Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Family and our Future...



DURING THE readings for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, we again hear an important teaching passed on to the church from the Gospel According to Saint Mark. In this text. our Lord addressed the legal problems of the day associated with marital divorce, and also spoke of the morality of a society that had little regard for the lives of children. We read…

And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”
 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to put her away.”
 But Jesus said to them, “For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”
 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
 And they were bringing children to him, that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them.  (Mark 10:2-16)

On Marriage…
The text that we deal with in many churches this week falls hard upon the ears of many persons. And well it should be. Within the text, the author related to the early church concerning the laws governing practices within their scattered society. Problematic for them was the difference between what had been written in the law for the lands situated within Palestine, over against what was occurring in the lands beyond. You see, within Palestinian lands a man could sue for divorce but a woman could not. However, out in the Roman Empire beyond those geographic bounds, including the arena where this Markan text was written, it was legal that women could also sue for divorce. Thus an issue was at work behind the questioning. This was the dichotomy through which the Pharisees would draw out the opinion of Jesus, in hoping to entrap him in controversy.
 In the answer he gave, however, we find guidance for not only the church of Mark, but for the church of today. First of all, turning the question back upon them, our Lord asked what Moses had taught. When they answered rightly, he explained the "hardness of heart" moral reason for the mandate. Second, he related the status of marriage as first established by God, as explained from the beginning in the order of creation.
 By quoting the scriptures believed to be passed along from Moses, Jesus thus side-stepped the diabolical test put before him. He taught concerning the eternal character intended for the  monogamous, permanent unity exclusively meant for a man and a woman.

 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it… (Genesis 1:27)

 We need realize that today in the legalisms presently working within modern society, we have many governmental challenges to this creative order, Therefore, I consider that it is the responsibility of the church to speak clearly. We need to speak just as Mark related the words of Jesus about the matter in the latter years of the first century.
 Because of the heat of modern debate, misunderstanding and misinterpretation are to be quenched by the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to emphasize the words, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” This single sentence speaks to the status of marriage before God. For this reason, I refer you to an article written on the topic.




 On Children…
In the same way, the Markan text shifted the focus of the early church to the first century society’s casual and demeaning attitudes concerning children. As we know, this topic has also echoed through time into our modern consciousness. Not only has the highest U.S. court spoken on the merits of marriage among non-heterosexual partners, it had also stepped beyond the life supporting stance of our Lord in the legalisms of defining when life begins.
 While it is not the purpose of this dialog to sway opinions for either issue, I simply call you as faithful Christians and church communities to allow the Holy Spirit to teach concerning the unchanging, eternal character of the scripture. Therefore the admonishments given by Jesus to the Pharisees and the church of Mark yet stand before us today. Let us then, though we are too often sinfully influenced by our culture, pray for tongues to speak gently to one another plainly about such matters. To assist you, I offer a writing done previously by myself…



While you weigh these matters before the altar of our God, may the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Sharing Rightly!



IN THE readings set aside for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, we continue hearing from a dialog read in the Gospel According to Saint Mark. We find ourselves at the conversation wherein a disciple questioned the authority of an outsider, one who was doing good works in our Lord’s name. The answer our Lord offered gives us needed guidance concerning our Christian relationships to other persons in the faith, and in the world.

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.”
 But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.
 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.
 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.
 For every one will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”  (Mark 9:38-50)

