Monday, November 28, 2016

Cold Hard Futures!



OUR GOSPEL reading for the Second Sunday of Advent is found in the writings of Saint Matthew. Within this text, we hear of deliverance preparations made by God and announced through his prophetic servant, John the Baptist,,,

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."
 Now John wore a garment of camel's hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 
 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 
 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."  (Matthew 3:1-12)

Repentance and Hope
The scribes of this gospel, like those similar counterparts that we may find in Luke’s community, began to further fill out and emphasize the prophetic message of John. John the Baptizer, though having his own band of followers, pointed beyond himself to Jesus. His message described Jesus’ mission in the world. Both early church communities further developed this mission as they wrote during the latter decades of the first century. Using additional information available, they began to flesh out the somewhat barren descriptive portrait of John found in Mark.
 At first, in this reading, John retains the “wilderness” character that Mark had heralded as a sign his prophetic station. Mark had given an initial word portrait of a rather boisterous man who ate the earthen fare of locusts and wild honey, staples in the diet of the rural poor. The image passed to the reader was of the bitter and the sweet of God’s Word. As readers today, we are thus staged for those who would write this later great witness. From John’s words come the bitter taste of sin that rolls sour to many persons through his call to repentance. In particular it puckers the face of the comfortable, so then to comfort those who bow low.
 “Brood of Vipers!” comes out boldly amid the heated discourse, gleaned likely from the common “Q” or “quelle” source. Therefore both Matthew and Luke’s churches show evidence that they contained Pharisees and Sadduccees, either of who would likely be afflicted by the harsh words spoken. Both particular adherents of these castes tightly clung each to their religious heritage.
 For example, the Pharisees pointed for their justification in that they worked diligently in forming and adhering to the “Law”. In that way, they were rightfully living the good life. These claimed tribal purity in that they had grasped tightly to austere lives as expressed in the historical five books of Moses. John rightly pointed to both Pharisees and Sadduccees, however, and the failures of either party to completely adhere to the divine Law.
 “Repent” declared John. He said to “turn around and bow low” before our Creator... and you shall be delivered. He called them to abandon any claims of genealogical and historical justification… or tout salvation in their family trees for those had not borne good fruit.
John stated pointedly that while he was baptizing, he was only cleaning them up to restore in them an attitude of servant recipiency… rather than embracing their deservedness. Only a lowly servant, a servant bearing the “good fruit” of repentance would be one who receives the fullness of God’s love.

Hope through Christ
Possibly to dissuade any thoughts for his own followers to make too much of him, John is recorded as pointing them all to the greater Prophet, Priest and King. Therefore, his words ring out to us across the centuries through these words of scripture. Of Jesus, the one true Messiah, John said…

“… he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

In this way John made it very, very clear that cleansing fire is in our forecast. We shall all endure heat treatment! Does this statement issue a prophetic statement that some shall be spared the heat of condemnation? I think not. All persons... all shall be burned with recognition of their sinfulness, but those lowly servants who are repentant shall be rescued even though undeserving.
 Now, most certainly… some persons shall accept only surface hardening. Others will be tempered to the core. The wild lowly who eat of locust and honey shall be gathered by the Holy Spirit and the fire of faith. These I think are surely a reflection of Matthew and Luke’s churches in their own day, who looked back upon the past time of Pentecost.
 Subsequently, the unfolding history of the time revealed to them that not all persons shall bear fruit, and not all shall survive the refining fire of our Savior. As we approach the celebration of our Lord’s Nativity we are reminded of persons in our midst who are yet trying to establish themselves for either this life or the next, through their own works. We are thus warned by John’s words of the futility in using such for our salvation.
 We need to remember that he said all shall be burned! Yet some are tempered rightly by the saving strength of the Holy Spirit poured out upon them. Others will be only case-hardened for the moment. and some made brittle, and are consumed by human foolishness and frailty.
 Consequently, we hear the warning words of John, a mountainous man whose call reached across the centuries to we who may become lost in today’s wilderness. We must be the church adhering to a rightful interpretation of the scriptures to shall withstand burnished toughness. John told us all plainly and somewhat uncomfortably. God approaches… so hear the call to repent and be ready to hear again the good news.

   

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Some Taken; Some Left!

Looking for the Perfect holiday gift? We present you with an online opportunity to view key portions of our worship experience. We offer this to you for the sake of those who are home bound, or temporarily cannot attend a worship celebration at their home church. In no way should this be taken as a replacement for regular Christian worship in a traditional faith community... for there you rightly worship God, are supported and offer the love of God to others.
Once the video begins, you can click on bottom right of the video screen to obtain the YouTube call out. Click on that call out if you wish to enable larger, or full screen ability.


