Characters in the Christmas Drama—Simeon
Text: Luke 2:22-40
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
December 28, 2014
The way we can change the focus of a discussion or a debate is to state that the other person is lying.
If, for example, I say that all blue-eyed people lie about being respectful, the conversation moves away from my audacity in saying such a thing, it moves away from talking about respectfulness, and puts the onus of burden on blue-eyed people and their honesty. It’s classic bait and switch maneuver in discussions; you bait people with one thing and switch the topic to something else.
I just saw this in an article with two slightly different titles, appear on two different website. It is written by a man named Gary LeMar, the President of American Vision, an organization that is looking to assure God’s will is lived out in all of life.
I’ve included a link to Mr. LeMar’s article. Simply click the graphic.
On the website called “Eagle Rising,” it is entitled, Why do Liberals Lie and Say "Jesus Never Spoke Against Homosexuality"?
The article is only partially on there and it refers you to a website called “Godfather Politics,” where the title is The Jesus Didn’t Say Anything About Homosexuality Lie.
The premise of the author is that the statement, “Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality,” is a flat out lie. If one reads the title of the article one determines that Jesus, in fact, DID talk about homosexuality and condemned it and those dastardly liberals are covering this up and downright lying about this.
Then one reads the article. Ordinarily if someone says that someone else has lied in a document and they refer you to the document than you would presume, of course, that in the document they will point out the passages. If you read this article you just have to see where Jesus spoke about homosexuality----only to find no references where Jesus spoke about homosexuality. Mr. LeMar did not forget to put passages in where Jesus spoke about homosexuality because, alas, Jesus didn’t talk about homosexuality.
His arguments are interesting, to say the least. He takes issue with the pastor of Hillsong Church, Carl Lentz who said:
“Jesus was in the thick of an era where homosexuality, just like it is today, was widely prevalent, and I'm still waiting for someone to show me the quote where Jesus addressed it on the record in front of people. You won't find it because He never did."
Actually, Jesus wasn’t in the thick of homosexuality in a way we were understand sexual orientation. The concept of sexual orientation and the terminology of homosexuality are relatively modern concepts. When the word ‘homosexual’ is used in the Bible it’s a poor translation as there was no word for that in ancient Greek or Hebrew. There was same gender sexual activity, however.
Although we view our modern world to be very sexual charged, the ancient world was significantly more sexual than our world is today. We know little about female sexuality from that era as no one at that time was interested in it. We do know that men were sexual with their spouses, concubines, and prostitutes. They were also sexual with one another. In most of the ancient cultures same gender sexual acts had little to do with sexual orientation and more to do with availability. Sex was often seen as entertainment and was not viewed church differently than having dinner or going to the ballgame with a friend.
I say this recognizing that Pastor Lentz was someone with whom Mr. LeMar disagreed, but it helps set my perspectives.
At Hillsong they said that they don’t judge behavior and Mr. LeMar does on to say that Jesus very often did challenge people’s behavior. He uses two instances, one of the adulterous woman and one of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus’ teaching of ‘Go and sin no more,” is quite valid. One woman was guilty of adultery and condemned whereas the other woman had been with many men. Of course, Mr. LeMar didn’t point out that in the story of the adulterous woman, who had been judged harshly by the mob, was the only one of the two people being punished. Under Jewish Law, and how it was practiced, if this woman was unmarried but the man she was with WAS married, she was guilty of adultery but he was not. Convoluted logic? Yes. Mr. LeMar didn’t say anything about this.
He goes on to intimate that Jesus was, in fact, speaking about homosexuality as he was teaching Jewish morality as found in the Hebrew Scripture. He uses a couple of examples….but….
Jesus used Old Testament examples and some of his teaching was the same as found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Some of his teachings, however, were different. The story of the adulterous woman being one instance. His view of the Sabbath was often different from many others at the time. His usage of the word ABBA in reference to God. Jesus’ teachings were often different from other people within Judaism and to say he bought Leviticus word for word would, in fact, be incorrect.
Mr. LeMar goes on to note that whereas rape, incest, and arson, etc., are condemned in the Old Testament, Jesus didn’t say anything about them and we don’t presume that he accepted those things. Of course, comparing rape, incest, and arson to a loving, committed relationship two people may have is intellectually dishonest and would be another bait and switch scenario.
If people want to discuss gay rights and gay marriage and use the Bible there actually are portions where this is somewhat discussed. In reading such books as Jennifer Wright Knust’s, Unprotected Texts, many of the passages often presumed to condemn homosexuality are questionable. (This is a fine book written by a Scripture scholar----it is not an easy read, however.)
There is also Matthew Vines’ book, God and the Gay Christian, that also addresses many of these texts. This is a good read that is very interesting and much easier to comprehend than Dr. Knust’s book.
In fairness there are books written to the contrary and they are often worth considering and observing.
One thing both sets of books have in common is that they don’t reference Jesus’ statements on same sex relationships and both perspectives acknowledge the same thing. Jesus didn’t speak about same sex relationships.
Mr. LeMar is welcome to his own opinions but he is not welcome to his own facts. When he calls people liars who say that Jesus didn’t speak about same se behavior, he is flat out wrong and owes people an apology. His effort is a classic bait and switch and it is, in my opinion, a very poor way to discuss difficult subjects.
One of the most heart-breaking stories in the news is the story about Brittany Maynard, a young woman with an inoperable brain tumor. She and her husband moved to Oregon where she can avail herself with the state’s ‘Death with Dignity’ law and her plan is to take a lethal dose of medication on November 1st. She has only months to live and her plan is to end her life in this world before she and her family have to endure the final stages of the disease.
Her choice and the publicity around the choices have resulted in significant conversation and controversy. Many applaud her courage and many are horrified at her decision. She is only 29 years old and has been married for a year.
I hate this story. I say that I hate this story not because I hate Brittany Maynard, I just hate the fact that a young woman is dying of a brain tumor at such a young age and has been faced with horrible choices. Choice one is to end her life quickly and painlessly and very soon, or to die in a horrible fashion pretty soon. Choice number one and choice number two are both terrible options.
The story, obviously, has raised many questions.
She has been applauded by many people. The idea of death with dignity is popular and it allows physicians to prescribe medication that will provide a lethal dose to a person should that person choose to take it or not. People have the ability to have a final day with loved ones, take the dose, and die effortlessly before the final months of agony. The argument, of course, is that we do this with beloved pets and it makes sense that we be able to provide this option for people we love.
On the other hand others will say that we cannot take on the role of playing God. We can only die, the argument says, when it is our time and God is the only one who can choose that time.
I, personally, wrestle with these ‘life’ issues. I wrestle with abortion. I wrestle with death with dignity. I think capital punishment is appalling. I was educated in a Roman Catholic seminary in the 1970’s and that was the era of the ‘seamless garment’ view of life issues. In that theory of Christian ethics, abortion, death with dignity, and capital punishment were all wrong. Many so-called ‘pro-life’ people now are against abortion and death with dignity, but are fine with capital punishment. I cannot call people pro-life unless they embrace the seamless garment premise. Being for some and not others and calling one’s self pro-life strikes me as hypocritical.
If someone says, to me, “Hey, but look at your, you WRESTLE with two of the issues but come down clearly on one, doesn’t that make YOU a hypocrite too?” The answer is yes, of course. I wrestle and no matter how hard I try, I’m stuck.
There is one thing that really disturbs me, however. Recently, wrote a column that ultimately condemned Brittany Maynard and her choice. Ms. Tada not only disagrees with Ms. Maynard, but says that God has been removed from the process and that Ms. Maynard is ultimately condemning herself to hell. Ms. Tada recently wrote:
“I believe Brittany is missing a critical factor in her formula for death: God. The journey Brittany — for that matter, all of us — will undertake on the other side of death is the most important venture on which we will ever embark… Unfortunately, three countries and five states have now determined that individuals can make these choices for themselves. This is what happens when God is removed: The moral consensus that has guided that society begins to unravel.”
My initial instinct is that Ms. Tada and I have a theological disagreement on the removal of God. I don’t believe God is ever really removed from situations. God is present. Period. How people listen to God is often different but to say God is removed is, to me, very presumptuous.
But worse than this, Ms. Tada seems to assert that Ms. Maynard is condemning herself to hell.
Joni Eareckson Tada is a person I have to respect on many levels. She broke her neck in a horrible diving accident when she was young and has spent her life in a wheelchair with no use of her arms and legs. She is a survivor of breast cancer. Her concern about death with dignity is genuine and she is not speaking from the perspective of a person who has not made difficult choices in her own life. She is not talking from the perspective of a person who, herself, has not suffered. While I disagree with many of her theological perspectives, she’s a person I do respect and admire.
There is a line, however, that she crossed that she has no right to cross. She determined that Ms. Maynard is condemning herself to hell. To avoid some suffering in this world, Ms. Tada believes that Ms. Maynard is assigning herself eternal suffering in the next. She sees herself as warning Ms. Maynard that this is something she ought not do. Her words, while harsh, are actually loving----but they are not words he has a right to use.
We people seem to have determined that we have a right to judge others and to state where people are heading when our lives in this world have come to an end. We seem to be missing a critical factor in our formula of judgment: God.
What strikes me is that when people like Brittany Maynard are forced with two horrible choices and makes one, God is present in her life. We may see God or we may not see God, but God is present.
We can debate anything we want but let’s take God’s judgment out of the equation. As for Brittany Maynard, my heart breaks. In my view of God, the first heart that broke was God’s heart and that when her journey in this world comes to an end, my faith is that her journey will continue with God.
And God, last I checked, doesn’t need our input as to who walks with God in Heaven.
Ministers pretty much all have a common experience. We are at a wedding reception and are seated next to someone’s Great Uncle Waldo from Nebraska. Great Uncle Waldo is enjoying the fact that there is an open bar at the wedding reception and mildly freaked out that he’s stuck being seated next to the minister. The minister is looking at his or her watch, hoping that time passes quickly so he or she can leave before Great Uncle Waldo musters up the courage to talk. After four or five drinks, Great Uncle Waldo decides it’s time to have a conversation.
He puts his arm around the minister’s shoulder and exhales. The member of the clergy offers thanks that this particular clergy person had quit smoking and didn’t have an open flame in proximity to Great Uncle Waldo’s breath because the alcohol content near an open flame would immolate both of them.
Great Uncle Waldo then says, “I’m not really a church going person and I can’t say I know much about the Bible, but the whole secret is to be nice to one another.”
For most clergy this would be revelation.
Clergy in mainline Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church have pretty comparable educations. After four years of college 3-4 years of graduate level seminary are taken. The Master’s of Divinity degree required to become ordained is usually a 75-90 credit degree whereas many Master’s degree programs are usually between 30-40 credit hours. (Interesting side note is that most mega-churches do not have seminary educated clergy and do not require the M.Div. degree. Further comments shall be restrained.)
In any case, most clergy are well-educated individuals and have a working knowledge of the history of Christianity, systematic theology, Christian ethics, Scripture, as well as extensive field education. Most have listened to countless sermons preached by scholars and have read extensively. Most have libraries filled with resources and can articulate and explain often very difficult and obscure passages of Scripture. There is one thing clergy to not learn in this extensive education and one thing all the scholars who have taught us also seemed to have missed.
Never have any of us heard in all that education that the whole secret of Christianity is to be nice to one another. Either Great Uncle Waldo has been given divine revelation and should be put immediately on the preaching circuit or…
Here’s the bad news. Great Uncle Waldo is wrong. The central theme of the Bible isn’t about being nice. If you actually read the Bible, Jesus wasn’t always nice. He was loving, but loving isn’t always being nice. Sometimes confrontation is more loving than being nice. If you read the letters of St. Paul, St. Paul was not always nice. Again, sometimes confrontation is more loving than being nice.
Does this suggest that we ought to be mean to one another? No. Does this mean that we shouldn’t be nice to each other?
Actually, for the most part, being nice to one another is a good thing. I like to think that I am a pretty nice person and I like nice people. To be honest, the world would be a better place if people were nicer to one another. I say this, of course, in terms of that niceness being genuine and not phony.
Having said all of this, being nice is not a Biblical theme. The Biblical message is about truth and love and sometimes truth requires bitter medicine. It doesn’t require meanness, but it requires directness and sometimes the directness is painful.
Alas, Great Uncle Waldo is wrong. It may be nice when people are nice, but it’s not Biblical.
We’ve all heard it said, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” It sounds like a good Christian thing to say doesn’t it? As Christians we are anti-sin and pro-love so this seems to make a lot of sense. We’ve probably all heard it said, “As it says in the Bible, ‘hate the sin but love the sinner…’ The problem is that it’s not in the Bible.
It’s actually something that Gandhi wrote in 1929 when he wrote, “Hate the sin and not the sinner.” St. Augustine expressed a similar thought back in AD 424: “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” The thoughts were close but not Biblical and not, exact.
Some have used Jude 1:22-23, 22 And have mercy on some who are wavering; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies, as something of a proof text for this, but, alas, it’s not even close.
There are a bunch of problems with this statement and good reason why it’s not in the Bible.
