Christ: The Beautiful One

The CenterInfo“Christ is Altogether Lovely”

A sermon

by John Flavel

Yes, He is altogether lovely! This is my Beloved,
 and this is my Friend.” Song of Songs 5:16

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I. Christ is to be loved

At the ninth verse of this chapter, you have a question put forth by the daughters of Jerusalem, “What is your beloved more than another beloved?” The spouse answers, “He is the chief among ten thousand.” She then recounts many of the things she finds so excellent in her beloved and then concludes with these words: “Yes, he is altogether lovely.” The words set forth the transcendent loveliness of the Lord Jesus Christ, and naturally resolve themselves into three parts:

First, Who he is: the Lord Jesus Christ, after whom she had been seeking, for whom she was overcome by love; concerning whom these daughters of Jerusalem had enquired: whom she had struggled to describe in his particular excellencies. He is the great and excellent subject of whom she here speaks.

Secondly, What he is, or what she claims of him: That he is a lovely one. The Hebrew word, which is often translated “desires,” means “to earnestly desire, covet, or long after that which is most pleasant, graceful, delectable and admirable.” The original word is both in the abstract, and plural in number, which says that Christ is the very essence of all delights and pleasures, the very soul and substance of them. As all the rivers are gathered into the ocean, which is the meeting-place of all the waters in the world, so Christ is that ocean in which all true delights and pleasures meet.

Thirdly, What he is like: He is altogether lovely, the every part to be desired. He is lovely when taken together, and in every part; as if she had said, “Look on him in what respect or particular you wish; cast your eye upon this lovely object, and view him any way, turn him in your serious thoughts which way you wish; consider his person, his offices, his works, or any other thing belonging to him; you will find him altogether lovely, there is nothing disagreeable in him, there is nothing lovely without him.” Hence note,

DOCTRINE: That Jesus Christ is the loveliest person souls can set their eyes upon: “You are the most excellent of men.” Psalm 45:2
 

II. What is meant by Christ being ‘altogether lovely’

He is “Altogether Lovely!” Here it is said of Jesus Christ, which cannot be said of any mere creature, that he is “altogether lovely.” Let us consider this excellent expression, and particularly reflect on what is contained in it, and you shall find this expression “altogether lovely.”

1. It excludes all unloveliness and disagreeableness from Jesus Christ. As a theologian long ago said, “There is nothing in him which is not loveable.” The excellencies of Jesus Christ are perfectly exclusive of all their opposites; there is nothing of a contrary property or quality found in him to contaminate or devaluate his excellency. And in this respect Christ infinitely transcends the most excellent and loveliest of created things. Whatever loveliness is found in them, it is not without a bad aftertaste. The fairest pictures must have their shadows. The rarest and most brilliant gems must have dark backgrounds to set off their beauty; the best creature is but a bitter sweet at best. If there is something pleasing, there is also something sour. if a person has every ability, both innate and acquired, to delight us, yet there is also some natural corruption intermixed with it to put us off. But it is not so in our altogether lovely Christ, his excellencies are pure and unmixed. He is a sea of sweetness without one drop of gall.

2. There is nothing unlovely found in him, so all that is in him is wholly lovely. As every ray of God is precious, so everything that is in Christ is precious. Who can weigh Christ in a pair of balances, and tell you what his worth is? “His price is above rubies, and all that you can desire is not to be compared with him,” Proverbs 8:11.

3. Christ embraces all things that are lovely. He seals up the sum of all loveliness. Things that shine as single stars with a particular glory, all meet in Christ as a glorious constellation. Col. 1:19, “It pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell.” Cast your eyes among all created beings, survey the universe: you will observe strength in one, beauty in a second, faithfulness in a third, wisdom in a fourth; but you shall find none excelling in them all as Christ does. Bread has one quality, water another, clothing another, medicine another; but none has them all in itself as Christ does. He is bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, a garment to the naked, healing to the wounded; and whatever a soul can desire is found in him.

4. Nothing is lovely in opposition to him, or in separation from him. If he truly is altogether lovely, then whatever is opposite to him, or separate from him can have no loveliness in it. Take away Christ, and where is the loveliness of any enjoyment? The best creature-comfort apart from Christ is but a broken cistern. It cannot hold one drop of true comfort, Psalm 73:26. It is with the creature– the sweetest and loveliest creature– as with a beautiful image in the mirror: turn away the face and where is the image? Riches, honors, and comfortable relations are sweet when the face of Christ smiles upon us through them; but without him, what empty trifles are they all?

5. Christ transcends all created excellencies in beauty and loveliness. If you compare Christ and other things, no matter how lovely, no matter how excellent and desirable, Christ carries away all loveliness from them. “He is before all things,” Col. 1:17. Not only before all things in time, nature, and order; but before all things in dignity, glory, and true excellence. In all things he must have the pre-eminence.

Let us but compare Christ’s excellence with the creature’s in a few particulars, and how manifest will the transcendent loveliness of Jesus Christ appear! For,

1. All other loveliness is derived and secondary; but the loveliness of Christ is original and primary. Angels and men, the world and all the desirable things in it, receive what excellence they have from him. They are streams from the fountain. The farther anything departs from its fountain and original, the less excellency there is in it.

2. The loveliness and excellency of all other things, is only relative, consisting in its reference to Christ, and subservience to his glory. But Christ is lovely, considered absolutely in himself. He is desirable for himself; other things are desirable because of him.

3. The beauty and loveliness of all other things are fading and perishing; but the loveliness of Christ is fresh for all eternity. The sweetness of the best created thing is a fading flower; if not before, yet certainly at death it must fade away. Job 4:21. “Does not their excellency, which is in them, go away?” Yes, yes, whether they are the natural excellencies of the body, acquired endowments of the mind, lovely features, graceful qualities, or anything else we find attractive; all these like pleasant flowers are withered, faded, and destroyed by death. “But Christ is still the same, yesterday, today, and forever,” Heb. 13:8.

4. The beauty and holiness of creatures are ensnaring and dangerous. A man may make an idol out of them, and indulge himself beyond the bounds of moderation with them, but there is no danger of excess in the love of Christ. The soul is then in the healthiest frame and temper when it is most overwhelmed by love to Christ, Song of Songs 5:8.

5. The loveliness of every creature is of a confining and obstructing nature. Our esteem of it diminishes the closer we approach to it, or the longer we enjoy it. Creatures, like pictures, are fairest at a certain distance, but it is not so with Christ; the nearer the soul approaches him, and the longer it lives in the enjoyment of him, still the sweeter and more desirable he becomes.

6. All other loveliness cannot satisfy the soul of man. There is not scope enough in any one created thing, or in all the natural universe of created things for the soul of man to reach out and expand; but the soul still feels itself confined and narrowed within those limits. This comes to pass from the inadequacy and unsuitableness of the creature to the nobler and more excellent soul of man. The soul is like a ship in a narrow river which does not have room to turn. It is always running aground and foundering in the shallows. But Jesus Christ is in every way sufficient to the vast desires of the soul; in him it has sea-room enough. In him the soul may spread all its sails with no fear of touching bottom. And thus you see what is the importance of this phrase, “Altogether lovely.”

III. How is Christ altogether lovely?

Next I promised to show you in what respects Jesus Christ is altogether lovely.

First, Christ is altogether lovely in his PERSON. He is Deity dwelling in flesh, John 1:14. The wonderful, perfect union of the divine and human nature in Christ renders him an object of admiration and adoration to both angels and men, 1 Tim. 3:16. God never presented to the world such a vision of glory before. Consider how the human nature of our Lord Jesus Christ is overflowing with all the graces of the Spirit, in such a way as never any of the saints was filled. O what a lovely picture does this paint of him! John 3:34, “God gives the Spirit to him without limit.” This makes him “the most excellent of men, and his lips have been anointed with grace,” Psalm 45:2. If a small measure of grace in the saints makes them sweet and desirable companions, what must the riches of the Spirit of grace filling Jesus Christ without measure make him in the eyes of believers? O what a glory must it fix upon him!

Secondly, Christ is altogether lovely in his OFFICES. Let us consider for a moment the suitability, fullness, and comforting nature of his offices of Prophet, Priest and King.

First, The SUITABILITY of the offices of Christ to the miseries of men. We cannot but adore the infinite wisdom of his receiving them. We are, by nature, blind and ignorant, at best but groping in the dim light of nature after God, Acts 17:27. Jesus Christ is a light to enlighten the Gentiles, Isa. 49:6. When this great prophet came into the world, then did the day-spring from on high visit us, Luke 1:78. By nature we are alienated from, and at enmity against God; Christ comes into the world to be an atoning sacrifice, making peace by the blood of his cross, Col. 1:20. All the world, by nature, is in bondage and captivity to Satan, a miserable slavery. Christ comes with kingly power, to rescue sinners, as a prey from the mouth of the terrible one.

Secondly, Let the FULLNESS of his offices be also considered, which make him able “to save to the uttermost, all that come to God by him,” Heb. 7:25. The three offices, comprising in them all that our souls do need, become a universal relief to all our distresses; and therefore,

Thirdly, Unspeakably COMFORTING must the offices of Christ be to the souls of sinners. If light be pleasant to our eyes, how pleasant is that light of life springing from the Sun of righteousness! Mal. 4:2. If a pardon is sweet to a condemned criminal, how sweet must the sprinkling the blood of Jesus be to the trembling conscience of a law-condemned sinner? If a rescue from a cruel tyrant is sweet to a poor captive, how sweet must it be to the ears of enslaved sinners, to hear the voice of liberty and deliverance proclaimed by Jesus Christ? Out of the several offices of Christ, as out of so many fountains, all the promises of the new covenant flow, as so many soul-refreshing streams of peace and joy. All the promises of illumination, counsel and direction flow out of Christ’s prophetic office. All the promises of reconciliation, peace, pardon, and acceptance flow out of his priestly office, with the sweet streams of joy and spiritual comforts which accompany it. All the promises of converting, increasing, defending, directing, and supplying grace, flow out of the kingly office of Christ; indeed, all promises may be reduced to these three offices, so that Jesus Christ must be altogether lovely in his offices.

Thirdly, Christ is Lovely in His RELATIONS.

First, He is a lovely REDEEMER, Isa. 61:1. He came to open the prison-doors to those who are bound. This Redeemer must be a lovely one; if we consider the depth of misery from which he redeemed us, even “from the wrath to come,” 1 Thess. 1:10. Consider the numbers redeemed, and the means of their redemption. Rev. 5:9, “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood, out of every kindred and tongue, and people and nation.'” He redeemed us not with silver and gold, but with his own precious blood, by way of price, 1 Pet. 1:18,19. with his out-stretched and glorious arm, by way of power, Col. 1:13. he redeemed us freely, Eph. 1:7, fully Rom. 8:1, at the right time, Gal. 4:4, and out of special and particular love, John 17:9. In a word, he has redeemed us forever, never more to come into bondage, 1 Pet. 1:5. John 10:28. O how lovely is Jesus Christ in the relation of a Redeemer to God’s elect!

Secondly, He is a lovely BRIDEGROOM to all that he betroths to himself. How does the church glory in him, in the words following my text; “this is my Beloved, and this is my Friend, O you daughters of Jerusalem!” Heaven and earth cannot show anyone like him, which needs no fuller proof than the following particulars:

1. That he betroths to himself, in mercy and in loving kindness, such deformed, defiled, and altogether unworthy souls as we are. We have no beauty, no goodness to make us desirable in his eyes; all the origins of his love to us are in his own breast, Deut. 7:7. He chooses us, not because we were lovely, but in order that he might make us lovely Eph. 5:27. He came to us when we lay in our blood, and said unto us, “Live”; and that was the time of love, Ezek. 16:5.

2. He expects no restitution from us, and yet gives himself, and all that he has, to us. Our poverty cannot enrich him, but he made himself poor to enrich us, 2 Cor. 8:9. 1 Cor. 3:22.

3. No husband loves the wife of his bosom, as much as Christ loved his people, Eph. 5:25. He loved the church and gave himself for it.

4. No one bears with weaknesses and provocations as Christ does; the church is called “the Lamb’s wife,” Rev. 19:9.

5. No husband is so undying and everlasting a husband as Christ is; death separates all other relations, but the soul’s union with Christ is not dissolved in the grave. Indeed, the day of a believer’s death is his marriage day, the day of his fullest enjoyment of Christ. No husband can say to his wife, what Christ says to the believer, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you,” Heb. 8:5.

6. No bridegroom enriches his bride with such honors by marriage, as Christ does; he makes them related to God as their father, and from that day the mighty and glorious angels think it no dishonor to be their servants, Heb. 1:14. The angels will admire the beauty and glory of the spouse of Christ, Rev. 21:9.

