Tuesday, August 30, 2022

"A Growing Body" - Henry Knapp

Recently, I found out (NOT, mind you, through personal experience) that eating too much spinach can cause kidney stones. That’s an episode of Popeye the Sailor you won’t ever see! Oh, how I wish I would have known that when my mother kept saying, “Eat your spinach, so you will grow up strong, handsome and wise!” Well, I ate my spinach, and frankly, I’m 0 for 3. Of course, my mother’s interest was in seeing me grow healthy as a child, learning to eat vegetables and other things that don’t taste good is part of growing.

While the details of a good diet have shifted some over the years, the idea that we need to be attentive to how our bodies grow has long been recognized. In the US, there are over 100 universities and colleges that offer a degree in nutritional science or related fields. There are numerous academic journals, various educational courses and a vast array of popular programs which promote the idea that we should care deeply about how the body grows in a healthy, mature way.

As we discussed last Sunday, the metaphor of the church as the Body of Christ is a popular one in the Scriptures. Indeed, it is the most prominent one used by the Apostle Paul in his letters to describe the people of God. Paul will at times refer to the church as a building, temple, priesthood, family, and other analogies, but his primary illustration is to link the gathering of Christians with the living body. And, for Paul, the connection between the human body and the church is not about one or two similarities—he envisions a lot of parallels: how the body/church acts and functions

* how the body/church is connected

* how the body/church cares for itself

* how the body/church is held together

* what the body/church has in common

So, it shouldn’t surprise us that Paul also speaks significantly of how the church matures by leaning into the metaphor: the Body of Christ grows. Growth is something that every human body does—it is a natural part of the human process, but, as we all know, that growth can be healthy or unhealthy. A body can grow in ways that strengthen, protect and invigorate it; or a body can grow in ways that distort, pervert or hinder proper function. No parent wants to see an unhealthy development of their loved ones, and God is no different. We are His children, His people, His body, and He desires for us to grow in ways that will lead to a healthy maturity.

How does the Body of Christ grow? Our human bodies grow through nutrition, exercise, and natural development. How does this parallel our maturity in Christ?

This week in worship, we will look at Paul’s thoughts on this, how the Church, the Body of Christ, is to mature and grow. The Bible’s teaching on this is both commonplace and profound: commonplace, in that working the metaphor, we can largely anticipate the Bible’s answer, yet profound, in that the answer can make all the difference.

Come join us in worship this week as we explore what Paul says about how our church can grow more and more in healthy maturity.

 In preparation for worship this week, read Ephesians 4:1-16.

1. Review verses 1-3. Last week we mentioned that Paul here is urging a natural response to all that has come before—we are made Christians by Christ’s work on the Cross, so we are to live accordingly. What might a “manner worthy” of Christ look like?

2. Review verses 4-6. The “ones” here are all connected. Can you see how you can’t have “one” without the other “ones”?

3. The “one body” referred to in verse 4 is the people of God, the church. What does being “one” mean?

4. In verse 15, how is it possible to “speak the truth in love”? How might that phrase be distorted?

5. What is the goal of our “growth”? What does it mean to grow as Christ’s body?

6. In verse 15, what is the source of growth in the body? Don’t assume something here, actually work through the grammar of the sentence Paul uses. What does he think is the source of growth?

7. Notice how “love” bookends these verse. What evidence of love can you find in the church today?

Monday, August 22, 2022

"What We Have In Common" - Henry Knapp

 I’m not much of a “car guy.” I don’t know a lot about cars, not that interested in cars. So, I was a bit surprised with myself the other day when I saw a car and thought, “Hey, that’s a nice car.” Then, I looked again, and… it was my car! same color, make and model. I drove up next to it, waved at the driver, gave a thumbs up, smiled. He thought I was a weirdo.

I often wear a Pittsburgh Pirates hat. Around here, that doesn’t spark much interest; but when I’m out of the state, I frequently get into discussions about the Pirates, and a natural affinity forms. When I was last at a Penguins game and our team scored in overtime to win at the last minute, I found myself eagerly hugging the man next to me, high-fiving the guys in the row behind who had earlier spilt beer down my back, smiling and cheering all the while. On a long drive across country, when I see a PA license plate, there’s an immediate sense of comradery.

I suspect you too have experienced those fleeting moments of connection. We quickly sense a common affinity, and that evokes a sense of linkage, a familiarity on a very brief, surface level. Of course, what stands out about these moments is how very ephemeral and inconsequential they are—let’s face it, rooting for the same sports team does not make an intimate relationship! The “fun” of these kinds of connections, in part, is that they tap into a deeper awareness of what could be, what should be; a unity that transcends our individual uniqueness.

This transcendental unity is central to the Apostle Paul, not because he is some mystic humanist yearning for the oneness of mankind. But, because what bonds Christians together is a true, real linkage that actually does mean something in the long run. Paul views the individual Christian as part of a larger whole, the Church. Yes, of course, the individual is essential—we individually and singularly relate with our Lord and Savior. But, having done so, we become part of a larger entity. Indeed, Paul’s primary image of the Church is not a collection of individuals, like a herd or school of fish, but as a unified existence, the Body. The Christian Church is metaphorically described in the Scripture as a human body: not a collection of bodies but as a single body. Individuals are “members” or parts of the body, but those whose existence is imagined as intimately linked to the whole. The idea of a stand-alone Christian makes as much sense as a self-existent finger or appendix.

What is it, then, that evokes such a connection? Living in the same geographical location prompts a simplistic and momentary association. What brings about the kind of intimate, existential connection that lies behind the body-imagery? The Apostle does a fabulous job of describing it in Ephesians 4: “One Spirit, one calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God!” What joins us together is not what we do, not how we feel, not what we believe. What joins us together is not “us” at all—it is Him. Our “oneness” is a product of our connection with the “oneness” of our Lord and His salvation.

This week in worship, we will be exploring that oneness and our connection to one another through Christ. Join us!

1. Read Ephesians 4:1-6. How does this section connect to the verses that precede it (note the “therefore” in verse 1)?

2. What is “a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called”?

3. How does each description in verses 2 and 3 describe the walk of a Christian?

4. What do you think prompted Paul to move from verse 3 to verse 4? What is the link that ties them together?

5. List out all the “ones” here in verse 4-6. Why is “unity” such an important concept in Paul’s thinking?

6. There are many different ways in which baptism is practiced in the Church. What does it mean that there is “one baptism” (vs. 5)?

7. God is described in verse 6 as “who is over all and through all and in all.” Why would this be a good description of God following all the “one-ness” mentioned above?

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

“A Gospel Foreshadowing” - Rev. Tim Dubeau

It is indeed providential that in preparation for Communion last Sunday Henry wrote on the topic of bread. In a very informative article he surveyed the history of bread in both Old and New Testament times. Inevitably, he landed on the most significant interpretive motif for bread, that which Jesus himself expounded by saying "I am the bread of life.” Taken further, at Matthew's account of the last supper Jesus said "Take, eat; this is my body" (Matthew 26:26 ESV). Clearly then, Jesus wanted His followers to see that just as bread served as a basic, everyday life life-sustaining for our temporal, physical bodies, those who banked their faith completely in Him as the source of true life would be sustained spiritually with life everlasting. The administration of the sacrament continued with Jesus offering the cup and saying "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:27b-28 ESV). These words of Jesus leave no doubt that the cup represented Christ’s own blood that was to be shed for the remission of sin.

I do not pretend to have completed an exhaustive search of how blood is viewed throughout Old and New Testament times, but I would like to share a bit about how blood relates to the covenant that Jesus mentions. While we could easily go back to a number of Old Testament texts citing covenants (Covenant of Works, Abrahamic Covenant, Davidic Covenant), a great example of a blood covenant is found in Exodus 24. Here Moses affirms the covenant God established on Mt. Sinai by sacrificing bulls and throwing half the blood on the base of the altar and the other half on the people. There is life (or a life force) in all the blood that God has created (both human and animal). Since all blood is under God's sovereign dominion, that which is shed for sacrificial purposes is given back to Him by pouring/sprinkling upon the base of the altar, upon the high priest, upon the veil of the tabernacle and even upon the people of Israel. Such sacrificial blood had the power to temporarily atone (Leviticus 16:6,15-19; 17:11), purify (Leviticus 14) and sanctify (Exodus 29:30-31) and was that which sealed God's covenant with Israel.

Such concepts are carried into the New Testament but are given additional importance in relation to the blood of Christ. The book of Hebrews contains several references back to Exodus 24, all of which testify to the power of sacrificial blood to remove sin. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is seen as the ultimate sacrifice since His blood, unlike that of animals whose blood brought temporary relief from sin, was so superior that it brought about everlasting forgiveness and sanctification. Through His perfect obedience in shedding His precious blood, Jesus brought peace and reconciliation between ourselves and God. We are freed from the power of sin and Satan, having our guilt blotted out completely. We have been pardoned by God based on the active obedience of Christ, and we are being transformed into new creations. Indeed, all we who had gone astray were by God's grace and mercy "sprinkled" with the blood of Jesus. Thus, the cup representing His shed blood is the guarantee of our salvation. His blood sealed the New Covenant, the Covenant of Grace. We drink the cup in remembrance of Him.

