Archive for July, 2012

Reading Ramblings for August 5, 2012

July 29, 2012

Date: August 5, 2012,
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts:
Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 145:10-21; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:22-35

Contextual
Notes:
We remain in the longest season of the Church
Year, the non-festival season of Ordinary Time. Except for a few
other festival Sundays, Ordinary Time will continue until the
beginning of Advent. This time of the liturgical year focuses us on
the work of the Holy Spirit and the Church in light of the
resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The readings will not
always neatly line up together to form a common theme, but the Gospel
and the Old Testament readings will normally support one another.

For the next few weeks, the
lectionary takes readings from John rather than the appointed Gospel
for
the year, Mark. These out-of-sequence readings are not
really out of sequence – they are the latter 2/3 of John 6, in
which John records the conversations and events following the feeding
of the 5000 and the walking on the water that we have read the past
two weeks in Mark 6. The lectionary allows us to follow more deeply
what the significance is of Jesus’ feeding of the 5000, and the
teachings that followed from it.

Exodus 16:2-15: Here is
another feeding text, one which would have been forefront in the
minds of Jesus’ followers (at least after his resurrection and
ascension). Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 in Mark 6 is not the first
time that God has miraculously provided for the hunger of his people.
Hunger is nothing new, and God is fully capable of providing for the
physical needs of his people. In this text from Exodus, He does so
directly, without using any human agents. The text from Ephesians
hints at a different means at work in the world now, where God uses
his people to provide for the needs of the world. The effect remains
the same – the hungry are fed. Yet in each instance of providing
food – whether in the desert with manna or on the hillsides with
loaves and fishes or with the humanitarian efforts of Christian aid
organizations, the filling of a belly is also primarily an
opportunity to point to the God who has provided in each circumstance
and by varying means. We feed the hungry because they are hungry –
we do not hold them hostage with their hunger until we have preached
to them. But failing to preach to them, we are guilty of satisfying
a temporary need and ignoring an eternal one. God the Father and the
Son of God do not make this mistake, as Jesus makes clear in the
Gospel reading for this morning.

Psalm 145:10-21: God is
to be praised. Always. Because of what He is constantly doing and
because of what He has already done. We do not predicate our praise
on whether or not God is meeting our needs of the moment in the way
we expect or desire him to. We praise him because He is the creator
of all things, and the sole power behind the fulfillment of our needs.
Not only this, God is always righteous in this. If we seek to blame
God for perceived injustices, for hunger and starvation in parts of
the world for instance, we need to be very clear. A righteous God
has indeed provided for the needs of all. But sinful men and women
interfere, diverting the bounty of the earth for their own gain, for
the control of others, for blatantly unGodly purposes. We must
remember to look in the mirror before we declare that the Lord is
unrighteous or unjust. Odds are, God is not to blame!

Ephesians 4:1-16:
I suspect we all have the tendency to think to ourselves that if we
only experienced the direct presence and care of our God the way the
people in the Bible did, we would have such strong faith! If only we
could experience the burning bush, or taste mana fresh off the
ground, or follow behind the pillar of cloud and fire, we wouldn’t
struggle in our faith and obedience. Paul indicates otherwise here.
Those who experienced those very things struggled mightily in faith
and obedience. God does not generally directly lead his people the
way He did the Israelites in the desert, but He does still lead. He
still provides for the needs of his people, but He does so as He has
from the beginning – through our vocations, through each of us
doing the work we are called to do to the glory of God and the
blessing of our neighbor. In doing so, all of creation works closer
to the way it was designed to. The hungry are fed. The weak are
strengthened. The confused are brought to greater understanding, and
God is glorified in all. What a gift we have been given in Jesus
Christ, that his Spirit is still at work among us!

John 6-22-35:
What
happened after Jesus calms the waters and they arrive in Capernaum?
John picks up on details that Mark passes over. The crowds find
Jesus again at the sleepy port town of Capernaum. They ask him why
he left them, and Jesus cuts to the heart of the matter – they seek
him because he fed them food, and that is the wrong reason to be
seeking after him.

