Friday, August 31, 2012

keep it simple Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Jesus in Mark 7 fits right in line with the ancient prophets of Israel like Isaiah and Micah.  They taught that what matters most in religious life aren't ritual actions. What mattered most for Jesus is the content of a worshiper's heart. Jesus was trouble for the Pharisee's who looked with scorn on his friends. They saw their unclean hands and eagerly wagged fingers. The ancient fathers wouldn't have approved they said chiding Jesus and his friends.

Read Mark 7:1-8 the animosity is palpable. Jesus met the hypocrisy of the pharisees head on. He knew that the heart of the worshipper mattered then--just as it does today. And He gave a really clear direction to us today as his followers in Mark 7:14-15. Focus more on what come out of us than what comes into us. It's a challenge in our age to look not with scorn on the world but to start by looking at what we say and do first. In Mark 7:20-23 Jesus' point is most clear to pay attention to what is coming out of you to know the state of your heard. The trouble with the Pharisee's was never their religion--rather it was their hearts and what came from inside of them. The church like the religions of the pharisees has long been filled with traditions, rules, and rule keepers. And Jesus confronted the pharisees as he would likely confront the ruler makers of the church today with strong words. Look at your heart. Repent of the ugly things.  Turn back to God from the inside.

Worship is a Heart Matter, A few years ago a church in England put away it's instruments, band, and sound system for a season.  Their pastor challenged them to focus on God in their midst rather than on what they could do.  As David Schrader tells the story one of church's member, Matt Redman, wrote inspired by the experience about coming back to God.
When the music fades, all is stripped away, and I simply come / Longing just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless your heart… / I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about You, Jesus
There's a challenge for the church today--just the same as it was in Jesus day. Keep worship simple.  In fact we are invited to live out our worship focused on God present in our midst. As a pastor I've committed my life to Word and Sacrament ministry--keeping Christ present in the Word of God, the Bread and Wine in Communion, and the water of baptism. Everything else--as important as it may seem today--might very well fade away: but Jesus present in Word, Bread, Wine, and Water will not fade.  Many pastors seem to run scared today uncertain of the future--but with confidence We ought to move forward trusting that God is working in us and our churches today.

Keep it Simple our faith and our salvation as Christians starts and ends with trust in God.  And we like to make it complicated.  But the truth is we are saved by faith.  Put aside the religious actions--what's at the heart matters.  And for Chirstians faith is about confident trust in Jesus.  We add extra steps and hoops to jump through--but God in love saves those who believe.  Religious leaders especially invent disciplines and ritual practices for believers--but Jesus saves those who believe no those who fulfill every religious command.

I've been intrigued this week by a question David-Heim asked several theologians. How would you summarize the Christian faith?  Limit the number of words you use to a small number: like 7 words.  How do you explain what we believe and know about Jesus and who we are as the church in light of his saving death and resurrection?

Like Jesus confronting the Pharisees Heim is asking us in churches today to think clear and simple about faith in Christ.
here's my attempt to answer Heim's question.

Jesus died and rose freeing all believers
love one another as Jesus loves you

What's yours?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bread of Life for the Church John 6:35,41-51

I've been reading two really contrasting things this week. First was Jesus promise in John 6:35-51, that he is the bread of life and second is a reminder from Pastor Keith Anderson of the thoughts and concerns of young clergy today. Many responded to Anderson's words from fear mixed with hope. If you can take time to read these responses I'd encourage you to reflect again on Jesus promise to be the bread of life asking what this promise of sustenance means for the church today.
Trusting in God's Promise; He is our bread When Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35) some recoiled from his words. He sensed their doubts wondering who he was saying such things. They knew Jesus' family and in whispers likely remembered his out of wedlock conception. Who was he to say, “I am the bread of life.”

Jesus self disclosure as the bread of life didn't come out of the blue. He had just fed thousands with a few loaves and a couple fish (John 6:1-21). The crowd knew Jesus was out of the ordinary—but the doubters weren't satisfied and in truth neither was the crowd. The crowd wanted another miracle even bigger than the first. And the doubters wanted to know who he was to say, “I am the bread of life.” And Jesus answered both In John 6:41-51. If he is the bread of life then we have a promise—we will be sustained.

Doubt and faith exist as real dynamics in every believer's life. They are very present in the church today. As young clergy name their fears the Word of God reminds us that Jesus has promised sustain us. He is our bread our most basic provision and most essential need is met in him.

Faith in Jesus, the living Word, gives believers hope and trust in his promise to be our bread. Reason points us back to the limits of human ability; but faith moves us beyond these limits to see God's even greater ability. The doubting part of each person, even faithful believers, wonders how and why God has acted—but by faith we trust that there's something more—we trust that God is the one we need that Jesus really is the bread who sustains us. Luther wrote,
John warns all those who hear this doctrine of Christ not to pry and to question when God’s Word and spiritual matters are concerned, and not to ask how this can be reconciled with reason. Whoever wants to be a Christian and apprehend the articles of the Christian faith must not consult reason and mind how a doctrine sounds and whether it is consistent with reason. Luther's Works, Vol. 23 page 78, : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther's Works (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1959).
Bold faith allows us to see beyond the reasonable to the point where God alone could be at work. A crowd of thousands couldn't reasonably have eaten their fill from 5 loaves and 2 fish—but they knew they had eaten and been satisfied. Considering Jesus response in John 6:41 Luther wrote on about what faith is,
[A Christian] must say forthwith: “I do not care whether it agrees with reason or not. All I must know is whether or not it is supported by God’s Word. This I ask: Did God say it? That decides it for me.” You have often heard me exhort you not to dispute or reason about sublime spiritual matters that concern the articles of the Christian faith. As soon as a man ventures to rationalize these, to brood over them, and to try to make them conform to reason, all is lost in advance, and we are doomed.
God is going beyond the bounds of what we consider reasonable. And faith is God's gift enabling us to trusts that God has something bigger in store. And this type of faith is essential to the future of the church.

Jesus is the bread of life even for those who think the church is dying. Over the past generation it's been common for especially young pastors to lament and even outright mourn the slow change of the church as we know it. Great theological minds of our time have noted the slow demise of congregations and denominations while social theorists who study religious life pinpointing the tidal cultural changes and demographic shifts just below the surface. Some say they have chronicled the death of something we in the Body of Christ care deeply about—the church. Many pastors even believe the church is dying. But faith especially among many younger clergy trusts that God is creating something new.
Reason says that the church is dying in the Western World. But Faith says Jesus' body won't die—Faith says his Body can't die. Jesus is the immortal resurrected one who over comes death. How can his body be dying? About a year ago a little video by Jefferson Bethke went viral. He said he was done with religion as he confessed his belief in Jesus saying that Jesus is Greater than Religion. Bethke's video has drew 26 million some views so far and responses from those defending their religion and even those defending their lack of faith. As I watched the video again this week I started to wonder not what God wants our generation to do—rather I started to wonder What God wants to make of us in this generation? What I know by faith is that God will sustain his Body the church as we remain faithful to his word.
Pax, John