Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Guarding the Doors

We are gathered here today and every Lord’s Day as the covenant people of God, the family of the Lord Jesus, those who believe in the promises of God, the promises of the remission of sins and the Holy Spirit. This is why we ask that only those who have the sign of this promise, only those who have been baptized partake of the Lord’s Supper. This meal is the covenant meal, it is the new covenant in the blood of Jesus, and therefore it is “the gifts of God for the people of God.” Who are the people of God? They are those who have been marked by the sign of the covenant, who have been sprinkled with the blood of the lamb, to whom the Holy Spirit is promised. In the early church and for many centuries, unbaptized people were actually escorted out of the church before the Eucharist. And deacons would be stationed at the doors to make sure no unbaptized people came in to partake of the holy elements. We do not physically escort anyone out of this church, but we do believe that this meal is for the covenant people of God. Therefore we warmly invite you to be baptized first and then to come and eat and drink with us in the kingdom.

But understand what we’re doing: as the baptized people of God, we are the people who have passed through the Red Sea. God has drowned all of our sins and enemies, and he is bringing us to the promised land. But on our way, God still fights our enemies and he is testing us to see if we trust him, to see if we fear him. Christ is our spiritual food and drink. He is the rock that was struck to give us living water. And it is the same might and power that feeds us that fights for us. So come eat and drink and believe.


Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Exodus 17

Opening Prayer: Almighty God, we thank you for your Word. That it is true and trustworthy. We thank you that your word remains true through all generations and that your word does not return to you fruitless or empty. Empower your word now by the work of your Spirit that we may be cultivated and produce a great harvest, through Jesus, our King, Amen!

Remember where we are in the story. This entire book is about the marriage of Yahweh and Israel, his bride. This story is about God keeping his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex. 2:24, 3:6, 16). This book is about the faithfulness of God to the covenant. The covenant is the bond that God graciously made with his people and with their children after them (Gen. 12, 15, 17, etc.).

Water from the Rock
It is striking just how ungrateful these people are, and thus God’s patience seems even more striking. The people are complaining again, and this time apparently they are threatening to even stone Moses (17:4). Previously God rained bread down upon them, and now God instructs Moses to take his rod to a rock near Horeb and strike it, and water will come out (17:5-6). Why is God so gracious? Because of the covenant. God made his covenant with Abraham and with his descendents after him (Gen. 17:10). The content of this promise is that God will multiply Abraham’s seed like sand of the seashore and the stars of the heavens (Gen. 15:5) and give them a great land (Gen. 15:18). But Ps. 78 has more to say about this episode; the psalmist says that this testing of the people greatly angered the Lord and he was furious (78:20-21). But the psalmist goes on to say that God was merciful again and again even though his people forgot his covenant (78:32-39). Psalm 105 recounts this same story and brackets it on either side with the covenant promises and mercies of God (Ps. 105:7-11, 42-45). His covenant is his promise. And even Nehemiah sees this entire story as the story of Israel after the exile and hope for the people (Neh. 9:15, 20, 32ff). Another explicit reference to this story is in Ps. 95 where God says that Meribah and Massah are examples of people hardening their hearts. The forty years wandering was a result of rebellion like that. In other words, God’s grace could be crossed. His patience did have a limit. Much later, Moses says that at one point, he pleaded before God for forty days and nights not to destroy Israel. It was Moses pleading the promises of the covenant to God that delivered them from wrath (Dt. 9:23-29). Moses reminds God that they are his people by virtue of the promises and by virtue of the Exodus. Hundreds of years later, the writer of Kings even recognizes that God continues to be gracious to Israel for the sake of the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (2 Kings 13:23).

The Amalekites
Amalek was one of the descendents of Esau (Gen. 36:12). Apparently, Amalek attacked Israel unprovoked, and it is in defense that Moses instructs Joshua to muster an army (17:9). Remember how Israel marched out of Egypt as the armies of Yahweh (Ex. 12:41, 51, 13:18). But they fought their battles by killing lambs, eating unleavened bread, asking their neighbors for riches, etc. Notice how odd this story is: an old man holding up his arms (with help) with a staff is the determinative factor in winning this battle. How strange. What kind of battle tactics are these? It’s the same rod that fought their battle before. The same rod that struck the Nile and brought the death of the first born is the same rod that strikes the rock and gives water, the same rod that strikes down the “first born” of Amalek (Num. 24:20). Yahweh is still the God of the Exodus. Yahweh is still the God who fights for his people. Dt. 25 fills this story out even more. It reveals that Amalek was particularly cruel and conniving, and that God’s covenant extends to jealously defending his people. If you mess with God’s people, you mess with God. This was particularly high handed given the response of all the other nations around (e.g. Josh. 2:9, 9:24). This battle throughout the generations of Amalek reappears during the reign of Saul (1 Sam. 15). Notice that the covenant is still at work hundreds of years later! And this is one of the layers of the story of Esther even hundreds of years after that (cf. 2:5, 3:1). The memorial that Moses erects is not something that God forgets after the alter has fallen down and been forgotten by the locals. God remembers his covenant and mercy to a thousand generations; Yahweh is our banner (Ex. 17:15).

Conclusions and Applications
Testing: God tests his people not to see if they will fail. He tests them in order that the fear of God may be with them (Ex. 20:20). This means that God’s tests are inherently gracious. This is what the writer of Hebrews say: God is treating you like sons (Heb. 12).

The covenant still has sanctions for disobedience. In fact, the logic of the covenant is that while the blessings of the new covenant are deeper, richer, and farther reaching, rejection of the covenant is that much worse (Heb. 10:28-29, 12:25). Paul says that a man who does not provide for his own family is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8). Peter says that it would have been better for some to never have known the way of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:20). So how is the covenant kept? How can we avoid the curses? Believe God.

The new covenant is the climax of all the covenants, all the promises that God has made. This entire story of redemption is what we call the Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Grace is the story of God’s unfailing goodness and favor to us his people. Learn to see the covenant in your life: your children are the covenant, the food on your table is the covenant, your house, your clothes, your church, your job, your health, and everything else. It’s all the covenant; it’s the sure mercies of and David (Is. 55:3). No it’s better: it’s the sure mercies of Jesus, the Lord of the covenant who is risen from the dead, better than all of these (Acts. 13:34). Therefore we can be more sure of the goodness and mercy of God. Trust him.

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

Closing Prayer: Good and Gracious God, you are the God of the covenant. You are the God makes promises and does not forget them. You make promises and you remember them even for our children and grandchildren and to a thousand generations. You are faithful even when we are not. You are constant even when we doubt and complain. We thank you for the covenant we have in Jesus, for our baptism, and for all of your promises to us and to our children. We believe them now and we trust you for them; teach us to walk in them.


The Promises for You and Your Children

Every week we gather here to renew covenant. We are the covenant people of God; and God receives us in the covenant. This being the case it is important that we know what the covenant is. A covenant is a solemn bond which holds two parties together by oaths to keep particular obligations and there are blessings for faithfulness to the covenant and curses for unfaithfulness. A marriage is a kind of covenant. To be in covenant with God is to be married to him, to be his family, to be the recipients of all his promises. Before Christ, the sign of this covenant was circumcision which God gave to Abraham and to his descendents after him. God promised Abraham to be his God and to be the God of his descendents after him (Gen. 17:7). And the sign of that promise was circumcision. In the New Covenant the sign of the covenant is baptism. At Pentecost, Peter declared, “Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39). What is the promise of the New Covenant? The promise is the remission of sins and the Holy Spirit. What is the sign of that promise? Baptism. And this is why we confess our sins at the beginning of the service every week. Every time we confess our sins we are remembering and renewing our baptism which was the promise of the remission of our sins. When we confess our sins, we are believing the promise of God to forgive our sins. We are gathered together here as the covenant people of God, those who have been washed in the waters of baptism and promised the forgiveness of all our sins and the Holy Spirit. Therefore as we confess our sins do not mumble or grumble or think about what’s for lunch. Remember the covenant. Remember your baptism. Remember the promises of God which are for you and for your children and for those who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Thoughts on the Glory of God and the Atonement (Or, What About the Trinity?)

