Thursday, June 12, 2014

Twenty Questions in Ten Weeks

I asked my parishioners to write down their theological questions and I would answer them for the 10 weeks of summer. Here are the subjects they want me to touch on: God’s Will, Worship, Angels and Demons, Calendar, Gay Marriage, Sin and Forgiveness, Messiah, Heavenly Reward and Equality, Affliction and Death, and The Law.

They want to know how to discern God’s will, without being presumptuous.
They want to know precisely what Lutheran believe about the Sacrament of Holy Communion and our use of the Cross in worship.
They want to know about Angels and the Gerasene Demoniac.
A Teenage Boy (because who else asks questions like this) from the Seventh Day Adventist Church who worship in our building on Saturday has very particular questions about our use of calendar.
With the legality of Gay Marriage, and our church being the only one in town who could perform such a thing, they want to know what our Denomination’s relationship to marriage and Gay-folk.
They have questions about degrees of sin and where the root of sin is, as well as “the office of the keys.”
They want to know about our Jewish Brother’s and Sisters and how they see Jesus (I may bring in a Rabbi to help out on this one).
Jesus has this annoying tendency of talking about Heavenly Rewards and there is language of being the greater and lesser in the Kingdom of God, which rubs against both American egalitarianism as well as some of Paul’s egalitarian language… so they want me to square that circle.
They also were curious about the Pauline language about Death Dying and about “Completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”
Finally, there was a question about how much of Moses’ Laws we Christians need to keep.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Pentecost and Confirmation

            The disciples, on Pentecost, are struck by the breath of God, 
a wind,
the Spirit.
            Upon them landed tongues of fire, and they were able to tell the plethora of peoples, from all over the place, Parthians, Medes, Elamites, etc. present at Pentecost,
tell them about what God had done through Jesus Christ.
         And to this powerful movement of God—this new thing God was doing which we celebrate today—Pentecost, some respond, “What does this mean?”

            Let us Pray

            What does this mean?
The ultimate Lutheran question… the one Luther comes back to time and time again in his Small Catechism.
            A question supposedly inspired by his son, Hans, who asked it time and time again
—Luther was the first theologian in the West for 700 years who had a kid in wedlock, and therefore was consistently in Hans’ life,
and therefore when he would try to theologize out there in the clouds
Hans would drag him down to earth by asking that simple question, “Pappa, Was Ist Das?”
What does this mean?

            What does this mean? They ask the disciples.
What does it mean that the Gospel is being proclaimed in a multitude of languages?
What is the meaning of these fisher men come Fishers of Men preaching like this.
            And Peter has an answer—he knows his bible and responds to their question by quoting the book of Joel, explaining that the great and horrible Day of the Lord,
when justice shall come and shall be meted out,
when all will be made right,
the day when salvation shall come,
is at hand.
He answers that their words in many languages is an expansion of the prophetic ministry of the days of old.
That signs like those in Egypt during the time of Moses, when God passed over his people and brought them from slavery into freedom, have fallen afresh through the life death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

Haley, Matthew, and Jared—in these last two years of confirmation class you’ve ran into that question “What does this mean?” a time or two.
         I hope, that these last two years have been a sort of associate’s degree in Jesus.
         I hope that you have a broad foundation in the gospel of Jesus Christ. That together we’ve deepened our commitment to Jesus’ body in the world, the Church.

         In these last two years I hope you’ve developed a sort of tool box of the Faith.
         That I’ve given you tools to engage with the questions that will come to you throughout your life.

         I hope that when someone asks you “What does this mean?”
Like Peter,
you will have a broad overview of scripture from which you can quote.
         When they ask you about Christian history,
you can take them from Paul to Augustine from Luther to Bonhoeffer.
         When they ask what this daily bread thing means,
you can expand out the meaning of that prayer to encompass friends and family, food and shoes—everything that is life giving and nourishing.
         When they engage you about the sacraments and ask, “can bread do that?”
you know to respond, “No, it’s the promise ‘given for you’ and ‘shed for you’ that bring about forgiveness.
         When someone snidely asks you if you’re part of a creedal church,
you can drill down on all three articles of the Apostle’s Creed.
         When arguments break out about where the 10 commandments should be placed in public and private places,
you will already know the commandments and their meaning whether or not they’re present with you.
         When you pray
you can draw on Francis of Assisi and Julian of Norwich with equal admiration.
         When your grandma asks about the heavy red book in the pews,
you can take her from Calendar to Communion through the Psalms and Songs all the way to the Small Catechism at the end where it asks that o’ so Lutheran question: “What Does This Mean?”

         And ultimately the answer to that question, “What does this mean?” Goes beyond confirmation. Ultimately it is about more than an Associate’s Degree in Jesus, a well-stocked toolbox, and answers to questions, no matter how deep.
Ultimately it is about Confirming your Baptism—about what Water, Word, and Spirit did to you on that day long ago.
         That the Holy Spirit called you through the Gospel, enlightens you with Her gifts, made you holy and keeps you in the true faith, just as She does the whole Church, the Body of Christ.
         Daily the Holy Spirit forgives us all our sins—both yours and mine—and will raise you up and give you eternal life.

         Today we’re confirming the Spirit’s work, confirming that you are part of that one Body—that you drink of that one Spirit.
         That you are one of those who Peter spoke of—one of those enlivened by the Spirit. You are young men who see visions, you are daughters who Prophecy.
         Today is your confirmation that you, like Peter, empowered by the Spirit, will point to what God is doing through his Son Jesus Christ.