Pastor Leininger (01-10: "St. Titus")
Dr. John C. Rhodes (11-10, "Isn't It Ironic?")
Dr. John F. Johnson ("Confronting the Ordinary")
Pastor Leininger (10-09, "Commentary on Genesis")
Pastor Leininger (2007, "Jacob's Story")
Dr. John F. Nunes (10-07, "Isaiah")
Pastor Jeff Leininger
"St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor"
January 26th, 2010 - Concordia University Chicago
Titus 1:1-9 (NIV)
"Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— 2 a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, 3 and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior.4 To Titus, my true son in our common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it."
In the name of the Living God and the Christ who has appeared to us. Amen.
This Titus guy makes me sick!—in a good way. You can read every reference to him in the New Testament, and look over church tradition concerning him, and you won’t find one bad word said about him. He’s like the pastor, principal, or church-worker at “St. Successful Lutheran Church and School.” You know, that person so good at ministry because you’re always told about him/her: “Pastor, how come you can’t preach like so-and-so?” “Hey, how come our school isn’t growing like so-and-so’s?” “DCE Intern, I’d like to talk to you about a few of the amazing things that are happening at ‘Bustin’-at-the-Seams-Crazy-Youth-Program-Community-Church’—why can’t we do that here?”
Yes, Titus is that guy. He’s hard-working, efficient, affectionate, successful, and of such integrity that they even choose him to deal with the money stuff! He’s a leader. Paul uses Titus to sort-out the big problems in parishes; he’s the go-to-guy for a new mission plant; he’s such an example that they call upon him when it’s time to appoint pastors in the churches.
In my mind there’s a reason that Titus, specifically, is called upon to exhort pastors with this long list of qualifications from Titus 1:1-9. Do you remember them? This is the list that “scares the ministry” out of any young pre-sem guy: blameless, faithful, with good and obedient children; not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, violence or dishonest gain; hospitable, lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, disciplined; holding firmly to the truth and sound doctrine. Any takers? If you’re like me, you hear this and you’re ready to do something else!
But as I was saying, my hunch (I can’t prove it), is that Titus is given this list because he was probably pretty good at keeping it. I’m not saying that he was perfect, of course. But, “to those who have been given much, much is to be expected”: Titus was given these important roles because he was also given the grace to fulfill them, and he did so with humbleness and sincerity.
(Oh, by the way, did I mention that Paul specifically wanted Titus to “winter” with him? So, Titus gets to vacation with the big guy, too!)
We all know people like this—or perhaps we think we know people like this, as we judge ministry and service from the outside, as the world does. We don’t know what struggles Titus may have had in his heart. But I will tell you this from pastoral experience working with many church workers: with success in ministry, there remains a great danger, too—the danger of idolatry. Those who are good at what they do for the Lord, who are gifted and could have succeeded in any number of professional fields, whose churches and schools are flourishing, who conduct themselves with “integrity, creativity, competence and compassion” (mission statement plug)—these servants are in the greatest danger of idolatry, the sin of thinking that success in ministry is dependent upon them.
It is such a temptation. We can imagine it was for Titus, too— although we are never told this. The temptation is to feel that unless I throw everything into this congregation, it will fail. Or, unless I personally resurrect this failed ministry, I’ve let the church down. Or, I have to fill up my schedule with so many appointments and programs and activities because the church and the Lord couldn’t possibly get by without me (as if the Lord didn’t get by without me for a couple of thousand years before I entered service; and the gates of hell will certainly break-open, wreaking havoc upon the church the day I retire! Right? (As if!) This is the idolatry of success in ministry, and it is the greatest temptation for the greatest, most talented and most successful servants—like Titus.
But there is a flip-side, as well. There is the idolatry associated with success in ministry, but there is also the idolatry associated with failure. The “idolatry of success” leads to arrogance; the “idolatry of failure” leads to despair. Those whose ministries are shrinking, who aren’t as sharp, efficient, or talented as Titus; who maybe couldn’t have been that successful in other fields (honestly); who seem to just plug along in ministry, barely keeping things moving—these servants have the danger of thinking that God can’t work through their weaknesses. They might say to themselves, “God’s too small to actually be able to use someone as pathetic as me.” Or, “the God who made heaven and earth and redeemed the whole world can’t possibly redeem my ministry when it falls flat.” Or, “the word and the truth of Christ is just not strong enough to prevail when I fail miserably.” (As if!)
It is two sides of the same idolatrous coin: either one places us at the center. The “idolatry of success” in ministry says that God can’t possibly do it without me; the “idolatry of failure” in ministry says that God can’t possibly do it with me.
Yes, we are caught either way. Isn’t that just the way Satan works? He gets us if we’re successful; he gets us if were stumbling, and in either case he tries to stick us right in the place where God is supposed to be.
That’s why St. Paul starts this letter to Titus with the gospel. The first three verses of this letter to this remarkable servant, Titus, are saturated with the assurance that it is God’s work: He began it, He will continue it, and He will see it to its end for His purposes. Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Church—we are his slaves. The Lord chooses who will serve, and appoints the talented, successful and efficient, as well as the sluggish and the stumbling. It is faith alone which, in the end, not only saves us, but enables us to press on amid times of success and also failure. It is the truth of Jesus Christ—the final word on all of us—given from the God who cannot lie, which bespeaks us righteous, pure, and undefiled in the cross and resurrection. It is the promises of God, spoken before any of us started any ministry (good, bad, or just so-so), spoken before the law was given, spoken before time itself was forged in the beginning—it is these eternal promises of God fulfilled in Christ which sustain the Church, and sustain those who serve the Church: the superstars (like Titus), the failures, and all of us who are a bit of both.
Come soon Lord Jesus. Amen.
Dr. John C. Rhodes, PhD
Concordia University Chapel, 11/23/10
Last Week of Church Year, Proper 29c, Luke 23:27-43
Isn’t It Ironic?
Grace, mercy and peace be yours from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. AMEN.
Dr. Rogner from our English department led our theological meditation in chapel yesterday. So, I thought that it might be fitting if I, as a theologian, led a language-focused meditation of our Gospel reading in today’s chapel. Is this being inter-departmental? Perhaps. But, it isn’t ironic. And that’s what I’d like to focus on today, the topic of Irony, and to some extent Sarcasm as featured in our text.
Now, as I understand it, there are two main forms of irony, verbal and situational. Typically, verbal irony is when the intended meaning of a statement is the opposite of its surface meaning. For example, when your professor says, “I think it’s really great that so many of you were able to get an early start on your Thanksgiving vacation rather than coming to class on Tuesday.” Verbal irony often becomes Sarcasm, when its intent is to biting critique. Situational irony, on the other hand, is when the contrast occurs between actual events and what one would expect. A 20th century Canadian poet, Alanis Morissette, describes similar such situational irony and her poem Ironic. She begins:
An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day
It's a black fly in your Chardonnay
It's a death row pardon two minutes too late
And isn't it ironic... don't you think … yes I really do think.
Today’s Gospel reading is full of situational irony, and even some sarcasm.
Consider the scene of the women lamenting and mourning for Jesus, and yet Jesus says that they should rather weep for themselves. The irony of the situation arises when we realize that since the death of Jesus fulfills the Old Testament sacrificial system, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple would follow. Or consider, how the soldiers and religious rulers intended a sarcastic use of verbal irony, as they mocked Jesus who looked like a crucified criminal by calling out, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the chosen one.”
And then … the statement that would seem the most ironic—the most sarcastic—is the one which the context doesn’t allow us to see as ironic at all. First, one criminal rebukes the other saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?” The same sentence of condemnation as God!? And then! This criminal turns to Jesus, a man hanging as a criminal, dying, breathing his last, and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” … It sounds like irony. It sounds like sarcasm. But, in fact, it is faith.
… For you see, the true irony of the situation was disclosed not by this criminal but by the other one, the one who said, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” And by dying, and rising again three days later, that’s exactly what Jesus did. Isn’t it ironic? Do you think? Yes, I really do think. … Without any sense of irony, we preach a crucified king. AMEN.
CONFRONTING THE ORDINARY
Dr. John F. Johnson
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. God’s word engages us through the account of the Lord’s temptation recorded by St. Matthew in the 4th chapter of His Gospel. “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and nights, He was hungry. The tempter came to Him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written…’ Then the devil left Him, and angels came and attended Him.”
I trust I am not betraying a confidence if I frankly admit that winter term at the University is not the most exciting time of the year. This is all the more true, perhaps, of the days right after Christmas break. The holiday festivities are over. Exams loom large, classes have become mundane. The exciting, peak days have come few and far between. Even when they came they have been followed by the “letdown” of the ordinary days.
