Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

How Do You Study the Bible?

July 28, 2020

I’m preparing to record a Bible study for posting online. It’s primarily for my parishioners during this time when meeting together is far more complicated. We began a study on 1 Corinthians in June when the state prohibitions against church gatherings were partially lifted. But since the reinstatement of those restrictions we’ve been on hiatus again. I want to try and lead my people through additional study but I don’t find Zoom to be the best format for this. So I plan to record short (less than 15 minutes) studies – lots of them most likely! – posted to YouTube for now but hopefully hosted eventually on our own website. People can read through the preparatory material, listen to the corresponding YouTube posts, and then gather for a Zoom time of discussion together.

I always begin my Bible study series with a section on isogogics – the contextual information we have about the book or section we’ll be studying. This contextual information does several things. It can help give us insight into the why of what is being said. It also is a reminder to us that these words do have a context. They have a time and place and actual people in and around them. They aren’t fantasy but a part of history.

Since this is an online study, I want to begin with a brief introduction to how we study the Bible. I’m trying to think of the major things I want to say in this regard. So far, they include:

  • We don’t study Scripture in isolation. We study with others – either in real time with people around us (either virtually or otherwise) and/or in conjunction with the thoughts and insights of earlier Christians on the text in question. This is the process of using commentaries and other resources to help us understand. We bring our own minds to it – we don’t simply parrot what others have said since they could be wrong. But to not refer to other people’s insights and knowledge is equally dangerous because we can be wrong as well.
  • We expect God the Holy Spirit to be present and active. God’s Word is not static. It is fundamentally different from any other written resource in existence. Opening the Bible is to bring oneself into the direct presence of God. Not that the book itself is holy, but what the book says is. What the book says is the inspired Word of God and it can and should work on us in unexpected ways.
  • Faith matters. A Christian reads the Bible differently than a non-Christian. A Christian – by the power and presence of God the Holy Spirit – will find things in Scripture the person without faith not only won’t but can’t. How does this work? I can’t tell you. I can only affirm what Scripture itself claims in this regard (Luke 24:45-49; John 3:6-8, 14:26; Romans 8:6; 1 Corinthians 2:10-11; 1 John 2:19-27, etc.) . The Holy Spirit is the one who opens our minds to be able to see Scripture more clearly. A non-Christian can study the Bible and learn a great deal. But they read it at a fundamental disadvantage compared to the person of faith. We at least need to bear this in mind as we study the Word of God.
  • Scripture interprets Scripture – We shouldn’t read small sections of Scripture in separation from the rest of Scripture. We aren’t free to impose an interpretation on a particular section of text if that interpretation directly contradicts or ignores other sections of Scripture. This requires a broad knowledge of Scripture, which highlights the necessity of reading it with others as few people have an encyclopedic knowledge or recall of Scripture.

Other suggestions?

Reading Ramblings – August 2, 2020

July 26, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 2, 2020 – COVID-19

Texts: Isaiah 55:1-5; Psalm 136; Romans 9:1-13; Matthew 14:13-21

Context: God cares for his creation. He cares specifically for you and I but we are a small part of creation rather than the sum of it we often feel ourselves to be, even if we wouldn’t state it as such. His care is demonstrated historically, always in the past tense but we are called to faith and trust in that care in the present and future tenses based on his track record. To those who would accuse Christians of blind faith we would respond this is inaccurate. Our view of God’s work is much better looking back than at the current moment, and only God knows the tangible specifics of the future. He has revealed some of these to us though, so we know what to expect, and contrary to people who reject his Word, we actually have far better vision.

Isaiah 55:1-5 – Blossoming from the Suffering Servant language of chapters 52 & 53, chapter 55 continues beautiful language of restoration and love and comfort and care from God for his people. These verses in particular are beautiful in evoking power, specific images and ideas about what the reign of God made possible by the Suffering Servant will allow for. An entire way of existing foreign to us, where work for payment and receiving the blessings of God’s creation at a financial cost are unheard of. They no longer exist, they are no longer necessary. There is more than enough for everyone and there is no scarcity, no monopolies, no fluctuating markets and no need for work in the sense we understand it now. The emphasis is not on achieving but rather on what God provides to and for us. And what God provides is always good and of the highest quality (v.2) and alone capable of sustaining life (v.3).

Psalm 136 – The assigned verses for this week exclude the middle section of historical remembrance (vs.10-22) but since I think history is important, I’m asking you to read them all the same! After all, our hopes of God’s goodness to us now and in the future are based in God’s goodness in the past. His reputation establishes his trustworthiness and it’s good to remember the past when looking forward to the future. We remember God for his mighty acts of creation He has revealed to us in his Word, but his Word is validated to us through his works in human lives and history, prophetically demonstrating that He is who He claims to be. All of which will come to a climax not in isolated victories over specific enemies but in his final deliverance of his people from our most ancient of foes, Satan, which I think is a very reasonable application of vs. 23-26. There is little reason to give thanks for a God whose love lasts forever unless we will be able to enjoy that love forever!

