Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Second Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

[For an explanation of what this is about and to see the first pass, go here.]

Verse-by-Verse Comments:
1After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.
(1) After this refers to the hesitation to follow exhibited by the three different potential disciples mentioned in Luke 9:57-62.

(2) The group here recruited are to go ahead of Jesus in a ministry of preparation a bit like John the Baptist. By our lives and activities, we modern-day Christians can help people prepare to receive Jesus, too.

(3) Jesus sends these folks out in groups of two. In Luke's account of the early Church's history, approximately the first thirty years after Jesus' resurrection and ascension, we see that many of the early Christians traveled together in order to spread the Gospel. This also comes through in Paul's New Testament writings.

(4) If you're familiar with the art of Biblical translation, you know that our Bibles are based on thousands of manuscript fragments emanating from different portions of the Mediterranean basin, each with varying claims of authority. Equally eminent authoritative manuscripts say that the number called by Jesus here was seventy; others say seventy-two. Whatever the exact number, as I indicated yesterday, the call of this large group after the calling of twelve found in 9:1-6, the growth and development of the fledgling Church is indicated. So is the call of all believers to be witnesses for Christ!

2He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
(1) This is one of the most neglected of all the prayer commands Jesus gives. The idea here is that there are millions of people ripe for following Christ. "But," as Paul writes in Romans 10:14-15:
how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
When we share the Good News of Jesus, lives are changed for the better forever. Through the Good News of faith in Jesus Christ, people turn from sin, find that God forgives them, gives them fresh starts in this life, and life with God that lasts forever. We're able to gather in the harvest of those who have received the good seed of Jesus Christ.

(2) It's interesting that Jesus calls the seventy(two) to pray for laborers to go into the harvest just as He sends them into the harvest. You've got to be careful what you pray for; God may use your passion to make you the answer to your prayers!

3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
(1) Jesus gives a series of instructions on how the seventy are to conduct themselves. They're not to flit around looking for better digs. They're to station themselves where they're welcomed, accepting whatever hospitality they're offered.

(2) The seventy(two) are to give God's peace, the very peace to which the risen Jesus refers when appearing among His fearful, skeptical disciples (Luke 24:36).

(3) As pointed out in The New Interpreter's Bible, the wolf is the lamb's natural predator. But the seventy are given no instruction on how to deal with things. They just need to know that some will oppose the sharing of Christ with others.

(4) The basic thrust of Jesus' instructions here seems to be to rely completely on Him. This is exactly what the early Church learned to do, as can be seen in the New Testament book of Acts.

(5) The words, The kingdom of God has come near to you, will come as good news here. Comforting news. God is reaching out through His emissaries to bring reconciliation between God and rebellious humanity. A few verses later, almost the same words will be said in judgment to those who have foolishly spurned Christ. Jesus is the great dividing line of history. Either we will throw our lots and destinies in with Him and live forever. Or, we'll reject Him and choose to be apart from God forever.

10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’
(1) Here the phrase, the kingdom of God has come near, has the meaning, "You've had your chance to welcome Christ and His kingdom. But now it's too late."

16“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
(1) Those who confess Jesus Christ as their God represent Him in the world.

17The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
(1) Jesus has empowered the Church to confront evil and gather people into His kingdom. It's exciting! But more amazing to us should be the fact that, by faith in Christ, we're privileged to be part of this kingdom. It's dangerous for Christians to get hung up on "signs," which are designed to point not to us, but to Christ.

Another Post of Pictures from Our Canandaigua Mission Trip






In the last photo, another adult crew leader, a member of a Lutheran congregation in New England, and I are showing off some of the fried dough the nursing home residents would work on. The nursing home is part of a holistic health facility in Clifton Springs. It was founded nearly 150 years ago and is a fantastic place! Several of the events which happened while we were there also involved children from a day care center, also on the campus.

[Click on the pictures to see them get bigger!]

And Still More Canandaigua Mission Trip Pics






Mikey, a member of the work crew with which I worked, appears a bit skeptical about standing around me in the second picture above.

[Click on the pictures to enlarge them...if you dare.]

Still More Fab Pics from the Canandaigua Mission Trip






See the explanation several posts below. [Click on the links to enlarge them.]

More Pictures from the 2007 Mission Trip






[Click a pic to see it bigger.]

More Pics from Canandaigua Mission Trip






[Click images to enlarge.]

Pictures from Our Mission Trip in Canandaigua, New York






On the days of June 17 to 22, a group of thirteen people from our congregation, Friendship Lutheran Church of Amelia, Ohio, participated in the Group Work Camps Foundation's Week of Hope in Canandaigua, New York. Along with seventy-seven other young people and adult crew chiefs from churches in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Delaware, and Maine, we went out for six hours each day in groups of six to spruce up the homes of widows, plant and clean at the city's enormous Veterans' Administration Hospital, helped a local food bank, spent time with and transported the residents of area nursing homes, and other acts of service in Christ's Name. We also worshiped, learned, had fun, and sometimes, got bored, together. It was awesome! In this and the next several posts, I'll be presenting pics of our group and the crews with which we worked.

