Wednesday, April 22, 2015




Romans
Introduction
“Extra Pieces”


19 April 2015         The Third Sunday of Easter     
Year A  Color: White

First Reading: Acts 3:12-19; Psalter UMH 741; 
Second Reading: Romans 1:1-5 (alt. rd.); Gospel: Luke 24:36-48 

First Light Reading:Romans 1:1-5        
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Romans 1 New International Version (NIV)
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.


Since the 16th century the Book of Romans, (more properly, the letter of Paul to the Christians at Rome) has been the battle ground around which Protestants and Roman Catholics theologians have wrestled over which view of salvation is most accurate and true to the Bible.  One of the un-intended consequences of this theological joust has been to cause most of the Christians in the Western Church to misread the book of Romans.  This misreading has occurred because each side has been busy, scouring through the pages of Romans, looking for ammunition for their arguments, rather than paying attention to the story Paul is actually telling.  We have also been ignoring how the rest of the Church, prior to the 16th century, and in the Eastern church have read Romans.  

You have probably been taught to read the Book of Romans in this way.  If so, you have been taught to see the book of Romans as an outline of doctrines.  For example, one summary of Romans I found on the internet says, 

•    In chapters 1-8, Paul explains the fundamentals and foundations of the Christian faith. In chapter two Paul teaches about the sinful nature of all men in the eyes of God, in chapter three he teaches about justification, and in chapters 7 and 8 he teaches about freedom from sin, and victory in Christ.

This isn’t all together wrong; but this clunky sort of reading seems to leave a lot of extra pieces left over.  Paul does seem to cover justification in chapter three, but if Romans is all about outlining doctrines, why does he suddenly want to start talking about Abraham in chapter four?  And why, then, does he want to spend so much time talking about the role of the Torah?  

The outline then goes on to say that chapters 9-11 are about God’s sovereignty and about election and predestination; which seem almost right. But then, why does Paul go on for so long, talking about God’s love and commitment to the Jewish people?  Again, the reading strategy that teaches us to read Romans only as an outline of doctrine seems to leave too much un-explained.

The outline I found on the internet ends by saying, that having laid the proper beliefs and doctrinal foundations, Paul spends the rest of his time talking about how to live in light of this Gospel.  This part seems mostly on track, but again, it leaves much to be desired.

When I was growing up, it seemed that my mom always had something she wanted my dad to build.  Sometimes she wanted something for herself, like having dad put up a porch swing.  At other times, she had something in mind for the kids, like having dad assemble a swing set or a bicycle.  

Whenever dad worked on something, it was always good sign if at the end of the project all the parts in the box had been used.  It was always a sign of future trouble if there were extra parts still lying around after dad had finished the project.  As most of you know, companies do not usually include extra and un-needed parts.  Chances are good that the instructions have not been read correctly or carefully enough if there are parts left lying around.  

If, at the end of the project, you have parts left over, you are probably going to have to go back to the instructions and re-read them. 

The same thing is true of reading a portion of the Bible.  If your reading strategy leaves too much unexplained, the chances are that you have not read it correctly or carefully enough.  Paul and other early Christians believed that they and most of Israel had mis-understood the plot. The destruction of Temple and the realization that they had failed in their vocation was quite shocking.  Also, it must be said that Jesus was not the kind of Messiah most of God’s people were looking for.  And, he had not done some of things they thought Messiah would do.  Realizing who Jesus was forced them to go back and re-read the ancient words of Scripture, re-interpreting them through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus changed the way they read God’s book.

Paul wrote the book of Romans to show how God is fulfilling his ancient promises to Israel, in and through Jesus.  Paul is taking us on a tour of the of the Old Testament (what Jewish people call the Tanak) showing us how Jesus fulfills every chapter of the Old Testament and showing us how Jesus becomes the lens through which we come to truly understand the promises God has made to Israel.

That is why I am giving this series the title, Romans: the power and relevance of Israel’s ancient story.  This title could really be given to a series on any book in the New Testament.  Every book of the New Testament is an interpretation of the Old Testament.  But, I think the reason for giving this title to my series on Romans is that it helps us to read it correctly, in a way that covers all that’s in the book Romans without leaving extra pieces lying around. 

The first five verses lay all of this out and provide on outline for the book of Romans.

verse 1 “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for God’s good news.” 

In the book of Genesis, God set apart the family of Abraham and called them to be the human instrument through which the rest of the world come to know the LORD.  That was Israel’s vocation, which of course, they failed miserably.  But, through Jesus, God was calling Israel back to their original calling and vocation.

The reason Jesus called 12 disciples was because he was sending an unmistakable message that he was renewing Israel, even as the book of Deuteronomy and the prophets promised God would. God was giving his ancient people another chance to live out their calling. And, when God renewed Israel, he would again set them to the vocation of making God known to the world.  Paul and other early Christians, all whom were Jewish were part of this calling.  And now, they were calling their fellow Israelites to take up their vocation and calling to bring the good news to the world. 


verse 2 called to be an apostle of God’s good news, “which he promised in the sacred scriptures-”

The story of Jesus is the fulfillment of the same story found in the Old Testament.  Long ago, God made promises to his ancient people Israel.  What Paul and other Christians were sharing with others was that God had kept those promises.  The story of Jesus is the climax of the story of the Old Testament.  It is not a stand alone story or something new.   What Paul will do through the rest of the book of Romans is walk us through the entirety of Israel’s scriptures, showing us how they are all about Jesus.

This should sound familiar to us.  In Luke 24 we read about something that occurred shortly after Jesus’ resurrection: 

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Through the book of Romans, Paul does for us what Jesus did for his disciples, on the road to Emmaus; he is opening Israel’s Scriptures to us, so that we can understand them correctly.

verse 3 and 4  the promises God made in the Old Testament is fulfilled in“the good news about his Son, who was descended from David’s seed in terms of flesh, and who was marked out powerfully in the resurrection as God’s son in terms of the spirit.”

Humanly speaking, Jesus was the rightful heir of David’s throne, and the heir to the eternal dynasty God had given to David’s family.  Through the Holy Spirit God appointed - the Greek word “orinthentos” means something like “demonstrated or to make something clear or understandable.  I would paraphrase the verse like this:  “Through signs like the resurrection, the Holy Spirit made it obvious that Jesus was more than the human descendant of David.  He is none other than the LORD himself in human form.”  God fulfilled and kept the promises in an extraordinary and unexpected way.  

verse 5  “Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.”

Because of what Jesus had done, not only has Israel been remade and given a new opportunity to live out its vocation, but the world has finally been given a chance to know and serve the Lord.  All of this comes from God’s own faithfulness, received by us through faith, so that the glory of God might be known throughout the world.

That, my friends, is Paul’s outline of the book of Romans.  That is his summary of what is book is about; and that is what we are going to explore together for the next several months.

A writer in his 50s had written a manuscript for a book, and had sent it to several publishers without success. He grew so discouraged that he threw the manuscript into the wastepaper basket. His wife tried to salvage the manuscript, but he told her sternly: "We've wasted enough time on it. I forbid you to remove it from the wastebasket!"

Undeterred, she decided to show the manuscript to at least one more publisher. When she arrived at that publisher's office, she pulled out the most unusual looking proposal that the publisher had ever received. Underneath a wrapping of brown paper was a wastepaper basket still holding the writer's manuscript. This way, she reasoned, she was not technically going against her husband's wishes. She did not remove the manuscript from the waste basket the publisher did it for her. And when he read it, he loved it.

The writer in this story is Norman Vincent Peale; the manuscript was The Power of Positive Thinking. The book that Peale tossed in the trashcan eventually sold 30 million copies.

Israel had been called to be a light in a dark world.  They were God’s chosen people, blessed with the task of helping the world come to know the salvation of God.  Unfortunately, Israel was in as much need of being saved as any of the nations of the world.  By the end of the Old Testament, Israel had failed to live up her calling and was in exile.  She had broken faith with God and not upheld her end of the covenant.  But, that was not the end of the story.  


God still loved Israel, broken and dejected as they were. God came to them, wooed them back to him, and gave his life for them, so that they might be given a new opportunity to live out their calling of bringing the good news of the rest of the world.  That is Israel’s story and it is the message of the book of Romans.  It is full of explosive power, capable of turning the world upside down.  It has more voltage than a power plant and is capable of transforming the lives of men, women, and children everywhere.  Nothing could be more relevant for our times.  