Several key Christian doctrines rest upon the idea of some sort of necessity bound into the person of God. For example, it is commonly stated that the sovereignty of God in the salvation of individuals is necessary in order to preserve the glory of God. Men like John Piper have emphasized the pervasive theme of the glory of God throughout Scripture and recognize that this is the driving force behind the actions of God. Piper has the famous line that says (roughly) God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him; this is nothing more than a restatement of the first question/answer in the Westminster Shorter Catechism which states that man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. But what is God's chief end? Piper says that God's chief end is to glorify himself and enjoy himself forever. Thus, it is necessary for God to act in Providence and the Salvation of his people in a way that maximizes his own glory.

Another example of this sort of necessity in God can be seen in the doctrine of the Atonement. Certainly this is related to Piper's point, but in the doctrine of the Atonement it is insisted that sin has damaged the honor of God. If sin were to go unpunished, it would be at the expense of God's honor, and therefore it is necessary for God's wrath to be satisfied on the cross, to fully pay the price of man's sin. Thus, given sin, the cross was the only way for God to deal with sin; to do anything short of the cross would compromise his glory and thus compromise his very being and nature which God cannot do.

While I fully affirm and warmly receive these doctrines, this sort of rhetoric nevertheless strike me as a little odd. First, I'm honestly not sure how the glory or honor of God creates necessity. True, the absolute holiness, glory, and honor of God are central to his character, his person, etc. So, yes, there is a sense in which God must "be true" to those things, but I'm not sure where the hook is that the idea of "necessity" can get hung on. Why must God defend himself? How is God bound to a modus operandi of self-preservation? It seems that it is actually "self-preservation" which ends up becoming the controlling factor. That is, the "necessity" is not really grounded in the glory or honor of God, it is instead grounded in this other, not-so-often-mentioned controlling attribute of God called "self-preservation." And to follow the usual systematic formulation, this attribute of self-preservation would seem to be one of those incommunicable attributes, a characteristic of God which is not shared with humanity, and one which we are actually called to utterly renounce (according to the pattern of the cross). It seems very strange to make the foundational characteristic and attribute of God one which humanity is called upon to completely forsake and renounce.

Secondly, while the honor and glory of God are certainly pervasive themes in Scripture, it just sounds strange to put things in the way Piper and others put it. On the surface the rhetoric sounds pious and high-minded, but it really sounds like God is a tyrant and glory-monger. Of course, the Pipers of the world insist that because God is God, he is therefore due all glory and all praise. And it is a rhetorically defensible position ("Are you saying God doesn't deserve all glory and honor?").

I have great appreciation for what Piper and others have done in the church, and I have fond memories of being very edified by Desiring God. But what I would suggest or offer is that both of these areas (the glory of God in salvation and the preservation of God's honor in the atonement, and perhaps others) would benefit greatly from more emphasis on the doctrine of the Trinity.

It seems to me to be far more persuasive and explanatory to explain the "glory of God" as the Father glorifying the Son and the Spirit, the Son glorifying the Father and the Spirit, and the Spirit giving back all glory to the Father and the Son. And this mutual glory-giving and honor-giving is the eternal friendship and communion of the One Eternal God. This bond, this relationship, this COVENANT is where the necessity comes from. The persons of the Trinity are so passionate (to use one of Piper's favorite words) for each other that they jealously defend one another. Thus when Adam sinned against the Father who created the world and disobeyed his Word, it was the Spirit who came to call Adam to account (Gen. 3:8), defending the glory and the honor of the Father and the Son. Because Adam's sin grieved the Spirit which had been breathed into Adam for life and righteousness, the Father and the Son determined to avenge the honor and the glory of the Spirit. I suspect that the history of Israel might be told somewhat along these lines, showing the persons of the Trinity defending one another, seeking the glory of the others, ultimately culminating in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is after all the Father and the Spirit glorifying the Son in the baptism of Jesus and at his transfiguration. It is the Son who is seeking the glory of the Father in his sufferings and resurrection and the same Son who glorifies the Spirit by sending him into the Church. Thus the cross, and the Atonement in general, is the persons of the Trinity at work restoring the glory and the honor of one another.

The Father and the Spirit send the Son into the world in the incarnation to defend the glory of the Son (witness the baptism, transfiguration, resurrection, and ascension). It is the Son who defends the honor and glory of the Father and the Spirit by offering himself up and accepting the justice of the Father on the cross (due to man for his sin). The Spirit vindicates the honor and glory of the Son (and the Father) by raising the Son from the dead. The Father and the Son vindicate the honor and glory of the Spirit by sending the Spirit back into the world into the new humanity in the Church. And so on.

All of this preserves the basic point of Piper and others who want to see some sort of necessity in the grace of salvation and a substitutionary atonement. It just seems like we display that necessity better in terms of the trinitarian relationship. The glory and honor of God is not about a hermit-deity up in the clouds scraping and demanding more glory and bashing the hell out of an innocent man on a cross because his creatures offended his pride. Rather, it is the eternally jealous love of the Father, Son and Spirit at work defending the honor and glory of the other persons which is displayed in the Incarnation and Atonement and likewise it is this same "necessity" at work in the saving of individuals. The reason all glory must be given to God in the salvation of individuals is because that is how the Trinity works. The Spirit is at work in the world to give all glory to the Father and the Son. And when an individual becomes aware of this mission of the Spirit (conversion), and comes to be united to the Son, he joins in giving glory to the Father and the Son, and the Father and the Son in turn direct their attention back on the Spirit, teaching the individual that it was all the work of the Spirit, and the Spirit says it was all the Son, and the Son says it was all the wisdom of the Father, and so on and so on. It is all about the glory of God; it is all about the honor of God. But this God is the eternal and all glorious Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit eternally committed to giving themselves up for one another.

There is another attribute in the Godhead which creates the necessity to protect and defend the glory of God. But that attribute is not self-preservation. Rather, it is just the opposite. It is the attribute of love: self-denying, self-giving, self-sacrificing love. It is the attribute of love that the persons of the Trinity have for one another that demands justice, glory, and honor for the other persons of the Trinity. And of course this love is an attribute that we are called to share in, to imitate, and it is the glory of God to invite us into it. Thus, Piper is right: the chief end of man is the glory of God AND the chief end of God is the glory of God.

