You (already) are the salt of the earth

In Sunday’s sermon, Pastor Douthwaite made an important grammatical point.  You know in Matthew 5 where Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth” and “you are the light of the world”?  The verb is an indicative:

It’s not an imperative, a command. Jesus is not saying you have to, must be, or should be this – it is what you ARE.

It is what your Saviour has worked in you and made you by His grace.The challenge is to BE who you ARE. To live as a spiritual being and not just an animal who lives and eats and procreates. To live in the image of God and not try to be the image of others in the world – sports stars or celebrities or others we think successful. To live as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. That is a challenge because satan is constantly tempting you to BE something else, something less than you are, and making that less look like more.

But do not be fooled. You are more than all that. You are a child of God who has been illuminated in Holy Baptism. You are a child of God who has been salted by the Holy Spirit. That is who you ARE.

And so you are that which salts the earth.You are that which gives light to the world.That is your identity – and, your calling. It is part and parcel of your life in Christ. No one else has this calling. Only children of God in Christ Jesus.

And so enlightened by Him, Jesus says, BE who you ARE. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

These words of Jesus today reveal that God has vested you with an incredible honor and purpose in life. That your life is not pointless or useless. That to be a child of God is not like standing on the corner waiting for the bus to heaven, but to be living, breathing Gospel.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church.

How do we salt the earth?  How are we already serving and having an influence by “being” rather than “doing”?  Similarly, Christians often talk about winning the world for Christ and that sort of thing.  But if He is Lord, isn’t He already reigning over the world?

When Christmas was Epiphany

The Lutheran Witness, under the new editorship of my former student Adriane Dorr, has gotten to be a really good magazine.  If you are one of the many former subscribers who stopped taking it, renew your subscription.  Anyway, a recent issue has an article on Epiphany that was quite an epiphany for me.  We had discussed the origins of Christmas.  Epiphany, it turns out, was celebrated long before Christmas in the church.  Actually, the birth of Christ was one of the “epiphanies,” or revelations of the Son of God, that the season celebrated.  From the article by Terence Maher:

Epiphany is a much older feast than Christmas, but it’s largely forgotten by most, lost in the shuffle by many, and celebrated by a few. Now how did that happen?

By the late fourth century, Epiphany was celebrated on Jan. 6. The earliest known reference dates from 361, and in those days the references indicate not just the appearance of the kings—epiphany is an English form of a Greek word meaning “appearance” or “manifestation”—but also the appearance or manifestation, the epiphany, of God, including His birth.

It’s not that there wasn’t Christmas. This is Christmas as well as a celebration of all the other events in the life of the young Jesus up to and including His Baptism and first public miracle at the wedding in Cana. In short, it’s a big day!

via The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod – The Lutheran Witness.

The article also says how Vatican II changed Epiphany into a moveable feast–one of those floating holidays–so that in the Church of Rome, there are no longer necessarily 12 days of Christmas!  (Would that  Roman Catholics would be more catholic in their practices!)  And other interesting and illuminating facts.

The Incarnation is not enough

Yet another good sermon from Pastor Douthwaite:

Last week we heard that after John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, the heavens opened, the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17).

This week, we hear what John did and proclaimed after that. When he now sees Jesus, he points to Him and proclaims: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

This is, perhaps, not what we would expect. For it would, perhaps, make more sense if, after the voice from heaven identified Jesus as God’s beloved Son, John would go around proclaiming: “Behold the Son of God!” But he doesn’t. It’s Lamb of God for John. That’s how he unwraps Jesus for us. And today I want you to consider why that is.

But I’ll not leave you in suspense. I’ll tell you straight out, now, why this is: because just knowing that God, who is almighty, is here, is not necessarily good news. Because why has He come? Is this Son of God here to redeem or to revenge? Is He here to comfort or to condemn? Power and might can work both ways, you know. And so John pointing to Jesus and proclaiming: “Behold the Son of God” tells us who Jesus is, but nothing more.

For the fact is, if you just know God as almighty, you don’t really know God and you will be filled with questions. Like, if you are almighty, then why the shootings in Arizona, God? Why the floods in Australia and Brazil, God? Why the troubles in my life, God? If you are almighty, why don’t you stop these things? Or maybe you’re not really almighty at all? Or if you are, then maybe you don’t really love us, or love me, or care for me, or want to help me. Maybe we can’t really count on you.

