Monday, May 25, 2009

Sunday after Ascension: Job 1:13-22

Opening Prayer: Our Father, we ask that you would be with us now by Your Spirit. That the Your presence would break us apart and remake us. Take away our pride that thinks we already know what your Word means for us. And grant us the grace to follow You. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

We noted last week that Job is the greatest of the “sons of the East,” but he is not among the “sons of God,” while The Accuser is allowed into the presence of God. Job is an Adam, but even perfect Adam was not finished and glorified. And the hint of coming glory is in the creation of Eve.

The Disasters
Notice that vv. 13-19 forms a literary unit bound by the description of Job’s sons and daughters feasting in the older brother’s house. This indicates the feast of Job’s children is the context of all the destruction, but it also creates a simultaneous feeling of events. While the children are feasting, these disasters are falling. The disasters are described in a chiastic order as well. With the children as bookends (vv. 13, 18-19), oxen and donkeys are stolen and servants slain (vv. 14-15) is parallel to the camels stolen and servants slain (v. 17). This makes verse 16 the center where the “fire of God” falls and burns up the sheep and the servants and “consumes” them. This suggests that verse 16 is an important part of interpreting the rest of the events in this section. We noted last week that Job’s care for his sons should be seen as parallel to Yahweh: as Job offers his sons up in the fire of the sacrifice (1:5), so Yahweh offers Job as a son to be tested by The Accuser (1:8). This parallel seems confirmed by the disasters and the “fire of God” in particular. This is the same sort of fire of God’s presence that burned on Mt. Sinai (Dt. 4:11, 9:15). And the imagery is sacrificial (cf. Lev. 6:12, Neh. 10:35). The final calamity is also parallel to the center of this section in that it is another “natural disaster.” We should notice that the “great wind” strikes the “four corners” of the house, and the house fell on the sons and daughters and killed them (1:19).

Returning to the Womb
Job tears his clothing and shaves his head and falls to the ground in a ritual enactment of what he says in the following verse (1:20). He is naked, bald, and returning to the ground out of which he was made (ie. his mother’s womb). The particular emphasis on being naked is another parallel to Adam as is the figurative “returning to the ground” (1:21). Job says he wants to return to his mother’s womb which seems strange, but ironically it also implies a kind of rebirth. If Job is an Adam, a “son of the East,” the picture is of Adam being “killed,” put into a deep sleep in order to be cut in order to be glorified. It’s the wind that hovers over the chaos at the beginning of the universe, and it’s the wind-Spirit that strikes the house of Job to begin remaking him. And in all of this Job is still blameless and upright; he did not sin (1:22). Job is a blameless Adam cut open and torn, but his suffering is a womb of new creation.

Conclusions & Applications
Justification means becoming a living sacrifice. The fact that God is a consuming fire is not merely a warning; it’s a promise.

As we look forward to Pentecost Sunday, it is worth pointing out what the Spirit does. The Spirit creates, but the Spirit also burns, divides, and destroys in order to create and re-create. Proof of the Spirit’s presence in us and His Church is this constant work of creation and re-creation.

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

Closing Prayer: Almighty and Most merciful God, we confess that we are afraid of Your work in our lives. We know that you play with dangerous things, and you are not afraid of anything. Grant us faith that sees You and knows You and trusts You even as you remake us into the image of Christ our Lord, who taught us to pray singing…


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Not even the Pigs

In an article entitled "Health, Welfare, and Education in the Protestant Reformation: Who Cared?", Rebecca Prichard cites Luther's condemnation of the "brotherhoods" which were originally founded on principles of charity and mercy ministry:

"The brotherhood," he said, "is also supposed to be a special convocation of good works; instead it has become a collecting of money for beer. What have the names of Our Lady, St. Anne, St. Sebastian, of other saints to do with your brotherhoods, in which you have nothing but gluttony, drunkenness, dancing, and wasting of time? If a sow were made the patron saint of such a brotherhood she would not consent."


Monday, May 18, 2009

Job and the East

One point that didn't make it into the outline for yesterday's sermon, but which came out in the sermon (somewhat) was the interesting contrast in the first 12 verses between Job who is the greatest of the "sons of east" and the "sons of God." For all of Job's greatness and perfection, he is not among the assembled sons of God. He's a son of the East and not a son of God (or so it seems).

Related to that: there are a number of parallels between Job and Adam in the opening chapters of Job. One I only noticed recently is that Job is in the "east" which is of course where the garden was planted, in the east of Eden. However, as I've thought about it more, I wonder if the emphasis is more post-Fall. That is, when Adam and Eve were exiled, they were exiled to the east, as witnessed by the two cherubim (sons of God) guarding the presence of God with their flaming sword at the east end of the garden.

So while Job is this new Adam, he also finds himself outside of the courtroom of Yahweh, exiled to the East. And though he is the greatest of all the "sons of the east," he is still not a "son of God," a member of the counsels of Yahweh. At the beginning of the story, Job has not yet been (re)admitted to the garden-presence of the Lord.


Remembering Through the Cross

Memory can be a terrifying thing. We often remember things we wish we didn’t. We remember our own failures. We remember sin. We remember guilt. We remember things that others did to us, said to us, and we remember pain, loss, hardships. Memory of course can be a great blessing as well, but in a fallen world it can be haunting. We replay scenes in our mind over and over. We ask, “what if it had gone this way?” “What if I had said this?” And memory often serves to simmer regrets, would-have-beens, and so on. But the work of Christ is for this part of our lives too. Jesus came to save all of us. To save us from our sins, to save us from our failures, our habitual self-destructive ways, and He came to save us from our memories, to save our memories. He came to save us from guilt and the misery of regret. He came to deliver us from the suffocating bitterness that remembers other people’s sins and offenses against us. Jesus died for all of that, and He gave us this meal as a constant enactment of that salvation. He says, do this as my memorial. Do this in remembrance of me. And this does not merely mean that this is one thing to remember along with everything else, or that this is one memorial action along with any number of other memorials in your life. No, this memorial, the memorial of Jesus, is to be how we remember everything else. It is the memorial for all memorials, the remembrance that must shape and redefine all other remembrances. This is the foundation for all remembering. Here we declare to God and to one another that the cross of Jesus affects everything. Jesus is Lord of all, and Lord of all time, and Lord of all our memories and thoughts. Christ crucified changes everything. You may have been abused, mistreated, or hated in the past, but Christ was more so. You may have made awful mistakes and decisions in your past, but Jesus was bruised for your transgressions. You may have guilt that weighs you down, but Jesus suffocated on a Roman cross so that you might be free. You may have regrets, but the death of Jesus insists that God is always right and He will put all things right. So come in faith. Submit your memories to Jesus. See your past in and through the cross and grave of Jesus. And see your future in light of the resurrection.


Like It's the Best Thing

As it turns out there are a number of children here week after week. They worship with us in their own ways and are learning to participate with us. Many of you are parents who are busy with this task, and this is as it should it be. But the exhortation is directed to you and to all the adults all of us who take oaths at every baptism to assist these parents. All of us are godparents to these many children. First, remember that what you are doing is part of the greatest blessing you can ever bestow upon your children. You are teaching them how to draw near to God, how to cast their cares on their faithful Father, how to ask for and receive forgiveness, how to trust God and love Him with all that they are, how to love God’s people and see them as their own people. And so the first exhortation is to not grow weary in doing good, just as you should not grow weary in feeding your children every day, even when they spit it out, throw it off the high chair. Of course sometimes it takes coaxing and discipline, but we know it’s good for them. We know it is vital to their health; in the same way, this is vital to their health. And this is even more vital. Man does not live by bread alone, and children do not grow up big and strong on food alone. It is the Spirit that knits us together and grows us up to maturity. Finally, remember that you are bestowing blessing upon your children here. Gathering to worship God should not be like getting shots. Gathering for worship should not be like getting splinters out. Hearing the Scriptures, singing them, reciting the Creed, feasting at the Lord’s Supper, receiving the blessing of God, all of these things are the blessing of God being bestowed upon us and our children. And you know this, and so this is just a reminder to continue pouring out that blessing on them. And pour it out like it really is blessing. Get ready for worship with joy and enthusiasm, plan ahead to make Sunday morning special and exciting, and talk about it before and after and even during as though it really is the best thing of the week. Because it is.


Sixth Sunday in Easter: Job 1:1-12

Job is the introduction to the wisdom literature in our English Bibles, and was perhaps written or compiled by Solomon himself. The book of Job shares many characteristics with the rest of the wisdom literature, and challenges us to learn the wisdom of the resurrection.

