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Posts Tagged ‘1 Peter’

Pastor Joshua Scheer in his article, “Who Are the Preachers in Your Life?”,  on Brothers of John the Steadfast asked these three interesting questions at the end of his piece:

“Who preaches to you most of the time?  What is being preached?

Who preaches to your children most of the time?  What is being preached?

What can be done to out-preach the preachers of the different gospel of this world?

The answers are in the Scriptures, especially the first lesson and especially the Epistle reading for the 6th Sunday of Easter (Year A):  Acts 17:16–31 and 1 Peter 3:13–22. 

 In Acts 17, the Apostle Paul is by himself in Athens.  Athens was one of the great cities of culture and philosophy that has influenced the Western world until our day and time. Athens was the home of Socrates and Plato and the adopted home of Aristotle, Zeno (found of Stoicism) and Epicurus. Luke tells us that Paul addressed Stoic and Epicurean philosophers.  The derivative  words “stoic” and “epicurean” are part and parcel of our vocabulary and so are the philosophies:  “stoic”, i.e., be tough;  “epicurean”, e.g. “eat, drink and be merry” are conflicting ways of life in our own day.  

We are told that Paul, upon seeing the city filled with idols, that, “his spirit was provoked within him” (verse 16). For a devout Jew (see Philippians 3:4-6),  to whom idolatry and the resultant immorality, were anathema (as it should be to all Christians as well), raised, no doubt, his rightful indignation.  Then we are told in the next verse that he “reasoned” with the Jews in the synagogue, God fearers and those in the agora,  i.e. the marketplace (vs. 17).  Further he addressed the various philosophers, and cultured onlookers,  in the place designated for such exchange of ideas, the Areopagus, literally, Mars Hill.  Notice that Paul’s provocation and indignation did not show.  He did not scream and holler,“Tear down these demonic altars”, though he knew they were demonic (see 1 Corinthians 10:20).  Instead, he reasoned with them and proclaimed the truth.  Paul’s brother Apostle, Peter, wrote to the churches in the Diaspora (1 Peter 1  ), this encouragement:   

 “…if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

 The Apostle Paul was forcefully asked to give a defense of the hope that in him (vs. 18-20).  He was prepared.  He gave his defense just as the Scripture says:  with gentleness and respect.  Paul did so but he did not water down God’s own truth.  He made pointed statements to his interlocutors that would escape our notice and for which Paul was mocked:  

  1. He proclaims God is the Creator of heaven and earth (vs. 23).  Many Greeks were so ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ that they thought matter was evil, created not by any god, but by a “demiurge”, that got “down and dirty” and so created ‘evil’ matter. Paul proclaiming God is the Creator of everything was probably an offense to his audience, but Paul proclaimed it clearly and so he was saying, the altars dedicated to gods and goddesses is nothing, they are gold and silver, things, therefore they were not gods.
  2.   The Greeks believed the gods and goddesses were dependant upon their service and devotion.  Paul turns this on end by citing an important Scriptural truth that the Lord does not need anything from mankind (see Psalm 50: 9-12) but He is the One who gives to us all in our need, our “life and breath and all things” ! (vs.  25)
  3.   “The Athenians might pride themselves on autochthonous[1]sprung from the soil of their native (Greece) (‘This belief reflects the historic fact that the Athenians were the only Greeks on the European mainland who had no tradition of their ancestors’ coming into Greece”), but this pride was ill founded.”[2] Paul proclaims that all of us are of one “nation” (some ancient texts, of one “blood”).  In other words we are all of the “hoi polloi”, no one is better nor worse!  Such a preaching can either puncture the pride or cause pride to rage.
  4.   Paul proclaimed the judgment of God and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Apostle called them to repent (vss. 30-31), that is Law and Promise.  As the doctrine of the Creator and creation (1st article of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds) was offensive, so would have been the bodily resurrection.  The audience believed in a spiritual, disembodied after life, but not the new creation. Also, that all mankind will be judged and is judged by God, deserving His temporal and eternal punishment probably did not set well with Paul’s audience.  Neither in our day and time: “no one can tell me what I should do!”

