Monday, April 30, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 18 Day 1

Our reading challenge for the day is 1 Samuel 26-31. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

1 Samuel 26 - Even when Saul was delivered into David’s hands David made no attempt to kill Saul, but rather protected him. In the same way, Jesus, the anointed one of God (Christos), did not bring harm to the people who mocked and scorned him, but rather protected them, laying his life down for us when we were still sinners.

1 Samuel 27 - It’s hard to deal with David’s actions in chapter 27. He is clearly bent on both self-preservation and harming Israel’s enemies. Ethics in war are very complicated. It is only Jesus who went through this life without a mixed motive. The rest of us see less clearly.

1 Samuel 28 - It is never a good idea to consult a fortune-teller for anything. At best you enrich someone who is a fraud. At worst you consult evil spirits who pose as real people. What happens with Saul and Samuel? It may be something slightly different. Notice that the spirit of Samuel reaffirms what God has decreed, something which would go against the desires of Saul and which would strengthen God’s kingdom. This may have been a genuine vision, which could explain why it was so shocking to the medium. Just the same, I think I’ll steer clear of mediums.

1 Samuel 29 - We don’t know David’s motivation in 1 Samuel 29. He may have been going toward battle in cooperation with the Philistines and he may not have. Yet he redirected very appropriately. Sometimes we are doing something, even something we think is God’s will, but find there are obstacles which make us redirect. There’s no shame in altering our plan or its timing. Our Lord will work in and through us to accomplish his good pleasure.

1 Samuel 30-31 - Warfare is a messy thing. See how David shows charity to some, hostility toward others. Likewise, Saul arranged his death in more controlled circumstances than it might have come otherwise. Was this an act of cowardice? Was he simply protecting himself from more pain with the same outcome? We cannot tell. Best to assume the best possible motive and pray that the Lord delivers us from situations in which we might have to make those decisions.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sermon for 4/29/12 "No Other Name"

Sermon “No Other Name” (no audio captured this week, sorry)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

There is no other name by which we are saved. No name other than the name of Jesus. We read that in Acts 4:12. Jesus, according to the apostles, is the only one who brings life and salvation. He is the only one who has died for the sins of the world. He is the only one who has redeemed humanity to God. He is the only one who has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven. He is the only savior we have. He is the one who gives us reason to proclaim salvation no matter the cost. He is the one who leads the apostles to defy the Jewish authorities, to continue proclaiming the name of Jesus for salvation no matter the opposition, to give up their very lives.

What is it about this name of Jesus? Why did those early believers cling to their faith so stubbornly? Why did they give their time, their money, their possessions, their families, and their lives for the Gospel? They did it for one reason, and finally only one reason. There was no cultural pressure for the early Christians to live as Christians. It was considered abnormal, just like today. There was no economic benefit to living as a Christian. Quite the opposite. Being a Christian businessman in the first century meant risking poverty. Family pressures were against conversion to Christianity. It was considered foolish, even dangerous, to live as a Christian. So why did they do it? Because Jesus showed himself to be the savior. Jesus showed that he was the good shepherd who laid down his life for his people. Jesus is the one in whose name we are delivered from death and hell. He showed that when he died and captured the sin of the world. He showed that when he descended into hell and proclaimed his victory to the souls in prison like a victorious general makes a parade through the land he has conquered. He showed that when he rose from the dead as the firstfruits of the resurrection. He showed that when he ascended to heaven. He showed it when he sat down at the right hand of the Father in heaven. he shows it day by day as he lives to make intercession for the saints. Jesus, the good shepherd, is the resurrection and the life. No one comes to the Father but by him. There is no other name under heaven or on the earth or under the earth by which we may be saved. None other. Accept no substitutes! Jesus is the savior. He's the only savior. Nobody else will do.

I'm afraid there's a disconnect, though. It may be a serious one. Most of us in this room will confess that Jesus is the savior. But do we agree about how serious our state is without him? Do we agree about the desperate state of our world aside from Christ? Do we realize that apart from Jesus' blood and righteousness applied to us we stand condemned? Maybe we fall into that deadly trap, and it is a deadly trap, of thinking that the Church is some sort of a social organization. I've been told by well-meaning people that it's nice that I as a pastor am in the “helping professions” along with social workers, counselors, and people who run public food pantries. Maybe we think of the Church as that, just something that helps people get by. I've had people here, from this congregation, suggest to me that we should do mre counseling and point out that ours might be as helpful as that of the secular counseling center but that ours is free. Maybe people just need to come to church and it will fix all their problems. I have news for you. The business of the Church is the proclamation of Jesus, the savior of the world, whose forgiveness and cleansing is greater than all our sin and shame. The business of the Church is the proclamation of Jesus, the one who reconciled us to God. And if we are reconciled to God we may as well get used to the idea that as God's reconciled people we can live at peace with our neighbors also, even if they choose not to. The business of the Church is to point people to Jesus and his work for them. The business of the Church is to bring the help and hope that Jesus provides to our community. It isn't about the help and hope that we can provide. There's nothing in it about our human potential. It isn't our own strength, it isn't our own answers, it isn't our own wisdom, and it certainly isn't the wisdom of the medical community, the social science researchers, or the pharmaceutical manufacturers. None of those people are in the business of resurrection. Jesus is in the business of resurrection. Is our counsel free? It sure is. And it's effective, because it's God's wisdom, it's God's redemption, it's all about Jesus for you, not you changing yourself to be nice to the people you are in conflict with or about you changing your attitude about yourself. It is about God changing his attitude about you, giving you an identity as a chosen heir of the heavenly realms. It is about Jesus laying down his life for you. There's no other name by which we are saved. All the rest is window dressing.

Now before I make some of you stalk out in anger, please give me a moment. I know what I've been saying goes counter to what our society has taught us, particularly in the past forty years. During that time solid Christian faith has dropped off in some parts of our society. In fact, among average, working-class people, in the past forty years, during my lifetime, and during the lifetime of most of you, regular involvement in the body of Christ has decreased by about half. People are flocking away from the Church, saying it doesn't seem relevant to them. And the more we do to try to be engaging, the more we do to try to imitate our world's approach to social organizations, in short, the more we see ourselves as existing in the realm of the “helping professions” the more irrelevant we seem to be. We have lost the proclamation of the power of God. We need to recapture it. Was I saying that the secular counselor can't do any good? I wasn't saying that. Was I saying that the doctor who prescribes you a medication to help deal with some of the physical or emotional difficulties you are having can't do any good? I wasn't saying that. I was saying that we can't depend on those things alone. They are based on man's intuition. They are based on man's wisdom. They are temporal, not eternal. They are of limited usefulness. They generally deal with only part of the picture. Our Lord deals with the underlying issues. He's the one who created us. He knows us. And he has laid down his life for us.

So what is our response? Do we simply proclaim Christ crucified and leave everyone to work out the details? Do we proclaim Jesus as the resurrection and life and then try to live our lives as well as we can, leaving everyone else to live a life as well as he can? What did we see in 1 John? We see that we also lay our lives down for our neighbor. We also give our goods, our money, our time, all that we have in order to love and serve our neighbors. We serve as Jesus' instruments of grace to call our world to faith in him. What were the Jewish leaders upset about in Acts? They were upset that the apostles were preaching faith in Jesus. What did they bring the apostles in for? It was because they showed mercy to a person.

I want to challenge each and every person in this congregation today. And I'll probably keep challenging you in this way. Can you think of three people who you know, people who are in need of the mercy and grace of Jesus? People you can show that grace to? People you can love and serve for Christ? I'm sure you can. A few of you are looking at family members right now. So let me make it more difficult. Make those three people who are not involved in a faithful Christian congregation. Make sure they are people who you have no reason to believe are trusting in Christ. Take a moment and think of them. Maybe you want to write their names on your prayer list in the bulletin. Now here's the challenge. Pray for those people. Seek out ways to love them and serve them in Christ. Pray that the Lord will give you opportunity, and that you will take the opportunity, to talk with them, to let them know that you, as someone who trust in Jesus, the one who has reconciled you to God, will care for them no matter what, and that you would like to see them living at peace with the true God, the triune God, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, trusting in the name of Jesus, the one name under heaven and earth and under the earth by which we might be saved. Three people. What if they reject you? It's all right. How many times have we rejected Jesus? What if they believe? Then they see Jesus' redemption is for them as well.

Jesus has laid down his life for us. Let us lay down our lives for others. Yet as I close this sermon I am compelled to ask, do you see Jesus as the redeemer? Do you trust in him? Do you call upon his name as the only one by which we might be saved? If not, look to him in faith. He is the one who has laid down his life for you. And if you are realizing your need for him, if you are realizing that he is the one calling you to himself in repentance, cast your cares on him. He cares for you. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. It was true when John wrote it in the first century. It was true when we proclaimed it at the start of the church service. And it's true now.

Now may the Lord of all mercy grant us his grace, in the blessed name of Jesus, our Savior, the one who reconciles us to God. Amen.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The New Testament Canon

“The New Testament Canon” Carson & Moo pp. 726-743

What is the “canon”? At first the word referred to a standard of faith. By the fourth century the term “canon” came to refer to a list of books that were considered authoritative Scripture. An important consideration in the study of canonicity is whether the canonical status or the functional authority came first. Carson and Moo explore that question first considering whether there was an authoritative list of canonical books of the Old Testament agreed upon by Jews prior to the first century. It does appear that there were canonical collections of the Torah and Prophets, though there seems to have been some doubt about identification of some canonical books. This suggests that canonicity is a matter of recognition of authority, rather than presentation of an authoritative list which will then be accepted because of the authority of those presenting it.

In studies of the New Testament books as referred to by patristic authors we see that the gospels and major Pauline letters are quoted very frequently, the rest of the New Testament is quoted less frequently, and other works that we know about are hardly ever quoted. We find a summary in Eusebius of Caesarea, who lived about 260-340.
p. 734 “In discussing the New Testament canon, Eusebius deploys a tripartite classification: the recognized books (homologoumena), the disputed books (antilegomena), and the books put forward by heretics in the name of the apostles but rejected by those Eusebius regards as orthodox. In the first category, Eusebius includes the four gospels, Acts, fourteen Pauline epistles (Eusebius includes Hebrews, though he is aware that the church in Rome did not hold Hebrews to be Pauline), 1 Peter, 1 John, and, apparently (though with some reservation) the Apocalypse. Eusebius subdivides the disputed books into those generally accepted (James, Jude, 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John) and those that are not genuine (Acts of Paul, Shepherd of Hermas, Apocalypse of Peter, Epistle of Barnabas, the Didache, and, perhaps, the Apocalypse). The third category, embracing clearly heretical writings, including gospels such as those of Peter and Thomas, acts of Andrew and John, and similar writings (H.E. 3.25).”

How were writings recognized? First and foremost by conformity to “the rule of faith” (Latin regula fidei). Does the book conform to orthodox Christian truth? A second mark is “apostolicity, which as a criterion came to include those who were in immediate contact with the apostles” (p. 736). Wherever early Christians suspect a pseudonymous work they reject it. Finally, canonicity is recognized by widespread, continuous acceptance and usage. If the text is not generally accepted as Scripture, even if it fits the two other criteria, it is not recognized as canonical.

Carson and Moo conclude that canonicity is generally recognized, then codified in lists. We recognize canonical texts because of their long and consistent use within the Christian tradition, by their authorship, and by their apostolic content.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 17 Day 5

Our reading challenge for the day is 1 Samuel 21-25. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

1 Samuel 21 - David is brought low, hiding among those who would try to kill him. This is one of the ways David prefigures Jesus, who humbled himself and went to people who would not receive him.

1 Samuel 22 - When hatred for God and his people grow the priests of God are killed. Will this crush God’s kingdom? No. They can kill us but our Lord is the God of resurrection.

1 Samuel 23 - I wonder what kind of king Jonathan would have been? He was certainly honorable, a man of valor, and not concerned for himself.

1 Samuel 24 - Saul is brought to repentance. Do we worry about whether his repentance is genuine or do we just forgive him? We forgive and let the Lord worry about the rest.

1 Samuel 25- Abigail works hard to shift the responsibility from Nabal, who had done wrong. Do we strive to guard the reputation of others? What has our Lord done to shift blame from people who have no excuse?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 17 Day 4

Our reading challenge for the day is 1 Samuel 16-20. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

1 Samuel 16 - See how David and even Samuel are fairly passive in the anointing of David as king. In many acts we would consider “ceremonial” we see that it is God who works. We simply receive.

1 Samuel 17 - David’s reaction to Goliath reminds us that it is right to be angered when people despise God - not for our defense but because it grieves our Lord to see people reject him. God then fights the battle by guiding David’s hand.

1 Samuel 18-20 - See the destruction we bring upon ourselves and others when we play our self-protective power games. May the Lord grant us repentance as we try to protect ourselves. May he remind us that he, the Savior of the world, made no defense when he was condemned.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 17 Day 3

Our reading challenge for the day is 1 Samuel 11-15. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

1 Samuel 11 - Sometimes people wonder at the way Saul appears to be doing farm work as king. But this is typical of the rulers he has experienced. He does his work but God intervenes and redirects as needed.

1 Samuel 12 - The retelling of Samuel’s life makes me think of Stephen’s sermon before he was stoned. Talking through history and reminding people of God’s faithfulness is a typical pattern for biblical sermons.

1 Samuel 13-14 - This early kingdom period seems very much like the time of the judges. Philistine might is still a present danger. God shows he is the deliverer, it is not of human strength.

1 Samuel 15 - God rejects Saul as king when Saul does what seems good in his own eyes rather than obeying God’s commands. When we try to impose our opinion of right and wrong on God he shows us our folly.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 17 Day 2

Our reading challenge for the day is 1 Samuel 6-10. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

1 Samuel 6 - Even the Philistines knew they needed to make a guilt offering, though they did not know God. We all know something of guilt. Why not be frank about it and look to God for forgiveness?

1 Samuel 7 - During those years of Samuel judging Israel the people were followers of the Lord. It did not mean they were not sinful and idolaters. This can give us hope. Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.

1 Samuel 8 - The rejection of Samuel was in reality a rejection of God. Kings will be bad for Israel but are what the people demanded.

1 Samuel 9 - God’s anointing on Saul is great. See how he also orchestrated the meeting of Samuel and Saul. Our Lord can turn a wild goose chase into an opportunity to be his servant and bless his people.

1 Samuel 10 - God gives Saul many signs of his anointing. The greatest of these is that Saul is publicly recognized as king. What role in Christ’s kingdom do others recognize us as fulfilling?


“Revelation” Carson & Moo pp. 697-725

In many ways Revelation is one of the most difficult books in the New Testament. The book has a complicated and multi-faceted structure. Unfortunately, the different ways the structure may be interpreted make significant differences in the interpretation of the book as a whole. Carson and Moo think the most likely unifying theme is the repetitive use of groups of seven. They therefore outline the book as follows:
Prologue (1:1-20)
Messages to seven churches (2:1-3:22)
Vision of heaven (4:1-5:14)
Seven seals (6:1-8:5)
Seven trumpets (8:6-11:19)
Seven significant signs (12:1-14:20)
Seven bowls (15:1-16:21)
Triumph of Almighty God (17:1-21:8)
New Jerusalem (21:9-22:9)
Epilogue (22:10-21)

Early Christian testimony ascribes the book to the apostle John. However, by the later second century there were those who did not accept that view and assigned authorship to other people, in part because of the potential for interpreting chapter 20 as teaching “chiliasm,” an early term for “premillennialism,” which has historically been rejected by the Church. This cast doubt on the book’s canonicity as well. Contemporary doubts about apostolic authorship have to do more with the lack of apostolic claims in the text and stylistic differences between this and writings more universally ascribed to John. Those arguments are inconclusive, as the same author may write in a different style and with different types of claims when writing with very different intents. The book claims to be written from the island of Patmos, a place of exile used by Roman authorities.

Dating of the book of Revelation is also problematic. John lived a very long time. Early Christian authors suggest authorship during the reign of Domitian, Claudius, Trajan, or Nero. Carson and Moo consider Claudius too early and Trajan too late, leaving the most likely times during the reign of Nero (54-68) or Domitian (81-96). Both times had surges in persecution, both had increased emphasis on worship of the emperor, thus inciting the kind of struggles we find in the churches from chapters 2 and 3. Revelation 11:1-2 may suggest that the temple in Jerusalem is still standing. Yet much of the language in the book is metaphorical, so it is difficult to tell if the author refers to the temple in Jerusalem or a temple in heaven. Carson and Moo tend toward the reign of Domitian.

The book is written to seven churches in Asia Minor, probably well known to John, who had lived and worked in the area for years. Is it an apocalypse? If so, and the opening lines seem to indicate it is, it is an early example of one. Apocalypses are often pseudonymous and very symbolic. However this book does not seem to be pseudonymous. Could it rightly be considered an epistle? Possibly, though it is very complicated and symbolic in nature.We are probably safest considering it an early form of an apocalypse, but one which does not follow all the patterns which emerged by the close of the second century.

Revelation gained canonical status quite early in the West, as early as first half of the second century. It was disputed in the East into the third century. However, it was eventually received throughout Christianity. Just the same, scholars consider that Revelation is one of the books which is best interpreted in light of the canonical Gospels, Acts, the Pauline Epistles, and 1 John, rather than serving as the guide to interpret those other books.

How is the text interpreted? Four basic approaches exist in modern scholarship. First, we see the “preterist” approach. This says that the visions describe events in John’s time. Symbols and visions refer to events in the world in that day. John uses them to urge faithfulness to Christ. In the “historical” approach people see a sketch of history from Christ to the present. This approach was widely used during the Reformation, especially identifying the beast with the Papacy. In the “futurist” approach scholars look for the fulfillment of all the events in very end of the world. Finally, in an “idealist” approach scholars view Revelation as explaining the general ways of the world and God’s person as he works in the world. Carson and Moo find some truth in all approaches but tend to view the futurist approach as the most useful.

Throughout Revelation we see an emphasis on the sovereignty of God. God is able to bring all things to their rightful conclusion. There is a very high Christology. Jesus is portrayed as God. Though Jesus is presented clearly as the almighty God, the cross is always visible. Everything Jesus does is related to his death for the sins of the world. We also see the reality of God’s judgment against all sin, as he pours out his wrath and rescues his people, those whose names are written in the book of life. Revelation gives great comfort to people who are suffering, whether in the first century or the twenty-first century.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Funny Thing . . . Pastor as Fireman

So yesterday as everyone was clearing out of the church building and I was getting ready to run off to a Christian school fundraising dinner I stepped into my office. It smelled like someone had been smoking a cigarette in there. Odder things have happened, I suppose. Nobody was there, I took care of a couple of things and stepped away to deal with some of the other building close-up details. Dropped into the office again to pick up my things and it smelled stronger. Since I don't smoke cigarettes it was a mystery. I looked around in case anything was catching fire in the office. No signs of trouble. When I left the building I found smoke pouring out of an ash tray, one of those things that looks kind of like a tower. Lots of smoke pouring out of it. I pulled the top off and dumped the contents onto the pavement, figuring they would go out in a moment. But cigarettes aren't like pipes or cigars, which do go out quite quickly when left to themselves. After a bit of trying to stamp out the activity I finally got a bucket of water and doused it. Thankfully we have a church building today. And it doesn't even smell like cigarettes!

Bible Reading Challenge Week 17 Day 1

Our reading challenge for the day is 1 Samuel 1-5. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

1 Samuel 1 - Compare Hannah’s patience with ours. She was tormented year after year and did not give up hope. We also torment God by our mistrust, yet he does not abandon us.

1 Samuel 2 - Compare Samuel and Christ. Compare the sons of Eli to the faithless leaders of Jesus’ time and to us.

1 Samuel 3 - Sometimes the words of God are very difficult for us. As with Eli we also need to hear and respond in faith.

1 Samuel 4 - The people of Israel wanted to use the ark and God’s presence as a good luck charm. What disaster God brings when we treat him as our talisman.

1 Samuel 5 - The Philistines took the ark of God. But they were not able to dominate the God of the ark. Jesus said the gates of Hell would not prevail against his Church.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sermon for 4/22/12 "Joyful Disbelief"

Sermon “Joyful Disbelief” Luke 24:41

Lord, confront us with the power of your resurrection, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

I hung up the phone after the discussion, not sure quite what to think. The school had called me to get a recommendation for one of their applicants, a person I knew from a school situation and who also attended the church where I was ministering. In the course of this very odd conversation the school administrator began talking about my specialty and whether I would be interested in teaching some courses there. She did not know that at that time there were people trying to assasinate my character and abilities in the school where I taught and that my future hopes there were looking increasingly fragile. Within a week I had agreed with the school where I now teach to run some classes outside of the hours when I would be present at the classroom school. I wouldn’t be able to be as involved in the local church, but I would have a layer of protection if something went wrong at the other school. The recommendation for someone else turned into an interview for me. God provided for my family through a completely unexpected opportunity, one which seemed too good to be real, one which still often seems too good to be real.

Before we move farther into this sermon, I should pause to observe that this congregation, by letting me teach some classes, more than I want to this year, has been reaching out to provide Christian education to homeschoolers on four continents, giving some missionary families options which may allow them to remain on the mission field, keeping some military families together when they would otherwise be separated by many thousands of miles. On behalf of The Potter’s School and the families I serve, thank you very much.

Yet the point of this sermon is not how God keeps me working at more jobs than one human should have at any one time. It isn’t about us providing for the needs of people in far away places. It is, in fact, about how much God loves you. It is about the kind of promises God has given each one of us in Jesus Christ. Like I reacted to that phone call in March of 2001, the disciples reacted with a sort of joyful disbelief when they saw their risen Savior. The reality seemed to good to be true. It was outside of their experience. They may have tried to pinch themselves and see if they were dreaming. But that didn’t work. They could pinch their arms until they were black and blue but it still wouldn’t make Jesus, risen from the dead, standing right there and talking with them any more reasonable.

In the end, though, the Christian faith is not about how reasonable God’s promises are. It’s about how good his promises are. Just how good are the promises of God? We see his promises throughout the Divine Service from beginning to end. Let’s look at a few of them and see what kind of joyful disbelief we have. Let’s see how good they are.

At the start of the service, after the processional hymn, I claim you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Some of you follow what I’m doing and trace the mark of the cross on yourselves, showing who you belong to. Let’s remember how that works. You use two fingers and a thumb, referring to the Trinity. The other two fingers are tightly folded down inside your hand the way Jesus’ divine and human nature are folded together. And you mark yourself in the name of the Father (head), the Son (heart) and the Holy Spirit (active in this world, moving here and there). Can you believe you are a possession of God through Christ Jesus, guarded every moment by the Holy Spirit?

We enter into the presence of God, singing or proclaiming his glory. By the way, Krista Burton is getting opinions from people about our experience of singing the introit during Lent. If you liked it, didn't like it, or have no particular preference, please tell her. In the Introit we confess that God is hereto bring his gifts to his people. We enter into his presence, we don't call him to come into our presence. Can you believe you are brought into the presence of the Lord of all when you gather in worship? The Bible calls us to enter his presence with thanksgiving. Again this seems to be too good to believe, but it's absolutely true.

During the Kyrie – oh, wait, some people have trouble pronouncing some of these parts of the service. But you can learn to say other things. We had the introit and now we have the kyrie. It's got a longer name, kyrie eleison which means “Lord, have mercy.” We shorten the name just to “Lord” but see how we ask him again and again to have mercy. It's for the reason of showing his mercy that our Lord came in the first place. He delights in our asking him to have mercy, so we do, for all sorts of things. Did you ever listen carefully to the things I pray for that you ask God to have mercy on? Once again, we're asking God to take care of all the evils in this world. And his response? He has called us into his presence to ask that he will have mercy. He's going to do his will. Do you believe this? It's too good to believe. Yet the resurrection is also. We can look at God's promises with that joyful disbelief. He really did promise to pour out his mercy on this world. And he will keep his promise.

Our church services remain full of unbelievable promises as we turn our attention to reading the Scripture. And here we receive the words of life that our Lord has given us. Do we even begin to realize how great it is that God has revealed himself in Scripture? Do we have an inkling of how great it is that probably everyone in this room – no, wait. If you don't have a copy of the Bible of your own, I want you to look in the rack in front of you in the pew. You can adopt one of those or talk with anyone in leadership of the church and we'll be sure you have a Bible of your very own. There. Now everyone in this room has a copy of God's Word. If you can read (no, stop laughing, some people in this room can't read and that's all right) you have the ability to take God's revelation of himself in Christ Jesus and read it for yourself. If you can't read, you have a copy of the Scripture and can find someone to read it to you. God's promises are there. His word will accomplish its purpose. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, cutting right to our hearts, revealing how the Lord would change us from inside to out. This is God's promise. Do we believe it? I want to commend people who have been following our Bible reading challenge. Some people have said they are participating in it but that they can't keep up. That's all right. You'll finish in the next couple of years. It isn't a race. It's a reminder that a page at a time we can fill our hearts and minds with all God's promises.

I'll continue with something that should inspire joyful disbelief. We'll just keep walking through the divine service a bit more. In the sermon, which some people conider the heart and center of the church service, God continues to give us his incredible promises. In Romans chapter 10 we see that faith comes by hearing, specifically by hearing the Word of God. By the chance to have God's Word read and explained a little bit our Lord creates faith in our hearts. He leads us to believe that his promises are true and that they are for us. Years ago I stopped counting the number of times I heard discouraged people tell me that they didn't bother coming to church because they weren't sure they really believed. I continue to tell them, “If you aren't sure you believe then the place you need to be is in church. The Holy Spirit can confirm your faith and strengthen you for every challenge. When you're having a difficult time you need God's Word working in your life more than ever.” To those who say their faith is strong so they don't need to attend church I would simply ask what they are going to do when the challenges arise and they have not been nourished by Word and Sacrament. Sunday morning gives us probably the most valuable three hours in our week. Let's make the most of it. God's promises are unfolded before us. He will develop in us what is lacking. We'll need it. Receive it joyfully!

Three more quick pieces of joyful disbelief. What about confessing the creed? How supernatural, how wonderful, how gracious is all that we confess, especially about Jesus' incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension? Like those early Christians we too can see the risen Lord and look eagerly to his coming again. And in the meantime there is nothing we need to fear. There's no reason to think that he will stop guarding us. There's plenty of grace and mercy for all of us for every day, because we know and confess that the Holy Spirit has given us his gifts, including the Church, baptism, forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. What beats that? Nothing at all. Do we believe? If we do not, may it be that joyful disbelief that says we can't understand how or why the triune God would do all this for us.

We then have a time for prayers. What if we didn't think the prayers in the Kyrie were enough? We turn around and pray for some other things. Are your prayers ever going to be boring to our Lord? Not at all. Is he ever going to become tired of you praying the same old thing over and over again? Not at all. Our Lord invites us to pray, using his name and authority, trusting that he will take care of all our cares. Cast your cares upon the Lord for he cares for you! Really? What if you're chronically ill and wonder if God cares. Jesus suffered in your place. He knows all of your struggles. He delights to hear from you. What if you are thankful for something but think it's trivial? Give thanks anyway! Our Lord delights when we receive his blessings, great and small. Just how big is this? God actually cares for us and hears our prayers! Yes, we can rejoice in this too. Jesus is no longer dead. He has risen as he said, and he sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us, hearing our prayers and passing them to the Father of mercy. What if you don't believe that? It's still true.

