Wash and be clean

At church last Sunday we had texts on Naaman the Leper (2 Kings 5:1-14) and the leper who begged Jesus for healing (Mark 1:40-45).  The former, thinking to buy healing, came with $400,000 worth of silver and $4 million worth of gold (I appreciated how Pastor Douthwaite translated the ancient weights into their modern equivalence an worth).  The latter came with nothing but desperation.  God ended up healing them both, though not as Naaman expected.  Pastor Douthwaite’s sermon, all of which is worth reading, built up to this:

Sorry, Naaman! Who you are and what you got makes no difference – go, wash, and be clean. And sorry, Joe [the "ordinary Joe" in Mark]! Who you aren’t and what you don’t have makes no difference – I will; be clean. What makes the difference is not anything in these two men – what makes the difference is who our Lord is and what He has come to do. . . .

And now also for you. Also to you Jesus has said, I will; be clean. To heal you from the leprosy of your sin. For sin is the incurable nightmare that afflicts us. Sin is our death sentence, robbing us of life, separating us one from another. Satan doesn’t want you to think sin is so bad, and so he belittles sin in order to belittle our Saviour. He doesn’t want you to think you sin is so bad, and he wants to convince you that you can cover it up with the good you do. But that’s like putting make up on leprosy – you may look okay on the outside, but the disease is still eating you away. . . .

And so Jesus has provided a water of cleansing for you, that like Naaman, you may go, wash, and be clean; that like Joe, He may touch you and cleanse you. And when you are baptized, that’s exactly what happens. All your uncleanness washed away in the forgiveness of your sins. Not because the water is so great – that was Naaman’s objection, remember? What’s so great about the Jordan? What’s so great about the water in the font of baptism? Well, nothing. It’s not the water, but the Word and promise of God attached to the water, that if Naaman washed in the Jordan, that if you wash here, you will be touched by Jesus and you will be clean.

That’s why infant baptism is such a great thing! Babies bring nothing to the font, they can’t even bring themselves – they have to be carried. But that’s exactly the point. It was all the Lord with Naaman, it was all Jesus with Joe, and it is all Jesus here. All the work of the Lord. It is His touch, His washing, His healing, His giving spiritual life. All the baby, and all we can do, is receive it. For that is why Jesus came. To come to us sinners with His: I will, be clean. . . .

Now, there are plenty of modern-day Naamans, who say water can’t do that; that’s it’s empty; that it’s just water. Many who want something more spectacular and awe-inspiring. But what can be more precious or great than this? That our Saviour puts Himself here for you. That His life is here for you, and for your children, and for all who are far off. As Naaman’s servant said: This is a great word. A simple message, a simple washing, but a great salvation.

So despite how these two men may have been quite different, in the end, what mattered most is what made them the same – they were dying and needed life. And that is what makes all of us the same as well. And for all the same, the Lord of life has come. So that whether you’re a Naaman or a Joe or somewhere in between, you have a merciful Saviour – the Lord of life who came to die, so that the dying have life. The holy one come to become unclean, so that the unclean be holy.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Epiphany 6 Sermon.

A Valentine’s Day meditation on Scripture

In honor of the noble martyr Valentine, whose day we celebrate today, I would like to propose a meditation on Ephesians 5: 22-33.  In this text we learn that a husband plays the role of Christ and the wife plays the role of the Church (or, to put it even more strongly and in vocational language, the husband is a mask of Christ and the wife is a mask of the Church).

When this passage is usually contemplated, the discussion stops at “submission,” that just as the Church submits to Christ, the wife should submit to her husband.  But it seems to me that there is much more to the parallels than this.  I propose that we discuss the passage bracketing the question of who has to obey whom and focusing on the other implications.

Here is the passage:

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.[a]28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

So how are wives like the Church and how are husbands like Jesus?  For those of you who are married, how does this manifest itself?

Wives are told to submit to their husbands while husbands are told to be like Jesus in sacrificing Himself for the Church.  Don’t both of these involve denial of the self on behalf of the other person?  What are the similarities and the differences between submission and self-sacrifice?

What do verses 26 & 27 ask of husbands?

What does it mean for two people to be “one flesh”?

Lutheran pastor attacks Lutheran view of Lord’s Supper

An article on the Christian Post website and picked up by RealClearReligion is an in-your-face attack on the Lutheran theology of the Lord’s Supper.  The thing is, the author,  Dan Delzell, is the pastor of Wellspring Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska.

The church website says that it rejects membership in any synods, as being hierarchical like Roman Catholics, but it is affiliated with the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC), which broke away from the ELCA for being too liberal.  The LCMC says it holds to the Augsburg Confession and Luther’s Small Catechism, both of which have clear teaching on the Lord’s Supper.

Here is Rev. Delzell’s article:  The Lord’s Supper Helps Christians ‘Keep it Real’, Christian News.