[You can click on the images to enlarge them.]

Monday, July 02, 2007

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

[Most weeks, I present as many updates on my reflections and study of the Biblical texts on which our weekend worship celebrations will be built as I can. The purpose is to help the people of the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church of Amelia, Ohio, get ready for worship. Most weeks, I hope, it's helpful to others as well, since our Bible lesson is usually one from the weekly lectionary, variations of which are used in most of the churches of the world.]

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’...

16“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

17The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

General Comments:
1. This passage comes shortly after the beginning of a section which starts at Luke 9:51 and continues through Luke 19:27. In it, Jesus moves resolutely toward the Father's will that He die on a cross in Jerusalem. He faces opposition throughout. But also, as in this lesson, we also see foreshadowed the empowerment of Jesus' followers to spread the reign of God that will come to them following Christ's resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost.

2. The more immediate context is that in the narrative immediately preceding the lesson, Luke 9:57-62, three persons, for various reasons, beg off of following Christ. But in our lesson, seventy-two (or seventy) disciples willingly go where they're sent by Him.

3. This passage resembles an incident that occurs in Luke 9:1-6. There, Jesus sends His twelve closest followers--that group of disciples referred to as "the Twelve" or "the apostles"--out on a similar mission of preparation for His arrival. Several commentators suggest that with the sending of the group in this lesson, we see that every follower of Christ is called and deputized to share the life-changing news that all with faith in Christ have new and everlasting life with God. It foreshadows the mission for
all His followers which the risen Jesus summarizes for two unsuspecting disciples He meets on the road to Emmaus:
...repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:47)
[More tomorrow, I hope.]

Is There Hostility Toward the Unmarried?

And should there be a name for it? These are questions asked by Ann Althouse in an interesting post today. I weighed in with my thoughts:
I don't know if I sense a hostility toward the unmarried. But there often is a shameful disdain.

Unmarried people often face the same disdain shown toward the long-married who have no children. People in both categories often seem to be seen as being less than full adults, sometimes as self-indulgent and immature.

Single and marrieds without children from among my parishioners and friends (and extended family) have reported running into this disdain and I've observed it up close.

Why do these attitudes exist?

Well, it can't entirely be explained by saying that married people (with children) are miserable and resent the "freedom" they see in the lives of singles and marrieds without children. I, for one, am happy in my nearly-thirty-three year old marriage and thoroughly enjoyed raising our two children.

Nor do I think that the disdain of singles is related to the suspicion of homosexuality. If anything, long-term singles are often seen by the people holding to the attitudes we're here describing as being asexual.

There is, I think, a more simple explanation. Some people feel that adults have to go through certain proscribed life-hoops in order to truly be considered an adult. They tend to believe this all the more if they have, in fact, gone through those hoops, no matter the quality of their marital or family relationships. They see themselves as part of an adults' club and looking down their noses on those who haven't gone through the hoops is one of the "privileges" of membership.

The phenomenon, disdain of singles and marrieds without children, is real. If you come up with a term, maybe you can copyright it.
What do you think?

It Was Inevitable

Cincinnati Reds manager Jerry Narron has been fired. Many Cincinnati fans, not to mention Reds Hall of Fame play-by-play radio announcer Marty Brennaman, have long complained that Narron failed to demand more of a team often seen to be lackadaisical on defense.

Many scratched their heads too, at the seeming indifference of Narron to the undisciplined approach to hitting evidenced by slugger Adam Dunn, on a pace to strike out over 200 times this year and unwilling to cut down his swing when the count is against him. (Dunn's 23 homeruns in 2007, consistent with his modus operandi throughout his career, have almost always come at irrelevant points in games, either with a win out of reach or safely in the bag.)

But most of the Reds' woes this year were beyond the gentlemanly Jerry Narron's capacity to influence. It's simple: The Reds' bullpen is awful. That won't improve with Narron's departure.

Nor will the Reds' occasional lapses into impotent offensive output.

I wonder a little bit about what impact, if any, Narron's departure might have on rookie sensation Josh Hamilton. The Narron family, acquainted with Hamilton since his youth, seem to have been the prime movers behind the Reds signing the outstanding outfielder after he fell into and began his recovery from a drug dependency that nearly ruined both his career and his life. Although Hamilton's groundedness in his Christian faith and the extraordinary relationship he has with his tough-loving wife are strong anchors, the Narrons were his baseball advocates and he's bound to miss Jerry. (For more on Hamilton, for whom I have endless respect, see here, here, and here. The latest issue of Sports Spectrum also has a good article on Hamilton.)

