When we approach Christmas time we naturally have to turn to the Gospel of Luke. It is Luke that tells us the familiar Christmas story that we remember at this time of the year. The Gospel of Mark begins its story with John the Baptist. The Gospel of John talks about creation and the Word and “the Word made flesh.” The Gospel of Matthew tells us a story that centers on Joseph. It is Luke alone that tell us the nativity story upon which the church Christmas pageants and celebrations are based.
So the Revised Common Lectionary — which tries to assign only one of the Synoptic Gospels to a particular year — nonetheless has to draw from the Gospel of Luke as Christmas rolls around again. So, recommended for this coming Sunday, is the story of the angel’s announcement to Mary of the birth of the savior. (more…)
Exalted views of the Person of Christ arose quickly in the early Church. In the light of the resurrection, Jesus was recognized as the one who come to reveal — in his very person — the God of Creation. We need to remember that it was the resurrection event that gave rise to the Christian faith and the Christian Gospel as we know it. In the midst of the remembrance of Jesus’ birth and as we study Jesus’ life and teaching, we need to recall that the significance of Jesus’ life is revealed in the resurrection. No resurrection, no Christian faith. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17 NRSV.)
And this exalted view of Christ is what we find in the letter to the Colossians. In verse 15 we read:
ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου, πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως,
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;” (NRSV). (more…)
Grieving that the human race was perishing
through the tempter’s power,without leaving the heights
you came to the depths in your loving kindness.
Readily taking our humanity by your own gracious will,
you saved all earthly creatures, long since lost,
restoring joy to the world.
Redeem our souls and bodies, O Christ,
and so possess us as your shining dwellings.
By your first coming, make us righteous;
at your second coming, set us free:
so that, when the world is filled with light
and you judge all things,
we may be clad in spotless robes
and follow in your steps, O King,
into the heavenly hall.
— Author unknown, 10th Century, found here.
Rob Bell is back in the news now that his new TV show is debuting on the Oprah Network.
And a RNS article by Sarah Pulliam Bailey (with some quotes) is getting a lot of discussion. Bailey writes: “Now, the man who built a church of an estimated 10,000 people isn’t even attending an organized church. Instead, he surfs the waves near Hollywood and has teamed up with the goddess of pop theology, Oprah Winfrey.” Further along in the article we read: “Now resettled near Los Angeles, the couple [Rob & Kristen Bell] no longer belongs to a traditional church. “We have a little tribe of friends,” Bell said. “We have a group that we are journeying with. There’s no building. We’re churching all the time. It’s more of a verb for us.””
It seems strange that a man who was the inspiration for the building of a mega-church would now no longer be a part of any organized church. Except that it really isn’t. (more…)
We are told in the Gospel of Luke 4:16-19 that when Jesus had opportunity to speak to the synagogue in Nazareth, he read from the scroll the words of Isaiah 61:1-2 and announced: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21). These verses in Isaiah described Jesus’ mission in life.
These ancient words speak to us today of the vocation of the preacher — then and now. When we first come to these verses in the prophecy of Isaiah (or Third Isaiah or whatever his name was) we immediately wonder: who is the prophet talking about? Is this the writer’s mission or is he speaking of someone else? Questions like this might not arise if it weren’t for the fact that the prophecies of the book of Isaiah can be quite mysterious that way. Who is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53? Who is the “servant” of Isaiah 42:1? Who is the figure spoken of in Isaiah 11:2? Who is speaking in Isaiah 48:16? You see what I’m saying.
Happy St. Nicholas Day!
Well, here’s my annual (when I remember it) Saint Nicholas Day post. Yes, I know, I don’t give any other historic Christian saints this kind of attention, but the figure of Santa Claus is so ubiquitous in this season of the year — I think it’s helpful to refer back to the original source of this myth. I think we can learn much more from the real St. Nick than from his fat, commercialized imposter. (more…)
The apostle’s prayer in verses 9-12 is followed by a statement about the Gospel’s effect on his readers’ lives.
They have been:
- rescued from the power of darkness and
- transferred into the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son.
ὃς ἐρρύσατο ἡμᾶς ἐκ τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ σκότους καὶ μετέστησεν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ υἱοῦ τῆς ἀγάπης αὐτοῦ, ἐν ᾧ ἔχομεν τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν, τὴν ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν·
“[God] has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (NRSV).
John Wesley comments:
Power detains reluctant captives, a kingdom cherishes willing subjects.
In those words, he captures what I believe is the basic contrast contained in this passage: a tyranny vs. a kingdom; Oppression vs. loving service. The Gospel of Jesus Christ (in this view) does not initiate a new faith-based tyranny — it is, in fact the basis for freedom from all human tyrannies — be they political or personal. As Jesus says in John 8:36: “… if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” God is the great AntiTyrant. Because God loves and respects and values each human being, service to God is the only kind of service that need not be tyranny and oppression. (And, if it has become this for you, something has gone wrong — very likely you are in an oppressive and cult-like fellowship. You need to find the freedom and hope of faith.) (more…)
Cheerful when things go wrong;
Persevering when things are difficult;
Serene when things are irritating.
Enable us to be:
Helpful to those in difficulties;
Kind to those in need;
Sympathetic to those whose hearts are sore and sad.
Nothing may make us lose our tempers;
Nothing may take away our joy;
Nothing may ruffle our peace;
Nothing may make us bitter towards anyone.
So grant that through all this day all those with whom we work, and all those whom we meet, may see in us a reflection of the master, whose we are, and whom we seek to serve. This we ask for your love’s sake. Amen.
— William Barclay (1907-1978).
‘The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.’ — Romans 8:16.
But what is the witness of the Spirit?
“The original word μαρτυρία may be rendered either (as it is in several places) the witness, or less ambiguously, the testimony, or the record: So it is rendered in our translation (1 John 5:11), ‘This is the record,’ the testimony, the sum of what God testifies in all the inspired writings, ‘that God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.’ The testimony now under consideration is given by the Spirit of God to and with our spirit: He is the Person testifying. What he testifies to us is, ‘that we are the children of God.’ The immediate result of this testimony is, ‘the fruit of the Spirit;’ namely, ‘love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness:’ and without these, the testimony itself cannot continue. For it is inevitably destroyed, not only by the commission of any outward sin, or the omission of known duty, but by giving way to any inward sin; in a word, by whatever grieves the Holy Spirit of God. (more…)
The writings of the prophets are especially appropriate during the season of Advent. They frame the story of Jesus, they provide us insight into the expectations of the people of Israel at the time Christ was born.
Chapter 64 of Isaiah is only 12 verses long. If I were using it as the basis of a sermon, I’d read the whole thing rather than just verses 1-9 as the lectionary suggests.
The book of Isaiah is now generally considered to have been sort of a group project. Yes, there was a prophet named Isaiah who lived from 740 to 680 B.C. Yes, much of the material in the book of Isaiah was written by him (especially in chapters 1-39). But, it is generally supposed today that large portions of the book were actually written by other people who lived much later. These people sometimes get called Second Isaiah (Deutero-Isaiah, if you want to sound educated) and Third Isaiah. (more…)
Christian faith is then, not only an assent to the whole gospel of Christ, but also a full reliance on the blood of Christ; a trust in the merits of his life, death, and resurrection; a recumbency upon him as our atonement and our life, as given for us, and living in us; and, in consequence hereof, a closing with him, and cleaving to him, as our “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption,” or, in one word, our salvation.
— John Wesley, Sermon #1: “Salvation by Faith”