Why I Do This

brillant leaves

Someone recently asked me why I do this (i.e. write this blog). Well, it began as an exercise in reading the letters of St. Paul and putting down in writing for forty days of Lents a journey in Christ with St. Paul.

Why I’ve continued, however, is a rainbow of reasons. One is my need to share with others; especially when I find something I am passionate about. And I am passionate about the scriptures. And the person of Jesus Christ. If I could just convey to others what a difference he makes in our lives. And the absolute unswerving power of faith. And for me the center of this is in the scriptures, in the Word become flesh, in the person of Jesus as the Christ. Too, I search. And this is how I search. For what it means to be a Christian. How to live life in Christ.

Also, because at heart I’m a teacher (i.e. sharer). The bible is a great piece of literature. Every human experience is written there. As I watch the characters’ lives unfold, I am gain insights into the drama of my own life. I believe these stories help me understand life, help me grow and above all find God at the best and worst times of my life. I believe we are inherently oriented to grow, like living plants reaching for the sun. I know people are changed by hearing the stories of other people’s journeys. Yahweh and Yeshua of Nazareth live today in these pages. So you may see here too that I am fiercely committed to the importance of the story of Israel in understanding the story of Christianity; for the story of Israel is the story that Jesus carried with him as he entered the synagogue each Sabbath morning to read from the sacred scrolls.

This past summer a much loved professor, mentor and friend passed away. He was an ‘Old Testament’ scholar. I went to grad school enthusiastic about the Word. And Ben Asen fired my love for the Hebrew Scriptures permanently and forever. He was a great teacher, passionate about the bible, its poetry and its prophets. He gave me a great gift. I would like to pass that gift on if I am able.

The biblical characters in many real ways are still alive in us today. Alive in how we mature, or don’t, alive in the journeys we make in faith, the challenges we face from within and without, our heroism, our pluck and pint-size attempts to live more fully realized lives; alive as we wrestle with angels, cross barren deserts, succumb to our fears and doubts, try simply to survive in a foreign land, or set out from Egypt with Pharaoh on our heels; where we are often not led by the better angels of our nature but those that hobble us and leave us limping through life, when we feel or are marginalized, until upon the rough seas there appears one who will overcome the forces that toss us about and rage against a fuller life, where our sight is restored, our dis-ease becomes a better facility to navigate the shoals, where we stand taller and walk straighter, and fine we are led by the hand and heart onto that safe place, where the good news he brings prevails and no earthly force has been able to kill it.

 

 

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The End if the Beginning

As Paul proceeds through to the close of his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, he extols a rather lengthy ‘apologia’. It is a defense of his ministry in light of the challenges he faces more from those inside the faith they share than outside it. But as he moves toward this impassioned close he prefaces it by saying that everything he says and does has one goal. To win people over to faith in Christ.

He encapsulates this message owning that when he is away from the believers he can be a bully and when he is with them he is humble with the patience and peace of Christ.

In the final chapters of the 2nd letter to the Corinthians Paul says what he has said before, just more nuanced. And more Pauline lengthy. More Pauline boastful. More Pauline profound. And yet beneath all the bravado is a humility heard when he finally says God’s grace is enough. We can see that it is God’s grace in Paul that sees him through. Keeps him going. He goes on without giving up, bolstered by God’s grace, and Paul’s love for the people he has brought to faith in Christ. He knows that they are vulnerable at the outset. It’s a vulnerability he carries within him as well. By opening himself up to his own vulnerability, he is also opening himself up to further intimacy with those to whom he went to preach Christ risen. That is partly why he rises to a level of so-called bullying. He wants to encourage them in the face of their questions, doubts and the challenges they will face from non-believers. Beyond that to clear away the obstacles to further intimacy with God in Christ. He will do whatever needs to be done, expend himself in any way so the Goods News lives and flourishes in his newly formed believers. He does this with a demanding urgency believing that they too will soon experience the risen Lord who he believe will come again in his and their lifetimes.

Perhaps the crux of the matter is this: On the one hand Paul is affectionate and passionately cares for his converts when he is with them. However, when out of their sight, in the letters he addresses to them, he rises to his full powers when confronted with those who do not yet reflect the Christ life. He arms himself with a righteousness, (which is his own sense of being saved by Christ, where it is done on earth as it is in heaven) knowing himself to be one with Christ and with the absolutely certainty of the Christ he preaches, especially when faced with the challenges that met him as he brought the ideas and reality of the new faith, the new way of being one with God, to nonbelievers.