Then, near the end of some of our gatherings, we get to receive the true body and true blood of our Lord, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins. Just how great is this? It is the capstone of divine worship. Here God gives his gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, through his servant, into your hand and into your mouth. He makes you a bodily partaker of his glorified body. I said that some people think of the sermon as the heart and center of the worship service. It may be, but if the sermon is the heart, communion is the brain. Your heart doesn't keep pumping unless your brain tells it to. Christ crucified for sinners, delivering himself to us, that's what gives all the rest of our Christian life its life. Without Jesus risen from the dead, coming out of the tomb with his body and blood for you there is no Christian faith. You might as well just stay at home if we are not bringing Jesus to you in the divine service. Is he here for you whether you receive communion or not? Sure. But when you get to receive communion he is specially, physically here for you.

All these promises are too good to believe, just like Jesus' appearance to his disciples that night was too good for them to believe. What was their response? Though they couldn't explain it all, they believed. They accepted Jesus' unbelievable promises and they walked in the joy of the Holy Spirit. May our Lord give us grace to see his incredible promises and to believe him as well, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

“The Practice of New Testament Textual Criticism”

“The Practice of New Testament Textual Criticism” Metzger & Ehrman pp. 300-343

How is textual criticism to be done? How does one reasonably determine what may have been an original reading when presented with multiple variations? Metzger and Ehrman start out the chapter with two important criteria. First, (p. 300) “choose the reading that best explains the origin of the others.” Second, see if there are factors, even undocumented factors, which can account for the rise of a variant. For instance, could an abbreviation have been misconstrued as a word, thus creating something unintelligible in itself?

I’ll abbreviate a list of considerations from pp. 302-304.
1) External evidence
a) date
b) geographical distribution
c) genealogical relationship
2) Internal evidence
a) transcriptional probabilities of errors
i. more difficult reading preferred
ii. shorter reading preferred
iii. in parallel passages a reading that differs from the other is preferred
iv. less familiar, less refined usage generally preferred
b) intrinsic probabilities
i. author’s overall style, vocabulary, theology
ii. immediate context
iii. usage of author elsewhere
iv. Aramaic background of Jesus’ teaching
v. Mark as priority
vi. influence of Christian community

The remainder of the book consists of specific applications of the above considerations. Metzger and Ehrman conclude that textual criticism is a difficult business as it requires the critic to take extant information into account to explain a manuscript which we no longer have. We consider information that is visible to us and information which is not visible in attempting to determine the most reliable text.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 16 Day 5

Our reading challenge for the day is Ruth 1-4. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Naomi lost it all. She was driven from her homeland by famine, her husband and sons died, she had only two daughters-in-law who were foreigners and would not be readily accepted in Israel. She had nothing. Yet God favored her with Ruth, one of her daughters-in-law, who trusted God and returned with her to Israel.

Ruth’s diligence in gleaning caught the attention of Boaz, who was related to the family closely enough to become a guardian. The Lord blessed them and brought them together in marriage. This not only rescued Naomi from poverty but served in God’s greater plan to bless all nations, for Ruth became the great-grandmother of king David.

We never know how the Lord will appoint our paths or what his providence might be. We simply follow the road he places us on.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 16 Day 4

Our reading challenge for the day is 2 Corinthians 9-13. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

2 Corinthians 9 - Our giving is based on the way God gives to his people. It is not a matter of Law but of Gospel.

2 Corinthians 10 - We have spiritual gifts with divine power to fight spiritual wars. Taking thoughts captive to Christ is the goal of spiritual warfare.

2 Corinthians 11 - Paul has worked among the Corinthians at no cost to them, but it is customary to care for those who bring us the Gospel. See how Paul boasts in his weakness rather than in strength. It is God who is strong.

2 Corinthians 12 - God’s grace to Paul is shown as Paul is weak and suffering. We are not alone in suffering. Jesus knows it all.

2 Corinthians 13 - How do we examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith? Not by our works but by our attitude of repentent trust.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 16 Day 3

Our reading challenge for the day is 2 Corinthians 4-8. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

2 Corinthians 4 - We are clay jars - functional and good but not precious. It is because Jesus loves us and uses us for his glory that we gain value.

2 Corinthians 5 - See all the comparisons between temporary and permanent. Our lasting hope is in Jesus who is our reward. This is the new creation, being reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 6 - As redeemed people we seek to live a life which is worthy of Christ - a ife of faith. Otherwise we live in vain.

2 Corinthians 7 - The Christian life is one of repentance leading to forgiveness and life. This is not the world’s view of regret or sorrow, which leads to death.

2 Corinthians 8 - In times of hardship and plenty we are people who give since Jesus gave himself for us. Some suggest chapter 8 verse 18 refers to Luke as the companion of Titus.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 16 Day 2

Our reading challenge for the day is Judges 20-21 and 2 Corinthians 1-3. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Judges 20-21 - The apostle Paul makes a forceful commentary on these events in Romans 1 when he says God delivers people over to their own sin. Brother kills brother, reducing Benjamin to ruin. Has God departed from his people? No, his mercy remains and some see their sin. Yet everyone still does what is right in his own eyes, a sad state of affairs.

2 Corinthians 1 - Whatever our suffering, God is the God of comfort. Jesus rescues us no matter the cost to himself. All God’s promises are “yes” in Jesus.

2 Corinthians 2 - The purpose of confronting sin is repentance and forgiveness. That’s when we receive the grace of God.

“History of the Transmission of the Text of the New Testament”

“History of the Transmission of the Text of the New Testament” Metzger & Ehrman pp. 272-299

Metzger and Ehrman begin with a discussion of the difficulties of establishing the original text of the New Testament documents. Since there are 27 different books in the New Testament and they differ in authorship, time of composition, original recipient, and many other features, every book must be treated individually. Early Christian literature is also challenging to deal with due to its means of dissemination. Metzger and Ehrman also suggest problems arising with the text at an early date, when on p. 275 they say, “The earliest copyists would not have been trained professionals who made copies for a living but simply literate members of a congregation who had the time and ability to do the job. Since most, if not all, of them would have been amateurs in the art of copying, a relatively large number of mistakes no doubt crept into their texts as they reproduced them.” This statement, of course, is self-refuting. Amateurs who chose to do something which they are able to do, being literate, and who have adequate time to devote to the task are unlikely to make a large number of errors. However, Metzger and Ehrman do observe that early copies tend to diverge from one another more widely than later copies, presumably due to improvements in the quality of copyists.

Copies of the New Testament text seem to divide into various text types. The “Western” text, where it shows individuality, tends to paraphrase, occasionally harmonizing information from other similar sources and occasionally inserting or omitting words, clauses, or sentences. The “Alexandrian” text tends to be highly consistent, but also tends to make “improvements” in the grammar or style of the original. The “Byzantine” text has a tendency to be very smooth and lucid, without harshness in the language. It seems that editors chose among variant readings to make the smoothest and most readable text possible.

Modern text critics have examined text transmission for six chief areas other than identification of the most reliable reading. Metzger and Ehrman discuss the study of text transmission and its relationship to doctrinal disputes, Jewish-Christian relations, oppression of women, apologetics, asceticism, and use of magic or fortune-telling.

While we can gain insight into a world of issues through study of textual transmission, I am reminded by this chapter that the primary reason to study the text of the New Testament is to see how God has revealed himself in the person and work of Jesus. All other issues, such as tracking what different scribes did to a text in order to defend their points of view, are secondary.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 16 Day 1

Our reading challenge for the day is Judges 15-19. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Judges 15-16 - This chapter gives us a clear view of this deliverer of Israel. He has been away from his wife long enough that her father has married her to another man. He retaliates by military force. He then engages in various types of deceit and complains to God about his thirst before seeing God’s provision of water. When he ends up with another woman, to whom he is not married, she entices him to disclose the secret of his strength. It takes her several attempts, so it is clear that he knew what she was doing but didn’t seem to care. In the end he seems to care about God as he is bringing down the Philistine palace. Yet we are left doubting his sincerity and commitment. Of course, many are left doubting us as well. The bottom line is that God uses unexpected deliverers.

Judges 17-19 - See how the society spirals down into idolatry and worse as there are no judges. People make their own gods, hire priests to serve those gods, use those priests to serve as prophets of the true God, and generally go their own way. At the end of chapter 19 we see murder and mayhem of all sorts.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sermon for 4/15/12 "Stewards of Christ's Resurrection"

Sermon Stewards of Christ's Resurrection

Lord of all, who gathers us and joins us together into one body, grant us your grace so we may hear your word, believe you, and be good stewards of the Gospel, this we pray through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.

Stewardship Sunday – even hearing those words has been known to make me cringe in fright. And maybe it has the same effect on you. There's a habit in some churches of gathering everyone together, pointing out the budget to the congregation, discussing some of the goals we would like to accomplish to show our faithfulness to the Lord, and then pressuring people to make pledges which will cause them to give sacrificially, the more pain, the more gain. Give until it hurts! And the Scotsman in me says, “Aye, the very thought of givin' hurts.”

Today's readings, though, give us a different view of stewardship. The first reading, not Old Testament during this time of the year, is from Acts. It tells about the gathered Christians. How are they showing their stewardship? They are caring for one another out of the abundance that the Lord has blessed them with. Nobody twisted their arms. Nobody had to push any pledge cards at anybody. There was none of this, “You write on the card and I'll tell you what to write. Need me to steady your hand for you?” Not anything of the sort. We saw that “there were no needy people among them.” But does that mean that everyone was prosperous in business? No, it doesn't. We see that some people who had means occasionally sold an asset or made some other sort of profit and gave the proceeds to the apostles so they could distribute it as it was needed. There were needs, but the believers helped one another.

