As I’ve been preparing for my message for Sunday morning, I have been meditating on Matthew 6:1-18. This passage speaks to certain testimonies of righteous living: giving, praying, and fasting.
It is notable that each of these are introduced by speaking against these deeds as practiced by the “hypocrites” (which at any moment might be any of us). It is far too easy to do things to be seen by others and receive some public honor through doing this.
In particular, it is rather striking in this day and age how few people appear to want to be secretly generous with what God has given them. We design our charitable programs to publicly name benefactors, but what I was wondering…have we simply made our righteousness a business transaction instead of a love-filled act for God and others? Have we done nothing more than provide something for being generous (despite what our charitable contribution receipts specifically have to note)? Has our “generosity” degenerated into nothing more than a transaction to purchase a good name?
Lord, help me to give secretly knowing you see all that is done in secret and you will indeed reward me, and to not give to receive the passing praise of others but to receive the enduring reward from your hand.
[originally blogged on May 30, 2012 at bluechippastor.org]
I had a conversation with a couple of the ladies in my church today about a symbol that is imprinted into the fabric lining the bottom of our brass offering plates. I had overheard one of them telling the other that “IHS” stood for “In His Service”. Sounds good enough. Makes sense. It would be a good meaning to take away from it. But that isn’t what it actually means.
I have found that many times symbols have a way of taking on a life of their own and often their significance shifts (sometimes rather dramatically) over time. This may largely be to a lack of pastors and teachers discussing the meanings and significance of symbols within the Church (or perhaps many pastors and teachers don’t know such matters themselves). But we really should take care to do so.
I have encountered times in my own life where folks have decided that such symbols are somehow pagan…often this comes from a lack of historical appreciation. Or because of the lack of historical understanding it was easy for some other folks to force their seemingly spiritual interpretation onto the other folks in order to attack such symbols. Sadly lacking historical appreciation of the Church makes us easy targets for false teaching.
So what does “IHS” mean? It belongs to a VERY EARLY tradition found in the Greek manuscripts of the early church wherein the sacred name (nomina sacra) of “Jesus” (Gr. ‘ΙΗΣΟΥΣ; transliterated as ‘IESOUS) was abbreviated by use of the first two letters of his name (IH – sounded like “yeah”) and the final letter (Σ which is a ‘sigma’ for ‘s’). It is actually a Christogram where the name of Jesus holds great significance and has been used as a tool of veneration among many. As a Christogram it has been also variantly explained to refer to an abbreviation of the Latin Iesus Hominum Salvator (“Jesus, Savior of Humankind” which provides both the sacred name “Jesus” and its implicit meaning found in Matthew’s gospel 1:21: “he will save his people from their sins”).
While the simple misunderstanding mentioned in my church today was nothing significant (it was my own understanding for many years) it simply reminded me of the need to ground the local church in the history of the Church as one guard against false teaching and a greater appreciation for the richness of our heritage as members of the Church universal. Or maybe I’m just sentimentally reflecting on my responsibilities as a pastor and one who desires to find myself an understanding and appreciative member of the wider Church. And I’m convinced such symbols aid our congregations to find creative entrée into discussing and appreciating the rich history of the wider Church. 🙂
Yesterday I preached from Matthew 15:29-39 about the feeding of the 4,000 (men, less women and children and not to be confused with the feeding of the 5,000 men plus women and children [Matthew 14:13-21]):
29 Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. 30 Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31 The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. 32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.” 33 His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?” 34 “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.
“Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.” 35 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 37 They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 38 The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan. (NIV)
These are a few of the questions and thoughts I had in my study (and some made it to the message):
* Why did Jesus wait “three days” before the miracle? Or why only wait “three days”? (v.32)
* Folks would be coming and going over the course of the “three days” and it struck me that Jesus chose to act at that point in time with the folks who were gathered at that moment.
* How many of those gathered might be thought to be so hungry and weak that they might “collapse on the way” to get food elsewhere? (v.32) Most, I would imagine would be perfectly fine, but apparently the compassion of Jesus was sufficiently strong toward those who were too weak to go longer that he chose to feed everyone in order to care specifically for the immediate needs of the few.
* Jesus had already fed crowds, now he does it again. Was he really teaching his disciples about the nature of the “God of Israel” who healed the mute, crippled, lame, and blind, and then would feed the masses? (vv.30-31, 36)
* How many of the folks who ate this time had been present for the earlier feeding of the 5,000?
*Whose lunch was taken that day to make lunch for everyone? And why did Jesus only ask about bread, yet his disciples offer bread and fish? (v.34)
* How long would it have taken the disciples to serve all those thousands? How long would it have taken to disperse with the “seven basketfuls of broken pieces left over” to still others who were not present for the initial feeding (since they couldn’t eat all that before it would go bad)? (v.37)
* If the food could be multiplied sufficiently to feed 4,000 men plus women and children, then what was the intention of seven (large) basketfuls of leftovers?
Yep. I tend to have a LOT of random questions and thoughts as I read Scripture. And it just makes me hungry for more. So what questions do you have about this passage? Do you take the time to ask questions of the text and allow a “sanctified imagination” to work through such texts? Do you find certain questions more helpful than others?