Challenges even from other apostles. The dilemma of those who are posing to preach Christ but have other agendas in mind. It is not just an lst century Palestinian problem. Then there are those who apparently have also hurled at him the charge that he did not go around with Jesus himself. Did not know Jesus in the flesh. Perhaps his message is skewed as well. Paul continues with an unrivaled confidence. Because he says over and over it is not from himself but from God that his mission comes. For that reason Paul often acquiesced for the sake of the gospel and for fellowship within the one message and one body in Christ which is so all important to him. Even to remain in fellowship with the other apostles costs him dearly.

But perhaps that too is part of the plan as well. Paul knew and experienced Jesus Christ in another way. It appears perhaps in a more intimate way. Perhaps even in a more profound way, because he experienced the risen Lord. Paul, why are you persecuting me? This certainty, this passion, the strength of his belief and experience will father the faith that will come to be known as Christianity.

Before the gospels were written, Paul preached Christ to others personally. He did not compose a story of the Christ-event. The gospels are very important. They are significant chronicles of the Jesus who walked Judea and through them can walk into our hearts and lives. Paul encountered the risen Lord. He went to the people. He knew Christ in a singular way without having the experience of Jesus of Nazareth. And it is in this way that we too know and come to the risen Lord as well.

 

Why Paul?

Why Paul?
At the outset of Galatians Paul issues a warning to the infant community who has apparently strayed from the Good News, going off on a different path, perhaps adapting what Paul taught them when he was there. As the various communities that Paul preached to would have to live out the message Paul gave to them, they would also have to contend with challenges from without and most likely from within their own ranks, to the Christ he preached to them.
Paul is so adamant that they not listen to anyone about faith he preached to them. He would not tolerate anyone leading his converts astray. And he really doesn’t care what anyone says or thinks about him. You can hear his uncompromising determination to warn the community at Galatia to listen only to him. Why? Because he is a servant of Christ.
This is a very important letter. In it Paul begins to shape his theology. It is not systematized nor will it coalesce into full bloom until later. You might say Paul is a process theologian, adapting ways to convey the one faith he is determined to keep to and spread in his mission to the Gentiles. In this letter we come to the crux of the problem that will tie Paul in knots trying to work through. The problems that assail him and the early communities who would have faith in Jesus Christ. What actually to the non-Jewish Gentiles have to conform to in order to actually become a member of this new faith?
Those issues were: did they, like Jesus and Paul, have to become Jewish first before they could become christians? Did they have to adhere to the Mosaic Law and did they have to be circumcised; submit to the ritual of initiation into the Jewish faith.
At the heart of this issue is who Paul is himself. And who Jesus was. Paul and Jesus were very different men. Although we can no longer depict Jesus as meek and mild, from the gospels we see a person who did not travel very far from where he was born, had a great number of people following him about, traveled with at least twelve others, probably more, and taught by sitting on a hill side telling stories. He went among the people and ate with all kinds of people, including sinners. As we will see this became a bone of contention among the first apostles of Jesus after his death. Purity, keeping oneself apart from those unclean (‘sinners’) and the wicked was requisite to being a good Jew.
Paul, on the other hand, as we have seen from his letters so far, was dynamic in a different way. He traveled widely, could be fierce and fiery, would brook no dissention in the ranks, and traveled with only a few companions, sometimes only one assistant who would transcribe the letters he dictated. He was urbane, educated as a Pharisee, and this is the real clincher – he began his life persecuting those who followed Jesus.
So why would God chose Paul to spread faith in Jesus Christ far and wide when there were surely men who were more qualified, who had gone around with Jesus, who may have known him better and could attest to his life and teachings? Surely Paul was an unlikely candidate for this calling. And yet, true to who Paul was, he was absolutely convinced that he had been chosen by God, had an experience of the risen Lord and by God’s grace he was called to promote, teach and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Because who better to convince you of something than someone who was against it in the first place. Who would be more credible? And at the outset of Paul’s career, it was still believed that this was another form, a truer form of the faith of Israel, and he was called by the God of Israel. And that the risen Lord was born, lived and died a Jewish man. Before his followers would be called Christian they were called the People of the Way. Because Jesus had said, I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. And I believe that we cannot understand Christianity until we understand Judaism. We cannot really understand story of Jesus until we understand the story of Israel.
Tomorrow as we proceed through Galatians, we will come to the intersection, the crossroads and the beginning of the parting of Judaism from itself.