Reading Ramblings – May 22, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: May 22, 2016

Texts: Deuteronomy 11:18-19; Psalm 1; Ephesians 4:11-16; Matthew 28:16-20

Context: For the duration of the season of Pentecost, or Ordinary Time, or the season of the Church, I’m going to preach through Martin Luther’s Small Catechism (and thus will NOT be following the traditional lectionary material for Year C). The material that is usually covered when we’re junior high age should take on new meaning and application later in our lives.  Each week we will read appropriate verses that introduce the topic at hand, drawn from the Old Testament, Epistles, and Gospels. This week introduces the Catechism and the role of Christian education in Church and home.

Deuteronomy 11:18-19 – As Moses prepares to leave the people he has led for 40 years, he exhorts them to faithfulness. He knows that while they may remain faithful, their children and grandchildren who never witnessed the power and deliverance of the Lord will need to be reminded of these things (v.2). Teaching the children is not simply conveying a moral code to them, but reminding them of the great acts of God on behalf of his people. We would do well to remember this also. God’s Word is not only a moral code, or “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth”. Primarily, it is a testament of God’s work and faithfulness to bring us into his kingdom, to restore creation from the grip of sin, Satan, and death. While we need to know his Word to know best how to live our lives, if that is the primary thing we take from the Bible we miss the most important thing – the gift of Jesus.

This is a gift we are prone to forget, just as the children of the people listening to Moses speaking would be prone to forget the goodness of God delivering them from slavery and death sentences in Egypt. Likewise, as we engage in a review of the fundamental teachings of Christianity, we do so that we might once again renew our awe and gratitude in the God who saves us by sacrificing himself.

Psalm 1 – The opening psalm sets the tone and subject matter for the entire psalter. The focus is to be on the Word of God. Meditation on God’s Word is the difference between life and death. It keeps us focused on God, rather than on the ideas and mockery of the world (v.1), ensuring that we don’t fall into false thinking and behavior that lead to ruin. We should first and foremost delight in what God has to say to us in his Word (v.2). The results of this focus on God’s Word are life. Rivers and streams are frequent metaphors for the power and presence of God flowing out into creation. When we plant ourselves in God’s Word we plant ourselves in God’s power, with the result that our roots grow strong and deep. Even in difficult times, we are able to remain strong by the power of God’s Word (v.3). Those who do evil, who focus on themselves and the pleasures of the world find both what they pursue and they themselves insubstantial, unable to withstand the difficulties of life, swept away in the face of trouble and forgotten despite their temporary successes (v.4). The wicked cannot remain in the presence of God, and ultimately will find no place among God’s people. This should not be surprising, because it is the wicked themselves who would reject such things as ridiculous or unnecessary. To cut themselves off from God is to cut themselves off from the source of all life, the very opposite of the ones who plant themselves in God’s Word.

Ephesians 4:11-16 – Paul speaks to the Ephesians about unity founded in Christ. But such unity needs to be grounded on faithfulness to Jesus Christ himself, and such faithfulness must be grounded in the revealed word of God as conveyed by apostles and other custodians of God’s Word. It would be appropriate for this list to also include mothers and fathers, but Paul is speaking now to a congregation and not dealing with family matters. The goal of those provided by God – apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers – is to equip the people of God for the work that God will provide them to do. It is in this work that we attain unity in faith, unity in the knowledge of Jesus, and as such, mature in our faith. As mature Christians, we are less prone to the confusions and alternate teachings and false doctrines of the world. As we immerse ourselves in God’s Word, we are able to judge better what is in keeping with that Word and what goes against it, threatening us and our Christian community.

By focusing on the truth in Jesus Christ and by being willing to share it lovingly with one another, we ourselves mature in our faith and lead others towards maturity as well. This is Jesus’ intent, that the body of Christ should work together to be mutually beneficial, encouraging, strengthening, and protecting. If our physical bodies did not act in unity, we wouldn’t be alive very long! So it is with Jesus’ church. We strive for unity grounded in the Word that directs us to Jesus Christ.

Matthew 28:16-20 – The Great Commission should sound familiar as it forms the basis for what the Church is and what the Church does. It emphasizes two aspects of the life of faith – the first is Sacramental – the gifts of God which begin in Holy Baptism (and continue in Holy Communion). The other aspect of the life of faith is teaching the faithful all that Christ commanded, which is nothing less than the summing up of all of the Old Testament. Teaching what Jesus taught means teaching the Word of God revealed first to Moses and then onward through to Jesus’ disciples and followers after his death, resurrection and ascension. Such teaching is conducted with the understanding that Jesus abides with his followers through the Holy Spirit of God.

This is the work of the Church, and catechesis – religious instruction – has been a part of this from the beginning. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, published in 1529, was not the first religious instructional material (The Didache is perhaps the oldest extra-biblical Christian teaching material, dating to the first century), but it has remained a powerful and helpful summation of the core teachings of the Christian faith centered around the person and work of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus. Luther’s Catechism was unique in that it was the first to present the material in the form of questions and answers, especially What does this mean? Luther intended his Catechism to be used in the homes, so that fathers and mothers could instruct their children and not rely entirely on pastors or priests who might be ill-suited (or ill-educated!) to teach. Other versions of catechisms soon followed, including a Roman Catholic one in 1566 and one produced by John Calvin in 1541.

The Catechism does not replace Scripture. However it helps to distill the core Biblical teachings so that people can easily understand and remember them and apply them in their daily lives. It emphasizes how the life of faith is lived, as well as what the content of that faith should be. By teaching believers the Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sacraments, it forms a handy guidebook for daily living, a prompting for meditation and reflection, and a means of driving us toward the Bible for further and deeper study.

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