Trinity Sunday

Whether or not the Trinity is the proper understanding of the nature of God is the oldest doctrinal fight in Christianity. You heard our verses this morning, you can clearly find the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the New Testament; but the Jews were constantly taught to “Hear oh Israel, the LORD your God is one.” It was on this difference between the Old Testament understanding of God, where the Jews were taught to avoid other gods vs. the New Testament understanding of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that the argument began. The word Trinity is nowhere to be found in Scripture; yet the idea roars from every part of the New Testament.

You see, it all started with this guy named Arius in about 300 AD, he was a Christian presbyter in Alexandria, Egypt. Arius and his supporters agreed with the Jews, and said God & Jesus were two different beings, they were made from different stuff. But their detractors in the Church said; No, God & Jesus are Homoousious! Isn’t that a great word…it’s even fun to say…Homoousious. It’s from Homo meaning same, ousious meaning substance. That’s where we get the word oozes, when a wound oozes something, it oozes its ousious. Sorry, wordplay is a rabbit trail… These people who disagreed with Arius believed that God & Jesus were from the same divine substance. What was at risk was this more important question: Was Jesus a created being, or was truly the biological son of God the Father?

Both parties could make a really good case! This is why it was impossible to come to an amicable solution. Eventually even the Emperor got involved! Yes, Constantine himself read the arguments, sat down, and eventually sided with the trinitarians—or should I say, the Homoousians. Don’t get me wrong, Constantine thought this was a stupid argument over semantics. He quickly learned that no one can split hairs like theologians!

But, within ten years of this Ecumenical Council, Constantine became convinced that Arius’s ideas did, in fact, fall within the pale of orthodoxy. While Constantine & his sons, as well as other Roman emperors, did occasionally get involved in questions of Theology; they were more concerned with preservation the unity of the church than engaging in prolonged debates over what, to them, seemed like theological nitpicking.

That first Ecumenical Council was in a city called Nicaea in the year 325, their final statement most all of you have heard, and many of you can recite from memory, we call it the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
or our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.

Now that you know why that particular creed was written, you understand why it’s worded so oddly—it was all about pounding Unitarian beliefs out of existence. “You will agree with this creed, or you too will be branded a heretic.” It was never meant to be an all-inclusive statement of faith, as we misuse it today.

Earlier I mentioned the JW’s & the Mormons, who don’t buy into this whole trinity thing. And there are others: Iglesia ni Cristo from the Philippines, and a number of other smaller groups, including Christadelphians, Christian Science, Oneness Pentecostals, Unitarian Universalists, and a few others you’ve never heard of.

Yes it’s almost 2,000 years later, and we’re still arguing semantics! But that’s what the Church has always done, argue semantics; because if everything in Scripture can be argued as literal, then the Fundamentalists are right about everything. Conversely, if the original authors used figures of speech, metaphor, and other symbolic language, then we, the mainstream denominations, are correct in trying to understand Scripture in light of the overarching message.

Today, even scientists are jumping into the conversation, in a way our 2,000 year old ancestors never could have understood. We all understand living in a three-dimensional world; everything has length, width, and height. Most of us learned in school that time is a fourth-dimension, which we pass-through, day-by-day; Einstein gave us that when he explained Special Relativity. A hundred years ago physicists first started saying there could be more than four dimensions. By the 1960s and 70s physicists had followed all this until we got to what’s called string theory; which tells us that there are eleven dimensions. If any more than that were to occur, by some cosmic event, they would be unstable and collapse back down to eleven. But that’s another rabbit trail

If you’ve watched any science documentary in the last 20-30 years, you will recognize Professor Michio Kaku from CUNY. Let’s hear, from him, what scientists—not necessarily Christians, but at least not radical atheists, are saying about looking at the Universe, with modern scientific eyes, to understand what an intelligent creator might have been thinking. It’s in his conclusion of a very short talk on math & physics.

What on earth would our doctrinal ancestors, or Constantine, have thought about this talk? They would have been deer in the headlights! They might have understood Newton’s question about the apple and the moon, but that’s all. They would have been completely lost!

Imagine yourself an artist painting a picture. You live in a three-dimensional world, and you’re passing through time—as we all are. But your painting is flat; two dimensions length & width, no depth…and nothing changes in the picture over time. Can you, the artist, climb inside your own created, two-dimensional world? No, no mater how skinny you hold your breath, you can never get flat enough to enter your two-dimensional world. Yet that is exactly what God did—reducing himself down to our three-dimensional world, subjecting Himself to the passage of time, just as we experience it, from physical birth through physical death.

Why do you think God gave our ancestors simple explanations, and analogies? In the case of the Unitarian vs. Trinitarian attempts to explain God, Scripture isn’t just simplified, it’s intentionally vague. But I ask you: What could God have spoken through His authors 2,000 years ago, to possibly explain a multi-dimensional, all powerful God reducing Himself to down four dimensions so He could interact with us? Anything? Or, would it be better to be just a little vague on that point?

This is the foolishness of trying to carry-on these kinds of doctrinal fights dating back to the reformation, or the dark-ages, or the Roman Empire; God intentionally didn’t explain everything, in enough detail, because those readers couldn’t possibly have understood it.

Let’s not waste time rehashing the debates of people from 2,000 years ago, who were just realizing that letters didn’t make good numbers. Let’s concentrate on loving the LORD our God with all your heart, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. It’s far more important than trying to fit a limited human understanding on an all-powerful, multi-dimensional God.

Gratuitous Sex & Violence?

Okay today I’ve got a stool to sit on, and a bottle of aspirin, I’m sure we’ll need those aspirin later. How many of you have heard me marvel over how often the liturgical calendar, which has been set up for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, exactly fits into something that’s going on within a congregation or within the church at a given time? Caeden read our Gospel reading for today. Typically there’s at least one Gospel reading, at least one Old Testament reading, usually another New Testament reading, and a Psalm. If we were to stick with the Gospel as our lesson today, we’d be talking about the baptism of Christ and the recruiting of Disciples of Christ at the beginning of his ministry. We’ve done that before—a lot. So rather than go over that again I poked around the liturgical calendar and found a verse that comes from this week but actually next year. It’s 1st Corinthians 6:12-20 let’s give it a look.