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Episode 1 Podcast

http://tract.libsyn.com/episode-1

Episode 1 Notes

Tracts for Our Times

Episode 1

“Pot, The Fatherhood of God, and Once Upon a Time”

Happy Wednesday, everyone.  Today is April 1st and this is episode one of Tracts for Our times.  The idea of Tracts for Our Times is to simply create a platform from which I can offer some theological reflections on current events, theology, and popular culture, in way that is not always suitable to a Sunday Sermon.  Pastors who preach have a responsibility to teach from the Biblical texts, so that Christ’s Church may be nourished by God’s word.  In that context, it is not always easy to take time to comment on current events and culture.  

However, the people of God do need for their spiritual leaders to help them think biblically and theologically about trends in their culture.  And, that is what Tracts for Our Times is all about.  Now, don’t worry, if you are only interested in my Sunday messages.  Those are still being made available.  In fact, I am so excited about our next series, through the book Romans.  The first message in this series will be podcast on Monday, April 20th.  The series is titled, Romans: The Power and Relevance of Israel’s Ancient Story.


The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, Abba, Father.”

Pot

William J. Bennett and Robert A. White have released a new book, entitled, Going to Pot: Why the Rush to legalize Marijuana is Harming Americagoingtopotbook.com  This is book that should be in the hands of every policy maker and community leader in America.  These men have done their homework in writing this book; laying out the clinical evidence for how the legalization of marijuana is impacting the youth of America.  One of the article they sight is from The New England Journal of Medicine.  The article is titled, Adverse Health Effects of Marijuana Usehttp://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra1402309    I have linked a copy of the article in my blog post notes of today’s show. 

I want to give you just two snippets from the book.  The first is from the introduction:

“We are at a curious, as well as critical, moment in our country.  Just when we are spending more than ever on early childhood education (and many are arguing for even more spending), just when we are debating the intellectual and motivational needs of our present and future work force, just as we are concerned about unemployment numbers that are too high (especially in the youth and young adult population), just as we are unveiling a new experiment on universal health care coverage, and just as we are condemning other products deemed unhealthy, like sugars and trans fats, we are - at the same exact time - moving in fact and opinion toward more and more marijuana legalization.  We are spending money and political capital on strengthening health, education, and productivity for our populace, yet society believes it appropriate to push for great availability of a drug that hinders, and negatively affects (perhaps dramatically), those very efforts.” 

In the last 20 years, our country has been on an anti-tobacco crusade.  And, as an asthmatic, I am really glad to be able to go into a restaurant and not have to put up with someone else’s second hand smoke.  I don’t like the smell or having to use my rescue inhaler.  That said, our civic leaders have been like health-dictators over tobacco.  Their zeal against smoking and smokers has been a little Nazi-like.  

How is it, then, that we go from making villains of those who want to smoke tobacco to nearly making the smoking of marijuana seem like a good thing to do?  To me, smoking marijuana instead of tobacco just seems like trading one weed for another.  It is common knowledge that tobacco companies used to promote tobacco as being good for you.  In the 1930s, professional athletes were proud to be spokesmen for cigarette brands.  In the 1950s, cigarette companies gave out free packs of cigarettes to doctors at medical meetings.  As late as the 1970s we thought it was cute to give kids candy cigarettes, so they could pretend to smoke, like adults.  We gasp in horror over of that now; but in our sophistication, we are now promoting the idea of smoking something else.  

I predict that in 30 year, we are going to see another round of huge numbers of people dying from emphysema and lung cancer because of exposure to marijuana smoke.  How could we possibly think that carcinogens in the lungs could be good for you, simply because it comes from a plant other than tobacco?  

The second snippet from Going to Pot comes from page 127:

“..since 2011, the Dutch government has been working to classify higher-THC marijuana with other, harder drugs.  According to the Economic Affairs Minister of the Netherlands, weed containing more than 15 percent of its main active chemical, THC, is so much stronger than what was common a generation ago that it should be considered a different drug entirely.  The high potency weed has ‘played a role in increasing public health damage.’”

Today’s marijuana is not your parent’s pot.  Today’s pot has more than 5 times the THC levels as the pot from the 1970s and 1980s.  The levels of THC in today’s weed can cause permanent damage to the brain; including a permanent reduction of one’s IQ.  This is no laughing matter. 

The Fatherhood of God

In the liturgy of the Church, we frequently invoke the Trinity, saying, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  It has become common to hear pastors and priests say, “In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.  The reason for this substitution is that it is an attempt to be more inclusive, by not using masculine language for God.  The problem is, that this language introduces on old heresy back into the Church.  

The heresy is known as modalism.  Modalism is the heresy of reducing God to list of functions or roles.  The problem is that God is far more than a list of functions or actions.  And, each member of the Trinity participates in each of these actions, including creation, redemption, and the sustaining of God’s people.  A great source for understanding this issue better is The Trinity Pamphlet, by Rose Publishing.  I have provided a link in the notes for today’s show.  You can find them on my blog, Tracts for Our Times.



James C. Goodloe IV  http://www.foundationrt.org/writings/trinity.pdf  has a great article on his site about this topic.  I’d like to read just a bit of it:

“The substituting of "Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer" for "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" does more than avoid male references. It substitutes an incomplete list of God’s functions for the naming of the persons and relations of the Trinity. This moves inexorably to modalism, a form of thought about the Trinity which was rejected as heretical about 1,500 years ago.

Some forms of modalism teach that God has existed in three different modes, one at a time. God was first Creator, then Redeemer and now Sustainer. This was rejected on the basis that God is all three of these all the time. Another form of modalism is monarchianism, which teaches that God the Father is the real God, and that the Son and the Spirit are projections of the Father. 

Again, this was rejected on the basis that the distinctions of the persons of the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit are understood to be not merely the way that God presents himself to us but actually the way that God is, in God’s inner being.

Against modalism, the church affirmed the reality of the three persons as distinct but inseparable, so that while it is appropriate to associate some of the works of God more closely with one person than another (for example, redemption with the Son), nevertheless we understand all three persons of the Trinity to be present and active in all the works of God.”

Another blog post I found had this to say:

“To name God merely as Creator is like naming Mom as Cook, Chauffeur, Nurse, etc. The Mom we know is far more than any attributes we could use to describe her.”  http://livingchurch.org/covenant/?p=1386 


Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace: My Spiritual Journey in Opus Dei
by Scott Hahn.  Published September 26, 2006

“‘Divine filiation is the basis of the spirit of Opus Dei…we are convinced that God is our Father.’  To know God as Father is to know the God of Christians; the God of Jesus Christ - For God’s Fatherhood is a uniquely Christian idea.  Only Christians identify Father as God’s proper name.  Other religions say that God is like a father…but in non-Christian religions, the Divine Fatherhood is ultimately metaphorical.  God acts as a father, only in relationship to other beings… God is fatherly, only once he has created something or someone to care for.  Thus, Divine Fatherhood, in the the non-Christian sense, is dependent upon other beings.  It is related to God’s action in time, but it is not of his essence…Only Christians dare to say God is Father from all eternity; before time, before creation.  He is Father, in himself, because he is eternally the Father of the Son, within the blessed Trinity.  So, for Christians, God’s Fatherhood is of his essence.  Father is who he is.  Divine Fatherhood, therefore, is not metaphorical.  It is metaphysical.  It would be more accurate to say human fatherhood is metaphorical; a temporal sign of an eternal reality.  God’s Fatherhood is true fatherhood, in the truest sense.  God is the Eternal Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And, God is Father of all who live in Jesus Christ, through baptism.”  -from chapter 2.  




Once Upon a Time

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”


“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”


My family and I are absolutely hooked on the television series, Once Upon a Time, which airs on ABC.  Here is what wikipedia has to say about it.

Once Upon a Time is an American fairy tale drama series that premiered on October 23, 2011, on ABC. The show takes place in the fictional seaside town of Storybrooke, Maine, whose residents are characters from various fairy tales transported to the "real world" town and robbed of their real memories by a powerful curse. Episodes typically feature a primary storyline in Storybrooke, as well as a secondary storyline from another point in a character's life before the curse was enacted. The show airs Sundays at 8:00 pm ET/7:00 pm CT.[2]


We love it because it has to do with fairy tales.  C. S. Lewis believed that fairy tales were important for a number of reasons; including the fact that they help us to think clearly about issues of right and wrong, honor and duty, valor and villainy.  I believe that fairy tales play a role similar to the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament.  Both help us to wrestle with what it means to live lives of wisdom, without always giving the answer away.  Instead, both challenge us to think often about the meaning of living a good life. 

At first, I wasn’t sure I liked Once Upon a Time because the writers take creative license with the stories, putting their own twist on familiar tales.  It then occurred to me that Walt Disney did the same thing.  The versions of these stories that most of us are familiar with are the versions Walt Disney told.  The original forms (or pretty close) of the classic fairy tales can be found in the first edition of Jacob and Whilhelm Grimm’s Children’s and Household Tales, published in 1812.  In this first edition, the Grimms produced a volume of classic fairy tales, in the forms they had been passed on in for generations.  In their second edition, published in 1815, the Grimm brothers decided to polish-up these stories, and to add their own editorial and creative touches.  It was the second edition that made it into popular circulation in the U.S..  Of course, in the 20th century, Disney produced their own tellings of these stories.  Once Upon a Time is simply continuing the tradition of telling these stories.  I believe in doing so, they have still preserved the essence of the tales. 





Romans Series Coming April 20

Monday, March 16, 2015

Mark 12:28-34 Podcast

http://tract.libsyn.com/mark-1228-34

Mark 12:28-34



The Gospel of Mark
”The Main Thing”


15 March 2015         Fourth Sunday in Lent  
Year A  Color: Purple

First Reading: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalter UMH 830
Second Reading: Ephesians 2:1-10 *Mark 12:28-34(alt. rd.)

First Light Reading: Mark 12:28-34 (alt. rd.)

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“Absolutely no Jewish writing before (or even soon after) the time of Jesus presents us with the double command of love that possesses the four striking characteristics of the Marcan pericope: (i) The texts of Deut 6:4-5 and Lev 19:18b are quoted word for word. (ii) The two texts are welded together by being cited back to back. (iii) Despite this stark juxtaposition, the two texts are nevertheless carefully distinguished; the order of their importance is emphasized by labeling Deut 6:4-5 as the first  commandment and Lev 19:18b as the second.  (iv) Despite this distinction, these two commandments are then bundled together as superior to all other commands.  572 

It is surprising enough to most people that the double command of love is found nowhere in the OT, intertestamental literature, or in early rabbinic writings.  What is more surprising, perhaps astounding, to Christians is that Jesus’ double command is paralleled in no other text in the NT.  515  A Marginal Jew: Volume IV by John P Meir.   


The Bible

The Bible is a rich and complex collection of writings, dealing with every human topic under the sun.  The Bible contains dozens of genres, multiple points of view, and writings that are not always easy to understand, and texts that take years to unpack.  The Bible was written over a period of more than 2,000 years, was written in three different languages, and was written on three different continents.  To say that the Bible is challenging would be an understatement.

But when Jesus was asked what the most important commandment in the Bible was, he said there were two, and that the two were summary of entire Bible.  To understand them is to understand the plot of the Bible, even as to understand Jesus is to understand the central character of the Bible’s story.  

Biblical Faith is Relational

Christianity, at its heart, is about loving God and loving the people around us, in this order.  We love God first and foremost.  And, our love for God compels and enables us to love the people around us with a supernatural love.  When we love God, we are tapping into an infinite, inexhaustible source of love.  To love God most of all and first of all does not diminish our capacity for loving others, it increases it.  

Jesus said, if you want to understand the Bible, the synopsis of this complex text is summarized in the words, 

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  and “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

To say it another way…

Christianity is personal

It is personal in two ways.  First, it is focused on a person.  From the perspective of a Christian, God is not an impersonal force or an abstract idea.  A few weeks ago, a guest speaker mocked the idea of God being thought of as a person.  I said nothing at the time because it is impolite to invite someone to speak and then argue with them in public.  But, now that it has been several weeks, I’ll do so without naming the speaker.  Biblically speaking, God is a personal God.  He is not just a person, but three persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  God desires to know us and to be known by us.  He desires our love and created us to be in a relationship with him throughout eternity.  

We believe that God is most clearly known in the person of Jesus, who came to us as the exact image of God in the form of a man.  

Christianity is personal in a second way.  It requires a personal response.  God takes the initiative.  God reaches out to us and we must then make a decision in response to what God has done for us.  

God gives life, makes covenant with us, woos us with his affection, seeks us in love, offers us salvation and new life, extends to us his favor and we must then decide how to respond.  Christianity is personal because it is focused on the personal God of the Bible and it is offered to people like you and me.  

We respond with faith or mistrust.  We respond with love or hostility.  We respond with gladness and celebration, or we recoil in bitterness and selfishness.  


In February 2014, the Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died from an apparent heroin overdose. Hoffman was found dead in his apartment with a needle in his arm. He was 46. A year earlier, Hoffman played the part of Willy Loman, the disillusioned and empty salesman from the classic play Death of a Salesman. In an interview with NPR, Hoffman said Willy Loman represents "The idea that you have a vision of what you're supposed to be, or going to be, or where your kids are going to be—and that that doesn't work out." The role had a very personal influence on Hoffman. He said, "It really seeps into why we're here. What are we doing, family, work, friends, hopes, dreams, careers, what's happiness, what's success, what does it mean, is it important, how do you get it … ultimately, what gets you up in the morning is to be loved." In the end, Hoffman said, the play is about our yearning to be loved.



Christianity speaks to this need, telling us that we were created to be loved and to love, because love is the central fact of the universe.  And, for Christians, love is best understood by looking at the personal God of the Bible.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Mark 12:1-17 Podcast

http://tract.libsyn.com/mark-121-17

Mark 12:1-17

The Gospel of Mark
”Traps”


8 March 2015         Third Sunday in Lent  
Year A  Color: White  

First Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7 (alt. rd); Psalter UMH 750 
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; and Mark 12:1-12



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In today’s readings, we have two different, but related stories.  In the first story Jesus is describing the contours of the rebellious heart.  By way of this story, Jesus is providing a mirror, by which we are able to see the condition of our own heart, in its relationship to God.

Jesus’ story is a retelling of the story of Isaiah 5, but he is also drawing on imagery from other parts of the Old Testament.

Jeremiah 7:25-26New International Version (NIV)
25 From the time your ancestors left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets. 26 But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff-necked and did more evil than their ancestors.’

Nehemiah 9:25-26New International Version (NIV)
25 They captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they reveled in your great goodness.
26 “But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they turned their backs on your law. They killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you; they committed awful blasphemies.

2 Chronicles 36:15-16New International Version (NIV)
The Fall of Jerusalem
15 The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. 16 But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy.

The story Jesus tells seems like a very unlikely story.  First, notice that the owner of the estate seems to be absurdly naive.  He has sent messenger after messenger, and yet the tenants have beaten or killed all the messengers he sent.  So, he says to himself, “Maybe they will treat my son better and respect him.”  

As an allegory, this story tells us something about the patient love of God, who continues to offer grace inspired of unrequited love.  Humankind rejects God over and over, yet he pursues us in love.  From the world’s point of view, it seems foolish to send his Son, but it reflects the wisdom and love of God, who seeks those who reject him.  

Second, notice how foolish the tenants are.  They think that if they kill the master’s Son that they may be able to claim the property for themselves.  Their behavior reflects the arrogant foolishness of people in every age and place who think that they can seize control of everything in their lives, pushing God out of the picture.  They believe that by eliminating God from their lives, they can take their destinies into their own hands.  The allegory reveals the foolishness of rebellion against God. It details the contours of the rebellious heart.    

Third, what will the owner do?  Jesus raises the question, but the answer is not apparent.  This distant Land Lord seems weak and unwilling to act.  Perhaps he will do nothing, or can do nothing.  The allegory raises the thoughts many have about God.  Many presume that God is unable or unwilling to act.  The story shows us that God is unbelievably patient, but he is not unable or unwilling to judge sin.  

God’s patience is meant to lead to repentance.  God is patient in hopes that will seek his grace and mercy.  But judgment will come at some point.  It has to.  Otherwise, God would not be just or good.  Evil could always hold the good of creation ransom.  God’s goodness and the salvation of creation means judgment will come to all, eventually.  In the meantime, God remains patient, giving all a chance to repent and be saved.  

Israel is God’s vineyard and its leaders are the wicked tenants.  Jesus is giving them a chance to repent, warning that judgement is coming.  For now, people seem to be able to get away with oppression, injustice, and murder.  God’s messengers are rejected, mocked, and even murdered.  No one seems to be held accountable for sin.  But, that will not always be the case.  The leaders of the people recognized that this story was aimed at them.  This helps explain what happens next.

12:13-17

The Pharisees and Herodians are in cahoots.  This should tell you that somethings up.  The Pharisees were Jews who were very intentional about making sure God and God’s word were at the center of everything they did.  The Herodians were secular Jews who consider themselves far too politically savvy to and realistic as to let religious superstitions stand in their way of worldly success.  To say the least, these two groups did not normally work together.  

The question raised touch a real nerve among Jewish people.  By paying taxes and supporting a pagan government, were the Jewish people compromising their faithfulness to God? 
If Jesus said, no, one should not pay taxes, he would be seen as a religious zealot and anti-government radical, who was encouraging sedition.  On the other hand, many Jews had been victimized by the Romans.  Some had been sold into slavery.  Others had their crops confiscated, leaving their families destitute.  If Jesus appeared to be soft on these matters, people would ask how he could possibly side with those who oppressed God’s people.  

Jesus answers the question in a number of ways.  First, he sets a trap of his own, asking to see one of these Roman coins.  His opponents pull some coins from their pocket.  Jesus takes one look at a coin and says, “Whose image is that?”  The image was Tiberius Caesar.  Printed on the coin were the words “Tiberius Caesar, August Son of the Divine Augustus.”  When they answer, Jesus is able to say to them, Caesar’s coins belong to Caesar.  Since these men have no problems in doing business with Empire’s money, they had better be willing to pay the taxes that go with doing business.  Give Caesar that which bears his image.  Give to God that which bears his image, which is our very lives.  

Now, Jesus is not dividing the world, giving politics to Caesar and religion to God.  In Biblical religion there is only one Lord of the world, not two.  What Jesus is doing is rejecting the two options put before him.  Jesus is not advocating a violent overthrow of the Romans.  But, neither is he advocating just accepting things as they are.  The Kingdom of God has its own ways of advancing.  

Jesus will not accept the radical nationalism that some of the religious zealots of his day wanted.  Neither was his proposing that his followers drop out of society.  They would be in the world but not of it.  They would work for change from within.  They would be loyal citizens of the city of man, while holding their highest allegiance for the city of God.  

We do owe certain loyalties to our earthly nation.  We benefit from its roads and waterways, from its schools and businesses.  We should not hold back our support.  There are loyalties we owe to Caesar; but, we do not owe him everything.  There are things the state has no right to ask of us and, the state is accountable to God. 

Early Christians had a positive understanding of the God-given role government was to play.  But, it reserved the titles of King and Lord for Jesus, meaning that Caesar was neither.  

In an article entitled, Rendering to Caesar What Belongs to Caesar: Christian Engagement with the World, Frank Stagg says, “The Church of the New Testament did not attempt to save its existence by making a concordat with Nero and Domitian…or by stirring up a revolution against these tyrants, or by making an alliance with the Persian Empire - but simply confessing the truth of the gospel and building up a truly confessing church whose members were prepared to die for their faith.

Here is why this passage is important.  As our non-religious and nominally religious neighbors think about religion and religious people, they are generally confused about how our faith relates to the public square.  And, they tend to divide the options up in two ways.  On one hand, there is the option of a totally private faith that one hides for sake of being polite to others.  This private faith is something that simply happens in one’s house of worship and has not bearing on how we live our lives day to day.   This is obviously not an option for those who believe that God is the Lord of heaven and earth.  Our whole life is meant to be given to him as an offering (Romans 12).  

The other option is a faith that is so pushy and dominant, that is becomes a dangerous threat to others.  It is a radical faith which has no respect for others.  Those who have this kind of faith are very awkward to be around and perhaps even a nuisance or danger to others.  So what our non-religious and nominally religious neighbors hope is that we will temper our religious fervor and seek to be moderate in our faith. 

In fact, that is how the media always wants to talk about religion and religious people.  You have moderates who do not take their faith too seriously and who know to keep this embarrassing part of their lives to themselves.  And then, you have the kooks and religious fanatics.  The news media and both the right and the left call for these folks to be more moderate.  

The problem is, that this gets us back to our story, in which the Herodians and Pharisees offer Jesus two very unsatisfactory options.  But moderation is not what is called for.  We don’t want to be moderate about our physical health or our work ethic or our commitment to education and equality.  And, we don’t want to be wish-washy, moderate people of faith.  
In the beginning, God’s plan was that humankind would reflect his image by the way that we lived.  Humankind would thus become the way the rest of creation would know its God.  Our very way of living would be a means for them to see God’s glory on display.  

When humankind sinned and turned away from God, he chose a family through which he would reclaim humanity and restore the image of God within our lives.  What Jesus proposes is that his followers would be men and women who have been made fully alive and thus reflect God’s glory.  Through these redeemed men and women, God would begin to show the world his very nature by the way that they live.  These men and women would have no need to hide their faith nor to push it upon others.  Instead, the very way that they live would  become the means by which the world is presented God.  This is not moderate faith.  It is robust faith, which is neither something embarrassing to hide or something which must be forced upon others.