Discipleship Itinerary

Biblical Text: Acts 16:6-15

The text as I read it had two parts. The first being something of a travel itinerary. And it was travel that was done under some uncertainty and stress. First Paul wanted to go West, but the Spirit stopped him. And he drifted north. When he runs out of North he decides to go east, but the Spirit of Jesus stops him. And eventually Paul has a vision, “come help us in Macedonia.” It’s not that Paul was doing anything wrong; he just didn’t have the necessary figured out yet. But when you figure out the necessary, there is only one choice – obedience. The sermon reads Paul’s itinerary as a metaphor for the life of discipleship. The second part of the text is what happens when you arrive at a new point. Paul and his traveling companions have gone to Philippi, a Roman Colony. And what they encounter is different. When we’ve come to something new in our discipleship walk, we have a choice.

Virtual Bulletin – 5/22

May 22nd, 2022 – 6th Sunday of Easter

UPCOMING ACTIVITIES FOR WEEK OF:  May 23rd – May 29th

Monday……………….. .           6:00PM            LAF

Tuesday……………….            Esther

Wednesday…………….           Bede the Venerable

Thursday……………….          10:00 AM        Bible Study

Sunday: ………………….          10:00 AM        Worship

                                                 11:15 AM        Bible Study     

COMMEMORATIONS

I’m not sure what they were looking at, but on the pastor’s wives retreat Ellen texted me and asked “What would you write or teach about if Esther was the subject?” I replied two things: 1) the virtue of courage and 2) God working through means.  Esther is on the commemorations calendar this week.  It’s a short fun book in the Old Testament.  You might sit and read it in 20 mins on Tuesday.  If you do, tell me what you take away. I’d love to hear.

The other commemoration this week is one of those long middle-ages “names.”  Bede is early enough (672-735 AD) he is often the “End of the Church Fathers” but late enough he’s not part of the Mediterranean world.  Bede was born in Northumberland England and never went further than 100 miles from his place of birth. He was sent to a monastery by his parents at age 7. At age 14 plague swept through killing the entire monastery except the Abbot and Bede. His commentaries on scripture are still consulted today. He was also a prolific poet and Hymnwriter.  LSB 493, the Ascension Hymn “A Hymn of Glory Let us Sing” is Bede’s.  But what might be his most enduring work is an early History of the English Church which gives us much of early English history.  He died on Ascension Day working on a translation of John’s Gospel into Saxon, apocryphally completing it, singing a Glory Patri, and expiring.   

PRAYER THOUGHT AND MEDITATION

The world always seems to be on fire.  What is causing the flames seems to always be new, as one internet personality calls it “the current thing”, but the flames persist.  And like the old Billy Joel song recounting a list of past current things insists, “We didn’t start the fire.” Billy says he tried to fight it.  The Joker just likes to watch the world burn. But all of these things keep the focus on the fire. The purpose of Apocalyptic, like the book of Revelation, or you could say the Bible itself, is to learn to walk through the fire without being burned.  To learn to ignore the fire because that is the death pangs of a world already judged, a world that you have been rescued from.

Hear Jesus’ from our gospel lesson this week (John 16:22-33).  “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart, I have overcome the world.”  Is the world on fire? Yep. It is a place of tribulation. Is it our job to put out the fire? No. Christ overcame the world.  Is it our job to feed the fire? Even less so. “God judges those outside (1 Corinthians 5:13).” So what is the Bible about if it isn’t about how we can save the world or defeat it? It is about peace.  “I say these things that you might have peace.”

And how might we have peace in the midst of flames, maybe even flames that we have caused?  First, know that you have caused the flames.  Denying it like Billy does no good.  Instead, confession is good for the soul.  “We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).”  And that is the fire on this old earth, sin.  It has been burning from the day Eve took the apple, probably prior, for where did that old snake come from? But if we broke it, doesn’t that mean we have to pay for it? Normally, but God loves his creation, enough to rescue it. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son (John 3:16).” But what if God changes his mind?  All those old pagan gods and even our new gods do that constantly.  Capricious is the world applied to them most often. Have peace in your hearts, “the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children (Ps. 103:17).” The word that most describes The LORD is steadfast love.  It is the Hebrew “Chesed” which can also mean faithfulness or covenant obligation or even grace.  When God makes a promise, he’s good for it.  Always has been.  Far from being capricious, The LORD is steadfast, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Read the entire story and tell me that isn’t true.

