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“The moment a group of Christians comes together, a synod is called or an assembly meets, they feel compelled to draw up a “political statement”.  It might be a petition to the government, or an appeal to the people, or a pastoral letter.  Over the past fifteen years these “statements” have been counted by the hundreds.  They repeat themselves endlessly!  Everyone knows full well that these statements are of no practical use.  They are not a way of influencing the government or public opinion.  Neither are they a Christian witness…

So today, it is far more important that the Church recover her sense of identity as the body of Christ, and that she draw the necessary conclusions from that fact, than that she should issue statements without weight or significance, statements which are in no sense a presence of the Kingdom, but which, more often than not, are a way of easing the collective conscience about events for which one feels responsible without being able to do anything about them…This need for statements is connected with another sign of making the Church political, namely the passion for latest thing…This passion which, in Christians as in others, come from an addiction to the press, television and radio, produces, alas, the same effects in them as in everyone else—political illusion.” (emphasis original)

(False Presence of the Kingdom, published 1963, Chapter 2, “Making the Church Worldly”, pages 47-48;  Jacques Ellul, French sociologist and he was a member of the Reformed Church in France )

Please note:  False Presence of the Kingdom was written in 1963.  Church bodies have been cranking out political statements since then and for a generation or more! I think the quote attributed to Albert Einstein is apropos: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” I think politics have only become worse with the incursion of well-meaning church pronouncements.  The result are churches that are more political, even political alone and politics have become religious. The result  is zeal grounded not in the truth, but in unredeemed desire and lust.

Christians know more about Robert’s Rules of Order than we do the Lord’s rule, say, the 10 Commandments.  I think Mr. Ellul is right that these statements do nothing and I would add, the world loves them. Why? Christians present their political opinions, which are most times in sync with the world and then the world does not have to hear, as we all do, the Word which condemns us (the Law) and the Word which saves us (the Gospel).   

How do we get off this treadmill going nowhere?  Again, Mr. Ellul:  Christians should stop our “addiction” to the media, the latest thing.  Christ’s Church is a lot older than the the latest thing! Since ’63 we have added internet, social networking and e-mail.  Churches trying to be ‘relevant’ have only become irrelevant. This non-stop thread of politics, and religion (and notice they go together but the real religion not necessarily so!) has been even a greater addiction and a long one. This is not only as Mr. Ellul wrote, a “political illusion” but an illusion which is  a delusion that we are doing something. The salt has it’s saltiness. 

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Sermon 3rd Sunday after Pentecost Concordia Lutheran Mission 17 June, 2018. Text:  Psalm 1 and St. Mark 4: 26-34 

There are 150 Psalms and the 1st Psalm is the keynote and the Psalms begin with a Beatitude:  “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked…but  his delight is in the law of the LORD…”   and the Lord shows us the way His people are to be like, “…a tree planted by streams of water”, then that man is fruitful, not so the wicked, “…like chaff that the wind blows away”, kind of unreal and quite fleeting, as fleeting as the morning dew or the last Facebook posting.  The way of the Lord is just that a “way” a road, a path.  As when the Lord came to earth, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by Me”. We stand, sit and walk in the Lord’s way, yet we are like trees planted by streams of water.  Walking and planted, how can we be both?  It seems God’s people are kind of like ents.   The ents were the trees in The Lord of the Rings who could both walk and talk, and yet took nourishment from the earth and they were slow in everything. Our nourishment is from the streams of living water of God’s Word. 

The Book of Ezekiel during the exile into Babylon. Both Ezekiel and the Lord saw in Israel dead bones. Can we see that in the church today?  Marriage between man and woman alone is denied.  Abortion is promoted. Divorce is winked at.  The poor are extolled while we worship our unappeasable appetites.  Celebrity is likewise extolled and adored while saintliness is considered antiquated. Good works as salvation via social activism is openly promoted while faith is assumed.  At church assemblies people know more about Robert’s Rules of Order, than the Lord’s rules, that is, the Law of God.  The newest fad of  ‘theology’ is read or lectured and the Bible is denied. Christians are more interested in updating their Facebook status than in improving their hearts and souls through the Word of God.  A comfortable Christ is preached but not the crucified Christ for the comfort of His forgiveness. We worship on our derrieres on padded pews and worse, to want our worship likewise padded, but not desiring the comfort of the Gospel for sinners.  As there really are no ‘sinners’, no one is wicked, except the person(s) we do not like. 

