13 Whoever acts without mercy will be judged without mercy but mercy can afford to laugh at judgement.
James 2:13 (NJB)
In the Baroque period the liturgy used to include the risus paschalis, the Easter laughter. The Easter homily had to contain a story which made people laugh, so that the church resounded with a joyful laughter. That may be a somewhat superficial form of Christian joy. But is there not something very beautiful and appropriate about laughter becoming a liturgical symbol?
Therefore as in the preceding verses the passion and death of Christ are prophesied, so in this verse his resurrection is predicted, though by a somewhat obscure allusion. Who would have thought, while Christ was suffering and the Jews triumphing, that God was laughing at them all the while! So also while we are oppressed, how shall we believe that God is holding our adversaries in derision, when it seems to us as though we were held in derision both by God and men? What a power of faith is required in all these words!
In my office hangs a copy of the painting entitled Jesus laughing.
I often thought of it as a reaction to something Peter said, or when some well-meaning rabbi complimented Him on His understanding of scripture.
The words of Luther gave me another insight–as the Father endures watching the Son endue the cross…there is a slight grin on His face, a grin like the A-Team’s Colonel as he says, “I love it when a plan comes together.” In that same moment, as Jesus screams it is finished, a victory cry through the pain can be slightly heard…
The God who tells us to rejoice without ceasing himself rejoices without ceasing.
This attitude needs, no, it has to invade our liturgy, to invade our preaching. The joyous laughter that knows that no matter what, the plan of God will succeed, and the people of God are His. We are HIS!
That is why when Pope Benedict XVI, one of the greatest theologians and teachers on the liturgy brings up laughter, but only from his own perspective. He brought up the history of the liturgy, and the fact that the rubrics required laughter in the homily! For the very reason that this was a celebration–a time when laughter is more than appropriate!
Do you think Simeon, when holding the baby Jesus, knowing He was the Messiah, wasn’t giggling with laughter? Do you not think the disciples were laughing and crying in the upper room when Jesus appeared? That Thomas, on His knees, wasn’t smiling–even as Jesus said he could touch his wrists and put his hand in Jesus’ side.
This is part of our minsitry, this odd, paradoxical sense of humour in the midst of complete reverence and awe of the God who comes to us, to die for us, to use all of His power to save and re-create us… which brings God the greatest joy, and glee.. and laughter!
Joseph Ratzinger, Behold The Pierced One: An Approach to a Spiritual Christology, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 119–120.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 391.
Jesus answered, “All those who drink this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring which will provide him with life-giving water and give him eternal life.” John 4:13-14 GNT
Take the teachings that you heard me proclaim in the presence of many witnesses, and entrust them to reliable people, who will be able to teach others also. 2 Timothy 2:2 GNT
With professions the integrity has to do with the invisibles: for physicians it is health (not merely making people feel good); with lawyers, justice (not helping people get their own way); with professors, learning (not cramming cranial cavities with information on tap for examinations). And with pastors, it is God (not relieving anxiety, or giving comfort, or running a religious establishment)……Most of the people we deal with are dominated by a sense of self, not a sense of God. Insofar as we deal with their primary concern—the counseling, instructing, encouraging—they give us good marks in our jobs as pastors. Whether we deal with God or not, they don’t care over much.
Moreover, the people are instructed often and with great diligence concerning the holy sacrament, why it was instituted, and how it is to be used (namely, as a comfort for terrified consciences) in order that the people may be drawn to the Communion and Mass. The people are also given instruction about other false teachings concerning the sacrament.
2 Meanwhile no conspicuous changes have been made in the public ceremonies of the Mass, except that in certain places German hymns are sung in addition to the Latin responses for the instruction and exercise of the people.
3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ.
It used to be that people would tell me that “that was a good sermon pastor,” as they walked out of church. “Or that was a great Bible study!” They do it less often now because they know I will often ask, “why? what made it good for you?”
Some are quite able to answer, others, – well what else do you say to a pastor after church?
It gets me to think, what do people remember of the services we share in, what is their take away?
I can only pray it is Jesus. That He is present in thier lives, that He is merciful, that He loves them.
Anything else is worthless..
The Augsburg Confession makes that clear – the comfort to anxiety laden consciences is what is found when people is what the Liturgy (aka the Mass or Worship Service) is about. That is what and how we need to leave people. Aware of their relationship to Jesus, and comforted by it. That was Peterson’s goal, and his struggle as well, as people didn’t always respond to that focus. Still it is what we are called to do!
