Jesus Said What!? ~ Fear Him Who Has The Power To Cast You Into Hell

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 12:4-12.

One of the first concepts a student of Scripture interpretation learns is how the sacred texts we have came to be. The stories present in our sacred texts existed first as oral tradition – stories told around campfires, as friends worked in the fields, as mothers tucked their children into bed.

These stories were told to keep the faith alive and fresh in God’s people – so the young would learn and the old would not forget. Moses spoke specifically of the royal law – “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” when the following words were shared, and I believe they are applicable to the whole of our sacred text – “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deut 6:4-9).

At a later time writers inspired and guided by God’s Holy Spirit captured on paper – or scrolls – these oral traditions. The scrolls circulated through faith communities and were further committed to the heads, hearts, and hands of God’s people.

The formation of the Synoptic Gospels – synopticmeaning same or similarlike the word synonym– is of particular interest because unlike other biblical texts, we have access not only to the particular gospel text, but also to its sources. The earliest gospel we have is the Gospel of Mark; it serves as the source document for both Matthew and Luke. They share many stories in common, with Matthew and Luke often adding additional details or descriptions to concise Markan accounts. Additionally Matthew and Luke have stories they share that Mark does not have, which some scholars attribute to Q– short for Quelle, which is German for Source– and they have independent material (called Mand L) that neither of the other Synoptics share. All of these sources – Mark, Q, M and L – provide us with the gospels we cherish today.

The presence of these shared or common sources between the Gospels is why students of Scripture interpretation may experience déjà vu…didn’t I read this already? In fact, you probably did. So…is it worth reading again? In fact, yes it is – for a number of reasons. Among them are

  1. The meaning of Scripture grows in depth and meaning as our life experiences change. As we age, as we experience more, how Scripture guides and resonates with us changes to ensure our grounding and growth in the faith.
  2. Certain sayings of Jesus are not always “attached” or “linked” – if you will – with the same stories or circumstances across the gospels. Remember, the gospels are not “eyewitness accounts.” As such, it is important to read the sayings of Jesus in context with surrounding material because the surrounding material will shape and yield different and deeper learnings. Sometimes the contexts are the same, and that agreement between the gospel writers adds greater emphasis and importance to the Jesus saying. At other times the contexts are different, which reveals the individual gospel writer’s specific message to his intended audience.

So as you read and study Scripture, stay alert and resist temptations to slip into “auto pilot” or “auto reader mode” when you read a passage that sounds familiar. If you experience déjà vu while reading Scripture, then invite that feeling to guide you into a greater state of presence and awareness as you study. Scripture is a gift. That we are able to hold it in our hands is a gift. That we are able to read it in our heart language and dialogue about it freely is a gift.

Treasure Scripture. Keep these words in your heart. Share these words with your family and friends. Live in response to Scripture through the actions of your head, hearts, and hands.

Prayer: “Thy love divine hath led us in the past; in this free land with thee our lot is cast; be thou our ruler, guardian, guide, and stay, thy Word our law, thy paths our chosen way.”* Amen.

*”God of the Ages,” The United Methodist Hymnal 698.

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Jesus Said What!? ~ You Must Be Perfect

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 5:43-48.

Last week in Tuskawilla’s 11:00 Worship Service I referenced Wesley’s Historic Questions which are asked of those persons being ordained since the beginning of Methodism. There are 19 questions in all and they are all structured on a version of the verb form “to be” – Have you, Are you, Do you, and Will you? Questions structured on a version of the verb form “to be” have two possible answers – yes or no.

(And if your discernment and desire is to be ordained, your answer is yes – to all 19.)

The second of John Wesley’s Historic Questions shows he is batting for the fences. He wastes no time in getting to the heart of the matter:

2. Are you going onto perfection?

Which is followed in the next breath:

3. Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?

And given that the answers to 2. and 3. are both yes, he rounds out with:

4. Are you earnestly striving after it?

I answered yes to these three questions (and the other 16 as well!) before the entire Annual Conference the day before my ordination. I answered sincerely and confidently. I do believe I am going onto perfection. I do expect to be made perfect in love in this life. And I am earnestly striving after it.

At the heart of these questions for John Wesley is the work of sanctification – the work of being made holy – the work of recovering and restoring the image in which we were created – which is the image of God – which is perfect.

Sanctification is not a matter of works righteousness. We cannot work ourselves to righteousness through the acts that we do, the words that we say, or the money that we give. Titus 3:4-7 says, “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Because God acted on our behalf, we are able to act in response to God’s grace and with God’s help so recover and restore the image in which we were created. 

Through sanctification we go onto perfection – we are made perfect in love in this life. This perfection does not mean that we will not make mistakes or have weaknesses that cause us to backslide – meaning revert to behaviors before or early on in our relationship with Christ prior to our maturing in faith. Rather, Wesley understood this perfection to mean a continual process of perfecting our love for God and neighbor by reducing – and ultimately removing – our desire to sin. When sin does not have a hold on us, we are free to love as God intended – love God first and love neighbor second, and then all else in the world will fall into place by keeping these two at our forefront.

Are you going onto perfection? Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life? Are you earnestly striving after it? Share how you are earnestly striving after it with someone this week. I look forward to worshipping with you on Sunday!

Prayer: “Take time to be holy, let him be thy guide, and run not before him, whatever betide. In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord, and, looking to Jesus, still trust in his word.”* Amen.

*”Take Time to Be Holy,” The United Methodist Hymnal 395.

 

Jesus Said What!? ~ You Must Hate Your Parents, Spouse, Siblings and Children

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 10:32-39.

Some Bible verses are hard to stomach and this week’s passage is among them. This text is troublesome. In truth it causes me to cringe. Much like Jacob wrestled with a man in the night and limped away forever marked in the morning, folks have wrestled and continue to wrestle with this text – biblical scholars, pastors, disciples, and seekers. We thought Jesus’ intent was to draw all people together and to draw all people together to himself. And yet this passage seems to tell a different story…

When we read passages like this one it is important to remember our tools for exegesis – meaning our tools for studying Scripture:

  1. Read and study Scripture in context meaning in relationship to the passages immediately before it and after it. This also means reading the given passage alongside other passages of the same topic in order to gain deeper understanding of the concept. Resources like a Bible Dictionary and Concordance are helpful in this sort of study. Hardcopies of these resources are available in the Church Library and electronic versions are available for free online.
  2. Beware “sound bite theology.” Have you ever been in a conversation with someone that has said, “Well the Bible says…” and then that person zeros in on one verse to make a (his or her) point and in order to shut down any further conversation? (I admit – I have done this!) More often than not when someone deploys this strategy that person takes a scripture verse out of context or that person “reads into the text” – known as eisegesis – in order for Scripture to say what he or she wants rather than what the text says. In these instances I encourage you
    1. To honor your conversation partner,
    2. To respect their opinion even if you disagree with it, and then
    3. To attend to your own study of the text to further develop your personal interpretation and application of it.
  3. Do not hesitate to use one of the most theologically sound statements available to you – “I don’t know!” There are passages of Scripture that are difficult and in our attempts to make them less difficult we sometimes dig ourselves into even deeper holes…and then backfill dirt on top of ourselves. (I have also done this one more than one occasion!) Sometimes we question the value of Scripture – or our desire to know more of it or about it – when we come across passages like this one that make our hearts ache. Saying “I don’t know” to a Scripture like this does not defeat it…but it may relieve our anxiety to explain it. And hopefully we will be encouraged to learn more about it through personal study and conversation with friends. “I don’t know…but let’s find out together.”

Reading the whole of Scripture paints us the fullest picture of our God and of his Christ. In some moments our hearts will be sweetly touched and in others they will feel achingly raw. We are better and our faith is deeper by having the presence of both kinds of Scriptures and the experiences they bring. In this way Scripture remains relevant in our lives. Scripture speaks to life. Scripture speaks life. And I am so grateful.

Prayer: “When peace like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul. It is well (it is well), with my soul (with my soul), it is well, it is well with my soul.”* Amen.

*“It Is Well with My Soul,” The United Methodist Hymnal 377.

 

Jesus Said What!? ~ Whoever Divorces and Marries Another Commits Adultery

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 10:1-12.

Our Scripture text for this Sunday mentions adultery – the act of engaging in a relationship with someone that is not your spouse. In biblical times adultery concerned physical actions. I believe in our present time adultery concerns physical actions as well as emotional and psychological actions. Technology was not on the “biblical times relationship radar;” however, in the present day, some people cannot conceive of their “relationship radar” without technology. Some people would not have their relationships without technology! Technology can help or hinder relationships; technology can bring couples together or it can tear them apart.

In John 8 the Pharisees bring a woman before Jesus who had been caught in adultery. According to the Law of Moses the woman should be stoned and so the teachers of the Law wait with baited breath to see what Jesus will do. Curiously Jesus decides to draw in the sand as the Pharisees continue their questioning. When Jesus speaks he astounds them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” and then he returns to his scripting in the sand (Jn 8:7).

(I can’t wait to ask Jesus what he wrote…)

The Pharisees left Jesus. When Jesus looked up again only the woman remained. None were there to condemn her and neither would Jesus. With great freedom and forgiveness Jesus says, “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again” (Jn 8:11).

Once again Jesus shows incredible grace. The Pharisees expect Jesus to take a bite out of her – to apply retributive justice by taking a stone in his grasp…and Jesus surprises them by restoring her.

Perhaps Jesus surprises us, too.

Jesus recognizes her humanity. He acknowledges her sin but affirms that sin is not what defines her. She is made in the image of God. Her worth is sealed in the image of God. Forgiveness makes her new and so Jesus sends her forth to not sin again.

I pray that this witness of Scripture leads us to loosening our grips and laying down our stones. I pray that God redeems our proclivity to condemn so we would be people of greater compassion that join Jesus in affirming the worth of all our sisters and brothers. God’s intention is that we build up and draw together – that we create and nurture, not destroy.

When we are caught in sin – however we are caught in sin! – Jesus forgives us. He does not take up stones against us. This is good news. And in his name he sends us on our way to tell of his good news and sin no more.

Prayer: “Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nature, O thou of God and man the Son, thee will I cherish, thee will I honor, thou, my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.”* Amen.

*”Fairest Lord Jesus,” The United Methodist Hymnal 189.