The Gift of Uncertianty

This Sunday we Begin our Lenten journey with the theme of “Gifts of the Dark Woods” following the book of the same title by Eric Elnes available here.
The book, like the Lenten Series explores the seven gifts bestowed in the Dark Wood of life, the times of trial and change we all experience.  Curious about how times of trial can be a gift?  Walk this journey with us, or pick up the book, and find your way through alongside us.  This week we focus on Uncertainty.

Scripture: John 5:1-9a

1 After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3 In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.

Background on the Text:

  1. In the Gospel of John, Jesus challenges the Sabbath rules in very direct ways. This story is one of those “Sabbath challenging” stories, but that won’t be our focus.
  2. In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes three trips, not one, to Jerusalem. He is shown to be very faithful to the practices and rituals of his Jewish faith.

Exegesis (close reading) of the Text:

  1. The pool at Beth-zatha existed, and people believed the waters, when they were stirred, would cure the first person into the pool.
  2. People relied on the kindness of strangers to help them into the waters at the right time.
  3. A man staying at the pool for 38 years (i.e, a long time) would have had issues with being proactive about healing.
  4. The crux of the text is the question: do you want to be made well? This may seem like a no-brainer, but given the length of time the person has been there, it is definitely unclear why he is at the pool.
  5. The man gives excuses rather than an answer. He is perhaps uncertain about what his life would be if he were healed.
  6. Jesus heals him anyway.

Questions the Text Asks of Us:

  1. Sometimes we stay in difficult situations because we are afraid of taking steps toward healing.  A healed, whole life is one big uncertainty for us.  What situations of healing have you avoided because you were more comfortable with remaining unwell?
  2. How has God used your uncertainty in a situation to prod you to trust God?
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Who is Jesus to Us?

This week our devotional, and sermon, are done by a candidate for ordination here at McMinnville Cooperative Ministries:  Bobby Langhorne!  We are happy to give Pastor Kathy the week off to spend in retreat while Bobby man’s the Sunday post.  Here are Bobby’s thoughts on this week’s theme and scripture:

John 2:1-12 (Common English Bible)

2 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there and 2 Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. 3 When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They don’t have any wine.”

4 Jesus replied, “Woman, what does that have to do with me? My time hasn’t come yet.”

5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Nearby were six stone water jars used for the Jewish cleansing ritual, each able to hold twenty or thirty gallons.

7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” and they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, “Now draw some from them and take it to the headwaiter,” and they did. 9 The headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine. He didn’t know where it came from, but the servants who had drawn the water knew.

The headwaiter called the groom 10 and said, “Everyone serves the good wine first. They bring out the second-rate wine only when the guests are drinking freely. You kept the good wine until now.” 11 This was the first miraculous sign that Jesus did in Cana of Galilee. He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him,

12 After this, Jesus and his mother, his brothers and his disciples went down to Capernaum and stayed there for a few days.

Notes on the Text

  1. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) work slowly to the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah, generally saving the reveal for the trial in front of Herod. John, on the other hand, is working off the premise that Jesus is the Messiah right from the word “Go” and sets out to prove it immediately.
  2. There are seven miracles in John that are not present in the Synoptic This is the first one.
  3. Scholars generally agree that John was written last among the Gospels – around 100 AD. John’s audience is therefore different from the Synoptic Gospels. He’s writing to Christians of a Gentile background who may not know the Jewish law or traditions at all. John tends to refer to any Jew as “the Jews” and explains Jewish customs, like he did here with the water jugs and the cleansing ritual. When John is speaking about the Pharisees and Sadducees, he refers to them collectively as “Jews.” This doesn’t mean he blames all the Jews for the death of Jesus, but the audience that John is writing for do not know what a Pharisee or Sadducee is. This habit, however, allowed medieval (and later) peoples to marginalize and sometime destroy Jewish people, because they could point to the Bible and show that the Jews were to blame.

Devotional

Last week, the youth, the Richters and I went to snow camp at Suttle Lake. I feel that giving people the opportunity to go to camp is one of the best gifts you can give someone. Camp is really an amazing experience – I feel it is one of the only times where life is completely in harmony. There is a time to eat, and a time to rest, a time to play, a time to pray, a time to be in fellowship, a time to be in solitude. It has everything you need for a spiritually well-thought out life!

So, why can’t we live our lives like that all the time? The common answer is that the real world interferes. Things like bills, school, our children, jobs – they all get in the way of the harmonious spiritual life that a time away at camp can provide. This seems unfortunate to me and I can’t help but feel that we are missing the mark (Harmartia – that Greek archery word Jesus uses for sin literally means to miss the mark!). If camp is life in perfect harmony, why can’t life be life in perfect harmony?

