Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Exploring the Sacraments: Water, New Life, Thanksgiving

We are going to talk about sacraments as we understand them in the Episcopal Church and in most mainline churches. I start with a disclaimer – it is this passage from Paul:

1 Corinthians 13: 12-13
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

The disclaimer is this: We understand this, at best, only dimly. All of the arguments over the centuries about the meaning and efficacy of sacraments really should start there: We see this only dimly. We get it, but only partially. Notice though, Paul says this has something to do with love. We are called to see all this through that lens. So let’s get started:

The basic definition of a sacrament:
An outward sign of an inward grace.

We are physical, material beings. We understand things physically. We need to touch things. God gets that, and shows his actions physically for us. The church word is incarnational. We pray incarnationally, with all our senses: words, sight, symbols, music, taste, smell. The ultimate act of incarnation is God come to earth as fully human in the person of Jesus. God continues to be with us incarnationally through the sacraments.

Again, to keep this simple: The sacraments should be thought of as windows to the Holy, as tangible, physical places to touch God. The sacraments can get very complicated, but really that is their purpose – as gifts from God allowing us to touch God.The sacraments are not magic acts; they are ways for us to live fully into the life of grace.

So let’s start with the basics:

The seven sacraments, as they have been long recognized by the Church are:

Holy orders, or ordination
Reconciliation, or confession
Unction, or anointing the healing
Eucharist, or Holy Communion

The Episcopal Church has its roots in the English Reformation. And from our roots, we consider two sacraments to be the most important, to be the sacraments from which all else flows, and it is those two sacraments I am going to focus on: Baptism and Eucharist.

The other sacraments are optional for leading a Christian life. Baptism and Eucharist are not optional to live into the fullness of being a Christian. You can be a Christian without partaking of these sacraments, but to live fully into being a Christian is to experience the two most important sacraments. So it is about Baptism and Eucharist that I want to spend some time with you.


1 Corinthians 12: 12-14
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.

Before we go to far, start think first about something very basic: water. Water is the stuff of all life. Humans are mostly water. In the deepest distant eons, all life on this planet came out of the seas. Our blood has the chemical composition of seawater.

Water is the stuff of food. Nothing we eat can grow without water. Water represents not only a metaphor for life, water is life itself.

Water is also death. We can drown in water. Too much water will flood the land and kill everything in its path.

Water is both death and life.

And so it is the perfect incarnational symbol of baptism. The baptismal font at right is the oldest known font in the English-speaking world, at the entrance of St. Martin's Church, Canterbury.

In baptism, we represent with water, both death and life. Our old selves die in water and our new selves are born in water.

So how do we get it? What does baptism mean for us? What is going on here?

Baptism has its roots in the Jewish rites for purification. The temple priests would wash in a special basin and the ritual became more and more involved.

The Hebrew prophets made a great deal out of this ritual washing, and then made it into something broader and bigger that was no longer just about Temple priests. Ezekiel stood in a river in the valley of death, and he told of how new life would soon spring forth – trees and fish and food.

When John the Baptist stood in the river baptizing, those who came would have thought of Ezekiel standing in the river. They got it – they knew exactly what he was doing. When Jesus came to John the Baptist to be Baptized, Jesus signaled that this baptism in water included even him. And it became even bigger – the spirit descended like a dove, and God said “this is my beloved son, listen to him.”

Water and Spirit become intermingled in baptism; the outward sign – water – becomes completely intermingled with the Spirit.

And so there are at least two things going on with baptism: outward water and inner spirit.

Baptism is an outward physical recognition with water that God is already at work in someone, that the Holy Spirit is moving and bringing this person new life. In baptism, we recognize with water what is already an on-going fact, that God is bringing new life to a person.Baptism is not an intellectual thing, although a lot of words get used. Baptism is not a magic act that someone zaps someone into heaven.

Baptism is a spirit thing and that is why we can baptize infants or people with severe mental disabilities. It doesn’t matter if they – or we – really know what is going on with this. We use this symbol of water to recognize that the Spirit is in this person, and that they get it somewhere in their being.

The second thing that is going on: Baptism is an initiation into the Church. As Paul puts it, we are “baptized into one body.” Once you are in, you are in, and nothing can take that away from you. The reason we baptize you in church on Sunday is so that the body of the faithful can welcome you into the community. This is not a private deal – that is why we don’t do private baptisms anymore – so that the baptized can be welcomed into the Body of Christ.

You are now in the Body of Christ, welcome, and you are a vital part of the Body of Christ. The body of Christ needs you, and that is another reason we baptize the very young – why would we wait to bring you into the body of Christ? Infants and children are as much a valuable member of the Body of Christ as anyone else. That is one reason why we baptize someone only once – when you are in, you are in. 

Baptism is the starting line, so welcome to the starting line.

And you are not just in the body of Christ in one locale – in one small church or parish -- but you are a member of the entire body of Christ, all over the world. All of us are connected through our baptism, whether we live in Charlottesville or New York or Capetown. All of us are entered into the One Body through our baptism. That is also why we baptize you only once – once you are in, you are in, it doesn’t matter whether you change locations or even change
 church brands. You are in.

Christ needs every part of the body – Christ has need of you and of me – that is the point of your baptism. Hear again the words of Paul:

1 Corinthians 12: 12-14
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.

I said this is not an intellectual thing, and it is not. But there are words that go with baptism – and those words are our baptismal covenant. They are the words we pledge to live by as we live into the fullness of our baptism.

In the baptismal covenant, we pledge to pray and share in the breaking of the bread. We promise to love our neighbors as ourselves and we promise that when we fall into sin – as surely we will – that will return to the Lord, again and again. And we promise to respect the dignity of every human being.

Think about those items I just listed – loving your neighbor, respecting the dignity of every human being, praying, sharing. That baptismal covenant is really the beginning of ministry – of all of us. It from that covenant that everything we do in the church flows. Each of us has our own gifts from God, and each of us is called by God to do something with our gifts. Everything we do that is good in this world flows from our baptism.

Much debate and blood has been spilled over how and when to do baptisms. And all of that misses the point about baptism: It is not the quantity of water that matters. Some baptisms are done with a few sprinkles, others with full immersion. What counts is that you were baptized. The spirit knows no bounds, and neither does baptism.

Hear again from Paul: 

1 Corinthians 12: 12-14
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.

And that brings us to…


Eucharist is an outward extension of our baptism. You will notice in that passage from Paul, one seems to flow from the other; being washed in baptism into drinking from the Spirit. That passage from Paul above is a hinge between baptism and eucharist.  

Our Eucharist flows from our baptism, which is why in classic church architecture the baptismal font stands at the entrance of the church; you must flow through baptism to get to the Table. One has its fullest meaning in the other.

In our baptismal covenant, we pledge to share in the bread and wine of Eucharist.

The word “Eucharist” is Greek for “Thanksgiving.” It is also known as “Communion” or Holy Communion. It is the ritual meal we share remembering the Last Supper.

Some churches use only real bread and real wine, while others use a cracker and grape juice, while others use a combination of those items. 

By whatever words you call it, and by whatever food material you use, that is what we are talking about now. 

And like the argument over how much water makes a baptism, let me suggest that arguments over whether to use wheat bread or grape juice also miss the point of the Eucharist. So let us go a little more deeply into this…

To really understand the Eucharist, we have to get really, really basic again. We start with a meal, but not just any kind of meal.

To get this, I want to start by reaching far, far back to a time before Jesus, to a time before Moses, to a time before the Bible, to a time before the written word. Long ago, tens of thousands of years ago, I think people would sit around the campfire, and share a meal, and they would tell stories.

They would tell the OLD stories of people long ago and how God had saved them despite the odds. They told the old stories and by telling them, the old stories came alive for them, and the old stories became their stories, too. The ancient people didn’t listen for entertainment, they listened to remember the stories because the stories were about them.

Think about it: What are we doing in church. We are sitting around the campfire – the candles – and we are hearing the old stories – the Bible – and we are making those stories our own story. We are remembering in the same way the ancients remembered the stories of salvation of old.

We read the Bible to remember the old stories, to make the stories of Moses and Sarah and Jesus and Mary our own stories. We read the stories to hear again how God’s grace saved our ancestors, and how God’s grace continues to save us. We read the stories because they are our stories.

We don’t read the Bible in church to worship the bible, We read the stories to make the stories of God’s saving grace our story. That is the point of a sermon, by the way – to help illuminate the old stories – to make the stories come alive.

This way of remembering is underneath everything about the Eucharist. This way of remembering, in fact, is a gift weItalic get from the Hebrews. The Jewish way of remembering is not just a mere recitation of old facts to be filed away. Rather, this kind of remembering – this Jewish way of remembering – has everything to do with our Eucharist. 

For Christians, the ultimate story is the story of Jesus going to the Cross, dying, and then coming back to life among his disciples – the Resurrection - Easter. We tell that story in our Eucharist and we sit at the table at the Last Supper by our remembering at the Eucharist. It is not just any ole’ meal; it is the meal before the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the meal of Easter:

Luke 22: 14-20

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

Jesus uses the word remembering and he means it in this very Jewish way that I’ve been using the word. And by remembering it the way we do, in our Eucharist, the story of Easter becomes our story. By our remembering, the Resurrection of Jesus becomes ours. That is why the Eucharist is the cornerstone and the culmination of our worship on Sunday. Every Sunday is a remembering of Easter, and we become Easter people again and again by remembering Easter every Sunday through our Eucharist of bread and wine, shared again and again.

Think of the Eucharist as a window that opens, if only for a few moments, a way for you to touch these ancient events and make them your own. Remember I said earlier that the sacraments are incarnational? That we pray with our whole being? Well, in the Eucharist we are remembering with our whole being, we are remembering in an incarnational way – through the words of the ancient story, and through the sight and smell and taste of the bread and wine. We remember with our whole physical being. We become part of the story through our remembering.

Remembering – that is the first thing I want you to know about the Eucharist. But there is a good deal more that flows from this way of remembering.

When we come to share the bread and wine of communion, we are not just consuming as individuals, we are also sharing in this remembering meal with each other. We share it with everyone who joins us in church; and we share in the meal with everyone in every church on that particular day. That is the meaning of communion – to be in community with all the faithful.

We are sharing in this meal not just with each other, but with everyone who came before us and everyone who will come after us. Let me say that again: It isn’t just a handful of people in this room today, but everyone who ever has been is at the table with us, and everyone who is to come.

The Eucharist is a sign of how profoundly interconnected we are. Everyone we love who is no longer physically with us is at the table in our Eucharist. We are surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses” every time we come to the Table.

We say that God’s kingdom is here now but not yet fully here. The Eucharist is a sign of that. We get a taste of the Kingdom in our Eucharist, and sure sign of the heavenly banquet yet to come. Some say the Eucharist is an appetizer of the banquet; I think the word “appetizer” sounds a bit trivial, but you get the idea.

Remember that passage from Paul (1 Corinthians 13: 12-13) We see through a mirror dimly, but in a little while we will see God face to face. For now we get the Eucharist, and in the twinkle of an eye, we will have the whole banquet.

And this gets more interesting. Go with me a little further:

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), the great Medieval scholar and saint, put it this way: Aquinas said we are not souls inside of a body, but bodies inside of a soul. We are not souls inside of a body, but bodies inside of a soul. Our souls extend beyond ourselves and they are connected to each other and to everything in the universe.

So when we share this Eucharist, we share it with all creation and we share in a tangible way the fact that we are interconnected.

We are remembering not just any meal; we are remembering the Last Supper before the death of Jesus Christ – we are recalling the terrible suffering of Jesus. We are remembering the pain humans inflicted upon God, and we are remembering that we are all connected to each other through that pain.

This is why we have bishops. In the most ancient of our shared tradition as Christians, bishops are a mark that we share Communion together. Bishops are not just district administrators; bishops are visible signs that we share together this meal across time and space. That is why we are called an “Episcopal Church” – Episcopal is Greek for “bishop.” 

So go another step with me. The Eucharist brings not just food for our own journey of life, but a challenge as well. We share in the pain of the world, the hunger of the world, and we are challenged to do something with that. The world’s hunger becomes our hunger through the Eucharist.

As Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori puts it, “God’s body is pained and when we get that we might understand how to bless the whole world.”

One more thing goes on in our Eucharist: The priest blesses the bread and wine as the representative of the people. 

Much blood has been spilled over the centuries by Christians fighting other Christians about what happens in the blessing of Eucharist – is the bread chemically changed into Jesus or is it a mere symbol. All of those arguments miss the point. Richard Hooker (1554-1600), the great reformer of the English Church in the 15th Century, said the point of the Eucharist isn’t how the bread and wine is changed; the point is how we are changed by sharing in the bread and wine. And as we are changed, we can be the hands and feet and heart of God blessing the world.

In the early church, the Eucharist was a feast with bread, wine, olives, cheese, milk and fish. By the Middle Ages the Eucharist had become meager, with the priests holding up the host (bread) so that the people only see it, called "ocular communion." Merely seeing it was deemed good enough, the host was held in an ornate monstrance. One of the Lutheran complaints was in reforming the Eucharist back into a meal, and the Roman Catholic church did embrace that reform.

There is one more thing about this Eucharist: We don’t get to hoard it. It is not ours to keep. We are called to share it, to invite others to the banquet, and take our meal into the world and feed the world. We are called to bless the world.

Bishop Katharine has something else to say that I think is helpful: 

“We were created for a feast that insists all people were created for the feast.”

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reminder: Getting together Saturday Feb. 7

Just a reminder: We will be getting together as a group on Saturday morning Feb. 7 at 10 am to share our creeds.

Also, Bishop David Jones would like to meet with those being confirmed at 9:15 am on Sunday Feb. 8 before our worship service. I think that invitation extends to those of you who have been in our class, so please come if you can.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jesus, the Kingdom of God, Apocalypse Now

Please read Psalm 18: 1-20

Jesus the Procreator

The call of the Old Testament is not just to individual but to community. The New Testament changes the equation to the individual and to the world and cosmos. The icon at right is commonly called "Jesus the Procreator," and it is one of the earliest known depictions of Jesus (much copied) and attempts to portray that concept.

The purpose of the community: 

Christians make a unique claim – that “Jesus Saves.” The claim of Christianity is that Jesus has a unique role in this circle of Redemption – and that is what we are talking about tonight.

The purpose of the called community – the community of faith – is to restore the creation to be the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ ministry and teaching centers on the kingdom of God: Jesus’s proclamation in the Gospels is that the kingdom of God is here and now – not at a distant place and future but now. That is the Good News.

We see this in the gospels – there are four gospels – Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. Three of the four are closely related – scholars generally believe that Mark is the oldest and that Matt and Luke borrow heavily from Mark. The important thing for our purposes isn’t the difference but that the gospels are telling us about this extraordinary proclamation by Jesus about the kingdom of God being right here with us “if only we have ears to hear,” as Mark puts it.

Jesus begins by proclaiming “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel (Good News) (Mark 1:15) and concludes with the Last Supper: “From now on I will not drink of the fruit of the Vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Luke 22:18)
So what is going on here? We are in that gap of what things “ought” to be and what they really are.

Let’s define some terms. The term “kingdom” should be understood more in terms of who rules than as a political geography.

1. Thus the kingdom of God is any time and place where God reigns. It might be better to call this “The Reign of God.”

2. The reign of God is God’s act, not a human achievement.

3. In fact, Jesus’s proclamations throughout the gospels are to declare that with Jesus the Reign of God has now begun.

4. Jesus declares that reality isn’t just what is seen, but the relationship of humanity to the holiness of God in the acts of God to save humanity. God is not just a tough guy but is holy because God heals and saves people. The covenant with God is a covenant where God promises to save God's people.


Early followers had an encounter with the Risen Christ, and it changed everything about them. But how to explain the Jesus event?

First, they thought the end of the world was soon, a week or two at most. But then time dragged on.

You could also read these predictions of the end of time as “soon” quite literally, as some do today, and many did in the early church. The problem, of course, is that the world didn’t end when the earliest Christians writers thought it would.
Problem: How soon is “soon.”

Read Rev 1:3
• The end is “near”

The problem is as time marched on, it didn’t seem so near:

Read 2 Peter 3: 8-10

• Peter is saying we can’t know when but it will come like a thief

Paul dealt with the problem, too:

Read 2 Thess 2:1-3
• The day is postponed, other things must happen first

There is another way to read/hear these predictions of the end time:
• That the “end times” are not about this world at all;

• Rather it is to get us to touch a mystical world;

• One way to escape the brutality of this world is to touch a different world, and to see that (mystical) world as more “real” than this world.

• The escaton predictions force us to get out of our linear way of thinking about time; they force us into a different dimension of time/space so that we can touch the future of everlasting life with God that isn’t here but has already happened. If that sounds like a paradox, it is.

Read: John 17: 28-29

• How do you make sense of that?
• Do you hear the paradoxical language?
• How is this saying of Jesus pushing you into a different way of seeing time?


The word “apocalypse” is from the Greek “apokalypsis” (αποκαλυψις) which means “revelation” or “disclosure” and that comes from the title of the last book of the Bible, which is…?

• In Greek, connotations include: a disclosure of a particular kind, i.e., a vision, supernatural revelations; the word includes the interpretation of the visions.; secrets of the “last days.”

This is tough stuff – about future events, the “end” of time, the “end” of history.
The following books are considered “apocalyptic”:
• Daniel
• Ezekiel
• NT: The Revelation to John (note it is not “the book of revelations.”) You could translate it as “The Disclosure to John” or even “The Visions of John”.
• In the NT, there are many passages that contain apocalyptic language, for example Mt. 27-28; and 1, 2 John. But Revelation is the only apocalyptic book in the NT. We will look at Rev more closely later.
• Outside the Bible: 1, 2 Enoch, 4 Ezra, 2,3 Baruch, Jubilees and the Apocalypse of Abraham, and other books

Where does this stuff come from?

• Temple destroyed; Macabees killed, brutal invasions, exiles, repressions
• The present world looks terrible; there must be a better world in a time to come; looking for an escape from the present atrocities.
• One answer is to escape to the desert, set up small communities to await this time and stay pure; Qumran was one such community (160s BC), hid its sacred texts in caves, later found: Dead Sea Scrolls.
• John the Baptist may have been in one of these communities.
• Link to gnosticism:
o “gnosis” = knowledge (as in secret knowledge)
o There is a cosmic supernatural clash between good and evil; it burst through in this world, but that is evidence of the spirit world which really matters.

Important to see that apocalyptic books are quite common in the world of Jesus. Common themes to apocalyptic biblical literature:

• Each is a story about mysterious revelations mediated by angels about a supernatural world.
• Each reflect a profound dissatisfaction with the present world and seeks salvation in a new world to come or another world beyond.
• Each is focused on the “end of time” or “end times.”
• Each uses symbols to push the reader/listener beyond a conventional understanding of the universe.
• Each uses cataclysmic imagery (death, destruction) to graphically get the story across.
• Apocalyptic literature faces evil straight on; does not dodge the existence of evil; God always emerges triumphant over evil and in command of the universe.

Important: Need to see these ultimately as documents of hope – the righteous will suffer but in the end, the bad guys lose. Look back at Ps 18:1-20 – How would you see hope?


Early church looked for a formula. I suspect part of the problem was, then as now, visions like John were scarey, or at best, incomphrensible. How do you build an institution on that?

Constantine demanded orthodoxy, doctrines like the columns of his buildings for the church to be built upon. In effect, he told the Christians to stop squabbling and come up with a common set of beliefs that people could work with and believe in. Who is this Jesus you worship? How is a man God if you say you are a monotheistic religion?

-- God the Father was easy to explain; the creator, Yahweh.

-- God the Son, harder concept, but could explain the messiah concept in Jewish terms, or in cosmic terms as John did.

-- Holy Spirit – last concept to come along; the risen God still present

Early bishops struggled with creeds and statements to explain how a monotheistic religion could have three “gods.”

The Capadocian bishops of the second century explained it as an army moving as one; they wrote a series of sermons that are something like the federalist papers of a later era.

It took until the fourth century to work out a forumla that won more or less acceptance amongst the bishops; the Nicene Creed. Still many dissented, and the struggles continued.

My concept of the Trinity: like a diamond. Whatever perspective you view it, you still see the center. I think that gets us off the hook from an exclusionary way of viewing God.

Perhaps therefore we should peel all of this a way for a few moments and look at Jesus. What was he getting at?

Perhaps therefore we should peel all of this a way for a few moments and look at Jesus. What was he getting at? What do you think?

Your homework: Write your own creed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Week 6 - The Universe of the New Testament

Read Psalm 139:1-17

• Last week we finished the Old Testament
• This week, we begin New Testament (the image at right is a fragment of an early manuscript from the New Testament),

• We begin not at the gospels, but at the first documents written: the letters
• Backtrack: The Gospels are organized first because they are the most important; but doesn’t mean they were written first.
• The letters were written first: Paul; Peter; John letters, which coincide with three New Testament theologies that parallel in the gospels.
• We look tonight at the letters because it is important to see the filters through which that the gospels are written – Jesus is standing on a far horizon and we see him through a lens.
o That lens is NT, and the first lens is theology of the NT writers, and that theology is explicitly spelled out in the letters, or epistles (Greek for letters).• What we’ve talked about previously matters a great deal – the OT will be interpreted in new ways and used to bolster the arguments of Christians that they have found the true path to God:

Paul/Early Church
To talk about this section of the Bible, need to grasp history of the early church:

• The church we inherit is Paul’s church because James/Peter wiped out; so we start with Paul.
• More than one-fourth of the NT writings are attributed to Paul;
• 13 letters attributed to Paul, but modern scholars consider some written by followers or later (could call the “Paul” School)

Letters authentically by Paul: Romans
• 1 Corinthians
• 2 Corinthians
• Galatians
• Philippians
• 1 Thessalonians
• Philemon


• Paul wrote these letters not as learned essays on theology, but to lend practical advice on real problems faced by the church.
• He always presented his advice in theological language, that is, he gave a midrash in support of his position.
• He might be shocked that some of these letters are considered “scripture.”

So who is Paul? Why should we care about this guy?

• Acts of the Apostles 21:39; 22:3 – Paul was born in Tarsus, an important city of Cilcia. Born possible 10 AD
• Roman citizen with certain rights, particularly right of appeal to imperial courts.
• Hellenistic Jew of the Diaspora (not all Jews went home); he is comfortable with Roman culture. Cosmopolitan
• By trade, a tent maker and leatherworker – he could attach himself to a caravan and move about the Empire. He is also proud that his trade pays his way where he goes; the “church” never pays him.
• Educated in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3); the style of his letters make clear that he is well trained in the methods of rabbinical midrash. He is basically a rabbi.
• He was proud of his ancestoral religion; he was proud to be a Pharisatic Jew; he makes clear in his letters that he never gives that up or the rituals that go with it.
• Paul is a persecutor of Jesus’s followers; they are suspicious of him. He considers Jesus’s crucifixion to be a scandal.• Conversion: Near Damascus, has a conversion experience. Acts 9
o Note: His conversion is not turning to a new deity, but seeing the God of his ancestors in a new light.
• Pharisees tend to be seen as strict adherents of the law – but it is important for us to see them as reformers who relocate the focus of Jewish worship from the temple to the local synogogue and home.
• It is but a short leap from their to Paul, and his preaching that Christ Jesus is in the temple of our hearts by the Spirit. Jesus is Wisdom
o LOOKUP: 1 Cor 2:9-13

What do you hear Paul saying?

He uses Old Testament as a “prooftext,” that is, he used the Old Testament as a piece of evidence to make his point:

Notice: 1 Cor 2: 9 is a quotation from Isaiah 64:4

• Curiously, Paul does not give his own account of his “Road to Damacus” experience in his letters; it is recounted in Acts three times. In Galatians, Paul says two elements led him to Christ: a special revelation of God’s son to him, and a commission from Christ to preach to the Gentiles.• Paul stresses in Corinthians he had seen the Lord (1 Cor 9:1) and the risen Christ had appeared to him (1 Cor 15:8) as “one untimely born.” He never encountered the living Jesus.
• Missionary activity: Goes to Peter/James – they are suspicious. Send him out to build churches, and require of him an offering from those churches to prove his (and their) sincerity.
• His career is lengthy – at least 14 years – and he traveled widely in the Roman world, empowering men and women.
• Westward missions: Paul moves to Corinth, cross-roads city; diverse; wrote 1 Thes – 50 AD – considered earliest Christian document.
• Meets Aquila and Pricilla, important in building church
• Widows use homes for churches.
• Moves to Ephesus – word reaches him about Apollos activities in Corinth; Paul goes to Corinth, apparently makes things worse.
• 1 & 2 Cor may be fragments of three to seven letters; the originals don’t exist; but are recorded together; space saving.
• Conflict over Apollos methods.
• Apollos is ecstatic, charismatic; sloganeering and party politics; Apollos is a great preacher, and Paul admits, better than he. But Paul tells them he has seen the secret to knowledge – the hidden wisdom – that all that is necessary for salvation is the mystery of Christ.
Conference of Jerusalem:

• The issue is whether to require circumcision of all non-Jewish Christians. That is, do you have to be Jewish first to be a Christian? So far, Christianity is a sect of Judiasm – and Paul is bringing in new people reflecting the diversity of the Roman empire. The first group wants to keep it the way it has always been. Peter has been a little shaky on this: Acts 10:28-29;
• Acts, written by a follower of Paul well after the fact, presents a harmonious relationship. But Paul’s letters suggest otherwise.
• Paul agrees to gather an offering for the poor of Jerusalem to prove his sincerity; Acts reports he undergoes Jewish purification rituals;
• The issue seemed to be settled in favor of Paul’s position: James declares for Paul’s position

• After the conference, Paul returns to Antioch. Things aren’t really quite as settled as it sounded.
• Someone from James gets to Peter, and he refuses to eat with non-Jews at Antioch; the church Paul started in Galatia begins to follow that practice of segregating Jewish from non-Jewish Christians at table. Word gets back to Paul, and he is furious. Even Barnabas falls into this. Paul writes to Galatians to tell them of the absurdity of this:

o LOOK UP: Gal 2:11-14
• Importance – the breakthrough here – is that we are saved not by outward rituals and good works, but by faith.
• Acts declares there is a new authority over the church, and it is not a human: Acts 13;1-3 – the Spirit. Even Peter declares he is “only a mortal.” (Acts 10:26)
• Imprisoned in Ephesus, he writes to the Philippians; he also writes to Philemon, asking for release of slave Onesimus.
• Eventually freed, goes to Macedonia; meets up with Titus, gets good news about Corinth agreeing with him; he writes an apology to Corinth.
• Paul returns to Jerusalem with the offering he promised to prove his worth to Peter and James. He writes a letter to Christians in Rome – how they got there, no one knows, but not a church that he directly founded. Letter to the Romans is basically a grant proposal to fund a missionary trip to Spain.
• Paul arrested in Jerusalem; demands to be tried as a Roman citizen in Rome. He is taken by ship, long journey, shipwrecked. The letters of Paul stop. Paul disappears.

Pastoral letters:

• 1, 2 Timothy, Titus – some believe are authentic Paul, others say not; Greek style is different; the letters reflect a later organization (bishops, presbyter, deacons) and ethos (women shall be silent) that are not in the authentic Paul letters and are, frankly, hallmarks of the early church post-Paul and Peter.
• Those letters could have been dictated, some argue, to an assistant. Common practice in Roman world – tell the general content and they write it.• Whence Paul? Did he get to Rome? Tradition says he was martyred in Rome, but no evidence of that. Clement of Alexandria says he got to Spain. By the way, Onesimus of the letter fame became Bishop of Alexandria. Roman tradition has it that Paul was martyred in Rome in 62 AD. Perhaps, or that could be self-serving to bolster the credentials of Rome as the center of the church.

Paul’s Theology:
Not a systematic presentation of Christian doctrine but a working out of beliefs under battle conditions in the face of concrete practical problems.
o Where do we fit in Judiasm?
o Who is a Christian?
o Who can we eat with?
o Who is in charge in our local church?
o What does worshipping God look like?
o What are our rituals?
o Should we speak in tongues?o How do we hold all these diverse people together in one (new) religion?

This way of doing religion has never been tried before: this is a religion based on faith and not normative behavior (rules) or ethnic allegiance. If anything, it cuts across all manner of cultural norms and behaviors.

o Paul has norms – he is human – but he is principally about interpreting the God the Hebrew Scriptures in a new way.o He interprets Abraham in a new way, for example: the covenant we heard about in the OT for the Jewish people now extends to all people. IMPORTANT: to see that Paul is treating Abraham as an allegory, that is, a symbolic story.

o Allegory is typical of the early church. Augustine brings allegory to its highest level by interpreting the rather simple story of Adam and Eve being cast out of the garden as the foundation to a complicated doctrine of original sin.o Paul has ritual – he holds himself to Jewish rites as a personal spirituality – and he commends Christians to remember Christ in the Lord’s supper. The Lord’s supper becomes an ongoing rite through the words of Paul (it is Paul’s words we use in our Eucharist).

The important thing with Paul:

o He has encountered the Christ of the Holy Spirit, and it is that Christ who lives among us and leads this new church.
o Paul makes the reasoned argument of a well-educated rabbi – but beneath that is a profound mysticism. The Spirit is everywhere and our purpose in life is to encounter and be guided by that Spirit. See Ps 139

The Law

o Jewish law is important – it is not cast off – but is seen in a new light: it encourages people to seek a new and growing relationship with God. Without that at the core, the law is only empty ritual.
o God’s righteousness – God’s Law – is now embodied in Christ. The response people should have is faith and it is faith that leads them to salvation.
o New interpretation: Recent scholars detect a more subtle argument and translation from the Greek – that it is the faithfulness OF Christ in people that saves – the emphasis is on the action of Christ, not the actions of people:

Frank J. Matera, professor of New Testament
The Catholic University of America
Writing in Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology (Presbyterian)

Summarizes Gal 1:4; 2:20 thusly:

“No one is justified or acquitted before God by the works of the Mosaic law, not even those works that outwardly identify one as a member of Israel (circumcision, dietary prescriptions, or observance of religious days). Rather, God acquits (saves) people on the basis of the faithfulness of the Son who loved us and gave himself for us. This is the reason that even Jewish believers believe in Christ. There is no need, therefore, to adopt a Jewish way of life.”
Other theologies:

Now that you’ve settled into Paul, it is only fair to warn you that Paul’s is not the only theology in the NT. Like the OT, there is diversity. The reason, again, we are discussing this tonight is so that you will read the gospels – the life of Jesus – in light of the discussion about what the Jesus event means and how we are to live by it.

New Testament Theologies: A Summary

In the New Testament, there are (at least) three theologies at work, and in conversation with each other (the icon at right represents Peter and Paul having a chat):

Peter & James:

Be good Jews; Faith without good works is a dead faith. Do the right thing ethically; Deep sense of how suffering brings us to a closer relationship with Christ. Organizationally rigid.
• Letters: James (probably written by James), 1 Peter (probably not written by Peter)
• Gospels: Matthew, Mark


Mystical, spiritual experience; phrased in Greek philosophical language; tradition doesn’t matter; highly developed Christology; no other authority but Logos/Christ acknowledged. End-times apocalypse flavor. Ritual: baptism, tongues, joy. Much eucharistic language, deep mystical meanings suggested, but curiously, no account of the Last Supper. Possible association with Apollos. Institutionally not very organized (maybe even anti-organization).
• Letters: 1, 2 John. Not sure about 3 John or the very strange Jude
• Gospel: John


Faith alone saves us. No need to be Jewish. Christ dwells in each of us and we in him; all of us are given gifts by the Spirit to use bringing the Reign of God to Earth. Practical solutions to practical problems; downplay of apocalypse – we will be here for many years. Highly organized but flexible for local circumstances.
• Letters: by Paul or associated with Pauline followers: Romans; 1, 2 Corinthians; Galatians, Ephesians, Philipians; 1,2 Timothy, Titus, Colossians, 1, 2 Thessalonians; Philemon, Hebrews, 2 Peter.
• Gospels: Luke/Acts of the Apostles

Week Five - Homework: Jesus and the Kingdom of God

Please read Luke 4:14-21, 40-43

(Note: You should focus on this set of verses in your study; but to put it in context, you may wish to look at whatever verses come before and after)

1- Summarize the passage. What is going on? What is Jesus saying?

2- Jesus quotes from the Old Testament: Isaiah 61:1-2; 58:6. Look up those sections of Isaiah and read the pertinent parts. What is Isaiah getting at?

3- How does Jesus reinterpret Isaiah?

4- What is Jesus proclaiming about his purpose on Earth? What does his mission have to do with the Kingdom of God?

To add texture to your study, look up:
Deuteronomy 26: 12-13
Luke 6: 20-21
Matthew 6:9-13
Mark 12: 28-34

5- What does all this mean for you? What will you do with it?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

God's faithfulness to God's People: The Old Testament Faith

The Old Testament, or Hebrew Scriptures, is divided roughly into three kinds of books:

       * Histories
       * Prophetic proclamations
       * Wisdom advice

Let’s admit upfront Old Testament is difficult for modern readers to access, and hard to take, with a God often portrayed as wrathful, vengeful, and a book full of rules – minute rules about everything from what to eat, how to cook it, how to slaughter animals, how to dress, how oxen should cross the road.

Christians generally ignore the Old Testament whether they admit it or not. Only Hasidic Jews even try to follow all these laws, and to the rest of our world it is essentially an archaic curiosity at best.

So is there anything we can get out of it?

Do we ignore the rules we don’t like and enforce the rules we do? That seems to be the approach of many fundamentalist Christians.

We could also say that the Old Testament is so bound to the culture of an ancient world gone by that it means nothing to us now.

Another way of viewing the Old Testament was a biproduct of the Protestant Reformation – to see the Hebrew book as a stern set of laws that are completely repealed by Jesus.

        * That is a very attractive way to look at the OT, and gets us out of having to follow all those rules
        * But Paul would not have agreed with that, either.

Paul stated the purpose of Scriptures: to give us hope (Romans 15:4).

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another…”

By that Paul meant that Scriptures – and the Hebrew Scriptures were the only Scriptures there were for him – there is no New Testament – were given to us to help us connect with God by leading a holy life. And that should give us hope for a better life and world to come. Paul was not trying to write a second set of rules but explain the purpose of the first set.

So look for the principles behind the Scripture:

For us to understand why the Old Testament is a document of HOPE we need to understand how it was developed; if we can read it even a little through the eyes of those who heard God’s Spirit and wrote it down, we might understand why it has HOPE.

That HOPE test may also give us a way in to seeing how the Old Testament can speak to us as a holy book rather than as an outmoded, culturally-laden rule book.

Old Testament Development:

* The OT is not a single integrated document with a single literary style. It doesn’t claim to be. Contains histories, hymns, proverbs, an allegorical novel or two, and sometimes scolding accounts from people deemed prophets.

* It has wisdom and arguments about wisdom and arguments about the nature of God.

* Although most references to God are in male-dominate language, God is also female, particularly in the wisdom literature: Sophia is the Hebrew word for wisdom, and denotes a female embodiment of God.

* Hebrew Scriptures developed for 2,000 years or more.
* Think of it as a library of Israelite holy literature.

* We also know the Hebrew Scriptures were heavily edited – you will see in some scholarly books references to the “priestly source” or “P” and the Elohim source or “E” for a particular way of referring to God. You’ll also hear about “D” or the “deuteronomist,” shorthand for a group of editors and their cast on much of the scriptures. Don’t get too confused by all that. Understand the Old Testament  as a rich accumulation of books.

* What we get scholars believe is about 10% of the Hebrew literature. Much was left out and long since disappeared. The Old Testament itself refers to its many sources:

The important point is God didn’t write the Bible – and there is no claim by the Scriptures that God did.

Principles for understanding the Old Testament context:

* The Scripturess came together during the exile of the Jews in Babylon; Need to keep that history in mind as a backdrop: North was invaded in 722 BC – Israel as a united kingdom ceases to exist; people flee south; Jerusalem Temple destroyed, exile 586 BC.

People in exile have some issues:

How did we get here? Will this mess end?
* Much of OT is a lament – asking God to stop being angry with us. For example, Psalm 85: 4-6:

“Restore us then, O God our Savior; let your anger depart from us
Will you be displeased with us forever? Will you prolong your anger from age to age?
Will you not give us life again, that your people may rejoice in you?”

* Identity – who are we? What makes us different – more holy – than our captors? What connects us to God in ways others aren’t? How do we maintain our religion?

* James Sanders: “Her very survival was predicated on nothing more substantial than a memory, a story carried with her to prison.”

* How do we worship? The Temple is destroyed, and we are in exile?
* How do we keep this from happening again?
* The way we live, our rules for being holy will keep us whole.
* How do we explain the evil that has befallen us?
* Why does God put up with evil? The scholarly word for that is Theodicy.
* So what is most important to our identity? Torah – the story of creation and exile of our ancestors and their deliverance and the rules that keep them connected to God. Those stories and rules give us HOPE.
* First five books are TORAH, which is an abbreviation in Hebrew
* At the core, our idea of One God creator of all – not all these Gods of the sea and rain that the Babylonians have.

It’s all about Abraham

For the Jews and early Christians, the story of paramount importance is Abraham and his covenant with God. The later exile in Egypt and Moses’s deliverance echoes the Abraham story. The stories of wandering, exile and God taking care of people no matter what befalls them is at the core of the Hebrew religion. That is the Covenant:

The story of Abraham (Abram) and his family: They journey from their homeland into the unknown; it appears first in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, and is repeated again in many forms. The story has numerous twists and turns, subplots, intrigue, sex and violence, cowardice (by Abraham), faith by Sarah, and a close call for Abraham’s son, Isaac.

The name “Abram” means “exalted father,” and God eventually renames him “Abraham,” which means “father of a multitude.” Indeed, Abraham is the common ancestor for three living religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. The story serves to explain many ancient Hebrew rituals (animal sacrifices, circumcision, etc.) and the identity of various non-Hebrew peoples. Scholars disagree on the origin of the Abraham saga, and whether it is one story or a collection of stories. There is general agreement the story dates from about 2000 BC.

At the heart of the story is Abraham’s journey, and God’s promise to protect him and his offspring against all odds. The Abraham story is a central theme in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.

Abraham and the New Testament:

God’s promise to Abraham echoes even in the story of Christ’s birth. When Mary learns she is to be the mother of Jesus, she proclaims: “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendents forever.” (Luke 1:54-55)

Elsewhere in the New Testament, the apostle Paul argues for the legitimacy of the new Christian religion by claiming the followers of Jesus are authentic heirs to Abraham and his covenant (Romans 4:13-25). Paul saw in Abraham’s story the same journey of adversity that Christians were then encountering – and the same promise of God’s saving Grace. Christians throughout the centuries have viewed the life of faith as a journey of discovery, and look to Abraham and his family as the first to walk along that path.

Back to the Old Testament and Abraham

That basic story of exile and God’s promise is told and retold throughout the Hebrew scriptures. Much of the OT sounds highly nationalistic – the conquest of alien peoples, the unification of Israel and Judah (north and south) into a unified kingdom, and its demise.

Beneath all that nationalistic stuff: Contract that God will take care of his chosen people if they will follow his law. The Bible is the story of how all that goes through thick and thin. God will keep faith with us – God has favored us and will take care of us: Redemption.

Encapsulated in the Shema: Deut 6:4-9

When Jesus is asked by lawyers trying to trip him up what is the greatest commandment, he recites this, the Shema (See below).

How do we get right with God? 

Keep Torah

Worship turns to homes; Deuteronomy pervades the Old Testament – how to keep law and live a holy life. Living in the law should be joyful, not onerous. It is the same concept as sacrament. Underlying it is that God created everything and everything is holy.

“Law” is meant as more than rules, but living by the revelation of God to God’s people. God will speak to his people if only they listen. Hear the revelation and live accordingly. God will take care of us somehow – have HOPE – that is the ultimate meaning of God’s redemption.