Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Grover and Scut Patriarchs

The Grover Dill
 and Scut Farkus
of Patriarchy

Grover and Scut

The Bayly Boys, Tim and David, are pastors and patriarchs who blog at the BaylyBlog. They are great believers in and practitioners of patriarchy which they define as "father rule" and its corollary fertility. Both were at one time involved with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Tim as the Executive Director and David as a volunteer. Both left because they found the Council not sufficiently committed to patriarchy and came to believe that "complementarianism" is a weasel word. Tim wrote that during the years he served as the Executive Director he "became increasingly disillusioned by CBMW's pathological desire to be liked by God's enemies." Tim objected to limiting male headship to the home and the church:
My years working with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood drew to an end over the cheerful and carefully-cultivated silence of the Council over the meaning and purpose of sexuality outside the church and the home.
With just a few quiet exceptions, the council consistently opposed saying or writing or teaching anything about the meaning and purpose of sexuality outside the church and home. When I'd point out that bit about Adam being created first, then Eve, in the Garden prior to the Fall--that this is God's Creation Order, bearing with it all God's explicitly declared meaning, and not some ceremonial law given to the Children of Israel--invariably their response would be, "The Bible is silent about the meaning of sexuality outside the church and the home."
They don't think much of parents who are proud of their daughters' achievements:
Honestly. If I read one more Christmas letter by Christian parents bragging about the glorious achievements of their daughters who are out to change the world by pursuing excellence in every last one of their stupendous gifts; who are getting their doctorate in neuroscience ("Can you believe how smart she is?!?"); who presented a paper on snakes, donkeys, whales and other oppressed species of the Bible in the Green track of the Evangelical Theological Society's annual meeting; who are over in South Africa's bantus doing AIDS education (teaching women how to get their lovers to use condoms); who are carrying out groundbreaking research on the connection between autism and improperly tied umbilical cords; who just gave birth to their parents first grandchild while on two week leave from setting up President Obama's historic Office on Ya Ya Sisterhood.
The bragging never ends. And because evangelicals hate discernment, it never occurs to these preening parents that their letters are being read by other parents whose National Merit scholar daughters have chosen the road less traveled and are nursing and bathing and changing and feeding the children who one day will provide for the old age of their awesome Amazon.
They believe that evangelicals in general and Bible translators in particular are girly-men. Consider:
For several decades, now, Evangelical Bible scholars translating Scripture have proven themselves women lacking the male capacity to stand the heat of battle and fight...
Or these quotes:
Give an Evangelical a choice between cultural accommodation and Biblical clarity and he'll choose accommodation every time. Then he'll have the audacity to tell you he's chosen accommodation, and you should too.
...the default position of the Evangelical is to minimize authority, and therefore to minimize sexuality.
Thus complementarians have no theology of the Fatherhood of God and man, and thus they have no theology of sexuality.
There are three men, yea four, they hate.
If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that three men have been standouts in the volume of Baylyblog posts warning against them: Tom (N. T.) Wright, Darryl Hart, and Tim Keller. Each of these men has shown himself adept at drawing away disciples after him who will join in his rebellion against crucial parts of Biblical faith. Tom Wright denies God’s Creation Order, Darryl Hart denies the Church’s calling to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all creation, and Tim Keller denies the Biblical doctrines of sexuality, Creation, and Hell...
... we suck in their error because the best and brightest are quoting them all the time; and when we read them, we realize we’ve been elevated into a rarefied atmosphere occupied by men and ideas much, much more important than our own petty lives. They themselves tell us how great they are. Every last paragraph and sentence tells us how great they are. Being stupid, we move on from congratulating ourselves over having the sophistication to appreciate such sophistication to congratulating ourselves that he sees things just as we see them.
Recently I’ve been hard at work adding a fourth man to this list. His name is Peter Leithart and he stakes his claim to being the master of rhetorical sophistication as loudly as any of his three predecessors. Keep your eye on him and don’t be so foolish as to think you can befriend him. It’s for good reason that I’ve been assiduous in my efforts to attach a chain to his collar.
He (Leithart) is sitting alone with a Bible, fomenting rebellion against the Apostle Paul and the Holy Spirit Who inspired him...
As you can see the Bayly Boys like to mix it up with others. But they don't like it much when others mix it up with them.

