Reflections

One of the victims of “progressive” theology ironically has been the “Fall.” Instigated by the rejection of the ‘scandalous’ doctrine of “original sin,” the bathwater, the fundamental (and more serious) doctrine of the Fall has been scuttled. Given that the Biblical witness throughout is set in the context of the falleness of creation, it is ill-fated to dismiss this doctrine. In fact, the whole of the Bible in its essence describes the work of redemption in a fallen creation. The avoidance, neglect, and shallowness of this central truth of biblical insight renders so much of current, contemporary Christian witness and action weak and pointless. By the Fall, what is NOT meant is “original sin,” evil, our propensity to sin (all of which are subordinate), but rather, the profound, irresolvable, and inescapable disorientation of creation (including humans), the irretrievable loss of identity, and the ubiquity of death in all aspects of life. It does not take much of an analytic examination of our reality to verify this.

Both a current snapshot and an historical peek confirms the reality. In reality, however, so much of our energy and effort is expended in our avoidance, denial, frustration, and depression over the falleness of creation, including ourselves, that there is appears to be so little appreciation for the real work of God in Jesus – a new creation.

More ruminations to come.

The central symbol in the Lutheran way of living is the way of the Cross. The cross, of course, was the Roman Empires capital punishment medium, cruel, gruesome, and demeaning, reserved for those who threatened the status quo, who exhibited a rebellious nature, or who were otherwise deemed disposable. It was on this execution cross that Jesus was put to death. There was no glory in the cross, no playacting, no pretending – it was suffering, despair and death, and this God submitted to it in flesh and blood, the flesh and blood of Jesus, really human. It was deemed a violent victory of Roman justice and religious collusion, the final victory of death as it always had been, but in reality, God acting on his indomitable and passionate love for the human family, submits and embraces death, the final solution in human terms, and dies. And then, when death, the ultimate tool of human captivity, had spent it full force, a new creation was raised out of the wreckage of the old way of living, a new reality established, a resurrection life, made, shaped, empowered by God was born, never again to be imprisoned by death. The only way to the freedom and power of new life, though, is through the death of the old.

There is a profound truth which is revealed in this action of God and his invitation, his call to follow Jesus. Whatever ails us, whatever causes us distress, whatever brokenness we experience, whatever existential angst invades our lives, it never gets resolved, cured, or repaired by what we do or say or attempt, or even by the collective efforts of our human imagination. It inevitably joins the never ending merry-go-round. History tells truth about such attempts, our institutions bear witness to the reality, (our current elections cycle included) and our lives are illustrations. It is as if there is a “No Exit” sign that hangs around our lives. And to add to the harshness of such realty, we have no one to blame except ourselves.

Not that such a truth is easily admitted. In fact, the world’s creativity is essentially designed to deny such reality, to dress it up to hide the facts, to entice the inhabitants to ignore, look the other way, and celebrate the short lived remedies. And the people respond with money, loyalty, and more demand, eyeballing the next adventure in denial. But despite the denial, the reality of death does not rest, it continues to assault, consume, and drive the world and its people, you and me (if you are honest) into chaos. From time to time, particularly real in human experience, the reality breaks through, and we are unable to build a wall to keep it out – depression, despair, profound loneliness and more invade. Where is God? What kind of God would allow this to happen? There can be no God!

The Cross, that symbol and reality of death, in Jesus becomes the path to the new life given in love, confirmed in the resurrection. Where is God? Right there in the midst of the suffering and grief, brokenness and isolation; there on the Cross, loving us enough to put to death that which separates us from his life. The cross is tough love allowing us to realized our separation from God, to feel it, to know it, to grief over it, and then by the life-gift poured upon us by the Holy Spirit, in the resurrection, rise to live free of the world’s captivity, free to follow, really follow, the he who made it possible, Jesus Christ.

We still live in the realm of death, we are still tempted to deny, ignore, succumb to its vices, and so we come regularly to the mercy seat of God to be restored and re-empowered by the Spirit enabled (as an illegal alien) to follow the One who has claimed us as his own forever, confirmed through his own death and resurrection. This is the way of the Cross. Jesus calls us “Come, follow me”.

Pastor Daniel Solberg

First, and foremost, a Lutheran sees the world as it really is, and then, still lives fully in it. No candy coating, no pie in the sky, no escapism, no easy answers, and nevertheless, lives freely, faithfully, and hopefully. The world is a mess. Even with the greatest amount of optimism and good intentions, the outcomes suffered by the world (including you and me) are unrelenting and unchanging – war, greed, selfishness, corruption, death, and their offspring – things are a mess. Regardless of what solutions are put forward, what efforts are put forward to control life, there is always another expression of the same reality. This is not an easy reality to face, and most do not. Denial is the primary response, followed by self-indulgence, and, then, when reality really breaks in, frustration, despair and cynicism. It’s a bleak picture, tragic even, but unrelenting and inescapable.

This is not how God intended his gift of creation to be. It started out “very good” (Genesis 1), but when the relationship between God and his creation was broken by human arrogance, the tragedy began, and both the arrogance and the tragedy continues to consume every generation since. God, however, has never given up on his creation or us, nor has God abandoned or turned away from us. Despite the violation, God sought a way to restore the broken relationship. Without violating the “created” dignity of his human creation, God sustained his blessing, meted out justice, issued laws, lifted up prophets, disciplined, wept, wooed, and more in order to restore his intended purpose with his human creation, but without success. The arrogance, the self-centeredness, the pride of the human spirit refused to let God be God, taking the god role to themselves. And the tragedy continues. The reality is again and again replayed.

So finally, because of the love with which he created and formed humanity, God himself entered into the creation he made, not in spirit, not in concept, not in symbol, but in person, the person of Jesus Christ, fully human, sharing flesh and blood with the human family. And in doing so, not only affirmed the “goodness” of his creation, but in his life gave witness to the life God intended for his creation – wholeness, community, compassion, healing, mercy. And still, resistance, denial, rejection, betrayal, and violence was the response, and death, ironically, the final tool of “human control” was exercised in a most inhuman, condemning way on a cross – crucifixion - humanity’s final solution and its existential prison.

But humanity’s final solution, is God’s final victory. In Jesus, God did not condemn humanity’s corruption, but rather under the pall of human deceit, establishes a new relationship with his creation, one which does not depend on human responsiveness and is undeterred by human rejection, but is established solely on God’s love poured out, unmerited grace, a pure gift. In the resurrection, a totally unique and bold action, God dethrones the power and reality of death and raises up a new creation in and through Jesus. The cross becomes the means by which the grace of God gives birth to a new creation. This grace is received, not by human effort or pretension, but by faith, depending on Jesus, putting on the new creation (realized in Jesus) in your living. This is referred to as the “theology of the cross”.

A Lutheran first sees the world as it really is, and then, realizing that “we cannot by our own strength or understanding believe in Jesus Christ or come to him”1, receive as a gift, as grace, the new life poured out in us by Him. In Lutheran terms this is “justification by faith”.

1 From Luther’s Small Catechism, page 16

The appointed Gospel reading for Sunday was the parable of the Good Samaritan, auspicious or an act of the Holy Spirit (depends on your take). The presenting question addressed in the lesson is “who is my neighbor” clearly was an attempt to remain in the realm of categories, definition, and statistics. Jesus would have nothing to do with such gaming. He tells a story to make is point – two religious folks walking on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho (who ought to know better) refused to get involved with a man robbed, beaten, and left for dead in the ditch, but a man representing all that was despised by the ruling culture, stops to pay attention to, show compassion and go the extra mile in his care for this stranger. The question is not who my neighbor is, but rather who acted like a neighbor to the man in distress? Grudgingly the fellow that asked the question admitted that the one who showed mercy (care, compassion, took notice, acted on behalf of) was the neighbor. So the challenge.

What do you do with the events of last week – Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Dallas? Clearly the victims of these cold, hateful actions of men with guns are dead and beyond revival, but the cold, hateful culture which shaped these men who preyed on their victims (both ends) remain intact, viral, and threatening. For most, it is easier to pass by on the other side which means not only non-involvement in the immediate crisis, but more dangerously, a collusion in the continuation of such a culture. The system which operates on the highways and byways of America, like the road between Jerusalem and Jericho, invites the crimes which are perpetrated on the poor fellow in the parable story, but in the front seat of a car in Falcon Heights/St. Paul, in the parking lot of a Baton Rouge convenience store, on the main street of Ferguson, and in literally countless other places in which the poison present in our culture claims authority.

Hoping for a magic wand to change the culture is to pass by “on the other side”, looking for someone else to solve the crisis is to avoid getting involved, exercising martial control serves the status quo, holing up in your favorite institution is to sustain the aggravation, lashing out harden the resolve of bigotry and hate. Jesus challenges all of these when he changes the question first asked “and who is my neighbor?” and substitutes, who “was a neighbor to the man?”. The answer of course was the “one who showed him mercy.”

The parable of the Good Samaritan is surely a powerful morality play concluding with the poignant “Go and do likewise”, but it is also the means by which Jesus himself brings life to a bloodied, broken, violent, hate-filled world. For those who seek to follow, do it now! For others those who are awakened to this moment in history, who want to find a way to bring change, who see, really see the man on the road, steel yourselves in the work of being a neighbor, show mercy, step outside your own prejudice and privilege, empathize, and resist the dehumanization of our brothers and sisters at the hands of this present day culture.

Pastor Daniel Solberg