All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

If you’ve hung around the church for any time at all you’ve noticed that when anyone brings up one of these verses that discusses sex and relationships considered a sin, suddenly everybody has some verse that comes to mind talking about sex and sins. You can find them going back as far as the Ten Commandments, you can find them in Leviticus, you can find them when the law was restated in Deuteronomy, you can even find Paul talking about sex and relationships in the New Testament. This section we just read in 1st Corinthians was one of Paul’s. We didn’t talk much about sexual sin in Scripture when we had the recent ONA discussions, but as visitors start to attend and ask questions about this ONA thing, these types of sexual sin discussions will undoubtedly come up.

Maybe we should look at how this all worked out in practice for someone whom God loved; God’s favorite, King David. When we think of David we get a mental image of the young man who brought his sling and slew Goliath. A young king curled up underneath the shadow of the Tabernacle who wrote probably half of the Psalms. As a boy he played his harp for King Saul to help him get some rest. Oh sure, we all remember some story about Bathsheba, but with all the great things God says about how much he loved David, he must have been a really great example right?

Well, let’s take a look at that: The young life of David was indeed quite the story, but David’s life turns into quite the confusing tale before too long. David’s first wife was named Michael, Now we think of Michael as a man’s name, but no; in the ancient Hebrew Michael is a girl’s name. King Saul planned for David to marry his eldest daughter, and arrangements were made for that to happen. But when it was discussed that the younger daughter, Michael, had a fondness for David, King Saul changed his arrangements and married-off Michael to David. Now, just because there was affection between the two, we shouldn’t assume that there was no transaction taking place. In fact, David paid for Michael with the foreskins of a hundred dead Philistines, of the 200 that David killed for King Saul. I can see the conversation now both of them looking at this pile of foreskins scratching their heads David saying “Do you want to count them?” King Saul saying, “No I’ll take your word for it.”

Michael loved David, and things were going well—considering Michael’s father, King Saul was trying to kill David at the time. Things headed downhill when David was up on his roof watching his next door neighbor’s wife, Bathsheba, take a bath, and decided he wanted her for himself. After seducing Bathsheba, and getting pregnant, David tried to get his neighbor Uriah to come home from war and sleep with his wife, so it might appear that Uriah had gotten his own wife pregnant. But Uriah chose to follow the ancient tradition of not having sex during time of War, so David finally resorted to having his generals send Uriah to the front lines, knowing that Uriah would be killed and, therefore, David would be able to take Bathsheba as his own. Got that, Murder to cover up adultery? Now he did go on to marry Bathsheba and have four more children with her, after this. In total we know of David having eight wives although the scripture says there were many; so scholars believe that only eight of those many wives were listed in Scripture.

The last straw for David’s first wife Michal was when David was dancing naked in the streets to celebrate the return of the Ark of the Covenant. Michael couldn’t handle this kind of inappropriate celebration, so she married someone else.

No concubines are mentioned in scripture for David but it would be highly unlikely for someone at that time of his stature not to have any concubines. There was one other particularly awkward arrangement worth mentioning. It was believed in those days that the fertility of the land was a reflection of the fertility of the king. So, as David was around 70 years old, and in declining health, his advisors wanted to at least give the impression that the King was virile and active. So they found a 12 year old girl to play ‘nurse’ with the King, sleep with him, ‘keep him warm’ and at least give the impression that he was able to keep active sex life. Well, scripture tells us that nothing really happened. But life still ended badly for this young girl, She was killed because she was considered someone who could be a king-maker, upon any future marriage, so she was put to death rather than allowed to marry someone else.

As we all know King David was regarded as a man after God’s Own Heart, God’s favorite, and God’s anointed one. How can this be? How can God have thought so highly of David, when by all accounts, David seems to be the king of immoral behavior?

Do you want to know why monks are famous for making beer and wine? Sacramental wine is always the official answer, but the real reason monks brew is because of questions like this!

Now it gets worse before it gets better, in fact I’m not even sure it gets better but it does get worse: David’s childhood friend Jonathan is described in scripture as someone whom “David loved more than any woman.” Now, some scholars believe that indicates the David had intimate relations with Jonathan, in addition to being interested in women. That is not a majority opinion, but it is certainly an interpretation that has been around for a great deal of time. Especially given that in ancient times, men having sexual relationships with men did not imply the emotional relationship we think of now.

David wanted to be the one to rebuild the Temple, but God said no, that is the job of Solomon, David’s son from Bathsheba. While Solomon was busy being King, and rebuilding the temple, he seemed to find time to have 700 wives of of Royal birth, plus another 300 concubines.

All of this would have greatly upset Paul; but this all happened hundreds of years before Paul was around. And none of this speaks to the prostitution, on which Paul concentrated. Let’s go back even further. To the time after Moses led the Jewish people out of Egypt; you remember when they Joshua led the marching around the walls of Jericho, as they were blowing their trumpets. The spies found a prostitute who was willing to help the Israelites take over the city. Rahab let a red rope out a window to aid the spies. Rahab married Salmon, of the tribe of Judah, she was the mother of Boaz. Which means that Rahab was a direct ancestor to David, and therefore Rehab the prostitute was a direct ancestor to Jesus. I’m sure the Apostle Paul was highly incensed about this, but I’m betting it probably didn’t bother Jesus.

I say that because one of the stories we read near the end of Christ’s earthly life is when a prostitute enters the house of Simon the leper, and pours a large bottle of perfume called nard [spikenard] on Jesus’ feet and proceeds to wash Jesus’ feet with her own hair and this perfume, which would have cost a Year’s wages, and for most people in those days. And while the disciples winced, Judas complained about the value lost in the perfume; but Christ commended her for doing what she could to prepare Him for burial. You’ve probably heard this story, and heard it was Mary Magdalene being the one who poured the perfume on Jesus. Scholars do not believe this to be accurate, nor do they believe it was Mary the sister of Martha, and brother of Lazarus was raised from the dead. Rather this is someone who listened to Christ’s teachings, but whose identity we don’t know.

