18. A Sermon on Matthew 11:16–19&25–30

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The original version of this sermon was presented at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church E.L.C.A. in Tacoma, Washington on the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (July 6, 2014)

THE PREFACE OF THE SERMON

The Prayer: Almighty God, send your Spirit upon me, so that the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

The Text: A reading from the Gospel of Matthew 11:16–19 and 25–30. “To what can I compare this generation? It is like children playing a game in the public square. They complain to their friends, ‘We played wedding songs, and you did not dance, so we played funeral songs, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The congregation is seated … “Please be seated.”

The Greeting: Grace and peace of your Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

If appropriate acknowledgements of individuals.

The Title: Beware of your own self

The Subject: Our subject on this day of the Lord, is the sin of pride and the invitation of Christ.

The Reason (purpose): The reason why I am preaching on this matter is so that we may challenge ourselves and resist anything that separates us from Christ.

The Points: 1. The Invitation 2. Pride and Humility. 3. The Father and the Son. 4. Come unto Christ

THE INTRODUCTION 

I will begin this introduction with this thought, how willing are we to make adjustments in our lives and in our relationship with God?
Saint Francis of Assisi was a son of a successful merchant and had all the privileges that came with a successful family. As a young man he volunteered for military service and was sent into battle. The horror of war and the conditions that came with being a prisoner of war broke his health, but waken his soul. After being released from prison he returned home and found that the privileges of wealth and success no longer appealing. Instead, he was drawn to a simpler life of service and dedication to the Gospel of Christ. Francis heard the invitation of God and adjusted his vision.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta was a teacher and principle of a school for daughters of the wealthy class in India. By all accounts, she had a very successful carrier as a nun and as an educator. In 1946 she took a trip and while on the train she heard God speak to her. Soon she was awakening to an invitation by God to serve the very poor of Calcutta and she changed her vocation to that of a missionary. Like Francis before her, Teresa adjusted her vision.
Throughout our lives, sometimes we get so carried away with what we think is decent or proper that we are unable to see God working in our lives and in the lives of others. It is at these times that we need to walk away and reflect more upon the Gospels and less on our own convictions. We need to listen to what that voice deep within hearts, not our minds, is saying and adjust our vision accordingly. The Gospel lesson today is about self-reflection and making necessary adjustments to our vision of God. It is about looking honestly at out lives and taking a true inventory of ourselves.
The Gospel lesson is also about God being careful about who he reveals himself to; God does not what to reveal himself to individuals who will only reject the revelation and walk away. Therefore, God only wants to reveal himself to those who will trust him in the way a child will trust a parent. This is the true relation between God and humanity, father and child.
Now let us explore the Gospel lesson and what it has to offer our lives.

THE BODY OF THE SERMON 

The First Point: The Invitation

Jesus spoke against the attitude of the people of his day, because no matter what he said or did they took the opposite view. He looked right at them and did not allow them to soften or re-direct the message of the Torah or the Prophets. Because of this they were cynical and skeptical towards him because he challenged their comfort zones and self-centered lives.

Jesus compared them to children playing in a public square, who invited others to come and join them, but they ignored the invitation and went on playing their own games. To encourage their participation, they sung festive songs, but they simply would not come over to sing and dance. They sung memorial songs, but they would not participate in the memorial. The people of his day, like the second group of children in the square, were unresponsive and ignored the invitation by both John the Baptist and Jesus.

God wants us to heed the invitation he offers us and come to him. He does not call out to us in a demanding voice nor are his words are harsh or demeaning. God calls out to all of us to come over to his table and take comfort from our long journey and listen to his words of wisdom. Yes, sometimes his instructions to us are unpleasant, but that is because God is not going to hide the truth from us, even if it makes us unconfutable. After all, do we want to be around someone who is going to be honest and open with us or do we want to be around someone who is going to hide the truth (so that we can be comfortable) or have hidden agendas?

Sadly, today there are so many individuals who simply do not heed the invitation from God to come to his table and participate in the assembly that encircles the table. These individuals are so caught up in their own lives and self-sufficiency that they cannot hear God gently calling to them and their busy life styles hinders their ability to give the invitation a serious reflection. For these individuals praising what has been created, such as mountain ranges and open prairie in the spring, is easier than taking time to properly praise the Creator who made them. Jesus taught us, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” [1] But these busy individuals would respond to this by saying something like, I have an important meeting in three days and I must prepare for it, so don’t bother me with an idea like that. Nonetheless, Jesus still calls out to them and invites them to the table of good fellowship.

In light of this passage, our challenge is to ensure that we are able to hear the “still small voice [2] of the living and eternal God. There are times when God is calling to draw us near to him and other times God is attempting to guide us on a matter. Therefore, the first step in this listening process is to make ourselves available to God through prayer, especially prayer during quite times.

Now let us turn to “wisdom” in this matter. Wisdom is shown to be correct though its results. In other words, actions speak louder than words. In this context what else can be said about wisdom? Listen to the Book of Proverbs. In the eighth chapter we read this about wisdom, “I, Wisdom, live together with good judgment. I know where to discover knowledge and discernment. All who fear LORD will hate evil. Therefore, I hate pride and arrogance, corruption and perverse speech.” [3] This passage from Proverbs confirms that good decision making is grounded on knowledge and discernment. Making good decisions requires that we first step away from ourselves and then look at a matter from all sides and opinions. The people whom Jesus was addressing had their own understanding of what was a good decision and it was grounded in their very narrow view. They did not hear that still small voice in their hearts and this led them to ignore the invitation they were offered. Rather than intellectually engaging John and Jesus, they engaged in throwing insults at them. They said John was possessed by a demon and Jesus was a drunk. Although they had seen and heard both John and Jesus, they did not allow themselves to be spiritually awaken. Instead they allowed their pride and arrogance to be awaken, they had no desire to adjust their vision.

The Second Point: Pride and Humility

Jesus said in his prayer, “I thank you, Father, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent.” Listen to the commentary written by Don Schwager about this verse, “Jesus’ prayer also contains a warning that pride can keep us from the love and knowledge of God. What makes us ignorant and blind to the things of God? Certainly intellectual pride, coldness of heart, and stubbornness of will – shut out God and his kingdom. Pride is the root of all vice and the strongest influence propelling us to sin. It first vanquishes the heart, making it cold and indifferent towards God. It also closes the mind to God’s truth and wisdom for our lives. What is pride? It is the excessive love of oneself at the expense of others and the exaggerated value of one’s own learning and importance.”

Jesus was grateful that true spiritual wisdom was kept hidden and not revealed to those who would not properly receive it. He knew that those who were filled with intellectual pride would not be able to hear his words and understand his teachings. No matter what John and Jesus said and no matter how dire their warning, these cold hearted intellectuals would not adjust their vision. Pride is the ultimate expression of self-centeredness, when I was a younger man we called it “me, myself, and I.”

There are seven deadly sins, sometimes called cardinal sins. They are wrath, greed, laziness, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony; and many theologians consider pride as the worst of the seven, because it makes the heart cold and indifferent towards the living God. Listen to what St. Vincent de Paul had to say about pride, “You must ask God to give you power to fight against the sin of pride – which is your greatest enemy. The root of all that is evil, and the failure of that is good. For God resists the proud.” There is a kind of blindness associated with pride, it is mentioned in the Book Proverbs, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” [4] There are individuals who are so full of pride and confidence that they believe it is in possible for them to make a mistake. When they do make a mistake, rather than admitting it and adjusting their vision, they often make it appear that someone else did it.

The simple message of the gospel which Jesus proclaimed was being understood and joyfully received by the common everyday person in the market place. But the sophisticated intellectuals who should have recognized it immediately, dismissed it. They may have done so because of its lack of complexity or their unwillingness to associate with those who are not as sophisticated as they were. Regardless of what excuse was used, it would still be an expression of a haughty spirit.

Jesus offered praise to his Father for keeping spiritual wisdom hidden from those filled with intellectual pride, and revealed it to those who are child-like. This brings to mind what was written in the Gospel of Mark, “Anyone who does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” [5] There are two characteristics of childhood that are of great spiritual value, they are humility and simplicity.

