Saturday, November 29, 2008

30 November 2008

Deuteronomy 30:10-20

This lesson is perfect for showing the thrust of traditional Judaism as opposed to Pharisaical or Rabbinical Judaism. What God is looking for is not blind obedience to a written set of rules, but a relationship with him. As St. Paul tells us, we are not bound by the law, but we follow the rulings of the Holy Spirit. If we truly love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul, then we will not worship other Gods, we will not make idols, we will not use his name in vain, and we will honour him on his day. Even more, we will look at each other, and realising that we are all made in God’s image, and if we love God, we will not kill, steal from, lie too, commit adultery against or covet the things of someone who reflects the image of God.

If we truly love the Lord, we will obey him, just as young children obey their parents. That is partly why the way we raise children is so important. The relationship of parents one to another reflect the relationship of God and the church. As children learn to obey their parents, they will learn to pass that obedience on to God if they truly love him.

We are told to love and obey God is to live. The physical blessings promised to the Jewish people are not always meant for Christians, but it is true that as we live for God and love him, we will be blessed. It may be that it is physical blessings for a society, just as American Indians in Argentina have seen their villages prosper as they learned to live for God, or it may be a peace in our hearts as we are persecuted for following the Messiah.

God’s word is very near us. As we seek him truly, he will explain his word to us and allow the living Word to live in our hearts, grant us peace, and guide us on our way.

Shalom b’Yeshua haMoshiach

Mar Michael Abportus, OSL

Saturday, November 22, 2008

22 November 2008

Isaiah 6:1-8:

In the year that King Uzzi'ah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;the whole earth is full of his glory." And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven." And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me."

This week lesson manages to sum up some very important tenets of Christianity, and well needs examination. To begin with, the lesson gives us a specific time in history, the year King Uzziah died, roughly 736-732 B.C. Isaiah, probably during a worship service sees the Lord. He is high, and lifted up and his train fills the temple. My Bible gives, hem, and the indication is that the Lord’s deeds and presence fill the temple and creation.

The Seraphim were flying about, with two wings to cover their faces, because they were not worthy to look upon the Lord, two to cover their feet, because they were not worthy to stand in the Lord’s presence (and I know others interpret this differently, but this is my reading of it) and two wings to fly. They call one to another, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts and the whole earth is full of his glory. The complete Jewish Bible renders this, “More holy than the holiest holiness,” while the scriptures gives us, “Set apart, set apart, set apart is YHWH of hosts.” The angels are crying, and Isaiah is given to understand that YHWH is wholly other, he is not man, nor anything that we could understand aside from his revelation to us. He is completely set apart from us, yet Isaiah sees him in his holiness.Isaiah cries out, “Woe is me, for I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips.” Isaiah has come to a realization. His worship, expressed primarily through his lips is totally inadequate for a holy God. Even worse, he lives among a people who are of unclean lips, that is a people who do not truly worship the Lord, that is they worship with their lips, but not with their lives (to take off from the General Thanksgiving of Anglican use). A Holy God requires worship that is Holy from people who are Holy. In other words Isaiah realizes that for his sin he (and the people) are completely unworthy to worship a Holy God, and can do nothing about it. God sends a Seraph to Isaiah, who takes a hot coal off of the altar of incense, and he touches it to Isaiah’s lips. In other words, only God can cleanse us of our sin, and that cleansing might not always be pleasant (a hot coal pressed against my lips sounds like no fun at all).After Isaiah has been purified from his sin, the Lord asks, “Whom should I send, who will go for us,” and Isaiah answers the call, “here am I, send me.” When God cleanses us from our sins, it is to a purpose. We are sent as a result of our call. Remember when Peter’s mother-in-law is healed. She gets up and serves them. When Paul has his Damascus Road experience, he goes to preach the Gospel. Today we have a bunch of namby pamby Christians who do nothing. Every one of us has a call on his or her life. That call might be to preach the Gospel (of course we are all called to share the good news in one way or another.) It might be we are to change society, as Wilbur Wilberforce made it his life’s work to stop slavery and reform the manners of the British Empire. It might be just to say something nice to someone, or being a good influence.So confess that sin to God, allow him to cleanse you from your sin and get to work.

Mar Michael Abportus, OSL

Saturday, November 15, 2008

16 November 2008

And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the LORD's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?
Today's lesson establishes the principles of kingdom, that we in our "Democratic" societies might not understand today.
First, let us note, God has Moshe to cut two more tablets, as the former tablets had been destroyed. Note that that which was totally made by God, the first set of 10 commandments had been destroyed. The Israelites (and we by extension,) are so sinful that something made entirely by God could not stay in our presence, and God presents the 10 Commnademtn once again to Israel, but this time on two tablets cot by Moshe. In all the scenes on the mountain, we see God as law giver. This was one of the original functions of a King, to be a just law giver.
In these days of extreme freedom, we often resent law givers. Since we are free, we see no need for laws. We see this in traffic every day. How many people actually obey the speed limit. Most treat it as a suggestion, making the road a more dangerous place. The same with running red lights. Many people are too inconvenienced by those silly red lights, and go through any way, also making the world a more dangerous place. Young people think many things we older people do to be silly. Sex only in marriage, how silly, majority rule in California, no way if it interferes with self defnined rights.
Now go back to Deuteronomy. What does God ask? That we fear (repsect) him, walk in his ways, love him, werve him and observe his commands given for our own good. (Emphasis mine). Now indeed there are two reasons why we should obey God, and treat him as our king, the first of which many miss. God made the heavens and earth and everything on them (including us), and as creator, he has the right to expect our obedience. IN other words, God is king by reason that we are his creation and we belong to him, something in modern times we do not really like, but Paul reexpresses it elsewhere in Corinthians. Who does a man's body belong to, why his wife. And a women's body, who does it belong to, but her husband, giving a whole new push into marital fidelity.
The second reason we are to obey God's laws is because they are "given for our own good".
Sometimes we mix up what St. Paul and society say. Are Christians free? Clearly yes, but we are free to use our minds and bodies in a way that glorifies God. We are not free to do as we want, but to seek his will. Unfortuneately, many people accept the rules in the Bible as a red light or speed limit sign, just as a suggestion. That is why the church is so weak today. We look at the Bible and think of it as one great book of suggestions, and we lose out.
When we buy something, it usually comes with an owners manuel If we are smart, we will use that manuel and follow its instructions so that the care will last longer. Do we stick the gas nozzle in the tail pipe? Of course not, that could lead to an explosion. Do we put water in the crankcase? of course not, that would ruin the motor. God has created us with more care than GM ever made a car, and has given us a basic model that we should use. Our owner's manuel is the Bible, which we should consult more often than we consult our car's owner's manual.
On this last Sunday of Kingdomtide, let us remember that the true kindom is a place where we truly obey our kingdom. Let us also remember, Yeshua gives us the spirit to give us the strength to obey him.
Shalom b'Yeshua ha Moshiach
Mar Michael Abportus, OSL

Saturday, November 8, 2008

9 November 2008

Deuteronomy 9:1-29

Blessed brothers and sisters, you who are called out to serve the Lord, the Torah portion for this week begins with a warning, “Do not say in your heart, saying it is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me to inherit this good land, but because of the impiety of those nations that the Lord will destroy them before you.

This is a lesson that we must take to heart. God did not give the people of Israel the land because of their holiness, but because the people there before practiced evil deeds. God did not give us this land because we were especially holy, but because of the impiety of the nations here before us.

Let us take the lesson to heart. These United States have been blessed for much time. A reflection, I believe of the attempt to build a society based on basic Christian precepts. Some of our colonies were founded on religious precepts, such as Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. Most of the colonies had state churches, and often the first thing done upon landing was a Thanksgiving service to God. Most of the founding fathers were Christians, and even the deists among them approved of the reading of the Bible for building a moral society. We know from reading the Bible, that blessing of nations relates to their obedience. This is not just by accident. There are spiritual laws laid out, which must be obeyed. Just as ignoring the law of gravity can result in death or injury, so nations that disobey the spiritual laws lay themselves open to the results of violating these laws.

In Daniel 9, Daniel confesses the sins of his people. In 2008, the church and our nation need to confess their sins. Abortion, racism, materialism, greed, lack of respect for authority, drugs, alcoholism, have all made inroads on our society, and the church remains strangely quiet relating to many of these sins. I join with Pastor Chuck Swindoll in inviting each of you to consider the sins of the nation, and repent of your participation in them, and repent of them for the nation. It is time for us as Christians to take action, beginning with prayer on each of these evils. Gross materialism, and living on credit, has taken out not only much of the economy of the USA, but has damaged the world economy as well. We have been so busy getting what we wanted, that we have not considered the ultimate cost. In the New Testament, we are told that greed is a form of idolatry, yet we have made it a national obsession. I think the Amish have it right. No cars because they become a status symbol . My thirteen year old car gets me where I need to go. No need to break my budget to get a new one, and when it gives up the ghost, I’ll just replace it with another old car.

In Honduras, I was occasionally shocked. The street kids begging were treated like trash, but worse was to go to the beach. Here all the rich people with their jet skis, and kids begging food on the beach because their parents couldn’t feed them. I just do not think I could do it. Waste money on what is essentially a toy, knowing so many people didn’t even have the basic necessities. Now I do not think the Bible tells the government to be responsible for these people who have nothing, but we as Christians do have the responsibility. Jesus commands us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to heal the sick. In fact he says, that he who has two coats should share with the one who has none.

In the Tanakh we are given some basic guidelines which while they cannot be literally followed today, give us an idea. The widows and orphans were not treated as charity cases. The corners of the fields and second pickings were left for them. They still had to earn it by going out and reaping. In James or Peter, we are told, if someone refuses to work, don’t feed them. In other words we are not to take a way a persons basic dignity. In Jewish writings on Tzedakah, a great point is made in attempting to help the poor without them knowing that they are being helped or who helped them. Again, we are to save a person’s dignity. When a person lives on charity, they often come to believe it is owed to them, especially if the government is involved. If we truly desire to help others, then we need to give at least 10% to the church, and to be sure we are in a church which has deacons and deaconesses who look out for those in need. In early Christian Rome, it was the church who helped the poor. In Memphis, it was the church who ministered to the sick in the Yellow fever outbreak. Princess Elizabeth of Hungary, Sister Claire, and others were know for ministering to sick that no-one else could bear to be with.

So, if we are indeed called out to be saints, we must like Daniel confess the sins of our nation, every day. We should listen to what God says about it, and then we are to act, that first act being for our leaders and our newly elected leaders, that they would truly follow God, and help address the problems by dealing with the real root, which is sin.

Please join me in spending at least ten minutes a day praying for our nation (or your nation if you do not live in the USA)

Shalom b’Yeshua haMoshiach

+Mar Michael Abportus
Pastor, Congregation Benim Avraham

Saturday, November 1, 2008

All Saints Sunday: 2 November 2008

Today instead of talking about the Tanakh, we will expand somewhat, as today is All Saints Sunday, otherwise known as All Hallows Sunday. This is one of the four special days we set apart for Baptism. The four days are: The 1st Sunday after Epiphany, in which we celebrate the baptism of Jesus (for obvious reasons); Easter, because we are raised from death unto life, from slavery to sin, to freedom from sin; Pentecost because in baptism we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit; and All Saints Day or All Saints Sunday because we become saints through our baptism.

What is a saint? First looking at the Biblical words: the word sanctify, or hallow means to set apart. One of the Bibles I am currently using is called the Scriptures. Repeatedly instead of using the words sanctify, or hallow, it gives us the words to set apart. The holy place is the set apart place. In other words, when we are baptized, we are set apart from the World, and set apart to God’s service. This is truly a high calling. Similarly, Abraham was called to be set apart from worshipping idols. The people of Israel were set apart from the sinful people around them. They were called to wear Tsit Tsit or tassels on the corners of their garments, with one blue thread. I wear this myself, and the one blue thread amongst the white ones reminds me that by reason of my Baptism, I am set apart to do God’s work.

This of course is good news, we are all set apart from the world to do God’s work, not in our own power, but through the power of the Holy Spirit. As we are told in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit will give us the power and wisdom and knowledge we need to do the work of the kingdom, which is two fold, to build up the church by preaching the Gospel, thereby adding new members, and to build up the church by encouraging, teaching, guiding and healing each others.

There is of course the more modern meaning of saint, which is a person who is super good and does miracles on God’s behalf. Now of course the Bible suggests, that if we are truly set apart from the world, that is truly serving God, then we will work miracles. Yeshua himself states we will do greater things than he did, and that whatever we ask in his name will be granted. A saint in this sense is someone who is so set apart from the world, that he truly knows God’s will, and is a servant to that will, and therefore works miracles. Of course not all the saints worked miracles. Some of them witnessed to Yeshua, even being killed for him. We have martyrs even today who go to their deaths singing praises to God. We have other saints who do whatever it takes to serve God in the way he called us. St. Frances, or Mother Teresa of Calcutta would be examples of these saints. Other saints, such as St. Patrick demonstrated wonderful powers of forgiveness. Others like John Wesley were wonderful preachers. Others such as Jerome, Wycliff, Coverdale, and Huss suffered for rendering the scripture into modern languages. In other words, these saints are the heroes of the church. They show us that men who are not God can still do his work.

As we celebrate this day of remembrance of the various saints, let us remember we are called to be set apart from the world, to do God’s work here on Earth, and to be heroes of the church showing others that we can follow Yehsua, “doing justice, loving with all our hearts and walking humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8)

Mar Michael Abportus, OSL
Pastor, Benim Avraham