Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Reading Ramblings – June 25, 2017

June 18, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 25, 2017

Texts: Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 91:1-16; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:5a, 21-33

Context: All of the texts except for the Romans reading deal with the servant of God standing fast in the midst of trial and persecution, awaiting vindication from God. It is our prayer that should we be required to stand up for our faith, to give an answer for our hope, to maintain our fealty to Christ when we are demanded to recant, that we would remain faithful and steadfast, regardless of the consequences, firm in the knowledge that perhaps not this day, but some day, our God will vindicate himself and we will receive honor rather than the shame of the moment.

Jeremiah 20:7-13 – Jeremiah was a prophet in the late 7th/early 6th centuries BC, speaking God’s word near Jerusalem, in Jerusalem, and then to God’s people in dispersion after the fall of Jerusalem. He is called upon to speak words of terror and judgment in Jerusalem, for which he is abused (20:1-2). The words for this morning’s reading convey the suffering of Jeremiah, recently physically abused and publicly humiliated for faithfully speaking God’s Word. He is unhappy with the lot God has called him to because people only mock and insult him for speaking it. If he attempts not to speak God’s Word, he cannot hold out for long – it bursts out of him almost violently. He calls for God’s vindication and judgment against his enemies, even as he worries about their plots against his life. Before continuing on to strong words of despair, Jeremiah breaks forth in praise to God, perhaps divinely mandated and ordained praise!

Psalm 91:1-16 – What a beautiful psalm of hope and promise, calling the faithful to trust always in God who has the power to save against all odds, and who has promised ultimately to save us to himself for eternity. The psalmist uses vivid imagery to portray both the predicament of the speaker as well as the power of God. The speaker is beset by myriad threats, like bird with a snare, or a warrior facing the sword, or the warrior facing a barrage of arrows, or the vulnerable person stalked in darkness. The odds may not look good, but we are to always put our hope and trust in God, rather than ourselves or some other alleged source of protection or hope. Doing so promises us that we will see God’s glorious vindication, and the sorrow of those who persecuted us. The latter half of the psalm is familiar as Satan quotes it to Jesus while tempting him in the wilderness (Matthew 4:5-6). Satan omits one line which helps to clarify the context of the psalm, resulting in an interpretation which exaggerates the promise of physical protection in verse 12. The context is not so much physical protection (though the earlier verses of the psalm lend themselves well to this interpretation!), but rather protection in all the speakers ways, so that the speaker does not wander into areas of sin or danger to himself but rather remains guided and therefore protected by God’s Word.

Romans 6:12-23 – Last week’s reading from Romans 5 emphasized that Christ’s death saves us from our deepest and darkest moments of sin and helplessness. What does this mean for the one rescued in Christ? This week’s reading begins to explore this. First off, the one saved by Christ should flee from sin and not let it be the dominating force in her life (reining over her). This involves proactive choices – not presenting our bodies to opportunities for sin. This might mean the tongue and gossip or slander, or the hands with theft, or the eye with lust. Battling sin means taking steps to try and avoid it. The motivation for this is the knowledge of what God has made us through faith in Jesus Christ. We are his. We are bought with a price, and we do not exist simply for our own desires and self-gratification. We are now under the rule of grace, rather than the power of the law condemning us in our sin. We sin, but the result is no longer death because of faith in Jesus, but rather in forgiveness which creates a state of grace.

The wily hearer/reader might be inclined to think that this means we can sin more – all we want! – since it no longer leads to condemnation under the Law. Obviously this is not what Paul means. How we choose to utilize our bodies (all of our selves, not just our physical bodies) is indicative of who we desire to serve. If we continue to choose sin actively and consistently, we are showing that we really prefer the lordship of sin rather than the lordship of Christ. This is not the case for the one in Christ, because starting with our hearts, we are being made obedient to God’s teaching. Our heart strives for this and knows that it is best, even when our minds and our bodies betray us. Our heart is enslaved to righteousness in Christ, not to sin. This will work itself out from the heart, by the power of the Holy Spirit and our cooperation, so that the sin in our lives is weakened, reduced, and we find it no longer holds the power over us it used to. This is a difficult and painful process! Perhaps it was easier before we came to Christ! Certainly – but our ease and comfort in our sin was leading us only to death and destruction. The harder road of sanctification by the power of the living God within us leads us to life. It builds us up, rather than tearing us down to nothing.

Matthew 10:5a, 21-23 – Jesus continues to instruct his disciples regarding their mission trip that He is sending them on. His words mix in this chapter, referring at some points to their immediate, short-term mission trip, and in other areas to the larger mission work they will embark on after his death, resurrection and ascension. The words in this section indicate that He is speaking now in this latter sense.

What is the effect of the Gospel? It brings hope and life to those who hear it and accept it with gladness as the truth. But many will be unwilling or unable to hear and receive it as such. This creates tension and conflict which will unfortunately play out not just on the larger societal level but within individual families as well. One might easily think of Muslim converts to Christ who are discovered and prosecuted or killed by their families. But one might also easily think of loved ones closer to home who have rejected Christ and reject their families as well. Satan’s power and deception in this world inevitably will create conflict where the Gospel is preached, heard, and where the kingdom of God is thus established visibly. Those who dare to speak and cling to the Gospel will be hated, because they will refuse to embrace the standards the world insists on, refuse to compromise with evil, and will be persecuted even to death in order to keep them from speaking the hated Word of God which reveals truth and convicts sin.

Persecution will come to those who share the Gospel, and we see this readily in the Book of Acts as the apostles suffer for their faithfulness and desire to share the good news of the resurrected Son of God with others. They do indeed flee from town to town for their very lives! Their mission work will remain by and large to the lost sheep of Israel, even though they will also be spreading the Gospel beyond. Jesus seems to have in mind the personal evangelism of his disciples, indicating that before they are able to preach in all the Jewish towns and cities, they will see God’s judgment. Scholars almost universally see this as the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD by the Romans. Jesus indicates in multiple places (such as Matthew 23:34-39) that something terrible is coming to Jerusalem. So Jesus’ words here in Matthew 10 speak to the disciples’ mission work in their lifetime (corporately not individually, since some of them are martyred prior to the destruction of Jerusalem).

Reading Ramblings – June 18, 2017

June 11, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 18, 2017

Texts: Exodus 19:2-8; Psalm 100; Romans 5:6-15; Matthew 9:35-10:20

Context: We are in the liturgical season of Ordinary Time now. This means that the Gospel and Old Testament lesson will work together, but the Epistle lesson will follow the lectio continua tradition of moving through contiguous blocks of the New Testament. We’ll work our way in this fashion through a large section of Romans before moving on to sections of other New Testament books. We will also stay primarily within the Gospel of Matthew, since we are in Year A of the three-year Revised Common Lectionary (and revised further by the LC-MS and other protestant groups) system.

Ordinary Time explores the life of Christ through the given Gospel for that year. However some of the ways the sections of Matthew are divided up leave a lot to be desired. For example, this week’s reading officially stops at 10:8. However I’m using the fuller lesson because it makes no sense to stop at verse 8. Even still, it’s not an ideal treatment of the text. It is paired with Exodus 19, which describes how God claims his people as his own, calling them to faith in him based on the powerful works He did against the Egyptians, which resulted in their freedom from slavery and genocide. As God’s chosen Old Testament people would be his witness in the world, so now Jesus sends his disciples to bear witness to his identity and purpose. In both cases, the reception is going to be somewhat less than warm!

Exodus 19:2-8 – God gathers his people around Mt. Sinai. He has led them out of slavery in Egypt and brought them here where He reveals himself to them in power and glory, inviting them into the most unique arrangement in all of human history. He invites this group of former slaves to become not simply his people, but his treasured possession, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. God calls the Hebrews to this role for the purpose of fulfilling his promise to Abram in Genesis 12 – that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through his descendants. They will be witnesses in their holy living to the other nations of the earth. God will fight for them and protect them. They will be unique among all of God’s creation. Their priesthood will entail the atonement for all of creation, a role they will never fulfill corporately, but only in the person and work of their descendant, Jesus of Nazareth the Son of God.

Psalm 100 – This psalm echoes the joyful confidence of a people who know who they are – they are the Lord’s! It is their duty and privilege to raise praises to him, to lead all of creation in a never-ending chorus of praise and worship. They enter into his presence not fearfully but with joy, knowing that God loves them and cares for them as a shepherd cares for his sheep. They can attest to the Lord’s goodness and worthiness of both worship and praise, because God is faithful to his people. He is not fickle or forgetful but rather faithful. So God’s people need never doubt his attitude towards them or their identity in him.

Romans 5:6-15 – God the Father summoned the Hebrews to himself in awe and majesty. Jesus called and commissioned his twelve disciples personally. How are you and I to know that we, too, are God’s people? Paul explains it beautifully. Jesus did not die just for his followers, but for all those who will accept what his death means. He did not die just for the worthy, but specifically because nobody is worthy, everyone is unworthy. His death has saved us from our sins and therefore from the wrath of God against sin (Romans 1:18). We are not simply spared, barely. Rather, we are fully reconciled. There is no issue between God the Father and us any more, because the death of God the Son on our behalf has paid the debt of our sin. And this is not an offer only for a select few, but for everyone who will receive it.

Matthew 9:35-10:20 – Jesus commissions his twelve disciples for a mission trip. Their work is to model the work of Jesus himself in vs.9:35-38. His disciples see firsthand the need for the good news and the power of God and Jesus clearly portrays this need to them as well. They are to pray for workers to go into the fields for the harvest that God has prepared ahead of time. Jesus then passes on to his disciples some of his power the power of God the Holy Spirit which He received at his baptism. He designates the limitations of their power, as well as the limitations of their mission. They are to speak only to Jewish communities (because this is the people that Jesus has come from and been sent to). Their message is that the kingdom of heaven as it hand (in the person and work of Jesus), and the signs and wonders that they perform are to act as testimonies to the truth of their words (just as Jesus’ own miracles are pointers to the truth of his words about himself).

They are not to expect a warm welcome everyplace. Those places that reject them and their message they are to leave. They are not to waste their time with people who refuse to hear and see. They should also expect active resistance and persecution. Jesus’ words here clearly point both to the mission trip they are leaving for as well as the greater mission work they will do after his ascension. While we are not aware of them suffering persecution at this time, almost every one of these twelve will eventually go to his death for the sake of the message they bear and the one who entrusted them with it.

Most of all they are to trust in the one who sent them (Jesus) and by extension the one who accompanies them (the Holy Spirit). It is not their strength or persuasiveness or public speaking skills that are at work. Rather, they will be inspired by God the Holy Spirit with them, and it is God the Holy Spirit whom their persecutors are rejecting.

As God’s people today we should expect persecution and rejection. While we experience this personally it is ultimately aimed at the one who has died for us and saved us and called us his own. It is ultimately God they reject, and ultimately God to whom they will answer for whatever they have done to us. This is to be our confidence even in the face of persecution, that God will be vindicated, and when his Holy name is shown to be righteous and true, all the voices of his persecuted people will rise up to praise him.

Reading Ramblings – June 11, 2017

June 4, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Holy Trinity Sunday, June 11, 2017

Texts: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; Acts 2:14a, 22-36; Matthew 28:16-20

Context: The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most debated, most confusing articles of the Christian faith. Indeed, it is safest to say less rather than more when trying to explain and defend Trinitarian doctrine. The early Church had no special day to honor the Trinity, as Trinitarian liturgy was part of every worship. When major challenges to Trinitarian doctrine began to proliferate in the early 4th century (notably Arianism), worship liturgy became even more explicitly Trinitarian, and by the tenth century there are references to the first Sunday after Pentecost specifically given over to Trinitarian readings, songs, and teachings. It officially became part of Western liturgical practice in the 14th century under Pope John XXII. Ultimately, we can only confess what the Bible – and Jesus himself – tell us about the Trinity, and seek to keep from contradicting or omitting any of these references and teachings.

Genesis 1:1-2:4a – The account of creation is riddled with phrasings that hint at the reality that the One God is something more than One. The Spirit of God is referenced in verse 2, and in 1:26 God famously utilizes the first person plural (us, our) rather than the first person singular (I, my) when preparing to create humanity. While the Trinity is at heart a concept beyond our ability to describe or illustrate by analogy, it is not accidental, I think, that the idea is planted here in the first verses of the Bible, ready to be more fully explicated by the Son of God made flesh. Some argue that God is referring to an angelic audience, or utilizing the editorial or royal we here, but such arguments seem superfluous and spurious in the face of Jesus’ own teaching regarding the uniqueness yet oneness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity presents us with a God that we can accept, but we cannot envision, a God beyond our ability to rationalize and therefore a God beyond our ability to create. We remain forever made in his image, rather than visa versa.

Psalm 8 – This psalm pairs beautifully with the Old Testament reading, extolling and praising God in light of creation. It is also unique in that it is the only hymn in the entire Old Testament that is directed solely and completely and directly to God. Notice as well that this is a hymn to God as distinct from creation, rather than a pantheistic notion of God as creation. It is the Lord’s name that is to be praised because it is God who created nature. The most challenging part of the psalm is the second half of verse 1 and the beginning of verse 2. The challenge is determined by how the translator punctuates the two verses. Some translations rearrange the two statements, so that the glory of God is witnessed by babes and infants, but this is not a common or accurate translation. We are left with a God who is so impressive and mighty that by eliciting praises from children and infants He is able to defeat his enemies. The psalmist is awestruck that the God capable of such a vast creation should be so intimately concerned with humanity in the midst of it. Truly our God is an awesome and amazing God!

Acts 2:14a, 22-36 – Today we hear the second half of Peter’s first sermon. In the first half of the sermon Peter is prompted by the Holy Spirit to proclaim that the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy is occurring before the assembled masses very eyes. In this half of the sermon, Peter now explains how Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Messiah, the Christ, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy on a different level. He uses King David’s words and life as demonstration that David looked forward to a descendant who would actually be greater than he, someone that he would appropriately refer to as Lord. This would be an unusual and even unprecedented understanding for the Hebrews, as even the most famous or successful of sons or daughters would ultimately be considered as lower in prestige and honor than their ancestors. How is it that David could look forward to a descendant mightier and worthy of honor more than himself? Peter finishes by proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as proof of his role and identity. The reading ends and we actually never hear the crowd’s response! The lectionary simply stops here and moves on to Romans next week! Aaaauuugghhh!

Here’s the spoiler. The crowd is convicted by Peter’s sermon. They are also distraught – they have killed the prophesied, long-awaited Messiah of God. What possible hope can there be for them now? Peter responds – their hope is in the man they crucified, the man whom God raised from the dead. They are to repent and to receive baptism in Jesus’ name. This is what saves them. This is what removes their guilt. And as it was on that first Pentecost Sunday 2000 years ago or so, so it is today for you and I. Thanks be to God!

Matthew 28:16-20 – Those who wish to argue that Trinitarian doctrine is a later development in the Christian faith have to contend with the words of Jesus himself. While there are those who would try and write off these verses as a later gloss or addition, the textual support for such a theory is entirely lacking. Jesus indicates the threefold nature of the one God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This much we can say safely. Unity in trinity and trinity in unity. Each distinct and unique and yet still one God. All three existing simultaneously and yet not three individual gods but one God. And this reality is not some minor esoteric issue for theologians to postulate on late at night after too much brandy. It is the defining element of Christian identity. We are marked by God – by this triune, threefold yet singular God. We are not free to identify that aspect of God we most prefer or are most comfortable with. We are not free to be generic or non-specific. God marks us with water and His Word in baptism, and He marks us with His identity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This baptism is combined with teaching, so that newly formed disciples understand to the best of their ability who it is that has marked them, and who that mark makes them. While we cannot say or know all that we would like about the Trinity, we can affirm that it is the unity of trinity and trinity in unity that has created us, redeemed us from our sins, and works within us to make us holy. God himself is fully and completely at work, and we are the recipients of his blessings and grace. To him alone is the glory!

Three in a Row

May 31, 2017

Scanning the news this morning I came across three interesting articles.

The first is a not-so-veiled criticism of President Trump’s ban on certain electronic devices in airline cabins – meaning passengers have to put these items in their checked luggage instead.  As I reflected on this  article, it strikes me as one of the dumbest articles I’ve recently read.

The article ignores the fact that lithium ion batteries are “inherently volatile” beyond wanting to criticize a policy decision.  If they’re that dangerous, why are they allowed on flights at all?  Why are we using them in electronic devices that we carry with us everywhere if they are essentially the equivalent of little time bombs?  Wouldn’t the article be better aimed at critiquing why such a volatile substance is accepted beyond the parameters of certain airline flights from certain countries?

The second article is a great discussion of what may appear to be  rather arcane Supreme Court ruling that actually has a great deal of actual and potential impact for consumers everywhere.  I’ve long been distrustful of the growing trend of virtualizing ownership.  Seen most clearly in computer operating systems and software, it’s the idea that you don’t really own a product, per se.  Rather, you are paying for the right to access something that still belongs to someone else and who has ultimate say over what you do or don’t do with what you’re accessing.  Physical and intellectual property issues are critical not just for their economic implications but in terms of privacy and consumer rights.  Definitely worth a read through!

The final article describes the renaming of a NASA project to send a probe closer to the sun than ever before.  Instead of calling it the Solar Probe Plus (which is admittedly a lousy name!), it is being renamed the Parker Solar Probe in honor of a scientist.  But the article immediately reminded me of one of my favorite author’s short stories – The Golden Apples of the Sun.  It’s the name of both one of his short stories – about a manned trip to the sun to actually scoop up and bring back to earth some of the sun’s essence – as well as the anthology that includes the story.  Since Bradbury’s story pre-dates Eugene Parker’s solar scientific contributions, I think it’s at least worth considering.  Plus, The Golden Apples of the Sun is a far more beautiful name for a solar probe!

Reading Ramblings – June 4, 2017

May 28, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Pentecost Sunday – June 4, 2017

Text: Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 25:1-15; Acts 2:1-21; John 7:37-39

Context: Pentecost is the Greek word for 50th and indicates the 50th day after Passover. In the Old Testament it is referred to as the Festival of Weeks (Exodus 34:22). Pentecost was the second of three annual holidays which required all able-bodied Jewish men to come into the Lord’s presence, either outside the Tabernacle or the Temple. Pentecost was associated with the end of the grain harvest, and was a time for celebration after hard work. This was the reason for so many Jews from so many places in Acts 2. It was the perfect opportunity for the Holy Spirit to witness in power to a great many Jews, many of whom would have been present in Jerusalem for Passover and would be personally familiar with Jesus’ execution and the proclamation of the empty tomb. So it is that this crowd will be convicted of their sin and respond to Peter’s call for repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (which isn’t technically part of today’s reading but is the highlight of his sermon that we begin to hear today!).

Numbers 11:24-30 – The Holy Spirit arrives on Pentecost and ushers in a new era, in which God the Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of all of God’s people, beginning with the apostles. Until this time, the Holy Spirit only came to some people, such as the elders of Israel in this reading. Moses expressed his desire that all God’s people should be blessed with the indwelling Holy Spirit, but it wouldn’t be until 1500 years or so later that his prayer would be granted. We are blessed in a way that many of God’s people through time could only imagine. Earlier in this segment, (v.17), God indicates that He will share his spirit so that Moses does not have to bear the burden of God’s people alone. So the Holy Spirit is a means of strengthening the people of God, allowing us to share one another’s burdens. Although the Spirit’s presence is manifest by prophecy in v.25, it is important to note that this was a temporary reaction, perhaps intended as a demonstration of the newly appointed authority of these leaders. While the Holy Spirit undoubtedly still does provide prophetic insight and wisdom to some people still, it is not something that we should expect of all God’s people. God provides his good gifts according to his good will, not our personal preferences or expectations!

Psalm 25:1-15 – The psalmist expresses hope and trust in the Lord’s provision, so that he will not be overwhelmed by adversaries (vs.1-2). He bolsters this confidence by confessing that God never allows his people to be put to shame for his sake (v.3). Rather than focus on his own ways of saving himself, the psalmist asks for God to teach him, and to help him focus on God’s Word (vs.4-5) so that he is patient for God’s timing. He encourages God to answer his request based on God’s steadfast faithfulness which He has demonstrated with his people from of old (v.6). He also asks that God would forgive his sins and not hold them against him (v.7), something that might cause God to refrain from responding to his prayer. He then begins to extol the virtues of God, affirming that God does indeed lead and guide his people who seek him, and that wisdom is to be found in following God’s leading (vs.8-10). Perhaps burdened by his sins, he once again asks for forgiveness (v.11) before affirming the wisdom of following God’s leading, and the blessings that are to be found in such obedience (vs.12-14). He concludes this section of the psalm with the assertion that God will indeed rescue him from the predicament alluded to in the opening verses.

Acts 2:1-21 – I wish that we would read through all of Peter’s Pentecost sermon instead of breaking it into pieces! The Holy Spirit’s presence is indicated in ways reminiscent of God’s presence in the Old Testament, particularly Exodus 19. Luke’s description indicates a real event, with real manifestations that were both audible and visible to those gathered in the room with the disciples. We aren’t sure how many believers are there. It could be interpreted as just the twelve, based on the end of Acts 1. Or it could mean a larger assembly of all those who had come to faith in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, though that seems like an unusually large number of people for a single gathering. There are more than a dozen different ethnicities mentioned in vs. 7-11 so perhaps it is more than just the twelve who are there and are gifted with the ability to speak in tongues. Verse 14 indicates only that Peter and the other eleven disciples stand up or are already standing, perhaps at the forefront of the group, during this event. As Jesus’ inner circle it would be most appropriate for them to stand in order to bear witness and answer the questions of the crowd. The main question to be answered is not how is it that the disciples can speak in these other languages, but rather, what is the meaning of this event? God’s people recognize that there must be a reason why these uneducated men are suddenly speaking in different languages, and it is this question that Peter seeks to address in his sermon.

John 7:37-39 – The presence of the Holy Spirit is indicative of life itself. This new life in Christ is not contained within the individual but naturally flows out as an expression of love towards God and towards others. The disciples, therefore, really don’t have an option. When the Spirit moves them, they respond. When people ask them what it means, Peter steps forward to speak. These are actions motivated by love for Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. We often worry that we will be unprepared in the moment to give testimony to our faith, but we should trust that God the Holy Spirit himself will be there to give us the words!

What flows from us in faith is not simply evidence of our own life in Christ, but as we speak the Word of God and the Gospel to others, it is actually life-giving to them as well! The Word of God that goes out from us carries the power of the Holy Spirit to bring life to the one who hears. While we may find our words inadequate or awkward, the Holy Spirit can use them as the source of life.

Reading Ramblings – Ascension Day (Observed) – May 28, 2017

May 21, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Ascension Sunday ~ May 28, 2017

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

Context: Technically this is the Seventh Sunday of Easter, and Ascension is actually Thursday May 25. But I’ve made it a habit in recent years to follow the readings for Ascension Day on Sunday. Otherwise, the Ascension of Christ gets omitted from the liturgical cycle completely. Rather than move directly from the Resurrection to Pentecost Sunday, I think it’s critical to spend a Sunday contemplating the Ascension.

Ascension answers the question of where our Lord and Savior is now. Is He still roaming the earth resurrected, appearing to people unawares like the disciples on the road to Emmaus? No. He is at the right hand of the Father. Is Jesus in my heart? No, He is at the right hand of the Father. Has He abandoned us? No. He promised to send the Holy Spirit after his Ascension (John 14:15-31). It is the Holy Spirit who abides with me and makes my heart his home in a way I cannot begin to understand, but trust implicitly. As such I have two advocates on my behalf before God the Father – God the Holy Spirit within me and God the Son in the presence of God the Father. I don’t need Jesus’ mother or saints or dearly departed loved ones to pray to on my behalf – 2/3 of the Godhead are already doing this!

The Ascension also reminds me that I am waiting for something other than death – I await the return of my Lord. This is to be the anchor and focal point of my life. As He has gone, so He will return. Come Lord Jesus, come.

Acts 1:1-11 – Luke’s depiction of the Ascension is a slightly more detailed account than the one he provides in the 24th chapter of his gospel. Luke wrote a two-part account of the Christian people (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3), organizing it into one part detailing the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ and the other part detailing the history of the Christian church following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. The Ascension becomes the logical break point and unifying point of these two distinct but inseparable stories.

Jesus’ disciples expect now that He has been miraculously raised from the dead, Jesus will usher in his kingdom in power immediately (v.6). But this is not the case. What He accomplished in overcoming death must be told to others, so that they might come to faith in him as well. This will be accomplished in stages – starting in Jerusalem, the center-point of God’s covenant people, then extending outwards to all the Promised Land and then to the world beyond. This is the task of the Church – to bear witness to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and to disciple people in the implications of this reality for their lives today.

Psalm 47 – A victory psalm that proclaims the sovereignty of God. Very appropriate as we continue to reflect upon our Lord’s victory over our ancient enemies of Satan, sin, and death! The Ascension is part of this victory. Jesus accomplished everything that He was sent to. He now awaits God the Father’s perfect timing to usher in the kingdom of heaven in power and glory throughout all of creation. Yet we, the faithful, already perceive this kingdom, already live within it, are already citizens of it through baptismal faith, and already sing the praises of our King! God does not reign at some indeterminate time in the future – He reigns now, and one day all of creation will see what we see by faith to be true as evidenced in the resurrection of the Son of God.

Ephesians 1:15-23 – Paul beautifully elaborates on the reign of God celebrated in Psalm 47. The full glory of God is made evident in the resurrection and ascension of his Son, Jesus the Christ. Jesus already sits in glory, already exalted over every other principality and power of creation, already sovereign and supreme by virtue of his perfect obedience, even to death. Not everyone recognizes his authority or respects it, but this is a temporary state of affairs, indicative of rebellious arrogance or willful blindness. What we, the faithful already receive and experience will one day be made clear to everyone, even those who would prefer to remain blind to the reality of Jesus’ sovereignty.

Luke 24:44-53 – Luke summarizes Jesus’ final days with his disciples after his resurrection. Although Luke is not one of the twelve disciples, he knows at least some of them firsthand and therefore has access to their memory of events. Jesus provides his disciples with the ability to understand Scripture – meaning the Old Testament – as a preview and pointer to himself and his work. What the leaders of God’s people were unable to see or refused to see is made clear to these simple and relatively uneducated men. The substance of this revelation is not generic or non-specific, but particularly related to Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection on behalf of humanity for the forgiveness of sins. His disciples witnessed these events in his life but did not of their own accord understand them, certainly not within the context of Scripture.

The work of the Holy Spirit continues to be that of opening the minds of the faithful to the truthfulness of Scripture in regards to the accomplishment of the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth. So it is appropriate that faithful men and women continue to dedicate their lives to the study and interpretation of God’s Word. As well, it seems clear that we should expect the Holy Spirit’s revelatory work to continue to be directly linked to and centered upon Holy Scripture, rather than some sort of new and unprecedented revelation. The Holy Spirit needn’t reveal something new to us. What is necessary is contained in the Word of God referring to the Word of God made flesh. While there may be much that we would like to know, what we have is sufficient (John 20:30-31, 21:25).

As such, we should make the study of God’s Word an important aspect of the life of faith rather than relying on unsubstantiated and spurious leadings of the Holy Spirit – which might actually not be the Holy Spirit’s leadings or teachings. We should expect that what the Holy Spirit reveals to us will be directly related to the Word of God passed down to us, and certainly not in any contradiction to this Word.

Jesus is not merely risen, He is ascended. He is not simply ascended, He is returning. This is what we look forward to. This is the conclusion that we are to center our lives around, not the other miscellaneous events that so often cloud and complicate and clutter our horizons. It isn’t marriage or children or retirement or death that are the endpoints we anticipate, but rather our Lord’s return.

Reading Ramblings – April 23, 2017

April 16, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday of Easter ~ April 23, 2017

Texts: Acts 5:29-42; Psalm 148; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Context: Easter is not a single day but a season, eight weeks that take us to the day of Pentecost and the last major season of the Church year. The readings during the season of Easter emphasize the power stemming from Christ’s resurrection, as well as on elaborating the Easter story itself. Although the assigned Gospel for Year A in the three-year lectionary cycle is Matthew, John’s Gospel is the key one for the high holidays of the Church year, and we’ll revert to Matthew after Pentecost for the remainder of the liturgical year. Also during Easter the Old Testament readings are replaced by readings from Acts that emphasize the resurrection power unleashed in the Holy Spirit.

Acts 5:29-42 – Jesus’ crucifixion was to be the end of his preaching. No doubt the religious authorities expected his followers to disperse rapidly after his execution. But because of his resurrection, his disciples who up until that point were timid and clueless are now emboldened and articulate. Where once they feared the power of the religious authorities they now considered themselves bound to an even higher authority. Confronted with this unexpected turn of events, the Jewish leadership convenes to form a plan. It is Gamaliel who speaks to his colleagues and advises temperance. That which is not from God will flounder on its own – and history is littered with pretenders to the title of Messiah and their disappointed followers. But the true power and authority of God cannot be thwarted, and for 2000 years this has proven true as followers of Jesus Christ, based on eye-witness testimony of the resurrection, continue to share good news with those around them.

Psalm 148 – God’s creation is exhorted to praise him. The heavens and the heavenly host is first exhorted, then the objects of the sky. Next come the mighty creatures of the oceans and the very seasons themselves. Next the earth itself is summoned to praise, creatures of the earth, then the human powers of earth and finally the classes of people considered lowest – women, children and old people. God is to be praised by all of his creation for raising up a horn of salvation, a reliable and trustworthy deliverance in his promised Messiah, Jesus.

1 Peter 1:3-9 – What a beautiful description of the reality of the life of faith! Peter begins with blessing and praising God the Father as the author of the plan of salvation brought to fruition through God the Son, Jesus the Christ. Because of God the Father’s mercy, He has extended life to those who hold faith in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. That life is characterized as a glorious inheritance, far surpassing our best conceptions of inheritances here and now that can be frittered away or destroyed. God’s faithful rejoice in his mercy and his promises despite the reality that life can be very challenging and that God’s faithful have often and regularly been singled out for persecution and destruction on account of their faith. But even in our sufferings, God’s faithful are called to rejoice, trusting that the worst of the world and our defeated enemy Satan can only inevitably be to the glory and praise of God the Father when Jesus returns in glory.

We, the faithful who have not seen Jesus resurrected in the flesh nonetheless can love him and trust him based on the faithful account of his disciples. In doing so, we give thanks to God for what He accomplishes in the faith He himself places within us – our eternal salvation.

John 20:19-31 – John continues the description of Jesus’ Easter appearances. Since Luke tells the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, John instead focuses on Easter evening and Jesus’ appearance to his worried disciples in the locked upper room. The reports are strange and hard to make sense of. Jesus has been seen alive by multiple people, men and women, in Jerusalem and beyond. Finally, the ten disciples see him for themselves, and He offers them compelling proof that He is truly alive again. They are not seeing a ghost, they are not hallucinating. They are able to touch his body, explore his wounds, and verify that it truly is him and not somebody else.

His visit is not simply cordial. He conveys to them the peace of the Holy Spirit and the essence of the Church – the declaration of forgiveness. The Church is to be the one who speaks what Jesus has accomplished, assuring individuals in repentance that their sins are truly forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus. While Jesus himself could forgive sins during his ministry (Matthew 9), He is free to delegate that message to his disciples and his Church.

