Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Intriguing Questions

Yesterday, I received some very intriguing questions from a congregation member.  They made me think quite a bit.  I answered as best as I could, but thought I'd share with you as well.  There is a lot to chew on, I think.   The questions and comments by my member are in italics--copied by permission.  My answer is in regular print.

Pastor: I just finished a book “Holocaust Survivor”. It’s a book about a young man who became a Rabbi before he was 20 years old. That was during the early part of WWII. Being a Jew he later was put into concentration camps where he was severely punished. He said that the only thing that kept him from giving up was that he believed that one day those who were dishing out the punishment would eventually be punished. He told of once when they were transported from one prison camp to another. They were put in overcrowded boxcars, shoulder-to-shoulder, standing room only. One night a lady gave birth. The baby was crying because of hunger and the severe cold. When they arrived at their destination they were hurried out of the boxcar and the baby was crying even more. One of the guards took the child by its feet and slammed its head against the side of the boxcar and that stopped its crying.

More and more I’m buying into what you are preaching. I can understand that Jesus died for that guard who slammed the child’s head against the boxcar, too. But I also believe there has to be repentance. 

For years and years we used the (ALC Service Book and Hymnal) and during the public confession part the pastor would say, “As a minister of the Church of Christ, and by his authority, I declare unto you who do truly repent and believe in him, the entire forgiveness of your sins.

“On the other hand, by the same authority, I declare onto the impenitent and unbelieving, that so long as they continue in their impenitence, God hath not forgiven their sins, and will assuredly visit their iniquities upon them, if they do not turn from their evil ways and come to true repentance and faith in Christ, ere the day of grace be ended.”

The repentance part is deeply engrained in me and it’s hard for me to understand otherwise. Most of the people I know believing like the Rabbi about the eventual punishment for our sins.
The repentance one is the most difficult, and I am going to have to give you a slightly nuanced answer to it.  Remember first, that we are not saved by any work that we commit--that includes repentance.  You cannot turn repentance into a work.  You just can't.  Jesus' action even overcomes our un-repentance.  My evidence: Jesus' own words from the cross, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do."   Forgiveness for an unrepentant sin.  

That being said, is the wording from the previous confession service wrong?  No.  Not in the least?  Why?  Remember, God does not condemn us to hell.  It is God's desire to save everyone.  Only those who choose separation from God receive it.  If you do not repent of your sins as someone who has been exposed to Jesus and His action, then you are purposely choosing to separate yourself from God and remain estranged from Him.  Thus, you are condemning yourself and still in your sin.  This means the confession and forgiveness spoken in the previous hymnal is only, only mind you, for those who have professed to follow Christ.  This cannot be pointed at those who are not Christian. 

(This was the end of my emailed reply.  I have a few further thoughts.)

I do believe we will somehow be held accountable for our actions, although I do not know exactly how this will take place.  I don't know if we will be made to relive the event and then feel the pain we caused.  I do not know whether or not we will stand before the Father in judgement and feel a deep sense of shame--so deep that it will inflict a terrible pain upon our hearts.  I just don't know.

But what I do know is that the punishment we deserved fell on Jesus.  That's one of the radical claims of Christianity.  We proclaim:

 "But he was wounded for our transgressions,
   crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
   and by his bruises we are healed."  Isaiah 53:5

Just as that little baby's head was crushed, so was Jesus'.  Just as the German guard deserved to have his head crushed in return; Jesus took that punishment for that guard so that the guard would receive forgiveness and be reconciled to God.  

This may be hard to accept because we like to say that one sin is greater than another.  We like to think our smaller sins do not measure up to someone bashing an infant's head against a train car, but remember, Jesus equated anger with murder!  Anytime we become angry with another, we commit murder!!

Why would Jesus equate the two?  

I think it is because they have the same root cause: a sense of superiority.  That German soldier believed he was superior to the Jews and that little baby.  Whenever we become angry, we believe we are somehow morally superior to the one who we are angry at (I would never do something like that to anyone!).   Whether it is moral, mental, or physical, the idea that we are somehow superior to another person leads us to anger, contempt, frustration, and the like.  If we have no sense of humility or shame, atrocity follows.  

This underscores the importance of grace and what Jesus did for us on the cross!  For as I have proclaimed in my sermons--passed down to me from others--the Gospel does not allow you to have any sense of moral superiority at all.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  All need Christ's redemption on the cross.  Big sin.  Little sin.  No matter.  It is the heart that counts, and all hearts are messed up in some way, shape or form.  

Thanks be to God for Christ's work which redeems us all! 

Also: In confirmation we were taught that gambling was a sin. Today it seems that gambling is so common place, raffles, football pots, scratch offs and casinos that most folks no longer regard that as being sinful. Where do we stand on that?

Secondly, gambling.  I do not believe the ELCA has a position on this.  I know our congregation does not.  I personally do not regard gambling as a sin as I do not believe there is any biblical law speaking out against it.  Are there other things to use one's money toward which are better than gambling?  Absolutely.  Would it be a sin for a person to gamble instead of putting food on the table?  I believe so, strongly.  Is it right for the state of Texas to have a lottery given that mostly poor people buy tickets?  I don't think it is.  There are better ways to get funds.  Again, there are no biblical prohibitions or admonitions here, but I think I would be on firm theological ground here.


Unknown said...

It occurs to me that there Is a significant danger in the world today of coalescing forces, A)a distinct lack of a sense of humor, and B)radical religious zealotry, (similar to idolatry). Just as many Muslims will tell you that Islam does NOT call for such zealous behavior as What happened in Paris a week ago, I wonder, dear friend, Is the proliferation of guns not a sign of "self reliance" and BTW tend to encourage vigilante "JUSTICE" (judgment) see the commandments.... and as such does this not tend, perhaps in insidiously incremental ways lead us to turn our faith away from God, and towards Mr.'s Smith, Wesson and Stetson?
OK so had you been there in that Railroad car, in your story, and had a gun, what would you have done. Would not the fascist atrocities of that War been justification enough to kill a NAZI officer who committed such an act? Or should such judgments be left to God on the Judgment Day, and gosh, While we are on the topic What Would Dietrich Do?

Where in the Scripture did Jesus or even Paul the Apostle resort to even the use of a sword? Well, forgive me if I am in err, but did not Jesus even tell his disciples to put away their swords as he was being arrested on his Way to crucifixion?

BTW I was surprised to see any comment about the news paper in France on that other Website, and the fact that only took a week for the topic to be mentioned speaks to a certain urbane sophistication, I wasn't sure too many people on the site possessed. Forgive me, I wasn't sure that anyone on that Website would know of The existence of any "Paris" other than the one situated in your fine Lone Star State. (SNARK OFF!)

Concerning forgiveness and repentance, your question is indeed intriguing. One which I have been known to ponder. I am anxious to read what other of your readers have to say on the topic.



Kevin Haug said...


I think you are absolutely correct in your assessment that Jesus and Paul would admonish us to put away our swords. I think anyone who uses violence in the name of Jesus is wrong.

I believe that a deep faith in Jesus would lead us to say, "It matters not what you do to me. It matters not what you do to my family. You can take our lives and destroy us, but we will live on."

I truly believe this, but I do not have that kind of faith--at least right now I do not.

If I would have had a fire arm, I would not have hesitated to use it against that German soldier just as I would not hesitate to use one if an intruder broke into my home and threatened my family. God forgive me if I were to do such a thing, but in the face of evil, I know my heart well enough to know I will respond with force. Your reference to Bonhoeffer is well noted, and I think even he came to the same conclusion when faced with such evil.

It does not make the violence right--not in the least, but I speak to you honestly and forthrightly.

Thanks for the grin regarding Paris! Although the one in my state has no Eiffel Tower or much in the way of very fine food and wine (but perhaps the people are not quite as rude). We lifted up the folks in Paris, France this Sunday in worship and continue to do so.

L'Chaim! to you as well.


Kathy Suarez said...

Kevin -- The Catholic Church teaches that you have the right to self defense. Without clear teaching, the people will be just as confused as the Germans were before WWII.

