Friday, June 21, 2019

Winker Amazingly Avoids Tag

In the Reds' 7-1 win over the Brewers last night, Jesse Winker pulled what's been called a Matrix move to elude the tag at third to record a triple. Pretty amazing.

But more than the Matrix diversionary moves, Winker's hurdle over the third baseman reminds me of the hurdling of Chris "Beanie" Wells, the Ohio State running back, during the 2008 season.

But, back to baseball, a cleaner jump for a score was turned in by the Toronto Blue Jays' Chris Coghlan back in 2017.

All pretty amazing stuff!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A Prayer: "A public office is a public trust"

Once again last evening, I was able to share the Invocation for the Centerville City Council. This was the prayer:
Heavenly Father, a public office is a public trust. That may get lost in the routine rhythms and challenges of meetings and decision-making. But it’s precisely in the midst of the routine, the seemingly ordinary, that the members of this city council are to fulfill the responsibilities of their offices. Even the most routine of decisions in all of our lives can have an enormous impact on others. So, as this city council meets again tonight, give its members Your wisdom. Grant that they will treat the routine duties they discharge tonight for what they are: opportunities to do Your will, to love You and to love their neighbors in practical ways. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Sharing this prayer on Facebook tonight, I wrote:
Scripture enjoins us to pray for leaders, whether we agree with them or not. The apostle Paul wrote to the young pastor, Timothy, "I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people--for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness." (1 Timothy 2:1-2) 
This is a remarkable passage in that Paul is telling Timothy that the people of Christ's Church in the first-century Roman Empire were to pray for those in authority, even despots like the Roman Emperors, for the sake of the people they govern. 
This doesn't mean that we need to support leaders' agendas or obey them when and if they are unjust, cruel, or hateful. In fact, Christians have an obligation to not conform to such "leadership," even as we pray for those who wield authority in evil ways. Paul writes in the New Testament book of Romans, "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Romans 12:2)
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Holy Trinity: How God Loves

[This was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, yesterday.]

John 8:48-59
Two-thousand years before the birth of Jesus, three strangers appeared beneath the oak trees at a place called Mamre, where a husband and wife and their party were staying. The couple had come from a place in what we know today as Iraq, Ur. Practicing the hospitality that was part of their faith in the God they had come to know and worship, the couple--Abraham and Sarah--welcomed the threesome to their dwelling and fed them a feast. Over the course of their visit, the three made a promise that in one year, Sarah, an old woman, would give birth to the son promised to them by God. They come to realize that they are in the presence of God.

Later, the three strangers engage in a private conversation. “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? [they ask] Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” [Genesis 18:17-19] 

Was God talking to Himself? 

Yes, said Saint Augustine, a 4th century Christian scholar and founder of the Augustinian order of monks of which Martin Luther would be a member four millennia after Abraham and Sarah welcomed the Lord--Yahweh, I AM. In that conversation among the three leaving Abraham, God was talking to Himself, Augustine believed. I agree with Augustine.

If so, it’s not the first time the Bible records God doing that. In Genesis 1:26, we’re told that God spoke to Himself: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness...”

These Bible passages give us hints at what Jesus later made explicit in the Great Commission, that there is one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God’s three-in-one nature is part of the mystery of God’s identity and being, but the Trinity--a term never used in the Bible that we use to describe what God has revealed about Himself--is more than just an odd theological concept. God’s triune nature is essential to Who He is, whether we’re ever able to fully understand it or not.

From the oaks at Mamre, fast forward two thousand years to our Gospel lesson. Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem. He’s teaching. He’s met opposition. Among the opponents are those who had believed in Him, but are now turned off by the challenge of being His disciples. (That happens a lot.) These people are so upset with Jesus that they accuse Him of having a demon [John 8:48]. (They also accuse Him of being a Samaritan, reflecting their prejudice against folks from Samaria.)

Jesus then ushers them (and us) into the mysterious realm of the Holy Trinity. “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” Jesus is pointing to the Father Who judges sin. Jesus seeks to bring the Father glory, not Himself, just as the Father seeks glory for Jesus, not Himself.

This is the nature of the love that exists within the Trinity: self-giving love that doesn’t seek for itself, self-sufficient love that didn’t need to create the universe or the human race in God’s image, but chooses to do so out of pure, giving love. It was this same love, Jesus said, that brought Him to the world. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son..."

If you really honored God, Jesus tells His fellow Jews, you would see that I am God and you would honor Me too. The crowd is scandalized. “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

This pious crowd is paralyzed with anger at Jesus. Who did He think that He was? They should know the answer to that question by now. They should remember what the three strangers--identified in our English translations of our Bibles as L-O-R-D, all four letters capitalized, translating Yahweh--I AM, the name God, would reveal to be His own to Moses--had said that day by the oaks of Mamre. Yahweh had said: “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.” [Genesis 18:18]

It was through Jesus that God’s promise to Abraham that Abraham and all people who trust in Yahweh would be made righteous and would become a great eternal nation, the kingdom of God. Through God the Son made flesh, all who turn from sin and believe, are members of God’s new creation

Abraham, Jesus says, had heard this promise and if Abraham had been standing in the temple that day, he would have been filled with joy. But the crowd of skeptics in John 8 aren't thinking as Jesus says Abraham would think at all. Verse 57: “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!

Jesus’ response isn’t grammatical. But it is definitive. Yes, Jesus is saying, I know exactly what Abraham thought. Not only am I older than Abraham, I made Abraham. I gave life to everything that breathes and moves. “Before Abraham was born, Yahweh, I AM!

Now, this is such a stunning claim that if it isn’t true--if Jesus isn’t, as we sing at Christmas, God in flesh appearing, if He isn’t the second person of the triune God, the crowd would be right to be scandalized. As C.S. Lewis’ famous formulation puts it, either Jesus is a liar; a madman, or precisely who He claims to be. As Lewis writes: “You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Jesus didn’t intend for the crowd in the temple to see Him as a great teacher or a magnetic leader who might give them what they wanted. Jesus wanted them (and us) to see is that He is the loving God of the universe in human flesh, Who bears our sin and death on the cross and is raised by the Father to bring the death of sin and death to all who trust in Him. 

It’s to help the people who are rejecting Him in our lesson to see Who He is that Jesus provokes a confrontation with them. It’s why He provokes a confrontation with us in every burning word of Scripture

Is Jesus God in the flesh? 

Is He the incarnation of the God that Abraham saw back at the oaks of Mamre? 

If He is, then why would any of us mess around with living lives of unrepentant sin, that break faith with our Creator and our Redeemer, that dehumanize us, that fail to love God or neighbor? Why would we insist on our right to take His name in vain? Why would we justify adultery, in mind or body? Why would we make excuses for murder, physically or through the poison of gossip? Why would we want to take ourselves and our own desires more seriously than we do the will of the One Who made us and brought salvation to us on the cross? Why do we often choose to worry rather than trust in Him? It was for these sins and more that Jesus died for you and me and seeks to set us free, covering them over with His forgiving grace, and putting us at liberty to live as human beings are meant to live.

On hearing Jesus’ claim to be God, verse 59 says: “At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.”

As I reflect on this passage, I wonder, did the crowd want to stone Jesus because they thought He was dishonoring-- blaspheming-- 

God? Or did they want to stone Him because they knew that He was God enfleshed and saw their chance to take advantage of His weakness, His voluntary acceptance of the limits of humanity

And it’s here that we see the practical implications of this strange doctrine of the Trinity. It was out of love that God the Father sent God the Son. It was this same love that caused the Father to bring Jesus back to life. Not love for Himself, but from love for the Son and love for us that the Father raised the Son to new life and through Him, raises all who trust in Jesus to new life. 

Without God’s triune nature then, we could not know that "God is love." Without God's triune nature, we could not be saved

Nor could we know or believe in this God, because it’s God the Holy Spirit, the comforter sent in love by God to call us to faith, who makes it possible for us to believe and to have life in Jesus’ name.

If you remember nothing else about the Trinity, remember this: It’s from the love that God has known within Himself--the love the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have for each other--that He loves you and makes you His own through Christ. 

The Trinity is how God loves. It's also how He loves us. Three times over, He loves us, and we are eternally the richer for it! Amen

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