Dear Gulf Coast Leaders,
Today only, this email is being sent to all three email lists:
- Gulf Coast Leaders
- Gulf Coast General
- Children, Youth and Family Ministries
Starting next Sunday, this will once again only go out to the Gulf Coast Leaders’ list. If you are not on that list, and wish to be, or if you want to check which lists you are on, simply click Update Profile/Email Address at the bottom of this email. When you input your address, an email will be sent to you with a link to the website where you can update your email address and choose which lists you’d like to be on. You can also always read this on my BLOG: bishopmike.posterous.com.
Prayer List– Paul Geisler’s mother died. Ruby Westerbuhr’s brother died. Steve Cox’ father has pneumonia.
March 28, 2010 – Passion/Palm Sunday
Sovereign God, you have established your rule in the human heart through the servanthood of Jesus Christ. By your Spirit, keep us in the joyful procession of those who with their tongues confess Jesus as Lord and with their lives praise him as Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Luke 19:28-40 – Processional Gospel with Palms. The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. An anti-triumph, in contrast to the Roman triumphal marches after a conquering victory.
Isaiah 50:4-9a– Game face: I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting… therefore I have set my face like flint…
Psalm 31:9-16 – In you, O Lord, I take refuge. Let me never be put to shame. I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me. I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.
Philippians 2:5-11 – Christ hymn: Have this mind, that was in Christ, who didn’t count on his equality with God, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant, and becoming obedient, even to death on a cross. The center of Paul’s Christology.
Luke 22:14 – 23:56 or Luke 23:1-49– Passover dinner and arrest. Shortened version begins with Jesus before Pilate: “Are you the king of the Jews?” Longer version includes the burial by Joseph of Arimathea.
Service of the Word for April 18, 2010
We’ll all be at Synod Assembly for Easter 3C. The link above will take you to a proposal for a lay-led Service of the Word. Starting on Tuesday, it will include a message from the bishop that may be read from the pulpit at the sermon time.
Principe de Paz, Houston
Lutherans praying in Spanish at Principe de Paz
11 Confirmations and 6 First Communions at Principe de Paz last Sunday, an exciting day, standing room only. Click here for the sermon.
On Being a Confessional Lutheran
“For it is necessary that the doctrine of Christian liberty be preserved in the churches, namely, that the bondage of the Law is not necessary to justification, as it is written in the Epistle to the Galatians, 5, 1: Be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”
– Augsburg Confession XXVIII
From my BLOG: Pope Benedict XVI Visits Lutheran Church
· 4/16-18: SYNOD ASSEMBLY 2010. New Orleans! Service of the Word for 4/18.
· 6/27-7/21: DISCIPLE PROJECT at TLU! This year there will be two tracks for adults: Preaching as God-Speech and Children’s and Family Ministry. Pastors and lay rostered leaders: Come with youth and young adults of their congregation. Private rooms. Preaching track by Paul Wilson, author of The Four Pages of the Sermon. $325 inclusive if by Monday, April 19. Questions to email@example.com.
This week I’m including two devotions.
This Sunday is Passion/Palm Sunday. Many congregations read the Passion instead of a sermon. Recently, some have moved to restore the Passion to Good Friday, and focus the Sunday before Easter on Jesus Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.
My first devotion focuses on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The second focuses on Paul’s Christ Hymn in Philippians 2, which comes up on this Sunday in years A, B and C. The only other time it pops up is on The Name of Jesus, which many Lutheran congregations omit, and Proper 21A/Ordinary 26A/Pentecost +20 in season A, which usually falls in September. This passage is so central to Paul’s understanding of Christology in general and incarnation in particular, that one hates to miss an opportunity to preach it. I just couldn’t decide. So I leave it to you, as the Spirit leads.
Julius Caesar was born 100 years before Jesus. Known for his incredible speaking ability, his magnetic personality and his military genius, he was elected Pontifex Maximus in 63 B.C. at the age of 37. Today the Pontiff is the Pope, but back then it referred to the Pagan High Priest of Rome.
