Monthly Archives: January 2014

Called out of the Mob

Calling of St. Matthew, Caravaggio,

Calling of St. Matthew, Caravaggio, More info HERE.

I think the sermon last week on the calling of Matthew was very good, applicable to our current culture and basically what the text was concerning. Our idea of sin is messed up.  Sinner was a sarcastic term used by a God who is often sarcastic, and it’s for our own good.

I recently heard an excellent sermon on the idea of calling which is a big part of those verses.  The call of God is abrupt, it is effectual and it is permanent.

http://parishpres.libsyn.com/gospel-adventuring-pastor-george-grant-on-acts-15-36-16-10

I did have one question.  Is if fair to characterize the people as being for Jesus and the religious leaders against him?  In the beginning of his ministry at Nazareth Luke tells us it all started out pretty well, “all spoke well of him and marveled”  but then he kept talking and,

When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away

So as he said no prophet is accepted in his home town.  I don’t think that just included the religious leaders the crowd seemed pretty large.  Interesting these events lead to an early rumor that Jesus was some sort of shape changer, which is why Judas had to kiss him to identify him. Anyway, the majority of Jesus’ ministry was in the area around the Sea of Galilee.  Yet in Matthew 11:20-24 he says:

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you

So I think those people are out.  In Luke 9:51-56 the people of a Samaritan village:

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village

That doesn’t really speak well of those people.  They weren’t exactly beating down the religious leaders to get to Jesus.  In John 6:15 after Jesus fed the people they wanted to make him king, but Jesus kept talking and 45 verses later they abandoned him.

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him

In John 8 “Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them”  then a few verses later in v.59 they picked up stones to stone him.  A similar event happens in chapter 10:22-31.  Then of course we have the crucifixion.  At least here there is a hint that the religious leaders had incited the mob.  But still they are all on the same side.  Mark 15:6-15

Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified

So people did flock to Jesus for various reasons, but it seems that overall the Jewish people were allied with the religious leaders in rejecting Jesus.

Bioshock Infinite: Pt. 3 Comstock

Zachary Hale Comstock.  He looks just like Moses because he wants to ruin your life with rules.  Be afraid, be very afraid

Zachary Hale Comstock. He looks just like Moses because he wants to ruin your life with rules. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Who knew Comstock was a real person?  It’s not something your average 20 year trip through our educational system is likely to reveal.  Well, you might encounter him as a term of derision, for his “excessive opposition to immorality in the arts; prudery”.  No, seriously, it is a term, Comstockery.  Named for Anthony Comstock who should be a hero.  Instead Bioshock Infinite gives us Zachary Comstock, fanatic extremist cult leader extraordinaire.  Instead of telling the true story that admires this man for his unwavering commitment to protect the eyes of innocent children, we create a world which we can blame him for all the ills of the planet.

This is a disturbing trend in our culture. Current historians spend most of their time on seek and destroy missions of historical heroes.  Current would-be heroes are nit picked by the media until putting a pet carrier on top of your car is the same thing as clubbing a baby seal.  Myths and legends of heroism are decried as not real and damaging to children.  I think much of this is just an attempt to justify the moral slide of our culture, as things get worse and words we don’t want to feel bad about it.  The worset people these days are those who have the audacity to judge us.  And even the dead judge us from the grave as their history is retold, so we rewrite that history.  This is such a tragedy, most cultures have had heroes, sure they weren’t perfect but their peers knew there was something special about them, something worth preserving and emulating.  They stood up to evil and defended the innocent, often against all odds.  Men like Robert E. Lee, George Washington, Christopher Columbus, Martin Luther,  and many more.  Anthony Comstock was just such a man.

Outlawed!: How Anthony Comstock Fought and Won the Purity of a Nation, by Charles Gallaudet Trumbull

Outlawed!: How Anthony Comstock Fought and Won the Purity of a Nation, by Charles Gallaudet Trumbull

Much of this story I learned by reading a book that was recently republished, Outlawed by one of Comstock’s friends Charles Trumbull .  He started out humbly as a shopkeeper in New York shortly after the Civil War.  At the time, photography was becoming prevalent, and so obscene photography was beginning to be spread widely.   Such material wasn’t technically illegal illegal, but a more sensible culture understood the damage it was to the fundamentals of society.  It exploits women, and objectifies them to all who partake it this filth.  These twisted views of women undermine  marriage relationships which are the building blocks of a healthy society.  As with most evils they get their talons into children at a young age and are difficult to remove.  Comstock understood this and so did the people selling the material illegally.  They knew there was huge profits to be had and had no qualms selling to children.  Comstock’s love of children is what first lead him to devote his live to stamping out all such filth. There are many stories of his going out of his way to trade stories or stamps with children. He saw the damage that feeding these lusts caused as men destroyed their lives chasing women instead of responsibly caring for their wives.  It was just such a friend that led Comstock to act.  He tracked down the seller of the material and had him arrested.

Today we have the same ideals but we are just too lazy to really fight for them.  We all believe that pornography should not be shown to children, but we plaster it everywhere.  We say it’s wrong and have some laws but we don’t really do anything about it. We have been lulled into believing that 12 foot posters of scantily clad females plastered over our malls and billboards isn’t pornography.  We have been lulled into thinking that catalogs of female underwear are completely ok. We think todays bikinis are fine.  Do we really think that these designers didn’t create these things to entice?  Do we really think that children won’t get a hold of them?  Do we really think that these are personal sins that don’t affect a whole culture? Obviously we don’t care.  But Comstock did, he risked is life day in and day out to fight this evil.

After a few of his early arrests he and his wife decided that this was to be his life’s calling. He got the YMCA and some other pastors involved to supply the support he needed.  He pushed for federal legislation which made all such material illegal.  The Comstock Act passed March 3, 1873 and Comstock was appointed as the first enforcer of the law under the Post Office.  Though it was a paid position later he worked without pay for over 30 years.  Over the course of his service he tracked down hundreds of publishers and brought them to justice.  From time to time this even involved bringing down corrupt policemen and judges.  He developed such a reputation for fairly executing the law that lawyers of those he arrested would simply ask him if he had a case.  If he did they would plead guilty and try to get the lightest sentence for their client.  Comstock always assured that those arrested were treated justly and advised them in their own best interest. I was surprised to learn of how he melted down the plates used to print obscene books and returned the money to the owner or his wife, so that he might have a fresh start.  What a difference from how we pursue criminals today seizing everything we can get our hands on, ruining their livelihood and forcing the public to supply their room and boar as they relax in prison.

Comstock was often in danger.  There was lots of money to be had in evil, as is often the case.  He received letters with infections, hate mail and even a letter bomb.  He was threatened, beaten and shot at. A large cut to his face was why he always wore large side burns from then on.  But that didn’t dissuade him.  He was bribed and pushed to compromise, but he never did.  He was a real hero.

Anthony Comstock (March 7, 1844 – September 21, 1915)

Anthony Comstock (March 7, 1844 – September 21, 1915)

Stories like these were the stories you told to your children, it made them better people.    Just as often these were stories of the faithfulness of God.  God tells us time and again to remember what he has done.  Our lives are much easier when entering difficulties, if we remember how he has carries ourselves and other through.  Christianity is not a blind faith, God has proven himself faithful time and again, but we isolate ourselves when we don’t know history.  We think we are the first ones to ever go through such difficulties, and it seems impossible.  That’s why we need good stories.

Bioshock Infinite, like much of our post-Christian world tells a false story. They want to destroy people like Comstock, labeling him as a Puritans medeling in the private affairs of everyone and destroying their freedom because he is a fundamentalist fueled by religious hate.  In the end it turns out that the hero of the game, the part you play in Infinite, is the unbaptized version of Comstock.  So, get baptized and you end up destroying the world as a cult leader, don’t get baptized and you destroy it by being a murderer.  So, in the end the only solution is suicide, what a great message.  Instead of viewing the abilities of man as either potential for good or evil, Infinite says that some people are just beyond hope, if good is even possible, it’s just in the cards.  Have a nice day.

So, please, don’t let our increasingly Godless culture rob us of these great heroes of the past.  Don’t let them rob us of our faith.

Bioshock Infinite: Pt. 2 Interracial Marriage

Boy did I feel stupid when wandering around in a utopian floating city I am suddenly confronted with absurd violence, for this is the plot line of Infinite.  I wasn’t aware this was a first person shooter and part of a franchise of such games. I’m not opposed to violence as such, or accurate portrayals of good vs. evil, those often make for good stories, but this is ridiculous. You start out being launched to the utopian floating city of Columbia, as I mentioned before.  Only to wander a bit and to be welcomed to the festivities, some sort of fair.  Their game consists of a raffle, the winner of which get’s to cast the first stone as it were at the local interracial couple.  But before you can throw they discover that you are the false shepherd. And we know the only thing a bunch of backwards religious hicks hate more than black people, is a false prophet trying to wreck their utopia. So, of course, you must start bashing the heads of cult police to save yourself. But this is nothing compared to bashing of US history as racist. This theme is present through the whole game, which again is no surprise, it is forced on us by the media an academia constantly these days.

Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 3.37.57 PM

Of course banning marriage based on skin color is silly, and mocking people for doing so is easy.  But the the historic reality in the country is much more complex.  There were laws banning interracial marriage but they might just as well have banned intercultural marriage or interreligious marriage, because that was the issue.  I know I’m treading on thin ice, but that’s because we have all been programed to react every time race is brought up.  Everything is viewed in terms of race with no real historical context or biblical understanding being allowed.

At stake is not the happiness of two star struck lovers who happen to have different colored skin, but the health of a whole nation.  At least that’s what I draw from the biblical texts.  So there are quite a few verses about marriage. The first few are rules for priests, then in Numbers 36:3-6 an issue of case law comes up.   God commanded his people to keep the land he had given them in their respective tribes.  But if a female inherited land and married someone from another tribe that land would be transferred.  This was decided to be correct, so from now on God said women with inheritance were only allowed to marry within their on clan.  God is clanist, he just hates diversity. Or if we assume that God is right and we are wrong, the property and livelihood of God’s people was more important than romantic attachments of teenagers.

Also in Deuteronomy 7 he lays out the rules for when Israel enters the land he had given them verse 3 says “You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods” So we learn that intermarriage will turn the people of Israel away from the one true God to the gods of these nations.  We are quick to bristle and reject Old Testament rules as if they were written by Muhammed but we should stop and think.  This is part of what we believe to be sacred scripture, we should pause and let this teach us.  God was a racist by the modern definition, but which is right the definition or God’s word?  It is clear the issue was religion and not race.

In addition the same idea is repeated by Paul’s command in II Corinthians 6:14-18 “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.”   We are a people in the same sense as Israel was, we may not be tribal or racially linked but we are set apart. “For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God”   Then he appeals to the Old Testament, with a combination of verses:

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty”

I think it is fair to conclude that Paul has more respect for the Old Testament than we do.  His point is almost the same; don’t marry unbelievers, it is the most intimate thing a person can do, why would you want to corrupt the church by being one flesh with the world?

So, lets look at the historical context of early America, which is the intended target of this mockery by Infinite.  Interracial laws were first passed in the 1660s, yes that’s right before we were even our own country, that means that British colonies passed laws banning interracial marriage.  Perhaps this is a British problem and we should just label them racist and walk away.  There were primarily three groups of people in the colonies at the time, white protestant europeans, native indian pagans and black pagan slaves.  The first laws banning intermarriage were specifically against marrying black slaves.  (There were also many white slaves, indentured servants who sold themselves into slavery so they could get to America. Slavery wasn’t about race either.) Later laws would ban marriage to Indians as well. In light of the scripture above this makes perfect sense.  It also sheds a lot of light on the issue of voting and the 3/5ths compromise.  These were issues of culture or we might say religion and not of race.   You can’t allow pagan influence into your bed and expect it to remain Christian.

It doesn’t mean they are not people whom you must love with the love of Christ, it just means you don’t marry them.  And it’s not an issue that goes away instantly.  Even pagans who are converted to Christianity don’t assimilate instantly.  And groups that stick together often never do, as was the case with the Amish, Indians and Africans. As George Washington said “The policy or advantage of [immigration] taking place in a body (I mean the settling of them in a body) may be much questioned; for, by so doing, they retain the language, habits, and principles (good or bad) which they bring with them. Whereas by an intermixture with our people, they, or their descendants, get assimilated to our customs, measures, and laws: in a word, soon become one people.”  And as he knew you can’t have two groups of people bound by two different ideas living together at peace, this leads to strife and even war.  If we judge these groups by the content of their character they are often found wanting, as was the case with the blacks in this country, which lead to todays’ racism. As Thomas Sowell, also black, points out in his excellent book Black Rednecks and White Liberals.  Animosity towards blacks, which was worse after the Civil War, was often the result of their deviant behavior, which happened en masse to the point that their race got a bad name.  Essentially they remained pagan.

God’s theory of intermarriage is bourn out by a simple study of geography.  In North America we generally did not intermarry, either the pagan slaves or the pagan Indians.  Our faith has remained fairly robust, economically we have prospered, blessing the entire world.  South of the Mexican border in Latin America, the story is different.  They were colonized by Catholic Christians in much the same way as the Protestants here.  Yet they intermarried, there were no intermarriage laws passed and today it is difficult to tell a Spaniard from a native.  Latin America is known the world over for it’s hollow Catholic religion and it’s disastrous governments, the banana republics.  Prosperity today is directly related to how close these people live to the Protestants.  You don’t have to take my word for it.  Even wikipedia trumpets the virtue of intermarriage in Latin America as unprecedented.  They think it’s a virtue, I guess like most people today they feel good about their morality without looking at the reality or God’s word.   A recent study found similar results, if social research floats your boat. 

This is the dangerous work of being in the world but not of the world.  Jesus said:

“Ye are the salt of the earth:but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven

These are the two ditches we can fall into. We can marry the world and lose our saltiness or we can hide under a bushel and not do the world any good.  I would say our forefathers did a very good job of preserving the balance.  Believing the lies of Bioshock Infinite will only ensure that our future is saltless.

Bioshock Infinite: Pt. 1 Columbia

Manifest Destiny, John Gast, 1873.  Columbia lays telegraph wire as she leads the American expansion westward.  Manifest destiny is the idea that God had given us this land from sea to shining sea.  So he has and the world has been blessed ever since.

