What is Truth? John 18:33-38, 1 Corinthians 1:18, Matthew 10:34

ascension

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”  Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”  Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” John 18:33-38 (ESV)

Pilate was not a Jew and had little to no understanding of Jewish laws and customs. He would not have known all the references in the Old Testament that speak of Jesus and of His kingdom. Pilate would not have been able to comprehend that as he was condemning the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 55 he was also condemning the Lord of Life, the I AM God.

Pilate did understand the power of Caesar- of tangible, absolute, military authority. However, Roman society was very tolerant of just about every type of religious belief or observance as long as it was understood that in practical and temporal applications, Caesar was “lord of all.”  As far as religious belief went, the attitude was, “I have my truth, you have yours.” Pantheism (the worship of many gods) was the norm in Roman society.  There were gods for everything from fertility, to the oceans, to the harvest. People were thought to be strange if they didn’t indulge in worshiping a pantheon of gods.

We can identify to some degree with Roman society in that there is a smorgasbord of philosophical, religious and spiritual beliefs out there. As Americans we hold the freedom of religious exercise in high esteem if for no other reason than we don’t want to face persecution for our own beliefs.  Political correctness blurs the line even further when we are shamed or made to feel uneducated because we speak up for the truth even when it offends some people.  Truth is never made false simply because it is unpopular.

Christianity is not compatible with the postmodern concept of relativism or with the pantheistic, hedonistic, anything goes idiom of ancient Rome. The message of Christianity has never been the nebulous “find your own truth” philosophy that is so prevalent and pervasive today. Pilate had a philosophical conundrum with “the truthiness of truth,” but reality is that truth is objective.

Truth is not based on feelings. Truth is not based on expediency. Sometimes truth is painful. The way of the Cross is the way of the truth even though it seems silly to the rest of the world.  The apostle Paul teaches us: “For the word of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18 (ESV)

Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34 (ESV)

As the church year ends, we certainly are aware of the things are wrong with this world, and we groan right along with the rest of creation as it endures the weight of the curse of the Fall. We are bogged down in the world of now, and the promise of not-yet seems far away.

Truth is concrete. It is not flexible or subjective.  The truth is there is a Lord of All.  The truth is that the way to life is found only in the Way, the Truth and the Life- Jesus- the One Who went to the Cross to die to save us from sin, death and the power of evil.

 

 

January 5, 2018 Epiphany- God Runs the Show- Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:1-4, 7-12, Luke 3:16

wise men

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2 (NIV)

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.  When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born…

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. Matthew 2:1-4, 7-12 (NIV)

Few things drive people to drastic action more than threats to their authority and power. Herod, as we learn later in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 2:13-18), had no desire to come and worship the King of Kings.  Herod attempted to eliminate who he perceived as a threat to his reign while He was still vulnerable and easily dispensed with.

How do we deal with perceived threats to our authority or to our egos? It’s human nature to get defensive.  Nobody wants to be upstaged by the new talent at work or one upped by someone younger or less experienced than we are.  Nobody wants their power taken away.  We all naturally defend what we believe to be ours.  Some of us go even further and just take anything we can take by force.

The struggle over authority is as old as time. Pride, the serpent’s temptation in the Garden, convinces us that we are worthy of a position that God never intended for us. Humans will do incredibly inhumane acts in the pursuit of power.

Did Herod realize that his authority wasn’t really his authority at all, but only what God allowed him to have?

One of the most liberating and refreshing epiphanies we can have (the word epiphany means “to shine light on, to reveal”) is to discover for ourselves that God is in control. God decides who plays what role at what time.  It is God who determines the course of His world.  We may not understand how and why- and we might not agree with who He works through and when He does things, but God is the director of this dance.

Herod’s will was for Jesus to die an infant, before He could teach and preach and heal and live as an example for this world. Instead, God made a way to preserve the infant Jesus and keep Him safe until Herod was no more. (Matthew 2:19-23)

The Magi had the right attitude toward the pursuit of wisdom and power and strength. Theirs was one of humility and wonder. They truly did want to worship and adore this great King.

John the Baptist had the right attitude toward the authority and power of Jesus.

