The Foolishness of the Cross-Mar. 11, 2012-Series Lent 3

Covenant Connections Series Lent 3-The Foolishness of the Cross-March 11, 2012:

Exodus 20:1-17; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

This may be to some a very familiar passage in Exodus 20 it is the Ten Commandments.  Although this seems familiar in one sense we often get bogged down in looking at this as a list and much work a list of things we are being told not to do.  Let’s now add a little context.  If we just look back a few chapters we find that God has delivered the Hebrew people from the hand of Pharaoh.  They are bought out into a wilderness region they are provided for with water, manna and quail.  Even after all these displays of the power and provision of God the people were disgruntled.  Chapter 19 God speaks to Moses at Sinai and speaks of consecration and covenant with God that they may be blessed.  Then the Ten Commandments are given and as they do we so often forget that what God is doing here is helping us to learn how to live in a way that is for our benefit.  When we forget the blessings of God the commands of God become a duty rather than beautiful plan laid out for the benefit of us all.  The commandments are not life-less but full of relational realities.  How we recognize, reverence, and worship God are found in the first of the commandments.  The second relational reality deals with how we relate to one another.  It is these two relational realities at work in the commandments, the relationship with God and with others.  To paraphrase Jesus, love God and love others.  This world teaches us to love things and use others rather than using things and loving others.

When looking at the passage in Corinthians we find that God chooses the people who were overlooked or shunned by this world.  Those who would not seem to have the ability by the world’s standard and then works through them allowing his glory to be revealed.  It is also true of this wisdom of this world that tells us that our wisdom is correct and the highest authority lies in human reasoning.  God then uses his great wisdom that seems like foolishness to the world allow the world to know that he is God.

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Parable of the Sower-Mar. 7, 2012

Parables in Mark-March 7, 2012

Jesus sometimes used parables to defeat charges leveled against him.  Usually the parable illustrates the absurdity of the view being expressed.  It is the unusual element in each parable that challenges the readers to imagine the new reality of the kingdom of God.

Any figurative or non-literal use of language depends on the ability of readers to recognize the fact that the image points to a reality that is not a literal statement of facts.  Jesus’ parables seem to always combine elements of clarity and hiddenness.

The parables are often addressed to the accusers or the crown or “them or they” and not so much to the disciples whom Jesus explains to them in private.  There is then the appearance that the disciples are given the secret of the kingdom, which the crowds did not understand.

Since many times the disciples did not understand either at what point are they considered insiders?  Is this initial parable an allegory to the whole collection of parables and the continuing process of maturing in discipleship?

Mark 4:1-20-Parable of the Sower and the Parable Explained

This parable encouraged believers who had already accepted the word to nourish its growth in their lives, and it explained why some people failed to respond or become mature Christians.  What evidence do we see in our world today of the application of this parable?

The emphasis lies on the fate of the seed and not so much on the sower.  The sower is Jesus and the seed is his message or preaching.  Here in the parable are represented different responses to the message and mission of Christ.

There are different examples of soil and reasons for the seed not producing fruit.  Then there is a three-fold example of a harvest which would have been considered big for that time.  The great harvest implies the blessing of the kingdom of God.

There are many potential dangers awaiting the seed sown.  The contrast of the destroyed seed seems to highlight the blessing of God’s kingdom.

This parable is also at the beginning of a larger section of parables and seems to have additional meaning for those seeking to understand the rest of the parables.  Jesus’ preaching is being acted upon by outside forces, such as charges against Jesus, and just the comfort and worldliness of the day.

Distinguishing insiders from outsiders comes back to this idea of a messianic secret.  The idea of secret in apocalyptic literature makes more reference to the end times, and Paul uses the term mysterion often in reference to salvation.

In plain words, if you don’t get it you won’t get it.  Readers also should not be more concerned about rejection or failure than they would about the seed lost during sowing.

Seeing the reactions toward the end of the passage seems to indicate that even persons who appear to accept Jesus’ teaching may not fully bear fruit.  Some will quickly lose their initial enthusiasm, whereas others will be unable to face the coming persecutions.  The love of riches and worldly cares causes the rich man to reject Jesus’ offer of discipleship.

The self-help culture that sells people guaranteed quick fixes for all the difficulties of life often creates the expectation that faith should be the same way-a comforting solution to the problems and pain of life.  The interpretation given the parable of the sower reminds us that true discipleship does not provide such solutions.  Some will meet with hostility from others because of their faith.  Others will choose the ever-present concerns from comfort and security instead of sacrifice and discomfort.  They may not even realize that their lives have been taken over by the demands of success.  Religion becomes a holiday accessory.

Faced with the difficulties of maintaining a vibrant faith community in today’s world, many begin to wonder whether the effort is worth it.  This parable provides encouragement for those darker moments, too.  The word of the gospel is not too weak for the job.  Loss has been a part of the process from the beginning.  Despite the vigorous opposition to the word, it still yields a rich harvest.  Despite the dramatic evidence of Jesus’ relationship to the divine, even he was not able to elicit an enduring faith from all who heard his message.

Some information is private thoughts of Greg and additional information from New Interpreters Bible Commentary, vol. 8, 1995 Abingdon Press

Faith Credited as Righteousness-Mar. 4, 2012-Series Lent 2

Covenant Connections Series Lent 2-Faith Credited as Righteousness-March 4, 2012:

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Romans 4:13-25

Faith is the key to righteousness, righteousness that may come through adherence to law will only produce moral living but will do little to change the heart of man.  When we examine this covenant connection, it is also important to realize that the covenant is one of grace.  It is a covenant of grace irregardless of whether we are able to live into the fullness of the covenant, God is still faithful to His word and thankful not just because of our deeds, if so where would we be.  “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”  Galatians 2:21 also scripture instructs us that without faith it is impossible to please God, Hebrews 11:6.

The Covenant between God and Abram was one of promise not just for Abram and his wife Sarai, but also for his descendants but also all those who would become his descendants in faith.  The covenant established changed their names from Abram to Abraham, and Sarai to Sarah.  It is a changing of identity and perspective when we encounter God we do not leave the same.  We are new creatures in Christ.  God does something only God could do and grant a child to a childless couple, but not just a childless couple but a childless couple in their nineties.  This is truly a miracle and a work of God, it also foreshadows another miraculous birth, that of Jesus.

This would not just be for a child but yet that Abraham would be the father of many nations, very fruitful, and kings will come from his line.  Perhaps more importantly the covenant between God, Abraham, and his descendants is to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.  The covenant is the presence of God at work in the line of Abraham, from generation to generation.  It was not because of the law that this happened but because God recognized the faith of Abraham and made a covenant.  It is also in this same faith that we become the people of God not through the law but through faith in God.  It is this unique faith that brings about righteousness in our lives, it is not a righteousness of our own but the gracious gift of God.

In the book of Romans Paul puts it this way, “For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless.”  The promise of God is where we find hope, the promise of God is the only thing in this life we can truly trust and know for sure.  We too join the ranks as descendants of Abraham, not of the law or flesh, but in faith he is the father of us all.  It is in this that we also claim the promises of God as our own that we will be his people and he will be our God.

Although things seemed hopeless, Abraham believed in faith that the creator of the world could make a body well on in years to have the ability to give life.  When things seem hopeless, we must remember we are never helpless for Christ is present among us, and his word is truth, and life.  It was because Abraham believed that God could do what he said he would and trust in that, his faith was credited to him as righteousness.  This promise was not only for Abraham, but also for us as well who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  You can trust God, and receive his promise of life today.

The Messianic Secret-Feb. 29, 2012

February 29, 2012-Mark 1:29-45

In Mark’s gospel there appears to be a theme of Jesus not wanting people to reveal his identity.  This has been referred to in scholarship as the “Messianic Secret.”  There are also many different theories as to why the “secret.”  Although we may never be able to say for certain, these are a few of the popular thoughts from scholarship:

  •   Jesus wanted his identity revealed slowly to his disciples that they might have a deeper understanding of him.
  •   Jesus only intended for them to remain silent until after the resurrection.
  •   Confusion over when was Jesus the Messiah
  •   Historically so Jesus wanted to reinterpret the title “Messiah”
  •   Avoiding publicity after the miracles
  •   The use of parables to get folks thinking for themselves
  •   An apologetic view of secrecy could explain why many Jews and contemporaries of Jesus didn’t convert or see him as the messiah
  •   Epiphany view could be used to stress that when folks were not asked to keep the secret it would draw focus because it breaks the pattern
  •   The history of the revelation of Jesus’ identity could only be understood in light of the cross.
  •   The secrecy was prior to the cross
  •   The secret is still a secret to those outside the community
  •   The secret was Mark’s way of pointing people to the cross as the true identity of Christ.
  •   Could be trying to combat a Christological view of Christ as primarily a miracle worker (theio aner).

For our purposes in looking at Mark it is helpful to note that secrecy surrounding the identity of Christ is a theme that needs to be understood in light of the larger text.  In the discussions for this evening one of the things that is most evident is that Jesus works a miracle and spends time with people and then retreats to a place of solitude to commune with God.  This is the rhythm of Christ throughout the gospel, a mighty work or miracle is performed and then time with God.  Often in our busy world we just want to keep going and going.  More is better and we often forget that we cannot give out of our emptiness.

Beyond the physical, emotional, and spiritual toll it would take to do everything, it is also not something that allows for time with God.  That must be a priority if we seek to serve in his name we must be connected to him.

There is another story about healing/cleansing of a man with leprosy and he is also urged not to tell others and yet, he went and spoke freely, spreading the news.  Scripture records that as a result Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places.  Yet people still came to him from everywhere.

Things are not that different today.  Jesus because of the things he did or that he does not fit conventional wisdom of the day whether it is religious or political wisdom will almost always be relegated to the fringes, these lonely places, and yet there will still be those that come to Jesus seeking him.  Have we looked so much to the status quo or the acceptance of others or certain ideologies that we ourselves have also pushed Christ to these lonely places?  How do we see Christ as a vital part of our lives and how are our lives different because of him?