For one, when we begin to entertain the thought of ‘hate’ it blurs the line between love and hate. Hating the sin allows us to judge people by their sins. Hate is something we are called, specifically NOT to do. God is love and we who abide in love abide in God. When we venture into the world of ‘hate’ we are moving in the wrong direction.
Secondly, it gives us permission to judge one another. Have I ever judged another person? Yes. Did I have any right to judge another person? No. Have I ever looked at the speck in another person’s eye and missed the plank in my own eye? Far too many times. When we begin to think we have the right to ‘hate the sin,’ we go down the path of judgment and judging others, from a Biblical perspective, is most definitely a sin.
Thirdly, it puts us into a position of determining sins. Sin is classically seen as moving away from God or living outside of God’s will or God’s way. The difficulty in determining ‘sins’ comes from the fact that we have to determine what God’s will or God’s way happens to be. It means what my conscience determines is sinful or not supersedes your conscience. That ultimately leads to judging one another and, again, that is most definitely a sin.
So, how do we treat sinners?
Love everyone. That covers it.
Many people have said, over the years, “As it says in the Bible, “God helps those who help themselves.” To find this verse in the Bible, I suggest you look at Matthew 29:10. I’ll wait while you look.
Looking at my watch.
Okay, by now you may have looked in the Bible and searched for Matthew 29:10 and found, to your amazement that I have either misquoted, or do not know my Bible, or was pulling your leg. I do know my Bible pretty well and I didn’t misquote.
The phrase is not Biblical. It mostly dates back to ancient Greece, the philosophers, and Aesop’s Fables. Shakespeare used it. Ben Franklin used it and published it. The phrase has been around a long time; it even pre-dates much of the Bible.
It is also not without wisdom. Actually, it’s a pretty wise statement. It’s reminiscent of the words of St. Augustine that I try to live by, “Work like it all depends on you and pray like it all depends on God.” The statement, though not Biblical, is a good one.
What I like about “God helps those who help themselves,” is that it’s a reminder that we are not called to be slackers. The Bible is full of statements in the Wisdom books about loafers, idlers, and slackers. St. Paul makes a point that people should work for their food. Stating that phrase, “God helps those who help themselves,” is not Biblical does not indicate that people believe no one should work or do anything productive. Far from it. Productivity in life is a good and vital thing. We need people to show up and put in effort. The world spins and things take place because people work hard and help themselves.
Good words? Yes.
Wise words? Yes.
God’s words? No.
Yet, people believe it is Biblical; even a central teaching of the Bible.
In Wikipedia it says:
The beliefs of Americans regarding this phrase and the Bible has been studied by Christian demographer and pollster George Barna of The Barna Group. To the statement "The Bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves"; 53% of Americans agree strongly, 22% agree somewhat, 7% disagree somewhat, 14% disagree strongly, and 5% stated they don't know. Of "born-again" Christians 68% agreed, and 81% of non "born-again" Christians agreed with the statement. In a February 2000 poll, 53% strongly agreed and 22% agreed somewhat that the Bible teaches the phrase. Of the 14 questions asked, this was the least biblical response, according to Barna. A poll in the late 1990s showed the majority (81%) believe the concept is taught by the Bible, another stating 82%.
Despite being of non-Biblical origin, the phrase topped a poll of the most widely known Bible verses. Seventy-five percent of American teenagers said they believed that it was the central message of the Bible.
While I like the wisdom of the statement, it concerns me that so many people think it’s a part of our faith heritage. It’s not. The reality is that if one reads the Bible and one reads the first priority of Jesus, the Bible would more likely say (and mean) “God helps those who help others.” Jesus tells us, constantly, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc. We are called, repeatedly, as Christians, to help others. There is no distinction on who we help either. There are no ‘worthy’ poor or ‘unworthy’ poor in the Bible. There is no distinction between the people who have hit hard times or the slackers. There is only the word ‘poor’ that hounds us constantly. “God helps those who help others,” is actually a consistent Biblical theme.
The phrase, “God helps those who help themselves,” while filled with wisdom is not Biblical.
So, the next time someone tells you, As the Bible says, “God helps those who help themselves,” refer them to Matthew 29:10 and tell them what, exactly, that reference means.
I’ve heard many people say, “Well, you know what the Bible says, ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” Does the Bible actually say this? Yes, but before you cite it, there are some facts to learn about it.
It is stated in Exodus 21:
23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
This is part of unofficial Jewish Law, after the giving of the 10 Commandments. A long list of things were being given out to the people of Israel, giving them a sense of depth and breadth of the Mosaic Law. This particular statement is based on the principle is sometimes referred using the Latin term lex talionis or the law of talion, means a retaliation authorized by law, in which the punishment corresponds in kind and degree to the injury. It comes from the Code of Hammurabi which was a Babylonian law code of ancient Mesopotamia, dating back to about 400 years before Moses.
The lex talionis is based on retributive justice, which means that people can retaliate in a restrained way. An eye for an eye means that if someone attacks you and destroys your eye, you can destroy their eye; you cannot kill them. It is based on a premise of justice as opposed to revenge. It was, for the time, a very enlightened and progressive perspective. In Exodus, Moses is saying that this old law of a different culture, should still be a part of Israel’s existence. It’s in the Bible, but it’s not necessarily a Biblical principle. It comes from ancient Mesopotamia.
Alas, that’s not my point, so before you say, “Thank you for the proof text, thank you for this verse,” and go on your merry way extracting eyes from people who have harmed you, please recognize something. Jesus disagrees with the Code of Hammurabi.
In Matthew 5 he says:
38 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46
To summarize this quickly, Jesus was not a fan of the Lex Talionis. He is replacing the old law with the new law and the new law is complex.
One of the great challenges Jesus gives us is something most of us would prefer to not deal with. Jesus was a pacifist. Passages like this reveal it. His behavior in the garden revealed it. His comments to Peter, who was willing to defend Jesus, reveals it. Jesus was a pacifist.
In early Christianity, before Constantine, all Christians were pacifists. It was forbidden to join the Roman Army and it was forbidden to take up arms. It was seen as acceptable to die for one’s faith, but never to kill for one’s faith. When Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire this changed. Now Christians could and did, fight for Rome. Since that time most Christians are not pacifists. There are exceptions. The Religious Society of Friends are pacifists. Churches from the Anabaptist tradition are pacifists. Most Christians are not.
I’m not going to make an argument for pacifism. I’m not a pacifist. I say that reluctantly as I wish I could be, but the world around us does not really allow for this. I say that knowing this is my opinion, nothing more or nothing less.
Jesus was opposed to the Lex Talionis because he could not or would not physically harm another person. He strove for mercy in everything he did. In our society we recoil when we hear of other cultures cutting the hands off thieves; yet we lament when we determine that prison conditions are too good. (The reality is that most people in prison live in deplorable conditions.) The simple reality is that most of us have little to no objection to having pain inflicted on wrong doers----as long as we are not the wrong doer or we are not related to them, of course.
