Thursday, March 15, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, March 15

When Paul writes in I Corinthians, "We are all one body..." he uses as  possibilities for not seeing our shared identity "Jew or Greek, slave or free."

I wonder what would be the modern day equivalent?

What designations or descriptions or differences inhibit our ability to see another as a member of the same body?

Last night's program (great job - Christine) pushed the edges of what we as a society ought to provide as a basic, human right.  Housing?  Health care?  Education?  It seems at times as if we blame or ignore those at the lower end of the socio-economic ladder.

The previous week Peter spoke of race.  How "white" he experienced Clemson to be - and he wasn't just referring to the skin tone of his classmates.

Many of us will board a plane this afternoon for Germany.  Will we encounter our hosts there as sisters and brothers, or as aliens and foreign enemies?

Paul reminds us that one part of the body cannot ignore the other parts.  If the heart is diseased, the brain had better instruct the feet to take the heart to the doctor.  We cannot take care of ourselves and tell the others they are on their own.  We can't.  Well, we can.  But this would be contrary to the way of Jesus.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, March 14

Subtle theological differences do make a difference.

The Christian faith is a response to the call from God.  The call comes to each person, through the Word, from the Holy Spirit.  I read this morning from I Corinthians 12, "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit."  It is the same Spirit, and the same Lord, but the call may attach itself to any number of differing receptors.

So, some respond to the call by hanging out with a Lutheran group; others will be at the Catholic church; others at New Spring.  Some won't go to a church building, but find themselves responding in a peer group meeting on campus.

I do possess a generous orthodoxy.  Each are responding to the call from God.

But subtleties in theology do make a difference.  They either allow us to be whole-heartedly engaged, or leave us a feeling like "this isn't exactly the best match for me."

Be active in your faith and in your search for the place where you can live that out.  But also ask the questions about the subtle confessions present in the ministry group.  Not every place is the best match.  And those places which insist there is but one response to the Spirit may not set well for some of you.

This thought arose as I read that I Corinthian passage this morning.  It followed a conversation yesterday with a person straddling two some-what differing ministry groups and wondering where they fit in.  The message may also help you as you return home for Spring Break.  Realize that this ministry has its own unique response to God's Word - one that may differ from the congregation in which you were raised.  Do not reject that community of faith which prepared you for where you are now in your faith journey.  And if you notice differences, use them to grow in your knowledge and understanding.  And - if you have time - come and talk to me about it.  I love such conversations.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, March 13

A systematic reading of scriptures has a way of connecting to life.  Rather than searching my bible for something that is meaningful for me today, a system permits me to see how the scriptures bring relevance to me.

At last evening's meeting of the LCM Directing Committee, we digressed into a discussion of the practice of some denominations (such as Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) to require persons to register for communion.  While not firmly enforced by all congregations, the LC-MS does have "Close Communion."  This is the church's way of making sure that they abide by the instructions of Paul in I Corinthians 11:29:  "For all who eat and drink without discerning the Lord's body, eat and drink judgement against themselves."  What congregation would want to enable such an injury to another?!?!  So, they have close communion - your appreciation of the sacrament must be close to the teaching of the Church, or we will protect you from potential judgement.  The only way we can be assured you are close is if you have received instruction in one of our congregations.  The limits on communion may be interpreted by some as a limitation - but its roots are in a deep pastoral concern, and in the scriptures.

Meister Eckhart's words also came up this morning.  (Those visiting Germany next week will visit the church where he lived and taught.)  He writes that while we should not wait until we have an "upsurge of emotion or devotion" to seek Holy Communion, we ought to be rightly prepared.  There are three steps:  1) conscience is without reproach, 2) readiness to take pleasure in nothing but God, and 3) that each communion result in a grown in ones affection for our Lord.

Communion practice is continually debated and discussed among us as followers of Jesus.  And, there is rhyme and reason for each congregation's choices and practices.  Each are logical and methodical.  We do well to think charitably of the practices of others - as we ask them to do the same about ours.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Devotion - Monday, March 12

"'All things are lawful,' but not all things are helpful."  I Cor 10:14

Ethics do matter.  How we conduct ourselves in the world is something we need to monitor.  

Among us, it is too common to flaunt our liberties.  We make jokes about what is forbidden in other religious communities.  This is surely consistent with what is lawful.  But is it helpful?

Is it helpful to those in search of an alternative to the vices and abuses of the world?  Is it helpful to those whose family struggles with additions and abusive behavior patterns has lead them to the hallowed halls of God's house?

There are many, many eyes watching us.  And how we are seen matters.  Matters deeply.

It is not by works that we are saved.  It is a gift of God's grace.  But as saved individuals, we are called to live life differently.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sermon - 4th Sunday in Lent

John 3:14-21  

                                                                     Love the Darkness 

There is a section of C.S. Lewis’ popular book Mere Christianity in which he argues against folks who want to make of Jesus a good, moral teacher.  Lewis points out that Jesus does not qualify for such a designation.  You either have to be a follower of Jesus, or be honest enough to admit that he was at best a liar or at worst a flaming lunatic.

Jesus said he was the Son of God.  And every one of his so-called moral teachings emerges from this identity.  While it is possible that lunatics or liars can say some truthful or helpful things – you would not want to name them as an example of what we all ought to be.

So, stage one in this morning’s homily is establishing a baseline for whether we will identify Jesus as Messiah/Son of God – or if we are more inclined to put him in those uncharitable categories named by Mr. Lewis.  Tilt your head one way or the other – so I can get a feel for how the rest of this is going to go.  Jesus is who he says he is - - - Jesus maybe ought to be relegated to the margins.

Claiming to be God’s Son isn’t the only outrageous thing that Jesus says.  Look at this morning’s reading from the 3rd chapter of John.  Verse references are omitted, so let’s look by lines.  Go to line 4, the very last word, and read that phrase:  “and people loved darkness rather than light.”

Which way did you tilt your head?  Does this statement by Jesus sound rational/reasonable?  WHO? would love darkness over light?  Is Jesus a liar?  A lunatic?

Perhaps you didn’t stop reading where I did.  Maybe you remember the rest of the verse or sentence.  Jesus says they preferred darkness because their deeds were evil.  And we might naturally assume that “evil people” would shun the light and remain in the shadows.  Jesus doesn’t seem so prone to exaggeration or lunacy when we heard his words as a call to discipleship.

Or does he?

Let’s remember what Jesus’ call to discipleship is about.  Let’s not forget the liturgical season in which we find ourselves and that Good Friday and Golgotha are the destinations upon which Jesus has set his sights.

This great and respected moral teacher said that his disciples are those who abandon mother and father and follow.  This highly regarded motivational speaker once said that if you have two coats you are to keep one and give the other one away.  This lunatic said that the only way to save one’s life is to sacrifice it.

The only time Jesus’ words don’t sound like a lie or the rantings of a severely disturbed mental patient are when we strip his words of their bite and refashion them into pretty little phrases suitable for posters we can tape to the wall.

I do regret, every time I sense that a sermon is turning angry or accusative.  Usually, I write such sermons Saturday and then wimp out on Sunday morning when I look at the faces of the lost and lonely little lambs who have come in hopes of a ray of good news.  I want to say nice things, I really do.  And I will.

Look again at our Gospel reading.  John 3:16 is perhaps the most popular of all biblical verses.  And John 3:16 is the ultimate ray of hope and good news.  God does so love the world, that he gave his only Son.  So that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.

It is very unfortunate – extremely unfortunate – that the second half of that sentence is too often interpreted as a condition.  This good news comes our way IF we meet whatever definition the interpreter gives to what it means to believe.

But keep on reading.  Jesus says that the Son does not come into the world to condemn, but to save.  These verses to do speak of a God cruel enough to dangle something before our eyes and then point out why we can’t have it.  It is a statement of a reversal of what humans have eventually done with every religious tradition.  It is a statement which destroys the attempts to recast God as a vengeful hater of the very ones whom he has created.  “For God so loved the world….”

