Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus

Archive for the ‘New Testament’ Category

July 30th, 2018 by Scott Fritzsche

Satan the Christian?

My family and I are incredibly lucky that a pastor sought us out. Out faith was solid, we had been attending church, but not any one in particular with regularity. A pastor extended us an invitation, no strings attached, and was never pushy, but remained persistent. It was wonderful. Since being involved in this church, we have been blessed by friendly and faithful people, Wesleyan preaching, and a family that we do not otherwise have for the most part. Most recently, the sermons have been inspired by a fairly famous quote from John Wesley. “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth.”  Imagine that, pastors who are not only committed to trying to do this, but is not trying to do this second hand, or as a result of something else, but is challenging and leading his congregation to become those 100 preachers. It is amazing. I know that other pastors do this, but it seems less and less are trying and that to often those who do try are sort of attempting it on the sly and not as the primary goal. To be fair, that may just be my impression however. I certainly mean no offense to pastors and their individual styles of course, I am simply trying to explain how much I appreciate my pastors and their willingness to take this head on. As always, my opinions are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the church that I attend, or the source material that inspired these thoughts.
So on Sunday, in a service where baptisms were performed, and the special music was amazing (my wife sang, so of course it was), an incredibly profound sentence was spoken by the pastor during the sermon. I do not remember the quote directly, but it went something like this. If the only thing that you need to do to be a Christian is believe that Jesus is the son of God, then even Satan can be called a Christian. There is a trend toward the belief that one does not need to go to church to be a Christian, yet scripture, the book of Hebrews specifically, seems to disagree fairly strongly. “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (for He is faithful who promised),  and let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25) 
Looking at verse 23, we find the instruction to hold fast to our baptism. I am not going to reprint my thoughts on that here, but I encourage you to take a moment to read them. Wesley would comment in his New Testament notes, “The profession of our hope – The hope which we professed at our baptism.” An important part of our Christian faith is then rooted in baptism, but not simply the act of baptism, the profession of what we believe that called for baptism in the first place. Yes, all should be baptized of course, but yes, all should know what they are professing at baptism either as the one being baptized, or as those entrusted with raising the child being baptized. By the way, the congregation participates too, so you have a part in this. The congregation needs to remember these things and live up to their vows made at baptism as well.
Verse 24 is pretty straight forward on the surface of it. Provoke one another to love. Seems easy enough all in all, save that we rarely seem to understand or agree on what ‘love’ means these days. We have lost the understanding that the audience of Hebrews had about love. (More on love here. ) Consistently throughout both the Old and New testaments, love is tethered to obedience to ordinances and commands of God. We should provoke each other to follow the commands of God, to communion, to baptism, to the instructions of Christ (which are the commands of God of course), etc. Also, we should provoke each other to good works. This is also the message of James, though I dare say James puts it more bluntly. “My brothers, what profit is it if a man says he has faith and does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,   and if one of you says to them, Go in peace, be warmed and filled, but you do not give them those things which are needful to the body, what good is it?  Even so, if it does not have works, faith is dead, being by itself.   But someone will say, You have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith from my works.  You believe that there is one God, you do well; even the demons believe and tremble.  But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:14-20) No, this is not works based salvation, but that is a different discussion for a different day. Here James makes very clear that good works are a vital part of the Christian faith.
Finally we come to verse 25, and really the crux of all of this I do believe. Wesley would say: “Not forsaking the assembling ourselves – In public or private worship. As the manner of some is – Either through fear of persecution, or from a vain imagination that they were above external ordinances. But exhorting one another – To faith, love, and good works. And so much the more, as ye see the day approaching – The great day is ever in your eye.” Yes, Christians assemble together for public and/or private worship. It isn’t an option.
Christianity is not always easy. If someone told you it was, I am sorry. It’s easy to know what to believe above Christianity really, but it is not easy to live the life of faith that we are called to. We are called to a faith that is better than that of the demons and Satan, their master. We are called to the faith of Jesus Christ and His Bride, the church. Simple logic says that we can not wait upon Christ, the Bridegroom, if we are not a part of the Bride. In truth, if we are not devoting our time to the Bride, then we are in effect guilty of the same adultery that God divorced himself from Israel for. (see Jeremiah chapter 3) Brothers and sisters, I would have us all live the faith the God, through Christ, has called us to, and not the faith of the adversary. It may not be a pleasant truth, but it is a truth none the less: If we are not living the faith of Christ, through the church, then we are serving the faith of Satan.
March 30th, 2018 by John Fletcher

When you come to the Communion Table, make sure you’ve left Egypt

In God’s covenant with Israel in the Torah, he provided the people with liberation, societal structure, laws and a calendar, all for the ordering of their new lives of freedom. In this calendar, God designated three major feasts: Passover, Weeks and Booths. While all three have instructions for celebration, Passover (פֶּסַח) receives the largest and most detailed treatment.  Passover’s importance appears immediately God’s arrangement of their new calendar around it, “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you,”[6] and the language designating its repeated observance, “you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.[7] Unlike the other two feasts, God included a prohibition against anyone outside of the covenant community celebrating it, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: no foreigner is to eat of it. . . A sojourner or a hired servant shall not eat of it.”[8] These items provide sacramental status to Passover.[9] “These sacramental signs served as covenantal markers to define the people of God, remind them of their relationship to him and each other, and focus them on their duty to live as a peculiar people among the nations.” [10]

Appreciating Passover as sacrament helps us understand the instructions for its celebration. As a means of grace given by God for the communication of his love, Passover connects the people to God via the tangible. As a sacrament, the instructions for its observance would be known theologically as Words of Institution. These Words explain the meaning of the rite, the way God acts in it for the people, and instructions for repeated observance. For Passover, Exodus 12:12-17 contains these words. Furthermore, because Jesus forever united Passover to his passion, death and resurrection in the Eucharist, a proper understanding of the later Eucharistic Words of Institution[11] begins not in the Gospels, but in Exodus 12. As Pitre writes, “If we are going to be able to see Jesus’ actions through ancient Jewish eyes, we first need to study the meaning of the Passover itself, both in Jewish Scripture and in Jewish tradition.”[12]

Exodus 12:12-17 is the center of the longer discussion of Passover. What Exodus 12 describes is Israel’s memorialization of their redemption by God, with specific attention God’s actions in the tenth plague, the slaying of the firstborn. Also, it provides the foundational commands for its continued ritualistic memorial.  The received text of Exodus 12 provides the context for understanding the feast.

Thus, with this background in mind, we move toward the specific group of verses for study.  I’ve provided them with my new translations.

Verse 12

For on that night, I will pass through (from one side to the other) the land of Egypt, and I will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human and animal, and on all the gods of Egypt, I will execute judgment. For, I am The Lord.

This verse contains the one of Passover’s key themes for study: judgment. Here, the writer links the killing of the firstborn to God executing judgment, specifically judgment on Egypt’s gods. Pictured here, as the climax in this battle to redeem Israel from Egypt, is the idea that God asserts his supremacy. While the ultimate outcome is Israel’s freedom, the objective seems the vindication of God himself. In this assertion, God states his divine name, as if his own character is the reason for this enterprise. God now reveals himself to the world through his action of deliverance. Through the plagues, God brings judgment on Egypt’s pantheon of gods, and specifically on Pharaoh, who is god on earth, punishing him for his brutality of God’s people.

Verse 13

And the blood on the houses where you are will be a sign for you. For I will see the blood, and I will pass by (spare) you, and there will not be any plague to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

This verse details the purpose and meaning of the blood which God instructed the Hebrews to put on the lintels and doorposts of their houses. The blood will be a sign. This word, usually translated “sign,” carries multiple meanings: “mark,” “token” or “signal” in the secular sense, and “miracle,” “omen” or “reminder” in the religious. In this verse, all the meanings may mingle, especially because it is paired with the application of blood and sacrifice.  Nahum Sarna uses sacramental language as he comments, “the blood was simply to function as an outward, visible sign . . . an identity symbol; the entrance to the house with such a symbol is now a portal of freedom.”[22] The blood (and the sacrificial lamb) served as the mechanism by which God would spare or pass by the house. Because of the blood on the door, the plague of death will not come to the house.

Verse 14

Thus it will be a day for you to remember, and you shall celebrate it as a festival to The Lord for your generations; you will keep it as a perpetual statute.

With verse 14, the context shifts from the first Passover to instructions for the nation to observe a yearly festival devoted to the remembrance of God’s actions on their behalf that day. Passover is a feast of remembrance. Sarna writes, “The Hebrew stem of z-k-r connotes much more than the recall of things past. It means, rather, to be mindful, to pay heed, signifying a sharp focusing of attention upon someone or something. It embraces concern and involvement as is active not passive, so that it eventuates into action.”[26] Here, God’s instructions for future observance have a particular participatory feel. The celebrant becomes not only a part of the later festival, but somehow also invested in the action the festival memorializes. The traditional text of the Haggadah of Passover describes it well, “In every generation each individual is bound to regard himself as if he personally had gone forth from Egypt.” Thus, each person through history has a connection to every generation before and after, i.e., “for your generations.”

Verse 15

Seven days, you will eat only matzoth (unleavened bread). On the first day, you will remove leaven from your houses; indeed, you shall exclude from Israel anyone eating khametz (leavening) from the first day until the seventh day.

Here begins the detailed information about the use of unleavened bread in the observance of the festivals. While the bread appears in the detailed observance of the first Passover (vs. 8), the commands for the perpetual observance contain specific prohibitions against eating anything leavened for the length of the holiday. Coupled with verse 17, “observe and keep the matzoth” these strict rules about leaven add an authoritative atmosphere to celebration. What is it about using unleavened bread that requires such regulation? Khametz carries a meaning of fermentation and leavening. Sarna explains the significance:

Because the prohibition on leaven has wider application than that of the Passover, it is likely that the process of fermentation was associated with decomposition and putrefaction, and so it became emblematic of corruption. Accordingly, it would be inappropriate to associate such a symbol with a sacrificial ritual whose function was to effect conciliation between man and God and to raise man to a higher level of spirituality.[33] In other words, leavening implies sin. To remove leavening from the house during the feast could be understood as a command to holiness, a practical reminder of the later commands in the Levitical Laws.[34]

Verse 16

The first day shall be a holy assembly, and the seventh day shall be a holy assembly. You will do no work on those days. Indeed, you will only make that (food) which everyone will eat (for that day).

What does it mean to be an Israelite? Those who mark themselves according to the covenant claim that status. In the previous argument that Passover carried sacramental status, we noted that a sacrament defines and separates a group that observes it. This verse connects these words in Exodus 12 with specific language in Leviticus 23:4-7. There, the writer focuses on the distinction of Israel from the rest of the world: holiness. This word appears eleven times in chapter 23 and 69 times in the entire book, the most in any book of the Hebrew Scriptures: sanctification matters. To make this sanctification a reality, God commands no work be done except that which is necessary to eat. Only Sabbath and Yom Kippur have more stringent laws about work. For a culture enslaved for over 400 years, the idea of days of rest is very foreign. God forges something dramatically new in the life of a people newly liberated.

Verse 17

Thus, you will observe and keep the matzoth; for indeed, in that very day, I brought your multitudes forth from the land of Egypt, and you will guard the very day permanently, forever.

This final verse forms a neat closure to the discussion, providing the full rationale for the observance of the festivals. The key word in this verse, the verb, translated here as “observe and keep,” has a very active meaning. Strong’s defines it “to hedge about (as with thorns)”[36] Similar uses appear all over the Torah regarding keeping of all the ordinances, and regulations of the Mosaic Law. God is insistent that Israel keep this festival to remember it.

So what?  Why does this matter to Christians and their observance of the Lord’s Supper.  We’re not Jews after all.  Not so fast.  There are three themes for study: perpetual remembrance, sacrifice and judgment.

“Thus it will be a day for you to remember, and you shall celebrate it . . . for your generations; you will keep it as a perpetual statute . . . you will guard the very day permanently, forever.” Verses 14 & 17 indicate that the Israelites should keep Passover in perpetuity to remember the miraculous redemption from Egypt. God wants to guarantee that Israel forever understands the remarkable way he redeemed them.  Jesus and the disciples participated in this event at the Last Supper. Jesus took the full measure of meaning found in the Exodus, connected it to his passion, and spoke these words, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me. This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”[38]  Here appears, the fusion of Passover language with the words of institution for the Eucharist. Christ commands the disciples to forever connect the memorial of the redemption of Exodus with the memorial of the redemption of Calvary. To “observe and keep the matzoth,” now reaches fullest expression in the breaking of the bread of the Eucharist. Paul’s language in Corinthians completes the full range of meaning when he comments, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”[39]

God’s interest in connecting the perpetual memorial of the Exodus with the perpetual memorial of the Passion necessitates celebrating the Eucharist properly fusing both. It seems that Christians, gentile or Jew, should also celebrate Passover, in a fashion that memorializes the Exodus in the context of its fulfillment in Christ. In fact, the earliest Christians understood the feast this way. “The celebration of [Easter] began life as the Christian version of the Passover, observed on the same day as its Jewish antecedent and focused upon Christ as the paschal lamb who had been sacrificed for the sins of the world . . . set within the context of the whole of the Christ-event, from his birth to his expected second coming.”[40]

Passover is about sacrifice.  The lamb, sacrificed, eaten with blood smeared becomes the vehicle through which the Israelites receive redemption. Through the ritual, God wants his people to tangibly unite themselves to his actions on their behalf.  This gives wider meaning to Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 5, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival,”[42] as well as his words in chapter 10, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”[43]  Passover is a festival about redemption through sacrifice and blood.  The Eucharist’s enactment should focus on Christ’s atonement through blood in light of God’s miraculous rescue of his people from slavery in Egypt.

Passover is also celebration, a joyous festival! While solemnity certainly has its place (Ex. 12:16), God has redeemed with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  Celebration of the Eucharist should not be overloaded with heavy penitential attitudes, but instead be a joyous occasion because God has overthrown and judged the evil of the world in Christ. God’s character means that he cares about oppression, evil and false gods: “on all the gods of Egypt, I will execute judgment. For, I am The Lord.” Passover displays in vivid clarity that God will be supreme. Christ displays this as vividly as the Exodus, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”[45]  This is the classic Christus Victor view of Jesus’ atonement.

Therefore, to celebrate the Eucharist in light of the Passover, imbues it with a sense that Christ has conquered all the evil and false gods (Jn. 12:31).  Furthermore, the Eucharist must envision eschatological hope, so that when the Passover yearns for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the Eucharist answers with, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”[47]  In this way Exodus 12:17, “on this day I brought your ranks out of the land of Egypt,”[48] becomes the fulfillment, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”[49]

Exodus 12:12-17 provides not only a vision of God’s work to redeem Israel, but a foundation for how Christians should see the ultimate redemption in Jesus Christ. For Christians to “unite themselves to God’s redemptive history, and consequently to the nation of Israel,”[50] they should understand the roots of the sacrament given to them, and how to celebrate it in a way that honors the fullness of redemption in the Jewish Messiah given as the Passover Lamb that takes away the sins of the world.[51]  The words of institution of the Passover provide the basis necessary to celebrate the richness of the Eucharist.  To understand the character of God in the redemption of Christ, one should begin with the character of God in the redemption of the Exodus.

 

 

 

END NOTES

[1] Num. 9:1-14

[2] Deut. 16:1-8

[3] Josh. 5:10-12

[4] 2 Kgs. 23:21-27/2 Chr. 35, Passover was restored under Josiah, where the chronicler wrote, “None of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as was kept by Josiah” (ESV). In 2 Chr. 30 Hezekiah celebrated Passover as a two week festival to emphasize its importance in Israel.

[5] Ezra 6:19-22

[6] Exod. 12:2, NASB

[7] Exod. 12:14 & 17, NASB, emphasis added.

[8] Exod. 12:43 & 45, NASB.

[9] For a detailed treatment of how Old Covenant ceremony constitutes Old Covenant sacrament, see Matthew Sichel, “Sacraments Reimagined: Fulfillment, Continuity and the New Israel,” Evangelical Journal 34, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 1-17.

[10] Ibid., 10.

[11] Generally understood as Paul’s instructions in 1 Cor. 11:17-34, but echoing instructions from Jesus in the synoptic Gospels.

[12] Brant James Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper (New York: Doubleday, 2011), 50.

[13] See, for example, Eckart Otto, “Pasah,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 12:9-19.

[14] Ibid., 9-10.

[15] Hendrik L. Bosman, “Pesah,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 3:643.

[16] John E. Hartley, “massa,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 2:1067-1068.

[17] Donald E. Gowan, Theology in Exodus: Biblical Theology in the Form of a Commentary (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994), 134.

[18] Exod. 5:2, CJB.

[19] Richard Schultz, “spt,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 4:219.

[20] Nahum M. Sarna, Exodus =: [shemot], The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 56

[21] Nahum M. Sarna, Exploring Exodus: the Origins of Biblical Israel (New York: Schocken, 1996), 97.

[22] Ibid., 96.

[23] Bosman, 642; Otto, 2-7.

[24] Cf. uses outside of the context of Passover, Isa. 31:5, 2 Sam. 4:4, 1 Kgs. 18:21, 26.

[25] Otto, 5-6.

[26] Sarna, Exodus, 13.

[27] All quotations from the Haggadah come from the English translation in Joseph Loewy and Joseph Guens, Service for the First Nights of Passover (Vienna: Jos. Schlesinger, 1927), 28.

[28] Leslie C. Allen, “zkr,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997), 1:1102.

[29] Otto, 21.

[30] Loewy, 3 & 27.

[31] Isa. 1:17, CJB, emphasis added.

[32] Ps. 71:4, CJB, emphasis added.

[33] Sarna, Exploring, 90, again notice the sacramental language Sarna uses here.

[34] See Lev. 17-26.

[35] Sarna, Exploring, 81.

[36] James Strong, ed., The New Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), s.v. “8104. shamar.”

[37] Sichel, 15.

[38] Lk. 22:19 & 1 Cor. 11:25, NASB, emphasis added.

[39] I Cor. 10:16 & 11:26, NIV, emphasis added.

[40] Paul F. Bradshaw, “Easter in Christian Tradition,” in Two Liturgical Traditions, ed. Paul F. Bradshaw, vol. 5, Passover and Easter: Origin and History to Modern Times (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999), 1.

[41] Otto, 18.

[42] 1 Cor. 7b-8a, NIV.

[43] 1 Cor. 11:25, NIV.

[44] Loewy, 29.

[45] Col. 2:15, NIV.

[46] Jn. 12:31, NIV.

[47] Rev. 21:2, NIV.

[48] Exod. 12:17b, JPS.

[49] Rev. 21:3, ESV.

[50] Ibid., 15, see also Rom. 10 and Paul’s discussion of grafting.

[51] Cf. John 1:29 & 1 Cor. 5:7

October 23rd, 2016 by Joseph Tognetti

Seeking the Common Good with Humility & Perspective

Introductory Note

I preached the following sermon at First UMC-Edcouch & First UMC-Lyford on October 23, 2016. Original title: “Nations, Rulers, & the God of All.” Texts: Daniel 11:36-12:4 & Galatians 3:23-29.

vote-sticker

I am a political junkie

Some of you may have noticed by now that I am addicted to political media. My interest in politics began in second grade, when I stared at a poster of US presidents in class instead of paying attention to the teacher. Since then, I have absorbed so much political facts and news that for a while I thought I would go into politics—I’m very grateful that God had other plans for my life! Yet I still obsessively read historical and current political data. It took the severe toxicity of this election to get me to reduce my consumption of political media, and I only started detoxing after this last presidential debate!

You see, as much as I enjoy political engagement, such engagement can take an emotional toll on our souls and on our relationships. I think this is especially true in the last twenty or so years, in the age of the internet and the expansion of news media options. The internet has allowed us to have more information than ever, but it’s also given each person more power to choose their own media and news sources. In my case, it used to surprise me that social media and news websites altered their content based on my preferences—as if everywhere I turn, I only see and hear people with the exact same views as me!

As Christians, the technological and media culture we live in presents opportunities, but also many dangers. When all the messages we see and hear emphasize the truth of our particular worldview, we can forget to listen and love those who don’t share those experiences or perspectives. We can forget that, in the words of today’s New Testament lesson, in Christ “there is no longer Jew or Greek…slave or free…male and female; for all…are one in Christ Jesus!” We can forget that whenever we engage in the public square, including when we vote, we as followers of Jesus Christ are to seek the common good for all with a sense of humility and perspective, knowing that our only true ruler, Jesus Christ, is the only ruler who will remain when all else fades away.

Galatians: you don’t have to be Jewish to follow Jesus

In today’s reading from Galatians, the author is frustrated with the church in the city of Galatia. The author of this letter, the Apostle Paul, had helped start this church, which was made up of Gentiles—people who were not Jewish. You see, some very early Christians thought that one had to be Jewish to also be Christian. Paul, along with the original 11 apostles, opposed this teaching, because Jesus wanted the church to baptize members of every nation (Matthew 28:19). Paul wanted Christians to place their trust in Christ alone by the power of the Holy Spirit, instead of putting their trust in a set of laws meant for one exclusive group of people.

Yet after Paul had left this church to spread the gospel elsewhere, other teachers went to the Galatian church to tell them that they all had to become Jewish! Paul writes this letter to the Galatian church to set them straight. He uses the language of inheritance, reminding them that even though human inheritance is restricted by family, economics, and gender, that in Christ, ALL people, “male and female” (Genesis 1:27), are children of God worthy of the inheritance offered by Christ.

Paul reminds them that when Jesus returns, Jesus will not judge us by our ability to adhere to one set of cultural rules and perspectives. Rather, Jesus will judge us by our ability to love God and love our neighbors, especially those neighbors who need food, water, clothing, comfort, and healing. In short, we love Jesus when we love “the least” in our world (Matthew 25:40), not just those who look and think like us. Paul admonishes the church to find their security and purpose not in self-preservation as part of a like-minded group, but to find their security and purpose in the grace that Jesus Christ offers to all.

Tribalism and political self-righteousness

It’s easy to convince ourselves that we love everyone when we don’t. We go to church, and many of us have raised—or are raising—our children to follow Jesus. Yet the forces of sin and evil find subtle ways to divert us from loving others. We naturally find camaraderie among people who are like us: same life experiences, same culture, same opinions, same interests, etc. There’s nothing wrong with finding common ground with others; unless those relationships become the exclusive focus of one’s engagement with the world. Too often, even in a nation as diverse as the United States, we find ways to associate only with those who abide by the same set of unspoken rules and customs as us. Too often, we only engage in the public square to support and uphold the interests of our group.

Today’s media culture does not help to alleviate this temptation. We can choose news and information sources that confirm opinions that we already have, so that our opinions slowly become more and more entrenched, leading us to judge those different from us ever more harshly. We can even convince ourselves that faithfulness to Jesus Christ and his way isn’t enough, that seeking to know Jesus through the Scriptures, regular worship, and sacrificial service to others just isn’t enough. We can convince ourselves that a set of candidates or policies take priority over what Jesus has already done for us, that checking the right box on a ballot is the true test of one’s faith.

Yet today’s reading from Galatians remind us otherwise. Paul reminds us that all are one in Christ Jesus. For Jesus reigns over heaven and earth, and when he returns to fully establish that reign, all other rulers and systems go away. Today’s reading from Daniel reminds us that even the strongest human ruler will lose their throne in the end. Daniel reminds us that the Day of Resurrection will come, that the righteous will live forever with God. Jesus is the only one who makes us righteous through his death and resurrection; he is the only one who sits on the eternal throne and makes all things new (Revelation 21:5).

Voting for the common good, with humility and faithful perspective

In the state of Texas, early voting starts tomorrow, and concludes on Election Day, November 8. As a self-avowed political junkie, I have firm opinions about how I will vote. In fact, I explicitly chose to deviate from my normal preaching style and read my sermon today to reduce the chance that I would accidentally express those opinions from the pulpit. But even though our eternal salvation does not depend on which ballot box we check, our motivations for voting, and the way we engage in public issues, can reveal the depth—or shallowness—of our faith in Christ. Therefore, I want to offer some general principles about how to serve Christ while engaging in civic responsibilities, based largely on today’s reading from Galatians.

For starters, we engage in politics and voting with great humility. Here is an uncomfortable fact: how one votes in the United States of America has more to do with one’s ethnicity than one’s faith. Per Christianity Today, 65% of church-going evangelical white voters will vote for one candidate, and about 65% of church-going evangelical non-white voters—Hispanic-Americans, African Americans, Asian-Americans, etc.—will vote for the opposing candidate. What does this uncomfortable fact have to do with humility? It takes humility to recognize that our social identity too often plays a larger role in how we think about important social and political issues than our faith in the risen Christ. It takes humility to avoid the temptation to arrive at simplistic solutions for why “the other” is wrong and we are right. It takes humility to prayerfully seek God’s help to overcome our desire to only serve our personal or groups interests. It takes humility to take the log out of our own eye before removing the speck in someone else’s eye (Luke 6:41-42).

To engage in voting and political discourse while serving Christ also takes perspective. No matter who we support on the ballot, Jesus Christ is Lord. No politician can exert more power than Jesus, no politician can model God’s way better than Jesus, and no political system can fully implement God’s kingdom. The best we can hope for, in our church and in our politics, is to offer a witness to the kingdom that God ushers in through the risen Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. All rulers and nations will end one day, even the United States, for when Jesus returns, the faithful will have no need of earthly rulers.

Finally, today’s New Testament lesson reminds me that Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead for the whole world. His ministry revealed God’s love for all people, even those on the outskirts and margins of the dominant cultures of his time. His death atones for all sin at all time, and his resurrection affirms God’s triumph over sin and death so that all might find new and eternal life through faith in him. So how do we live for all people? How do our daily decisions—even our public engagement and our voting—reflect God’s love for the whole world?

Those are not easy questions to answer, and I have already preached too long, so I will not answer them today. But when we seek to engage in politics with faithful humility and the perspective that sees Jesus as our true Lord, then discerning the common good becomes easier. When we recognize the ways that current media and technology too often bring out the worst in us, we can prayerfully seek God’s help in combating those forces. We can do the hard work of seeking relationships with those who are different from us, perhaps even those who we might see as “less” than us, recognizing that in Christ, all are equal, regardless of race, social status, gender, or any other human category. As Christians, we place our faith in Christ alone, not in any political party or candidate. Yet our faith in Christ can still guide how we vote and engage in public issues, so long as we prayerfully seek the common good with humility and perspective, knowing that when the nations, groups, and public policies of this world fade away, Christ will remain as our Savior and Lord. Amen.

August 3rd, 2016 by Jeremy Shank

Wrestling with the Two Headed Monster of John 3.16

Hello

My name is Jeremy Shank.
I am pastor at Thornville UMC in the Foothills District.
I am currently blogging about and hoping to form ideas for a new book I’m working on.

“Inclusion/Exclusion – a look at how salvation works in the Bible” is the topic I am working with and I could use your thoughts on some things.  I was hoping you might weigh in on a couple of issues I am wrestling with right now. www.inclusionexclusion.wordpress.com

I am looking at John 3.16, probably the most well known verse concerning our salvation. I am weighing how much inclusion we see in this verse as well as the wording here that would suggest there is some exclusion to deal with, also. Some translations would put the entire conversation with Nicodemus as the words of Jesus (in red) all the way down to verse 21. (NKJV, CEB, NLT) Most notably, the NIV stops Jesus speaking (words in red) at verse 15. Which leaves the rest of the section looking like a re-capping of the conversation with Nicodemus by the author of the Gospel.

My wonderings….
1) a penny for your thoughts on John 3.16 and whether you feel more inclusive about the verse or exclusive as you read it.
2) does putting the actual words of John 3.16 into the hands of Jesus shape your feelings about how salvation works itself out in our lives.
3) any material you might suggest that I research that would help support your viewpoint and help me shape mine.

Blessings on your day

Thank you for your help

March 10th, 2016 by Joel Watts

(Drafting…or drifting?) Galatians and the Arena

Yeah… I’m still working. Just a draft. The idea is that the death of Jesus is “scene” in the realm of human sacrifice, in tune with the arena and other political suicides.

more Arena talk about Galatians

Villa Borghese gladiator mosaic Español

Are the spectacle and the arena of metaphors it employs important to Galatians? I tentatively argue yes, for the following reasons. As discussed above, Paul uses the games metaphor twice in the epistle, 2.2 and 5.7. Secondly, magical rites were used in the arena to subdue opponents, if not kill them. We find our author alluding to the possibility of his enemies’ use of spells in 3.1 as well as in 5.20 to subdue the Galatians. If we understand Paul’s use of κηρύσσειν as connected to the proclamation in the arena, then the portrayal he mentions in 3.1 takes on a different light. In the vice list present in Galatians 5.19-21, the reader cannot help but notice the list of unvirtuous actions look eerily similar to that of the spectacle. Martyn has little trouble connecting the corruptions to certain deities mentioned above, such as Cybele. He also specifically ties εὁδωλολατρία to the former religious activities of the Galatians.[1] Unlike Betz who argues, that the vice list is nothing more than “a random collection of terms, describing the ordinary occurrences of evil among men,” the list represents well the expected vices of the Spectacle, as it includes the issues of sensuality, local religion, and the dissension often times settled in the arena.[2] Further, there is Paul’s use of κηρύσσειν that, as Conzelmann has noted, may be connected to the stadium. Finally, the entirety of the letter places Paul against adversaries, perhaps pitting the two opponents only in a rhetorical arena, but nevertheless they are fighting for the prize, that of the Galatians.

 

[1] J. Louis Martyn, Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (vol. 33A; Anchor Yale Bible; New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 496–97.

[2] Betz, Galatians, 283. See also Longenecker (Galatians, 254) who agrees with him.

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