Saturday, August 03, 2019

From Lutheran Satire: Donnall and Connall Meet Richard Dawkins

Like all good satire, you laugh because it rings so true.

"Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, 'He catches the wise in their craftiness,' and again, 'The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.' So let no one boast in men..." (1 Corinthians 3:18-21a)

Monday, July 29, 2019

Pilate, Juror #7, and Me

I read Luke, chapter 23, for my quiet time this morning. There, Luke narrates Jesus' arrest, kangaroo trial, crucifixion, and death. (His resurrection comes in the next chapter.)

I was particularly struck today by the spinelessness of Pilate, the Roman governor who ended up giving the order to have Jesus crucified.

Three times, Pilate told the crowds crying for Jesus' death that he found the accused innocent of any crime. (Herod, the puppet king of Judea, agreed.)

"I have found in [Jesus] no grounds for the death penalty [Pilate says]. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” (Luke 23:22)

This is a strange thing for a man who claims to have the final say over the lives and destinies of a region, backed by the world's most powerful empire, to say: "He's not guilty. But since you don't like him, I'll rough him up and send him on his way." In a supposed show of strength, as is true of all thugs and would-be thugs in such circumstances, he lets everyone see what a wimp he truly is.

Like most people who think of themselves as powerful, confident, and self-sufficient, Pilate likes giving the appearance of power, confidence, and self-sufficiency without actually possessing these characteristic. When the comfort of such people is threatened, they will opt for their comfort for themselves. They'll brag while dispatching others to do their wimp-rooted dirty work.

And so, despite the facts, Pilate orders Jesus' crucifixion.

As I read about Pilate today, I couldn't help thinking of the character, Juror #7, played by Jack Warden in the classic jury room drama, Twelve Angry Men. The jury deliberates its verdict in a capital trial involving a defendant, a young man who is a member of an unidentified minority group. Juror #7, who apparently sees himself as a tough, no-nonsense guy, is anxious to get on with things because he has tickets to a baseball game. Initially, he insists on the defendant's guilt, until some begin raising doubts about the prosecution's case. (I also love George Voskovec's performance here.)

Pilate had had enough and so he caved in to "the room," sending Jesus off to His death.

Of course, Pilate was playing into God's hand: God the Father sent God the Son expressly into the world to become the sinless sacrifice--the spotless "Lamb of God"--for sinners like me, His atoning sacrifice making it possible for all who renounce sin and trust in Jesus as their God and Savior to have new, eternal life with God.

But Pilate didn't understand all that. He was Juror #7, weak at the knees over bucking the crowd and hellbent on using the tickets he had for whatever pleasure beckoned to him at that moment.

Pilate was like the priest and Levite in Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, who, for whatever reason, didn't take the time to address a matter of life and death, justice and injustice for another human being, seriously.

"Tough guys" too busy to care. How often are we those guys or those women? Lord, have mercy, I confess to being Pilate or Juror #7. I confess to too often being so caught up in my own agenda and my own pursuit of pleasure to love You with my whole being and to love my neighbor as much as I love myself.

God, forgive me the indifference with which I view the lives of others. Out of the Christian compassion Your Holy Spirit makes possible for believers in Jesus, help me to share the saving good news of Jesus with someone who may need it today. Out of  this same compassion, help me to show compassion for the victims of indifference and injustice today. Help me today to live as the loving person that Your grace in Christ has set me free to be! In Jesus' name I pray. Amen

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

Lord, have mercy!

Another American mass shooting, this time in Gilroy, California. There are at least three dead. The shooter is evidently another troubled white male.

I AM praying for the victims and their families. But I'm also praying that our leaders will turn to the God we meet in Christ for some godly wisdom on how to address this scourge, the wisdom that has apparently heretofore eluded them...and the rest of us.

Brothers Reunited

I like this.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Knowing God: More Than We Imagine

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

Luke 11:1-13
I have a feeling that one reason that so many people today claim no religion is that they might like to know God, but don’t know that, through Jesus, they can know Him. 

And even we followers of Jesus, Who know Him through the Word and the Sacraments, also want to know Him better. And like lovers obsessed with their beloved, it's because we know God through Jesus that we want to know God more.

Jesus’ first followers, the disciples, seem to have felt the same way. 

That’s part of why, even though they didn’t completely understand that Jesus was God in the flesh until Jesus had died and risen again, in their hunger for God, they followed Jesus for three years. 

That’s also why it’s no surprise that when they saw Jesus praying one day, seeing the intimacy with God the Father He had, they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. 

Our gospel lesson for today, Luke 11:1-13, tells us how Jesus responded: Jesus teaches them (and us) what we call the Lord’s Prayer. 

It presents a pattern for prayer for those who want to know God deeply and personally. 

It also gives us a prayer that we can offer to God regularly when we realize that we don't know what to pray or when we pray together in worship. 

Let’s take a look at it.

“Father,” Jesus begins. Being a Christian is not about being religious. It’s about having a relationship with God. God is our Father and not an earthly father, one who, no matter how good or devoted, can let us down. God is the Father Who made us and stands ready to hear us whenever we call on Him. We begin the prayer by acknowledging that incredible fact!

The next petitions remind us that everything is out of place in the world and in our lives if God isn’t given first place. And so, Jesus teaches us to pray: “hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.”

For God’s Name to be hallowed means for it to be held as unique, special, set-apart, holy. God’s Name is not a sitcom punchline or a phrase for stupid people with limited vocabularies to use in the place meaningful speech. God’s Name is a precious gift He gives that allows us to call on Him, as Martin Luther puts it in The Small Catechism, for “prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.” Here, we pray that God’s Name will be revered and used properly, not just by the whole world, but by us as well.

God’s kingdom is what Jesus came to bring. He brought God’s kingdom into this dying world through His life, death, and resurrection. All who, incited by the Holy Spirit to heed the gospel message of new life through Jesus, turn from sin and believe in Jesus for forgiveness and new life with God, are part of God’s kingdom, today, at this moment. We live under the reign of God. Here, we pray that God’s kingdom will invade every human life--including our own, so that we and all who believe in Him will not perish in hell, but have life with God forever!

It isn’t until the petition in verse 3--”Give us each day our daily bread”--that Jesus gets around to teaching us to pray for ourselves. This is pretty counter-cultural! How often are we advised by pop culture or even by so-called friends to look out for ourselves instead of putting God or others ahead of ourselves? And even in this petition, we don't pray entirely for ourselves, as Jesus teaches us to pray for not me but us!

A woman told me that after she’d shared with a friend that she and her husband were having minor disagreements on money and child-rearing, her friend said, “Better do what I did. Better get a divorce. You deserve to be happy.” “My friend,” the woman told me, “obviously had no concern about what might make God happy, or our children happy, or my husband happy, or, in the end, what might make me happy.”

Jesus doesn't teach us to defer praying for ourselves because we ourselves aren’t important. Obviously, every human being is important. That’s why Jesus Christ died and rose for every human being who has ever lived or ever will live. And that’s why He teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

But it’s only after we’ve learned to put God and His desire to reign over the whole world with His love at the top of our priorities, that we’re ready to pray this petition rightly. So, He teaches us, “Give us”--all of us, from the people in my family to the people in places like China, Syria, and Afghanistan ”our daily bread,” not the luxuries we want or to which the advertisers say we’re entitled, but the things we need.

We pray that all people will be provided with the things they need--nutritious food, clean water, medical care, basic justice. 

And this prayer is no pipe dream! God’s earth produces sufficient abundance for every inhabitant of Earth to have exactly what they need. The fact that so many go hungry or die unnecessarily is not a supply issue, it’s a share issue

God gives daily bread and in praying this petition, we acknowledge that every good and perfect gift comes from God and we ask that God will help us share His bounties with others. The words of the hymn, Praise and Thanksgiving, are true: “Where all obey You, no one will hunger; In Your love’s sway You nourish the land.” 

Jesus then teaches us, in verse 4, to pray that God will forgive our sins and to keep us from blocking out His forgiveness from our lives by refusing to forgive others. 

Is there someone you need to forgive this morning? Someone who has wronged you or who you think has wronged you? 

You don’t need to make a grand show of it. You don’t have to smugly tell that other person, “I forgive you.” In your heart right now, you can release others of the debt you feel that they owe to you. Just tell God, “Lord, I want to release so and so of my grudge. I want to release myself from it. In Your Name and by Your power, I forgive them.” 

You can do that every time you pray the Lord’s Prayer. And you need to do so because Jesus makes it clear that until we let go of that grudge, we can’t take hold of His grace, His forgiveness and His charity toward our sins and our shortcomings.

Finally, Jesus teaches His disciples--including us--to pray that God will steer us clear of temptation and that the evil one--the devil--won’t be able to get a toehold in our lives. 

Now, Jesus knows that it may be hard for us to believe that God could care about our prayers. More than one person in the years I’ve been a pastor has told me, “I never pray. I just don’t want to bother God.” In teaching us this prayer though, Jesus is saying, “God does care about you. You will never be a bother to the One Who made you and Who went to the cross for you!"

To underscore this fact, Jesus tells a little parable about a man who has a late-night visitor at his house and has nothing to feed the visitor. Wanting to treat the visitor right, the man runs to his friend to ask for something to set before the visitor. But it’s midnight. The man lives in first-century Judea, meaning that he sleeps on the floor with his kids, and that getting up to answer the friend’s knock or to fetch the food and drink he could serve his visitor will be a hassle, maybe even waking up the little ones and the animals and depriving him of a good night’s sleep. But, Jesus says in verse 9, even if the man doesn't want to help his friend, he'll throw off his covers, walk around the kids, open the front door, and get the things his friend requests.

The careless reader will think that Jesus is here saying that God is a reluctant friend who, if you’re persistent, will answer your prayers. But God isn’t reluctant to hear or answer our prayers. Look at how Jesus closes out His words for us in Luke 11 today, verse 13, after saying that even sinful, "evil" parents will give good things to their children: “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The God we know in Jesus Christ isn’t a reluctant friend telling those who come to Him, “Go away!” He is our Father and He wants to answer when we call out to Him. That’s why Jesus tells us, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you...”

But here’s where Christian maturity and a willingness to defer to the greater wisdom and love of God comes in

The first two or three-hundred times I read Jesus’ words in Luke 11:13, in which He promises to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask God, I wanted to scream, “But what if I don’t want the Holy Spirit!” What if I asked for my loved one to be healed of cancer, or that my friend’s marriage would be restored, or that, as I really have prayed, the 40% of my heart damaged by a heart attack would be restored? What good is the Holy Spirit to me then? How is the Holy Spirit the answer to the cries of my heart? I’ve had thoughts like these. I still do.

But here’s the thing: The Holy Spirit is exactly Who we need when we face things like crosses, and griefs, and relational discord, and war

He's also Who we need when we are successful, happy, and comfortable because it's in circumstances like these that we are most at risk of forgetting God or deluding ourselves that all of our blessings come from us and our goodness, power, or talent.

The Holy Spirit is the Comforter, the One Who gives us the strength and courage we need to face the pains that come to us in this imperfect and fallen world. 

The Holy Spirit is the Truth-Teller Who will tell us the truth about Jesus, about ourselves, about our need for the forgiveness and new life Jesus died and rose brings to those who believe in Him, about how deeply and eternally we are loved by the God Who makes us, redeems us, and, in Jesus Christ, calls us to Himself.

The Holy Spirit is the very life of God. 

He’s the One Who gives us faith in the face of the darkness of this world and the One Who will raise us up to come face to face with Jesus after we’ve drawn our last breaths on this earth. 

Every time you pray, ask, seek, and knock at the Father’s door, He will send the Holy Spirit to you. You will know God. 

You will know God is with you. 

You will know that God is for you. 

And you will be filled with the life of God that nothing and nobody can ever take from you.

We come to God the Father in the Name of Jesus, asking for the things we think we need or think we want and He gives us more than we could ever ask for or conceive of needing.

He gives us Himself.

People want to know God. 

Christians who know God through the Word and the Sacraments want to know Him more deeply. 

Pray in Jesus’ Name and you will know Him as surely as you know your parents, your children, your spouses, or your friends. Even more surely and well.

As we pray to God the Father in the Name of Jesus, we know that no matter what happens in this world, we have the Holy Spirit, Who will give us the very life of God and stand with us from here to kingdom come. Amen!

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