Monday, May 3, 2010

Fifth Sunday in Easter 2010

Fifth Sunday in Easter
St. Phillip and St. James day (observed)
Ephesians 2:19-22
Bror Erickson

[19] So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, [20] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, [21] in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. [22] In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Ephes. 2:19-22 (ESV)

Members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.
The church of God, his household, the saints coming together, being built up into a spiritual edifice in which the prophets and the apostles laid the foundation, and Jesus Christ serves as the cornerstone, the center. Everything focuses on Jesus, without him there isn’t even a foundation to be laid. But he holds the whole thing together, because it is he who died on the cross for our sins.
Today though, we remember the work of two apostles, Phillip and James, who worked to bring the message of Jesus Christ to the world. There is a delicate balance that must be struck here. On the one hand, it would just not be right to forsake our culture as Christians and turn our backs completely on the work of those in past generations, often given the title St. We are all saints, just as sure as we are all sinners. Our sainthood is not found in what we do, but in what Christ has done for us. He makes us holy, and if we are holy we are saints. Yet, we give some the title St. as sort of an honorary title for those through whom the gospel of Christ has shined in a particularly bright manner, laying a mark on the history of man and the church. The church has a history, and a culture. And the church does well to remember this, the same way the United States remembers its history celebrating Abraham Lincoln day, or Martin Luther King Jr. day, or President’s day, or the Fourth of July.
So it isn’t bad to have a day commemorating a couple saints here and there, as long as this does not break into the worship of thes same saints, Christ died for them just as certainly as he died for you. Jesus Christ is the focus of our faith and worship. But what would we know of Jesus if it wasn’t for the apostles.
That is what it means that this household of God is built on the foundation of the Prophets and the apostles with Jesus being the cornerstone. The prophets point toward Jesus, the Apostles point back to Jesus. Their focus is on Jesus, as our ought to be. And we thank them for focusing our eyes on Jesus, for if it wasn’t for them, then we would know nothing of Jesus, nothing of God, except perhaps that he exists somewhere.
Lets start with the prophets. To be a prophet meant to speak for God. To be considered a prophet you had to be able to, at a minimum foretell the future. One did not just stand up and declare himself a prophet. There was a high penalty for being a false prophet. God’s law demanded that if you did not pass the test of a prophet but spoke in his name, you were to be stoned to death. Unfortunately for most prophets it seemed to work the other way around. The true prophets, refusing to speak favorably to the king and make false prophecies were stoned, beaten, exiled, but finally vindicated. Finally vindicated. False prophets were given shelter in the palaces of kings, and lived in the lap of luxury as long as they said what the king wanted them to say. We see this even today in various ways. But God takes care of his. One thinks of Elijah being fed by ravens delivering meat and bread at the Brook of Cherith. The prophets, the true ones were vindicated, and their vindication their final vindication, was not in the overthrow of Israel and Judah, the Babylonian Captivity, and the return from exile, and other things they predicted. It was not in these things, but in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to whom they all ultimately pointed. They began the foundation, a foundation that is not taken away by the death and resurrection of Christ.
Christians cannot ignore the Old Testament and hang on to the New Testament alone. This was not what Philip and James, whose earthly ministry spanned a period of time in which the New Testament was not yet pulled together, but the letters to Corinth were in Corinth, and perhaps a few other places, but maybe not yet in Jerusalem. When they preached they preached from the Old Testament, as did Paul. When the Bereans searched the scriptures to see if what Paul wrote was true concerning Jesus being the Christ, they searched the Old Testament. There was no New Testament to be had yet. In fact the New was considered to be nothing but commentary on the Old. The New Testament is not fully understood, until the Old Testament is fully understood.
For instance, the accusation that Jesus was a glutton and a drunkard, is not what we would consider it today, a mere matter of slander. But a call for him to be put to death, as parents were to do with a rebellious child saying that he was a Glutton and a drunkard, Deuteronomy 21:20.
The Apostles themselves, men like Phillip and James, used the Old Testament to present Christ. Because Jesus had sent them to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins to the end of the earth. He sent them, and so they were his apostles. And something needs to be said here about that too. When an apostle speaks as an apostle, it is as if the one who sent him, the one who made him his apostle, was speaking. There is no wiggle room if the man is truly an apostle.
Today there is this attempt to get rid of the foundation, and keep the cornerstone. This obviously doesn’t work. But I see it with both liberals and with fundamentalists. A sort of pitting of the prophets and the apostles against Christ. This has been done before, Marcion tried it early on in the history of the church. He did away with the Old Testament, claiming it had a different God than the New Testament. Do you hear this every once in a while, when people say, well that is the Old Testament? Or the God of the Old Testament was wrathful etc. the God of the New Testament is love? Wait until the last day folks when Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead. That day will make the conquering of Canaan look like child’s play. He is still the same God. But Marcion didn’t quite there, he also discounted most of the New Testament, picking and choosing his way through Paul’s letters, and throwing out just a couple gospels. All that stuff that referred to the Old Testament, or didn’t jive with his ideas of who God should be. It doesn’t work that way.
You are left worshiping yourself, and you cannot save yourself. We need Christ for that. But people do it today. They discount what the apostles have to say about love, marriage, and sex heterosexual and homosexual. They discount what they have to say concerning the church, the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, you name it. They try to pit what they say against what Christ says, as if they as apostles of Christ was not in alignment with Christ. But that is absolutely impossible. This is especially true of Paul’s writings, but not limited to those alone. And Paul spoke for the other apostles too, the council of Jerusalem where he met with them hammered that out. They were in agreement, how could they not be, they were all apostles of Jesus Christ.
So to say as I heard recently that Paul may have said that, but he doesn’t speak for Jesus, is absolutely insane. It is to not understand what an apostle is. Today we don’t use the word like what it meant in the New Testament, it has become more of a title like saint, than it has an occupation. The Apostle Paul we say. Apostle being a title, and we have no idea what that title means, “something or other religious I suppose.” Well, no. Originally it had no religious connotation at all. Apostles were common. People made use of them all the time in business and what not. It was the answer to being in two places at once. And apostle could go do a business contract, take your place in court, get married on your behalf if you were just too busy to make your own wedding. (Try that today you might find you were not late to your wedding but your funeral.) To make someone your apostle was in effect to give someone power of attorney to speak on your behalf. If your apostle came back with bad terms, or an ugly wife that was your problem to deal with now. So to say an apostle doesn’t speak for Jesus, is to say he wasn’t an apostle at all. These men spoke for Christ, what they said is what Christ said. And good thing!
Jesus didn’t write a word with his own hand that we have preserved today, sand just doesn’t hold up that well t the elements. All we know of Jesus is known to us because of the apostles that spoke of him. It’s doubtful we would even have extra Biblical knowledge of Christ if it wasn’t for the work of the Apostles. Josephus etc. would not have had to bother if it wasn’t for the work of the apostles, men like Phillip and James. And we would not know that Jesus died for our sins, and rose for our resurrection.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord amen.

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