Monday, July 25, 2016

Living Pre-Fab?



OUR READING for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost comes from the Gospel According to Saint Luke. In this scripture reading, we hear a parable story that our Lord used to challenge our worldly thinking about security and treasure…

One of the multitude said to him, "Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me." 
 But he said to him, "Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?" And he said to them, "Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." And he told them a parable, saying..,
 "The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself.., 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.' 
 But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' 
 So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."
                                                                                                  (Luke 12:13-21)


Building Judge?
Our Lord endured multiple contentions and assigned woe upon both Pharisees and lawyers on the way to Jerusalem. In the previous chapter of this gospel, we read that Jesus had contended with their hypocrisy. He had chided them about how people of upper class offices offered public faces of holiness; yet they frequently neglected doing justice and seeking the love of God. Now, in this chapter he takes them to task again, for our Lord is asked to fairly settle a financial matter.
 We hear in the reading that a man wanted an issue settled between himself and his brother about their family inheritance. Jesus’ answer, however, did not follow the man’s desired course. The man seemed to not have heard all that had been previously taught by Jesus, for hypocritically and judiciously he sought only that topic that was to fit his own financial aims.
 Thus we know that typical of many persons from sinful human society both past and present, he attempted to get God to approve his plans to maintain and endorse his worldly pursuits. Here we see that he was testing Jesus’ interpretation of the Hebrew’s Torah, simply in order to justify himself and his treasury.
 We can easily see that this attitude concerning worldly things awarded the man a short dismissal from Jesus. The occasion of this selfish approach, however, gave Jesus a moment of opportunity for teaching. Jesus stated clearly that his kingdom is not of this fallen world. Therefore the rewards of being one of Christ's disciples are of another nature than simply material. Jesus taught us that worldly covetousness is a sin constantly to be fought; for eternal comfort does not depend on temporal wealth. To demonstrate his point, he told a parable to those around him. Our Lord described the folly of a man who maneuvered for greater riches while he lived, and beheld misery when judged before God.
 You see, our Lord taught that a poor trade-off was had when a farmer had no grateful regard of God’s providence nor thought wisely concerning the uncertainties of life. The man ignored the value of his soul and the importance of eternity. When he saw a great crop growing, instead of thanking God… instead of being comforted in being able to do more good, being self-centered he questioned in himself... “What greater thing shall I do now?” His gluttonous egocentric nature caused him to think of making no other use of his plenty than to gratify his appetite for more.
 However, be careful lest we gloat at his folly. We need note that the death of such a person is miserable and terrible, for they are eternally cast out. Indeed, foolish are many. Too often we see ourselves in the story. Wouldn't we sinful do the same were it not for the Holy Spirit, for it is the Spirit that teaches us not to pursue that which is temporal to the expense of the eternal gift.

