Posts Tagged ‘biblical authority



09
Aug
09

The Ten Commandments – Exodus 20:1-20

One of my former ministers once told me that if I ever get a chance to preach on the Ten Commandments – don’t. He told me that whenever he had preached about them in the past, someone got very upset. Some people, he said, think they are the cornerstone of righteousness – the sign of a faithful nation that should be displayed prominently on every government building. And some, he said, think they are pie-in-the sky ideals that are impossible to live up to, and have no place in public discourse.

So I well imagine Thom shaking his finger at me right now and saying, “I warned you.”

The Ten Commandments or Decalogue – literally “Ten Words” – are foundational in both Judaism and Christianity, and for good reason. Scripture tells us they were given to Moses directly from God. The scripture that tells us this is our reading that follows, but also Exodus 34 and Deuteronomy 5.

The Ten Commandments are clear, concise, memorable and unambiguous, and form the basis for ethical behavior of two of the world’s prominent religions. That, at least, is what we learn in Sunday School or catechism. Reality, as usual, says something different. Continue reading ‘The Ten Commandments – Exodus 20:1-20’

07
Aug
09

Times that try our souls – Micah 3:5-12

The first part of the Micah reading is the alternate lectionary OT reading for the Sunday after All Saints Day. The second part from Micah I included to remind us of the prophets consistent theme. Rarely are the prophets the primary reading, except for some parts of Isaiah and Ezekiel, because they can sound harsh to our ears.

The function of the Biblical prophets was to call the Israelite leadership back into right relations with God, and they did this by speaking to those in power using very clear and stark words. They preached at times of chaos and social unrest – when there was dis-ease and oppression of the many by the dominant few.

Contrary to the way we tend to understand prophecy in our times, the Biblical prophets weren’t fortune-tellers predicting a future event. Their purpose – their call – was to describe to the Jewish leadership the current state of affairs – the way in which God saw current situations and events – and to communicate the consequences of continuing to ignore God’s law and staying this same course. Continue reading ‘Times that try our souls – Micah 3:5-12’

03
Aug
09

The Shalom of El Shaddai

Shalom! Psalm 34 says to us “Bekhesh shalom v’radphehu” – seek shalom and pursue it. Shalom means variously peace, happiness, prosperity, health, wellness, safety, welfare, and recovery – in short, wholeness. Jesus based most of what he taught about the nature of God on Jewish scripture, in which shalom is the overwhelming characteristic of God.

Contrast this with El Shaddai – God Almighty. The word translated into English as “almighty” or “all-powerful” assumes, incorrectly, that Shaddai is based on the word shadad, which means “destroyer”. Shaddai, however, actually derives from the word shad, which means breast.  El Shaddai, therefore, means “God with breasts.” Rabbis generally translate this as “God who is enough.”  If you’ll forgive me, I’d like to delve briefly into why “God with breasts” could mean “God who is enough.” There are multiple references in scripture to God’s breast or bosom. And I’d like to explore the relationship between “breasts” and the Rabbinic concept of “enough.” Continue reading ‘The Shalom of El Shaddai’

31
Jul
09

Comparative exegesis – Romans 1:14 – 2:3

When doing exegesis, I do not rely on one translation exclusively, because each have taken certain liberties in syntax or word choice, and even added the occasional word where it did not exist in the original language. Experience has taught me that no version can made a claim to be “the right” translation or interpretation of the scriptures, and to rely solely on one version is to elevate or even idolize a work of human endeavor. Translating and interpreting are human exercises to bring ancient texts to more modern readers who speak different languages, after all. The question, then, is not one of inerrancy of the texts in the original languages, but the inaccuracies of translated and interpreted versions.

I will also be making an argument that, to separate that chapter 1 of this epistle from the beginning of chapter 2, abuses the scripture and robs Paul’s argument of its greatest import. It must be remembered that chapter and verse were added well after the fact.

While the scriptures were divided into paragraphs by time of the Council of Nicea (325 AD), these are not the same as those in our modern translations. The New Testament was divided into chapters by Archbishop Steven Langdon around 1230 AD, and verses were introduced in 1551 by Robert Estienne. The first English Bible to make use of both chapter and verse was the translation of the Geneva Bible in 1560.

The decision to separate 1:14 through 2:16 remains a quandary but has substantially altered what may be one of Paul’s most remarkable arguments.
Continue reading ‘Comparative exegesis – Romans 1:14 – 2:3’

30
Jul
09

The Bread of Life II

The text for this section is John 6: 22-36. If you have not read the section on John 6:1-21, click here.

After Jesus fed the five thousand, the people misunderstood who Jesus was – or, maybe more correctly, misunderstood his purpose. Read verses 14 and 15 from John chapter 6:

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet returning to the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

Jesus had previously explained that actually doing God’s will was the bread of life – the nourishment that strengthened Jesus and the same food that he offered to his followers. Jesus offered discipleship – active engagement in bringing God’s love to the world as the source of spiritual sustenance. The crowd had misunderstood Jesus’ message and the miracle. While they had shared in a common meal, they believed Jesus had been the source of the bread that satisfied their physical hunger.

This, then, led them to believe that Jesus was the messiah. Actually, they were okay to that point. Their problem was that they believed Jesus was the prophet of old returning to be their king. Continue reading ‘The Bread of Life II’

29
Jul
09

Can the Church Reconcile with it’s Own Victims? (Part 1)

Like almost every human endeavor, the approximately 2000 years of Christianity have periodically been marred by brutal and violent events, and have been fraught with human failures.  Historically, the church[1] has been both oppressed by the prevailing society within which it existed and oppressive during the many times when it represented the dominant culture. Its checkered and sometimes sordid history has led to the propagation of an amazing number of denominations, with competing factions within them, which have varying levels of difficulty co-existing due to dogma, doctrine and/or practice. Within this history the church has perpetrated social violence, in the name of God, that has had lasting and debilitating consequences for the victims  – many times, if not all, in concert with the dominant political powers of the various cultures within which it has functioned. Can the church truly reconcile with the victims of its past, aiding in the healing of centuries of violence? The goal of this paper is to examine the possibilities that may exist for reconciliation. Continue reading ‘Can the Church Reconcile with it’s Own Victims? (Part 1)’

26
Jul
09

Job, God & Innocent Suffering

How Adequately does the Book of Job deal with the Problem of Innocent Suffering?

More often than not, when the question of innocent suffering arises, the Book of Job enters the conversation. That pattern reflects certain assumptions with respect to the Book of Job (JOB)[1], not the least of which is the supposition that JOB actually deals, to any significant degree, with innocent suffering. Did the author intend that JOB wrestle with the issue of suffering itself, or were his/her main themes discussions of the natures of piety, religious dogma and God, with the suffering of Job simply functioning as a vehicle for the diatribe? If it was the latter, it would not seem to be required that dealing with the quandary used as the plot be done satisfactorily.

The notion of innocence also complicates the matter since it is rife with subjective inferences. Is the adjective ‘innocent’ predicated on guiltlessness, the lack of choice, or on a sense of some results or circumstances being undeserved? With regard to the latter, is any suffering, especially to the degree described in JOB, ever deserved?

Continue reading ‘Job, God & Innocent Suffering’

16
Jul
09

Have you not heard? – Sermon on Mark 1:29-39

“The time is fulfilled, and the reign of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news!” 

Verse 14 points to the message that Jesus is proclaiming in Capernaum, and that the gospel of Mark has at its core. The Good News is that the time of waiting is over and that the Reign of God has begun to take shape among them.  That is the message, and Mark – whoever she or he really was –  gave us in last week’s and this week’s text the effect the message has.

Without keeping that in mind, Chapter one appears to read like a choppy series of unrelated incidents.  While it is true that the gospel showed us last week Jesus’ power as an exorcist, and this week as a healer, it isn’t trying to tell us, “Hey, this guy Jesus is a great preacher … and exorcist … and healer!”  The gospel is telling us about the Good News in this opening summary – the gospel of the Reign of God – and starting to flesh out what it looks like from a purely Markan perspective.  Jesus is not only the bearer and herald of the Good News of the Reign of God; Jesus is the Good News of the Kingdom. Where Jesus is, the kingdom has drawn near. Continue reading ‘Have you not heard? – Sermon on Mark 1:29-39’

03
Jul
09

Scapegoating & Spiritual Abuse in Churches – Scattering the flock (Part 1)

While a church administrator, I had the unfortunate experience of witnessing profoundly disturbing spiritual abuse – not just once, but twice. In one instance, the abuser was a thirty-something-year pastor intent on maintaining control of what had become his church. In the other, the pastor was the victim of two elders who happened to be related to the former long-term pastor. In both cases, while there were the primary targets of the abuse, there was a system wide fallout upon many other victims. Both churches are recovering, but remain shadows of their former selves. As a result, and after much research, I am offering this paper. Continue reading ‘Scapegoating & Spiritual Abuse in Churches – Scattering the flock (Part 1)’

03
Jul
09

Idolizing Wealth – Luke 12:12-21

Jesus is asked to intervene in an inheritance dispute, and responds by telling a parable about greed. Obviously, Jesus has decided that greed is the underlying motivation of the person who asks for their share of the inheritance … and that this is a good time for a lesson about greed in general.

Quite simple, really. Hardly much point in preaching about it, since it’s just so obvious, eh?

There is more here than is initially apparent, however. To find it we have to delve a little deeper into the text. And my job is to do that without turning this sermon into a geek fest of language and theological study that leaves you groping for the exit door in a bored stupor. We’ll see how I do.

