Monday, November 19, 2018

Justice League

“Justice League”
November 16-18 at Luther Crest Bible Camp, Alexandria MN

GATHERING THEME VERSE:  Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.  Amos 5:24

I always like the themes chosen for our youth gatherings, but this year’s theme beats them all:  Justice League!

Not only is the theme great—but this just might be the best logo ever-- with Jesus in the midst of a host of comic book superheroes, describing how he (Jesus!) saved the world.

I find that so sweet, because, you see, I’ve been fascinated by super-heroes my whole life.

In the family I grew up in I was the baby brother, the little tagalong who was born when my sisters Judy and Cathy were in middle school!

Judy and Cathy, were like “auxiliary moms” to me….so that I grew up being pampered not by just one, but by three “mothers!”

Even though they loved their little brother, there were times when Judy and Cathy were mortified by some of the things their goofy little brother did:   like when I was 4 or 5 running out to meet their school bus at the end of the day, wearing just my underwear with a super-hero cape over my shoulders.

My childhood habit of dressing up like a superhero was fostered by the fact that I grew up collecting DC comic books, especially the ones about Batman and Superman…

Those also happened to be the years—in the 1950s and 1960s—when there were live-action TV shows about my favorite super-heroes.   So I hardly missed an episode of the Superman show in good old black-and-white TV of the late 50s and early 60s…

….and I was always in front of the family TV in the late 60s, when the 120 episodes of Batman were on—in living color!

Why was I so fascinated by these super-heroes….and why am I still a big fan of super-heroes, including now the whole Marvel Universe alongside the DC comics I had as a child?

I can think of five reasons why I still love super-heroes

1.  They have cool origin stories—tales about how they came to become super-heroes

2.  They have super-powers that allow them to do extraordinary things

3.  They use their super-powers to defeat evil and help those who are weak

4.  Most of them have dual identities:   Superman (Clark Kent), Batman (Bruce Wayne), Spiderman (Peter Parker), Hulk (Bruce Banner.   These secret identities (“alter egos”) allow super-heroes to blend into daily life when they’re not living out their super-hero identities.

5.  They sometimes join forces with other super-heroes, especially when such cooperation multiplies their super-powers to save the world.

No wonder that when you and I think of super-heroes it’s natural for us,  as Christians, to think of Jesus as sort of a super-hero.

After all, Jesus has a pretty amazing “origin” story….and Jesus has some pretty amazing super-powers…and Jesus also definitely uses his powers for others, not for himself—Jesus’ power allows him, too, to defeat evil and help the weak and needy, like most of our favorite superheroes.

It’s natural for us to liken Jesus to the super-heroes in our lives….

BUT IN OTHER RESPECTS Jesus is so much more than one more super-hero.  Jesus is something else, in a class all by himself….he’s way above and beyond the other super-heroes we follow…

Here’s five reasons why I say that Jesus is NOT just like our other super heroes:

1.  Jesus originates not in some sort of trip through outer space (like Superman) or some science experiment gone wrong (like Spiderman).   Jesus’ “origin story” is all about God—God’s overflowing, unconditional love….God’s amazing willingness to be born in a cattle stall and laid in a manger…to become one of us….God’s fierce determination to be our God….God’s stubborn desire to set us free so that we can be God’s people.

2.   Jesus’ super powers are way above and beyond the super-powers of our super-heroes…
a.     One of Jesus’ super powers is his ability to “bend time”—to live and act in the past, the present and the future all at the same time.   Take Paul’s words about baptism for example: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”  (Romans 6:3-4)  

In saying that the event of baptism is one of the ways Jesus “bends time,” it’s not too far-fetched to think of the baptismal font as a kind of “time machine” in which Jesus past act of saving us invades our present moment while also preparing us for the future when Christ will come again to say to us:  “You are mine.   You are forgiven.   I give to you life abundant, life forever!”

b.    Another of Jesus’ wondrous super powers is his ability to create endless second chances…to offer us countless fresh beginnings….to provide us with daily “do-overs.”  One of the best Bible verses that sums up this super-power of Jesus comes from Revelation 21:  “See, I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:5)

c.     Perhaps Jesus’ most amazing super power is his ability to win by losing, to empty himself out in order to fill us up, to lose his own life so that we might gain life--life that knows no end—all because of Jesus.  

Unlike most of the other super-heroes we pay attention to, this power of Jesus doesn’t rely on brute force or compulsion.  Instead of avoiding death, Jesus faces death, walks right up to death, endures death, demonstrating Jesus’ fearlessness in the face of death.   Jesus saves us by allowing death to do its worst to him, all because Jesus believes 100% that God is the God of resurrection.

3.    Jesus doesn’t have just one secret identity like “Clark Kent” and Superman….Jesus doesn’t resort to a single “alter ego” that allows him to sneak around unnoticed…..

….but rather, Jesus wears a mask, of sorts, by coming into our lives and identifying himself so closely with us that (in the words of St Paul) “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”  (Galatians 2:20)

You are Jesus’ “alter ego” because Jesus has taken up residence within you, and through you Jesus keeps doing his work of making all things new, restoring people and creation to the goodness God has always intended.

4.   And none of this happens just to you or just to me all alone—by ourselves, in isolation from others.  Jesus has the astounding power to bind us to one another, to make us—all of us—his Body, to continue his work of making all things new, forgiving sins, walking beside us in our past/present/and future, facing everything that frightens us, including death itself, confident that there is a resurrection waiting for every one of us.     As we’ve been reminded during this Gathering by Pastors Sue and Jake,[1] Jesus makes all of US to be God’s vast “Justice League” in a hurting, hungry, angry, disappointed, hope-hungry world.

5.  …and perhaps best of all, you, my young friends, can get in on the action NOW—not just when you’re all grown up.   This hurting world, and especially the adults in this world like your youth group advisers and your parents and grandparents and adult friends…..we are all LOOKING TO YOU to lead the way—because Jesus has made you his own, his “alter egos,” his Justice League.

[1] Earlier in the Middle School Gathering participants heard Pr. Sue Koesterman describe her work with Churches United for the Homeless in Moorhead, MN, and Pr. Jacob Anderson of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Fergus Falls, MN, describe his one-on-one ministry with needy persons who seek help from the congregation’s Deacon’s Fund.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Bite-sized Miracle

Installation of Pr. Paul Erdal
Calvary Lutheran Church, Perham, MN
Pentecost 25/November 11, 2018
I Kings 17:8-16

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

In our first reading from First Kings, chapter 17, it’s hard to tell who in this small cast of characters is the most desperate.

Is it Elijah, the prophet, who had just confronted Israel’s King Ahab…Ahab whom we’re told had done “evil in the sight of the LORD more than all [the kings] who were before him.”  (I Kings 16:30)?

Elijah was desperate because he’d just informed wicked King Ahab that God was bringing upon his kingdom a devastating, long-term drought.   Elijah was desperate because horrible kings like Ahab don’t like getting news like that, and the urge to “kill the messenger” is very real….so real that Elijah had to flee to the wilderness near the Jordan River, where God promised protection and survival in the midst of the impending drought.

Elijah is desperate here…but so are the other two characters in this story—starting with that widow in a village in Sidon, a Gentile territory bordering Israel.

This woman is desperate because her husband has died, and no available man has married her….so she’s experiencing a drought in a time and place with no social safety net to ensure her survival….

….and her desperate situation is made all the worse by the fact that there’s this third character in the story—her dependent child, a son, who’s counting on her—his only hope for food, water, shelter and safety in a time of drought-caused famine.

So right off the bat we encounter three desperate souls here in this story from I Kings 17:   Elijah, a man on the run…the widow who has no means of survival…and her son, who’s utterly dependent on his desperate mother.

What heart-wrenching pathos meets us here---three desperate souls, who for all the world appear to be “goners”—thrown together by horrific circumstances, with no escape route, no way out of their tragic situation….

But here’s where things get really interesting.

Because Elijah enters her village, and immediately engages the widow….asking first for some water, and then demanding “a morsel of bread” as well.

Elijah’s brazen “ask” elicits from the woman perhaps the most pathetic sentence in all of Scripture:   “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”  (I Kings 17:12)

Eat it and die!   Have your last meal with your son…and then wait for death to take you both!

Elijah hears this…and then responds in a shocking way:  “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son….”

My gut reaction is to say, “the gall of this man Elijah!”--to order her to make him a cake from her meager provisions, and feed him before tending to her son and herself!  Typical man! 

But Elijah says more here, adding to his command an amazing promise:  “For thus says the LORD the God of Israel:  The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth.”

Here--these three desperate souls were bound together by more than just their dire straits.   The LORD, the God of Israel had come a calling in this Gentile village in Sidon—the home territory of wicked King Ahab’s even more despicable wife, Queen Jezebel.

Here, precisely when and where things looked absolutely hopeless, the God of Israel was already at work…to tend the needs of these three desperate ones, binding them together not just in their deep hunger, but also in their capacity for life-changing, future-opening faith.

In the light of what happened—the bottomless jar of meal, the never-empty jug of oil—in the light of this astonishing miracle, we hear Elijah’s seemingly selfish command “make some bread for me first”—not as the order of a brazen, privileged man….but as an invitation to transformative faith.

“Make me a little cake of it,” says Elijah….because there will be plenty more cakes where that came from, for you and your hungry son.

God was going to take care of them miraculously, all right—but not by way of an overwhelmingly spectacular miracle.

God could have turned everyone’s heads in Zarephath by plopping down out of heaven a 10,000 bushel grain bin right next to thousand-gallon tank of cooking oil in the widow’s own backyard.  

But God didn’t do that…God didn’t put on a show to turn all their heads and make all the widow’s neighbors go, “Wow!”…..

….but rather in the intimacy of the widow’s humble home, and in the daily-ness of life in her small household…the miracle unfolded, in bite-sized chunks that fed not just their stomachs, but that nourished their faith as well.

And isn’t that just like the God of Israel, who is our God—and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

The abundance of God—which is oh, so real—comes to us most often NOT in ways that overwhelm our senses…but rather via unexpected channels that increase our capacity to trust God in each and every moment of every day we’re alive.

Such faith opens our eyes to see God at work in some of the last places we’d ever expect:  
·       in the unforeseen “God moments” that surprise us day by day
·       in the daunting problems and the perplexing challenges that seem beyond on us, though not beyond God…
·       in all the small, barely perceptible interventions of God in our lives….
·       in the simplest of gifts--like water and words and bread and wine…..
·       in the go-for-broke generosity of the poor, like the widow’s mite in our Gospel….
·       and always, always, always in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for us and for our salvation.

Dear brother Paul….dear people of God…this same God who revealed himself in the hovel of a forlorn widow….this same God is the source of your life and your only reason for having been called and enlightened and sanctified and gathered into this community of faith…..this same One has brought you together as pastor and people, fellow-servants of our abundant God.

Martin Luther, was born 535 years ago yesterday in the village of Eisleben, Germany.   What you may not know is that 63 years later, Luther’s life came full circle when he died in the very same village of Eisleben in 1546. 

In the room where Luther breathed his last, a scrap of paper was later found that read:  “We are beggars, this is true”—likely the last words of the Great Reformer.

Although these words may not sound like a shout of triumph, they do bear stirring witness to something deep in Luther’s way of living, trusting, serving and finally dying.  

I like that definition of the church that goes like this:  “Christians are beggars helping other beggars find Bread.”

The most powerful gesture whereby we express what it means to live each day by faith in God looks like this:  our hands cupped together, the way we will shortly come to the Lord’s Table, a posture for beggars who always look to God for whatever might be the next good thing that God  has in store for us.

We are beggars—this is true—beggars who always know where the Bread comes from.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Don't Fight Naked

Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Moorhead
Installation of Pr. Mary Suomala Folkerds as Lead Pastor
October 14 & 17, 2018
Ephesians 6:10-20

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Whenever I hear these words from Ephesians six I see in my mind’s eye a t-shirt that was popular among kids at an ELCA Youth Gathering some years ago.  

On the front of the t-shirt it read:  DON’T FIGHT NAKED—a phrase guaranteed to get your attention…

…and on reverse side of that t-shirt it read:  “Put on the whole armor of God…”

Don’t fight naked….put on the whole armor of God!

There’s a word for us here this morning….a word for all of us…and a word especially for you, Pastor Mary, as you’re installed into the office of Lead Pastor.

Don’t fight naked…put on the whole armor God.

But really now (you may be asking) is “fighting” the best verb to describe what it means to follow Jesus?  Isn’t all this warlike language and suit-of-armor talk sort of old-fashioned….OK maybe if you’re at a Renaissance Fair but not in a living, vital faith community like Good Shepherd?

For good reason many Christians nowadays chafe at using military language to describe the Christian life.   We shun words like “crusade” or “battle” or “war”—sanitizing old hymns, stripping them of even a hint of Christian militancy.

The last thing we need, some might say, is to conceive of the mission of God as some kind of warfare or conquest.  Such violent language flies in the face of the grace, mercy and peace we know in Jesus Christ who, warned his followers not to take up weapons to defend him, declaring instead that “all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”  (Matthew 26:52)

So what about it?  Should we simply ditch all language of Christian militancy?  Or would we be wiser to dig down deeper into this language to figure out what’s underneath it?

A while back Professor David Lose, who was then teaching at Luther Seminary in St Paul, addressed that very topic, and here’s what he had to say:   
In recent years, the presence and influence of the Christian story in contemporary culture has shrunk considerably. The proliferation of different and competing stories about reality—some of which are religious, while many more are about material wealth, nationalism, or ethnicity—has occupied more and more of our attention. We may see these stories proclaimed on the front covers of magazines or more subtly hidden in the logo of a powerhouse brand, but they are all around us, each inviting us to subscribe to a particular understanding and worldview about what is good, beautiful, and true. Taken as a whole, the proliferation of all these different worldviews has crowded out the biblical story as the narrative by which to make sense of all others and rendered it just one among a multitude of stories.[1]

Dr. Lose is right.  Whenever we share the Good News about Jesus with others--we’re always stepping out onto a crowded playing field.   The second we open our mouths we find ourselves competing with other values, alternative stories, and a host of different ways of making sense of reality.

When our Lord Jesus entered this world, he set foot on “occupied territory.”  The good news Jesus brought to us, was always bumping up against other “gospels” and that’s just as true for you and me, today!

As the writer of Ephesians makes clear, we’re in a contest with “the rulers…the authorities….the cosmic powers of this present darkness and the spiritual forces of evil.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Before we even try speak or live in line with Jesus and his utterly unique good news, we must remember that other gospels, other “takes” on what matters most have already entrenched themselves, already embedded themselves in our world….dressed up in slogans like

“Dreams don’t work unless you do!”

OR:  “The glass is always half full.”

OR:   “My country, right or wrong!”

OR:  “Whoever ends up with the most toys wins.”

Slogans like those all have one thing in common:   they’re all about you and me and what we can, should and must accomplish.

What sets apart the real, authentic Good News about Jesus is that it’s all about God, and what God has done, what God is doing and what God will continue to do to make you and me and all things new in Christ Jesus.

Because that’s such an alien notion in this “make your own bliss” world, we’ll come up against “pushback”….we’ll encounter resistance….and we need to be ready for that if the real Good News, the only Good News, will ever gain a hearing.

That’s where all this “whole armor of God” stuff comes in….not in order to force the gospel down other folks’ throats!

Rather: it’s about coming onto the field, equipped to bring an alternative word to a messed up world.

Think of this whole armor of God stuff not about “mounting an attack” as much as it is about taking a stand---resisting the resistance of the world.

So we notice how nearly all the pieces of armor named here are defensive, not offensive in nature.  

Rather than sallying forth “naked,” we come on the field dressed for the occasion:   wearing all the great protective gear that God has already bestowed on us:   

truth that holds us together,

God’s gift of righteousness covering our hearts,

peacemakers’ shoes on our feet,

sturdy faith to shield us,

the cross we received in baptism, on our foreheads, like a helmet.

In this whole array of “armor,” there’s only one offensive weapon:  God’s promise-keeping, barrier-breaking, sin-forgiving, future-opening Word.

What rich irony there is here, as God’s Word is likened to a kind of sword.  
For this is anything but a destroying, devouring sword…

It is, rather, a word, a sword that “cuts to the chase” and gets right to the heart of the matter….pointing us and everyone to the weakness of the Cross, the uncanny power of a rescuer who recuses by emptying himself out for us, giving himself utterly for us, finally dying for us, so that death itself dies and new life flows forth.

Pastor Mary, God gives these astounding gifts to all of these folks, who call Good Shepherd their faith community….and God gives these same gifts to you, in full measure, so that you might carry out your daunting, daring call to be their lead pastor.

But there’s more.    The image that’s painted for us here in Ephesians 6 isn’t of a solitary soldier, putting on God’s armor, to launch a daring solo campaign….

No, the pronouns here (in the original Greek) are all plural, not singular, so that we might better translate this text this way:  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you all together may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. All of you, stand therefore….” (Ephesians 6:13-14a)

You already know this, Pastor Mary, but let me say it once again:   you do not do any of this alone!

You’ve been called to be not the senior pastor here—as if your ministry was rooted in your age or wisdom or experience….

No, you’ve been called to be the lead pastor here….because these people are going some place…always, and forever moving together toward God’s promised future in Jesus Christ.

Thank God we never head out into this world naked.   Thank God the Spirit sees to it that we’re always truly “dressed for the occasion.”   Thank God we have everything we need—and then some!

In the name of Jesus.

[1] David Lose, “Stewardship In An Age of Digital Pluralism,”  Word and World (Supplement Series 6, October 2010),  p. 112.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Behold, I Make All Things New

NW MN Synod Theology for Ministry Conference
Reconciliation:  UnBinding Hearts
September 18, 2018 at the Fair Hills Resort, Detroit Lakes, MN
Romans 7:15-25a

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

I confess to Almighty God, before the whole company of heaven, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned….(ELW, p. 321)

Truth be told, I have sinned in more ways than I have time to share in these few moments…..

…but for now, in particular, I want to confess that I have sinned  by dragging my feet, taking my sweet old time, being slow to recognize the intricate, pervasive, overwhelming reality of sin itself…not just my own sin, or our own sin, or the sin of the whole human family—but the sin that affects, infects and shapes the very social fabric in which we are embedded--sin that has wormed its way into every nook and cranny of our shared existence….sin that attaches itself to society as we know it and to all the structures of this world as we and our ancestors have shaped them.

I have sinned by being reluctant to realize that language like “privilege” and “institutional prejudice” and “structural racism” and “implicit bias” are more than the by-products of 20th and 21st century “political correctness”….but that such notions name some of the deepest, most abiding and corrosive realities of sin itself.

I have sinned both by what I have done---all the ways I have benefited from the way my world has been constructed to benefit me and “my people”---I have sinned both by what I have done and by what I have not done—by not asking, more often, and more deeply, questions like:  “How did we get here?” and “How did the world come to be this way?” and  “Who suffered, who lost out, who was ignored….so that I might prosper?”

I have sinned by failing to ask questions as simple and basic as:  “Just who are we talking about whenever we say the word ‘we’?”

I have sinned, my sisters and brothers, by not inviting us to consider such matters earlier in my time of service among you in this synod.

…And so, my hope and prayer is that this theology for ministry conference will mark a venturing out together…to have our eyes opened, our lives turned inside out… so that we’ll pay closer attention not just to the people we are called to serve, but to the whole social  fabric itself that continually shapes us and that our God is continually refashioning in the cruciform likeness of Jesus who suffered and died and rose again for us not just to save you and me, but to redeem all that God has made.

Now, you might be wondering, what brought all this on?   “We’ve never heard Larry talk that way—what on earth has gotten into him?”

Well, since you asked (!), several things have gotten into me, leading me to this point of confession.

First, my world has become much bigger than it used to be.

I didn’t even own a passport when you called me to be your bishop in 2007.   Except for a few visits to Canada, I had no international travel experience. 
I    I had not yet seen the hardscrabble life of the Dalits (a.k.a. “untouchables”) in our companion synod in India….
I    I had yet to behold the grinding poverty of mountain-folk in Nicaragua who walk five miles to get their water from a muddy river…. 
·       I had not yet visited Germany, the homeland of my ancestors and of the Reformation, I had not yet seen what’s left of the Berlin Wall along with still lingering after-effects of decades under communism in the former East Germany.

·       I did not yet have a vital circle of LGBT friends, African American colleagues (including leaders of historic black churches in our state), and other neighbors who reflect the wondrous diversity that our Creator loves.

The second thing that’s “gotten into me” is the witness of an abundance of teachers whom God has sent to me who’ve provoked me to perceive how, in so many ways, the very shape of our world advantages some while disadvantaging others.   I hadn’t yet pondered the fact that, like so many people of privilege, I was born on third base—a base that my ancestors stole from the first inhabitants of this good land.

Other teachers—like N.T. Wright--have led me to embrace more deeply a more cosmic Christology that recognizes in the groaning of the creation the birth pangs of God’s new creation…..a cosmic Christology that flows naturally from epistles like Ephesians and Colossians and that culminates in the stunning declaration in Revelation of God’s greatest promise:  “Behold I make all things new!” (Rev.21:5)

Only such a cosmic, all-embracing theology can address the individual, collective and indeed society-wide damage caused by the sin for which our Savior lived, died, rose again and will return to restore in full!

The third thing that has gotten into me is an affliction—I hope it’s your affliction, too—that I can’t stop reflecting theologically on everything, including our shared life together in this cultural moment:   the United States of America in the year 2018.

Sometimes don’t you just wish you could take a break and switch off your “theological reflection” button?

Douglas John Hall in his book Thinking the Faith, tells about a conversation he had with a fellow traveler on a long air flight who asked theologian Hall what he did for a living.  Since it was a lengthy flight,” Hall writes,”and since my companion seemed willing to listen, I took my time and attempted to answer his question in a responsible way.  At the end of my discourse, he looked at me very earnestly and, without a trace of irony in his voice, said: ‘It must be wonderful to think about everything, all the time![1]

Oh how I wish I could occasionally flip the toggle and switch off that theological reflection “thing,” but I can’t, and you can’t…and that’s actually a very good thing because when God calls us pastors, deacons and SAMs  to public ministries in the church, God expects us, God commissions us to be God’s gadflies in the world….to test and measure and sift everything we experience in God’s World  through the “sieve” of God’s Word in Jesus Christ.

And what does that Word tell us?    

Way back in 1953 a British clergyman J.B. Phillips wrote a little book that’s still in print, entitled:  Your God is Too Small.   In a way, I wish Phillips had written a prequel volume, entitled Your Idea of Sin is Too Small.

What does the Word of God tell us about sin?   It tells us, plain and simple, that sin is bigger, wider, deeper, and much more virulent than we assume it to be.   

Yes, the word “sin” names our original sin, the sin we inherited just by virtue of being conceived and birthed by sinful human parents.    Sin is that curved-in-upon-ourselves-ness that Luther taught us about.   Sin is—in the popular religious imagination of America—the bad thoughts, words and deeds that ensue from being fatally flawed.   Sin is what we never outgrow our need to confess, so that we may be forgiven.  

But sin is also much, much more than an individual, personal affliction.   Sin has a grasp, a reach--sin spreads itself and its effects, infecting not just everyone, but everything.   Sin fills not just space, but time as well.   We are always dealing with not just the wrongs you and I have done in our slender slice of eternity….but we are forever bumping up against all the wrongs of all our ancestors.   In this fashion sin infects every structure we manufacture, every arrangement we concoct, every era in our collective history. 

Sin always and forever is bigger than we imagine it to be….and this is more than a political or social or moral construct—it is a deep theological reality, encompassing ideas like privilege, structural racism, institutional prejudice, and implicit bias.

Sin’s a much bigger force to contend with than we realize on Sunday mornings when—as if on auto-pilot or just drowsy--we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.   Not by accident, the apostle Paul whom we true blue Lutherans love for his witness to justification by faith—not by accident did Paul also speak of the whole creation groaning (Romans 8:22).

Our encounter with God’s Word will continually overwhelm us with the enormity of sin until we find ourselves crying out with Paul:   “Wretch that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”  (Romans 7:24)

And when those words fall from our lips, we will continue with Paul’s breathless, joyous, confession:  “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  (Romans 7:25)

For as sure and as certain as we are that sin is so much bigger than we thought it was, God’s cosmic, redemptive work in Christ is always bigger.   And God’s Word will always drive us to confess, in the words of Colossians 1:    Christ himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together (v. 17)…[and] through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (v. 22)

In the name of Jesus—through whose Cross and Empty Tomb God is making all things new.  Amen.

[1] Douglas John Hall, Thinking the Faith:  Christian Theology in a North American Context (1989, Augsburg Fortress)     pp. 323-324.