“We must save our gods”

In church on Palm Sunday, our pastor gave another powerful sermon, with a great missionary story:

“Where are their gods? . . . Let them rise up and help you; let them be your protection!”  [Deuteronomy 32:37-38]

Those are the words of God through Moses to the people of Israel on the border of the Promised Land about the gods of the Canaanites. They reminded me of a story I once heard from a missionary who visited my church in New York. He was working somewhere in the far east, I don’t remember exactly where, when an earthquake struck. The people, of course, were very frightened and running out of their houses. But then, he said, something very strange happened. They started rushing back into their crumbling, tottering houses. He couldn’t figure out why, so he stopped one of the people and asked what was going on. And this was the answer he got: We have to save our gods. They were risking their lives to save their gods which were sitting on the shelves and altars of their collapsing homes.

What a starkly different picture we hear today and this Holy Week. The one, true God doesn’t need saving – we are the ones who need saving! And it is the one, true God who rushes into our crumbling, tottering world to save us. [Read more...]

What pastors do

Last Sunday at church, in addition to receiving Holy Communion as we do every week, we baptized a child and sent off one of our members to seminary.  Our pastor gave a sermon on the readings for the day–Jeremiah 16, Luke 13,  and Philippians 3–and tied them into all of those events.  You should read the whole sermon, but what he said about the life and calling of a pastor deserves to become a classic. [Read more...]

Your God shall rejoice over you

Our church celebrated Sanctity of Life Sunday.  After making a no-holds- barred attack on the pro-death mentality, our pastor made a turn that we don’t always hear when Christians talk about this topic:

And especially on this Sanctity of Life Sunday we recognize how powerful is the mute idol of death. Which is so sadly ironic, that more and more people look for life and hope in death. What a grand deception and illusion this monstrous mute idol is! This slavery which masks itself as freedom; this evil which masks itself as good. . . .

But – be clear about what this means! (This is important. Make sure you’re paying attention here! Don’t zone out now.) [Read more...]

The widow and the End Times

Pastor Douthwaite’s sermon last Sunday was based on the assigned text for that day, about the widow’s mite (Mark 12: 38-44).  He began with a useful survey of what the Church Year means and shows what it means to live in light of the End Times:

With the Festival of the Reformation and the Feast of All Saints now in the rear view mirror of the Church Year, our thoughts are turned these last three Sundays to the end times, the return of Christ, the last days, judgment day . . . or, to use the fancy theological word for it: eschatology. Our Church Year takes us from the expectation and promises of a Messiah in Advent, to the days of His birth at Christmas, to the revealing of His divinity in Epiphany, to His suffering and death in Lent, the joy of the resurrection in the Easter season, the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and that same Spirit working now in the life of the Church through the Pentecost season. But now we are at the end, and we look forward to the end, and the return of our Saviour to raise the dead and take us, all who believe and are baptized into in Christ Jesus (Mk 16:16), home. To the rest and pure joy of heaven.

And so (you may be thinking) that focus must start next week, because this week we didn’t hear end times or eschatology readings – we heard about a widow and her two mites in the Holy Gospel. . . .

And so, it seems to me, there is more to this reading than meets the eye. Something more than just about how much she – and we – put into the offering box or the offering plate. It’s about eschatology. It’s about how we live this life with a view toward the end. For, we believe, ever since Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, we are living in the end times, the last days. Once Jesus ascended, He could return at any time, and we don’t know when. So how do we live in these days, these last days? It’s good to take stock of that and consider.

And there are two examples presented to us today: the scribes and the widow. Of the scribes, Jesus says, beware. Beware not (this time) of their teaching, but of how they are living. For their lives are all about the here and now. What honor they receive now, what glory is bestowed now, what advantages they get now. There seems to be no mercy or compassion in them, for they even devour widows’ houses. And their religion is a scam too, Jesus says. Their long prayers are a pretense – something they do to look holy, while going after the things of this world. . . .

But then there is the widow. How utterly different is she. For her the here and now is a hardship. Unlike the scribes, there is no honor for her now, no glory for her now, no advantages for her now. Maybe she still had her house because she was so poor and her house so humble that it wasn’t worth the scribes’ effort to devour it! And yet what little she had, those two small copper coins, she doesn’t keep, she doesn’t spend on food, she doesn’t hold on to for future needs – she drops them into the Temple treasury. They didn’t really make a difference. Her offering was like dumping a glass of water into the ocean. Or (to use my fiscal cliff example) like me sending in a dollar to the US Treasury – it’s not really going to make a difference in paying down the national debt!

