Thursday – Pentecost 11

Judges 4:4-23
Acts 1:15-26
Matthew 27:55-66

The acts reading is the account of the filling of Judas’ slot as an apostle. There are two fascinating parts to this passage. The first is the disciples use of the old testament. Both ‘it is written’ phrases are from the book of psalms. The second one is Psalm 109 the first is Psalm 69. Neither of which are in the LSB Hymnal by the way. Psalm 109 is what is known as an imprecatory psalm. That 2 dollar word means it says or wishes bad things on someone else. The eastern orthodox have a tradition of reading the psalms as the Son’s words to the Father. They see them as prophetic in that way. It would seem that tradition might stem or go right back to the Apostles. Reading Psalm 109 in that way casts an intersting and possibly troubling light.

The second comment is about the call to ministerial office and how the apostles handled it. Reading the text, they defined the parameters of an apostle – been with us since John’s baptism of Jesus up to today. There might have been more than two, but they put forward two who met that criteria. Then they cast lots. And Matthias, the man who the lot fell on, is never mentioned again. Even the early church writers don’t know much about him. Some try to link him to characters like Zacchaeus or Barnabus. What does happen in Luke’s Acts is that Paul, a Zealous Jew who persecutes the church and never saw the non-resurrected Jesus, has the original Damascus road experience and claims a direct sending, an apostleship, from the Lord Jesus. What does any of that have to do with our experience today? It would seem that nice and logical as the disciple’s criteria were, the office of apostle requires a direct follow me from Christ. Second this selecting of the 12th apostle was done prior to pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the Person who calls, gathers, enlightens and sactifies the church. Cart before the horse. Directly tying those together, the church does not have apostles today. Christ might call another one, but Revelation only gives twelve thrones and twelve gates. What the chruch has is bishops, pastors or teachers. These offices are a mixture of the human and divine. The requirements are set by humans in the church and change from age to age with a baseline of character from 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. The church then relies on the Holy Spirit to guide the selection. Sounds a lot like what the disciples were doing. Not bad, just a confusion of time and office.

May the Lord bless goings and comings today.

Wednesday – Pentecost 11

Judges 3:12-20
Acts 1:1-14
Matthew 27:45-54

It doesn’t seem pious to let the death of our Lord pass without a pointer to the Gospel text. It should be read in conjunction with Psalm 22. That is what Jesus is quoting from the cross. Those who should have known think he is calling for Elijah – anything to avert our eyes to the reality. The Lord of creation here identifies himself with the lowest and most vile of humanity. And the Father raises Him up. Nothing is beyond redemption.

We also start Acts today and will be reading through it for the next 11 weeks as the second reading. If you are just reading one of the lessons, the series on Acts might be receiving more attention over the next quarter. Acts is unique in the NT and only vaguely related to OT history writing. The Lord Jesus has a specific plan and Luke is the court historian. Is the kingdom going to be restored now? Yes, but not in the way you are thinking. Instead led by the Holy Spirit you will go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the end of the earth and be my witnesses. And Luke records the workings of the Spirit in witness through the apostles. Luke records the divine at work in and through the human.

May the Lord bless your work today and may you see His work in you and through you.

Tuesday – Pentecost 11

Judges 2:1-23
Romans 16:17-27
Matthew 27:32-44

There are three readings for the day above. The gospel reading is the crucifixion scene. And this writer wants to avert his eyes. Think about something else. Right there is the gulf that separates man and God. In Matthew’s Gospel, there isn’t the repentant thief from Luke, the mother is not standing close as in John. In Matthew it is all mocking. Men at their worst, mocking and torturing the weak and the afflicted. Men always want to put God on trial for this wrong or that injustice or why He would allow this. And God submitted. And we showed the complete mockery of justice that is our trial. We took the innocent, the sinless Son of God and nailed him to a tree and mocked him till the end. We know the end of the story, but sometimes that moves too fast. It allows us to avert our eyes. Sometimes we need to let our eyes rest on that cross to realize the enormity of that chasm.

May the Lord allow you to keep a steady gaze, and then grant you His peace.

Theology in American Culture

This post is slightly different. 1) It is not narrowly local (i.e. the pastoral letter) and 2) It is not narrowly biblical (i.e. sermons and meditations). Seeing that this post is under the St. Mark heading the need for discretion is high. At the same time, that discretion should not inhibit commenting upon the culture or what might be called relevancy. It is a difficult balancing act. With those thoughts occasionally something will pop into the American Culture that is theological or calls for theological thinking.

This blog post comments on “The American Heresy.” Within the lectionary, we have just been through the parable discourse in Matthew 13. Most of these parables are about the kingdom or the reign of Heaven. The American Heresy, whether it is found in politically right or politically left churches, is a reduction of the kingdom to this world. The right would seek to establish the kingdom through political action or buying into the prosperity gospel because the hope is this world centered. The left also looks to bring in the kingdom through political action and instead of prosperity would use the social gospel. Again the hope is centered on this world. When we look at the kingdom parables, the hope is always at the end of the age – when the weeds and the wheat are separated or the the fish in the net are separated. When the true hope, our bodily resurrection following the first fruits Jesus, is abandoned, what comes in its place is not atheism, but various false hopes in this world alone.

This is not to say that good works are not good. God has planned them in advance (Eph 2:10). What is says is that good works are a response and not the hope. Don’t sell that hope, your inheritance, for a bowl of prosperity or social gospel soup (Gen 25:27-34).

Monday – Pentecost 11

Joshua 24:16-33
Romans 16:1-16
Matthew 27:24-31

The scene in Matthew contains two phrases of man’s hubris in regards to his sin. Pilate washes his hands and says, “I’m innocent.” The Jewish crowd responds, “His blood is on us and our children.” Pilate does not have that authority. He is the appropriate civil authority. The Father has given him that authority as Jesus had told him. Pilate fails at that, at dispensing justice. He has no authority to declare himself innocent. At the same time the Jewish people are not the civil authority. They have no right to proclaim their guilt. They also have no claim to all the guilt or the ability to pass it from generation to generation. The sin is ours, but the proclamation of forgiveness is God’s. Which he has proclaimed in Jesus. We can’t proclaim ourselves free, and we can’t accept more guilt than God gives us. But God has procliamed us free, and put all that guilt on Christ on the cross.

Sermon – Pentecost 11 (Parable of the Treasure/Pearl)

Text: Matt 13: 44-52
Exegetical Statement: The hidden Reign of God is a joyful surprise worth decisive, resourceful and risky action.
Focus Statement: God extends his reign in a variety of surprising ways
Function Statement: That my hearers would be open to the joy of God’s reign

I tried something a little different this week. The sermon is largely story telling. The parables of the treasure and the pearl are short and very similar. The differences between a seeking merchant and a yeoman farmer both finding the treasure in the course of their lives seemed important. The immediate juxtaposition also seemed important. The sermon mirrors those portions juxtaposing two stories, C. S. Lewis from Surprised by Joy and a creative writing amalgamation. I did break the pure story by adding an ‘explainer-man’ paragraph at the ends of each major section.

I have less ability to judge the quality of this type. It is just not as direct. It depends on people either listening long enough to get to the explanations (not-likely if they don’t like the story), or being interested enough in the stories and getting the point by impression. I wasn’t lynched after it, and it seems people were paying attention, but that could just be becuase the format was indecipherable.

One other note worth mentioning. This sermon largely takes the ‘traditional’ interpretation of the pearl/treasure – finding the salvation offered through Jesus Christ is the only thing of true worth, worth all you possess. My professor, Dr. Gibbs, has a much different interpretation here. He flips the person and the pearl. Jesus is the person who gives up all for the pearl of the church. He is a very smart man who has spent an entire lifetime studying Matthew (i.e. he is probably right.) Why did I diverge other than ingratitude? The progression of the parables in Chapter 13. Chapter 13 starts with the parable of the Sower which I took to be about the power of the word. It progresses through the wheat and the weeds which grow together which focuses more upon the mixed state of people in this inaugurated eschaton. It ends with the interesting description of the instructed scribe as a householder able to bring out new and old. In Matthew, the householder is always God, except in this verse. The parables have progressed from hard soil through growth, recognizing the pearl, to being able to instruct others. While Dr. Gibbs’ interpretation definitely works, I think it misses that progression. I’m sure that could be demolished in about 30 seconds.


Pastoral Letter Re: Sunday School

The following letter was sent to the congregational e-mail list today and will be available in this Sunday’s bulletin. It might be a little long, but please take the time to read and consider. The dual messages I believe are important for this congregation to have at the front of its mind…

May the Lord’s grace be with you and your family:

The purpose of this note is two-fold. The immediate spur is the Sunday School. Rally Day is or would be 6 Sundays away from this Sunday (7/27). The larger view is something that I have been talking with the leadership of the congregation about – congregational priorities and identity. How St. Mark sees itself plays out directly in the congregation’s priorities. The congregation’s priorities should see themselves reflected in pastoral time and attention. There are many different congregational identities that are meaningful and viable, but ultimately they all must find their identity in Christ and in His mission to call sinners to repentance and life. Ultimately, finding our identity in Christ means following Him and His lead. That lead always is grounded in witness to the saving power of Jesus and flows out in service to our neighbor. I am far too new to be making recommendations, but what I hope to offer is sound spiritual guidance and some this worldly leadership as St. Mark figures out what it wants to be as a congregation.

The immediate situation of Sunday School is a particular reflection of the congregational identity. Sunday School is also one of those unique opportunities for witness and service. When you ask most Christians for the list of the three people who most influenced their faith, after parents and a beloved pastor, comes a special Sunday school teacher. A supported and well run Sunday School is a fundamental ministry of any congregation. It should also be of primary importance to parents whose kids are of Sunday School age. The lesson of Mark 10:13-16 is clear; children are a priority and in fact only those who are children before God will inherit the Kingdom. From a more mundane leadership standpoint, Sunday School, Bible Class and other small groups are the backbone for witness to the non-Christian. From Surprising Insights from the Unchurched (p117), 85% of the formerly unchurched become active through these routes. 83% of new Christians remain active 5 years later if they are involved in a Sunday School or Bible class. Only 16% of those involved in worship activities only remain active (p118). From The Unchurched Next Door, 82% of people responded that they were ‘somewhat likely’ or ‘very likely’ to attend if asked (p. 267). The Social Science and the Theology are on the same page. To be effective in reaching people with the Love of Christ, children are a priority. A Sunday School offers those chances for growth, both to the children being instructed and for the instructors to do the good works laid out in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10).

