LentBlog ’14, Day 43: Discerning the Body.

1 Cor 10:14-17, 11:27-32

Thinking tonight about what it means to “discern the body” during Eucharist. For sure we need to remember we are not alone and pay attention to the church– the Body of Christ. And Paul is all over the Corinthians for not paying attention to the poor at the table.

But there’s something else happening here, too:

We must discern the Body of Jesus.

Broken.

Bleeding.

Spent.

Powerless.

Poured out.

Obedient even unto death….

….on a Cross.

Simply put, our position in the church is not a power trip… it’s a death, and the death is ours.

So that we might be raised.

When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of Glory died,

My richest gain I count as loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride.

 

 

Blessings on Maundy Thursday,

Mark

 

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LentBlog Day 40: On Grace- Conduits, not Cups.

2 Corinthians 1:1-7

Check this out:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. NRSV

Here’s the dynamic: Paul praises God, who consoles him in his sufferings. God helps Paul, and Paul in turn helps others. God’s help for Paul in his suffering results in Paul helping others in their sufferings.

I’m reminded of a thought my friend Oliver Phillips once said while preaching at the church I pastored. He said, “God’s grace is always on the move. It’s always going through you on its way to someone else.”

Dr. Charles Gailey, missions prof at Nazarene Seminary when I was there, used to talk about us becoming “conduits of God’s grace.” A conduit is a pipe… its pipepurpose is to facilitate the flow of water (or something) from one place to another. As the pipe fulfills it’s purpose as a conduit, it winds up being full itself… but it’s a different kind of  “full.” It’s a full that is being filled, not just a static, full vessel. The fullness experienced by the conduit is one of continual renewal and re-filling.

And I see that dynamic in this passage. See, we tend to thing God wants to help just us. As if answering my prayer or meeting my need is the point of this whole thing. That’s a bad tendency. If Paul really means what he says here, God’s consolation for Paul (grace) is working through him to help others. It’s not just for him… it’s always on its way to someone else. And it is impossible to a) acknowledge that fact and b) participate in it if we are so focused on ourselves and our needs that we ignore the other. We need to recognize our role as conduits, not cups.

It’s almost as if Paul is really serious about the faith being way more an “us” thing than a “me” thing.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14; Day 37: On Clay Jars and the Source of Theology.

2 Corinthians 4:1-12

This passage is pretty special to me. Not just because Paul makes his argument so well… but that it reflects and informs a major theme my theological life.

See, I believe quite strongly as a pastor-type that one of our primary roles is that of theologian. (Lots to unpack there, but I’ll spare you.) I believe everything the church says and does is first of all theology: Words from/of/about God.

I also believe Barth is right in Evangelical Theology that all (ALL) theological words are preceded by the Word (that is, Jesus) who inspires them, provokes them, and makes them possible. All theology is in response to the Word which comes to us first. And for our theological words to be anywhere close to accurate visa-vis God, they must be inSpired in the moment.

And I think that’s what Paul is saying here.

He’s in the middle of this case where he says his words are not his own. He isn’t peddling the Gospel like a vacuum cleaner salesman. The authority comes from Christ himself.

And so we have 2 Corinthians 4:

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.  NRSVclay pot

We have this treasure… this Gospel… this Word from/of God… this theology… in a clay jar to prove it’s not from us. It’s not ours. It’s not even really on-loan to us. It’s given by the Father, through the Spirit and in Christ, to us in the moment. 

That’s why I’ve always said stuff like, “I think God might be saying….” Because I might be wrong. The power and authority are GOD’S, not mine.

And I think us theologians need to hear that every once in  a while.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14, Day 36: On Veils and Jesus

2 Corinthians 3:7-18

 

Boy, am I tired this evening, and I’ve got a lot on my mind… Annnd this passage from 2 Corinthians 3 isn’t particularly ringing my bell tonight. But the purpose of this blog isn’t to write something earth-shakingly profound each night, but to be accountable for engaging these daily passages, so here goes.

I just finished leading a study of Exodus, and we worked through the whole Moses/veil passage. The idea was the presence of God would descend upon the Tent of meeting. Moses would go in the tent to hear from God. Moses would come out of the tent with his face glowing because of the Glory of God. Then Moses would cover his face with a veil, shielding the people from the intensity of God’s Glory. The thought in this passage is the reason for the veil was because the people were hard-hearted and couldn’t stand the intensity of God’s Glory. That’s true in the Exodus passage, too. They were a whining, complaining, mostly faithless, idolatrous, stiff-necked people. It’s not a stretch for me to imagine God’s Glory being too intense for them to handle. And according to this passage, it’s still to intense for them to handle.

Only in Christ is the veil removed. Only in Jesus does the fullness of God dwell bodily among us. Christ is the image (Greek word: ICON) of the invisible God.  No one has seen God, but Christ has made Him known, and we have seen His Glory… the Glory as of the only Son. (John 1). Only in Christ is there a possibility for the veil to be removed… which means, Christ not only brings the fullness of God to the table, He brings the possibility and capability of comprehending God in the first place. I guess, to me, this means we better be careful saying we know anything about/of/from God outside of Jesus.

