Archive for the ‘Sixth Bundle’ Category

JOHN 1:29-42

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

“Look, here is the Lamb of God!” With remarkable frequency the words of the Bible in poetry, prophecy, story and song call us to open our eyes: Look! Behold! Awake! See! Why is that?

Simply because it is our tendency not to be spiritually alert and perceptive. We get lulled into the trance of ordinary consciousness, put to sleep by the dogmatic yet spiritually irrelevant instructions of our tradition. While all around us the splendor of divine radiance flashes and shines through creation, our eyes are glazed over and our souls are nodding away. Wake up! Look here!

When John pointed to the passing Jesus and announced Behold, the Lamb of God! he wasn’t expecting his audience to literally see a lamb walking by. Clearly this was a metaphor. But for John it was a designation that pulled back the veil on the deeper truth of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world was a conflation of two essentially separate images, one from the Exodus tradition and the other from the Wilderness tradition of Israel’s story. In Egypt lambs had been slain and their blood smeared on door frames for protection of firstborns against the angel of death. This sacrifice, then, was associated with protection and deliverance, for it made possible the escape of the firstborn from captivity.

In the wilderness, after the great exodus had secured new life for the Hebrews, a scapegoat sacrifice annually removed the guilt of the people and set them free from the accumulated burdens of the past.

                                                                                             

What John the baptist is saying about Jesus – or more likely, what the author of the Fourth Gospel is saying about Jesus through the literary figure of John the baptist – is that he (Jesus) is the one who can set us free from the regime of captivity as well as from the long chain of guilt and regret. By fusing the two distinct sacrifices and their traditions, the author invented a new symbol for seeing into the deeper truth of Jesus.

Just as the Exodus tradition and the Passover sacrifice was essentially about being delivered from death and given a second chance at life, so do Jesus and his gospel rescue us from the fear of dying. They do this not by the promise of personal immortality, but rather by lifting us into God’s eternal purpose and helping us see infinitely beyond ourselves.

And just as the Wilderness tradition and the Atonement sacrifice was essentially about being exonerated from guilt and given a clean slate to begin again, so do Jesus and his gospel save us from the oppressive weight of self-disappointment and constant blame.

In combining these symbols and their distinct meanings, the author of the Fourth Gospel was doing something both unconventional (and therefore shocking) and highly creative. In effect, he is saying to us: Behold!

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1 CORINTHIANS 1:1-9

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

“Called to be saints” is a phrase that Paul used time and again when he addressed the various congregations under his care. A saint is literally a holy person, one who strands apart from the usual preoccupations and daily compromises that diminish the divine image in the rest of us.

There are, however, two very different schools of interpretation when it comes to the fuller definition of what it means to be a saint. The first, what we might call the monastic paradigm, sees the saint as a person who necessarily withdraws from the world in order to cultivate and protect the purity at the heart of this vocation. Typically the retreatant will live either in utter solitude or else in a convent with others of a similar bent.

The second school, which is also the one with roots in the New Testament and the gospel of Jesus, holds to the missionary paradigm. Here the saint cultivates more of an inner transcendence, but with a compelling desire to assist in the awakening and salvation of others.

Interestingly enough, Buddhism has these same two distinctions, with the Arhat being the saint who withdraws, and the Bodhisattva the one who dedicates him- or herself to the liberation of all sentient beings.

The New Testament (that is, Paul’s) concept of a saint is inseparably tied to the Bible’s broader concern for the world, as something worthy of redemption and not to be renounced or abandoned. Simply put, the saint is one who answers the divine call by taking on God’s purpose as his or her own, a purpose that has human liberation, genuine community, global peace, and planetary well-being as its ultimate aims.

                                                                                               

What does it mean to be “sanctified in Christ Jesus”? We can see that the word is related to those of “saint” and “holy” (sanctus). A first pass reveals it to mean “being made holy.”

In the Bible, something (most often a person or object) is made holy by means of a special ritual that separates it from the backfield of the ordinary, purifies it by water or blood (the life-power), links it into a symbol system of sacred values, and thereby empowers it with the higher purpose of that system to which it now belongs.

Must as the consecration of the bread for holy communion ritually removes the loaf from the realm of the ordinary and imbues it with a sacred meaning associated with Jesus’ body and death, so is one sanctified in Christ Jesus by detaching from the world and identifying with him.

For Paul, this is an ongoing process for the Christian. As long as we are in the flesh we will be given new opportunities to rise above our selfish impulses, leap beyond our fears, and sacrifice ourselves (the word literally means “to make holy”) on the cross of love.

It isn’t as if joining a church is the end-point of a Christian’s journey; it’s only a beginning! Identification with Jesus the Christ means following him into the world, reaching for those in pain and need who are at the end of their hope, and losing ourselves completely in the holy purpose of a love that never fails and knows no limits.

For the task ahead God has bestowed every good and beneficial gift.

PSALM 40:1-11

1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2 He drew me up from the desolate pit,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.

4 Happy are those who make
    the Lord their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
    to those who go astray after false gods.
5 You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
    your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
    none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
    they would be more than can be counted.

6 Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
    but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
    you have not required.
7 Then I said, “Here I am;
    in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
8 I delight to do your will, O my God;
    your law is within my heart.”

9 I have told the glad news of deliverance
    in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
    as you know, O Lord.
10 I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation.

11 Do not, O Lord, withhold
    your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    keep me safe forever.

If we didn’t know the source of this passage we might easily attribute it to Jesus. In fact, Luke may well have had this scripture in mind as he crafted the episode in his Gospel of Jesus’ inaugural sermon in Nazareth.

Jesus certainly had a “new song” to teach the world, one whose inspiration was resourced in a dimension beyond the “sacrifice and offering” of conventional religion. And the seventh verse of this psalm, about the identity and purpose of God’s special agent contained “in the scroll of the book,” is almost certainly the supporting text of Jesus’ claim that Isaiah’s prophecy about the new age of the Holy Spirit was coming to fulfillment in him and for his generation (see Luke 4:16-21).

“I have not hidden your saving help within my heart. I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation” – this sounds very much like it could have come directly from the personal journal of Jesus himself.

So we can see that the spiritual vocation is not typically the prelude to an officially “religious” life, but most often marks the transcendence of religion in the life and mind of one so awakened. For its part, religion ought to nurture and encourage this progress of spirit; sadly it too frequently becomes its most aggressive adversary. Whenever Jesus encountered this anti-mystical tendency in religion, he renounced it outright.

ISAIAH 49:1-7

Listen to me, O coastlands,
    pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The Lord called me before I was born,
    while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.
2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
    in his quiver he hid me away.
3 And he said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
4 But I said, “I have labored in vain,
    I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with the Lord,
    and my reward with my God.”

5 And now the Lord says,
    who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
    and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honored in the sight of the Lord,
    and my God has become my strength—
6 he says,
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

7 Thus says the Lord,
    the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations,
    the slave of rulers,
“Kings shall see and stand up,
    princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

The theme of vocation refers to the experience of being called to a purpose that transcends the daily round of wish-and-worry. The Bible’s metaphor of choice for exploring this idea of vocation is that of a servant. If it began as a somewhat exclusive reference for the exceptional man or woman who stepped out heroically on faith and risked everything in obedience to God’s will, eventually this metaphor of the servant of God came to be applied to a community, an entire nation, and even by extension to the whole species of humankind.

In the ideas of vocation and servant we have the issue of the call and submission to the call, the summons from God and the response of commitment. Of course this leaves open the possibility that the call may not be returned, that the voice might fall on deaf ears and the vocation never engaged.

Remembering that Second Isaiah is writing from within the situation of exile where he is trying to help his people see their tragedy in a new light, the prophet’s  first-person description of God’s servant is remarkable for its bold and far-reaching lines. “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.”

If Isaiah is hoping to effect a radical shift in the self-concept of his people, he is certainly well on his way in declaring that God had this very moment in mind before this generation was even born. In other words, the fall of Jerusalem and the deportation of Jews to the foreign land of Babylonia were events now in the process of being redeemed.

                                                                                                

In addition to re-grounding the concept of vocation in the primordial intention of God (“before I was born”), Second Isaiah throws open the boundaries of space as well. Whereas earlier traditions had remained preoccupied with the welfare and destiny of God’s chosen people, the author reframed this status of privilege into a purpose of universal scope.

“It is too light a thing,” says God concerning the special vocation of the generation of exiles, that the New Being coming to birth in them should be for the sake of Israel alone. The beneficiaries of this redemptive work would now become all nations of the earth.

This achievement in reframing eventually would provide the foundations for the renewal movement of Christianity in the first century CE. The two key insights of Second Isaiah to energize that renewal would be (1) that God’s grace and calling are given prior to, and are therefore essentially independent of, an individual’s moral effort; and (2) that God’s purpose for the individual is to reach out and share with the whole world this gift and its core message of hope, forgiveness, and peace.

It should not surprise us, then, that Jesus took so much of his inspiration and evangelistic vision from the writings of Isaiah.