty at the local firehouse, where he served as a lieutenant. On Christmas mornings, he and Aunt Nina would come to our house with gifts for us that Santa had dropped off at their house. I still have the huge BuddyL firetruck that Santa left with them one year. I was married just a short time when Marty died. But I remember being interested in his opinion of my future wife on the day I first introduced her to the family and being pleased when he told my mother that he liked her and thought that I would marry her. I remember sitting in the hospital with him on the day he passed. Losing him was like losing a beloved grandfather. That was the level of care he exhibited for all of his nieces, nephews, great-nieces, and great-nephews.

The point is: There's no doubt in my mind that a childless couple or a childless person can care about what happens to other people's children and it's deeply disturbing to hear a high public official give vent to one of the silliest and least defensible prejudices there is.

There are plenty of other reasons that Barbara Boxer can oppose the surge in Iraq. Even hard right conservatives like Sam Brownback and mainstream Republicans like Chuck Hagel do, for crying out loud. But it was unnecessary, silly, and maybe even cruel for Boxer to say what she said to Condoleeza Rice the other day.

[For another take on this topic, see here.]

[Thank you to both Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit and Eric of Classical Values for linking to this post.]

[UPDATE: Just by way of clarification--although I thought it was clear enough in my original post, the prejudice against childless adults is felt not just by women, but also by men. That's why I used the term adults and it's also why I spoke of my childless aunt and uncle.]

[THANKS ALSO TO: The for linking to this post.]

[UPDATE: While I think that Boxer, intentionally or not, gave vent to a prejudice that exists against childless adults, I find no reason to accuse her of race- or sex-baiting. What I found irksome about Boxer's comments was the assumption that childless adults are incapable of empathy or concern for children or their families. I felt the same way about her comments that I felt toward the irresponsible article in The New York Daily News which implied that John Edwards was a hypocrite because, as a person of wealth, he apparently was incapable of empathy or concern for the poor.

To me, in these two instances at least, Boxer and The News are cut from the same cloth. Both made illogical leaps, reflective of their own prejudices and that sought to do damage to people's credibility simply because of the conditions of their lives.]

The Addams Family or the Munsters?

The brilliant Danny Miller of Jew Eat Yet?--and he really is brilliant--has an interesting post on his memories of these two Sixties "monster" sitcoms, the latter a ripoff of the former. I reacted...then Danny wrote a typically interesting response. Danny is one of my favorite bloggers.

I could never get into The Munsters and barely into The Addams Family. But the two represent a continuing tradition of TV programmers: Avoid an original thought unless desperation leads you to it.
As I recall, The Addams Family was aired by ABC, at that period the distant third-place network (that meant last place network in those days), a demographic backwater that held itself together with duct tape and shows appealing to the then-inconsequential younger crowd. That meant that they were willing to take some chances.

When The Addams Family hit, those original-thinking programmers at CBS told a producer, "Make [us] one of them!"

It's still happening, of course. We have all these stupid "unreality" shows because of 'Survivor.' We also have hour-by-hour or day-to-day season-long dramas because of '24.' We have police shows of the type we now have because of the 'Law and Order' franchises.

Mike Farrell was once asked what he thought that network executives had learned from the success of the M*A*S*H TV show. "Nothing," was his response.

The other day, I wrote a post on my site extolling the virtues of Gerald Ford's vaunted normalcy, seeing that these descriptions didn't reduce him. In fact, they elevated him because his normalcy was actually [an indication of his being a] functional human being! But sometimes "normal"--as in the case of network programmers incapable of being original unless they're desperate--is dysfunctional. The theme song for them might be taken from that old Bruce Cockburn song, "The trouble with normal is it always gets worse."

Oh, by the way, it was a revelation for me [as a kid] to see Carolyn Jones in King Creole (1958) on TV after I'd seen her in The Addams Family. Frankly, even on the TV show, she seemed asexual to me. With Elvis she appeared to be sexual, yet maybe because of the show, her sexuality seemed so feigned, so contrived.
Mark, I think the network programmers are worse today than they were in the 1960s. At least back then they'd give a show a chance until it found its audience. Remember that "The Dick Van Dyke Show" was almost cancelled during its first season but it was allowed to percolate until it (deservedly) became a huge hit.

I think both "The Munsters" and "The Addams Family" were refreshingly original, but of course I'm remembering them from the perspective of a 5 to 7 year old. I do think Carolyn Jones was underrated as a comedian. Remember her role as Morticia's older demented sister, based on Hamlet's Ophelia? And I thought she was incredibly sexy, but it was in that very subtle goyishe way where she just expected all the men to flock around her, as opposed to Lily Munster's neurotic hands-on nurturing which I loved. In real life, of course, Yvonne De Carlo was far more the sexpot than Carolyn Jones. And Carolyn Jones was Jewish. She converted when she married Aaron Spelling.
Danny's got a great point. One wonders whether the execs would stick with The Dick Van Dyke Show today. Because CBS did stick with it, we're now privileged to have 150 episodes--five years' worth--of what I think is the best sitcom of all time!

Read Danny's whole post.

Not to Take Anything Away from Ronald Reagan or Gerald Ford or Anybody Else...

I said, in response to some things Ford said about Reagan, as mentioned over at Ann Althouse's blog, that I thought that Mr. Reagan does get too much credit for ending the Cold War.

I've always felt that he simply pursued a policy set by Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, the policy of containment pursued with varying levels of wisdom by every President in the Cold War period.

That containment policy, I said, had something to do with the demise of Soviet Communism. So too, did the moral bankruptcy of the Soviet system and the financial bankruptcy brought on by Soviet insistence on spending themselves into oblivion on guns and butter.

But, I wrote:
In fact, beyond the obvious factors for the Soviet Bloc's end mentioned above, I have always believed that the prayers of those within and outside the Soviet sphere were far more significant than any military or political policies. Important as such policies are, I agree with Tennyson, who said, "More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of."
That engendered a derisive response from one Althouse reader:
Wow, I haven't read a bigger pile of gibberish on this blog in...hell, I don't know when! What, did all those people praying in the early '40's that the Nazis wouldn't come and run them over, did they screw it up somehow? Maybe they shouldn't have prayed to St.Wehrmacht, patron saint of Panzer Divisions! It's absolutely galling to hear people take credit for their sanctimonious blather when things go well, but when they turn sour? Oh, not us, don't hold us responsible! P-tui! P-tui, again! I have to spit the bad taste out of my mouth on this one! Even people who admire prayer should be revulsed by this.
Hmmm. Here's how I responded:
Ron: As to my "pile of gibberish," you obviously didn't read the rest of what I wrote or simply ignored it. I acknowledged the role of policy and of course, I feel great gratitude to those--led in Europe by Eisenhower--won World War Two and to others who have gone to battle for freedom.

But to simply ignore the role played by prayer in the end of the Cold War is to ignore some intriguing data. [I might add that I think it's intellectually lazy and alarmingly incurious.]

For years, Saint Peter's Church in Berlin, close to the wall, hosted a Tuesday prayer gathering. [I checked that. It was actually on Mondays.] They prayed for an end to Soviet dominion. The numbers involved grew and grew, accelerating and growing as the Soviet bloc began to crumble. When the wall crumbled, hundred gathered close to the church, demonstrators holding up signs that said, "Thank you, church." That was reported in the media.

Several years ago, my son, who has degrees in History and Philosophy, did a paper on "Germany as a Pawn in the Cold War." At one place in it, as I recounted on my blog three years ago, he gave a "...description of the Church's role in the collapse of Soviet tyranny in Germany. He'd interviewed a German emigre to this country who had described some of the long-standing weekly prayer gatherings that took place in East Germany during the repressive post-World War Two era. Those prayer gatherings gave hope to people, connecting them to God and acting as conduits by which God's forgiveness, healing, and hope came to a nation which in preceding decades had been the epicenter of so much evil."

I also personally knew a group of junior high kids who, in the mid-1980s, took it on themselves to begin praying daily for the end of the Cold War.

Tennyson, I believe, was right. So was the English archbishop who said that people dismissed his "answered prayers" as coincidence. "But I have found," he said, "that the more I pray, the more coincidences happen."

Back in my atheist days, I thought such things were gibberish. I really did. But I don't think that Reagan or Ford saw evidence of the efficacy of prayer as gibberish, even though their faith was also matched by work. They had a hardnosed commitment to praying as though everything depended on God and working as though everything depended on us. This is the attitude that JFK voiced in the speech he gave at Fort Worth just before he was assassinated in Dallas. He quoted Psalm 127:1: "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain."

Mere presidential rhetoric? Maybe. But I believe that it's true.

God deserves some credit, I think. As do those who prayed. See here, here, and here.

This article talks about how a prayerful Church also contributed mightily to the collapse of Communism through its activities in the face of totalitarianism.

The call is clear: In the face of the world's monstrous circumstances, we are to pray and work in the Name of Jesus Christ. [See here.]

The Blogging Week in Review

Thanks to my son, Phil, for acting as videographer. Next time, we'll try to avoid the film noir look. (The "Go, Buckeyes!" at the end of the clip is actually a slightly clipped encouragement to the OSU men's basketball team.)

[Thanks to Andrew Jackson of for linking to this post.]

Friday, January 12, 2007

Third Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: John 2:1-11

[Here is the first pass and an explanation of what these passes are all about. Here is the second pass.]

[Verse-by-Verse Comments, continued]
6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.
1. These are uncommonly large jars, even for use by a wealthy family for a wedding feast. The point is that this is one enormous miracle Jesus is about to perform! (John 1:16)

2. Stone jars were deemed purer than earthen jars and therefore. useful for religious ritual.

3. It's a misreading of this passage to say that Jesus is repudiating Judaism in this miracle, employing jars made for use in Jewish ritual to enact it. In fact, John portrays subtly what Luke portrays explicitly throughout his Gospel: Jesus and His ministry represent the fulfillment of the promise of Judaism.

4. Whether in His mother's words to the servants or in the servants' responsiveness to Jesus' orders, we see here--as we do throughout John's Gospel--a Savior in command. Given John's connection of Jesus to the I AM (Yahweh) God of the Old Testament, it's no stretch to say that in this we see echoes of the first Genesis creation account, where God says it and it's so.

5. When the miracle itself happens isn't reported. This reminds me of Luke's account of Jesus' baptism, where we're not told about the actual moment when water was poured on Jesus' head. The Gospel writers are uninterested in the mechanics of divine-human interchanges, only that they happen.

9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
1. Good wine was associated with the end times--the eschatology--when the Messiah sets all things right. (Amos 9:13; Joel 3:18) Jesus' miracle then, is more than the first sign of His Deity, it's also the indication that the end times, His Messiahship, has arrived.

2. The New Interpreter's Bible points out that the question of where the wine came from is a form of an important question in John's Gospel, the question of where Jesus is from. (John 4:11; 6:5) Knowing the answer to where the wine has come from "is a step toward the knowledge of where Jesus Himself comes from." (John 7:27-28; 8:14; 9:29-30)

3. Interpretations vary as to whether this story is meant to be seen sacramentally, about Holy Baptism (water) as the start of life with Christ and Holy Communion (bread and wine) as its continuation or sustenance or fulfillment. Traditionally, this account has been seen as the first bracket of a narrative inclusio that concludes with Jesus' crucifixion, when His side was pierced and water and blood flowed from the wound.

11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
1. The signs are never meant to point to themselves. Jesus didn't perform party tricks to wow people. The miracle at Cana pointed to His Deity, to His Messiahship and His ushering in of the eschatological age, and His capacity to bless abundantly. That's why the disciples believed.

2. Notice that we have any indication that, at least initially, anyone other than the disciples believed in Jesus. Because we're given no information on the mechanics of this miracle, we're left as we always are when it comes to deciding about God's revelation of Himself, to ponder if this is a blessing from God or sheer, strange happenstance. Faith is never forced on us nor does God try to wow us into belief. Because the disciples didn't actually see the miracle happen, their faith too is like the faith Jesus said would characterize the generations who came after His resurrection:
“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Saved by Grace...Not By Works

This clip is getting a lot of hits on YouTube and Technorati. It's obviously been brought out to highlight positions taken by Mr. Romney in his 1994 senatorial race against Ted Kennedy, positions that appear to be at variance with some of the things he's saying now as he attempts to garner support from the Religious Right for his presidential run.

In fairness to Mr. Romney, those of us who never change our minds or our opinions are either dead or not paying attention. So, it would be harsh and unfair to accuse him of flip-flopping as some have. He will, no doubt, be attempting to explain these seeming variances in the weeks and months to come.

But, as a Christian, one thing which Mr. Romney said in this debate especially struck me. It came where he asserted that our lives will be judged on what we do for others. That simply isn't true!

