Noah-2014-Movie-Image-2

Noah, the Silence of God, and Holy Week

We are in the last few days of Lent before Holy Week begins. As one who bears the responsibility for planning, preparing, presiding and preaching for Holy Week, the coming days will be busy, full and emotionally draining. As a pastor you carry, whether you like it or not, the emotions of your people. The anticipatory expectation of a saviour on Palm Sunday. The dread of Maundy Thursday. The deep guilt and grief of Good Friday. Finally the joy of Easter Sunday. It can be a roller coaster of emotions through the week.

imagesOn the brink of Palm Sunday, with palm branches ready and Hosannas waiting to be sung, I have been constantly coming back to the movie Noah. Last week I wrote a review of the Movie on some of the Biblical themes, and in particular the Christological symbols. Like I said in the review, I thoroughly enjoyed Noah and found it to be rich and deep movie. However, one symbol I didn’t say too much about was the silence of God.

*SPOILER ALERT*

While God never actually speaks in the movie, God is a noticeable presence. The characters in the film regularly reference the fact that God has not spoken to human beings in a long time. The filmmakers have said that they didn’t want to put words in God’s mouth, and others have noted that none of us hears God’s voice in that way. God’s silence is something we can resonate with. Any person of faith has struggled with feeling God’s absence and experienced God’s silence.

However, the reason I keep coming back to the silence of God in Noah has more to do with the ‘why?’ of the matter. Why has God chosen to be silent with creation and especially silent with human beings? What has driven God to refrain from speaking with these little creatures that God cares so much about?

The opening scene of the movie is Cain’s murder of Abel. This theme of murder in human relationships, with each other, and with creation permeates the movie. Humanity’s ability and capacity to kill becomes the relevant question at the climax of the movie.

I have a theory as to why God remains silent. I think the murder is so offensive to God that God can’t bear to speak to humanity again. God has created this beautiful, fragile, precious thing called ‘life’ and humanity cannot stop destroying it. I think that by the time things devolve into the antediluvian world – where humanity is murdering creation and each other – God is wondering whether creation should continue at all. Or whether human beings should continue being a part of creation. And so God decides to ask the last ‘righteous man’, Noah, to make the decision.

In the end, the film doesn’t really resolve God’s dilemma. Noah chooses to allow humanity to continue, yet does so knowing that humanity still carries the capacity for evil, for murder and death. Noah believes he has failed. Yet, because of Noah’s decision, God undeniably and visibly becomes not silent at the conclusion of the movie – the rainbow becomes the sign of God new word, or new covenant with creation. God has ended the silence with humanity, despite humanity’s flaws.

Which brings us back to Holy Week.

Palm-SundayThere is a certain silence to Holy Week. Through most of Lent, Jesus speaks at length in the gospel readings. He speaks with Satan, with Nicodemus, with the woman at the well, and with the blind man. But in Holy Week, Jesus seems to clam up a bit. And we all get the sense that this unresolved dilemma is facing God again. What is God going to do? What is humanity going to do? Jesus and the authorities are on a collision course towards death. Humanity can’t stop our killing, but this time God isn’t leaving the choice up to us. This time this beautiful, fragile, precious thing of life, this time God will not give us power over it.

This time life will overcome death. 

Palm Sunday IconBut it is going to take some silence on God’s part along the way. God makes room for our voices during Holy Week. Voices like “I do not know him” or “Surely not I, Lord” or “Crucify him!”

But they all begin tomorrow with that first word spoken by the crowds as Jesus enter Jerusalem.

Hosanna.

Hosanna, which we confuse with Hallelujah.

Hosanna, which does not mean praise the lord

But really means ‘Save now’.

In the midst of the silence this coming week, as we re-tell the story of passion. I am going to be thinking about that word – Hosanna.

It is the first word of Holy Week, but it is also a word for every Sunday. A word that we, at least as liturgical Lutherans, sing every time we gather for the Lord’s supper:

Hosanna in the highest. 

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord
Hosanna in the highest

Save now in the highest.

Save us from our sin.

Save us from death.

Save us from ourselves.

And unlike the Noah movie, where the question facing God of what to do with humanity goes unanswered, God will answer.

God will answer our Hosanna.

God will save us now,

With life.


