Thursday, October 23, 2014

Feast of St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of Jesus and Martyr




Today is the Feast of St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of Jesus and Martyr. St. James of Jerusalem (also known as “James the Just”) is identified as “the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19).  Much of the Church has considered James to be a kinsman of Jesus, but he may in fact have been a later child born to Mary and Joseph.  James did not believe in Jesus until after His resurrection (John 7:3-5; 1 Corinthians 15:7).  He quickly became an important leader in the Jerusalem church and played a significant role in the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).  He authored the letter that bears his name in the New Testament.  The ancient Jewish historian Josephus reports that James was martyred in 62 A.D. when he was stoned to death by the Sadducees.

Scripture reading:
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
Greetings.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:1-12)

Collect of the Day:
Heavenly Father, shepherd of Your people, You raised up James the Just, brother of our Lord, to lead and guide Your Church.  Grant that we may follow his example of prayer and reconciliation and be strengthened by the witness of his death; through Jesus Christ, Your  Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one  God, now and forever.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mark's thoughts: Bible study on Propitiation available online

A Bible study that I have written for the LCMS Circuit Winkel Bible Studies on the word Propitiation is now available online for download as the November 2014 study.  Although intended for use by pastors, the materials could easily be adapted for use in a congregational setting.  I have written there: 

Propitiation is a relatively rare word in the New Testament.  It only occurs twice as a noun (1 John 2:2; 4:10) and twice as a verb (Lk 18:13; Heb 2:17), along with one other occasion when a different word is used that is often interpreted to mean propitiation (Rom 3:25).  However its conceptual importance for Scripture as a whole far outstrips the frequency with which it appears.  This truth is confirmed by the manner in which the Lutheran Confessions discuss it. 

It is also a word that is foreign to our congregation members.  It is not a term that they encounter often in everyday life.  The familiarity they do have with it may include ideas that appear to contradict the Gospel.

This study will emphasize the importance of the word propitiation for understanding Scripture as a whole and consider how its importance goes beyond the handful of verses where it occurs in the New Testament.  In the course of doing so, we will see that “propitiation” highlights two truths that are central to understanding the Gospel: 1. The wrath of God against sin; 2. The exclusive and comprehensive sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice for our sin.




Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity



                                                                                    Trinity 18
                                                                                    Mt 22:34-46
                                                                                    10/19/14

            I started using Facebook in the summer of 2009.  I was a little late to the game, as I tend to be on many technology issues.  I am never going to be the on the cutting edge with the latest things, but instead as they begin to establish themselves and prove to be useful I take them up.
            Now my relatively conservative approach should not be confused with disinterest.  I just don’t find that I am drawn to fooling around with tech things the way some people are, like my brother for instance.  There are so many things that I already know that I really like and want to do, and so I don’t want to waste time on things that don’t pan out.
            By the summer of 2009 it was pretty clear that description did not fit Facebook, and so I started using it.  While I was slow to take it up, once I started using it I enthusiastically embraced it.  Not too long after this, I got my first iPhone – I realized how easy and fun it was to post pictures and I have never looked back.
            However, it was been a process as I have learned what you can do with Facebook and what you can’t – or shouldn’t.  Initially it was just fun to use Facebook to reconnect with people from high school, college and the seminary.  Next I realized that it was a way to share information – both news and also things I had written.
            As I began using Facebook, I also thought that here was a way to interact with people and discuss things.  Here was a way you could engage in conversation about serious things without having to be part of a university or seminary community, or without being at some conference.  I could be here in Marion and still have the opportunity to interact with people all over the country, and even the world.
            It took me awhile to recognize the fact that this was simply not the case.  First, off, writing back and forth on the internet is not conversation.  You can’t see the non-verbal signals or hear the tone of the voice.  There is an impersonal character to the interaction that makes it easier to say things in ways that you would not in person.  And because -unless you delete it – there is a record of the conversation that people can read, you really don’t want to admit that you are wrong on some point or misunderstood.  Instead, people end up trying to have the last word. 
            All of this is a recipe for some very unpleasant outcomes, especially when you add in one other factor, namely that you often end up disagreeing with more than one person at once.  The conversation turns into a free for all in which multiple people may take you on.  In an adversarial setting, you can find yourself responding to person after person – one after another.  The truth is that Facebook is a great place to share things, but not to talk about anything of real substance.
            Our Lord Jesus is having that same kind of adversarial experience in our text this morning.  In the previous chapter he had entered Jerusalem at the start of Holy Week.  During the time leading up to Maundy Thursday he engages in a running dispute with the Jewish religious leaders. 
            First century Judaism was by no means a monolithic entity.  While basic beliefs were shared, there was a great deal of variety.  And so Jesus finds that he is challenged by different groups – one after another.  Like a Facebook discussion he bounces back and forth as he responds to different groups. First it was the chief priest and the elders.  Next it was the Pharisees.  Then it was the Sadducees.  And now our text begins with the words, “But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.”
            The Pharisees and the Sadducees didn’t like each other- and that’s probably putting it mildly.  The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, while the Pharisees did.  The Sadducees had just asked Jesus a question about the resurrection as they tried to trip him up.  The Pharisees would have enjoyed seeing Jesus defeat the Sadducees as he defended the resurrection.  But while they didn’t like the Sadducees – they disliked Jesus even more. And so they gather together in order to come at him again.
            We hear in our text, “And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  Now we know that Jews engaged in discussions about this very question.  The Pharisee obviously thought that Jesus might give an answer that could be considered wrong – an answer that could be used against Jesus.
            Our Lord responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” 
            Jesus said the answer was easy.  The first, the greatest commandment, was love God with all that you are – Deuteronomy chapter 6.  The second, the corresponding commandment, was love your neighbor as yourself – Leviticus chapter 19.  Jesus says that on these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. He says that the instructions given in the whole Old Testament come down to this.
            The answer is simple.  However things get a little more complicated when it comes time to do them because we have a basic problem that we never really outgrow.  Anyone who has been around a baby or a toddler knows that as far as they are concerned, the world revolves around them.  The young child is concerned about only one person: “Me.”  Now as we get older we get better at hiding this fact.  We aren’t nearly as overt, and we do show the ability to be concerned about others.  But ultimately, things don’t really change.  We are going to put ourselves before everyone else – including God.  We are not going to fear, love and trust in God above all things because that would mean putting our wants and desires on hold.  We are not going to love our neighbor as ourselves, because do you have any idea how much love we would then have to direct towards other people?
            Left to ourselves this is who we are. And the results are not pretty.  It is a life that cuts us off from God.  It is a life that inflicts harm upon others, and in turn harms us because of the damage it does to the relationships in our family, in our church, in our school and at work.
            The Pharisee asked Jesus this question about the law because he was testing him.  He obviously thought he could use it to catch Jesus in something.  He probably thought this way because Jesus often took a very different approach to the law.  He said things like, “You have heard that it was said …, but I say to you….”  He rejected common interpretations of his day that made the law easier to keep. 
            Yet in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  Our Lord said that he came to fulfill the saving purpose of the Law and the Prophets – of the Old Testament as a whole. And this he did by loving God with all that he was, and loving his neighbor more than himself.
            At his baptism, the incarnate Son of God showed that he loved God the Father with all that he was by stepping into the role of the suffering Servant.  Obedient to the Father’s will he did not make use of his powers to help himself as he faced temptation by the devil.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, as he faced not just physical suffering and death, but damnation by God himself he prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”  And on the cross he loved us more than himself when he gave himself as the sacrifice for sin. As Jesus said: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
            By loving God with all that he was, and by loving us more than himself, Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets.  And then in the resurrection on Easter, Jesus showed that by fulfilling the Law and the Prophets he had begun something new.  He had defeated death and begun the resurrection of the Last Day.  He had begun the new creation.
            On Pentecost the risen and ascended Lord poured forth the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit who moved upon the waters in the beginning at God’s act of creation, not moves to give us rebirth through the water of Holy Baptism.  Through the work of the Spirit we are made a new creation in Christ.  We are washed, sanctified and justified.
            And because this is so we begin to make a new start.  True, it will not be fully completed until our Lord returns.  But we now seek to love God and put him first.  We are in Christ and so we seek to fulfill the law through love.  Our freedom becomes a freedom to serve because of Jesus.  As Paul told the Galatians, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
            Freed by Christ from sin, we are now free to love God.  And because we have been loved by God, we seek to love our neighbor.  We love our neighbor just as Jesus has loved by his death.  We follow the One who has fulfilled the Law and the Prophets for us.