Hearing unto Life

Romans 5:12-19 (Sermon)

On Ash Wednesday, Rev. Kennedy and I placed ashes on foreheads and whispered the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The alb became our sackcloth, the stole a millstone, and our words reminders that the wage and curse of sin is death. We anointed fragile and vulnerable people not with the oil of life, but with the ash of death.

The sermon carried a glimmer of hope, yet I was taken by the deep tenor of the service. Life eclipsed by death. The moment driven home when I placed ashes on the foreheads of my own children. My hands, my voice, my body–which gestated, nurtured, sustained, warmed, comforted and consoled my babies–delivered their sentence: death. Woven through the reminder of return to dust was the maternal apology that from this I cannot protect them. The great reaper knocks on every single door and collects.

Just as through this one person sin entered the cosmos and through [this] sin death, and in this way death spread into all humanity, on the basis of one all sinned. (Rom 5:12)

In Romans, Paul marries together sin and death in such a way that (grammatically) to tear one from the other would be to destroy both. The presence of death is evidence of the presence of sin.[1] That we die is, for Paul, evidence that something has gone terribly wrong. How has this come to be?

To answer, Paul, in vv. 13-14, yanks Adam out of Genesis 3 and makes him stand trial. Paul makes it clear it is not the Law that caused sin. (As if we could just get rid of the law to get rid of sin, if we did would only eliminate the exposure of sin.[2]) That there is death, which existed before the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai, there is sin because death is before the Law was.[3] For Paul, before there is the Law there is death, before death there is Adam and with him the “sin.” Before the manifestation of the “sin,” there is the problem.

What is this “problem that thrust all of humanity into the cold, boney arms of death?[4] It’s not an issue of will, it’s an issue of hearing.

The language Paul employs talking about the “sin” of Adam sounds more like mis-stepping and slipping[5] than willful disobedience. It’s aiming but missing the mark. It’s trying to walk but falling down. It’s being well intentioned and making a huge mistake. You can love and cause pain.

In v.19 things get interesting. It’s here we get the first reference to “disobedience” and “obedience.” Again, the words chosen for the discussion are built from the concept of hearing.[6] And herein lies the problem that precedes the “sin”: hearing wrongly v. hearing rightly. (Shema O, Israel the core of Jewish liturgy and would have been coursing through Paul’s veins.) Paul creates a scene where Adam misheard and (thus) mis-stepped.

Going back to Gen 3, to the intellectual cage match between Eve and the serpent, something revelatory occurs. When tempted with the “forbidden” fruit, Eve without hesitation tells the serpent, “‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die,”’” (Gen 3:2-3). Do you hear the problem? Eve misquotes the prohibition to the serpent.

In Genesis 2:15-17, Adam is created out of dust and is inspired by God’s breath. Then he’s brought into the garden to work and have dominion over it. “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die,’” (Gen 2:15-17). Who received the prohibition? Adam.  According to the narrative fluidity of the two chapters, who relayed it to Eve? Adam. What was the problem resulting in the situation at the tree? Not the ingesting of the fruit, that’s the wage (the fruit) of “sin” which partook of death. The problem: someone misheard.

Adam was spoken to first. And then Eve. One of them or both of them misheard. Did they love God? We can assume they did. Did they want to do poorly? No. They intended well and mis-stepped because the fundamental problem of humanity is hardness of heart resulting in a stiff neck preventing the hearing of hearing,[7] hearing so deeply that you do (Shema). We can be God-inspired, God-breathed creations, placed in paradise, and still have massive hearing problems.

Martin Luther explains that part of the original sin we are born into is not only a lack of uprightness in the entire (inner and outer) person, but a “nausea toward the good.”[8] Why is the idea of good, of God, so loathsome? Because it’s an issue of hearing. I hear God as a threat to me because I mishear. That God is and reigns comes to me as threat: threat to myself, my will, my reason, my perception of what is good, etc. The proclamation that God is is flat out offensive to me; it means I am not the queen I think I am.

Thus, when the law comes, it exposes my predicament, plight, and problem. In the Law’s ability to expose, I blame it for my predicament; ignorance is bliss. Had the law never come, I’d not know I was stuck. But now in seeing that I’m stuck, I’m angry, and I blame the law for my stuckness, which I was before the law came. But I blame wrongly because I hear wrongly.[9]

This is the original sin that we are born into. We are not evil and horrible, willfully bent on disobedience and destruction. Rather, we’ve genetically inherited poor hearing and this results in disobedience, missing the mark, and mis-stepping, and thus into death. To hear wrongly is to die; to hear rightly is to live. We need to be caused to hear rightly. The great Shema O, Israel[10] goes forth, but who has ears to hear so deeply that they hit the mark, step rightly, to walk and not slip?

Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. It is he who hears rightly, steps rightly, hits the mark and walks without slipping. He is God incarnate, the word made flesh[11] who proclaims the word of God, obeys the word of God, and performs the word of God he hears. Jesus proclaims the reign of God, he lives the reign of God, he is the reign of God. This is the one who is baptized by John in the river Jordan and hears God proclaim him as God’s divine son. This is also the one who has heard the word of God so well he will defeat the attacks of the evil one, being successful where Israel wasn’t. Shema O, Israel.

Just as we who are born of flesh are born into Adam’s imperfect hearing resulting in disobedience and death, we are reborn by hearing through the giving of ears to hear in the proclamation of Christ Crucified. In this encounter with God in the event of faith (hearing), we are brought through death and are recreated into Christ’s perfect hearing resulting in obedience.[12]

When God acts on behalf of God’s people, God doesn’t merely contend with “disobedience” (that’s what we do). God contends with the problem by giving the free gift of new, circumcised[13] hearts and spirits which lead to obedience.[14] God gives the free gift of the grace of and righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, making the unrighteous righteous. It is the grace of Christ that eclipses the sin of Adam;[15] it is the life of Christ that drowns out the death of Adam; it is the perfect hearing of Christ that resurrects all who are stuck in the death of the mishearing of Adam.[16] It is the supernova of Christmas and Easter that engulfs and swallows the sting of death.

It is Christ, the righteous one, who heals those who are lame, declares clean those who are unclean, gives sight to those who can’t see and hearing to those who can’t hear. It is Christ who is the free gift of God’s grace and righteousness.[17] It is Christ who speaks to those condemned to death as criminals with his pronouncement of acquittal and restores them to life. This is the substance of the church’s witness to the world in her speech and sacraments. In hearing rightly, we speak to and act rightly in the world. In hearing rightly, we are brought to the font and table, witnessing to our identification with Christ in his death and resurrection. And there we are anointed not with ash but with oil, sealed as Christ’s own and into his obedience, fed by Christ’s hand, hearing the comfort of the divine whisper, “This is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”[18]

 

 

 

[1] Luther LW 25. 298. “…if death comes by sin and if without sin there would be no death, then sin is in all of us. Thus it is not personal sin that he is talking about here. Otherwise it would be false to say that death had entered by sin, but rather we ought to say that it came by the will of God.”

[2] Luther LW 25. 303. “And thus it is not understood to mean that sin existed until the Law came and then ceased to exist, but that sin received an understanding of itself which it did not possess before. And the words of the apostle clearly indicate this interpretation: ‘But sin was not counted where there was no law,’ as if to say that through the Law, which it had preceded, sin was not abolished but imputed.”

[3] Luther LW 25. 298. “…sin was in the world before the Law was given, etc. (v. 13). Actual sin also was in the world before Moses, and it was imputed, because it was also punished by men; but original sin was unknown until Moses revealed it in Gen. 3.”

[4] Luther LW 25. 299. “Note how at the same time it is true that only one man sinned, that only one sin was committed, that only one person was disobedient, and yet because of him many were made sinners and disobedient.”

[5] Α῾μαρτα´νω: I miss the mark, I sinned, I made a mistake. η῾ παρα´βασις: the going aside, deviation, overstepping. το` παρα´πτωμα: the trespass, false step, lapse, slip, sin.

[6] Η῾ παρακοη´: the hearing amiss, by implication disobedience; imperfect hearing. η῾ υ῾πακοη´: obedience, submissiveness, compliance.

