Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

A&tCL IV – the Rest of the Pentateuch

January 16, 2018

This post is part of a series of posts on Alcohol & the Christian Life.  It is a continuation of this post, which deals with wine/alcohol as mentioned in Genesis.  I am systematically examining every verse in Scripture that addresses wine in one way or another as a means of understanding more clearly how Scripture addresses the role of wine and alcohol as part of the life of God’s people. 

Exodus only mentions wine once – 29:40.  Contextually, this chapter continues God’s details to his people for how they will worship him, and specifically this verse is part of the detail of the daily offering that will be burned by the priests on the altar.  Yayin is the Hebrew word used here, and I think that overall, the verse demonstrates again that wine is part of the lives of God’s people and so it is part of a daily offering to God.

Leviticus contains two mentions of wine, both using the Hebrew yayinLeviticus 10 is an interesting passage.  It describes the death of Aaron’s two sons, who were serving as priests and took it upon themselves to make an incense offering to God that was not required.  This seems to be a liturgical issue, where they are doing something not prescribed by God for worship.  Scripture is silent on their motivations for doing this.  While we meet Nadab and Abihu in Exodus, no comment is made about them until this incident.  Based on 10:9, perhaps God was judging them for serving in an intoxicated state.  Perhaps even with good intentions, while intoxicated they took it upon themselves to innovate in a matter of worship and were punished for it.  That’s speculation, but it would help explain why God sees it necessary to warn against drinking before entering his presence.

Note that the prohibition is not a general one, but specific.  They are not to drink either wine or other strong drink – so here is a Hebrew word with a broader semantic domain than wine – shekar (7941), which is loosely translated as any strong (alcoholic) drink.  It also has semantic links with another Hebrew word for drunkenness (shakar).  Shekar appears 23 times in the Old Testament.

Leviticus 23 is another passage dealing with appropriate sacrifices and includes wine (yayin).

Numbers has several mentions of wine.  Numbers 6:3, 20  are part of the details of the Nazirite vow, and in addition to yayin also mention shekar.  The Nazirite vow is a formal dedication of a person to a particular vow or promise, and entails an outwards manifestation of that vow in how they look (they don’t cut their hair) as well as what they do (no contact with anything that comes from the grape fine as well as other cultic requirements).  By inference, it would seem that wine is once again a typical part of people’s regular lives, and so the Nazirite vows remove the person from that day-to-day routine until the completion of their vow.

Numbers 15:5, 7 & 10 as well as Numbers 28:14 all have to do with sacrifices, and all utilize yayin.

Numbers 18:12 utilizes tirosh.  The section has to do with what the priests and their families are entitled  to from the sacrifices of God’s people, including the best of the offered oil and wine.  God’s priests are not prohibited from God’s blessing to his creation in wine.

Finally, the last book of the Books of Moses, Deuteronomy, has multiple mentions of wine utilizing yayin, tirosh, and for the first time (and only time in the Old Testament) enab.

Enab appears in Deuteronomy 32:14, which is an extended song that Moses composes, summarizing God’s history with his people thus far.  The use of enab here may be entirely poetic.  It is part of a section summarizing the great and lavish care that God provided to his people, and I don’t see any contextual reason to treat this as anything other than a synonym for yayin or tirosh.  In other words, there is no contextual reason to think that God provided his people, as summarized by Moses, with something other than wine as we know it and is referenced elsewhere.  I don’t think Moses is claiming that God only provided his people with non-alcoholic wine.

Yayin is used in Deuteronomy 14:26, 28:39, 29:6, and 32:33 and 38.  Deuteronomy 14 is interesting because here God’s people are clearly told that they can enjoy both wine and strong drink (shekar).  Once they enter the Promised Land and take possession of it and begin to live off the land, they are to set aside a portion of their annual produce in order to take it and feast on it where God directs them to – mostly likely wherever the Ark of the Covenant is currently located.  This includes grain (bread), oil, meat, and wine.  If they live far away from the designated location, they are allowed to sell what they have set aside for money, and to take that money with them to the designated place and there purchase these things to enjoy.  In other words, God is commanding his people to relax and enjoy what God has provided as a means of thanking God for what He has provided.  He specifically wants them to eat and drink in his presence and by doing so to give thanks to him for what He has provided!

Deuteronomy 28:39 is part of a section outlining the curses that God will visit upon his people if they forget their covenant and abandon his directives.  Part of that curse is that their vineyards will be devoured by worms resulting in a lack of wine.

Deuteronomy 29:6 is a summation of the experience of God’s people with God since He brought them out of Egypt.  Their condition is one of being wanderers, unable to produce anything and reliant completely on the providence of God.  He has fed them with manna and quail and water because they have not been able to grow grain, cultivate herds, or plant vineyards.  As such, they have not had wine or strong drink, but God has still watched over them and provided for them, just as their clothes and shoes didn’t wear out despite their long sojourn in the wilderness and their inability to easily produce new ones.

Deuteronomy 32:33 & 38 is from Moses’ song mentioned earlier, and is prophetically describing how God’s people will wander from him and how they will suffer.  How they will take his blessings and turn from the one who gives them.  It is a prophetic indictment against apostasy, and is not concerned specifically with wine beyond it being shorthand for part of God’s blessings to his people.

Tirosh is used in Deuteronomy 7:13, 11:14, 12:17, 14:23, 18:4, 28:51 and 33:28.  Deuteronomy 7:13 and 11: 14 are both references to how God will bless his people.  Deuteronomy 12:17 is linked with chapter 14 (and therefore 14:23) in reference to the proper use of the tithe that they are to be setting aside through the year.  Deuteronomy 18:4 is a directive to God’s people on what they are to provide for the priests through their tithes.  Deuteronomy 28:51 is a description of God’s curses to his people if (when!) they abandon his covenant, and this includes destruction of their vineyards and wine in addition to other staples of life.  Finally, Deuteronomy 33:28 is part of Moses’ final blessing on God’s people, tribe by tribe.  Specifically is part of the final, more general blessing over all of God’s people.

So the first specific Biblical warning against alcohol occurs in the context of God’s priests who are attending to their duties.   They are not to show up for service in the Tabernacle (Tent of Meeting) intoxicated or having recently imbibed any alcoholic drink.  That certainly sounds like wise advice!  Overall the Books of Moses are very consistent in their use of either yayin or tirosh when referencing wine, demonstrating no clear difference in meaning between these two words.

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YFA – January 14, 2018

January 14, 2018

A Weekly Devotional Resource

 

  • Sunday – Reflect on Today’s Sermon and Worship
  • Monday – Old Testament – Jonah 3:1-5
    • What happened with Jonah the first time God spoke with him?
    • Do you think Jonah is eager to carry out his task?
  • Tuesday – Epistle – 1 Corinthians 7:29-35
    • What is Paul’s primary rationale for his advice (v.29)?
    • What is a secondary hope for Paul (v.32)?
  • Wednesday – Gospel – Mark 1:14-20
    • What do you think Jesus means by the kingdom of God is at hand?
    • Why does repentance precede the call to discipleship?
  • Thursday Psalm 62
    • How do you interpret the second half of verse 4?
    • Is it hard to trust God at all times (v.8)?
  • Friday – Small Catechism – The Seventh Commandment
    • Have you been tempted to steal recently?
    • Instead of stealing from our neighbor, what should we be doing instead?
  • Saturday – (LSB #732) All Depends on Our Possessing
    • Is God’s involvement in our lives distant or close (v.2)?
    • Do you ever doubt God’s wisdom (v.5)?

 

 

Reading Ramblings – January 21, 2018

January 14, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday after Epiphany, January 21, 2018

Texts: Jonah 3:1-5; Psalm 62; 1 Corinthians 7:29-35; Mark 1:14-20

Context: Continuing in ordinary time we move somewhat chronologically through Jesus’ early ministry. Last week’s reading saw the calling of some of the initial disciples while still in the area of the Jordan River, closer to Jerusalem before Jesus headed back to Galilee. In other words, when Jesus issues his call to Simon (Peter), Andrew, James and John, it wasn’t the first time that they had met. Likely they had determined that Jesus would summon them after they all returned home (Jesus to Nazareth, the others from Bethsaida – John 1:44) and had made final preparations for Jesus to begin his public ministry. This doesn’t make their response in faith any less than Jonah’s response to God’s call to him a second time after his experience trying to flee his duties. Away from the fervor of a mountaintop spiritual experience (perhaps the revival-style euphoria surrounding John the Baptist) or a moment of obviously divine deliverance (Jonah and the great fish), we are prone to return to our daily routines, gradually losing the power of that particular moment of epiphany to stir us towards any meaningful change. God continues to call to us in all manner of circumstances, and our response in faith is as important in the ordinary and mundane situations as it is in extraordinary ones.

Jonah 3:1-5 – Jonah once again receives God’s instructions to go to Nineveh and preach repentance. Recently saved from drowning by a great fish, Jonah presumably understands that resisting the Lord’s instructions is not going to work, and so Jonah obeys. The odds of his message being well-received were slim. Nineveh was part of the Assyrian empire and not in any way influenced by or beholden to Israelite theology. It was a large city, further making the odds of a total response unlikely. Yet for reasons not explained, Nineveh does respond. The Lord’s Word accomplishes his purpose with the Ninevites – much to Jonah’s eventual chagrin. Throughout these brief verses we are reminded never to shortchange the power of God’s Call. What may sound just like words to you and I is accompanied by the Holy Spirit of God, and is always for the benefit of the hearer, regardless of their expectations to the contrary.

Psalm 62 – A psalm of quiet trust and confidence in God. Twice the psalmist speaks of waiting in silence for God’s response (vs. 1 & 5). Why is this? Because the speaker has already heard God speak to her before (v.11). God himself has told the psalmist of God’s ultimate power and authority, against which the machinations of human beings come to nothing, just as their lives must ultimately pass away. God alone can save, and God alone is the source of things which, unlike riches, last. Therefore it is not wise or good to seek gain by dishonest means or to put our trust even in honest gains (v.10). Rather God is to be our source and strength, something that those who respond to God’s call must always keep foremost in their minds and hearts.

1 Corinthians 7:29-35 – For reasons well beyond me, I don’t know why we skip the first section of 1 Corinthians 7, as it makes the rest of the chapter so much more clear. Paul is responding to a question posed to him by the Corinthians – should men and women abstain from sexual relations? Paul’s answer is practical. Marriage exists for a variety of reasons including sexual relations, and so if a man (or woman) desires that physicality with someone, they should get married (because marriage is the only Biblical appropriate realm for sexual relations to occur). Moreover, married people should act like married people within the sexual realm as well, rather than abstaining from sexual relations because one or the other partner thinks this is somehow necessary or God-pleasing. Paul is clear – if you are called to the vocation of marriage, then you are responsible to your partner and it is unfair to arbitrarily dictate terms to the relationship that were not likely part of the original agreement. Paul then goes on to indicate that his personal opinion is that, in light of Christ’s imminent return, it makes sense to not get married if you aren’t already. But he’s clear this isn’t a divine mandate but personal opinion. Our reading picks up with his elaboration on his rationale. Time is short, and we need to focus. Paul’s advice to the married here needs to be kept in the appropriate context of 7:1-5. Rather, these things should not form the center of our world. They cannot be our main focus because our main focus is the return of our Lord. Whether one is single or married is less the concern than how one is single or married, fulfilling the obligations of their vocation but also not forgetting who and what they wait for.

Mark 1:14-20 – Having been baptized and returned to Galilee, Jesus begins his public ministry. Mark indicates that Jesus begins his ministry after John the Baptist’s arrest, so there really isn’t an overlap between their two public ministries. Jesus now summons some of the disciples He first met down near the Jordan around John the Baptist. Already committed to becoming his disciples, they immediately drop what they’re doing and are ready to follow him immediately. At the very least Andrew was already considered a follower of John the Baptist (John 1:35-42), and appears to have experienced a spiritual awakening of some sort in order to be so ready to follow Jesus. Jesus’ message is simple – repent because the kingdom of God is at hand, and believe the good news that He is spreading. His message is similar to John the Baptist’s (Mark 1:4) but goes further. Repentance is necessary, but so is receiving the good news (gospel). The essence of the gospel is Jesus himself. The time is fulfilled – God’s plan of salvation is continuing according to his divine and perfect knowledge and timing. The time of anticipation and waiting is over. Now is the time for believing. In following Jesus the disciples – albeit imperfectly – are putting their faith in him as the bearer of good news and as the good news itself, something they will only understand in full after Jesus’ death and resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Likewise, you and I are to heed the call to follow in whatever form that looks like. It includes fulfilling your vocation of being a spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, neighbor, employer or employee. But it means doing so first and foremost as a follower of Jesus, one who has received the good news He embodies.

A&tCL II – Hebrew I

January 8, 2018

This post is part of a series of posts on Alcohol & the Christian Life.  It is a continuation of this post, and is continued in this post.  I am systematically examining every verse in Scripture that mentions wine to better understand how Scripture addresses the role of alcohol in the life of God’s people.

Of the roughly 19 different Hebrew words which are associated with our English word wine in one respect or another, 11 of them appear in the Old Testament at least once and sometimes many, many times.  By using and studying this common reference to one kind of alcoholic drink,  I believe we can determine what the Bible’s teaching is on alcoholic drinks in general.  If fermented/alcoholic wine is only condemned in the Bible, by extension I would apply this prohibition to any alcoholic beverage.  If wine is not permitted, then I presume tequila, bourbon, gin, and every other type of alcoholic beverage should be avoided by God’s people.

I’ll review each of the Hebrew words used in the Old Testament that are translated in one or more English Bible translations as wine.  I won’t include the Hebrew characters here.  If you know Hebrew, you’ll probably complain about my crappy cut-and-paste skills, and you’d be right.  If you don’t know Hebrew, it won’t matter to you anyways.  I’ll use the English transliteration of the Hebrew word and include Strong’s reference number so you can look it up for yourself if you prefer.  Again, my primary resources will be the BDAG and Strong’s Concordance.

In addition to providing the definition, I’ll provide verses that utilize the word.  My primary purpose is to determine the contexts for usage, primarily whether or not there is an indication one way or the other as to whether the Hebrew word likely refers to non-alcoholic (non-fermented) grape juice/freshly pressed grapes, or refers to fermented, alcoholic wine.   Then it will be a matter of seeing whether one type or the other is always intended/referred to in the Hebrew in either a positive (it’s good or OK to enjoy) or negative (you should never drink this) sort of way.

Yayin (3196) – This is the most common Hebrew word translated as wine in English translations, occurring 140 times in the Old Testament.  Essentially means wine or fermented beverage.  When Noah ties one on after surviving over a year on a boat with his immediate family and every kind of animal on earth?  It’s this Hebrew word.  It’s also used in verses about what sorts of offerings should be brought to God, such as Exodus 29:40.  Wine is obviously a part of people’s lives, and rather than prohibiting this, they are instructed to include it as part of their offering to God and his priests.  It is also used in warnings, such as God’s instructions to Aaron and his successors not to drink wine before serving on duty at the Tent of Meeting/Tabernacle (Leviticus 10:9).  It is sometimes used as a synonym for God’s judgment on the wicked, as in Psalm 75:8.  Yet he also uses the metaphor of wine positively in Isaiah 55:1 as He invites his people to pursue those things that are good and valuable and lasting.  In other places, such as Haggai 2:12, it is simply mentioned as part of daily life and routine, no different or more or less significant than oil or stew or food.

Tirosh (8492) – This is the second most common Hebrew word translated as wine in the Old Testament, with 38 occurrences.  It is commonly translated as new wine or fresh wine, in distinction at some level with yayin and the typical understanding of fermented wine.  Many people presume that it means unfermented and therefore essentially non-alcoholic grape juice.  When Isaac blesses Jacob in Genesis 27:28, tirosh is the word used.  This particular passage is interesting in that the word translated as wine changes from yayin (25) to tirosh (28 & 37).  There doesn’t appear to be any particular differentiation in meaning and usage in these verses, and it could therefore just represent a literary choice on the part of the author (Moses) to vary the language and avoid unpleasant repetition.  As God specifies both the duties and the benefits of the Levites in Numbers 18, He lists the best of the wine as one of the blessings they are to enjoy (from the offerings of the people) and uses tirosh.   Isaiah 24:7 is interesting because it uses tirosh, but the context seems to justify interpreting it to mean fermented grape juice rather than newly pressed and therefore non-fermented, non-alcoholic (or practically so) juice.  In fact there are multiple places where both yayin and tirosh are used either within the same verse or in very close proximity within the same chapter, and without obvious differences between their meaning.  For example in Zechariah 9, yayin is used in verse 15 in association with a strong vigor, but tirosh is used in verse 17 in a way that we might be tempted to read as gentler.  Is there a definite difference between the  two Hebrew words?  The best answer seems to be sometimes, but not necessarily always.

Chemer / Chamar (2561/2562) – These words appear only in Ezra and Daniel, with chamar being an Aramaic form of the word.  In Ezra 6:9 and 7:22 it appears in a list of other commodities without any further comment or elaboration.  In Daniel 5, it is used several times in the context of a judgment scene against King Belshazzar, but wine isn’t itself the focus of judgment.  Daniel also utilizes yayin in chapters 1 and 10.  In Daniel 1 wine is avoided by Daniel and his companions, but the point isn’t specifically the wine itself but rather foods that are acceptable to Daniel and his companions as per their Hebrew dietary restrictions.  Wine is not something they are forbidden to have, but the emphasis in this chapter is on their rejection of the traditions of the Babylonians as a means for demonstrating (or allowing for) God’s power.

Asis (6071) – Another word that seems to mean freshly pressed or trodden out grape juice.  It is used only by Isaiah, Joel and Amos – once in each book.  Amos also uses yayin, Joel uses asis along with yayin and tirosh, and  Isaiah makes use of all three plus several others (mentioned below).  Amos 9:13 is translated as sweet wine, as is Joel 3:18 and Isaiah 49:26.  Some people make a distinction between asis and tirosh, claiming that asis is not necessarily unfermented but tirosh definitely is unfermented.  I’m going to try and find someone who is good at Hebrew to give me some additional perspective as it’s a distinction that is lost to me as I look at these verses.  I wonder if it is a distinction driven by doctrine more than the language itself?

Chomets (2558) – This is generally understood to be more like vinegar or a condiment of some sort, but the English Standard Version (and at least a couple of other translations) translates it as wine in Ruth 2:14 and Psalm 69:21.   In both cases I don’t think this is a word that needs to be taken into consideration for my purposes in this study.

Mamsak (4469) – This only appears in Proverbs 23:30 and Isaiah 65:11, and is defined as a mixture of wine and spices and perhaps water.  The Isaiah passage is also in the context of a drink offering, but one offered not to God but to false gods.

Mamtaq (4477) – Something sweet.  It appears only in Nehemiah 8:10, where the decision to translate it as wine appears to be a matter of interpretation.

Shemer (8105) – Occurs only in Isaiah 25:6 and denotes very good, aged (and therefore I assume fermented) wine.

Sobe (5435) – Occurs in Isaiah 1:22 and seems to just refer to wine.  The derivation of the word has something to do with being absorbed or ‘sucked up’, and may also connote excess.

Mezeg (4197) – Only in Song of Solomon 7:2, and variously translated as wine, mixed wine, or alcohol.

Enab (6025) – Deuteronomy 32:14 and elsewhere.  Sometimes translated as wine but also more typically as grape or raisin.

So those are the words that I came up with (or variations in form of these words).  Next step is to examine the context and see whether Scripture is uniformly condemning of the use of wine or whether it (as I assume) talks about wine both as a good gift of God’s creation as well as a potential source of misuse.