It is so full of misunderstandings and theological bloopers that one does not know where to begin.  I know, of course, that other theological traditions reject the Lutheran understanding of Christ’s real bodily presence in the Supper (not “consubstantiation”!) so that the bread and wine are the true body and blood of our Savior given for the forgiveness of sin.  I don’t, however, expect a Lutheran pastor to reject this teaching or to misunderstand it in such a spectacular way.  In what sense, I wonder, can he still consider himself a Lutheran?

How would you answer what he says, setting the record straight for the readers of the Christian Post?

Unclean spirits

Sunday the Gospel reading was Mark 1:21-28 on Jesus casting out an unclean spirit.  Here is what Pastor Douthwaite did with that text:

Now, several things strike me about this account so far. First, it seems as if no one knew there was a man with an unclean spirit among them. They all went to church that Sabbath, like normal. They all sat in their regular pews, in their regular places, like normal, like good Lutherans! They saw their friends and neighbors, and everything seemed to be fine. So maybe people with unclean spirits, people possessed by demons, don’t always look like raving lunatics. Sometimes, you know, they look normal, just like you and me. . . .

Sometimes I get questions about unclean spirits and demon possession and why it seems that happened so much in Jesus’ day and not so much today. Well, maybe it is happening today. Maybe those folks just look normal and regular, like that day in Capernaum. We know that satan isn’t going to rest. He does not grow tired as we do. And, in fact, as the end grows closer with each day that goes by, he is, if anything, increasing his efforts to keep people away from, and separate them from, Jesus. So don’t be fooled.

And isn’t it the case today that we are often surprised at those who are “possessed” (in a sense) by unclean spirits? When people who are looked up to, who are in positions of power, who are leaders, suddenly become the subject of scandal? When secret addictions and possessions suddenly – or immediately, as Mark would say – become known. Those who are possessed by lust or sexuality or drugs usually make the headlines. But that’s not all. People become possessed with all kinds of unclean spirits – of anger, bitterness, and revenge; of false beliefs and destructive philosophies; of greed, despair, pride, and how many more? Possessing our minds, possessing our bodies, possessing our hearts, enslaving us to sins of all kinds. . . . And how about you? Who would be surprised at the unclean spirits that torment you? The sins that so entice you and seek to enslave you? You all look so normal, so together, so good. But is it true? . . . .
But here’s the second thing that struck me: if the people don’t know what to make of Jesus and His authoritative teaching and are not sure who He is – that unclean spirit knew!. . . .

The unclean spirit is compelled. It is no longer in control. It is forced to submit and come out. And here’s the good news of this story for you and me. That whatever sins or uncleanness or unclean spirits seek to possess you, haunt you, enslave you, or entice you, they can no longer rule you. For Jesus has come. He has come to expel them and set you free.
For while expelling an unclean spirit in a little church in Capernaum might seem like small potatoes, its significance lies in the fact that it is the opening skirmish in a war that will lead to the cross, where the true power of God will be seen. For if it was in Capernaum that the unclean spirits heard what Jesus had to say to them, it is from the cross where we hear what Jesus has to say to us: Father, forgive them. For with the blood that flowed from the Lamb of God that day, the blood of the perfect and innocent One sacrificed for the sin of the world, the blood of the New Testament, our forgiveness, our cleansing, is won. We are not expelled – we are forgiven! We are cleansed.

That is the new teaching of Jesus the people heard that day in Capernaum – the Gospel. That in Him, God was reconciling the world to Himself. That in Him, the Old Testament was being fulfilled. That in Him, the unclean are clean again. Jesus wasn’t preaching a new Law, but the forgiveness of sins and the cleansing He came to bring. And then Jesus showed it and did it. In effect, trading places with the man possessed. Jesus would take His uncleanness and captivity to death, to set this man free.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Epiphany 4 Sermon.

The Bible’s physical form

We Lutherans believe in the supernatural efficacy of “Word and Sacrament.”  Other Christians believe in the power of God’s Word, but deny that water, bread, and wine, when joined to God’s Word, can have any more than a symbolic significance.  After all, how can the physical convey what is spiritual?  Part of my answer has always been that the Word too is a physical thing–ink on paper, sound waves in the air–that God uses sacramentally to bring us His grace.

David Neff of Christianity Today has written an interesting piece on the physical form of Bibles from the middle ages to our present-day “Bible apps.”

The default meaning of Bible for Christians in my group was the King James Version. The default physical form was a black leather binding.

The physical form of the Bible matters because it influences the way Christians use their sacred book. In the countercultural 1960s, for example, publishers shucked the black leather uniform in favor of more contemporary dress. The aim was to reach those who might not otherwise pick up the Scriptures. The American Bible Society’s Good News for Modern Man resembled a mass market paperback, and Tyndale House’s Reach Out: The Living New Testament looked just plain “groovy.”

Three centuries before Luther’s New Testament first came off the press in 1522, workshops in Paris produced one-volume Bibles called pandects. Unlike the large multivolume Bibles that sat in churches, monasteries, and rich men’s libraries, these could be conveniently carried by Sor-bonne students and mendicant preachers. Thus began the revolutionary shift from communal reading of Scripture to its private, individual consumption.

