Saturday, 15 February 2014

Listen up (or loose it all)

Then I saw that wisdom excels folly, as far as light excels darkness.
Solomon - Ecclesiastes 2:13.

What makes us 'comfortable' at church? 
Good "fellowship" perhaps, or a vibrant time of worship?
A 'useful' sermon, or lots of after-service activities? 
We, no doubt, find many or all of these things engaging, but what we need to 'hear' in all of it, is the proclaiming of the totally saving work of God in Christ (Romans 3:21-26), because when something - anything - else becomes pre-eminent, then we're quickly on very dangerous ground, and what should bring us 'light' will leave us stumbling in the dark.

That's why I so often find myself "wriggling" and concerned... usually "little" things start up, through a sermon or a song, a particular statement or even a conversation, and you realize, that what is actually at stake if a certain "approach" takes hold is the doctrine and faith by which, as Luther put it, the church stands or falls. There's always 'another gospel' crouching just behind what we see, waiting to take hold by the most appealing means (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).

The place where this so often comes to light, aside from the Gospel itself, is in regards to Christian sanctification. We tend to think of this as a 'doing' thing, but we need to see that the true work of making someone profane holy is something that is done only In Christ (see the Romans passage above) and through His word (John 17:16). It is God's faithfulness to His promises alone that counts - any good works that we may do are merely evidence of what is truly ours in Christ alone (1 Corinthians 1:3, Ephesians 2:10), but there are plenty of 'approaches' to this matter which clearly place the onus back upon us, inviting a way in for all manner of troubles related to "works righteousness", as the New Testament shows (Galatians 3:1-5, Colossians 2:20-23).

When we gather as Christians, what matters is that God is evidenced through the work that He has done, alone, in His Son and that we, by Word and Sacrament, are refreshed in the unchangeable fact that we are safe because He is the one who saves the ungodly. Sin is first and foremost, a lack of fear before a Holy God because we have been deceived into thinking that something else, anything else which comes from us is good enough to bring us right standing before God, but only His work can clothe us and pronounce us justified.

We all have a nature that naturally wants to find something in us to boast in, to hold up as passable, perhaps even worthwhile, but only in Christ is there a humanity that is good and true and redeemable - all else, as the old hymn puts it, is sinking sand.

We sorely need, constantly, a ministry to the saints that gets this, because if we don't, we're all going to be without safe harbor, and the consequences are dire (Ephesians 4:14).

Monday, 3 February 2014

A little perspective on a sobering matter...

"Oh, I believe he was told that, and that he was honest with you. I just don't know if the source was honest with him".

"I'm supposed to be the doubter", said Bucky.

"Nonsense", she replied. "Scientists are taught to doubt everything".

"Rubbish", said Bucky. "They hang on to disproven and discarded theories like religious zealots".

"Only some of them", she said defensively.

"And only some religious people are zealots".

The Cassandra Project by Jack Mc Devitt and Mike Resnick.

I came across an interesting TED video on the Mockingbird website this weekend - a discussion of our "stories" to seek to deal with death:

There are several fascinating things to consider in this.
Here's a few -
Stephen Cave shows just how readily Science has taken over the reigns of human aspirations to escape death and find a way to allow us to become free of such tyranny.
He also conveys that we all share a bias (whatever our philosophical stripe) to avoid the horror of death by whatever means possible - hence his example of agnostics quickly changing their views under certain conditions.

There are, however, some pretty telling myths in his own approach.
Epicurean philosophy, for example, nicely distinguishes life and death so that we're either one or the other (and therefore, don't need to worry), but anyone dealing with their own death or that of another knows, purely at a natural level, that it really isn't like that. Death can in reality inhabit our day to day existence, sometimes for years, and it can be a living nightmare to deal with, just as dreadful as the moment of actual death itself.

The over-view of a religious approach to the issue, especially of Christianity, is also very remiss. For example, the four 'stories' he seeks to reject are actually all elements of the far deeper discussion that historians, prophets, apostles and Christ Himself provide regarding the nature and reason for death in our world (as so clearly defined in early Christian theology). It also depends entirely on the notion that the spiritual and the material are entirely detached (to the point, as Cave puts it, that his existential elevator doesn't exist), but this is not so at all:

Death, when truly understood theologically, is a negation of the natural, as sin is a negation of the human - both are entirely alien to what should be natural.

When Christians speak of a 'water' that gives eternal life, a 'soul' which will know more than our time here, a 'legacy' which endures and a bodily resurrection, they are able to do so because of the historical nature of God's creative and redemptive work in Jesus Christ, without which we would indeed be the 'most miserable of all men, truly to be pitied', as Paul says, but, he goes on, now is Christ truly risen from the dead and, as such, has become the first-fruits of the new (coming) creation, which we 'taste' now, in regeneration which allows us to trust in God's work and promises.

The resolution to death is not seeking to create some kind of detente - it doesn't work, especially as we become more aware of it's shadow. Christianity requires us to make a much deeper examination of our condition and seek a resolve beyond ourself.