Monday, November 28, 2011

Sermon Preached November 27, 2011: Advent 1

I understand Isaiah. I really, really do.

In the past few months things have been rather overwhelming at times. As I have contemplated all that is going on in the world, all that is going on in our community, and all that is going on in our church, I have often wondered why it seems that God sometimes seeks to remain silent or almost absent. I wonder why it seems like God refuses to answer our prayers. I have asked Him this numerous times and the silence is deafening.
Sometimes I even go so far as to say, "God, can you see what is happening in the world around us? Sure, I know the Church is thriving in Africa, in South America, and in Asia, but look around here in the U.S. Look at what is happening to most denominations. They are declining. Worship attendance is dropping. Polls show that even though most folks believe, they aren’t worshiping. Spirituality seems to be making a comeback, but people aren’t going to the church to find it. And interestingly enough, even though spirituality is on the increase, so is secularism. There has never been a time in our nation’s history when the numbers of atheists are so high. And what are you doing about it? Why won’t You reveal yourself in marvelous and mighty ways? Why won’t you make miracles happen like you did in the early church? Why don’t we see miraculous healings? Why don’t you defy the forecasters and make it rain buckets to fill all the ponds in those places that are suffering drought? Why don’t you show beyond the shadow of a doubt that you are real?"

Such thoughts are doubly on my lips when I have gone to see some of our congregations members who are suffering due to illness, stroke or surgery. Numerous times, I have walked into Memorial Children’s Hospital or Health Bridge Hospital to see Macie Gardner and thought, "Lord, imagine the response to you if Macie were miraculously healed. Imagine how folks would react to seeing her up and running again when the doctors have basically said she will be this way for the rest of her life. Can you imagine how many people would come to believe?" Or, similar thoughts entered into my mind when I went to see Anita Wolchik. "Lord, a stroke wiped out half of her brain. Can you imagine what people would say if you healed her so that she was talking normal, walking normal and even dancing again? Can you imagine how people would turn to you if such a thing would happen? It would be amazing. Your churches could experience a rebirth of sorts. They could once again be full and overflowing if you unleashed your Spirit of healing in such a manner. Why do you hold back?"

Compare these prayers with what Isaiah says, "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— 2as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways." Very similar, is it not? Isaiah too cries out for God to reveal Himself. Isaiah remembers what God did in the past and how God revealed Himself to the world, and Isaiah wonders why God seems to be silent now.

The answer isn’t necessarily pretty. Isaiah continues, "But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. 6We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity."

Isaiah isn’t pulling any punches here. He reflects deeply on the nature of God and the nature of people. When God didn’t seem to speak, people turned away. They transgressed, they stopped calling on His name, and they stopped trying to take hold of God. At their very core, people stopped believing God could or would do anything. They stopped believing He would assist them. They stopped believing God could act in the world. And when they ceased to believe, it was almost as form followed function, God ceased to act.

Now, this isn’t to say that our faith somehow manipulates God. It doesn’t. God does what God pleases, but sometimes I believe He has to teach us a lesson. That might sound a little callous, but let me illustrate it in this fashion. I’m going to pick on my kids a little bit right here because it has happened with each one of them. At some point and time, each of them has decided to get dressed on his or her own. Dawna or I will be in their room getting ready to help them put on a shirt or their pants or socks or what have you, and they will stop us. They’ll look us in the eye and say, "I can do it myself!" I can’t speak for my wife at this moment, but I personally always let them try. I sit back and watch, and sometimes it’s comical. My son recently tried to get a shirt on, and he contorted himself in about 50 different ways trying to get arms in sleeves and his head in the right hole. After a few moments of struggle, guess what he said? Yep, he said, "Help me." And I did. I wonder if there is a parallel in how we live our lives, or try to live our lives as though we don’t need God? Is there a lesson for us to learn here?

