In the House or Out?


The pictures somewhere nearby, which in black and white are probably just blobs (sorry), are moral value heat maps.  (Here is the link to the originals and the article in the journal Nature: ). What they represent is the moral worth assigned from inner circle being your immediate family to the far outer circle being all things in existence, separated by self-reported political ideology.  There are two somewhat surprising results. The self-reported conservatives assigned lower overall scores everywhere. The darkest red which stretches from immediate family to personal acquaintances is only 12 units. (Explaining the units would take all my space, I’ll point you to the article.) That is verses the darkest red on the liberal chart being 20 units.  So the self-reported liberal in the survey’s measurement places almost the same absolute value on those inner rings.  That leads to the 2nd surprising thing.  The liberal darkest red – highest assigned moral worth – centers not on those closest, but stretches from “all people” to “all things”.  

Essentially those maps and that paper are trying to answer the lawyer’s question to Jesus, “who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:29).” And the self-reported liberal’s response is consistent with the parable that Jesus answered with – The Parable of the Good Samaritan. Who was a neighbor to the man who had been beaten? Someone who would have been in the “all people” ring.  And stretching that response to “all things” is not foreign either, in that the original divine assignment for man (Gen 1:26) was to have dominion – benevolent care – over all things.  You might even say Jesus addresses this directly (Matthew 5:43-48) when he says, “love your enemies.”  Given all that maybe we just condemn the conservative moral assignment as benighted.

But that would ignore a few other biblical passages.  In Mark 7:10-13 Jesus addresses those who would swear off responsibility to mother and father – clearly part of the innermost ring – for a much more nebulous “god”.  And he does this in the context of the 4th commandment – “honor your father and mother.”  Also hear the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 5:8, “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  Hearing those passages we might turn on the liberal and say “you are just dodging what has actually been placed before you.”

And in the context of a political polarity, what we are attempting to do is justify ourselves. I’m righteous and you are evil.  That is what passes for much of our political discussion these days.  But I’m not counseling quietness or any such dodge.  We have a life together and politics is how these things are sorted out. And being sinful humans, we will probably do it terribly.  But I believe the Lutheran specifically has a good word here.  Anytime you are talking morality or moral worth, we are probably in the realm of the law.  And Jesus’ other summary of the law is in the conclusion to that “love your enemies” passage.  Matthew 5:48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Good luck with that.  And anytime we find ourselves involved in a self-justification game, recognize that we have no ability to do that.  We can argue our own righteousness right into hell.  The biblical picture of that moral worth chart would just be all red.  And the Father in his providence does provide for all.

But we are limited creatures. Limited in power, in abilities, in time.  Instead of self-justifying, we really need to look to the one who justifies. Instead of attempting to judge everyone by true, yet impossible, standards, we need a little grace to allow each other “to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling (Phil 2:12).” Because we are not the judges of someone else’s work in these regards.  We will all stand before Christ one day for ourselves. 

That sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7 has a lot about the law in it.  But it also has the most amazing reminder of grace.  “Consider the lilies of the field…”. That passage ends with the phrase I think should guide so much of our lives.  “Do no be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  Maybe tomorrow places all people and all things before you. When it does and if that is your calling, the providence of God is working through you. And it will be enough.  Most of us will probably spend tomorrow in front a variety of people from family to acquaintances – the troubles of the day. The providence of God is likewise working through you.  And it is no less for being local.  What we need is not another judge, but reminders of the amazing grace of the true judge of all things.  And to grant each other a bit of that grace to work out the day.

Zechariah’s Song

Biblical Text: Luke 1:57-79

It is a short Advent Midweek season. Made shorter by our choosing to go caroling on a hay ride for Advent 3. So just a two sermon series. Which makes it perfect to meditate on the songs in Luke 1: Zechariah’s Song and Mary’s Song. This evening was Zechariah’s which is a nice summary of the old testament promises and how they are fulfilled in our hearing.

Measure by Measure

Biblical Text: Luke 6:27-38

The text is part two of “The Sermon on the Plain”, Luke version of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. And what this sermon (and last week’s) encourage is what seems to be a specific audience shift in the way Luke presents it. The Sermon on the Plain is to the disciples, or this week specifically to “those who hear.” It may sound strange coming from a Lutheran, but the Law is Good. The Law does have a place in the Christian Life. The deeper question is how does one take that law? And that is what I think Jesus is getting at in Luke’s version. This is the 3rd Use of the Law version of the sermon. And that rule is the rule of grace. The golden rule is to act today, toward your enemies, toward those who won’t pay you back, as the Father and the Son have acted toward us. Do so understanding that you probably don’t get paid back in this world. Which is fine, because as a disciple of Jesus, you are living out of the eternal measure of God.

Love is Costly


Biblical Text: Matthew 16:21-28
Full Sermon Draft

Carrying crosses is a tricky subject. Or maybe I should write that discerning crosses is difficult. Sometimes what you think are crosses are just being a drama queen martyr. They could be avoided, but the scene is too desirable. Sometimes what we put as crosses are just common difficulties. A cross in the sense of the text is something forced on you by the world because you won’t put its priorities first. And more specifically, a cross is something you encounter because you specifically put Christ first. Jesus bore the cross, because he remained faithful to His Father. He would not give the pinch to the Sanhedrin or to Caesar.

This sermon looks at what are some very American or rich western crosses. It is tempting to dismiss them as crosses because of that adjective, rich western. But we don’t pick our crosses. Our trails are ours. I don’t say it in the sermons, but there is an old saying “those He wishes to destroy first he makes rich”. The deceptions of the world in the west are very attractive things. They are also often very good things, if in their proper order and time.

And that is the crux of crosses. They come not because the creation is bad. They come because Satan has marked his prey. They come because the ruler of this age wants you get things out of order. The faith of Jesus Christ gets things in the proper order.