I went to the Wednesday Advent service at the Missouri Synod Lutheran church.
The pastor opened his sermon by talking about the charity work that the church is doing this Christmas season, in an attempt to make other people’s lives at least somewhat better. He then mentioned charity work that is being done by others this season.
After that, the pastor discussed the catastrophes that people suffer today, and how, in this age of the Internet, we learn about them instantly. He remarked that many long for the simplicity of the past. And yet, he continued, the past was far from perfect. In certain respects, it was worse back then than it is now. Many children and infants died. In the Psalm that we read today, Psalm 147, we see that there were broken and downcast people about two-thousand years ago.
The pastor then said that a number of people ask how, if there is a God, God can allow natural disasters and diseases such as cancer. The pastor said that this is a difficult question to answer, and he feels that it is the wrong question. According to the pastor, these things exist, not due to God, but due to human beings, who at the Fall tried to be gods rather than obeying and worshiping the true God. As a result, creation is under God’s judgment.
But Jesus came and he healed people. He came, not just to make things better, but to make things new. This will be completed at his second coming. In the meantime, the church is to spread the Gospel, and God delays the Second Coming so that this can take place.
Yet, the newness that Jesus came to bring has present relevance, the pastor affirmed. He referred to when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, and there was plenty left over after everyone in the desert with Jesus had eaten his or her fill. Jesus brings abundance. But abundant what? The pastor said that Jesus brings an abundance of grace and forgiveness. That can help us, when we are old and a body part starts to ache. (An elderly woman in the congregation chuckled at that, indicating she identified!) It can help us, when it is Christmas and we miss a lost loved one.
Here are some of my reflections:
A. I have been thinking about the church’s service work lately. A friend of mine wrote a blog post a while back about how, in this stage of his life, he prefers the Lutheran church that he attended since his youth to a Presbyterian church that he has visited. His reason is that the Lutheran church emphasizes God’s love, redemption, and God meeting people’s needs, whereas the Presbyterian church stresses the importance of becoming changed then going out to change the world. In his current time of suffering, my friend finds that he needs the former kind of message.
The Lutheran church that I have attended, like that of my friend, stresses God’s love for us and presence with us; at least that has been the case when I have been there. Yet, it also engages in a lot of service activities. It does service, and it likely believes that service is an integral part of the Christian life. But its stress is on God’s love. It has comfort plus service. And maybe the two overlap and reinforce each other.
B. In my last two posts about the Wednesday Advent services, I struggled a little with the concept of the Fall: did it happen, and is it consistent with science or scientific accounts of history?
John Walton’s interpretation of the Adam and Eve story makes some sense to me. According to Walton, there was death in the world before Adam and Eve sinned, but Adam and Eve could continue living by partaking of the Tree of Life in Eden. When they sinned, however, they were cut off from the Tree of Life. One can perhaps take this interpretation (whether or not Walton intended this) in the direction of saying that the Fall of Adam and Eve did not result in a change in the natural order, as if God decided to create (say) fault lines after the Fall: rather, it meant that Adam and Eve were cut off from the Tree of Life and thus were left victim to the natural order. See here for here for my posts about Walton’s interpretation.
There are elements of Walton’s interpretation that bother me. For example, Walton believes that Adam and Eve were priests in Eden, and yet there were other people outside of Eden. But why would Adam and Eve be allowed to live forever by partaking of the Tree of Life, whereas those outside of Eden could not do so? Walton does seem to believe that the Fall unleashed some sort of chaos into the world, so he may think that even those outside of Eden were better off before the Fall than after it.
C. The pastor’s sermon made me think about the Christian argument that Jesus’ miracles and healings were a preview of what the World to Come (the world after Jesus comes back and renews it) would be like: a world with abundance for all, free of disease. I have wondered why Jesus gave those previews to people at that time, only to wait thousands of years after that to come back. I one time asked a Christian friend of mine what exactly Jesus brought at his first coming—-and I know that he brought a great deal, such as dying for people’s sins, but what was the purpose of his healings and miracles. My friend responded, “He brought himself.” Perhaps that is at least one solution to my confusion: Jesus came and showed that he himself was the Messiah who would later (after his second coming) bring abundance and an end to disease.
D. I struggle with the idea that Jesus brings an abundance of forgiveness. The reason is that he conditions God’s forgiveness of us on our forgiveness of others (Matthew 6:15; 18:21-35; Mark 11:25-26). If that is the rule, then I will have a difficult time ever getting God’s forgiveness. But that is an old story on this blog. I may be struggling with this for the rest of my life.
E. Does God bring abundance? It doesn’t often feel like it. At times, it is a struggle to get through the day with a positive attitude. Call that what you will—-hanging on, persevering—-but it’s not exactly abundance. But I like the idea that feeling abundance is at least possible. I am reading The Reformation Commentary on Scripture for Hebrews and James, and a number of Reformers interpreted Hebrews 11:1, specifically the part about faith being the substance of things hoped for, to mean that, by faith, Christians can make the things that they hope for a reality to them right now. It’s not that those things physically, concretely exist for the Christians right now, but the Christians’ faith makes those things real to them, such that they impact their lives.