Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Cross Purposes!



WORSHIP AND reading on the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, continues to listen to our Lord as recorded in the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. In this revealed text, the calling of Jesus’ disciples was given weighty consideration. In it we find our Lord's clear warning to them that while working beneath the mandate of God in the world, Christian disciples will be set apart.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.
 He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me. He who receives a prophet because he is a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward, and he who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:34-42, RSV)

In, But Not Of…
This text from church of Matthew related that shortly after comforting his followers, Jesus admonished them about persecutions already set in motion. In the midst of the early church, therefore, we consider that these conditions likely had come to their immediate doorsteps. This gospel, written in final form likely by c.85AD, called the Christian church to gather amid stories and rumors of growing hostilities. Out of the early congregations in Antioch of Syria, the writing reflects what Jesus had told his original followers.
 We note that this text revealed Jesus had said that he came not to bring peace, but a sword. Thus a people who had already accepted Jesus as the Messiah, and had gathered around recognizing him as the “Prince of Peace” who was appointed between God and man... these words of spiritual warfare heard by the power of the Holy Spirit made sharp witness. The church of the late first century received this warning gospel message through the likes of Peter, Paul, and Barnabas.
 Subsequently, passed on thus by the infant Christian sect, the gospel message was already separating them as distinct from the ancestry of the Jewish faith. We of the modern Church are reminded here that Jesus used a familiar text from the prophets, to tell the first disciples that this was to certainly unfold...

“Put no trust in a neighbor, have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your bosom; for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.
 But as for me, I will look to the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a Light to me.” (Micah 7:5-8)

 Thus with the sword of God’s holy and prophetic Word that cut our Lord’s followers to the very bone and marrow of their being, the original disciples received stark warning. The world would become increasingly a hazardous place for any Spirit-filled witness. They were already being cut asunder and a number of believers were falling away. They were already being set apart from the familiar... and would undergo hazardous futures.
 How hazardous would it be? It was made clear from this original scene that occurred before Jesus’ crucifixion, that the gospel declaration would separate many. It would alienate married couples, parents and children. It would separate old friends. The message of the cross… that is, Jesus Christ crucified and Risen for our salvation… would bring many disciples into gross isolation. Many would be taken to their death. By the time of this writing, laboring under Roman rule, the church of Matthew had already seen that prior decades had proven the reality. The image of death loomed large.
 First came the spiritual death. In the mid-first century the early church in Antioch was already being cast from the Jewish synagogue ( gathering place ). History relates that the disciples were being thrown out of synagogue fellowship. They received shunning apart from the very roots of Jewish life. Long thought to be the main thread of personal  and communal stability, the shunning action challenged them. It was veritable cutting off… unto spiritual death. The disciples were therefore following the path of Jesus Christ himself.
 As well, the Christians began to be physically betrayed to the governmental powers of the Roman world. So, amid infant congregations beginning to meet in house churches and cemeteries... the warning from the mouth of Jesus Christ was therefore repeated…. but with more immediate understanding. Under such as Emperor Nero, Christians had already been placed upon crosses in the public square and along the roads to Rome...

“… he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Thus the infant church knowingly carried this message of the cross though the streets of a hostile environment. Hiding in a world that shunned, alienated and persecuted them, only by the power of the Holy Spirit working through Baptism would the message of the cross survive.

