Monday, January 30, 2017

Eating Light?



THE WORD of God spoken in many churches for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, comes to us from the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. This normative text taught by our Lord tells us of our called purpose, warns us about dismissing God’s mandates as unimportant… and relates to us our personal responsibilities as evangelical citizens of the kingdom.

"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.
 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. 
 Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 
 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5:13-20)

Grit or Grits?
Mixing salt into the textual pot here, the author of Matthew drew much from the earlier written source material in Mark. Like making grits from a recipe supplied by a loving grandmother, Matthew received Mark and made editorial adjustments to fit the needed diet of the particular community being addressed. Matthew followed to some degree, the recipe used by its contemporary Lukan counterpart… in that both authors did some editorial flavoring. The changing emergence of the Christian church during the scant decades between the writings of Mark and the later gospels can account for these subtle changes.
 As example, we note that Mark related the character of a person who should maintain the pure salted taste of the chief cook.., the Father... who has created all things. Mark closely follows the analogy with a warning…

“Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another." (Mark 9:50b)

  The text of Mark gave commentary from Jesus about others who were reportedly working beyond the immediacy of the disciples, but were doing good works in the name of Christ Jesus. They were proclaiming the good news about the Messiah. Therefore Mark used the text to highlight the misguided bent toward jealousy. Mark thus related how Jesus did not approve of such attitudes.
 However, when we examine this text brought forward in both Matthew and Lukan narratives, the teaching coming from our Lord certainly remained the same in meaning.., but its application changed.

Taste and See….
For example, our Matthean text was written and spoken to persons removed in geography and time from Mark, and shined great brightness on the evangelical task. Thus though the text remained the same, the evangelical emphasis arose higher some twenty years after the original publishing. Therefore the text possessed this additional, spiritually normative quality for Matthew’s particular Christian community. In this, the Word which is the Christ of God, spoke subtly concerning their particular church situation. Note that the text relates that the salt, losing the taste, is thrown out and is “trodden underfoot.”
 May we rightly conclude then, that the warning given by the author spoke immediately to the issue that his Christians gathering in and around Syrian Antioch were being thrown out and thus lost their evangelical “taste”… the gospel to be wastefully trodden underfoot when the community did not keep actively stirring its Christian cooking? It seems so!
 The second analogy is similar in purpose, thus placing double emphasis. In Mark these two were used quite separately. Here in Matthew, however, the author used the lesson sequentially… possibly to give a stronger flavor bite to the evangelical task at hand. In Matthew, the Light of God, Jesus Christ.., provided for people great blessings as he told his disciples that they had become the light of the world. Evangelical purpose is thus Matthew’s accented flavoring.

About Substance!
Amid this good news and revelation of Christ as the Light of the world, however, there were apparently many in the Matthean community that worried about the Law and its purpose. In holding up the examples of “jot and tittle” (the smallest of written Hebraic alphabetic characters), Jesus related that all the power of the Law still remained intact. In other words, as sinful humans we are yet measured and yet found wanting! And further, our Lord stated that we must exceed the righteousness of those who say that their very task is to study and argue over each little dash of pepper in the lawful shaker. We then wonder as listeners of this gospel reading, “How is adherence to this recipe possible?”
 Consider then! We are brought in this text to the realization that for we sinful, disobedient and finite children… there would be no hope outside of Christ. We would be salt without taste, persons groping in darkness… except that the Light has come upon us. And because He came, was crucified, and rose again for us.., Jesus gave our very words a very pleasant taste.
 The Light of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, worked to show salvation through our evangelical messages. It is only he… Jesus.., who fulfilled the Law! It is only the innocent man Jesus, working with the Father through the Holy Spirit… who took the bitter herbs from the sinful recipe offered on the cross…

And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave it to him to drink. (Matthew 27:48)

 Yes! Jesus drank a sinful, horrid recipe for us. It wasn’t without taste! But taste and see that the Lord is good. Jesus makes our lives palatable. Jesus replaced the horrid recipe of man’s inhumanity as convicted under the Law, and gave us the sweet honey of forgiveness beneath the Gospel. This is the Gospel message that has shed Light. This is good news for those who try to faithfully cook goodness in a dark world that would separate us. This is also warning for those who would work to keep our Christian witness hidden beneath a basket… to be thrown out along with the mush of false religions.
 Consequently, like the churches of Matthew and Luke hearing his words long ago, let us today be like those who first shined the Light of salvation high. From Antioch of Syria, the Word went out across the Middle East, Greek provinces and Roman Empire. We pray that as a people we may also become so focused on evangelism by the Holy Spirit, that what we cook up will be widely tasted. May we again tastily relish our invitation to Word and Sacrament. May we become beacons to light a path and bring all to an altar where our Lord is rightly praised. So it is written indeed in the Word. So it is our calling… and so it shall be.


