Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Truth and Circumstances

My father-in-law gave me a book for my birthday.  It's called Because of Christ: Memoirs of a Lutheran Theologian.  The author, Carl E. Braaten, wrote it as a "theological autobiography."  I'm about half way through.

One of the things I underlined was a connection that a certain theological study group made about the connection between God's truth and what goes on in this world. that God indirectly reveals himself through "historical events."  (See the end of this blog post for the quote.)*  It's my impression that Braaten, a well known Lutheran theologian, was sympathetic toward that statement himself.  If I'm wrong, please let me know!

In any case, I see something similar
in one of the "values" of the Alliance of Renewal Churches:
Revelatory Decision-Making - We choose to make decisions based on hearing God's voice. We believe we hear Him through His Word, prayer, fellow believers, circumstances, and personal encounter with the Holy Spirit.
God's Word is first on the list, and that's intentional.  We know God best through Jesus Christ--who we know through the Written Word of God, that is, through the Bible.  But because God is "sovereign," that is, in some often mysterious way, God is in control and will work "all things together for good" in the end, we can trust that God, not the devil, is, finally, in the details and circumstances of our lives (when we are submitted to Jesus), and that God is also involved in making things "work out" one day at a time.

I'm praying and thinking about this as I am beginning my study of the scriptures that are assigned for this coming Sunday.  When I say "are assigned" it's not because there is some rule that certain Bible passages must be used in worship at any particular time.  The Bible itself teaches us that we are free to pay attention to certain "days" or not.  But still, I've found it interesting that the assigned scriptures seem to apply to what goes on in the churches that I have served over the years.  And that continues even now that I'm working with a church that is not yet officially affiliated with any particular Christian group.

This is a long way of saying that I'm looking at a particular Bible passage to possibly preach on June 26.  The passage happens to be Matthew 10:40-42, picking up from where I left off last August.  We were reading then in the Gospel of Luke, but the Matthew 10 reading fits in the sequence just at about the parallel place where many of us were in the middle of August of last year.  I see a deep connection here.  I may be wrong, but that's what I see.  "Circumstances" and "historical events" may sometimes reveal the purposes of God.

Matthew 10:40-42 follows immediately after a great promise of division and loss.  Yes.  Jesus promises that those who follow him will be divided from their families and be left without the earthly security.  At the same time, he promises his own divine protection and provision.  You can read this throughout Matthew chapter 10--and in these verses (42-44) at the chapter's end:
‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’
These are interesting verses because they focus on the benefits for people who come alongside the suffering representatives of Jesus.  There is a promise of blessing for them!  Rewards are promised when they are welcoming and caring to those who have suffered the rejection and division Jesus described in the rest of the chapter.  These verses include promises to those who do not close their doors, their hearts or even their wallets against the ones who have followed their Lord.

As I read these scriptures, I am thankful for many who have come alongside us and others who have suffered losses during this hard year.  I am thankful for the people who have dared to come to Crossroads and for those who have dared to call me to serve there as a pastor.  I think of those who have welcomed and helped us and many others who been rejected or divided from their churches and I am so thankful!

I want to say "yes"--this IS what has been going on.  I can see it.  There's very little doubt.  Praise God for those who have come to our aid!

Is this a fair reading of these scriptures?  Is God revealing his purposes through these circumstances and historical events?  To really know that, we need to ask some questions:  Have we and others who have suffered really been representing Jesus?  Have we been serving as prophets (προφήτης) and "righteous persons" (δίκαιος)?

That seems very bold and not very nice.  Is there any way that we can honestly say this?   Certainly some humility must remain!  After all, we are only "righteous" because of God's grace!  Any righteousness does not come from us!  It's not ours because we are good!  We do not become righteous in that way!

Still, I am willing to seriously look at this.  I do often sense that, as many of us have suffered in the past year or more, that we have had a taste of what it is to be one of the defenseless "little ones" (ἕνα τῶν μικρῶν τούτων) who are living as Jesus' disciples. 

Please pray that God's Word would examine us.  Let us pray for God's judgment, because our judgment is always imperfect.  God is the only one who truly knows us (1 Corinthians 2:11).

Father God, reveal your truth to us through your Word and through your Holy Spirit.  Teach us to rightly apply your Word to the circumstances and historical events in which we find ourselves--even here in our little town.


* On page 36-38 of Because of Christ, in a section about his studies at the University of Heidelberg (1957-1958) Carl Braaten says this:
The year in Heidelberg was very special for LaVonne and me -- it was the beginning of a lasting friendship and collaborative relationship with Robert (Jens) and Blanche Jenson. ...

I did not anticipate that Jens and I would have a lot to do with each other in Heidelberg [the book says more about why].  Then one Sunday afternoon as LaVonne and I were strolling down Hauptstrasse in Heidelberg, we saw Robert and Blanche Jenson coming our way.  By the time we recognized each other it was too late to turn around or cross the street.  We met, exchanged greetings, talked about our living accommodations, and before we went our separate ways, Blanche suggested that we get together.  This we did, again and again, back and forth, we to their humble place in the suburb of Neckargemunde and they to our small city apartment on Mittlerer Gaisbergweg.  There was so much to talk about.  All the frontline theological issues were being treated in the lectures and seminars.  Jens and I would mull over everything we were hearing and learning.
The hear in Heidelberg was very special in another respect.  LaVonne and I met Wolfhart and Hilke Pannenberg.  That was the start of a lifelong collaborative friendship.  We did not know then that Pannenberg would soon become the most famous Lutheran systematic theologian in the world.  Once I asked Johannes Wirsching, the leader of the Kähler seminar, whether there was anything new developing in German theology beyond the standoff between Barth and Bultmann.  He said yes, that Pannenberg was the leader of a study group made up of some of his fellow graduate students constructing a new theological concept of history... The group came to be known as "the Pannenberg circle"... The circle published a volume of essays appropriately entitled Revelation as History (1961) .  It's fundamental unifying theme is that God reveals himself indirectly through historical events.  This meant that theology as the "study of God" cannot be separated from the study of history."

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