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It seems that the Roman Catholic Bishop of Green Bay has written to the parishes and people of his diocese that certain moral issues facing the electorate could lead to spiritual harm and even put voters’ souls in danger.  He specifically points out, “To vote for someone in favor of these positions means that you could be morally “complicit” with these choices which are intrinsically evil. This could put your own soul in jeopardy.”

The issues he’s concerned about are: same-sex marriage, euthanasia, stem-cell research, abortion, and human cloning.  Clearly these are moral issues that should be addressed by religious and spiritual leaders.  They touch on issues of what it means to be human and made in the image of God.

What concerns me is that the Bishop has ignored other moral concerns that also touch on what it means to be made in the image of God and to be fully human.  The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, although well worn, is a good place to discover some of those issues.  In this chapter, Jesus discusses those who are saved and those who are not and have put their souls in danger.

Jesus specifically tells His followers they should feed the hungry, offer a drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoner.  Those are all places where a person’s humanity is vulnerable and weakened, thus those who claim the Christian name should seek to care for those in that vulnerable place in their lives.

I know the Bishop knows these things and would encourage his people to practice them. But the Bishop’s statement concerns me because I work for him indirectly.  By elevating the issues he has emphasized, he has in effect missed a potentially larger segment of our communities who will be affected by decisions that will be made as a result of this election.  Namely the poor and mentally ill.

I work for a homeless shelter that takes in hundreds of people every winter.  These are  all people who have no other options for shelter in the midst of cold Midwestern winters that can kill in a deep freeze.  Most of our guests suffer from mental illnesses often for most of their adult lives.  Some don’t remember the last time they DIDN’T live on the street.

Our guests often arrive without proper clothing for the weather, as well hungry and thirsty.  Some are in need of serious medical attention, others have come from prison with no place to call home anymore and no one who wants them around.  It’s a difficult thing when someone tells you there’s no one else who cares if they live or die.

Tomorrow night, we will probably take in 40 people off the streets of Green Bay whose stories would fit some, if not all of that description above.  I only wish the Bishop would use his bully pulpit to highlight these issues of morality to the voting public in the Roman Catholic pews as well.

I rather doubt either political party would fare well under the microscope of what Jesus tells us are the important issues for every community of believers who wish to keep their souls in God’s grace.

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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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Today we are celebrating Trinity Sunday, the day in our church liturgical calendar that marks our belief that God is both One God and Three Persons. Today is also Father’s Day, a day when we remember and hopefully give thanks for our fathers who have helped give us life and shaped who we are today.

In thinking about both the Holy Trinity and fatherhood, I need to make a confession. After almost 16 years of fatherhood and over 20 years of studying theology, I can honestly say these are great and deep mysteries which we celebrate today. They are mysteries about which I’m still learning and expect that I will continue to learn until the day I die. So God willing and my family consenting, let’s dive into these mysteries for the next few minutes.

Our readings this morning only begin to touch the tip of the iceberg of all that Scripture teaches about the Holy Trinity and thus also, I think, of what it means to be a father when we pull them all together. Consider our first reading from Genesis 1.

Some of us, if not all of us, have been familiar with these words since we were very young. Maybe we heard them in Sunday School and brought home some pages filled with our drawings of what it must have been like to be there and see God create the world. Maybe it was in a summer VBS or at school. Some of us may not have run into these words until we were older, maybe even as adults.

It is here, in Genesis 1, that we begin to meet God in all of His infinite glory. In some ways the deep mystery of God also begins in our minds here in Genesis 1. We meet God before anything, including ourselves exists. Just as its hard for a child to imagine life before they were born, it seems hard for us to imagine existing before this universe was created. Yet that is exactly where we find ourselves.

We can only imagine what it must have been like before this world began. The writer of Genesis makes a good effort to describe it by saying the earth was formless, there was only darkness surrounding the deep and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters.

As I read that I get a sense of expectation that something is about to happen, kind of like listening to the beginning of Kenneth Copland’s Appalachian Spring or the opening music of Also Sprach Zarathustra, the theme music from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The quiet is about to explode into the thunder of Creation.

And then it happens.

God speaks a word and there is light and He rests. He speaks again and there is Heaven and He rests. He speaks and the earth and seas come into shape and plants and trees are created and He rests. He speaks and the sun, moon and stars as well as time are all created, and then He rests. He speaks once more and there are fish in the sea and birds in the air and He rests. God speaks a word again and the dry land is covered with bugs, animals and reptiles. Then He speaks one last time, “Let us make human beings in our own image” and people come into existence and God blesses them, calling them to be wise stewards and regents over what he has made. And then He rests.

