Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Church Write-Up: Confession, Real, Unique, Chosen

Here is my Church Write-Up on last Sunday.

A.  At the Missouri Synod Lutheran church, one of the texts was I John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (KJV).  The youth pastor illustrated this by drawing a picture of a man, but the hands did not look that good.  The youth pastor feigned satisfaction with the hands and was about to put the picture to the side.  But one of the kids erased those hands and drew better hands—-hands that actually had fingers.  The youth pastor said that we may find ourselves committing a sin and thinking that it is no big deal, or forgetting about it, but that is not the way to deal with the problem.  We should confess our sins to God, and the blood of Christ is what brings us forgiveness.

B. The text also included I John 1:1-3: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (KJV).

The pastor opened by sharing a personal anecdote.  He said that he has long felt as if he has started life late.  He is usually the last person to get a joke.  And his mother called him their “gullible one” when he was growing up.  Indeed, he believed in Bigfoot, and he could have sworn that he saw a UFO.  Nowadays, he is more skeptical and cynical, more so than his parents would want him to be if they were alive today.  But that is with good reason, as many wonder if they can trust what they read, since things can be photo-shopped nowadays.

The pastor then discusses I John.  There were people in that day who questioned that Jesus died and rose from the dead.  There were Docetists who maintained that a divine being could not die and so Jesus only seemed to be human and to die.  As evidence, the pastor said, they noted that the risen Jesus could appear and vanish in thin air (Luke 24:31; John 20:19).  Humans do not do that, so Jesus must have been other than human, some argued.  The pastor talked more about Docetism in his weekly Bible study last week.  On Sunday, however, he addressed more the implications of the emphasis on Jesus’ physicality, both before and after his death, in the Gospels and in I John.  One implication is that Jesus really did shed his blood, and that blood really does cleanse us of sins: when we wake up in the middle of the night thinking about our past mistakes, we can go back to sleep with the assurance that Jesus’ blood was shed to bring us forgiveness.  Another implication is that Jesus really did defeat death: Jesus went through it and came out on the other side, with his physical body risen and changed.  The risen Jesus was not simply a ghost or a phantom, but he rose as a human being, defeating death.

The pastor talked about the physical and the real in Christianity.  People are baptized in physical water.  According to Lutherans, the bread and the wine of communion contain the real presence of Jesus.  The pastor went on to say that Easter makes all the difference.  Another of the texts was Acts 4:34-35: “Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need” (KJV).  The early Christians’ confidence in Jesus’ resurrection led them to insure that no one went unloved in that church, that all of the early Christians had their needs met.

C.  A couple of Sunday school classes started at the Missouri Synod Lutheran church.  The one that I sat in on showed a brief Rob Bell video.  Rob Bell argued that, in terms of religious beliefs, the ancient Christians overlapped significantly with the religions and the culture around them.  The early Christians believed that Jesus ascended to heaven and was a mediator between God and humans; Mithraists thought that about Mithra.  The early Christians thought Jesus was born of the virgin; that was claimed about Attis.  Julius Caesar was believed to have ascended to heaven.  Caesar Augustus was acclaimed as a savior.  People would greet each other on the street saying Caesar is Lord.  The Caesar’s decrees would be called euaggelion, or good news, the Greek word for Gospel.  And, when regions accepted Caesar as Lord and Savior, they became an ekklesia, the word that the Christians used for the church.

But there was a difference between the ancient Christians and the Romans.  The Romans sought to create peace through military force, whereas the Christians renounced force and served others, especially the disadvantaged.  We were asked what difference our Christian beliefs make in our lives: do we point fingers and try to make people believe and behave as we want, or do we love people and try to listen and to understand?  The overarching question was: If people judged Christianity by looking at you personally, what would they conclude?  (And more than one person replied, “I’m in the wrong class here!”) A lot of the discussion got into the good old days, as older people reminisced about how people used to be more of a community and to help each other; the teacher replied, though, that we cannot go back to that time, for we are where we are now.  People find that they are too busy to show hospitality, or they are afraid to invite people to their homes on the spur of the moment, since the house may be messy.  People shared about their heroes in the faith.  The teacher talked about how his father, who was powerful in his line of work, still wept in humility when he was asked to served as an usher at his church.  The teacher also shared about how he got to witness to a lady at work a long time ago: the lady concluded by watching him that the world would not end without hope.

After the class, people still shared.  One elderly lady said that she was talking to an atheist who asked how she knows God exists, since she cannot see God.  She replied that she does not see air, but she knows that she needs it.

D.  I then went to the “Word of Faith” church, and the pastor’s daughter was preaching.  The church will be going through Ephesians, and the pastor on video referred to scholarly disputes that Paul wrote Ephesians; the pastor said that he himself believed that Paul wrote it, and that it was Paul’s enthusiastic magnum opus.

The pastor’s daughter preached about Ephesians 1:1-6.  She talked about how Jesus gave us access to God.  She said that Jesus chose us.  What about the unchosen?  She said that the text was talking about the chosen: we do not talk about the shoes or the TVs we did not buy, but the ones that we did.  I was unclear if she believed in Calvinist predestination, though, since she seemed to be saying that Christians should share with everyone that God has chosen them.  She also talked about adoption, another theme in the text: in the Roman world, people adopted to benefit themselves.  God, however, adopted us when we had nothing to offer him.

I will stop here.  I am sure some of these items can be critiqued.  I decided to focus more on summary in this post.

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