On January 14 Tim published Reformed dithering and Roman Catholic resolve.... Tim wrote: 
The thing about Roman Catholicism is that secularists' vicious hatred has stiffened her leaders' resolve at the gaps in the wall. Not so much Reformed pastors and teachers: our hearts palpitate as we note the contrast between the world's hatred for Roman Catholicism and the universal adulation of Tim Keller. Hoping to escape the former by embracing the latter, we name our churches "Redeemer this-and-that" and weave Kellerisms like "human flourishing" into our sermons and conversations. Fondly we hope we may escape the hatred and persecution Jesus guaranteed His faithful witnesses. 
And thus faithful witnessing is left to Roman Catholic sacramentalists such as Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke...
What Tim likes about
Tim Bayly
Cardinal Burke is that the cardinal's view of manhood is similar to that of Tim and David.
Grover Dill
Tim quoted from the interview with the cardinal and provided a direct link to it. I clicked on the link and read the whole interview. I was particularly interested in the cardinal's view of the solutions to the manhood crisis. I copied and pasted a number of them in the comments section of Tim's blog. These showed that the cardinal endorsed such things as devotion to St. Joseph, families praying the Rosary daily, the Knights of the Altar, the appeal to men of Christ's coming down on the altar, using only boys as altar servers, catechizing men about the mystery of the Mass, going to confession...You get the drift.

Tim responded:
The interview was not commended for its practical counsel concerning the formation of manhood. Rather I commended it for its forthright recognition of the abandonment of sexuality and manhood these past few decades. I'm confident Baylyblog readers are skilled at differentiating between wheat and chaff.
I replied:
Patriarchy puts one into bed with strange fellows. Cardinal Burke, the Roman Catholic who commends to us traditional Roman Catholicism, is an ally who is willing to go outside the camp of human approval, to be hated by the world, and to fill up the sufferings of Christ with us. On the other hand Tim Keller, the evangelical who preaches the Gospel of Christ, though not the gospel of patrimony, is rejected and warned against. It get curiouser and curiouser.
At this point, Tim the patriarch entered the exchange:
Bill, you are a mere scoffer. Please move on. 
I pointed out:
Tim, I am not the one who commended Cardinal Burke and linked to the interview with him in which he recommends traditional Roman Catholic doctrine and practice as the path to the recovery of manhood. I am not the one who attacks and warns against Tim Keller. I am not one who turns patriarchy into gospel and scoffs at those who do not see it and practice it as I understand it. In these cases that would be you.
The patriarch spoke again to the rebellious child:
Thanks, Bill; now again, please move on.
More firmly,
There was no further exchange between Tim and me, but at this point several followers of the Baylys entered the discussion and directed comments and questions to me by name. I thought it was a matter of fairness that I should have the right of reply when I was addressed.

The most important exchange had to do with what the Gospel is and if patriarchy is a part of it, to which I replied:
I can answer your question to me regarding the Gospel of Jesus Christ rather briefly. The saving acts of God are the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, God acting in him for the salvation of sinners. The saving significance of those acts is that sinners are justified in Christ, reconciled in Christ, sanctified and preserved in Christ, and will be glorified in Christ. The means by which salvation is received is faith. The focus of the Gospel is that sinners are forgiven their sins and declared righteous in God's sight by the work of the grace of God apart from human cooperation, on the basis of the work of Christ alone apart from human contribution, and received by faith alone apart from human merit. 
Do I think patriarchy as understood and practiced by Tim is the Gospel? No, I do not. Of course, it is worth pointing out that most Christians who believe in male headship do not believe or practice it in the Bayly way. But, even rightly and Biblically understood, male headship is one aspect of living the Christian life, or living life under the Gospel, but it is not the Gospel. One is neither saved nor damned on the basis of belief in or practice of patriarchy or male headship.
Tim did not like it that I responded to the comments directed to me and said:
Tired of his mockery and churlishness across many posts on this blog, twice above I asked... Rev. William H. Smith, to stop commenting. Sadly, my requests were useless and only caused Mr. Smith to double down. Now we have a running discussion with Mr. Smith in which other brothers have contributed sincere and quite helpful comments and removing Mr. Smith's double-downs would leave other good comments hanging in the air without a context.
What to do?
Seems like the only choice is to rescind the previous ruling...
In a transparent attempt to discredit me with readers of his blog, Tim called attention to my transfer to the Reformed Episcopal Church and quoted three sentences from a blog I wrote explaining my decision to become an Anglican. He did not provide a direct link to my blog, but did provide a footnote that did not link to but cited the reprint of my blog at Virtueonline. After pointing out the lack of a link, which denied to readers the opportunity to see the comments in context, I provided the link in the comments section. This was eliminated.

Then I got this email:
Dear Bill, 
Now that you’ve had a good bit of time to respond to (name deleted by me) and others, I’ve followed through and removed your commenting privileges.

Annoyed I churlishly responded:
Wow a father-censor. Autocratic. Insecure. Often joined.
Then brother David jumped in:
Dear Bill,
Do you have a superior I could talk to about your conduct? Lay? Ecclesiastical?
In Christ, 
David Bayly
I was in the Men's Room at the movie theater when I received this and humorously responded with "Darryl Hart."

