Lectionary Scriptures and Comments

Archive for April 24, 2011

Rules are easy 042511

The Headless Statues

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Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21

Colossians 3:5-11

Rules are easy 042511


Maybe calling rules easy is overstating the point. But, rules are easy compared to discerning the will of God and living according to the direction of the Holy Spirit.

By comparison, even Corinthians is easy. Corinthians 3:5 says: 5Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).

This is of course, not so easy, but it set the mark for the very beginning of a spiritual life with Jesus. Put away these earthly things, and begin renewed and reborn with Jesus. It is not only Jesus who was resurrected on Easter; it is our rising again in Jesus as well.


(brother) Bill

Psalm 118

1O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!

2Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

14The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.

15There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;

16the right hand of the Lord is exalted; the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.”

17I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.

18The Lord has punished me severely, but he did not give me over to death.

19Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.

20This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it.

21I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.

22The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

23This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.

24This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21

10As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. 11They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? 12Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” 13But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

15Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. 16But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. 17Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. 18And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.” 19The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. 20It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

21Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 25He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” 26Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” 27So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 30Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses. 20Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. 21And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

Colossians 3:5-11

5Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. 7These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.

8But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Cost of Discipleship 042411


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The Cost of Discipleship

042411 Easter Sermon

Mk 14:32-42

32They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” 35And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” 37He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? 38Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

  1. The Cost of Discipleship

This morning’s message comes to us by way of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose book ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ provided me with the background for today’s message. I’ve included a footnote in the bulletin that refers to the book and also a web link to a biography of Pastor Bonhoeffer.

  1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in Germany in 1906 and studied theology both in Germany and in New York, at Union Seminary. He served as a pastor in Germany, London and in the United States. He had left Germany in 1939, fleeing the Gestapo who were hounding him, and took at teaching job at Union Seminary, but immediately returned to Germany to be there for the struggle against the Nazi’s. In October, 1940 Bonhoeffer Gestapo surveillance and traveled throughout Europe raising money for the Nazi resistance.

In early 1943, the Gestapo had traced large sums of money to Bonhoeffer, his sister and brother-in-law who were smuggling Jews to Switzerland, providing the resistance with information and assisted in the long-term plot to depose Hitler and end the war.

He, his sister and brother-in-law were arrested by the Gestapo in 1943 and eventually sent to Buchenwald in 1945, where he was hanged shortly before the Allies liberated the death camp.

While in prison Bonhoeffer continued to minister to fellow death camp prisoners until each’s execution, and then his own. His guards became his friends even, and smuggled his letters from prison out to the world.

  1. Grace—

We ended last week’s sermon and service with this question. We had been talking about what it means and what it feels like to be a Christian disciple. Sometimes people mention exhilaration, or peace, or calm, or assurance. I often feel as though I’m walking through life 6 inches off the ground.

These feelings, along with the clear and perceived feeling of being forgiven and loved by God are what we call grace. Grace is freely given from God; we cannot earn it, or bargain for it, grace is not part of a business transaction. It is always a freely given gift from God. It is difficult to always remember this, because we are used to trying to earn everything, or to act so as to have a certain ownership and security in everything. Receiving something freely given, and something we can never earn or deserve is very difficult and we may find ourselves falling back into a pattern of doing something for God to guarantee our prayers our answered and we get what we ask for….etc

But our question from last week was….what of being a disciple was not pleasurable, not motivating, not exhilarating? What if being a disciple meant suffering. We have this week the example of Jesus suffering because of his belief. What if we also are bound to suffer because of our own discipleship?

Bonhoeffer’s idea about grace goes something like this: As Christianity spread, the church became more ‘secularized’, accommodating the demands of obedience to Jesus to the demands of society. In this way the world, or the western world, became Christianized and grace became its common property, so that grace and salvation became common property. The hazard of this was that the gospel became cheapened and obedience to the living Christ was gradually lost beneath formula and ritual, so that in the end grace could be sold for monetary gain, and grace has been sold actually during the history of the church. For a tithe, you can receive grace.

At the same time, there continued a living protest against this secular movement: the monastic movement, where the older vision of discipleship was kept alive. But monasticism was seen as only an individual achievement in rare circumstances and not something expected of common laity like you and me. We as individuals were not expected to give away all we own and follow Jesus like a monk or nun. Instead, the church had ‘specialists’ the monks and nuns who carried forward the original vision of discipleship.

  1. Cheap Grace

Bonehoeffer reffered to this watered down version of secularized discipleship as ‘cheap grace’. In Bonhoeffer’s words ‘cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness withour requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.’

What these words call us to is to move beyond cheap grace, beyond the secularized church and move back to the original church, the church of disciples.

  1. Discipleship

Sometimes we hear the gospel preached as ‘Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness’. The problem with this proclamation is that is contains no demand for discipleship. In contrast with this is costly grace:

From Bonhoeffer again:

‘costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light’.

One may ask ‘if I become a disciple of Jesus, not just ‘saved’ but a real disciple of Jesus, what will I have to do? Will I have to sell my Porsche and give money to the poor, or sell my investments and give the money to the poor or to the church?’

Well, I can’t say and it’s not my place to say. We all get accustomed to what we think discipleship looks like—like we all must dress in black and drive buggies, or stand on street corners and give out pamphlets, or something. But that is doing what we have decided it is best to do and it is not what we have individually been told by Jesus.

Instead, discipleship is not deciding any more. It is giving up control of your life and soul to God, and becoming an obedient disciple. Jesus asks that we follow his commandments, not follow a set of rules that applied to Pharisees or Sadducees two thousand years ago.  So, our old notions of what is expected of disciples cannot be reduced to a set of specific rules of ‘do and don’t’.

Instead, discipleship means first to enter into a spiritual relationship with Jesus and with God, and develop that relationship over a period of time. It means allow the spirit of Christ to grow in your life, and small step by small step listening for what God wants of your life.

Bonhoeffer makes the surprising observation that when the world suffers, when humankind suffers, God also suffers. God suffers the plight of earth and humankind. Jesus also, we know, this Easter morning, suffered and died. Jesus was executed because he spoke the truth to power. If we as disciples are obedient and speak the truth to the suffering of the earth and of humankind, we also will suffer, if God commands us to do so. Discipleship is not just about feeling great as a saved Christian, it is to also to suffer with those suffering and doing the will of God.

  1. Spiritual Formation

We’ve focused often in our church here about spiritual formation, so we don’t just talk about what Jesus did, and what the disciples did, or didn’t do. We also try to bring this all back home to us, and learn what this means to our spiritual formation as individual disciples.

First, do we want to be disciples of Jesus? It is voluntary. I think it was voluntary for Jesus even. Recall our scripture for this morning—recall Jesus pleading with God in prayer for God to take this cup from him. In other words, Jesus was praying ‘God, I don’t want to die on the cross. But I will if you want me to….’ Jesus is submitting his will to God—even at this late hour, Jesus is a volunteer—he is a willing, voluntary disciple and not bund by God or fate to die.

If we also want to become disciples of Christ, real, costly grace type disciples, then we need to first, develop a relationship with God and Jesus in prayer, and see how it flows daily into our lives. Then, as we listen to God, we begin to become real disciples who are obedient to God and Jesus, and disciples who seek to relieve God of a suffering humankind, and a suffering world. We begin to seek, as we are directed, to bring the Kingdom of God, a universe without suffering, to reality on earth.

As Mennonite Christians and as disciples it becomes our life’s work to bring this Kingdom of God to this place and time. We all share in this Kingdom, but we share the work, the suffering and death even to bring joy and glory to all of existence.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, Heavenly Mother, Lord, we are just beginners in this path of learning about Jesus and learning about you Lord God. Help us as we seek to become obedient diciples, and help us as we learn to say in our hearts ‘Not my will Lord, but your will be done. Amen

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