Perfect and Great
The author describes Job as blameless or perfect, one who is upright, fears God, and shuns evil (1:1). Job is a new Adam who was created upright and blameless. Job’s children and animals picture for us an Adam who has been fruitful and multiplied and rules over creation. Job’s children and possessions also remind us of the patriarchs who had many sheep, camels, and oxen (e.g. Gen. 13:2, 26:12-14, Gen. 30-31). The numbers also indicate perfection, threes and sevens, adding up to tens (1:2-3). Job was clearly a great king in the East (1:3). Job may have been an Edomite, of the family of Esau, and the Septuagint goes so far as to say that Job is the same as Jobab of Gen. 36:33-34. Job’s perfection is also illustrated in his offerings for his children (1:5). Job is a priest-king.

Sons of God
In order to approach this story thoughtfully, we need to understand the title “son of God.” Adam was the first “son of God” (Gen. 1:26-27, Lk. 3:38). Seth was the second “son of God” (Gen. 5:1-3). This means that the image of God and access to God are central to the calling of “sons of God,” but after the Fall, some of that calling is granted to angels (Gen. 3:24). Sons of God have access to the Father and are called to carry on His mission in the world. The “seed” theme in Genesis follows the line of “sons of God” (Gen. 5, 10ff), and takes on a broader corporate meaning in Israel (Ex. 4:22-23). When we come to Job, the “sons of God” should be understood as those men and/or angels who have access to the presence of God. It should also be noted that the sons of God “present themselves” before Yahweh (1:6). This is a court setting where servants stand in the presence of a king (e.g. Ex. 8:16, 19:17, Num. 11:16, Jdg. 20:2).

The Satan
The title of Satan is “The Satan” here and throughout the book of Job (1:6). “Satan” means accuser or adversary. Recalling the courtroom setting, this places the Satan in the role of prosecuting attorney. God highlights the blamelessness of Job to Satan, and the title “my servant” is almost disturbing (1:8). Does God treat all His servants like this? Satan questions God’s protection of Job, and insists that Job’s blamelessness is based merely upon God’s blessing and protection (1:10). Notice that God’s “hand” limits the “hand” of Satan (1:11-12).

Conclusions & Applications
To be perfect or blameless is risky business, but that is what justification is all about (Rom. 5:1-2, 12:1). Job is a book about maturity, about growing up into a son of God, and God disciplines the sons that He loves (Heb. 12). There are lessons here for enduring the chastening of the Lord, but there are also lessons for parenting. Love chastens, but love also gives up sons, trusting God to raise them up.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Bad Assumptions

My friend Remy Wilkins has several great posts on Bad Assumptions in Raising Children.


Atbashing Babel

Some of my notes from an Old Testament class in seminary with Dr. George Schwab:

In Ezekiel many nations are listed for judgment, which nation is conspicuous by its absence? Babylon.

Why is Babylon not mentioned in Ezekiel’s many oracles and condemnation of the nations? Babel/Babylon represents all that stands against Yahweh and his people. Babel was a blatant challenge against God. The fall of Jerusalem was the greatest disaster to ever befall Israel. Babylon is a great evil power in Revelation. Why is Babylon not mentioned? Interestingly, in place of Babylon is the oracle against Gog and Magog. These are unknown people groups. Could “Gog” and “Magog” be Babylon?

The letters next to the letters of “Magog” reversed are “BBL” which is the letters for Babylon. Another example of this sort of thing is with the name “Sheshach” in Jer. 25:26. When the letters are made to wrap around they correspond to “BBL.” We find in Jer. 51:41 that Sheshach is indeed Babylon. “Atbash” writing is what this letter wrapping is called. This sort of code naming fits with the symbolic nature of prophecy. While it doesn’t change the nature of the prophecy, it helps to transfer the meaning to an even larger, perhaps cosmic reality. It makes it sound like we’re dealing with something huge and apocalyptic. And we are.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Morality vs. Production

In Economics in One Lesson Henry Hazlitt says: "The progress of civilization has meant the reduction of employment, not its increase. It is because we have become increasingly wealthy as a nation that we have been able virtually to eliminate child labor, to remove the necessity of work for many of the aged and to make it unnecessary for millions of women to take jobs." (73)

Hazlitt originally wrote this over fifty years ago and revised it some thirty years ago. He writes against the various schemes designed to mindlessly create more employment, as though employment in and of itself is a necessary good and benefit to society. Contrary to this, Hazlitt argues that production is the greatest good and benefit to society. As it turns out, employment is a necessary means to that end, but frequently the means is turned into the end.

