Posts Tagged ‘reconciliation

29
Sep
09

It Isn’t Easy to Love – a reflection on Matt 22:34-46

Readings: 1 Thess 2 & Matt 22:34-46.

In the first century Roman world, status was critical. By someone’s place in the social order, he or she would be allocated value or worth. The emperor stood at the top of Roman culture. Everyone else like politicians, soldiers, business people, general citizens and slaves had their places in relation to those above and below them.

Like Rome, every outlying city had its own social stratification. People attempted to maintain or raise their position in many ways. Making major gifts to the city was a way of gaining public honor. Funding a building, education or some other public facility like a bath or gymnasium, which were very important in Roman culture, were all ways to gain status. So was supporting an artist or artisan, guiding a young person or helping people find work.

These were all very good things, but the reasons for doing them were self-serving. It was called patronage and it was essential to the social system. Beneficiaries gave respect and status to their patron – flattery that had currency because it elevated the patron’s power, prestige and position.

In return, the beneficiaries expected more favors, assistance and general support. Conferring honor to those higher up in the social order was an economic transaction that had material benefit for those lower on the scale. It was a system designed to keep people in place in the social order by making each dependent on the patronage of those above them. Continue reading ‘It Isn’t Easy to Love – a reflection on Matt 22:34-46′

27
Sep
09

Generosity in the Belly of the Whale – Jonah 3:10-4:11

Jonah 3:10 – 4:11  &  Matthew 20:1-16

We hear two parables in today’s readings. The last one is the Parable of laborers in the Vineyard from the Gospel of Matthew. The first was the Parable of the Jealous Prophet.

Now, there are a range of thoughts about the original intent of Book of Jonah. Some understand it to be a narrative of both historic and natural fact. Others laugh and say that it is purely fantasy. There have been arguments about the Book of Jonah for millennia – from the time of the first Rabbinic interpretations all the way through to the present.

Arguments still go on about whether it was a marine dinosaur, a whale or a big fish that swallowed Jonah – that, of course depends on what you believe about creation and evolution. And arguments about whether it would be possible for a human to be swallowed whole by any of them and survive – which, of course, depends on whether you believe miracles happen. And then there are arguments about … Well, never mind. You get the idea.

Suffice to say that, as with so many things, the Book of Jonah presents yet one more reason for people of faith to fight with each other. And what is at stake in these arguments? Why the right to claim to be right, of course. It seems like, if any party can convince enough people that it’s right, their truth will somehow become God’s truth – that somehow God will be and act the way they think God should based on a majority vote.

And into this fight I am going to step and say, “I don’t care.” Continue reading ‘Generosity in the Belly of the Whale – Jonah 3:10-4:11’

18
Sep
09

Reflection on the Fig Tree – Luke 13:1-9

Reading: Luke 13:1-9.

“If the fig tree bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” Well, that could generate a little stress for the fig tree, couldn’t it? It really does sound kind of harsh.

Since it is a continuation, to grasp the meaning we need to briefly revisit chapter 12. Luke 12, leading up to this reading, can be a little disconcerting. Jesus made a comment of the sort we don’t usually associate with him; Jesus said he had come to bring to the earth not peace, but division. Family member will be set against family member. This challenges our image of Jesus as the “prince of Peace”, doesn’t it?

Still, as God’s own Messenger in the midst of this world, there is no avoiding a certain degree of conflict. Jesus’ insertion into this world as a truly holy person was like putting a white hot piece of iron into a bucket of cold water—a boiling reaction was inevitable. Continue reading ‘Reflection on the Fig Tree – Luke 13:1-9’

17
Sep
09

What Does Dominion over Creation Mean?

Whether you believe in Creation as a 6-day or an evolving process, we generally seem to have no doubt we, as humans, were the ultimate goal in God’s Creation. In either case we have assumed dominion over the earth, ruling over all its inhabitants and resources. Is this really what God had in mind? We obviously have no way of knowing absolutely, but we certainly can gain clues from Scripture. The point of this message is not to determine the answer to those questions, but simply to offer other, possibly more controversial, views of God’s position. Continue reading ‘What Does Dominion over Creation Mean?’

16
Sep
09

IS THERE A DISTINCTIVE REFORMED THEOLOGY?

Around the world there are myriad variations of the churches that fit under the general banner of Reformed. The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) alone boasts membership of 215 denominations in 107 countries with over seventy five million members, the majority of which are in the southern hemisphere.[1]  This vast number still does not contain all the denominations with roots in the 16th-century Reformation led by John Calvin, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli, and others. Many of these denominations, especially in the United States, developed after previous church bodies split apart over irreconcilable differences, while others exist separately because of geographic location, or ethnic origin. Some others have been drawn together into larger groups or denominations, such as the United Reformed Church in the United Kingdom or the Uniting Church in Australia. While belonging to the WARC, to foster common mission and ministry, relations between some of these various ‘partners’ are tenuous at best. An example is found in the way many members of the Christian Reformed Church in the U.S. refer to the Presbyterian Church (USA) disparagingly as Neo-Reformed, while some of the latter refers to the former as Neo-Nazi. Among those that have recently united, there has been a blending of polity and theology, or at least a tolerance developed for varying beliefs and processes within the same body, that may leave some wondering whether they still possess a truly definable theological identity. Continue reading ‘IS THERE A DISTINCTIVE REFORMED THEOLOGY?’

19
Aug
09

What Kind of Peace? – Matthew 10:24-39

In this chapter of the Gospel of Matthew I hear Jesus saying to the disciples, “So, you want to be a follower of Christ?”

The chapter begins with Jesus giving the disciples’ ministry and mission, “proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.” Then, Jesus tells them what might happen to them on the way, culminating in the instructions to flee to another town when they are persecuted. Jesus tells the disciples that because the culture opposes Jesus, it will also oppose them – they are not above the same treatment that their teacher encounters.

But, Jesus says, do not be afraid – bring what you have seen and learned in secret into the light and proclaim it from the rooftops. And God will know and value you for doing so. Not only that, but knowing what they are doing as followers of Christ, Jesus promises to testify on their behalf before God.

And, lastly, Jesus tells the disciples what they will witness in families and communities as they deliver the good news. The reaction to the good news of the gospel may not be good news. Continue reading ‘What Kind of Peace? – Matthew 10:24-39’

13
Aug
09

A home run for willis

I have known conservatives and liberals both who wore their theology as a cloak of colors – a piece of finery aimed at showing just how special they are. Each have doctrines that are honorable in many respects, edified by scripture and suitably pious. In the end, however – that end where who and what we are is best recognized by how we act – there is something lacking. Humility is manytimes absent in such folk, or at least overshadowed by stubborn certainty.

I would like to tell myself that this is true mostly for people towards the conservative end of the imaginary line on which we keep God, but I know just as many on the left. Being a centrist who waddles to one side or the other as the issues change, I am thrown into the category sometimes of being wishy-washy theologically. I would beg to differ, but these folks aren’t going to believe someone who doesn’t sit at their table.

Then you have true believers – I am not referring just to faith, but to theology. I find that people who truly believe what they stand for are really quite humble. They recognize that the theological sun does not set on them, but that they need to cleave to their set of beliefs that their integrity requires. Conservative or liberal – or somewhere in between – I have all the time in the world for these people. Such a person is Willis at Willohroots – certainly more conservative than I, but equally grounded in scripture. Would we agree in a theological debate about minutae – I doubt it. But we agree on the far more important stuff.  I could be very happy attending his church. Read what he had to say – it’s brilliant in its truth. Continue reading ‘A home run for willis’

10
Aug
09

Devouring Creation – greed and God

It is, at least to me, moot whether the Scripture’s description of Creation is literal, or a metaphorical story to illustrate the process undertaken by God to form our universe and all in it. The argument of Creation vs. evolution has equally debatable value. The only more miraculous notion than God creating every thing that exists is the idea that God created every living thing with the built-in ability to adapt to its environment.

Science calls the universe random, but that requires the presence of no laws, parameters or order whatsoever. Random, which means unsystematic or haphazard, cannot exist in the presence of order or laws. Once it is determined that even one law or parameter is present, and science has declared a multitude, or one prediction can be made, the quality of ‘random’ cannot be applied.

The opposite, then, must be true. The universe is systematic, and therefore the product of design. Science simply tends, as it always has, to discount that which cannot be quantified or qualified, in this case the hand of God.

Whether you believe in Creation as a 6-day or an evolving process, we generally seem to have no doubt we, as humans, were the ultimate goal in God’s Creation. In either case we have assumed dominion over the earth, ruling over all its inhabitants and resources. Is this really what God had in mind? We obviously have no way of knowing absolutely, but we certainly can gain clues from Scripture. The point of this essay is not to determine the answer to those questions, but simply to offer other, possibly more controversial, views of God’s position. Continue reading ‘Devouring Creation – greed and God’

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)’

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’

05
Jul
09

Summer Patriotism

The summer seems to be a great season for patriotism. It begins with Memorial Day and ends with Labor Day, well not officially, but certainly in practical terms. Both these holidays celebrate what has made and still makes the U.S. the U.S. – people. In between these holidays, of course, we have Flag Day and Independence Day. July does seem to represent the peak of summer and, I think, the peak of summer patriotic fervor, perhaps a lasting effect of the fireworks and cook-outs. Between the celebrations of people, we celebrate nationhood, freedom and this great land.

Just like a church, however, a nation does not exist without people. The land certainly does, but it is the people who make it a social, political and communal place. Freedom is an empty concept without people – the freedoms we celebrate are those that are the inalienable rights of the people of this land. But just who are these people, you know, the ones who have had this freedom? Continue reading ‘Summer Patriotism’

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’




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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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