With the worst record in baseball and the season halfway completed, Reds management may decide that it's too late to salvage the 2007 campaign. Cellar dwelling may be as inevitable as was Narron's ouster. But that doesn't mean that the Reds shouldn't act to improve their bullpen. They owe it not only to their fans, but to pitching aces Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo, the latter of whom has been victimized repeatedly by paltry run support, to find relievers who can preserve leads and to field eight starters who will consistently demonstrate that they care.

As the modern embodiment of Dave Kingman, the free-swinging major leaguer who hit homeruns while striking out and hitting for a low average with regularity, Adam Dunn is an obvious candidate for being traded. But is there a market for him?

The local media have reported that the Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks have been scouting him regularly. Teams in the American League West and possibly the Los Angeles Dodgers could be interested in him. Each of these teams, for various reasons, need a homerun hitter and could have pitching to give up in any trade. But each will have to weigh heavily whether Dunn's previously mentioned offensive deficiencies, not to mention his so-so defensive skills in the outfield, are worth a trade.

The most frightening talk I hear is from those who suggest trading Ken Griffey, Jr. Granted Junior is thirty-seven years old. But after several injury-plagued years, he's having a great season, hitting 22 homeruns and better than .290. He made the shift to right field in deference to his age, but still plays sparklingly on defense. To me, it's unthinkable that this son of Cincinnati Moeller High School and of Big Red Machine veteran Ken Griffey, Sr. would end his career anywhere other than in a Reds uniform, especially since he still has a lot to contribute.

No matter how badly the Reds are playing this year, Great American Ball Park is a great place to watch a game...which is exactly what I'll be doing tomorrow night, booing Barry Bonds, whose every steroid-launched homerun thumbs a nose at the game of baseball.

God is So Shrewd

This morning, I went to SiteMeter to check on the web traffic to this site. Whenever I do this, I like to check on the referring sites. Often, I'll dash off a thank you email to those who refer to posts that appear on Better Living.

When I looked at the referring web sites today, I spied one that I'd never seen before. I clicked on the link and was shocked to find myself led to a pornographic site, a single graphic image in the middle of the page beneath which was a huge, block-lettered link to my sermon from yesterday, Husbands and Wives (Joyful Relationships, Part 3).

A sense of outrage overtook me and for a nanosecond, I considered staying on the site long enough to find a webmaster's email address in order to demand that the link to my sermon be taken down. I mean, I don't want to be associated with a porn site.

But as I entertained these thoughts, I just as quickly left the site while I sensed a heavenly voice telling me, "Hold on there, Cowboy! A porn site links to a Christian message on marriage. Who do you suppose orchestrated that one?"

God is so shrewd.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Joe Gandelman...

on that new study of independent voters. Interesting insights.

Blogging diva Ann Althouse naturally focuses on the alliterative d-categories of independents identified in the study. (FYI, they're: deliberators, disillusioned, disengaged, disguised, and dislocated.)

Husbands and Wives (Joyful Relationships, Part 3)

[This message was shared during worship with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church on July 1, 2007. If you live in or are visiting the Cincinnati area, feel free to worship with us at 10:00 AM on Sundays.]

Genesis 2:1-9, 15-25

A little girl had just seen the movie, Snow White, for the first time and excitedly told her grandmother about it. After recounting how Prince Charming came along and kissed Snow White back to life, she asked her grandmother, “Do you know what happened next?” “Yes,” grandma replied, “they lived happily ever after.” Her face screwed up in a quizzical expression, the little girl said, “No! They got married!”

After being married nearly thirty-three years, I can report that it is possible to be both married and happy. I agree with the sentiments of a friend of ours who gets a lot of teasing for her attempts at matchmaking. “I’ve always been happy married,” she tells us. “I just want my friends to be happy, too.”

Today, I want to look at the Biblical account of the world’s first marriage to see why marriage is a good thing.

The first reason that marriage is good is that it’s a gift from God. Marriage has its roots in God looking at the first man and saying, “It’s not good for the man to live alone.” According to our Bible lesson for today, God then sets out to make something or someone with whom Adam can share life. God creates one life form after another. But we’re told that “not one of them was a suitable companion.” Old Testament scholar Elizabeth Achtemeier says that if we could translate this passage with absolute clarity, it might say, “no companion able to complete the man’s humanity was found.”

But, as you and I know well through Jesus Christ, God’s love is tenacious. God doesn't give up on helping us. Our lesson shows us that God was determined to create the perfect companion for man. That’s when God made woman, Eve, whose name means life.

Marriage is a gift which, for those willing to treat it as such, can make marriage partners happy and complete.