Let me just add as an addendum that Piper and others may in fact be emphasizing these things too. I have only read Desiring God and heard a couple of other distillations of his work in various presentations and such. If that is the case, I'm thankful and wish someone would point me to the goods.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Bread of Life Standing Right in Front of You

In John 6, Jesus has a long discourse on the manna that God gave Israel in the wilderness. But Jesus says that he is the true bread from heaven. The Israelites ate the manna and are dead (6:49, 58). Notice what the Jews do: he says that he is the true bread from heaven, the bread of life, and then the Jews complain (6:41). He says again that he is the bread come down from heaven and the bread that he gives is his flesh for the life of the world, and then the Jews quarrel among themselves, asking how he can give his flesh to eat (6:51-52). These Jews are just like Israel of old complaining and quarrelling and asking whether God can give them bread and meat! Jesus says that he can and he has, and it’s standing right in front of them! Finally, notice the reoccurring emphasis on the resurrection (6:39-40, 44, 54, 58). Remember what we said about the manna being a taste of Canaan while Israel was still in the wilderness. Jesus says that “eating” him consists of believing in him (6:35-36, 40, 47-48) and of course we know from later in the gospel that Jesus will identify his flesh and blood with the bread and wine of the Passover meal. How is it that old Israel ate the manna and died, but we who feed upon Christ will live forever? The answer is the resurrection. In an important sense we are like Israel in the wilderness, freed from the bondage of Egypt and beginning the conquest of the land. But now, when are not yet fully settled in the land, God gives resurrection life now by seating us at his table, giving us a taste of that honey that will one day characterize this world. The problem with some views of the Eucharist is that they tend to make the bread and the wine mechanical operations that download or inject some nebulous substance called grace (as if it were medicine) into our systems. The Eucharist is the communion in the body and blood of Jesus; here God gives us the true bread from heaven. But we are not communing with magical powers or forces or just grace in general. The grace that God gives us is Jesus. We are communing with a person. Jesus told the Jews that the bread of heaven was standing right in front of them and they didn’t believe him (6:35). To eat at this table is to fellowship with Jesus; it is to abide in him and for him to abide in us. Do not grumble, do not complain, and do not ask how God is able to do this. Believe in Jesus, believe that he died and rose again so that you may live forever. Believe the word of God and come, eat, drink, and give thanks. Jesus is the life of the world.


Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost: Exodus XVI: Bread of Heaven

Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, we thank you that in your infinite kindness you have made us your children. We thank that because Jesus is our older brother, and we have been adopted through the blood that was shed on the cross, that we can call you Father. We thank you that you have always provided for your people, and have feasted them even when they complained and grumbled. Feed us now on your word and protect us from all grumbling that we may know and believe that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, through Jesus our King, Amen!

Notice the dating of this episode; this is exactly one month after the Passover (16:1 cf. 12:1-6ff). The people begin to grumble and complain about the lack of food in the wilderness (16:2). The question is related to identity: who are these people? Israel says they would rather be Egyptians with full bellies killed by Yahweh than his people starving in the wilderness (16:3). They do not remember Egypt clearly (Ex. 1:14, 2:23).

Bread of Angels
Yahweh says that he will test them by giving them bread from heaven; he will test them in the quota he gives each day and in the weekly Sabbath cycle (16:4-5). The Scriptures have a good deal to tell us about manna. First, we should note that in Numbers 11 a slightly different account is given of the circumstances. It notes that the manna had been given, but that Israel begins complaining after they leave Sinai, and at that point, God gives them meat (Num. 11:1-15, 31ff). There are a couple of options to understanding these passages. Either we can say that these passages are referring to the same events and that 16:13 is a summary sentence, explaining that God also (later) gave quails in the evening as well. Or, what seems to make more sense is that God gave quail to the people to eat more than one time, but not daily like the manna (Num. 11:19-20, Josh. 5:12). Many of the passages which reference manna as a regular or on-going occurrence do not list the quail as well. Deuteronomy explains that the manna was not only sustenance but a lesson that Israel might learn that man does not live by bread alone but by the word of God (Dt. 8:3). This is the same test: Does Israel understand that it was not by might or power that they were delivered but by God’s power and might (cf. Dt. 8:116-18). Psalm 78 says that during all of this Israel was testing God, not believing in God or trusting in his salvation (78:22, 32). Again, all of this is related to Israel’s identity. Are they the people of God? Are they the bride of Yahweh? One of the ways God answers this is found in how God is feeding them. God is feasting his people luxuriously with bread and meat in the wilderness. Israel is Yahweh’s royal bride, his prized possession. Israel is eating like royalty. Elsewhere manna is referred to as “the bread of angels” and the “bread of Heaven” (Ps. 78:24-25, 105:40). God is treating them like his heavenly host.

Sabbath Provision
While this is the first blatant requirement of Sabbath keeping in the Bible, it was God’s pattern from the beginning (Gen. 2:3) and it was also previously established broadly in the Passover (Ex. 12:16). Both of these patterns are later referenced in the giving of the law regarding the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11, Dt. 5:12-15). Here the daily and weekly test come into view: specific instructions are given for daily gathering, culminating in a double portion on the sixth day (16:16-30). The pattern here is clearly the provision of God. The mindset of beggars and slaves is to grasp and horde for fear that there won’t be any tomorrow. God requires his people to live like kings, expecting their bread to be provided every day and even a double portion for the Sabbath. This Sabbath rest is also a royal gift. Slaves do not rest; beggars cannot take a day off. But God who is the great King invites his people to rest with him. Notice that the manna does not come on the Sabbath; this is because God does not work on the Sabbath (16:26-27). What cannot be preserved overnight for six days must be preserved for the Sabbath. This means that God requires his people to work expectantly for six days believing all of their needs will be met, and to rest expectantly on one day, likewise expecting all of their needs to be met. The point is that Yahweh is teaching his royal people that he is their savior, their provider, their defender, and their King who fights for them.

Conclusions and Applications
One of the things we should notice is that we are told the manna tastes like honey (16:31). One of the things we (and Israel) know is that they have been promised the land of Canaan which flows with milk and honey (Ex. 3:8, 17, 13:5). One of the things manna means is that God is giving them a taste of Canaan now. They are entering into the blessings of Canaan even while they journey in the wilderness. Notice also that a portion of manna is saved and (later) put into the tabernacle to be a memorial kept for the generations of Israel to remember (“to see”) what God has done (Ex. 16:32-34).

This passage calls us to belief in God. Psalm 78 says that Israel’s fundamental problem was that they did not believe in God or his salvation. And faith in God has very tangible fruit: you must trust him to give you your daily bread. This may mean very practical things like making sure you tithe, trusting God to provide for all of your needs (and adjusting your priorities to make sure you are being responsible). Living like royalty means avoiding debt. The proverbs say that the borrower is slave to the lender. We live in a society that is enslaved. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but we should be a debt fighting culture because God has made us free. Finally, not only is it important that you gather with God’s people on the Lord’s Day and rest from your regular weekly labors, but you ought to prepare in advance to do so; trust God that you can get done in six days what you can’t get done in seven. Live like free men and women; live like royalty. This kind of Sabbath living is only accomplished through faith in God and his salvation which ultimately expresses itself in thankfulness and gratitude. Bitterness and grumbling is unbelief; thankfulness is faith in the purposes of God. It all comes back to identity: who are you? You are Christians: Jesus has brought you out of Egypt and made you kings and priest to God. Believe it.

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

Closing Prayer: God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: in your great mercy you came to us when we were lost, filthy, and alienated from you. We hated you, and yet you loved us. We despised you, but you gave your only Son to die for us. We do not understand this mercy; we do not understand this grace. But we believe it. We believe that you are God and that raised Jesus from the dead as your Son and our Lord. We glory in this; we revel in this, and we ask that you would make us more and more thankful to you.


Permanent Guests

1 John says that the world will know that we love God when they see the love that we have for one another. To say that you are a Christian, to claim the name of Christ is to say that you are a recipient of the hospitality of God. Each week he invites you into his house. He clothes you with his righteousness, feeds you at his table, rejoices over you, and invites you back again with his blessing, as a permanent guest. This is why your table must be a place were guests are welcome, and the first people on that guest list are your own family members. Your children and your spouse are the permanent guests that God has placed at your table. People who harp on their children and spouse and clumsily throw food on the table do not understand the grace of God. And it will not do to be sloppy and cranky and critical with your family and then invite guests over after church and set the table nice and talk with a plastic smile on your face. God knows your heart; your children and spouse see the pattern of your life. Often people make excuses not being sure how to entertain guests; they say they’re nervous about having people over for dinner. But this shows that they have already missed what’s right in front of them. Your family is your dinner party, your permanent guest list. Treat them like they are. Welcome them to your table with joy, fill your table with good things, and feed one another with good words, blessings, and wholesome laughter. There are of course times and seasons where the providence of God does not allow for you to do all that you would like; rejoice in those times and look forward to when you may be able to do more. But remember that a dry morsel in peace is far better then a feast amid strife.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Jesse and Kate and the Summer

I've told my wife several times in the last few weeks that it will be nice when school finally starts up again. Things will slow down to a more normal pace, I think. It's been a great, fun-filled summer to be sure.

A trip to Idaho in early July for two weeks, a trip to Florida at the end of July, and a trip up the east coast to New Jersey, Brooklyn New York, and Maryland just last week all add up to great thankfulness for all the opportunities, people we visited and shared meals with, but at this point a deep gratitude to be home as a family, safe and all in one piece. Our car held up amazingly, although we actually only took it up the east coast (an airplane and rental car helped us on the other two journeys).

Our children continue to be happy gypsy-babies, traveling about at the drop of a hat and putting up with late nights, early mornings, and long hours in their car seats. Yet, River is just as thankful to be home as Jenny and I; he's told me so several times in the last couple of days. These travels have allowed me opportunities to fellowship with and learn from so many faithful men and their families. The time I spent with Hughes Oliphant Old at his house in Trenton last week certainly ranks up at the top of my highlights for the summer.

During these weeks and months, one of the great stories unraveling in Idaho is with my younger brother Jesse and his (now) fiance Kate Callihan. Jesse is going into his senior year at New Saint Andrews, has landed a job teaching Latin and Greek at Logos School, and is now planning to be married in late December. The guy has got class, courage, and good bit of cunning. I didn't really mean for that sentence to have such alliteration, but there it stands all happy and beaming.

There are several weeks left in my summer "vacation" in which a number of papers, lesson plans, and loose ends have to come together. There are many reasons to be grateful for all that we have been able to accomplish this summer. What a fun ride. God is very good.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Vision of God by Vladimir Lossky

Note: This summer I have the privilege of conducting an independent study with Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old, professor of reformed liturgics at Erskine Theological Seminary who also used to lecture at Princeton Theological Seminary. As part of that study, I have been reading a number of books related to our studies of Christian worship. I will attempt to post my summaries of those books as I complete them. Here is the third.

The Vision of God by Vladimir Lossky

Vladimir Lossky’s The Vision of God is an intriguing historical study concerning how a number of church fathers, leading up through the Byzantine tradition, have sought to reconcile the complete “otherness” and incomprehensibility of God in his essence with the promise and hope of in some sense seeing, comprehending, and even partaking of that “divinity.” Lossky notes that by “vision of God” we mean “theology” in its most basic sense: that is, knowing God.

Lossky begins by noting this great mystery and question in Scripture, the promise that at some point the people of God shall “see him as he is” (1 Jn. 3:2) coupled with the statements that God has not been seen at any time (Jn. 4:12) nor can he be seen (1 Tim. 6:16). There are various ways of tackling this tension. Some have differentiated between the present unperfected state and the final glorified, beatific state. Others insist that a distinction must be made between God’s essence and his “energies,” distinguishing that aspect of God which truly is unknowable and that which may be revealed and partaken of by creatures. At the heart of this conversation are of course questions of ontology and epistemology, basic presuppositions concerning being and knowing. And this, Lossky maintains, is central to why many more recent western theologians (16th and 17th century theologians and their successors) have misunderstood the Byzantine tradition on this subject. Working from a late medieval scholastic framework, these later theologians see the denial of a “vision of God” in his essence in the early eastern Fathers culminating in Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) as an incomprehensible error, particularly as the western tradition had formulated a very favorable affirmation of the possibility and hope of seeing God. Lossky suggests that this misjudgment is rooted in a clash of philosophies and terminology as well as an unwillingness to give charitable readings to theologians in a different tradition on a difficult subject matter.

From this introduction, Lossky proceeds through a brief sketch of the biblical data relevant to the question of a “vision of God.” Clearly such an idea is prevalent throughout the Scriptures. From the reoccurring “angel of Yahweh” or “angel of the Presence” to the experiences and aspirations of Moses and Job there is a clear expectation and understanding that while such an experience might be frightful it is one to be desired and one which human creatures are in some sense capable of. Lossky finishes this section noting that one of the important New Testament texts is found in 1 Corinthians 13 where the context concerns Paul’s theology of love. Here, the apostle insists upon a right relationship between love and knowledge, maintaining that the former is a necessary prerequisite for the latter. And therefore the statement concerning our “face to face” knowing and the promise that “I shall know just as I also am known” (13:12) must be understood in the context of this love-based knowing. Lossky says, “An object is known; this is an imperfect knowledge in which there is no reciprocity; where there is reciprocity of knowledge, knowledge signifies a relationship between persons, it is determined by [agape]” (p. 31).

At this point, Lossky begins his historical overview, summoning up a number of witnesses for examination to consider the views on “vision theology.” He begins with several early church fathers (prior to Byzantine theology proper) and then traces significant themes up through the centuries. St. Theophilus of Antioch (late 2nd century), writing from such an early period, is not working with a highly developed terminology to describe what he means. Nevertheless, Lossky suggests that Theophilus puts most of his emphasis on the eschatological reality of a vision of God, that is, at the resurrection the Christian will experience a manifestation of God “to the extent that he has become worthy of seeing Him.” However, while there is no “direct vision” yet, Theophilus does acknowledge the present/historical manifestation of God in creation and particularly in and through the Son and the Holy Spirit. St. Irenaeus of Lyon writing around the same time, follows Theophilus by emphasizing the present revelation of the unknowable nature of God in the Incarnation. He says, “The Father is the invisible nature of the Son, while the Son is the visible nature of the Father” (p. 36). Irenaeus develops this in a distinctly Trinitarian direction: There is a “prophetic vision” of God through the Holy Spirit re-establishing the image of God in mankind, there is the “vision of adoption” which the Son secures, and finally a “vision of the Father” which will occur at the resurrection. This final vision Irenaeus seems to suggest is causally related to the life of the resurrection. What formerly humans could not see will now become the very source of the incorruptible life. This Trinitarian vision is a process of increasing “participation” in the life of God which Irenaeus traces through the Old Testament economies through the Incarnation and projects forward to the consummation of all things which continues this growing vision of God which bestows more and more of the incorruptible life upon humanity. For Irenaeus, this participation in God is the ontological basis of all being.

Next, Lossky examines early Alexandrian theology as represented by Clement, Origen, and Athanasius. Here, Lossky notes that these theologians were heavily influenced by Platonic and Gnostic thought. They were certainly able to resist full capitulation to the Hellenistic milieu, but rather than “Christianizing Hellenistic spirituality [as they hoped], Clement and Origen almost succeeded in spiritualizing Christianity” (p. 68). Their emphasis was heavily trained on the intellectual faculties of meditation and contemplation which ultimately resulted in what one writer described as a “super-intellectualistic mysticism” (p. 47). While Athanasius would do much better, recalling the Irenaean emphasis of participation, and recognizing this in the life of the church, he would nevertheless still describe this participation in terms of being raised “beyond all sensible things,” ceaseless contemplation, and other descriptions which strongly remind readers of his forbearers.

