Monday, June 27, 2016

Reasoned Rejoicing!



OUR BIBLICAL text for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost comes to us from the inkwell of Saint Luke. Within the reading, we read how Jesus laid out a sound method of evangelism for his infant church…

“After this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come. And he said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 
 Go your way..; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and salute no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace be to this house!' And if a son of peace is there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you.
 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages; do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' 
 But, whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.'  I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on that day for Sodom than for that town. "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Beth-saida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Caperna-um, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.
 He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." 
 The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!" And he said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."  (Luke 10:1-20)

Proclaim the Word…
Our text today from Luke begins with Jesus sending his disciples into the mission field. Much of this reading receives multiple attestation from the other scriptural gospels, because we find the event is also written of in Mark and Matthew (Matthew 9:37-38; 10:7-16, and Mark 6:7-11) However, we note in the other readings an interesting difference, that the initial sending included only the twelve apostles. In Luke we read of a more numerous sending. In Luke, we read that seventy are sent. Take note here that a textual variant also does exist, in that some ancient texts of Luke, record that seventy two that were sent. Consequently, in either instance, the comparative evidence shows that Luke’s gospel contains a more expansive evangelical impetus.
 In all three witnesses, we note that the travel made by the evangelical teams, consisted of going out two by two through town by town, and the impact was intended to be rapid. This may indicate how the apostolic remembrance reminded that there was not much time left… the end of all things was thought to be near. In haste, the disciples were told to take only what was necessary. They were not to delay. They were not to visit on the road with anyone. With quick centeredness of purpose, those who proclaimed the gospel were commissioned to go ahead of Jesus empowered by faith in the good news.
 A warning was given concerning the forsakenness of those who would not hear, and rejected the apostolic message. In answer, the disciples are told to shake the dust from their feet as they left behind those who would not respond favorably to the good news.
 In our Lord’s lament concerning this demonstrated lack of faith, Jesus pronounced great malady shall come upon those who would not respond, listing those who had historically paid the price of self-centeredness, and would receive destructive recompense of sin in the future. He proclaimed against those who would reject the feet of those carrying the gospel. He tells his sent ones…

. “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." 

 As those disciples sent out returned to him rejoicing, Jesus immediately told them of great triumphal and prophetic signs of victory that had been shown to him, and of their certainly belonging to the eternal kingdom. In the subsequent prayer of thanksgiving, not in this Sunday’s reading, Jesus gives thanks to the Father for providing this wisdom to those lowly persons who do his work.

Why Seventy and More?
As we examine this descriptive story from Luke, I believe that we are prompted by the Holy Spirit to note a very important historical anomaly. By the power of that same Spirit, we see that Luke deviated to the higher number to state a different, increased number of “sent ones”.
 When we consider this, if we note the normally accepted setting and time of this gospel writing… we know that Luke wrote to the communities of the dispersed Israel. Thus historically, we know that these diaspora communities across the ancient Roman world were receiving many proselytes to their faith who were not Jews.., but were instead were Gentiles. Thus I must consider the thinking that Luke stressed the greater number deliberately… to fit his context… so that mission out into the Gentile nations would be more greatly stressed. Therefore, being more inclusive from a Jewish faith community that was originally rather exclusive in the commissioning of the original twelve apostles, the scribal pen of Luke described the mission driven to reach much farther… to seventy, or seventy two tribes.
 Obviously, today we find the last days were further off than first thought. But we know that the Lukan figure represents the historic Hebrew numbering of tribes that were “not” Israel. In this way, Luke related to his churches that the apostolic mission was to go far beyond anyone’s previous myopic human horizon. The church mission, according to Luke, is far more universal in its field.
 We must note with importance, however, that what applied to the twelve disciples, also applied to the seventy plus... for our Lord stressed that some will hear and some will not. This included Israel and beyond. Thus it is that we, as disciples today even further removed in time, also shall experience unbelief, hardship, persecutions and all the woes of those who believe. We too work forward in a sin-ridden, unbelieving world. Yet, far be it that we should experience forsakenness in mission. You see, though sinful ourselves and prone to stumble, we can rejoice that through no merit of our own we have been forgiven and are chosen for mission in this modern, heavy-laden scientific society. By power of the Holy Spirit, we of the church are called yet to proclaim. We know that even though we are more numerous than our predecessors in the faith, and may open constantly our mouths to boldly declare the good news of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for our sake.., that this word we speak shall be heard, but not received by all.
 Finally, know this! By the grace of God, the throne of Satan and his demonic powers shall be unseated as our collective voice rings out. Knowing this final result, though not always extant to us because of our own sin and stubbornness, we are gently reminded of the love of Christ by the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are reminded that as prophesied by our Lord Jesus, and written from St John’s Revelation… that our names are indeed written in heaven. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End… and He shall reign forever and ever. Thanks be to God!