 

YFA – January 7, 2018

January 7, 2018
A Weekly Devotional Resource
Based on:
  • Series B of the three-year Revised Common Lectionary (LC-MS version)
  • Luther’s Small Catechism
  • Traditional Christian Hymns
  • Sunday– Reflect Upon Today’s Service & Sermon
  • Monday – Old Testament Lesson – 1 Samuel 3:1-10
    • What do God’s people do in the absence of ongoing visions (v.1)?
    • Why might Eli have perceived that it was the Lord speaking (v.8)?
  • Tuesday – Epistle Lesson – 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
    • How do verses 12 & 13 contradict prevailing cultural norms today?
    • How do you seek to live out verses 19-20 in your life?
  • Wednesday – Gospel – John 1:43-51
    • Look up the location of Bethsaida using Google or a Bible Atlas.
    • How does Philip’s response to Nathanael’s question encourage you to witness to others (v.46)?
  • Thursday – Psalm – Psalm 139:1-10
    • Are verses 1-6 comforting or disturbing?  Why?
    • Are verses 7-10 comforting or disturbing?  Why?
  • Friday – Small Catechism – The Sixth Commandment
    • What are other ways that adultery is sometimes translated in this verse?
    • Do these verses only apply to married people?  Why or why not?
  • Saturday – (LSB #832) Jesus Shall Reign
    • Does the hymnist have any doubt about the certainty of Jesus’ reign?
    • Is verse 5 only appropriate when Jesus returns in glory, or here and now?

 

 

Reading Ramblings – January 14, 2018

January 7, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 14, 2017

Texts: 1 Samuel 3:1-10; Psalm 139:1-10; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

Context: We leave the festival seasons of Christmas behind, and while the Sundays are referred to in some circles in relation to Epiphany, we technically begin the first period of Ordinary Time in the new liturgical year that started at the beginning of December. This means that the readings for the next four weeks are not chosen specifically for thematic reasons, but rather follow the general life of Christ. Being Year B in the 3-year lectionary cycle of the Revised Common Lectional (RCL) – LC-MS edition, the Gospel readings for much of the year will come from Mark. And as with Ordinary Time Sundays, the Gospel, Old Testament, and Psalm readings will likely be related in some way but the Epistle reading will not, but rather will just work fairly methodically through the New Testament Epistles. All of which will change for Transfiguration Sunday (February 11) which is considered a special feast or festival Sunday, and then Lent begins that following Wednesday (February 14), which will lead to the Easter season , then Pentecost Sunday and Holy Trinity Sunday before finally leaving the feasts and festival seasons behind and re-entering Ordinary Time on June 3.

What does all this matter to the typical person in the pew? Probably not much. Depending on your particular faith tradition and local worship practices, you may notice changes in the colors on the altar and other places in the worship space. Hopefully you will recognize that the nature and focus of the Biblical readings changes from season to season of the liturgical year. Just recognize that historically speaking, a lot of thought has been given to what the Church does at different times of the year in order to help instruct worshipers in the Biblical narrative and link that narrative to their lives both here and now as well as for eternity.

1 Samuel 3:1-10 – The assigned readings leave it optional to finish out the chapter but I’m electing not to as the focus between the first and second half of the chapter is very different. Eli is a faithful priest of God at Shiloh (sometimes rendered Silo). Shiloh was the center of Israelite administration and worship from the time of Joshua up until just prior to Solomon’s constructing the Temple and was the location of the Ark of the Covenant during the same time. Unfortunately, Eli’s sons are not faithful, and so God must raise up a new priest to replace Eli since his sons will not inherit his position (1 Samuel 3:12-20). Samuel is God’s miraculous answer to the prayer of Hannah detailed in 1 Samuel 1-2. We can see miraculous workings of God in Hannah’s pregnancy as well as Mary’s with Jesus, though Hannah’s conception is accomplished by the usual method rather than immaculately by the Holy Spirit. Each mother offers a song of praise to God for the miracle He works in their life, and each of their sons is destined for greatness in the service of God.

Psalm 139:1-10 – A devotion to God, both an invitation as well as an acknowledgment that invitation to God is hardly necessary. Who could be without the presence of God, and what location in all of creation could rightly be said to be beyond God’s presence? We are comforted with the ever-presence of our God. We live our lives in the grace and gifts of God who created all things. Certainly this should be comfort and inspiration and exhortation to God’s people, to call on God and expect that He hears and will answer, He knows and is already at work. What comfort in the midst of loss and struggle or temptation! We never face these things alone. God is not unaware of our predicaments but intimately knowledgeable. Nowhere that our lives might take us will ever take us from the presence of the God who created and redeemed us and promises to sanctify us through the power of his Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 – As we see the holy life of Jesus played out through his birth and the start of his ministry, the idea that we could pollute ourselves, who are joined to him in his life and death, should be particularly abhorrent. And while all sin is equal before God, the pervasive temptation of humanity to sexual sin is perhaps the most graphic and visceral form of sinfulness. It offers a concrete visualization of how our sin affects the larger body of Christ as well as our own individual bodies. The argument Paul refutes is one that is not unfamiliar to us today. We are physical and sexual entities and free sexual expression is both healthy and desirable so long as everyone involved is OK with it. Wrong, Paul says. Because we are more than just physical bodies, we are spiritual persons as well and our spirits have been united in baptism and faith with the holy and perfect Son of God who offered himself to death and burial in our place. Moreover, sexuality is part of the essence of marriage, and as such is powerful. It binds us to people in far more serious ways than if we were simply scratching an itch or picking up a quick bite to eat because we’re hungry.

John 1:43-51 – Mark’s account of Jesus calling his disciples is very brief (1:16-20), so we utilize John’s slightly more detailed account. The reality of this account rings so clearly after so many years. This is no hyper-spiritualized depiction of the disciples. Nathanael’s question reveals a scorn humor bred by familiarity and undoubtedly reflective of how people closer to Jerusalem viewed the rednecks in Galilee. Yet Nathanael is gifted by God the Holy Spirit with an acute insight into the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. How? At least in part based on the witnesses. Who are the witnesses?

  • Holy Scripture – Nathanael must compare what he experiences to the Word of God
  • John the Baptist – who points his disciples first to Jesus as the Lamb of God
  • Philip – also witnessed to by Scripture and probably John the Baptist, now witnessing to Nathanael
  • Jesus – who personally demonstrates a knowledge of Nathanael that Nathanael can only explain in light of the the other witnesses

Epiphany is a season celebrating revelation and the readings bear this out. God reveals himself to Samuel, and then through Samuel to Eli despite the fact that God has not spoken in this way with his people for a long time. In breaking his silence, God inaugurates a new time of ministry for his people. Likewise God speaks to and through John the Baptist after centuries of prophetic silence, and John reveals Jesus, the Lamb of God sent to take away the sin of the world. Jesus reveals himself to Nathanael and the others, who in turn will spend the rest of their lives in faithful witness to what they have seen and heard and what the Holy Spirit has guided them towards. We today carry on this legacy and privilege. We bear witness not only to what we have heard from others and read in the Bible, but also how these truths have borne themselves out in our lives. We bear witness to a hope anchored in an empty tomb revealed not only in history, but also in the ongoing lives of God’s people.

Sojourn

January 5, 2018

The Church of God which sojourns at Smyrna, to the Church of God sojourning in Philomelium….

So begins the Encyclical Epistle of the Church at Smyrna, one of the earliest Christian writings passed down to us and our first example of martyria (plural of the Latin martyrium), something having to do with the commemoration or observance or remembrance of Christians put to death for their faith in Jesus Christ.

Merriam-Webster defines sojourn as a temporary stay.   Smyrna is not their home.  Philomelium is not their home.  It’s just a temporary stay.

What a beautiful and important reminder to God’s Church today.  To each of us personally today who follow Jesus.  We’re sojourning.  This isn’t home.  It’s a foreshadowing of home, a sneak preview of home in all of the positive aspects of home that we love or yearn for.  But we dare not mistake this place, this time, this circumstance for home.

These things will pass.  There’s more to the story.  A promise yet to be fully realized and received.  Some will only reach that fuller promise through death.  Not just the death we think about and dread and put off as long as we can, the slow death of attrition and weariness.  Some reach that promise more suddenly, more violently, and because of their trust in that promise, their refusal to let go of that, to exchange their real home for a temporary one.

Good things to remember at the start of a new year.  Amidst the remaining glitter and sparkles that the vacuum cleaner can’t seem to pick up.  As we toss out the remaining appetizers and other debris of our celebrations large and small.  As we face the sobering reality of how easy it is to make promises to ourselves (and others) but how hard it can be to keep them.

Sojourning.

Reading Ramblings – Epiphany – January 6, 2018

December 31, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Epiphany Sunday – January 6, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-15; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

Context: Epiphany is like the second half of Christmas. Whereas Christmas celebrates and emphasizes that God became human, Epiphany celebrates and emphasizes that the person Jesus of Nazareth is also the divine eternal Son of God. The celebration dates from at least the fourth century, where observances are recorded in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Isaiah 60:1-6 – A restoration of Israel’s glory and preeminence is prophesied here, bound up with the Lord’s appearance. This appearance seems specific to God’s people – causing a light to be witnessed by the other nations and prompting their journey to God’s people. Curiosity is no doubt a motivation, but perhaps ultimately it is recognition of God’s presence with and among his people, so that other nations and leaders come to bow down and worship. In the process, they bring with them God’s dispersed peoples from near and far. This all corresponds with a restoration of God’s people’s wealth and prestige in the world. The coming of the Son of God among the people of God has established this reality in part already, and it will be fulfilled completely in the day of his glorious return.

Psalm 72:1-11 – This coronation psalm was likely used at the installation of a new king. It begins as a prayer for God to bless the king with gifts necessary for the well-being of the king’s subjects – God’s people. Justice and righteousness are the foremost requests (vs.1-4) because when these are in place, the people can prosper under God’s blessings (v.3). The kings enemies should be put in fear of him (v.5), but to his friends and loyal subjects his reign and power should be gentle and soft (v.6). As he receives the Lord’s blessings, a long reign is a desirable thing (v.7). Verses 8-11 elaborate on the breadth of the king’s rule, indicating peace from troublesome neighbors and within Israel’s borders. Verses 12-15 elaborate further on why the king should be honored so – namely because he does not simply dispense justice to the wealthy and privileged, but uses his power and position to protect the vulnerable and marginalized. It’s obviously a wonderful list of attributes for any ruler, but certainly one that we will never witness fully and completely outside of the reign of the King of Kings, the God-man Jesus.

Ephesians 3:1-12 – Paul’s evangelistic ministry is to take the good news of Jesus the Christ to those unfamiliar with the prophecies concerning him, those who don’t know that they should be waiting for him. Some of this is also new – the Hebrews received the Word of God in prophesy and promise, but it wasn’t fully revealed until the Incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth. This was a surprise to God’s people, but it also needs to be explained to the non-Jews because part of the unexpected nature of Jesus is that He comes for the non-Jews as well as the Jews! God himself has enabled and equipped Paul for this specialized ministry. The amazing thing is that this isn’t just good news for humanity, but it is a witness of God’s power and wisdom to spiritual entities. In other words, God’s plan of salvation is intended not simply to reconcile a fallen humanity but to speak of his greatness to the spiritual powers. Does this mean angels? One would expect that angels would be well aware of this already as they serve God! Could it be that the witness is to those spiritual entities who have set themselves in opposition to God, namely Lucifer and his followers? The possibilities are fascinating but Paul does not give us more insight here.

Matthew 2:1-12 – The visit of the magi is a traditional emphasis (along with Jesus’ baptism) for Epiphany. We can certainly see how this episode in the early life of Jesus fits in well with the prophetic nature of the reading from Isaiah 60 as well as the psalm for the day. Here, foreigners come from afar in search of the fulfillment of prophecy. Who they are is never fully disclosed. The Biblical etymology of magi in the Bible can infer magicians, but this is not the more common, non-Biblical association. Long-standing tradition dating back to Herodotus is that these were priests from Persia, though there is no explanation for this assertion. In any event, there is no suggestion from extra-Biblical sources that these might have been literal kings, and the early Church Fathers did not assert this either. The Biblical text does not specify a number, but early on the tradition of three developed in association with the three named gifts (gold, frankincense, and myrrh), but in the Eastern church the tradition is of 12 magi. In the West, their names are allegedly Balthasar, Melchior, and and Gaspar, but again there is no historical basis for this tradition.

The tradition of the magi visiting the Holy Family in the manger is likely erroneous. Given that Herod slays all the boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger (Matthew 2:16),it is possible that the magi arrived much later. Some favor the idea that they visit the Holy Family in Bethlehem but not at the manger, and prior to the angel’s warning to Joseph to flee to Egypt.

It seems clear that they were unusual visitors at the very least, and a curious interjection into the Gospels and birth narrative. Similar to Melchizedek in Genesis 14, to me the magi represent the reminder that while God has worked through his own chosen people, it is not as though nobody else in the world is aware of what God has promised through his Scriptures. The Holy Spirit works in his own way to accomplish the plans of God, and the foreign visitors are a reminder that the Holy Spirit is in no wise limited as to who or where or when He works – something we would do well to remember also!

Jesus is the baby in the manger but also the King of Kings, worthy of rich offerings such as what the magi offer. While partially prophetic fulfillment, they are a reminder to us of who it is we proclaim to be Lord, and what the proper posture is before our Lord and Savior.

When we were still under the papacy, they used to tell this story. Once a time the devil attended Mass in a church where it was customary in either the Lord’s Prayer or in the Creed to sing: “Et homo factus est,” that is, “Gods’ Son became a human being.” While they were singing this, the people just remained standing and did not kneel down. The devil was so incensed, that he slammed his fist into one man’s mouth saying, “You boorish bum, aren’t you ashamed to just stand there like a post and refuse to kneel for joy? If God had become OUR brother, as he did YOUR brother, our joy would be so great that we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves.”

~ Martin Luther – Fourth Sermon for Holy Christmas Day, 1534 ~

Reading Ramblings – December 31, 2017

December 24, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday after Christmas, December 31, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 61:10- 62:3; Psalm 111; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40

Context: Christmas is not just a single day, but an actual season of the Church year! It lasts for twelve days, until Epiphany. So keep playing those Christmas songs a little longer yet as we continue to explore the miracle of the Son of God made man in Jesus of Nazareth.

Isaiah 61:10-62:3 – The proper response to the birth of the promised Messiah and Savior is one of unmitigated rejoicing. This rejoicing, properly, is not separated from the sorrow of Good Friday or the joy of Easter morning, but forms a continuum that runs through and is the focus of the first half of the Church year. More than any other baby ever born, we have reason to still celebrate God the Father fulfilling his promise to Eve by sending God the Son as one of her descendants, to tread upon the serpent’s head and free us from sin, death, and the power of Satan. With the divine victory banner implanted in the heart of enemy territory, can there be any other result than righteousness? Is there anything more fitting than to tell it on the mountains that Jesus Christ is born, and in this every man, woman and child is offered amnesty and forgiveness through the baby in the manger who is also the God on the cross? We are transformed! And it is to God alone that the glory should be given now and forever.

Psalm 111: A common identity and purpose undergird this psalm of praise to God. The first verse indicates that it is appropriate among God’s people and during worship. Praise can begin immediately based on a common understanding and experience of who God is, and the psalm can be offered in the shorthand appropriate to a shared faith that results from and leads to shared study of God’s mighty works (vs.2-4). Verse 5 begins to allude to specifics – the feeding of his people in the wilderness with manna and the establishment of his covenant with them at Mt. Sinai. Verse 6 may refer to the establishment of the nation of Israel in the Promised Land, first under Joshua and then more fully under King David. The goodness of God is also evident in that He has shown his people how to live (vs. 7-8), and his precepts and guidelines are alone trustworthy among all the myriad ideas people have about right and wrong and how the world should work. Ultimately though, the Lord is to be praised for providing salvation to his people, redeeming them, which implies a need to be redeemed, an acknowledgment of our estranged position with God because of our sinful rebelliousness. His covenant is not just a temporary arrangement but rather the eternal work and purpose of God with his creation. Likewise, our praise of Him and our immersion in his Word should and will be eternal as well.

Galatians 4:4-7 – Christmas is inextricably linked to Easter. It is God’s salvation plan incarnate, the fulfillment of God the Father’s promise to Eve in Genesis 3:15. God the Son is adopted into humanity, and in exchange we are adopted as heirs into the forgiveness and grace and promises of God the Father. The proof of this is the Holy Spirit of God now in our hearts, now operating on our behalf, constantly interceding with us and calling out to God our Father in the most intimate of terms, as only a true child can ever do comfortably or rightfully. Christmas begins the real-time breaking of our slavery to sin, death, and Satan. Paul beautifully summarizes the heart of the Gospel.

Luke 2:22-40 – The Christmas story doesn’t end in the manger. The birth of Jesus renders Mary ritually unclean, as per Leviticus 12, and requires sacrifice. While it is conceivable that they could have fulfilled this back home in Galilee, both Mary’s physical condition after the birth as well as the proximity of the temple in Jerusalem likely made it reasonable and desirable that they stay on with relatives in Bethlehem for 40 days after the birth.

The reality that Jesus is also the Son of God does not negate the Levitical law. Jesus will later state that He has not come to abolish the law but fulfill it (Matthew 5:17), and this is true even from his infancy. Mary and Joseph adhere to the expected requirements of the Law pertaining to their newborn son. But in case they might begin to say to themselves after the birth that the visitations and dreams were flights of fancy, they meet Simeon and Anna in the temple grounds. These devout figures serve as prophets – speakers of God’s Word and wisdom. Simeon’s primary message is to Mary and Joseph, who are astonished (despite the angelic dreams and visitations!) at what he has to say. Anna speaks to others, linking Jesus to the anticipated redemption of Jerusalem. It must have made for quite a spectacle!

Luke nearly completes his narrative of Jesus’ early years with the summary verses 39-40. By ancient standards, this was certainly more than adequate in terms of biographical detail. Ancient biographies emphasize what a person did to become noteworthy. Our modern ideas of biography are heavily influenced by modern psychology and the idea that in order to understand a person fully we need to understand everything about them, not just the noteworthy things. So it is that we hunger to know more about Jesus’ childhood. Luke only tells us that the child grew and was strong and wise and favored by God. The implication is also that his parents, who began so faithfully fulfilling the requirements of the Law in his regard, continued in this fashion.

Simeon’s words have come down through the Church as the Nunc Dimittis – the opening words of Simeon as translated in the Latin Vulgate of the Bible by St. Jerome in the fourth century. Simeon’s words are also seen as the last of the three great canticles (or sacred songs) of the New Testament – the first being Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1, then Zechariah’s song also in Luke 1.

While it has often been traditional to interpret Simeon’s words as indicating that he is ready to die, this is certainly not a necessary interpretation and may be overstating Simeon’s point. The assumption is that Simeon was advanced in years, but the text doesn’t specifically tell us this. Rather, Simeon’s song is an acknowledgment that God has fulfilled his promise to him to see the Messiah. He can leave the Temple grounds secure in this knowledge, and no longer needs to look anxiously each day to see whether today is the day that he will see the Messiah. His words ring true to us today, and particularly at Christmas time. By the eyes of faith, through the historical words of eye-witnesses, we too have seen God’s salvation incarnate. We anticipate eagerly when we will see him face to face in glory and for eternity!

Christmas Eve & Christmas Day Readings

December 18, 2017

In addition to the regular readings for Sunday morning (which happens to be Christmas Eve this year), we have two additional services and sets of readings – one for Christmas Eve evening and one for Christmas morning worship.

For Christmas Eve I use a variety of readings from each of the Gospels to take hearers through the full Christmas story.

For Christmas morning I utilize the assigned lectionary texts for the day.  Since the readings for Christmas Day are usually the same, I’m switching up and using the texts for Christmas service at dawn, even though we aren’t meeting at dawn.  Those texts are:

  • Isaiah 62:10-12 – a beautiful call to God’s people to make final preparations for the long-anticipated arrival of her savior, ushering in a new day of peace and joy
  • Psalm 98 – a blessing and praise of God based on his mighty acts of mercy and creation
  • Titus 3:4-7 – a succinct restatement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – that we are saved by him and not by our own efforts, however well-intentioned
  • Luke 2:1-20 – Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth, including angels & shepherds!