The Lies We Tell

Since the Las Vegas tragic shooting, I have frequently heard pro-gun people say, “Chicago has the strictest gun laws in the nation. Look at the number of gun deaths they suffer from every year.” Reading it, I wondered to myself, since common sense told me that even if Chicago had the toughest gun laws, it was close enough to other areas, like Indiana and Ohio, for those wishing to have a gun could go and acquire a gun with not restrictions.

In my search, I found this article from the The Chicago Times. I think it is far closer to the truth about guns and Chicago than those of the pro-gun lobbies.

The truth is that once Chicago had tough gun restrictions. But the federal government has forced the city and state to gut it’s laws to the point, it is as easy to acquire a gun in the Chicago area as anywhere else. Besides that, Indiana has such weak laws, within an hour, a person can drive to Indiana, buy a gun with no background check, return to Chicago and commit a crime with that gun.

Something to think about.

Lectionary Reflection Matthew 18:15-20

Sometimes, Jesus does not leave us much wiggle room for interpretation. In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus speaks to the contentious of the faith, in first-century Palestine, in just about any century that followed, and certainly today. Church, if one wrongs you, then speak directly to them alone, if you are unable to reconcile, then bring one or two with you as witnesses, and if there continues to be no reconciliation, then bring it before the entire body of faith community. If the offender refuses to reconcile, then consider him or her outside the body. Only remember how Jesus treated the Gentile and tax-collectors!

I think John Wesley knocks this one out of the ball park in his sermon “The Cure of Evil-Speaking“:

“Avoid everything in look, gesture, word, and tone of voice, that savors of pride or self-sufficiency. Studiously avoid everything magisterial or dogmatical, everything that looks like arrogance or assuming. Beware of the most distant approach to disdain, overbearing, or contempt. With equal care avoid all appearance of anger; and though you use great plainness of speech, yet let there be no reproach, no railing accusation, no token of any warmth but that of love. Above all, let there be no shadow of hate or ill-will, no bitterness or sourness of expression; but use the air and language of sweetness, as well as gentleness, that all may appear to flow from love in the heart. And yet this sweetness need not hinder your speaking in the most serious and solemn manner; as far as may be, in the very words of the oracles of God (for there are none like them,) and as under the eye of Him who is coming to judge the quick and dead.”

Lectionary Reflections – Romans 12:9-21

I suppose it was as frustrating for Paul, as for us today. Paul had the task of not only bringing the word of the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, or the pagans; he also had the call of helping them to grow into their new faith. We must never forget when reading Paul, that he wrote his letters to newly-minted Christians. They had not yet developed the character of Christ. They probably did not understand what it was like to have the nature of Christ, or even know how to obtain that character for themselves.

After all, none of them had ever met this Jesus in the flesh. They had not walked with him on the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea. They had not personally witnessed any of the great deeds that the gospel story recorded. And they certainly did not witness the fateful day when Jesus was brutally nailed to the cross. Our witness to the living, resurrected body of Jesus three days later.

They, of course, had experienced the Spirit of Christ released by Jesus’ ascension to the right hand of God, the Father. And they knew that the Spirit having rested on them, had convicted their heart to the separation they had between their Creator due to the sin of selfishness and idol worship that was in their hearts. And they came to know that Jesus died for their forgiveness. That Jesus had died that they would be grafted on to the vine that was Jesus. And that the Spirit that was Jesus would become their Spirit and guide them in their faith, which was not a noun, but was verb. Faith meant that they lived out their daily lives in the character of Christ – that is in faith in the Spirit of Jesus in them. The question was how to obtain that character. As it is today.

So is it a matter of spiritual discipline – or a matter of focusing on the person of Jesus. Or may it be that they are one and the same, or one as the means of achieving the other.

Lectionary Reflection – Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.  Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.  Romans 11:29-3

I think, what a beautiful word, “irrevocable”. When it comes to understanding God it might be one of the most beautiful descriptions of His grace and calling. We should love irrevocable, and its synonyms: irreversible, unalterable, unchangeable, immutable, final, binding, permanent, carved in stone. Both gift and call, Paul says to the small house churches of Rome, can not be changed once given by God.

But it also might be challenging. We are people who are entitled, so we expect to receive the generous gift of grace from God, but we are not so crazy about the calling part. That requires sacrifice, maybe even suffering. But Paul warns that it is irrevocable. It can not be changed. It is final, binding written stone. Grace and call, not one or the other. What are we to do?

All are Welcome. Really?

I now can claim I have been a regular church goer for two decades. 13 years as a lay member, and 8 years as clergy. This even though I came back into faith late in life. In that time, I have seen members, and guests, and others come and go. I have read much about inviting others into a local faith community. The following blog post by Benjamin Corey states some of the truest words describing my own experience in those two decades. I highly recommend all read this article: “Some Things You Should Know About that Couple You Unwelcomed”.

You are never too old

I believe and stake my life on “you are never too old”! So my interest is always piqued by stories of senior citizens around the world who achieve goals and strive late into their so-called “sunset years”.

Just today, on my news feed, I discovered such a story that proves you are never too old, one more time. The heading read: “Thai granny completes university degree at 91“. The story is about Kimlan Jinakul, who after seeing most of her children go to college, even one earning a PhD, spent 10 years to obtain her own bachelor degree.

God bless you Kimlan for not giving up living, and submitting yourself to that grueling process of education. And bless you for offering all of us senior citizens, and younger, the example we need to keep to keep on going with God’s help.

Lectionary Reflection – Romans 10:5-15

Sometimes Paul is hard to understand. He is like a child so excited about some new idea his words seem to run together and doesn’t take a breath to explain it all. When I encountered, the text for this week, I exhaled with a loud, “Wow.” I said to myself, how am going to get cut through this dense theological text that we might see what God is doing?

But let’s try anyway. To understand where Paul is coming from, we need to know he is a Jew. We also should remember that Paul is a Pharisee. Thus, he was a devout Jew that spent considerable time every day in the Hebrew Scriptures, or what we call the Old Testament.

To Paul, and the other Jews of his day, and even today, everything about being Jewish and of the people of God lies in the Pentateuch. So, we should not be surprised that the foundation of what Paul proclaims lies there. Specifically, Paul is calling upon Deuteronomy, and Moses farewell address to the people he leads from bondage in Egypt and the 40 years of formation in the desert.

Moses at the end warns the people of Israel that God has called them to be a particular people. They are a particular people in covenant with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That covenant declares that they would be blessed so that through them all the nations would be blessed. Unfortunately, Israel failed to live up to God’s concepts of the covenant and attempted to make their own rules, or own righteousness – or life apart from God.

Moses, knowing them also to be a stiff-necked people who are prone to rebel, also offered them some words of being freed from their idolatry and rebellious way, to repent and return to God.

Last week, Paul was worried about those who were going in the wrong direction. They denied Jesus as the Messiah. Part of Paul’s purpose is to connect the dots for Israel. The salvation of Deuteronomy 30 is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. And, a very big and, even Gentiles are welcome to this fount of blessings, as promised in the covenant made to Abraham, he was to be blessed to be a blessing to the nations.

I’m too busy

I’m wondering aloud this morning. Am I, and many church folk too busy? Are we too busy at church programs to be at the mission of God, in the community in which we live?

Attending two or three meetings a week to plan and discuss plans, am I really attending to the presence of God, and am I in the community pointing out where God is present and at work in lives? Or am I more present to God when I’m working with children, or working at the Outreach Center, or sitting in a coffee shop or McDonald’s, visiting the sick? Am I missing the mission of God for all the busyness?

For those of us who are at various church ministry, are we too busy to attend to God’s presence in where we live, where we work, where we shop, where we bank, where we have our hair cut, where we play?

Are we just too busy anymore to be attendant to the presence of God in the very ordinary of the day?

I am thinking this is the case.

Renewal 2017

I have been in thought on renewal for 2017. I’m not a fan of resolutions. But I am a champion of renewal through the Holy Spirit. Since I believe prayer is the means by which God changes us, and not so much the world, I have chosen to add to my daily prayers in 2017 the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer. I invite you to join me.

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

Blessings on your journey with Christ in 2017.

”The Day the Revolution Began” by NT Wright Introduction -2

In Chapter 2, Wright immediately points to how though the cross was foolish to the Romans, and a scandal to the Jews, the leaders of the early Christian movement did not back away from it, but embraced it with vigor and enthusiasm:

But over against this downplaying or mocking we also see, from the earliest documents of the New Testament right on through the first five or six centuries of church history, the resolute affirmation of the cross not as an embarrassing episode best left on the margins, but as the mysterious key to the meaning of life, God, the world, and human destiny.[1]

Then Wright warns us not to get stuck on defining the cross. The early Church did not, and it was only later that some attempted to assume to do so. No Wright encourages us to focus on the “flesh and power” of what God is doing, that the same “wisdom and power” might work in us.

But Jesus died for our sins not so that we could sort out abstract ideas, but so that we, having been put right, could become part of God’s plan to put his whole world right. That is how the revolution works.[2]

On the other hand, Wright warns that we should be like adults rather than children and attempt to understand the foundations of the truth in the wisdom and power of God revealed in the cross. We should be asking “why” in order that the cross does not become a one-line slogan lacking the same wisdom and power that God desires us to enter into. As Wright frequently writes, it is the task of every generation to explore the central question of “why”.

The aim, as in all theological and biblical exploration, is not to replace love with knowledge. Rather, it is to keep love focused upon its true object.[3]

Here again, Wright gives the why we need to attempt to explain the cross. It is about love, more so than knowledge. Ultimately, love is to seek understanding so that it may deepen, and grow, and flower in to its fullest expression.

The next step for Wright is to look at the models and doctrines that developed through the ages since the scandalous and foolish act was committed upon the Messiah of the Jews. Wright argues that the early centuries of the church leadership held loosely several concepts of the “why” together. Jesus died for our sins; Christ won a great victory; Jesus died in our place; and used sacrificial imagery. The creeds of the early church were trinitarian, focused on God, Jesus and Spirit. They lacked any formulation of atonement, only restating 1 Corinthian 15.

Wright proposes that it was at the split  between the Eastern and Western Christianity, that more detailed formulations of the atonement began to appear. Because, the Eastern Orthodox church did not have an Anselm, the argument goes, it points to that many of the great controversies that follow came from “fresh interpretive schemes” rather than the Bible itself.[4] Anselm proposed that God’s honor was damaged by human sin, and needed to be satisfied. Wright, correctly, points to how this makes sense within the codes of chivalry of the High Middle Ages. An alternative, known as the “moral example” theory was developed by Abelard. It primarily argued that the cross was a generous act of love by God for humankind, thus leading humankind to love God in return. The Orthodox church did not feel it necessary to ask similar questions of the cross.

Next Wright explores what followed with the Reformation.

These two polemical targets— purgatory and the Mass— thus ensured that when the Reformers were developing their own ways of explaining what the death of Jesus achieved, they were understandably eager to ward off what they saw as ecclesial abuse. I am not a specialist in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but it does seem to me that in general terms the Reformers and their successors were thus trying to give biblical answers to medieval questions. They were wrestling with the question of how the angry God of the late medieval period might be pacified, both here (through the Mass?) and hereafter (in purgatory?). To both questions, they replied: no, God’s wrath was already pacified through the death of Jesus. Not only does this not need to be done again; if we were to try to do it again, we would be implying that the death of Jesus was somehow after all inadequate. (Echoes of this controversy can still be seen when exegetes tiptoe around Col. 1: 24, in which Paul seems to be saying that his own sufferings are somehow completing something that was “lacking” in the Messiah’s own sufferings.) They did not challenge the underlying idea that the gospel was all about pacifying divine wrath. It was simply assumed that this was the problem Paul was addressing in Romans 1: 18– 32 or indeed 1 Thessalonians 1: 10 or 5: 9. [5]

Quite fairly, Wright also states that Luther and other Reformers were strong biblical exegetists, and that they had strong affinity for the love and grace of God unfolding in the biblical story. Wright’s point of view is that Luther and the other Reformers had the right biblical answer for the wrong questions raised in the Middle Ages.

Ultimately the question should have been bigger, less about purgatory and heaven, but should have been a robust challenge of the “heaven and hell” framework. (This is one of the qualities I most appreciate about Wright’s work) For the answer that they discerned, lacked a proper biblical eschatology.

Atonement (how humans are rescued from their plight and restored to their intended place within the loving and creative purposes of God) must dovetail with eschatology (what God ultimately intends for the world and for humans). And if we rethink our eschatology, as I have been trying to do over the last decade or two, we must rethink our view of atonement as well. In fact, the two go together very closely in the New Testament: the cross was the moment when something happened as a result of which the world became a different place, inaugurating God’s future plan. The revolution began then and there; Jesus’s resurrection was the first sign that it was indeed under way. That is what the present book is about. [6]

In the opinion of Wright, among many others, the 18th century dawn of the Enlightenment, weakened a biblical understanding by the adoption of Epicureanism by the periods leading thinkers. Thus, earth and heaven became separated, and eschatology was getting to heaven, and more focus on the penal substitution that focused the church on “my sin, my heavenly (that is non worldly) salvation, and of course my Savior.”[7]

Here Wright takes the opportunity to address what he sees a major flaw in 20th century theology, the separation of personal sin from the evil of the world. Atonement became to be only about personal sin. Rightfully, Wright argues that the cross is about a cosmic redemption, thus the cross deals with evil both in personal sin and evil at work throughout the world.

In the 20th century (and 21st), confusion remains about the cross. The symbol of the cross has become to many a symbol of fear, loathing, and a hateful God who desires to murder sinners. Others have read earlier Christian writers and taken to pointing to God’s love in Christ that would die for others, or a sign of victory over death and evil. Wright, however, says all of these various concepts of atonement ultimately hide the most important New Testament statement on the cross “something happened as a result of which the world is a different place.” [8] The first Christian thinkers appearing in the New Testament were convinced something new was happening, a revolution was beginning with the crucifixion.

Wright’s direction is in sharp contrast to how many read and interpret Scripture today. Many who are teachers and preachers in the church focus on the personal story of salvation, and the satisfaction of an angry if not blood-thirsty God, while Wright argues it is about a much bigger issue, God’s kingdom being initiated by the death of Jesus on the cross. It is from this big picture stance, that Wright will move to the difficulties of the late 20th and early 21st century with the violence of the cross and the violence of the world now revealed 24/7 through industrialized weaponry and instant social media images of that violence. These are the questions that are heard in the pews and on the sidewalks of the community.

Wright is led to ask questions about what if we do go to look at the bigger context of Jesus’ death on the cross:

What might happen if, instead of an ultimate vision of saved souls going to heaven, we were to start with the eschatology of Ephesians 1: 10, with God’s plan to sum up all things in heaven and earth in the Messiah? What if, instead of a disembodied “heaven,” we were to focus on the biblical vision of “new heavens and new earth,” with that renewal and that fusion of the two created spheres taking place in and through Jesus himself? What if, instead of the bare “going to heaven,” we were to embrace (along with theologians like John Calvin) the biblical vocation of being the “royal priesthood”? What would happen if we thought through the ongoing cross-shaped implications, writ large as they are in the New Testament, of the once-for-all event of Jesus’s death? What difference might that make to our view of salvation— including once more its philosophical and political dimensions? How, in other words, does the cross fit into the larger biblical narrative of new creation? What would happen if, instead of seeing the resurrection (both of Jesus and of ourselves) as a kind of happy addition to an otherwise complete view of salvation, we saw it as part of its very heart? [9]

[1] Wright, N. T. (2016-10-11). The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (Kindle Locations 530-533). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid, (Kindle Locations 549-550)

[3] Ibid, (Kindle Locations 579-580)

[4] Ibid, (Kindle Location 604]

[5] Ibid, (Kindle Locations 530-533)

[6] Ibid, (Kindle Locations 735-740)

[7] Ibid, (Kindle Location 743)

[8] Ibid, (Kindle Location 810)

[9] Ibid, Kindle Location 965 – 973)