A Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

FAITH IS IN THE ASKING

A Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Based on Matthew 15:10-28

Richard L. Jeske, Vicar

 

     Political correctness has come to the pulpit.  I remember the days when Protestant sermons would tell you all about what was wrong with the Roman Catholic Church.  Methodists would fault Episcopalians for their liturgical folderol, and Lutherans would say that Pentecostals have swallowed the Holy Spirit, feathers and all.  Of course, we don’t to that anymore.  We have become politically correct now.  Besides, we have become ecumenical now, and we want to rise above all those old barriers that have divided Christians from one another.  Of course, in ecumenical circles we do have ways of referring to our differences in a more genteel way.  One ecumenical scholar (Geoffrey Wainright), with some genteel humor, likes to make a distinction between Episcopalians and Presbyterians:  “Episcopalians,” he says, “are people who insist on the historic significance of bishops; Presbyterians are people who insist on the historic insignificance of bishops.”   That’s about as close as we can come these days to not offending anybody.

 

     But sometimes offense has a point to it.  Like Jesus in our Gospel reading for today.  “Don’t give me all this stuff about kosher.  It’s not what goes into your mouth that should give offense; it’s what comes out of your mouth that defiles you.”  It’s like a blast against his whole religion.  He calls its leaders “blind guides” who will drag you down into a deep hole, if you let them.  No worry on Jesus’ part about being offensive, much less politically correct.

 

     So I had to ask what the take-away is for us pastors from today’s Gospel reading.  If we want to be faithful to the gospel – and that’s what we’re supposed to be when we give sermons – then we have to get serious about offense, well-taken or not.  After all, even St. Paul said the gospel, the word of Jesus’ cross, can be an offense to some and foolishness to others (1 Corinthians 1:23).

 

     So we have to take seriously Jesus’ statement “it’s not what goes into your mouth but what comes out of it that defiles you” – and learn from it.  He specifically names some things that can defile you:  “evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.”  Did he say “false witness?”  That’s lying.  If a lie comes out of your mouth, you’ve defiled yourself.  Slander?  If you’ve slandered someone, you’ve defiled yourself.  Lies, slander – they’re offensive, and they make you look bad.

 

     The President has given offense this past week, and a lot of people have said so.  They have resigned from his commissions and committees. Congressmen have condemned him for it. The mother of a victim of the violence in Charlottesville has said she will not speak to him and will not take his phone calls.  All because of what came out of his mouth.  His “many sides” comment about who’s responsible for the violence has offended people.  He wanted to place the blame on both sides, and he actually made the wrong side happy about what he said.  My problem is that he was right, at least historically. Certain observers and commentators have fallen all over themselves to argue that the counter-protesters did not engage in violence, but were provoked by the “Unite the Right” demonstrators.  But what the President forgot is that we fight Nazis.  We fought them 70 years ago, and we fight them now, because what comes from their hearts and out of their mouths defiles them.  We do not say that they are good people, because they’re not.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer fought Nazis, so we fight them too.  And those who mouth epithets and threats against Jews, Muslims, Mexicans, and people of color in the name of free speech, especially in the name of Christianity, are being offensive.  Free speech ends when you yell “Fire!” in a movie theater.  Neo-Nazis, the Klan, and white supremacists yell “Fire!” with hearts full of evil intentions, which defiles them, and we do not want our country to be defiled along with them.  And like Bonhoeffer said:  to do nothing is the greater evil.  

 

     Of course, the better way is no violence at all.  The Church of Christ rejects violence, and its members all believe that love, in the long run, overcomes hate.  But the church has also developed a doctrine of justifiable warfare, and the Second World War came as close as can be to being a justifiable war.  Because Nazis had brought immeasurable suffering and death to minorities, to other countries, and to leaders of the church, whom they imprisoned and executed because of their objection to Nazi atrocities.  The Klan still burns crosses on peoples’ lawns, and inspires hate for minorities, and acts to bring fear into our communities.  Christians speak out against such injustice, and they help to elect governments who will defend their people against injustice, against evil intentions, and lying, and slander.  But when governments give encouragement to white supremacy and other racist movements, then Christians speak out against such governments.  And when governments do not stand up for what is good and true and just, then others will, and as a last resort will fight for it.

