Thursday, June 28, 2012

So That Your Joy May Be Complete (John 15:1-11)

Heinz Chapel -- University of Pittsburgh
5 minute sermon
John 15:1-11

In our Gospel lesson for today Jesus gives us an allegory.  He talks about a vine, a gardener, and fruitful and unfruitful branches.  In the story, the vine—the “true vine”—is Jesus.  The gardener is the Father. The branches are those of us who are captivated by the God/man Jesus.

First, let’s talk about the “true vine.”  In the Old Testament, Israel is often referred to as a vine. The psalmist declares God brought a vine out of Egypt and planted it in a good land (the Exodus). The prophet Isaiah wrote a song about God’s vineyard. Hosea spoke of God finding Israel like grapes in the wilderness, but something always went wrong. In another Psalm, foreigners pillage God’s vineyard and wild beasts uproot it. Again in Isaiah, the vine that should have borne good fruit bore bad fruit instead.  This quick glance at the various passages reveals, interestingly enough, that Israel is consistently described as a fruitless or “degenerate vine.”[1]  
Thus in referring to himself as the “true vine,” Jesus is calling himself the “true and faithful Israel.”  He obeyed his Father’s commands and as a result he remained in his Father’s love and was complete in joy.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Summary of the first two weeks of the Trinity Cathedral young adult Galatians study

 Summary of the first two weeks of our Galatians study (Gal. 1):

Apocalyptic Gospel

  1. Paul is defending his position of authority—his status as an apostle of the Lord.  He does this because the Gospel—the foundation of the faith—is at stake.  The false teachers associated the “Law-free” Gospel with the “shady character” that is Paul (F.F. Bruce).  They said his authority was derivative.  They said this because 1. He was not one of the original Twelve, and 2. Because of his checkered past as a persecutor of the faith.  He counters this by saying that his apostleship and the Gospel that he preaches were not bestowed on him by the other apostles—or any other person—but came to him directly from God through a revelation of Jesus.  Paul makes it clear that God chose him, a “savage wolf,” before he was born to be “not only a sheep, but a shepherd (apostle/leader)” (Calvin).  Paul is so adamant in his defense of his character that he might initially strike the reader as arrogant.  What we came to see is that Paul pulls rank/defends himself, not to puff himself up, but in order to defend the true Gospel that was so closely associated with Paul and his character.  In short, the “Law-free” Gospel was associated with Paul, therefore, to defend the Gospel, he had to first defend himself from false accusations and characterizations.    

  1. Unlike every—every!—other Pauline epistle (letter) to the churches, there is no thanksgiving for the Church at Galatia—even though it was a much more “moral” church than the wicked one at Corinth.  In the place of thanksgiving there is astonishment.  Instead of praise there is a curse (not on the Galatians, but on the false teachers who were calling the Galatians away from “freedom” and back to “slavery”).  Why does Paul write so polemically/so sternly?  Because in the case of the church at Galatia, the foundation of the faith—the actual Good News of the Gospel—was at stake

    1. It is important to note that the false teachers (probably Jewish Christians) were not saying that the Gentile Christians would be saved by works.  They were saying they would be saved by Jesus’ work and their behalf, plus works (circumcision, etc.).  For these teachers, Jesus death and resurrection alone was not sufficient for salvation.  For Paul, there is no middle ground.  To him, Jesus plus works for salvation is not good news—“it is no Gospel.”  In fact, the combination results in slavery.  For Paul, salvation is a free gift—it comes through the gift of faith, and faith alone!  Paul is angry so because these teachers are putting a burden on these Galatian Christians.  They were calling the Galatians to slavery/bondage.  In other words, Jesus+, much like Google+, is not only lame, but accursed ;)

For Paul the options are freedom or slavery.  There is no middle ground.  The object of our faith—Jesus Christ—and his work saves us through the gift of faith, and nothing we can do contributes to this deliverance, this rescue operation.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Hope, Peace, and Purpose Because of What is True (Paul)

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Pittsburgh, PA
6.16.12 (Father’s Day)

There is a point for all of us where all hope comes to an end.  I don’t know where that is for you.  It might be losing a job.  It might be the loss of a loved one.  It might be, simply, your own death.

A friend of mine—I’ll call him John—made an interesting point recently, he said that every person that you love will either bury you or you will bury them.

He later told me that when he was an agnostic he was absolutely terrified of death.  He said he would wake up in the middle of the night petrified having a panic attack on a regular basis.  He would think about not being.  And he would also think about not being able to do anything about that. 

He told me that he had in his head these urban legends of Walt Disney who supposedly had his head frozen in cryogenic storage so he could be preserved and he thought to himself, “Well, I wonder how much that costs?

But it felt incredibly hopeless for John.  He said that it felt so hopeless that he swore at one point that he never wanted to have children—never wanted to be a father—because he never wanted to put another human being through the existential fear that he felt.

I was reminded of this story this week after seeing the new Alien prequel, the movie Prometheus.  In this movie the characters share John’s fears.  They all want answers to the basic, quintessential questions, “What’s the purpose of life?” and “What happens when we die?”