Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Pass at This Sunday's Bible Lessons

[I'm not preaching this coming Sunday, as I'll be formally installed as pastor of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio. (The sermon will be provided by our dear friend, Pastor Pat Badkey. Pat and her husband, Steve Fahnestock, were seminary classmates of mine. Through the years, our families have remained close.) I will though, be discussing the Bible lessons for Sunday with the adult Sunday School class at Saint Matthew and one of these texts will be the bases on which Pastor Pat builds her sermon that day. I present passes like these each week as a way of helping the people of Saint Matthew prepare for worship. But because our texts are based on the lesson plan (the lectionary) that goes with the Church Year, others should find them helpful as well.]

The Bible Lessons:
Malachi 4:1-2a
Psalm 98
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

1. This will be the next-to-last Sunday of the Church Year. November 25 will bring us to the final Sunday of the Church Year, known as Christ the King.

2. One of the apparent themes of these texts is what's known as, the Day of the Lord. We Christians believe that the risen, ascended Jesus will return to the world and that judgment will be rendered. It isn't a day to be feared for those who follow the God of the Bible, believing in Jesus Christ.

3. Another interesting aspect of these texts is that it demonstrates that Biblical faith isn't a black and white thing. God's creation and reign are, for those who want to hamstring God, a bit complicated. For example, the Old Testament book of Malachi, written by a prophet sometime after 530BC, addresses the abuse or neglect of the temple which absorbed Ezra and Nehemiah after the Babylonian exile of God's people. The prophet seems to be saying, "Respect the temple as the place where God dwells on earth and where you worship God together." On the other hand, in the Gospel lesson from Luke, Jesus tells the disciples not to be overawed by the temple of His day. God can't be contained in buildings.

Also, in the Luke passage, Jesus tells the disciples that one day, Christians will be persecuted for following Him, but to not worry about what they'll say beforehand. Yet, in other places in Scripture, writing to a persecuted Church in Asia Minor, the apostle Peter, who was listening to Jesus when He spoke the words in the Gospel lesson, tells the people to always be prepared to give an account for the hope in them. (But to do so with "gentleness and reverence.")

Are these contradictions? I don't think so. Truth is a big thing and is applied in different ways depending on the context.

In the first set of passages mentioned above, the concern of both Malachi and Jesus is respect for God. Temples are respected when people actually worship God in them; that's what Malachi was saying. But temples shouldn't be the objects of our worship. Only God should be. That's what Jesus was saying.

Jesus was counseling His followers not to be afraid and to rely on God. Peter was counseling Christians to grow in their faith, including in their capacity to love those who persecute them; that's how they would be prepared to give an account for the eternal hope in them.

Christian faith is simple. It isn't simplistic.

4. In the mid-sixth century, Israel was overrun by the Babylonian empire, many of its people sent to Babylon as slaves, and the temple in Jerusalem destroyed. Later, the people were allowed to return. They were slow to rebuild the capital city or the temple, a scandalous circumstance which has been addressed, as mentioned above, by Nehemiah and Ezra. But even after the temple was built, God's people were spiritually lackadaisical. These are the circumstances addressed by Malachi.

5. Malachi isn't a proper name. It's a word that means My Messenger, which appears in the opening verse of the book.

6. Traditionally, the New Testament book of Second Thessalonians has been attributed to Paul. As I've explained before, in the ancient world, it was legitimate for someone operating in the school of thought of a revered teacher to write under that teacher's name. There are sufficient differences in nomenclature and word usage for some scholars to suspect that this book wasn't written by Paul. Others though point out that the book is too short to reach an authoritative conclusion about authorship. Nonetheless, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church has seen the Word of God in this wonderful book. (For more on Thessalonica, go here.)

7. Opinion is also divided on what exactly lay behind the idleness of the Thessalonian Christians. Traditionally, it's been thought--and I'm inclined to agree with the thought--that the Thessalonian Christians were sort of a proto-Left Behind gang. According to this this school of thought, they were obsessed with Jesus' return and were convinced that it was imminent. They thought that because life in this world was ending soon, it was pointless to work. They became idle and a bunch of idle, busybodies.

Others say that the Thessalonian church were simply like the rest of the human race, prone to lazily going through life with little thought for living lives that express gratitude to God for life or life made new in Christ.

8. Jesus commends steadfast faith in Him, even in the face of the trials and persecutions He discusses. He also warns Christians against being obsessed with His return. As in the Thessalonian text, we're told to simply be faithful. A story is told, sometimes about Saint Augustine and at other times about Martin Luther, probably apocryphal. But it's a good story nonetheless. One of the great men is approached while hoeing his garden. "What would you do if you knew Jesus were coming back tomorrow?" the questioner asks. Without looking up from his work, it's said that the teacher replies, "Finish this row." If even Jesus was unaware of the hour of His return, it isn't for us to know. Our call is simply to be faithful while we live on this earth.

No comments: