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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Tomorrow

We are studying Exodus and were in chapter nine today. The word "tomorrow" came up in verse 5 which triggered a memory for a participant from the previous chapter. (When Pharaoh begs for deliverance from all the frogs and Moses asks "when?" and he says "tomorrow.") The question was who set times in Exodus: God or Pharaoh?

As we looked we saw God uttered "tomorrow" each other time. As I counted the verses there were seven in all. Seven! 8:23, 29; 9:5, 18 and 10:4 all refer to God's plan to act tomorrow. There are five total. However, it is the next two which make things interesting.

Exodus 13:14 "And when in time to come your son asks you, 'What does this mean?' you shall say to him, 'By strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of bondage."
 
The sixth reference is to the Passover. The sixth day, Friday, is the day man is created. It is also the crucifixion day. (This is part of the deeper meaning of 666, it is the number of man.) The Passover is the culmination of the new creation of Israel in the Exodus, it is when God creates the new man--Israel--His son. Passover, according to Jesus, is an icon of His own crucifixion and the covenant in His blood. The death of the Son of Man on Good Friday is the culmination of the new creation in Jesus. Day six and new creation are a deeper meaning of the text.

The seventh use of tomorrow in in 16:23 "This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath unto the LORD; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay by to be kept till the morning.'" Sabbath is the seventh day. It ends the week of creation. It is a time to refrain from the busyness and business of life and be present to the deeper meaning of reality. This verse is found in the chapter on the Bread of Heaven, where God rains down manna upon the people. Manna, of course, is connected to eucharist (see John 6, "I am the Bread of Life"). The Passover meal (in the Synoptics) is where Jesus says His flesh is bread, His blood is wine. With the seventh appearance of the word we come to closure on the new creation. The chapters "Bread from Heaven" (ch16) and "Water from the Rock" (ch17) immediately follow the Song of Moses, which celebrates the escape from Egypt, and form the triple grace of salvation: rescue from death by Egypt, hunger and thirst. The next appearance of 'tomorrow' is the beginning of the new day, the battle with Amalek, where Moses stands on the Mountain and as long as his hands are raised the Israelites win. Perhaps this is Day 8, the new week and the battles of living the faith?

So what? I think the deeper revelation is new creation. With 'seven tomorrows' culminating in Passover and Sabbath, I believe we hear whispers of the Christ events of our salvation. This is the Scripture which Jesus fulfills/fills up. These deeper verbal hints and pointers lead us to encounter the New Creation/Salvation in Jesus. It is why the ancient church said that the literal meaning of Scripture is not the most important, that a Divine Word has deeper meanings. 

It is why I never grow weary of studying to find the depth of artistry in revelation and the amazing confirmation of the faith in the word.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Romans Notes are posted

https://standrewscollierville.org/christian-formation/for-adults/notes-on-romans/

Or if you want to see for yourself
go to our website (standrewscollierville.org)
click Christian Formation
click Adult
Romans is going to come up

Friday, September 16, 2016

Romans Sunday School Notes

The class notes for Romans (Introduction and chapters 1&2) will be posted on the church website soon. This will provide a more manageable document for use in personal study
thanks for your patience

Thursday, September 15, 2016

(Hebrew) words matter

The model of salvation I was raised with might be termed "the Great Escape." Basically, the purpose of life was to be good, and trust Jesus, and when you die you got to go to heaven. "Going to heaven" was the number one goal of life. Along the way one encountered a different emphasis from this or that faith tradition, some said "being good" was bad, faith alone, while others put an extra emphasis on "being good" and seemed to generate lots of angst. However, what was not in question, was salvation was a prize awaiting us after we died and went to heaven. Dying and going to heaven confused me some, because it seemed logical to wonder why we are trying to stay alive when heaven was better. What was the point of life if the goal was to escape?

The Bible teaches an invasion model of salvation. Jesus' parables, reflecting Israel's Bible, paint a picture of a conquering king who intervenes to rescue His loyal servants from the Enemy Ruler. Salvation/rescue is not taking people out of the world into heaven, but bringing Heaven into the world to govern in peace and abundance. In this model, being good is about citizenship and preparing for the Lord's return. It does not earn salvation, but it is a prerequisite for accepting it. Call it cooperation! God is "making all things new" and we are His servants in that process.

Therefore, in the scripture it is common to see God's acts of salvation as (new) creation. This is something that runs throughout Scripture. The kingdom is compared to birthing a baby, growing seeds, new day dawning and literally 'new creation.' The creation image is one of making (or remaking, like Jeremiah's potter) and God is the Master of 'starting over.'

Today in Bible study we were looking at the end of Exodus 8 and the sign of the flies. This plague narrative is more drawn out than some others and part of what I showed was the Hebrew words which were connected to the creation account in Genesis. There are so many themes (e...g. seven days, water, darkness) and so many words (adamah=soil//adam) that lead me to see the stories as interwoven. The ancient Hebrew exegete would take note of words in different parts of the Bible and bring those texts together. I find it fascinating. So as we looked at these connections, we came to the word desert. Today's star of the class (let's call her Jo) asked what the Hebrew was for desert and if it was connected to creation, so on a lark we looked it up. The Hebrew word is midbar and it means wilderness, desert, pasture. It has a literal sense of "driving", that is like driving cattle into the place of pasture. It also means mouth. Mouth?!?!

So we had some discussion about this and then we looked at the root. In Hebrew most words are formed from a three consonant root. The root develops into a family of words, many of which are not obviously related in English. The root 'DBR' is the verb dabar which means speak, say, promise, etc. So this makes sense of the mouth. A different Hebrew vowel creates the noun dabar which means word, thing, matter, acts. (Side note, how different is this from English, in Hebrew the same word can mean "word" and "thing," "word" and "act." Ponder that.)

So the word desert has the same root as speak, and be assured the Hebrew reader would notice that. Which brings us back to the question of creation. How did God create? He spoke. He created with a word. (and John 1 will expressly state that: in the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, the Word was God.... all things came to be through Him and apart from Him nothing came to be that came to be) So the desert (root:speak/word) will be the place where rag tag Hebrew slaves are shaped and formed into a new people. Creation as salvation!

But this reminded me of a lecture by a local rabbi, she said in the silence of the desert one hears the word/speech of God. This is a fundamental spiritual principle which is lost on a consumerist society. We have no "quiet" place to hear God. Noise and images bombard us everywhere. The desert waste is actually an image of the human soul, stripped bare (or reduced to the essentials). In our journey of faith we are invited to go to the place of emptiness, which is frightful. Our lives are to be "full" (I heard that on a commercial). We need more stuff, busier lives, eat, drink, party! A stunning number of my peers (who are crossing over into their 60's) are still embracing the life of our post high school years. They trumpet the message "I never grew up," but it does not communicate a childlike innocence as much as a childish embrace of distraction and entertainment.

The Hebrew words, the actual Bible, lay out a secret message to all who will hear. To leave slavery (Egypt) entails a long, scary road into the desert. It is a place where we go reluctantly (Mark says that the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the desert.... which as we saw above is the meaning of desert in Hebrew). It is fraught with danger (demons and wild animals, and it is inhospitable, too). It is empty. The quiet is deafening. We are left alone with ourselves in the desert. Yet in that quiet, that dark quiet, we are able to hear the word. God speaks. And His word is communication. It is also an act of creation, like in the beginning. He speaks us into a new way of life, into new persons inhabiting a new creation. That is salvation. That is God's plan for us all. The journey starts with the first step of faith.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Holy Cross

Jerusalem has been leveled twice. That means that there is all manner of dirt covering over the sacred places we read about in Holy Scripture. It makes it more difficult to locate sites as hills and valleys are reshaped by the debris of other times. The first Christian Emperor, Constantine, had his mother in charge of the excavation of the site of the crucifixion and burial. A huge basilica was built as well as a circular church over the tomb, where the daily office was prayed. The celebration of the Word took place in the basilica and then the congregation would go to the circular "Church of the Resurrection" for the liturgy of eucharist and communion. Between the two buildings was a walkway from which one could see the top of Calvary. On Good Friday the faithful venerated the cross and each day the congregation gathered there for the last prayers of the day.

The buildings were dedicated on September 14, 335 (the seventh month of the Roman calendar; so it corresponded to 2 Chronicles 7:8-10 and the dedication of Solomon's Temple). Today we commemorate those structures built to worship and praise Jesus Christ and His self gift on the cross.

Different times, different cultures, different understanding of the Christian life--that is the diverse reality of the world and the church. Some would be offended by the ancient church, others aspire to its piety. I wonder what it would be like to live in constant contact with the geography in which Jesus lived and died, and rose. What would it be like to have a congregation eager to gather many times a day to pray the office, to celebrate word and sacrament in the Eucharist, and to end each day together in prayer at the site of His self sacrifice? It is easy to romanticize a more communal faith, lived in simpler conditions. My guess is the majority of Christians have never had great success in carrying the cross and following Jesus; although I fear many have done much better than I.

Today the church is in disrepair. Unbelief is on the rise and the rejection of church/religion in the name of self determination is popular. Faith is too often an individual, private affair and worship communities are losing active members. The culture is secularizing rapidly. Sacred sites are suspect. Jesus' claims are troubling. Those who would pray and worship are even considered a danger by a growing number. The Christendom instituted by Constantine has always been a mixed success. Perhaps as it dies among us we are being purified into a more faithful, cross shaped discipleship. Society will take on the hard edges of pagandom and the values of Jews and Jesus will be less powerful in shaping societal behavior. But sin is sin and no age was sinless.

So today we remember the cross. We read that God loved the world so He sent Jesus, and Jesus, when He was lifted up (like those serpents in the desert of Israel's wandering) became the source of salvation. That is why God the Son became incarnate. He wants to save the world. All of it. That is why we love His cross, we love Him, and we follow, whether in the holy land of Israel, or in the land in which we live, made no less holy by the same Lord.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Turn Back

Luke 15:1-10

It is a hazard of trying to do the right thing. We struggle and it is not easy. We are tempted to quit, give up, just go with the flow of our own desires. We know what we should do, and we know what we want to do, and we battle with ourselves, fight against our selves, trying to stay the course. The spiritual attack known as acedia tempts us to give in; we feel a bit worn out, listless, not really caring about all this "spiritual stuff" and unsure the "invisible God" is really there, or really cares.
 [ see for more information-- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acedia ] Doing what we are supposed to do, motivated by trust and love, is a battle. It is so easy to give in, and we do give in, regularly. The 'giving in' is called sinning. At times, we question if the list of sins is accurate. After all, there are lots of cool citizens who tell us the morality code we embrace is outdated, even harmful, and our own longings certainly confirm that we would prefer another way...

The choice to believe, to love and to return to the right path is a daily struggle. The spiritual disciplines: active in a community, worship, reading Scripture, praying, fasting, disciplining the body and soul--by God's grace--draw us into obedient faith and loving compliance. We align our lives with our calling, set apart for God (sanctified, made holy) we live godly lives (imitate God and act holy), we "become what we are." The disciple is disciplined, the follower follows. Life is better for others and our own self. Actions become habits, habits become character, character becomes identity. We change.

Well, we change, but also we stay the same. There is still something wonderously amiss with our souls. Our mind, heart, desire and will remain twisted. Internally we are still a mixture of light and dark, even if our behaviors are better and even if we desire to serve our God. One of the ways that things get twisted is actually based on a very straightforward logical argument. It goes something like this:
1. Doing the right thing is hard.
2. Doing the right thing is required.
3. Therefore I should do the right thing even though it is hard.
(But here is where the demon makes its play)
4. If I need to do what is right then so should others.
5. If I must fight the battle then so should others.
6. If I cannot quit when doubts, frustration, hopelessness and other thoughts and feelings (and other people or spiritual entities) are pummeling me; then neither should another quit.
7. Therefore, people who are not doing the right thing are doing the wrong thing.
(and here is where we go off the tracks!)
8. People who do bad things are bad
9. Bad people drag us down and should not be our companions.
10. Judge them, shun them, cast them out!

It is really not a crazy idea that I should avoid being with people who are making my own struggles to be good and faithful even harder. It is not wrong to see sin is sin and see that others are sinners. It is, however, only part of the story.....

Luke 15:1-10 (paraphrased)
Some real lowlifes were attracted to Jesus. These were people who lived on the edge, not nice or trustworthy, some of them were helping the Roman oppressors tax the Jews into poverty. They were sell-outs. Others were morally reprehensible. They were engaged in decadent lives and mocked those who struggled hand-to-mouth, trying to be faithful in the face of all manner of challenges and problems. The guys who took their religious faith most seriously were shocked and offended to see Jesus with such a group. How could a holy man (they wondered if Jesus was really as holy as advertised) be interacting in that group? Don't we say that if you play in mud you get muddy, if you hang with unclean sinners, you pick up uncleanness?

Jesus did not back down. "How does real life work?" He asked. How do you go about your daily tasks? When something is lost, like a sheep or a gold coin, where is your attention? Are you focused on what you have, or what is missing? And once you realize it is missing, don't you hunt for it? And when you find it, aren't you happy? Even happier about the lost one you found than the others you never lost? of course, it is how human beings operate...

Well, when YHWH, Lord of Israel, my dad, created the world, He made it to be in perfect order and peace (shalom!). That was the goal. However, He wanted realtionships. He want to love and be love. So He handed the world over to humans, gave them freedom and told them to get on with it. Unfortunately, since the Eden event, things are not going so well. Sin begets sin. Darkness increases. Even the best of us is not good much of the time. So we are, like a wandering sheep, all lost. Some wander further than others, but none of us can claim we haven't strayed from time to time. And, Jesus said, that is the point. It is one thing to say 'be careful who you are friends with'. It is another thing to disdain and write off others because they wandered off . Remember, no one is totally clean. We all have to answer for something. So, don't think because you are better than others that you are somehow that different than others.

My Father (says Jesus) is God, but He, like you, looks for the lost things, that is why I am here! Be clear, He is always looking, He looked for you, and him, and her, for everyone. All of you were  lost, some of you were found. But being found means letting my Father in. See with His eyes, love with His heart. Don't see others as unworthy of being loved, cared for and do not ever think there is anyone lost not worth seeking... Because my Father is like that, I am like that. You are all precious to Him, more precious than any sheep or coin, but you understand the parable, right?

These sinful people I am with have done really bad things, and some of them are bad people. But the worse they are the more they need me. They are all hurting inside (no matter what they say) and they are dead. Dead and hopeless, except for me. So I am here. I am here for them and with them (just as I am for you). And if they respond, if they turn back to me,and let Me rescue them, then they will be alive. It is hard to do the right thing. It is even harder for people who have embraced doing the wrong thing for many years. But the Father made them for love. The Father made them for relationship. And if one of them turns around, comes back, well, like a shepherd finding a lost sheep, heaven will be filled with joy.

The purpose of the church, among other things, is to seek out people who do not want God. The problem is the church can sometimes be less than welcoming and most Christians are occupied with other things.... Whether we are Christians or not, wandering and getting happens, so Jesus is looking for me and you, all the time. When we repent (turn around) there is more joy in heaven then we realize, because we do not understand how beloved we truly are.... And if we ever experienced and believed in that love, we really would want those the furthest away to turn around and return to the Lord.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Frustrated God

As Christians, our heart's desire must be to love and worship God. Jesus commanded us to teach, heal, exorcise, forgive sins, and love. The Holy Spirit empowers us, when we are open. This is why the church exists.

God's will is love and salvation, but like all of us, God does not always get what He wants.
Jeremiah 8:1-17 makes clear, His people reject Him, reject His law, and feel no shame about any of it. The result for Israel is catastrophic. Jeremiah's reaction is gut wrenching. Hear him cry: 

"My sorrow cannot be comforted...
My heart is sick and weak...
I am broken, I am heartbroken, feeling the pain of those I love. They are desolate, so am I.
Where is the doctor? Where is the cure?
Where is the Lord's saving love?
I cry day and night for the dead whom I cherish."

Jeremiah called Judah to repent. They responded with insults and abuse. They abused Jeremiah, but still he loved them. Clearly YHWH's heart of love has melded with Jeremiah's. Maybe that is how you become a prophet?

God is not coercive. He withdraws from those who reject Him through social injustice and false gods. Judgement and Wrath! His absence opens the door to other things. The Babylonians invade. People are massacred, with survivors exiled or scattered. The King sees his family slaughter and is then blinded. The kingdom is no more.

Jeremiah loves an undeserving people. He feels their pain as his own. He is like the Crucified Messiah Jesus. Jesus also called them to repent, but they did not listen. Rome invaded with unspeakable horrors. God does not always get His way. Life, love, healing can be rejected. We can embrace the Darkness but there are evil things lurking there.

1 Timothy 2 contains the revelation which is central to my own understanding of God. It is my starting place to interpret Scripture: "God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." Everyone saved. Sadly, we can thwart God's desire.

Jesus is the only mediator with God.
Jesus is God reaching out to those who reject Him.
His cross is God's saving response to human evil. Human evil is very real.

Human evil in Germany wiped out almost 40% of the 16 million Jews worldwide. Today there are about 15 million, 3/4ths in Israel or America. Today Jerusalem faces a fourth threat of annihilation. Nuclear weapons in the hand of hostile neighbors is a living nightmare. YHWH God faithfully loves His chosen people. Unfortunately, we know what sin and unbelief can do.

But this is also a message to us. Like Israel, the church is called to trust and faithfulness. Like them we are His beloved. Like them, we are unfaithful sinners. Like them, we will suffer for the choices made. Be clear, God's Kingdom is light, love and peace. The alternative is none of these.

Like Jeremiah we must love everyone. We must love the peoples of the earth, especially those whom we do not like. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," Jesus said, Jesus did... We must repent and call others to repentance. We must proclaim Jesus the only Mediator. And until He comes, we preach, teach, heal, cast our demons and reconcile sinners to God. The darkness grows, we are to be the Jesus light.