This week we welcome guest speaker the Rev. T. Carlos (Tim) Anderson, author of There is a Balm in Huntsville: A True Story of Tragedy and Restoration from the Heart of the Texas Prison System. The book tells the story of a man serving forty years in prison for killing two people while driving drunk, and his encounter with the parents of the victims through Texas's Victim-Offender Dialogue program:
"Writing There is a Balm in Huntsville has opened my eyes to something I was only vaguely aware of previously: the concept of Restorative Justice. In the book's narrative, you'll read about it as 'repairing the harm done by crime beyond what happens in the courtroom' and also as 'the opportunity for a crime victim to find hope and resolution.'
You can find out more about the book from a recent episode of the Texas Standard,
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, [Jesus] said, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."
So we hear in this week's Gospel. It's a scary one. Though probably not more scary, honestly, than a lot of what we've been hearing from Jesus in the Gospel according to Luke recently. It's part of what is often called apocalyptic literature, meaning that it involves the revelation or uncovering of some previously-unknown truth. Here it's about the fate of Jerusalem and its Temple, which is the center of Jewish religious life, and discord among nations and families, famines and plagues, persecution and the testimony and endurance by which, Jesus tells his disciples, "you will gain your souls."
But a whole lot of Luke's Gospel is apocalyptic. There are a lot of unexpected reversals and surprises. Remember Lazarus and the Rich Man, who are suddenly revealed as being in opposite places in the universe from where everyone thought they were--Lazarus near to Abraham while the rich man suffers in flames. We can learn the rhythm of these apocalypses. They are meant to train us, as disciples, in seeing the world differently. As hearers of Jesus, we enjoy the privilege of seeing the reversal before it happens and living as if it were already accomplished.
This week's passage is tougher because it's not just a revelation about the world, it's a revelation about the end of the world. Or at least the end of a world. The word for this in Biblical literature is eschatology, the writings about the last things, the ends of things, or the very edges of things.
While Martin Luther himself was drenched in eschatological thought (like many people of his and every age, he believed the world he lived in was so hopelessly wicked that surely God was going to put an end to all of it soon), Lutherans in the centuries that followed him became less confident speaking in eschatological terms. A lot of Christian theology and practice downplayed anything about "the end" and the final return of Christ. We mostly settled in for a life of sin, repentance, and forgiveness, repeated and tweaked until we died and went to our reward. Heaven and Earth pretty much stayed put, with our particular church "stuff" (prayers, sacrament, grace) being the ways one connected with the other. The wild world of first-century Judaism, or even 16th-century Christianity, receded from view.
More and more, however, even Christians from our somewhat stodgy and cautious branch of the family are recovering the eschatological and apocalyptic spirit of the Gospels and the early Church. We don't always know what to do with that material. I certainly don't. It makes people nervous or incredulous. It has inspired lots and lots of believers to go hunting for "signs," as the disciples ask Jesus for in the passage. It's as though we can have some control over our chronically unsettled world if we can figure out the cipher, crack the code written in heaven and earth that will tell us what is coming and when, so we can be ready for it.
But part of Jesus's message is that we can't really be ready and shouldn't try. Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple (which came to pass in 70 A.D., a few decades after his crucifixion) even as he is there teaching every day. He tells his disciples not to plan for their defense but to let the Spirit do the work when the moment of testing comes, so that their lives will prove the Gospel all the more. If it's their cleverness, their preparation, their plausible arguments, no one will be convinced and no one should be.
And I'll admit that this is a hard thing to hear just now. Maybe at any time. Our world is changing very fast and many beautifully adorned things that we love will, even in our lifetimes, not be there. They'll be lost to neglect or hostility, to a dearth of resources or the ravages of a changing climate. There are lots of ways to plan for this and resist it, many good and many bad. But for faith, there's really only the path of speaking in truth and acting in love for as long as we can. As Fleming Rutledge, a prominent scholar and Episcopal priest put it in the context of Paul's first letter to Timothy, "the call to be faithful in the daily grind is set into the cosmic panorama of the coming of the Lord of the universe in glory and power." I need to hear that, because like a lot of people I'm most comfortable dividing them into two time scales: the daily grind on one hand, with no end or fundamental change in sight day to day, and the eternal day of the Lord, which touches the former only by faith or hope. They're both one in these passages, and while that's hard to hear it's also good news.