By reducing the taxes of the rich and by giving land to the poor, he became extremely popular with all levels of society. He conquered what is now Britain, France, Belgium and Germany west of the Rhine, making him the greatest military leader of his time. He is reputed to have known the names of every one of his men in battle. You can read more about this and what follows in
Jesus the Last Day, A Collection of Essays published by the Biblical Archeological Society.
© 2003 Biblical Archeological Society.
But the Senate elected Pompey instead, another military leader with his own faithful armies. The senate told Caesar to give up his army. He did not know what to do. Submit to the will of the Senate, or to Civil War? On January 19, 49 years before the birth of Christ, Casesar said, Iacta alea est – the die is cast – and his armies crossed the Rubicon River, entering Italy to change history forever.
From there he conquered Spain, then Greece, then Egypt where he lived with Cleopatra. Then Syria and Pontus. He conquered the Mediterranean world with such ease he reported his victory with the words Veni, Vidi, Vici – I came. I saw. I conquered. He never once doubted that he had done the right thing. Because Rome needed the best general in charge, right? His victory proved that he had done the right thing; the gods were on his side. The victor is the winner and the winner is the gods’ choice, right?
When he returned to Rome, the people lined the streets for his Triumphal March. They waved branches and threw their garments before him as he rode into Rome on his horse. Some in history see him as the greatest military commander ever. Others see him as one who destroyed democracy, and the Republic.
In subsequent years, every time land was conquered there would be a triumphal procession. The historian Dio Cassius tells us the triumphator would gather his armies and the Praetorian Guard, and enter Rome clad in armlets and a regal purple robe embroidered with gold after the rites of Dionysus. With a gold laurel crown upon his head that had been borrowed from the Temple of Jupiter, he held a branch in his hand.
The racially-diverse, conquered prisoners of war would march ahead of him, Africans, Jews and Arabs, proof the victories he had attained. When the triumphator arrived at the Roman Forum, he would command some of the prisoners to be put to death and the rest imprisoned or enslaved. He would ride up to the Capitol and perform certain sacred rites to the gods. The word “capitol” just means “the head.” The head of Italy. The head of the world. Later a triumphal arch would be erected to commemorate the event.
Each leader felt his triumphal march had to upstage the others. So the processions became more and more complex and lavish. Perfumes would be distributed to those along the way to create an aroma or aura. By 20 B.C, 20 years before the birth of Christ, the triumphal procession became the sole privilege of the Emperor, who would parade through the city as people shouted, “Hail Caesar!” A bull would be dressed up and led along in procession to be sacrificed to the gods at the end. A priest would walk behind the bull with a double-bladed axe for the sacrifice.
The Emperor’s face would be painted red like Jupiter’s statue so that he would be identified standing in for the deity. Indeed, Gaius insisted on being addressed as Jupiter and Nero was called Apollo.
Just before the sacrifice, the triumphator would be offered a cup of wine, but he would refuse, and instead the pour the wine out on the bull or the altar. The wine symbolized the precious blood of the sacrifice.
After the sacrifice, the Emperor would then sit on his Throne in glory.
Both Luke and Matthew base their version of Jesus’ passion on the Gospel of Mark, which was written in Rome, for Christians in Rome. They could not possibly fail to see what we 21st century American Christians almost always miss: Jesus’ procession to the cross is a parody of the Roman triumphal march. It follows a formula.
- Jesus is taken first the Praetorian guard, where he is clad with a purple robe and a crown of thorns.
- They parade him through the city, shouting, “Hail, king of the Jews!”
- His executioner walks alongside him.
- The triumphator would be led to the Capitol, the Head. But Jesus was led to Golgotha, the place of the Skull.
- Like the triumphator, Jesus too is offered ceremonial wine, but he too refuses it, echoing his words at the Last Supper, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:24-25).
