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

 

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 26: Consider the Other

1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1

Are you sensing a theme yet? I am. And it won’t be too long before Paul whammies them over the head with it: Christians are to live their lives with a constant consideration of others. Paul’s not speaking of a passing thought that thinks about other people every once in a while. He’s build to a point where he’s about to say a life lived without discerning the body–  that is, without significant consideration of others, either as the church gathered or scattered–  is idolatrous and sinful.

The short version: You ain’t the center of the universe, Jack.

At the core of the divisions found in the church at Corinth is the idea that each individual is sovereign and should live autonomously. 

It’s also at the core of the divisions we find in our churches presently, particularly in the West.

So here’s Paul spending another half a chapter trying to kill the bloated leech, and I find myself wondering what our churches would look like if we really lived like this.

Something to ponder…

 

Blessings,

Mark

 

 

LentBlog ’14 Day 19: In Perspective…

1 Corinthians 7:25-31.

This is an interesting passage, and I had to read it a few times for something to jump out at me. Paul is writing to folks who haven’t been married here, and he gives his advice rather than a command from the Lord. I think it’s noteworthy this is his self-stated opinion he’s giving here and not direction from the apostle.

Even more noteworthy than his opinion regarding his preference for remaining single are the reasons why he might counsel folks in this way:

29I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, 30and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, 31and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. (NRSV)

I don’t think Paul is advocating a sort of escapism here, where we get our heads in the clouds and pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist. He’s already hinted that isn’t the case a chapter or two ago. I think he is, however, advocating putting all our relationships in the correct perspective, namely, the systems of this world are not the main thing.  Marrying isn’t a sin, says Paul… but the key is not to let it become another form of idolatry.

I’m reminded of a sermon in Wesley (ask me to find the citation later if you want to know where it’s at… It’s late. I’m tired, and my Wesley library is on the other side of the house.) where he cautions people not to love their spouse or their children with an idolatrous kind of love… where they become something that take’s God’s place as #1 in our lives. How many times have I heard someone say something like, “I live for my kids.” or “My wife is everything to me.” I think Wesley, and Paul before him, would see idolatry in those statements, and I agree. Don’t get me wrong… I love my wife and my 2 sons. I would take a bullet right now for any of them. I am committed to becoming a better husband and father. They are massively important to me. Hendrickson Pic

However.

They are not my everything. I do not live exclusively for them. The Gospel calls us to live towards Christ and for Christ to be our everything. Anything else is idolatry.  And I think only when things are in that right perspective… when God, self, family, and neighbors are in the right relationship with each other… do we have a shot at being truly Christlike as spouses and parents.  It’s commandment #1, baby… No other gods before the Lord.

 

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14 Day 14: On Sin in the Church.

1 Corinthians 5:6-6:8

I wish I wasn’t so tired this evening and fighting a cold, because a lot could be said about this passage. But hey, it’s Paul… a lot can be said about most of Paul’s stuff.

The lawsuits among believers in 6:1-8 is a whole other blog post, so I’m going to leave it alone for now and log my interaction with 5:9-13.

I absolutely dig what Paul is doing in this passage, and I think it has a bunch to teach us in present-day Christianity. See, we hear so much in the church these days about the ugly, blatant, selfish sins of the world outside the church. We’re in the midst of culture wars where so much is said about the “secular culture” out there that somehow threatens (some think) the future of the church. And so we stand and point our finger at the world, gawking at boundary shifts in media and culture, corruption in government and business, and the seemingly God-less ways in which folks in the world tend to live. When the church talks about sin these days, it’s usually talking about the sin of those in the world.

If you’re paying attention to all that, and perhaps reading too fast, you might miss the bombshell dropped by Paul in vv. 9-10:

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons— 10not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. (NRSV)

Paul says, “I told you not to associate with immoral people.” And the prevailing attitude in some parts of Christianity would say “Cool!! See, I told you those people in the world were sinners… Let’s close up the ranks of our holy huddle and shield ourselves from their evil ugliness.” But Paul doesn’t stop there. He says, not at all meaning the immoral of this world.

::insert tire-screeching sound here:: Say what? Paul says he’s not talking about those sinners in the world. They’re in the world… that’s how worldly folks tend to act. Paul makes it pretty clear he wants them to associate with worldly people, or else they would have to be removed from the world totally.

No, Paul’s issue here is not with the ugly sin in the world– that is to be expected– but rather with the sexually immoral, greedy, idolatrous, hard-partying, drunken robbers who profess to be followers of Jesus. It’s folks who claim to be Christian Paul is calling out here.

Now, does this passage mean we should wholesale excommunicate everyone in our churches who has sin issues? Naah, I don’t think so.  But for someone who claims to be a Christian… one being washed by the blood of Jesus… being made righteous… claiming to observe the means of grace and spiritual disciplines… for that one to be engaged in these kinds of sinful behaviors while  at the same time claiming to be a New Creation in Christ simply does not add up. Like it or not, when we claim to be Christians we are on the hook for our behavior. Paul’s direction to this very dysfunctional church at Corinth is “Let God judge those on the outside. Y’all better take a look at yourselves.”Mirror

That stings a little.

Blessings,

Mark

LentBlog ’14 Day 8: On Spiritual Things…

1 Corinthians 2:14-3:15

14 Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.

16 “For who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.

My mind is focusing on the end of Chapter 2 as I read this passage tonight. And I think what Paul says here is quite profound:

Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. Image

Keep in mind, he’s just said in v. 13 the things of God are taught by the Spirit. If you follow the logic here, it leads to some pretty cool places: Spiritual things require the Spirit’s involvement for us to understand them. Without the direct involvement, we can’t comprehend what the Lord is teaching us. The idea here is important– theology, in all it’s various manifestations, is not really theology if it is merely a human word. Theology (rightly so-called) requires God to move first. And when God moves, and we respond, the theology that happens in the moment is not just “stuff” about God. Not merely data points we add together to prove God or something. Theology cannot– cannot— stand on its own and really mean anything. Why? because Spiritual things are spiritually discerned.

What this means is that all theology, whatever form it may take, from sermon to song to teaching our kids to pray to saying “God told me so,” must first and foremost be an act of worship. It is true theology only as it is a response to God moving in that moment.

I know I harp on this a lot and I’ve written on it before, but still.. theology as worship first is a really good way. It’s really the only way to avoid idolatry or using God’s name in vain.

Come, Holy Spirit, we need Thee

Come, sweet Spirit, we pray.

Come in Thy strength and Thy power.

Come in Thine own gentle way.

Blessings,

Mark