 

     So we come to church on this Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost and we hear a story about Jesus’ offending some people.  His disciples took him aside and told him, “You know, what you said about keeping kosher offended the Pharisees.”  The Pharisees were a sect within Judaism that kept strict daily rules in order to show how serious they were about God.  They wouldn’t eat pork, because their Scriptures defined as kosher only meat that came from animals that had cloven hooves and chewed their cud (see Leviticus 11:3).  They had strict rules for slaughtering animals that they could eat, and they had strict rules for washing themselves before they would eat.  They did all this in order to please God in all aspects of their lives.  They wanted to stay in good standing with God and with other people, so they observed the rules for “kosher,” which means “clean.”  Better said, they kept kosher as a sign that they were God’s chosen people.

 

     Jesus made a comment that could be taken as totally offensive.  He said, “It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”  It sounded like Jesus was taking on the entire practice of their religion.  So the disciples ask him about it, and Jesus responded by saying that the human body has a way of dealing with what we eat:  the body eventually processes what we eat and it’s finally done away with and gone – no damage done in our relationship with God.  But what can damage our relationship with God and with other people is what comes out of our mouths.  What comes out of our mouths comes out of our hearts, and that can hurt other people – and us:  murder, adultery, lying about other people and slandering them.  God commands us not to do those things, and if we have those things in our hearts it can hurt us; and if they come out of our mouths it hurts other people.  Those are that things that really displease God, not what goes into our mouths, but what comes out of them.

 

     Then Jesus starts walking, of all places, toward Tyre and Sidon, places where few Pharisees would go, because you meet up with “unclean” people there who don’t observe any kosher rules at all.  And soon one of them stopped Jesus and asked him to heal her daughter, who was demon-possessed.  Then he does what would please his disciples:  he puts her off, even puts her down, a couple times.  But she keeps coming back; she ignores his insults and keeps asking.  Maybe he’s waiting for one of his disciples to say, “Look, Lord, she’s really hurting; maybe it’s time for a little compassion.”  Instead, they say, “Get rid of her, Lord; she keeps whining.”  So he comes close to insulting her:  “Lady, do you want me to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs?”  But she doesn’t get hung up on the insult.  She replies, “But Lord, even the dogs will eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  And suddenly Jesus responds, “Woman, great is your faith!  I will do what you ask.”  And the story ends:  “And her daughter was healed instantly.”

 

     What made Jesus respond as he did? Saying to this stranger, this Canaanite woman, this non-Jew whom he had never met before, “Great is your faith!”  Was it that she totally disarmed him by her willingness to swallow his insults?  Was she so desperate that she would field with a shrug every one of his put-downs?  When Jesus said that her faith was great, it wasn’t like she had just recited the Nicene Creed!  What was it about this strange woman that Jesus could suddenly talk about her faith, her great faith?

 

     First of all, we can get a clue from other stories of Jesus’ healings.  In so many of them, Jesus gets people to ask, even if he already knows what they want. For Jesus, asking is important.  So he makes her ask.  In today’s story Jesus makes the Canaanite woman ask, and ask, and ask again.  And when she does, he says, “Woman, great is your faith.”

 

     So it’s in the asking that faith is found.  Asking, genuine asking, is not demanding.  Demanding is standing over God and telling God what to do.  Asking is not demanding.  Asking is letting God do the answering, on God’s terms, not ours.  Asking is not putting God into our test tube and making God come out our way; it is knowing who we are before God: recipients, not achievers.  As Jesus taught those who want to listen:  “Ask, and you will receive.”   As if to say, “Demand, and you get nothing.”  Faith is understanding that.  Faith is understanding that we are recipients before God.  Faith is the refusal to stand over God and make God accountable to our standards and desires.

 

     Anti-Semitism, which is at the basis of all racism, is a Christian heresy.  It has infested Europe for centuries, and white Europeans brought it with them to this country.  It is based on the notion that God has rejected the Jews because they were responsible for the death of Christ.  That makes all those who accept Christ superior to Jews.  It leads some people to think that we can persecute Jews to get even with them for killing Jesus.  And once we think we’re superior even to God’s chosen people, we’re superior to all other races as well.  It is a heresy, something that ought to be rejected.  And there is an alternative, and we’ve heard it this morning in our second lesson, from that section of Paul’s letter to the Romans where the apostle struggles with the question of whether Israel is lost because they have rejected Jesus as Messiah.

 

     St. Paul deals with this question not in terms of anger toward Israel but in terms of his love for Israel, and he’s passionate about it.  In chapter 9 of his letter he wrote:  “I have great sorrow and deep anguish in my heart” over this question (9:2):  “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people” (9:3).  “Look at what they have:  their election as God’s chosen people, they have the covenants, the giving of the Torah, the worship, the promises, and the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), and from their own race came the Messiah himself.  What is going to happen to them in the end?” (9:4-5).  For three chapters in Romans Paul struggles with this question.  

 

     And what is his answer?  How does he resolve this question that bothers him so much?  He finally says straight out:  “All Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26).  Why?  Because they have kept kosher, observed all the right laws, and carried on strict washing before eating?  No.  He says Israel will be saved, as we heard in the second lesson today, “because the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (11:29).  In other words, it’s what God has promised to them, and God does not go back on his promises.  So not because of what they do, but because of what God has done.  They are not achievers of God’s love; God has given it to them.  They are recipients.

 

     Earlier in his letter to the Romans, when St. Paul expressed his own deep sinfulness, and that he, like all of us, is under the power of sin, he had struggled with the same question:  “Who will deliver us from this body of death?”  It was not that he could claim the right pedigree, being a child of Abraham and a member of the tribe of Benjamin.  That highest of religious pedigrees would not be enough.  “Who will deliver us from this body of death?”  Only a recipient can give the right answer:  “Thanks be to God:  through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 7:25). 

 

     Achievers will not understand that.  They’re righteous; they’ve done so many good things in life, and now God should thank them for it.  But the Canaanite woman knows she’s not an achiever:  that’s why she’s asking for help.  She refused to demand her rights, to assert her dignity, to turn her nose up and walk away.  She simply asks, and asks again, and again.  And it was in her asking that Jesus sees her faith, great faith.  She made no demands.  She was a recipient.  

 

     Faith is asking, and receiving, because only recipients can say, “Thank you.  Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

                          -- Richard L. Jeske 

                                                                                                                                           8/20/17

     

              

    

         

 

A Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

WHEN THE WINDS CEASE

A Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Based on Matthew 14:22-33

Richard L. Jeske Vicar

 

     The Gospel reading for today is one of the most beautiful stories in the New Testament.  But a lot of people won’t see it that way.  They’ll see it as one of the most unbelievable stories in the New Testament.  In fact, it can prove an impediment to Christian believing, because they think it involves a total suspension of the intellect. 

 

    I’m reminded of one of my students years ago in the university classroom, who said, “Come on, Prof, I can hardly swim, much less walk on water.  Can you walk on water?” he asked me.  Now the thought did occur to me to tell him, “You know, if you want to pass this course, you’d better believe I can walk on water.”  But I didn’t say that.  Instead I told him that I was glad he was interrogating this text and that he was using his reason to do so, but that he just quit a little early.

 

     Of course, a lot of people engage in the suspension of their intellect every day.  They think that global warming is a hoax, that nuclear brinksmanship is the way to go with little dictators who possess weapons of mass destruction, that making the rich richer will lead to better lives for the poor.  People suspend their reason all the time, and then they wonder why they go around scared and angry and filled with resentment.  They quit thinking a little too early.

 

     That’s why one of our prayers in our Prayer Book (Proper 28) thanks God for the treasure of the Bible:   “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:  Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ….”  Hear, read, mark, learn, inwardly digest – that means that we don’t quit thinking too early about anything we read in the Bible.

 

     For instance, in the 18th century a movement called Deism quickly spread throughout Western countries, a movement that believed that, while God had created the world, God no longer is directly involved in it.  God set the laws of the universe, and things like miracles contradict the laws God had set up.  Therefore there has to be some rational explanation behind the miracle stories of the Bible.  So as far as our Gospel reading for today, they would say that the disciples thought their boat was further away from the shore that it was, and in the morning fog they saw Jesus as he was really walking on the shore – and the fog made it look like he was some kind of ghost.  In the feeding of the 5000 story it was evening and getting dark, when Jesus backed up to a cave and the disciples were inside the cave handing him food to pass out to the people, who then thought it was a miracle.  

 

     Then in the 19th century a young scholar named David Strauss said that the Deist approach was all wrong.  He understood the miracle stories as “narrative expressions of an idea.”  So what was each story trying to say?  Each story wasn’t trying to hide some rationally historical incident, but rather had a message, and our work was to discover the meaning of each story.  (Of course, that made his old professors look stupid, so Mr. Strauss was fired from his teaching position and never again held a professorship in theology again.)  But Strauss did get us to realize the Deists had quit thinking too early.

