Here is this week’s Church Write-Up.
A. At the LCMS church, the pastor’s text was Jeremiah 23:1-6, in which God criticizes the shepherds of Israel for neglecting God’s flock. These shepherds were the kings and the priests of Israel. The pastor opened with a story about when he was four years old and his older brother was supposed to pick him up from his first day of kindergarten but forgot, because the brother was working; his mother finally came when the school called her. We, like the brother, and like the shepherds of Israel, have obligations and duties to which we are not always faithful.
The pastor observed that this sermon was becoming a typical Lutheran sermon that begins by hitting people over the head with God’s law and their failure to observe it. Why go through this process? Most of us think that we are doing the best that we can! Plus, if we were to interview the shepherds of Israel—-Jehoiakim, Jehoiakin, Zedekiah, the priests—-they would probably admit that they were not as good as King David but would say that they are doing their best. But this outlook is problematic because it focuses on us and our attempts to fix the problem rather than on God and what God does. If our salvation depending in the smallest degree on our own efforts—-even one percent—-then we would continually wonder if we are doing enough, and we would probably recognize that we could always do more. The reason that we are reminded of our failure to keep the law is so that we can focus on God and our need for God’s mercy.
When we are Christians, we are with Christ, so we go into our days, the days’ activities, and our relationships with Christ. And, when we find ourselves in the same situation that the pastor was when he was four—-feeling alone, lost, and confused—-we can be assured that Christ is with us.
The pastor’s point about the perspective of the shepherds of Israel was intriguing because what would Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, Zedekiah, and the priests have said? I doubt they would have seen themselves as bad people. They may have said that they were doing their best with what they had. On some level, they were trying to safeguard their nation, whether that be by going to Egypt for help, by consulting idols, or by attempting to rebel against the Babylonians when God wanted Judah to surrender peacefully. At the same time, they did exploitative and oppressive things. Perhaps they saw those things, consciously or unconsciously, as the perks of leadership: they were God’s anointed rulers, so they had a right to prosper.
B. The LCMS church’s Sunday school class covered I John 2:13-17. The pastor made three points.
First of all, the pastor was revisiting last week’s discussion on the fathers and the young men whom John addresses. The pastor said that the correct approach to Scripture is to ask how a passage relates to Christ, before asking how it relates to us. He candidly confessed that he did not do that last week, but rather was going into a sociological discussion about the identities of the fathers and the young men and how the church should engage young people; his lecture, in that case, was becoming about law. But he said that the class was trying to pull him back to where he should have been: focusing on Christ. The pastor’s humble confession was interesting to me because it showed that church is about far, far more than us sharing our knowledge: it is about Christ.
Second, in discussing the fathers and the young men, the pastor speculated that the fathers may have been people who sat at the feet of Jesus or Jesus’ disciples. This generation was dying off, and the next generation, which had no contact with the historical Jesus, was about to take their place. These were the people of John 20:29 who believed even though they had not seen the historical Jesus, and Jesus blesses these people. John was exhorting them to be faithful. The pastor appealed to the Puritans as an example of what happens when one is not faithful. The Puritans considered the second generation to be elect, even though it was not behaving as Puritans should, and the result was that Boston went from Puritanism into Unitarianism.
Third, the pastor talked about John’s comments about not loving the world. The world is the system that is sinful and that hates God. God loves the world, even though it is hostile to God and rejects him. We usually are not so generous towards those who reject us or are hostile towards us, but we, too, are to love the people of the world, serving it. But we are not to be devoted to the world’s system, or the things that are in the world. It is acceptable to have things, but if those things own us, and we obsessively focus on those things to the exclusion of thinking about God, then that is a problem. We become like the rich fool of Luke 12:16-21, who was so wrapped up in enjoying his prosperity that he did not give a thought towards God. The world, John says, is passing away, so our attachment should be to the eternal.
C. The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church was continuing his series through the Book of Revelation. His perspective struck me as rather post-millennial: God, amidst setbacks, acts in creating a world of justice, peace, and love, converting people. God is preparing Christians to be rulers in this new world. The pastor does not seem to interpret Revelation in terms of Christ coming back and punishing people. The pastor said that focusing on God’s agenda in creating a new world is preferable to the emphasis of much of Christianity: saying the right words or doing the right things to escape this world and go to heaven.
God’s sealing of the 144,000, the pastor said, is about God’s sealing of Christians: they may go through affliction, but they are ultimately not harmed, for they belong to God. They can be triumphant amidst their perils. They also have authority, as seals were marks of the king’s authority. The pastor also stressed the importance of worship in the midst of our problems, as Revelation focused on the throne-room of God in discussing the early Christians’ problems.