Job opens with a number of themes that remind us of the beginning of Genesis. Job is described as a “perfect man,” and he is surrounded with a world of wonderful blessings as Adam was. Like Adam, his kingdom is in the “East” (1:3, cf. Gen. 2:8), like Adam he has been granted rule over many animals (1:3, cf. Gen. 1:26, 28), like Adam he has been granted much food and his children regularly feast (1:4, cf. 1:29, 2:16). And even apart from explicit parallels, similar themes are at work. Job is concerned that one of his children might have sinned and cursed God (1:5). This is reminiscent of Adam’s sin and the curse of God (cf. Gen. 3:14-19). Likewise, the Accuser (Satan) points to how God has “blessed” Job and how “his possessions have increased in the land” (1:10). This reminds us of God’s blessing on Adam and Eve and the command to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28). Of course the characters are also reminiscent: Yahweh, Satan – the "Accuser", and a perfect man surrounded with blessing. There is even an Eve, Job’s wife who famously counsel’s Job to “curse God and die” (2:9).
Saturday, February 28, 2009
One of the ways we can look at the book of Job is as a dialogue between the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The book of Proverbs says that the fear of the Lord leads to blessing, and foolishness leads to death. If you obey, it will go well with you; if you disobey it will go badly. In Proverbs, Solomon says that the world is fairly predictable, orderly, and it makes sense. However, Solomon answers this wisdom with another aspect of wisdom in Ecclesiastes. There we learn that sometimes the righteous are oppressed and defeated, and meanwhile the wicked prosper and experience joy. In Ecclesiastes, life is vapor, a grasping after the wind, an attempt to understand the impossible, the incomprehensible. Ecclesiastes says that life frequently does not make sense. In Job, Job seems to be arguing with Ecclesiastes’ wisdom while Job’s friends are quoting bucketfuls of Proverbs.
Some of the three friends’ sarcastic questions include levels of irony. Early on Bildad suggests that God has cast away Job’s sons because they sinned against him (9:4), but of course we know that Job frequently offered sacrifices for his children for this very purpose. Later, Eliphaz sarcastically asks Job if he is Adam, the first man to have ever lived and whether he has “heard the council of God” (15:7-8). The irony of course is that by the end of the story, we find that Job has been admitted to the council of God. And he is fully acquitted while Eliphaz is condemned.
Friday, February 27, 2009
Job says that his friends have reproached him "these ten times" in 19:3. Counting Job's own speeches, there are exactly ten speeches from Job 3-18. This seems to imply that the "reproach" is two fold: it is the refusal to hear Job's words and it is the audacity they have to speak up against him.
As a previous post pointed out, the structure of Job is itself Job's transition from a priest-king to a prophet. This is the process of being welcomed into the heavenly council of Yahweh which readers glimpse in the prologue. Job does finally enter this council when Yahweh speaks to him out of the whirlwind, but the dialogue leading up to the whirlwind is full of allusions to this climax. Frequently, the words of the rhetorical combatants are referred to as "wind" (6:26, 8:2, 15:2, 16:3) which is the word RUACH, the same word for breath or spirit. And that word is used prolifically throughout the book, frequently to refer to the life-breath of man and the shortness of life which is quickly blown away with the "wind" (21:18, 27:21). And of course one of the disasters that befell Job was the great RUACH-wind that struck the house his children were feasting in and killed them (1:19). Similarly, other terms are also employed such as the "east wind" referring to the words of Job's accusers (15:2), and the wicked are described as being stolen away in the "storm" (21:20).
The story of Job is the drawing of Job into the whirlwind. The narrative, the argument, the dialogue itself is Job's transition into the wind/spirit/breath of Yahweh.
Addendum: Towards the end of Job's final defense, he describes God’s opposition to him as being lifted up to the wind and being made to ride on it (30:22). The story of Job is Job being drawn up into the tornado of God's presence.
