Posts Tagged ‘sin’

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21: 25, the last verse of Judges)

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53: 6)

In an article,  In Martin Luther’s Church the Pastor Asks: Where Have All the Protestants Gone?”, a German Lutheran pastor, Pr. Block,  states that during the time of Communism the churches were fuller then in Germany than today and he offers this explanation:

“Belonging to the church meant taking a stand, to say, ‘This is what I believe in and I take the consequences.’ Today people think, I’m lord of my own life, why do I need the church? 

The hymn “Lord to Thee I make confession” , the first verse is above in the clip-art, (Lutheran Service Book, #608) is from the 17th Century. The penitent’s sin is choosing for himself his way, disregarding the way of the Lord for him and to him.  Looking at the hymn verse and the Bible passages above, the only incorrect portion of Pastor Block’s quote is the implication that somehow this is new…and to say in times of temporal peace, I believe in the Lord, is still to take the consequences.

 Just read an article today that people have a hard time saying, “no” nowadays.  Again, we always have but maybe there is something to the fact it’s harder these days:  we all want to be liked and the moral compass of God’s Law is denied.  Pastors are not to say “no” any longer but be “affirming”…which ends up affirming wrong and that is not serving the neighbor in love.  

We all have gone the wrong way or tend to, go “my way”.  Reading novels, bios of famous people, people I have known, looking into the mirror of the Law of God and when the way is my own choosing, it is a dead end.   The Lord puts up the sign of His terrors to stop us in His Law:

Then He shows us the sign of our forgiveness that we repent in Him, as He has borne each and every wrong of each and every one us, as He calls us  by name, John 10:3:

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                                                                           Pride goes before destruction,and a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16: 18

1oo years ago yesterday  evening, at 11: 40pm, the HMS Titanic struck an iceberg.  Then 100 years ago today, April 15th, the Titanic, the ship considered to be “unsinkable”, with not enough life boats sunk at 2:20am into the icy North Atlantic waters, killing 1,496 people.  The Carpathia saved 712 passengers.

In an excellent article, Titanic Presumptions by Allen C. Guelzo, in the National Review and on NR Online, he begins his piece this way,

  • The Titanic, name and thing, will stand for a monument and warning to human presumption.” That was the judgment of Edward Stuart Talbot, the Anglican bishop of Winchester, in the sermon he preached the Sunday after the fabled Atlantic passenger liner Titanic took nearly 1,500 lives with her as she sank after striking an iceberg in mid-ocean on April 14, 1912. “When has such a mighty lesson against our confidence and trust in power, machinery, and money been shot through the nation?” Talbot could not have known it, but an entire cascade of mighty lessons was about to be visited on human presumption in spades, in the form of two World Wars (Talbot would lose a son at Ypres) and the genocidal sacrifice of millions on the altars of Fascism and Communism.

Mr. Guelzo cites these interpretations of the Sinking of the Titanic:

  1. Nobility: In both Britain and America, it was an example of Ango-Saxon nobility.  People extolled the heroes who had “sacrificed themselves in obedience to the rule” of “women and children first”. “…and quietly ignoring the greater likelihood that those cigar-lighting gentlemen were motivated instead by the bizarre confidence that, as one of them remarked, ‘no matter what we have struck,’ the Titanic “is good for eight or ten hours’”
  2. Governmental:  The next interpretation was to blame a lack of regulation.    “…to pillory the White Star Line for mismanagement, something that played into the hands of progressive politicians such as Senator William Alden Smith of Michigan, who conducted the U.S. Senate’s inquiry into the loss of the Titanic and who called for more of the regulation that had done so little to prevent the disaster in the first place.”
  3. Class Warfare:  “But the most popular narrative to wrap itself around the Titanic has been that of class. The disaster has increasingly become a parable for the evils of callous upper-class wealth, (the ship’s manifest included some of the most famous of the upper class of the time) saving its precious hide while honest and authentic immigrants are locked away in steerage to drown. (There is actually no evidence that anyone was “locked away” in third class, or that the sort of folding metal gates that appear so prominently as the immigrants’ prison bars in recent movie versions of the Titanic were even installed on the ship.) James Cameron, who joked that his bloated Titanic fell “just short of Marxist dogma,” pressed the class-warfare fable to the point of caricature.”

Mr. Guelzo then concludes that the Anglican priest has the correct interpretation.

He also points out that the Master of the Carpathia was one of the stand-out heroes of that “night to remember” because of his quick thinking it was his ship that saved all who were saved, 712 people.  Mr. Guelzo quotes Captain Rostron’s recollections of that cold evening:

“The Carpathia arrived to retrieve the lifeboats just after 4 a.m. Arthur Rostron, standing on the bridge-wing of his ship, his lips moving in silent prayer, was the hero of heroes that night. As the sun rose, he saw that “all around us were dozens and dozens of icebergs, some comparatively close, others far away on the horizon, towering up like cathedral spires.” It made him shudder, and he could “only think that some other Hand than mine was on that helm during the night.'” (emphasis my own)

 I think there is a causal connection between Captain Rostron praying and the people he and his crew were able to save.  I think there is a difference between a talented man, humble to pray and those who built the Titanic who had not prayer.

Just as in Babel, this is a narrative of pride and humility and I think it begs the question:  Why is there such overweening pride in our day and time?  Oh, it’s always been there, from the tree to  East of Eden to the  plains of Shinar, to the base of Mt. Sinai and Golgotha and to the arrogance of our species to think an unsinkable ship was built with the unthinkable lack of lifeboats.  But why has pride taken on such incredibly destructiveness?  One reason:  pride has been couple with overwhelming technologies.  But it has been unfortunate that historically the total lack of inhibition of hubris has been unleashed in such a technological advanced era. It is grim to know that during World War II the Nazis greatly improved the technologies of mass extermination in just a several years.  But why is pride so un-contained?

In 1924, the Nazis promised religious toleration in their party platform.  In paragraph 24 of that platform, before it talks about the German fight against, “…the Jewish -materialistic spirit”, they wrote, “we demand freedom for all religious confessions in the state, so far as they do not endanger its existence or conflict against the ethical and moral feelings of the Germanic race.”  The faithful conservative Lutheran pastor, professor and historian, Hermann Sasse, “…perceptively wrote as early as 1932 that on the basis of section 24 a conflict was inevitable between Christianity and Nazism because the doctrine of original sin and unworthiness of the sinner would offend the ‘ethical and moral feelings’ of the Germanic race.” (Emphasis my own) Later the German-Christians (i.e. the Nazi-front ‘church’) declared, in fulfillment of Sasse’s prophetic statement:  “The (Christian) doctrine of (original) sin and the guilt of mankind is an insult to the Germanic people”, and ” We do not believe we were conceived and born in sin. We do not believe that God became man in Jesus.” Instead of speaking of “fallen mankind”, one should speak of “ascending mankind.” (quoted from Lutherans Against Hitler:  the Untold Story by Lowell C.  Green, CPH Publishing)

 Why is pride so un-contained and unleashed in it’s full Adamic rage?  Answer:  the utter denial of original sin and sin in general.  For instance:  the famous televanglist, Joyce Meyers, who was Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, left the Lutheran Church because she said she became tired of being a “a lost and condemned creature” and all the talk of sin. At one time Lent was about fasting but it’s now about the way to the “purpose-driven” life. The Mormons do not believe in original sin and I think this is what is frightening about their doctrine.  I would dare say that both Governor Romney and President Obama do not believe in original sin.  Then notice the talk is always about the future that someone will deliver to us for our deliverance and the still unbounded faith, yes, religious and spiritual faith in our own abilities to save.  An unsinkable ship.  The Reich to last a 1,000 years.  A Roman Catholic theologian denied the doctrine of original sin but taught his doctrine of “original goodness” (I give credit: that the Vatican booted him) This piece of a poem by Francis Thompson (1859-1907), British poet,  states it well:

…all man’s Babylons strive but to impart
The grandeurs of his Babylonian heart.

The founders of our republic and the especially the framers of the Constitution so wrote our law because of their profound understanding the capabilities and culpabilities of man to utter power.  James Madison in his federalist paper #51 wrote:  “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”  President Madison caught well the blessed Reformers understanding of the politicus usus, the political or first use of the Law: restraining our sinful propensities.  Once that is denied, then the lie that we can do everything good is unleashed.  We do not want to build a tower to reach God, we think we are God and the serpent’s lie is now at it’s maximum destructive power:  to be like God.

We must fight and we must resist temptation.  In popular culture, Lord of Rings caught well the temptation of saying we have no sin, thus deceiving our selves (1 John1–2: 2)  and what unbounded good in the hands of a sinner could unleash and the necessity of the fight to do so, even to do good:

The Church has the message of remedy of original sin in our original salvation in the man from heaven:  Jesus Christ.  We must proclaim both law and Gospel.  We know our limitations and in that limitation the true power to serve.

Read:  Matthew 4: 1-17;  Hebrews 4: 14-16;  1 Corinthians 10: 12-13 and pray the Our Father, Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil (or the evil one).

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Let’s face it:  we probably all have all sorts of  thoughts running through our heads while listening to the pastor preach.  Since I am not preaching much right now, awaiting a Call,  I get to listen to a couple of preachers involved with the Lexington Lutheran Mission.  The pastor and the vicar preach solid sermons.  Real ‘meat and taters’ stuff, nothing vegan about those sermons!   And last night during Pr. Beasley’s good sermon on Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, I was a’thinking.  Yes, alot of the thoughts are not of a nobler vein:  such as, concentrating on the pastor’s goop on his lower lip or the pretty girl in the pew on the left or “I wish Ted would lay off  the cologne”.  This is probably one reason why the Lord offers us His forgiveness in the course of  even an hour, hour and a half, Divine Service because we sin during the Service.  And if it is a good sermon, a solid one, then being the lamb being fed (see St. John 21:  15-19) and the lamb  might have further thoughts and reflections on the Word being preached.  Here is my offering, FWIW, on the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.   First the Lesson from the English Standard Version, St. Luke 18:  9-14:

 9He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

That poor tax collector!  So ‘down’ on himself!  He’s off by himself, literally downcast, beating his chest and desribing himself as a “sinner”.  He has some issues!  Bad marriage?  Dysfunctional family?  Substance abuse?  Who knows?  But obviously nothing is  looking up for him and he feels bad about himself.  Wouldn’t you want just to give him some positive reinforcement about his life, to affirm his gifts and abilities in order to build up his self-esteem?  And isn’t that what the tax collector is suffering from: low self-esteem?  He just needs to feel good about himself again!  That’s the ticket!  Then in this psycho-babble assessment, it would mean that since the tax collector has low self-esteem, then the Pharisee has high self-esteem.  The Pharisee is bristling with positive self-image.  He would be assessed as psychologically healthy!  He is self-confident, a fully realized individual.  He stands tall…okay, he’s a little full of himself, but that is being judgmental. 

Yes, that is what crossed my mind while Pr. B. was preaching last night.  It was a nightmarish thought.

Years ago, Newsweek magazine (before it went off the idealogical deep-end) had a front page article entitled:  “The Curse of Self-Esteem”.  This Newsweek edition was at the height (or more like,  the depths) of the Self-Esteem Movement sweeping our schools. In my previous congregation in Norfolk, there were spate of suicides in a local school.  In the confirmation class, I brought this up as a topic of pastoral concern.  I asked the class, what’s being done in your school about this?  Aaron, a quiet lad, rolled his eyes and smirked.  I smiled and said, “Aaron, what’s being done?  He said, “Today, in school we had to write a letter to ourselves of what is good about ourselves.”  Aaron thought it ridiculous.  I agreed but worse,  I thought it  was dangerous and said so and why:  looking the wrong way. 

Notice that in the parable the Pharisee is looking one way and the Tax Collector another way:  the Pharisee is looking to himself, and even though the Tax Collector “…would not even lift up his eyes to heaven…”, paradoxically, he was still looking towards the Lord and His plenteous forgiveness.  So that’s the first thing that makes the self-esteem ideology a curse  in our day and time:  looking the wrong way.  But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Let’s say the taxcollector was cheating on his wife or beating his children or drinking too much, or even doing all three,  and from God’s Holy Law realizes: I am a sinner.  He is really feeling bad about himself and guess what?  He should be and that’s okay!  And the Pharisee is looking down on the tax collector and that’s not okay. The Pharisee should be feeling bad about himself as arrogant but he’s not and so his “self-esteem” is sinful! 

One caveat:  there is actual low self-esteem,  that is low self-regard based upon, for instance, emotionally abusive situations growing up. If you ever say to your child, “You never do anything right”, that is not good.  It’s not true, for one thing, the child does do good things.  But said long enough, she might begin to think, I never do anything right, I’m always screwing up etc.  This is not good and then the adult needs some counseling.  But with the Self-Esteem Movement, something else has been afoot.

The tax collector’s prayer, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  is the basis in the Orthodox Church for the Jesus Prayer:  “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me a sinner.”  I think this is a prayer that every Lutheran should have in their prayer arsenal.  But the self-esteem movement is so pervasive that even some of the stalwart Orthodox (not exactly a progressive lot on the whole!) argued that maybe they should pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful”, period, because the “sinner” part was, after all, rather self-deflating to a person.  Low self-esteem!  Aargh. Notice what is lopped off:  the sinner ‘part’.  My contention is that the Self-Esteem Movement, in fact most of post-modern thought, is the whole-sale attack on sin, making it  a non-category, lopping it off,  and so there can be no absolute Moral Law, i.e. the Ten Commandments.  The problem with that?  It’s a lie and we deceive ourselves.  In fact, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1: 8).  Self esteem movement does not work:  if it did, then for instance,  the suicide rate should be dropping.  It’s not dropping off because our eyes are turned inward. 

We can not admit, God be merciful to me a sinner.  We can not admit,yes, I have done wrong.  Even worse:  we are not SUPPOSE to admit that!  And it gets even worse: then the proclamation of the Lord’s forgiveness upon the Cross, where the Lord Himself, His breast was beaten and killed for our reconciliation, is not preached, taught, counseled, given.  There is a good German theological word for this application of the Gospel, Seelsorge, literally, care of souls.   And it’s sad to note that in a church body, like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America which would confess every week practially 1 John 1: 8 would now being saying, We really don’t have any sin, either de facto or de jure.  And a church of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit can become a church of me, myself and I.

For instance:   Matthew was tax collector whom the Lord called (St. Matthew 9: 8-10).  In fact, in the listing of the Apostles, only in Matthew’s Gospel is the entry, “…and Matthew the tax collector..”   (St. Matthew 10: 3).   Obviously, so done by Matthew himself!  The sound doctrine (see 1 Timothy and Titus for use that phrase) is to know one is sick and the Physician heals.  Matthew always realized his sin and even better, by His grace, knew His Savior.  St. Paul would always regard himself as the “chief of all sinners” present tense (see 1 Timothy 1:14-16) and better, He and you and I have a  present-tense Savior.  We can only be sinners in front of this Lord and so rejoicing in daily prayer, He has had mercy and so are justified. We are sinners of his redeeming, lambs of His own flock. 

We need to be more taught and practiced in the care of souls, seelsorge, not first human counseling, but the counsel of heaven, of the Lord’s reign. Dear Lord, help Your Church, redeemed by Your blood, to apply the salve of salvation in Your death and resurrection for Your people looking for salvation in all the wrong places.  Amen.

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