With that information there will be two upcoming activities. As per the Bulletins the last couple of weeks, there will be a 7 PM meeting on Tuesday the 29th with the purpose of estimating interest, need and brainstorming on implementation options for Sunday School and Bible Class. There will follow an education board meeting on Aug 12 at noon (following VBS). The immediate purpose will be to ensure plans to get successfully to Rally Day, September 7th. Part of those plans will be curriculum and proper support and training for the instructors.

Please prayerfully consider this ministry opportunity. Be open to the Spirit’s guidance. Please come to either of the above mentioned meetings, or give me directly your thoughts, ideas or concerns. My contact numbers are here at the church, 585-486-4474 at home or May the Lord bless your walk with Him.

In Christ,

Mark Brown

Friday – Pentecost 10

Note: Sorry about missing yesterday. Events intervene. I am taking the readings From For All the Saints which is the 2 year lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer. They are also available on an ongoing basis for days that I would miss and even an RSS feed from this ESV link.

Joshua 9:22-10:15
Romans 15:14-24
Matthew 27:1-10

In this two-year lectionary Romans is coming to a close and Paul is sharing his future plans and hopes. We tend to think of The Apostles or the Apostolic church as ‘a very special time’. You know, a time where everything worked perfectly and everyone was holy and God worked wonders and they didn’t have to get real dirty. The intention is not to knock what God accomplished and inspired through the Apostles, but to point out a similarity. Human nature does not change. It can be daily drowned, but not changed completely this side of the new creation. Because of that, less changes than we think. The means and the technology may change, but the motivations, desires and basic way things function never does. Paul has laid out his theology to the Romans. And now we know why. He wants to take the Gospel to Spain, a greenfield so to speak. And he wants the Romans help, after he spends a little while. The Apostle Paul is writing a fundraising or prospecting letter. Within the scriptures we aren’t given information if Paul ever made that journey. Acts 28 ends with Paul in house arrest in Rome. Church tradition says he did make that journey, Clement of Rome in the late first century holds that Paul made that trip. God does great things in every age, but he typically, even in the case of apostles, works through means – fundraising letters and phone calls for volunteers and kind words shared.

May you have the joy of being God’s partner today in sharing the Word.

Wednesday – Pentecost 10

Joshua 8:30-35
Romans 14:13-23
Matthew 26:57-68

But Peter followed him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end. That is from the RSV translation of Matthew and it seems to be a perfect description of much of Western culture in relation to Christ and His Church. It follows at a distance and desperately wants to see the end. The root that gave it life, that it once confessed to, is being led before the high and mighty. It gets mocked and blasphemed. Its teachings are ridiculed. And the culture trails at a distance and takes a seat with the guards and wants to see the end. The betrayal is coming. I never knew Him. The teachings were not foundational parts of the law. He has no claim on this culture. No branch cut off from its root long lasts. The only question is repentance. Does the culture hear the call to repent and believe in Christ’s ability to restore? Or does it continue toward the suicide, like Judas. Those are the paths layed out before us, both as a culture and as individuals – repentance, or self inflicted death.

May the Lord give you the wisdom and strength to see the only path to life is through repentance.

Tuesday – Pentecost 10

Joshua 8:1-22
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 26:47-56 NKJV

Over the weekend the story turned to holy week. We find ourselves in the Garden of Gethsemene. The Matthew reading has us looking at the betrayal. This is a poor reflection on me but other images of Judas have crowded out the biblical witness. Dante’s picture if I feel snooty. U2’s In the Name of Love comes up as well as Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Judas. U2’s just mentions the kiss, one of them betrayed with a kiss. And that that kiss seems to be the core of this passage. And it boggles me, why a kiss? Why not just a point – that one! You are betraying the man you have followed as messiah after all. And Jesus’s reponse, “Friend”. To have either such anger at unfulfilled wishes to betray with a kiss, or such desire to move it along faster, make the kingdom come now Jesus, sealed with a kiss because you don’t view it as a betrayal but a poke in the right direction. And Jesus replies with the question – Friend, why are you here? Examine yourself Judas, Friend. We find that question helpful. Not in a navel gazing philosophy – why are we here? – manner. But in a deep context, a situation too sticky and immediate, why are we here, in this situation, engaged in a kiss. And it is law – those situations are the recognition of a long string of sin. But it is gospel – recognition is necessary for repentance.

When you find yourself in that close immediate context of sin, may you remember the Lord’s question – why are you here? – and take refuge in the gospel. Amen.