Monday, February 23, 2009
“For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.” (Eph. 5:29-30)
This meal is the very thing that we have considered this morning. Our High Priest gives us his own flesh and blood. We are his own flesh, his flesh and bones, and the Lord feeds us and cares for us. And this points to at least two realities. First, the very act of giving us his body is treating us like priests. In some traditions, the pastor says, ‘holy things for the holy,’ when the sacrament is celebrated. And this is exactly what the Protestant Reformers meant when they referred to the priesthood of all believers. We all partake of the sacrament, but then we hand one another the bread and the wine, and we share in that nourishing and cherishing. We are all priests and sacrifices to and for one another, offering one another the flesh and blood, and feeding one another and caring for one another as members of His body. And this act follows us out into the world, back into our families, back into our classes, back to our jobs. And the grace follows us, the Spirit goes with us, strengthening our hands to serve and to heal and to bestow, opening our mouths to speak words of healing and kindness and grace. This is what it means to be a royal priesthood, to be his beloved children. We are his flesh and blood, we are heirs of the King, and all of his riches of mercy and grace are ours. And that’s the last point: God always gives himself. There are no substitutes. He doesn’t try to buy us off. He gives, he gives excessively, and he gives himself overflowing. We have an inheritance that cannot be counted, cannot be weighed, and is inexhaustible, and that’s because it’s God himself. God gives himself to us, and then gives himself through us. You are the holy ones of God; you are his saints. And God gives himself to you, that he might be given through you. So come: eat, drink, and rejoice.
Ephesians 5 presents Christ as the model for all Christians, loving and sacrificing. Paul applies this specifically to husbands and wives, and today as we prepare to enter the season of Lent, we consider what it means to imitate the sacrifice of Christ as husbands.
A Sacrificing Sacrifice
Paul exhorts Christians to imitate Christ who gave himself in love as a sacrifice and an offering to God, a sweet smelling aroma (5:1-2). This is precisely the way sacrifices are described in the old sacrificial system (e.g. Lev. 1:9, 13, 17, etc.). But in order for a sacrifice to qualify, it had to be without blemish (e.g. Lev. 1:3, etc.). Of course Christ is both the sacrifice and the priest (Heb. 9:11-12), and as the priest he must also be holy and blameless (Ex. 29:1, Lev. 21:6ff, Heb. 7:26). Sacrifices were considered holy, and those who ate them were required to be holy (cf. Lev. 6:18, 27ff). In keeping with this, we need to look at two things briefly: first, notice how the Ascension Offering is prepared. As with all the offerings, a hand is laid on its head (1:4), it is cut up and arranged on the altar (1:6-8), a portion is washed (1:9), and then it ascends in the glory of the fire to the presence of God (1:9). What is striking is that there are a number of parallels with the ordinations of priests: priests were washed (8:6), clothed in garments of glory (8:7-9), in order that they might have access to the presence of God in the tabernacle. This is why the priests wore holy garments (Lev. 16:4) and were anointed with holy anointing oil (Ex. 40:13). Holiness means authorization and access. One last item to note is that during the ordination, blood from the ram was put on Aaron and his sons (Lev. 8:24). Putting all of this together means that priests were to be viewed as walking sacrifices. Priests were living sacrifices. In other words, being a sacrifice is what authorizes you to offer a sacrifice.
It is the Holy Spirit who makes us holy; he is our seal, our authorization, God’s mark upon us (4:30, cf. Jn. 6:27). Since we are called to imitate the love and sacrificial offering of Christ, Paul calls us to holiness (5:3, 9, 18). But since Christ is both the priest and the sacrifice, it should not come as a surprise that we are called to the same. In fact, Paul insists that the priestly love of Christ is what actually affects this change in us, and that our priestly ministry is and does the same. Paul applies this priestly calling to marriage, and calls husbands to love their wives in imitation of Christ (5:25) which is exactly what he previously called all Christians to (5:2). Again, the love of Christ is sacrificial, but his sacrifice is what qualifies him for the task. He gave himself in order to “sanctify and cleanse her” (5:26). And it may sound a little funny: is Christ preparing his bride to be a sacrifice? And the answer is yes, a living sacrifice “holy and without blemish” (5:27, 1:4). Like all sacrifices, he washes her, sanctifies her, feeds and warms her (5:29). And this applies directly to the calling of husbands. The ministry of husbands is not generic or common; it is specific and priestly. You are holy: you have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit, set apart for ministry to and for particular people. And one of those people is your wife. You are called to walk in love and give yourself for your bride as an offering and a sacrifice to God in order that you may sanctify and cleanse her, in order that she may be holy and without blemish, in order that she may be a sweet-smelling aroma to God (5:25-27, 5:2). And this ministry is in word (5:26) and in deed (5:29).
Conclusion & Applications
In order to cleanse your wife, you must repent of your uncleanness (5:26 cf. 5:3-5). You must be a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable in order to turn others into sacrifices (Rom. 12:1, 20).
Cleansing with the “washing of the water by the word” comes on the heels of Paul’s exhortation to speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (5:18-19). Reading scripture and singing together is an essential way husbands must cleanse their wives.
Lent is the season in which we meditate on the work of Christ for us. Jesus is the ultimate living sacrifice, because Easter is true. And being united to Him means that we have been set apart as his ministers to follow in his steps, to lay our lives down in order to bestow the gifts of life and light. Therefore put away all fornication and uncleanness, and walk as children of light. “Awake, you who sleep. Arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
One of our tasks in growing in Christ is to grow up in our worship. There are a number of facets to this, but a central aspect of worship is music. In a number of places in Scripture the Holy Spirit is associated with music. When David plays for Saul, the music subdues the evil spirits, when Paul says to be filled with the Spirit, he says to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to one another. We are called to worship in the beauty of holiness, and holiness is that which is supremely supplied by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is God’s glory cloud; it is the storm of his presence. And we are called into that presence week after week. We are called to join in with that cloud, that storm, and that thundering presence. And we do that in our song, in our music. But we have really only just begun. The Scriptures, and the Psalms in particular, instruct us in our worship. God calls upon us not only to sing but to make music on many instruments. In Psalm 150, the psalmist lists at least seven different instruments and some of them are just general categories. The Psalmist closes the psalm exhorting everything that has breath to praise the Lord. Given the thrust of the Psalm, the command is really something like: everyone needs to make noise in praise of God. If you have a drum strike it, if you have a trumpet blow it, if you have stringed instruments play them, if you have a voice sing out, if you have hands clap them. As we seek to grow up in worship, we want our worship to be ordered by the patterns of Scripture, but one of those patterns is that our worship ought to grow in volume. God likes noise. He loves a joyful noise. As we gather in the Spirit, our joyful praises are the glory of God; we are the glory cloud, the music of the Spirit, the beauty of holiness. So come with all that you have, come with singing, come with joy, and come expecting the Spirit of God to grow us more and more into that thundering presence. And then when you leave here this morning, take it with you.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Jim Jordan has pointed out that the offices of prophet, priest, and king seem to follow a progression of maturity and glory. The role of priest is to guard and requires strict adherence to the law. After this is added the role of king, where the law must be applied with wisdom. Kings must wrestle with difficult issues and questions and contemplate applications not directly addressed in the law. The king not only guards the law, but begins to speak wisdom from the law into the world. Finally, the last stage in biblical maturity is the prophet, who in his most basic role is allowed access into the deliberations of God. The first prophet in Scripture is Abraham who prays for the afflicted and is heard (Gen. 20:7). He speaks into the counsels of God regarding Sodom and Gomorrah. The prophet is given the floor to debate and argue his case before the divine assembly. And this is because he has grown to maturity. He has guarded the law and the Word of God is hidden in his heart (priest), but he has also learned wisdom and applied the word, dividing between joints and marrow, piercing to the thoughts and intents of the heart (king). And because he has grown into this maturity, he is welcomed to the divine assembly and his prayers are heard. Of course because the prophet has been involved in the divine deliberations, he is supremely qualified to announce those verdicts. This is why prophets frequently bring the Word of the Lord and foretell what He is about to do, but this is because they were there when it was all decided and they have been granted the authority to ask God what he is about to do.
The latter part of this progression is part of the point of the book of Job. Job is a priest and a king, but the story of Job is his transition from the second to the third stage of glory-maturity. He goes from an upright and righteous priest-king who understands the law and justice to the glory of a prophet. In simple terms this is seen in comparing the prologue and epilogue. At the beginning, Job offers sacrifices for his children who may have sinned (priest), and in the end, Job offers sacrifices for his three foolish accusers who have spoken wrongly concerning God. But the key difference is that God authorizes Job to pray for them and promises that he will hear Job (prophet). Job has graduated from the glory of a priest-king to the glory of a prophet, and this is further symbolized by the glory-beauty of his three daughters in the end of the book. Job has gone from a priestly "blamelessness" to the prophetic glory-beauty.