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We meet at 9AM Sunday
in the
Free Christian Evangelical Church on Pine Street in Smethport, PA 






Tuesday, January 24, 2017

In A Word...

OUR LESSON for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany comes to us from the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Within this reading we hear a central teaching of Jesus, who at the time sat many persons down upon a hillside in an area known as “Galilee of the Gentiles”. Within this text, we find words spoken to those whom God had already chosen…

“Seeing the crowds, he (Jesus) went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 
 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 
 "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 
 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 
 "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. 
 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 
 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 
 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
 "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.” 
 
                                                                                         (Matthew 5:1-12)

To Whom It May Concern…
Repeated again and again in the discourse given on the hillside above the Sea of Galilee, we find a very special word. That word, interpreted as “Blessed…” comes through to us nine times. In importance then, we might begin this session by examining this very special word. Its occurrence here in Matthew signals a shift from the previous descriptive words of the where and when of the speaking… to the normative, unchanging dictate of our Lord in each refrain. However, within the reading of this wondrous text, we also find ourselves caught up in the secondary, regulative commissioning of disciples that have heard the foundational Word. Therefore, let’s make a closer examination of this very special reading, in that it contains these three categories of exegetical text.
 The historical setting upon the mountainside is attested both here and elsewhere. Some nuances exist, however, between beloved Matthew’s use of this text and to its writing companion in Luke. We note to some extent, how each author and community heard the message from a common source. Each received the forerunner source (as assumed in the document “Q”), and then spiritually tailored the Word to each writer’s individual location and time. In the same way that, even today, the Word spoken come to us from various pulpits and lecterns.
 Here we brush away comparative reading skills, however, and concentrate our effort on a particular word. Within the text, the word “Blessed” echoes repeatedly. The word stems from the Greek as, “Makarioi”. We may ask of scripture, “What sort of word is this?” Do we declare the word as a noun, verb or adjective, or all three?
 The root word is “makarizo, which is  a Greek verb used when the subject of the sentence declares the object as being made “beautiful, favored, or happy” For this reason this section is often called the “Beatitudes”, or “beauty described”. Therefore the subject, who in this case is our speaking Lord, declared the hearing disciples as having the qualities… all of the qualities… all nine of them… belonging to the beautiful. During the telling we thus realize that the Beloved Son’s very speaking of the verb created the entity of the “Beautiful”. Those who received the Word become so named… “Blessed (Ones)”. The verb becomes a noun.
 In a normative sense then, in all time and places… our Lord Jesus described even the sinful hearers and doers of the Word as “Blessed.” For no reason other than anyone having heard and accepted these words by God in any place, and any time within the hearing of the Word, are “Blessed”. Therefore, given this divine activity, we today who also read or  hear the Word are counted as followers of Jesus, and are yet "Blessed".

Blessed Comforts?
As we go through these Beatitudes then, we hear Jesus comforting those sinful disciples who are found as poor, mourning, and meek; and also seek rightness, mercy, purity in motive. However, Jesus warned that they shall be persecuted for doing right things. Thus Jesus comforted them and pronounced them as chosen citizens of the eternal kingdom of heaven. He stated clearly to them that God is indeed present! He taught them that God would always be with them. They only needed to hold tightly to what they are given. Astounding grace was therefore proclaimed.
 An eternal fact thus emerges then to us; that during any occurrence on a hillside, open seashore, plains or desert sermon, where our Lord God teaches his followers through scripture, the holy Word... we learn that even the sinful are accepted. God is with us! We are secure.
 In keeping with this initial message of our belonging to God, Matthew later related that Jesus as the Son of God… paid the penalty for our transgressions and worldly wanderings. He offered himself up to death on the cross to pay the penalty for our disobedience. Pointedly then, Matthew described our Lord’s giving us of his own Body and Blood. Therefore, you see that, in, with, and under that miraculous bread and wine that we received at the divine table in the kingdom, all things are renewed and our future as saints is revealed!

What Now?
We might ask our Lord, “What is it that we, as disciples and saints, are now called to do?” I offer that we who are baptized into Christ are most certainly urged by this reading to stand up and be counted. We are to act like those disciples who received the Word of God from Jesus on the mountainside. As Matthew related. Jesus instructed them precisely with the last words of this teaching…

“Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you. “

Note the sequence laid out! First, though often taunted and shunned… rejoice and be glad! Even when evil world entities gathered around us in both church and state seem to shake us to our very foundations… rejoice and be glad! So it is, and will be.., but we are the Blessed. Even so, rejoice!
 Know secondly that beyond our continued living in the governance of the world, each person who hears the Word and accepts the gift of salvation has already been declared as having an eternal, never diminishing reward in the heavenly kingdom. This reward is such that no sinful human entity, limitation or earthly resource can match its stellar quality or quantity.
 Finally, we need to know surely that we are already appointed. We have been called as prophets. As such, each on persons being called as a prophet of God, has been chosen to leave the mountainside as witness. Therefore, know that you are chosen to go out into society and do as the prophet Isaiah…

 “…bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor…” (Isaiah 61:1)

Now having read the Word, learn of him! Study scripture. Attend a church that teaches both scriptural Law and Gospel rightly interpreted. Learn the historic creeds of the church. And indeed… amid all of this… accept the mantle of prophet. Do not worry about the world and its persecutions… for just look around clearly! Both the world and its ruler are already doing evil things to you as a disciple. Simply do it! To guide your steps, please know that normative for all-time … “Blessed are you, when you walk in the way of the Lord.”

For those who wish to do so, click on the screen below to view our online worship for last week. 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.

To view our video, click on the screen arrow below. 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 Love Of God Be With You!

 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Cast A Net!



THE LESSON for the Third Sunday after Epiphany comes to us from the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Within the text, a connection is firmly made between the Word of salvation predicted by a prophet, and our Lord’s calling of his first disciples…

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles--  the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned." 
 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." 
 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." 
 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 
 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 
 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. 
 And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people. 
                                                                                                (Matthew 4:12-23)

This Jesus!
The writer of Matthew tied the prophecy of Israel’s history to the particular vision of Our Lord Jesus as the Eternal Light. Thus the writer pointed us not only to the salvation of Israel, but to the future of the Gentiles as well. As the scripture is read from Matthew, we may notice the text refers back in time to words from the prophet Isaiah.

“But there will be no gloom for her that was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast increased its joy; they rejoice before thee as with joy at the harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.” (Isaiah 9:1-3)

We rightly note that our Matthean text offered for today is exclusive in using this narrative in the gospel telling. Therefore, not drawn from the earlier-penned Markan script... nor included in the Lukan narrative... it likely did have special meaning for the community of the writer… and that meaning was surely prophetic. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the writer obviously examined the text of Isaiah, and saw within it God’s proclamation of the Word throughout the world. Guided by the Spirit, he noted that based in the diaspora of the Jews within those earlier days within the Greek Empire, the monotheistic Judean belief expressions were to be told in a world enamored with nature gods and false religions. Our author thus viewed the birth and ministry of Christ as key to the fulfillment foretold, so to be reaching beyond the mere borders of Israel.
 Addressing persons who were in his community, both native born and non-Hebrew proselytes having been steeped in the prophetic writings of Isaiah, the author under girded his vision of carrying the gospel message forward into the “nations”. The text therefore carried a great evangelical focus.
 Indeed, by the power of the Spirit people who had formerly walked in darkness, through the ministry of Jesus as the Messiah… had been given a great Light. The Light of God had shined. The focus shifted from Israel as a nation, unto a wider definition of just what nation meant to our Lord. Thus the prophecy spoke smartly to those of the Antioch synagogue and its Syrian Christian population, for they clearly read… “all the people will know…”.
 Jesus was thus revealed by Matthew as born into the world, baptized by John, tempted by Satan… and exercising God's will as the Chosen, the Messiah.., the Christ. As the Deliver of his chosen people, therefore, Jesus revealed the graceful will of God. Thus the writer described that the term “kingdom of God” was to include a far greater number of souls than any Hebrew could imagine.

