The blog of a lutheran pastor, writer, and political animal.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Pastor Grace: A Retelling of the book of Jonah

“Pastor Grace”

          Sometimes we know a story so well, we no longer know it. It becomes a parody of itself, a stereotype of its own meaning.
          Think about the book of Jonah we read from today.
           Just saying the word Jonah, half of you are already thinking of Sunday School, or Pinocchio’s whale, or the tried and true phrase, “It’s a big fish, not a whale,” as if that’s the important point to the story.

          And in doing that we miss really big, glaring pieces of this biting funny, weird, prophetic, story that fits better in a George Carlton stand-up routine or a Monty Python Skit than in a Sunday School classroom.
          We miss that Jonah’s name means Dove—as in he’s a really upstanding peaceful guy.
          We miss that he runs to Spain in the West when God tells him to go to Assyria in the East.
          We miss that the Pagans are the only people who praise God without their finger’s crossed.
          We miss that Jonah has experienced the destruction of Israel at the hands of the Assyrians and doesn’t want God’s mercy extended to the enemies of his nation, he wants revenge.
          We miss the strange man covered in fish barf speaking in a foreign tongue, and getting results.
          We miss the ridiculousness of all the Animals in Assyria putting on sack-cloth and pouring ashes upon themselves.
          We miss just how obsessively suicidal Jonah is.
          We miss the bizarre ending with those poor animals bearing Jonah’s wrath.
          We don’t hear the message of Jonah any more.

          We need to hear Jonah with fresh ears in order to hear it at all.

Pastor Grace—a Retelling of Jonah
          Did you hear the one about the Pastor from Lower Manhattan who God called? Her name was Grace.
          God said to Pastor Grace, “Go to Mosul, Iraq, to the extremists there, and I will tell you what to say to them.”…
          And Pastor Grace took the first plane to Beijing, China.

          And as they flew along there was greater and greater turbulence and while everyone was freaking out about impending doom… Grace was spread out across several seats snoring away.

          On that plane were Communists Party leaders, every last one an Atheist… and as the plane went into a tailspin they all began to pray.

          And one of them shook Pastor Grace awake and said, “What do you do? What is your faith? Perhaps you could join us in prayer.”
          And Grace, heavy sleeper that she was, mumbled to the Atheist, “Oh, yeah… I’m a Christian, a Pastor, a Minister of the Church of Christ, I have Christ’s authority”…
          And the Atheist responded, “Why in God’s name aren’t you praying for our safety?”

          And Pastor Grace responded, “If you fling me out of the plane you all will survive.”
          But the Atheists, good folk that they are, talked amongst themselves and responded, “It would be unholy and against God’s law to throw you to your death.”

          But Pastor Grace insisted they throw her out... and as the ground grew closer and closer they finally gave in and threw her out the emergency exit.
          And at that very moment, the plane leveled off saving the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party—Atheists every one… and they rejoiced and praised God every last one of them.

          And Pastor Grace careened down toward the ground… but at the last moment a stork swooped in and picked her up.

          She clung to the stork’s feet and neck, and prayed to God, saying:
 “O’ Lord Jesus, you know how faithful I am, that at all times, whether I’m awake or asleep, I call on you to protect me in all things… that when I’m in trouble you lift me up on eagles wings… that I, and I alone rejoice and praise you, even when the ground rushes at me.”

          Then the LORD spoke to the stork, and it flung Pastor Grace into a manure pile on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq.

          “Get up and go into Mosul, into the very center of the city” the LORD said to Pastor Grace.
          And she walked and walked through the town, and when she neared the center she shouted, without God’s prompting and in English—while still smeared in manure, “Three days from now God will destroy every last one of you!”

          And the people of Mosul, every last one of them, believed God, and repented by fasting, and mourning, and looking downcast day and night... Even the cats and dogs and cows fasted and mourned and wore cute little vests that had embroidered on their sides, “Sorry about that.”

          And news of this reached the head of ISIS in Iraq and the head of Al-Qaeda in Pakistan—they too repented and decreed that every member of their organization, and every person in territory they controlled, were to repent as well.
          When God saw this, how they turned away from evil… God turned away from the evil He was to bring upon them.

          But God’s grace and mercy deeply displeased Pastor Grace and she became angry.
          “Lord Jesus, this is why I tried to flee to China, I know you—you with your mercy and grace and generosity… I knew if I showed up doing what you asked me to do you’d be merciful. I’m so angry I want to die.”

          And with that she stomped off and camped out in a hut she made for herself right outside Mosul… waiting to see what happened next, hoping against hope for blood and destruction and death and terror and violence and all kinds of mean nasty things.

          It was very sunny in Iraq, and she didn’t have sunglasses, which made her even grumpier. But then in the middle of the night a spider built a web on the side of her hut, and the next day it kept the sun from Pastor Grace’s eyes, and she rejoiced at that!

          But then, in the night, a wind blew and the web and spider floated off elsewhere.
          “Lord Jesus!” she prayed in the morning when the sun came out, “Why have you taken away that web? I’d rather be dead than alive!”

          And God said to Pastor Grace, “Really? You’re freaking out about a spider web? You, who were perfectly okay with the smiting of thousands of people, you who wanted to see blood and destruction and violence and all kinds of mean nasty things, all because these people remind you of the people who knocked down the twin towers, are worried about that a web? Seriously?”
          Without a second thought she responded, “Yes. Yes I am freaking out! I’m angry, angry enough to die!”
          And God responded, “You mourn a web, yet condemn a whole city, a whole country, a whole people—don’t you see how much more substantial all these folk are then a web. You don’t fit your name, you’re not very gracious—you’d even condemn all those mournful little animals to die.”
          Word of God, Word of Life.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Proverbs 31 is an acrostic poem

The "Ode to the Capable Wife" in the Hebrew is an acrostic poem, so here's what it might look like translated as such:

Proverb 31:10-31 as an acrostic
A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.
Believe me her husband trusts her fully, and he’ll gain much.
Choosing wool and flax, handicraft is her work.
Delightful foods from far away she brings, for she is like a merchant ship.
Early to rise she is, providing food for her family and tasks for her help.
Fields she looks at and buys; with the fruit of her hands she plants vineyards.
Gaining strength and holding great power is what she does.
Her merchandise always turns a profit, and she works at all hours.
I am amazed at her industry when she works with wool
Just look at her generosity! She is always there with open hands to those in need.
Kindly take note, her house is always in good repair and looks quite friendly.
Look at her home made clothing, look how exotic and elegant it is!
Men from all over talk about how virtuous her husband is, she’s behind that too!
No one out sells her when it comes to garments, both at home and abroad!
O’ look how well she dresses, so prepared for all seasons.
Proverbs and wisdom spill from her mouth, she teaches kindness all her days.
Quiet diligence is what they call her home, it is never idle.
Rightly her children praise her, her husband, her whole family.
Saying, “There are many good and successful women, but you, you surpass them all.”
Truly she is a woman of wisdom, who “fears the LORD.”
Unleash her on the world, they’ll praise her everywhere.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Jesus Keep Me Near The Cross

Jesus Keep Me Near The Cross
Jesus, keep me near the cross/ where you were slain that fateful day
Keep me near to Calvary/ where God was hung for all to see

Jesus, keep me near the cross/ for it is so foolish and simple
Keep me in its shade/ so I do not chase after my vision of wisdom

Jesus, keep me near the cross/ for it is weak, frail, and feeble
Keep me close/ for I strain and twist away to gain power more and more

Jesus, keep me near the cross/ for upon it is salvation
Keep me close/ O Lamb of God

Jesus keep me near the cross, near you on Calvary.
          May I go up with you to Jerusalem, among the many pilgrims from the countryside. May I stand by your side as you debate and argue about the things we always argue about, life, death, and taxes to Caesar.
          May I understand your street theater, the donkey and branches, the symbolic attack on the Temple, rearranging the money changers.
          May I stay with you even as the powers that be, both Religious and Roman, flex their muscles against you.
          Keep me near you in that lonely garden, as you pray those fervent, frantic, and faithful prayers. May I stay awake with you.
          Keep me with you through betrayal and trial—keep me with you through scourge and thorn—Jesus keep me near the cross.
          Keep me there, next to you, with the criminals and the thieves…
keep me there in this massive tragedy perpetrated by the wise and the powerful, keep me there in the weakness and the foolishness.
Keep me near the cross, for on that cross hangs the Son of God and reveals all else to be idols.
          Keep me near the cross—that foolish tree.
          Keep me here, beside the cross, for otherwise I will fly away.
I’ll seek you in the clouds, I’ll find God in sweet nothings connected to nothing meaning nothing.
I’ll create the God I want and not see you here, foolishly upon that tree.
          Keep me near the cross, or I’ll stomp and storm and do everything I can to make you appear,
I’ll seek the advice of specialists,
I’ll be a very religious person, knowing the whole song and dance… and dance right by you, not seeing you there.
I’ll explain you without knowing you, without the cross nearby.

          Keep me near the cross—powerless and unimportant.
          Keep me here, beside the cross, otherwise, without so much as a second thought, I will side with the Roman Empire.
I’ll turn my back and walk away, marching to the beat of success, influence, and fortune.
I’ll ignore or use those little people, I’ll build myself up by knocking others down.
          If I maintain some semblance of religion, it will be the religion of success or conquest, baptizing the brutal powers that brutalized you, Dear Savior.
A religion of if I do this/then God will do that.
Or a religion of violent fanaticism, the religion of the Conquistadores and witch hunters and ISIS.
          Keep me near the cross or I will scoff at the small acts of kindness, the fruits of the Spirit, and the fragile connection that build up your body.

          Keep me near the cross—dear Lord, for I am filled with neither pious wisdom, nor strength.
          Keep me near the cross for beneath my facade is foolishness and weakness.
Sandy, Katrina, 13 years ago on 9/11— The tragedies and terrors of this life are ours, and yet you meet us in them, here on the cross.
          When our pretenses are stripped away, there we are, on the cross
—we criminals and thieves,
we crying out for healing,
we widows,
we orphans,
we tax collectors,
we sinners.
We are in need of you, and you come to us.
          You come to us and bear our pain.

From the cross you bring me healing.
Here your love and mercy found me.
Here I met the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Here I can walk in the shelter of the cross until that time when I pass to the other side of the river and meet my Savior face to face.
Amen and Alleluia


Sunday, September 07, 2014

Sermon: What we do when we hurt one another matters.

          Whenever we read the gospels it is important to remember that there are different points of emphasis in each one—different things the author thinks is important.
          And Matthew is said to be “The Church’s Gospel.” It talks about community and the church more than any other Gospel… and that is not to say everything it says about the Church is positive.
          In fact, it is from Matthew that St. Augustine gets his assessment of the Church—that we’re a Mixed Body. We’re filled with both saints and sinners, and it will be that way until the end of time.
          Christ abides in the church, and so does a fallen humanity.

          And we see this way of looking at the church—hopeful, but clear eyed—front and center in today’s Gospel.
          Matthew assumes that there will be times when members do wrong to one another, because that’s what happens when you are with other people.
That’s maybe even how you know you’re doing community right in a fallen world,
you care enough about one another that you’ll sometimes hurt one another.
          Now, a way to think about this—I’m an only child… my parents always bragged about how good I was as a kid… I wasn’t that good, I just didn’t have any siblings to annoy or be annoyed by.
          Well—if we’re doing it right, living together as a mixed community, there will be broken relationships… we’re just not that good, because in community we aren’t allowed to be that good.
          And that’s why WHAT we do with these breaks in relationship is important. What we do when we’ve hurt one another matters.