Romans 9:1-13 – Paul moves from his central message of faith in Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected as the source of our salvation rather than obedience to the Law to deal with a possible objection or conundrum (v.6). If Jesus is the source of our salvation, the promised Messiah, then why in the world didn’t more Jews recognize this and receive this? Why weren’t more of the Jews of Paul’s day Christians? Paul begins with a moving lament in behalf of his Jewish brethren. How desperately he wishes they would open their eyes to the Word of God and see Jesus Christ there! How many of God’s gifts had been given specially to these people, only for them to remain blind! The emphasis in this section is not on the Jewish people but rather on the work of God. Those to whom God extends his promises can trust on his ability to deliver his promises. Abraham and Jacob were not special or different than all other people except in that God made promises to them and would keep them. They had only to trust in those promises. Likewise, as God extends his promises to all people through Jesus Christ, all can and should trust God is capable of delivering them. If He chooses to do so using the weak figure of a crucified Messiah, is this any different than God choosing the second-born Jacob instead of Esau? Or the much delayed Isaac rather than Ishmael? God works how He will and through whom He will but all are invited to trust his promises!

Matthew 14:13-21 – What can and can’t Jesus provide? Should we place our trust in God rather than ourselves? Should we simply receive the good gifts of God without at least demonstrating our deservedness of them? This passage should raise many questions in our minds, yet I can imagine many good Christians responding as the disciples did – let these people take care of themselves! They should have planned ahead for their meal and needs! This isn’t our concern – it’s more than we can possibly handle! And yet it wasn’t too much for Jesus to handle. Jesus is pointed in his rejection of the apostolic suggestion that Jesus send these people away. You give them something to eat. Make that your first goal and intention, and leave it to me to do what you can’t possibly envision being done! Don’t begin with the assumption this is none of your business, but don’t also assume that your business is somehow separate from my presence and power!

How easy for the Church to act in this way. How easy to dismiss the needs of the people around us with a clucking of the tongue and a prideful If you had made better decisions like me, you’d be better off! People God the Father created and God the Son was preparing to die for were in need, and He expected his followers to take that need seriously rather than presuming they had no part in it. Jesus had compassion on this great crowd and He gave them everything – first the Word, and then food and ultimately his death and resurrection. First the good news, and then evidence of just how very good the news was and why they should listen to him, then the creation of and validation of the good news He preached.

There’s no indication in this passage that Jesus only gave food to those who really needed it. There’s no indication that some of these people didn’t take advantage – ate free food from Jesus when they had a perfectly good picnic basket next to them. What mattered was not them in that regard, but Jesus. Jesus as the source of all good things. Of his willingness and ability to feed his people what they needed. Would they recognize this or not? That was secondary. And recognition would be fully predicated on the giving of Jesus first. As with God the Father’s mighty acts of redemption in the Old Testament, the Son of God called the New Testament people – first his disiciples and then others – to faith in him based on the mighty acts He performed.

His goodness was sufficient. More than sufficient it was abundant enough to fill the crowd completely and still have plenty left over. What is not possible with man is possible with God (Matthew 19:26). We as God’s people are called to trust his abundance today as well, not simply as a historical miracle.

When the Hand that Feeds You, Bites You

July 21, 2020

Remember the giddy, pre-COVID days when Christians could argue with and insult one another over whether immigration laws should be enforced in our country or not? Such simple times, weren’t they?

But a popular argument by many Christians at the time (but not exclusively at that time) was to equate government aid with the Biblical call to charity. In other words, if government programs help people, then Christians can’t in good conscience argue against such programs and are really bound by God to support and expand them, without any clear limitations or even guidelines. Mercy is mercy, and Christians must not only sanction but actively support any allegedly merciful program, period.

But God isn’t the only one who giveth and taketh away, and certainly by comparison He’s a lot more patient and inclusive than human institutions. After all, He daily sends sunshine and rain on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45) – his faithful and his sworn enemies. But we’re likely to be a lot less forgiving and giving with one another. Certainly attitudes and tactics employed by a small group of people bent on recasting our national history through the largely arbitrary destruction of public property are an example of this.

But there are examples aplenty where government aid programs are shown to be what they must inevitably be at some level or another, a means of purchasing the loyalty or at least obedience of some recipients. And when recipients fail to respond in the expected ways, aid is withdrawn. Consider the situation in at least parts of China – Christians dependent on government aid are being told to remove their religious symbols from their homes and replace them with images of Chairman Mao.

Undoubtedly it might be argued that China is not the United States, and that’s true enough. But the demands are being made even of members of the Protestant, State-approved Three-Self Church. And certainly our own country has demonstrated shockingly in recent years just how quickly things once taken for granted as cast in stone can be changed and discarded. Socialism was once a pariah concept in our nation, mocked and denounced in comparison to the far greater opportunities of capitalism. Now we have avowed Socialists running for President, and Socialist ideas and agendas are actively promoted as the right future for our country. The idea that religious freedom could ever become an obstacle to State assistance shouldn’t be shocking to us.

Some level of State assistance to the needy is a good thing and I support and understand that. That doesn’t mean I think our current programs are doing the best job they could, and it doesn’t mean I don’t believe there is a great deal of waste, theft, and other forms of abusing the system that should be eliminated, potentially by recreating the whole system from scratch. But it does mean I reject the simple-minded and Biblically erroneous assertion that Christians are required by the Bible to support secular aid programs carte blanche. The Bible never allows Christians the option of outsourcing mercy and love for neighbor, and expediency is not often a Biblical metric.

Reading Ramblings – July 26, 2020

July 19, 2020

Date: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 26, 2020

Texts: Deuteronomy 7:6-9; Psalm 125; Romans 8:28-39; Matthew 13:44-52

Context: See what kind of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are. (1 John 3:1) John’s words capture so beautifully the immense love of God for his creation, and his steadfast faithfulness to bring us back to him! The readings for this week all emphasize this theme. What we need to do is be cautious, particularly as we read Romans 8, to not insert what Paul does not. Paul emphasizes those God has called, foreknew, predestined. What Paul does not say – but which many insert – is that there must therefore be those God did not foreknow, did not call, did not predestine. The existence of the former does not necessitate the existence of the latter, and a broader reading of Scripture makes this clear.

Deuteronomy 7:6-9 – Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell address to the people of Israel, the group he has shepherded for over 40 years since leading them out of Egypt by the power of God the Father. It has been a tumultuous relationship, to say the least. Yet the fact remains in spite of their grumblings and grousings and disobedience, God has chosen them to be his people. He is faithful to them in spite of their faithlessness, as He is working on a much grander scale, fulfilling promises that go back to their ancestors. The scandal of particularity is that God works through specific peoples and individuals. He is not democratic in how He works his plan of salvation, but the effects of that plan are extended to all people in ways we have no idea how to even begin imagining. To any who worry or are brought to knowledge of their sin, God’s work for us through the specifics of human history – culminating in the incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth – is extended to all who will receive it in faith and trust and repentance. God’s goodness to us is incredible in its tenacity – a sure and certain rock to cling to in the midst of our shifting and uncertain world!

Psalm 125 – How should we respond to God’s promises and steadfast faithfulness? In faith and trust as expressed in this psalm. Anchoring our trust and hope in him gives us a confidence we can’t find anywhere else in this world, or in any other person. We can trust that even when things are hard and difficult for a time, that time will pass. God acts constantly on behalf of his faithful who have only to wait and see what their Lord will do, trusting ultimately that even should they not be delivered from the present predicament at hand, they are assured God the Father’s eternal peace and joy. It is not always within our power to ensure that righteousness prevails, or to bring evil to account. But God is not so limited, and all things will be restored and set right in his perfect timing.

Romans 8:28-39 – Do we suffer now? We certainly do – and we are keenly aware of this during another round of strict restrictions associated with COVID-19. Faith in Christ is not an immunity to the struggles and difficulties of this world. But faith in Christ allows us to see these struggles and difficulties from another perspective. As part of the greater struggle of evil against the righteous rule of God, it should not be surprising that we suffer here and now. But that suffering is only for a time. Evil has been defeated in the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. So now we can be certain that whatever Satan works for our evil, God is capable of working into good on our behalf. Who has God called? Everyone (John 3:16). Who did God foreknow? Everyone (Genesis 1-2; John 1:1-5). Who has God predestined according to his good will for eternal life? Everyone (Ezekiel 33:10-11). There is nobody God has predetermined to eternal separation from him. So the call of God the Holy Spirit goes out to everyone that they might receive justification through God the Son for the eternal glory of God the Father first and foremost, but themselves as well in a lesser, fitting degree. So we are confident of God’s goodness to us – that it is both more than adequate and eternally faithful. We cling in hope to the promises of God eternally and look for his salvation as well here and now in the short term. We know that whatever we suffer now cannot cause God to lose his grip on our lives!

Matthew 13:44-52 – Often these verses are interpreted as though we are the man or the merchant, but really the verses make more sense if we see Jesus as the man and the merchant. We are the treasure buried in sin that Jesus uncovers and offers himself in exchange for. We are the pearl sought by the merchant who willingly lays down his life that he might possess this pearl of greatest price eternally. Certainly these verses speak far better to the faithfulness of God than to our own shallow, self-centered faith! Who among us can claim to have sacrificed everything for Christ? The claim seems ridiculous, though perhaps those who suffer and are martyred for the faith might come closest to deserving this interpretation.

That God should pursue us so zealously makes rejection of his grace all the more terrible. While all things are possible with God and we should always hope and pray for the salvation of all those who here and now deny his love and goodness and insist they have no need for it, we must take seriously the eternal ramifications of such rebellion.

Reading Ramblings – July 19, 2020

July 12, 2020

Date: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 19, 2020 – COVID-19

Texts: Isaiah 44:6-8; Psalm 119:57-64; Romans 8:18-27; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Context: As our culture becomes more pluralistic and multi-cultural, it might seem that competing claims to divine truth are all equal. Isn’t it unloving to insist on only Jesus Christ as the way to eternal life? Wouldn’t a loving God permit people to be reached through a variety of truths? Would it be more loving to tell children that 2+2= whatever they please, rather than insisting that 4 is the proper answer? Most people would understand quickly that promoting falsehoods is not helpful to people. The only difference is we are more inclined to treat spiritual claims as unprovable or worse, really not true at all, and therefore there is no need to proclaim a distinct truth in the midst of so many competing voices. God is always clear in his Word. There are no other gods than He. And in the historical eye-witnesses of the resurrection of his Son, Jesus the Christ, we have evidence lacking in any other spiritual or philosophical claim. Truth does matter, and what we profess by faith right now will one day be shown to be actually true.

Isaiah 44:6-8 – Isaiah’s ministry comes in the late eigth and early seventh centuries BC. God’s people in Judea and Jerusalem are also contending with an explosion of ideas and practices from many other peoples and places, and have incorporated many of these into their religious life. They may worship God in his temple, but they may also reverence other deities in other places and times. Against this the Word of God is firm – there are no other gods. God has no equal, only far inferior pretenders to his throne. Usurpers who will one day be shown for what they are, but who even now fail spectacularly to demonstrate any real power or authority compared to God’s. God alone is the creator. God alone reveals his plans to his people and then brings them to pass. It isn’t that God’s Word doesn’t provide powerful testimony to the truth of his identity and exclusivity, but people refuse to hear and see it for what it is. We who by the Holy Spirit stand in faith must be willing to endure the mocking or criticisms of a world and culture that want to dilute and distort truth in favor of more pleasing fictions. In love, we must maintain the truth as we have received it, praying they too will receive it!

Psalm 119:57-64 – If there is one God, one source of truth, would it not make sense to pursue that truth and make it the rule and guide of your life? Our obedience is not some payment to God but really the logical outflow of faith and trust in who He has revealed himself to be. How could we reasonably think to ignore or flout his truths, as though such decisions would not place us in risk of all manner of hurts and harms in this world? How could the faithful reasonably presume his words of guidance and wisdom don’t matter, don’t apply, or become irrelevant in the shifting tides of time and culture? Rather, once the source of all wisdom is found wouldn’t we treasure what has been revealed and constantly find ways to dig further into those depths? While this may risk the bemusement or antagonism of the world such concerns are are inferior to the gain in this life and eternally from aligning ourselves with the perfect wisdom and will of God, even if our aligment is marred by our sinful inability to obey perfectly. This psalm is a beautiful picture of what our life in faith can and should look like – a life of joy rather than grudging adherence.

Romans 8:18-27 – We often think of our situation in relationship to God in the singular, personal sense. But our estrangement from God through sin and our reconciliation to him through faith in Jesus the Christ is very much a universal and communal situation. It is not just you and I who look forward to our Lord’s return, but all creation, subjected to the pains and sufferings of sin because of Adam and Eve and you and I also looks forward to freedom from this suffering. All creation will be restored in the day of our Lord’s return. All creation will be renewed or recreated in pristine, perfect condition as it enjoyed in Genesis 1-2. This is not our hope – and hope not defined as we often think of it, as a wishful thinking or optimistic uncertainty about the future. Rather, hope here means a confident awaiting of a promised event. The event is not in question, only the timing is unknown.

In the meantime we deal with the suffering of creation, but we do not deal with it alone. The very Holy Spirit of God is always with us, and even if we are too weak or broken to pray, the Holy Spirit prays with and for us. God is always working on our behalf – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – that we might be sustained in our faith and hope until the final fulfillment of all things when Jesus returns. This is God the Father’s good and perfect plan, and He will bring it to completion!

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 – It’s easy to presume that God should simply destroy alternate truth claims. Those who are mistaken or intentionally misleading others should be divinely and publicly judged so that people might know the truth. But perhaps it isn’t as simple as that. Perhaps the uprooting of these people would prove more dangerous to the faithful in Christ than we imagine. Perhaps there are very good reasons – protective and loving reasons – why God suffers the work of Satan to continue in creation. Perhaps it is not simply for the good of the faithful. Perhaps this also demonstrates God the Holy Spirit’s firm commitment to pursuing all people until the last possible moment, extending always the truth in Christ and the promise of eternal life. Medieval artists and theologians pictured this battle for the soul between the agents of Satan and the powers of God to be ongoing to our last breath, and I think this is a good image – far better than the image that none of this matters so long as a person is happy or comfortable on their terms.

There will come a time when evil will be shown for what it is. In the meantime, we are often able to discern evil and falsehood with just a little exploration. It is not necessarily as complete a mystery all the time as some might like to imagine it or convince others. Judgment will come. Evil will be destroyed and God the Father’s absolute power and presence and goodness will be vindicated finally. Until then we don’t simply endure evil we pray that the power of evil would be frustrated and confined, and those bound up as captives to it in heart and mind would be freed from it, liberated by the good news of Jesus Christ and the offer of forgiveness freely made to all through him.

Reading Ramblings – July 12, 2020

July 5, 2020

Date: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 12, 2020 – COVID-19; Euthanasia

Texts: Genesis 9:5-6; Psalm 139:1-16; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Matthew 5:21-26

Context: I offered my congregation the opportunity to request sermons on particular topics, Biblical passages, doctrinal stances, etc. I do this every few years. Generally I’m fascinated by the lack of response. Either the request is too unusual or people just aren’t used to thinking about what they’d like to hear a bit more about from the Bible or how to apply the Scripture to current issues and events. However, I did get one request this time around on the topic of euthanasia. So I am not using the Revised Common Lectionary Cycle A texts for this Sunday but rather a series of verses that address the foundational Biblical understanding about the sanctity of human life.

Genesis 9:5-6 – Most people think of the Fifth Commandment in regards to the sanctity of human life. And certainly that’s not a bad choice as an injunction against murder. But I prefer God’s words to Noah after the flood to provide a deeper context. In case we’re tempted to think of the Flood as a failed effort by God to restart things on a better footing, God clarifies just how holy human life is. There are many ways we can kill without violating the Fifth commandment – self-defense and capital punishment are just two Scriptural examples. But regardless of why we take a human life we need to know we will answer to God for it, and the implication here is that even in permitted circumstances we must never take human life for granted. We bear the imago dei, the image of God, and this makes human life valuable in a way incomparable in the rest of Scripture. To make ending a person’s life a matter of public policy or convenience or out of fear of suffering or the costs associated with care will one day be judged by no lower standard than God the Father himself.

Psalm 139:1-16 – Modern understandings of the human being as more or less a machine are dangerously superficial. Whether it is assumptions that medicines affect and work in all people equally or the lie that life begins at some arbitrary point after conception or that life ceases to have value and dignity once it is old or beleaguered with disease is to miss the relational aspect of human beings to our Creator. We are known, through and through. Not simply the byproduct of psychological pressures or genetic tweaking we are custom creations to such a degree that it is not without exaggeration but with too little serious pondering that we are unique in all of creation history. Never another person like us. Created and placed into history. That we might dismiss such a creation as no longer worth preserving based on arbitrarily and shifting criteria is terrifying. Likewise to the one who faces severe challenges in disease or health, the knowledge that they are created and never abandoned should be a light of hope in the darkest of conditions or diagnoses.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 – What is the thorn of which Paul speaks? Nobody is certain as Paul never defines it himself. Theories emerge and recede based on issues prevalent at the time. Whether a physical injury or disorder or an emotional or psychological trauma, the important thing is that Paul is well aware of the thorn’s presence and desires it gone and prays for it to be removed. Yet he also accepts God’s good and gracious will, unpleasant as it is. Some argue there is no sense or purpose in suffering, and that if suffering is all someone has to look forward to, they should have the option available to them (or to their physicians or family) to end their life prematurely. While we are not required to take every conceivable step to save or preserve life, never should we aim at death as our goal. The God who created us is always present and able to work in and through even our suffering to his glory and our sanctification.

Matthew 5:21-26 – Murder is not so simple as the taking of another life, or our own. Rather, murder is committed when we dismiss any other person, when we reduce them to an inconvenience or an irritation and see them as anything less than a creature of God the Father’s who God the Son died to save so that God the Holy Spirit might establish them in faith and trust of this reality for God’s eternal praise and their eternal blessing. I have seen no accounts where authorizing or legalizing euthanasia leads to a higher view of human life. Rather, once the door opens more and more people in more and more circumstances are deemed eligible for termination, even if they do not want it for themselves. The best of alleged intentions – reduction of human suffering – opens the door to all manner of other sinful motivations. The notion that existence should be without suffering of any kind is a curious one, given the prevalence of suffering in one form or another through almost the entire span of a human lifetime. Sources of suffering might change, but so also do coping mechanisms and the experience of our God’s presence with us in powerful ways. To determine that no such coping and no such divine revelation can (or even should) occur is to destroy hope at a practical level and deny the hope clearly promised in the empty grave of Jesus the Christ.

Preaching Progress

June 30, 2020

About ten years ago – oh wait, it was really just this past February! – I began a book on improving my preaching.

Then the world fell apart.

But the book remains on my desk open to the chapter I have been working on sporadically for several months. Chapter 2. I did say sporadically, didn’t I? Intermittently? More not than often? Anyways.

Chapter 2 has me go through past sermons over the last several years to determine when parts of the Bible I primarily preach out of. He divides Scripture into different sections –

  • Genesis-Deuteronomy (Pentateuch)
  • Joshua – Esther (History)
  • Job – Song of Solomon (Wisdom Literature)
  • Isaiah – Malachi (Prophets)
  • Matthew – Acts (Gospels/Acts)
  • Romans – Philippians (Pauline Epistles)
  • Hebrews – Revelation (General Epistles & Revelation)

What I learned in this is my system of saving my sermons does not lend itself to an easy examination of what texts I primarily preached from. So I had to open every single individual sermon to determine what I preached from. Which is incredibly time-consuming, and so I didn’t go through five years of back sermons. I made it through about a year and a half and I’m going to call that good.

I preach primarily on the Gospel texts. This makes good sense as I believe the Gospel should predominate in worship. However I often incorporate the Old Testament lesson or the Epistle reading or even the psalm into the sermon as well, so that even while I’m preaching mostly on the Gospel readings it isn’t exclusive to the other readings. I guess this is good. The author’s idea is that you should have a balanced use of Scripture in your sermons over time, an idea I agree with in principle so long as the Gospel predominates.

Ready for Chapter 3, I guess!

