Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

Reading Ramblings – July 14, 2019

July 7, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost ~ July 14, 2019

Texts: Leviticus (18:1-5)19:9-18; Psalm 41; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

Context: How we treat one another matters. It is not simply a matter of getting along, of utilitarian best practices. Rather, it is a reflection of our relationship with our Creator, and an acknowledgment of his wisdom and holiness. We are not free to innovate. The readings reflect both the divine imperative in this matter as well as pictures of how this plays out and makes a real difference in our individual and corporate lives.

Leviticus 18:1-5, 19:9-18 – The first five verses of Chapter 18 set the context for the lengthy discourse on divinely instituted morality and ethics. This context is necessary to properly receive all that follows, including the verses assigned in Chapter 19. In these verses, as elsewhere, each directive is ended with the reminder I am the Lord. More accurately, I am YHWH, and God identifies himself by the name He gave to Moses in Exodus 3. The God who directs the Israelites in their personal and public life is the God who brought them out of slavery and saved them from the genocidal policies of the Egyptians. He is the same God who currently sustains them in the wilderness and has promised to bring them to their own land. He is the God they have pledged covenant faithfulness to, and receive their protection from. As such, these directives are not to be questioned or ignored but followed faithfully with the understanding that to do so is to walk in the way of a good life (18:5). These particular directives remind us that what we have is not exclusively ours, but is ours in a larger communal context. God does not socialize property, but makes it clear that what is given personally is not exclusively for personal use. Likewise, both our private feelings (19:17) as well as our public actions are guided by an overarching love for our neighbor as a fellow creature, a child of God. It might reasonably be argued that these edicts apply first and foremost to those who share faith in our God, it would also seem highly unreasonable to insist that they only apply to our brothers and sisters in faith.

Psalm 41 – This is a very personal and touching psalm, yet broad enough that most any of us might find these words appropriate at one point or another in our lives. The first three verses assert how the Lord blesses and protects the one who has consideration for the poor, a phrase which can only likely mean not merely an awareness or pity but an active response to specific poverty as per Leviticus 19. As such, it may be that the sin referenced in v.4 is a sin of omission or commission in this regard – failing to adequately care for the poor. Could it be a reference to Bathsheba, and David’s appropriation of another man’s wife, a man poor in comparison to the power of the King of Israel? Perhaps, but it is not necessarily the case. Verses 5-9 flesh out skillfully the impact of unfaithful friends, of those who do not practice the good will and love of neighbor highlighted in Leviticus 19. How brutal such betrayal and malice is! But verses 10-12 make it clear that despite the ill-will shown to the speaker, God has restored him and protected him from the evil intentions of others, and therefore God is rightly to be praised in the doxology (a short expression of Christian praise of God) of v.13.

Colossians 1:1-14 – Having concluded Galatians, we continue in the lectio continua tradition of Ordinary Time by starting through another of Paul’s letters, this time to the Colossians. Today’s section is comprised of the traditional first parts of a properly organized Roman letter. First there is the greeting that identifies who the letter is from and who it is directed to (vs. 1-2). Then there is a section for thanksgiving, which Paul normally uses to give thanks to God on behalf of the addressees. This is no perfunctory thanks, but a detailed and personalized section. Similar to the Thessalonians, Paul gives thanks to God for the faithfulness of the Colossians as expressed in their love of those in Christ, all of which is motivated by their identity in Christ and the glories they look forward to when they are reunited with him eternally. Paul credits Epaphras with the solid foundation of the Colossians’ faith. Paul speaks highly of Epaphras here and commends his ministry. He is mentioned again near the close of this letter and described as one of you, likely meaning he hails from Colossae and may have been part of the church there before joining Paul in his missionary work. This might explain then why Paul mentions Epaphras once more in his letter to Philemon, where Epaphras is identified as a fellow prisoner with Paul (Philemon 1:23) who sends greetings to Philemon. But Paul doesn’t simply give thanks for the Colossian Christians, he prays specifically for their continued knowledge, wisdom, and faithful living out of these gifts, and that they be strengthened towards endurance and patience and joy.

Luke 10:25-37 – Jesus applies and describes love of neighbor in terms that would be very challenging for his hearers. They likely interpreted the directives of Leviticus 19 in a narrow sense, limiting them to just their fellow Jews. But Jesus makes it clear that such an application is not appropriate. Neighbor is not defined by theological or cultural similarities, but transcends these categories. We should be quick to note that this parable is typically used to exhort us to being good neighbors. But the reality is that each of us has a limit to how much we can love and who we can love. Good intentions are no substitute for the perfect and total love we are called to by the Law of God. There is only one who perfectly fulfills love of neighbor as the moral imperative, and that is the Son of God himself, who both suffers the ill-will of his fellow-man like the man in this story, and in turn shows perfect and selfless love not just for those like him but those who sought to do him harm. It is hard to read this parable and not hear Jesus on the cross interceding for his antagonists, asking God to forgive them in their ignorant hatred.

Reading Ramblings – July 7, 2019

June 30, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost ~ July 7, 2019

Texts: Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66:1-7; Galatians 6:1-18; Luke 10:1-20

Context: We’re settling into the flow of Ordinary Time. We are working our way through Galatians and Luke, and hopefully in the meantime using the texts of this season as a way of bringing out the full counsel of God – preaching on a variety of Biblical themes as they apply to the life of the Church and individual Christians. The readings today loosely center on the issue of power and pride. Who are we to thank when things go well for us, or when adversity or evil are overcome? True pride and boasting can only rest in God, through whom we are granted victory and deliverance over and from those things that are first and foremost opposed to him, rather than us.

Isaiah 66:10-14 – Jerusalem has not had an easy go of it with Isaiah. God is displeased with his people and their rejection of his will and way in favor of their own ideas of good and evil. For this reason punishment has come and will continue to come. But if we think God has abandoned his people in his heart, we are sorely mistaken. What has been pruned will burst forth in new growth. What has been punished will shine with restored identity and relationship. God will be once again the comfort of his people, to his glory rather than theirs. What we too easily dismiss as global politics or the convoluted machinations of geo-political forces we should more rightly consider to be a realm where God works out his will and plan. While we may not have the clarity of Isaiah’s words to guide us in interpreting these things, we can nonetheless celebrate when God achieves victory over evil, when his Word is freed for proclamation and changing the hearts and lives of people. We can trust that God is never absent, only hidden, and we can seek God where He can most clearly and reliably be found – in the Son of God made flesh, hanging on the cross for you and I and raised from the dead for you and I.

Psalm 66:1-7 – This is the proper relationship of creation to Creator – the entire earth engaged in praise of the God who created her! What Isaiah speaks specifically to the people of Jerusalem will one day be true on a global scale. This will be based, like Isaiah and Jerusalem, on the acknowledged actions of God on behalf of his creation. While the Exodus is specifically referenced (v.6), we will one day be privileged (I pray!) to see how God was equally at work in many and various ways on behalf of a creation beleaguered with sin and lost in rebellion. For this reason we should beware of pride and arrogance on both the personal and national level. Perhaps this is a good reminder, so close to the Fourth of July and celebrations of American independence. We should be cautious in reaching around to pat ourselves on the back, and more rightly place our hands together in praise and thanksgiving to our God!

Galatians 6 – The assigned reading omitted vs. 11-13, but there’s really no reason to do this and it makes more sense to keep them in there. Paul is writing to a community struggling with identity. Are they first and foremost Jews who happen to follow Jesus, so that the rigors and requirements of the Jewish faith are first and foremost in their minds and Jesus perhaps an afterthought? Or are they first and foremost followers of Jesus who happen to be Jewish, so that the importance of those rigors and requirements settle into a decidedly secondary place behind the all-sufficient work of the Son of God? His hearers are struggling with the matter of pride – pride in living out scrupulously the details of their Jewish heritage to the point where these become more important than the gift of the Son of God in Jesus the Christ. This is dangerously incorrect! Rather than take pride that you are a better Jew than someone else, or rather than take pride that you are a better Christian than someone else, we ought always to view ourselves with humility and therefore our brothers and sisters with charity. Our goal ought not to be victory or boasting about ourselves, but rather helping our brother or sister in the faith. Each of us has different loads to bear, but we can help one another with those loads. An uncharitable nature is not simply unpleasant, it might be a warning sign of deeper issues with our faith. Our boasting should be in Christ alone, who alone has done what is necessary for our salvation!

Luke 10:1-20 – Jesus sends out his disciples on a mission trip. He sets the overall parameters for how they are to conduct this work (vs.1-12) and empowers them specifically to accomplish it (vs. 5-6, 9-11). It is inferred that they will not be universally accepted (vs.13-16), and that some of their opposition is demonic (v.17). It is also inferred that powerful things happen when the disciples of Jesus are received, when their peace is received.

But all these manifestations are secondary. It might be cool to command a demon to leave someone, but that’s not the true work. The true work is in hearts and minds being brought to faith in the Son of God who makes the manifestations both possible and meaningful. Without a final and authoritative victory – the victory of the Son of God in sacrificial death for creation – the smaller victories are meaningless. What good is it to cast out a demon if you don’t know the source of the power you wield? What good is temporary deliverance or healing separated from the source of eternal life?

Much more is on the line. The true agony of those who reject the Word of God, like the inhabitants of Chorazin (a town about two miles away from Capernaum, in Jesus’ home territory) and Capernaum itself is that their rejection has eternal consequences. With such stakes, how can petty pride ever really be appropriate? How can it ever be seen as something grossly inappropriate?

True pride can only be in the Lord Jesus Christ, who not only saw Satan fall like lightning but facilitated that fall. Whether this refers to the primal casting of Satan and his followers from heaven in their initial revolt, or whether this refers to Satan’s expulsion from the heavenly courtroom following Jesus’ victorious ascension, or whether this refers to Satan’s final expulsion to hell on the Last Day is difficult to ascertain and perhaps irrelevant. They are all related, all part of a single fall, as it were. The victory is accomplished only through Jesus, and only in his name is boasting ever appropriate and proper!

People of the State

June 26, 2019

Our state legislature is considering adopting an assembly concurrent resolution encouraging religious leaders to reject conversion therapy and not recommend or promote it within their circles.  ACR-99 has no binding effect – it does not create a law.  It’s simply an encouragement from both houses of the state legislature indicating the hope of the people of the state.  The governor is not required to sign an ACR, but I’m sure he will sign this one.

What I find interesting is how religious leaders are encouraged to act in the best interests of the people of the state by rejecting conversion therapy as an option for people with same-sex attraction.

I’m a citizen of the state, and yet I’m being told my best interests arbitrarily are not to be considered.  Likewise, those desiring conversion therapy in hopes of mitgating  or eliminating same-sex attraction are being told that their best interests are not considered, despite them being citizens as well.

Religious leaders do  not interact with people primarily in terms of their citizenship of a state or a country for that matter.  At least in the Biblical Christian understanding, ministers are ultimately to deal with people as children of God.  Creations and creatures being their most fundamental identity rather than the state flag on their drivers license or their voter registration cards.  And as such, how I interact with people will be driven by that level of identity understanding, not the whims of the current cultural or political climate.  It is not possible for me to adequately love people – as the ACR indicates – reliably from any other source or through any other identity.

I haven’t had to refer anyone for counseling for same-sex attraction issues.  Yet.  But I take issue with the state implying I should take my cues on how to do this from them rather than from the Word of God.

Reading Ramblings – June 30, 2019

June 23, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday after Pentecost ~ June 30, 2019

Texts: 1 Kings 19:9b-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62

Context: Followers of Christ are called to be just that – followers. Those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord also confess that they are not Lord. But the living of that reality is considerably more challenging than we might like. We expect or desire God to act in certain ways but He remains stubbornly resistant to our attempts to second guess or control him. We can either resign ourselves to the reality of having a God and a Lord, understanding our proper place and role, or we can spend our lives in attempts to either deny him or usurp him.

1 Kings 19:9b-21 – God’s question is superfluous. God already has the answer, as God himself brought Elijah to this cave at Mt. Horeb, where God revealed his covenant to Israel hundreds of years earlier. But does Elijah know the answer? At the place where God gave his people the covenant, Elijah complains before God that God’s people have abandoned that covenant. Elijah is certain that he is the last of the faithful ones, despite the fact that not long beforehand, there were many Israelites who responded to Elijah’s call to seize the prophets of Baal so that he might execute them. Now God comes to Elijah, testing whether Elijah himself is able to discern the Lord’s presence as he claims. Elijah recognizes the Lord not in power and majesty and might, but in the unlikely low whisper. Likewise, Elijah is led to understand that while the Lord’s power may not be evident, He is still at work in some of his people. Elijah is not the last or the only one, nor even the greatest of God’s people, necessarily. What Elijah has not accomplished, God will accomplish through others that Elijah is only the messenger for. Elijah obeys God in humility, knowing that the purpose and plan of God must naturally be much greater than Elijah’s own desires for personal vindication or glory.

Psalm 16 – We read this one barely two months ago! Not that the psalm is bad, but again, with 150 to choose from, I’d like to think that we wouldn’t be repeating psalms within a given 52-week period! Not that it’s a bad psalm, mind you. Verses one and two are critical. God is not one of many options, He is the only option. One is reminded of Peter’s response to Jesus recorded in John 6:68 – Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Those who refuse to acknowledge this will eventually suffer the consequences (v.4). Only in God can we have true blessing and hope, can we find true wisdom, and can we hope for something beyond the grave. The blessings of God are not simply psychological well-being in this life, but literally eternal blessings. What appears to many as foolishness or wishful thinking is actually the only source of real, true, eternal joy.

Galatians 5:1, 13-25 – What is freedom? Is freedom simply the ability to do whatever I want? If we are free, isn’t it contradictory to heed a call to stand firm, a command not to submit to a yoke of slavery. What if I want that slavery? Doesn’t my freedom allow me to do so? No. Because our freedom does not consist in the exercising of our will or desire, but in conforming our will and desire to our Lord, to the one who has bought us with his blood (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This is because we acknowledge that our will and desire is flawed and incapable of leading us to freedom on its own. Freedom consists oddly enough in being slaves, something Paul brings home in v. 25. He provides a good overview of what our lives should be like and what they should not be like in vs. 13-24. But the rationale for valuing one set of things over the others is given at the last, v.25. In other words, we are not choosing Christ because of a superior set of moral imperatives – though to be sure they are just that! – or because his way of living lines up better with our own. Rather, we are chosen in Christ. Christ does not belong to us, as though we have acquired him. Rather, we belong to Christ, as He has acquired us through his sacrificial death and by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God bringing us to faith that Jesus really is the Son of God and therefore really does command our lives. Once again, God doesn’t act as we expect, allowing us to find and choose him. Rather He finds and chooses us, then empowers us to live lives that truly set us free from our slavery to our sinfulness and brokenness.

Luke 9:51-62 – Faith would be simpler if the effects of receiving it were so obvious. Reject Jesus? Boom! Instant fire from heaven! Yet this isn’t how Jesus works. He not only does not affirm their desire, He rebukes them for even considering it! A strong word used frequently in the New Testament to indicate a strong rebuttal and rejection of what was just said or done. Of course you aren’t going to call down fire from heaven! What in the world could you possibly be thinking?! Pride. The desire for acclaim or respect, there are all sorts of motivations we can confuse with the will of God. We want God to act in ways that make us look good. If God doesn’t vindicate us, completely eliminate our enemies, it’s easy for us to mistake that for a failure either on our part or God’s part – like Elijah facing Jezebel’s wrath or the disciples irritated with the Samaritans (who they were inclined to dislike anyways) – and despair. And we are more prone to getting wrapped up in our issues so that the call to obedience can seem faint and weak. Every bit as faint and weak as our good intentions – or our alleged good intentions. I’ll follow you anywhere! Oh really? This isn’t a campaign for earthly glory or gain – you may want to reevaluate your conviction. Let me first go and bury my father. Oh really? Are you sure you’re not just using an excuse to put off obedience to your Lord? Let me go and finish my family obligations, Lord. Oh really? Be careful what you claim to commit to. It’s easy to talk big with no follow-through.

Having a Lord is something we fundamentally as American Christians don’t understand. We have no other point of comparison in our lives. We easily mistake complacency for obedience, comfort for dedication. We presume that God is not calling us to certain things that are socially unacceptable or personally distasteful, while being quick to deny the grace and love of God exists for those that we find socially unacceptable or personally distasteful. We’re quick to claim grace and forgiveness for ourselves but deny them to those we disagree with or deem undeserving.

Fortunately, our God is gracious and merciful to us even in the midst of our sinful attempts – consciously or unconsciously – to control him. Lord, forgive us our errors, and continue to illuminate them so we might conspire with your Holy Spirit to abandon them. Amen.

Reading Ramblings – June 23, 2019

June 16, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 23, 2019

Texts: Isaiah 65:1-9; Psalm 3; Galatians 3:23-4:7; Luke 8:26-39

Context: After the excitement of Pentecost and Holy Trinity Sunday, we settle into the steady rhythm of the longest of the liturgical seasons – Ordinary Time. With the exception of the observance of Reformation Sunday (a Lutheran thing) on the last Sunday of October, and All Saints Day on the first Sunday of November, Ordinary Time will carry us all the way through to the end of November, and the start of the new church calendar year with Advent. Observances tied to the life of Christ give way to Gospel lessons centered largely in his teachings. The readings today all have themes of judgment, whether against God’s false people or against demons. We remember at all times that judgment is coming, and while we don’t need to fear this in Christ, we should never lose sight of the reality.

Isaiah 65:1-9 – It is easy for God’s people to get the wrong impression of themselves, to think that they are inherently good and obedient and it is for this reason that they go to church and claim Jesus as their Lord. The reality is that we are not basically good people, but basically sinful and rebellious in thought, word, and deed. This remains true for God’s people, though we should in daily repentance be constantly waging war against this sin. But equally possible is for the follower of Christ to make peace with their sin, to engage in it eagerly and without guilt and fear. This state of affairs is dangerous, both to them individually and to the church that may be influenced by them. The danger of sin is not that we cannot or will not be forgiven, but rather that we might one day prefer our sin to repentance, and ultimately reject the grace of God as unnecessary. These words at the end of Isaiah are aimed at God’s people, not those beyond his Word, and his Church today needs to hear these words and remember that we are just as capable of becoming just as lost.

Psalm 3 – Danger lurks not just within our own hearts and in church buildings but also beyond us. This psalm reads as a prayer for help against external enemies, and we might naturally assume that these are not followers of God. But verse two is interesting, and perhaps hints that it is followers of God that are also arrayed against the psalmist, convinced that either his sinfulness excludes him from the salvation of God, or that God has abandoned him and will not rescue him in his time of need. Both are dangerous assumptions to make about anyone who calls on the name of the Lord! The language shifts from present tense (vs.1-3) to past tense (vs. 4-6) and back to present tense (vs. 7-8). This may indicate that a present prayer for help is lifted in light of previously answered prayers for help. As God has preserved and helped in the past, so the psalmist reasonably expects him to again. He can therefore wait for God’s deliverance in confidence, concluding with a prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord.

Galatians 3:23-4:7 – In light of readings having to do with judgment it is only reasonable that the Christian would want to know what their relationship to the Law is. Followers of Christ still sin, so how is it that the Law no longer condemns? How is it we can have hope? First and foremost we have hope for forgiveness (faith, mentioned in v.23). But this forgiveness is not merely the tit-for-tat exchange of righteousness on an piecemeal basis for individual sins. Rather, this forgiveness actually changes our entire relationship to the Law, removing us from the punitive and damning power of the Law through Jesus Christ. Christ is what has accomplished this, not through the abolition of the Law but through complete obedience to and fulfillment of the Law, which He conveys to you and I through faith. The Law remains, but we are declared holy and perfect and righteous – not on our own merits but on the merits of Christ alone. The distinctions we create between ourselves have no bearing on our salvation. Prior to Jesus the Law kept us in check and preserved us from the unrestrained evil that otherwise would have flowed from us. But Christ has now freed us, so that we are not restrained by the Law any longer. This doesn’t mean we break the Law, but rather that our natures are no longer in exclusive opposition to it. We are free now to obey the Law, to recognize it as the good gift of God that it really is. In Christ we reach our maturity, as it were, freed from forced obedience to the rules of the household, coming into our identity as heirs in the household who see the rules not as evil restrictions but the good sense of the head of the household, God the Father. When this occurs we are truly part of the family, because we are at one with the family rather than in opposition to it.

Luke 8:26-39 – This story is fascinating on so many levels. Of course the story of the demon-possessed man elicits our awe and sympathy. But also the fact that this story does not take place in Jewish territory but rather the Hellenized area on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. Note the demons’ response to Jesus’ presence. They know who Jesus is, prompting the man’s voice to identify Jesus accurately. The demons are also afraid. They recognize in Jesus the one who has the authority to command their eternal departure into the abyss, to Hell. They recognize in Jesus’ presence on earth the reality of judgment and condemnation. But this is not yet the time for that. And while it is easy for us to think that Jesus should just go ahead and deport these demons back forever to the depths of Hell, such is not the time. They are granted leniency, though some theologians think that Jesus tricks the demons by allowing them to flee to the pigs, knowing that the pigs will drown themselves and the demons will then be trapped and unable to flee. The response of the townspeople is also telling. They can see the change in the demoniac. They also see the cost. An entire herd of pigs destroyed so that one man might be free. I’m fairly certain most churches these days would see this as an irresponsible use of the gifts of God! How easy it is to put a price on the Gospel, calculating ROI and measuring out pennies grudgingly. How extravagant (and limitless!) is the generosity of God and his resources. While there is nothing wrong with being good stewards of what God has given us, we need to always remember what He has given us things for – not simply our own enjoyment or preferences, but that we might be obedient to his commands to love Him and love our neighbors. While economics are a necessity of human life, we perhaps should strive to expect God’s generosity to flow more freely as his Word is proclaimed, breaking the chains of sin and Satan and setting people free to life in Christ.

Finally, note the conclusion. The man wishes to become a disciple of Jesus and to go with him and his existing disciples. Undoubtedly this would have complicated things as the man is very likely not Jewish, and would not be accepted in Judea and Galilee. But aside from this, the man has another duty that Jesus wishes him to fulfill. Go home. Continue to be a witness to the power of God in Jesus of Nazareth. First of all in the fact that he is returned to his senses, freed from his demons. Secondly in the sharing and telling of what God has done for him. This two-fold witness to a town undoubtedly with very few Jewish people might be the first explicit evangelism outside of the people of God, and undoubtedly planted seeds that could grow and thrive when the news of the resurrection reached these people.

Reading Ramblings – June 16, 2019

June 9, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Holy Trinity Sunday, June 16, 2019

Texts: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Acts 2:14a, 22-36; John 8:48-59

Context: Confusion about the nature of the Trinity has likely always existed, though it rose to dangerous heights in the early centuries of the Church. Seeking to make Christianity more compatible with Greek philosophy and logic, Arius of Alexandria preached that the Son of God was the first creation of God the Father, not truly, equally divine with the Father. After all, this made much more sense than the notion that one God could exist in three distinct, co-equal persons. The Church rightly refuted his ignoring of Scripture (John 10:30), and sought to more clearly articulate what could and could not be said about the Triune God as described in Old Testament Scriptures, the recorded teachings of Jesus, and the writings of the Apostles now constituting the New Testament. It remains a slippery topic. Holy Trinity Sunday evolved over many centuries, finally officially instituted in the 13th century under Pope John XXII, and elevated to higher office in the Roman Catholic calendar in 1911 by Pope Pius X.