          As I said, we’re a mixed body—so yes, we sin against one another—but also yes Christ is there in that. How we live together in the brokenness can form us more fully into the image of Christ.
          In medieval Japan when a ruler would break a tea pot or bowl they would send it back to China for repairs… and the vessel would inevitably come back stapled together with ugly metal staples… so eventually the Japanese created their own form of repair—Kintsugi, in which broken vessels were repaired with gold or silver—so the broken place became the most beautiful portion of the piece.
          Likewise, how a Christian community, the Church, reacts when we sin against one another can end up vengeful and ugly.
          Or it can end up repairing the breach and shining forth the light of Christ, re-shaping us for the better.
          Think about parenting. If your daughter calls her brother a name you could allow him to call her a name back,
or you could get her to apologize and say something nice about him as restitution, you could repair the broken relationship.

          And so Jesus’ advice as found in Matthew steers us to the 2nd way—the golden way, that repairs the breach and brings us toward being Christ in the world.

         Firstly, the initial step is one of discretion—the sin is brought up one-on-one.
Randomly embarrassing your sister or brother in Christ in front of a bunch of people isn’t the point,
but instead the point is getting them to repent, so you can forgive them.

          If that fails, the second step is to get a few people to help you confront them about the sin—and this is important—this 2 or 3 witnesses business is legal language that the Rabbis would understand, the question is, “do they have a case?”
After all, sometimes a trivial thing can be blown out of proportion and it takes a few faithful friends to say, “Hey, they didn’t mean that the way you took it.”
You are not trying to make your brother or sister in Christ walk on eggshells around you because you’re too sensitive,
you’re getting them to repent, so you can forgive them.

          If that too fails, then the whole church gets involved—this is to make sure those two or three you’ve gathered were not lackeys—that you weren’t trying to triangulate this accusation of sin
you know what triangulation is like right? It’s the worst form of passive aggression—you remain passive while someone else does the aggression, keeping your hands clean.
          Well, if the whole church is involved that kind of deceit becomes much less likely, and that’s good,
because you aren’t trying to sabotage your sibling in the faith,
you are getting them to repent, so you can forgive them!

          Finally, if all else fails, the person who has sinned against you ought to be treated like a tax collector or Gentile
—that is to say, as outside the community, but still welcome—after all Jesus is constantly shamed for welcoming tax collectors and Gentiles into the fold.
This breaking of community, alongside welcoming back to community,
is done so the sinner might repent and receive forgiveness.

          In case you’re not getting the pattern here, the point of Matthew’s advice to the Church, found on Jesus’ lips, is that when someone hurts us we ought to let them know in a way that allows them to repent so we can forgive them.
          I added the last two verses today to make that point explicitly clear.
In Christian community calls to repentance are real,
but so is the constant urge to forgive—even 77 times.

          As I preached about last week, the Power of the Keys,
the binding and loosing of sin in heaven and on earth—as we read in verse 18 today
The Power of the Keys is given to the whole Church by Jesus
—the command to repent and to forgive is really all about speaking the Word of God to terrified sinners, which we all are.
          That’s why the Church, this mixed body we are a part of, this group gather together glistening gold with our breaks and tears, is so amazing.
          It is amazing because being church together means that from among us sinners the Promises of God show up.
The encouragement and the renewal,
The hope and love,
The faith freely given,
The freedom and the peace,
The forgiveness through Christ,
The stillness of the Spirit,
The promise of Grace.


Monday, September 01, 2014

Read, Reflect, Pray: A Lutheran Prayer Book is back!

As you may remember a while back I released Read, Reflect, Pray, and it actually sold moderately well… and then I found out I was using content without copyright.

Well, I am re-leasing a 500-book printing of RRP. It has a handsome new cover,

is organized in a clearer way, and is 100% legal!
To purchase a copy via Amazon click here.

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sin and Forgiveness

          On this, our final sermon in the 10 week sermon series “20 questions in 10 weeks” our final group of questions are about Sin and Forgiveness.
          They are:
1.    Are mistakes “sins”? Are there degrees of sins? Is the sin in the intent or in the action or in the consequences? Ie. If you intend to do something good for someone and it turns out to hurt them?
2.    Explain “Keys to the Kingdom.” “Which you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” etc.
          A very short answer to these questions would be
1. They are all Sin and effects of Sin.
2. For Lutherans the key to “the Keys of the Kingdom” is the Word of God comforting our consciences.
          Let us pray.

