Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Reading Ramblings – June 20, 2021

June 13, 2021

Date: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 20, 2021 

Texts: Job 38:1-11; Psalm 124; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41 

Context: At least in America, there is a stream of Christianity that emphasizes that life in Christ is a life victorious.  Not victorious solely over sin and Satan and death – which we are very definitely victors over as partakers in the victory of Christ in his resurrection! – but all manifestations of deprivation and suffering such forces might cause.  Poverty, suffering, disease – these are not to be considered by the Christian!  The one with enough faith in Christ is immune and free from such mundanities!  And of course, for the many, many, many Christians who do deal with these things, it’s simply evidence of insufficient faith.  But the reality of human existence – and Christians are human – is that suffering is real.  Poverty is crushingly real at times.  Deprivation not just of liberty but of food or clean water or even life itself at the end of a gun or the point of a sword is a reality many Christians have and do face, and will likely continue to experience.  Is God somehow remiss in allowing this?  Is He unable or unwilling to deliver his people not just in the day of our Lord’s return but in every day in between?  The readings today call us to remember the essence of faith not as comfort or leisure or lack of suffering, but rather as the insistence that God is God, and He is the God who is there (to quote Francis Schaeffer).  Our duty as his creatures is to trust him in all things.  Not in a passive, resigned, helpless sense, but in the understanding that some things are out of our control, but never his.  And in the end, He will be revealed in truth and glory, and our faith will be vindicated. 

Job 38:1-11 – If the story of Job is well known to many Christians, I wish the conclusion to his travails were!  After nearly 40 chapters of suffering and agony, God finally comes to Job.  We prepare ourselves – ah, at last!  Job will have his answer!  But the answer God gives is anything but comforting, at least at first glance.  Rather than soothing Job with explanations and perhaps even an apology, God drives Job to his knees before the power and majesty of the Creator of the Universe.  Who is Job to demand an answer?  Who in all creation can or should demand anything of God, and on what pretext?  Who is like God in power, in majesty, in eternity?  The answer stings.  We may not get an answer to our questions and our laments in this life. We may not get them in eternity!  But what we do have is the presence and assurances of God who is the Creator of all things.  If we are unhappy with how things are going, do we imagine God is somehow absent or not in control?  Of course not!  Our strength and comfort lies not in being able to control our circumstances (though we do to some extent), nor the knowledge we can summon God like a genie to grant our wishes, but rather the confidence that God holds all things in his hands, including us and our suffering.  We never suffer alone, and we know that our suffering does not define us.  Rather, the defining word in our lives for eternity is life.  Life made possible by faith in the atoning death and resurrection of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus the Christ. 

Psalm 124 – We easily forget deliverance when the struggle has passed.  It is easy for us to forget how God has preserved us throughout our lives.  Indeed, were it not for God there could be no hope – something our culture is discovering the hard way after its flight from God.  Christians are defined as the people God has rescued from sin, Satan and death.  We have hope, and that hope is in the name of the Lord, maker of heaven and earth. 

2 Corinthians 6:1-13 – Although the Epistle reading does not necessarily align with the other readings during the liturgical season of ordinary time, today it meshes well with the theme of the reality  of suffering as well as hope.  Lest we think Jesus’ disciples were somehow exempt from suffering we need only look at St. Paul’s list of endured hardships to know this was not the case.  Yet rather than seeing such suffering as evidence of the falseness of Christ, they understood such sufferings as opportunities to exercise faith and trust in God.  Each day, regardless of how difficult it is, is a day in which we do by faith experience the favor of God and his salvation given to us through faith in his Son. 

Mark 4:35-41 – Mark concludes one of his few longer records of Jesus’ teachings with not a final parable but an event.  Having spent the day explaining the nature of the kingdom of God and the power in it despite external experiences, his disciples experience this reality in a concrete way.  Fearful of death via one of the powerful storms that can sweep across the Sea of Galilee, and having exhausted their own skill and knowledge they cry out to Jesus who has fallen asleep in the rear of the ship.  What faith and trust He has in his heavenly Father, to sleep so soundly when the ship is tossed by waves and wind!  When awakened He rebukes the wind – this is no ordinary storm.  Mark uses the same word here as he does later in Chapter 9:25 when Jesus rebukes an evil spirit.  Opposition to Jesus is raised in the form of wind and wave by powers opposed to him.  But what power can oppose the will of God the Father, who is above all things and controls all things?  Jesus rests in the knowledge that God the Father will allow nothing untimely to befall him.  Jesus’ disciples do not appear to have the same knowledge or confidence, but then they are still unsure as to who Jesus is.  Jesus rebukes his disciples for their lack of faith, something inappropriate in a disciple.  Do they not trust their master and teacher?  The question seems unfair.  They don’t know Jesus is more than just a master and teacher.  That confession will come later (Mark 8).  Yet Jesus expects that based on what they have seen and heard so far, that faith should already be better defined and exercised.  God is God.  If all our efforts have failed to deliver ourselves from a given situation, we are called to remember our true situation at all times – we are in God’s hands.  Thus Jesus will consign himself as He nears death (Luke 23:46).  This is the language of the faithful at all times.  God is the one who holds our lives and situations, not us.  We can and should deal with all situations in this faith that sees through the struggle at hand to the victorious Savior and his promises to us through faith.

Reading Ramblings – June 13, 2021

June 6, 2021

Date: Third Sunday after Pentecost ~ June 13, 2021 

Texts: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 1; 2 Corinthians 5:1-10; Mark 4:26-34 

Context: The season of Ordinal/Ordinary Time focuses us on the ongoing work of God the Holy Spirit in the world, the Church, and our individual lives.  The readings today collectively point us towards the miraculous and counter-intuitive nature of this work.  Our God delights in confounding our expectations and turning our prioritizations on their head, doing what we deem impossible by means we would consider ludicrous.  Ultimately this is to our blessing and benefit.  Hope is always available to us even when circumstances seem least hospitable to it.  Our God’s power and activity is literally unlimited, for which He alone is to be praised and honored. 