A superficial reading of Jesus' portrait of the great judgment scene in Matthew 25:31-46 might yield such an interpretation. That is, until one considers the reactions of the "sheep" extolled for feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, and visiting the imprisoned. They're completely mystified! "When did we do any of that stuff?" they ask the Son of Man at every turn.

The point: These are the forgiven sinners saved by the grace--that is, the charity--of God and judged fit for heaven because they repented and believed in Jesus Christ. Period!

Once they repented and believed, the "good infection" of God's presence filled them and empowered them to do things for others. They were small, often unheralded things, service rendered not to gain Brownie Points in some heavenly scoring system, but simple responses to God's grace.

Mr. Romney's Mormon faith is, in many ways, a peculiarly American belief system and its trumpeting of the individual's capacity to earn his or her keep in the universe is especially appealing to us in this country where we believe in the myth of the self-made person.

In spite of the best efforts of Christian preachers and teachers in the United States, many, if not most, Christians believe, contrary to the teaching of Jesus and the Scriptures, that one can earn one's salvation. Polls indicate that even self-described Christians believe the heretcial notion that we can compile a sufficient number of good works to earn a place in eternity.

Such notions appeal to our egos. We'd rather depend on our own resourcefulness than surrender control of our lives to the gracious God Who commands us to "Repent and believe in the Good News" (Mark 1:15). We'd rather ignore Paul's ego-smashing observation: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of Godnot the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life." (Ephesians 2:8-10) (And speaking of boasting, that appears to be what moderator Ken Bode nailed Mr. Romney for in this clip.)

So, what Romney says and believes on this matter, though objectionable from a Christian perspective, is nonetheless likely to resonate with many Americans, whatever their religious affiliations. The statement he made in this clip which I find most disturbing is likely to be what makes him most acceptable to the electorate come next year as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination.

I have said before that as a Christian, I am willing to vote for a Mormon for any public office. There should be no religious test for holding public office in the United States of America.

But if a presidential candidate theologizes from the stump or holds up a particular religious teaching as one informing the conduct of his life in the community, my ears perk up.

Such statements can be important clues about the worldview of the politician in question. To that extent, I think, that Romney's statement here is very American. But I also think it's very un-Christian and a bit prideful, if not for himself, then for a human race that needs desperately to depend on God and not its own understanding...on God and not its own good works.

[This is being cross-posted at]

Second Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: John 2:1-12

[Look at the first pass for background and to learn what these "passes" are all about.]

A Few More General Comments
1. According to scholars, this passage conforms to the usual pattern for Biblical miracle stories. Here, we see:
  • Setting (vv. 1-2)
  • Preparation for the Miracle (vv. 3-5)
  • The Miracle (vv. 6-8)
  • Conclusion (vv.9-11)
2. But, as The New Interpreter's Bible (NIB) commentary points out, John, the writer of the Gospel, "hints that the story is to be read as more than a typical miracle story."

The reference to Jesus' "hour," a term frequently used to talk about what John calls Jesus' "glorification" (His death and resurrection) is one element that distinguishes the Cana incident from other miracle stories.

Another element distinguishing this from most miracle stories is its reference to faith (v. 11).

Finally, the most important difference between this and most miracle stories is that it comes at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry.

According to John, then, Jesus' earthly ministry gets kicked off with one the of the signs designed to demonstrate His Lordship and to thereby, elicit faith.

In fact, traditionally many scholars have seen John as "book of signs." John seems to confirm that the signs are the skeletal structure around which he built his narrative in the closing words of John 20:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
These three hints indicate that in Jesus, we have more than a miracle worker. Cumulatively, His signs point to His Lordship, His Deity.

Picking up on the Epiphany theme of my message last weekend, we find Jesus adding to our picture of Him as Savior and God at the wedding in Cana.

Verse-by-Verse Comments
1On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.

1. This happens on the third day of Jesus' ministry, the third of His "going public," if you will.

On the first day, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptizer. (Remember John the Baptizer and John the Evangelist, who wrote this Gospel, three epistles, and Revelation, are two different people.) That same day, He called His first two followers (disciples) to "come and see" what it would be like to follow Him.

On the second day, Jesus called Philip and Philip called Nathanael, inaugurating the Christian method of evangelism, what we call Each One Reach One here at Friendship. That means each individual Christian calling an individual non-Christian or spiritually disconnected person to come and see Jesus for themselves.

On this third day, Jesus is one of the invitees at a wedding.

2. Never in the Gospel of John is the mother of Jesus referred to by name. This is interesting for several reasons, which I'll go into later. But an interesting question is to ask, "Why?" Why isn't Mary mentioned by name in this Gospel? Given the care with which John tells the story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, I believe that this omission was deliberate.

Very simply, the identity of Jesus' mother isn't important. (Although I'm glad we know some of what we can learn of her in Luke's Gospel.)

John, of course, could have thrown Mary's name into the narrative. But I can't help but wonder if he decided not to do that in order to blunt a growing reverence for Jesus' mother. She had her role in salvation history, of course. But she was a sinner like every other member of the human race. She too needed the Savior-Messiah she birthed to save her from her sin. John who can, by turns, flood the reader with details and then present information in the sparsest terms, appears here to be giving a warning: Keep your eyes focused on God-in-the-flesh not the woman who gave birth to Him.

Speculating a bit further, we might wonder if Mary herself might not be behind the way John speaks of her. Traditionally, the Gospel of John is attributed to the disciple Jesus loved, the person to whom He entrusted His mother while He died on the cross. This disciple--also unnamed--took the mother of Jesus, unnamed, into his home. The two may have decided that in any testimony about Jesus, the subject should be Jesus Himself. All the glory needed to go to Jesus.

3. Why were the disciples invited to this wedding celebration? We don't know.

4. Wedding feasts could last as long as a week. Wine was to be a continual part of the celebration, although drunkenness was deemed shameful. But everybody drank wine as part of their meals.

3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

1. The request of Jesus' mother is merely implied here. "They have no wine," she tells Jesus. According to my reading of various sources, running out of wine would have been seen as highly embarrassing and an insult to one's guests. It would have been seen as an especially great faux pas because guests often sent wine to the bride's family to ensure a sufficient supply for the celebration. Running out of wine could indicate that the host family was totally relying on their guests for wine or that they had failed to plan to treat people hospitably.

2. How the mother of Jesus knew of the crisis isn't clear. The most common speculation is that she was a close relative of the bridal family.