A second reason we see for saying that marriage is good is that it can bring joy! Many of you have heard me say that most mornings when I wake up, among my first thoughts is to wonder at God’s grace. Like the psalmist whose words we used for our opening call to worship, I’m amazed that the God Who made this vast universe cares about me. We also see the depths of God’s care for us in Jesus, Who went to a cross and rose from the dead, to give all who follow Him everlasting life. That’s an amazing thought that brings joy!

But here’s another thought that often crosses my mind when I wake up in the morning: I’m amazed that my wife married me. Given our history--that in high school, she rightly dismissed me as a big-mouthed weasel, I find it hard to believe that she gave me the chance to become her friend, to go out with her, to marry her, and to have a life with her. Knowing that you’re loved like that brings both mystification and joy!

Third: Marriage is good because it can bring husbands and wives safe, affirming intimacy. We see this at the end of our Bible lesson for today. It tells us, “The man and the woman were both naked, but they were not embarrassed.”

This line isn’t primarily about our bodies or about sex. It’s about having a safe place to be who you are. The poet Carl Sandburg’s daughter once wrote about their parents’ marriage:
“There were never loud arguments...in our house. My father...roared...But [when he became angry] Mother coaxed him out of it. Once when he was very old, I saw him pull at a door that was stuck. He rattled the handle and shouted. My mother, a small woman, looked up at him and patted his chest. ’ What a fine, strong voice!” she said. Disarmed, he stood there in love. It was a thread established early and woven through their life.”
Carl Sandburg had the ability to be himself with his wife. I’m often astounded at the numbers of husbands and wives who tell me their perceptions of their spouses--good things and bad. When I ask them if they’ve shared these things with their mates, many tell me, “No. I could never do that!”

And yet, God made marriage to be a relationship in which we can stand naked--naked in our strengths and weaknesses, naked in our virtues and our faults--and still be loved. While openness and a certain degree of intimacy should characterize all of our relationships, nowhere should it be more present than in marriages.

Finally: Marriage can be good because it truly can provide husbands and wives and those who live close to them a glimpse of what heaven will be like. I'm not kidding! Throughout the Bible, when God wants to describe the intimacy, joy, and love that comes to all who follow God, He uses the analogy of marriage. When He wants to describe the human penchant for walking away from God, God speaks of adultery and prostitution. And one of the images Jesus uses to describe the Church is “the bride of Christ.”

Good marriages incorporate forgiveness, intimacy, loyalty, encouragement, mutual affection, and unconditional acceptance. I get a hint of heaven every time I make another bonehead move and find that the next morning, my wife is still around, forgiving me, loving me, and rowing in the same direction.

If heaven is a kingdom of undeserved grace and love, then the love of a wife or a husband who knows all about us and keeps living with us anyway must surely point us to what God has in mind for us when He calls us to follow Him. No wonder then that when Martin Luther cast about for a way to describe the family, he said that it was to be “a little church”: a place where the God we meet in Jesus Christ was to be known and celebrated in the day-in, day-out relationships that exist in families.

Of course, not all marriages are heavenly enterprises. That’s one of the reasons that so many marriages end in divorce these days. This brings us to a very important point: The goodness of marriage is only experienced by those husbands and wives who devote themselves to the hard work involved in real love.

Marriage is a gift. But like all gifts, it requires care to keep it working. Adam and Eve had a great marriage in Genesis, chapter 2, the portion of the Bible from which our lesson is drawn. It lost its luster in chapter 3. They got out of touch with God and as always happens when we lose touch with God, they fell into sin. The next thing you know, these two people who, just a few verses earlier, were gah-gah over each other, are blaming one another for the fix they’re in. Adam even tells God, “This woman you sent me has really messed things up!”

Fortunately, God didn’t give up on the first human beings as quickly as they gave up on each other. He gave them second chances. He kept loving them up and invited them to start afresh. With prayer and work, they did start again and they experienced renewal in their marriage. God helped them to do the hard work required to keep the wonderful gift of marriage in happy working order. And God can do the same thing for married people today if both husbands and wives are willing to accept God’s help and to do the hard work good marriages require.

Marriage is good because
  • it’s a gift from God;
  • it can bring joy;
  • it can bring husbands and wives into safe, affirming intimacy with each other; and
  • it can bring spouses and those who know them glimpses of heaven.
If you who are married don’t ever see these good things in your marriage, commit yourself now to praying for your marriage and for your spouse, asking God to give you guidance on how you can care for the gift of your marriage to make it all that it’s meant to be.

I ask those who aren’t married to pray for the marriages of family and friends so that they too can become all that God intends.

All of society has a stake in seeing that marriages are strong. God stands ready to help make that happen.

[Links to the first two installments of this series:
How to Have and Be a Friend
How Will I Know?]