So look for that comfort as you attend church or Bible Studies, prayer meetings or other small groups. Perceive the presence of Jesus, as you sing, as you pray, as you listen to the word read and preached, and as you receive Christ’s body and blood in Communion.
And know, He is with you!
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 139–140.
Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 56.
THoughts that drive me to the cross…
7 The LORD said to Moses, “Go back down at once, because your people, whom you led out of Egypt, have sinned and rejected me! Ex 32:7. GNT
But Moses pleaded with the LORD his God and said, “LORD, why should you be so angry with your people, whom you rescued from Egypt with great might and power? Ex 32:11. GNT
The apocalyptic pastor is a poet. St. John was the first major poet of the Christian church. He used words in new ways, making (ποεατεας in Greek is maker) truth right before our eyes, fresh in our ears. The way a pastor uses the language is a critical element in the work. The Christian gospel is rooted in language: God spoke a creation into being; our Savior was the Word made flesh. The poet is the person who uses words not primarily to convey information but to make a relationship, shape beauty, form truth.
Reason cannot understand how there can be pleasure in crosses and peace in disquietude. Such peace is the work of God, and none can understand it until he has experienced it.
The conversation between God and Moses is interesting, it is the poiema – the work of art (from which we get the word poem from) that Peterson references. God will not only provide for His people’s sins, but will teach Moses and all pastors a lesson.
Moses has to realize – I didn’t lead these people from Egypt, I am not their God, Yahweh is their God, He is the one who rescued them from Egypt, it has to be His work that will save them from their sin. That is what Moses will toss back to God, and I can imagine God smiling inside as Moses tells him – “they aren’t mine, they are Yours!”
“Don’t forget that Moses, and don’t let them forget it, either!”
This conversation teaches Moses a compassion he will need much later, for he will need to remember these people are God’s, and therefore God will have to transform them. He is not the only under-shepherd that is guided by God. Each of the prophets would similarly see the artistry of God, who would use their experiences as parables of grace. Nathan, Hosea, Jeremiah all see life as an experience to share.
That makes the difference———these poems of our lives, these words we use which help people understand the relationship we have with God.
We need to study, to meditate devotionally, to look at our work as God’s craftsmanship–His work–in and through our lives. As we do, perhaps he church will sense our passion for the message, and that they understand it. And then they will treasure church, and listen to sermons and the words of the liturgy and music that all focus on this message God wants us to know.
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 53.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 442–443.
So tell the Israelites that I say to them, ‘I am the LORD; I will rescue you and set you free from your slavery to the Egyptians. I will raise my mighty arm to bring terrible punishment upon them, and I will save you. I will make you my own people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am the LORD your God when I set you free from slavery in Egypt. I will bring you to the land that I solemnly promised to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as your own possession. I am the LORD.’ ” Moses told this to the Israelites, but they would not listen to him, because their spirit had been broken by their cruel slavery. Exodus 6:6-9 GNT
Two blind men who were sitting by the road heard that Jesus was passing by, so they began to shout, “Son of David! Take pity on us, sir!” Matthew 20:30, GNT
Therefore, the discourse of the teacher should be adapted to the character of his audience so that it can address the specific needs of each individual and yet never shrink from the art of communal edification.
As the good works which Christ does to you have no name, so your good works are to have no name. They have no name so that there may be no distinction made and they be not divided, else you might do some and leave others undone. You shall give yourself entirely to him with all you have, the same as Christ gave himself wholly to you, with praying, fasting, all works and suffering, so that there is nothing in him that is not yours and was not done for you. Thus it is not your good work that you give alms and pray, but that you offer yourself to your neighbor and serve him, whenever he needs you and in every way you can, be it with alms, prayer, work, counsel, comfort, apologizing, clothing, food, and if need be, with suffering and death.
It is true that man can, by his natural powers, arrive at a natural and imperfect beatitude. This may include within itself a certain knowledge of God, even a kind of seemingly mystical contemplation. Those who are satisfied with the Pelagian solution find this to be quite enough for them. And if that is the case, we are quite willing to admit that they are right as far as they go. For they can, by their own power, reach what they think is the end of the journey. But what they call the end is not even the beginning.