But why doesn’t he stop the fire?  Well, he has for those who will look up to the cross.  “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the son of man must be lifted up (John 3:14).”  That story is in Numbers 21.  “Fiery serpents” plagued Israel who were healed by looking up.  And we are likewise saved by looking to the cross. This is the peace that Jesus desires us to have.  He’s defeated the world and saved you.  Not that he’s taken you out of it.  You are his ambassadors of peace.  But you no longer need to fear the fire.  This world might destroy this body or this home, but you have the resurrection body and a better home.

Revelation shows us the fire in all its fury. The dragons and the beasts, the powers that be.  The four horsemen and the bowls and the trumpets.  These things continue.  They are the great tribulation.  But in the midst of all this, it shows us the sealed.  It shows us those who have come out of the great tribulation. And especially it says, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the lamb (21:9).”  And we are shown this great cube city (1380 miles wide, long and high) having the glory of God and made of only the best stuff. This is our home, the Holy City Jerusalem that comes down from heaven to earth.  This is the place that has been prepared for you.  Have peace, take heart, the bridegroom comes.  

BIBLE STUDIES

  • Thurs 10am: “The Necessary Bible Stories to Know Our Own Story” – The Exodus – the Plagues
  • Confirmation: Completed Year 1, return in the Fall
  • Life Application Fellowship (LAF):  May 23rd, 6PM, Zoom
  • Sunday Morning: Going to continue with the Psalms for a Season. Come Join Us in the prayer book of the Bible.
  • Catechism Moment: Continuing with the Lord’s Prayer

Spirit Led Change: Vision, Experience and the Word

Biblical Text: Text: Acts 11:1-18, John 16:12-15

Change in the church is always a contentious issue. But even Jesus assumed that it would happen. And the book of Acts gives an example of a significant change. What these biblical texts give us is a Spirit Led pattern. This sermon takes Jesus’ words as the basis and Acts as the enaction of those words. Peter’s “ordered argument” is meaningful. It is not that revelation or vision and experience are meaningless. They are quite meaningful and Peter includes both as part of his argument. But his real argument is “remembering the Word of God.” This sermon looks at Peter’s Spirit led example and encourages us to examine our own changing in the same light.

Virtual Bulletin – 5/15

May 15th, 2022 – 5th Sunday of Easter

UPCOMING ACTIVITIES FOR WEEK OF:  May 16th – May 22nd

Monday……………….. .           6:00PM             LAF

Wednesday…………….           7:00 PM           Church Council

Thursday……………….          10:00 AM        Bible Study

Friday: ………………….           5:00 PM           Confirmation

Saturday……………….           Constantine & Helena

Sunday: ………………….          10:00 AM        Worship

                                                 11:15 AM        Bible Study     

COMMEMORATIONS

In a supposedly post-Constantinian age it might seem strange seeing Constantine and his mother Helena show up on the list of commemorations.  There are plenty of educated despisers of various words like Ceasaro-Papism or Dan Brown conspiracy theorists around the Council of Nicea.  There are even many sincere advocates of a church purified of secular power.  But I think they miss the general good of a Christian ruler.  It is part of the Small Catechism in fact.  What is meant by daily bread includes “…devout and faithful rulers, good government…”.  The Edict of Milan in 314 ended the on and off persecution of the church.  After Constantine won the battle of the Milvian Bridge under the sign of the “Chi-Rho” which He had seen in a vision, it was no longer a crime to be a Christian.

Helena, Constantine’s mother, had become a Christian much earlier, and after his victories they were responsible for many fine things.  She built the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.  The same one you might catch on Easter broadcasts.  They also erected what is known as Old Saint Peters which stood over the tombs of Peter and Paul until the building of the present Basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome.  Those are the big works, but Imperial favor helped in many ways throughout the empire. It was also Constantine who called the bishops to Nicea to make a clear statement about the Arian Controversy – what we know as the Nicene Creed.

We live in a “Two Kingdom’s World”.  Christ rules the gospel directly, but the kingdom of the law is ruled by the crooked timber of humanity. It is worth remembering those rulers who attempted to honor Christ as Lord and the good that they can accomplish.

PRAYER THOUGHT AND MEDITATION

The largest chunk of the book of Revelation, roughly chapters 6 through 20, are the three cycles of seven: seals, trumpets and bowls.  Each cycle has at least one “close-up”.  The seal close-up is of the eternal election in Chapter 7.  The trumpets has two.  There is a close-up of the two witnesses in chapter 10 who represent simply the testimony of the prophets and the apostles which continue for the entire time.  If you are Lutheran you are tempted to say Law and Gospel, but that might be a little too far.  The trumpets also has an overview of church history from the incarnation to the end in chapters 12-14.  So you’ve had a close-up on pre-history, the eternal election.  You’ve had a close-up on the great span of history and the work of the church in that great span.  In the bowls section you get a close-up of the end, the fall of the beasts, the prostitute, Babylon everything meant to symbolize the devil, the world and our sinful nature. Christ has triumphed and reigns during the entire time which ends in the final defeat of Satan.  The purpose of the apocalyptic is to reveal to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. And what is revealed in all the cycles is that God is in control.  He knows who are his, and he saves them.  Whatever the enemies are doing, they can’t harm God’s elect.

But all of that is tough to preach on.  It is written for study and meditation. I think that is why the lectionary just skips to the end, to Revelation 21. Our epistle reading has 4 things to remind us of said clearly.  1) Our hope is a new heaven and a new earth.  This heaven – taken as space and the sky – and this earth are warn out, and God brings to completion his work of re-creation which was started on Easter morning with the resurrection of Jesus.  2) In this new heaven and new earth no longer will the highest heaven – the abode of God – be separate from the heavens and the earth.  “The dwelling place of God is with man.”  3) The dwelling of God with man is not to inspire fear or judgment.  Those things have been put behind when Satan and all of his were cast to the lake of ire.   The dwelling place of God is with man that he may wipe away every tear and death shall be no more.  The former things have passed away.  Behold, God does a new thing, he makes all things new. 4) And this salvation is placed in familial terms. “The one who conquers…he will be my son.” Not a slave or servant or a serf, but a son of the Household of God.

Each one of those things restores something that was originally lost: the goodness of creation not just its existence, the communion with God in the flesh, seeing God without fear, and a true fellowship with all.  There are lots of ways we try and create those things here, but they always end up rushing the not yet or slipping out of our grasp.  We have them instead by faith, because God has promised them, and He keeps his promises.  He is faithful to his covenant which He calls His steadfast love.

BIBLE STUDIES

  • Thurs 10am: “The Necessary Bible Stories to Know Our Own Story” – The Exodus – the Plagues
  • Confirmation: Lord’s Prayer – Conclusion
  • Life Application Fellowship (LAF):  May 16th, 6PM, Zoom
  • Sunday Morning: Going to continue with the Psalms for a Season. Come Join Us in the prayer book of the Bible.
  • Catechism Moment: Continuing with the Lord’s Prayer

Hearing the Voice of the Shepherd

Biblical Text: Acts 20:17-35

This Sunday is typically “Good Shepherd” Sunday. The Gospel text comes from John 10. The key verse of that being “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” The first reading assigned in from the end of Acts. And why it is paired up with the Gospel reading is because it is the answer to the natural question: How do the sheep hear the voice? This sermon meditates on the answer based on Paul’s “good-bye” message to the Ephesian Elders.

Virtual Bulletin – 5/8

May 8th, 2022 – 4th Sunday of Easter

Happy Mother’s Day 

UPCOMING ACTIVITIES FOR WEEK OF:  May 9th – May 15th

Monday……………….. .           Job

                                                 6:00 PM           Men’s Group

Tuesday……………….            9:00 AM          Pastor’s Circuit Meeting

Wednesday…………….           Cyril & Methodius, Missionaries

                                                 6:00 PM           Women’s Group

Thursday……………….          10:00 AM        Bible Study

Friday: ………………….           5:00 PM           Confirmation

Sunday: ………………….          10:00 AM        Worship

                                                 11:15 AM        Bible Study     

COMMEMORATIONS

The Lutheran Service Book added a bunch of Old Testament personages to the commemorations calendar. I kinda get it.  My assumption is that with the declines in Sunday Schools and general Biblical Literacy they desired to inject something that would give a handle for a pastor to write a paragraph and encourage your personal study.  So on Monday, maybe read a chapter or two of Job.  The middle sections are slog without a group, but the beginning and ending (Chapters 1-2, 38-end) are graspable.  And the are relevant to concerns many have today about the faith in this world.

Cyril and Methodius were brothers in the 800’s. The lived in Thessalonica – the city of the Letter to the Thessalonians – which was part of the Byzantine Empire.  At that time a group of people known as “The Slavs” were often coming into the Empire and the brothers labored to teach the migrants the Christian Faith.  At the invite of a minor prince they would eventually be dispatched to the area of the Slavs itself to nurture and build the church.  They ended up creating the first alphabet and written language for this group of peoples.  We know it today as the Cyrillic Script of Russian, Ukrainian, Kazakh, Turkmen and over 50 other languages or dialects. They translated the bible into this written language.  They also created the liturgy of the Slavic church. It is this bit of history that would create tension.  It was authorized by Pope Adrian II and they continued in the vernacular while the Western Church used Latin everywhere.  Eventually areas that bordered some of the Slavic places, like Jan Hus’ Czechia and Luther’s Germany, also wanted to use more of vernacular in the liturgy and have the scripture in their tongue. The acts of two brothers to preach the gospel continue to have implications to this day.

PRAYER THOUGHT AND MEDITATION

The core of the book of Revelation has three great cycles of seven: seals, trumpets and bowls. There are various interpretations, but the one that I’d hang my hat on is that each cycle is a repeat of history from the Ascension to the Final Judgement.  Each cycle with a slightly different focus. In the first two cycles, between the sixth and the seventh happening, there is a pause.  And in that pause there are these passages of hope.  As the chaos of the end hurtles closer and the powers that be know their time grows shorter, the message pauses to remind Christians that they are good.  Our Epistle Lesson (Rev 7:9-17) is from the first of those pauses. It is the vision of the divine election.  No matter what else is happening there are 144,000 sealed. That 144,000 has caused a lot of mischief.  Think of it like 12, the complete number from the old testament, times 12 the complete number from the NT, times 1000 a large complete number.  As Paul would say in Romans, “all Israel will be saved.” They have been chosen by God.  And just to make this clear, that the number is not literal, the vision of the great multitude is given.  “A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes, and peoples and languages.”

John, the visionary, gets asked “who are these?” John doesn’t claim to know so the Elder tells him.  ‘These are the ones coming out of the tribulation.  They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.” These are the full number that were sealed before eternity.  The chaos as maelstrom of history were paused so that God could seal his own.  Regardless of what the powers would do, these would be enabled to stand.

And how does this happen in history?  “The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water.” Your Baptism in history is the sacramental reality of that election.  You have been lead to the spring of living water.  Likewise Christ has become your shepherd.  You have heard his voice and followed.  And the Father who has given you to the Son from before all time has made it sure that no one is able to snatch you away (John 10). Whatever judgments hit the earth from the seal and trumpets and bowls of wrath, you have been sealed.  The Good Shephed leads you beside still waters and restores your soul.   

BIBLE STUDIES

  • Thurs 10am: “The Necessary Bible Stories to Know Our Own Story” – The Exodus pt 1
  • Confirmation: Lord’s Prayer
  • Life Application Fellowship (LAF):  May 16th, 6PM, Zoom
  • Sunday Morning: Going to continue with the Psalms for a Season. Come Join Us in the prayer book of the Bible.
  • Catechism Moment: Continuing with the Lord’s Prayer

Living Signs

Biblical Text: Acts 9:1-22

This sermon takes on a topic that is probably a little far afield for most Lutheran churches, conversion. And in thinking about conversion we have to think about things above and things below. What I mean by that is we live in a sacramental world. The reality above breaks into our reality here. We can call it sacraments. We call it signs. We call it revelation. Depends upon the stability of the inbreaking. The conversion of Saul/Paul is the text to think about this. If you ask how Saul was converted, a valid answer is baptism. Ananias baptizes Saul and he is welcomed as brother and receives the Holy Spirit. That is the reality. But that is not how most of us would describe Saul’s conversion. The road to Damascus is the sudden replacement of Saul’s will which was breathing threats and murder with the will of Christ. This is also the daily conversion of any Christian. The sermon attempts to think through these things. As I said, not a standard subject. I think it hangs together, but sermons are signs themselves. And describing signs is always a bit like interpreting dreams or reading revelation. You are better off experiencing it.