There are tons of questions we can wrestle with. Jesus does not make this very easy for us. But there is one thing very clear. Jesus was opposed to the Lex Talionis. Next time you decree it to be Biblical, you may need to contrast the views from Exodus and Matthew. For Christians, we really do not believe in an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. For Christians, that is not a Biblical principle.
A minister was preaching to her congregation one Sunday and she told them that next week’s sermon was going to be based on Matthew 29 and she asked everyone to read Matthew 29.
The following Sunday she began her sermon with the question, “How many people read Matthew 29? Most of the people in the congregation raised their hands. She said, “Today’s sermon is about honesty; Matthew has only 28 chapters….”
I decided to do a blog serious on things that people think are
biblical, but really aren’t. I’m beginning with the Sodom and Gomorrah story. The story is, in and of itself, biblical. The narrative begins like this in Chapter 19.
1 The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2 He said, "Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant's house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way." They said, "No; we will spend the night in the square." 3 But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. 4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; 5 and they called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them."
While the narrative refers to them later as ‘men,’ presuming these are male angels, the very start of the story begins by telling us who these characters are. They are of heavenly, not earthly origin according to the writer of Genesis.
Lot had extended the two of them hospitality and the men in town called them out with the intention of gang raping them. Lot’s family escapes because of a miracle by the angels, casting the town folks temporarily blind.
So, the gang rape of angels has turned into a proof text against homosexuality. A story about hospitality (and lack thereof) in a book filled with stories about hospitality is turned into a proof text against homosexuality. A story leading into another book, about God’s retribution on a nation (Egypt) that turned hospitality into slave-keeping is made into a proof text about homosexuality.
Jesus referred to Sodom and Gomorrah in the Gospel of Matthew:
5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.' 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. 9 Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
Take note of something. Jesus, in his reference to Sodom and Gomorrah was speaking in terms of the lack of hospitality and lack of welcoming apostles as being sinful.
Ah, but the word sodomy…
The word sodomy and the accompanying word sodomite (used in many translations of the Bible) do not show up until 395AD in a letter from St. Jerome to people. Jerome began using a ‘new’ Latin word at the time. The difficulty is that he did not articulate exactly what he meant. What is obvious, however, is that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was not about homosexuality. John Calvin, in his commentary on Genesis, does not define the Sodomites' sin as homosexual acts. Instead he prefers the social meaning of sodomy, reminding his readers that the Sodomites were "in the habit of vexing strangers," whereas Lot had offered them shelter and a meal.
We may use the word ‘sodomy’ all we want and while we may see it in the Bible or see the word ‘sodomite’ in the Bible, these are words that did not exist when the Bible was actually written. One would be hard pressed to say that the original texts said, on this subject, what many people state they say.
Not long ago I was listening to the pastor of a megachurch. He was preaching on the evils of same sex relationships. He made two points that were, frankly absurd.
The first one could be used on Saturday Night Live. It was that funny. Seriously, I don’t mean to mock, but I understood why I was required to major in Philosophy for seminary and how logic comes into play. He said that one of the leading causes of same sex relationships was experimentation. He even said it with a straight face. What he seemed to be missing, however, is that gay people experiment sexually and usually begin their experimentation in heterosexual relationships. The percentage of gay people who have engaged in opposite sex behavior is way higher than the percentage of straight people who have engaged in same sex behavior. His ‘experimentation’ theory was absurd.
What got me really rankled, however, was that he said, “Let’s face it, Sodom and Gomorrah was about homosexuality.”
I do not find this particular statement even remotely amusing.
The ‘men’ in the story, we are told, are of angelic origin.
The narrative is about a looming gang rape. Gang rape is an act of violence, it is not even remotely related to sexual love.
The gang rape of angels, in the context of Genesis, and in the interpretation of those who wrote it and read it, was a story telling us what happens to those who are welcoming of God’s people. Jesus very much saw it this way and we should as well. If we are going to read the Bible with any sort of faithfulness, we need to learn what it really says
Sodom and Gomorrah as a proof text is not about homosexuality. It never was and it shouldn’t be used in that manner.
Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle was removed from Acts 29, a church planting network he helped to found. Mars Hill is really not only one church, but is now in five states with fifteen locations. He is an incredibly polarizing figure. He purchased his own books to get on best seller lists, and has been accused of plagiarism. Additionally, his misogyny is almost legendary in all bad ways.
There is one thing that stands out about Mark Driscoll, however. He’s mean.
John Hagee is the pastor of the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. Like Driscoll, a mega-church pastor. In a sermon recently he talked about how horrible poor people were and he distorted a Scripture passage to proof-text his point. He regularly speaks about how people who disagree with his opinions are counterfeit Christians and speaks regularly of the end times and delights in telling his listeners about the torment the ungodly people are going to experience.
There is one thing that stands out about John Hagee, however. He’s mean.
There is also Archbishop John Myers of Newark, New Jersey. In his time he has admonished priests who give Holy Communion to pro-choice parishioners and divorced Catholics who remarry without getting an annulment. Refused to let diocesan teachers attend a national meeting for Catholic educators because one of the speakers was known to favor ordination of women and fired a parochial school teacher for permitting a debate on ordination of women.
Supported the Cardinal Newman Society. Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Neb. (since retired), one of its stalwarts, has threatened to excommunicate Catholics who belong to liberal church organizations such as Call to Action. He is currently adding on to an already huge retirement home and charging it to the Archdiocese of Newark. Despite the controversy surrounding this, he has not relented in this.
I know a good many people who know Myers and there is one thing that stands out about him. He’s mean. No one I know who actually has dealt with Myers has ever accused him of having a heart.
I know. Someone’s going to say I’m picking on ‘conservative’ clergy. These people may call themselves whatever they want, they’re just mean guys who have used Jesus and ideology to say and do mean things to people. There are people just as conservative as them who are good people, great people in fact. These guys are just plain mean.
When we are mean and say we are merely professing the truth in love or preaching the true Gospel, we are missing the point. Being mean and hateful and doing it in the name of Jesus is merely behaving badly and blaming it on God and that is shameful. What they are doing, and have done, is turn people AWAY from God. God is a God of love and love brings people together. Love is patient and kind. These guys are neither. It’s time we remind people that these are folks who may have had some good moments, but in their lust for power and glory have lost sight of the God who calls them to love. I hope their hearts can be melted. Meanwhile, they deserve to be ignored.
I find, especially as I get older, I like to pray. Actually, that’s sort of understating it. I pray because I need to pray. I crave prayer time.
