Pastor’s Reflections on Paul’s Letters -Week 6

Pastor’s Reflections on Paul’s letters- Week 6

The call of Paul (whose name was Saul at the time) reminds me of the kind of characters that God calls and uses through the scriptures.   God is seeking someone to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to be their advocate. We look at a person’s resume in part to determine whether their qualifications, skills and past experience make him or her the most qualified candidate.  Paul’s resume includes assisting the religious authorities by rounding up Christians in Jerusalem

and taking them to Damascus to be tried and stoned to death.    God could have found countless other people with better credentials than this, but God chose Saul whom he later named Paul.    The scriptures suggests that God called Paul so that he could become God’s instrument. Paul would be forever humbled by God’s gracious call and well-aware that he could never deserve the honors of being an apostle except for the amazing grace and forgiveness of God.   You can read about the Apostle Paul’s dramatic conversion recorded in Acts chapter 9.

 

After his conversion, Paul was taken under the wing of the disciples and mentored for several years before he could begin his work of being an apostle.  Paul made three missionary journeys recorded in the book of Acts during which he helped to establish a number of churches included the churches at Thessalonica, Philippi, Corinth, Galatia and other cities.  After establishing these churches, Paul kept in contact with them through letter correspondence. He received letters and messages from the congregations, leaders and missionaries updating him on the progress of the mission.   The purpose of Paul’s letters that we find in the New Testament was to address specific questions that congregations raised to Paul and to respond to reports that he had heard from leaders and missionaries there. I doubt that Paul ever dreamed that his particular letters would someday became scripture that the church would authorize as included in the New Testament.   We know that as early as 95 A.D., Bishop Clement referred to Paul’s letter in his writings to the church.

 

The letters that are considered to be from Paul’s hand include Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon.  The letters of Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are thought by mainline scholars to be written perhaps by a student of Paul’s. These letters contain some of Paul’s themes and thoughts but the grammar and vocabulary are quite different compared with the Pauline corpus.

 

Some have the mistaken notion that the early church was more pure and peaceful compared with the divisions that we suffer in the Christian church today.   But reading Paul’s letters it is quite evident that churches like the church at Corinth were dealing with much disunity and contention within the church that Paul had to address.   There was no perfect state of the church. As long as there are fallible human beings who are a part of community, you are going to face challenges of living out your faith together.

 

The important thing to remember is that even though Paul is not writing to us directly, his letters like the Gospels are written for us.  The particular issues that Paul was confronting in his letters may not be applicable to us such as his argument in Galatians that Christians need not be circumcised and follow the law of Moses to be a true Christian.  But the themes found in these letters still lend themselves to interpretation for our time. Paul addressed the disunity of the Corinthian church caused in part by a faction who thought they had possessed a superior spiritual gift of speaking in tongues.   Speaking in tongues is not a gift often expressed in mainline congregations such as ours, but this doesn’t mean there may not be other issues we need to concern ourselves to keep the unity of the faith addressed in 1 Corinthians.

 

Looking forward to speaking more about this on Sunday!

 

Pastor Dave

 

Questions for Week 5 Sunday Sermon Series

SERMON-SERIES-New Testament Letters for Today’s World week-5- click to view

Pastor’s Reflections

PASTOR’S REFLECTIONS

 

Mainline scholars believe that John was the last authoritative Gospel to be written around 90-95 A.D., about 60 years after the death of Jesus.   One of the reasons for this late date is the rather harsh and strident language against the “Jews”. When John uses the term Jews, he is referring to the Jewish authorities because there were some in his own community who were Jewish.  Around the turn of the 2nd century Christianity was still just a movement within the much larger number of those practicing Judaism.  There were growing tensions between those following Christ and the Jewish authorities. Christians were being excommunicated and ostracized by the authorities at this time.  John did not mince any words in his condemnation of the authorities calling them the “sons of the devil”. Unfortunately this language has contributed to the anti-Semitic attitudes throughout history, but especially during the 20th century and the church’s own complicity with the Nazi hatred and policies against the Jewish population.

 

Placing authorship around 90 A.D. means that the author proscribed to be John would not have known Jesus in his earthly ministry.  There is a good probability that the eyewitnesses to Christ’s resurrection; those who first began the early church were not living either.   I agree with those like Adam Hamilton who suggest that John seems to be reflecting on the meaning of Jesus’ risen presence throughout his Gospel.  You realize quite quickly in John that his account is starkly different in content and purpose from the other Gospels. His account only includes only about 5% of the material found in Matthew, Mark and Luke such as the feeding of the 5000 story as well as the story of Jesus’ chasing the money changers out of the temple.   Whereas the first three Gospel seems to focus on Jesus’ earthly ministry and what he did, John is focusing throughout the Gospel on the question, “who is Jesus?” The first three Gospels tend to lean its focus on Jesus’ humanity whereas John is clearly focused on the divinity of Christ. An illustration of this difference is the birth stories of Jesus.  Both Matthew and Luke include birth stories. You get the sense in Luke’s storytelling of the vulnerability and dependence of Jesus when he was laid in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn. John, on the hand writes about “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John is telling us that Jesus was with God from the very beginning of creation and this divine word came down from heaven and became flesh and dwelt among us.  It is a story from above rather than below.

