He made Himself nothing

What a sermon we had on Palm Sunday to introduce Holy Week!  Pastor Douthwaite preached on Philippians 2:5-8:  “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

He made Himself nothing.

The word used there is the word ekenosen, which means He emptied Himself. Some Bibles translate it that way, and so its important to know what that means, and what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that the Son of God left His godness behind in heaven when He became a man. It doesn’t mean He left His power and glory in heaven when He became a man. It doesn’t mean that when He was arrested and manhandled by the Roman soldiers, when He stood before Pilate, and when He hung on the cross, He was helpless and couldn’t do anything about it. He could have. Easily. The same Son of God who healed folks of every disease and sickness, who knew the thoughts and hearts of men, who could command all creation by His Word, whose glory shone in His transfiguration, and who had power over death – that is the Jesus of the Passion. The Son of God who willingly didn’t use all that power when it came time to save Himself. He made Himself nothing.

Yet perhaps we could go even farther than that, if that’s possible – He made Himself less than nothing. Taking upon Himself the sin of the world, He was the greatest sinner ever. Whoever you usually think has that title, the most evilest person you can think of, you’re wrong – it’s Jesus. He is the worst idolater, the worst unbeliever, the worst hater, the worst scoundrel, the worst murderer, the worst adulterer, the worst thief, the worst liar, the worst cheat, the worst everything . . . because He’s got all your sins and all my sins and all the sin of all the people out there, on Him.

Unfair? No. He took them. He wanted them. So that they would be on Him and not on you. So that they would be held against Him and not against you. So that He would be forsaken for them and die for them and not you.

He made Himself nothing.

The king becomes a servant. God becomes man. The One subject to none makes Himself subject to all. The author of life dies. The glory of God is hung on a cross.

Why? For you.

That’s what this day, and all this week, is all about. With all that you hear today, all that you hear this week, the thought to put in your mind is this: He did all this for me. For me. Not just for the world. For me. He made Himself nothing, to make you something. To make you a child of God. And that was worth it. For the Father, that was worth sending His Son. For Jesus, that was worth all the pain and agony and death. You were worth it. You may not be anything in anybody’s eyes; maybe not even in your own eyes. But you are in God’s eyes.

Maybe you think you’re nothing and that’s why you spend so much time trying to make yourself something. But there is simply nothing greater you can do or make yourself than what Jesus has made you: a child of God. That gives you more value than anything else in this world. And God has done that. He said it to you when you were baptized: You are now My beloved Son.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Palmarum/Passion Sunday Sermon.

April Fool’s Day round-up

What April Fool’s jokes did you find on the internet?  Here is one:  Richard Branson headed to ‘center of Earth’ – Yahoo! News Canada.

The Final Two

One of my alma maters, the University of Kansas, will play in the NCAA basketball championship game tonight against the University of Kentucky!  What is your prognosis?

Kansas, Kentucky to Meet in Power-Program Final – ABC News.

Holy Week radio

The talk radio show Issues, Etc., has a great line-up for Holy Week.  This would be a good time to check it out and to see what the big deal is about that program.  It airs live from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Central Time and can be heard on the web, as well as a number of radio stations across the country.  (Go to the website for a list of stations that carry it.)  The daily programs are archived on the website, so you can listen to them at your leisure.  (And check out the iPhone and Android apps, the latter of which is a creation of Michael O’Connor, who goes to our church.)

Here are the topics and guests for each day of Holy Week:

Monday, April 2–The Events of Holy Week.  Dr. Paul Maier of Western Michigan University

Tuesday, April 3–The Last Supper According to Luke’s Gospel.  Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary

Wednesday, April 4–The Last Words of Jesus from the Cross.  Pr. Bill Cwirla of Holy Trinity Lutheran-Hacienda Heights, CA

Thursday, April 5–The Passion of Christ.  Dr. Norman Nagel of Concordia Seminary

Friday, April 6–The Hymn, “O Sacred Head Now Wounded.”  Pr. Will Weedon of St. Paul Lutheran-Hamel, IL

Saturday, April 7–Luther on the Passion of Christ.  Pr. Paul McCain of Concordia Publishing House

via Steadfast Lutherans » Issues Etc. — Talk Radio for Holy Week.

For those of you who are fans, what would you say is so special about Issues, Etc.?  What would you say to convince someone–say, who is not a Lutheran–to tune in?

Lutheranism–and the Gospel–in depth

On the surface, Lutherans often seem placid and easy-going, solid folks who don’t make much of a stir.  And yet their theology consists of stormy clashes between Law and Gospel, glory vs. the Cross, the dark struggles of anfechtungen, the ecstasy of grace.   Lutheran spirituality centers on things as ordinary as going to church, going to work, and spending time with one’s family.  And yet, there is an unfathomable depth to what Lutherans see in the Cross, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Two Natures of Christ, and the Word of God.  Underlying the conservatism are teachings that are deeply radical.

Larry, frequent commenter on this blog, alerted me to this book by Steven D. Paulson entitled simply  Lutheran Theology.  It’s part of a series demonstrating the ways different traditions “do” theology.  But this is far from a dry textbook.  As Amazon reviewer Judith Guttman says, “If this book doesn’t knock your socks off, you aren’t paying attention. It is electrifying, exciting — am I talking about a theology book? Yes.”

Paulson says that we usually think of religion in terms of a “legal scheme,” a set of moral assumptions involving award and punishment with everybody getting what they deserve.  The Gospel just sets all of that aside.  So does God’s wrath, actually, which condemns completely and without proportion.  (He says that Luther as a monk goes far beyond the New Atheists in his resentment of a God whose wrath against sin seems so unfair.  The atheists react to God’s wrath by denying God’s existence, an act of wish-fulfillment Luther did not indulge in.)  But then God becomes flesh in Christ, who though innocent “becomes” sin and takes the wrath of God into Himself, giving us sinners the promise of salvation, which breaks into our lives through the voice of a preacher.  The “legal scheme” is completely set aside, though we–including many theologians in the history of Lutheranism–keep trying to re-introduce it, though since we cannot fulfill it of ourselves, we need constant recourse to Christ’s promises.  And  the consequent Christian life is also outside the “legal scheme,” having to do not so much with rules and score-keeping but with a free, spontaneous, and grace-filled love of neighbor.

As I read this book on my Kindle for Lent I found myself bookmarking virtually every page, so packed it was with illuminating insights.  Sample it yourself with the Amazon’s “Look inside” feature.  Another Amazon reviewer, David F. Sczepanski, was kind enough to type out some excerpts:

Lutheran theology begins perversely by advocating the destruction of all that is good, right, and beautiful in human life. It attacks the lowest and the highest goals of life, especially morality, no matter how sincere are its practitioners. Luther said the “sum and substance,” of Paul’s letter to the Romans “is to pull down, to pluck up, and to destroy all wisdom and righteousness of the flesh.” (1)

This is no ordinary philosophy about life, nor is it ordinary Christian religion. For thousands of years Christians routinely described life using an allegory of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt. They said life in general, and Christians in particular, were on an exodus out of vice into virtue. They were on a journey away from badness toward goodness. But Luther bluntly said faith is not a transition from vice to virtue, it is “the way from virtue to the grace of Christ.” (2)

`I forgive you’…Luther taught and demonstrated that these simple words give absolute, indubitable certainty, and no one is more dangerous than a person who is certain. The certainty was not based on human self-certainty; it was the opposite of that. It was the certainty of forgiveness because of what the Son of God did by taking the sins of the world upon himself and defeating them at the cross. The decisive cosmic battle of God against sin, death, and devil was already waged and won when Christ was raised from the dead to make a new kingdom of people who live with no law, nowhere to go, and nothing to accomplish. They were simply–free. (7)

God is always and ever God whether someone believes in him or not… God who is above time and space now enters the world with a steely determination…the sinner’s justification…so that the stories of God’s arrival to sinners make the great tales of Scripture (Abraham, David, Mary) and our own lives like Augustine’s Confessions. (55)

…the heart is not made for itself; it is made to go outside of itself and cling to that which speaks to the heart. Humans are therefore “hearing” creatures whose heart is always clinging to some word or other. (56

For Luther, fear…must be taught only so that it can be extinguished so that one will flee from this God [of wrath], not to him. We are to fear God who has no words (unpreached), and run from him to the place where he has given himself in words [of promise] — that is to the preacher. Only there do fear and wrath end in Christ incarnate as he gives himself to sinners… What is life like before a preacher arrives? Life is filled with voices that are “passing judgment” (Rom 2:1)…so that life comes under constant judgment. The judge could be outside one’s self like a father telling you to live up to your potential, or a written law that says, “Thou shalt not steal.” The judge can also be inside, called a conscience, holding itself to a standard of judgment. Life without a preacher is life with a knotted collection of voices that either accuse or excuse, but in either case end up used in the service of self-justification. Because judgment stands ever at hand…life becomes a search for an escape. (69)

Each time sins are forgiven it is experienced as a breakthrough, a miracle, a new and unheard of redemption that sets a person free — body and spirit — from an oppressive force. (89)

The crux of the issue in forgiveness is what happens to a sin which was real, actual, and loaded with consequences in many peoples’ lives… (90)

Sin is deep in the flesh; it is material, and it does not go away by wishing it so. It is not an idea that can be thought away, it is not a feeling that can be gotten over through great effort, it is a thing that corrodes life’s goods like debt; sin infects healthy life like a virus and it must be disposed of. (90)

Forgiveness first negates — by violently removing trust put in the wrong place. Then it puts faith in the proper place, which creates something new out of nothing… (90)

via Amazon.com: Lutheran Theology (Doing Theology )) (9780567550002): Steven D. Paulson: Books.

Earl Scruggs and other influential musicians

Remember my brother Jimmy?  He  is an accomplished bluegrass musician, among his many talents, and he sent me this notice and this suggestion:

I have an idea for your blog. I don’t know if you have heard, but Earl Scruggs died yesterday at age 88. I submit that he is one of the most influential musicians of our generation. He defined how one is supposed to play a five string banjo today, and bluegrass music did not really did not become bluegrass until Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe’s band in 1945. In many respects, he can be seen as the co-founder of bluegrass music, along with Bill Monroe.

This may be an opportunity for your bloggers to get into an interesting debate as to who they think are the most 20 most influential musicians of our generation.. To limit the scope of the discussion, you may want to limit the list to American born musicians.  Just a thought.

And a very good thought, I might add.  We need to pay tribute to Earl Scruggs.  Bluegrass music is one of the great American art forms.  Who else would you list as among America’s most influential musicians?  (Note:  not greatest, as such, but most influential.  Think widely about the different kinds and styles  of music America has come up with.)

In the meantime, here is Earl, who pretty much invented this way of playing the banjo,  playing one of his break-downs: