Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Rampant Rewards!

FOR THE Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, we continue to hear Jesus teaching his followers who were gathered together on the plain. Our Lord laid out behaviors he expected of his followers. However, based on the disparity between what occurs in the world and what should happen as persons accept the mantle of Christ Jesus… we find the path to be quite difficult. For Jesus said…

 “But I say to you that hear.., ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.
 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
 Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.
 For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”   (Luke 6:27-38)

Going Farther!
In using this text listed for this Sunday, we greatly mirror what had been offered in its companion section from the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Saint Luke included topics from the common source tradition shared by both writers. Given this fact, it is therefore prudent for us to also examine the similar text from the “Sermon on the Mount” as found in Matthew. You can find our earlier study of that text at:

Our aim here however, is focused toward gaining understanding of the text in Luke in comparison with Matthew. Indeed, since the content of the “Q” source was certainly rich for both we can see the differences found between the two authors in their particular backgrounds, settings and audiences. These, I believe played an important part as to which words of Jesus came forth from their quills, given the writing resource available to each.
 You see, each author, as guided by the Holy Spirit, tailored the points made. They attempted to pass on the gospel of Jesus Christ according to the needs of the community and thus made the message easier for their audience to apprehend… both the condemnation of the Law in our shortfall from the Law's expectations, and the great deliverance accomplished by our Lord.
 Within Luke’s gospel then, it seems that we find issues covered which were more relevant to his readers than what is seen in Matthew. While most of what we read is complementary to the Matthean version, some subjects... such as killing and adultery... were stressed to a lesser degree. We wonder then, “Was this because Luke addressed a population across the Greco-Roman Empire that was much more accustomed to the raw business of war, rampant promiscuity and financial usery. It would seem so. While he did include some items as seen in Matthew, he glossed over others. It seems Luke did tailor the message to his audience.

 What this reading comparison does for us then, is seen rather easily in how each attends addressing the readers of his community. We can glean proper assumptions from this technique. Matthew is understood as immersed and separating the Church in Syrian-located synagogues, enticing minds and hearts of Jews to embrace our Lord’s gifts and will. Luke however, is addressing a wider audience of diaspora Hebrews, Greeks and Romans. By examining each text then, and noting the techniques used by each author, we ask… “Isn’t it possible that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit we also can address our own cultures with the same subtle nuance?” Cannot our preachers and laity do evangelical tasks with the same subtle planning? While we are certainly called to proclaim the right and inerrant text, I believe we are free in good faith to adjust the flavor of that sweet wine to suit those who attend the banquet. I believe that is exactly what is transmitted to us by both Luke and Matthew... even as we sinners are told to “judge not” and “condemn not” and “give” generously. The words of our Lord can jump out to us and to our own audience in our own time… and we as the Church shall be rewarded without reservation if we prayerfully rise to the task.

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Monday, February 11, 2019

Leveling With You!

FOR THE Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, we again read from the Gospel According to Saint Luke. In this reading we find a similar text to that found elsewhere in the gospel records. Our lesson describes…

And he (Jesus) came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.
And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came forth from him and healed them all.
And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.
“Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
“But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger. “Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. “Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.  (Luke 6:17-26)

  As those persons who hear the gospels regularly during the various church lectionary years, we find echoes that occur. Indeed, portions of this text are also found in the gospel of Saint Matthew. To view thoughts of that text, click here…

 In comparative reading of these two witnesses, however, we note first the breadth of the audience noted by Luke. The gospel stated clearly that interested persons came from “all” Judea, Jerusalem, and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon. We note the use of the deliberately expansive “all” as well, when our author wrote concerning the numbers of persons healed.
 I contend that the audience to whom the gospel was addressed influenced the retelling of the original event. That is… we ask whether the original event disclosure was of one, singular occasion as derived from the “Q” source document. Please know that I have personally entertained the possibility that our Lord may have repeated this message on at least two occasions, once on the hillside as in Matthew’s recording... and once again on the plain as related here in Luke.
We note our author’s highlighting of a large number of persons being healed. This tendency of stressing our Lord’s healing of persons found in the gathering has led scholarly opinions that Luke was a well-to-do physician… one who could oversee and afford to fund the writing of both this gospel and the later “Acts of the Apostles”.