Jesus was both renowned and ridiculed for hanging out with the lowest people in society those days; prostitutes, and tax collectors. Yet somehow both the ancient Church and the modern Church have a particular disdain for anything that can be construed as a sexual sin.

How do we attempt to reconcile these seemingly disparate interpretations? How do we deal with an ancient culture that has its own sexual mores and taboos; against a savior who spent time with these people?

How do we reconcile a modern society with its own hang-ups, its own proclivities, against a faith of inclusion. Especially considering we’re surrounded by other congregations in other denominations, who maintain a rigid intolerance for those whose appetites differ from theirs.

I don’t have the perfect answer. Like I said it’s questions like these that drive theologians to drink! The conservative Church simply says the law is the law; so everything else must be sin. Some on the theological left argue like Paul in our reading; that everything is allowed but not everything is good for me.

My question to those who like to argue such things, is “What was the purpose of the law?” Now, you might get different answers that question, but there is an official Seminary-approved answer to that question. The official answer to “what was the purpose of the law?” is: To show us that we could not live up to God’s expectations, and therefore must be saved through Christ. No one could keep every ceremonial law, every health law, and every cultural law. It was simply impossible. God needed a way to teach his people that it was impossible for them to be pure enough, correct enough, holy enough, to be able to come to God by ourselves. It is quite simply impossible to obey the entirety of the law. Christ came, and died in our place, to atone for our inadequacies, our sin, our inability to save ourselves. We were never expected to obey the law, we were expected fail it! It was Christ himself who summarized the law as “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. All we’re expected to do is live up to just that part, as best we can; Christ has already taken care of everything else.

The resurrection changed everything!

Can you imagine how Jesus’ disciples were feeling that weekend? We read, farther head in Luke, that some of them decided to leave Jerusalem. They had believed that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel from Roman occupation—to throw the bums out. But now Jesus was dead, they had given up, and so, there wasn’t much sense in sticking around. The new kingdom reality they had dreamed of had died with Jesus. So they just walked away. They didn’t yet understand all that Jesus’ death meant, and they certainly weren’t expecting him to return from the dead.

Some of the women, who were followers of Jesus, had gone out to the tomb and found it empty that same morning. They had seen angels, who told them that Jesus was alive! The women had told the other disciples, who also found the tomb empty. But they still couldn’t believe that Jesus wasn’t dead anymore. When they realized the truth, that Jesus really was alive, it changed everything. THE RESURRECTION CHANGED EVERYTHING!

Everything changed for them because this changed the whole world as they knew it. No longer were they tied to the Old Covenant system of animal sacrifices, and ritual clensings. No longer did a high-priest have to intercede on their behalf. Everything, absolutely everything they knew; about who they were, about their relationship to God, about every power and authority they’d ever dealt with, just about everything that people never expect to change, changed for them. THE RESURRECTION CHANGED EVERYTHING!

But how is Jesus’ resurrection good news for us? Does Jesus’ resurrection change everything for us? We can look for some explanation in Scripture. Paul wrote to the Romans about the old life:

We know that the law is holy; but I am not. I have been sold to be a slave of sin. I don’t understand what I do. I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do what I hate to do. I do what I don’t want to do. So I agree that the law is good. As it is, I am no longer the one who does these things. It is sin living in me that does them. I know there is nothing good in my desires controlled by sin. I want to do what is good, but I can’t. I don’t do the good things I want to do. I keep on doing the evil things I don’t want to do. I do what I don’t want to do. But I am not really the one who is doing it. It is sin living in me that does it.

Here is the law I find working in me. When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. Deep inside me I find joy in God’s law. But I see another law working in me. It fights against the law of my mind. It makes me a prisoner of the law of sin. That law controls me. What a terrible failure I am! Who will save me from this sin that brings death to my body? I give thanks to God who saves me. He saves me through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So in my mind I am a slave to God’s law. But sin controls my desires. So I am a slave to the law of sin.

Romans 7:14-25 (NIRV)

God has given us new life through Christ, Paul explained this transition when he wrote to the church at Ephesus.

You were living in your sins and lawless ways. But in fact you were dead. You used to live as sinners when you followed the ways of this world. You served the one who rules over the spiritual forces of evil. He is the spirit who is now at work in those who don’t obey God. At one time we all lived among them. Our desires were controlled by sin. We tried to satisfy what they wanted us to do. We followed our desires and thoughts. God was angry with us like he was with everyone else. That’s because of the kind of people we all were. But God loves us deeply. He is full of mercy. So he gave us new life because of what Christ has done. He gave us life even when we were dead in sin. God’s grace has saved you. God raised us up with Christ. He has seated us with him in his heavenly kingdom. That’s because we belong to Christ Jesus. He has done it to show the riches of his grace for all time to come. His grace can’t be compared with anything else. He has shown it by being kind to us. He was kind to us because of what Christ Jesus has done. God’s grace has saved you because of your faith in Christ. Your salvation doesn’t come from anything you do. It is God’s gift. It is not based on anything you have done. No one can brag about earning it. We are God’s creation. He created us to belong to Christ Jesus. Now we can do good works. Long ago God prepared these works for us to do.

Ephesians 2 (NIRV)

Everything changed for us because we get to live a different kind of life. Not a perfect life, not yet, not here, but a vastly different life, one with the Holy Spirit as our guide. That’s something that our Old Testament counterparts didn’t have. There’s a lot we can learn and discuss in Scripture; but if we never take our heads out the Bible, to interact with those around us, we miss the application part of the message. For the Resurrection didn’t just change the pecking-order in Heaven, nor did it just let us off the hook—as so many seem to think. The Resurrection was bigger than that, THE RESURRECTION CHANGED EVERYTHING!

Our old nature has died with Christ, we were in the resurrection with him, our old nature has no place. Jesus’ resurrection gives us victory over our old ways, and power to live in a new way. Those old behaviors are replaced with characteristics of God! Compassion! Faithfulness! Forgiveness! Empathy! We can cry with those who hurt, and rejoice with those who are happy! THE RESURRECTION CHANGED EVERYTHING by giving us the freedom, and the heart, and the authority to do what’s right! Not by saddling us with responsibility—that’s the old way. But rather, by allowing us to be the person we would want to be!

You wouldn’t know that, if you visited most congregations this morning. Oh sure, you’d hear a message of resurrection. But you’ll still hear most of the Church talking about Hell, eternal torment, and a hope of maybe going to Heaven—under the right circumstances; but they’re missing the message—the good news. The message to those Jewish believers at the end of the Old Covenant was that the Kingdom of God was at hand, we talked about that a few weeks back; but the Resurrection message, is really that you now have the power, the freedom, and the ability to do right. To love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind; and you neighbor as yourself. Now go do it!

The Resurrection Homily of John Chrysostom (circa 400 AD)

There was an Archbishop of Constantinople by the name of John Chrysostom, around 400AD. He was an important Early Church Father for a lot of reasons, but what we remember him for, mostly, was his preaching skill. You see, his last name, Chrysostom, was not a surname but rather, a byname; like John the Little, or Fredrick the Old, Chrysostom is Greek for ‘Golden-Mouthed.’ His most famous sermon was a very short message he gave, on Resurrection Sunday.

His little, tiny sermon, sometimes called a homily, is considered one of the best summaries every written on the Resurrection. So much so, that it continues to be translated into every major language, and in the Eastern Orthodox Church, it is traditionally read in church every year. It’s probably never been read in a UCC worship service, so it’s high time we did:

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works, as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors, and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike, receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry.

Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Palm Sunday sermonette

With the choir program today, Lance Haverkamp’s message was very short; just a quick look into the history of the events connecting Passover, Palm Sunday, and the Crucifixion:

Has everyone seen the Cecil B. DeMille epic, with a cast of thousands, The Ten Commandments? The is the 60th anniversary of the film, and it’s back on the big screen today and Wednesday at both the Interquest and the Cinemark.

That covers the older half of the congregation, now for the younger half: How many of you can tell me what the very first film from Dreamworks Studios was? Now this goes back a ways for some of you; it’s before Shrek, before How to train your dragon, even before El Dorado. It’s called The Prince of Egypt; how many of you have seen that? Great, well, it’s also the 20th anniversary of the The Prince of Egypt, and it’s available on both Netflix streaming, and Amazon.

Both of these films depict the Passover. Moses relays God’s message, to choose a lamb without spot or defect; and bring it into the house for 4 days. Of course you know what happens, the children play with the lamb, and become fond of it. During this time the families are told to rid the house of leavening for their bread. You may recall that we talked about leavening as a metaphor for sin, when we looked at the parables a few weeks ago.

After those 4 days they were required to slit the lamb’s throat, taking care not to break any bones. We see them dunking a fist-full of hyssop twigs into the the blood of the slaughtered lamb, and ‘painting’ the doorway. This tells the angel of death to avoid, or passover, these houses where God’s people lived. The blood of this lamb saved these people from death. After this the Israelites remember the passover every year with feast based on these events.

Remembrances of traumatic events tend to become ceremonial, and the practices around Passover became ceremonial as well. Every year, when the shepherds notice a particularly healthy lamb, they’d remember to show it to the high-priest. Every year the priest came-out of the North West gate from the city to select the finest lamb for the temple sacrifice. The high Priest would then carry the lamb, and ride back into Jerusalem sitting on a donkey. The townspeople would wave and lay their palm fronds and their coats, as a path to the temple. The priests would spend the 4 days until the feast inspecting the lamb, to assure that it met with their approval.

When Jesus rode the donkey through the city, the residents were there expecting to see the high priest, riding-though with the lamb. While the disciples were usually the last to figure-out any underlying message; many in the crowd realized what was happening, this Jesus who had been healing the sick, casting-out demons, & raising the dead, was taking the place of both the high-priest, and the lamb.

Christ spent those 4 days defending himself from the questions & accusations of the Pharisees & Sadducees, who eventually had Him brought before Pontius Pilate. They were fed-up with this troublemaker who was out-thinking them at every turn, and pointing-out the flaws in their teachings.

Our Response Is Always In Love

Our Response Is Always In Love

Lance Haverkamp – January 31, 2016

At the end of last week we were asking what the gospel really looks like. How we can be an example of that Gospel to others. The fact that the Gospel really doesn’t look like the popular misconceptions we hear about today. And most importantly, how we communicate that today.

Today’s reading is the well known chapter from Corinthians on Love. Now unless you just converted from Hinduism, you, like me, have heard several sermons, or read several articles on that chapter. You’ve heard it at weddings, you’ve heard it on Valentines Day. Some ministers have even preached an entire series using each of those comments, by Paul, as a separate message! The good news is I’m not about to rehash a Sermon we’ve all heard twelve times.

The really cool thing about following the Liturgical Calendar, we’ve been following lately, is that most of the time, there’s a flow to what we’re learning. Even though we’re jumping from the beginning of Luke, all the way to the middle of 1st Corinthians, it makes perfect sense: Last week we ended with a question, about how to best present the Gospel. And this week we can look at how Paul helped the Church at Corinth answer that very question. It’s almost like we’ve been doing this for 2,000 years, huh?

Corinth was a very important city, especially for those who traveled or traded. It was dangerous to travel around the southernmost part of Greece, due to frequent stormy weather. It was much better to take a shortcut. Traders or travelers could get off their ship near Corinth, carry their cargo across the narrow strip of land (about 4 miles across) and then load it onto another ship. Smaller ships could even be moved across a wooden slipway (a ship tramway with wooden rails) which was laid down from one sea to the other. It was worth all the effort to cross this land, because not only was the other way more dangerous, it was also a much longer trip (about a 200 mile journey). To go the short way over land, through Corinth, saved both time & lives!

Thanks to the apostle Paul’s extensive correspondence with the Corinthians, we are better informed about the church at Corinth than any other first-century church. In 1st Corinthians, in particular, the apostle addresses a wide range of issues affecting the community of believers, including divisiveness, litigation, food offered to idols, and class divisions at the communal meal. In so doing, he gives us an unparalleled, though hardly neutral, picture of the life of an early church.

The church at Corinth included some Jews, but it was largely composed of Gentile, pagan in this case, converts. Paul’s statements makes clear that the majority of church members were socially humble, some were slaves. Paul also implies that some members were wise, powerful, and even of noble birth.

