Apr 12 - "Living Hope" (Easter 2)

Date: 4.12.2015 (Easter 2) – Living Hope: In Life’s Tests

1 Peter 1:1-9
John 20:19-29 

That the hearer would experience the trials and sufferings of life with a confident faith and a clearer sense of their destiny (purpose/goal), direction, and delight.

We experience trials and suffering as isolated events full of pain and devoid of purpose and it robs us of hope. We try to avoid the pain and minimize the trials because we disconnected them from an ultimate purpose and hope in the reality of Christ’s resurrection that will be ours. 

We are not left to purposelessly experience the trials and sufferings of life but are gifted with a living hope that comes through the resurrection of Jesus, an living inheritance that is kept in heaven for us, the living promise and reality of end times salvation in body and soul, and living joy in the midst of trouble. 

Textual Exposition:
Peter is the identified author of 1 Peter and it is written to a geographically broad community of believers in Jesus. They are scattered across what is modern day Turkey and are the “elect exiles of the dispersion.” Dispersion (diaspora), in this instance, refers not to the state of being scattered but to the places where the dispersed are found. These chosen (elect) followers of Jesus are dispersed throughout the world (Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia), far from their home in the new creation. Along with God the Father’s foreknowledge and the sanctification of the Spirit, their election was pure grace in Jesus Christ and no work of their own. 

Peter continues with a statement of praise (1:3) to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He follows this by holding up the Father’s great mercy (eleos). This Greek word denotes kindness or concern expressed for someone in need. As Peter begins this section he roots everything that follows in the Father’s kindness and the hearer’s great need. What follows, then, flows from the heart of the Father. The resurrection of Jesus, our birth into a living hope, etc. all flow out of the Father’s mercy over our great need.

The Father is the cause of the believers’ living hope. In fact, He has caused them to be born again into this living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This hope they are born into comes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and thus all hope for Peter, as well as the inheritance (1:4) that comes with their new birth, which is kept in heaven for them and does not perish, spoil or fade, is directly tied to Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Note that both “to be born again” and “kept” both convey passive action on the part of the hearer. Even more, “kept” is a perfect verbal form implying that this inheritance is kept in an ongoing sense (has been kept and continues to remain kept).

Again, the passive nature of the Christian life is conveyed in 1:5 where Peter describes the hearers as those who are guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation that will be revealed fully at the final/end (eschatos) time (kairos) appointed by God. Even the revealing is all an act of God’s grace. Thus, verses 3-5 present God’s action of mercy (1:3) that gifts the hearer/follower of Jesus with new birth into a living hope, an inheritance kept in heaven that remains, guarding in this life, and a salvation that will be revealed at God’s appointed karios time. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ indeed!

All of this forms the basis for the rejoining of the Christian that also shapes life in the “now.” Peter goes on to describe the current state of life for believers. It is a life of trials (1:6). Peter does not elaborate on these trials and sufferings. One may assume the hearer knows these all too well and thus do not need to be reminded of them. 

Peter’s next move is to interpret these trials in light of the living hope that is theirs. There is purpose and reason in these trials and Peter notes this as he begins 1:7 with “so that” (hina). Trials, Peter says, test the genuineness of the faith given by God the Father/Jesus/Holy Spirit. Faith (more precious than gold that gets refined), tested and refined in the trials and struggles of life, results in the praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus. Is this revelation the end times appointed return of Jesus or the revealing of Jesus in the faithful endurance of trial and struggle? Given Peter’s tie of struggle to the eschatological revelation of salvation it seems that this praise will be end times. But there is no reason to think that this praise and glory and honor would not come also in the midst of trial and suffering as Jesus is revealed through the testing of the Christian’s faith.
The joy described in verses 6 and 8 is indicative, not imperative. It is not a command to “feel good” but rather is a deep, inexpressible joy permeated by the mighty acts of God in the past (1:3), present (1:5) and future (1:4). Happiness is situational, joy is relational.
Finally, Peter, who has seen Jesus face to face reminds those who have seen Jesus only by faith (word and sacrament) believe in him and rejoice with joy. This belief/faith in Jesus has a goal/purpose (telos) – the salvation of your souls. This telos reorients and forms all other telos (purposes) for the believer. This controlling purpose (salvation of our souls) changes how one follows Jesus in whatever other purpose he/she finds himself/herself engaged in, especially in the midst of suffering and trial. 

