Tuesday, March 30, 2010

CRF: Preparing for Summer

I’d be a little worried that a talk like this could end up being something like new years resolutions. Maybe you all are far more disciplined, but there’s no sense in have high hopes and good intentions and not achieving much of anything. The way to plan well for the summer is by beginning now what you hope to achieve and accomplish over the summer. And for most of us, some kind of accountability and planning is necessary.

Planning for Summer from Holy Week
As it turns out, today is Monday of Holy Week, a week in which Christians have traditionally focused prayers and meditation and worship on the sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus. So I’ve grouped my exhortations around three passages thematic linked by the approaching passion and death of our Savior. But it should be pointed out that all human planning ought to always be done from the vantage of the passion and death of Jesus. And this week happily underlines that for us. Who we are is bound up with the death and resurrection of this man. How could it not affect everything for us?

Set His Face Toward Jerusalem
“Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem… ‘No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’” (Lk. 9:51-53)

There came a point in Jesus’ ministry in which He knew that His ministry was coming to a climax. Sometimes we talk as though Jesus was God controlling a man suit from a robotic control center somewhere inside the person of Jesus. But if Jesus was in fact one human person with both human and divine natures fully present, we must realize that the psychology of being Jesus is far more complex than we can really imagine. There are hints that Jesus knew and understood a great deal, but there are also hints that Jesus truly faced the unknown, pain, temptation, etc. truly as human being. However these realities sorted out in the consciousness of Christ, He nevertheless made the decision to go to Jerusalem, and this resolution is to be mimicked by His disciples.

We cannot know the future, but we are to be lords of time by faith in the One who rules time. We must always say, ‘if the Lord wills’ and at the same time, we must plan and execute those plans with courage and wisdom. This means assessing the lay of the land with regard to your interests, gifts, strengths, weaknesses, proceeding to get counsel, and then planning to use your time and resources to the best of your ability. It is always freeing to be ‘in the will of God’ and the Word and the Spirit are the leading for this.

Is it lawful (Word)? Is it strategic for the Kingdom (Word)? Are you good at it (Spirit)? Is their opportunity/need for it (Spirit)?

Loved His Own, Loved them to End
“Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” (Jn. 13:1-5)

Jesus loved His own, and He loved them to the end. In other words, He loved them to the death. Who are your own that you are called to love? How are you planning to love them this summer? And how are you planning to love them to the death? Obviously, this should include people like your family and relatives, your spouse or future spouse/children, and other friends.

Notice that this love also extends to the unlovely and to enemies. Jesus knows that one of His closest friends will betray Him, but this does not mean that Jesus shorted Judas with any of His love. Jesus washed Judas’s feet too. Who are your own betrayers/enemies that you are called to serve and love? Maybe they are not personal enemies, but they are enemies for the sake of the gospel. Who are they? What are their names? And how will you love them this summer?

I love the fact that it says, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands … rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself… poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet…” Jesus was given all things. All things were in His hands, and He knew that He was to return to the Father in glory. And with that knowledge of great power and authority, He laid aside His garments and began to wash the disciples’ feet.

We rightly emphasize the fact that service is the path to glory and greatness, but there is another sense in which when God gives us opportunities to serve, we ought to see those opportunities as gifts that God gives to those who are authorized for them. In other words, if greatness is serving, then God reckons us great enough for the task that He gives. This looks ahead to the next passage, but do despise little jobs, lowly tasks or service. For those who would be great must become servants of all. So who will you love this summer? How will you wash their feet?

The Child is the Father of the Man
“But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mk. 10:42-45)

One item to note here is that Jesus is not rebuking his disciples for wanting to be great. He’s rebuking His disciples for settling for something less than great. It’s like a child who saves up $100 and declares that she will spend it all on M&Ms. Of course there’s a place to splurge, and there’s even a time for candy and M&Ms. But a wise parent will probably encourage the child to diversify a bit.

Ruling like the gentiles is childish. It’s based on the power of force and violence and manipulation. But it’s not real authority or power. It’s temporary and short-sighted.

Jesus did not wait to start serving either. Jesus came to serve and to give His life as a ransom. Of course this principally points to the crucifixion, but His entire life was practice for the main event. Wherever you find yourself this summer; make sure it’s practicing for the main event.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Bread for the Crowds

The Passover meal in which Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper is really the third Eucharistic meal in the gospel of Mark. In the feeding of the 5000, Jesus takes bread, gives thanks, and gives it his disciples to give to the crowd. In the feeding of the 4000, Jesus takes bread, gives thanks, and gives it to his disciples to give to crowd. In the upper room, Jesus takes bread, gives thanks, and gives it to his disciples. And the implication is clear. The disciples are to take this bread, this meal to the crowd. And we know from the early chapters of Acts that this is exactly what they did: they were breaking bread from house to house, and before long there were so many widows, deacons were appointed to help oversee the distribution of bread. The disciples were faithful in handing out the bread that the Lord had given to them. But this not just any bread. This is the body of our Lord Jesus broken for you. This is the body of our King enthroned on a cross, ruling over death from inside of His tomb, the body of the risen Lord who has been given the name that is above every name that at His name every knee should bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father. This is not just any bread; this bread for the world, bread for the hungry crowds out there. Do not send them away hungry. Do not tell them to go back to the cities and find dinner. If they are hungry, tell them there is bread. And do not worry about whether there will be enough. There is always enough. There is enough for you and for the crowds. The Shepherd King has come for His sheep, and He will always feed them. So come, your King is here.


Sins of Youth

Trinity is a relatively young congregation. While some of you are as ancient as the hills, the lot of you are young. You are young children, you are young men, young women, young adults, young marrieds, and young parents. This means that we as a congregation must recognize that we are tempted largely by the sins of youth. You are tempted to rebel against godly authority, and You are tempted to replace those godly authorities with pathetic substitutes like professional athletes, cutting edge authors, rock stars, political pundits, celebrities of every stripe, and all manner of foolish friends in your desperate attempts to be hip and cool and intelligent. You are tempted to excess: if one beer is good, two must be better. And if you can’t quote me a verse, you can’t make me stop. You struggle with self control and discipline. How much time do you spend on Facebook? Video games? Chatting/Texting/Whatever? You are tempted to lust for worldly power, glory, beauty, and sex. And while these temptations and sins are not limited to young people, they are the typical battles. And you need to know two things: First, the God you serve desires to bless you out of your mind. He has things prepared for you that you cannot even begin to imagine. And these things include but are not limited to deep and abiding joy, glory that pours down on your head, and satisfying pleasures that do not end. But the God you serve will not give His children a stone when they ask Him for bread. He is not satisfied with cheap substitutes, and He is not pleased when His children settle for less than the best. But the best comes through the cross. The best comes through serving, through giving up yourself. True glory, true authority, true pleasure comes through putting to death the lusts of the flesh and giving yourself away for others. Serve your parents, bless your brother, help your sister, bless your roommate, minister grace to your spouse, keep on loving those little ones. Out of the trenches of homework and housekeeping and giving rides and changing diapers and studying for exams and disciplining your children and serving your employer, out of those trenches will emerge many kings and queens. Jesus rode into Jerusalem like a king, but He was not enthroned until He had shed his blood for His people.

“Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!” (Ps. 25:7)


Palm Sunday: Triumphal Entry By Night: Mk. 14:12-31

Today we celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Lent as a season is a call to follow Jesus, and the gospels make it plain that this means following Jesus to Jerusalem where He was crucified. This road to Jerusalem culminates in Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem amid acclamations and palm branches, but Mark goes on to show us a second triumphal entry. And today we consider why.

Royalty Previewed
Mark records the first entry in chapter 11 and the second entry in chapter 14. We should begin by noting that both triumphal entries are preceded by recognitions of Jesus’ royalty. In Mk. 10:46-52, Jesus heals blind Bartimaeus in Jericho. Not only does Jericho remind us of the conquest under Joshua, but Bartimaeus calls out and addresses Jesus as “Son of David” (Mk. 10:47-48). In Mk. 14:3-9, Jesus is anointed with very costly oil. Jesus says that this anointing is for his burial, but we know that the burial of Jesus is the beginning of His enthronement. Jesus alludes to the royal undertones of this action by referring to the anointing/burial as “this gospel which will be preached in the whole world” (14:9).

Royalty Enacted
In Mk. 11:1-6 there is a curious amount of space used to describe how two disciples go ahead of Jesus into Jerusalem to find a colt, details about their interaction with those who wonder what they are doing, and Christ’s authority over it all. Likewise, and this is where the parallels become unmistakable, in Mk. 14:12-16, Jesus again sends two disciples ahead into Jerusalem this time to find a room to celebrate Passover. Again they are given detailed instructions about how to interact with those they see and speak to, and Christ’s authority over it all. In both stories Jesus sends His disciples as royal attendants, as messengers of the King. And in both stories, the authority of the King extends to all of the details.

The King Enthroned
In Mk. 11:7-10, Jesus rides into Jerusalem publically, unmistakably in the form of an ancient Israelite king (e.g. 1 Kg. 1:33ff, 2 Kg. 9:13). This regal procession goes all the way into the temple (Mk. 11:11, cf. Ps. 118) where Jesus begins inspecting the house of God and finds it defiled with robbers (MK. 11:15ff). Jesus comes to make His Father’s house a house of prayer and mercy (Mk. 11:17, 25-26, 12:33, 40), but because it is full of robbers who devour widows houses (Mk. 12:41-44), Jesus declares its destruction (Mk. 13:1-2). In Mk. 14:17, Jesus goes into Jerusalem by night and begins inspecting His house of friends which includes a robber who will betray Him (Mk. 14:18-21, cf. Jn. 12:6). Here, despite the betrayer, Jesus offers prayer and true sacrifice in the meal that memorializes His own death, and yet Jesus foretells that this “house” will also be struck and the stones will be scattered (Mk. 14:27ff). Both houses will be struck, but the difference is Jesus. Where Jesus is, there is healing and mercy and fellowship (Mk. 14:3).

Jesus is Still King: From Glory to Glory
What does all this mean? Why the second triumphal entry? And what does it tell us about the first?

Jesus is still King: Clearly, Mark would have us see that Jesus is still King in the daylight and at night. He is King when He is surrounded by admiring crowds and He is King when He is seated quietly at dinner with a few close friends. He prepares the way, he plans ahead, and rules the details. He is Lord; He is Teacher.
Jesus is still King because He is establishing true worship. The first triumphal entry seems a bit odd at first. Jesus rides into the city like a conquering king, goes into the temple, and after looking around, leaves anticlimactically as it is getting late (Mk. 11:11). Jesus seems to miss the opportunity to do something really great. And the second entry into Jerusalem underscores this. What would you do with that opportunity? But the Last Supper is the new covenant in the blood of Christ, true sacrifice.

Jesus is still King because He is not threatened by those who will deny Him. Instead, he ministers to them. If the first triumphal entry is conquest (Mk. 10:46), then Bartimaeus is the type of Israel being healed and following Jesus (Mk. 10:52). The disciples are still blind (Mk. 14:29, 31), but Jesus will heal them too. Frequently we are still blind. We are disciples, vying for positions in the kingdom (Mk. 10:35-37). And we don’t see where Jesus is leading us. We don’t see that greatness is serving.

But there is also a maturity dimension to this. Jesus is still King because He is David grown up. He is the son of David come to have mercy on us. A son takes up the mantle of his father, but a faithful son also glorifies his father. This is another way of saying that sons are called to grow up and become older than their fathers. Jesus doesn’t deny His own sonship and therefore doesn’t deny His Davidic lordship, and His public triumphal entry is not a failure. But it is the glory of youth, the glory of strength and beauty. And part of the lesson of the triumphal entry by night is the glory of maturity, the glory of old age, the glory of wisdom. And wisdom sees the power of sacrifice, the authority of mercy, communion, and worship. From the glory of public acclamation to the glory of sacrifice and service, Jesus is still King.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Taking Dominion with Nanobots

From my father in-law:

An article on eFitness Now:

"In a miraculous medical breakthrough, scientists have developed nanobots that can travel through the blood stream and attack tumors. The nanobots actually attack the cancer by performing gene therapy and turning off the cancer growing gene in the tumor."

Read the article here.

Wow. Very cool.


Posting Security Guards on the Coast of Florida to ward off the Hurricanes

One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is the tower Babel. I love that story for a number of reasons, but one of them is for how amusing it is. All the nations gathered together in one speech, all proud and excited, planning to build a great city with a tower stretching into heaven. It’s huge, it’s gigantic, it’s worldwide, it’s corporate, it’s got fancy letter head, and all the networks are covering this project. The suits and ties are all there, along with the PhDs and the politicians and the rock stars and scientists. All the talk shows are talking, all the best sellers are musing on this city, this tower, this amazing project. And then the line comes, in subtle Mosaic sarcasm: “And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.” And the Lord squinted down at the little red spot on the side walk of the universe, hmm…. He thought, what’s that little pile of ants milling so excitedly about? And the Lord came down to see what all the fuss was about. And while the Tower of Babel project was off to a good start, the text continues to emphasize the fact that God had to go down and see it, go down and scatter them. The Lord of the Universe goes down and gently confuses all the chatter, scatters them, and sends them off in confusion, cute little, pesky people.

And I get the same feeling when I read that they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard. O really? You sealed the tomb and set a guard, did you? How cute. Of course the pretense is that the disciples might come and steal the body, but really, all we’ve seen the disciples do in these last few chapters is run and deny all association with Christ. I hardly think they were real threats. But this sealing, this guarding is about like putting a band-aid on the crack of an enormous hydro-electric dam. This is like posting a few security guards on the coast of Florida to ward off the hurricanes. Yeah, you guys just stand there. Good luck. Just how would you seal the tomb of the Lord of the Universe? Just how would you keep Him in there? Of course they couldn’t, of course they didn’t. And here we are celebrating that fact. And we are still little people, small, insignificant, but in the great grace and mercy of God, He has invited us to sit with Him, to eat with Him, and He loves His people. Your God loves you, and the same God who could not be held down by soldiers and ropes, draws you up by His grace to fellowship with Him.


Talking to a Corpse

In Ezekiel 37, the Lord brings the prophet to a valley full of old, dry bones, and asks Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And Ezekiel says that only the Lord knows, and the Lord commands Ezekiel to prophecy to the bones, to speak to them in the name of the Lord, and to tell them that they will live, that breath will enter them, that sinews will come upon them and flesh will once again cover them, and they will live and know that Yahweh is God. And Ezekiel proceeds to prophecy to the bones and there is a great rattling, and the bones come together, and breath comes into them, and they stand up and they are alive, and they are an exceedingly great army. The prophet is told that this is the house of Israel dead in sins, dead in exile, lifeless, breathless. But the Lord says that He will cause Israel to come out of the grave, and He will put His Spirit within them. As we have been meditating on the death of Jesus, we come this week in Matthew’s gospel to the burial of Jesus. Even here, we see the wonder of God’s grace and power. God himself enters the valley of dry bones. In Christ, God endures death and gives up the Spirit. But the Word of God does not return void, the promise of Christ that He would come back out of the grave after three days is not an empty promise. The Spirit returns and fills the body of Jesus, and Israel comes out of the grave filled with the Spirit. And of course Pentecost is the gift of this same life giving Spirit for us and for the world as down payment of our own resurrection. But this is also encouragement in evangelism. Preaching to unbelievers, witnessing to family members who do not know the Lord, this is always talking to corpses, conversation with a dead body, prophesying to dry bones. You say, I tell them about Christ, I pray for them, I invite them to church, I show love and hospitality, and all I hear is crickets chirping. And Ezekiel says that’s exactly right. What did you expect, preaching in a grave yard? But the death and burial of Jesus is our hope. Can dead men live? Can corpses be resurrected? Only the Spirit can do that. Our best attempts at evangelism are no better than Ezekiel’s prophecy to the dry bones. But Jesus has burst out of the grave, and you and I are all living members of His body. We have tasted this resurrection life and have been filled with the same Spirit. Can these dry bones live? Absolutely. Here we are, everyone of us, once a corpse, once stiff in the tomb of Adam, and now alive and forgiven in Christ. Jesus was buried in order to enter into our death and the death of this world. And He was raised in order to undo it all, raising the dead to an exceedingly great army.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Job as Christ

When Job prays for his three accusers in the epilogue, he is a Christ figure praying, 'Father, forgive them...'


Genre and Interpretation in Job

Many critics have denied the essential unity of the book of Job, relegating the prologue and epilogue to an early myth, co-opted by a later poet-sage stretching the folk tale into an epic dialogue, with an Elihu scribe and perhaps a Wisdom scribe adding their two and three cents at various stages in the compilation of the final product of the book we now called Job.

A number of recent scholars have pointed out how unhelpful this redaction criticism really is. At the end of the day this get-out-your-scissors approach to exegesis leaves us with a pile of disconnected scraps which seems to be an elaborate evasion of responsibility on the part of interpreters. Who's to say what Job means when we're dealing with so many fragments, authors, editors, etc.?

Even if the the end product of Job was in any way a collaborative effort, the end product is what we have, and any meaningful interpretation must take the final form seriously.

As Carol Newsom has pointed out, the stark differences in genre have typically been viewed as barriers, deep divides that keep interpreters from allowing the prologue and epilogue from being friends with the dialogues. But as she notes, this is overly simplistic and does not really answer the question of whether the author may have intentionally written in two different genres on purpose and what that purpose may have been.

For just one example, while the literary style of the prologue and epilogue are unmistakably similar, the mediating literary style of the dialogues doesn't allow the reader to return to the epilogue unaffected. The prologue sets a tone that is interrupted but not fully shaken as the text "falls apart" in the dialogic storm of words, and then that storm isn't fully calmed even as Job is comforted and surrounded by family and friends and possessions at the end.

One imagines the black, snarling clouds still swirling in the distance and everything is shiny and sparkling from the rain as the sun breaks out of the clouds. And that's part of the intentional structure, the dueling genres of Job.


The Crown of Suffering

As many have pointed out, suffering has a way of stripping away the extra things, the non-essentials. But it is the suffering, the pain, the loss that defines what those extra things are: family, cars, clothing, health, even food and drink become extras in so far as we endure their absence. The loss of them and pain have a way of narrowing priorities, clearing and clarifying the mind, values, relationships.

But Christian suffering does not reject the world. It does not refuse material possessions. Righteous suffering does not come to resent the extras. On the contrary, the extras become what they always were: grace. They are gifts, undeserved gifts. And they are glories. The child of God who emerges from the fray, emerges by grace, in grace, upheld and sustained by grace. The believer emerges with his or her face glowing. And who cares what Moses was wearing?

Like a warrior emerging bruised and bleeding from the chaos and horror of battle, he somehow doesn't need his armor, doesn't need his weapons. The horror strips away the armor, strips away the decorations, but it doesn't strip them away permanently. They come to rest on him like a mantle, they rest on him like a crown.

The restoration of Job reads like this. He receives everything back in all its fairytale glory. And it really is glory. God isn't winking or crossing his fingers. The author isn't sneering. But the 'return' isn't exactly a mirror image of the introduction. The 'return' is resurrection, it's life-again, but it's life-again in a powerful, glorified way. And the possessions and children and gifts rest upon Job like crowns. But we (the readers) see Job's scars. His hands have holes in them from the nails, and there is a hole where the spear was thrust into his side.


Job and the Sheep

Gustavo Gutierrez in his book On Job suggests that the maturation story in Job is in part an elaborate instance of what Jesus says is the case in Matthew 25 in the parable of the sheep and the goats.

Entering into the suffering of the weak brings individuals face to face with Christ. Christ is the one who is clothed, fed, and befriended. Service, suffering, and struggling is the path to encountering Jesus. And as the parable insists, this can be a surprising, unexpected conclusion -- the sheep wonder when they served Christ and the goats wonder when they didn't.

Gutierrez says this is a gloss on 1 Corinthians 13, where love of others is a mirror in which we see Christ dimly, and love is the excellent way toward the end of seeing Jesus face to face.

In Job, it is his suffering, the accusations, the loss which lead him to encounter Yahweh in the whirlwind. The darkness of death, pain, and accusations is how we see now "dimly," but this gives way to a conference with Yahweh, face to face.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Sweet Rest

Throughout Leviticus 1-7, after a sacrifice is offered it ascends in smoke into the presence of God where it is a "sweet aroma" to the Lord. The word for "aroma" or "smell" is the word NICHOACH which is not far from the word NOACH which is the word for the name "Noah." We know the words are related simply by meaning. Noah's name means "rest" and the word here means "pleasant" or "soothing." We could say that the smell of the sacrifice brings "rest" to Yahweh. The sacrifice brings Sabbath to the conflict of sin and rebellion between God and man.

What's neat is that the book of Leviticus ends with several chapters dwelling on the Sabbaths of Israel (Lev. 23, 25-27). The book begins describing the rituals of making peace with Yahweh, the sacrifices that ascend to give rest to the Lord. And the book ends with instructions for how Israel is to live in this rest and peace. They are to be Sabbath keepers and Sabbath givers. As they have been forgiven, they are to be forgivers.


All Ends of Earth Remembering Him

A number of prophecies regarding Christ’s crucifixion are from Psalm 22. The Psalm opens with the piercing lament, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; and in the night season, and am not silent.” (Ps. 22:1-2) The jeers of the passersby are found here too: “He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him; let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!’ from verse 8. The accusations and taunts of soldiers and priests are well described in the imagery of bulls and lions and dogs surrounding Him, raging at Him in verses 12-13, 16. The Psalmist says that they have pierced his hands and feet, and divided his garments among them and cast lots for his clothing (22:17-18). Then at verse 21, the psalmist says, ‘You have answered me.’ And, He says, “I will declare Your name to My brethren, in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.’ And He begins calling upon Israel to fear the Lord and worship Him. And finally he turns to the rest of the world, and declares: “All ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You. For the Kingdom is the Lord’s and He rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth shall eat and worship…” (22:27-29) And if David could sing this nearly a full millennium before Christ, how much more should we be able to sing this two millennia after Christ, even in our trials and pain? Jesus was the forsaken one, the surrounded one, the pierced one, and God has answered Him. He was answered in the resurrection with power and glory, and ever since the Church has taken up David’s song declaring the Name of Jesus to our brothers, to our families, and to the ends of the earth. And Jesus was not forsaken, surrounded, and pierced in order to give God a fighting chance. Jesus was forsaken, surrounded, and pierced so that the Kingdom might be His, so that all the ends of the world would remember and turn to Him, so that all the families of the nations would worship Him. And here we are eating and worshipping before the Lord just as David sung in the darkness of the Old Covenant three thousand years ago. As we lift this bread and wine, and declare to one another the name of the Lord, the name of Jesus, the name of our King, we do so because Jesus is the conquering King, the King who has reigned and will reigned until even those who have gone down into the dust cannot help but come out of their graves and bow before the Majesty. So come and worship, come and eat, come and declare His Name.


Wouldn't Rather Be Anywhere Else

You are gathered here now in the presence of God to worship the God of heaven and earth. You are gathered with your families, with your children in obedience to this God who spoke the stars and trees and oceans into existence. You are here to bow before the King of the universe, to confess that there is no other god in heaven or on earth or under the earth. You are here to confess that you are fallen, that you have sinned and not followed your King faithfully, and you are in this place to hear Him tell you that your sins are forgiven. For in the fullness of time, this God burst into our world in human flesh. This God walked among us the Lord of all and yet as the servant of all. This God came to His own, for His own, and was rejected by His own. But this was all in the plan, the plan from before the world’s foundation, the plan to seek and to save the lost. And so in God’s infinite wisdom, He came and suffered in human flesh for the sins of the world. And when Jesus was stapled to that Roman cross, the sins of the world were laid upon Him, the old world of death and sin and misery was laid upon Him, and when Jesus cried out in anguish, He cried out with your sins, your failures, your hurts, your pain upon Him, and when Jesus was forsaken by the Father, He was forsaken for you. And when Jesus died, your sins and the whole world of sin and death all died with Him. And in that instant, the old world came crashing down, and a new world began to be born as the Spirit rushed out with creative power once again. And in that moment the whole world began to see with that first centurion that ‘truly, this was the Son of God.’ And that is why we are here. We with countless millions of others who have been cleansed by the blood of the lamb, with countless millions down through the ages, with all the angels in heaven, are here to proclaim that God is all wise, that He is all Good, that He is King, the crucified King and worthy of all praise, all honor, all glory. And that is why we come, week after week, to hail our King, to bow before our King, to worship our King. And for us and for our children, we would not rather be anywhere else.


Wedding Homily: CJ & Lisa

The first church began in the Garden of Eden. The first church began on the sixth day of the history of the world. The first church, the first gathering of worshipers of the God of heaven had a membership role of two people. The first covenant of marriage was simultaneously the first membership covenant of the first church in the history of the world.

Think about it: the first sermon was preached by Adam when he broke into poetry and song at the sight of his beautiful bride, newly fashioned for him.

The first kiss of peace was also simultaneously a kiss of love.

This works in the other direction as well: the first church fight was also a marriage squabble.

The first worship war ended in the murder of a brother.

The first church was also the first family, the first marriage.

And this is why Paul quotes Genesis: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” And then he immediately says: this is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

Paul recalls the creation of Adam and Eve and sees Christ and the Church, joined into one body, one flesh.

Paul reads Genesis and immediately sees the body of Christ, one flesh, all mysterious.

Of course haunting the early chapters of Genesis is the first sin, the first act of church discipline, the first curses hurled into the world from the mouth of God. And Genesis says that God “drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” (3:24)

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul describes the glory of the body of Christ, that it is made up of many different members with different gifts, but it is the same Spirit that fills the whole body, enlivening it, equipping every part to fulfill its calling in the body. This happens in such a way as to make the many members work together, caring for one another, rejoicing with one another, and even suffering with one another. But Paul emphasizes the fact that it is the glorious differences and wonderful diversity in the body that makes it a body. If everyone were a hand, where would the body be? God has fashioned the body with many different parts so that there might be no schism, so that it might be one flesh.

Paul closes chapter 12 by saying: “But earnestly desire the best gifts and yet I show you a more excellent way.”Paul says that he wants this body of Christ to pursue the “excellent way” in order to grow up into this unity, into this one flesh.

The “excellent way” ought to remind us of other places where the gospels describe the “way of the Lord.” Remember how John the Baptist comes preaching, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’ And that declaration is an echo of several Old Testament stories. The way of the Lord was the dry path through the Red Sea. The way of the Lord was following the angel of the Lord through the wilderness to the Promised Land. And Malachi picks up on these types in his prophecy, declaring that the Lord will once again be on the move, and His messenger will prepare the way before Him. God is preparing a new Exodus. He will lead His people out of bondage into a land flowing with milk and honey.

But all of these paths, these roads, these excellent ways are but the birth pangs of what Jesus came to accomplish. And what Jesus came to accomplish goes back to Genesis, back to the garden, back to the way guarded by cherubim where the first wedding was seemingly interrupted by disobedience and cursing. That way is the most excellent way, the way back into the presence of the Father.

In the gospels, John comes to prepare the way, and Jesus comes and walks through Israel embodying and enacting this way of the Lord, delivering the sick and the oppressed from slavery, and showing the way to the new Canaan, the way of the Kingdom. And in each of the gospels as Christ’s identity becomes more and more clear, this way of Christ takes a turn. He turns His face toward Jerusalem. His way, His path is aimed at Jerusalem and the cross. And on this path, He repeatedly explains that He is going to Jerusalem and there he will be betrayed and handed over to the priests and scribes and then the Romans and ultimately he will be killed and after three days He will rise again.