[7] Deuteronomy 30:6ff

[8] Luther LW 25. 299. What is original sin, “Second, however, according to the apostle and the simplicity of meaning in Christ Jesus, it is not only a lack of a certain quality in the will, nor even only a lack of light in the mind or of power in the memory, but particularly it is a lack of uprightness and of the power of all the faculties both of body and soul and of the whole inner and outer man. On top of all this, it is propensity toward evil. It is a nausea toward the good, a loathing of light and wisdom, and a delight in error and darkness, a flight from and an abomination of all good works, a pursuit of evil…”

[9] Luther LW 25. 307. “And this is true, so that the meaning is: the Law came and without any fault on the part of the Law or in the intentions of the Lawgiver, it happened that it came for the increasing of sin, and this happened because of the weakness of our sinful desire, which was unable to fulfill the Law.”

[10] Deuteronomy 6.

[11] John 1

[12] Luther LW 25. 305. Luther makes reference later to 1 Corinthians 15:22.

[13] Deuteronomy 30:6

[14] Ezekiel 36:24-27, Jeremiah 31:31-34

[15] Luther LW 25. 306. “This gift is ‘by the grace of that one Man,’ that is, by the personal merit and grace of Christ, by which He was pleasing to God, so that He might give this gift to us. This phrase ‘by the grace of that one Man’ should be understood of the personal grace of Christ, corresponding to the personal sin of Adam which belonged to him, but the ‘gift’ is the very righteousness which has been given to us.”

[16] Luther LW 25. 306. “Thus also original sin is a gift (if I may use the term) in the sin of the one man Adam. But ‘the grace of God’ and ‘the gift’ are the same thing, namely, the very righteousness which is freely given to us through Christ. And He adds this grace because it is customary to give a gift to one’s friends. But this gift is given even to His enemies out of His mercy, because they were not worthy of this gift unless they were made worthy and accounted as such by the mercy and grace of God.”

[17] Luther LW 25. 305-6. “The apostle joins together grace and the gift, as if they were different, but he does so in order that he may clearly demonstrate the type of the One who was to come which he has mentioned, namely, that although we are justified by God and receive His grace, yet we do not receive it by our own merit, but it is His gift, which the Father gave to Christ to give to men, according to the statement in Eph. 4:8, ‘When He ascended on high. He led a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.’”

[18] These final few thoughts in this paragraph are influenced by the profound work of Dr. W. Travis McMaken in his book, The Sign of the Gospel: Toward an Evangelical Doctrine of Infant Baptism after Karl Barth Emerging Scholars Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013. It was difficult to find one quotation to demonstrate how I was influenced—the entire book is a masterpiece. However, for the sake of space, I think this gets at the thrust of it: “The objective-subjective character of baptism as a mode of the church’s gospel proclamation confronts those baptized with the demands of the gospel thereby proclaimed. As mode of the church’s gospel proclamation, baptism confronts those baptized with the message that they were baptized in Jesus Christ’s baptism, died in his death, and were raised in his resurrection. This baptismal proclamation calls those that it confronts to, as Paul puts it, “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Such an exhortation requires neither a baptismal transfer of grace nor a baptismal ratification of personal commitment; rather, it flows from the objective-subjective and holistically particular installation of the church’s gospel proclamation within the history of those baptized.”233-34.

Dostoevsky and Dialectical Theology

Theological Examination of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment

Hi! I decided to talk about one of my favorite books because I was inspired by a group of students and my academic research. I had fun working on this video. I hope you enjoy it.(It’s a bit longer than I had hoped it would be, but I definitely said the things I wanted to…and could have said a lot more!).

 

In the Lap of Mary

Galatians 3:23-29 (Homily)

Help, I have done it again
I have been here many times before
Hurt myself again today
And, the worst part is there’s no-one else to blame

Be my friend, hold me
Wrap me up, enfold me
I am small and needy
Warm me up and breathe me

Ouch I have lost myself again
Lost myself and I am nowhere to be found
Yeah I think that I might break
Lost myself again and I feel unsafe…Sia “Breathe Me”

This is one of my favorite songs to turn to when I’ve had one of those days. The days defined as terrifically terrible, where everything I touched seemed to turn to dirt, my words fell like stones destroying rather than bricks building. One of those days where I was clearly the one in the wrong, where I failed badly, did that thing I swore I’d never do again…Those days where I wish water could truly wash me clean inside and out.

