Romans 16: 21

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“Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.”

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The greeting above comes at the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans. We don’t know much about the people he mentions but we do know they were with him. And this is significant. In nearly all of his letters, Paul references someone who accompanies him on his journeys, supporting him in his work.  He gives thanks, by name, for individuals in congregations. He expresses gratitude for their support, for their efforts on behalf of the Gospel.

Nowadays, if a pastor were to write letters to congregations and single out people by name, I can imagine some of the responses; ‘What about the others? isn’t everyone important? You don’t want to hurt their feelings or diminish their self-esteem, do you?’  In over 30 years of pastoral ministry, when I think back on the people I have served, I don’t remember them all. But I do remember many of those, by name, who actively served with me in ministry.

The life of any congregation is made up of the participation, commitment, involvement of persons. The first few generations of Christian people did not have church buildings, constitutions and bylaws, business plans, or programs. They had each other.  And their communities were not centered around their perceived needs, comfortable worship schedules or a salad bar of programs and activities. They were centered around the new life in the Spirit that had taken hold of them in Jesus Christ as they heard the message of the cross and resurrection. Against pressures from their families, society at large and often at great personal risk, they gathered together in joy and gratitude for worship, witness, learning and service. 

The institutional character of today’s church can obscure something important. At it’s heart the church is a community of persons in relationship; in relationship to Christ through Word and sacrament, in relationship to one another through faith, hope and love, the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Paul’s mentioning of people by name was certainly not meant to slight others. But in mentioning them he reminds us of our relatedness in Christ and how important it is to love and support one another.

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“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John 17:17

 

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“Sanctify them in the truth, for your word is truth.”

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During the 1920’s a great debate occupied the church as it struggled with the relationship between modern scientific knowledge and the authority of the Bible; a struggle brought about, for the most part, by the theory of evolution. Even then, the faculty at my alma mater, Luther Seminary, was divided. Some held to a literal, seven, twenty four hour day creation story. Others believed that where scientific knowledge was irrefutable (which may or may not include the theory of evolution), it should be accepted. It was during this time that the expressions “verbal inspiration” and  “without error” were applied to the Bible by many, in order to strengthen the former point of view. At the same time, other biblical students and scholars looked increasingly to scientific tools and insights in order to understand the Bible more fully. In the decades since, Christians remain divided. Some, on both sides, going so far as to say that if you do not accept their view, you cannot be Christian.

The deeper issue, of course, is the authority of the Bible. If I do not believe, for example, that the word ‘day’ in the Genesis creation story means a literal twenty four hour day, can anything in the Bible be trusted?  Must I accept the Bible as a verbally inspired, inerrant scientific textbook even when it contradicts secular scientific knowledge? Or, do I simply dismiss the miracles in the Bible and everything else that offends reason or makes me uncomfortable? Does anything go? What is the nature of the Bible’s authority?

Faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior does not require that you must hold to a particular view of the Bible. What it does mean is that you must take the Bible seriously. Both the perspectives outlined above, though reaching different conclusions, are efforts to do just that. And as difficult and contentious as discussions over these issues may be, there is no viable option for the Christian – and the Church as whole –  other than continuing to struggle with the meaning of the Bible for faith and life. All Churches read the Bible but no church owns the Bible. All churches are called to stand, in humility, under the authority the Living Word, Jesus Christ whose prayer for us remains, “Sanctify them in the truth, for Your Word is the truth.” 

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“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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2 Corinthians 9:15

 

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“Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!”

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A friend was helping clean out the house as an elderly widow prepared for a move into more manageable accommodations. She picked up a small piece of wood that had fallen onto the floor and tossed it into a nearby waste basket. “Oh, no!”, said the elderly women. “Don’t throw that away.” Her friend was puzzled. it was just a scrap of wood. Then she heard the story.

The old woman recalled a day years ago. She and the man who would become her husband for over 70 years had spent an afternoon strolling along a lakeshore. It was the first day they had met. They spoke of their lives, inquiring after one another, getting to know one another. The shoreline was strewn with small bits of driftwood which they would casually pick up and toss out onto the water. Within a few months they were married. One year later, on their first anniversary, he gave her a small box tied with a ribbon. Inside was a piece of driftwood he had kept as a reminder of that first day. It was his gift to her.

The friend reached into the waste basket, retrieved the piece of wood and almost reverently handed it to the elderly lady. Something had changed. The friend now saw more than a scrap of wood. She saw the gift.

You and I were born into a world where everything has been provided, including life itself. Sin reveals itself in us when we see life’s gifts only as things to be selfishly used, manipulated then cast aside. Many treat life this way, sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes willfully. Then they hear the story, the story of Jesus. They hear of His love, His mercy, His deep concern for their lostness, they hear the story of His cross and resurrection. And when the Holy Spirit brings this old, old story of Jesus and His love to life in us something changes. We begin to see the gift in everything because we have seen the greatest gift of all – Jesus Christ our Lord.

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“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Peter 3:9

 

“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,..”

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Most of us grow impatient if we have to wait too long. You have probably been in line for groceries and seen how much abuse the check stand servers have to endure at the hands of impatient shoppers, through no fault of their own. Having to wait can bring out the worst in us. Waiting can be hard, long, tiring and aggravating. 

The photo posted above is of the Sawyer Glaciers, located at the end of the Tracy Arm Fjord in Alaska. These massive rivers of ice and snow crawl along slowly, their movement virutually imperceptible. Slow as they may be, however, they are irresitable. Everything before them is wept away and the effects of their progress are permanent, their purpose inevitably fulfilled.

For the Christian, waiting is the matrix in which faith grows. Waiting keeps us grounded in the here and now and focused on the opportunities for living that each day brings us. In waiting we learn that walking, not running, is the proper pace of living.  At times, when our needs and longings seem too much for us, we can grow impatient with what appears to be God’s slowness to act. At those times it may be helpful to remember that creation rides on God’s glacial purposes. The power and inevitability with which they move are staggering, beyond us. 

Therefore, on this new day of grace, take up Paul’s prayer on behalf of the Colossian Christians as your own. Pray that God’s power and might may translate into your life as endurance and patience, keeping you in the faith and confident that His purposes in Christ Jesus are carrying you along as surely as those rivers of ice, imperceptibly yet inevitably, flow into the sea.

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“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

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1 Peter 1:3-4

 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,…”

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A recent TV commercial spoke of how using a certain product supports a “sustainable future”. This phrase has become more common in recent years, as has the symbol above representing sustainability. Is the future “sustainable”? I suppose it depends on what future we are talking about.

If we are referring to the management of natural resources, in the short term, there is room for discussing sustainability. Good stewardship of the earth’s resources is in everyone’s best interest. To work for a “sustainable” environment is simply a matter of good stewardship. Nothing more and nothing less.

But some of the current rhetoric surrounding “sustainability” is also saying something else. Namely, that there is no future beyond what we can create for ourselves in this world. There is nothing beyond what we can see and experience. In this respect, the language of sustainability is competeing for a view of the world and of existence which is utterly devoid of God – and authentic hope.

Christian hope is not rooted in human efforts at environmental management, in our capacities to bring about a “sustainable future”. A closer look at even what science says about the future of the created universe is that it is ultimately unsustainable. Theories may vary – Is the universe collapsing in on itself? Is it flying apart? – it hardly matters. The outcome is the same.  Your life, the world and the universe are not progressing, they are coming to an end.

It was to secure a real future that Christ Jesus died on the cross and was raised for you. In Christ Jesus God has promised to be there when the unsustainability of your life proves itself in death. Then He will raise you from the dead and usher His people into the joy of the new creation, “…to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you…”. 

There is a truly sustainable future. And God alone will bring it.

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 “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Colossians 1:17

 

“In Him all things hold together.”

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‘Connect’ is a popular word these days. Its use reflects a variety of contexts but the goal is the same; to join together, to link, to bridge a gap, to cohere. The wide usage of the term is meant to speak into a world that is disconnected. People are looking for meaningful connections because life, at a very fundamental level, is about connections. We need to be connected. But where do I look? Where do I find them?  Marketing types have picked up on this. Thus, the appeal goes out; ‘Get Connected’ through our product, service, etc. 

“In Christ all things hold together”, Paul wrote to the Colossian church. Another translation for ‘hold together’ is ‘cohere’. I like that. When Christ Jesus takes hold of life He brings real connectedness, real cohesion.  The self comes to rest in its own skin. I see the whole creation as gift, with all the implications that awareness brings. Nor are the most tragic and apparently godless of circumstances outside the cohesive power of God’ s grace. Remember Paul’s words to the Romans? “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purposes.”  

Many of life’s connections are temporary, break under pressure or turn out to be forms of manipulation. Not so the connection with God in Christ.  In Him the broken fragments of our lives are brought together in the cohesion of love and mercy. To be held in this love is to be truly connected.

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 “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Corinthians 4:5

“For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord,…”

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The world is full of agendas. I have them and so do you. There is a story told about a man who joined a congregation. He was eventually elected to the church council where he beligerently began to push his own ideas about what the church should be about. After a year or so he called on the pastor to announce that he was leaving the congregation. Since he could not get his way, he was moving on.

Over the long centuries many agendas have threatened to overwhelm the essential business of the church. Occasionally they have succeeded, at least temporarily. At times political agendas have dominated. This was especially true during the centuries following the collapse of the Roman empire. The church found itself holding the reigns of political power. The resulting abuses were predictable. At other times, the moral agenda has threatened to replace the Gospel with Law, equating the Christian faith with a list of do’s and don’ts. Today, advocacy of the latest social agenda has become the de facto gospel in many chuches.

Of course, none of this is new. St. Paul found himself, again and again, having to remediate congregations and individuals under his care. His theme was constant; Christ and His cross must be central. Fifteen centuries later, Martin Luther took up the same Gospel cause.

The painter Lucas Cranach was a friend and supporter of Martin Luther and many of his works were in support of Reformation themes. The Cranach painting above is located at St. Mary’s church in Wittenberg, Germany (it is also permanently on the header of my blog).  If you look closely, you will see that Cranach has painted the crucified Christ just above the altar table, directly in front of where the preacher stands. He has depicted Martin Luther preaching, with one hand on the Bible and the other pointed toward Jesus Christ crucifed.  Cranach is clarifying the agenda and making it clear to those called to preach, and to the congregation, that Jesus Christ is the Church’s agenda and the proper subject of the Church’s preaching.

As long as the church exists in time, God’s people will be tempted to replace God’s agenda with our own. But thanks be to God that He keeps hold of His Church in love and brings us back to Christ, whose agenda is to love sinners and bring them, at last, out of death to life.

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“May the peace of Gods that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

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