 

That’ll take our humanistic-trending theology down a notch or two.

 

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14, Day 31: On Love as the Greatest of these..

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

It’s a crying shame the most common place we hear this passage read is at weddings.  Just a short reflection on the Love chapter:

This passage means more when you look at it in-context with what Paul is doing in the letter. It’s helpful to remember Paul is writing to a church with divisions, sin issues, and an inflated sense of its own righteousness. They’re puffed up with pride as they boast of their spirituality or the superiority of the particular faction leader they are following.

Paul has been systematically destroying these attitudes in the letter to this point, and here he delivers the knockout blow. In the midst of all the unity-in-diversity talk about spiritual gifts and how we’re supposed to seek the better gifts etc, Chapter 13 comes along and says without love, none of it matters a hill of beans anyway! You can get everything right that he’s talked about in the letter so far, but if you’re missing love, you’re goose is cooked. As for prophecies, they will cease. Tongues will be silenced. Without love, they didn’t matter in the first place.

It makes me wonder how much time, money, effort, and energy is spent in today’s church on things that flat-out won’t matter if we don’t embody the agape love of the Lord. From worship wars to new buildings to new ministries to board meetings. From disciple-making to community involvement to paving the parking lot to reaching Millennials. Without love, all of it is just clamoring over nonsense.

Well played, Paul.

Heaven, help us.

 

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14, Day 24: On History Repeating Itself

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Paul jumps into a new thought, intended to further take the Corinthians to task for their overconfidence. He reminds them of the story of God’s chosen people, how they all followed the pillar of cloud when coming out of Egypt and how they all crossed the same Red Sea. They all ate the same manna and quail in the desert, and they all drank water from the same rock. He’s doing a comparison here between those events and the sacraments of Baptism and Communion. He reminds the church the chosen people were all partakers together, and yet some of them (ok, a lot of them) perished in the desert because of their disobedience.

Most of the time it was idolatry of some form. Sometimes it was complaining or sexual sin. The individual stories he’s referencing can be found in Exodus and Numbers. Regardless, Paul reminds them of the peoples’ past failures in order to guide them away from the same failures in the present.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The same is true of us.

Oh, we’re perhaps not tempted to make a golden calf or something, but we are most certainly tempted with idolatry. We are most certainly tempted to become complainers when we don’t get our way or when God’s work in the world seems weird to us. We are most certainly tempted by sexual sin pretty much everywhere we look.

The people in early Israel were not exempt from temptation to sin and its consequences just because they had gone through the Red Sea and eaten manna.

Neither are we exempt from temptation to sin and its consequences just because we are part of the church.  Come to think of it, this passage is another spot that pretty well shreds the idea of eternal security, but I digress…

The good news is we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of our ancestors, but it’s going to take diligence, attendance to the means of grace, and a whole lot less spiritual pride.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14, Day 23: Discipleship, Wrestling meets, and Intentionality.

1 Corinthians 9:16-27

There’s a lot happening here.. From the oft-misinterpreted “all things to all people” passage to the essence of Paul’s call. It’s hard to pick what to reflect upon because there’s so much there.

In light of all that, I think I’ll talk about my son Nick for a bit. Nick is 6, in kindergarten, and absolutely loves life. We’re trying to give him some opportunities to try new things, knowing he’ll find one or two things he really likes to do so he can do them well.

This winter/spring, Nick started wrestling in the local school’s wrestling club. They have kids anywhere from 4 to 14 or so, at all levels of experience. I wrestled 7 years between Jr Hi and High school, so I’m able to help the little guy as he gets started. One thing about novice wrestlers: they have no sense of technique or wrestling instincts. As a result, when the whistle blows, they tend to flail. They move around, sometimes with a great amount of energy, but there’s no purpose behind their movements. A wrestler with a year or two of experience under his/her belt knows better. They have a plan for what moves to hit and when. They have developed instincts that tell them what to do next, and they do it on purpose with no flailing.

If you put a total novice up against one of those experienced wrestlers, the results are usually short, decisive, and predictable. The wrestler with a plan wins almost every time.

I think this is what Paul’s talking about in our lives of faith when he says,

24 Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. 26So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; 27but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not NickWrestlingbe disqualified.  NRSV

Don’t run aimlessly… don’t flail the air if you’re boxing… you’ll lose. Instead, structure your workout and the match so that you have a plan, and then execute the plan. In short, willy-nilly, unintentional discipleship is going to get its butt kicked. 

Last Saturday was Nick’s first wrestling meet. His first match was brutally short, because he went out there and flailed against an experienced
opponent. The second match was different. Nick had a plan, and he went out there and beat the guy with his plan.  I wish we as individuals, families and churches could learn the same lesson with the wrestling match we’re in. If we’re flailing around, looking for the next flash in the pan thing that’ll make us feel good for a minute, we’re going to get rocked. Effective discipleship is intentional, purposeful, and long-lasting.

 

Blessings,

Mark