The Cappodocians, facing the challenge of Arianism and (its extreme proponents) the “Anomoeans,” insisted on defining the essence or ousia of God in terms of the Trinity. This meant distinguishing between the outward acts, energies, operations, or names of God from God’s essence. Thus contemplation of God and participation in deity became explicitly Trinitarian, contemplation of the persons and participation in the communion of the Trinity. But where Origen and Clement and (to some extent) Athanasius assumed a Platonic cosmology and ontology, the Cappodocian fathers spoke of that which transcends creation as God himself, the communion of the Trinity (instead of some sort of disembodied, spiritual-mental existence). Furthermore, the knowledge of God is transcended to become love of the persons of the Trinity, a personalism has developed which on the one hand still sounds somewhat esoteric and mystical and yet on the other hand clearly shows the potential for more.

In the Syro-Palestinians and Cyril of Jerusalem we find another interesting Christological emphasis and trend in theology. Where many of the previous theologians have stressed the elevation and transcendence necessary for humanity to have a vision of God, to participate in the divine life, these theologians placed greater stress on the incarnation and the revelation of God in the humanity of Christ. The incarnation became central to understanding how humanity might have intimate communion with the Trinity. Just as God became man, filling (and fulfilling) a human body with the life of the Trinity (and the Son in particular), so too every human has the capability of being filled with the divine life and brought into the intimacy of the Trinity. Therefore having the Holy Spirit indwell humans is to have the life of Christ indwelling. This being the case and Christ being the revelation of the glory and beauty and life of the Trinity, humans filled with this same Spirit are made partakers of the divine life.

Following these developments, Lossky surveys several ascetics, a couple of whom follow in the Origenistic “intellectual mysticism” paths while at least one, St. Diadochus of Photice, sought a better way. Diadochus uses a great deal of mystical sounding vocabulary, but what differentiates him from the others is his distinction between essence and energies and his stress on the revelation of God being found in the incarnation and the Son. But Lossky argues that it is finally in the St. Dionysus the Areopagite and Maximus the Confessor of the sixth century where Origen (and Platonism) is left behind. In these two theologians the distinction between essence and energies is maintained but in addition, the physicality of humanity and creation is reclaimed from the spiritualism of Origen. Again looking to the incarnation as a model, the attributes or energies of God (his “names” as some refer to them) are, by grace, bestowed upon humans much like the hypostatic union of the natures in Christ. In this perochoretic union of divine and human natures, the intelligible and sensible faculties, both body and soul are no longer opposed but reunited and united in persons to commune with the Triune persons of the Godhead.

This study finally comes to a climax with chapters devoted to St. John Damascene (and Byzantine spirituality in general) and St. Gregory Palamas. In John Damascene we see again the distinction between the essence and outward attributes of God, and he points out the pneumatological dimensions of human participation in God. The transfiguration of Christ is pointed to as a revelation not of something new but rather of that which was always true but veiled to the eyes of most. Thus it is the Holy Spirit who fills humans and reveals to their eyes the Incarnate Son as the revelation of the Trinity. This united contemplation (of heart and mind, body and soul) has been the emphasis of Hesychasm, a particular method of prayer in the East which is often criticized by the West. While Lossky seeks to defend the Hesychasts from their critics, his main intent seems to be to show how many of these same theologians grounded this “vision of God” in the liturgical life of the Church. This grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit were seen to be available to all through baptism (p. 148) and central to the prayers of the people of God. Ultimately, according to Lossky, Palamas’ naysayers have re-embraced Origen’s Platonism (p. 156) where they (Palamas’ critics) have made grace an avenue, a habitus which leads them down a path. Fundamentally, Lossky says the disagreement over the “vision of God” is based upon the understanding of the “nature of grace” (p. 156). For Palamas and many of his Eastern predecessors, grace is not the possibility or potential for communion with God; grace is the presence of God in and with us (p. 166).


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Deep Wells of Salvation

In our sermon text today, we saw that God turned the bitter water of Mara into sweet waters. This is very reminiscent of the first miracle of Jesus where at Mary’s request Jesus turned the water of purification of the Jews into wine for the wedding feast at Cana. There are perhaps a number of different ways of seeing Jesus in our story, but it cannot escape our notice that God turns bitter waters into sweet waters through the means of a tree. We of course remember that it was at a tree that our first parents, Adam and Eve, plunged this world into sin and death. From then on this world was cursed, harsh, and bitter. We might remember that it was in the flood that an ark built out of many trees saved Noah and his family (and Peter says that was a picture of baptism). Likewise, it was Moses’ rod, a branch from a tree that struck the waters of Egypt and turned them to blood and brought the plagues on Egypt. And now here a tree brings cleansing and purity to bitter waters. In Isaiah 11 it says that “there shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him…” But it goes on describing the conquest of this Messiah: “The LORD will utterly destroy the tongue of the Sea of Egypt; with His mighty wind He will shake His fist over the River, and strike it in the seven streams, and make men cross over dry-shod. There will be a highway for the remnant of His people who will be left from Assyria, as it was for Israel in the day that he came up from the land of Egypt.” The Messiah will perform a new exodus, he says. And following this it says “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; ‘For YAH, the LORD, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.’” Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” This is of course the Song of Moses, a new Song of Moses for the new exodus performed by the Messiah. But instead of bringing his people into a desert with bitter water, this time he brings them to a good land with deep “wells of salvation” where they drink with joy. All of you who have passed through the Red Sea in baptism, you who have walked through the flood on dry ground, this meal is for you. These are not bitter waters; they have been made sweet through the tree of the cross.


Tenth Sunday after Pentecost: Exodus 15

Opening Prayer: Almighty God, Jesus said that he was able to give us living water, the water of life that would well up in us to eternal life. We ask that you would give us that living water now, that our souls would be refreshed and strengthened through Jesus.

The Road to Emmaus passage (Luke 24:25-27) is the famous post-resurrection account of Jesus’ conversation with two disciples that don’t recognize him. On one level the disciples don’t recognize Jesus, they can’t see him. But the narrative reveals that they can’t see Jesus in the Scriptures either. In fact, they don’t finally see Jesus until he breaks bread in their presence and then disappears. As we study the Old Testament it’s important to constantly remind ourselves why the Old Testament matters, why it’s so important. Not only is this story our story, but according to Luke 24, it is first and foremost the story of Christ. This pattern shows us three layers or applications: Christ in the Old Testament Scriptures, Christ himself, and Christ in the church. We also see half of this pattern in the book of Luke-Acts where the apostles duplicate the life of Christ because they are filled with the Spirit of Christ.

The Exodus
We pointed out last week that Paul says that the crossing of the Red Sea was the baptism of Israel (1 Cor. 10). This means that according to Scripture we see these three layers in the sacrament of baptism. Israel was baptized in the cloud and in the sea, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, and we are baptized in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The reason why we need to pay close attention to the Old Testament story is because it is the same Jesus at work there who came in the flesh who has made us his body. This kind of reading invites us to see more than just old stories or good morals. At the same time this is not an invitation to free-for-all allegorization. It is an invitation to look for and find Christ.

