Love Self First…PUH-lease.

Another false assumption that gets tossed around all the time is, “You have to learn to love yourself before you can learn to love others.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

 The fact is, all we do IS love ourselves. Love of self is something people are born with. Look at the infant who cries out to be fed and changed. Notice the toddler who lies about knocking over the lamp to protect his own hide. See the child that knocks another child over the head for having dared to play with ‘his’ toy.

 As parents, many of these actions we seek to correct. We teach our children to take responsibility for their actions and to share with others so that they will grow to love and think of others instead of just themselves. Love of self is engrained, love of others must be taught. So how does this jive with having to learn to love yourself first?

 We all have seen the results of those who have not been taught such or have ignored what they were taught. We call them spoiled brats and narcissists. While these characters might be fun to hate on reality shows, they are pains in the butt in real life. We avoid them if we can. We confess that we have been brought up “right” and we thank God and parents that we are not like those people. But if we are honest with ourselves there are times when we act as spoiled brats; probably more times than we think actually. Times where we look out for our own self-interest at the expense of others.

 The Scriptures speak of this reality as well. John in his first Epistle, chapter four states that “we love because He (God) first loved us.” As context shows, this love is not of self (again, that comes on its own due to our sinful nature), it is love of God and of others that is given to us. Think on that for a second…that it takes divine intervention to get us to love others.

Plus this love must be sustained and maintained by God else we fall back to our self-loving, narcissistic ways. This love is sustained by receiving it. It is received in hearing His Word which proclaims it. Love is received in Holy Absolution when our Lord tells us that we are forgiven for our self-idolatry. Love is received at our Lord’s Holy Supper where we receive Christ in the flesh and we give thanks and implore God that He would strengthen us in faith toward Him and in fervent LOVE toward one another. Love does not begin with the self. It begins with God and His altar where His love is given and from where love radiates outward into the world.     


Sermon: Matthew 4:1-11 Invocabit

Mankind’s greatest desire is to be god. To rule over our lives and rule over the lives of those around us, both friends and enemies. The first commandment tells us that we should have no other gods and we think that refers only to ancient nonsense like bowing down to statues or carved idols. Or we may stretch that out to mean more abstract idols like money, power, and fame. But honestly, I don’t think that really applies to any of you here. As Christians, perhaps the sin you commit against the first commandment is to shape God into what you think He should be. You confess Christ as your true prophet, priest, and king but you have your own ideas about how Christ should fulfill those roles, thereby conforming Christ to your image.

The Office of Prophet is carried out by proclaiming the Word of the Lord, calling people to repentance, and pointing them to their salvation. The one tool that the prophets depend on is the Word of God.

You often think of prophets as charismatic miracle workers, and the temptation can be to focus upon the man himself and the miracles he performs instead of upon the Word he proclaims. To focus on the miracle of manna in the desert or raining down fire from heaven upon Baal’s prophets. Likewise, you expect the pastor to grow the church because he is young, energetic, and charismatic, or because he is older, wiser, and soft spoken. People have all kinds of crazy expectations of those who are called to proclaim God’s Word.

 Another crazy notion is held when you rely upon yourself when sharing God’s Word with others. You rely on your eloquence, your methodology, or your personal testimony to win people for the Lord. In short, you rely upon the miracle of you, instead of upon the Word.

This is Jesus’ first temptation, as the true prophet. Like the prophets, Moses and Elijah, Jesus has fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. But now, Satan approaches Jesus, and desires that Jesus would forget the Word and focus on the miracle too. Jesus as the perfect prophet though fulfills that office by pointing the deceiver to God’s Word, “Man will not live by bread alone, but upon every word that comes out of God’s mouth.”

Well, that’s great for Jesus, but about me? The job of a prophet is rarely honored. Speaking God’s Word to folks can get all kinds of reactions, from rejection, to rage, and even to violence. And I know you know this because you have proclaimed God’s Word to those you love and they ignore it, reject it, or mock you. But Jesus tells you they are not rejecting you, but rejecting Him. Well that’s not very comforting, especially when you are talking about those closest to you.

But we are called to be faithful to the confession of God’s Word even if it get us killed, for that is the reward of the prophet. And while a faithful confession might get you killed our Lord calls you blessed in your persecution. He has promised that by losing your lives you save them, which was done already at your baptism; so fear not the one who can harm you.

