Archive for November, 2015

Working at Worship

November 30, 2015

Yesterday, at the request of some of my parishioners, we didn’t use our normal format for worship (Divine Service Setting 1, page 151 of the Lutheran Service Book).  Divine Service Setting 1 is the service the congregation was using when I arrived five years ago.  Over the last five years as we transitioned to the LSB, I adjusted the worship a bit so that it was more in line with this service setting.  We’re not exact, but we’re pretty close.

But of course there are lots of other services in the LSB to choose from, and one that my parishioners requested is Matins.  I’ve used a stripped-down format of matins for off-site worship services where a full-scale service would be overkill.  The first eight or nine years of my life included this worship service, and I know the setting and the tunes pretty well even after all these years.  But I haven’t led it before, and our music director hasn’t played through it with us before.  I had high hopes that many of the congregants would remember the tunes after a few minutes.  Many of them did.

Still, it was awkward.  People were really working at worshiping, because they were not familiar with this setting so much anymore.  Afterwards in Bible Study we took time to talk through and process some of what we experienced, and I got to present (again) my theology on worship.

I’ve grown up in traditional liturgy – that’s where my oldest memories are formed.  In college I moved to a campus ministry and the new pastor there was a poet.  Every week almost, the liturgy varied.  All of the major liturgical elements were present – confession & absolution, the Word, the Sacraments, etc.  But the wording surrounding these elements was constantly changing.  I remember enjoying that, but now, over a decade since leaving that worshiping community, I can’t remember a single worship liturgy.  Well, I remember one – a liturgy written by the pastor’s best friend called Feast of Life.  I remember that one not only because it was beautiful, but because we did it several times a year and I could get familiar with it.

Parishioners over the years have shared how they can recite the Sunday liturgy by heart.  They know the tunes to the various liturgical settings.  They know the Offertory, they know the Nunc Dimittis.  These things can be a comfort, a reassurance in the midst of struggle.  These tunes and words come back to us – the words of Scripture set to music that is routinely utilized.  I imagine many regular Christian worshipers would be surprised to learn that they have memorized more of Scripture than they think, because the traditional worship settings draw their language almost exclusively from Scripture!

So I like repetition, because it helps lodge God’s Word in people’s mind.  On the other hand, I disagree with those who would idolize a particular worship setting.  Balance is always difficult to maintain!  I don’t have a problem with more creative liturgies that seek to make the major elements of historic Christian liturgy (Western, at least) more accessible to modern ears.  But that needs to be balanced with an acknowledgement that worship is not only about me and my preferences.  Worship is one of the most tangible links congregants have with the larger body of Christ, with the communion of the saints that has proceeded into glory ahead of us.  Worship unites us with 2000 years of Christians – at least it can.  And while we’re free to opt for new things, we would do well as a whole not to completely sever our liturgical links with the past.

I don’t like Matins so much because it omits things like Confession and Absolution.  In doing some historical research I learned that this is because Matins was originally 1/2 of a larger worship setting (the other half is Lauds).  But I think that it’s good to do different things now and then.  It helps shake us out of the reverie we are apt to fall into on Sunday mornings when things are predictable.  It forces us to concentrate on what we’re doing, what the words actually are.  This is good not in the sense of the Law, but rather just from a common-sense sort of standpoint of awareness.  Perhaps the difficulty in moving to a different liturgical setting is worth it, just so people think a bit more about what they’re doing and why.

Some folks didn’t like Matins.  Part of that has to do with change.  Part of that has to do with the awkwardness of adapting to something different.  The compromise I’ve settled on for now is that we’ll do Matins on fifth Sundays.  That will give us a chance to keep practicing, so that one day it won’t be so uncomfortable and awkward.

This theology of worship also helps explain why I utilize the 3-year lectionary, and why we pay attention to the liturgical seasons.  These are good and helpful things.  They give us other ways of thinking about the year, about the passage of time, about seasons.  They give us other things to look forward to, and provide an order that grows familiar and comfortable over time.  They keep me as the pastor from developing ruts in preaching and liturgy that suit my preferences.  They help ensure that the whole counsel of God is preached and experienced over the course of a year.