3. The crisis here is similar to the one that precedes Jesus' feeding of the 5000. In each instance, there is a daunting scarcity and it isn't clear what can be done about it. (John 6:5-9)

4. From Jesus' response at the beginning of verse 4, it is clear that the mother of Jesus is making a request. She wants Jesus to do something about the scarcity. Given Jesus' poverty, she clearly wasn't asking Him to cough up the cash to buy more wine. Equally implicit then, is her belief that Jesus is more than just her son. He is God.

5. "Woman" was the usual way Jesus addressed His mother in this Gospel.

He isn't being rude to her. But, the title does denote some distance.

From another Gospel, we learn that this distancing from her first-born was difficult for Mary to accept. She and her other children, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, alarmed by the growing opposition to Jesus, would "forget" His identity in order to try to prevent His arrest and execution. But Jesus would have none of that; there too, He distanced Himself from His mother, insisting that He had a more important allegiance to God and the entire human race than to His mother or family.

6. Jesus tells His mother that it's not yet His hour. In this, He makes an explicit link between the signs He will perform and His Lordship. His signs point to His Lordship. They confirm that He is God of the universe and the long-awaited Savior. It was Jesus' claims of being God and Messiah that aroused opposition and led the world to reject Him, the necessary preface to His "hour."

Mention of Jesus' hour in John 7:30; 8:20; 12:23; 13:1; and 17:1 all relate to Jesus' glorification. As I said earlier, in John's Gospel, the term glorification refers to Jesus' death and resurrection, seeing the two as part of one sweeping motion leading to Jesus' triumph over sin and death and His enthronement as King over a forgiven and renewed people.

7. In His response, Jesus is thus reminding His mother that, as NIB puts it, His "actions will be governed by the hour set by God, not by anyone else's time or will."

8. Nonetheless, I can't help but picture Jesus saying this with a whimsical attitude. He intends to comply with His mother's request--to answer her prayer, if you will. But He needs to remind her that His agenda isn't set by her, but by God the Father.

This theme of God's sovereignty over the hour of Jesus' glorification is hit on several times in John's Gospel, especially in the narrative of Jesus' passion (death). For example, when Jesus stood before Pilate, the Roman governor, for the second time, we're told:
Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” (John 19:10-11)
And later, John says that Jesus decided when He would die. He gave up His spirit, indicating that He gave His life; it wasn't taken from Him:
When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)
By the way, to understand the whimsy that I think characterizes this interchange between Jesus and His mother: Picture the scene in It's a Wondeful Life that takes place in front of the Bailey homestead just after younger son, Harry, returns to Bedford Falls with a bride in tow. Ma Bailey tells her son, George, that Mary Hatch is back in town. Her implication is clear: George should settle down and wed Mary. "Mother Dear," George says, with a chuckle. "I can read you like a book."

Jesus really could read His mother like a book. (He can read all of us.) And while, just like George Bailey, who ended up that night at Mary Hatch's house, Jesus is going to take care of the wedding crisis, He needs for his mother to understand that His action has to do with His hour--His mission of dying and rising for the entire human race--and not just to make His mother happy. The miracle at Cana is the first sign of His Lordship and will be one of the reasons that a world that would rather worship other gods decides that Jesus must be killed.

[More tomorrow, I hope.]

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Thanks to...

Fish and Cans for linking to a post of mine on the Trinity.

Philip's Thoughts on the Classy Jim Tressel and the Ohio State Buckeyes

My son, Phil, has some interesting stuff to say here.

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: John 2:1-11

[Most weeks, I present as many updates on my reflections and study of the Biblical texts on which our weekend worship celebrations will be built as I can. The purpose is to help the people of the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church of Amelia, Ohio, get ready for worship. Hopefully, it's helpful to others as well, since our Bible lesson is usually one from the weekly lectionary, variations of which are used in most of the churches of the world.]

The Bible Lesson: John 2:1-11
1On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

General Comments
1. This text, appointed as the Gospel Lesson for the Second Sunday after Epiphany for all three cycles of the lectionary, is to me, one of the most mysterious passages in the Bible. I liken it to a huge Victorian mansion, filled with all sorts of passageways, some of them visible and vexing, others to which we may be oblivious in spite of countless readings, and probably others still that pass us by unnoticed. First-time readers of the Bible and scholars who've devoted their lives to studying John are likely to greet much of what they read here with more questions than answers.

2. That's why it's good to begin with a fundamental insight into the Gospel of John, one that comes from my one-time professor and mentor, Pastor Bruce Schein: In any given portion of John, you're likely to encounter four to six themes running at the same time. I have an acute awareness of that whenever I read this account of the first miraculous sign of Jesus' public ministry.

3. Our lesson constitutes the opening salvo in a section that most scholars say runs from John 2:1 to 5:47. They come as early and emphatic affirmations of what Jesus promises to Nathanael, amazed that Jesus knew him, in John 1:50:
“Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”
This section is full of "greater things."

4. The New Interpeter's Bible and other commentators point out that this lesson has a lot in common with John's account of the feeding of the 5000, found in John 6. In both places, we find Jesus bringing extravagant, overabundant blessings. Outsized extravagance, with the wedding party getting more wine than it ever could use, seems to fulfill, from the very beginning of Jesus' ministry, what John said that those who believed in Him had found:
From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. (John 1:16)
That passage might be passage might be paraphrased:
From His extravagant Deity, God has granted us gift after gift!
[More tomorrow, I hope, when we can explore this big mansion together, verse-by-verse.]

To Be Normal May Be to Be Great

Matt Brown, one of my favorite bloggers, writes:
Looking back now on all the coverage about President Ford, the recurring theme driven by Brian Williams and his kind was it's so great that Jerry Ford was such a normal person. Yes, that's exactly what we want from our presidents - someone average. Can you imagine what our country would be like today if the greatest thing one could say about George Washington - or Abraham Lincoln - is how normal he was?
There was a lot of that element in the media's coverage of Ford, the celebration of his "normality."

But, to my mind, what the media described as "normal" is anything but normal, especially in today's presidential politics.

Ford was charitable to his opponents, devoid of egotism, simple in his appetites, guileless, and straight-talking, among other things. He was normal only in the way that Eagle Scouts, which Ford was, are normal.

As a member of the House and as minority leader of the Republicans there, he showed himself adept at cutting legislative deals. So, he was no naif, even if Lyndon Johnson told aides that the Michigander had played too much football without his helmet.

And Ford's Midwestern ways didn't keep him from fighting for his principles as President. He wielded the veto a lot, precisely because he was opposed to a government that spent too much or intruded too much.

In 2001, he described himself as a conservative fiscally and a liberal on human rights. In fact, that's the perfect description of the brand of conservatism that prevailed thirty years ago. It was a conservatism that believed in small government that stayed out of personal matters, such as what one did one's bedroom. It also believed in government living within its means and in a militarily strong United States that understood the subtle use of power to achieve national ends. (Indeed, people like Barry Goldwater, the father of modern American conservatism, would probably regard the policies of the current administration as big government liberalism.)

I didn't (and don't) agree with Ford on abortion. He described himself as pro-choice. There were other issues about which I disagreed with him.

But I think he was a great person and a great President partly because he was normal. To be normal isn't necessarily to be average. The normal seeker of the presidency, one unmoved by the usual base impulses of their breed, still in touch with commonly-held virtues, and psychologically healthy, is an extraordinary person!

Just how extraordinary was brought home for me when, a number of years ago, I read about a lunch meeting Michael Dukakis had with an eminent presidential historian prior to the Massachusetts governor's announcement that he was running for President. Before they parted, Dukakis asked the historian, who had known every President from Franklin Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan, what all the chief executives had in common. The historian thought for a second and then said, "They were all very strange."

From a lifetime of studying our Presidents, I think I understand that assessment. Our chief executives have often been driven by a need to prove themselves--think John Quincy Adams and Richard Nixon--or by a kind of egotism--think Andrew Jackson and William McKinley--that renders them anything but normal. Many, if not most, have been dysfunctional, strange.

Maybe instead of describing Ford as normal, the media types should have used the term functional. Ford took the presidential oath without ever having suffered from White House fever, without an apparent psychological need to prove himself, and without the painful self-doubt that drives lesser people to abuse power.

The two Presidents most commonly named as the greatest are, of course, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. But my study of both of their lives indicates that the things that made them great in the presidency were painful experiences that forced them to let go of pompous self-importance.

Each--Washington in his humilations during the French and Indian War, Lincoln in the ongoing crucible of the Civil War and the personal tragedy he endured during that period--descended to greatness. Both proud peacocks churning with ambitions for fame in their younger years, their respective crucibles convinced them that they were mortals and that the only way to become the leaders they believed they were to be was to descend to a humble functionality.

Their experiences, in some ways, reflect those of Joseph, the son of Jacob, in the Old Testament book of Genesis. Joseph always knew he was meant to be a leader and because of it, as a kid, was insufferable. It was only after enduring slavery and imprisonment that he was ready to be the leader he was meant to be. Adversity had tempered him. Another Old Testament figure, Moses, aware at a younger age that he was to be a leader nonetheless had to be seasoned by humility before he could descend to greatness.

Leaders who manifest true greatness, who make lasting contributions, are those most in touch with the reality of their own humanity, who have no need to lord their status over others. They can be confident and resolute in their use of power. But they take their work seriously, not themselves. That's not normal because most of us, Presidents or not, allow our heads to be turned by power or acclaim, even in small doses.

Jerry Ford never needed to be President. He had descended to greatness as a human being long before he took the oath of office on August 9, 1974.

We could use more normal people to serve as President. Normal, it turns out, is extraordinary.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Looking for Daily Devotions and Prayers?

Ron Claussen has added this feature to his web site. Check it out here.

A New Year's Resolution for Parents

[This is my latest column, written for the Community Press newspapers here in the Cincinnati area.]

"Yesterday, on the flight here from Washington, Rosalynn and I were thrilled when one of his sons came to tell us that the greatest gift he received from his father was his faith in Jesus Christ."

The words are those of former President Jimmy Carter. His subject: his friend and one-time political rival, former President Gerald Ford. He spoke them during the final memorial service for Mr. Ford, in Grand Rapids, on January 3.

Of course, nobody but God can really “give” you a faith in Jesus Christ. Such a faith only comes to those who open their wills to Christ. "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (First Corinthians 12:3).

Faith can't be given to us. Or forced on us. It can only be received when someone lovingly offers it to us.

President Ford's son was gratefully saying was that his father had shared his faith in Christ with his children. Ford had made faith in Christ real to them by his own faith and by showing that Christ was his highest priority in life.

Jerry and Betty Ford seemed to understand the two responsibilities of all parents:
  • To prepare children to function as adults in the world.
  • To introduce children to the God revealed to all in Jesus Christ.
It's his parents' fulfillment of the second parental responsibility that Gerald Ford's son was talking about. And it's in this area especially that I see so many parents failing today.

Often, parents say, "We're not going to force religion on our children. We'll let them decide on their own when they're old enough."

Imagine applying the same "logic" to other, less vital, areas of life. Parents might say, "We're not going to force healthy living on our children. We'll let them decide whether they want to avoid sugary candies or get regular physical check-ups when they're old enough."

Or, “We’re not going to send our kids to school. When they get to be older, they can decide for themselves whether they need an education.”

Without early exposure to Jesus Christ from caring guardians, children might never know that God loves them. That God cares about what happens every moment of their lives. That God is no cosmic Santa Claus; He loves the naughty and the nice and calls all of them to turn away from sin and death and to turn to Christ and the new and everlasting life He gives to all with faith in Him. They might not know that, as Jesus tells us, no one can come to the Father except through Him. (John 14:6)

By “early exposure to Jesus Christ,” I don’t mean that parents should force their children to go to church as a grim obligation.

Nor am I advocating parents dumping their kids at the church door for Sunday School.

I am saying that children need to to see their parents living their own faith. They need to hear their parents apologize to God and to their families when they’ve done wrong. They need to experience Christ’s forgiveness through their parents. They need to know that their parents will be gracious and fair in handing out discipline. They need their parents to pray with them (and for them) and to read the Bible with them.

If you’re a parent, follow the example of Gerald and Betty Ford. Resolve that in 2007, you and your family will be involved with a local church. Resolve that you will share Christ with your children. It will be the best gift you can give to your kids!

[Mark Daniels is pastor of Friendship Lutheran Church, 1300 White Oak Road, Amelia, with laidback worship at 5:30PM on Saturdays and a blend of traditional and contemporary worship at 10:00AM on Sundays. Childcare is available at the Sunday worship.]

Congratulations, Gators!

The Florida Gators under Coach Urban Myer had a great game plan and executed every facet of last night's BCS National Championship Game to perfection. As an Ohio State fan (and grad), it was grim watching the dominating performance of Florida. But they clearly deserved their win.

As an OSU fan, I also want to say, "Thank you" to Coach Jim Tressel and the entire Ohio State squad for a great season, filled with thrills and fantastic memories!