It’s an amazing story. It’s even more amazing to think about what’s behind the story. Did God have to create this universe? When I read Genesis 1, I always ask myself questions like, what was His motivation for doing all of that? Did He need something? Was something missing? St. Paul when preaching in Athens said, God does not live in buildings built by us nor does He need anything from us as He is our Creator.

Our Psalm for this morning seems to make it even clearer when it says in verse 5, “What is man that you should be mindful of him? The son of man that you should seek Him out?” Indeed, when we step out on clear night away from the city lights and look up are we not filled with awe at all that we see? Some of the light from those stars has been coming to us for thousands of years and God calls them all by name and puts them in their courses.

If God doesn’t need us or anything that this universe might produce, if He is truly without needs as far we are concerned, why make the universe? I think the answer is hinted at in Genesis 1 when God said “Let US make man in OUR image.” God created the universe out of the mystery of the relationship between the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

That mystery was revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ, who though, born of Mary, a human mother, was and is the Son of God, the Second Person in the Trinity. If we read the Gospel of John a few times, it won’t take us long to start seeing that God the Father, loves His Son and the Son loves His Father.

In fact I would say that John’s Gospel is the answer to the question of why did God create this universe in the first place because John also says that God loved this world so much that He sent His Son Jesus, to redeem it with His own life and blood, so that we might be saved and restored to the loving relationship we had with God in the beginning. When sin entered the world through our rebellion, our love for God grew cold and our ability to know God was diminished.

Although God left hints all the way through Creation of His greatness and His love for us, it wasn’t until Jesus came, suffered and died for our sins that the deepness of God’s love was revealed to us. In His Great Prayer on the night before He died, Jesus paints this incredible picture of God’s infinite love for us.

He tells us that we will not be left as orphans on this planet, but will be adopted and brought into the Father’s mansion of many rooms. Jesus tells us that though He will die and go to the Father, He will ask the Father and the Father will send His Holy Spirit to live in us, comfort us and teach us how to follow and obey Jesus in our lives.

What I think is even more astounding is that Jesus tells us in that Great Prayer that as the Holy Spirit lives in us, Jesus Himself lives in us and the Father lives in us. Years ago I worked for a Christian author and teacher who summed up Jesus’ teaching as “I in the Father, the Father in me and I in you!” Jesus is in the Father, The Father is in Jesus, Jesus is in us all through the work of the Holy Spirit.

When we believe in Jesus and trust in His ability to redeem us from our sins, Jesus and the Father send the Holy Spirit to come live in our lives. But even more, He takes us as orphans and places us in the middle of the Holy Trinity, in the middle of the infinite loving relationship that each member of the Trinity has with each other.

In other words, the deep mystery of the Holy Trinity, the foundation and essence of the Godhead, is love. The Trinity is God’s practical way of showing us that we are loved by Him from ages past and for eternity to come. When I sit quietly and think about being placed inside the love and protection of the Holy Trinity, I begin to understand some of the mystery of fatherhood as well.

Just as God didn’t need to create this universe or anything in it to be fulfilled or to be more God than He already was, I do not think any man is more or less of a man because he is a father or not. As I look at my life, I don’t think I was less of a man before I had kids and now am more of a man. I think most fathers (and mothers) would say their lives were less complicated before the kids came along.

It wasn’t that guys were unfulfilled in life. Rather it was that, however imperfectly it may have been, they loved enough to become a father. It was out of the overflow of the love between the man and the woman that kids came along. Guys, we become fathers because we have been made in God’s image to love others, especially our wives who also have been made in God’s image.

Every time one of my kids was born, I was always struck by the thought that this kid can’t give me anything, but I love this kid so much I would give it everything I had, even my life if I needed to. As Jesus said if I, as an imperfect father feel this way towards my kids, how much more does my heavenly Father feel that way about me?

The hard part comes later when see our little, beautiful perfect child imitate our flaws. Dads, what was your reaction the first time your child did something just like you, only you had hoped they would never do it? Like burping at the dinner table when mom isn’t around or getting frustrated and letting out a string words like you when you get frustrated?

To be a father is to be an example and sometimes as fathers that’s the hardest lesson for us to learn. Jesus however, set the example for us in how we can follow our Father in heaven. He mirrored His Father perfectly, just our kids mirror us fathers with all of our imperfections. Jesus even tells us in our Gospel reading this morning that now we, as God’s deeply loved children, are to follow His example and do what He did during His earthly life.

