Monday, November 22, 2010


On November 28, 2010, we begin a new church year. It begins with Advent. We prepare for the coming of Christ.

As Lutherans, we are liturgical. We follow a calendar in a myriad of ways. However, some denominations don’t. (I don’t think God gives extra credit one way or the other.) We all worship in different ways. Personally, I think the church calendar is a blessing to the church. It can help us to focus on how and why we worship the way we do.

The church calendar can keep us in focus preparing for Christ’s coming and following him along the way. We can focus our attention on various aspects of our relationship with Jesus, the Christ.

One part of the church year is the seasons of the year. The church year begins with Advent. The next season is the Twelve Days of Christmas. This is followed by the season of Epiphany. Then, we have the season of Lent. The highlight of the year is the Easter season which begins with the Day of Resurrection and then continues through the Fifty Days of Easter. The Easter season ends with the Day of Pentecost. The following Sunday is Holy Trinity Sunday. For the rest of the church year we follow what is called Ordinary Time, or the Sundays after Pentecost.

The calendar is predicated on two festivals: Christmas, the birth of Jesus; and the Day of Resurrection. Christmas is always December 25th. The Day of Resurrection is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. The Epiphany is always January 6. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which is forty days before the Day of Resurrection, excluding Sundays.

Here is how the different seasons of the church year can enhance our relationship with God, through Jesus Christ. Advent is a time for preparing for the coming of Jesus. We consider his coming into the manger, his coming into our hearts, and his coming again. During the Twelve Days of Christmas we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus. We celebrate the reality that God loved us so much that his son became one of us, not in a supernatural or exclusive way, but in the simplicity of life. Epiphany season is the time to consider that the light of the world has come, and God has made himself manifest in Jesus. By remembering that the Magi from the East came to worship Jesus, we recognize that God’s son is here for the entire world. Lent is a time for penitence, reflecting on our sinfulness. We acknowledge who we are and whose we are. Easter is a time of celebration. In the risen Christ, we recognize that we have been raised to a new life in Jesus Christ. Pentecost gives us an opportunity to consider the power of the Holy Spirit. It is through this power that we are empowered to proclaim the love of God through Jesus. Holy Trinity Sunday helps us to consider the mystery of the God-Head. There is one God, three Persons; it is all beyond our human grasp. Ordinary Time is when we ponder who we are as the body of Christ and our responsibility as Jesus’ Disciples. We are the church and are called to proclaim the saving grace of God to the world.

Another way we observe the calendar is by using the lectionary, a set list of scripture readings for each specific Sunday. The texts are determined with the season of the year in mind. There is a reading from the Hebrew Testament, a Psalm, a letter from one of the writers of the New Testament, and a Gospel reading. There are three different sets of readings. The set is determined by the gospel to be read. The first year of a cycle is the Gospel of Matthew. The second year is the Gospel of Mark, and the third year is the Gospel of Luke. Interspersed through each year of a cycle are readings from the Gospel of John, especially during the Easter season. One benefit of this tradition is to ensure that much of the scripture is being presented to the community of faithful. It is interesting how much the readings seem to fit the circumstances of a particular community of faith.

There is much to consider and much to think about each day of each year. The liturgical calendar assists us with our thinking.

Friday, November 5, 2010

“How Lutherans Interpret Scripture – Part III”

For the previous two editions of the “God Talk” blog, we have discussed various concepts of how Lutherans interpret scripture. However, no one comes to scripture with a totally neutral or open mind. Let me give an example from Mark Allen Powell that might help us to understand this reality.

Powell was doing research on a paper or his doctoral thesis. As part of the process, he surveyed three different cultures with the story that is commonly known as the Prodigal Son. Most of us know the story. The younger son asked for his inheritance. The father gave it to him. He squandered it on loose living. A famine developed where he had gone. No one would give him anything to eat. He ended up eating the food that is given to pigs. Powell’s question was, “Why did the younger son end up in a pig sty eating the food that pigs were given?”

Initially he asked that question to seminary students in the United States. The resounding answer was that he squandered the money. Powell noted that our culture is capitalistic. This would be an understandable answer.

Then he went to Tanzania and asked seminary students of that culture. The answer was quite different. The high percentage of responses was that no one would give the younger son something to eat. Powell said that in Tanzania, hospitality is considered very important for their way of life.

Powell also went to Russia. There he asked the same question. This time the greater majority of answers were that there was a famine. In the Russian culture, it has been deeply embedded in their thinking of the two year siege of Moscow during World War II where millions died of starvation.

All of the answers are truthful. All of the answers provide an insight into the relevant components of the culture.

Besides cultural influences of interpreting scripture, there could be circumstances in the culture or society that are different than when Jesus was on earth for his human ministry, along with the western culture and society that developed the norm for understanding scripture. Here is an example of this dynamic.

Lutherans were prevalent in Tanzania. At the time that missionaries were having some success with conversion to Christianity, they came face-to-face with a challenge. The Tanzania culture embraced polygamy. This was clearly against the understanding of how we were to live our lives as revealed in the Christian Testament. How should the missionaries respond? They could require that polygamy cease immediately, if they wished to sincerely proclaim their belief in Christ. However, what would happen to the wives that would be removed from the family? Their entire economic situation was dependent upon the husband. Also, they would also display sexual desires. Would they be cut off from all of that? Would that be the “Christian way” to deal with the situation? And who would be the wives that would be removed? Would it be the latter ones? Why? And if it was concluded that polygamy would cease immediately, how would that set with our understanding of divorce, as stipulated by Jesus? And what about the children of all the wives; how would their lives be affected?

The Lutheran Church of Tanzania responded by embracing polygamy, as it was practiced when people converted to Christianity. However, the practice of continued polygamy was stopped. No more wives could be added and those who married for the first time were asked to remain monogomistic.

All of what we have discussed, as far as interpreting scripture, requires prayer and understanding, along with justice and mercy. As Jesus said, God requires mercy, not sacrifice.

In all situations we must remember some basic instructions from Jesus:
  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  • Love one another as I have loved you.