How has our church done with this? Are we being good financial stewards? Last year somehow went by without a very active stewardship committee. I'm probably not the only person who was at the council meetings and found it humorous that for several months there was no report from the stewardship committee. And we finished calendar year 2011 with an intriguing financial picture. You who have seen the 2011 annual report know that we wrapped up the budget year with offerings below budget and expenses even a little farther below budget. I wonder if anyone has been watching this year's numbers? We passed a smaller budget this year. So what would we predict? Nobody has been twisting anybody's arm for offerings. I even forgot about an offering at one of the midweek services this year, I think it was the Ash Wednesday service. Our budget is smaller. Does anybody know what's happened to the offerings? It sounds like we might be in big trouble, right? Actually, offerings this year are up compared to last year and we are right on track with the budget to date. Giving as of the end of March was above budget. That doesn’t mean that we should cut back on our giving. It means that the Lord is providing for you, his people, and you are bringing out of your abundance to meet the needs of others. If we have too much in the coffers we’ll be able to increase some of the mission giving we have for here and other places in our world.

But financial stewardship is not the do-all, end-all of stewardship. I don't know why we seem to have this idea that stewardship has to do with money and only money. It isn't the case at all. Throughout history, what has a steward done? The steward takes care of the master's possessions and household. There is an important role of money, but there's a lot more than that. The steward also guards the master's plans, his goals, his values, his priorities. It's a lot like being an ambassador. What other kind of stewardship do we see in today's readings?

In our epistle reading from 1 John we see that the believers are being encouraged to be good stewards of the resurrection. Their lives have been changed by the risen Lord. That change, the realization that Jesus is the one proclaimed to them, results in prayers, forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Jesus is the one who took our sins. He is the one who intercedes for us. He is the one who was a sufficient sacrifice for our sins, and not only ours but the sins of the whole world. We realize that no matter what our sin is, we can confess it before the Lord and he will forgive it. Jesus is in the business of cleansing us from all sin. What sin is it that you bear today? Is anything too difficult for our Lord? What kind of sin do you confront at your workplace, in your home, in your friends and neighbors? Are any of those sins that the Lord has not given himself for? We saw in 1 John 2:2 that Jesus gave himself for the sins of the whole world. And he is the sufficient sacrifice who makes peace with God. That word that the NIV translates as “atoning sacrifice” is a difficult one. There's some debate about how to translate it. And the reason is that it's an unusually meaningful word. It indicates the one who dies but whose death is sufficient to either take away the cause of offense or cover the cause of offense so that it can no longer be found, and who does it on the behalf of someone else. That's not something we want to pull into our translation of the Scripture in the places the word shows up. So the NIV editors made it an “atoning sacrifice.” Some translations have made it say “a propitiation.” And then some people argue with one another about the meanings of the words “atonement” and “propitiation.” They can be viewed theologically as opposite sides of the same coin. The fact is, when you believe Jesus, you get the whole coin. That's the great thing about coins, after all. When you get one side, you also get the other side. Jesus takes away our sin. Jesus also takes away the offense that our sin causes God. He does it all.

Through faith in Christ, we are made stewards of that news. We are representatives of Jesus in this world. We are the people who carry the news of the work of Christ on our behalf. And we do it, not through our own strength or righteousness but simply as we are made witnesses of Jesus. One of the ways we are his witnesses is through our generosity and care for others. As God has loved us, we love one another. As Jesus gave himself for us, we give ourselves for one another. And it isn't a matter of law-keeping. Nobody twisted your arm and made you give generously to meet the needs of God's people. Nobody twisted your arm and made you pledge more money for our missions program this year than last year. Not at all. It's a matter of being a steward of the message of the resurrection. Jesus has called us his children, his friends, his fellow heirs. We just act like the forgiven, cleansed, and renewed people that we are, and we walk in his paths, since he has laid them open to us.

But what of the times we are bad stewards? Maybe we find that we are too often like Thomas, that apostle who ran away and didn't believe Jesus was raised from the dead. Maybe we're like those people we've been reading about in Judges as we have followed the Bible reading challenge – the people who were rescued and then gladly returned to their old ways, the worship of idols, setting priorities that couldn't be distinguished from the nations around them. Knowing that God is the God of deliverance doesn't always get the message through to us, does it? What did Jesus do for Thomas? He came to Thomas. That's just what Thomas needed. Thomas was doubtful. Actually, Thomas was unbelieving. That's what Jesus says of him. He didn't believe the resurrection. But far worse, even if he did come to believe the resurrection, he didn't believe it was for him. What did Jesus do for Thomas? He did an astounding thing. He came to speak with Thomas. He knew what Thomas had been saying. Unless he saw the wounds and touched them he would not believe. This is a high standard of proof, isn't it? Can you show your friends and neighbors the wounds that Jesus bore for him? No, you can't and I can't either. And there are some people for whom no amount of proof of the resurrection will be adequate. When talking to someone who denies that Jesus could have risen from the dead sometimes we want to ask what information would be adequate. If the person we're talking to says that there's no way we can convince him that Jesus rose from the dead, the conversation is over. We may as well talk about lawn mowers or hybrid soybeans or Cajun cooking. That person is like unbelieving Thomas.

What got through to Thomas? The power of Jesus in his resurrection. Remember that Thomas would not believe unless he touched the wounds of Jesus? What did Jesus offer? “Touch my wounds, go ahead.” What did Thomas do? He believed. He didn't need to touch the wounds. He needed to know that Jesus was raised from the dead. He needed the Holy Spirit to grant him faith. He needed the powerful message of the resurrection. Do we have that message? Yes, we do. Jesus has made us stewards of the Gospel. He has made us stewards of the message of Christ, crucified for sinners, raised again from the dead as the firstfruits of the resurrection. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! We preach Jesus, the power of God. The POWER of God! Salvation is of the Lord. And Jesus has given his Church the message of the Gospel to be proclaimed. Notice I say “proclaimed” rather than “argued.” I can't argue you to faith in Christ, any more than Peter, James, and John could argue Thomas to belief. I can't do it. Even the lawyers we have in the congregation, who are professionally trained in arguing can't do it. There's no amount of reasoning that can give us the Gospel. It is the proclamation of Jesus' victorious death, burial, and resurrection that gives us the Gospel. This is the deliverance we need. And this is the message that we received and that we carry as stewards for our Lord. We proclaim the Gospel in Word through the liturgy, the reading of the Word, and the preaching, Sunday after Sunday. We proclaim the Gospel in the sacrament of baptism when we have the opportunity. One pastor I know refers to baptism as his opportunity to make Christians. It struck me as odd at first. But he's right. We confess that baptism saves you, giving you the pledge of a clear conscience before God. We confess that it washes sins away. This is the Gospel. We proclaim the Gospel in the sacrament of the altar, where we confess that Jesus is truly and bodily present to deliver the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation through his body and blood under the bread and the wine. We proclaim the Gospel in the Parish Education classes – Sunday school and adult Bible class and the other opportunities we have for training. Those are opportunities to see how the Gospel applies to us, to receive the encouragement that God’s Word gives us grace, to find out how we can bring the grace of our Lord to our world. Do we have open discussion? We sure do, especially in the Bible classes. But all in all, we don't argue it about the Gospel, we proclaim it. We let the Holy Spirit do the arguing and convince people. And we confess that we are recipients of all these promises of grace, given to us by one and the same Lord.

As recipients of the promises of God we then become stewards of his promises. May the Lord make us faithful stewards of his resurrection, looking in hope to the time when we will rise with him. Amen.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 15 Day 5

Our reading challenge for the day is Judges 10-14. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

In our readings about Gideon I was thinking of how poor a candidate for the deliverer of Israel he was. But as we read along today the people of Israel are doing worse and worse. The people spiral into idolatry again and again. And the judges aren’t much better! Jephthah and Samson both show themselves to be rash and ill-advised. The whole situation here reminds me of what we read in Romans chapter 1 when God turns people over to do their own desires, to pursue their own sinful goals. It is a terrible thing when God allows us to go our own way. We have an uncanny ability to follow our nature which we inherited from Adam. We find that as sinners we all sin.

Thanks be to God that in Jesus Christ he has taken the sin of the world and made reconciliation, atonement for the sin of Adam and his children, so we can be children of Christ instead!

“1, 2, 3 John” Carson & Moo pp. 669-87

1 John, without a personal introduction stating who the recipient may be, and without a concluding section addressing immediate plans and bringing greetings, is not of the same nature as the letters of Paul. Carson and Moo suggest that the letter may have been intended to go to a number of congregations and have a more personal note to accompany it. They suggest that 2 John may be one such note, though 3 John does not seem to fit the “cover letter” pattern as well. There are references to the Johanine epistles by the end of the first century, though specific references to them as written by John do not appear until the middle of the second century. Scholars remain divided as to the authorship and dating of the letters. However, Carson and Moo tend to lean toward the epistles being written by the apostle John, as there is not adequate evidence to support a strong case for any other author. If the letters were written by John late in his life, the most likely source is Ephesus, where early tradition reports John settling. Dating of the letters is closely tied to the date of John’s Gospel. The epistles seem to have come after the gospel, as they make what seems to be passing reference to matters discussed in the gospel. Since 1 John also is alluded to in some subapostolic fathers, it seems to fit best in the early 90s, if not slightly earlier. The addressee of 1 John is not stated. 2 John appears to be addressed to a Christian congregation, not a particular person. 3 John is addressed to a Gaius, one of the most common names in the Roman Empire. Thus we have no clear identification of an addressee.

