Sunday, March 25, 2007

Lent 5 John 8

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Do you claim to worship God? Do you claim to believe in him? Honestly. Think about it, and then, while you’re at it, answer this question too: what is Church about? Is it about “god”? Which “god”? How do you know? Who is he? Is he a he, or a she? Why? Is this god you claim to worship the same god jews and muslims talk about? Is this god what buddhists talk about when they speak of the faceless Tao? Can this god, whoever it is, save you? Most importantly, does believing that there is a god, whoever it is, automatically make you his/her/its friend?

Or have you never heard that, according to Scripture, the demons believe in God too? And they believe in the real God, the true God, the one and only God, but, so far as they’re concerned, this isn’t a good thing. It’s terrifying, because their relationship with him, well, it’s not good.

But believing in “God” and yet not having it be a good thing isn’t limited to demons. In all truth, according to Scripture, the real God could actually care less if you believe in some amorphous higher power that just kind of exists out there, even if you are trying to “get to him.” He could care less if you try to worship him/her/it or anyone else, even if you call “him” “God” – it’s all the same to the Father in heaven. It’s all false worship.

The God of the Bible doesn’t need you to believe in his existence. That means nothing to him. His existence is so obvious that only the most hardened and foolish people even dare to claim otherwise. Believing in God is as worthless and useless to you as believing in doctors while you sit at home sick and dying. What good does that do you? If you don’t have the right relationship, it doesn’t matter one wit whether you believe in God, or read his prophetic writings, or are descended from people who were once part of his Church.

Jesus spoke clear words to the Pharisees, “I am glorified by my father, of whom you say, “He is our God,” but, whoever is of God hears the Words of God, hears my Words, and that man will not taste death. If you do not hear my words, then you are not of God.” That means that if you do not hear the Words of Jesus, if you do not learn of God through Jesus, then no matter what you might claim, you are not of God and you don’t know him. No matter how safe you may feel, you are no better off than the demons, who, believe as they might that God is real, the more they believe, the more they find only fear and loathing for the one who will soon destroy them all. Most humans aren’t even that faithful. In your own lesser moments, you erect false gods in your head, images of “God” created after your own tastes, in order to deceive yourself into thinking “God” loves you, sitting at home, or on a mountain top, or anywhere other than the doctor’s office of this altar, where the Words of Jesus say is the one place you can be sure to find him.

Now, the Pharisees whom Jesus spoke to had been doing this “make believing in God” for a long time, worshiping according to God’s law, and teaching from the Scripture, but missing the point that God doesn’t care if you believe he exists. What God cares about is that you trust his promises. And his promises, every one of them, are centered in the person of his Messiah – the one promised from before the ages to defeat death.

But the Pharisees missed all that. The pharisee in each of us still misses it. So when along comes a thirty year old man claiming that “make believe” relationships with God are worthless, it seems pretty bold. When he says that there is only one Word from God, and that he has it, it seems pretty audacious. When he insists that there are only limited places where safe relationship with God can happen, it looks like self-glorifying blaspheme. He was almost killed for those claims that day. He was killed for it not too long thereafter.

But, just like “make-believing in God” in order to find real safety, killing the one who truly has the Word of God never works out so well either. The Messiah himself didn’t stay dead. And ever since, throughout the history of the Church, there has been no more powerful and realistic Church growth than that which occurs in the ages of martyrdom. The more death and destruction overcome the visible Church, the more the Word’s power for resurrection shines, asserting itself boldly in the faith that proclaims that Jesus Christ tasted death only in order to swallow it, and to consume it in himself, making it no more.

There has come a man greater than all the prophets of the world, true and false alike. You claim to follow Abraham and Moses to God? One greater than them both is here. You claim that there is one God and Mohammed is his prophet? Mohammed is dead and buried. Will the Buddha take you to enlightenment? No. He died saying “save yourself.” Where is Vishnu? Where is Gaia? Where are all the idols and dreams of man’s heart-felt religion? They are wood and stone that promise and do nothing but leave a man rotting in the grave. But here stands a man who not only claimed prophecy, but claimed Godhood itself, and proved it by doing what no mere mortal has ever done, nor can do by human powers. He made his body live forever.

And that victory, the resurrection, he has claimed that he gives freely, as a gift to you or to any and all, without restriction, without restraint, without cost. He is humanity restored to its fullness, and his victory, so soon to be remembered with special festivities and song, is relationship with God, not unknown, but known, not empty, but filled, not questionable, but clear, real, tangible, eternal, and good.

The Father of the universe glorified his Son by killing him for our sakes, for your sakes, so that the Word of his resurrection carried along by the Spirit of heaven would be living and active, pointing us to the him who died and rose, and through him, to the very face of the Father, so that we catholic Christians do not claim the mere liar’s title of “god-worshippers” as the many pagans and deists do, as the jews and muslims, magicians and wickens, Oprahites, pragmatists, and endless enthusiasts.

I do not say this so that you should hate them, but so that you should love them all the more, for you have been forgiven, yet they are enslaved. Hearing the Word, keep it, but do not keep it to yourself. Speak it, freely. Speak it that you might hear it again. Speak it that your families might cherish deeply. Speak it so that the pagans and deists, jews and muslims, magicians and wickens, and all the rest might also be elected of God, fleeing their futile ways, and coming to rejoice with us over the humanity that did not stay dead and can never die again, and gives of himself for one and all to live forever.

In one week we begin the highest time of the entire year of the Church: Holy week, the week in which we walk step by step the road to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. I highly encourage you to make your plans now to attend all that you can of the marvelous services offered. Next Sunday, we will sing Hosanna with the masses who both received and yet rejected the Lord of glory on Palm Sunday. Maundy Thursday at 7pm, we will sit in intimacy with our Lord’s chosen band as he gives his last will and testimony, the new testament in his blood, the everlasting Supper of eaten words. Good Friday, at 7, we face Golgatha – and I can say no more than that if you’ve never been in the darkness of Tenebrae then you’ve never really known praise. Holy Saturday we will not meet for public worship, but I will be here, seated in this chair, from 10-1130 and again from 4-530, under the sworn seal of the confessional, to hear the confession of your sins, in order that you might free your conscience from all that burdens you have, especially from those things which our general confession cannot alleviate. I highly encourage you to experience this great gift of the Keys of forgiveness, freely wielded on your behalf. There is nothing like the peace which comes from speaking aloud your deepest regrets, and having a Father speak pure acceptance over you nonetheless. Then Easter morning, at our regular time, weather permitting, we will gather outside the Church in the Vigil of the Resurrection, following the light of Christ into the Holy place in candlelight procession, to celebrate the High Feast of the Risen Lamb in his Kingdom.

It will be a busy week, and indeed, life out there –where the devil is prince - will try to no end to keep you from these services, which are given to build you up in Christ. Do not let your enemy have so much power over you. Come to the rock that is higher than yourself. Whoever is of God hears the words of God. You are of God. Therefore, come and hear, be given to believe forever once again.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, March 16, 2007


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Nobody wants Jesus unless he’ll give them a miracle.

That’s just the sad state of the way it is. That’s the problem of having a heart of stone, a mind dense wood and a flesh that acts like a ravenous beast. “Oh, sure God, I’ll believe in you…if…” you fill in the blank. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve done it before, and you’ll probably do it again.

What’s probably more sad than anything else is that no one, not one of us, in our deepest heart of hearts, really wants the right kind of miracle. Sure, we’ll take more bread on our table, more clothes on our backs, a little less time tilling the soil, less pain in childbearing, “peace, love and tenderness.” Why not? Who’s gonna look that gift horse in the mouth? We could fill this congregation to overflowing in a matter of months if I started promising with conviction that belonging here would give you your best possible life right now. If week after week I called down the spirit, and got you up here to testify that God had changed you and given you victory over the hardships of life, the crowds would come hand over fist, handing in dollar after dollar, just to get a piece of that action.

Idols are actually really cool to worship, when they’re on. They make HUGE promises, and for at least 5% of the people, the promises tend to pan out. For the rest, who come and go with the wind, it doesn’t matter so much. The important thing is that, one way or another, you get your fleshly desires encouraged and your itching ears tickled with a bit “teaching” about the kind of miracles you would rather believe in. Miracles that are about this life, about the present, about “you.”

But what would not happen if I regularly preached those kinds of lies would be for authentic faith to grow in you. You would receive no pure God-given trust. And thus, you would never learn to long for, not the miracles you most want, but for the miracles you most need. That’s because your human nature is never going to come to that kind of praying and longing on it’s own. It can’t. Because you’re evil.

Tell me. Does the average, run of the mill teenager know what’s best for her? No. Now tell me, does she think she does? Of course. And what’s the last thing in the world she wants?... for you to tell her what’s best for her and set her on the path. It just doesn’t work that way. Why?

So, suppose with me for a minute that you actually are evil, (or, one better, believe it, because, if the Scriptures are True, then you are.) And, then, believing that you are evil, think about it: can something evil really want to stop being evil, let alone actually become good? That wouldn’t be very evil of it, would it? It’d be kind of like a rock “wanting” to be a fish. It’s completely against the nature of a rock to try to be a fish.

Being evil and staying evil is the way that an evil heart works. No matter how much it may tell you that it wants to be good, that it means well, and so on, it’s just lying to you. What it really wants is more of the “good life,” more miracles that make for fun and easier times, more self-indulgent pleasure, more gluttonous, happy, pain-free “me.” That is why you come to Church, right? To find the good life, or to somehow ensure it for your kids, just like a crowd that’s ready to make anybody into a King if he’ll give them some food. Miracle or not, it’s simple human nature to worship anything and anyone that promises a satisfied belly.

So, given that, why did Jesus feed the faithless crowds all that bread, especially since, according to John, he already knew “what was in a man”? … What does the text say?

Jesus lifted up his eyes and saw the crowds. And then he did what the Messiah does. He had compassion on people who didn’t deserve it, anyway. More so, even though it would do many of them little good, he was going to give them the miracle anyway. And he gave a sign greater than Moses and better than Elijah ever did – for both of those men prayed to God and God gave bread to the people. But Jesus … Jesus gave bread to the people. That’s what God does. He cares for his creation, anyway, deserve it or not, period.

But did this belly-filling miracle create authentic faith in the crowds? No. Sure, they were going to make him King. But was that what they needed? No. Jesus slipped away to hide. And if you read the rest of chapter six, you’ll find that he doesn’t hide for very long because the same crowds find him again, (and, go figure, they’re asking for more bread.) One sign, one miracle, any miracle, is never enough. A “signs faith” always demands more. A stomach-pleasing “belief” is no belief at all – it is greed. And a seeker chasing a bread-basket god will quickly find that he doesn’t want Jesus Christ, because Jesus Christ doesn’t give people what they want. He gives people what they need. He actually cares for you. So he knows that what all people need, even more than bread, is Himself. What you need, far more than bread, is the Word of God.

“I am the bread of life,” he says. “Eat me,” he says. “Your fathers ate the bread of miracles, and they died. You need bread that takes away death.” You want miracles and poppycock, but Jesus came to give you Truth and reality, pure, everlasting, good Truth and reality. You want things that perish and spoil and fade with time, but Jesus is an inheritance beyond the touch of even death.

Many left Jesus that day he said those things. They couldn’t handle that kind of teaching. They wanted miracles from Jesus, but they didn’t want Jesus, not if he wasn’t going to fill their bellies and tickle their ears for them. Just like you. You too, by nature, prefer a God who would give you signs and proofs and show. But there is a difference, now, between you and those crowds, and this moment is what makes it all the more real, for you are given, even now, to know, to believe, and to see, that God in Jesus was really about a sign and a proof and a show, only it wasn’t the sign and proof and show that your flesh wants, but the sign and the proof and the revelation that you most desperately need.

Jesus turned the crowds away that day because he was on his way to give a sign that will ever be above all signs. He was on his way to be crowned a King with a crown beyond all crowns. He was on his way to provide a bread for the life of the world. And these things are beyond all desires of man’s heart and greater than all expectations of man’s mind. The True sign given to the world for proof that Jesus is Lord is the sign of Jonah – for Christ lay three days and three nights in the belly of the earth. There, the body which had handed out meal after meal from a couple of fish was rock dead and stone cold and sprawled on a slab without even the anointing of burial spices. And the crown of this King left scars and wounds in his bloodied mane. But, beyond all of man’s desire and comprehension, this same dead, cold, lifeless body, broken and poured out, was, is and ever shall be the life of the world, even today: the bread from heaven, not dead, but resurrected, and in resurrection giving the power of raise forever and ever and ever.

It’s not about heaven. It’s not about paradise. It’s not about bread. It’s not about you. It’s about the love God had for creation because creation was made to be good and God will see it done. How great a thing that you have been given to see this, given to be a part of this, made into this new, coming, resurrecting world that has started with the body of Jesus Christ.