Notice his response when they ask what they ought to be doing if they
are to do the works of God. He doesn’t give them a list of things to
do or not do. He doesn’t even refer them to the Ten Commandments.
He simply says to believe in the Messiah, the Son of God, the one
that God has sent. This is the extent of what we contribute to our
Christian life. Everything else we do and say is secondary, not even
worthy of mentioning. What matters is our faith in Jesus Christ,
because from this will flow the Holy Spirit’s power that transforms
our lives and increasingly guides our other actions and thoughts and
words.

The confusion remains, however. They want the bread from heaven,
assuming it to be the bread that they were filled with the previous
afternoon, or similar to the bread their forefathers ate in the
desert – food without cost or effort. They want this food always.
But Jesus continues to speak in roundabout ways. He is the bread of
life, and He is the source of total and complete fulfillment. His
hearers most likely would have understood this in terms of his
miraculous ability to feed huge crowds of people, but this is not
Jesus’ point. Our physical hunger and thirst will one day end with
death, but until then they always remain. True satisfaction of our
needs is larger in scope than just how full our bellies are. True
satisfaction is only achieved when we have been reconciled with God
the Father, when we are no longer at war with him and therefore no
longer subject to the curse of Genesis 3 that plagues us with little
deaths of hunger and thirst each day before our actual death.

We’ll continue reading Jesus’ teaching in the coming weeks. But for
now, we need to be clear that our God does tend to our needs, but it
is not only the tending to our temporal needs that we praise him for. We
praise him that He is rather bringing all of creation back into
proper relationship with himself. In doing so, He will completely
satisfy the hunger pangs of all creation with his own presence for
eternity.

In the meantime, we do what we are called to do, and in so doing, we
become the hands and feet of God in this world, we become his
provision for others. We do so not out of obligation but out of
joyful response, because it is what we were designed to do and to be.
How could we choose otherwise? And how can we sit by and allow
others to subvert the good gifts of God for their own personal gain
even as others hunger and thirst and die? The grace of God which
frees us from all obligations drives us to take up obligations to our
neighbor very seriously. In doing so, we feed not only their
bellies, but more importantly we create the opportunity to share the
good news of Jesus Christ, which will sustain them regardless of what
else happens in their life.   

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Knowing Is Half the Battle

July 27, 2012

I have that on good authority from a cartoon version of GI Joe.  You can’t argue with that sort of credential.

But who should be doing the teaching?  Now there’s a more interesting issue.  This article from the Christian Science Monitor caught my eye.  It’s a short article on a good topic – teens being taught relationship skills and how to navigate the oft’times treacherous waters of adolescent and young adult dating.  Certainly something that ought to be dwelt on.  But I find it interesting that it’s the government that is doing it.  
I could make a few jokes about the fact that the government is providing tips on how to break up but not tips on skills for making wiser decisions about the types of people you get into relationships with, but that’s  not entirely fair.  A lot of criteria may go into how people find themselves in relationships, but there are comparatively simpler rules of conduct on how to end them.  The problem is that when you’re in a bad relationship, expecting the ending to be better than the relationship itself is probably not a reasonable expectation.  
What kids really need is help in figuring out what sorts of relationships are healthy and appropriate, and what sort of people are healthy and appropriate for them to be in relationship with.  That seems to be a glaring shortcoming.  Is it the government’s job to do this?  I don’t think so – by a long shot.  Traditionally it would be the family and the church – two institutions that have been severely damaged and marginalized in the last century, both by their own foolishness as well as cultural agendas that see both of them as more burdensome than anything.  
How many youth groups in churches talk with kids – not just teens but pre-teens – about relationships?  The church is more likely to promote a program for abstinence and purity, but what about even more foundational stuff about how to wisely choose a girlfriend or boyfriend?  It’s tempting to jump away from that in the name of individuality and freedom, but how is that any more responsible than designing programs to pick up the pieces?  Congregations may prefer to think of parents doing this sort of training, but how realistic is that?  
We don’t have many young adults in our congregation, but they need mentoring and guidance as they make the transition from ‘boys are icky’ to ‘boys are really, really interesting’.  How do pastors and youth leaders open dialogue with parents so that conversations can be had, wisdom and experience can be shared, and young men and women can be given some really good input on how they approach the issue of dating?  Have you experienced such a program as you were growing up?  Are you part of one now as a parent?  How would you react to a pastor approaching you about working together to talk with your son or daughter about these issues, and at what age are such discussions generally (since every child is somewhat different) appropriate?
Lots of good questions that ought to be asked, before the government has to help pick up the pieces.

Onions Make You Cry

July 26, 2012

It’s just that sometimes, they are tears of laughter.

Bitter, sarcastic, cynical, ironic tears, to be sure.  For which I should be duly smacked.  But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a kernel of truth in there somewhere.  I’m just not exactly sure where, and I’m too busy to actually look for it at the moment.  Discuss.

Famous Last Words

July 25, 2012

The power of guilt is not to be underestimated.  We claim that time heals all wounds, and I suspect that’s true.  But guilt – particularly unconfessed, unacknowledged, unclaimed, and unforgiven guilt – is a wound that never heals properly.

Folks are talking about this man who used his obituary as a chance for a final confession.  It’s hard to tell exactly what he believed about his life and death from the language in this piece.  But it’s clear that despite having a life he considered wonderful, there were things in his past that continued to haunt him, skeletons in his closet that would not keep still.
Confession isn’t just good for the soul – it can make all the difference in all our lives.

Penalty Box

July 24, 2012

Few of us could have missed the publicity and uproar surrounding the arrest, trial, and conviction of Penn State’s former football coach Jerry Sandusky for years of molesting children.  The issue of sanctions and penalties for the school in general bears merit because it is clear that there were people at varying levels of the school’s administration who understood that something was wrong and yet did nothing.  This is not the first time that strong sanctions and penalties have been levied on teams and entire sports programs for the misconduct of individuals, but it strikes me as a curious one.  

There is the monetary fine, which seems appropriate.  Administrators and officials at the school failed in their moral duty to protect young people from the abuse of one of their employees.  The fine serves as a painful reminder to the school – and a cautionary tale to other schools – that covering up evil is not a profitable venture.  The amount of $60 million is apparently equal to one year’s worth of revenue from the football program.  I’m sure it will be lost in the other discussions at this time, but that’s an amazing figure that ought to have us discussing a variety of other issues regarding sports programs tied to institutions of higher learning, but oh well.
Recruitment scholarships have been trimmed from  25 to 15 for the next four years, and 20 other scholarships have been eliminated over the next four years.  Now we move into sanctions that seem to be aimed at crippling the sports program for years to come.  Not just four years, but more likely closer to a decade.  While there is precedent for this sort of action, I’m somewhat confused as to the rationale behind it.  I’m assuming that they want to make sure that the football program doesn’t continue to do well in the near future, so that there’s nothing of Sandusky’s legacy that remains unaffected.  Any better insights on this one?
Preventing any legacy of Sandusky to survive seems to be the point of banning Penn State’s football team from post-season play for the next four years as well.  There’s no chance of them winning any sort of title or championship, no way for Sandusky supporters to take comfort in the performance of a team that still bears his imprint.  Putting the team on probation for five years seems like a reasonable thing to do, except that the main perpetrator(s) behind this whole fiasco are already gone.  Is there the fear that there are other closet predators related to the team that need to be monitored?
The last penalty is the one I have the hardest time with.  All of the team’s victories from 1998 to 2011 are repudiated and invalidated.  This effectively reduces Sandusky’s winning streak by a little over 100 games, and ensures that he is not remembered as any type of winningest coach.  
The intent overall is to penalize the school for not stepping in when people clearly knew there was a problem.  Understood.  The intent is also to destroy the legacy of the man who perpetrated these awful crimes.  Understood – to an extent.  And this is where things get tricky.  Because regardless of what moves are made on paper to rewrite Sandusky’s legacy, his legacy remains.  Those games were won.  Yes, they were won under the guidance of a man with severe and dangerous moral failures.  But they were won.  His players won those games.  Sandusky isn’t the only one being tarnished here.  Everyone who played under him for 13 years suddenly has their achievements taken from them.  Is the assertion that everyone on the team for all 13 years understood what was going on?  That would be impressive, and would certainly warrant such severe measures.  
But I truly doubt that anyone is asserting such widespread complicity in Sandusky’s sin.  
Sandusky is going to be vilified for many years to come.  His reputation has been destroyed.  Just as the evil he perpetrated can’t be erased, neither can whatever good things he accomplished.  The assumption seems to be that someone who evidences moral failure or the active perpetration of evil in one realm is incapable of producing anything good in another realm.  This seems to be naive at best.  This is not the way people work, for better and worse.  Does the NCAA think that people will justify Sandusky’s evil because he was a really good coach?  Does the NCAA think that other schools will be tempted to permit similar evils because, after all, they’ll get to keep their trophies once the dust settles?  Does the NCAA think that Penn State is really going to be touting the accomplishments of Sandusky for future recruitment?  
And what about the teams and schools that are now suddenly victors because of the invalidation of Sandusky’s victories?  How weird is that?  Oh, we know you lost those games all those years ago, but now you get the trophy because their coach turned out to be a bad man.  Congratulations!  How awkward is that?  Who wins in the decision to rewrite or unwrite history?  What metric do we use to determine when that ought to be done?  
Maybe I’m missing something here, in which case, I’d love to hear your perspectives!

Reading Rambling for 7/29/12

July 22, 2012

Reading
Ramblings

Date: July 29, 2012,
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts:
Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 136:1-9; Ephesians 3:14-21; Mark 6:45-56

Contextual
Notes:
We remain in the longest season of the Church
Year, the non-festival season of Ordinary Time. Except for a few
other festival Sundays, Ordinary Time will continue until the
beginning of Advent. This time of the liturgical year focuses us on
the work of the Holy Spirit and the Church in light of the
resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The readings will not
always neatly line up together to form a common theme, but the Gospel
and the Old Testament readings will normally support one another.

Genesis 9:8-17: An
interesting new beginning. Noah and family step off the ark and the
first thing God does is promise He won’t destroy the world through
flood again. Why would this promise be necessary? It would only be
necessary if both Noah and God understood that the flood’s purpose
was not the elimination of sin and rebellion and all the other
effects of the Fall in Genesis 3. The flood is not God’s attempt to
reset creation, and both Noah and God know that. So a promise is
necessary – Noah needs to know that his sinfulness will not result
in the destruction of the world again. Seen in this light, the
beautiful promise and sign of God in the rainbow have a very dark
undertone. We continue to live in rightful fear of a God who has
created all things and is capable of all things. Yet it is this God
who comes to us in promise and grace, not to destroy but to save and
to continue in relationship with.

Psalm 136:1-9: A hymn of
praise to the only one worthy all praise and honor, our God the
Creator Father. He who created all things is the only one deserving
of the worship of all things. The appointed verses for this morning
focus on his creative acts of wonder, but the Psalm continues to
extol the Lord’s power through means we might find somewhat
questionable – the protection of his people and the destruction of
the enemies of his people. These are not contradictory natures of
God, but they do reflect that the righteous and holy God who brought
all things into being does not treat lightly those who destroy his
creation in rebellion.

Ephesians 3:14-21:
One of Paul’s beautiful benedictions, focusing and directing the
readers to the love of God – the same love that gave Noah the
promise of the rainbow and has now revealed that love again in the
life, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return of his Son,
Jesus the Christ. This is a God truly worthy of all praise – not
because our praise is so valuable and precious, but because God is
God! This is the God that we pray to, who dwells within us through
His Holy Spirit, and who intercedes with us constantly before our
heavenly Father.

Mark 6:45-56:
The
5000 have eaten to their satisfaction, and in typical Mark fashion,
Jesus acts decisively and immediately. Perhaps there was the fear
that the people would seek to lay hold of him, to force him to be
their king, thus bringing danger to themselves and a premature end to
Jesus’ ministry. Perhaps it was simply a desire that his disciples
have some time alone, or that He have some time alone. For whatever
reason, the disciples are sent off by boat while Jesus spends time in
prayer.

It’s
hardly a relaxing trip for the disciples. Some of them at least were
quite experienced with boats and sailing and yet even they had not
been able to successfully get the boat to shore. If we assume the
disciples left close to 6pm, around the beginning of the first watch
of the night, it was now probably 3am or later in the morning – not
much sleep had been gained, and the disciples who had been exhausted
first from their missionary journey, then by acting as waiters for
the feeding of the 5000, are now probably strained to the breaking
point by the relentless wind against them.

Jesus
strolls onto the scene, walking on the water and demonstrating his
mastery over the natural elements. The disciples are terrified –
what other response is appropriate when the Lord of Creation
demonstrates his mastery? Yet there is the reassuring and loving God
again, soothing their fears as God had soothed Noah’s unspoken fears
so many centuries before. Do
not be afraid. Don’t worry. I’m not here to hurt you
.
His presence changes everything. The wind ceases to oppose them,
and they have no ability to comprehend what all of this means. Still
early in Jesus’ ministry, Peter has yet to make his profession of
faith in Jesus as the Messiah, and Jesus has not revealed his
divinity on the mount of Transfiguration. The disciples don’t know
what to make of this strange teacher that walks on water, calms the
wind, and feeds the masses out of nothing.

But the crowds know one thing: Jesus brings healing. His arrival is
cause for a flurry of activity. While people don’t understand about
the nature of God with Us, they understand the effects of God with Us
– those things that cause us fear and struggle are removed. Hunger
is satisfied, nature is tamed, sickness and disease are banished, and
death itself is shown the door. We do not need to completely
comprehend the miracle of the Incarnation of the Son of God to
receive the benefits of his presence (fortunately for us!).

Throughout the readings for today we see a God of love, concerned for
the fears and worries of his creatures, even though his creatures are
incapable of understanding their God and his love. All we can do is
trust him in what He says on the basis of His Son, and live our lives
in that faith and trust, awaiting and expecting his presence and love
and concern for us in all of our needs.

Fine, Let’s Get Theological

July 20, 2012

First off, read this.

If you’re a Lutheran, this article might make some sense to you as you’ve probably been raised with some awareness of Law & Gospel.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with this distinction, let me summarize it.
Martin Luther saw in Scripture two major forces at play – the Law and the Gospel.  The Law is the will of God.  The Law has three functions – and which function it plays may differ based on circumstances. 
The first use of the law is as a curb – it restrains us from following our natural, broken, sinful urges to their logical conclusions.  It restrains our behavior.  What I might be inclined to do because it feels good, I don’t do because I know that despite the good feeling, it’s wrong.  I might wish to strangle my neighbor that chooses to practice the tuba at 3am.  But I do not.  Not because it wouldn’t be enjoyable, but because it would be wrong.  
The second use of the law is that of a mirror.  It shows me my sinfulness.  Whenever I start to feel pretty good about myself, whenever I start to think that God must be awfully pleased with me, the law stands there and shows me my faults.  All of them.  And it reminds me that pleasing God isn’t a matter of being graded on a curve.  It’s strictly a pass-fail arrangement, and either I score 100% or I don’t.  Scoring a 98% isn’t good enough.  As far as God is concerned, it’s no better than scoring 2%.  
The third use of the law is as a guide.  It shows me the way God wants me to live.  It is sort of the converse of the first use of the law in that the emphasis is positive rather than negative.  This use of the law makes sense particularly to those who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  But it also plays out in what is sometimes referred to as natural law.  Because God created everything, He knows best how it ought to work.  We find some of this expressed in the 10 Commandments.  However someone who never heard of the 10 Commandments likely would recognize them immediately because there is an equivalent moral code in their own culture.  In other words, God’s Law doesn’t just work for Christians, it works for everyone.  
The Gospel is the good news that what I can’t do on my own (which the second use of the law always reminds me), God has done for me.  While I can never be righteous on my own, God has sent his Son to become one of us, to live and teach and work wonders and ultimately suffer and die not for anything He did wrong, but for everything you and I have done wrong.  That his perfect obedience becomes credited to us through faith and trust in him.  Rather than seeing all the ways I fail every day, when God looks at me He sees me as his own son.  He sees the death of Jesus that pays the penalty for my brokenness, and – miracle of miracles! – I am declared innocent.  Clean.  Righteous.  Not because of me, but because of Jesus.
That’s the Law and Gospel.  Everything in Scripture falls into one of those categories, more or less.  And the role of a good Lutheran pastor is to be able to distinguish which of those categories the given texts for a Sunday fall into, and preach on them appropriately.  
The author of the little essay I linked you to above is pointing out how this can be perceived as a bait and switch.  We tell our neighbor that Jesus loves them and died for them and that if they simply trust in that, they are made right with God.  There’s nothing they have to do, nothing they have to add (indeed, nothing they can do or add!).  What a miraculous message!  And to someone wracked with guilt, what a powerful message!
They joyfully come to church and get baptized, but as they come Sunday after Sunday, they get hit with the Law over and over again when the Pastor preaches.  How they’re failing here and failing there.  How they need to change their lives in this way and that way.  That they ought to do this and not that.  But wait a minute, our neighbor says, I thought that I couldn’t do anything, that I didn’t have to do anything to please God?  I thought I was forgiven and made righteous in the blood of Jesus?  So why am I being told how to live my life?  Aren’t I set free from the Law?  Now that I have the Gospel, shouldn’t I never hear the Law again?  The Law did its work in accusing me and showing me my need for Jesus.  Mission accomplished.  It is now irrelevant to me!  
And our neighbor is right, as is the author of the essay above.
To a point.  After a fashion.  Sort of.
This was the subject of the seminar I attended last week.  The topic was “The Two Kinds of Righteousness”.  The presenter was one of my seminary professors, Dr. Joel Biermann.  His point was that we often limit the Law to the Second Use – that of condemning us.  We see it only as that which shows us our shortcomings and brings us to Christ, and therefore once we are in Christ it has no purpose.  Only the Gospel should predominate for the Christian.  
But the Law is more than that.  And we have more concerns than pleasing God (although that is our highest priority!).  Jesus summarized the law as love God and love your neighbor.  We live in two realms, two relationships.  The first relationship is to God the Father who created us.  The second relationship is to everyone and everything around us – all the rest of creation.  What is expected of me depends on which relationship I’m considering.
In my relationship to God, there is nothing I can do on my own to affect it.  My relationship with God is fully determined by whether or not I trust what He has done for me through his Son Jesus Christ.  I either trust and accept that, or I reject it.  If I trust and accept that (by the power of the Holy Spirit), then I’m in right relationship to God.  There is no Law, only Gospel, only good news.  If I reject what God has done for me, I am not in right relationship with God.  Nothing I can do or say will alter that, other than repenting and placing my trust in him.  By faith empowered and created by God the Holy Spirit in God the Father’s love and grace through God the Son’s sacrifice, I am declared righteous.  
But in my other relationship, the one with my neighbor and all of creation, how am I righteous?  What makes my neighbor declare me righteous in my relationship with him?  Well, primarily it depends on how well I’m fulfilling the law.  The law of being a good neighbor.  What does that law entail?  Stuff like don’t steal my neighbor’s stuff.  Don’t obsess over my neighbor’s nicer lawn.  Don’t make passes at my neighbor’s wife.  Don’t do anything that might harm my other neighbor’s perceptions of my neighbor.  Ten Commandment type stuff.  First and third use of the law type stuff.
In this fashion, the Law is not a strictly Christian thing.  The Law is a creation thing.  It’s how God created the world to work best.  When we are living out that law properly, things work better.  When we don’t, things don’t work so well.  That holds true whether the person is a Christian or a Buddhist or an atheist or a Muslim.  Being a righteous neighbor is not contingent on the Gospel but on the Law. &nbsp
;The Law still plays a huge role in the life of the Christian.  
So when the blog author complains that people feel tricked, he is on to something.  Not because they’re really being tricked, but because Christians aren’t clear in how we talk about the Law – and many pastors aren’t clear on it from the pulpit.  
Part of this problem as I see it is that we often times don’t tell the full story.  The full Biblical story of what God is doing in his creation that has run amok.  We talk in terms of Jesus saving us from hell, and this is true.  We talk of Jesus taking us to heaven when we die, and this is true.  But that’s where we often leave it.  Us in heaven.  There’s judgment in there somewhere, but the important thing is that we are in heaven.  And that’s where we stay, floating on clouds with harps and singing Michael W. Smith songs for eternity.
Errrr…what?
What about 2 Peter 3:13?  What about Isaiah 11, or Isaiah 65?  When does this all happen?  How does this all fit in?  Is it all part of the story?
I believe that it is.  I believe that passages like these show us our ultimate eternal destiny – not with harps and clouds, but living on a re-perfected earth, doing what Adam and Eve were originally charged with.  Tending to creation, which is what we were created to do.  But doing so perfectly.  Righteously.  And what does that mean?  Doing it according to the Word of God, the Law of God.  The two kinds of righteousness that the Christian deals with now, between God and between neighbor, will be brought together.  There will only be one kind of righteousness lived out perfectly.  
All of this points to an expanded purpose for the Law.  The Law doesn’t just accuse me of my sins so that I repent and turn to Jesus.  The Law guides and instructs me.  Not just for this life, but for all eternity.  I begin learning better here and now what it will be to live perfectly there and then.  I’m not following the Law for no reason, I’m following it because it is my reason, my raison d’etre.  This makes perfect sense of all those passages that John records where Jesus talks about love and obedience (John 13:31-35; 15:1-17, etc.).  He clearly sees that we are created for obedience, and that perfect obedience is perfect love of both our God and our neighbor.  Law and Gospel come together in Jesus.
So, is it bait and switch to get people to come to church with the Gospel and then have them hear the law?  No.  But Christians (and particularly pastors) need to be aware of how they speak of these two elements.  Not as separate, contradictory, anti-thetical things, but as two parts of a whole that will only be reassembled in the Day of our Lord.  Until then, they are separate and each must play its role.  But they both have a role in the life of faith, we just need to refine how we talk about those roles.
 