This perspective makes a great deal more sense of the middle part of the book. Why is the book a series of dialogues, arguments, accusations, and deliberations? Because Job must learn to speak in the assembly of the sons of God which is glimpsed in the prologue. He must patiently endure the testing of God, the accusations of his companions, and emerge clinging to his integrity in faith. While Job is usually regarded as mostly good, he is usually thought to have slipped and failed a bit since he is said to have "repented in dust and ashes." The Hebrew here is a little more ambiguous than that, but at the very least it runs parallel once again to Abraham who interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah recognizing that he was but "dust and ashes." When Job speaks to Yahweh like a prophet, he is granted a prophet's mantle. Only having answered his accusers is he ready to do battle with The Accuser, Satan.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Another thought on Lent:
Historically in the West, Sundays during Lent are not included in the 40 days. In other words, Sundays are always feast days in the midst of a season of preparation and penitence. But this really should not seem strange since all true repentance must flow from a heart of joy and thanksgiving. When we receive the Word of God with gratitude it will confront our sins and rebuke us in our folly, but the thankful heart will immediately look to God for grace, ask for forgiveness, and rejoice to begin again. In other words, repentance and sorrow for sin always flow out of joy and thankfulness in the Lord.
And the point is that this means that Lent is not merely a time to be "sad." Rather, Lent is for joy. But it is a refusal to accept anything less than real joy. If God is faithful and hears our prayers to teach us, to confront us, to deal with our sins, there should certainly be moments and days of sorrow and pain. But because this is all the goodness of God, it is all sorrow that leads to repentance and that is a profoundly joyful thing. Which means that the wisdom of Lent (and other penitential periods) is teaching the people of God deep joy, real joy, deep grace, and that is cause for rejoicing and therefore Lord's Days in Lent should be some of the most robust feast days we celebrate.
One of the lessons of today’s sermon text is that the story of God’s working in the world is God’s determination to throw a glorious feast. God’s idea of a good time is lots of people piled around his tables with fine wine and mountains of good food. But more than that, this reveals what your God is like. God is generous. God is open-handed. God is promiscuous with his kindness; he is unscrupulous with his grace. And we’re all proof of that. He’s given us all things in Christ Jesus, and on top of that, He has given us His Spirit working out his gifts in our lives. And he seats us here week after week spoiling us with good bread and good wine, his body and blood for our joy and nourishment. This God does not invite you here begrudgingly; he isn’t going over all your failures or weaknesses. He’s not reminding you of how you really could have done that better. He’s inviting you with open arms; He delights in you. He rejoices over you with singing and dancing. He is not ashamed to call you His own. You are his favorites. And clearly this is not something you’ve earned. It’s all a gift; it’s all grace. And really the only requirement is that you come with thankfulness. Come with thanksgiving, come with joy, come with wonder in your hearts for God’s grace. He rejoices over you, he loves to bless you, he loves to fill you, he loves to heal you, and he says come one, come all. So come with joy to receive the gifts of God. Rejoice in receiving these gifts because God is rejoicing in giving them to you. Come eat, drink, and rejoice.
Central to the task of parenting is believing the promises of God. In other words the sins of parents arise out of unbelief, fear, and worry. The promises of God are that he will not only be our God but the God of our children after us. The promise of remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit is for you and for your children. Your children are holy, set apart by God, claimed as his own. Harsh words or angry outbursts lose sight of the promises of God. Neglect and carelessness lose sight of the promises of God. Losing sight of the promises of God is forgetting the big picture; it’s forgetting what we’re doing and where we’re going. When the two year old is screaming, when the six year old just won’t let go of that sin, when the fifteen year old is being difficult to talk to, what is going on? The temptation is to fear, the temptation is to forget the promises of God. But believing the promises of God means looking at these sorts of situations as part of God’s plan to be the God of our children. When sin arises, faith looks and sees the opportunity to grow in righteousness. When conflict arises, faith in the promises says, ‘look, God is being faithful again.’ And that’s not some kind of pious way of ignoring problems. It’s just faith in the promises. When the child disobeys or needs correction, faith sees God giving an opportunity to teach, an opportunity to bestow grace, an opportunity to be Christ to the child. And that’s really the bottom line. These children already belong to God, we’re all foster parents; our children do not belong to us. Our task is to raise these little ones to love and serve their real Father. They’re already his. Our job is to believe that and see all the bumps and daily work as means to that end. Hey look, God must want us to talk about forgiveness and obedience again. How wonderful is that? What better way is there to learn about grace than having to explain it to your children over and over and over and over. That is grace to us, and God says to us, to parents, do you get it? Are you learning faith? Do you trust me?
