Sunday, September 20, 2015

I Am the Man!

I Am the Man!

Psalter 51: Miserere mei, Deus. Book of Common Prayer, p. 341
1Have mercy upon me, O God, after thy great goodness; according to the multitude of thy mercies do away mine offences.
2 Wash me throughly from my wickedness, cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I acknowledge my faults, and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight; that thou mightest be justified in thy saying, and clear when thou shalt judge.
5 Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin hath my mother conceived me.
6 But lo, thou requirest truth in the inward parts, and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.
7 Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness, that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
9 Turn thy face from my sins, and put out all my misdeeds.
10 Make me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me.
12 O give me the comfort of thy help again, and stablish me with thy free Spirit.
13 Then shall I teach thy ways unto the wicked, and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
14 Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou that art the God of my health; and my tongue shall sing of thy righteousness.
15 Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall show thy praise.
16 For thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it thee; but thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.
17 The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt thou not despise.
18 O be  and gracious unto Sion; build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness, with the burnt-offerings and oblations; then shall they offer young bullocks upon thine altar.

People who know no other stories about King David know two - David and Goliath, and David and Bathsheba. In one story David is a hero; in the other a villain.

Familiarity with the Bathsheba story may diminish our sense of the enormity of David’s sin. He committed adultery with Bathsheba the wife of Uriah, one of his soldiers. When she became pregnant, he arranged for her husband to be killed in battle. Then David covered his tracks by marrying her.

It seemed he got away with it. Then the Lord sent the prophet Nathan. The king was in denial till Nathan said, “Thou art the man!” Psalm 51 is the convicted David’s response: “Yes, I am the man!”

It is a mistake if we think that because we have not committed David’s sins - if we have not - Psalm 51 is not for us. No, I have sinned; you have sinned.  I am the man; you are the man.

What does David teach us to do about sin?

1. Confess your sins.  David was an Old Testament believer; we might say a sincere Christian. Yet he sinned gravely, and then suppressed his sense of guilt. But when God broke through David’s defenses, David said, “I acknowledge my faults; my sins are ever before me.”

Confessing includes three things:

1.1. Confess sin as sin. We have many ways to avoid acknowledging our own sin.

We blame others. Adam responded to the Lord’s  question, “Have you eaten from the tree I told you not to eat?” with, “This woman whom you gave me gave me the fruit and I ate.” There are many to blame - parents, dysfunctional homes, spouses, bosses, friends. 

We can minimize our sins. We can do that with this Psalm: “David committed the really big sins, adultery and murder. My sins are pretty ordinary, pretty small, the things everybody does.” 

We can explain our sins by calling them something else. We call sin: “Acting out.” “Addictive behavior.” “Co-dependence.” These terms can be helpful, but not if we use them to avoid saying our sins are sin.

David uses the words we must use: sins, offenses, wickedness, faults, misdeeds, blood-guiltiness. These describe anything in our heads, hearts, character and conduct contrary to God’s will.

1.2 Confess the essence of sin. “Against thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight…”.

How can David say that when it is so obvious that he sinned against others? Uriah whose death he caused. Bathsheba whose marital purity he corrupted. The nation whose trust he betrayed. 

But what is sin.  All sin is treason and rebellion against God our Creator and King. It is the rule of Self, with Self’s wants, desires, and needs.  And for believers, sin is denial of Christ who redeemed us, ingratitude for his grace and mercy, and failure to grasp the cost of our salvation, Christ’s death.

Because David gets this he declares that God his Judge is “justified.” He does not contest God’s verdict of “guilty.”  David will not accuse God of being too harsh. David’s crimes deserved the capital punishment prescribed under the Old Testament Law. David was in the wrong; God was in the right. Whatever our sins, that is always true.

1.3 Confess the origin of sin. David confesses, “Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin hath my mother conceived me.” 

Are we sinners because we sin? Or, do we sin because we are sinners? Yes and yes. We are sinners by doing, and we are sinners by nature. We did not start out good, innocent, or even neutral. Sin is at the root of our being; sin in intertwined with every part of our lives- not just our doing, but also our thinking, feeling, desiring, willing. 

This truth is taught in Holy Scripture. It is observable. Does anyone need to learn to be selfish? To lie? Sin is universal, because the sinful nature is universal. It is natural to sin, because sin infects our nature.

What do we do about sin? Confess it.

2. Ask for mercy.

What do you do when you are convinced of your sin?

2.1 The human tendency is to ask, “What can I do?” 

We think, “The good in my life will outweigh the bad on God’s scales.” 

Or, “I will try harder to love God and love my neighbor and to obey the 10 Commandments, make up for my sins, and earn my way back into God’s favor.

Or, “I will go to church, say my prayers, and receive sacraments. God will accept my sacrifices of worship.” David knew better: “For thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it thee; but thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.The sacrifice of God is a troubled  spirit:  a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt thou not despise.”

Nothing that we do or offer is adequate. God wants a troubled spirit, a broken and contrite heart. Without sincere sorrow nothing is acceptable. But we must not think that while God will not accept good works, resolve to do better, or acts of worship, he will accept our sorrow as making up for our sin. We can’t do enough good, or try hard enough, or offer enough worship, or cry enough to deal with our sins.

The Anglican minister and poet, Augustus Toplady, got it right:

Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law's demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

2.2. Because only God can save, we plead for mercy.
“Have mercy upon me, O God.” David has no claims on God. No bargaining position. Nothing to offer to God. No plea of mitigating circumstances. He can only beg for mercy. 

The only reasons he can give for God to show mercy are God’s great goodness and multitude of mercies. “Goodness” is God’s steadfast, irrevocable love. The “multitude of mercies” is God’s deep compassion toward his people, even when they sin. The prodigal forfeited any right to be a son, yet the father never stopped loving his son, and, when he saw his son in rags, his heart was moved with compassion.  Despite your sins you can plead for mercy because of God’s great love and multitude of mercies.

2.3. We ask God to cleanse our guilt.

David asks for mercy, but he knows there is still the reality of what he has done. The charges of adultery, murder, and betrayal are recorded with indelible ink. So long as they are there, he cannot be reconciled to God and restored to his favor. So David asks, “Do away mine offenses. Blot them out. Put out my sins. Thou shalt purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Turn thy face from my sins; and put out all my misdeeds.”

Don’t just draw a line through my sins, but blot them out with ink so dark they cannot be seen. My sins are like dirty and stinking clothes I wore when I crawled through the mud and dung of a feed lot. I  now see and smell myself. I am unfit for God’s company. I need God to wash me thoroughly and make me dirty self whiter than snow.
What is thick enough to blot out our sins? What is strong enough to wash them away? Only the blood of Jesus. When we know this we sing,

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to thy cross I cling,
naked, come to thee for dress,
helpless look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the Fountain fly;
wash me Savior or I die.

3.4  We ask God to renew and restore us.

We objective guilt which we ask God to forgive. But we also know we have a pollution inside our selves. We feel estranged from God and fearful he will abandon us. We know we need strength to be able to do God’s will. So we pray with David:

Make me a clean heart, O God, and renew a
right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me.
O give me the comfort of thy help again, and stablish me with thy free Spirit.

This is not a prayer we pray once, but over and over again as we walk through this world, aware of how sinful our hearts are, sometimes fearful God will withdraw his fellowship from us, and knowing how weak are our wills and how prone we are to fall. At Holy Communion, we ask the and the Lord assures he will create and continue creating clean hearts in us; we ask and the Lord assures he will not forsake us but restore us to his favor in Christ. We ask and the Lord assures he will give us strength to do his willingly.

