Archive for the ‘Twentieth Bundle’ Category

JOHN 14:1-14

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

If we didn’t know the background tradition of John’s Gospel, we would think that Jesus is calling attention to himself as the historical-specific savior figure who is the world’s only way to God. Isn’t that exactly what’s going on in this text?

Actually, this Gospel is rooted in a deeper stream known as the Wisdom tradition, which surfaces also in the New Testament letter of Colossians and elsewhere, but reaches back into the so-called intertestamental writings of Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon, and still farther back into the First Testament books of Ecclesiastes, Job, Proverbs and the Psalms. On the larger world stage, the Wisdom tradition moved across the cultures of Israel, Greece, Egypt and even into the Far East.

The basic idea of this great spiritual philosophy was about a creative principle behind the cosmos and everything we see. In Israel this principle was named Hokhmah, in Greece Sophia or Logos, in Egypt it was called Ma’at, and in China is was named the Tao. Often in feminine representation (but not always), Lady Wisdom was regarded as the intelligence, purpose, grace, and glory that holds everything in unity.

An arrangement of five apples on the ground, for instance, would be counted as six things – the five apples and the order of their arrangement. This was one aspect of Wisdom. But also, each apple is a certain arrangement of elements; and the tree from which it fell, the ecosystem around the tree, the provident planet of Earth, the solar system, our galaxy and universe entire – this vast complexity of patterns within patterns,  how it all holds together and turns as one, was contemplated as divine in nature.

                                                                                            

As we said, the Hebrews named her Wisdom and the Greeks honored him as Logos: the Word. And this is where John’s Gospel picks up the thread. In the opening chapter we are introduced to the Word that was with God, as God, from the very beginning, through whom all things were made (John 1:1-3). This Word, we are told in verse 14, was made flesh and lived (literally “pitched its tent”) among us in the person of Jesus. This passage, by the way, clearly has Sirach 24:1-12 as its inspiration:

Wisdom praises herself,
    and tells of her glory in the midst of her people.
In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth,
    and in the presence of his hosts she tells of her glory:
“I came forth from the mouth of the Most High,
    and covered the earth like a mist.
I dwelt in the highest heavens,
    and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.
Alone I compassed the vault of heaven
    and traversed the depths of the abyss.
Over waves of the sea, over all the earth,
    and over every people and nation I have held sway.
Among all these I sought a resting place;
    in whose territory should I abide?

“Then the Creator of all things gave me a command,
    and my Creator chose the place for my tent.
He said, ‘Make your dwelling in Jacob,
    and in Israel receive your inheritance.’
Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me,
    and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.
10 In the holy tent I ministered before him,
    and so I was established in Zion.
11 Thus in the beloved city he gave me a resting place,
    and in Jerusalem was my domain.
12 I took root in an honored people,
    in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.

It’s important to remember that in John’s Gospel, Jesus – the historical-specific figure who is the chief protagonist of his narrative – is functioning as the human mouthpiece of this Wisdom/Word which is universally present throughout creation as the creative intelligence and will of God. It would have made no sense in the larger tradition to say that this Wisdom/Word was only here or there, in this individual person from Nazareth and nowhere else. Wisdom is everywhere, or nothing would exist.

Through Jesus (John’s Gospel is saying) the Word of God spoke with a power and clarity unmatched anywhere. While this self-same Wisdom/Word was driving the sprouting seed and guiding the stars in their courses above, in Jesus it was revealed as love for all the world, setting people free by the gift of God’s unconditional forgiveness.

In our passage, Philip asks to see “the Father” – this Gospel’s favored term for God. Jesus replies by inviting Philip to look through him (Jesus) to the divine wisdom of God’s love. The development of Christianity increasingly became about looking at Jesus instead of through him; making him into an object of worship rather following him as the way to love.

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1 PETER 2:2-10

Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:

“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,”

and

“A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

The apostle Paul also used this metaphor of “milk” in reference to the teachings he first delivered to the converts in Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:2). This was in contrast to the “solid food” that he thought would have been too much for them to digest (i.e., understand).

Milk is gentle on the stomach, but really only for newborns, since the production of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to break down the sugar found in milk, decreases significantly into adulthood. Research is showing how many health complications today might be traceable to the persistence of dairy in the adult diet.

With that in mind, we should question the wisdom of feeding a “milky” gospel to adults who are looking for authentic meaning in their lives. Could the significant arrest in church growth over the past several decades have something to do with the fact that preachers, teachers, and evangelists are serving an essentially tasteless and indigestible message to people who are looking for relevancy and substance?

The “spiritual milk” of the emerging Christian religion was focused on Jesus whose death had made atonement for the sins of the world. What we were unable to do – pay the penalty for sin and satisfy the conditions against God’s forgiveness – Jesus did on our behalf. Christianity made Jesus into its object of worship, eventually merging him into God as the Second Person of the Trinity. His divinity, virgin birth, miraculous powers, atoning death, literal resurrection, ascension into heaven and future return to earth became the diet of doctrines proclaimed as necessary for salvation.

And so it is to this day.

Jesus himself had spread a table of “solid food” – literally bread and wine, as the tradition goes. But intellectually speaking, he didn’t dumb things down or reduce his kingdom movement to a set of beliefs and a closed membership. Neither did he put himself at the center of devotion for his followers to worship. He didn’t let people rest in their assumptions and take the easy way. Instead he challenged them to give up everything and not look back.

Even more significantly, the gospel of Jesus was not about paying a penalty for sin or getting on God’s good side. His message was that God has already forgiven – everyone!  Jesus knew that the human future depends on our willingness to let go of resentment, set aside our demand for retribution, and let the spirit of love (rather than the demon of vengeance) move us back into relationship with our enemies. Don’t wait for repentance, he said. Just forgive, and don’t stop. This is God’s way.

Christianity would soon become an elitist religion of true believers with a  mission to save the world. The kingdom movement of Jesus, however, was an ordinary company of forgiven sinners, on fire with a joy they just had to share.

If Christianity is to become a creative force for the liberation of humanity, it’s time for a change of menu.

PSALM 31:1-5, 15-16

In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;
    do not let me ever be put to shame;
    in your righteousness deliver me.
Incline your ear to me;
    rescue me speedily.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
    a strong fortress to save me.

You are indeed my rock and my fortress;
    for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,
take me out of the net that is hidden for me,
    for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit;
    you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

15 My times are in your hand;
    deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16 Let your face shine upon your servant;
    save me in your steadfast love.

If human beings were perfect and self-sufficient, the very concept of salvation would have no meaning, at least as it applies to us. In that case, maybe we would be the gods and saviors of lower and less perfect beings. As it is, we are neither perfect nor self-sufficient, but limited and dependent in ways we often try to conceal or deny.

By virtue of occupying a particular location in reality we lack the full view from where we stand; so we long for wisdom and understanding. We often lose our bearings and get confused on the way through life; so we long for guidance and direction. Because we are moral beings, we frequently get pulled down by the weight of our guilt and regrets; so we long for forgiveness and a fresh start.

But we also tend to make enemies and get tangled in troubles of our own design; so we long for refuge and freedom. And even though life itself is a passing career, our blessing (or curse) of self-consciousness makes us susceptible to anxiety; so we long for peace and dream of living forever.

Add to this the fact that we are animal organisms who need protection, company, and nourishment from outside ourselves and the list lengthens considerably.

So we have a choice. Either we can accept this about ourselves and use these inherent deficiencies to inspire our reach into a provident reality, or we can resent the fact and refuse to rely on anyone or anything beyond ourselves. Obviously the second option amounts to some serious delusions, as severing all ties of dependency to the world around would result in the quick extinction of even the most stalwart and rugged egoist among us.

Salvation, then, comes in many varieties. But the fundamental insight behind them all is that human beings are participants in a complex system of cooperation, resource, grace and support. Both the act of releasing oneself in surrender to the provident nature of reality and stepping into a life posture of humility, trust, and gratitude is what is meant by faith.

Consequently there are two basic types of religion: the kind that shames and scandalizes our deficiency as something that separates us from God, and the kind that honors and celebrates it as the places where God can be most real to us.

ACTS 7:55-60

55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

Stephen goes down in history as the first Christian martyr – or more accurately, the first martyr of the messianic Jewish sect that proclaimed Jesus as God’s long-expected savior. Was this claim the deciding accusation that justified putting Stephen away? Not exactly.

According to the previous chapter, Stephen was a gifted apologist and wonder-worker who had made some enemies in his own synagogue by his charismatic and well-argued defense of The Way (as the sect was initially called). In their frustration, his opponents stirred up rumors and had Stephen put on trial with trumped-up charges and false witnesses. They accused Stephen of preaching a Jesus who would completely undermine the authority of their religious tradition.

Well, that part they got exactly right.

What we see here is what has been seen countless times throughout the history of religion, Christianity included. When the gospel of Jesus is heard in all its revolutionary power and implications, a very typical reaction is provoked in the hearts of those committed to upholding the supremacy of tradition. His vision for the world can never be realized, since it would involve the dismantling of everything religion tends to become: separatist, exclusive, arrogant, dogmatic, and moralizing.

When this way of doing things is dutifully handed on to the next generation, it becomes tradition (from tradere, to hand on).

As long as just one person is awake and courageous enough to speak out for spirit, dignity, love and freedom – for all people and not just “our own” – the rest of us are in danger of waking up as well. And then what? What the hell would we do with a world full of awakened, liberated, fearless and joyful people?!

In his last breath Stephen forgave his murderers, just as Jesus had done on his cross. The spirit of unconditional forgiveness had set them free, too, even if their righteous convictions could not accept it.