To be child-like is to accept the words of your Father without question or hesitation. It means that you will not only listen to what the Father has to say, but you will listen attentively. This is how we are to listen to the Scriptures and that gentle call from God. Responding to God our Father in the manner of a child is an act of humility and it demonstrates that we are willing to be taught by the Scriptures and the Spirit. Those who walk with pride and a haughty spirit cannot respond to God in humility and they find it very difficult to approach God in a child-like manner.

This leads us to a reflection upon humility. Humility is not just placing others first, but it is also the practice of placing oneself on the lower step. Humility is the opposite of our human nature. Human nature wants to focus on its own self, first and foremost, for all to know and see. Human nature does not want to think of others, but instead wants others to think of it. While humility is content to wear colors that do not draw attention to itself, human nature wants to wear the bright and unmistakable color that boldly proclaim its presence. Time and time again Christ teaches us place others first, and his entire life among us was a sacrifice that placed mankind before himself. When we practice placing ourselves on a lower step we will be walking humbly with our God.
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Saint Francis was born into wealth and entitlement, he did not have a need and those around him served him without question. However, the Holy Spirit wakened his soul and it became humble and “filled with renewed joy from LORD [and he understood that] the poor will rejoice in the Holy One.” [6] Once that wakening broke forth from his soul, Francis dedicated himself to walking humbly with God. At the end of his life he understood that “humility and reverence of LORD [has its own kind of] wealth, honor, and life.” [7]

The Third Point: The Father and the Son

Let us begin this review with verse twenty-seven of the Revised Standard Bible, “All things have been delivered to me by my Father.” Jesus now changes gears and speaks to the people, but now tenderly, like a Rabbi with his students. In the Gospel of John Jesus clearly stated his union with the Father when he said that we must always believe that he is in the Father and the Father is in him. [8] Here in verse twenty-seven Jesus clearly states his relationship to the Father, and makes three unmistakable claims to having a special union and relationship with God. They are: The Father has delivered all things to him, his relationship with the Father, and the ability to reveal the Father. Jesus has a strong and very personal relationship the Father, and he is very knowledgeable of his true Father.

Listen to how The One Volume Commentary explains this verse: “Jesus now declares that the same authority belongs to Himself, because all created things have been delivered to Him by God. This supreme authority over the universe, which was delivered to Him. Such power could not be given to just any creation, and the possession of it by Christ can only be explained by assuming that He is, as the Gospel of John and the Epistles represent Him as being, both the creator and sustainer of the universe.” This is confirmed in verse three of the first chapter of the Gospel of John, it reads, “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” The first chapter of Colossians also confirms this in verse sixteen, it says, “In him all things in heaven and earth were created, things visible and invisible … all things have been created through him.” Indeed, all things in heaven and earth have been delivered to Christ; and this means that Christ has full and complete authority over everything.

This universal authority of Christ is recognized by both the apostles and demons. In the Gospel of Luke, a demon says to Jesus, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God” [9] and in the Gospel of John, Peter says to Jesus, “You are the Holy One of God.” [10] While demons and apostles are generally opposed to each other and have very different agendas, they both clearly agree on one thing, that Jesus is the Christ and the Holy One of God!

Before moving onward to my next point, I am going to say a few words about the Kingdom that has been delivered to Christ. The Kingdom of Heaven is realized in this present world, among the human community. In his book Jesus the Jewish Theologian, Brad Young has this to say about this realm, “For Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven is: 1. The Power of God – that is, God doing what he wants. 2. The People of God – that is, people doing what God wants.” Simply put, God commands and the people obey by doing it. With this in mind, it is only natural for someone to ask, what are the principle commandments that Christ wants us to obey? The Gospel of Mark answers this for us, in chapter twelve it is written, “What commandment is first of all? Jesus answered, “Hear, O People: LORD is our God, LORD alone. You shall love LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There are no other commandments greater then these.” [11]  Therefore, as the Father loves the Son, and has placed all things in his hands, [12] we are to love God and humanity.

Now let us explore the statement, “No one knows the Son except the Father.” A Father, like any parent, knows his children; he knows their habits, their dislikes, and their strengths. A father knows these because he was there before the child was born and once the child came into the world, the Father witnessed every little detail of the development of the child. For an example, he not only knows the child does not like strawberries, but has witness from the beginning how this dislike evolved into what it is. With this in mind, we have an understanding that no one really knows an individual except the parents.

The relationship between Jesus and God is truly a Father-Son relationship. Like an obedient child, Jesus does nothing without first presenting the matter before God the Father. By living in this manner, Jesus found great favor with God, his Father, who acknowledged this favor at the Baptism of Jesus by saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, whom I am well pleased with.” [13] The communion we see in the Gospel stories between the Father and the Son is the core of their relationship; and this union between them points to their unity in the Trinity. Their shared divine knowledge also points to their shared divine nature; as the Gospel of John stated, Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus. Needless to say, this is a great mystery.

The degree in which Jesus was obedient to God the Father was both deep and profound. His desire to please his Father not only meant that he did nothing without first presenting matter before the Father, it also meant a life of self-sacrificing, placing the requests of God before his own wants and needs. This is confirmed in the Gospel of John, when Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, of all those He has given me I shall lose none of them, but raise them up at the last day. For the will of my Father is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” [14]

In this context Jesus is the example we have concerning our own faith journey. God is to be at the very core of who we are and what we do. We are to bring everything to God, through prayer, and lay it before him. We are to avoid the arrogance and pride of the sophisticated intellectuals, and submit our hearts and walk according to the will of God and not ourselves.

The Fourth Point: Come unto Christ

In verse 28 we read about a gentle call from Jesus to his followers and apostles, the words of this call are some of the most compassionate words found in the Christians Scriptures. Here we clearly see the pastoral nature of Jesus and his desire to serve humanity as a shepherd and not as an overlord. Listen to what the Life Application Commentary has to say on this verse, “These words focused on Jesus’ care and concern for his followers his promise of guidance and presence, and the ultimate future rewards. Jesus said, ‘Let me teach you.’ Jesus, their leader and example, was also the ultimate servant, humble and gentle. His path of humble service is the pattern for us to follow.”

In these comforting words of Jesus we also find a harness (the yoke). Here Jesus wants to remind those who welcomed him and received his good news about God are “yoked to his message and his life style.” Through embracing him they are now associated with him and carry his yoke. For many Christians today the yoke is a necklace with a cross and for clergy and preachers the stole is sometimes referred to as a yoke. If you look closely at your lives, you will notice he is not the one placing burdens and heavy yokes upon your life, instead you are. Christ wants us to freely accept him and freely place his yoke upon ourselves. Throughout the Gospel stories Christ invites us into relationship with him, but he does not demand it. We are free draw near to Christ or to separate ourselves from Christ. It is completely our choice, to choose either to come closer to the Light of Christ or to walk away from him. Regardless of what we choose, Christ will always call out to us and invite us. The arrogant sophisticated intellectuals of the story decided to walk away, may we not follow their example.

Now for a final thought on comfort and I will begin with a quote from Billy Graham,God does not comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us the comforters.” Saint Francis makes a similar statement,O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console.” While God indeed wants to offer us comfort and rest, he does not want us to be in full communion with the soft and comfortable chair nor does he want us to become disconnected from both the pain and the joy of humanity. He wants us to respond to is Word that gives us comfort and spiritual renewal by going forth and serving those who are in most need of our talents and his Word, our Master.

THE CONCLUSION 

In our Gospel lesson today Jesus is challenging our attitudes and wants to make any necessary adjustments to our vision. Christ does not what us to become so focused on what we think is decent or proper that we ignore his invitation and any possible relationships with our neighbors. God is always inviting us and stirs that small voice in our hearts. What we may experience as an annoyance or inconvenience may well be our heavenly Father trying to get our attention. When we think that God wants our attention we need to say, speak Lord, your servant is listening. [15] Finally, I encourage each and every one of us to develop a strong and healthy relationship with our heavenly Father, for as Christ made his relationship with the Father the center of his life, we should do the very same. Amen.

Written by Dave Pflueger July 6, 2014 © copyrighted by Pflueger

FOOTNOTES: [1] Matthew 6:34. [2] 1 Kings 19:12 RSV. [3] Proverbs 8:12-13. [4] Proverbs 6:18. [5] Mark 10:15. [6] Isaiah 29:19. [7] Proverbs 22:4. [8] John 14:11. [9] Luke 4:34. [10] John 6:69. [11] Mark 12:28-31. [12] John 3:35. [13] Matthew 3:17. [14] John 6:38-40. [15] 1 Samuel 3:10.