Kevin Haug said...

Show me, Kathy, where Jesus says we have the "right" to self defense. Show me, Kathy, where the great martyrs of the faith practiced self-defense. Show me where St. Paul admonished the Christians to defend themselves. Let's talk about rights versus responsibilities and which one of those Christ focuses upon.

Kathy Suarez said...

Luke 22:36. St Francis fled the Moors when they wanted to kill him. But this is not the point. You refuse to acknowledge the teachings of the Church and are now in the uncomfortable position of making up your own doctrine. What is your teaching on performing same-sex weddings in your church? The ELCA policy is that it is OK.

Kevin Haug said...

My God, Kathy. Must you delve into such mindless proof texting to get a point across. Do you actually remember what happens just a few verses later in Luke? Here is a refresher:

9When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, ‘Lord, should we strike with the sword?’ 50Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him.

You, ma'am are teaching the doctrines of your church which are incorrect on the basis of Scripture just as my own church is incorrect on the basis of scripture. The difference being, I am willing to acknowledge that my church is wrong.

Kathy Suarez said...

You are incorrect in saying that the CC is incorrect. For 2,000 years the greatest theologians have developed Catholic Doctrine. Your church is basically a new religion -- new doctrines -- invented in the 16th century. On Facebook you refer to the church "God has put us in." That's absurd. You can always leave. A denomination is not the True Church.

Kathy Suarez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin Haug said...

Jesus: Put away your sword! Enough of this!

Kathy: The theologians have it right, not Jesus. Your church is too young to get it.

Ad hominem's aside, I'll place my allegiance with Christ before any theologians any day.

Kathy Suarez said...

... your interpretation of Christ, not the Church's.

Kevin Haug said...

Your church's interpretation of Christ instead of His self revelation.

Kathy Suarez said...

Christ's self-revelation must be interpreted. The Mormons, Muslims, Unitarians all believe in the self-revelation of Jesus Christ. Use logic. You are putting your own interpretation (influenced by Martin Luther) over the interpretation of the Church Christ founded to interpret his self-revelation down through the ages.

Kevin Haug said...

Indeed, revelations are interpreted, so what makes your church's interpretation better than mine given the nature of human sin? Your church is just one of any other voice,and it uses its own justification for interpretation to spread its own bias. It has no other authority than mere numbers, and we all know that just because the majority believes it does not make it true.

Here is the logical conclusion to your argument, Kathy. If you still want to keep going down this road of "revelation must be interpreted." Whether you believe it or not, you are buying into postmodernity, Nietzsche and relativism--all in an attempt to proclaim your church instead of Jesus.

Unknown said...

"Nobody expects the SPANISH INQUISITION! Our chief Weapons are Surprise, and Fear .... ruthless efficiency and an almost fanatical devotion to the POPE!"

Monty Python's
"Spanish Inquisition"
(it's on youtube")


Unknown said...

(All snark, and satire off)
I am intrigued by the notion of repentance at "The end of time" notion, I mean what with the story of Lazarus wanting to Come back and Warn others to repent....
IF, separation from God, is something WE must choose, and with all due respect to the "orthodox" teachings of the church universal, is it not possible following your logic, that what ever our "treasures" on this mortal coil we will simply continue to pursue Same in Life Eternal?
This would, it occurs to me, eliminate the need for intermediaries, "So Long", adieu, to good ol' St Pete at the Golden Gate. And if this is true, do such constructs as Saint's and beatified beings serve as crutches for those whose FAITH ALONE is insufficient to assure them of God's Omniscience and Love?

With all due respect to our believing siblings within the Roman Church, and likely many protestant believers as well, these are the thoughts that run through my brain, even as I diligently strive to interpret and understand the Holy words of scripture.

Maybe that is too much thinking at one time, for me, my brain hurts, I am going for a walk soon.

Kathy Suarez said...

Carl makes a good point. How do you reconcile Jesus' story of Lazarus the beggar and the rich man with the doctrine you preach of "Faith Alone"? The rich man was condemned because of his actions.

Kevin Haug said...