When I first entered the ministry, I was a last second invite to an exclusive seminar on preaching. Last second because I had called a mega-church about a leadership gathering at 4 pm on a Friday, and someone cancelled out of the seminar a few minutes before my call. So I went…. and learned something not taught to me in the 9 classes I have had on preaching.
They all taught how to prepare the sermon, how to work through the passage or the theme. How to draw up the outline and the summary sentence, and even critique by peers on the delivery. All this was good – and faithful, and absolutely necessary.
But it left out something critical to know. We have to study more than the scriptures. We have to know more than theology.
We have to study, to know our people, and where they are at in their journey.
Moses had to realize the people of God could not listen, because their spirit was broken. They could not trust in the wonderful message of being rescued from Egypt. Notice is say – “You will know, I am the LORD-your God-when I set you free. Moses has to realize this, if he is to be patient with the people of God. (he had to learn this – like all pastors!) The two blind men were not ready to hear about the cross, they needed to know God’s pity extended into their lives, were they were at sitting by the side of the road. Merton’s gnostic person, not far from God, still needs to encounter Him, and have his entire life reset, even though he is spiritual and discerns there is a god. These examples, are found over and over–those who minister to others, need to know whom they are ministering to!
This is not new – Gregory the great – a Pope from 1400 years ago, taught this in his book to train pastors. We have to adapt our preaching and teaching to minister to those people we are encountering. This is true about pastors, and their example should lead their people to do the same thing–to know who they are trying to draw closer to Jesus. We have to meet the spiritual needs of the individual and the entire Bible study or congregation. (That this was one of the 4 major lessons from Robert Schuller was, I believe, part of the reason his ministry reached so many that would not give time to other pastors!)
So this brings us to the quote from Luther, the lesson we need to know, if we are to communicate and communicate God’s love to our families, our neighborhoods, our communities. Those words in green sound challenging – to imitate Christ – to love and give of ourselves the way He loves and gives Himself to us. Again – how we communicate this is critical! People (and pastors) need to know how Jesus loves them, and gives Himself to them before they can do the same! Luther notes it rightly, giving ourselves completely looks different with every person, and even day to day.
That’s a lot of sacrifice–but if we are to minister to people – whether 5000, 100, or 2, we have to know them, and that comes from being there for them.. Then we know their struggles, their pains, and where they are with God.
So if you want someone to know Jesus, if you want to see them live in the peace that only Christ can instill in them, love them and dedicate yourself them.
And then, bring them to Jesus- from where they are at… and know He loves you both!
St Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule, ed. John Behr, trans. George E. Demacopoulos, vol. 34, Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007), 87.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 422–423.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 28.
9 Then the LORD reached out and touched my mouth and said, “Look, I have put my words in your mouth! 10 Today I appoint you to stand up against nations and kingdoms. Some you must uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow. Others you must build up and plant.” Jeremiah 1:9-10 (NLT2)
To offer a sinner the gift of salvation based upon the work of Christ, while at the same time allowing him to retain the idea that the gift carries with it no moral implications, is to do him untold injury where it hurts him worst.
Evangelical churches just as even at the time of the holy apostles horrible errors arose in the same way among those who wanted to be called Christians and boasted of their adherence to the teaching of Christ. Thus, some wanted to become righteous and be saved through the works of the law (Acts 15[:1–29*]); some denied the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15[:12*]); some did not believe that Christ was the true, eternal God [1 John 2:22–23*]. The holy apostles had to confront such teachers sharply in their sermons and writings, although at that time, such highly significant errors and serious controversy would involve a great deal of offense, both to unbelievers and to those weak in the faith.
After the fall he must have said, ‘O God, what has happened to me? I’ve become so blind and deaf. Where have I been?’ I have no doubt that this is what happened. It was a dreadful fall.
Friends of mine have worked with a county rescue unit. Every once in a while they do a rescue that makes the news. The rescue is often daring, using a helicopter to render aid to some hiker or climber that if they didn’t do this work, would have died, alone and broken.
The thing is, to talk about the rescue, you have to know what happened to patient,
For if you are going to be rescued, you need to know the danger you face, and the fact that you can’t get out of the crisis on your own.