Then comes this tricky part, where we find that reference to people loving darkness rather than light.  This tricky part is confusing, and it goes contrary to so much of what we are accustomed to hearing that we forget this part or dismiss it or overlook it.

I prefer translations of the bible which are literal – meaning they don’t clean up the language for us.  But a paraphrase of these verses might be helpful.  Isn’t Jesus saying that condemnation comes to those would rather trust in their own world-view than embrace the way of the Son?  Are not these verses almost a tearful acknowledgement that the way to salvation and eternal life and happy life is right before us – but we still tend to choose a different path.

Which way did you tilt your head?  Are you inclined to think of Jesus as who he says he is?  Or would you rather relegate him to the margins?

Jesus did say – If you have two coats give one away.  There weren’t IRA’s or Pension Plans or 501(k)’s in his day, but if they had existed I think we all know what Jesus might have said.

Which way did you tilt your head?  Jesus speaks roughly to the Gentile woman who asked for her daughter to be healed, but then goes on to admire her faith.  He tells an adulteress things he won’t say plainly to the religious leaders in the Temple.

We don’t need to ask what Jesus would do - we know what he would do -when faced with protecting himself or potentially harming another. 

The judgement does not come from on high to descend upon us.  “This is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.  But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, March 8

Mark 6:34 is memory verse for me.  It is both a great comfort and instruction for my work as a servant of Christ.

Jesus and the disciples are being called upon to respond to so many issues and concerns.  Jesus says it is time for them to go away for a while, so they can have time to reflect, to pray, to reorient.  They attempt to do so, but when they get to this place, the crowd has beat them there, and are waiting.

Jesus looks out on this scene and Mark writes, "He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd."

The verses which follow are Mark's retelling of the feeding of the 5,000.

Jesus does have compassion.  Compassion upon us and for us.  We sing as children "Jesus loves me...." and then we enter the adult world and hear messages of God's looming damnation.

Jesus has compassion.  Compassion for us and upon us.  ".... for the Bible tells me so."

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, March 7

Lord, grant that each one who has to do with me today may be the happier for it.

It is far to easy to forget that the call to follow Christ is to lose ourselves in our having found him.  There are few encouragements to return to this core affirmation of Christian faith.  We are more often reminded to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" as if getting a ticket to heaven were the mark of a disciple.

Jesus made it clear that those who would be his disciples are those who care for others, serve other, understand themselves to be slaves to others.

I do not want you to worry or fear - there is no reason to do so!  I can make such bold assertions because of my decades of following Jesus and discovering the assurance which emerges from continually looking for ways to love and serve "each one who has to do with me today."

Those who are pre-occupied with their own fate (eternal or otherwise) have a great discovery when they find how quickly such concerns disappear in the commitment to make "the happier" those who cross their path this day.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, March 6

My wife does not swim in the ocean.  She doesn't want to be in water where she can't see what is around her.  She knows that beneath the waves there are currents and that the sea floor is uneven and unpredictable.  While the largest of the sea creatures cannot swim in the shallows, they are out there.

The sea and the waves and a fear of the depths is a continual theme in scripture.  So much of my mental image of the biblical lands is of dry and arid places; and yet the sea is also a continual theme.

Some of the New Testament references surely arise from the vocation of Jesus' earliest disciples.  They were fishermen.  

There is also much to be gained from images of water and waves and depths.

There are many dangers lurking immediately around us which we may not be able to see.  The water looks so inviting, but it hides and harbors tremendous power and dangers.

I am also mindful of the sea as an image for the spiritual life - what we see is merely the surface of a body with amazing depths.  If we do not enter, we can only skim the thinnest of layers.

Be aware of the dangers which can be hidden.  But do not let this fear prevent you from taking the risk of moving more deeply.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Devotion - Monday, March 5

Mark 5 retells the story of the woman with a "flow of blood".  She is the one who slips up behind Jesus and touches the hem of his garment and is made well.

Sensing that "power has gone out from him" turns to see who has touched him.  The disciples are somewhat amused by this - there was a huge crowd of folks and persons were pushing in on them from all sides.  But, something was different about this woman's touch.