The other way you seek to conform God into your own image is through the office of priest. A priest is called to intercede between God and man. A priest offers up prayers and sacrifices to God on behalf of the people and the priest in turn gives God’s grace to the people. The temptation is to belittle the sacrifices made because they seem insufficient, incomplete, not enough. The sacrifice of Christ, once and for all, is too good to be true. Surely there is something you need to contribute to your own salvation. Surely there is some sacrifice you must make in order to find favor with God and be comforted.

This was Jesus’ second temptation. He was led by Satan to the heights of the Temple. The place where sacrifices were offered. Satan tempts Jesus to find comfort from God by sacrificing Himself by jumping off the roof. But Jesus didn’t come to serve Himself, He came to serve.

 As priest and sacrifice, His death and offering would be for all mankind. Jesus’ will is the Father’s will and that will is that all be saved. This salvation would come by Jesus’ death on a cross. It is finished by the shed blood Calvary, not upon Jezebel’s blood which was shed by jumping from the heights.

 Quit trying to receive comfort and salvation by sacrificing yourself. Jesus is your perfect sacrifice and He is the perfect High Priest who intercedes for you. You receive nothing from your own efforts at salvation, even though it is tempting to think so. In reality, your efforts at saving yourself are devoured by the dogs as Jezebel was. Rather, your comfort and salvation are in the body and blood of Jesus. This is your ministration from the Father.

Lastly, the temptation to conform God to your own image is seen in the office of King. To be honest, you are horrible subjects. You know what you want and desire and the king better cough it up. You tell the king what he should do and if you don’t get it you rebel or go looking for a more suitable king. But a house divided cannot stand. There is no glory when the king bows to the desires of others, or others bow to themselves, or to another king.

 This is the third temptation of Jesus. To bow to a false king and false glory. Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms and their glory and gives them to Jesus if Jesus bow down and worship him. Perhaps this is your temptation too.

The church is only kingly and glorious when the numbers are up and the people are giving generously. In order to achieve that you may have to bow to what is considered glorious in the world’s eyes; soften the Word of God, hide the light of the liturgy, reject the simplicity of the sacraments for the pomp of altar call and the circumstance of miracles. You would seek to build your own kingdom by shoving the king out of the way and showing Him how to crack down on those other poor miserable sinners.

Repent! Depart from such temptation and sin. The glory of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is more than sufficient. Plus that glory is given to you. To you, that glory may seem foolish and insignificant, but that glory, earned by Christ, makes you the apple of the Father’s eye, for it is His own glory. In the cross of Christ you glory, for that glory includes forgiveness and peace that surpasses all understanding.

People subject themselves to authorities that will protect and care for them. As brothers and sisters of the King, you have protection against Satan’s attacks and attacks from the Old Adam within. Your Lord cares for you and provides for you all you need. He gives you water so that you may be washed clean and shine gloriously. He gives you food and drink from His table and His Word of Absolution which resurrects you when you fall and nourishes you and gives you strength and grace sufficient for the day.

There is no need to conform Christ to what your image of a prophet, priest, and king should be. He out does you. He out glories you. In victory He proclaims, intercedes, and rules on your behalf with love and mercy as His watchword and with the cross as His standard. So now brothers and sisters of the King, take refuge. Come and eat the prophetly, priestly, kingly feast spread before you.

Ash Wednesday: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

There is no good and gracious gift from God that we can’t screw up and get our dirty sinful fingerprints all over. Our Lord redeems us from sin and death and He gives us gifts of forgiveness, eternal life, and works to perform which He has prepared beforehand. Works like showing mercy to our neighbor and praying and fasting for friend and enemy alike. These works are all about providing for the needs of our neighbor and time after time we turn it into a showcase for ourselves.

Our Lord calls us to have pure, unselfish intent when showing mercy, praying, and fasting……How’s that going for you? Let me answer for you, not well. There has never been a time when you have done anything with the purest of intentions. Even if you have done these things in secret, somehow, someway, you desired acknowledgement and recognition from men or from God for the works you have performed. There are no bounds to the self-serving behavior you engage in, in order to have your ego stroked. Here are just a few examples:

You perform acts of mercy, or pray, or fast in order to receive praise and pats on the back from your fellow man, you go around trumpeting your so-called goodness.  You perform acts of mercy for or pray for or fast for someone when someone else asks you to do so, but you won’t lift a finger or do a darn thing unless someone asks you to do it. Or you show mercy to, pray for, and fast for someone and expect reciprocation, that is, the person give you something in return for your service. You may even use prayer and fasting to trumpet gossip about others, so that the spotlight of the Law be taken off of you. “I am praying for so and so who are having marital problems.” Or “I am fasting and praying so that so and so would give up their evil ways.” And even if you do pray in secret so that you not receive the praise of men, I guarantee you that you are looking for God’s approval. “See Lord how humble and faithful I am!”

You have no pure intent when you do things in public and you have no pure intent when you do things in private. You look for approval from men and you look for approval from God. “Behold how I am working for your Kingdom O Lord!” And you get giddy with the thought of all those treasures that are piling up in heaven for you. For even if you claim to not care about treasures and praise here in this life, you are salivating at the thought of how much merit & reward you will receive in heaven. Then…then people will know how good a Christian you were and how much better than them you were, when you all get to heaven and see the treasures you have collected!

O you foolish sons and daughters of Adam. You actually think you can curry God’s favor by following what is written here in Matthew 6. You actually think that doing mercy, praying and fasting in private will earn you some merit before God. Repent of your self-reliance and your self-righteousness. Isn’t your arm getting sore from stretching to pat yourself on the back? Repent of trumpeting your own goodness and pure intent and desiring that God and everyone else know how good you are and what good you have done.

For you see, the treasure given you is not accolades or praise; it is not a good reputation or extra stuff when you go to be with our Lord. Christ, out of perfect love and intent mercied you. Christ perfectly prayed for you. Christ perfectly fasted for you. The treasure, our recompense, the wage given us is Christ. It is His grace. It is His forgiveness. It is His eternal life. Christ and His work on our behalf cannot be destroyed by moth or rust.

As your Lord declares in the Gospel before you, in each act of mercy, prayer, and fasting your Lord is the one who will reward you, or pay you the wage. So, not only are you bought and paid for by His precious blood, you are also rewarded in your good works because it is Christ’s pureness and goodness that fulfills the work on your behalf. He gives you the good works to perform and He completes them and makes them good and pure. If that is the case, where is there room for boasting?

There is no room for boasting in yourself. Christ has rewarded you with Himself. He gives Himself through the word from His mouth that speaks in love that you are forgiven all of your sins. He gives Himself to you through the water from His side so that you would be washed clean. He gives Himself to you through the blood from His side in order that that you would be forgiven, resurrected, restored, and refreshed. He gives you grace upon grace, treasure upon treasure!

You, who have received fully from Christ, have the honor and privilege of sharing this grace upon grace and treasure upon treasure with your fellow man. By showing mercy to them, and praying for them, and pointing them to the treasure of Christ crucified and risen. And during these times, like during Lent, you may also fast from the things of this world so that once again your own hearts are not drawn inward but rather look outward, to the need of your neighbor and to Christ. For your glory is given you by Christ. You are lights to the world; to reflect His glory to the dead and dying world around you so that they too might be comforted and saved.

Seek not your own glory which is destroyed by moth and rust. Return to the Lord your God for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Love that forgives you all of your sins. To God be all praise, honor, and glory. Amen.

Karma is a Bitch

One of the most deceptive ideas to worm its way into the Christian mind today is the concept of karma. One can see it plastered daily all over Facebook. It has become a part of our common vocabulary and even shapes people’s views on how the world operates. These views are even spoken and confessed by Christians.

 Now, there are all sorts of variations on what karma is. Some teach that karma is natural law, a simple cause and effect relationship, you do bad, you get bad. Others view it as being directed by a deity of some sort. But the popular concept of karma is essentially the idea that “what comes around goes around.” If you act in a good manner toward others, some good will come back to you. And if you act badly towards others you will receive badly. So you better be good to others if you want to be treated well.

 So, with the promise of being rewarded for good behavior, you are positively reinforced to remain good. And with the threat of karma coming back to bite you when you wrong someone, you will learn to be good because you will have suffered the shame of seeing those whom you have mistreated gloating over your demise and being satisfied in seeing you get yours. But then again there is joy when you get to gloat over those who have wronged you also.

This all assumes, of course, that you are good or can achieve goodness, and then even the definition of goodness can be relative. What might be good for me, may not be good for you. Therefore, who decides what is right and wrong? You do!

This is contrary to Scripture and faith in Christ. It is wrong. It is satanic. It places you in the judge’s seat, determining what is right and what is wrong and how and to whom justice should be dished out. And of course those decisions all revolve around you and your expectations and selfish desires.           

To believe that you are basically a good person or that you can learn to become a good person is to believe the lie of the serpent that your eyes are open and you are like God, and know good from evil. Our Lord tells us otherwise through His Holy Word. Here is just a sampling:

 “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity. In sin did my mother conceive me.” Psalm 51:9

“No one is righteous, no not one; no one understands, no one seeks God.” Romans 3:10

“We all like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone, to his own way.” Isaiah 53:6

“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

“For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander.” Matthew 15:20

 So much for the assumption that people are basically good. As Scripture teaches, we all stand sinful and guilty before our Lord and Creator who we have rebelled against. We are born in sin and are born enemies of God. If karma ruled the day, God would have destroyed mankind long ago. He is all good and all we give Him is bad. By the rules of karma we should be toast.

 Our Lord however operates by love and mercy. Instead of condemning and destroying us, He loves us so much that He sent His only Son to bear our sin and be our Savior. Christ was perfect, sinless, and only did good to others and yet He was crucified for it. The cross is the ultimate argument against karma. For at the cross all the bad that you are Jesus takes upon Himself, and destroys it instead of you. He then in turn gives you all the good that He is. To believe in karma is to deny this fact.

The phrase commonly used in regards to karma is, “karma is a bitch.” Indeed it is. It is one satantic, faith-killing bitch.

Sermon for Quinquagesima: Luke 18:31-43

Our Lord certainly moves in mysterious ways. In our Gospel reading we hear that Jesus tells His disciples about His impending death for the third time. Jesus then prevents the disciples from understanding what He has just told them. Then He turns around and gives a blind man sight; physical and spiritual sight. It seems Jesus is treating this blind beggar better than He is treating His own disciples. Jesus is so weird sometimes.

First, let’s deal with the blind man. Jesus has been on the border of Samaria and Galilee, teaching and healing in Gentile territory. Now he has entered back into the Holy Land and coming into Jericho with a large crowd following Him. Sounds like Joshua and the people of Israel all over again. Jesus, the one man Israel, is now on His exodus. The exodus that Jesus discussed with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration.

And like Rahab, this blind man has heard the coming crowd and of the great deeds done by the Lord. He has heard of Jesus, his heart “melted”, and so by hearing he believes. He ignores the grumbling and murmuring of the crowd for him to be silent. He shouts out, “Son of David, Mercy me!” Yes, you heard that correctly, “mercy me.” In the Kingdom of God mercy is a verb. It is action. Mercy is not a mere feeling or emotion.

And so our Lord acts. He called for the man to be brought to Him. The crowd of Israel which was just a second ago grumbling about this blind man, now jumps and does all that the Lord commands. They bring the man to Jesus, which is always the task of God’s people.

Jesus asks the man what he wants and the blind man asks if he might see again. Jesus responds, “See again! Your faith has saved you.” The man instantly saw, followed Jesus, and was continually glorifying God.

Now a couple of things in regards to that phrase, “Your faith has saved you.” First of all, faith was given to this man by the Lord. The blind man had heard the report of Jesus and as Scripture reveals to us, faith comes by hearing the word of Christ. In other words, this faith, this belief, this trust was not generated from his own heart or mind. Faith is not something you conjure up on your own. Faith was given to him by the Lord. Faith is given to you by the Lord.

Secondly, that faith has saved him. I know your English translations say “made you well,” but it actually says, “has saved you.” The Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. This man’s sight is not the only thing restored. Jesus restores the relationship between this man and the Father in Heaven. He has been saved from sin, death, and the devil.

Finally, I would encourage you to look at all the other instances when Jesus says something like “your faith has saved you.” Who is the one saying it? Jesus is! He is the one who can see the heart and declare great faith. In every instance that Jesus declares faith to be great, look at what those faithful folks are doing. They are pleading with the Lord to mercy them or mercy one of their loved ones. They approach the Lord as beggars and you know what?… that is exactly where the Lord wants you. Because then there is no ego, there is no self-reliance, all resources have been exhausted, all other gods found lacking, and you stand stripped and naked before the Lord begging for mercy…..and our Lord gives it….or rather our Lord does it.

For you see that is our Lord’s modus operandi; to love and mercy us. That is what Jesus’ exodus is all about. Jesus as Israel, Jesus as everyman, leads us out of slavery and bondage to sin into forgiveness and freedom. He offers Himself as the innocent sacrifice without spot or blemish so that eternal death passes us by. His blood is place upon our foreheads and our hearts in Holy Baptism and upon the threshold of our lips in His Holy Supper so that we would be saved. Our Lord’s love and mercy is for all mankind. And yet at the same time it is individual and specific.

