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.

What Christ’s miracles mean

We had an illuminating sermon from Pastor Douthwaite last Sunday on Mark 7:31-37, in which Jesus touches the ears and the tongue of the deaf mute and tells him “ephphata”; that is, “be opened.”

Jesus’ miracles are not simply signs of who He is – God in the flesh and so signs of His divinity and power – but even more importantly, they are signs of what He has come to do for you. Yes, for you and me, for how often are we like this deaf man and unable to hear? Unable to hear God’s Word because our ears are clogged with the words of men. Unable to hear God’s Word of love because our ears are filled with words of hate. Unable to hear God’s Word of forgiveness because our hearts are hard with anger and resentment. Unable to hear God’s Word of life and hope because we live in a world of death and destruction. And so unable to hear we are also unable to speak of these things.

But as Jesus came to that deaf man and laid His hands on him and touched his ears and tongue and ephphatha-ed him, so has Jesus done for you. For Jesus came to you and laid His hands on your head in Holy Baptism, He touches your ears with His Word of forgiveness, and He touches your tongue with the Body and Blood of His Supper, and in all these ways He ephphathas you. And eyes and ears and tongues and hearts and minds closed by sin are opened in forgiveness. And we hear of a love we’ve never heard of before, of a goodness we’ve never heard of before, of a life we’ve never heard of before and that is given to us. Given to us now as our foretaste of the feast to come . . . because the full reality is still coming.

Just as the man’s healing was a sign of a greater work, so the gifts we receive here are leading us to a greater opening – when our graves will be opened with Jesus’ ephphatha and in the resurrection we will be set free, body and soul, finally and fully, forever.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 15 Sermon.

 

Deep cleaning

Our sermon for last Sunday was based on Mark 7:14-23, in which Jesus says that it isn’t what comes from the outside that makes us unclean  but what comes from the inside.  Pastor Douthwaite  first applied this to the Pharisees who were interrogating Jesus and then he started doing that Law & Gospel thing:

We see the same thing in our world today, whenever another shooting happens in a movie theatre or school or college or shopping center. Sometimes there were signs that something was wrong, but often times the news is filled with interviews about how the person seemed so normal, so good, so clean, and how shocking and surprising that such an awful thing could come out of such a good, clean-cut person, who smiles and is so friendly, who loves animals and helps little old ladies across the street.

And then there’s all the uncleanness in our hearts. The uncleanness that comes spewing out when someone cuts you off in traffic, or you don’t get what you want or think you deserve, or when you feel slighted or insulted by someone, the uncleanness that comes out when we know we can do something and get away with it. The thoughts that shouldn’t be there, the murder of someone’s reputation, the pride that wants others to change for me instead of me changing or helping them, the jealousy. The presumption of guilt when it comes to others but the presumption of innocence when it comes to me. The impatience, the condescending, the get out of my way. It’s all in there and more, isn’t it? And while it might surprise the person next to you if they knew all that was percolating in your heart, sometimes if even surprises us what comes out, the shameful sins and impulses deep down.

But Jesus is not surprised. It’s why He came. And not with gloves on, to protect Himself from our sins; but in our flesh and blood. And He came to fill not a bucket, but to fill fonts and chalices and pulpits with His blood to clean us. To clean us from the inside out. That in every baptism, every communion, every sermon and absolution, the Holy Spirit do His cleansing work and wash away the guilt of our sins. All of them. None hidden from His sight or too deep for his cleansing. Sometimes we may wish God didn’t know all our sins, but if He didn’t, how could we know they are all forgiven? But if He knows them, He died for them. If He knows them, He took them upon Himself and paid for them. If He knows them, He forgives them. From the littlest of them to the most shameful of them. All of them.  [Read more...]

Tradition & Betrayal

Pastor Douthwaite gave a great sermon on Sunday, on Mark 7:1-13, in which Jesus chastizes the Pharisees for replacing God’s  word with the “traditions of men.”  The whole thing is very much worth reading, but I would like to focus on a curious fact that he brought out:  the Greek word translated as “tradition” is also the word translated as “betrayal.”  The verb form is paradidomi, meaning, literally handed down (as in a tradition) or handed over (as in a betrayal).  Pastor Douthwaite then plunged us into a fascinating word study, ringing the changes on all of those senses in a Law & Gospel kind of way.

He began by citing traditions we have (turkey on Thanksgiving, wedding customs), which can end up displacing the true meaning of what the traditions are supposed to be about (Turkey Day as opposed to giving thanks to God; white dresses and the bride’s perfect day as opposed to marriage as the one flesh union between a man and a woman that is an image of Christ and the Church):

Those are examples of when tradition becomes betrayal. And I put it like that because in the Bible, in the Greek of the New Testament, tradition and betrayal are the same word – paradidomi – which means to hand down or to hand over. When something is handed down (paradidomi-ed) from one generation to the next, it is a tradition. When Jesus is handed over (paradidomi-ed) by Judas, it is betrayal. And so traditions – all those things I mentioned before – are good, as long as they do not become betrayals; as long as they do not betray their original meaning and purpose. . . .

You see, because you and me are as we are – sinful and unclean – therefore, the wonderful thing God will do is Jesus. He is (literally) the tradition of God. For He was handed down (paradidomi-ed) to us, the Father handed down His Son to us, that He be handed over (paradidomi-ed) into death for us – death on the cross for our sins – that raised from the dead (for us), we who once walked in darkness (or inside-out and upside-down, as Isaiah also puts it) now live a new life in His light. Living not because of what we do, but because of what our Lord does for us. For you.

Living by what He does for you in Holy Baptism, where Jesus’ cross becomes your cross; where Jesus joins you to Himself and raises you with Himself from the death of sin to a new life in Him. In that water you were born from above to a new life with a new Father and a new heart and a new Spirit. In that water all your sins, all your betrayals, were washed away – the old is gone, behold the new has come. That’s what your Lord hands down and hands over (paradidomis) to you there.

And living by what He does for you in Holy Communion, where Jesus – on the night when He was paradidomi-ed (betrayed) – before He was paradidomi-ed first handed over (paradidomi-ed) His Body and Blood to His disciples and said: keep doing this, keep eating and drinking this, keep remembering and receiving this, for the forgiveness of your sins. That the new life and faith only your Lord can give be fed and strengthened by the food only your Lord can give. 

And living by what He does for you when you hear the Word of God – the Gospel of all that Jesus, the wonderful one, has done for you – whether it’s in the sermon or in the words of absolution or in the consolation of a fellow Christian, it is the voice of Jesus you hear, that is being handed over (paradidomi-ed) to you. Not advice, but good news. Not instruction, but the very Word of the Lord that opens the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, that changes hearts of stone to hearts of flesh, and which has done all that for you.

That why St. Paul calls Jesus the good and perfect bridegroom who came to hand over (paradidomi) His life for His dirty, sinful bride, that she – that you and me – may be dirty and sinful no more. It’s all about what He has done, that we may be. It’s all about His cross, His death and resurrection, that we who are born dead in sin may rise with Him. It’s all about His love that we may love. It’s all about His washing that we may be clean. It’s all about His tradition that we may be traditioned; that we receive what He has come to hand down and hand over to us.

And then, having received all that, there is a new tradition, and we begin to see others, those around us – our husbands and wives, our families, our friends and neighbors – as those our Lord has handed over to us, that we not withhold or “Corban” them, but hand down to them, what we ourselves have received. For that’s what tradition is all about, isn’t it? Handing down to others what has been handed down to us. And so the care and love and forgiveness and mercy and word we have received doesn’t stop with us, but is traditioned, paradidomi-ed, handed down. That’s good tradition, right tradition, godly tradition.

And – to turn Jesus’ words around just a bit – and many such things you do. Yes, you. As a Christian. A sinner-saint, forgiven and new. Not perfectly, to be sure. Always repenting and receiving forgiveness. But in Christ, made new. In Christ, handing yourself over – traditioning yourself – for others. That they too may receive what you have received. For that is the tradition we have received from Him.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 13 Sermon.

John the Baptist and us

We had another great sermon from Pastor Douthwaite on the death of John the Baptist (Mark 6:14-29).  A sampling:

John the Baptist never was at home in this world. He was an interloper. A stranger. A misfit.

It began with his birth which was not the usual way. He was born miraculously to a couple who could not have children because they were too old and she was barren.

He was given the wrong name (in the opinion of all who were there when he was born). Everybody wanted him named Zechariah, after his father. That was how it was done; that was the tradition – to name the first born son after the father. But no. His name would be John.

He didn’t wear what everyone else was wearing. If he was around today, he’d be one of those people you notice walking down the street that everyone points to and snickers and says “really?” A camel’s hair shirt with a leather belt around your waste?

Then there was his diet. John went primal before it became a fad diet! Locusts and wild honey.

He did his preaching out in the wilderness. And he didn’t pander to the crowd – he was a fiery preacher of repentance. And if you got into his crosshairs, he wouldn’t let you out. He didn’t care who you were – Pharisee, Sadducee, Scribe, King. And he’d keep after you, even from prison . . . he didn’t care. He just didn’t care.

John was like a bizarre visitor from another place and time. The world was not his home. It never would be. . . .

Truth is, Christians do have a little John in them; a little bit of weird in them. Because like John, we have a whole lot of Jesus in us.

Think about it. Like John, you too were miraculously born – born from above by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism.

Like John, you too wear different clothes – the robe of righteousness given to you by Christ.

Like John, you too eat strange food – the Body and Blood of the Lord in His Supper here.

Like John, your thinking and values and loves are different.

And so as a Christian, like John, you’re never quite at home in this world and life. Just a bit out of step.

Then again, we are also like Herod:

King Herod, on the other hand, was a man of the world. He lived large. He saw what he wanted and took it. And he made no apologies for it. Yet even so, though Herod gets what he wants, he never seems to get what he wants. He’s never satisfied. Never at peace. But that’s the way of the world. That’s the way of it with sin. It never leaves you satisfied, but always wanting more. It enslaves in that way.

And it enslaved Herod on his birthday. A lustful king made a foolish promised and an angry wife took advantage of the situation. And Herod, who didn’t want to disappoint his guests or look out of step with the world, is trapped. Sin isn’t as harmless as it looks. A dancing girl, a little lust, what’s the harm?  . . .  But Herod’s hand is forced. He’s not as free as he thinks. So he sadly gives the order, and John loses his head. . .
To confess that we’ve played the Herod and played the Herodias and listen to John, who though he was beheaded so many years ago is still preaching to us today. Preaching to us to repent – but not only that! But even more, preaching us to the cross. To behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

To see Jesus there on the cross as the one who became enslaved for you and bound to the cross with the chains of your sin, in order to set you free. For that’s what forgiveness is. The word for forgiveness in the Greek is the same word for being released, for being set free. And so forgiveness is to be set free from your sin, from your slavery to sin, from the condemnation of sin – free to be a child of God. And that is what you are. In Jesus. . . .

And so Jesus, in your place, enters the prison of sin, death, and the grave. He puts His neck on the chopping block for your foolishness, your lusts, your murder and anger and pride and hate and rebellion . . . and as the blade is coming down says: Father, forgive them. Set them free. And He does. And you are.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 7 Sermon.


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