Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Chris & Abby

“And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." They immediately left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.” (Mt. 4:18-22)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the most famous Christian leaders of the resistance against Hitler’s Third Reich. He had made his way out of Germany for a little while early on, but he refused to stay out. “I shall have no right,” he wrote to a friend, “to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people…” After working tirelessly for several years to encourage and lead the faithful Christians in Germany, he was finally arrested by the Gestapo on April 5th, 1943. He spent two years in concentration camps, and was finally killed in Flossenburg by special order of Himmler on April 9th, 1945, just a couple of days before Allied troops arrived. One of Bonhoeffer’s most famous works is the book “The Cost of Discipleship.” Bonhoeffer’s comments and observations in that book are given particular weight and glory by virtue of Bonhoeffer’s own death. He famously says, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” In the forward of the edition I own, GKA Bell writes of that statement: “There are different kinds of dying, it is true; but the essence of discipleship is contained in those words. And this marvelous book is a commentary on the cost. Dietrich himself was a martyr many times before he died.”

Bonhoeffer describes the call of Jesus as “nothing else than bondage to Jesus Christ alone, completely breaking through every program, every ideal, every set of laws. No other significance is possible, since Jesus is the only significance. Beside Jesus nothing has any significance. He alone matters.” (58-59)

In our text for today from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus calls two sets of brothers: Simon Peter and Andrew and then James and John. But it might seem odd to choose this text for a wedding homily. On the one hand, this text seems singularly unromantic. It seems out of place, even a bit crass for a beautiful ceremony like this. Here we are in our finest clothes: we have a beautiful young woman being given to a handsome, faithful man. And I’ve just read about a bunch of dirty fisherman and their smelly nets and boats. And on the other hand, there’s nothing here about love, nothing about making love, husbands, wives, having babies, Adam and Eve naked in the garden, all the usual sorts of topics for wedding sermons.

And I’ve also begun with a rather morbid introduction about a martyr and a reminder of the great evils sinful men are capable of. But if Bonhoeffer is right, if it is true that “beside Jesus nothing has any significance. He alone matters,” then it is true here. It is true right now at this wedding ceremony. If beside Jesus nothing else matters, then beside Jesus this ceremony doesn’t matter. Your beauty, your faithfulness, the flowers, the candles: nothing else matters.

And that’s the point of the text: Jesus is not at all concerned about the abruptness of his call. He does not apologize for interrupting. And elsewhere he makes it clear that He is interrupting. He means to interrupt. In Mark, Jesus calls Levi while he is sitting at his tax office. Jesus orders Levi to leave his occupation. There is no indication that Levi gave his two weeks notice or even notified his superior. In Luke 9, the time table is even more explicit. When Jesus calls a couple of people they ask to first go and bury their father or to go home and say goodbye, and Jesus responds by saying, ‘No, follow me now, or else you are not fit for the kingdom of God.’ Jesus says to his would-be disciples: Follow me. Follow me now. He interrupts their lives.

We are here celebrating the marriage of Chris and Abby, but if beside Jesus nothing else matters, then this occasion must be oriented to that. This wedding must be oriented to the Call of Jesus. And so this celebration is not merely a union of a husband and a wife. It is that, but it is far more importantly, a commissioning service. Today the Lord Jesus is calling you to be His disciples. And you might say, well we already were his disciples yesterday, and that’s true and right, but Jesus calls and he does not stop calling. He begins to call many of us from our infancy, he begins to call some of us when we are older, but He does not stop calling. He calls us every Lord’s Day in worship. He calls us through His Word and in the sacraments. He calls us through friends and family who faithfully remind us in word and deed. And so this is yet another Call of Jesus. And Jesus says to both of you, Chris and Abby, follow me. And you might say that’s a nice moralistic lesson, but there must always be concrete acts of obedience in order to follow Jesus faithfully. And there are at least two concrete acts of obedience before each of you today. First, toward Jesus himself, the command is once again to repent and believe. And this command goes broadly to all here in attendance. If you are harboring any sin, if you continue to withhold some aspect of your life from the Lord Jesus Christ, as an ordained minister of the Lord Jesus, I am authorized to command you to stop it. Whatever little idol you are clutching to, drop it now. Whatever you are clutching at, you may not have it. And Chris and Abby, this must be the foundation of your marriage. Drop everything today; drop everything tomorrow. Bonhoeffer says that the faithful disciple “simply burns his boats and goes ahead.”

And this leads us to the second command which is specific to Chris and Abby. You are called today to marry one another, to love one another, and to give yourselves fully to one another. And really, the challenging part of that command is to keep doing it, to die doing it. You must each become martyrs for one another many times before you die. And Jesus fully intends this as an interruption. Like all faithful disciples, you are both leaving family behind in various ways. James and John left their father Zebedee in the boat and followed Jesus. And each of you are leaving father and mother in different ways to be united as husband and wife. But it’s a glorious interruption. You two have been living lives for the last number of years as members of different families, differing styles, differing tendencies. You have had plans of your own, and in God’s goodness He has brought you together. And you’ve been drawing closer over the last couple of years. But even with all that planning, all that getting to know one another, you will soon find that it is a great deal more than you ever imagined. In God’s goodness, He designed marriage such that two completely different people are knit into one. And what really is impossible apart from the working of God’s grace is glorious and wonderful, but you must know that Jesus calls you to do this today, now. Jesus bids you come and die. And that means that from this day forward you cannot live as you did yesterday. You cannot live as singles any longer. That life is over. Jesus calls you to die and to begin a new life today.

Lastly, notice that in our text Jesus calls pairs of disciples to follow Him and become fishers of men. Of course these are two sets of brothers, but in your case, Jesus is calling you as a pair. Fundamentally, you are a brother and a sister in the Lord first before you are husband and wife. Since beside Jesus nothing has any significance, your first identity is with Jesus. You are first related to Him as brother and sister, and Jesus has called you together to be His disciples together. And all Christian marriages are this. Every Christian marriage is a commissioning where Jesus calls two people to be His disciples together, to follow Him together. We see this in Acts where Aquila and Priscilla took Apollos aside together and explained the way of God to him more accurately. Of course there are specific gifts and callings given within the general call of discipleship, but you are nevertheless called. You are called to follow Jesus now, today. You are called to leave behind all that hinders you from following this call in obedience, and you are called to this together.

The point of marriage of course includes all the things we said at the beginning. But perhaps one of the less mentioned purposes of marriage is so that you can follow Jesus more effectively. This is the most important part of the help you are called to provide to one another. You are called to be disciples of Jesus, to follow Him wherever He commands, to drop what you are doing, to burn the boats and simply follow. And you are called to assist one another in doing this. You are called to egg each other on, to remind each other regularly, daily, incessantly, that beside Jesus nothing has any significance. He alone matters.

Paul says husbands do this through loving their wives like Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. And wives do this through submitting to their husbands as to the Lord. You must be martyrs many times before you die, and these are your orders. In order to die well, we all get to practice dying every day. And this is most certainly true in marriage. Dying to self, living for each other – Chris loving, Abby submitting – this is the daily martyrdom that Jesus calls every husband and wife to. But this is the call to discipleship, the call to grace, the call to freedom and joy and blessing. So Chris and Abby, I call you to this grace, to this blessing, to this glory because surely beside Jesus nothing has any significance. He alone matters.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Welcoming the Wind

“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

We’ve pointed out before that the word for Spirit is the same word for wind and breath. It comes as little surprise when the presence of God leads Israel out of Egypt in the form of a storm cloud, and the same storm settles on Sinai for a while as God’s people make covenant with the Lord there. The same glory cloud fills the tabernacle at its dedication at the end of Exodus. The Spirit is not pictured as a gentle breeze. The Spirit is a storm, a hurricane, a tornado, a great wind that blows as it pleases. It’s that great wind that hovers over the face of the deep in the beginning in Genesis, the same wind howls over the great flood waters and dries the face of the earth for Noah and his family. The same wind blows and drives back the waters of the Red Sea, revealing dry ground for the children of Israel to cross over. The wind turns and the seas close back in drowning Pharaoh’s might.

The Spirit drives, the Spirit moves, the Spirit pushes, the Spirit is a powerful storm. We see this vividly portrayed in the book of Judges. The Spirit came upon Othniel and he went out to war against Cushan-Rishathaim, King of Mesopotamia. The Spirit came upon Gideon and he called Israel to battle. The Spirit came upon Jephthah and he attacked the people Ammon and there was a very great slaughter. The Spirit came mightily upon Samson, and he tore a lion apart with his hands. Later the Spirit came upon him again, and he killed thirty men of Ashkelon and stole their clothes. Samson tore apart ropes again when the Spirit descended. When Saul was anointed king, Samuel said that the Spirit would come upon him and he would become another man. And when the Spirit came upon him, he suddenly began prophesying with the other prophets. Later when he was hunting down David, the Spirit came upon him again and he stripped off his clothes and laid down naked, prophesying some more. When the Wind of God fills a man, he becomes another man. He takes up arms, he marches to battle, he tears lions apart, kills men, bursts ropes, he does and says strange things. When the Wind of God fills a man, he becomes the storm of God’s presence. He becomes the place where the wind of God roars. He runs and fights and tears and speaks and struggles as the Wind of God. He is driven by the Spirit and becomes a new man. He is carried along by the storm of the Spirit.

We see the same thing in Jesus. When He was baptized in the Jordan River by John, as He came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove. And while he may have a harmless appearance, Mark’s gospel makes the role of the Spirit explicit: as soon as the Spirit comes upon Jesus, it drives Him into the wilderness to do battle with Satan. Like the judges of old, the Spirit comes upon Jesus for war. But the implication is that the Spirit is the one driving and empowering Jesus now. The Wind of God has filled Jesus, and He is now the center of the storm cloud. After Satan is overcome, Jesus goes to Galilee and begins preaching, he begins doing battle with other evil spirits, he begins waging war against sickness and death. And it is the Spirit driving Him, the Spirit empowering Him, the Storm cloud of God filling Him and pushing Him on. And ultimately the Spirit drives Him to the cross, blowing him to His death, the Wind of God beats against Jesus, and drives life completely out of Him. But it is the same Wind, the same Storm that howls over the horror of death. It is the same Wind that hovers over the tomb and the grave. It is that Holy Storm that rolls away the stone and raises Jesus on the third day.

And what is rather startling and even unnerving is the fact that this Wind was unleashed at Pentecost. One of the striking transitions from the Old Testament to the New Testament is this promise of the Holy Spirit for everyone who repents and is baptized. God has become promiscuous with the Holy Spirit. One might say it’s a bit irresponsible. Sort of like letting five year old boys run the world. God pours out the Spirit rather recklessly in the New Testament whereas he was a lot more conservative and careful in the Old Testament. But it’s that same Spirit Wind that comes roaring through the upper room at Pentecost, and the same electrical storm breaks out on the heads of all disciples gathered together. And then Peter has the guts to tell everyone listening to his sermon that they too can have the storm. Repent and be baptized and you will be filled with this same rushing, uncontrollable wind.

Of course we have been considering Job the last number of weeks, and we have pointed out a number of times the regular references to wind. It all started with the “great wind” that broke down the house where Job’s children were feasting, but it didn’t stop there. The storm has only grown. The words of the rhetorical combatants are repeatedly referred to as wind. The great wind has continued to blow. But if we have learned anything we know that the Wind of God is behind all the wind and the Wind of God is blowing somewhere; the wind is driving Job toward something or someone. Just as the Wind of God filled Jesus and drove Him into the wilderness to do battle with Satan and later drove him around Israel, delivering its final blow on the cross, so too Job has been taken up into the Wind. Job’s life is not the same; he has been turned into another man. And even his friends and family do not recognize him.

But it is this same Spirit that is promised to all those who repent and are baptized. The same wind that carved the original creation from nothing, the same wind that howled through the desert and came upon men for war. The same Wind hovers over the waters of baptism. The same Wind promises to fill you, Timothy and Roman, the same Wind promises to turn you into other men and drive you throughout this life toward the life of Jesus, driving you ever nearer to the presence of God.

So the exhortation to you Timothy is to welcome the Wind and do not be afraid of the Storm. It is after all, the storm of God’s goodness. Likewise, Levi and Jodi, teach Roman to love the Wind. To learn to walk in the Spirit and to let the Spirit drive him wherever it blows. And always remember that today, Timothy and Roman, you are new men. You are young; you are reborn by the water and the Spirit.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.


Monday, June 22, 2009

3rd Sunday in Trinity Season: Job 14-21

Opening Prayer: Our Father, grant us grace now as consider your Word. Teach us by the same Spirit who governed the writing of these words. And establish our faith in you and remove all idols from us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Last week we considered the first cycle of speeches and conversations. We noted in particular that the trials that befell Job in the beginning have only continued on the form of the three “friends.” The friends are actually accusers, and their words are like more wind, blowing on the house of Job. Today we consider the second cycle of speeches.

Following Job’s Argument
Beginning with his initial curse (ch. 4) and pleas for death (6:8-9), Job has narrowed his request and complaint to the issue of a hearing with God. He has said that one cannot contend with God (9:3). Even if God answered Job, he would not believe it (9:16). Job cannot take God to court; who would be the arbiter (9:32-33)? Despite what his friends say, Job still desires to speak to the Almighty (13:3). Job wants to defend his ways before God even if he dies in the process (13:15). And Job finishes his reply to Zophar’s first speech by saying that even a tree has hope in that when it is cut down and its roots die in the earth, with a little water, it will again bud and bring forth branches (14:7-9). And then Job asks, “What about man?” (14:10-14) In fact, Job says that he will wait until his change comes, and when God calls, Job will answer (14:14-15).