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



Tuesday, November 22, 2016

One Taken; One Left!



OUR study for the First Sunday in Advent within this new liturgical year comes to us from the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. We read the prophetic words of our Lord that were spoken to his disciples as they walked to the Garden of Gethsemane. Continuing his earlier conversation begun on the steps of the temple concerning the approaching “end time”, our Lord here stressed the coming division to be found in the church and human society…



 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man.
 Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
 But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:36-44)


Last Call?
Spoken by Jesus just before his arrest and crucifixion, we read these words of warning as a call for faithful discipleship. The words told a prophecy of the coming “end time”. Therefore, given the importance of the text and its meaning for both the disciples and the church today, we need to carefully study the historical context surrounding the teaching.
 As we recall from our earlier study, Jesus left the temple after His words had burdened authorities with judgment. At that time he had expressed a call for repentance. Both ardent priests and the vested interests found in Israel’s sacrificial system were deeply affected. These quickly became embroiled in political intrigue over his words. However, subversive and clandestine powers within the temple had already begun the mechanism needed for our Lord’s arrest through connections with the apostle Judas.
 From this historical context these words were recorded from the “Q” document. They were passed to later the church by both Matthew and Luke. The witness thus revealed the future forecast for churches within of the latter part of the first century. The pattern would continue for those immediate decades... and yet persist even to this very day. In illustration, we see that during the earlier reign of Caligula and other Roman Emperors, the fury had already descended earlier upon the faithful followers of Jesus. That era etched these words into the emerging mosaic of the future church.
 You see, for decades it had been revealed that the result of Jesus’ crucifixion and Resurrection was indeed that the penalty for human sin had been paid for those who believed. Eternal life was available to those who would believe. As a result, within decades that Resurrection faith had spawned the embryonic church into being. As the Word spread the church grew. However, in answer to this grace, swords of punishment laid heavily upon the infant Christians churches. Blades of persecution were wielded by Roman political powers suspicious of the new Christiana faith expression. Jealousies from the dispersed Jewish communities intensified this effect for Christians, used as scapegoats after the fall of Jerusalem (65-70A.D.)
 The social dynamic became such that the early church populace was dividing within the early church. A person who belonged to a church under persecution would either return to the synagogue or temple, or hold tightly to the faith given to them through baptism into Jesus Christ as Savior. We can easily see… as it was then, so it is yet in many places… with no middle ground existing. If someone chose to remain as Christian, both legal and social persecutions fell upon them.
 As our scripture reading revealed, Jesus had stressed this scene to his disciples. Our Lord said that this would come upon us with suddenness. Our Lord said that the effect would occur amid everyday happenings. The outcome would be similar to that recorded before the days of Noah. A person would either be in the nave of the faithful boat or miss it entirely. Scripture had illustrated that this had occurred when judgment rained quickly upon the ark. Therefore, Jesus told us that it would be so as well at the coming of the Son of Man. Through the waters of baptism into Christ Jesus, one person would be taken into Christ and remain… and another would not remain.
 We must note that the hour was a point of social examination and confession, or occurred upon the occasion of a person’s death. The text clearly and universally stated warning. In any case and at any time… the instruction from our Lord was for the Christian to “be ready”. The call was therefore given for persons of the church to be baptized and remain faithful. This is the call we too receive as witnesses to this grace given.

Hear the Echo?
 As any faithful participant in a Christian faith community can relate, however, being and staying ready is not something a participant can do independently. At any given moment we may asked to give answer to the faith that is within us. We are not to worry about how we shall answer! We are to trust and obey. Answer shall be given to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, at any moment an “end time” may occur for us, whether in our next breath or our last. This truth is historically recorded in that Christians within the early church gave us an enduring example of this behavior. It has now been left to disciples today to follow in their footsteps. Together, as in earlier days, we need pray for the power to repeat again the gospel message.
 You see, brothers and sisters in the faith, the last days were already upon the church even as Matthew penned his vivid account. Now these words echo once again to us in this Advent season. They come to us from across the centuries as we kneel in wonder. We as Christians… find that we are surely living as witnesses in the “end times”.



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Of High Regard?



OUR BIBLE study for this week of Christ the King Sunday comes from the Gospel According to Saint Luke. Herein we read of a revealing conversation that occurred between our Lord and the two thieves who had been crucified alongside him. The conversation revealed the character of those who attended the spectacle of enthronement…

And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." And they cast lots to divide his garments. 
 And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" 
 There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews." 
 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." 
 And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
                                                                                                 (Luke 23:33-43)

A Crowd, Thieves and the Servant King
In this gospel Luke gives us the correct meaning of Golgotha (in the Aramaic) and also Calvary (in Latin). The place is described as "the Skull". It was correctly named. Golgotha was a barren place of death in which Jesus was “lifted up” in keeping with scriptural prophecy. He was lifted up high, but not to be simply an earthly king on an earthly throne as his followers thought. Instead, by the divine workings of God, Jesus placed himself upon the cross for the salvation of those who would believe in his redemptive work.
 Luke's account of the crucifixion reads differently from the other gospels. Mark and Matthew focused on men's hatred of Jesus. John presented Jesus as the divine personality of God, in whom men can find calm and certainty. Luke shows us, however, that Jesus was, and is... certainly God’s suffering servant. Luke’s telling showed his church communities the regal grace of Christ Jesus as he poured out his blood for sinners.
 As we study this lesson given to us by the Lukan churches, we read that even while Jesus been nailed to the cross.., he gracefully prayed for those who crucified him. He also prayed for those disciples who believed in him. We take due note here that there were also a goodly number of persons present who stood by and watched, as if the crucifixions were events of both justice and entertainment.
 I find that in Luke’s descriptive language these bystanders were spoken of with certain derision… as those harshly “seeing scoffing” (in the Greek, read as theron exemukterizon). These scoffers, standing back... were those who were likely instigated by religious fervor and political rush of the Sanhedrin. They remain as a particular and disdained target in Luke’s discourse. Through them Luke thus heaped this condemnation indirectly upon those in synagogue communities who were scoffing as Christians received Roman persecutions.

A King’s Work!
In the witness of Luke, therefore, we read of the two men also crucified beside Jesus on that horrid, yet blessed day. One thief taunted, and the other reproved the first man for his rants against Jesus. Confessing his debt, the second thief owned that they both deserved the pronounced legal sentence, but stated that he believed that the innocent Jesus was being wrongfully crucified. We duly note that this penitent thief thus made profound statement of Jesus’ innocence, even before any great signs of divinity were displayed. These subsequent events afterward startled scoffers, the unrepentant, and even the centurion. Was this Luke's warning to unbelievers? Indeed!
 The repentant man certainly was evidence by Luke as believing in life to come. In faith received, he was granted the ability to recognize the royal and divine nature of Jesus. The penitent thief humbly observed humility as he asked, “Lord, remember me in your kingdom…; referring to Jesus indeed as Christ the King. Luke remembered the man in a way that caused the church to cite the occasion some five decades later.
 Upon the throne of the cross, we need to remember the great act that Jesus accomplished was to obtain from the Father, the forgiveness of human sin. Reading that Jesus was crucified between two thieves; both sinners, is surely significant. One scoffed and one repented. By this textual illustration the author of Luke shows the stark difference. We note specifically Jesus’ reply to the penitent thief. This conversation is recorded only in Luke! The scribal pen thus offered to his congregations a witness to the undeserved grace provided by Jesus Christ. Faith was given, and faith expression was rewarded.
 Consequently, the pronouncement of Jesus, the Christ and King, in answer to faith spoken was a demonstration of powerful loved poured out.., grace that would seem little expected within that horrid context. The revelation to us is that the text completely negates the folly of doing works to earn our way to heaven.
 Unbelievers note with amazement that a thief forgiven obtained a seat at the table in the divine kingdom at the discretion of divine love. Though a scoffing crowd gathered and one malefactor denied and taunted, the one dying man truly spoke words of faith. Thus Luke showed his readers that the thief amid a hostile world was snatched as a branding iron from the burning fires of hell. His profession stood before Luke’s communities, cauterizing them as a monument of heavenly mercy.
 We see that Jesus had been placed in great struggle and agony over against the satanic Adversary who would condemn man. Christ the King possessed undeserved pity for the poor penitent… one of many for whom he had come. By this singular act of undeserved grace we ourselves are to understand that Jesus Christ died to open the kingdom of heaven to all who are penitent in faith. We are, thanks be to God, given the opportunity, in the here and now to become graceful recipients.
 Believers then have this instance in scripture that teaches what Luke would have us know. Even in the bold face of persecution from those who would scoff and persecute us, we are not to despair of divine grace! Let no one abandon hope. Here we read that a crowd scoffed, one unbelieving thief scorned, yet through a quiet and almost prayerful conversation… in almost imperceptible confession of faith occurred. A believer was given unto the keeping of the heavenly realm. A miracle was shown to him, though he was a sinner. He was saved, blessed, and received into Paradise… alongside God!