July 21, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Monday after the Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.104, 1 Sam.11:1-13, Lk. 15:1-10
Evening - Ps. 116, Dan 6:1-8, Acts, 26:1-23

Commentary, Daniel 6:1-8

Belshazzar was killed the very night Daniel told him the meaning of the writing on the wall.  Darius the Mede became the new ruler.  He, naturally wanted to secure his position, so he appointed governors and heads over his kingdom, and named three chief governors, or presidents.  Of all these rulers and advisors, Daniel was the chief.

Daniel served Darius with the same faithfulness he gave to Nebuchadnezzar.  It is an honorable thing to serve our employers well.  They may not be Christians, or, even honourable people.  But our service to them should be outstanding simply because it is part of the way we serve God.  Our service to employers, however, does not require us to break the law of God to please our boss.  Just as Daniel served Darius faithfully, he also refused to pray to him as a god.  Instead, he continued to worship God openly and faithfully, just as he always had.

It is evident from the story that Darius has been manipulated by the leaders he appointed, and that their motive was envy of Daniel.  Their desire was to get him deposed, and they decreed to accomplish by making a law Daniel could not possibly obey; a law that requires him to choose between God and the king. 
               
Tuesday after the Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 111, 114, 1 Sam. 11:14-12:5, Lk. 15:11
Evening - Ps. 118, Dan. 6:9-15, Acts 26:24-27:8

Commentary, Daniel 6:9-15

Daniel does as his enemies knew he would, going to his house and praying the liturgical prayers, which the Jews offered several times each day.  Now they are ready to report him to the king, who will have no choice but to throw Daniel to the lions.  Thus, we see that a foolish law, so easily and ignorantly signed into existence by Darius, is a tremendous danger to the lives and security of people the king should be protecting.

Those in civil government should learn from Darius' mistake.  The laws that govern any land should be enacted only after extremely careful deliberation and examination of all possible effects on the people on whom they will be enforced.  A foolish law, enacted in haste and ignorance under pressure from those who would use it to advance their own agenda and prosperity, can cause suffering and loss that is almost beyond comprehension.  Those who urge and pass such laws have betrayed their people and dishonoured their positions.

Darius has a moral meltdown.  When his enemies charge Daniel with breaking the law, Darius finally realises they are also his enemies, and that they had used him to accomplish their own, evil purposes.  How sad that these trusted leaders had no concern for the security and prosperity of their homeland.  How sad that their only concern was for their own private prosperity and egos, and that they were willing to sacrifice thousands of people, risk the security of their land, and betray the confidence of their king and fellow citizens to gain their own selfish ends.  Yet, does it not seem, looking at the world today, that the names and faces have changed, but the game remains the same?

What should Darius do?  He should publicly and humbly recant his foolish law.  Then he should remove these wicked men from their positions, and replace them with people who truly have the good of the people, at heart.  But Darius does not have the courage to do this.  Again we learn a lesson from the Scripture, that we save ourselves much agony of the soul if we simply confess our mistakes and sins, rather than hide or ignore them.  Rather than correct an evil law, Darius labours to find a way to keep Daniel out of the lions' den (6:14).  He seems to try everything but the right thing.

Wednesday after the Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 119:81-96, 1 Sam. 12:19, Lk. 16:1-18
Evening - Ps. 119:97-117, Dan. 6:16-27, Acts 27:9-26

Commentary, Daniel 6:16-27

Darius moves from signing an immoral and wicked law, to actually enforcing it.  He commands Daniel to be thrown to the lions.  When he made the law he was guilty of gross negligence, idolatry, arrogance, and abuse of power.  Now, enforcing the law, he becomes guilty of attempted murder.  If Daniel dies in the lions' den, Darius is guilty of actual murder.  His remark that God will deliver Daniel (6:16) does not absolve him of guilt.

Darius must have known about the death of Belshazzar, so his sleepless night was probably as much about his own fear of God as it was about concern for Daniel.  Belshazzar was struck down for abusing objects from the House of God.  What would God do to a man who killed a prophet of God?  The king may have faced danger and death if he had withstood his enemies.  They may have been able to dethrone him, and even execute him.  But that would have been better than the reason for his sleepless night while Daniel remained in danger.  It is no wonder he passed the night in fasting, and his sleep went from him (6:18).

