Maundy Thursday reflection

Psalm 24 was my Psalm reading this morning. How appropriate this came on Maundy Thursday. The Psalm is really two parts.

Psalm 24 (NIV)

1    The earth is the LORD’S, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
2 for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.
3 Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD?
Who may stand in his holy place?
4 The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.
5 They will receive blessing from the LORD
and vindication from God their Savior.
6 Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, God of Jacob.

Who may ascend, indeed! A perfect description of the Messiah who stands in the holy place, whose hands are clean and whose heart is pure.

As we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we see His perfect fulfillment of everything the Father expected from the crown of creation, humans. He now enters our presence to give of Himself for us.

7 Lift up your heads, you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
8 Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
the LORD mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is he, this King of glory?
The LORD Almighty—
he is the King of glory.

He fought the perfect fight against sin, temptation, death and the devil:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15 NAS)

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:54-57 NIV)

the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil 1has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8 NIV).

Ultimately, Jesus had taken both active and passive demands upon Himself, then gives us everything that He fulfilled perfectly. In the Lord’s Supper, He gives His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. Thus the bread and wine are not just symbols, but they give what Jesus said they give.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the testament, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28)

He gives us His perfect righteousness, the righteousness God demanded of us is now ours by faith. Tonight we receive all those gifts, reassuring, comforting, forgiving, renewing us as we live in this world.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21 NIV)

He gives us His perfect righteousness, the righteousness God demanded of us is now ours by faith. Tonight we receive all those gifts: reassuring, comforting, forgiving, renewing us as we live in this world.

Indeed,

Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.

Posted in Meditatio, New Testament, Personal Reflection, Worship/Liturgy | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Psalm 7:6 translation

In daily readings through the Bible, I also include the Psalm related to the day in multiples of 30 (7, 37, 67, etc.); so reading one Psalm a day I can cover the entire Psalmody in five months (days with 31 days I read Psalm 119). Yesterday (03/07) I read Psalm 7, and came across an unusual expression. Try reading aloud and see how it sounds, then ask others to listen (only).

Arise, O LORD, in your anger;
lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;
awake for me; you have appointed a judgment. (Ps. 7:6 ESV)

Surprisingly HCSB and NAB have the same:

awake for me; You have ordained a judgment. (HCSB)

Wake to judge as you have decreed. (NAB)

It is the last line that caught my attention, because it is awkward at best. It doesn’t even make sense in context, and seems incomplete at best (filling too many gaps required). English style does not lend itself to such a translation. So I checked some other translations of that last line:

And arouse Yourself for me; You have appointed judgment. (NAS)

Rise up for me to the judgment You have commanded! (NKJV)

awake, O my God; you have appointed a judgment. (NRSV)

Wake up for my sake and execute the judgment you have decreed for them! (NET)

Awake, my God; decree justice. (NIV 2011)

Wake up, my God, and bring justice!  (NLT)

Wake up, my God. You have already pronounced judgment. (GW)

Awake, my God, you demand judgement. (NJB)

My God who ordered justice to be done, awake. (REB)

Notice that several still use “awake” or “wake up” but add the intended recipient, i.e. God, which makes it a little easier to understand. I checked other uses of the Hebrew word (עור) and found most of them provide better translations in both ESV and HCSB.

This is not a major issue, but for readability and oral comprehension, I think a rewrite for ESV and HCSB is needed.

Posted in Biblical studies, ESV, GW, Hebrew, NAS, Old Testament, Translations | Tagged | Leave a comment

Abuse, Christians, and…

Many want to deny, hide their heads, or walk away when the topic of abuse arises. But such silence only gives abuse an open door. I wrote about this four years ago on this blog. It might be best to read that post first:

especially-for-men-in-the-church

Thankfully some have begun to bring light to the dark recesses of abuse. Consider

Natalie Greenfield

Danni Moss

And there are more.

Lisa on this issue

My good friend, Lisa Cooper, tweeted these statements about abuse this morning on Twitter. They are so pertinent to the Christian Church. Here are Lisa’s own words about this:

Because of this whole #FreeKesha thing (which I have been tweeting about in brief this morning), I feel the need to make a few comments:

1) There are SO MANY MORE women who have been abused than you will ever hear or know about. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

2) For all of us involved in the church, this is a REAL thing that we need to talk about, and a real ministry opportunity.

3) Caring about our neighbor means helping them through abuse, rape, and all of the other horrible sins that have been committed against them.

4) This is not a conservative/liberal issue. Because I care about my neighbor, I care if they have been sinned against. This is so important!

5) When talking about purity prior to marriage, tread lightly because ¼ women have been sexually abused. Most cases aren’t reported. This does not make them “damaged goods” or “unworthy of marriage.”

6) As people who represent Christ, we should be at the forefront offering support to those who have been abused, not the ones questioning.

Watch for more from Lisa and Angela in a podcast in the near future.

What Does This Mean?

For the church in general, let’s be aware of this significant problem confronting the Church. There are many hurting people in our midst and in our community. They need love, help, and hope. Ultimately that is what Jesus offers to all of us. As the Gospel has been proclaimed and taught here, some came to me to explain what they thought would be a critical move in caring for the abused. They didn’t need my permission, but I was delighted and supported their ideas.

Our congregation  located not far from a well traveled interstate. Those who had approached me wanted to do something that they saw was lacking. They made laminated signs with emergency numbers for abuse victims. They took them to every business to post in the women’s restrooms. All but one place allowed them to post. The women who worked at many places were so appreciative, some in tears. We were addressing something that no one wanted to hear or see, but many on the other side welcomed this as one sign that someone cared. And our members have become not only sensitive to this issue, they have provided ministry to victims.

Pastors and seminarians: let’s not let silence and ignorance about abuse become our mode of operating. Any abuse does not reflect the Christian faith. Become aware of all that is involved. Lovingly and patiently minister and care for those abused, for their families and friends. Let the Church be a community of refuge and love.

Paul provides some great encouragement for the Church.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort. (2 Cor. 1:3-7 NAS)

Notice that: 10 times the word “comfort” is used. We are not “comfortable Christians.”

We are comforted Christians who comfort others with the comfort we receive from Christ.

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Righteousness and Temptation

Our midweek Lenten service focuses on the tempations of Jesus in Matthew. The background of the temptation goes all the way back to Genesis 3:1–21. There Satan tempted Eve and Adam to rebel against God and His perfect creation. Likewise, Israel failed in meeting the temptations in the wilderness.

The sad reality is that because of Eve and Adam’s sin, we all have that heritage of sinning, submitting to the temptations of this world. Jesus takes on the human nature, not as corrupted by Eve and Adam, but as originally intended in creation. At His baptism Jesus begins to fulfill all righteousness (Matt. 3:15) now specifically by facing the temptations of unrighteousness. And the Holy Spirit who descended on Jesus is the One who leads (“drove Him” Mark 1:12) Him into the wilderness to be tempted (Matthew 4:1–11).

Jesus does this so that He can face the temptations of being human, very real temptations. But instead of giving in to them, Jesus conquers the temptations. Tonight we look more closely at how He did that and the implications for our own struggles with temptation.

Matthew 4:1-11 (NKJV)

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ”

Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:

“He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and,
‘In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ”

Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ ”

Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ”

Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.

Thus, God’s plan of saving humans is not left to humans’ futile attempts. Rather salvation will be accomplished by Jesus, true God and true Man, who overcomes temptation for us. Not only does Jesus die for our sins (passive obedience), He also lives the perfect life for us (active obedience). And both are credited to our account which faith receives (Gen. 15:6; Romans 3:21–26, 2 Cor. 5:21, etc.)

From C. F. W. Walther

Lord Jesus, how great is Your love toward us who have deserved nothing but wrath! Because we have come short of the glory of God, You, the Lawgiver Himself, put Yourself under the Law, fulfilling it perfectly in our stead, to procure for us the righteousness that avails before God.

With our sins we called down upon ourselves the temporal and eternal punishments of the just and holy God. But You humbled Yourself unto death, even death on the cross; by suffering and dying for us, You bore our punishment to purchase for us grace and pardon for all our sins (Philippians 2:8; Isaiah 53:4)

O Lord Jesus, Who truly “first loved us” (1 John 4:19), indeed unto death, grant us grace not to remain indifferent to such love, but let Your love kindle within us true love for You, so that we will love You not merely “in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18)

Hear us for Your blessed name’s sake. Amen

[For the Life of the Church – C.F.W. Walther, CPH, 2011; thanks Lynda, for sending this]

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If you are in Frazier Park tonight, come to the soup supper at 6 PM and worship at 7 PM.

Posted in Biblical studies, Matthew, Ministry, New Testament | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Lectionary, Liturgy, Preaching

Over the past three years several pastors and congregations have expressed interest in my use of the Narrative Lectionary. This post gives some background on reasons for using, and the challenges and delights of using it.

Introduction

My life has been lived with the liturgy and the lectionaries (systems of Bible readings selected for each Sunday in the year). Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s I worshiped in a church that used The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH, 1941) and the one year lectionary.

One Year Lectionary sample from CPH

One Year Lectionary sample from CPH

The 1970s were a time of transition (I was in the Navy). By 1982 when I began seminary and began preaching every third weekend, I was introduced to Lutheran Worship (LW, 1982) and the three year lectionary. That has been my worship life—until 2012. It was in January of that year that my lectionary life changed.

Exploring Options

I began serving my current congregation (in southern California) in August 2011. It didn’t take long to discover that this area was not the typical Midwest, church-life saturated community. The unchurched rate of the area is about 98%, and many who were coming into the church had little to no background in the Bible and Bible history.

In late 2011 I was preparing the Epiphany season (2012) readings and sermons. It dawned on me that the sequence of the readings would not necessarily connect to people. Here are the OT readings for that time period with the Sunday, and then the general time period of each reading:

Epiphany 1 Is 42:1–7 (7th century BC)
Epiphany 2 1 Sam 3:1–10 (12th century BC)
Epiphany 3 Jonah 3:1–5, 10 (8th century)
Epiphany 4 Deut 18:15–20 (15th century BC)
Epiphany 5 Is 40:21–31 (7th century BC)
Epiphany 6 2 Ki 5:1–14 10th century BC)
Epiphany 7 2 Ki 2:1–12 (10th century BC)

Granted, the Gospel readings are in sequence for Mark’s Gospel during that time frame. But if preaching on the Old Testament during that season, then the out-of-order sequence becomes not only noticeable but confusing. And throughout the year, the Gospel readings are not consistent in terms of sequence.

I considered alternative lectionaries such as: the Eisenach Selections, the Thomasius Selections, the Synodical Conference Selections (1912), and the Soll Selections. (Sermon Texts. Ernst Wendland, Editor. (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1984) The Soll Selections is unique in that it offers two Gospel readings for each Sunday. Each of these offer variations of the standard lectionaries, and each might be worth examining for lectionary use. But they still have the same problem with out-of-sequence readings particularly in the Old Testament.

It was at that point that I wondered whether there was something more helpful for our congregation. In my exploration I came across something called the Narrative Lectionary (NL). On the web site, the NL was introduced this way: “The narrative lectionary is a four-year cycle of readings. On the Sundays from September through May each year the texts follow the sweep of the biblical story, from Creation through the early Christian church.”

Why the Narrative Lectionary?

The NL seemed to be a possible answer to the dilemma I noted in the other lectionaries. So why the Narrative Lectionary? The short answer is simply: Because knowledge of the biblical story is crucial to a maturing Christian faith. But most Christian preaching assumes that worshipers already know the basic biblical story—and thus most Christian preaching does not seek to equip people to know the biblical story. The NL seeks to be one part of an approach that seeks to equip people to know God’s story—to discover God’s story and to find in that story the love of God in Christ for all, especially the reader/hearer.

Premise of Narrative Lectionary

A lectionary is a set of readings from the Bible for each Sunday of the church year. Lectionaries have been used since the time of the early church. Most, if not all, Lutheran congregations have been using either the one year lectionary or a three year lectionary. These lectionaries cover quite a bit of the Bible. However, most, if not all lectionaries used over the past 1600 years assumed a church and Bible knowledge. What happens if most people coming into the church have no such background? The NL is an experiment to help congregations with that very question.

The NL is a four year series of Scripture readings for Christian worship, which moves through the overarching biblical story in a nine-month period. The series starts in September and ends in May. The summer allows a variety of topical preaching, or even sections of the readings not covered during the year. At the same time, the narrative lectionary respects the traditional Christian church year, with its principal festivals and seasons — Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.

Fall: NL moves chronologically through the Old Testament story—beginning in Genesis around the start of September and culminating with the promise of the Messiah during December (Advent).

Winter: NL moves in order through one Gospel—tracing the story of Jesus in canonical order from birth, through ministry, passion, and culminating with the story of the resurrection at Easter. There are four years to the cycle, so NL covers all four Gospels. Thus, year 4 focuses on the Gospel According to John. In other lectionaries, John is relegated to a few readings to fill in gaps in Mark.

Spring: NL engages part of the story of the early church, as told in Acts and other New Testament writings.

Summer: This is not provided by the developers of the Narrative Lectionary. So pastors have some options. One summer I preached on additional texts in the Gospel for that year. Another summer I preached on two short New Testament books.

What makes the Narrative Lectionary different?

This lectionary is not simply a series of stories; rather, it is a series of stories that provide an understanding of and appreciation for the broader biblical story. The NL differs from other lectionaries in several ways.

1. The NL seeks to tell the biblical story in historical sequence that is also in basic canonical order, in a nine-month cycle. It moves rapidly through the biblical narrative, in canonical order. The Old Testament segment covers the sweep of history in 16 weeks. Thus, with four years, the theme for the 16 weeks remains the same, but readings vary within that theme. Let’s look at Week 1, with the Creation theme:

Year 1 (Matthew) Gen 6:16-22; 9:8-15
Year 2 (Mark) Gen 2:4b-25
Year 3 (Luke) Gen 2:4b-7, 15-17; 3:1-8
Year 4 (John) Gen 1:1-2:4a

Thus, the Creation theme is explored in four ways. Week 2 focuses on Abraham, Week 3 on Jacob and Joseph, etc.

2. By the very nature of NL, the primary focus is on narrative passages. The exceptions would be prophetic writings toward the end of the Old Testament segment.

3. The NL focuses on one reading each week. While only one reading is provided, we have three readings plus a Psalm (see below, Filling the Gaps), but the main reading and sermon will focus on that pivotal text provided in the basic structure NL.

4. Because the NL is shaped this way, one concern had been the church calendar. Thankfully the basic church calendar is not abandoned — the birth of Christ Jesus is still celebrated at Christmas, the resurrection of Christ is still celebrated at Easter. The time of Advent is kept by focusing on the promise of the Messiah. Appropriate readings have been chosen for church commemorations, such as Reformation, All Saints, Ash Wednesday, and Holy Week.

Filling Gaps in NL

As I began seriously exploring the Narrative Lectionary, I noticed some gaps in what was provided on the web site. Is one reading sufficient for a liturgical, lectionary program? I didn’t think so. Likewise, there was no support work that would complement the liturgical text. Thus, about six months prior to beginning the NL, I spent time filling those gaps.

One reading per Sunday provided

Filling the first gap, the use of only one reading per Sunday, required considerable time to go through each week and supplement the one main reading with the “missing readings.” The year we began in the congregation was actually year 3 in the NL cycle. So for the first Sunday in September the Old Testament reading (theme: Creation) was Genesis 2:4b-7, 15-17; 3:1-8. I added the Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel readings (Psalm 130, Romans 5:12–19, Luke 11:1–4) that fit with that theme. (Sample is not complete, but for illustration purposes)Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 10.45.42

I have done that for every Sunday since September 9, 2012. I usually plan these at least six months ahead. For instance, I completed the post-Easter readings through the end of August about February 1. So I have years 3 and 4 completed. As we begin year 1 in the fall of 2014, I have already prepared several of those additional readings.

Is it a lot of work? Yes. But there is an added benefit to me as pastor. I find that it helps me in long term planning, as well as preparation for each Sunday. Even more, I knew the full set of texts so well, because I had read every reading several times to make sure they fit together for each Sunday. On occasion as part of my sermon preparation I have added or changed a reading in the week or two prior to the actual reading.

Prayer of the Day

I should note that the Narrative Lectionary website now offers Prayers of the Day to match the NL. However, when I began I did not find any of the prayers. Therefore, because the Sunday themes in NL did not match the one year or three year series, I began writing a Prayer of the Day for each Sunday to match that specific theme. That was a challenge for me, but I plunged ahead. Early in the process of preparing for introduction of the LN, Pastor Hank Simon (LCMS) contacted me about using the NL. In the conversation, we agreed that I would supply him with the additional readings, and we would share writing the Prayer of the Day for each. What a blessing he has been in this specific phase of NL implementation. My prayer writing (and prayer life) has been enriched because of his thoughtful, clear, appropriate prayers. Our congregation has been blessed by his work as well.Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 10.46.33

In our congregation we have one person who has been a prayer partner. This last fall I asked the person to consider helping me write some of the prayers. The person agreed and has written one quarter’s worth of prayers. I proof-read each prayer, making suggestions, but leaving the general thrust of the prayer in place. This has been of great benefit to me, the congregation, and this person. As we finish the full four year cycle in in the spring of 2016 (we started with year 3), we may revise some of the early prayers. In that case, we now have three other individuals in the congregation who have demonstrated a deep prayer life and who love to write. My goal would be to incorporate them into the reviews and rewritings of the prayers.

Introducing NL

Serving as a pastor over the years I have been aware of the importance of preparing a congregation for any change in worship. Depending on the changes, it might take a few weeks or a few months to prepare. In the case of the NL, I looked at six months as the time necessary to implement the transition to using NL.

The first step of preparation was to go to the Elders and then the Church Council and explain the use of lectionaries, and the most common lectionaries in use (three year and one year). In these two meetings I helped the leaders realize the gaps in our peoples’ knowledge of the overall Biblical history, and then the difficulties of the reading sequences in the three year and one year lectionaries filling that gap. The entire leadership, Elders and Council, were 100% committed to moving toward using the Narrative Lectionary. It was at this same time I began preparing the additional texts to be included each week.

In the three months prior to beginning the NL I would include a bulletin insert that explained the purpose of the NL and its application in our congregation. At regular intervals during the summer I announced the NL that would begin the Sunday after Labor Day. During the last month we included a bulletin insert with the Fall themes for each Sunday.

Introductory Powerpoint for NL

Introductory Powerpoint for NL

The first Sunday I introduced the topics by means of a timeline (on Powerpoint). Each week I added a new theme. That way the worshipers had a reference to previous weeks’ themes. Again the purpose was to give that unfolding salvation history according to a basic timeline. This visual orientation was more critical in the Old Testament segment, given the vast time periods covered and the multiple Old Testaments books used. In the Gospel segment (Christmas to Easter), each week’s reading came from the Gospel, strictly in canonical order, although not every passage of every Gospel was covered. If the Epistles were used as the primary teaching, then a simple New Testament timeline could be used.

Complementary Resources

As I considered using the Narrative Lectionary, I realized that it could only be part of the solution to providing a Biblical framework for understanding the texts. Back in 1989 I was one of the 70 pastors who introduced LifeLight into the LCMS. About the same time I was developing similar Bible studies for my own congregations. By 1991 I had completed development of an 11 week Old Testament Survey class and an 11 week New Testament Survey class. I have taught these in several congregations over the years. So I decided to use these study guides to complement the NL.Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 10.50.32

The same week we began using the NL, we began the Old Testament Survey class. I taught it on Wednesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday morning. Although I had not checked how the Survey course would match the NL readings, as it turned out, the sequence fit very well together. Although the Survey course finished the week before Thanksgiving, it was a blessing for all who participated. The combination of the Survey and NL gave the needed historical and canonical framework for better understanding.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 10.50.54

After Christmas I began two sessions of the New Testament Survey. The correlation with NL wasn’t as tight as the Old Testament because the Survey covered all the New Testament, whereas the NL covered only the Gospel According to Luke. Nevertheless, the Survey was useful for all participants.
I plan to offer the two survey classes about every third or fourth year. This will catch up new people in the congregation and provide a useful review for those who have taken the courses in prior years.

Reflections on Narrative Lectionary

After 3 ½ years of using the NL, my overall assessment is that it is well worth exploring for any pastor or congregation. For congregations, I definitely think it offers people new to the Christian faith a good framework for following the Biblical story; this is particularly important in the fall season with 16 weeks with the Old Testament themes. And for those who have been Christian for years, this is either a good review for them, or even the first time they have been able to follow the Biblical narrative.

For preaching purposes, I especially liked the opportunity to preach through John’s Gospel. The one year and three year series offer relatively few pericopes from John. Because most of John’s Gospel is “new” for preaching, it allowed me to explore the Gospel in a refreshing way. In the Synoptic Gospels the introductions tied together the historical sequences leading up to the current text. But for John’s Gospel my introductions each week focused more on relating the thematic structure of the Gospel to the current pericope.

To me, the use of four readings (OT, Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel) in a liturgical service is strongly recommended. I was disappointed that NL did not really offer anything for that aside from one or two verses in the Gospels to correspond to the Old Testament readings. My initial thought was I can choose additional readings as I go forward. That sounded nice at the beginning, but once I got into the use of NL, at times I was a little overwhelmed (timewise, as I have another position besides pastor) with choosing additional readings. I should note, too, that because of the length of a few readings, I have on occasion omitted either the Old Testament (non-fall period) or the Epistle reading. This happens only about once or twice in a quarter’s worth of pericopes.

Over the past 25 years I have always worked out a grid for planning sermons at least three months ahead. This is even more crucial for the NL. So, it is now April and I am beginning to add readings for the Fall season, Year 1. At the same time, I have benefited from this detail work of finding readings. Once I finish Years 1 and 2 I will have four readings for all four years of the NL. That will make the next cycle easier for planning and preparation. So also with the Prayers of the Day.

One thing that I will pursue in the coming years is to perhaps reach out to other pastors who use NL. I would like to connect with them, perhaps meeting once a month for an exegetical and homiletical exchange and discussion. Since I teach seminary classes using live video, that might be an appropriate venue. The closest Lutheran church is about 50 miles away, so face-to-face meetings would not be practical. But I do think this would benefit me as well as the other pastors.

In summary I find the switch to and the use of Narrative Lectionary to be a very positive benefit to me and to the congregation. At the same time, I have gained an even greater appreciation for the historic one-year lectionary and for the three-year lectionary.

As for the future, I am looking at what to do this summer. Do we continue the Narrative Lectionary? Or do we use the one year lectionary or the three year lectionary? I will decide by Easter 2016.

Posted in Biblical studies, My church, Pastoral Formation, Worship/Liturgy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Genesis 22 and Surprise

For my devotional reading today I read Genesis 21-24. I have read through the Bible many times over the past several decades. But this time Gen. 22 stood out because of the recent reading of Rare Bird, my own reflections of our older son. And now one more significanmt memory, specifically linked to this text.

Genesis 22:1-14 (NAS)

1  Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”

2 He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”

3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. 5 Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.”

6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

8 Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. 9 Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”

12 He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

13 Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. 14 Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the LORD it will be provided.”

Bible Study Surprise

More than 20 years ago I was teaching a Bible Study, specifically a survey of the Old Testament ( 11 week course I had written for congregational use). We had 20+ people in the weeknight class, and the requirement was to read the texts and answer questions each day of the week before coming to class. Those questions and answers formed the basis for teaching and discussion. They were just getting into the study, and the discussion was drawing people out to share their answers.

Then we came to the study of Gen. 22. No one really said much as I provided an overview of the entire Abraham story. Then I made the comment, that although our son had not died, but he was in prison, I could not imagine what Abraham experienced when God told him to offer “his son, his only son, his son whom he loved.” How horrible that would be.

And there was silence!

Slowly several people began to weep (8 of out 20+). And then each began to speak—eight of these people had experienced the death of a child. I was stunned, because I knew of only one couple who had a son who died in a car accident.

Immediately I determined that we would not proceed with the outline study. There was something far more important to attend to. As they began to talk, at their own pace, others began ministering and caring for them, crying with them, hugging them. For some that was the first public Christian support that they had received since the weeks following the deaths (some had just joined the congregation).

But God was working in all of us that night. I had never experienced anything like that. This was before our son went missing, but in a way now looking back, it was as if God was even preparing me for the future years.

The Bigger Surprise

As the discussion continued we began focusing on God’s plan, even before the time of Abraham. Namely, God would sacrifice His Son, His only Son, the Son whom He loved. Yes, God would arrange for His Son to die.

But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering (Isaiah 53:10)

The agony of Jesus’ death has often been the focus of that Good Friday death almost 2000 years ago. But on that day God the Father was suffering the loss of His Son, by His own choice, not by accident, not by living a full life. When Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” His father was putting all His wrath against sin for all time to be poured out on His own Son.

And God did that for sinners, people who did not deserve any kind of favor. Paul wrote about this way:

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NAS)

Abraham spoke to his son, when Isaac asked about the lamb for sacrifice. Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” (Gen. 22:8)

And God provided the lamb, for Abraham, but even greater He provided the sacrifice of His own Son as a substitute for every person, for every sinner, for you, and for me.

God did that so that we might be His sons and daughters for eternity. He provided everything for us.

We ended that night with that kind of assurance from God’s Word. The Bible participants were comforted, loved, and encouraged by everyone. But especially they were comforted, loved, and encouraged by God Himself. God Himself understands exactly how we all feel in our losses.

Yes, they lost their children to death, but they were not lost to God. Jesus, God’s Son, died as planned from eternity. But Jesus also rose from the dead, victorious over sin, death, and the devil. That means when we believe in Jesus, we receive that same promise and that same eternity. For us the promise of Revelation 21 is ours, right now:

God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4 NAS)

Many others since that time have experienced similar losses of children. Loss, even though agonizing and heart breaking, seems like an eternity, but it is not. But gain was for all time. May we always go back to the promises of God, for “The LORD will provide” far beyond our expectations.

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Rare Bird — quotes

Quotes from Rare Bird

My review of the book led me to realize I seldom quoted Anna. So, this post is a string of quotes from the book that are especially meaningful to me.

Anna’s thoughts about what she said at Jack’s funeral.

As I read the words I’ve written, I feel filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s as if I can speak forever, and I want to. I am full of light and energy. I want to run to the rear of the church and lock the doors, keeping us here for all time, remembering Jack and what made him special, and talking about God and eternal life.

In that moment I am sure of the hope of heaven, and I don’t want anyone to leave until they are too.

Later I’ll lament to Tim that there was so much more to say about Jack that I’d forgotten, but while I’m speaking, it feels as if God is using the words in a way that reaches beyond the simple little stores of home and life I share. I hope those listening get a glimpse of Jack and God, and will somehow be changed. (pp. 74-5)

Death changes Anna and how to view life, and especially church.

But what about the rest of the church? Is Jack’s death going to be just another sad story, a blip next to concerns about worship styles and staffing? Even in my shocked state, it’s clear to me that God is on the move through Jack’s death. I am able to recognize this because the inconsequential, everyday concerns that have always distracted me have fallen away in the wake of the accident. I’m not sure how long this will last, and I don’t want to squander anything I’m learning. It needs to be shared.

But I am the most unlikely person for the role. I have neither the stamina nor the inclination to proclaim any new revelations. I am tired. I am hurting. I don’t feel like being God’s cheerleader. And what’s the point of sharing anyway, when this knowledge has come at so high a price? That living our lives as if we are in control is an illusion? Won’t every person who lives be able to learn these truths on his own, through the inevitable losses to come? (pp. 91-2)

A highlight for Margaret, Anna’s and Tim’s daughter, comes later when she meets Justin Bieber backstage, and attends one of his concerts. Smiles all around, until…

The first act comes out and launches into a song called “If I Die Young.” Our family and friends watching at home must have let out a collective gasp. I bite the inside of my cheeks, willing myself not to cry as they sing about a mother losing a child and the child asking God to send a rainbow to shine down on her mother.

