Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Third Sunday in Lent

The Third Sunday in Lent March 8, 2009
A sermon preached at Faith Lutheran Church, Lebanon, TN.

Title: The Ten Commandments.
GK Chesterton is one of my favorite writers. He lived and wrote in England in the early 1900’s, dying in 1936. In the early days of radio, he was on a BBC talk show.

There was a group of people on that day and the host asked the old question, “If you were stranded on a desert island, what one book would you want with you?”

GB Shaw said, “The complete works of Shakespeare.”
The Scientist said, “The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin.
Bishop of London said, “The Book of Common Prayer.”
The President of the Baptist Union said, “KJV Bible.”
And Chesterton said, “Thomas’ Guide to Practical Shipbuilding.”

Our First Lesson today is the Exodus version of the Ten Commandments.
Lutherans aren’t real fond of the Ten Commandments, are we?
I guess it’s that whole Law/Gospel thing we learned in Catechism.

When people try to tell us that this or that behaviour that we personally enjoy is sinful, we say, “Oh that’s legalism, I’m a Lutheran. We’re Gospel people, we’re Good News people, we’re Grace people. We don’t go for all that Law stuff.” Which is all true, as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go far enough.

For the Ten Commandments are like “Thomas’ Guide to Practical Shipbuilding,” in that they are not esoteric, philosophical, speculative discussions of ethical possibilities.

They are practical guidelines for practical people on how to get along with each other in the very real world of human relationships.

Samuel Wells, now the Dean of the Duke Chapel and minister to Duke University, writes of something that happened 20 years ago in Romania.

The Iron curtain was falling all over Europe, Communism was collapsing, on Christmas day of 1989, Romania’s President was arrested, tried and executed.

The country was in turmoil. No one seemed to be in charge. Reporters flooded the country, looking for someone who could speak English.

Finally they found someone, and in one sentence she summed up not only Romania’s predicament, but the human condition: “We have freedom,” she said, “but we don’t know what to do with it.” (Christian Century, March 15, 2000)

A similar thing happened in Germany after the Reformation started. Turned loose from the rules and regulations of the Catholic Church, many people thought the Gospel meant that they were free to do as they pleased because God’s Grace was free.

Martin Luther himself was sent out to visit the churches all around Wittenberg and wrote the Small Catechism, which begins with the Ten Commandments, as a response.

He wrote in the introduction to the Small Catechism,“Alas, what wretchedness I beheld. We have perfected the fine art of abusing liberty.”

The Bible tells us that this was the situation of the Hebrew people when God gave the Ten Commandments.

They had just been liberated from Slavery in Egypt, they had been handed a great gift of freedom, and they didn’t know what to do with it. They too were perfecting the fine art of abusing liberty.

The word we often translate from Hebrew into English as LAW is Torah. Better translations would be something like Instruction or Guidance or Teaching.

The Hebrew people themselves never considered the LAW to be onerous or a burden; rather they saw it as a GIFT; a gift flowing out of God’s love and concern for the people who needed to learn how to live with their new freedom.

We too struggle with issues of what to do with our spiritual freedom, our religious liberty; and how to treat God’s law in light of God’s Grace and forgiveness.

Many of us give ourselves lots of slack in regards to the Ten Commandments, believing ourselves to stack up pretty well. Which is, I think, to miss several important points.

The Ten Commandments aren’t rules that God has laid down as a test to see if we’re good enough to get into heaven, Rather, they are God’s guide to practical life building.

As such they work on several levels.

First, they are an outline for living together as ethical human beings.

Secondly, they are a “mirror for the soul,” as Luther put it, helping us see ourselves as sinners in need of God’s grace.

Thirdly, they are a picture of what Christians should strive to be like. It is perfection we will not reach, but that is no excuse for not trying.

I was looking them over and trying to figure out which ones I had not broken; at least not in the STRICTEST, most LITERAL sense.

No other Gods - Nope. No Baal or Fertility Cult worship going on in the Chilton household.

No graven image - Nope. No bowing down to a man-made object that's not a God.

Not taking the Lord's Name in Vain - Nope. Well, I do have a barn-yard vocabulary but I draw the line at G-- D---.

Remember Sabbath Day - Nope. Always go to church on Sunday, seldom work.

Honor parents - Nope. Birthday cards, weekly phone calls, Christmas gifts. Done.

You shall not kill - Nope. Never even been in a fight since 7th grade.

You shall not steal - Nope. Unless you count sneaking fries off my wife’s plate when she's not looking.

You shall not bear false witness - Nope. Like Daddy said, always tell the truth. That way you don't have to remember what you said.

You shall not covet, neighbor’s house, wife, slaves of his ox or his ass - Nope. Good on all of them.

Looks like I'm in the clear. Based on this record, I didn't need Jesus to die for me. I've got the being good thing covered.

On the other hand, if Other Gods means things which get more of my attention and loyalty than THE GOD, then I'm probably guilty.

And if Graven Images implies earthly things to which I have devoted a great deal of time and energy and which are the most important things in my home, well . . .

Suppose taking the Lord's name in vain means using religion for less than holy reasons, oops!

And the Sabbath could be about creating enough silence and space in my life to allow God to seep in and nurture and lead and refresh me. Oh my!

Honoring father and mother may have something to say about how I deal with those who have taken on the responsibility for leadership; have I been responsive and cooperative? Dang!

Well, I really haven't killed anyone; but I haven't prevented or protested a lot of the violence which goes on in my name, funded by my dollars.

Adultery? Well there is that Lust in the Heart thing.

You shall not steal? What was it Augustine said, anything you have more than you need is stolen from the poor. Ouch!

False Witness? I do not lie, but I can "spin" like a whirling dervish.

Okay, I still haven't coveted anybody's donkey and nobody can say that I did!

In our Lesson from Romans, Paul reminds us that no one is saved by the Law.

Elsewhere in that book, he also reminds us that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

A look at our lives in the light of the Ten Commandments reminds us of that truth, and calls us to faith, faith in God’s Grace that was shown to us and to all the world on the cross of Christ.

I invite you today to examine your hearts and your lives and, in the spirit of Lent, to repent and return to the LORD.

Amen and amen.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

March 8, 2009, Second Sunday in Lent

LENT II March 8, 2009

A sermon preached at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Morristown, TN

Text: Mark 8:31-38

In an old Reader’s Digest at the doctor’s office, I ran across this little story. A woman writes:

When my sister-in-law Ginny cooks she likes to substitute ingredients for those in the recipe.

One time I gave her the recipe for a chicken-and-walnut dish that her husband, my brother, likes, and she served it one night when I was over.

In place of walnuts, she used raw peanuts. And for chicken, she substituted beef. In fact, every major ingredient had been replaced.

“This is terrible!” my brother said after one bite. Ginny glared across the table at me and said, “Don’t blame me! It’s your sister’s recipe!”

In today’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus tries to explain to his disciples what it means for him to be the Messiah and for them to be his followers.

But Peter doesn’t like it. He wants to change the recipe, the formula, the instructions.

All this suffering and dying business doesn’t fit his understanding of what a Messiah is, and it REALLY doesn’t fit his understanding of what he wants to do with his life in God’s service and Jesus’ footsteps.

Starting our Gospel lesson with verse 31 is odd. It’s beginning in the middle of the story.

It’s like walking into a party just as everyone gets deadly silent and a woman screams at her husband That’s what you think! and stomps off upstairs and locks herself in the bedroom.

You’re left looking around at everyone asking, “What? What was that about?”
In order to understand this text, you really have to know what went before.

Just a few verses earlier, Jesus asked his disciples: Who do people say that I am?

And the disciples offered up John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the Prophets.

Then Jesus asked, Who do you say that I am?

Peter answers for them all when he says, You are the Christ, the Messiah!

This is where we come in; Jesus is explaining what it means for him to be the Christ, the Messiah.

The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes and be killed . . .

Jesus went on to talk about being raised after three days, but Peter quit listening at the part about being killed.

Peter’s brain screamed NOOOO! NOT Jesus, NOT the Messiah, NOT the Christ.

That’s not the way the story goes; that’s not right; that’s not the formula for success, we’ve got to change that!

So Peter grabs Jesus and takes him aside for a little private conversation.

