Monday, February 27, 2017

People Driven By?

WE READ from the Gospel According to Matthew for the First Sunday in Lent. In this lesson we are taught that just as the Son of God builds our faith, there are powers in this life that would challenge our earthly walk.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." 
 But he answered, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'" 
 Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, 'He will give his angels charge of you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" 
 Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'" 
 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." 
 Then Jesus said to him, "Begone, Satan! for it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'" 
 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.
                                                                                             (Matthew 4:1-11)
Led Beyond Temptations
A reading previously presented in Matthew stated that Jesus had been baptized by John, and was declared to be the Son of God. As that scene closed, in continuing the witness... the next scene found our Lord being driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. Jesus went there for prayer and fasting. We emphasize the word “led” used in today's reading (from the Greek- anechthe). This use attests that Jesus went not of his independent action, but we may considered him fully as a human being directed by another entity… i.e. the fullness of the Holy Spirit!
 Originally, the witness in the earlier gospel written by Mark’s community related the wilderness trials only briefly. Only two verses told of the time spent (see Mark 1:12-13). Why is this so, we may ask? I consider that either the knowledge of what had occurred in the wilderness was not fully known by the community of Mark, or the story was not relevant to the primary theme of the writer. Also, we may entertain that Mark omitted the account due to the shortness of that earlier gospel scroll, the story may have simply been relinquished to the cutting room floor.
 We see in comparative gospel research, that Matthew agrees greatly with the Lukan account (Luke 4:1-13). We may subsequently conclude that because Mark was very brief... and both later-written gospels related the event with greater detail… the lesson found in the later gospel witnesses came with information from a separate, common revealed source. This means that these two witnesses offered the story from the second source... so to increase the guidance needed in the respective communities of Matthew and Luke.
 This being true, we can now focus upon this needed guidance and ask certain questions. First, “Who was physically there in the wilderness to record what happened?”
  As we read, we see that only Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the countryside. The Devil... challenged him there. Given this as fact, we further ask, "If they were the only ones there, how then did the church receive the story to write it down?"
 It is unlikely that our Lord's adversary would highlight the encounter, since that power was cast successfully aside. Hence we must conclude that the story came to the early church directly from Jesus. If so, the account was told later by a disciple through the power of the Holy Spirit, in order to accomplish a certain purpose. I believe that purpose was to strengthen the early church.
 We know that Christians began to struggle mightily under severe persecutions in the unfolding later decades of the first century. Thus, when we consider the source of the fully developed story, from a reconstructed writing that is called the lost “Q” document… we find the story was likely developed very early. The time of origination from Jesus, and its being told further... brings the date to be in concert with the time of Mark's writing. Thus, “Q” was subsequently added to the contents of the other two gospels... Matthew and Luke, which were written down by about 85 A.D. Thus the account is presented as a story directly stemming from Jesus teachings and finding its way later into the two synoptic gospels.
 If we accept this premise and outcome, using form criticism we can note that this text seems to be a stand-alone story skillfully woven into that earlier document.  For this reason, we ask... “What were the Matthean and Lukan communities encountering at the time… that the Markan community was not contending with in earlier days?
 I consider that since the later gospels related increased tensions appearing between Christians and the firmly entrenched traditional Judaic faith expressions, we may conclude that much greater isolation from them was occurring. Also, persecutions were found to be pressing very hard upon the Christian communities.
 However, being those who certainly were convicted by the Law of Moses, but yet pardoned for the sake of Jesus Christ… the late first century Christians were provided by Jesus with a new law... a law which set them free for service in the growth of the kingdom. Therefore the wilderness story was written as a new guidance to help those communities. The teaching we find here was therefore a method for their dealing with both the historically entrenched Jews... and the Gentile world set aflame with evil. The lesson speaks also to us as we live in a world that is becoming even more hostile to our salvation and ministry message.