The feelings that surround me are those that are products of an internal monologue that is in dialogue with the law. There are two sides to the law. It can be both positive and negative. The positive side of the law is the side that creates structure and order in our school, in our town, state and even in our nation. Laws create order out of chaos. To follow the law in this way can bring comfort: I know what is expected and what to expect.

But the negative side of the law is the side of the law that exposes something about me I’d rather have hidden. That side of the law that brings to light what I’m desperately eager to keep cloaked in darkness. That I’m not kind. That I’m not good enough. That I’m a failure because I’ve failed once again. That I’m not who I like to think I am and not whom I’ve lead you to believe I am. The negative side of the law exposes the imposter and drags her into the light. This part of the law doesn’t strengthen me and highlight my talents and capabilities, reminding me how powerful I am; rather it draws to the surface my guilt and shame, that I’m lost and fragile, small and needy. “Be my friend, hold me/Wrap me up, enfold me…”

The book of Galatians does well highlighting both aspects of the law. Paul refers to the law as working with and not against the promises of God but that the law also functions as a disciplinarian in the life and mind of the person. To deny both aspects of the law is foolishness; it is even more foolishness to think that by the law one can avoid the negative aspect of the law. That is the relentless hamster wheel of perpetual performing and existential self-denial of mass proportions. Everything is not fine. We are not peachy-keen and better than ever, or “too blessed to be stressed” and certain no Christian colloquialism will alleviate the tumult under the surface.

The reality is we’re all pressed in on every side. And now more than ever as we slide full-speed into the end of the semester. Grades hanging in the balance: will you fail or will you succeed?  College acceptances and rejections? The yays and nays depend on whether or not you’ve done enough on paper. Have you done enough and in the right time? Family pressures; friendships under strain; anxiety and stress rising; mind, body, and soul longing for a moment, a breath, a safe place.

This safe place so longed for rests in the lap of Mary. After giving birth, Mary was ceremoniously unclean according to the laws of Leviticus. However, Mary gave birth not just to any child, but the son of God. Thus she was, after having given birth, holding and nursing the new born Christ, for the full duration of her uncleanness. Very God of Very God dwelt with his mother while she was unclean—impure, technically unable to be in the presence of God. Yet there she was: with God because He was with her, physically, in her presence and she in His. From the moment of His birth, Jesus had begun to silence the voice and demand of the law…the Law was found dumb in that moment. This is God with the guilty and shameful, the lost and fragile, the small and needy; this is Emmanuel, God with us.

During Advent we recall the long awaited event of the fulfillment of the promise of God: I will be your God and you will be my people and you will love me with all your heart, mind, soul, and body. We are brought to the one to whom the law directs and guides. The law’s reign as disciplinarian began to crumble the moment Christ was born; its ability to render a verdict about who and what you are was revoked when Christ died and was raised. Thus, the whispers of condemnation ricocheting in your head have been silenced; that fear of failure: stilled. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).

Christ has fulfilled the law relieving it from its role as disciplinarian; thus, we are not to remain in the condemnation of the law. Our guilt and shame, those terrifically terrible days and seasons in our lives don’t have the final word because Christ has taken our burdens and given us His light yoke. So, as we go toward the end here, be gentle with each other and be gentle with yourselves. We’re all battling our internal condemning monologues with the law. And remember: In Christ, you are the befriended, the held, the wrapped up, the enfolded. No matter how all those cookies crumble, you are the beloved and adored.

God is Love and God Loves You

Luke 13:10-17 (Homily)

The statements “God is Love” and “God loves you” are abstract concepts. I can tell you these things all day, but apart from concrete manifestation of that love in substance and action, both statements fall flat. We live in an era where words are tossed about, rapidly and thoughtless so. We say I love you to our friends and family and then in the next breath profess love to jellybeans. What then does love mean? In the predicament where there is little concern for the substance of language, the meaning of words, and the impact of nouns and verbs, how do I communicate to you love? What does “God is love and loves you” mean? A profession of love causing you to experience and believe that profession, means the profession needs substance, the landing has to stick; deed must follow word.