Actually the Bible says Peter rebuked him; that’s a strong word.

It means he fussed at Jesus for not being Holy enough, for not staying up there on the pedestal where Peter and the rest had put him and wanted him.

When Jesus yells Get behind me Satan, I don’t think Mark means to imply that Jesus is yelling at Peter.

Mark means Jesus is yelling at Satan. This business of avoiding the cross is a real and terrifying and lifelong temptation for Jesus. This was Jesus’ lifelong spiritual battle.

In Luke’s version of this story, he says that Satan left Jesus alone until a more opportune time. Well this is it.

The good time to get under Jesus skin with the temptation to power and privilege

Here Jesus is; surrounded by an adoring crowd that has begun to call him the Son of God, the Christ, the Messiah.

He has struggled to maintain his humility by referring to himself as the Son of Man and by talking about suffering and rejection and death.

But Peter, his main man, tries to talk him out of it.

Jesus recognizes the voice of Satan when he hears it.

This is a moment of genuine temptation which must be resisted firmly:


This battle continues all the way to the cross.

Remember in the Garden of Gethsemane, how Jesus prays and drops of blood form on his brow and he cries out, NOT my will, but THINE be done?

That’s the moment Jesus finally puts Satan away, the moment he completely replaces his own will and desires with the will and desires of God the Father.

After pushing Satan away, Jesus gathers the whole crowd together to teach them, and us, what it means to be Disciples of Christ, followers of Jesus.

One thing’s for sure; no one can accuse Jesus of false advertizing,

of luring followers with hip music and entertaining video displays and cool, helpful sermonettes on

THREE TIPS FOR A HAPPY MARRIAGE or Ten Biblical Investment Strategies.


Now, many of us, when we hear that recipe for being a Christian; that set of instructions for building a Christian life, we rebel.

Not like Peter, with a straight out rebuke and argument with Jesus.

That, I think, would be more honorable than what we do.

No, we’re more like “Ginny,” changing the recipe.

Well, he couldn’t have meant for us to deny ourselves, not really. That’s just, well, that’s just un-American.

We’re supposed to have the things we want because God loves us and will bless us.

He must of meant that we should read the Bible carefully for all those wonderful promises about how we can be happier and richer and a more well-rounded and well-liked person.

And take up a cross? Surely not! Surely, he didn’t mean that we show give away our heard-earned money, that we should actually suffer for the good of others.

Probably he meant that we should give a percentage of what we have, like the Lutherans, say 2 or 3 %. That’s probably what he meant. He was just exaggerating to get his point across, like my old PE teacher.

And follow him? Gee, I don’t think so. After all, Jesus ended up dead. I think he meant we should admire him, and worship him, and expect good things from him, especially when we’re in trouble; but follow him? I don’t know.

Yes, the change the recipe and then wonder why the Christian life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. GK Chesterton said that Christianity has NOT been tried and found wanting; Christianity has been tried and found difficult and then abandoned by most.

Brothers and sisters in Christ; Jesus meant what he said.

On March 20, 2000 PEOPLE magazine ran a story about Bennett Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Center, Texas. One day the pastor’s wife was praying and asking God “Why is my life so empty?”

Soon thereafter she and her husband began taking the state classes to be foster parents, and soon the idea spread throughout the church.

Bennett Chapel is a tiny church, made up of working class people making a living as loggers or down at the chicken plant or at the hardwood flooring company.

They didn’t have much to start with. But they decided to use what they had to make a difference in the lives of hurt, abused and unwanted children.

As of the year 2000, 17 families in the church had become foster parents to 43 children in just two years.

As I think about that story, I am always struck by two things:

1) These were just ordinary people, with ordinary incomes and ordinary lives who basically did not need another child around to feed and clothe and worry about.

Yet, in response to the tug of God’s will, they laid aside their own wants and needs for the sake of another.

2) A quote from the Social worker echoed the Scripture lesson:

Social worker: They don’t view themselves as a blessing for the child. They view the child as their blessing.

Jesus: For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and the sake of the Gospel will save it.

Our calling today is to lose our lives into the life of Christ,to lose our wills in the will of God to give ourselves up totally and completely to the one who gave himself up for us upon the cross.

Amen and amen.