That may sound weird or nerdy or something like that, but it’s become a part of my day and a part of my life. I tend to pray, at least once or twice a day the Liturgy of the Hours which primarily use Psalms.
I pray not because I have all the answers; I have very few answers.
I don’t pray to find out the answers; I pray to allow God’s way to intervene.
I don’t pray for people to get them to see it my way; I pray that I may have an open mind and heart in their presence.
I don’t pray because I am strong; I pray because I am weak.
I don’t pray because I’m so good; I pray because I grapple with my own humanity and weaknesses.
I don’t pray because God needs me to pray; I pray because I need to pray to God.
I don’t pray to come into God’s presence; I pray that I may be aware of God’s presence around me.
I don’t pray for a certain ideology to prevail or one to fail; I pray that people may actually grow up and listen to one another and work together.
I pray an awful lot for peace and for people I love and a lot of people I don’t know. I figure God knows them and that’s enough.
I don’t pray the Psalms because they are all good and uplifting; I pray because they are real and they capture the joy and sorrow, the bliss and pain of life. They are real.
I don’t pray with a lot of certainty; I pray with a lot of seeking and praying the Psalms forces me to seek and wonder. I often wonder about Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan. (Don’t ask, it’s a Psalm thing….)
I pray not because I have an abundance of time; I take the time to pray because I have an abundance of need.
Which reminds me…..time to pray.
The most recent Gallup Poll has the Congressional approval rating at 15%, approve, 80% disapprove, and 5% have no opinion. President Obama’s approval rating is just about 43%, which is pretty low for a President. Ironically, even though 80% of the people in the country disapprove of Congress right now, the vast majority of those running for re-election, will, in fact, be re-elected. People are not happy with their elected officials.
As a person who lives in a market with all Kentucky television stations we are being bombarded with ads from Alison Lundergan Grimes and Mitch McConnell, both of whom are running for Senator McConnell’s current seat. Fact checkers are having a field day with the television ads as virtually nothing that has appeared on television has thus far been even remotely true. The election will be won or lost on advertising and falsehoods. It makes me understand the 15% approval rating a little more. God bless us with our freedom of speech. I wish people would concentrate more on responsibility with their speech!
But these are the least of the issues facing the world right now. In Israel there is endless carnage in Gaza. In the Ukraine there is still carnage and the specter of a civilian plane shot down. Thousands of children are fleeing violence in Central America, coming to the United States and no one has a clue as to how to deal with this.
Then, of course, I go on Facebook and see all sorts of mean comments and articles. Sigh.
The world does not seem like a happy place any longer. I also recently read that people are 40% less empathetic than they were in the 1980’s. I’m not sure how one measures that, but that didn’t sound good to me.
It’s all rather depressing.
This is why I have faith in God and why I pray. Hope in the things of this world is, in a word, hopeless. When the Great Depression came about Herbert Hoover, who was an expert in disasters and was an incredibly good person, believed the goodness and compassion of people would rise up and people would help one another. People would share food and companies would hire as many people as they could even if profits had to go down for a while. He had great faith in human beings and his faith was crushed. He was often called heartless and blamed for people’s suffering and that was unfair. He cared deeply but found himself completely disillusioned with humanity.
The reason I love the Psalms is they remind us that the world is always a troubled place and cruelty exists; they also remind us that God hears us and listens to us and loves us through this. That’s why I have faith in God.
President Herbert Hoover coined the phrase, “rugged individualism.” Poor Herbert Hoover was the President when the Great Depression began. Try as he would, and he really did try, he attempted to pull the nation out of the abyss. He was actually a very capable and compassionate man, but nothing he did was able to lift the country. He saw the great hope in the rugged individualism of the people in the nation and credited that imagery for building the nation.
Politically this is a great debate. One could say with some sense that the Republican Party is based, in part, on the premise of “rugged individualism.” Some could say that the Democratic Party is built on the premise of “It takes a village.” We could make political arguments for both and there is merit and virtue in both of these perspectives. I’m not writing about politics, however.
In recent years the phrase rugged individualism has shown up more in churches. I hear often about people and their personal salvation and their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I am not going to downplay the role of salvation or relationships with Jesus Christ. I will not and cannot diminish that in the least. I worry, however, about the increasing use of the word ‘personal’ in terms of Christianity.
The word only shows up four times in the Bible with three of the times being used in Judith as an adjective. Here are the three verses where it appears:
10 On the fourth day Holofernes held a banquet for his personal attendants only, and did not invite any of his officers.
11 He said to Bagoas, the eunuch who had charge of his personal affairs, "Go and persuade the Hebrew woman who is in your care to join us and to eat and drink with us.
13 They came to Holofernes' tent and said to the steward in charge of all his personal affairs, "Wake up our lord, for the slaves have been so bold as to come down against us to give battle, to their utter destruction."
The only other time it appears and is used in something other than this particular kind of direct adjective is on Proverbs:
2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing personal opinion.
One word can be used to describe this passage from Proverbs: Ouch.
So, in expressing my personal opinion I may not be taking pleasure in understanding and may, in fact, be a fool. Okay, I get that.
There is a reason ‘personal’ and ‘individualism’ is not dwelled on in the Bible. It’s not a concept or a part of Judaism or Christianity. Judaism and Christianity are built around the concept of community. Within Judaism there is virtually no sense of personal relationships with God or personal thoughts about Worship. None. Zero. Judaism is a communal religion.
The reality is that while there is a little sense of individualism in Christianity, it’s a LITTLE sense. Christianity is very much built on its Jewish heritage and follows in the same path of community.
Jesus called apostles and disciples together into a community.
The concept of ‘church’ was built on a community of believers. Baptism was not done in a secret place, but in front of others. The breaking of the bread was not done solitude but with a community of believers. The words ‘Communion’ and “Community” derive from the same root for a very particular meaning.
Monasteries are often the quietest places that Christianity is practiced and lived out and most of the monasteries follow the Rule of St. Benedict. Benedict placed great emphasis, in his rule, on the value and virtue of community. Monks may spend a lot of time being quiet but they also spend a great deal of time together. They pray alone but they mostly pray together. Together. If you join the Marines they teach you the importance and the virtue of the Corps. Marines are brothers and sisters to each other to the max. Monks have no sense of individualism or sense of personal because they are part of a monastic family. It is ‘trained’ out of them, much in the same way it’s trained out of Marines. (Marines and monks might find it odd that I’m linking them but this is actually an accurate linkage; what they do, however, is vastly different.)
Which brings me back to Herbert Hoover. The phrase, to me, has some merit in society as does the whole concept of village. To me, it takes both great individualists and villages to build a nation and I think over the years we have done that. It takes both and requires both.