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 – This text was formative to Arius’ position that Jesus is synonymous with wisdom here, and that these verses therefore teach that the Son of God is the first creation of God the Father, prior to all other creation. However these verses in the larger context of Proverbs set forth one of the two main female metaphors in the book, Lady Wisdom, who is to be sought out by the young man (1:8) as opposed to her alternative, the adulteress woman who appears in many chapters, enticing people to sin and ultimately to death. Lady Wisdom calls from the gates of the town, in full witness of all citizens, with nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of, and offers her wisdom to any and all. Wisdom is one of the many aspects or attributes of God. Wisdom cannot be thought of separately from God, as He is the source and definition of all things and all attributes. As such, in the act of creating, wisdom is bound up and into creation. Those who abide by the wisdom of God woven into us and everything around us are in better harmony with our Creator. God’s wisdom cannot be separated out from creation, as though it were one option of many.

Psalm 8 – A psalm of praise of God the Father in his role as creator, a common theme in the psalms and throughout Scripture. Who is God? God is the one who created heaven and earth. While God is to be praised for his many acts of mercy and grace throughout creation history, it is creation itself that is the beginning point for our worship of him and our experience of him. It is unique in all the Biblical songs of praise, in that it from beginning to end is directly and exclusively addressed directly to God. While verse 2 is problematic for interpretation, the sense of it points to God’s exclusive creative role, placing him above any possible foe or opponent, and therefore making hope and faith in him consistent. Eventually this psalm becomes interpreted as referring to Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God who receives glory and dominion because of his obedience to the Father. God the Father has created, has developed his plan of salvation which God the Son is obedient to by the power of God the Holy Spirit. The Son’s obedience to death has earned him the glory of dominion now given him by the Creator of all things.

Acts 2:14a, 22-36 -The second half of Peter’s Pentecost speech turns from the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to the identity and role of the Son of God Incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth. Peter preaches the resurrection of Jesus as the proof and evidence of his claims to divinity and equality with God the Father. Peter alludes in passing to the compelling demonstrations of power associated with Jesus (v.22), but no mention of any of Jesus’ particular teachings. It is not simply the teaching of Jesus that is compelling, as though faith is ultimately wrought by his moral admonitions or ethical exhortations. Rather, faith is placed ultimately in his death and resurrection. The two must go together, and the latter must predominate. It is easy to die. Rising from the dead is considerably harder! So if God the Father has raised Jesus from the dead, it is a vindication of everything He said and did, and we are right to put our faith and trust in him. By the power of the Holy Spirit, faith moves back from the resurrection backwards to what Jesus preached and did. Resurrection is the conviction of those who put him to death, that they were wrong, dead wrong, and Jesus was right.

John 8:48-59 – In order to pick up the intended direction of Jesus’ rebuttals, it’s important to read the middle section of Chapter 8. In verse 33 the Jewish leaders attempt to refute Jesus’ assertion that they are in need of being set free through reference to Abraham. They are not stupid and are not simply ignoring hundreds of years of history in which God’s people have been slaves – to the Assyrians, to the Babylonians, to the Persians, to the Greeks, and now to the Romans. Rather, they mean they are free from the blindness of the world because of the promise and word of God revealed first to Abraham and later to his descendants. Jesus continues to use their mention of Abraham in vs. 33ff as he contrasts the Jewish leaders plotting to kill Jesus with Abraham who actually listened when God spoke to him. The implication is that because Jesus is speaking the word of God, they should listen to him instead of plotting against him.

Their defense where our reading picks up today is that of course they should not be listening to Jesus. Jesus is not speaking the Word of God, but rather speaks the lies and half-truths of a demon or one like a Samaritan who does not follow the fullness of the Law or worship God properly in the Temple. Now the Jewish leaders take up Abraham again. Jesus claims that those who listen to him won’t die! Yet Abraham listened to God – as Jesus reminded them in v. 40. Abraham is certainly dead, however! Dead and dust by now! Other examples of God’s faithful who died abound. Consider the prophets – they died as well, as do all people. Surely Jesus can’t be claiming to be greater than Abraham and the prophets of God! But what Jesus is doing is asserting that while Abraham and the prophets died, they are not dead. They are dead to us, but not to God. So it is that when Moses asks God to identify himself in Exodus 3, God responds that He is the God of Moses’ forefathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. God does not say I was the God of your forefathers, but asserts that He is the God of the forefathers. The relationship is current and active. He is, as He speaks to Moses, still the God of these people because while they are dead to Moses, they are not dead to God. Jesus utilizes this concept in a different context, recorded in Matthew 22 and concerning the resurrection of the dead.

But Jesus advances the thought further. The relationship is not simply between God the Father and Abraham. Jesus has a relationship with Abraham as well, one in which Abraham is alive and capable of rejoicing and observing/seeing. Perhaps this means that Abraham is alive to see the Son of God Incarnate, carrying out the work of redemption that will lead to the undoing of sin, death, and the power of Satan. How can this be possible? Jesus young! No, Jesus isn’t. He’s much older than that. In fact, He predates Abraham. And his words, I am at the end of v.58 are the words used by God to Moses in Exodus 3, the holy name of God. Jesus here claims to be one with the Father, one with the God of the Old Testament. He claims no less than co-existence and co-equality with the God of the Old Testament, an offense punishable by death, and v.59 demonstrates that the Jewish leadership understood very well the claim that Jesus was making.

It is not possible to treat Jesus as a misunderstood moral leader. He claims to be God, and this is not the sort of claim ethical teachers make, because it would make them liars. Unless Jesus actually is divine, in which case He isn’t lying, He’s far more than one of many moral models, and we would be wise to put our faith and trust in him as the source of our forgiveness and reconciliation with God!

Reading Ramblings – June 9, 2019

June 2, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Pentecost – June 9, 2019

Texts: Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 143; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:23-31

Context: Pentecost (meaning 50th day in Greek) began as the Jewish feast of weeks or feast of firstfruits, stipulated multiple times in the Old Testament (Exodus 23:16, Numbers 28:26, Deuteronomy 16:10; 2 Chronicles 8:13). It occurred 50 days after the first day of the feast of unleavened bread. Later, the festival was associated with the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai to Moses and the Israelites in Exodus 19:1, although this connection is certainly not clear or necessary from the texts. Pentecost is essentially a harvest festival, denoting the firstfruits of the spring harvest. It is second in importance only to Passover in terms of the three Jewish high holy celebrations. As such the description of Acts 2:5 that there are Jews from every nation under heaven is very reasonable. The Christian celebration of Pentecost gradually came to be called Whitsunday, as those who were baptized on this festival Sunday wore white clothing. The celebration is noted by Irenaeus and Tertullian. The readings for today indicate that the Holy Spirit’s arrival (John 14, Acts 2) is the effective beginning of the undoing of the reign and effects of sin and Satan (Genesis 11), the response to our cries for mercy and forgiveness (Psalm 143).

Genesis 11:1-9 – Sin drives us apart. It drives us apart first and foremost from God, and secondarily from others. Theologians speak of sin as making us incurvatus in se, turned perpetually inwards on ourselves. We are the centers of our lives, and our desires and wishes are what naturally preoccupy us rather than proper relationship with our Creator. Following the flood we saw this self-centeredness in Ham’s disrespect of his father, Noah, as well as Noah’s own drunkenness. Next we see it on a larger scale, as the growing population of the world collectively rejects the command of God to subdue the earth as they grow in numbers (Genesis 1:28, 9:1,7). Instead of obedience, their sin turns them in on themselves and their own glory and accomplishment. Our sinfulness leads us to wistfully wish that God had not confused our languages. What might we have accomplished if we had not been scattered! If we had not turned against each other based on language and customs! Our sinfulness prevents us from seeing the greater evils we might accomplish as well, or the potentially more thorough devastation we might inflict on one another if, like Adam and Eve, we did not seek protections against the sin we find in ourselves and one another. I read God’s work here as merciful, actually a protection of us against ourselves and one another, a protection that begins to be unnecessary with the Holy Spirit’s coming. In the defeat of Satan and sin and death, the effects of the Fall begin to be unraveled. Not completely, but partially. Unity in Christian love across all languages and ethnicities is a testimony to this unraveling, and should point both believers and unbelievers towards the final coming judgment and restoration.

Psalm 143 – A cry for mercy and forgiveness against our crushing enemy the accuser, the Satan. Apart from God we cannot hope to prevail against this enemy, who crushes us with the reality of our sin and rebellion against our Creator. We are hopelessly separated from our Creator and unable to re-establish right relationship on our own. Only if our Creator comes to us, only if He is the initiator of reconciliation can there be any hope. We pray that God would come to our relief (v.1), which acknowledges that God is always present, but only God can decide to come to us as relief rather than judge (v.2). We wait, without peace, until we hear a word from our God that indicates his forgiveness and grace rather than his holy punishment of sin (v.7). When that word comes (v.8), our response is to cling to it as our sole source of hope, and to seek further understanding and embracing of God’s revealed Word and Will as the only proper and sure guides for our lives (v.8). Asking for divine direction is not an attempt to manipulate God or earn his favor, but is the only reasonable response to a God who forgives our trespasses.

Acts 2:1-21 – The account of the first Pentecost. The Holy Spirit comes in tangible power, differently than when Jesus conveyed the Holy Spirit to his disciples in John 20:21-23. A different kind of power is now manifest. Their authority to forgive sins was already present, but the power to preach the Gospel, to lay before others the choice of life or death, sin or sanctity grounded in the reality of the empty tomb of the Son of God, that only comes at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit undoes in a limited sense the separation of language given in Genesis 11. The point is not to obsess over speaking in tongues, but rather to see that God’s graciousness in Jesus Christ is available every bit as universally as judgment for sin has been. None are excluded, all are welcomed into the Holy City described in Revelation 21 that is not a competitor to God in heaven, but is actually the city where God and the victorious Lamb dwell once again with their creation.

John 14:23-31 – Anyone can claim to be a Christian, and in our post-Biblical, post-Christian culture a majority of Americans still do. But the mark of a follower of Jesus Christ is obedience to his teaching, which is no different than the teaching of God the Father in the Old Testament. Regardless of what you want to call yourself, if you refuse to submit your will and understanding to the revealed will of God, you reject the very presence of God and expose yourself to the only alternative to his perfect will and grace: judgment. This is our natural condition. But the presence of God the Holy Spirit brings the gift of faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, with an attendant recognition that our ideas and standards are untrustworthy, and only God the Father’s will can be trusted as the rule and norm for our lives. This trust in turn will be the source of our peace. Seeking peace in the structures and relationships of a sinful world can only lead to despair and disappointment. But placing our hope in the promises of God – forgiveness, grace, resurrection, eternal life – can center us in a peace that is not disturbed regardless of the awful events that might transpire around (or even within!) us.

Receiving the presence of God requires that we receive his grace, and his grace is brought to us in the good news of Jesus Christ. But that grace also comes as we learn what that good news does – not simply freeing us from the fear of death but freeing us to live as God’s creatures rather than as our own masters. Jesus commands his disciples in Matthew 28:16-20 to go and make disciples. But this process of discipleship does not stop at preaching Christ crucified and resurrected and providing baptism. It also consists of teaching obedience to everything that Jesus commanded, which again, is nothing short of the commands of God the Father in his word. We cannot accept the grace and forgiveness of God without accepting also his revealed Word as it tells us how to live. We will fail to live as He calls us to – we remain sinful and imperfect. But there is a difference between acknowledging the truth and goodness of God’s will and trying to live it out but failing, and rejecting the Word of God as truth in favor of any other teaching or system, internal or external.

Reading Ramblings – June 2, 2019

May 26, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Ascension Day (Observed), June 2, 2019

Texts: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

Context: Ascension Day is observed 40 days after Easter, based on Acts 1:3. Some people think that Luke 24 describes Jesus asce nding on the evening of Easter, and that therefore there is either a contradiction between Luke 24 and Acts 1, or that Jesus ascended twice. It’s important to remember that Luke authored both books (which were originally a single book), so it would be odd if Luke contradicted himself. A careful reading of Luke 24 shows that Luke is very careful to link events that happen on the same day (24:1, 13, 36). However there is no such deliberate timing introduction to 24:50-53. While I can understand how people might be inclined to assume it continues on the same day, I don’t see it as an absolute necessity, given the phrasing. Particularly given Luke’s comments in Acts 1:1-3, which don’t indicate a repetitive coming and going of Jesus. In both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, the Ascension is highlighted as a singular event, and it seems best to take it as the culmination of 40 days of appearances to his followers and disciples.