In 1735, the Bible emerged in another physical form—the family Bible. An English publisher named William Rayner produced The Compleat History of the Old and New Testament or a Family Bible. This was the first time that phrase was used, according to Liana Lupas, curator of the American Bible Society’s collection of rare Bibles.

The purpose of these Bibles, says Lupas, who curated a current exhibition of family Bibles for the Bible Society’s MOBIA gallery, was to provide study helps to answer questions that readers might have, and also to stimulate families to center their common devotions on the Bible.

People soon found other uses for these Bibles, pressing flowers, preserving locks of hair, and protecting other keepsakes. Families had already used the blank pages at the beginning or end of large Bibles to preserve genealogical information, recording births, marriages, and deaths. Dedicated family history pages were a natural development. And so in 1791, Isaiah Thomas published the first American Bible to contain pages dedicated to this purpose.

Placing the family Bible at the physical center of the ideal American home helped entrench the idea of the family as the main training ground in Christian living.Both Catholic families and Eastern Seaboard Protestants traditionally enshrined their family histories in parish registers and churchyard burial plots. But the American family became mobile, and American faith became more baptistic and individualized. Families who moved west left their family networks behind, and the family Bible became a portable shrine, recording the family as a sacred institution. . . .

Placing the family Bible at the physical center of the idealized American home also helped entrench the Puritan ideal of the family as the main training ground in Christian living. . . .

Today, many of us use Bibles with no physical properties of their own. They borrow their frame from computers, iPads, and smartphones—also markers of middle class existence—but created for individual use. Will this digital revolution cement the decline of family spirituality that was once fostered by the family Bible? God knows.

via How the Physical Form of a Bible Shapes Us | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Of course, the Word of God is living and active, even as it exists on an iPhone screen.  Just as the Blood of our Lord can be conveyed in plastic cups no less than in a silver chalice.  And yet, do you think the physical form of a Bible can have significance?  If people know the Word mainly as electronic information flashing across a screen, might that contribute to the Gnostic tendency we are seeing today, wherein faith is reduced to “knowledge” by way of “information” and the physical realm of creation, incarnation, sacrament, body, world,  and vocation are giving way to a less-than-Christian hyperspiritualism?  Or will reading it online lead to taking it in just short bits and pieces, in accord with much online reading, as opposed to extensive, sustained reading and study?  On the other hand, might reading the Bible on a Kindle, say, or other e-reader, mean a return to the continuous unfolding text of the ancient scrolls, rather than the chapter and verse breakdowns of the bound volume?  Or what?

Nothing distinctly Christian about the Lord’s Prayer?

Arguing for Christian observances to the point of denying they are Christian:

A lawsuit against the Sussex County Council in Delaware alleges that by reciting the Lord’s Prayer before meetings, the council “has publicly aligned itself with a single faith” in violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause. During a hearing in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, however, the county’s attorney argued that the prayer isn’t necessarily just a Christian one.

Attorney J. Scott Shannon told U.S. District Court Judge Leonard P. Stark that although the Lord’s Prayer is mostly associated with Christianity it was first spoken by a Jew, Delaware Online reports.

“[Jesus] was not offering a Christian prayer in the Christian tradition because no Christian tradition existed,” Shannon said. He also argued that the prayer, which contains no specific mention of Jesus Christ in it, contains language that is fitting for other faiths, and is not required to be “inoffensive to all” or “all-inclusive,that ” anyways.

According to court documents, the Lord’s Prayer has been the invocation of choice at Sussex County Council meetings since 1971.

Alex Luchenitser, an attorney for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, spoke on behalf of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit – four Delaware residents who feel that the saying of the Lord’s Prayer at Sussex County Council meetings is offensive.

Luchenitser argued that the opening words of the prayer – “Our Father” – indicate that it is a Christian prayer because it implicitly refers to Jesus.

“That’s a Christian way of referring to Jesus,” Luchenitser said, according to Delaware Online. “This is not something reasonable people disagree over.”

via The Lord’s Prayer Is Not Exclusively Christian, Attorney Tells Judge, Christian News.

The other side also knows not of what it speaks.   The Father is NOT a reference to Jesus!  The Son is NOT the Father.  That’s a denial of the Trinity.

The “Lord” of the Lord’s Prayer, though is Jesus, according to the Holy Spirit.  And the Father He addresses is His Father, who is the Christian deity.  And the prayer is in the New Testament, the Christian Scripture.  And it’s a staple of Christian worship and devotion.  So, yes, it’s a Christian prayer.

If the pro-prayer faction wins, would it be worth it, if victory involves denying the meaning of what is being prayed?  This principle applies to those who insist on putting up Christian symbols–nativity scenes, Christmas trees– on public property during Christmas with the argument that Christmas is a secular holiday.  In cases like these, to win is to lose.