One final textual note. Peter is not somehow espousing that salvation is only for a person’s soul and not their body. BDAG defines the word translated in 1:9 as soul (psuxa) as the seat and center of the inner human life in its many and varied aspects. It also notes that this word is used in many senses and not merely to talk about the metaphysical soul. Lenski (1 Peter commentary, 43-44) says, “Soul is not in contrast with body as though only the soul is finally saved; the word designates the person, the real being that is saved, and not merely part of it. When the soul is saved, the body, too, is saved and will in due time join the soul.” In light of Peter’s talk about the resurrection of Jesus (body and soul) as well as the witness of Paul and the Gospel’s to salvation as the physical resurrection, the salvation of our souls is the salvation of the believer in body and soul. 

Theological Reflection
There are two realities depicted in this first chapter of 1 Peter, two realities whose threads will be woven though this entire letter: 1) We are born into a living hope through Jesus’ resurrection that gives us an inheritance, a purpose (salvation of our souls), and great joy and 2) we have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials/tests. Thus, in this first section of 1 Peter, we are brought into both a future hope that is alive in the promise of the “not yet” and a present reality of that hope lived out in the midst of suffering and trial. In either case this is living hope (hope that lives and hope that is lived out). In the end, our hope in the end times fulfillment of our salvation forms and informs how we live life a disciples of hope in the midst of suffering. 

Martin Luther, reflecting on Peter’s use of the refining metaphor in 1:7 says, “All scripture compares temptation to fire. Thus here St. Peter also likens the gold that is tested by fire to the testing of faith by temptation and suffering. Fire does not impair the quality of gold, but it purifies it, so that all alloy is removed. Thus God has imposed the cross on all Christians to cleanse and to purge them well, in order that faith may remain pure, just as the Word is, so that one adheres to the Word alone and relies on nothing else. For we really need such purging and affliction everyday because of the coarse old Adam.” (AE 30:17)
The promise in 1:4 may be captured by this paraphrase: untouched by death, unstained by evil, unimpaired by time.” Peter sprinkles eschatological promises throughout chapter one; i.e. vv. 5, 7, 13 (cf. also 4:7, 13, 17; 5:4). This is the hope of the baptized (cf. 3:15). 
Hearer Depiction:
The hearer will have ample experience with the trials of life. For some the struggle will be fresh (death of a loved one, divorce, financial collapse, challenge because of confessing Christ). Others will be numb to their struggles and see them as just a given, almost fatalistic part of life. Both form of hearers will likely have their struggles confined to the present and isolated from the grand telos, the salvation to be revealed on the day of resurrection. Not knowing what is ahead but expecting another shoe to drop at any time, the hearer needs to have their eyes focused on the grand telos and the gifting that is for the hear and now. The story of Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier is a great story to bring this home

On Oct. 14, 1947 Chuck Yeager planned to get in his jet and crack the sound barrier and its “invisible brick wall.” Prominent scientists had “hard data” that the barrier couldn’t be penetrated. Others predicted that both pilot and plane would disintegrate at Mach 1. Still other scientists held that Yeager would lose his voice or revert in age. Yeager writes of that day in 1947: “As I approached Mach 1 (700 miles per hour) grandma would have been sitting up there sipping lemonade. The sonic barrier was just a poke through Jell-O, a perfectly paved speedway. The real barrier isn’t in the sky; it is in our minds.” Just so, when it comes to life’s tests the real battle is in our minds (cf. 1 Pet 1:13).

Other Illustrations to consider
Have you ever stopped to think about the Easter Bunny? Probably not, so let me help you. The Easter Bunny is typically a big male rabbit that carries a nest of eggs. Yes, rabbits are extremely good at carrying out the “be fruitful and multiply” mandate in Genesis. And yes, eggs are perfect symbols of new life. But, and this is a big but, rabbits don’t lay eggs, rabbits don’t make nests and this applies especially to male rabbits!  Let’s be honest. A male rabbit making nests and laying eggs is a pretty far stretch from the truth. Getting to the honest truth, the bottom line, and the actual realities of Easter is what we’re going to do during this Easter Season. What does Easter mean?  What are its implications for my life?  How does Easter affect how I live, my relationships, what I think about myself?  And what does Easter have to do with my problems?  
Recently I came across these 911 calls to the LA Fire Dept. “Person has arm stuck in teller machine.” “Lady has blisters on her feet from walking to Taco Bell.” “Daughter says mom is acting weird.” “Woman has been hiccupping for three days.” “Husband claims wife is mentally unstable.” “Man out of breath after running from police.” So what is your test in life? Is it that your mother just died? Or your career isn’t in gear? Maybe your father is losing his mind and he doesn’t know you any more. Or your test comes from the constant reminder that your childhood was ripped apart by abusive parents who were alcoholics. Perhaps your miscarriage is still haunting you or your teenager conveniently looses his hearing at just the right (or wrong) time. 