The Song of Moses
Notice the emphasis on the name of Yahweh at the beginning of the song. This was of course what Yahweh had promised from the beginning that they would know his name as Yahweh (Ex. 6:3-7). Yahweh is the God who brings Israel out of bondage, but more than that, Yahweh is the God who fights for his people. The Song of Moses is a war song, a battle hymn. Yahweh is a man of war (15:3). Yahweh did not merely “allow” the seas to kill Pharaoh; Yahweh cast pharaoh and his chariots into the sea (15:1, 4, 6-7, 10, 19, 21). Yahweh has triumphed gloriously in order that all of the nations around them will be afraid (15:14-16). When Yahweh acts everyone fears. This was also the reaction of Israel (who was saved) (14:31). This is what we see in the early chapters of Acts. We should also note that this fear is not incompatible with joy (15:20). What is implied here (and in many Psalms) is the idea that the right kind of fear makes us humble, obedient, and joyful. This war song is very similar to the Song of Deborah and to many of the Psalms. It celebrates the destruction of the wicked openly and essentially asks God to keep it up.

Following the song, Miriam, the sister of Moses and a prophetess, leads some singing and dancing in celebration. It should be noted that her name literally appears to mean “bitter sea” (or it is at least a pun on these words). This is significant especially given the fact that the very next scene is concerned with the “bitter waters” of Mara. Both “Mara” and “Miriam” are forms of the name Mary which is also the name that Naomi gives herself in the story of Ruth. Notice that all of these “Maras” occur on the verge of something good. Finally, one of the things that is notable about this Exodus event is the sequence: it goes from the sea and blessing to three days in the wilderness and grumbling where the bitter water of Mara is turned sweet from a tree, ending in Elim at an oasis.

Conclusion and Applications
We need to be people of the Book and books. We should love to tell stories, read stories, and even write stories. But ultimately this all goes back to the fact that God is telling the story of history and Jesus is the main character from beginning to end. We need to read and love stories because we need to understand what God is doing. This is why we need to immerse ourselves in the Psalms. The Psalms are full of stories of Yahweh’s warfare. In fact, Scripture teaches that singing the Psalms (and all of God’s word) is warfare (Psalm 149:5-9). And this is what we see taking place the book of Revelation (e.g. Rev. 15:3).

When we are immersed in the story of Scripture (and all other faithful stories for that matter) it teaches us to understand the story of our lives better. We should find ourselves identifying our lives with stories. When things have gone terribly and they don’t seem to be able to get any worse, we should recognize that we are at the edge of the Red Sea with the enemy coming down on us, and we should say, “This is the part where God delivers us…” But you may be at a different place in the story. You may be in the wilderness, hungry, thirsty, and tired. “This is the part where I am called to fight/serve…”

These stories are our stories. But they are also Christ’s stories. And therefore we may be assured that His Spirit is working out our stories in accordance with his will. Sing the Psalms as though justice and mercy depended on it; because they do. Sing the Psalms as though your stories, your future depended on it; because it does. Sing the Psalms because they are the songs of Jesus, our great man of war, who is seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven ruling and reigning until all of his enemies have submitted. He leads his hosts, his warriors to do battle with sin, with lying and cheating and stealing. He leads his hosts to do battle with the curse, with cancer, and sickness. He leads his hosts to do battle with abuse, with injustice, and with every evil thing. And all will fall before his glorious throne because God saves sinners.

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

Closing Prayer: Almighty and Glorious King, you rule over this world in perfection and goodness and wisdom. We praise and worship you, Lord Jesus, for you are worthy to be praised. You are King above all kings and Lord above all lords. The presidents and prime ministers and parliaments and congresses and councils and tribunals are all under you. And if they will not submit to you, we know that you will dash them in pieces. We know that the kingdoms of this world have become your kingdoms, but we do not yet see every knee bowed and every tongue confessing this fact. Therefore we plead with you for your kingdom to come and your will to be done on earth even as it is in heaven.


Rejoicing in the Story of Time

One of the realities of life is time. In a sense, time is just a measurement of motion; time is just keeping track of the distance our planet flies through space to get around the sun, keeping track of how many times light and darkness trade places, measuring shadows growing and shrinking and disappearing. But since we are Christians we know that we move and live and have our being in the Triune God. Theoretically, if God wanted, he could stop everything at once. But the Holy Spirit continues to hover over the world, creating and re-creating, wooing creation to its climax, singing the song of history with words we do not understand. This means that God loves time; he loves the motion of the world, the dance of life, the rising and setting sun, the revolving seasons, the young, the middle aged, and the old. God loves stories that begin, grow, climax, resolve, and end. The psalm says that God has written all of our days in his book even before there were any. God has written the story of all our lives, and here we are gathered for worship, gathered to give thanks, gathered to remember, and gathered to look forward. And this is the point: it is a great and glorious mystery that our God who is good and just can sing the story of history which includes so many difficult things. But without difficult things there is no story. Without any problems there is no plot. We serve the master poet, the storyteller par excellence, and he knows what he’s doing. The question is: do you trust him? Put away your fear. Put away your bitterness. Do not worry. Give thanks for the moments, the hours, the days, the weeks; rejoice in the gift of time. God rejoices in the story of time because it is his story, and therefore we are called to trust him.


Thursday, August 02, 2007



Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Lord of the Temple by Ernst Lohmeyer

Note: This summer I have the privilege of conducting an independent study with Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old, professor of reformed liturgics at Erskine Theological Seminary as well as a visiting lecturer at Princeton Theological Seminary. As part of that study, I will be reading a number of books related to our studies of Christian worship. I will attempt to post my summaries of those books as I complete them. Here is the second.

Lord of the Temple by Ernst Lohmeyer

Lord of the Temple is a short but very insightful exploration of what the subtitle describes as the “relation between cult and gospel.” Beginning with a presentation of the basic complexities and tensions surrounding the person and work of Jesus in the gospels and the Jewish cult centered in the temple, Lohmeyer seeks to survey the literature of the synoptic gospels (with passing comments on other New Testament texts) examining how the words and actions of Jesus challenge, confront, and transform the ritual system of sacrifice, ceremonial cleanness and purity, as well as reaffirming the very central aim of communion with Israel’s God prescribed in the Old Testament.

Lohmeyer begins by describing what he calls “The Problem.” The “Problem” or tension which exists in Lohmeyer’s estimation is found at several levels of the interaction between cult and gospel. First, Lohmeyer points out that after the advent of the gospel, not only did the Jewish cult die out but all cultures widely impacted by the gospel saw the gradual dwindling of cultic practices. At the same time, it is recognized that there grew up a certain Christian cult which in some sense “preserves” certain elements of that old Jewish cult while roundly rejecting a large portion of it. Thus, there is tension between the Christian cult and its Jewish roots. Secondly, Lohmeyer suggests that there is a distinction to be made between faith and cult, between the historical and particular and the eternal and universal. He points out that cult, as an institution from God, is already seeking to join these realities as the eternal, universal reality of God is intervening into history at a particular time in a particular place in the specific form and action of the cult. Lohmeyer says that in “this way the sacred becomes history and history becomes sanctified, yet in both a fulfillment is required which is not history” (p. 8). The point seems to be that the sheer fact of the transcendent particularizing in history always necessarily points beyond itself and ultimately looks for an eschatological fulfillment. Thirdly, and related to the previous point, Lohmeyer describes the tensions resident within the three-fold identity of God’s people: their birth, law, and sacrificial system. Here, he explains that all three of these elements exhibit the gracious actions of God, and yet there is still a tension that exists between “the particularity of outward cultic forms and the universality of its inward sacred reality” (p. 17). Another way of saying this is that there is a moral element woven throughout the cultic landscape which must always be reckoned with. While the cult has moral elements to it, if the two become absolutely identified then morality is reduced to mere outward cultic acts. Nevertheless, there is an element of the outward cult that always demands more, looking beyond itself to some greater fulfillment, and this itself is a balance to self-congratulatory moralism. To these questions, problems, or tensions Lohmeyer asks, how does the gospel confront, answer, and challenge these concerns? Given the prophetic literature in particular where both a hearty denunciation of cultic abuses and hypocrisy are combined with a number of Messianic prophecies foretelling the renewal of the temple, one expects to find these tensions and problems addressed in the person and work of the Messiah.

