Oct 09

Reformation at 500: Grace Alone, Faith Alone



What we would like to have is a guarantee: something in writing, preferably, with full assurances. A baseline, a foundation we can build on because we know it will never go away. Something set in stone. What we would like to have is the full knowledge that things could not be different, that there is no other possibility than the reality we have right now. And if we don’t see that foundation, if we have trouble finding it, or if someone points it out to us and things look a little wobbly, we start to build that foundation for ourselves. If God won’t give us the foundation we think we need, the sure footing we want for our salvation, then we will make our own, by the works of our hands. Yet at the heart of the gospel, at the heart of our salvation, lies this precious word: grace. And grace means that things could have been different, that the way things are right now is not the way things must be. Grace means that the guarantees, the foundations we want, need to be thrown out the window. Continue reading

Aug 20

Jesus Christ: Object of Our Faith



Jesus says to her, “Woman, great is your faith!” This woman, this Gentile woman, she, of everyone who meets Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, she alone has great faith. I don’t know about you, but I want to hear Jesus say to me, “Mark, great is your faith!” Do you want great faith? This Canaanite woman shows us the way.

Last week Jesus told the disciples that they had little faith. Little faith is better than no faith. With little faith, the disciples listened to Jesus’s command, got into a boat, and crossed the sea of Galilee at night for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. With little faith, Peter got out of the boat when Jesus ordered him to come. Little faith is trusting Jesus, taking him at his word. We all need this little faith to be his disciples. With little faith we can go where Jesus sends us, even into situations that are frightening, without fear, because we trust that the one who sends us is Lord above all—and all means all. Continue reading

Aug 13

Jesus Christ: Lord and Son of God



Following Jesus means that we should, from time to time, expect to find ourselves in objectively scary situations. Too often, though, we live as if being faithful disciples means never having to go anywhere or do anything that could be frightening. We all want, or we all should want, the faith to live without fear. But living without fear is not the same thing as never being part of anything scary. Living without fear means trusting that Jesus is Lord, that he is the Son of God, that the lordship of Jesus extends over everything, visible and invisible. We cannot discover that Jesus reigns over everything if we shy away from anything that might be unsafe. Risk aversion is not the same thing as living without fear. That’s what Peter and the rest of the disciples discover in a windy night on the Sea of Galilee. Continue reading

Oct 31

Funeral Sermon for Joan Armstrong



One of the most beautiful gifts we receive from God is also one of the most easily overlooked gifts we receive from God. That gift, that beautiful gift, is the gift of our bodies. But we don’t often think of our bodies as gifts from God, as part of God’s grace for us, and so we tend to overlook our bodies. On the one hand, it’s nearly impossible for us to imagine life without our bodies—and that’s a good thing, actually, because in God’s plan for creation, bodies and life go together. On the other hand, many of us spend a lot of our lives thinking of our bodies more as problems to be solved or fixed or escaped than as gifts to receive. Continue reading

Oct 17

Perseverance: The Final Gift to the Faithful



Perseverance is a gift from God given at the end, and only at the end, to those who are faithful in Jesus Christ. In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with an angel of the Lord at Jabbok, and Jacob persists throughout the fight, even when he is injured, unfairly, it seems, by the angel. But it is only at the end of the match that Jacob receives the gift of perseverance, when the angel of the Lord yields to Jacob and grants him his request. Then, at the end, the angel blesses Jacob with the gift of perseverance.

In the same way, in Jesus’s parable of the unjust judge, a woman persists in her quest for justice. But perseverance comes for her only when the judge grants her request. If she had given up, of course, the woman never would have received the justice she was owed, and so she would not have persevered to the end. And if Jacob had given up, say, when the angel touched his hip, Jacob would not have received his new name, Israel, would not have received the Lord’s blessing, and so he would not have persevered to the end. Continue reading