Jesus: A Theography (chapter 3 exert)

In commenting on the harmony of Creation:

“God loves trees, and God loves green. The first things that the Lord put in the garden were trees, which makes one wonder if God’s favorite color isn’t green. This garden planet called Earth is the garden galaxy called the Milky Way is miraculously conceived so that the waste product of trees (oxygen) is the life-breath of humans, and the waste product of humans (carbon dioxide) is the life-breath of trees. Deforestation is a form of lung removal (pneumonectonmy).”

Sweet & Viola, Jesus: A Theography pg. 44

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Jesus: A Theography (Chapter 3)

Chapter 3 continues with the creation accounts just as chapter 2 did before. This time however far more attention is given to the Genesis 2 account of the creation of the Garden and Adam and Eve. Sweet and Viola do a fantastic job of sketching out a sense of life in the Garden. They do a great job focusing on the intermixing of vocation and vacation as something of an original intent for creation…and especially for humanity.

Something that I really appreciate is that they give a great sense of what was intended for creation and what was lost in the fall. It seems to me that if we are going to talk seriously about who Jesus is and what it is that he means then we must take seriously why we need him. In the fall we lost something, we lost that original intent to be people called to the tasks of conceiving and conservation. Or to put it another way…to be fruitful and multiply and to work and till the garden.

I found especially helpful their discussion of what was lost in the fall. I’ve often taught that creation was a place, as originally intended by God, of profound harmony. In the fall that harmony was lost and in its place was chaos. In a similar vein Sweet and Viola talk about the four things that we lost or wound up broken: 1) relationship between ourselves and God, 2) relationship between ourselves and creation, 3) relationship between one another, and 4) relationship with even ourselves.

At this time I want to offer my first over arching criticism and my first over arching praise of this book. As to criticism…Jesus: A Theography is billed as being a serious book but aimed at a more popular audience. I really appreciate this. I’ve been aware for some time now about a lack of serious books written on a popular level for the average person in the pew. It seems that so much of what is out there is of poor quality. While I appreciate their effort in this regard I’m not sure, at least at this point, if they have accomplished their goal of writing for the average pew sitter. (And I might be missing their goal here and if so I apologize) I like to think of myself as being sensitive to what the average pew sitter will read…and please understand me I’m not trying to sell them short or talk down to them…but I think this is a bit above that level. (though if I’m wrong please let me know) This isn’t a book for specialists either. You don’t have to be a scholar or a pastor to get this one. I’d say that it’s somewhere between the specialist level and the popular level.

And to close now with a praise…if you are a preacher or a bible teacher you really must get this book! It will simply make your imagination explode…with almost every page I come up with new sermon ideas or Bible studies…or at the very least with an illustration or a new connection I had simply never considered. So…bottom line, if you preach or teach in the church then this book needs to be on your shelf…no, check that, in your hand. Read it and re-read it…you owe it to your calling and to those you are called to shepherd.

Right (Judges)

right

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. – Judges 17:6

In the time of the judges, still the early days for Israel, everyone did what was right in his own eyes. We’re tempted to believe that this was an affliction particular to Israel, or to the ancient days. After all, they were still newly in the land…they had a lot to learn. But we would be sadly mistaken to think that. We are just as susceptible, if not more so, today. Now, I’m sure that as you read these words you’ve already got people in your mind for whom this fits the bill…but that would be wrong too.

The tricky thing about everyone doing what is right in their own eyes is this…we have our way thats right…those people over there have theirs…and so forth and so on. In fact, it would seem that these days we’ve all gone off into our own little groups and sub-groups. We spend time with people who think like this, we share articles on facebook and send e-mails of things that speak exactly the message we want to say and never a word about anything that does agree with our own personal perspective. And oh heaven help those poor souls who are called to leadership or public service if we don’t agree with them! In our eyes they’re bent on nothing more than the destruction of all the I hold dear and, of course, they are all that is wrong with the world! One is left to wonder, where is charity? Where is understanding? Where is basic decency?

I would seem that when we look at the context in which we live today in the light of holy scripture we are people that this verse speaks very loudly too. All of us do what is right in our own eyes…and there seems to be a lack of leadership…or if I might be so bold to say…their is a lack of recognizing and submitting to the leadership that God has provided us with. During the time of the judges we hear that there were no leaders…and chaos was the result. God’s solution was to send prophets…but the people didn’t like God’s solution…oh how often that happens! So then he sent them kings (we’ll see more about this in the next few devotions)…in all reality though the kings were more of a disaster then we might like to admit. In the fullness of time God sent his son Jesus…and we didn’t submit to him…we crucified him. After Jesus had ascended to heaven he sent the apostles and…well…all you have to do is read Paul’s letters to see that people didn’t much care for those leaders either.

We don’t like leaders…we prefer to do what is right in our own eyes. We don’t much care for the practice of submitting to something larger than ourselves…this is our human condition that we are called upon to accept if we take seriously God’s holy word. But, to submit yourself to a disciple that is larger than yourself…to submit yourself to teaching, and guidance, and correction in the community and under the leadership God has called and set apart is to make a profound confession of faith. It is to confess that we are sinful…that we want things to be our own way…but that way is not always best for us. It is to also confess that God is really at working in this world. You see, God doesn’t just work in magical ways…God works in ways that we can see…he works in places, like the church…he works in people too, like those who have been called and set apart for his service…and, perhaps most importantly, God works in specific means…means like his Word and his Sacraments. Any church, any leader, any person who is in conflict with these is in conflict with God…they are guilty of doing in their own eyes what is right…instead of what God says is right.

Sermon Blast

“We plan…God laughs.” Oh how true this can be! We make our plans…we prepare our checklists…and then they go right out the window when the winds of life start to blow. This was true for Joseph. Being turned on by his brothers…not in the plan. Being cast into a pit and later sold into slavery…not in the plan. Spending years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit…not in the plan. That’s often how our plans can go…but always there is God’s plan. God has a plan and he is always about the business of bringing that plan to fruition in our lives and in our world. We have an active, involved God who has his hands on our lives. God’s fingerprints are everywhere! When he formed us out of the dust of the earth, like a potter leaves his prints on the clay so God has left his fingerprints on us. When he baptized us and marked us with his cross forever he left his fingerprints upon us for all time! You are God’s good creation…you are his new creation! His fingerprints are upon you and he’s guiding you along the ways of his plan for you and your life. He guided Joseph through all adversity so that his plan of blessing for him and all people could be accomplished. God is present in your life in the same way!

Jesus: A Theography (Chapter 2 exert)

There’s just so much that I want to share with you about this chapter…but I think the authors would be understandably upset if I just shared their whole book with you. This bit I found to be especially thought provoking!

“Just as Eve was inside Adam [metaphorically] before she appeared, the church was ‘in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world’ before she appeared. Just as God put Adam into a deep sleep, Jesus was put into the deepest sleep of all – death. Just as God opened Adam’s side to bring forth Eve, the side of our Lord was opened on the cross. Out of it flowed water and blood – the outstanding marks of birth.”

“The pierced side of Jesus is the womb from which the bride of Christ was born. The water that poured out of him reminds us of the living waters that poured forth from the rock when Moses struck it in the presence of Israel. Paul told us ‘that the Rock was Christ.'”

Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola Jesus: A Theography pgs. 32-33

Jesus a Theography (Chapter 2)

This book is quickly becoming a feast that nourishes my imagination in ways other books simply have not done. As I noted earlier, chapter one discussed what Jesus was up to pre-creation. In chapter two the feast continues! This time we meet Jesus in Creation, specifically in the Genesis 1 account of creation.

I was always aware of the presence of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Genesis 1. The Father is there of course, the pre incarnate Word, Jesus is there…his voice booming out over creation, calling things into being from nothing. And the Spirit is there hovering over the waters. In fact, one of the most frequently asked Bible questions I get as a pastor has to do with Genesis 1:26 Let us make mankind in our image. What’s this “our image” business people always ask. I usually tell them that there’s three ways to look at it: 1) God is speaking of himself and the heavenly host here. 2) God is speaking in what’s called the royal we…think about royalty here speaking of themselves in plural terms. 3) This is the Trinity. Now personally I’ve always liked the third answer, the Trinity. Of course you lose your union card for saying that around a lot of biblical types these days…but then again, I’ve never really cared about that kind of stuff anyway.

Well, Sweet and Viola have even more to say about Jesus in Genesis chapter 1. I had no idea that the days of creation could be read as showing us the whole story of Jesus. Wow! They start with a fascinating discussion of how John chapter 1 and Genesis chapter 1 parallel one another. How did I never see that before? In the beginning God says “Let there be light” and John’s gospel proclaims “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.” Oh, there’s plenty more than that…but I’m not doing your homework here…you’ll have to read for yourself, I’m just here to wet your appetite. Oh, and not only do the days in Genesis 1 tells us about Jesus, they also reveal to us what the Christian life looks like!

As a personal aside, I really like what Sweet and Viola are doing here. The early church fathers saw Jesus all over the Old Testament. Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and so many of the early reformers saw Jesus all over the Old Testament. Even the writers of the New Testament saw Jesus all over the Old Testament. Have you ever seen how many Old Testament quotes and references are made in the New Testament? Just for fun, one day look at the book of Revelation and see how many Old Testament references and quotes you can find talking about Jesus…I’ll bet you’ll still be counting when Jesus returns! So, considering all of this, why don’t we see Jesus more in the Old Testament these days? Why do we think it’s so bad to read the Old Testament and say “oh, I see Jesus there!” Besides, didn’t Jesus himself do this when he told the disciples all about himself using the Old Testament as they walked to Emmaus? He did indeed!

In this chapter they also discuss Genesis chapter 2 a bit as well (I’ll post some of that in a bit as an exert) but they’ll be hitting that in more detail in the next chapter of their book. Happy reading!

Conquest (Joshua)

weeding

And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. – Joshua 24:15

Many people have these words, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord, displayed somewhere in or on their homes. My family did growing up…it was on a little gold colored plaque on our door. It’s one small way of identifying this as a Christian home, a home that follows the values of the Lord as opposed to the values of the world. We will serve the Lord…It’s always wonderful to see this commitment made by a family; but it helps to know the back story.

The Israelites had been freed from their bondage of slavery to the Egyptians. They had wandered through the wilderness for 40 years. They had been attacked by others and, quite frankly, they had done a perfectly wonderful job of attacking themselves. They had stood at the threshold of the promised land and heard the command of God to take the land and to root out any and all things that were opposed to the Lord…those things that would draw them from the one who had redeemed them…we call this task in the book of Joshua the conquest. From there to this verse we read about their crossing the Jordan river, and it’s parting for them to pass…this is intentionally reminiscent of the parting of the Red Sea at the beginning of the Exodus. We hear about the fall of Jericho and the rest of the conquest…and we read about the division of the land and who will live where.

Then we come to these verses. This is the end of Joshua and he has gathered the people together to renew again that covenant that the Lord had made with them. What a recurring theme we see in scripture…at key moments, sometimes before and sometimes after, God gathers his people so that they might hear again the story, that they might be fed on the words of eternal life, and that they might be given the vision of whose they are and of where they are going. There’s a challenge. For well over 40 years the Israelites have been slaves, they’ve been wandering in the wilderness, they’ve been conquering the land. Now they are home in the land of promise, now they are to get down to the blessed business of living each and every day in the land flowing with milk and honey as God’s own people…they are, through their perfectly ordinary life, called to be that city on a hill for all the world to see. But with that glorious blessing comes a problem…the problem of being too comfortable. It’s one thing to follow God when it’s difficult…when the cards are down and the chips are in. It’s another thing entirely when all is going along fine and dandy…when things are going the best, that’s when you can fall the hardest! So God calls Joshua to gather the people, to renew the covenant and to ask them this question…choose this day!

These are words that we need. We are, by and large, the comfortable. We have cars and houses, 401K’s and savings accounts, families and jobs and all the rest. Most of us don’t worry about where our next meal will come from or if we’ll have another check to put into the bank. It never fails to amaze me how little people seem to know of the spiritual dangers that lurk all around them. We want to fixate on the present physical dangers…oh how insignificant those are! It’s the unseen spiritual dangers that we must be concerned about. Most don’t even believe that they exist! In his classic Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis observes that the devil doesn’t normally assault us with dark nights of the soul but rather with mundane business. In another place he observes that if you actually start thinking of spiritual matters the devil will just remind you that you’re hungry so that you’ll think about your stomach. Still in another place he says that the devil does his work best when you believe that he doesn’t exist at all! These spiritual assaults of the devil are the true ones we are called to worry about, to strive against, and to work to conquer.

I’ve often said that Lutherans aren’t big of decision theology…we don’t have this one big moment where we decide for Christ. Instead…we are called to decided for Christ each and every day…this is the daily calling of a Baptized Christian. Luther said in his Catechism that we are to daily die and rise with Christ. So, here’s the deal…right now you find yourself standing in the wilderness on the threshold of the promised land…your call is to strive against and to root out all that is in your life that draws you from God. This is your daily work. Like a gardener weeds their beds so we pull up the weeds in our own soul…Oh and the good news…you’re going to win the battle because Jesus has already declared it to be so! So pull up those weeds with joy and choose this day and all days to join in the Lord’s great conquest!

Jesus: A Theography (Chapter 1 exert)

I’m still chewing on these incredible paragraphs from Jesus: A Theography. There’s some great food for thought here:

“Jesus Christ had finished all things before He created all things. This is perhaps one of the most glorious things Jesus Christ accomplished before creation, but it may be the least reflected upon. Imagine a builder standing in front of an empty lot, saying, ‘What a beautiful house I have constructed.’ But there is nothing there. Only the Lord can say that His plans in the Son were finished in eternity before they came to pass in history. He completed the masterpiece before He ever painted it.”

“How can this be? It is because time exists in Christ. Paul told us that in Christ, ‘all things hold together.’ That includes creation itself, which includes time. C.S. Lewis drew a brilliant illustration to describe this reality. He said to imagine a straight line on a piece of paper. The line is time. The paper is God Himself. Time is in God just as the line is in the paper. Consequently, He is at the beginning and the end at the same time. As one theologian put it, ‘God is immediately and simultaneously aware of all events. Whether they be in what we call ‘past,’ ‘present,’ or ‘future,’ they are all in God’s ‘present.'”

“This throws fresh light on the declarations in Revelation that Jesus Christ is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega, and the First and the Last. It’s not that Christ was first the Alpha and then later the Omega. It’s that Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, at the same moment. How? Because the line of time exists within Him.”

– From Jesus: A Theography by Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola pages 9-10

Sermon Blast

What is faith? We talk about it all the time but what is it … what does it look like? Faith is trusting in the promise of God even when all the evidence says otherwise. Abraham, the father of faith, is the example that we look to in the Bible. He was called to go to a land he did not know, to be the father of a great nation (even when he couldn’t have children), and to be blessed to be a blessing to the whole world…and Abraham went! He get’s up and he goes…trusting God. When we look at the balance of his story we see that God was faithful to his promises to Abraham. He went to that land of promise…his eyes beheld it all…his feet walked along its pathways. The great nation he was to father was underway…it was a modest start but the impossible had happened…the child of promise had been born; even in their old age! And the blessing that had been given to Abraham and Sarah had spread to Issac…and it was poised to spread further! But there’s more! When we look at the wider story we see how God remained faithful to Abraham. The land and the nation he was to father we see today in the kingdom of God! We see it in every church, wherever two or three are gathered in the Lord name, and wherever a christian boldly sets their foot. The Child of promise…well, look to Jesus. He is the only beloved child who is bound and has wood laid upon him…who is sacrificed so that we may all live. And the blessing? Well the blessing is forgiveness, salvation, and everlasting life offered to all because of Jesus…the seed of Abraham! All of this is what faith is!

Jesus: A Theography (Chapter 1)

It’s incredible how a book can come to you at just the right time. Just the other week I was teaching a Bible Study class on the topic of creation. The question came up about what God was doing prior to creation. I responded that that was a difficult question to answer because we’re not given much to go on and that generally we just concerned ourselves with what happened following Genesis 1:1. About all we have to say prior to that is that nothing at all existed but God. God existed, he wasn’t created and he always existed. He then began to create ex nihilo “out of nothing.”

Well then I get this book Jesus: A Theography. The whole aim of this book is to tell the story of Jesus. But, the authors don’t start in Bethlehem. They don’t even start in Nazareth at the annunciation. They start before creation…they start in the time when there was nothing at all but there was God. I must admit that chapter one is some pretty heavy stuff; the pay off is that your mind will almost certainly be blown on just about every page! What they work through is some pretty meaty Trinitarian Theology. Prior to creation God existed, God the Father existed, God the Son existed, and God the Spirit existed. (Note: the Son existed in his pre-incarnate self) The Bible speaks of this in both testaments…usually you find it referenced in verses that talk about God existing before the foundation of the world.

So, what was God doing before the foundation of the world? Well the authors have a great deal more to say but at the core the Father and the Son and the Spirit loved one another. In theology we call this kenosis. It is the pouring out of himself in love from one member of the Trinity into the others. This is the very nature of God. And, I might editorialize, this is the very stuff of creation and a topic that Christians would do well to internalize and practice with regard to ourselves and our Christ centered lives together.

There’s so much in this chapter; it’s a feast! If you’re thinking about reading this book it is well worth it from what I’ve seen so far. I’m on to chapter 2. If you want to discuss this chapter or find out more just post a comment and we’ll have a conversation.