Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Opened the scriptures, 4.15.12

1 Timothy 4:6-16
6 If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed. 7Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness, 8for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 9The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. 10For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

11 These are the things you must insist on and teach. 12Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. 14Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. 15Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Luke 24:13-35
13Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.

18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.

Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”

25Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

            This series of sermons is loosely organized around Easter, in particular what the risen Jesus did. Jesus didn’t spend a lot of time with his disciples after the resurrection because he was taken up to heaven. Since his time was short, Jesus had to spend it wisely. He needed to prepare his disciples for their ministry spreading the good news of forgiveness. We’re going to look at a few different things Jesus did over the next couple weeks; today we see that Jesus explained scripture to his disciples.

When Jesus appears to these two otherwise unknown disciples on the road they don’t recognize him. First, Jesus plays dumb by pretending not to know the events they’re talking about; then he reprimands the disciples for not understanding what he had told them during the journey to Jerusalem. He calls them “slow of heart” because they didn’t figure out that what had happened to him was what the prophets had written about.

We can understand Jesus’ frustration, the frustration of a teacher who has gone over and over a lesson with his disciples for years, but they haven’t gotten it. Jesus told his disciples three times that he would be killed and rise again, but his arrest still took them totally by surprise. Jesus predicted while his disciples looked at him blankly and suffered as they fled, just like he’d said they would. We can understand why Jesus is frustrated to see these disciples still confused about the events unfolding around them.

We can also see it from the disciples’ point of few. The week has given them too much to digest, too much to put together. From adorning crowds, to a bloodthirsty mob; from a royal procession to a traitor’s kiss, it would be hard to make sense of the week and hard to imagine the future.

In terms of the prophets, it is way too simple to say that they foretold what would happen to Jesus. It’s true that Isaiah’s words about the suffering servant being despised and rejected fit powerfully with Jesus. It’s true that other words of prophesy point to Jesus as well. At the same time, if you were to read all the prophesy about the Messiah and put it together into a story you would never come up with Jesus.

Frankly, the prophesy about a savior is varied and diverse. Most are passages that look forward to a powerful king. From that people expected a Messiah much like King David, a man to lead Israel’s armies and reestablish Israel as a strong, independent nation. Jesus doesn’t look anything like that: his armies are in heaven and he has no interest in the world’s power.

To understand what the prophets predicted about Jesus, you had to know the story of Jesus. Jesus fulfilled scripture, but not in the way you would expect from reading the prophets. So it makes sense that when Jesus rose from the dead one of his priorities would be to explain scripture to his disciples. He starts with these two and when they return to the rest of the community Jesus appears to the whole gathering to offer his explanation again. Scripture points to Jesus, but Jesus has to open it up to them so they can understand how it all fits together.

This time, the lesson takes. When we see the disciples on their mission to tell the world about Jesus in Acts or the letters, they show a keen understanding of how Jesus fulfills scripture. Whenever they make their case to people who know the Bible they build their arguments for faith in Christ from scripture. Jesus’ time with the disciples explaining scripture pays off because they can understand and explain to others the surprising ways God keeps promises.

Paul emphasizes scripture as well when he writes to instruct and encourage his young protégée, Timothy. He encourages Timothy to focus on reading scripture publically and to let his own progress in faith be an example to the community he leads. The risen Jesus and the Apostle Paul both highlighted the importance of scripture when they prepared leaders for the church, because God’s word is food and light for the church. Churches grow and thrive when they are engaged in scripture; they languish and die when they are not.

We know the Bible is important, so why is it so hard to making it a part of our daily life? For one thing, the Bible is big and it can be intimidating. Sometimes we feel like there’s so much we don’t know about its background or history that we can’t understand it on our own. While learning about the context and history of the Bible can deepen our understanding, most of what we need to understand the Bible is in the Bible. If we pick it up and read we will discover a world that is both strange and familiar. Like a novel, the Bible will introduce us to the characters we need to know and we’ll be able to follow the story as we go.

