Comparing notes on the dishonest steward

The Gospel reading for yesterday was the parable of the dishonest steward (Luke 16:1-13), the guy who knew he would lose his job for embezzlement and so took the opportunity to forgive the debts of those who owed his boss money, as a way to get in good with them when he would be unemployed. His boss commended his shrewd dealing, as did Jesus, in a way. That’s a fascinating parable, but it’s one of the hardest to interpret and apply.

Churches that follow the three-year-lectionary, not only Lutherans but other denominations as well, will all have read that passage in church yesterday and very likely heard a sermon on it. That means that many of us here heard takes on what that sermon means. Let’s compile what we learned.

My pastor took the part about those who had their debts forgiven and applied it not to money but to sin: We all have a debt we cannot pay. We were forgiven it earlier in the service when we heard the absolution from the pastor.

I heard of another pastor today who observed that the steward, for all of his own problems, was showing mercy.

What aspects of the parable were illuminated for you in yesterday’s sermon? (Pastors, tell us what you did with it. Laypeople, tell us what you got out of it.)

Dumb parables?

Another great sermon from Pastor Douthwaite, preaching on Luke 15:1-10.  An excerpt:

And so Jesus says: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?”

And the Pharisees and scribes are perhaps thinking to themselves here: What man of them? None of them! Why risk the 99 for the sake of the one? It shouldn’t have wandered off anyway. It’s probably too dumb to stay with the flock. But to preserve the 99, that – you see, Jesus – is what’s called an “acceptable loss.” But even so, if one did find that sheep, why rejoice? It needs discipline, so it won’t wander off again. Hmm . . .

Then Jesus says: “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?”

Well, this parable makes a little more sense, for sure, you’re talking about money here. Of course you’d look for lost money!

But then, Jesus continues, “And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ ”

Um, no. Because if you found this coin you’ve just been looking so hard for, why spend it on your neighbors? They didn’t help you look for it, did they? And why would you spend so much time looking for it if you were just going to spend it? Hmm . . .

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. . . . [T]here is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Joy? Why? If a sinner repents, he’s just doing what he was supposed to do. And he shouldn’t have sinned in the first place! So why rejoice? These are dumb parables, Jesus. Nobody does these things.

Well, not nobody. Jesus does them. The true Shepherd. The Good Shepherd. The Shepherd for whom there are no “acceptable losses.” The Shepherd who laid down His life for all the sheep. The Shepherd who searches and does not give up. The Shepherd who loves His sheep more than you can possibly imagine. The Shepherd whose heart is filled with joy whenever one of His sheep is found. No matter who they are, no matter where they have wandered, and no matter how long they have been lost, there is joy in heaven and in the heart of the Good Shepherd when each and every sheep is back, safe and sound, in His arms.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 16 Sermon.

A Mormon on the Glenn Beck rally

Here is a discussion of the Glenn Beck rally–what it means and what it achieves–from Mormon official Greg West:

I believe that Glenn Beck’s desire, in some measure, was to create a “King Benjamin moment.” The Book of Mormon relates a landmark gathering of some of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas to hear the words of one King Benjamin. Benjamin declared principles of piety, humility, service, and faith to his people. He preached to them repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, who would be born in centuries to come, relative to his time. The result was a turning back to God by his audience that brought the Holy Spirit upon them. It was a moment of national renewal and personal recommitment to do good in God’s name. This was Beck’s template for the event that took place today.

As a Mormon, I have to consider an unintended message throughout Beck’s work, which has culminated in this event. That message is: “Mormons are Christian believers.” Despite nearly two centuries of misrepresentation and religious envy by sectarian Christianity, Beck has achieved the visibility, prominence, and has had the time day after day, week after week, to speak openly and truly about his core beliefs. Those statements of faith have disoriented and confused those who had previously believed the lies about Mormons. Just a few weeks ago, Beck discussed the heresies evident in “Liberation Theology” and declared his belief of individual salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. One confused person commented on Free Republic, a frequent forum for open Mormon-bashing, that “this would mean that Beck is ‘born-again.”

Jim Garlow, a popular and influential pastor who partnered with the Mormon faithful in California to defend traditional marriage was quoted recently in CNN’s Belief Blog, saying, “I have interviewed persons who have talked specifically with Glenn about his personal salvation – persons extremely well known in Christianity – and they have affirmed (using language evangelicals understand), ‘Glenn is saved…’ He understands receiving Christ as Savior.”

Hallelujah! The light bulb has been switched on after nearly two centuries! Every single member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that a person must be “born again” and receive Jesus Christ as his Savior and Redeemer. Our holy books teach that salvation comes only in and through the atonement of Christ and that there is no other way a person can be saved. Those beliefs obligate us to do our best to keep God’s commandments and to follow the example of Jesus in doing good. Glenn Beck’s beliefs are mainstream Mormon beliefs. Joseph Smith, the Church’s founder, was a Christian prophet. He was an apostolic witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As Rev. C.L. Jackson said in his speech today after accepting the medal for faith, “God sent his Son to this earth so that we could all gather, and I think that’s the dream and the vision of Glenn Beck.” I myself have reacted, defensively and perhaps provocatively, to the attacks of Christian pastors on Mormons in the past. If anything, Glenn Beck has brought mainstream Mormonism into the public eye and has reached out to our fellow Christians in a powerful way. Perhaps it signifies the crossing of a threshold where Mormons and our fellow Christians can work together for good, to revitalize our country, and enshrine the principles of faith, hope, and charity–restoring honor once again to our familes, our communities, and our nation.

Indeed, lots of evangelicals are saying that Glenn Beck is a Christian because he has “accepted Christ” and believes he is saved through Christ’s “atonement.” It turns out that Mormons in general believe that. So, if that’s all there is to it, Mormons must be Christians. Belief in the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, and the other tenets of historic Christianity are being dismissed as just “theological differences” and thus not all that important. (See, for example, what David Barton is saying. [HT: Rich Shipe])

HT: Brannon Howse

Lutheran conversion testimonies

Some may consider that phrase a contradiction in terms.  But a new book contains the stories of various people who converted to Christianity as proclaimed in Lutheranism.  It’s called Wittenberg Confessions: Testimonies of Converts to Confessional Lutheranism, by Jim Pierce, Edited by Elaine Gavin.  I mention it in particular because it includes accounts from some of the readers and commentators on this blog, such as author Jim Pierce (former atheist and just about everything else you could name) and Kelly Klages.  (If there are any others of you who contributed to this book, make yourself known!  If you aren’t in the book but have a similar “testimony,” feel free to tell about it in a comment on this post.)

You can buy  the book, from the wonderfully-named new publisher Blue Pomegranate Press, by clicking here.

Why Lutherans don’t believe in consubstantiation

While browsing through the bookstore at Concordia Publishing House at my final board meeting, I came across a book entitled Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper (Counterpoints: Church Life).  It featured a Roman Catholic, a Lutheran, a Calvinist, and a Baptist reflecting on each tradition’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper, with each participant also responding to that understanding.  It was a good format for theological debate.  Anyway, David Scaer ably presented the Lutheran position.  I appreciated his explanation of why the term “consubstantiation,” which the Catholics and the Reformed say is what Lutherans believe is rejected by Lutherans themselves.

The term, he says, indicates that there are two “substances” in the Lord’s supper.  That, however, keeps them apart, as two separate things.  The Lutheran confessions speak rather of a “sacramental union.”  The bread and the wine are somehow united to Christ’s Body and Blood.  Thinking in terms of “consubstantiation” misses that entirely. (As does “transubstantiation.”  The Roman Catholic participant in the forum did not realize that Lutherans hold such a high view of the Sacrament.  Actually, it could be argued that Lutherans hold a higher view than Roman Catholics do.)

Christology

We’ve been discussing the Christological dimensions of the Ascension, including the Lutheran view that not only Christ’s divine nature was taken into the Godhead, but that also His human nature–body and all–is now part of the Trinity, sharing in the divine attributes such as omnipresence.  Thus, Christ, in His body and blood, can be truly present on all the world’s altars celebrating Holy Communion.

I just had a related conversation with a friend of mine who said that he had been taught that only Christ’s human nature died on the Cross.  His divine nature did not.

A while back ago, we discussed the passage in the Lutheran Confessions that insists, against a number of opponents, that it is correct to say that “God died” on the cross.  Again, we have “the communication of attributes.”

Otherwise, it seems like the Incarnation is being split, if not undone.  The Son of God is both true God and true Man even in Heaven.  And the Son of God is both true God and true Man who is “with us always.”  God is still and always incarnate in Jesus Christ.

It’s hard to imagine how Christ’s death could have such an effect–bearing our sins and griefs and atoning for them–if it were just His human nature, or just His body that suffered.   Surely only the death of God–not the Father, but the Son–could accomplish things of such magnitude.

I’m starting to see how, as David Scaer has put it, “all theology is Christology.”

UPDATE:  Here is a link to the earlier post, along with a substantial quotation from the Formula of Concord, Article VIII: That God Died.