Ezekiel 17:22-24 – God called his people in Jerusalem and Judea to trust in him.  He has called them to faithful trust in his provision and protection for many years now, and they have repeatedly ignored him.  Their rebellion has led God to discipline them through the Babylonians, who laid siege to Jerusalem, took the leading families of the city back to Babylon as hostage, and installed a puppet king.  Now this puppet king has reneged on his promised duties to Babylon, seeking support from Egypt.  But God reveals that not only is this plan known, it will fail.  It will not free Jerusalem from Babylon, and it will result in the puppet king Zedekiah’s death.  But what God’s rebellious people sought to accomplish of their own power and wisdom God will accomplish by his power and wisdom, and in his timing.  Their unfaithfulness will be supplanted by his faithfulness.  All of this is to the benefit of God’s people, to be sure, but it is also ultimately for the glory of God, that all might recognize him as the one, true God. 

Psalm 1 –  The beginning of the Biblical song book sets the tone for all the psalms to follow.  God’s Word is the one true and reliable source of life.  There are only two ways through life, one in accord with God’s Word or against it.  The myriad options, religions, philosophies of the world all can be distilled down to one of these two options.  God’s Word results in blessing – God’s favor and protection.  The one who lives according to God’s Word is blessed.  It is a present as well as future reality which can be relied upon.  Those who act against or without God’s Word are not blessed.  They are not firmly established like a tree near water, they are insubstantial and transient like chaff, the light and useless husk of a head of grain.  Regardless of what power or prestige they may possess at any given time, they are not established in the Lord’s favor and therefore won’t last.  While we may not always be able to recognize it, God is always looking over his creation and creatures.  Evil will be punished, and trust in God’s Word will lead life.   

2 Corinthians 5:1-10 – Take a moment to read 2 Corinthians 4:16-28, as this provides the context for the opening verses of Chapter 5.  Although Psalm 1 may make it sound like following the Word of God is the guarantee of a good life, this is not necessarily the case.  Sin within us and around us and the work of Satan and his followers often ensures that God’s faithful are persecuted, mistreated, even killed.  But this does not deter us from God’s Word, which points us to Christ in whom is our hope.  Our hope is not grounded in only what is at the moment, in the pleasantries and pleasures of this pleasant life, in the good regard and esteem of those around us, and in good health and strength.  These things are transient, imperfect as they are right now.  What we look forward to is these things in their perfection, possible only after the return of our Lord.  We do not lose heart in the struggles of this world because we actively and intentionally fix our eyes on what lies ahead, on what is coming, on what is revealed only partially now but will be revealed in fullness and power.  Our confidence comes not in a successful life as the world defines it, but by  knowing that our Lord is coming, and until He arrives we will likely experience trials and tribulations.  And we conduct ourselves now in the knowledge and confidence of his return.  We should not interpret verse 10 as meaning it is the sum of our good or bad deeds that determine God’s attitude towards us on judgment day.  Rather, as Paul references in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) our good deeds will be revealed for what they are – whether we think they’re good or not, while our bad deeds are burned up and gone.  Paul’s words should give us confidence in our struggles, rather than sowing doubt in our contemplations! 

Mark 4:26-34 – Mark records a variety of Jesus’ teachings and parables regarding the kingdom of God and its nature.  The parables in this section all focus on the power of the kingdom of God, power that resides not in what we contribute to it or do, but simply in that it is God’s kingdom and power, and He will accomplish what He wills.  Our participation comes after his power works, whether that participation is by harvesting the ripe grain or taking shelter in the immenseness of the mustard tree.  Clearly our participation is not the emphasis, and we are not the ones to receive glory for doing what is only obvious and natural, as God has instilled those things in us!  God receives the glory for doing what appears impossible with the least likely of means, utilizing something as small and seemingly innocuous as a tiny seed or his Word and some water or a bit of bread and wine to accomplish incredible things like salvation.  We should be assured that God’s kingdom is coming, just as surely as seed planted in the ground will sprout and grow.  We should be assured that his kingdom comes not because of what we do but rather in spite of it.  Not because of the strength of our faith but despite the smallness of our faith (Matthew 17:20).  We respond in faith to what He is already doing.  We respond in faith to the incoming of the kingdom of God in the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.  It’s already here.  Already growing.  Already working.  And we are already in it!  We are privileged to be the first to point to the effects it has in this world here and now in our hearts and minds as we are transformed and sanctified day by day.   

GetReligion

May 22, 2021

That’s not intended to be proselytizing (though of course I would be the first to advocate not simply for religion but Christianity). Rather, it’s the name of a great web site dedicated to analyzing media reports on various subjects and topics to point out the “ghosts” in mainstream media – places where religion could have been brought into the report but wasn’t, presumably because liberal media has no interest in talking about religion, or when reporters simply appear to be ignorant about the religious dimensions of a story.

I’ve been following this site for over a decade and greatly appreciate their examination of the media. In case you’ve forgotten, give them a check out!

Reading Ramblings – May 16, 2021

May 9, 2021

Date: Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 16, 2021 

Texts: Acts 1:12-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-15; John 17:11b-19 

Context: The lectionary designates this the final Sunday of the season of Easter.  While technically accurate, it’s unfortunate that by falling on Thursday, the Ascension of our Lord is generally overlooked by the Church.  The readings emphasize our relationship to our resurrected and ascended Lord, while carefully avoiding explicit discussion of the Holy Spirit that become more liturgically appropriate next Sunday with Pentecost. The first reading picks up directly after Jesus’ ascension. 

Acts 1:12-26 – Jesus has ascended and told his disciples again that they will be his witnesses.  Already we see the disciples beginning to make connections in Scripture, drawing from Psalm 69:25 for Peter’s first quote and interpretation of Scripture (at this point still just what we call the Old Testament).  The context of the psalm is one of judgment against those who have plotted against God’s people, calling on God to punish them for their unfaithfulness, certainly not a stretch in regards to Judas and his betrayal.  Likewise Peter’s second quote of Psalm 109:8 again picks up on themes of judgment against someone who behaves falsely.  The disciples feel it necessary to restore their number to the one picked by Jesus himself – 12.  There are others who have followed Jesus since the beginning even though they were not reckoned official disciples or at least members of the 12.  Matthias is not mentioned again in Scripture, though Barsabbas is likely referenced in Acts 15:22.  We should presume based on lack of further information these served faithfully as designated.   

Psalm 1 – The opening of the psalter is a call to God’s Word, which will be the theme of the entire psalter.  God’s Word and it’s reliability and necessity for all good things forms a constant theme that is established here in the first psalm.  Two options are laid before the reader – either listening to the ill advice of the world that scorns and mocks God and his Word, or delight in God’s Word and way.  The proper choice is dealt with first.  Obedience to God’s Word forms a bedrock into which our roots may grow reliably and which will provide us with lifegiving water to sustain us in all times and situations.  The wicked are not so, and their shallow roots will prove insubstantial and inadequate, leading to the decay of the person as a whole until they are no more substantive than chaff, the flimsy covering over heads of grain which must be blown away by the wind because it’s worthless.  While the world may seem to run by it’s own rules where evil goes unpunished and virtue is a victim, God oversees all things and can be trusted to ensure things come out right in the end.  Language of the tree is interesting also in light of Genesis and Revelation, which respectively begin and end with a significant tree.   

1 John 5:9-15 – John concludes his letter where he left off last week, talking about witnesses and testimony.  How is it we believe what we believe?  Human sources are of some value, John admits, but divine testimony is far superior to human.  We think of the Father’s affirmation of Jesus at his baptism or on the mount of Transfiguration.  Repeatedly God the Father made clear his testimony regarding his Son.  Will we believe him or not?  If we do not believe him we call him a liar – either He is not who He claims to be or his testimony about Jesus is a lie.  There is no in between.  Trusting the Father’s testimony about the Son means believing it is through the Son we have eternal life.  John has crafted his writing (just this letter, or does he include his Gospel as well here?) in order to build and support faith in the one who reads and hears it.  What greater or more important reason could there be to write?  What subject more eternally important and imminently of greatest consequence?  We should read and hear then in this understanding – to simply enjoy the pleasantness of John’s words is useless and dangerous.  Rather, as we listen and read we should pray that either faith is established or affirmed.  This is John’s goal and it should be ours as well! 

John 17:11b-19 – As Jesus prepares to depart for his ordeal, He prays for his disciples’ protection.  He had afforded them direct, physical protection during his time with them, and John’s gospel records examples where Jesus is threatened, and we might assume by extension his disciples are as well (John 8, 10).  Now his direct physical presence will no longer be with them.  Because they bear his Word, they can expect to be hated by the world just as He has been – the danger is real.  We might expect Jesus would wish to spare his friends the suffering they will endure, and remove them from the world and those threats.  But this is not what Jesus desires.  It is not what is needed – they are to be his witnesses.  He prays for their physical protection, but this is grounded in the larger and deeper reality of their sanctification.  Their sins have been forgiven – they are now holy, made holy by the sacrifice Jesus is about to make.   

We should expect that the Holy Spirit of God is with us today as it was with the disciples 2000 years ago.  This presence should not be thought of as some sort of protection or ward against the troubles and difficulties of life – let alone the express hostility of those who reject Christ.  However we should stand firm in whatever trials and tribulations befall us, knowing we have been sanctified by Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection.  Eternity in his joy and presence await us, and should inform the witness we bear here and now.   

Reading Ramblings – May 9, 2021

May 2, 2021

Date: Sixth Sunday of Easter ~ May 9, 2021 

Texts: Acts 10:34-38; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-8; John 15:9-17 

Context: We near the end of the Easter liturgical season.  The readings become more and more pointed – what is the response of God’s Easter people, how do we live who wait the return of our Lord in glory in power?  We live in obedience.  Freed by our Lord’s victory over sin, Satan and death we throw ourselves into lives of obedience, no longer in terror of the Law’s convicting power – that power has been broken by Christ.  Rather, obedient in the joy of forgiveness and in the acceptance that obeying the law is not simply a matter of personal moral piety but rather of loving our enemy and our God.  Far from being free to determine what love should be or look like, we recognize that the essence of love has always been woven into the Law.  We embrace the Law as the only certain means of loving our neighbor and God properly until we are safely restored to eternal perfection. 

Acts 10:34-38 – Stunned at what God has revealed to him in his vision as well as the words and reception of Cornelious, Peter breaks forth in praise to God.  What was once a curious intellectual string to toy with is now a reality – God truly does not show favoritism, but truly has meant what He has been saying since Genesis 3:15 and his call to Abraham in Genesis 12.  God intends fully to extend his grace and mercy to any who will receive, regardless of their ethnicity or nationality or tribe.  The Jews should have been the first to receive and give thanks, but it was never intended exclusively for them.  Jesus is Lord of All!  This has been clearly demonstrated over and over again as the Holy Spirit of God pours out power and healing and faith on any and all who will receive it, and Satan has been powerless to stop it.  By orchestrating the sacrificial death of the Incarnate Son of God Satan has unknowingly made the Holy Spirit of God’s presence a new reality in creation. 

Psalm 98 – The Lord deserves a new song.  Not because He has done new things, but because the things He has done are marvelous.  Specifically, his strength and power (as symbolized in his right arm and hand) have accomplished salvation for him.  This does not mean He has saved himself – God has no need of salvation!  But rather the salvation He purposed to work on our behalf is what He has accomplished.  This salvation is now made known to all those it is intended for – to the nations, all peoples.  His chosen people have by no means been forgotten or omitted in all of this – it is to their glory that He has brought his salvation – his Incarnate Son – into creation!  So all creation is summoned to join in this song of praise of their king.  All creation should react in praise to the creator and redeemer because God will restore justice to the earth.  Evil will be dealt with once and for all, and heaven and earth will be reunited in peace because of the mighty work of God on our behalf! 

1 John 5:1-8 – We’ve read through the majority of 1 John since Easter.  It is a glorious hymn of praise to God for making us his children, showing us his love, and calling us to obedience as we await our Lord’s return.  There were no shortage of  strange ideas running around at the end of the first century.  People reworking the Gospel of Jesus Christ, altering it to accommodate reason, common sense, even other religious and philosophical beliefs.  And perhaps the most offensive of the Gospel details was the idea that God could be one and yet three, Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.  That God should be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Against this sprang up myriad alternative suggestions, primarily reducing the Son to the level of First-Created rather than co-God as John makes clear in the opening chapter of his Gospel.  So here, John reminds his hearers and readers that they do not simply profess faith and love in a God, but specifically in a God the Father and God the Son.  By extension, this means we love all those who make such confession.  Those who confess Jesus as the Son of God, the promised and prophesied Messiah of God are bound together in our identity as children of God, and we are to love each other as John has repeated throughout his letter.  This love, furthermore, is defined by obedience to the commands of God rather than coming up with our own definitions of love.  Our faith and obedience has overcome the powers and evils of the world, grounded in the testimony of God the Holy Spirit himself concerning the bodily incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, the means by which God’s mighty arm has accomplished salvation for you and I! 

John 15:9-17 – Continuing from last week’s Gospel reading, again taking place during the Last Supper, Jesus comforts his disciples with his upcoming departure and emphasizes to them the important aspect of how they must be obedient in love.  How many books have been written and seminars given trying to give Christians amazing ideas about what the Christian life consists of!?  How many programs?  How many calls to poverty or chastity or any other aspect of the Christian life.  But Jesus himself emphasizes love and obedience.  The two go together.  You can’t disobey the Word of God and claim to love your brother or sister in Christ.  Nor can you claim to love God if you refuse to obey his Word.  These two are inextricably linked.  His disciples need not seek lives of adventure in service of the Gospel – they won’t be able to avoid them!  And if you and I want to seek out such adventure but leave behind the call to love and obedience, we are missing the mark entirely.  We are to love and obey.  For most people, this is more than enough to keep them fully occupied 24 hours a day, seven days a week without ever needing to seek out greater challenge.  How many husbands and wives struggle simply to love one another?  Or to love their children?  How many have abandoned true love for the glories of becoming a social media influencer, spouting hate in the name of love?   We did not choose Christ, and we do not necessarily choose the life of obedience and love we are to live.  But we are to remember in all things that Christ chose us, and therefore we can trust and follow his Holy Spirit’s leading and guidance in whatever manner that takes in our lives.   

Reading Ramblings – May 2, 2021

April 25, 2021

Date: Fifth Sunday of Easter ~ May 2, 2021

Texts: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 150; 1 John 4:1-21; John 15:1-8

Context: To appearances, Satan and the world continue to gain the upper hand over Jesus and his followers. Stephen has just become the first Christian to die for his faith. Yet Luke does not take the modern route of exploring the pathos and victimization, feeding our narcissistic obsessions with bad news so inculcated in us through decades of steady news broadcasts and newspaper headlines, all aiming to woo our eyes long enough to make a buck of viewership and subscription numbers without really providing any substantive news at all. Instead, Luke turns away from Stephen’s body and Saul’s affirmation to show the Holy Spirit of God is hardly put back or rattled. Philip is guided to witness to an incredibly influential man who in turn receives faith in Jesus Christ through baptism. The Holy Spirit does not measure successes the way you and I have been taught to, and unless we shift our focus from body counts to actively allowing the Holy Spirit to cultivate real love in our hearts for our brothers and sisters closest to us in the faith, we miss the working of God here and now and imminent as we twiddle our thumbs and lament how if only the Holy Spirit would make it clear what He wanted, we would obey! He has made it clear. We just aren’t very excited about what it looks like – or costs.

Acts 8:26-40 – It would be over a century and half before Tertullian observed The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church. While Tertullian didn’t have to offer his own life to martyrdom, he undoubtedly witnessed and heard reports of many others who did, and observed the rather counterintuitive effects of such deaths. So we should not be surprised Luke does not spend great time bemoaning Stephen. After all, he is now with his Lord! And the persecutions arising in Jerusalem? Dispersals? Far from sounding the death knell of the Christian faith, the Holy Spirit continued to draw others to faith. Philip is led to safety outside of Jerusalem, and in the process gives witness to a foreign government official. We can rest assured that while victory may not be advancing as we would like it to – on our terms and timelines – the Holy Spirit of God patiently works away in God the Father’s perfect timing that as many as possible might be saved.

Psalm 150 – A read of the first psalm – and many other psalms as well – might understandably lead you to believe God’s first and foremost concern is our obedience to his will. But this is only a necessary first step. Only after we displace our own sinful hearts and minds with the guidance of the Spirit-breathed Word of God are we freed for our ultimate purpose, which is the praise of God. All of creation is intended to offer God the Creator the worship and praise He rightly alone deserves, and we are to be unrestrained in the means by which we do so – undoubtedly a vexation to those who believe only organs and hymnody are appropriate praise instruments! One day we will praise fully and completely but we begin praise now. The Church should be the place where the praise of God is anchored not just in a commitment to his Word, but by extension to what that Word demands of us. Tragically many Christians are more prone to emphasize a narrow legalistic understanding of God’s Word while ignoring far deeper calls to obedience in love, as John will do in his letter. This is not something we can do. It is only something God the Holy Spirit can work in us when we let go of our worldly understandings of success and how to accomplish it and are called to humble love of our brotehrs and sisters in our worshiping congregation. It remains a tragedy to me that people who eagerly eat up the Word of God in the context of a Bible study can in the next moment show complete and utter lack of love for a brother or sister in the faith just because there is a difference of opinion between them!