Monday, June 20, 2016

Choose Your Path...



For the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost we find that our reading comes again from Saint Luke. The text he wrote tells of Jesus answering his disciples’ questions concerning power and position as they travel with him toward Jerusalem and the cross.

“When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him; but the people would not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 
 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village.
 As they were going along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head."
 To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father."  But he said to him, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
 Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home."  Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."  (Luke 9:51-62)

Being Resolved!
In our lesson for this week we find that two nearly distinct themes are nested… and woven cleverly together by our Lukan author. Initially we hear from Luke that Jesus decided that in keeping with prophecy, it was time to go to Jerusalem. Mirroring the earlier written Mark 10:1, and his contemporary author who wrote in Matthew 19:1-2, this decision recorded in Luke immediately sets the stage for the drama of confrontation. According to our gospel writer, the initial disturbance caused was evidenced first in sinful religious animosities. These arose between the various religious cultures of the day. The text reflects how Jews and Samaritans had long competed with one another for recognition. Each, promoting their respective historical worship sites, had declared priority. However, in keeping with prophecy God had allowed a dedicated temple to be built in Jerusalem. Therefore, the centralized worship of God in Jerusalem by the Judean children of Jacob had festered jealousy among the Samaritans. Conversely, from the perspective of the Jews of the covenant, the Samaritans were indeed looked upon as inferior outsiders.. As revealed in the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, the woman noted to him of the discord as she said…

“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." 
 Jesus said to her.., "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.’” (John 4:20-22)

 We note here that without demeaning the woman or her heritage, Jesus expressed that God had made the choice for the path of eternal salvation to arrive through the Jews. This is surely the reason behind the fact that Jesus’ apostles were sent out to proselytize Jews first, and not Samaritans. (see Matthew 10:5) Because of their "chosen-ness" the Jews were given first look at salvation. However, let us be clear about our reading here. This chosen status was... and is yet... not because of any human culture is considered better or worse than any other, for we all are sinful. God is not respectful of any particular peoples. The question we need to answer in our hearts is… “Just whose creation is this?” It is God who chooses from among the sinful who God will choose… and God had chosen!
 Though God decided to reveal his mighty and salvific work through the Jewish people, though sinful, we know that Jesus worked to universally break the bonds of sin and evil... including this one-upmanship… human self-justification expressed… by paying the penalty for our sins. Jesus went to the cross to save all.
 However, we see that sinful, prideful and prejudicial nature of human self-justification emerges again and again. Indeed, as example we have seen that two of our Lord’s disciples asked permission to call fire down upon the Samaritans, just as Elijah had historically accomplished. (see 2 Kings 1:9-17) We note that James and John did not believe that the enmity of the Samaritans was caused by the effect of national prejudices and bigotry, but instead attributed it more to their rejection of proper worship of God. With mental gymnastics pressed, they were not yet focused properly that the gospel was to be known by its universal mercy. The two men were sinfully ignorant of their own primal, ambitious motives hidden within their zealous character. Thus it was that our Lord moved quickly to prevent even an entertainment of such thoughts within the disciple’s leadership.