We encounter Jesus on the Sabbath teaching in a synagogue. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a woman appears having an ailment for 18 years. Luke explains: she is bent forward,[1] unable to raise herself up completely. Luke doesn’t tell us much about the woman. He only tells us that she’s suffered with this ailment for 18 years. For nearly two decades she existed in a curved-in state, unable to look up. Her eyes took in more of the ground than the sky; her face went unnoticed, turned toward the dust and dirt of her travels. The very face a mother adored, a lover loved, a child yearned for now hidden in plain sight. An identity hidden; she was merely a body in the crowd. 18 years nearly unseen. That’s a lifetime for some of you.

When she appears,[2] Jesus perceives her. In the midst of all the people attending the synagogue on the Sabbath, Jesus’s perception of her presence is identical to his question, “Who touched me?” in Luke 8, while being pressed in on all sides in a crowd. Luke loves highlighting Jesus’s divine attributes. One of those attributes is perceiving the people his society and the religious therein have ceased to perceive. Jesus sees those who have fallen through the cracks, those who have slipped off the grid, those who have been relegated to the fringe. Those who have been excluded and isolated? These he sees. And he doesn’t merely see, he perceives and he acts. Jesus loves these.

On any other day, that woman would’ve gone in and come back out without much notice. But not today; today, Jesus notices her very presence. And what does he do? He calls her to him. “Woman, you have been[3] set free from your infirmity.” And then he lays his hands upon her. In an instant (literally), she is set straight (again)[4] and (at the same time) is bestowing glory on God.

And, I am brought back to Genesis 2. The last time someone was this curved-in was when Adam felt the deep trial of isolation. In the presence of God, he longed for an other. As God gazed upon this turned in man, God said: it is not good that this man is alone. I will make a partner for him. And like the light and the dark on the first day, God pulled the man apart—taking one and making two. Just as light is its own substance and so too the dark, both the man and the woman were two complete individuals—they were equal but not interchangeable. Forever, in this swift movement of deft surgical precision, loneliness was lifted from Adam’s back and cast into the outer darkness to take up its kingdom where there is not. And God sat on his throne among the light, in the midst of the life of humanity in community in the cool of the verdant garden. And it was very good.

As Adam was set free from his infirmity of loneliness in divine intervention, so too this woman is set free. Jesus lays his hands upon her and separates her from her burden, from her isolation, from her oppression, from her exclusion. She now stands upright, for the first time in 18 years; she can see the bright light of day, the blue of the sky, the twinkling stars of night. As she stands upright, she gazes (again) into the eyes of those around her, to recognize and to be recognized in her identity. Jesus restores her to the dignity of her humanity articulated in upright posture. Not frail and hunched over, she stood tall and looked out, restored by the simple word and touch of Jesus the Christ, by his love. What was her life of burden and bondage is now relegated to the old age of what was; she is ushered into the freedom and liberty of the new age. And when that event of encounter happens with God, a thick and dark line is drawn in the sand between what was and what is and what will be; a line is drawn like the one created by the collapsing walls of water forever separating Israel from Egypt and their bondage and captivity.

In Luke’s brief story, he boldly describes the cosmic battle between God and the powers of sin and death. Jesus heals on the Sabbath and is chastised. He brings dignity and humanity to an old woman, and the ruler of the synagogue loses his mind.[5] After a stern, “Hypocrites!”, Jesus tightly correlates Satan (the powers of sin and death) to the religiosity of the rulers. According to Jesus, using the law to keep people bound in their burden and oppression is letting Satan have his way in the world. The law is good and can create and maintain freedom; but it should never be weaponized. When we love the law more than we love people, we are in the business of stripping people of their dignity and humanity. The law was made for humans, not humans for the law.

Back to the beginning, God is love because God is active and God’s activity is manifest in love loving, which is bringing freedom to the captives (in a real way). When I profess love, my love best look like this…

 

 

 

 

[1] More like “bent-forward-ing” the verbal aspect of the word doesn’t translate well into English.

[2] The word that is translated as “appear” in the text is technically “Behold!” which carries the same force of “suddenly there she was!” thus “appearing”.

[3] The perfect passive here has the force of an event that has occurred to the recipient that has ramifications into the present. In a sense, she will has been set free and will continue to be set free. Woe to anyone who attempts to reverse the divine action.

[4] Highlighting that she wasn’t always this way that at one point she could stand up straight.

