Last weekend’s sermon was on 2 Timothy 4 where Paul gives Timothy advice for how to handle “itchy” people who jump ship and find another teacher whenever they hear anything they don’t like. Paul tells Timothy to “teach with the utmost patience,” which means both that he can’t cave to the whims of the people but also that he won’t let them provoke him to anger. This stance could be called “Standing your ground, Jesus style,” and nobody in the past week better embodied how Paul tells Timothy to be last week than Antoinette Tuff, the school clerk who talked potential school shooter Michael Hill into putting down his gun and surrendering to police.
“He has chosen the lowly things of this world: the despised ones and those who are not, to bring to nothing the things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:28). It isn’t just my heart’s tattoo; I really believe it’s one of the most important prophecies of the Bible. Jesus was the ultimate despised one, a king whose reign is defined precisely by his utter social rejection. When we are truly saved, we become despised ones with Jesus, being “crucified together with Christ” so that “it is no longer [we] who live but Christ who lives in [us]” (Galatians 2:19-20). What are we saved from? Legitimacy, which is “friendship with the world [and] enmity with God” (James 4:4), since it is a declaration of independence from God. How do the despised ones that Paul describes “bring to nothing the things that are”? By destroying the categories of legitimacy constructed by the normal majority (a.k.a. “the world”) as a substitute for reliance on God’s mercy.
Two weeks ago, Jonathan Martin kicked off his “Both And” sermon series on Biblical interpretation by looking at the story of Acts 15, when the Jerusalem church officially decided that circumcision would not be required of the Gentiles. Jonathan titled his sermon “Spirit, Word, Community” after the three components of spiritual discernment that are in play in this passage. These are similar to the four aspects of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. What is interesting and scandalous about Acts 15 is that the charismatic witness of the Holy Spirit (i.e. experience) has a much greater role to play for the church than scripture itself. Continue reading →
In the spring of 2010, I bought a Spanish language theology book, El Principio Misericordia (The Mercy Principle) by Jon Sobrino, at the bookstore of the Universidad de Centroamerica (UCA) in San Salvador. I’ve been reading it off and on for the past three years, and I finally finished it in my most recent trip to the Dominican Republic (my Spanish reading tends to happen when I’m actively thinking in Spanish). So I’ve decided to do a series exploring some of the concepts Sobrino introduces in his book. This first post has to do with his definition of sin. Continue reading →
The Daily Office reading for yesterday was the opening of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. A single word appears 9 times in verses 3-7: παρακλησις, which can be translated as encouragement, comfort, or consolation. You may recall that Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the παράκλητος (cognates as Paraclete) his speech to the disciples in John 14:16. In that context, the word is translated as intercessor or advocate in addition to comforter. So I thought it would be interesting to spend some time meditating on the meaning of παρακλησις as I find myself in a place of needing it right now. Continue reading →
It sounds like an ignorant hippie thing to say and the greatest possible contradiction. Eternity is a word for forever, for things of grave significance. A moment is definitively fleeting, unimportant. How could eternal and moment be used in the same sentence? And yet, this was the paradoxical insight shared in a video at our church men’s retreat last weekend by Ed Dobson, a famous pastor who has been living with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) since 2001. As Ed puts it, “When you are worried about the future, it’s hard to find God. When you’re living in the moment, God’s right there with you.” I think the reason America is so spiritually emaciated both inside the church and without is because we are a culture that is built entirely around not living in the moment.
I often clash with the gatekeepers of Christian orthodoxy. I’m sure that I get under their skin too. To me, they look like the Pharisees Jesus talks about in Matthew 23:13: “Woe to you [who]… shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying.” I wonder what Bible verse they would apply to the caricature of me that they see on their laptop screen. In any case, I thought I would try to express where I’m coming from, to the degree that I’m coming from somewhere and not just being a sinfully impulsive loose cannon. Everything that I’m trying to do (as opposed to the things I do impulsively) is shaped by my understanding of Christian evangelism as Paul lays it out in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Continue reading →
Almost since its beginning, Christianity has had a complicated relationship with the teachings of the Greek philosopher Plato. Part of this complication has to do with what I consider a misunderstanding of two Greek words that the apostle Paul uses: pneuma (spirit) and sarx (flesh). Paul describes these two entities as being in perpetual conflict and exhorts us to live according to the spirit rather than the flesh. In Plato’s philosophy, there are two levels of reality: the abstract realm of forms and ideas and the concrete realm in which these forms and ideas are expressed in particular objects. Plato also defines the human soul as consisting in three parts: reason, emotions, and appetites. Many of Christianity’s mistakes have resulted from trying to map what Paul is talking about into these two sets of Platonic categories.
I had a very uncanny experience today with the Daily Office. In a blog post this morning, I wrote, “My role is less to bring truth down to them from Mt. Sinai and more to name the truth that the Spirit is already breathing in their midst.” Well, what did God put into the Daily Office Old Testament reading today but Exodus 34:29-35 when Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai and has to put a veil over his face because he’s glowing too brightly? It made me tremble to read it because I thought God was directly confronting and contradicting what I had just blogged about. I wrote in my journal: “Teach me how to understand when I need to go to Sinai and when I need to seek Your word from my people.” But then I read the Daily Office epistle, 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, in which Paul uses Moses’ veil as a foil for the way in which God’s truth should be sought under Christ. And that pretty well sent me into orbit. Continue reading →
The Daily Office epistle for today was Galatians 2:11-21. In it, Paul talks about his confrontation of Peter, whom he calls by his Hebrew name Cephas: “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy” (Galatians 2:11-13). How many of us are like Cephas? I know that I am. Continue reading →