Saturday, February 14, 2009
What is Lent and how should it be celebrated? Historically it is a time of preparation for the Easter Feast. Why should there be preparation leading up to the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus? Well of course every Sunday is a resurrection day, so we’re not pretending that the resurrection hasn’t occurred or anything like that. At the same time, in order to understand, celebrate, and praise the great wisdom of God, it is fitting to recall in a deeper way what God was doing in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Spending 40 days contemplating the horror of sin and death and the many ways that we have failed and fall under the curse is all preparation for the joy of Easter. Celebrating Easter with no preparation is sort of like seeing the last five minutes of an amazing football game. If you just flipped the TV on and saw the last five minutes you might think that’s pretty neat, but what if you had been following the team for the entire season? What if they were the underdogs and all the odds seemed to be against them? (Sorry if you’re not into sports!) But the point is that remembering and meditating on the story that leads up to Easter is part of learning to celebrate the resurrection well. We want our Alleluias on Resurrection Sunday and throughout the season of Easter to be louder and more robust because we are simply bursting with thanksgiving for the grace and wisdom of our God.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Monday, February 09, 2009
The historical evidence leans the Reformed Church in the direction away from a commemoration of Ash Wednesday and Lent. While reformers like Luther and Bucer sought to retain catholic practices that were not inherently unscriptural or wound up with too much superstition, there is really very little evidence explaining why the practice died out in at least those reformed catholic communities. There are probably other references, but the one explicit comment from Bucer I've found comes in his commentary on the first edition of the Book of Common Prayer. There he commends Cranmer’s Ash Wednesday service, and his only suggestion is that the English Church ought to consider having such a service three or four times a year.
“But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you, for I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Is. 43:1-3)
Anne, you may know that your name means grace. Grace is one of those words that we say frequently, but sometimes we don’t stop to remember what it means. Grace means kindness, favor, mercy. Grace is goodness shown to particular people in particular places at particular times. Like many names that Christian fathers and mothers choose, it not only sounds lovely, but it is also a declaration of faith regarding you. To name you grace is to say that you are grace to them and to your family, and that God has shown his kindness and favor and goodness to them by giving you to them. But it is also a declaration of faith regarding what they believe God will be doing in you. Not only are you a gift of grace, but you are also grace on display. Your life is a stage, a story, a play in which God has begun displaying his grace, his goodness, his mercy.
The passage from Isaiah that I’ve just read goes on to describe how God intends to bring all of his people back out of exile. His sons and daughters who have been driven away from the promised land, he promises to being back. And the exhortation is to ‘feat not’ because God will see them all the way back into his presence. He will see them through the waters, through the rivers, and through the fire. God has redeemed them and called them by name, so though the waters come up over them, they will not be harmed, though they walk through fire, they will not be burned. The reason is because Yahweh is their God, and he is the Holy One of Israel, their Savior.
You may also know what the name Jesus means. Jesus is a slightly different form of the name Joshua, and it comes from the Hebrew root which means “he saves.” Remember when the angel announced to Joseph that Mary was carrying a son who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, the angel told Joseph to name him Jesus because he would save his people from their sins. The name Jesus means Savior. What Isaiah was principally looking forward to and prophesying was the promise that the God of Israel would come finally and fully to be with his people, to be their Savior, so that nothing could harm them anymore, so that they might come home to God and not be estranged from him or his people anymore.
Remember also, Anne, that the beginning of the passage starts with God saying that he created and formed Israel. The basis for God’s claim is creation. He created in the beginning and named his creation. And then he created people and named them man. God also has a habit of re-naming people when he is re-making them. Remember he renamed Abram and called him Abraham. Sarai became Sarah. Jacob was renamed Israel. And frequently, when God is calling someone from birth, he gives them their name before they are even born. God names Isaac before he’s born. John the baptist likewise is given a name by the angel before he’s born. These names declare God’s intentions to do particular things in and through these particular people. They name our callings, our vocations, our jobs in life.
In a moment, you are going to receive a new name. God calls you by your name, and he adds his own name to yours. You know that one day you will probably be married, and you will take a new last name, you’ll take the name of your husband in marriage. But the wonderful thing is that God does the same thing in baptism. When we are baptized God gives us his name too. He promises to be our Lord, our husband, our Savior. He promises to bring us through the deep waters of life and the fires that threaten us. And the proof of that begins in baptism. We actually symbolize that reality by putting water on someone or dipping them into water. We enact the reality that God promises. We’re going to go down into this water, and God promises to bring you through it. Likewise, God promises you His Holy Spirit, and it is not an accident that when the Holy Spirit first came upon the disciples of Jesus it is pictured as fire. After you are baptized, I will lay my hands on you and pray that the fullness of God’s presence rest upon you just as the apostles did a number of times in the book of Acts. The fullness of God’s presence comes by the Holy Spirit, and our God is a consuming fire. But the promise of God to you is that he will bring you through the waters, and bring you through the fire unharmed, and this promise follows you for the rest of your life.
