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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One for All

St. Tim's stained glass window

Jesus of Nazareth is a puzzlement. A paradoxical figure who does not become clearer to us the farther we are from lst century Palestine. The farther we get from the first more approximate witnesses to his life. But Jesus’ importance lies precisely in this strange, often off-putting man whose family thought he was crazy, posed a threat to the religious and political establishment, and was a devout Jew who worked on the Sabbath and went around with a ban of fishermen, and with any and everyone who came to his table, and even kept company with women! He not only upset the tables outside the Temple but upset everyone’s apple cart. We shy away from this Jesus. A man who stood everything his fellow Jews believed on its head. If we pay attention to his whole story, not just the parts we are comfortable with, that carry more sentimentality than truth or have been emphasized to the exclusion of others, we are faced with a person whose image cannot be sprayed with fixative or content ourselves with neat or systematic pictures of this man. And by wanting to assert his divinity – his extraordinary closeness to God – much of him and his reason for living and dying have been eclipsed.

One thing we can say with some certainty. He provoked change. He invited transformation. He stood at a moment in time between the faith of his fathers, the patriarchs of Israel, and a faith that would follow him and gather together, take up faith in the God of Life, Yahweh, and transform how we would now see, know and experience God, because now God has a human face. As the echoes of Isaiah gather about him, he brought once more the good news, now in his person, where God’s cause became his. Where God’s promise might yet come about.

He took up the cause of the marginal and dispossessed, of outcasts and of sinners, of lepers and prostitutes, the disfigured and the demented. Because of this he would be betrayed, betrayed so that he could become the one through whom (like Joseph) the betrayed and outcasts, the slaves and the homeless, could be numbered among the elect.

The history of the world collapsed on Calvary, as Jesus secured a place in the kingdom of God for those who were believed to be set outside this kingdom. On that hill he held the history of the Jews in himself, their suffering and their cries to their Lord, their beliefs and hopes, their sense of forsakenness and the deafening silence of false gods. All of history that would follow culminated there as well, in him who would stand for, live and die for all who would come after and follow in the footfall of his people through the vast wilderness of plenty and loss, suffering and chaos, hardship and the endless renewal of life which would rise out of the collapse of the world as he breathed his last. In him Israel would rise. In him all that have come after would rise as well. Rise to the possibility and promise of life saved, redeemed and whole.

He came for many. For many he lived. To many he taught. And for many he healed. But in the end he died for all. He died, not for sins, but for all, so that we might become healed and whole, and experience in him the reign of the Holy One of Israel in our lives. For he too could say, echoing the words of Joseph, you meant it for evil, but God – my Father – meant it for good. And Jesus was and is that good.

 

 

 

Takin’ it to the Streets

       I will make my home among them; I will be their God and they shall be my people.

Following close on the image of the earthen ware jars, is the image of the tent, in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Paul was both a tentmaker and a man on the move. Change was not something foreign to Paul. Paul’s went to the cities, to the very streets where his converts lived. He posted himself outside his dwelling, on the street, so that people could come and converse with him about the gospel. It seems almost prophetic that the Champion of the Jewish Jesus would be a tentmaker.

The story of the Hebrew people is the story of prophecy and praise, promise and fulfillment. It is also the story of Yahweh. Yahweh, the gypsy-god who journeyed with the Israelites, pitching his tent with them as he led them through the wilderness. It is the story of the transformation of a nation; it is the story of the transformation of their God. It is the story of the God of Israel, as both author and protagonist, revealing himself through his Spirit until one day his Word would become flesh and pitch his tent among us.

When David arrived outside the city proper of Jerusalem, Yahweh said to him Jerusalem will be the city where my name lives. Jerusalem means Yahweh-is-there. Yahwehsham.

Before David enters Jerusalem, he has the arc of the covenant brought back from where it was variously neglected and then stored for safekeeping while the people ready themselves to enter the promised land. David has built himself a house of cedar there and is about to do the same for the arc. But Yahweh sends Nathan to David saying:

You are not the man to build me a house to dwell in. I have never dwelled in a house from the day I brought Israel out until today, but went from tent to tent, from one shelter to another.

It will be Solomon who will build him a house, not David. He assures David he will keep his promise to Israel. So until the Temple is built the arc, the place where Yahweh’s name lives, is in a tent. I love the voice of Yahweh here. You can almost hear laughter in his voice, with a sense of irony and a sense of could you get it right for once! Apparently, God is wanting a real home, a home that will last, along with his people.