Inclusitivity!
 Centered from Capernaum, the Galilean area became historically important as the center of our Lord's early ministry. In Matthew's mention of ancient and lowly Zebulun and Naphtali we recognize the names of given to the tribes of Israel, and locations in Canaan who were called after them. In the Canaanite backwaters, therefore, we see that God thus used even the lowest of the low. Undeserving and lowly persons found their role within historic Israel’s recollection. These, called as shepherds in the field, were to be foundations for the salvation of the nations.
 Therefore we note most importantly, that Matthew begins the path for salvation exactly where Jesus ministry was described in the Gospel According to Saint Mark, as our Lord said… "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel."  (Mark 1:15).
 However, stating with slight difference, with just…"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”, we see this in comparison, that  “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” are used quite interchangeably. I offer this to demonstrate the simple regional linguistic preference between the earlier writer and audience of Mark. Mark's gospel is said to have been penned in Rome and near Alexandria in Egypt, and those found within Matthew’s congregations came out of Syria. Each reflects their own subtle, historical connotations… adapted for those local minds considering the message in their specific congregations. Thus the theme we note central here is that central to both writers, in telling the good news in the widespread locations... the importance was placed on repentance as first step. Like unto that message preached by John the Baptist, repentance was opening key to both communities.
 We may conclude that the doctrine of repentance is right doctrine. Repentance calls us to be sorrowful for our sin, and turns us around to face God and his judgment. Without repentance there is no salvation! Therefore, we see that not only wilderness prophet John the Baptist, but our gracious Lord Jesus, preached that repentance drives us humbly to the throne of Almighty God, to seek God’s favor. However, unlike John, repentance for followers of Jesus led not just to annual forgiveness by washing, prayer and sacrifice... as found earlier in Hebrew history... but went beyond these things to faith given in the good news being delivered. Jesus was the sacrificial Lamb! Through Matthew, Jesus announced that the kingdom was imminently near… “at hand”. The congregation hearing this reading, could see fulfillment on the horizon, the King of Heaven and Earth, of all Creation… was right before them.

Proclaim!
Jesus gathered disciples as he began to preach. These first named persons would be hearers, and afterwards preachers... of his salvation message. They would be witnesses of his miracles and would eventually testify concerning him. Therefore when Christ returns, we might add... would it not be good to be found in the doings of the apostles. We must ask, “Are we in Christ?"
 In keeping with this calling, those who would follow Christ today must also be ready, at his command, to place all things in proper perspective and follow. Though we differ as to cost, direction taken and method, like the apostles we must be ready to part if needed with earthly things. This example of the power of the Lord Jesus toward salvation, encourages the church then and now to depend upon solely upon his grace.
 Know this! Persons in our modern society who are yet without Christ strive in darkness. Like those Galilean men who sat in the empty boat after fishing all night on the lake long ago, many today sit in relative discontent not quite knowing their peril, but sensing great emptiness. Living... but not fully alive, we experience eternal Life only through gospel proclamation. Jesus comes through the church in proclaimed Word and Sacrament. Therefore, the clarion should ring outward from the nave of churches, “Repent, believe the good news!", This message should be heard clearly so that others see their life changed.
 You see, by receiving the gospel, the Light is suddenly present. Jesus was at hand for the early disciples by the power of the Holy Spirit. Just as physical light is seen, reflects and directs the lost;  so does the message of Light work from this gospel. The good news contained in our reading frees us today for service. We are now among those who are called to repentance! We become the forgiven, and the changed.., just as those who were going about their daily chores on the seashore at Galilee. Jesus, the Messiah.., our Teacher, our Healer, our Savior… and Lord… truly beckons us to be his disciples. So be it. Grab the lines of your nets firmly… and pull, saying, “Thanks be to God.”
 Each of us have received a talent of witness in some way. Some have appropriated and conveyed the message in ways most pleasing. Of such is a video made by a local family. Though each of us has evangelical talent in various and other ways, I invite you to enjoy this one...


What can you do to spread the good news? May the Peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord.