Tuesday, August 30, 2011

In the Word… of the Word

The Word of God describes us Christians as people who are in the world but not of the world.

What does this mean?

It means that we are in the Word and of the Word.

It means, as is plain to see, that we are flesh and blood people walking around this planet just as every non-Christian is. And it means, as is not as plainly seen, that we are citizens of another realm, unlike every non-Christian.

That’s why we are in the Word and of the Word rather than being of the world simply by virtue of being in the world.

Being in and of the Word means that we are people who live in the world but of the Word.

The world shows us what we see. The Word shows us what we do not see. It’s plain we are in the world, not so easy to see that we are of the Word.

Being in and of the Word means that we live in the world as God has called us to live for eternity. We don’t simply live in the world as non-Christians do. We live in the world for the sake of eternity.

God is not of the world. He created the world. But He was in the world because He became flesh, entering the world. He was never of the world, always being of the Word. It was the Word by which the world came into being.

It was by the Word that salvation was brought about. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus, in the world but not of the world. Jesus, redeeming us who are in the world so that we may not be of the world.

Redeeming us so that we may be of the Word even as we live in the world. When we are called to our heavenly home we will no longer be in the world even as we will still be in and of the Word.

Being in the Word means that while we live in the world we read and study and grow in God’s Word. Being of the Word means that while we live in the world we are not of the world but of the Word, flesh and blood people who are in Christ, the Word made flesh.

In Baptism things of this world were used not to take you out of the world but to transport you from being of the world. In water and Word you were brought into a new realm in which you became of the Word.

In the Lord’s Supper things of this world are used not to remove you from your daily life but to transform your daily life. You are very much in the world as you partake of bread and wine and take into your mouth the Body and Blood of Christ. But it is in this that you are very much not of the world but rather of the Word—the Word made flesh that is given you to eat and drink.

Being in and of the Word is not just things like devotions and Bible Study. Those things are vital. Devotions and Bible Study are similar to food. Food sustains you. You are sustained so you can live.

But food is not the thing. Living is. Being in and of the Word is being in the Word so that you may be of the Word.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Get Out of the Way

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Commemoration of Augustine of Hippo, Pastor and Theologian
August 28, 2011
Romans 12:9-21

If someone is in your way, you might want to try a polite approach, like: Excuse me, may I please get by? Telling them to get out of the way probably won’t endear them to you.

Having said that, I have some advice for you as a Christian: Get out of the way! I know it’s not exactly polite, but this is no time for manners. You are in the way and you need to get out of the way.

Jesus told Peter as much when he was in the way. In fact, me telling you to get out of the way is very polite compared to Jesus telling Peter to get behind Him, and topping it off with calling him Satan.

If you’re in someone’s way in the grocery store you expect politeness from the person requesting that you move. But God isn’t going to waste time with politeness when it comes to you being in His way.

You can know that the reason He does this is because He loves you. When you are polite to someone it’s not so much out of love for them as it is common decency and respect. But love is a whole other matter. Love at times calls for compelling action toward another person. Love always calls for you doing what is very best for them.

They may not see it that way. They may think you have no respect for them or you’re not a caring person. In fact, when you truly love someone you are doing for them what they most need being done.

So Jesus calls Peter Satan. He tells him to get out of the way.

It was the same with the apostle Paul. He too was told by our Lord the very same thing. Saul, Why are you persecuting Me? Get out of the way. You’re going against Me. When Peter repented, he saw the truth of Jesus’ words and was grateful that Jesus didn’t tip-toe around trying to be nice. He was grateful that Jesus loved him, straight out telling him to get out of the way. When Paul repented he realized that Jesus was right, he had been going against Jesus, not serving God as he thought he had been. Get out of the way, Paul, you do not have your mind on the things of God but on the things of men.

That’s why Paul says what he does in the Epistle reading. What he’s saying is, Get out of the way. Don’t be who you naturally are, be who you are in Christ. Don’t insert yourself into the equation. Get out of the way.

Another way of saying this is, Don’t take the easy way out. A challenge is set before you. Take it. Don’t take the easy road, walk the hard road. It was easy for Peter to react—Jesus, you’re Lord and Savior! There’s no way you’re going to suffer and die! Jesus said, No, you’re taking the way of man, not the way of God. It was easy for Paul to persecute Christians. Jesus said, what you’re really doing is going against Me.