Sometimes, simply being in the presence of Jesus is enough.  When we don't know what words to speak or what emotions to feel, just coming is sufficient.

This woman is made well simply for actively striving to be able to touch Jesus.

There are days when I am not sure what I ought to pray or even how to speak the prayer that is on my heart.  On those days, I should remember Mark 5 and realize that being made well is linked to merely being in the presence of Jesus.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Sermon - Lent 3 - Year B

John 2:13-22 & I Cor 1:18-25                       

                                                          The Foolishness which is Christ

Don't you just love the story of Jesus driving the money changers from the temple?  It appeals to us for so many differing reasons - some good, some not so good.  The most common question raised over this story is whether or not Jesus does all this out of anger.  It may be helpful to see Jesus as a person who got angry.  Repeated references to Jesus as one who knew no sin or committed no sin do very little to help us identify with Jesus – or I should saw to see him as one of us.  But show me a Jesus capable of losing his temper and I am a lot more likely to find connections between his life and mine.

The story appeals to me with its acknowledgment of the power which resides in a right conviction.  Picture this in your head - there is Jesus, one little man in the midst of so many strong and muscular individuals, yet the strength of his convictions prevents anyone from stopping him.  Because he was right, his actions are unopposed even by those with greatly superior physical strength. 

The story of Jesus driving the money changers from the temple appeals to us for a number of differing reasons.  Some good; some not so good.

One not-so-good reason would be to embolden those who read this story and immediately begin to consider who Jesus would drive from the temples which we call Christian churches.  Some people read this story and from it derive permission to forcefully remove from the church those whom they consider objectionable.  Money changers may still appear on the lists of those to be excluded.  But others are readily added:  those with different lifestyles; those with the wrong political opinions; those who make use of the ancient creeds, those who do not employ the creeds.  How often do we see the actions of Jesus as an excuse to exclude from the temple those whom we find objectionable?

As a campus pastor, serving in an academic community, I am sensitive to another category of persons sometimes pushed to the edges if not over the edge of faithful servants of the church.  The reading from I Co­rinthians is all too often read as an indication that those who wish to apply intellect or rational thought to the Christian experience are wrong.  Jesus’ driving of the money changers from the temple is linked to Paul’s discussion of the misuse of wisdom and suddenly there develops this notion that Christian faith is all about the heart and in no way involves the head.  If they are not driven from the temple, those who would apply research and reason and rationality to the Christian tradition are at least encouraged to practice their craft elsewhere. 

True, it is the experience of God which brings us faith.  But thinking it through and rationally studying the scriptures are also essential parts of the experience of being a disciple of Christ.

I have gotten lax in my encouragement to you to start carrying your bibles to worship.  Today is another day when it would be very helpful to have them.  In I Corinthians 1: 22 Paul writes:  Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolish­ness to Gentiles. Some, mistakenly, take these words as permission drive intellect and reason from our religious life in same way that Jesus drove the money changers from the temple.  Is he trying to tell us that God not only demands the sacrifice of our pagan idols but that God also demands the sacrifice of our minds?  I don't think so.

The interesting aspect of all this is that scholarship itself clears up the confusion.  If we use a little intellectual insight, we can see that St. Paul is not advocating that we give up good reason, he merely wants our reason to be pointed in the right direction.

The word which causes so much trouble is the one translated for us as foolishness.  We read this and too rapidly assume that Paul is telling us that wisdom and reason serve no purpose what-so-ever.  We read into his words a belief that it is foolish for anyone to try and make sense out of the Jesus event.  But Paul isn't talking about foolishness in the way we are most like to consider something foolish.  The word is more appropriately translated "scan­dal."  The gospel message Paul preached was not foolish - it was scandalous, it was offensive, shocking, considered improper.

To teach that God had entered human from - not simply walked about the earth with humans, but actually taken on our flesh - was scandalous, it was offensive to the Gentile mind.  The Greek gods would often interact with humans, but doing so was more a matter of play.  Never would one of the God's descend so low as to take on our existence.

To teach that a God would love his subjects so deeply was scandalous.  The gods of Paul's gentile world played with their subjects, tricked them and sometimes tortured them.  Paul was claiming that the God of the Hebrews loved the creatures - loved them enough to become one of them.  This was foolishness, it was a scandal, it is offensive.

We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and (scandalous) to Gentiles.

Paul isn't saying that it is inappropriate for us to use our minds in the experience of faith.  He is pointing out the offensive nature of God's love and sacrifice for us.  He isn't saying that we should never attempt to understand the experience of faith or it teachings.  He is warning us that God's actions in Christ will not fit the expected course.  God's compassion for us will surprise us and cause God to act in ways we would never expect.

We see somewhat more clearly what Paul is saying when we read the whole of this letter to the church at Corinth.  Our text begins at verse 18.  In verses which immediately preceding, Paul encourages his readers to set aside all dissension.  It has been reported to Paul that there has been quarreling among them.  Some claimed to belong to Paul, others to Apollos or Cephas.  Paul responds by asking "Was (I) crucified for you?  Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?  I am thankful that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius ... For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 

Paul then moves into his discourse on "wisdom."  Quoting Isaiah, Paul writes, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discern­ment of the discerning I will thwart."  The verses which serve as our reading for today are an aside.  They express a thought, but are not the issue to which Paul responds.  He is calling wisdom into question, not because it serves no purpose in religious experience, but because some have preferred their rational conclusions to the scandalous act of Jesus dying on the cross.

In chapter 2, Paul will continue his insistence that we focus on this foolish act of a God who loves us.  He writes:  When I came to you ... I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you expect Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.  My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

And then we get a verse which is most helpful.  Paul writes, Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom.  Not wisdom of the age, but the wisdom of God's tremendous love for us.  We speak of the wisdom of a God who would love us enough to take on our form and die for us.

Paul does not teach that the desire to know is inconsistent with faith.  Rather he reminds us that human wisdom and knowledge will always stumble over the cross of Jesus.  An explanation as to why God would use that instrument of torture as our means for salvation can never be found.  It is a scandal - even for us.  But scandalous or not, it is the way that God has chosen.

I have to be very careful that I don't do the very thing which I criticize in others.  I do not want to drive from the church those who insist upon blind faith.  But I will act with a high degree of convic­tion as I proclaim the scandalous message of Christ crucified.  Far from being a simple and pleasing story, Jesus' path to Jerusalem upsets our sensibilities and offends our notions of appropriateness.  We cannot reach the cross through intellectual inquiry, but unless we struggle with its offensive nature we will most likely never appreci­ate the gift it represents.

Three days after Jesus is hung on the cross he raises from the grave and announces that we too will rise.  As wonderful as that promise may sound it really is only the icing on the cake.  The first chapter of John's gospel captures the true marvel of what God has done.  Remember that part about God so lov(ing) the world...  It is God’s tremendous love for us, which leads to Jesus’ dying on the cross which stands at the core of what it means to be a Christian.

Offensive, scandalous - who could believe that God would care so deeply about us?


Thursday, March 1, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, March 1

Two of our active students are in a class together and they often share with the rest of us the content and/or musings of that class.  It is a class on human sexuality.

Because both of these students are somewhat reserved, their comments sometimes strike me as attempts to test the boundaries of what can be discussed.  Sometimes, they get too close to my sense of random comments.

All of this came back to me this morning as I was reading I Corinthians 6:12-20.  Paul speaks of the complicated and confusing customs regarding cult prostitution in the first century A.D.  Times have changed; but they do remain the same.

What we do with our bodies matters.  And sometimes our bodies and our emotions are not in harmony.  We use one in order to explore the other.  Conflict or confusion occurs when we get or send mixed signals - a different signal with our body from the signal we send by our emotions.

This is complicated - and I am grateful for classroom time to press the edges of what we are willing to learn and to ask and to discuss.  I regret that we find it difficult to have these discussions within the community which informs not only our emotions and our bodies but also our spirits on what it means to be a bearer of Christ.  I can't promise you that I won't also get nervous or stressed, but I do assure you that I know how important it is for the community of Jesus to be involved in our evolving understanding of what it means to be a child of God.