First Lesson: Jonah 3: 1-5, 10
Responsive Reading: Psalm 62: 5-12
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31
Gospel Lesson: Mark 1: 14-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
NPR tells the story of a guy named Jason Comely1. Comely recalls one Friday night sitting in his apartment alone. Comely was trying to spend this Friday night distracting from his personal pain. Comely’s wife had left him a number of months earlier. She had found someone taller, richer and seemingly just all around better than Comely believed himself to be. Because of this rejection, Comely went through life, not wanting to interact with anyone. Comely feared interacting with strangers, especially women because he believed that they were going to hurt him just like his wife. This Friday night, Jason Comely just snaps. He breaks down crying, feeling devastated by the weight of the world. Comely though on this evening realized something that would eventually be life-changing.
Many of Jason Comely’s fears were irrational. If all that he had to fear was another person’s rejection, the worst thing that rejection was going to bring was leaving him exactly where he already was.
Jason Comely decides to challenge himself. He was going to get rejected by someone, nearly every day. He began this quest by going to his local grocery store, approaching a complete stranger to ask for a ride across town. The response was a predictable “no”.
Jason kept at it, day after day, looking to make an outrageous request to get turned down. “Barter for a discount before purchase” “Ask a stranger for a breath mint” “Ask an unapproachable girl on a date.” He soon figures that it isn’t a successful day unless someone turns him down. The change in approach changes Jason Comely’s life. He becomes much better at interacting with people because he becomes indifferent to their response.
Jason Comely eventually comes up with an idea to make a deck of cards with different challenges inviting rejection. Slowly, the rejection game becomes a cult phenomenon all over the world. What Jason learned from all this is something about the nature of fear?
We tend to overstate most fears. Think of the city slickers who visit the North Shore, who believe they’re going to get attacked by a bear after spending five minutes in the woods. Think of the media fear-mongering from such low-grade risks as Ebola or Swine-Flu. One of the easy things as human beings is to envision the worst case scenario.
You might think Jason Comely is a nut, you’re probably saying to yourself that you would never act like him. We’ll get back to why his story matters a little bit later this morning.
Today’s Gospel Lesson is a story that we all know2. It’s Jesus calling the first disciples in Simon Peter, his brother Andrew along with their friends James and John.
The thing that you need to know about this story is that Simon, Andrew, James, and John’s lives all revolved around fishing. We all know people like Simon, Andrew, James, and John. They fished all day, and their fathers probably fished all day. They probably envisioned the rest of their life being spent fishing all day.
You should probably know a little bit about where our scene for today takes place the Lake of Galilee. The thing about Galilee where Jesus lives is that looks nothing like Minnesota3. You don’t have a choice of lakes to fish; you are going to fish one lake in the Lake of Galilee. Fishing the Lake of Galilee was these men’s jobs and if they weren’t catching fish, then they were ending up like Jason Comely depressed and dejected on a Friday night.
Jesus notices these men as he is preaching along the lake shore. Jesus sees two boats with these men, washing their nets. Jesus knew their life needed to change. These men knew their life needed to change. So Jesus walks over to these men, steps into Simon Peter’s boat, and asks to be cast out a little way from the shore.
Jesus' request stumped Simon. Simon Peter was a professional Fisherman. Simon Peter had fished this lake his whole life; he knew all the best spots on it, where as Jesus was just some preacher dude.
Simon figured though what do I have to lose. So Simon casts down the net, and so many fish come into it that his net begins to break.
“Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”-Mark 1:17
For once the Disciples saw this miracle of fish there was no turning back. Sure, the Disciples could have come up with all sorts of legitimate reasons, not to act. Perhaps, tomorrow they would make it big like Forrest Gump in the fishing business, or perhaps their kids won’t know what to make of Dad always talking about God. Truth be told like Jason Comely, you can always find an excuse not to act.
For what the Disciples were being asked to do was not going to be easy. There were going to be times that they feared for their lives. Many of Jesus’ earliest followers would even die for their faith. The Disciples encountered all sorts of individuals to say “no” to them. They kept on keeping on.
I want you to picture an individual in your head this morning. I want you to picture the best salesman that you know. The one thing that makes any salesman great is they aren’t distraught by the possibility of hearing the word “no”.
For what prevents us from being great missionaries/evangelists is fear. We fear anger, we fear rejection. We keep this mindset, and things stay exactly the same.
This week, I read an article by writer Rod Dreher reflecting on the state of the church and the culture within America4. Dreher’s fears are that we are a generation or two away from American Christianity looking like European Christianity where few people identify as Christians and even fewer sit in a church on Sunday morning. It’s becoming increasingly uncommon where the children are more religious than the parents. Sychar Lutheran is not a unique church, the only real difference might be the time-frame.
We’ve heard the solutions before to follow the model of another church that is supposedly having success. The problem is marketing a church like any other business, takes away from its unique witness to the world around it.
Dreher’s suggestion is that we not that we need to blend Christianity into culture; we need to go radically against the culture.
Gerhard Forde was one of the most influential voices of American Lutheranism in the second half of the 20th century5. Forde wrote a famous article in 1987 where he stated that the future of American Lutheranism exists in being more radical about what we believe6.
We need to get on the mountain tops and proclaim Christ “dying” and “rising”. We need to say don’t come to this church because we can make your Sunday mornings a little bit better. We instead need to say that the old self and old way of life, the only way of life that you’ve ever known will be put to death. Only to proclaim that you shall rise in Christ as a new creation7. We don’t preach too much forgiveness as Christians; we often fail to preach enough forgiveness as Christians.
For we live in a nation that often gets the Christian religion wrong.
When I was working down in Lamberton, I knew a guy named Stan. Stan was an amateur clown. Stan had a neighbor who wasn’t a church-going man. Stan suggested that he watch our church service on public access, Wednesdays at 4. The man watches the service. During the service, I talk about how I personally don’t drink alcohol not for religious reasons but rather reasons of taste and health. Stan’s neighbor gets mad. I believe this guy liked to have a cocktail. He goes over to Stan to start yelling about his preacher. What he told Stan I said is that “Anybody who drinks is going to Hell”. Stan and this guy then started yelling at each other over the point of my sermon, and he got nowhere closer to any religious truth.
For this Man heard what he wanted to hear. He identified a problem within Christianity.
For Robert Farar Capon says it best “We’ve talked so loudly about should and shouldn’t s that it has eclipsed the forgiveness of sins”8.
I find that much of the opposition to Christianity has its roots in ignorance about Christianity. People often have too narrowing an understanding about Christianity. People like Stan’s neighbor have heard anything but the Gospel and use it to define Christianity.
For there will always be people out there who believe that they know a better way forward. We will not reach every soul, to whom we reach out.
Jesus himself said that there will be times that we just need to shake the dust off our feet and move on9.
“Those who think they are well do not go to a doctor”-Matthew 9:12.
So what can we do here as the people of Sychar Lutheran Church? We must be brutally honest about the world out there.
Too many people have this image of the American dream in their head. Life is supposed to look a certain way with an above-average wife and above-average kids. The thing is the world will break your heart. It might not happen for years, or it might happen way too soon. We must begin to claim this darkness as our own. We are an imperfect church, made for imperfect people.
The thing about rejection is Life will show it to you just like it had Jason Comely. What rejection does is point you to the day that you will hear that “Yes”, and it will sound like nothing that you’ve ever heard before in your life.
The reason that we evangelize is because The Cross is God’s yes, to our no. The Cross is God’s acceptance to our rejection, failure, sin, doubt, and despair. On that day on the Lake of Galilee, nets were breaking. The Disciples could have believed their situation was hopeless, yet it wasn’t. Christ was in their midst. Soon without knowing they would become Fishers of Men. Amen
1 Spiegel, Alix. “By Making A Game Out Of Rejection, A Man Conquers Fear.” NPR: Your Health Blog. 16.Jan.2015. Web. Jan.20.2015. An interview with Comely also took place on the second episode of NPR’s new show Invisiblia
2 This is the Year B text which is Mark 1:14-20. Other versions of this story are Matthew 4:18-22, and Luke 5:1-11.
3 Markquart, Edward. “Fishing for Christ: Gospel Analysis” . Sermons from Seattle. Life of Christ Course. Web. Jan.20.2015
4 Dreher, Rod. “Making Christianity Weird Again”. American Conservative. 18. Jan.2015. Web. Jan.20.2015
5 Further information about Forde can be found at www.crossalone.us
6 Forde’s article published in Lutheran Quarterly is entitled Radical Lutheranism. The point of this article is that we need to distungish Lutheran witness from various other forms of Protestantism. Lutheranism is so much an German/Scandavian ethnic movement, but rather a radical way of understanding the Gospel.
7 1 Corinthians 5:17
8 H.T. to my Facebook Friend and LCMS Pastor from Webster, Minnesota Donovan Riley on this one.
9 Matthew 10:14
First Lesson: 1 Samuel 3: 1-10 (11-20)
Responsive Reading: Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 6: 12-20
Gospel Lesson: John 1: 43-51
I want to tell you the story of your Baptism. Your Baptism took place on January 18th, 2015. It was an atypical North Shore winter with hardly any snow on the ground. You were surrounded by people that you know well: Mom, Dad, Uncle Joe, Grandma, and Grandpa.
You were also surrounded by people that you didn’t know very well before this day in the people of Sychar Lutheran Church. You see these people played a huge role in your Baptism.
They made a promise to walk alongside you, and support your Mom and Dad as you grew in years and your faith.
Many of the people that were at your Baptism are no longer with us. Don’t feel sad for them though! For they have undergone a different type of Baptism. In the words of the Apostle Paul, they were baptized into the death of Christ Jesus (Romans 6:4). In this Baptism, they received all the benefits of Christ’s resurrection unto themselves (Romans 6:5). In this Baptism, they received eternal life.
I am writing you this letter, Kinley, because many Christians misunderstand Baptism. Many Christians tend to view Baptism as a public exhibition as to your faith’s effectiveness. Baptism's effectiveness never centers though on anything that we do. You see your Baptism doesn’t promise you, a life without problems. Instead, what your Baptism promises you is that God will remain your God, and you will remain his child even in the midst of these problems. These promises are what we call “grace.”
Kinley, I don’t know what direction life will take you. I do know of a story that tells of your Baptism’s meaning. On the day of your Baptism, we read a passage from the scriptures about a child who we know from the time that he was just an infant like you in Samuel. On the day of your Baptism, we read from the story of Samuel and Eli.
The story starts out with Eli being a sad, sad man. Eli had a couple of sons named Phineas and Hopni, who were naughty kids. Eli’s sons’ bad behavior was so extreme that the Lord issued a curse that neither of Eli’s sons is around for his old age. Eli didn’t want the story to end this way.
Around this time, there lived a woman named Hannah. Hannah believed that it would be impossible for her to have any children. Hannah was desperate, so she went to see Eli. Eli, in spite of his sons was held in high regard. Eli was a judge, a ruler in one of Israel’s twelve tribes like Samson or Gideon, who you learned about in Sunday school. Hannah is so desperate for a child that she promises to dedicate her child to God if the Lord provides. After Eli gives Hannah a blessing; baby Samuel would be born. Hannah chooses to honor God by entrusting Samuel to Eli’s care.
You see Eli had been watching over Samuel’s life from before he was even born. No, differently than how God was watching over the people of Sychar as they formed as a community of faith in the years before your Mom and Dad even met. Samuel was left in Eli’s care; just like how the whole congregation assumed responsibility for your care on the day of your baptism.
Samuel’s life certainly took its twists and turns. Samuel saw his homeland enslaved by the Philistines; then Samuel rose up to lead Israel to victory against the most insurmountable of odds. Samuel shed plenty of tears in his life, Samuel experienced plenty of disappointment, and Samuel saw both wealth and poverty. Samuel saw bloodshed and peace. Samuel’s most famous life achievement was appointing a man named Saul to be the first King of Israel. Like you will, Samuel saw plenty of events where he couldn’t quite understand God’s role in it all.