          One of the biggest misunderstandings about the faith is the way most people think of Sin.
          We assume it involves discrete acts, sins.
          Just from a visual perspective, we mess around with S’s when we think through Sin. We make the first S lowercase, when it should be upper-case, and we add a second s, making it plural.
          We go from Sin with a big S to sins with two small s’s.
          (Medieval Catholic doctrine/Aristotle)
          We worry about individual acts, things we can control. And in doing so, we shrivel up the Gospel and the Church, making the first a rule book and the second a social club or museum.

          Little sins can’t explain the bizarre brokenness of the world we live in.
          Maybe it can explain the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that started World War One, but it can’t explain the mechanized destruction that followed that shot.
          Maybe it can explain an affair, but not all the broken pieces that led to that betrayal or the consequences thereafter.
          Maybe it can explain a child left to starve, but not the situations that led to such wretched poverty.
          We recognize that Sin is so much bigger than individual peccadilloes or immoderation or wrong action. We recognize that Sin permeates everything.
          It’s as if, each and every last one of us, is a card within a house of cards. We were all, theoretically, stacked carefully and precariously atop one another. Even the slightest breath, a slight jarring of the table, would cause the whole house to fall down.
          And that deck of cards is fallen, and we are constantly struggling fruitlessly toward our proper placement.
Every mistake is a card falling,
every intent, action, and consequence,
every one of the sins plural with a small s,
are cards knocking down the whole deck.
           This deck is in a constant flurry of motion, Jacks falling atop crazy eights, and twos upon Kings. Every time a wall of a house is reconstructed two more fall down. The interactions of these cards grow in intensity until they become a splashing, bubbling, sea of black, red, and white.
          Sin with a capital S is, to quote Paul, slavery. Human beings have sold ourselves, or perhaps been captured, by Sin and made to be its slave.

          Or to borrow another image, we’re addicts, we’re addicted to Sin and cannot free ourselves.
          Even if we were able to resist our addiction on our own, we’d still be a dry drunk—acting out as if drunk, while still sober—going along sinful pathways and experiencing the effects of Sin—even if we didn’t commit sins plural-lower-case.
          And so I proclaim this to you sisters and brothers, the good news of Jesus Christ’s actions for us, are not that he patched up our hang-nail.
Not that he knows you fudged your taxes and looked the other way.
Not that he forgives you of your plural-little-s sins.

          The Gospel is that Jesus has contended with a maelstrom of Sin, and he has calmed the storm, he has stood atop Sin’s back in triumph, he has defeated it.
          That Jesus has bought us out of slavery because he’s our brother and that’s what brothers do for their siblings. That Jesus has stormed the slave house, snapped our chains, and smuggled us out of Sin’s grasp.
          That Jesus brings us through the detox which comes with addiction—as the Good Physician. That he stands out in the parking lot as we chain smoke with a bunch of other sinners struggling together, that Jesus travels with us the whole way, even though we are always in recovery, even though we “remain sinners to the grave.”
          Yes, Jesus is freeing us from Sin with a capital S.

          And it’s worth proclaiming this loudly and often, because that’s really what the Power of the Keys is about.
          It’s about speaking the gospel to people who have terrified consciences,
who see the swollen effects of Sin upon their lives and feel hopeless,
who need a word of grace in the midst of their guilt and loss and sorrow and struggle.
          And this isn’t just something for the Pastor to do alone. It’s what we all ought to do.
          Every day we hear confessions small and large—not in a formal way you understand—but naturally,
 A conversation between neighbors,
a son’s words of worry to his father,
a coffee mate’s confession.
          And to all these we can speak a word of truth about God being for us, not against us.
In all these we can be a beggar telling another beggar where we got some bread.
          In the midst of dealing with the effects of Sin, both small and large, it is so important for people to know that Sin, with a big S, with its death dealing ways, has been defeated by the free gift of God, eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

From the Pastor’s Pen: A Summer Catechism (A summary of the 10 questions in 20 weeks sermon series)

From the Pastor’s Pen: A Summer Catechism
(A summary of the 10 questions in 20 weeks sermon series)

            The Lutheran understanding of what happens in Communion threads the needle between a Medieval Catholic understanding focused on Aristotelian Logic and a Calvinist understanding focused on a chunkily literal reading of scripture.
            Our understanding focuses instead on Christ’s promise to be present in the meal. Rejoice, he will be there! Rejoice, because his words point us to the reality of his forgiveness—in the meal Jesus promises us forgiveness, life, and salvation. And Jesus doesn’t lie.
What is the significance and meaning of the procession and recession of the cross?
            We process the cross to remind ourselves we are a cross shaped baptized community, a people redeemed by Christ’s actions for us. Having been fed with the bread and the word of life, we recess with the cross to go find God on the cross, following Christ wherever he may lead.

            Reflecting upon the nature of angels helps us to think about redemption as a passive reflection of the good light of Christ, and reminds us that redemption can involve the spirit of whole systems.
            We don’t become angels when we die, but we can trust that all the Saints of God—both living and dead—are one in Christ Jesus.
Is there a particular significance to Jesus casting the “Legion” of Evil Spirits from the Gerasene Demoniac into a herd of swine?
            Jesus found an unclean place for an unclean thing.

            It is unclear, but the arguments people make to link a Winter celebration of Christ’s birth directly with Paganism is not as air tight as it might appear. They ignore weather, historical facts about emperors, and the testimony of Irenaeus, an early Church Father.
Why do people go to church on the Sabbath? What is the Sabbath for?
            Sabbath is about rest, liberation, and holiness.
            It’s about rest, a time that is “good… for nothing.” It is also about liberation, acts of kindness and justice are part of living into the holiness of God’s time. It, finally, is holy in and of itself, dragging us into the reality of God through our worship together in which we receive and cherish the promises of God.

            There is a wide variety of ways to understand marriage and be a faithful member of the ELCA.
            Any pointing to purity laws to justify discrimination or worse against gay folk, if followed through logically, would have such severe consequences for everyone in our society, that it could make the Salem witch trials or the reign of the Taliban, ISIS, and Boko Haram, look tame.
            We are truly at a different place than people in the 1st century were—Romantic love, especially between same gendered individuals, just wasn’t a thing, but it is now.
            Pastor Chris is wholeheartedly convinced marrying gay folk is not baptizing gay sex, but instead creating a healthy and holy space for legitimate yearnings for companionship, the protection of gay parents, and the strengthening of the institution of marriage.

            Between Paul and Luke’s interpretations of the 1st council of Jerusalem, we end up with rules that try to bridge relationships between Christians who are different from one another.
            The basic rules for us Christians are rules that bind us one to another. They bind us economically to one another, but they also bind us to a modicum of decency and consideration for the sensibilities of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

            When we read about rewards in heaven we are not talking about our salvation, or if we are, we’re talking about God rewarding us because of the promise found in Jesus Christ, and finally, the reason reward makes us feel squirmy, is that at face value it could make us trust in our own goodness, which often is lacking.
What does “greatest” and “least” in the Kingdom of Heaven mean? How does that square with “neither Greek nor Jew” etc,? Aren’t we all equal?
            It is part of Jesus’ inversion of values, Jesus taking the God’s eye view instead of the human view.
            Proclaiming that when God rules, the last are first and the first are last.
            In Baptism we are entering into that God’s eye view, we’re struggling—just as the Galatians and Paul himself struggled—to live into who we are together—live into our calling to be part of the Body of Christ—live into the vision of humanity set out by God through Jesus Christ—a vision that breaks down barriers between believers and allows for nothing to get in the way of life together resting in God’s grace.

            The Church Universal, in this in-between time, suffers while fulfilling the Great Commission, so that Christ may be all in all.
Explain, “Death has died.”
            The whole creation will find redemption. All of us will find ourselves in the fullness of the Body of Christ. Even that last enemy, death, will be destroyed. Through the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, we can truly say Death has died.

