Here is my Write-Up about last Sunday’s church services and events.
A. The pastor at the Missouri Synod Lutheran church covered some of the same ground about Isaiah 6 that he discussed in the Wednesday Bible study, which I talk about here, while mentioning additional points. The pastor opened his sermon with an illustration. The Judahites were clueless about what would happen after the death of King Uzziah, who had reigned for decades in a time of peace and prosperity. The pastor compared that to our times of uncertainty: we have a break-up and feel we will never have a relationship again, or we lose a job and fear that we will never again be employed. We can look at the past and the present, as we live in the moment, but we have difficulty looking beyond that, into the future.
In the midst of this, Isaiah sees the majesty of God in the Temple, as the bottom of God’s robe fills the whole structure. As Isaiah basks in God’s glory, he comes to realize that he does not deserve to be there. He has unclean lips that need to be cleansed. The pastor commented that the reason that Isaiah emphasizes the lips is that he has in mind the concept that Jesus would later convey: that what comes out of the lips is what is in the heart (e.g., Matthew 12:33-35; 15:18-19). Similarly, we realize, on the basis of our past and present, that we do not deserve to be in the presence of God. Not only have we hurt others, but we also want to do our own thing, to fill our calendar with what we want to do.
Isaiah is commissioned, and God commissions Christians to go into a world in which people are narcissistic and to proclaim to them the Gospel: that God loves them, and that Jesus Christ died for them.
I agree with parts of this, but not others. The part about our perception (or lack thereof) of the past, present, and future was intriguing, as was the part about the significance of Isaiah’s reference to lips. I do not see what is wrong with people doing what they choose, as long as they do not hurt others. I also struggle with the idea that non-believers are narcissistic. A lot of people, believers and non-believers, think about themselves, but they think of others, too.
B. I will shift to the “Word of Faith” service before I discuss the LCMS Sunday School, since the “Word of Faith” service covered some of the same issues that I highlighted in “A.” The “Word of Faith” service had a panel discussion about giving. Some of the things that one of the panelists said especially stood out to me, since he was discussing the vicissitudes in his own life. He told of a time when he was fired from a company, and he did not know if he could get another job, since his job had been so specialized. He received a severance package and tithed from that, saying to God, “I hope you enjoy this: I do not know where the next one will come from!”
But he also talked about another time when his wife received a job in another state, and a company wanted him to stay. The company offered to let him keep his job but to work from home in the other state. The problem was that the money he got from that job went far in South Dakota (I think that’s where he said it was), but not in California, where he and his family were moving. He asked for a raise, and the company gave it to him. And, because he worked at home, he got to spend more time with his son, who needed guidance and direction at that time.
The pastor asked the man what is special about that particular church, that he gives to it. The pastor knew what the man would answer. The man said that there was nothing particularly special about that church, as there are many good churches out there. But that church is where he and his family are, so that is where they will give. His wife told the story of how, a while back, they donated to a church and did not entirely agree with how the church was spending the money. But they donated anyway, since the pastors made that decision. They would not use their money as a way to leverage power in the church.
On that last part, I agree that there are people who leverage their money to get their own way in churches, and that is unfortunate. Still, I think people should feel free not to give to a church, if that church is misappropriating funds.
C. The LCMS Sunday School class continued its series on forgiveness in II Corinthians 1-7. The teacher tied concepts in II Corinthians 3-5 to forgiveness. Paul was seeking to reconcile with the Corinthian church, which accused him of being arrogant. Paul assured them of their value to him: he saw them as his letter of commendation, so he cared about what they thought. At the same time, Paul affirmed that he had an apostolic calling: he was a messenger of God, called to preach the Gospel. Paul is humble but not self-denigrating, as humility is not self-pity or self-denigration but service.
In II Corinthians 3, Paul contrasts the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. As an aside, the teacher referred to Paul’s reference to his trip to the third heaven in II Corinthians 12, and the teacher showed a painting in which Paul was unconscious on the road to Damascus. The teacher thought that the painting was saying that Paul’s soul went to the third heaven when Jesus initially called him on the road to Damascus: that the events of Acts 9 are when Paul’s experience in II Corinthians 12 took place. But back to the covenants. Paul contrasts the condemnation of the letter of the law with the ministry of the Spirit. The letter of the law law focuses on evening the score and people getting what they deserve, whereas the spirit of the law values people, and the New Covenant is about forgiveness. Paul’s discussion about the covenants, according to the teacher, related to the mutual forgiveness between himself and the Corinthian church.
In II Corinthians 5, Paul says that Christians are like jars with treasure inside of them. In that historical setting, the teacher said, the Romans made clay jars to transport valuable merchandise on ships. The jars were easy and cheap to make: the Romans discarded them when they were through with them, and they made them where they packed up the merchandise. Archaeologists have found jars that were unopened. The teacher was saying that we are people with a treasure inside of us: Christ in us, who forgives through us. But we need to open that jar and let the forgiveness out.