This brings us back to the story of your Baptism and how people often get it wrong. You see too many people associate Baptism’s effectiveness with our response to it. Baptism is not a test given, but rather a promise extended. The best way, to understand Baptism, is to think of it as a “gift”. For what God does in Baptism is declare “You” Kinley to be his child. You don’t remember the day of your salvation, because you participated about as in it as the day you were “born”. This is why Jesus tells Nicodemus that one must be “born-again” of both water and spirit.
We often can’t make sense of this. I’ve heard people claim that “Baptism” is too generous an event, that Baptism is too easy for “sinners.” The thing about Baptism is you can never be too generous with grace. Baptism works just like when you were an infant, you would lay in your crib all day, dependent on Mom and Dad meeting all your external needs from food to sanitation. This is just like how God acts within Baptism. We have no reason to have to protect the Lord from his own generosity. We merely give thanks for God’s goodness.
Kinley, as you go through life my wish, is that you remember the promises given unto you on the day of your baptism. The day that your sins were washed away (Acts 22:16, Titus 3:5-7), the day that you were incorporated into the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13), and the day that you were given a new garment to wear to remind you that from this day forth you will be clothed in Christ’s righteousness (Gal 3:26-27). What makes this such good news to hear is all these things that the Scriptures associate with Baptism are God’s doing never our own.
Kinley as you go forward in life. I wish for you to cling to the promises given to you in Baptism when times get tough. I pray that you draw comfort and peace from your Baptism being a hopeful event. Baptism says that your hope in this life shall come forth from the forgiveness given by a gracious God on this day.
In the Grip of Grace,
 The reading for this Sunday was 1 Samuel 3:1-20.
 This is basically the story of the Book of 1st Samuel which tells the story of Samuel from conception to the death of King Saul.
 Romans 3:24
 Further discussion of John 3 takes place in the 3-23-2014 sermon entitled “Born Againsm” that can be found on the Sychar website.
First Lesson: Isaiah 60: 1-6
Responsive Reading: Psalm 72: 1-7, 10-14
Second Lesson: Ephesians 3: 1-12
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 2: 1-12
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Today’s Gospel lesson tells us the story of the Wise Men. We know a little bit about the Wise Men, we know they came from the east, we know they brought three gifts, and we know they came to worship the Christ child. We don’t know much about the Wise Men beyond this. This morning, I wish to tell the Wise Men’s story.
One night some men were studying the stars like these men did every night. These men were known as “Magi”. Magi came from Persia where today Iran sits. You see several hundred years before the Birth of Christ; a man was born named Zoroaster. Zoroaster was the founder of a religion called Zoroastrianism known as the “Religion of the Stars”. Zoroaster’s followers would look to the sky every night as a way of trying to interpret the relationship between the movement of the stars and human events. We might know what these men do today as Astrologers. I don’t know what you think of horoscope readings. To understand the Magi’s story, you need to know that Astrology was a highly respected science in the days that Jesus lived. Hence, this was why people would call the Magi “The Wise Men.”
One night while gazing at the stars, the Wise Men saw something like they had never seen before. The Wise Men weren’t quite sure what to make of it at first. They didn’t know if it was an unusual alignment of the planets, whether it was a comet, or even whether it was a nova or an exploding star. This star rose, unlike anything the Wise Men had ever seen before in their lives. From where the Wise Men came, there was a significant belief about a rising star. Rising stars were thought to predict the birth of a ruler. The Wise Men witnessed the most important astrological sign of their life, so they decided to follow it for a thousand miles all the way to Jerusalem.
Once the Wise Men arrive at Jerusalem, they arrive at the palace of King Herod looking for answers. Considering these men’s esteemed role as scientists, Herod welcomes them into his presence wishing to find out details about the star they were following.
When Herod hears a child has been born who the Wise Men deem “The King of the Jews” he searches out answers. Herod had a great fright come over him upon hearing about the Messiah’s birth. Herod feared for his own throne. Herod did not think of the Messiah’s birth in religious terms.
Herod gathers together all the great religious scholars in the Chief Priests and Teachers of Jerusalem to find out where this child may have been born.
The scholars knew that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. The scholars knew the words of the Book of Micah written several hundred years before
“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”- Micah 5:2-4
So Herod sent the Wise Men off to Bethlehem. Herod wishes for them to return to his presence, claiming to want also to worship the child. Herod's heart burns with jealously in wishing the child death.
As the Wise Men left Jerusalem, they still had no clue though how they were going to find this child within Bethlehem. Their despair quickly changes though when what appeared to be the same star they had seen months before appeared over them again. The Wise Men were “overwhelmed with joy”- Matthew 2:10. This star led the Wise Men to a house in Bethlehem where the child they were looking for laid.
Upon stepping foot, into the house, The Wise Men saw the child with his mother, Mary. The Wise Men’s reaction to this King of the Jews was interesting though. The Wise Men bowed down before him. What made this so interesting is that the Wise Men shouldn’t have cared about a King of the Jews. The Wise Men weren’t Jews themselves; this child wasn’t supposed to be born to be their king. The Wise Men become overwhelmed with reverence bowing down to this child as a sign of reverence and respect. A conviction that can't really be explained came upon the Wise Men at this moment that they were standing in the presence of a holy one of God.
The Wise Men then present Mary and Joseph with gifts. These weren’t going to be the standard gifts though of sheep and cattle. The Wise Men presented Mary and Joseph with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
I suppose I should tell you a bit about these gifts and how they figure in our story.
The first gift was gold. Gold was the gift that you gave to a King. You might wonder what ever happened to the gold since you never hear about Mary and Joseph being rich. You see Joseph shortly after the Wise Men’s visit has a dream. The dream says that he needs to take his family out of Bethlehem and fast. King Herod is going to be looking for his child to eliminate any potential threats to the throne. Joseph is going to take his family to the land of Egypt. The trip to Egypt though was going to be expensive. Imagine staying for a year in a country with no place to stay, no work, and a young child. The gold that the Wise Men gave was going to keep this child safe in the year ahead.
The second gift given was frankincense. Frankincense was what burned during temple worship as they were offering prayers up to the Lord.
The final gift was the gift of myrrh. Myrrh was an embalming oil used for funerals and cremations till about the 15th century. The Wise Men give this child myrrh to point to how his kingship would not be made known in life, but rather in death. The King was going to die, and then three days later rise again.
What else can we say about the Wise Men? We often assume that there were only three of them because of the three gifts. We really don’t know how many Wise Men were present; the traditions of their homeland often believe that there may have been up to twelve Wise Men that journeyed to see the Christ child.
We also often talk about the Wise Men as Kings as sang in a famous song. The reason people believe this is because the pages of the Old Testament speak of “all kings fall down before him”-Psalm 72:11. Magi within Persia weren’t kings, but more so advisors to kings.
We also don’t know quite how long after Jesus’ birth that the Wise Men’s visit took place. Scholars debate this from being anywhere from a few months to a few years. King Herod would soon instruct that all boys under the age of two be put to death in Bethlehem. Herod though with his unchecked power probably wasn’t the most likely to show great restraint in whom he killed.
So what happens after the Wise Men leave Bethlehem? Christians from all over Asia began to claim the Wise Men as their own. Pakistan, Mongolia, China, Russia, Arabia all had their Christian communities claim to be descendants of the Wise Men. When famous benevolent kings rose up within these lands; they were thought to be descendants of the Wise Men. Rumors like this can only lead one to conclude that as the Wise Men journeyed back home on a different route from which they came, they reached people with the birth of the Christ-child. The Wise Men became some of the church’s first evangelists. In the year 1270, the explorer Marco Polo claimed to have seen the Wise Men’s bodies lying in the grave, uncorrupted on a visit to their homeland to the city of Tehran.
Other parts of the Christian Church though forgot the story about the Magi. Christians and Astrologists became bitter enemies from the Church’s earliest days. As Christianity spread throughout the empire, Astrologists like the Magi became increasingly denounced as quacks. Perhaps that is why in decades after their visit they were no longer known as “Magi” but rather “Wise Men” or “Kings”.
The Magi were strange men, with strange beliefs, with a strange way of life. The Christ child brought them into his presence. This child was going to bring in all sorts of people no matter how others may have regarded it.
When Matthew wrote his gospel telling the Wise Men’s story, it would be deemed “The Jewish Gospel”. Matthew wrote his Gospel to hardline Jews whose whole way of being in the Roman Empire was their adherence to tradition. The Wise Men stood far outside this tradition. Matthew tells this story to illustrate how the Wise Men would usher in a new age of religion, a religion that would be open to all comers regardless of background or levels of brokenness.
The thing about the story of the Wise Men is we often get it wrong by making it about how they went forth to Bethlehem to show praise for the Christ-child. Instead the story is really about God bringing forth these unique men to see the picture of their salvation.
This is the story of the Wise Men. Amen
 This section of the story was inspired by Markquart, Edward. “The Wise Men: Gospel Analysis”. Life of Christ Course. Sermons from Seattle. Web. Jan.5.2015
 This bit of knowledge was discovered by researcher Anders Hultgard in his 1998 writing “The Magi and the Star: the Persian background in texts and iconography”. This was discovered on the Wikipedia article on the Biblical Magi. “Biblical Magi”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 4. Jan.2015. Web. Jan.4.2015.
 Matthew 2:1-2
 Matthew 2:3
 Matthew 2:4
 Matthew 2:8
 Matthew 2:10
 Matthew 2:13-18
 This is one of several traditions as to what happened with the Wise Men receiving the gift of gold. I use this story because it makes the most sense.
 This tradition has rose up in Syraic Churches which tend to actually bestow upon the Wise Men “Persian Names”.
 There is no such thing as a uniform tradition about the Wise Men. It’s worth nothing that the Wise Men play a prominent role in several different Asian Christian Traditions. “Biblical Magi”. Wikipedia
 Matthew 2:12
 This account from the journals of Marco Polo is also found in the Wikipedia article on the Magi.
 This background on the Wise Men’s origins in connection to Matthew’s Gospel was inspired by Bowen, Dr. Gilbert W. “Transcending the Tribe”. Lectionary.Org. Web. Jan.5.2015
First Lesson: Jeremiah 31: 7-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 147: 12-20
Second Lesson: Ephesians 1: 3-14
Gospel Lesson: John 1: 1-18
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”- John 1:1
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
When I was at Luther Seminary, I took a class where the goal was to help us articulate our beliefs about Jesus. The professor of this course proceeded to announce that he didn’t believe the story of the Virgin Birth. He continued to try to explain the Virgin Birth story a few different ways. He believed that the scriptures possess this story merely to indicate that Jesus’ birth was unique. He believed that one didn’t have to believe in the Virgin Birth as a matter of salvation. He believed that we can’t minimize Joseph’s role in Jesus’ life as a Jesus’ father.
My radar immediately went off after he said these words. I can’t explain my visceral reaction. Someone questioning the Virgin Birth was not the first time during college or seminary that I heard the teachings of the historic Church questioned. I honestly believe that was set me off was an innate understanding that we can't separate the Virgin Birth from the uniqueness of Jesus’ being. How Jesus was not merely a man, how in the words of our Gospel lesson for today the Word became flesh and dwelt among us1. The Virgin Birth is the means by which the one who was present at the creation of the world assumes human form.
So I proceeded to write a paper trying to set out why I needed to prove my professor wrong. Any student going for a grade knows this is a terrible idea.
I get the paper back; this is a long paper (longer than any sermon). As I read the paper, the Professor’s response was unusual. The Professor would respond to every point of argument that I made on this paper in depth in red ink. The side margins of the paper contain hundreds of words of red ink. The back of the pages possess nothing but red ink. My essay produced other essays in response.
I get my professor’s angle. He attended Harvard. He wanted to be taken seriously as an intellectual when he attended cocktail parties. Serious thinkers don’t hold to such impossible events as the Virgin Birth.
What I say about the topic this morning is the Virgin Birth is that we must always defend it. Apart from the Resurrection there is arguably no more critical belief in the entire Christian faith. One can quibble with how we can interpret certain Bible verses? One can debate the relationship between religion and science? The discussion over the Virgin Birth touches on the question of whether “Jesus is really God?”
So how would I respond to my Professor’s arguments about the Virgin Birth?
Argument A: The Virgin Birth merely meant to show that Jesus was special.
Special in what way, I don’t get. If Jesus comes into the world like every other human being born before and after him, then he is really not special in any unique way. The specialness of Jesus comes from the Virgin Birth. Jesus could have come to Earth as a fully formed adult, but then he would not be one of us, if he lived a life without diapers. Jesus could have been born as billions of people before or after him as a byproduct of the normal birds and bees, yet this doesn’t make him God.
Argument B: Belief in the Virgin Birth is not necessary for salvation.
The Professor was right, yet wrong at the same time. The Professor was right that because of sin, none of us is ever able to believe rightly. We don’t want to claim that we are the only true church or pure church. I will freely admit that there are beliefs I hold that might be proven wrong at the gates of Heaven. Saying something is unnecessary for salvation shouldn’t cause us to just casually dismiss it.
Grace says that we will not always believe rightly; grace does not give us carte blanche permission to dismiss Biblical ideas that do not mesh with our “world views”. We must also state that the Virgin Birth has been a part of the faith of the church since its earliest days.
A while back, the Jehovah Witnesses stop by me house. They proceed to tell me for 20 minutes how all Christian churches have been led astray over the years. My response to all this ranting was to ask them about the Holy Spirit? What I said is “Why would the Holy Spirit abandon his church to damnation?” The Jehovah Witnesses were not arguing with me on this day; they were rather arguing against the Holy Spirit when they denounce all Christian churches as holding false beliefs. Since the Church does not belong to us, we will never have permission to assume ownership casually over it.
Argument C: We can’t minimize the importance of a Father within Jesus’ life.
A number of years ago, Basketball player Shaquille O’ Neal made rap music on the side. Shaquille O’ Neal never knew his father. Shaq’s dad had been imprisoned for drug possession when Shaq was an infant. Shaq’s mom marries a guy named Phil. Phil raises Shaq. The biological father wants no role in Shaq’s life until seeing him dominate in a high school all star game. Shaq gets mad; Shaq eventually writes a rap about how Phil is his father, because his biological didn’t bother2.
We should not assume fatherhood in such black and white terms. Joseph had a significant role in Jesus’ life because he was placed in such a role. Joseph’s role is no different then the important role that Phil enters into in Shaq’s life despite providing nothing to Shaq’s conception. Joseph was not a typical father, as there are plenty of non-typical fathers out there. Fatherhood is not merely about a father’s role in conception. Fatherhood is rather about the role that a father plays in influencing their children, no matter how fathers enter into these lives. Understanding Joseph in this way seems to be a much more meaningful understanding of the role of Joseph than purely thinking about it in terms of his role in the conception.
Blogger Nadia Bolz-Weber made a good point in regards to this whole Virgin Birth that “Christians must admit that our faith is going to sound preposterous to those who don’t believe3?” This guy rose from the dead after three days seriously? We will always fight a losing battle when we engage with people who try to make the Virgin Birth a matter of biological probability. Yes, we know that children do not get made without sperm. We admit that science questions only lead to science answers4.
Instead, what we believe is that the Virgin Birth is a unique act of God coming into our world. The thing about the Virgin Birth is that we cannot separate it from the mystery of how God could ever come into our world; we cannot and will not ever be able to explain this. We merely say how a Virgin Birth happens is God’s doing, and not for us to know ultimately.
Our Gospel lesson today is the beginning of the Gospel of John5. John’s Gospel doesn’t begin with the tale of the Virgin Birth. Instead what John’s Gospel communicates in its beginning is that Jesus’ birth was not his beginning. Jesus has been here since the beginning of time itself.
Our lesson ties in the Virgin Birth with the story of creation. To understand our lesson for today from John 1 think in terms of what we do know about Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden, how they fell into sin, eating some rotten fruit. The whole of creation falls apart after that.
One of the most popular Christian funerals hymns that we all know is “In the Garden”. People like this romantic image of the Kingdom of Heaven being compared to a garden.
What you maybe don’t know is the whole meaning behind the famous scene from Luke 23 where Jesus talks to the Thief on the Cross to mouth his famous words ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise6”.
Paradise comes from the Persian word for “garden”. If you think of what Jesus is saying as ‘Today you shall be with me in the “garden’, what Jesus is saying “the Thief” shall be with him on the day of humanity’s restoration. Jesus is referring to the day that sin and death shall be wiped from the face of the earth forever.
How this ties into the Virgin Birth is the Virgin Birth’s purpose is God saying that although sin came into this world, I am going to reverse it by bringing forth forgiveness. The Virgin Birth is God taking a do-over for the sake of a fallen world7.
As we talk about the Virgin Birth, I should also make brief mention of the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception is the idea that Mary’s birth comes as a result of a virgin mother. The Immaculate Conception says that Mary’s birth came without sin. I think the problem with Mary being born of a virgin is that it probably requires her mother Saint Anne also experience birth from a virgin, and so and so on until the beginning of time.
My intention is not to bad-mouth Catholic devotion to Mary. I believe that we should honor Mary as we do all other mothers. Mary was called forth by God with a particular, unique purpose. The issue with the Immaculate Conception is that it makes Mary almost more God-like than human. Mary’s unique from all women because of her role in Jesus’ life; Mary is not unique from all women because she possesses any additional super-powers in child-bearing that other women do not own8.
During the Virgin Birth debate period that took place during my second year of Seminary. There was a lawyer in this class named Roger. Roger wasn’t just a run of the mill lawyer though. Roger would frequently appear on the Twin Cities “best lawyers” lists. Roger knew how to frame an argument and also how to respond to an argument. Roger would take the opportunity to denigrate the Virgin Birth at every chance he got.
I remember asking Roger the lawyer one day the following question “If you believe that there is a God up there who created the Heavens and the Earth? Why don’t you believe that this God is capable of intervening in his creation as he sees necessary even in the form of a Virgin Birth?”
Roger sits there for a couple moments thinking; when Roger finally admits that he had no counterpoint to the argument?
This breaks down the whole question of the Virgin Birth of whether our faith possess a God worth following that can resolve the problems of sin in our daily life? The Virgin Birth is a debate over whether our God is a worthless being?
The reason that the Virgin Birth is so essential to defining the Christian religion is because Christianity centers on the issues of life and death or death and resurrection. If we believe that Jesus couldn’t have come into this life in miraculous fashion then why should we possess any confidence that Jesus could overcome death in extraordinary fashion?
A God that cannot intervene in Life and Death we should abandon. Take miracles away from Christianity then Christianity is merely a system of moral beliefs from people who might know or not know about what they are talking. Christianity then is just one of many options claiming to have discovered the truth on Oprah Winfrey’s couch.
The Virgin Birth illustrates that Christianity centers upon God coming down to Earth for the sake of our own salvation. God doesn’t do his part, and then we do ours. God did it all for our sake upon a cross. We are merely mortal, we march towards death like the sheep before the slaughter9, yet the Lamb of God came forth to this earth to die and rise again. The Virgin Birth shows that there is a way forward for even if it might seem to be biologically impossible. Christianity is a religion of miracles; it’s a religion that claims that this life is not always going to be how we see it today. Amen
1 John 1:14
2 “Biological Didn’t Bother” rapped by Shaq in 1994 can be found on You Tube.
3 Bolz-Weber, Nadia. “The Virgin Birth: Fact, Fiction, or Truth?”. Sarcastic Lutheran: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner&Saint. Patheos. 17.Dec.2014. Web. Dec.24.2014
4 M. James Sawyer.“The Virgin Birth: Why It is Important”. Parchment and Pen: Credo House Blog. 12. Dec.2011. Web. Dec.24.2014
5 John 1:1-18
6 Luke 23:43
7 M. James Sawyer.“The Virgin Birth: Why It is Important”.
8 Bolz-Weber’s article provides excellent commentary also on the Immaculate Conception.
9 Romans 8:36