Let’s put that question on hold for a minute and ask a different one. The Bible both extolls and censures what might be called the pleasures of the flesh. One verse tells the reader to drink wine heartily in the name of the Lord, while another chastises those who let the smallest sip of alcohol cross their lips. Romans tells us “It’s a good thing to not eat meat or drink wine or to do anything that trips your brother or your sister (14:21)” but the Word from John has Jesus creating wine for people to drink, including his own family and disciples. So, how is this possible? Is the Bible contradicting itself?

So, now we have two questions:

  1. Why do we have to escape our everyday life (by going to camp) in order to find perfect harmony?
  2. How can the Bible tell us to both indulge and abstain from the pleasures of life?

The answer to both of these questions is balance. Living out our faith is not just about self-denial and self-control, but also about pleasure. Our pleasure pleases God. Jesus commands us “Come, follow me in every word, thought and deed.” And if we are following Jesus in His journey of ministry, we see that His life is not all about self-denial either. Jesus eats and drinks with his friends, family and neighbors. Jesus has times where He is angry and times where He is loving. There are times where He is calm and times where he is exuberant. But it is all balanced inside Jesus as well-thought out parts of his ministry – his example to us on how to live in His world.

We are not Jesus – balance does not come easily for us, even with the example Jesus has given us. But, it is still possible to find ways in our life to balance the needs of the body and the needs of the Spirit. Jesus gave us several tools to do so – prayer, fellowship, and communion. It is up to us to be mindful of what we are trying to accomplish when we participate in these rituals. It is our responsibility to balance ourselves and please God.

Questions

  1. What does it mean to me to live my life in balance – in perfect harmony with the Spirit?
  2. How can I make time in my life and what steps do I need to take to find that balance?
  3. What other examples are there in the Bible that show Jesus as being not perfect but balanced?
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Who is Jesus to God?

Throughout Epiphany we’re exploring who Jesus is to everyone he touched, and what parent isn’t touched by their children?  This week we’ll take a look at what God said about Jesus and what His view means for us.

Scripture: Matthew 3:13-17

     13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.  14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Background on the Text:

  1. The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) all have baptism stories. The Gospel of John hints at a baptism but does not say directly that Jesus was baptized.
  2. Chapter 3 of the Gospel of Matthew begins with the story of John the Baptist baptizing people and saying “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” These will be Jesus’ words has he begins his ministry as well.
  3. This is the first story of Jesus as an adult.

Exegesis (close reading) of the Text:

  1. Jesus comes to John to be baptized. Assuming that Jesus is aware of John’s ministry, that means he comes to John to repent (turn toward God).  This is the first public witness of Jesus to his ministry’s direction.  He will turn toward God and he will lead people to God.
  2. John, having some knowledge or revelation about who Jesus is, objects to baptizing Jesus, since he feels that Jesus is the one who is “more powerful than I.”
  3. Jesus tells John that he (Jesus) should be baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.” In this gospel, to be righteous means to do God’s will.  The baptism of Jesus is the official commissioning of Jesus for the work ahead.  Previously in this gospel we have learned that Jesus will manifest God’s presence (Emmanuel) and that he will save people from their sins (Jesus).
  4. As Jesus comes out of the water, he receives confirmation from God for his work. This gospel makes clear that it is Jesus who see the Spirit descending and Jesus who hears God’s voice.
  5. God clearly approves of what Jesus is to do. God declares a three-fold affirmation:
  6. My son
  7. My beloved,
  8. With whom I am well pleased.

This mimics the three-fold declaration by God about Abraham’s son Isaac (Genesis 22:2)

  1. Take your son
  2. Your only son
  3. The one whom you love

In this story, of course, Abraham almost sacrifices his son to do God’s will.  In our New Testament story, God does allow God’s son to be sacrificed, like a sacrificial lamb.

Questions the Text Asks of Us:

  1. A messiah is a person anointed by God to do a specific task. Jesus is anointed by God in this baptism story, to do the task of manifesting God’s presence in the world and saving people from their sins.  In what ways are you anointed by God?  What tasks does God place before you?
  2. Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa is famous for saying (perhaps quoting St. Augustine) “Without God we cannot; without us, God will not.” Why do you suppose God chose this path for salvation: anointing a human to carry out God’s divine purposes?  What does it say about God’s view of humanity? Of Jesus?
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Who is Jesus?

It’s Epiphany!  In seasons of the church, this Sunday marks the start of the season after Christmastide (the 12 days of Christmas) and the celebration of the three wise men (or Magi) finding Jesus.  This scripture tells that story, but moreover it begins to outline for us who Jesus is, and what a revelation he has been!

Scripture: Matthew 2:2-12

     1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

       6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

         9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Background on the Text:

  1. This story only occurs in the Gospel of Matthew. The timing is key: since Herod will kill “all the children who were two years old or under,” this implies that the wise men came when Jesus was around 2 years old.  It is only in popular tradition that we put the wise men in the manger scene.
  2. The Greek says these men were “magi” which can be translated as “astrologers.” They were people who interpreted celestial events as omens of great importance.  Many rulers used their services to try to predict their own successes and failures.

Exegesis (close reading) of the Text:

  1. This is the first Herod.  His son will rule when Jesus is an adult.  Herod is in the group of people who oppose the work of God.
  2. The wise men from the East are outsiders, who in this gospel are very likely to support the ministry of Jesus.
  3. The wise men go to the heart of power, Jerusalem, because they are searching for the One who is at the heart of power. It’s just bad luck that they run into Herod.
  4. Herod “and all Jerusalem” were afraid. That’s a bit of exaggeration, but it points to this division of people into supporters and opponents of God’s plan.
  5. Herod consults his own experts, and the priests quote Micah 5:2. This links Jesus to David, an important link in the Gospel of Matthew.
  6. Herod sends the wise men to Bethlehem, presumably to trick them into revealing the location of this king.
  7. The magi offer the gifts expected to be offered in passages in the Hebrew scriptures.
  8. The star is a symbol of God’s continuing presence and intervention in the story.
  9. God intervenes once again through a dream. God sends the wise men home by a new route.

Questions the Text Asks of Us:

  1. The theme for this season is “Who is Jesus?” Of course the answers depend on who is asking the question, and for whom we are seeking an answer. The Gospels essentially are centered on this question.  Each gospel was written for a specific audience.  The Gospel of Matthew was likely written for an early Christian community, perhaps located in Syria, made up of a diverse population of both Jewish and Gentile Christians.  They are going to be struggling with a lot of questions of identity.  If you are a Christian, how do you respond to the question “who is Jesus?”
  2. What difference does your answer make to your life?
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Our Hope…

…is in God’s Promises.  A poetic prologue leads us down a path of discovery.  Discovering a man who “came as a witness to testify to the light”.  A man who made some big promises in the name of God.  Does your Hope lie with him?

Text: John 1:1-18

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2 He was in the beginning with God.

3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.

8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.

11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.

12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,

13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ “)

16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Background on the Text:

  1. This is the prologue to the Gospel of John.  Both this prologue and the final chapter of the gospel (chapter 21) are probably additions to the main gospel.  It is impossible to say if the same author wrote all parts, but there is no reason to complicate things with a theory of multiple authors.
  2. The prologue sets the stage for the rest of the Gospel. It puts the story of Jesus within the context of creation itself.  Unlike the other gospels, the beginning of the story happens before time itself.

Exegesis (close reading) of the Text:

  1. “In the beginning” immediately puts us in mind of Genesis 1:1. But the “beginning” here is even before the beginning of creation.  It is part of the cosmic essence of God.
  2. “Word” is the English translation of the Greek word “logos.” “Logos” is one of those words which encompasses many meanings.  Logos is the essence of creation; it is God’s creative nature; it is the “logic” of the universe.  Christianity would equate “logos” with “Christ.”
  3. Verses 2 and 3 say that “logos” is the same as life itself. John uses lots of dualities in his writing, and one of the most obvious is light and darkness.  So logos is life, and light.
  4. Verse 5 is a statement of faith: the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it. This is a powerful statement at any time in history.  But it also points out that there is conflict in creation, despite its origins in life and light.
  5. Verses 6-8 are an interlude: they refer to John the Baptist, who points the way to the Christ.
  6. Verses 9-13 move the prologue from cosmic considerations to the actual life of Jesus, even though the language is still rather poetic and lofty. The basic conflict of the story is presented: although Jesus came for people not all people accepted him.  But for those who accepted him, and believed in his origins, life was made new.
  7. Verse 14 is the summary of the entire gospel: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  God became human, or was made manifest in a human being.
  8. Verses 16-18 are somewhat polemical. The Gospel of John was written within a community struggling to understand its place within Jewish history.  The argument about whether a person could be Jewish and Christian was an important one of the day.  The fact that these verses say “no one has ever seen God” places the person of Moses down a rung from Jesus.  (Remember when Moses comes down off Mt. Sinai with the tablets, his face is shining so bright that he must cover it.  This is interpreted to mean that he had been in the presence of God.)

Questions the Text Asks of Us:

  1. The prologue to the Gospel of John is poetry, and as such it should be read like poetry.  We read poetry knowing that the words on the page are overflowing with multiple meanings.  Each time we read the words of a poem, a different meaning or nuance can occur to us.  As you read this prologue again, what image sticks out to you?  What new insight do you gain about the nature of God and Christ?
  2. How does this prologue set you up to read the rest of the gospel? How does the prologue distinguish the Gospel of John from the synoptic gospels in terms of understanding who the Christ is?
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Hope of…

New Birth!  We’re quickly approaching the season of Christmastide, which begins on Christmas day, only 2 weeks away and celebrates all of the joy and hope brought to the world with Baby Jesus.  So this week we look at how the world, in the days leading up to Jesus’ birth, was also anticipating the changes that he would bring.

Scripture: Luke 1:39-45

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 

40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 

42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Background on the Text:

  1. In Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, he weaves together stories of two families: Zechariah and Elizabeth, parents of John the Baptist, and Mary and Joseph, parents of Jesus. Both families are models of faithfulness to God’s will, even though they cannot imagine what God has planned.
  2. Immediately after this passage, Mary “sings” the Magnificat, a song styled on the song of Hannah in 1 Samuel.

Exegesis (close reading) of the Text:

  1. Mary obeys the instruction of the angel Gabriel who tells her to go visit her cousin Elizabeth. Mary is told that Elizabeth’s pregnancy is another miracle from God, like hers.
  2. Elizabeth plays the role of a prophet in this text. She reacts when the Holy Spirit enters her (she receives a word from God) and then proclaims the truth she has been told about God.
  3. Elizabeth is humbled by God’s revelation that the baby Mary carries is her “Lord.” Lord is a term used both as a formal address and as the title for God, and Elizabeth probably has both meanings in mind.
  4. Elizabeth also sees the importance of Mary believing what God has told her.

Questions the Text Asks of Us:

  1. The latest National Geographic had a cover story titled “The Most Powerful Woman in the World.” It, of course, was referring to Mary. Why do you think this character in the birth story has held such sway over our imaginations?
  2. Elizabeth is arguably the more important character in this text. Why is she placed in this situation to proclaim what the reader has already been told? What is the purpose of this second proclamation?
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We Hope…

For Open Hearts.  In a world where dark and terrible events threaten to harden our hearts daily, don’t we all?  This is the Second week of Advent 2016.  As we at the Coop walk through Advent this year we’re focusing on hope because of the hope brought with Jesus’ birth for the world, hope of forgiveness and salvation.  Hope of renewal, peace and love.   This week we walk with Luke seeking to keep our hearts open.

Scripture: Luke 3:1-6

1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”

Background on the Text:

  1. One of the challenges for the gospel writers was to put John the Baptist into context and relationship with Jesus. JB was a prophetic figure who lived at the same time as Jesus and had his own followers, and also had a similar message to that of Jesus.  The solution that the gospel writers came up with was to make John a forerunner of Jesus and a person who predicted the coming of Jesus.
  2. Luke draws a straight line from Isaiah to JB to Jesus, thus once again suggesting that God’s plan for salvation was in place for a long time, and Jesus was part of that plan from the beginning.

Exegesis (close reading) of the Text:

  1. Luke wants to write an “orderly account” of the life of Jesus, and thus put the story in the context of history and make it trustworthy on that basis. So every time he gets a chance, Luke mentions other historical people.  He mentions both Roman officials and Jewish leaders.
  2. JB was baptizing people, a practice that may have been connected with introducing converts to the Jewish faith, or just a common ritual of “cleansing” associated with new beginnings.
  3. JB baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, an idea that the early Church will take up.
  4. Verse 4 is an example of the importance of commas. In Isaiah 40:3, the quote is, “A voice cries out, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.”  In Luke, the quote is “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  So Luke changes the text to make JB the one who is in the wilderness, and not the Lord.  This matches his portrayal of JB.
  5. The quote from Isaiah is referring to the return of the Israelite exiles from captivity in Babylon to Jerusalem and Israel. Isaiah is proclaiming that God will make a smooth highway for the exiles to return, and that God will lead them home.
  6. Luke also adds, “the salvation of the Lord” to the Isaiah text.

Questions the Text Asks of Us:

  1. JB is asking people to see the world as a place that God is actively rearranging.  Do you see God actively interfering with human destiny?
  2. What does salvation mean to you?
  3. What are some of the things that cause you to “close your heart?”
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