True Wealth?
We must note that this lesson is found in Luke alone. Therefore we must also consider to some degree the attitude that our gospel author had toward wealth. You see, it was thought in the wholistic concept of Hebrew thinking, that whatever blessings you enjoy in worldly possessions shows that you also possess that same countenance in soul and body. Basically, to profit in one meant to profit in the whole.
 However, Luke relays for us to seek a different life. He was telling the Christians of his churches precisely what Jesus taught about worldly wealth. Luke recorded that if we truly value holiness, we have to be persons “set apart”. We are taught to adhere to a code that is not of this world and its values.
 You see, as the church, we are not to sinfully crave accumulating the luxuries of this life. Rather, Luke exhorted the Christians of his day, that we should measure richness in belonging to Christ as our Master, for only through him shall we please God. Given this thought, I view this parable related by Luke as a story received from Jesus concerning the people of Israel… but it stands here as applied to all people of the infant Christian church. Consequently it also applies to us!
 You see, when originally told while Jesus was on the way to the richness of temple in Jerusalem, the interpretive message came across as a warning to the invested of Israel. Many though themselves as “rich” and were invested in their deeds as crops, yet their days of woe were coming.
 Decades later, this message rang forth to persons worshiping within the communities of Luke. We need only to remember that this gospel was written down for them after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem… and the fall of the Hebrew fort at Masada. Knowing this subsequent history, therefore, both we as individuals…. and the Christian church in its entirety, need to apprehend this message clearly. We need ask ourselves, “Are we, or have we been, individually or cooperatively those who revel in worldly riches without giving proper thanks to God? Are we those who attempt to build even larger churches without paying proper homage to the One who deliberately gave freely of himself for our salvation? Should we not do the same?
 Truly I believe that like the ignorant farmer in this parable, we collectively tend to forget our place and our mission. We are but called to be working servants waiting for the eternal richness promised by God. We are to be working diligently... sharing that grace which has been revealed to us by the Spirit. Truly, if we possess a firm belief about the grace of God's providence, that knowledge should guide us whenever we work liberally in a world full of poverty or peril.
 Consequently, I say to you now that though we often strive to acquire worldly status and goods, and take care to preserve our houses, churches and more… we need to be most concerned to know that these things are indeed not ours, but are temporal. Let us not trade our souls, or the souls of others... for these fleeting things. As the Christian church, let us be made ready by the Spirit for doing the most important evangelical work… and not hoard our gifts. Let us share the gospel and do good works in thanksgiving… for as scripture reveals, we do not know at what hour the thief shall come.

 
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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Teach Us To Pray

THE HOLY Gospel for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost comes to us from the scribal pen of blessed Luke. Within the text we were taught by our Lord how to pray…
He (Jesus) was praying in a certain place, and when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." 
 And he said to them, "When you pray, say: "Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation." 
 And he said to them, "Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him'; and he will answer from within, 'Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything'? 
 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 
 And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"  (Luke 11:1-13)

How Should We Pray?
As we examine this week’s lesson, the core of our Christian prayer life is revealed. We remember that Jesus regularly prayed to the Father, as recorded several times during his ministry in scripture. He prayed notably in scripture at his baptism, also when asking for divine oversight after choosing of disciples. He prayed for the plight of others, for strength in the Garden of Gethsemane, and also when asking forgiveness for us when dying upon the cross. The scriptural source for this particular instructional prayer narrative came likely from the “Q” (quelle) document source… since the elements appear in both Matthew and Luke,
 In Matthew’s account, we see that the prayer was indeed more elaborate and told as part of a highly developed teaching during the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:9-15). Luke gives basically the same teaching. However, though simpler, the content was likely closer to the text of the actual source material. Also in Luke… as somewhat non-descript, the site of the prayer and Jesus’ discourse with his disciples was portrayed as occurring while they are all on the way to Jerusalem. We may therefore deduct that the event was reconstructed by both gospel writers, but did occur, however we note that the Lukan narrative was written far from the actual geographical scene. Luke was somewhat lacking in knowledge about the Galilean and Judea geography. Given this geographical disparity, I feel that the Matthean version is thus closest to the geographical location and sequential time frame.
 Regardless of timing and location, however, in teaching the prayer method Jesus related that his followers should pray to our Father (pater) in traditional Hebraic fashion. This meant that they not use the Father’s divine name... out of great respect. In fact, he reminds the disciples to state that “hallowed” (hagiastheio in the Greek means holy) is his name. Jesus also taught that we need to approach the seat of the throne of graceful and divine listening… rightly commending that God’s kingdom should reign.
 Jesus taught his followers, who are as we… sinful and finite, to always address the glory of the Father and give due recognition to the creative power of God. Thus only may we as sinful disciples place our request before the perfect Father, respectfully reminding our Creator of that need which is already known.
 Jesus told the disciples that daily bread as sustenance should be requested. Here we must say, that in Christ, bread is much more than bread. Indeed, our day-today life supporting requirement for both breath and bread demonstrates our total dependence, but asking for such shows awareness that both of these needs are only met through God’s power. Not only in using these words do we ask for material things, we also ask for the presence of the “living Bread of Heaven”, Jesus Christ himself.
 Today we are reminded that it is Christ Jesus who comes to us through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is the Son of God who completed all that was needed for our eternal life. Therefore through the gift of Christ, made known by the Spirit, we are assured of forgiveness of sins or debts before the Father. These things we obtain not for our sake, but for the sake of Jesus who went to the cross for our salvation.
 However, important in our study here, we must be reminded that at the time of this teaching by Jesus, the attendance of the Holy Spirit was not asked, for the Spirit was not given until Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). The Spirit, as Luke would attest was not granted until after the death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus.
Why Midnight?
 Biblical criticism brings us now to consider likely that the two nested parables in the reading that come not from the “Q” source, but were exclusive to Luke. Herein we may offer that the Lukan scribe addressed some particular needs of his community through the telling of these illustrations.
 In the first portion, Jesus tells of a friend who inquired of food at midnight for the feeding of another friend. In the days of Luke’s gospel writing, feeling that persecutions and the last days (eschaton) were pressing hard upon them, the midnight hour may have had profound symbolism. Also we note that the friend asked for precisely “three loaves”. My imagination allows thoughts that this number may signify early, developing concepts of Trinitarian theology.
 We also note that in the telling is the fact that the friend had barred the door against the night’s dark foreboding? Evil critters foray within night’s darkness. Jesus related that almost begrudgingly the man arose to unbar the door and assist his neighbor. To me, this character flaw offers rejection to any interpretations stating that the sequestered neighbor represents God the Father. A question forms for me, however, as to whether the Lukan purpose for relating the parable is told to challenge his churches amid rising Roman persecutions. We need ask today whether, as followers of our Lord, we are challenged to arise in an evil world and open our securely barred church doors for inquirers who bang on the door while wading in the darkness of their lives.
 Subsequently, in the latter portion of the story, the parable points to faith freely given by the Spirit who has secured all that that we are and have. We may ask, “Are we not encouraged by that same Spirit to open up and share the never-ending Trinitarian three loaves of what has been provided? Should we not share what we know to be true with those who yet ask, seek and knock?” I believe that this is indeed the thrust of this Lukan discourse to his churches. Rather than hunkering down under the dark threat of the Roman Empire, he calls them to yet be evangelical.
 We lastly find that this gospel lesson returns us to the “Q” source, but Luke substituted elements as used in Matthew’s telling. The great threatening figures of serpent and scorpion in Matthew, become fish and egg. The latter items are found as very early Christian symbols. Consequently the discourse grabs the threat of impending danger and death… symbols representatively found on so many flags of Roman legions that were held high by the empire over against the life bearing power of the Easter message… and modifies them to focus us on the basics of faith and life.
 Faith in God’s providence is thus taught in this lesson. This reading in Luke chastises our infant house churches, pointing us to those which were pressed by synagogue community representatives.
 You see, the Jewish authorities had gone to the Romans, warning against the growing Christian community. In the face of Roman threat, Luke boldly witnessed of prayer and the resounding love of God given through the Holy Spirit. In times of uncertainty, therefore, we who would hide enclosed within the church today are also Spirit assured… we are to speak toward faith expressed through Jesus Christ alone, as told best by the Word of God alone. Thanks be to God!

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May the Peace of God, that surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Choosing Faith or Works?



OUR SCRIPTURAL subject for this week comes to us as the Gospel for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost. As we encounter Jesus Christ, the Word of God… we are called by Saint Luke to examine our priorities.







 Now as they went on their way, he (Jesus) entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. 
 But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." 
 But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her."  (Luke 10:38-42)


 Here we read that Jesus and the disciples continued on the road toward Jerusalem, but amid doing ministry they took a sabbatical in the town of Bethany. The village was on their way. The home was a bare four miles or so from the city gates of Jerusalem. There Jesus, during this seeming sabbatical... taught and cared for this specific family. This is also shown by the discourse spelled out by John 11:1-12-3.
 How close were the persons of this household to our Lord Jesus? Some interpreters of the scriptures indicate that they were likely close friends, considered as family in that these were the persons referred to by Jesus earlier in Luke. We find in an earlier scene, that his family through blood ties… stood outside waiting... but to little avail...

“Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him for the crowd. And he was told, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you." 
 But he said to them, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it."  (Luke 8:19-21) 

 While this may show a selective hierarchy, amid examination we need remember several factors. First in Lukan narrative, Jesus had just pointed to the priority of loving God first, and also the neighbor as oneself. He had also subsequently told the story of the Good Samaritan even though the people of the towns of that region had rejected him.
 Now while it seems that he as a rabbi was rightly elevating the position of women in his society… and that the cause was and is yet worthy... the point he makes in this text is far greater. You see, in the dialog here the demands of loving God and loving neighbor are clearly delineated. Jesus demonstrated to all present that the Word of God is primary.
 We note however, that in variant readings offered by several ancient Lukan manuscripts, rather than stating that “one” thing was and is yet needful, that “a few” things are needful. However, I believe in this study that we find in the meaning from this text is that just “one” thing is needful… listening to the Word of God. If so, the alternative textual variant may indicate that listening and doing further works by “obeying” is also needful. This latter interpretation, however, places us in danger of reading a meaning into the text that which may not be there (eisogesis), rather then working to get a best reading from the text (exogesis). Thus I contend, as disciples, we dare not put our own thoughts and words into the Word of God.
 Subsequently, given this account only, we find that scripture pointed Luke's late first century communities toward the knowledge that they cannot have a faithful path by just going their own way. The text taught that for them to cling to the works righteousness of synagogue and temple priests, scribes and teachers of the Law in their day… was to erroneously believe that sinful persons can make themselves acceptable before God through “works”.
 You see, at the time of Jesus' going toward Jerusalem it was taught by the authorities that God accepts only those who can “get it together”. But Jesus came into this created world because he knew that as sinners, we are unable to perfectly get our lives together. All we can do is put on imitative airs. The first priority is thus to choose well, and that our path needs to be rooted first in the hearing the Word and having faith in Christ.

Choose Your Portion?
Given that we are sinful persons who are blessed by the Holy Spirit to follow Jesus, often waywardly listening and ministering according to our own preference, we are called by this text to carefully choose our own portions. We too sometimes act like blessed Martha, promoting to everyone that Jesus is in “our” house. We try to demonstrate to all who are watching that we are working to be the “perfect” host or hostess. We claim that we attend the “right” church and do righteous things. We even accomplish and point to the “social” ministry that we do before Jesus, his church, his people, the poor, and the many persecuted. We are trying indeed to be so gracious!
 It is to us then that Jesus speaks. Through his acceptance of Mary in the listening circle, Jesus shows that there is a greater portion. Rather than working toward providing a grand self-justifying feed, we like Martha stand gently rebuked by Jesus. We have worship backwards. Our Lord first prefers an audience for the Word proclaimed!
 The Word spoken, or written, and the Word coming to us in the Holy Eucharist comes to us as a first priority, or the efficacy of the works we do are lost. If we do not have these correctly placed, we may be properly accused of simply trying to work our way to righteousness by what we do, rather than responding in thankfulness to what God has done for us through Jesus Christ.
 Works of feeding and caring should stand secondarily as our answer to justification that is first given to us through Christ and his sacrifice. The finality of this lesson, therefore, should come as the Word into our own homes.

 In our day-to-day lives lived out as his church, we find sometimes that great Sunday morning pancakes made by either father, mother, sister, or any other household god… occasionally take undue precedence over our going to church to our hear the Word proclaimed.
 Consequently, this lesson teaches us that Jesus’ presence in the house of God should turn the priorities of our house around. We too often find ourselves upside down and inside out, and when the Word finally forces us to our knees in guilt, wringing our hands in our soiled aprons… we may properly ask for forgiveness, and go to church to receive the Gospel. Jesus Christ has indeed saved us… he and no other! From that restorative Word.., we may then rise and serve, and we may call others to hear. Thanks be to God!


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