The quote above however suggests that there are specific cultural values driving at least some of the economic policies. Making it "unnecessary for millions of women to take jobs" is now a string of political cuss words. If there is a higher priority of putting women in the work force, then the drive for employment as the highest good and benefit makes more sense. Framed as the liberation of an oppressed social class, the push for employment as a status symbol, as an emblem of liberty takes precedence over drives for greater production which in that light sound greedy and materialist in comparison. Liberating American women from unemployment is a moral issue. How can you value "production" over morality and freedom?


More Hobbes on Job

Thoughts generated by Gordon Hull's article on Hobbes' Leviathan and the book of Job:

Hull says that the reason for Hobbes' reference to Job in his titled work Leviathan is threefold: "it serves as an image of the great and powerful civil apparatus... Second, the products of Job's speech are given as parts of the state of nature. In other words, without a sovereign for the establishment of meaning, i.e. without a prior and explicit submission to God, Job's speech is meaningless... Third, and finally, given the position of Job as Aristotle, and of the language Hobbes uses to attack scholastic politics, the reference to Job creates a Hobbesian critique of scholastic politics on the grounds that it expresses a hubristic desire to speak with God, a hubristic confidence in human ratiocination in the name of God which is explicitly prohibited by the Bible." (28-29)

First, the use of the imagery of Leviathan to picture the civil magistrate or the state is highly intriguing. Only Hobbes seems to have missed the role that Leviathan plays in the narrative. On his reading, Job's carrying on and argumentation has revealed him to be one of the "sons of pride" and therefore in need of taming like the Leviathan. As the above quote says explicitly, Job's insistence on speaking with God is hubris. But that's not the answer that the book itself gives. In fact, Job's insistent request to speak with God is fundamentally answered in the affirmative. Yahweh speaks to Job out the whirlwind, and the conclusion also indicates that Yahweh would keep up the conversation. Job is invited to pray for his three friends, and Yahweh promises to hear and answer the prayer of Job. Yahweh invites Job to continue speaking to Him because Job has spoken what is right. The desire to speak with God seems entirely justified, ratified, and openly approved by God.

The basic argument of Hobbes seems to be that human reason cannot approach the wisdom and doings of God (witness Yahweh's speeches). The point is that similarly, human government should satisfy itself in the realm of human discourse and reason. Attempts to sanction civil government with 'thus saith the Lord statements' are the same kind of hubris that Job evidences. Hobbes wants the church to stay out of politics and sees attempts by the church to enter the political sphere as arrogant imitations of foolish Job. But again, the text does not bear this out. In fact the lesson of the text seems to be just the opposite. Job's journey is one that begins in a context of isolation from the courts of God and ends with Job being invited to speak directly to God in prayer. Thus, the overall thrust of the narrative actually suggests the very opposite of what Hobbes was after. Of course Job was not merely trying to "reason" his way to God, and on that level, Job would agree with Hobbes that human reason is completely insufficient. This is why Job wants to die. He knows that it's futile to attempt a meeting with God on his own.

Last thought: Part of the problem Hobbes is reacting to is the high scholasticism which interwove biblical standards with ancient philosophers like Aristotle. This was the Empusa, the demon, which Hobbes sought to cast out of society. He was not opposed at all to a "Christian Commonwealth," but when the Church intervened, she ended up (apparently of necessity) bringing all her extra-biblical (and unwanted) friends with her. Strikingly, as Hull points out, Hobbes is implicitly arguing for this separation on Scriptural grounds, even scholastic grounds. But this "immanent critique" as Hull calls it, appears to rest on faulty exegesis. But it does rest on exegesis, and Hobbes notes this himself: "Therefore, when anything therein written is too hard for our examination, wee are bidden to captivate our understanding to the Words; and not to labour in sifting out a Philosophical truth by Logick, of such mysteries as are not comprehensible, nor fall under any rule of naturall science."

The point seems to be that if you can understand it with a simple reading then it may be used, but if it takes more than that much thought, it ought to be left to the Church to figure out but is not binding on the magistrate. And for the Church to enforce her interpretation on the magistrate is to follow in the hubris of Job and the Leviathan.


Patient Job Won't Shut Up

James says: "My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord -- that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful." (5:10-11)

Three things: First, it seems fairly straightforward that James is identifying Job as one of the prophets. Second, the mark of a prophet according to James is suffering and patience, waiting for the compassion and mercy of the Lord to be revealed. Prophets wait and endure. The office of prophet is an office of maturity, an office of old age, having waited, having endured, having persevered. Last, all of this reinforces a very positive reading of Job. Whatever Job did, whatever his beef was, he spoke what was right as God finally declared in the conclusion of the story. His perseverance and endurance, his refusal to back down from the argument, that's all a model of faithfulness. Consider the faithful example of Job, who stubbornly refused to shut up for 30 chapters.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Maimonides on Job on Hobbes on Government

Gordon Hull has a fascinating article in the British Journal for the History of Philosophy titled 'Against this EMPUSA:' Hobbes's Leviathan and the Book of Job.