 

What are your plans for Holy Week? Have more thoughts about Noah? Ever experienced the silence of God? Share in the comments or on Facebook: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

About these ads
dry_bones

Lazarus in the Valley of Dry Bones

John 11:1-45

(Read the whole lesson here)…Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go… (Read the whole lessons here)

Sermon

ValleyofDryBones-620x3101The prophet Ezekiel said: The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 

We have have made our way through the season of Lent. 5 weeks, 5 encounters between Jesus and another aspect of the human condition. Temptation in the desert, Doubt with Nicodemus, Shame with the woman at the well, Refusal to see with the Blindman. We have journeyed through the Lenten wilderness, one where our flaws and sufferings have been put on display, where Jesus has met us with mercy.

But today, we take a turn towards Holy Week. Jesus still meets us in an aspect of the human condition, in grief. But the story foreshadows what is to come.

The prophet Ezekiel said: The Lord led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.

We begin with Jesus staying somewhere other than where he needs to be. His friends are in trouble, Lazarus is dying. They are hoping that he can come to help. But instead, he stays. And then after a few days of waiting, Jesus announces that Lazarus is dead and then decides to go to his friends in Judea. His disciples are puzzled, but his answer to them tells us that something is about to happen. “Let us go, that we may also die with him”.

As Jesus finally makes his way to Bethany, the real drama begins to unfold. News of Lazarus death is spreading, Jesus has arrived in time to grieve and mourn, but too late help. On is way to town, Martha, Lazarus’s sister comes out and meets Jesus on the road. Martha, the busybody, the one who needs to work goes to Jesus let her grief, her frustration out. “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died. But now I know that God will give you whatever you ask him.” Martha’s word are accusatory. They are desperate. She is filled with grief. She utters words that could very well be our words.

“Lord, if you… than this…” We have all been where Martha is. We have all suffered loss, felt grief, felt abandoned or ignored. We have all suffered and wished for God’s intervention. We know what it is like to be Martha. To want the past to be different, to even be desperate enough to hope that it can still be changed.

drybonesThe prophet Ezekiel said: The Lord said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

Jesus is gentle enough with Martha to let her make her accusations, to let her share her desperation. Jesus could have done something, maybe he still can.

And then Jesus answers Martha, “Your brother will rise again.”

Can we imagine hearing those words? Can we imagine the God of the universe, come in flesh, speaking to us, “Your loved one will rise again.” Can we imagine standing in front of God almighty as God declares that death is no barrier, that the powers of this world that we think are unassailable are a mere trifle to God.

Martha is too lost in her grief to really take in the moment, she doesn’t really get who is speaking to her and what Jesus is saying. She responds almost automatically,

“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Martha gives a formulaic response, but one also resigned to death. Martha is clinging to the promise as best she can, but she does not see the immediacy of Jesus’ statement. And still Jesus stays with her, “I am the resurrection and the life”

And the Prophet Ezekiel said: Then the Lord said to me, “Prophesy toUnknown-1 these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

The God of the universe has just declared that Lazarus will live… But we don’t get the impression that Martha has really absorbed what Jesus is saying to her.

And so Jesus continues down the road, and this time Mary, Martha’s sister comes to meet him. She accosts Jesus with the same statement that her sister gave, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

And maybe this time it is Jesus who now understands something. These two women cannot see past their grief. They can only experience the rawness of their brother’s death. They can only painfully long for their brother to be alive, they can only see the empty hole their dead brother has left in their world.

This time, Jesus simply stays with these grieving women. He doesn’t try to remind them of who he is, he doesn’t try to buoy their spirits with what he is about to do. He simply shares in their grief. He weeps with Mary. He is moved by their fragility and their weakness. Jesus knows that is about to call Lazarus out of his grave, but still the deep grief that Mary and Martha carry moves him in spirit.

We have all been here. This is the essence of what it means to be human. To know that everything around us is limited. That we only have so many days on earth, we only have so much we get to do and be and experience. And so we grieve the rest, all the things, all the people that we didn’t get enough of.

Maybe this grief is a lesson. Maybe it isn’t the disciples, or Mary or Martha who need to see God’s glory. Just maybe Lazarus hasn’t died so that we can see, but so that Jesus, so that God, can live grief in person. So God can truly understand what it means to grieve.

And when Jesus finally knows incarnate grief, knows what it is mourn like we do, Jesus makes his way to the tomb. Jesus has learned grief, but Mary, Martha, the disciples, the crowds, us, we are about to see what it is like to be God, what death really means when it stands before the creator of life itself.

Ezekiel said: So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

As Jesus, Mary and Martha, the disciples and the crowds stand before Lazarus’ tomb, he declares,

“Take away the stone”

And Martha protests. Martha the one who has just confessed that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, says “There will be a stench for he has been dead four days”.

Martha, stuck in her grief, is telling Jesus there will be a stench. She is speaking to God, to the One who uttered the word “Let there be…” in creation. The one whom is the Word of God made flesh.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus rarely looses his cool, but at this moment, full of grief too, Jesus snaps are Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed…” Jesus has declared that he is the Resurrection and the Life, and we are about to see what that really means.

The prophet Ezekiel said: Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, `Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

468304834_640And the stone is rolled away. And that very first promise that Jesus makes to Martha,

“Your brother with rise again”

That promise comes to fruition. Lazarus walks out of the tomb.

And we too are about to enter into Holy Week. Into a period of remembered and renewed grief. We know what is going to happen, we know that Good Friday is coming. We know that humanity is about nail Jesus, that we are about to nail God to the cross.

But we go with these words ringing in our ears,

“On the third day, he will rise again”.

And the promise rings true for also for us ,

“You will rise again”

Amen.

 

Worldvision_large

World Vision’s Decision Was Still a Watershed Moment

So I wrote a satirical response to the outcry from some Christians  in regards to World Vision’s decision to allow people in committed gay marriages to work there.

Today,  a World Vision employee wrote to me, in regards to that post, thanking me for the humour it added into, what I can only assume, has been an impossibly tough week. It broke my heart to imagine what those on the ground must be experiencing when 2000 people pull their sponsorships within a few hours.

Well, today the absurd got absurder.

World Vision reversed its decision today.

This is sad.

The letter from the board citied a mistake. They re-committed themselves to the “biblical understanding of marriage” (between one man and at least one woman, I guess).

But let’s not fool ourselves.

This is about bullying. This is about the same lobby that managed to get a secular cable network, A&E, to re-instate Phil Robertson, after he said some of the most vile and racist bigoted things you could say and still be published in GQ.

If A&E caved, World Vision didn’t stand a chance.

Evangelicals, especially conservative pastors, shame on you. Double shame on you, Gospel Coalition.

I know that change is hard, I know that you are reacting to the loss of your privilege in the world. And we all know that this reversal is temporary.

As much as I wonder how conservative, American, Republican, culture-war, nation-worship can can still be, in any meaningful sense, called Christianity, I am certainly not going to say farewell to Evangelicals, as they did to World Vision.

But I will offer this rebuke:  As your elder in faith, stop it. Stop acting like a bunch of teenagers and grow up. The I-am-taking-my-ball-and-going-home attitude is old and tired.

As one who has been ordained into a church and denomination that has had to get past many of our own demons, I know that growing up isn’t easy. But the world needs you to grow up, and soon.

In the meantime, for those who are completely lost, saddened and disheartened with what has gone with World Vision this week, let me say something:

World Vision is not the only Christian NGO out there. In fact, there are many who won’t succumb to the Evangelical Lobby anytime in the future. I am not saying stop supporting World Vision, not by any means. Keep signing up for sponsorships, don’t assume those 2000 are coming back. Keep sponsoring those kids you are already sponsoring!

But check out the Christian NGOs below as way of knowing that World Vision is not responsible as an NGO to hold within it the entire diversity of the church. Just as many pointed out, the work World Vision does with communities all over the world is the same, regardless of their employment policies.

Check them out knowing that, in fact, World Vision made the best decision for the communities they work with. World Vision was put into an impossible, no-win, situation and I think they did what was best. They asked, “How can we help as many people as possible?” And so they did what they could to stop the financial bleed.

In the meantime, also keep fighting for LBGT rights, fight for them in all areas of the Church. Fight for them knowing that World Vision’s reversal doesn’t change anything. The policy change on Monday was still a watershed moment for the church, today’s reversal just means the hill to climb is taller than we thought.

Just because the Gospel Coalition is afraid of Gay Terrorists, doesn’t mean we have to fear their conservative backlash. It only means we have them on the ropes.

