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A postscript to the sermon from this Sunday past

January 29, 2013 Leave a comment

It might seem like I was a little hard on our seminaries and all their smiling  students.  That wasn’t my intent at all.  I firmly believe both our seminaries in the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod are fine institutions and remain, in fact, the preeminent academic theological educational institutions from a confessional Lutheran and evangelical catholic perspective today.

The point I was trying to make was that the temptation to the theology of glory is in us all, even at such fine examples of solid Lutheran theology.  Simul justus et peccator.  We are at the same time, saints and sinners.  We are at the same time, theologians of glory and theologians of the cross, at least until the Last Day, when, on account of the cross, we will become theologians of glory for all eternity.

There is a real art to being a theologian of the cross without being a “Gloomy Gus”.  Pastor Harrison’s A Little Book on Joy is a great corrective for  those would be “Gloomy Guses”.   I think it’s time to read that again.

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Sermon for Epiphany 3 – Luke 4:16-30

January 29, 2013 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2013

 Note:  This sermon is really about the theology of the cross.  I would encourage you read the article I linked in the footnote.  Not a Lutheran, the author gets it right and in so doing criticizes much of what passes for Christianity today.  It’s not Christianity, it’s a thin form of religiosity, just a variation on a theme that rejected Jesus in Nazareth that day.  So while this text doesn’t necessarily exposit to the text of the Gospel, it is a clear application of it.  As usual, the audio can be found by clicking here 13 Sermon for Epiph 3.mp3

Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The pictures in the all the brochures for the seminaries, both seminaries, show nothing but smiling faces of seminarians and young pastors just delighted to be doing what they’re doing, leading a Bible class, baptizing, celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s work in that place.  The brochures never have pictures of angry mobs with pitchforks in their hands.  They never show what befell the true prophets and preachers who have gone before.  They never show the rejection of the Word.  It is as if my professors were right.  “If you teach the Gospel and the things of the Gospel lovingly and patiently the people will be glad for it and insist on it.”  Well, my professors and the seminaries in which they work are guilty of the theology of glory, a way of looking at the world that tends to minimize the difficult things and the painful things or even to move past them rather than looking at them for what they are.  It’s an idea that the kingdom of God come into the world is bringing about the betterment of everything around us, but especially ourselves.  Sort of a Christian version of, “Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.”  If they look at the cross at all, they view the cross as a means to an end,[1] a little bit of suffering here to get to the greater glory on the other side.  The seminaries do a pretty good job of this too.  Suffer through Greek and Hebrew and a few dry systematics and history classes and then you get to be a pastor and just delight in preaching and teaching and baptizing and celebrating.  Those smiles are all anticipatory.

Maybe a better way to understand this idea is to look at the way people, even good Christian people, talk about painful experiences like illness.  Often times they’ll say something like, “You know, Pastor, getting cancer has really taught me something.”  They’re trying to take something that’s bad and make it sound good.  They’re looking for the silver lining in it.  And that’s what we’re taught from birth isn’t it?  Look for the silver lining.  It can’t be all bad.  Always look on the bright side.  Most of us think this way.  A sure sign that we think this way is when it feels like our faith cannot hold against such terrible things.  When people talk about how after an event, they lost their faith, it’s because they can’t find the silver lining, the good mixed up in the bad, the bright side.  They were looking for glory instead of the cross.  When we do this we are simply refusing to face what is really there.  The presence of illness is a reminder of the presence of sin in this world, in our own flesh.  The presence of suffering, of loss, of grief, of the consequences of sin—does not mean God is not there.  Quite the contrary, it points us to the cross of Jesus Christ.

The cross of Jesus is “the ultimate statement of God’s involvement in the world this side of heaven.”[2]  A perspective on the world that is born out of the cross accepts the difficult thing for what it is, usually sin or an effect of sin.  We might say, “You really can’t make a purse out of a sow’s ear.”  Even Kübler-Ross’ stages of grief so many people seem to be familiar with end at acceptance.  A theology of glory is still bargaining.  Luther said we should call a thing what it is.  There, then, in the middle of the terrible thing, that’s where God is because of Christ and His cross.  God is there hidden in our suffering.  He is there amidst our pain at work in the midst of our fear and doubt.  When we can no longer find the good thing, the silver lining, we cry out, “Lord, have mercy.”

What does any of this have to do with the Gospel reading for today, you may be wondering.  Jesus entered the synagogue in His hometown in Nazareth, read Isaiah 61 about the year of the Lord’s favor and announced to all in attendance that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled that day in their hearing of it.  Jesus had already been doing some healing down south in Capernaum.  He’d been preaching.  Wind of that had surely been blown north and the people were expecting Jesus might do some miracles there.  And, no doubt the folks in Nazareth had thought Jesus was a nice guy growing up, always such a polite boy.  And at first, they marveled at what He said.  But then He kept going.

And after He said that the Gentiles were to be included in God’s rescue plan, the people there were so angry, they formed a mob led him to the cliff at the edge of town and threatened to throw Him off it.  And they would have, if not for the fact that it was not yet his hour.

When we hear Jesus teaching in the Gospels we typically have pictures in our mind’s eye of everyone listening in rapt attention to what Jesus says.  Oh, and when I picture it they’re smiling like they’re learning Hebrew at the seminary.  Not so, says Luke.  And so it is.

I can just hear one of my professors saying to Jesus, but if you’re just patient enough and keep teaching them about the Gentile mission (and smile!), they’ll want nothing else.  Don’t be discouraged, as they fling you over the cliff.

More broadly than just pastors or would be pastors, this applies to all Christians.  Do you think the world will finally accept the Truth of Word of the eternal God as long as you’re patient and smile while you witness?  We’re not selling something here.  Sometimes I think we forget that.  The Church does not need to market the idea of salvation.  It’s already happened.  Christ accomplished it for us.  We’re declaring that God is active in this world through His Son, Jesus Christ.  We’re announcing that the year of God’s favor has begun and that word given to Isaiah is fulfilled in Jesus.  All Jesus did fulfilled the word of promise of the year of the Lord’s favor, His taking on human flesh, and His resurrection to eternal life, but most especially, His cross, His cross of suffering and pain.  I said earlier, the cross of Jesus is “the ultimate statement of God’s involvement in the world this side of heaven.”[3]

And the world, the devil and our rebellious nature hates it when God goes to meddling.  We prefer not to call sin what it is.  We love our attempts at religiosity because they make us feel like we’re on track.  And if we get a little behind, we just a need a little boost to feel better again.  That is captivity.  Captivity to our emotions, to our own sense of self, to our own works.  The bars of our captivity cannot be covered over with pretty religious curtains.  They’re just too thin.  Behind them glows our sin—our pain, our doubt, our fear, our pride.  Oh, in the day, maybe the curtains do well enough to hide the ugliness.  But then the darkness of our circumstances rolls in, we suffer a loss or suffer the pain of hurting another and suddenly, the evil and ominous red glow of our sins is there.  Our religious curtains that looked so pretty in the daylight cannot mask the rebellious glow of sin in the darkness.

Fear not.  Jesus came to proclaim freedom, to you.  He came not to just make your cell more homey but to set you free.

Your illness is because of sin.  Your pain is because of sin.  Your doubt is because of sin.  Your fear, you guessed it, it’s because of sin.  Fear not, Jesus came to die to sin, to release sin’s power over you.  And so, yes, it can almost be a perverse kind of joy to suffer because we know God is there in our suffering, dying and forgiving and bringing forgiveness of sins, and freedom to those held captive by it.

Your freedom is never in the silver lining you find behind every dark could.  Your freedom is in Jesus’ cross born for you.  Amen.

Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany

January 22, 2013 Leave a comment

Sermon for Epiphany 2 – Isaiah 62:1-5, 

Augustana, 2013

Note: I departed from the manuscript somewhat significantly in the preaching of this sermon in order to smooth some of the rougher edges.  As always the mp3 format audio can be heard by clicking the link 12 Sermon for Epiph 2.mp3

Grace and peace to from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The sermon today is more thematic than exposition.  Both the Isaiah reading and the reading from John’s Gospel are bound up with wonderful wedding and marriage themes.  And both readings today are just filled to the overflowing about the mercy of God in Christ, each in their own way.  In Isaiah, Israel is depicted as feminine and married to her bridegroom.  She is no longer thought deflowered and disgraced—the Lord Himself delights in her, has made an honest woman out of her.  And in the reading from John there is far more than a simple magician’s trick of water into wine.  Jesus did not change just any water into win, He changed the water in the jars set aside for ritual washing according to the Law.  And while we could and might probably should go on to understand the deeper meanings of what that means perhaps what is really needed this morning is just to take a step back from the deep theological profundity of marriage as a theme for how God loves us and just get reacquainted with what marriage is, with what God says marriage is.

Hardly any of us would disagree that marriage today is under attack.  But I don’t mean that quite the way conservative TV pundits might mean it.  Yes, there is an organized agenda from gay rights groups to not merely get legal rights but to literal redefine what marriage is.  In this country, they have a right to try to change something they think is wrong.  They’re not here to hear this sermon.  They are not the object of this Word today.  You are.  I am not the first to suggest that the reason marriage is under attack was because it was in a very vulnerable position for most of the last century.  We should not be surprised that people want to expand the definition of marriage because, quite frankly, straight couples and even many Christians have been doing the same thing over the last one hundred years.  So the purpose of this sermon is, as I said, to bit of housecleaning on our end.  To proclaim clearly what marriage is, in fact, what marriage can only be and call all of us to repentance for our sins against God’s gift in marriage.

One of the ways we can look to see what marriage is, is to see what God says of it and then to see how we have taken it and torn it apart.  “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Ge 1:27–28)  Man and woman are created in the image of God.  Man is not superior to woman, nor woman to man.  But they were created, male and female for one another.

God Himself confirms this when the account for Eve’s creation is told:

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called Woman,

because she was taken out of Man.”

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.  (Ge 2:18–25)

I want to be clear about what we are saying here.  God created Adam and Eve, and they are part of the creation He Himself calls, very good on the sixth day.  God creates Adam and Eve for each other.  He joins them in the first marriage in the first Church that is Eden.  Adam gets it.  He calls his bride, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.  “Therefore, a man will now hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh.”  And that “one-fleshness” that male-ness and female-ness joined together is an expression of the image of God.   I said we’d try to skip some of the theological profundity but that’s just too hard to do here.  Bound up somewhere in the creation of Adam and Eve as male and female is an expression of the image of God, the very reflection of the Creator in His creation.  Marriage has to do with what God has done and said.  What He did and said first, when things were still very good before they polluted by the rebellion of humankind away from God’s Word.

So let me just make this very clear then.  Marriage is not what your sociology teacher told you it is, a thing created by humans as they evolved over the millennia where women were first property, etc.  Marriage is not an invention of the rule of men in order to subjugate and control women.  If marriage became what the sociologists say it was, and the historians confirm it, it isn’t because that’s what marriage is, but because people sinned against God’s Word and the gift He gave in marriage at the first.  Our language around marriage should not be one of rights or liberation and never power or property but of gift and blessing, and where broken, of repentance and forgiveness and restoration.

Let’s be clear here not just on how the pagans would take marriage from us but how we have loosened our grasp on the gift.  We who know God’s Word have turned marriage into a joke and a byword in our own community.  Just look at all we have done with what God intended as a lifelong union of a man and a woman for the procreation of children and the passing on the faith.  Even in the strongest marriages, too often hearts grow cold and words turn harsh, maybe not for long, but long enough to hurt and to sin against what God has given.  Or maybe the hearts grow cold and then grow warm for someone else turning the oneflesh into a lie, maybe even extending the oneflesh into a series of monogamies but that’s not marriage.  We turn a blind eye to those who try oneflesh for a time to see they’re suited for one another.  We call it “living together”; we used to call it what it is, living in sin.  And it goes on from there, as we now.  Because of our society, and the educational requirements to keep it going, we encourage our young people put off marriage until they’re “settled.”  We encourage them to put off having children until their “more stable” financially.  Where has the extended family gone?  They used to start a couple in a house to avoid a mortgage.  They used to bring a son-in-law into the family business or onto the farm.  All of it gone.  Is any wonder our children have turned to playing at marriage, to hooking-up to try to find a thin shred of the meaning and purpose and pleasure God intended for us to have as His people?  Sin.  All of it.  Not the gay’s sin, not the pagan’s sin, ours.  We took what God said and said, “Be quiet, God, we have a better idea.”  We have done everything we can to tear asunder what God joined together and all for what?  Pleasure?  A bit of pleasure cut off from all the promises and blessing from God.  How good could that ever be?  We were NOT created for this and if we were honest with ourselves we would fall on our knees collectively and beg forgiveness for the mockery we have made of God’s gift of marriage.

And yet, and yet, still to us God says, “For your sake, I will not keep silent.  Even though you would silence me, for your sake I will not be quiet until you are restored in all your perfect glory.  All the pagans around you, those who mock Me and my Word, and you for listening to it, they will see it, they will see your flawless beauty.  They will no longer be able to say what they have called beautiful can ever compare to such unspoiled beauty they now must admit they see in you.  You will no longer be called reject.  You will no longer be called defiled, violated.  You shall be called ‘My Delight is in You,” blessed. You will be called “an honest woman.”  God delights in you when you take great pleasure in the gifts He has given you.  What God has set aside for you in marriage is so much more than do and don’t, so much more that what can be won or lost in a culture war.  He created marriage for you to enjoy His blessing, from the very beginning.

I’ll be very honest with you.  We may very well have lost the battle over marriage in the wider society.  If so, we will have lost it not because the enemy was so clever or well-funded or even because they controlled the media but rather because we failed to keep the faith.  We shrunk back from the vanguard position the Word of God puts us in and made ourselves vulnerable.  Our only course back is not to curse them, but open repentance with ourselves and open and humble conversations with our children and grandchildren whom we have failed.  In repentance together we will return to the Lord and hear once again His Word about the gift of marriage and rejoice in it and experience its blessings.  And we know that God’s Word does not just echo forth from the mists of Eden, but from the mouth of the incarnate Word, who not only blessed marriage by His miracle at Cana, but proclaimed again the intent of the Father for the oneflesh union when Israel had perverted it.  We know that the Lord Jesus never just excuses sin.  He came into human flesh to die to it and in so doing give us freedom from it.  The cross may not look like a wedding hall, but it is there that the Bridegroom suffered all for the sake of His bride, you.  And the crazy thing about the love of our Lord Jesus is that even delights in forgiving you.  How about that for a paradox?  Our Lord Jesus delights in His agony to free us from sin.  That is the nature of the love of God.

And our living in the delight of God will flourish when we put off all manner of infidelity, serial monogamy, shacking up, and hooking up, and pornography.  And we take for ourselves God’s promise to bless us even if we shun the accepted practices of the pagans around us.  And we marry and husband and wife experience great pleasure in it and see that our children and grandchildren marry and we support them and hold them to their marriages and take pleasure in their children and see to it that they are reared in the Word once given our first parents in paradise.  This the pleasure the Lord has in store for those who would but hear His Word and receive it in its fullness.  That He would delight over you.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Revsmith blog will continue for another year (at least)

January 15, 2013 Leave a comment

So I just paid the annual $20 it takes to keep posting the audio of the sermons on the blog.  That means this blog will go on for at least another year.  I’ve heard that some friends and friends of friends have been coming every so often.  I also know members in my family come here on occasion too.

That’s what this blog is, mostly a place to publish the sermons preached here at Augustana, as well as a place to post some other musings that don’t make it into Bible class or pastor’s meetings discussions or the pulpit.

Maybe, as the post from Jacob of Voragine suggests, what we think is new is not really.  I’ve posted here before that the “thousands” that responded to the preaching of Peter represented a tiny fraction of those gathered for Pentecost, those who witnessed the miracle of wind and flame and tongue and knew enough of the prophecy to put two and two together, less than ten percent, maybe closer to two.

Paul’s many churches, had probably less than a hundred in them.  That was most likely the case with the church in Corinth, even after St. Paul had been there preaching for 18 months, at least, (Ac 18:11).  What makes us think that today, in a society growing ever so much like the pagan Roman one, that the Word will go forth and convert thousands?

Anyway, whatever this blog can do to further the kingdom, it’s certainly worth 20 bucks per annum.

Thanks for reading.

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Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord

January 15, 2013 Leave a comment

This sermon exists in audio only.

Click here for mp3 audio 11 Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord.mp3

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I’d rather be fishing…

January 15, 2013 Leave a comment

From Jacob of Voragine today:

Jacob of Voragine, who flourished in thirteenth-century Italy, pointed out that times had changed, and whereas preachers in the early days of the Church were like fishermen, who in one cast of the net drew in a multitude, today the preacher is more like a hunter, who with great labor and outcry catches but a single animal. If in fishing the catch is not large, the reason may lie with the fish. There are those who adroitly avoid the net of preaching. In other words, the problem is how to get at them at all. The fault may lie also with the fishermen:

They fish at the wrong time, they fish too deep, they fish with poor tackle or broken nets, or they fish in the wrong place. Those who fish among the riches, pleasures, and honor, are fishing in the wrong place. Those who look for death-bed repentances, or try to instruct others when they themselves are ignorant are fishing the wrong time. Those who look for money or honor throw their hooks too low, and those who preach in the word while their lives do not correspond, fish with broken nets.  (For All the Saints Vol 1, p 226)

——————————–

Is Jacob right? Are those who are fishing, perhaps trying to fish too deep? Trying to hook a big one?

I think I’ve heard from others that fishing for people nowadays is done with a line and hook, not a net.

Are those who are fishing with “any bait it takes” really fishing, keeping them in the boat or practicing a defacto catch and release?

We can go on and on with this metaphor.

Anybody remember watching any of those fishing shows on Saturday afternoon TV before there were 300 channels on the satellite box?  Those guys never failed to catch something.  Of course 23 and half minutes of not catching anything would not good TV make so, how many hours went into each burst of activity.

I so would like to believe we’re living in a different time.  It would take some of the pressure off.  This is the new normal.  The fish have grown to be wary of the net.  If they’ll be caught, they’ll be caught with great patience and skill, one by one, maybe by twos, but not often.

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