Lohmeyer proceeds in the following chapter to the gospels themselves and begins examining the various ways in which Jesus takes upon himself the form and function of the Temple cult. Jesus makes people “clean,” a cultic category in itself, and furthermore, a cultic action and pronouncement that only the High Priest might make. With the titles “Holy One” and “Son of Man” Jesus forgives sins, heals the sick, and casts out demons. And in all of these things Jesus is clearly challenging the traditional cultic system of the Jews, even that which was explicitly commanded by God. Where God had established the sacrificial system and the priesthood to forgive sins and establish cleanliness, the “Son of Man” is now taking upon himself these tasks and doing so by his own authority. Thus, a new tension, a new problem arises in the gospel, and it only increases. His famous activities of association with “sinners” and “tax collectors” and his regular feasting with such outcasts also challenge the Jewish cult. Furthermore, not only did his actions challenge the cult, but they did so on the basis of Jesus’ own certainty that he was ushering in the “kingdom of God,” the eschatological fulfillment of the Old Testament cultic system. Jesus also challenges the definitions of “clean” and “holy,” insisting (contrary to Moses) that purity and holiness were tied to “the inner world of the human heart” (p. 31). Given Jewish cult, it is a revolutionary statement for Jesus to say, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Lohmeyer moves on to the Triumphal Entry of Jesus in Jerusalem and points out that he enters the city not only as the King spoken of by Zechariah, but given his destination (the temple), he enters as “the Lord of God’s Temple” (p. 34). This is confirmed by the fact that his immediate action after entering the city is to go into the temple and “look around.” He inspects the House of God with the authority of the High Priest. Of course the following scene, the “cleansing of the Temple,” famously continues all of these themes. Lohmeyer points out that Jesus’ words and actions are curious in several ways. First, the actual area that Jesus cleanses is the “Court of the Gentiles,” not an area of the temple particularly concerned for cleanliness or purity at least as far as the cultic “purists” would have been concerned. In fact, Lohmeyer suggests that this Gentile Court would have been viewed as a serious compromise by many of the strictest Jews. Their hopes for the eschatological deliverance of Israel would likely have included the destruction of such elements “contaminating” the pure worship of Yahweh. Secondly, Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah’s prophecy calling the Temple a “house of prayer for all peoples” is strange given that the Temple was largely used for sacrifice and cultic ritual. There is also an interesting tension within Jesus’ own ministry where he on the one hand instructs his disciples to “go nowhere among the gentiles” and on the other his various references to the coming inclusion of the nations of the earth (and this cleansing of the court of the Gentiles at the Temple). Finally, Lohmeyer examines Jesus’ own words regarding the coming destruction of the temple and his establishment of a new or “Christianized” Jewish feast in the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Lohmeyer closes this section by comparing the synoptic gospels and their appreciation or critique of the Jewish cult.

Next is an examination of what the gospels teach regarding cult in general. Given that there can be no faith without cult (p. 62), Lohmeyer examines the words and actions of Christ in terms of cult itself. Jesus places a significant importance on the “kingdom of God” in his teaching and often in particular “entering” the kingdom of God. Given the fact that the temple was itself the throne of God, the place were God ruled and judged his people, it is not strange to see a parallel between the entrance regulations of the Temple and this new proclamation of “entering” the kingdom of God. This “kingdom” (basileia) is closely connected with the “assembly” (ekklesia), and indeed Lohmeyer says they are “interchangeable” ideas. He explains that “Basileia means from God’s point of view that which the word ekklesia describes from the Master’s point of view” (p. 67). Additionally, Jesus says that he will destroy the Temple and “build another”; Lohmeyer connects this “building” with his words to Peter concerning the Church which he intends to “build.” Thus we see that in the “house of God” motif, the Temple, the Kingdom, and this new ekklesia are all bound together, and Jesus insists by his words and actions that the people who will make up this household are those who were formerly outcasts, sinners, and unclean (i.e. excluded from the cult). This insistence challenges and transforms those three identity markers of the Jewish people. Birth is no longer the issue but re-birth. Law is also challenged in Christ’s contradiction of the sacrificial and cleanliness laws but also in His use of the prophets. Lohmeyer suggests that prior to Christ the prophets had not received the same canonical status as the Torah. Lohmeyer writes: “What Jesus did was to replace the cult by the prophets, and to treat them not as mere interpreters of the Law as the Jews had done, but as themselves bearers of the word of God in their own right” (p. 72). The gospel transforms the cult in this sense by insisting as the prophets had that there was something deeper that all the sacrifices and purity rituals pointed to. The love of God and neighbor had been what they always aimed at, and now with the coming of the eschatological kingdom, Jesus insists that this is what God wants: a sacred fellowship binding himself to his people and his people together. Ultimately this is what is established in the Eucharistic meal. The Son of Man who “combines in his person this trilogy: king, judge, priest,” those old functions of the Temple and its ministers, establishes a new center, a new fellowship and communion. Thus, the answers to “The Problem” of the cult found in the gospel seem to be found largely in the reality of the eternal, heavenly holiness truly breaking into history in the form of once-for-all baptism and the communion meal. This in itself fulfills what the ancient cult always pointed to and simultaneously establishes a new cult but one that embodies and reveals the fullness of the eschatological reality of forgiveness and fellowship with God.

Lohmeyer’s study has many things to commend it. His in-depth and meticulous analysis of the gospel literature is invaluable for its attention to cultic references and assumptions. While this limits his study in many helpful ways, his modernistic assumptions show through in places where he discounts other New Testament literature (e.g. John and Hebrews) as less than reliable, and thus handcuffs his inquiry unduly in other areas (see pp. 68-69, 110). His broad understanding of “sacrifice” to include more than mere expiation for sin or cleansing but also the end goal of fellowship and communion was an excellent insight and one that is not nearly emphasized enough (e.g. p. 14, passim). Yet in places, one is left wondering how Lohmeyer understands the need for “forgiveness” and “holiness.” While he recognizes the need for the inward and outward realities to match and coincide according to the revealed word of God, his temerity and unwillingness to regard the death of Christ as sacrifice suggests that he holds a less than biblical view of sin and the Fall. Nevertheless, given the New Testament descriptions of Christian worship in cultic and sacrificial categories, it is hardly surprising that the historic Church has not shied away from using such language to describe its work. Lohmeyer’s study is a welcome contributor to this discussion.


How to Bring Down Abercrombie and Fitch

One of the things that this table teaches us is about what is cool. And we need to realize that would people mean by “cool” is “blessing.” We live in a world that hates god and is constantly telling us about how to be cool, how to hate God and be happy. They show us movie stars, musicians, and professional athletes as the pinnacle of this cool, of happiness, satisfaction, joy, even blessing. This table however pictures something fundamentally different from their conception of cool. Over and over throughout the pages of Scripture the highest, greatest blessings are pictured in table fellowship. Blessed is the man whose wife is a fruitful vine in her house abounding with children around his table. The blessing of God is pictured as fine wine, good bread, a wedding feast, and a wife and children. This table is the cup of blessing; this table is God’s offer of blessing and goodness to you. But this means that God is asking you to reorient your priorities. This means that we are called to warfare, to do battle with those false pictures of blessing and joy. The world hates God. And they are saying this with the clothes they wear, the songs they sing, and the stories they tell. But we are called to do battle with this. We do not do battle with these weapons by refusing to buy clothes, plugging our ears, or going around blindfolded. After the Exodus, God leads his people out into the wilderness and begins to train them for the conquest. He begins running a basic training camp for Israel. And the way he trains them to fight is by teaching them how worship at the tabernacle. The first generation doesn’t get it, but after 40 years their children will be trained for battle having offered sacrifices at the door of the tabernacle, having feasted before the Lord. So too we are called to battle with sin, the flesh, and the devil. And this is your basic training here. As we worship God in spirit and truth, he trains our hands for war and our fingers to fight. And this is the most potent warfare: sitting at a table with the family of God celebrating the victory of Jesus. This is how God has determined to bring down everything that sets itself against him: whether principalities or powers, whether politicians or movie stars, every knee shall bow. So come eat, drink, and rejoice.


Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: Exodus 14:1-31

Opening Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, you are the God of the exodus. You speak and worlds come into existence; you speak again and you reduce nations to nothing. You raise up kings and bring them down, and you always fight for your people. We have gathered now before you and ask that you would be merciful to us. Hear our pleas for mercy. Teach us, guard us, and defend us in your grace. Through Jesus, Amen!

The Exodus story forms the backbone of much of the Old Testament story and a significant aspect of who Israel is to be. This is also the revelation of Yahweh as the God who saves his people, and because Israel is his saved people they are called to live in that salvation. And in all of this it is important to remember that this is our story.

Yahweh’s Armies
Remember how Israel is going up out of Egypt in military formation, as the armies of Yahweh (12:37, 41, 51, 13:18). This means that Pharaoh’s host is coming up against Yahweh’s host. It looks like Pharaoh’s armies are coming down on a defenseless refugee camp, but God thinks of it much differently: Israel is Yahweh’s victorious army (having just plundered the Egyptians), and now the defeated army of Pharaoh is coming back for one more futile attempt. It’s the Angel of God that is leading them; Yahweh is in the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night (13:21, 14:19). The cloud is shade in the hot, desert wilderness by day and warmth and protection by night. It’s worth noting how many times the words chariots and horsemen appear in this text (12 times in Ex. 14-15). Chariots were like the ancient world’s version of a tank. At the same time God’s glory cloud is associated with chariots as well in Scripture (Ez. 1, 10). Remember the horses and chariots that take Elijah up into heaven, the chariots that surround Elisha in the city when the Arameans attack. (2 Kgs. 13:14). The angels of God are his hosts, and God is training Israel to be his armies. Of course Isreal’s response is unbelief and fear (14:10-13). It would not be better to die in Egypt under Pharaoh than in the wilderness with Yahweh. It was the Angel of Yahweh who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and it is the Angel of God who is associated elsewhere with the captain of Yahweh’s hosts (Josh. 5:13ff). Not only is Israel Yahweh’s army, not only are his angels his army, but Yahweh leads the armies in battle and fights for them (14:14, 14:25). Notice too that Yahweh chooses which battles to lead his people into (13:17, 14:3-4). God is setting an ambush for Pharaoh.

We’ve pointed out that the 10 plagues can be viewed as the de-creation of Egypt, and it is interesting that there are several hints that the Red Sea crossing is itself a re-creation of sorts. The parting of the Red Sea takes place at night (14:20). It’s in the morning that Yahweh looks down upon the Egyptians and troubles their armies (14:24). Genesis 1 is a week of separating and dividing which begins in darkness and ends in Sabbath. First the light and darkness are divided when Yahweh gives light to Israel and darkness to the Egyptian armies. Yahweh does this in the cloud which divides between Israel and Egypt. This creates a picture of the world where Israel is the heavenly host and Egypt is the earthly people. Notice also that it is the presence of the wind/spirit which does the work of dividing the waters (remember Gen. 1:2). Then it is on the dry ground between the separated waters that Israel passes through. Then Yahweh looks down and judges the old rulers of the old world, and he fills the sea with their bodies. Finally, Israel stands as Yahweh’s new humanity, Israel is God’s son reborn, and they rejoice and rest in this.

Fear and Belief
The response of the people is that they feared the Lord and believed the Lord and his servant Moses (14:31). It’s worth pointing out that at this point Israel has done nothing to contribute to this great deliverance. The salvation of God is completely unilateral; it is all of grace. The question is always, ‘now what will you do about it?’ Some people insist on remaining at the Red Sea, constantly reliving the Exodus. But God is determined to train up his people into a great host. We are called to learn to fight.

An easy moralistic application might be something like no matter how difficult things look God can still deliver you. This is true as far as it goes, but we need to remember that this is also the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham some four hundred years previously (Gen 15:13ff). The Exodus is proof that God keeps his promises. But this is also another display of how God keeps his promises. God delights to show his strength in weakness.

Lastly, we know from Psalm 77 that God caused his glory cloud to rain on the people as they crossed the sea on dry ground. And when God troubles the Egyptian army and in particular their chariot wheels, he is pouring down rain and creating mud. This helps us understand more clearly why Paul says that this Red Sea crossing is a baptism into Moses (1 Cor. 10:1-2). The same waters are salvation for God’s people who believe and judgment and death to the enemies of God. This is why Paul reminds the Corinthians that they must beware of temptations to idolatry and ingratitude (1 Cor. 10:6-11). It is not enough to pass through the sea, it is not enough merely to be baptized. You must pass through the sea, God does fight for you there, but then you must learn to take up arms. You are called into the wilderness to become God’s host, his war camp, his glory cloud. God has saved you in order that you might learn to fight.

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

Closing Prayer: Gracious God and Lord, you have saved us and purchased us and made us your own possession in the blood of Jesus. But so often we don’t know what that means, and we live like we’re still trying to get out of Egypt. We thank you for our baptism for how you defeated sin and death on the cross and how you have joined us to Christ and his resurrection. Some men trust in chariots and others trust in nuclear weapons, the Supreme Court, congress, and money, but we place our trust in you. For you train our hands for war and our fingers for battle.


Taking Our Children With Us

There are many children in our congregation. If you look around you will notice that a significant portion of us are under the age of 10. This is as it should be. The Scriptures say that God has ordained praise in the mouths of infants, and Jesus says that unless we become like little children we cannot enter the kingdom of God. At the same time, little children are sometimes noisy, disobedient, sleepy, and otherwise distracting or challenging to parents. So first my exhortation is to the children, if you can hear my voice right now, I’m talking to you. You need to obey your parents and worship God with us. God says that you are welcome, and therefore I want you to know that we want you here. Secondly, parents, do not grow weary in doing good. Worship is the most important thing people can do, and therefore, teaching and training your children to worship is the most important thing you can teach and train them to do. But what about the challenges? First, remember your children’s frame. Do not expect of a 2 year old what you might expect of a 5 year old. Unfortunately, many parents don’t believe their young children are capable of anything. But if little children can sit and watch television, they can certainly be taught and trained to take part in worship. If older children can play complex video games they are more than able to learn the liturgy, and refusal to do so is laziness. Remember that you cannot be lax and undisciplined for 6 days during the week and then expect children to behave differently on Sunday. What you do here should train you for the week, and what you do during the week is training for what you do here. So in other words, you should take opportunities during the week to train your children for worship. Family worship might be a good time to practice singing and praying and listening, sitting and standing and kneeling. Finally, remember that we are all gathered here now to ascend into the heavenly places to worship the living God. We do not know how this takes place, but Scripture says that this is true and we believe it. And all of us are going, and according to Jesus there is an important sense in which our children are leading the way.