All of my readings this morning touched on such crisis moments. From Luther’s perception of Adam’s grief and guilty ridden sorrow, to those being led astray and teaching false or incomplete doctrine. ozer mentions one of those ways of teaching – that somehow omits the idea that repentance includes change. (For my Lutheran readers, those who focus on Article IV of the Augsburg COnfession and ignore Article VI)
The task that God gives Jeremiah, and every prophet, priest and pastor since. Some people and people groups we need to help realize they are rescued, for they still struggle as if they were lost. Others we have to show how lost and in danger they are. The latter often requires a humbling and painful experience, as reality is regained.
This isn’t easy, often, caught up in sin, or devastated by brokeneness, there is something similar to shock, and denial of their predicament is dominant. To minister to them in love, we have to help them be aware of where they are at, and the consequence of inaction.
Yet this is our blessed role, and at the end of the day, seeing them head for home, forgiven, cleansed and relieved is one of the greatest blessings a minister can experience. God has saved another child,
So for their sake, and to please the Father, preach about people’s real need for Jesus, and His presence and love and ministry to them.
Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 525.
A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 426–427.
Some thoughts for the day
11 There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. 12 You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. 13 For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. 14 Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong. Hebrews 5:11-14 (NLT2)
The contemporary moral climate does not favor a faith as tough and fibrous as that taught by our Lord and His apostles. The delicate, brittle saints being produced in our religious hothouses today are hardly to be compared with the committed, expendable believers who once gave their witness among men. And the fault lies with our leaders. They are too timid to tell the people all the truth. They are now asking men to give to God that which costs them nothing.
Our churches these days are filled (or one-quarter filled) with a soft breed of Christian that must be fed on a diet of harmless fun to keep them interested. About theology they know little. Scarcely any of them have read even one of the great Christian classics, but most of them are familiar with religious fiction and spine-tingling films. No wonder their moral and spiritual constitution is so frail. Such can only be called weak adherents of a faith they never really understood.
But this I say for myself: I am also a doctor and a preacher, just as learned and experienced as all of them who are so high and mighty. Nevertheless, each morning, and whenever else I have time, I do as a child who is being taught the catechism and I read and recite word for word the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Psalms, etc.  I must still read and study the catechism daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the catechism—and I also do so gladly Luther’s introduction to the Large Cathechism
Essentially, there are two components in the care of your own soul: God’s word and prayer. The first is the means of the Holy Spirit to sanctify your soul and body. The second is your response; the result of your sanctification, you could say
It took constant effort to keep ourselves in some semblance of peace when we were seeking fantastic goals that were constantly frustrated, setting off the afflictive emotions of anger, grief, fear, pride, lust, greed, jealousy, and the other capital sins. As the false self diminishes and trust in God increases in the night of sense, our energies can be put to better purposes
There was a lot of richness in my readings this morning.
Some of it seems caustic, and the context of Tozer and Luther’s quotes were far more so that what I cut and pasted here. words 50 and 500 years ago still sting, because the church still faces the same challenges it did then, and even back when the church was young, and the Book of Hebrews chided believers for not maturing in their relationship ith God.
Part of me, reading this, wants to figure out to save the church, to find a way to preach so powerfully that the church just finally wakes up and grows up! (It doesn’t help that I’ve been listening to Keith Green music for the last week!) Gosh, if only there was some way to get us all fired up for Jesus!
Luther’s got the idea, echoed by Senkbeil and Keating. Before I see God transform my people and my community, I have to see Him, and allo him to circumcise my heart, to cut away those emotions Keating identifies, as well as the sin. Only the Holy Spirit can remove sin, and its minions—guilt and shame. That is why Luther would go back to basics, to the Prayer, to the word of God, to the Creed, to be reminded of these things that God is doing. That is why Tozer would point people to the heavier classic works of Christianity – not for theological training, but to ask the hard questions. The questions that help us take up and bear our crosses–the truth that we desperately need Jesus.
Not just to remove the stain of sin….
But to walk with us, to be with us,
For then life is sanctified, and our energies are put to a better purpose… for God has removed what isn’t us.
That is the way we become more dedicated, and yet expendable. For what happens to us is not as important. We are expendable because we realize our walk with God is greater than our self-preservation. The more God cuts away that which is not us, the more He recreates us, the more we long for eternal life, and yet the message we communicate becomes a message that convinces people that we walk with God.
Not because of the eloquence of the words, but because we depend God in this life, we know how He provides, and that means more than anything. That is why, despite struggles with sin and doubt, we keep coming back to Him, we keep wanting to hear His voice, and we realize that anyone who knows this can replace us, for the remarkable thing is not that we are witnesses of His glorious love, but the love that we have witnessed. A love that goes beyond anything we’ve known…
A love that changes everything, and mostly changes us.