Early on he recounts Maimonides' interpretation of Job which would have been one of the prominent medieval readings leading up to the work of Hobbes. Maimonides specifically distinguishes between human reason's capabilities and the wisdom and understanding of God. Part of Maimonides' conclusion then is that human government should not be modeled on God: "the notion of his providence is not the same as the notion of our providence, nor is the notion of the governance of the things created by Him the same as the notion of our governance of that which we govern... There is nothing in common between the two except the name alone."

Hull explains that this distinction seems to resonate in the writings of Hobbes who thought "that the commonwealth should be conceived as 'like a creation out of nothing by human wit', that failure of the principles of moral philosophy (broadly conceived) occasioned political catastrophes like the civil war, and that theologians used clever misrepresentations of words to incite the masses to sedition..." (pp. 7-8)


The Red Virgin

Francis Schaeffer points to Fouquet's painting The Red Virgin as an example of autonomous humanism developing in the fifteenth century. The painting is titled to be seen as a Madonna and Child, but the woman's exposed breast is crass and Schaeffer points out that the face of Mary is actually the face of the French King's mistress, Agnes Sorel. Shaeffer says, "Was this the Madonna about to feed her baby? No, the painting might be titled The Red Virgin, but the girl was the king's mistress; and when one looked at the painting one could see what the king's mistress's breast looked like." Shaeffer applauds the general movement toward realism, but here he says the meaning has been lost.


Monday, May 11, 2009

God's Restitution to Job

Balentine again: He points out that Job receives double back from God in the epilogue. "His possessions are returned to him twofold (42:12; compare 1:3). His family is restored with the birth of ten children, seven sons, and three daughters (42:13-15). Job's doubly blessed life enables him to see four generations of his progeny. After 140 years of postcatastrophe life (42:16), twice the normal lifespan (compare Ps 90:10), Job dies "old and full of days" (42:17)..."

Of course the law requires twofold restitution to be paid for any manner of loss or trespass against a neighbor's property (Ex. 22:9).


Virginia Wolff on Job

Samuel Balentine says he shares the suspicions of Virginia Wolff, who wrote in 1922 to her friend Lady Robert Cecil saying, "I read the Book of Job last night. I don't think God comes well out of it."


Deep and Deeper Covenant

Susanna Ticciati has an article in Modern Theology from a few years ago on the Satan's question of God, "Does Job fear God for naught?" She suggests that this question is actually aimed at the covenant protections, the "hedge" that God has set about Job. Thus, the book of Job is all about exploring the depths of covenant loyalty. In other words, there is deep covenant and there is deeper covenant. Deep covenant only knows the retributive relationship outlined in Deuteronomy, deeper covenant plumbs the depths of the sovereignty and righteousness of God. In particular, Ticciati says that it is in the covenant breaking or when the covenant is "wounded and distorted" that the deeper aspects of the covenant come out. Following the deuteronomic covenant in a wooden, mechanical way, with no remainder, misses the point of it all. Job's selection by God, his election, is an election to something deeper. "Job must wrestle with [God's sovereignty], and in so doing, wrestle with the one who stands at its base... the only way in which God's sovereignty is truly recognized and acknowledged is not in bowing down to an external rod... but rather in a wrestling with and challenging of God's sovereignty." And Job's integrity and perfection emerges in this, and "this emergence as something which happens over time is the process by which Job's integrity is constituted - not so much a discovery as a making."


