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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Church news, 4/1: "Passion Week"

On Palm Sunday, March 28, along with the Blessing of the Palms, we reviewed the events of Passion Week beginning with the first Palm Sunday. Fr. David first pointed out that Jewish timekeeping differs from ours and relates to Genesis 1: "the evening and the morning were the first day." For Jewish people, the new day begins when the old one ends, at sunset, and we have to remember this difference when looking at the events of Passion Week.

He also mentioned that all the significant events of the week happened either in Jerusalem, in Bethany (home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, two miles away), or on the way from one town to the other. Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead quite recently and people were curious to see him for themselves. The Gospel of John states:

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out Jesus was there (in Bethany) and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him, many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him. (John 12:9-11)

"As we look at the events of the week, notice how sacred the Scriptures are to Jesus -- how he carefully and knowingly honors all the Scriptures as he instructs the disciples to prepare for His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Sunday, just for one example," Fr. David pointed out. He added that the Palm Sunday procession was at once an instance of charismatic worship, with cries of "Hosanna" ("Save us, Lord"), but at the same time, "while the people were celebrating, Jesus was weeping over Jerusalem and the Temple, knowing as he did what was to happen later in time."

Two events are recorded for Monday of Passion Week: the cursing of the fig tree for its lack of fruit, representing Israel, and the cleansing of the temple. "This was the second cleansing of the temple, in which Jesus drove out people making money from worship by selling animals for sacrifice. Jesus reminded them that God desired the Temple to be a 'house of prayer' (Isaiah 56:7) and already told them their sacrifices were meaningless without repentance (Isaiah 1).

"Our bodies are now the temple of the Holy Spirit, and should be a house of prayer," continued Fr. David. "How are you prepared?"

On Tuesday of Passion Week, the Pharisees challenged the authority of Jesus. He responded by teaching on many subjects and by indicting the Jewish leaders on 12 counts. Twelve wasn't an accidental choice, relating to the 12 tribes of Israel (and the 12 apostles of Jesus). In mathematics, 12 is called the "sublime number", making this list of indictments a strong one indeed. He also taught about the end times that were to begin at his ascension.

Wednesday was the day that Judas Iscariot devised his plot to turn Jesus over to the authorities.

On the first Maundy Thursday, in Bethany, Jesus celebrates the Last Supper with the disciples. He settles once and for all their constant contention over which of them was greatest by washing their feet, showing that the one who would be greatest must have a servant's humility. Peter proclaims his fidelity and Jesus warns him that Satan will sift him like wheat and that Peter, instead of being faithful, will be ashamed to admit his discipleship. "How often do we think we're better than we are?" asked Fr. David. "Peter's failure reminds us of the futility of trusting on our own strength."

After Jesus comforts the disciples and offers the High Priestly Prayer, they sing psalms together before going to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. The disciples are worn out and sleepy, but we see Jesus as "God and man joined in a moment of decision and truth," Fr. David explained. "Jesus prays to the Father that he would that the cup of death be removed from him, being genuinely human before expressing his faith-filled spiritual nature by praying, 'not my will but Thine be done.' Then the soldiers come, the arrest is made, and the stage is set for the crucifixion and resurrection.

"May we grow in renewed faith and love as we walk through this Passion Week with our Lord Jesus Christ."

NOTES: Walk with Jesus through Holy Week services -- Tonight, Maundy Thursday, 7 p.m. in the chapel of Reformation Lutheran Church, 111 N. Chestnut St., we will celebrate a special Eucharist, "Re-living the Last Supper"; Good Friday, 7:30 p.m. at Holy Cross Anglican Church, 615 Bay Road, Webster, we will join for the Tenebrae Service; Easter Day we will celebrate Festal Eucharist at 10 a.m. in the chapel at Reformation Lutheran with a special message, "Knowing Jesus and the Power of the Resurrection". The second Sunday of Easter, April 11, we will again worship with our brothers and sisters at Holy Cross in Webster, resuming worship at Reformation April 18, 10 a.m.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thoughts on Prayer

"Pray without ceasing." 1 Thessalonians 5:17

Paul the Apostle in his first letter to the Christian church in Thessalonica calls them to incessant prayer, continuous throughout the day, never ending.

Yet, as has been pointed out, one cannot be ever on their knees in fervent supplication and praise. And so, prayer is not the narrow constrained form that we have made it become in our daily lives. I certainly would not consider grace before every meal, supplications before bed, and panicked requests in time of need 'without ceasing'. We have turned prayer into a stale ritual which is relegated to times of day, as opposed to a never ending conversation and communion with the Savior.

Prayer is to be our spiritual breath, in our actions, in our words, in our deeds. Let us make today an act of prayer to Christ our Lord, a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Church news, 3/5: "Stand firm in the Lord even when some live as enemies of the Cross"

Our sermon time Feb. 28 was a meditation on Philippians 3:17-4:1:

Brethren, join in imitating me, and mark those who so live as you have an example in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
It seems hard to stand firm these days. It's literally hard to stand firm in the midst of a disaster such as an earthquake or a tsunami, and it's spiritually hard to stand firm surrounded by people who "live as enemies of the cross of Christ". Paul's description is oddly modern: "their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame." Makes you think of any number of reality TV shows.
And then there are those who live more knowingly as enemies of the cross, like Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaida's second in command, who exhorts Muslims to take up arms against "the cross and Zionism".

"We can't sugar-coat reality, but neither should we operate from fear," explained Fr. David. "Standing firm comes down to the difference between faith -- the 'perfect love that casts out all fear' -- and the anxiety that comes when we trust in our own strength."

The foundation on which we can stand firm, he said, is the Word of God, scripture. "We have no idea the strength of God's word in our lives when we know it even unto memorizing it, and then stand by it."

Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee. -- Psalm 119:11
Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world. -- I John 4:4
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. -- Philippians 4:13
"The Word of God is the one offensive weapon we are given when putting on the armor of God," Fr. David continued, "'the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.' With eyes fixed and resolute, looking to Jesus and 'forgetting what lies behind (Philippians 3:13)', we need to commend ourselves, our circumstances, and our actions to the Lord, remembering always that it's His battle. This is how we can stand firm, by hiding ourselves in Him."

NOTES: Opportunities for mutual ministry abound! The sign-up list for lectors is available each Sunday outside the chapel, and help is also welcomed by the Altar Guild and for a new ministry of cleaning the chapel. Just ask; you can help!