Archive for the ‘Forty-Eighth Bundle’ Category

JOHN 6:56-69

56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

What happened that so many of those who claim to be Christians actually become opponents of Jesus’ original vision and way of life? How is it, for instance, that we erect multi-million-dollar church buildings in the name of one who charged his disciples to go out into the world with “no bread, no bag, no money in your belts” (Mark 6:8)?

How did it happen, and when exactly, that we traded a moral vision of universal and unconditional love for a heady and dogmatic orthodoxy? Where did we begin to convert his simple ethic of sacrifice on behalf of the poor and compassion for the outcast into a middle-class morality of  mail-order charities and government programs? When you put it all together like that, it becomes painfully obvious that the so-called Christian West (especially North America) has betrayed Christ more than any other people.

As many of the others were abandoning Jesus for a more manageable religion, Peter declared his allegiance to the difficult path. “Lord, where else could we go? You are giving it to us straight, so I’m with you, come hell or high water.” Peter recognized that his devotion to Jesus and to the cause of the gospel was not about his personal comfort and dogmatic security. In a moment of clarity he understood why he was standing there with this Galilean visionary on the edge of history. Jesus represented real life, and Peter was wanting nothing less.

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JOHN 6:56-69

56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

A friend once commented to me how this passage, and in particular John 6:66, reveals a truth concerning the anti-christ – about the one who turns against Christ. Instead of referring to some apocalyptic figure on the future stage of world politics, the real anti-christ is what inside ourselves pushes away the gospel’s total claim on our lives.

We may attach ourselves to a local faith community, give assent to the key beliefs of our tradition, and carry on as decent law-abiding citizens. As long as our religion helps us cope with the stresses of postmodern life and guarantees our beatitude in the life to come, we are willing to stay with it.

But should the deeper message and challenge of Jesus’ gospel break through our defenses, we complain with the disciples, “The teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” We would rather worship Jesus on Sundays than follow him devotedly throughout the week. To identify ourselves so completely with the example, the spirit, the mind, the gospel, and the revolutionary vision of Jesus – “Who can accept it?” we murmur, and turn away.

And that is precisely when we turn against (anti-) Christ. It’s not in hostile acts of aggression but by subtle dissociation that we become enemies of the gospel. The more of us that exempt ourselves from having to “eat the flesh and drink the blood” of Jesus, that is, who pass off the call to discipleship because the personal sacrifice is too great or the challenge of forgiveness demands too much, the more significant a barrier we become, individually and collectively, to the present realization of his vision.

EPHESIANS 6:10-20

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

In addition to the helmet of personal integrity, the breastplate of moral uprightness, and the belt of truth, the Christian disciple is advised to put on the shield of faith, the shoes of witness, and the sword of God’s word. Faith will be able “to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one,” the writer explains, a “flaming arrow” being any number of challenges and hardships that could otherwise, without the protection of a trust reliance on God, overwhelm us and do us in.

Thus free of anxiety, we can have all confidence as we venture boldly forth with the “gospel of peace,” the good news of God’s love revealed in Jesus, as our testimony to others. And should there be times when we feel at a loss how best to share our hope with the world, the word of God (not the Bible as yet, since its writings were still int he process of being composed and collected) will be provided to us at the decisive (from decidere, to cut) moment.

In the tradition of the apostle Paul, this writer exhorts his readers to remain strong and not shrink back in the face of trouble and persecution. Sending his letter from prison, he remained hopeful for an opportunity to share God’s love and the gospel of Jesus even there. And that is true for all of us, no matter our life situation. Indeed, it is frequently in the places we’d rather not be that our greatest opportunities for bearing witness are found.

EPHESIANS 6:10-20

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Many Christians today find little attraction in the militant language of popular evangelical Christianity, where Satanic conspiracies are regularly exposed and the Prince of Darkness seems to get more press and attention than does the Prince of Peace. But while it is frequently overplayed – even verging on becoming an occult fascination of its own – the idea that we are up against something in the world that is larger and more resilient than our own individual destructive impulses is firmly represented in the New Testament.

Whether it’s conceived as being an externally existing demonic personality (the classic Satan figure) or is regarded as the dark spirituality of a domination system that perpetuates prejudice, violence, and oppression in human society, you have only to read the daily newspaper to perceive that something significant haunts our hope as a species.

How to make our way through this battle ground of forces? How can we stay on the path of Jesus’ gospel in this jungle of distractions and hazards that we call the world? Our author helps us get equipped – and it is important to see that in five out of the six items he names, only one of them is a weapon; the rest are for protection.

Beginning with the head and moving down, we have the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, and the belt of truth. Salvation here is derived from the root-word meaning “healed” or “made whole,” so we might translate this first item as the helmet of wholeness or personal integrity. Together with uprightness (righteousness) and a commitment to truth, this combination of virtues will provide the disciple with a firm and stable center of balance in the midst of the buffeting forces of the world.

PSALM 84

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
    to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
    my King and my God.
Happy are those who live in your house,
    ever singing your praise.

Happy are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca
    they make it a place of springs;
    the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
    the God of gods will be seen in Zion.

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
    give ear, O God of Jacob!
Behold our shield, O God;
    look on the face of your anointed.

10 For a day in your courts is better
    than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than live in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    he bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
    from those who walk uprightly.
12 O Lord of hosts,
    happy is everyone who trusts in you.

We can say with certainty that any psalm in our Bible that refers to the temple and its courts could not have been written by David, who lived before its time. The ending of Psalm 23, about dwelling in the house of the Lord forever, makes it questionable on the list of authentic poems by the shepherd-king. Regardless, the remarkably personal and passionate spirituality that is expressed in this and other poems of the biblical collection form a continuous line of influence from David himself.

For the author of this psalm the house of God is a place of delight, where every creature can find refuge and a beauty beyond words. The poet’s heart longs to be in its sacred precincts, with songs of praise and overflowing joy.

And then there is this: Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion (the mountain on which the temple stood). As he looks outward to the stream of pilgrims approaching the temple, the psalmist has a vision of the true path of approach, in the heart of every honest and searching soul.

1 KINGS 8:22-30, 41-43

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. 23 He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, 24 the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. 25 Therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ 26 Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.

27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! 28 Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; 29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place.30 Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.

41 “Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name42 —for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm—when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, 43 then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.”

The compromise, if you can call it that, between the establishmentarians and the hard-line prophets who were against the whole imperial idea, was that only the name and not the full glory of God would be said to dwell in the temple. This gave the temple-boosters a fixed focal point for their religious beliefs and practices, at the same time as it respected the temple-busters in their conviction that God was too immense to be kept in a house. But it was still a compromise and the debate raged on, mainly between priests (boosters) and prophets (busters).

Solomon resisted the idea of the temple serving as God’s earthly residence, as a counterpart to that in neighboring nations where the effigy of a god was honored and adored. In his prayer of dedication he refers several times to heaven as God’s true dwelling place. Before it became, in later centuries, the homeland paradise for departed true believers, the wide expanse of heaven was a symbol of God’s exalted majesty and boundless being.

As he spread out his hands to heaven, Solomon was acknowledging God as essentially Other, beyond human grasp and beyond even existence itself.

1 KINGS 8:22-30, 41-43

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. 23 He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, 24 the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. 25 Therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ 26 Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.

27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! 28 Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; 29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place.30 Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.

41 “Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name42 —for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm—when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, 43 then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.”

We can hear the trepidation in Solomon’s words as he dedicates to God the newly built temple in Jerusalem. Yahweh had admonished David earlier for the presumption in his plans to erect a place for the deity to dwell. And what about that? Was God now of a different mind on the subject? A sacred house is acceptable today, but wasn’t yesterday? David couldn’t, but now Solomon can?

There is a rather fascinating undercurrent to the history of Israel’s progress toward becoming an empire like others round about, something of a counter-voice to the entire project. The prophet Samuel had anointed Saul king only after God reluctantly gave in to the people’s demand for a royal leader. Previous to that, Yahweh had been their Lord. Even after the throne was established, generations of prophets continued to rail against the corruption of kings, one after another.

Similar criticism sprang up around the plans to build a temple for God in the capital city of Jerusalem. Wasn’t it enough that the nation had set up a human authority in the place of God, and now they want to store Him away inside a shrine where He can be worshiped at their convenience? Later on, the prophet Jeremiah would be especially reproachful of a popular belief concerning the temple, that its presence in the city guaranteed it invincible to enemy attack.