Jesus Loves You Like Your Mom

In the sermon text today, Jesus cries out for Jerusalem and likens His love for Israel to the love of a mother. That might seem a little strange, since we tend to emphasize a kind of masculinity that is rough and tumble and courageous and so on. But Paul writes something similar in 1 Thess. 2, when he says that he and Timothy and Silvanus ministered among the Thessalonians with gentleness, and just so we know what Paul means, he tells them specifically, that they ministered among them as “a nursing mother cherishes her own children.” Paul says that his apostolic ministry was done with the love of a nursing mother for her little ones. Again, it may seem strange to us who labor to be faithful to our callings as men and women. Isn’t Jesus confusing the categories a bit? Aren’t the feminists going to make hay with the suggestion that pastoral ministry is like a mother caring for her nursing babies? Well perhaps they will, but our calling is to be faithful to the Scriptures wherever they lead. And part of the reason we get feminists is because men define masculinity by GQ and Sports Illustrated and the NRA rather than by the Word of God. But one of the prominent ways Wisdom is pictured in Proverbs is as a woman. She is a woman who builds her house, prepares a feast, sets her table, and cries out for the simple to come and dine with her. She is a mother who cries out for the simple children to eat her bread and drink her wine. And then Jesus comes, and John tells us that in the beginning was the Logos, the Word, the Wisdom of God, and that Wisdom was with God, and that Wisdom was God, and that Wisdom became flesh and dwelt among us. And perhaps this begins to explain why Jesus can say that He loves Israel like a mother hen and why Paul can say that He ministered to the Thessalonians as a nursing mother. The only kind of wisdom there is, is the wisdom of God, which is Lady Wisdom. Jesus had Her. Jesus as the glory of the Father, revealed her to us. And it is Jesus who still possesses her, and pours out her Spirit upon those who ask. Furthermore, when Jesus calls us to this table, we cannot miss the fact that Jesus calls us here with the love of a mother, the voice of wisdom crying out to simple children to come and forsake foolishness. There are lessons in this for all of us, men, women, and children. But perhaps the greatest lesson is the love of God for us. God calls us back here to his feast of wisdom, week after week, and He calls us back to this table. Are you simple? Then come. Are you like a little child who keeps failing and messing up? Then welcome. This feast is for you.


Resurrection means Motherhood

Today is the fifth Sunday in Easter, and it also happens to be the day our country recognizes as Mother’s Day. This duty of honoring mothers flows out of the gospel itself. In the life of Christ, we see Him leading in this as He cares for his own Mother even while He is dying on the cross. And we find a similar image in Galatians where Paul says that the Church is the mother of us all. The Church is the new Eve. Remember Eve means “mother of all the living.” We live in a culture that may have these token days of gratitude to mothers, but by and large our culture dishonors mothers. We dishonor the calling of motherhood, disparage the high calling of bearing children, and of course, frequently, the mother’s convenience is the altar upon which many little ones are slain. But we who call the Church our mother, we who honor Mary as the mother of our Lord, we who bless the faithful mothers throughout Scripture, we who rejoice in the empty tomb, the womb that bore our Savior back from the dead, we must take care that this is not just show, a nice traditional pietism. Some kind of pharisiaism, whereby we measure our faithfulness by the size of bouquet we got mom, the long, flowery, sentimental letter we wrote her, or the tone of voice we use when denouncing the evils of abortion. You should do those things, without neglecting the weightier matters of the law. You should honor your mother today without rolling your eyes at her tomorrow or the next day. You ought to praise your mother today without forgetting to take her counsel seriously throughout the year. You must bless her today without arguing with her during the week. But Christ is risen, the barren rejoices, and God in his grace is reversing the curse, reversing the story. We have embraced barrenness and rejected motherhood in our sin, but the resurrection is God’s answer of grace. He has taken the most barren of all wombs, the grave itself and turned it into a life giving womb. And thus part of the meaning of the gospel is that God is reversing all of our barrenness and turning it back into the fruitfulness and glory of motherhood.


Monday, May 04, 2009

See, I Have Told You

One of my favorite parts of the resurrection narratives is in Matthew where it says that there was a great earthquake when the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and he came and rolled back the stone from the door and sat on it (Mt. 28:2). It’s just that detail that the angel came down from heaven, pushed the stone out of the way and then he sat on. It’s so casual, so mundane. He’s the angel of the Lord and he’s sitting on a big stone. Matthew says that he looked like lightening and his clothing was white as snow, and the guards all shook with fear and fainted (28:3-4). This angel had been appointed from all eternity to perform this part of the story, to play this particular role. He had the earthquake-stone-moving part, he got to scare the guards, and then deliver a few specific lines to the women who came to the tomb, seeking Jesus. He tells the women: Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said.” The angel goes on to tell the women to look at the grave and then to return to the disciples to tell them the wonderful news. And then he adds the line, “See, I have told you.” That’s just a funny line. The angel is sitting on his stone, and he tells the women that he told them that Jesus is risen. I imagine that the angel was smiling for most of this episode. It was the beginning of a new world, and he of all the host of heaven had one of the greatest parts of all. He got to roll the stone away, scare the guards, tell the women that Jesus was risen, and most of it he delivered sitting on his stone outside the empty tomb. How could He not have been smiling, sitting on his stone? “See I have told you.” It just sounds eager; it sounds all glad. And this meal should be no less glad, no less a joyous privilege. Here we are two thousand years later, sitting around this table, all glorious. And we’re still declaring to one another and to the world that Jesus is not here. He’s not here; he’s alive. Go tell your friends; go tell the world. And don’t worry about guards. There are still guards getting paid off, scared of the truth, scared of angels sitting on stones, all bright and shiny. But He is risen: see, I have told you. So come: eat, drink, and rejoice.


The Good News of Easter

The resurrection of Jesus is good news. It is the good news. And the reason that the resurrection of Jesus is good news is because it is the answer to every problem, the answer to every failure, the answer to every sin. But in order for it to be good news, you must be in a position to need it. In order for good news to be good news, you must know how desperately you want. But the declaration and reality that Jesus has conquered death, and that He is risen is wonderful and glorious news. It is wonderful and glorious news for drug addicts, for adulterers, for Mormons and Muslims, for atheists, for thieves, for rapists, for abusive parents, disobedient children, the violent, the angry, the bitter, the despairing, the lost, the sick, the dying, and every single evil in the world. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s oath, His solemn promise, and down payment that sin and death will not have the final word. Christ is risen means that evil has been and will be trampled down. Christ is risen means that God has begun to destroy every evil. Christ is risen means that God in Jesus went into the grave and then undid it. And if God has done that with death, the point is unmistakable. God intends to do the same thing with every sin and every evil. Because Jesus bore it all on the cross, suffering in our place, it’s all been paid for. It’s all be atoned. It is finished. There’s nothing left to hold Jesus in the grave. And therefore there is nothing, absolutely nothing that can hold you in the grave. There is nothing, absolutely nothing that can have you or separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Idolatry cannot have you. Sexual sin cannot have you. Addiction cannot have you. Anger, bitterness, despair, depression; they cannot have you. You have been freed by the precious blood of Jesus, and when He burst out of that tomb two thousand years ago, He did it for you. You are free. Christ is risen, and death has no more dominion over you. Jesus took death captive, and with it all of your sin, all of your failures, all of your regrets, all of your fears, all of it. And that is good news. That is wonderful news. And that is what it means to say that He is risen indeed.


Saturday, May 02, 2009

Breast-feeding Isn't Free

In a recent issue of Atlantic Monthly Hanna Rosin writes: "The debate about breast-feeding takes place without any reference to its actual context in women's lives. Breast-feeding exclusively is not like taking a prenatal vitamin. It is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way. Let's say a baby feeds seven times a day and then a couple more times at night. That's nine times for about a half hour each, which adds up to more than half of a working day, every day, for at least six months. This is why, when people say that breast-feeding is "free," I want to hit them with a two-by-four. It's only free if a woman's time is worth nothing."

While Rosin's overall point is rather ambiguous and ambivalent, and setting aside the misunderstanding of "meaningful work," her points about the time commitment are really great. And while she may imagine an idyllic situation as one where mothers are "free" in the workplace, I just appreciate the way she has valued a woman's time and energy even in the task of feeding an infant. With Mothers' Day approaching it's worth pointing out how "expensive" a mother is and how valuable she is to the "company."

Rosin closes admitting that breast-feeding "contains all of my awe about motherhood, and also my ambivalence. Right now, even part-time, it's a strain. But I also know that this is probably my last chance to feel warm baby skin up against mine, and one day I will miss it."


Friday, May 01, 2009

Teaching like Jesus

Jesus is the greatest teacher.

And He taught frequently in parables that were meant to confuse His listeners. He told parables so that "seeing they would not see, and hearing they would not hear..."

In fact Mark makes a particular point about showing how Jesus only spoke in parables except when He was alone with his disciples. The only way you can find out what the parables mean is if you follow Jesus and ask Him about them later when you're alone.

If this is something of a pedagogical pattern that we ought to learn from and follow, this means that some of the best teachers are the ones who only tell enough to incite their students. They only tell enough to confuse them, to poke them, to frustrate them, to draw them in, and then they patiently wait for the students to come up afterward with questions. They wait for the emails a few days later when the student shows that he or she has been thinking about what the teacher said.

The art of teaching is not merely the art of bestowing information or understanding or wisdom. The art of teaching is also the art of concealing knowledge and wisdom, burying treasure in a field and leaving behind ambiguous innuendos to drive students to desperate exploration or despairing apathy.

And that's what wisdom does. Wisdom throws rocks into crowds, cuts babies in half, divides between fools and wise, good and evil. Wisdom lights fires.


The Trivium Applied to Culture?

Dorothy Sayers suggested that the medieval trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric ought to be applied as an educational methodology in the progression of eduction. Douglas Wilson popularized this suggestion a few years ago in his book Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning.

As I've read Veith's Postmodern Times over the last week or so, it has struck me that in many respects the shift from modernism to postmodernism is a lot like the transition from the logic stage to the rhetoric stage. It represents a shift from rigid categories, demanding precision, answers, questions to an emphasis on presentation, style, appearance, and beauty. I'm no cultural scholar, but what if cultures always do this (allowing for progression and different expressions of course)? But what if the transition from modernity to postmodernity is a fairly routine transition, like the transition from middle school to high school. It's still kind of scary, and we still say and do plenty of incoherent and irresponsible things. But maybe this is just the path to maturity.


Canon Sale

If you haven't heard or seen already, there's a pretty big sale going on over at Canon Press. There are a bunch of titles for only 1, 2, and $3. Check it out.


Eating and Drinking Humility

In the sermon text today, Jesus warns against leaders who do not do as they say. They speak words of freedom and yet their actions are enslaving. They bind heavy burdens on their people rather than freeing them. One aspect of the meaning of this meal relates to all of this. At one point leading up to the Jerusalem, when His disciples wanted to be seated in positions of authority and glory, Jesus asked if they were able to drink the cup He was about to drink. They answered that they were, and Jesus said that they would even though it is clear that they did not exactly know what they were asking or agreeing to. And later when Jesus instituted this meal, he broke the bread first and then gave it to his disciples and likewise with the wine. The implication is that leaders go first. That’s what it means to be a leader, to be the head. It means you get to die first. Jesus drank the cup first for all of us, and then he hands it to us. And that is why we can drink it. We can drink it because He drank it first. This cup is a cup of blessing, but it is also the cup of the cross. It is the cup of the joy of the cross. It is the cup of the life of God poured out for us. But this is why those who are serving you eat and drink first. We don’t eat and drink first because we’re greedy or because we are impatient. We eat and drink first because God has called us to lead. God has called us to die first. And all of this is an answer to Jesus’ warning about leaders who don’t do what they say. This meal is training in humility. Jesus said that whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. And that is what this meal ought fundamentally to be. This meal is an opportunity to take up our cross first and in humility to serve our neighbors. To call one another to follow Jesus without doing it ourselves first is hypocrisy, but we are called to lead and to love by serving. He who is greatest shall be your servant. So humble yourselves now under the mighty hand of God, take the cross, the body and blood of Christ and rejoice. You serve the God of the resurrection, and therefore, He will lift you up.


Resurrection Life Overflows

As we continue to grow up into a Christian culture together, there will be numerous ways in which the joy and glory of our worship here pours out into our families and communities. And this is the way that it should be. But as we do this we must remember where the glory is, where the glory comes from. The greatest glory, the greatest gathering is this one. The one we are in right now. We call this service, the Lord’s Service, our service of Covenant Renewal. The marks of this particular service are God’s gracious Call to Worship, our Confession of Sin and declaration of forgiveness, the reading and preaching of the Word, our celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and the Lord’s blessing declared as we close. This pattern of covenant renewal is rich with biblical themes and motifs, and it follows the pattern of worship that the people of God have used since the time of the apostles. In this gathering, God promises that we are ushered into the heavenly presence of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. There we are transformed, renewed, changed, and blessed and sent out again into the world to be his ministers of grace and mercy, ministers of His kingdom, seeking to establish the kingdom here on earth more and more as it is in heaven. This is our glory, our joy, and our highest privilege in life. At the same time, this glory overflows. It overflows in numerous ways. It overflows in laughter and dancing. It overflows in lovemaking, it overflows in singing psalms, it overflows in feasting, it overflows in serving the outcasts, the fatherless, and the widows. But it also overflows in more worship, and so over the last few months we’ve held other services of worship and prayer and praise, and we want to continue to cultivate this overflowing Christian culture. But we cannot lose sight of the source; we must not misplace the center. The center is here. The center is our covenant renewal. The center is our sins forgiven, the word proclaimed, and the body and blood of our Lord. And it’s out of this joy, out of this renewal that flows all of life, and all of life flows back into this service. This is the center because here our Risen King meets with us. Here resurrection life is bestowed upon us through the work of the Spirit, and that resurrection life is what follows us out into all that we do and draws back again for more.