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

Zacchaeus: Identity Crisis

Luke sets us up, right at the beginning of this familiar Bible study, the story of Zacchaeus—the wee little man. In chapter 19, verse 2, Luke tells us in no uncertain terms that Zacchaeus is a sinner. There was a man in Jericho named Zacchaeus, and he was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. Tax collector, rich: in Luke’s gospel, these are both ways of saying, “Sinner! Outsider! Outcast!” The only question, it seems, is what kind of sinner Zacchaeus will turn out to be. Which side—the tax collector or the rich man—will win out? 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

Mar 16

Looking to the Cross

The scene really is a bit bizarre. The Israelites, on their way to the Promised Land, have once again started their complaining; they’ve started to turn away from the Lord, and they’ve even started fooling themselves into thinking slavery in Egypt was better than wandering in the wilderness. This serpent of deceit, this snake bearing a bitter poison of lies, becomes horribly real when the Israelites discover live poisonous snakes in their camp; they repent and beg Moses to intervene for them. Instead of having Moses drive out the snakes, though, like St. Patrick in Ireland, the Lord commands Moses to make another snake, this one out of of bronze. It sounds a lot like God has just told Moses to make an idol, which is terribly confusing. And Moses does what God commands. He makes the bronze serpent, puts it on a pole, and all the Israelites need to do if they’ve been bit by a snake is turn their attention to the bronze serpent. Continue reading