Thursday, January 14, 2021
Apparently Nathaniel’s disparaging remark about Nazareth is just plain old prejudice and doesn’t count as deceit. Or it could be that Jesus is engaging in a little sarcasm himself. At any rate the encounter with Jesus moves Nathaniel beyond his limited understanding of “can anything good come from Nazareth” to seeing the Good that came from the unlikely place. He proclaims “You are the Son of God” which is to say “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God… and we have beheld his glory…” (John 1:1, 14) In the knowing, Nathaniel becomes one who will see the future in the present because those who believe “have already passed from death to life.” (John 5:24) We are not so different from Nathaniel. We are often found sitting under the fig tree of our own religious prejudice. Can anything good come from St. Louis? (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) Or can anything good come from Chicago? (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Or closer to home, can anything good come from the city on the hill – Dallas Theological Seminary? We who doubt whether good can come from places we dismiss need to be found under the fig trees of our limited understanding and like Nathaniel journey from guile to goodness so that the world will know the Good that came from Nazareth.
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
Corinth was the “sin city” of the 1st century and the Christians living there struggled to be “in the world but not of the world.” Judging by the contents of the correspondence they didn’t do very well and some, like the man sleeping with his father’s wife, even made the pagans blush.(1 Corinthians 5:1) So Paul’s caveat “not everything is beneficial” might have been lost on those who said “I have the right to do anything.” The trouble was a misapplication of the Gospel that had rightly repealed the requirements of the law, namely food restrictions, sacrifices and circumcision. A good number of the Corinthians thought that meant they were free to do as they pleased; after all they were saved by grace. We can fall into the same trap thinking that as long as we feel badly about whatever we’ve done we are good to go and do whatever again. Unfortunately Lutherans tend to be the most susceptible to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer labeled “cheap grace”. The cost of sin was born by Christ but we continue to run a tab whenever we are mastered by the very things from which Christ has set us free. But the Lutheran two step of Law/Gospel was always meant to lead to an amendment of sinful ways albeit without dancing into the sin of being sanctimonious, not an easy step to master. The good news is that those united with Christ are one with His spirit which means help is always just a prayer away.
Monday, January 11, 2021
The call of Samuel is a sad story for Eli but then his response to the word Samuel receives indicates Eli knew it was coming and in some ways welcomed it. His sons were scoundrels, stealing sacrifices and sleeping with the women who served at the tent of meeting. Eli rebuked them but only as a plea and not as a parent so that the sins of the sons were visited upon the father and vice versa. Samuel, on the other hand, learned well from Eli and in many ways was the son Eli wished his boys could have been. That’s not to say that children who behave well in public are not sinners, we are all infected by the rebellious ways of the first couple, but unlike Eli’s sons Samuel listened to the Lord. We’d like to think that our actions or inactions don’t have consequences and while we don’t operate with some sort of Christian Karma, what we do, or don’t do, matters; which is to say what the Lord would have us do begins with listening.
Thursday, January 7, 2021
You might want to take cover when the small g gods ascribe to the Lord the glory due God’s name. That’s because they recognize the voice of the Lord in thunder and lightning and earth shaking wilderness and bowing down is what you do when the earth starts to skip like a calf. While the ancients attributed such displays of power to supernatural forces they are no less terrifying when one can explain how a super cell becomes super. So a place to hide might come in handy when “ascribe to the Lord” whips up a storm and strips the oak trees bare. There are times when our personal world is shaken and all pretense of being in control is broken so that bowed low we are tempted to ascribe to the Lord blame rather than glory. The psalmist believes God is responsible for everything – the good, the bad, and the in-between – and so praise and plea are the same thing. O Lord, give strength to your people is as much a prayer for the blessing of peace as it is a promise for a place to hide.
Wednesday, January 6, 2021
The debate about creation tends to argue about how long it took to get the formless void to take the shape we recognize. Personally I don’t think the account is about how long it took, but I am perfectly willing to accept that if God wanted the challenge of creation in six twenty-four hour days God was up to it. I find the more difficult question to be why. Some will say that it was out of love that God said, “Let there be light” but I am sure the universe would have been just as happy as a formless void without the darkness humanity has visited upon it. I know I wouldn’t care if I’d never been. How would I even know the difference? So I don’t think the first act of creation was about us. It was about God’s need to bring order to chaos so that God’s creative nature could be expressed in the crowning achievement of creation. And though the scriptures record Adam’s reaction to Eve as “flesh of my flesh” I image God’s reaction after breathing life into the dust that became flesh to be so similar as to be the same. So I stand corrected. It was all about love.