1 John speaks to certain errors in the Christian faith, errors which include denial of Christ’s bodily being. These errors are found in Gnosticism, though it is not fully-formed until the second century. They are found particularly in the Docetic beliefs, and can also be found, at least in part, in the heresy propounded by Cerinthus, someone known to John in Ephesus, where the two had a noted dispute.

The text of the letters is generally quite well documented, except for 1 John 5:7-8a which is not found in any early manuscripts but is found in some commentaries. 1 John was accepted in the canon quite early, though 2 and 3 John were accepted with more hesitancy. Recent scholarship has focused on identifying the community which may have written the letters in John’s name. Literary and rhetorical elements have also sparked interest among scholars. The theme which has contributed a great deal to Christian belief and practice is that innovation is dangerous. We are well advised to hold fast to that faith which was passed to us by the Lord through the apostles.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 15 Day 4

Our reading challenge for the day is Judges 6-9. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Judges 6 - Gideon is certainly an unlikely deliverer. We first see him hiding in a wine press threshing some grain in secret. He is afraid of his family, of his community, and of the enemies of the community. He doesn’t trust God’s word but asks for proofs of God’s mercy. To put it in modern parlance in the United States, he doesn’t look electable. But God chooses him. For all of us unlikely deliverers, we can look to our Lord in confidence, knowing he has chosen people like us before.

Judges 7-8 God uses a very small army to rescue his people from bondage. Yet that victory seems to lead to arrogance. By the end of Gideon’s life, the nation is falling into idolatry again. How quickly we forget the claims of our Lord. This is why the work of the ministry is never done. We all need to hear the Gospel again and again.

Judges 9 - See how the curse comes upon the descendants of Gideon. They strive against one another and it results in ruin. Better to be humble and unambitious. Maybe that way we can have a chance to do someone some good.

“2 Peter” Carson & Moo pp. 654-668

In the second epistle of Peter we are struck by his encouragement to spiritual growth. Yet at the same time, Peter seems to use a forceful negative argument to make this encouragement. He tells about all the dangers of false teachers.

One of the important areas of commentary on 2 Peter is the similarity between this letter and the letter of Jude. The concepts discussed are very similar and some of the language used is very rare elsewhere in the Bible. Carson and Moo discuss various ways the two letters could be related and finally say they do consider that one of the letters was influenced by the other but do not have adequate data to decide which way the influence went.

2 Peter claims to be written by the apostle Peter. However, modern scholars give six reasons for rejecting this claim. The Greek is very different from 1 Peter. The teaching discussed is similar to Gnosticism of the 2nd century. The author suggests that Paul’s letters, possibly collected, are recognized as Scripture. The hope of the coming of Christ seems to be less immediate than it is in the apostolic age. The letter does not seem to be known at an early time. Finally, the form of the letter is similar to some pseudonymous writings. However, Carson and Moo answer each of these arguments, observing that they are unconvincing. This leaves us either accepting unconclusive arguments or the idea that the letter is genuine.

If Peter wrote the letter it has to be dated before Peter’s death in the mid sixties. The author suggests that death is impending, so we would place the time close to Peter’s death. Though the letter does not state a specific destination it seems to be addressed to Christians who are threatened by something quite specific, so it does not seem to be a general epistle, simply one which does not state the recipient.

2 Peter is often neglected in scholarship, with little work being done with it in recent years. Carson and Moo observe contributions in three areas. First, the letter warns us of how serious it is to deviate from the Christian faith. Second, the day of the Lord is an event to be hoped for. Finally, the letter addresses the idea of memory in the Christian walk, contrasting memory with forgetfulness. Remembering Jesus results in a life dedicated to Christ, while forgetting him results in departure from the faith.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 15 Day 3

Our reading challenge for the day is Judges 1-5. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

These first chapters of Judges set up the pattern which will remain typical for several hundred years. The people of Israel do not do what God has commanded them. They leave the people who have been in the land rather than obeying God’s command to displace them. Those people become a trap for Israel, enticing them to depart from the true God. Israel is brought into bondage and God raises a deliverer who will rescue them. These deliverers, called judges, are of varied quality. Not all are exemplary leaders. But all are raised up by God to deal with a situation which is troubling the nation.

Sometimes Deborah is treated as a victory for women. While she is doubtless used to deliver the people, see that the Scripture views her almost as a defeat for men. Where were the manly men who should have risen up and defended their country? They ran away rather than leading their families and their nation. This is a terrible defeat for everyone involved.

“1 Peter” Carson & Moo pp. 636-653

Peter’s first epistle is to Christians in Asia Minor, addressing suffering. p. 636 “Unlike Paul, who often develops a theological point before applying it, Peter mixes imperative and indicative almost from the beginning of the letter.” In fact, he generally opens paragraphs with a command, then brings in theological details to support the command.

One of the controversial passages in the text is chapter 3 verses 18-22, where some find Jesus’ descent into Hades after the resurrection but some find Christ prior to the incarnation preaching through Noah.

Carson and Moo do not claim to know what kind of suffering the Christians who received the letter were suffering, but it is clear that their suffering is the occasion for the letter. Knowing what the suffering was might point us more clearly to a time and place of composition and a more specific recipient.

1 Peter depends heavily on traditional material. It quotes the Old Testament eight times, alludes to it often, and is full of Old Testament concepts. This points some scholars toward early composition of the letter. The letter seems to be a cohesive whole, with few scholars suggesting any division in the authorship. Early testimony affirms the author to be Peter. If the reference to “Babylon” in 5:13 is to Rome, and if that is a reference to the place of authorship, the date of the letter is likely in the mid 60s, though many scholars suggest Peter was in Rome much of the time after the year 42.

In recent study scholars have suggested the existence of a Petrine “school” which would have written this book after the death of Peter. Another area of scholarship is to analyze the way 1 Peter uses the Old Testament to communicate to the believers. A third area of scholarship focuses on the possible social status of the readers. 1 Peter is very helpful in its focus on the hope Christians can have in their risen Lord and by knowing they belong to the historic people of God. The book’s high Christology points to Jesus as the hope we have always had.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 14 Day 5

(delayed by accident)
Our reading challenge for the day is 1 Corinthians 1-5. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

1 Corinthians 1-2 - Paul’s desire is to proclaim the Gospel. It is a proclamation, not a proposition. If it were a proposition we might be free to alter it. Rather, it is a proclamation of truth to be believed. It is foolish to our wisdom but is the power of God to break down divisions between humans and between man and God.

1 Corinthians 3 - Christians do not build themselves up. The work of the Gospel is outside of ourselves. We trust God to build us by Word and Sacrament.

1 Corinthians 4 - Apostles, along with other christian leaders, do not invent anything. We are stewards, caretakers, of God’s words and mysteries.

1 Corinthians 5 - Aside from divisions the Corinthians allow immorality in the church. Why do we tolerate such behaviors which bring shame to our Lord? Should we not rather call people to repentance? Yet it seems we wink at this in today’s world.

Bible Reading Challenge Week 14 Day 4

(delayed by accident)
Our reading challenge for the day is Joshua 21-24. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

As the book of Joshua concludes God’s people are asked for a decision. Just whom will they serve? Will it be the gods of the native people and of their past idolatries? Will it be the true God who delivered them from bondage in Egypt?

We are right to ask the same question today. Yet in all too many churches where that question is asked it is twisted into a man-centered means of salvation. Consider the difference between these questions:
1) Will you believe the Jesus who has saved you by his death on the cross?
2) Will you believe Jesus so he can save you?
Question number two makes you the ultimate savior. Question number one is biblical and sees Jesus as the savior. he has accomplished salvation. Will you trust him or will you trust yourself?

Bible Reading Challenge Week 14 Day 3

(delayed by accident)
Our reading challenge for the day is Joshua 16-20. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

The idea of private property was important in Israel. not only are there laws against theft, but there are also inheritance laws. This becomes very important when we consider the principle that lands return to their previous owner at the Jubilee. Knowing what does and does not belong to an individual or family is very important. In much of Western society the laws of inheritance have been eroded. The law seems to assume that each generation will be self-made. Rather than a persumption of private property we find increasing calls for property to belong to a governmental entity and to be granted, at least temporarily, to individuals.

Clear laws of property and inheritance have always been good in protecting families in their ability to earn, keep, and wisely share wealth.

Bible Reading Challenge Week 15 Day 2

Our reading challenge for the day is 1 Corinthians 11-16. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

1 Corinthians 11 - This is a good opportunity to meditate on the Lord’s provision of his body and blood in communion. See that his body was broken and his blood was shed for us and is effectual when received by faith. We either eat to our nourishment or to our condemnation.

1 Corinthians 12-14 - There’s one Holy Spirit who builds up his people. He does it in an orderly way. Though the saints are different from one another, each is important in God’s kingdom.

1 Corinthians 15 - The resurrection of Jesus is our hope for the future. He has conquered death and will bring us to life as well.

1 Corinthians 16 - Even as we rejoice in considering the resurrection from the dead, our charitable deeds are important. We don’t want to forget either.
“James” Carson & Moo pp. 619-635

James is considered the first of the “catholic” epistles - those written to the whole church as opposed to a single congregation. Rather than speaking to a specific issue in a specific congregation, James has a body arranged around four main themes: trials and maturity, Christian faith resulting in works, dealing with dissensions, and what a Christian view of the world implies. The author is poorly identified, simply as “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1.1). Since James is a very common name it is difficult to decide who could have written the lettter. Carson and Moo suggest James the son of Zebedee, James “the Lord’s brother,” James the son of Alphaeus, and James the father of Judas. Of those, the one identified as “the Lord’s brother” is, in Carson and Moo’s estimation, the best candidate.

As with the author, it is also very difficult to determine where the letter was written or when. There may be some wisdom in suggesting that the letter was written fairly early, possibly before Paul’s writings were well known, as James seems to look at the relationship of faith and works in a slightly different way than Paul, but does not address any of Paul’s statements directly. The addressees are Jewish Christians (the twelve tribes) who are scattered. Again, we do not know the nature of this scattering. The letter is in a fairly clear, generally Attic style, addressing its topics in a straightforward manner, though using metaphors freely.

James may have had an influence on some late first century works. Though the letter was well known, it was not cited as Scripture until Origen. By the time of Eusebius the book seems to be considered Scripture, but was still apparently disputed.

In recent study scholars have found themes of liberation theology and a social gospel particularly focused on the hard work of showing our faith. Yet Carson and Moo observe that it is inappropriate to say that James views salvation as being by works while Paul views works in a negative light. Rather, the two authors both see salvation being by grace through faith, but James has a greater emphasis on showing our faith by our good works.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 15 Day 1

Our reading challenge for the day is 1 Corinthians 6-10. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

1 Corinthians 6 - God takes sexual immorality very seriously. How often do we fall prey to our unbelieving society’s norms and allow ourselves to be tempted into denying this issue of purity? What are the implications of telling young people either that they are unable to withstand temptation or telling them that they must withstand temptation and also must wait until they are finished with a college education before they may marry?

1 Corinthians 7 - Marriage and singleness, being a slave or a free person, being a Gentile or a Jew by culture, all is fine. The body of Christ has a place for everyone. But let us be what we are. If married, be married. If single, be single.

1 Corinthians 8 - I wonder what a good parallel to food offered to idols might be in today’s society? We don’t want to do what would make a brother stumble. But what is a serious stumbling block like that in my culture?

1 Corinthians 9 - It is good when God’s people care for their pastors and other Christian workers who have devoted their lives to tending God’s flock. Sometimes it is not necessary but generally it is. Thanks be to God that he raises up faithful saints who will support the work of the Gospel.

1 Corinthians 10 - The language of a “participation” in the Lord’s body and blood in 1 Corinthians 10 is what convinced me of the real bodily presence of Christ in communion. God works throughout Scripture in a strikingly bodily manner. I don’t think we need to try to sanitize it by making it a purely spiritual event. That goes contrary to what we see in the Word of God.

The Pastoral Epistles

“The Pastoral Epistles” Carson & Moo pp. 554-587

The term “pastoral epistles” was given to 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus in 1703 by D.N. Berdot, followed in 1726 by Paul Anton. “Contemporary critical orthodoxy insists that the Pastorals were all written by someone other than Paul and at a time considerably later than that of the apostle” (p. 555). Considerations involved in that discussion involved vocabulary, syntax, rhetorical style, difficulty fitting the letters into what we know of Paul’s history, identification of the false teachers discussed in the letters, the interest shown in the organization of the church, and the way the theology is termed, though not necessarily its content. Carson and Moo speak to these issues, in each instance suggesting that traditional interpretation, which ascribes the letters to Paul and places them quite late in his life, is likely correct.

The section on the ecclesiastical organization strikes me as an important segment. I quote from p. 564. “Many scholars believe that the understanding of church life that is presupposed in these letters could not have appeared during Paul’s lifetime. Specifically, they see a strongly organized church with an ordained ministry.
“We should first notice that Paul seems to have had some interest in the ministry, for even on the first missionary journey he and Barnabas appointed elders in the churches they had so recently founded (Acts 14:23). The salutation at the head of the epistle to the Philippians finds Paul addressing the overseers (bishops) and deacons at Philippi as well as the saints there (Phil. 1:1).
Second, to find an interest in the ministry in the Pastorals we must exclude 2 Timothy, for in that letter there is nothing about an ordained ministry or any form of church organization. Paul does speak of God’s χάρισμα (charisma) that is in timothy through the laying on of his hands (2 Tim. 1:6), but this may well be the equivalent of a later confirmation rather than of ordination (it leads on to thoughts of “power, of love and of self-discipline,” which are just as relevant to the Christian life as to the Christian ministry). In Titus there is a direction to ‘appoint elders in every town’ (Titus 1:5) and an indication of the kind of people who should be made elder or bishop (the two terms appear to denote the same office). It is in 1 timothy that we get considerable teaching about the ministry. Here we find mention of the qualities that are to be sought in overseers and deacons (chap. 3) and an indication that elders are honored persons, to be treated with respect and to be paid for their work (5:17-20). The elder seems clearly to be equated with the overseer (bishop) in Titus 1:5-7, and there is nothing in the other two letters to indicate any other system. Despite the inferences drawn by some, there is really nothing in any of the Pastorals that demands any more organization than the ‘overseers and deacons’ of Philippians 1:1. There is also a ‘list of widows’ (1 Tim. 5:9), but it is not clear what this means (in any case, widows seem to have had a special place from the beginning [Acts 6:1]). Clearly, none of this amounts to much in the way of organization, certainly to nothing more than can have appeared in the church in comparatively early days.”

Recent study of the Pastorals has focused on the authorship, the seeming concern or lack of concern of church matters, and the types of codes of conduct and requirements of church leaders.

On p. 571 Carson and Moo turn their attention to walking through the letters in order in some detail. 1 Timothy has a good deal of exhortation to prayer and faithfulness, holding fast to the truth delivered to Timothy. The letter may well have been written from Macedonia, based on 1 Timothy 1:3. Carson and Moo suggest the letter probably dates from the early 60s, assuming that Paul was released from prison for a brief time after the end of the events detailed in Acts. Timothy is clearly the intended recipient, judging from the many personal comments, but the letter clearly applies also to the general Christian public. The text of 1 Timothy is well documented. The letter is quoted by early Christian writers as early as the second century. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to care for his personal character issues is of great importance as we consider qualifications for ministry.

2 Timothy is written with a clear consciousness on the part of Paul that his life is almost over. Carson and Moo therefore date it in the last year of Paul’s life, possibly as early as 64 and as late as 67. Again, the letter is addressed to Timothy and has a well preserved text and early adoption into the canon. The letter points out that we strive to live out our lives realizing the consequences of God’s work in Christ.

Titus is addressed, as indicated by the name, to Titus, who was left in Crete by Paul. We have no information about when Paul might have been working in Crete other than his brief stay there in Acts 27. Therefore this suggests a work during a gap in the narrative of Acts or a time after the end of the events in Acts. Carson and Moo do not make any firm conclusions about the date. Titus appears to be echoed in Clement of Rome and is quoted by some second century authors, indicating early acceptance into the canon. The letter to Titus strongly indicates that the Christian faith serves among other things to civilize people, something which seems to have been necessary for the believers in Crete. Through reliance on the grace of the Lord we find that we are changed into his image.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Death Is Dead, Jesus Lives

Sermon “Death Is Dead, Jesus Lives

Our Lord, open our eyes to see the reality of your resurrection, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Jesus is Risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! During the period of Lent we fasted from this statement of “Glory to God.” The Alleluias went away. But they are back, they have risen, just as our Lord has risen. The thing we laid aside has come again, and we rejoice. We delight in the return of that which we had lost. You all know what I mean. If you have never lost something you might not know the feeling. But I suspect we’ve all been there. We wonder where the keys are. We wonder what happened to that book we were reading. We can’t find our glasses. But all those are trivial examples. What about bigger panics? We think of our children’s response when the pet has wandered off. Or maybe we’ve lost something pretty substantial. I remember mislaying a paycheck once, and at the time I was paid only six times a year. Or when we find our car missing, or a child, or a husband or wife missing. The dread sets in and we are out of our minds. What will we do? What’s happened?

Now let’s put ourselves in the position of those apostles. They have given their lives over to follow Jesus, the one they are persuaded is the Messiah. What happened? It seems just a week ago he was entering Jerusalem and was surrounded by crowds of supporters. He was popular! He was going to come into town and sweep out the evil, establishing God’s kingdom. The King who comes in the name of David to sit on his throne has come at last! This is what we thought. It’s what we all thought. So what happened? Something went wrong, and by the end of Thursday, when we were gathered for the Passover meal he was talking about dying. Then he was arrested, given a sort of non-trial, and didn’t show himself to be lord of anything. He gave himself up without even a fight. And we saw him crucified like a criminal. We saw him die, and he died quickly too, as if he had no will to live. We expected a Messiah and all we got was a dead body. We’ve lost, and we’ve lost big. There’s nothing left. All the alleluia has been taken out of us. What are we going to do now? We’re lost, disillusioned, dejected, and probably in trouble with the law.

Something happened, didn’t it? For this very morning, the first day of the week, some women went to do that woman thing. It’s always the women who take care of the funerals, isn’t it? They were going to make sure everything was all right and that the men on Friday had taken care of the shroud the right way. No doubt they were planning to come back to where Jesus’ friends were gathered, now that the Sabbath was over, and would arrange for a pickle plate and some sandwiches. The mourning would go on for a while and then the disciples would figure out what to do with themselves. They would pick themselves up and try to get their businesses started again. Life would return to normal – sort of, as much as it can after losing your beloved teacher. But the disappointment would remain. The loss would remain. The feelings of betrayal? Maybe those too.