Disease or Cure?

July 20, 2012

Lots of folks are weighing in these days on what is wrong with our country and what is going to be necessary to fix it.  High unemployment, gridlocked political processes, aging infrastructure, Jersey Shore – there is certainly an unending stream of evidence that there are serious problems in our country.  What to do about them?  That’s a more difficult issue.  

More importantly, the issue of who is supposed to be doing something about it gets complicated.  The frequent assumption is that the government has to lead the way by creating jobs and growth and better education and incentives for people to do things.  However, it seems as though our first 150 years as a nation was primarily defined by a government that allowed people to do what they saw needed doing, and to receive compensation for doing it from other people who appreciated their efforts or wanted the end result of those efforts.  Public education was rudimentary (at least by our enlightened modern standards), college was largely off the radar for the majority of citizens.  Government has to do it, say some, because big business won’t.  
I think both these solutions are crocks.  It wasn’t government or multinational corporations that led our country to being the economic powerhouse that it is.  I find the assumption that people must be bribed or coerced into putting their creativity and abilities to work to be insulting.  I find it insulting that profits must be on a global scale to be worth supporting or investing in.  
Bigger isn’t necessarily always better, but it is always bigger.  There are opportunities both gained and lost in scaling orders of magnitude.  Funny how in discussions about how to jump start productivity, the focus is always on creating more rules and regulations, and almost never on what rules and regulations there already are that might be throttling industriousness and creativity and entrepreneurship.  What if we approached the problem by paring back regulation, rather than seeking to expand it?  
I’m getting a little verklempt.  Talk amongst yourselves – I’ll give you a topic.  What if the public good as it has been championed so frequently in recent decades is neither public nor good?
Discuss.  

Pressure’s Off?

July 19, 2012

An interesting announcement of a sort of success – AIDS is likely to end as a pandemic, not because of a cure but because we can adequately medicate healthy people who are likely to be exposed to the disease.  

After some impressive early successes in the last century at eradicating fierce diseases such as polio, have we shifted gears from actually curing to lifelong treatments for prevention or management of disease?  I don’t think that many people would argue that it’s more profitable to treat someone for a lifetime than it is to cure people outright.  Is that a cynical way of viewing the juggernaut that is the pharmaceutical industry?
Once you have treatment options available to manage or potentially prevent infection, does the pressure to produce actual cures diminish greatly?  Considering that the market for any drug is now the world at large, will the world at large be able to afford the preventative treatments, or are they still praying for a cure?  This story makes me nervous, even as I’m grateful for progress in the fight against sickness and disease.

Desperate for Material?

July 19, 2012

This remains one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.  

My thanks remain to my good friend from high school, Jenn, who introduced my family to the wonders of corn starch on a visit we paid her probably seven years ago. 
Part of the awesomeness of this is that anyone can experiment with this.  Mix up a batch at home, it’s incredibly inexpensive!  It can occupy the kids for a reaaaallly long time.  And I wish that we utilized this fun more frequently!