Category Archives: Spirituality

The Highest Peak of the Hebrew Scriptures. An audio teaching on Isaiah 52:13 to 53:12

God asks 3 simple things. An audio teaching on Isaiah 52:1-12

God Feels Your Pain. an audio teaching on Isaiah 51

God Speaks: Audio teaching, Isaiah 50

Religion: Good or Bad?

Religion can give us a higher purpose, a divine purpose, a cause worth dying for. Motivated by religion, we develop compassion, empathy, charity, and a sense of fairness. When religion is the impetuous for justice, great things can be accomplished. Emancipation, civil rights, medical care, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, etc.

But, when religion is amalgamated with empire disaster occurs – wars, persecutions, oppression. Globally dominant empires rise, expand, and maintain power with the assistance of religion. Religion provides legitimacy, moral justification, divine sanction, and makes people willing to sacrifice their lives. 

Empires claim to be ordained and favored by the gods. Their leaders claimed to be divinely appointed. Empires have been supported by popes, priests, imams, holy men (it’s nearly always men) of all sorts. Whether it’s Roman Pax Romana, British Manifest Destiny, or the Euro-American Doctrine of Discovery, empires believe they have a special calling from the Divine to expand, control, and rule. Killing for the empire makes you a hero. Dying for the empire makes you a martyr. National holidays and foundational documents are considered sacred. God and country are inseparable. 

Religions are seduced by wealth and power into supporting empires. Every major religion has at some time traded foundational truth for a share of might, mammon, and official protection. 

Look at Christianity. For 300 years after the resurrection of Messiah Jesus, his followers were mostly poor and marginalized. They loved others, served those in need, rescued the rejected, tended to the sick (even in times of plagues), refused military service, welcomed everyone, judged no one, fed the hungry, clothed the poor, and forgave those who slaughtered and persecuted them. They lived simple, nonviolent, noncoercive lives of loving service.

Then, in 313, Constantine issued the edict of toleration and the persecution stopped. In 380, Theodosius made Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire. Suddenly, Christians had power and wealth. With the blessing of theologians and church officials, the Church not only supported, but declared it to be the duty of every faithful believer to take up arms joining the ranks of those who rape, pillage, and kill. The official church supported torture, theft, and slavery for centuries. 

In modern times, people claiming to be Christians infected and slaughtered native peoples, stole their land, worked the land with slaves, invaded sovereign nations, declared wars, and burnt villages. And they often did so with the blessing of their churches.

When Christianity became the state religion of Rome, it traded the God of Israel and God’s Messiah for the gods of militarism, mammon, and nationalism. In medieval France and Italy, it led to the Inquisition. In the first half of the 20th century, it led to the Holocaust. Today, it has led to Christian nationalism. Freedom, democracy, diversity, pluralism, and tolerance are all under attack. During Holy Week 2023 while Trump was in court being indited on 34 felony counts, Margery Taylor Greene was outside comparing him to Jesus. Christians are demonizing anyone who might disagree with them on social issues. It is not likely to end well.

Those of us who want to faithfully follow Jesus need to live by the Sermon on the Mount like never before. It is time to embrace the cross, serve the least, care for the broken and bereaved, wash the feet of the marginalized, welcome the alien and stranger, feed the hungry, heal the sick, house the homeless, and, perhaps above all, love, pray for, and forgive our enemies and those who despitefully use and persecute us. It’s past time we eschew wealth and political power, give up coercion, and lay aside nationalism. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God. We pledge allegiance to God alone. It’s time to show the world what a follower of Jesus looks like.

They’re not under your bed, but they’re monsters. A video teaching on Isaiah 46-48

Jesus is Alive! an audio teaching on John 20:1-18

I do not think it means what you think it means

The Kingdom of God is upside down compared to the kingdoms of this world. Worldly kingdoms are all about power and wealth. They use violence and coercion to obtain more of both. God’s Kingdom is about love and service. 

Jesus’ parable of the minas in Luke 19:11-27 is normally interpreted as a set of instructions for good stewardship. The noble, we’re told, represents Jesus who goes away for a long time leaving his slaves to invest for him. He comes back, congratulates the two that made a lot of money, rebukes the one who buried it, and slaughters those who didn’t want him to rule over them.

I think that’s entirely mistaken.

Authoritarian figures in Jesus’ parables either act badly like everyone listening would expect them to, or the opposite of what would normally happen in real life. When they act as one would expect, Jesus’ message is, the Kingdom of God is not like this. When they act contrary to the world, his message is, this is what the Kingdom of God looks like.  A king sends people out into the back alleys to bring lame, poor, blind, broken people to his banquet. No worldly king does that, but God does. That’s a picture of the Kingdom of God. Here, we have the opposite.

The noble in this parable acts exactly like rulers did. In fact, he acts exactly like Pilate. Pilate traveled to Rome to get more authority from Caesar. The Jews sent delegations to Rome to complain about him and ask that he be removed from authority (v. 14,27). Pilate slaughtered dissenters, mixing their blood with their sacrifices. That was recent history. All of Jesus’ listeners were aware of Pilate’s despicable actions. The parable’s noble is nothing like God, nothing like Jesus. He’s like Pilate, whom Jesus will face within the week.

When Rome came down on Israel (64-73 AD), those who opposed Roman rule were ruthlessly slaughtered. Jesus saw it coming and wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44). When Jesus comes again, he will not physically slaughter anybody. 

I know. Revelation 19. Look at it closely – Jesus returns wearing a robe dipped in his own blood before any battle takes place. In the “battle,” only flesh is destroyed. Deny yourself, take up your cross, crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts. Jesus symbolically “slays” with his word, the sword of his mouth. Revelation is poetic, symbolic, apocryphal literature.

Immediately after Jesus’ parable of the minas is the triumphal entry. Jesus is placed in stark contrast to Pilate. Pilate, the empire’s representative, rides into Jerusalem from the west on a war horse surrounded by 600 armed soldiers. Jesus rides into Jerusalem from the east on a donkey’s colt surrounded by peasants waving palms. The Kingdom of God is the opposite of the Empire.

In the parable, Jesus is saying, “Here’s a picture of Empire. The Kingdom of God is nothing like this.”

So, what about the investors? One guy doubles the noble’s money; another makes a hefty 50% profit. The third buries it and gives it back. I was taught this means we all have gifts and resources we’re supposed to use wisely until Jesus comes back. I’m all for good stewardship, but that’s not what Jesus is teaching here.

Jesus is in Jericho. Zacchaeus, the hated, wealthy, traitorous tax-farmer has just had a radical heart-change. Embracing jubilee, he gives away half his wealth and publicly offers 4-fold restitution to anyone he’s defrauded. He’s free of mammon. Not missing a beat, Jesus goes on to share the story of minas. 

Three slaves are owned by a brutal ruler who is seeking more worldly power. Two sycophants are commended for making more money. A third sees the noble for what he is and refuses to participate. He is condemned for not putting the money to interest. Usury is strictly forbidden the Law of Moses. Amassing wealth is impossible if you’re practicing Jubilee. 

This parable is not teaching us to adopt the ways of the world, be good business people, and support an authoritarian despot who slaughters people who simply want justice. That’s Rome. That’s Pilate. That’s people who support Rome and Pilate. 

The commendable person in this parable is the servant who buried the money. He refused to practice usury, refused to go along with a harsh despot, refused to participate in the worldly empire and its ways of doing things. 

Living as Jesus taught is not at all practical. If you sell all you have and give to the poor, who’s going to support you in your old age? If you turn the other cheek, you may be victimized. If you stand up for justice, somebody might mix your blood with your sacrifice. If you don’t practice good capitalistic business practices, somebody else may wind up with your wealth.

In the parable of the minas, Jesus is giving us a picture of exactly what the Kingdom of God does not look like. In the Kingdom of God, resources are shared so no one lives in want. In God’s Kingdom, the wealthy don’t get wealthier while the poor get poorer. People in the Kingdom of God behave like redeemed Zacchaeus, not like Pilate. Servants in empires support corruption and are attracted to power and money. Servants in God’s Kingdom see empires and rulers for who they are and refuse to participate. They are generous, forgiving, and kind; they bring good news to the poor, wash feet, feed the hungry, welcome strangers, house the homeless, heal the sick and visit the incarcerated. We wave palms, not swords. Our King rides a donkey and is crowned with thorns. His throne is a cross.

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Luke 19 NRSVUE

19 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

11 As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12 So he said, “A nobleman went to a distant region to receive royal power for himself and then return. 13 He summoned ten of his slaves and gave them ten pounds and said to them, ‘Do business with these until I come back.’ 14 But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to rule over us.’ 15 When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves to whom he had given the money to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by doing business. 16 The first came forward and said, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.’ 17 He said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.’ 18 Then the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’ 19 He said to him, ‘And you, rule over five cities.’ 20 Then the other came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He said to him, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why, then, did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.’ 24 He said to the bystanders, ‘Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.’ 25 (And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds!’) 26 ‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to rule over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.’”

A New Exodus. Audio. Isaiah 43

Strength to Love. Audio. Isaiah 41&42

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