Sunday, April 27, 2008

Six Easter
Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:8-20
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

Oh bless our God, ye peoples, And make the voice of his praise to be heard.

Due to a busy week, today’s Midweek Oasis will be a reposting of some thoughts from A WORD FOR TODAY this week. My apologies for the repetition to those who receive both writings.

Acts 17:22-31

Paul was in Athens. The Greeks were an ecumenical society. They offered something for everyone, especially in religious practice. There was a temple one very corner, much as there is a church on every corner in the United States. The temples satisfied the religious needs of a very diverse community. Athens was a place where trading routes crossed; it was a place where the world came together. Since the economy of that type of place was dependent on foreigners, they wanted everyone to feel at home. They even had an altar inscribed “To an unknown god.” Those who could not find a specific temple at least had a place to worship, a place where their god could be honored and remembered.

Paul went to Mars Hill, which was a place of theological debate and discussion. He commended them for their religious practices and called their attention to this altar for the unknown God. He stepped into their world and reached them from their point of view. In doing so, however, he did not settle for the ecumenical open-mindedness of the Athenians. He told them what they were missing. He boldly proclaimed the God of creation and His Son Jesus Christ. His theology was ridiculous to the people of Athens. Though they could grasp some aspects of the Christian message, they found some things to be foolishness, not the least of which was the death and resurrection of Christ.

After Paul finished talking, some of the men on Mars Hill sneered. It was risky to go and speak at the Hill that day. Paul was a man of power, intellect. He was respected as a teacher and wise man. However, talk about resurrection made him sound like an intolerant fool. In this type of society it was unacceptable to raise one god above the others, all gods were equal. This was made even worse by the mythical stories on which Paul’s faith was built—virgin birth, a dead God? Repentance and forgiveness were not aspects of their religious experience, so the Christian story seemed pointless and absurd.

But others believed and asked Paul to tell them more. Paul risked status, position and respect by boldly proclaiming the Gospel message of grace and in doing so, some came to believe. We live in a similar society, where buffets are the norm so that everyone who enters can be satisfied. There are religious houses on every corner, something for everyone. While diversity can be a good thing, are we willing to be like Paul boldly proclaiming the message of the Gospel to those who would prefer to settle for the ecumenical open-mindedness that says that all gods are equal?

Psalm 66:8-20

We pray for many things, but it is a human tendency to turn to prayer especially when we face difficulties and danger. Though we remember to offer praise and thanksgiving, we are more likely to cry out to God in our times of need. Caught up in the frenzy of the moment, we promise God anything if only He will save us. Vows escape our lips as we make deals with God, negotiating our safety and well-being in trade for some sacrifice on our part. Women promise to dedicate a child if only God will help them get pregnant.

These vows are very serious although there is never serious thought about them. They are cried out in the heat of the moment, in the depths of pain and fear. We often find it impossible to be faithful to the promise. God said, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord God in vain.” The commandment does not simply speak about the language we use, but warns us to be careful about the vows we take.

Martin Luther was traveling down a road one day when a storm suddenly struck. Frightened by the lightning and thunder, he fell to his feet and cried out to God through Saint Anne. “Help me, St. Anne, and I'll become a monk!" He escaped unharmed. Luther’s father was a miner who worked very hard to put him through law school. The storm happened when he was traveling home from the university. He kept his word to God, entered the monastery, and in the process disappointed his father who had worked so hard to give him a better life.

God hears our prayers and answers according to His good and perfect will. He doesn’t bless us because we’ve made a deal with Him at the height of our fear and excitement. He knows we will fail. He knows that we can’t live up to the vows we make in desperation. We can’t keep the Law perfectly because we are imperfect. He answers our prayers because He loves us and because He is faithful to His promises. Yet, He calls us to try. And He calls us to live in thankfulness and praise for answered prayer. We see in this passage the response to God’s grace, faithful keeping of vows and bold witness to God’s grace.

1 Peter 3:13-22

The show “Desperate Housewives” is my guilty pleasure. I usually shake my head at the foolishness of their antics. Each woman has a history of scheming about something, focusing on self, doing whatever is best for her own life and family, so when they see evidence of the same attitude in others, they assume the worst. They all have histories and they know each other’s stories, so they think they know each other’s hearts and minds. Over the years they have all been best friends with one another and hated one another with as much love and passion.

In last night’s episode, Bree was planning a big event: the Founder’s Day Ball. This was her baby, she was always in charge. It was accepted that she would make the decisions and be responsible for certain aspects of the night. Her greatest pleasure was presenting an award at the end of the evening, an award that honored a citizen who has given themselves selflessly to the community. New neighbor Katherine—up until recently a rival for Bree’s position as perfect housewife—asked to help with the event. Bree, in an effort to build a relationship between the two, agreed.

She realized quickly that working with Katherine was a mistake. Katherine boldly takes over the planning, making changes to the way the ball is organized. She changes the recipes, flowers and other details. By the night of the ball, she has also changed the presenter of the award—to herself! Bree was livid. The committee members assured Bree that Katherine was the right choice. Bree even gave Katherine some tainted dip so that she would become too ill to give the award. Katherine insisted, even though she was not feeling well. When the name was announced, the winner was Bree. She was dumbfounded and sorry. Katherine said she understood, since they are so alike, and forgave Bree. They got through this experience a little stronger and a little closer. They’ll be friends until the next clash.

Katherine is definitely not perfect. Her history is filled with secrets and possibly murder. However, in this episode, she showed the decorum of one willing to suffer for what is right. Bree deserved the award, and she certainly could not present it to herself. Katherine stood firm, even when she was ill, for the sake of Bree. Then, when Bree confessed her wrongdoing, Katherine graciously forgave her. When Bree thought that they could not be friends because they were too much alike, Katherine said it was a shame because of the housewives, they were the two who understood each other the best. Her attitude brought Bree around, at least for now.

Peter was writing to a community that was being persecuted. The human response to persecution is often bitterness and violence. They were doing good things, but the good things were bringing on suffering. They were afraid to do what they knew they should do. Peter wrote that they should have courage. The good works they were doing might be the very thing that brings on the persecution of society, but it was also their good works that would help the world see the Lord God. Instead of responding with anger, they were to respond with grace. Instead of fighting back, they were to been meek and humble, knowing that they are doing what is right and good. In the end, the enemies of God’s people will be put to shame. This suffering may be the catalyst that will bring another person to believe in Jesus, and in this God will be glorified.

John 14:15-21

It is interesting to see the types of activities each teacher includes in their grade books. They all have a place for test scores, but other grades include quizzes, projects, labs and homework. Another important part of their grade is classroom participation. Contributing to the class helps boost student confidence, but it also develops the community. Each student gets an individual grade, but that grade is also dependent on the relationship they have with other students. Everyone has something to offer, whether it is questions or answers, tips for studying, accountability and encouragement. A student might be able to do well alone, but they do so much better along with others dealing with the same things.

Christianity is defined as a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but it not only an individual faith. Our relationship with Christ is dependent on others. We hare the Word of God from the great cloud of witnesses that comes before us. We worship together in community, sharing God’s grace through the sacraments. We learn in Bible studies with other Christians, sharing our own ideas, doubts and questions so that we can help others and they can help us. Though our salvation is for each individual, we grow up together in the faith.

When John wrote, “for he abideth with you” he said so in the plural. Christ abides with us in community. He draws us together. He binds us to one another. The Holy Spirit is not divided between all the Christians, but moves in and through us all who live as one body along with the Father and the Son.


The psalmist for this week says, “Oh bless our God, ye peoples, And make the voice of his praise to be heard.” He sings a song encouraging all God’s people to praise Him for His blessings. However, the blessings found in this psalm are not wealth, health or power. They praise God that He has preserved their lives through trials. They praise God that He has refined their lives through the suffering they faced. The psalmist says, “You sent us to prison,” and “You laid burdens on our back.” He says, “You let men ride over our heads” and “we went through fire and water.” In the end, however, God brought His people to a place of abundance.

Of course, these statements refer to the time of suffering in Egypt before the exodus with Moses. It is easy for us to look at that time of slavery and blame the Egyptians; after all it was Egypt that turned the relationship of Joseph and the Pharaoh into oppression of an entire nation. However, the psalmist recognizes that Egypt was never in control, that God knew full well the work He was doing in and for His people. This train of thought might be offensive to many people today, especially since we tend to think about faith as a very personal and private thing. We are also offended by a God that allows suffering in the world. There is no justification for a people enslaved and mistreated, especially if there is an all powerful and omnipotent God in control.

We are called to live a life of selfless sacrifice for the sake of our Lord. We are called to risk everything for the sake of the Gospel, but this is not a life that is easy to live.

Paul approached the people of Athens from their own point of view. He called their attention to all the altars throughout the city that paid homage to the many gods of this world. Then he pointed out the one that they had set up for the unknown God. Paul told the people that the Lord God Almighty is that unknown God, and that He is knowable. He risked much. Christianity was spreading and so was the hatred of Christianity. He was an intellectual and he risked his stature among the intellectuals by speaking about the foolishness of a God who died and rose again. Paul did not skim over the issue, however. He said since God had now been revealed in Jesus Christ, no one had any excuse for continuing to live apart from God. He called people to repentance.

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