Now…I can’t close without tickling this little nugget. It is a great sadness that there are some today who would deny that what we eat and drink here is the flesh and blood of Jesus. The strictest Calvinist (who is the closest Protestantism will dare come to a Biblical understanding of the Sacrament,) when pressed on why he considers this meal merely a “spiritual” feast, will confess that the greatest dilemma is that Jesus human body A. is stuck in heaven and so can’t be here too, and B. would eventually run out if he started feeding it to people.

And I just can’t pass this wonderful Gospel text by without reveling in the lame logic of the human heart, which leans on it’s understand rather than the Word of God. The man fed 5000 men plus all their woman and children from 5 loaves of bread and had 12 basket-fulls left over… - if you really want crazy with the logical approach, then that means that after 2000 years of feeding his people, Jesus is probably several stories tall. 

The Word does what He says, and Jesus did what he said he would do all along. He went to the cross, to kill death, for you. How much more so will he not do in the present future all else that he has promised. Here, right now, is the sign of Jonah, given for you, so that you can believe not merely in miracles which fill your belly with pleasure, but far more importantly, in the power of the Word of God which creates your life, forever.

In the Name…

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Lent 3

Sorry it's late...and no text this week. (WMA audio download here.)

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Lent 2 - Matthew 15

(But I say it's Luke in the delivery! That's what happens when you do two weeks at once! My apologies. Beware the many typos as well!)

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You probably don’t really believe in demons. Maybe, just maybe, you believe in the devil. Maybe…barely. But demons? Fallen angels that are active in your world and your life, causing distress, causing pain, causing suffering, and by all means possible deceiving any you, your spouse and your children– deceiving, lying, and teaching you by any means possible that you should not believe in two things: you should not believe in demons, and…you should not believe that the only thing in this life that matters is Jesus Christ.

But you know the arguments. How can you believe in something you’ve never seen? Aren’t demons just a figment of past superstitions? Weren’t all these stories from the Bible just things like epilepsy and other modern diseases? You really expect me to believe that there are diabolical supernatural beings who hate me at work in this world, and that I have no power to defend myself against them, who have as their ultimate goal to make me join them in their fiery doom?

Yes. No. No. And yes.

Why should you believe in demons? Easy. Because Jesus believed in demons. Jesus spoke to demons. Jesus made demons listen to him. And Jesus cast out demons, with a word, with a thought, the way your brush lint off your shoulder.

They hated it. They screamed. They cast people into convulsive fits. They ran entire herds of livestock into the sea to drown. They asked him, “What are you doing here, Son of God?” They claimed, “It’s not the appointed time for this!” And they begged, “Why have you come before the Day of Judgment?”

Do you believe it? Do you believe the Scriptures? Or do you believe your experience – the experience controlled and manipulated by a world of evil, where you’re always given just enough “good stuff” to keep you running on the rat wheel, but never enough to breath, to have peace, or even to have real, solid hope? Isn’t itironic – the demons hide, and they let you think you’re safe. They let you think you can handle your world. They keep that carrot right out in front of your nose so that you don’t question those blinders on the side of your eyes, nor bother to look at the ground before you as you run straight for the edge of the cliff where a great and bottomless pit of fire waits for you to cast yourself into it’s eternal furor.

Is it possible? That’s simple: Is the Scriptural witness true? Did Luke, the beloved physician, the 1st century scientist and historian who studied the phenomenon of his day, tell the truth when he wrote the account we heard today? Or was he just a 1st century idiot, who you, with your all-knowing, television-dumped education, are obviously more intelligent than?

After all, you’ve never seen a demon – or, you think you’ve never seen one. … And you’ve never been possessed by a demon – or you think you can’t be. … Yes, Pastor is just making stuff up. He’s just superstitious. We’re safe. We come to Church at least every two weeks. And we don’t steal or murder.

But what are the lyrics being sung on your kids’ ipod? Why did Brittney Spears shave her head? How come the media is reporting the found Jesus’ body? Why have we aborted more babies than Hitler ever killed Jews?

Just because you think demons aren’t real, that doesn’t mean they aren’t a threat to you. In fact, that’s just the point. It’s when you think that demons aren’t real that they’ve got you right where they want you, right where you don’t need to be afraid, right where you don’t need protection, right where Church and the power of Christ to save is an option.

There was a time when demons didn’t mind being seen for what they were. Before the Christ came, what could be done? If a demon inhabited the heart and body of a man and caused him to cut himself, mutilate his flesh and speak in wild, flaming tongues, there was nothing to do for it. There was no answer to it. He was possessed. He was trapped. He was enslaved.