With David we confess our sins, and we hear the Absolution:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with hearty faith and true repentance turn unto him; Have mercy upon you; pardon and deliver you from all your sins; confirm and strengthen you in all goodness; and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Consecration of Covenant Church

Covenant Reformed Episcopal Church
September 13, 2013

The Most Rev. Royal Grote, Presiding Bishop
The Rt. Rev. Daniel R. Morse, Bishop Ordinary
The Rt. Rev. Peter Manto, Bishop Suffragan
The Very Rev. W. Scott Thompson, Dean
The Rev. William H. Smith, Vicar
The Rev. Richard W. Worskowski, Assistant

The Church

Bp. Dan Morse

Fr. Rich Workowski
Mr. Clemmitt Sigler
Fr. Bill Smith

Trumpeter and Organist


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

At Least I'm Not That Kind of Sinner

I'm With Doug Wilson on This One

God, I thank thee I am not like really bad sinners.

Sometimes we think that because we disagree with a person much of the time, we must disagree with them all of the time. We may be tempted to think that if a person is wrong about some really big things, he must be wrong about everything. 

I admit that even before he became as controversial as he is now, I was never a fan of Doug Wilson. I never got on board with his approach to "classical Christian education." I really don't like his brand of patriarchy, though his is not so totally objectionable as that of my bete noire Tim Bayly. I think his ecclesiology is crazy. I think he is wrong on the so-called "federal vision." I think he is smart but quirky. I do like the humor which he injects into his writings.

But, lately he has been taking a lot of heat about a convicted pedophile to whom his church has ministered. He and his elders have issued an open letter on the subject. I do not know the history of the case, nor do I have any knowledge on which to have any opinion about current allegations regarding the person. But that does not have an impact on what I do know.

Here is what I do know: I have read the open letter, and I think that the approach to people guilty of serious sins that he defends is right. 

Billy Joe Shaver wrote a song If You Don't Love Jesus Go to Hell. I sometimes get the impression that some Christians would like sinners, especially sexual sinners, even if they are Christians, to go straight to hell without passing go or collecting $200. And, if you don't agree with them about this, you can go to hell, too. 

Here are a few excerpts from the open letter:
On the basis of the death and resurrection of Jesus, he (the man) is as welcome as any other sinner is, which is to say, he is very welcome.
...the task of ministering to broken people is one of the central glories of the Christian church. For us, there are two causes of rejoicing in this. The first is that Christ came into the world for the sake of the screwed-up people. “And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Luke 5:31, ESV). We refuse to abandon that glory for the sake of our own reputation or convenience. This is the gospel—through Christ God saves sinners. Second, the church is a hospital for sinners, not a rest home for saints which brings us to the second glory. When we minister to people in this kind of desperate condition, there will be others in the grip of bile and bitterness who use the occasion to attack the hospital staff for “supporting and applauding” the diseases the hospital staff is actually laboring to eradicate.
If God were to mark iniquities, no one could stand (Ps. 130:3). All of us would go down before the wrath of God, like grass before the scythe. No one is righteous, not even one (Rom. 3:10). This is the meaning of the Lord’s saying when dealing with the accusers who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3). When Jesus said that the one without sin should cast the first stone, He did not mean that sin should not be dealt with. It must be dealt with because God dwells in unapproachable holiness (Is. 6:1-3). But it cannot be dealt with by Pharisees with rocks in their hands and anger on their faces. That is the so-called solution of religiosity, filled to the brim with its own moral impotence. In order to deal with our wickedness—and by wickedness, we mean child molestation, child murder, racial enmity, sodomy, slanderous accusation, fornication, adultery, theft, blasphemy, bitterness, disrespect of parents, pornography, hatred, malice, envy, drunkenness, drug abuse, and more—the Son of God had to die on a gibbet.

I wrote what follows four years ago. I thought maybe it deserved a republication:

Mercy, Mercy on Me 

Empathy is the ability to feel what another is feeling. It comes from our having had similar experiences and feelings in such a way that we remember and are able to put ourselves in the place of another. If we lack empathy, we may at worst despise others and at best fail to help.

