It Is A Marvelous Thing To Hold Your Own Flesh In Your Hands – The Weight of Love

1655065_4074995729798_4314261963222890916_oIt’s a marvelous thing to hold your own flesh in your hands. When my son was born I stared, cartoonish, mouth hanging open, transfixed by the umbilical cord. I thought it was so vibrant, so remarkable. It was such a distraction that the doctor had to ask me twice to cut it. Then, having made the cut, the nurse put him in my hands. I wrapped my fingers around my baby boy and brought him in close. I held him tight, frightened, but gently, he was so small, so insubstantial. The weight of love, however, was very real. It crushed me. My son broke my heart. I have never recovered, thank God.

My son is eleven years old now. He is lanky, awkward, and self-absorbed. That is, as we like to tease, he is “clueless.” His hair is always confused. His glasses perpetually crooked. Putting on clean clothes is more nuisance than necessity. He is possessed by an absurdist sense of humor. He can multiply eight digit numbers in his head, but struggles to tie his shoelaces. Ask him to recite the roster of every Vikings football team since its inception, he can do it, yet he forgets to take his medication every night. He is a museum of quirks.

These are the images that skitter across my imagination when I press the bread into his upturned palm each Sunday. I speak the words, “This is the body of Christ, given into death for your sin.” Next, I put the cup to his lips, saying, “Take, drink, this is the blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

It is a marvelous thing to hold the flesh of God in your hands and feed it to your own flesh. More than that, to pour God’s blood into your own son’s throat… but not my son. God’s son. God’s own child, I gladly say, for he is baptized into Christ. Given to me, to us, to care for and tend, as a man is given a garden to caretake. He is my son, and yet not my son. I feed him, but it is not my food I put on the table before him. I serve him, but what is given is not mine to possess. I am only the gardner, after all. I plant. I water. It is the Lord who gives the growth: body and soul, today and forever.

It is a marvelous thing when God reveals that: “In him we live and move and have our being… For we are indeed his children.”

The weight of my love for my son crushed me. The weight of God’s love for me, and him, and all of us, raised us and made us whole in Christ.

Kenneth Korby ~ The Simple Bread of Sincerity and Truth

Kenneth F. Korby
The Cresset, April 1979

images (14)Death is not a real foundation for living. Nevertheless, most individuals and civilizations build their lives on avoiding, evading, or postponing death. By a strange and reverse worship, they assert and confess the lordship of death. To them it seems to be the only sure foundation of power. The power to kill is fundamental, and apparently sure. The threat of death is the ultimate fear, and apparently viable.

When hosting the Lord of Life, full God manifest in the vulnerable and weak flesh, the builders of civilizations and religions did what they had to do to insure the edifice they had built. They exercised sure and necessary power to kill Jesus, using the power of God against God!

Death may be painful, but, culturally seen, it is at least sure. Almost. Although the nature of death is such that it dulls its victims, there are still uncertainties. Notes from the underground, as it were, disquiet the illusion that death might be an easy slipping into nothingness. The preludes of the absolute terror and loneliness may be quieted by devices of culture and religion, but some uncertainties remain.

Hence, a rock was put in front of Jesus’ grave. It seemed a fundamental guarantee of the finality of the power of civilization and religion to make death sure. But the death of Jesus was not merely the revelation of the mystery of iniquity. He was also the revelation of the mystery of the will of God to destroy death by dying it. Death did not shatter Jesus. Jesus shattered death. Death is not lord. Jesus is Lord. By His death and resurrection from the dead, in a body of glory that cannot die again, Jesus is the foundation for living a life that does not evade death or end up in death, but one that ends in life.

The consequence of this work of Jesus is the building of a new race, a new humanity, the Church. Mortified with Him in His cross, vivified with Him in His resurrection, this new people is a living, growing organism. Created by the Holy Spirit, she is the carrier and agent of that life-giving spirited word. Even while she lives I the wilderness, pursued by death, she is nurtured and built on the foundation. Living in the midst of cultures and civilizations that are built on the deceit of evading death, she is built in truth with wisdom. Such building activity is a delicate business.