Truly,

And all man’s Babylons strive but to impart
The grandeurs of his Babylonian heart. (Francis Thompson)

The “streams of water” (vs. 3) is the Hebrew also for canals, as in the canals coming off the Tigris and Euphrates in Babylon.  The Lord will accomplish that which He purposes for His Word (Isaiah 55). He will plant it, as the Sower who cast His seed upon the earth, and water His Word even in Babylon.  Israel could live even in a foreign land for there was the living water of His Word.  As for the Church and Her Christians, “Every foreign land is their home, and every home a foreign land.”   And the foreign nature of a sinful world will affect and infect even a family, a nation, the Church but we do not need to transplant ourselves into false doctrines and ways to thrive.  All in the seed is all the power of God to grow and grow us, watered by God’s almighty hand, fed by every Word of God.

In these fast paced times, running at cyber speed, we need to slow down.  As the main ent in Lord of the Rings, Treebeard said of his name,

“…my name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say. It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time saying anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.” 

The true story of the Bible tells us our name, Christian, Whom we belong to. Growth takes time and note that most of the lessons for today are about green and growing things: a tree planted by streams of water, a sprig from a cedar that the Lord planted on Zion, seeds broadcast planted and the mustard seed. God’s Word is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.  “Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD.’ (Prov. 16: 20) “Be still and know that I am God”.  (Ps. 46: 10).  “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death” (Prov. 13: 14).  Two ways, the way of the righteous but the way of the wicked will perish

An important aside coming from today’s Gospel, as we are told about the farmer, “…sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.”  Except now we know a whole more on the how.  We know what is in a seed and it is amazing! Water, sun and time maybe are all triggers to begin the germination process with all sorts of reactions occurring in the seed.  Yet, the Lord in saying that the farmer “knows not how”, is not a statement of ignorance, but of wonder.  My Grandfather, a farmer one day said to me when I was a child, “Every year I plant my crops and ever year I am still surprised something comes up!”  With an 8th grade education Grandpa probably knew the “how” of germination, after all he first taught me about the last ice age in Minnesota that created the coal black, humus rich soil of Minnesota, but he was still amazed at germination.  Science does not explain the Creator away, but can increase the wonder and joy of what we take for granted as the Creator designed it all down to the DNA. 

“Man shall not perish for lack of information but appreciation”, wrote Rabbi Abraham Heschel.  Those seemingly inert, dead seeds come to life.  We think an atomic bomb is so powerful and it is and it is horrific and yes, and quick as one of them can change the earth in a nano-second and  we marvel at this work of men’s hands, but just think of the power in a seed, good seed, a yearly miracle of the Creator.  Seeds change the earth every year,

While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” , 

as the Lord promised after the Deluge. We do not need to sweat “climate change” but neither do we intentionally treat the Lord’s gift of the planet as a garbage can. 

The seed of God’s Word is a daily miracle.  The sower rises day and night as the seed gives life as the seed of God’s Word is eternal life.  The seed of God’s Word that attends us, keeps us. The Lord will show us when we are amiss and wandering off like the prodigal son. Then He shows us the Way of the righteous which the Way of the Righteous One who on the Cross bore our sins and is our Savior, to guide us back to Himself. The seed of God’s Word will show us the ways to love sustained in faith in Jesus Christ.

Just think of the power in a seed.  Seeds look so insignificant.  We take them for granted.  Like a mustard seed, so many are so small yet in it’s DNA, in the smallest of seeds is the life of the world.  The Gospel, the Word of God looks so insignificant in the world.  The preaching and teaching of the Gospel is considered insignificant to the world.  It is despised in the sight of those that prefer the philosophy and wisdom of this world. But when it comes to results, to spiritual life and strength, then human wisdom cannot even come into consideration. For the Word of God alone can take hold of a man’s heart and renew it entirely, change his entire life and manner of thinking.  A foreigner became a patriarch, father of nations: Abraham.  A foreigner, became the ancestor of King David:  Ruth.  A runaway murderer received the Law from God, Moses.  I could go on. And the same effect may be observed in the history of the Church. A mere handful of disciples assembled in the upper room in Jerusalem has grown to a body whose size is such as to be known to God only, although even the number of those that profess Christianity is very large. That fact is a source of constant comfort to all believers, whether they be pastors or not: their labor cannot be in vain, since they have the living Word to deal with. (Dr. Paul Kretzmann)

The living Word Himself was planted,

John 12:23-25   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.

The cross is the tree of life in the paradise of His saints in the world. He is the Vine, we are the branches, without Him we can do nothing.    

“The sower went out to sow…” “…a farmer scatters seed upon the earth…” (Mark 4). The seed is the Word (Mark 4: 14). Yes, the times are rough…but just consider those 12 Apostles going into the Roman Empire, not exactly receptive politically or spiritually to the Word of the Kingdom! Jesus sent out the 12 and except John, all were brutally martyred and the Word spread, as a seed, insignificant to the world, yet it changed the world, people, like a mustard seed, “…when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” With a lot of strange birds in it like Catholics and Lutherans, Baptists and Evangelicals and Orthodox!   “Even a seven year old child knows what the Church is: namely, holy believers, lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd.” (The Lutheran Confessions).  Now a nation may choose a ghetto for us in order to keep the Church contained, but I do not think we should ever choose our own ghettos, the Lord does not want us to.

“Jesus now pictures the life that is in the seed, as life which has the power of growth and development unto maturity in itself. … All that a man does is ‘to throw the seed on the earth,’ and that is all he can do. The seed itself does all the rest.” 

We need to do some throwing, sowing and praying the Lord of the harvest to show us ways to do so.

We cannot trust power politics to save the Church or the day any longer.  We were never suppose to.  We speak the Word, live the Word, pray the Word, love the Lord and serve and love our neighbors. We are spiritual Ents in Christ Jesus, trees planted by streams of the living water of our Baptism in the midst of our Babylons.  The Apostle Peter warned at the end of his second letter that many would deny the Word,

…which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

 

 

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From the sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Lent at Concordia Lutheran Mission,  March 28, 2011, I cited Mr. Bourdain. I have read a few of his books and watched his TV shows with gusto: one of my favorites.  I hope it helps.  The entire sermon can be found here.

Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again…”

On the Travel Network is a show by New York chef, Anthony Bourdain, entitled “No Reservations”.  He travels around the world with a main purpose being of eating and thereby introducing the particular nation and its cultures.  His show’s intro by Mr. Bourdain:

“I’m Anthony Bourdain. I write.  I travel. I eat.  And I’m hungry for more.”

For what its worth I like Mr. Bourdain.  In traveling and writing and eating, he hungers for more.  Never filled. Starving to death and dying of thirst is very clear to see but spiritual thirst and hunger is not so clearly seen. In fact, it looks good:  it looks like what we see on TV and on the net.  But note: More is never enough.  The hunger is not stilled and the thirst for life is not quenched.  It’s like the fine rock theologian sang, I can’t get no satisfaction and I’ve tried and I’ve tried. “More” is never enough. Jesus is not only speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well, or about Mr. Bourdain but you and I. 

One of Luther’s opponents, Erasmus of Rotterdam said correctly:  The heart is such a spacious thing that even 600 worlds can not fill it.  We live in a “consumer culture” in which obsolescence is planned so that the items we buy will wear out quickly so we can buy a new product.  But our fellow humans know themselves and us quite well:  we actually want more and more, so yeah, let it wear out, I want something new.  We live in a “consumer society”.  Even people are consumables in our sexual lusts and “conquests”.  Even people are consumables, stepping stones for our ambitions for ‘life’. We wear out people.  The Samaritan woman had 5 husbands and her current man was not her husband.  The Samaritan woman had quite a thirst!  Note that in the conversation there is not a hint of condemnation from Jesus.  Jesus does not condemn her because He came not to condemn the world but that the world be saved through Him (John 3:17). The world is already condemned in its sin.

“(Jesus) says that visible water can quench one’s thirst for a little while, but the unseen water cures one of thirst altogether because there is not longer for a thirst for life when immortality is gushing forth on you.” (Apollarinarius of Laodicea, page 153, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scriptures (ACCS), NT IVa)

We think a thirst for life is a virtue. It is not.  The Lord knew thirst and hunger in his stomach and was tempted to use His Deity to fill it with the power and the authority as the Creator.  He did not.  He fed on God’s Word, His food.  “(Jesus) was not thirsty for the water of this world but of the redemption of the human race.”  He came to reveal the woman’s thirst and so forgive.  He will say later that the water welling up is the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit witnesses and teaches Jesus Christ into our empty thirsting hearts.  At Jacob’s well near Sychar was the thirsting Savior in Whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwelt.  He thirsts for you.

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Lord God, heavenly Father, through the prophet Elisha, You continued the prophetic pattern of leaching Your people the true faith and demonstrating through miracles Your presence in creation to heal it of its brokenness. Grant that Your Church may see in Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the final end-times prophet whose teaching and miracles continue in Your Church through the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen

About Elisha: Elisha, son of Shaphat of the tribe of Issachar, was the prophet of God to the Northern Kingdom of Israel around 849-786 BC. Upon seeing his mentor, Elijah, taken up into heaven, Elisha assumed the prophetic office and took up the mantle of his predecessor. Like Elijah, Elisha played an active role in political affairs. He also performed many miracles, such as curing the Syrian army commander Naaman of his leprosy (2 Kings 5) and restoring life to the son of a Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:8-7). A vocal opponent of Baal worship, Elisha lived up to his name, which means “my God is salvation.”  

 Elisha was the Lord’s prophet who by His Word many great deeds (miracles) were accomplished in Israel in the midst of it’s apostasies, Israel still heard the Word.  I think the greatest “miracle” was the healing of Naaman the Syrian:  2 Kings 5. Naaman was a VIP and significantly, a Gentile and a leper.  Being a Gentile and a leper meant Naaman was unclean twice. And it be must be noted at this time in the news:  a Syrian.

Naaman the Syrian went afar to find relief and he received even more.  Naaman was the commander of the Syrian army, like  a 4 star general.   It just so happens he has a young Israelite girl taken captive as a servant.   He hears from her that there is a “man of God” who might heal him in her country:  Elisha.  General Naaman goes to Israel with his entourage and eventually comes to Elisha’s home:  it would be like a limousine pulling up to a bungalow. “If you will, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1: 40) Elisha tells Naaman to Go wash 7 times in the Jordan and you will be clean;  but Naaman responds to the prophet,

“Can’t you just wave your hand and make me clean? Are not the rivers Pharpar and Abana in Syria better than the Jordan?” 2 Kings 5:12 

Rev. Peter Leithart points out in his commentary on 2 Kings the many connections of the ministry of Elisha with water involving miracles done through him:  the water at Jericho is purified 2 Kings 2: 19-22;  water comes from nowhere to sustain armies and animals  (3:20), iron floats, 6: 1-7;  Elisha directs Jehoram to give water to Aramean soldiers, 6:22-23 and in the longest narrative involving water, Naaman the Syrian is cleansed in the Jordan River of his leprosy.   Then Rev. Leithart  concludes,

“Tertullian says, “Nunquam sine aqua Christus“–Christ is never without water and the same can already be said of Elisha.  He is a son of his heavenly Father, the creator who divides water from water and walks upon the sea.”

It is clear, Rev. Leithart points out that Naaman is insulted by the invitation to dunk himself in the Jordan River.  It is an insult to even some Christian’s sensibilities that the Lord would wash away our sins in Baptism.  Again, Rev. Leithart: 

“But that is exactly the point.  Baptism is an insult to the wisdom of the world: through the foolishness of water God has chosen to save those who believe.  Baptism is a stumbling block for the powerful, who want to do something impressive or at least have something impressive done to them.  God says, trust me, let me wash you up, and you can become a temple of the Spirit and sit at my table in my kingdom.  He says, become as a little child and believe what I say about baptism…all baptism is infant baptism”

The result of the Lord’s healing in the water is that Naaman confesses to Elisha his faith: I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.  Naaman wants to respond in the only way he probably knew how:  monetarily.  He wants to pay for his baptism. Naaman urged Elisha to accept the gift.  No, says Elisha.  Why?  The greatest miracle for Naaman given, by grace, was faith…FREELY given. But the story continues with Elisha’s servant Gehazi shaking down Naaman for money.  And Elisha’s response, the judgement of God, drives home the point:  you can not buy God’s grace and favor.  It is free. Gehazi becomes a leper as Naaman had been.

The Lord creates the faith by His Word which alone heals.  There was greater healing that day in the Jordan:  Naaman’s soul.  Just think: From an arrogant General to a humble believer saying to a foreigner, “your servant“!  From a non-believer to a worshiper of the true and only LORD in the midst of temple of Rimmon.  Elisha and Naaman show us the way to be baptized believers in a foreign land.

“If you will, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1: 40) What a simple, clean faith.  You can make me whole, You alone.  The leper (Mark 1)  knew he could not make himself clean.  Naaman did not make himself clean. Only cats clean themselves.  We are not spiritual cats!  We can not clean our souls by our actions or words.  We must turn to water and soap, outside of us, to clean our bodies and so our souls.  I speak of the Word of God.  His Word is in the water, the water of Baptism as it was for that time-conditioned sacrament for Naaman.  “If you will, you can make me clean” “I will;  be clean” (Mark 1:40) This is the I will of His sovereign grace to sinners and His  Word is His will:  Baptism.  This Baptism’s authority comes from the Name of God (Matthew 28:18 ) and the great and powerful deed, central to all human history and each and every individual’s history:  His death and Resurrection (Romans 6: 1-11)

 

Supplement:  from Luther’s Small Catechism, Holy Baptism:

As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household

First

What is Baptism?

Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.

Which is that word of God?

Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19)

Second

What benefits does Baptism give?

It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are these words and promises of God?

Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)

Third

How can water do such great things?

Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” (Titus 3:5–8)

Fourth

What does such baptizing with water indicate?

It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Where is this written?

St. Paul writes in Romans chapter six: “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom. 6:4)

From Luther’s Small Catechism © 1986 Concordia Publishing House, cph.org

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