Archive for the ‘Ninth Bundle’ Category

MATTHEW 5:13-20

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is a righteousness that is based on the Law. By Jesus’ time the Law had expanded from the two tablets of commandments into more than six hundred rules and regulations for governing Jewish belief and behavior.

The “law and the prophets” in Judaism formed a dual authority over the societal order and personal piety of the people. This was, in short, the orthodoxy of his day. When he began proclaiming his gospel and teaching about the kingdom of God, many were convinced that this new spirituality would pull down and do away with organized religion and its law.

Jesus knew that you can destroy orthodoxy, but only to raise another in its place. The logic why this is so is fairly straightforward. Orthodoxy is religion seen from the outside, and as long as you are working to discredit the dogmas of the system you will have to replace these rejects with others that you find more credible. Every “new spirituality” that has ever gotten a foothold in society as a challenger to existing orthodoxies has succumbed eventually to a dogmatism of its own.

Genuine spirituality is religion experienced from within. Because it isn’t about a systematic arrangement of absolute truths, a healthy spirituality doesn’t feel the need to replace one idea with another. Its principal aim is to live in God, and to live God out!

                                                                                   

“You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” Who is? To whom is Jesus speaking in this early chapter of Matthew’s story? Not the organized church, certainly, which is not yet on the scene.

According to the narrative, Jesus is addressing “great crowds” of people who had been following him from all over Palestine. These are not “true believers,” and neither is there any suggestion that they are converts to the “system” of Jesus’ teachings. Their identity may be difficult for us to accept, but they are very simply people – human beings.

It seems that Jesus held a remarkably high view of human nature, and was of the belief that the human being is something inherently special and noble. And according to the way he was remembered as treating others, it would not be a stretch to attribute to Jesus a perspective on the human being as a potential of God.

As divine potential, a human person has inside him- or herself the powers of salt and light. Jesus called human beings the salt of the earth, and the light of the world. What significance is there to these different phrases?

Earth refers to our home planet, while the term world is used throughout the Bible in reference to the layer of human culture that encircles the earth with a halo of art, architecture, communications, commerce, science, industry and political life. The one who lives out of the divine center of what they are is like an enhancing spice among Earth’s creatures, and like a radiant lamp among the world’s people.

That kind of person can breathe new lift into religion, fresh meaning into “the law and prophets,” and thereby bring to fulfillment the old and worn orthodoxies of our day.

1 CORINTHIANS 2:1-16

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”—

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. 13 And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

14 Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.

16 “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.

Paul had been careful not to impose on the new Christians in Corinth some prefabricated system of orthodoxy. Instead he wanted their theology and Christian worldview to grow out of a spiritual experience – coming through them, not packaged and imported from somewhere else.

A theology that is fixed and rigidly defined will only be an obstacle, especially if its definitions have achieved a mystique of sanctified authority.

And this is where Paul had a decided advantage over where many find themselves today. As the principal architect of the emerging dogmatic system of Christianity Paul could work in and with his mission churches in this early construction, bringing the forms and ideas through the real-time experiences of his converts and fellow Christ-followers.

But for us who are coming to the scene not on the heels of Paul but after two thousand years of expansion and remodeling, the creative freedom and experiential relevance of Christian orthodoxy today is anything but lively, dynamic, and expressive of transcendent truth. In our time, an important renewal movement is reaching back for the “first voice” of Jesus himself, to the genesis movement of spiritual rebirth and world transformation that was the vital center of his gospel.

What then, if not orthodoxy? If not “lofty words or wisdom,” what did Paul first present to the Corinthians as the core truth of Christianity? Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

                                                                                   

Observe: Jesus on his cross holds a very different value, as far as potency and meaning are concerned, from that of Jesus in the system of Christian orthodoxy. Besides there being a difference of a physical device for carrying out state-sanctioned murder versus a conceptual theory for explaining the significance of what happened there, we might simplify the distinction by saying that, while the system defines Jesus within a closed set of terms, the cross reveals the inner truth of what Jesus had been about.

For the one, Jesus is an object of explanation, and for the other he is the subject of a revelation. (We might also say that there is a difference between head and heart here, but we don’t want to encourage internal divisions of the whole person.)

For Paul, the cross of Jesus had become the epiphany of what his gospel was all about. Through the image of Jesus surrendering to his higher identity as the Christ, putting aside his own right to life and hanging in solidarity with all God’s children who suffer oppression and violence at the hands of arrogant orthodoxies, Paul perceived the very purest energy of love.

The same Spirit that searches out the deepest mysteries of God was there, penetrating the world’s darkness with its redemptive light. It’s not about doctrines. It’s about love, and it always has been.

Those who want tight and convincing definitions will be disappointed here. And those who think that salvation depends on holding the right beliefs will readily condemn it to the dustbin of heresy.

PSALM 112:1-10

Praise the Lord!
    Happy are those who fear the Lord,
    who greatly delight in his commandments.
Their descendants will be mighty in the land;
    the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in their houses,
    and their righteousness endures forever.
They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright;
    they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.
It is well with those who deal generously and lend,
    who conduct their affairs with justice.
For the righteous will never be moved;
    they will be remembered forever.
They are not afraid of evil tidings;
    their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord.
Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid;
    in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor;
    their righteousness endures forever;
    their horn is exalted in honor.
10 The wicked see it and are angry;
    they gnash their teeth and melt away;
    the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.

As the Reformation and Counter-Reformation (the Roman Catholic response and parallel development) established  generally pessimistic views of human nature at the center of their respective orthodoxies, the societies under their influence became increasingly anxious, discontent, avaricious, and self-absorbed – conditions that would soon be incorporated into the new capitalism of modern market economies.

If there’s nothing of inherent worth inside you and the world around you is fallen and condemned, then what’s left but to store up for yourself treasure in heaven? Eternal life is out there, after this, in some other place.

But that’s precisely not where eternal life is to be found. Rather, and as Jesus would make more clear in his gospel of the kingdom of God, life above the mortal conditions of temporal existence is available here and now. All that is needed is to pass through the “narrow gate” of present awareness.

After all, it’s always and only here and now that we can enter and enjoy our communion with God. “The righteous” have long known this truth: their “hearts are steady” and “they are not afraid,” for they are rooted in the grounding reality of God’s peace, power, grace and love. This is the first principle of mystical spirituality: Reach deep enough within yourself and you will eventually pass into the Divine Mystery, where you and that Other are One.

ISAIAH 58:1-12

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century was a decisive threshold in the cultural evolution of Europe. Antecedent to it was the Renaissance, a literally ground-breaking flood of discoveries – long-lost Greek and Arabic texts on everything from physics and mathematics to philosophy and political theory, along with artefacts of ancient civilizations and the creative genius of the human spirit that is the wellspring of art, poetry, and music.

After the Reformation came the so-called Enlightenment, with the dramatic rise of rationalism, scientific materialism, and technology. It is truly baffling to contemplate how the earlier explosion of creativity and cultural rebirth in the Renaissance could have terminated in the sterile fields of the Industrial Age, with the soul disqualified from respectable science and the earth reduced to little more than a resource for technological progress. Baffling, that is, until we factor in the main achievement of the Reformation itself.

Such celebrated virtues as freedom, individuality, and personal conscience were not gifts of the Reformation, as is sometimes thought. These were actually the pillars of the European Renaissance. The outstanding achievement of the Reformation itself, in a sense capitalizing on these earlier advances but contradicting them as well, was its profound suspicion of human nature and its teaching of our universal depravity.

                                                                                       

While there had been some fairly minor traditions in pre-Reformation Christianity that were pessimistic over human worth and our potential for good, the reformers made this appraisal a centerpiece in their dogmatic systems. Any light, anything of positive value, even the will to do what is right and good was something, according to these new orthodoxies, that had to be brought in or deposited from outside.

In and of itself, human nature was seen as fallen, broken, corrupt, wicked and totally bereft of God. As the complement to and further development of this depressing philosophy, Reformation theories of salvation and the Atonement had to import such despicable notions as total depravity and the propitiation of a blood-thirsty deity.

But the Bible represents the human being in a much more positive light over all. Although we can find passages that speak to our limitations, brokenness, and tendencies toward selfishness and violence, the dominant perspective of the Bible on the subject affirms and celebrates the goodness and light that are already present, if presently dormant, in all of us.

In the end, it is not our “good works” that God wants so much as our goodness itself to be expressed in all that we are. The manifested goodness of the human being is the very light of God’s glory and grace shining out on the world. Isaiah’s challenge is our own today: Open up and let it shine!