Perhaps so. Perhaps we too need to come to the place where Isaiah ends up in our Old Testament lesson this morning. He ends his thoughts with these words, "8Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people." Isaiah turns to repentance. Isaiah returns to the place of submission to God. You are our Father. We are the clay. You are our potter. We are the work of your hand.

Now what does this mean for you and for me? What does this lead us to in the midst of our daily lives?
Just this: We are God’s projects in this world. God wants to continually mold us and make us into something special–something that shows His handiwork in this world. God wants to have His fingers in our lives tinkering with things and making us into the vision He has for us. But oftentimes, we are uncooperative. We want to do things our way. We want to call our own shots and do things the way we think they should be done. We want all the breaks to fall our way and have God cater to our whims. And when He doesn’t do it the way we think it should be done, we shirk God and do it ourselves.

Things might go O.K. for a time, but eventually, the bottom’s going to fall out. Eventually, we will hit a wall, and as is our nature, we will keep running into that wall over and over trying to break through. We’ll get frustrated enough to perhaps finally cry out, "O that you would rend the heavens and come down, Lord!"
But if we then take some time to be quiet, we might just hear Him reply, "My child, I am down here. I have wanted to mold you and make you into all that you could be. Yet, you turned away and tried to do it yourself. I will happily begin working again if you stop trying to do it all on your own and ask for my help. Do you want me to work on you? Do you want my help?"

Do you? Amen.


Kathy said...

Pastor Kevin -- I know your intentions are very good, and your writing is beautiful, but you must be realistic.

Below is an article about the Catholic Church in Africa. It is exploding. You must understand: As soon as the people in Africa and Latin America find out about the liberal, pro-gay positions of the Lutheran Church, they will want nothing to do with it. This is one of the main reasons why I was totally astounded at CWA09 -- the Missions. CWA09 has doomed the Lutheran Church.

You use "the Church" and "the church" seemingly interchangeably. I don't understand. Are you talking about your belief in some sort of mystical "catholic" church apart from the ELCA? It is time to get realistic.

Kevin Haug said...

Kathy, before you continue shooting your mouth off, you might stop and think that the churches in Africa already do know about what happened in the ELCA. Disagree with it: sure. Absolutely, they do. But they haven't rejected the Lutheran expression of the Christian faith.

I think it's time for someone else to get a little bit realistic.

Kathy said...

Pastor Kevin -- I have never been to Africa, but I have lived in Latin America, have traveled there, and have known Latin Americans all my life. Their's is a conservative society; a traditional culture. The thought of taking a child to a church with a homosexual pastor is out of the question. These are people -- and I am sure Arfica is the same, if not more so -- that have not been influenced by the twisted "Hollywood" culture -- as the ELCA has.

Kevin Haug said...

And what you do not understand, Kathy is that in each of these countries, they have local administration. They would never pass the same documents the ELCA did in 2009 because of their more conservative nature. Doesn't mean they will get rid of the Lutheran title.

Kathy said...

OK -- I understand that now. Here is what I don't understand: (BTW, I just typed out a long example, and it was erased, so this is just the point.) Why, in heaven's name, does the ELCA want to be known -- and the world is a small place now -- as "Another Gay Denomination," like the MCC?

Beats me. I do not see how the ELCA can possibly overcome this. A person, usually with a young family, who is thinking about joining a church and practicing Christianity, will avoid a "gay" church like the plague.

Kevin Haug said...


I have a wise congregation member who lives by the credo, "Seek first to understand and then to be understood." Work harder to understand the other side of this issue. I have. I could argue from the other perspective very easily and give a very convincing argument. Try it yourself and see if you can see how it happened.

Kathy said...

Of course I understand the other side of the argument! (That saying is from the Prayer of St Francis.) I have been following these issues since the '70s like everyone else -- a close family member "came out" then, and was subsequently diagnosed with HIV. I have lived this situation like everyone else for many years. Don't try to say that I am not compassionate or caring or refuse to see the other side! You have no idea how many times I have heard that!

I thought this discussion was about Truth and the Will of God.

In that light, I will address your original post.

God is not being silent. His Word is flashing like a neon light. He is shouting His Words through a megaphone. People have their eyes shut and their fingers in their ears.

1) Declining denominations: They offer little or nothing. Breaking of the Bread: They do not have the Real Presence (broken Line of Apostolic Succession and wrong theology.) Word: Not based on the Teaching of the Apostles (n.b. CWA09). (cf. Acts 2:42)

2) The sick: It would be a great comfort to sick people if, in a hospital, they could look at a Crucifix and unite their suffering to the Suffering of Christ. Of course, sadly, this Doctrine is not taugh to them. And Crucifixes have been removed from hospitals.

3) Drought, fires and natural disasters: Can anyone say: "Purification"? This country has become horribly corrupt morally -- God is trying to get our attention. (Needless to say, this is my opinion. I can't prove it. Points 1 & 2 -- I can prove.)

P.S. Watch out on your bike! In Miami, we just mow 'em down -- and pedestrians don't have a prayer.

Kevin Haug said...

If you are familiar with the arguments, then you know how things happened and why. Do you understand the underlying assumptions to the arguments as well? These are most important.

As to your other points:

#1. Declining denominations have much to offer; however, what many lack is a good understanding of who they are, what they believe, and how to act on their beliefs. In striving to be all things to all people, they actually become nothing to anyone. The RCC has a very good understanding of what it believes and doesn't conform much to the whims of society. I personally am very respectful of this.

#2. My sermon is not just about comforting the sick. The families I work with know the comfort of Christ's suffering with them. But that is not enough. It wasn't enough in the life of Jesus, and it wasn't enough now. That is the hope of the resurrection and the new life to come. God will make all things new, and we will see the reasons behind such things. This instills hope which does not disappoint.

#3. Natural disasters have always been a part of this world. We are experiencing nothing new in this fashion. I don't necessarily think God is using them to get our attention although if you want to look at it or purify us that way, you could certainly build a case for it scripturally. However, Jesus didn't call the storm, He calmed it. And He didn't deal with the corruption of the Roman Empire or the Chinese empire or any of the other empires where the Church suffered persecution by bringing disaster upon them. He transformed those empires (and is doing so today) working through the actions of those who held to their convictions of Christ through the orthodox faith and put those convictions into action.

Much of the Protestant Church in NA is overly concerned with orthopraxis--which in Lutheran terms we would call the Law. It is well and good to talk about orthopraxis, but it has come at the expense of orthodoxy and the power of the orthodox Gospel to change lives. Very rarely do you hear about lives being changed in NA Protestand denominations. They are too busy trying to change society and change the world. Good luck. That only leads to frustration and divisiveness. And shrinkage.


Kathy said...

Hmmm. Veeeery interrresting, as we used to say in the old days.

Good points. Good discussion.

Orthodoxy. What do you think it is? John Henry Cardinal Newman struggled with this.

Kevin Haug said...

I'll start defining orthodoxy with the three ecumenical creeds. Don't think there's much dispute with those (albeit the filioque and those church's who actually adhere to it even though they reject creedalism). From there, the disagreement will ensue.

Kathy said...

OK, since you dodged the question nicely, I will give you MY definition of Orthodoxy -- hard won after 40 years of study -- a lot like your exercise program.

(BTW -- what's with this "girl" push up thing? The PC police will get you for that!!!!)

Central to the Creeds is "one holy catholic and apostolic church."

Acts 2:42 -- "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." (NOA)

This is the church in its embryonic form. (The passage follows a speech by Peter, the Head of the Apostles.)

Orthodoxy is the development of this church in a straight (ortho) line. Now, which "church" does that? Newman answered the question in his essay: "On the Development of Christian Doctrine."

Hence my Second Question: How does Doctrine develope?

This is what I have learned in my life.