In John’s gospel, Jesus explains that He will not be with the disciples much longer, but He says, “where I go you know, and the way you know.” And when Thomas asks ‘how can we know the way?’ Jesus says, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Jesus turns His face toward Jerusalem, the way to the cross. But this way doesn’t end at the cross; the cross is the way to the Father. And as Jesus walks this path to the cross, He is the Way to the Father. He is the way through the sea, through the wilderness into Canaan. His death and resurrection re-opens the way into the garden where the wedding feast can resume, life in communion with the Father, Son, and Spirit.

Early in 1 Corinthians, Paul identifies himself as a "wise master builder" (1 Cor. 3:10). The word "master builder" is the same word used in the Septuagint to describe the work of Bezalel and Aholiab in constructing the tabernacle (Ex. 31:4, 35:32, 35). Paul insinuates that he is Bezalel and Apollos is like Aholiab (cf. 1 Cor. 3:5-6). There’s no reason to start rival parties following Paul or Apollos since they are both working on the same building project.

As Bezalel and Aholiab were filled with the Spirit in order to construct the tabernacle and lead the artisans in building according to the Lord’s design, so too Paul says in chapter 7, as he is sorting through issues related to marriage, “I also have the Spirit of God.” Paul is Bezalel seeking to piece the Corinthians together with the rest of the body of Christ into that one tent, that one body, that one flesh.

As the tabernacle is filled with the Spirit, so too Paul says that the Church is a body filled with the Spirit. Pentecost was the dedication of the new tabernacle, the new temple. And the “gifts” of the body are the pieces of this new tabernacle/temple. But it is not enough to have gifts; it is not enough to be curtains or hooks or even an altar. Tongues and prophecies and even understanding great mysteries are not sufficient. The house must be constructed through the “excellent way,” the way through the sea, the way to the cross, the way of love.

Notice how many of these “gifts” are ones frequently mentioned in marriage advice manuals and books. In order to have a happy marriage, you must learn to speak different languages. What’s your love language, CJ? But Paul says that even if you learn all the languages or even an angelic language, and you have not love, it will sound as romantic as a bustling tuba.

Or others may inform you that men and women are aliens from one another. They are from different planets, right? And so, you need to explore the deep mysteries of Venus and Mars. But Paul says that even if you have the gift of prophecy and understand all the mysteries and knowledge, without love this is nothing. Even faith that can move mountains is not sufficient. Faith by itself is not sufficient to bind this body together.

Love is the more excellent way, but ultimately this love that suffers long and is kind, this love that is sinless and perfect, this love that never fails is Christ Himself. Just as Jesus is the way of the Lord, the way to the Father. He is the more excellent way; He is the love that never fails. He is that which is perfect, the end to which all things point. Prophecies will fail, tongues will cease, knowledge will vanish away, but all these things are just glimpses at Christ. In Christ, we are mature sons and heirs of the promises. Becoming this mature man means putting aside childish things.

Now we see in a mirror dimly. The mirror reflects the body of Christ. When the Church looks in the mirror, we ought to see Jesus since we are his body. But this is still dim and mysterious, hard to make out. But the promise is that we will be conformed to the image of Christ. We only know in part now but love is the way in which all the parts of the body cohere, the way the gifts are used for the edification of the body. Love binds the body together and makes the image in the mirror a little clearer.

CJ and Lisa, your marriage today is one small but significant part of the body of Christ. Your marriage is not irrelevant to the Body. In so far as it is the Spirit binding the two of you together into one flesh, the Spirit filling you with the love of Christ that it might spill out of each of you for one another and for those around, in so far as Jesus said that they would know us for our love for one another, your marriage today is every bit a part of that as evangelism or mercy ministry or hospitality. In fact, Christian marriage is one of the most strategic places for your gifts to be used to build up the Body.

Your marriage is not something different, something outside of the body of Christ. Marriage is part of the mirror that God has given us to look into. And as we love one another, God invites us to see the face of Christ in one another, and in the rest of the body.

Now, we know in part, we see dimly, but Love is the perfection of this mystery. Love is God come in human flesh to walk the way to the cross, the way through the sea and wilderness of death, the way back into the garden, the way to the Father.
The first church began with a wedding feast and a worship service all bound up into one.

The first church was composed of a husband and wife enlivened by the Spirit, bound together in Love, one body, one flesh, with glorious differences and wonderful diversity so that there would be no divisions in the body.

And you have the Spirit God, CJ and Lisa, you have the wisdom and skill of Bezalel and Aholiab, and as you build your house together in the wisdom of love, remember that your house is part of an even greater body, an even greater house. And this, your wedding in the presence of God, is in some small way a return to the original wedding in the garden which will one day burst out into the great marriage supper of the Lamb.

So CJ, I call you to preach like Adam. May your songs of love for Lisa always simultaneously be sermons declaring the gospel of the love of God in the cross of Christ. And Lisa, may your kisses of love always be kisses of peace.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Joseph and the Gospel

It's no secret that the story of Joseph in Genesis is one of the earliest and most thorough previews of Christ, but the parallels really are striking.

From the son of the Father who is sent to the brothers who mistreat him and "kill" him to the exaltation/resurrection as the Lord of the land, bestowing life-giving bread on the nations, the basic contours of the gospel are all there. Joseph dies for his brothers and family and ultimately the whole world in order to give them life in the great famine. And in the "resurrection" of Joseph and his ascension to the right hand of Pharaoh, the best land in Egypt is bestowed upon Israel. The ascension of Joseph means that he pours out life and grace and gifts on his people.

This morning in morning prayer we read specifically about the revelation of Joseph to his brothers and their return to their father. While the roles and types shift through the story, the brothers' initial disbelief matches the disciples with Christ very well. Similarly, Jacob plays the part of Thomas upon hearing the news that "he is alive." But when the tokens and gifts of Joseph are shown to him, he believes.


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Two Angels and the Presence

My children point out that there were two angels guarding the entrance of the Garden when Adam and Eve were exiled from the presence of God. And there were two angels over the Ark of the covenant and woven into the curtains guarding the presence of God in the tabernacle and temple. And then at the resurrection there are two angels sitting in the empty tomb and two angels appear at the ascension announcing that Jesus will come again.

A couple of thoughts: The two angels in the empty tomb means that the "presence of God" is now fully localized in Jesus. The veil was torn at the crucifixion, and access to God is granted in Jesus. The angels are sitting in an empty tomb. They are no longer guarding the presence of God. The Ark has become an empty tomb. 'He is risen; He is not here,' they say. Where is Jesus? Where is the Presence? He's in the garden, and Mary will mistake Him for the gardener-Adam.

Then when they reappear at the ascension, it's the same message. Why do you stand here, staring up into the sky? Notice that they still aren't guarding the presence of God. Adam has returned to the garden. Jesus is in the presence of the Father, and He will send His Spirit to the disciples. The two angels do not guard the presence; now they announce to the disciples that Jesus is in the Presence and that He will come again.