Expendable simply means that love means more to us than life, because that love is eternal… and it is life.
A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).
Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 380.
Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 243.
Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 140.
So look at Apollos and me as mere servants of Christ who have been put in charge of explaining God’s mysteries. 1 Corinthians 4:1 (NLT2)
Many of us who preach the unsearchable riches of Christ are often pretty dull and hard to listen to.
The freshest thought to visit the human mind should be the thought of God. The story of salvation should put a radiancy in the face and a vibrancy in the voice of him that tells it. Yet it is not uncommon to hear the wondrous message given in a manner that makes it difficult for the hearer to concentrate on what is being said. What is wrong?…
We learn to trust God beyond our psychological experiences. And we become more courageous in facing and letting go of the dark corners of ourselves and begin to participate actively in the dismantling of our prerational emotional programs. We cannot escape from the worldliness that is inside us, but we can acknowledge and confront it. The invitation to allow God to change our motivation from selfishness to divine love is the call to transforming union.
As I’ve suggested, pastors do everything by God’s word. They listen with ears tuned to the word of God, they speak words taught by the Holy Spirit in his word, they pray by means of the word, and they bless by means of the word. By constant exposure to these words of Christ, you begin to see things from his perspective. You develop the eyes and ears of Jesus. You watch and listen with his outlook. And that includes the lost. When Jesus beheld the milling crowd by the shore of Galilee, “He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). It was a pitiful sight. Sheep without a shepherd are in dire straits. His heart went out to that vulnerable throng.
Tozer’s bluntness is a something I am learning to appreciate. The reading I encountered this morning is the basis for the call to know intimately what we preach – and what we hear. If the message we are going to hear and share is going to be worth all the time invested in prayer, study, and some deep thought about the subject, it needs to be a message worth treasuring.
We must realize that what was true for Apollos and Paul is true for us. We explain the greatest of mysteries, the fact that God loves us, and desires for us to join Him, and share in the glory of Jesus.
That means investing time in deep thought about God -based on what the scriptures teach us. Not just taking it out on Monday or Tuesday to study for this week’s sermon, but reading it for the same reason we desire to share in communion with the people and with God. These are the times where we are so overwhelmed by God that we beg Him to transform us. For his transforming us comes, not from academic study and planning, but from time spent with Him.
That transformation cannot remain individualistic in scope – that is the point that Senkbeil is making. The more God transforms us, the more we reflect Christ, the more we cannot stand seeing people wander around in bondage of sin, This desire to see them come to find the peace we know infuses our sermons, our Bible studies and our prayers. This infusion transforms the preaching and sharing of Christ with those around us.
Passion returns to the pulpit and to those seated in the church, when God’s word reveals God’s desire for us to be His people, and the works He does which draw us to Him.
Lord, infuse Your pastors with Your outlook, even as Your Spirit works in the hearts of those they serve in the church. Help us all, I pray, to treasure all you have called into existence, that we may know that You love the world, and us in it. AMEN!
A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).
Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 126.
Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 223.
The Ark of the LORD remained in Philistine territory seven months in all. 2 Then the Philistines called in their priests and diviners and asked them, “What should we do about the Ark of the LORD? Tell us how to return it to its own country.”
3 “Send the Ark of the God of Israel back with a gift,” they were told. “Send a guilt offering so the plague will stop. Then, if you are healed, you will know it was his hand that caused the plague.” 1 Sam. 6:1-3 NLT
The great deficiency to which I refer is the lack of spiritual discernment, especially among our leaders. How there can be so much Bible knowledge and so little insight, so little moral penetration, is one of the enigmas of the religious world today.…
If not the greatest need, then surely one of the greatest is for the appearance of Christian leaders with prophetic vision. We desperately need seers who can see through the mist. Unless they come soon, it will be too late for this generation. And if they do come, we will no doubt crucify a few of them in the name of our worldly orthodoxy. But the cross is always the harbinger of the resurrection.
The great folly of the pope’s church is that it’s based only on the external rule of reason, without the Word of God, and our salvation is supposed to be bound up with outward child’s play. If this had only had to do with moral and legal matters!”
This post may seem a bit harsh, but I believe it is needed these days.
