Archives For Sermons

grace and law_Barth

Here is Bruggemann[i] discussing the significance of Yahweh’s Kingship in ‘Zion: The Jerusalem Offer of Presence’:

‘The Kingship of Yahweh resolved the enduring battle between the life-giving creation order and the restless, surging destructiveness of chaos. Jon Levenson has shown that surging chaos is known in Israel to be still on the loose and as yet un-tamed by Yahweh.

Israel’s dominant metaphor for this threat of chaos, which is both cosmic and intensely existential, is “the mighty waters” that surge out of control so that the life of Israel and the life of the world are under threat. In the liturgy of Yahweh’s kingship, worship is the drama wherein the waters are driven back, defeated, and contained’     (2005, p.655-656)

This seems to contain a certain percentage of relevance to our contemporary condition (or it stands as a contradiction to our current conditioning).

The biblical text explains that God established himself as King, establishes himself as King and will establish Himself as King. (E.g.: The covenant formula: I will be their God and they will be my people)

Bruggemann points out, that psalm 48 in its entirety asserts the claim that this God-king is not the king Israel expects. Building on this it might be fair to say that this remains pertinent to humanity today.

He is the King who adopts[ii]; invites and exists for us. In a loving and just stand against our self-destructive ways he extends possibilities for correction, because ‘he wills not the death of the sinner, but their correction’ (Ambrose of Milan, ‘On Repentance’).

He is the King who acts in mercy and justice towards his people. Even in our rejection of him, we still find his acceptance of us calling for a response.

Even though God has revealed himself as the living embodiment of the King we long for, in our fascination with the righteous king of stories such as King Arthur and Robin Hood, attempts are made to make this God-King redundant.

History dictates that men and women who burn for total power are the napalm that burns everyone under them, or anyone who stands in the way of their quest for total power.

Take for example, some of Machiavelli’s more interesting comments which provide an insight into the socio-political condition of his day. Bare in mind these comments were made in 1513 (four years before the reformation):

People are so thoughtless they’ll opt for a diet that tastes good without realising there’s  hidden poison in it…if a man or woman cannot spot a problem in the making, he or she can’t really be a wise leader’[iii]

‘For the ruler already in power generosity is dangerous; for the man seeking power it is essential’[iv]

‘So these rulers of ours, who were well-established kings and dukes yet still lost their states, should spare us their bad-luck stories; they have only themselves to blame. In peacetime they never imagined anything could change – it’s a common short coming not to prepare for the storm while the weather is fair.’[v]

These alone should tell us that humanity without this God-King cannot be trusted to rule a kingdom that bears the marks of His authority, but has jettisoned all acknowledgement of God’s current and future rule. (Man over Lord equals man overboard.)

Further back from Machiavelli, we hear the Old Testament prophets reminding us that the world must not fall to ignorance and complacency. When we hear this, we do well to listen because the pain and suffering of history is broadcasting warnings into the present; warnings about the ensuing calamity of ideological crusades when they are served by men and women, under the promise of establishing ‘God’s kingdom without God in it’[vi].

In this case Barth’s words ring true:

‘where there is no genuine authority, so there is no genuine freedom. There is only action and reaction between despotic arrogance and an equally despotic despair.’
(Barth, K.1938 CD I/II Hendrickson Publishers p.668)

Christus Invictus!


References:

[i] Walter Brueggemann, 2005 TOT: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy Augsburg Press

[ii] Ephesians 1:5 ‘In love God predestined us for adoption as sons and daughters’ through Jesus Christ’

[iii] Machiavelli, N. 1513 ‘The Prince’ Penguin Classics, p.69

[iv] Ibid, p.63

[v] Ibid, p.97

[vi] Johnny Cash & U.2, ‘The Wanderer’

 

©RL2014; reposted 6th July 2017

 

A few years back I did an online retreat for a spiritual formations class I was taking. It was a core subject, with a large amount of flexibility in what classes you can choose from[1].

What was revealed to me during of one of these classes was the short but sweet statement, ‘aim to bless, rather than impress’. Recently, I found myself questioning it’s viability as a theological statement from which society can be critiqued.

I began wrestling with the question, is there ever an appropriate time to impress people? As a budding student theologian, I immediately started to critically work out a reasoned polemic.

The answer I came up with was no. There should never be a need to try to impress people, ever. If there is follow Paul’s advice and run, run far and run fast (2 Tim.2:22 ESV).

I’m a fairly confident guitar player, and I love a large variety of musical genres, so putting on a show is in my very westernized and socially engineered self-conscience. Throughout junior and senior high school, getting the latest riff right down to its semitone and crochet, determined a high level of social acceptance.

As a result I derived my sense of self-worth from how well I could play (i.e.: put on a show). In my pre-Christ alignment, this became an idol I obsessed over.

From hard learned experiences, for me appearance determined reputation and was therefore everything. The language of acceptance was, at least from my prespective, my musical ability.

The statement ‘aim to bless, rather than impress’ is counter-cultural. We know this because God’s standard is to ‘look upon the heart and not outward appearance..not as humans do’ (1.Sam.16:7).

This means that a statement like aim to bless rather than impress, is the ordained orientation for humanity, even if it is not always the reality. This statement appears on the ‘horizon of the possibility’s of grace’ (Leonard Ravenhill).

Father, Son and Spirit rushes towards us, not unlike the prodigal’s father running towards his son, undeterred by his “wasteful” public display of affection, joy, gratitude and forgiveness (Lk. 15:17) [2].

For now, I have concluded that humans are called to be bothered with how we bless people, as opposed to how we impress them. This does not mean I give up on performing, it means that I resist any area in my life where my performance, worth and acceptance is tempted to become about simply just ‘putting on a show’.

Today, I was reading my news feeds and stumbled across this relevant gem by Wendy Murray:

”Your worth, and mine, cannot–I dare say, must not — be reduced to “likes,” “retweets,” “shares,” and “mentions.” Your worth and, mine; your influence on others’ lives, and mine, have nothing to do with measureable algorythms. It is a lie…be who you are, before God. Do what God made you to do. Look people in the eye. Show up. That is enough’’

What that all means is this:

In order to express excellence we must only do our best! Outside simply giving our best, the contemporary ”virtue” of excellence and the quest for it can become an idol.

In doing so we live out of a darkened sense of self-worth dictated to us by others, instead of God’s idea of who we are. When we aim to bless, rather than impress, we set our feet on the Christological reality that says,

‘it is only from God that men and women know who they are’ (Bonhoeffer 1966, p.31).

This is the only measuring stick, and from it we ‘intuitively recognize that we, ourselves are more than what has been defined for us’ (Cone paraphrased p.11, 1975).

Give thanks, for “we are found”… (David Crowder)


References:

Bonhoeffer, D. 1966 Christology William Collins Sons and Co Ltd, London

Cone, J.H. 1975, God of the oppressed Orbis books, Maryknoll, N.Y

(Edited from an article originally posted in 2013)


[1] I plan to write on some of my experiences, if I get the time to formulate them into a coherent and linear framework.

[2] Luke 15:17 ‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (ESV)

Photo by José Martín on Unsplash

The contents of Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War and The Bible are unrelated. They are, by any quick comparison, worlds apart. The Art of War is a masterpiece in military organisation and strategy. It’s a sage, giving the wealth of a sage’s advice to all who would follow his counsel closely.

The Bible is a collection of books, filled with multiple genres, following centuries of the same consistent theme: God’s faithfulness. Testified to from multiple authors, God’s faithfulness often jars in contrast to human unfaithfulness, both towards each other and towards God Himself.

These include eyewitness accounts, poetry, proverbial wisdom, historiography; prophecy, a litany of apocalyptic predictions, historical letters and genealogies.

The Art of War is a manual. In it the wisdom and experience of Chinese Army veteran, Sun-Tzu is encapsulated in a list of haiku like principles. Whereas The Bible, from start to finish moves from point to point testifying to the revelation of God; as He slowly raised and continues to raise humanity, through Covenant, promise and fulfilment, up out of humanities trajectory towards inhumanity and self-annihilation.

What The Art of War and parts of The Bible share in common is the way in which truth and experience is communicated through metaphor, simile and poetic syntax.

For example:

‘A rushing torrent/carries boulders/on its flood; such is the energy/of its momentum’ [i] (Sun-Tzu, The Art of War)
‘Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Jesus Christ, Matthew 19:24, ESV)

There are truths expressed within both examples and experience is expressed.

The relationship between The Art of War and The Bible is established in its use of poetic language to recall history and communicate truths, through narrative and poetic prose.

Any question over commonality is therefore answered. The next question is, can there be any relevance between the two? Can The Art of War help us better understand The Bible?

My answer to this question is yes.

Though, it’s cultural setting, context, authorship, and in most areas its contents are worlds apart, sections of The Art of War can enlighten our perspective of ancient society, politics and warfare.

Much like Machiavelli’s, The Prince, The Art of War gives in insight into areas of human behaviour, organisation, rule and movement. These include leadership, social organisation, paradox (dialectic)[ii], relationships, management, hierarchy, strategy and, in a few specific places, the value of human life.

‘[Force] March ten miles for some gain/and two in three men will arrive’[iii] (Sun Tzu, The Art of War)

Relevance between the Bible and The Art of War can be found. Much of the first five books of the Bible, (the Pentateuch; Torah) discuss the state of the human race, God’s creation, liberation, government and ordering of humanity, centred within and viewed through the lens of His people.

God’s ordering, His governing where His leadership through a close friendship with Moses, is exemplified in the post Exodus, wilderness dwelling, Book of Numbers.

Here, Yahweh’s request under the Covenant with Israel is His way of bringing the Hebrews FULLY out of Egypt [psychologically & culturally, this was as much reformation as it was revolution]. As evidenced by the Golden Calf, one coup attempt, a number of formal protests and general disgruntlement about how much better things were under Egyptian rule. In other words, how much better things were under the rule of Egypt’s hybrid animal-human gods.

Yahweh is brought to trial. The just God is thrown unjust criticism and all manifestations of his grace through the miraculous provision and care given towards His people are forgotten.

The confrontation causes conflict, as Yahweh seeks to take their focus off the creature and put it onto the Creator; seeks to bring His people out of Egypt. To teach them that they are no longer under Egyptian rule, but are under His guidance, blessing, leadership; fatherhood – are united and reborn as the nation of Israel. The gods humans made are directly challenged by the God who made humans.

The victory is won, yet, Yahweh is still fighting against the influence of Egypt and the way of the Egyptian gods.

Throughout this contest, Yahweh is the model of a perfect General (Exodus 15). He avoids the pitfalls described by Sun-Tzu, even though, His people (and even Moses from time to time) fall right into them:

‘Recklessness – leading to destruction
Cowardice – leading to capture
Hot temper (manipulated or triggered into reacting poorly) – prone to provocation
Delicacy to honour (concern for reputation; perfectionism) – tending to shame
Concern for his men (easily swayed/influenced, people pleasing; concerned about offending them) – leading to trouble.’
(Sun Tzu, The Art of War)

Numbers teaches us that God perfectly hears us, has perfect self-control, can be provoked to anger, but is patient, quick to restraint and shows mercy, by way of warnings and provision.

   ‘These five perils to leadership demand the most careful attention’ – Sun-Tzu, The Art of War.

God is tolerant up to a point. At which time He makes that point known. Just as He did with those who opposed Israel, there is a point at which He chooses not to allow His people to advance, or they advance into the jaws of their enemies, both without and within.

 “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? – Jesus Christ, Luke 6:39

What Numbers alongside The Art of War teaches us is this: the pitfalls of a General are human pitfalls. That God is the perfect General, and that we fail, when we fail to follow Him into battle, in life and in death. Humanity fails when it fails to recognize or it chooses to reject, His grace. The grace that firmly holds us, even though we walk on the precipice of, and sometimes are forced to hang over, the abyss.

‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’
(Paul, Galatians 2:20, ESV)

References:

[i] Sun-Tzu, circa 500 BC. The Art of War: Potential Energy Penguin Ed. 2008 (p.26)

[ii] For example: ‘Orderly disorder is based on careful division; courageous fear on potential energy; strong weakness on troop dispositions’.

[iii] Ibid, pp.40-41

Image credit: Rembrandt, 1659 Moses Smashing the Tablets of the Law

tony_evans_the_urban_alternativeAmerican author and Pastor, Tony Evans of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship gave this response to the recent elections in the United States.

Delivered in a fourteen minute address to his congregation, Evans’ hits home the reality of the responsibility of the Church, both universal and local.

Directing the Church to look towards the Kingship of Jesus Christ, Evans called Christians to practice honor in disagreement; to maintain kindness and seek to provide a reasoned voice in the midst of global and domestic, conflict and uncertainty.

His sermon stands as a noteworthy example, in an otherwise dreary week flooded with politics, overreaction, propaganda and opinion.

Here are five of his top points:

First:

 “So, let’s get something straight about elections.The bible says that God puts up kings and tears kings down. So your vote whoever you voted for is never the final say so. The final so-say is what God either causes or allows.Now, you are to vote. I am to vote. We are to participate, but heaven rules.”

Second:

“Regardless of which way you voted God has created a gap that the church needs to take advantage of. Because how do we expect them to get along out there if we can’t get along in here [the Church].”
 “However you voted, whether democrat of republican, or write in independent, God doesn’t ride the backs of Donkey’s or Elephants. However you voted you are bound to be living like a kingdom man or kingdom woman, for the advancement of the kingdom of God. So our job is to demonstrate what it looks like when  people of God represent the King. Not the president, the King. In how we act, react, talk. When you see some of the things people are saying. Some of the attitude being displayed and then attach God’s name to it! It’s a contradiction.”

Third:

“The bible says, honour the king and the King he told them to honour was Nero and he was horrible, but you honour the position even if you disagree with the person.
And just like President Obama was dishonoured in many, many ways and that dishonour should be rejected, any dishonour of the position, even though we must address individual issues with the person, is unbiblical, unchristian and is evil.So do not let anyone hear, coming out of your mouth, dishonour, even though you may express disagreement. You represent the King. You represent Jesus Christ. And do so as an individual in what you say and how you interact, and react. What you train your children to think and to do. You saw some of the violence out there, it’s just unspeakable.
We have the right to protest, but we only have the right to protest to the help of others, not to the hurt of others.

Fourth:

In our community people ought to see when you step out in your job or in your school, or wherever you are, that you are kingdom citizen. A kingdom citizen is a man or woman who is fully committed to Jesus Christ, and their commitment to Christ seeks to bring heavenly principles into earth’s concerns.That’s what we do, we bring heaven to bare on it.”

Fifth:

“We don’t just replicate what everybody else is saying. Presidents come and go, there’s only one King that stays on the throne. So it is absolutely critical during this day of chaos and confusion that you go out of your way, that we go out of our way.
The bible says, Galatians 6:10, “Do good to all man as you have opportunity, especially to the household of faith.” So rather than fuss and cuss, cry and create havoc, let our good works speak for us. Let people see that we represent God’s house. Cause, trust me God’s not going to skip the Church-house to fix the Whitehouse.”

In the interest of full disclosure, this is the first time I’ve heard Evans preach. I know little about his theology, or personal political position. This said, his sermon is, to me, balanced and not overly directed to one side over the other. There is no blame. No lamenting. No evasion of individual responsibility.

This first and foremost is a sermon to his church. It should be remembered that this is not a political speech directed at a wider audience or any particular political personality.


Notes:

PDF transcript up to 14:23 [link]

Image source: Wikipedia, Tony Evans, The Urban Alternative, Creative Commons.

Barth quote 3In the footnotes of his segment on Karl Barth, Dean Stroud comments that the first part of the quote pictured to the left, is ‘one of Barth’s great sentences – to be read slowly and enjoyed greatly’[i].

I agree with this, although it is not complete without the second part – which I’ve added from the text.