[5] Quite literally, he is indignant, it’s the manner of his being in the current situation.

Law, Justice, and Faith

Sancta Colloquia episode 108 ft. Tim Fall

In this episode I come face to face with the law. Seriously. My guest is Tim Fall (Twitter: @tim_fall) and he’s a judge. Now, many of you may think that this might be my first time in front of a judge, but it’s not! I’ll save those stories for later…plus, a little allure never hurt. For now, let me talk about what Tim and I discussed. I’ve known Tim strictly through Twitter and have thoroughly enjoyed his Gospel-centric approach to the way he does theology: oriented toward the comfort for the beleaguered. Now, most of my beloved readers/listeners will know that I’ve a penchant for all things distinguishing Law and Gospel. So, when I found out that my Gospel-peddling friend, Tim, was also a judge my interest was piqued. How does one who is the categorical symbol of the law (a judge) proclaim the gospel so well? How is the distinction between the gospel and the theological function of the law struck when one spends the majority of their time upholding the civic function of the law? What I found out from my conversation with Tim is that it is important to maintain the distinction between the Law and the Gospel. One needs to let the law of the court and of society operate as the law and being detached here is key. Tim told me, wisely, that a judge is not in the role to be judging the personhood of the person, and it’s this that Tim carries with him to the bench. A good judge keeps control and remains open (neutral, as neutral as any human can be). But when Tim is not in the courtroom, he spends all of his time looking for ways to speak of the event of the cross, to proclaim Christ crucified, the judge judged in our place (to borrow from Karl Barth), the longed for rest for those heavy laden.  So come and listen to this conversation with Tim and take away a wealth of good information offered from the perspective of one who upholds the law as well as a word of comfort for your mind and body. 

Intrigued? You should be. Listen here via Screaming Pods (https://www.screamingpods.com/)

A huge THANK YOU to my friend and producer Sean Duregger (Twitter: @seanCduregger) and Screaming Pods (Twitter: @ScreamingPods) for hosting Sancta Colloquia (Twitter: @SanctaColloquia).

Tim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for 30 years with two kids (both graduated, woo-hoo!) his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings in his life. He and his wife live in Northern California.

Tim does not normally talk about himself in the third person.

Recommended Reading/Works Mentioned in the Podcast:

Mere Christianity, CS Lewis
The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
Beyond Sex Roles, Gilbert Bilezikian
Persuasion, Jane Austen
 
Tim’s blog: https://timfall.com/
 

The Art of Law and Gospel in Back to School

This morning I walked my boys to their first day of school for the 2016/17 school year. I all but skipped the whole way; my step was full of spring, theirs was a bit more shuffled. Yes, I am glad that school is back in session. But before you cast me that oh-great-another-ungrateful-mom-is-happy-that-she’s-rid-of-her-kids side-ways glare or mumble under your breath that I should be more grateful for the miracles and blessings that are my children, let me assure you: I am in fact very grateful for their lives and do see them as the blessings they are, so much so that I’ve set my occupational aspirations to super slo-mo to serve them to the best I can.

So, if I’m not happy that school is in session because I’m ungrateful or lack an understanding about my children being blessings, then why am I happy to have two-thirds of my children out of the house? Is it because having just one kid to care for all day is easier than all three? Yes, but that’s not the ultimate answer. Is it because I get more stuff done with the dearth of bodies lying about? Sure; but, again, that’s not the ultimate reason.

So what is the ultimate reason why?

Because, I get to be the voice of the Gospel.

Let me explain. Parenting requires parents to be both the voice of the law and of the gospel.  In terms of the law, parents uphold the rule of the household and teach general expectations of civil respect (following Luther: the Civic Use of the law); however, when these laws and structures are broken, there is a requirement to deliver consequences. These consequences–without fail, in my experience, no matter how tenderly I deliver them–are oft interpreted by the child in the Theological Use of the law (again, following Luther).  There is often weeping, gnashing of teeth, and the rending of garments at which point they are sent to their outer-darkness (aka: their bedroom). Into this real feeling of condemnation, we enter into their outer-darkness with them, embrace them, and speak those words that bring life to their young hearts and alleviate the condemnation in their young minds: I love you so much and nothing you do will ever, ever, ever stop me from loving you; this is the voice of the gospel.

Prior to being school-age, parents are often the sole voice distributing law and gospel equally (on a good day; on a bad day the scales tip, and for me it’s always in the direction of too much Law). Being the primary care giver, the stay-at-home-mom that I am, I’m often the primary disciplinarian and the source of comfort, specifically when my boys were too young for school and now during summer break. And this brings me to why I’m happy that the boys are back in school: there’s another outlet for the law to be spoken, and I get to (I’m honored to) take the helm as the word of comfort. And, by the time summer break has run it’s course, I’m exhausted from shouldering the weight of upholding the law and distributing consequences; good Lord, I’m crushed, too.

The oldest enters 4th grade and the younger enters 3rd this year. No longer in preschool where everyone laughs when you mistake a “d” for a “b” or you wear your shirt inside-out and backwards, the demands and expectations come roaring in, like a tsunami, out of nowhere. Whether from peers, teachers, and other school officials, my boys spend eight hours a day under pressure to perform, to do well, to hold their tongue, to act right, to play well, and when they don’t there’s consequences (rightly so). When that eight hour day ends, they come home exhausted, bad day and all, to me, and I get down eye level with them and say, “Boy, am I glad you’re home; I really missed you all day” and give them that unconditional embrace. When my oldest got in trouble for dropping the F-word (yes…THAT one) in school, and I was notified by email, I had all the fixings for root-beer floats ready when he got home. When the youngest got in trouble for tying his shoelaces to his desk during a reading lesson, and I was notified by email, I asked him what knot he was practicing. And I did those things not because I don’t think that they need consequences for their bad behavior, because they certainly do; it’s because I know full well that those necessary consequences were already delivered and adding more to their little shoulders will only prove to crush them beyond recognition. The voice of the law has sounded (sometimes all day), and when they come home, it’s time for the voice of the gospel, and, man, do I love being that voice.

And sometimes being that voice of the gospel is creating the space they need: space to be alone, “It’s fine, take your time walking home; I’ll be waiting for you with a snack”; space to be free to cry or to be angry, “You’ve kept that in all day…feel free to let it out”;  or, on the good days, “Yes, I would love to hear about the test you rocked…again.” Space is created by the word of the gospel for them to be heard and for them to be silent, to run about and to rest and watch TV, to throw something across their bedroom and to squeal with delight as loud as they can.

None of this occurs in a vacuum; none of this happens because somehow I’m just that well adjusted (because I’m not). All of this happens because this has been the encounter I’ve had with God Himself through Jesus Christ, our Savior, by the power of the Holy Spirit. I’ve heard (repeatedly) that Jesus Christ died for my sins and was raised for my justification, that by faith in this man Christ Jesus–who is God–I am fully justified and accounted righteous in Him, that God so love the world–that includes us–He sent His only Son to be the perfect propitiation for sins and to redeem us. And in hearing this gospel proclamation I have been impacted by an immeasurable, insurmountable unconditional love that has the power not only to undo me (because it certainly does do that) but also to move me toward others, my neighbors, specifically my children. And in this movement towards them, I get to be the voice of proclamation, I get to be a tangible experience–a mere taste–of that great, great Love of God for them. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

School is back in session; Glory be to God.

 

 

 

What is “Justification”?

The following is my manuscript from the Dropping Keys dinner held at the Liberate Conference (last week). I’m posting “as is” because it will be insynch with the recording that Dropping Keys will post of the whole event. But here is my breif “teaching” about Justification.

What is “Justification”?

In talking about justification, there are two things I want to talk about.

The first is language.

How we actually speak of justification is very important because the event of justification occurs because something has been said, a word has been spoken, which has been heard by a hearer. So language, what we say, becomes crucial. Too often we speak of justification in shorthand: I’m justified. The problem there lies in that fact that “to be justified” isn’t a particularly Christian thing. You can be “justified” by works. Don’t panic, stay with me for a minute.  If you’ve ever been promoted at work, it’s probably been “justified”–you worked hard, you earned it. I work out 6 days a week, when I go to eat a cookie, it’s “justified.”  If I were to NEVER EVER do what was required of me at work or in school, I’d fail and that failure would be “justified”.