You have hit the proverbial nail on the head. As Dante pointed out in The Inferno and many other theologians have pointed out, that is the exact definition of hell and how people arrive in said destination. Hell is to pursue any desire which is not God for eternity--a desire which will never be satisfied.

And contrary to Kathy's assertion, there is no hint in the text that the rich man was sent to Hades because of his actions. We are actually left to try and figure that one out on our own. But it is rather obvious to me, that the guy was and then continues to be completely self-centered even going so far as trying to demand service from God and Lazarus in his place of torment. I mean, how obnoxious can you be in such a situation? (And just a corrective, Lazarus was not seeking to head back. The rich man was trying to make God force Lazarus warn the brothers--doesn't change the gist of your post, but it is an important part of the teaching.) A heart that is centered on self will find itself in torment for eternity.

And you are absolutely correct that it removes any need for intermediaries--a strong Protestant teaching since the Reformation.

Kathy Suarez said...

Is the rich man in Hell? It is safe to assume that a soul in Hell cannot contact the saints to intercede for him. Jesus is probably referring to a state of punishment that is not Hell, i.e. Purgatory. It is very interesting that the Lutheran reading for Christian Unity Week is John 1:43-51, while the Catholic reading is John 1:35-42 -- Cephas the Rock. Happy Christian Unity Week!

Kevin Haug said...

"In Hades, where he was being tormented..." Luke 16:23

Why don't you actually try reading your Bible for a change, Kathy?

Funny thing about John 1 there with Peter. You know, the Greek leaves out any sort of definite article. It's just Peter (Petros) not "the Rock". John apparently doesn't share your enthusiasm. :-)

Kathy Suarez said...

You don't need to get snippy, Kevin. Hades is comparable to the Hebrew "Sheol" -- the abode of the dead. It could be the Christian Hell or Purgatory. Jesus calls Simon "Rock" on first meeting him. Jesus knew he would be the foundation of his Church -- the unity we all seek.

Kevin Haug said...

Gospel of Luke: Hades + torment + gap that cannot be crossed = hell.

Kathy: Place of the dead or hell maybe Purgatory.

"One of these things just doesn't belong here."

And the only thing needed for unity is Jesus. Period. End of discussion.

Kathy Suarez said...

It is by no means the end of the discussion. The Truth must come out.

Unknown said...

Are you two related? You almost argue like you were married.

Rev, chapter and verse in Luke please. I attended a church for 18 years where for the purposes of discussion/disputation he insisted the citation of Chapter and verse.

I think it might be helpful for the rest of your readers to be able to follow the discussion.



Kevin Haug said...

No problem, Carl:

Luke 16:

19 ‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” 25But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” 27He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” 29Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” 30He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” 31He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’

And Kathy, the Truth has already come. John 14:6. That's all you need. Period. Second end of discussion.

Kathy Suarez said...

Thanks, Carl, for the bit of levity. That was very funny -- no, Kevin and I are not married, and I don't think Dawna has much to worry about -- by my calculations, I am 29 years older than Kevin; and I have never met him, and I am settled in a Cuban neighborhood in Miami getting ready for the old-age home.

However, yes, there is a strong chance we are related. My family is from Saxony -- legend has it that we are related to Martin (I was named Katherine) -- and obviously we are both very, very hard-headed Germans.

Now, more to the point. I will gladly give Scripture for any statement I make -- after all, I was raised Lutheran. In my comment of January 17, I referenced Scripture to point out that the Lutherans selected a non-Peter passage for Christian Unity Sunday. Odd.

Kevin says "Jesus is the unity of the church." Now, that sounds very nice, doesn't it? Who can argue with it? But I will.

If Jesus Christ is the unity of the church, why isn't it unified? The Lutheran Church has hundreds of denominations, and recently the ELCA found itself creating new ones -- the NALC and CORE, and I-don't-know-how-many others. The Pope just celebrated Mass for 6 million -- that is double the membership in the ELCA. Where is the Unity? Looks to me like the successor of Peter is creating a lot of unity. If the Lutheran Church is not unified by Jesus, is it the true church? Good question, to be continued....