There Barth is talking about what it means to understand that God’s permission to pray is also an invitation to exercise our new freedom in Christ. That is as responsive sinners called to pray, we are called to take part in what Eberhard Busch rightly calls the ‘first act of Christian ethics’[ii].

The theme of prayer as an expression of freedom in Christ, comes alive in light of the context.

The sermon Stroud is referring to is called ‘A Sermon about Jesus as a Jew’. It was written and delivered by Barth in Bonn on December 10, 1933. According to Stroud, ‘copies were made the following day, and Barth even sent a copy to Hitler.’[iii]

What grabbed me, reading this for the first time today, is the connection Barth identifies between prayer, praise, discernment and confession.

Barth writes that ‘we discern the word we hear, in order to confess it to one another.’ However, we don’t achieve this alone; ‘not through the power of our minds but through the power of the Holy Spirit’[iv] – {in my opinion another one of Barth’s ‘great sentences’}

He strongly asserts that:

 ‘Our text tells us simply to pray for the church that it become a church of discernment and confession. If only we then would once again pray for this unanimously!
What does it mean then to pray? To scream, to call, to reach out so that what is true once and for all time might be true for us: Christ has accepted us.
Ecclesiastical discernment and ecclesiastical confession would indeed follow such a prayer, if earnestly offered, as thunder follows lightning.
In the mutual accepting of each other as Christ has accepted us, it must follow that in the church of Jesus Christ all joylessness is on the way to becoming joy, all discord is at least on its way to becoming peace, all distress of the present moment would somehow finally be engulfed by the hope for the Lord’s presence.
…The thoughts of many people are occupied in this particular time more seriously than before with what it is that the church misses and what we miss in the church.
Let us note that our text does not speak about this, but rather where it could speak of such things, simply prays and tells us to pray to this God of patience, of comfort, and of hope, who is the Lord of the church.
…Perhaps this time has come upon us in the church so that we might learn to pray differently and better than ever before and thereby to keep what we have.’[v]

Its form and content, as far as sermons go are standard Barth. In addition, considering its close proximity to the Barmen Declaration (May, 1934) of which Barth was a primary contributor, it is fair to say that the events are connected to some degree.

Unfortunately, other than some well placed footnotes, Stroud doesn’t provide a lot of commentary on Barth’s thought and context. What Stroud does provide though, is an excellent introduction outlining the historical setting and the role Barth took on as a ‘chief advocate for a non-compromising response to the heresies’ [vi] such as the ”German Christian” movement, Nazi ideology, anti-Semitism and “positive Christianity.”


Sources:

[i] Stroud, D. (Ed.) Preaching in the Shadows of Hitler: Sermons of Resistance Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing p.73

[ii] Busch, E. 2010 The Barmen theses then and now: the 2004 Warfield lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing p.47

[iii] Barth, K. December 10, 1933 A Sermon about Jesus as a Jew, in Stroud, D. (Ed.) Preaching in the Shadows of Hitler: Sermons of Resistance Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing p.64

[iv] Ibid, p.73 & p.74

[v] Ibid, pp.73-74

[vi] Ibid, p.63

Augustine’s Bells

December 19, 2015 — Leave a comment

Two bells Smaller Canvas project NEW Large 2 with JESUS Final

 

‘Rejoice, you just (Ps 33:1); it is the birthday of the Justifier. Rejoice, you who are weak and sick; it is the birthday of the Savior, the Healer. Rejoice, captives; it is the birthday of the Redeemer. Rejoice, slaves; it is the birthday of the one who makes you lords. Rejoice, free people; it is the birthday of the one who makes you free. Rejoice, all Christians; it is the birthday of Christ.’ [i]
– Augustine, On Christmas Day. Circa 412 A.D.

 


 

[i] Augustine, Saint; Doyle, D. & Hill, E. Essential Sermons  New City Press (p. 244).

 

The information revolution may one day be described as the age of politics, power and propaganda.

It’s good to know the differences and to act justly on them.

 ‘Do not become slaves of men [or women].’
– (Paul, 1 Corinthians 7:22-23, ESV)

 

ThoughtsonSocialMedia_blogpostMay1st2015