The Cross as “Speechless failure”

The most therapeutic exercise for the Christian who is enduring suffering, of whatever sort that might be, is to contemplate the crucifixion of Jesus.

If ever mortal men found a real hero on this earth, those men were disciples. They, indeed, were hero-worshippers. Then think of the horrid shock and shame which overwhelmed them at the Cross. It was no splendid martyrdom for a great cause, no glorious conquest won at the cost of life; no epic to be sung or celebrated. No, the Cross was simply an utter overthrow, a speechless failure. It was all sordid, cruel, criminal, a gross injustice, an intolerable defeat of good by evil, of God by devils…. He their hero, their chosen leader, he was numbered with the transgressors. He was cast out with a curse upon him. Think how loyalty would burn to right this wrong, to clear his memory, to save his reputation, to prove that gross outrage had been done to him, to magnify the life so that the death might be forgotten…. But nothing of the kind seems to have occurred to the Evangelists. They literally glory in the Cross…. They are clear, with an absolute conviction, that the best and most wonderful thing he ever did was… to die a felon’s death, between two robbers. It was their hero’s greatest heroism that he was executed as a common criminal.

–Philip Rhinelander, The Faith of the Cross, cited by Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion

Whatever the Christian may endure, the folly of the cross proves itself ever and again as the power of God and the wisdom of God.

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Published in: on February 16, 2017 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Prayer for Illumination

Here is an example of a prayer that was used before a sermon on Micah 1:1-2:9, for which the New Testament Lesson was John 1:14-18. A minister could adapt this prayer according to what he is preaching on any given Lord’s Day.

O Radiant God,
  Source of never ending glory,
Creator,
  Saviour of your people,
We pray to you for the gift of the Holy Spirit,
  that we might understand the prophecies
    of your servant Micah,
That being instructed by his word,
    we might be wise in your ways.
We pray that hearing the Gospel
  of your servant John
  we might perceive grace and truth
  and thereby enter your eternal kingdom.
Through Jesus Christ,
  our Lord.

AMEN.

Source: Hughes Oliphant Old, The Prophecies of Micah and the Gospel at Christmas: A Series of Sermons (1985), 10. Rev. Old preached this series of sermons to his flock at Faith Presbyterian Church in West Lafayette, Indiana during Advent and Christmas, 1984.

Pentecost

The Christian Church celebrates the Feast of Pentecost tomorrow! Pentecost, Jesus’ outpouring of his Holy Spirit upon his church, 10 days after his ascension to his heavenly throne, is as necessary for our salvation as his incarnation (Christmas), and his death and resurrection (Easter). The Holy Spirit, after all, is our connection with Jesus, the one who gives us a share in Christ and all his benefits (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 20). Here are some Old and New Testament Bible readings worth contemplating: Numbers 11:24-29; Joel 2:15-32; John 14:15-18; Acts 2:1-21 [the account of Pentecost]; Ephesians 5:1-20.

I wish everyone a joyful and Spirit-filled Pentecost feast, which overflows in a Spirit-filled life!

 

Numbers 11:24–29

24 So Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the Tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took of the Spirit that was on him and put the Spirit on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again.

26 However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the Tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. 27 A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”

29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”

Joel 2:15–32

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion,

declare a holy fast,

call a sacred assembly.

16 Gather the people,

consecrate the assembly;

bring together the elders,

gather the children,

those nursing at the breast.

Let the bridegroom leave his room

and the bride her chamber.

17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord,

weep between the temple porch and the altar.

Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord.

Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,

a byword among the nations.

Why should they say among the peoples,

‘Where is their God?’ ”

The Lord’s Answer

18 Then the Lord will be jealous for his land

and take pity on his people.

19 The Lord will reply to them:

“I am sending you grain, new wine and oil,

enough to satisfy you fully;

never again will I make you

an object of scorn to the nations.

20 “I will drive the northern army far from you,

pushing it into a parched and barren land,

with its front columns going into the eastern sea

and those in the rear into the western sea.

And its stench will go up;

its smell will rise.”

Surely he has done great things.

21 Be not afraid, O land;

be glad and rejoice.

Surely the Lord has done great things.

22 Be not afraid, O wild animals,

for the open pastures are becoming green.

The trees are bearing their fruit;

the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.

23 Be glad, O people of Zion,

rejoice in the Lord your God,

for he has given you

the autumn rains in righteousness.

He sends you abundant showers,

both autumn and spring rains, as before.

24 The threshing floors will be filled with grain;

the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.

25 “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—

the great locust and the young locust,

the other locusts and the locust swarm—

my great army that I sent among you.

26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,

and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,

who has worked wonders for you;

never again will my people be shamed.

27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,

that I am the Lord your God,

and that there is no other;

never again will my people be shamed.

The Day of the Lord

28 “And afterward,

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy,

your old men will dream dreams,

your young men will see visions.

29 Even on my servants, both men and women,

I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

30 I will show wonders in the heavens

and on the earth,

blood and fire and billows of smoke.

31 The sun will be turned to darkness

and the moon to blood

before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

32 And everyone who calls

on the name of the Lord will be saved;

for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem

there will be deliverance,

as the Lord has said,

among the survivors

whom the Lord calls.

 

John 14:15–18 

15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Acts 2:1–21

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “ ‘In the last days, God says,

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy,

your young men will see visions,

your old men will dream dreams.

18 Even on my servants, both men and women,

I will pour out my Spirit in those days,

and they will prophesy.

19 I will show wonders in the heaven above

and signs on the earth below,

blood and fire and billows of smoke.

20 The sun will be turned to darkness

and the moon to blood

before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.

21 And everyone who calls

on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

 

Ephesians 5:1–20

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them.

8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:

“Wake up, O sleeper,

rise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.”

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

John’s Pre-born Prophetic Vault

Framed in light,
Mary sings through the doorway.
Elizabeth’s six month joy
jumps, a palpable greeting,
a hidden first encounter
between son and Son.
And my heart turns over
when I meet Jesus
in you.

–Luci Shaw

 

Published in: on December 19, 2012 at 11:38 am  Leave a Comment  
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Receiving

We prefer to think of ourselves as givers–powerful, competent, self-sufficient, capable people whose goodness motivates us to employ some of our power, competence and gifts to benefit the less fortunate. Which is a direct contradiction of the biblical account of the first Christmas. There we are portrayed not as the givers we wish we were but as the receivers we are. Like and Matthew go to great lengths to demonstrate that we–with our power, generosity, competence and capabilities–had little to do with God’s work in Jesus. God wanted to do something for us so strange, so utterly beyond the bounds of human imagination, so foreign to human projection, that God had to resort to angels, pregnant virgins, and stars in the sky to get it done. We didn’t think of it, understand it or approve it. All we could do, at Bethlehem, was receive it.

–William Willimon

Published in: on December 12, 2012 at 11:12 am  Leave a Comment  

Prayer for the Third Sunday of Advent

O Lord Jesus Christ, who at your first coming sent your messenger to prepare the way before you:
Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries may likewise prepare and make ready your way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at your second coming to judge the world, we may be found an acceptable people in your sight, who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end.  AMEN.

Published in: on December 12, 2012 at 10:38 am  Leave a Comment  

Prayer for the Second Sunday of Advent

Blessed Lord, who has caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may hear them, read, contemplate, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by the patience and comfort imparted by your holy Word, we may embrace and always hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. AMEN.

Published in: on December 8, 2012 at 7:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Waiting

Waiting, as we see it in the people on the first pages of the Gospel, is waiting with a sense of promise. “Zechariah, …your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son.” “Mary, …Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son” (Lk. 1:13, 31). People who wait have received a promise that allows them to wait. They have received something that is at work in them, like a seed that has started to grow. This is very important. We can only really wait if what we are waiting for has already begun in us. So waiting is never a movement from nothing to something. It is always a movement from something to  something more. Zechariah, Mary, and Elizabeth were living with a promise that nurtured them, that fed them, and that made them able to stay where they were. And in this way, the promise itself could grow in them and for them.

–Henri Nouwen

Published in: on December 5, 2012 at 9:35 am  Leave a Comment  
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Advent is here!

The Coming One says:

At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.   –Luke 21:27-28

“Come, Lord Jesus! Maranatha!”
pray the Spirit and the Bride.
Come upon the clouds of heaven
with your angels at your side.
Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!
Evermore with us abide.

 

Published in: on December 1, 2012 at 10:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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