Virtual Bulletin – 5/1

May 1st, 2022 – 3rd Sunday of Easter

UPCOMING ACTIVITIES FOR WEEK OF:  May 2nd – May 8th

Monday……………….. .           Athanasius, Confessor

                                                 6:00 PM           LAF

Tuesday……………….            7:00 PM           Elder’s Meeting

Wednesday…………….           Friedrich Wyneken, Missionary

Thursday……………….          Frederick the Wise

                                                 10:00 AM        Bible Study

Friday: ………………….           5:00 PM           Confirmation

Saturday……………….           C.F.W. Walther

Sunday: ………………….          10:00AM         Worship

                                                 11:15AM         Bible Study     

COMMEMORATIONS

The commemorations this week fall into two groups: Those important to Lutheranism and Those to the entire church.  C.F.W. Walther is often called the founder of the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod.  If you don’t know that story, it really is a fascinating one, and his life is wrapped around it.  If you’ve ever seen his picture you know immediately that the 19th century is a different place. It has always struck me that Walther’s life is almost biblical in its ups and downs. This space isn’t big enough to capture it. Ask me and I’ll tell some of it. If Walther was the organizing force, Wyneken was the outward directed energy.  Arriving in Baltimore from Germany, the already existing Ministerium sent him “West”. He was a missionary to both scattered Germans and to the Native American tribes in Michigan, and he convinced key support in Germany to send more “emergency pastors”.  Again, the full story is beyond this space.  These two were the fist and second Presidents of the LCMS, which this year celebrates its 175 anniversary.  Frederick the Wise is the Prince who protected and probably saved Luther. When Charles V with the Pope had decided to kidnap Luther after Worms, Frederick learned of it and spirited Luther away to Wartburg Castle. His time there was miserable, but the German Translation of the Bible came from that time.

If Walther, Wyneken and Frederick are Lutheran figures, Athanasius is owned by all. The Athanasian Creed, recited on Trinity Sunday, isn’t by him but captures his confession.  When most of the Christian world had turned Arian, the first great heresy of the church contra the Nicene Creed, Athanasius refused to budge. It was Athanasius Contra Mundam – Against the World.  And the world would eventually crumble in the face of Athanasius’ implacable resistance.

What unites all four is a willingness to confess Jesus Christ in the face of worldly pressure and to do the hard things for the sake of the gospel.  Other than Elector Frederick we’d probably think of all of them as prickly. But it was their perseverance that produced character, and character hope.

PRAYER THOUGHT AND MEDITATION

Reading through the letters to the churches, the book of Revelation moves the scene to heaven and specifically the Heavenly throne.  John gets a vision of the throne that looks like Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1) and Isaiah’s (Isaiah 6) visions.  And we are introduced to the “Holy, Holy, Holy” again.  The angels and the living creatures and everything around the throne is singing in glory to the Father, the one who sits on the throne.  “For you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created (Rev 4:11).”  But Revelation introduces a new movement.  There is a problem in heaven.  There is a scroll that is sealed and nobody is worthy to open it.  This is probably picking up on the scroll from Daniel 12:4 which is the knowledge of the end that Daniel is told to seal up.  The same book appears in Isaiah (29:11) and Ezekiel. You’ll notice the repetition of prophets.  The picture presented here is usually taken to be the end of Ascension Day.  If the first part of Ascension Day we hear in Matthew 28 and Acts 1, this is the picture of what happens in Heaven.  There is now one worthy to open the Scroll, the “Lamb who had been slain with seven horns and seven eyes.” What are those sevens?  That is the Holy Spirit.  This is the anointed with the Spirit Lamb.  And this Lamb in all boldness walks up to the throne of God the Father and takes the scroll from the right hand.  “He was seated at the right hand of the Father.”

And this is the new movement.  When the lamb takes the scroll at the right hand, all those in heaven who had been praising the Father now add a new verse praising the Lamb.  “Worthy in the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might…”. And it is not just the Heavenly realms, but “every creature in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth and in the sea.”  Why is this such a big deal?  Because only God is worshipped, especially in Heaven.  And Heaven is worshipping the Lamb. Our Epistle reading captures this new song of praise.

But the new movement, the new theme, isn’t just that Jesus is God.  That’s important, but it’s the praise of every creature. In Christ God has acted to reclaim and judge his entire creation. And even those under the earth, those whose praise would be grudging, must join in the praise.  Christ has triumphed.  The Lamb sits at the Right Hand of the Father from whence He will come to judge.  And what does that judgement look like?  That’s what’s on the scroll with seven seals that the Lamb is about to open.  The whole purpose of Revelation is so that you know who has won.  It is your brother Jesus. There is no question in this.  All the Kingdoms of this World have become the Kingdom of Our Lord. All the Kingdoms of men and of the powers and principalities that be. You have a champion in a very high place whose “blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe, language people and nation.”

All theology ends in doxology. Everyone joins the praise.  “Amen! And they all fell down and worshipped.”

BIBLE STUDIES

  • Thurs 10am: “The Necessary Bible Stories to Know Our Own Story” – Finishing Joseph – End of Genesis
  • Confirmation: Lord’s Prayer
  • Life Application Fellowship (LAF):  May 2nd, 6PM, Zoom
  • Sunday Morning: Going to continue with the Psalms for a Season. Come Join Us in the prayer book of the Bible.
  • Catechism Moment: Continuing with the Lord’s Prayer

All the Words of Life

Biblical Text: Acts 5:12-20

The assigned texts for the Sunday’s after Easter this year selectively read through a couple of books. The Epistles are coming from the book of Revelation. At least right now I’m trying to write about those in the weekly newsletter. The “first lesson”, replacing the normal Old Testament reading, is a reading from the book of Acts. Acts is a book about the formation and life of the early church. This lessons comes from the first months after the Resurrection. And I think it is worth preaching through Acts at this time. Why? Because I think we in the modern church have lost connection with “all the words of life.” That is what the Angel told Peter and the Apostle’s to go preach when he released them from prison. There are complex words, but it isn’t those we’ve lost, its the simple ones. And that is what this sermon meditates on. What are the simple words that make the church?

Virtual Bulletin – 4/24

April 24th, 2022 – 2nd Sunday of Easter

UPCOMING ACTIVITIES FOR WEEK OF:  April 25th – May 1st

Monday……………….. .           St. Mark, Evangelist

                                                 6:00PM             Men’s Group

Wednesday…………….           5:00PM             Confirmation

Thursday……………….          10:00 AM        Bible Study

Sunday: ………………….          10:00AM         Worship

                                                 11:15AM         Bible Study     

COMMEMORATIONS

You are supposed to count your blessings, but I usually end up counting failures.  There are enough of those I might get to sleep before I’m done.  One of the big one’s is not booking April 25th for some church activity yearly.  April 25th is the Feast Day of St. Mark the Evangelist, this congregation’s namesake. If I remember right all the St. Mark’s in the area are “daughter churches” of the old main St. Matthew’s in Rochester. The area never got to a St. Luke, or the naming fad has changed to Epiphany or Peace by that time.  But if your church has a Patron Saint name, his or her day should be remembered. Anybody got a good idea?

St. Mark has a lot of interesting stuff. The Lion, that guy up in the corner, is the animal icon associated with Mark.  Why? The “four living creatures” in Rev 4:7 were assigned to the four evangelists, the winged lion to Mark.  There is also an apocryphal story of Mark being fed to the lions, like Daniel, but the lions refusing to eat him.  His gospel starts with “the voice of one crying in the desert” which was analogized as a lion’s roar.  Like with most mascots, if you are early, you get to pick a cool one. And Mark was early.  It is possible he was there in Gethsemane.  The naked young man running away, not very lion-like, is often taken as the author signature. Mark went on the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, which didn’t end well for him as he quit (Acts 13:13).  Whatever happened, when Paul and Barnabas were preparing to go our the 2nd time, Paul refused to take Mark and the fight was bad enough that Paula and Barnabas split (Acts 15:39). Mark ends up being a helper to Peter (1 Peter 5:13).  His gospel is said to be how Peter told the story.  Compare Peter’s sermon in Act 10:34-42 to Mark’s outline.  And by the end of Paul’s life he is requesting Mark come to him (2 Tim 4:11).  The end of Mark’s life is told as the Bishop of Alexandria and a martyr, the founder of the church in Africa.  Lots of stuff to spark the imagination.  From a mouse that scampered away to a Lion.

PRAYER THOUGHT AND MEDITATION

Revelation’s letters to the seven churches (Revelation 1-3) are something that I go back to quite a bit.  Our Epistle lesson (Rev 1:4-18) is the introduction to all of them. You have a longer form of the apostolic greeting.  When I start a sermon I use the short form, “grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” We say it so often that the claim in there slips by. If you use a form of the Apostolic greeting you are claiming that what follows is the Word of God.  Now we have all kinds of theology that has placed limits around that.  An Apostle like John was truly sent by Jesus to the world.  We pastors are called to a specific location. But in that time and place, for those gathered in the name of Jesus, that is what the sermon is supposed to be – a personal letter to the congregation in West Henrietta (or Gaspump or Millrun or Springfield) from Jesus.  Sermons float around.  I publish them on our church website.  But absent that invocation of the gathered body, they aren’t quite the same.

John gives us a picture of the Glorified Jesus. And that picture should be both comforting and fear inducing.  Christ standing in the midst of the seven gold lampstands.  The lampstands are the churches.  Christ is always in the midst of his church.  That should be the comforting part.  The fear part is the description.  “His eyes as flames of fire.” I can’t read that anymore with thinking of “laser eyes”. The rest of the description is one full of power and glory.  And this one still has words for us.  Which is why when John sees him the reaction is no longer his friend but “I fell at his feet as though dead.” When we contemplate the power and glory that is an appropriate reaction, and that is the reaction throughout the bible to seeing the holy ones. But The Holy One lays his right hand on his friend and says “fear not.” That is the ultimate message of the entire book of Revelation: Fear Not.  It is not that the future isn’t scary, but that we know who wrote it.  “I am the first and the last…and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Everything we might rightly fear is the hands of the one Crucified for us.

I would be worth you while this week to read the individual letters.  Take one a day.  Is there anything described in any of them that is not still common?  Is the message of the church fundamentally different that what Jesus tells them?  Has the promise changed?  There have been lots of schemes places on the sever letters.  There seems to be a downward drift. But none of them are perfect.  Even the first one, Ephesus, which if you read it will sound like the perfect church, but even Ephesus has “abandoned the love you had at first” and receives the call to repent.  And they receive what might be the scariest warning, “do the works you did at first, or I will come and remove your lampstand.” I’ve often wondered if they get that not because it is not true for everyone, but they just might have the faith to hear and bear it.  Ephesus is not the bruised reed that Philadelphia is.  “I know you have but little power” but Christ is true to his word “I have set before you an open door that no one can shut…hold fast to what you have.”  The Word of God to the churches is different.  The LORD knows our frame.

That is not to say that the law changes.  His words to each church in those regards are blistering.  If a modern day preacher would stand in the pulpit and say things that way “our ears could not hear it.” What it does say is that the Christ of Glory is still the Christ of grace.  It is the devil’s work, the way of the powers and principalities, to have an inflexible system.  It is the glory of God to be gracious. And part of what revelation tells us is that one day we will be delivered from those systems of the powers that be and enter fully into the Kingdom of our Lord.  “Behold, he is coming, even those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will wail.”

BIBLE STUDIES

  • Thurs 10am: “The Necessary Bible Stories to Know Our Own Story” – Continuing with Joseph Gen 39-41
  • Confirmation: Lord’s Prayer – 4th Petition
  • Life Application Fellowship (LAF):  May 2nd, 6PM, Zoom
  • Sunday Morning: Going to continue with the Psalms for a Season. Come Join Us in the prayer book of the Bible.
  • Catechism Moment: Promise this will return this week.  (Lord’s Prayer – 4th Petition)

LENTEN CHALLENGE THANK YOU & RESULTS

THANK YOU to all for your generous giving during our Lenten RHAFT Challenge.  We contributed a total of 37 bags full of donations to our local food pantry during the season of Lent!