Eliphaz’s Second Speech
Eliphaz says that Job’s knowledge is “windy”, and he says that Job is full of the “east wind” (15:2). This is the second time that Eliphaz has described the “crafty.” Eliphaz initially said that God frustrates the crafty (5:12), and now he asserts that Job has chosen to align himself with them (15:5). It is interesting that Paul quotes Eliphaz in 1 Cor. 3:19, refuting the worldly wisdom of the Corinthians. This further confirms that the great sin of the friends was not so much in what was said but in how it was said and when. Eliphaz says that the wisdom of old age is with him and his friends (15:9-10). Eliphaz repeats what the spirit asked in 4:18 (15:15). He says that everyone who tries to defy God will be consumed (15:20-35). Fire will consume them (15:34, cf. 1:16).

Job’s Response
Job says that the words of wind continue to blow against him (16:3). Job says that God has attacked him (16:9) in the form of ungodly and wicked hands that surround him (16:10-11). He says that he is an Abel whose blood will cry out for justice (16:18). His friends scorn him, and Job cries for a hearing with God that he might speak to God as a man speaks to his neighbor (16:20-21). Job says his friends are mockers, and their deceit is evidenced in their lack of loyalty (17:3). He says that he has become a byword and men spit in his face (17:6). Job asks if hope will come with him to the grave (17:14-16).

Bildad’s Second Speech
Bildad asks if it’s really worth all the fuss that Job is making: will the earth be sad after Job is gone (18:4)? Bildad says that the wicked die and their memory perishes with them (18:5, 17ff).

Job’s Response
Job says that the friends are actively tormenting him and they have now insulted him ten times (19:3). This indicates that Job has been insulted both by the words of the three and by their refusal to listen to him. There have been ten interchanges since Job’s initial curse. Ten insults is reminiscent of the ten rebellions of Israel in the wilderness (Num. 14:22), a rejection of the Ten Words of Sinai and the ten signs and wonders of the Exodus. Job says that his glory has been stripped, and the crown has been taken from his head (19:9). Job’s hope has been uprooted like a tree (19:10). Yet, despite all that has come against him, particularly the persecution of his friends (19:21-22), Job knows that his Redeemer lives and he will stand on the dust (19:25). What he ultimately wants, a meeting with God, will happen after his skin is destroyed. After he has died, he will see God in his flesh (19:26-27). And Job’s hope is particularly in the fact that there is a judgment (19:29).

Zophar’s Second Speech
Zophar says that it is his turmoil that causes him to speak out; Job’s rebuke reproaches him and the “wind” of his understanding causes him to answer (20:2-3). Zophar says that since Adam was placed on the earth, the wicked have not ever lasted long. The wicked get what they deserve.

Job’s Response
Job insists that Zophar is just wrong. The wicked have long lives and joy, and they do it all scorning God (21:7-16). And even when God eventually brings the judgment on their descendents, they don’t care (21:19-21). Some die at ease and secure and some die in bitterness and sorrow; but they all alike die (21:22-26). This is reminiscent of Solomon’s wisdom in Ecclesiastes (e.g. Eccl. 2:15-16, 7:15, 8:14). Job knows that his friends are scheming to wrong him (21:27), insinuating that he (the king) must be wicked since all this calamity has fallen upon him (21:28-31). Their “comfort” is only empty and false (21:34).

Conclusions & Applications
Job’s argument and insistence is based ultimately upon his faith in the resurrection. He wants a judgment, a day in court with God, and knows that ultimately this will occur at the resurrection. And this is no less our hope in the midst of injustice, evil, and the schemes of the wicked. There is a judgment. And the gospel of Jesus is the appearance of that judgment in history before the end, a final word before the final word.

This final word applies to the guilt of our sins. There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

And all that lies ahead: What shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord? Nothing. And we know this because we know Jesus. And this is also our hope when we are accused, when injustice seems to prevail, when the wicked seem to escape. Jesus is the final word.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Closing Prayer: Father, we thank you for the faithfulness of Job, but we thank you even more for the faithfulness of Jesus, the greater Job, the king who was persecuted and spat upon, the king who was killed by envious rulers. And we thank you that His blood has not gone silent in the earth, and you delivered the righteous verdict in his favor, raising him from the dead. Give us faith in you that clings to the vindication of Jesus as our vindication, our own righteousness. And we pray to you now in His name, singing…


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Paul & Eliphaz

One of the challenges of the book of Job is that we get to the end of the book and God says that Job was right and his three friends were wrong. And not just a little wrong. They need sacrifices offered for their sins and prayers of intercession offered for their wrong words. Because they did not speak what was right concerning God.

This means that 3/4 of most of the book of Job is pronounced "wrong" by God, which is a little disconcerting because there we were reading along and feeling that Job's friends were making good points here and there, and golly, certain sections sound just like other things we might read in Scripture.

In fact, portions of what Job's friends say are almost word for word from Proverbs. Huh, we say, so how does that work? It's wrong when Eliphaz says it, but it's right when Solomon says it?

But it's comforting to know that we aren't the only ones who see truth in the speeches of the three friends. The Apostle Paul was also taken in by this ploy, and he goes so far as to use it in his letter to the Corinthians. As Eliphaz points out in his first speech to Job, "He catches the wise in their own craftiness" (Job 5:13, 1 Cor. 3:19). Paul understands Eliphaz to be making a true statement, and applies it to the Corinthians who thought the rivalry and sectarian behavior of the world was the same kind of wisdom needed to build the house God. Paul says it isn't, and He warns them that that kind of wisdom is actually the craftiness of the devil. And God catches those snakes in their own pits and nets.

So all that say, this suggests that our understanding of God's judgment at the end of Job must include Paul's usage. In other words, God's judgment is not just content of the words spoken but rather how they were spoken, when they were spoken, etc.


Monday, June 15, 2009

2nd Sunday in Trinity Season: Job 4-13

Opening Prayer: Gracious God, all of your Word has been breathed out by your Spirit, your breath, your wind, but there are many challenging and difficult things in your Word, and so we ask for the same Spirit, the same Wind to continue with us now that we might understand your word and love it in such as way that we might grow up into maturity. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Last week we considered the faithful responses of Job to his suffering: he received it from the Lord in submission and he cried out in holy bitterness and agony. The bulk of the rest of Job is a cycle of arguments between Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Job answers each of them in turn (ch. 3-32:1).

Eliphaz’s First Speech
Eliphaz begins the interaction and says that he has seen a vision in his dreams (4:12-13). A terrifying spirit spoke to him and asked, ‘Shall mortal man be more just than God?’ (4:17) The spirit says that God puts no trust in his servants and charges his angels with folly (4:18). Eliphaz says that there is no one who is innocent, no one who is righteous (4:7), and therefore Job ought to submit to God and commit his cause to Him (5:8). If Job does this, he will be blessed and prospered in the long run (5:17ff).

Job’s Response to Eliphaz
Job responds with amazement and continued grief. He says that his calamity and sorrow ought to be weighed on the balances, but they would be heavier than the sand of the sea (6:1-2). Job repeats the implied request of his first lament, which is that he wants God to strike him dead (6:8-9). Job disagrees with Eliphaz that he trusts in his own strength (6:11-12), but he refuses to admit that he has sinned or is foolish for his lamentation (6:14). Instead, Job says that his friends are the foolish ones and acting deceitfully (6:14-15). They are fair-weather friends (6:16-18). They are not trustworthy and cause shame (6:19-10), and fear is driving them (6:21). Presumably, they are afraid for the kingdom, afraid for their own positions of authority, afraid that the evil will come upon them as well. Job insists that he did not ask anything of them (6:22-23). But their words are “wind” (6:26), and like the “great wind” in 1:19, they are plundering the fatherless and their friend (6:26-27). Job says that he knows that his days have all been appointed by God and they will be few, and therefore it is right for him to speak out his anguish while he lives (7:1-11). But the words of Eliphaz make him want to commit suicide (7:13-15). Job wants Eliphaz to leave and quit tormenting him (7:16), and Job asks God if there is any sin to be forgiven (7:17-21).

Bildad’s First Speech
Bildad immediately accuses Job of being full of hot air; his words are a bunch of “wind” (8:2). It’s striking that he calls Job’s words a “strong wind,” and then he says that if Job’s children were destroyed it was because they sinned against the Lord (8:4). Bildad remains hard on evil doers throughout his speeches (e.g. ch. 18). Bildad says that men are like plants which are cut down (8:11-19). But God does not cast away the perfect; God will cause Job to rejoice and his enemies will be put to shame (8:20-22).

Job’s Response to Bildad
Job says that what Bildad says is true enough, but it doesn’t get to the point. Job’s question has to do with being just before God (9:2). He knows that man is not qualified to contend with God, and all attempts will only prove the opposite (9:3-21). Job says that if he lets his complaint go, his friends will still consider him a sinner and cast him in a ditch (9:28-31). Job wants an answer to this dilemma, but he knows that he cannot just set up a day in court with God (9:32-33). So Job determines to hold his complaint, and he now directs it more explicitly at God (10:1-2). His prayer reminds God that He is his Creator and Preserver (10:3-13). Job knows that God punishes sin, but Job is confused because he is not aware of anything (10:14-18). Job closes again requesting that he be allowed to die (10:18-22).