Reading Ramblings – July 5, 2020

June 28, 2020

Date: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 5, 2020 – COVID-19

Texts: Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145:1-13; Romans 7:14-25a; Matthew 11:25-30

Context: God gives his good gifts to his creation. Even now, in the midst of our sinfulness, God continues to pour out upon his creation more than enough to satisfy everyone. God is not stingy, but we are not very good at sharing his gifts. But we look forward to a time when God himself ensures perfectly that his gifts are enjoyed perfectly. A time when we are freed from the limitations of sinful powers of varying sorts in our world. A time when thanks and praise to God flows from all lips because all equally receive and perceive his goodness as the giver. We his people here and now are not only to be about the business of sharing his goodness throughout creation but also telling of his blessings in our lives. On this weekend when Americans celebrate our freedom, we as American Christians remember our true and lasting freedom is in Christ.

Zechariah 9:9-12 – God is coming to his creation! The true and rightful King is coming to demonstrate his rule and power over all creation. This is cause for rejoicing! Not much is known about the prophet Zechariah. He is mentioned in Ezra 5:1 and 6:14 along with Haggai, evidently with an important role in the rebuilding of the Temple after the return from the Babylonian exile (circa 530 BC). Nehemiah 12:16 lists him as the son of the priest Iddo who returned from the Exile with Zerubbabel. Some see this as conflicting with Zechariah 1:1, 7 that indicate Zechariah is Iddo’s grandson rathher than son. We presume Nehemiah 12:16 simply omits the intervening generation, a practice not uncommon with Biblical genealogies. Zechariah is also evidence that the roles of priest and prophet were at some point combined

Psalm 145:1-13 – I lopped off verse 14 from the assigned reading, as it seems to be out of synch with the previous section, introducing a new line of thought. The dominant theme in the first 13 verses is giving testimony, witnessing to the power of God. The speaker begins in the first person in verses 1-3, but then expands the scope of this praise, indicating that one generation should witness to the Lord’s goodness to the next generation. How easy it is to forget this as part of our Christian life and witness, sharing with children and grandchildren how God has blessed our lives! Certainly in times like these COVID-19 days, we have much to give thanks for and much to share with others about how God continues to bless us and watch over us. This care is summarized best in vs.8-9, making it clear that God does not limit his goodness just to his faithful, but extends his blessings to all of his creation. The net result of this should be his blessed creation giving thanks to God and acknowledging him as the source of these blessings (vs.10-13).

Romans 7:14-25a – It’s helpful to reread verse 13 that was included in last week’s reading as the opening thought for these verses that follow. If the Law was the means by which sin was made known and defined in creation and in me personally (vs.7-12), it might be wondered whether we would have been better off the Law. Doesn’t the Law bring death where otherwise there would be no death because we would have no concept of sin? Hardly! Sin is to blame for death. Sin that worked initially in the flesh and blood of Adam and Eve and all their offspring, and that was only later codified and clarified to the people of God under Moses. The Law has always existed and therefore sin is always a violation of the Law woven into creation. The Law serves to rightfully condemn the sin I find within me. And I need both that clarification and condemnation of my sin because I would otherwise often be conflicted and confused regarding my sin. Sin isn’t simply what I want or don’t want. Now, in Christ, I’m very aware that while I may want what Christ wants, I act oppositely. So good and bad are not simply a matter of what I do or don’t do, or want to do or don’t want to do. I am in fact enslaved to my sin still at a certain level, acting it out in thought, word and deed even when I know better and want better. So the Law is necessary to clarify this for me so I know what sin really is and can condemn it within me, trusting in the deliverance that doesn’t come from knowing the Law or somehow learning to perfectly keep the Law but only in the person and work of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, on my behalf.

Matthew 11:25-30 – Oftentimes I’ve heard it said, If only Jesus were here today, doing what He did 2000 years ago, it would be so easy to believe! Yes Jesus says otherwise. It is not as simple as seeing is believing, as Jesus has just finished condemning Capernaum for unbelief in spite of Jesus’ preaching and teaching and healing and driving out demons there. They had all the evidence they could want of who Jesus was, but still rejected him. We can’t trust our own senses or our own reasoning skills! As such, we cannot reason ourselves to faith nor deduce faith logically, but faith must be revealed to us, shown to us and presented to us either to receive in gratefulness or spurn in arrogance or idiocy. The greatest gift in all of creation history isn’t received by everyone because not everyone will allow themselves to receive it as a child, unable to contribute anything of their own, and discarding whatever they thought was good and valuable in their lives as of no consequence to their salvation.

Reading Ramblings – June 28, 2020

June 21, 2020

Date: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 28, 2020 – COVID-19

Texts: Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 119:153-160; Romans 7:1-13; Matthew 10:34-42

Context: It is the erroneous assumption of some (many?) Christians that there can be a happy medium, an accommodation of sorts between the world and Christ. That the world will accept Christ if He is presented in the right way and right conditions, and that we can in turn continue to enjoy the world on our terms. But middle ground is tenuous at best and always fleeting. The prince of this world will not permit compromise unless he believes it will lead to his advantage. And likewise, God the Father has no intention of sharing his creation with any pretenders to the throne. Whatever middle ground we may appear to occupy will not last long, nor should we ultimately desire it to as it’s an expensive and dangerously misleading place to stand.