I listen to the words, still in disbelief that I buried my child. Outside, the torrential wind and rain finally stop and the sky clears. A friend visiting the city snaps a photo of what she sees over the concert hall as we sit inside. A rainbow. (pp. 128-9)

Reflecting about those who grieve:

I used to be fairly unsympathetic with grievers, at least on the inside. This could have been because I’d lost my mom so early and realized that since grief was going to come to everyone in time, people should just learn to deal with it.

Maybe I was afraid that exposing someone’s pain to the light acknowledging it would somehow make it worse. That it would cause them to dwell on it rather than live life. Maybe I thought they would then want too much from me. It it could be that I was just woefully bad at math

….

Of course I never said any of these out loud. I guess I just didn’t get that you can’t apply math to grief. Loss is loss is loss. Of I realize I have a healthy daughter and husband. I love them deeply. But the balance of the two here cannot negate the loss of the one “there.”

Stupid math. (p. 146)

Anna reveals more of the longer term realization of loss.

Children died in flooded creeks, hospital beds, refugee camps, and the family minivan. It happens. I fear I may have another lesson in letting go. I don’t want to let go of our past. I don’t want to let go of the family I dreamed of and worked for and prayed for. And I don’t want to let go of this idea of fairness that somehow lingers from my childhood, even though it now feels stupid. Because it says that I can do something. That my love and hard work and what I pour into my children will amount to what I think it should. But when I get caught up trying to make life fair, it threatens to mire me in anger and bitterness.

Where does faith fit in? Can I somehow have faith that God sees the bigger picture? That justice is His job, not mine? That He will make all things beautiful in His time? That I was not put here to play God, to decide who is safe enough and who is reckless, who lives and who dies? (pp. 174-5)

Identity in light of loss…

Someone points out to me that there is no label or title for a person has lost a child. Widow, widower, or orphan won’t do. Is this lack because child loss is so repugnant, so out of the natural order of things, it can scarcely be named? Can we not dig and find a Latin or Greek root that could lead us to a term for ourselves?

I’m not sure if labels help anyway, as we struggle to figure out our identities in light of loss. (p. 180)

Anna writing about the group of moms grief group, all who lost a child.

I’m not sure how sharing the broken, hurting pieces of our lives helps us, but it does. Rather than wallowing in despair, this group of scrappy women cheers each other on, determined to find a way to live the lives we have now. And in sharing our loss, we somehow gain. That is the mystery of a community that grieves. (p. 186)

Anna writes about the house and what it meant and means for moving forward, and the tension between past, present, and future.

How being in our house brings comfort because it is Jack’s home, but it hurts so much that I can’t seem to thrive here anymore. How Jack’s death has brought many people closer to God and to their children, but has left us lonely and bereft. How can I feel disappointed at God in the same moment that I marvel at His care for me? (p. 188)

Anna as she explains the move to a different church. This is very close to home for me.

It feels a bit weird to be at a different church, even just part-time, but if we’re learning anything, it’s that life is weird. I take communion, but I don’t serve it anymore. I am not here as a leader or a giver. I don’t go out of my way to meet new people and make them feel welcome and comfortable, as would be my instinct. Instead I am here to partake and absorb and let God’s words fall down on my head. I soak up the truth of who He is. I tell Him I am open to receive grace and comfort. I remind Him I trust Him, even though His ways are not mine and I am still sad and hurt. (p. 190)

Breaking the bowl (read the book to find out about that one)… and more.

I guess the only thing that is certain to me now is that the small God I followed before, the one I must secretly have believed would spare my family pain if I just didn’t ask for too much or set my sights too high, is somehow not big enough to carry me now.

That little God isn’t the one who comforts me when I despair. Not, it’s a big God, who loving voice reminds me of my mother’s, who gently whispers to me, “I know, Anna,. I know, honey. I know.” (pp. 218-9).

These are just a few highlights that really resonated with me, helped me rethink and reflect on my own losses (two immediate family deaths and two other deaths of people very close to us within 6 months).

Thank you, Anna, once again.

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