ARDF_Logo-copy_noTMAnglican Relief and Development Fund

 

LWR-LOGO-HOME-RESIZEDLutheran World Relief

 

 

devp-logo-enCatholic Development and Peace

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 6.37.06 PMMennonite Central Committee

 

 

What do you think of the World Vision Announcement today? Will you change who you give your support to? Share in the comments, on Facebook: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

 

Worldvision_large

World Vision is sending us all to Hell!

World Vision is trying to send us all to hell.

If you don’t know what I am talking about, you haven’t been on the internet in the last 24 hours.

World Vision announced that they are going to start forcing African kids to marry into same-sex relationships, if not they will take away all their food. Seriously! Well… that is what these guys at the Gospel Coalition seemed to be saying…

Anyways, we all know that this is a huge problem. World Vision plans to employ only gay people so that they can transmit ‘gayness’ to as many Third World children as possible.

173720_20110408_174319_OCPNow, I have long been suspicious of World Vision. All their commercials and print ads have pictures of kids on them that I can only assume are not ‘Christian’. Most of those kids come from the Kenyan bush right? Isn’t that where Obama came from? We all know what that means! It only makes sense that he is pushing this same-sex marriage agenda to make us all gay. I didn’t vote for a gay Kenyan to be my president, and that’s not only because I am Canadian. But with World Vision now burning bibles (according to Franklin Graham) and feeding non-Christian children, they are bringing together two threats to the United States of Evangelicalism to make a mega threat -

Gay Terrorists!!!

But seriously, has anyone been checking to see what the faith statements of these sponsor kids are? I want to see signed statements on websites so I can know if we really should be “sponsoring” their eternal salvation for only $1 a day. Do they believe in Predestination or Free Will? What if they are Roman Catholic marxists like the Pope? Has anyone actually checked to see if the schools they are attending aren’t Madrassas? What if those doctors that these “sponsor kids” see practice Sharia medicine? (The NSA has probably just put me on a watch list for all the flagable words I have in this post).

Now, you might be saying, “But Erik, you live in a country that allows same-sex marriage!” To which I respond, this is okay because we had a white christian Prime Minister who introduced that law. But more importantly, do we want less gay premarital sex? Because letting gay people get married is the best way to keep them from having lots of sex!

Still, you might be saying, “But Erik, you serve in a denomination that blesses same-sex marriages!” To which I respond,  I am not turning any African kids into gay terrorists!

imagesWorld Vision just might be the last organization that ever believed in the bible, besides the Gospel Coalition. And now, because of their gay employees, they are threatening us all with the eternal fires of hell. What if the hard-earned money that I am sending to evangelize African kids is used instead to feed them, give them medical care, and clean water? They could very well grow up to marry someone of the same gender, and that is against God’s word! What if some of the money I give to World Vision goes to pay some of the salary of a World Vision employee? A Gay Employee!?!?! Will that make ME gay?!?!

So, I say stop supporting World Vision and their Gay Terrorism agenda! Because we all know what Jesus said about that:
“Feed My Sheep” John 21:17
“Let the little children come to me” Matthew 19:14
“For I was hungry and you gave me food” Matthew 25:35
“I am the bread of life” John 6:35
“Give them something to eat” Matthew 14:16

Er, um… We all know what Paul said about that:
“If your enemies are hungry, feed them” Romans 12:20
“Bear one another’s burdens” Galatians 6:2
“When you come together to eat, wait for one another” 1 Corinthians 11:33

I mean… We all know what Leviticus said about that:
“Their flesh [Pigs] you shall not eat, and of their flesh you shall not touch.” Leviticus 11:8
“nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials” Leviticus 19:19
“But anything in the seas or the streams that does not have fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and among all the other living creatures that are in the waters—they are detestable to you” Leviticus 11:10

Oh right, this is one!
“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” Leviticus 18:22

So… We need to stop supporting World Vision because of this obscure verse of Leviticus, even though we don’t follow most of the other rules in that book!

And because… Gay Terrorists!

____________________________________________

Disclaimer: If it wasn’t clear already, the above post is satire and sarcasm. I fully support World Vision’s choice to hire employees in same-sex marriages. To read more about LGBT rights in the Church check this out: Why I should have spoken up for LGBT rights in the Church

So what do you think about the World Vision News? What do you think of the reaction? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

 

 

 

houston_chronicle_ad

The Christian Horror Movie that will Win People to Jesus

So I have been listening to the Moonshine Jesus Podcast, with Mark Sandlin and David Henson. It is a basically half an hour of two ministers and bloggers talking pop-culture and theology over drinks. As many pastors know, this is what some of the best moments of seminary, and later on, what clergy conferences are all about. The podcast is great fun and worth a listen, you can find it on iTunes and here. In a recent episode Mark and David shared that there is a Christian Horror movie coming out called Final: The Rapture.

Now, I am not a big fan of Christian movies or Christian radio. I was subjected to far too much Touched by an Angel growing up, but I have to admit that the production quality of Christian music, TV and film has gone up dramatically since then. Recent movies like the Son of God or the Passion of the Christ, or even like Noah, show that the entertainment industry is investing in Christainment.

teaser-poster-final-the-raptureHowever, Christians themselves are also invested appealing to broader secular culture, and so we end up with movies, like Final: The Rapture, being made with the aim of appealing to a broader audience. The movie is being billed as a frightening story of what the end of the world will look like, full of violence, blood, death (no sex or swearing, of course). The producers themselves compare the movie to a Trojan Horse. They are hoping to bring people in with horror and send them out with the fear of Hell the love of Christ in the hearts.

If you watch the trailer, it is clear that this film is not top quality acting, writing, directing or production. But lots of horror movies aren’t these days and they do just fine at the box office.

The quality of the filmmaking isn’t really the issue.

Of course, it is absurd to try and trick people into “coming to Jesus” with a horror movie. Even with the poor filmmaking in mind, don’t spend too long thinking about how many times along the way there must have been opportunities for someone to point out to the producers that spending the money, time and effort on making such a film is ludicrous. It will hurt your brain to imagine that some poor schmuck in an editing room had to finally say, “Yes! This is it! The Christian horror movie that will bring people to Christ!” Don’t even start on all the actors, film crews, on-location personnel and more, who had to agree that this film was worth making.

The thing that really turns my brain inside-out is the motive to make this movie in the first place. It is a logical and theological fallacy that underpins this whole venture.

This movie might be billed by the producers as a bait and switch to bring people in with the horror and send them out with Jesus, but it isn’t. In fact, Jesus has little to do with it at all. The real aim is to bring people in with horror and send them out with Hell.

This is laughable at first thought, but there is something deeply troubling about this line of thinking. The bait and switch tactic is dishonest, but the real bait and switch tactic is terrifying and I can’t believe that Christians are still using this strategy. It appears that the producers of this movie are using Hell as a first ‘in’ to get people to believe in God. 

I don’t know if this is a conscious effort or some response to the New Atheism that fundamentalists seem to be fond of sparring with. However, trying to terrify people with Hell so much so that they open themselves to eternal damnation is cruel. But thinking that a fear of hell means an unconscious belief in eternal salvation? This is absurd!

Yet, as far as I can tell, this line of thinking exists. Fundamentalists seem to be saying that if we can get people to be afraid of Hell, then they will, by default, also believe in Jesus – maybe without even really knowing it. You can’t believe in Hell without then believing in God right?

This is the horrific part.

I don’t recall Jesus saying, faith the size of a mustard seed in Hell, will bring you into the Kingdom of God. I don’t recall Jesus telling us to go out and spread the Bad News of God’s wrath and damnation. I don’t recall Jesus giving Christians the ‘judgement and condemnation of God’ as an evangelism tool.

Most Christian music, TV and film verges on the hokey, even if the production value is getting better (especially in terms of music). And fine, if Christians need faith based pop culture – whatever. But if we think that we can trick people into heaven with an illogical, unscriptural fallacy?

Then we really have created a horror show. 

What do you think? Do Christians need their own pop culture? Does believing in Hell make people also Christians? Share in the comments, on Facebook: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

cross-joseph-and-nicodemus-01

Asking Questions with Nicodemus

Preached at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd on the 2nd Sunday of Lent. 

John 3:1-17

 …(Jesus said)The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?”… (Read the whole lesson here).

Sermon

Each year in Lent, St. David’s would have soup and the word before their regular Thursday Evening Prayer service. People would gather for soup and they would talk over the readings for the coming Sunday together with Father Angelo. After an hour or so, the group would gather in the sanctuary for Evening Prayer.

Heather had been an Evening prayer regular for several months. She wasn’t a member of the congregation, and she didn’t attend Sunday mornings, but she had been faithfully attending Thursday Night Evening Prayer week after week for a while. Father Angelo hoped she would come to soup and the word.

(Pause)

Last week, we began Lent like we do each year. On the first Sunday of the season we hear the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.

St-Nicodemus-of-the-Holy-Mountain-frescoToday, we move from Matthew’s Gospel to John’s. We step into the story with Nicodemus. He is a Pharisee who has come to see Jesus at night. Nicodemus has come to Jesus with questions. Nicodemus comes asking questions that eventually lead Jesus to utter what is perhaps the most famous verse in the whole Bible: John 3:16 is memorized and recited by Christians all over world. John 3:16 can cause us to miss the story around it because of the way it dominates our memory. Instead of this conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus, we hear that verse and imagine a shirtless, beer-gutted man holding up a sign at a football game.

Once we get past John 3:16 and when we can bring our thoughts back to Nicodemus and Jesus, we can discover a powerful encounter between two unlikely men. The conversation that Nicodemus and Jesus share contains some of the richest images of the bible. Being born again or from above by the spirit, the spirit blowing where it will like the wind, Moses lifting up the snake in the desert, for God so loved the world. These images can be so rich, that we can forget this is a conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee.

So lets step back from the conversation for a moment, and imagine the scene. It is night, Jesus is waiting in a convenient spot, maybe beside a fire. Nicodemus comes in secret to speak with Jesus. Nicodemus is on the other team from Jesus. Nicodemus is Pharisee, a member of the group trying to trap Jesus, the ones who will eventually accuse Jesus before the temple authorities chanting “Crucify him.” Nicodemus is risking a lot by bringing his questions to Jesus.  Nicodemus risks being discovered, losing his place in his community, losing all respect from his peers. And Nicodemus isn’t even sure about this Jesus guy.

(Pause)

On the second week of soup and the word at St. David’s, the group talked about the story of Nicodemus meeting Jesus at night. As people asked questions about being born again, or who will be saved and who is condemned, Heather sat in silence. Finally just before the hour was up, Heather chimed in.

“I understand Nicodemus” she started. “I mean, he has questions. He has seen things and heard stories about Jesus, but how is he supposed to know that Jesus is the real deal. How can Nicodemus be sure that Jesus really is the one? I have read the stories, I have heard the testimonies. How can I be sure Jesus really is the son of God? I think Nicodemus gets it. He wants to know his part in this, just like I do. What is my part with God. What am I supposed to do to be born again? To be saved by the Son of God?”

Father Angelo was about to answer, when the worship assistant came ringing the bell for worship. The group got up and headed up to evening prayer. Heather’s question was left hanging.

(Pause)

We can be a lot like Nicodemus when it comes to God and to faith. We want to know how things work before dive in. We are not sure we want to show our hand before we have to. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, in secret. And he leaves without being convinced. Sometimes it might be the same with us. We come to Jesus expecting answers, and instead we leave unconvinced.

Faith and church and God can leave us feeling like Nicodemus. As we go about our day, the world keeps us busy and preoccupied. But when the darkness settles in, the questions come. At night, we have the time to sit and wonder. Question rung through out minds lying in bed, or late at night when the television can’t hold our attention. We begin to wonder. Is God for real? Does faith make any sense? We start out unsure, but we can become uncertain. Uncertainty leads to doubt, and we become shaken, afraid, alone. What if God isn’t all that we say God is?

Nicodemus leaves the conversation unconvinced today, but farther along in John’s gospel, Nicodemus shows up again. This time he half heartedly defends Jesus to his Pharisees buddies. As the story of Jesus unfolds, Nicodemus is hanging in there, even if only at the fringe or on the margin.

And maybe, of all the things, all the familiar rich images that Jesus uses today, it is what Jesus doesn’t say that might be significant. Jesus does not condemn Nicodemus. He doesn’t expect Nicodemus to demonstrate his faith. There is no expectation that Nicodemus sign up and become an open disciple. Jesus doesn’t treat this man like the fisherman calling them from their boats. He doesn’t heal Nicodemus with an exhortation to faith. Jesus simply gives Nicodemus time and space. Jesus welcomes Nicodemus, allows him the room to ask questions, and gives him the chance to think. Jesus let’s Nicodemus watch the story unfold.

(Pause)

Throughout the rest of Lent, Heather kept coming to soup and the word. She had more questions, but none as direct as her questions about Nicodemus.

It was the Good Friday custom at St. David’s to have a prayer vigil. Members would sign up to pray at the church for an hour at a time all through the day and through the night. Father Angelo noticed that Heather had signed up for the 8PM shift.

At 8PM Good Friday, he joined her in the candle lit sanctuary, and the two sat in silence for a while. Eventually Heather looked over to him and said,

“Father Angelo, did you know that Nicodemus is the one who comes to bury Jesus after he is crucified? All the other disciples, the ones who boldly followed Jesus for years, they all hid away, afraid. But when Jesus is crucified, it is Nicodemus who comes and asks for the body. When he sees the whole story, he is finally ready to be an out in the open disciple.

“I know” said Father Angelo. “Interesting isn’t it”.

“So why couldn’t Jesus tell him to wait for the rest of the story when Nicodemus first came with his questions?”

“Jesus isn’t about giving answers, Jesus is about showing us God. Nicodemus needed to see that. Maybe you needed to that.”

“I did see it” Heather said. “I finally saw it this week, I saw Jesus today, on the cross. I finally saw the rest of the story.”

“Good” said Father Angelo. “But story isn’t over yet… everything is going to change on Sunday morning.”

(Pause)

Like Nicodemus, we can hesitate, we can be unsure about Jesus. We can wonder about God. We might prefer to keep our faith in the dark, in secret, we might leave feeling unconvinced many days. Like Nicodemus we have our questions, and we wish Jesus would just answer them, because we want to know. If we could just know if Jesus, if God is real… than the uncertainty, the fear, the loneliness might leave us.

But that is not how Jesus is with us. Jesus doesn’t come to give us answers. Jesus comes to meet us in our doubts, in our questions. Jesus meets us in the darkness, in our fears and isolation. Jesus meets us and give us space. The space to ask our questions, and the space to watch the story unfold. And Jesus tells us the good news again and again. That God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son to die on a cross for us. God gave his son so that whoever questions, whoever wonders, whoever hears the story from beginning to end, from manger to cross to empty tomb might be transformed for eternal life.

That is how Jesus is, saying what we need to hear, not saying what we don’t need to hear, and giving us the space to discover that we have been caught up by and changed by God’s great love.

Amen. 

 

Image Source - intotheharvestministries.wordpress.com

Why Calvinism asks the wrong question

So Calvinism, of all things, is becoming popular among Evangelicals. I remember a few years ago Dietrich Bonhoeffer was all the rage, and Evangelical studies of The Cost of Discipleship were spreading like the plague. Of course, it was hardly mentioned that Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran and so was his theology, but his writings were finding a new popularity.

These days, John Calvin is finding some new popularity among North American Evangelicals. According to this New York Time Op Ed, it is actually among many pastors that Calvinism seems to be creeping back into Evangelical churches and pulpits. The apparent reason for this renewal is that Calvinism provides an alternative to the prosperity gospel of Joel Osteen and the like. Calvinism does offer a good critique of the prosperity gospel, with its more realistic and honest stance on human beings and sin. Calvinism also invites a deeper understanding of scripture and deeper theology than “God will make you rich if you are good Christian”. I can understand why many are turning to something meatier in the face of Joel Osteen and others.

As Lutheran, this is kind of like watching your family, friends and neighbours become fans of your favourite sport which is great, but then realizing they are all cheering for a rival team. Finally, people are watching the right sport, but cheering for the wrong team is almost worse than not playing.

Now, some are reacting to Calvinism’s strict view on salvation and predestination. Benjamin Corey over at Patheos has written a couple of great posts about this. 5 Reasons Why Calvinism Makes Me Want To Gouge My Eyes Out and Love Doesn’t Kidnap: Why I Believe In Free Will Over Predestination. He rightly points to some of the deeply problematic consequences of the strict view of Double Predestination held by Calvinists.

However, as Calvinism (and its issues) comes up over and over again, I am surprised that Martin Luther is hardly mentioned. There would be no Calvin without Luther, so it is odd to debate the finer points of Calvin’s theology, without looking to Luther’s.

Now, I know should probably stop trying to say how great Lutheranism is, however, this justification stuff is exactly where I think Lutherans have the strongest theology there is.

Image Source - http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nakedpastor/2010/09/cartoon-t-shirt-idea-for-the-elect-only/
Image Source – http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nakedpastor/2010/09/cartoon-t-shirt-idea-for-the-elect-only/

The problem of the reformation was that most reformers wanted to express justification in terms that didn’t involve good works that earned merit for salvation. This lead to theologians like Calvin having to come up with new criteria to determine what saves us. Calvinists say that God chooses ahead of time who is saved and who is damned. In response to this view, Arminians (another reformation movement) say that God decides not to choose, but to let us choose. So those who choose Jesus are saved, those who reject Jesus are damned. The issue for these views on predestination is that they paint a false dichotomy. There is either Double Election (Calvinism) or completely Free Will (Arminianism). These two options are opposites, but they are not the only two out there. Yet, Calvinism and Arminianism, for some inexplicable reason, are the two competing theologies out there for a lot of Evangelicals.

But each position has fundamental flaws:

  • Double Predestination, choosing who is saved and who is damned puts a loving and creating God in the silly position of having damn most people that God created…
  • Free Will puts a flawed and limited humanity in the position of having to choose God, despite our difficulties and imperfect ability to make good choices in all other matters – from choosing dinner off a restaurant menu, to choosing all manner of sin in regard to how we treat our neighbour.

Martin Luther saw a middle ground, which he called The Bondage of the Will: 

  • We are free in all areas in respect to our actions towards our neighbour.
  • We are free to reject God.
  • We are NOT free to choose God.
Image source - mmcelhaney.blogspot.com
Image source – mmcelhaney.blogspot.com

The good works/indulgence mess required that the reformers describe salvation as entirely the work of God:  We do not participate in our justification or salvation – God extends that grace completely on God’s own. We do not choose it, we do not earn it, we do not facilitate God’s grace giving action. And because God is the source of all grace and mercy, God does choose those who are saved. Calvinists would agree on this point.

However, Luther also saw that Christ’s death was not limited, but for all people, all creation even. God’s desire is to save all of creation. Arminians would agree on this point. So does that mean that all creation will desire to be saved? No. Will God force salvation on us? No. We are free in will to reject God. In fact, as human beings we are good at this. We often choose to be God in God’s place, as is the condition of Original Sin. We may choose God today, but will we choose God tomorrow? We are fickle creatures. In Luther’s view, he saw that because God had given us grace freely, without condition, the only choice that we really had to make is to reject God. (Luther did not see “not choosing” as an action of human agency). So our ‘Bound Will’ will chose to reject God.

The difference between Luther and Calvin is that Calvin started his theology with the issue of God’s sovereignty, Arminians started from the same point as well. When you start from God’s  sovereignty  you are bound to end up at Double Election or Free Will. God chooses for us, or God offers a choice.

Luther saw God’s chief characteristic as ‘Mercy’. Luther wasn’t really concerned with whether God’s sovereignty is strictly maintained, because the incarnation shows that God isn’t really concerned with that either.

Image Source - psalmslife.com
Image Source – psalmslife.com

Rather, Luther saw a God that was consistently offering mercy to a flawed, limited, sinful, suffering, imperfect humanity over and over again. Forgiveness was a daily exercise for Luther. He would remind himself daily of the Baptismal promises made by God – of Forgiveness, Life and Salvation (he was no anabaptist, baptism is all God’s action).

As much as Free Will seems like the answer to Predestination, it is isn’t. In fact, it is just as unloving a choice for God to make, as damning most people is. As imperfect and flawed creatures we simply cannot be relied on to choose God, we would all be damned if it were up to us. God’s real recourse is constant and abundant mercy.  God’s alternative to saving some and damning others, or letting us choose, is to be constantly forgiving. Salvation is not about God’s sovereignty, salvation is about God’s mercy.

Calvinism and Arminianism ask the wrong question – “How are we saved?” – there is no good answer to this question.

Luther was concerned only with this question – “Who is it that saves us?” – the only answer is God.

So what do you think? Does Calvinism or Arminianism appeal to you? Or does Lutheranism have the goods? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

*** Image Credit: The Predestination – T is a cartoon by David Hayward also know as the Naked Pastor. Check him out at www.nakedpastor.com ***

An iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 707 other followers

%d bloggers like this: