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Archive for the ‘Jesus Christ’ Category

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I’m not certain I’ve ever seen much like what our Gospel reading describes this morning. A crowd keeps Jesus busy at the place where He is staying. So Jesus heads down to the waterfront with the crowd following and pushing in close so that Jesus has His back to the water and is probably standing in the water. He gets in a boat, puts a bit offshore and then begins to tell stories. As Fr. Seth reminded us yesterday at Mother Jane Johnson’s ordination, some of the best stories are told at the water’s edge among fishermen.

Jesus tells them about a man who heads out to his field to plant a crop. Planting back then wasn’t the high-tech thing it is today. They didn’t sit in the cab of a John Deere tractor, with air-conditioning, computers and sensors measuring soil moisture and a GPS unit helping get the most rows into a field pulling a planter that precisely drills the seed to proper depth and orientation for growing. No, they planted using two feet, a bag of seed and a pair of hands to scatter the seed.

As Jesus tells it, this man scatters and sows the seed all over his field. Some of the seed falls on the path and the birds quickly find it and its gone. Some of the seed lands of rocky ground and can’t take root because the soil is too shallow. Other seed lands on good ground but the weeds choke it out so that it doesn’t get enough water and grow. And finally some seed falls on good ground where there are no weeds or rocks or birds and the seed takes root and bears a crop that is a hundred or sixty or thirty times greater than what was planted.

But then He says something else that I have a problem relating to: “Let anyone who has ears, Listen!” To which about half the time, I end up saying, “What?!” Then turn to Kris and ask what did I miss? If you’ve ever caught me without my hearing aids in, you would be amazed at the genius of modern hearing technology, that I had heard anything in the first place.

What would Jesus be saying to us that He needs to reinforce it with a comment that essentially says, “You’ve got ears! Listen to me!” I read that in my Bible and I want to know what’s behind it! As a matter of fact, when most of us read this passage, we might ask the same thing because we don’t farm like that anymore and most of us take care when we plant our gardens to get rid of the rocks and weeds.

Fortunately Jesus doesn’t leave us hanging in suspense. After telling other stories while standing on the boat, the crowds eventually start fading away and Jesus gets some time with His closest friends and explains the story to them.

The seed is the good news of the kingdom of God. It is the Gospel, the truth that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners and accomplished it by offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice, unblemished by sin. The One who did know sin at all, became sin for all of us who knew sin intimately, so that we might be set free from the Law of Sin and death. If there is one message through all of Scripture, it is that Christ paid the price for our sins that we could not pay ourselves.

Thus, Jesus is telling us that the man who goes out planting the seed is God Himself through Jesus Christ. The field is everyone of us here in St Anne’s, in DePere, in Wisconsin and across the whole world.

But what happens to the seed? Jesus says some of it hit the path and the birds got it. He tells His disciples, that dirt path is like people who hear God’s Word, don’t understand it and before it takes root, the evil one snatches it away. If we stop to think about it, that’s not so hard for us to understand because we’ve seen it in other contexts. How many of us had to be told more than once by our parents as we were growing up to clean our room and get the laundry downstairs?

Words, even important words, can bounce off those who don’t care or who don’t want to listen. Consider what a dirt path actually looks like and we might see the picture even clearer. We had a patch of ground in our house in northwest Iowa that could never grow anything because it was the entrance to the backyard from the sandbox on the side of the house. The ground was packed down, often cracked no matter how much rain we had, and as hard as rock most of the time. Every time I tried to get grass to grow there the seed either bounced off or got tracked to someplace else.

Jesus says the second seed that lands on rocky ground is like someone who hears the Gospel and gets excited about it. They respond and immediately make it their own. Everything is looking great for them, knowing that they have been forgiven and are set free by their faith in Jesus. But then hard times and difficult circumstances come around like they always do and their faith withers. Why? Because the Gospel really didn’t take root in their lives.

No doubt some of us have known many people like this. Some of them might be public figures, some not, some might even be our friends or family. But things are only skin deep. Sooner or later their faith gets tested and it can’t take the stress. Its back to whatever worked for them before hearing the Gospel. Shallow hearts don’t make good long-term relationships.

Jesus then says the third seed that grows but gets choked by the weeds and thistles is like someone hearing the Gospel but never fully responding as the cares of life crowd out the good news. He specifically takes aim at those whose goal in life is maintain the good life. He calls it “the cares of the world and the lure of wealth.” The Gospel is good, God is good, Jesus is ok, but don’t mess up my business plan or ask me to sacrifice anything to follow Him. Most unfortunately if we catch some preachers on TV, this seems to be their message.

And there the seed that hits good dirt. It takes root, grows and bears fruit. Not because it has to work at it, but because that is what it was created to do. The Good News of Jesus Christ isn’t about our having to work harder in the field we live in. It’s about God doing all the work and giving us all that we need through Jesus Christ to grow in grace and faith.

God’s plan for us isn’t that we would hear the Gospel and then lose it or lose hope in it. His plan for us is that we would be like the good ground, where the Gospel grows and bears fruit thirty, sixty or hundred times more. Good seed produces good fruit when it takes root in good ground. As we reflect on our readings this morning we need to consider:

Sometimes we can be like that path. God speaks to us through His word and its just more ink spilled on paper to us. It may be we have been trampled on, pounded down, run over and worn out. We can’t take anymore so we get up the defenses and refuse to let the seed of God’s Word take root in our hearts.

Sometimes we are like the rocky ground. We have enough faith to make it through the good times when it’s easy, but we are like grass growing in the crack of a rock. All it takes is a stick dragged along inside our little spot on the rock or a heavy storm and out we fall, pushed or washed out by our circumstances.

Maybe we are like the seed being choked by the cares of life and our desire to maintain appearances. We’re stuck trying to figure out who is really in charge of our lives, Jesus or my retirement plan and house payment. Worries that we might be riding a bubble catch up with us and overwhelm us every week.

Maybe things are going well and we often can actually see and experience God at work in our lives.

All of those things are why we need to hear the Gospel again and again. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He has put to death the Law of sin and death. He has sent His Word and it does not fail to accomplish His purposes. He will keep planting and working the ground until a crop grows. The life that Jesus Christ lived, is ours through His death and resurrection. Just as He died for our sins, He rose for our righteousness, that we might live with Him for all eternity.

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Reading Romans 1 recently, I was struck by the apparent linkage between Rom 1:15 – 18. Naturally, we would expect such linkages in sentences and words written so closely together. Yet at the same time most English Bibles will place those 4 verses in separate sections.

Verse 15 ends the section on Paul’s concern and eagerness to preach to the people of Rome. Verses 16-17 are famously set off as the summary of Paul’s message: the righteous shall live by faith–the ship that launched the Reformation. Verse 18, however, is much darker, announcing the wrath of God against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of human beings.

What if verse 16 explains Paul’s eagerness to go to Rome to preach the gospel? A gospel which announces that God’s righteousness is revealed, a righteousness from God that comes by grace (so verse 17) and a righteousness of God in punishing sin (so verse 18).

This gospel, then centers itself at the cross, where God’s righteous anger is revealed in all of it’s awful reality. While at the same time, the righteousness from God is purchased by His grace through Christ’s death in taking the full load of human sin on Himself as the revealed Son of God (verse 4).

If God’s anger at sin is fully exhausted on Christ at the cross, and the Cross is the full revelation of God’s righteousness (both moral and imputational), how does this change our reading of the rest of Romans 1? Verses 19ff all seem to be written in past tense, whereas verses 8-18 seem to be all present tense.

Could it be that Paul is laying out a case that all of these sins, as repugnant as they are to God, have been dealt with at the cross by God’s righteous grace? Would this make sense of the “Therefore” at the beginning of Chapter 2 as the reason we have no right to judge?

Just some food for thought. I need to go find my Greek New Testament and dig through the original language a bit more.

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Just read the following quotes:

The faithful soul is always given grace sufficient for the matter at hand; there is no possibility of insufficiency of grace.  The realisation of this truth adds greatly to the calmness with which one may face crises and enables one to accept the events of life as they come without undue worry.

and

It is clear, then, that grace is not merely valuable, but necessary to the spiritual life; we depend upon it for our conversion to God and our union with Him, for our perseverance in holiness and for our soul’s growth…God gives His grace richly to those who ask Him, but the soul that does not pray is so shut up in itself that even the grace of God can hardly find an entrance.  Yet the use of grace demands circumspection. If grace is to have free course and attain its end one must desire to always do the will of God and avoid exposing oneself willfully to danger.  It is precisely this holy circumspection which is so often lacking even in well-disposed persons, and which is responsible for so many grievous falls from God.  There are many dangers in this world which cannot be avoided; if one loves God and desires to do His will one can rely on grace to keep one safe in these, but one has no right to presume on the grace of God by deliberately going into danger or by allowing oneself to carelessly drift.–F.B. Harton, The Elements of the Spiritual Life

Given the book is about the spiritual life, I would not want to jump to conclusions that we’re looking at another case of prosperity-type gospel here.  Rather, I would think the author is talking about spiritual dangers and carelessness.  So I see his argument is this:

  1. God’s grace is sufficient and does not fail
  2. We are dependent on God’s grace for our spiritual life
  3. We can block God’s gracious action in our lives by our lack of perseverance and our thoughtlessness
  4. In such cases, we cannot presume that God’s grace will prevail in our lives

Is this correct?  Though God’s grace is sufficient, can we block it by our lack of faith, holiness, or whatever?  Is faith, therefore, the necessary ingredient by which God unlocks the treasure house of His grace and pours those riches into our lives?  How does this fit into the finished work of Christ on the cross on our behalf?

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I read a great interview with Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet about their new book, The Jesus Manifesto. I was loving the focus on Jesus and the importance of making Christ the center of His church again, when I stumbled over this paragraph…

Folks can visit www.theJesusManifesto.com and read sample chapters, hear some brand new songs that were recorded by professional Christian artists based on the book (one of them by the man who wrote some of Amy Grant’s most popular tunes), check out the iPhone app, read endorsements, etc.

It just sounded like another marketing strategy for Jesus in the 21st century. Do we really need an iPhone app to help our lives center on Jesus?

I loved their original, but much shorter, Jesus Manifesto from a couple of years ago.  It is good to see the original expanded into book form and placing Jesus inside orthodox Trinitarian theology.  It was only that one paragraph that made me feel uncomfortable.

That said, I already ordered my copy, I hope you will do the same.

Any other thoughts?

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The Incarnation is aimed at man’s transformation through the Cross and to the new corporeality of the Resurrection. God seeks us where we are, not so that we stay there, but so that we may come to be where he is, so that we may get beyond ourselves. That is why to reduce the visible appearance of Christ to a “historical Jesus” belonging to the past misses the point of his visible appearance, misses the point of the Incarnation…

Iconoclasm rests ultimately on a one-sided apophatic theology, which recognizes only the Wholly Other-ness of the God beyond all images and words, a theology that in the final analysis regards revelation as the inadequate human reflection of what is eternally imperceptible. But if this is the case, faith collapses. Our current form of sensibility, which can no longer apprehend the transparency of the spirit in the senses, almost inevitably brings with it a flight into a purely “negative” (apophatic) theology. God is beyond all thought, and therefore all propositions about him and every kind of image of God are in equal proportions valid and invalid. What seems like the highest humility toward God turns into pride, allowing God no word and permitting him no real entry into history.

–Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, pp 123-124

In other words, God is not unknowable, He has revealed Himself, not only in history, but through all time and desires that we worship Him in the fullness of all of our senses, not merely the internal workings of our thought life.

In just a few paragraphs, Ratzinger takes down those theologians who spend their lives trying to reconstruct the “historical Jesus” which leads ultimately to reducing or minimizing worship of the living Son of God, Jesus Christ; as well as those who spend their lives trying to raise Christ to such an exalted position that we cannot know Him or experience Him in this age unless that knowledge or experience is subjective. It seems for both, worship becomes mere rational exercises in restating propositions already known.

Sitting through a worship service where the deconstruction of the Gospels in the hunt for the “historical Jesus” is the attempt to communicate the Gospel to the 21st century or a worship service that is all singing or preaching in a standard-issue, multi-purpose assembly room are apparently not all that far apart in Ratzinger’s thinking.

This may help explain why mainline denominations such as The Episcopal Church are withering while at the same time evangelicals are often observed in worship with their eyes closed. Too much rationality and not enough aesthetic will send us looking for the aesthetic, even if it is only behind our closed eyes.

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2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2

Do you ever look around as you come into church?  What do you see?  Do you see a building or do you see people?  Is the building done?  Are the people finished?  Do you see progress and changes being made or do you see only the things that need to be done?

When we look at the building, we need to be aware that this building is not going to heaven.  There will never come a day when we will gather before God’s great throne and see this building occupying a place of glory and prominence in God’s kingdom.  God’s plan for this world is not to save concrete, wood and tile and turn them into church buildings so they can go to heaven.

His plan for this world, brothers and sisters, is to redeem for Himself a people, some of whom have lived all their lives in rum shops, while others lived in churches. His plan is to call them His own people, holy and beloved by God.  The purposes of God never involve things, except to use those things in the lives of His people to make them more like Him.

God is most concerned that we reflect who He is to this world.  He has told us to be holy as He is holy.  We are to be like Him in His perfection all of His perfection.  We cannot concentrate only on one area or another that we will work on in our lives.

God demands that we be totally set apart for Him.  There can be nothing else in front of Him or held in higher honor by us as if He is served by our doing that thing.  It does not matter whether that is a building, a program or a Bible Study method.

Holiness is not an option for us if we desire to go to heaven.  The Bible is quite clear that without holiness we do not enter heaven because God will not allow imperfections into His presence.  This building is not going to heaven, because it cannot be holy in the same way that God is holy.  But if we are holy people we will certainly arrive in God’s great eternal kingdom.

Most of us however I think struggle a great deal with this concept.  We probably do not wake up and say to ourselves in the mirror in our best Robin, the Boy Wonder voice saying, “Holy of Holies, Batman, I wish I could be set apart, sanctified and pure just like Peter, James, John and Paul in my Bible!” (more…)

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I would guess that everyone of us has stood at the airport waving good by to someone we love as they flew off to wherever they were going in this big world.  We could have waved to our parents, to our children, to other family members or even to friends

I would also guess that standing there waving good by wasn’t always the most pleasant of feelings.  We may have been smiling, but I’m guessing we may have also been crying a little inside.  Saying goodbye can be filled with sadness even when good things are happening.  Saying goodbye to a child heading off to school overseas is both exciting as we anticipate what will happen in their lives and sad as they no longer come home to tell us about their day every day.

Sometimes the sadness comes because we cannot anticipate the future.  We ask ourselves if we will ever see that person again in this life.  This question hits us harder as we grow older and our parents grow older.  We fly off wondering if we will see them again or we watch them fly off and wonder if they will ever come back.  If our parents are gone, often the question becomes about us.  Will we be around when our kids come back from school?

It’s a hard question to face wondering if this is going to be the last time we see someone we love.  It makes the trip to the airport hard because we know what’s coming.  The laughter and excitement that is touched with a bit of sadness makes us uneasy.  We can tell ourselves that God is in control, but that doesn’t always ease the pain of saying goodbye to someone we love.  We get attached to the people who are closest to us.

When those with whom we are closest leave, our hearts grow heavy even in good circumstances like when a child leaves for school or goes away to work in a different part of the world.  We know this from our own experiences, but imagine the rollercoaster of emotions in the hearts and minds of Jesus’ disciples on the day when Jesus ascended to heaven. (more…)

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