Tag Archives: theology

Do you know your theological father?

Sermon given on Fathers Day 2018.  This is again loosely connected to the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window (Leawod, KS) that has woven the sermons together since January 6, 2018.  There is one more planned before stepping away from the pulpit for a time of renewal. 

The calendar and all the media remind us that today is Father’s Day.  Certainly one might consider that this is an appropriate day to focus on the father figures that fill the scriptures, but in the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window, the inclusion of five men connects The Church to Father’s Day by looking at how The Church continues to adapt especially through the fathers of the evolving church.

This Father’s Day, I ask whether or not you can identify the father-theologian figure of your own faith.  What we believe today is the final product of all the influences that shape and continue to shape your spiritual journey—just like your earthly father influenced your own life whether genetically, physically, mentally, emotionally, or even professionally.

As a Methodist, you might automatically assume that your theological father was simply John Wesley, but that really is not as simple as you may realize.  Why even John Wesley struggled to understand his own theological foundation—remember, he reported that he was afraid he did not have salvation until his Aldersgate experience.

Teaching students Greek and Latin roots, the definition of theology boils down to just two elements:  theo meaning God, and ology meaning study of.  Simply theology is the study of God; but that places theology at a distance from our daily world.  Theology in our real life experience is much broader and applies to each individual differently.  One’s personal theology is a philosophy or mindset, as explained on Bible.org, theology is “. . . a belief system that is built upon intellectually and emotionally held commitments concerning God and man.”  Even those definitions really do not fully develop what theology is.  The article concludes with this statement:

In short, theology is a set of intellectual and emotional commitments, justified or not, about God and man which dictate ones beliefs and actions.  Neither the word itself is irrelevant, nor the concepts which it seeks to articulate. It is the first pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.  [Accessed on June 12, 2018 at https://bible.org/article/what-theology%5D

 

Maybe you do not think it is important to know your theology.  I think it is.  In fact, the artist must have understood that Pope John XXIII (#10), Martin Luther (#26), John Wesley (#8), C.S. Lewis (#28) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (#16) each contributed to the continued growth of The Church or they would not have added.

To begin identifying who is the father of your personal theology, one begins with the Old Testament, but even there, the list is tremendous as many characters could be identified as a theologian.  I argue that all those who are listed as prophets would be considered theologians, not to mention other leaders such as David.

David became a king, he was a political leader, but God chose him for his faithfulness.  The psalms he wrote reflect his theology, and two verses specifically connect God as a father figure:

Scripture:

            In Psalm 2, David is speaking on the occasion of his coronation as God’s chosen king of Israel.  He begins the psalm with an explanation of the battling nations and establishes his relationship with God, especially in verse 7.

Psalms 2:1-6

Why are the nations so angry?
Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
the rulers plot together
against the Lord
and against his anointed one.
“Let us break their chains,” they cry,
“and free ourselves from slavery to God.”

But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
terrifying them with his fierce fury.
For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne
in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.”

Psalms 2:7   

The king [David] proclaims the Lord’s decree:
“The Lord said to me, ‘You are my son.
Today I have become your Father.

 

David’s relationship with God continued to grow during the trials and tribulations of his reign.  Some of the psalms are filled with pain and anguish, questions, and even anger, but throughout the prayers and songs, David’s relationship to God is described as that of a son to his father.  The confidence in God’s reach is outlined in Psalm 68:

Psalms 68:5-6         

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—
this is God, whose dwelling is holy.
God places the lonely in families;
he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.
But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

 

Psalms 89:26is a psalm written by Ethan, the Ezrahite, explaining the relationship of King David to God and the promises that God had promised to make David and his descendants reign forever.  He writes:

            And he [King David] will call out to me [God], “You are my Father,

My God, and the Rock of my salvation.’

 

The relationship pictured through the words of Psalms is the relationship of a father to a son. David’s theology is clearly based on that premise.

Today is Father’s Day, developed to honor our earthly parent like we honor our mothers in May.  I was surprised to learn that Father’s Day was not made a holiday until 1972 even though Mother’s Day officially became a holiday in 1914. Wikipedia summarizes Father’s Day:

Father’s Day is a celebration honoring fathers and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society. The tradition was said to be started from a memorial service held for a large group of men who died in a mining accident in Monongah, West Virginia in 1909.  It was first proposed by Sonora Dodd of Spokane, Washington in 1909.  It is currently celebrated in the United States annually on the third Sunday in June.  [Accessed on June 14, 2018.]

Understanding the purpose of Father’s Day supports making today a good time to consider who your personal theologian is, especially since so much of the scripture and even church curriculum is based on a father-like relationship with God.

The Church that began developing after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection grew as disciples began sharing the good news.  These disciples were the first Christian theologians and identified their relationship with God as that of son to a father.

The gospel according to John also continues to develop this idea.  John shares the story of the woman at the well and reports that Jesus said:

John 4:23

“But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.  The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.”

 

Jesus also talked to the Pharisees about his relationship with God.  They were trying to disprove his authority, but Jesus defined it:

John 5:17-20

17 But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” 18 So the Jewish leaders tried all the harder to find a way to kill him. For he not only broke the Sabbath, he called God his Father, thereby making himself equal with God.

19 So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. In fact, the Father will show him how to do even greater works than healing this man. Then you will truly be astonished. 21 For just as the Father gives life to those he raises from the dead, so the Son gives life to anyone he wants. 22 In addition, the Father judges no one. Instead, he has given the Son absolute authority to judge, 23 so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son is certainly not honoring the Father who sent him.

 

Explaining his relationship to God as that a son to his father should have made the Pharisees clearly understand Jesus’ message, but accepting the truth defies what we as humans understand.  Theologians have and continue to explain the relationship humans have with God.           The Church lives and grows because theologians continue to find ways to share understanding of this relationship.  They are the fathers of our own faith.  The fact that the COR’s stained glass window artist chose just a few shows how God’s story continues despite all the human challenges.

Today’s Catholic church continues to be fathered by the Pope.  Pope Francis demonstrates a more inclusive church today that is adapting to cultural shifts while preserving the New Testament foundation:  Love one another as you want to be loved.

The COR window does include Pope John XXIII (#10 in the window) identified as “. . . one of the most popular popes of all time (reigned 1958–63), who inaugurated a new era in the history of the Roman Catholic Church by his openness to change   [Accessed on June14, 2018 at https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-John-XXIII]

The popes are theologians, but The Church did not remain Catholic, and other theologians have lead to major reforms, especially Martin Luther (#26), a practicing priest who became upset about the methods The Church, now known as the Catholic Church/denomination, used to absolve one of their sins.

Luther publically posted on the church door the 95 concerns he had with The Church.  The action is accredited with the establishing of the Protestant branch of The Church.  His actions lead to The Church continuing in different forms of leadership.  Luther was a theologian who saw no separation between God and any individual person, there was no need for a priest to act as a mediator for salvation.

Luther lived in the 1500’s, and John Wesley (#8) was one who continued the reformation process about 200 years later.  We are familiar with his story as Methodists, but do we understand his theological base?  In our denomination, God teaches us to love one another through service. We are one family with God as our father and all others as our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Do you really know your theological father?  Do you know that God is your father?  The centuries that separate us from Jesus’ human experience can separate us from God, too.  This Father’s Day we honor the fathers of our earthly life, but The Church can also use this as an opportunity to remember the theologians of the church.

The Church continues to grow and to reform thanks to the men and women who have sought to understand and to act on that understanding of their relationship with God.  Each of us has a responsibility to do the same, to read scripture, to remain in conversation with other believers, and to live faithfully the best way that we can.

Two other images in the window are known theologians who continue the work of the earliest disciples.  Both are 20thcentury figures that some may not even realize are listed among the theologians who continue to strengthen the work of The Church, regardless of the denomination:  C. S. Lewis (#28) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (#16).

  1. S. Lewis is an author who wrote the children’s fantasy books in the The Chronicles of Narnia series as well as over 30 other books that share his apologetic theology of God:
  • I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
  • You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.
  • Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.
  • Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.
  • God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

 

Admittedly I do not know the actual work of Lewis, but I am eager to learn more.  He tried hard not to be a believer, but life taught him that he has a father-son relationship with God.  His written work reportedly teaches readers of all ages the reality of God, creator, and parent.

Bonhoeffer may be familiar to us, especially in relation to World War II.  His life ended by execution at the hand of the Nazi Regime.  A Lutheran pastor in Germany, he was also a social activist. His theological work was to live one’s Christian faith actively in the secular world.  His political resistance to the Nazi Regime modeled his theology:

  • God’s truth judges created things out of love, and Satan’s truth judges them out of envy and hatred.
  • The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.
  • Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.
  • We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.

 

The list of theologians simply includes these individuals mentioned today, but the list continues to grow.  God depends on the father-child relationship we have with him.  The Church is the result of his faithful children working together to continue God’s work.  The Church is a living reflection of God’s children working to strengthen the father-children relationship throughout humanity’s time.

Today, Father’s Day 2018, as God’s children we have a responsibility to know our theological fathers and to remain faithful to our heavenly Father.  The Church grows because the theologians have studied scripture, have led others to know God personally, and have served one another in love in an unending list of ways.

