Daily Devotional Blog by Pastor Mark Anderson, Lutheran Church of the Master, Corona del Mar, California

Daily Devotional Blog by Pastor Mark Anderson, Lutheran Church of the Master, Corona del Mar, California

"The Cross Alone Is Our Theology"

Hebrews 13:5

"I will never leave you or forsake you."

 

May 1,2013

 

What do we mean when we speak of the presence of God?  To attempt an answer it may be helpful to look at human relationships, then we'll look at Scripture.

 

When we use the word 'presence' in reference to someone we ususally mean he/she is here or was there. The person was physically present. If we push it a bit further we can speak of someone as having a certain presence about them. I've known people, and you probably have also, who can walk into a room and somehow their presence dominates, stands out. If you've been in a small group and one person is remote or distant for some reason, you might say that so and so just wasn't present. They were physically present but that's all. Or someone in the small group may have a dominant presence which causes the others in the group to be diminished in their presence. And there are those relationships of consequence, spouses, deep friendships and so forth, that will have varying intensities of presence.

 

The point is that when we speak of the presence of God, our language may slip a bit if we are not careful. What are some things we can say about God where presence is concerned? Based on what we read in Scripture we can assume that God is eager for closeness. God is eager for intimacy. God wants to be as close as possible to those He loves. We can be sure of that. At the same time we might say that God is always having to work with the human need for varying intensities of presence and with the human desire to resist His presence.

 

Where the Lord's Supper is concerned we speak of the "real presence" of Christ in the bread and wine. By "real" we mean to say that there is an intensity to Christ's presence there with us. When we look at the Scriptures we find that there is a range of intensity where God's presence is concerned.

 

In the opening verses of the book of Jonah we are told - twice - that Jonah fled from the presence of the Lord. Now, Jonah knew that God created the world and that God is present everywhere. So, it was not God's presence, per say, that he was fleeing. It is the intensity of that presence in the direct command of God's Word that he go to Nineveh.

 

When Jesus prayed a portion Psalm 22 on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?", He was acutely conscious of God's absence while, at the same time, He WAS praying. So the sense of God's presence was there. Forsakeness did not mean absence.

 

If we equate God's presence only with those aspects of life that are pleasant, affirming, comfortable and so forth, we are going to miss the God of the Bible. For, the person whose trust, whose faith is in the God of the cross, the God who raised Jesus from the dead, who lives by God's intimate and ever-present Word, there will always be a Nineveh to which we are summoned. This does not mean that God does not provide us with signs of the resurrection every day. Baptism, after all, is the Spirit's promise of God's intimate presence in all suffering and all joy through Christ.  

 

This does mean that while we may experience God as forsakeness or a Word that calls us to paths we would rather not walk,  God is never absent. To the contrary. God is there, shepherding His people through the valleys of shadow and death, leading them to the cool, still waters of his amazing grace.

 

"May the peace of god that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our lord."

 

 

Galatians 2:20

 

"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

 

April 30, 2013

 

What is Christianity. We can formulate an answer to this question in any number of ways; who is Jesus? What is the Christian faith? However the question is framed the question really is, What's the hub of it all?

 

I would have to say that the Christian faith is a personal relationship with God. Or a personal relationship to Jesus Christ. Or a personal relationship to God in Jesus Christ. However we say it, one thing we want to say is that the Christian faith is not impersonal, it is personal. When I was a boy the The old hymn” In the Garden” was sung routinely in worship. Perhaps the most familiar line in that hymn says 'He walks with me and talks with and tells me I am his own.' Some find this language too intimate, too personal but I don't. The Christian faith is an intensely personal thing. It's a very common and appropriate way to talk about the faith.

 

Mick Jagger – who isn't your ordinary, garden variety theologian had a song lyric years ago which went something like, 'Don't want to hear any more about Jesus, I just want to see His face.' Enough talk, I want to see Jesus. He wants this Jesus business to be personal. That reflects what an awful lot of people in the Church would want to say; enough talk, enough theology, we just want to see Jesus. And of course, we find this in the new testament. A man came to the disciples and said, “Sir, we would see Jesus." So, it's a personal thing.

 

We can look at the Bible, and if we pick it up with that handle, we can see that the Biblical story is a series of personal relationships, encounters with God.

 

God goes to Noah and says it may be dry now but rain is coming, lots of it, and you need to build a very large boat. Noah's not do sure but he builds it anyway. He wouldn't do that unless there was something very personal going between God and himself, and everything hangs on that personal relationship between god and Noah.

 

God comes to Abraham and he says, Abe, I want you to pack up and leave this place, leave your land and kinfolk and just take off. Oh and by the way I'm not going to tell you where you are going,maybe later. Just go. Well that's not the kind of thing one does on the basis of test tubes and calculators. Abraham did that because he was overwhelmed by this very personal word from God.

 

Isaiah. God appears to him and he has a great vision and he is overwhelmed by being in the presence of the Holy One, and he is stricken, smitten and afflicted – the Bible says – and he realizes his guilt. It's an intensely personal encounter.

 

God speaks to the prophets. And this also seems to be intensely personal because they seem to be the only ones that know what the message is. And the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. The word of the Lord came to Isaiah, etc.

 

Jesus comes to Matthew in the toll gate, singles him out and talks to him. Zacchaeus up in the tree is called down by Jesus and they go to lunch.

 

The Samaritan woman at the well – Jesus asks for a drink of water then begins to speak of the intimate details of her life.

 

One to one stuff, personal encounters with God.

 

At the end of the day there can be no substitute for this personal dimension. “For God so loved the world...”means God loves you and me. Theological reflection on the faith is fine, even necessary. But if it does not lead to the proclamation of the Word of the Gospel as a personal, gracious encounter God, it has missed it's point – and purpose.

 

'May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Matthew 5-7

The Sermon on the Mount

 

April 25,2013

 

The sixth chapter of Matthew's gospel contains a portion of what has been called 'the Sermon on the Mount'. In that chapter there are three verses in which Jesus speaks of praying, fasting and almsgiving in secret. So far, so good.  The King James translation, however, adds a word to the end of these verses. That word is 'openly'. The formula in which the word appears can be represented by verse 4; "...and thy Father which seest in secret shall reward thee openly."

 

Modern translations do not contain the word 'openly'. In fact  the earliest manuscripts, from the second, third and fourth centuries upon which modern translations are based, do not contain the word openly. it was added at a later date. Why?

 

I believe it has something to do with the perpetual need to resolve the tension between hiddenness and openness in the Christian life. Consider this. Our society was profoundly shaped by what has been termed the ' Protestant ethic'. The Protestant ethic states simply, to use Matthew's words, if I pray, give alms and fast (as sincere acts of Christian piety) I will be rewarded with prosperity. Therefore you can tell who the serious Christians are by how prosperous their lives are. This is simple but it makes the point. God openly rewards the sincerely pious. This permeates the churches like ink in the water. It's everywhere.

 

But a careful reading of the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7 in Matthew) reveals that openness and hiddenness are in constant tension. And this tension is reflective of the very nature of the Incarnation. Jesus was visible. He walked and talked, ate lunch, did miracles and so forth. Some saw Him and confessed, 'He is the Son of God!'' Others took a look and dismissed Him as another cheap street magician. The divine presence was not obvious.

 

So in the sacraments we have very visible elements; water, bread and wine. You can feel them, touch them and taste them. But hidden within them are the Holy Spirit, the body and blood of Jesus Christ. And if you talk about the sacraments as invisible you've missed it. At the same time if you talk about the sacraments as obviously prooving the presence of God you've also missed it.

 

What all this means for me is that  the Christian has no reason to expect that our living of the Christian life is going to be any more obvious than was Jesus' own life. For the world is not going to look at the Church and exclaim, 'My you are so absolutely gorgeous, I must sign up. Count me in.' Among the many implications of this awareness is one that stands apart. If the Church is going to bear witness to the faith, then it must speak the name of Jesus Christ and tell the story of what He has done for a sinful world. Attempts to resolve the tension within the Christian life only result in taking the focus off Jesus and placing it on ourselves. This we cannot and must not do.

 

"May the peace of god that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord."

 

 

John 1

"And the Word became flesh..."

 

April 24, 2013

 

In the Old Testament God is the one who led His people out of Egypt. In the New Testament God is the one who raised Jesus from the dead. In both testaments God is revealed as the God who acts and is involved in what we call history, in temporal time and space.

 

The progress of the Gospel throughout human history has had real and demonstrable effect not only on individual human beings but also on the whole range of human reality. Institutions, cultures, ideas, etc. have been shaped by the Gospel and its implications. This has often been not because of the Church but in spite of it. For the perpetual temptation of the religious impulses that we naturally associate with Christianity (which is not a religion) always want to spiritualize, internalize or spatialize the Gospel. The Bible, on the other hand, reveals the God who is temporalized in the real world of people and events, including sacraments.

 

Non-sacramental Christianity which emphasizes reason and the internal character of faith, skates dangerously close to the brink of gnosticism which discounts the temporal for the sake of the spiritual. Martin Luther ran into this mentality among the 'anabaptists' of his day. The following is a quote from Luther on this score as it applies to infant baptism.

 

 

"The  anabaptists pretend that children, not as yet having reason, ought not to receive baptism. I answer: That reason in no way contributes to faith. Nay, in that children are destitute of reason, they are all the more fit and proper recipients of baptism. For reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but – more frequently than not – struggles against the Divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God. If God can communicate the Holy Spirit to grown persons, he can, a fortiori, communicate it to young children. Faith comes of the Word of God, when this is heard; little children hear that Word when they receive baptism, and therewith they receive also faith."

– Martin Luther (1483-1546), Table Talk CCCLIII [1569] .

 

"May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our lord."

 

 

1 Peter 1

 

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,...".

 

 

The Boston bombings were a volcanic moment of chaos erupting out of the the deep lava flow of human sin. The magnitude of the event was shocking. The fact that it happened is not. Chaos and mayhem are scattered across the world on any given day in ways great and small. How do we respond?

 

Some argue cynically that 'Life is one darned thing after another.' History moves in a circular motion from Herod to Hitler to Mao to Bin Laden. Nothing really changes. The best you can do is find your little haven of safety somewhere, look after yourself and let the world be damned.

 

Others see life as a slippery slope. The best is behind us. What lies ahead is degrading, without prospects. They look longingly back to the 'good ol' days' when life was as it should be. The future is bleak, despairing. It is best to live without expectations.

 

These views are common and perhaps even understandable. You and I may even resort to them from time to time. But they can in no sense be called Christian.

 

The Christian response to the broken world takes its language from the cross and resurrection of Jesus. It is the language not of cynicism or despair but of hope. 

 

Coventry cathedral was destroyed during the second world war. When the new church was built, adjacent to the old structure, it included a magnificent wall of glass. On the wall are the images of saints and angels, gathered together in a glorious celebration. Through the glass wall one can see the remains of the old buildings, grim reminders of the effects of human evil.

 

But that's just the point. The opaque wall does not block out or deny the chaos. It is a symbol, a vision of hope in the midst of chaos. And it is this vision of hope in Jesus Christ that is to shape Christian speaking in response to suffering and death. Our calling, in this respect, is to invite those who are singing in the chorus of cynicism and despair to sing a new song, the song of the crucified and risen Jesus. To turn from singing the world's lament, 'In the midst of life we die', to the new song of hope in Jesus Christ, 'In the midst of death we live!'

 

So, Christian, grab your trumpet, warm up your voice and let's celebrate that great and glorious future God is preparing for us, even as we give ourselves in service to the suffering and broken world. For God has promised that one day wars will cease, tears will be dried and we'll be swinging on the chandeliers of heaven!

 

"May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord."

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