Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Worlds Collide | Lent 2015


Fourth Sunday – Lent 2015
Numbers 21:4-9

22:22-29 Israelites in the wilderness directly after the death of Aaron… Moses is still leading them.

21:1-3 Canaanites captured some Israelites and the Lord let Israel destroy the Canaanite cities in retribution.

Txt: They were headed around the Edom (the way of the Red Sea)… They became impatient. They spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” 

The Lord sent fiery (poisonous) serpents among them… They were bitten… many died…

The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned… we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray that he may take the serpents away from us.” Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole… everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” Moses made this bronze serpent and set it on a pole. If a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live…

Later: They continued toward the Promised Land

Ephesians 2:1-10[1]

Prior: Greeting, thanksgiving/prayer… the Lord reigns theme

Txt: You were dead in trespasses and sins in which you walked[2] … following the world (instead of the Way)… the prince of the power of the air[3]… the spirit at work in the sons of disobedience…[4] --among whom we have all once lived in the passions of our flesh… desires of the body and mind… children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. God, due to his rich mercy, His great love… even though we were dead, we have been made alive together with Christ by grace you have been saved…. Raised up with him and seated with him in the heavenly places… in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace and kindness toward us in Christ… by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God… not a result of works so that a man may boast. But, we are his works… his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Continues: We are One in Christ… circumcised of heart… reconciled

John 3:14-21

Prior: Behold, the Lamb of God… Wedding at Cana… Jesus cleanses the Temple… Jesus knows what is in man. Jesus… did not entrust himself to those at a Passover feast in Jerusalem because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man…

Chapt. 3: You must be born again. Nicodemus conundrum how can you do these signs?!?… born again… answers with a riddle. How can an old man be born again?!? A: born of water and the Spirit… flesh leads to flesh, but spirit leads to spirit… do not marvel, the wind blows where it wishes, you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it’s coming or going… it’s the same with those who are born of the Spirit. How can these things be?!? You’re a teacher of Israel, yet you do not understand?? We speak of what we know and bear witness to what we have seen… But, you do not receive our testimony… if I tell you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe when I tell you heavenly things?? No one can ascend except the one who has descended…

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life… he did not send his son to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him… whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God….

Light has come into the world.. people love darkness because their deeds were evil… the light exposes our evil deeds… whoever does what is true comes to the light so that it may be clearly seen.

Continued: John the Baptist… precursor to Christ… He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. 3:31

World vs. heavenly contrast
Ephesian: Heraclitus
Focus on Nicodemus… earth vs. heaven… evil vs. uplifted/sanctified
Gospel seems to contradict Ephesians’ focus that God has prepared our deeds and light focus on revealing our deeds… explain/expound how this doesn’t contradict…
Vikings: the thing about power is that one must be willing to bend down to pick it up.

Worlds Collide
That the Hearers work in this world, but not of this world... (Epistle)

Grace mercy and peace to you from God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son, Our Lord. Amen.

All these words, hear them with your ears. But, hold them in your heart. (Ez. 3:10)

Wow. It is my joy to be here today. And, what a journey it has been since I have last seen you. My family has moved up to Wisconsin, my sister is about to graduate from college in Minnesota, my brother is attending Valparaiso University, and I’ve graduated from Concordia Wisconsin. Now, I continue my studies at the Concordia Seminary in St. Louis as well as keep busy at work at the international center of the LCMS. There, I make phone calls, raising funds for different ministries including the seminaries, disaster relief, and missionaries all around the world.

The Epistle lesson for today is from a letter Paul wrote to the Ephesians. It reminded me that one of my co-workers at the International Center actually had the privilege of visiting Ephesus. She said it was beautiful. Many of the ancient structures still stand. She saw pillars and other signs of antiquity. She had earned her trip by helping with the missions of our synod and said she was glad to enjoy it. But, even today as she traveled the ancient city, there were signs of an ancient lifestyle. One of these signs were the particular markings on the streets both for Christian safe-houses and prostitution rings. There were circles with lines in the middle of them pointing to the closest safe place to worship. But, on the ground, there was a footprint with signs marking the closest brothel. Both faith and sin abounded, but sin seemed to be the emphasis. In fact, they had once had underground tunnels leading from the library where men would leave their wives for the day in order to study to the closest place of promiscuity.

With the remnants of this culture, thick with immorality, there is a story of a man who had once lived there. As you may recall, part of my bachelor’s degree at Concordia was in philosophy where I studied the western thinkers before the birth of Christ. These were men such as Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates. They were the first to bring a place for deep thought to the west. Perhaps, most ironically was the fact that even they were influenced first by the minds of the East, such as a man who lived in Ephesus named Heraclitus.

Heraclitus is also known as “the Wheeping Philosopher.” This is because he stood alone and wept for his city, Ephesus, and its immorality. He saw himself as the only virtuous person in Ephesus and could not comprehend why they wanted to kick him out of town. They wanted to exile him. Perhaps it was because of his religion. One of his biggest laments was against the Ephesians’ idea of God. Before Paul sent this letter of Good News to the Ephesians, even more of them believed in Zeus, Hercules, and the gods of Olympus as well as other idols made of stone. Heraclitus knew this couldn’t be true.

The religious folk accused Heraclitus of impiety and he wept saying that there was no way to be pious if they never taught who god truly was. He lamented at the fact that his peers did not even know where god was. He asked them, “Do you think he’s shut up in temples?” “You are a fine sort of pious men, who set up God in darkness! … Don’t you know that God is not wrought by hands, and has not from the beginning had a pedestal, and does not have a single enclosure?”

Instead of concerning themselves with theology, Heraclitus’ peers behaved as animals. Actually, Heraclitus thought the animals were better than his peers. He cries that animals know better than to pick up swords to fight one another. Even the animals who have adjusted to live with men have become tame and domesticated. But, the men who live amongst men remain wild. He pondered “how wicked will men get?” How long will they let vice pile up on vice and ignore any sort of virtue? How long will they be slaves to their passions? He understood that “vice alone enslaves and virtue alone liberates.” But, his fellow Ephesians had no virtue to liberate them.

All of these thoughts so far were contained in Heraclitus’ letters. They have been saved through-out time and translated from Ancient Greek to English. There are only seven or eight of them in total. And, all of Heraclitus’ other philosophical work has only been saved in fragments. He has many bits and pieces of tiny advice, but it is hard to grasp a deep understanding from just a sentence or two. They really remind me of Facebook statuses.

As I travel a lot and move one place to the other, Facebook has become the easiest and quickest way to stay in touch with so many people that I know and care about. It would almost seem impossible to text, call, send out postcards, or even email as many people as I can contact with a single click on Facebook. And, I am both surprised and glad that so many of you have opened up your own Facebook accounts. It’s a great way to stay in touch with family and see pictures. And, it is really great to have a random “like” or comment from one or two of you.

But, Facebook as well as other media such as the news, is also a constant reminder that our world really hasn’t changed all that much. It is easy for us to go online or sit down in front of the T.V. and spend hours hearing about what’s wrong in the world. Some things are important and warn us of dangers we may need to protect ourselves from. But, others just seem to be people complaining about everything, even about other people complaining. There are pictures of kids drinking, evidence of promiscuity, harsh debates, and slander. In this whole mess of live-streamed negativity as well as confessions of immorality, it is easy to feel just like Heraclitus… the only moral person left.

But, Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, begins the second chapter of Ephesians reminding us that we were all just like the sinners that we see around us. We were dead in our trespasses. We were dead in our sin. We lived in error and in bad judgment. We became the slaves to our vices. The influence of the world tossed us about.

One of the commentators on this text said that Paul was actually being gentle here. He realized that we are sinful, we deserve the blame, but Paul also writes about an accomplice.[1] The prince of the power of the air distracts us. He leads us astray, Satan himself, commands this domain beneath heaven, but above the earth… the air. Here, he twists words and creates miscommunication. He whispers lies and shouts secrets. He encourages vice and slanders virtue.

We, like the rest of the world, are helpless against his attacks. We continue to sin. We continue to trespass against one another. You would think that since we know God, things would get better. But, that’s not always the case. We’re not immune to the attacks of the prince of this world.

There is evidence of this in the Old Testament lesson. As the Israelites continued their march to the Promised Land, after witnessing so many miracles and wonders of a caring and loving God, they once again grew impatient. This is a consistent theme in their story, they work hard, they trust in God, they trust in Moses, but then they get discouraged. They lose faith. And, it isn’t very long before they blaspheme their own Lord or create something else to worship such as a golden calf or their own stomachs.

In this example, they’re tired and thirsty. They’re sick of the food that God has already miraculously supplied for them. They wish they had died in Egypt rather than live through this torture. Just when they thought things were getting bad, things got worse. Doesn’t this seem to happen to us a lot? We often struggle to find the point in our suffering. We have aches and pains and things we just can’t get off of our mind. But, then something worse happens. Our perspective shifts. We begin to wish that our problems were as easy as before. Many times when these problems hit, we turn not to God, but to our vices. We complain. We slander. We become slaves to our sin. We become just as dead in our trespasses as the bitten Israelites had become. We die because anything apart from God is dead. Yet, the Gospel calls us to look up.

Even when we were dead in our trespasses, God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, made us alive together with Christ!! By His grace we have been saved. Even for the Israelites, God was merciful. He healed those who looked up in hope above their own problems and above their own sin. Above the influence of this world, a bronze serpent on a pole was hung. And, everyone who looked at it lived.

Now, we know that Jesus Christ has brought the same salvation to us. He took the case in the Old Testament and amplified it to not only save Israel, but the world. He prophesied that he would be lifted up just as the serpent had been lifted up… nailed to a cross. And, whoever believes in the Good News, the saving grace of God and redemption through the death of Christ, will live… not just now, but forever… eternally.

I heard in a recent television show, one riddled with just as much sin and immorality as any other a remarkable quote: “To achieve great power, one must be willing to stoop down to pick it up.” That is what Jesus Christ has done for us. He sees us dead. We’re lying on the ground wailing, just as good as dead, wishing we had died a long time ago, just like the Israelites, instead of suffering through our trials. We sin by complaining against God and against the leaders he has given us. We trespass against each other. We give into our vices… create idols out of abstractions… And, Jesus stooped down to us, to pick us up. This wasn’t to earn his own power. He didn’t need that. He is Lord. He is God. He is power. But, he stooped down to pick us up to join in his riches and grace.

He raised us up with him on that third day when he rose from the tomb so that we may be seated with him in heaven. Forever. This is all about what he has done, not about what we can do. If this saving grace was up to us, we’d boast. We’d get big-headed and prideful. And, in that act, we would fail ourselves. We would give into our vices once again. Instead, we are humbled.

At the beginning of the message, I talked about myself a lot. Part of it was because I thought I should update you. Part of it was because I have been able to do so many great things and witness so much. I haven’t even mentioned ministering in the national parks yet. But, the entirety of it was because of Jesus Christ. I am just his workmanship… created for His good works, established not in the musings of this world, the influence of sin and Satan, but established in His Word, the Gospel, His power.

And, so are you… created by God to perform the works he has prepared in advance for you to do. Christ is the one who stands alone as righteous, calling out to us to make us righteous… To take the credit for ourselves is too much. He is the one who stooped down to us. And, he is the one who picks us back up to be with Him. Amen.

Now, may the peace that passes our human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus as he works through you from now into eternity. Amen.

[1] Chrysostom understands that Paul is being gentle with the Ephesians, giving them an accomplice… "Why does he call the Devil 'the prince' of the world? Because nearly the whole human race has surrendered itself to him and all are willingly and of deliberate choice his slaves. And to Christ, though He promises unnumbered blessings, not any one so much as gives any heed; whilst to the Devil, though promising nothing of the sort, but sending them on to hell, all yield themselves. His kingdom then is in this world, and he has, with few exceptions, more subjects and more obedient subjects than God..." (Chrysostom n.d., Loc 2524)

[1] “The universe is rifted. History and the heart of man are rifted. The fact of a rift is the elemental, decisive fact about reality and its wholeness. In the background… the vast scheme of reconciliation.” “There exists a condition of total spiritual disorder. This disorder not only characterizes the inner life of man and his relations with his fellows; it involves a state of conflict in man’s relationship to God… Throughout the entire universe disharmony reigns; the cosmos is split… on earth a fierce ‘enmity’ (2:16) is rampant, separating men from God and from fellow men.” (Mackay 1953, 25)

[2] Ps. 1… Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands on the road of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers…. Rm. 5 We now stand in the hope of the glory of God.

[3] “Non-Christian humanity is not only dead, it is also ruled by malevolent supernatural forces which, we read later, continue to harass believers (6:11-12). The devil’s realm is in the air, that region above earth but below heaven.” (Jr. 1985, 44)

[4] Chrysostom understands that Paul is being gentle with the Ephesians, giving them an accomplice… "Why does he call the Devil 'the prince' of the world? Because nearly the whole human race has surrendered itself to him and all are willingly and of deliberate choice his slaves. And to Christ, though He promises unnumbered blessings, not any one so much as gives any heed; whilst to the Devil, though promising nothing of the sort, but sending them on to hell, all yield themselves. His kingdom then is in this world, and he has, with few exceptions, more subjects and more obedient subjects than God..." (Chrysostom n.d., Loc 2524)

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