Monday, February 04, 2019

On this day

Read the article linked in this embedded tweet from American Experience.

"Democracy dies in the darkness"

I don't watch the Super Bowl. The last time I watched the big game with interest was Super Bowl IV, when Kansas City defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7. I've been to three or four Super Bowl parties over the years at which the games were on the TV; I've paid enough attention to be polite.

But I read about the Washington Post Super Bowl commercial and decided to look it up this morning.

Journalists, like the rest of we who make up the human race, aren't perfect. But they play an important role in seeking to ferret out and share the truth each day. I'm grateful to the lion's share of journalists who seek to simply tell the truth. I honor journalists killed in the line of doing their duty.

I like the words of former president, George W. Bush: "I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy...we need the media to hold people like me to account. I mean, power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive and it's important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power, whether it be here or elsewhere.”

In a letter written in 1816, Thomas Jefferson said, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe."

Freedom of the press, respect for the press, and protection of the press is as essential for our democracy as the military, intelligence services, law enforcement, and agencies that safeguard our health, environment, transportation, and drugs. And I respect all these institutions that work for us within government, even though they don't always get things right. I also respect the press, the media,  as that outside entity, the "fourth estate," which also doesn't always get things right and is accountable to news-consumers and the market when it gets things wrong.

President Kennedy, borrowing phrasing from a prominent coffee commercial of the early 60s, once remarked that he was reading newspapers, but enjoying it less. Our disappointment with what we see, read, and hear from various news outlets probably has a lot more to do with them telling us the truth that we would prefer not hearing than with falsehoods that sometimes are told.

I've been misquoted by newspapers and other journalists. It can be frustrating. But rarely do I find journalists getting the story completely wrong. And I have to remember that I mess up in my work too. But for all the risks, we will not long have a democracy without a free, inquiring press. Democracy does die in the darkness and a free press casts a bright light so that we can all see the facts.

The message of this ad is powerful and important.

Going Where I'm Sent...Obediently

[This the journal entry from my quiet time with God earlier today.]

Look: “But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel…’” (Acts 9:15)

A Christian in Damascus named Ananias receives a vision from God that a man named Saul is in his city and needs his help. Ananias is appalled at the whole idea. “‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’” (Acts 9:13-14)

That’s when the Lord gives His simple imperative to go and take care of Saul, who has encountered the risen and ascended Jesus on the road to Damascus and now is blinded and helpless at a house in the city.

It’s not as though the Lord says, “Go, because it’s what I told you to do.” He could have pulled that number, a favorite of exasperated parents through the centuries. And He would have been justified in doing so. After all, if anyone has the authority to tell us what to do, it’s the Lord.

He does assert His authority when He tells Ananias, “Go!” But He also explains why He’s telling Ananias to go to a street called Straight, to the house of Judas, where he’s to ask for Saul (Acts 9:11-12): The Lord had plans for Saul to be a preacher of the good news of new life through faith in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ to Gentiles and to kings. The Lord also wants to reveal to Saul, soon to be renamed Paul, that he was going suffer for being faithful to Christ. (Acts 9:15-16)

How does Ananias respond? Acts 9:17 says, “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’”

Listen: I suppose people could have a debate as to exactly why Ananias obeys the Lord and goes to Saul. (1) Is it the simple imperative, “Go”? (2) Is it the explanation the Lord gives to him as to why he needs to get Saul? (3) Is it a combination of the two?

All of those factors are in play, I suppose. But it boils down to this: Ananias is a disciple who trusts in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, he is able to be obedient to a command that he doesn’t really want to obey.

Because of the relationship Ananias has with and his receptivity to Christ, he hears Christ’s command to go and he goes.

It makes me wonder how much of what God may want to do through me am I missing through my failure to listen for Him as I read His Word and interact with people who may have needs God could take care of through me?

