I found the news coverage of this situation to be rather curious. Since I don’t know the personal details, my critique here is not so much of the individuals involved, but primarily with how they are portrayed through media such as this.
Archive for September, 2012
Presentations. Private conversations. Statistical analysis. Consultations. The words may vary but the picture they paint doesn’t. The way we’re used to doing church isn’t working any more. Not just us Lutherans, but literally every mainline Protestant denomination is losing traction nationwide. Attendance is down. Congregations are shrinking. Youth is largely non-existent. Conversions & baptisms are essentially a trickle.
Sunday after Pentecost
Texts: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29;
Psalm 104:27-35; James 51-12)13-20; Mark 9:38-50
remain in the longest season of the Church Year, the non-festival
season of Ordinary Time. Except for a few other festival Sundays,
Ordinary Time will continue until the beginning of Advent. This time
of the liturgical year focuses us on the work of the Holy Spirit and
the Church in light of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus
Christ. The readings will not always neatly line up together to form
a common theme, but the Gospel and the Old Testament readings will
normally support one another.
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29:
The verses are selected to consolidate several different issues into
a manageable reading. The main focus is on the outpouring of the
Holy Spirit onto 70 Israelite elders. Far from being jealous of his
power and position, Moses is only too happy to have the Lord share
his Spirit with these men so that they can help Moses in leading.
Additionally, Moses re-emphasizes that he is not jealous of this
shared Spirit – quite the contrary! He’d rather that all God’s
people received the Holy Spirit of God, rather than guard and hoard
that Spirit for himself. How unlike us this often is – how jealous
and possessive we can be of our titles, our accomplishments, our
wealth, our pride, our belongings, and even of our God. Yet we are
not impoverished as the Spirit of God is poured out on others! The
power and presence of God is more than ample for everyone to enjoy
it – we don’t need to try and keep it all to ourselves!
Psalm 104:27-35: This is
a psalm of praise, the early verses recounting various of the Lord’s
mighty acts for which He deserves to be praised. The verses for
today focus on our response – we live and trust in the Lord’s
provision. From him we receive life itself, and He alone determines
when it is time for us to die. The effect of God’s outpoured Spirit
(v.30) is rather interesting – those creatures that died and
returned to dust are able to live again. There is nothing that can
be taken from God’s creatures – including the breath of life
itself, that God is not able to restore according to his plan and
purpose. We should see ourselves in this context, trusting in our
creator God the Father and redemptor God the Son and ever-present God
the Holy Spirit to sustain us in all of life’s conditions and
James continues his very practical discussion about how Christians
are to live. The first six verses of this chapter are a strict
admonition to those who are wealthy, and in particular to those who
misuse their wealth for self-indulgence and to defraud others. Those
who value their money over their fellow human beings are going to
find things very uncomfortable on the Day of Judgment. However, as
verses 7-12 make clear, it is not the role of the abused and
dispossessed to take what is their rightful due. Rather, they are
to be patient, trusting God to restore them and to undo the wrongs
they have suffered. Rather than grumbling, or by taking the Lord’s
name in vain, we are to bless even those who wrong us.
More to the point, as verses 13-20 pick
up on, we are to be in prayer constantly, for all situations. Such
prayer can bring physical healing and forgiveness of sins. But note
that this is communal prayer, it assumes that the believer is with
other believers. The focus is to submit ourselves for others to pray
for, as well as to be active in praying for others. In doing so we
receive the blessings of God. Likewise, since the believer is part
of a praying community, it will be easy for the community to stand
with one in their midst who has abandoned or lost God’s truth, and
speak in love and power to that person to restore them to a right way of living before their God. Needless to say, this prickly aspect of life in the body of Christ, the issue of discipline, is one that many churches (and pastors) are extremely uncomfortable with.
But James is very clear – the point of discipline is the restoration of the wandering brother or sister, which can have eternal consequences. The modern notion that it is somehow unloving to call someone away from dangerous and unhealthy activity denotes a warped understanding of free will and individualism. Discipline is a necessary step for the brother or sister who is becoming lost and misled in their sin.
Mark 9:38-50: The
Gospel lesson for today picks up on echoes of the Old Testament
reading. Once again the faithful are jealous of the power they
possess, and seek to prevent others from appropriating it. But Jesus
makes it clear that whether someone is in the inner circle of his
followers or not, the use of the name of Jesus the Son of God – and
the power that flows from that use – will demonstrate whether or
not the person invoking Jesus’ name is doing so faithfully. The one
that calls on the name of Jesus for power to save or heal, and who
receives what they have asked for, will find it difficult to switch
gears in order to act against the name of Jesus.
This verse also makes it clear that the name of Jesus is not a magical incantation that grants the invoker power arbitrarily. Power – particularly power claimed in the name of Jesus – has a source that is outside the person making the invocation. If someone is performing wonders in Jesus’ name, then we should be able to trust that the source of that power is the Holy Spirit. Wonder workers who invoke any other name, or fail to invoke the name of Jesus, or who rely on less specific terms such as ‘god’, may be evidencing power from evil sources rather than God. We must be wise and discerning both in whom we call upon and who we trust for power.
But to the contrary, if our actions are
sinful, we need to take seriously the impact that sin can have on us.
So serious is sin that Jesus somewhat exaggerates (or does he?), admonishing his
followers that, rather than sin, they should be willing to rid
themselves of their offending members. A hand or a foot or an eye is
a small price to pay to try and eliminate persistent, growing sin in
our lives. While the Church has never taught that this should be
followed literally (which I wonder about, frankly), Jesus’ exaggerated speech should give us pause to
think. Sin is a serious issue. When we begin to make peace with the
sin in our bodies, we risk that both body and soul should be lost in
eternal separation from God.
As such, we should be ruthless in our
confession, seeking to be directed to those areas of our lives that
are sinful and in need of change. A time of confession and absolution in worship is crucial for reminding us that we are sinful, and that if not for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our sin would separate us eternally from God the Father. Confession is good for the soul in both the psychological and spiritual sense, I believe, and we should not view it as lightly as we often do. We who possess the Holy Spirit of
God that dwelt with Moses and the 70 elders need to take seriously
God’s call to live consistently with this indwelling presence.
Rather than worrying about greatness,
we ought to be worried about sin. If we spent less time determining whether or not we’re better than the person next to us, and more time in honest prayer and confession and thanksgiving for the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ, what might our lives look like?
Just a preview of coming attractions:
I don’t often reflect on my time in the fast-food industry with great affection or nostalgia. But it’s nice to know that it possibly provided some real benefits beyond a paycheck.
I had a two hour plus drive ahead of me this morning, so I was delighted to hear that NPR had a hot story about a newly discovered ancient text fragment that refers to Jesus’ wife. Oooooh! Nothing better than a poorly informed news report about a blown-out-of-proportion find.
An interesting article on faith and reason in a Discover Magazine blog.
Date: September 23, 2012,
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 11:18-20; Psalm 54; James 3:13-4:10; Mark 9:30-37
Notes: We remain in the longest season of the Church
Year, the non-festival season of Ordinary Time. Except for a few
other festival Sundays, Ordinary Time will continue until the
beginning of Advent. This time of the liturgical year focuses us on
the work of the Holy Spirit and the Church in light of the
resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The readings will not
always neatly line up together to form a common theme, but the Gospel
and the Old Testament readings will normally support one another.
Jeremiah 11:18-20 –
Evil hates the one who speaks Truth. Nobody likes to hear that they
are in the wrong. Sometimes, the need to preserve our fragile
illusions of rightness and correctness lead us down dark and
dangerous paths of manipulation, threat, and even violence and
murder. Jeremiah has brought the harsh Word of God to the people of
God who have abandoned that Word. Rather than repent and seek God,
some of these chastised people plot the death of Jeremiah.
In this particular instance, the power
of God first reveals to Jeremiah the plot, and then assures him that
the perpetrators will be punished. Note that the passage doesn’t
explicitly promise Jeremiah that he will be spared from their plot,
although the implication seems rather strong. But it places the
safety of Jeremiah in a greater context – one where evil will
ultimately be punished regardless of whether or not it seems to win
the day for the moment. .
Psalm 54: 1 Samuel 23
and 26 both record instances where David is betrayed by the people
of Ziph, who promise King Saul – who is pursuing David out of
jealousy – that they will hand David over to Saul. The first time,
Saul is about to capture David and his men when an attack by the
Philistines requires Saul to divert his attention. The second time,
David and a compatriot sneak into Saul’s camp at night, making their
way all the way to the bedside of Saul himself. Instead of killing
King Saul though, David steals his spear and water jug, later showing
these to Saul from a distance and shaming him with the fact that
David could have killed him in his sleep but did not.
This Psalm takes on greater and more
specific meaning when seen from this context. Surely David was
vindicated by the Lord. Surely God sustained him. Surely the
machinations of Saul only brought disaster on himself. Surely David
was delivered. This is a Psalm of trust, written apparently at a
moment where vindication and and deliverance had yet to be grasped
fully, yet David remains steadfast in his trust in God. In
conjunction with the Jeremiah passage, we see the similarities –
prayer for protection as well as for the punishment of those who are
breaking the law of God in their intent to slay the faithful of God.
James 3:13-4:10 –
James continues his exhortations to followers of Jesus to realign
their lives in keeping with their allegiance. They are not able to
continue to live the way the world would call them to live. We can
easily recognize the world’s emphasis on selfish personal ambition,
the earthly wisdom that has led to such famous phrases as “look out
for number 1”, or “Just Do It” or even “You Deserve a Break
Today”. The world is always encouraging us to focus on ourselves
even at the expense of others.
our identity in Christ, our submission to his authority insists that
we no longer follow the injunctions of the world. We are to model
our lives on the servant king who saved us from selfish ambition
leading to death. Rather, we are to live in consideration of those
around us. This doesn’t mean that we have to make ourselves doormats
to every abuse and demand. But it does demand that we quit seeing
others as doormats and means to our own ends. In keeping with the
admonitions earlier in chapter 3, we are to see one another as fellow
creations of our loving God. We cannot abuse those created in the
image of God and yet claim to love God. The Law insists on fervent
love for God and
risk is salvation itself. We cannot serve two masters. Sunday
morning worship and study must inform how we live all seven days of
the week or we just might be fooling ourselves into thinking we are
Christian when we are not. We should be firmly convinced that while
we might fool ourselves, we won’t fool God.
is the second of three times in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus
explicitly tells his disciples what is going to happen to him –
betrayal and death and resurrection. The first was in Chapter 8,
just before the Transfiguration. Our reading for today occurs within
a few days after the Transfiguration. The first time Jesus revealed
his destiny, he had to rebuke Peter for tempting him away from
obedience to his heavenly Father. Today we see the disciples once
again wildly off course, focused on their own designs and goals
rather than on their master’s suffering and death.
sounds rude and callous, and it is. But are we any better? How much
of our lives are spent figuring out how to improve ourselves, how to
raise our standard of living, elevate ourselves in the eyes of those
around us? How much of what we buy is geared towards demonstrating
the station in life we’ve accomplished? How much does this determine
where we live and what kind of car we drive and where we buy our
clothes? Our selfish human nature is obsessively turned inwards,
focused always on our own pleasure, our own wishes, our own
example of this was a child. Children were hardly doted on in the
ancient world. They were considered less than human in a very real
way, consuming resources and contributing very little in return.
They were hardly the natural model of how to live life. Yet Jesus
sees in young children (how quickly we learn, unfortunately, to
follow the world!) a lack of self-awareness that is helpful to
illustrate his point. We are not just to think lightly of ourselves,
we are to think much of others, even those who seem least deserving
of it. Perhaps especially
to do this, a refusal to see in others fellow creations of God the
Father worthy of dignity and love simply because they exist, is a
rejection of the God who created them. Once again we are driven to
see that how we treat others is not an arbitrary issue, but a core
demonstration of where our heart towards God is. We cannot love God
but hate our fellow man.
lives are spent in praise and glory of the God who has redeemed us,
and this must have practical application in how we treat others –
and therefore how we see ourselves. What we experience in worship
must both penetrate deep into our hearts to change us from the
inside, and emanate out from us in changing how we deal with others.
Not too long ago I ordered a new study Bible, one I had resisted buying for some time because of the obviousness of the purchase. It was a no-brainer that I should have this study Bible and that it likely should be my go-to study Bible. Because it was such a slam-dunk decision that I ought to have this study Bible as soon as it was released, I refused to buy it. Stubborn much?
That’s what she told me as she dropped off flyers for a local charity event. She was already turning around and prepared to run off as she said this, offering the additional comment to the effect that, since she was Norwegian, the Lutheran issue was a given.