Category Archives: Bible

That it? Seriously? Mark 16 audio

Everything in the Universe Changed. Audio on Mark 15:38-47

a memory

That miracle-working rabbi is near

Quick! Bring your baby

Perhaps he will condescend to touch

Even an insignificant child.

Insignificant!? Not to me

For this child is the light of my life.

This way to Messiah.

Blocked. By his disciples.

Too busy. Don’t bother.

But he comes, indignant at them,

A stern rebuke then a gentle smile as

He takes this precious babe from my arms

And not only touches, but

Holds, hugs, cuddles, coos, smiles, laughs.

I have but a faint memory of that time

It was so long ago and I was so small

Perhaps no memory

Perhaps only memory of the story

And yet

I can feel those arms,

See that smile,

Hear that gentle voice

Sense that heart throbbing

I can see those eyes even now.

Nothing has ever been the same.

Gently Drawn By Love

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 NRSVUE)

I hear the gentleness of the call. “If you wish to follow me…” No pressure. No coercion. No psychological or emotional manipulation. The call to spiritual formation, to discipleship, to true worship (which is simply doing what Jesus said to do, as unpopular as that may be) is given in freedom.

Deny yourself – I think Jesus means the false, egocentric self, the false personas, the superficial images we try so hard to maintain so others will accept us and so we can feel good about ourselves. Deny, set aside, the ego-driven self that cares about success, achievement, reputation, legacy, and honor.

Denying ourselves feels like a pouring out. At first, the pouring out feels like loss, a death, a loss of identity, but it actually makes space for to embrace the true self, which is who I am as defined by God. 

The true self is soul-drawn. It is not driven. It is beckoned by grace. It is invited into wholeness by Love. It is free. It cares nothing for accomplishments or prestige. Drawn by divine love, it loves to serve, to take up the banner of justice, to be identified with the weak, rejected people on the margins. It cannot be offended because it has no ego to offend. It joyfully takes up the way of the cross, the way of cruciform self-sacrificial love. 

The Most Important Prayer in the Old Testament

Shema Yisrael is the most important and central prayer in the Hebrew Bible.

·      Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 

·      (Or, The Lord our God is one Lord; or, The Lord our God, the Lord is one; or, The Lord is our God, the Lord is one)

·      Hebrew: YHWH ‘elohenu YHWH ekhad

·      English: Lord our God, Lord one.

There is no verb “is” in the original. It must be supplied by the context.

Deuteronomy 6:5: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Leviticus 19:18b: you shall love your neighbor as yourself

Which commandment is the most important, the one that ties together all others?

Mark 12:29-31: Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Love YHWH our God with all your:

·      Heart = kardia = center of being, that which controls everything, the drive behind all thoughts, feelings, and actions

·      Soul = psyche = breath, life-force

·      Mind = dianoias = thinking, reasoning, logic

·      Strength = ischuos = anything that gives us agency, free-will, power, choice, such as physical ability, talent, position, privilege, reputation

In other words, love in four directions:

1.     Love the God of Israel with your whole being

2.     Love others, all others

3.     Love yourself

4.     And, from Genesis 1, Love creation

Love is cruciform, self-sacrificial, altruistic. It involves loyalty, justice, doing what is right and best for others. It looks like Jesus on the cross forgiving his enemies as they were torturing him to death. 

I came across a sermon recently in which the preacher was giving examples of loving. Among them, mow your lawn, go to church, be on a church committee, use whatever skills you have in a church.

That kind of preaching makes me want to scream. There were no church buildings for the first 300 years of church history. Christians loved God and others by taking in orphans, tending to the sick, visiting and advocating for the incarcerated, refusing military service, eschewing weaponry and violence, and forgiving their enemies. 

As a result of their cruciform love, multitudes were attracted to Jesus, and through Jesus they came to know and love YHWH, the God of Israel. They loved God with all their beings. They loved others – all others, no exceptions – with self-sacrificial love. They loved themselves, not egotistically, but by recognizing their belovedness to God. They loved creation by caring for natural world.

There are a lot of such folks around today. You can find them in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice in-patient units, prisons, among the homeless, in soup kitchens, shelters, mental health agencies, visiting the sick, frail, elderly, and broken. You can find them standing firmly against racism, antisemitism, homophobia, xenophobia, and misogyny. You find them adopting babies, welcoming immigrants into their homes, and disobeying unjust laws. 

You’ll find them caring for the environment, never exploiting it.

These people come from all backgrounds, are of all nationalities, and speak every language. They identify as citizens of the Kingdom of God, not any particular earthly nation or kingdom. They are pro-life, opposing war and capital punishment. They fight poverty, disease, and addiction. They see every person as created in God’s image and deeply loved by God.

There’s a lot of good in church history. Christians invented hospitals, science, charity, hospice programs, care for widows, orphans, poor, the marginalized and displaced, etc.

There’s a lot of bad in church history (empire-embracing nationalism, violence, wars, crusades, inquisitions, support for despots, greed, etc.)

I choose to identify with those, then and now, whose lives reflect the self-sacrificial, cruciform love of Jesus, regardless of denominational affiliation, ethnicity, culture, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation.

Historically, they were the Christians persecuted by other “Christians.”

The Day That Changed Everything in the Entire Cosmos. An audio teaching on Mark 15:1-37

We Need to Doubt

Based on my reading of scripture, I’m convinced that God doesn’t mind doubt. In fact, I think doubt is an essential part of faith. The opposite of faith is fear, not doubt. That’s why perfect love casts out fear. Almost everybody in the Bible doubted. Eve doubted God’s goodness. Abraham doubted God’s ability to protect him, so he threw his wife under the proverbial bus (twice, no less). Job, David, Peter, Jesus’ mother Mary, Peter – they all had times of major doubt. Even Jesus himself expressed doubt on the cross.

It seems that every dedicated follower of Christ doubted. St. John of the Cross had his dark nights of the soul. Mother Theresa (now St. Theresa of Calcutta) had extended periods of doubting even the existence of God.

I’ll go a step further – doubt is essential for spiritual growth. The person who never doubts is thinking very superficially, living on the surface. The thundering, self-confident preacher who exudes certainty does us no favors. Arrogant certitude is the opposite of humility. Certitude is judgmental and unteachable. Humility admits I don’t know it all. I can learn from everyone and every circumstance. I may be wrong about things I believe. Honest doubt is a part of being poor of spirit. Honest doubt makes me teachable. 

Yet, we’re attracted to certitude. We like the feeling of having all the right answers, of having life and God figured out. We enjoy the self-satisfaction of believing that me and my tribe are right and the other guys are wrong. We are attracted to certitude in our houses of worship, in politics, and in the world of business. Certitude feels very American. Certitude is essential for the fundamentalist and the patriot.

The way of Messiah Jesus requires us to jettison certitude along with the pride, arrogance, and judgmentalism that comes with it. Jesus leads us by way of Gethsemani and Calvary. Rather than dismiss doubts by plugging our ears to alternative ideas, an unpretentious disciple brings her doubts honestly to God and others. The genuine apprentice of the Master complains in prayer like a psalmist.

Jubilee

Zacchaeus

To some degree, I suppose I inherited it – my aptitude for business, that is. After all, my father was known as a shrewd businessman who always seemed to be able to come out on top regardless of the economic conditions. As far back as I can remember, I wanted to make him proud.

And make him proud I did, especially when I won the tax-farming contract. I instinctively sensed that more could be squeezed from these peasants, these workaday people who were obviously not as smart as we were. If they were, would they be living in those little huts? Listening to those high and mighty religious leaders; stupid enough to give them their money. Idiots.

Dad threw a party in my honor when I won the contract, recruited a hoard of tax collectors, revenue men, and assigned them territories. Everyone who was anybody was there.

“Ingenious,” dad called me in his toast, because the ways and means of taxing everything seemed to pop into my head spontaneously. Once I got on a roll, the ideas came in spurts day and night, even in my dreams – tax them to travel the roads – any road, all roads; tax income, tax land, tax trees, tax the carts, the donkeys, the grain for planting and the harvest when reaped; tax their houses; penalize them for not making repairs, then tax the repairs; tax goods on their way to market and goods bought at market, goods imported and exported, inherited and bequeathed; tax the clothing they made, the clothing they sold, the clothing they bought, the wool they spun, the goats they milked, and the sheep they sheered. I had them coming and going. We taxed people to protect them from the authorities, to guard their businesses, to safeguard their homes. They couldn’t breathe without being taxed by one of my guys.

And I got a cut – I won’t say what percentage, but it was sizeable – of every tax levied and collected.

If they didn’t pay? Well, let’s just say, all of a sudden, some homes and businesses would be broken into, the residents roughed-up, and their possessions stolen. Or maybe suddenly the authorities would start harassing some uppity cheapskate. Sometimes, every now and then, a person would turn up dead or a house would mysteriously burn down. The fear of God, you know. 

Pretty soon, I did nothing but collect the money. Once in while, one of my taxmen would try to cheat me and I would bribe a couple of soldiers to make them disappear.

Huge mansion – everything money can buy. But lonely. Everybody hated me. They feared me, but they despised me. Oh, sure, there were plenty of sycophants who kissed up and fawned over me, flattered me, but it was obvious it was all fake. They too hated me. Behind my back, they mocked me. Their eyes betrayed their real feelings.

The area was all abuzz. A miracle-working rabbi traveling the land – healing the sick, even raising the dead. I dismissed it all as plebian nonsense, but the reports kept piling in, even from people who normally don’t make stuff up. Then I heard he was headed this way.

Everybody, and I mean literally everybody – young, old, sick, well, women, children, men – they were all surging out to where he would reportedly be passing by.

My curiosity got the best of me. But as I headed out with the crowd, people threw me those looks, bumped into me hard when I wasn’t looking, cursed me under their breath. To be honest, I started to be afraid that the mob would kill me, trample me under foot and deny having ever seen me. 

Outside of town was one of those huge, broad-leafed sycamore trees. I’m short, so I likely couldn’t see over the crowd anyway, and, frankly, I just wanted to see him without being seen, so I scrambled up and hid in the leaves, safe, nestled in my perch.

Shit! He’s coming towards me, the crowd surging along. Did he spot me? If so, I’m a goner. He’s a rabbi. He’ll quote some Bible verses to condemn me, demand some sort of surrender, and turn me over to the mob for stone-justice.

He does see me. He’s looking right at me. My heart is beating in my throat.

He calls me by name. How did he know my name? I guess the crowd told him. I guess one of them spotted me climbing up, told him the notorious tax-farmer was treed, and sicked him on me. How am I going to get out of this one? Should have stayed in the villa behind the locked gates with the bodyguards.

Did I hear right? Am I seeing things?

He is smiling at me all friendly like. Says he wants to eat dinner at my house!

You know the custom – when a prominent rabbi visits a town, he eats dinner at a communitywide banquet in his honor with all the religious people and the important officials. If he comes home with me, he will insult them all. Not that he hasn’t already insulted them simply by not publically condemning me. They never would have shown him where I was sequestered in my tree if they had known that. 

Something snapped inside me. Maybe it is because no one – not my father, not my employees, not my siblings, not my mother (whom I barely knew before dad threw her out) – no one was ever this kind to me. He never condemned me. Never judged me. Never spoke an unkind word. Didn’t browbeat me with Bible verses. And, he really seemed to enjoy the dinner. He drank my wine with gusto, helped himself to seconds, told stores and laughed at jokes.

And those eyes – there was something in his eyes. I know it now – divine, everlasting, unconditional, nonjudgmental love and acceptance. 

I had never before known joy. I had never before felt a light heart, danced spontaneously, or felt empathy for anyone, but now I felt what they felt and longed to join them in their huts and around their fires. 

He moved on.

It was a delight, a genuine joy, to give away fully half of everything I owned. The people were suspicious. I don’t blame them. I had quite a reputation. They thought I was drunk or insane when I went to the poorest of them and gave away bags of gold. I paid for weddings, for barrels of wine and olive oil, for cemetery plots and burial expenses. I bought new clothes for the tattered. 

Then, I went through our records. I kept impeccable accounts. I deeded land to widows, contracted to have houses built for the homeless, purchased livestock for the peasants, and tried my best to figure out who I had defrauded, at least those I had most defrauded, because, God knows, I probably defrauded almost everybody. As best I could, I made restitution to those I had cheated, not by repaying them, but by quadrupling what I had taken.

And, most significantly, I quit my job and moved into a very modest little house where I set up a little business advising people on how to pay only as much tax as they had to.

I can’t describe the feeling! Freedom! Jubilee! 

FREEDOM

Freedom 

Mark 12:41 [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (NRSVUE)

Such amazing freedom this impoverished widow had – 

Clinging to nothing, but rather,

Freely giving all to God, knowing

God would take care of her.

As free as the birds of the air and

The lilies in the fields.

In times past, I pictured her old, bent, in rags,

Walking with a cane; but now I see her as

Ageless, happy, joyous, stepping lightly with

Sparkles in her eyes, full of peaceful contentment.

I like to imagine the women who were always with

Jesus rushing to her with love, embraces, and joy – 

Taking her into the fold – this widow now joining the

Disciples at Jesus’ feet, learning and loving; with

Him at the Passover Seder, aghast at the mock trials,

Weeping at the scourging post and the cross;

Dancing with the risen King,

Aflame in the upper room.

The Grand Divine Plan

The Big Picture

God is love. God was always complete. Father, Son, Holy Spirit, three in one, living in perfect harmony and mutual love. Divine love spilled over. Because God is love, God desired living things to love. So, God created. 

Originally, the realm of nature, the cosmos, and the heavenly spiritual realm were one. 

The oneness was disrupted, torn apart, by two deliberate rebellions – one by some angelic beings, the second by humans. 

Immediately, God began the great divine rescue project of reuniting heaven and earth, i.e., the natural cosmos. God is doing so without violating any creature’s free will. 

God chose a person named Abraham, and through Abraham raised up a nation called Israel. God’s purpose in doing so was to draw all people, all nations, back to the Divine self – to bring all humans into harmony with heaven, the realm of God, the realm of perfect love. 

Israel, like the first humans, failed to live out the love-relationship with the divine, so the other nations were not attracted to YHWH. But God did not abandon the divine rescue project. God became a human being. Jesus claimed to be God. He forgave sins, said he always existed, and asserted he was coming to judge the world. This Jesus did things only God could do – walked on water, transformed water into wine, rebuked storms, raised the dead. 

Was he deluded? Insane? Lying? Or, is Jesus God incarnate? Nice guy, helpful prophet, great teacher, fine ethicist, or model human are not logical options. 

This Jesus, this God-Man, ushered in a new kingdom unlike any other. This kingdom has no military, no politicians vying for power. The citizens of this kingdom love, are nonviolent, inclusive, gracious, forgiving, compassionate. All are invited and welcome in this kingdom. In this kingdom, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, bond nor free – all are one in King Jesus. This kingdom is multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual, multinational. In it, the last are first, the servant of all is the greatest of all, the way up is down, and the meek inherit the earth. 

Jesus initiated this kingdom on the cross. When he allowed himself to be crucified by the Romans, Jesus absorbed into himself all the sin, evil, rebellion, and wickedness in the entire cosmos. Sin and evil imploded as it killed him – evil not realizing that a sinless one freely offered in love cannot remain dead. 

Jesus rose again. Alive. Alive in a real physical body. He appeared to hundreds. Then, he ascended into heaven. That does not mean he flew away to some distant place. It means that now a fully human person is not only living in the realm of God, but is seated on the divine throne, ruling all that is. 

His plan is to spread the kingdom of love to all. How does he spread the kingdom of love? He breathed into his apprentices and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He poured out the Holy Spirit on 120 followers on the day of Pentecost. He breathes his Spirit into, pours his Spirit upon, all who receive him today. Why? So that they (we) would be equipped, enabled, empowered to love as he loved, to give their lives for others, to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, forgive the unforgiveable, and nonviolently resist hatred with love. 

The incarnation means God became human. 

The crucifixion means God has absorbed all sin. 

The ascension means there is a human king ruling in heaven. 

Pentecost means God indwells humans on earth, giving voice to the inarticulate praises of nature, living out the cruciform love that washes feet, soothes wounds, visits the incarcerated, houses the homeless, feeds the hungry, heals the sick, and loves the unlovable who live on the margins. 

The realm of heaven, the realm of perfect love, is overlapping with the realm of human destruction. It is overlapping through those of us who seek to follow Jesus.

When Messiah Jesus appears, all will be like him, heaven and earth will be one. Perfect, divine, cruciform love will saturate all that is. Forever.

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