Zophar’s First Speech
Zophar doesn’t call Job’s speech a bunch of “wind,” but a “multitude of words.” He calls Job a liar and mocker (11:2-3). He says that Job is actually getting less than he deserves (11:6). And even if Job is a complete fool, if he will only confess his sins he will be cleared and blessed (11:12-20).

Job’s Response to Zophar
Job knows that these three men are not really comforters or friends. They are accusers, satans, and they are after Job like their father, the devil. The pious line that Job is a sinner and needs to confess his sins, is a thin veneer for looking for ways to discredit and undermine Job. Job agrees with Zophar that God rules over all things and that all things come from His hand, but he says that Zophar is a liar and all three of them are physicians of no value (13:4). He wishes that they would leave him alone (13:5). Job turns the tables on Zophar and asks if he could stand up to the scrutiny of God (like they are doing to him) (13:8-13). Job insists that he will plead his ways to God and that he will be justified (13:15-18). Job asks God to remove His hand from him and forgive his sins, but this request could almost as easily apply to the friends to get their hands out of his back pocket (13:21) and tell him what his sins are and quit making vague accusations (13:23-28). This points to the fact that the “friends” are a continuation of God’s trial of Job.

Conclusions & Applications
Eliphaz said that a terrifying spirit came to him and gave him some questions to ask. This accusing spirit is the spirit of the Accuser, The Satan. And the “friends” pile on. They are attackers, liars, and cheaters. They are more plague, more wind.

What are ways that we intentionally or unintentionally become accusers rather than friends? Husbands, do you blame your wives instead of looking for ways to help? Wives do you nag your husband rather than looking for ways to praise him and respect him? Do you get frustrated with your children and only see their faults rather than believing the promises of God regarding them?

Another way of looking at the argument is recognizing the validity and truth of what the friends say but which is misapplied drastically. Saying the right thing at the wrong time or in the wrong way is folly or worse. Just because something is true doesn’t make it edifying.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Closing Prayer: Our Father, teach us to be real comforters to one another and not accusers. Teach us to be true friends, that we would lay our lives out for one another. Just Jesus has loved us and given himself for us. And we pray in his name and as he taught us to pray, singing…


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Widows, Worship, and the Kingdom

Jesus' ministry is concerned with re-ordering and re-structuring society. He comes preaching and teaching and gathers a community around Him, a community of outcasts, disenfranchised, prostitutes, tax collectors, sinners of all sorts. This community gathers around Jesus, and He feeds them and fellowships with them at tables. Jesus says that He came to release the prisoners, to bind up the wounded, to declare the forgiveness of debts, to heal the sick, and to comfort the brokenhearted. He came for the sick because the well do not need a physician.

We ought to see the rest of the New Testament filling this mission out. We ought to see in Acts and the letters of Paul (and the rest) indications that this plan of Jesus really was being carried out.

And we do, except perhaps it isn't quite what we might have expected.

In the 60s a number of theologians picked up on these themes and their teachings came to be known as the "social gospel." Perhaps reductionistically that movement is symbolized with soup kitchens, political action groups, and in other ministries that only performed works of charity, left wing attempts to pull people out of poverty in order for them to get right with God, rather than the other way around.

And conservatives have made various attempts at fulfilling Christ's mandate to the weak and needy and various responses to the social gospel movement. We have tended to emphasize the need of the gospel and evangelism first or at least simultaneously with mercy ministry. We'll help you find a job and walk you through the gospel of John. But if you don't come to the Bible study, you obviously don't really want to be helped.

On the more negative side, we have sometimes so spiritualized what "poor" means and what "forgiveness" means that the poor are merely people who are interested in learning about what we have to teach. They are hungry for the doctrines that we happen to be interested in teaching. They are "poor" arminians, "poor" baptists, "poor" dispensationalists. And we are rich in reformed theology. This is a caricature, but we frequently act like "poor" is merely a deficiency in theology. If you only knew what justification was you could get a job, you lazy bum.

On the other hand conservatives are frequently the most generous in terms of overall giving. Perhaps this is hypocritical, perhaps it is a form of abdication, but there it is all the same.

But when we look at Acts and the rest of the New Testament, something curious emerges. Acts in particular is striking. We know that these early, exuberant Christians held all things in common and committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the prayers, and the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42-47). Many commentators see this last phrase, "the breaking of bread", and where it is used elsewhere to not merely be referring to sharing a generic meal but referring specifically to the celebration of the Lord's Supper. It's a synecdoche, referring by one specific action to the whole. But the first significant challenge that arises in the early church is the distribution of bread to the Hellenistic widows (Acts 6:1-2).

The early church is characterized by daily worship, breaking bread from house to house, and eating together with joy and thanksgiving. And of course as the numbers of people grow, challenges arise with it. And it is the widows of the Greeks that are first to be neglected in the "daily portions." And the apostles recognize they need help serving all these tables. There are too many tables to keep track of.

The point is that the relationship between mercy ministry and the Lord's Supper seems very blurred. I'm not sure where "worship" leaves off and "caring for widows" takes up. And my suspicion is that that's part of the point. The Lord's Table is the center of this new community. Table fellowship with Jesus is the center of the new Israel, the new Kingdom, and this table fellowship specifically includes the outcasts, slaves, widows, orphans, prostitutes, and sinners of all sorts.

Liberals and conservatives alike seem to excel in making distinctions where the Bible makes none. Conservatives want the poor bum to show some willingness to listen to the gospel in order to be a recipient of mercy, and liberals tend to go to the other extreme and insist upon giving the bum a meal regardless of what happens later. The mercy is the means to the gospel.

But Jesus doesn't go with either of these programs. His program is table fellowship. In other words, in the first instance and most important sense, freedom, equality, deliverance, acceptance, forgiveness, healing, and sustenance are all found in the fellowship of believers at the Lord's table. The worshiping community gathered around the Eucharist is the deliverance of the oppressed, acceptance to the outcasts, rejection of oppressors, forgiveness of debts, and healing for the broken.

Conservatives tend to spiritualize mercy by emphasizing the need for an inner change or openness first. The "spiritual" is more important than the material. The liberals tend to over-materialize mercy by emphasizing the physical circumstances, political situation, and economic status as the first step. But Jesus invites everyone to his table, and His table is both material and spiritual. His table is real deliverance; you can go there (or not). It is fellowship with real people where you are either accepted, forgiven, and delivered or not.

This does seem to be the thrust of much of the New Testament. Whether it's all the squabbles with Judiazers over the Jew-Gentile questions or whether its actual instructions regarding the poor in the worship service (Js. 3), the point is that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but all are one in Christ. At the center of this new society, this new polis, the new world that God is creating in Jesus is a table where all are welcome regardless of these distinctions. This is why Paul is so concerned with how the table is administered in 1 Cor. 11. The very thing the Lord's Supper is meant to actualize was being missed by the Corinthian church. The table of the Lord is where the entire body of Christ is discerned in reality, regardless of what the world says, regardless what pagan society says, regardless of socio-economic status, regardless of race, and so on.

One last point: If the Church is the new polis, the center of the Kingdom, and our worship is our central political act. Then it does seem that central to the Church's mission is the task of gathering the outcasts to the table. Our task is to invite the poor, the sick, the sinners, the slaves, the prisoners, the broken to our worship. Of course this means that we teach and declare the gospel to them, and as they continue with us they ought to be discipled as Jesus commanded. But if our mission is to carry out the kingdom of heaven, to establish the peace and justice of Jesus here in this world, it seems that the example of Jesus and of the early church is centrally this invitation to the table of Jesus.

And the table is not a spiritualizing maneuver. It is the table of the King of this world. There, slaves and masters sit as equals. There, the poor are given seats of honor. There, we have no debts except the debt of love. And if we are brothers there, if we are equal there, the gravity of this gospel goes with us.

The table of the Lord is our program. It is both mercy and gospel. It is both spiritual and material. It is social, political, economic, and theological. A society that orients itself around the table of Jesus ought to find that caring for widows really is their religion.


Monday, June 08, 2009

Trinity Sunday: Job 2-3

Opening Prayer: Sovereign and merciful God, we thank you for the life of Job and for his faithfulness, and we ask that you would bless us now with the same sort of faith. Go to work on our hearts and renew us again so that we may be your sons. Through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord, Amen.

How do you respond to hardships? Do you resign yourself to the evil? Do you become angry and fight it?

The Boils
The Lord gives The Satan permission to touch Job’s body short of taking his life (2:6), and The Satan strikes Job with “boils” (2:7). This reminds us of the sixth plague that fell on Egypt which sprang from the dust that Moses through toward heaven (Ex. 9:9-11). Remember also that in the renewal of the covenant in Deuteronomy, God promised to bring curses on Israel if they broke covenant (Dt. 28:15ff). Specifically, the “boils” of Egypt are mentioned as part of that curse (Dt. 28:27, 35). The description of the curse is also eerily close to how the plague falls upon Job. Another specific instance of this is Hezekiah’s boil which was initially declared by God to be a terminal illness (2 Kgs. 20:1).

The Ashes
Job’s response is to deal with the boils by scraping them and to sit in a pile of ashes (2:8). We’ve previously pointed out that the calamities that fall upon Job are described in sacrificial imagery (1:13-19). Sitting in ashes is a sign of being under the judgment of God (Jon. 3:6). Ash is like dust and dirt, except that it is also the remains of something that has been consumed by fire. Ash is a symbol of humility and mortality, but Abraham did not see that status as inconsistent with questioning God’s designs (Gen. 18:27).

The Wife
Job’s wife is only mentioned here, and she infamously urges Job to curse God and die (2:9). Her specific question is what Yahweh explicitly referenced to Satan (2:3), and the word is related to the word for “perfect” or “blameless” (1:1, 8). Job’s response clearly seems to indicate his disproval of his wife’s advice (2:10). Job also clearly believes that these calamities are “evil” and that they are from “God.” And the narrator again assures us that Job did not sin with his mouth.

The Friends
Job’s three friends come to “mourn” with Job, but the word has a history that suggests more than this. The first time we see this word is in Gen. 4 where Cain is cursed to “wander as a fugitive” (Gen. 4:12). Israel is cursed with wandering in exile later as well (1 Kgs. 14:15, 2 Kgs. 21:8). At the end of Job, Job’s family and friends will “mourn” with Job in an entirely different way (Job 42:11). The three friends cry at the sight of Job, tear their clothes, and Job in the dust and ashes (2:12). Another clue that Job’s three friends are not really coming to comfort Job is in the verbal cue that they “throw” the dust “toward heaven.” Their dust is thrown toward heaven just like the sixth plague that fell on Egypt (Ex. 9:10). They are not comforters; they are more plague. And they sit together in silence for one week (2:13).

The Curse
In order to understand what follows in the course of most of the rest of the book, we need to consider this transition into chapter 3 carefully. Job has just told his wife that they ought to receive good and bad things from God, but when Job opens his mouth, he speaks a curse. Furthermore, as we approach the following chapters, we do so assured that what Job speaks is right (Job 42:7). Chapter 3 is an elaborate curse against the day he was conceived, the day he was born, longing for death, and admission that this is what he always feared.

Conclusion and Applications
Rather than pitting Job’s response to his wife against his curse, a better way is to see both answers as part of a biblical response to suffering. This is the response of faith, joy, and holy anger and despair.

Consider David who sings that he will bless the Lord at all times (34:1), and then in another place despairs of God’s care and lovingkindness (Pss. 22, 60, 74, 88).

Or consider our Lord who cries out to His Father in the garden before His arrest and cries out in the words of Psalm 22 that God has forsaken Him.

Or remember the examples of Hezekiah and Abraham, both of whom who calmly received God’s Word and then refused to let that be the last word.

Faith looks to God in hope, but faith is not blind or lifeless. Faith is hungry for goodness and justice and mercy. Faith is the woman who won’t stop bringing her request to the master. Because He is the Master.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Closing Prayer: O God, you are the Lord of all the earth. You are Father, Son, and Spirit, and in your grace you have bestowed your friendship upon us. And this friendship means that you care about what we think. You care about our hopes and dreams and hurts. And this is baffling, and we confess that we frequently treat you like a faceless force. But we confess that and forsake it now, and we ask that you would give us faith to talk to you like the friend that you are and appeal to you as our Good and Gracious Master. And we do this now in Jesus name, who taught us to pray, singing…


Monday, June 01, 2009

The Law and the Spirit

Pentecost is still celebrated today in Judaism as the feast of the giving of the law. At Passover, God delivered Israel out of bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt, and fifty days later, Israel arrived at Mt. Sinai. Moses goes up onto the mountain, into the cloud of the presence of God and returns with the law, the tablets of stone, engraving the covenant of God with His people. But of course that was only a faint glimmer of what we have been given in Christ. In the same way, Jesus died and rose again in the Greater Passover, freeing us from all bondage and slavery, and fifty days later the new Israel found themselves again at a mountain with the Greater Moses, and He ascended up into the clouds of God’s presence. But like Moses, He did not leave His people alone. He did not abandon them. Rather He came back down to them, but He came back down to them in the person and gift of the Holy Spirit. And the gift of the Spirit is our down payment, our confirmation of the New Covenant, and the law of this New Covenant is not engraved on stones but in the flesh of our hearts and minds. And this helps us understand why Paul so frequently compares and contrasts the law and the Spirit. Without this understanding, we are tempted to view them as completely different things, but they are rather different in terms of maturity, different in terms of glory, but both come on the fiftieth day, both come to confirm the covenant, both are symbols and signs of the heavenly presence of God with us, His people. And both lead us to walk in the way of freedom and forgiveness. And that is what we’re doing here at this table. This meal is the Great Passover Feast, the feast of freedom and forgiveness, but this feast is also like the feast of the covenant on Mt. Sinai where the elders ate and drank and saw God. The Spirit has been poured out, the new law has been given, your sins are forgiven, and you have been seated with Christ in the heavenly places. So come, eat, drink, and rejoice.