Thomas is not present and is understandably skeptical. Despite the multiple reports of the women and the disciples, he is adamant that he will not believe unless he can see and touch for himself. His insistence on this should be comforting to those who worry that the disciples were weak-minded or easily swayed or fooled. Thomas would fit in well with our post-modern doubt of all things!

But when confronted with the resurrected Christ, Thomas is immediate in his declaration of faith and worship. He is convinced by his personal encounter with the resurrected Christ. John assures that while Thomas was blessed to receive such assurance, the eye-witness testimony of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection should be more than adequate to convince someone of the truth of the matter. The resurrection is incredible, but not beyond belief. John invites us into the same confession of faith as Thomas, to not remain doubting or dubious but to explore the evidence and to believe.

Reading Ramblings – April 16, 2017

April 9, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Easter Sunday – April 16, 2017

Text: Exodus 14:10-31; Exodus 15:1-18; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; John 20:1-18

Context: Easter is the center of the Christian faith. Jesus either rose from the dead as He prophesied, thereby affirming his identity as the Son of God, or his life and death have no greater meaning and purpose for us today. Some want to see Jesus as only a kind teacher, but a kind teacher doesn’t claim to be God. A more comprehensive examination of what Jesus said and did leads us to one of three conclusions. He might have been crazy – suffering from delusions of grandeur or some other form of mental illness whereby he believed himself to be divine. But that’s not a person we should follow. Jesus might also have just been thoroughly evil, knowingly lying to his followers about himself and everything else. The final option is that Jesus is who He claimed to be – the Son of God come to save us from our sins and death by offering his life sacrificially for us. The empty tomb leads us to only the third conclusion, and this leads us to celebration of the goodness of our God and his triumph on our behalf. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Exodus 14:10-31 – The single-most formative event in the Old Testament, in terms of creating a sense of identity as the people of God is God’s rescue of his people from slavery and genocide in Israel. This victory is accomplished in stages. The first stage is actually bringing his people out from Pharaoh’s land, having decimated the Egyptians through a series of brutal plagues and demonstrations of power. But the final victory comes when God draws Pharaoh out of Egypt to pursue the Israelites with his powerful army. Few things could have been as terrifying as hearing the rumble of chariots, watching the immense dust cloud they raised advancing on the horizon. The Israelites are not warriors and are probably not very well armed. They anticipate a massacre. But God delivers his people and instead destroys their enemy. This foreshadows Christ’s victory on Easter morning, and also prepares us, his Easter people for a two-stage revelation of the fullness of God’s victory. Jesus has freed us from the power of sin and Satan and death, though we still see these enemies dangerously active and ominous on our horizon at all time. But on the day of our Lord’s return, the true victory will be obvious to everyone.

Exodus 15:1-18 – Moses and the people of God burst into song as they watch the waters cover over the powerful army of Pharaoh. God has accomplished the unimaginable – the utter defeat of the most powerful empire in the area, and the miraculous salvation of his people through the Red Sea. This song captures the haughty arrogance of Pharaoh and his glittering troops and chariots before their total and complete devastation at God’s hands. Likewise we are to praise the Lord who delivers us from our enemies and promises to bring us to his chosen place. Victory is complete already, but we anticipate witnessing the full repercussions of that victory when our Lord returns in glory and honor.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 – The Gospel, the good news of God, focuses exclusively on our Lord and his victory over the power of death and the grave. This is the first importance. We often want to turn our focus too quickly to our response to this victory, to the process of our sanctification. But sanctification is only possible when we receive the justification won for us in the death and resurrection of the Son of God. To pass too quickly by his victory and obsess about our response is to miss the Gospel. The resurrection is not incidental to the Christian faith, it is the center upon which it stands or falls. Either Jesus rose from the dead and we are saved from our sins, or He didn’t and we are still in our sin and guilt. Hundreds of people could attest to our Lord’s post-resurrection appearances. This was Paul’s message. He did not create it, he simply relayed it faithfully and it became the center of faith for those who heard it.

John 20:1-18 – John’s description of Easter morning focuses on Mary Magdalene, rather than the other ladies reported in the other gospels. This is not contradictory, but complementary. John fills us in on Mary’s particular experience which differed from what the other women experienced but was related to the same truth of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Peter and John race to the tomb to see for themselves. Mary presumed that someone had taken or moved the body, but the sight of the burial cloths on the floor of the tomb made it clear this could not be the case. Nobody would have taken a naked dead body from the tomb, taking the time to remove the burial cloths from it first. So it is that John believes that Jesus has risen from the dead.

Mary followed Peter and John back to the tomb, and as they depart she remains behind. The two disciples do not appear to have spoken to her or otherwise indicated their conclusions to her, and so she weeps under the assumption that the body has been moved or stolen. So certain of this is she that she pays no real attention to the angels. So certain is she of this that she mistakes Jesus for the gardener, hoping that perhaps he knows the whereabouts of the body and can let her know.

The details are simple but compelling. Writing many years later, they are still crisp and clear in John’s mind. It is these details, this reality, that has been the center of John’s life for decades. The tomb is empty. Jesus is risen. Reconciliation with God the Father has been accomplished. Forgiveness is delivered. Grace reigns. Where we would settle from deliverance from debt, from tyrannical government, from sickness or disease, Jesus comes to deliver us from nothing less than Satan, sin, and the grave itself. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Reading Ramblings – April 9, 2017

April 2, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Palm Sunday – April 9, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 118:19-29; Philippians 2:5-11; John 12:12-19 and Matthew 26:1-27:66

Context: Palm Sunday has a rich and ancient tradition, accumulating a variety of names from the regions where it was observed. It is the last Sunday of Lent, but has also come to be associated specially with Holy Week, which traces the last week of Jesus’ life from his arrival in Jerusalem for the Passover to the Last Supper on Maunday Thursday, his execution on Good Friday, and his resurrection on Easter morning. To set the tone for the entire week, which encompasses multiple worship services, the entire Passion narrative is often read on Palm Sunday.

Isaiah 50:4-9a – The Lord’s Servant speaks in these verses, describing the Lord as the source of his strength and the strength He gives to others. As opposed to God’s people Israel, his servant is obedient, even through suffering and persecution. He endures these things by the Lord’s power so that He is not ashamed, not disgraced. Instead He professes his steadfast faith in his God who will vindicate him, and by whose power He can endure the transient afflictions of his adversaries. They are verses of boasting – not in the servant’s own power but in the Lord’s power who sustains him.

Psalm 118:19-29 – This is a psalm of confidence in God, assurance in the Lord’s promises. The psalm evokes entrance into Jerusalem or perhaps the Temple courtyards. The speaker is confident of being granted entrance because the Lord is the speaker’s salvation. While peers may scoff and deride, the Lord will grant victory to his faithful follower, and his adversaries will be put to shame as he becomes the foundation stone of God’s work. Surely this is something only God can accomplish – working through means and persons that the world rejects! The psalm ends in rejoicing with the approach of the Lord’s favored one. It is a moment of celebration in God’s faithfulness in his sacrificial servant. This is the Lord’s gift – the perfect and atoning sacrifice that ends all sacrifices. God is to be praised for his faithfulness to his creation, for saving his creation.

Philippians 2:5-11 – Jesus had every right to demand glory and honor from the creation He entered into. But He did not. This is to guide us, his followers, in humility with one another. We do not seek praise and glory, but rather seek to be obedient whether it is recognized and appreciated or not. Jesus was willing to maintain his humility even to the greatest of shames and insults – his public crucifixion. How much more should we be willing to bear any indignities in our lives! Jesus’ obedience resulted in his ultimate glorification, and we too look forward to being glorified in and through our Lord. But our glory and vindication is a secondary matter. The first matter is the glorification and worship of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is the Biblical story – it is the story of a gracious and loving and all-powerful God who wins his creation back from rebellion and sin, that He might be properly worshiped and glorified.

John 12:12-19; Matthew 26:1-27:66 – Easily the longest reading of the Church year, the Gospel for Palm Sunday carries us from Palm Sunday to Good Friday evening. It encompasses the giddy emotional heights of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to the depths of his family and followers’ despair as his dead body is laid in the tomb. It encompasses the faithfulness of his mother and inner circle who gather at the foot of his cross to hear his last words following the betrayal of his own people to death.

It’s appropriate to hear the whole sweep of the Passion narrative before focusing on individual pieces of it through the coming week. People may not make services on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and then Easter Sunday, but they will hear the whole story on Palm Sunday. It also helps to ensure that people don’t simply skip the harder services mid-week to only hear the happy stories of Palm Sunday and Easter. Easter is necessitated by Good Friday. Resurrection can only be properly appreciated and welcomed after death. By skipping the somber tones of Maunday Thursday and Good Friday, the joy of Easter morning is muted. As Jesus himself once observed, he who is forgiven little, loves little (Luke 7:47).

So it is that Lent is necessary as the proper contextualization of Easter. We follow our Lord and his disciples through the temporary joy of Palm Sunday to the bewilderment of Maunday Thursday and the atrocity of Good Friday. We gather Saturday evening for the bridge service that leads us from the despair of Good Friday to the first proclamation of Easter victory. And Sunday morning we give thanks because the tomb is still empty, pointing the way towards our own, future empty graves.

Book Review – The Christian Calendar

March 29, 2017

I love books and reading.  I enjoy browsing through used book stores for hidden gems.  I don’t do it often, and I don’t do it for long, but it’s enjoyable.  Ever since I was a kid, this has been an inexpensive indulgence for me.  The reality is that most of what I pick up isn’t all that great.  At least historically.  I’ve become a lot more selective in what I buy now, but I still take chances now and then which occasionally pay off.

Such is the case with The Christian Calendar: A complete Guide to the Seasons of the Christian Year.   It combines two of my favorite things – history and historical illustrations and photos – and combines them in an examination of the liturgical year.  The historical illustrations are great and drawn from a variety of sources spanning nearly 2000 years.

The book focuses on the traditional Roman Catholic lectionary and liturgical cycle (a one-year cycle rather than the more contemporary three-year cycle).  Brief commentary or exegesis on the Gospel lesson is frequent, and the helpfulness of these comments varies widely.  But the artwork is beautiful, and there are frequent notes of local customs (particularly English but also Continental) associated with various Sundays in the Church year.  The book concludes with a list of saints venerated on literally every day of the year.  Most are just names and dates of death, but there are more expanded biographies included throughout.

If you enjoy liturgical history and artwork and can pick this up second-hand, I definitely recommend it.  Don’t necessarily take the exegetical work too seriously, but it’s a nice book to have in your library.