Lenten Discipline…
Our path, like that of this faithful ancestral community, should unfold as we are led by the Spirit. We need to go forward just as our Lord was led into that wilderness. Consequently, we are especially called by the Spirit to engage in prayer and fasting during the coming forty days of  Lent. By doing these things we shall gather discipline by restraint, through the gospel message reminding us of our Lord’s tribulations in the wilderness.
 Remember! Both Word and the Spirit strengthen us. Where Jesus was tempted by Satan; so we too are tempted. The words that Jesus spoke in answer to evil are a prescription given that strips us of illness. They strengthen our own resolve as we work plodding through this often hostile, modern world. Therefore, in the challenges of the coming Lenten season we know surely Satan shall whisper to us that all is vanity. We shall then be tempted to fall away and lessen our seriousness and witness. To ward off these attacks, only prayer, discipline and a knowledge of Holy Scripture will suffice to strengthen and guide us.
 Note that we have been given the advantage! The community of blessed Matthew did not have all that we have. The early church did not have the New Testament. They were writing it! So blessed ones, note that our Lord quoted from scripture that was available in his time. And indeed we are called to do so as well. However, now we have a far wider foundation than our historical predecessors… and we may be empowered into the doing of even greater things! We can cite as witness not only from the Law and prophets, but also from the Gospels and the letters from the early Church. With this great storehouse of God’s Word provided, we can heartily speak of Jesus Christ with great resolve.
 Note that we are called as the Church to witness in the world, and in this God shall empower and defend us. As we tread forward in witness, know by the Spirit’s revelation that we are not giving in to the temptations of building our world in our own sinful image. We are brought safely down from that dangerous precipice. We are kept from taking that road paved into hell which was laid out by the luring, undulating switchbacks of social acceptance. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have our feet firmly planted on solid biblical ground. Temptations shall leave and the messengers of God shall minister to us. Let us be guided only by scripture rightly interpreted and proclaimed. Thanks be to God!




Monday, February 20, 2017

Fully Man; Fully God!



OUR READING for Transfiguration Sunday comes to us from the Gospel According to Matthew. However, as the church of Christ, we are called to also note the presence of this same lesson in the writings of Mark and Luke. This seemingly indicates the high importance which the early church writers held for this text. Here we read...

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. 
 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." 
 He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." 
 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and have no fear." 
 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, "Tell no one the vision, until the Son of man is raised from the dead."  (Matthew 17:1-9)

Brighter than Bright…
As we begin reading our lesson through for meaning, the mindset that the text is largely mirrored in the other gospels comes through. However, the images that we receive from the other records change slightly as each community tailored the witness according to the need for relating accuracy and necessity, using the available parchment resource and community environments. For example, we know that the text found in Mark, being likely the earliest written and possibly the source document for the other two tellings, says that the event occurred “after six days”. The later Lukan account seems to disagree with that assessment, saying that the event occurred after “about eight days”. We may ask then about the difference?
 I contend that either the “about” vacillation found may have included the beginning and ending days; or the writer of Luke did not hold the time span with similar importance of the other gospel writers. This may be reasoned that Luke may be addressing communities more infused with Gentiles. For these latter, the six day interval was therefore not held up as important.
 More important for our study, however, is that the imposed chapter break found here separates the flow of events.  Jesus had just said in the previous chapter, that some of the disciples would not die before the Son of Man would be seen coming in his kingdom (Matthew 16:28). The selection of Peter, James and John followed suit. The event, being only days after the former scene… likely occurred at Mount Hermon, near Caesarea Phillippi. This is located close to where they had been doing ministry in the earlier chapter. To expand a familiar maxim then, what the apostles found upon climbing the Mount of Transfiguration was that there was far more to their lowly rabbinical teacher than met the eye.
 We find that the text related that Jesus was “transfigured” ( Greek – “metamorphothe” or “bodily changed” ). Therefore the miraculous event occurred there as the three men were present as witnesses. Jesus was suddenly far more than they previously had seen.
 We note that for the privileged apostles… another miraculous fact was also revealed… in that Moses and Elijah was seen as present talking with Jesus. We need remember here, that according to scripture the lawgiver Moses had died and was buried, and the prophet Elijah had been transported to heaven on a chariot. Consequently, both realms are far beyond the habitation of men. We then ask… “Are these two, therefore, representatives of both the Law and those prophets which spoke and yet speak in concert about the Son of Man?”
 The event speaks boldly, therefore, to the Sadducee who does not believe in eternal life and the Pharisee who only adheres to the Law… the latter being the Torah in the first five books of the Bible. Here I believe is where the importance of the event for the synagogue community of Matthew emerges.
 You see, Moses is clearly described as glorified. Thus he represents the redeemed of God that had already passed through the gate of death into the kingdom. Elijah, also  being glorified, represented also those who have entered the heavenly realm alive by the will of God… and yet have prophetic mission ( as exhibited by John the Baptist ). Thus the three disciples present, who were not yet glorified… were representing Israel. Israel was therefore redefined here in Matthew, as a future kingdom of both Judaic believers and nations to be yet brought into the kingdom.
 We note a minor change in witness here, in that Matthew said that while Peter was still speaking the Spirit spoke to them. Oh, how sinful man is… blabbing on when he should be listening! Noted however, is that some words of Mark are here omitted, possibly in that they indicated that Peter was somewhat flabbergasted. In Luke, he seemingly muttered the booth building proposal because he did not know what else to say.
 Subsequently, we ask whether it is possible that the later-written Matthean gospel deliberately portrayed Peter in more favorable light? The gospel record seems to indicate this possibility because Petrine influence was stronger for that community… while Pauline influence was found as more evident in the Markan and Lukan churches.
 As the scene unfolds as written in Matthew, an inclusion also occurred. The voice heard from heaven says that … “This is my beloved Son…: and continues further … “ with whom I am will pleased.”. The latter phrasing is strictly Matthean. In this way, this Matthean account links us linguistically backward in time… to the occurrence where John baptized Jesus at the Jordan River. Therefore the author deliberately connected the followers of John the Baptist to the message. This might indicate that they may have yet had influential presence within the writer’s community.
 Given that the event is recorded by all three synoptic gospels, the whole Christian church is molded by the hearing of the happenings on the Mount of Transfiguration. Given the revelations found here, we also see that many factors were brought together by the event. Both characters who represented the Law and prophets met together with Jesus, with three prominent disciples as audience. The Spirit of God spoke to the befuddled apostles present, and they were instructed not to divulge their knowledge concerning the identity of the Son of Man as the Son of God… until all things are revealed. This last empowerment would not come to pass until the Spirit of Pentecost brought the church into being.

Rise, Have No Fear…
At this point we must ask, “What is the meaning of this text for the church today?” Are we readers who are so far removed in time from the church of Matthew still called to receive eternal Truth? The descriptive text of Matthew related a moment in time that fulfilled a certain prophetic closure. During the days of Moses the nation of Israel was formed. During the time of Elijah walking upon earth, that same nation wandered far from God… so much so that the land became torn apart and exiled. That prophetic time, brought revelations that occurred pointing far beyond that day. Elijah was prophetically empowered to tell of the corporate resurrection to a widow at Zarephath.
 If we recall that prophetic resurrection scene, during a time of sinful drought… life was restored to the widow’s son. Centuries later, though there are some today that argue that the young man brought back to life was simply resuscitated by CPR, the resurrection of Jesus Christ was recorded as prophetically authentic by the infant church. That nation which was previously exiled unto death into Babylon was gathered not by happenstance, as a geographical return credited to Greek and Roman-ruled conquest, but by the Son of Man crucified and Risen.

Now Is The Time!
 For the early church, this time of waiting and fulfillment was hard to fathom, as evidenced by Peter’s reaction. He was wrong at the time to look for a heaven here upon earth. Even today, whatever tabernacles we propose to build in efforts of progressive religion or politics, to make for ourselves booths in our world… we must always remember to prayerfully ask God for fulfillment. As answer, we must look to scripture for our foundation.
 At the time of the Transfiguration, the booths could not be built. The sacrifice of Christ upon the cross was not yet offered. Important future actions were not yet to be done by Peter and his companions. Our answer now is that we should mirror that which is historically revealed to us in scripture… in both Old Testament and New Testament! Now is the time to build booths, but booths that are portable.
 Note that Jesus, as revealed by the power of the Spirit on the Mount of Transfiguration, was revealed as both Son of Man and Son of God. This Jesus, born into the world and divinely shown, took upon Himself the penalty of death for us. He took our punishment for denial and unbelief… dying on the cross to save us… and was then Resurrected by the love of the Father. In this way he gave us eternal life. The divine plan was shown as long planned to be available to men by the vision on the mountain, and soon afterward the plan was completed and provided by our Savior.
 We today may see more clearly the glistening message related to the followers in Matthew’s infant church. God’s love surely endures forever, but God’s love was poured out though Christ… freeing us from the ritual offerings of Moses and from the exile that followed the time of Elijah. Revelation of our sinful separation from God was shown through the Law and the prophets, but in the days of the apostles God showed a new thing.
 You see, by gift of the Holy Spirit, our Lord preserved for us this reading… so that we may see our future today is secured on into eternity. Just as Jesus our Lord was baptized, we too are baptized. Just as the apostles saw the glorious revelation of Light we too may see that same Light. Jesus arose from the grave and we shall arise unto eternal life in accordance with the promise. So the words of our Lord still reach across the centuries. Let us hear this clearly on Transfiguration Sunday… for Jesus said to his followers… “Arise, and have no fear.”  Thanks be to God.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Radical Sacrifice!




OUR READING for this week comes to us once again from the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. A continuation in message thus occurs that began with the “Sermon on the Mount”. Within this reading, we hear from our Lord again concerning the radical ethic to which we as Christians are called…

“You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. 
You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  But I say to you.., Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:38-48)

Radically Far?
In continuing sermon discourse, Jesus related to his listeners the call of discipleship for his followers. Jesus supported the Law as expressed in Torah, but called his followers to go beyond the many person-to-person casuistic mandates. First, our Lord asked his audience what was written in case law, as it spoke about retaliation. Scriptural law clearly indicated that retaliation was personal, and not judicial nor governmental. Within the edicts of law, therefore, there was permissible redress given (lex talionis).
 Jesus cited this example of legalistic mandate that had been repeated again and again in the scriptural teachings… in that an “eye for and eye” was thought to be just and fitting. (as found in Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21). However, Jesus called his followers to entertain doing a radical response.
 Indeed, though retaliation was surely lawful, Jesus called his followers to move beyond the Law. They, and we also today… are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Therefore we are privileged not to seek the legal right. In other words, Jesus wanted to seek in that Hebrew audience, those who would follow him and exhibit the radical response of love poured out. Jesus indeed stated that personal, physical affront was to be cast aside.
 First of all, our Lord said that property was not to be at issue in discipleship. Second, if a disciple’s time was required by another, as was customarily found in ancient Persia when mail was transported, so that a dignitary could force a person to do carrier service for a mile or more… a disciple was called by Jesus, not only to do so willingly, but we are called to go even farther.
 As we witness here, Jesus pointed his Judaic followers of the day beyond the Law… toward a radicalization of life. The result was that a new behavior pattern is formed on how disciples should act in the building up of the Kingdom. His instruction indicated how we ought to act even now. Therefore, the telling factor for us is whether the Spirit is present and showing forth in our lives. By this we are told how far we are willing to go in response to another’s challenge. We are to be in the evil world, but not of the evil world.
 In this discourse then, Jesus disclosed the radical chasm between sinful being and the character of God. If we are truly disciples even in a small sense, we can grasp the Righteous characteristics of our Creator. We clearly see the chasm between the finite and the Infinite; between sin and purity.
 As sinners we stand condemned, for we too are those who grab the beard and insult others. We too often demand undue patience and rob for ourselves that which belongs only to God. Then if God does not thwart our self-centered purposes… and even the harm of death occurs… beneath the old Law we jump quickly to offer our self-justifications. Such is the satanic deception rooted in the depths of our very souls.
 God has thus restrained his wrath in love toward us, and has redeemed many through his Son. Thus, if we be truly his followers… his disciples… we must then do benevolence in likewise fashion. This causes us to do, to become… the very law of love which is far removed from our natural instincts. We are brought to realize that our steadfast example is God himself, as shown before his disciples through Christ our Lord. Looking at Jesus then, can we as sinful followers more clearly see his Way? We recognize that through the cross our Creator made provisional example for us through His Son.
 The instruction of our Lord is that we, like our living Lord, are to suffer any injury that can be borne for the sake of peace, and in doing so commit our concerns to our Lord's keeping. We are to avoid personal striving against the world’s evil. If any of us say we cannot pass by an affront, our Lord reminded that only by the power of the Holy Spirit can we fulfill the mandate. We are called to rely wholeheartedly on the spiritual support of Almighty God.