 

     Then in the 20th century New Testament studies began to ask what function the story had in the life of the early church.  How did the church’s experience after Easter affect their telling of the story of Jesus?  We certainly know that these stories, especially in the case of Matthew’s Gospel, were to be used in the missionary activity of the church.  We also learned that the Gospel writers were editors of the traditions about Jesus as they were handed down to them, and each Gospel writer got to decide where each story went in his Gospel.  And in the case of our Gospel reading today, only Matthew reports the entire story.  So what does Matthew want to say by means of this story?  How is it used as a vehicle for preaching the gospel of Christ in the days of the early church – and what does it say to us today?

 

     Remember, after Easter the disciples went back to Galilee and started up their fishing business again.  So many of the stories about Jesus after Easter involve the lake, the sea, and the rapid winds that suddenly rise there.  Many of them also tell us that when the disciples saw Jesus they couldn’t recognize him at first.  They are without him at first, at the mercy of wind and seas, at the mercy of their fears about their fate, until he gets in the boat and all is calm again.  They are afraid when they see him at first, but he tells them who he is:  “It is I, don’t be afraid.”  It is interesting to know that the Greek words translated “it is I” are really two words (ego eimi) that really mean “I am,” which is the name of God.  We are taken into the realm of the time after Easter, when the cross is behind him and death is conquered.  We are confronted with the work of the eternal God.  We are in the presence of eternity.

 

     If we keep thinking about this story, we will find a lot in it that tells us about the Jesus whom God raised from the dead, and it also tells us a lot about us.  Since the risen Jesus is no longer bound by the earthly, we want to be like him too, and have power over wind and wave.  Sometimes we have found ways to make the wind work for us, even to the point of providing electricity for our cities and towns. Sometimes we have found ways to overcome the dangers of the sea, and protect our cities and towns from it.  But then we are brought face to face with the sudden power of nature, when the lights go out and the tsunamis hit, to remind us that we do not yet have absolute power over nature and, like Peter, we experience the limitations of our humanity, because we are not yet fully risen with Christ, as we one day shall be.  Remember, when Jesus healed people, the disciples wanted to have that power too, and they did, but not always, because we are still bound up in an existence overshadowed by death, which Paul calls our “last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26).  We have learned to heal; we have learned even how to prolong death, because of the gifts God has given us in using our brains and our skills; but we have not yet learned how to conquer death, as he has done.  But that is God’s promise to us, a promise yet to be fulfilled.

 

     So Peter is not yet sure.  There’s still an “if” in his mind.  “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He wants the power of the risen Jesus, and he wants it now.  And he gets it.  Look at that, he starts walking.  But – and there’s still a “but” as long as we’re still in this life – he sees the old danger signs – he’s a sailor and he knows how the wind can get you; he looks at the waves, how they can in an instant cover you.  He’s sinking, he’s scared.  And in that instant, faced with his own humanity, he has only one hand to hold onto.  It belongs to Jesus, and that hand grabs him and leads him back into the boat, “and the wind ceased,” Matthew says.   “When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.”

 

     Do you remember from your Confirmation classes what this part of the church is called, the room we’re sitting in right now?  It’s called the “nave,” and that word comes from the Latin word “navis,” the Latin word for “ship,” or “boat.”  And throughout centuries of Christian art, the symbol of the church is that of a ship, the waves lapping at its bow, its sails furled against the wind.  “When they got into the boat,” Matthew wrote, “the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, `Truly you are the Son of God.’”

 

     There we were in our boat, going back to business as usual; at least we knew how to fish and to feed ourselves.  Thank God for that skill.  Time to call it a day, after using all our good training and trade secrets, and head home.  But on this lake the winds can whip up in an instant, and they’re deadly.  The waves are bigger than we expected, and we’re getting pushed further and further away from land.  Life has become dangerous, and our security is getting further and further away from us.  Of course, we want to be like God and call the shots in our lives – we want to be captains of our own fate -- but we suddenly discover we’re no match for the waves.  We could sink.  We could drown.  What we never imagined can happen.  So we start to panic, and we look around for some help, a hand to hold onto.  And it’s there, and he gets us into the boat, and the winds cease.  And we get to confess him as Lord, and to believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead (see Romans 10:9).

 

     There are people I know who have a problem with stories like these.  But I have a bigger problem.  I cannot understand people who think they can face the winds and the waves of life without God.  God has given them a ship in which to find relief from the disappointments and the trials and the setbacks that they face in life, a place where they can find Someone to hold onto, who promises them security even beyond their death.   They search for their safety and success in the strangest of places, everywhere else but here, among you, in Christ’s ship, the navis of God.    