Taking Up Your Cross?
Therefore we of the modern church, who by the grace of God have received the Word, are asked to view this scriptural picture for our own day. We need to realize that the text yet instructs any church who gathers faithfully in these perilous times.
 You see, we modern disciples are threatened by latent and bold persecutions, spiritual warfare and internal church strife. Consequently, we are admonished to cast away those who claim that we may work our way to heaven through our allegiances to family, community tradition or social deeds... declaring the lies of either secular or religious bent. We are urged instead to carry the weight of the saving cross in faith. We must not embrace a message of profit for ourselves… stealing glory which alone belongs to Christ.
 We who are the baptized in Christ are empowered to carry the cross through and past heretical, progressive interpretations. We must cling to the gospel message first heard. Indeed the subtle, strong roots of both family and familiar settings in community and society may try to nail us down into apostate heresies that lure us toward such as unfit marriages, murderous abortions, and illicit ordinations. These surely attempt to pound spikes into the heart of our spiritual beings like those iron piercings that attempted to hold our Lord.
 To be sure then, by the power of the Holy Spirit we are called to remain gathered in the Word and not be deterred. Do not, sisters and brothers in Christ, hold on to any religious obedience that hammers false scriptural thoughts or merely glorifies human social endeavors. Cast aside errors expressed from either church or state. Search for... and embrace... the right interpretations of scripture!
 Indeed, grasp tightly upon our Lord’s call to the Church to bear the cross. Stay secure in his salvation that has been made by God the Father through faith alone, given to us by grace alone, and always... always...  determine to follow our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ... and pander after no one, and nothing else.


We offer this message based upon the reading that you have received. It is designed to empower your evangelical efforts to the world around you.




May the grace of God bless your efforts on behalf of those who do not yet know the love given out through Jesus Christ or Lord




Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Out of Darkness...



FOR THE Third Sunday of Pentecost, we find our reading from the Gospel According to Saint Matthew contains words that were specifically addressed to Jesus’ first disciples. Therefore the text clearly defined their position as the church in the ancient world… and shows the risk that accompanies ministry within our own time...



“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.
 So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
 Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household.
 He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it." (Matthew 10:24-39)

Know the Risk!
Before the first time that he sent his disciples out among the Jews, Jesus addressed his disciples about holy war. He warned them of severe opposition. Resistance would be encountered as they proclaimed the good news of God. The record of what Jesus said to them on that day now appears in this dialog that is passed on to us by the church of Matthew. The text of this instruction is echoed in part when we read from other synoptic gospels (Mark 13:9-13, Luke 12:11-12).
 Jesus warned them... and now us… that we often shall be persecuted and isolated from those in the world. He warned that not only the societal world would reject and persecute them, but the very foundation of family units would abandon them. Jesus related these truths to his followers about the entrenched powers of this world. He told them these evil workings would be addressed against their very lives.
 First, our Lord Jesus warned that those who would attack him, would also attack them. The religious authorities of the day had said that Jesus was of “Beelzebul”. (Baal-Zebub). Thus he told them that many in the Jerusalem temple had said that Jesus’ power came from the likes of a foreign Philistine god. This was the foreign god that had been acclaimed protector by the ancient city of Ekron. Therefore the temple powers said that Jesus surely taught a “foreign” and “evil” way for the Jewish people. Thus informing the disciples of that accusation, Jesus told them that the charge they leveled against him would also put upon them.
 Next, using images of darkness and light, he revealed the responsive action expected of them. They were to know that they should not fear the powers of this world and hide… but out of darkness shall come Light. An echo rings truly for disciples, either then or now… as fervent students of scripture. It hearkens of what had been earlier written of the creative power of God in the Pentateuch…

And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:3-4)