In God’s church, however, while I would promote personal prayer and study, I am a great advocate for community. To me, Christianity is, by definition, a communal endeavor. We simply do not live lives of faith as well as we can when we try and do so as rugged individualists on a personal endeavor. From a theological perspective, the Bible advocates community over personal in a big way.
We are called into a community of believers for a reason and that reason is that it is God who has called us together.
I’ve been thinking about rotten fruit.
As much as I like Facebook the more time I venture into this world of social media, the more I find that appalls me. It actually is beginning to offend me to the core of my being. It’s becoming more and more like a pile of rotten fruit.
There is a meanness in the air that just looms over everything and that meanness tends to lead us in the direction of that which is rotten.
I read about Michelle Obama speaking at a high school graduation. What an incredible thing! The First Lady of the United States was going to a high school to speak. Of course, this whole thing was bashed. Who did she think she was? The tirade went on and on with very little respect to the fact that she’s the First Lady.
Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to speak at Rutgers University. She is currently a professor at Stanford University and was the Secretary of State under President George W. Bush. Controversial? Sure. Brilliant? Yes. Was it an honor for Rutgers that such a high profile person was going to address them? Absolutely! She pulled out because of the backlash she was receiving. There was a tremendous lack of respect.
One of the major news stories has been kidnapped and missing girls from Nigeria. Rush Limbaugh decided to mock this. Jon Stewart, in turn, mocked Rush Limbaugh. Ann Coulter mocked the story and was, in turn, mocked by others. All of this great hilarity took place over missing and kidnapped girls. Did any one of these people give one iota of thought to the indecency of being, ahem, funny, about this? Are the hearts and souls of our society so incredibly cold and empty that we find this remotely entertaining?
Donald Sterling, the owner of the Clippers obviously made truly awful comments. He decided to go on Anderson Cooper and ‘apologize,’ but he really never got around to that claiming he was set up and furthering his vile toward Magic Johnson. A few weeks ago very few people knew who this man was and, frankly, most of us wish we didn’t. Columnist Kathleen Parker wrote an insightful article on the subject and broached the subject of privacy. Bill Maher, who himself loves to plunge into being indecent toward others, skewered her column in a vicious fashion. He also distorted her intent but he got laughs and ratings so…….
At this years White House Correspondents Dinner Joel McHale must’ve read from some sort of “tips for lazy comedians” manual. His premise seemed to be to make fat jokes, mostly at the expense of Chris Christie. So funny and cruel was he.
And now Karl Rove is going on television and telling the world that Hillary Clinton has brain damage. Of course, pundits are picking this up and are just filled with hilarity and cruelty about this as well. Of course, people are now mocking Karl Rove. It’s all funny and cruel.
This is not an exhaustive list. These are just some things I’ve been observing of late and, frankly, it is very distressing. It’s actually beyond distressing, it has become repulsive.
This is a problem because we tolerate it. We even embrace it. People on the left love Bill Maher because he mocks people on the right; people on the right love Rush Limbaugh because he mocks people on the left. We are very tolerant, even joyous, when people mock those we may not agree with or even dislike. The joy of hating others has become the new American sport.
The problem is, embracing it and even tolerating it is part of the problem. When we use Facebook and Twitter to pass on the cruelty, and we’ve all been guilty of this, myself very much included, we also share the guilt.
Jesus says something incredibly inconvenient in the Sermon on the Mount:
13 "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. 15 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Matthew 7:13-18
The whole ‘good fruit’ and ‘bad fruit’ imagery has hit me between the eyes. Sharing rotten fruit is sharing rotten fruit. Being a false prophet is not just what we say, but the spirit of what we say. If our hearts are cold and cruel we are false prophets. We cannot help ourselves. It is only when we choose that which is noble and good that we become truly prophetic and truly bear good fruit.
As for me, I’m going to try and be light in the darkness. For me, it’s time to pass on good fruit and express that which is noble and good. I know I won’t be perfect at it, but I’m certainly going to try.
I was reading this morning and the author, Joan Chittister, used a remarkable phrase: holy listener.
We live in a chatty, speaking culture more than we do a listening culture. People on TALK radio, talk. That sounds obvious, doesn’t it? They talk. Being on the radio there is nothing to see so someone has to be doing something and other than singing or playing an instrument, one would expect them to talk.
Some of them take some phone calls but most of the phone calls they take are from fans who largely agree with them. This gives the talker the opportunity to expand on their own point of view and they do it over and over again. Rarely do they take time to listen.
On television it’s much the same way. Even interviewers now seem to think that a good interview comes as the result of the interviewer talking more than the interviewee. The hope, I would imagine, is if you, as the interviewer talk long enough in trying to pose a question to really stump the interviewee, you’ll get a great interview. Of course, one of the best interviews of late was Anderson Cooper interviewing Donald Sterling. Cooper BRILLIANTLY sat quietly and let Sterling talk and talk and talk and before you knew it, Sterling had dug himself into a far, far deeper hole than he began with. Anderson Cooper did something unusual. He listened.
Then there is holy listening. Often people define prayer as talking to God. We place ourselves in a spot of attempting to acknowledge God’s presence around us and we talk and talk and talk. Whether we actually felt God’s presence is often not part of the equation. We talked. We often talk about what we need to God.
We sometimes use the Bible to ‘listen’ with a sense that we will read something and that will enable us to listen to God. This is a great opportunity but all too often instead of reading the Bible to listen, we talk right through it. We find passages we like and we preach to ourselves on how we were right about something the entire time. We read the Bible to affirm our position; which means we probably didn’t bother to listen.
Holy listening is taking the time to be quiet and listen to other people. They may have something to say we had not thought of. Holy listening is reading Scripture and discovering what is there and allowing the Word to speak to us and, Heaven forbid, challenge us. It invites us to learn and discover more about God, not just we thought we knew.
Holy listening is taking the time to listen to other people. To REALLY listen to other people. To listen to their words instead of composing our response. To take the time to digest what someone else is saying instead of assuring our point is made.
I’d like to say I’m good at this. I wish I was. To me, this holy listening is something I need to work on. The phrase provoked my own thinking because it challenged me.
Take the time to quiet down and listen and allow that listening to become holy. Let’s try to become holy listeners.
Recently David Letterman announced that he is going to retire. David Letterman has had a very long and successful career on CBS late at night. Previous to that he followed the Tonight Show that chose Jay Leno over him. Both Mr. Leno and Mr. Letterman had great careers. David Letterman is in his late 60’s and his ratings are beginning to drop. After a great career he is stepping down. Good for him.
CBS has named Stephen Colbert of the Comedy Channel’s “The Colbert Report” as his replacement. Mr. Colbert’s show is done, with him in character, as a addled right-winged commentator. The show is, of course, a complete satire and has been based on Mr. Colbert playing a role. He has since announced that he will not do “Late Night” in character as, obviously, the show would not work.