Manifest Destiny, John Gast, 1873. Columbia lays telegraph wire as she leads the American expansion westward. Manifest destiny is the idea that God had given us this land from sea to shining sea. So he has, and the world has been blessed ever since.

By most standards the video game of the year is Bioshock Infinite.  I would say it deserves this honor.  The plot is complex and engaging at every turn, the gameplay is flawless, and the graphics are beautiful.  I have a hard time justifying the wast of time that video games are but some early graphics piqued my interest.  While doing some research on Columbus a few years ago, I found some early art about Bioshock’s ‘Columbia’.  Columbia is the dystopian cult city where Infinite takes place.  What does this have to do with Columbus, you might ask.  Well Columbus was once the foremost hero of our country.  His daring exploration is what made civilization on this continent a reality.  Columbia is a New Latin toponym, combining a stem Columb- based on the surname of the explorer Christopher Columbus and an ending -ia, common in Latin names of countries (e.g. Britannia “Britain”, Gallia “Gaul”). The meaning is therefore “Land of Columbus.”  This was once the nickname four our country, personified as a woman. Our first national anthem was Hail Columbia.  But this imagery and much of the other imagery from the game is lost on most people.  Many reviews have been written and even Christian reviews.  But ignorance of such imagery has lead to most of them giving the game a pass.  I will not do so, I think the games message is ignorant or damaging and often both.

Some of you may already be reacting negatively to my characterization of Columbus.  But it is a historic reality.  He is woven into our culture because millions of people thought it worth doing so. They invented CBS, Columbia Broadcasting Company, Columbia Pictures and Columbia University, to name a few.  But if you go to Columbia University today you will hear a much different story.  They invent a Columbus who was the first anglo-white male to bring evil to this continent, destroying the noble savages with imperialism, sexism, racism, and homophobia all wrapped up in the religious extremism of Christianity.  This is the message of Infinite, and it is lost on most because this message is so pervasive, but it is wrong.  The ideas today attacked by Columbia were hardly defended before they came under attack because they seemed so obvious.  But today a defense must be made because such fictions cloud the once clear waters.

The following from Cecil Chesterton’s book A History of the United States, couldn’t say it better.

In the year of Our Lord 1492, thirty-nine years after the taking of Constantinople by the Turks and eighteen years after the establishment of Caxton’s printing press, one Christopher Columbus, an Italian sailor, set sail from Spain with the laudable object of converting the Khan of Tartary to the Christian Faith, and on his way discovered the continent of America. The islands on which Columbus first landed and the adjacent stretch of mainland from Mexico to Patagonia which the Spaniards who followed him colonized lay outside the territory which is now known as the United States. Nevertheless the instinct of the American democracy has always looked back to him as a sort of ancestor, and popular American tradition conceives of him as in some shadowy fashion a founder. And that instinct and tradition, like most such national instincts and traditions, is sound.

In the epoch which most of us can remember pretty vividly—for it came to an abrupt end less than five years ago—when people were anxious to prove that everything important in human history had been done by “Teutons,” there was a great effort to show that Columbus was not really the first European discoverer of America; that that honour belonged properly to certain Scandinavian sea-captains who at some time in the tenth or eleventh centuries paid a presumably piratical visit to the coast of Greenland. It may be so, but the incident is quite irrelevant. That one set of barbarians from the fjords of Norway came in their wanderings in contact with another set of barbarians living in the frozen lands north of Labrador is a fact, if it be a fact, of little or no historical import. The Vikings had no more to teach the Esquimaux than had the Esquimaux to teach the Vikings. Both were at that time outside the real civilization of Europe.

The First Landing of Christopher Columbus in America. 1862 Teofilo Puebla Tolin

The First Landing of Christopher Columbus in America. 1862 Teofilo Puebla Tolin

The nature of Columbus and his mission is not hard to decipher.  Like most men before our time, he wrote considerably in his journals.  Columbus was clearly a Christian taking bold action in quest of ruling and subduing the earth for his Christ.  He sought to convert peoples to Christianity, claim land for his king and secure wealth to fight the enemies of Christendom. From his diary:

 

Your highnesses, as Catholic Christians and Princes, lovers and promoters of the Holy Christian Faith, and enemies of the false doctrine of Mohomet and of all idolatries and heresies, you thought of sending me, Christóbal Colón, to the said regions of India to see the said princes and the peoles of the lands, and the characteristics of the land and of everything, and to see how their conversion to our Holy Faith might be undertaken.

Your Highness should take much joy in that soon you will make them Christians and will have instructed them in the good customs of your realms, for neither better people nor land can there be. . .