But, you see, this is part of what made Jesus so popular. So fantastic was the news about Jesus and how he healed not only diseases and life-long illnesses, but also cast out demons, that even when Jesus left the land of the Jews to rest a bit in other nations, the people there had heard of him, and they came begging him on the road, “Son of David, have mercy on me.”

And for all we can learn from this text from the dialogue between Jesus, his disciples and this woman, two amazing facts are constantly taken for granted by all three parties involved: First, demon’s exist. And second, Jesus has the power to make them do whatever he says. Jesus has power over demons.

Are you tracking with me? Have you been following the narrative all these weeks since Christmas? (If not, then next year pay attention.) But I’ll recap: The man was born of a Virgin. He was hailed by the nations as the King of Kings. He caused heaven to open by repenting of sins he didn’t commit. He demonstrated power over nature, power over disease, power to teach. He shone with self-emanated light. He scoffed at the devil’s attempts to tempt him, and today he treats the devil’s servants as his own, saying, “Away with you,” and they go. Who is this man? And why does he keep insisting that all this stuff he’s been doing is not what he was really sent to do? Where is he going with such conviction? What does he believe it means to be the Messiah?

You know the answer to this by now, or at least you ought to. Jesus is going to the cross. Jesus is going to die. Jesus is going to cast the devil out of the world once and for all, to bind him, to end his reign.

But the devil is no fool, and now, bound though he is by the proclamation of the cross of Christ, he now knows that his best strategy for deceiving the nations from this time forth is not open attack, but guerilla warfare. He attacks from his hiding, pretending he doesn’t exist, telling you and the world that all spirits are “good” spirits, and all spiritualities are “good” spiritualities. As long as it’s about “god,” it can’t do any harm, right? All religions are basically the same, aren’t they?

If you truly believe that, you’re gravely wrong, and stand quite in jeopardy of eternal damnation.

Demons are real. And at the heart of every religion which denies the fact that Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh into history in order to redeem the whole of creation is nothing other than a demon who would be god. And dressed as an angel of light, he’ll make you bow down and worship him. Call him Allah. Call him Moroni. Call him Buddha. Call him Science. It doesn’t matter. It’s not Jesus Christ, only begotten of the Father. It’s false. It’s a lie.

It’s the same lie, over and over again. And it possesses many. So much so that we don’t even notice our children cutting themselves, nor our culture is mutilating itself, nor how we ourselves practice the magic of “positive thinking” and listen readily to teachers who paint pretty lies and myths for us, telling us the Church is a business with a product to sell. (laugh.) Jesus is a product to sell?

And you don’t believe in demons? Are you watching? Civilization is dying, the Church is apostate, and humanity itself is threatened to either drown in the turmoil of its own insanity, or, perhaps one better, be obliterated under the antichristian threat of militant Islamic jihad. Whether you’ve seen or faced this reality or not doesn’t really mater. In all frankness, you are powerless over against it. No praise band, no program, no business plan, not even our Project Resurrection will solve the demonic possession of our world. There is no evangelism event, no missional movement, no ecumenical dialogue, no nothing that you or I can come up with, institute or do to cast the devil down from his throne.

Your lips themselves are impure and your hands are stained with greed and faithless deeds. What could you possibility do? But look! There stands Jesus, walking on the road. And see how the faithful flee to him, begging him to turn and have mercy on you, though you do not deserve it, though you are a dog – it does not matter. He is the Son of David, who laughs in derision at his enemies, who casts out devils with a word, and he was not sent to condemn, but to save!

Do you hear what I am saying? He was sent to save you. He was sent to bind the devil. And he has, on the cross, with the sky darkened and crashing, with earthquakes and tremors, with atheists saying “Surely, this is the Son of God!” He was saving you: from disease, from death, from demons, from the devil. And it is here, right here, that he has sent his Apostles to give you the crumbs that have fallen from his table, so that you may eat and drink the forgiveness of Israel, not as a dog, but as his own child.

Oh, Kyrie eleison is our cry! “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!” And look, it is already done as you have desired. The salvation is purchased. Here, even demons cannot touch you, for here the Lord casts out all evil and death with a Word: “Take, and eat, and live.” Here, you follow along the road, walking with him to that cross, weeping at its feet, and yet, rejoicing on that third morning, for you are his and he is yours, and he laughs at the demons, at this world, at the apostasy, at it all. He laughs, for you. For he is the one who bears the Name of…

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