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

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

Aug 01

The Gospel for Money



Let’s start with this, shall we: there’s a difference between moralism and the gospel. Moralism says, “Do this. Don’t do that.” The gospel says, “In Jesus Christ, you are free from this. In Christ, you are free for that.” Too often, money, if it is discussed at all, is discussed in terms of moralism: do this with the money you have; don’t do that with the money you have. But today we have a parable from Jesus about money, and today we need to hear the gospel, not another moralizing lecture on money. Continue reading

Jul 11

The Good Neighbor



We all want to be the person who can be counted on, the hero who comes through in time of need, the one who shows up the hypocrites and the elite. We want to be the person who’s ready to help, who’s in a position to help in the first place. The desire to be the helpful person is so much a part of who we are that we have laws in this country that protect people who try to help others in a crisis. We all want to be a good neighbor. Continue reading