 

     So in their turmoil St. Paul has something to say to them today:  “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who’s going up to get Christ out of heaven?’ or ‘Who’s going to bring him up out of the dead?’  You don’t have to ask those things, because “the Word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.”  Here, in the ship of the church, they will find security, and the Word is on your lips to tell them.  Here they will hear you confess Jesus as Lord, and here they will come to believe that God raised him from the dead.  And the winds will cease, and the waves will be calmed, and they will find safety, and healing.   They will be, as the Word tells us, saved.

-- Richard L. Jeske

                                                                                                                                             8/13/17

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A Sermon for the Feast of the Transfiguration

STUDYING THE BIBLE TO SEE CHRIST THERE

A Sermon for the Feast of the Transfiguration

Based on 2 Peter 1:20-21

The Episcopal Church of St. John’s in the Wilderness

Richard L. Jeske, Vicar

 

     Today is a Feast Day in the Episcopal Church, the Feast of the Transfiguration.  One might question why read it again this year, having done do on the last Sunday after Epiphany.  But this year August 6 falls on the Sunday, and August 6 has been celebrated in the Eastern Churches for over 1000 years as the Feast of the Transfiguration, and finally in 1457 in the Western Church as well (mainly as thanksgiving for victory over the Turks in Belgrade).  

 

    In a way, however, it is like poetic justice that the story of the Transfiguration gets inserted into our Pentecost season readings about Jesus’ teachings from Matthew, in other words in the middle of his ministry.  As we all know Luke used Mark’s Gospel as his outline for Jesus’ ministry, and filled in the many things that are not found in Mark’s Gospel.  And Mark placed the Transfiguration Story in the middle of his Gospel, so Luke followed suit.  But in the last hundred years we’ve learned a lot about the Gospel writers, that they are collectors of the stories about Jesus that were transmitted to them – collectors and editors – and it is their decision where each story or saying of Jesus appears in each of their Gospels.  

 

     But in the early church there was a criticism of Mark’s Gospel.  A church father by the name of Papias, who lived at the end of the first century A.D. says what his former teacher taught him:  “Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately all that he remembered of the things said and done by the Lord, but now however in order.  For neither did he hear the Lord, nor did he follow him, but afterwards, as I said, (he followed) Peter, who adapted his teachings to the needs (of the hearers), but not as though he were drawing up a connected account of the Lord’s oracles.  So then Mark made no mistake in thus recording some things just as he remembered them, for he made it his one care to omit nothing that he had heard and to make no false statement therein.”

 

     So maybe the Transfiguration Story is one of those stories that Mark did not have in order.  It sounds more like a resurrection story:  Jesus’ face is changed, his clothes are dazzling white; Moses, whose grave nobody knows, and Elijah who never died but was taken up into heaven, appear with Jesus “in glory,” Luke says, and they’re talking about Jesus’ “departure” (= Greek:  “exodus”).  It sounds like the end of the story of Jesus, not the middle of it.  And the end compliments the beginning, when at Jesus’ Baptism the voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

So New Testament scholarship today raises the question of whether the Transfiguration Story was the final ending to the earliest narratives of Jesus, which began with his Baptism.  And then scholars must go on to ask why Mark – and consequently Matthew and Luke – place the Transfiguration in the middle.  

 

     But wait just a minute!  Are we supposed to treat the Scriptures like that?  Can’t we just take them as they were written?  Why do we have to question things?  Isn’t the Bible inspired?  Isn’t God behind what the writers wrote, and if he is, who are we to tear things apart and speculate about whether the writers have things in their right places?

 

     In fact, in our second lesson there’s a kind of warning about that:  “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty….  First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy of scripture ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” 

 

     A very careful reader of this passage wrote to me last week asking about its meaning.  After all, as early in our lives as Sunday School we learned this passage as one of those biblical texts that referred to the inspiration of the Scriptures (along with 2 Timothy 3:16).  This passage says that God inspired the writers of Scripture and that we shouldn’t take it upon ourselves to place our own interpretation on what they wrote.  It sound like a warning to be careful about imposing our own will on the biblical writers.