The things that God may want to do through me won’t necessarily lead me to grand gestures or sacrificial martyrdom. In the grand scheme of things, Saul/Paul is the “important” figure in this passage, the one who will be used by God to plant Christ’s Church throughout the Roman Empire, proclaim the good news to kings, and then die a martyr’s death. Ananias is a bit player. But his simple responsiveness to the Lord was pivotal!

After telling Saul that Jesus has sent him so that Saul can be filled with the Holy Spirit, we read: “Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.” (Acts 9:18-19) It appears to me that Ananias baptized the apostle Paul!

God could have chosen someone other than Ananias to “Go!” to Saul, of course. But Ananias was obedient.

This inspires me! I want to be a disciple of Jesus who, however frightening or insignificant or pointless it may seem to be, is willing to, “Go!” when God tells me to to go.

Everyday in God’s Word, I encounter commands from the One Who has saved me from myself and done so as a free gift of grace through Christ, to go, to take Christ to others by my words and actions. Everyday, I’m convinced, as I go through my life, Christ is calling me to follow His lead in some way or another. But I’m so busy with getting the next thing I think that I need to get to that I’m often deaf to  opportunities to be useful for God’s purposes.

Respond: I think that a useful thing for me to do today (if I can remember it) is to ask You, Lord, “What do You want me to do or say in this situation, in this appointment, in this meeting, in this time of study today, Lord?”

Could You help me to remember to do that, Lord? And could You help me then remember to do what You, in Your purposes, seem to want me to do?

What do you want me to say or do right now, Lord?

In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen  

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.] Set People Free

[This message was shared with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, on Sunday, February 3.]

Luke 4:31-44
At first, today’s Gospel lesson, Luke 4:31-44, may seem like a hodgepodge narrative of two days in Jesus’ earthly ministry. But the incidents recounted here are really linked by two strong themes.They’re important for us to remember. 

The first theme is authority.

The lesson takes place in the Galilean town of Capernaum. Jesus is preaching in the synagogue and Luke tells us in Luke 4:32, that as Jesus does so, the people “were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority.”

Many people may speak with authority. But theirs is what I call a derived authority. In other words, they have authority because it’s been given to them by someone else. 
  • A doctor speaks about your medical condition because she or he has received the proper training and been certified and licensed to practice medicine. 
  • A legislator, has the authority to pass laws because they received authorization from voters. 
  • A highway patrol officer who pulls you over for speeding on the Interstate has been invested with that authority by the State of Ohio. 
  • A pastor, Sunday School teacher, or any other baptized believer in Jesus has authority to speak on behalf of God only insofar as what they say conforms to the teachings of Scripture. 
All of these are examples of derived authority.

But Jesus has underived authority. Whether the people of Capernaum knew it or not, when Jesus spoke, He did so in His own authority as God the Son. Jesus didn’t need to cite chapters and verses all the time because He was and is the ultimate Author of all the chapters and verses of Scripture. No wonder the people were amazed at Jesus’ teaching: They were listening directly to God!

Later in the passage, a man disrupted Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue. The man was filled with a demon. In verse 35, we’re told that Jesus told the demon in the man: “‘Be quiet!...Come out of him!’ Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him. All the people were amazed and said to each other, ‘What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!’”
We may be skeptical about the existence of demons. I was once skeptical about such things myself and remained so even after I’d become a Christian and later, a pastor. 

This changed when I was serving in my first parish. The congregation supported a missionary to India and once, when he was back in the States on furlough, he preached at our Mission Festival. He talked about occasionally performing exorcisms. This man wasn’t irrational, anti-science, or anti-medicine. He ran a medical clinic as part of his mission work in India. He merely believed that some people were overcome by supernatural evil and that commanding the demons to leave in the name of Jesus, the demons left. 

I believe that Satan markets to the culture in which he operates. He’s largely convinced people in North America and Europe that demon possession is an unsophisticated idea. That suits him fine; it gives him greater latitude to do what he wants while we wonder why there is so much evil in the world.

There were exorcists in Jesus’ day. (As there are today.) To cast out demons, they invoked God’s name, they prayed, they went through rituals. But Jesus simply commanded the demons to leave. He did so from His underived authority

Even today, I believe that if you and I prayed more in Jesus’ name, Jesus would command the evil that oppresses and overpowers the lives of so many people you and I know to be lifted! 