We’ve all faced those feelings, haven’t we? In our own lives, on our own turf, we've seen our plans go down the tubes. And we do what brave men and women do. After all, what do you do when your life has been ruined and your career is ended? You know perfectly well what you do. You get up in the morning, get dressed, and go to work. You see if you can put the pieces back together. You carry on. One career missionary I talked with once put it this way. It's all right if you give up and go home at the end of the day, planning not to go back to work again. That's just fine, as long as you give up on that plan by the time you need to go to work the next day. So we assemble, like the disciples did. We may be fearful for our future. We may be fearful for our lives. We assemble, bracing ourselves for the worst possible news.

What is the news that comes to the disciples? Christ is risen! We say it again, Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The disciples know that he said he would do that. They also know just as well as you do that dead people don't rise from the dead. After all, these were people in a long bygone era, but they weren't unobservant people. Just because people lived a long time ago doesn't mean they didn't know the implications of dying. They knew that Jesus couldn't rise from the dead. But the news came to them that he had risen. With that news came hope. With that news came joy. With that news came the delighted unbelievable faith that Jesus had triumphed over death. He didn't overthrow the Roman government. He overthrew the grave! Jesus' resurrection from the dead changes all the rules. He shows that there is no longer any reason to fear. What do we have left to flee from if even death has been swallowed up by Christ's victory? The funeral shroud that lies over all the earth, that shroud we read about in Isaiah, has been rolled up and put away. Jesus has destroyed death. He has swallowed it up just the way you or I might take a bite of a sandwich. He has done away with it. There is no longer any threat there.

Now, you may say, that's all well and good. It's a nice story. But after all, we're modern people. We don't believe in a resurrection. It's good enough if the spirit rises. After all, we know that God will bring a spiritual resurrection in the end. When Grandma dies it's fine. She's been released from her body and doesn't need it any more. She's not really there. She's in a far better place. I've heard people talking that way. I've doubtless been guilty of it myself. But let me remind you. Ancient people are ancient, not unobservant. They lived a long time ago, but that doesn't mean they are ignorant. What is the account passed on to us? This is a reliable, historical account, written rather shortly after the events. What did Paul say in 1 Corinthians? Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to a variety of people, including large numbers of people at the same time, something which never happens in cases of delusions or hallucinations. Jesus presented himself alive for a period of forty days before ascending into heaven in the presence of witnesses who were commited enough to that account that they would die for it. Could Paul have produced a list of people who had seen Jesus after he rose from the dead? No doubt about it. And this message of the bodily resurrection has been the hallmark of Christian faith ever since then. It's only in recent years that we've decided to spiritualize it, to say the pagan Greek thing that our bodies aren't of importance. That's paganism, it's Plato, it's the Gnostics, it's a heretical view. Christians confess a true bodily resurrection, the time when our body and soul will be put back together. This is why we treat the body with some importance and dignity. This is why when we have a funeral in the church I welcome the body in with singing, lead the body to the place of honor at the front of the church, and light the Christ candle. Jesus is still with us when we have been killed, and he remains with us all the way through until our body and soul are reunited in the resurrection and we stand whole and alive before him in glory. Grandma's there, in that casket. And she's in the presence of the Lord of glory at the same time. And it's really sad that she's been yanked apart, body and soul separated. But one day our Lord, the Lord of resurrection, will make her a partaker of the resurrection and her body and soul will be reunited. And our Lord will see to it that the body is in perfect, glorified condition as well. When Jesus puts us together in the resurrection, everything is put together right. There's no more suffering, no more pain, no more dying. We're resurrected to perfection, because Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

What hope do we have? Jesus himself, the resurrection and the life, has risen from the dead. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! And he has appeared to many. He has come to his disciples. He has come to many other than the Twelve. He has shown that death has no more power. As long as Jesus lives, death, hell and the grave lie powerless. As long as Jesus lives there is no trouble, no harm we have endured, no sickness, no family strife, no job situations, nothing at all that we cannot endure as we look to Jesus, the hope of the resurrection. He's conquered death. Do we think he can't manage the rest?

Throughout history, every Sunday has been considered a “little Easter.” It is celebrated as the day of resurrection. That's why it is the traditional day of the week to receive the Sacrament of communion. Jesus in his resurrection has brought his body and his blood out of hiding in the tomb, and has revealed himself to his people. He has promised to be with us always, and has shown that he is able to do that by showing himself as the resurrected Lord. And he reminds us that he gave his life for us, giving us of his body and blood so that our faith may be nourished, so we may remember his work for us, so we can receive of his grace, mercy, and love. He calls us, then, to come to him, seeing the power of the resurrection, knowing that he has bled and died for us, and that as he lives for us, we too shall live for him. Do you believe that Jesus lived, died, and rose again for you? Do you believe he is here, present for you, in his body and blood? Do you repent of your sin and trust that he is forgiving you, preparing you to live for him? Then this table is for you. Christ is risen! he is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 14 Day 2

Our reading challenge for the day is Joshua 11-15. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Today’s readings detail battles, borders, and inheritances. What must we realize here? All that God’s people have is provided to them by their Lord. He has appointed them a place and a way to live. He has separated them from other people. He has given them an inheritance, but above all he shows that he himself is their inheritance. The generations come and go but the God who has appointed a place for his people remains forever.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Bible Reading Challenge Week 14 Day 1

Our reading challenge for the day is Joshua 6-10. I’ll hit a few highlights. You make comments too and fill in the gaps. What strikes you as specially significant?

Joshua 6 - God is the one who fought the battle of Jericho. His servants merely accepted his command by faith.

Joshua 7 - We see what kind of things happen when we choose to trust in our own abilities. It is possible for us to be defeated against all odds.

Joshua 8 - With God's specific command and blessing any task can be accomplished. the strategy doesn't matter. God's blessing does.

Joshua 9 - The Israelites had to take their oath with Gibeon very seriously. Promises are important. How do we view our promises? how does God view his promises?

Joshua 10 - We remember that God's purpose is to give the land to Israel. He is not to be stopped. What is the promised land for those who trust in Jesus, the people of God calls children of Abraham by faith? It is deliverance from sin and a promise of heavenly rest. The battle is not about land any more. It is a battle for the faith.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sermon for 4/1/12 “Christ for Sinners”

Sermon for 4/1/12 “Christ for Sinners

Lord, open our hearts and minds to the great wonder of your death on our behalf, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

We will be very brief today. I hope you will pardon it. Presentation of the benevolence of the month delayed the beginning of the service a bit. Today's Gospel reading is very long. We have yet to receive the Sacrament of communion. The time is short. Yet our worship is centered on Word and Sacraments, both proclamations of the same gospel, Christ for sinners.

What did the people shout to Jesus when he was on the cross? “He saved others, he cannot save himself.” I expect we've all seen a cross with a corpus on it. You have, though you might not have used that term. It's the cross with the representation of Jesus' body hanging on it. He's hanging there and is dead. Some people object to this. Yet we don't need to find it objectionable. Picture one of those crosses with the corpus on it. Is that Jesus alive? No, in those depictions he has died for the sins of the world, for your sins, for my sins. Jesus, dead on the cross, doesn't seem to us a means of salvation. We, like the people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on the Sunday of the Passion, Palm Sunday, would expect Jesus to show himself as a conqueror, a mighty king. Maybe it makes us uncomfortable to realize that Jesus truly dies for us. After all, we expect the person who saves us would not be a person who would die himself.

This very unexpected event, though, is what shows Jesus is able to save us entirely. He acted according to his divine wisdom. As we read in Philippians he did not grasp his own prerogative. He didn't assert his authority to be treated like God. He simply showed that he is God. Yet he does it in unexpected ways. Jesus, called the friend of sinners, has fellowship with Judas, who will later betray him. He gives his body and blood to the one who would deny him three times before the next dawn. He protects those who arrest him from his own followers. He protects his faithless followers from the people who have come to arrest him. He allows false testimony against him. He makes no argument against Pilate. He accepts wrong. He is beaten, stripped, humiliated, and makes no defense. Jesus, in fact, needs no defense. He asserts his deity, but he does not consider it something he needs to defend. He will prove it up in time. By the end of the Gospel passage today he has given us his very life. He saved others. Is he able to save himself? It doesn't look like he is.

As we proceed through Holy Week I'd like us to consider this. The Gospel readings leave Jesus in the tomb. It is the darkest week of the Church calendar. In our midweek services Thursday and Friday we will even go so far as to depart in silence as a sign of mourning. Jesus doesn't save himself. Why is that? It is because Jesus saves us. He does not need to save himself. That isn't important to him. Jesus needs no saving. We need saving. Jesus died, not for himself, but for sinners. Jesus gave himself for us, dying for the sins of the whole world, dying to bring us to God. Jesus needs no savior. We do.

So as we confess the Creed, we remember its focus on Jesus, the one who gave himself for us. As we give in the offering we remember that Jesus gave himself for us. As we pray for the Church around the world we remember that Jesus gave himself for the sins of the world. As we sing the liturgy and receive communion we remember that Jesus has given his very real, very physical, true body and true blood for us to receive, granting forgiveness, life, and salvation. As we receive the blessing at the end of the service we remember that our Lord has send us out into the world to bring his words of grace into our community. Jesus saved others. He did not save himself.

Thanks be to God.