Truly Committed…
After Luke used this scene to demonstrate the universal nature of God’s grace, the second section within the reading concerned the nature of discipleship. He noted its character of being a singular calling. Discussed also somewhat in Matthew 8:18-22, we see that this discourse in Luke however was not earlier contained in Mark, written some fifteen years earlier. Therefore this section was likely drawn from a separate source that was common only to both Matthew and Luke, or it was available but left out of Mark for the sake of brevity.
 Here, after we read of the jealous wrestling of the apostles for power and position, Luke may have been warning against such behavior amid his own emerging churches. Luke thus addressed those who would attempt to hold their ambitions and priorities over against the determined call of God. The emphasis brought forth by Luke was that we as disciples are first called to follow as servants. We are willingly to go to the cross in similar and lowly fashion.
 Thus Luke was saying to his audience, “Get your priorities straight!” Note in textual order, first came the telling about a person that stated his desire to follow Christ, but seemed not to have counted the cost. The lesson taught here is that we must lay aside our thoughts of acquiring great position or possessions in the world. So this text stands against the overzealous quest for huge cathedrals and lofty office.
 Second but no less apt, was the next person who seemed resolved in mind to follow Christ but begged a short delay. Faced with the call to follow immediately, he retorted using the socially and lawful requirement that the care of parents even unto death rated very high. With him, the strict adherence to Law of Moses… and the possibility of his losing his inheritance, trumped the call of Jesus Christ. Indeed, we cannot serve two masters.
 Finally, a third person was shown as willing to follow Christ but wished time to talk with his friends and order his household affairs. Therefore worldly concerns pressed upon his heart, and so also these became a burden which kept him from following Jesus.
 Through each of these examples, Luke thus highlighted the singular priority of following Jesus Christ. He rightly stressed that no one can do the work of kingdom proclamation if they persist in setting other items first. Anyone who is a disciple must properly prioritize, attending secondarily to other matters of personal risk, familial ties, and inheritance. Any would-be Christian disciples who deem themselves worthy to follow… and wish to truly begin the kingdom’s work… need to consider these factors. This is the demand of discipleship. This is the core of carrying the cross! For building our character, we know that Jesus told his disciples that this yoke is easy and the burden is light… and as Luke revealed in the “Acts of the Apostles… the gift of the Holy Spirit is the power that makes it so.
 However, we need to understand here that even among those who do resolve to follow, many fall far from beneath the shadow of the cross. It is then marvelous to note that indeed after God’s fire of judgment, forgiveness and deliverance may be claimed. God himself is shown to have worked in history through Jesus to deliver his church. Indeed in the world today, we who are collectively sinful are still assailed by temptations, and too often fall victim. Yet the Holy Spirit rains upon the church the fiery spiritual waters of baptism. This falls upon those whom God alone has chosen. Once chosen... we have been chosen… singled out by baptism…we become members in the work of an unfolding kingdom, and we take on a renewed identity with singular allegiance. Through us, Jesus Christ works in the world. By following closely that which is written about him in a true and orthodox manner in scripture, we may work to prevent adherence to unworthy standards that cause us to wander aimlessly. Surely it was rightly said that once we have placed our hands as Christ’s servants upon the plow, we are not to look back.., lest we of the church turn a crooked furrow and cause others to fall. But know that we cannot and should not try to do this ministry alone. I say to you that according to the scriptures and the guidance of the Holy Spirit... we should keep our eyes on Jesus, and bow together at the foot of the cross.



Monday, June 13, 2016

Drowning Demons!



OUR BIBLE study for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost comes to us from the Gospel According to Saint Luke. Within this week’s text, we read of confrontation between Jesus and powers of evil…

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. And as he stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons; for a long time he had worn no clothes, and he lived not in a house but among the tombs. 
 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him, and said with a loud voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech you, do not torment me." for he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him; he was kept under guard, and bound with chains and fetters, but he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the desert.) 
  Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss.  
 Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them leave. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled, and told it in the city and in the country. 
 Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told them how he who had been possessed with demons was healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them; for they were seized with great fear; so he got into the boat and returned. 
 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but he sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.  (Luke 8:26-39)

Demons and Pigs?
Within the text for this week comes a stretch for the modern mind. In the chasm Jesus steps boldly into the realm between the physical and spiritual. Here in this text he commands even demons, those powers which may inflict the whole being of a person. A confrontation emerges between a person who in nakedness and community ostracism, is described as a person who has a demon. The man cries out to Jesus, “What do you have to do with me?”
 Without doing a lengthy study concerning the symbolisms found within the demonology beliefs of our faith ancestors who lived in a pre-scientific society, we may simply say that the person described in this text seemingly lived under psychological aberrations, and displayed neurotic or psychotic episodes that we find amongst us today. He may have also been afflicted with physical ailments that caused the demonic behaviors. However, scripturally we may say that the causative factors of the apparent illness were attributed rightly to demons that possessed due to human sinfulness… of either the man himself, the surrounding society, or both. Jesus’ immediate response was to challenge and accomplish gracious healing.
 In questioning this text, we note that the man who suffered illness offered “Legion” as the name of the demon which possessed him. Interestingly, he was able to communicate with by naming the multiplicity of demons, occurring as many ills, sins and troubles. The name, that was used to describe such as a large Roman military force, was thus said by him to be a power that made his overcoming an impossibility.
 The description of the interaction between Jesus and the demonic character, which is described as multiple ailments, is highly dramatic and symbolic. They were driven out. Interestingly, Jesus was described as allowing the demons to escape the bottomless abyss, and flee into a herd of non-kosher, unclean pigs. We wonder at our Lord’s wisdom of allowing escape for at time, rather than eradication. The resulting tumult, however, drove the “pig herd” to run pell-mell into the lake and drown. Combined with the lack of kosher cleanliness, the demonic ills were together destroyed by drowning in the water.
 The man is thus calmed due to his being healed of his illnesses. Additionally, our gospel leads we who are readers to see our salvation as spiritually tied to water… likely the waters of Holy Baptism.
However, by doing this great healing, Jesus becomes feared by many of the populace. As the church today, we need to clearly note this reaction. The fear of this so great a thing was that he was given space for the moment, so that he could retreat into the nave of the disciple’s boat. It seems that his temporary retreat into the nave, is key to the future ministry of what it means to be the church... being secured from the hostile world by our collective worship experience.

Driving Demons Out; Saving the Pig?
More clarity comes to us as we ask why this encounter was related to the infant Christian churches of the gospel writer. These were faith communities that were breaking away from parent synagogue communities. I believe this text recalled and related an actual occurrence, one that was told to the church to enlighten those gathered. The story is recounted in answer to many situational and ongoing demons that plagued the community.
 If we dare use this exegetical tact, I believe the story revealed great turmoil for the new, foundering Christians. It may be in answer to the many spiritual “demons” that afflicted early Jewish and Gentile converts who had hard choices to make… ones which could drive pietistic persons to distraction.
 You see, the whole cemetery wherein their previous faith heritage lay dying was being turned upside down by the gospel news. Judaic preconceptions about the Messiah were being challenged. The Death and Resurrection of Jesus had overturned the Jewish faith expressions, and more… even the whole panorama of the Gentile nature gods was being challenged. Amid the turmoil, buried within a graveyard of erroneous and preconceived allegiances… came the healing story of Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the demons of confusion and doubt were thus being cast out from the lives of those early Christians.
 In this casting those demons out, we note that afflicted infant church becomes spiritually well. They had been given leave to go into that which was considered “unclean”… the herd of the new Gentile membership. In retrospect, we note that they are not destroyed. We thus ask, "Did the pigs possess usefulness even in their evil? Do the demons of confusion, in legion... serve to drive us to seek salvation from beneath the cemetery of our own disobedience before the Law of God?" Indeed, "Was Luke saying to Christians of his day that the future of the church lay in being cast into the herd of ethnic multiplicity within the Roman Empire?" And more so, surely the herd’s being driven into the water was symbolic of water baptism.
 I further consider as to whether the deeds of those in Luke’s readership, both Jews and Gentiles, possibly many viewed as “crazed” and obedient converts like the man healed, saw a miraculous healing. Do we not read that the demons of confusion drowned in the blessed waters of baptism? Shall we not consider how many persons in modern day are healed and commissioned now by baptism? It seems that as we who are persons being healed through the power of baptism, swim now as redeemed swine in the church made miraculously kosher before God. As his people restored, are we not fed the pods of eternal life from the hand of God and and bid to sit quietly at the feet of Jesus? I think that this indeed may be a proper interpretation. Consider now whether… as persons healed and made clean… should we not do as the healed Gerasene was instructed… "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So it is written.., so it shall be.