David Bayly
I received back from David the question, "Which of these men?" followed by 
 the names of two
Scut Farkus
Bishops of the REC. I wrote back to David that his concerns were personal not ecclesial, that it seemed to me that Tim's ban ought to be sufficient, and that I was not intimidated by his latest communication and thought we ought to act like men who have a disagreement.

David believed that he had succeeded in intimidating me but felt a further threat was also needed.
Dear Bill,
If I thought we could deal with you in a reasonable manner I’d not have asked who your superior is.
That you’re intimidated is clear by your response.
So be it. At least you’ve stopped commenting. If you go on, I will run that list until I find someone you’re accountable to.
In Christ,David
My response included:
You seem to be something of a bully who hits other kids on the playground and then, when someone stands up to him, wants to find the teacher to tattle and ask her to do something about that mean kid who stood up to you. As has been observed many times, the only way to deal with a bully is to stand up to him.
I also gave him the name and contact information for my Bishop.

The day came when Ralphie had enough of Scut Farkus. (Watch the video by clicking, if you wish, but please note this warning: It's not pretty.)


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Is Martin Luther King in Heaven?

Is Martin Luther King
Looking Down from Heaven?

To answer my own question, I hope so. I very much hope so.

I am not a fan of hell. I bow to God's sovereign wisdom and justice, but I wish there were no hell. I wish that every life were sooner or later redeemed, set free from the scourge of sin, and released from the eternal judgment that follows sin. I don't want to go to hell, and I don't want anybody else to go there.

I hope that Dr. King now rests in peace and will rise to glory. He was in many respects a great man who did good and important things not only for Black people but for the whole country. The thought of his being anywhere other than in heaven and waiting to share in Jesus's resurrection to eternal life is one I don't like to contemplate.

Yesterday the Reformed African American Network published A Dream Conferred: King Day Reflections by John
Richards. Mr. Richards has a B.A. from Morehouse College, a J.D. from Howard University, and a M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary. He blogs at John C. Richards,Jr.

Mr. Richards seems to have no doubt that Dr. King whom he describes as "one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century" (true if by preacher ones means homiletician and/or orator) is "looking over heaven's balcony" at us. Reflecting on Dr. King's sermon "The Drum Major Instinct" (the desire to be first, to be the leader), Mr. Richards writes of King:
He marched to the beat of the One from whom every family in heaven and in earth derives its name. He marched to the beat of the Drummer in whom all things are held together. He marched to the beat of the Great Different Drummer.
However, there are reasons it is necessary to be concerned about Dr. King's eternal destiny (which should have nothing to do with our evaluation of his civil rights legacy). I do not refer to Dr. King's marital infidelities. Dr. King would not be the first Christian or the only preacher in heaven whose life contained large moral inconsistencies. Nor am I overly concerned for his misunderstanding of the relation of Gandhi and Jesus:  "
Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale…
His belief that Gandhi worked out in practice "the love ethic of Jesus" is an error, but not one that would exclude from heaven. Moreover, we can be thankful that he employed Gandhian non-violence as his method of protest and gaining of rights: 
It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform...the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.
It is not either of these issues, but Dr. King's theological beliefs, that give me grave concerns about him. In his writings as a student Dr. King did not just question but denied outright basic tenets of historic Christian orthodoxy such as the virgin birth, the eternal Sonship, the atonement, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and the second coming.

On the virgin birth: 
First we must admit that the evidence for the tenability of this doctrine is to shallow to convince any objective thinker. To begin with, the earliest written documents in the New Testament make no mention of the virgin birth. Moreover, the Gospel of Mark, the most primitive and authentic of the four, gives not the slightest suggestion of the virgin birth. The effort to justify this doctrine on the grounds that it was predicted by the prophet Isaiah is immediately eliminated, for all New Testament scholars agree that the word virgin is not found in the Hebrew original, but only in the Greek text which is a mistranslation of the Hebrew word for "young woman." How then did this doctrine arise? 
A clue to this inquiry may be found in a sentence from St. Justin's First Apology. Here Justin states that the birth of Jesus is quite similar to the birth of the sons of Zeus. It was believed in Greek thought that an extraordinary person could only be explained by saying that he had a father who was more than human. It is probable that this Greek idea influenced Christian thought.
A more adequate explanation for the rise of this doctrine is found in the experience which the early christians had with Jesus. The people saw within Jesus such a uniqueness of quality and spirit that to explain him in terms of ordinary background was to them quite inadequate. For his early followers this spiritual uniqueness could only by accounted for in terms of biological uniqueness. They were not unscientific in their approach because they had no knowledge of the scientific. They could only express themselves in terms of the pre-scientific thought patterns of their day.
On eternal Sonship:
The orthodox attempt to explain the divinity of Jesus in terms of an inherent metaphysical substance within him seems to me quite inadequate. To say that the Christ, whose example of living we are bid to follow, is divine in an ontological sense is actually harmful and detrimental...the orthodox view of the divinity of Christ is in my mind quite readily denied. The significance of the divinity of Christ lies in the fact that his achievement is prophetic and promissory for every other true son of man who is willing to submit his will to the will and spirit of God. Christ was to be only the prototype of one among many brothers. The appearance of such a person, more divine and more human than any other, and in closest unity at once with God and man, is the most significant and hopeful event in human history. This divine quality or this unity with God was not something thrust upon Jesus from above, but it was a definite achievement through the process of moral struggle and self-abnegation.
On the atonement:
Any doctrine which finds the meaning of atonement in the triumph of Christ over such cosmic powers as sin, death and Satan is inadequate.... If Christ by his life and death paid the full penalty of sin, there is no valid ground for repentance or moral obedience as a condition of forgiveness. The debt is paid; the penalty exacted, and there is, consequently, nothing to forgive.
On the resurrection:
The last doctrine in our discussion deals with the resurrection story. This doctrine, upon which the Easter Faith rests, symbolizes the ultimate Christian conviction: that Christ conquered death. From a literary, historical, and philosophical point of view this doctrine raises many questions. In fact the external evidence for the authenticity of this doctrine is found wanting. But here again the external evidence is not the most important thing, for it in itself fails to tell us precisely the thing we most want to know: What experiences of early Christians lead to the formulation of the doctrine? 
On the second coming:
It is obvious that most twentieth century Christians must frankly and flatly reject any view of a physical return of Christ...
Actually we are celebrating the Second Advent every time we open our hearts to Jesus, every time we turn our backs to the low road and accept the high road, every time we say no to self that we may say yes to Jesus Christ, every time a man or wom[a]n turns from ugliness to beauty and is able to forgive even their enemies...The final doctrine of the second coming is that whenever we turn our lives to the highest and best there for us is the Christ.
At least in his student days Dr. King held typically liberal theological views. Did he change them? Some say he came to see neo-orthodoxy as a needed corrective to liberalism. Others say that in his latter years he identified increasingly with the sufferings of Jesus. Jim Wallis, the evangelical progressive social activist, apparently believes that King's theology developed in a more conservative direction:
His theological liberalism was not an adequate foundation for what he would face later...I would argue that the more deeply one moves in the struggle for social justice ... personal faith becomes more important.
However, one writer who interviewed the professor to whom Mrs. King entrusted the early writings of Dr. King says: 
Dr. Clayborne Carson, a world-renowned King scholar and director of the King Papers Project at Stanford, told me that he had not seen any documentary evidence of a later shift in King's thinking from his early views on Christian doctrines. He also said King may have found creative ways to avoid expressing his unorthodox views, as he was trained in a liberal seminary but served a Baptist congregation. 
I agree with both William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan who favored a King holiday. It is important especially to Black people to have a day set aside for the celebration of the Black man who led their 20th century quest for personal dignity and equality of rights. Dr. King need not be a Christian believer to secure his place in history and in the American pantheon of heroes. 

I wish that Christians did not feel the necessity of doing the equivalent of the funeral practice of "preaching him into heaven." There is no necessity for the clergyman officiating at a funeral to determine what a person was or was not in this life or where he is or is not in the world to come. Read the service, preach the homily, commit the body to the earth and the soul to God. Leave it at that. 

Dr. King is a hero like all others - adimirable in some ways, flawed in others. He is in the hands of a merciful God from whom we hope he, as we, will receive mercy. 

But let's be truthful. You don't raise questions about police brutality by claiming Mike Brown was an unarmed teengager with his hands up trying to surrender when an out of control white cop killed him. You don't make Martin Luther King greater by diminishing Lyndon Johnson. And you don't make Dr. King a Christian leader by overlooking what he said he believed. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Gospel: Where to Begin?

And So It Begins

Gospel Lesson: Mark 1:1-11 (KJV)

Homily Text: Mark 1:1-8

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;
2 As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
5 And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.
6 And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey;
7 And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.
8 I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.
9 And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.
10 And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:
11 And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

“Start with the beginning and tell us your story.” But where do I begin to tell my story? Maybe my birth. Or my marriage. Or my ordination. Or my transfer to the REC.  
The writers of the four Gospels also had to decide where to begin telling the story of Jesus. John went back behind Genesis 1 to the Father and Son in eternity before “God created the heavens and the earth": “In the beginning the Word already was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Matthew and Luke begin with the conception birth of Jesus, but Luke tells his story from the perspective of Mary while Matthew from that of Joseph.
But Mark begins his Gospel with the opening of the public ministry of Jesus.