There are many patterns in Luke, but one in particular is how Jesus answers questions. Rarely does Jesus give direct answers to direct questions. Jesus generally answers a question with either another question or a parable, and many times with both… and it strikes me that Jesus does this so people can learn to discern their own answers. Continue reading ‘Idolizing Wealth – Luke 12:12-21’

29
Jun
09

God as Mother – More traditional than you might think

As a preface to this series, I would like to be open about my journey with feminist interpretation and theology. Because of my terrible relationship with my father, I could not grasp nor find comfort in the image of Father God, which is the language I grew up with. “Father” and “God” were not words that could go together, since “father” was the equivalent of abuser, torturer and imprisoner – concepts I could not reconcile with my concept of God. As a result, I spent a long time away from church. As I was being pulled back into church by God, I had to somehow deal with my cognitive dissonance. What helped me immensely were materials normally reserved for women who have experienced sexual abuse by a father or father-figure. I then began an amateur study of feminist and womanist theologies. Several years later, when I started seminary, I met the woman who is now my wife, Rev Jenna Zirbel. She was two years ahead of me in seminary and lightyears in thinking. 

ORTHODOXY – GOD THE FATHER, FATHER GOD, FATHER

Modern orthodoxy views God as male – basically through the various characteristics of Father-hood.  I don’t know about you, but my childhood recollections of God were as an old, white man with a flowing pure white beard, long white hair and distinctly European features. I always thought this must be the way the Bible describes God. Imagine my surprise when I found out that nowhere in scripture is God ever described like that. Continue reading ‘God as Mother – More traditional than you might think’

21
Jun
09

The Bread of Life IV

I am having difficulty settling on a sermon for the third section of John 6, so I have decided to move into the fourth segment of John’s continuing Bread of Life discourse. The text for this is John 6:51-58. The sermon for John 6:1-21 can be found here and John 6:22-36 here.

If we read Chapter 6 superficially, it sounds like many, many words saying the same thing. It sounds repetitious and redundant. “I am the bread of life.” Five weeks of sermons saying the same thing.

There are two ways to read virtually any written work, however – literally and figuratively. Most of us don’t stop at the literal wording of John’s gospel – even literal fundamentalists. This gospel defies a literal reading. Jesus is not actually a light, a word or a loaf of bread. We are not literally sheep. The figurative reading, however, can be just as shallow and repetitious – leading many to think that all God expects is to accept Jesus as savior and put him into your pocket as a free “get out of hell” card. Continue reading ‘The Bread of Life IV’

08
Jun
09

oh! you’re childless – a new parable

I’m doing something different. This is a story that will develop over time. I’d like to incorporate your thoughts into it – which means, obviously, you have to give me some. I’ll make it sticky for a while – at least, until I think it’s done.

Kim and Leslie were descendents of the original settlers on Terra – the fourth generation to live on this distant planet colonized by the United States. They had been together for over twelve years – years during which they suffered estrangement from “polite society” and were subject to pointing fingers, pursed lips, derision and even a couple of instances of violence. There was no doubt they did not belong, but they knew no other place, no other home, such as it was. They had long resigned themselves to living on the fringe of Terra community. Kim and Leslie were not alone in their plight, being part of a minority that was ignored in demographic research. Continue reading ‘oh! you’re childless – a new parable’

03
Jun
09

Comments on Abortion and Murder from Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Abortion is one of the most decidedly divisive issues in society and religion. Following the murder of Dr George Tiller, Rabbi Waskow issued the following opinion piece – one that is lucid and pleading. I commend Rabbit Waskow’s courage and his thoughts, while acknowledging that there are many who believe abortion to be heinous. I, myself, battle internally with this issue. I believe that abortion is rarely a good option or a good thing, but also agree that unwanted pregnancy can ruin lives and lead to poverty. The solution, in my mind, is to make abortion irrevelant as we tackle the causes of unwanted pregnancies. In the meantime I lean towards allowing, as moral agents, women to exercise discretion with respect to their own bodies. I know many disagree, but encourage them to read Rabbi Waskow’s comments anyway.

Dear friends,

So another physician has been murdered for making it possible for women to actually use their constitutional right to choose an abortion. Continue reading ‘Comments on Abortion and Murder from Rabbi Arthur Waskow’

27
May
09

A Personal Journey in Leadership

The attitudes about leadership that I brought into my first church assignment as an administrator were saturated with bias, largely because I equated leading with managing. In retrospect, I had witnessed very few examples of leadership, as I now understand it. I had, however, been privy to and used many management styles, most of which were based on the manipulation of people and situations to satisfy corporate and/or self-interest.

Eventually, I resigned from the business arena because I couldn’t reconcile my role, or generally accepted management practices, with a newly developing worldview after becoming a Christian. After a semi-reclusive period spent building furniture and helping develop small group ministries at my church, I re-entered the public world as a church employee, only to encounter the same management attitudes that had repulsed me in the business environment. On the first night of a class on church leadership some years ago, we listed words describing leadership. If I remember correctly, my only contribution to that original list of words was ‘manipulative’.

Any description of my leadership style will be somewhat nebulous, as I am still processing the significance of concepts contained in various books and discussions and, most importantly, experiences from life in church. This will not be an exercise that ends with my last call.

Continue reading ‘A Personal Journey in Leadership’




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That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

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