Now, I look forward to rooting for the OSU Men's Basketball team as it seeks a national championship for the Buckeyes!

[UPDATE: If you saw any of the post-game news conference with Coach Jim Tressel and the four Ohio State co-captains, then you know why all OSU grads bust their buttons when speaking of the OSU football program. It isn't just because the Buckeyes have a winning program, it's that they represent a great university and our great state with class, humility, and honor. And yes, as hokie as that may seem, I really believe that this is a great state and that Ohio State is a fantastic school!]

[UPDATE: Kind words from Andy Jackson. Thank you, Andy.]

[ANOTHER UPDATE: My son sent this link to the post-game interview with Tressel and the four co-captains after the Michigan game fifty-two days ago. You can see that in victory and defeat, a Tressel-led team is grace and honor personified! As my son said, "I can't believe this. This is what sportsmanship is all about."]

[YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Here are some post-game notes from The Ohio State University Athletic Department.]

Go, Buckeyes!

Monday, January 08, 2007

And speaking of anniversaries...

belated "Happy Anniversary" greetings go to Tod and Beth Bolsinger!

Wonderful Reflections on Marriage...

from Tim Thompson. Happy anniversary, Rena and Tim!

Start Here

The fantastic Mark Roberts has begun reviewing a book on beginning the Christian life, Start Here, by Don Williams. This promises to be great, just as everything Mark turns out is.

Tommy Thompson is Looking at a Run for President

Does the former Wisconsin governor and Secretary of Health and Human Services stand a chance?

Thompson has always struck me as a straight-shooter. His time at HHS was marked by some alienation from the Bush White House, which may be an asset in GOP circles in 2008. (His was one of the early gubernatorial endorsements for Texas's governor, George W. Bush, the collection of which proved to be the foundation of his successful drive to the Republican nomination in 2000.) There are questions about Thompson's handling of his past major political offices.

The fact is, the 2008 Republican nomination is wide-open. (Or as wide-open as the Republican presidential nominating process gets.) Enthusiasm for McCain is flagging. Because of his liberal views, Giuliani is unlikely to win the nomination. Romney has a shot, but I think that he's so afraid of replicating his father's experience in 1968, that he's a robotic campaigner.

The informal rules of "succession" are different in Republican circles. Republican voters tend to play it a bit safer than do Democratic ones, sticking with known entities, making it tougher for dark horses to win their party's nomination. That's a definite mark against Thompson. McCain is the clear successor for the Republican nod.

But, being a governor is always a plus in a run for the presidency. By most accounts, Thompson had a good tenure as in Wisconsin.

If he can catch fire in Iowa, he could make it interesting.

(See here, here, and here.)

It's Scarlet and Gray Day...

in Clermont County. (Also see here.)

It's About Receiving, Not Giving

Our son, Philip Daniels, wrote this meditation on Christmas a few days ago...and he didn't even tell me about it. It is, if I may say so, fantastic! A sampling:
In essence, our divine Father gave us ourselves and we were able to give such small gifts as time and money to help others. We could never repay our parents all the gifts we got at Christmas; and would never be able to give God any gift great enough to make up for that little Jewish boy in a feeding trough. It doesn't really matter though. We don't have to make up the debt to God. He doesn't keep a balance sheet. He is just happy to see the look on our faces.
Do yourself a favor and read the whole blooming thing!

To Prepare for Today's BCS National Championship Game

between my beloved Buckeyes from The Ohio State University and the University of Florida Gators, listen and sing along with the following tunes at least a million times. (See here and here.)

Carmen Ohio (The Ohio State University Alma Mater) and Fight the Team Across the Field. Carmen Ohio is set to an old Swedish hymn, still in Lutheran hymnals. It's beautiful to hear The Ohio State University Marching Band play this melody at the conclusion of each home football game, which 106,000 people sing along, voices and instruments echoing on the banks of the Olentangy. The lyrics of each:

Carmen Ohio
Oh come let's sing Ohio's praise
And songs to Alma Mater raise
While our hearts rebounding thrill
With joy which death alone can still
Summer's heat or winter's cold
The seasons pass the years will roll
Time and change will surely (truly) show
How firm thy friendship ... OHIO!

These jolly days of priceless worth
By far the gladdest days on earth
Soon will pass and we not know
How dearly we love Ohio
We should strive to keep thy name
Of fair repute and spotless fame
So in college halls well grow
And love thee better ... OHIO!
Though age may dim our mem'ry's store
We'll think of happy days of yore
True to friend and frank to foe
As sturdy sons of Ohio
If on seas of care we roll
Neath blackened sky or barren shoal
Thoughts of thee bid darkness go
Dear Alma Mater...OHIO!

Fight the Team Across the Field
Fight the team across the field
Show them Ohio's here
(We've got the team why don't we)
Set the Earth reverberating
With a mighty cheer
Hit them hard and see how they fall
Never let that team get the ball
Hail! Hail! The gang's all here
So let's win that old conference now!

The Buckeye Battle Cry is one I've been whistling a lot since Michigan week began yesterday afternoon. It's one of two fight songs we have at Ohio State.
In old Ohio there's a team
That's known throughout the land
Eleven warriors brave and bold
Whose fame will ever stand
And when that ball goes over,
Our cheers will reach the sky
Ohio Field will hear again
The Buckeye Battle Cry!

Drive, drive on down that field
Men of the Scarlet and Gray
Don't let them through that line
We've got to win this game today
Smash through to victory
We cheer you as we go
Our honor defend
We will fight to the end
For O-HI-O!

We'll scatter to the east and west
When college days are done,
And memories will cling around
The dreams of everyone;
We'll play the game of living,
With head and shoulders high!
And where in wear the spirit of
The Buckeye Battle Cry!

(Repeat Chorus)

Hang on Sloopy, originally recorded by the Rick Derringer-led rock band, the McCoys, has become a favorite at Ohio State games. Derringer, who went on to play with Edgar Winter and had a solo hit with, Rock and Roll Hootchiecoo, Hang on Sloopy is also Ohio's official state rock song. Nobody really bothers with the lyrics anymore, but you'll find them on the preceding linked text.

Now, in my typically understated way, let me close this post by sharing this message...

Go, Buckeyes!
Go, Buckeyes!
Go, Buckeyes!
Go, Buckeyes!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Graham and Biden Show How "Respectfully Disagreeing" Works

I just caught Tim Russert's joint interview of Senator Joe Biden (D-Delaware) and Senator Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) from today's Meet the Press.

The two have dramatically different views of what should happen with the War in Iraq. But as firmly and as passionately as they expressed those views, they were respectful of one another. They even allowed the other to espouse more nuanced opinionss without insisting that their opponent remain in stereotyped partisan boxes.

These are the kinds of respectful, illuminating debates that can happen when people are committed to making our political discourse more than the clash of insubstantial sound bites. Both senators are to be commended, as is Tim Russert for allowing each of them to have their says.

Being Wealthy, Running for Office

My friend Andy Jackson, who does some of the best blogging around, points to this article about John Edwards and his wealth, from The New York Post. It seems to say, in none-too-subtle terms, that because Edwards has money, his campaign claims of being an advocate for the poor is hypocritical.

Edwards may be shallow. He may be a politically inexperienced opportunist. He may even be disingenuine. His prescriptions on how to deal with poverty may be way off.

But to insinuate that he's a hypocrite because, as a man of wealth, he can't be concerned for the poor, is deeply unfair.

Rightly or wrongly, one of the reasons that the Framers put age requirements in the Constitution for members of the House and Senate and for the person serving as President, was their desire that only "men of substance," as they would put it, could hold the highest elective offices in the United States.

We can rightly criticize the many biases evident in these requirements and the world view that informed them. The Framers couldn't imagine women holding public office, for example. Nor could they have fathomed people with black, red, or yellow faces doing so. Nor people without property.

But the positive echoes of the requirements the Framers built into the Constitution can be seen in the revered American belief that persons who make successes of themselves in other fields shouldn't rest on their laurels, but should instead see that financial security provides one with the freedom to retire from daily work life and turn instead, to public service.

This was precisely the path pursued by Benjamin Franklin. Franklin amassed such a personal fortune that he was able not only to spend decades of a long life serving his country, he also was able to leave millions to the city of Philadelphia, an inheritance on which it still draws!

Others have adhered to this tradition. From Senator Prescott Bush, grandfather of the current President, has come a Bush family tradition of spending one's early years making an independent fortune and once a certain level of comfort is attained, entering politics. Admittedly, given the family wealth and contacts, this is rather easily done by a younger Bush. But the tradition remains so strong that it's been widely reported that as Jeb Bush contemplated a run for Florida governor, his father asked him if he'd set aside enough money to care for his family. (George W. Bush initially violated this family pattern when he ran, unsuccessfully, for Congress in 1978. After that, the rebellious son of George Herbert Walker Bush settled into the usual family pattern, building a personal fortune until he ran for the Texas governorship in 1990.)

I have no evidence that John Edwards is sincere in his concern for the poor. But neither is his wealth evidence of his being insincere.

There is, if you'll pardon the pun, a rich tradition in America of wealthy pols manifesting a deep--and sometimes sincere--concern for the poor. It includes Republican Theodore Roosevelt and his Square Deal, Democrat Franklin Roosevelt with his New Deal, George W. Bush and his compassionate conservatism, and Robert Kennedy, who expressed solidarity with impoverished African-Americans, migrant farmworkers, and the miners of West Virginia.

There are some huge flaws in this tradition of acquiring wealth and then pursuing elective office, to be sure. There are people in our society who have attained success in their fields, but their bank accounts aren't fatter for it. Success isn't always colored green.

I think of coaches, teachers, counselors, factory workers, contractors, mechanics, social workers, preachers, scientists, and others who are able, intelligent, motivated, and caring, but who rarely have the chance to hold public office because they have neither the personal fortunes or the contacts with those possessing wealth needed to get elected.

But having said that, I think it's true that while it's difficult for the wealthy--even the newly wealthy--to identify with the poor, it's not impossible.

There will be plenty of substantive reasons to question John Edwards on a whole host of issues. I'm not defending him and frankly, I don't see him as a viable or compelling candidate for President.

But The Post's leap is not only unfair, it's intellectually lazy and borders on the demagogic.

[Cross-posted at]

[UPDATE: For one blogger's report on John Edwards' recent foray into his birth state of South Carolina, see here. Remember that for his one term in the US Senate, Edwards represented North Carolina.]

[THANKS TO: Joe Gandelman from The Moderate Voice for linking to this post.]

Seeing Jesus...seeing ourselves

[This message was shared with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church during worship celebrations on January 6 and 7, 2007. The approach was inspired by the work of the staff at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Burnsville, Minnesota.]

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Take a look at some pictures. Try to guess who the kids are. They all became famous as adults.

First, who's the boy holding the dog? It's him.

Who are these two? It's them.

How about this guy? You guessed it.

Try this one. Here he is.

One more. Did you know?

The moment a child is born, all sorts of speculation begins. Who does she look like? What will he become?

The fact is that all of us are born mysteries. In some ways, we spend our whole lives unscrambling the mystery of our psyches and souls to figure out who we are and where we belong.

The Epiphany season of the Church Year, which begins on January 6, is a time in which an even greater mystery than our own personal identities unfolds for us.

The season arrives at the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas, which begins on December 25. It's a period during which we celebrate the birth of Jesus.

But, you know, as wonderful as it is to welcome a baby into the world, the birth of a child is a pretty commonplace thing. Children are born every day. It’s hard to imagine, when we open our copies of The Cincinnati Enquirer tomorrow morning that we’ll see a headline screaming: “BABY BORN!” If such a headline did appear, we’d probably yell back at the newspaper, “SO WHAT?”

Epiphany is dedicated to remembering how God in Christ answered that question about the baby born in a barn in Bethlehem: Jesus has been born. So what?

The incidents from Jesus’ life and ministry that are talked about in Epiphany are sort of like those images they put on the Jumbotrons at baseball games. The picture of a ballplayer is scrambled into fragments and slowly, the fragments in which the photograph has been divided are put back in their right places. As the picture becomes clearer, you hear more and more people from around the stadium reacting with recognition.

As happens when the picture is put in order on the stadium Jumbotron, all the Bible lessons in this season dispel the mystery of Who Jesus is. And in the process, we also learn who we are.

We looked at a part of today’s Bible lesson a few weeks ago, on the Third Weekend in Advent. You know, in every Advent Season, the time that comes just before Christmas, we have two weeks devoted to the ministry of John the Baptizer. His ministry was all about preparing people to welcome the Messiah, God’s Anointed King, the Savior.

Today’s Bible lesson begins by remembering the anxious anticipation with which some were waiting for this King. Some people even thought that John might be the guy. It begins, “As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah...” But John tells people that their picture of the Messiah was incomplete. “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

“You think I’m something?” John was saying. “You ain’t seen nothing yet! The Messiah will make me look like a nobody!”

