Monday, August 29, 2016

Singular Focus!



OUR READING for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost comes to us from the scribal pen of Saint Luke. The lesson offered describes the purpose and priorities for Christian discipleship…

Now great multitudes accompanied him (Jesus); and he turned and said to them, "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 
 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build, and was not able to finish.' 
 Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?  And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. 
 So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.  "Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is fit neither for the land nor for the dunghill; men throw it away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear." (Luke 14:25-35)


Love-Hate?
According to the scriptural witness, our Lord laid down some very serious conditions upon those who would be his disciples. In the midst of the communities located in the Greco-Roman world in the late first century, the author related that Jesus told his audience that those who wish to be disciples must “hate” an unbelieving wife, or family and friends. However we must be very cautious here, for to say that our Lord advocates hate would go against his teachings. Surely we are admonished to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Would our Lord be hypocritical then in this teaching? “No”, I dare say.
 To be sure, in using the Greek word, “miseo”, we must consider that Luke was deliberately depicting Jesus as speaking hyperbolically… in other words dramatically indicating that we should have priorities against sin.., and we must love God more than all.
 Therefore to examine this mandate further, we find that here it is apparent that both Luke and Matthew used the same source materials. We find that Matthew warned all of the divisive nature of the gospel message (Matthew 10:37-38). However, Matthew’s message was given to a community in Antioch in Syria, which is far removed from the communities of Luke and thus not delivered to the infant Christian churches undergoing the same worldly forces. Thus Matthew certainly did not radicalize "miseo" in relating the message as Luke had related the same. The profound implication is that we see the household schism within the synagogues was more highly pronounced in this Lukan discourse. This I believe is because of the dynamics between the church and the tighter rule of Rome throughout the provinces of Asia-Minor. We must contextualize this reading variance between the gospels.
 Consequently, we now rightly ask what is apparently under the societal currents within Lukan communities. What was present in shadows that may not have been in Matthew’s church? What caused the harsher word to emerge... even though both gospels were penned during the same decade of writing and the scribes used many of the same sources?
 For Luke’s churches, as we read here…  I contend that the disciples of Christ were not all being crucified, but most apostles had already met that fate… and others were in great danger. With rising societal tumult, therefore, all Christians were being warned by Luke that they must be prepared to bear ostracism and the cross. If need be, they were to bear these burdens dutifully. Jesus was thus portrayed by Luke as bidding his disciples to count on carrying salvation’s message over against those who would hatefully harm them. By recording his message in that way, Luke warns we who are in the church today, that even we need to consider the possible impact of our faith expression. We need to embrace the perils that may arise through our expressing the gospel. As we see from recent turmoil in the Middle East, we know this to be true.
 You see, I firmly contend that the text teaches us that if we wish to be disciples, we need to be careful not to grow slack in our profession of faith. We need to consider the cross... and yet not be afraid...for salvation comes through the cross and the separation from the world that it cleaves. Jesus expected this behavior, and the Spirit carries this forward into our own day. The sooner we realize and act upon this, the sooner will we shall know peace beyond all understanding.

Truth Frees!
We see that Jesus’ words as related by Luke were harshly aimed. They reproved disciples who ministering in the Jewish nation of Israel... and also in the breadth of Greco-Roman Empire. These both were chided somewhat for their unwillingness to dismiss those persons who neglect of the offer of Christ's grace, and move on to witness beyond their circumstances.
 For Luke, you see, many had already walked the path of faith. He was most likely aware that James and other apostles had already been martyred. Indeed the word “hate” revealed the depth of backwardness that was found being in the synagogue populace, and their harsh legalistic traditions that hindered Christian proclamation. The late first century rabbinacal documents retrieved testify to that resistance.
 In coming times then, we too may find ourselves in a place where we must be willing to stamp our feet harshly against those who are remain closed to the gospel call. As our Lord’s church we may also feel the ingratitude to God expressed by those who reject the gospel, and show contempt upon belief in the kingdom of God poured out. Surely, these issues justly provoke. They seemingly did so to our Savior during his earthly life... and thus are still a stumbling block for us.
 Consider this! According to the historical record of Luke communities, the apostolic commission was being adapted by Paul and others to bring in the Gentiles, delivering the gospel message to them when so many of the Hebrew family had refused them bounteous and graceful offer. Therefore, I consider that the term made in hyperbolic speech here by Luke... was clearly present for emphasis.
 I offer that he wished to emphasize and forward the church into a wider ethnic witness in order spread the gospel of Christ. Consequently in Luke we meet an emotional, tearful stomping of dust and ash. The author stressed that Jesus firmly instructed disciples not waste time looking back upon community, family, or friends that reject the good news. Simply pray for them and ask God for blessings upon them.
 Let us be reminded! Our efforts of the gospel message poured out by the Spirit’s power are not made in vain. While some persons shall reject our message... and choose to remain in sinfulness... others will thankfully believe! The lowly and poor in spirit shall turn and be forgiven... and welcomed into the kingdom. In Christ they shall become truly the rich and the great. It is in this way that God’s kingdom shall at last be filled.
 Admit it! Jesus’ admonition is not easy for us to hear, especially in light of our natural, human love for those who are close to us. We must be prepared, however, to center our gospel proclamation to those who may respond in the Spirit.
 Remember! Proclaim universally... and pray for all! This sums up the warning that we, as the salt of the redeemed earth are called to pray and not linger. If we do so, we risk losing the zest found in our salvific message.


Monday, August 22, 2016

Rescuing the Dumb Ox!

OUR READING for this Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost comes from the Gospel According to Saint Luke. Herein our Lord taught us about healing and forming our priorities as Christians.
One Sabbath, when he (Jesus) went to dine at the house of a ruler who belonged to the Pharisees, they were watching him. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?" 
 But they were silent. Then he took him and healed him, and let him go. 
 And he said to them, "Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?" 
 And they could not reply to this. 
 Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he marked how they chose the places of honor.., saying to them, "When you are invited by any one to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him; and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give place to this man,' and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 
 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, 'Friend, go up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." 
 He said also to the man who had invited him, "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just." (Luke 14:1-14)
Who? Where? When? What?
Our lesson this week follows along the same lines of healing that we studied for last week. It has parallels in Matthew 12:9-14, Mark 3:1-6, Luke 6:6-11, and 13:10-17. However, in somewhat different fashion, the healing described here took place not in a synagogue as the others revealed, but happened as many persons gathered in the house of a ruler. The guest gathered to see and to hear.., and presumably meet Jesus.
 Jesus, who was the guest of honor, did something in the home which was over against the host’s tradition. He willed to heal a man who had dropsy, and he did this act on the Sabbath. Therefore from the text, we who now read this account may deduce that for Jesus, the where or when of healing was not at issue. The issue was demonstratively more that the healing took place. Sinful man’s priorities often get askew. As he stated… “Sabbath was made for man, mot man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)
 Since the person he healed is similarly not named, as in other texts, but just his walking illness was described.., we may say that his quality of faith at the time was not at issue. All we can surmise is that he was likely influential and a Pharisee. More so, we may assume that God saw the man kindly as one of his own. We may conclude then from this writing in Luke that it pleased God to heal the subject’s gait… irregardless of the man’s wealth, position or faith expression. Today, we might rightly ask of the Spirit whether the man and his healing was beheld at center stage primarily as an entry figure for the parable told afterward. The parable that follows the healing was told in comment about the familiar social climbing of the guests. For Jesus, the seating at prominent human events sinfully seems always at issue. This is so even today. One who does not think so, simply has to sit in someone else’s pew in church.
 As Jesus relates in the story, however, seating arrangements come from an assumptive human nature that is denounced in the Hebrew scriptures… and he promoted taking a lowly position. In the telling of this story, we see that the Pharisaic ruler’s attitude is directly addressed.  Though a ruler and Pharisee, Jesus was told that the person who is of high station is thus invited…and given the opportunity… to minister to the lowly. Jesus said that a person who assumes a lowly nature may more easily care for those who are afflicted. The act, however, is not to be done for earthly reward… for the lowly cannot repay. Jesus stated clearly that payment for this goodness shall be forthcoming at the resurrection.
 It was this last, very prophetic statement of our text that rubbed the hardest upon our Lord’s audience. The telling likely caused the most tumult amid the hearers… for you see.., the Pharisees did not believe being lowly in riches was a merit, and also did not envision resurrection. Therefore in one gathering, by the healing of an unknown man without inquiring of the subject’s station… and then telling a parable about the occasion... Jesus turned the traditions in the world of the haughty upside down. All that they had invested in to be seated prominently that evening was challenged. The lowly had been cared for, the high were being brought low, and true reward was said to be beyond their reach.
Why Love Poured Out?
 Thus within revealing this lesson in his gospel, Luke taught the readers of his own day and we who read this record, that God challenges us concerning our financial and social positions. God does not use worldly scales when measuring us. In doing mercy, God simply does miraculously what God will do.
 We ask then as Sabbath rolls into the modern work week... the same question that the infant churches within Lukan days may have rightly asked, “What shall we who are the chosen and forgiven, do in lowly response?”
 Surely we who have been spared the penalty of our sinfulness, and working from that renewed holy place of existence, are called to respond. I offer that we are to praise Him and recognize that we are sent by our Lord out into the world to both feed and heal others. We are not to stand high and mighty, separate and above those others for whom God cares. We are to do as our Lord has done and empower them from alongside.
 As well, we need to remember here that according to scripture, Jesus was participating in a feast on that Sabbath, which in the days to come would be considered as a divine dinner likened to a marriage feast held for the Bridegroom of the Church. We today in the church then can hold to the thought that we are subsequently gathered at the same dinner in our own congregations. Indeed, Jesus comes to be with us as well.
 You see, Jesus teaches us humility while we are participating in the Sacrament. The Feast transforms us through God’s love. A great healing takes place for us. The festive and holy occasion properly observed should affect us so much that any random un-named someone can walk out of the dinner healed, standing straight and upright before God.
 Similar to those Lukan communities then, we today may look back on this instance of healing knowing surely that this is why our God became lowly. As spoken of the prophet, we find that this is why he lovingly took stripes of the whip for our healing. For it was foretold…
For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.  (Isaiah 57:15)
 Certainly our Father’s divine and abundant love is the reason why Jesus invited the apostles to the Great Feast. Within that treasure in time he gave and yet gives us His saving and eternal life. His precious body and blood is provided to us in, with, and under the bread and wine. We are yet today invited to this same table!
 Finally, when knowing that the Lord of Lords who became lowly to be with us… is the same Son of God who sinful persons lifted up upon the cross unto death for our salvation, and who surely rose again..., do we really now have the impertinence to ask where in his assembly the Master shall have us sit… and where He shall have us go in thanksgiving? I think not. We are indeed blessed even to be present.
 
 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Healing Larger Than Life!



THE GOSPEL for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost speaks to us of healing. We read about the gracious deeds of Jesus, the Word of God according to Saint Luke…

Now he (Jesus) was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And there was a woman who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years; she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her and said to her, "Woman, you are freed from your infirmity." And he laid his hands upon her, and immediately she was made straight, and she praised God. 
 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, said to the people, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the sabbath day." 
 Then the Lord answered him, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?" 
 As he said this, all his adversaries were put to shame; and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. (Luke 13:10-17)

No Side Job!
 Instead of what seems to be a simple story about Jesus’ healing power, we find a dramatic prophecy. Without request, one day while teaching in a synagogue and on the way to the cross in Jerusalem, Jesus stopped for a moment to heal a long-suffered illness. He graciously reached out and healed even one who society had long deemed as having little value.
 You see, our Lord graciously healed a woman who was considered by many in that religious gathering to be a second class citizen. She was a woman who society deemed as devalued “property”. Being ill for eighteen years, she likely suffered a much, much lowered “property value”… lower than any of the other women traditionally told to sit in the back of the worship space. Because of her persistent illness, she was likely banned completely from Jewish religious gatherings.
 Nearly distracting from this healing miracle, however, was that Jesus did his healing work on the Sabbath. To the leader of the synagogue, his act seemed to override the traditional mandate toward that restful interval clearly recorded in scripture,

“Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates…” (Exodus 20:9-10)