Uniquely Made!
Jesus, with the deliverance of this message, was indeed already steeped in struggle for our whole being. Our Lord taught us on that mountain that we must all do the real acts of love to everyone… especially to those who are not easy on us. Obviously, this must hold true when we deal with all enemies of Christ and the furthering of his message… whether they be such as atheist, agnostic, Hebrew, Muslim or Hindu.
 We must pray for them. While many in the world only render good for good; we are bid by our Lord to even render good for evil. This behavior ethic springs from the love that was poured out that caused Jesus to accept death upon the cross. Remember! Even while we were sinful.., while we were far from God, while we were spoiled children and wastrels in the world… Jesus died to redeem us. This speaks of a far nobler ethical principle than mere sinful men may claim under the Law.
Thus as followers in the footsteps of our Lord, to build up the kingdom the gospel... the Word who is Christ Jesus our Lord is clear. We see this in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans…

“Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. 
 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 
 No, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:17-21)

 You see, in this world we tend to salute only those who agree with us and embrace those of our own opinion. However, we are called not to confine our love. It is the given prerequisite of Christians to seek perfection in grace and holiness. Having been given the example of God’s love poured out, in that Jesus went to his crucifixion to show just how far God will go for those who may accept his grace.., we see that we too are called. We are to conform ourselves to the same example of our heavenly Father. As apostolic scripture indicated…

“Therefore gird up your minds, be sober.., and set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." 
 And if you invoke as Father him who judges each one impartially according to his deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”  (1 Peter 1:13-19)

 Being a people forgiven in Christ, therefore, we see that more is expected from his followers than from others... for the sake of still others. Let a decision concerning a hostile force or any person be decided by the love of God, and love of neighbor. Ask what is the loving thing to do. We are called to decide in love. While this may seem a daunting task, we have solace that we are maintained by the Holy Spirit’s working. This promise is present in the church. We are redeemed by Christ and sanctified by the Spirit. Consequently, we find support for our task through regular, right and mutual uplifting of prayer to God our Father. In this way, more strength is found in us than in others, for the sake of those who are not yet in the kingdom. Let us therefore beg of God that we who are redeemed by His Son, Jesus Christ, are enabled by the sacrifice of Jesus to prove ourselves also as right sacrifice… and redeemed children of the Heavenly Father. So it is and so it shall be.


Please know that you are invited to view a video based upon last week’s lesson. As well, know also that on Friday evening, whenever possible, the video based on this session is put online. You may view this be clicking on…