“John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Luke 3:16 (NIV)

 

October 16, 2017- The Priesthood of Believers, Called to Be “Little Christs”- 1 Peter 2:9, Matthew 16:18-19

priesthood of believers.jpg

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,  in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9 (NRSV)

(Jesus said): “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18-19 (NRSV)

In the Matthew passage, Jesus was addressing His disciples (plural) who were gathered with Simon Peter.  The name Peter means “rock.”  Even though Jesus called Simon by the name Peter, in this passage He wasn’t just addressing Simon Peter, or referring to him alone as the “rock,” but he included all the disciples as well.  The slight misinterpretation of taking the “you” of this passage to be singular rather than plural led to the establishment of the Roman Catholic papacy and of a concept called apostolic succession.

The difference between the priesthood of believers, in which every member of the Body of Christ is intended to be and invited to be the rock upon which Jesus builds His church, and apostolic succession (authority and leadership is concentrated in the hands of One Guy) is a very important distinction.

In human history it never fails that when power is concentrated in the hands of one person (dictatorship) or held by a small group of select people who share a like mind (oligarchy) that power will be misused. Absolute power, as the expression goes, corrupts absolutely.  Human beings are by our very nature, fallible (prone to error) and in need of correction.  We need community. We need to act as checks and balances on each other.  The “Great Experiment” of American government (still fallible, but in many ways self-righting) is based on the concept of government by consent of the governed, and on the premise that all people have a role in government and in the community.

In the Roman Catholic teaching of apostolic succession, the declaration to the disciples  regarding both the establishment of the Church and the authority to bind and loose (known as the office of the keys) is taken to mean a singular rather than plural “you,” and was interpreted to mean Jesus was only addressing the apostle Simon Peter and not the other disciples.  So in Catholicism, the Pope is considered to be a direct spiritual descendant of the apostle Peter, as Peter is considered to be the first Pope.  This keeps the line of authority firmly in the hands of One Guy- the Pope.

The Pope was considered to be the “Vicar of Christ.” A rule was set down making him a sort of “substitute Jesus” here on earth. The Pope was considered to be infallible, meaning he was not capable of being wrong or of making an error. Unfortunately the only person who ever lived who could claim to be infallible is Jesus Himself.

Throughout the history of the Church, (and to this day, we as Lutherans share common history and many, but not all, doctrines with the Roman Catholic Church) the doctrines of papal infallibility and apostolic succession have proved time and time again to be rather damaging. Many Popes in early Church history were thoroughly corrupt and more concerned with secular politics and building their own wealth than with being Jesus followers here on earth.

Under the government of the Popes – with One Guy in charge rather than all believers contributing to the growth and development of the Church- the Gospel got lost in a lot of man-made rules and silly superstitions. The average person couldn’t read the Bible in his or her own language.  The knowledge of Scripture was reserved for the priests and monks- who could interpret it in any way they pleased, or not interpret it properly at all.   The Church claimed authority over granting absolution (forgiveness of sins) rather than acknowledging the truth that Jesus had already paid the price for our sins, and that our forgiveness is entirely a free gift from Him.

By the time the sixteenth century rolled around, the Church was full of profiteers and others who had completely gotten out of touch with the original message of the Gospel. The small misinterpretations of the doctrines of the priesthood of believers (the call to be the Body of Christ, and to embrace Jesus as our Savior is for ALL Jesus followers, and is not determined on the authority just one human, fallible guy) and the office of the keys (the authority to bind and loose, aka: make rules for the Church) led to countless abuses of power and severely weakened the Church and its mission in the world.

This was the primary and the most radical premise of the Reformation- that ALL people are invited into the Body of Christ, and to BE the Church. It’s all about Jesus, and not about one, human, fallible guy being in control.

ALL believers have the power to interpret and live out their calling as the Holy Spirit leads them.

Jesus died on the Cross to save us from sins.  At His death the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn in two- (Matthew 27:50-52) and the Holy Spirit was set loose over all the earth. We no longer needed a priest as a mediator, because Jesus became our Mediator. We are free to go directly to Him with anything, any time, all the time.

