Nothing will ever be the same

In his commentary on Matthew Eugene Boring writes:

 Moses and Elijah are here paired because they were both prophets who were initially rejected by the people but vindicated by God, both were advocates of the covenant and the Torah, both worked miracles, and both were considered by first-century   Judaism to be transcendent figures who did not die but were taken directly to heaven [i]

I am not a miracles worker, I am not a transcendent figure and not likely to be either. However, to so follow God’s will as to be rejected by the people, and to advocate for the covenant, and Torah (at least in its moral and ethical bounds) fall, if not into the realm of likely, then at least into the realm of Gospel calling. There is a much for us to learn about ourselves here as there is for us to learn about Jesus.

For Peter, James and John this is a boundary moment. If they continue to follow Jesus, nothing will ever be the same. The last Sunday after the Epiphany is a boundary moment as we move from reflection in light, to self-examination in sack cloth and ashes. As we go forward we go, knowing nothing will ever be the same.


[i] Eugene Boring, New Interpreter’s Bible,  Volume 8, The Gospel of Matthew, Introduction, Commentary and Reflections, 

Transfigured and transformed

A colleague of a colleague asked Why the Transfiguration? Colleague #2 does a wonderful etymological exploration of ‘transfigure’. But he brings to point home by concluding

Something deeply profound happened on top of that mountain, something that didn’t need Peter, James, John, Elijah, Moses, or the cloud to happen.  Jesus was transfigured, changed, shown to be the Son of God. [i]

There is no doubt he is correct. Nonetheless, and it may be my contrarian nature sticking its head out, but I’ve begun to wonder if in focusing so closely on Jesus we are missing something else. Six day ago, maybe more it’s hard to tell, Peter confesses Jesus to be the messiah, the Son of the living God. It is a linchpin moment for Jesus’ ministry, the disciples, at least Peter, understands. On top of the mountain, Peter’s impulse to build three σκηνή, or skēnē [ii] tabernacles (KJV), dwellings (NSRV) or memorials (MSG) reveals that he doesn’t get it yet, he just beginning to understand.

A brief aside, all three translations are nouns. I found it interesting the roots of Vine’s Words: Habitation, and Tabernacle [iii] are verbs implying to stay. Staying put, maintaining the status quo is about as far from Jesus’ intentions as one can get. Peter really is just beginning his journey to understanding.

The second event on the mountain top is the theophany in a cloud, and God’s voice naming Jesus, and instructing the three disciples to listen to him. Jesus’ instructions to them to say nothing is another revelation they don’t yet fully understand, and that their arduous journey to understanding has just begun. Peter, James and John are beginning their own transfiguration, a transformation to being disciples.

A couple of weeks ago David Lose [iv] of Workingpreacher.org invited us to invite our congregations to share with each other when they had seen God in the last week. So I’m wondering when was our first moment of transfiguration, when was our last moment of transfiguration, how far along our journey to understanding, to true discipleship, we might be. On this last Sunday of light, it’s worth pondering.

 


[i] http://wordpress.com/read/post/id/27985378/4318/
[ii] Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary
[iii] ibid
[iv] David Lose, Workingpreacher.org, ttp://www.workingpreacher.org/profile/default.aspx?uid=b7cc0fec827096b2504c5164ecc9831028ee1cfc87caab27e817dcd7c6ba6255

OH! Oh! oh …

I cannot imagine how Peter, James and John feel coming down the mountain. First they witness Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. That’s got to be like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln speaking to … a pick the least likely presidential candidate. Then they actually  hear the voice of God, it speaks to them! and they live!!  And now Jesus tells them they can’t tell anyone; at least not until … can’t tell anyone.

A couple of times I’ve been the bearer of great news that I had to keep to myself. Both involved a family member, neither wanted to go to the particular event, and it was my assignment to get them there. With help I did, and they were over whelmed by the events of the evening. But neither of times comes close to the conflicted sense of exuberant joy and utter frustration the disciples must have coming down the mountain .God is on our side, and we can’t tell anyone! Wow.

Well of course, we know why, we know they don’t yet understand, they don’t even comprehend that Jesus will die. That being so, they don’t know what they think they know, which is more dangerous the Donald Rumsfeld’s observation that what you don’t know that you don’t know is the most dangerous.  It is reminiscent of John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand when Jesus perceives they are about o come and make him king, and Jesus withdraws to the mountain by himself.

There is a time for seasons, there is a time to wait, a time trust, because we may not know what we think we have witnessed.

A sermon for Epiphany 7

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23, Matthew 5:38-48, Psalm 119:33-40

 Please listen to the beginning of 3 minutes and 44 seconds. [count to 30 seconds] Your ears are fine.

The speaker on my tablet is fine. John Cage’s composition is written for any instrument, or group of instruments, not to be played. Cage believed any sound is music. Since we are enveloped by sound all the time, we are surrounded by music all the time. Much of ambient sound/music that surrounds us we unconsciously block out unless forced to hear. I learned about Cage and 3 Minutes and 44 Seconds in an interview by Terry Gross of Trevor Cox, an acoustic engineer. [i] Cox also mentions that when we really are in absolute silence, we can hear our brain working, perhaps trying to hear. Interesting.  Among the other intriguing things I heard, was the sound of a starter’s pistol fired in a huge WWII era oil storage tank. The loud BANG echoed for 30 seconds. Next was the same pistol fired in an anechoic chamber designed to absorb reverberations; it sounds like [quite] “putt”. The contrast in sounds demonstrates how context changes how we hear. It gets better. There are such things as whispering galleries; in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, you can whisper into the wall, the sound travels around the dome and your friend on the other side can hear the wall whisper to them. Cox went on; most cathedrals are built like reverberating caverns, sound echoes a lot; therefore most people tend to speak quietly; which he believes contributes to our sense of reverence when we are in cathedrals. [ii] Once again, interesting.

It is Cox’s observation about cathedrals that got my attention; because cathedrals are like Temples, and Paul writes to the church in Corinth that they are God’s temple that God’s Spirit dwells in them. The connection goes: cathedrals affect how people perceive sound in them; cathedrals are like temples, we are temples, how do we affect how people perceive God’s Spirit in us? When God whispers to us, do those on the other side hear God’s voice? When we speak, or act, or fail to speak out or act, do people see, or hear, or not, God’s voice, God’s presence? Are we a reverberating cavern? a whispering wall? or an anechoic chamber?

Although differing in specifics, in concept this is a very old question. You may know Leviticus is cited in arguments about sexuality. You may not know much more, and it doesn’t help that this is the only time we read from Leviticus in our 3 year Lectionary cycle. So, briefly, Leviticus describes worship, records the founding history of Priests, and defines ordinances and sacrifices about maintaining and restoring purity. [iii] In short Leviticus attempts to teach people to affect the way others perceive God’s presence. Or as Scott Hoezee puts it:

If God lives at the center of your life, what difference does that make? What does God’s presence affect?

His answer: from Leviticus is everything! [iv] We do believe God is present in us, why else are we here? In Genesis, scripture also tells us God is present to everyone. [v] Leviticus reminds us … that simply affects everything, starting with the dignity of every person we meet and our solemn privilege as God’s children to affirm that dignity in all we do. [vi]

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount continues its similar message. This morning we heard the last two of Jesus’ thesis-antithesis arguments. He tells us to love our enemies, after all God’s causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the good and the evil on the righteous and unrighteous; God makes no distinction, neither should we. Jesus also says we are to be perfect like God is perfect. That’s a bit much, especially for me; so I was glad to read ‘perfect’ from teleos refers to something that has grownup, that is mature, is ripe. [vii] [viii] We are to have fully mature relationships with each other, making no distinction between ourselves or others.

You may agree with all this and still wonder what the real world applications are. Friday’s New York Times columnist David Brook’s opinion column was on Arthur Brooks. [ix] A. Brooks is a social scientist and president of the American Enterprise Institute, probably the most important think tank on the American right. [x] D. Brooks hooked me with [He is an] … ardent defender[s] of the free enterprise system … primarily … on moral terms.

I’m deducing that A. Brooks would agree with using the teachings of Leviticus and Matthew, of all scripture, as morals terms from which public policy is developed. I’ve said it before and it bears saying again, our Constitution bars the state from establishing a church, it does not bar people from using scriptural morality as grounds for decision and policy making.

Let’s apply all this to Arkansas. If you’ve been reading the papers you will know the Arkansas Legislature has been debating whether or not to continue funding the Public Option Insurance plan they adopted last year. According to Leviticus, Matthew, Jesus and A. Brooks, this is not a debate based on polls; it is not an economic question, though it has economic components, it is not an issue of political ideology, big government or little government, it is a temple question, how does this decision as silence, whisper or echo reflect the presence of God we know to dwell in us? And just to fill out the scriptural influence, in Romans [xi] Paul writes governments are established by God, whether they know it or not, for the benefit of God’s people. As to the argument that the public sector can and should address such social problems, A. Brooks notes:

… if you took the entire $40 billion that Americans donate to human service organizations annually, it would be enough money to give each person who receives federal food assistance only $847 per year. [xii]

It doesn’t take much math to figure out, that will not get the job done.

I do not know what the political, economic and actuarial answer to providing health care for all Arkansans is. I do know God does not make any distinctions between us, and neither should we. I do know that as the temple of God it is our calling as a whispering wall or echoing chasm, to demand our leaders make public policy from the mature moral ground revealed to us in Leviticus, Mathew and Paul. If we don’t, our presence is silent, ‘putt’ if we do, it will echo through all the nations.

 


[i] Terry Gross,  npr.org http://www.npr.org/2014/02/19/279628642/one-mans-quest-to-find-the-sonic-wonders-of-the-world, Fresh Air, One Man’s Quest To Find The ‘Sonic Wonders Of The World’
[ii] ibid
[iii] Matthew George Easton, Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Database © 2008 WORDsearch Corp. Illustrated Bible Dictionary: And Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature.
[iv] Scott Hoezee,  Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18, cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching
[v] Genesis 1:27
[vi] Hoezee, ibid
[vii] Hoezee, Matthew 5:38-48, ibid
[viii] David Lose, Workingpreacher.org – Craft of Preaching, The Revolution Starts Here, Tuesday, February 18, 2014
[ix] David Brooks, Capitalism for the Masses, New York Times, 2/21/2014 (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/21/opinion/brooks-capitalism-for-the-masses.html?ref=opinion&_r=0
[x] ibid
[xi] Romans 13: ff
[xii] D. Brooks, ibid

Brooks on Brooks

In his column this morning David Brooks wrote about Arthur Brooks. (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/21/opinion/brooks-capitalism-for-the-masses.html?ref=opinion&_r=0) A. Brooks is now a social scientist and president of the American Enterprise Institute.  D. Brooks hooked me with … ardent defenders of the free enterprise system … primarily … on moral terms.

Sunday’s Gospel is the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount; the reading from Leviticus might easily be the moral base for economics. Both are examples of leaders trying to get the people back to the basis of their relationships with each other as God defines it. It is hard for us to hear, because English isn’t always clear about singular and plural forms of pronouns, and living in post reformation times, we are heavily tilted to individual salvation. Leviticus, Jesus and Mathew are speaking directly to our community responsibility to the community without regard to any individual’s standing what so ever.

I find it perplexing that many legislators seem to be so ardent about following Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 and so completely ignoring Leviticus 19 (and other inconvenient bit like Leviticus 11:ff which prohibits eating shrimp, oysters etc.). At the same time I understand because I also ignore some verses, and focus on others. And I do not think getting into verse throwing opposing monologues is helpful either. What I believe  Sunday’s lessons call us to do is let go of details long enough to rediscover the fundamentals of human relationship and divine relationship which for me begins in Genesis 1:27   And God created אָדָם‎ (adam) in God’s image; in the image of God God prepared אָדָם‎ male and female God prepared them. All of us are made in the image of God, all of us reflect the image of God, Paul goes far to say all of us are temples, homes, for the Spirit of God. All relationships begin here. All the rules are, or should, help us live into the fullness of our being. I long for the day when we need less because we are all more.

 

The sound of

Yesterday on one of various journeys I listened to Terry Gross interview Trevor cox author of  The Sound Book. (Here’s the link: http://www.npr.org/2014/02/19/279628642/o ne-mans-quest-to -find-the-sonic-wonders-o f-the-world).  It begins with the sound of a starter pistol fired in an old oil tank; it was loud, reverberating for 30 seconds. That was followed by the same pistol fired in an anechoic chamber (which absorbs sounds prevents echoes) and it is literally a quite lip “put.”

Later Cox’s speaks about the acoustics of cathedrals. St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is a whispering gallery; you can whisper into the wall and it travels around the dome to a person on the other side who hears it coming out of the wall. In other’s the structure echoes so well we are inclined to whisper, which he think contribute to our felling of reverence in them. What came to me is how the environment changes the way we perceive what is going on around us.

Paul refers to us as God’s temple a dwelling place of God. So I wonder what kind of temple are we, whispering like St Paul’s, echoing like many, reverberating like the oil tank, or absorbing like the anechoic chamber. I wonder how we, as individuals and a faith community, effect the way those around us perceive the presence of God?

 

Shadows of truth

While running on the tread mill yesterday, yes a real tread mill not the metaphor, I was listening to NPR’s “Fresh Air.” The interview was with Robert Caro who has been writing Lyndon Johnson’s biography for the past 30 years. Near the end of the interview the host (not Terry Gross) asked Caro if he thought power was different or used differently today than in Johnson’s day. Caro noted he couldn’t say. He believes we can only see shadows of what’s actually happening. It’s only when confidential notes and records etc. are released that we can see reality. I immediately thought of Plato’s (Socrates’) shadows on a cave wall, in which he postulates all we can see is a shadow of reality.  We are still looking at shadows believing them to be the truth.

Of course we could teach ourselves to turn around and seek out reality as it is. Difficult at best, more so when what we seek is actively hidden.

Probably because I am still messing around with photographs of recent ice storms, and exploring the light effects, I wondered what we could learn by from the light which casts the shadows and which also plays on the wall of the cave? I have no idea what the implications are. Nonetheless I find it intriguing, especially as we prepare for the last Sunday of Epiphany, the season of light. How can the awareness of divine light enable our journey through eh shadow time of Lent?

Make up your mind

A sermon for Epiphany 6

 Ecclesiasticus 15:15-20, or Deuteronomy 30:15-20, 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, Matthew 5:21-37, Psalm 119:1-8

 Did you ever have to make up your mind? 
Pick up on one and leave the other one behind 
It’s not often easy, and not often kind 
Did you ever have to make up your mind? [i]

That’s what all of today’s scripture lessons have in common, choosing, at one level obvious, but deep down hard, uncomfortable, leaving you wanting to lean one way, while keeping all your options readily available. So did you? ~ ever have to make up your mind? Did you ever have to decide? Did you ever have to choose?

 Moses is telling the Hebrews as they are getting ready to cross into the Promised Land, today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and adversity. Choose God and you shall live and become numerous, the LORD your God will bless you ….  But, if your heart turns away … you shall perish …. Easy choice! right? So why after 40 years wandering in the desert, witnessing, first hand all, God’s presence why does Moses have to say anything? And when we recall this part of Deuteronomy was written during Josiah’s reign, in the 7th century BCE 500 years after the moment [ii] we begin to understand choices are hard, even obvious choices, like following God are very hard.

The author’s intent is to use Moses’ farewell address, as a reaffirmation of the covenant between God and Israel. The legal tradition of …  Exodus is reinterpreted in contemporary terms of Josiah’s religious reforms. [iii] Centuries later Israel’s King, after their return from exile, is, once again, trying to convince the people to make up their mind.

At 176 verses Psalm 119 is so long we’re not likely to read it all in one setting and less likely to hear it; and thus we miss its structure of 22 sections, one for each letter in the Hebrew alphabet, of 8 lines each, designed to be a teaching devise so the people can learn Torah. [iv] We recited the first section, which suggest that contentment is found in actively following God’s ways. It is curious that in verse five, the psalmist acknowledges their failure to keep the law; and then in verse eight renews their commitment. [vAlthough we heard it as a response to Deuteronomy it’s very likely Psalm 119 was written before hand during the exile; [vi] in which case the need to make up your mind could not be more evident.

Jesus does not make our decision any easier. Anyone familiar with debate will recognize the thesis – antithesis structure: You have heard … but I tell you. And when we remember last week’s ending verse Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  we realize we are face to face with the decision of our life. Eugene Boring writes that Jesus reaffirms Torah as the people know it, thus honoring his statement that he did not come to destroy the law. He then radicalizes the specific point. [vii] It is important to know ‘radical’ comes from Latin meaning root; Jesus is trying to get the people back to God’s purpose in giving us the Law in the first place. [viii] Boring continues noting that it is up to us to make the between times application of God’s will revealed in Torah. It’s an effect similar to the prophetic pronouncement of destruction, but also of hope. [ix]

Jesus’ comment on lust and divorce are the most revealing. At one level they sound as if Jesus enforces absolutes about sexuality and marriage. However, Douglas Hare writes: What is prohibited is looking at a woman “for the purpose of lusting after her … which requires a new kind of self-discipline … with which male followers of Jesus must master their sexual desires. [x]

As to divorce Hare writes that God intended monogamy, not seriatim (serial) polygamy. He continues:  As we shall see in 19:3-12, what is especially interesting in Jesus’ treatment of divorce is his concern for the rights of women. Whoever divorces his wife … deprives her of her right to support and thus renders it probable that she will enter into a second marriage in order to survive. [xi]

Carla Works is succinct:  Jesus’ teaching on adultery and divorce reinforces the dignity of women and warns against a culture of male privilege. [xii]

In short; yes, it is important to know what Torah says; more importantly it is important to know the relationship God desires for us to have with each other as a reflection of the relationship we have with God. In every interaction with another person we have to decide, we have to make up our mind.

Now, if you think this is hard, you are right. And scripture affirms your thought. The Corinthians believe they are spiritual people; THE spiritual people. They’ve begun to form clusters of exclusive folks, each claiming superiority, sometimes by whom they were baptized. Paul, having previously affirmed the Corinthians by giving thanks to God for the grace they’ve received suddenly turns around and tells them he is speaking to them as spiritual infants! In the first four verses Paul liberally uses the term ‘flesh’. However, in Greek it is two words, one referring to flesh as in skin, the other referring to moral and ethical character, [xiii] implying a type to scale from worldly decisions to moral decisions. Paul is telling them, that they have chosen poorly. You might think it’s all over; it’s not. In the next verses when Paul writes of his planting and Apollos’ watering the verb is not a tense we know in English and that is completely finished. So he and Apollos have done what they can, their work is complete. However, the tense of God was giving growth (the literal translation) is one that implies continuing action. [xiv] God is still at work, the Corinthians still have an opportunity to make up their mind, and follow God, or not.

Our real trouble in making up our mind is the totality God demands. We choose to give an hour or two Sunday morning, if something else doesn’t come up. God demands that we give everything; the remaining twenty two hours of Sunday and the other hundred and forty four hours in a week. We choose a divine relationship with family and friends, well – sometimes times. God demands we chose a divine relationship with everyone; including the folks across the street, across Willow, across 16th, across Holly to Hearn. We choose for our church finances and discussions to open and honest, a model of integrity. God demands the same of all our finances and discussions, complex financial arrangements that hide risk and contracts written in in circumlocutory language don’t cut it.

In the act of creation God, made up the divine mind. In sending an endless line of prophetic voices, God made up the divine mind. In coming to us incarnate in Jesus, God made up the divine mind. In continuing presence in the Spirit, God made up the divine mind. Did you ever have to make up your mind? Pick up on one and leave the other one behind; It’s not often easy, and not often kind; Did you ever have to make up your mind?

Yes, and the time is now. But if we are a bit like the psalmist, in that we don’t always get it all right, we can decide again, for spiritual growth in each of us is a continuing work of divine grace.

  

[i] The Lovin’ Spoonful, Do You Believe in Magic, 1965
[ii] Mark Water, World Religions Made Simple, Copyright © 2002 John Hunt Publishing Ltd Text © 2002 Mark Water. Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp. World Religions Made Simple. 
[iii] Mark Ellingsen, Lectionary Scripture Notes, http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/
[iv]  Doug Bratt , WorkingPreacher.com, Psalm 119:1-8
[v] ibid
[vi] J. CLINTON McCANN, JR. New Interpreters’ Bible, THE BOOK OF PSALMS INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS|[vii] M. EUGENE BORING, New Interpreters’ Bible, THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS
[viii] Scott Hoezee , Matthew 5:21-37,  cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching
[ix] Boring, ibid
[x] Douglas R.A. Hare , New Interpreters’ Bible, MATTHEW A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING James Luther Mays, Editor  Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor  Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor 
[xi] ibid
[xii] Carla Works, Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL) Matthew 5:21-37, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2033 1/3
[xiii] Stan Mast,  I Corinthians 3:1-9, cep.calvinseminary.edu, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching 
[xiv] Brian Peterson, 1Corinthians 3:1-9 Commentary, Working Preacher,  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1950

Did you ever have to make up your mind?

Remember The Lovin’ Spoonful

Did you ever have to make up your mind?
Pick up on one and leave the other one behind
It’s not often easy, and not often kind
Did you ever have to make up your mind?

A common thread in Sunday’s readings is it’s time to makeup our minds. Easier said than done, so where are we?

 

6th Epiphany, Did you ever have to make up your mind?, discipleship, grace

Camels and Deuteronomy

Last night I read Mark Ellingsen note that Deuteronomy … rooted in, the sweeping religious reforms under … King Josiah in the late seventh century BC. …  Portrayed in the form of Moses’ farewell address, it is the reaffirmation of the covenant between God and Israel. The legal tradition of the book of Exodus is reinterpreted in contemporary terms of Josiah’s 621 BC religious reforms. [i]  I made a note that relationships with God are always reinterpreted. Text Criticism scholars have provided us with the J, P, E, D sources, interpretations of God’s presence.

This morning I read an article in today’s New York Times, Camels Had No Business in Genesis [ii] radio carbon dating establishes the last third of the tenth century BC as the earliest evidence of domesticated camels. Differences in leg bones of earlier camel bone discoveries show they didn’t carry heavy loads. The scientist said: One should be careful not to rush to the conclusion that the new archaeological findings automatically deny any historical value from the biblical stories. … Rather, they established that these traditions were indeed reformulated in relatively late periods after camels had been integrated into the Near Eastern economic system.

These bits of information remind us that the story of God’s presence is full of paltry human effort to express the fullness of that experience. That these stories have been reinterpreted, that they contain uncertain facts does not diminish the truth of God’s presence among us. After all the stories are icons, what’s significant is the relationship with God they draw us into.

 We can be disturbed by differing sources, unsettled by uncertain fact, or assured by truth of God’s timeless presence. One thing is certain; there has been an endless stream of stories sharing unending divine encounters.

 


[i] Mark Ellingsen, lectionaryscripturenotes.com http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/
Lectionary Scripture Notes, Epiphany 6, February 16, 2014
[ii] JOHN NOBLE WILFORD, New York Times, http://nyti.ms/1gnlX2z, SCIENCE, Camels Had No Business in Genesis, FEB. 10, 2014