Like Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, Darius recognises the reality of the God of Daniel, yet he is a long way from being a convert to Biblical faith.  Calling Daniel the servant of the Living God (6:20) is more of a question than a statement.  Even his decree in 6:26 is not a conversion to the religion of God, but merely adding Him to the other gods of the empire.  It is very easy to seek God because one is moved by guilt or other external circumstances.  But crisis conversions are not always true conversions.  It is those who remain steadfast to the end who will be saved.

Once again we see God intervening in history to work His will on earth.  Had Daniel died in the lions' den, an empire wide persecution of all praying Jews would have practically wiped Biblical faith of the face of the earth.  But God is able to deliver His people individually and as a nation.  One of the major points of the book of Daniel is that God preserves His people to return them to Jerusalem and continue as His Covenant people.  Through them the Saviour will come into the world, enabling the purpose of God to be accomplished on earth.

Thursday after the Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 128, 129, 1 Sam. 15:1-9, Lk 16:19
Evening - Ps. 132, 134, Esther 2:5-23, Acts 27:27

Commentary, Esther 2:5-8, 17-23

Tonight's commentary turns to the second chapter of Esther. As we saw in Nehemiah and Ezra, not all Jews returned to Jerusalem when Cyrus released them in 536.  Mordecai and his wife, in the year 519 B.C., still reside in Shushan, and other Jews live throughout the empire.  But it was not God's purpose for Jews to live in foreign lands.  They were called to live as the people of God, keeping His Covenant and worshiping Him according to His law, in the land He had given them. In Genesis 12:1 we read "Get thee out of thy country... unto a land that I will shew thee."  And in Genesis 1:7, "Unto thy seed will I give this land."  In Exodus the same promise is reiterated, "I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God... And I will bring you unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage" (Ex. 6:7-8).  Jews who did not return to Jerusalem were forsaking their calling and their God.  Yet God did not forsake them.  The book of Esther recounts His providential care of Jews outside of Judea.  Truly He is the Father of all mercies.

In chapter 2, Ahasureus, king of Persia, has banished the queen; essentially divorcing and dethroning her for not appearing at his drunken pagan festival in chapter 1.  He willingly accepts the advice to have beautiful virgins from throughout the empire brought to him so he can choose one to become the new queen (1:4) and add the others to his harem (2:14).

Mordecai or Esther, due to their accommodation to the pagan culture they chose over Jerusalem, view Esther as another candidate for the king's harem.  Naturally, the pagan people they live among also regard Esther as a candidate.  Their compromise with the world allows the world to think of them as being "of the world," and the world treats them as such.   Compromise never works for the Church because the world always demands more, but the world never compromises itself.  Its goal is not to live in peace with the Church; it is to eradicate it.  So, while the Jews in Jerusalem attempt to separate themselves from the world by sending away pagan women they had married, Esther becomes a concubine to the king of Persia.

Friday after the Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 139, 1 Sam 15:10-23, Lk. 17:1-10
Evening - Ps. 138, 146, Esther 3:1-12, Acts 28:1-15

Commentary, Esther 3:1-12

As we enter the third chapter of the book of Esther we find her in a new role as queen to Ahasuerus (2:17). She is well favoured, partly because she saved the king's life by warning him of a plot against him (2:21-23).  Things look good for her.  Maybe this compromise of faith will work out.  Not so, for Haman is rising to power.  He will attempt to destroy the Jews, and Esther will be forced to make a choice for or against God.  Haman was a very proud man who liked the way everyone bowed to him and gave him reverence; everyone except Mordecai (3:2).

Why did Mordecai not bow to Haman?  Because he was a Jew (3:4). Perhaps Mordecai knew that it was because he did not live in Jerusalem that Esther was now married to a Gentile idolater instead of living as a believing Jew.  Perhaps he was under a growing understanding that he was a transgressor of the law of God, and had put his own comforts and desires above God all of his life.  Perhaps he was beginning to realise that to bow to Haman was to validate his culture and religion, and to give them more honour than he has given God.  Perhaps he was beginning to think he had compromised the Faith long enough, and was trying to finally take a stand. We cannot be sure what he was thinking, but we do know that it had something to do with the Old Testament faith.