Whether you are sick, or scared, or worried, or discouraged, or you have sinned and you are facing the consequences of your actions, remember this day, Anne. Remember what God promises you. God has created you, he calls you by name, and now he gives you his own name and promises to be your Savior, your Husband. And he will be bring you through the waters and through the fire, and your life will be more and more a picture of grace, a story of God’s favor. So do not fear, Anne, only believe. Believe on the Lord Jesus today and tomorrow and all of your days. Amen!
In the sermon text Jesus says that “whoever falls on the stone will be broken; on whomever it falls it will grind him to powder.” In other words there are only two ways to deal with Jesus the chief corner stone. Either we fall on Him or He falls on us. The implication seems to be that if he falls on us, we’re done for, ground to powder, but if we fall on him, we are broken but not beyond repair, not beyond healing. Either way it’s going to hurt, but one of those ways is cause for thanksgiving. And that is one of the ways of looking at this meal. What we do here enacts and performs the very thing that God intends to do with us. God says you are the body of Christ, and then he takes this piece of bread and says, see this, this is the body of Christ. And then he breaks it, and hands it to us to eat and rejoice in. In other words, we’re not only giving thanks for the suffering and death of Jesus, we’re also sharing in them and feeding them to one another. We are the broken body of Christ, and we rejoice in this as we take that broken body of Jesus, give thanks for it, partake, and encourage one another to partake. Do we really get what we’re doing? We are giving thanks for the sufferings of Jesus and committing ourselves to share in them, to share in the life of God revealed in Jesus. And that life is one that is poured out, given away, laid down, pierced, and broken. And we’re saying to each other, ‘here, you try some.’ Take a bit of this brokenness, here, try some unjust suffering. Here’s our life together in Christ, poured out, laid out, pierce, broken. And then we thank each other for the gift of brokenness and suffering that we share in. This is a table of thanksgiving and joy, but it is thanksgiving and joy in the sufferings of Christ, joy in the cross. And that cross includes our own suffering. He bore our sin and shame and pain on the cross. We do not leave our hurts and fears and discouragement at the door. This is not an hour in which we pretend we have no pain. Rather, God requires us to bring it all right up here and set all on the table and then we give thanks and rejoice in it. What have you lost that you can never get back? Where have you failed and you can never put it right? Where does it hurt and it just won’t stop? Don’t hold it back, bring it out and put it on the table. And as you partake, say ‘thanks be to God.’ Give thanks because your sufferings have been taken up into the cross. Your brokenness is not meaningless; it’s only meaningless if you run from the Rock. But if you fall on the Rock, you will be broken. But you are being broken in order to be remade. You are being broken so that you can feed your neighbors; you are being broken so that your failures and hurts and disappointments might be re-shaped into the form of a cross.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul says that the Lord told him, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ And therefore Paul concludes, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9-10)
And therefore take two things to heart: First, recognize that what Paul says is true, your weakness is no barrier to God’s grace. Your distress, your infirmity, your needs are not hindering the grace of God. Rather, Paul says nearly the opposite. He says that all these things are the very means that God uses to display his grace. His strength is made perfect in weakness. And faith means believing this, believing that the power of Christ rests upon us in our infirmities, in our distress. And if the power of Christ rests upon us, then we are strong. And this means that God’s grace is sufficient for you. God’s mercy, his kindness, his goodness is designed with you in mind. His grace is not some kind of impersonal force for good that just radiates outward in a generic way. The grace of God is his determination to love you, to heal you, to conform you more and more to the image of Christ, to display his glory in you, his power in you, his strength in you, and to finally raise you up from the dead at the last day. His grace is sufficient for you because it was designed for you; his grace is his eternal determination to fill you with his fullness. His grace is sufficient because he sent his only Son to the cross with you in mind. He sent his Son to the cross with your story, your weakness, your distress, your infirmity in mind, and then he raised Him from the dead still resolutely committed to you. That is the grace of God; it is his determination, his loyalty, his commitment to see the life of Christ in you. And that is cause for rejoicing; that is cause for boasting. Do not doubt; only believe.
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Just finished David Lawrence's biography Martin Bucer: Unsung Hero of the Reformation.
A few brief observations: First, it was a little hard going in places stylistically. For whatever reason, there were places were it felt a little clunky. Add this to a few places where it felt like some observations were made without much backing or explanation. Particularly, as Lawrence approaches Bucer in the early chapter or two, setting the historical stage, there were a few spots that seemed overstated or merely glossed over. Nothing severe, but it made it a little more difficult to get into the narrative when I was already questioning some of the more general historical analysis.
That said, Lawrence gives us a great collation of much of the available work on Bucer in English. While his emphasis is not on Bucer's theology per se, he does give attention to the key themes that he addressed throughout his ministry. And much of that is just plain to see in his actual dealings with other pastors, magistrates, and the people he cared for as their pastor. His passion for unity, for mutual submission, his willingness to compromise on secondary issues, and his dogged commitment to the core of the true faith are all there on display in his life as he pursued them enthusiastically in writing, speaking, and preaching.
Lastly, my appreciation of Bucer's contributions to the Reformed faith continues to grow. Lawrence shows that Bucer is the origin of Calvin's view of the sacraments, particularly the Lord's Supper. Bucer was the one who tirelessly devoted himself to uniting the Lutheran, Reformed, and Zwinglian factions of the Reformation, and in the middle of that, he was still meeting with Roman priests and bishops and seeking audience with anyone within the Roman Church who was willing to work toward reunification. It was not Bucer who ever grew tired of trying to establish unity and harmony in the body of Christ. At every point where Bucer moved on to something else, it was the closed door rejection of others who prevented union and communion. And this when many of his friends told him he ought to have thrown in the towel much sooner. And Bucer's pastoral heart is difficult to miss in all of this. He seems to have understood in a very tangible way what it means to love people in all their complexities, all their flaws, all their personality quirks, and all their sin. He understood something of the messiness of life, and the grace of God that is designed for our every need.
While Bucer hardly began to see any fruit from much of his ministry before he died, his influence on Calvin cannot be underestimated, nor should the last 2 year of his life in England and his work with Cranmer be ignored. The English Church has perhaps more of a Reformed heritage than she might ordinarily care to admit to.
All in all, a great overview of the life of a great man, a faithful husband, father, and pastor, to whom we owe much.
Monday, February 02, 2009
I've been reading Tolkien's Hobbit outloud to my son, and it has occurred to me several times just how Christian the search for treasure really is. For some reason we tend to downplay rewards and treasure. I suppose we're afraid of seeming selfish or greedy or hypocritical in our piety. But Jesus is always talking about treasures, rewards, and inheritance.
The problem is not with treasure, rewards, or rich inheritance. The problem is with counterfeit offers of treasure, reward, and inheritance. Jesus warns against settling for less than is possible. It's a pretty simple equation: "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mt. 16:26) Do the math.
The problem isn't with calculating what will give us the best return. The problem is with bad math, settling for something less than the best. Jesus doesn't object to looking at life as a treasure hunt, and in fact, all of the indicators are that he actually approves of it. What he objects to is dedicating life to hunting for worthless treasure. Don't settle for less than the best.
It's not that we don't want glory or honor or riches. Rather, as Christians, we have dedicated our lives to finding real glory, real honor, true riches, and the greatest rewards. We are completely dedicated to finding real treasure, and we have given our lives to that pursuit.
And this is why Paul says that in the judgment, God will render "eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality." That's what we want, and we'll settle for nothing less.
We frequently point out that God allows us to face various trials and difficulties because he wants to make us more like Himself. He wants us to grow in wisdom, in perseverance. He uses suffering and hardship to conform us more and more to the image of the Son. And that is true, but it puts all the emphasis on the end product, the conclusion, what comes after suffering.
But it's good to remember that suffering itself is not something alien to God. Trials and hardships are not something that God himself is not acquainted with. In fact, the history of the world, following the Fall, is in a sense the story of God's suffering and trials and challenges dealing with fallen humanity, the effects of sin, and death. The history of the world is the story of God's perseverance, his wisdom being displayed, his patient endurance with us. All of our sin, our failures, all the disasters and difficulties that confront us, are fundamentally part of the trial that God faces. And this does not mean that God is any way less than God.
But God allows suffering and trials so that we can enter into his own experience, his patience with evil and sin and death. In other words, becoming like God through suffering is not merely the end product or result at the close of a particularly trying time. Rather, the suffering itself, the difficulty, the challenge, the sorrow, the hurt, it is all itself meant to be godlike. And the promise is that it always is for those who have the Spirit dwelling within them. The Spirit sanctifies our trials, our pain, our confusion, and we share in God's endurance, God's own inter-Trinitarian suffering.
Of course if we had any doubt, it is the life of Christ that displays this with the most certainty. Christ, as the revelation of God, reveals God's life. Christ is the embodiment of God's dealings with humanity in all of time and space. Christ takes up into himself the suffering of God with the faithless generation in the wilderness, the cyclical patterns of idolatry and oppression in the days of the Judges, the wickedness of his people under the kings. And none of this touches on the rest of humanity in all of its ugliness and perversion and the raging of nature in its groaning for the redemption of the sons of God. Christ embodies all that past history, but also takes up into his patient suffering the entire history of the world, the life of the world. He is God come to endure, come to persevere in the midst of sin and death and suffering.
This is how suffering the effects of a fallen world, suffering persecution, suffering under whatever affliction we face is suffering like God. God grants us the privilege of becoming more like him by the actual endurance of trials, hardships, and suffering. And of course we also look forward to the joy of God, the peace of God, the final restoration of all things in God. We have been united to this God, joined to that community in the power of the Spirit, and the promise is the resurrection and joy that awaits us. And in that, is the promise that the ending of our story is the same ending that Christ was given, in that promise we live now knowing that our beginning and middle are just as godlike, just as holy, just as redemptive as we live by faith in the power of the Spirit.
When the crowds shout as Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem, acclaiming their King, they cry out “Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” And the children continue to cry out in the temple, “Hosanna!” And we frequently sing these same words every Lord’s Day. There are different versions of what we call the Sanctus (“Holy, Holy, Holy”), but this phrase from Psalm 118 is the acclamation of the return of a conquering King. The psalmist sings “They surrounded me like bess; they were quenched like a fire of thorns; for in the name of Yahweh I will destroy them… Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them… this is the gate of Yahweh, through which the righteous shall enter. This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it… Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Ps. 118:12, 20, 24, 26) This means that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is preeminently the declaration of victory. He enters Jerusalem as the victorious and conquering King. We are the crowds who welcome our King week after week in triumph. And really this is a question about what Jesus is doing right now. What is Jesus up to? The New Testament says that Jesus must reign until all of his enemies have been put under his feet, he will reign until every enemy has been made his footstool, and the last enemy will be death. What is Jesus doing? What was Jesus doing yesterday? Jesus is destroying sin and wickedness in the world, he is at war with all evil and he is taking his enemies down one by one until he gets to the last enemy, death. And this is why we welcome Jesus as our conquering King week after week. Regardless of how we think things look on the battle field, Jesus has promised to rule until this world is put back together, until peace breaks out in all the earth. And this is the feast of victory. And Jesus says do this as often you as get together. Celebrate the feast of victory because I will not fail. And so we hail our conquering King here. We rejoice in the body and the blood of Christ that is for the salvation of the world. So come, eat, drink, and rejoice; death is swallowed up in victory.
In the sermon text this morning, the chief priests and scribes are disgruntled because of the clamor of the children singing praise, but Jesus responds by quoting the eighth psalm, insisting that God likes it that way. Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants, he has ordained praise. The interesting thing is that Jesus appears to be using the Septuagint’s translation of the Psalm because the Hebrew says that he has ordained strength in the mouths of babes and nursing infants. But the Greek word was also used in other contexts in the ancient world to refer to something terrible, something to dread, something to fear, a tyrant, an army, a host of warriors. And this helps make sense of the septuagint’s translation. The joy of the Lord is our strength, praise and worship is our warfare. In Psalm 149, the psalmist exhorts the people of God to have the praises of God in their throats and two edged swords in their hands. Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming servant of the Lord declares that his mouth will be as sharp as a sword. And of course the word of God, the writer of Hebrews says, is a powerful two-edged sword. And it is no accident that Jesus is pictured four times in the book of Revelation as having a sword coming out of his mouth. When we gather for worship we gather for war, we gather for battle, we gather to unsheathe our swords, to sing, to pray, to worship, to silence the enemy and the avenger. But of course the Psalm has taken this imagery even a step further, God only wants an army of children and infants. Unless you are converted and become little children, you may not be part of his army. Unless you become as one of these little ones, you will have no sword in your mouth. Why is it God only wants an army of children? What does that mean? It means that we are called here week after week as newborn babes hungry for the milk of the word, it means you come here as people who have been reborn, children again, nursing infants again. It means you have given everything to your faithful Father, and you know that you are completely helpless, completely dependent, utterly in his hands. And when we come like that, when we come hungry, when we come helpless, when we come looking for grace, God says, perfect, that’s my army, those are my dread warriors. And our enemies don’t even have a chance.