At the end of the procession, the Emperor would sit on his throne. When Claudius returned to Rome after a military campaign he ascended the steps of the Capital on his knees and then sat on his Throne with his sons-in-law on his right and on his left. When Titus returned after destroying Jerusalem and the temple he had Vespasian on his right and Domitian on his left. When Jesus concludes his triumphal procession, he is crucified with two thieves, one on his right and one on his left.
The gospel writers want us to see Jesus’ last day not just as a triumphal march, but as a kind of anti-triumphal march. Whereas the world glorifies power and violence and destruction, Jesus encounters the hatred and violence of his own religious tradition, and the hatred and violence of the world’s greatest empire and responds not with hatred and violence, but with submission to God’s will, and in his resurrection, finds a victory that transcends the human condition.
The pomp and pride of Gaius and Nero are contrasted with the humility of Jesus, and so the pomp and pride of the world’s rich and powerful and contrasted with the humility of the world’s poor and common people. In Christ, God is not for the victor, but for the victim. God’s divine favor is not found in victory, but in humility, compassion, and service. In kenosis: emptying oneself (see the next devotion, below). Here’s the message: The salvation of the world depends upon God’s way, Christ’s way being made manifest in the world.
As followers of Christ, we are challenged on this day, and every day, to not cater to power and the powerful, but give our lives for the poor and downcast of the world. The innocent. The powerless. The children. We are challenged to reject the hatred, violence and power plays of the world, and risk living in the humility of Jesus the crucified Jew. We are not promised that there will be no cost. We are never promised that there will be no hour of trial or a cross with our name on it. In fact, Jesus warns us that there will be persecution, by those who reject God’s ways. But in the end there will be a crown of glory that will outshine the suffering of this world.
Hear Paul’s understanding of the Triumphal March (and Mary’s anointing for burial?) in 2 Corinthians (2:14-15)
…thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.
There can be no mistaking Paul’s metaphor here: Christ is the ultimate Triumphator because he has destroyed the real enemies: sin and death. Therefore we are freed to follow the cross in Triumphal Procession all the days of our lives, until we are led to our joyful resurrection.
Philippians 2: The Christ Hymn
I’m in the process of reading Michael J. Gorman’s, Inhabiting the Cruciform God. The book is subtitled, Kenosis, Justification and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology. Now there’s a mouthful. It’s more than gibberish. Gorman begins with the number of times Paul uses the phrase “in Christ.” When I reread the NT, I’m shocked by the number of times that phrase is there, and how I’ve taken it for granted. To cite a couple:
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, & I regard them as rubbish, so that I may gain Christ & be found in him. Phil. 3:8-9
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. 2 Cor. 5:17
I remember Mark Alan Powell telling us that there are no places in the Bible where we are told to invite Jesus into our heart. Not that it’s a bad thing to do, but the New Testament invites a flip-flop of that. Paul talks about those who are “in Christ.” Paul has a robust “in Christ” spirituality and theology. What exactly does Paul mean by this turn of phrase?
Gorman’s has four main points:
1. Cruciformity = Theoformity, or what is called theosis in the Eastern Christian tradition.To be in Christ is to live life in a cruciform way. It is to be claimed and shaped by Christ. It is to be molded into the image of Christ. Theosis means humans becoming more like God. As Irenaeus said, later shaped by Athanasius: “God became what we are to make us what he is.” (See 2 Peter 1:4, Rom 8:29, 1 Cor 15:49, 2 Cor 3:18, 2 Cor 5:21, Phil 3:21). In Philippians 2, cruciformity, theosis is kenosis: emptying oneself.
2. Justification is theosis. Justification is more than judicial, a declaration of “not guilty.” It is more than a label. There is a transformation that begins to take place. Anything less is “cheap grace” a la Bonhoeffer, or “cheap justification.” Justification without justice is cheap, armchair grace.
3. Holiness, then, is conforming to the cruciform character of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Holiness (sanctification) is not a supplement to justification, but the actualization of it.
4. Non-violence is one if the essential elements of participating in the kenotic, cruciform God. To live the cruciform life is to empty oneself, to not lay claim to status and power, but to take on the form of a servant/slave.
I’m just now in the middle of the second section on justification, a subject near and dear to this Lutheran’s heart. His scholarship and exegesis is impeccable. The first part of the book focuses on Paul’s Christ Hymn in Philippians 2, which he calls Paul’s “Master Story.” His brilliant work has huge implications for the church, especially in this postmodern context.
The Christ Hymn
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death-
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Of course the big argument in church history was the pre-existent camp versus the adoptionist camp. The pre-existent folks point out that Christ was already in the form of God, and had to empty himself to become human. My systematics prof called this “theology from above.” The adoptionists pointed out the phrase “Therefore God highly exalted him…” means that Jesus became Christ, and therefore God, because of his obedience unto death. God adopted him as Son.
Gorman’s work here is brilliant. Christ’s kenosis, his self- emptying reveals the character of God, and forms the key to understanding Paul’s theology, Christology and ethics. The theology of this seminal passage permeates all of Paul’s letters. Gorman goes on to suggest that a kenotic Christ means a kenotic God. Paul’s understanding of Christ, and thus God is in two parts:
1. humiliation 6-8
2. exaltation 9-11
Gorman draws two conclusions: Humility is the character of Christ, and therefore the character of those “in Christ,” but also the character of God.
Humility is the character of Christ and therefore the character of those in Christ
Although, not, but. Although Christ was in the form of God, he didn’t count on it but emptied himself. Gorman points out time and time again, Paul displays this patter in his own behavior, probably unconsciously. The underlying pattern is woven throughout his letters:
Although [x], not [y] but [z].
- y=selfishness and
Although [status], not [selfishness], but [selflessness].
- In 2 Cor. 8:9, Although Christ was rich, he became not rich, but (so that) by his poverty we become “rich.”
- In Rom 15:1-3, Although they are “strong” they must not please themselves, but humble themselves and put up with the scruples of the “weak” so that the body might be built up.
- In 1 Thess. 2:6-8, Although Paul’s status as apostle allowed him to make demands, he did not, but rather he was gentle.
- In 1 Cor. 9:1-23. Although Paul has the apostolic privilege to have a wife and get paid for his his work, he does not exercise this privilege, but (v. 12) endures these sacrifices for the sake of the gospel.
Paul is himself, doing what he see Christ doing in Philippians 2. Possessing status carries with it an inherent mandate to deny oneself, practice humility. This does not deny his apostolic identity. it fulfills it. Although he has authority as an apostle, Paul empties himself, exercising humility as a Christlike act of love. For Paul, love seeks conformity to the self-emptying image of Christ. Humility is the character of Christ, and therefore the character of the one who is “in Christ.” He exercises his true apostleship by acting in conformity to Christ.
Humility is the character of Christ and therefore it is also the character of God
Not only is Christ defined as kenotic, or self-emptying, not only is the Christian (the one “in Christ”) defined as kenotic, or self-emptying, but GOD is therefore defined as kenotic, or self-emptying.
Jesus expresses his very divinity in “downward mobility.” Gorman cites Hellerman, saying Phil. 2 is a contrast to the Roman “cursus honorum,” a lifelong, upward mobility to honor, from slavery in the Empire, to divinity, like Caesar. Jesus instead moves backwards, from equality with God to slavery, then even to public humiliation by death on a cross.The phrase “In the form of God” is Paul’s clearest Christokogixal statement.
“In the form of God” vs. “In the form of a slave” was common parlance. For a god to be in the form of a slave was Inconsistent in Roman thought. A god does not divest power. Divinity and kenosis don’t go together. Erik Heen points out ἐν μορφn θεοu is a phrase used in Emperor cult worship. After Augustus, the phrase was only used for the Roman emperor. So this hymn sets Christ up against the Emperor. Remember, it is most likely that Paul didn’t write this hymn, but is quoting something early Christians sang in worship. We are hearing echoes of the first Christian hymns and theology.
As to the debate about whether Christ already possessed divinity or ὑπάρχων, grasped (or “exploited” in the NRSV) it. Gorman points out that the exaltation cannot be a promotion to divinity, as if one could earn divinity by being humble, or doing good works. The hymn clearly says that Jesus was already in the form of God, and emptied himself. The exaltation is not promotion, but a confirmation of his divinity.
But is this emptying in contrast to what what God is like? Is God in Christ doing something completely out of character? Or is self-emptying revealing the most intimate and profound character of God?
In other words, Gorman says, there are two possible readings of this text:
1. Christ renounced his deity: “Although Messiah Jesus was in the form of God, a status that means the exercise of power, he acted out of character – in a shockigly ungodlike manner, contrary in fact to true (imperial) divinity – when he emptied and humbled himself.”
2. Christ exercised his deity: “Although Messiah Jesus was in the form of God, a status that people assume means the exercise of power, he acted in character – in a shockigly ungodlike manner, according to normal but misguided human perceptions of divinity, contrary to what we would expect, but, in fact in accord with true divinity – when he emptied and humbled himself.”
Of course, Gorman’s point is the latter. Jesus redefines divinity, and this ultimately changes the world irrevocably. Jesus subverted and deconstructed concepts of divinity when he emptied and humbled himself. This is an absurd story of God in first century Rome, which is Paul’s point in 1 Cor. 1:18-25.
Christ’s self-emptying then is not a termination if his diety, but an expression of it. Gregory of Elvira said that Christ’s majesty and divinity, though never lost, were “momentarily hidden,” as the sun is hidden behind a cloud. Gorman argues that Paul’s point is quite the opposite, that the humility of incarnation and the cross in fact reveals divine majesty. Like Father, like Son.
Therefore Gorman would rather translate hyparchon “Because” he was in the form of God not “Although” he was in the form of God. Because he was in the form of God he emptied himself… Placher calls this the “Narrative of a vulnerable God.” Vulnerable God. Now there’s an oxymoron.
Oh, I think everybody knows so what. They may not like it, but the implications for the church are pretty obvious. If we follow a self-emptying Christ, who reflects a self-emptying God, then being “in Christ” means to be a self-emptying church, a self-emptying people, that the world might see the true God.
The preacher might give examples from individuals in the congregation to make it personal. Or stories of saints and/or ordinary people. Schindler is a great example of one who poured himself out for others. The preacher might find examples from the congregation’s history, or other congregations’ histories. One congregation I served in a changing neighborhood, while in seminary, turned part of their parking lot into a playground for neighborhood children. That’s rerooting.
Bishop Brauer-Rieke from Oregon told me of some congregations in Portland who were struggling in this difficult economy, with a colder-than-ever winter. Many were unable to pay their astronomical heat bills. One congregation, Redeemer, strongly rooted in the community realized that the houses in their neighborhood were built about the same time as the church and therefore, the people in the neighborhood must be going through the same thing. They turned their focus from inward (their energy bills) to outward (their neighbors’ energy bills).
One pastor in our synod tells me his congregation was dying when he arrived. They figured, if we’re going to go out, let’s go out with a bang. They used their coffers to bless the neighborhood. They gave and gave. And of course, they started to grow. This is, in part, why, even though we are really struggling as a synod, I just don’t see cutting back on our giving to the Central African Republic or Peru, or our ELCA benevolence, which does more good than most people even know. It doesn’t seem Christ-like to me.
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, & I regard them as rubbish,
so that I may gain Christ & be found in him. Phil 3:8-9
Philippians 2 echoes Isaiah 40-55, another hymn. The Song of the Suffering Servant. God’s power is made known to the world in self-emptying. To paraphrase Irenaeus and Athanasius: “God became what we are to make us what he is.” There’s no wiggling out of this.