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14. Holy Oil

Then you shall take the anointing oil, and anoint the tabernacle (place of worship) and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it shall become holy. Exodus 40:9 NRSV
This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. It shall not be used in any ordinary anointing of the body, and you shall make no other like it in composition; it is holy, and it shall be holy to you. Exodus 30:31-32 NRSV
Samuel took a vial of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him; he said, “LORD has anointed you ruler over his people Israel.” 1st Samuel 10:1 NRSV
I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him. Psalm 89:20 NRSV

An Overview

Beginning with the Covenant with the Hebrew people and by the divine plan of the Holy, the first formalized hosts where the presence of God would dwell among the Jewish people would be the Bread of the Presence and the Sacred Oil.
These two hosts and the practices that surrounded them are some of the oldest sacred activities in which the Living God becomes present among the faithful individuals through the prayers and ritual of the clergy and the assembly of the faithful. These rites and practices were instituted by God in the establishment of the Covenant with the Hebrew people through Moses and they continue to this day in both Judaism and Christianity.

The concept of using oil for religious purposes has been around for as long as humankind has had desired for formal rites. Many cultures throughout the world have used oil for ritual purposes and the Hebrew community through the Mosaic Covenant has used Sacred Oil for healing, anointing kings, objects, priests, as well as for other events in the life of the Jewish people for centuries.

In both the Jewish and Christian communities an object or individual becomes sacred when anointed with oil by an appropriate person. In this context the act of placing hand(s) on a person is the act of consecration (commissioning) and the Spirit of God within the oil makes the object or person holy. [1]

The Early Christians

In light of their Jewish background it is no surprise that the apostles of Jesus the Anointed would recognize the Sacred Oil as a host of the Spirit of God and continue the practice of using it for ceremonial purposes (especially in the Christian Mikvah of Conversion and in healing rites).

Like the early Christians of yesterday, Christians of today consecrate the oil as a host of the Holy Spirit by a bishop or for Protestants a presbyter/elder on Thursday of Holy Week and afterwards is presented in containers to appropriate clergy for use in their ministries. While these Christian leaders may consecrate oil at other times throughout the year, Holy Thursday is the traditional date to do so.

Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. James 5:14 NRSV

In the Christian ceremonies in which the anointing the oil is used, a cleric uses the oil to make a cross upon the forehead of the recipient of the rite. While throughout the history of Christianity this anointing has produced healing and even miracles, the healing of the body is not the initial purpose of this anointing. The primary purpose of this anointing is to strengthen and comfort the soul of the individual who is weak and ill, so that the soul may become strong and whole through the comfort and sacredness of the Spirit of God.
Modern medical professional acknowledge that for an individual to properly heal they first need a strong and healthy spirit (soul) within their being and therefore treating the soul provides a person with a foundation for either human healing or for the ultimate healing – our union with the Living God (death).

When Consecrating a Priest. You shall take the anointing oil, and pour it on his head and anoint him. Exodus 29:7 NRSV

When ordaining clergy, Christians follow the basic concepts of the Mosaic Covenant and the teaching of Jesus the Anointed One, in that the leadership lays hands upon the candidate (the commissioning) and then the candidate is anointed (making sacred), therefore setting the person apart for the ministry of Word and Sacrament (presbyters).

From these two examples we can see that Christianity of today has an unbroken link to the Mosaic Covenant and a bond with the apostles of the Anointed One. From this foundation, Christian clerics can present the sacred for times of celebration and for those times when an individual is personally in most need of it.

In Closing

The Sacred Oil has been used for the benefit of the faithful for centuries and has strengthen many through receiving the comfort that comes from the Spirit of the Living God. While the Sacred Oil does not nourish and sustains our souls, because that is the Mystery of the Bread and Wine, it does offer our souls comfort and renewed sanctification through the union of humanity and the Sacred. Thanks be to God!

An Old Family Recipe: You shall make it an oil of Holy ointment, an ointment compound after the art of the perfumer: it shall be a Holy Anointing Oil. Exodus 30:25
You shall make holy anointing oil. Twelve pounds of liquid myrrh. Six pounds of cane. Six pounds of cinnamon. Twelve pounds of cassia. One gallon of olive oil. Exodus 30:23-24

Written by Dave Pflueger April 6, 2011 © copyrighted by Pflueger

FOOTNOTE: Exodus 40:9

11. A Class on the Holy Trinity

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This brief lecture was presented during summer of 2010 in the Responsible Living Unit of the Pierce County jail in the State of Washington.

THE PREFACE FOR THE CLASS

The Prayer:  Almighty God, send your Spirit upon me, so that the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

The Text:  The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark 12:29-30, “Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, LORD our God, LORD is one. And you shall love LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’”

The class is seated … “Please be seated.”

The Greeting: Greetings everyone – May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

If appropriate acknowledgements of individuals.

The Title: Our subject on this day of the Lord, is “An Introduction of the Holy Trinity.

The Reason:  The reason why I am teaching on the Holy Trinity, is so that you may have an introduction to the Trinity.

The Points: The points of this class will be … 1. The Father. 2. The Word 3. The Holy Spirit.

THE INTRODUCTION FOR THE CLASS

I begin this introduction with a statement made by Jesus, “I will pray to the Father and He will give you another Helper.” [1] Here, in his own words Jesus clearly mentions the Holy Trinity when he said, “I, Father, and Helper.” This passage gives us an insight on how the seamlessly the Trinity interacts within itself, the Son asks the Father, then the Father grants and sends the Spirit. From the first pages of the Bible, it is clear that God is one; in the Book of Genesis of the Hebrew Scriptures it is written, “[God said,] Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” [2] Through using the words “Us” and “Our” it becomes clear from the start that God was more than one, but three in complete union with each other, a union that is for the most part beyond our limited human imagination. Although is God beyond our comprehension, we do have a unity we can grasp, ourselves. Each one of us has a mind, body, and soul. These three things are woven together and constitutes who we are. Today I will not offer you in-depth discourse on the Holy Trinity, which is a great mystery, but instead an introduction; one that should be understood as a summary of the subject.

THE BODY OF THE CLASS

With these in mind, let us turn our attention to my first point, the Father.

I will begin my introduction of God with LORD and this thought, the body of God is the one we call LORD, a real and existing presence. However, the body of God is beyond our human comprehension. You can see the body that light has and we cannot see the body that sound has, but we know that they are real and have a real existence.

While God is known by many titles and names, I will focus on only a few. The eternal and living God is known as I AM and the name for God is spelled YHWH. This name for God is pronounced in English as “Yahweh” and most English Bibles replace both the letters YHWH and the word Yahweh with the name LORD, which is always spelled entirely using capital letters. Unfortunately, most English Bibles have put the word “the” before the name LORD and thus changed it from a name to a title. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures LORD made himself known and his desire for humanity to live in harmony with him and each other. The Jewish Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth knew LORD very well and called him Father. Throughout his earthly life Jesus proclaimed his love and union with the one whom he called Father. Because Jesus called LORD Father Christianity has continued his practice.

LORD is the universal one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.” [3] For the most part the ability to be over, in, and through all at the same moment in time is beyond the limitations of our intellect and we can only grasp a little piece of the bigger picture. Therefore, it is enough for us to acknowledge that LORD, through the Word, is the creator and of everything throughout the universe; and as such, “LORD is our Father, [and] we are the clay, and [he is] the potter. We all are formed by [his] hand.” [4]

We should not find it strange that the one who is called LORD is not only our God, but also our Father. For as it is written, “Is not he your Father who created you? Has he not made you and established you.” [5] Yes indeed, he has done these things and he is our Father.

With this in mind, Judaism believes children belong to God and therefore parents do not own their children. In this context parents are caretakers and guardians of the children of God. Throughout his life among us, Jesus reflected this and reduce the emphasis on his earthly parents and focused on his relationship with his true Father, who was also God. Again and again, Jesus made it clear that God was his true Father and humanity was his brothers and sisters. Jesus wanted his followers to strongly embrace this Jewish concept and commit themselves to a relationship with their true Father. To this end, Jesus taught them a prayer that clearly directed them to their true parent, who is “Our Father, who is in heaven.” [6] Throughout the Lord’s Prayer Jesus affirms that the one who is in heaven is our real Father; and like any father who truly cares for his children, our Father takes an interest in our lives, and he will respond to us – according to what is in our best interests.

I will begin my final thought on God the Father with a gem from Billy Graham, “We are still His children, even when we disobey. We feel guilty and ashamed, and sometimes we simply want to hide. But God still loves us, and He wants to forgive us and welcome us back!”

God does not does not want us to disobey him, but instead he wants us to walk in his ways. However, we are only human and through our weaknesses we will disobey and find ourselves in sin. “But when we sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. “He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.” [7]

The second point: The Son – the Word.

My introduction on the Word, the logos of God, begins before the Word was born in Bethlehem and two passages written by the Apostle John gives us an introductory foundation for this. The first passage is found in the Gospel he wrote, here it says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.” [8] The second passage comes from a letter he wrote and begins in which the same way he wrote the Gospel. “We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seenhe is the Word of Life.” [9] These verses from the Apostle John provide those of faith some basic evidence that Jesus was among humanity before his human birth.

The Logos, the Word, is what created the universe and is the family redeemer of the family known as Christianity. Through the Word everything was created, from the very “beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” [10] This was accomplished when the Word of LORD merely spoke, and the heavens were created. “He breathed the word, and all the stars were born.” [11] Both through breath (Spirit) and voice (Word) LORD gave life and created everything on the earth and the far expansions of the universe, beyond our planetary system. The ability to create from absolutely nothing is only one great and amazing mystery of God, another mystery of God is the ability to be everywhere at every moment. The Word is the kinsmen redeemer of humanity and the one who promises to deliver, vindicate, and defend the children of God. The Word claims the privilege to act on our behalf when we are troubled, needy, or in danger. When we have allowed ourselves to be enticed by temptation and make mistakes, the Word will deliver us by paying the full price for our freedom and when we are trouble by the circumstances of our lives, the Word will comfort us. As our deliverer, the Word will redeem us with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of good judgement.

The prophet Isaiah foretold the manner in which the Word would enter human existence when he wrote. “The Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.” [12] At the appointed time, the Spirit of LORD came upon Mary and through a mystery of this presence she conceived a child. Therefore, the conception and birth of Christ does not require the intellectual reasoning of the human mind but instead the faith of the human heart. Jesus was born to Mary, his biological mother, and his step-father, Joseph, in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod. [13] Do not allow this to surprise you, because Jews receive their identity through their mothers, not their fathers.

The birth and life of Jesus came about because “God so loved the world, that he gave it his only begotten son, so that whoever believes in him should not parish, but instead will have everlasting life.” [14] Therefore, Jesus did not come [among humanity] to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. [15] Giving his life as a ransom meant death by crucifixion and through this “we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the wealth of his grace.” [16]

Now let us turn our attention to a mystery even more profound than the birth of Jesus, his resurrection from the dead. After his death, the human body of Jesus spent three days in the tomb, then he rose from the dead; we know this because the Scriptures say, on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the tomb … and they found the stone rolled away from it; they entered the tomb and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus [17] After his body was not found in the tomb, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of his disciples and said to them “Peace be to you.” [18] One might ask, why did he have a resurrection; after all he had secured salvation and a right relation with God through his death? The beat and simplest answer is this, Christ died and rose again for this very purpose – to be “Lord of both of the living and of the dead.” [19] This is the mastery of the sovereign LORD and God of all things seen and unseen. If his birth was a soft message that he was God, then his resurrection would be a thunderous proclamation of his divinity. Here the Word leaves no doubt that God created everything through him, [20] including the creation of life and death.

I will leave this introduction on the Word with this reflection, when Jesus had completed his earthly ministries and finished instructing his apostles, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. [21] Jesus ended his time among humanity with another clear sign that he is the one known as LORD. Rather than simply disappearing in the middle of the night when everyone was asleep, he decided to give his apostles one final sign that he was God. While the Transfiguration had a limited audience [22] this Transfiguration and Ascension was seen by all the apostles and may be some of the disciples. Here the followers of Jesus saw heaven open its doors and witnessed the angelic company receive their king. What the apostles saw that day stayed with them for he reminder of their lives, it inspired them to always reflect upon the teachings of Jesus and motivated them to continue his work among humanity. On that day, Jesus went from being their teacher, to being their king of peace.

The third point: The Holy Spirit.

I begin my introduction on the Holy Spirit with a reflection, the Holy Spirit is everywhere and fills everything, including you and me. The Spirit of God is the means by which we receive the blessings, strength, and gifts from God. Have you ever felt a sudden inspiration to write some something? Have you ever been in a circumstance when you realize that you have strength you do not normally have? If you have or know someone who has, then listen to this; “the Spirit of LORD is the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding, the Spirit of Counsel and Strength, the Spirit of Knowledge, and the fear of LORD.” [23]

The Holy Spirit is our counselor who will guide and support us on our spiritual journey. Our Lord Jesus confirms this when he said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who will lead you into all truth.” [24] Christ also taught that the Spirit is not only an Advocate, but our mentor, “When the Father sends the Advocate as my representative – this is, the Holy Spirit – he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” [25]

The Holy Spirit is the Breath of Life who gives life to everything upon the earth; we know this because the Book of Genesis says, “LORD God … breathed the Breath of Life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.” [26] Also, in the Book of Job we read, “the Spirit of God has made me, and the Breath of the Almighty gave me life.” [27]

In light of this, it only makes that sense that the Breath of Life is also the one who sanctifies us; therefore, salvation comes through the Spirit who “makes [us] holy and through [our] belief in the truth.” [28] This salvation came about long before our birth, God the Father knew [us] and chose [us] long ago, and his “Spirit has made [us] holy.” [29]

Concerning the Bible, the Spirit of Wisdom and Knowledge breathed into all Scripture and therefore it is given by inspiration of God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. [30]

And my final reflection on the Holy Spirit is the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” [31] Through the Breath of Christ, the Apostles were anointed with the Spirit and commissioned for the ministry of preaching, teaching, and absolution. This was also further evidence that Jesus was resurrected and indeed living, because a ghost does not breathe.

THE CONCLUSION

In conclusion, what I have offered before you, was an introduction to the Christian deity known as the Holy Trinity, a living and true God who desires to be in communion and fellowship with mankind. A God who calls each and every one of us, for the purpose of having a personal relationship. A God who is not just up there, but also very much among us and making our hearts his dwelling place.

Each and everyone one of us has a body, mind, and spirit, and this is true for God. The living God that is beyond our imagination has a body we call Father, a mind we know as the Word, his logos, and a Spirit. I will close with the words of one of the ancient Creeds of Christianity. “There are not three eternal beings, but one who is eternal; as there are not three uncreated and unlimited beings, but one who is uncreated and unlimited. … Thus the Father is Lord; the Son is Lord; the Holy Spirit is Lord; and yet there are not three lords, but one Lord.” [32]

Written by Dave Pflueger July 2010 © copyrighted by Pflueger

FOOTNOTES: [1] John 14:16. [2] Genesis 1:26. [3] Ephesians 4:6. [4] Isaiah 64:8. [5] Deuteronomy 32:6. [6] Matthew 6:9-13. [7] 1 John 2:1-2. [8] John 1:1-3. [9] 1 John 1:1. [10] Genesis 1:1. [11] Psalms 33: 6-7. [12] Isaiah 7:14. [13] Matthew 2:1. [14] John 3:16. [15] Matthew 20:28. [16] Ephesians 1:7. [17] Luke 24:1-3. [18] Luke 24:36. [19] Romans 14:9. [20] John 1:3. [21] Acts 1:9. [22] Luke 9:28-36. [23] Isaiah 11:2. [24] John 14:16-17. [25 John 14:26. [26] Genesis 1:7. [27] Job 33:4. [28] 2 Thessalonians 2:13. [29] 1 Peter 1:1. [30] 2 Timothy 3:16-17. [31] John 20:21-22. [32] The Athanasian Creed.

10. A Sermon on Micah 6:6-8

Micah_Ding6x8

This sermon was presented to faculty and students of Covenant Bible Seminary in Lakewood, Washington during the autumn of 2013.

THE PREFACE OF THE SERMON

Please stand if you are able to do so.

The Prayer:  Almighty God, send your Spirit upon me, so that the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

The Text:  A reading from the Prophet Micah 6:6-8, “With what shall I come before LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I bring the year old calves to burn as offerings to him? Will LORD be pleased if I bring him thousands of sheep or with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer him my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? No, he has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

The congregation is seated … “Please be seated.”

The Greeting: Greetings everyone – May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

If appropriate acknowledgements of individuals.

The Title: Our subject on this day of the Lord, is “What the LORD requires.”

The Reason (purpose): The reason why I am preaching on what the LORD requires is so that we may better understand what a walk with God is.

The Points (theme): From the Prophet Micah I receive these points: 1. Act Justly. 2 Love Mercy. And 3 Walk with God.

THE INTRODUCTION TO THE SERMON

My introduction begins with a question, “What shall we bring and place before LORD and bow down before the exalted God?” Lord has shown us that he does not want burnt animal sacrifices given out of habit nor does he want burnt child sacrifices of the pagan religions created by mankind; instead God desires us to be obedient to his will and to what is written in the scriptures. Applying them to everyday life, not just with hallow actions and empty words, but with a sincere heart-felt faith. The ministries of the prophet Micah happened during a time in history when both Israel and Judah could be characterized by moral and religious corruption, in other words actions that are completely contrary to the ways of God, not unlike what we find in our society today. Micah had to deal with people who could speak from the scriptures, but few were willing to apply the principles of scripture to their actions, not unlike what we find in both the ecclesiastical communities and secular society of today.

THE BODY OF THE SERMON

This brings us to our first point, which is … Act Justly.

Being obedient to God and someone who listens carefully to the voice of LORD, our God, and doing what is right in his sight [1] is not always easy and in fact it can be very dangerous. Standing up and clearly stating what you believe is right will not win you a popularity contest and more often than not, you will not gain friends and influence the right people. However, it will make you known as a person with strong religious convictions and someone who does not worry about being politically correct.  Being disenfranchised and isolated is often a result of listening to God and obeying his commands and keeping all his decrees; this is especially true when we witness Christians acting inappropriate. When we see a Christian “brother or sister acting immorally, desiring what does not belong to them (coveting), engaged in idolatry, using abusive language, intoxicated, or swindling others, such individuals no one is to even a share a meal with them.” [2] We are also directed to not act like hypocrite; for an example, suppose you see a Christian who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well,” [3] but then you do not give that person any food, clothing, or at the very least lead them to a program that could provide basic services [4] would you be acting justly? Certainly not!  We must never forget that we are our brother’s keeper.  Therefore, to act justly is to put the spiritual principles of the Bible into applied application, this simply means do not merely [read and] listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. [Just] do what it says. [5] In other words, we are to move from “knowing” what the Bible says to actually “doing” what it says.

My second point is … Love Mercy.

While there are several concepts that comprise mercy, I will focus on compassion and forgiveness.  We are disciples of the Lord and as such we are to care for others with the tender compassion of Jesus Christ. [6] Therefore, either as individuals or as a collective we are to offer the fast that LORD wants, that is, to free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. [7] Therefore, since God loves us and has chosen us to be a holy people, we must clothe ourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. We must make allowances for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends us. Remember, the Lord forgave us, so we must forgive others. Above all, clothing ourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in our hearts. For as members of one body we are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. [8]

Now let us review forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the central theme of the Gospels of Jesus Christ and within their pages we read, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” [9] This statement comes immediately after the disciples were taught the Lord’s Prayer and is very clear on what our spiritual responsibility is; and that is to forgive, and failure to do so will deeply effect our relationship with God in a negative way.  This statement should also remind us of the principles set forth on the Book of Leviticus were it reads, “We are not to nurse hatred in our heart, but instead we are to confront people directly so we will not be held guilty for their sin; and we are not to seek revenge or bear a grudge against someone, but instead we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.” [10] Is Christ asking us to do something that is easy? No, he is not! Forgiving someone goes against many human emotions and even personal convictions, but Christ does not want us to focus on a brewing kettle of emotions, instead he wants us to focus on him and leave revenge and the final judgment to God alone. Our heavenly Father does not what us to get caught up in the economy of hatred and revenge, you can say that God wants us to engage in some reverse psychological warfare with spiritual benefits. With this in mind, listen to what Christ taught, “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven.” [11] Also, listen to what St. Paul wrote to the Romans in his letter, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” [12] In light of this, we can see that through forgiving others we gain the upper hand and receive the spiritual benefits.

This leads us to my final point … Walking with God

Walking humbly with God and being obedient to him is not always an easy task, just look at St. Peter. While St. Peter was a devout disciple of Jesus, he was known for placing actions before thought. On the other hand, the Prophet Samuel had no trouble keeping the cart behind the horse. While God is tolerant of our short comings, we are expected to align ourselves with God and walk according to his ways and not our own. When we are walking humbly we are moving in a manner that is the opposite of walking with pride. This kind of walk requires every thought and desire within oneself to be brought into submission and obedient to the will of God. This means that our movements are to be reflections of what LORD, our God, requires of us and out of our greatest sense of respect towards the sacred, we are to have the highest degree of reverence for the Lord our God.  Therefore we are to walk according to the ways of LORD and unconditionally love God; this means we are to love LORD our God with our entire heart, soul, mind, and with all of our strength. [13] Our walk with God must be a total commitment to his ways and an openness of our hearts to Christ and his will for us. We must minimize and contain our self-will and human attitudes, because they are contrary to the will of God; so that the Spirit of God may come into our lives and dwell in our hearts.  Our walk continues throughout our life and if our hearts are humble and open to the Spirit of God, he will guide us on the path until that day when we close our eyes for the last time. Therefore, let us not waste a single minute on cutting our own path and walking according to our own will, but instead walk humbly before our God.

THE CONCLUSION OF THE SERMON

In conclusion, are you acting justly towards mankind? Are you being merciful to your neighbor? Are you in a proper relationship with the Lord and walking humbly with God? In other words, are you being obedient and walking in love, as Christ loved you and gave himself for you, an offering and sacrifice to God? [14] If you are, then give God the glory for giving you the ability to do so, but if you are not, then I say stop and seriously evaluate your spiritual journey.

In light of this, we should never forget that our daily offering is not only just studying the sacred scriptures, but also to continually offer to God the sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of voices that acknowledge his name; and not neglecting to do good things and share what you have. For such sacrifices are pleasing to God. [15]

Written by Dave Pflueger October 2013 © copyrighted by Pflueger

FOOTNOTES: [1] Exodus 15:26. [2] 1 Corinthians 5:11. [3] James 2:16. [4] James 2:15-17. [5] James 1:22. [6] Philippians 1:8. [7] Isaiah 58:6-9. [8] Colossians 3:12-17. [9] Matthew 6:14-15. [10] Leviticus 19:17-18. [11] Matthew 5:11-12. [12] Romans 12:20. [13] Mark 12:30. [14] Ephesians 5:2. [15] Hebrews 13:15-16.

9. Ministry of Spiritual Leadership

9. Ministry of Spiritual Leadership

Who Are Spiritual Leaders?

First, spiritul leaders serve the assemby of Christ either as professionals or as paraprofessionals through the following categories: Minister of Word and Sacrament (priest/elder/presbyter), Minister of Word and Service (deacon), or as a licensed/certified lay minister. Second, the principle duties and responsibilities of either a Pastor or Assistant/Associate Pastor – are those associated with Pastoral Care. Individuals performing the Ministry of Pastoral Care belong to one of the following categories: Minister of Word and Sacrament, Minister of Word and Service, or Lay Minister as defined by a church.

Before Birth

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the broken hearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. [1]

Spiritual leaders have been chosen for their vocation before they were born, this is evident when Isaiah, a prophet and spiritual leader, reflected and wrote, “Before I was born LORD called me; from my mother’s womb, he has spoken my name.” [2] While everyone of the assembly of God has been created and brought forth to serve God and humanity through their talents and experiences, there are those who come forth from the womb to serve as spiritual leaders, especially those created to be clergy. Jeremiah, another prophet and spiritual leader, meditated and wrote about this when he penned, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” [3] It has become clear, that God creates these individuals for this service before they are born and therefore they serve God and humanity in a very special way. Because their ministries have a unique relationship with God, they are not vocations that someone decides on their own to do. At some point in the life of the individual the reality of this vocation is awaken by the Spirit deep with their soul, and once waken both the vocation and Spirit gently calls out from the depth of their soul through the heart of one’s compassion, this is especially true for those who have been created to be clergy. Therefore, once awakened it yearns to grow and become a fulfilled gift that always offers back to God and humanity.

Set Apart

Like the prophets and sages of old, St. Paul also reflected on being set apart for service to God before his birth when he wrote, “God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased.” [4] While the Church uses the word “called,” it goes much deeper than an ecclesiastical invitation for service at a neighborhood assembly of Christ, it goes right to the created center of the individual. Every human being has been created by God and endowed with talents that are uniquely their own, and those who have been created with the sacred grace of being set apart for the work of spiritual leadership, have been set aside for this service in the vineyard of God. From the days of the Mosaic Covenant to our present age, God has sanctified the vocation that requires one to have a life totally committed to God. These individuals must place God and humanity before their own lives and realities, and focus on their complete commitment to being disciples of the Gospel of Christ. Beginning with the creation of this universe, through the covenant with the Hebrew people [5] and continued with the manifestation of the Word, Jesus of Nazareth [6] God has been constantly clear on this matter, those who have been created for the special vocation of spiritual leadership have been sanctified by God to perform it. The individuals whom God creates for this vocation come from every background imaginable and from every occupation known to humanity. Therefore, we need to remind ourselves that the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable [7] by human standards.
Because of human rebellion towards God and all things good and proper, the Church may have to defend humankind and hinder the sacred vocation. When the leaders of the Church must do this, they do so only after mediation and council, which only focuses on facts and evidence of wickedness. Because you must not convict anyone of a crime on the testimony of only one witness. The facts of the case must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. [8] In addition to the testimony of individuals, physical and psychological evidence shall be means to establish the fact that an offense has taken place.

A Review of the Ministry

Now that we have established the basic nature of this ministry, let us look at the daily practices and responsibilities of this special vocation with a review of spiritual leadership (which is also known as pastoral leadership). It is a form of leadership that is unique to the ecclesiastical domain because this expression of leadership is foremost a servant-based form of leadership that is centered in the life style of Jesus of Nazareth. At the core of servant based leadership is the principle of placing the needs and concerns of others above your own personal needs. It is a form of leadership that requires one to present themselves as a living sacrifice and walk in love as an offering and sacrifice to God. From the Gospel of Mark, we find an example of this style of leadership, Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [9] Jesus practiced what he taught, he “shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands, he led them.” [10] Therefore, spiritual leadership is very different from corporate leadership, military leadership, and even civic leadership. These are secular forms of leadership are subject to a certain amount of authoritarianism and egotistic natures. However, the core of Christian leadership is humility, the heart of a servant.

Servants of God – Not All the Same

I have always enjoyed this insightful wisdom by Henry Blackaby, “You will always feel ill equipped for the causes of God. You will always feel as though you have made too many mistakes for God to use you as a spiritual leader.” This statement rings so true, because the devil does not want individuals to fulfill their spiritual gifts and talents, because if they do he loses; therefore, evil will do whatever it takes, to get us to a point where we doubt ourselves (who we are and our spiritual gifts). With this in mind, when studying the subject of Christian spiritual leadership in the light of Scriptures, I generally avoid the third chapter of 1st Timothy and the first chapter of Titus, mostly because I find the Pauline school of discipline more restrictive then the concepts found in the Torah.
Therefore, I prefer to focus on the spiritual leaders found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Here we find spiritual leadership being practiced by a wide variety of individuals, some more saintly than others; we are also introduced to some of them when they are very young, so we can read stories that generally cover an entire life span of an individual. As an example of some being saintlier than others, I cannot think of a better example than Samuel and King David, in these two spiritual leaders we clearly see that God calls those who are morally very strong and those who have moral set-backs from time to time to be spiritual leaders of the people of God. While Samuel kept to the spiritual moral course that was set before him when he was very young, David was not as consistent in his spiritual journey; therefore, David is a good example that God does indeed tolerate moral flaws in spiritual leaders. Regardless of their strengths and weaknesses, both men loved God and served God according to both their calling and abilities. Joseph and Moses are another example of this; again, these are two great examples of spirituals leaders with very different personal characteristics. Joseph had a very strong moral spirituality and Moses had a strong personality, but had his flaws. Christians can do well in reading the stories of the lives of these great spiritual leaders and the lessons that they offer us. God chose these individuals to be spiritual leaders of the Hebrew people and one, Joseph, to be a leader and moral example for the Egyptians.

Spiritual Leadership – Hallmarks

Considering both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, we clearly see here that humility is the hallmark of Christian leadership and whenever possible these leaders are to avoid strong authoritarianism. Therefore, Christian spiritual leadership shall be a religious discipline. As a religious discipline, it is to be practiced in the context of a life style that is centered in the wonderful examples that Christ gave us to follow. He did not think twice about washing feet, [11] ensuring that His disciples were fed, [12] and other common everyday tasks. In this way, Jesus teaches us that the duties and responsibilities of spiritual leaders are not only those most closely associated with leadership and administration, but also the common everyday tasks are also the domain of a Christian leader. In this light, a spiritual leader and Christian parenthood are two responsibilities that are closely associated with each other, because in both duties humility and placing the needs of others as a priority are the principle qualities of these vocations. I have always enjoyed the simplicity of this statement by J.E. Means that describes the ministry of a spiritual leader, “Spiritual leadership is the development of relationships with the people of a Christian institution or body in such a way that individuals and the group are enabled and achieve Biblical compatible goals and meet real needs. Through their influence, spiritual leaders serve to motivate and enable others to achieve what otherwise would never be achieved.”

Responsibilities – A Review

Now let us address what are the basic duties and responsibilities of both professional and paraprofessional spiritual leadership. Simply put, they are about the relationships, all kinds of relationships. However, the relationships between God and humanity are the relationships that are the most important and the primary focus of all spiritual leaders. Spiritual leaders are entrusted with nurturing and defending the relationships between humanity and God, which are communions between the loving Creator and the created. With these in mind, let us now further explore the responsibilities and duties.

The Ministry of the Word: Through the Ministry of the Word spiritual leaders teach humanity about God and the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Regardless if they are standing in a classroom or in a pulpit the Ministry of the Word is to be an instructor. Spiritual leaders begin their Ministry of the Word through prayer. When they take time for prayer they begin their mediation by separating themselves from all that surrounds them and find a place of solitude so they can focus their thoughts on a conversation with God. They place their concerns and trouble before God, as well as their joys and praise. Through this thoughtful conversation with God, the spiritual leader also takes time to either minimize or silent the thoughts so that they can be at peace. It is during these periods of reflection that spiritual leaders receive inspiration and spiritual confidence.
Through the Ministry of the Word humanity learns the ways of God and the teaching of Jesus, the Logos of God. Through this instruction the faithful learn what is expected of them and to receive insight into the meaning and purpose of Scripture. It is through the Ministry of the Word that a spiritual leader serves as a teacher and has the responsibility to guide Christians on their pathways.
If a spiritual leader fails the Ministry of the Word, then how can |the faithful| call on |Christ| to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in |Christ| if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about |Christ| unless someone tells them? [13] Simply put, the faithful cannot and these spiritual leaders have become blind guides. Therefore, every spiritual leader who tends a flock of Christ has the responsibility to “proclaim Him, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone complete in Christ.” [14] This means every spiritual leader is to ensure that every individual member of the flock receives the amount of spiritual milk that will allow their faith to grow and mature, and receive instruction on the Word of God.
I believe that the Ministry of the Word is one of the greatest responsibilities that spiritual leaders have. They teach in classes, they teach at seminars, they teach individuals, and they teach through their sermons. Without question, they are indeed the principle teachers of a neighborhood Christian assembly, and the spiritual lives of the faithful depend upon them to strengthen both their minds and souls. Listen to what the Prophet Malachi had to say about clerics and their work as instructors, “For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of LORD Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth.” [15]

Among Christians, Jesus is the example of a teacher par excellent. The manner in which Jesus taught reflected that of a Jewish religious teacher. Whenever he had an opportunity, he taught his apostles and the people who surrounded him. When he taught adults, Jesus never softened his punches or his message, but instead he taught clearly and boldly, as one with authority. From time to time Jesus did simplify his message, but never to the point of compromise. Like their Master before them, spiritual leaders are to stand firm, teach the faith, and proclaim the glorious Gospel of Christ. Luther summarized this when he said, “A preacher must be both soldier and shepherd. He must nourish, defend, and teach. He must have teeth in his mouth and able to bite, and fight!”

