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Sermon – 11/27/2011 – Mark 13:24-37

On 11/27/2011, I was again honored to be asked to lead the services at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau, MO.  With a focus on the Gospel of Mark 13:24-37, I prepared and delivered the following sermon to the glory of God!

GOSPEL: Mark 13:24-37

24But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.  27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.   28From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.   32But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.  34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.  35Therefore, keep awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.  37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

 

h/t bibletimelines.org

The Sermon

I gave the sermon last year on the 1st Sunday of Advent!  It was from the Gospel of Matthew, but it was basically the same story.

I asked the question then… …why are we admonished to prepare for the 2nd coming of our Savior on the same Sunday we start the preparation to celebrate His 1st Coming.  We talked about how the word ‘Advent’ means ‘Come’, and we re-read portions of the Gospel with the word ‘Advent’ in the place of the word ‘Coming’.

I concluded that one reason we may be asked to prepare, at this point, for His Second Advent is that, as we go through the finite four weeks of the First Advent, we know for sure when we will celebrate His First Coming.  But for His Second Coming, His Second Advent, we will not know the hour.

In verse 32 of today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that not even He knows the hour.

Last year we also looked around the world and wondered if various people were prepared.  Were the Haitians prepared for the earthquake, the Iraqis and Afghanis for the wars, the Indonesians for the tsunamis?  Was all this ‘but the beginning of the birth pangs’?

Since that sermon a year ago, we find the Middle East boiling over as the Arab uprisings continue.  We have roving gangs in the U.S. attacking innocent fairgoers and shoppers and people walking down the street. Many of these attacks occur in what is called ‘The Knockout Game’ where youths attack people of my age and older just to try to ‘knock them out’.

We have mobs pillaging local convenience stores, malls, and shops.  We have gone to war in Libya and sent troops into Uganda.  We see the criminal activities of the Occupy Wall Street movement and their related attacks on businesses and their harassment of school children.

I wondered last year if all this is ‘but the beginning of the birth pangs’?  Here we are again in 2011.  Is this just the continuation of the birth pangs?

Seems like it’s getting worse to me.  So, again this year, it is a good question.  Are we prepared for Christ’s Second Advent?

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In the first verses of today’s reading, Jesus says, “24But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”

What ‘days’ is He talking about when says “in those days”?  What suffering?  As I read the rest of Mark 13 for today’s reading, it started with the Disciples marveling to Jesus about the wonder of the Temple in Jerusalem.  Jesus then prophesies that the Temple will be destroyed with not one stone left upon another.  He goes on to tell them to watch for false prophets with signs performed to deceive you.  He tells them to watch for war and rumors of war.  He warns that nation will rise against nation; kingdom against kingdom – of earthquakes and famine; we will be handed over to local councils and flogged; brother will betray brother; father will betray child; children will rebel against parents; everyone will hate you.

(Mark 13:17)How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19because those will be days of distress unequaled from The Beginning…

I guess… …all that could be considered suffering. [sarcasm]

And now at the beginning of our reading (after all that Jesus has just told us) we hear “24…the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Well, that doesn’t sound much better does it?

In terms of my human experience, I have always looked at the Earth as ‘here’ and Heaven out ‘there’ – somewhere above the Earth. So the very thought of the darkened sun and moon, stars falling, and the heavenly powers being shaken does not sound very good at first blush.  It sounds like impending extinction!  The scientists tell us that a meteor a mere 6-miles across will be an extinction level event, so a darkened moon, sun and stars would have to be much much worse!

But wait.  God created those things in a blink of His eye (clearly not in a blink of our eyes) and has ultimate power over the sun, moon, stars, and earth.  So, when Jesus makes his triumphant return, does it really matter if none of that remains?  We’re not talking about bodies and brains at that point.  We’re talking about souls.

In two Biblical verses, God has just undone The Universe as we know it.  So, I doubt if Jesus really means ‘hovering frozen water droplets’ when He says “they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.”

There are clouds of water, clouds of smoke, and clouds of dust.  There are clouds of bats, flies, foxes, gnats, grasshoppers, locusts, and tadpoles.  A cloud may be a swarm, a horde, a multitude, a throng, a host, a crowd, or an army.  It could be a white fluffy cloud from a mostly sunny day; it could be a dark angry cloud just before a storm.  It could be a multitude of happy foxes; it could be a swarm of starving locusts; it could be an army of crazed Neanderthals.  I don’t know, but, I probably better reconsider my idea of what the cloud bringing Jesus’ return might look like.

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Jesus goes on to tell us that “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”  Generation?  We have had 100 generations since Anno Domini, but have all these things come to pass?  Maybe, like the word ‘cloud’, I need to look into the word ‘generation’ a little more closely.

So, I searched for information on the Greek word for ‘generation’.  It is ‘genea’ and is used 43 times in the New Testament.  I found definitions that matched my traditional understanding.  And, I found definitions and writings that said it was not the 20 year period we normally consider but an ‘age’ or ‘time’ or ‘era’.

It took some digging, but I finally found a discussion of this usage of ‘generation’ that matched our Lord’s usage of the word.  Now, I didn’t take much time to dig around and vet his résumé, but I found a discussion by a pastor named Tony Warren that brings to light the words ‘chosen generation’.  You and I are members of a ‘chosen generation’ of people who are believers in Christ.  Another phrase furthers the discussion: ‘We are the Children of God’.  Clearly we weren’t born directly to God, but we are His Children.  Mr. Warren said, “[The Phrase,] Children of God refer[s] to the whole family of God, which is a chosen generation throughout time, and not just people living at the time in which it was spoken.”  This generation spans the time from Christ’s ministry on Earth, through today, and until the end of times – when Christ comes. Technically, it can go all the way back to Abel.

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As Jesus continued to warn us, He said “32But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Nor the Son?!?! Wait a minute?!?!  We are taught that our God is a Triune God.  The Son is God; God is the Son; the Holy Spirit is God; God is the Holy Spirit.  One but three; three but one.  How could it be possible that the Son did not know the day and hour of His return?

I would think He’d be in on the big picture of His own ministry.  He was there at Creation!  He knew about that!  Watched it happen!  I take that back; He, as the Triune God, made it happen.  How could He not know?

Well, back to the search.  There were many articles that proposed that the phrase “nor the Son” was not originally a part Mark’s Gospel and was added later.  It is said to be ‘peculiar’ to Mark and not found in Matthew, Luke, or John (although it was in the version of Matthew that I was reviewing as I prepared the sermon).  Maybe someone just added it in?

Other articles proposed that the word “knows” should be interpreted as “makes it known”.  In that case, the verse would read, “32But about that day or hour no one [makes it known], neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  That sounds reasonable, and it flows nicely from our previous discussion of how the word ‘generation’ was to be interpreted as ‘a group’ and not as a period of 20 years.

But, I read on.  And, I quickly realized why I don’t get paid the big pastoral bucks for writing and giving these sermons a few times a year.

I came across the writings of Martin Luther on the subject.  Seems to me, as a Lutheran, the first place I would look for guidance and biblical commentary would be… …Luther!  But, NO! I’ve written at least eight sermons without consulting His thoughts.

And, not-surprisingly, His thoughts on the subject were of great comfort.

Luther’s solution for Mark 13:32 can be found in a debate with Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig.  Schwenkfeld believed that since Jesus did not know the time of His Second Advent, He was not omniscient and therefore could not be God.  Luther’s answer was that in this case, Jesus was speaking with regard to His human nature.

Schwenkfeld Argument:  God knows all things.  Christ does not know all things.  Therefore Christ is not God.  I prove the minor premise from Mark, where Christ says that He does not know the last day.

Luther Response:  The solution is that Christ there speaks after a human manner, as He also says:  “All things have been given to me by the Father.”  Often He speaks of himself as if simply of God, sometimes simply as of man.  The Father does not will that the human nature should have to bear divine epithets, despite the union, and yet sometimes [Christ] speaks of himself as of God, when He says, “The Son of Man will be crucified.”  To be crucified is a property of the human nature, but because there are two natures united in one person, it is attributed to both natures.  Again, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.”  There He speaks of the divine nature.  Or again, “They crucified the Lord of glory,” where He speaks of the property of the humanity.

For from the very beginning of Christ’s conception, on account of the union of the two natures, it has been correct to say: “This God is the Son of David, and this Man is the Son of God.”  The first is correct because His Godhead was emptied and hidden in the flesh.  The second is correct because His humanity has been completed and translated to divine being.

In Philippians 2, St. Paul writes that Jesus…

6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; 7rather, He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

8And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!

In explaining that verse, Luther wrote:

[St. Paul] says that Christ emptied Himself of the divine form; that is, He did not use His divine might nor let His almighty power be seen, but withdrew it when He suffered.

Bottom line, if Christ did not use His divine power during His humiliation and crucifixion on the Cross, He certainly can choose at other times of His ministry to humble himself.  The very fact that He became incarnate as a lowly human bears witness to this interpretation.

Thus, He chose not to know the day or hour of His Second Advent.  Or, at the very least, He decided not to tell His Disciples.

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Finally, as we near the end of today’s lesson, Christ gives us the warning to ‘Beware’, ‘Keep Alert’, ‘Keep Awake’ – for his coming will be like a thief in the night.  This warning is not just for the End of Times when the Son of Man comes in his glory.  It is an everyday warning for us as we go through our life and prepare to meet Jesus at our death.

Whenever our Lord comes, be it at our death or at the end times, we must work to make sure He does not find us indulging in wrath or greed or sloth or pride or lust or envy or gluttony. He says to us, “Keep Awake’ that we may be found in peace – aware, and alert.

 

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Posted by on November 27, 2011 in Miscellaneous

 

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Sermon – 07/17/2011

On 07/17/2011, I was again honored to be asked to lead the services at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau, MO.  With a focus on the Gospel of Matthew 13:24-30/36-43, I prepared and delivered the following sermon to the glory of God!

Matthew 13:24-30/36-43

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

36Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

h/t AAA Jack's Blog

The Sermon

Pastor probably already mentioned that the 13th Chapter of Matthew is a chapter of parables – seven of them: The Parable of the Sower; The Parable of the Weeds; The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast; The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl; and The Parable of the Net. Our Lord Jesus called them “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven”.

These parables, according to Scofield’s Reference Notes, “describe the result of the presence of the Gospel in the world during the present age, that is, the time of seed sowing which began with our Lord’s personal ministry, and ends with the ‘harvest’.”

Mark and Luke have their own, more concise, versions of the 13th Chapter. The 8th Chapter of Mark and the 4th Chapter of Luke share some of the same parables. Those Books included two additional parables that were not included in the 13th Chapter of Matthew: The Parable of the Revealed Light and The Parable of the Fruitful Earth. I count 9 in total.

At this time in His ministry, Jesus is traveling and ministering in Galilee. These parables were spoken on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and this teaching takes place between the 2nd and 3rd Passover Feasts of His ministry. More than ‘The Twelve’ were regularly traveling with Him, and the Gospel of Luke goes so far as to list three of the women: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna.

The Chapter begins with Jesus leaving the house and sitting by ‘the lake’. He then boarded ‘a boat’ to be heard by the large crowd that had gathered. In other versions of The Bible, ‘the lake’ is ‘the sea’ (The Sea of Galilee) and ‘a boat’ is ‘a ship’. I wondered whose house he had left, and found in my readings, that it was the house of Peter.

In my last sermon, I calculated that Peter was speaking to at least 3001 people at the Pentecost of Jesus’ death and resurrection, so we could probably surmise that a similar or larger crowd would gather to hear Jesus’ words – especially this far into His divine ministry. Several times throughout His ministry, Jesus boarded a boat (or a ship) to better be heard by the crowds. I’ve read of natural amphitheaters along the sea in Galilee that would amplify Jesus voice to be heard by the thousands gathered.

What kind of people do you think were in this crowd? Pharisees? Sadducees? Wealthy landowners? Military men? Probably not many. The crowd was likely made up of peasants, workers, slaves, small farmers, merchants, and entertainers. However, our story today is based around the activities of a wealthy landowner.

He had fields and barns; he had slaves, servants and harvesters. He had a lot of land and was likely very wealthy.

And…he sowed some seeds.

Now, I’m not a wealthy owner of fields, and the only garden I have is one of those upside-down tomato plants. But, I’ve sure spread my share of grass seed around the yard, and I’ve seen exactly the results that Jesus describes in last week’s Parable of the Sower. Some of it fell on the sidewalk, and of course, the Robins ate it. Some fell right next to the driveway, and it grew fast. But it didn’t have room to spread out its roots, so it died. Some fell next to the weeds, and the sun never had a chance to make them grow. And some fell in the front yard on good soil, and grew a beautiful lawn… …this past spring… …but is now arid, dry and dying in the hot summer sun.

I’ve also had a similar horticultural experience to today’s Parable of the Weeds. I think it was in in 2007. I did everything I knew to do. I used a 25-Gallon sprayer on the back of a 4-wheeler to kill the weeds; I waited; I put down the Weed and Feed; I waited; I put down the grass seed; I watered; I watered; and I watered. Then as the summer went along, a beautiful dark green grass spread across the lawn. I watered some more. One of my neighbors commented about how nice the lawn looked. But as time went along, I became unhappy with how the grass grew. It grew sideways across the lawn. It was so thick that I had to keep cutting it higher and higher. It sent shoots over the sidewalks and the driveway. It had ugly seed pods that quickly shot above the growth line of the rest of the grass. I, like the servants, wondered what kind of grass seed I had sown.

I turned to the Master – in this case, the Internet. I pulled up pictures of grass, and quickly found that I was the proud owner of a lawn filled with Crabgrass. For all my 40+ years, I was absolutely sure that Crabgrass was this other horrible thing that I had seen from time to time. I too couldn’t tell the difference between the good grass and the Crabgrass until well after it had grown throughout the lawn.

The positive side of that story?!?! …my neighbor obviously didn’t know it Crabgrass was either.