So what IS special about justification when Christians speak of it is not particularly the word “justified”, but the über important prepositional phrases that follow: “by faith” and “in Christ”.  Once you throw “faith” into the mix, justification is on a radically different ground than what we were just talking about. And then add: “in Christ” and now you’re square in the middle of Gospel territory. You aren’t just justified; you are justified by faith in Christ.

But what does that mean? It means that trying to achieve a right standing before God cannot be done through obedience to the law or good works because the means by which you stand right before God hinge on having “faith”—that’s all you need.

And don’t worry; faith itself is no work of your own, but a gift, from God himself that boomerangs back to its proper object, God himself. But it also means: that by the power of the Holy Spirit, who has opened your eyes to see and ears to hear the truth, have uttered an “amen” a “so be it” in agreement to this: that Jesus Christ–fully man and fully God– was born and lived the life you couldn’t and can’t, that he died the death that you deserved, that he was raised to give you life (in the fullest) that you don’t deserve, that he ascended into heaven to give you both assurance and hope that death and sin have neither power over you nor can they ever separate you from the love and favor of God, and that He is seated at the right hand of God, perpetually interceding for you and proclaiming your absolution.

That’s what we’re saying when we say: I’m justified by faith in Christ. It’s one of the smallest creedal statements I know of; when we say it we are, for all intents and purposes, rejecting any notion that there is another way to be justified, to be right before God. Those two small prepositional phrases make a huge difference, don’t they, like the difference between life and death.

How does “justification” impact me and my life?

But still, that’s kind of abstract, isn’t it? I mean, it’s up here, heady; how does this “being justified by faith in Christ” affect my daily existence? What happens to me or for me when I’m justified?

And this is my second point I want to make, this is what we refer to as the “event” of justification. It is an event, something actually happens in time and space for you, the hearer. Something is taken and something is given.  What’s taken from you when the gospel of the justification of the sinner by faith in Christ is proclaimed and heard? Your works. Being justified by faith necessitates that you cannot also be justified by works (what we just considered above). This is surely very good news. And worthy of full attention! But it’s only the tip of the iceberg; the event of justification is WAY bigger than we realize.

Too often our dialogue stops at what’s been taken from us. The cessation (the stopping) of works is important, but a vacuum is created if there is nothing there to take the place of the thing that was taken; and that vacuum will suck just about anything into it. Thus, we should incorporate in our dialogue about the event of justification what is given to us alongside what is taken. What’s given to you is Christ himself. But that’s too abstract. In that Christ has given himself to you you’ve been given the gift of the present.

We are hurled from the past to the future in the blink of an eye, over and over and over, through out all of life. When you think about time, there is no “present”; there’s a present era, an idea of the present, but no actual, concrete: this here and now is the present. Time doesn’t stop long enough to allow for a present.

Take a moment and think about it; there’s no present.

We run from the past and strive toward the future, exhausted, because there’s no possibility for rest. We run from mistakes made in the past eager to promise that we’ll never make them again in the future; even when we’ve had success in the past, we’re terrified of the future because the future demands we do it again…and again…and again. And so we are in this exhausting collision course between the past and the future.

But by being justified by faith in Christ apart from works, means that your past can no longer haunt you (you’ve been absolved by faith in Christ) and your future is silenced because it’s secured in Christ (because you will be absolved by faith in Christ and nothing can separate you from the Love of God, NOTHING).

The event of justification, that word of absolution heard (perpetually) by the hearer, parts space (like God did through Moses parting the sea) and stills time (like Jesus did the tumultuous stormy waves with one word) and the hearer is brought into the present (which was created out of nothing). And this gift of the present in Christ by faith in Christ is given to you everyday; this is what is actually given to you daily.

And it is here, in the event of justification, in the gift of the present where there is real rest, where there is peace; where you can locate a “here and now” existence, where access to knowing others and yourself materializes; where there is a place to pause, to breath, a place to live, a place where works are given back to you but now they are under your dominion rather than in domination over you; where condemnation is exterminated; a place where you can be utterly and truly free, free to laugh and mourn, free to confess and to be forgiven, free to be loved exactly as you are.

In the event of justification, you, the sinner–justified by faith in Christ–have been brought into the verdant and fertile garden of the present and you have been given life and freedom to its fullest.