Category Archives: anabaptist

An Audio Intro to Isaiah

That it? Seriously? Mark 16 audio

What is life?

What is life? The typical biological definition includes the ability to reproduce. We think of plants and animals. Yet stars also reproduce. They live and die, and when some of them die, they scatter the elements necessary for carbon-based life. We are literally made of stars. 

Our indigenous friends and ancestors were on to something. In some sense, the ocean is alive and breathing. Trees communicate via underground mycorrhizal networks. In some Aboriginal languages there are far more verbs than nouns because many of the things post-Enlightenment westerners consider to be inanimate objects (like the wind, forests, and streams) they think of as living. There is a sense in which the Spirit of the Creator pervades everything in the natural universe. That is not pantheism. Pantheism says that nature is God. God is in creation and also above, over, beyond creation. God is both in and outside space-time.

What is creation? All that there is. This universe. Multiverses if that’s the case. All of nature. And, the heavenly realm as well. God is there in it all. There is nowhere where God is not. God is omnipresent. If I take the wings of the morning and fly to the uttermost parts of the earth, or dig down into hades, or rise up into the heavens, God is there. There is nowhere to escape God. 

That is bad news for the person who is greedily destroying the earth, oppressing fellow humans, spreading deadly conspiracies, or promoting white supremacy or religious nationalism. 

It’s wonderful news for those who care for creation, care for the sick, homeless, displaced, poor, and incarcerated. If the Creator is reflected in all of creation, I am obligated to care for creation. All of it. 

Life is the breath of God. 

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

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.

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.

God’s Business

Luke 2:49 is most often translated “in my father’s house,” as if Jesus is referring to the Temple in Jerusalem where, at age 12, he was discussing theology with the elders. The passage is variously translated:

“Didn’t you know that I had to be concerning myself with my Father’s affairs?” (CJB)

“You should have known that I must be where my Father’s work is.” (ERV)

“Do you not know that I must be about my Father’s interests? (NRSVUE footnote)

Luke 2:49 literally says: 

“Do you not know that I must be in, or about, the ______ of my Father.” 

There is no verb and the grammar insists that whatever goes in the blank be plural.

Perhaps the best translation follows the Disciples’ Literal New Testament: 

“Did you not know that I must be in the things of My Father?” (DLNT)

“I must be about the things of my Father.”

“I must be in the things of my Father.”

What are the things of God the Father? What is God’s business?

Certainly not a building no matter how magnificent. The Almighty does not dwell in temples made by humans. God is not in need of being housed and fed by enslaved people as were pagan gods. Jesus later refers to this very temple as being abandoned by the God of Abraham.

The things of the Father include all of creation – the worlds, planets, stars, quasars, bunny rabbits, elm trees, red-bellied woodpeckers, humans, ideas, emotions, longings – the entire cosmos, the whole universe, all multiverses if such exist.

The things of the Father: nature, environment, plants, animals, climate-care.

The things of the Father: the broken, sick, dying, homeless, displaced, refugee, incarcerated, mentally ill, sad, depressed, addicted, lonely, starving, war-torn – the least of Jesus’ siblings.

The things of the Father: justice, peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, nonviolence, grace.

The things of the Father: spiritual guidance, healthcare, psychological care, safe affordable housing, wholesome food, safe neighborhoods, an end to violence.

The things of the Father: honesty, compassion, lovingkindness, mercy.

To follow Jesus is to join Jesus in being about the things of the Father. 

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