Evangelism: Evangelism is an important component of the work of a spiritual leader, because it introduces and presents Christ. It is an open invitation to come and learn about Christ and the assembly of God. This invitation either introduces a person to Christ for the first time or it may reintroduce a person to Christ. Either way, they are invited to know Christ.
It is a very compassionate act for a spiritual leader to offer someone something that will bless and sustain their life, especially when it is Christ that is being offered. When a spiritual leader invites a person to explore a relationship with Christ (or deepen their current one) they are making themselves available to answer questions and to encourage them to explore a relationship with Christ.

Presence: Walking among the people and being a spiritual presence is an important element of the work of a spiritual leader. Through their interactions they can share their spiritual journey with others and listen to the journeys that others have. Participating in the human community allows spiritual leaders to present Christ in very tangible ways. Christ spoke of these tangible ways when he said, “I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.” [16] The way Jesus spoke of these throughout his public ministry made it very clear these were a priority for him and therefore they are to be a priority activities for anyone serving as a spiritual leader.

The apostle Paul wrote this warning about inactivity, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” [17] What Paul was saying is a truth, faith that is alive is faith filled with action. It is a living faith, one that is fully engaged in living out the Gospels of Christ. Therefore, being among the people is a great way of ensuring that our faith is alive and serving God and humanity.

Sharing: When spiritual leaders share their talents and life experiences among the human community, they are giving back to the God what they has been first given them. Throughout the four Gospels, we find Jesus sharing his life and ministry with others, especially in intimate moments like evening meals and in upper rooms. Jesus lived among the people and shared his life with all those who encountered him. Because it is engaging someone on a personal level, sharing can open the doors of opportunities in ways that impersonal ways simply cannot.

A Warning: While there are many hindrances to the work of a spiritual leader, there are two that are especially troublesome. They come in the form two statements, “I must first focus on the members of my parish” and “status quo.” These are parochial concepts that might work in a university or a hospital, but have no place in a local Christian assembly. Because a Christian assembly is to be an inclusive gathering of all the people, regardless of their personal realities.

Spiritual Development

Through the compassionate work of spiritual leaders, individuals are perfected and built up in Christ. But what does it mean to “be perfected in Christ?” This is a good question and Oswald Chambers [18] offers a good answer, “Christian perfection is the perfection of a relationship with God that shows itself to be true … God’s purpose is not to perfect us to make us trophies in His showcase; but instead to get us to the place where He can use us.”
God is patience when it comes to our spiritual development. God will take all the time needed to get us to the place where we can serve him, God will not interfere with our growth nor will God hinder it. God is a patience Father and will allow his children to grow and learn in the way that will benefit them the most. God knows all too well that everyone grows and develops their spirituality at their own pace and in their own way. Therefore, spiritual leaders need to have the patience and wisdom of a farmer. If a spiritual leader properly tends to the field and allows the crop to grow and mature at its own pace, then everyone will enjoy the fruits that the Spirit will bestow.
God gave us our gifts and talents so that he can use us for his purpose, these gifts are not to be dormant and they are not for ourselves. In addition to the daily offering of our talents, we should always include that which the Sovereign first gave us, the ability to pray. Because our spiritual lives are perfected not only though our personal sacrifices, but also through daily prayer.

Our relationship with God is a natural progression towards sanctification. Through a life of spiritual growth, a person gains religious wisdom and is sanctified through drawing closer to Christ. Hallmarks of our journey through life will be our life experiences, our responses to our experiences, and our personal relationship God (or lack thereof). According to Oswald Chambers, “sanctification means to be intensely focused on God’s point of view. It means to secure and to keep all the strength of our mind, body, and soul, for God’s purpose alone.” This follows what Martin Luther said, “How does sanctification take place? Sanctification takes place when we occupy ourselves with the Word of God and focus on spiritual exercises.” Therefore, perfecting our spiritual lives is the “movement” or “exercises” that develops into sanctification. Standing still does not perfect us, but a spiritual life in motion does. Here is another quote that I like to reflect upon when I am thinking about spiritual development and becoming perfected in the image of God, “We become pure on the inside – as Christ renews our minds and transforms us into his image.” [19]
Therefore, throughout our mortal lives God continues to do what God first did for humanity, when God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” [20] In this light, our spiritual life is one that that keeps evolving throughout our entire life. The best response to this continual growth is to secure and keep all the strength of our body, soul, and spirit for God’s purpose alone. Therefore, interwoven into our spiritual growth is our sanctification and the more we spiritually grow as individuals the more profound our sanctification becomes.

Final Reflection

In closing there are many more thing I could say about spiritual leaders, but that would be yet another great volume on the subject and I would like to offer here a short presentation of the subject in this document, covering only the basics. I hope you enjoyed reading my reflection on the subject and remember there are many books on this subject that cover it on a far more in-depth manner; and I would encourage you to find one (or more) and read. I will leave you with this reflection from the Bible, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” [21]

Written by Dave Pflueger August 12, 2004 © copyrighted by Pflueger

Footnotes: [1] Isaiah 61:1 New Living Translation. [2] Isaiah 49:1 New International Version. [3] Jeremiah 1:5 New International Version. [4] Galatians 1:15 New International Version. [5] Numbers 3:1-13 New International Version. [6] Matthew 10:1 New International Version. [7] Romans 11:29 New American Standard Bible. [8] Deuteronomy 19:15 New Living Translation. [9] Mark 10:42-45 New International Version. [10] Psalm 78:72 New International Version. [11] John 13:5. [12] John 21:12-13. [13] Romans 10:14-15 New Living Translation. [14] Colossians 1:28 New American Standard Bible. [15] Malachi 2:7 New American Standard Bible. [16] Matthew 25:35-36. [17] James 2:17 New International Version. [18] Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) was a Baptist preacher and a prominent early twentieth century Scottish Christian minister and teacher. [19] One Year With Jesus (a devotional) – June 11 (Mark 7:14-19). [20] Genesis 1:26 New King James Version. [21] Acts 20:28 New International Version

 

7. A Reflection on Easter – 2012

We have all heard it before, why did Jesus have to die? We have also heard all the theological and ecclesiastical answers to the questions; and I must confess that I embrace a few of them. But today I want to explore this question on a bit of a different path.

Jesus was born in the must humble means, his birth brought God into the everyday realities of humanity. Jesus was raised by a common ordinary Jewish family; with a blue-collar father and a mother who devoted herself the responsibilities that surrounded the home. In spite of all this commonality, Jesus was nonetheless God; but because of his external appearance and nature those who should have recognized the deity that was hidden behind human flesh and bones either could not or simply refuse to do so.

The compassion that Jesus had towards all of humanity, his ability to suspend the laws of nature, and his ability to heal diseases and disabilities should have been enough for people to be convinced of his divinity. However, Jesus meet the same fate that all the sages and prophets of old did, in that the people had their vision of God and were not willing to conform to the divine direction because it required them to embrace something that they did not what. Jesus gave them every kind of evidence of who he really was, but because he was not their image of God they ignored him and did their best to distance themselves from his compassion. Every time Jesus did a common miracle they wanted an even bigger symbol that he was God or at the very least an earthy king; and because of this he knew that he would have perform something grand and powerful for them to realize that he was God.

So now we come to the proverb, be careful of what you ask for. Jesus was going to give them a miracle that would be on one hand the grandest thing that humanity would ever witness and on the other hand would confounded humanity to no ends. As humanity understands things, a miracle or wonderful act comes about because someone performs it in an external manner; such as reaching out and touching something or moving an object from one place to another. Jesus was about to perform an action that would profoundly proclaim that he is God and leave no doubt of his identity. What Jesus was about to do was not to perform a miracle upon someone else, but to perform a miracle upon himself; under normal circumstances this does not sound like an event worthy of a notation in history. However, the miracle that Jesus was going to do would go far beyond curing himself of a common form of influenza or even a common form of suspension of natural science. Like I said, be careful of what you ask for.

Jesus allowed the citizens and authorities of Palestine and Jerusalem to set the stage for this miracle and put things into motion; he allowed them to be as abusive as they desired and even was passive towards them as they caused great and unmentionable harm towards him. In other words, he allowed them to think and believe that they were in control and masters of the moment. By dying through an ugly form of death Jesus proved that he was completely human and subject to every joy and pain that humanity was created with. Through proving beyond any doubt that he was human he was setting the stage to prove that he was divine. By dying disgracefully he allowed them to mock him and prove that he was truly abandoned and very dead. Again, he allowed them to believe that they were masters of the moment.

From a human stand point, dead people cannot perform miracles, the body is lifeless and void of personality. In other words it cannot do anything and is worthless. Therefore on one hand Jesus was dead and in the other hand the stage had been set for a great miracle. Now Jesus was buried in a nice place and to ensure that his body would remain safely and secured in the tomb a unit of Roman soldiers were assigned to guard it. Some of these soldiers witnessed the body of Jesus being placed into this grave and once the tomb had been closed they placed a seal on it. Jesus could not be more dead and buried.

A couple of days later the morning detachment assigned to guard the grave were going through the normal routine when things quickly went from very normal to very abnormal; these brave and strong Roman guards went from confident individuals to being scared beyond their wildest imagination. These warriors whom the known world feared and respected were witnessing the power and authority of the living God in a way that very few throughout history have. At first they may have thought that a strong earthquake had happened, an earthquake would rattle the nerves of these Romans, but it would not scare them. From their stand point, the earthquake caused the stone to move in a way that opened the grave; this would be an easy fix and they could seal the grave once the repairs were done. However, what happened immediately after the grave was opened was anything but normal. As it turned out, the grave had been opened because of an authority within it and a dead person whom some or all recognized, not a ghost, walked out of this grave. The person who was dead an hour ago was now very much alive and most likely said to them in a very human voice, peace be with you. Needless to say, these mighty warriors were reduced to a fear that resemble insanity and their only response was to run away (could you blame them?).

Now who was the master of the moment? Jesus had performed a great miracle and had proven that he was the living God. He had awakened himself from death in a manner that resembles a human being awakening from a deep sleep. No human or heavenly being came and caused him to awake from this sleep; he did it on his own and had highly creditable witnesses, Roman soldiers. In time they would not be the only witness, but these Gentiles were the first human witnesses of this great awakening. Jesus, the Holy Anointed One of God, was alive and doing just fine. Glory be to God on high and peace to the people upon the earth. Amen.

Written by Dave Pflueger April 16, 2012 © copyrighted by Pflueger

4. A Reflection on Luke 22:66-71

Divi-Filius

When it was daylight, the Council of elders of the people assembled, both chief priests and scribes, and they led Him away to their council chamber, saying, “If You are the Anointed One, tell us.” But He said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask a question, you will not answer. But from now on a son of man … will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” [1] And they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And He said to them, “ Yes, I am.” Then they said, “What further need do we have of testimony? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth.” Then the whole body of them got up and brought Him before Pilate.

I will begin with a quote from the book “Jesus the Jewish Theologian by Brad H. Young, “It is highly doubtful if Jesus ever appeared before the Sanhedrin. Leaders like Gamaliel would never have allowed such unfair proceedings in a trial. The Greek word ‘sunedrion’ is the term used for council. Sometimes it has wrongly been understood to mean the prestigious high court of the Sanhedrin. During the trail of Jesus, it becomes clear that this was ‘their council,’ that is, the council of the Sadducean priests (Luke 22:66).”  Brad H. Young put the spotlight the Sadducean priests and he also penned, “Jesus’ death was political rather than theological.” The Sadducean priests were closely aligned with the Roman Empire and through this alliance they controlled the Temple. Over the last couple of years the council of Sadduccean priests had been looking for ways to rid itself of two messianic movements that had merged into one, John of the Mikvah and the Jesus community. These two groups merged after the death of John and become one large messianic movement that was centered in spiritual renewal. The Sadduccean priests and their closest associates saw this new movement as a threat to their political and economic realities, because they knew the messianic convictions of the Jews were closely watched and strongly oppressed by the Roman Empire.

There is something here that the modern day reader might miss, but those governed by the Roman Empire would not. I am talking about the words Divi Filius, which translates as the “son of god. These words come from the title,  Emperor Caesar Augustus, son of god. Roman Emperors saw themselves as sons of god. The Jews had a different understanding of the phrase, for them it meant a pious and devoted Jew. When the council was finished with their question concerning whether or not Jesus was anointed, it moved on to an entirely different topic. This topic was their primary subject and the one that carried the most weight. At the center of this topic was the second part of the tile of Emperor Caesar, son of god. When Jesus was asked, are you the son of god, the question was not addressing him as a pious Jew, but instead it was political. The council did not say, blessed teacher, a son of God, what do you mean? No, the council asked the question in the form a title, son of god. In this context they were asking Jesus if he was a king. Jesus was fully aware of the circumstances and knew that anything he would say was going to be twisted in favor of the council and Rome. When Jesus resounded to the question he knew what their reaction would be and what could happen to him.

At the end of this hearing the council had evidence that could be used to charge Jesus with creating a rival kingdom, something that the Romans would not tolerate. Since Jesus agreed with the council that he was the “son of god” he could be charged with sedition, over-throwing the Roman state and establishing a new kingdom with him as the emperor. This is the target of the council. It would not only bring the death penalty for Jesus, but it would spread suspicion upon his entire movement and open any of his followers to Roman persecution. Most likely, the council of the Sadducean priests was hoping to stand before the Roman authorities and use the response given by Jesus as a declaration for an insurrection. By doing so they were hoping to invoke a defensive response from them and therefore the council could use the self-preservation nature of the Roman government to do their dirty work.

There was one barrier to the plan that the Sadducean priests had created and it was called Pilate, the Roman Governor. As we read onward, we will see that he saw right through this dastardly plan and clearly saw the hypocrisy of this council. Although Pilate had a responsibility to monitor and repress all Jewish messianic individuals and their followers, Pilate knew Jesus represented a different and unusual kind of messiah. In all likelihood he was well aware of Jesus and his activities, but since Jesus avoided any attempt to be called emperor and instead focused on teaching, healing, and living in harmony with God and mankind he did not present a military threat against Rome. In this light, Pilate would also be aware of the respect and compassion that Jesus had shown towards Roman soldiers and other non-Jews in the region over the last few years; and this would have separated him from the Zealots, a known terrorist’s organization that sought to overthrow the Roman authority over the Hebrew people. So when the counsel of the Sadducean priests informed Pilate of the statement that Jesus made he did not believe that Jesus posed a real threat to the empire. However, Pilate was convinced that Jesus could be punished for disturbing the peace for acting inappropriately.

The council of the Sadducean priests knew what they would be facing when they confronted Pilate with Jesus. They knew if they wanted Jesus to die they would have to control the environment of the trail before Pilate and use their followers to convince Pilate to fulfill their desires. Through controlling the environment they would be able to convince Pilate that Jesus was a leader of terrorist movement and send a message to everyone who might threaten the religious establishment of the temple. Since Pilate was not going to be easily convinced that Jesus was a serious threat against the Roman state, they would have to ensure that the trail would happen in a place they could control. Therefore, in all likelihood the two times that Jesus appeared before Pilate probably occurred in the strong fortress of Antonia in the northwest corner of the temple complex. The majority of the group that gathered in that fortress was probably Sadducean priests and those of the general public who supported them. It is worth noting, that while Sadduceans and their followers were putting Jesus before Pilate, most people in Jerusalem were at home and focused on the celebration of the Passover.

In closing, how often have we lost jobs and other opportunities because we threaten someone’s comfort zones? I fear this happens all too often in our world that has grown to demand passive individuals who do not threaten anyone in anyway. In this story Jesus is clearly teaching us that we are to stand firm in matters of personal and institutional religious convictions. He is also making it very clear that we are to do this regardless of what the authorities or mob might do to us. After stating his case before his emperor and other authorities, Martin Luther looked right at them and gave them a look of defiance and said, “It is neither right nor safe for one to go against their conscience. Here I stand, God help me. Amen!” Archbishop Oscar Romero challenged the political authorities of El Salvador and they martyr him while he elevated the chalice during the Eucharistic Prayer. This is the very kind of spiritual strength that Christ wants us to have and live by; and for Christian clergy Martin Luther would add … “they must have teeth.”

FOOTNOTE: [1] Daniel 7:13

Written by Dave Pflueger March 17, 2012 © copyrighted by Pflueger