The temptation of the craftsmen who are charged with building her is to use materials that are shoddy and cheap. The Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 3) calls them “wood, hay, and stubble.” The enticements of the temptation contain the threat and promises of the deceits of civilizations and religions: “You will not die; you will be as gods.” The promise is an invitation to mistrust the Lord. The threat is the pressure: if you want to be something, buy our wares. And so, many who build on the foundation advocate proposals with variety and enthusiasm, promising new keys to success, guaranteed formulae for church growth. Renewal is promised through ritual. Effectiveness goes with certain evangelism programs and techniques. Church growth is worked out with scientific and business-like acumen and industry. These things have become as popular as the New Measures of the nineteenth century. Added benefits increase the allurements: there will effective and influential ministry, authentic and supportive communities. And who, in God’s name, can be against these? And then, the best of all worlds: these various building materials will be promoted from a “Lutheran point of view!”

images (22)Meanwhile, a hidden, alien catechesis works quietly to shape a different spirit and form, a different content and pattern of life. The Apostle warns against using wood, hay, and stubble, noting these materials are flammable. They are fuel in the fire of judgment and the day of the Lord. The smallest piece of wood will ignite, even if it has been tinkered with! Those who build on the foundation with such materials will indeed escape with their lives, but their work will be consumed and they will be left naked.

The apostolic master-builder suggests “gold, silver [and] precious stones”—very poor fuel for fire—as the building materials. There is a simplicity about these materials, as there is a simplicity in the way the church is built on the foundation. It is the simplicity of the new life by the Spirit in the water and word of Baptism, or nurturing the life of faith and love on the vitalities of the Lord’s Body and Blood, of reordering the relationship of the sinner to God by the word of forgiveness of sins spoken into the ear from the mouth of another. The simplicity of the catechesis is the handing of this word from mouth to ear in the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Our Father. The shape and content of the word are the shape and content of the life: repentance, faith, holiness.

The celebration of Easter—with its participation in the eating our Passover Lamb—is the call to purge out the influence of malice and wickedness, the call to keep the least with the simple bread of sincerity and truth.

The church is God’s temple. Those who desecrate her will be desecrated.

Sermon on John 12:20-26 ~ Death Or Glory (A Nagelite Sermon)

 

12:20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him (John 12:20-26).

 

christ-in-seedIn the Name + of Jesus. AMEN. Jesus called Himself the Son of Man. A name for the Messiah. He is the hope of Israel. He is the hope of a Deliverer. He is Savior. But when you try to find hope somewhere else, try to save yourselves, you can never arrive at certainty. No matter how frantically you may try, how can you know when you have done enough? It is impossible to find salvation in yourselves, in the very place hope is lacking. All man-centered religions end in hopelessness, indifference, or shallow pride.

Let’s look at those who are religiously man-centered. The godless, as the Bible calls them. There are those who have given up. Those who honestly admit their life has no purpose. They are hard hit, have lost everything, their hearts eaten away at until they are afraid and hopeless. All the people they’ve relied on have led them to a mad, meaningless, confusion. 

Then there are other godless people, the bulk of them, who fear to face life squarely and run away from it. They try to forget the emptiness of their souls in liquor, sex, some distracting activity, or just common routine: working, eating, sleeping, afraid to die, just going on, even though life is meaningless. The devil has these people wrapped so securely in noise, commotion, and common routine they are unconcerned about anything beyond their animal existence. Their souls are shriveled.

Then there are some godless people who admit God. They will even claim to believe in God. You will meet many of them in church on Sunday. But the God they believe in is a god of their own making. A god they can switch on and turn as required by their own comfort and convenience. The god they worship is really themselves. These are the godless people who are furthest from God. They are further than fearful unthinking. They are further away from God than the hopeless. To the hopeless God is often very near.

Those Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover heard talk of the Messiah. The one God had promised in the Old Testament Scriptures to deliver. They had found no hope in their man-centered religions. By the grace of God, they had come to know the Old Testament. Here they found true religion. No fear, no moralisms, but squarely faced up to God. God is central. He is the one certain fact. Only as we are tied onto that fact of God do we have any meaning or hope. There is only life with God. The Greeks found too how we, by our sin, cut ourselves off from God. A person cut off from God is dead. The wages of your sin is death.

But God, instead of making an end of you who revolt against Him, who in sin try to put an end to God, gave promise of a way out of death. A way that led through death that could not be avoided. Not physical death but spiritual death. Just as surely as taking poison kills your body, sin poisons your soul unto death, by cutting you off from God. 

l734433261The wages of sin is death, and God will not contradict Himself. There is no way around this death. Yet so great was the love of God, even though it cost Him much, He found a way by which this debt of death might be paid so you might be set free from death. There is no explanation to this except that God, in unimaginable love, saw that it must be so if you are to have life. Someone else must die in your place. Eve was told that a son of her would conquer sin. The hope of life by another dying in her place and in your place. This one’s death would free you from sin’s death. Sin means death. You sin, therefore you die. You get what is coming to you. You get what you deserve. The only hope of being saved from death was that another would die in your place. Lambs and goats were the substitute in the Old Testament. But, these sacrifices were always pointing forward to the great sacrifice for sin to come. The promise of God that He would send a Savior.

Jesus’ words to the Greeks, as it always is with His words, meet their seeking and their need. He tells them that he is the Messiah. He then tells that the hour of His glory is come. This, though, is the real Jesus. The royal Jesus. Jesus King. Jesus coming into His own. The kingdom was about to be established, and they had a front row seat. They rallied to Christ’s cause. The crowd had proclaimed Him King, and now from his own lips the words, “The hour is come, that the Son of Man should be glorified” (John 12:23). But the glory Jesus speaks about is not earthly death-bound glory. Jesus knows your hearts are imprisoned by momentary, earthly glory. Your hearts are set on food, drink, clothing, money, your appearance. He is come to free you from deathly slavery to these things. Lift you above them so you see their proper value and purpose. He comes to free you from the death that is in the worship of earthly things so you may receive the life that is only with Him, your Creator and Lord.

Is your heart set on the life in this world? Then you are dead. Dead because you are cut off from God. “He that loves his life will lose it.” Your sin cuts you loose from God, so death is the result. Only if someone else takes your place in death can you be freed from death for life. Jesus, the promised Messiah, came to pay that debt of death.  This basic teaching, that through His death you are brought to life is a vital truth FOR YOU. Only if you die can you live. The life Christ makes FOR YOU is only yours if you go with Him through His death to life with him. His dying must be your dying. 

Making your own death the death of Christ is the action of faith. This “through death to life” is yours through Baptism. You go down into the water. All that you are is drowned and dies in the water. What rises from the water is a new creature. A new you made alive by being bound to Christ. In Baptism this bond of faith is created. You are bound to Christ and pass with Him through death to life. HIS DYING IS YOUR DYING. HIS LIFE IS YOUR LIFE.

imagesOn Good Friday, when you see Christ dying on the cross, being cut off from God for sin, say, “That is my death for my sin.” When Christ rises out of the overwhelming waters of death to life say, “That is my rising to life.” “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Enslaved to the cares of this world you are cut off from God. You are dead. You do not want to live with Christ so His life is not joined to your life. Yet Jesus meant it to be so. He died to make it so. This Holy Week, then, go down with Jesus into death, repent, surrender all, lose your life and all that you are, and like a seed that falls into the earth, die. Christ will bring you up out of that death to a fruitful life with Him. A life filled with His sort of glory. You will be dead so long as you refuse to die. No life without that death of total surrender. Not I, but Christ. “Dying and behold we live.” And if living, then bearing much fruit. “For if we have be dead with Him, we will also live with Him. If we suffer, we will also rule with Him” (2 Timothy 2:11-12). AMEN.

 

 

I Love You, But Not You… But I Love You

“If somebody says “I love you” to me, I feel as though I had a pistol pointed at my head. What can anybody reply under such conditions but that which the pistol holder requires? “I love you, too.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons

 

we-love-you-so“I love you.” These are unconditional words. They are words signifying nothing. They do what they say. When spoken by lover and received by beloved they do what they say. All of lover and beloved are communicated, carried, delivered, and bequeathed by “I love you.” 

The words express violent motives too. All of me is poured out in “I love you.” Good, bad, indifferent, nothing is held back when the unconditional is voiced. “I love you,” takes everything from me, to give to my beloved. What I am and what I am not. I am opened up and my beloved is invited to come inside, to poke around, to mess me up. Real? Not real?  “I love you,” doesn’t poke into corners to find where the truth hides. It embraces the whole of the beloved: ego, obstacles, addiction, weirdness.

When I said “I love you” to my girlfriend she didn’t flinch. She did not ask, “Is this going to be easy… hard… How does it feel to be vulnerable… Am I safe?” She said, “I love you too.” We stared at love, spoke love, wedded love.

And yet, when my wife says, “I love you” the limitations of my love are exposed. “But, it’s hard God-damned work,” I say. There is always that “but” waiting to announce itself. If I am anxious. When I am exhausted. When I feel too confined.  Yes, “I love you, but…”

There he is. The inveterate playboy. The man of contradiction. “I love you”, I say, “but not you.” I love the idea of love more than you, the beloved.

“I love you” is unconditional, but (there it is again) the idea of love sets me loose to roam, to hunt, to conquer, to boast, to prove… what?

I don’t want to die. I don’t want to give away my life for another. Not even my beloved, not even if my beloved is me. I don’t want a receding hairline. I don’t want crows feet. I don’t want an irregular heartbeat. I don’t want arthritis in both my achilles tendons. I don’t want my muscles to become flaccid. I don’t want to be impotent. I don’t want anyone to remind me that I am just a man.

“I love you,” are mortal words. They are words said by her who has shared the marriage bed with me for sixteen years. She has aged with me. Though giving birth to four children has aged her more rapidly then me. Written on her body in wrinkles and varicose veins are the revelation, the judgment, “From the dust you came, and to the dust you will return.” She exposes the dark things, the secrets and the shadowy things, the fear and loathing that hides behind my every, “I love you too.” 

Through her God drives me to my knees. He bears down on me, hems me in, presses out my confession, “Lord, give me the strength to love her deeply. Stir up in me adoration for my wife that is without reservation, that I may love like Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. Bind us together in complete unity… make me Your instrument of love, that through me You may speak to her, carry her, deliver her, and preserve her in every benefit to body and soul, today and forever.”

 

 

 

Homily on Mark 15:1-5 ~ Jesus Christ, Jesus King, Jesus Lord (A Catechetical Meditation)

Jesus before PilateAnd as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole Council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. 2 And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” 3 And the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” 5 But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed. (Mark 15:1-5)

In the Name + of Jesus. AMEN. Tonight we begin to consider the events of the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is summed up in the Creed, as we confess, “…and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.” This you are to have in mind and on your lips everyday. It is given to you to strengthen and comfort you. This one who infuriated and amazed the Jewish leaders and Pilate, who is unlike any earthly king or authority, is Jesus Christ, Jesus King, Jesus Lord.

If you are asked, “What do you mean when you say, ‘I believe Jesus Christ is my Lord’?” You answer: I believe that Jesus Christ, true Son of God, has become my Lord. He has redeemed me from sin, from the devil, from death, and all evil. Before, I did not have a Lord or King. I was a slave to the power of the devil, condemned to death, tangled up in sin and blindness.

In their place has come Jesus Christ, Lord of Life, Righteousness, in Him is every blessing and your salvation. He has delivered you, a poor lost person from the jaws of hell. He has won you, made you free, and brought you again into the favor and grace of the Father. He has taken you as His own possession under His shelter and protection. He protects and keeps you. He rules over you by His righteousness, wisdom, power, life, and blessedness.

That is the sum of this little word “King” or “Lord.” This little word “Lord” means Redeemer. Jesus Christ. Jesus King. Jesus Lord. Jesus Redeemer. The one who has brought you from Satan to God, from death to life, from sin to righteousness, who preserves you in this way everyday. 

It cost you nothing. It cost Him much. God gave away and risked Himself that He might win you and bring you under this Jesus King. God became a man, conceived and born without sin. He was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. He did this to overcome your sin. He suffered, died and was buried to destroy your death. He offered His own blood for what you owed. His own precious blood covers you and washes you clean of all sin and death. All this to become your Lord. He did none of these things for Himself. He rose again from the dead, swallowed up and devoured death, and finally ascended into heaven. He assumed all authority in heaven and on earth at the Father’s right hand. Now the devil and all powers must submit to Him and lie at His feet until finally, at the Last Day, He will completely part and separate you from the wicked world, the devil, death, and sin. Everything that keeps you from Him. AMEN.

 

Learn Christ and him crucified

Excerpted from a letter by Martin Luther to George Spenlein on April 8, 1516:

324473_1519743250083_439558556_o“Now I should like to know whether your soul, tired of its own righteousness, is learning to be revived by and to trust in the righteousness of Christ. For in our age the temptation to presump­tion besets many, especially those who try with all their might to be just and good without know­ing the righteousness of God, which is most bountifully and freely given us in Christ. They try to do good of themselves in order that they might stand before God clothed in their own virtues and mer­its. But this is impossible. While you were here, you were one who held this opinion, or rather, error. So was I, and I am still fighting against the error without having conquered it yet.

Therefore, my dear brother, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to pray to him and, despairing of yourself, say: ‘Thou, Lord Jesus, art my righteousness, but I am thy sin. Thou hast taken upon thyself what is mine and hast given to me what is thine. Thou has taken upon thyself what thou wast not and hast given to me what I was not.’ Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner, or to be one. For Christ dwells only in sinners. On this account he descended from heaven, where he dwelt among the righteous, to dwell among sinners. Meditate on this love of his and you will see his sweet consolation. For why was it necessary for him to die if we can obtain a good conscience by our works and afflictions? Accordingly you will find peace only in him and only when you despair of yourself and your own works. Besides, you will learn from him that just as he has received you, so he has made your sins his own and has made his righteousness yours”

- Martin Luther, from “Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel.”

Luther on Christ Being Made Curse…

Galatians 3:13: Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.

0570064279hIs. 53:6 speaks the same way about Christ. It says: “God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

These words must not be diluted but must be left in their precise and serious sense. For God is not joking in the words of the prophet; He is speaking seriously and out of great love, namely, that this Lamb of God, Christ, should bear the iniquity of us all. But what does it mean to “bear”?

The sophists reply: “To be punished.” Good. But why is Christ punished? Is it not because He has sin and bears sin? That Christ has sin is the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the Psalms. Thus in Ps. 40:12 we read: “My iniquities have overtaken Me”; in Ps. 41:4: “I said: ‘O Lord, be gracious to Me; heal Me, for I have sinned against Thee!’ “; and in Ps. 69:5: “O God, Thou knowest My folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from Thee.” In these psalms the Holy Spirit is speaking in the Person of Christ and testifying in clear words that He has sinned or has sins. These testimonies of the psalms are not the words of an innocent one; they are the words of the suffering Christ, who undertook to bear the person of all sinners and therefore was made guilty of the sins of the entire world.

Therefore Christ not only was crucified and died, but by divine love sin was laid upon Him. When sin was laid upon Him, the Law came and said: “Let every sinner die! And therefore, Christ, if You want to reply that You are guilty and that You bear the punishment, you must bear the sin and the curse as well.” Therefore Paul correctly applies to Christ this general Law from Moses: “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree.” Christ hung on a tree; therefore Christ is a curse of God.

And this is our highest comfort, to clothe and wrap Christ this way in my sins, your sins, and the sins of the entire world, and in this way to behold Him bearing all our sins. When He is beheld this way, He easily removes all the fanatical opinions of our opponents about justification by works. For the papists dream about a kind of faith “formed by love.” Through this they want to remove sins and be justified. This is clearly to unwrap Christ and to unclothe Him from our sins, to make Him innocent, to burden and overwhelm ourselves with our own sins, and to behold them, not in Christ but in ourselves. This is to abolish Christ and make Him useless.

For if it is true that we abolish sins by the works of the Law and by love, then Christ does not take them away, but we do. But if He is truly the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who became a curse for us, and who was wrapped in our sins, it necessarily follows that we cannot be justified and take away sins through love. For God has laid our sins, not upon us but upon Christ, His Son. If they are taken away by Him, then they cannot be taken away by us. All Scripture says this, and we confess and pray the same thing in the Creed when we say: “I believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who suffered, was crucified, and died for us.

jesus-on-crossThis is the most joyous of all doctrines and the one that contains the most comfort. It teaches that we have the indescribable and inestimable mercy and love of God. When the merciful Father saw that we were being oppressed through the Law, that we were being held under a curse, and that we could not be liberated from it by anything, He sent His Son into the world, heaped all the sins of all men upon Him, and said to Him: “Be Peter the denier; Paul the persecutor, blasphemer, and assaulter; David the adulterer; the sinner who ate the apple in Paradise; the thief on the cross.

In short, be the person of all men, the one who has committed the sins of all men. And see to it that You pay and make satisfaction for them.” Now the Law comes and says: “I find Him a sinner, who takes upon Himself the sins of all men. I do not see any other sins than those in Him. Therefore let Him die on the cross!” And so it attacks Him and kills Him.

By this deed the whole world is purged and expiated from all sins, and thus it is set free from death and from every evil. But when sin and death have been abolished by this one man, God does not want to see anything else in the whole world, especially if it were to believe, except sheer cleansing and righteousness. And if any remnants of sin were to remain, still for the sake of Christ, the shining Sun, God would not notice them.

from Martin Luther’s 1535 Commentary on Galatians 3:13, volume 279-280, American Edition.

Sermon on Mark 10:32-45 ~ Jesus Speaks Us Into the Many (A Nagelite Sermon)

 

the-bible-jesus-and-disciples10:32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him,33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:32-45)

cruci_3In the Name + of Jesus. AMEN. Who dares to press on to his own death? Jesus does. The disciples hold back. They are afraid. Amazed by Him, but still afraid. Twelve disciples, twelve tribes of Israel. He who leads the twelve is the Lord of Israel. Just as He was present in the bright cloud, led Israel to the Promised Land, and entered by way of Jericho, He leads them still. That is where Bartimaeus is given his sight. “Blind Bartimaeus” sees what the Twelve failed to see. 

Jesus told the Twelve, “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests, and to the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will deliver Him to the Gentiles” (Mark 10:33). The Twelve did not get it. They did not see. What blinded them was their lust for power and the fear that they might lose out or lose their lives. First John and James, then the others. They were all angry and annoyed that they might only get third place or fourth place or even – God forbid – twelfth place. The bottom spot. They were looking to get the top spots. “One on Your right hand, and the other on Your left, in Your glory” (Mark 10:37). The brothers, John and James, just wanted to keep it in the family. The fight for who gets the best spot can wait until later, so long as one of them gets it. When we see this going on today – showing favor to relatives and family, influence-peddling, heads rolling, you scratch my back and I will scratch yours, wrestling with each other for the power spots in our church, buying and selling church offices, pastors selling themselves to the church that makes the highest bid, and churches who excuse the absence of a pastor because of the financial burden, it makes us want to puke in disgust.

Jesus did not puke. He continues on His way to Jerusalem. And He draws you along with Him, which means leaving all the putrid and enslaving stuff behind. Listen to how gentle Jesus is with His disciples: “You don’t know what you are asking,” He tells the brothers. The place is at His right hand and at His left.  We know who gets those places when Jesus is crowned, declared King, and enthroned, as John says. Those at His right and at His left are those who are crucified with Him. All three of them are numbered among the transgressors. Three sinners nailed to crosses. Three criminals executed.

One of the criminals who hung next to Jesus mocked Him: “If you are the Savior, save Yourself and us” (Luke 23:39). The other man scolded him, saying, “We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man has not done anything wrong” (Luke 23:41). The just for the unjust. Jesus is judged as the one who bears the wickedness of us all. He drinks the cup of God’s wrath on sin, before which He shuddered on Gethsemane: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). It was God’s desire to bruise Him. He put Him to grief when he made Himself an offering for sin. 

Communion-Cross-with-Jesus“Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). That’s Peter, preaching in his first letter. In Gethsemane, Peter slept “because his eyes were heavy.” At Caesarea Philippi, Peter spoke for Satan. Peter did not want a crucified Savior. In today’s Gospel he is angry and annoyed with James and John for trying to get in first for the top spots. Jesus has a long way to pull them when He, walking ahead, goes up to Jerusalem. There is death for them in this way. 

At His baptism, Jesus speaks about the cup He must drink. His death that is his to do. He then passes the cup to you. “Yes,” says Jesus, “when yours are the cup and the Baptism, you will no longer carry on like those who are not Mine. Those who are not Mine think they are great by how many people they can push around, get on top of, lording it over them, laying it on them from above, great by how many people you can make serve you.” That is not where Jesus does His thing. Jesus is at the bottom. Find the lowest spot and you will find Him. He is baked into one loaf with all sinners. All the sins you are slave to, He is slave to, judged, and damned.

Jesus spoke about it as giving His life as a ransom for many. Ransomer is Redeemer. The price is His life. For many, as in Isaiah 53, Jesus speaks His disciples into that many, as He does when He gives you His body to eat and His blood to drink. Into your mouths this morning He speaks you into that many. His blood is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins. 

Our Liturgy follows Luke at this point and says, “FOR YOU.” The phrase “FOR YOU” creates faith. “Amen,” you say, as Jesus gives into you His body and His blood. Those to whom our Lord gives His body and His blood can pray, “Vindicate me, O God.” If God tosses you out of here, He is tossing out the body and the blood of His Son — and He cannot do that.

God did the judgment on you when He did the judgment for your sins on Jesus. That death for your sin was given you. It is yours at your Baptism. His cup, His baptism — yours. There was a putting of you to death in your Baptism by words and water and a new “you” was born. A you no longer slave to sin. “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” (Galatians 2:20). It is not some dead, unmoving stuff that the Lord gives into your mouth this morning. As He forgives and enlivens you with His body and His blood, His body and His blood are alive in you in the same way as when He spoke of them as the ransom for many, FOR YOU, not to be served but to serve. AMEN. 

 

 

No God Craves A Weakling

“A lion may die of an ass’s kick.” ― Robert Browning, Robert Browning’s Poetry

photoI am a wild ass of a man. A braying saint. I’d have tried to buck Jesus off had he ridden me into Jerusalem, which explains why I was “brought violently into the kingdom,” as a friend likes to remind me. That never bothered me though. No god craves a weakling.

Weakness leads to trouble. It hurts. It cuts. It turns your soul into spiritual pasta. I can forgive anything except weakness. When I hear it slithering toward me in the darkness I lash out at it with the heel of my boot.

I lash out at it until I feel my heel connect, then I strike again and again and again. I heave all my weight into it. I rage against it until I am in physical pain. I boot it until I’m sure it’s dead. Only when I’ve crushed weakness under my foot, pulverized it to an unrecognizable mass, will I stop. No god craves a weakling, after all.

Weakness is enemy. It is a deformity. It is shameful. Man, woman, child, dog, weakness is their problem. It is… repellent.

According to the Christian faith, my faith, it is also where you will find God. He hides Himself in apparent weakness. At Golgotha, in history, on a cross, executed behind the city, a literal death. This man Jesus is what I crush under foot. He is enemy. Deformed by Roman soldiers’ punches and kicks. Spat upon by gawkers. He was mourned by people who loved Him, who watched him agonize, who heard Him scream to the heavens, “Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.” Then He died. He could not save Himself. He was too weak.

But, I believe, He was raised from death. God’s almighty strength was made complete, is fulfilled, in weakness. This God will only make Himself known to the weak. He is the deformed God, the shamed God, the man who is unrecognizable as God to the strong and proud, who enters into His kingdom violently.

On the cross Jesus hid Himself from me under the cover of violence and weakness, to reveal to me His strength and peace. Peace which I do not understand. I do not even understand my own actions, as the apostle Paul wrote, how can I understand why God would do such a thing, except to give Himself to me as gift and in the giving expose me for what I am: weak.

A lion may die of an ass’s kick, but what happens to the ass when the lion then rises from death?

He is forgiven. He is defended. He is shown that his weakness is the way through death into new life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s only fear because you hit the ground

“What do you fear, lady?” [Aragorn] asked. 
“A cage,” [Éowyn] said. “To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Christ-of-the-AbyssSomewhere along the way I got lost. Joyless pride fumed in resignation. I had to prove to people my value, my usefulness, my worth. I had no choice. Pride got me up in the morning, propped me up, and kept me awake for days at a time. But, pride is just another mask worn by fear. Fear that whispers: “You’re a fraud. It’s only a matter of time before you’re exposed. Pay attention to yourself!”  I cannot be average. Average people are transparent. I must be extraordinary. I have to be the meanest, or they will overpower me. I have to be the smartest, or they will never listen to me. I must be the most well-read. The slickest. The eloquent one. The wise one. The crafty one. I must be ready. They are coming. They will show no mercy. No forgiveness. No charity. No love. They will devour me, then spit out the bones.

Yes, “they…”

Pride-masked fear can deceive a man so that he outstretches his reach. Only when he chokes on a wad of dirt does he realize from what heights of self-delusion he’s fallen. Fear promises nothing, everything, anything, something. Fear is my only true opponent. It wears hope as a mask, yes. But hopelessness too. Fear smears on warpaint. Fear grins behind a death’s mask cast from my son’s face. It startles me awake. Judges me. Warns me. Damns me. Delights to prophecy my hellish destination. The abyss, where I will be gripped by darkness, silence, paralyzing cold, unable to turn my head to the left or right.

“God has abandoned you,” it says. “He has turned the light of His face away from you. He does not want to talk to you. Woe to you! Unless… there maybe is time, if you can just …”

pict0215-1Yes, “If I can just…”

Fear is a liar. It is treacherous. It kills everything. Yet, I am not the victim of fear. I am its producer. When I take the center, when I put myself in the place of God, the place of giving, of life and death, I have fear. Then everyone is a threat to me. Everyone wants to push me out of the center. Even God becomes a threat, an enemy to be defended against.

Jesus, on the other hand, is the man for others. As such He has no reason to be afraid, because fear looks at itself. Jesus came to do what the Father wanted Him do “for us and for our salvation.” He held to what the Father wanted and went to Calvary. There Jesus did what only He could do. He did it for me, for all of us. If we had to carry our sins fear would be the end of us.

When we listen to Jesus we learn from Him. We see in Him what God is really like for us. Fear has no place in Jesus. We don’t have to defend ourselves against God. God is for us as gift and we are for Him as dear children. So then “they” too are not a threat anymore. They are our neighbors whom we serve without fear, as we serve the man of Calvary in whom God is most God for us. All of Himself given to us in Jesus, in love, complete love which casts out fear.