In light of this, think upon the following ...

1. How is blood described in John 1:13?

2. In what ways is the phrase "the shedding of blood" used in the Bible?

3. What are the evidences that the atoning power of Jesus' blood have been gifted to a person? See 1 Peter 1:13-23

4. The inspired author of Hebrews uses the phrase "once for all" in 7:27, 9:12, 9:26 and 10:10. What are the contexts in which these words are spoken?

5. In 1 Peter 1:18-19 to what things are the "blood of Christ" compared and what makes it different?

6. In modern day language we speak of "cutting" a deal or a contract. In the Old Testament a covenant is cut. See Genesis 15 to gain further understanding how a covenant was ratified.

7. In John 6:53-54, what must a believer do to experience eternal life?

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

"Bread in the Bible" - Henry Knapp


All that you never thought to ask about “bread” in the Old and New Testaments.

As soon as you begin to think about it, you’ll realize that “bread” is a popular biblical image in both the Old and New Testaments. Bread was an important part of the Old Testament sacrificial system. The absence of bread caused the Israelites to rebel against Moses (and God) in the wilderness. Eating consecrated bread from the Temple was a big deal in David’s life. Jesus refers to Himself as the Bread of Heaven, and bread forms a crucial part of our communion celebration.

What are we talking about here? A good, fluffy loaf of white bread? Sliced, or not? Maybe a Panera bagel? Or, (shudder), whole wheat bread?

During biblical times, the term “bread” was used for leavened or unleavened bread, porridge, gruel, and other cereal-grain-based food items; eventually, any solid food or nourishment was called “bread.” Most frequently for Israel, bread was made from either wheat or barley. Different types of soil, different harvest seasons, led people in biblical times to diversify their production. Wheat, more difficult to grow, was more expensive and a rarity for the average Old Testament Israelite who ate barley cakes instead. By Jesus’ time, much of the bread was wheat-based.

Much of everyday life revolved around the production, preparation, and consumption of bread. Providing most of the proteins and carbs needed for life, bread was the staple food for Israel and all surrounding cultures. Over 300 different kinds of bread are known to have been produced during biblical times. Following the harvest, the seed was separated from the husk, ground up to differing degrees, and then cooked by various means. Bread would be baked in an oven, fried in a pan over hot coals or on a griddle. Not like our loaf, the bread produced would be more like a roll or bun. A family affair, the production of bread would take up much of the day.

The centrality of bread for life—both enabling life and a dominating concern for life—makes it a perfect metaphor or analogy for our spiritual existence. During times of mourning, divine punishment or discipline, the Bible will speak of “the bread of adversity,” “of tears” or “of ashes.” So overwhelming were these suffering times, that it was like the very essence, the bread, of life. The Psalmist sings of Israel’s enemies eating people like bread—building on the horror of cannibalism to describe the everyday life experience of living under foreign oppression.

On the other hand, “to eat bread” with someone was to share a meal—to declare peace and harmony. Bread was understood to be a gift from God: It was He who prepared the land, made it fertile, gave the rain, provided for the harvest and allowed for the peaceful growth of the grain. Bread was a part of all life, and God is the essential element in the production and consumption of bread.

And, so it is today: Jesus is the bread of life—the essence of all we are. This week in worship we will celebrate communion together, a reminder of our daily dependence upon the life-giving sacrifice of our savior, Jesus Christ.

For worship this week, look at one line—“Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed; let us therefore celebrate the festival” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).

1. Read the surrounding verses—how does this line fit in with Paul’s thinking?

2. Why might Paul use the term, “Christ,” here instead of Jesus?

3. The Passover lamb recalls the experiences of Israel during the Exodus. Read up on them in Exodus 12.

4. What are the characteristics present in the “Passover lamb” that distinguishes it from any other lamb? How are these related to Jesus?

5. Notice the tense of the verb in the first part of the verse, “has been sacrificed.” What does the “timing” mean/imply?

6. Why does Paul suggest we “celebrate the festival”? What “festival”? Why should we celebrate it?

7. What would a celebration look like? How is this connected to our Lord’s Supper/communion celebration?