Behold again the different way that our Lord treats the disciples and the blind man. He hides from the disciples and He reveals and gives sight to a blind man. The reason for the difference is again centered in our Lord’s love and mercy.

What would have happened if Jesus did not hide understanding from the disciples? I think it would safe to speculate some possible outcomes. Firstly, if the disciples had a full understanding of what was to come with Jesus’ death and burial, perhaps they would have done their best to prevent it. We already know Peter tried when Jesus predicted His death earlier. It was out of love and mercy that our Lord spared them that trial, because it was necessary for them and for all of us that Jesus die.

Secondly, if the disciples had a full understanding of what was to come with Jesus’ death and burial, perhaps they would have been lost to despair. The knowledge would have been too great a burden. The glory of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration was brief and not fully understood. It was hidden once again because the disciples, nor any of us, could handle it. Same thing here. Maybe the burden of foreknowledge would have been too great for them to bear. Leading them to despair like Judas. It was out of love and mercy that our Lord spared them this trial.

But whatever the case may be we can assuredly say that the Lord acted out of love and mercy in a specific way to His disciples and to this blind man. Also, eventually the disciples did understand. They understood after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. They understood later on, in the upper room, in the breaking of the bread. Then their eyes were opened.

Our Lord loves and mercies you also. Your eyes are opened in the same ways. Your eyes are opened to behold, understand, and confess the necessity of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection because, like the blind man you have heard the Word of Jesus and are given faith to believe it. You approach this altar as beggars and disciples and have your eyes opened in the Holy Supper where you are given the body and blood of the Lord of the Sabbath; giving you peace that surpasses all understanding, and rest from your trespasses and from those who trespass against you.

Your Lord Christ loves you. Your Lord Christ mercies you.  All He has done, all He has created, and all He has recreated has been done for you. Now come and open your mouths and receive our Lord’s Body and Blood so that your eyes may be opened and you be mercied and saved.

Judaic Interpretation of Job

This is a paper I presented at our monthly circuit meeting. We are studying the book of Job this year. We have an exegetical presentation and then one based on a book compiled by Nahum Glatzer The Dimensions of Job. Fantastic book, great insights. What fascinated me in regard to the Jewish essays was how close they got to Christ, but refused to see Him. But we are better informed nonetheless.

In Lutheranism we seem quite content to dwell in paradoxes and often it is the explication of such paradoxes as Law/Gospel, two natures of Christ, and the Trinity that forms our confession and differentiates it from other confessions that seek to eliminate any and all paradoxes. As a result, we often think we own the both/and understanding of God’s revelation in Holy Scripture. The Book of Job, however, forces all readers, regardless of religious or non-religious affiliation, to deal with the paradox of a righteous and just God allowing or even inflicting suffering upon an innocent believer. It is with this particular paradox that Jewish interpreters have struggled just as much as Christians have.

Many of the hermeneutical principles Christian exegetes make use of have been handed down or borrowed from Jewish exegetes. This is seen in the Jewish midrash and peshat. The midrashim would focus on minute details of text like word order, repetitions, and minor differences between parallel passages. The focal point of the midrashim though was the community. How does this particular text affect the contemporary Jewish community? [1]

The Jewish method of exegesis called peshat on the other hand dealt more with interpreting the biblical text according to its own context, not according to the needs of the community. [2] Peshat really took center stage in polemical debates with Christians, and Christians borrowed heavily their methods of grammar, lexicography, and linguistic studies.[3] All of that to say that Jewish exegetes, as well as Christians, seem to have pulled out all the stops in trying to deal with the difficulties one encounters in dealing with the story of Job. For example, is Job a depiction of an actual person, or is it a parable? Or is the story more universal? Does Job represent the people of Israel and all believers in YHWH?

A quick glance at Glatzer’s essays and their titles shows this struggle. Job is compared to Abraham, Solomon (Kohelet), Ezekiel, Isaiah, Israel, Jonah, and the Suffering Servant in Isaiah. It is as if Jewish exegetes were searching the Scriptures for someone or anyone that could give them a clue as to who Job was and how his affliction could be explained.  Was Job a type of Abraham? Or was Abraham a type of Job? Was Job a picture of the struggles of the nation of Israel as some exegetes believed were depicted by the Suffering Servant?

Reading the introduction on Judaic Interpretation reveals that Jewish exegetes struggled primarily with who Job was for them. In the classical Talmudic tradition Job is the epitome of piousness. They gloss over Job’s rebelliousness and questioning God with the only reprimand being that if Job had stood more firmly he would be included in prayers addressed to YHWH as the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Job.

The medieval tradition begins with the same assumption that Job is to be represented as a pious person and they used “exegetical skill” to reduce the rebelliousness that Job shows. [4] Glatzer summarizes, “These and other (but not all) medieval Hebrew commentators desired to preserve the traditional image of a pious Job.”[5] And:

“Despite the common core of traditions, the postbiblical Jewish interpreters enjoyed a measure of freedom in approaching the subject of Job. Yet rarely did they allow themselves to look at the book itself and to explore its original meaning. The personality and intellectual circumstances of the exegete, modified by the heritage of his faith, determined his position in commenting on Job.”[6]

In regard the introductory material Glatzer presents, I find it interesting that Job is the center of both traditional and medieval Jewish exegesis. The paradox of the faithfulness of Job and his rebellion and questioning of YHWH is what the exegetes latched onto. They dealt with the paradox by glossing over Job’s rebellion and questioning; spinning Job to be the paragon of faithfulness. I find it fascinating that the actions of YHWH are never mentioned or considered. The paradox of the righteous, just God versus the seemingly evil-instigating God is never dealt with. They seem to ignore the paradox YHWH presents in the story.

By Glatzer’s presentation it appears the disconnect between YHWH’s attributes and actions are not questioned until the modern era. Some of the essays presented deal with this very paradox of God’s actions in Job, particularly the essay by Martin Buber, A God Who Hides His Face.

Buber begins his essay by setting up the dichotomy between dogma and experience. The experience of Job seems to contradict all dogmatic categories of how YHWH relates to His people. In fact, the experience of Job appears to create a new dogma. And for something to be dogmatic it must be able to be applied universally. Therefore, according to Buber, the complaints of Job about YHWH transcend the complaint of the individual. It becomes the complaint of Israel/God’s people. “Behind this ‘I’, made so personal here, there still stands the ‘I’ of Israel.”[7] In other words, the schizophrenia of YHWH in Job is of concern to all mankind, not just Job.

The source of that seeming schizophrenia is the why of suffering. As Buber explains, it is not the why of someone asking about the nature of things, it is a specific why addressed to God and His actions. “Job does not ask, ‘Why does God permit me to suffer these things?’, but ‘Why does God make me suffer these things?’”[8] As Buber asks, “How are these sufferings compatible with his godhead?”[9] Buber then offers four views of God’s relationship to man’s sufferings.

The first viewpoint is from the opening dialogue of Job. The scene is set with the Adversary petitioning God to entice Job, to see if Job will remain ‘gratuitously’ faithful, that is remain faithful without seeking reward, or will he break faith with God. Buber sees in the opening dialogue God ‘gratuitously’ causing Job’s suffering, that is causing suffering for no reason, and this behavior by God is really questionable because we know the motive, “which is not one befitting a deity. “[10] However, in the dialogue Job is depicted as the model heavenly citizen despite the careless God. These roles completely reverse in the rest of the book. Job begins to question and rebel against what God has done and God acts like God should.

The second viewpoint is that of Job’s friends. The friends are the dogmaticians mentioned above. The ones who have codified God’s behavior and see Job’s suffering as divine cause and effect. In other words, Job has somehow sinned against God and is now paying for it.

The third view of God is that of Job in his complaint and protest. The God who reveals is one who also hides, ‘hiding His face.’ He is a God who is seen and unseen at the same time. This is revealed in the fact that Job who believes in justice, and that it is willed by God, sees God acting contrary to that justice. “The truth of being just and the reality caused by the unjust acts of God are irreconcilable.”[11]    Buber the goes on to explain,

“In spite of this, Job’s faith in justice is not broken down. But he is no longer able to have a single faith in God and in justice. His faith in justice is no longer covered by God’s righteousness. He believes now in justice in spite of believing in God, and he believes in God in spite of believing in justice. But he cannot forego his claim that they will again be united somewhere, sometime, although he has no idea how this will be achieved. This is in fact meant by his claim of his right, the claim of the solution.”[12]

And somehow that solution must come. For Job knows justice demands that there be suffering for no reason, in other words, there must be cause and effect, sin and consequence. Yet Job feels isolated from God and cannot understand how God can violate that rule. How can God effect suffering for no cause? Who says Lutherans own the show when it comes to paradoxes?

It is here that Buber makes a brilliant observation:

“Job struggles against the remoteness of God, against the deity who rages and is silent, rages and ‘hides His face,” that is to say, against the deity who has changed for him from a nearby person into a sinister power. And even if He draw near to him again only in death, he will again ‘see’ God (19:26) as His ‘witness’ (16:19) against God Himself, he will see Him as the avenger of His blood (19:25) which must not be covered by the earth until it is avenged (16:18) by God on God. The absurd duality of a truth known to man and a reality sent by God must be swallowed up somewhere, sometime, in a unity of God’s presence. How will it take place? Job does not know this, nor does he understand it; he only believes in it. We may certainly say that Job ‘appeals from God to God.’”[13]

The final viewpoint of God’s relationship to man’s suffering is seen in God’s final speeches to Job. These speeches are not just God revealing His mysterious character and that man will never understand Him and His ways. It does more than teach that God can do with us whatever He wants. Rather they show that justice is at the heart of everything, not a recompensing and compensating justice, but a giving justice. A communion between creator and creature, in which justice means God giving to Job/mankind Himself as the answer to the sufferer who cries out in despair.

The book of Job, perhaps more than any other book in Holy Writ, really throws the believer for a loop. One cannot honestly deal with this text without being disturbed by it. Perhaps the only other passages in Scripture that reveal an almost dualistic god as depicted in Job and causes us concern, are the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and YHWH’s order to completely kill the Canaanites in Joshua.

But despite the fact that Buber is Jewish, I think Buber’s essay takes on the paradoxical actions of God in the book of Job, and comes the closest to giving us a clue as to the answer for why this happened. The answer is in YHWH Himself. Essentially, YHWH will have to answer to YHWH for what YHWH has done.

[1] Hauser. Alan J. & Watson, Duane F. (2003). A History of Biblical Interpretation (p.12). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub.

[2] Ibid, p. 4

[3] Ibid, p. 5

[4] Glatzer, Nahum N., (1969). The Dimensions of Job (p.18). Eugene, Oregon:Wipf and Stock Publishers.

[5] Ibid, p. 20.

[6] Ibid, p. 24.

[7] Ibid, p. 57.

[8] Ibid, p. 57.

[9] Ibid, p. 58.

[10] Ibid, p. 58.

[11] Ibid, p. 60.

[12] Ibid, p. 60.

[13] Ibid, p. 61

Incarnational Evangelism

Often Evangelism is one of those thorns in the so-called “confessional” pastor’s side. The people often clamor that more needs to be done in regards to outreach. Cynically speaking, this is usually brought up when numbers/offerings are down and the church is struggling financially or when some feel that the church has become stale and they need a pep rally to get energized and go win some souls for Jesus. It’s either that, or start a building project.

To be fair, pastors can become lazy in their vocation and view their current calling as a maintenance ministry. Just something to get through until retirement age or until a better call comes along. So it becomes tempting to pick one of the millions of evangelism programs in their prepackaged, laminated folders and download that to the folks through videos or guest presenters. Anything else would require too much effort. Or on the other hand, pastors are suspect of anything to do with evangelism, methodologies or programs (usually rightly so); therefore, it is easier to just avoid the whole thing.

Now don’t worry. The scope of this paper is not to address every error of evangelism. The problem I would like to zero in on is an argument that is often used to support a minimalist/lowest-common-denominator approach to evangelism. “The goal of evangelism is to get the message out. Just get a foot in the door. It doesn’t have to be correct in every doctrinal point. We need to get the word out and tell them about Jesus so people won’t go to hell.”

What to do with this? We know that something is not right here but what is it? How does one argue against this without sounding like an uncaring, detached intellectual?

First of all, the “foot in the door” mentality betrays a mindset of evangelizing in order to avoid a bad result. We tell people about Jesus so they won’t go to hell. So often we rely on that being our approach: “If you were to die tonight, do you know where you would go?” Evangelicals have turned this into an art form. And as we know, the LCMS loves to dig through the garbage heap of Evangelicalism. The focus is entirely on hell and avoiding it. Kind of funny since the Scriptures actually have very little to say about hell.

One could ask, is this “foot in the door” mentality fulfilling the 2nd Table of the Law; Love your neighbor as yourself? Is the goal to avoid a bad end for our neighbor or is it for them to experience the fullness and freedom of the Gospel as we enjoy it? Expressed that way, hopefully, we would say the latter.

But it seems more often than not we fall back to the “foot in the door” kind of thinking because we stand in judgment over our neighbor. Like Jack Nicholson we think, “They can’t handle the truth.” We fall back on giving them “spiritual milk” because they can’t handle the full Gospel. We’ll start by getting the word out so they can avoid hell and then bring them along as the layperson, or the pastor, sees fit because even though we confess otherwise, we view justification as a process.

This idea of giving “spiritual milk” betrays our Arminian thinking. That man is really on neutral ground and all he needs is a push in the right direction. Even though we don’t espouse decision theology, this view of evangelism shows it to be otherwise. Take a closer look the following milk texts more carefully: 1 Corinthians 3:2, Hebrews 5:12-13, and 1 Peter 2:2. When the writers talk about feeding on spiritual milk they are talking to those who are already IN the Church, to those who are baptized. They are not talking to unbelievers. They are not talking about parsing out the Gospel to prospective believers, yet that is exactly how these texts are often taken. Just give them enough Jesus so they avoid hell.

Secondly, there is the concept that minimal doctrine or even misguided doctrine can be okay. “But pastor, Billy Graham might be wrong doctrinally, but look how many people have become Christians because of him. Isn’t that a good thing?” The short answer is “That just shows how the Gospel/Holy Spirit works in spite of bad teaching.” But again, is this loving our neighbor? To leave our neighbor in the enslaving chains of law-oriented decision theology? Do we not want them to know the freedom of the full Gospel? Isn’t that what we would want for ourselves? Not to mention the fact of how hard it is to un-teach wrong teaching later on.

What is our goal when sharing the Gospel with people? Well, as Matthew 28:19 puts it, we as pastors are to “Go (or in our going) make disciples by baptizing and teaching all that Jesus has commanded.” The goal is not to drop Jesus name on people, lead them to the Lord, make sure they don’t go to hell, and move on. The goal is for them to participate in the Body of Christ.

So, I would argue that we should eliminate from our vocabulary words like “mission”, “evangelism”, and “outreach”.  The church is rather “incarnational”. Incarnational better describes what the Body is and does. This how we get the message right and how we love our neighbor.

The church is Christ incarnate, hidden, but real nonetheless. The church exists to literally bring Christ to people. The Church is Christ and the Church gives Christ, not abstractly but in reality. Christ is incarnate and a new reality is created/exists. This reality is not just for the few who park their butts in their pews every Sunday, but for the whole world.

Christ came in human form to live, suffer, and die.  There was nothing abstract about Him. He healed the sick, ate with sinners, and died for all.

As pastors we are called to incarnationally be Christ to those who we serve and to the community around us; in other words, for the “all” that Jesus died for. We bring Christ to our flock during Divine Service. In the stead and by the command of Christ, we shove Jesus into their ears and pour His body and blood down their throats. During times of crisis we are Christ to those in trouble and in pain. We are (or should be) physically present, incarnationally present. We are not called to counsel them through their struggle, we are called to be Christ to them and give Christ to them through Word and Sacrament.

The laity, as the Body of Christ, are also Christ incarnate. They are incarnate as they teach their children, pray with their wives, and do their daily tasks for their neighbor. If they receive Christ regularly, how can they be otherwise? (Yes, I know they/we often aren’t, but that is life this side of the grave. Thank God for forgiveness when we do not). The laity, even more so than the pastor, can be incarnational to the community. They can be Christ to those they work with; their extended families, and even to people they have never met. As believers they are the incarnate image of Christ. Do they or pastors always act so? Of course not; but God works despite us.  

The big question is, if you buy my argument; how do we as pastors initiate this? First and foremost, live it. Preach incarnational sermons that address people where they are. The Holy Supper is “missional” in the sense that it is incarnational. Christ is physically present and is physically being placed into the hearer, the eater, and the drinker. Also, be Christ to your people. Be there for them. Visit them in their homes. Recline and dine with those poor miserable sinners (don’t worry, they see you the same way) and build relationships. If you want a close personal relationship with Jesus, have a close personal relationship with His Body.

Forget about Synods, structures, and programs they are ineffective when it comes to actually living the Christian life incarnationally. This is done at the parish level and in the pastor’s and parishoners’ homes and lives. Remember the purpose of the church is centered on the reality of the forgiveness of sins; giving it to those who show up to receive it and proclaiming it those who are outside the walls.

The church is evangelistic in that it proclaims the reality of the Gospel, but to make it an “ism” is to take it from being incarnational (God with us) to institutional (man with us). Again Christ was not abstract, but incarnate and so should we be incarnate.