Just as our children become interested in the things we do and imitate us in doing them, so now we are called to imitate God and join Him in the things He does. Jesus said we are to participate in God’s mission in this world by Going into all the world, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching everyone to keep all that He has commanded us to keep. He promises us that He will be with us on the mission.

God’s great love doesn’t end with us. He wants us to carry His love to the whole world so they might believe, be baptized and follow Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Fathers who are filled with love for their children, can’t wait to have all their children home safe and sound.

For us as Christians, this means safe inside the Holy Trinity, knowing we are loved by God with an infinite love. For us as fathers, it might mean knowing that even as we are separated as our children grow and start their own families that our love for them still overflows so that we would willingly do whatever it takes to demonstrate our love for them.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. AMEN!

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This is a test

Testing WordPress for my iPhone. Can I post from here?

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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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Last night brought word while I was at work that cancer had finally claimed the earthly life of Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk.  Words fail to describe the sorrow that I know his family and friends are experiencing as well as many of us in the rest of the blogosphere.  I think one of the BHT Jareds once said Michael was the only necessary voice on the Internet.  I would agree.

Michael’s words through the Internet Monk or Boar’s Head Tavern have been a great encouragement to me for years.  His writing was honest, sometimes painfully honest, but almost always captured in words what I was thinking and feeling in my heart of hearts.  His encouraging word to someone he may not have even known was reading his stuff was often priceless.

He and I never met, but he helped me through many ministry joys and successes but even more so, the crises and failures.  I owe him my deepest thanks for introducing me to Thomas Merton as a real human being and follower of Christ and not the quasi-gnostic syncretist that I had always thought him to be.   Michael also introduced me to Robert Farrar Capon, Francis Chan, the later writings of Robert Webber, and re-introduced me to Shakespeare after the Bard and I had a serious falling out in high school.

Michael introduced me to the concept of post-evangelicalism, just as I was getting ready to chuck the whole church scene into the bin.  I could not fathom the lack of spiritual depth of the materials from other churches that would come across my desk as a pastor.  It always looked great, tasted great, but left me with the crash of reality when the sugar high wore off.  Michael told me there was a world beyond that place where Christ was all and in all and led me there.

He helped shape my life’s ministry by pointing out that many of us evangelical pastors were chasing our tails on the hamster wheel every week.  He pointed me back to the Creeds, spoke of liturgy (both high church and low-church) with respect and not the disdain that had been beaten into my head over the years, reminded me the Good News was, is, and always will be Good News that changes everything, not merely a means to a happy, safe life.

In short, Michael was a spiritual father, director, friend, counselor, and goad when needed to someone he had never met.  His wit and humor made life more palatable on hard days.  His own struggles through the hardships of life, depression, loss of dear family members to death, or friends to the theological wars, encouraged me that I was not walking alone through this life.  He will be missed.

But yet we have hope…

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  –1 Corinthians 15:53-56

Jesus is risen!

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Here’s a quote…

It is clear that the Christian life is essentially supernatural.  It is the ignoring or denying of this element which is the cause of most of the ineffectiveness of present-day religion.  Supernatural religion is not popular, but that does not make it untrue.  Protestantism dislikes it, the Reformation was largely a movement for its dethronement; Modernism dislikes it–the pathetic desire to find a merely human Christ and the condemnation of sacramental action as “magic” attest as much; Science dislikes it because it appears to the scientist to introduce an incalculable and undemonstrable element in Nature; the Man in the Street dislikes it because it is beyond his comprehension, and it is a common weakness to fear and therefore hate the unknown; it remains for the Catholic uncompromisingly to nail his colours to the mast and live supernaturally, confident that on that level alone will he find fully Him for Whom his soul thirsts.

It may help towards clarity if we observe at this point that the supernatural is not the same thing as the miraculous.– The Elements of the Spiritual Life, F.P. Harton, S.P.C.K., London (?), 1932

Ok, then…what starts out as an excellent understanding of the Christian life lived as a response to God’s divine initiative in both general and specific revelation, gets bogged down into a squabble about what really happened in the Reformation.

I’m not certain it is fair to say that the Reformation sought to dethrone the primacy of God in action to save for Himself a people.  It is fair to say that the elevation of Reason over Revelation narrowed the field from infinite ways of God to the finite ways and understanding of human beings.

Is the weakness of the Church in the 21st Century due to a loss, through whatever means, of the supernatural element in the Christian life?

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