Tag Archives: Gospel of Luke
I could not help but be struck at how small we’ve allowed this rite to shrink. How much of an inconvenience or an embarrassment it can become, stashed away in a private hour or squeezed in reluctantly between the Hymn of the Day and the prayers of the church. How rote and formal the process of question and answer, how routine the process for replicating cells in the Body of Christ. More mechanical than mystical. All the significance is still there, in the words and the actions—you are being drowned and raised up to new life, you are putting off the old self and putting on Christ, you are being brought into the Ark of salvation, but let’s be sure to schedule it on a weekend Grandma can be there and let’s make sure it doesn’t run longer than seven minutes because we have a stewardship update today.
The world is not a puzzle to solve. It’s a family to love. So much will change about our world, so rapidly. There will indeed be massive migrations and changing weather patterns and crises we can’t anticipate. We will be tempted over and over to yield to denial or despair—to fool ourselves or to refuse to look foolish. To be ridiculous or to be cynical. But Jesus shows us, and tells us, how to love the very thing we cannot preserve.
But in Luther’s thinking, and in the life of the church, the cross is much more than that. The cross is the way we know God. The cross is the way God chooses to be revealed in the world. We do not know God by our own wisdom, by our own good deeds, or by our perception of God’s mysterious power and glory. All of those things become idols. When we chase them, when we look for God in greatness or power or glory, we only run into a magnified version of ourselves
And because we find ourselves when we look for God, God chose to hide his glory where we would never think to put ourselves: in suffering.
Ask like a child. It was the sort of thing that, if I heard a preacher saying it fifteen years ago would have annoyed me no end. I want what I want, but I want to be good, to be right in my own mind to ask for it, to be convincing to God and myself. I want to trust my words, my intentions, my plans and projects, my goals. But Jesus says to simply ask God for your daily bread.
And more than that, the gate that the rich man built to keep Lazarus and the rest of the world out turns out to be a chasm that the rich man can no longer escape. He didn’t keep the world out. He locked himself in. The rich man is, in other words, getting exactly what he wanted. He just couldn’t see it at the time.
And for whatever it’s worth, I think he’s right. But as I thought about it this week, I realized that this author never said explicitly what he thinks makes a saint. If I were in charge of Messiah’s sainthood development program, how would I know one when I see one? What are the characteristics of a saint? And how do we know they are genuine and not pious frauds?
And the truth about people who do not fear God or respect humans is that they may look and sound and even feel tough, but in fact they are not. All it takes is the right kind of pressure to make the judge in the parable give in. The justice of the widow’s case is not his concern. His concern is only that he should not suffer or sacrifice for any particular outcome.
That is what I have hoped to impress upon you over these years of being together face to face around the words of our faith: Your very presence here is a victory. It infuriates the demons and thrills the saints and angels. Your very presence here puts you in the path of grace that you cannot earn and yet that claims all of your life. Your very presence here brings you to the throne of God, whether the sermon is memorable for two seconds after it ends or the hymns take off or you’re sad or angry or just not feeling it today. Christ has brought you home through danger and temptation and opened your voice to praise. That in itself is a victory. That is the resurrection from the dead.
As a society, we seem to have over-learned Jesus’s lesson about leaving the ninety-nine to find one who is lost. Or maybe it sounds more familiar than it really is. The stories that attract the heaviest tears and the loudest applause in our society are not stories of steadfast virtue. They are stories of ruin and redemption, of being lost and found. Think about it: would anyone have watched VH1’s series ‘Behind the Music’ if it featured a musician who stayed true to his wife, drank iced tea, and read books while he was on the road? Probably not.
So something really strange started happening to me after the birth of our daughter. I would be out with her somewhere, usually with one or both of the boys, and I would become obsessed with the thought that I had left her in the parking lot before we went home. And it was crazy, because I had just buckled her in. But your mind plays tricks on you.