Some parts are easier to read and some harder. Genesis is great reading because it’s full of interesting stories. Occasionally there are boring patches, like genealogies, but the stories continue on the other side. The stories of the Bible are compelling too because they are full of interesting characters. Most of the important people are complex, like real people. They have moments of faith that are truly inspiring and other moments when we wonder what’s wrong with them. Those moments remind us that God calls real people to ministry, not perfect saints. They remind us of ourselves, with all our flaws and distractions, and how we are part of God’s story too.

Challenging parts of the Bible are an invitation to reflection. In a novel or history book if we get confused about why something happens we think about it, putting ourself in the characters’ shoes to imagine why they might have acted a certain way. With the Bible sometimes when we don’t understand something we are tempted to give up, thinking that it is “too hard” for us. Just like with any other book, pausing to reflect often leads to insight and understanding. Plus, sometimes we just don’t understand a piece of something, and that’s OK too. God can do as much with what we don’t understand as with what we do.

When it comes to scripture, there are lots of great resources available. Plus, if you get stuck on something you can always shoot me an email or give me a call. The main point of the church investing so much time and money in my training is so I can help you grow in your faith and understanding. It will make my day to get an email from you saying, “I was reading the Bible and I had a question about…”

Monday, April 9, 2012

"Death to life" Easter, 2012

Luke 23:55-24:12
55The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they went in, they did not find the body.

4While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8Then they remembered his words, 9and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.

10Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Romans 6:1-11
What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

6We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

            Jesus had been traveling for three years. He had healed and taught, welcomed outcasts and called sinners to repentance. Often huge crowds followed him to hear his comforting and challenging words.

Besides the crowds, Jesus had a core group of followers who went everywhere with him. Twelve leaders, called apostles were the most famous, but there were also others Jesus sent out in his name to teach and heal. Other disciples supported and cared for Jesus in his ministry, especially many women.

            Jesus and his followers started to make their way to Jerusalem, the capital of Jewish life and worship. Along the way, Jesus told his disciples that he would be killed in Jerusalem, but that he would rise again. The disciples knew enough to be sad about that prediction, but they didn’t really understand, even though Jesus repeated it three times.

            When they got to Jerusalem, a huge crowd welcomed them with shouts of praise and songs to crown a king. Israel hadn’t really had a king in 600 years, but the people’s hope for someone to trust and follow hadn’t died. A welcome like that must have been a high point for the disciples. All Jesus’ talk about the kingdom of God seemed to be coming true. On top of that, the excitement of the big city at festival time thrilled these small-town fishermen.

            Then things went horribly wrong. The religious leaders had never liked Jesus. They worried about his teachings and were downright terrified of the attention he might bring from the Roman rulers. They also worried that Jesus’ teachings could weaken their power. As Jesus’ ministry continued, the conflict with the religious leaders got more and more intense, until they finally decided to kill him.

            At the Passover supper, Jesus told his closest friends that one of them would betray him and the rest would run away. Despite their passionate denials, that’s exactly what happened on Thursday night when officers from the Temple came to arrest Jesus.

            A whirlwind of interrogation, trial and torture followed, and by Friday evening Jesus had died on a Roman cross and been buried. True to his prediction, the disciples ran away. A few women and a man named Joseph made sure Jesus was buried decently before sunset, and the women made plans to go back to the tomb on Sunday morning after the Sabbath was over.

            That morning, Jesus proved once again that he wasn’t interested in playing by the rules. He’d been surprising people since birth, and death wasn’t going to limit Jesus any more than tradition had. The women came expecting to find their teacher’s body, expecting to anoint him with spices as a sign of their love for him, a last expression of care. Instead, they found the rock door rolled away from the front of the tomb and no body to be found. 

            It’s a great story, but all that happened almost two thousand years ago, so what difference does it make for us today? That answer will be a bit different for everyone since faith is a bit different for each of us, but Paul’s words to the church in Rome ring true today: faith is about deep questions, life and death importance.

            Christian faith is about following Jesus. Like the first disciples, we never do it perfectly. We misunderstand and fall short of our calling. A lot has changed over the two thousand years since the women and Peter found Jesus’ tomb empty. The early church was surrounded by threats from religious leaders and the Roman Empire. Following Jesus was very obviously a matter of life and death.

In the US in the 21st century, we face different threats. We’re free to worship or not, and we’re free to believe whatever we want to. I thank God for our freedom, but I worry that the Christian majority in this country makes it easy to follow Jesus halfway and easy to forget that following Jesus is still a matter of life and death.

When we choose to follow Jesus we aren’t picking a club or a team or a style. We are choosing to join Jesus in his death. We are choosing to leave our sin and selfishness behind, to die to the world and begin a new life with Jesus. We are choosing to put Jesus first, to make him the center of our existence.

Faith can seem complicated and confusing. There are so many churches, so many opinions, so many points of view. Christians think different things about the Bible, politics, organization, money, family and everything else.

At the same time, faith in Jesus is simple because it means choosing to trust and follow Jesus. All the complications are second, and very distantly second. The point is following Jesus; everything else falls into place when we put Jesus first.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

love and the cross, 4.1.12

Isaiah 49:13-17
13Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones. 14But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” 15Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. 16See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me. 17Your builders outdo your destroyers, and those who laid you waste go away from you.

            There’s a tension in preaching between depth and breath. Should I take one small piece of a passage and focus on that, or try to open the whole thing but not get as deep? When I focus tightly I regret leaving out so much of the passage. When I work with the whole passage, like today, I feel like I’m treating it too superficially. The truth is I can never do enough with God’s word in our short time together. If this is the only dose of scripture you get in your week, you’re not getting enough to grow to your potential as a Christian, so please don’t neglect the word in the rest of your week.

Before we turn to our next passage I want to spend a few minutes with the one Karen just read. Maggie and I were on vacation this past week. We spent the week visiting friends and family along the East Coast including a stop in Baltimore to see one of my best friends and his daughter, Amelia. This was the first time I’d seen Campbell as a dad, and it was amazing.

            Parenting is kind of an alien world to me, but the scene would be familiar to many of you. There’s this beautiful little person in Campbell’s kitchen spitting milk on her sweater and eating peaches off the floor. Campbell is unfazed by her secretions, taking care of boogies and wiping drool from her face every few minutes. He let her do her thing, but she was rarely out of his reach and never out of his sight.

            It was obvious from our short visit that Campbell’s whole life is different than it was before Amelia was born. There’s nothing he does without thinking about her. Like dads and especially moms everywhere, parenthood is a big part of what defines Campbell’s life now.
            Isaiah speaks for God to tell Israel that God’s love for them is like a mother’s love and even greater. The tenderness I saw between Campbell and Amelia points to the tenderness God has for her people.

The people of Israel feel abandoned by God in their exile, like Campbell’s daughter felt abandoned when she was in her high chair 45 seconds longer than she wanted to be. Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can Campbell forget his screaming daughter? Of course not.

Even if these examples of devoted love could abandon their children, God cannot abandon his people. Next to God’s love, even our best efforts pale in comparison.

God’s love for us is tender and determined. It’s also cosmic in scope: the prophet invites heaven and earth to join in the songs of praise celebrating God’s redemption of her people. As intimate as a parent and as broad as creation; that’s God’s love for us.

            John gives us a different way of looking at God’s love. We’ll work through this passage together, so go ahead and open your Bible to 1 John 4 beginning with verse 7; you’ll find it on page 241 in the New Testament part of your pew Bible.

1 John 4:7-21
7Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

            John starts this section with encouragement for his community to follow God’s example and love each other. Love comes from God, so when we love other people we tap into God’s nature. We find new life in God’s family by loving, and in loving others we know God.

If we don’t love other people it’s impossible to know God. Not only is God loving, God is love; so without love anything we say about God is meaningless. With that foundation, John gets more specific about how we know God’s love: