By Invitation

giftI was comparing Colossians 3:12-14 to attending a wedding.  the first half verse is about our identity.

  • as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved..   v. 12a

Weddings are by invitation.  You don’t show up uninvited.  Your admission is not up to you.  This is a way to think about being “chosen”.

We could get into a long discussion of election and predestination.  If I thought that I could work out that issue in a couple of minutes, I would. But as Christians have debated that issue for 2000 years, I will move over to the importance of it.

When you go to a wedding, it is because you are invited.  Someone chose you to come.  It would be very strange to walk into a wedding uninvited. Maybe you just love weddings.  Would you attend and stay for the reception?  No.

You belong to the wedding because the Bride and Groom invited you.

The same is true for you as a Christian.  You did not crash the gates.  You did not come and say, “Hey, this looks like fun! Let me in!”  The Lord made a way for you to come in Jesus.  He paid for your invitation. The Lord not only invited, but he persuaded you.  He persuaded you through the power of the Holy Spirit, through the prayers of others, through the truth of the Gospel.

Don’t think that you are better than others. You are in the family of God because the Lord chose you to come.

You were invited and then you were able to attend.  As to choice…well that takes us back to Augustine and Calvin.

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Let me interrupt this thought – 2 Corinthians 5:3

tentI am trying to make sense of this passage from 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 ESV

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

My syntactical analysis looks like this:

For we know that

if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed,

we have a building from God, 

a house

not made with hands,

eternal

in the heavens. 

For in this tent we groan,

longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 

if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 

For while we are still in this tent,

we groan,

being burdened—

not that we would be unclothed,

but that we would be further clothed,

so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 

He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, 

who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

 

Now this looks like a chiasm starting to form. That is where you have a structure like ABCDBCA.  the ABC is about a building that is eternal compared with a tent that is temporary.  but then v. 3, which has occupied scholars endlessly, is a kind of interruption. Perhaps Paul is interrupting himself, like a preacher might, and saying – “and by the way, proto-gnostics who are listening,  we will not be disembodied spirits but embodied ones”

This would not be good if we were talking about a neat and tidy essay, or an academic paper. But Paul is a preacher, talking to an audience, and so in the middle of a tidy structure, it makes perfect sense to interrupt himself.

I’m a preacher. I ought to know.  We do it all the time.

And why does the house/tent metaphor become one about clothing, and then one where life eats death.  English teachers hate this sort of thing, but there is a lot of it in the bible.  Preachers do that sort of thing also.

My sermon summary is this:

  1. Our future is more real than the present.
  2. We live in a tent but we own a home
  3. Life overcomes death, so live with confidence

Cosmic Christmas – Revelation 12:1-5

rev 13 b

This is a Cosmic Christmas.

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne…       Revelation 12:1-5 ESV

The Woman clothed in the sun with the moon at her feet and the 12 stars represents the people of Israel.  Do you remember Abraham’s call, that he would be a blessing to the nations? (Genesis 12)  That his descendants would be numbered with the stars? (Genesis 15) Well here we see that out of this nation a special child is born.  Of course Mary is the individual who gave birth, but Jesus is the child of the nation of Israel.  Through him the nations of the earth have received a blessing.

But there is a dragon!  Who lets a dragon in where a baby is being born?  But this reminds us that Jesus came to defeat the Liar, the Deceiver.  It was the serpent who deceived the man and his wife in Paradise. And this child is the one who will crush the head of the serpent.

John shows him as a great red dragon.  The dragon does what he can to get rid of Jesus.  Herod is moved to do him in. but they escape to Egypt. Then it is another Herod and Pilate who will have Jesus put to death. But their victory is their defeat. It is by his death that we receive salvation. In seeming defeat, the great victory is won.

Advent is more than a quietly sleeping child in a Manger.  (How did he sleep thorugh the Angel’s loudness?)  It is the birth of a king, it is the seed of God’s ultimate victory in the world.

All the dragons are slain by that child.

Resonance – Genesis 22 and Advent

Abraham-e-Isaac-sacrifican (1)In our Christmas Eve service, we read Genesis 22

Why should we read this story at Christmas?  Genesis 22 is maybe the most provoking passage in the Bible.  We wonder why God would challenge Abraham with this.

My answer is that it resonates with the Christmas story.  If you play a note on a piano that same string on a violin or a guitar, if they are tuned the same, will resonate.  The likeness will cause a vibration.  Consider a few facts:

Isaac was a long promised child.  We know that the Messiah was promised from the time of the Garden of Eden, later in the promise of a greater Moses, and then through he prophets in a variety of ways.

Isaac was a miracle child.  Sarah had Isaac at 90 years of age. It was so unlikely that she laughed with the Angel told Abraham that she would have a child.  It was so fantastic that his name “Isaac” means laughter.  Jesus was born as a miracle – no human father and yet Mary gave birth.

Isaac was a beloved child.  God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac and go to the region of Moriah…”  When we speak of Jesus as the Son of God, we capitalize it since he is the only one.  God took his son, his only son, whom he loves – Jesus, and sent him into our world.

Isaac was obedient to his father – as was Jesus who submitted to the will of the Father when he became a sacrifice for sin.

There was a substitute – Isaac was spared and a ram found nearby was his substitute.  Jesus was not spared, but he became our substitute.

The sacrifice was on a hill.  In fact there is good reason to believe that this hill was in the same area and perhaps the same hill where Mt Zion sits.

Are all these just by coincidence?  No.  Did we pull them out of the text when they are not really there? No, they are there.

Genesis 22 points us to John 3:16.  For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

            God the father did what Abraham did not have to do.  If we want to imagine the gift of God, consider how hard it must have been for Abraham – and multiply it many times.   Abraham had waited a matter of years to have a son, but God and the Eternal Son had forever.

Jesus the Son came willingly.  Isaac was willing to obey his father, but he did not know what his Father was planning to do.  Jesus knew his destiny before his birth.  He fully and willingly obeyed the Father.

What string does this cause to resonate in you?  We all desire to know Love. Can you begin to feel the love of God?  Can you feel in your heart the incredible depth of his love?  With long planning and total sacrifice, he sent his son to the world to rescue all who will believe.

A Holiday Meditation

mulledciderLast Sunday’s message followed the rubric RAMP. Read it here  Being Light

  • Read
  • Apprehend
  • Mull
  • Practice

In the “M” portion of this message we mull this over.  I use the word “mull” because that is what Meditate is in the Bible. In some forms of meditation, such as mindfulness mediation, the point is to empty our minds and be present without thinking. The Bible’s use of the word mediation is to think about God or the Word of God.  It is to “mull things over.”

Have you ever had mulled apple cider? Someone pours a bunch of cider into a pot, adds cinnamon sticks maybe orange peels and other spices and lets it simmer. We call that “Mulling.” In the process the spices work themselves into the cider and the result is delicious.

That is Biblical mediation. You are the cider and the word of God is the cinnamon sticks and orange peel. You need to apply time and thought so that the word of God works itself into your thinking. From there it works into your living.  It becomes part of you and determines how you live.

 

Thoughts on Narratives

Jesus_les_envoie

There are lots of ways to preach a passage of scripture.  One is to put the narrative into a formula such as this: Give it a title; identify a thesis, make three points, preferably alliterated, and find other stories to illustrate.

For Example:  David and Goliath:

  • Title:Taking on Giants
  • Thesis: You can overcome the impossible.
  • Three Stones:
    • Stand Tall
    • Say a Prayer
    • Shoot!
  • Illustration:  maybe an Olympic Athlete who overcome a hard life to win a gold medal.  If you are up to speed, play a video.  If you are a big church, invite the athlete to speak before the message.

Nothing really wrong with that.   You have heard a sermon like that if you attend a church with a preacher.  Maybe you can see a certain preacher delivering this message. You could probably preach it yourself.  But, do you think that is really what the story is about?

I’ve come to think of preaching narratives differently.  The Biblical stories are already crafted.  They need to be presented freshly. some obscurities need to be explained and the larger context of the story needs to be pulled in.  But mostly the preacher needs to stand to the side and let the story speak as intended.

Here are my thoughts in bullet points:

  • Narratives have a built in structure. Do not squeeze them into your formula – such as three points and a punch line.
  • Narratives are illustrations. They don’t need you to illustrate them so much as explain what is not clear.
  • Stories have power.
  • Use a little freedom in telling it, but make clear what is in the story and what is your own take on it.
  • Don’t over-principalize.  One author has built a book on a sentence of scripture. That seems to be using the text as a scaffold for adding your own thoughts.  It is not hearing the text.
  • Let them remember the story, not the preacher.  People will be telling the story of David and Goliath a lot longer than they will talk about Pastor Bob.  That is a good thing.
  • I prefer the word “Story” to “Narrative.”  Yes, narrative is a literary category, but it has also become an over used bit of semi-scholarly name dropping.  “Story” is  short and clear.

If I get my listeners to hear the familiar in a fresh way, and they have the Biblical story in their minds, I can trust that the Original Author can apply the story to His listeners.