 With our author’s obvious concern for those who are in need of healing, we also sense a greater concern for their poverty than is seen in Matthew’s account. Rather than Matthew’s emphasis on those who are specifically “poor in spirit”, Luke stated "Q" text as simply relating “Blessed are you poor…”. The difference raises a question in our minds whether the differences lay in the actual words of Jesus, delivering the same basic message to two different audiences? Or we may rightly ask ourselves, "Are these simply adaptations or remembrances made by the individual writers, with each writer humanly remembering only those high points important for them and their community?" In my years of pastoral care to multiple parishes, the latter seems as much of a possibility as the former. I would often tailor my sermon content and delivery to meet the perceived needs of the particular congregation being addressed.
 Finally.., there exists great warnings exclusive to Luke. He related our Lord’s words of woe to those who think that they have “arrived”. Why this warning is found here in Luke and not Matthew is often speculated upon. Was Matthew addressing a wealthier community and thus did not strategically follow this course. We also may ask when struggling today in various denominational turmoil, do we find ourselves abandoning relating the fullness of God's Holy Word in order to be heard without repercussions? Do we toss aside, soft pedal or modify scriptural Truth in order to support the richness of particular causes... sometimes to the harm of the original intent? I believe that many in today's Church too often casually toss aside the mandates of God’s Law… those that convict us and subsequently drive us to seek salvation in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Hence it is that I call many leaders in his Church, to be led in the Spirit to close examination of these two records in scripture. You see... we need a reality check! We need to stand in the Light of our Lord and find the shadows of sin falling hard upon us… and be healed by his Word. Let us once again be resolved in the Spirit to present the Word rightly interpreted. Such is the proper calling of the Church.

Please be invited now to view this video witness to the grace of God falling upon a wandering soul...

May the Light of our Lord Jesus inform your view of His kingdom!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Early Church Writings!

SOME PERSONS cry peace when there is no peace. Others know peace when there seems none.

 Read these Bible Study lessons arranged in order from the mainline church three-year lectionary. Click on the list shown in the right-hand column to find an appropriate Sunday.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Receive the Greatest!

FOR THIS week we read from the Gospel According to Saint John. For your perusal here, I offer these previous thoughts written on the subject. In this text, we encounter a wondrous event wherein Jesus appeared to the disciples.
 To set the historical stage, know that the disciples had already been informed by women about the empty tomb. One of those women, named Mary, had even encountered the Risen Jesus amid that garden. Here then, we join the account that was stressed to first century readers concerning the Resurrected Christ Jesus. It boldly stated that he was physically raised from the dead, and was not an apparition simply conjured up by grief-stricken minds…
“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 
 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." 
 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe." 
 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, "Peace be with you." 
 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing." 
 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 
 Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." 
 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”
                                                                             (John 20:19-31)
Know the Truth!
The disciples were gathered in the upper room on an evening after the Resurrection. It was a secret place to hide; somewhat a tomb of their own selection. After the Lord’s grave was found to be empty, Christians throughout the city were being hunted down by those in power. The empty tomb and its possible repercussions, fostered a very turbulent time for the disciples after the Passover festival. The upper room thus hid the shocked group, secured from the Jewish temple leaders.
 Historically, Passover celebrations had marked the prophetic sacrifice of lambs which were historically killed. They had been slaughtered to save those whom God chose to spare from death and lead through Sinai’s desert wilderness. With that celebration completed after Jesus' crucifixion, crowds of people had begun to leave the city. Subsequently, the disciples remained fearfully hidden, cowering in like nature to those of the Hebrews of the past… those historic Jews who were once imprisoned in Egypt.
 Moses had called to the children of Israel... those Jews that marched out of Egypt in times of old were afraid. You see, the disciples knew the story... that Moses did not die in Egypt. He had been with the Jews. Still the men who had been called by Christ during his ministry were very afraid. Jesus our Lord had died and was buried. He was was not standing in their midst telling them to go with him across the sea.
  Then Jesus suddenly appeared. The Word of God spoke to those in hiding. He spoke with calming words. A traditional “Peace be with you” (“eirene umin” in the Greek) was given. The greeting must have echoed in some respect like the words the messenger at the tomb had told Mary… “Do not be afraid”. The words came out as asking for a peace that existed beyond all understanding. However, the words fell on fearful ears.
 It may seem now to us that Resurrection faith was insufficiently held within them. But, lest we sinfully and too lightly consider the words spoken in that upper room, let us not judge our predecessors. Can we intellectually imagine the impact of hearing the voice of one believed to be dead? They suddenly heard Jesus’ voice!
 I think that we certainly cannot enough imagine the shock that came upon the men. Bedlam resulted! I venture that fear, crying, yelling and even more... began to shake the men who hid in that room even though they had been told by the women that he had risen.
 After the din quieted somewhat, a first daring soul moved beyond initial shock and doubt. Then, one by one, all were amazed by bodily proof about the Lord’s identity. John revealed to his churches that as the tumult lessened, Jesus’ aim was to empower them. Jesus reminded them that what had happened had been prophetically promised. Let us take due note that here at this point in the telling... is where John quickly changed our focus. John revealed to his hearers that not all were there. John told that Thomas was not present.
 As readers and hearers today who arrive untimely, we are also brought now into the scene. Those who hear the news of an empty tomb join with them across the centuries to understand the report.
  John told his readers that the message of the empty tomb was difficult for Thomas. I think that many who receive this gospel report today can surely identify with this. Many persons I know struggle today with intellectually gripping the Resurrection report. It is a hard thing indeed. We seek evidence!
  Thus today, as over centuries of witness, the Truth of the miracle comes to us as a gift. It is a gift wrapped in faith provided by the power of the Holy Spirit. Certainly, so rewarded we are called to accept what John’s churches came to understand.
 Know this! Faith to believe in this miracle only came from God’s Word as provided through the Holy Spirit. For this reason we too must search the Word, comprehending that scripture surely declares scripture! Faith comes by the receiving of this spiritual knowledge. As Saint Paul echoed..,
 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not because of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
The stage was therefore described as set wonderfully by John’s writing. The writer brought Thomas face-to-face with the Risen Lord, and we as readers now also become witnesses to the scene as well. The Truth is revealed to all! Immediately, the normative declaration was made by that disciple, "My Lord and my God!" Thus with exclamatory zeal... kingdom building was furthered. 

Tell This Truth!
Examine the words of John as we look for lessons in our own day. We need only see the history of the Christian church during the latter years of the first century. John’s gospel was likely written c.85-95, as a highly symbolic telling. It included rather sophisticated symbols of double entendre. In this gospel then, many forms of storytelling found in classical Greek texts are used. Therefore, we collectively may assume that John wrote primarily to Greek and dispersed and highly educated Hebrews who gathered within the heart of the Roman Empire. His symbolic writing style points out a witness subtly meant to attract those upper, educated classes, as well as those lesser learned.
 Were educated and moneyed persons confronted by the gospel witness? If the answer is affirmative, we modern persons may also then liken ourselves to those of the world who had then arrived in finance and education. Consequently, are we then not challenged also by this gospel reading?
 Some biblical authorities say that the original gospel text ended here. It is taught that the following chapter was applied by a later editor. Therefore, if these scholars are correct, the initial telling ends with a rather appropriate phrase. The text tells us why this gospel writing even exists. Blessed John stated that he wrote this enchanting storytelling, so… “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”
 Therefore, if holding to this scriptural appraisal, we in modern society are now invited to highly recommend the Gospel of John. I especially contend that it be placed on the “must read” list for those who like a good book. When they ask us after reading, “How is this thing... this Resurrection possible…?”, surely we are invited to witness about the faith now given to us. We may say with certainty that the Spirit answers… “With God all things are possible!”
 Therefore, we see that it is for us who are made wealthy in the knowledge of our redemption.., those who have been granted faith without our seeing the tomb… to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. In the modern world we are called to tell the great story concerning the saving grace of Almighty God.

 Please enjoy our Easter turn around, and drive video...

 With God.... All Things Are Possible!