How much can a person compromise?  Once one begins to compromise, where does one stop?  If one doctrine of Scripture can be compromised, why can't all?  If one doctrine can be given up, why should anyone bother with the others?  Does not one compromise actually forfeit the entire faith?  The world understands this.  The world knows that getting ministers to deny the deity of Christ, or the resurrection of Christ, or any of the doctrines of the Christian faith, leads people to deny the entire Christian religion.  They may still attend church, and have nice choirs and pretty buildings, but they have no Biblical faith.  They have only a moral or philosophical system.  They claim Divine sanction for their system, but why should anyone believe in it if the book from which they derive it is wrong about the very important issues of the being and nature and work of Christ?
                           
1 Kings 18 records the famous spiritual battle between Elijah and the prophets of Baal.  Actually the clash was between the God of Israel and the idol Baal.  Many Israelites, including the king and queen, Ahab and Jezebel, openly worshiped Baal.  In verse 21 Elijah asks, "How long halt ye between two opinions?  If the Lord be God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him."  This is the very issue Mordecai faces in the book of Esther.  He has been halting between two opinions all his life.  He is unwilling to go to Jerusalem and live as a Jew, but he is also unwilling to give himself completely to the pagan culture of Persia.  His compromise is not working.  In fact, it is not working for any Jews in Persia.  They are all targeted in the accusation of Haman (3:6-12).  They face an ominous choice they never expected to face; fully join the culture, or die.    

Saturday after the Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps 145, 1 Sam. 15:24-34, Lk. 17:11-19
Evening - Ps. 147, Esther 4:1-17, Acts 28:16

Commentary, Esther 4:1-17

A terrible time of mourning has overcome the Jews.  In their distress they have forsaken their food for fasting, and given up their beds to lie in sack cloth and ashes.  The reason for their sorrow is the decree of Ahasuerus, passed, at the urging of Haman, that went into all the provinces of Persia.  The decree; destroy, kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews, "both young and old, little children and women." (3:13). Every Jew was to die, and their property was to be confiscated.  Even the date of this mass execution was set, "the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar."  We often read Scripture too quickly and without involvement.  The more familiar we are with a passage, the more likely we are to read its words, yet be unmoved by the needs or suffering or faith it expresses.  But let the decree of Ahasuerus sink into your being for a moment.  Understand that it orders the execution of every Jew in the empire.  Understand this will require gathering the Jews into concentration camps, where, in one day, they will all be killed.  Imagine the fear and suffering this will cause; the blood, screaming children, and weeping mothers.

Understand also that, had these Jews returned to Jerusalem when they had the chance, they would not be facing this tragedy.  They would be safe in Judea, the strongest military force in the area, and under the protection of the Persian Empire.  Think of what it would have meant to those who returned, who rebuilt the walls of the city, and rebuilt the Temple of God, to have their presence and their help.  But they chose to remain in Persia where life was easier and more peaceful.  They had learned to love their new homes and lands instead of Jerusalem, and their loyalties lay with their new country, not with Israel; until now. Now they found it not a land of rest and peace, but a land of sorrow, suffering, and death.  If only they had returned to Jerusalem when they had the chance. Mathew Henry wrote a telling comment on this passage, saying; "Those who for want of confidence in God, and affection to their own land, had staid in the land of their captivity, when Cyrus had given them liberty to be gone, now perhaps repented of their folly, and wished, when it was too late, that they had complied with the call of God."  It will not be difficult to find parallels and applications of this passage to our own situation and lives.


Esther has not been living as a Jew.  She has been assimilated into the Persian culture and enjoying her status a queen.  Unlike Vashti, who would not come to the king's pagan festival, Esther must have participated fully in them, for she retained her position.  Mordecai, has openly declared himself a Jew, and urges Esther to do the same.  Our reading tonight includes what are probably the two best known verses in Esther.  Verse 14 is Mordecai's plea for Esther to intercede for the Jews: "who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"  Verse 16 is Esther's decision to act on behalf of the Jews, "if I perish, I perish."

Sermon, Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Christians Live
Psalm 127, Zechariah 4:1-10, Galatians 3:24-29
July 21, 2013
Eighth Sunday Trinity

To say, Christians live,” is to shock most of the people we know today.  They have been taught Christianity is bondage, a living death of sorrow, self denial, and delusion.  They think we pass over all the really fun things in life, by which they mean the indulgence of our own lust and greed, to live in the sad illusion of a better life beyond this world.  Many blame Christianity for all the ills of the world.  Slavery, genocide, poverty, prejudice, racism, oppression, and pollution, they say, are all the fault of Bible thumping Christians and the culture we have built.

They are wrong, of course.  Any one can see that such things are the complete opposite of what the Bible teaches.  And any one can see that such things have been a part of the human experience in all times and places.  And any one can see that the teachings of the Bible, lived and practiced in everyday life would have enabled humanity to avoid the wars, oppression, poverty, abuse, and grief that stain the pages of our history books, and our own personal lives.  So, it is not Christianity that has caused our problems; it is the lack of Christianity that has caused our misery.  But the enemies of Christianity are neither bothered nor informed by truth and facts.  They have an agenda, and to accomplish it, Christianity must go.  So they willingly and gladly accept the lie that Christianity is oppressive, and its demise will make the world a better place.

When I say Christians live, I mean the Christian life is the only life worth living.  Everything else is despair and ruin, but Christianity is hope.  Only Christianity has hope for man.  We believe man can change, or, at least, be changed.  We believe man can live for something higher than the satisfaction of his lusts and conceits.  We believe that is basically what all people live for.  We believe that is the natural tendency of all people, and that it is the reason for most of our unhappiness and abuse of others.  The Bible calls this tendency, “sin.”  It calls the actions and attitude that come out of this tendency “sins.”  So sin is the tendency; sins are the result.

The basic view of those who want to destroy Christianity is that our lusts and conceits should be indulged.  Christianity is bad, they say, because it tells us our natural desires should be controlled, and that we should live in a way that brings our natural inclinations under the control of God. Thus, they claim, Christianity is bad because it inhibits your rights and freedoms.

There are many reasons why people attack Christianity.  They may have financial interests in sin.  They may want to profit from human greed by selling people things we don’t need, and may even be detrimental to us.  They may want to gain power over us by promising more crumbs from their table if we do their bidding.  They may be happy to see the poor and working classes waste their lives on sex, drugs, and rock and roll, while the ruling classes increase their own power, security and wealth.  Where is the hope in this?  There is none.  But Christianity teaches that man can change.  He can learn and do right, by the grace of God.  And he can make life better for himself and others.

Christians are the ones who look for Divine hope in this world.  We are the ones who believe in a loving God, who has a plan and purpose for this world, and who is going to bring His plan to completion.  We are the ones who believe God Himself is going to overcome evil and establish righteousness and peace on this earth.  We are the ones who believe He is working in people now, converting people to His ways teaching them His love, and building a community of peace.

But, I have not quite stated the point of the sermon yet.  I have been circling it, building up to it, because it is very simple and easy to miss if we are not prepared to hear it.  So here it is; the more faithfully and fully we live the way the Bible teaches us to live, the fuller, better, and happier life will be.  The further we depart from the Bible’ teaching, the more miserable, hopeless, and despondent life will be.  This is because we are made for God and can only be happy in Him.  Remember the words of St. Augustine; “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O God, and our heart are restless until we find our rest in Thee.” Christ’s words in Matthew 10:39 apply to this very well.  Talking to His disciples about the persecution and death some of them would face for following Him, He said, “He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”  In other words, it is not in preserving your life to live in comfort according to the world’s definition that we will find real life.  We will find real life only when we follow Christ, only when we live by His teaching, only when we willingly subjugate our desires to His. 


I close with these wise words from Psalm 127.  Their relevance to our subject will be evident. “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.”