More on this week's readings:
Whatever his teaching about the Temple’s destruction might have implied, Jesus continued to teach there even following this teaching (21:37; see also 19:47; 20:1; 22:53). And, the final verse of the story of Luke’s Gospel reports not only the disciples worship of Jesus (in itself quite shocking for first-century Jews!) but also how they remained “continually in the Temple blessing God” (24:53).
Emerson Powery, Workingpreacher.org
The faithful will neither give false hope nor make false accusations. They will respond to persecution and accusations with wisdom. What is this wisdom that none “will be able to withstand or contradict?” Perhaps it is the wisdom of God that Paul describes: “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23–24).
Yvette Shock, ChristianCentury.org
Otto Rahm, Hiob (1951)
It's Resurrection Week at Christ Lutheran! It's not Easter but we hear different stories about life beyond death this Sunday.
This week in worship we hear a brief passage from the Book of Job, including the famous lines: "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side." It's been a challenging passage for modern scholars in particular, who tend not to embrace the Christian theological interpretation of the "redeemer" being Jesus and "in my flesh I shall see God" referring to the resurrection of the dead.
I try to take Biblical scholarship seriously but I don't really follow the scholars here. Job is a poetic dialogue--a fable--about a man pushed beyond all endurance. He refuses to accept that his sufferings are just, and when his useless friends keep insisting that Job has done something wicked to merit his sufferings, Job insists that he has a go'el, here translated "redeemer," who will vindicate him before God even if his no-good friends won't do it. The word apparently refers to a family member, next of kin, or close friend (today we might say "power of attorney") who could "redeem" a person from captivity or redeem the property of a deceased person. Job is so outrageously wronged, so utterly abused, that he won't let the inevitability of death, the obvious hostility of God, or the failure of his friends to come to his defense deter his insistence that he will be redeemed or vindicated, somehow, by someone. Maybe even God, who has (as Job sees it) acted as his enemy, will in the end appear at Job's side to redeem Job from God's own hand. Job doesn't seem to be talking about an endless sunshine-and-rainbows Heaven, but he does seem to insist that God will raise him up from the grave if only to hear the case for Job's innocence.
You can get to some weird places thinking about God, to be sure. Job is not voicing a promise from God to raise the dead. But he's combining the reality of God and the reality of justice to insist that, if both God and justice are real, even death can't prevent justice from somehow being done. The world is what it is, but it will just have to give way. The dust will have to yield up its dead and skin be fastened again to muscle and bone so that accounts can be settled.
In the Gospel, Jesus is saying something related but different. Some Sadducees, a group that rejected the oral tradition held by the Pharisees and who denied the resurrection of the dead, pose a stumper to Jesus: If a woman has been married to seven brothers in turn, each after the last dies, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? Jesus denies the premise of the question--that there is marriage in the resurrection--but goes on to say something more compelling and powerful: the dead must be raised because God introduced himself to Moses as "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," and yet God is God of the living and not the dead. Here it's not Job's frantic and furious demand for justice, but the power of God's faithfulness that requires us to imagine life beyond death. God's faithfulness to Abraham didn't end when Abraham breathed his last. The world is what it is, but it will just have to give way.
I don't know where I'll end up with all of this, but I hope you'll come and hear these striking passages with me on Sunday.
This morning I was reading the book Dallas 1963 and came across a dreadful but affecting story. A Jewish man in Dallas, a survivor of Auschwitz and of a gruesome procedure by Josef Mengele, was worried about the proliferation of extremist rhetoric around him. So he started speaking out in public about his own experience to churches, civic groups, and synagogues as a warning. In January of 1963, he came home from work to find a cross burning on his front yard. The perpetrator was caught and released after paying a $10 fine.
Moved by the man's courage and his monstrous sufferings, I looked him up. He was not likely to be alive today, but perhaps he had gone on to do more, either locally or elsewhere. He had, in fact died many years ago. And his family, who was largely estranged from him, remembered him not as an everyday local hero but as a tyrannical and emotionally abusive husband and father.
I always wonder what people mean when they talk about someone being (or not being) a "saint." This, I suppose, is a hazard of having too much theological education. But then I see how I have my own ideas about sanctity--ideas that meet my own need for the world to make sense. A "saint," in everyday usage, can be someone who exemplifies a virtue we admire (especially a virtue we admire from a distance), or who endured suffering without lashing out or exhibiting any symptoms of trauma, or who made the world a better place in a difficult but needed way. And it's easy to select depictions of the people who might qualify, under these criteria, in such a way that they do what we want them to do: they validate what is best in us, even if we don't feel we can achieve it ourselves. This sort of depiction is what we call hagiography, the writing of sanctity--literally as in the written life of a Christian saint, and colloquially as a term that disparages overly favorable biographies of famous people.
But those depictions have to leave out many things in order to give us the saint we want and need. And that is, ultimately, unfair to the real person underneath the depiction. It was not fair of me, as a reader, to want and need that Holocaust survivor to be a moral exemplar of anything. People who suffer grave evils are not obligated to be better for it, certainly not in order to edify someone like me. People who cultivate profound kindness are no less entitled than anyone else to instinctive resentments or long-simmering bitterness. Those who pursue a religious vocation do not thereby banish vice, pettiness, sloth, or hatred from their lives.
People are always more complicated than we want them to be. And that's especially true for saints, whose visible sanctity may not tell the whole story, but only the part we want, for our own reasons, to know.
This week we celebrate the Feast of All Saints', an ancient observance in Christianity in which all the notable faithful departed and all the martyrs were remembered together. In our Lutheran tradition it has tended to embrace all the Christian dead, or even all the people we, personally, knew and loved who have died. But what, exactly, do we commemorate on this day? What in the saints needs to be remembered and lifted up, even after time uncovers some of their complications?
More on All Saints:
"In many ways, this [reading from Ephesians] is the perfect passage for All Saints Day. It may be time to remember “the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints” (Ephesians 1:18) and live in such a way that is worthy of that high calling. With Christ as the “head,” the church—“which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (1:23)—is called on to represent the Christ figure in the world. What should this representation look like?" (Professor Emerson Powery, on Workingpreacher.org)
"All of creation is one disciple, together amidst the flesh of dirt—its aches and illnesses, its abuses and violence. Creation is one, its members mixed together hearing echoes of the Creator, redirecting their lives away from messages of conquering and amassing things that do not matter." (Oluwatomasin Odein, Christiancentury.org)
"Over the weeks of learning and preaching, these distant lives began to feel very contemporary. Perpetua and Felicity, the third-century North African martyrs, defied a death-loving culture. Ninth-century missionary Ansgar strove to bring the gospel to an indifferent or hostile Scandinavia, while doing works of mercy that overcame his many disappointments and setbacks. The radical servanthood of Elizabeth, a 13th-century Hungarian princess who lived most of her short life in Germany, reflected ironically on contemporary princess culture, just as her mistreatment at the hands of an overbearing spiritual director reflected on the enduring vulnerability of the pious to religious abuse. The apostle Paul broke down worldly barriers. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, obscure in his own lifetime, amplified his personal heroism by trying to make Christian sense of a world that no longer needed God." (my essay "Discovering the Saints: A Church Meets a Cloud of Witnesses" in The Christian Century, 2013)
For this week's Sunday School, I've been taking pictures of images commemorating saints in and around Dallas. So far I've made it to the NT-NL synod office, the University of Dallas, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Meadows Museum at SMU. This last site has an excellent collection of Spanish art, including a gallery of very fine examples of religious art from the late medieval/early modern period. We'll take a look at a few of them and what they mean on Sunday:
Last week I shared some highlights from St. Augustine's Confessions, which he wrote in about 397 A.D., before he became bishop of the city of Hippo in North Africa. After the sack of Rome in 410 A.D., Augustine had to contend with claims by pagan writers that the city had fallen because Christians had drawn the people away from worshiping their traditional gods.
In response, Augustine essentially rewrote the history of Rome (and all humanity) from another perspective: instead of being about the City of Rome, it was about the City of God. Alongside this city, founded by God (whose citizens included Abel, Abraham, the Prophets, and all the Saints of the Old Testament and the Christian era) grew the City of Man, or the Earthly City, founded by the devil (whose citizens included, well, most other people). It's this second City that sought power and domination over the world (as Rome sought to dominate first its Italian neighbors and then the rest of the world), while the City of God typically suffers and has no power or earthly glory.
Like Confessions, this later (and much longer) book means a lot to me personally. Over the years I've written about it here and there, and quoted it quite a few times in my book. I'm looking forward to sharing it with you on Sunday!
In the 17th century it became customary for the Lutheran churches of Europe to mark the anniversary of the "beginning" of the Reformation on October 31. I put "beginning" in quotes because the actions of Martin Luther in nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg (or sending them by mail, as probably happened) were only moment in a history of reforming and polemical movements in the Church that started at least two centuries earlier, and depending on how you define it, much earlier than that. (If you're interested, I wrote a little about some of these early reformers).
"Reformation Day," or "Reformation Sunday" as it is typically celebrated in North America, can very easily become a Lutheran Pride holiday--a second Pentecost, a day to celebrate our team's largely-imagined victory over its largely-imagined enemies. There are many reasons to avoid this, but one big reason is that the early Lutheran reformers themselves did not consider the Reformation to be a success. A movement that was for the whole church became confined to those countries whose princes adopted it (sometimes for reasons that had little to do with faith); a struggle over fairly technical points of doctrine turned into continent-wide wars; an attempt to change the church of Europe gave way to whole new churches with their own very un-evangelical histories. It's something that's hard for anyone, Protestant or Catholic, who cares about our common history and faith to contemplate without some sorrow.
So if Reformation Sunday isn't going to be Lutheran Pride Day, what should it be? For one thing, it really is a good day to revive our connections to that wider, universal Church that Luther aimed not to break apart but to reform. And that's because one of the most important legacies of the Reformation is the definition of the Church as God's people gathered around God's Word and Sacraments. It's not an organization or a bundle of activities or a hierarchy or a community marked off by territorial boundaries. It's a new creation, called into existence by God over and over again. So when we talk about "Reformation," it's important to remember that we aren't making an ideal out of certain people or a certain moment in history. The goal of the Reformation, as Luther's colleague (and the better theologian of the two) Philipp Melanchthon put it, is a "reformed church always reforming." That's hard! In fact, as a human idea, it's impossible. But what we celebrate on Reformation Sunday is God's continuing power to renew the Church, and through the Church, the whole world.
This Sunday, October 20, we hear some thorny and fascinating stories from both Genesis and the Gospel according to Luke. In Genesis, Jacob is the protagonist (he's the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham) and his long career of shady actions is about to catch up with him. After sending his family and his flocks of livestock ahead of him, he has a visionary experience in which he wrestles with someone. Jacob demands a blessing before releasing this sparring partner, and gets it, but not without suffering a permanent wound to his hip. He realizes afterward that he was wrestling, somehow, with God, and his new name--Israel, "He strives/struggles with God"--reflects this experience.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells a story about a judge who does not fear God and shows no respect or favoritism to people. A widow appeals to him for vengeance or vindication (our mealy-mouthed translations says "justice," which is not very accurate) and despite his lack of regard for anyone, he relents. If he doesn't, he worries, she will give him a black eye ("wear me out" is our delicate translation). We never hear whether the widow's case is just, but only that she contends with the judge.
A whole lot of our sacred Scripture deals with such morally ambivalent stories. Jacob is in, in at least some ways, in the wrong before both God and human beings. But he holds fast to God and demands a blessing anyway. The widow may or may not be asking for something good and just, but she fights all the same. Jesus correctly understands that his audience--including us!--is more likely to need lessons in holding fast to what's good than in knowing what's good in the first place. Likewise in our Epistle for Sunday, we hear Paul tell Timothy to hold fast to the Word he has been given, whether the circumstances are favorable or not ("in season and out of season," some translations nicely have it). Timothy's courage is likelier to fail than his understanding and so that's where Paul puts his last emphasis.
I still haven't figured out exactly what I'm going to say about all this on Sunday, but I hope you'll be there to listen with me!
Saturday, October 12 - Thursday, October 31.
The Community is invited to come and pick out your pumpkins at the 3rd Annual Christ Lutheran Pumpkin Patch! Come and get some cute pictures in the pumpkin patch!
Our Pumpkin Patch funds will benefit Mosaic, Upbring (formerly Lutheran Social Services) and the DFW Faith Health Collaborative.
Below is an overview from the Call Committee on Pastor Benjamin James Dueholm.
Click the link below for a list of publications.
God's Work. Our hands.
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