TO THOSE persons seeking discussion for Sundays coming forth in the lectionary, we offer a listing according to the three-year calendar.
On the right-hand column of this page, please find the past corresponding year for lectionary years A, B, or C.
And then search the appropriate month in each for a discussion concerning the gospel reading.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Servant King...

FOR PALM SUNDAY this year, many Lutheran congregations hear initially from the Gospel According to Saint John. This is done within the context of the Procession of the Palms. Words of scripture are read during the first worship moments, wherein we of the Church note a graceful occasion in the ministry of Jesus. During the annual event, as well, we do a work termed as the “Blessing of the Palms”. That blessing is followed in the remaining service by the later full reading of the Passion of Our Lord. That later text from another gospel becomes central to our worship experience, for it describes the fullness our Lord’s passion for our salvation. However, today for the sake of setting the stage for these holy observances, we concentrate on the words of blessed John. The gospel reads. . .

The next day a great crowd who had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it; as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”.
 His disciples did not understand this at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that this had been written of him and had been done to him.
 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead bore witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.
 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him.” (John 12:12-19)

The New King?
From the last decade of the first century, the final form of the Gospel of John related the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem for the “Feast of the Passover”. The feast commemorated the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb killed for each household that hid behind closed doors when the wrath of God lay judgment upon Egypt. Historically, the blood of the lamb had been placed above the doorway of each enslaved family, so that God would “pass over” them and the plague would not harm them.
 As Jesus went toward Jerusalem for that year’s Passover celebration, he was walking toward the gate of the city and a crowd met him. They swept him up with them and began a joyous parade, treating him as he was a conquering hero or victorious monarch (see 1 Maccabees 13:51). The throng thus welcomed him as they would a returning “King of the Jews”.  According to the gospel writer, this sweeping event occurred as response to his raising of Lazarus from the dead.
 This very scene is also presented elsewhere in scripture (Mark 11:1-11, Matthew 21:1-11, and Luke 19:28-40), but our author here in John shortened the account and provided us with a further interpretation of the event. This Johannine proclamation lay in the declaration that Jesus was the new King! Some analysts say that in the late first century, John deliberately heightened the accent placed upon our crucified Lord’s royalty in order to demonstrate Jesus’ enduring lordship. In this scriptural view, the Resurrection had indeed occurred and time marched on for the persecuted Church. In the latter portion of the first century the original disciples had faded away from the scene due to age and death, and what was told by them needed to be gathered by their hearers. All remembrance needed to be written down. The accent thus shifted from the earlier Markan telling of our Lord’s crucifixion as one made for the payment needed over against our sinfulness.
 Here the event was focused upon both the crucifixion and the the Resurrection. It seems that John thus emphasized our Lord’s death and also the glory of his victory over death. This theme was to be seen clearly, for in the final decade nearest the turn of the first century . . . persecutions continued to rise greatly against Christians across the Roman Empire.
204411: Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians
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 John thus portrayed Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem in similar fashion to the other gospels. Like the other gospels, he noted that Jesus rode into the city on the back of a young donkey. This very act is historically symbolic. You see, the spontaneous act of the believing people gathered on that day, witnessed about Jesus as someone chosen by God to rule Israel. In John, our Lord was thus hailed as the Messianic King! This emphasis was made, though the meaning of that title was not understood by those gathered around Jesus on that wondrous day.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on an ass,
on a colt the foal of an ass.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zechariah 9:9-11)

The crowd sang “Hosanna!” as they went along. Originally the saying was a shout that meant “Deliver us please!” They hoped Jesus would deliver them and Israel from worldly, evil powers. Indeed our Lord would, but not in the way they assumed.
 By the time of this writing in John’s text, the meaning of the cry had changed for the Church. The Christians by then wholly claimed the work of salvation as an activity that was done by God, once and for all time. Therefore the shout became one of high praise! Jesus, the Messiah… the Christ... had eternally saved them!
 Those Christians in the early Church already knew that they had been saved from the eternal death penalty caused by their sins. They knew that each of them, being the baptized of God… had already been delivered. As evidence we point to the original meanings. Originally, at the time of our Lord’s entry into the city we find some roots of their faith in the procession in the psalms…

Save us, we beseech thee, O Lord!
O Lord, we beseech thee, give us success!
Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord!
We bless you from the house of the Lord. (Psalm 118:25-27)

 We find also that palm leaves were used for procession during the Feast of Dedication, which celebrated the building of the Jerusalem temple. Consequently used by some at the time to note Israel’s nationalistic hopes, the palm strewn approach of Jesus as King of kings, took on pretense of welcoming a Messiah who would conquer foreign invasion and drive opposing powers out. However, the salvation that God provided to us in Jesus was not that he was entering Israel as a centering national ruler. His entry meant that eternal salvation was offered by God, through Jesus Christ. He had come to the city in the same way as God had previously appointed Israel’s ancient judges. They had ridden to office for the tribes of Israel on the back of a donkey. However, Jesus was God’s only begotten Son. He was the one sent into the world for us and for our salvation. He was prophet, priest and king.

The Old King and the New…
Historically we know that after freedom from Egypt was provided by God and the yet-to-be nation’s desert wanderings of Israel were past, the nation was sent to drive out the perverted powers of Canaan. As the scriptures revealed, however, the call to drive out the pagans was not fulfilled. Instead, the nation of Israel itself became polluted. As the servant nation of that day, the Hebrews did not fully exercise the divine and holy will. Intermarriage of Judaism and pagan beliefs prostituted the faith of the nation. And so too we find the same environment exists with the Church today.
 Therefore, we of the Church today are called to particularly note Jesus’ mode of entry into the city. Rather than being mounted on a great horse such as occurred when Caesar crossed the Rubicon, Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem riding a lowly donkey. He rode a poor man’s beast of burden. In this ancient tradition, John and the other writers found Truth.
 You see, the scriptures here contrast the power exerted by conflict and war, set over against the power of God exercised in lowly servitude. Rather than climbing the steps of a Presidential jet or waving from a guarded motorcade, Jesus was held up before us during the Procession of the Palms to be an example, as the true Messiah… a Servant King!
 Consider this… our Lord washed the disciple's feet... teaching us also to be servants. He fed us his body and blood so that we can live forgiven and strive to feed the Word of salvation to others. The centrality within the gospel is thus not in procession as a victory parade, but the inability of his followers to see that the fulfillment of his mission involved his death upon the cross.
  John portrayed for the emerging and growing church of the first century, that Jesus had consistently pointed the way forward even as he rode into Jerusalem. The Church was subsequently revealed by the Holy Spirit to be called to rise up as servants to others in future history. We are now to rise up in spite of, and possibly because of… death, oppression and evil powers working within the world.
 For we who follow our Lord today, in naming that we are Christians.... continue the work that our Servant King had finished upon the cross. We, the Church, through the power of the Spirit given in Holy Baptism... become the body of Christ.
 This call to action was the recognition missed during that famous procession. In keeping with the confusion of the day the followers of Jesus at first did not understand his true salvation message. His purpose was not to save Jewish nationalism, nor the temple. Those that followed Jesus faithfully saw that after the crucifixion and Resurrection, both the human and divine nature of the Servant King became known to them. Then, at Pentecost the Holy Spirit clearly taught them just what our Lord’s being the “King of kings” really meant. This, I consider to be John’s central message. Jesus came that those who would believe in him might be saved. He alone is our Redeemer!
 So it is with the Church in today’s world. We find principalities and powers in the world yet fight for power and control. And like the Pharisees, they lament that the gospel proclamation cannot be quenched nor destroyed, try as they might. As we hear of troubles and terror caused by power-hungry forces that prowl lands around the globe, those who attempt to stamp out the lives of Christian martyrs shall find that they perform a futile task. Jesus eternally remains King of kings! The flow of history rests in the hands of our Creator. Jesus is our Deliver. He has saved us from the powers of death and evil. Thus we hear in this cry a flow that exists far beyond even our own understanding.
 Brother and sisters in Christ, this Good News comes to us written from across the centuries. Thus we join the cry… “Hosanna, Hosanna… blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” By the power of the Holy Spirit given to the Church, we have faith which is to be active in love. This is what the “Procession of the Palms” reveals.
 Declare the good news of God’s redemption of us through Christ Jesus, our Lord. We who now gather in the confusion of a modern age, may in the tradition of the ancients… yet lay the meager branches of our lives freely before him. This is indeed the faith of the people of God.
 Please be invited to view our short video series dealing with the book of Genesis. These are available on YouTube...

Consider Creation vs Evolution?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Cross Purposes?

ON THE Fifth Sunday of Lent, we Lutherans select different lessons depending on the synodical or denominational ties for an individual congregation. This week we chose our lesson from the Gospel According to Mark, according to the lectionary listing for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the North American Lutheran Church. The setting of the lesson provided includes our Lord’s third prediction of his suffering, and the quest of his disciples for position within the kingdom…

And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.
 And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise.”
 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him, and said to him, Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?”
 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
 And they said to him, “We are able.”
 And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
                                                                                              (Mark 10:32–45)

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Divine Determination…
According to the gospel reading, Jesus decisively led (Greek – προάγων) his disciples forward in deliberate fashion. Mark indicated that events were unfolding for Jesus according to his own timetable. Though the chosen men were concerned at the time about their rapid path toward great change, our Lord brought his twelve apostles quickly along as they headed toward Jerusalem. Thus the atmosphere amongst his disciples was likely charged with fearful anticipation. They did not fully understand what the future would hold.
 Within the context of expectation and confusion, Jesus repeated his passion prophecy for the third time. He announced to them once again concerning the suffering and death that he would encounter in the city. Jesus was as foretold in the psalmist…

But I am a worm, and no man;
scorned by men, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me,
they make mouths at me, they wag their heads;
“He committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him,
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (Psalm 22:6-8)