His High Majesty brings about all god things, and tha everything is good except sin, and that one cannot praise or think anything which is not with His consent, I know, says the Admiral, that, in the circumstances of this voyage, he has miraculously made this manifest, as one may understand through this writing, through the signal miracles that He has performed during the voyage and for me, who much of the time that I was in You Highnesses’ court, met with the opposition and contrary opinion of many important persons of your household, who were all against me, allegin my enterprise to be ridiculous, I hope in Our Lord that it wil be the greatest honor to Christianity that, unexpectedly, has ever come about.  These are the final words of the Admiral Don Cristóbal Colón concerning his first voyage to the Indies and their discovery.

These were not new goals. He was born in a time when Moorish Muslims had attacked and occupied his homeland in Italy and Spain for upwards of 700 years.  Modern historians like to pretend that the world was always as it is now, but the fact is that even now, war is common.  As the Constitution lays out the rules for declaring war, it was not a matter of if but when.  Peoples conquered other peoples, it took place in civilized and uncivilized cultures.  Often the victors made slaves out of those they captured or wiped them out completely.  That is normal on this earth.  But the opposite message comes through in Infinite.  War is a sin, slavery is about racism etc..  I will get to this more in another post. But this is the reality Columbus was born into, it is not ours.  As evaluated by his peers he was a hero, for generations.  How arrogant that we think we know better, having no understanding of his world’s past or of him.  This uninformed arrogance is the hallmark of our time, so of course it comes through in Infinite.

bioshock_infinite___columbia_entrance_by_benlo-d60yrteWhen you first enter Columbia in the game it is a wonder to behold. It is a city floating in the clouds, clean, beautiful, advanced and everything appears to be in perfect harmony.  Stylistically it is set sometime around the turn of the 20th Century, though many elements are futuristic or mysterious.  This is not far off from how the world viewed the real Columbia, and many who don’t live here still do.  For many escaping religious persecution or other forms of aged doctrine, America was the ‘city on a hill’ from Matthew 15:14.  Some people of late have carried the doctrine into the extreme believing the U.S. to be a sort of new Israel, but at the time it way more of a typographic description.  But there was always an idea held in the millions of it’s inhabitants, and millions more trying to get here, that America was different. It was a country not united by common heritage or ancestry but by an ideal.  There was a testing process just to make it here, which refined it’s inhabitants.  Alexis de Toqueville came to study what made it so different and his book Democracy in America is a testament to the unique Christianity that was Columbia.  It was called American Exceptionalism, but it is wholly lost on the creators of Infinite.  In choosing this name for their floating city they choose to ignorantly assail our past.  Like Elysium they paint this city as having been bourn on the backs of the poor and minorities. It’s religion is a cult of personality for a certain Zachary Comstock, who was also a real man but that is another post.  Comstock claims to be a prophet thought his knowledge of the future is really just advanced physics.  Subtle message here is that there is no religion only science, but that’s not the first time you have heard that.  The ways of this city are quaint outdated morality which are ultimately about slavery to it’s leader’s backward teachings.  This is what American history is to these people and they work hard to ensure that this is how it will remain for future generations. “Time rots everything.” Says the heroine Elizabeth as she watches New York burn.  And so time is rotten for these people and they can’t seem to believe anything else is possible for the hero of the game other than assisted suicide.  Hail Columbia.

 

Sacrament of Healing

Yeah you probably never heard of this sacrament, if you have even heard of a sacrament at all.  We evangelicals have very little use or understanding of such things.  The dictionary says that a sacrament is an outward sign of a spiritual reality.  I think that is a fair definition.  In one sense everything is sacramental.  This world and everything in it are the incarnated words of Almighty God. He didn’t just create something, he created a world with meaning directly related to his character.  Christ almost always taught by parables or by metaphors from nature.  This was easy because he created the world to do so. Not only are we in this world but we are in a world designed to speak to us.  Psalm 19:2 says “The heavens declare the glory of God // and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. // Day to day pours out speech //and night to night reveals knowledge.

Jesus Heals the Paralytic, Harold Copping

Jesus Heals the Paralytic, Harold Copping

Greek philosophy under Plato attempted to separate the world into the seen and unseen, physical and metaphysical.  The seen was just a shadow of the actual unseen world.  The seen was on a lower plane, below the unseen.  Matter was evil, this was the Gnostic heresy of the first century, and the idea persists today. But that is not the Christian belief, though it seems like it sometimes.  Matter was created by God and he said it was good repeatedly in Genesis 1.  Matter will persist, Christ received a new body and there will be a new earth. And it’s not necessarily bad to divide the world up in this way.  We understand that there are seen and unseen aspects to this world.  The problem comes when we discount one or the other.

I think our pastor did just this in his exposition of Mark 2, this week.  In always searching for a spiritual message he minimizes the physical reality of the story.  How interesting is a story where someone comes to Jesus and Jesus tells him his sins are forgiven?  Not very, I would say.  Theoretical discussions with no physical reality are bo-oring.  But God gives us a story where there is an outward sign that sins were forgiven.  And we love it, because we are sacramental creatures who live on the incarnate word of God known as planet earth. It’s a good story.  It’s the same reason God gave his people the physical acts of following the Mosaic Law.  It’s the same reason Jesus gave us the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  It’s how we are made.

Baptism isn’t just a sign of what is going on inside, we are actually cleaned on the outside.  The bread and wine are not just symbols of Christ’s body and blood, they actually nourish us.  Jesus didn’t just tell people their sins were forgiven he showed them by acting it out on their bodies.  And God is praised.  Who cares if no one got saved on the scene?  There is no proof that is true, but who cares?  God’s creation was restored and God was glorified.  That’s more good than I see on a given day.  We need to get away from this all-or-nothing Christianity, it’s really just that dualism I mentioned earlier.  Things can happen on this earth without someone getting saved and they can still be good.  Christ went out of his way to curse a fruitless tree Mark 11:12-14.  Isn’t that a waste of time since all that really matters is the spiritual level?  He could have been getting someone saved, instead he is off talking to trees.  But the point is that creation was not doing it’s job so Christ rebuked it.  Take the reverse, when creation is doing it’s job it is a good.  God was glorified when this story happened and he has been glorified every time it was told, because it was a good story.  The heroes and villains were all in the right place, there was conflict and the meaning is clear.

It might be hard to hear but the most important thing is that God is glorified.  It’s not that any one person is forgiven or that he receives real salvation. It’s not that all the good people are safe and the bad people are locked up in cozy ACLU approved prisons.  Sometimes the good guy gets killed, sometimes Jack Bauer shoots his partner.  It makes a good story.   Romans 9 tells us that God appoints all the characters in the story, heroes and villains.  He appointed Pharaoh to make a good story, to make God look good.   In Mark’s story, Christ the king is walking on the earth and conquering everything in his path.

Cosmo Kramer as the Paralytic Pimp of Capernaum.

Cosmo Kramer as the Paralytic Pimp of Capernaum.

I also had some other questions about the narrative presented.  How do we know that this man was only interested in being healed?  How do we know he cared about that at all?  Maybe he just wanted to hear Jesus’ teaching and he couldn’t get in because some leper went around blabbing and now the religious leader got all the good seats next to the superstar.  While we are making stuff up, why don’t we invent a whole story for this guy?  Ok. He was a pimp and he ran a large brothel.  It was three doors down from the synagogue, surprisingly the Catholics have not built a church over this house, but that’s how it goes.  Coincidentally it was frequented by many of the religious leaders, when they weren’t dragging adulterous women into the temple.  So, anyways, he was pimping along and everything was going great and then one day he ate some bad mutton and woke up paralyzed.  All he could do was drool and all his harlots were being taken away.  It was horrible. So, four compassionate gay Samaritans from a neighboring homosexual brothel carried him to see Jesus.  That’s four doors down from the synagogue, in case you were wondering.  Once they got him healed he was a superstar and he went back to pimping and business was better than ever. No one was saved,  Jesus loves sinners, the end.  Sure great story but it’s not the one Mark wrote.  Now, I don’t have a problem with making up stories, the more the better.  But do it the right way, don’t read your story into the scriptures, because you need sermon material.  Every sermon should be a new story, a retelling of the gospel in light of the people you are speaking to.  But there is no need to confuse the two.

Jesus Heals the Paralytic, Stained Glass, St. Vincent de Paul Chapel, St. Louis, MO, photo by Jeff Geerling

Jesus Heals the Paralytic, Stained Glass, St. Vincent de Paul Chapel, St. Louis, MO, photo by Jeff Geerling

 

Eve and the Soireé of Sexual Sin

Adam and Eve, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1472-1553

Adam and Eve, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1472-1553

I must confess I have murdered dozens of people.  No this isn’t about hate in ones heart being the same as murder.  But there are countless women, some of them I don’t even know, and I have murdered their dear friend or relative.  No, I have not met most of these people and their murders were little more than a construct in the mind of said females, but it is murder just the same, or so it seems.  How have I gone on so long with impunity, you might ask.  Well I assure you there has been nothing but penalty while the actual victims are non-existant.  It generally happens that while expounding one of any number of ideas, that I am wont to expound, I make distinctions, distinctions between right and wrong, the only type I really see any point in making.  But in saying that certain things are wrong I call to the minds of these females the victims I speak of.  They have affinity for these people, even love, therefore my criticism of whatever must be incorrect.  And the fact that I attacked an action done by this other, must me that I am in fact in the wrong, evil even.  For I have killed their acquaintances with my words.  This is the nature of Eve’s deception.  God had made his law clear, for her own good, but she felt something different.  Instead of taking that word and applying it unquestioningly to her situation, she welcomed in the evil, tried it on.  She let it enchant her and she found the Word of God wanting.

Paul tells us in I Timothy 2 that it was the woman who was deceived, but today even the men are deceived.  This type of emotional situational morality, has take over our culture.  There is a sense in which this was always the case. Chesterton said that “men are men but man is a woman.”  He was trying to convey the fickle nature of mankind.  At best in scripture we are the Bride of Christ at worst the harlot of Ezekiel 16.  But I think the victory of feminism has lead to the scenario I laid out above passing for reason a logic with a lot more men than in days gone by.  I can’t tell you the number of women I know who bristle when I criticize homosexuality because the know someone who is a homosexualist. And they aren’t that bad, so homosexuality can’t be that bad.  Scripture is clear, it’s not grey at all, but they make it grey because of an emotional affinity for another person.  Christ tells us that the cost of following him might be giving up our closest family relationships.  He came to bring a sword that divides  Matthew 10:34-39.  And you don’t want to be on the wrong side for the sake of a family member.  Men are supposed to be more logical.  Our sins are generally blatant and overt.  But I see more and more in our culture that this emotional appeal works on them.  We have built whole fields of social science aimed at codifying these emotional appeals.  Granted they often attract more women but men are being sucked in more and more.  But we need to avoid Adams sin of complacency and sort this out and fight this evil.

Modern man likes to mock the stories in the Old Testament as being myth and fairytale.  Well they are.  They just happen to be true fairytales.  And if you think that is silly you don’t need to look farther than the second and third chapter.  God lays out his command plain and clear.  Don’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:16.  God was not stingy, there were thousands of trees man could eat of and only one he could not.  Now in a good fairy tale, a woman eats an apple and the whole world is destroyed.  But watch as this is played out, it is not such an unfamiliar story.  It all begins with a question “Did God really say. . .”  This is how sin always begins.  Stealing isn’t really that bad.  Adultery won’t really hurt anyone.  But today in reference to sexual sins, psychology has established a canon of such questions.  Since Freud wondered if it was all about sex, his questions opened the door to countless others.  Maybe I’m really meant to have sex with other women.  I was born a man but maybe I’m really a woman.  Then you play with the idea a little in your mind.  Society helps by throwing off any notion that anything you choose to do could possibly be wrong.  You try it out on your lips. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes.”  Then you start to suspect that God is really out to get you.  He want’s to keep you from doing this because he knows how much fun it would be.  And all his little puritanical disciples are just out to wreck your fun too.  So, you push a little further and pursue this evil.  ”and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate”  But then you feel ashamed.  Your eyes are opened. What have you done?  Then your worldly friend come along side you and assure you that you are clothed, you are fine.  That’s not your conscience bothering you, it is the social construct of those Christians out to ruin your fun.  So you march and paint rainbows, you continue your sin with the same sex or cutting off or sewing things on, you spit in the face of God.  And nothing bad happens, you don’t get struck down, everything seems fine.

Eve, Anna Lea Merritt, 1885

Eve, Anna Lea Merritt, 1885

Then one day you look around and there are no children.  Contraceptions are strewn about everywhere.  The remains of bloody abortions are splattered in every street.  You can’t tell the men from the women from the use-to-be men and women.  The elderly die alone in their beds at a younger and younger age, with no one to care for them.  Then the dictator comes. He rules with an iron fist, now you don’t choose anything.  And, you wonder if there might not be something too that fairytale told in Genesis.

The First Mourning, William Adolphe Bouguereau, 1888

The First Mourning, William Adolphe Bouguereau, 1888

Today’s Fool

The Rich Young Man Went Away Sorrowful.  James Jacques Joseph Tissot.

The Rich Young Man Went Away Sorrowful. James Jacques Joseph Tissot.

The story of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus is well known.  The story is recounted in Matthew 19 and Mark 10.  A wealthy young man comes up to Jesus looking for a system of morality that will get him into heaven, fire insurance as we say today.  Jesus tells him to follow the law.  The man claims to have been doing this. Jesus tells him to give up all of his money and the man walks away.  This young man just gave up the kingdom of heaven for however much money Mark 8:36.  He did not see the Kingdom of Heaven as a priceless jewel for which he would sell all Matthew 13:45,46.  According to Luke 13:16-21, this man is a fool.

But let’s suppose this man shows up to church on a different Sunday, when the message is not about money.  On Do not Murder week, this guy is cheering in the isles.  Do not commit adultery week is fine too, “preach it brother”.  Do not steal week, “what a great illustration, I need to tell so-and-so about that. He has a little problem with this.”  All these weeks sitting in the pew, he doesn’t look like a fool.  What is wrong with Jesus? Why couldn’t he just find common ground with this guy and live happily ever after?  Why does Jesus have to be so judgemental the guy was 90% right in his theology, give him a break, no one is perfect.  Instead Jesus goes right to this man’s one weakness and exposes it.  I have see few pastors who are as to the point as Jesus.  It’s easy to address piles of legitimate sins floating around theoretically in the world, while telling yourself that you are faithful to the word, but to address the immediate sin of a people is hard.  As an old pastor once said if you are not preaching the gospel that needs to be heard by the people right now, you are not preaching the gospel.  We all need the gospel every week and every day.  We are all fools in some area or another, and the appearance of getting along is not worth the evil that sin can work.

So, seriously do you know any Deists?  Gosh I just can’t tell you the number of lives I’ve seen destroyed by Polytheism–wait that never happened.  And, I’m not talking about involving elaborate systems of rhetoric to force someone with some error into one of these categories.  Because on the face, it is silly to discuss these, these are not our problems.  Agnosticism or Atheism are very popular in the west and Pantheism in the east, but I’m talking about our church or the church at large. Not that we are without our problems, so like Jesus I would like to address a few of these.

Problem one is Scientism, it is the grandchild of Darwinism but not quite the same thing.  I’m not talking about science as a set of experiments.  It’s not about living out our Christianity in a real way on this planet.  It’s not an exercise of applied science in any give field. It is applying science to areas clearly covered by scripture.  It is allowing science to be a source of authority over scripture.  Now of course no one likes to admit that this is the case. Our hearts are deceitful, we do thing subtly.  We create complex edifices to assure ourselves that we are ok.  The fact remains we put ‘science’ over God’s word in many areas.  Ever wonder why pastors use statistics so much these days.  It’s not enough for us to hear God’s word tell us something is wrong, we need to try it a bunch and then collect statistics to see if it was really that bad.  Look at Europe they legalized everything and their murder rate is down 3.5%. And about God’s word, some parts of it have not been proved by science so we better tread lightly we don’t want to look stupid like the Church did with that whole Galileo incident.  No sir, not me, I’m an enlightened modern. . . fool.

This sin first because it is the most fundamental problem these days.  It is underlying our thinking at a fundamental level which gives rise to so many other bad ideas.  This was the battle of C. S. Lewis.  This life is a story which is why God’s word is full of stories.  We are not molecules or atoms or some other scientific explanation, we are the incarnated word of God, like all of creation.  God incarnated his law and love into a story that was Jesus the Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.  Science can do a lot of things for us, but it is no way to run your thoughts, your life or a society.  Aurthur Balfour predicted it and Hitler worked it out in real life. His crusade to assist natural selection resulted in millions of deaths.  But we do the same thing every time we put the authority of science above God’s word.  Scientific advances have given us the false impression that things will always get better, that what is new is always better.  It tells us that old book, old morality and old people are of no use.  Old people can’t do as much as young people and they are slow at computers, so let’s just kill them.  This extreme pragmatism has lead to a huge influx of euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the killing of unborn people with down syndrome and other defects.  We worship science when we corrupt the creation account and fundamentally misunderstand that story.  He created them male and female, gender is not a choice.  Marriage is a God ordained institution, it’s not a convenient social construct which can just as easily be involve two people of the same sex if it’s convenient.  Things don’t slowly morph into other things, God put them in their place, quickly and dramatically.  The same way he brought his justice and remade the world in the flood and the tower of Babel and in every life remade by the Gospel.  Our court systems are full of scientism.  Guild or innocence by a standard of God’s law are secondary to a person’s genetic propensity, mental diseases or social conditioning.  These are all the constructs of Social Science which is simply pseudo-scientific-heresy masquerading as science.  Humans are not machines, we are sinful fallen  creatures made in the image of God. Our hearts are deceitfully wicked, yet we think a series of experiments can somehow give us meaning and direction.  We are fools.

Problem two is Patriotism.  Now there is nothing wrong with loving your country or even fighting for it.  But there is a problem with putting your faith in it.  Were you scared on 9/11?   Why?  God was still ruling in heaven the same as he is every day.  If God wants to take you, what do you think the government will do about it?  Do you give thanks to the government for your personal safety and prosperity or do you praise God?  Or perhaps you just put your faith in capitalism as a system apart from any country.  That is still false worship. You are still a fool.

With our latest President the country seems to have taken a turn from this sin into the sin of Communism.  If patriotism is the Republican sin, this is the Democratic.  Obama ran as a messiah, he was going to provide everything for everyone.  He was blatantly worshiped.  Many put their faith in him.  The government is their god, it feeds and clothes them, gives them healthcare, tells them what to eat, how to be safe and even raises their kids.  Jesus told the Jews to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s”  But my person is not Caesars, I bear the image of God I belong to him.  My family is not Caesar’s, nor is my church.  But we rendered these things to the government in countless ways.  From turning over our 5 year olds to accepting laws we should fight.  Inculcated Communism has also lead to fundamental redefinitions of property, justice and even history.  God’s repeated command not to steal assumes property ownership.  But Communist like to tell a false story about how everyone is owed equal everything and protection of property is a construct of the rich to subdue the poor.  Real justice, they say, is redistributing everything to the poor.  Or as God might say legalized theft.  The only reason there is evil in the world, says the Communist, is because of wealth inequality.  No, I’m sorry, the problem is sin, and the solution is Christ.  And anyone who puts their faith in government is a fool.