A kindergarten teacher asked the class, “What is the color of apples?” Most of the children answered red. A few said green. But one little guy blurted out, “white!” The teacher tried to explain that apples could be red or green or even golden - but never white. But the little guy was adamant, and finally said, “Look inside!” God is always looking on the inside; he is always trying to increase our faith. And he does that through suffering. Peter regards suffering as integral to the nature of faith (1:7) and as universal among Christians (2:19-20; 4:12; 5:9, 12). The joy of the Christian life is not an alternative to suffering, or in spite of suffering, but joy in suffering. 


Apr 05 - Easter

Mark 16:1-8

Comments on the Text
The last verse is quite striking: (loose translation from the Greek:) “And they [the women] said nothing to nobody because they were scared out of their gourds.”  Whether you take these to be the last words of the Gospel of Mark or not (they certainly ARE), these words are the last words of the Gospel lesson for Easter Sunday, and they stick out like a sore thumb.  
This last verse doesn’t seem to fit with what we expect from our general knowledge of the Easter story.  I imagined our hearers might be struck by the apparent incongruity between the failure of the women and the celebration of the resurrection. How does this ending make sense in light of where we have been together as a congregation as we encountered the Gospel of Mark?  This problem for the hearers is the starting point for the rest of our work with the text.

Working with the Greek and with the help of a commentary, we can see the failure of the women to carry the Gospel message as just one in a long line of obstacles that needed to be overcome in this pericope.  The death of Jesus is an obvious one, and the question from the cross hangs in the air: has God abandoned this Jesus?  The young man in white proclaims that Jesus has not been abandoned, that His death has been overcome, but there are other obstacles as well.  Mark goes out of his way to remind us how large the stone was, and, whether the passive verb there is to be taken as indicating the intervention of God or not, it should be noted that one of the miracles that first Day of Resurrection is the removal of this impossibly large stone.  Also, Mark tells us the sun is already up as the women make their way to the tomb.  Especially since darkness played a significant role in our celebration of Black Friday, this Easter sunrise takes on at least the overtones of a Gospel reversal.

The fear and fleeing of the women is but one of several obstacles that were overcome by God on that first Easter morning.  Fear and fleeing connect the women to Jesus’ other disciples who earlier fled in fear.  The young man clothed in white stands in opposition to the young man who fled naked in the garden at Jesus’ arrest.  Although we don’t see it yet, the failure of the disciples signified by the naked young man’s flight has been reversed by the proclamation of the young man robed in white.  Even the failure of the women to carry the message will be overcome by God: the Gospel will get out.  On a Sunday where we can expected a significant representation of infrequent church attenders, picking up on the promise that God overcomes all obstacles, even lapses in discipleship, seemed like a good way to bring law and gospel to bear in the lives of the hearers.

The end result of God overcoming all the obstacles in this reading (like the darkness of Good Friday, the death of Jesus, or the failure of the disciples) is not seen in the Gospel of Mark, but it is implied.  The young man in white speaks the promise of Jesus who goes ahead of the failed disciples (including Peter and these women) to Galilee: “There you will see Him, just as He said.”  The end result of God’s action in Mark is this reunion: failed disciples are brought back into the presence of the vindicated and risen Jesus.  

The means God uses to accomplish this are also important.  Certainly his almighty power is implied in the reversal of darkness, the removal of the stone, and the raising Jesus from the dead.  But the express means in the text are words, promises, the promise of Jesus passed on by the proclamation of the young man. 

“Overcoming obstacles” is usually done for the benefit of the one doing the overcoming.  We need a way of talking about God actively defeating His enemies that implies more strongly the fact that this victory was accomplished for the sake of someone else. 

In our conventional way of understanding, when someone is “on a mission” there is a task that needs to be accomplished by someone (a spy, a soldier, doesn’t matter) for the benefit of someone else (a government, the whole world, whatever).   Being “on a mission” entails both overcoming obstacles and passing on a benefit to someone else. So the refrain for this sermon could be “God is on a mission—and nothing can stop him!”


Apr 02 - Maundy Thursday

Date: April 2 (df) 

Text: Mark 14:12-26

Goal: In the sacrament we are called into oneness in Christ Jesus.  In a very real way one loaf (I Corinthians 10) and one cup creates a oneness that is mysterious but connects us a body to Christ.

Textual Exposition: 
  • The reading is divided into three scenes:
  1. vs. 17-21, the meal preparation and the start of the Passover
meal when Jesus says there is a betrayer among them.
  1. vs. 22-25 the sharing of the meal
  2. vs. 26, after the meal to the Mount of Olives.
  • The reading gives a lot of detail. Mark’s style is to move very quickly through stories so when he pauses and gives more detail we are caught into the seriousness of the moment.
  • The last Passover is spelled out in detail.  First we have the preparation. The two disciples were Peter and John (Luke 22:8) who fulfilled all the requirements for a Passover meal.  For this last Passover He sends two of His closest disciples.
  • Mark speaks to the finding of the Upper Room and a man carrying water. Some have suggested this is Mark’s home. 
  • The first scene ends with the betrayer being announced. This took place after the initial Passover liturgy.  There was a prescribed language used that couldn’t be interrupted.  When this was completed, there was a time of eating. It was during this extended time of eating that Jesus acknowledges that there is a betrayer among them. At this point Judas leaves.
  • Important because at this point we enter into the second scene.  
  • The second scene is the giving of the Sacrament. Jesus breaks bread and says, “Take it; this is my body.”  This was outside of the Passover liturgy and would catch the disciples by surprise.  
  • Lenske (p.619) suggests that this consecration took place after the extended period of freely eating the Passover food. When the last morsel of the lamb was eaten by the host, this part of the meal was complete. It is here that Lenske says that the wine was done. 
  • It is important to note that Jesus gives the disciples both the bread and the wine. They don’t grab it off the table but rather it is offered to them.
  • Vs. 23 says, “they all” drank from the cup. There is a unity in the community when we all participate.
  • Third Scene:  They ended the Passover meal with a hymn which was normal for any Passover meal. Mark then says, “they went to the Mount of Olives…” The end begins…

Theological Reflection: 
In a world that neglects oneness, Jesus is pointed in calling us to oneness. Communion is a demonstration of believers partaking in the One body as One community.

Hearer Depiction: 
Consider a fractured world called to oneness. It contrives ways to be one but reality is that they are superficial.  Oneness comes from true intimacy.  Christ’s call is to that intimacy in Him.

Law/Gospel Proclamation: 
  • We live in a fractured world. We even work to sustain that division.
  • We live in a world that gives a superficial description to oneness and we grab on to these definitions as if they are real.
  • Beyond us, comes Christ, we are in union with him by his death and resurrection and in the Sacraments.
  • He breaks through this fractured world intervening for us so we might experience an intimacy not easy obtained.
  • We can’t do oneness on our own. No formula gives a sustained oneness. It never comes easily but happens only through death and resurrection.

Other texts for study or reflection: 
1 Corinthians 10:14-17, “because there is one loaf we….are one body…”
Ephesians 4:1-6,  “Make every effort to keep the unity…” (vs.3) “one Lord, one faith, one baptism…” (vs.5)
2 Corinthians 5:14-21, Ministers of reconciliation, ambassadors for Christ, His Love compels us to be a reconciler and an ambassador.

Sermon Structure: 
The concept is oneness and unity.

1.  My intention is to come up with some kind of an object (yet to be determined) that I can use to reflect union. I’m open to suggestions.

It could be some kind of machine. When the thing works, everything is functioning in a wholeness that prompts the machine to perform the task.

2.  Jesus is really about unity in the body. Look at how he deliberately creates the moment to demonstrate this union.
a.  He gives a task to Peter and John. They are familiar with the task 
necessary. We have an alignment of thinking.
b.  Jesus and his followers go to the Upper Room gathering around a table.
These are men who have spent hours and hours together. 
  1. He sends the one out of union away. Judas is separate. He’s chosen a different road, out of alignment. Note this in the message.
  2. The giving of the sacrament is the peak example of one body (I Corinthians 10)
 Through one loaf and certainly what Paul shares in Eph. 4 on One Lord,
 One faith, one baptism…(Eph. 4:1-6)
  1. Mark 14:23, “…and they all drank…” Everyone participated
  2. Think of a place of union you have felt or observed.
  3. Think of a place that was superficial in union and oneness (like an athletic team is really superficial unity)
  4. We all yearn for a oneness but a fractured world is incapable of achieving this kind of intimacy. Jesus’ intervention is to give us a glimpse of the oneness.
  5. We believers share in this oneness. Our congregation is striving to achieve this kind of oneness knowing it is only granted by God Himself.
  6. Ultimately, Jesus ends the dinner and walks to the Garden knowing his sacrifice is necessary. He goes willingly into the betrayer’s arms.

Other worship or preaching ideas:
Images of Oneness. How do we picture oneness?


Apr - May 2015 (Living Hope)

April               Theme Reading
5   (Easter) Easter                       Mark 16:1-8 

12 (Easter 2) Living Hope series based on 1 Peter 
19 (Easter 3) Living Hope series based on 1 Peter
26 (Easter 4) Living Hope series based on 1 Peter

03 (Easter 5) Confirmation confirmation texts

10 (Easter 6) Living Hope series based on 1 Peter
17 (Easter 7) Living Hope series based on 1 Peter

24 (Memorial Weekend) Pentecost  TBD - Vision
31 (Trinity) TBD - Vision