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Cute Noah’s Ark? Third Friday of Advent – 14.12.19

noah's arkDoes anyone else connect Noah’s Ark with Christmas? I do…mostly because I remember giving a toy Noah’s Ark to our daughters for Christmas one year. And, each year that cute Noah’s Ark ornament finds its way to the family Christmas tree.

The fact that this portion of mankind’s history has become a sentimental children’s story is interesting. Somehow, lots of cuddly animals on a family boat trip, culminated by a rainbow … these tender images have pretty much trumped the specter of the global holocaust that was going on under the waters.

We have the tendency to do the same thing with the Second Coming of Christ. Do we long for it? Of course! But, in it’s tow will be devastation the likes of which the world has never seen. Personally, I don’t long for that.

Today’s text from 1 Peter references the flood.

“God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:20-21).

Sinful men, the patience of God, the covenant between God and His elect established, the impending judgment, and the salvation of the remnant. These are descriptors for both the days of Noah and these “last days” before the return of Christ. The season of Advent drives us into this connection, and to acknowledge the gravity of our times.

Triptych-Left-Panel-Philipp-Melanchthon-Performs-A-Baptism-Assisted-By-Martin-Luther-Centre-Panel-The-Last-Supper-With-Luther-Amongst-The-Apostles-Right-Panel-Luther-Makes-His-Confession-Luthers-Sermon-BelowMartin Luther’s words help here: “As it happened when Noah was preparing the ark, so it takes place at present … As he had regard to himself and was saved in the ark which swam upon the waters, so must you also be saved in baptism… we sail in the ark, which means the Lord Christ, or the Christian church, or the Gospel that Christ preached, or the body of Christ to which we cling by faith, and are saved as Noah was in the ark … where there are now those who cling to Christ, there is surely a Christian church.”

Not to get way off on baptism here – but Jesus commanded us to go into the world and baptize. This ancient initiation rite, infused with divine efficacy and depth of meaning by Jesus and his disciples, is an indispensable part of God’s gospel plan. It has always been understood as the official “embarkation” onto the ark – which Luther equates to Jesus/the Church/the Gospel all in one!

There is, however, a striking difference between Noah’s ark and today’s church: God has called today’s “Noah” to go into the highways and byways, and seek passengers for the ark of salvation before the deluge begins! Each day God’s patience delays the second coming means salvation for many (2 Pet. 3:9). But the flood waters are coming. Our advent focus should heighten our urgency to share the evangel-invitation to the world, that they, too, may be baptized onto the passenger list.

So, when you see a cute little Noah’s Ark this holiday season, think a bit about the underwater reality of that story, and let it motivate you to prepare for His coming!

E     *     O

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Posted by on December 19, 2014 in Advent 2014, Baptism

 

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Blessed to Bless: 3rd Wednesday of Advent – 14.12.17

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 8.27.04 AMI have the privilege of preaching tonight at our church for a Wednesday night Advent service. The text I was given is Isaiah 61, the beginning of which reads, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” It will be my honor to remind the church that the favor of the Lord continues to be dispensed through the church, which will remain the case until Jesus’ second advent, when He comes again to bring about the final redemption of all things.

This reality – that while we wait for the final consummation, we are actively blessing the world – lines up nicely with Martin Luther’s commentary on 1 Peter 3:9-10. First, the text from Peter (who also quotes King David):

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For ‘Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.”

im-not-arguing-im-just-explaining-why-im-rightprotestIn a world full of evil, we live righteously. In a world for of enflamed vitriol, we speak words of kindness and blessing. In a world full of fractious arguments and warfare, we serve as peacemakers. In a world full of indescribable evils, we seek good, lovely days.

We do this because we know and believe something that the world does not. We know that God is good, and that He is in control. Those who aren’t born again by the Spirit of God will not and cannot escape the bondage of sin. We should not expect people to behave well – exactly the opposite! So, how should we respond when people behave badly? Luther says it this way:

Preaching-347x280You have no reason to revile, but to bless. You have received a blessing from God, not only for yourselves, but also that you may be a blessing to those who are still held by the curse. In other words you are to pray for them that they also may also come to faith through your doctrine, patience and exemplary manner of living … you have more cause to pray for your enemies and to have compassion on them than to be angry with them, and the like.”

Luther soberly adds, “O Lord God! How few such Christians there are!”

This Advent, I hope we are all struck once again at the mission God has given us, which we must carry out faithfully until Christ returns. Our best preparation for His second advent is to be fully engaged in the blessings of the first.! “As the Father has sent me, so also I send you” says Jesus in John 20:21 … to proclaim the favor of the Lord on those who would believe! To bring healing to the broken, and compassion on those bound by the curse! Might the “peace on earth, good will toward men” that we all long for during this season pour out of the Church, draw people to Christ, and help prepare them for eternity, too!

Oh…and when we do this, we receive a blessing, too!

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2014 in Advent 2014

 

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Uncle Augustine – Unity of the Church

Uncle Augustine – Unity of the Church

As an orphan searching for his family, I was pointed to one old uncle who everyone seems to like. I thought that would be a safe way to begin.

Uncle Augustine (St. Augustine) is a very smart African Christian who lived from 354-430. Everyone seems to love him – Protestants, Catholics…even the Eastern church venerates him as a “saint”. He was a late-in-life convert at 32. He had a Christian mom (Monica, e.g. Santa Monica, the city in the Los Angeles area), but his dad was pagan. His was a well-to-do family, so a good education was made available to him. He loved literature, philosophy, and rhetoric. He also liked the ladies, a had a baby out of wedlock during his teen years.

He became a rhetoric teacher in Carthage, and eventually moved to the big city of Rome to teach there. In Rome, and then in Milan, he was encouraged by his mother and some friends to check out Christianity. He was inspired by some writings from Church history. He heard the preaching of the Bishop of Milan, Ambrose, which was very influential to him. But what put him over the edge was his reading of the book of Romans. Ambrose baptized Augustine, and the 44-year ministry career was on!

So much more to say – but for now, I want to share with you one of Augustine’s ideas that shines some much-needed light on our contemporary family – and on me.

Augustine and the Donatists

In Augustine’s day, the church had a problem: It was splitting. The issues were intense. There was a group that had broken away from the one, unified church because they thought that some of church leaders had disqualified themselves by what they perceived as the sin of apostasy – of denying Christ when the heat was on. They said that, since these leaders were defiled, they could not lead communion services. So they ordained their own leaders, and started “doing church” on their own, apart from the one, internationally connected church.

Fast forward to 2013. Whatever, right? This happens all the time in the Christianity we know today – it couldn’t be more “normal.” Any idea of some sort of single, universal church is long gone. New churches start every day, with new leaders being “sent” by whichever local church organization with whom they happen to be connected. No one cries “foul”. How can we? Our politically-induced freedom of religious expression has translated to the total freedom of Christian expression. There seem to be no rules, and – by virtue of our contemporary world view – we are obliged to honor all such expressions.

Augustine takes issue, and turns the whole leadership/sacraments argument on its head. See if this makes sense to you:

Ancient Eucharist“Although this sacrifice is made or offered by man [cf., communion], still the sacrifice is a divine act … The whole redeemed community, the congregation and fellowship of the saints, is offered as a universal sacrifice to God by the great priest who offered himself … that we might be the Body of so great a Head … so the Apostle exhorted us to ‘present our bodies as a living sacrifice’ … we ourselves are the whole sacrifice … this is the sacrifice of Christians; the ‘many who are one body in Christ’.” (City of God 10:5-6)

I’ve always understood communion as God giving me the body of Jesus. Jesus is the sacrifice, and I’m the recipient of it. Nod with me if that’s what you’ve always thought…

But Augustine says we are the sacrifice at the table. Not that we are broken and bleed for the sins of the world – that would, of course, be heresy. But Jesus said “This is my body” about the Eucharist. He also says “This is my body” about us, His people.

“The reason why these are called sacraments is that one thing is seen in them, but something else is understood … listen to the repeated teaching of the Apostle; for he says, ‘We are many, but we are one loaf, one body’ … So the Lord has set his mark on us, wished us to belong to him, has consecrated on his table the mystery of our peace and unity.” (Sermon 272)

I’ve never thought this way before: That celebrating communion is a celebration of our unity as a people! He goes on to say,

“If a man receives the sacrament of unity, but does not ‘keep the bond of peace’, he does not receive a sacrament for his benefit, but evidence for his condemnation.” (Sermon 272)

In other words, if people celebrate a unity they aren’t actually doing, it does you more harm than good.

Yikes.

a plate full of small, individual “loafs” – an icon of our times?

Every Sunday, hundreds of thousands of tables are set with versions of the Lord’s Supper. People take for a variety of reasons. Some believe it is the transubstantiated host which fills them with grace. For others, a mystical encounter with Jesus. Others see it simply as a memory device to remind them of the crucifixion. For others, it is truly a mindless act of religious ritual. Christians have split numerous times over the interpretation of this sacrament…

Which makes Uncle Augustine’s insistence all the more ironic in our day. Communion is a “sacrament of unity.” When we hold that bread, it is a piece of the one loaf – the one “body of Christ” – of which we are a part. But the Protestant world, like the splitters in Augustine’s time, live in conscious, active division. Our many denominations are a testimony to the fact that we are not one body. And that our communion is not universal. And that there is not one loaf.

Now, I walk to the table, and see that bread there. The body of Christ. Am I a part of it? Or, as a spiritual orphan, am I and my church tradition so hopelessly severed from the unified body of Christ that the bread’s conveys to me a word of judgment, not of benefit?

I’ll be spending more time with Uncle Augustine. But one thing I’ve learned from him already is that there are those from our past who took the unity of the church way more seriously than we do today. I wonder what he would think if he could see our modern church. If his heart and convictions are right, what should we do?

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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