The folly that Luther once charged “the pope’s church” with is no longer only their problem. It never was only theirs, nor does it affect all of those who preach in Roman Catholic Churches. It is the same issue that Tozer recognized in the 1970s-1980s, and unquestionably my generation has come to know the vanity he foresaw in his time.
The church has become like the Philistines, who could not figure out how to deal with dwelling in their presence. They recognized that something Divine was in their midst, and they saw the effects of the discipline God was pouring out on them. (Note I said discipline, not condemnation.) We’ve lost the ability to discern the presence of God and are even more unable to discern what that presence means. As Tozer said, we have some much Biblical (Theological?) knowledge, but so little of it penetrates past our mine to impact our hearts, our souls.
That is where the folly, even the silliness of preaching is seen.
We study more of the form of the message – than the message itself. We want to know what commentators perceive, rather than spend time quietly meditating on the text itself. We don’t want to invest the time, perhaps because we don’t value how God is working and can work in us. This is seen on Saturdays, as websites hosting sermons receive many hits (my blog is no exception – 6% of all my hits are on Saturday night before midnight!) We are not preaching out of the depths of our heartache and healing.
We simply take others’ works and present them, expecting that their results will become ours.
What is not then communicated is that incredible fact that in the blood, sweat, and tears needed to prepare a message for the people of God, the message is prepared. As we encounter Him working in our lives, as shown on every page of scripture. That is why meditating on scripture is so praised in scripture. That is why allowing God to apply His truth in you – before you hear what others say
is crucial. We need to have more of an answer than the Philistinean priests… we need to be able to help people see God, and respond to Him.
As pastors, priests, and preachers, we need to talk with our Lord more.. listen more. Then, the grace which reveals to us His presence and peace…we can show to our people.
The Lord is with you!
Lord, help us not be satisfied with passing on what others think about You and Your word. Instead, help us to experience the love beyond dimensions and the peace beyond understanding, as You restore us… and then help us to guide others into that same place. AMEN!
Tozer, A. W. 2015. Tozer for the Christian Leader. Chicago: Moody Publishers.
Luther, Martin. 1999. Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk. Edited by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 54. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Thoughts that I pray cause you to adore Jesus, your Savior…
Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the LORD, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.”* She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” 14 So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi (which means “well of the Living One who sees me”). It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered. Genesis 16:13-14 NLT
Rector Bernard von Dölen,142 minister in Herzberg, complained bitterly about his arrogant auditors who despised the reading of the catechism. Dr. Martin [Luther] was greatly disturbed and fell silent. Then he said, “Cursed be every preacher who aims at lofty topics in the church, looking for his own glory and selfishly desiring to please one individual or another. When I preach here143 I adapt myself to the circumstances of the common people. I don’t look at the doctors and masters, of whom scarcely forty are present, but at the hundred or the thousand young people and children. It’s to them that I preach, to them that I devote myself, for they, too, need to understand. If the others don’t want to listen they can leave. Therefore, my dear Bernard, take pains to be simple and direct; don’t consider those who claim to be learned but be a preacher to unschooled youth and sucklings. (1)
Nonetheless, for Luther theology was not a detached academic pursuit circumscribed by the walls, procedures, customs, and language of the university, but a matter of life and death. He took God seriously. Nothing is more important in man’s life than his relationship to God. The chief function of theology (and of the theologian), then, is not to speculate about God or even to systematize man’s knowledge of God. Rather its function is to lead men to and strengthen them in faith. For Luther faith meant specifically trust in God through Jesus Christ. Inevitably Luther’s classroom extended far beyond the university and the circle of educated students to whom he lectured there. (2)
The pastoral care that is provided to Hagar never ceases to amaze me. She is not the one through whom the promise is given; that is Sarai, her mistress, the one who has the power of life or death over her. And yet, God takes the time to
visit with her. He cares for her, ministers to her, and cares for her son (who will be a challenge.) Finally, God restores her to her former place.
It works with the two readings I had this morning, which talk about the ministry of theology. Usually, seminaries and universities studies in scripture and ministry describe that the other way, with courses on the Theology of Ministry. Rarely do you hear people talk about the ministry of theology. People will talk about types of theology, Systematic, Exegetical, HIstorical, and Pragmatic, but rarely will there be a focus on how theology is supposed to be used to
minister to the church.
Those readings talk about it in Luther’s usual blunt style. Theology is not primarily an academic topic to be studied and dissected, according to Luther. Theology has a particular role, to be used to help man deepen their dependence
on God, to encourage spending time meditating on the move and mercy of God, to experience His love and presence, in a way that the Apostle Paul said was beyond words. (see Ephesians 3:17-19) This is the chief function of theology,
which seems all but lost these days.
Consider the advice to Bernard, who talked with the arrogant visitors he had, nitpicking on everything. Luther’s direction is to ignore them and preach the gospel to the hundred or thousand people who need to know the gospel and understand why hope is found in Christ. (this is Peter’s idea of apologetics, when he writes, “Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. 16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.“ 1 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT2)
This is what we are here to do, to use the knowledge and understanding that studying the word of God gives, as the Holy Spirit draws them to Jesus and brings light into their lives. This is not only the role of theology but also liturgical worship, pastoral care, and counseling. This is the focus that all those who lead in the church are called to do, to work with all we are, and to present everyone perfect in Christ. ( Colossians 1:28-29) For us Lutherans, this is what the 6th article of the Augsburg Confession is about, as our good works are the fruit of our faith.
May Theology be restored to this glorious ministry, of causing others to grow deeper in their dependence/faith/trust in God. And may the church ever see it as a tool dedicated to that purpose.
(1) Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 235–236.
(2) Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), x.
Come and see the wonders of God; his acts for humanity are awe-inspiring. Psalm 66:5 (CSBBible)
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
1 Corinthians 11:26 (CSBBible)
When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross, when we profess Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly; we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.
When somebody inquired whether a person [under the papacy] would be saved if he had not embraced this teaching of ours, he [Martin Luther] replied, “I really don’t know. God might have had regard for his baptism. This could do it. Even so, I have seen many [monks] die with a crucifix held before their eyes [as was then customary]. In spite of everything else, the name [of Christ] proved to be effective on their deathbed.”
When Jesus comes to the soul in Holy Communion, he brings to it every grace, and specially the grace of holy perseverance. This is the principal effect of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, to nourish the soul that receives it with this food of life, and to give it great strength to advance unto perfection, and to resist those enemies who desire our death.
Most of my college professors were focused on reading, studying, and preaching the Bible verse by verse. That is called exegetical preaching. Exegesis is the art of drawing the message from the text. All the professors taught this way, except one, my preaching professor. He would criticize me to no end, saying that “unless you preach the gospel, you may have given a good message, but you haven’t preached. And that gospel requires you to bring them to the cross. (Doug Dickey, multiple times in 1984-1986. He wanted you to include God’s grace, God’s love, God’s mercy, and if you didn’t – back to the library you went until you did!
I think that needs to be a rule, not only for preaching but for worship. We need to bring the people of God to the cross – We need to be there as well! Oh, do those who preach and lead worship need to come to the cross! We need to see with the Psalmist – the wonders of God as He acts on our behalf! We need to see Him take on death and destroy it! We need to see Him triumphant over our sin! That is why the Lord’s Supper explains the giving of Christ’s Body and His Blood shed for us! The entire service needs to focus there to journey with the cross throughout the week!
The cross needs to be there; the sermon and the sacrament need to draw us to Jesus! Look at the monks Luther describes, as they die, they just wanted to focus on the crucifix, to be in awe of God’s love for His people.
Can you preach verse by verse and still proclaim the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus? I believe so, but will the cross and the resurrection be your primary focus? The same question may be asked to those who preach topically,
who do a series on marriage or faith. Or those who preach from the pericope, the rotation of verses over 1 or 3 years. You must go to the scriptures, see how they point to Jesus, and work on that passage until you figure out how! The same as the worship service is formed, how does each song, each reading, each prayer draw people into Christ and make them more aware of His love! Of course, the decision on whether to offer commune fits there as well! Where else is the work of God as manifest at that moment, as people commune with the Body and Blood of Christ? (1 Cor. 10:16)
It is not preaching unless Christ crucified is revealed, nor is it worship if we are not brought to that cross in awe and celebrate that death was for us. This is why we gather… this is the refreshment given. It is time to celebrate!
Pope Francis, A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings, ed. Alberto Rossa (New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013), 125.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 87–88.
Alphonsus de Liguori, The Holy Eucharist, ed. Eugene Grimm, The Complete Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori (New York; London; Dublin; Cincinnati; St. Louis: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son, 1887), 224.