7. No marriage was ever consummated with such triumphal proceedings as the marriage of Christ and believers shall be in heaven, “In her beautiful robes, she is led to the king, accompanied by her bridesmaids. What a joyful, enthusiastic procession as they enter the king’s palace!” Among the Jews, the marriage-house was called the house of praise; there was joy upon all hands, but nothing like the joy that will be in heaven when believers, the spouse of Christ, shall be brought there. God the Father will rejoice to behold the blessed accomplishment and confirmation of those glorious plans of his love. Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom will rejoice to see the travail of his soul, the blessed birth and product of all his bitter pains and agonies, Isa. 53:11. The Holy Spirit will rejoice to see the completion and perfection of that sanctifying design which was committed to his hand, 2 Cor. 5:5, to see those souls whom he once found as rough stones, now to shine as the bright, polished stones of the spiritual temple! Angels will rejoice: great was the joy when the foundation of this design was laid, in the incarnation of Christ, Luke 2:13. Great therefore must their joy be, when the top-stone is set up with shouting, crying, “Grace, grace.” The saints themselves shall rejoice unspeakably, when they shall enter into the King’s palace, and be forever with the Lord, 1 Thes. 4:17. Indeed there will be joy on all hands, except among the devils and damned, who shall gnash their teeth with envy at the everlasting advancement and glory of believers. Thus Christ is altogether lovely, in the relation of a Bridegroom.

Thirdly, Christ is altogether lovely, in the relation of an ADVOCATE. 1 John 2:1-2, “If any man sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” It is he that pleads the cause of believers in heaven. He appears for them in the presence of God, to prevent any new alienation, and to continue the state of friendship and peace between God and us. In this relation Christ is altogether lovely. For,

1. He makes our cause his own, and acts for us in heaven, as if for himself, Heb. 4:15. He is touched with a most tender understanding of our troubles and dangers, and is not only one with us by way of representation, but also one with us in respect of sympathy and affection.

2. In heaven, Christ our Advocate tracks our cause and businessas his great and primary design and business. For this reason in Hebrews 7:25. he is said to “live forever to make intercession for us.” It is as if our concerns were so attended to by him there, that all the glory and honor which is paid him in heaven would not divert him one moment from our business.

3. He pleads the cause of believers by his blood. Unlike other advocates, it is not enough for him to lay out only words, which is a cheaper way of pleading; but he pleads for us by the voice of his own blood, as in Heb. 12:24, where we are said to be come “to the blood of sprinkling, that speaks better things than that of Abel.” Every wound he received for us on earth is a mouth opened to plead with God on our behalf in heaven. And hence it is, that in Rev. 5:6 he is represented standing before God, as a lamb that had been slain; as it were exhibiting and revealing in heaven those deadly wounds received on earth from the justice of God, on our account. Other advocates spend their breath, Christ spends his blood.

4. He pleads the cause of believers freely. Other advocates plead for reward, and empty the purses, while they plead the causes of their clients.

5. In a word, he obtains for us all the mercies for which he pleads. No cause miscarries in his hand, which he undertakes, Rom. 8:33, 34. O what a lovely Advocate is Christ for believers!

Fourthly, Christ is altogether lovely in the relation of a FRIEND, for in this relation he is pleased to acknowledge his people, Luke 12:4, 5. There are certain things in which one friend manifests his affection and friendship to another, but there is not one like Christ. For,

1. No friend is so open-hearted to his friend as Christ is to his people: he reveals the very counsels and secrets of his heart to them. John 15:15. “Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knows not what his Lord does; but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father, I have made known unto you.”

2. No friend in the world is so generous and bountiful to his friend, as Jesus Christ is to believers; he parts with his very blood for them; “Greater love (he says) has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” John 15:13. He has exhausted the precious treasures of his invaluable blood to pay our debts. O what a lovely friend is Jesus Christ to believers!

3. No friend sympathizes so tenderly with his friend in affliction, as Jesus Christ does with his friends: “In all our afflictions he is afflicted,” Heb. 4:15. He feels all our sorrows, needs and burdens as his own. This is why it is said that the sufferings of believers are called the sufferings of Christ, Col. 1:24.

4. No friend in the world takes that contentment in his friends, as Jesus Christ does in believers. Song of Songs 4:9. “You have ravished my heart, (he says to the spouse) you have ravished my heart with one of your eyes, with one chain of your neck.” The Hebrew, here rendered “ravished,” signifies to puff up, or to make one proud: how the Lord Jesus is pleased to glory in his people! How he is taken and delighted with those gracious ornaments which he himself bestows upon them! There is no friend so lovely as Christ.

5. No friend in the world loves his friend with as impassioned and strong affection as Jesus Christ loves believers. Jacob loved Rachel, and endured for her sake the parching heat of summer and cold of winter; but Christ endured the storms of the wrath of God, the heat of his indignation, for our sakes. David manifested his love to Absalom, in wishing, “O that I had died for you!” Christ manifested his love to us, not in wishes that he had died, but in death itself, in our stead, and for our sakes.

6. No friend in the world is so constant and unchangeable in friendship as Christ is. John 13:1, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” He bears with millions of provocations and wrongs, and yet will not break friendship with his people. Peter denied him, yet he will not disown him; but after his resurrection he says, “Go, tell the disciples, and tell Peter.” Let him not think he has forfeited by that sin of his, his interest in me. Though he denied me, I will not disown him, Mark 16:7. O how lovely is Christ in the relation of a friend!

I might further show you the loveliness of Christ in his ordinances and in his providences, in his communion with us and communications to us; but there is no end of the account of Christ’s loveliness! I will rather choose to press believers to their duties towards this altogether lovely Christ, which I shall briefly conclude in a few words.

IV. Application

1. Is Jesus Christ altogether lovely? Then I beseech you to set your souls upon this lovely Jesus. I am sure such an object as has been here represented, would compel love from the coldest breast and hardest heart. Away with those empty nothings, away with this vain deceitful world, which deserves not the thousandth part of the love you give it. Let all stand aside and give way to Christ. O if only you knew his worth and excellency, what he is in himself, what he has done for you, and deserved from you, you would need no arguments of mine to persuade you to love him!

2. Esteem nothing lovely except as it is enjoyed in Christ, or used for the sake of Christ. Love nothing for itself, love nothing separate from Jesus Christ. In two things we all sin in love of created things. We sin in the excess of our affections, loving them above the proper value of mere created things. We also sin in the inordinacy of our affections, that is to say we give our love for created things a priority it should never have.

3. Let us all be humbled for the corruption of our hearts that are so eager in their affections for vanities and trifles and so hard to be persuaded to the love of Christ, who is altogether lovely. O how many pour out streams of love and delight upon the vain and empty created thing; while no arguments can draw forth one drop of love from their stubborn and unbelieving hearts to Jesus Christ! I have read of one Joannes Mollius, who was observed to go often alone, and weep bitterly; and being pressed by a friend to know the cause of his troubles, said “O! it grieves me that I cannot bring this heart of mine to love Jesus Christ more fervently.”

4. Represent Christ to the world as he is, by your behavior towards him. Is he altogether lovely? Let all the world see and know that he is so, by your delights in him and communion with him; zeal for him, and readiness to part with any other lovely thing upon his account. Proclaim his excellencies to the world, as the spouse did in these verses. Persuade them how much your beloved is better than any other beloved. Show his glorious excellencies as you speak of him; hold him forth to others, as he is in himself; altogether lovely. See that you “walk worthy of him unto all well pleasing,” Col. 1:10. “Show forth the praises of Christ,” 1 Pet. 2:19. Let not that “worthy name be blasphemed through you,” James 2:7. He is glorious in himself, and he is sure to put glory upon you; take heed that you do not put shame and dishonors upon him; he has committed his honor to you, do not betray that trust.

5. Never be ashamed to be counted as a Christian. He is altogether lovely; he can never be a shame to you; it will be your great sin to be ashamed of him. Some men glory in their shame; do not let yourself be ashamed of your glory. If you will be ashamed of Christ now, he will be ashamed of you when he shall appear in his own glory, and the glory of all his holy angels. Be ashamed of nothing but sin; and among other sins, be ashamed especially for this sin, that you have no more love for him who is altogether lovely.

6. Be willing to leave every thing that is lovely upon earth, in order that you may be with the altogether lovely Lord Jesus Christ in heaven. Lift up your voices with the bride, Rev. 20:20 “Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.” It is true, you must pass through the pangs of death into his intimacy and enjoyment; but surely it is worth suffering much more than that, to be with this lovely Jesus. “The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and the patient waiting for Jesus Christ,” 2 Thes. 3:5.

7. Let the loveliness of Christ draw all men to him. Is loveliness in the creature so attractive? And can the transcendent loveliness of Christ draw none? O the blindness of man! If you see no beauty in Christ that causes you to desire him, it is because the god of this world has blinded your minds.

8. Strive to be Christ-like, if ever you would be lovely in the eyes of God and man. Certainly, my brethren, it is only the Spirit of Christ within you, and the beauty of Christ upon you, which can make you lovely people. The more you resemble him in holiness, the more will you show of true excellence and loveliness; and the more frequent and spiritual your communication and communion with Christ is, the more of the beauty and loveliness of Christ will be stamped upon your spirits, changing you into the same image, from glory to glory. Amen.

Yes, He is altogether lovely! This is my Beloved,
and this is my Friend.” Song of Songs 5:16

The Explorer’s Way of Discipleship

 In the face of the failure in the West of an anthropocentric “Gospel” which is a passive and consumer-based offer of “betterment” I am excited to put forward “The Explorer’s Way of Discipleship” which is theocentric, active, creative and “generative in its theology, and which embraces a living discipleship of transformation that can change all our lives.

BY CHRISTOPHER MACDONALD, BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA

I was shocked to learn in one of my last seminary classes that, seriously, the history of theology records that about 95% of theological writings have been written in reaction to or against something seen as harmful.  That means theology, By necessity, has been dominated by a negative polemic – always been framed as “against” this or that – and this is the way we have come to learn how to teach.

I am not going to suggest that this has not been necessary on many occasions, but it explains why we possess so little truly positive theology that is creative, exploratory and whimsical. It is why we don’t have a line of folk waiting to suit up as Explorers.

Lest I fall into the same trap, I am choosing to follow Focus Point Four in this paper and work off a “generative theology” that is creative, open, exploratory, and deeply biblical. It is time we got a grip and started to move forward in faith, hope and love.

To jump ahead and explain “generative theology” a bit. It is simply’ a theology based in agape (gift) love which is tethered directly to the cross of Christ as serious disciples but also but also free within His living Lordship and the Holy Spirit to explore the full gamut of Biblical Truth. As it is based in Good News that reconciles, it is creative and hopeful and carries with it disciplines that outwardly-imposed morality can never match. It is not based in criticising or being against others though it may find lines of clear disagreement and departure. It seeks peace and to serve through Art and Word. It looks for connections that are real and grounded in scripture, in nature and in relationship.

The word “generative’” points to its creativity but should not be mistaken to say that it is generating a whole new fresh theology or theologies. Rather it is finally mining those rich corridors of theological ore which have been available all along but have been neglected in our seemingly unending need to tell other people where they are “wrong.” It is the unexplored country of “rightness” and beauty which scripture has always been the sole repository of. I will return to its beauty later in this presentation; but hopefully, all that proceeds will be “generative.”

FOCUS ONE:CHRIST THE CENTER (THEOCENTRIC OVER ANTHROPOCENTRIC WORLDVIEW)

It seems that somewhere along the way ( I am guessing the Enlightenment) we shifted or adopted a larger anthropocentric world-view. So much so we can hardly see that it has become our sole way of perception and our reference point. But scripture presents us with a theocentric (in many cases more specifically Christocentric) world-view. How might that deeply effect the ways we perceive and interpret the world? What if this is, in fact, much closer to reality than any of the myriad of anthropocentric views?

A simple example from the Gospels would be Jesus’ refrain “you have heard it said…but I say to you…” (and the contrasts put forward) and His teachings on the Kingdon of God” in direct contrast with earthly kingdoms.

I would ask the reader to re-read the Gospels and ask honestly if they present a theocentric or anthropocentric worldview; and if the latter, how much are we missing by not adopting the same?

Isn’t it possible that our profound unhappiness, emptiness and even confusion in the Church isn’t just a by-product of our stepping into the central place?. Could we not all relax and more easily “accept and celebrate” our diversity of we located ourselves around a great rim whose spokes all led back to one core Center which was Christ Himself?

I have watched while large denominations have had “Re-Imagining God” conferences. While it sounds mildly hip. isn’t one core point that the God who is “other” chose to reveal God’s own Self in a way we could understand?  Isn’t “re-imagining” God while God is attempting to clearly communicate God’s own Self really at cross purposes?

And God’s attempt has been by becoming not just sympathetic- but actually by becoming one of us in all ways even gestating in a womb for nine months.

Of course more than this is revealed as well. God in Christ is revealed as the Center of not only Creation at its inception, but also currently (Colossians 1:15-23). He is also revealed far more as “Lord” than “Savior” – and important view as that is.that possibly explains why St. Paul would “bring every thought captive” to Him (2 Corinthians 10). There is no quarter given to an anthropocentric Gospel or even that general worldview. God does not exist for us; we exist and find our being in God.

Jesus wants to be the Center and, indeed is so while we are not. He said:

“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

FOCUS TWO: TRANSFORMATION OVER A “BETTERMENT GOSPEL

Our crisis of theology and leadership has to do with our confusion over who we are, where we are going, and the nature of the “Good News.”

Doesn’t the Gospel, at its core, comes with an offer of rescue? Is there really any real talk in Jesus or any of the Apostles about “betterment” of our current situation and to somehow “Christianize” our worldly way of doing life? It seems to me rather that we are the Titanic and there will be no betterment of this ship only a variety of costly rescue and salvage operations meant to get as many people to safety as possible. A program of human betterment as the essential Gospel is like rearranging deck chairs on that tragic ship. It demonstrates a profound confusion over the state of affairs, where we are headed (for they would simply improve life on the boat and leave it at sea) and the nature of our passage (temporary).

Jesus, Paul and John never talk about “improvement,” only being “transformed.” Metamorphoses – the taking of us as one thing and transforming us into something different…

Rescue must come first. It helps if you have some idea of what you have been rescued from but it is not a requirement.

Jesus, Paul and John never talk about “improvement,” only being “transformed.” Metamorphoses – the taking of us as one thing and transforming us into something different is what they speak of.  St. John says,

See what kind of love the Father has given us so that we might be called children of God—and we are. Therefore the cosmos does not know us, because it did not know him. 2Beloved ones, now we are children of God, and what we shall be has not yet become apparent. We know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-3) [1]

Paul speaks of this transformation using the same word Matthew uses for transfiguration:

Therefore I implore you, brothers, by God’s mercies, to present your bodies as a living, holy, acceptable sacrifice to God, your rational worship; And do not be configured to this age, but be transformed by renewal of the intellect, so you may test the will of God, which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12;1-2) [2]

 

2018-04-13 02.09.02-2

Text-explorative related candles custom made weekly. First-Century oil lamp replica.

Here the contrast is specifically between a stylish “betterment” (the Greek word is a form of schema from which we get schematic, and a substantial inner transformation which requires one to place one’s whole self at God’s disposal (v. 1) as a means of personal existential sacrifice. This is said to be “transfiguring.”

On some level, we all know this is true and possibly just avoid Jesus’ words about “taking up your cross” to follow Him. We fail to see that this transformative way of life is really the only avenue open that breeds freedom and life. “Amen, amen, I tell you, unless the grain of wheat falling to the ground dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it bears plenteous fruit.” (John 12:24)[3]

Amid a subtle American prosperity Gospel that is repackaged in a stunning variety of ways and churches which choose to only offer principle-driven ways of personal “betterment”, we should note the decline of the Church in the West. It is as if by trying to compete as a Consumer product “Gospel” ceases to truly be vibrant “Good News” at all and just blends in with infomercials and the mass variety of other betterment products available to Americans with a disposable income, Suddenly Christianity is a personal “for me” investment not a calling and a relationship. You can see why it lapses into a kind of slow killing off of faith.

Isn’t the call to active discipleship (Students or Explorers for Christ in a school of transformation) much more apt to bring real change, enliven real faith and move people out of the roles of passive church consumers to active transformative life in Christ? A Student/Learner or Explorer is an active Disciple.

FOCUS THREE: DEPTH EXEGESIS/EXPLORATION OVER THE PASSIVE VIEWER CONSUMER MODEL

Jesus spent more time discipling His close group of followers than he did preaching, healing or doing anything else during His three years of public ministry. And through that discipling the world was changed. Aren’t we doing the opposite – selling Christian experiences like something you can buy in bulk down at “Christco in a 5 gallon drum via our pre-packaged theologies, betterment books and programs for “successful Christian living?”

Does Jesus present Gospel in this way or through enigmatic parables that challenge? Does Paul offer such a slick package or careful and heartfelt instruction meant to grow men and women up into maturity (Ephesians 4:11-17)

Megachurches are set up to accommodate mass audiences who will sit and passively watch a presentation. A few hours later can anyone recite the real content of the message or just the title?  It is a passive model – like television where the only relevant question is “did you like it?”

The Problem with passive viewership and consumer religion is that it leaves people unchanged and in many cases actually inoculated to transformation.

In contrast, an interactive, dialogical and immersive exploration of biblical texts and worship combined with active discipleship cannot help but begin to change lives. As Mike Breen points out “Most of us have become quite good at the church thing. And yet, disciples are the only thing that Jesus cares about, and it’s the only number that Jesus is counting.” (Building a Discipling Culture) .

In our latest active study: Adventures with Doctor Luke: Middle Eastern Parables and Narratives of Jesus, we employ a dynamic format built for exploring the text in an open yet also disciplined fashion. Sticking to Middle Eastern (Hebraic) peasant roots, more technical notes on the text are sent out a few days in advance so we are not bogged down in the minutiae of language studies or spend all our time on Hebrew poetic form when we really want to get to what is being said in the text.

I act as a facilitator attempting to draw out as many comments from each Explorer as possible in each session of our “micro-exegesis.” I make sure to include quieter members of the group by asking questions or having them be the readers.

Participants are not only learning the Gospel of Luke over 15 weeks, they are also learning how to use the direct tool of biblical interpretation and how to think biblically while they explore.

There is always an immersive/interactive element. Examples can be found in the chart below for weeks 2-6.

WEEK 2        LUKE 7:36-50           RECLINING AT TABLE (MIDDLE EASTERN MEAL DURING STUDY
WEEK 3        LUKE 10:25-37         BANDAGE IMAGINED WOUND AFTER OIL AND WINE APPLIED
WEEK 4        LUKE 10:38-11:13     BREAD, EGG AND FISH BEHIND THE CURTAIN AS GIFT
WEEK 5        LUKE 12:13-21          GAMESHOW: “O MAN!”
WEEK 6        LUKE 12;22-39        ART PROJECT: LILLIES OF THE FIELD

Naturally, in such an open (but guided) format, theological and philosophical life questions arise which tempt the group to stray from the textual study. In this case, anything major is put on reserve for “Round Two” discussions after the exegetical study of the narrative. Parable or both has been concluded.

The study itself is scheduled each week for one hour only so as to not be burdensome, but Expolorers have ritually chosen to expand the time to three to four hours of spirited group exploration. I attribute much of this directly to the participatory and non-passive nature of the format.

It should also be noted that such a study method places exegesis and biblical studies prior to theology (horse firmly before all carts).

In our study time we are simply free to follow the text wherever they go  “come what may” – not in subjectivity, but rather against the firm bedrock of scholarship and embedded in 1st Century studies that keep the study contextualized.

One student., commenting on the team effort, said “I really feel like an Explorer!” And as every “disciple” is a “student of Jesus” we want to foster this reality.

FOCUS FOUR: GENERATIVE THEOLOGY

Taking direct cues from artist and theologian Makoto Fujimura (The Brehm Institute/Fuller Seminary) and his book Culture Care, I saw that the same crises that happened in the Arts under Modernity had struck Theology at the same time as well.  It was just that this last blow, starting at the turn of the last Century all but extinguished any fresh theology from consideration. It was either being deconstructed  and reinterpreted in a culture of Skepticism that reduced it to a bland liberal moralism; or it was being held hostage by “Funda-gelical” reactionaries whose dominant paradigms involved fear and power. In every case it all goes hand in hand with a deeply anthropocentric world-view and then attempting to compensate for that loss via creating consumer religion.

Fujimura has envisioned a way out of the tragedy of Modernity in his work through “Generative Art.” Given the close parallels and root disease for both the Arts and Theology, I saw no reason that  “Generative Theology” would not also be possible.

What does that term mean? A creative/explorative and generative theology is 1) free to proclaim prophetically while being faithful to the biblical witness and 2) does not jettison what is valuable in any of the work which has been done via the previous approach as if a new vision for theology can be done in a vacuum or is the end-all and be-all.

That also means it is more than a peace-at-any-cost ecumenicism. It truly sees all three major branches of the Church as common heritage and currently as One Body. Expolorers are free to draw from the entire catalog of Church history and should. This is unprecedented.

Does it mean we should not be on guard or there is no place for polemics or apologetics? Of course not. But let’s no longer be limited to only doing those things or thinking that is our only way of operating.

In searching my mind for theologians in my lifetime who are, or were Generative theologians the only person who truly comes to mind is Thomas  Merton. One can argue that C.S. Lewis – when not doing apologetics- was also doing Generative work in both his fiction and in books like Letters to Malcolm Chiefly on Prayer and The Weight of Glory.)  But really it was Merton who chose new themes to write on and explore which were 1) not against anyone, and 2) were not polemics or apologetics (or even a practical guide to a way of life).

Generative Theology would produce those books – like the new ones on Christ’s glory or on the Great Christological Hymn and how it might be connected with quantum physics as well as the search for human meaning. And a new generation of commentaries not adjudicated by immediate American concerns or reduced to pragmatic “principles” (I call this homogenization) for use as consumer products. Theological pursuits not determined solely by what is politically en vogue, but which can draw from the seemingly inexhaustibly suggestive nature of the 66 books we hold sacred.

It is here that the word generative once again becomes important. Just as God is to be worshiped for God’s own sake, so great theology is to be done because it is true and it is at the core of being human to explore and document the full range of human experience. This theological expression should not be dominated by a theology primarily “against.” but be essentially a theology “for” especially as the “Good News” it is at the core of that theology. That it retains an edgy polemic against falsehood is, of course, necessary. The character and witness of the New Testament demonstrate this, but it is not all consuming leading to the myopia and hair-splitting we have currently come to.

The summary call is to healthy discipleship as life-long learner/explorers of our living Lord. Let uus no long be derailed or distracted from our ciore cource materials in the Word of God but remain open to how God speaks through nature and one another dynamically through His living Holy Spirit. With Christ ever as the Center of attention things are kept both loyal and in balance. Seep roots can grow and richer soil be cultivated for the Word to grow.

We will find that people never did want to be entertained – not really. What they wanted was something meaningful to do and a sense of calling. As such they will be willing to give up the tricks and treats of Consumer Religion easily in favor of active discipleship that is purpose-filled, And you will see the grip of life-long sins weaken not through some dead moralizg (which happens to strengthen them in most cases) but rather because people will have a sense of the reality of being transformed into something new, not just briefly morally improved or made “better.”

Lastly a word for the bored and there are millions of you out there simply bored to tears. Exploring a Universe where Christ is the Center and doing generative theology is truly new country to explore/ Think of going to an Explorer’s Group that is not only not like some social obligation but where every week you – as a group – uncover new things about God and the Universe – things that directtly inpact your life.

That is what happens in our Adventures with Doctor Luke or C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves  studies. I may facilitate bit I doubt I speak up more than 20-25 percent of the time. The rest is drawing out the best work and thoughts from the class itself as we explore together.

UPCOMING CLASSES

God in the Dock (C.S. Lewis Book study) Summer 2018

Gospel of John: Book of Signs: Fall 2018

New Seeds of Contemplation (Book Study) “Morning with Thomas Merton” TBD

 

 

 

 

1] THE NEW TESTAMENT: A TRANSLATION BY DAVID BENTLY HART (KINDLE LOCATIONS 10762-10765). YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS. KINDLE EDITION.
[2] IBID., (KINDLE LOCATIONS 7065-7068). YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS. KINDLE EDITION.
[3] IBID., (KINDLE LOCATIONS 4717-4718). YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS. KINDLE EDITION.
 [4] F.F. BRUCE REMARKS “THIS IS ONE OF THE GREAT CHRISTOLOGICAL PASSAGES OF THE NT, DECLARING AS IT DOES OUR LORD’S DIVINE ESSENCE, PRE-EXISTENCE, AND CREATIVE AGENCY. YET, HIGH AS THE CHRISTOLOGY IS, IT DOES NOT APPEAR TO BE ORIGINAL TO PAUL HIMSELF; BUT RATHER PART OF WHAT HE “RECEIVED” AS PRIMITIVE CHRISTIAN TEACHING.”
[5] BECKER, ERNEST THE DENIAL OF DEATH,. FREE PRESS 1975

Tilting the Eyebrow

Dr Lukebanner3Adventures with Dr. Luke

Introduction “The Kairos Moment

“16And he came to Nazareth where he had been brought up and, as he was accustomed to do, he entered the synagogue on the day of the Sabbath and stood up to read. 17And a scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him, and having opened the scroll he found the place where it was written: 18“A Spirit of the Lord is upon me; hence he has anointed me to announce good tidings to the destitute, he has sent me out to proclaim release to captives and sight to the blind, to send the downtrodden forth in liberty, 19To proclaim the Lord’s acceptable year.” 20And, having closed the scroll and returning it to the attendant, he sat; and the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were gazing at him. 21And he began by saying to them, “Today, in your ears, this scripture has been fulfilled.”[1] Luke 4:16-21

The title of our series is Adventures with Dr. Luke – and if it has a sort of Indiana Jones theme to it that is not as far off as you might think for we are talking about matters which explore antiquity on THEIR terms not ours and we must get that through our heads from the very beginning. It does not matter YET how you wish to re-apply a parable or understanding of a Gospel narrative until you have immersed yourself as much as possible in the native Middle Eastern reality it took place in. Anything beyond that is fantasy at best, madness at the worst.

Here we sit roughly 2,000 years from the actual events and telling of the stories – which had a rich context which was understood – and we are largely in the dark. Like the fun scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark  where they realize the Nazi’s don’t have all the information about the height of the staff for the headpiece – Indy looks at Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) and they start laughing “They are digging in the WRONG place.”

The history of various methods of scriptural interpretation can often be summed up as people “digging in the wrong place” and what is the common error?  Trying to be more spiritual or intellectual than God – making things way too complicated and getting away from the earthy, native, historical way in which these actions of Jesus were carefully recorded by Dr. Luke and how the parables are entrenched in a Middle Eastern understanding and world View- an organic peasant communal  view.

So here we are separated by three simple but profound things: Time, language, and cultural understanding. In order to better understand and explore the texts we will have to be willing to gather tools like any good archaeologist to bridge this gap as much as possible.

But there is one last obstacle: ourselves.  Soren Kierkegaard said:

“The bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”

I can tell you this from first-hand experience – if you are willing to adopt a true explorer’s attitude – one that says “I am going to follow the texts wherever they go come what may” – them you are ready to do what is called “Exegesis” or real exploration of the texts – and you may be able to discover things that the world’s top scholars may miss – seriously.  It happens.

There are two ways of approaching scripture: “Esogesis” and “Exegesis” – Who knows what these things refer to?

Why is eisogesis (“to read INTO”) so dangerous?

Should we expect to agree with everything that scripture reveals right away?

Let us turn from this general discussion and see exactly how all of this immediately plays out in our short passage from Luke 4.

Read Luke 4:16-29

Now notice how many language (word meaning), culture and historical questions are raised by this passage:

  • What was this “custom” of entering the synagogue and doing a reading? And who got to do this, just anyone?
  • “Isaiah was handed to him, and having opened the scroll he found the place…” Was there a regular series of readings and this happened to be the reading that day or was it always on this day?
  • Did Jesus get to choose what He read from Isaiah or was he obligated to reread the whole of it?
  • Why are all eyes on Jesus after He reads this passage and quietly sits down? Was something else supposed to happen? Is something missing? What is going on? Are they waiting/expecgting Him to speak again or comment?
  • What does He mean by “in your ears?” Is “Today a special day? Is this a different kind of “time (as Greek has two words for it)?
  • What is Jesus’ relationship to the synagogue and to scripture? How does the synagogue work?
  • What kind of Rabbi is Jesus compared with other “Rabbis” of the time?

These are just obvious questions off the top of my head. If we do a verse by verse textual study we might uncover a great deal more.

To which I really need to bring up a CRUCIAL POINT. If you don’t remember anything else from tonight, remember this: Whenever you hit a bible difficulty the tendency will be to avoid it. You must do exactly the opposite.  Go counter-intuitive and dig deeper at exactly that point and you will find it will pay off richly.

Looking ahead

While we will unpack texts using language and historical tools, since our overall concern will be dominated by the parables we will really get a heavy education in Middle eastern peasant culture and in Hebrew poetry to help us unpack the wealth these “theological clusters” have waiting for us. Then we can ask how they translate into action in the here and now – that will be really interesting- and a great challenge – and no doubt uncomfortable at times but let us remember we walk in freedom and grace and within the love of God.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan we will learn that had he left the man with the Inn Keeper and not returned it would have been a death sentence (aha!) He must return and pay for all services rendered in person – and this is what defines being a true neighbor – this personal interest that is involved.

It is maybe not what we wish to hear – but this is also the God who gives the grace and love to do such things.

The Cultural Problem.

“To understand the theology of parables, therefore, we must recapture the culture that informs the text. The culture of the synoptic parables is that of first-century Palestine.’ Palestinian Christians saw their own culture reflected in the parables and could thereby understand the teller/author’s intent directly. But when the cultural base of the Church ceased to be Palestinian the parables inevitably became stories about foreigners.”[2]

In chapter one (which we shall avoid like Robin Williams does in Dead Poets Society when he has his students rip out the pages of Mr. Prichart’s Introduction!! Rip!  Rip! Kenneth Bailey covers all the various critics and their theories which essentially mishandle the parables in one form or the other. They are not without some value but we will not waste a minute here on them (you can do as you wish on your own dime).  What Bailey goes one to do afterwards is to “attempt to show that each parable has a “cluster” of theological motifs that together press the listener to make a single response. (p.29)

Bailey himself spent over 35 years in Beirut living with, interviewing, studying with and immersing himself in peasant culture to discuss and work with both scholars and the people themselves in his research. It is remarkable one-of-a-kind work recognized world-wide.

Without such work we would tromp in the Middle Eastern scene of Jesus like Modern Westerners – insisting on our private meanings, possibly making every narrative a personal existential story of alienation or work or romance-related angst. Um…no. As real as that may be for us; and as relateable later as we recontextualize both understood narratives and parables – we would only do violence to the texts and mangle them horribly.

Types of analysis

  • Textual study – 4:18-19

[Note: David Bently Hart’s text from Luke 4:16-29 is here in BOLD then commentaries are introduiced in brackets bridging various language, historical, cultural and contextual gaps as needed. They are by no means exhaustive – just a start. One can talke this file and add to it with your own notes from other commentaries; your own rflections and quotes from other autors and cross-references.]

16 And he came to Nazareth where he had been brought up and, as he was accustomed to do, he entered the synagogue [“the little village only possessed a single synagogue. Synagogues had sprung up throughout Judaea since the return from the exile. They were rooms of which the end pointed towards Jerusalem (the Kibleh, or consecrated direction, of Jewish worship (Daniel 6:10), as Mecca is of Mohammedan). The men sat on one side; the veiled women behind a lattice on the other. The chief furniture was the Ark (tebhah) of painted wood, generally shrouded by a curtain, and containing the Thorah (Pentateuch), and rolls (megilloth) of the Prophets. On one side was a bema for the reader and preacher, and there were “chief seats” (Mark 12:39) for the Ruler of the Synagogue, and the elders (zekanim). The servants of the synagogue were the clerk (chazzan), verger (sheliach) and deacons (parnasim, ‘shepherds’ – The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges.] on the day of the Sabbath and stood up to read. 17 And a scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him, and having opened the scroll he found the place where it was written:

18“A Spirit of the Lord is upon me;

hence he has anointed me to announce good tidings to the destitute [“In that culture, one’s status in a community was not so much a function of economic realities, but depended on a number of elements, including education, gender, family heritage, religious purity, vocation, economics, and so on. Thus, lack of subsistence might account for one’s designation as “poor,” but so might other disadvantaged conditions, and “poor” would serve as a cipher for those of low status, for those excluded according to normal canons of status honor in Mediterranean world. Hence, although “poor” is hardly devoid of economic significance, for Luke this wider meaning of diminished status honor is paramount.”[3]

”]

he has sent me

out to proclaim release to captives

and sight to the blind,

to send the downtrodden forth in liberty,

19To proclaim the Lord’s acceptable year.”

[“the citation from Isaiah, which is itself a mixed-text. The bulk of 4: 18– 19 derives from Isa 61: 1– 2, but two departures from this passage are of particular interest. First, Isa 61: 2b, “and the day of vengeance of our God,” has been omitted from Luke 4: 19, probably to suppress what would have been taken as a negative aspect of the Isaianic message. Second, language from Isa 58: 6, literally, “to send forth the oppressed in release,” has been added at the end of Luke 4: 18, thus to draw special attention to the word “release” as a characteristic activity of Jesus’ ministry.” [4]]

]

20 And, having closed the scroll and returning it to the attendant, he sat; and the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were gazing [“The Greek word so rendered is noticeable as being used twelve times by St. Luke, (chiefly in the Acts), and twice by St. Paul (2Corinthians 3:72Corinthians 3:13), and by no other writer of the New Testament. It had been used by Aristotle in his scientific writings, and was probably a half-technical word which St. Luke’s studies as a physician had brought into his vocabulary, and which St. Paul learnt, as it were, from him.”- Ellicott.

 

This is ironic as the two times Paul uses the word it is specifically about hiding the glory of God from the people by veiling Moses’ face.  Here we have Jesus – God in the flesh come to fulfill the messianic calling and their gaze is full ON – yet they do not recognize him as we shall see.] at him [“This conveys to us the idea of falling back to a place of comparative obscurity among the congregation. To the Jew it implied just the opposite. The chair near the place from which the lesson was read was the pulpit of the Rabbi, and to sit down in that chair (as in Matthew 5:1Matthew 23:2) was an assumption by our Lord, apparently for the first time in that synagogue, of the preacher’s function. This led to the eager, fixed gaze of wonder which the next clause speaks of.”- Ellicott.   ] . 21And he began by saying to them, “Today, in your ears, this scripture has been fulfilled.” [So the attendant gives Jesus the daily reading from Isaiah, but Jesus alters the reading. He withholds part of the Isaiah passage and adds another pieces from another chapter then says that a prophecy has been accomplished (I would assert not when they understand these words – but literally when the words curl into their ear canals. This is a “kairos” moment – an “appomiuted time” as opposed to mere “chromos” time wjhich is just chonology or regular time. It is a moment packed with supreme meaning. ]  22And all professed their admiration for him and were amazed at the words of grace coming out of his mouth, and they said, “Is this man not Joseph’s son?” 23And he said to them, “Surely you will quote me this parable: ‘Physician, heal yourself’; the things we heard were happening in Capernaum[“The reference here to some things done before this time in Capernaum, would incline us to think that after Christ’s temptations he first went to Cana of Galilee, where he wrought his first miracle, John 2:1, turning the water into wine, then to Capernaum, where he staid not many days, John 2:12, then to Nazareth; but hearing that John was cast into prison, he removed from Nazareth to Capernaum, out of the jurisdiction of Herod, under the milder government of Philip his brother.” Poole’s commentary], do them here as well, in your native country.”[ Benson rightly says “You will soon ask, why my love does not begin at home? why I do not work miracles here, rather than at Capernaum? “ Nor is it any new thing for a messenger of God to be despised in his own country. So were both Elijah and Elisha, and thereby driven to work miracles among heathen, rather than in Israel. And he said, Verily, no prophet is accepted in his own country — That is, in his own neighbourhood. It generally holds, that a teacher sent from God is not so acceptable to his neighbours as he is to strangers. The meanness of his family, or lowness of his circumstances, brings his office into contempt: nor can they suffer that he, who was before equal with or below themselves, should now bear a superior character.” ]  24And he said, “Amen, I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. 25And I tell you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was sealed up for over three years and six months, as a great famine took place over all the land, [“And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.” 1 Kings 17:1. ] 26And to none of them was Elijah sent except to a widowed woman of Sarepta in Sidon [Sidon is near Tyre by the sea in Palestine – a Gentile city actually not far from Azotus. Jesus remarks that after three and a half years of famine relief came not to the Fathers in Israel who expected it but to a widow in Sidon- in a Gentile town when Elijah came and the miracle of the endless oil and flour happened (as well as resurrection of her son).] . 27And there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28And all in the synagogue were filled with rage when they heard these things, 29And rising up they drove him outside the city, and led him to the edge [literally “the “eyebrow”] of the mountain on which their city was built so as to throw him down; 30But he passed through their midst and went away.[5] (the townspeople of Nazareth got to see a miracle of sorts – just the exact opposite of what they wished: when they wanted to kill the Son of God he miraculously walked through them.  What he had spoken was also fulfilled that day – a prophet was not welcome in his hometown and no miracles of healing would be performed in Nazareth due to unbelief.
_________________

  • For further study: What was the actual situation that Jesus referred to concerning Elijah and Elisha and how might that reflect on Nazareth directly?
  • When Jesus mixes the Word of God and edits (as it were) remember that He is the Word of God incarnate. What is the relationship between Living Word and the Word of God as scripture that is “living and active”?
  • How are we like the people of the synagogue when Jesus speaks His words to us? How do we resist or attempt to deflect His harder sayimngs?

 

[1] The New Testament: A Translation (Kindle Locations 2874-2881). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Kenneth E. Bailey. Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke (Combined edition) p. 27

 

[3] Green, Joel B.. The Gospel of Luke (Kindle Locations 6623-6627). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

 

[4] Green, Joel B.. The Gospel of Luke (Kindle Locations 6603-6608). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

 

[5] The New Testament: A Translation (Kindle Locations 2885-2892). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

Liberation and the Suck of Selves

The Centerquote

Having just reviewed a Pocket History of Theology (Roger E. Olson and Adam C. English, The IVP Pocket Reference Series) one of the last stops is the 20th century rash of Liberation theologies which all work out of crisis, fight very real oppression and look to bring forms of liberation to various peoples in a variety of situations who are at risk. As with many theologies there is much to laud here and much to learn from Womanist, Feminist, LGBT, Minjung, Black and Hispanic Liberation theologies to name a few. If taken from a sociological perspective one might also add other groups like 12-Step programs with their liberative agendas and theologies (for all you have to do is give a casual shake and they will let you know their views on God quite readily) as well.