 Thus Jesus prophesied a timeless truth. Out of the age of darkness in which Jesus ministered on earth, they each would go forward in ministry to a time when powers of the world would work to corrupt the worship of God. But the Light of God’s Truth would shine forth. We in the church today, challenged by persecutions from religious fanatics bent on these same works of darkness... those who would distort the scriptural record to their own progressive agendas, need hear this warning clearly.
 The task to proclaim the good news of salvation was given to the disciples. Any who would shrink from the task in the face of persecutions in any time to come and from any source… would face judgment by the Father. However, the words “Do not fear!”  jump out at us. They come to us with importance now in our modern day, just as they likely loomed large for the early church of Matthew.
 Written in fullness of witness within the late first century, the message of the gospel writer pointed beyond themselves to us, telling those who followed them… “Do not fear!” The Word, which is Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, reminds us of what we historically know to be true. The early churches heard this reading while enduring and facing growing persecutions. Arrests were being made. Isolation was rampant. The entrenched synagogue powers in Asia Minor and Rome witnessed the freedom of Christian life. Many Christians no longer kept kosher and thus disturbed Jewish community trade. They had freely brought sinful foreigners, those Gentiles… into the Christian faith through confession and baptism. Thus false accusations were made. They said to the authorities that the Christians ate “body and blood”. Thus accused of cannibalism, the followers of Jesus were driven by Romans into the catacombs. There they worshiped Jesus in the darkness of the cemeteries. Christian communities would in the dark morning hours follow acolyte torches through the catacombs (Greek- “down under”). There they would worship from darkness into Light.
 It is amid this telling that I feel that the memories of Jesus’ instructions were fully being recalled. The words of Jesus were not added by the early church, but were remembered by the late century disciples who were facing Jewish, Greek and Roman persecutions. The words stated by Christ were therefore seared by the Holy Spirit into their churches and ours. They began to feel in new ways the religious persecutions set in motion by the powers of the “temple authorities”... promoted by the “Prince of Darkness”.
 As the persecutions of the Church came hard upon them, driving early Christians into the darkness, the fullness of Jesus' instructions therefore echoed. The Church was called to boldly proclaim in the light of day. They were to proclaim while knowing that some who had clung to family traditions, the fetters of nation, state, town, or those who blindly worshiped in supporting coffers-driven denominational allegiances… were to hear the gospel and speak harshly. Today we know there are some yet who condemn in the same way.

On Finding Life…
 This lesson of the day, therefore, reminds our modern church with the good news mission that was given to the disciples… though the words still sound foreign to some. The bad news is that persecution is yet with us; however, the good news rests in the proof that centuries have come and gone, and thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit the Church and its message still endures. We are thus called to not dwell in darkness, but proclaim the gospel on the roof tops.
 After meeting on any Sunday, whether nested behind stained-glass windows or sheltered beneath the shade of a tree in the African sun, as Christians we are driven by faith to act. We are to come out into the day and speak about the true Light of the world. The good news of Jesus, who died that we might have not just life, but Resurrection life… should go out across the world.
 This reminder comes to us in a time when many persecuted Christians need to be uplifted. This persecution of the Church increases across the globe. Christian pastors are imprisoned. Churches are burned in Syria, India and Egypt. Christian mothers are sentenced to death in Africa. Christians are murdered while gathered by the Spirit in Kenya. The news is horrid about torturous deaths upon Christians in Iraq, the land out of which blessed Abram came. Indeed, across Africa, Asia, and far Eastern lands we find that Christians are being martyred in large numbers. Amid this witness, the Church in lands yet untouched by open strife are being rent by progressive schism, scriptural distortions and raving demons of ignorance.
 As we hear daily of horrible news, we need be reminded that the church has been in this place before. Though these things yet shall be, we are empowered by the Word that echoes across this evil world. First, remember the good news!
 Remember that we are called and strengthened for our mission by the Holy Spirit. Thus we shout of the Father’s grace from the heights. It is certain! Turbulent times shall roll throughout history, even unto that last day when finally all knees shall bow rightly before our Lord…

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”
 And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”
                                                                               (Revelation 21:1-5)

 Therefore, as you hear this clear gospel message given to us on the Second Sunday after Pentecost, let us know that the season of our own proclamation has not ended. The Word… the good news of salvation that you hear… is to be proclaimed out in the world. The Word shall be spoken by you who are called to be disciples. Do this work to which you have been sent… for the sake of Jesus Christ and the future of those in the world around you.


For your viewing and thoughtful considerations... 




May the Holy Spirit provide you with the Word, to witness
in public concerning the salvation provided through Christ our Lord