Understanding the Debate within Churches Over Sexual Identity

The 500th Anniversary of the New Testament in the Language of the People 1522 – 2022

The Bible in 3-D  

Understanding the Debate Within Churches Over Sexual Identity and Behavior

Why is there a Debate?

The purpose of this blog is to provide a perspective on the controversy over marriage and sexual behaviors in the institution of the “church.” Rather than taking a position, the intent of this article is to provide information on the affirmative and negative (status quo) side of the issue. Through discussion there should be an informed debate and understanding.

History of Debates

The church, as an institution, has had debates on theological and social issues over the centuries. The Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church divided in 1054 A.D. over the presence of statues, the date of Easter, and the authority of the Pope. The Protestant Reformation divided the Roman Catholic Church in 1517 over the authority of the Pope, forgiveness of sins, and the marriage of clergy. July 1519 marks the 500th year anniversary of the Leipzig Debate between Martin Luther and Johann Eck over the authority of God’s Word, the distinction between the law and the gospel, the errors of people and institutions, and the absolute forgiveness of sins by Jesus Christ. Andreas Karlstadt and Philipp Melanchton also contributed to the debate with Luther.

The house arrest of Galileo, Index of Prohibited Books, Inquisition, infallibility of the Pope, Scope’s Trial on the teaching of evolution in schools, contraception, population control, abortion, are examples of conflicts that have been debated by clergy and Christians. Some of these issues are still being debated within the church, society, and families.

The LGBT community represents almost 15% of the population in the United States, a significant minority with millions of American families accepting LGBT persons as family, neighbors, colleagues. In the decade of the 1920s following World War I, the gay community became more visible until the McCarthy Hearings in 1950. The 1969 Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village marked a turning point in the problems the LGBT community faced. Harvey Milk became the first openly gay politician who was elected to the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco in 1977. In the 1980s, the homosexual community was affected by the AIDS epidemic. This epidemic led to the identification of people seeking treatment and millions of others who died from AIDS. In 2003 Massachusetts became the first state to recognize gay marriage and today all 50 states (and the District of Columbia) recognize or perform same sex marriages in some capacity.

The Christian church has consistently taught that God knows us before we are born, is the creator of life, and calls people to faith in baptism. Many Christians understand marriage as either a sacrament or part of God’s plan and not necessarily the result of free will or a decision by two adults. It is similar to the “call” one receives to enter the holy ministry. The question of marriage and the amount of free will or foreknowledge by God is important to discuss.

The Church Proclaims God’s Grace

All are welcome

God’s timeless Word reveals His plan for humanity and His intentions for marriage and sexuality. God’s grace is for all who are baptized and believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. Although churches may not approve or validated a same sex marriage, premarital sex, a change in gender from a birth certificate, prostitution, adultery, the church recognizes that the sinful nature of humanity impacts each of us. However, in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven and become a new creation.

Romans 3: 21-26: “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood-to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished- 26he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

John 3: 16-17: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”

The Church Teaches God’s Love!

Galatians 5:14 “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

James 4:12 “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

Romans 13:8-10 “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

John 8:7-11 “When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

The Church Teaches That the Bible is the Inspired Word of God

Judaism and Christianity are “revealed religions” because they are based on God’s direct communication with His people on Earth through Abraham, Moses, prophets, and apostles.

The most explicit account of this is in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

When Jesus was with us on Earth, he unequivocally accepted the authority of Scripture and He applied it to every contemporary situation. When Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days after His baptism, he quoted the Bible in His encounters with Satan. He respected the faith of the Jews and corrected their unbelief.

Martin Luther spoke of the authority of the Bible at the Diet of Worms in 1521, “–unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason…I do not accept the authority of popes or councils, for they have contradicted each other…my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.” (Roland Bainton, Here I Stand)

When the church has been faced with challenges, as they were with the verse that the sun stood still, the creation of the world in seven days, the Great Flood, or the Virgin birth, the position has been that the translation is in error or the limitation of human understanding.

12 On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel:

“Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.” 13 So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. 14 There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel! (Joshua: 10:12-14)

The Words of Scripture on Sexual Ethics

The verses below are not presented in an order of importance, except that I separated the verses in the Old Testament from the New Testament. They are provided only as information to explain the controversy or debate with some churches or between individuals. There is always the danger of citing a verse without offering the context in the Bible or the situation at the time.

The verses below are from the New Testament of the Bible:

Mark 10:6-9 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

 Romans 1:26-28 “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.”

 Hebrews 13:4 “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”

1 Timothy 1:8-11 “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.”

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

1 Corinthians 6:17-20 “But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

1 Corinthians 7:2 “But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.”

Jude 1:7-8 “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. 8 In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings.”

Matthew 19-6

The verses below are in the Old Testament of the Bible:

Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Genesis 2:24 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Leviticus 18:22 “‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.’”

Leviticus 20:13 “‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.’”

Perspective of Martin Luther

In the first five volumes of Luther’s collected works there are over one thousand explicit references to the verbal inspiration of Scripture! Martin Luther and John Calvin were very clear in their understanding that God is the author of the Bible and although it is written by people it is the inspired and revealed Word of God. Therefore, it is not appropriate to select or delete words, verses, or sections. The entire Bible must be accepted as the Word of God.

Martin Luther made no new claims concerning the nature of the Scripture. Luther writes “We must make a great difference between God’s Word and the word of man. A man’s word is a little sound, that flies in the air, and soon vanishes; but the Word of God is greater than heaven and earth, yea greater than death and hell, for it forms part of the power of God and endures everlastingly; we should therefore, diligently study God’s Word and assuredly believe that God Himself speaks to us.” (Martin Luther, 1848 “The Table Talk or Familiar Discourse of Martin Luther, tr. by W. Hazlitt”, 20)

Luther also wrote, “It is cursed unbelief and odious flesh which will not permit us to see and know that God speaks to us in Scripture and that it is God’s Word, but tells us that it is merely the word of Isaiah, Paul or some other man who has not created heaven and earth. (Robert Preus, “Luther: Word, Doctrine and Confession” Doctrine Is Life: Essays on Scripture. St. Louis: Concordia, 2006, 264)

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

 

 

On the Road: Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

The 500th Anniversary of the New Testament in the Language of the People 1522 – 2022

The Bible in 3-D

 On the Road with Philip and the Ethiopian

 Do you have a spiritual appetite?

Acts 8:26-40  Philip and the Ethiopian 

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet.

29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” 30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants?
    For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”

 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” 37 Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The eunuch answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Philip+Baptizes+the+Eunuch

Philip Baptizes the Ethiopian by Maerten Jacobz van Heemskerck (16th Century)

Rembrandt,_The_Baptism_of_the_Eunuch,_1626,_Museum_Catharijneconvent,_UtrechtThe Baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch by Rembrandt (1626)

The Ethiopian eunuch might be considered as the personal assistant to the Queen of Ethiopia. Philip is one of the twelve apostles and was brought to faith by Jesus Christ (John 1:43). We do not know much about Philip but from the account of the miracle of feeding the 5,000 with a few loaves of bread and even less fish. Philip is described as reserved and practical and I find that I can identify with him. But God uses Philip in important ways by introducing people to him.

I recently went to a dinner party and when a couple learned my name, they asked me if I was the author of a blog on the Bible. I write but do not often talk to others about this blog. This is my understanding that God uses people like me to introduce faith to others.

The Book of Acts includes the story of many people came to faith in Jesus Christ as a result of talking with a Christian. The ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus was viral in the first century and talked about everywhere in the Roman Empire and with this account we see that it had spread as far south as Ethiopia. We know that Paul and Cornelius accepted Jesus Christ through an encounter with a believer.

We do not know if the Ethiopian was traveling to Jerusalem on business (likely) or if he came to worship in the temple. We know that he is familiar with the Book of Isaiah and searching for answers about life or God or both. He does not hesitate to be baptized. The story is one Martin Luther never preached on even though the baptism of the Ethiopian marks the beginning of the Christian Church in Ethiopia.

Life on this planet comes down to one thing – it is only through faith in Jesus Christ, without law and works, that we experience grace and are justified.

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

 

 

 

Hymn – Amazing Grace

The 500th Anniversary of the New Testament in the Language of the People 1522 – 2022

The Bible in 3-D

Bible Verses That Influenced Hymns

Amazing Grace – John Newton (1779, England)

Why did John Newton remember the words of King David when faced with death in a storm in the Atlantic Ocean?

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound / That saved a wretch like me / I once was lost but now am found / Was blind, but now, I see.

Video: http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=090F9MNU

1 Chronicles 17: 7-27 God’s Promise to David (selected verses for Amazing Grace are in bold)

“Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name like the names of the greatest men on earth. And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 10 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also subdue all your enemies.

“‘I declare to you that the Lord will build a house for you: 11 When your days are over and you go to be with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. 14 I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.’”

15 Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation.

David’s Prayer – 16 Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said: “Who am I, Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? 17 And as if this were not enough in your sight, my God, you have spoken about the future of the house of your servant. You, Lord God, have looked on me as though I were the most exalted of men.

18 “What more can David say to you for honoring your servant? For you know your servant, 19 Lord. For the sake of your servant and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made known all these great promises.

20 “There is no one like you, Lord, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. 21 And who is like your people Israel—the one nation on earth whose God went out to redeem a people for himself, and to make a name for yourself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? 22 You made your people Israel your very own forever, and you, Lord, have become their God.

23 “And now, Lord, let the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house be established forever. Do as you promised, 24 so that it will be established and that your name will be great forever. Then people will say, ‘The Lord Almighty, the God over Israel, is Israel’s God!’ And the house of your servant David will be established before you.

25 “You, my God, have revealed to your servant that you will build a house for him. So your servant has found courage to pray to you. 26 You, Lord, are God! You have promised these good things to your servant. 27 Now you have been pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, Lord, have blessed it, and it will be blessed forever.”

Amazing Grace

John Newton was taught the Bible at an early age by his mother. He lost his mother to tuberculosis at the age of 7 and was raised by his father, a merchant navy captain. By age 11, he was at sea and in his later teen years he was impressed into the British navy. He rebelled against the discipline of the British officers and was put in chains and discharged to a slave ship and eventually worked on a plantation of lemon trees on an island of the coast of west Africa.

He worked here for about two years until he was sold to the captain of another British merchant ship. While at sea the ship was overtaken by a storm and John Newton repented of his sins of rebellion as he remembered some of the passages in Proverbs he remembered from his mother.

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

What did Jesus say about Marriage and Divorce?

The 500th Anniversary of the New Testament in the Language of the People 1522 – 2022

The Bible in 3-D

Jesus Teaches about Divorce

What does the Bible say about marriage and divorce?

Matthew 19: 1-12    When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

1200px-GuercinoAdultress1621Dulwich

Christ with the Woman Taken in Adultery by Guercino (1621)

Jesus was in the temple teaching when a group of scribes and Pharisees interrupted his session in an attempt to entrap him as a lawbreaker. They presented to Him a woman, accusing her of committing adultery, claiming she was caught in the very act. They ask Jesus whether the punishment for someone like her should be stoning, as stated in Mosaic Law. But when the woman’s accusers continue their challenge, he states that the one who is without sin is the one who should cast the first stone. Jesus asks the woman if anyone has condemned her. She answers that no one has condemned her. Jesus says that he, too, does not condemn her, and tells her to go and sin no more.

Divorce

Martin Luther said, “Matthew 19:9 is a blunt, clear, plain text.” The purpose of this blog is to engage the reader in thinking and discussion. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

People and religious institutions have diverse views on marriage, divorce and sexual behavior. Martin Luther regarded marriage and divorce as civil matters but recognized the importance of the blessing of the church and the power of forgiveness and faith within the home.

Most of the church teachers including Augustine, Tertullian, Ambrose, Aquinas, and Gregory the Great considered sexual expression with any passion to be a “sin” and not much different from adultery, while virginity and celibacy were highly honored. The culture before the Reformation understood marriage for the procreation of children.

A contribution of Martin Luther and the Reformation is the emphasis placed on the family, the enjoyment of sexual relations and love, the importance of public engagements and stating the marriage vows before God at the altar. Adultery and fornication were reasons for a divorce. Below are excerpts from Martin Luther’s writing in 1522 on marriage.

“Those who want to be Christians are not to be divorced, but each to retain his or her spouse, and bear and experience good and evil with the same, although he or she may be strange, peculiar and faulty; or, if there be a divorce, that the parties remain unmarried; and that it will not do to make a free thing out of marriage, as if it were in our power to do with it, changing and exchanging, as we please; but it is just as Jesus says: ” What God has joined together let not man put asunder.”

“Is there then no reason for which there may be separation and divorce between man and wife? Answer: Christ states here (Matthew 19:31-32) and in Matthew 19: 9, only this one, which is called adultery, and he quotes it from the law of Moses, which punishes adultery with death. Since now death alone dis­solves marriages and releases from the obligation, an adulterer is already divorced not by man but by God himself, and not only cut loose from his spouse, but from this life. For by adultery he has di­vorced himself from his wife, and has dissolved the marriage, which he has no right to do; and he has thereby made himself worthy of death, in such a way that he is already dead before God, although the judge does not take his life.”

“Because now God here divorces, the other party is fully released, so that he or she is not bound to keep the spouse that has proved unfaithful, however much he or she may desire it.”

“For we do not order or forbid this divorcing, but we ask the gov­ernment to act in this matter, and we submit to what the secular authorities ordain in regard to it. Yet, our advice would be to such as claim to be Christians, that it would be much better to exhort and urge both parties to remain together, and that the innocent party should become reconciled to the guilty (if humbled and re­formed) and exercise forgiveness in Christian love; unless no im­provement could be hoped for, or the guilty person who had been pardoned and restored to favor persisted in abusing this kindness, and still continued in leading a public, loose life, and took it for granted that one must continue to spare and forgive him. . . .”

“Here you should be guided by the words of St. Paul, I Corinthians 7 [:4-5], “The husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does; likewise the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does. Do not deprive each other, except by agreement,” etc. Notice that St. Paul forbids either party to deprive the other, for by the marriage vow each submits his body to the other in conjugal duty. When one resists the other and refuses the conjugal duty she is robbing the other of the body she had bestowed upon him. This is really contrary to marriage, and dissolves the marriage….”

Excerpts fromThe Estate of Marriage,’ written in 1522 in ‘Luther’s Works,’ Vol. 45, edited by Walter I. Brandt pg. 38-46

 

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

The Widow’s Offering

The 500th Anniversary of the New Testament in the Language of the People 1522 – 2022

The Bible in 3-D  (Text, Image, Perspective)

 The Widow’s Offering

How has God invested in each of us?

 Mark 12:41-44   The Widow’s Offering

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Widow's Mite

The Widow’s Mite (Le denier de la veuve), by James Tissot, 1886-1894

Martin Luther did not preach on this parable but the perspective of Rev. David Lose, past president of the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia offers a contemporary perspective on stewardship and using all of the gifts God gives to each of us.

“Stewardship is not, ultimately, about what we give to the church. Rather, stewardship reflects a conviction that everything we have has been entrusted to us by God. Therefore, stewardship is concerned with helping us use all that we have wisely – that is, as God would have us use it.

Read this way, Jesus words about the widow push us to expect more of ourselves and our congregations and take seriously that everything we have – gifts, abilities, challenges, wealth, assets, time, opportunities – all of this comes from God with an expectation to use it in accord with the ethics and patterns of the “anti-kingdom” Jesus has been proclaiming.”  http://www.davidlose.net/2012/10/mark-12-41-44-2/

Think about what our world would be like if the Words of Jesus and the Bible were never written, lost, destroyed, or never translated into the languages we understand.  The Bible is the source of truth in a time when Truth is challenged and questioned.  The Bible reveals to us God’s love and grace, His promises, and His daily involvement in our lives.

The 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s translation of the New Testament into German and the printing of the Bible is perhaps the most important event in World History regarding the importance of God’s Words in art, literature, music, and the impact on individual lives.

How can we best prepare to celebrate this historic event in 1522?

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

 

Hymn Parade – These Are the Days of Elijah

The 500th Anniversary of the New Testament in the Language of the People 1522 – 2022

Bible Verses That Influenced Hymns

Days of Elijah – Robin Mark (1994)

 How do the events of our lifetime show examples of extreme suffering and the presence of evil?

These are the days of Elijah/Declaring the word of the Lord, yeah/And these are the days of Your servant, Moses/Righteousness being restored.

 These are the days of great trials/Of famine and darkness and sword/Still we are the voice in the desert crying/Prepare ye the way of the Lord!

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MtdyRDy4fU (by U.S. Marines)

These are the days of Elijah declaring the Word of the Lord

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? Romans 10:14

And these are the days of Your servant Moses righteousness being restored

Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous. Romans 5:19

And though these are days of great trials of famine and darkness and sword

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written:  “For your sake we face death all day long;  we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” Romans 8:35-36

Still we are the voice in the desert crying prepare ye the way of the Lord

 A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Isaiah 40:3

[Chorus] Behold He comes riding on the clouds

 Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. Revelation 1:7

Shining like the sun at the trumpet call

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 1 Corinthians 15:51-52

So lift your voice it’s the year of Jubilee

Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clanLeviticus 25:9-10

And out of Zion’s hill salvation comes!

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation,  gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9

The lyrics to this song were inspired by the tragedy of the Rwandan civil war in 1994, which claimed the lives of 1 million innocent people. The people of Israel felt helpless in the 9th century B.C.E. in a divided country living in a foreign culture under King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. The people of Israel who believed in God faced persecution and death if they did not worship the statue of Baal. Elijah stood up against the false religious system and spoke for God, the Creator of heaven and earth.

I felt in my spirit that He replied to my prayer by saying that indeed He was very much in control and that the days we were living in were special times when He would require Christians to be filled with integrity and to stand up for Him just like Elijah did, particularly with the prophets of Baal. “These are ‘Elijah’ days”. Elijah’s story is in the book of Kings and you can read how he felt isolated and alone in the culture in which he lived. But God told him to stand up and speak for Him. When Elijah called to God for fire and it came, the people realized the truth. Unfortunately for Elijah, he had to hide in the wilderness to escape the wrath of Queen Jezebel.

The references to famine and trials, darkness and swords are the story of world history, including the conflicts in our 21st century world. The song, especially the chorus reminds us of the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ. This is why we worship and desire to be in the presence of God!

Mount-Carmel1

Statue of Elijah at Mt. Carmel in Israel.

Elijah is calling upon God to set fire to the altar to demonstrate His almighty power in heaven and on earth.

In his sermon on Christmas morning in 1525, Martin Luther commented on the “days of Elijah” and his coming to earth before the coming of Christ: “But first we must answer the inquiry liable to be made, If the voice of God today is the last message, why is it said that Elijah and Enoch shall come, opposing Antichrist?

I answer: Concerning the advent of Elijah, I hold that he will not come in a physical manner. As to the coming of Elijah I am suspended between heaven and earth, but I am inclined to believe it will not take place bodily. However, I will not contend hard against the other view. Each may believe or not believe it, as he likes. I well know St. Augustine has somewhere said, ‘The advent of Elijah and of Antichrist is firmly fixed in the belief of all Christians. But I also know there is no statement of Scripture to substantiate his assertion.

Malachi’s prophecy concerning the coming of Elijah (Malachi 4:5) the angel Gabriel makes reference to John the Baptist (Luke 1:17), and Christ does the same even more explicitly where He says in Mark 9:13, ‘But I say unto you that Elijah is come, and they have also done to him whatsoever they would, even as it is written of him, ‘Now, if John is the Elijah of the prophecy, as the Lord here says he was, the prediction of Malachi is already fulfilled. And there is nothing more prophesied concerning the coming of Elijah. The statement the Lord made just previously to the one quoted, ‘Elijah indeed cometh first, and restoreth all things,’ may be fairly interpreted to mean that Christ, referring to the office of John, practically says: ‘Yes, I well know Elijah must first come and restore all things, but he has already come and accomplished it.’

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

Step Ten – Trusting Jesus!!!

The 500th Anniversary of the New Testament in the Language of the People 1522 – 2022

The Digital Disciples Series

TRUSTING – Step 10

Are you a Believer in Jesus Christ, a Student of Jesus Christ, or a Disciple of Jesus Christ?

Why is it important to be a disciple? How does a person become a 21st century disciple?

Matthew 28:19–20 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

These two verses are some of the most famous ones in the Bible and are also referred to as The Great Commission. These are the closing words in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus sends his 11 apostles to spread the gospel after He has ascended to heaven. Jesus specifically tells us what he means to become a disciple: baptizing people and teaching them to obey his commands. The first steps are baptizing, teaching, and obedience!

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Martin Luther tells us that disciples must believe with our heart, look with our eyes, and listen with our ears before serving others.

“In holy and divine matters one must first hear rather than see, first believe rather than understand, first be grasped rather than grasp, first be captured rather than capture, first learn rather than teach, first be a disciple rather than a teacher and master of his own. We have an ear so that we may submit to others, and eyes that we may take care of others. Therefore, whoever in the church wants to become an eye and a leader and master of others, let him become an ear and a disciple first.” –Martin Luther, Lectures on the Psalms II, in Luther’s Works, Volume 11, 245-46.

The perspective below includes excerpts from the Rev. Dr. Robert Kolb, a Reformation scholar:

The first element of Luther’s understanding of discipleship focused on how God communicates with us and the trust that defines human life by defining Him as the source of all good and as a refuge in every time of need—the ultimate source of our core sense of identity, security, and meaning. On the basis of this redefinition of what a Christian is—a hearer of God’s Word, one who trusts in Him through Christ, and who lives a life as a joyful child of God in Christ.

The second element of Luther’s understanding of discipleship stems from his placement of repentance—being turned from false gods to Jesus Christ—at the heart of daily Christian living. Luther’s conception of how human life proceeds within God’s greater history of dealing with his people shaped the reformer’s understanding of daily life. Indeed, “the whole life of the Christian is a life of repentance,” of daily dying through the surrender of sinfulness to the buried Christ and the daily resurrection to a new life defined at its core by trust in the one in whose footsteps faith dares to follow.

A third element in Luther’s understanding of faithful hearing and following in Christ’s footsteps emerged from his supplanting of the medieval exaltation of “sacred” activities and the entire religious realm over the “profane,” the everyday. He did not ignore those activities that reflected faith in Jesus, such as prayer and praise, but he emphasized that everything done in faith is God-pleasing (Romans 14:23). Thus, to the instruction he gave in carrying out God’s commands and practicing human virtues, he added the framework of service in the responsibilities, the callings, of everyday living in home, economic activities, and the wider society.

A fourth observation is the development of the relationship of love and trust in God, as He has revealed Himself as Jesus Christ, through daily repentance and the cultivation of new obedience through the motivation of the gospel through the use of God’s Word.

For Christ died and rose to give life and deliverance also from all that others do to us to make us victims of their sins. In a world in which speech is recognized as performative, the additional insight of how God’s speech re-creates and renews is one of our easier tasks. Luther’s affirmation of the God-pleasing goodness of life in this world, in all its realms and situations, is also tailor-made for adaptation to twenty-first century hearers. Like Luther, we follow in Christ’s footsteps, pushed along by the Holy Spirit, into the world that belongs to our Father, and we are moving to reclaim it and its inhabitants for the family.”

https://concordiatheology.org/2012/03/discipleship-in-the-lutheran-tradition/
http://www.lutheranquarterly.com/uploads/7/4/0/1/7401289/26-2-mattes.pdf
Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

Step Seven – Engaging Others

The 500th Anniversary of the New Testament in the Language of the People 1522 – 2022

The Digital Disciples Series

ENGAGING – Step 7

 How do you define or describe an active disciple?

 How many people follow your news feed? 

John 1:45 “Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’”

 When Philip encountered Jesus and discovered who He was, he immediately wanted to share it with his friend, Nathanael. Our desire to make disciples should stem from obedience, but also love for others—if we believe Jesus is who He says He is, we cannot be complacent.

Jesus-Andrew-Philip-jesus

According to a survey by The Institute for American Church Growth, family and friends are the main link for bringing others to faith in Christ with about 60% of those asked, “What person was it that led you to come to faith in Christ?”, reporting that it was a family member or friend.

Jesus says to each one of us. “Come!” This is how we are called to faith. We share the happiest events in our lives – births, graduations, promotions, awards, weddings, vacations with family and friends – and faith in Jesus Christ should be the most important celebration in our life because it changes everything!

The essential answer to all our questions about life is in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. When we share this answer with others we are proclaiming, witnessing, and demonstrating engagement as an active disciple. We are modeling Philip by sharing the joy and excitement that comes with the peace and understanding about the perspective of life that is known through the gift of faith in Jesus. When we know who Jesus is and why He came into our civilization, the way we talk and live is changed.

witnessBeing an active disciple is sharing our lives with a friend and ice cream and coffee

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

Restoring Life to Jairus’ Daughter

Healing the Sick Woman and Restoring Life to Jairus’ Daughter

 Mark 5:21-43   21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him.

25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”

36 Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.

SONY DSC

 The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter by Gabriel Cornelius Ritter von Max (1878)

Miracles presented a problem for artists because of the difficulty in capturing the main point of the event and the atmosphere surrounding the event. In this painting we do not see the desperation of the family and friends whose young daughter has died. Jesus is not the focal point of the painting and is lost in the darkness. Our attention is on the young girl dressed in white but still sleeping and lifeless. Miracles were a problem for people living in the Enlightenment because they denied the natural order of things. Thomas Jefferson edited the Bible and removed the stories of miracles from it. The message of the Bible in the 18th and 19th centuries was on morality rather than faith.

Is it important to see the figure of Christ or the miracle of the young girl coming to life? How would Jesus feel about his place in this painting? As you read the Bible verses and analyze the painting, what is the most important part of the story?

Luther: “These are the words of such a teacher. And He is worthy of being believed by the faithful. He must say: ‘To me, death is not death, but a sleep. In My sight, no one dies; but all are only sleeping.’ We must answer: ‘Amen, my Lord. I believe. Help me believe, my Christ. You do not lie.’ It is Your gift that I do not lie to myself, but believe firmly that I cannot die eternally; the fact that I die means that I shall sleep for a time. Only give me this faith. You are the one who says to these crowds and flute players: ‘Go away,’ so that they will go away and stop troubling and ridiculing this faith of mine. Unless You tell them to go away, I shall be unable to stand against them. Meanwhile, I shall believe that when I die I shall not die, but fall asleep; that when I am dead I am still living, because I live to You, whom I believe. And You are the one who makes alive, You who say concerning me: ‘He is not dead; rather, to me he is living and is sleeping for a time until I awaken him so that he may be alive to himself as well.’”

According to Robert Kolb in Luther and the Stories of God, Christ sees the world differently than we do. David had seen himself as a poor shepherd, and so had the world, but Christ viewed him as a king.  We see ourselves as sinners but Christ sees us as saints. Jesus speaks two words ‘Talitha koum’ and a dead girl gets up! (p. 80)

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

The Stoning of Stephen

The Stoning of Stephen and the Big Picture of Pentecost

How did Stephen’s faith give him the freedom to forgive his murderers in the pain of his violent death?

Acts 7: 54-60  54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Stoning of Stephen-Rembrandt-1625

The Stoning of St. Stephen by Rembrandt, 1625

This is Rembrandt’s first painting with a biblical subject. Stephen was a member of the Christian community in Jerusalem. Stephen’s job was to care for Greek widows. “And according to Acts 6:8, Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.”

A group of Jews became jealous. In front of the high priests they falsely accused Stephen. He defended himself with a long plea that ended with accusing the priests. Stephen claimed they did not uphold the law, and that they betrayed and killed those that announced the coming of the “Just One” who is Jesus Christ.

The crowd in the temple was infuriated and seized Stephen. Outside the city he was stoned to death. That made Stephen into the first Christian martyr: someone who died for the faith. The yet unconverted Saul (Paul) looked on with approval. (Acts 6, 7 and 8:1).

In the background to the right are the priests. In the top center members of the Christian community watch with fear and worry. Stephen wears a fine gown, common among the deacons in Rembrandt’s days. His last words were “lay not this sin to their charge”. The light that shines on Stephen’s face represents the sign that heaven saw all this happen. The man on horseback is probably Saul, the persecutor of Christians, who will soon take a trip to Damascus where he is converted to the Christian faith after being without sight for several days. His name is changed to Paul.

In the selected passages from Martin Luther’s sermon on St. Stephen’s Day, we discover how faith gives us freedom.

Do we need churches?

“There is no other reason for building churches than to afford a place where Christians may assemble to pray, to hear the Gospel and to receive the sacraments; if indeed there is a reason. When churches cease to be used for these purposes they should be pulled down, as other buildings are when no longer of use. As it is now, (1523) the desire of every individual in the world is to establish his own chapel or altar, even his own mass, with a view of securing salvation, of purchasing heaven. Let us, therefore, beloved friends, be wise; wisdom is essential. Let us truly learn we are saved through faith in Christ and that alone. This fact has been made sufficiently manifest.”

The Faith of Stephen

First, we see in Stephen’s conduct love toward God and man. He manifests his love to God by earnestly and severely censuring the Jews, calling them betrayers, murderers and transgressors of the whole Law, yes stiff necked, and saying they resist the fulfillment of the Law and resist also the Holy Spirit. More than that, he calls them “uncircumcised in heart and ears.” How could he have censured them any more severely? So completely does he strip them of every creditable thing, it would seem as if he were moved by impatience and wrath.

Stephen’s love for God constrained him to his act. No one who possesses the same degree of love can be silent and calmly permit the rejection of God’s commandments. He cannot dissemble. He must censure and rebuke everyone who opposes God. Such conduct he cannot permit even if he risks his life to rebuke it. Love of this kind the Scriptures term “zelum Dei,” a holy indignation. For rejection of God’s commands is a slight upon his love and intolerably disparages the honor and obedience due him, honor and obedience which the zealous individual ardently seeks to promote. We have an instance of such a one in the prophet Elijah, who was remarkable for his holy indignation against the false prophets.

Stephen’s conduct is a beautiful example of love for fellowmen in that he entertains no ill-will toward even his murderers. However severely he rebukes them in his zeal for the honor of God, such is the kindly feeling he has for them that in the very agonies of death, having made provision for himself by commending his Spirit to God, he has no further thought about himself but is all concern for them. Under the influence of that love he yields up his spirit. Not undesignedly does Luke place Stephen’s prayer for his murderers at the close of the narrative. Note also, when praying for himself and commending his spirit to God he stood, but he knelt to pray for his murderers. Further, he cried with a loud voice as he prayed for them, which he did not do for himself.

Who can number the virtues illustrated in Stephen’s example? There loom up all the fruits of the Spirit. We find love, faith, patience, benevolence, peace, meekness, wisdom, truth, simplicity, strength, consolation, philanthropy. We see there also hatred and censure for all forms of evil. We note a disposition not to value worldly advantage nor to dread the terrors of death. Liberty, tranquility and all the noble virtues and graces are in evidence. There is no virtue but is illustrated in this example; no vice it does not rebuke. Well may the evangelist say Stephen was full of faith and power. Power here implies activity. Luke would say, “His faith was great; hence his many and mighty works.” For when faith truly exists, its fruits must follow. The greater the faith, the more abundant its fruits.”

hbitten@reverendluther.org