ALL believers have the authority to be as Martin Luther put it, “Little Christs,” doing Jesus’ work here on earth- forgiving, healing, restoring, and letting the Holy Spirit work in and through us.

September 21, 2017- Love Builds a Fence?- Exodus 20:12-15

love commandments

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

 You shall not commit adultery.

 You shall not steal.

Exodus 20:12-15 (NRSV)

The first three of the Ten Commandments focus on our relationship with God. The remaining seven have to do with our life in our families and our community.

Commandments Four through Seven have to do with our actions toward others as well as our heart toward others. There is an old saying that “good fences make good neighbors.”  This is why God gives us boundaries regarding our relations with others.  The Commandments give us healthy boundaries for living in community.

Honoring our parents means that even though they may be flawed, we must at the very least acknowledge that they have given us birth and life. We are also commanded to respect their authority and the values that they have passed down to us. The Fourth Commandment is one of the few that carry a promise- God promises that we will retain our inheritance that He has given us if we honor our parents and respect those in authority as it is God Who has put them in authority over us.  Should we rebel against authority and violate the law, we open ourselves up to the consequences that disobeying civil law can bring.

In Luther’s Large Catechism he expands upon honoring and obeying the temporal authorities in his explanation of the Fourth Commandment:

“The same also is to be said of obedience to civil government, which (as we have said) is all embraced in the estate of fatherhood and extends farthest of all relations. For here the father is not one of a single family, but of as many people as he has tenants, citizens, or subjects. For through them, as through our parents, God gives to us food, house and home, protection and security. Therefore since they bear such name and title with all honor as their highest dignity, it is our duty to honor them and to esteem them great as the dearest treasure and the most precious jewel upon earth.” – Luther’s Large Catechism (on the Fourth Commandment)

The Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Commandments (Luther’s explanations of them in the Large Catechism can be found here) have to do with boundaries in our relationships with individuals.

The Fifth Commandment tells us to refrain from murder (the premeditated and purposeful taking of a human life) but it also means we are called to lift up those around us by offering help when we can. As Jesus followers we are called to be life-bringers and to shine His light in the world.  Our words and actions should help bring life to the world rather than death and despair to others.

In matters of sexuality, which are addressed in the Sixth Commandment, we are commanded to keep our expressions of sexuality within the marriage bond. As evidenced in society and in the tabloids (as well as in our own personal lives) we see what becomes of people and of families when this boundary is broken.  God puts a boundary around His good gifts of sexual expression- not because they are “dirty” or “wrong” or “bad,” but so this physical and spiritual connection is reserved for a husband and wife in a lifelong commitment to each other.

When that bond is broken, the fallout reaches far and wide- there is financial and emotional hardship for children who must grow up without the benefit of a father (or mother,) possible transmission of horrible (sometimes even fatal) diseases, unplanned pregnancies, lost friendships, and public scandals.  While God assures us that there is nothing that can separate us from His love in Christ, (see Romans 8:38-39) the spiritual and emotional consequences of adultery are deep and lasting and difficult to overcome. God gives us this command for fidelity in marriage (and abstinence outside of marriage) for our own protection, because He knows how devastating overstepping this boundary can be for ourselves and our families and communities. He loves us and He wants to spare us this pain.

The Seventh Commandment appears to be as straightforward as can be, but there is a deeper message in this Commandment also. God tells us: “Don’t steal.” But how do we steal from others?  Obviously violating civil laws against robbery constitute stealing, when we take tangible objects or property that belongs to others, but we steal in other ways too.  We steal when we commit fraud against others, such as failing to give someone an honest wage for honest work- or when we accept wages for work we do not do.  We steal when we fail to help someone when it is in our power to do so.  We steal when we treat other people harshly without cause- we steal their peace and joy.

We know that there is both Law and Gospel throughout the Commandments, and all through Scripture. The Commandments are given to us because God loves us. God gives us boundaries for our own- and for others’- protection.  In these Commandments God gives us the gift of respect for authority so that there is order in society, the ability to have and share life, the gift of intimacy and fidelity, and the confidence that we may retain what belongs to us.