If there is one thing all of us ought to be able to do, it is to put ourselves in the place of sinners and the need for mercy for the simple reason that we ourselves sin and need mercy.

Both the office and the ministry of the Old Testament high priest gave him reason to show mercy to Israelite sinners. According to the writer of Hebrews: “He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifices for his own sins just as he does for those of the people” (Hebrews 5: 2, 3).

Whenever the high priest offered sacrifice, he was called to remember that not only the sinner at the altar needed sacrifice; he too, and no less, needed sacrifice. At the altar especially he should have remembered, not merely that he was sometimes weak, but that he was beset by weakness. Self-knowledge – of one’s sin and need of mercy – plus God knowledge - of his mercy and provision of sacrifice – should add up to gentleness in dealing with other sinners.

Did it? Probably not always, if we are to judge by our own treatment of fellow-sinners. The question that puzzles me about myself and sometimes others is why we don’t deal with fellow sinners as ourselves sinners in need of mercy.

Why? Here are some possibilities:

(1) Sometimes we are hypocrites. The fact that there is not just a splinter but a telephone pole in the eye of another does not mean that we still do not have logs in ours. And, one of the ugliest tendencies of our hypocrisy is that we can be very indignant about the sins of others. We can even persuade ourselves that we are different from them or that our sins are different from theirs.

(2) We can forget our own pasts. Sometimes those who come to faith after a life of profligate sin forget where they once were, especially if they have never slid back. But, we can also forget the sins we have committed as believers, grievous as they can be. We forget that the worst of our sins may be been committed, not as unbelievers, but believers.

(3) We can develop unhealthy expressions of piety that lack the beauty of God’s holiness. We can lose perspective and become hard, cold, prissy, priggish, censorious, judgmental. Our experience can be so insular that we are unable to see these things about ourselves.

(4) We can find it hard to deal with really serious sin, especially if we ourselves are pretty “normal” sinners. There are sins and then there are sins, and the ones of the second category don’t fit into our concept of sins that occur in Christian lives. No Christian will deny the reality of his own sin and need of a Savior, but, if we have seen spared the “big” ones, we may find it difficult to understand other believers who have not. We know in theory we Christians have the seeds of every sin in our own hearts, but we cannot deal with those who prove the theory in practice.

Our evangelical sub-culture is not very good at dealing with the sins that exist among us. We respond with shock, embarrassment, and bafflement to the sins of others. Or, if we are the offenders, we hide and perhaps suffer secret despair all the while fearing discovery while do our best to keep up a good front. There is an unintentional conspiracy of silence, dishonesty, and denial.

We understand when a believer says, “In the past, the good that I wanted to do I did not do, and the evil that I did not want to do I did.” The past tense we can deal with. The present tense, not so much.

When I was a very young minister, I read Calvin as I prepared to preach on Psalm 130. It was one of those things you read or hear and never forget: No sinner will ever come to God unless he is convinced that God is inclined to be merciful to him if he comes. We would do well to remember that about ourselves, too. Sinners are not likely to come to us unless they sense that they will receive mercy.

Jesus had no sin but ours, and suffered nothing but was ours to suffer. Yet, having known the guilt of sin when he was made sin for us, and having experienced the condemnation of sin when he was delivered up for our transgressions, he never fails to show mercy to sinners.

By the way, if you think that writing this reveals that I am a sinner, sometimes unmerciful to others, but always in need of mercy myself, you could not be more right. You saw right through me

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Bayly Boys' Sex Problem

They're Obsessed*

Receptionist in Law Office: May I get you a cup of coffee?
My Dad: I didn't think y'all did that kind of stuff anymore.
And you wonder why the man is my hero.