Monday, March 08, 2010


The good folks over at Touchstone have published an article in the latest issue that I wrote with Peter Leithart. You have to get the hardcopy to read it, but at least now you know. And are you surprised? It's more on the book of Job.


Sacrificial Catechism: Yahweh's Unpresentable Parts

Mary Douglas suggests that the bodies of sacrificial animals correspond symbolically to the tabernacle topography and layout. On her reading, the entrails and genitals correspond to the Most Holy Place, the middle section of the animal with the fat and kidneys comes next corresponding to the sanctuary, followed by the head and meat sections for food which correspond to the outer court.

One obvious question that rises from this reading, which Douglas recognizes, is whether this is not too vulgar. Specifically: why align entrails and genitals with the Most Holy Place, the place of highest esteem and honor?

Douglas has several answers of her own to this question, but off the cuff, one possible parallel to this reading would be found in 1 Corinthians 12.

Could Paul have been working with something like this in mind when he wrote: "And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty..." (1 Cor. 12:23) Maybe so.

First, on the surface, the parallel works as "unpresentable parts" and members of "less honor" seem very likely to be a polite way of referring to the genitalia of the body. And upon these, Paul insists we bestow "greater honor" and "modesty." Both of which also seem to correspond well to the Most Holy Place where the greatest honor is bestowed, and certainly it is covered by the veil/curtain with great modesty and no one ordinarily goes behind the curtain, behind the veil except for once a year on the day of Atonement.

On this reading, Paul is working with the tabernacle structure in the back of his mind. And there are a couple of clues in 1 Corinthians that confirm this suggestion.

First, early in 1 Corinthians, Paul identifies himself as a "wise master builder" (1 Cor. 3:10). The word "master builder" is the same word used in the Septuagint to describe the work of Bezalel and Aholiab in constructing the tabernacle (Ex. 31:4, 35:32, 35). Paul insinuates that he is Bezalel and Apollos is like Aholiab (cf. 1 Cor. 3:5-6). Paul goes on in 1 Cor. 3 to describe the building project.

Secondly, Paul identifies the Corinthians as in a parallel historical position to the Israelites in the wilderness in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. The organization of right worship in the building of the tabernacle was the central building project of Moses and the Israelites during the wilderness sojourn. Paul says that the Corinthians are in a similar place in the story.

Finally, a cursory reading of the rest of the epistle reveals a number of other quotations or allusions to the same themes that make Paul's instructions about worship and the church beginning in 1 Cor. 11 fairly natural. Paul is self-consciously overseeing the construction of a new tabernacle in the wilderness. The Most Holy Place in the Church seems to be those members who are weak, poor, and otherwise unpresentable. Perhaps James has something similar in mind when he exhorts the Church to pure and undefiled religion: visiting orphans and widows (Js. 1:27). Likewise, his condemnation of the Church's preference for the rich (Js. 2:1-6). Our priestly ministry to the "least of these" is our ministry of bestowing "greater honor" and "greater modesty."

Could it be that this is "pure and undefiled religion" because it is our "day of atonement?" If the body is the temple/tabernacle and the body without the spirit is dead (Js. 2:26), then the "works" James has in view would specifically be that ministry to the poor, the weak, and the unpresentable.


The Cup of the Kingdom

“They gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, he would not drink. Then they crucified Him…” (Mt. 27:34)

We should recall that running up to this scene Jesus has described His own sufferings and death as a “cup” that He will drink. Back in chapter 20, Jesus asked James and John if they were able to drink the cup that He was about to drink (20:22). In chapter 26, when He instituted the Lord’s Supper at Passover, He gave the disciples the cup which He said was His blood shed (26:27-28). And then later in chapter 26, Jesus prayed to the Father that the cup might be taken from Him, but that if He had to drink it, He would submit to the will of the Father. So as Jesus refuses to drink the cup of sour wine mingled with gall, He is simultaneously accepting that cup of suffering which He has been speaking about all along. He was probably offered the sour wine as an anesthetic to help deaden some of the pain of crucifixion, but the cup that He was to drink required that He accept the pain. And so He does. He refuses one cup in order to drink the other. But what’s also interesting is that there is another string of uses of the word “drink.” At the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, he records Jesus admonishing His disciples not worry about what they will eat or drink or wear because their heavenly Father will provide for all their needs (6:25-32). Then toward the end, in chapter 25, in the parable of the sheep and the goats in the kingdom, the emphasis is on giving Jesus food and drink and clothing through ministering to the “least of these my brethren” (Mt. 25:35-46). These passages describe what life in the Kingdom is to be like. In the Kingdom, we are not to worry about what we will eat or drink or wear because we are expected to care for another, bearing one another’s burdens such that even the least among us are fed and clothed. But in the passion narrative, we see Jesus fulfilling this Kingdom life in shocking ways. He prays to his heavenly Father, and a cup to drink is provided. He calls out to His heavenly Father and He has clothing, even a scarlet robe. In the life of the Kingdom, the Father provides, but the Father provides a cup and clothing that is not painless. In fact, the point in Jesus’ decline of one cup in preference for the other, is an acceptance of pain, an endurance of suffering over the cup that might mask the pain. So what is this cup that we drink? This cup is the cup of suffering and death and blood, the cup of the cross. But this cross is not a dead-end; this cup of the cross is the cup that we drink in the Kingdom, assuring us that we need not worry about food or drink or clothing. This is the cup that we share with one another, even the least of these. And this cup is our glory, our crown, our joy, our hope.


The Son of God Goes Forth to War

As we continue to meditate on the sufferings and death of Jesus for our sins and for our salvation this season of Lent, one of the striking lessons that we need impressed over and over again is how the humility, weakness, and sufferings of Christ are His enthronement, coronation, and glory. Jesus is crowned with thorns and mocked as a delusional King, but God has spun the story of history, insisting by the power of the Spirit that His glory and power were evident in that moment. In the weakness of mockery and scorn, God was piling up the sins of the world unto His Son in order that He might be all in all, in order that all things might be reconciled in heaven and on earth in Him. In other words, God was revealing real kingship, real power, real authority in the suffering and death of Jesus. And He did this by taking our enemies, our sins, our failures, all that keeps us from peace and joy, and He made war on them all by taking them into His own body on the cross. And this is why we cannot doubt or be shy about the gospel. Jesus is King, and it should not come as a surprise that His Kingdom is coming and growing in much the same it was established. It was established in what looked like its disestablishment. Our King was crowned in what looked like His ruin. Our King was hailed in what sounded and looked like mockery and scorn. Our King destroyed all of our enemies in what looked like His destruction. Why would we be surprised to look back and see the same story throughout history in the great conquest of the world by our King? And this means that there is not anything in your life which is too ugly, too horrible, too shameful, too embarrassing that God cannot or will not transfigure into glory. We serve the God who is free and unbounded, the Sovereign God who rules all things, and His power is made especially obvious in our weakness. The Son of God goes forth to war, a kingly crown to gain, His blood-red banner streams afar, who follows in His train?


Friday, March 05, 2010

When Jesus Began to Return

Speaking of the sufferings and death of Jesus and their centrality in the reconciliation of all things in God, Barth mentions in passing that included within this revelation is the resurrection which is the "commencement of His return." Easter was the beginning of the great return of Jesus. The Second Coming began in the resurrection of Jesus and will be completed at the consummation of all things.

Jesus "coming back" from the dead was the greater return. His final, physical return is not nearly so dramatic in one sense. All of human history since Easter occurs in the light of that great return from the dead.


Barth on the Freedom of Job

Barth says that the story of Job is all about (surprise) freedom.

"Freedom is not caprice. The relationship [between Yahweh and Job] could not be other than it is. The intercourse could not take a different course. yet there can be no question of any necessity of the relationship or ineluctability of the intercourse. For it is all grounded in and fashioned by free electing and disposing on the part of God and equally free obedience on that of Job."

Barth asks, "How does Yahweh come to be the Partner of the man of Uz in the drama of this history? He obviously is this with great seriousness and intensity. He manifestly could not be otherwise. By why is He? ... [the story] is one long demonstration of the boundless confidence which He has set in him and the fidelity which he has plainly sworn to him. But it is not, as the false and lying theology of the three friends presupposes and maintains, a moral or juridical law which is secretly above Him. Along the lines of His unchangeable fidelity, it is His self-determined and to that extent free and royal conduct." (CD IV.3.1, 386-387)

Barth says that Job (with qualifications) is a prefigure of Jesus, particularly in the sort of relationship that he has with Yahweh. Satan asks if Job fears God "for nothing," that is, isn't God's blessings on Job what actually secure their friendship?

Certainly part of the answer of the author is, 'no.' Their relationship is based on freedom, a freedom which is ultimately grounded in the sovereign love of God.

At the same time, Barth is characteristically opaque in drawing this out: he asks, "And how does Job come to be the servant of God? The answer is that he simply is." He of course grounds this "being" in the idea of freedom "to be." He says, "Job would not be Job if he were not free to receive both evil and good from God. This implies that he fears and loves the free God as such..." That is, his loyalty and allegiance to God is not based on a particular program or contract. It is rather genuine and free love and loyalty between persons.


Blessing and Cursing

Carol Newsom again on the prose prologue in Job: along with most commentators, she puzzles over the euphemistic use of the word "bless" to mean "curse," running through the text. In fact the word "curse" doesn't even occur in the prologue of Job. The word for curse is always the word ordinarily used to mean "bless."

This is particularly striking since the central argument/contention in the introduction has to do with whether Job will "curse" God if all the "blessings" are taken away. Likewise, Job offers sacrifices for his children who may have "sinned and cursed God in their hearts" (1:5). This insinuates a kind of ambiguity in both directions: is "cursing" an absolute evil/rejection of YHWH? And pushing in the opposite direction, are all of God's material "blessings" absolutely good?


Thursday, March 04, 2010

Karl Barth and Carl Jung on Job

Heather den Houting has an essay on her blog from a couple of years ago comparing Karl Barth and Carl Jung on the book of Job.

She summarizes Jung's take on the book of Job as follows:

• In the Book of Job the nature of Yahweh is disclosed as “an antimony – a totality of inner opposites;”
• “Job realises God’s inner antinomy, and in the light of this realisation his knowledge attains a divine numinosity;”
• This therefore is a “new factor” having “never occurred before in world history…without knowing it or wanting it, a mortal man is raised by his moral behaviour above the stars in heaven, from which position of advantage he can behold the back of Yahweh;”
• God becomes reflective and is reminded of Wisdom (of whom he had lost sight, and whose feminine role had been replaced by the “covenant with the chosen people” );
• Wisdom heralds a coming act of creation, but “this time it is not the world that is to be changed; rather it is God who intends to change his own nature.”
• God must be changed as his “creature has surpassed him, he must regenerate himself;”
• God is born as human, through Sophia/Mary;
• Christ’s death is a “fate chosen by Yahweh as a reparation of the wrong done to Job…and as a fillip to the spiritual and moral development of man (sic);”
• However, the immensity of God is still reflected in the Gospels and in Revelation, as both God incarnated as light and God as fierce and terrible; as a result God can be loved but must be feared,”
• Thus, “Yahweh’s decision to become man is a symbol of the development that had to supervene when man becomes conscious of the sort of God-image he is confronted with. God acts out of the unconscious of man and forces him (sic) to harmonise and unite the opposing influences to which his (sic) mind is exposed from the unconscious. The unconscious wants both: to divide and to unite. In his (sic) striving for unity, therefore, man (sic) may always count on the help of a metaphysical advocate, as Job clearly recognised.”


Obviously some problematic directions here, but still some interesting possibilities, particularly with regard to the incarnation.


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Strength in Weakness

Mark Horne points out in his commentary, that in Mark's gospel there is a "sandwich story" running in chapter 15. Beginning with the Roman soldiers mocking Jesus, sarcastically mocking Him as "King of the Jews" and ending with the Roman Centurion acclaiming in all seriousness, "Truly, this was the Son of God." In addition to Romans on either side of this episode, it's necessary to remember that the title "Son of God" means king. That was the title Augustus Caesar had given himself, and the same title functions throughout the Old Testament with thick royal overtones.

In both instances the Romans evaluate Jesus on the basis of His weakness. In the first scene the Romans are mocking Jesus because He is being led away to crucifixion. In the latter scene, the centurion acclaims Jesus as King, seeing Him dead on the cross. Both see a man in weakness, and yet both conclude vastly different things.

At the center there are three groups of people likewise mocking like the first Roman soldiers. But it is not until Jesus dies and the veil is torn in two that the Roman centurion sees the truth. The death of Jesus finally reveals the Most Holy Place; Jesus is revealed to be truly who He said He was.


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

God Chews on Israel

Mary Douglas points out that there is a "sly 'inclusio'" in Leviticus 11 where the passage begins with the general description of clean animals which includes the characteristic of "chewing the cud" (Lev. 11:3). The word for "chewing the cud" means to go up or ascend, and while the word is repeated several times throughout the chapter with regard to chewing the cud, the conclusion is in 11:45 where God says: "For I am the Lord your god who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God." The word for "brings you up" is the same word for chewing the cud. Israel is the "cud" that God is "bringing up" and chewing on. (Leviticus as Literature, 49)


Man: Homo Adorans

"To name a thing, in other words, is to bless God for it and in it. And in the Bible to bless God is not a "religious" or a "cultic" act, but the very way of life. God blessed the world, blessed man, blessed the seventh day (that is, time), and this means that He filled all that exists with His love and goodness, made all this "very good." So the only natural (and not "supernatural") reaction of man, to whom God gave this blessed and sanctified world, is to bless God in return, to thank Him, to see the world as God sees it and -- in this act of gratitude and adoration -- to know, name and possess the world... "Home sapiens," "homo faber" ... yes, but, first of all, "homo adorans." The first, the basic definition of man is that he is the priest. He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God -- and by filling the world with this eucharist, he transforms his life, the one that he receives from the world, into life in God, into communion with Him. The world was created as the "matter," the material of one all-embracing eucharist, and man was created as the priest of this cosmic sacrament."

- Fr. Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 15.


Monday, March 01, 2010

Stories that Create Children

Newsom explores the genre of the prose introduction of Job and settles on a "didactic tale," drawing off of elements of fairytale as well as prophetic/parabolic tales.

She interacts with Susan Suleiman's work Authoritarian Fiction, who notes that didactic literature "infantilizes the reader." Newsom explains: "The subject position that didactic narratives offer the reader of whatever age is that of a child."

The genre of fairy tale, parable, or didactic tale as Newsom calls it revels in security and reassurance, a simple and unified vision of the world and morality, and all from the an authoritative voice.

While Jesus is clearly playing with some of these expectations in His parables, it is nevertheless striking to note how in this sense the genre of Jesus' stories assumes and even creates a child audience. If parables have at least on the surface a "paternal" voice, then Jesus is the Word of the Father for the children of Israel. Or in other words, the parables are children's stories only appreciated and loved by those who have "become children" for the Kingdom. Or yet another angle: These stories of Jesus are one of the effective ways that Jesus calls into being and creates a childish people. Listening to the stories of Jesus in faith is the way to become children who may enter the Kingdom. Parables are stories that create children.


Quarreling Genres

Carol Newsom, drawing off of Bahktin's polyphonic textual analysis, suggests that the differing genres in Job, particularly the prose bookends versus the dialogues in the center, are as much part of the story as the story itself.

Not only is there an argument between the friends and Job, or between Job and God, but there's even a "quarrel" resident in the genres. The "monologic" introduction presents a unified, ordered view of God, Job, and the universe, an ordered but deeply flawed view. Chapter 3 bursts out as a stark contrast to that vision, as Job unleashes his curses.

Newsom notes that this contrast is deeply embedded in the genre. A straight-forward prose cannot adequately account for differing perspectives and convictions, it leans in the favor one perspective, one truth. But a dialogue has the ability to give utterance to what might otherwise be "unspeakable." Job literally cannot curse in the prose and remains silent, but in the dialogue, he bursts out, voicing his pain and frustration.

Newsome describes this literary technique as not only a kind of character development, but there is even in some sense a textual maturation going on. The author interrupts his own "closed narration" with a very different genre in the wisdom dialogues.

In addition to the "dialogues" themselves, there is a dialogue between the genres. The prose introduction speaks, then the dialogues respond. This is followed by slightly different genres in the soliloquies of Job, Elihu, and finally Yahweh. And then the prose gets the final word in the debate.

These dueling genres are as much part of the point of the story as the characters and events themselves. Which vision of suffering will win out? Which view of the universe? How does genre reveal the God Job is looking for and finally finds? Which genre wins the argument? Newsom promises to offer suggestions to these questions.

The Book of Job: A Context of Moral Imaginations by Carol A. Newsom


Why Pastors Should Wear White Robes

I was reading the beginning of Acts to the family tonight, and I was asking my kids questions about the text, as is my custom. It says that as Jesus was lifted up into the air from the disciples, two men in bright white robes stood among them. And I asked my son, 'who do you think those men were?'

Without missing a beat, he said, 'pastors.'


Covered by the Blood or Guilty of the Blood

“Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you… For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread…” (1 Cor. 11:2, 23)

Here, Paul praises the Corinthians and reminds them of the traditions that he has delivered to them, and these traditions are those which the Lord Jesus began, the central one being the Lord’s Supper. The word for tradition literally means something like ‘hand down’ or ‘deliver.’ A tradition is that which is handed down from Father to Son, from generation to generation. A tradition is kept when it is delivered successfully to the next generation. In the case of the Lord’s Supper, Paul has delivered not only a way of celebrating a meal, but he has previously explained that this cup which we bless is the communion in the blood of Jesus and this bread which we break is the communion in the body of Christ. Jesus Himself had said that unless we eat of His flesh and drink of His blood we will not have life within us. When Paul handed down this meal, when he delivered this tradition to the Church in Corinth, he was delivering Jesus to the Corinthians. And this is why Paul is so concerned for their abuse of the table. Fighting and getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper was not just impolite or rude, it would make someone guilty of the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor. 11:27). What’s striking is that the same root word for ‘tradition’ and ‘deliver’ is also used to describe the betrayal of Jesus. When Jesus was betrayed, He was handed over, delivered over to the Roman authorities. Later, Pilate delivered Jesus to be crucified. It’s likely that Paul has this parallel in mind when he warns the Corinthians about being guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. As we celebrate this memorial, this Eucharist, we are communing in and with Jesus, but we are also the communicators of Jesus. As we speak to one another, we say, “the body of the Lord/the blood of Christ,” and we are either handing over and delivering Christ in faith and love or we are handing Jesus over in unbelief and envy. We are either covered by the blood of Jesus or we are guilty of the blood of Jesus. We are either delivering that which we have been given in Christ, or we are handing Christ over in betrayal. But this is the blood that was shed for the remission of sins. This blood was shed even for those who are guilty of it. When Peter preached his Pentecost sermon, he addressed some of the Jews who had a hand in the actual crucifixion of Jesus. And Peter assured them that they too would find in Christ, a Savior who would wash away their sins. This is what we have been given, this is what has been handed down, the tradition of the apostles, even Jesus and forgiveness in Him. And now we come to share this Jesus, this forgiveness and peace with one another.


The Military Industrial Complex in Your Heart

In our sermon text for this morning, Matthew notes that the Jews handed Jesus over because of envy. If envy can drive a mob to crucify a just man, we should not underestimate envy’s power in our own hearts, nor underestimate the underlying violence resident in the sin of envy. Jesus said that if you hate your brother in your heart, you have murdered him. James has this in mind when he asks, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.” (Js. 4:1-2) James says that wars and fights come from lusts, desires, and covetousness. And it’s easy to spot envy in other people; people like to point out greed and lust for power in big targets like national governments, corporations, big businesses, and influential leaders, and these sins of course do grow up into big wars and fights. But if you would be part of Jesus’ ministry of peace and reconciliation, you must put this sin to death in your members. You cannot be ministers of the peace of Christ while clamoring for respect and honor. You cannot denounce the violence and oppression in our world while simultaneously feeding the war machine in your own heart. The military industrial complex in the human heart chafes at correction, is hungry for respect, lusts for authority and influence, and inexplicably finds itself in fights all over the map. Wrangling on the internet, snarling on the phone, snapping at your wife, miscommunicating and misunderstanding at every step, this pride and envy is the engine that drives all wars and fights. And James says that the root of this is spiritual adultery. The Jews told Pilate that if he let Jesus go, he was not Caesar’s friend for whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar. James inverts this by saying, whoever wants to be the friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Do people misunderstand you a lot? Do you have a knack for poking people in the eye? Examine your motives. What are you seeking? What are your desires? What are you grasping for? God resists the proud; the Spirit is jealous for our love and affection. So as you renew your commitment to Christ this Lenten season, crucify the envy and jealousy in your hearts.

James says: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” (Js. 4:8-9)