But as always I have questions that move beyond the immediate.

My first question is a simple one: Are we essentially talking about freedom from or freedom to? This is crucial.

As silly as an example as you may find it I personally found AA uncompelling. For me, freedom to simply not drink was not going to be enough if it meant enslavement to three meetings a day and being utterly debilitated by a mental disorder (undiagnosed at the time). No, for me true liberation meant a freedom to live a life utterly unconcerned with alcohol at all – a freedom to devote my life and consciousness to everything out there in the world – not some myopic obsession with ‘not doing something” daily. When I found my freedom from joined to my freedom to –  I was truly liberated.

In the same way I wonder if these new theologies of liberation are liberations from or liberations to.  Do they have a goal beyond themselves to lead to real freedom of action or are they aimed at just delivering people to some static baseline?

I can skip ahead and tell you that a Christocentric (Theocentric) gospel has transformation – or metanoia – as its goal. So it is decidedly freedom from sin and death and freedom towards transformation into the “image of Christ” (2 Cor. 3:18)

As I survey the literature of liberation I hear much of the same talk: that those liberated must also make sure the oppressors are liberated too. Again I ask – liberated to do what?

Are not those who are thus “liberated” always somehow defined by their respective oppressors and how that has led to self-definition? Is this not like the alcoholic who, twenty years after his or her last drink, is still defining themselves primarily with the self-narrative of alcohol? How free is that? is that freedom to? And is it in fact even freedom from?

I come from a 2,000 year old cross-cultural pan-historical tradition that exults “If anyone is in Christ – new creation!” (literal translation of 2 Cor. 5:17). This is no vain claim for those who have experienced it – or will.

This was the liberation theology of the 1st Century – a time every bit as dark and oppressed as ours under the heavy boot of Rome.

A Post-Christian World

But what do you do in a world where the the Church has effectively over-shot the runway (and I do place the responsibility at the feet of Mother Church – East and West, Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox – Liberal and Fundagelical). With rare exception we have all adopted anthropocentric theologies, treated Jesus as commemorative (rather than as active King and Lord), minimized the Holy Spirit (unless for parlor tricks) and transposed our “daddy Issues” from our own wretched fathers onto God the Father.

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There is just so much willfulness there I don’t even know where to begin. That is all on us.

And as Jesus promised, we have reaped what we have sown: a Post-Christian world.

And still we don’t get it.

In his long essay From Autobiography to Fellowship, Anselm Kyongsuk Min writes:

No group can claim exclusive particularity for its own context … Any retrieval of an ethnic past must confront the universalizing context of the present into which all groups are compelled to enter. In such a context no particular group can liberate itself by its own power or claim universality for its own perspective. All are compelled by the pressures of the globalizing world to enter into a political solidarity of others in order to create conditions of common life that would both enhance the identity of each group in its particularity of tradition and culture and promote solidarity of such groups in their interdependence with one another as human beings with a common dignity and destiny.

So in a sense, globalization insists on a grouping together of these “Theologies of Liberation;” but one which he argues no single group can hope to “liberate itself by its own power or claim universality for its own perspective.” Prof. Min view is entirely anthropocentric and seeks to form a power base to rival the inherent powers.

Life “in Christ” is not just a freedom from but a freedom to liberation that involves creative work, mission, and meaningful action in the world (where thief cannot steal, moth cannot destroy and rust cannot downgrade).

I am not suggesting that a pragmatic freedom from agenda (that is liberative and against oppression of any people) is not worth doing or is in any way antithetical to Gospel. It is not. What I am suggesting is that it is not a suitable replacement or even place-holder for a true Theology of Liberation that is truly biblical or even, for that matter, theological in any true sense.

It would be better to call what Professor Min is suggesting, and in fact, what many “Liberation Theologies” seem to come down to when you really ask “what is this really?” something like Spiritual Anthropology – or some such. Certainly you are bringing God into the equation (or at times and places) but the gravitational pull and defining rim of self-concern is all US.

In fact, what Prof. Min is arguing for is an admission that there are so many competing voices  and “centers of attentions” in a global situation that the true force is being lost.

I certainly think he is correct.

The CenterInfoTheologically, or more specifically – biblically, the New Testament documents like John’s Gospel and Paul’s letter to the Colossians present a Christ whose cosmic dimensionality is staggering. Not only has God “pitched His tent and dwelt among us full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), but according to St. Paul, all of Creation was made “by, through and for” Christ (Colossians 1:16) and “all things hold together (v.17). In contrast to the proto-Gnostic “pleroma” (the entire created order from the physical to the spiritual).

It is in light of this – and not just redemption (that is far too easy to dismiss) that we rightly place Christ as the Center of universal concern.  A Christocentric world-view relieves us of the burden and unreality of every limited anthropocentric world-view or theology. It also happens to have the advantage of being a theology based in an actual living deity (having an orbit that is reality-based in the ontology of God).

Life “in Christ” is not just a freedom from but a freedom to liberation that involves creative work, mission, and meaningful action in the world (where thief cannot steal, moth cannot destroy and rust cannot downgrade).

The world that Jesus did His ministry in was under every bit as much oppression, slavery, usury, religious corruption and sexual perversity as ours – yet His ministry of liberation was not to fight power with another form of power. It did not seek to build a consensus to match Rome’s power or even unmask it. It would seem Rome ws to be toppled a whole other way – via spiritual revolution.

Jesus made disciples instead and preached stories about the Kingdom of God that required a change of being in the hearers, not an overthrow of Rome.

The Gospel of Us

As I read Professor Min’s expert analysis of the geo-political landscape and how to approach it through a conglomerate of aligned groups it suddenly appeared exactly like the sort of self-management the Evangelicals are attempting to perform in their church structures throughout America – commercializing Gospel.  They are just as convinced this is helping to free people and move them into “better lives” free from alcohol, drugs, porn or food addictions.

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Freedom from” is better than the “Suck of Self” (a vortex) but you are still stuck “in the blue” without the “freedom to…”

In all these cases the agenda is for the “betterment” of people and a freedom from (be it oppression from some outside force, or be it from some addiction plaguing them like food, drugs, sex or alcohol) – in all cases “betterment and freedom from” but never transformation and freedom to…

So is the Gospel of Jesus a “betterment” Gospel of freedom from that just helps us improve our lives; and are these “liberation theologies”  just meant to bring us all to equilibrium in this place of anthropocentric Self-dom?

I want to make it clear – once again – that I am in fullest support of any movement or group which is against oppressing human beings or diminishing the imago dei (“image of God”  which every human being demonstrates by simply existing) in them.* It is beyond the scope of this small reflection to go into details but it should be noted that at the very heart of group or ethnic oppression (scapegoating) and the evil and violence which always accompany it is the very same motive of attempting to create human meaning apart from God with human beings as the “Center”.

You won’t put a fire out with kerosene.

In utter contrast, the Gospel of Jesus is about putting to death of the “Old Self” and raising up new men and women via  metanoia  –  transformed selves who are becoming like Christ Who is – Himself the Living Center with new freedoms not just from things but freedoms to act in new ways.

In the same letter to the Corinthians I have been regularly quoting from Paul writes:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;  we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.   For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.   So death works in us, but life in you. (2 Cor. 4:7-12, italics mine.)

Paul spoke of “carrying about in the body of the dying Jesus.” Elsewhere he speaks of walking with the “death sentence” upon himself.

In our death-denying culture that may seem morose but I assure you Paul was anything but. He has a freedom to… in any given situation.

I have experienced this freedom and it is a place where you are no longer ruled or informed by fear.

If you want to find that kind of freedom you will not find it in any theology that is just an anthropology pf self-concern and a freedom from. What you need is a true Theology based in Christ’s living person pointed at freedoms to…

Christopher MacDonald

October 2017, Berkeley, Ca.

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* Despite my disappointment in the long-range goals of any anthropocentric theology I nonetheless prefer a highly imperfect “Liberation Theology” that seeks to give a voice to the oppressed and disenfranchised to the Church’s being co-opted by the dominant powers that be. To be sure, my preference is a truly counter-cultural Christocentric theology that is in harmony with the scriptures; but being something of a pragmatist and caring deeply for actual people I will gratefully take the best of what is available. I simply refuse to rubber stamp everything is “great” when it clearly is not.

Am I happy with my own personal theology? Yes I am. Van it be improved upon? Most assuredly – and the sooner the better. That is all I am suggesting here – in general – for the Church I dearly love.

Christ the Center: Freedom of Thought

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All the hoopla around the country is about free speech which only elicits pondering Milne, then reflecting on Kierkegaard’s more apt reflection:

People demand  freedom of speech as a compensation for the  freedom of thought which they seldom use.

I could give you a thorough analysis as to why this is…but forget it. Enough talk about what is wrong. If people are investing in commercialized models of the “Gospel” – either a “Gospel of Betterment” (megachurches) or then the more private tastes of a personalized “Boutique Gospel” (which is sort of a mildly skeptical “pick and choose” ala carte that might include some Borg, Ehrman, Crossan…bits of Gnostisism (known or unknown ironically), some Eastern Mystism and pop psychology, and lots of hip social action/posturing) it is only because its really pretty much the only thing available.

No “thinking” version – which is truly Christocentric, socially conscious and billed as a “death” to what novelist Walker Percy aptly described as “The suck of self” in favor of complete “Transformation” (meatnoia) into the image of Christ has ever been put forward in my lifetime.

It just wouldn’t sell.

So I have watched a seeming endless cycle of “new theologies” with their anthropocentric “centers” come and go.

It is time for new direction and vision.

But at once we seem to have a problem – and this is where the ballgame is always lost – the “exception to the rule.” The second we make a declarative statement it is assailed by either an exception or by some parallel consideration that is, in fact, valid.

The error is not in eliminating the exception or parallel considerations (in fact, in due time let them ALL in). The error is in assuming a “one size fits all” approach to begin with when it comes to “Gospel.”

What do I mean by this term? I will simply say “Good News” and keep as close to that as possible. The more we veer away from it being “Good News” the less interested I am. If it is “Bad News?” Reject it outright.

If you wish to preach Bad News by all means do so: to yourself. For others? I take Peter to be spot on when he said we are to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us about our “hope, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

Anthropocentric centers have not worked and won’t work for Gospel. You all know the definition of insanity – so “sane up” and let’s get to work.

As Christ is the “Center” (and you can see my “math” elsewhere) I will just go directly to His pretty much never seeming to ever do anything the same way twice. There seems to be no discernible pattern for the healings (“here’s mud in your eye” in one; in another He heal’s long range with just words; in yet another He casts a load of demons out of a man into a herd of swine. Now that is variety.) Jesus seems directed by His Father, but at times “out of the loop.” Taken as a whole it is not the sort of thing any truly thinking person could build a “systematic theology” around – which is probably why it really wasn’t much attempted until the 18th Century and has been botched badly and routinely.

It doesn’t work. Why? Well I’ll give you at least one good reason: God is not systemic.

And one big result is that no new theology has really been done since C.S. Lewis kicked the bucket in 1963. I mean I like some folk for reiteration…but not a lot of original new thought or fresh exegesis because most folk have allowed themselves to be drafted into a protracted culture war (“War of the Fictions”).

I feel true compassion. The Reality of Christ as True Center is not something we easily adjust our eyes to for any length of time. I think that is why – while it is called for all over the New Testament – it is done so in a gentle manner. 

In the three places where Christ’s glory are held up most intensely (John 1; Colossians 1; and Hebrews 1 by my reckoning) it is in a near blinding swift flash…then all quiets down. Paul, when he is practically applying his cosmological view of Christ makes warm realistic statements like “we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him ” (2 Co. 5:9)

Now that is not so complicated is it?

We also appropriate a lot of things best in song and via worship it would seem. Thimas Merton would add contemplation/prayer and he would be right. 

Einstein said “things should be made as simple as possible but not simpler.” The Universe was created in, through and for Christ (Col.1) but my simple joy today is to simply be “pleasing to Him.”

Our theology and new work is grounded in Christ the Center Who is alive – right now – and animated by the Holy Spirit. We are not limited to categories of left and right anymore than the places around the rim of a tire are at odds as they are held in tension to the Center-Hub. Our problem has been that we have tried to keep started from those rimmed areas.

Well, don’t. Anthropocentric centers have not worked and won’t work for Gospel. You all know the definition of insanity – so “sane up” and let’s get to work.

The Centre Holds: Beauty, Art & the God Who is There.

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“Drakes Bay” ceramic version of oil painting of God’s original creation.  Christopher MacDonald  ©2002 Azotus Arts. 
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The Second Coming
William Butler Yeats

 

It is easy to misread the words of the poet in several ways. One can take a look at the world around us now – as many do – and quote this poem as a prophetic utterance. Things seem to be unraveling with innocence drowning, anarchy on the rise, the Good set to the sidelines and the Bad set center-stage in all their fury.

Or, one might approach this theologically and note that as the pursuit of God as Centre has dimmed over a few hundred years – replaced more and more since the Enlightenment by humanity – “the falcon cannot hear the falconer,” the centre cannot hold because it is not recognized as such and there is a certain quiet dignified anarchy to all of our denominationalism and separatism that says that we will decide – we will be ‘the centre.” Er, centres not only outside the Church , but within it as well.

But we turn from this only to find we cannot manage even our own lives – not to mention the world.

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Yeats was an inverted Conehead. 

William Butler Yeats had none of this in mind of course. He was writing in the context of the end of the First World War and personally saw history and destiny itself is “conical,” (see graphic) with the “widening gyre” simply ending in destruction and being replaced with something like it’s opposite impulse.

So one imagines if Yeats is correct, a scientific, democratic and expansive/popularist approach in the West would now break apart and be replaced by something very opposite: non-scientific, authoritarian, exclusive and  isolationist.

I don’t care for two reasons: 1) I am not really political and that is all really beyond me; and 2) the issue Yeats’s poem brings out (unbeknownst to him) is larger.

Sometimes the poet speaks beyond himself and his philosophy. No one takes Yeat’s view of “Conical” history seriously at all – but this is one of the most quoted poems in the English language – especially right now.  Why?

Simple. We know we as a people are lost and before you leave thinking I am going to launch off into a typical rant let me assure you it is NOT COMING. You don’t need that and neither do I. We know, don’t we?

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“Drakes Bay” (partial) oil on treated board 4′ x 8′ Christopher MacDonald © 1997 Azotus Arts

Why don’t we talk about solutions to this mess instead? 

Okay, cool.

“The falcon cannot hear the falconer”

How can we hear in the ever-widening gyre as things are falling apart?  

Well first we have to know Who we are listening to.

We are listening to God.

We are not listening to Religion, our family of origin’s idea of God, or our upbringing (our stunted “whenever we stopped learning about God”-age ideas about God*). We are listening to the God of love Who is there and Who has chosen to freely communicate in specific ways that are simple (“to him who has eyes to see and ears to hear,’ says Jesus on many occasions.)

You are not sure God is there? That is okay. You only have to be open. People talk a lot about “finding God” and I do see “seeking” reflected in Jesus’ parables. But I also see Jesus “finding us” and not the other way around. Be open and willing to be found. 

What are some ways to see and hear?

The simplest way is through nature, though it is the least specific. It is through beauty and art that you can begin to re-calibrate your eyes and ears to hear and see God in the midst of this , well….maddening world.

Beauty and Art are major ways of seeing and hearing. These are always couched in Creation (in some way) and the fecundity of God the Master artist who creates for sheer joy; both God’s and yours. Let God speak to you via nature.

In Art, learn to see both the reflected glory of God in the women and men who make/create it and also their longing for God in it. It’s okay to see them arguing like the Psalmist with God – sometimes bitterly so– with God. This is what I call the “running argument with God.” Even their depictions of so-called “hate” against God are just misplaced love and the energy they use to produce these works comes from the True Centre Himself- Christ.

Beyond just viewing art, doing art (in whatever form you can) opens up God-given inner places of the heart, mind and body that are reflective of your being as created in God’s image. If open, you may experience yourself as someone who creates beauty in a way reflective of God. And it does not matter whether it is fine art or chalk art. Bake something that looks delightful.

Artist and theologian Makoto Fujimura, in his important book Culture Care, writes of “generative thinking” saying it is ,

“fueled by generosity because it so often must work against a mindset that has survival and utility in the foreground. In a culture dominated by this mindset generosity has an unexpectedness that can set the context for the renewal of our hearts.”

These simple words need to go on a lot of refrigerators… seriously.

We are not talking just about the survival and utility dominating those at the bottom of our socio-economic situation in America. In the Bay Area, we are talking about people in “Golden Handcuff” corporate jobs working 60-plus hours a week under duress and with no small measure of fear given the subtle and not-so subtle evaluation systems put into place to keep them slavishly and doggedly hammering away at tasks.

At times, I am almost tempted to call it a “Digital Gulag” but I know better. 

God Speaks More Specifically

I was recently in a theology class in seminary where the question came up for the first time: “what is theology?” That may sound funny – especially as it is my third year – but most theologies are so anthropocentric these days (and have been so for a very long time – this is not new) it is difficult not to adjust to the times while trying to address them.
 

My only contribution was a bit of a departure: “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” (John 1:18)

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I love this book so much I have both a hard copy and the Audible versions. 

It is an odd statement if you look at it (which is why I like it). Like Fujimura’s view of art as generative and generous (to an extreme), God has come down and become flesh that we might know Who God is – that God might be explained and seen. 

As Jesus says later “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” (John 14) 

God has revealed God’s own Self in Jesus. How do we appropriate that? I would contend that as He is resurrected you can do this directly – but this is often a process of coming into relationship. More often this begins by reading the words of Jesus. It also comes via prayer.

People will come at you from a variety of angles on the Bible – all of which will suspiciously keep you from actually just reading and exploring it for yourself.  Like art, it is best to just experience it for yourself, then explore it with others who love it. I am not sure I would explore art with people who hated it, thought it a waste of time or disparaged it at every turn. I am not sure that would make sense to me – so why would I do that with God and scripture?

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One advantage of a digital age is when you do need or want art, or to take an imaginative trip it is readily available. I use Pinterest because I can save the art to “boards.” Here I did a search and come up with a host of tours I could take and pieces of artwork to view…including my own!

Someone asked me recently what my view of the “inerrancy vs. infallibility of the Bible” debate was. I told them it was a 30 year waste of time not worth comment – and isn’t. Read the Bible for yourself and see if it resonates as the Word of God.

Lastly, God speaks through people. Jesus gave a plain directive (as recorded in Luke and also here in Matthew 7:17-20):

“So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

Long ago I learned to watch what people do/did and not so much what they said. This has served me well. People who love and have grace for others in their lives? I listen to them – regardless of their religious training. God uses them in my life. I see God in them whereas, sometimes, in the religious I see nothing at all but Ego and Self-Rule.  Then I look at the fruit as Jesus instructed – not at their past (that would be judgment) but what are they choosing now- faith, hope and love in serving others and loving God; or some agenda of power and control based in fear?

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Drakes Bay © God. Photograph of live version by Christopher MacDonald. Comes complete with huge ocean and action accessories like birds, people and a red tailed fox.  

The Centre

My mentor, The Rev. Darrell Johnson, has as his motto “The Centre Holds.”  (he lives and teaches in Canada…thus the “Centre” thing instead of “Center.”) Right now, as everything is falling apart and anarchy is barking at our heels with its violence and the Church is lost in its own bad news – the Centre Holds.

This paper is the first of many papers and explorations on this theme because you; and I do mean YOU – are going to want practical, DOABLE things in this world as it runs more and more amok to both keep sane and also to retain a sense of direction and peace.

I am telling you today that you have real anchor points – rock to pound your pitons into. Beauty, Art, The Word of God, Worship, Fellowship, Service, Meditative prayer, and adoration of Christ (simple and pure devotion to the Living One).

It is okay to take some realistic stock of the chaos, but do not linger there or you will lose all hope in time. It is not a time to simply tread water…you will drown. You need to be going somewhere. You need to learn to swim. 

Next: Spokes: Your Life is like a Wheel

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* I little noted phenomenon where people stop their exploration or developmental understanding of God at some early age – often due to some crisis, but for some generations it was simply when they were first given the free choice to attend church or not. This is not to suggest they would have been given an adequate depiction or education in the nature of God from a church, only to note that developmentally their picture and understanding may be arrested at a very early time, i.e. I have met 50 year old men walking around with 13 year old boy’s notions of God and the Bible simply because that is where they stopped investigating – just like any other subject.  

Seeking the Living Among the Dead?

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Luke 24:1-12: Re-Cognition

The women at the empty tomb in Luke 24:1-12 marks Luke’s unfolding of the subsequent appearances of the risen Jesus. The rhetorical question put forward to the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”  stood as one of four larger rhetorical questions posed in Luke-Acts used by the author in an attempt to provide a “proper rhetorical standard when producing his narrative.”[1] Within that larger apologetic, we have this smaller and more personal crisis involving those nearest and dearest to Jesus. This study will examine those closest to Jesus and how they failed to anticipate His death or resurrection. This is evidenced in the narrative by their various actions, inactions and levels of mystification. What we find, towards the close of Luke’s gospel, is that no one expected anything but a “dead Jesus.” In Luke’s account, this failure to recognize Jesus’ true significance (which is normative in the entire narrative) or to connect the events of his passion now with his previous teachings issues in a profound ideological and theological crisis for everyone concerned. We see the first example of this crisis in the women’s response to the empty tomb, followed by Peter’s mystification when confronted at the same location.

For the purposes of this study guide, we will explore the various characters and the ideas of both recognition and remembrance which are displayed via the clarity which the women (at the very least) received in contrast with the continued confusion and mystification of the apostles. Additionally, ideological and theological crisis points are often points which lead to profound revelation —or breakthrough. If the empty tomb issued in a profound ideological and theological crisis (and it surely did) there was simply no going back to the old arguments and interpretations of Jesus with any vigor. Whatever the variety of “Messianic expectations” people had which had over-ruled the actual words of Jesus at the time he spoke, his physical resurrection swiftly revealed their irrelevancy on the third day.[2]

Luke’s Text: Luke 24:1-12

The Women Act, Find, and Remember

On this, the third day and after the Sabbath, the women arise and go to the tomb where they had seen Jesus laid dead two nights earlier (23:55-56). Their intention is to prepare the body for a Jewish burial with spices and wrappings. Luke constructs the narrative in such a way that they “find” two things in rapid succession: the stone rolled away, and the tomb empty. They are shocked.[3]

Then Luke uses a new construction for presenting Jesus. It is now, and will continue to be in the Book of Acts, “the Lord Jesus” (Acts 1:21; 4:33; 8:16, “and in Acts 2:32-36 Peter will develop the logic of Jesus’ lordship by referring to Jesus’ exaltation by God.[4] ) According to Luke, the resurrection has modified Jesus’ title to some degree.

The women are dumbfounded, but are soon confronted by two men “glowing like lightening,” who appear with a message which begins with a question: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  The rhetorical question still stands for us today, but the two men (later identified as “angels” (24:23) are not finished. They tell the women that Jesus is not there and proclaim that “he is risen!”

But what is the meaning of this? They continue to speak with the women, asking them to remember what Jesus had told them when he was with them in Galilee— specifically that he would be arrested, crucified and be resurrected.” (v.6-8,). “The women are urged, even commanded, to call to mind, to keep present, a prophetic message, a revelation of Jesus,” says Maria Luisa Rigato[5]. Then it says they “remembered his words”(v. 9). The Greek verb mimnhskesqai (“to remember”) occurs six times in Luke and four times in Acts, and “it always related to God or Jesus”[6]  in significant ways. They had what we can best refer to as “re-cognition” a re-knowing of what they already knew.

This same phenomenon happens to the men who spent time with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Only after the breaking of the bread do they “re-cognize” Jesus (and it should be noted that the witness of the women had gone out beyond the immediacy of the apostles by word of mouth (v.22-24). Curiously, the evidence suggests that while the apostles did not believe the account given by the women, it did not stop them from spreading it.

Setting aside the confusion of the men, the “penny had dropped,”[7] for the women after they connected what Jesus had previously taught in Galilee (for example, Luke 9:22 and 18:31-34), with his arrest, the empty tomb, and the proclamation by the men who suddenly appeared to them.  Luke gives us no information how this conversation wrapped up, only that the women at the tomb reported back “all these things” to the apostles. This “cannot but include the message they had received from the angels, so that the men were given access to the significance of recent events.  The dismissive response of the men is therefore better explained with reference to the fact that those reporting are women in a world biased against the admissibility of women as witnesses.” [8]   The women now understood the connection between Jesus’ teaching and his arrest, trial, death and resurrection, but the men did not, or would not, comprehend it. The best that can be said for the men is that one of them, Peter, is found at the end of this narrative confused and bewildered by events. But he had not come to the understanding that the women had come to understand and were then able to articulate in full to the apostles (v.11).[9] As Joel Green surmises about the women’s move from perplexity to clarity, in contrast with Peter’s confusion: All of them arrive at an empty tomb and find the body missing, but only the women “receive heavenly communication about the goings-on…so only they receive insight into their significance.” He goes on to comment simply that Peter lacks what the women now possess: faith and Jesus’ key to interpreting the events.[10]

It is here that Luke is careful to name the women specifically as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James “and others.” Ironically, in our age, such testimony by women in a First Century context actually adds weight as unfounded accusations of biblical document selections to support the status quo make little sense when the documents themselves put forward bumbling male disciples, and women as primary witnesses (come what may, for it is the apostles who look foolish and spiritually inept).  Case in point, in Luke’s account we end with the women having faithfully discharged their duties as followers of the risen Lord Jesus and entrusted with the message by angels while ten of eleven apostles are in the dark and the eleventh one is wandering around mystified and guilt-riddled.

Where are the Disciples?