Jeremiah 28:5-9 – We don’t lack for conflicting messages in this world, and that has always been the case. Those who claim to speak on behalf of God appear to have an easy job. But the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Jeremiah echoes the sentiments of Moses in Deuteronomy 18:14-22 – those who claim to speak in God’s name should be held to their word, and judged by that word. Jeremiah faces the additional difficulty of reminding not just Hananiah but those inclined to listen to him that it’s easy to prophesy good things, as that’s what people want to hear. God’s Word often calls his people to the reality of how difficult things are in this world and how desperately Satan would like to see God’s people crushed and broken away from the loving hand of God the Father. Preaching peace and security has always been easy but rarely been accurate!

Psalm 119:153-160 – This portion of the acrosstic psalm uses the Hebrew letter resh. Speaking God’s truth to a world insistent on lies (Romans 1:18-32) will result in suffering for those who proclaim that truth. This psalm is spoken by the one who is faithful to the Word of God and is being punished for it. The speaker requests deliverance (v.153) from a potentially life-threatening (v.154) persecution (v.157). While the source of this persecution is not specified, it seems to have to do with the speaker’s refusal to compromise or violate God’s law (v.153) or statutes (v.157). It is reasonable for the faithful to pray to God for sustenance and vindication against the lies of the world. Such vindication ultimately is to the glory of God rather than just a personal blessing. Whether our preservation in the moment will best accomplish God’s purposes or not is not knowledge we’re usually privy to, calling us to trust that even an ignoble death can be used by God towards his ends, and we remain both in life and in death firmly in his care and love.

Romans 7:1-13 – The Christian’s relationship with the law is a matter of considerable confusion. The Law remains, but in Christ our relationship to the Law has changed. In Galatians 3 Paul will explain the Law as the means by which God protected creation until the coming of the Messiah. Paul uses the metaphor of marriage here to demonstrate the substantive change we have undergone in relationship to the Law. We were born sinfully bound to the Law and under it’s power to condemn us, but as we join ourselves to the death and resurrection of Jesus in baptism, we spiritually die and are reborn. So we are no longer bound to the Law as before, and we are free for Christ to claim us as his own. The Law in some ways stirred us to greater sinfulness once we understood what was prohibited to us. Our sinful nature found in the Law a guide as to what further and deeper sin we should be pushed towards. However the Law was not to blame for this, but our slavery to our sinful nature. The Law is good because it defines good and evil for us and saves us from the error and confusion of trying to define these things for ourselves, something we are always having to relearn. We can in no way transfer blame or guilt to the Law, but must always acknowledge it as the good gift of God, the righteousness of God spoken into a creation broken and unable to know that righteousness directly as Adam and Eve did in Genesis 1-2. So the Christian is not free and separate from the Law, but only from the condemnation of the Law. Sin remains sin, but the penalty of our sin is now satisfied not in our condemnation but in the forgiveness afforded by the incarnate suffering and death of the Son of God on our behalf.

Matthew 10:34-42 – Having prophesied the opposition his disciples will eventually face in fulfilling their duties as messengers, Jesus clarifies what will result from his work among us, the division it will create as the prince of this world fights against it, seeking to keep God’s creatures blinded and enslaved. God does not seek such division, but is committed to standing firm against the plots and plans of Satan. To imagine a God that shrinks from confrontation is to misunderstand both God and the nature of our depravity and sinfulness. There is no such thing as a little bit of salvation, or a partial victory or negotiated peace with evil. There is only victory. And while amnesty is extended in grace to those who repent of their former disobedience and rebellion, those who refuse such amnesty place themselves under eternal judgment. It is quite literally all or nothing and this should not surprise us as we live in the confusion and shifting ground of a creation constantly trying to mistakenly assert such compromise is not only possible but desirable. As though good could ever co-mingle with evil, purity with impurity, holiness with desecration, righteousness with outlaws.

Against attempts to hold such a middle ground Jesus speaks starkly. If you love the things and people of this world more than God you ultimately lose both eternally. Only by loving the things and people of this world in their proper place as fellow creations and creatures rather than gods and goddesses can we hope and pray both for their salvation and our own. It is not that we are to neglect or abandon the Fourth Commandment or our marriage vows. But for those in Christ all these relationships are derivative from and therefore only possible when kept in their proper relationship to our relationship with Christ.

Reading Ramblings – June 21, 2020

June 14, 2020

Date: Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 14, 2020 – COVID-19

Texts: Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 91; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:16-33

Context: Faithfulness to God will sometimes put us at odds with a world around us still enslaved to Satan and sin.

Jeremiah 20:7-13 – The prophet Jeremiah is appointed by God the Holy Spirit to speak a hard word to the people of Judah, a warning of destruction, of exile to Babylon. It is not a popular message, nor one that makes any sense to those who comfort themselves as the people of God. Surely God would never allow his chosen people to be humiliated! Jeremiah is publicly beaten and humiliated for the message he brings (vs. 1-3). How difficult it must be for Jeremiah to suffer only for speaking the true Word of God! How frustrating it must be to have his words fall not just on deaf ears but actively hostile ears! Jeremiah deals with this pain vocally in the verses for this morning (vs.7-10), stating his situation to God before, no doubt by the power of the Holy Spirit, he also speaks his consolation (vs.11-13), reminders of the God he serves and who cannot be overcome by the machinations of men. So you and I are called to faithful trust in our God who lives and reigns regardless of how the nations or our neighbors may rail against his Word.

