HERE’S THE DEAL JOB!

job5Job chapter 8 brings in one of my favorite characters: Bildad the Shuhite. It was always the running gag in seminary to ask the incoming freshmen who has the shortest character in the Bible. Of course they would always answer together, “Zacchaeus!” We would correct them right away that it was Bildad, as he was only a Shuhite—a Shoe Height—[insert groan]. But, as chapter 8 seems to bear out, Bildad was short—short in his dealing with Job’s circumstance.

Bildad begins with a technique familiar to Israeli wisdom literature: attack that last speaker’s speech. And in true form and fashion Bildad attacks and does not seem to let up until possibly at the end. If it was thought that Eliphaz was easy on Job, after reading chapter 8 no-one will make that assertion about Bildad.

“How long will you say these things and the words of your mouth be a great wind?” Bildad could have well said, “Come on Job, how much longer are you going to continue speaking all this nonsense?”  Job follows it up with a question—possibly a rhetorical question—asking, “Does God pervert justice?” Yet, that is not exactly Job’s complaint. Job’s lament was that God was treating him rather harshly.

Bildad differs from Eliphaz though in his appeal is to past history and nature to justify his message 8-10. Eliphaz justified his message recanting a dream. Then, in verses 11-19, Blidad launches into a series of rhetorical questions (11-13) and answers/explanations (14-19) to begin closing out his speech.  The bottom line of Bildad’s speech however, is summed up in verse 20: Behold, God will not reject a blameless man [remember we have been told that Job is blameless], nor take the hands of the evildoers. If we think of Israel as the legalists that they have always been made out to be, this might bear some weight. But we have to actually see Israel as they were; they were never ones who believed their salvation was in perfect Law keeping. There was atonement for sins in Israel. Yet, it must be remembered that this story comes before the Law and possibly Israel. So, while we have been told that Job is blameless, there were none who were blameless before God. And, this statement by Bildad, in all his bluntness and shortness sets the stage for Job’s reply in chapter 9.

COLLECT FOR TODAY:

Lord God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ triumphed over the powers of death and prepared for us our place in the new Jerusalem: Grant that we, who have this day given thanks for his resurrection, may praise you in that City of which he is the light, and where he lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Until Next Time, May the Good Lord Bless and Keep you!

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Have We Neglected Going Down In The River?

alexDr. John Mark Hicks makes that claim that for the early church being a Christian meant one was baptized and that it was understood that if one was not a Christian one was not baptized.[1] As well, Bruce contends, “the idea of an unbaptized Christian is simply not entertained in the New Testament.”[2] Yet, in recent years the same case cannot be made. Baptism has been reduced by many simply to an initiatory rite for church membership, membership into a local church body. Yet, looking at the biblical record shows baptism to be something more than just a rite of passage into a church membership. It has to be remembered that “church membership,” in its current/modern understanding is quite different than what it would have meant in Frist Century, Second Temple Judaism.  While the Bible presents baptism as a salvific event, a sacrament, the modern church has reduced the salvific event to a prayer that is never found in scripture. The biblical record shows baptism, when coupled with belief, to be the event whereby salvation occurs.

Preliminary Concerns:

Before diving into the waters of biblical baptism there are a few preliminary concerns that need to be addressed: The thief on the cross and the definition of church.

For most people “the thief on the cross” provides the test case for baptism not being an essential for the salvation event. Without rehashing a story known to all, a few brief details will be given to set the story given in Luke 23. The “thief” was crucified beside Christ. In his last minutes he asked Christ to remember him when he, Christ, comes into his kingdom. Christ answers by assuring him that he would that day be in paradise with Christ.

Two points of clarification are all that need be made about the thief to dispel that he represents salvation apart from baptism. First, the command for baptism was given by the risen Christ in Matthew 28. So, at the time of the thief’s death there was no command to be baptized. A second point, and a major point, is that the thief, just as Christ, died under the Old Covenant. The New Covenant was not in force until the death of its mediator, Christ: Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.  For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established.  For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. (Hebrews 9: 15-17).[3]

Another argument could be put forth that it is known whether the thief was baptized or not.  While some may argue that the thief did not have time to get off the cross and be baptized, it cannot be said that he was not baptized before going to the cross. It is biblical record that both the disciples of John the immerser and the disciples of Jesus were both baptizing. So it could well have been that the thief was a baptized person. This case is weak an unprovable, and the first two provide enough emphasis to disqualify the thief as a test case, a scriptural proof, that baptism is not essential for a true New Covenant conversion.

The experience of the thief would best be seen, as Schroeder writes, “When Jesus responds, ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise,’ the ‘today’ focuses not only on what awaits the repentant criminal, but equally on what Jesus is accomplishing, namely, coming into his kingdom. ‘Today, Jesus is dying with sinners.”[4] Instead of viewing the thief as a proof text for the lack of necessity of baptism, it is best viewed as centered on the work of Christ.

Of equal concern is the definition of the word “church.” The term is use almost without thought while its meaning seems to dangle in the undefined. For purposes of this paper church will be defined in two ways. Designated by a capital “C” it will represent the church universal: the entire body of Christ. When written with a lower case “c” it will represent the local church: the place where believers meet typically on, but not limited to, a Sunday morning. As some claim baptism to be an initiatory rite into one or both of these the definitions will aid in the understanding.

ACTS 2:38 and 1 Peter 3:21

No matter who one interprets Acts 2:38, those who were baptized that day were added to the Church or the church.

After the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, Peter, through a sermon, explains to those present what has just happened. After his sermon, he is asked what they must do now. Peter’s response, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2: 38).  Without consulting commentaries or journals it seems that apart from baptism there is no remission of sin. Yet, many, in order to safeguard “salvation by grace alone, have diminished the phrase. Gaertner writes, “This position disregards the very common use of eis in the New Testament to mean ‘for the purpose of, in order to.’ In Matthew 26:28 where this exact phrase appears, Jesus says his blood is poured out’ for (eis) the forgiveness of sins. It would be absurd to argue that the phrase means ‘because of’ and that Jesus’ blood was poured out because sins had already been forgiven.”[5] Gaertner continued writing, “Whatever Peter says about the forgiveness of sins follows from both imperatives. Just as repentance is needed “for the purpose of” the forgiveness of sins, so is baptism. This position need not rob the plan of salvation of its basis in the grace of God. Both imperatives expect action to be taken on the part of the sinner. [6] For Gaertner, whatever repentance means in the salvation process, baptism means the same.

Horton on the other hand, takes the position of baptism “because of  … .” Horton writes, “That is, they must repent first, then [Peter] would baptize them. We are saved  by grace through faith, not through baptism. After repentance, water baptism becomes a ‘pledge’ or testimony, of a good conscience that has already been cleansed.”[7]

The problem with Horton’s assessment is he works to hard to protect a doctrine instead of letting scripture say what is says. Instead of allowing scripture to set doctrine, he is good with the idea of letting doctrine set what scripture says. As has been shown earlier the error in this line of exegesis, his outcome fails to take into account other scripture which declares that baptism does in fact now save.

Peter wrote, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). For Peter, salvation happened at the baptism event. Black asserts, “any view of baptism which finds it a rather embarrassing ceremonial extra, irrelevant to Christian salvation, is not doing justice to New Testament teaching.”[8] This, a ceremonial act, it is what much of modern Christianity has reduced the sacrament of baptism to. Bock backs this statement writing, “The act of baptism portrays a washing and signifies what repentance produces, cleansing.”[9] But, can repentance by itself produce such an event? A Radical Islamic Terrorist known for the murder of Christians may repent from murder; he may stop murdering. Yet, he has made no profession of Christ or been baptized. Has his repentance alone saved him? To answer this question one need look no farther than the case of the Apostle Paul.

 

Paul of Tarsus

 

Paul himself claimed to be the chief of sinners. Yet, on the Damascus road he had an encounter with the risen Christ. Two points need to be made here. First, Paul, or Saul as he was known at that time, was on a mission to persecute Christians. And, after his encounter with Christ that mission was thwarted. One need not look too far to see that there was repentance. If this was the only story available about Paul, the outcome would have to be that he had relented. But, the story of Paul goes a bit farther. Paul was told to go on to Damascus. When there, in his own words, “Ananias came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name’ (Acts 22:13-16, emphasis added).

For Paul, the sins were not washed away until the baptism. Paul’s account of his salvation affirms Acts 2:38:

Acts 2:38                          Paul’s Salvation account

Repent                              Repented

Be Baptized                      Was Baptized

Remission of Sins              Sins Washed Away

 

These elements in Paul’s conversion can be found throughout the New Covenant writings as well as early church writings. And, it has to be remembered that it was Paul gave the doctrine of salvation by grace (Ephesians 2:8-10). Man, in an attempt to clarify what was never murky has come upon and taught something never taught or implied in scripture.  If baptism is relegated to a “work” repentance has to be given the same status; Acts 2:38 presents them on an even keel where salvation is concerned. In all fairness to the question, repentance is much more of a work than baptism. One has to work at repentance; one simply submits to baptism.

The biblical case has been made that apart from belief AND baptism there is now salvation. At baptism sins are washed away. Apart from baptism there is no biblical case that can be made for remission of sins. All New Covenant conversions contain baptism either directly stated or implicit.  As Cukrowski sums it up, “Luke’s exclusive mention of one of these three items is not a denial of the other two. Thus, in writing to a Christian audience, Luke presumes that his readers know an obedient response to God involves faith, repentance, and baptism.”[10] The question now turns onto church membership.

 

Big “C” or Little “c”

Acts 2:41 reads, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” The question then that has to be answered, and is the subject and summation of a rather lengthy introduction of sorts, is simply, “where were they added?”

One could throw out all commentaries and writings and from a simple reading of Acts come to the logical conclusion that the souls added were simply added to the number of souls saved. There are roughly 15 language groups mentioned in Acts chapter 2. Each of these groups in Jerusalem for Pentecost. Pentecost being one of three feast that required the Jew to travel to Jerusalem. Logically speaking, if they traveled there, they would again travel home. If the souls added were added to a local church—if baptism was simply an initiatory rite into local church membership—which local church were they added to, the church in Jerusalem or the church from where they came?

The problem with this is there were no local churches from where they came—nor even in Jerusalem for that matter as this was the day the church was born! At best, Luke presents a beginning of sorts to a budding community of people who have repented and been baptized. But, the community that Luke follows at this point is one that remains in Jerusalem. While the others who were added would have went on their way setting up communities in their native lands. For Jervell these souls were added to the “flock of disciples.”[11] Horton seems to agree using an upper case “C,” “we can be sure that all three thousand new believers were added to the Church received the of the Father as Peter said they would and were filled with the Spirit, speaking in other tongues as in Acts 2:4” (emphasis added).[12] The second part of Horton’s quote cannot be defended and is in itself a research paper. The point though being, there was no church at this time for these souls to be added. Yet, there was a Church. If the doctrine is based on biblical record, from Acts 2:41 the only conclusion that can be drawn is baptism was into the Church, the Body of Christ universal.

Another biblical case against baptism being an initiatory rite in to local church membership presents itself a few chapters later.

In Acts 8 the story of Phillip and the Ethiopian is told.  Phillip is sent by the Spirit to a desert place. Here he sees and Ethiopian eunuch reading Isaiah. When Phillip asked the Ethiopian if he understands what he is reading, the Ethiopian responds asking how can he if he has no-one to teach him. From here, Luke says, “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). From Isaiah Phillip taught, or as the NASB translates it preached, Jesus. That alone is nothing to add to the current discussion. Yyet, what follows is. Luke wrote, “And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him” (Acts 8:36-38). One is left with the question, which local church was the Ethiopian baptized into membership with? He did not travel back to Jerusalem to be a part of the church there. There is one point to be made from the story: If Jesus is preached baptism is a part of the preaching. The only church in view is the Church universal. The pericope is not designed to show how one enters into a local church, but to show the spread of the gospel. As Polhill puts is a eunuch, a black, a Gentile is baptized into the Body of Christ.[13] This helps to fill out the road map of the gospel laid out in Acts 1:8— But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (emphasis added).

There were no churches in Ethiopia at this time. So, the question that has to be asked is was the Ethiopian baptized into church or Church? The story of the Eunuch was never about local church membership. It is a story to show the growth of the gospel. It shows the spread of the gospel passing barriers. Salvation, and thus Church membership, is not limited to Jews, but is now open to all people. Paul says this is the mystery of the New Covenant, “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6). Luke is not concerned with membership into some local country club called the church; his concern is the Body of Christ, the universal Church.

Looking back at the Apostle Paul’s own conversion leaves the question of which local church was his baptism an initiatory rite for granting entrance? Looking back, Paul was converted in Damascus. Yet, there was no church in Damascus at the time. Into which church then Paul granted membership?

The only answer in the case of Paul can be that his baptism put him in the Church universal, not a local church establishment—they were non-existent. At best, where Paul is concerned, local church membership could be argued for Antioch, and even this is a weak argument. Acts 13 shows a local body of believers called the church at Antioch. Luke writes, “Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:1-3, NIV). While the case can weakly be made that Paul could have been a member of the body at Antioch as they seem to be the sending church for the missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, scripture shows Paul was not baptized to be a member there. It would be a much better explanation to say Paul was baptized into the universal Church and spent time with the local body at Antioch. The biblical record suggests that baptism is into the universal Church and the believer places his membership where he decides to worship.

 

A Few Loose Ends

Believer’s baptism should be accepted as the norm. Without belief baptism is simply getting wet. This should disavow any doctrine of infant baptism. If one is to believe and repent how can an infant participate?

If baptism is simply an initiatory rite for church membership why are people not re-baptized when they move from one city another and begin going to a new church? It seems this practice alone ‘shoots in the foot’ the doctrine that baptism is for local church membership. Iit alone suggests that there is something deeper in the ordinance of baptism; it suggest that baptism is into the Church Universal.

Common, modern, practice has relegated salvation to a stock prayer recited by the new believer. The prayer has come to be known as the Sinner’s Prayer. Yet, said prayer is nowhere to be found in the Holy Scriptures. This, though, is the common path to salvation. Baptism then is relegated as a secondary thought to gain admission into a local church fellowship. This differs vastly from the biblical picture that has been presented. For the biblical record does not view baptism as a rite or ordinance, but sees baptism as a sacrament. It is the only sacrament the Bible records.

 

Conclusion

 

No matter what ideas and doctrines man forms, the biblical record will always have precedence, as it should. From before the death of Christ, and the command to baptize, a thief was saved. He was saved just as any Old Covenant person would have been saved. After his resurrection Christ gave the command to baptize. And, on that first Pentecost after His resurrection the command was put into action. Yet, with no local churches it cannot be successfully argued that the command to be baptize was for admission into a local church. Numbers were added that day but not to a local church; numbers were added to the Universal Church, the Body of Christ.

From that first Pentecost the gospel spread, as Christ had said in Acts 1:8 it would. Starting with an Ethiopian, Christ was preached and he asked to be baptized. The argument cannot be made that it was into a local church as there were none in Ethiopia. He was baptized into the Universal Church, the Body of Christ.

Paul, formerly Saul, of Tarsus was encountered. On his way to Damascus he met the risen Christ. He repented and was subsequently baptized. His baptism was not for admission to a local church. The biblical record shows it was to wash his sins away. Paul’s baptism was not for entrance into a local church; his baptism was into the Universal Church, the body of Christ.

Baptism, when coupled with belief, is the salvific event. While man has formed doctrines to down play the event and make it an initiatory rite into local church membership, the Bible never places it in such a position. In the Bible baptism is never an ordinance or rite; it is always a sacrament. Too many, and too often, theologians have only looked at scripture through the lens of the Reformation theologians and endeavored to protect a doctrine of grace and faith alone. The Bible, on the other hand, puts forth the doctrine of grace and faith alone and has baptism as a part of that equation. Simply stated, baptism is not an initiatory rite into a local church membership, it is part of the salvation event into the Universal Church, the body of Christ.

Collect for Baptism:

Heavenly Father, by the power of your Holy Spirit
you give to your faithful people new life in the water of baptism.
Guide and strengthen us by the same Spirit,
that we who are born again may serve you in faith and love,
and grow into the full stature of your Son, Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit
now and for ever. Amen.

 

Until Next Time, May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

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[1] John Mark Hicks, Down In The River to Pray (Abilene: Leafwood, 2012), 181.

 

[2] F.F. Bruce, Commentary on the Book of Acts (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 77.

[3] All verses Holy Bible English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

[4] Edward Schroeder, “Luke’s Gospel through a Systematic Lens,” in Currents in Theology and Mission 3, no. 6 (1976): 340.

[5] Dennis Gaertner, Acts (Joplin: College Press, 1993), S Acts 2:38.

 

[6]Ibid.

[7] Stanley Horton, Acts (Springfield: Logion, 1981), 79.

[8] Allen Black and Mark C. Black, 1 & 2 Peter (Joplin: College Press, 1998), S. 1 Peter 3:21.

 

[9] Darrell L. Bock, Acts (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 142.

[10] Ken Cukrowski, “What Must I do To Be Saved?” in Fanning the Flames: Probing the Issues in Acts ed.

Mark E. Moore (Joplin: College Press, 2003), 297.

[11] Jervel quoted in Bock, Acts (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 146.

 

[12] Horton, 82.

[13] John Polhill, Acts (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), 226.

Lectionarily Speaking: ARE WE LETTING THE FIELDS TURN BROWN?

harvestAs the Season after Pentecost moves along toward the Reign of Christ, the sun of late Spring feels quite a bit like a mid-Summer sun. And, the plants, the gardens, are trying to hold their own.  Quite appropriate is this week’s gospel passage which includes Matthew 9:37-38—Jesus saying, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” While this particular verse holds special significance for me as my ordination service was set around these verse, for the church it holds an even higher significance.

            The church in general has become complacent with indoor Christianity: If we liken the church to a boat most are happy on a pew and sailing toward Heaven each Sunday morning, while the rest of the world goes on by. It seems that the early church, the missional church, under the missio Dei, has, in many instances, been left by the wayside. In a world where the fields need plowing, as well as planting, praying God to send workers into the field has seem to stop. Yet, the passages for this week show us another way, a preferable way.

            What if the 21st century church answered God as the people of Israel answered Moses in Exodus 19:8? “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” If the modern church took this stance Sunday morning sailing wouldn’t be enough. It would have to filter in Matthew 28:19—Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. It’s hard to go while you are simply sitting!

            The Psalmist wrote, “O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant” (Psalm 116:16). But are we serving God, or letting the church serve us with fancy lights, videos, and rock concert atmospheres? While relax inside the church are we letting the fields, once ripe for harvest, turn brown? Are we serving the Lord when a world outside the doors of the church is hurting on a grand level?

            Christ said to pray for workers to be sent into the fields. For Christ, 2000 years ago just as now, the harvest was ready. Yet, are we ready for it? Do we “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” (Psalm 100:1), but make it low enough as to not attract the attention of a hurting world? Do “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1), but keep that peace hidden from those whose lives need peace?

            Yes, the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. But, we were told to pray for workers to be sent to the field. And, if we look close at this week’s Gospel passage, as soon as Christ said to pray for workers to be sent, he sent them. He sent them to proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven was near! What if the modern church was to turn back to the missio Dei and proclaim that the Kingdom of God was near? Christ has shown that if we pray for workers to be sent to the field he will send them. As we move to the Reign of Christ, let us pray the Lord to send workers into the fields and with a joyful noise proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven is a present reality! Let us not become complacent sitting on a pew sailing toward Heaven; Peter only walked on water when he got out of the boat!

 

A Collect for Missions:

Almighty God, who called your Church to witness that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself: help us to proclaim the good news of your love, that all who hear it may be drawn to you; through him who was lifted up on the cross, and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen!

 

Until next time, May the Good Lord Bless and Keep you!

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HOLY TRINITY, ST. PATRICK, AND SHAMROCKS!

cloverThe church year moves right along. This week, as Pentecost has just been celebrated, the year looks at the Holy Trinity. We profess the Holy trinity each week in the Nicene creed when we say, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The are always together and in unity: God never has to call the Son and the Spirit in for an emergency meeting! It is awful hard for me as one of Irish descent to even think of the Holy Trinity without thinking of St. Patrick.  While it is debatable if St. Patrick used the shamrock to teach the trinity—as legend has it—the shamrock has come to be both a symbol of the saint as well as the Holy Trinity!

If we think of that clover leaf, we can envisage the three leaves that make the clover, each leaf standing alone, yet together with, equal to, and in unity with the others. If we look at the lectionary readings for Holy Trinity Sunday we can see the three always together, working together, and in unity.

Genesis 1:1-2 states, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” While the Messiah is not explicably mentioned, we know from John’s Gospel that “All things were made through [the Messiah], and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). Together, in unity the three work together, just as the three leaves of the shamrock work together to make up the shamrock; the same DNA. The creed says of the Father and the Son:

“God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.”

The Spirt, the giver of life, proceeds from the Father and the Son—the Son is the bread of life, the Spirit is the giver of life; the Spirit must be then one with the Son—who is one with the Father. While leaf one is not leaf two, and leaf two is not leaf three—which also is not leaf one—the Son is not the Father and the father is not the Son, the Spirit is neither of the two and the two are not the Spirit, they are all three the one God: Hear O Israel, the lord our God, the Lord is one!

In the Bible there is only one command that is given to be done in the name of the Holy Trinity. This points us to the Gospel reading for Holy Trinity Sunday: Matthew 28:16-20. Baptism is to be done in the name of the Holy Trinity: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …” Again, we look to the creed: We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. One baptism, for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), yet in the name of the three—which are always together, as are the leaves of the Shamrock. And, it is through the one baptism that the Spirit—which proceeds from and is one with the father and the son—is received.

Whether St. Patrick went to Connaught where he met two of King Laoghaire’s daughters, Ethne and Fedelm; St. Patrick had been unable to persuade the king to convert, but he convinced the king’s daughters; during their time of instruction St. Patrick used a shamrock to visualize the mystery of the Trinity, how a single plant with three leaves is analogous to the one Triune God with three separate and distinct Persons, might be open to debate. Or, possibly—or possibly not— St. Patrick was traveling and happened upon a number of Irish chieftains along a meadow. The tribal leaders were curious about the Trinity and asked St. Patrick for an explanation. So he bent down, picked a shamrock, and showed it to them, and explained how the three leaves are part of the one plant, and how similarly the three Persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, are part of one Supreme Being. Even more debatable is whether St. Patrick ran all the snakes out of Ireland.

But, the certainty lies in the fact that the Holy Trinity has existed from eternity past into eternity future. Three, are always together; they were together at the creation. They were together at Jesus’ baptism—the dawning of the new creation. They are together at our baptism—they give us life and all that is needed to have a favorable outcome at the final judgment.

However you describe the Holy Trinity, the words unity and one have to be a part of the description. Does a shamrock do justice to the mystery of the Trinity? Probably not. But, our language has trouble describing all things God. We believe in God; we are saved by the work of Christ on the cross; our bodies are animated by the Holy Spirit.

Until Next Time, may the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

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REIGN OF CHRIST: Pentecost and Beyond

reignofchrist1Pentecost 2017 is now in the history books and for many it is a slow season—the season after Pentecost—as there are no ‘big’ events in the church year until the end of the year with the reign of Christ-or Christ the king. We spend the beginning of the year looking at the Advent; and too many times it seems we concentrate all of our spiritual energy from Advent to Pentecost—and for that matter focusing more of our energy on Advent and Christmas than on Easter through Pentecost. The season after Pentecost seems to get push aside. Yet, it moves toward the final date of the year—the Reign of Christ—and its teaching is rich.

We too often lose sight of the fact that the Gospels teach how Jesus—God—became King. And in the creeds themselves the middle part of the gospel message is left out. Whether you The Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed they go from being ‘born to the Virgin Mary’ to ‘suffering under Pontius Pilate.’  The miracles, the parables, as well as His teachings are sadly absent. If we rely solely on the creeds we would be left to see the Messiah as being born and being crucified and resurrected. The in between 33 years he really didn’t do much. Yet, as we look at the Season after Pentecost Christ did quite a bit and taught a lot as well.

We’ve made everything about a future hope that was to happen after the Ascension and forgotten that the Christ taught us to pray for Heaven to come on earth. We’ve re-interpreted many of the parables to be about the Christ’s second coming as opposed to their original context—his incarnation! For many the parable of the Ten Minas is all about the second coming, but it is better to see it as a parable about the first coming of the Christ. Of the ruler in the parable Christ says, “his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us’” (v. 14). If we think about that in relation to Luke’s reporting that when as what they wanted done with Jesus and the yelled, “crucify him,” the Parable of the Ten Minas can be seen in a new light—a light that puts the parable squarely into Jesus’ incarnation, not His second coming: The King has come to an unfaithful Israel.

America’s, and really all of western, theology has an obsession with the second coming—fueled in part by the Left Behind series. As such, we tend to want to interpret everything in relation to a second coming. We celebrate the birth; we celebrate Easter—though sadly it has become a second-rate religious holiday; we look forward to the Second Coming. We practice the creeds—we skip 33 years of the life of the Christ.

As we move through the Season after Pentecost, let us see Christ in a different setting. Let us see Christ as he became King. Let it build to the year ending Reign of Christ. The first reading in Matthew for the Season after Pentecost is Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23). Matthew 9:35 states, “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.” The Kingdom Christ proclaimed was not a future event waiting to happen; He proclaimed a Kingdom in the here and now (Mark 1:15)! He was declared King at his baptism—sadly missing from the creeds! He proved his Kingship through his miracles and his teaching as one who had authority (sadly missing from the creeds!).

While the Reign of Christ ends the church year, the Season after Pentecost shows how the King came to rule. It shows how the King set up His Kingdom and proved he was the rightful King. He taught us to pray, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. The King was here to show us how to make that a reality. Many might see the Season after Pentecost as a ‘lull’ in the church year, but if we look at it as showing how Christ came to rule it can be one of the richest seasons of the church year!

 

Collect of the day:

Most holy God, the source of all good desires, all right judgments, and all just works: Give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, so that our minds may be fixed on the doing of your will, and that we, being delivered from the fear of all enemies, may live in peace and quietness; through the mercies of Christ Jesus our Savior. Amen.

 

Until Next Time, May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You!

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When In Rome (part1): Euangelion

ColosseumNight2More has been written about the book of Romans than possibly any book of the Bible—with the possible exception of Revelation. From Augustine to Luther the book has been credited with the turning around of lives.  And early one St. Paul makes known one of the main themes of the epistle: the gospel. The Greek word he uses is euangelion, which simply translates as good news. Paul makes it known that he was set apart for the Gospel, the Good news, the euangelion, of God. Over the years the gospel –especially in the modern western church, the euangelion, has been watered down to simply believe in Jesus and go to be with God when you die, a sort of fire insurance. And while that might be a part of its message, is that the good news, the euangelion, that Paul was proclaiming to the church in Rome?

            In 1st century usage, the euangelion meant something different than its modern usage. The good news was a proclamation. It was a proclamation that something had happened, and because that something had happened something else would happen. It could be the accession or birthday of a ruler or emperor.[1] When Nero ascended there would have been a proclamation of this good news—this euangelion. And the good news, the euangelion, that St. Paul is proclaiming to the church in Rome is that we have a new King—his name is Jesus. N. T. Wright asserts, “Jesus saw himself as a prophet announcing and inaugurating the kingdom of YHWH; he believed himself to be Israel’s true Messiah; he believed that the kingdom would be brought about by means of his own death at the hands of the pagans. He believed, that is, that the message of the Isaianic herald was coming true at last: Israel’s god was becoming king, ‘Babylon’ was being defeated, and the exile was over at last.”[2] While Israel was back from physical exile, they were still under the Roman rule. Now, the true King had returned and Israel was at last returned from exile. Jesus the Christ was King of Heaven and earth.

            For the Gentiles—the church in Rome was made of both Jews and Gentiles, they can now be grafted into the covenant with the Jews (Romans 11). As well it allows the Gentiles to return from exile: their exile from God due to sin. But, now the good news, the euangelion, that Paul proclaims to the church in Rome is that there is a new King, an eternal King, of Heaven and earth. And because there is a new King has returned Heaven and earth have come together. Both Jew and Gentile are welcomed into the covenant. The Jew has returned from exile as the King has returned for the Gentile their exile from sin is possible. The age to come has been inaugurated. Our exile is over. When we celebrate the Eucharist we taste the new world and of which we are a part.

            Paul was not ashamed, or as Krister Stendahl writes afraid[3], to proclaim the new King to the people who shouted we have no king but Caesar and to those in the town where the Caesar resided. Why then do we hesitate so often to so do?

 

Until next time may the Good Lord Bless and Keep You: All Y’all!

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[1] N. T. Wright, Romans (Nashville: Abingdon Press: 2002), 415. 

[2] N. T Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God V2: Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), Kindle Location 12380-12394.

 

[3] Krister Stendahl, Final Account: Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995) Kindle Location 309.