To say that Tim and David Bayly are obsessed with sex is an understatement. No, I don't accuse them of being obsessed with the erotic in a teenage boy or arrested development way. But I do mean they are obsessed with sex and have a sex problem because that is their chosen word for talking about all that it means to be male and female. They talk about sex all the time. They hate the word "gender." They love the word "sex." (Some other words they love: "sodomy", "sodomite", "effeminate", "authority", "rule" "rebellion", "precious", "mincing and prancing".) A few quotes: 
The craziness started when sex morphed into gender and the distinctions between men and women went from the hard reality of body parts to the soft fiction of social constructs. Back in the old days, a baby was born and the doctor or nurse took a quick look and said either "It's a boy!" or "It's a girl!"
'Sex' was out and 'gender' was in. Sex was binary and hard, while gender was a continuum and infinitely plastic, submitting to each man doing what was right in his own eyes. Everyone was free to choose the point on the continuum where he, she, or it felt most comfortable.
It's not "gender." It's sex! God-ordained psychological, physiological, and spiritual bifurcation.Gender roles are social constructs, but God's order of the sexes is perpetual and binding.
We also need to teach everyone in our congregations the difference between sex and gender; and that sex trumps gender and is fixed by God—not man. Such teaching is the first step of repentance and faith in our perverse generation, and thus the first step of loving the souls of our perverse generation. And such teaching will be needed as much or more by those souls coming into our congregations from Reformed churches as those coming in from rank paganism.
("Sex" and "gender" used to be exchangeable words, with gender the more euphemistic way of referring to sex. Now "sex" is about chromosomes and body parts, while "gender" is about social constructs such as identity and roles. Of course, "sex" as in "having sex" has to do sexual acts. In an older and better world "gender" had to do with grammar. When it came to Greek I sometimes experienced gender confusion.)

For the Baylys sex and sex-based roles are absolutely fundamental teaching of Scripture:
As many have pointed out above, this order of God's creation of the sexes is a central theme of Scripture.
Turning from God to man, the postmodern's attack on sex is a mishmash. The enemy can breach the wall as well by stealth and confusion and radar jamming as a ramrod smashing against the gates. Postmoderns are furious that God made Adam first, then Eve; that He decreed Adam to be our federal head; and that He named our race "adam" rather than "adam-eve" or "eve," and this fury has led to changes in English usage which, in turn, have motivated thousands of deletions of the original Hebrew and Greek in our latest Bible products.
The Baylys do not think the word "complementarian" is strong enough to refer to male and female roles. They prefer the word "patriarchy" or "father rule." Patriarchy is more than a very rigorous and somewhat odd view of male headship and female submission in the home and in the church. Patriarchy is God's design for the ways men and women relate to one another in all of life:
When we deny that sex and authority have any connection outside the home and the Church, we are limiting God's Order of Creation to the private spheres where the doctrinal commitments of Christians may remain hidden from the sight of unbelievers. Thus we change our Lord's command to "you are the salt of the Church, so don't be ashamed of my commands, but let your light shine before other believers."
After denying that every woman is subordinate to every male, Tim seems to deny what he just wrote:
But to say there is no authority-subordinate relationship between every man and every woman is not to say there's no universal standard of relationship between men and women. In other words, the relationship between man and woman is never asexual. 
Every man made in the image of God is either a man or a woman; and every man or woman testifies to his sexual nature in every contact with a member of the opposite sex--either by faithfully confessing the Order of Creation or by rebelling against it. In fact, this distinction God blessed us with is so basic--so fundamental and foundational--that we never stop testifying to our faithfulness or rebellion...

A woman relating to a man should relate to him in a way that is womanly just as a man relating to a woman should relate to her in a way that is manly.

Teach your daughters the nature of feminine deference and your sons the nature of masculine responsibility and leadership.
They say of the PCA (David's present connection and Tim's former):
...they have lost any understanding of the nature of femininity, other than that the husband is the head of the wife and men are the only ones allowed to be elders. After all, most men still want to be king of their castle. 
Men like this have absolutely no doctrine of sexuality, other than the bare-bones of adhering to the explicit rules of Scripture (where those rules don't cut too deeply into their lifestyle of libertinism, that is).

What has them all hot and bothered right now is an article by Valerie Hobbs and Rachel Miller in which they criticize the views of John Piper and Doug Wilson about whether women may be police officers. Piper, responding to a question by a woman who feels drawn to police work (but who would quit if, when she marries, her husband objects), nuances his view (in ways the absolutist Baylys would not) and stops short of saying "no", but leads his questioner toward the negative answer. Wilson writes with with his characteristic humor (one thing I like about his writing, and something the Baylys sometimes attempt but don't pull off), but criticizes not only the housewife theologian Aimee Byrd but also the always male and almost always sane Carl Trueman. Wilson is a definite "no" on women as cops: 

"So, no. A Christian complementarian woman should not become a cop, especially when it involves riot gear. No."
Tim had earlier thought this one out:

Let me be clear, here: I am not saying that Christian men should rebel against authority when, contrary to God’s Creation order, it is
exercised by woman. If a female police officer pulls me over and tickets me, I’ll respect and submit to her, not because she has a gun
and a radio, but because she has been placed over me by God, bearing the sword in His behalf.

Still, I will recognize that her authority is contrary to God’s creation order in the matter of sexuality, and it will grieve me causing me, like Lot, to gnash my teeth. And this is how every biblical Christian should view the exercise of authority by woman over man no matter where it occurs. As the Holy Spirit said, woman is not to teachor exercise authority over man because Adam was created first, and then Eve.
I have read the Hobbs-Miller article. It is largely a linguistic analysis of Doug Wilson's writings which, I suppose, proves that he is a chauvinist who has some idiosyncratic views of marriage, roles, and sexual relations. Though I found their article ponderous (what else could statistical linguistic analysis be?), lacking in humor, and failing to spell what  submission in home and church means, I share some of the concerns of Hobbs-Miller about Wilson. 

Not so Tim and David. Tim, especially, is apoplectic. These women are in rebellion against God and his creation. The fact of their being women disqualifies them from criticizing Piper and Wilson. They are excluded from the kingdom of God:
Currently, there are several pieces out there on the web that display the depth of rebellion against God's Order of Creation that has taken over the Reformed church today. Let's start with two women who have gone to the internet to correct and rebuke a number of church officers including Pastors John Piper and Doug Wilson.
The first thing to note is that they are women. Of course my pointing this out will elicit howls from the Joni Rebel side. "Our being women has absolutely nothing to do with it," they'll protest. But of course, it has everything to do with it. When women such as Dr. Valerie Hobbs and Ms. Rachel Miller publicly admonish and rebuke men, particularly men who are ordained officers of Christ's Church, it would be hard to imagine any clearer rebellion against their sex. To say these women are immodest or that the viewing of their public exercise is unseemly is a gross understatement, Scripturally. This is sexual rebellion on the order of the male effeminacy that Scripture tells us disbars a man from the Kingdom of God...
Christians, who ought to see the evil of Hobbs-Miller, do not because they have been conformed to the wicked world:
Yes, there will be protests against such a severe condemnation of these women's rebellion, but only because we live in a decadent age when almost no one recognizes, let alone feels, the depth of this violation of God's Order of Creation. "How can something be so evil that seems so unremarkable—almost normal—to me?" you may ask.
Because pastors today have stopped guarding the good deposit in any way analogous to the Apostle Paul's guarding of the souls under his care as recorded in the New Testament. When the Apostle Paul was faced with women rebels in the New Testament churches, how did he respond?
He taught to the issue and his teaching was simple and straightforward: God created Adam first and Eve second, and this act of God, combined with Eve being the one who was deceived, condemns women teaching and exercising authority over men...
Following the quotation of 1 Timothy 2:12-15, Tim delivers the final condemnation:
Read Dr. Hobbs and Ms. Miller's corrections and rebukes of these men who are church officers set apart to the work of shepherding God's sheep and it's hard to imagine women doing anything more directly contrary to the command of God above. Their correction and rebuke of Pastors Piper and Wilson is a public act flaunting their disobedience of God and the worst response we could have would be to avoid pointing out that rebellion, and condemning it.
If Pastors John Piper and Doug Wilson have betrayed the Word of God in their teaching on sexuality, they both are surrounded by pastors and elders whose duty it is to watch over their teaching and correct them when they are in error. This is not women's work.
So says the Word of God. So says God's Order of Creation.
My counsel to Baylys: Boys, try to think about something else. Sublimate. Distract yourselves. Get some vigorous exercise. Take a cold shower.

If that doesn't work, we can send Priscilla and Aquila over to take you aside and explain to you the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:26).  

*I have not submitted this for approval to the management here. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Please But No Thank You

Please But No Thank You

Fourteenth after Trinity

Gospel: Luke 17:11-19

11 And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.
12 And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off:
13 And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.
14 And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.
15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God,
16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.
17 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?
18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.
19 And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.

Susan recently got on me for not minding my manners, “You didn’t say, “Please,” or, “Thank you,” she said after putting drops in my infected ear. My defense is that it did not occur to me to use my magic words, since I did not find the procedure pleasant.

St. Luke tells us about 10 men who said, “Please,” but only one who said, “Thank you.”

1. The Men

1.1. Destination. Luke marks a turning point in Jesus’s ministry in chapter 9, verse 52. Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  You see in his face absolute, irreversible determination. Though ultimately he will be raised from the dead and will ascend to heaven, he knows that first he must face arrest, trial, mockery, condemnation, and crucifixion. He is stubbornly committed to his mission of saving us from sin and all its consequences. This miracle is not just a remarkable event. It is a sign of the redemption Jesus will accomplish.

1.2. Lepers. Jesus is traveling along the border between Galilee and Samaria when he comes to an unnamed village. Ten lepers approach him.

What we call leprosy is a bacterial disease that can be cured by antibiotics. However, in Biblical the word translated “leprosy” in our Bibles covered a whole range of skin diseases.

People with skin symptoms were required to go to priests who examined them and put them into one of two categories, clean or unclean. If the person was pronounced unclean, the consequences were severe:

The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.
(Leviticus 13:45-46)

The point of all this was not disease control. The camp was clean, because God, who is holy, lived there among his people. Anything or anyone unclean had to be excluded from the camp. The worst thing about these diseases was not that they were necessarily fatal or incurable but that a person was unclean, not allowed to participate in worship or the life of family and community.

Sometimes these skin diseases cleared up. If a person thought his disease healed, he could not just declare himself well. He had to go back to a priest for examination. If the priest thought he was well and should be reclassified as clean, there was an elaborate process for a person going back to his community.

These ten men lived together because the only company they could keep was with fellow lepers. That is why this mini-community included not only 9 Jews but one Samaritan. Normally Jews and Samaritans did not have contact with each other, but this was a community of unclean men. Shared trouble can overcome a lot of barriers and bring people together.

Here are ten men, all afflicted with leprosy, all classified unclean, cut off from synagogue and temple, removed from their families, exiled from their communities. The victims wore the torn clothes of mourning because their condition was like a living death.

2. The Miracle

2.1. Mercy. When the men realized Jesus was near, they cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” They were suffering the miseries of leprosy; they had little to lose; so they begged Jesus to show them mercy by healing them.

There is no prayer that expresses more accurately our deepest needs than, “Lord, have mercy.” We want God to look at our miseries in this sinful world, to have pity on us even when our miseries are the result of our sinful choices, and to relieve us. We are in pain, physical or emotional, because of illness, job loss, bill collectors, marital infidelity, addictions, and we call out for mercy.

We ask the Lord to see our misery, even self-caused, and to show us mercy. We ask him to look upon us sinners, miserable, guilty, and condemned and to spare us, deliver us, relieve us. Last Sunday, when we said the Litany we called out to the Lamb of God, Christ, our Lord, four times to have mercy upon us. This morning, after we heard the summary of the Law, we sang three times, “Have mercy upon us.” Shortly in the Prayer of Confession we will ask the Father to be merciful because of the burden of our sins. The absolution will invoke God to be merciful and to pardon and deliver us from all our sins.

2.2. Healing. Jesus did not touch them or say anything except, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” He only spoke those words which no doubt challenged them. In the Old Testament the leprous Syrian general Naaman stumbled over the word of the prophet Elisha who told him to go and wash 7 times in the Jordan River. These men may have looked at their skin, and seeing no change have asked themselves, “Why would we go to the priest when there is no sign of improvement much less healing?”

But they went. And it was as they went that they were healed. They had to trust and act on the word of Jesus, and the result was their healing. Let me tell you what this means and does not mean for us.

It does not mean what faith healers, prosperity gospel teachers, and name-it-and-claim-it preachers say. You don’t say, “I have cancer, and I believe Jesus wants me to be well, so I am going to believe that Jesus has healed me, and I am going to cancel all my medical appointments and go on with my life.” You do not have a word from Jesus for that.

But you do take Jesus at his word, as he speaks in Scripture through prophets and apostles, even when your feelings deny it or you cannot see it.

You believe that there is no condemnation for you in Christ Jesus.

You believe your true identity is that you are a new creation in Christ.

You believe that nothing can separate you from the love of God in

You believe that to be absent from the body is to be present with the

You believe that, though your body is laid in a grave at the last day
Christ will raise you up in glory.

The lepers asked for mercy and Jesus showed them mercy.

3. Gratitude

3.1 Samaritan. All 10 were healed. All ten were relieved. They would get their lives back. Nine of them kept going to the priests to get their cleansings confirmed so that they could return to their families and communities. But one stopped in his tracks and went back to Jesus. He had called out loudly for mercy and now with loud voice he glorified God. When he got to Jesus, he fell down at the feet of Jesus with his face to the ground, and thanked him.

As it turns out, the one who returned to give thanks was the one you would least expect, for he was a Samaritan. The Samaritans were of mixed ethnicity. When the Syrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, they deported many of the Jews and moved people from other nations into the area. The Samaritans were the product of the intermarriages that took place. They accepted only the first five books of the Bible and had their own temple. Therefore, they did not know the true God or the way of salvation. This man did the unexpected. He glorified God and thanked Jesus.

3.2 Jesus. This man’s action led Jesus to ask a poignant question. “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was not one found to return and praise God, except this foreigner?” The nine Jewish lepers, who had far greater religious privileges and much purer knowledge of God and his salvation, are the ones who should have been expected to return with gratitude. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel we meet another surprising Samaritan. When Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” he told the story of a man who was robbed and left for dead. A  Jewish priest and the Levite did nothing for the man, while a Samaritan cared for him. The priest and Levite did not understand what it means to love a neighbor, while the Samaritan did. Now in this story the Samaritan leper understands and practices gratitude while the Jewish lepers do not.

Jesus said to the man, “Rise and go away; your faith has made you well.” The man’s gratitude revealed his genuine faith.

This man challenges us. Do we realize how much we needed cleansing from our sins? Do we understand that the way we are cleansed is by the shedding of the blood of Jesus on the cross?  Do we sense what a wonderful thing he has done in removing the guilt and condemnation of our sins? Do we glorify God for this? Do we fall in humility at Jesus’s feet and thank him for saving us?

Do you know what is more important to the Christian life than a sense of duty? A sense of gratitude. The key to faithfulness in worship and to all obedience and service is not grinding out our duty but gratitude to Jesus who cleanses us from all sin.

When I stand before the throne,
Dressed in beauty not my own,
When I see Thee as Thou art,
Love Thee with unsinning heart,
Then Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.

Even on earth, as through a glass
Darkly, let Thy glory pass,
Make forgiveness feel so sweet,
Make Thy Spirit’s help so meet,
Even on earth, Lord, make me know
Something of how much I owe.