Matthew 7.1-6

Friday, 28 January 2005

One could spend a lifetime learning the Sermon on the Mount. Perhaps we ought to do just that.

This has got to be one of the most difficult passages in Scripture. It’s difficult in implication and in application. Mh krinete, ina mh kriqhte: Do not judge, so that you will not be judged.

This is one of those verses that gets misapplied all too often today. It becomes the battle cry of those who militate against intolerance in the name of antinomianism. “Don’t you say a darned thing about me, pal. What, you think you’re better than me?” In a less-belligerent-yet-related vein, it becomes simply an injunction against any kind of discernment. Or perhaps it’s used to lend weight to a judgment against another: “You see, I’m above reproach in my judgment of you, for I have followed Jesus’ instruction to the letter, sinner.”

There is perhaps a third, more difficult way to read it: be careful in judging a brother. Don’t be too hasty in judging him. Think really hard before you level a judgment against another. It’s kind of a big deal. Weigh the situation carefully, and by all means, do it in great humility and with care for your brother in mind. Take that hyperbolically huge beam outta your eye before you deign to remove the speck from his.

Would that I and we might do this.

I had a run in with a guy this week that really angered me. Upon reflection I think it was right for me to be angry. It sounds so petty as I write it. The history is brief and boring. He and I have different worldviews. I might boil it down to a case of a touch of the ol’ Pietism. I’d rather watch a mindless comedy, and he’d rather listen to praise and worship music. As a result I’ve been receiving what I would term some passive-aggressive behavior from the guy, which I find to be entirely uncalled for. The translation is something like, “I will not associate with you, schmuck boy, for it may tarnish my soul.” So the other day I we met in passing, and after some small talk I went my way. As I was leaving he made a derogatory comment to my turned back and left. As I was turning to deal with it in my normal confrontational manner I got hit with the force of this passage.

It’s clear to me that the guy is judging the living crap out of me. One issue seems to have bled over into other aspects of life. But then as I was weighing the situation I was hit with the fact that my mind was not on helping him but exacting retribution. I wanted to knock him down a few pegs. And while that may be entirely appropriate, my motivation was not. So I stopped. I turned and continued on my way.

As I ponder it all, this guy smacks of “weaker brother.” As such my freedom in Christ enables (compels?) me to be his servant, for his betterment and edification. And that’s hard. In fact, it’s one of the more difficult things I can think of doing right now, and honestly I lack the ability to do it of myself.

And then I’m back at “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” I don’t have it all together. I don’t forgive like I ought to, and I don’t act in perfect humility. But that’s exactly where Christ comes to me.

I have a feeling I’m just at the very beginning of all this.


Blessed Are We

Tuesday, 25 January 2005

Today two close family members wound up in the hospital, in quite separate and unrelated ways. Both situations are serious maladies of the body. And it has been a little bit devastating. Not devastating like imparing my ability to function, but the incidents are serious enough that they bring with them an almost unwelcome dose of perspective.

It’s the kind of perspective that I have often prayed for yet not truly wanted, at least according to my sinfulness. It’s akin to the prayer I posted below. Today I was reminded again of the frailty of life on earth. With disasters like the recent tsunami we’re confronted with it, but not being near Asia allows for some emotional and cognitive distance. The closest I got to that was a colleague who lost a friend in it, which was indeed hard. But when maladies hit loved ones personally it strikes closer to home. We’re confronted with the truth that ultimately what we do, our personal glories and achievements, aren’t worth too much. And if we think on it more, we end up right back at “poor in spirit.”

But God still doesn’t leave us there, at least not ultimately. The reign of God is ours. We slog our way through life, with difficulties, pains, pressures, failures, sickness, loss–but God calls us blessed. We will be comforted. We will see God. We will be called sons of God. We will receive God’s righteousness–his righteous acts of saving. He will raise us up, and sin and death will not get the last word.

Coffee Shops

Friday, 21 January 2005

I’m sitting and enjoying the WiFi in a coffee house that serves, as is customary, as a gathering spot for ecclectic groups. Right now I’m comfortably ensconced between a pair of pharmaceutical company reps to my left and a couple of seminarians from a local Reformed seminary to my right. There’s a sermon in there somewhere.

It’s a little bit frustrating. From what I can hear, it seems that the latter pair are good Five-Point Calvinists. I take issue with it, but ok. But the other couple isreally frustrating me. And I’m not sure if the problem is within or outside me.

Here’s the deal. I thank God for his First Article gifts. Medicines are certainly included in those. I strenuously object (“I object.” “Overruled.” “Ah, ah, ah, but I strenuously object!” “Oh, well I should just reconsider then.”) to what looks to me like shameless marketing of the brand names rather than a more intentional effort to improve health. I’m not a socialist, even as I don’t believe that capitalism is in any way a Christian economic system. Regardless, my mother pays close to $600/month for medication, without which she could not function in life. It becomes extremely difficult not to encourage her to seek Canadian drugs. It’s tempting, but it would be an egregious violation of both Romans 13 and the Fourth Commandment. And even as it would appear that the US government is in violation of the Fourth Commandment (see Luther’s Large Catechism on “loaves of bread on governmental crests”), yet we are called to obey, even if authorities go too far. Maybe my argument is a little convoluted. Maybe not. Anyway, looking at this pair it’s really disturbing how deeply the marketing goes. They’re reasonably attractive, peppy people–charming, etc. And their job is to make sure that doctors prescribe their drugs. There’s something wrong with that. I won’t even get into the trashing of our immune systems through the overuse and inappropriate use of antibiotics. “When in doubt take a penicillin derivative” doesn’t wash.

Meanwhile at table three…

It’s filling up in here, and a couple of armchair theologians (philosophers?) just started up. Overheard at this table: “What do I know about theology? Not much, and I like it that way. It just divides people.” It’s generally my practice to intrude and chat such people up, but the conversation moved before I got the chance; it was sort of the topic-closer. Pietism, Rationalism, the Enlightenment…three movements later and everyone’s their own expert. And Satan is laughing. “Keep it simple, don’t confuse me with the details, don’t say anything that might shatter our fragile delusion of unity/comaraderie/connection. I certainly wouldn’t want to be in the position of having to disagree with someone.” I might suggest that America’s Viet Nam experience was the nail in the coffin for external authority. Strife is generally followed closely by “peace at all costs.” We had the Thirty-Years War in Europe; enter pietism. We’ve had Vietnam and two unpopular wars in the Middle East, and America’s never been so syncretistic. There’s a lot more to be said on this, but I’m about out of steam for this morning.


Wednesday, 19 January 2005

Whenever we try to face life with nothing but the strength that is ours, show us, O God, how poor it is. Then share with us thine own, down the ways of thy steady purpose. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.

That was the prayer appointed for today in the prayer book I’m currently using. Each day, it seems, I am confronted more and more with the poorness of my strength. I may indeed accomplish a great deal, and do it well, but ultimately the things I set my hand to end up as dust and rust. And in the end, honestly, I may look at all that I have done and all I have made, and that blind honesty has to set in. It doesn’t mean a thing. My glories aren’t glorious at all. They’re nothing.

The Beatitudes are coming around again in the lectionary cycle. There in Matthew 5 Jesus finds us exactly where we are when he says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, because the reign of God is theirs.” Looking at myself, I must admit I am indeed poor in spirit. I’m helpless, hopeless, at rock bottom. And Jesus calls me blessed, because the reign of God is mine.

The reign of God—the saving acts of God through his Son, Jesus Christ—is mine. In the midst of all the rottenness and disappointment and apathy of life, there’s the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus—for you and for me. He comes to us with salvation, promising us resurrection and blessing upon blessing on the last day. As he has been raised from the dead, so we may also rise, never to die again.

We don’t have it anywhere near together. Honestly, we don’t. And that’s exactly the kind of people the reign of God in Christ comes to. Blessed are the poor in spirit.

Maybe I’m a walking contradiction

Tuesday, 18 January 2005

I’m still on the dangers and ills of this “communication” medium. I think I need to spend some time here in the interest of full-disclosure and intentionality.

For one, I do not believe that any communication endeavor with theology as a central focus ought to be used merely as a rant against that with which we don’t agree. This is not to say that what is wrong ought not to be spoken against. Christians must call wrong “wrong” in order that God’s truth in Jesus Christ might be proclaimed. But there are a few cautions that must be raised and which provide significant cause for pause in this little venture.

This blogger is a Confessional Lutheran. As such I shall endeavor to confess—homologize, “same say”—that which has been handed down from Christ Jesus. With this comes the twofold task of confessing the truth while not taking orthodoxy as a license for rudeness toward others who disagree. I have seen what seems to be a lack of attention to this in my limited experience with other Lutheran blogs. It flies in the face of both the spirit and letter of the Eighth Commandment. Further, wisdom suggests that one need not always condemn heresy within thirty seconds of hearing it.

Another caution regards the nature of blogging. In my inaugural post I alluded to this. The blog becomes the forum for rant—airing dirty laundry of one kind or another. It is a vehicle for expression primarily—and listening becomes a secondary concern at best. These need not be mutually exclusive endeavors. The responsible theological blogger must engage appropriately in both, and it is my intention to do so. This will be an exercise in patience on my part, that I might understand first and then speak.

Considering all this, blogging seems a daunting task at best, a self-contradiction at worst. Indeed. God grant me wisdom and patience.

I’m Old School Confessional

Tuesday, 18 January 2005

Here I am, adding to the glut of theobloggers on the internet today. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. This stems from a couple of things.

Anyone with an internet connection and an opinion can now see their thoughts in print. This has proved to be pretty dangerous in a lot of ways. One glaring danger of this is the instantaneous nature of communication in this medium. Think it, type it, click it, boom: it’s out there. It’s out there for the world to see in all its glory or its shame. It’s a little too immediate. This immediacy is one of the factors that scared me off of blogging for a while. So I’m either hit with a stroke of brilliance or I’m the village idiot. Time might tell.

Related to all of the foregoing is the sudden emergence of experts from every nook and cranny of cyberspace. Everyone’s an expert because we live in an information age and everybody has a little bit of that information. So we take these little bits, formulate opinions, and hold them tenaciously. And these days opinions are inscribed in stone by the fingers of our own personal gods. The point is that we’ve got legions of demi-experts in the realm of theology with little in the way of accountability or deference to that which is greater than ourselves.

The bit that makes me rather nervous is this last one: blogging is counter-conversational. It simply serves to pronounce that which is most disturbing and harmful to conversation. It’s with much fear and trepidation that I enable comments on this blog, or even engage in the task at all. To those who stumble upon this trite little project, I welcome you and your thoughts, should you honor me by leaving any.

May God grant you pardon and peace through the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.