So in the Epistle reading Paul spells it out. What you do as a Christian is hard. Don’t just react. Don’t let your emotions control you.

Go instead on what God tells you. In the case of Peter it was Jesus standing right before him. In the case of Paul it was Jesus speaking directly to him while he made his way to Damascus. In our case there’s a lot poured into these short verses in Romans 12 in our Epistle reading.

We must be active about this. It’s hard. We can’t take the easy way out and just do whatever feels right to us. Love must be genuine. When you love others, love them in humility. Do what is best for them. Do for them as Christ has done for you.

In our society we’re frequently exhorted to be tolerant of those with opposing views. Fortunately, you can still find in society and popular culture the ideal that evil is actually evil. It’s bad, it’s wrong. In no way should we be tolerant of evil. We need to abhor it. We need to actively be against it. We can’t just sit by and let be what will be. This is the hard way of the Christian life.

At the same time we need to hold fast to what is good. In society you’ll find many who will say that tolerance is a virtue. We’re impressed upon to hold fast to being tolerant of others, because who are we to say that they’re wrong? The problem here is that we are so twisted in what we think is good that we are ready to stand up for what is in actuality evil.
Peter could not conceive of Jesus being Lord if it meant suffering and dying at the hands of wicked religious leaders. But in fact, Jesus couldn’t be Lord unless it meant that. Paul couldn’t stand to watch Christians overthrowing the true religion of the Old Testament. In fact, Jesus couldn’t continue the true religion of the Old Testament without fulfilling it in Himself.

The world and our own sinful flesh will show us the way of the world, which is actually the way of Satan. But in the written Word of God, we have the way of God. It is the way of the cross. It is the way of humility. In this way we hold fast to what is good. What is good is what comes out of suffering, death, and resurrection. What is good comes from the cross and the empty tomb. What we hold fast to is what Jesus accomplished for the world in order to put behind Him and us the way of Satan, which is the way we try to go that is apart from Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.

This must be actively done, it is not easy. It’s not easy to love one another with brotherly affection. There are too many idiosyncrasies our brother and sister Christians have for us to love them in this way. There are too many things they say that get on our nerves, or offend us, or frustrate us. It’s much easier just to try to get along with them. The hard way, the way of the cross, the way of God, is to get out of the way and actually love them, to actually have brotherly affection for them.

It’s counterintuitive to go through the church directory and think about ways you can show honor to them where you actually place them above yourself. You know good and well that some of them listed in there are not as worthy as you are. But the hard road is to put yourself at the back of the list. To place everyone else in front of you. To consider how each and every one of them should be put to the top of the list. This is hard. It takes active and willful work on your part to think of them as Christ thinks of you.

The easy way out is to do this like most people do their New Year’s resolutions. They go strong the first couple of weeks in January and gradually they fade out. Don’t let your zeal for God’s way, the way of the cross, flag. Each day is a new day. Each day is a new challenge. Each day you are presented with the easy road and the hard road. Take the hard road. Take the road that goes the way of the cross, the road that Jesus walked, that led to suffering and death. The road that passed through resurrection and walking away from the grave. Hold fast to what is good, don’t get weary in it. Honor others as if you were deserving only of doing that, and don’t slip into thinking that you really know who is more worthy of honor.

Humility is the order of the day. It’s not just that you need to be humble. It’s that Christ, the Lord of all, is humble. The way of God is His way, the way of Christ. You must get out of the way. Be fervent in spirit. Peter rebuked Jesus. He was fervent all right. But he was fervent in the things of man. Be fervent in the things of God, the things the Holy Spirit gives you in the written Word.

Serving the Lord flows out of this. Not that that makes it easy. So many times in life the way our Lord calls us to serve is in ways in which we’re set to serve God in some spectacular way and He thrusts us into a setting where we quietly or humbly are called to serve. It’s hard. It’s the way of the cross. You must get out of the way.

Have you ever been going along, and things were actually going along pretty well, and then God threw you a curve? You’re now wondering what’s going on. What’s He doing to you? What is He trying to tell you? Well, He’s not throwing you a curve at all. It’s just that you have your mind on the things of man, not of God. You need to get out of the way and rejoice in hope. In hope you have what you really need. In hope you see what God sees. It’s the way of the cross, the way that is hard, the way that doesn’t seem very appealing when the world is going along enjoying things, giving no thought to the more important matters of salvation and forgiveness.

This is especially true in tribulation. Be patient. This is such a hard thing that it probably bears repeating; be patient in tribulation. This is one of those things that is so against our nature that it’s really what Paul says next that is our only hope for being patient in tribulation: be constant in prayer. Now you’re probably thinking: How does that help? That actually makes it worse! How are you possibly able to be constant in prayer?

This is actually an excellent way to show us that all of this is the work of God. What He calls us to He accomplishes. He doesn’t go around telling us what to do and send us on our way. He brings it about. Jesus walked the way of the cross, He continues to walk that way of the cross through us. It’s hard. It was for Him too. Suffering and dying on the cross for the sin of the world wasn’t easy. But it was the way of God and the way of love toward us.

Our lives are lives of prayer. When we are hammered by temptation, beaten by troubles, weary of the way of the cross, God is calling us to repentance, telling us to get out of the way. It’s much easier to give in to our feelings when we’re suffering and feel sorry for ourselves. In the same way that Peter said, This can’t happen to You Lord!, we say to the very same Lord, this can’t happen to me! It’s hard to get out of the way and walk the way of the cross, the way of God, the way of Christ; which so often is the way of trials, molding us into humble children of God who trust solely in Christ.

But it’s not just that we’re supposed to suffer. It’s not that God wants our walk in His way to be a drag. No sooner does Paul counsel us to endure suffering and continue in prayer than he exhorts us to contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. If you’re still stuck on yourself, not able to see beyond your own situation, take a look outside your own little world. Your fellow saints in Christ are in your same boat. They’re in need also. They struggle too. They may be treading water also. They’re walking the same path you are, the way of the cross. This life is hard for them too.

But they have you. You are there for them. There’s no excuse here for you. You can’t say that you have your own problems. One of the ways God helps you deal with your own struggles is by giving you the opportunity to serve others. To help them in their needs. By now you probably know how this works—it’s not easy. It’s hard. It’s tough to get your mind off yourself, get out of the way, and start serving others. Especially when you’re inundated with your own problems. But it’s the way of God, the way of Christ.

This way of looking at your life, your trials, your struggles with God calling you to this way of life, is embodied in Christ. There’s no other way to get out of the way than to fall before Him in repentance and see in Him alone the only way. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. This can only be done through Christ. It is what He did in going the way of the cross, suffering at the hands of His enemies. It is now our way, seeing now in those who persecute us, people who are in need of forgiveness just as we are.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. This is what Christ has done. God has become flesh. He has gone through what we go through. He knows. He knows what you’re going through. He’s been there. We can be there for others as well. So much of this comes about naturally when you look at others as if they’re Christ. In humility you see that in the same way that He humbled Himself for the world, you may humble yourself for others. This is especially important when you have been wronged. Those who have wronged you are most in need of your loving them in humility.

All of this takes active work. To succumb to your reactive feelings is the easy way and ultimately the way of Satan. Get out of the way. God is coming through and He’s intent on bringing you along on His way. It’s the way that proceeds from His having gone to the cross and stepping out of the tomb. It’s the way in which you now take up your cross and follow Him. It’s the way in which He never ceases to love you and help you and sustain you.

Get out of the way. Look not to what your circumstances tell you or your feelings or the world. Look to the font, the place where God tells you who you are: a sinner who was drowned and now lives in new and eternal life. Look to this altar where Jesus continues His journey, His way; where His body and blood that was given and shed on the cross is given and shed for you for your forgiveness. This is His way and He has made it your way. Amen.


Sunday, August 21, 2011


Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Congregational Retreat, Big Bear, California
August 21, 2011
Romans 11:33—12:8

The person sitting next to you might wonder why you're doing it, but you could reach over and touch him or her. But you don’t have to do that to know that he or she is real. You can see them. You can hear them. And yes, you could touch them.

This weekend we have been exploring the real world magic of God. C.S. Lewis was blessed with a mind that exists on a higher plane probably than all of us combined. So if God enlists that in the effort of apologetics and getting the Gospel out to the world, we’ll gladly take it. You and I may not be as brilliant as he was but we are no less capable or ready to do what he has done.

Do you believe me? To see it all you have to do is look at little Lucy. In some ways she is the hero of the story. A little child, after all, shall lead them. She is the one who leads us into the world of Narnia through a wardrobe. It is through unlikely avenues that God shows us what we really need to know. We don’t need to discuss the reality of the world she had entered. When we read the book or see the movie we know we’re being told a story.