Acts 1:1-11 – Luke concludes his Gospel and begins his history of the Holy Spirit’s work in the early Church with Jesus’ ascension. This event is the triggering for the Holy Spirit’s arrival on Pentecost, as Jesus tried to explain to his disciples (John 14:25-26; John 16:4b-16). Jesus departs as He arrives – bodily. Both his conception and his ascension are miraculous, but in both cases He participates physically. In his mother’s womb and as He ascends to heaven He retains full humanity, even as both events are divinely orchestrated and empowered. These anchor Jesus’ humanity, and add credence to the emphasis of the Holy Church (based on Jesus’ own insistence, ie. Luke 24:36-42; John 20:20, 26-27) that Jesus as the Son of God is also fully a Son of Man, fully human rather than just appearing to be human. Jesus completed the purpose for which He came, and so ascends back to the Father to await the completion of all things and the Day of Judgment. In the meantime, we are to expect that the promised Holy Spirit of God will arrive and will continue his work.

Psalm 47 – This psalm first calls people to praise, and then provides the praise itself. The setting (vs. 5-7)might have been the procession of the Ark into the Temple as part of a worship ritual, or might have been associated with the coronation of a king or the king’s entrance to the palace and the throne, understanding that the king is the representative of God, rather than God himself. God is described as the greatest of kings who through his power established his people Israel and provided them with a homeland. The important thing is that the people of God are not limited to just the Hebrews, but all who recognize the rule and reign of God. In the context of Ascension this psalm (particularly v.5) works well with the Ascension of Jesus. Jesus goes up as the triumphant king. Not everyone knows this at the time, but his followers are tasked and then empowered to spread the news. His victory over his enemies is not a temporal, political or economic victory in the sense we are used to reading about, but rather a demonstrated victory over sin, death, and the plans of Satan to keep us bound in those chains.

Ephesians 1:15-23 – The ascension of Jesus is both literal and figurative. As the Son of God who has completed his incarnational work of resisting sin and therefore defeating death, Jesus returns to the heavenly throne room (Revelation 4-5) as the conquering king. His place at the right hand of God is testified to by Stephen (Acts 7:55-56) as he becomes the first martyr for Christ. The right hand or right side is emphasized as far back as Exodus 15:6 or Leviticus 8:23-26, and was recognized as the dominant hand/side. So in the story of Ehud (Judges 3), he is able to sneak a weapon past security by tying it to his right thigh rather than his left. Since the assumption would be that any weapon would be on the left side of his body, to be accessed by the right hand, nobody finds the short sword or realizes that he is left-handed. The right hand side of a throne seems to denote equality in power, while also deference to the one on the throne. This is in keeping with Jesus’ own teaching about his relationship to God the Father. In reference to power (divinity), Jesus can proclaim that I and the Father are one (John 10:30). Yet in reference not just to his incarnate mission but his relationship as a whole with the Father, Jesus can declare his obedience to the Father (John 6:44, 8:28, etc.). This is a mystery our sinfulness won’t let us understand, that one could be voluntarily obedient despite having equal power and authority!

Luke 24:44-53 – Jesus provides his followers with an introductory revelation to Scripture, allowing these simple men to see what so many enlightened and educated theologians had missed for so long – Jesus. This is the Christian way of understanding Scripture – that the primary importance of the Old and New Testament is to show us Jesus. It isn’t that the material is not true historically, or of value artistically as poetry, or useful for guiding our lives. But all of these things take their value and meaning ultimately from Christ alone. If we have Christ, we have everything. If we don’t have Christ, we ultimately have nothing, regardless of what we may appear to possess right now. And more specifically, the message of Christ is his sacrificial death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness can be proclaimed because of his sacrificial death and resurrection – the two are inextricably linked. There can be no other basis for the assumption of forgiveness. All the deaths of all the sacrificial animals up until that point were pointing towards this final, efficacious sacrifice on behalf of all people at all times and places, and in a very real sense the sacrifice of the Son of God is what gave power to the sacrifices of the Old Testament. Jesus’ revelation here is not complete – He does not give them everything they need. That will be the job of God the Holy Spirit, the promise of God referred to in v.49. It is this promise, the Holy Spirit, that they must wait for before starting their evangelistic work.

Jesus ascends to heaven as the victorious king. His death and resurrection accomplish the defeat of all evil and sin in the world, and therefore break the power of death and free us in faith for eternal life. This work is complete. It is not fully revealed or fully experienced, but it is complete. Nothing you and I do can further it or improve upon it. We are called simply to live in this reality, a reality that defines who we are in relationship to our God and therefore in relationship to everything and everyone else our God has created.

Reading Ramblings – May 26, 2019

May 19, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 26, 2019

Texts: Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27; John 5:1-9

Context: The resurrection is the vindication of Jesus as the Son of God, and of everything that He did and say prior to his execution. It is the power of the triune God, a power that has been at work since the dawn of creation and continues at work throughout creation today.

Acts 16:9-15 – Paul is on his second missionary journey. He goes to visit the churches he founded in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. He intends to head further north to preach the Gospel but the Holy Spirit prevents this. Instead, in response to a dream-vision, Paul and his associates Silas (Silvanus) and Timothy (as well, most likely based on Acts 16:11, as Luke himself) head from Asia Minor to Europe, starting their missionary work along the Via Egnatia, a Roman military and trade road that runs from east to west across the southern edge of the European continent, between modern Greece to the south and Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria to the north. Their first stop is Philippi, the site of today’s reading. Settled by retired Roman military veterans and other colonists, it appears the city did not have a synagogue, but rather a small Jewish community that met outdoors near a river. Lydia is mentioned prominently here and throughout the chapter as an important ally for Paul and his associates. Upon receiving faith, she has her entire household baptized and is a host to Paul and his associates both prior to their arrest in Philippi and afterwards. She is the first European Christian mentioned by name in Scripture, followed rapidly by the unnamed jailer later in this same chapter.

Psalm 67 – A short, beautiful psalm that integrates echoes of the Aaronic blessing from Numbers 6:22-27. It would be familiar language to God’s people, hearing it regularly during worship and prayer services. But here the blessing is explained. It isn’t simply for the benefit or comfort of God’s people, but rather towards the end that God’s saving power would be experienced among all the nations. It recognizes that in choosing a special people to work through, they were to be examples so that all who knew or heard of them would recognize their God as sovereign. All should be brought in to praise God who is the creator of all things and the giver of all blessing. Moreover, contrary to human ideas that are subject to change and have no basis beyond opinion (popular or otherwise), all of God’s creation should be glad and relieved to know that God provides solid, reliable guidance for his creation, as well as the assurance of perfect , equitable judgment. While our judgment sometimes errs or is sometimes corrupted, God’s is not. As people recognize this, creation will flouris, and truly the blessings of God can and will flow throughout it!

Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27 – Where the story of creation begins with a garden, it ends with a city – the City of God, the new Jerusalem, the place where God will once again dwell with his perfected creation. Since the city is referred to as the bride, the wife of the Lamb (v.9), it is synonymous with the Church – with all those who have, do, and will put their faith in Jesus as the sacrificial lamb which removes our sin from us and reconciles us to God. This is the Lamb introduced in Revelation 5 and mentioned 30 times throughout the book of Revelation. While earthly Jerusalem as the capital of God’s people is just another earthly city, the city of God described here fairly glows and radiates with beauty and perfection. The prominence of the number 12 likely indicates a completeness, representing the totality of God’s Old Testament people through the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and the totality of God’s New Testament people through the 12 apostles. Everything about this place denotes the abundance of God’s grace and blessing. This is because God dwells here, with his people. While there is much scholarly debate about how to interpret this passage, at the very least we get a positive and beautiful picture of what the resurrection makes possible – the reconciliation of God with his faithful, and the final abolition of Satan, sin and death.

John 5:1-9 – The other possible reading was out of John 16 and a continuation of last week’s Gospel reading. But I like this passage, and the continuity of God’s restorative power both in the life of Jesus during his ministry as well as in the years that follow his resurrection and ascension. The psalm nicely reminds us that God’s power has been at work at all times throughout creation history to sustain us.

John provides a great deal of detail in this passage regarding the where of this healing. Archaeologists have discovered the remains of the pool that corroborate John’s description. It was a place associated with healing, and you might have noticed that verse 4 is missing in some translations. That verse reads something to the effect of:

waiting for the moving of the water; 4for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water: whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had

In this context, Jesus asks the man if he wants healing, and the man responds with the reason he has not received healing already – he doesn’t have anyone to help him into the waters when they stirred. Perhaps the man wonders if Jesus will stay and help him, or if Jesus knows that the waters are about to be stirred. Likely the man doesn’t expect that Jesus will simply speak his healing to him. But when Jesus does, the man responds obediently, standing up and grabbing up his mat from off the ground. We aren’t sure how Jesus knows the man or his story. Is it revealed to him by the Holy Spirit? Does He remember the man from his many other trips to Jerusalem over his lifetime? Should we be comforted with the knowledge that our Lord knows each one of us by name? Perhaps all of the above, with an emphasis on the latter. How and why God does what He does is not our privilege (or duty) to know, but we are to trust that what God does is ultimately for us, ultimately that we might praise him eternally.

Reading Ramblings – May 19, 2019

May 12, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 19, 2019

Texts: Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-7; John 16:12-22

Context: The Holy Spirit is loose in the world. While we look forward to the formal inauguration of his arrival on Pentecost in a few weeks, it is difficult to speak of the power of the resurrection apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. His work in the world is at times unexpected, but a glorious outpouring of God the Father’s love and care for us. We are never alone, and we should never think that our God is absent or mindless about any aspect of his creation.

Acts 11:1-18 – Peter’s vision and the subsequent outpouring of the Holy Spirit on non-Jews sets a new direction for the early church – outwards to whomever will receive the Good News. This was unexpected, but it doesn’t take long for the leaders of the church to recognize that this is of God and their responsibility is to acknowledge and praise God. This will, in short order, necessitate some clarification and further leading by the Holy Spirit in terms of what is required of those seeking to follow Jesus – do they need to become Jews first, or are Gentiles welcome? In the meantime, the scandal of preaching to and baptizing and even associating with Gentiles must have been very unnerving for Peter as well as the others who listened to his story! The Church must always be on the lookout for the Holy Spirit’s leading even in unexpected directions.

Psalm 148 – I’m frustrated that we had this psalm just a few weeks ago, and we’ll have it once more before the end of the liturgical calendar. Aren’t 150 psalms enough to avoid this kind of repetition!? In any event, this psalm calls on all aspects of creation to give God praise. He is praised first and foremost for his act of creation in the first place (v.6). But ultimately He is to be praised for the personal relationship He has with his people (v. 14).

Revelation 21:1-7 – The effects of the resurrection are eternal, reconciling the faithful to God . God once again will dwell with his people. Suffering will be banished and death will be removed from creation as perfection once again reigns as it did in the initial days of Adam and Eve. Here it is pictured as a divine city rather than a garden, but it is clear that as in the beginning, God is firmly in charge of all things according to his master plan. The new beginning He will inaugurate can be trusted because it is God the Father himself who will initiate it, and it is not dependent on our efforts, only our acceptance of the victory of God the Son.

John 16:12-22 – As Jesus prepares for his ordeal, He instructs his disciples at the last supper pertaining what will happen after his departure. While they will not have his presence, they will have the Holy Spirit of God who will guide them into truth as He reveals whatever the Father desires to have revealed. In the process, Jesus doesn’t become irrelevant but serves as the focal point for praise and honor. The revelation of the Holy Spirit is only possible because of the victory Jesus is about to win through his suffering and death. Jesus says to his disciples what He has said on several other occasions to his accusers – they will not see him much longer. Like his accusers, his disciples don’t know how to interpret his words, despite his clear explanation of things on multiple occasions. However the ultimate result is that they will see him again, and this will be a cause for celebration even though He will not stay with them indefinitely. Their joy will be such that they don’t remember the sorrow and anguish they will endure over the next three days as they watch their Lord suffer, die, and rest in the tomb.