In other words, with all their faults, with all their misconceptions, with all their various respective baggage, they were a whole lot like any modern congregation, anywhere else in the world. They wanted to be good, do right, be helpful, and represent the Gospel.

Most followers in those days, heavily relied on Spiritual Gifts to allow the Holly Spirit to minister to others. We have denominations who still use Spiritual Gifts with frequency. There’s one in the Forest, Gateway down on Shoup is, and there are many others in town.

The Corinthians let their human nature get the best of them, and began to argue amongst themselves about who’s Spiritual Gifts were the most important, and who had the most important jobs. Paul explained it to them like this:

Now, dear brothers and sisters, regarding your question about the special abilities the Spirit gives us. I don’t want you to misunderstand this. You know that when you were still pagans, you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols. So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.

Later he continues on with:

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:

first are apostles,
second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.

Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts.

But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.

And that’s where he jumps into that Reading for today, 1st Corinthians 13.

We’re going to end with Barb coming back up here & reading our Scripture again, because I don’t pretend to think I can say it better that Paul.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong  or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

“Is This the Same Jesus We Used to Know?”

“Is This the Same Jesus We Used to Know?”

Lance Haverkamp, January 24th, 2016; inspired by a message of Dr. R. Lee Carter

It was supposed to be a momentous occasion. The local boy who had “made good,” Jesus, was coming home. On his journey away from the old home town, this native son had actually rubbed shoulders with the famous holy man, John the Baptist. Perhaps the residents of Nazareth thought that a little bit of the famous prophet would rub off on him—and them. Nazareth was indeed a one-horse town, and many of the residents were related to Jesus. Like many of us, they probably didn’t know exactly how they were kin, but they were happy to claim him.

When they heard that Jesus was coming home, some no doubt thought of childhood days spent together growing up in the small village, and attending the synagogue school. Maybe some people even treasured something Jesus, the craftsman, had made; and treated it as a souvenir of this memorable homecoming. It would be good to see Jesus again, the same old Jesus they remembered.

The burden of coming home again, is everyone treating you as though you hadn’t changed; but you had changed—Jesus had changed. People assume that because you look about the same, that the changes are superficial, but they’re not. Ask any young person who leaves home, to answer the call of adventure, they are never the same again.
On the journey, they discover things about themselves they didn’t know about when they lived at home. They meet new people, they suffer the trials and temptations of life, they discover the gifts within them that they never would have known about, if they hadn’t left home. They have been on a quest, a hero’s journey; they have seen new heights—and depths. Who can stay the same?

There must have been hearsay about Jesus, about where he had been, and what he had seen. Some knew, even before Jesus had left Nazareth, that he was a young man wise beyond his years. His friends and family would, surely, be glad to see their favorite son again!  That’s why they planned a homecoming for him at the community center, the synagogue.

There, they would give Jesus a chance to tell them what he had learned.
Imagine yourself there: As you sit wondering if your old friend has changed, if fame has affected him, you notice the worship attendant retrieving the scroll of Isaiah out of the ark. A hush falls over the congregation. As he scrolls ahead to a particular passage, as Jesus reads, you realize that Jesus is confirming the hearsay, that he really is the Messiah! He’s bringing a message of good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed. He goes on to say that the time for the Lord to set this long awaited movement in motion is now!

The excited worshipers fill the room with praise for their favorite son. We can almost hear the banter: “Hey, I knew it all along that Jesus was going to make something of himself.” “It’s about time we Nazarenes got some limelight!” “He’s going to make all of us famous.”
Think of yourself as being there: You feel the impulse to run and embrace your old friend, thanking him for not forgetting his roots, for remembering the old neighborhood. But Jesus starts to speak, and slowly you realize that he’s not casting your people in a very good light after all. He even implies that foreigners and gentiles will be just as important in the Kingdom of God as Jesus’ own people.

It doesn’t take long for the shocked silence to turn to angry murmurs, and then to loud calls to put this traitor to death! You sit in shock, wondering to yourself, “Is this the Jesus I used to know? I thought he would help us out. Should I join the crowd in getting rid of him? Or, should I give him a chance to explain himself, find out what his plan is, and maybe, even join him in his mission?”

We belong to a generation that needs to re-discover Jesus and not just as the child at Christmas. That precious baby could not speak, but the Jesus who returned to his old synagogue certainly could! The teachings of Jesus still astound us, as long as we don’t assume that what he said fits our own agenda. By the time Jesus returned to Nasarath, He certainly had his own agenda.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

What exactly was that agenda? Nothing less than the transformation of the world, as they knew it! He heralded the dawning of the Kingdom of God. But what exactly do we mean by the Kingdom of God? The Kingdom of God is not a place. The Kingdom of God is not an institution. The Kingdom of God is not a spiritual feeling. The Kingdom of God is not a man-made social movement. The Roman Prefect Pilate asked Christ where His kingdom was; He answered “Not of this world.”

I guess a lot of people back in the day figured they knew what Jesus was going to say, before he said it. They knew the old hometown boy, right?
The Jesus of our childhood is not a disturbing Jesus, He is our friend. He says sweet things, He makes us feel good.
The Jesus of the gospels, however, says disturbing things. He doesn’t simply affirm us, and what we do, and what we stand for. He challenges us, and forces us to change the way hometown folk see things. This Jesus had been places we haven’t been. The Jesus of our adulthood demands that we do things outside of our comfort level. He’s really not so gentle, or meek, or mild. Is he the same Jesus we used to know?
Well, not if we have grown up, and realized that Jesus addressed the kinds of things that adults see in the real world. He disturbs us with his talk about possessions, the poor, hypocrisy—the double life. No, he doesn’t seem to be that same familiar hometown boy. He forces us to grow up, and grow in faith. He forces us to see the reality of life’s brutality, and inequities, and calls us to a life of service to others; especially to folks we don’t particularly care for.

Which denominations’ version of the gospel do we find this mature Jesus teaching?
* The prosperity gospel, whose believers are obsessed with accumulating wealth?
No, Christ taught us to share with those in need.
* The equality gospel, whose believers demand that government care for everyone?
No, Christ never said to ‘Give unto Caesar that with is God’s, so Caesar can care for the poor,’ in-fact, He said the poor will always be with you.
* The morality gospel, whose believers can’t tell religious metaphor from sin; and then demand that government punish both as a crime?
No, Christ reduced the entire Law & the Prophets to: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

These New Covenant misinterpretations are just a corrupt and self-centered as the those Nazarenes, and the Pharisees, of their day. The Gospel isn’t ‘us against them’, and it never has been!
So let’s allow Jesus to speak for himself. Try to hear his teachings as if you’ve never heard them before. You might try, as much as possible, to put yourself in the shoes of the people who first heard Jesus’ teaching. If you are not blown-out of the water, you are not listening, or you are assuming this is that same hometown boy.
Along with this new side of Jesus, I believe his words, and actions, especially his relationships with the people around him, will reveal that he reaches out to individuals who are lost and floundering. He embraces us just the way we are, cleansing us from sin, and giving us new and abundant life. In short, you will find that Jesus is the same wonderful friend you had known from your neighborhood. There’s just more to him than what you might have known.
In his parables, sermons, and actions, you’ll see Jesus laying out a plan for a human community that cares for all people. Depending on where you are right now, this may be a side of Jesus you’ve never fully experienced before, something a bit unsettling that will demand some hard choices.
As we grow older, it is our responsibility to awaken to a new side of Jesus, who addresses us where we are. That’s why gospel study is so exciting; we know that we have changed and matured. We must not expect Jesus to be the same hometown boy, as it were. We need to listen and not assume.
So what’s it going to be? Are you willing to risk giving your friend a chance to explain himself, to find out what his plan is, and maybe, even to join him in his mission?

Christ’s Baptism, and ours

Lance Haverkamp – January 17th 2016

If you were here two weeks ago, we briefly talked about ritual clensings required by some of the ceremonial/ritual parts of the Old Covenant Law. Sometimes you needed a head-to-toe clensing; you could use a walk-in bathtub sized basin called a “mikvah,” or use a river or lake. These head-to-toe ritual clensings were common, and well understood by the Jews at the time of Christ. In fact, they had also begun dunking new converts into Judaism; these were the so-called “God fearing Greeks” we find mentioned in the New Testament. So when the only son of a Jewish priest, by the name of Johanan ben Zechariah, started baptizing people in the Jordan River, it wasn’t something completely unheard of.
Now as you probably guessed, Johanan ben Zechariah is who we call John the Baptist. Johanan is the Hebrew name for Johnathan, ben means “son of”, and Zechariah was a Preist. An Old Covenant priest, who did his required two tours of service in the Temple every year.
Some of you will recall the family connection between John the Baptist and Christ:
The angel Gabriel told Zechariah; “your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.” (Luke 1:13–15)
Zechariah doubted this, as both he and his wife were very old. The angel told Zechariah that he would be unable to speak until these words were fulfilled, because he did not believe. After Zechariah returned home his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months she remained in seclusion—and Zechariah remained silent.
The angel Gabriel was also sent to Mary, then a virgin, who told her that she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and was also informed that her cousin Elizabeth had begun her sixth month of pregnancy. When Mary came to visit Elizabeth Baby John leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Well, it was that John about whom the prophet Isaiah was speaking, hundreds of years before, when he said:
“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!
The valleys will be filled,
and the mountains and hills made level.
The curves will be straightened,
and the rough places made smooth.
And then all people will see
the salvation sent from God.’”
John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem, and from all of Judea, and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins; he baptized them in the Jordan River.
When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? Prove by the way you live, that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”
The crowds asked, “What should we do?”
John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”
Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?”
He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.”
“What should we do?” asked some soldiers.
John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”
Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah. John answered their questions by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with fire.” John used many such warnings as he announced the Good News to the people. (Luke 3: 4-18)
So, this was the kind of gruff, outdoorsy, wild-man we’re talking about in John the Baptist. Not a soft shoulder to cry-on, when you’re having a bad day. This is part of the reason some Early Church theologians were kind-of embarrassed about John baptizing Jesus. Not only was John more than a little off the beaten path; it was also easy to mistake Jesus as a disciple of John…since John was the one doing the baptizing.
Since Sheila read from Luke, I’ll read from Matthew:
Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”
But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him.
After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”
The entire Trinity took part in Christ’s baptism. The Son said; it should be done—we must carry-out all that God requires. The Holy Spirit descended from heaven, like a dove, to settle on Jesus. The Father said; This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.
No Old Testament animal sacrifice, no matter how carefully selected, has ever been truly pleasing to God. It’s impossible to find an animal that didn’t have some blemish, some imperfection. Not only that, but the blood of those animals was, at best, only symbolic. But the sacrifice Jesus would make on the cross would be the true unblemished and spotless sacrifice.
The Jews were told to make those animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin; but with the understanding that a Messiah would come and atone for all sin. The animal sacrifices were merely a foreshadowing of the sacrifice that Christ would make through His death.
Likewise, we Baptize for the forgiveness of sins, not directly of course; if water could wash-away sin, Christ didn’t need to come to earth and die. We are practicing the same kind of shadow event that the Jews were practicing. It is through the real event that’s depicted in the baptism; that death into the water, and resurrection out of the grave, that we are forgiven.
For that death and resurrection which truly forgave our sins, Thanks Be To God.

When the last surviving disciples died, someone said “hey, we should write-down all the disciples teachings and sayings that we can remember, if they aren’t already recorded elsewhere.” That short document is called the Didache, which is Greek for Teachings. A section of that was on Baptism, let’s read it:
Concerning baptism, you should baptize this way:
After first explaining all things, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in flowing water.
But if you have no running water, baptize in other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, then in warm.
If you have very little, pour water three times on the head in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.
Before the baptism, both the baptizer and the candidate for baptism, plus any others who can, should fast. The candidate should fast for one or two days beforehand.

Here is the link to read the entire Didache, it’s only a few pages.