It’s OK to be uncomfortable when worshiping, but I know it isn’t fun.  I’m grateful that this congregation is willing to deal with some discomfort, even if it is somewhat of a familiar discomfort!

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Reading Ramblings – December 6, 2015

November 29, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday in Advent – December 6, 2015

Texts: Malachi 3:1-7b; Psalm 66:1-12; Philippians 1:2-11; Luke 3:1-17

Context: The second Sunday in Advent moves us closer to the material related to Jesus’ birth, and away from explicitly eschatalogical/Second Coming sorts of considerations. Our anticipation is built up by recognizing that God’s Old Testament people were waiting as well – waiting for the Messiah that would deliver them, a fuller explication of God’s original first promise to Eve in Genesis 3:15. Our anticipation should also be fueled by the recognition that God provides his people with clues so that they will better recognize these fulfillments. The recognition of Jesus as the Messiah is anchored first and foremost in his resurrection from the dead. But for those who would argue that Jesus is hardly the first person – Biblically speaking – to rise from the dead, the weight of prophetic utterances regarding the Messiah that Jesus fulfills should provide further, inescapable evidence of his identity.

Malachi 3:1-7b – The fulfillment of God’s promise to send his servant is preceded by the fulfillment of another promise, the promise that there will be one who goes before this servant to prepare God’s people. So if our expectation of our Lord’s return is to be bolstered by how God the Father has already been fulfilling his promises, we must not forget this promise either – the promised messenger. John the Baptist’s story is bitter sweet because he is the fulfillment of this promise in Malachi 3, yet he himself suffers for it to the point of death. We are tempted to mourn John’s fate because he missed out on seeing the validity of Jesus’ identity in his resurrection. We would better understand that John is ahead of us, ahead of the women that first Easter morning, ahead of the men on the road to Emmaus. John does not miss out, and neither do we.

Psalm 66:1-12 – Once again our praise is elicited based specifically on the works of God. The psalm moves from the praises of creation in general (vs.1-4), into praise specific to the Old Testament people of God, the ones saved from slavery and death in Egypt through the Exodus (vs.5-7), and then to praise more specific to the ones currently speaking/singing the psalm, the ones whome the Lord has given life to and preserved it to the point that they are alive to sing to him (vs.8-9). The language of verse 10 draws on a verb translated often as test, but the verb truly is more common to the description of how metals and ores are processed, the extraction of the good and the discarding of the worthless. God refines his people, He leads them towards perfection in Christ in that our sins will be wiped away from us and we will one day stand truly clean and perfect in the presence of our Creator. While we might get caught up and troubled by verses 10-12b, our emphasis should rightly remain on the end of verse 12 and the Lord’s strength and delivery of his people.

Philippians 1:2-11 – The beginning of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. Paul follows standard Roman practice in writing letters. After the salutation in verse 1, Paul spends a few moments in giving thanks. Paul generally gives thanks for the person or people to whom he is writing, noting specific, thanks-worthy attributes. Paul here gives thanks that this congregation has helped him in the spread of the Gospel, perhaps as financial supporters of his mission journeys. Then Paul changes the focus from what they have done but rather what God the Holy Spirit is doing in them – completing the work begun in them with their conversion. This is sanctification talk – giving thanks that God is continuing to make them day-by-day more Christlike.

Note that Paul does not question their faith; Paul is not saying that with just a bit more time or effort they will become true Christians. No! They are already Christians, full partakers with Paul in the grace of God, even when that grace leads to tribulation such as Paul suffers. Paul’s continued prayers are for God’s continued work in the Philippian Christians, clarifying their judgment so that they might discern rightly what is pleasing to God and what is not, thereby filled increasingly with the righteousness of God. He prays that their lives might more and more conform to the image of their hope, Jesus.

Luke 3:1-17 – Here we have the completion of the Malachi prophecy regarding a messenger. We can begin by once again admiring Luke’s specificity and attention to detail. No less than seven Roman leaders are specified here starting with the Roman Emperor. This is not arbitrary information. It grounds and specifies the timing of John’s calling to prophetic work. Luke continues this specificity in regards to John the Baptist’s lineage as well, so there can be no mistaking who Luke is referring to (John the Baptist as opposed to the Apostle John). Luke describes John’s work in prophetic terms – he receives the word of the Lord.

Luke records John’s reference to Isaiah 40:3-5 in verses 4-6. In other words, John has an awareness of his purpose. His prophetic calling – the first among God’s people in hundreds of years – is specific to preparing the way for the Messiah. This is a spiritual preparation. He lambasts people with the Law, calling them to examine their hearts and their motivations for coming to hear him. John’s efforts are to call God’s people to honest repentance, not simply to raise their moral or ethical standards.

So it is that when people want to know what a repentant life looks like, John can give them concrete examples. But it is the repentance that comes first. It is forgiveness that precedes the alteration of mind and practice. Because of the forgiveness of God, and having discerned that they have taken this for granted (vs.7-9), God’s people respond in tangible ways. They do so not to earn or merit the forgiveness but as demonstration that they already have. The Christian life is marked by change, whether it be large or small. We don’t get to dictate what those changes will look like, but John gives some practical examples.

Genuine, sacrificial love and concern for others is a hallmark of God’s forgiveness (v.11). We give not because we have too much but because someone else is in need. We give not out of our excess, when it’s convenient, but we give as we see the need. Likewise, we are to respect the property of others and not seek to deprive them of it for our own gain (v.13). Those with authority are not to use that authority to deprive others (vs.13-14).

Such practices and changes of doing business may result in people looking at us like we are something special. Look how good he/she is? She’s just the nicest, best person I’ve ever met! She’s always thinking about other people! Such a response is misguided. It deflects attention from who we are all called to be as God’s creations, caring for one another, and instead makes it an issue of exception. I can’t be like that, but I really admire him for being like that. So we shouldn’t be surprised that people attempt to make a big deal out of John (v.15), but John quickly deflects that praise and speculation back to glorifying God rather than himself (vs.16-17).

Revisiting

November 27, 2015

So is this what you do when you aren’t sitting on campus?

The question surprised me a little bit, which is not a feeling I enjoy when surrounded with a group of inmates, buried in the library in the middle of a medium security county jail facility.  Even after four years of almost weekly times of teaching, there is still that slight flutter of uncertainty.  If something goes wrong in here, I’m in a bad spot.  Nothing has ever gone wrong during one of my visits, though.  I know a female chaplain who was caught in the middle of a riot and ushered to safety by a guardian prisoner.  I wonder at times if I would be so blessed or not.  It’s best not to dwell extensively on those lines of thought, though.

I eyed the young man with the odd hairstyle and shaggy goatee.  I couldn’t place his face at first.  We had a somewhat extended discussion on campus a couple of months ago.  I knew immediately who it was.  This is just one of several different things I do when I’m not on campus, I responded.  He smiled and I began our discussion time together.

Even after four years I can’t tell you why going to the jail works.  I can say that almost invariably there is an impulse suggesting that I should cancel.  There are weeks when there are just 2-3 guys that bother to roll out of bed.  There are other weeks when there are close to 20 guys there.    Some of the guys I’ve seen multiple times.  The affable man in his late 50’s with distinguished salt and pepper hair and a smile and way about him that tells me he’s good at schmoozing and getting what he wants in life.  Unfortunately what he wants is drugs or alcohol and so he keeps ending up back in jail.  There is an assortment of guys who look like they’re straight out of a local gang – and probably are.  There are clean-cut guys who don’t seem like they should be there but also seem far too familiar and comfortable with their environment for it to be their first visit.  There are baby-faced guys not out of their teens yet and guys in their 70’s.  Tattoos are the norm.  Some weeks it’s awkward and there’s no discussion and no feedback, just my voice echoing in the cement room.  Some weeks we end after just 30 minutes or so.

This was one of the weeks we went late.  What I often hear from the guys is that they really appreciate their time in jail as an opportunity to focus.  Stripped of all the obligations and distractions, they find time to be in the Word.  They discover or rediscover God and sometimes even Jesus.  Another thing I often hear is that they feel stronger now, wiser.  They understand better.  They can feel that this is going to be their last stay in the jail.  This time it’s going to be different.

I appreciate that talk.  I don’t agree with it of course but I appreciate it.  They’re trying to make sense of things.  They want a change.  But unfortunately, the odds are against them.  Really against them.  So when the young man I met on campus a few months ago started talking again about how we have to get our minds strengthened and ready and we have to be the ones to initiate and maintain change, I decided to take another tack.

I cut him off pretty quick.  He’s one of those guys that gets talking and can’t stop.  He goes from one line of thought to another without break and you can’t get a word in edgewise unless you literally cut him off and override him, so that’s what I did.

No, it’s not about your mind and it’s not about your resolution.  You can’t ‘be the change you want to see’, I responded, contradicting one of the maxims he had just tossed out.  He paused and faltered, confused.  What do you mean?  Of course I can.  I have to be the change I want to see.

No, you can’t.  You won’t.  You don’t.  You aren’t able to.  Neither am I.  Neither is anybody else in this room.  You don’t have it in you.

Isn’t that a defeatist attitude…?

No, it’s a realistic attitude.  You’re already defeated.

We want to think it’s us.  We like that idea when we’re feeling strong and ready and confident.  When we’re satisfied and not feeling tempted.  When things are going well.  But that isn’t a tune we can continue for very long.  Because when temptation comes and we fall again and again and again we realize that it isn’t in us.  Then we know despair.  Then we know that we’re defeated.  Sitting comfortably in a jail with food in your belly and relatively clean clothes on your body, with drugs and bottles more or less inaccessible to you, without any of the pressures or demands of life and relationships to deal with, isolated in a very literal sense, it’s easy to talk about what we have in us.  Easy to feel strong and ready and confident.  But it’s just a lie we tell ourselves and it lasts until the next time we have to face the world and temptation and weakness and we fall.  Hard.

It isn’t in you.  You can’t be the change you want to see.  Moreover, when you most need to be that change, you don’t even want to be it.  Not in any real, useful sense.  It’s a distant mantra in the back of the mind now fogged over by whatever you’re obsessed with – drugs, alcohol, sex, fear, anger, regret, depression.  You can’t do yourself any good.

This is the essence of the Gospel.  I can’t do it.  I don’t even want to do it when I most need to.  St. Paul says it so well in Romans 7.  This is my conundrum.  I’m shackled to myself and I don’t have the key.  I never did.  Unless somebody else has it, I die in the chains.  This is the Good News.  Somebody else does have the key.  Somebody else not only has the key but has promised me and assured me that my chains are unlocked.  I am free.  It may not look like it to others or even to me, but the truth is there all the same.  Forgiven.  Reconciled to God.  Healed.  The chains that would have kept me from him are removed and we are brought together again.

Chains will remain in my life.  Not chains that keep me from God, though.  Rather, chains that restrict my movement and damage my interactions with those around me, that even damage myself.  Sometimes the Gospel frees me from some of those chains as well.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  Not yet at least.  I need to take those chains seriously.  And there is the place to talk about doing what is necessary.  But what is necessary isn’t a new way of thinking.  Most of us know what to think.  We know right from wrong, good from evil, healthy from disastrous.  The problem is that we continue to make the wrong choice.  Sometimes  we can’t help ourselves.  Check Romans 7 again.

I am free in Christ, and that means I am free to do the things in this life that help those secondary chains, the chains that don’t just go away all on their own.  For the guys (and ladies) I see every week at the jail or at the various recovery programs in town, that freedom means surrendering their freedom to others who work to help them make changes, who give them the keys to those chains of addiction they wear and show them how to live as free men and women.  It hurts that so few of them are willing to give it a try.  It hurts more to see how many more of them can’t maintain it.

But the Gospel isn’t dependent on sobriety or not being high.  It’s dependent solely on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  So the Good News will continue to go out to those who are still in chains.  To those who continue to mistake themselves for the solution.  He is risen!

Book Review: The Adventures of Robin Hood

November 26, 2015

The Adventures of Robin Hood by Paul Creswick

Thanks to a parishioner who enjoys perusing garage sales, our family has benefited from some very nice hardback books from Reader’s Digest and their World’s Best Reading series.

So I happened to read at last an actual literary version of Robin Hood.  This particular version is very readable and suitable for young readers.  The language is very accessible beyond a few period words that aren’t so common anymore (like jennet).  The chapters are short and for the most part can be enjoyed in any order, though there is an overall sequence to the book, an overarching narrative that takes Robin from a young boy to a man.

I was surprised at how little these stories talk about Robin Hood as a champion of the poor.  He’s presented much more as an opportunist in these books, driven to life as an outlaw but clearly rather well-suited for it both in skills and temperament.  His robbery is hardly what you might call altruistic, even if he demonstrates a basic grasp of economics – that rich people are more worthwhile to steal from than poor people.

Wet Bar Wednesday – Jevo Jell-O

November 25, 2015

I’ll admit I wasn’t a Jell-O shot guy in college – or anywhere else.  While the concept sounds fun, it always struck me as a bit on the silly side.  The closest I really got was this frozen slushee concoction that my buddy’s parents would make sometimes for their get-togethers (rum, Sprite, and a can of frozen lemonade or limeade mix, mixed and frozen).

But in the interest of bringing you the finest in bartending options, I feel it’s my duty to inform you that there are now machines that can crank out 20 Jell-O shots every 10 minutes.  You heard right.  No muss.  No fuss.  I’m sure these puppies aren’t cheap (their web site won’t say how much they cost), but if you’re throwing ragers at your pad on a regular basis, perhaps this is an investment you want to consider.

You’re Welcome, Canada

November 24, 2015

Really, you don’t even need to send a card.  I’m very pleased at your common-sense approach to responding to the refugee crisis.  Welcoming women, children, and families seems like a sensible and conscientious approach at this point.

Great minds think alike.   Certainly, there’s no guarantee of perfect safety in any course of action, but I’d like to think that this offers a genuine way of responding to a crisis intelligently.

Spiritual Responsibility

November 24, 2015

I found this article  interesting.  The Dalai Lama, spiritual leader for many Buddhists, said recently that humans are responsible for terrorism and therefore praying to God for help is rather pointless, since this is a human problem.

Which leads me to wonder what issues does the Dalai Lama consider prayer an efficacious response to?  In other words, is he suggesting that only those issues that aren’t human in origin should be brought to God in prayer? And if that is the case, what would those issues be?  Seems to me that ALL of our issues are human caused.

I’m also stunned that he can honestly assert that religious differences are “superficial”.  I would think that if they were so simple, people would be far closer to enlightenment and other Buddhist teachings.  The very fact that he can consider terrorism “short-sighted” rather than see the very spiritual reasons behind it is evidence that the differences are far greater than he is even aware of, or else he’s choosing to deliberately understate them.

 

Being Offensive

November 23, 2015

This time of year it’s common to hear Christians talking about how they’re going to insist on saying Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays.  There is a combative stance to it oftentimes – we’re doing this as an act of defiance!  A photo is making the rounds on Facebook of a shopkeeper somewhere who posts a challenging sign in their window asserting that they will insist on saying Merry Christmas and God bless you and the like.

I understand the sentiment.  When freedom of speech and freedom of religion is under so much criticism these days, it can feel as though Christians are a minority that is fighting against an imposing tyranny.  But this frankly defeats the whole purpose of saying Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or anything at all in the first place.

We need to remember that we are not engaging in guerilla activity, we are (as Christians) praying a form of blessing on the other person.  We don’t do that in order to anticipate a critical response so that we can retort with Jesus is the reason for the season or something like that.  We are offering a definitive, specific prayer for that person, that their Christmas might be merry.  If they don’t celebrate Christmas, they’ll understand what you hoped to convey.  I’ve yet to meet someone that explodes at anger and indignation at me when I say Merry Christmas to them.  How many of you have had this happen to you?  Statistics remain pretty firm that the overwhelming majority of Americans consider themselves some stripe of Christian.  Keep that in mind and don’t be afraid.  If the other person gets upset, who is really the one being mean-spirited and unpleasant – you or them?