 

     Have you ever seen the bumper sticker: “God wrote it. I believe it. That ends it.”?  In my first parish, as I was teaching the adult Bible class, one man was obviously becoming very upset with the way I was doing it.  He asked me, “You don’t seem to believe that God wrote the Bible.”  I answered that I believed God inspired it.  “But why can’t you say God wrote it?” he demanded.  I said I believed that Paul wrote his letters, that Isaiah wrote his prophecies, and that Luke wrote Acts, and that they were inspired by God to do so.  “So you don’t believe God wrote the Bible then,” he said; and then he added, “I don’t like it when you make us think about it. Who are we to try to analyze and tear apart and twist God’s Word?”  

 

     There’s the story about a man who asked his friend why he was feeling depressed, and his friend told him that he was in a financial hole and about to lose his business.  “Have you asked God about it?”  “How do I do that?” his friend answered.  “Well, just take the Bible, open it up, and let your finger go down onto the page and you’ll have your answer.” A couple days later saw his friend again, even more depressed. “Did you do what I told you to do?”  “Yes,” his friend said, really down in the dumps now.  “Well, what happened?”  His friend said, “I opened my Bible and let my finger drop onto a page and I was devastated.”  “Why?” his friend asked.  “Because it said, “Chapter Eleven.” 

 

     The Scriptures are a wonderful treasure that has been handed down to us for our benefit.  We have a prayer in our Prayer Book (for Proper 28) that goes like this:  “Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:  Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ….”

 

     The Bible that has come down to us through the ages is a true treasure of the church.  It is there for us to learn from, and I’ve tried to do that all my life, and whenever I read the Bible I usually find something new there, something that strikes me in a different way, that makes me think more deeply about God and about myself.  

     What does our second reading bring to us about our studying of the Scriptures?  The author doesn’t define what Scriptures he’s talking about.  Whether he’s thinking about the entire Old Testament, or just the prophets of the Old Testament, or just prophets that have risen up to speak in his local Christian congregations – he just doesn’t say.  He thinks of “prophecy” here as something spoken – and that prophets, or preachers – are moved by the Holy Spirit to speak from God.  But his emphasis is on the method of interpretation, and he doesn’t want that done individualistically.  He reflects the exact same thing St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:29:   “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weight what is said.”  Our writer of 2 Peter no doubt wants that done in terms of biblical interpretation too.  Study the Bible together, and let others weigh in with their thoughts.  Don’t think you’re the only one who can interpret the Bible correctly.  At best it is a community project:  study together and listen to each other.  In fact, that’s what the best scholars do all the time:  they seek out the opinion of other scholars, in order to learn from them and to gauge their own opinions with others who have read what they have read.  Bible study is really fun when we do it together.

 

     And one last consideration.  When I am asked whether I believe the Bible is inspired, I have no trouble saying yes to that.  But I will add, that what is important to me to find out is what the biblical writers were inspired to do.  Did they all write in the same style?  No.  Did they use the same vocabulary?   No.  Did some write Psalms, and others Proverbs; did some write letters and others Gospels?  Yes.  Were some led to copy from each other?  Yes.  Were some led to write as things were handed down to them from others?  Yes.  I cannot insist that the biblical writers should have done things my way, and that’s all the writer of 2 Peter was trying to get across.  

 

     So I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God.  Now I’m free to discover what it is that God inspired the biblical writers to do.  The same goes for preaching:  the pastor always tries to bring his or her congregation a message from God – not from Congress, not from the newspapers, not from a political party, but from God.  Thank goodness that it is a group like you that I get to speak to:  because you are the community of the Spirit, the Spirit of God, and who will be able to discern whether what I have to tell you is the message that you need to hear from God.

 

     Finally, a little image that Martin Luther used to describe our approach to the Scriptures.  The Bible, he said, is like the cradle in which the Christ-child was laid.  When we study the Bible we are to look to find Christ there, and not get that treasure, namely Christ, mixed up with the hay, wood, and stubble of the manger, the cradle in which Christ was laid.  So when we read the Bible, we always want to find the gospel there, how the message of Jesus’ life, his cross and resurrection, makes a difference for us for our living in this world.  So in our church, sermons are to be based on the biblical text for each Sunday, and whenever you hear a sermon, which is what a “prophecy” is, you will always want to know where the gospel of Christ was in that text – that’s what pastors are supposed to help you find:  the treasure that is God’s good news that in Christ you have been redeemed and made alive for renewed living in God’s church.

 

     It is a wonderful journey to which we all have been called.

--  Richard L. Jeske

                    8/6/17