Beginnings—Both Old & New

Beginnings—Both Old & New
Lance Haverkamp – January 3rd, 2016

When we think Beginnings, we naturally think creation. But depending on whom you ask, you will get different pictures of what that beginning looked like. Ask most people from an even remotely Judeo-Christian background, and they’ll quote you Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” …and they’ll have additional Scriptural support for their position that:

God alone created everything (Isaiah 44:24)
“Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
who formed you in the womb:
I am the Lord, who made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who by myself spread out the earth;”

But then along comes some wahoo, with a penchant for studying, who will say that:

All things were created by/through Jesus (Colossians 1:16-17)
“for in Jesus all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. ”

This apparent conflict, isn’t really a conflict at all if you’re trinitarian; and is only a problem for a sub-set of unitarians (who hold to a hyper-literal understanding of the birth of the son of God).

Our Gospel Reading this morning came from the beginning of John, who was writing to those who followed the teachings of the Stoic philosophers. We read: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” The word “Word” there, is “Logos” in the Greek. It’s translated as “word,” “speech,” “principle,” or “thought.” The Stoics also referred to Logos as a universal, divine reason, or the mind of God.

So, where we read “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God;” it should be clear that the “Word” or Logos was a divine reference to Jesus Christ.

John argued that Jesus, the Word, or Logos is eternal, and is God. Furthermore, all creation came about by and through Jesus, who is presented as the source of life. Amazingly, this Logos came and lived among us, born to a Jewish girl, in the desert, 2,000 years ago. That’s why we’re studying about this shortly following Christmas; we’re supposed to know that connection. So, our text for this morning, which our doctrinal predecessors wanted us to discuss today, tells us that Christ was involved in creation centuries, or millennia, before he came to us, on earth.

We find the beginning of many things in Scripture, and we’ll talk more about the beginning of Christ’s ministry later this month; but the next huge beginning was that of the New Covenant, which we transitioned into, as we transitioned out of the Old Covenant:

You remember Abraham, you probably remember the children’s song: “Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had Father Abraham, I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s all praise the Lord…” Well, Abraham was married to Sarah, they were promised a great nation of descendants; but grew quite old, and were still without children. You remember that, right? Sarah sent her handmaiden, Hagar, to sleep with Abraham, so that a child could finally be born. As it turned-out both Hagar and Sarah became pregnant, and had sons; Ishmael and Issac.

In the forth chapter of Galatians, Paul wrote a metaphor: We are told about Abraham’s two women, Hagar and Sarah; they correspond to two cities, physical Jerusalem and heavenly Jerusalem. We are told that these two women/cities are symbolic of two communities of people, those under the old covenant, and those under the new covenant. Let’s read it:

“You who want to be under the authority of the law, tell me something. Don’t you know what the law says? It is written that Abraham had two sons. The slave woman gave birth to one of them. The free woman gave birth to the other one. Abraham’s son by the slave woman was born in the usual way. But his son by the free woman was born because of God’s promise.

    These things are examples. The two women stand for two covenants. One covenant comes from Mount Sinai. It gives birth to children who are going to be slaves. It is Hagar. Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia. She stands for the present city of Jerusalem. That’s because she and her children are slaves. But the Jerusalem that is above is free. She is our mother. It is written,

    “Be glad, woman,
    you who have never had children.
    Shout for joy and cry out loud,
    you who have never had labor pains.
    The woman who is all alone has more children
    than the woman who has a husband.” (Isaiah 54:1)

    Brothers and sisters, you are children because of God’s promise just as Isaac was. At that time, the son born in the usual way tried to hurt the other son. The other son was born by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman. Get rid of her son. The slave woman’s son will never have a share of the family’s property. He’ll never share it with the free woman’s son.” (Genesis 21:10) Brothers and sisters, we are not the slave woman’s children. We are the free woman’s children.”
–Galatians 4:21-31 (NIRV)

Why is this important? What is the point of this, seemingly unusual, analogy? Well, the most important point is that, as of the beginning of the New Covenant, we no longer live under the law. You see, under the law, my clothes are an abomination unto God. The law says you can’t mix your fabrics, and I’m wearing a permanent press shirt. To make matters worse, I matched it with a wool suit, and a silk tie! Clearly I am the abomination that my second-grade teacher knew I would grow-up to be.

There are hundreds of these old laws—613 to be exact. They fall into three broad categories: Health-related, Religious/Ethical teachings, and Ceremonial/Ritual.
So which category of the law do my abominable clothing fall under?
Is it ritual? No, things prescribed hand-washing & priestly garments are ritual.
Is it Health-related? No, mixing rayon with wool isn’t a health risk.
Is it religious, is there something unholy about cotton—besides having to iron it?
Of course not, it’s religious metaphor; it’s not about fabric, it’s about mixing the sacred with the profane, it’s telling God’s people not to mix their worship of Him, with those pagan rituals going-on around them.

We were never expected to follow all of the law. In fact, the primary reason for the law is to teach everyone that there is no way to be perfect in the sight of God. God designed a law that we couldn’t live-up-to. That’s why the Israelites made animal sacrifices under the Old Covenant, for the forgiveness of sin. Our new beginning, in Christ, meant those Temple sacrifices were no longer needed. God let the Romans destroy the Temple, and the priestly records in 70AD; to make sure the Jews could no longer obey the Old Covenant rituals. Christ became the final sacrifice so we could be accepted by God, as we are. This is the New Beginning made possible by Christ.

Now we, as a congregation, can begin anew; or not…

You see, there’s a ton of areas where we all agree, and that’s great! There’s also a lot of areas where, maybe, 90% of us agree; and really, that’s fine. We don’t have to agree on everything. There are, I believe, only three areas where we must decide how to proceed before we know what to look for, as we begin a new relationship, with a new minister:

The first is easy: How large do we want to the congregation to grow?
This is important because most young ministers are conditioned & trained for numerical growth. I’m just guessing, but I suspect most of our congregation wants to stay small-enough that you can know everyone, if you put forth a little effort. That’s called a “Family-sized” congregation; by the way, “Family-sized” is the smallest of four possible congregation sizes.

The second question is also moderately easy: What is the role of the minister?
We have no consensus on the role of the Pastor; neither in ministry, nor in management. Some want the minister to be the sea captain—setting the course, managing the crew, and piloting the ship. Others want the minister to do nothing more than preach, marry, bury, and visit the sick; leaving all matters of polity, personnel, and administration to the board. We must be able to tell them what we expect.