 

John is by far the most mystical of the four Gospels.  Jesus’’ “I am” sayings are only found in John, “I am the Good Shepherd, I am the Light of the World, I am the door, I am the Living Bread, I am the Resurrection and the Life.  All these sayings lead us to a deeper, spiritual understanding of who this Jesus really is to us and to the world. There are key words or phrases in John that also contain a double meaning that lead us to a deeper understanding of Christ; words such as bread, water, life, belief, come and see, to know someone.  Bread may satisfy an earthly need, but Jesus as the Living Bread satisfies a deeper spiritual hunger that a earthly possession could never meet.

 

What I have to come to appreciate about John’s Gospel is the sense of intimacy that witness between Jesus and his disciples.  Our relationship and trust in Jesus is key in this Gospel. Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) There are numerous passages that witness to this sense of close connection in Christ such as, “I am the Good Shepherd who cares for the sheep.  My sheep know my voice and they come to me (John 10); I am the Vine and you are the branches, remain in me and I will remain in you (John 15:4); I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. Even the passage in John 13 where Jesus’ washes his disciples feet providing them an example of how they are to carry out his ministry; the act of washing itself is a sign of great tenderness.  Jesus even told his disciples that he would no longer call them just servants, but friends. He calls them friends because he made known to them everything God had given to him. This connection in Christ is described by Martin Luther referred to as the Gospel in miniature, “For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes and trusts in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

 

My reflections are just scratching the surface in learning about Jesus from John’s perspective.  John said it himself, “Jesus did many other things as well. If all of them were recorded, I imagine the world itself wouldn’t have enough room for the scrolls that would be written.” (John 21:25)

 

See you Sunday!

 

Pastor Reflections for Sermon Series Week 4

Reflections on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke/Acts

 

We speak of the Gospel as being the Good News of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.   The Gospel Accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke are certainly not a biography of Jesus. I know that some Christians who would certainly like to know more about Jesus’ growing up years.  We know nothing about his family like sisters and brothers names other than Mary and Joseph being his parents. We know nothing about what Jesus looked like, how tall he was. Other than a few stories about his birth and childhood, we virtually know nothing else about Jesus before he came upon the scene.  When you think about all that Jesus did and where he traveled, we have but a glimpse of what he is about.

 

Each of the Gospel writers share the Good News of Jesus in their own particular perspective, but what all seem to have in common is that Jesus is the Messiah, the Chosen One of God.   Another thing the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke have in common is that Jesus talks a lot about the Kingdom of God; about God’s rule. The words kingdom of God or its counterpart the heaven of heaven is mentioned 82 times in the three Gospels.   Jesus’ proclaiming of the kingdom, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”   Jesus tells stories or parables of what the Kingdom of God is like (what God is like). He demonstrates the joy and healing and peace of God’s kingdom in healing people and eating with the poor and sinners.   In these Gospel accounts, you find Jesus having little patience for religious hypocrisy while at the same time reminding his followers of God’s great mercy and compassion especially on those who are hurting, poor and lost.   He expects his followers to be servants for the well- being of others saying, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.” Central to his ministry was what he referred to as the Great Commandment which is based upon Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.  And the second is just like it, You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.” According to Jesus, the entire Law is fulfilled by following this Commandment. .

 

The arrest and trial of Jesus is not just an indictment against the religious authorities and the disciples who abandoned him.   Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross is a judgment against us and the whole human race for our sin and failure to live in the freedom of God’s grace and love.    At the same time, Jesus’ resurrection is a demonstration of God’s victory over the forces of death that sought to silence him and his message forever.

After Christ’s resurrection, Jesus came among his disciples and empowered them through the Holy Spirit to be his witnesses in Jerusalem and across the ends of the earth.  The book of Acts, which is the history of the early church, reveals how the church continued the ministry of Jesus, healing the sick, casting out demons, and preaching about Christ and the kingdom that he promised.

 

The Gospel accounts were believed to have been written around two to three generations after Christ’s death between 70-90 A.D.    The reason for the late date in writing the accounts is the death of the eyewitnesses of Christ. During the early years, there was not an urgency to write these stories down since the apostles shared these stories wherever they traveled.   The Gospels were written to continue to instruct new generations of believers about the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

The Gospel of Mark is believed to be the first Gospel account written somewhere between 68-70 A.D..   The Gospels of Matthew and Luke were believed to be written later between 80-90 A.D.. The first three Gospels are very similar in nature with a number of stories and sections shared between them that are virtually word for word.  These three Gospels were given the name the Synoptic Gospels. The word “synoptic” is means to “see with one another”. You can see Mark’s Gospel reflected in Luke’s Gospel for example. The reason in part that it is believed that Matthew and Luke were written some time later is that both Gospels used Mark as a primary source for writing their account.  You will find 75% of Mark’s material in Matthew and over 90% in Luke’s Gospel. Mark’s Gospel is much shorter in length than the other two accounts. It is believed that Matthew and Luke in addition to using Mark also used other sources such as Jesus sayings not found in Mark such as the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes. Matthew and Luke also include stories of Christ’s birth not found in Mark’s Gospel.    Both the Gospels of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke draw from sources only found in their account such as the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew and the Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan story found only in Luke’s Gospel.

 

The Gospels are our defining story as Christians.  Everything else we find in the New Testament is mere commentary to what the accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This Sunday, I will touch upon how these stories continue to provide us wisdom in our contemporary world and shape our lives as followers as Kingdom people.

 

Questions for Sermon Series 4

Sermon-Series-questions for Sept 24 2018 click to view