 Throughout the address, Paul is even and reasonable.  He also proclaims that God has not left Himself without a witness is His creation (cf. Romans 1:  ). He cites their poets and philosophers to substantiate his thesis.  He is not trying to win over them to his point of view, but to win them over to Jesus Christ.  He was mocked afterward (vs. 32) but some believed (vs. 34). The Word will accomplish the purpose the Lord puts into it (see Isaiah 55:10-12).

Paul the preacher out-preached the different gospels of the world by being prepared in the knowledge of Scripture.  This is the best way to give a defense of the hope that is in us:  armed with the Word of God (see  Ephesians 6:11ff ).   We are living in an internet Athens, that is just as pervasive, persuasive and perverse as was the great city of Athens in the first century.  The Athenians would not have listened to Paul if he tried to out shout them. Paul defended the Scriptures by not being defensive nor offensive.  Paul’s Address to the Areopagus still runs contrary in our agora of god and ideologies.  This list parallels the list above: 

  1. God is Creator, not evolution.  We are made, not self-made.  There is intelligent design that could not happen by chance.  The 1st Article  of the Creed is still offensive.
  2. God needs me to serve him, all my sacrifices. No, He does not, He gives to us all in our need. We think a worship service is something we offer to God, no!  God  who gives us His gifts of faith, hope and love, within His Service, His Word, that is, “For us and our salvation He came down from heaven” and “Broken and shed FOR YOU”.
  3. We Americans think we sprung up out of the soil of this land, a superior people.  ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (cf. Romans 3:22-24  ), therefore, the Lord has poured forth His salvation upon “all flesh” (cf. Luke 3:6).
  4. So many Christians have a judgment-less Gospel, that is preaching and teaching of the Gospel without the Law’s just diagnosis of our condition.  “Grandma is looking down on us from heaven” is common statement at funerals.  The Apostle’s Creed, based upon the Scripture, confesses the “resurrection of the body” to our likewise ‘spiritual’ afterlife.

 So many people think that between  Bible times and ‘our’ times there is a yawning abyss because so much has changed.  Yes, technology has changed but not fallen human nature. What was preached and reaching many folks in Athens is simply paraded day in our agora, television, radio and the internet. The second list is the current version of the first lesson preached nowadays. The many altars to our American idols is always an appeal to the self.  The doctrines of evolution, ego-centric philosophies, egoism are preached daily to make us happy.  This preaching of a gospel, which is not good news, oozes every TV commercial. And a lot of this narcissistic preaching is under the guise of Christianity, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, such as , “prosperity gospel” preaching. We may be happy but we are always looking over our shoulders and there is little joy. Or there is such anger directed at the filth in our society and country, and justifiably so, that discourse is difficult at best. The medium massages the mind to be insensible to truth and thinking things through. 

We cannot out yell the cultural preachers yet we can reason, as the Apostle did. We cannot out-tech the world and the agora either. We simply cannot compete nor should we!  The Gospel, that cannot be bought, the Gospel that is we have been bought for a price, not with silver or gold, by Jesus’ precious blood (1 Corinthians 7:23;1 Peter 1:17-19) , opens up the entire of Scripture that we might reason in the preaching and teaching of the Church. In a sound-bite world, the Lord’s perspective of eternity is ours in Christ.  Short-term fixes, that is, gimmicks and techniques won’t do.  As it is written, I would rather have five words of wisdom than a thousand words in a tongue (1 Corinthians 14:19).  Paul was prepared as Peter counseled his churches to be prepared as we revere Christ as holy  in our hearts.

 When I was in college, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was in schism over Biblical interpretation.  I was  a liberal in Biblical interpretation.  I was visiting my extended family in Minnesota and with my Aunt Bertha, “Aunt Birdie”, I  had made fun of  the Missouri Synod.  My Aunt had been a Mennonite and became Lutheran (WELS) when she married. In one of the few times she was stern with me said, “Mark, I always believed in Christ but when I became a Lutheran I knew why.”  What preaches?  Solid Confessional catechesis, that is preaching and teaching of Law and Gospel, properly distinguished.  The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod knows about teaching and preaching.  The Scriptures’ compendium is the Small and Large Catechisms.  Catechesis cannot be done short term, but only long term: it is learning for Life.  Fancying up worship services or making them more ‘palpable’ won’t do either.  We are just spinning our wheels. The small still voice of the Lord in His Word is greater than the thunder and lightening of our technological world. We need only to be still and be stilled (see Exodus 14:14,Psalm 46:10,Psalm 131:2) for that is the beginning of learning. The Lord will be heard.

     “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven                                      and do not return there but water the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55)

 [1] autochthonous: adjective (of an inhabitant of a place) indigenous rather than descended from migrants or colonists.

 

[2] The Book of Acts, commentary by F. F. Bruce, pages 357-358 (first published 1954)

 

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Acts 2: 24-25  They prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

 These Scripture verses record the one sentence prayer[1] for the Lord to guide the Apostles to choose between Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias to replace Judas.

  The word “place” is used twice in verse 25.  There is a distinction between places:

 Christ’s place (“in this ministry”)

or

Judas’ own place.

 

The place in and by Christ is eternal life.

By Judas it is eternal death.

 “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…”  Satan said in John Milton’s Paradise Lost.  Judas knew his mind.  Judas no longer knew the mind of Christ (cf. Philippians 2:  5-10);   Philippians 4:7  ) Judas’ own place made heaven of hell and hell of heaven. So can we all.  Once we give the devil an inch, he will take the soul and mind on the short mile ride to hell.  The Lord called Judas to the Lord’s place alongside Him in “this ministry and apostleship”.  Another devil quote from Paradise Lost:  “It is better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven.”  At first the rule seems beneficent: my place, my domain, my realm, then, without the Lord and godly repentance, when we have “turned aside” to go to my own place, it becomes the dead end of hell. The road is easy and wide that leads to destruction and many who find but the road that leads to life is hard and narrow and few find it (cf. Matthew 7:12-14).  And the Way finds you in His Way (cf.  John 14:6;  Luke 15) to you day by day in His Word.

I probably have made too much of the word “place” yet the contrast is Biblical.  A place of my own is only possible in Jesus Christ who took my place and died for me, and lives that I live by faith in Him, and so even the meanest earthly place is good. The only time we are to turn aside is to help our neighbor in his need, however small or great, along the way/Way (see Luke 10:33). And the call is to be a “Good Samaritan”, and we too know what is it is like to fall along the way, needing someone to pick us up.

In this prayer, the Greek word for “who knows the hearts”, is one word:  Heart-knower.  The Lord is our heart-knower, from whom no secrets are hid.  Turning inside ones’ self, in one’s own place,when anxious troubles mount,  and the Lord bids you to cast all your anxieties on Him, He know how to (see the Cross), for He “cares for you” (1 Peter 5:  6-11)

[1] “So brief a prayer on so important an occasion would in this voluble age be scarcely regarded as a prayer at all.”  From Pr and Prof. Paul Kretzmann’s 1920 Popular Commentary

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Lessons:

The Apocalypse of St. John the Divine 7: 2—17   Psalm 149 1 John 3: 1—3 St.Matthew 5: 1—12

Almighty and everlasting God,  You knit together Your faithful people of all times and places into one holy communion, the mystical body of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Grant us so to follow Your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that, together with them, we may come to the unspeakable joys You have prepared for those who love You; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

About All Saints’ Day: This feast is the most comprehensive of the days of commemoration, encompassing the entire scope of that great cloud of witnesses with which we are surrounded (Hebrews 12:1). It holds before the eyes of faith that great multitude which no man can number: all the saints of God in Christ—from every nation, race, culture, and language—who have come “out of the great tribulation … who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9, 14). As such, it sets before us the full height and depth and breadth and length of our dear Lord’s gracious salvation (Ephesians 3:17-19). It shares with Easter a celebration of the resurrection, since all those who have died with Christ Jesus have also been raised with Him (Romans 6:3-8). It shares with Pentecost a celebration of the ingathering of the entire Church catholic—in heaven and on earth, in all times and places—in the one Body of Christ, in the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Just as we have all been called to the one hope that belongs to our call, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). And the Feast of All Saints shares with the final Sundays of the Church Year an eschatological focus on the life everlasting and a confession that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). In all of these emphases, the purpose of this feast is to fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, that we might not grow weary or fainthearted (Hebrews 12:2-3).

Reflection:

“Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door, and see all the people”

Some of you may remember the child’s rhyme about the Church above.  In The Large Catechism, Dr. Luther explains that when we think of “church”, we usually think of the church building, as “we are going to church”, but he points out that the only reason a sanctuary is called a “church”.  “But the house should not be called a church except for the single reason that the group of people assembles here.”  The people who assemble are the Church, the communion or the community, “the holy Christian Church” (Third Article of the Apostles Creed).  

The rhyme above could be redone:  “Here’s God’s House, here’s the steeple, open the door and see all God’s people.”  We have spent a lot of time of fussing over the church building, instead of concentrating on building up God’s people, His Church.  This is done by preaching, teaching, praying and administering Christ’s Word and Sacraments. As the Apostle Peter wrote:  “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,  you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2: 4-5). 

Further, this building up of Christ’s holy people, His baptized saints, is not according to our building specs, plans and blueprints. We are being built, passive tense. In my cynical moments, I have redone the rhyme above, “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door and where’s all the people?”.  And sadly stats and surveys have been documenting the downward spiral of church attendance.  Well-meaning Christians cry out: “We’ve got to do something!”   Then come the ways to save the church.  We seen what happens when men and women build the church according to their best laid plans of mice and men: see the Mormons, see the feminist church, e.g. as “womanchurch”.  Those are the more obvious examples of not building according to God’s Word. Over the years, I have seen “models of ministry” paraded before pastors’ groups, and new programs like mega-church.  Remember harvest gold refrigerators, kulats, dickies, and the like?  We most likely want to forget them all! As I do all those programs that steered us away from God’s Word.

 Fads don’t build up His Church, only the labor of love of God’s Word in His saints by faith through His grace alone in the unity of the Holy Spirit.  Roman Catholic G. K. Chesterton wrote that the Church is the democracy of the dead, those saints before us have a vote.  This is what All Saints is also about.  When we gather for Holy Communion, the pastor will pray, “…with angels and archangels, AND ALL THE COMPANY OF HEAVEN…”, even with 2 or 3 gathered together, there are countless more!  The saints before us were built only by one way:  the Word of Law and Grace.  We are called to keep the faith with the dead, who live in Christ waiting together the day of the general resurrection.  

Yet, the saints labor and the saints who have died, “…from their labors rest” but who Thee by faith before the world, Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blest, Alleluia!”(#677, For All the Saints, Lutheran Service Book). I think we are entering ever darkening days, in which the little flock will be persecuted…but that’s how it’s been in times past.  As in hymn lyrice, the saints confessed Jesus Christ.  This is our calling from the Lord to His Church this day and every day, for every day in Christ is All Saints Day.  I close with this quote from Pr. Bonhoeffer’s sermon from 1933 in Berlin after the Germans under the Nazis voted in “the whore of Babylon” the “German Church” totally compatible with National Socialism, that  is the Nazi ideology.  

it is not we who build. He builds the church. No human being builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever intends to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess-he builds. We must proclaim—he builds. We must pray to him-that he may build. We do not know his plan. ‘We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great timesof construction. It may be that from a human point of view great times for the church are actually times of demolition. It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province.
Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions, don’t ask for judgments, don’t always be calculating what will happen, don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge! Let the church remain the church! But church, confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord, from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds.

And the gates of hell shall not prevail against you. Death, the greatest heir of everything that has existence, here meets its end. Close by the precipice of the valley of death, the church is founded, the church which confesses Christ as its life. The church possesses eternal life just where death seeks to take hold of it; and death seeks to take hold of it precisely because it possesses life. The Confessing Church is the eternal church because Christ protects it. Its eternity is not visible in this world. It is unhindered by the world. The waves pass right over it and sometimes it seems to be completely covered and lost. But the victory is its because Christ its Lord is by its side and he has overcome the world of death. Do not ask whether you can see the victory; believe in the victory and it is yours.

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

 Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine,
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

 

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