Home » Archives for May 2017

Month: May 2017

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 2017

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost, 2017

Numbers 11:24-30

24So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 25Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again. 26Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” 29But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” 30And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

This passage is from a longer story of murmuring by the Israelites against God and God’s representative, Moses. When Israel left Egypt, other non-Jewish slaves of Egypt fled with them, as stated in Exodus 12:38. This particular episode of complaining is started by these non-Jews, but quickly spreads to everyone. A party confronts Moses, kvetching about the food. “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat free in Egypt, and the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.” (Numbers 12:4-5) How quickly their memories have romanticized their years of slavery!

Moses takes this complaint straight to God and God responds with two actions. First, quail. In Exodus, God sends quail in the evening and manna with the morning dew. But in Numbers, God sends the quail in answer to, and as punishment for, complaint. Second, RUACH. In Numbers 11:21, the reader is told that there are 600,000 men who escaped Egypt and are in the Israelite camp. That figure is men only, so the population of people whom Moses is leading could easily be 4X that. What a huge number of people for Moses to lead and for whom to arbitrate. God tells Moses to call the tribal elders, 70 in number, to make them arbitrators of their own claims, leaving Moses to focus on leadership. What makes these 70 qualified to arbitrate between their clansfolk? RUACH. Ruach means breath in Hebrew. In this context, it is the Breath of God. This is the same Breath that brooded over the waters during creation as told in Genesis 1. When God called Moses to lead the Israelites, God promised to be with him, and was in many forms, including through the Breath of God. Now that God is equipping 70 arbiters, God endows them with the Breath of God as well. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, which was the Bible read by Jews in Jesus’ day, God’s RUACH is written as hagia pneuma or Holy Spirit.

“Prophesied” – In the Hebrew scriptures there are several occasions where certain people are said to be “prophesying” but no “Thus says the Lord…” follows. In these cases, “prophesy” doesn’t mean to “proclaim the word of the Lord”, but rather to experience the Lord through religious ecstasy.

Psalm 104:24-35

24 O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

27 These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
28 when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.

31 May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works—
32 who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.
33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!

This psalm praises God for perfect creation. All creation fits together in balance and harmony, glorifying God and providing all living beings with sustenance.

Leviathan: “In Ugaritic literature, Leviathan (Lotan) was a beloved of the deity, EL, a plaything.” (Jewish Study Bible) Since Israelites were never sea faring people (beyond fishing the inland lake called the Sea of Galilee) this reference is likely not to whales, but rather to this legendary creature handed on to them from another culture.

Verses 28-30 expound on all of creation’s complete and utter dependence on God.

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Last week’s Acts reading concluded with mention of a “crowd numbered about 120 persons” consisting of the twelve apostles and over one hundred disciples, including Jesus’ mom and his siblings. These were all gathered together in Jerusalem, waiting there to receive that which Jesus promised he would send. Jerusalem was teaming with Jewish pilgrims for the Feast of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, a spring harvest festival of First Fruits. Acts 2:8-11 lists all sorts of people in Jerusalem for the Festival. While the city of was overflowing with pilgrims, it may have been that not all the lands listed in Acts 2:8-11 were actually represented. Some of those listed were ancient peoples who lived long before the time Acts was written. Luke may also be employing poetic license, rather like me referring to the people of modern Norway as Vikings.

Despite the festive mood of the city, Jesus’ followers were huddled in anticipation, suddenly the Holy Spirit descended in a big way. Wind blasts through the place where the 120 were staying and fire-ish somethings alit above each of their heads, compelling them out into the streets to proclaim! Since the RUACH is breath, the Hebrew Scripture usually describe its appearance as either wind or cloud, and fire.

Out in the streets, the pilgrims from all over the “known” world heard these Galilean people speaking the words of God in their own languages. That is the miracle of Pentecost: the coming of the Holy Spirit and the hearing of the word of God in native languages.