No mention is made as to what the disciples were doing on the morning of the first day. The last we heard from them in Luke’s gospel they had been fighting over who was to be “greatest in the kingdom” (22:24); the intimate few had fallen asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane instead of standing watchful (22:39-46); Judas has betrayed Jesus with a kiss (22:47-48); and Peter had denied Jesus three times (22:54-62) in public then run off weeping. We do not see this pitiful lot again in Luke’s account until the women report back to them in hiding.

Where they prepared for Jesus’ death? It would be hard to suppose they were even prepared for his arrest given what is noted above by Luke. In John’s account we learn that it was Joseph of Arimethia and Nicodemas, two secret disciples of Jesus, who took charge of the body of Jesus after his death —not Jesus’ own apostles (John 19:38-42). It would seem a fair assumption that Jesus’ core entourage were not made aware of this as the women knew the location, but still showed up two days later to fully anoint the body. The apostles? They did nothing at all. It would seem they were huddled together somewhere “safe.” So, two relative outsiders (Nicodemas and Joseph of Arimethia) were more prepared for Jesus’ death than all of his closest allies: the chosen apostles and the women who had been his early financial supporters and followers (Luke 8:1-3). All of them had constant exposure to his teachings. This is not the first time that Luke clues us into their cluelessness.

Peter had denied Jesus three times and was riddled with guilt. The next we see Peter; he is with the other apostles hearing the report back from the women. He doesn’t believe it. But at least he sets out to investigate based on their report.  In an interesting side note, Peter’s first interrogator after Jesus’ arrest (by the fire) is “a servant girl” (22:56). If the witness of women had no power at all, why does Luke record this servant girl rattling Peter so?   All Luke tells us is after going to the tomb and finding it empty with the strips of linen lying about Peter “went away, wondering to himself what had happened.” (24:12).

Conclusions

Jesus’ arrest, trial, execution, burial and resurrection leave his closest followers and chosen apostles flat-footed and in various states of confusion and disarray. His appearances, which are enigmatically inaugurated by his non-appearance at the tomb, nonetheless begin the process of connecting the significance of his death and resurrection with all that he has previously warned them about. But it is only the women for whom the penny drops. Prior to being shocked by the empty tomb and being challenged to remember and recognize Jesus in a new way the women are stuck with a dead notion of Jesus — one where the appropriate response is to arrive with spices to anoint a dead body. Everyone’s concerns are anthropocentric. There is no Kingdom of God.

There are many ways to seek the “living among the dead” — to seek a dead Jesus instead of a living resurrected “Lord Jesus” as Luke begins to specialize the name. In the last Century good men like Albert Schweitzer insisted Jesus was not raised from the dead. They had a dead Jesus who was an ethical, but tragic hero of their own imagining—picking and choosing what they wished from the gospels to include/exclude according to their ideology.   A dead Jesus is far more manageable than a living one. It is still that simple.

Robert Tannehill sees in Jesus’ words a “path from rejection to glory,” marked by the word that is used in v.7 – “must,”  which means “it is necessary.” He notes that in two other post-resurrection appearances Jesus uses this in reference to scriptural fulfillments (v. 19-27; 44-49) concerning himself.[11] It is time for everyone to catch up to the reality of the risen Lord: “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.” (24:7). This is where the penny either drops or it doesn’t.

On a quieter note, the angel’s call to the women can also be seen as a call to meaningful biblical contemplation. Just as they made the connections between Jesus’ past teachings about himself and the realities of his death, and resurrection, we can approach the gospels as a way of doing the same. “Bible study” can be a powerful way of “remembering” (mimnhskesqai) and making fresh connections.

This contemplation on the “musts”  of the now resurrected Jesus both resolve the ideological and theological crisis constructed by a “misunderstood Jesus” (a dead Jesus) and they agree with the rhetorical question as if to say “We will no longer seek the living among the dead!” We have seen that the “musts” in this account by Luke are three-fold,  that he “must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” (24:7). Thus, for the women, what started in bafflement ended in breakthrough or an “aha!” experience as they remembered what Jesus taught them about himself in Galilee.[12] It is important to note that this experience happened not via his resurrection presence at the tomb (at least in Luke’s account) but rather in his resurrection absence at the tomb coupled with remembrance and recognition.

Luke presents a variety of responses to the empty tomb and the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection in 24:1-12. It stretches from recognition and belief, through bafflement and mystification, and ends with some simply choosing to disbelieve the report. Sooner or later any would-be follower has to grapple with the question of Jesus’ resurrection. For Luke, there is no point in speaking of Jesus’ Lordship in any other context.

Luke records the apostles’ disbelief in the women’s report, but is swift to record that their witness went public (ten verses later). The two men on the road to Emmaus report “but also some women among us amazed us.” And then they go on with what they had reported— telling it to the “stranger” who journeyed with them on the road (24:22-27).  That Luke names these women is significant and their witness endures.

 

[1]  Prince, Deborah Thompson “Why Do You Seek the Living among the Dead?: Rhetorical Questions in the Lukan Resurrection Narrative,” JBL 135  p. 123-139. Prince goes on to say “the author employs these rhetorical questions in accordance with ancient rhetorical theory to help provide a cogent argument for the truth of Jesus’s resurrection in the face of skepticism.” .

[3] Joel B. Green notes that Luke’s account neglects a number of immediate details and questions because “he wants to move quickly to the pivotal discovery of an empty tomb.” (The Gospel of Luke, NICNT Grand Rapids: Eermans, 1997 p. 837.

[4] Ibid., p. 837.

[5] Rigato, Maria-Luisa A Feminist Companion to Luke, edited by Amy-Jill Levine (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002) p. 269.

[6] Ibid., p. 270.

[7] To be clear, the saying “the penny drops” is used to say that “somebody has finally understood or realized something that they had not understood or realized before.”  Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries (online: http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/english/penny as found April 23, 2017). Used often with anticipating a realization as one might when putting a coin into a machine and having it temporarily stall. You wait for the coin to drop. This is its meaning in all subsequent usage in this paper.

[8] Green, Ibid., p. 839-840.

[9] We know from John’s gospel that John also ran to the tomb with Peter and found the same empty tomb (20:1-10).

[10] Green, Ibid., p. 836.

[11] Tannehill, Robert C. Luke, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996)  p.350

[12] It should also be noted that the resurrection shifts the concerns from anthropocentric ones “what do we do with the body of the dead Jesus?” and “how do we go on from here?” to theocentric concerns “how do we relate now to a risen Lord Jesus who has fulfilled all he said?”

The CENTER HOLDS: The Sophia of God

 

jesus_christ_at_hagia_sophia_large__copy

Pantocrater – Hagia Sophia – Istanbul

 

St. Paul’s use of the term “sophia” – “wisdom” (Greek- σόΦια) is constantly modified by the adjectives it is paired with and the general context of the passages it is couched within.

Thus, Paul prays for the Colossians “that they be filled ‘with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding’ (Col. 1:9) If the believers were not strong in the truth, they might fall prey to the ‘enticing words’ (2:4) of the Colossian heretics.” (S. L. Johnson, Jr. Bibliotheca Sacra, Oct. 1961.)

 The “Sophia” of the day was most notably split into mind/body dualistic terms with the Dionysian cult embracing the body and the Apollonians more the mind in a Platonic fashion:

Merton_Thomas600The true spiritual life is a life neither of dionysian orgy [irrational impulse, spontaneous, associated with creativity and experience] nor of apollonian clarity [as opposed to the dionysian, the apollonian seeks order, rationality, pattern and explanation]: it transcends both. It is a life of wisdom, a life of sophianic love. In Sophia, the highest wisdom principle, all the greatness and majesty of the unknown that is in God and all that is rich and maternal in His creation are united inseparably, as paternal and maternal principles, the uncreated Father and created Mother-Wisdom. … by the Spirit of Christ we are incorporated into Christ, Himself the ‘power and wisdom of God,’ so that Christ Himself thenceforth became our own life, and light and love and wisdom. [1]

Elsewhere, in Proverbs 8, it is noted that wisdom is personified of God in Creation (and patently maternal as “Lady Sophia”).

F.F. Bruce, notes the similarities between the powerful opening theologies of Colossians 1:15-17, John 1:1-4 and Hebrews 1:2-4, sayings.

All three passages have an OT background, which is seen especially in Prov. 8:22ff., where Divine Wisdom, personified, claims to have been with the Almighty at the beginning of His ways and to have been His assessor, if not His agent, in the work of creation.[2]

Bruce, following C.F. Burney’s lead, says, “The title ‘first-born’ [of all creation”], used of Christ here and in v. 18, echoes the wording of Ps. 89:27, where God says of the Davidic king: ‘I also will make him my first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth.’ [cf. on Rev. 1:5] But it belongs to Christ not only as the Messiah of David’s line, but also as the Wisdom of God.”[3]

While there is still much debate over what constituted the “Colossian Heresy” that Paul is vigorously addressing in his letter, there is little doubt about the positive things he is stating about Christ concerning wisdom:

2b…and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. –Colossians 2b-3.

As with his letter to the Corinthians, Paul sees the wisdom of the world as antithetical to the “wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1); but here in Colossians he goes a step farther by couching the wisdom of God in the very person of Christ both as the “First born of all creation” and also as the one in whom “all the treasures of wisdom (of sophia) and knowledge (of gnosis) are found.” So it really matters little what forms of σόΦια (wisdom) or γινόσις (knowledge) were being sold to the Colossians as they had Christ Himself – the ground of all wisdom and knowledge; the active source of it.

Colossians_0001_NEWBruce summarizes this well saying,   Whereas, in the Wisdom literature of the OT, Wisdom is at best the personification of a divine attribute or of the holy law, the NT writers know that, whether they speak of this Wisdom expressly or only by allusion, they are speaking of a living person, one whom some of them had met face to face. To them all, as to Paul, Jesus Christ was he incarnate Wisdom of God.[4]

After grounding them in the deepest theological Sophia in Christ, Paul then says:

Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord,  so walk in Him,  having been firmly rooted  and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed,  and overflowing with gratitude.                   -Colossians 2:6-7

This Paul places in constant juxtaposition with the false teachers and their rituals, “empty deceptions and the traditions of men,” (Colossian 2:8) trouncing again their mere ideas with the fullness of Christ’s Deity (2:9).

Now this same Living Wisdom of God and Knowledge of God who is the CENTER, and who reigns supreme now holds the Universe together. So says Paul in the same letter:

For  by Him all things were created,  both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He [ b]is before all things, and in Him all things [ c]hold together. -Colossians 1:16-17

So why we are running around in fear trying to control everything – and getting either more Religious or more militant because we sense that all of our CENTERS that we have constructed are falling apart (and they are because they are not the True Center and are made-up and don’t have the power or ability to “hold” youreally can relax a but as the True Center Holds.

I know that Pat Robertson had a dream where he saw Donald Trump “seated at the right hand of God,” but he’s just a senile old man with too much money – enough to stay on the air and keep blathering on incoherently.

Moving on. This a wonderfully unique time. With all the false “centes” disintegrating” – or about to – it is time to chuch (and I mean shot-put – our anthropocentric world-views as far from us as possible and re-adopt; or newly adopt a theocentric/christocentric world-view.

The Churches of America could be revolutionized in months if they gave themselves up as their central concern and loved Jesus first and people second. And if they stopped arguing away what Jesus said and started acting on it – whoa!

And why not? Has running things YOUR way been a goo

Liveitprint8_10

“Christ Who is our Life.”

d thing? Has the Church running it its way been a good thing? Don;t you see what all this EGO, Me-ism – We-theCenter stuff has produced in the way of fruit?

 

Yeah…garbage, suffering, fear and more breakdown to come.

Nice goin gang.

Try something different. Be relieved of the bondage of SELF (and its suckage) and live free where God is the CENTER (not Religion – oh no) God. The Love and grace of God and God;s loving Truth.

Read all of Colossians – shortest book. Listen to how completely SANE it is in its completeness. Geez.

Then set aside your fear, dead religion and need to control others.

********

[1] Merton, Thomas “From Faith to Wisdom,” New Seeds of Contemplation, (New York, New Directions Books) p.141.

[2] Bruce, F.F. New International Commentary of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans) p. 192.

[3] Bruce, Ibid., .” p. 194-195. See also commentary on Col. 2:3.

[4] Bruce, Ibid., p. 298

 

Free fall

ScreenHunter_164 May. 23 20.45FREEFALLING

On one of your days
A Thursday,
The universe
The whole damned thing
Just twists sideways.
And after some brief
Holding on
It gives you a
Little shake and
You just slip off
Neckwhip quick
Freefalling

Down through the rain clouds
The cool moon clouds
And thin evaporous clouds
Down falling
Through the wisps of winter smoke
Through the pothole in the ozone
And yood think
Yood land at some point
Or another
So you wait for that
Dull thud which
With so many others
Forms a dull
Alkaline rain.
But time passes
And the bottom doesn’t come
And you have these conversations
ON THE WAY DOWN
Lots of them
And others come
As you’re freefalling
To take large chunks
Out of your heart
Your time
Your mind
Your body
Your soul
And when they are done
Still others come
One by one
To pin their small notes
To your person
Which you can never remove
And which flutter
In the wind as you fly
On your
Way down.

Then you hit
Rock bottom
Emotionally
So you fly limp
Twisting and
Fluttering round and round
Spinning languid
Like a hollowed-out
Paper mache bird
With odd personal messages taped
To its wings.

So by now yood thing
Yood be through
What with the chunks missing
And the hope gone
And your life all
A flutter
Of insignificant
Personal notes
But its not.

You’ve only just begun
The freefalling
And after some time
One last chance
Begins to form in you
Just one last chance
To pull out of this dive
By sheer will
To climb all the way
Up and out
This long descent
And you imagine
What it would be like
Because you want that one last chance
So what do you do?
You look at the other poor bastards
Who fell just
When you did.

And you form
A support group
ON THE WAY DOWN
And I’m serious about this
You actually form a club
Of freefallers
And everyone who belongs
Gets a t-shirt
And with your remaining
Change you all send
A lobbyist ahead of you
To explain the nature
Of your falling.
And soon others come alongside
To help Y’all
Because
After all
You’re falling
And they’ve got some advice
On their hands
And you’ve got the time
Falling as you are
All the time with
No land in sight.
So you listen
And these men
(and they are always men)
Remind you
That there are definite ways
To navigate
While airborne
Even at your present trajectory
And you’re so tired of falling
And thinking of the inevitable
(which looks better and better
the more monotonous your fall becomes)
That you actually begin to
LISTEN TO THESE PEOPLE
And what they say
Begins to make sense
Because you desperately
Want something
Anything
To make sense.
So, you listen to the frequent flyers
Who swear on a stack o’ bibles
That they can fly
Right through those ozone holes
And grab the world like a lover
Plant their seed
And reap the market share.
And they always zoom by
In their fancy cars
Just to prove it
(only you notice their cars
Are always pointed down)

But you listen
Because they offer to teach
You a new skill:
How to read your instruments
How to navigate and fly
And you’ve been falling for so long
Without any real variation
(except the twist and roll)
That you see the wisdom
Of focusing on
Your instrument panel.
For years and years
As you’re falling and freefalling
They teach you the panel
You’re learning the panel
And studying it as you freefall
Until you know it
Dammit, You really know the thing
And they give you
Your pat on the back
And a shake
And two pieces of paper
Which join you to them forever
Now that you know how to fly
And how to read
The panel.
Well,
After the party
After the graduation party
And after you’ve slept off
The nails raging and jangling in your brain
You settle into your seat
Grab the controls
Check your instrument panel
And say
“That’s enough of this falling shit!”

And as you pull
That wheel back into your chest
It snaps clear off
In your hands
And the lighted panel of instruments
Goes dark and dead.

And you hear only
The wind.

Freefalling.

Colossians 1:1-2 Apostles, Saints & Where’s Waldo?

Scan

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father. 

Colossians 1:1-2

 

 

 

Well we run right over these verse to get to the “main stuff.”

Not so fast folk – what is an “apostle?” and is Paul’s calling by the “will of God” different than deciding to go to Seminary and go into ministry as a profession (hey! I’m in seminary!) the same thing? And when he calls out to “saints” is that like the really “holy miracle-inducing” ones at Colossae or does Paul mean something else?

Here is my basic exegetical commentary from my rather staid and lackluster (but accurate) book: (you can skip this if you must – or skim for technical notes):

1 Paul, an apostle ( “one sent out,” “an ambassador of the King of Kings“ – Wuest on Ro.1:1. An ambassador represents the King or President of his country over his own interests—in fact, the interests of his government are his interests. ) of Jesus Christ (“transliteration of the Heb. ‘Joshua,’ meaning ‘Jehovah is salvation,’”—Vine’s. “Yahweh to the rescue” — Darrell Johnson. ) by the will of God, (God’s choice, not Paul’s. The significantly longer explanation is in Galatians 1 where Paul says something similar then follows with “…the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came by revelation of Jesus Christ,” (1:11,12). And, “I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood,” (1:16). This simply means he didn’t get it from the other Apostles or anyone else but via direct revelation – and we see this in the fact he goes from Damascus directly to Arabia to preach the very Christ he had been persecuting (Galatians 1:17). See Acts 26:19; 1 Cor. 9:16; Acts 22:14. “…he went forth as Christ’s ambassador, laboring under    no    human    banner.”     -S.L.    Johnson, Bibliotheca Sacra, Oct. 1961. p. 336. “Ministers must be commissioned by the will of God” -Expositor’s Bible.) and Timothy our brother (This letter was probably dictated to Timothy.),  

col22 to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ (“in Christ” is the condition. Note that the brethren are addressed as both “in Christ” and “in Colossae”. They live both in Christ and in the world.) who are at Colossae: (Location: south of Laodicea and south-east  of Ephesus in Asia  Minor. While Paul  knew  several members, he had never visited this church.) Grace (“Unmerited favor”) to you and peace (According to William Barclay, peace has a positive meaning in Biblical usage; it is more than just the absence of pain and suffering. Barclay comments, “In the NT peace has one meaning more often than any other, and it is a meaning which was carried over from Jewish thought and usage. Peace is right relationships in every sphere of life.” (Flesh and Spirit, p. 85-86). Barclay’s assertion brings into focus the relationship between peace and  righteousness, as both contain the emphais on “right-relatedness”. It is also significant to note Dr. James Stewart’s observation that Jesus, having no possessions to leave His followers said instead, “My peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.”— John 14:27. ) from God our Father (No matter how disguised or besmirched our personal or cultural notion of “fatherhood” is, God is our true Father, and“fatherhood” is defined by His character, not our earthly fathers, the very best of which “disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He [God] disciplines us for our good …”—Hebrews 12:10.   Even the best fathers of our generation have only done what they perceived was best—but our Father in heaven, by contrast, knows true good concerning us. ).

*******

I wrote it in the 90s hoping to inspire others to both study scripture and also to explore the true glory of Christ. You can see how successful I have been!

To be honest the only person who seems to be as captivated (besides Darrell Johnson who I spoke with recently) up in Canada) is me.

So I am happy with that. If you are going to obsess on something in this life I think the glory of the Risen Christ is a pretty good and healthy thing. No one else – not even my wonderful girlfriend so captivates me (nor do I her – which is one of the things we love about each other).

Back to Him.

Paul is the oddest of the Apostles. The others spent years with Jesus and loved Him. Paul hated Jesus and headed up persecution of the infant church until Jesus knocked him off his transport to Damascus and said “Saul Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

Then he made him the “ambassador” to the Gentiles.

You can imagine that for quite awhile wherever Paul (formerly Saul) stayed, his hosts slept with one eye open.

In many of his letters Paul mentions this divine call, but in his letter to the Galatians he goes into detail in the first chapter explaining that not only was his appointment divine – it was also taught him directly by Christ and not by any man. We know that shortly after his conversion he went away to Arabia – did not consult with the Apostles in Jerusalem – and then returned to Damascus to preach the Gospel (Galatians 1:16-18).

You might think he would want their approval. He doesn’t. In fact, he clearly distances himself from them making it clear that when he finally did meet them it was quick and cordial only.

Apostles?

We don’t really have “apostles” any more as it would seem they need any extremely direct calling to found churches and be discipled by Jesus Himself.

I have never met one.

I have heard of men who have claimed such in the USA – and they always seem to end up coming up cultic in the end. Some new doctrines. I think it is probably difficult enough to be a pastor and hold it together.

But having once been a pastor I can related in some very small degree (and I mean small) to receiving direct guidance in major situations. Of course I was under orders. It is a funny story.

The Divine Prankster

I was an associate pastor and an intellectual in a fairly charismatic church – proving that God has a delicious sense of humor and can be quite the prankster.

The senior pastor, knowing my propensity for logical argument and reliance on persuasive words of wisdom also recognized the gift of evangelism and wanted yo use me occasionally as the substitute speaker at the end of the free rock concerts we had on Saturday nights.

Oh, what to do with me and my handicap?

Well he ordered me not to prepare any notes or a speech/presentation. Ordered.

Back then the only thing I feared more than God was him (I know, I know…he is maybe 6 inches shorter but I thought he towered over me).

He said I had to just wait in the prayer room while the concert was going on and pray for the Holy Spirit to “give you the message.”

Oh great. I mean technically this is all fine and good…but so is walking up in front of 1500 people with absolutely nothing to say…which you can probably handle at 58, but is not so easy at 28.

But doggone it if he was not correct. I mean it was close a couple times (I felt pranked once for sure because no message till I grabbed the mic..I mean c’mon).

Here is what I learned – I learned how to use my cerebral/analytical alongside an absolute openness existentially to divine leading in the moment while “reading” the crowd empathetically. The key was just me “getting out of the way” – and you (me) are so scared that is really easy.

I mean at that moment you want no part of you.

So Pastor Louis Neely did me one of the greatest services of my life when he “forced” me to do that back in 1985 because I have been using it ever since in intense situations. They are smaller situations – like  a guy has a gun in my face in SF (2010); those guys with the golf clubs (last year) and the gun in Oakland; the guys in the Safeway in Santa Cruz (2012) – or the guy doing the hold-up on the light rail up in Portland (2011)- etc… I get the best “intel” ever. I am never in danger – not really.

In fact, in Portland I even complained when I heard the ruckass – “I suppose you want ME to deal with this?”

Uh-huh.

As I tell Laura – I am “not really smart at all – I just listen well.”

Now, to be clear. I am not called to even be a pastor. I lasted a total of 3 years total in two positions. I am very “pastoral” – true. But I could not do what my brothers and sisters do for even a month.

Now of course if you disbelieve in God none of this makes any sense at all – and if you do you may still be incredulous. Hey, all I can say is I am not all that happy about it most of the time myself. It is not like God’s “intel” is giving me Joel Osteen tips on getting rich or how to better polish me teeth. No – it’s usually how to keep some other guy from buying a bullet or a beating – and while I have never felt in danger – technically when a guy is waving a gun in your face and says he wants your wallet it could go off.

And then you are a mess if your are not finished off.

Saints

Now in the interest of both the peace and grace that Paul speaks of (“right-relationship in every sphere of life”) between all the brethren (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant) let us dwell simply on the core Greek meaning of the word “saints” or “hagios” – “set apart ones.”

There is much to be derived from the rich tradition and views of all three strains, or what is called “hagiography.”

If you are a protestant and have a problem with some Catholics who pray to “Saints” then don’t do it and by all means show by example the supremacy of Christ. But, in fact, modern Protestantism does not show the supremacy of Christ at all – but the supremacy of  Personal Betterment – and the saints they venerate and speak of are Pastor Hagee, Joel Osteen, Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn and Creflo Dollar (to name a few).

As my friend Stephen Scott use to ask “Is it Rome by name or Rome by nature?”

The Orthodox set the “Saints” before us largely through iconography, which in turn points us (or can) to some intense writings.

Again, Protestants object (well we are built to “protest” after all – which explains why we are constantly splitting over any objection – it’s just in our spiritual DNA). claiming that icons are “idoatrous” or “graven images.”

gregorythegreatNow this is really funny – because after doing THAT – the Protestant (Western) world lets in every imaginable idolatrous image in the front, side and back doors (and up through the basement, in through windows – you name it – let it ALL flood in!!)

We are awash in images – but keep out those little painted ones of St. Gregory the Great!

I’d scream if it wasn’t so funny.

So funny.

Rxtraordinary “Saints”

The lives of the “Saints” can be prescriptive – a remedy of sorts (Rx) in a thin and superfluous age of televangelists who model opulence and put their seal of approval on the idols of our culture.

Read of the Martyrs of North Africa and it will sober up your faith and it will inspire you. watch the televangelists and it will sink you deeper into your couch.

I random sampling (I had not planned to do this so I do not know the outcome – I just suspect it) of the top money-making Evanglists and how they expose people to the supremacy of Christ (which is the centerpiece of Paul presentation to the Colossians)  on their websites:

Pastor John Hagee (https://shop.jhm.org/shop#) comes in with an impressive array of Betterment books with everything from how to vote American/Biblical, to a a number of “prosperity while the world ends” books. Nothing about God front and center – or Christ – but an interesting book on David as a book on a “Rich man” in the Bible.

ScreenHunter_17 Jul. 06 10.36

By the way “Covenant” and “Foundations of the Faith” return neither.  It’s all Betterment stuff just as easily filed under self-help with no Christian message at all. . 

How to be “Happy in an Unhappy World,” “Desperate Wives” of the Bible – it’s all here and splashed with patriotic garb.

Jesus is like Waldo.

PerpetFelcross51

Perpetua, the noblewoman and martyr and Felecity her servant and faithful friend and martyr.

One thinks of the 22 year old martyr Perpetua who had her infant taken from her and was rejected by her father before her death. Her defense of the faith was amazing and beyond brave.

The Church still remembers Perpetua and her faith inspires us.

Joel Osteen tomorrow.