You are asked to know God, just like you want to know your own biological dad.  How do you do it?  You study scripture, you join in Christian conversation, and you live your faith out loud demonstrating the value of God in your life.  You are to model your theology in ways that others may be transformed, too.

Closing prayer:

Happy Fathers Day, God,

We are so blessed by the gift

of life you have given each of us

of your Son, Jesus Christ;

and of your Holy Spirit within us.

Thank you, too, for all those who wrote scriptures,

Who read scripture,

Who took the time to explain your love,

Who risked living their faith out loud.

Guide us in our own work to learn more of your love.

To share your story with those unknown;’

And to serve one another in love, too.

May we be your hands and feet for others

May we know your love within our own hearts.

May we grow The Church as others have.

In the name of you, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost,

Amen, Lord, Amen.

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Know what you believe: What does your God look like? (theology)

given on Sunday, September 18, 2016

Scripture connections:

  • Genesis 1-2:4
  • John 1:1-5
  • Revelation 1:4-8

 

This week the moon reached its full glory: The Harvest Moon according to the calendar. Stepping out at 2:08 in the morning, I witnessed the Harvest Moon in a unique setting.

Fog was moving in on the ridge and I could literally hear it. I could not see any stars but the moon was shining so much that the fog acted like it was trying to sneak around.

Looking around the back yard, I could hear little sounds as though it was trying to rain, but it wasn’t. I watched the fog creep in. With it came the tiny little clicks, yet there were no drops of rain and the moon lit up the yard so clearly that I began to see the fog moving in closer.

These moments in nature bring me closer to God than any other time. I can sense the presence and witness the awe of creation, knowing God is with me. As I stood watching and listening, the eeriness of the scene might frighten one, but I was frozen in fascination. God created all of this and I am blessed to be part of it.

God is life. God is love. God is the beginning and the end not to mention all that is in between. God identified himself as I Am. God is The Word. God is the Alpha and the Omega. God is Jesus Christ. God is the Holy Spirit. And I am part of it all.

The full moon at 2:08 in the morning shown at 4:08 in the morning just as brilliantly as it did earlier, but this time no fog. This time it shone through the closed blind in the dining room enough that I could put out the pet food with no other light. God is always present much like the full moon during the night.

At times like this, I know I need to sleep but the world is so alive and so private to me. The early morning hours are fresh; the mind has slept enough to be crisp, too. And in the quiet of our busy world, I am in the presence of God. How can anyone question the omnipotence of God the creator?

Knowing what one believes releases that person to be fully part of God’s world. Witnessing God in the manner that best matches any one of us independently is God’s presence in our lives. For me, the early mornings before the world wakes up is holy.

Yes, my body needs sleep and I am cranky when it seems the pets are demanding more than I want to give at that very moment. Yes, I wish I could sleep another uninterrupted hour or so. Yes, I fuss because I am up and ready for the day to begin even though no one else is. But, when I am honest, these early, early morning hours are my best moments with God.

Do you know what you believe? Do you know when and where you are truly with God? Do you let God speak to you?

Turning to scripture, I often struggle to find clarity in the words. Yet each time I tackle a reading, I find wisdom. I read the study notes and discover new ways of thinking about the verses. After witnessing the moon and the fog, I woke up later with words dancing in my mind: I Am. The Alpha and the Omega. In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.

And, then I saw the light of the moon shining even more brightly because the fog was gone. God is with me. God speaks to me even as I feed the pets, turn on the lights, and open the door to listen more closely.

Theology is a word scholars use to categorize the study of God. Yet theology is not simply a study, it is a format for any of us trying to learn more about God. Theology can be God in our lives. In fact, one source defines theology as how God works through Jesus and the Holy Spirit in our daily lives.

Consider this quote:

 

If faith is the direct response to the hearing of God’s word of grace and judgment, theology is the subsequent but necessary reflection of the church on its language and practice of faith. (Migliore, p2)

 

With that definition of theology, each one of us is a theologian. We are all responding to God in a way that makes sense to each one of us. The key to following God is how we use God’s direction in our lives right here, right now.

God is. God creates. God loves. God gives us grace. Whether or not we can explain our personal theology, we live it. We are God’s creation even though we altar our own world in so many different ways, and we tend to make mistakes. God’s grace is ever present, also.      Whether we recognize our errors or not determines the closeness we experience to God. When we do wrong, we must recognize the error, talk to God, ask for forgiveness, accept God’s grace, and then resume life in a Christ-like manner.

Personally, I accept God’s reality when I witness the glory of creation. As I attempt to understand my personal theology, I must admit that nature speaks to me. I see God’s wonder in the world he created. I understand that this world we live in is ever changing. I appreciate that God’s creation included the possibilities of evolving naturally or evolving through any realm of reasons due to human interaction with other humans or animals or any other facet of this world in which we live.

Why do we think that God is not part of science? God is in all that exists in this world. God created a world with all the possibilities that life can and will change. The fact that God created caretakers for this world shows that as a creator change would occur. The caretakers may have received instructions, but even the caretakers had freedom to think.

Scholars have categorized theology into a study of God with a range of perspectives. Creation theology is just one that speaks to me personally. It helps me to understand how humans are simply part of this world and we have a way of messing it up but also of preserving and even improving it.

Theological studies include various methods to understand how God is part of our lives. Biblical theology in emphasizes how the recorded stories and words explain God. Historical theology follows the Christian story through time, people and place. Philosophical theology tracks the various ways people have reasoned and explained Christianity experience. Practical theology analyzes the practices of the church, including the different forms of ministry. And there is the systematic theology. Systematic theology might be viewed as a broader study as it includes “. . . rethinking and reinterpreting the doctrines and practices of the church in the light of what the church itself avows to be of central importance—namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ that liberates and renews life.” (Migliore, p 11)

Knowing what you believe is not necessarily easy, but it makes understanding how God works in your life much clearer. We struggle to manage our daily lives, but knowing God is present with us through these daily struggles defines the quality of our life. Once we are comfortably living our theology, we also become God’s presence in this world for others.

Knowing what you believe, beginning with the Triune God and then on through how God works in our world, brings us closer to God. Living the Christian lifestyle also puts us into an outward-thinking mode so that we reach out to serve one another as God wants us to serve. We truly become caretakers of this world one person to another, one home to another, one community to another, and even on to other communities around this world.

The sun has not yet risen, but the glorious sounds of God’s world surround me even at this very moment. My theology may begin with creation, but it has continued throughout history. I see God in the context of the moment. I see God in the beauty but also in the misery of human life.

God is love. God gives grace. God created, but he also gave his creation the freedom to continue evolving. Knowing what I believe helps me to serve one another in love so that God’s creation can continue to grow.

Closing prayer

Dear Father, creator of heaven and earth,

Thank you for life itself.

Thank you for freedom to think and to do.

Thank you for your grace and forgiveness.

 

Guide us, day in and day out,

To learn who you are.

Guide us in seeking to understand

The story of Jesus Christ.

Guide us to accept the Holy Spirit

So we may follow Jesus more closely.

 

Be with us along our journey

Learning about your love, grace and forgiveness.

Be with us as we struggle

To manage life challenges.

Be with us as we reach out in love

To others needing your love and grace.

 

May we find peace and happiness

In the glory of your creation.

May we find the joy of serving one another

In the same way as Jesus did.

May we deliver grace through the Holy Spirit

So others may know the promise of everlasting life.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

 

Citation:  Migliore, Daniel.  Faith Seeking Understand:  An introduction to Christian theology, 3rd edition.  Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, MI.  2014.

 

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Theology in Action: Esther’s Story

given on Sunday, September 27

Scripture reference:  Old Testament book of Esther

I met Esther this week. A delightful woman living a God-centered life despite challenges that easily could have caused her to live in self-pity. Her example of living her faith is theology in action.

Esther was orphaned as a child, but her uncle raised her in the Jewish tradition and trained her to follow God’s direction. Life circumstances did not interfere with Esther’s reliance on her uncle. She followed her training, respected her uncle, and developed a strong faith in God.

Esther’s story may not match today’s culture; but for many young people today, the parallels are there. In a sense the story is a Cinderella story, too. An orphan or a stepchild living with at least one non-birth parent is a familiar arrangement in today’s world.

Sadly, many young people are entangled in homes where God is far from the center and that makes Esther’s story different. She had a loving, faithful Jewish uncle who raised her as his own which included religious training.

Granted, Esther’s life story may not match those of our young people today, but her story reflects the culture in which she was raised.   The message, though, is the same: despite all life’s circumstances, keep God-centered above all else.

Esther’s story began around 500 years before Christ was born. The culture was so very different than it is today, yet the human nature tends to follow the same patterns. The three other primary characters in Esther’s story are her uncle Mordecai, the king Xerxes, and Haman, the number two guy in the king’s court.

Reading through the brief biographies of Mordecai and Haman, the conflict is defined primarily as a cultural clash. Mordecai was a Jew and Haman was an Amalekite. Today we might ask why that is significant, and the answer is the long-standing dislike between the two peoples. Haman despised the Jewish people. Mordecai was a Jew who still lived under the Persian rule as a captured slave.

