Luthermatrix

The blog of a lutheran pastor, writer, and political animal.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Kingdom of Heaven is like...



          Greeting to you all on behalf of the South Plainfield/Edison Lutheran Parish,
greetings on behalf of St. Stephen Lutheran,
and much more importantly, greetings in the name of Jesus. Amen.

          Today we will be looking briefly at a string of parables that Jesus speaks, first to a crowd, and then away from the crowd to his disciples alone.
          Now a parable is a simple story told to make a complex point.
          For example, in order to express that God’s command to love our neighbor transcends race, ethnicity, and religion, Jesus tells a story about a Samaritan man going out of his way to help a Jewish man
—That story is often entitled the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
          As I said, a parable is a simple story told to make a complex point.

          And when it comes to Parables I have certain convictions about them. I believe parables are to be read in a particular way.
          Parables express something that is abstract and out there in a concrete way right here. Parables, also, speak truths into being.
          And when a deep truth blossoms forth from our Savior’s lips the raw images he uses cling to our ears, our minds, and our hearts for a very long time.
          We chew on parables until they start to chew on us.
Jesus’ Parables are not to be read—instead they eventually begin to read us.
          Let us pray

          The first two parables today are told outside, to the crowd, to everyone.
It is answering the unasked question “How can one rabbi from the sticks and his rag tag followers flip the world on its head.”

          A shallow answer to this question found in these parables, is that we find something small becoming something very large.
          But when we look more carefully we see we’re dealing with mustard seed in a field—mustard seed is a weed, like Pachysandra or Kudzu or crab grass—an invasive species, a vegetative pest.
          It’s a tree smack dab in the middle of a field, obsticles aren’t helpful when farming
—a tree filled with birds
—hospitable to birds
—birds which eat and peck at the wheat and other plants of the field…
It’s disruptive!
          Or think about yeast
—yeast isn’t a positive image in scripture
—remember in another place Jesus describes the teaching of the Pharisees as Yeast to be avoided.
          And then there are the three measures of flour—that’s like 50 pounds of flour, all changed by a small sprinkling of yeast.
          The thrust of these two parables isn’t simply that small things become large, but instead that the Kingdom of Heaven is a tiny offensive thing, which disrupts and changes everything, and it leads to hospitality.

          Last week’s reading, in which Jesus leaves the crowd and privately explains his Parable of the Wheat and the Tares to his disciples, is what’s missing in today’s reading, between the first set of parables and the final three.
So, these next parables of the Kingdom, unlike the first, are directed at his disciples.
          And he begins by telling them two tales of the Kingdom, that the Kingdom of Heaven is hidden, it is of great worth
—such great worth that duplicity, hiding a treasure in order to acquire the treasure, is logical
—such great worth that selling everything for its sake, is not a burden, but a joy—our duty and our delight.

          Then finally, Jesus tells the disciples a parable like the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. He tells of a net filled with both good and bad fish, and that those good and bad fish are not separated until they’ve all been brought to the shore.
          From this, and last week’s, parable, St. Augustine finds a great truth about the Church
—that we’re a mixed body, filled with both saints and sinners, and any attempt to purify the church, remove the sinners from it, ends up destroying it whole clothe
—such judgments are for God alone.

          Then Jesus concludes these Parables of the Kingdom by asking “You understand this all right?” To which the disciples respond, “Amen.”
          So Jesus says his disciples ought to bring forward treasures both old and new.

          And taking Jesus’ command seriously, here are a few treasures for you, the old and the new together.
--
          The Kingdom of Heaven is like the lawn in front of a church, well manicured and respectable, but a wind blew dandelion fuzz everywhere, and it quickly grew up and vexed the Property Committee. The neighborhood kids, those ne’er-do-wells, thought it looked so lovely that they lay down amongst them and lazed in the summer sun.
          The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grody old unused parsonage of a tiny church with a part-time pastor. It was fixed up, and in its time housed many a family down on their luck.
Thanks be to God.

          The Kingdom of Heaven is like a stock trader who received insider information, told no one, sold his whole portfolio, and bought the sure thing.
          The Kingdom of Heaven is like a coach who saw a great player, and gave up all his draft picks for that player, and rejoiced much.
Thanks be to God.

          The Kingdom of Heaven is like 4 churches with many and varied members. They joined together as a Parish and soldiered on for the sake of the Gospel in central Jersey.
          Some of their collective efforts failed, others succeeded, it was never clear which would be which beforehand.
Thanks be to God.

          Have you understood all this?
          Good, after service, get on out of here, you followers of Jesus you, and tell folk in every way about the ways of Kingdom of Heaven and the Joy of the Gospel.
A+A

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Gay Marriage Sermon




Today, we continue the summer sermon series, 20 questions in 10 weeks, with two questions about Gay Marriage.
They are, “Should we be sponsoring same sex marriage?”
And “Does the Bible profess marriage as between a man and a woman?”

         I’m kinda glad this question came up, as one of the decisions at Synod Assembly was that, in light of New Jersey allowing marriages between people of the same gender, every congregation should re-examine our 2009 statement on Sexuality “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust.”

         Now, by way of beginning it’s important to point out that part of the ELCA’s statement “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” involved the concept of Respect for the Bound Conscience of the Neighbor
—the idea that brothers and sisters in Christ can deeply disagree with one another and still recognize the other person comes to their position from a place of faith.

         Within our tradition it is acceptable to fall anywhere between the two following positions:

1.   It’s acceptable, to believe that same-gender sexual behavior is sinful, contrary to biblical teaching, and natural law. That same-gender sexual behavior carries the grave danger of unrepentant sin,
and therefore it is safe to conclude that the neighbor, and the community, are best served by calling people in same-gender sexual relationships to repentance for that behavior and to a celibate lifestyle. Such decisions are intended to be accompanied by pastoral response and community support.

2.   It’s also acceptable, to believe that the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and committed relationships that we experience today. That the neighbor and community are best served when same-gender relationships are lived out with lifelong and monogamous commitments that are held to the same rigorous standards, sexual ethics, and status, as hetero-sexual marriage
And Therefore, it is imperative to surround such couples and their lifelong commitments with prayer, that they might live in ways that glorify God, find strength for the challenges that will be faced, in order to serve others. Same-gender couples should avail themselves of social and legal support for themselves, their children, and other dependents and seek the highest legal accountability available for their relationships in their respective state”… in New Jersey that means Marriage.

         So, to reiterate, both those extremes, and everything in the middle, are acceptable and faithful ways for members of the ELCA to understand Homosexuality and relate to gay-folk.

         For the sake of full disclosure I fall decidedly in the 2nd camp. I am convinced by scripture, and witnessing the spiritual fruits of such relationships,
that same-gendered couples should be afforded every protection under the law,
and bear every responsibility of the faith,
with regards to their publically accountable, lifelong, monogamous, relationship.
They should get married and do so amongst God’s people.
For me to profess anything other than that, would go against conscious.
Let us pray

         To answer the question: “Does the Bible Profess marriage as between a man and a woman?” the best place to start is in the beginning, or at least within spitting distance of it.
         The starting place for thinking about marriage, and in a lot of ways the starting point for natural law arguments against gay marriage too, is this beautiful and tragic account of man being without a partner.
         The man experienced the fullness of creation and says, “(Sigh) I need a partner, a help-mate, a wife.”
         And God said, “It isn’t good for Man to be alone.”
         And God trots out companion after companion before him
—does a barn cat fill that hole in your heart? A dog, they’re man’s best friend, right? A hippo? Birds and bees?
         No, “for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.”
         And so God took drastic measures, instead of digging deep again into the hummus to form a human partner, God digs into the man himself, and fashions from the very flesh of man a companion. God forms an Ishah from an Ish—a Wo-Man from a Man.
         And the man looks upon this companion and says:
‘This at last is bone of my bones
   and flesh of my flesh.’

         This second chapter of Genesis asks the question “Why is it, couples leave their flesh and blood, their family, and become a new family? Why does marriage and sex make you feel so very connected to the other person? Why is there such a tight bond between husband and wife?”
         And the answer is because they too become flesh and blood. /In marriage, they become one flesh.
         Why do most people yearn for “their other half?” Why do they so strongly seek a mate? Because it’s natural! That yearning is innate within us!

         So that’s where marriage being between a man and a woman comes from
—from this explanation of the creation of new families,
this explanation of the fullness found in finding your other half,
your flesh and blood,
your rib so long removed from you,
finally returned.

         There are also found in scripture five verses which prohibit sex between people of the same gender.
         Several are found amongst the purity laws, for example in Leviticus 20 “And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”
         Of course, as we read last week, if we go down this road, we’ll need to round up everyone who worked on the Sabbath and kill them.
         If we follow the admonition to kill all children who have ever talked back to their parents, we’re not going to have much of a youth group left.
         For that matter, (Bob, Randy, Eric)—following Leviticus 14, I’ve inspected the education wing on more than one occasion, and have reason to believe there is at least some mold there, therefore we need to go out to the Mighty Fortress and get all our gasoline and pour it on the education wing, light it on fire, raze it to the ground, and take whatever is left to the local place of impurity.
         In short, straight people applying purity laws only when they don’t apply to us, is unfaithful.

         The best place to go for prohibitions against same gender sex would be Paul, he’s at least consistent. He’s against all marriage, advising all Christians to stay celibate like he is, but if they’re too weak for that, to get married—though he warns getting married leads to much distress.
         Paul advises this, on one hand because he thinks the world is ending sooner rather than later,
but also because he believes marriage and sex can not be divorced from a Roman understanding of Power, which insists on separating people out into categories like Slave and Free, Citizen and Barbarian, Gentile and Jew, Male and Female
—in order to ensure one of those two categories is in charge and powerful, and the other is disempowered, disenfranchised, and victimized.

         In fact, one of the main places people turn to, in order to dismiss gay marriage, Romans chapter 1, which we just read, is one of those places where Paul is kicking these lines of division in the teeth in the name of Jesus Christ.
         Paul is writing to a divided community in Rome. A community filled with both Jewish and Gentile Christians, in which the Jews had been expelled from Rome for 5 years and then returned.

         Imagine half of St. Stephen, let’s say all but one council member and everyone who sits on the pulpit side, being removed from New Jersey by the government, and then coming back in five years time. Things would be different, you might even resent those who replaced you on council or who are sitting in “your” pew.
         Well, Paul writes to this community, and is insisting that everyone, both Jew and Gentile, is a sinner in need of Christ’s love.

         So Paul sets a Rhetorical trap,
he ensnares his reader with his words.
He makes his argument by paraphrasing a Jewish book which talks about how sinful gentiles are, The Wisdom of Solomon.

Imagine this being read aloud to the whole community:
         “Hey, fellow Jews” the letter begins “remember what you’ve read in The Wisdom of Solomon about those sinful Gentiles who’ve taken over your church?
They’re so horrible that they worship the creature instead of the Creator, and therefore the Creator allows them to fall into degraded and impure lust—instead of loving the Creator they lust for the creation.
--At this point those Jewish Christians begin to nod in agreement. (They’ve read Wisdom of Solomon before, they know where this is going)
         Once those gentiles head down the slippery slope of Idolatry
—and we know they do because they’re Gentiles after all—
they’ll continue falling further from God and the natural order of things, they’ll be disordered, and will have unnatural sex with members of the same sex because Lust is the only thing left in their hearts—those Gentile Sinners.
-- The Gentile Christians start to grumble, the Jewish Christians smile ear to ear.
         And from there it just gets worse, doesn’t it? All wickedness will pour out—Evil, coveting, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, gossip, slander, hatred of God, disrespect, arrogance, foolishness, faithlessness, heartlessness, ruthlessness.
         Those Gentiles are so bad they deserve to die!
-- One of the Jewish Christians might even shout out an Amen at this point.
         “And therefore,” the reader continues, “my fellow Jewish Christians you have no excuse, by judging others, you are guilty. You Do The Same Thing!

         It’s just like when Nathan tells David the story about the horrible man who stole a sheep, and David says “That man should die.” And then Nathan responds, “You are that man.”

         Or, it’s like a friend of mine who looked at the ELCA’s statement on Human Sexuality to read about the sins of gay people, only to find that in its 44 pages there were only 2 pages about gay-folk, the rest was about straight folk and our sexual inclinations.
         The point of this verse is that all, both Jew and Gentile, are in need of Christ.
         Now I’m not saying Jesus or Paul were high fiving homosexuals in the 1st century
—instead I’m saying there was no such thing as homosexuality in the 1st century…
there was only homoeroticismonly same-sex-acts.
         Roman Males had sex with Slaves and Women,
Greek Males had sex with Boys and Woman.
Sex was used to affirm power and create those categories that Paul is so insistent are inconsistent with the Christian faith.
Marriage and sexuality both gay and straight, expressing love, commitment, and trust, just wasn’t the norm back then, but it is now.

         So that answers the first question, what’s the Bible have to say about marriage being between a man and a woman, as well as the implied question of what does it have to say about same-sex-marriage.

         As for the 2nd question, “Should we be sponsoring same sex marriage?”
Lutherans have a different relationship to the state than most denominations—it goes all the way back to Luther being protected by the princes while thinking through his faith—
         The logic, I think, goes “Wow, the fanatical religious folk want to assassinate me, the secular state is keeping them from doing so… maybe there is a place in my faith for a division between the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of Government!”
         Marriage isn’t a sacrament.
         The church blesses what the state has done, that why a traditional European Lutheran wedding often involve the long parade from the court house to the church.

         Additionally, marriage isn’t just about sex.
         To quote the ELCA’s sexuality statement, “Christians believe that marriage is not solely to legitimate physical sexual intimacy, but to support long-term and durable communion for the good of others.”

         I think of two gay seminary class mates, married in Massachusetts—a more traditional Lutheran couple you will not find, an organist and a Pastor—when they look at one another you know it’s not just about sex, it’s about love and commitment.

         I think of one of my professors, raising her son along with her wife. Their marriage supports their parenting, it’s a safe place from which to raise him.

         I also think of when my good friend and colleague Pastor Fred and I get to grumbling:
         Like Adam I say, “(Sigh) Being a Pastor is so hard and emotionally draining, I can’t do it alone, I need a partner, a help-mate, a wife.”
         And Pastor Fred responds, like Adam, “(Sigh) Being a Pastor is so taxing, I can’t do it alone, I need a partner, a help-mate, a husband.”
         Having sex doesn’t lighten the load of being a Pastor, having someone to come home to, who you trust and love, who is flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone, that does.
        
In summary:
         There is a wide variety of ways to understand marriage and be a faithful member of the ELCA.
         Any pointing to purity laws to justify discrimination or worse against gay folk, if followed through logically, would have such severe consequences for everyone in our society, it could make the Salem witch trials, reign of the Taliban, or ISIS, or Boko Haram look tame.
         We are truly at a different place than people in the 1st century were—Romantic love, especially between same gendered individuals, just wasn’t a thing, but it is now.

         I’m wholeheartedly convinced marrying gay folk is not baptizing gay sex, but instead creating a healthy and holy space for legitimate yearnings for companionship, the protection of gay parents, and the strengthening of the institution of marriage. A+A

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Sunday, July 06, 2014

Sermon: Calendar



As we continue on our summer sermon series, 20 questions in 10 weeks, today’s questions both touch on the topic of calendar.

          The first is:
          “What Season was Jesus born? Fall, Winter, Spring, or Summer?”
          And the second is:
          “Why do people go to church on the Sabbath?

          Let us pray.
          On the face of it, the question “What season was Jesus born?” seems a little odd. When I asked a colleague about it, his response was, “This is like asking what color Christ’s hair was… the actual answer can only matter if we’ve prioritized something that doesn’t matter as though it does.”
          But, I looked around a little, just to see where people go with this question, and found out there is a lot of arguments against celebrating Christmas that start with the question “What season was Jesus born in?”
         
          So here’s how the logic of these arguments go: “Oh, of course Jesus was born in the Winter.”
          “That’s impossible, the shepherds had sheep outside, and it is too cold in the winter to have sheep outside.
          For that matter, no Emperor would hold a census in winter, because he wouldn’t want to be cruel to his subjects!
          And it would be so cold that the Virgin Mary would have frozen to death and Jesus would never be born.
          And so clearly Christmas is actual the Pagan practice of worshipping the Sun’s birth on “Sol Invictus.”

          So, a few things to consider about this argument:
          Firstly, every person who makes this argument cites Adam Clarke, an Irish academic from the 1800’s. Now the little village Clarke lived in was kinda cold in December, between 45 and 36 degrees. But, Bethlehem averages between 57 and 45 degrees in December, not swimming weather, but it’s not going to kill you either.
          Secondly, Roman Emperors were cruel from time to time.
          Thirdly, there was no formal recognition of this type of worship of the sun until 274CE, 72 years after the death of Irenaeus, the first recorded Church Father to suggest December 25th as Christ’s birth.
 
          But I agree with my friend, arguing about this type of thing is majoring in the minors, and not really the Lutheran way of doing faith, but I’d imagine that would help the questioner think about the date of Christmas a little more.

          The more interesting of the two questions, at least to me, is: “Why do people go to church on the Sabbath?” And spreading the question out a bit: what’s the Sabbath for?
         
          Reading in exodus we see a very severe accounting of Sabbath—it’s about rest and holiness… and if you don’t do it you are to be put to death.
          In Genesis and Deuteronomy we get two sources of this command.
          From Genesis we see the Sabbath is holy on account of being associated with God’s holy act of creation, and Sabbath is about rest because on the 7th day God rested.
           From Deuteronomy we read that the Sabbath is holy because of God’s liberation of his people from Slavery into Freedom, and it requires rest because a people who were once slaves should not let anyone in their society live in the slave-like condition of constant labor.
         
          And when Jesus argues with Pharisees about healing on the Sabbath, he draws from that 2nd tradition, the liberation tradition—saying:
“What better day is there than the Sabbath for making straight the crooked path,
lightening the load of the heavy burdened,
and liberating the lives of the loveless and luckless.”
          And as we read today, when push comes to shove, he shoves the severe restrictions of Sabbath rest out of the way for the sake of that tradition of Sabbath liberation, declaring “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

          And with all that background in place, the question again, “Why do people go to church on the Sabbath?”
          In a sense we don’t, Sabbath traditionally is from Friday at dusk to Saturday at dusk.
The majority of Christians, however, go to church on Sunday, in order to worship on the day Jesus was raised from the dead.
          But, there is a touch of Sabbath on Sunday in worship. We keep it, (and just so you know I’m now parroting Luther’s explanation of how Sabbath and worship go together…)
          We keep it, to break up the routine of work work work, or work play work play work play—so that we can find an opportunity to inject the Holy into these weekly cycles by participating in public worship. And this public worship we do, is holy because we hear God’s Holy Word and we praise God through song and prayer.
          And of course, I’m preaching to the choir here, you all showed up, you honor the holiness of time by being here. And I do want to say to you all by being here you are doing something good and holy.

          Yet, in a sense, it is not enough to just show up—Luther points to a peasant, who over-indulged the night before, waking up in pig trough, cuddling with a sow, so hung over he couldn’t make it to church to hear the Word of God—and says “and yet those who come to worship and neither learn nor retain the promises of Christ are no better off.” They too have broken the Sabbath.
         
          Still, for Luther, Sabbath does retains a sense of rest as well. We keep Sabbath for the sake of our bodily needs—we carve out as a society a time when everyone has a chance to stop from slaving away at work, because without rest we grow weary, crazy, and less human.
          So, in addition to reflecting on God’s good promises as found in scripture, Sunday ought to be a time that is “good… for nothing.” Just good to be, and to rest, and to reside in the goodness of God’s world.

          In short, Sabbath is about rest, liberation, and holiness.
          It’s about rest, a time that is “good… for nothing.”
          It is also about liberation, acts of kindness and justice are part of living into the holiness of God’s time.
          It, finally, is holy in and of itself, dragging us into the reality of God through our worship together in which we receive and cherish the promises of God.
A+A.

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sermon: Angels & Demons



         Just to remind everyone, as a summer sermon series I’ll be preaching topically. Specifically, I’ll be preaching on questions that you all have submitted over the last month.

         Today, both questions are questions involving spiritual beings. They are:
1.   What’s the deal with Angels? Do humans become angels when we die?
2.   Is there a particular significance to Jesus casting the Legion of Evil Spirits from the Gerasene Demoniac into a herd of swine?

Let us pray:

         To start off with, when we talk about Angels it’s important to admit right off the bat that they are mysterious.
         For example, in the book of Genesis various patriarchs run into what appears to be a human messenger, then they describe it as an Angel, then sometimes it becomes the Angel of the LORD, then finally it is described at God!
Clearly something odd is happening.
         Likewise, if you read the book of Ezekiel you’ll find Angels who are things, for example pieces of God’s throne, and elsewhere angels described simply as “flaming things.”
         All that to say, they’re strange things and I’m clearly not going to nail down what they are, but we can at least take a few swings at it.

         Tackling the second half of the question before the first, there is nothing in scripture that indicates humans become angels when we die.
         The closest we come to an actual example of a human becoming an angel is one non-canonical
—meaning from writings which are not considered scripture
—one non-canonical instance in which Enoch,
remember Enoch, the guy who walked with God and then was not—Noah’s great-grandfather…
well, there is a tradition in which Enoch is translated into an angel named Metatron.

         That said, there is a larger Pastoral concern behind the question, there is a bigger question being asked, which is:
“Is there still a connection between me and my dead loved one?”
         And to that I respond yes.

         We are held fast by the One Who Was, Who Is, and Who Will Be, the one who transcends time and has conquered death.
         Each Sunday we eat together before the altar, at a meal that anticipates the destruction of death and the wiping away of all tears,
anticipates this great culmination, (here’s the kicker) which has already happened through Jesus Christ.
         So, when we kneel before this half-circle altar rail… half-square actually… we can be confident that the invisible other half of the railing around the altar is filled with our sisters and
brothers who were and who will be.

         As to the other half of the first question, what are angels?
         There are a lot of different ways to think about the nature of angels, I’m just going to briefly give you two I think can be helpful.

         The first comes from Augustine’s City of God. He reads the creation of light on the first day in Genesis chapter 1 as the creation of angels as “partakers of the eternal Light which we call
the only-begotten Son of God.”
         As for the darkness, Augustine writes, “If an angel turns away from God, he becomes impure,” an unclean spirit.
Essentially angels are like the moon, they are beings who reflect the light of Jesus Christ, and when that light is eclipsed they become evil.
         Now, the interesting thing that comes out of this meditation upon Angels and Demons is that he affirms, “Evil has no nature of its own. Rather, it is the absence of good, which has received the name evil.”
         This is probably one of the most powerful realizations in all of Augustine’s works—evil isn’t a thing, it is simply the absence of
good! The dark side of the moon isn’t defective, it simply needs to
reflect the light of the sun!
Imagine what this means for our redemption!

         For the second way to think about angels we need to fast forward 1600 years or so from Augustine to a guy with the funny name Walter Wink.
         Dr. Wink wrestled for years and 100’s of pages with the question “what are these spiritual beings?”—Angels, Powers, Heights, Depths—all those things which Paul writes can not separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus.
         And it was in reading Daniel that Dr. Wink hit upon an in to understanding the Spiritual Powers. The angel who comes to Daniel was slowed down by the Prince, the Angel, of Persia. Dr. Wink thought through the meaning of particular nations having Angels assigned to them, and concluded these Spiritual Powers are (dis?)embodiments of those things which no one person controls.
         So, for him, Spiritual Powers are almost like the ethos of corporations, nations, places, etc.
         And, he goes on to point out, like all created things, they are fallen and in need of redemption… in fact this is one of the tasks of the Christian faith.
         His main example is the end of Apartheid in South Africa. By seeking a non-violent solution to the transition of power in that country, through Truth and Reconciliation, the Spiritual Ethos of South Africa was redeemed—an exorcism of Apartheid was done to that country.



         Let’s take this way of looking at Angels and other Spiritual Powers and bring it a little closer to home:
         About two weeks ago some of us got together and began to explore what hunger looks like in the US, and we were overwhelmed with how many moving parts there were, and that some things being done to alleviate hunger actually weren’t doing much good.
         The systems in place in this country to feed people well, are out of whack—Walter Wink would say this is actually a Spiritual problem, these systems which are bigger than any one person are in fact tied to a Spiritual Power and that Power is sick, if not demonic, and therefore it is our duty as Christians to try to, through non-violent self-giving acts, redeem that system so it once again functions as God intended it to.

         And finally, in a very round about way, that gets us to the question about Legion. Notice the demons are named Legion—the same name as Roman Legions, the army, who occupies Israel.
         If an army, a thing bigger than any one person, had an Angelic sense to it, it would be one which focused on defending the weak and needy (this is why Luther recommend that we ask for God’s Angels to Defend us), yet Roman Legions occupied Israel making it’s population weak and needy—this is a perversion of God’s intentions, it is Demonic.

         This person, whose home is occupied by Roman Legions (or alternatively is himself a cast-away member of a Roman Legion), is occupied by unclean spirits named Legion. The physical reality is being manifest in a spiritual way.

         And so Jesus decolonizes this man’s Spirit, and the colonizing power, Legion, doesn’t want to be kicked out of the land currently being occupied by the Roman Legions (see verse 10). So Jesus sends an unclean spirit into an unclean animal, a swine.

         In summary:
1. Jesus finds an unclean place for an unclean thing.
2. Reflecting upon the nature of Angels help us
a) think about redemption as a passive reflection of the good light of
Christ, and that
b) redemption can involve the spirit of whole systems.
3. Finally, we don’t become angels when we die, but we can trust that
all the Saints of God—both living and dead—are one in Christ Jesus.
A+A

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sermon: Cross and Communion



Worship

          This summer I’m going to be preaching a little differently—I’m going to be preaching topically, specifically on topics related to questions the congregation submitted to me during the last month. This sermon series began last week when Pastor Jim answered questions about the Lord’s Prayer and Discerning God’s Will.

          Today I will be preaching on two questions:
1. What is the significance and meaning of the procession of the cross at the beginning and end of the service?
2. Do we as Lutherans believe the bread and wine literally change into Jesus’ body and blood? I assume different Protestant sects believe different things in this regard. I believe Roman Catholics do believe it changes.

          I will tackle these questions bit by bit. First I will deal with the procession of the cross into church and then we will process the cross into the worship space here today
          Next, during the typical time of the Sermon I will tackle the communion question.
          Then, finally, before the recession of the cross, I’ll cover the significance of recessing the cross.

Procession
          We process in with the cross in order to acknowledge the symbol of our redemption—the Cross of Christ. We remember the life giving act of God’s son for our sake, his death on the cross.
          By beginning the service in such a way, we remind ourselves what kind of community is gathered here. It is a cross shaped community, a community immersed in Christ’s death, and made alive with Christ in his resurrection.
          Entering with the cross reminds us that we are a community defined by our Baptism into that death and resurrection of Jesus.
          That in fact, is why the next thing we do in worship, after processing with the cross, is that we return to the font, where we were Baptized, either through confession and forgiveness like we will do today, or in a more literal sense with Thanksgiving for Baptism.
          We process the cross to remind ourselves we are a cross people. A+A

Communion

          The official Lutheran answer to the question asked today about communion can be found in the Smalcald Articles as well as in Luther’s Large and Small Catechism.

          In the Smalcald Articles it is written:
“Concerning transubstantiation, we have absolutely no regard for the subtle sophistry of those who teach that the bread and wine surrender or lose their natural substance and that only the form and color of the bread remain, but it is no longer real bread. For it is in closest agreement with scripture to say that bread is and remains there as St. Paul himself indicates “The bread that we break” and “Eat of the bread.”

          And yet, we also affirm the words of Luther’s Large Catechism:
“It is the true body and blood of the Lord Christ, in and under the bread and wine, which we Christians are commanded by Christ’s words to eat and drink… the sacrament is bread and wine, but not mere bread and wine such as is served at the table. Rather, it is bread and wine set within God’s Word and bound to it.
“It is true, indeed, that if you take the Word away from the elements or view them apart from the Word, you have nothing but ordinary bread and wine. But if the Words remain, as is right and necessary, then by virtue of them the elements are truly the body and blood of Christ. For as Christ’s lips speak and say, so it is; he cannot lie or deceive.”

          So, what’s going on here? Luther is threading the needle between two different understandings of the Lord’s Supper which rely on Logic instead of Faith.

          In the first case, Luther is standing against Medieval Roman Catholic understandings of the Lord’s Supper, which rely on the science of the time, Aristotelian Logic, in order to explain what happens during communion.
          This way of looking at communion makes the claim that we are assured that Jesus is present with us in communion, because all things in the universe have accidents and substance. The accident of the thing is that which can be seen, touched, felt, etc, and the substance of the thing is what the thing actually is.

          So, for example, a fun joke you can play on your friends when you are in the hospital, is to get a Urine Sample Cup, fill it with apple juice, and drink it in front of them.
          In that case the accident is Urine, but the substance is Apple Juice.
          Just so, Medieval reliance on Aristotilian Logic insists we know Jesus is in communion because bread and wine are the accident and flesh and blood are the substance.
          Luther hears this argument and says, “That’s all math to me… we should believe Jesus is truly present in communion because he truly promises to show up, and Jesus doesn’t lie.”

          In the second case, Luther is standing against other protestant reformers like the French John Calvin and Swiss Huldrich Zwingli. They too, he felt, clung to logic instead of faith.
          When they debated with Luther about the Lord’s Supper they clung to a literal understanding of scripture—specifically that Jesus is at the Right Hand of the Father… which to them meant Jesus clearly couldn’t show up in bread and wine here on earth, because he was up in heaven.
          Luther countered that The Right Hand is a Hebrew way of saying strength or power, and so the Traditional understanding of that power involves the ubiquity of Christ—at essence, Jesus isn’t bound to any one place.
          For example, if you read the end of several of the Gospels, Jesus walks through walls, shows up on the road to Emmaus, and so on. So clearly he’s not stuck on a cloud somewhere, clearly he can show up in bread and wine if he promises he is going to.

          So convinced was Luther of the real presence that he met with Zwingli in Malburg and they went round after round for days and days about the real presence and Luther began to etch into the table they sat at “Est ist est.” That is “Is means Is.”
          As I read in the gospel today Jesus says, “this IS my body” and “this IS my blood.”

          So the question quickly becomes, why isn’t this common knowledge among Lutherans?
          To paraphrase the eminent theologian Mel Brooks: “I blame the Irish.”
         
          During the American Civil War tons of Protestants were dying left and right, just as Immigration from Catholic Ireland was picking up.
          And Samuel Schmucker, a Princeton Grad and one of the founders of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, saw this and lost his head. He believed the only way to keep Roman Catholicism from taking over America was to join Lutheran Protestants with Calvinist Protestants by chucking our understanding of Holy Communion.
          In response to this move away from traditional Lutheranism, a cadre of Faculty left Gettysburg and started up a new seminary in 1864, the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.
          Similarly, Lutherans in parts of the country in which everyone is either Lutheran or Catholic—especially in the Midwest—tend to downplay or even misrepresent our understanding of Communion in order to make a greater distinction between us and our Roman neighbors.

          But that’s all a lot of history and maybe a little dry. The important thing to know is this, Jesus shows up in the meal, he is really present. We know this to be true because he promises to show up, and Jesus doesn’t lie!
          If your beloved promised to meet you at the train station, would you sit at home wondering if mathematics can prove her arrival? Would you spend your time fretting over how she made it to the train station?  No, you would run stop lights to get there and see her!
          So too with Jesus, he promises to meet us in the meal! Rejoice, he will be there! Rejoice! His words point us to the reality of his forgiveness—in the meal Jesus promises us forgiveness, life, and salvation. A+A

Recession

          When we recess with the Cross, we find ourselves between the rich meal of Communion and the cross of Christ.
Fed and now following, bringing with us that promise we received in the Body and Blood of our Lord, to be shared with a hurting, crucified, world.
          We are led out into the world to find God in unexpected places, God on the cross, following Christ wherever he may lead.
A+A

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