In His Name…
The disciple John went to Jesus. As a follower and student, he voiced concern over the ministry of someone who worked outside the mandate that had been given to the disciples. John told our Lord that the group stopped the man from doing such, because he was not one of them. Based on the earlier conversation recorded in this same chapter of Mark, wherein the disciples were warned about jealously guarding their own turf in the prospective kingdom, we see here that they were yet shielding their future political aspirations.
 Some scholars studying this text have indicated that it became important for the Mark’s mid-first century community to cite this occasion, because the conversation dealt with issues afflicting the early church. Some say that these competitive natures were not an issue with the original disciples. These authorities hold that the text, therefore, is an inserted remembrance is of a taught attitude. The text was inserted, therefore, as a reminder only when the ministry of such as Paul was at issue for the later community.
 Given this, however, I contend that though the secondary use by Mark may indeed be intentional and likely, there is little reason to discount the importance and actuality of this conversation during Jesus’ earthly ministry. If we assume such use then, our focus is rightly placed upon Jesus’ response. The attitude he cites stands regardless of the decades or centuries throught which the church must work. He clearly stated for them, and thus voiced to we ourselves today as Christians, that we should not hamper others who do great works in his name. Our Lord warned that these outsiders, as “little ones”, should not be hampered by the church.
 We note that in correlation within the arrangement of the episodes, Mark described that Jesus used the same child-like term to describe the unknown worker, as had been previously found in Mark 9:36 when he first placed an actual child before them. Consequently, now using a fourfold warning, our Lord cautioned his disciples against being so jealous that they would impede the declaration of God’s grace. If they persisted in jealously guarding their perceived positions and agendas, they could find themselves thwarting the very reason that Jesus had come out!
 Today we can take from this a sure message. If any disciple, individual church or church denomination should impede the right declaration of the gospel by another… they may find themselves clearly described by the words of the prophets…

“And they shall go forth and look on the dead bodies of the men that have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:24)

 To further illustrate the point, we need to carefully weigh the words and deeds of others. Jesus told them that any person or community that would act in a self-centered manner, would be like salt that had lost its flavor. Dead salt, like the low quality salt that was often found in the Dead Sea, was cast away as worthless. Useless salt was thought to represent foolishness, fiery wickedness and unbelief…

Wisdom rescued a righteous man when the ungodly were perishing; he escaped the fire that descended on the Five Cities. Evidence of their wickedness still remains: plants bearing fruit that does not ripen, and a pillar of salt standing as a monument to an unbelieving soul. For because they passed wisdom by, they not only were hindered from recognizing the good, but also left for mankind a reminder of their folly, so that their failures could never go unnoticed. (Wisdom 10:6-8)

 Surely then, to anyone who remembered the audacity of Lot’s wife, this admonition brought a sun-bleached warning… rather than instilling refreshing images of sustenance. Jesus’ words no doubt reminded, therefore, that salt is a rather ambiguous substance. When used properly, salt is an invigorating, life supporting element. Salt is a precious commodity.As applied heavily upon the surface of food, it supplies a penetrating, protective preservation. Salt is also used to put fire in the belly, so that a person could retain water… to endure and sustain life in the fiery furnaces of the dry, desert places.


Be Glad!
In such way, Jesus warned us that the ministry of the children of God is guided by the Holy Spirit. Thus we need to eliminate undue jealousy, so that efforts should not be made in vain because of striving amongst ourselves. Our energy should be more rightly applied to giving life to others. This is the proper salt that was given to the church by our Lord…

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:12-14)

Therefore any church or denomination following these right and proper instructions and teaching according to the scriptures inherited from the days of walking alongside our Lord, we should not cast dispersion upon any other entity doing good works in our Lord’s name. However, note also that if the activity is done for any reason of selfish promotion or steerage toward a false gospel message, it should be condemned. We must take notice that those who have historically spoken falsely to either demean or distort our Lord’s loving care, the love that was poured out upon the cross, had been condemned to fall silent. Though these may seem to flavor the stew for a time… and some have occasionally burped tastelessly into modern society… they are destined to be mute, salt-encased witnesses standing before the eternal judgment of our God.
 Therefore, as disciples working in the modern world we need for the most part to center only on the mission that we are given. The Christian church by grace alone is called to proclaim the true faith alone, given by the Word who is Jesus Christ alone. Let us pray to the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of Christ our Lord… so that we may do such wonderful deeds for the good of those in the evil world unfolding around us. Thanks be to God!