July 25, 2017- “You’re Not the Boss of Me!,” Mark 10:42-45

not boss

So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.  For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45 (NRSV)

As someone who has a grandchild who is soon to be a kindergartner, it is fun to observe how black and white her sense of justice and fairness can be. It’s either all or nothing to a five year old, and it can be a challenge to show her how to negotiate solutions with others and to learn to meet in the middle.

She does understand the chain of command very well though. She knows that only certain adults have the authority to set her boundaries and to set standards for her behavior. One of her favorite expressions when another child tries to tell her what to do is, “You’re not the boss of me!”  She knows that other children don’t have authority over her, and she doesn’t abide bullies for long.  Good for her.  Being a bully toward others only garners very short term, if any, results.

Jesus was trying to explain true leadership to His disciples. Being a good leader has nothing to do with wielding power over others.  It has everything to do with serving others, encouraging others, and being the good example for others.

Good leadership involves sacrifice. How can a leader expect others to meet their potentials if he or she is not willing to live out the example?  Who really wants to work longer hours, or go above and beyond the minimum requirements for a boss who cuts out early to play golf, who is rude and condescending, or who simply dictates from afar?

Good leadership involves empathy. If we know what is involved in sacrifice and serving, then we should have compassion and empathy for those around us as they strive to live out their vocations.  Jesus was as human as we are.  When his friends were hurting, He grieved.  When His friend Lazarus died, He wept.

Good leadership involves working together with others. We should be willing to help and to model best practices. Sometimes the best solutions for everyone require us to brainstorm and find the best compromise.

Good leadership calls for mutual respect, and to regard the needs of others before our own needs.

How are we being good leaders- by being good servants- today?

March 16, 2017 – The Master’s Voice- Matthew 7:28-29

master's voice

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one with authority, and not as their teachers of the Law.” Matthew 7:28-29 (NRSV)

A day in modern life is a cacophony of voices. Voices that cry out, ”Buy this,” ”Try this,” “Do this but not that.” “This will kill you,” “This will make you thin!” “This will make you live longer,” and so on.   Sometimes the whole business of living seems boiled down to a montage of early morning infomercials.  Everyone is touting the latest and greatest “Product You Have to Have,” when in reality we can do quite well without any of those infomercial wares. Except maybe that bacon bowl thing.  Now that involves bacon, so it might be useful…not so much.  Do we really need mac and cheese served in a bacon bowl?

Sometimes we get so lost in the quest for the latest and greatest novelty or panacea that we forget that the best way to a full and meaningful life is to love God, love others, and live simply. Instead of listening to the barrage from the TV or the computer it is far better to simply listen to the still, calm voice of the Spirit Who speaks to our hearts when we take the time to just let Him in.

The people in Jesus’ day had their cacophonies of voices just like we do. They had teachers who taught that salvation could be had by completing pilgrimages, or by doing a series of rituals, or by lining certain people’s pockets.  They had teachers who proclaimed doom and gloom and that the sky was falling.  They had teachers who condemned certain groups based upon their belief systems or customs or ethnic heritage.  Different millennium, but we get the same junk messages.  The French have a saying, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The difference between all the noisome voices of false teachings, static broadcasts, braggarts and blowhards, and the voice of Jesus is that His voice is the Master’s voice.

(Jesus said): “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” John 10:3-4 (NRSV)

Discernment-especially in the sense of being able to tell what is real from what is false, is a gift from the Holy Spirit. Do we hear the distracting voices all around us, or do we listen to the Holy Spirit and discern the voice of Jesus?

Jesus is the real deal. He is not out to line His pockets, or to bask in the attention of the crowds, or to enjoy the power trip.  Even the religious teachers of Jesus’ day were so mired in adhering to the letter of the Law that they lost the heart of the Law.  It’s easy to get so concerned with jots and tittles that the love behind the Law gets lost.

The Master’s voice is different from all the noise we hear coming from the world. His voice overrides all the static coming from man-made experts and charlatans who are everywhere on the airwaves.

May we all listen for, and take refuge in the Word. May we all know and love the Master’s voice.