This shall be interesting. His competition is Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon, both of whom are excellent. For Stephen Colbert this is an opportunity of a lifetime and, frankly a high risk moment for his career. Will this work out?
I find it a high risk move by CBS because Colbert has built a career on being in character. We shall see if he has the range and the appeal to be himself and conduct interviews and actually be funny and entertaining as himself. I, for one, would have chosen Tina Fey who, I think, is one of the most brilliant comedic minds out there. I also think a woman in that time slot would have changed the dynamics of late night television. Additionally, I find Ms. Fey to be hilarious whereas I have never found Mr. Colbert to be all that entertaining. That’s just my opinion. CBS has been the number one network in terms of entertainment and they have never asked me my opinion so, obviously, they are smarter at this than I am.
Lately Rush Limbaugh indicated this seemed to be the end of civilization as we know it and Bill O’Reilly is also incensed that this is a left-winged political move by CBS to influence the country. Etc. Etc. Etc.
I feel badly for them. I am not joking and I am not saying this satirically or in any sense of being mean spirited toward these two men. I feel badly for them. The Late Show is a late night comedy show and Stephen Colbert is a comedian. These late night shows have a relatively small demographic because of the time they are on. Some people probably record them, but many fall asleep with these folks playing in the background. People watch these shows to laugh or to see their favorite actors and actresses appear on them.
My thought is that there has to be more to life than worrying about politics and what influences people. When we are worrying about the political influence of late night shows geared toward comedy we are worrying about politics too much. I strongly suspect that of Stephen Colbert made his show mostly about political satire it would fail miserably. It would have little to do with how people thought or felt, but mostly about people not really being interested in the subject. People watch these shows to laugh and see popular entertainers and to help them fall asleep.
So I feel badly for these guys. They are looking for conspiracies behind every corner and worrying about, frankly, very minute issues. Colbert will succeed or fail based on his ability to by funny and interview guests. He has major competition. Jimmy Kimmel is great and, frankly, Jimmy Fallon is a genius. His range of talent astonishes me.
As for me, I’m tired of all the political infighting in the nation. Anyone who can give us a few good laughs, especially at ourselves, is refreshing. In terms of political intrigue and infighting, there has to be more to life than this.
So, here it is. I’ve been offended beyond words this year. It’s been taking place every year but this year it’s gotten to me. Churches are having Easter Worship Services on Good Friday. On the day when Christianity commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus, some churches are going to sing “Alleluia” and celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. While we wait until Sunday to celebrate Jesus’ triumph over death and the grace, they’re skipping the death and the grave part and going to celebrate Easter on the day Jesus died.
This should not be confused with churches that have Saturday Night Easter Vigils. Easter Vigils are a long tradition and take place after sundown on Saturday night which makes sense. In Jewish tradition Sunday started at sundown on Saturday night and so celebrating Easter after dark is not inconsistent with Christianity. But celebrating Easter on Good Friday is a whole other story.
My favorite poet of all time was a 17th century Anglican priest named John Donne. Donne’s poetry was a mixture of profound religious poetry which as being an Anglican priest, was not inconsistent with his being. His secular poetry was actually often a bit risqué and funny. I loved his cleverness and his plays on words. Anyone who knows me well knows I LOVE to play with words.
His greatest poem, to me, was Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward. I’m including it at the end lest you want to read it. He writes of riding westward when he should be looking to the east. His word:
This day, when my soul's form bends to the East.
There I should see a Sun by rising set,
And by that setting endless day beget.
But that Christ on His cross did rise and fall,
Sin had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for me
His soul’s form was bending toward the east, but the rest of him was riding to the west.
Good Friday inspires this. Most of us, if we are honest, want to turn west and not look. The cross is horrible.
The cross is horrible. Crucifying someone was dreadful and awful. Jesus’ death was a horrible death. We cannot make light of this.
Over the centuries we have attempted to soften the blow as much as we can.
Pontius Pilate has often been portrayed as a decent man who was caught in God’s great cosmic drama. He, the only person in Jerusalem who could actually order this kind of execution, washes his hands in a bogus attempt to say he had no responsibility. Pilate, who was historically brutal and bloodthirsty, was guilty of executing an innocent man. No amount of water was going to clear him of this.
Judas betrayed Jesus for money. We often like to say that he too was an innocent pawn in God’s great cosmic plan. The reality is that Jesus was not difficult to find. The Romans did not need Judas but they found great pleasure in turning one of Jesus’ own. Judas recognizing his own treachery hanged himself.
Many people to not attend Worship on Good Friday. We love Easter and there is much to love about Easter. It speaks of Jesus’ triumph over death and the grave. Easter teaches us that Good Friday can be overcome. The horror of Good Friday brings us to the joy of Easter. Only death can bring about resurrection. To live forever we must die. For Jesus to come back, he had to depart. For Jesus to live again, he had to die and the day of his death was Good Friday.
Good Friday reminds us that Jesus was betrayed. It reminds us that Jesus was arrested and that he was denied. It reminds us that "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life,” and the world killed Him. Is this harsh? Yes, it is very harsh but it is also very real. Jesus came into our midst and we killed him. Most of us, if we are brutally honest with ourselves, would have either been outside in the mob screaming for blood or staying home and pretending the events were not taking place. Like Donne, we’d have our faces pointing westward.
In one of the four Suffering Servant Songs in Isaiah 50, the suffering servant says, “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. 7 The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; 8 he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together.” Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together!
Take note, in the Gospels, who contents with Jesus, who stands with him. There is nary a soul…
One of the roles of the Christian Church is to tell the story and retell the story over and over again. It’s is our job to invite people to turn and look eastward. It is our job to at least make sure we acknowledge that Easter does not come without Good Friday. Most of us would love to ignore this day, it is a dreadful day. It is a day when the guilt of what humanity did to God’s Son is exposed for the world to see.
Tragically, and obscenely, some churches are choosing to celebrate Easter that day. To me, it’s downright obscene. It crushes my spirit, it crushes my soul. Has Christianity turned so much into ‘feel good’ that we can no longer recognize that to walk in the light requires a journey into the darkness. Has Christianity become so much about feeling good that we should not take time to acknowledge our failures and our faults as a collective people?
May God forgive us.
GOOD-FRIDAY, 1613, RIDING WESTWARD.
by John Donne
LET man's soul be a sphere, and then, in this,
Th' intelligence that moves, devotion is ;
And as the other spheres, by being grown
Subject to foreign motion, lose their own,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a year their natural form obey ;
Pleasure or business, so, our souls admit
For their first mover, and are whirl'd by it.
Hence is't, that I am carried towards the west,
This day, when my soul's form bends to the East.
There I should see a Sun by rising set,
And by that setting endless day beget.
But that Christ on His cross did rise and fall,
Sin had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for me.
Who sees Gods face, that is self-life, must die ;
What a death were it then to see God die ?
It made His own lieutenant, Nature, shrink,
It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.
Could I behold those hands, which span the poles
And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes ?
Could I behold that endless height, which is
Zenith to us and our antipodes,
Humbled below us ? or that blood, which is
The seat of all our soul's, if not of His,
Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn
By God for His apparel, ragg'd and torn ?
If on these things I durst not look, durst I
On His distressed Mother cast mine eye,
Who was God's partner here, and furnish'd thus
Half of that sacrifice which ransom'd us ?
Though these things as I ride be from mine eye,
They're present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them ; and Thou look'st towards me,
O Saviour, as Thou hang'st upon the tree.
I turn my back to thee but to receive
Corrections till Thy mercies bid Thee leave.
O think me worth Thine anger, punish me,
Burn off my rust, and my deformity ;
Restore Thine image, so much, by Thy grace,
That Thou mayst know me, and I'll turn my face.
News reports are out and a looming question this year is: Did Jesus have a wife?
A controversial papyrus scrap making that suggestion dates to the fourth through eighth century A.D., seems to have been verified that it dates back that long, thus making this a fragment of a document that existed in early Christianity.
This fragment is not new but the scientific verification does appear to be new. There are screams of forgery but I’m thinking that the document can easily date back to that time period----which actually doesn’t make it that big a deal in the realm of theological thought.
We know that there were numerous ‘gospels’ written in early Christianity. The Gnostics wrote gospels and people who attempted to discredit Jesus wrote gospels. It was not until around the 4th century when early Christianity determined the Canon of the New Testament and chose four Gospels to have been humanly written and inspired by God. Those Gospels, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John are part of the modern New Testament and considered to be Gospel by all of Christianity. We know next to nothing about the authors, but the early church determined these four, and only these four, were inspired. Other gospels were either destroyed or not reproduced. Most of what we have of the Bible came to us from monks carefully inscribing manuscripts. They would not have used precious time to replicate non-canonical books and so most of these manuscripts just rotted away in the sands of time.
Every so often remnants of one shows up and a lot of fuss is made. While scientifically and theologically interesting, these really do not impact the faith and history of Christianity.
Interestingly enough, speculation on the marital status of Jesus isn’t that big a deal. Some say that because the Gospels never mention a spouse it means he was not married. However, a 30 Jewish man who was not married would have been very atypical and scholars suggest that Jesus NOT been married it would have been a major thing to report. The end result? We have no idea.
Many have suggested over the centuries that Mary Magdalene may have been Jesus’ spouse. While there has often been speculation that she was a prostitute, one thing we can say for sure is that she was not a prostitute. All serious religious scholars agree on this point as does the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. If Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute, nor were her sins identified as 'sins of the flesh,’ why do so many people view Mary Magdalene as the sexy, 'fallen woman?'
It began as a shameful lie, invented by Pope Gregory I in 597 C.E., in which he combined three separate women from the New Testament into one. He combined Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany and a woman who is not named but is referred to as a 'sinner.' It has been suggested that Gregory may have been trying to demean her memory so has to keep women down. Others speculate he might have been theologically ignorant----which I doubt. In any case, his bogus assertion has remained a part of Christian lore, though in absolute fairness the Roman Catholic Church and the vast majority of viable Christian scholars do not say this any longer.
What was she to Jesus? A close friend? A great disciple? Spouse?
The answer is we really cannot say for sure. The Gospels do not tell us she and Jesus were married and we have to live with the fact that this is an eternal mystery. We can speculate all we want but we need to realize that no matter what we conclude, it’s speculation.
So, this fragment was found. Big deal? Historically sure, but it doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t know. There exist fragments that say all sorts of things and they will be found. They are interesting but they are not going to rock Christianity. If they do rock our faith, perhaps we need to developing thicker skin.
I always marvel at language. Anyone who knows me knows that I love to play with words. I’m a notorious punster who delights in hearing groans from a particularly juicy and cheesy pun. A great pun brings about not so much a laugh, but a huge groan.
Words matter and some words are actually pretty insidious in scope. We think of words like ‘hate’ and can see it is insidious. We can use ‘bad’ words and refer to them as insidious. There’s also the word ‘phlegm’ which is just about the weirdest words in the English language. I’m not referring to any of these words, however. A marvelously insidious word people often use is the word ‘but.’
Recently in a Facebook forum made up of alumni from my college, a very small, now defunct Roman Catholic Seminary College in upstate New York, there was a conversation about a church organist who was fired when it was learned that he was married to a same sex partner. I indicated that I loved my denomination, the United Church of Christ. I wrote about us welcoming everyone, etc. One person in the forum responded, “And that is what (his denomination) does, as well………….But……..” There it was, the word ‘but.’ “Everyone is welcome in my church……………but.” The translation for the people on the receiving end of that ‘but’ is that they are not welcome.
It really doesn’t matter how large we place the letters, how well we sing welcoming songs, and announce that people are welcome. If we use the word ‘but’ in the sentence, they are not welcome.
“We welcome the role of women in leadership……………………..but.” The translation is that women are not really in leadership positions. In churches this is especially maddening. On Easter we will all read from the Gospels telling us that the first real message of Christianity, “I have seen the Lord,” pronounced by women, doesn’t count as ‘preaching.’ Because St. Paul once referred to an obscure group of women in an obscure place who were creating problems and he wrote to the church’s leadership to silence these women in the church, people have proclaimed women cannot speak in church. They, of course, ignore the reality that the first people to proclaim the Christian Gospel, “I have seen the Lord,” were, in fact women. Women are welcome in leadership……but.
We welcome children in our church and what them to participate………but, not yet.
It goes further than church, however.
If someone says, “I love you……..but,” it’s pretty ominous. It either means they don’t really love you or they are going to place some major conditions on that love.
If someone says, “I’m sorry……but,” they are not really sorry. They are now rationalizing.
What makes the word ‘but’ so insidious is that it comes at the end of a wonderful statement. It’s the ultimate bait and switch. “You are wonderful………but.’ “You are my dearest friend……but.”
I was struck by this yesterday. In the middle of a heartfelt conversation one person decided to drop his bit ‘but’ in the middle of a caring discussion. He used a lot of good words of really respecting everyone…..but.
It’s a good reminder to me. When I say something, if I’m adding the word ‘but’ to my statement, I’m not really saying what I set out to say. For me, I’m going to watch my language and try and rid myself of using this marvelously insidious word in such a manner.