Mordecai gained so much respect within his own community; he became a trusted leader among the Jews. When Persia took control, his leadership role continued to earn respect even from the Persian court. His faith-centered life dictated how he lived and that earned him respect and his continued leadership role.

King Xerxes is a key player in Esther’s story, but he is not part of the conflict. He is the official whose decisions lead to the story. His first queen refuses his summon, and upon counsel with his advisors, he decrees she is no longer his queen and cannot even be seen by him. A life long and non-reversible decree that once his anger subsided, he may have realized his error.

Enter Esther. Mordecia’s position and the search for a new queen placed Esther into a position to become the key to the entire Jewish people. Trained by Mordecia in the Jewish faith, to trust God above all others, and do what she was called to do. Her natural beauty and her character brought Xerxes to choose her as his next queen.

Telling Esther’s story can sound complicated but there is one simple theme to remember: We must have faith that God is in control. [from the Life Application Study Bible introduction to Esther]. Today’s culture promotes we in are charge of our own lives, so giving over control to God does not make sense. We make our own decisions.

Yes, we do make our own decisions, and that turns the focus back to Mordecai. He was a God-centered man. He followed God’s expectations to practice his faith much as John Wesley expects from us. What began as a story of a young woman being chosen to serve as a queen, changes each time we read it. The lesson in one reading seems the most important one, but a second reading adds another one.

In fact, the Life Application Study Bible, includes a chart at the end of the chapter that outlines three topics and how we can plan, pray and trust-and-obey even in today’s world. The three ways that God uses to get something done are identified as natural order (God’s creation has a normal working process), miracles (God can interrupt the natural order), and providence (God can overrule the natural order). Esther’s story provides examples of each one:

  • Natural order—God gave Esther her natural beauty and the ability to plan.
  • Miracles—God allowed Esther to speak to the king (which was not typical in the royal tradition); and the Jewish people did pray and fast for three days at Esther’s request.
  • Providence—God allowed Mordecai to overhear the plot to assassinate the king and Mordecai trusted God to accomplish the impossible.

Even today, the same processes are available for God to use in our own lives. The decisive actions we take, also outlined in the chart, are to plan or disobey, pray or demand, or trust-and-obey or despair. We have a choice to make. All decisions we make, with God at the center, will determine the quality of our life and the final judgment God makes upon our death.

Where does this leave us? We have very different culture now, but much that Esther’s story shares are echoed in some of Pope Francis’ words this week. Remember he asked that we pray for him. We are to love one another, as we want to be loved. We are to be good stewards of our earth. We cannot remain faith-centered if we do not work at putting our theology into action.

Theology is the study of God. More importantly theology in action is developing a system—or a lifestyle—that puts belief in God into practice. What you believe must be lived out loud and that allows others to see your theology in action just like we see in Esther’s story.

The results, you ask? Life that centers on the triune God–the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost/Spirit—will lead to salvation. Faith-filled lives reflect God’s glory and others are drawn to people filled with that love.

Life is not about quantity. No matter how much money or wealth or power or control one accumulates, life is about quality. We have a choice to make: Do we follow God’s law or do we presume that we have full control of our lives?

Mordecai taught Esther that following God was the answer. Her story, as well as Mordecai’s, provides us one example for us to follow. Life’s challenges will not always feel like God is present in our lives, but it is our own decision whether to trust and obey or whether to despair.

Certainly despair will not improve the quality of one’s life. Trusting and obeying God’s laws will allow us to live life with an abundance of joy. By trusting and obeying God, we will know we are saved and others will see how God-centered lives provide riches beyond human measure.

So read and study scripture, pray all the time, worship regularly, participate in communion, and fast or abstain as a practice of discipline. These are the acts of piety that will guide you to a God-centered life and salvation.

Closing prayer: This is a prayer I received from BJ and a friend Mary this week. Please join me. . .

Father,

Thank You for each and every day

You have blessed us here on earth.

Thank You for Your tender mercies.

Thank You for giving us friends and family

to share joys and sorrows with.

I ask You to bless my friends,

relatives, brothers and sisters in Christ

and those I care deeply for,

who are reading this right now.

Where there is joy, give them continued joy.

Where there is pain or sorrow,

give them your peace and mercy.

Where there is self-doubt,

release a renewed confidence.

Where there is need, fulfill their needs.

Bless their homes, families, finances,

their goings and their comings.

In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Are you a worrywart?

given on Sunday, September 22, 2013

How many times have we come together on Sunday morning bemoaning what has happened during the week?  Monday I stopped at the dentist office and started watching the news report about the shooting in Washington D.C.  The report was another horrendous violent act by one forlorn man shooting lunch-eating workers.  Why?

As I was getting the answer for my own question, I chatted with the receptionist about the horror of the day and even more.  The flooding in Colorado has been unbelievable.  The pictures and reports caused flashbacks to the 1993 flood here in Missouri, but this flooding was along the Rocky Mountains and its valleys.  The news said it was a 1,000-year flood—1993 was called a 500-year flood.

Let’s begin with a word of caution, though.  The events that we see on our nightly news are brought directly into our homes and can feel overwhelming.  The urge is to say the world is coming apart and God is about to destroy everything.  For many, the anxiety brought on by these news events creates a lifestyle of worry.  Individuals cannot look at the world without fear, and they become the worrywarts.

Another caution is also about reading the Bible too literally.  In the conversation I had at the dentist’s office, the receptionist wrote down a Bible scripture she wanted me to read:  2 Timothy 3.  She went on to suggest I should then read Titus.  I was curious, so when I got home lat, I opened up the Bible and read these scriptures:

3 You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! [the NLT]

Those words could easily send fear through the hearts of Christians around this world, but Paul was warning the earliest Christians.  In fact, this book is the last letter Paul was able to write before his death, not Titus.  Reading through the study helps, 1 Timothy and Titus were written in 64 AD, during a brief time out of jail.  The second letter to Timothy was written in 66 AD, while in jail and shortly before he was executed.

The words from this scripture seem to parallel much of what we are witnessing in our 21st century world right now.  The list in this book sounds all too familiar.  In fact it would be so easy to create a list that was as unchristian or even worse right now in 2013.  For so many of us we could easily be lured to believe the end of the world was coming soon.

Those are the concerns, and that is why so many are becoming worrywarts.  Maybe I unintentionally fed worrywarts last Sunday when I talked about looking at how we serve.  With all these concerns, I looked for answers—again in scripture.   Reading on in 2 Timothy and Titus does improve the understanding; but turning back to Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” (Matthew 6:28-30) worrywarts can find some assurance that as bad as things get, God is there to take care of everything:

28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you.

What a relief!  Worrywarts all over the world need to hear Jesus’ words of assurance.

Granted, saying we have nothing to worry about is somewhat a ‘Pollyanna’ view.  We certainly cannot just sit back and not do anything, not try to do the right things, to live a Christian lifestyle, or work to help others.  Paul spoke to Timothy trying to assure him, to prepare him for his continued ministry once he was gone.  Jesus was trying to prepare his followers for handling the evils of the world in which they were living.  The masses following him were hungry for his teaching.

The words from Matthew 6:25-34 sound like a guarantee for a life when times were extremely difficult.  Hear those words of promise:

28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you.

Can you just imagine how those words sounded to the people crowding around Jesus there on a mountainside?

Do these words provide us the very same sense of relief?  If we sit down to the nightly news and hear of one more tragedy, can we turn to the words in Matthew and experience a release from worry?  Can we share these words with the other worrywarts we know in our own world in an effort to relieve them?

Our role in today’s world is no different than it was for the earliest Christians who were taught by Jesus himself.  Our role in today’s world is to lead others to know that with God nothing can be against us.  We do not have to feel as though all the bad things happening are because God is missing in our lives.  Or even more, the bad things are not because God is punishing us.

The entire Sermon on the Mount provides Christians today as much training as it did the first Christians, the ones who were still Jews or Gentiles not realizing the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy had happened.  We need to take some time to focus on those very basic lessons for us in an effort to lesson the worry that seems to consume us.

I am one of the biggest worrywarts I know.  I have struggled to keep my life moving forward rather than give in to the negative experiences I have confronted.  And, just like eating too many sweets, when I try to change my bad habits, I can make mistakes.  But, I never give up.  Jesus tells us that we simply must believe and to turn over our worries to God.

Turning over our worries is not turning our backs on the causes of worry.  God asks us to follow the one commandment: to love one another.  Anything we can do to maintain that one law is our responsibility.  For every single human we can reach and turn into a believer, we take one more step to transform the world.

We may not be able to prevent all the evil in the world, but we can wrap up the evil in prayer, turn it over to God, and do what we can to keep the evil away from our Christian foundation.

When we begin to feel the negatives in the world wearing us down, we need to look around us carefully and see the good that still exists right there along with the bad.  We are to look for the proverbial silver lining in the clouds, and then reveal that silver lining to others.  If we share the good with others, we can defend ourselves from evil.

Each one of us has the potential of being a Christian leader.  Each one of us can model the lessons Jesus taught us from the mountainside.  Each one of us can read the scripture to renew our own understanding of God’s grace.  There is nothing to stop us from talking with others, just like the receptionist at the office, and sharing the confidence we have in God.

In casual conversations, rather than dwell on the negative, look for the positives.  We do not have to take the evil reports and accept them as today’s new standards.  We have a job to do:  share!  Share the good news with others you meet along the way.  Be prepared with a verse or two to share with others.  Model a worry-free life to family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers.  Use the words without guilt.

Look at Paul’s words to Timothy as he concludes his warning of all the trials that may confront him in his ministry–2 Timothy 3:10-11, 13-14

10 But you, Timothy, certainly know what I teach, and how I live, and what my purpose in life is. You know my faith, my patience, my love, and my endurance. 11 You know how much persecution and suffering I have endured.  . . . 13 But evil people and impostors will flourish. They will deceive others and will themselves be deceived.  . . . 14 But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught.

Worrywarts, let those worries go!  Christians, remain faithful to God.  Then watch carefully as evil looses its control over our world.

Closing prayer:

Dear Master Teacher,

Over and over we are challenged by evil.

We feel our joyful selves draining dry.

Open our memories to the words Jesus taught.

Remind us that worry is an enemy, too.

Help us keep worry from controlling our lives.

Help us defend ourselves while helping others, too.

Help us to see God’s glory amongst the troubles.

Then fill us with joy as we release our worries.

Then let us share with others the wonder of God’s grace.

May we all do all we can for other worrywarts

so they can find the excitement of living

in God’s world now and forever.  –Amen

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Meet the Maccabees

given on Sunday, April 28, 2013:  Sometimes we get so involved in the world about us, that we do not see how our Christian lifestyle is slipping away.  Here is my question, are we like the Maccabees or are we succumbing to the secular world?

April’s Apocrypha Lesson:  Meet the Maccabees

         Why in the world do we need to meet the Maccabees?  Reviewing the books in the apocrypha, I could not understand why there are four books of the Maccabees.  True, in the New Testament there are the first, second and third letters of John, but they are letters and each one has a specific purpose.  But the four books of the Maccabees simply do not follow any recognizable style or purpose that connects them.  The connection appears to be found in history.

The Maccabees were a priestly tribe.  As the Greek or Hellenistic Empire grew through the ancient world surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, cultures clashed.  The Maccabees struggled to maintain their Judean culture under the Greek rule.  The Greeks struggled to supersede the Jewish culture.  The story, as outlined in the four books of the apocrypha, is filled with the details of these clashes.

The Greeks outlawed the practice of circumcision.  The Jewish parents continued to practice it.  Defying the Greek law lead to the death of many Jewish parents.  Yet the Maccabees persisted and even when one leader died, the task of maintaining the faith continued:

1 Maccabees 2:49-50:  Now the days drew near for Mattathias to die, and he said to his sons:  “Arrogance and scorn have now become strong; it is a time of ruin and furious anger.  Now, my children, show zeal for the law and give your lives for the covenant of our ancestors.”  the NRSV

The apocrypha includes the works written during that time between the prophecy of Malachi and the birth of Jesus.  The stories continue to demonstrate how the Jewish people struggled to maintain their faith in God despite all the cultural challenges to their beliefs.

The first book of Maccabees includes the story of the Greek rulers taking over even the temples.  The Greeks forced themselves into the temples to put their own pagan gods into place.  They defiled the altars by placing the very types of sacrifices forbidden by the Jewish priests.  Greeks demanded taxes from the temple in order to have more money for themselves.  The stories continue to demonstrate how the Hellenistic culture was forced upon the Jewish culture.

Consider this:  How is our Christian faith being challenged by the secular world?  Are we able to demonstrate as much determination as the Maccabees did to protect our standards?  Are we able to withstand the constant pressure to give up our Christian practices?  Are we determined to protect our faith practices over the secular practices swirling around us?

The four books of the Maccabees shares how the faithful fought back.  The Jewish people refused to give in to the Gentiles now practicing the pagan religions or following the Greek culture.  The story turns into one of rebellion as outlined in the second book.

When the Greek leaders decided to enter the temple and confiscate the treasury, the Maccabees resisted.  The story of this family and all the sons who stood up against the Hellenistic demands and influences demonstrates faithfulness to a degree I cannot comprehend.  The brothers were tortured and killed before their mother, but even she defied the authorities encouraging her sons throughout the horrific ordeal and even through her own death.  These are the words she spoke to her seventh son as he was tortured and killed:

2 Maccabees 7: 27-29:  But, leaning close to him [her 7th son], she spoke in their native language as follows, deriding the cruel tyrant:  “My son have pity on me.  I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you.  I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed.  And in the same way the human race came into being.  Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers.  Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers.”  the NKJV

I cannot imagine having the strength of faith, of character, to conduct myself so faithfully.

