Here are some items on last Sunday’s church services:
A. The key text at the LCMS church service was John 6:34-36. Jesus says there: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (KJV).
In the part of the service for the kids, one of the children dressed up like a king. The youth pastor’s point was that everyone except for the king’s family had to bow down to the king. God, in Christ, has made people part of God’s family. There are texts in Scripture about Christians bowing to God (i.e., Ephesians 3:14), but the point is well taken: Christians are not mere servants of God but are part of God’s family.
The pastor’s sermon talked about how Satan whispers in our ear to estrange us from God, and Jesus sets people free from that. On one extreme, Satan aims to discourage people, telling them that they are not good enough or are too sinful to be in relationship with God. On the other extreme, Satan tells them that they are fine without God. Of course, people are sinful, but that is why God sent Jesus.
I thought of an episode of Superbook that I watched not long ago. I watched Superbook when I was growing up, and it is about two children named Chris and Joy, who go back to Bible times with their robot friend, Gizmo. What I watched as a child were episodes from the 1980’s, but, every Saturday over the past few months, I have been watching episodes from the 2010’s. The episode that came to my mind was about the Book of Revelation. Chris accidentally burned down the house, and he encounters an “angel” who is actually the devil. The devil tells Chris that what Chris did is too bad for Chris to be forgiven. According to the devil, Chris had might as well despair of forgiveness from God and his parents and follow Satan, who is also on the outs with God! Thoughts of spiritual hopelessness have been in my mind before.
B. The Sunday school class was continuing its series on homelessness. There was a Bible component to the class, though, as the pastor talked about Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. What follows are aspects of Luke 10, along with the pastor’s interpretation.
Galilee was an area of conservative Pharisaic influence, and many Pharisees sought to earn God’s approval through good works and looked down on Samaritans and the tax collectors and sinners with whom Jesus associated. Jesus sent his disciples two by two, and Jesus is critical of cities in this righteous conservative region because they reject the disciples, after seeing their miracles. Jesus states that God has revealed the truth to babes, implying that those who are wise by the world’s standards need to become like children to receive God’s truth. They need to become empty of their pride, ego, and self-righteousness, in short.
A lawyer then asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. The lawyer was not like Perry Mason, the pastor said, but was a scholar of the Jewish law. He was like a seminary professor coming to test the rural village parson. Jesus responds by asking the lawyer what is in the law. Jesus is trying to show the lawyer that the law is not about trying to earn God’s favor through rules but rather concerns love and mercy: God’s love and mercy towards us, and the love and mercy that we then pass on to our neighbors. The lawyer asks Jesus who his neighbor is, perhaps because the lawyer excluded certain people from his definition of neighbor: Samaritans, and the tax collectors and sinners with whom Jesus ate.
Jesus then tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which the hated Samaritan helps the beaten-up man, whereas the esteemed priest and Levite pass him by. The pastor said that the Good Samaritan was a Christ figure. The Samaritan paid the innkeeper two denarii, which are two days’ wages, to lodge the beaten up man. Similarly, Jesus went to great lengths to save us. Someone in the class said that Christians are like innkeepers, conveying care to the wounded on behalf of Jesus.
Someone asked about those who do not use God’s grace. The pastor replied that there are people who may lack an opportunity to use God’s grace, but they still have it and cannot run out of it. I appreciated his point about opportunities: as a shy person who has had times when I have not interacted with people, I have lacked opportunities to witness. Still, I wondered what the pastor would say about the unprofitable in the Parable of the Talents who was cast into outer darkness for not doing anything with the talent given to him (Matthew 25:30). I didn’t ask because I didn’t figure that was the time or the place, since the class needed to move on to talk about homelessness.
C. At the “Word of Faith” church, the pastor was continuing his series about Acts. One of the stories that he covered was in Acts 8. Disciples are laying hands on people and giving to them the Holy Spirit, and Simon the Sorcerer, who became a believer, wanted to buy the power to confer this gift. Peter told him he was in the gall of bitterness. The HarperCollins Study Bible refers to Deuteronomy 29:18, which likens idolatrous Israelites to a root bearing gall and wormwood. Under this interpretation, Peter may have simply been calling Simon a bad apple. The pastor, however, said that Simon was actually bitter about something. Simon had a reputation as one with the power of God, and the apostles were moving in on Simon’s territory, lessening his influence. Simon wanted to preserve or regain that influence by having the same power the apostles had: to lay hands on people and impart the Holy Spirit. A problem with bitterness, the pastor said, is that it encourages people to exclude others from God’s table, and maybe even exclude themselves, if they will not go to the table where certain people are.