1 John 4:1-21 – Although everything after v.8 is optional, you really need to read the whole chapter to get a full feal for how important John sees this issue. He does not call his Christian readers to victory, or coach them in worldly leadership mantras to be more effective. Instead, he calls them to love one another. Not hypothetically, but the men and women right next to them day after day and Sunday after Sunday. I’ve quit counting the number of times good and pious Christians implore the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and guidance for the future, but completely ignore John’s rather pointed instructions here. Not all ideas or spirits are good. They must be tested. And if anything we do or say leads us contrary to Christ we can be dead certain we are not in his will! This may mean we don’t get our way, but John understands that what Christians are first foremost to do is give witness to the abiding presence of God the Holy Spirit, not to fight with one another for power and control. How can this be God’s will? Only because it is not in us to accomplish it! Only in submitting ourself to the Word of God and the expressed desires of God the Holy Spirit can we ever hope to get better at loving one another, and in the process give witness to the transformative power and presence of the God who chooses to work victory from the wreckage of defeat.

John 15:1-8 – It should not surprise us that what St. John tells us lines up perfectly with Jesus’ teaching. Obedience is what matters, and obedience consists of resting in Jesus. It is a passivity, as opposed to endless idols of proactive leadership so prized culturally since the days of Iacocca. We are not called to acccomplish anything but to deliberately abide in the vine, Jesus Christ, as his faithful branches. He will take care of determining what fruit and of what sort we will produce. And He will hold us in his love when the Father prunes us, putting us through painful and difficult times that better prepare us to produce the fruit of obedience down the line. Against the world that promises everyone can be a leader, a world changer, the Christian faith calls us to place our worth and value in the Savior who has accomplished the most important work on our behalf already. Metrics of success or failure, profitability, security, ROI, or any number of other numbers so highly prized by the world mean nothing in the Christian life and can actually lead us to start withering and not producing fruit because we are not abiding in Christ and his Word but rather are obsessed about what it is we contribute, what we accomplish. To abide is the constant process of recognizing we are pushing our own agendas, repenting, and returning to the Word of God for assurance of our forgiveness in the resurrected Christ and our position of simply being in him, allowing him to fill and nurture us and in his timing guide us towards his will.

Reading Ramblings – April 25, 2021

April 18, 2021

Date: Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 25, 2021

Texts: Acts 4:1-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

Context: We continue with the after-effects of Easter, moving from related accounts of the first Easter day to broader considerations of life in light of the resurrection. If death is no longer the end, life takes on a very new meaning and scope. Our world struggles today in fear because trust in God and the anticipation of resurrection which were once commonplace throughout the West has been replaced by self-confidence and trust in whatever powers can provide us with the highest likelihood of personal happiness and long life. Science and the worship of science (scientism) has rapidly become the defacto God for many people. And any threat to the length or quality of our life takes on massive proportions as a source of fear. Against this fear people might be willing to cede great amounts of personal liberty or rights once cherished and unique (within the American context) solong as the exchange results in greater measure of self-satisfaction in the moment. For the Christian, our life here is a gift from God, who alone knows the details of our life and alone holds all these things not simply in his hands but in his hands for our ultimate good. The Christian is free to be sacrificial with his life- not because he does not value this life but because he knows this life is only the beginning. Our Good Shepherd has so much yet in store for us beyond the Valley of the Shadow of Death!

Acts 4:1-12 – The timidity and fear of the disciples so evident in the events of Holy Week through Easter Sunday is nowhere to be seen now. Emboldened by their witness of their Lord and Savior resurrected from the dead and equipped with the Holy Spirit of God there is now a boldness where before was only fear and confusion. This boldness is not a disregard for earthly authority or conduct but a greater confidence in the blessings through faith in Jesus as the Christ. So Peter can witness boldly, not to degrade or insult or mock the religious authorities but to make clear to them where his faith and trust now reside. In doing so he invites them to re-evaluate their actions and motivations both past and present, and to come to faith as well in the resurrected Son of God. The leaders cannot deny what the disciples are doing in terms of healing and preaching and teaching, but they need to discern the source of their power. The answer is simple – Jesus is the source. The Holy Spirit strengthens Peter and the others to give faithful witness to this even though they could be subjected to the same fate as Jesus. But once the tomb is shown unable to contain us, what confidence and joy fill their hearts and spill over into lives of loving service, obedience and witness!

Psalm 23 – Perhaps the most beloved and memorized passage of Scripture, this psalm describes the goodness of our one, true Good Shepherd as Jesus describes himself in John’s gospel. This shepherd leads us and cares for us and protects us not only in this life but leads us into the joy and security of life on the other side of death. The relationship of the Good Shepherd to his sheep does not end but continues on until our needs are met perfectly and eternally at the table set before us, where our enemies can only watch but never disrupt the celebration. In this context, the Valley of the Shadow of Death is seen to be just that – only a valley, rather than a pit. Our Shepherd accompanies us even here, leading us through it and to the other side, providing comfort when all seems lost. All has not been lost! Our lives should be lived with an eye on this approaching valley but more importantly with an eye towards what lies beyond.

1 John 3:16-24 – Love is sacrificial, and the love of Jesus Christ is made most manifest in his sacrifice of himself for us. But his tomb is empty – death has no power over him and by extension those who place their faith and trust in him. As such, the Christian not only can but should contemplate sacrificial love for brothers and sisters in Christ, emulating our Savior in being willing to sacrifice that others might live. However this level of sacrificial love is not all we are called to – we are called to live sacrificially as well as die (if so called to) sacrificially. We should have an active eye towards the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ, willing to give in love to them who are in need. This is not a call to generic philanthropy or generosity but a specific word of encouragement and instruction to those in Christ. We must first love one another, or else our witness of love to anyone else is hollow at best.

John 10:11-18 – Jesus compares himself to others in this world who would seek the trust of God’s people. All others fall short, either out of malice (v.10) or out of human frailty (or perhaps malice here as well, vs. 12-13). Jesus is the one and only Good Shepherd, who can and does love his sheep both perfectly and sacrificially. His ability to be the Good Shepherd is rooted in the relationship between He and the Father, and his flock (the Church) should emulate this close relationship, trusting in our Shepherd even when things are difficult, as Jesus did in Gethsemane the night of his arrest. Against a world that demands comfort at any and all costs, we are called to faithful confidence that our Good Shepherd knows us and leads us rightly. This is not an easy call to heed, and Jesus understands this firsthand. Yet just as his trust and obedience to his Father’s plan was vindicated in his resurrection, so you and I as we are called to follow where we may not wish to follow will be vindicated on the last day as we too are resurrected and our faith and trust are shown to have been well-placed. All of this extends beyond narrow personal self-interest. Despite evangelicalism’s emphasis on a me-and-Jesus level of faith, the faith we are called to Biblically is always much larger. My own faith is bound to the faith of others, some very different from myself, separated by geography or time and at present all but unrecognizable. But one day we will all be gathered together into one fold! One day we will all be seated at the celebration feast on the far side of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. What an amazing experience that will be, hearing our Lord being praised in so many languages and dialects, with so many different instruments and rhythms and tones! All of which will blend perfectly togther in harmony for eternity, not because of our own skill or mastery but because of the loving and perfect orchestration of the one Good Shepherd.

Reading Ramblings – April 18, 2021

April 11, 2021

Date: Third Sunday of Easter – April 18, 2021

Texts: Acts 3:11-21; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36-49

Context: As we continue in the season of Easter (and every Sunday is really a celebration of Easter, regardless of the liturgical season) the readings emphasize the effects of the resurrection reality. Though a bit confusing as the readings from Acts also follow Pentecost, Pentecost is linked to the death and resurrection of Jesus, as Jesus explained to his disciples in John 14. The readings in 1 John show the continued impact of the resurrection on the longest-lived of the apostles, while the assigned Gospel text continues the story of that first Easter Sunday.

Acts 3:11-21 – What a difference from cowering in fear on Easter Sunday! Peter and John – empowered by the Holy Spirit – speak boldly to the crowd that gathers around them to marvel at the healing they have just performed. The disciples have healed in the past, but now they heal and also preach in the name of the resurrected Christ. Note the tone of their speech – they are not angry or bitter. They recognize Jesus’ prophetic fulfillment. The Holy Spirit has opened their minds to Holy Scripture as Jesus promised. Peter’s message remains the same from his Pentecost sermon (Acts 2) – he calls people to repentance. Rather than rejecting Jesus people are now to repent of their former rejection and embrace his identity and purpose as the Messiah of God. There is nothing we can do or add, no reparations to be paid. Acknowledge if we had denied Christ before, and accept him now. This is the essence of faith, the starting point for an adult who comes into contact with the Gospel. Of course baptism would follow next, as Peter makes clear in Acts 2 and Jesus instructs his disciples in Matthew 28. But for the adult who the Holy Spirit brings to Christ it begins with repentance and acceptance!

Psalm 4 – There is an urgency in how this psalm begins, an urgency based on some great, pressing need, perhaps to do with the unfair or dishonest treatment of others (v.2). Yet the psalm transitions quickly and unexpectedly into a declaration of confidence. Whereas the speaker called for God to hear him in v.1, v.3 is an affirmation that God definitely has listened and does listen to the petitioner. Despite the sinfulness of the world and the sometimes overt persecutions of God’s faithful, we should never lose hope or sight of the reality that we belong to God, and that designation cannot be altered by the machinations of even Satan or his powers. We belong to God, and God listens to us! Verse 4 offers some confusing options for translation, with the most common option following the Latin translation and talking about anger. Despite this, the psalm (and the verse) has little if anything to do with anger, whether within the specific situation of the speaker or as a more general theological position on the potential for righteous anger. Likewise in v.5 the idea of right sacrifices could be interpreted several ways, whether in the cultic definition of the Old Testament or more spiritual sacrifices (a la Psalm 51), or even a somewhat vague reference to the propitation of the Son of God on our behalf (likely part of why this psalm was chosen for today!). The conclusion is the same – we are to trust God, not ourselves or others. So the psalmist concludes in confidence. Yes, his situation is still uncertain, but he trusts in God. So much so that he has no trouble falling asleep (v.8) because he knows it is God himself who provides his safety.

1 John 3:1-7 – John rightly emphasizes God’s love for us, a reality much of modern American Christianity reverses in emphasizing our love for God. What love we have for God is only because God loves us first, and therefore is hardly the appropriate option for extended emphasis. The reality is that because of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, we who the Holy Spirit has brought to faith in this are really and truly children of God here and now, not simply in the creative sense of God being the Creator and therefore we are his creations, but in the redemptive sense of being brought into the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Our identity in Christ is a reality here and now, and furthermore a reality that will likely alienate us from the world around us. The world around us that does not know God will deem us to be the misfits, but when our Lord returns it will be shown to all that our clinging to Christ and being conformed to him is actually the deepest of realities and identities. This is our hope as we cling to God’s Word as the normative guide to our lives rather than tacking our sails to the shifting and unpredictable winds of culture. First and foremost in this conforming to Christ is the acknowledgement that sin should have no place in us. Contrary to psychology and culture that deems whatever we want or like to be intrinsically good as such, Scripture defines right and wrong, and further warns us that our ability to judge right and wrong for ourselves is not only flawed and broken, but tends to opt towards wrong rather than right! Therefore we must cling and trust to God’s Word as the only source of absolute truth in a world where truth is redefined more and more radically and quickly!

Luke 24:36-49 – People don’t die and then rise to life again very often. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that, at least in terms of documented accounts of such things, a few handfuls at most can legitimately be described as miraculous restorations of life. To presume that people 2000 years ago accepted the idea of rising from the dead as a less sensational event than we do today is ridiculous, and the disciples’ shock in this passage is a good reminder. Despite having seen Jesus do a variety of impressive miracles in his lifetime (including restoring life to other people who had died), and despite his explicit descriptions to them beforehand of what would happen – including his resurrection – they are not at all expecting to see Jesus alive again. Jesus must demonstrate this reality to them. They are not hallucinating. They are not seeing a ghost. They are not being deceived by some spiritual power. Jesus invites them to explore the signs of his ordeal. It is interesting to me that beyond the physical wounds of his crucifixion, Jesus does not seem to evidence any of the other mistreatments He received. He does not direct them to examine his scalp for the scarring from his crown of thorns. He does not bear the evidence of the brutal beating the Romans gave him prior to his execution. Only the marks directly associated with his death are present and presented as evidence. Even this extraordinary opportunity was not really enough to convince them, and so to further make it plain that He truly was bodily resurrected as a man, Jesus eats.

We must think of the resurrection in such blatantly physical terms. Jesus is recognizable, and He is able to substantiate his identity further, and He is also able to demonstrate that He is thoroughly physical and human as well – so shall we be. Our hope is not to float as spirits in the afterlife, nor to flit from cloud to cloud plucking harps. Our hope and confidence is that as our Lord was raised bodily from the dead as a human being (albeit also as the Son of God – something you and I will not be!), so you and I will be raised physically from the dead for a physical eternal life. While this will not happen until Christ’s return, and therefore may involve a period of waiting wherein we are spiritual but not yet spiritual and physical (Revelation 6:10), our final hope in eternal life is to be what we were created to be – human beings. Perfected and immortal. But very much creatures.

Reading Ramblings – April 11, 2021

April 4, 2021

Date: Second Sunday of Easter – April 11, 2021

Texts: Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 148; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31

Context: Easter is a season as well as a specific date. Our Lord rose three days after his crucifixion, and this unparalleled event in human history is given a liturgical season to better flesh out more of the nuances and implications of this reality. At eight full weeks it is the longest liturgical season of the Church except for Ordinal Time which is not reallly a season in the same sense of the word. The readings continue to declare our Lord’s resurrection, with the Gospel relating events that occurred later that first Easter Sunday and afterwards. The Old Testament and Epistle lessons flesh out how the resurrection affects not just those first witnesses but all who hold in faith to the veracity of that event and the implications promised by our Lord. The resurrection is not simply a get-out-of-hell-free-card at the end of our lives, but transforms every moment of our lives into something richer and deeper, leading towards a particular reality that will last forever.

Acts 4:32-35 – The implications of the resurrection on the disciples and the early Christian community were profound. It fundamentally changed the way they looked at and experienced day-to-day life. Some would rightly point out that this passage is descriptive, not prescriptive. It tells us what they did, it does not dictate what we must do. This is a true and important distinction, but it is also a quick and easy way to grapple with the reality of this transformed community. Because they had seen personally or trusted the testimony of the apostles that Jesus of Nazareth was no longer dead, just as He had prophecied would be the case, their priorities and lives altered dramatically. How they viewed and treated one another was now no longer dictated by socio-economic and cultural distinctions but rather by the reality they were united for eternity through baptism into Jesus Christ. That eternal fraternity had very temporal implications as well. Could one part of the body live in luxury and excess knowing another part of the body did not? Would not one part of the body care for in very practical ways the well-being of another part of the body? This was not faceless charity or a social agenda, but rather people who saw each other differently now that they saw Christ differently. These are challenging verses for American Christians, but we should think seriously about how they apply to us individually (as opposed to congregationally or as a geo-political entity or on any other level of scale that eliminates or automates our conscious and active participation) today.

Psalm 148 – This is a beautiful psalm of praise, in which every aspect of creation is called to exalt and praise the Creator. What strikes me upon this reading is v.6 – the heavenly bodies of stars and sun and moon are called to praise God specifically for his decree. What is this decree? It is the decree of creation in Genesis 1. God called these entities into existence through his Word and sustains them. Perhaps more specifically, we might wonder if his decree is to be thought of as his approval, declaring his created entities to be good (Genesis 1:14-18). As such, God continues to sustain his created order despite the Fall into sin, a Fall that extends beyond humanity to include all of creation (Romans 8:18-23). But He doesn’t simply sustain us in perpetual sin, rather He has raised up a horn for his people (v.14). God has, does, and will save his people, and for this He is to be praised as well. Creation praises God simply because He has created it. God’s people praise God because not only has He created them, He has saved them!

1 John 1:1-2:2 – Another aspect of the resurrection of the Christ is that the forgiveness of sins is a very real thing, available not through sacrificial rites as the Jewish people understood them. Those rites were given as foreshadowing of the final and perfeft sacrifice of the Son of God on behalf of the people of God. This is God’s Word of life, the Son of God made flesh, which is not only a declaration of life to be heard but an embodiment of it to be touched. It is the blood of the Word made flesh which forgives our sin. Confession of our sin accesses the blood of Jesus Christ. Failure to confess, as though we did not sin and have no need of forgiveness, is to live in darkness and self-deception, cutting ourselves off from the forgiveness won for us by Jesus Christ. Sin is to be taken seriously. We are to seriously resist it, and we are to soberly repent of it, that we may walk in the light of God in whom there is no darkness.

John 20:19-31 – Fear gives way to amazement, which gives way to proclamation, which gives rise to doubt, which is put to flight in confession, which is received with blessing. The progression of this short set of verses is a visceral demonstration of the power of the resurrection. Fear of the world – whether from religious oppression or pandemic or political chaos is overcome in proclamation – we have seen the Lord! This naturally should create doubt. After all, to die and rise again truly is miraculous! How can we be sure? Isn’t there a more rational explanation? For centuries such alternatives have been proffered, but each requires a greater suspension of disbelief than the simple but astounding reality of resurrection. The heart of the Christian message is Christ crucified and resurrected, and it is here that doubt must be either clung to tenaciously or abandoned to embrace confession. The eyewitness accounts are credible. The reasons to doubt them rest not in the quality of the testimonies themselves but rather our attachment to a purely material explanation of the universe which leaves no room for God and no room for miracles and ultimately no room for life itself. Confession acknowledges that such a tenaciously materialistic view is in itself an act of faith, certainly no less so than embracing the simple testimony of simple people saying what they saw and heard and touched with their own senses. Independently corroborated and certainly, given the outrageous nature of the claim, easily demonstrable as false if such were the case. Yet the tomb remains empty 2000 years later, and we are confronted with that powerful confession – we have seen the Christ! And that confession of faith draws us into the direct blessings of the resurrection both here and now as the other readings have pointed to, as well as eternally. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Reading Ramblings – Easter Sunday

March 28, 2021

Date: Easter Sunday – April 4, 2021

Texts: Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8

Context: He is risen! He is risen indeed! Allelluia! Victory over those who opposed God’s perfect love and will – first spiritually with Lucifer and his followers, and then eventually humanity and creation through the Fall. Any who thought they could better God’s plan are shown to be what they always had to be – grossly in error. God alone holds all wisdom and knowledge as well as power and love. In the unlikely and unexpected death of the Incarnate Son of God, God does not destroy his wayward creation but throws open the doors to grace and forgiveness and hope. Reconciliation is made possible on the only terms that could ever exist – God’s terms. Through trust and hope in God’s promises to us on the cross and in the empty tomb all are invited out of rebellion, to lay down arms and sing the praises of God who alone could make such reconciliation possible. What God promised to do in the beginning (Genesis 3:15) and continued to promise to his people for thousands of years is fulfilled. We await the final consummation, the return of our crucified and resurrected Lord. The victory is already won – now we’re waiting for the victory celebration to begin!

Isaiah 25:6-9 – The promises of God are not narrow and skimpy. They do not hedge and trim and cut corners. They are broad and endlessly generous! God intends not just the preservation and salvation of his chosen people of Israel, but that the blessings conveyed to them would in turn pour out into all of creation. All peoples (v.6) are to be included in the invitation to these blessings, blessings carefully spelled out in detail so we can almost smell the bounty from here! The universal covering over all people – death – will be swallowed up and no more. Tears will be dried, never to pour out again in suffering and grief in the face of death. And the reproach, the stigma, the disgust the world marks God’s people with will be removed once and for all. In that day there will be no discussion of relative or comparative merit. This feast is not on our behalf. We are the invited guests of our Lord and Savior at the celebratory feast of and for God the Father, who will himself be vindicated from any and all claims that He is not truly good, wise, and powerful. Those who trust in him will be shown to have been right all along. He is risen!

Psalm 16 – A love song where the speaker describes his feelings for God. It begins with a standard call for help – but the rest of the psalm never mentions this again. There is no elaboration. It is as though the speaker were interrupted at the end of verse 1 by God himself, asking the speaker to clarify to God how he feels about God. In verse 2, the speaker begins articulating the nature of his relationship to God. God is the source of every good thing in the speaker’s life. The speaker is not alone in this relationship – there are others in the larger community who share this relationship with God and therefore they are more delightful to be with for the speaker than anyone else. Not that there aren’t other options out there, idols and false gods to sacrifice to and call on – but the speaker will have none of that. Why? Because the Lord has blessed him richly (vs.5-6), and even were there such a thing as other gods, they could not provide for the speaker any better than God himself has. Some of these things might be evident to any observer of the speaker, but his relationship to God goes deeper – God instructs him so diligently and thoroughly that even during the night as he sleeps, he is being instructed by God, and his heart responds in love and joy. God is present for the speaker here and now (v.8), and as such the speaker has no fear. He knows the Lord preserves him and will continue to do so. The blessings of God are not simply for this lifetime but for all eternity (v.11).

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 – Modern scholarship is dismissive of much of what the Church professes to be written by St. Paul, but these verses here are almost universally acknowledged to be Paul’s words. As such they are instructive for the wealth of information they tell us about the early Church and what it proclaimed – namely the prophesies fulfilled in the death of the anointed one, the Messiah/Christ, who did not remain dead and buried but showed himself alive again to hundreds of witnesses. Paul’s intent is clear – don’t simply take his word for it, ask around! There are plenty of witnesses (this letter being written less than 30 years after the events) who can testify that Paul speaks the truth. It is this resurrection of of the Son of God that provides hope to sinners, delivering to them grace rather than judgment. This grace is transformative here and now, as Paul can well attest to personally! And that grace can, by the power of God, work mightily in even the lowliest of believers, the darkest of repentant sinners. This was the essence of Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians, and it should still form their core identities. It should still be their assurance even though Paul has had to correct them on numerous issues in this letter. And therefore it should still be your hope and mine!

Mark 16:1-8 – Mark’s account of the resurrection is quick and to the point, just like the rest of his Gospel. Though we assume the latter half of Chapter 16 is not original with Mark, the first eight verses are well attested to in antiquity. The second Mary mentioned in v.2 is understood to be Jesus’ mother, who is mother also of James (and Joses, as per 15:47, which would make these men mentioned also in 6:3 Jesus’ brothers). The women obtained spices or scented oils (the language makes it clear it is a liquid) after the Sabbath ended Saturday evening, and made their way to the tomb early the morning after Sabbath, Sunday. Jesus was in the tomb from before the Sabbath/start of the day on Friday, then all Sabbath day, and then into the first hours of the day after Sabbath – late Saturday-to early morning Sunday. Jesus did likely not rise at dawn or just after sunset but probably in the pre-light hours of Sunday morning.

But why the abrupt ending, an ending that seems open-ended – some translators as They were afraid, you know. I like the interpretation that says Mark does this intentionally, writing to Christians several decades later who are already experiencing persecutions. Christians who are suffering simply for believing all of this is true. Christians who might be inclined (like us?) to think that if only we had been there and seen these events ourselves, it would be easier, there would be no need for fear. We could confidently and joyfully endure anything.

No, Mark says. Those who were there that first Easter morning? They were afraid too, you know. Fear is not limited to those who did not see and hear Jesus personally, even those who knew him best – even his own mother – were afraid. Our fear does not make us lesser believers. Our fear binds our sinful human hearts with all the sinful human hearts before and after us. Sinful human hearts who nonetheless, trembling and fearfully at times, put their faith and trust in the account of Jesus’ resurrection, and trusted that what He promised them was true – He would come for them to take them to be with him (John 14:1-12). Fear does not make us unfaithful, but we must cling to our faith in spite of the fear, in defiance of it.

Even Peter who denied Jesus vehemently three times a few days earlier was not to be excluded from the promises of the resurrected Christ! Jesus specifically names and specifies Peter. How much more so should you and I trust that this good news is for us! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!