 If we dare assume that we can know the thoughts of the disciples during the moments of this conversation, we can surmise that they thought that his challenge to the rulers would uproot those in power. Jesus was certain to wrest away their power and take his rightful place as Messiah (Deliverer). After all, they may have thought, "Hadn’t they already seen miraculous deeds done by him?"
 As we join the first readers of this account in Mark, therefore, it becomes apparent to us that the disciples really did not understand the gospel message at the time. But let’s be kind! Just how our Lord would accomplish the miraculous in spite of his crucifixion was not within the realm of their imaginations. Immediate death for him was certainly not in their thoughts. I consider that they thought the death of which Jesus spoke would be one of old age, just as his ancestor David had endured.
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 Thus Mark reveals the maneuvering of those who sought special places within the new rule that was to come. James and John, who were the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus… taking him aside from the other apostles. We believe that through their mother’s relationship to Mary they were cousins of Jesus, but as often referred to as “brothers”. Therefore being blood relatives the two men may have considered their request as quite proper. In fact, possibly to soften the effects of the bold request upon their character, the other gospels later indicated that their mother made the initial inquiry (see Matthew 20:20-28 & Luke 22:24-27). Her presence was likely a factor during the occasion, but due to the brevity in literary style for Mark’s writing she was not mentioned. In the other gospels, she was highlighted it seems for a softening of the images of the two men. . . lifted up before the wider church growing some 15-20 years after Mark’s writing.
 The request to Jesus was made for special dignity for James and John. Addressing them directly then, our Lord stated that the two men did not know the seriousness of what they asked. He immediately questioned whether they had the capacity for a bitter cup of suffering and death. You see, baptism is used here as sign of a person’s immersion in the ministry laid out by God. It also symbolized his death and more. Jesus asked therefore, whether they could hold to the call beyond the waves of the world . . . even unto death.
 In rather quick response they said they were able. Whether this statement was made out of anxious willingness to participate boldly in the tumult of perilous times with their rabbi and cousin… or whether they simply sought to push special favor nested in familial bonds... not knowing the full meaning of his prediction we cannot know. However, what we do read clearly is the response of Jesus when the two men asked to be beside him in his glory. Jesus told them that indeed they would drink of his cup of suffering. They would eventually taste the bitter herbs of death in their callings before God. For certain even before the writing of this gospel, James had been killed.
 We note that the other disciples were indignant when they heard of their petition. We can only guess that jealousy was the root of their anger. However, here Mark focused his readers upon the equality in service that all Christians share. According to the gospel writer, Jesus stepped in amid the squabble of the apostles. He called them to seek opportunity for service, rather than seeking great power and position. We read that our Lord reminded his apostles that the Son of Man, centered in God the Father, had come into the world not to be served… but to serve others… even unto giving his life.
 Jesus, as told in the first chapter of Mark, had come into the world to preach the Good News, calling God’s people into repentance… and announcing that the kingdom of God was at hand. He came to serve by being a ransom. His death was payment for the sins of humanity. That sacrificial act was to be completed so that those who would believe in him would not suffer eternal death. The final deed of death upon the cross and his subsequent Resurrection was his ultimate gift for eternal healing in a world which often sought solutions for their deaths during each season.

Church Ministry Gone Awry?
We may consider that Mark included the core of this teaching, which came most likely from the mouth of Peter, in order to set proper priorities for the fledgling Christian communities in the latter half of the first century. This text came to the fore, published and distributed after Peter and Paul had a confrontation as recorded in the book of Galatians. The contest then was over whether the Greek converts to Christian fellowship had to suffer circumcision. The issue of Hebrew priority was one of great importance to the early faith communities. These were house churches that contained both Hebrew, Greek, Roman, Egyptian and other persons from various locations. Thus the lesson highlights that which is really important!
 Faith alone in the sacrifice of Jesus death for our salvation causes us to walk toward the cross by the power of the Holy Spirit. No other attribute will do. Once arriving at the cross in faith, we of the Church are to do that which Jesus called us to do. We are to stay the course and lift high the cross. We are to preach the Good News, call all persons to repentance, and announce that the kingdom is at hand through Christ our Lord. Second in rank of importance, however, is that we are also to participate in service to humanity. While others may be trying to earn their way to heaven through works, to gain recognition or run for political office… we already have been freely given our heavenly seats. We then as Christians are called to do great works out of thanksgiving. Through congregational life we are to baptize, commune and pronounce forgiveness. We are also to feed, house, and mend those who are in need. We are encouraged to hear from scripture…

Though we speak thus, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things that belong to salvation. For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.  (Hebrews 6:9-13)

Be assured! We must know that this path will out of its very nature, place us walking contrary to the world’s values. However, we must keep the cross in sight… knowing that to do so is our very calling as the church of Christ in every age. Let us do this in our imitation of the One who died for us. We do so in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.   Amen!

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 May the Holy Spirit guide your steps!