1. The Inauguration of the Gospel
The word “Gospel” means “good news” and has two backgrounds. One is Roman. They celebrated big events in the lives of the emperors - birthdays, attainment of adulthood, taking the throne. They considered these turning points in history. The published records of these festivals were called “gospels.”  Mark’s book is a gospel because in Jesus history has reached its great turning point. If you think about the history of the world as a play, Jesus’s ministry is the climax and everything that follows in the denouement when everything is worked out and resolved. God is bringing about a new world order, a new age of salvation for the the world.
The word “gospel’ also has an older background in the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. Isaiah foresaw the time when God would discipline and judge his people for their stiff-necked rebellion against him by sending them into exile in Babylon. But Isaiah also foresaw that God would intervene again in mercy and salvation and comfort his people.  When this time arrived the good news should be announced:
O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! (40:9)
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! (52:7)
Mark realized that what Isaiah foresaw was bigger than God’s mercy to Israel that followed the Exile in Babylon. In Jesus God had come to accomplish salvation for the world and to establish his gracious and saving kingdom in the world. This is good news!
The good news that the turning point in the history of the world has come and that God has intervened and accomplished salvation for the whole world is “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” It is the good news of...
...Jesus, the man born of Mary, the last Joshua, the Deliverer and Savior who will lead his people out of the wilderness of sin, defeat their enemies of guilt, death, and judgment, and bring them into the blessings of  salvation - forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with God, emancipation from slavery to the devil.
...Christ, the Messiah whom God has chosen, appointed, and equipped to establish his saving rule, the King who will not disappoint and fail as all human rulers do, whose kingdom of grace and mercy will triumph and never end.
...the Son of God, who is man but more than man,  the God-Man, who is God of God, light of light, very God of very God, not an adopted Son but a natural Son who is himself God and who has all the privileges, prerogatives, and powers of God’s Son, the Son whom God the Father loves and with whom the Father is well-pleased.
The Mark who wrote this gospel is probably John Mark who shows up in the book of Acts as an assistant to Paul and Barnabas on the first of the three missionary trips of Paul recorded in Acts. But Mark did not last long and soon returned home. We don’t know why, but Paul thought it proved his unreliability because, when the time came to go on a second mission, and Barnabas proposed they take Mark, Paul wouldn’t have it. He and Barnabas ended their partnership because of their disagreement about Mark. Later, however, Mark became associated with Peter. Many believe Mark’s Gospel preserves the preaching of the gospel by Peter who had denied his Lord. There is an interesting connection of Peter’s and Mark’s lives. Both had failed the Lord publicly. Yet here is a Gospel written by Mark recording the gospel preached by Peter. The gospel is for those who have failed, even those who have failed in public ways, who need forgiveness and restoration. People like you, like me.
The original readers of Mark’s Gospel were Christians in Rome who had it hard when Nero was Emperor. But Mark writes to say, “Nero’s cruelty and persecution does not change that Jesus is our Savior and Messiah and the Son of God. Jesus is still the turning point of history and this is still the new age of salvation. Don’t give up. He is still your Savior and King, and he is will you.”
Perhaps you have failed the Lord. Perhaps you are discouraged by the state of affairs in the world. But Jesus Christ is good news for those who have failed - who have messed up big time. He is good news for those who are overwhelmed and discouraged.

2. The Preparation of John
As Mark introduces us to the good news about Jesus, he tells us that John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus’s public ministry.
This ministry of preparation was predicted by the Old Testament prophets. Mark pulls together two quotations, one from Malachi and one from Isaiah.
As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
In the ancient world, a king would send a messenger to announce to people that their king was coming to visit them and that they needed to make preparations for his arrival. This meant doing things like repairing roads and anything else necessary to be ready for the visit. God had promised that he, their King, would come to deliver his people, but before his coming he would send a messenger to prepare his way. Mark tells us that God came in the Person of his Son, Jesus the Christ, and that John the Baptist was the messenger God sent to prepare his people for his coming.
John’s ministry was carried out in the wilderness south of Jerusalem on the banks of the Jordan River. He dressed like a man who lived in the wilderness wearing a camel hair tunic and leather belt. He ate the food of a man of the wilderness, locusts and honey. His appearance and demeanor resembled the prophet Elijah. His ministry and message were like Elijah’s who Elijah appeared on the scene suddenly to warn of judgment and to issue a call to God’s people to repent and return to the Lord.
The Lord had not said anything to his people through a living prophet for 400 years, but now, as the time has come for Jesus to commence his public ministry, God speaks through the prophet, John the Baptist. As word spread throughout Judah and in the city of Jerusalem great crowds went out to hear John.

John’s message had two themes.
The first theme was the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
If the time for God’s decisive intervention is arriving in Jesus, then there are two possible outcomes for everyone - salvation or judgment. To avoid judgment and receive salvation people must repent. To repent means to turn away from sin to God. Repentance is more than feeling sorry we have let ourselves or others down or being sorry we are suffering the consequences of sin. True repentance is revealed in what we want - do we wish we could commit sins without consequences or do we wish God would change us and free us from our sins?  Do we turn away from sin only because of fear or do we want our lives reoriented to God? Repentance is going back to God.
But we will go back to God only if expect he will be merciful and forgive us. So long as we expect condemnation and rejection and to have our sins held against us, we will avoid God as long as we can. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the remission or forgiveness of sins. The reason Jesus was baptized was, not because he had sin and needed to repent and be forgiven, but because we have sin and need to repent and be forgiven. By being baptized Jesus identified with us and took our sins upon himself in order to be our Savior. The whole point of the coming of Jesus and particularly of his death was to make it possible for us to go back to God, confess our sins, and receive forgiveness.
Those who wanted to return to God and have their sins forgiven received John’s baptism. John’s baptism is not Christian baptism for those who had received only John’s baptism needed to receive Christian baptism. But there are similarities. Both are about cleansing and renewal. In Christian baptism God calls us to a life of repentance and promises us forgiveness and cleansing by the blood of Jesus.
How often should you repent? How often may you repent? You should and may repent as often as you sin. You should and may go back to God as often as you have left him. His promise is to forgive us when we repent and return to him, not because we deserve it, or earn it, or because we have made up for our sins by feeling sorry enough or doing enough good to make up for it, but because of Jesus and what he has done for us. We do not need another baptism but to look to back on our baptisms as God’s seal of cleansing and promise of renewal and new life in Christ and of the door of repentance opened to us:
...the grant of repentance is not to be denied to such as fall into sin after Baptism. After we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given, and fall into sin, and by the grace of God we may arise again, and amend our lives… (Article 16).
The second theme of John’s message was proclamation of the supremacy of Christ:
There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.  I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.
There one who seems to be another disciple of John’s. But he is in fact far mightier and greater than John, because John has baptized his followers with water but this One will baptize his followers with the Holy Ghost. John has in mind Old Testament prophecies that connect the blessings of salvation with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Isaiah foresaw judgment “until the spirit be poured upon us from on high” (32:15). The Lord spoke to exiled Israel through Ezekiel:
Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you... (36: 25-27a)
Jesus who is who is baptized with the Spirit to carry out his ministry as the Messiah and Savior at the moment of his water baptism by John will baptize his people with the Holy Spirit. The ministry of the Spirit is to give to God’s people what Christ accomplished for them by his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The Spirit gives to us the realities to which our baptisms point.
The One who appears to be John’s disciple will be John’s superior. He so great that the roles will be totally reversed. John is not worthy to stoop down and untie his sandals. The rabbis taught that students should serve their teachers in the way a slave would serve his master, except in such humbling service as untying the sandals. The student was exempt from such things. But John, the teacher, says he has a disciple who is so great that John is not worthy to perform even the service of a slave toward him. John is not worthy as much as to kneel at his feet and untie his sandals.
Why does Mark tell us the place John took in relation to Jesus?  Just so that there will be a record of how Jesus’ ministry was introduced by John? No. It is so that we will share John’s view of Jesus.
John prepares the way for the coming of the Son of God.Jesus’s coming means that the decisive point of history has been reached. Both judgment and salvation have been irrevocably set in motion. Jesus has come to baptize us with the water and the Spirit.

John’s ministry calls on us to turn from our sins and to turn to God by turning in faith to Jesus.  As we turn to Jesus for salvation John also calls us to get over ourselves and our obsessions with our reputations and rights and to join him at Jesus’s feet in humble trust and  joyful submission.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Those Wise Guys

After Jesus Was Born in Bethlehem

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 12:1-12 (KJV)

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,
6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
7 Then Herod, when had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.
12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

I had a friend whose first career was as a veterinarian. He was a bachelor approaching the age of 30. There was an 18 year old girl who loved horses and didn’t mind work. He hired her to do whatever needed to be done including mucking out the stables. Eventually it hit him. This girl might make a great wife. They married and had 6 kids and she made a great wife and mother.

What happened when “it hit him” that this girl could be a great wife? He had an epiphany. He saw her in a new way. The reality of her potential as a wife was manifested to him.

The word “epiphany” means “appearance” or “manifestation.” On Epiphany we celebrate the appearance among us of the Son of God in the human flesh of Jesus and his first manifestation to the world beyond the Jews when the wise men visited him.

I’d like for us to look at three things from today’s Gospel Lesson. First, the wise men and the star, second, Herod and the Jews, and third, Jesus and the Gentiles.

1. The Wise Men and the Star

Who were these men? The Greek word translated wise men is “magi” from which we get our word “magic” and “magician.” In the time of Daniel, around 600 years before the birth of Christ, magi were members of the royal court who advised King Nebuchadnezzar. Later they were not always attached to kings but were men who did things like read and interpret the sacred writings of pagan religions, pursue various forms of wisdom, practice the art of magic, interpret dreams, and study the sky. They were not astronomers but astrologers. The last part of their job description is particularly relevant to their visit to Jesus.

What did they see? Matthew calls it a star, a word that he does use in the technical sense. There have been various proposals about the nature of what they saw in the sky. One suggestion is a comet. Back in 1973 there was a lot of excitement about a comet named after the Polish astronomer Kohoutec, who discovered it. It appeared at Christmastime, but turned out to be a big disappointment because it was not as spectacular as predicted. But some think it was a Kohoutec-like comet that appeared. Others have suggested it was a supernova, the explosion of a star that emits great light over a period of several weeks. More recently at a conference last October astronomer Michael Molnar offered evidence that the star of Bethlehem was the emergence of Jupiter as the morning star. It was not a brilliant light, and most people would not have noticed it, but the wise men observed it and thought it had great significance.

In the end we do not know, but it seems most likely that the star was a temporary supernatural event that has no natural explanation. There is no reason God could not have manifested to these men a bright light in the sky.

How did they interpret the star? Whatever they saw and whatever concepts they used to interpret it, they took it as the sign of the birth of a Jewish king. They may have learned from Jews of the prophecy of the Balaam: “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel…” (Numbers 24:17). The Jews had come to understand this as one of the prophecies of a Messiah and Deliverer. It’s possible that the wise men had heard this and that it influenced their interpretation of what they saw in the sky.

Where did they live? The wise men probably lived in the region of modern day Iran and Iraq. If they saw the star at the time of Jesus’ birth and set out then for Jerusalem, it would have taken a minimum of 40 days, averaging 20 miles a day, for them to make the trip of about 800 miles. Whenever they saw the star and however long the trip took, when they finally arrived in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph and Jesus had moved into a house.

What do we make of this? These men were pagan astrologers. They saw a star. They interpreted it to mean a Jewish king had been born. They wanted to do homage to this king. They travelled 800 miles or so to find him.

God has a wise and gracious plan. He has the power to make his plan happen. He wanted these particular men to see Jesus. He used their backgrounds as astrologers; he showed them a star; he led them to interpret it as a sign of a Jewish king’s birth and moved them to go find him. These were the men God had chosen to be the first Gentiles to meet the Savior-King. God still has a plan. He still acts in wisdom and grace. He still has power to carry it out. He still leads people to Jesus to worship him. 

God didn’t show you a star, but he used the Bible and the Church and the work of the Holy Spirit in your heart to lead you to Jesus, to manifest to you Jesus as your Savior and King who delivers you from sin, Satan, death, and judgment.

2. Herod and the Jews

Who was Herod? He was appointed by the Romans as King of the Jews and ruled Palestine. As Pastor Rich told us last week this Herod was a descendant of the Edomites, though he had been born in Palestine. His ancestors had converted to Judaism, and he outwardly practiced Judaism. But the Jewish leaders did not warm to him because of his Edomite lineage and his personal life. He built things all over Palestine, the most impressive of which was his rebuilding of the Jewish Temple. He was also a ruthless man who suffered increasingly in his latter years from both physical disabilities and mental instability.

What was his response to the visit of the wise men? When word got to him that visitors had come from the east in search of a newborn king of the Jews, he was greatly disturbed. He was King of the Jews, powerful but insecure and paranoid. Any child born of pure Jewish lineage and with a claim to the throne could be a threat to him. As word of all this spread in Jerusalem, the people of the city also became disturbed. They may have become disturbed just from the sudden excitement of such news. Or they may have become disturbed because they feared how Herod would react.

Did Herod have reason to feel threatened? Herod had no reason to fear the birth of Jesus in the way that he did - as a threat to his position as king. Jesus did not come to seize the throne in Jerusalem or any other human throne. He did not come to overthrow the Roman government or to take over the Empire. He told Pilate at his trial, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). His kingdom did not originate in this world and did not have the characteristics of earthly kingdoms. His kingdom in this world is his church which has no army except its ministers and members and no weapons but the Word, the Sacraments, and Prayer.