Psalm 91 – God is our mighty fortress. He is the rock to which we cling, and also the rock upon which we build our lives. He is there for us always and in all things, not simply in those moments of terror or panic or uncertainty. He was present before the Coronavirus, He is with us now, and He will continue to be with his creation until our Lord’s return and the renewing or recreation of all things in unity under God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit once again. What is there we have to fear in this life? Those blessed with old age talk aboiut how quickly life goes, and it’s true. Yet we look forward to eternity! If our lives here and now are not all we hoped or expected them to be, all is not lost! If we are subjected to turbulence and uncertainty despite all our careful plannings and preparations, all is not lost! If we fall prey to sickness or disease, to war or any number of other dangers, all is not lost! We do not live in fear of the tragedies in life nor do we allow the blessings in life to eclipse our identity in Christ and our eternal destination.

Romans 6:12-23 – Having laid out faith in Jesus Christ as the means of salvation apart from adherence to the Law, Paul now has to clarify what he’s talking about. Does that mean the person in Christ ignores the law? Does it mean – if God’s grace increases to account for or sin – that we should sin more in order to give God greater glory in being even more gracious and merciful to us? It sounds funny, but it’s a logical conclusion people in Paul’s day and our own have come to – usually in rejecting the Bible and Christ as illogical.

Obviously, this is not the point Paul is getting at in any way. Christians are not exempt from the Law, but the Law wields a different power in the life of a Christian – a power to guide and lead but not a power to condemn and damn. Our baptism into Christ is not simply a photo opportunity and an excuse for everyone to get dressed up for church. Our baptism is actually a spiritual killing and raising to life again. But that death and rebirth doesn’t just affect our relationship with the law, to a certain extent it affects the sin in our lives as well, which is where we pick up Paul’s line of thought in verses 11-12. We have a newfound power – the power of God the Holy Spirit within us – to resist sin. Not that we can do so perfectly, but we can do so much better than we could before receiving faith in Jesus Christ! Just as if we had the opportunity to travel back in time to relive our lives and avoid the errors we regret now, our rebirth in Jesus Christ provides us the opportunity to live the rest of our lives out with decidedly different standards and possibilities guided not just by blind, sinful selfishness but the indwelling power and presence of the God who created, redeemed and now leads us towards holiness.

We have a true freedom and power to do this – albeit imperfectly as Paul will clarify in Chapter 7. Paul will continue to develop a line of thought that the Christian now lives and breathes in a different atmosphere, as it were, in Christ than before Christ while under the authority of Satan. But this change in environment and atmosphere does not set us free for a life of forgiven licentiousness. Rather, we are now slaves to Christ. Willing, grateful, blessed slaves. We are creatures and creatures have masters. Christ freed us from our slavery to sin and Satan which leads only to death, that we might be slaves of the God who created us, destined not for eternal misery but eternal life because of Christ.

Matthew 10:16-33 – We continue in Matthew 10 with Jesus preparing to send the disciples out for mission work. The reading does not exactly match the lectionary because I thought the lectionary divided up the text imprecisely. Last week Jesus laid out the reason for sending them out and the ground rules for how they would conduct their mission work. This week He begins to warn them not to assume their work will be universally received and appreciated. Here Jesus begins to speak prophetically. We have no textual evidence of the disciples being arrested or forced to defend themselves before “governors and kings” on this particular mission journey. Though certainly, the majority of them apparently did have to do so eventually – after Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension. Jesus here speaks as the Old Testament prophets did, sometimes mixing prophetic visions of nearer and more distant events without distinction. His words might have sounded very strange and a bit over-dramatic at the time, but later in their lives I’m sure his Word sustained them in the midst of trials and challenges both literal and figurative.

Likewise you and I are called to take Jesus’ words to heart. Not everyone will be happy to hear the news of a God who loves us enough to die for us and calls us into a life of obedient gratitude for saving us from ourselves and sin and Satan and death. There may be times when our message whether carefully crafted or mentioned off-handedly results in a furious rebuttal. And certainly some of God’s people throughout history and still today find themselves on trial or even at the mercy of an angry mob demanding their death.

At one level, while we don’t seek such responses, we are not to fear them or live our lives trying to hide from them. We are called to bear witness to our faith in lives of obedience to God the Father’s two guiding mandates in creation – love for him and love for neighbor, where love is defined not by us or the other person but by the God who created both. There may be times when we have to lovingly refuse the definitions and expressions of love our neighbor or culture demands from us because we know that, according to the Word of God, such definitions and expressions aren’t actually love.

When we have to reject the world’s definitions and ways of doing things and remind the world there is a Creator and his rules are to guide us, the response is oftentimes far less than grateful. But even if rejection of our witness of word and deed seems unanimous, we need to trust the Holy Spirit’s power, that He can move hearts and minds to faith using our imperfect obedience. It may not necessarily spare us the wrath of the mob or the penalty of the improper human law, but it should always remind us that we are never outside the love and care of our heavenly Father who is capable of turning Satan’s cruelest acts of inhumanity into opportunities to welcome new brothers and sisters in Christ into eternal life.