But that’s not why she did it. She gave those two coins because she was living with a fundamentally different outlook than the scribes. Her “here and now” wasn’t even worth two small copper coins; but her future was. She did what she did because she was living her life with a view toward the end. Others may laugh at her for putting in so little, they might come and devour her house next, she might not have food the next day or the next week. But her life wasn’t in these things. These things were not her utmost concern. For, Jesus said, she put in everything she had, all her life. That’s what it really says: all her life. She put her life into the Temple that day; into the place where God dwells. [Read more...]

The new normal

In the sermon for last Sunday, Pastor Douthwaite employed an interesting turn of phrase:

There’s been a new phrased coined in our civil discourse of late, and that is folks talking about “the new normal.” Is the constant threat of terrorism the new normal? Are gas prices around $4 a gallon the new normal? Is our current partisan divide and the seeming inability for our political parties to work together the new normal? Or in other words, are these things here to stay and so you better get used to them as normal now, or are they just temporary glitches or passing events? Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get different answers to those questions.

But it seems to me that we can use that phrase when talking about the Christian life. That in Christ, there is a new normal for you and me. For in Christ, things change. In Christ, things are different. In Christ, we have been made new and so there is a new normal for Christians, which is truly a whole new way of life and of looking at life.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Reformation [observed] Sermon.

Read what Pastor Douthwaite does with this concept, showing how the perfection that was “normal” before the Fall turned into a “new normal” of sin, which, in turn, was changed by Christ into a “new normal” of grace, forgiveness, and joy.

That’s the main point of the sermon, so I don’t want to take away from that.  But I am curious about other kinds of things that used to be “out of the norm,” but are now considered “normal.”  What are some?  How does something go from beyond the pale to become accepted as “normal”?

“I will show you my faith by my works”

More from Sunday’s sermon, in which Pastor Douthwaite also picked up on the Epistle reading, James 2:1-10:

What James said: I will show you my faith by my works does not mean that I will show you that I believe by what I do – it means that I will show you what I believe by what I do. For everyone believes something. Even Atheists. They believe there is no God and that belief shows in what they do – or don’t do. So too with secularism, humanism, environmentalism, whatever “-ism” you like. If you believe it, it shapes you, and if it shapes you it will show in your life. Because that’s who you are.

So for Christians, for you and me, what do we believe? Some believe they can do whatever they want because Christ will just forgive them later, and they live like that. Some believe that Christ is a new Moses, a new lawgiver, and has come to give us a new set of rules and regulations, and they live like that. Some believe that Christ has come to make us healthy, wealthy, and wise, and they live like that.

But on the basis on this Gospel, and Isaiah, and what we’ve been thinking about today, what do we believe and so how do we live? If Jesus has spoken His ephphatha to you and set you free from sin, death, and the devil, what does that look like? What does it mean to be set free from idolatry, from selfishness, and from fear? It means the freedom to forgive because I am forgiven. It is the freedom to love because I am loved. It is the freedom to give because I receive. It means the freedom to serve because I am served. It is the freedom to provide for others because my Father provides for me. All these things and more because I cannot out-give my Father and Saviour. And as I believe, so I do. I will show you my faith – what I believe – by how I live, by my works.

And if you and I don’t do these things, if you find yourself struggling to do these things, you know what? It’s not a works problem! And so the answer isn’t just to buckle down and try harder or for me to stand up here and either give you a pep talk or berate you. (We got enough of that kind of thing at the political conventions these past two weeks!) No, if we find ourselves not doing these things or struggling with them, it’s a faith problem. Not that you don’t have faith, but that our faith is sometimes weak and that faith is often hard. And so the answer is to be ephphatha-ed again, to be opened again, to receive again and again the love and forgiveness and healing of Jesus here for you. For that is what changes you. That is what raises you. That is what makes the difference.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 15 Sermon.

I know, I know, you atheists, your argument that you can be moral without belief in God and that you are always insisting on how good you are.  That’s not what this is saying.  Your belief or lack of belief influences your behavior.  If you don’t believe in God, you sleep in on Sunday mornings.  If you are charitable, you don’t give money to churches but to causes like Planned Parenthood.  Right?  To switch the example, someone who believes in the God of the Bible is unlikely to worship in a Hindu temple, and if he does, it is reasonable to question his allegiance to a deity who forbids worshipping other gods.  And someone with faith in the Gospel of Christ cannot be self-righteous and, being conscious of having received mercy, cannot be merciless.


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