welcome. why "weak on sanctification"?

this accusation is often made about lutheran christians. because we focus so strongly on god's justifying grace in christ, and our continual need, as "sinner-saints," to receive god's gifts of grace through word and sacrament, people say we are "weak on sanctification." i prefer to say we are strong on jesus, whose sanctifying work in our lives is the fruit of the gospel all along our lifelong journey. i would much rather focus on what he has done than on anything i might do.

the weekly discussion

each week I set forth a topic to promote discourse about some aspect of Christianity, the church, or the spiritual life. i would love to hear your perspective and thoughts on each week's subject. these discussions are usually posted on mondays, so if you missed this week's post and would like to catch up on the conversation, just scroll down and join us.

September 20, 2009

the lord's day—sept 20, 2009

16th sunday after pentecost

today's lectionary readings
jeremiah 11:18-20
psalm 54
james 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a
mark 9:30-37

today's bach cantatas
bwv 138, "why are you troubled, my heart?"
bwv 99, "what god does, that is done well"
bwv 51, "rejoice unto god in all lands!"
bwv 100, "what god does, that is done well" (III)

today's van gogh
the church at auvers, 1890

today's good news

the darkness can be scary.

recently gail and i had the wonderful opportunity of going to a cabin in the woods of northern tennessee. a couple with a heart for people in vocational ministry offer the gift of a week away for a small donation and the promise that you'll clean up after yourselves. so we went. it was amazingly quiet in those woods at night, and dark. one night, in the wee hours, we heard a loud sound like a knock or something hitting the cabin. it startled us awake. lying there in the quiet, we listened to the sound of our own breath and peered across the dark room and waited. nothing. still nothing. then, bang! something hit again. being the courageous guy i am, i pulled the covers up a little higher and decided to wait some more.

all kinds of thoughts, crazy thoughts, went through my head. i quickly retraced every horror movie i had ever seen. had i broken any of the moral rules that make it certain you're gonna get whacked before the credits roll? my chest tightened and it was harder to breathe. did we lock the door? i looked around for a baseball bat or something that i could grab to stun an intruder.

the quiet continued and as we lay in the dark, gail fell back asleep, and mr. courageous finally got up the nerve to get out of bed and take a look around. i never did see anything, nor did the sound ever reappear. probably just a large acorn falling from a tree on the roof, or some other creak that naturally occurs as the cabin settles during the cool night hours.

we dread the darkness and sounds we don't understand, and fears that arise as we face an uncertain situation, especially in the middle of the night. today's gospel reading portrays the disciples in this kind of setting. for a second time, jesus tells them about his upcoming death. however on this occasion, rather than speak up and possibly face jesus' rebuke as peter had, they decide to just lie there and pull the covers up a little tighter. the text says, "they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him."

apparently, with the morning light their courage returned, for mark indicates that they put their night fears behind them and began talking about brighter subjects. together they dreamed about the glory they anticipated upon their soon arrival in jerusalem (no matter what jesus was saying). the question of the day was: "which one of us do you think will get the best position of power and prestige in jesus' new administration?" why talk about gloomy, frightening things like suffering and crosses and dying? let's think happy thoughts! let's talk about the great things in store for us with jesus!

of course, the lord heard it all. so, when they came to a house in their hometown, he sat them down and said, "ok. what were you talking about?" did your mom ever ask you that question? do you remember the fear you felt then? that "hands in the cookie jar" feeling of being caught with no excuse or escape possible? they couldn't even find the words to 'fess up. look at them there—staring down at the ground, kicking at the dirt, tips of their ears red, lips sealed tight.

in the business, we call this a "teachable moment." this time, jesus doesn't rebuke them. doesn't say, "get behind me, satan." just says, "guys, you must realize what this cross-thing means for you. if i'm going to be the kind of savior god promised, it means humbling myself to do whatever it takes to save people. it means dying. it means the cross. it means taking the servant role. so, if you want to be identified with me, that's what you will have to do too. nobody gets a good seat if he doesn't wash feet first."

as they shuffled uncomfortably at this gentle rebuke, jesus decided they needed some encouragement to go along with their medicine. so he asked a child to come over to them. he embraced the child, and said, "you see this little one? nobody in our society thinks she's worth very much. she has no power, no influence, no standing. people either ignore her or make sure she stays in her place. she's like the 'servant' i was just talking to you about, a nobody in the eyes of the world.

"but i want you to know something. if you will take this 'servant' thing seriously, and go out into the world with my cross-shaped spirit characterizing you, it will be hard, but you will have a great reward—those your lives touch, those who welcome you even though you are like a servant or a little child, will be part of my kingdom forever, for in welcoming you they will welcome me."

and that is how jesus turned on a night-light to help his disciples face the darkest of nights.

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