But stories are no less real. Stories are as real as anything. A story may be told of something that hasn’t actually occurred. But the truth communicated through that story is as real as your neighbor telling you that she went to the grocery store to buy milk. Why she would tell you that I don’t know, but we’ve all found ourselves being bored while others recount details of their lives while we patiently listen to them.

Part of the brilliance of C.S. Lewis is that he knew that the truth he was getting across was more real than the account of your neighbor going to the grocery store. There’s nothing compelling there. But in Narnia? In Narnia the ultimate truth of life is being told to us. Granted, it’s in the form of a children’s story. But does this make it any less real? Any less compelling? His depictions of the core events of salvation as well as the experiences we sinners have are powerful means by which we can look at our own lives and say, Wow, that’s what I see in my own life. We get wrapped up in the experiences of the characters and before we know it we’re identifying with them and gaining a deeper understanding of what’s going on in our own lives.

Who doesn’t start squirming when they see Edmund struggling with his conscience but rapidly dissolving under the enticing taste of Turkish Delight. Who has not at one point begun to doubt as Lucy did that maybe she’s wrong and everyone else is right. That’s the power of story.

God has a story to tell. It’s real. As with any good story, He brings you into it. He doesn’t lay it all out for you. He doesn’t explain every detail to you so that you can have a clearly delineated understanding of how it all is entirely rational. He simply tells you the story and invites you into it. Just as Lucy entered the wardrobe and found herself in a magical world, we are invited into the wardrobe through the Gospel and are shown the majesty and the mystery of God and His love for us in Jesus Christ. Nobody in Narnia explained to Lucy how it all could be true what she was seeing and experiencing. They simply showed her. She believed it even though it went against her normal experience.

The Word of God says that the spiritual and eternal things must be taken on faith. The things you see and touch can be taken on reason. But the thing of it is, these are the things that aren’t lasting. They were meant to be. But in our departing from God’s Word and consequent fall into sin, God’s good creation began to decay. He will restore His creation. But that will be in the future. That must be believed on faith. The things in store for us are actually more real than what we see and touch because they are eternal and will not decay.

But we can’t see them. It doesn’t appear that we experience them. But we ought to see them as real. We ought to believe that they are the most real things there are. In Narnia Aslan brought about his salvific work through means. He used the things of the world he created to bring about his salvific work. It wasn’t above him to use ordinary things. That’s what God does for us. He works through ordinary things, the things we normally think of as the things that are most real, to bring about for us things that are in actuality more real.

With simple water He brings about new life. With ordinary bread and wine He brings about forgiveness. With the proclamation of words He brings about the sustaining grace we so desperately need. None of this is magic. It’s perfectly real. It’s astonishingly simple. Even so, it’s never simplistic. God is too awesome to be reduced to simplistic understanding. But His ways are assuredly simple. Himself becoming a man. Himself giving us bread and wine so that we may partake of His body and blood. Himself drowning our sinful nature in the waters of Baptism. Not magical by any means but assuredly fantastic!

What all of this has to do with you is two things. One is what it has to do with you personally. Secondly is what it has to do with you in your interacting with others. For you, it’s what Lucy and her siblings experienced. They were given a gift by Aslan. God has given you a gift in His Son. What it means for you when you are in relationship with others and interact with them is that you are not just your own person. You are a child of God. You have the opportunity to tell others about Jesus.

All of this really comes down to what you think of Jesus. The people in the Gospel reading were clearly in a fantasy world. Was Jesus John the Baptist? Jeremiah? Some other prophet? But is there any difference today? Aren’t there still many people who believe that Jesus is someone other than who He says He is? What about us? With Peter we profess the He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And with Peter we give thanks that this is not some fantasy world we live in. We don’t believe in fairy tales, we don’t hold to myths. Who we believe Jesus is has not been revealed to us by flesh and blood but by God the Father.

Here’s the way Paul says it in the Epistle reading: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?” For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.

Do you understand everything God has given you in His Word? No. But does that make it any less real? No, on the contrary it shows how real it truly is.

The one we cannot comprehend has come down to us. The one who is above us has become one of us. The one who is a Lion was led as a sheep to the slaughter. And by that very taking our place, by that conquering our sin in His suffering and death, by His victory over the grave, behold, the Lion has conquered.