We’re told that we need to stifle our own beliefs and preferences in order to respect the beliefs and preferences of others.  This is, of course, rather impossible.  I can’t possibly know that my bank teller is Jewish rather than Christian, or that my grocery store clerk is atheist rather than Christian.  What I can do is offer them something good based on truth.  For the Christian that is bound up part and parcel with our identity in Christ.

That’s why I can’t understand things like this, where a Christian official insists that Christian symbols should be removed in order to placate Muslim refugees.  A similar situation is described in Germany here.  Of course the details are sketchy – but it would appear to be an active parish that is offering their church to house refugees.  I don’t necessarily have a problem with that per se.  But it is ridiculous to pretend that it isn’t a church that is housing them, that it isn’t a congregation of Christians moved by gratitude to God to offer their buildings to those in need.

We don’t do these things to shove our religion in people’s faces.  We say Merry Christmas out of joy and a desire to share good will with other people.  We offer assistance to those in need because they are in need and we are able to.  Those who wish to turn these acts into acts of aggression have a lot of hoops to jump through – more than they are actually able to reasonably in my opinion.  And most people don’t view them as acts of aggression.

You may work for a company or attend a school where you aren’t allowed to say these phrases.  Or you may be required to say them to customers or clients.  But if you’re shopping in the grocery store, nobody is forcing you to say Seasons Greetings instead of Merry Christmas.  Say what seems best to you – not as an act of war, but as an act of blessing, remembering that we can’t control how the other person receives it, but we need to guard carefully the spirit in which we say it.

 

Reading Ramblings – November 29, 2015

November 22, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday in Advent, November 29, 2015

Texts: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 19:28-40

Context: We begin the new liturgical year, and the themes of waiting and anticipation that formed the end of the previous liturgical year still resonate strongly in the readings for today. We are not the first of God’s people to face uncertain times, ill-defined disasters, premonitions of dread and collapse. And the promise to us is the same as the promise to God’s people in Jeremiah’s day – terrible things may happen, we may lose all that we know and treasure in this world, yet God remains with us, and God promises to gather us together again. The readings will move from this general sense of waiting and anticipation to more specifically focusing on the Christ’s arrival in our world 2000 years ago. It is that first arrival so long ago that grounds our hopes for his return and the fulfillment of God’s promises to us that began with Eve so long ago.

With all of this we need to reiterate that we do not await a king. We have a king. It’s like the movies where the good prince or commoner fights against the unlawful or evil prince or power and defeats them. Once the bad guy is defeated, we know what comes next – the good guy takes over and happily ever after ensues. The coronation may take some time to get planned and executed, but it isn’t as though there isn’t a king at this point. People are now free to live in the reality of a good king. Many will rejoice, and some will continue to buck against the new order. But it isn’t the good folks who are seen as unrealistic – it’s the folks who continue to live as if there is no king, or as if the evil prince was still the one in charge.

Jeremiah 33:14-16 – While the words are promising and comforting, they come in a larger context of judgment and condemnation. God speaks loving words of promise after assuring his people of their immanent destruction. Yet despite that destruction of all they know and hold dear, God will restore his people to their land. Jeremiah undoubtedly would have preferred to hear that God was going to spare his people from his judgment, but instead he is assured that the judgment will be terrible, but that there will be a restitution. That restitution can only come from the Lord himself, based in his righteousness, rather than the righteousness of his people. Resitution comes from God’s grace, not the eventual obedience of his people! Restitution comes based on God’s bringing forth a promised savior to do what God’s own people cannot and will not.

Psalm 25:1-10 – The emphasis in this psalm is trust and hope in the Lord, stated explicitly in vs. 1, 2 and 5. The speaker acknowledges they are a sinner in verse 7, yet still maintains that God’s grace and mercy are extended to those who are faithful to his covenant requirements (v.10). God’s grace however is also said to extend to those who trust in him (v.3). The psalm captures well the desire for obedience, which requires God to instruct us (vs.4-5, 8-10), and yet our utter dependence on God’s mercy and grace. We throw ourselves on this grace and mercy because we know that it is God’s natural disposition (vs.6-7). Our relationship to God must be one of trust, a trust that He invites us into.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 – I have to say, I find it odd to begin this reading at verse 9, which is near the end of Paul’s extended exposition on his concern for the Thessalonian Christians (vs.1-8). Paul has received good news from Timothy that the Thessalonians are holding strong in their faith, and he now bursts into thanksgiving. Their faithfulness is an encouragement to him in his suffering. Paul’s language in vs. 11-13 (where I would have limited the reading to) emphasizes once again the imagery of movement. As God the Father has come to us through God the Son, Paul seeks to return to the Thessalonians with the result of an overflow of love. As with the psalm, the movement and action is also on God’s part. He is the one who will strengthen the Thessalonians to be blameless in his presence. As we prepare for our Lord’s arrival,we should take comfort that it is God himself who preserves and sustains us until that time.

Luke 19:28-40 – God promises restoration to God’s people in the Jeremiah reading. His people would no doubt presume that this promise was fulfilled 500 years or so before Jesus, when the residents of Jerusalem (or their descendants) were free to return and rebuild. But that restoration was temporary, and would soon be undone once again by the Romans. Yet here, in an unexpected way, God truly fulfills his promise.

Note that the fulfillment is based fully and completely on the “Righteous branch”, not on God’s people. Restoration is still not a matter of their fidelity and obedience, but on the obedience of God’s servant. The servant is the one who will be obedient, and it is this obedient servant that now enters the city of God to the acclamation of God’s people. They recognize that it is the arrival of the Lord’s anointed that commences peace and glorifies God (v.38). They have done nothing other than acknowledge the arrival, likely drawing on Psalm 118.

Jesus is rebuked by the religious leaders who understand that the language the people are using is not appropriate. It isn’t appropriate politically, as it could easily draw the wrath of their Roman rulers down on the people at large, rather than just Jesus. The pharisees also think that the acclamation is theologically inappropriate, and it is this point that Jesus is likely correcting them on. Perhaps He is making reference to Habbakuk 2:11. Nature is invoked to sing praises to God if God’s people won’t, and certainly the Old Testament is replete with references to nature declaring God’s greatness.

Christians celebrate the fact that we have a king. That king was revealed in his final conflict with our ancient enemies – Satan, sin, and death. In overcoming these powers through his resurrection, Jesus demonstrates that order has been restored. It is incumbent upon those who know of his victory to begin living in that reality.

We look forward to the coronation, the event that makes it clear to everyone who might have wished to deny reality before, that the king is truly the king. But today we live in the comfort of having a king, of knowing that proper order and right rule is being re-established despite the best efforts of those who would reject the king or seek their own ascendency. Advent keeps our eyes fixed on this future coronation by reminding us of the faithfulness of God to send our king in the first place to defeat our enemies.

Which Refugees?

November 21, 2015

I found an article in our local newspaper this morning.  It is this article from Fox News reprinted.  I couldn’t find any other news outlets reporting on this issue other than Fox News.  Curious.

I’ll make a disclaimer that the article doesn’t provide a whole lot of details about this situation and these particular people.  But considering that we’re debating importing thousands of people with equally uncertain backgrounds (or more so), I’m going to go ahead and talk about this.

Our country is in the midst of a massive debate about immigrants.  We have cities such as San Francisco who have simply declared that they are going to ignore immigration laws.  We have an Executive Administration who has made it clear that it is not interested in enforcing the laws of the land regarding illegal immigration.  Yet we are actively seeking to deport displaced Christian refugees?  Fascinating.  People that definitely have come from a region where we know ISIS has been murdering, raping, torturing, and otherwise persecuting Christians?  Infuriating.

Add to this the fact that there is a strong Christian, Chaldean community in the San Diego area that could help this small group of people in settling and pursuing legal status as refugees or immigrants, and I don’t understand why our government is refusing to allow them to stay.  If nothing more than for good PR, this would seem like an easy, no-brainer, win-win for everyone.  The fact that this is not being pursued makes me that much more skeptical about the intentions of our government specifically towards Christians.  I’d like to learn more about this issue, but from the dearth of news reports on it, that might be more difficult than it should be.