I’m also sure that whatever evil afflicts you, whatever temptation dogs you today, whatever sin has overtaken you, whatever challenges you may face, Jesus can have conquering authority over it all. 

It’s a simple matter of turning to Him. In Isaiah 45:22, God tells us, “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”

The God we know in Jesus Christ will never force Himself on you or on others; God only goes where He’s invited. We need to invite Him daily into our lives and into the lives of others. 

When, almost imperceptibly, we walk away from God, we create vacuums in our souls that become footholds for sin, darkness, and the devil. We must constantly crowd out evil by turning to Christ!

Now, Jesus speaks the Word of God with authority. Jesus also speaks with authority to defeat Satan. But that’s not the end of the authority theme in our lesson. 

Starting at verse 38, Jesus enters the home of Simon, the apostle Jesus would rename Peter. There, he found that Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a fever. This was no demonic invasion. Physical illness is a consequence of living in an imperfect world. One day, those who entrust their lives to Jesus Christ will live in an eternity beyond the reach of illness. But this isn’t eternity. 

Yet in Jesus, eternity comes to this world, as it did that day in Simon’s house. Verse 38: “...Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.”

In His own authority, Jesus signified the power He ultimately will wield over our common human enemies--sin, death, darkness--by restoring the health of Simon’s mother-in-law. Jesus still conquers illness today

Great doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals know this. As I’ve mentioned before, in hospitals here in Dayton, I have, more than in any other place I’ve served, encountered doctors, nurses, and anesthesiologists who join patients, families, and me in praying before surgical procedures. When competent, trained medical professionals also pray in Christ’s name for their patients, those patients can have great confidence that they are in God’s hands as He guides the human hands of surgeons and other caregivers.

After healing Simon’s mother-in-law, Luke says that Jesus brought healing and deliverance to many more in Capernaum. Early the next day, He went off to a quiet place. Crowds found him and tried to convince Him to stay. But in verse 43, Jesus says: “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” 

And this is the second important theme of today’s Gospel lesson. The preaching of Jesus, the exorcisms He performed, the healing He brought, and everything Jesus did that day in Capernaum and everything He did while on earth, were really about one thing: To bring the good news of new and everlasting life to all who dare to turn from sin and believe in Him. Every miraculous thing Jesus ever did was meant to be a sign pointing us to Him as the way, the truth, and the life, to Jesus as God the Son and Savior.

Every person Jesus healed, brought back from the dead, or from whom he exorcised demons, had one thing in common: They all eventually died to life on this earth. Jesus used His authority in these ways not because life can ever be made perfect in this imperfect world, but to point to the good news that can change the person who believes for all eternity!

No doubt many in Capernaum wanted Jesus to stay because they saw Him as the cure for their earthly afflictions. You’ll remember that Jesus once sent His disciples out to replicate His ministry--to heal, to cast out demons, to preach and teach. They came back to Jesus excited about the authoritative signs that they’d performed in Jesus’ name. But Jesus told them, “ not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” [Luke 10:20] These are good words for us to remember!

In this life, nothing will ever be perfect. Our prayers will often seem to go unanswered. Evil will often seem to win. We may be tempted in the face of these realities to wonder whether God is there or, if He is there, whether He cares. 

But every time, in the name of Jesus, sin is forgiven, relationships are mended, healing is granted, God uses us to feed hungry people or helps us tell a friend about Jesus, whenever God empowers us to fight for justice for our neighbors, and whenever lives are made eternally new through faith in Christ, we are given signs that, beyond this life, those made righteous by faith in Christ will live a resurrected life with God and in the company of the saints and that all that hurts us--that hurts God Who stands with us--will be gone for eternity.

In the meantime, may we live under the authority of Christ Who saves us from sin and death and may we share the good news that all who turn from sin and surrender to Christ can have this same everlasting life with God! Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]