This is, of course, a fact of human experience—not just a fact of educational experience. But most importantly for us today, it is a fact of our religious life. There are many luminous moments when God seems very near and very real. But those moments are always followed by the ordinary days. And if there are going to be moments of crisis in our faith, nine times out of ten it will not be in moments of dramatic spiritual exuberance, but rather in times which the medieval mystics used to call the “dry periods”—the days when nothing much happens and God seems on the periphery of our lives. On those days it is easy to lose faith in God.
That is why the temptation of Jesus speaks so directly to our situation. Possibly at no other point in His life did Christ stand so close to our experience as here. To be sure, we may not be able to appreciate fully the struggle that He went through in those forty days. But in the timing of it, in its dull and dreary setting, it speaks pointedly to the hazards of our own spiritual lives.
There are three things to note about the temptation:
In the first place, Matthew’s use of the little word, “then.” “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted…” The temptation followed immediately after a peak day for Christ—the glory and exaltation of His Baptism. One day it was the heavenly glow and the divine assurance. “This is my beloved Son…” The next day it is a lonely man in the wilderness listening to a different voice: “If you be the Son of God…”
You and I have known that type of experience. We have known peak days: a chapel service which seemed to particularly fit our needs; an unforgettable moment on a spiritual retreat when our life was brimming over with meaning and joy. We have had those peak days. But the peak days were always followed by the days when the trivial and the routine crowded in, when the commonplace all but smothers us.
There can be no doubt about it. The dangerous days for a person’s faith are the dull, drab days. The danger lurks in the ordinary days when the monotony stretches from morning until night—days like the forty in the wilderness when there is no ecstasy. Then the temptation comes.
Secondly, this text suggests how inevitable it was. Christ was “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted.” The Spirit which descended upon Him at His baptism is the same Spirit which now drives Him into the wilderness.
But again, this is true of our experience is it not? We can avoid the danger of ordinary days by making sure that there are no extraordinary ones. A person who never risks his faith is never tempted. But when one does one inevitably opens his or herself to the temptation of disillusionment. There is the kindness and concern you have offered to a fellow student and it is thrown back at you. And you begin to wonder whether it is worth it. Let’s face it! It is inevitable. So long as there is evil in this world we are going to encounter difficulties, frustrations, and heartaches. We are going to ask, “Can days like this bring me closer to God?” This unheroic life of tuition bills and disabled automobiles and part-time jobs—is this any life for a child of God, we ask.
Many people think not and Satan keeps trying to make them think there is an escape. That was his strategy with the Lord. Each time the devil approached Him, remember, it was with the suggestion to try something sensational to break the monotony of those days in the wilderness. “Change stones into bread,” he whispered. “Throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple, you will be caught by angels.” It was all an attempt to trap Jesus into thinking He could escape the ordinary days by resorting to the exciting and the sensational.
But notice the third thing about the account—how to meet the temptation when it comes
Jesus met the tempter at every point with a quotation from Scripture: “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” Here in the wilderness He was simply obedient to what He knew of the Father.
And so with us. It is inevitable that we shall meet temptation in the wilderness of ordinary, humdrum days. And the response is to not look for some startling experience of the presence of God, but rather to give expression to faith in simple acts of obedience. To reflect upon the will of God in His Word. To say our prayers whether or not we feel like praying. To attend our daily duties and responsibilities on campus and off whether or not they seem appropriate for a child of God.
For mark this well. It mattered not a bit how Jesus felt! From a human standpoint, I suppose, He did not especially feel like the Son of God—tired, weak, and hungry. But it did not matter how He felt. He simple trusted and obeyed.
Nor does it really matter how we feel. You say that you don’t feel very much like a child of God spending your days in the library and your nights at the computer keyboard. And I say that it doesn’t matter how you feel. All that really matters is how God feels about you. A parishioner came to Martin Luther fraught with doubt, anxiety, and frustration—a 16th century version of a modern identity crisis. And Luther simply asked him one question: “Yes, but are you baptized?” That tell us how God thinks of us every day.
And how does it all conclude? “Angels came and attended Him.” God, who had been with Him all along, of course, now makes His presence known.
That is our assurance as well. If it is inevitable that we shall be tempted by the dull, ordinary days of university life that stretch before us, and if it is required simply that we be found faithful, we can be assured of His presence too. His presence in a Man—a man as common-ordinary as bread, who knew our suffering and for us spilled His own blood, who gave Himself to us on a common cross, who tells us that He wants us even on our common days and in our unexalted, painful moods.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
The Festival of St. Luke, Evangelist
Friday, October 17, 2008 - Concordia University Chapel
Pastor Jeff Leininger
In the name of the Living God and His risen Christ. Amen.
So what do I do when God doesn’t heal? It is a strange question to ask on the festival commemorating St. Luke. One of the few details we know about him is that he was a physician. Thus, on St. Luke’s day, churches throughout the world emphasize healing ministry, healing services, and the power of the gospel to heal the deep wounds of the spirit. It is also an important day for traditional denominations like Lutherans and others. When we hear the phrase, “healing ministry”, we often think of a televangelist making lots of money convincing people that, if they just believe hard enough, a miracle will happen. Today is a good day to be reminded that we are, indeed, asked to pray for actual, literal, physical healing in the lives of people; and that, yes, it is permissible to pray for miracles.
But what happens when the miracle never comes? What do we do with St. Luke, then? More importantly, what do we do with God?
A man prays for his sick son, dying of childhood Leukemia (it is true that you have never really prayed in earnest until you have prayed for your own child). He prays urgently, repeatedly, without ceasing. He prays on St. Luke’s day, perhaps. But when the time comes, he will hold his dying son’s hand, and then have to let go. What happens when God doesn’t heal?
This toughest of theological questions (which is also the most practical) applies not just to physical healing, but to emotional and spiritual healing, as well. The matriarch of the family dies, and has left her estate in good order. But when it comes time to divide up the assets equally among the children, there are problems. The large estate drives a wedge between flesh and blood as the family argues over who gets what and how much each item is worth. There is quarreling, then bitterness, then hurt, then deep wounds, then an un-reconciled family. One of them—the “religious one”—prays and prays for healing, but it never comes. What happens when God doesn’t heal?
Or again, take the wounds of sin in our lives. There is a complex tangle of those things we have done to cause pain, those things done to us, and those things whose painful origins we may not every be able to completely unravel. These wounds hurt. They are deep. We pray for the Lord of life and healing to reach deep into our sin-scarred souls to bind-up our spiritual wounds. But sometimes the pain goes on.
What happens when God doesn’t heal? It is the toughest question of theology, but also of life. And to be honest, there is no quick, easy answer for those of us who believe in a God who loves us, who is all-powerful, and who actually cares about the world’s deep wounds of sin and suffering. But instead of throwing out St. Luke, today, the best place to begin to look for answers is not so much toward St. Luke the Physician / Healer, but to St. Luke the Evangelist.
From the beginning of the Gospel according to St. Luke, when the angels bring the glad tidings of the good news; to the parable of the lost sheep; to the words of the beloved son of God, crying out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”; to the road to Emmaus; to the ascension of the risen Christ— the message of the gospel is not: “don’t worry, be happy, God will take care of all your troubles”. It is not, “if you only pray and believe hard enough a miracle will happen.” Rather, the message of the gospel is that even amid the deep wounds of body, mind and spirit, God in Christ is still with me. Even when a miracle does not happen, the love of God draws near to me. Even when everything else tells me he is far away, I believe he will never leave me or forsake me. This is the miracle of faith, which is the greatest miracle of all.
We, who call ourselves Christians (or followers of “the way” as Luke would have labeled us), are bold enough to believe that it is precisely in the midst of suffering that Christ is to be found. In the cross and suffering of the perfect son of God, on our behalf, even our incurable wounds are given meaning and purpose for His glory.
If we turn towards the conclusion of Luke’s gospel account, the disciples are wounded in spirit. They are startled, frightened, and hurting just before the resurrected Christ appears to them. But note how St. Luke records Jesus’ appearance to them in chapter 24. The Lord stands among them, bringing them peace, yet still wounded. Jesus has been resurrected; he is alive and triumphant. But still he bears the wounds of the crucifixion: “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see…” (Luke 24:39 NIV)
Do you remember the great Advent hymn, Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending? Stanza three asserts, rightly, that when Christ returns:
"Those dear tokens of his passion
Still his dazzling body bears,
Cause of endless exultation
To His ransomed worshippers.” (LSB 336, emphasis added)
Even the risen Christ still bears his wounds, because they are a reminder of the depth of his great love for us, even amid suffering; even when our prayers appear unanswered.
