My Ash Wednesday sermon this year was on the life of Nicodemus. He was the Pharisee who came to Jesus at night in John 3. We can trace his story through John’s gospel from inquiry, to defense, to silence, and finally to the bittersweet way he outs himself as a follower of Jesus.

After Jesus was crucified (it seems likely that Nicodemus was present at the events leading up to the crucifixion, and yet he did not speak up on his behalf), Nicodemus took 75 pounds of myrrh and aloe and buried him. That 75 pounds was the precise amount prescribed in the burial of kings! So Nicodemus is making a public declaration that Jesus truly was a king.

What a way to out yourself as a disciple of Christ! But Nicodemus only confessed Jesus as King after months of keeping his mouth shut in order to protect his reputation. For too long he loved his place in this world so much that he wouldn’t speak up about Jesus, because to do so could cost him everything.

The challenge for us is to consider what keeps us silent about Jesus. Is it your desire for a good reputation? to keep your place in life? to maintain peace in your family? Whatever it is, I hope you’ll lay it down, at least for this season of Lent. Rather than thinking about what might be lost if you open your mouth, consider what could be gained by telling others about Jesus.

In keeping with the Over the Rhine theme, watch this and ask yourself, is this a worship song? Or does the f*** word rule it out as worship?

What do you think? Is this worship? Could you worship to this song?

I came across this article by N.T. Wright, which is more a sermon transcript than an article, actually. Though he is talking exclusively about British Parliamentary politics, I think much of what he says is applicable to American Republicanism. But it’s what he says about the interaction between God and Government that I find most fascinating.

The concept of humans bringing God’s order to the world lies at the heart of all ordering of human society, all leadership, all government. The New Testament reaffirms very strongly the essentially monotheistic vision of human powers and authorities: all of them, rulers, authorities, powers and dominions, declares St Paul, are created in, through and for the Messiah who is the Image of the invisible God.

When it comes to government, this is the theology that ought to form the framework of the Christian perspective. Governments exist for Jesus. He is, after all, the King of the Universe. This was the view that early Christians had toward Rome.

The Christians were perceived not only as giving their full allegiance to this strange character called Jesus; that was bad enough, even though they claimed they were living as good, law-abiding citizens in other ways. They were discovering that following Jesus generated and sustained a new way of living together, a new kind of communal life, which, strangely to ancient eyes, didn’t offer sacrifices to the gods, didn’t go off to ask directions from the oracles, and, though it paid Caesar’s taxes, didn’t pray to him or offer incense before his image. They weren’t normal revolutionaries; they were worse than that. And so, as the early church spread, the story of Acts was multiplied: martyrdoms on the one hand, explanations on the other, and, increasingly, a whole new view of how the world should be governed. The earliest Christians were in no position to do the governing themselves. But they, like some ancient Jews, had no hesitation in telling rulers how to do their job. The church was not simply called to be a parallel society, leaving the world to go its own wicked way. The church discovered that, out of allegiance to Jesus, it had the annoying and dangerous task of calling the world to account.

Jesus is not merely a god among many. He is the Lord of the world. And it has always been the responsibility of the Church to publicly proclaim him as Lord, and see to it that his designs for the world are accomplished. And the designs of Jesus are, as Wright puts it, setting everything to rights.

What has changed with the victory of Jesus is that we now know that the ancient Israelite dream of a world put to rights was not a mere fantasy. Jesus has launched God’s new creation, and one day the whole world will be put to rights. The task of governments in the present time, seen from the Christian point of view, is to perform within the world that waits for that eventual day such acts of judgment – the making of decisions, the drawing of lines, the setting of parameters – which will properly anticipate, even in the present time and even if the rulers in question are unaware of this God-given role, that final putting-to-rights of all things. And it is a prime task of the church to remind the rulers, whoever they are, of this vocation.

You might say that the government’s job is to prepare each society for the coming of the true king of the world, Jesus Christ, by putting setting into motion that which anticipates the final setting to rights of creation. The Church’s responsibility is to remind the government that this is their God-given task and their part in the coming of the kingdom of God.

As we work this out, we will find that speaking in a prophetic voice (for that is precisely what this is) requires moving beyond liberalism and conservatism. The role of the Church is far too great to be contained within a singular political party. This task brings us back to the cross where we find the greatest victory and the truest use of power for the sake of all mankind. In this task the cross is not only what we speak but how we speak it.

This weekend I start teaching a class called Spiritual Disciplines. In preparation for it, I have been reading “The Spirit of the Disciplines” by Dallas Willard. It’s a classic and, along with “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster, is the gold standard on the subject.

The subject of the disciplines has always been difficult for me because I have so often failed at maintaining them. I am by no means a shining example of a Christian fully engaged with the disciplines, and the thought of teaching on this subject gives me a bit of a stomach ache. Really, who am I to say word one here?

But I have sensed that God did not want me to delegate this class because I have more to learn than anyone. (In general, the teacher learns more than the students as he prepares a class.) And I have indeed learned a great deal. The book has both challenged and comforted me.

I am challenged because I see my need for the disciplines. I see now that, in order to continue to grow spiritually, I have to engage in these slow, inefficient practices. I am encouraged because I have come to understand that, though I am inconsistent in regards to prayer and devotional reading, my life is not void of the practice of the disciplines. In other words, I’m not nearly as bad a Christian as I thought I was.

If you’re in Columbus, come and learn with me and a few others what it means to be formed by the disciplines of the Spirit. Sunday at 9.

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