Jesus’ home crowd praised his preaching, but he knew their bigotry. Like much of American Christianity is mixed with nationalism so was the religion of the Jews. We sing God bless America and think of ourselves as deserving blessings above others. Some churches try to counter this by making their altars a flag-free zone. That may be worthwhile but flags are not the point. Jesus told the jingoistic crowd that even in their Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, God healed gentiles when he could have healed an Israelite (Luke 4:21-30). There are no special nations in the Gospel, except that spiritual nation to which all Christians belong. Heaven’s message is without borders. It is for all people. Jesus did the one thing you are not supposed to do in a bigoted crowd, tell about God’s love for all people.
Is human nature good or evil? It depends where we start. If we start with the fall of man, then naturally we would be inclined to call human nature evil. However, those who say that human nature is good start earlier than Adam’s sin. They start with God’s original creation when he concluded that it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Catholics and Orthodox and mainstream Protestants say that the human nature that God gave us is “very good” and that claiming human beings are in “total depravity denies the image and likeness of God in mankind.” On the other hand a positive theological anthropology sees that even in the vilest of human beings there is good. Such a worldview proclaims freedom for those held imprisoned by a negative perspective and freedom from depression and cynicism (Luke 4:14-21).
Since coming to mainstream Christianity I have experienced much wonderful grace. Superintendents, mentors and guides have accepted me with open arms and overlooked my many faults. I remember such wonderful grace in my grandmother and in my father in his old age. However, I spent years in a more legalistic part of the Evangelical world which rarely understood such wonderful grace. In discussion, one former district superintendent suggested that the theological basis of depravity prevented some Christians from seeing the good in people. Thankfully, some Protestant churches have retained our ancient heritage of remembering what God said of the original creation, that it was good. That foundation of goodness from creation sets us free from the prison of judgmentalism and oppressive negative thinking prevalent in some Christian denominations. Coupled with God’s forgiveness we are truly free indeed (Luke 4:14-21).
Luke 4:14-21). Let’s live free!
Homecomings can be awkward. Old friends find it hard to accept the new you. You have finished your education and are now a respected professional in your field or worse, a preacher. Preachers find it hard to pastor their home churches, because a prophet is not without honor, except among his own down home neighborhood folk. So what was Jesus going to do for his homecoming debut before a familiar crowd (Luke 4:14-21)? Would he shrink back and pretend he was not on a special mission from God or would state his purpose plainly and bluntly? Imagine the gasps and whispering as he told it like it was! The prophecy that Jesus read from Isaiah was fulfilled in their presence that day. He was not ashamed of it. He was not bragging. He was simply declaring a mind-blowing fact.
Many churches have a vision statement. After months or even years of discussion, that vision is summarized in a few succinct words. Jesus also gave a vision statement of sorts, and he quoted parts of Isaiah 61 to do so (Luke 4:14-21). He implied that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, because he had anointed Jesus to preach the gospel to the poor. He had sent Jesus to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. Is that a part of our vision as well? Is our primary purpose to preach, heal, deliver, give sight and liberty, or are we so tied to our ways that we are unwilling to follow after Jesus?
Jesus said the Gospel is good news for the poor (Luke 4:14-21). What else did he say about them? He told a rich man to sell everything and give it to the poor (Matthew 19:21), that we always have the poor but not him (Matthew 26:11), that the poor are blessed because the kingdom of heaven is theirs (Luke 6:20), giving to the poor cleans us on the inside (Luke 11:40-41) and provides us treasure in heaven (Luke 12:33). We should invite the poor to our parties (Luke 14:13) and the poor can be more generous than the rich (Luke 21:1-4). Some of us just play church, warm a pew, or pray and await a spiritual experience. And some of us know that real worship is taking good news to the poor.
Some Christians say they take the Bible literally. But then twist Jesus’ teachings about the Gospel for the poor (Luke 4:14-21) into spiritual poverty and preaching the Gospel alone without lifting a finger to help. We ought to take Jesus’ instructions about the poor more literally, because a part of bringing the good news is to live it out here and now. Half of Americans will experience poverty at some time. Income is declining for everyone except the very wealthy. A quarter of Americans earn poverty-level incomes. Educational costs are becoming impossible and yet low education causes poverty. Single and abused women are more likely to be poor. Only about a third of disabled people are able to find work. Jesus brings good news for the poor, and he expects us to deliver it not just in words alone.
Topical preaching is popular. Is it good? Nehemiah 8:1-10 seems to argue for textual preaching. Textual preaching can also be topical, but topical preaching can ignore scripture or take it out of context. Textual preaching can also be motivational, but motivation without examining scripture can be just empty-headed materialistic fluff. Nehemiah suggests a three-fold approach to textual preaching. First of all he read distinctly. Reading scripture with skill is such an important task that at various times the church has had a special office of lector, to do just that. Second, he gave the sense, making it clear what the scripture meant, we might say exegesis. Third, he caused them to understand, we might say a hermeneutic. Then, he proclaimed feasting and the day holy. If we ignore God’s Word in our preaching, how can our day be holy?
Labels: Nehemiah 08
Few weddings go off without a hitch. Something always goes wrong. In a recent family wedding the groom got a little ahead of things and started to lift his bride’s veil, much to the enjoyment of the preacher and the audience. The wine preparations for the wedding at Cana went south (John 2:1-11). It’s not clear whether the wine ran out or some was discovered to have already turned to vinegar. Bottom line: there was not enough for a week long celebration. The Bible describes wine as a blessing from God but like many blessings, dangerous if it's abused. In that society hospitality was much more highly expected than today. Jesus saved the wedding from a very embarrassing social catastrophe. As Christians we have the right and the privilege to ask Jesus for a miracle when something goes wrong.
When Jesus’ turned water into wine (John 2:1-11) it was described as the best wine. What makes the best wine? Let’s ignore the snobbery that goes along with brand names and regions and look at some things that make for real quality. Let’s focus on high quality dessert wines. They take more effort than an ordinary table wine. For an ice wine, the harvest is made at precisely the right moment when the grapes freeze while on the vine and pressed overnight while still frozen. This yields a more concentrated and sweeter wine than than an early harvest wine and is more expensive. Other dessert wines like Sauterne or Trockenbeerenauslese are also late harvest wines squeezed when the grape is almost dry yielding less wine per pound of grapes. That’s why quality dessert wines are sweeter and more expensive.
What kind of wedding were Jesus and the disciples invited to at Cana (John 2:1-11)? In those days marriages were not a state or even a church affair, but a family one. The parents of the prospective couple were the authorities that approved the marriage and the engagement was as binding as a marriage contract is today. Once agreed to, the groom may have taken a year to build a house or addition onto his parents’ home. Then he came for his bride. With great celebration they entered their new dwelling to consummate the marriage. Only then did the festivities begin. and lasted a week with the whole community celebrating. A large amount of food and wine was needed, that’s why Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine may have supplied perhaps as much as 120-180 US gallons.
What is a theology of abundance? It is not reckless destruction of the environment because of a belief that natural resources are unlimited. It is a belief in spiritual resources beyond our limited world. It is faith that God will provide abundantly and so we can be generous rather than greedy. We could believe that what we have is all that God will provide and so hoard things and bury them in a napkin rather than work to grow God’s gifts. A theology of abundance is based on faith in the acts of God such as Jesus feeding the 5,000 with only a few fish and loaves. It is a belief that Jesus can turn water into wine (John 2:1-11). It is a belief in the midst of the ordinary that the best wine is yet to come.
One Bible commentary describes the miracle of turning water into wine as not making “bad good, but good better” * (John 2:1-11). So, the institution of marriage is a good thing whereby a man and a woman become one flesh. Yet without Christ, a marriage is like water, good but not better. When we invite Christ as a guest into our marriages, he can turn the good water of human relationships into the better wine of heaven. Jesus provided the best wine at the wedding feast and provides the best wine to bless our marriages. And just as at the wedding feast Jesus does not do so by skimping, but generously. When Jesus blesses a marriage he does so abundantly. God gave us good things in all of life, but if we let him Jesus can make the good better.
* Jamieson, Fawsset and Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. 1871. Web. January 15, 2013. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/jamieson/jfb.pdf>