On this St. Luke’s Day, we are asked to pray for healing—for those in great physical need, for those who wrestle with demons of the mind, and for those whose spirits still bear the wounds of sin. We are also to pray for miracles. But St. Luke the Evangelist (and not the physician) bids us to believe, above all, something else: the love of God revealed in the wounds of Christ, given for each of us in every circumstance— in times of miraculous healing but also in times of continuing pain and struggle. His love is shown in his wounds, which will never fade from our sight.
Come soon, still wounded Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Jeff Leininger
Pentecost 21c (LSB)
"22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, a because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, b saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, c and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon. (NRSV)"
In the name of the Living God and His risen Christ. Amen.
Welcome to the greatest bible story a ten-year-old boy could ever hear! It’s World Wrestling Entertainment… Sanctified! I remember hearing this story in my Lutheran grade school, looking at the pictures in the old CPH curriculum, and wanting to act this one out with my brother at recess.
But no sooner do you hear these words, and even a ten-year-old begins to ask tough questions: Does God really wrestle? And if he does, can he really lose? And if he starts to lose, would he really “cheat” by wounding someone’s hip tendon? And perhaps the most important question for a ten-year-old at recess: which “wrastler” would you rather be: the God who loses but still remains God; or the man who wins, but will be on the injured reserve list for the rest of his life?
As is the case in so many of the narratives in Genesis, this story’s child-like simplicity hides its deeper meaning. As in the creation account, the Fall into Sin, the Tower of Babel, and the Sacrifice of Isaac, as we mature in the faith we realize that we are not just acting these stories out at recess. We are acting them out in life. In the case of “Jacob” becoming “Israel”, we see ourselves there: waiting at a crossing-point in life, striving with God, not letting go until we receive a blessing. And I would wager this morning that, if we are really honest with ourselves, there is not a person in this chapel who hasn’t felt like they are struggling with God.
In our circles, it’s not kosher to admit this. We are in conflict with Satan, obviously. We fight with each other— oh, do we ever! We even admit to struggling with ourselves, sometimes, in honest moments. But struggling with God?! Oh, no, that would be unbelief! That would be the unforgivable sin! That would show weakness! That would be so NOT, “Here I stand, I can do no other!”
But I think this is our best entry point for us into Jacob’s story. There is “Sanctified Wrestling”. Good, solid, talented, pious, church-workers strive and struggle and sweat and sob and suffer with God. It is sanctified when we realize that we are striving with Him; it is sanctified when, in spite of it all, we refuse to let go; it is sanctified when, no matter how hard the struggle or how deep the wounds, we still long for His blessing.
Jacob at the Jabbok stands at a ford in his life. Behind him is Laban, and the fourteen years of effort, and conflict, and mistakes. In front of him is Esau, with whom he had been wrestling since the womb, and who now stands before him with 400 armed men. Jacob is down to the last rabbit in his hat of tricks: he divides everything he has into two groups for protection, and then sends a series of lavish gifts to pacify his angry brother. There would be no turning back; and there was only great fear and anguish going forward, so he spends that night alone, praying, wrestling with God, holding onto the promise: God, you said… “I will make your descendants like the sands of the sea shore…”
It is also the Word of Promise which causes us to strive with God, not let go until we receive the blessing, see him face to face, and find relief by the rising sun: “God, I don’t understand what you’re doing, but I won’t let go. God, why haven’t you heard my cries… but I won’t let go. God, it’s not fair that I have to carry this… but I won’t let go. God, a lot of this doesn’t make sense right now… but I won’t let go. God, serving you has not been what I expected… but I won’t let go, because of your Word of Promise.”
This is how we defeat God. (Luther’s words, not mine! Luther’s, version of sanctified wrestling: “Here I wrestle, I can do no other?!”) Faith “defeats” God, in the end. Faith defeats God, because in the greatest sanctified wrestling match ever, the descendant of Israel, Jesus, the God-Man Messiah, strove with God on our behalf. We hold onto this Word of Promise, beyond anything else we experience in our lives or in our striving with God. Jesus did not let go of the justice of God; and did not let go of the love of God; and did not refuse the cup of wrath; and did not turn from the will of God; and did not let go of the suffering that was necessary; and he did not turn away from the wounds that would heal us.
In the descendant of Israel, the God-Man Messiah, we have our Word of Promise. This means, whatever God might throw at us, our answer is always, “God, you said…in Jesus, the word made flesh.” Baptized into Christ’s name as the new Israel of Faith, we, the new “Strivers with God” are given life and salvation and endurance. And with His rising on the third day, we are given the morning of welcomed resurrection relief. Jesus is our Word of Promise; our new name; our strength amid our striving; our blessing at the rising son; our permission to continue “Sanctified Wrestling”.
Come soon Lord Jesus. Amen
 AE, Commentary on Genesis, vol. 6, at chapter 32:26
Pastor Jeff Leininger
Thursday, Oct. 15th, 2009
Concordia University Chicago
Genesis 11:1-8; Revelation 21 and 22
"Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 6 The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel—because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth."
In the name of the living God and his risen Christ. Amen.
I like to call it “Leininger’s little heresy”. If you take out your Concordia Self-Study Bibles, and look up Genesis 3 you’ll find these words in large italic print: The Fall of Man. Now, the headings in our Bibles are not part of scripture, and as I read through the Bible, it seems to me that there never really was a “fall” at all. But before you condemn me for heresy, allow me to explain. If we look at the way the Bible describes sin and our sinful condition, there’s not much “falling” going on. There is, however, a lot of climbing: people climbing over each other for their own advancement; people striving to take the place of God.
This “climb” into sin started at the very beginning: what is the essence of Adam and Eve’s transgression in the garden? How does Satan say it? “You shall be like God”. Satan wants to take God’s place in heaven; Eve wants to be like God; Adam climbs over Eve to get higher, still. Then when their sin is exposed, the blame goes right back down the line: Adam blames “this woman you gave me”, Eve points the finger back at Satan, “he tempted me and I ate”, and Satan is left slithering in the dust.
The Genesis account for this morning is the “climb” all over again, but this time on the scale of peoples and nations. Humans bind together to build up a tower which climbs to the heavens. In their arrogance they want to establish a monument to themselves, but the judgment upon them is that they are ultimately scattered and disunited.
In this text we have an image of the way this continuous “climb of sin” works in all people of all time: arrogance always divides. You can be absolutely right about something—a point of doctrine or what’s needed in a particular relationship, but if your motive is the building of your own self-importance, no matter how right you are, you’re always wrong. You can be the most talented musician in the school, but if the music becomes about you, no one will want to perform with you. You can be the best athlete on the team, but if you’re only in it to make a name for yourself, the team will lose every time. You can be the brightest theologian, scholar, or professor, but, if your knowledge is used just to build-up your own ivory tower of Babel, it will one day, sooner or later, come crashing down. Arrogance always divides. It did at the beginning, with the ‘Climb of Man”; it did at Babel in Genesis chapter 11; it did with James and John who were looking for the seats of honor, one at the right and one at the left of Jesus; and it does so here, at Concordia.
Is there no hope for us? There is, but we have to go all the way to the end of the Bible, to Revelation chapters 21-22 for it. There we find the image of the New Jerusalem, coming down, out of heaven, not climbing up; there we behold all nations and languages streaming up to it, in the unity found only in Christ.
There could be no greater contrast between the raising up of Babel and the coming down of the New Jerusalem. At Babel we find the Tower built by men reaching up; in the New Jerusalem, we see the Holy City established by God descending down. At Babel, we find man in pride climbing up to be like God; in the New Jerusalem Christ in humbleness has become a man. At Babel, there is arrogance which leads to disunity, and many voices scattered throughout the land; in the New Jerusalem, there is unity, and all the people of the earth brought together in Christ. Babel leads to death and destruction; the New Jerusalem brings healing and life. Babel has man at center; the New Jerusalem, the Lamb upon the throne. Babel has the establishment of the curse; in the City of God, the curse is taken away. At Babel they try to establish man’s name; in the New Jerusalem God’s name is placed upon them. At Babel, though they come together, they are scattered; in the New Jerusalem, though they are divided, they are gathered together.
The good news for all caught in this arrogant, disunited, climb of sin is found in Christ, the Lamb upon the throne, who reigns at the center of the New Jerusalem. All baptized into his death and raised again through faith in his resurrection are given forgiveness, salvation and peace. We are cast-down from our towers of arrogance, and re-established as His humble creatures. Though we are part of this perpetual climb of sin, in Christ we are brought into the New Jerusalem as a gift—freely, because of his work. In this we rejoice in the power of his salvation for us; and we celebrate his gracious presence among us as the God who descended into humanity.
May the grace and forgiveness of Christ, who brought himself low for the sin of our climb, establish his New Jerusalem among us, here in time and there in eternity.
Come soon Lord Jesus. Amen.
Dr. John Nunes, President, Lutheran World Relief
Founders’ Day, Concordia University Chicago, October 12th, 2007
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
I must admit, I was a little leery about whether or not Dr. Bertels would let me back on campus after I did a drive-by as a theology professor last year, so, thanks Pastor Leininger for sneaking me into the pulpit on this Founder’s Day. I should be safe behind this stone fortress way up here.
I’m elated to report that we’re in a good spot in Baltimore. Monique, my wife is principal at Baltimore Lutheran Middle School thanks to, among other things, a glowing recommendation from Pastor Harry and I’m fully engaged as President of Lutheran World Relief in Baltimore;
Taking a lesson from President Johnson’s wisdom, he advised me to begin the presidency there by listening, the best leaders lead with their ears. So, I interviewed all 52 of our domestic staff in Baltimore..
One question was this:
What is it about you that connects you to LWR?
I was thrilled to hear stories of deep vocational commitment, a sense of calling to the work, more than a simply a way of making a living, but as a way of building livelihood among those we serve in 35 counties.
I was thrilled to hear the deep commitment to the LWR vision. mpowered by God’s unconditional love in Jesus Christ, we envision a world in which each person and every generation lives in justice, dignity and peace.
I wonder what Isaiah might say if we were to interview him in light of our hearing this pivotal periscope. Isaiah 6 this morning -- what is it about you, Mr. Prophet, that connects you to your calling this morning. They call you the fifth evangelist, you are quoted more than 250 times by other biblical writers, and yet today we see you shaking in the face of your calling, What’s up?
Taking a page from Dr. Eschelbach’s music collection, he might say, “I felt the earth move under my feet.” literally, I was minding my own business when absolute holiness intersected with human misery. And God placed a mandate in my mouth first he shook the foundations, and out of the smoke, he called me to speak and to act and myself to shake societal foundations with two kind of language.
The Lutherans of the future would call this Law and Gospel. Hard words like: “Oh rebellious children,’ says the Lord who carry out a plan, but not mine. who make an alliance, but against my will, adding sin to sin.”But he also invested me with the privilegeof speaking words of God’s own indiscriminate love: "Don't be afraid, I have redeemed you.
I have called your name. You're mine.
When you're in over your head, I'll be there with you.
When you're in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you're between a rock and a hard place, it won't be a dead end—
Because I am God, your stone fortress, you’re safe here with me.”
That’s what connects me to my calling…
Now, my question to you Concordia is this: what is it about you that connects you to your calling…
Yes, we have a foundation here, provided to us by those who founded this place, those who continue to FUND work here, but this is a starting place, a foundation, not an end in itself. Our God does not retreat from creation or run from global crises and I believe he continues to call and connect himself through the church to the problem of indescribable human pain on THIS planet…
And it might be as unpopular and uncomfortable for you in 2007 as it was for Isaiah.
Last evening I was privileged to be at a dinner of the National Association of Evangelicals, a conservative, occasionally fundamentalistic, organization of Christian evangelicals.
Bon Ki-Moon was the speaker. Anybody know who that is? I didn’t either until yesterday…he is the new Secretary General of the United Nations.
As he spoke I was impressed by the sense that people of faith are called to not retreat from the trenchant, recalcitrant complexities of this world, but are called into them!
OUT of our Lutheran loops, we are called INTO wider circles, we are called to shake thing up, maybe rattle a few cages, called by the same God who shook the foundations, we are called to speak and to act with genuine, generous Christian compassion on behalf of the bottom billion, those billion people who subsist on less than a dollar a day. Called to speak and act on behalf of those 10 million children who die from fully preventable deaths before their fifth birthday. Called to speak and act on behalf of those 1.2 million who die unnecessary deaths every year from a fully treatable illness. This is God’s will!
So, on this Founder’s Day, we praise the God in whom our calling is founded. I know my faith is founded On Jesus Christ my God and Lord. And this my faith confessing. Unmoved I stand on His sure Word. Our reason cannot fathom. The truth of God profound
Who trusts in human wisdom
Relies on shifting ground
God’s word is all-sufficient
It makes divinely sure.
And trusting in its wisdom
My faith shall rest secure.