The weeds of today’s parable are also called “Tares” or darnel (in Latin: Lolium temulentum). It’s a poisonous weed that is actually related to wheat and looks just like wheat in the early stages of its growth. Its poisonous properties are believed to come from a fungus that, when poisoned, gives on a feeling of drunkenness. It can cause death.

Matfran, a Biblical commentator, notes that to sow darnel amongst a person’s wheat was punishable under Roman Law, and this parable may well have been drawn directly from events which were known to most of Jesus’ hearers.

Considering that rival farmers often feuded at the time, it is not surprising that Roman law would specifically forbid sowing such poisonous plants in another’s field. If you found an abundance of such weeds in your field, you would certainly suspect your enemy’s hand.

One can easily see that the Wealthy Landowner would blame an enemy. He certainly cannot sell poisonous weeds among his good grain. Let’s not poison our customers, eh.

At this point, it would be very helpful if I were a well-studied Pastor or other theologian that had much much more knowledge of Scripture… …because as I studied for today’s sermon, I came across two different interpretations of The Parable of the Weeds. If I was more learned, I could better discern the correct interpretation and discuss it with you. So indulge me and we’ll review them both, and we can decide for ourselves.

The difference in the interpretations was centered on Jesus’ explanation of today’s parable in verse 38. Specifically verse 38 starts with the words, “the field is the world”.

  • Most of the interpretations I reviewed considered ‘the field’ to be the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth – in other words, The Church. It was the seed that God, through Jesus, spread during his ministry on Earth.
  • The other interpretation considered ‘the field’ to be, literally, the World.

Well, if ‘the field’ is only those within The Church, then we better start looking at who’s sitting here today, cause we’ve got some weeds within our mix. I immediately thought of Phil… …just kidding.

I could certainly be that weed in our midst. With the thoughts that go through my head regarding Christianity and religion-in-general, I could easily find myself to be judged as a weed if today were the harvest and the end of the age.

Maybe it’s all of us. The Central States Synod of the ELCA certainly may think that all of us here at St. Mark are weeds; the Baptists over the hill may think we are weeds because we don’t practice full immersion baptism; the Catholics may think we are weeds because we don’t engage in priestly confession.

Maybe it’s all of them. I disagree with churches that don’t practice open communion. Does that make them the weed?

Pick any reason or difference between two Christians, two church buildings, or two denominations, and you can call out the other as weeds. The interpretation of the words in verse 38 as ‘the field’ meaning ‘the church’ is as correct as the other, but it sets up an environment where one person or one group might (incorrectly) judge another.

I have to say that I agree more with the second interpretation – that ‘the field’ is, literally, the World. We know that God’s realm, God’s kingdom, and God’s might rules over and includes all of the earth – indeed over all Space and Time. So, when Jesus sowed the seeds, he sowed them throughout the Earth, not just in the burgeoning Christian Church. And, the evil one came in the night and sowed the weeds… ..throughout the Earth.

And for all the time that man and woman shall inhabit the Earth, the weeds sown by the evil one will dwell among us. Or, if we are weeds, we shall dwell among the good seeds sown by Jesus. The Master has chosen to let us be until the time of the harvest.

There is a big omission in the explanation of this parable if you take the good seed versus the tares too literally. Without some serious and quick evolutionary steps, the good seeds cannot turn into the tares, and the tares cannot turn into the good seeds.

But, that is not true for the human race, and that is the part of the parable that Jesus did not explain. Men and women have the unique opportunity to turn away from the evil of being a weed and turn toward the righteousness of being the good seed. In other words, we can become children of the kingdom if we, simply, believe. That’s all we can do is believe. We are still sinners, but, if we believe, the rest is done for us through God’s infinite love and grace. That’s good news.

And, even better news is that through our work here at St. Mark Lutheran Church, we can become a big part of that evolution of turning others from the evil of the weed toward the Kingdom on Earth. And guess what, our part in this transformation is written on the front of our bulletins, and we talk about it every week.

Our mission is to: Celebrate the Word of God and Respond to Human Need.

By celebrating the Word of God and responding to human need, we can be that community of believers that awakens the bad seeds to the truth of God, Jesus and everlasting life. Through our efforts and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can be like that light that is shining at the end of the age – a beacon that helps to draw those planted by the evil one to the love and abundance of our one God.

Amen

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2011 in Miscellaneous, The Bible

 

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St. Mark Lutheran Church – Sermon – 05/15/11

Once or twice per year, I am honored to be asked to compose and deliver the Sunday Sermon at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau, MO.  Last weekend, I gave the Sermon on Acts 2: 42-47.  I am not a Theologian nor have I attended or graduated from Seminary.  Thus, it is quite a challenge to study and prepare a Sermon… …and I really enjoy it!

Below is the Epistle Lesson followed by the Sermon:

Acts 2: 42-47

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

The Sermon

So, I was reading the Lessons for this week, and yes, I feel I’m supposed to speak about the Gospel, but I could NOT stop focusing on the lesson from Acts.  The knee-jerk questions started flying as I read through that lesson:

  • What kinds of ‘wonders and signs’?
  • What is ‘everything in common’?
  • Verse 45 “…anyone who had need” Who?  The Jews?  The Pharisees?  The Gentiles?
  • Verse 47 “…enjoying the favor of all the people“.  What people?  The Jews?  The Pharisees?   Gentiles?  Samarians?
  • What happened to the powers that were granted to the Apostles?  Why weren’t they passed on to future generations?
  • Why did the fellowship end?

For the scripture readings, I try to build in my head a picture or a film or a video of the scene and the actions and the dialogue, and this week, the reading from Acts really came to life.  Then I read the verses that surround today’s reading.  And Verse 41, directly before today’s reading, REALLY brings the picture to life.

41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.     

In Acts 1, we are told that there were about 120 of them – the believers.  That’s, what, about twice as many as we average here on a given Sunday.  Can you imagine Pastor Malone giving such a great sermon, and with the work of the Holy Spirit, 3000 new souls being baptized and added to our numbers in one day?  Imagine every man, woman, and child from Chaffee, MO joining St. Mark Lutheran Church in one day!

I doubt today’s sermon is going to have that affect.

Pentecost is not for a few weeks (June 12th), so it seems were are getting ahead of ourselves.  But, the scene from today’s reading starts shortly after the Apostles spoke in tongues and on the same day as that 1st Christian Pentecost.  Then, the lesson gives us a view of the next few weeks going forward.  I picture the center of Jerusalem, a busy city with thousands of people teeming with merchants, guards, commoners, religious types – all that going on before Pentecost.  Then, the Holy Spirit descends upon the Disciples, and they start speaking in tongues.h/t http://www.speaking-in-tongues.net/

A crowd gathers.  I always imagined that crowd to have been a hundred or so people, but now I know that’s not possible.  I would think the crowd had to be at least 4,000… …at the very minimum, 3001.  I picture Peter practically screaming to be heard by that mass of people – especially at first when they were grumbling about the Disciples being drunk on “new wine”.

Peter stood up and spoke with great conviction.  In his Sermon, he quoted the Prophet Joel, admonished the Jews for putting Jesus to Death, and quoted King David.

And then, those who accepted his message were baptized – 3000 of them.  How many didn’t accept his message?  Based on the wording, some didn’t accept his message.  Some Americans don’t believe NASA landed on the moon.  90% do.  So that ratio would mean that at least 3,333 were listening to Peter.  As of 2009, 79% of Americans believe Jesus rose from the dead.  That ratio would mean about 4,000 were listening to Peter on that first Christian Pentecost.

So, the crowd he spoke to must have been massive, and with 3,000 added to their numbers (and more every day), I see an enormous logistics problem.  And, I don’t see UPS showing up in brown vans to deliver food, water, and other necessities to the Temple.

I see the Temple and Solomon’s colonnade bustling with the newly faithful. I imagine them praying and celebrating the word of God and the Resurrection of Jesus.  I envision people coming and going to and from their homes bringing food, money, and property.  I see Apostles teaching, but also directing, planning, organizing, leading, controlling and appointing other faithful to ensure that this new church can devote itself to the Apostle’s teachings.  All that activity and hustle and bustle is in this scene in my head.

And finally, we are here at Verse 42 with my list of questions:

My first question was ‘What kinds of wonders and signs?

It was fairly easy to locate some specific examples of what we would generally consider wonders and signs.  We think miracles:

  • Peter curing a man unable to walk: Acts 3:1-10
  • Peter causing Tabitha (Dorcas) to rise from the dead: Acts 9:36-10:1
  • Philip dispossessing unclean spirits and healing the paralyzed and lame: Acts 8:5-7

But, I learned that the real wonder and awe goes to the Holy Spirit and the evidence of its presence in the budding the Church.  The fact that so many people believed the teachings of the Apostles in such a short period of time is truly a wondrous and miraculous occurrence.

My next question was of a suspicious nature, “What is this ‘everything in common’?”

Well, it was exactly what it said. Those who had plenty and those who had little sold their possessions and brought them to the Apostles to be included in the common purse.  The Disciples and Jesus kept a common purse, and other groups of Jews used the same practice long before the advent of this Christian Church.  So, this was not exactly new.

But being who I am, my brain immediately saw this as a verse that would be quoted by the Marxists and Communists as biblical evidence that supported their causes.  I could see being admonished to give up the products of my labors to the government because, “What Would Peter Do?”  But, I quickly learned that this commonality was different.  It was not coerced at the end of a gun nor through law or guilt.  Each man or woman made the choice regarding their possessions as the Holy Spirit worked within them.

In Verse 45 & 47, my questions were “Who is this… …anyone who had need?” and “What people were they … … enjoying the favor of”.

William Willimon wrote that “Certainly, Luke makes a makes a distinction between what is said to outsiders and what is proclaimed within the ongoing life of the church.  Far from any modern mushy ‘inclusiveness,’ Luke is quite careful to separate those on the inside, who know, from those on the outside, who do not know.”

Regarding “anyone who had need,” Luke is describing the activities of and within the fellowship, not the beginnings of social ministry.

And, considering in Acts 4, Peter and John were arrested by “the [chief] priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees,” we know that they weren’t enjoying the favor of those people.  (There’s also that little thing where Stephen becomes the 1st martyr in Acts 6.)  Again, Luke was describing the activities within the budding church when they were “praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.”

What happened to the powers that were granted to the Apostles?  Why weren’t they passed on to future generations?

A more knowledgeable person than me could write a book on this subject, but from my readings, put simply, the miraculous powers given to the first Apostles died out with the first Apostles.  Why?  God’s choosing.

It seems that God through Jesus entrusted the 12 Disciples with divine powers and with or through those Apostles to Stephen, Phillip, Paul and Barnabas.  But that seems to be all.  There is discussion of wonders and signs being performed at churches in the absence of the Apostles, but to a lesser extent.

The greatest level and number of miracles were performed during the times of Jesus and immediately following through his first Apostles and a few chosen others.  God chose to use the miracles performed by Jesus and the Apostles to glorify Himself through Jesus and the Apostles.

Additionally, there were many times throughout the Old Testament where there were a greater or lesser number of miracles being performed by God, His Prophets (major and minor), and His believers.  So, it stands to reason that the level and number of miracles would seriously increase during the magnificent event where God, through Jesus, frees us from the bonds of sin… …and then decrease from there.

And my final knee-jerk question was, “Why did the Fellowship end? 

Reading in Acts Chapter 8, we get a pretty good description of why the Fellowship ended.  After Stephen’s sermon and martyrdom, “a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. […] 3But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.”

So that was it; the end of the Jerusalem Fellowship; the end of the great Christian Communion; the end of the Temple Community on Solomon’s Porch.  You might even call it the true end of the Resurrection Pentecost.

There was actually one more question that I had, but it seemed a bit more thoughtful and less knee-jerk.

In what ways is the Fellowship present in today’s time?”

Was the “Great Persecution” the end of the Fellowship?  Did Saul’s attack on the Christian Communion succeed? That wasn’t it; was it? That wasn’t the end.

For in the very next verse, we hear “4Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”

And with that, you can draw a straight line from Jerusalem to Cape Girardeau, MO and all points beyond.  This wasn’t the end; it was the beginning.  It was the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, with Its Divine power, leading the people out of Jerusalem to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.

It was the Advent of our Christian Religion and Faith.  It was the beginning of the Community of St. Mark Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau, the Communion of our members, and the Fellowship of our believers.

We see the power of that 1st Pentecost all the time here at St. Mark:

  • Every week in the Sanctuary
  • Every month on Sweet Sunday in the Fellowship hall
  • At Spirit Club
  • WELCA
  • Dorcas Circle

I have felt the power of the Holy Spirit in the St. Mark Community since I returned to the area in 2006.  When I arrived, I often cried in the pew in sorrow and despair, and the St. Mark Community in the Sanctuary lifted me with Song and The Word.  I have laughed time and again with different members of the St. Mark Community as we have worked in the Glory of God.  I have felt the pain as we have lost loved ones and watched with pride as we’ve supported those left behind.  I have seen the power of the Holy Spirit as we have cared for those within the St. Mark Community.  And I’ve known that if I was one of those seriously in need, the St. Mark Community was ready and willing to help.  That is the evidence 1st of the days of the Christian Church that I’ve seen at St. Mark.

And I know… …we can grow the St. Mark Community in the same way the Christian Community at Jerusalem grew after that first Resurrection Pentecost – with the divine aid of the Holy Spirit.  In business, they say, “If you aren’t growing; you’re dying.”  St. Mark is certainly not dying.  So I know, as we go outside of our Community at St. Mark, we can count on the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we spread the Good News of Jesus Christ; and we can rely the fact that, as we tell others about God’s Grace, He will “add to our numbers daily”.

Let us Pray,

Lord, thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit and its guidance over the ages.  Help us to rely on its power to continue to strengthen the Community at St. Mark in both love and numbers.  Keep us on the right path so that we may find that gate to everlasting life.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2011 in Miscellaneous, The Bible

 

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Sermon – 11/28/2010

On 11/28/2010, I was honored to be asked to lead the services at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau, MO.  With a focus on the Gospel of Matthew 24:36-44, I prepared and delivered the following sermon to the glory of God!

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When I prepare for the Sermon, I take the opportunity to read about the origin of the Book of Gospel for the day.  Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about Mark and Luke, and this week, I took time to study the origin of the Gospel of Matthew.

Scholars disagree somewhat on when the book of Matthew was written and how it came about.  Why be an expert if you’re only going to agree with all the other experts?

Almost universally though, scholars agree that the book of Matthew is based on the book of Mark.  The similarities of the time-line and the events documented are among the evidence that testify to Mark being basis of Matthew.  There’s also the little fact that, with the exception of small portions of 7 of Mark’s Chapters, the entire contents of the Gospel of Mark are found in the Gospel of Matthew.

Matthew was one of Jesus’ 12 Disciples, but there is a consensus that he did not write the book.  Some say he may have written a Gospel in Aramaic or Hebrew, but I learned earlier that the whole of the New Testament was written in Greek.  So, since the Gospels, when Canonized, were written in Greek, how could Matthew write this Gospel – named for him?

Scholars’ such as J.C. Fenton view the text in Matthew as written by one who did not witness the events first-hand.  He writes, “…the changes which he [the writer of Matthew] makes in [or from] Mark’s way of telling the story are not those corrections which an eyewitness might make in the account of one who was not an eyewitness.”  Mark, too, was not an eyewitness to the acts of our Lord.

As far as the time the Book of Matthew was written, the writer does not directly give us a date.  To determine its date of writing, scholars study the references to world events and the existence of certain items in the world.  For example, without a document being dated, if it referred to the destruction of the Towers of Gotham, you’d know we were at least talking about 9/11/2001.  Similar references in Matthew allude to a certain time after Jesus’ death.  For example, in Matthew 22:7, “The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.” This is believed to be a reference to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70.

Not only do Scholars review the text itself, they review other documents and their reference to the Gospel of Matthew.  So, if we know that Mark was written in AD 65, and we believe the Gospel of Matthew was written based on the Gospel of Mark, we probably know it wasn’t written until several years after AD 65.  They didn’t upload the Gospel of Mark to the Internet for Matthew’s writer to review the next day.

Again, according to J.C. Fenton, “The earliest surviving writings which quote this Gospel are probably the letters of Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch, who, while being taken as prisoner from the East to Rome about A.D. 110, wrote to various churches in Asia in Asia Minor and to the church at Rome. Ignatius refers to the star which appeared at the time of the birth of Jesus, the answer of Jesus to John the Baptist, when he was baptized, and several sayings of Jesus which are recorded only in this Gospel (12:33, 15:13, 19:12). It seems almost certain that Ignatius, and possibly the recipients of his letters also, knew this Gospel, and thus that it [the Gospel] was written before A.D. 110.”

So, there we have it – sometime after AD 65 and before AD 110.  With that and other information, the Scholars infer that the Gospel of Matthew was written around AD 80.

Why was the Gospel of Mark written?

Professor Barry Smith of Crandall University tells us, “It is safe to say that the author of the Gospel of Matthew aimed to bring together material in order to write a more comprehensive gospel than that of the Gospel of Mark. His emphasis on the fact that Jesus’ ministry fulfilled scripture and his inclusion of units of Jesus’ teaching that was only fully understandable by and of interest to Jews seems to indicate that he intended to write a gospel for a Jewish readership, rather than a gentile one.”

http://www.abu.nb.ca/courses/ntintro/Matt.htm

That’s a short Who, What, When, and Why of the Gospel of Mark.  But, another ‘Why’ question I have today is…

Why are we talking about the second coming of the Son of Man on the 1st Sunday in Advent?  Today is the 1st Sunday in the Church Year.  Today, we start the preparation for the coming of the newborn Christ.  Today, we lit the 1st candle of the Advent Wreath.  Today, we sing songs of the Advent season.  Today, we think of the coming stories of Mary and the Holy Spirit; of Joseph and the Innkeeper.

Today. Today. Today. Today. Today.

I can see why we’d be talking about the 2nd coming of the Son of Man and the ‘End of Times’ last week.  It was the last Sunday of the Church Year.  It was the time to talk about the ‘End’!  But, why this week?  Why today?

One reason this text might come up in the 1st week of Advent is that, if you take it completely out of context, if you don’t think about it being part of the Jesus’ ministry, if you pretend that it was said years earlier, you could almost see the Prophet Isaiah or the Prophet Jeremiah giving us the exact same warning about the coming Messiah.  When I read the words, and think of it from an Old Testament perspective, I feel it could be said about the coming Messiah – not said by the Messiah.

Additionally, the word “Advent” is from the Latin word “Adventus”, which in English is the word, “come”.  The computer tells us that the word “come” occurs 1462 times in the Scriptures – more than a 1000 times in the Old Testament and more than 400 times in the New Testament.

The single word, “come”.

“Advent” simply means “to come”.  And, if we apply that translation to our text for today, we see even more clearly how it relates to today’s celebration:

37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the Advent of the Son of Man.

39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the Advent of the Son of Man.

42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what is the hour of your Lord’s Advent.

Be it his birth Advent or his Advent as Judge (the Second Coming), today’s text admonishes us to be ready – Today!

The time of Matthew’s writing is believed to be shortly after the destruction of Temple Mount in Jerusalem… …with ‘not one stone left upon another’.  The destruction was so great many of that day felt this was the Second Coming, the Second Advent, of the Son of Man.  Do you think they were prepared?

As I prepare a sermon, I read the verses that surround today’s Gospel. I was reminded of the events I’m seeing in the world today.

Beginning in Chapter 24, Verse 4, Jesus said, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. 5For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Messiah!” and they will lead many astray. 6And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars… …for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

Is it true that some have already been led astray?  I can’t see any answer but “Yes!”  Are some following a false Messiah?  A false God?  In my opinion, absolutely!

In the days of these writings, you would only hear about the wars (and rumors thereof).  There were no Newspapers, Televisions or the Internet to spread the 24/7 news.  Today we hear about wars daily, even hourly, from the Koreas to Afghanistan to Iraq.  We read of the earthquakes, the tsunamis, and the famine.  Do the people in these nations think this is the Second Coming of the Son of Man?  Do you think the people in those lands are prepared?

In Verse 9, Jesus said, 9‘Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name.”

How often in today’s times do we hear news stories about how Christians are persecuted and killed?

  • Five suicide bombers stormed the Iraqi Catholic cathedral, Our Lady of Salvation, on October 31st, killing 56 Christians and 12 others.
  • On November 10th, in another attack on Christians, 11 roadside bombs exploded in three areas of Baghdad killing five people.
  • Christians are persecuted in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Jordan

I wonder, as I read these headlines, what the Christians in these nations are thinking as they read the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 24?  Are these the birth pangs foretold being felt in the year 2010?  Is this the persecution that was prophesied?  Do you think they are prepared for the Second Coming?

We, in America, Europe and similar countries are tremendously fortunate.  When tragic events strike such as the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, we recover quickly.  In other lands such as Haiti and Indonesia, earthquakes and tsunamis bring on misery for years.  Do we in America see such events as portends of the Second Coming?  Do those Christians in Haiti and Indonesia?  Do you think they are prepared?  Do you think we are prepared?

So, why, as we prepare for the birth Advent of our Lord, do we, at the same time, admonish ourselves to prepare for the Second Coming – the Second Advent?  Maybe it’s because, with the First Advent, we have but four short weeks and are eager and excited to prepare.  We celebrate, we sing, we anticipate.

But, with the Second Advent, well, it’s been so long since it was foretold.  It didn’t happen last week.  It didn’t happen last month.  It surely won’t happen today.

That’s just it.  We prepare for the First Advent because we know it is coming in four short weeks.  We prepare for the Second Advent because it may not wait four weeks.  It may not wait until tomorrow.  It could be today!

Today, we shop!  Today, we wrap!  Today, we eat, drink, marry, and give in marriage.  Today, we prepare for the First Advent.  Let us also prepare, today, for the Second Advent.

Today is the day to make sure we are right with God.  Today is the day that we accept the Lord as our Savior.  Today is the day that we celebrate His Word.  Today is the day we respond to human need.

Amen.

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2010 in Miscellaneous, The Bible

 

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Sermon – 08/01/2010 – It Writes Our Mission Statement

Occasionally, I’m asked to lead the services and give the sermon at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  Here is my sermon from 8/1/2010:

For me, the best part about being asked to give a sermon is that, during the study to prepare for the sermon, I learn SO much.  The first thing I always learn is that I don’t know very much!  I have never read the entire Bible, and I’ve never studied its contents at length, so this gives me a great opportunity to gain more knowledge about my faith.

One of the many things I learned this week that King Solomon, in his old age, likely wrote Ecclesiastes about his frustrations with life; he also wrote Proverbs from his wisdom in his middle years; and he wrote Song of Solomon about the love of his youth – from the woman’s point of view.  According to 1st Kings, Solomon wrote 1005 songs – the Song of Solomon might have just been one of them.  Solomon is also said to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines.  Times have certainly changed; who could afford that.

For Colossians, I learned that most people attribute the writing of the Book to Paul although there are suspicions and arguments that it wasn’t written during his lifetime.  Scholars say it uses a different literary style and words that are not found in any of the other of the undisputed books of Paul.

I learned that the writer of Luke may have been a traveling companion of Paul, and he is also credited with writing the book of Acts.

I learned many other things including a reminder of the fact that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the Hebrew language of the time only had 22 consonants – no vowels.

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Posted by on August 2, 2010 in Miscellaneous

 

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