Are mistakes “sins”? Are there degrees of sins? Is the sin in the intent or in the action or in the consequences? Ie. If you intend to do something good for someone and it turns out to hurt them?
            They are all Sin and the effects of Sin. Sin being a much more all encompassing thing that “sins.”
Explain, “Keys to the Kingdom.” “Which you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” etc.
            For Lutherans the key to “the Keys of the Kingdom” is the Word of God comforting our consciences.

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sermon: Suffering and Death

          In this, our 2nd to the last sermon in the series “20 Questions in 10 Weeks” today’s questions are about a Pauline view of suffering and death.
          More specifically the two questions are,
1.    “Colossians 1:24 states, “Completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” question mark.
2.    Explain, “Death has died.”
     While that second phrase is not explicitly found in scripture, I assume it to be a riff on Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians 15 and in Romans 6.
Both questions are about the meaning of scripture associated with the Apostle Paul. Therefore, today I’m going to try and do a little Paul to you all, in the hopes that it will answer these two questions.
Let us pray.

     “I am celebrating my suffering, which is for your benefit. I am filling my flesh with the afflictions of Christ that currently overflow from him. This is done for the sake of his body, which is all of us, the Church.” (HSV Colossians 1:24)

     So, what does it mean to complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? What does it mean that Death has died?
     My short answer is this:
The Church Universal, in this in-between time, suffers while fulfilling the Great Commission, so that Christ may be all in all.
Let me break that down for you.

The Church Universal:         A community that transcends all borders both of space and time, which is created in Baptism and is a part of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In this in-between time:                We live in the already/not yet. Christ has already completed the redemption of the world, but it is not yet so.        
We have been buried with Christ and we are suffering with him and we will be raised with him.
     The world itself is in labor, the new creation will be born, yet we are in the labor pains.
     We were wounded, and we will be healed, but right now that wound itches so very much.
     Normandy was stormed on D-Day, but it isn’t VE-Day yet.
     We are at an in-between time.

Suffers:                   This is the crux of it, I guess.
     The Colossians are a Gentile group of Christians—that is non-Jews, presumably formerly Pagan. They were led astray, they decided to add on to their Christian faith. They added worship of angels and astrological adoration. Additionally, and more to the point, they likely practiced a severe form of asceticism—ritual suffering in order to have visions.
     To this Paul responds, “You don’t need to whip yourself or starve yourself to be a good Christian, if you try to consistently live in faith, hope, and love, you will surely have struggle enough without adding to it.”
     As for Paul, he knew plenty about suffering.
     He experienced the suffering that comes with conversion, losing his former life and religious certainties that day when he fell from his horse on the Road to Damascus.
     Suffering imprisonment, beatings, stoning, shipwreck, that famous and unnamed “thorn in his side” and all the dangers of the constant travel that accompanied his proclamation of the Gospel.
     Suffering the experience of planting community after community, but never staying there long enough to see through his vision—only able to hear of the controversies in his young communities and respond in letter form, suffering as well the sadness that comes with not completing his most cherished wish, to form a Christian community in Spain.

While fulfilling the Great Commission:      
     This suffering is suffering for a purpose, it is completing Christ’s body, by spreading the Gospel, or borrowing Paul’s language—“Making the word of God fully known” and making new Christians, through the act of Baptism.
     It is also completing Christ’s body, by sustaining and building up the Christian Community—“presenting everyone mature in Christ,” making sure we are following after Jesus, making sure we’re disciples.
     Or to put all that another way, when we follow the Great Commission found at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” it will take effort and time and treasure and yes suffering, but it is a suffering for the sake of the Body of Christ, completing that body of Christ.

So that Christ may be all in all:            
     That the whole creation will find redemption.
     That all of us will find ourselves in the fullness of the Body of Christ.
     That even that last enemy, death, will be destroyed.
     That through the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ, we can truly say Death has died.
The Church Universal, in this in-between time, suffers while fulfilling the Great Commission, so that Christ may be all in all. A+A