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From Suffering to Grace

Hebrews 5:1-10

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward since he himself is subject to weakness;  and because of this, he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people.  And one does not presume to take this honor but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.  So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”;  as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”  In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered;  and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Suffering often seems unfair because it comes unexpectedly. Aren’t we all look for peace and wholeness in our lives?  Bishop William Willimon once shared his experience with meeting a church consultant, who taught his church leaders how to grow their congregation.  “First find where people itch; then find a way for the church to scratch that itch,” the consultant advised.  “The church is here to meet people’s felt needs,” he said. Bishop Willimon argues that that was not what Jesus promised. Jesus is very transparent about his suffering.  We cannot accuse Jesus of false advertising because he says, “You will drink the cup that I drink; you will be baptized with my baptism.” Many churches understand evangelism as a guarantee of fixing any human need: “You have a problem? We can fix it. Jesus is the answer.” 

Real faith in God does not seek benefits of following Christ.  Jesus is very transparent about his suffering.  We cannot accuse Jesus of false advertising because he says, “You will drink the cup that I drink; you will be baptized with my baptism.”

 

  

 

 

Shared pain is lessened; shared joy is increased

As sci-fi author Spider Robinson wrote in his series The Callahan Chronicals, “Shared pain is lessened; shared joy is increased.” Continuing with the story of Job, double the feeling of tragedy with Psalm 22. Drill down into Job’s overwhelming feelings of isolation, despair, defeat, hopelessness, and puzzlement that God would abandon anyone in their time of deepest distress. Affirm the need we have to protest the perceived injustice of God and the freedom we have to do so. Note the reality that life is not always fair. Job’s three friends sat with him on the garbage heap in silence for seven days. Perhaps they knew a bit of the pain Job was experiencing, even if their words were not too helpful. Remind folks that when Jesus quoted Psalm 22 on the cross, the women were there to share in his misery as companions who loved him even when it hurt.

Question: Why is it easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle?

 

Knowing the depth, height, and breadth of the love of Christ

Ephesians:14-21

For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Exploring the Text: In Ephesians, Paul envisions the mainly non-Jewish believers as a “dwelling place” for God. Today’s text is connected to the end of chapter 2 linguistically. Paul prays, for God to “fill” this new “dwelling place” that is the church (3:14). The mysterious language of “breadth, length, height, and depth” echoes OT texts that instruct about temple proportions. 

Verse 18: “height and depth”: Paul uses these words in Romans 8:39. In the context of Ephesians, these words describe God’s plan of salvation or, more likely, the love of Christ.

Verse 17: “Christ may dwell”: Usually Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as dwelling in people, but to him, the Risen Christ and the Holy Spirit are interchangeable (see Romans 8:9-11) because the Risen Jesus is the source of the Spirit (Acts 2:23).

Verse 21: “the church” and “Christ Jesus” are connected and inseparable.

The apostle prays for a church filled in every dimension by God, with and for the glory of God. Paul talks about the depth of our commitment, our breadth of vision, our vision put into action, that people (and we ourselves) may come to grasp how deep the love of Christ is.

Going Deeper: Both grace and mercy are in deficit in the world we live in. In our world, we’re much more comfortable with posting a sign like “No strangers allowed” that reflects the suspicion and fear of our time. But perhaps it is time for us to acknowledge our fear, confront it, and turn that very slogan on its head. We recognize that God loves and accepts all persons through Jesus the Christ, and therefore we do too. In the Kingdom of God nobody is a stranger, therefore in this congregation, nobody is a stranger. The result of such a depth of experience of God’s relating to us in love in Christ is that we may find ourselves called to tasks we had not dreamed of facing. How can we broaden and deepen our ability to love? How can we help others to experience God more fully and deeply? There again, it does always start and end with relationships, doesn’t it?

Prayer: Teach us the economics of kingdom living: a shirt-sharing, extra-mile-walking, have-my-lunch way of life. For then many shall be the richer. And we shall be among them. Amen.

The Best-Kept Secret in Town

 

Invest 5 Minutes In Your Faith

Last Sunday, the sermon called us to focus on the goal and ignore the obstacles. This coming Sunday’s sermon is based on 2 Samuel 6: 1-7 and encourage us to continue our spiritual pilgrimage. Too often we read the Bible based on “pick and choose” principle. Some verses make us uncomfortable. Others – inspire because they help us to prove our point in arguing with our neighbors and friends, even our family members. Should I say especially with our family members?  These verses are about what is God’s will and what is human will and how they collide.  2 Samuel implies that, as a result, David wants to stop resting and do something about that discrepancy.  He wants to give God’s ark a permanent home that is a temple that matches God’s centrality in Israel’s life.

What Does the Text Say?

The passage from Samuel begs the questions: Can God choose to be more fully present in some places than others? Is there a synergy between divine call and human response that makes certain times and places unique? It just doesn’t seem fair to David that while he lives in a palace, God’s ark lives in a tent. 

What Does the Text Do? Of course, David may also have a political motive.  Just as he’d once tried to make God’s ark a unifying force in Israel, he apparently wants to give a temple a similar role.  If, after all, David builds a temple in Jerusalem, everyone in Israel will have to come to “his” city to worship God. God’s covenant with Israel has been expanded to include all humanity. The law is no longer a dividing line, creating a chasm between the clean and unclean, but has been transformed to inspire and shape all humanity. Ephesians affirms that Christ is our peace, our unity, joining diverse and otherwise divided people into one community of love. There are no aliens anymore; all persons are encompassed by God’s covenant of grace.

What Should We Do? Leaders do not need answers. Leaders must have the right questions. The ethicist Margaret A. Farley challenges us to look for reforms that are needed today. She offers some questions to help.
Where is the apathy and what can awaken us?
Where are the old and the new springs of life and how shall they be released?

The secret to the Christian life is learning to hear His invitation and to respond without fear or hesitation. It is on our pilgrimage that we see the miracles unfold.

Prayer
Father, give me a sensitive ear and a willing heart to participate in your works of grace. Amen.

Catch on Fire

Our multigenerational group “Room 7” continues meeting during the summer. Mike Perry leads the study.  

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