The third area requires the most work, that question is: What do we really hold as doctrinal beliefs within the congregation?
For decades we have had members, and leaders, with beliefs that range from Unity, or Unitarian Universalist on the far left; to squarely conservative/evangelical on the right. We have members who come from a very high-church background who think communion and baptism are sacraments that need to be preformed by clergy; and we have members who, like the modern UCC, accept any baptism, and consider communion a remembrance.

Every Pastor, and interim, we’ve had in the last decade, has had to field complaints, from members, about our congregation being doctrinally both too far left, and too far right—at the same time, depending on who’s complaining. To be honest, we may never be able to agree on these doctrinal questions. If not, this third question then becomes: How do we protect any new clergy from having to field complaints about our wide range of doctrinal beliefs?

We’ve had too many ministers in this congregation who felt that they had to please everyone, all the time; only to be frustrated by the impossibility of doing so. If we can not agree on doctrine, we must agree on a response that will defend our staff, when those challenges to our, wide range of, doctrinal beliefs arise.

Let’s be thankful for the beginning of creation, the beginning of Christ’s ministry, the beginning of the New Covenant; and let’s be thankful that we really have relatively little to do, before we can begin to search for a new minister.

Thanksgiving: A Reflection of God’s Love

Dr. Lance W. Haverkamp – Nov. 22, 2015

The Americans & the Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving. Just a few other countries do, and they were all introduced to the idea through us. A couple of years back, an online group was having a discussion; I mentioned that it was Thanksgiving day in the USA, and I said “thanks to all of you, who’s wit & wisdom I appreciate most every day.” One of the foreign members of this group wrote back: “Congratulations on not starving to death, I guess.” That’s pretty much the international understanding of the North American Thanksgiving tradition. They don’t understand, particularly the American, mix of religion and politics.
I think the confusion comes from the fact that Thanksgiving is uniquely Christian. There would be no Thanksgiving apart from Christianity. It’s not another secular harvest festival, there are lots of those. It’s also not a specific remembrance; all countries & religions have those, to remember one event or another.
Of all the things we are thankful for, as Christians, it all boils-down to God’s love for us, and we can find evidence of that all day long. Had it not been for God, we wouldn’t be here.  A section of Psalm 33 says:
“The Lord merely spoke,
and the heavens were created.
He breathed the word,
and all the stars were born.
He assigned the sea its boundaries
and locked the oceans in vast reservoirs.
Let the whole world fear the Lord,
and let everyone stand in awe of him.
For when he spoke, the world began!
It appeared at his command.”

…we are thankful for God’s creation.
But, God didn’t merely turn us loose after creation: The Old Testament is almost an unending back and forth between God helping His people, and His people growing weary of God’s ways. We read about thousands of years of that rocky relationship, with God always willing to take His people back.
I see that Old Testament time, with the law, existing to teach humanity that we can’t make-it without His grace. There is simply no way for us to be good-enough without God paving a way for our salvation. Not some first attempt, that didn’t work-out; but rather the necessary educational process we, as a species, had to go through in order to realize that we can’t do it on our own.
…we thank God for His continued willingness to accept us back into the fold.

The sending of Christ was the only way to fix our relationship with God. Nothing we could do could restore a proper relationship. Despite everything God did up to that point, we continued to fail.
…we thank God for His sacrifice which restored us to a proper relationship with Him…a topic we’ll remember in greater detail next week when Advent begins.

While Christ was with us, he often taught in parable. An unusual trio of parables is recorded in Luke 15. Those three parables are: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (or prodigal son). In these stories taken from daily life, Jesus talks about being thankful for finding that which was lost.

The late, great stand-up philosopher George Carlin did a comedy routine about “lost things.” He imagined that when something is missing it relocates to another dimension of lost stuff. When we find it, it has suddenly returned. In his view, “heaven is where we get all the stuff we lost back. That’s why it’s heaven.”

The coin mentioned by Luke was a Greek drachma, It was a silver coin, the common wage for a day’s labor. Some scholars have suggested that the coin may have been especially valuable to the woman if it was traditional jewelry; it was customary for Jewish women to save up ten coins and string them together for a necklace or hairdress. Other scholars wonder if it was one of 10 coins that was part of a marriage dowry, we don’t know—it’s not important to the story. The fact that there were 10 coins, in her story, and 100 sheep, in the other story, is important to the story. Throughout the middle east numbers carry meaning, and that meaning is often more important than the numbers themselves. Any multiple of ten, and particularly powers of ten; like 100, or 1,000 imply a completeness, a wholeness, an entirety of something.  The woman’s coins were incomplete without the tenth, and the flock incomplete without the hundredth.
When she lost one of her 10 coins she searched high and low, not stopping until she found the one missing coin, so none would be missing from her set.
Likewise in the story of the lost sheep, the shepherd would not rest until the one missing sheep was found, and returned to the fold with the other ninty-nine.

There was a reformation era theologian, most of you have heard of, by the name of John Calvin. He taught that some people are predestined for Heaven, while others are predestined for Hell. I don’t know how Calvin could read these parables from Christ, and think that God was going to tolerate even one person being lost.

To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them the parable of the Lost Son:
A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now, before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. This would be a horrible thing to ask of his father, as he would obviously be  living-off those assets.  This is a metaphor for God’s desire for us to have freedom of choice in our life—even though He knows we will make some bad choices.
A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve.
He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and was sent into the fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the vegetable rinds he was feeding the pigs looked good to him, but no one gave him any. Any Jew of Jesus’ day would have considered going hungry, while feeding unclean pigs as some kind of personal Hell.
When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’ So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’ Did you catch that? The father was looking for his son to return! He was not surprised! Elated, yes, but not surprised.
The father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began. Think about that: He was family, he rejected his father, was punished by his failure, but was accepted-back without reservation! How’s that for metaphor?
Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fatted calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’ The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this prodigal son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf?’

I have to wonder if that jealousy, or misplaced rage is what brought Calvin to his beliefs of Hell.

“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead, and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”
…we are Thankful for God, who expects to find every lost soul.

This is the Gospel we have, to be Thankful for. This is the love of God for His Children. Thanks be to God.