However, in another sense Herod did have reason to feel threatened, because the coming of Jesus challenges everyone to stop rebelling against God, to receive the salvation Jesus came to give, and to bow their hearts to him as King now. At the last day Jesus will come again, and then he will finally and totally defeat and subdue all his enemies. Then every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord, either gladly because we confessed him as Lord in this life or else under compulsion when the day of salvation is past.

Whom did Herod consult? Herod called in the scribes and the chief priests. The scribes devoted their lives to studying and interpreting the Old Testament Scriptures. The chief priests were administrators of the Temple. So Herod called them in and asked, “What does the Old Testament say about where the Messiah is to be born?” They had a ready answer. They referred to Micah chapter 5 (v.2) and the prophecy of the birth of a Governor or Ruler. This Ruler would be like David, a shepherd who would lead, protect, and provide for God’s people, a very different kind of ruler from the Romans and the kings they appointed like Herod. The place of his birth would be Bethlehem, a village only 5 miles or so from Jerusalem.

How did the scribes and chief priests respond? When Herod got this information about the birthplace of the Messiah, he called in the wise men secretly and told them to go and find the child, and then to come back and tell him where the Child was in Bethlehem, so he also could go and worship him as the future King. We know from subsequent events what was on his murderous mind. He would kill the Child before he could pose any threat to Herod. Herod’s response is not surprising.

But what is shocking is the response of the scribes and chief priests. They consulted the Scriptures, provided the information to Herod, and then did nothing. Supposedly they longed for the Messiah to come and deliver God’s people. They knew their Bibles well enough to know that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. There was evidence now that he may have been born and could be found now in Bethlehem. Yet they made no attempt to go and find him.

Perhaps they were too comfortable in the positions, prestige, and power they had. So they hoped that, if they ignored his birth, maybe things could go on as they were. They are like a lot of people who ignore Jesus, not because they are openly hostile to him like Herod, but because they are too taken up with life as it is and do not want their familiar and comfortable lives to be upset. 

Of course, when Jesus actually came on the scene claiming to be God’s Son, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and calling on all to repent and believe the Gospel, they became as hostile as Herod. So it is with those who are presently indifferent but interested in preserving their little kingdoms. When really confronted by Jesus and his claim to be the only Savior and Lord, they turn against him in hatred and sometimes in violent opposition.

3. Jesus and the Gentiles

What did the wise men do? When they got the information they requested, they left Herod. Now they saw the star again. It led them to Bethlehem and rested above the very house in which Jesus was living with Mary and Joseph. Jesus was no longer in the the stable. Joseph has found a house for them in Bethlehem.

The wise men had great joy - “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” They entered the house and saw the little Child. Immediately they went to their knees and worshiped him as King. They presented to him the gifts they had brought - gifts appropriate for a King - treasures of the ancient world, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold, of course, is a precious metal. Both frankincense and myrrh were aromatic tree resins that were highly valued in the ancient world. All three were the kinds of gifts people would give to kings.

What does this mean? What is significance of the wise man seeking Jesus, finding him, falling on their knees, worshiping him, and giving him treasures as gifts? They are the first Gentiles to find and worship Jesus as King.

God’s plan was always to include the Gentiles in his plan of salvation. Isaiah foresaw it and prophesied to Israel:

I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth (49:6). 
And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising (60:2)
The coming of Jesus was the turning point in God’s plan - the point at which God would begin to gather the Gentiles by lifting up Christ in his saving glory among them. The reaching of the Gentiles began slowly. God drug Peter almost against his will to the house of a Roman soldier named Cornelius, and those Gentiles believed the Gospel about Jesus. God sent persecution against the church in Jerusalem and Christians moved outside Palestine to other areas in the Roman world, and as they went, they talked about Jesus. Eventually there was in Antioch, the first predominantly Gentile church. It was in that church that God set apart Paul to become the Apostle to the Gentile world.

Paul wrote of his calling:
For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles (Romans 11:13).
Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:8).
Now the church has taken the good news of Jesus as Savior from sin and Lord of our lives to the world, and throughout the world people continue to find Jesus today.

Where can you and I find Jesus today? We find him in the words of this book, the Bible, the book that from beginning to end reveals to us Jesus the Messiah. We find him in the words proclaimed from this pulpit by men whose primary responsibility is to manifest Jesus to you as the Son of God, as our Savior from sin, and our King who delivers us from our enemies and rules us for our good. We find him at this Table where he promises to appear, not in the bread and wine transformed into his physical body, but spiritually as we feed upon in our hearts by faith. He appears here - in Word read and preached and Sacrament faithfully administered and received.

Seek him. Find him. Worship him.