For who, then, is God, really? An unknown and unknowable God is a frightening God. Is He the God of sunny days or of hurricanes? Is He the God of spring flowers or earthquakes? Is He the God of love or of war? Which Son of God is here?

Or think of it like walking down a dark alley, and you know someone is there with you – you can hear the heavy footsteps, it’s someone big. But who is it? You cannot see them or know their intentions. It’s frightening. . . . But if they come into the light to be with you as a friend, a helper, a protector, that is good news. That is what you need. And then there is peace.

Well that is, John wants you to know, the God you have. Jesus is God the Son, yes; but even more. He is the Lamb of God, the friend of sinners, companion of the downcast, lifter of the low. He has come to be your Saviour. It’s Lamb of God for John, that you might know who Jesus really is – that the Son is the Lamb and the Lamb is the Son, and that in Him we see how God does love you, care for you, and help you. That He has come to lay down His life for you, and give you peace. He has come to BE your peace, by taking away the sin of the world. By taking away your sin.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Epiphany 2 Sermon.

Anger at God leads to atheism

Joe Carter reports on a study that shows that atheists are angry at a God they don’t believe exists.  Or, rather, their anger at God motivated them not to believe in Him:

A new set of studies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds that atheists and agnostics report anger toward God either in the past or anger focused on a hypothetical image of what they imagine God must be like. Julie Exline, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University and the lead author of this recent study, has examined other data on this subject with identical results. Exline explains that her interest was first piqued when an early study of anger toward God revealed a counterintuitive finding: Those who reported no belief in God reported more grudges toward him than believers.

At first glance, this finding seemed to reflect an error. How could people be angry with God if they did not believe in God? Reanalyses of a second dataset revealed similar patterns: Those who endorsed their religious beliefs as “atheist/agnostic” or “none/unsure” reported more anger toward God than those who reported a religious affiliation.

Exline notes that the findings raised questions of whether anger might actually affect belief in God’s existence, an idea consistent with social science’s previous clinical findings on “emotional atheism.”

Studies in traumatic events suggest a possible link between suffering, anger toward God, and doubts about God’s existence. According to Cook and Wimberly (1983), 33% of parents who suffered the death of a child reported doubts about God in the first year of bereavement. In another study, 90% of mothers who had given birth to a profoundly retarded child voiced doubts about the existence of God (Childs, 1985). Our survey research with undergraduates has focused directly on the association between anger at God and self-reported drops in belief (Exline et al., 2004). In the wake of a negative life event, anger toward God predicted decreased belief in God’s existence.

The most striking finding was that when Exline looked only at subjects who reported a drop in religious belief, their faith was least likely to recover if anger toward God was the cause of their loss of belief. In other words, anger toward God may not only lead people to atheism but give them a reason to cling to their disbelief. . . .

I’ve sometimes mistakenly assumed it to be a purely intellectual failing—a matter of the head, not the heart. Only recently have I begun to appreciate how much the emotional response to pain and suffering can push a person to an atheistic worldview.

Most pastors and priests would find my epiphany to be both obvious and overdue. But I suspect I’m not the only amateur apologist who has been blinded to this truth. As a general rule, those of us engaged in Christian apologists tend to prefer the philosophical to the pastoral, the crisp structure of logical argument to the messiness of human emotion. We often favor the quick-witted response that dismisses the problem of evil rather than patient empathy, which consoles atheists that we too are perplexed by suffering.

Many atheists do, of course, proceed to their denial of God based solely on rational justifications. That is why evidentialist and philosophical approaches to apologetics will always be necessary. But I’m beginning to suspect that emotional atheism is far more common than many realize. We need a new apologetic approach that takes into account that the ordinary pain and sufferings of life leads more people away from God than a library full of anti-theist books. Focusing solely on the irate sputterings of the imperfectly intellectual New Atheists may blind us to the anger and suffering that is adding new nonbelievers to their ranks.

via When Atheists Are Angry at God | First Things.

To be angry at something you don’t believe exists is, of course, illogical.  To not believe in God as a way of rejecting Him makes an emotional sense, though that is illogical too.

The expectation that God is and must be benevolent derives from Christianity.  Zeus and the other pagan deities were certainly not benevolent.  Hindus have the evil creation deity Kali.  Muslims, I suspect, do not hold Allah to these high moral standards, since he is above them all.

And yet, as I have complained, so many Christian projections of God leave out the distinctly Christian understanding of God, that He is incarnate and that He is crucified.

I think an apologetic to this emotional atheism–which I suspect underlies much of the rational atheism as well–must center around the God who suffers, the God who dies (phrases some Christians cannot abide, though such language is affirmed against them in the Lutheran confessions).  We must emphasize not just a transcendent deity looking down on the suffering of the world, but a God who enters that evil and suffering world and takes it into Himself and bears it for us.  That is, Christ on the Cross.

Two meanings of “faith”

Thanks to FWS who pointed us to this post from LCMS president Matthew Harrison quoting the German theologian and enemy of Nazism Hermann Sasse (who quotes Werner Elert):

Werner Elert repeatedly drew our attention to the fundamental difference between the Roman Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran understandings about ecclesiastical confessions of doctrine. It consists in this, that the Roman doctrinal confession has the form of an imperative, while the Lutheran has the form of an indicative. Roman dogma is a command of faith; the Lutheran an expression of faith. There, a credendum [something which must be believed] is presented with a command to accept it. Here is expressed, what the church [already] believes: “We believe, teach, and confess.” The difference is deeply-rooted in the concept of faith. Faith, in the Catholic sense, is the supernatural virtue, by the power of which I hold for true that which the church presents to be as the content of revelation. . . .

Thus the objectum fidei, the object of faith, is defined. Corresponding to the concept of faith as “holding something to be true,” the object of faith is, for a Catholic, always dogma, for example the dogma about Christ. Corresponding to the evangelical concept of faith as fiducia, as trusting the divine promise of grace in the gospel, is the fact that, for the Lutheran, the objectum fidei is not the dogma about Christ, but rather Christ Himself; not the dogma about the Trinity, but rather the Triune God; not the Bible as such, but rather God, Who speaks to us in each word of the Scripture.

This important distinction was mis-used, by Ritschl and his school in his time, but then by the entirety of modern liberalism, in order to get rid of dogma in general.

via Mercy Journeys with Pastor Harrison: “How far does the validity of the confession go?” Sasse.

Faith isn’t just believing that God exists.  It means trusting God.  Of course, God has to exist if we are going to trust Him–and the quotation goes on to show why “dogma” remains important–but just the truth claims are not sufficient.  This explains why atheists keep missing the point and have little impact on evangelical believers.   They keep belaboring the truth claims–”But there isn’t enough evidence!”  “We can never know for sure!”–while being oblivious to what faith actually is to those who have it.

Epiphanies

When I first became a Lutheran, it was Epiphany that taught me to really appreciate the church year. Not just the first day with the Wise Men on January 6 but the whole Epiphany season.

I’m a literature professor by trade, and the term “epiphany” is an important one in the analysis of literature, especially short stories (that being one of the many theological words, such as “inspiration,” “creativity,” “canon,” and “hermeneutics” that have been appropriated in secular fields). An epiphany in literature is a moment of recognition or realization, on the part of a character or the reader. “Aha! So that’s who committed the murder!” “Aha! So now she knows she married the wrong guy.” “Aha! So now he realizes what his life is all about.”

So then what I saw in the church calendar was a series of epiphanies about Jesus. The wise men worship Him. The prophets in the Temple recognize Him. He is baptized and the Holy Spirit descends and the voice from Heaven proclaims Him. The devil tempts Him and meets his match. The first miracle. The series of Sundays in Epiphany culminates in His most explicit revelation, the Transfiguration. Each Sunday gives us an epiphany: “Aha! So that’s who Jesus is!” And each Sunday reveals different things about Him: He is God’s Son. He is the promised Messiah. He has power over nature. He is our Savior. He is God in the flesh.

So happy Epiphany, everybody. And may you each experience a personal epiphany of Jesus in the weeks ahead.


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