In the testimony of the seven sons and their mother, as recorded in 2 Maccabees, also brings to light two theological points that continue to be discussed today:  (a) the creation of the world from nothing, and (b) the possibility of life after death.  I was not surprised to learn this about the Jewish stand on creation, but I was surprised to hear the reference to eternal life.

Yet, the Maccabees’ stories continue.  After the death of the Priest Eleazar and his family, the next Jewish leader Judas, also called Maccabeus, continues the story further.  He becomes a strategic leader, gathering up the faithful secretly, creating an army that takes back the temple and purifies it for the Jewish people.  The historical record of Judas is considered proof that God listened to the Jewish faithful and guided them through the conflict successfully.

So why should we meet the Maccabees?  Today, as we find ourselves challenged to protect our own Christian beliefs and practices, the stories can give us models.  Hopefully no one will ever have to endure the horrendous forms of torture and death as Eleazar’s family, but we need to identify the challenges to our faith and find ways to strengthen our faith.

Humanity sees behaviors repeated in cultures worldwide, in all the different time periods, and yet today.  Just in the course of the last decade, stop and consider what secular changes challenge the Christian practices.

The first thing that comes to my mind is the simply the attitude to maintaining a day of worship, a day of rest.  First blue laws were written, then loop holes developed (such as how alcohol can be sold on Sundays).

A second one which is much more recent, that is filling up Sundays with athletic competitions.  Even if one is accustomed to practicing worship each Sunday, now kids athletic competitions are schedule throughout the day.  The importance of worship is lost.

In reading through the various study materials concerning the Maccabees, I stumbled across this little piece of history:  When the Greek were trying to instill their culture, after capturing the temple, they built an arena for athletic competition.  It was built in a position that placed it above the temple.  This clearly demonstrated the attitude the Greeks held toward the Jewish faith—athletics first, faith comes lower in the priority list.

I could not help but see the parallel in today’s secular world.  Athletic competition and even the practices for it seem to have more value in our society than our faith does.  Consider how much players are paid versus how much the religious leaders are paid.  Figure out how much money fans spend on tickets, parking passes, clothing and even food in order to attend a sporting event and compare that to what happens tithing in our churches.

Meeting the Maccabees in the first two books is different from meeting them in the third and fourth book.  The last two books have entirely different writing styles and purposes.  The third book is a novel.  This is surprising since it is published as though it were part of the historical narrative.

Another reason including a novel is surprising is that today typically novels would not be considered a reading for faith development.   Yet, when I read through Father Tim’s stories from Mitford, I found lessons in faith.  In fact, his favorite verse was Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him [Christ] who strengthens me.”  the NKJV.  This is a verse that guides me through each and every day, and it was the basis for an entire series of novels.

Finally, there is the fourth book of Maccabees.  Another entirely different style of literature, this book is a series of biographical sketches on various martyrs or heroes in the Jewish culture.  In fact the New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha indicates that these stories are “part moral treatise, part funeral oration.”  Another words, they are like eulogies in today’s culture.

“The value?” you might ask.  Every culture has historical personalities that have led the people to understand how to live.  We have legends in our American culture like Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Jane Adams, and the list goes on.  There are legends from other countries and cultures like Gandhi or Dr. Schweitzer.  And think of all the Jewish, Catholic, and Protestants who died during World War II, all have stories that guide us in our daily lives.

This week was the day to remember the holocaust victims.  Having just finished the movie and discussion over Schindler’s List, the examples of all the people who died helping one another explains one more time why providing literature like the fourth book of Maccabees can be inspirational.

Meeting the Maccabees may seem more like a history lesson, but knowing history helps us to prevent repeating the tragedies of the past and to encourage us to maintain our faith, our principles, and our Christian lifestyle.  Knowing the history of the Maccabees and the many other faith-based cultures can develop our personal resolve to live a God-centered, faith-disciplined life despite all the secular pressures in our culture today.  The stories provide us hope, too.  Hope that our lives serve as models for future generations wanting to transform the world into a Christian community where God’s grace reigns forever and ever.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

Day after day we struggle.

We find ourselves challenged

by demands at work, at play and at home.

Sometimes we feel weak and tired

unable to fend off the secular influences.

 

Day after day we resolve to put our faith in you.

We wake up to grey skies

yet we know the sun still shines.

We feel so tired as the day fades,

but we know night’s rest renews.

 

Day after day we begin anew.

Thank you for your grace

when we tire or make mistakes.

Thank you for inspiring words

written generation after generation.

 

Guide us each and every day.

Be with us as we battle

challenges to our faith.

Help us to be models of faith

transformed by your love.         –Amen

 

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