 We know that healing was regularly done by Jesus. Those who are familiar with scripture know that the gospels record multiple witnesses about healings done by our Lord. Some occurred on the Sabbath, (see examples of Matthew 12:11-12, Luke 6:6-11). Indeed, Jesus offered many traditional examples from Hebraic Torah in his ministry to justify his actions. These stated exceptions to the Law, and thus firmly established ground for such necessary acts of grace to be accomplished by him even during the Sabbath.
As we of the church consider this particular event, however, we might allude to the claim that this woman’s malady and delayed treatment could have been rightly blamed on her own collusion with the power of Satan and evil. We might claim along with others that she or her forbears, and more like her... must be possessed of demons. We may point out that she may have been accused of participating in persistent evil. Some of us might say that since evil and its power do not cease assailing, we are called to cite the modern maxim, “What goes around comes around!”. Subsequently, we raise that some persons just deserve their woe-filled station in life. But consider that by thinking these things, we are sinfully convicted of judging. We wrongly condone the withholding of graceful healing in the same way as the ruler of the synagogue. We delay the application of love.
 Subsequently, I hold up this example of scripture before you and claim that God  makes wholistic healing of body, mind and spirit immediately available through Christ Jesus. Condemnations fall upon us, therefore, for our unbelief. Sadly, we too restrict the application of healing prayers that are to be made for needful persons on any day… or at any time.

Singled Out?
If we dare venture that this example was offered for good reason by Luke to his churches, we find it had a precise meaning and purpose for those within his community. The text opened a prophetic witness for our Lord’s people back then… and thus comes to us as well by power of the Holy Spirit.
 Consider this thought! If the ailing and unnamed Hebrew woman represented more than her own personage to Luke, and his readers, the text also carries a pertinent message across the centuries to us. I offer this opinion with foundation, in that we are called to note that the woman being healed was exampled in scripture… without being named! Yet the number of years in her suffering was precisely published. I thus believe that this difference was deliberately scored. The vagueness of the one attribute, makes the number eighteen literally jump out to us from the Word! She represents more than herself to the church.
 The reason I think is clear. If we estimate as many scholars do, that this text was written about. 85AD, we find that the years of her illness correspond backward in time to the heavy footfall of Roman rule upon the rebellious Jewish people of Israel. Looking back, we today thus study the historical record describing the encircling and fall of that Jewish peoples... in Jerusalem and at Masada.
 Based upon this dating and history, let me offer to you that the woman then represents the early church, emerging from the wounds of several decades of both Roman and Jewish persecution, The question raised here is therefore… “Does the woman who was bent from long afflictions, a victim both to internally distorted religious law and external worldly powers.., represent more than herself in Luke? I do think so.
 Additionally we might ponder, “Does she represent the illness in faith of the Israelites during the period after the fall of Jerusalem and Masada? Is she representative of those Jewish Christians who needed to receive a healing from our Lord… a healing that exists beyond human understanding? If so, I further ask, “Could this occasion noted represent a healing given to the people of God in Christ Jesus, one that reaches past them, far across time and place… to reach far beyond the eighteen years that the woman suffered… so that we ourselves may be wonderfully healed similar to the wondrous occurrence on that gracious day?” Again.., I believe so.
 Consider with me that given this outlook.., we today may take from this lesson an occasion of great healing available for our own churches and lives. Surely, we hear how this healed “daughter of Abraham”, described by Luke, became accepted and renewed into the community of faith. The text subsequently relates that we then, as represented by her... are now accepted as the adopted of Abraham. We exist faithfully in like station to the woman who was ill for so long and shutout.
 We read therefore that Jesus may yet call to us amid any year, month, week, or day and heal us. He most certainly is said to arrive during our religious attendance on Sabbath… so that we may be healed by God and restored to the kingdom. Surely through the power of the Holy Spirit, God does a great healing work at that particular time through his Son.
 You see, during our worship we do receive healing forgiveness. As well, we of the church are sustained through weariness, being fed gracefully at the holy table. Therefore as we gather on any Sabbath to do the right work (liturgia) of the people of God, is it not true that we truly overcome our illness in faith… but not by our religious works… but rather by that which is freely given to us by our healing Lord?
 You see, our Lord shall not pass by without healing us. Have we not been traditionally fed the body and blood of the same Lord Jesus who gave of himself so that we may be made whole? This is the empowering message of Luke that was written to a church that lived in a time of illness of great illness. The message was declared when persecutions and sicknesses of the world heavily burdened their proclamation. The message came to those churches at a time when Christians were considered as impure, and were shunned from the parent synagogue communities. I contend, therefore, that just as their path was spurned at the turn of the first century, so it is even for us!
 Amid societal rejections caused by our faith and its expression in a world and culture that worships many competing gods, let us simply arise on any day... including Sunday... and say “Come Lord Jesus!” Let us pray that we may be called before Him to become witnesses of His love.  “Lord… just say the Word and we shall be healed!”