Then it happened. People got their first glimpse of the Messiah. Luke, the writer of our Bible lesson, says, “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” .

So, now two questions:
  • How is our picture of Jesus unscrambled from this incident?
  • And, how does our picture of Jesus help us see ourselves clearly?
We see those questions answered in at least four places in our lesson.

First, of course, we see them answered in the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah. God was good for His ancient promises. He did send an Anointed One--which is what Messiah or Christ, means--Who would overcome our sin by suffering and dying for us and then rising to allow us to live forever with God.

Second, we see the four questions answered in the revelation that the Messiah will baptize believers with the Holy Spirit and fire. What does that mean?

Once, an English bishop visited a sleepy little church along the Thames River. The village priest was discouraged and depressed, because he wasn't really accomplishing very much. Finally, the priest confessed, “Bishop, I can't say that we are setting the Thames on fire.” The bishop looked him sternly in the eye and said, “Young man, I am not the least bit concerned about setting the Thames on fire. What I want to know is, if I take you out and drop you in it, will you sizzle?”

When we open ourselves to Jesus Christ, He wants to set us on fire with a blazing, passionate love for God and for our neighbors and with a fiery faith in Him that brings light to everyone around us.

Can people see that fire in us as Christians?

Can they see it here at Friendship Church?

In the other New Testament book written by Luke, the book of Acts, he tells the mysterious story of the first Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to Jesus’ first followers. When it happened, those first Christians it’s said were given tongues of fire that allowed each of them in their own way to tell the story of the God Who so loved the world that Jesus died and rose to open the way of a new life to all who follow Him.

They were on fire. Through this same Holy Spirit, we can be too.

A third answer to our questions about Who Jesus is and Who we can be when we follow Him, can be seen in that when Jesus prayed, heaven opened where He was. When we pray in the Name of Jesus, heaven is opened and God shows up.

But don’t get too sentimental about that. When heaven opened to Jesus at His baptism and the Father called Him the Beloved Son, it was the opening act in a ministry that would send Him to a cross! We are never promised an easy life. But we are promised that God will be with us always.

“Prayer is not about getting what we want,” says Brian Blount, a professor of New Testament at Princeton University, “or even what we oftentimes are sure is right for us and those around us; prayer is about unleashing the frightening, unstable, uncontrollable power of God.”

You know there’s going to be a sort-of-important football game tomorrow. This past week, in anticipation of this contest, an article in a Florida newspaper profiled Archie Griffin, who twice won the Heisman Trophy for being college football’s best player. Griffin was about 5’7” and 170 pounds when he played fullback, a shrimp among monsters. He graduated from college on time and inspired others to do the same. He never made the party scene.

How did he resist the dark side of athletics and achieve so much? I think I found part of the answer in that article, where Griffin’s younger brother, Ray remembers their student days:
"He would get up in the morning and would pray on his knees for 45 minutes before he went to school...I'm not exaggerating. He would be bobbing his head. He was having a strong conversation with the Lord, I'm telling you."
Archie had a so-so career with the Bengals in the NFL. But even then, he impressed others with his work ethic, his determination, his willingness to go the extra mile. Those qualities rarely come naturally to us. (I know that they don't come naturally to me!) I’m sure that Archie Griffin would tell you that he has nothing to do with them. They come to him because through prayer in Jesus’ Name, heaven is opened to him.

Our nation mourned and buried another former college football player this past week, the one-time center for the University of Michigan Wolverines. His name was Gerald Ford and our nation was blessed, in one of the darkest times in our history, to have him as our President. During the farewells last week, I heard the historian Douglas Brinkley tell a vignette about Ford I'd never heard before. Every night, from the time he was a little boy until he died, when he prayed, he also recited a passage from the Old Testament:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight. (Proverbs 3:5)
Ford's life wasn't always peaches and cream, you know. But it's clear to me that he was strengthened for great challenges because of his daily habit of relying on the God we know--and he knew--in Jesus Christ!

Fourth and finally: We learn Who Jesus is and learn about ourselves when we consider that Jesus comes to those who follow Him with a winnowing fork.

Winnowing forks were used in the ancient world as part of the process of harvesting crops like barley or wheat. On the tops of hills, barns were built with openings on either side, allowing the constant winds to blow through. As the harvested crops were brought to the barns, the forks were used to toss them up to be caught by the wind. What wasn’t desirable blew away. What was good remained.

Jesus shows us that He’s the Messiah by gathering us into His barns--His kingdom--in spite of the fact that none of us are entirely desirable. We’re saved by God's grace, accepting all with faith in Christ. But Jesus is also fitting us for heaven when we’ll live in the presence of God. And so He commits Himself to winnowing us so that when we finally do stand in heaven’s halls, only what’s good and pleasing remains.

The real us.

The God-formed us.

Lutheran pastor, Paul Gauche, says, “Christ winnows that which isn’t necessary..." And then Gauche asks, "Got any bad habits? Got any behaviors that seem to hold you back...from where you think God is leading you?”

If you can answer yes to either of those questions--and I know that I can--resolve now that you’ll allow Jesus to daily use His winnowing fork on your life so that you can become your God-formed self. One of the prayers I’ve been praying lately is, “God, kill off anything in me that isn’t from You!”

In Jesus’ Baptism, we begin to see Who Jesus is. We get a hint of the resurrection toward which He’s moving. We also see that He intends to take us with Him and give us a life like His.

At His baptism, we see...
  • that Jesus is the Messiah;
  • that He means for us to be on fire for Him;
  • that when we pray in His Name, the power of heaven is unleashed on earth; and
  • that those who follow Jesus allow Him to separate us from all that’s useless so that we’ll be fit to stand in the presence of the God Who wants one day to say to each of us, “This is My Beloved, in Whom I am well pleased!”
Who might you and I become--how great might Friendship become--if we truly let Jesus Christ have our whole lives--if He were our Messiah, if we were on fire for Him, if in our prayers we let Jesus into every nook and cranny of the world, and if we let God work constantly to make us more like His Son?

I would like to see how God would resolve such mysteries. Would you?

We Need More Gerald Fords!

CSpan replayed former President Ford's Senate Majority Leader's Lecture from May 23, 2001, today. I saw part of it while eating lunch. Here's the entire transcript.

Ford was no orator. But his presentation embodies all that is best in American political thinking.

[For more, see here.]