Peter, ever the bold spokesperson of the group (“the rock on which I will build my church” says Jesus in Matthew) stands up and preaches. His sermon cites Hebrew scriptures prophecies which are being fulfilled by God through the Ruach and the Lord and Messiah, Jesus bar Joseph of Nazareth.

Saved: sozo in Greek. This word means “to be restored”, “to be made whole”, in this context “to be made right with God.

John 20:19-23

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

Easter Sunday, after sundown, the eleven and other disciples are in a house with the doors locked, no doubt discussing all the events of holy week, and the news that Mary brought them this morning of the empty tomb and her face-to-face with Jesus. And in a heartbeat, Jesus stands with them in the flesh. Jesus has to say, “Shalom” to them a couple of times before they settle down enough to believe what they are seeing. While the gospel of Luke tells of the disciples receiving of Holy Spirit at Pentecost, John tells of it happening here, on Easter evening. Note that Jesus breathes onto the disciples and the eleven with the words, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Then Jesus gives instructions as to what they are to do by this power. “Forgive and retain sins.” The eleven and the disciples are sent out to do the work of Jesus.

Bible Tuesday for Easter 7, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Easter 7, 2017

Acts 1:6-14

So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.10While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. 13When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of* James. 14All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Jesus and the disciples and apostles are gathered on a hill better than a month after Easter and still the disciples do not understand Jesus. “Are you going to raise your army and march on Jerusalem now?!” ask the disciples. I can almost hear Jesus’ exasperated sigh as he says, “No. I don’t know when or how God will do that. So, instead let’s focus on what we do know. You all have a job to do and I need to return to heaven so the Holy Spirit can come. Let’s focus on that, shall we?”

A Sabbath Day journey is two miles. It was against Jewish law to work on the sabbath and walking more than two miles was considered working so one was limited to a two mile radius from ones home on the sabbath, sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

“mount of Olivet” is synonymous with the Mount of Olives, which is an old olive tree grove outside the city wall of Jerusalem. It was also known as the Garden of Gethsemane as a gethsemane is an olive press which was in amongst the grove of trees.

Take note of who all is in this upper room. This descriptive couple of verses immediately precedes the selecting of a disciple who would replace Judas Iscariot as an apostle, and then the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. This list of Apostles, disciples, including Jesus’ family members is, therefore, the list of all upon whom the Holy Spirit falls.

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35

To the leader. Of David. A Psalm. A Song.
1 Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered;
let those who hate him flee before him.
2 As smoke is driven away, so drive them away;
as wax melts before the fire,
let the wicked perish before God.
3 But let the righteous be joyful;
let them exult before God;
let them be jubilant with joy.

4 Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds*
his name is the Lord—
be exultant before him.

5 Father of orphans and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
6 God gives the desolate a home to live in;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious live in a parched land.

7 O God, when you went out before your people,
when you marched through the wilderness,
8 the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain
at the presence of God, the God of Sinai,
at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
9 Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad;
you restored your heritage when it languished;
10 your flock found a dwelling in it;
in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

32 Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth;
sing praises to the Lord,
33 O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens;
listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.
34 Ascribe power to God,
whose majesty is over Israel;
and whose power is in the skies.
35 Awesome is God in his* sanctuary,
the God of Israel;
he gives power and strength to his people.

The psalmist follows the usual formula of calling on God for help, then singing praise of God’s activity, and ending in admonition to all Israel to praise God. Unique to this psalm is the way it begins, “Let God rise up, let God’s enemies be scattered.” As opposed to pleading with God, the psalmist calls for the cosmos to allow for God’s activity. A common theme in the Hebrew Scriptures is that God’s voice is the energizing force of God’s action, as in Genesis 1 and verse 33 of this psalm. Another common theme is the view of the forces of nature as being “Acts of God”, as in verses 8 – 9.

Notice the prosperity gospel in verse 6. Those who are suffering in prison will be brought out by God, but those who are living in a parched land are viewed as wicked by God. Therefore, if folks are forced onto parched lands by an occupying force, they could be viewed as earning their suffering since God would give them better if they earned it, right? So teaches the prosperity gospel.

1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. 14If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory,* which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you

6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. 7Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 8Discipline yourselves; keep alert.* Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters*throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. 10And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11To him be the power for ever and ever.

Peter is writing as a pastor to this beleaguered, suffering congregation, potentially tortured as Roman sport victims, as in fed to the lions, set on fire as human torches to illumine Nero’s “candle light” suppers, etc. Some scholars think that early Christian and Jewish torture was not as widespread as earlier thought, but it is well known and accepted that first, second, and third century Jews and Christians under Roman occupation were an oppressed people. They were heavily taxed, regularly conscripted into temporary slavery for Roman soldiers, had their family lands conscripted, relegated to poor housing, and lived in the very bottom of society. Romans thought of Jews as genital mutilating atheists, due to their strict adherence to monotheism and circumcision, and saw Christians as a sect within Judaism, which it was in some areas.

The writer of 1 Peter echoes the words of Jesus in beatitudes, “10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely[a] on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5)

John 17:1-11

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all people,* to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

6 ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

This is part of Jesus’ final prayer for the disciples on Maundy Thursday. It is unique to the gospel of John and has language very different than the other gospels. It reads rather stilted and quizzically in English but the gospel of John is written in very simple, basic Greek, with sentence structure rather like young children would speak.

While all the “glorify” language can border on convoluted, the gospel of John does make Jesus’ purpose plain, “…to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” John also defines such nebulous words as “eternal life”: “…3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” While other gospels use terms like “paradise” and “heaven”, here John uses “eternal life” which he defines as truly knowing God and Jesus. In this way, the gospel of John proclaims that eternal life begins in knowing God, even while alive in this world. This concept is found elsewhere John, indicated by phrases like “The time is coming and is now…”

The gospel of John is frequently referred to as the gnostic gospel because of its style and content. Gnosticism is the belief that fulfillment personally and religiously is found in knowledge, frequently secret knowledge. One could say that Scientology is a gnostic religion as it has basic tenets built on knowing secrets of the world. Masons, with their secret meetings and rituals also have hues of Gnosticism. When the gospel of John says things like, “I have made your name known to those…Now they know everything…”, the writer is writing in the style of Gnosticism. However, the gospel does still focus on God as trinity and salvation only through Jesus. As such, the gospel is not truly Gnostic, but rather written in that language and style.

In the gospel of John, when Jesus speaks of “glory”, he means things like reputation, honor, to be known, as in “what is he known for?” For this reason, I have found it helpful to replace the word “glorify” with the word “define”. “Father, define me in your own presence with the definition that I had in your presence before the world existed.” This word exchange does not give crystal clarity to what Jesus is asking of God, but, Jesus is asking for mysterious things which, I think, are rather beyond comprehension. Replacing “glory” with “define” merely makes the passage a little more understandable.

Bible Tuesday for Easter 6, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Easter 6, 2017

Acts 17:22-31

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Areopagus- is a rock formation in the city of Athens. Areopagus is also the name of the judicial body which heard cases of homicide and corruption. The book of Acts presents this body additionally as a council for religious and philosophical debate.

Paul is in Athens alone. He had been on a missionary journey with Silas and Timothy but

they got into trouble in Thessalonica, where some synagogue officials took offense at the gospel and chased after them even as they snuck away to Boroea. As Paul had already been stoned (and survived) by an angry mob, Timothy and Silas sent him to Athens for his protection, where they would rendezvous with him later. While in Athens, Paul continued to preach and teach, “Christ, and him crucified.” Paul found the city of Athens to be chocked full of shrines to deities of every stripe, a sight which distressed him. Paul found himself debating the merits of Christ with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, marketplace buyers and sellers, and the Athenian synagogue communities, but all considered Paul’s words to be just one more religious with one more god.

When Paul finally was invited to speak to the Areopagus, he used their flighty paganism as an opening for the truth. “Why worship what is made with your own minds and your own hands? Why not seek the one who made you and all things, and his son who lived among us to guide us to God?” Paul deftly quoted Greek poets as he presented the case of the One True God. Unfortunately, Paul’s sermon was received as merely one more religion.

Psalm 66:8-20

Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard,

who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.

For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.

You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs;

you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.

The previous lines refer to the exodus story, from slavery to arriving in Canaan.

I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will pay you my vows,

those that my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.

I will offer to you burnt offerings of fatlings, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams; I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Selah

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me.

I cried aloud to him, and he was extolled with my tongue.

If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.

But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer.

Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me.

The Jewish Study Bible says that Psalm 68 is, “A hymn describing God’s victory over his foes and his choice of Jerusalem as the place of His dominion. It draws on an ancient tradition, found also in the very old poem in Judges 5 about the southern origins (Sinai) of Israel’s God. It invokes themes from the exodus and the conquest. Because the psalm appears disjointed, some scholars see it as a combination of numerous psalms or a list of their opening lines. Its vocabulary includes fifteen words found nowhere else in the Bible, plus other rare words, adding to the difficulty of interpreting it. Indeed, much of it remains obscure, and many consider it to be the most difficult psalm in the psalter.

1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.

Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.

And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

Here is the author’s heartfelt answer to his faith community’s unspoken question, “If God loves us, why do we suffer? Why does God not protect us from disease and persecution?” The author’s answer is that suffering and persecution are God’s tests for the faithful. The author teaches that instead of griping at the tests, the faithful should rejoice that God sees them as worthy of testing. Instead of worrying about how and why God is testing them, they should give their anxieties over to Jesus and keep trying to live the gospel.

Liberation theologians would argue with the writer of Peter. They would say that suffering, particularly oppression, is a product of sin, not a test God is using. Liberation Theologians teach that God is not the cause of suffering, but rather the advocate for those who suffer. “The spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words to express,” as St. Paul writes.

John 14:15-21

”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

It is easy to read this passage of teachings of Jesus as conditional: if you do this, then I will do thus and such. However, when reading the gospel of John as a whole, the passage is not so much conditional as mere truth telling.

In the gospel of John, believers abide in Jesus, which Jesus describes as believers being branches sprouting from the vine who is Jesus. Chapter 14 of John can be understood as a description of the life of those who abide in Jesus rather than a conditional relationship.

Abiding in Jesus means keeping Jesus’ commandments which are: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Abide in me. Believe in God. Also believe in me.” As we “live and move and have our existence” in Jesus, the Holy Spirit also is with us forever. Our orientation shifts away from ourselves, the pursuit of stuff, or living vicariously through others, and focuses on Jesus. Believers pursue a different truth than those who ignore Jesus.

This all occurs within the life of us, fallen people, who are simul justis et pecator, simultaneously justified/sainted and sinner. The news that Jesus does not leave us orphaned or desolate is marvelous, since even with the constant companionship of the Holy Spirit, we struggle to leaf out on Jesus vine, and believe in anything as gracious and altruistic as Jesus.

Bible Tuesday for Easter 5, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Easter 5, Mothers’ Day, 2017

Acts 7:55-60

But filled with the Holy Spirit, [Stephen] gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 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. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ 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.

This passage is the very end of the story of Stephen. He is the first recorded martyr of “The Way” which was the name given to those who followed Jesus. Stephen was an early convert who was chosen as a deacon to serve the needy in the early Christian community so that the Apostles could focus on teaching and preaching. (Acts 6:1-6)

Acts describes Stephen as “full of grace and power, doing great wonders and signs among the people.” This makes him stand out in Jerusalem and he gets picked up by the Temple guard and brought to the High Priest for a trial rather like Jesus’. Stephen gives his testimony which reviews the history of the Jewish people pointing to the messiah. Stephen proclaims Jesus bar Joseph both Lord and Christ and then says, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are for ever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.” (Acts 7:51-53) The above pericope follows.

There are two things that I find noteworthy in this pericope text. First, It is only in the gospel of Luke that Jesus says, while he is being nailed to the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Here, in Acts which is also written by Luke, Stephen says similar words in this translation, and identical words in other translations, as Jesus. How amazingly selfless and completely dependent on God to be able to forgive your tormentors even as they are killing you!

Second, Luke introduces Saul/Paul in this text. While Saul doesn’t throw stones at Stephen, he is the coat check guy at the event, an event of which he approves.

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

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

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

6 You hate those who pay regard to worthless idols,
but I trust in the Lord.
7 I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;
you have taken heed of my adversities,
8 and have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place.

9 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
and my bones waste away.

11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
a horror to my neighbours,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.

14 But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, ‘You are my 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.

The formula of this psalm is in keeping with the entire psalter. First the writer cries out to God and asks for aid, as in verses 1-2. Then the writer proclaims that God is the very things that are being asked for, as in verse 3. What makes this psalm different than most plaintive psalms are that it vacillates between pleas and statements of faith throughout, whereas most psalms (Psalm 22 for example) begin with pleas, move to statements of faith, then conclude with admonishments to all Israel to give thanks and praise to God.

Jesus quotes this psalm from the cross, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

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’,
‘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 marvellous light.
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.

Peter writes to the faithful with a letter of apologetics, that is say that he explains and defends the faith over and against the accusations and fears of Roman society.

“The social tensions and the suffering reflected in this letter are best explained by the conversion of Gentiles in Greco-Roman culture to Christianity, which was a despised, foreign religion, and by negative response of the converts’ own families. Roman society was patriarchal, and suspicions about foreign religions included the fear that conversion would reverse established hierarchical relationships and cause women to misbehave (see 3.g., Cicero Laws 2:14-15). Romans expected foreign religions to cause immorality, insubordination within the household, and sedition against the state…The author [of 1 Peter] emphasizes that those converted are to imitate Christ by, among other things, doing good and not retaliating against those who slander their community.” (David L. Balch, The Harper Collins Study Bible)

The above pericope recalls all the references to corner stones and standing stones in the Hebrew Scriptures, and quotes three of them. Whereas Stephen recounts Israel’s history in his testimony, the author of 1 Peter deftly wields these scripture quotes about stones to bring to mind God making Israel a sure foundation and cornerstone, but Israel, at times failing, and at other times refusing to be what God intended. Instead, Jesus is the new foundational rock upon which “living stones” can build the church of God. Where Israel failed in its duty as priesthood to all creation, the author says that the faithful are the new priesthood in Jesus.

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”? 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. 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. 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. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

This text is a perfect example of how the doctrine of the Trinity developed. Jesus is describing God the Father as being both separate from and one with him. Immediately after this paragraph of John, the next two verses are “If you love me, you will keep my commandments, and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.” One God in three persons.

While more tolerant, accommodating Christians may say things like, “We are all worshiping the same God, just with different names,” Jesus refutes that thinking when he states, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” If you do not know Jesus, you do not know God.

“Believe me because of the works, themselves.” – In the gospel of John, the miracles that Jesus does are called “signs” and “works”. “Signs” because they point to Jesus’ true identity, “I and the Father are one.” “Works” because they are the work of the Father, the will of the Father. Jesus says that if one cannot believe what Jesus says about himself, then believe because of the signs, the works.

“If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.” This is such a difficult passage to trust. What Christian parent has not sat at the hospital bedside of a dying child and not pleaded for that child in Jesus’ name? And yet, sick Christian children die just as often as sick children of other faiths. One understanding of this passage is that if we are praying in Jesus’ name, then we are already praying Jesus’ will and therefore Jesus’ will comes to fruition. This implies that if what is prayed does not happen, then the pray-er was not aligned with Jesus’s will. But if that is truly Jesus’ teaching, then why did Jesus not make his will explicit so that it could be prayed for? Why even ask the faithful to pray in Jesus’ name, since God will bring about God’s will with and without us?

Bible Tuesday for Good Shepherd Sunday, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Good Shepherd Sunday, 2017

Acts 2:42-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

It would be so nice if the book of Acts had dates in it so readers would know how long it took for those first apostles to create a church like this. Then again, it was not they who created anything, but the Holy Spirit who breathed through them and the circumstances of life which brought about such a Christian community.

In these first days of the church, no letters of Paul or gospels had yet been written so the communities centered around first personal oral accounts of Jesus by the Apostles and disciples. Men and women who experienced Jesus first hand were the voice boxes of the Holy Spirit. In addition, the book of Acts tells of miracles being done by the Apostles which also drew attention to faith in Jesus. The writer of Acts describes this first church family as a commune, and early kibbutz, whose life centered around acts of worship (breaking of bread, prayer), and building of community (fellowship, prayer, distribution to those in need).

Note that the early church was predominantly Jewish; the apostles and disciples didn’t miss a beat in their worship at the Temple.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

This psalm is ascribed to King David. In the Hebrew scriptures, the kings of Israel are often referred to as the shepherds of Israel; God is the Lord of the household, lands, flocks, etc., and the king is the shepherd, working for God. Yet, in this psalm, the Shepherd of Israel recognizes that he, too, is a sheep searching for and finding his own shepherd.

The job of the shepherd is to guide and guard the flock, taking them to food sources in safety. Lush pastures are few and far between in ancient Israel. Most of the time the shepherd had to keep his flock moving slowly, snatching nibbles here and there on their way to and from water sources.

Water was found not only at wells but also in wadis. Wadis are frequently dry creek beds which fill up with rushing torrents in the rainy season. It would be easy for sheep to be swept away from a very fast moving wall of water while they tried to drink from what moments ago had been a trickling stream. It was the shepherd’s job to find “still water” sources of fresh water.

“Soul”- the original Hebrew word is “nefesh” which is accurately translated as “whole being”. What makes up your whole being? Certainly body, mind, and spirit, but also aspirations, faults, one’s past, present, and future. Everything that you recognize as “me” is restored by God, the good shepherd.

“His name’s sake” – God has promised Israel that God would do all this for them in the covenants made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all their descendants. God’s name (honor/reputation) is seen to be at stake in the manner in which God keeps the covenant.

“You prepare a table before me in the presences of my enemies” – In ancient middle eastern cultures, one brokered peace deals over a lavish meal. It was a declaration of hostility to not accept an invitation to such a meal. If travelers were passing through one’s land and asked for hospitality, it was an act of aggression to decline the request. (1 Samuel 25) Here in Psalm 23, God spreads a table between the psalmist and his enemies, with the understood purpose of making peace between them.

“You anoint my head with oil” – As in 1 Samuel 16, folks appointed by God to special jobs were set apart by a prophet or priest pouring oil on their heads and laying hands on their heads in blessing. We still do this, during the right of baptism.

1 Peter 2:19-25

For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

Luther called this the “Happy Exchange”. Christ takes our sin onto himself and gives us grace in return. Christ takes on suffering and abuse in order to give compassion and forgiveness in return.

John 10:1-10

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

“I AM” – We first hear these words when God speaks to the patriarchs. “I am the God of your father Abraham.” These words take on HUGE significance when God speaks to Moses at the burning bush. A recalcitrant Moses asks God, “Who shall I say is sending me?!” And God answers, “Tell them ‘I AM’ sent you.” The Hebrew words that are translated “I AM” can be translated in any of the following ways: I am that I am, I will be what I will be, I exist. The Hebrew letters that spell these words are called “the tetragrammaton” and are the symbol for God’s name. Since God is beyond naming, labeling, or knowing completely, the tetragrammaton is as close as humans get to a name for God. They are not to be spoken aloud in Hebrew and are usually translated into English “G_d” so as to not even be pronounced when reading. Jesus is making quite a statement when he says over and over again in the gospel of John, “I AM…” It is clear to every Jew in hearing that Jesus is claiming to be God by using these words to relate to himself.

I AM the gate-This is very much the same as Jesus later in the gospel of John saying “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” What makes this statement different is that Jesus makes clear why God became flesh and dwelt among humanity. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”