Archive for the ‘Eighteenth Bundle’ Category

JOHN 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

One advantage the Gospel writers had over the apostle Paul was access to early collections of Jesus’ teachings. The earthly life and ministry of Jesus weren’t as important to Paul as were his death, resurrection and intercession on behalf of believers. Largely through the influence of Paul’s focus on the atonement of the cross, some of the first storied accounts of Jesus’ life to emerge were passion narratives, featuring his redemptive suffering for our salvation.

The author of Mark’s Gospel may have been the first to expand this narrative treatment into a fuller “life of Jesus.” By composing an action plot and sprinkling in available teaching material where he saw fit, Mark produced what could be the earliest hero myth of Christianity. Incorporating the oral tradition of anecdotes and remembrances concerning Jesus, as well as borrowing from the wider stage of world mythology, Mark built out the contextual scenes that interpreted this teaching and further developed the messianic identity of Jesus himself.

As time went on and more “biographies” of Jesus emerged (Matthew, Luke and John, but many others that didn’t get included in the scriptural canon of the early Church) this teaching material was expanded, embellished, supplemented and refined. In the end it becomes very difficult to distinguish the First Voice of Jesus from that of the authors who tell his story. And when you add in the layer upon layer of translations, word studies, commentaries, creeds, and Sunday sermons, really hearing what Jesus had to say requires some serious pick-and-shovel work.

The Gospel of John is the last-written of our canonical four, which also means that its presentation of the life and teaching of Jesus has had the most time to develop – both into obscurity and clarification. His Jesus is a long leap from the earthy messianic conspirator of Mark’s story. Now (but only 25 or so years after Mark) Jesus has become the incarnate Word and divine Son of God whose mission is to reveal his Father’s great love for the world.

In this passage we have what amounts to John’s reworking of the Pentecost scene in Acts 2, but focused down from a large festival gathering to the private company of Jesus’ disciples. The Pentecostal descent of the Holy Spirit as wind and fire becomes Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit upon his followers, and whereas the Spirit in Luke’s story inspires recipients to share the gospel in other languages (an evangelistic theme), the gift of the Spirit in John empowers the disciples with the authority to forgive sins (an emancipation theme).

This authority, by the way, had been the exclusive prerogative of God up to this point, so John is suggesting something remarkable here – and wildly controversial. “God’s power is yours now,” Jesus is saying. “Go out and set people free!”

 

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1 PETER 1:3-9

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

We have already been introduced to the idea that the kingdom movement inspired by the life and teachings of Jesus eventually changed direction into an institutional orthodoxy centered on the redemptive violence of his death, his literal resurrection, and the promise of heaven for true believers who await his end-time return.

The architect of this fateful redirection was the apostle Paul. In his writings (letters to churches) we can discern the “fork in the road” where the pressing concerns of managing a nascent religion steadily diverged from a more mystically grounded and peace-oriented spirituality.

The church in Corinth, for instance, was so unstable that Paul had to draw some pretty hard lines around Christian identity to keep the congregation from falling apart. As things go, his timely (situational) letters of encouragement and reproof were soon taken up as timeless (universal) holy scripture into the emerging institution of Christianity. Paul’s missionary career came to an end with his likely execution under the emperor Nero in the mid-sixties, a half-decade before the first narrative of Jesus’ life and ministry (Gospel of Mark) was written.

This Letter of Peter was certainly not written by the disciple and erstwhile fisherman of Jesus’ original company. The polish of its Greek vocabulary, the intellectual sophistication of thought, and the late-stage development of its doctrine all point away from him. At the very least, the references to a heavenly inheritance and the outcome of faith as salvation of the soul put it at odds with what we know as the authentic teachings of Jesus. If he was among Jesus’ first student-followers, this author has almost completely lost the social urgency and this-worldly concern of his teacher-master.

So let’s ask: How exactly did God give us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus? Is it just that we now have a way out of this damned world, to a heavenly security waiting for us on the other side? Is our “hope” that we will be better off  later? Is the task  now simply to believe rightly and win God’s protection of our faith until the final prize is gained? Is the writer assuring us of this destiny by the warrant of Jesus’ resurrection, whereby the savior got there first and unlocked the door for the rest of us?

Christian orthodoxy, then and now, answers ‘Yes’ all the way down that list of questions. Christianity soon promised a way out of this mess of a world, whereas Jesus showed us the path deeper into it tangles, with an aim of loosening the knots that bind our human spirit.

Each of us today stands at that same fork in the road.

PSALM 16

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    I have no good apart from you.”

As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
    in whom is all my delight.

Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
    their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
    or take their names upon my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
    you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    I have a goodly heritage.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
    in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
    my body also rests secure.
10 For you do not give me up to Sheol,
    or let your faithful one see the Pit.

11 You show me the path of life.
    In your presence there is fullness of joy;
    in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Today as in ancient times, we have to choose from among a pantheon of deities who demand our devotion. For many it is wealth, security, sex, or power. To the degree that these are the focus of investment, obsession, obedience and sacrifice, they serve to inspire our dreams and attract our worship. In other words, they are our gods.

What difference is there, really, between Baal, the fertility and harvest god in biblical times whose cult frequently competed with that of Yahweh of Israel, and Money, the god of prosperity and affluence in our day? The cult of Money – along with its attending saints Profit, Greed, and Conspicuous Consumption – drives social progress, big business, technical innovation, scientific research, class mobility, personal happiness, and even religion.

The poet believes that his deity, the Lord (Yahweh), is superior to the gods and goddesses of neighboring nations. While they might ensure a bountiful harvest or victory in war, his god provides something much more personal and, we should say, inwardly personal: inner peace, spiritual guidance, and fullness of joy. In other words, God isn’t merely an agency behind something that humans want or need, but the real presence and gracious mystery at the heart of life itself.

Interestingly in other parts of the ancient world as well, a searching intelligence was opening to the depths of existence. The Upanishads in India and Philosophy in Greece were simultaneously directing their meditations underneath and behind the phenomenal realm of everyday distractions. What were they looking for? In a word, reality.

We use this word glibly these days, but what is reality? Very literally, it’s the realness of something, its res or present being. Reality isn’t something else, on the other side of the world we sense and know. Rather it’s the depths of being itself, the really real, the real presence of mystery deep within all things. As the psalmist understood, this also means deep within ourselves.

As a causal agency behind the things that make the world go round, a god is nothing more than a personification of something we need but can’t explain. With this mystical (inward) turn, devotional focus was effectively detached from the conventional representation of this or that deity and plunged into the depths of a contemplative experience where God is present.

Not a personality but a present mystery. Not an agency behind things, but divine reality – not just a being but the very ground of being itself. God is not here to serve your needs. And – if you’re ready to hear this – God does not need your worship or devotion.

God is the heart of reality, the really real, even now rising from your depths with the invitation to an authentic and fully awakened life.

ACTS 2:14a, 22-32

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

22 “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25 For David says concerning him,

‘I saw the Lord always before me,
    for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
    moreover my flesh will live in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
    or let your Holy One experience corruption.
28 You have made known to me the ways of life;
    you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

29 “Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,

‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
    nor did his flesh experience corruption.’

32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.

“David … both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.” Jesus, on the other hand, was “raised up” by God and is alive now. Should we imagine a ‘CSI Jerusalem’ team going out in search of proof either way?

It is obvious that empty tombs are not really proof of anything – except maybe emptiness. Christianity – as distinct but not separate from the kingdom movement centered around the life and teachings of Jesus – did not explode on the scene because some of his early followers found his tomb empty.

His body could have been misplaced or stolen. Or, going on the theory that the garden tomb tradition was a fictional embellishment on a biblical text taken as prophecy, it might have been thrown into a shallow grave and later scavenged by vultures and wild dogs.

It appears that this claim of resurrection grew harder and harder to defend as a factual statement about a once-dead body and a now-empty tomb. By increasingly desperate measures, the evolving stories started to include white-robed men, an Easter earthquake, a descending angel rolling away the stone, and then various encounters with Jesus and his personal appearances at larger gatherings of believers.

The apostle Paul would later testify on behalf of his own one-on-one with the risen Christ – which really makes it the first claim to a live encounter, since Paul wrote about his experience almost 20 years prior to our earliest Gospel account (Mark). In fact, Paul may have been the first to employ this metaphor of resurrection, perhaps as a way of making a connection between his transforming experience on the way to Damascus and the founder of the messianic movement he was working hard to extinguish. The very one he was persecuting suddenly spoke or appeared to him with forgiveness and a missionary calling.

We are obviously chasing down a rabbit here, but let’s go one step farther.

What if all the later stories of post-resurrection appearances and encounters, earthquakes, angels and the empty tomb itself were narrative representations of an essentially mystical experience of death-and-rebirth, of “dying” (letting go and falling) into grace and “coming to life” in freedom, joy, and gratitude? This experience in itself is profoundly interior and beyond words, yet everything changes as a result.

In one of his authenticated early letters, Paul professes: “I have been crucified with Christ. Now I [ego] no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). For Paul, the resurrection wasn’t something that happened to Jesus. It really has nothing to do with an empty tomb somewhere, and it wouldn’t be nullified with the chance discovery of Jesus’ remains.

As you identify with Jesus – that is to say, you understand and inwardly accept the gift of unconditional love and forgiveness that came through him – you cannot help but drop your agenda, surrender your will, and live fearlessly in the moment.

Resurrection is an experience; the myth is commentary. Here, once again, we have the dichotomy of mysticism and orthodoxy that is a paradox inherent in every living religion.

Whether it’s true or not is up to you.