Monday, August 28, 2017

First Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

As we prepare for the upcoming Sunday, we have the ongoing storm in Texas on our minds.  It is likely that the storm and the response to the storm will make its way into the sermon.  If you have the ability to do so, I invite you to give a financial gift to Lutheran Disaster Response as they prepare to assist the various communities harmed by Hurricane Harvey.

Reminder: my thoughts are in italics after each reading.

Jeremiah 15:15 - 21

15Lord, you know;
  remember me and visit me,
  and bring down retribution for me on my persecutors.
 In your forbearance do not take me away;
  know that on your account I suffer insult.
16Your words were found, and I ate them,
  and your words became to me a joy
  and the delight of my heart;
 for I am called by your name,
  O Lord, God of hosts.
17I did not sit in the company of merrymakers,
  nor did I rejoice;
 under the weight of your hand I sat alone,
  for you had filled me with indignation.
18Why is my pain unceasing,
  my wound incurable,
  refusing to be healed?
 Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook,
  like waters that fail.

19Therefore thus says the Lord:
 If you turn back, I will take you back,
  and you shall stand before me.
 If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
  you shall serve as my mouth.
 It is they who will turn to you,
  not you who will turn to them.
20And I will make you to this people
  a fortified wall of bronze;
 they will fight against you,
  but they shall not prevail over you,
 for I am with you
  to save you and deliver you, says the Lord.

21I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,
  and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.

Jeremiah 15 appears to be a dialogue between Jeremiah and the Lord.  Modern readers may be uncomfortable with Jeremiah asking the Lord to seek vengeance on Jeremiah’s enemies.  We may think back to the verse that proclaims “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord!”  We hear that and refrain from seeking revenge, but do we ask the Lord to seek revenge on our behalf?  We can also dive into Jeremiah’s question of why he is the one in pain when he is the one who has obeyed the Lord.  Surely, if we are obedient, then nothing bad will ever happen to us, right?  Right?  Yet, we get sick or injured; we lose our jobs; we have a falling out with friends and loved ones.  Is this just or fair?  The hope of the passage is the promise that the Lord will save and deliver us and that our enemies will not prevail against us.  Our enemies may succeed in killing us, but the Lord has the final word.

Psalm 26:1 - 8

Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
 2 Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and mind.
 3 For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.
 4 I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites;
 5 I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.
 6 I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O LORD,
 7 singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds.
 8 O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.

Psalm 26 sounds a lot like the first half of Jeremiah 15:15 – 21.  The psalmist pleads for the Lord’s attention and response.  The psalmist tries to convince the Lord that the psalmist is worthy of a positive response from the Lord.

Romans 12:9 - 21

9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
  14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12 both connects back to the Jeremiah 15 reading and highlights a place where we as the American culture and society often fall short.  Paul quotes the verse referenced above as part of his instructions to the people: do not seek vengeance on your enemies, for the Lord will take care of that.  Instead, care for your enemies, which includes giving them food and beverage if they need it.  Where this hits us today is how often we draw lines separating “us” and “them,” and how often we fail to seek for and do what is good for “them.”  Too often, we would rather see “them” suffer rather than do what it takes to “live peaceably with all.”  What would it mean if we cared for “them” just like we care for “us?”

Matthew 16:21 - 28

21From that time on, [after Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah,] Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
  24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
  27“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Remember, the people had been expecting a Messiah to come for centuries.  Over the years, the people formed certain expectations of who the Messiah would be and what the Messiah would do.  The plan that Jesus laid out for the disciples was very different than what the Jews had come to expect from the Messiah.  So Peter took it upon himself to approach Jesus in private and say “You’re doing it wrong, Jesus!”  How quick we are to do the same!  Translators choose whether to interpret verse 26 as either “forfeit their soul” or “forfeit their life” and as either “in return for their soul” or “in return for their life.”  In Greek, the word can mean both “soul” and “life.”  I would say that how you interpret the verse depends greatly on whether you believe in a bodily resurrection at the end of the age or an escape of the soul from the body.  Also, in verse 28, is Jesus referring to those who are witnesses to his resurrection and/or ascension?

What thoughts or questions do you have?  I invite you to share them in the comments!  When I see them, I will respond and address what you have shared.

Monday, August 21, 2017

First Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, August 27th

It's been a couple of years since I posted regularly in this space.  I am attempting to re-launch this blog as a way of engaging with others in Ripley County.  It is my intent to share part of my sermon preparation with this blog by posting my first impressions (thoughts, connections, questions) in this space.  I invite you to read the Bible passages for the upcoming Sunday, look over my first impressions, share your first impressions, and even challenge my first impressions.

I will format this and future "first thoughts" posts by posting each reading and sharing my first thoughts in italics underneath each reading.  Remember that these are not complete thoughts but starting points to work from during the rest of the week.

NOTE: I will start writing other types of posts as well, especially as things happen around the world and around our community.  It will be good to address how the Church can respond to what is happening around us and where we see the Lord in all of this.  But we will start here, with a weekly posting of initial sermon preparation.

Isaiah 51:1 - 6

1Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,
  you that seek the Lord.
 Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
  and to the quarry from which you were dug.
2Look to Abraham your father
  and to Sarah who bore you;
 for he was but one when I called him,
  but I blessed him and made him many.
3For the Lord will comfort Zion;
  he will comfort all her waste places,
 and will make her wilderness like Eden,
  her desert like the garden of the Lord;
 joy and gladness will be found in her,
  thanksgiving and the voice of song.

4Listen to me, my people,
  and give heed to me, my nation;
 for a teaching will go out from me,
  and my justice for a light to the peoples.
5I will bring near my deliverance swiftly,
  my salvation has gone out
  and my arms will rule the peoples;
 the coastlands wait for me,
  and for my arm they hope.
6Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
  and look at the earth beneath;
 for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
  the earth will wear out like a garment,
  and those who live on it will die like gnats;
 but my salvation will be forever,
  and my deliverance will never be ended.

What is this rock from which we are hewn and this quarry from which we are dug that is referenced in Isaiah 51?  The following verse references Abraham and Sarah with the same command, “look to”.  We (the Israelites) are descendants of Abraham and inheritors of the promises given to him by the Lord.  As the reading goes on, most people will read verse 6 and jump to an end-of-days mindset, but the passage is meant to be a hopeful vision for a people in exile (see verses 4 and 5).

Psalm 138
 1 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with | my whole heart;
  before the gods I will | sing your praise.
 2 I will bow down toward your holy temple and praise your name, because of your steadfast | love and faithfulness;
  for you have glorified your name and your word a- | bove all things.
 3 When I called, you | answered me;
  you increased my | strength within me.
 4 All the rulers of the earth will praise | you, O Lord,
  when they have heard the words | of your mouth. R
 5 They will sing of the ways | of the Lord,
  that great is the glory | of the Lord.
 6 The Lord is high, yet cares | for the lowly,
  perceiving the haughty | from afar.
 7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you | keep me safe;
  you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your right | hand shall save me.
 8 You will make good your pur- | pose for me;
  O Lord, your steadfast love endures forever; do not abandon the works | of your hands. R

Where Isaiah 51 offers the promise of deliverance from exile, Psalm 138 can be read as a response after the people are delivered from exile.

Romans 12:1 - 8

1I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
  3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

What does St. Paul mean by “the will of God” in Romans 12:2?  We are transformed by the Holy Spirit with the goal of being made like Christ, a process that will not be completed until after the end of the age.  In the meantime, a transformation of our minds/thoughts will help us see the world as the Lord sees it and help us discern what the Lord is doing in the world.  The rest of the reading launches into a discussion of the different spiritual gifts that each of us possesses and that each gift is equally valuable to the Body of Christ and equally necessary for the Body of Christ; this discussion will continue into next week’s reading from Romans.

Matthew 16:13 - 20

13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

We are missing the rest of the story, and we will not get it until next Sunday.  So what might we discuss in the meantime?  The language of “the office of the keys” comes from this passage; starting with Peter, church leaders have had the office of the keys, i.e. the hearing of confessions and the binding and releasing of sin.  We can focus on Peter, but that overlooks what Peter confesses and Jesus confirms: that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of the living God!  But there are contrasting visions of who Jesus should become as Messiah…but that is the rest of the story that we get next Sunday.