2 Corinthians 1-5 is a mangle of metaphors. He goes from the image of the earthbound, transitory tent we live in today giving way to our permanent home in heaven; the home building by a hands-on God which is waiting for us. Then Paul says that in anticipation of Christ’s coming, which he and Jesus’ first followers would be soon, we don’t want to be found without clothes. Then he reverts back to the image of the tent over which we should (I believe this is what he is eluding to) put on Christ, the new garment of faith.

My take away from this passage as it resonates with the images of the tent throughout the scriptures is that in this transitory life, God journeys with us, pitching his tent with us as we go. Our transformation into the God-life which becomes available to us today readies us for the new way of being, a new way of being that has begun now. Begun now in the Word who became flesh who became Yeshua of Nazareth, who, like his Father, pitches his tent among us.

Perhaps we too need to take the message of the Good News in Christ Jesus, like Paul, to the streets.

Paul and the Law

I feel like I am procrastinating on the schedule I set for myself here. By now I had planned on reading and writing about lst and 2nd Corinthians. As I read over these two letters at, I must say there is reason to procrastinate. For those who view Paul as a chauvinist, Corinthians provides their proof text. Perhaps.

But I do want to discuss one last and important theme running through Galatians and into Paul’s later letters. It is that of the law. In all of Paul’s letters we hear him warning the people about their behavior. In a word, it should exemplify behavior which does credit to Jesus, to be an example to others as bearers of the Christ they have received, faithful witness in their lives to the faith Paul has preached and that is now theirs. They can imitate the behavior of Jesus Christ in Paul himself. On the one hand Paul hears about their misbehaving warning them to shape up and they have asked him what in fact it does mean to be a follower of The Way, of Jesus.  I live now not I but Christ lives in me.

This is where Paul will launch into his diatribe on the Law. As I said earlier, it is something Paul wrestles with and within himself; at one point in his life he was a faithful Jew and kept to the Mosaic Law. His Gentile followers want to know if in order to follow Jesus do they too, like Paul and Jesus before them, follow the Mosaic Law, become Jewish as an entree into their life in Christ. Paul begins his schema citing the promise made to Abraham and follows it through to finding fulfillment in Christ. This is something the law, Paul says, could not do. Then he talks about the law bringing sin. I always had a hard time understanding this, if the Mosaic Law was good?  If it brought sin why would Yahweh go to all the trouble, and he did, of giving it to the people and telling them that observing the law was requisite Yahweh being their God and them being his people? Abraham was not justified, or made righteous, by the Law. Only by faith in God.  Part of what Paul is getting at is the laws only tells you when you are misbehaving. The key here is in Deuteronomy. In Chapter 4 of Deuteronomy Yahweh tells the people that as they go into the land he had given them, that they are to keep the laws and customs he enjoins on them. This is how they will demonstrate their fidelity to him. In Deuteronomy 6:4-13, begins with the Hebrew prayer called the Shema, that beings Hear, O Israel, Yahweh is God, Yahweh alone…This prayer is still prayed by the Hebrew community today.

Yahweh gave the law to the people to take with them as they went into the Promised Land. The law was given them so that they would have something that governed their relationships with the other people they would be neighbor to, to each other and to God. In other words the law was given to set out the parameters of their relationships with others and with Yahweh.  You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. Let these laws I urge on you be written on your heart. There it is. The Mosaic Law and its purpose. This is not a law written on stone.  It is the law to be carried in one’s heart. It is the law to carry with you in your heart, repeat to their children, take with you walking or at home, rising up or lying down. In other words, make it the very part of your being. In this was right living. To be righteoused–which means to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

So what is Paul talking about? There is the Law and then there is the law. Sometimes Paul is referring to the Mosaic Law and at other times he is referring to the minutia that the law had evolved into; prescriptions for every little thing, like you could be stoned by pulling your ox out of hole on the Sabbath.

The story of Israel will break your heart. It is the story of repeated captivity, oppression, wandering and waiting for a savior to come to end the exiles and oppressions. But it wasn’t happening. So along the way some decided that they needed to do better, to be better. Of course, the Hebrew Scriptures has a lengthy accounting of the Prophets also railing at the people to get back on track. Repent. But by the time of Jesus and Paul it was primarily the Pharisees who set out these laws; really superstitions they believed would cause the messiah to come and save them. The monks at Qumran were thus motivated as well.

In Galatians Paul finally comes back to the spirit of Deuteronomy and concludes that the sum total of the law resides in what we now call The Golden Rule. Love your neighbor as yourself.

I suggest you read Deuteronomy. It is significant in the story of Israel. It is the story of Israel. And it is wonderful, beautiful. In it is the heart of a loving God. The God in Christ that Paul brings to us.