Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Same Old, Same Old With the Son of God

Boredom
Photo by Adam Jones adamjones.freeservers.com
"On the 5th Day of Christmas my true love gave to me... downtime."

In the version of the Christian calendar followed in the western world this is the 5th Day of Christmas -- the one where your supposed to get those famous "five golden rings." But despite that, there are no holy feasts today, no commemorations like the one I mentioned the other day marking the first martyrdom in the Christian Movement. If you happen to be a big fan of Thomas Becket this would be the day you remember him, though it has nothing to do with Christmas (although he was yet another martyr...).

But there is a lesson in this day. After all, even life with the newborn Son of God wasn't a miracle-a-minute. There were no doubt weeks and months where nothing happened outside of ordinary, droning, peasant family life. Even the fact that they were refugees in Egypt for some time wouldn't have altered the mundaneness of the life of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus much.

Days like the 5th Day of Christmas, which basically just tick off time in the commemoration of Jesus' young life, help bring home the reality of all this. They hint that, despite all the wonders that swirl around the Holy Family at crucial moments, they were much more like us with all our prosaic concerns than we may think. As the Gospel of Luke tells us a little later on, most of Jesus' early life could be described this way: "The little boy Jesus was developing into a mature young man, full of wisdom. God was blessing him," (Luke, chapter 2 verse 40, ERV).

But that's to be expected. It is in legends and fairy tales that miracles happen every minute; here we are dealing with history. It just happens to be history in which God is with us.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Ramifications of Christmas

Stoning of St. Stephen, by Rembrandt
Even though his feast day is not technically connected with Christmas, it's interesting to me that the first day after it is the day Jesus' followers commemorate the execution of Stephen, the Christian Movement's first martyr. Today is the 'Feast of Stephen,' which usually only surfaces in our minds when we sing Good King Wenceslas.

Perhaps it's just a coincidence that Stephen is celebrated here, but it serves as a none-too-subtle reminder that the Messiah wasn't born yesterday to bring us bright baubles and candy canes; this is serious business.

Serious Business

Let's rehearse what happened here. The power-brokers back then were not terribly happy with Jesus' early followers. Stephen was one of the major exponents of what we stood for and, as the story goes, when his opponents couldn't out-debate him they simply accused him of "speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God." In short order Stephen was " seized... and brought... before the council," (Acts of the Apostles, chapter 6 verses 11 - 12, ).

In his defense Stephen delivered a long and rather blunt speech showing point by point that his people had an abysmal record of obeying God and now had capped it off by crucifying their own Messiah. His listeners did not take it well:
Upon hearing this, his audience could contain themselves no longer. They boiled in fury at Stephen; they clenched their jaws and ground their teeth. But Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit. Gazing upward into heaven, he saw something they couldn’t see: the glory of God, and Jesus standing at His right hand.
Stephen: Look, I see the heavens opening! I see the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God! 
At this, they covered their ears and started shouting. The whole crowd rushed at Stephen, converged on him, dragged him out of the city, and stoned him. They laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul, while they were pelting Stephen with rocks. 
Stephen (as rocks fell upon him): Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Then he knelt in prayer, shouting at the top of his lungs, 
Stephen: Lord, do not hold this evil against them! 
Those were his final words; then he fell asleep in death.

One may fault Stephen for tactlessness but not for lack of courage. Jesus offered his people a revolutionary way to be rescued from Rome, rescued from sin, rescued from failing repeatedly to fulfill the mission God had created them for. Even at this late date, when they had utterly failed to recognize their Messiah and turned him over to the Romans for a hideous execution, Jesus' offer still stood. Israel could still fall in behind their King. Stephen saw his duty clear and decided his best shot at shaking up the august leaders of his people was to rub their noses in the truth of what they'd done.

It got him killed, with many more to come.

First of Many

The line of martyrs with Stephen at its head has by no means come to an end. On this Feast of Stephen googling "latest attacks on christians" immediately brings up a story in USA Today reporting that, "Christmas attacks by Muslim rebels in Christian villages in the southern Philippines left at least 14 people dead." The numbers of Christians in the middle east are rapidly decreasing as they do their best to escape barbaric treatment. But don't think (as so many tend to) that it's purely a problem with radical muslim extremists. Open Doors, a group that monitors Christian persecution, reports that the country most hostile to Jesus of Nazareth's followers is North Korea.

In the comfortable, hermetically sealed western world we inhabit it's easy to assume the days of Christians being martyred for their faith is long past, that it may have happened back in "barbaric" Roman times, but not today. It's particularly easy when we are warm and full from the traditional holiday buying binge.

The Feast of Stephen helps us remember right after Christmas that that's not quite the case.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Right Time

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, who was born from a woman and lived under the law. God did this so that he could buy the freedom of those who were under the law. God’s purpose was to make us his children.

Paul
Letter to the Galatians 4.4-5 (ERV)

_____________________

Astronomers never tire of telling us how unimaginably vast the universe (or perhaps the multiverse) is, and how small and insignificant we are by comparison. And they are right. It's true with time as well: The 'big bang' happened about 13.8 billion years ago. Compared to that, the whole of human existence is just a blip.

The Christian Movement has no quibble with that. In fact, we've always held that the God we deal with is infinite and eternal. That puts the multiverse in the same relative position to God as the Earth is to it.

Yet out of all that unfathomable vastness came this. In the most insignificant corner of our insignificant planet the infinite God became the most insignificant of people -- a peasant girl's baby.

And why? He spells it out plain: God's purpose was to make us his children.

In eternity, beyond all time and space, that is what concerned the infinite God. And on this day, Christmas day, he did something about it.

It was the right time.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving -- Ancient Israelite Style!

Creative Commons: "Laughs and Clean Plates" by Dinner Series is licensed under CC BY 2.0
To thank the Lord for his many blessings many of us gather together with our families at this time of year. We bring our best food, lots of meat and baked goods made from scratch with the best ingredients. Then we offer a prayer of thanks, recounting what we are grateful for. After that we spend the day eating, talking, and laughing, enjoying each other's company -- and God's blessing. We don't have to do this, but it's a tradition and we always look forward to it.

No, I'm not bragging about the Thanksgiving my extended family is having today. This is thanksgiving the way that ancient Israelites did it, 3000+ years ago.

It's buried in the depths of the almost-never-read Book of Leviticus, the third book in your Bible. Here is how the Voice Bible translates it:
If someone offers a sacrifice out of thanksgiving, then in addition to the sacrifice he must offer loaves of unleavened bread mixed with oil, unleavened wafers topped with oil, and loaves of the finest flour mixed with oil. Along with the peace offerings for thanksgiving, a person must include loaves of leavened bread. He must present one of each kind of bread as a gift to Me; it will belong to the priest who officiates the sacrifice and splatters the blood of the peace offerings against the sides of the altar.
The meat of the sacrifice for the thanksgiving peace offering must be eaten on the day it is offered. None of it is to be left over for the next day. (Book of Leviticus 7.12 - 15, Voice )
 There are obvious differences of course and the last thing I'm trying to do is suggest that Americans are modern Israelites (although the Puritans, who started our Thanksgiving tradition, are just the kind of guys who would read Leviticus).

But it is interesting to me that there is a more than passing similarity between their thanksgiving and our thanksgiving. In this book God is setting up a way for Israel to relate to their God. As part of that he includes a way to spontaneously say "thank you" to him when they are so moved.

Most of the other sacrifices ordained in the first 7 chapters of Leviticus are either completely consumed in the altar fire or part is set aside for the Priests. But when it comes to thanksgiving, God's idea is: Get your family together, bring your best animal (which is what a sacrifice had to be), make 3 kinds of baked goods, and then gather before me (at the 'congregation tent' -- the forerunner of Solomon's Temple) and we'll have a good time together. And eat all you want because there won't be any leftovers.

Throughout the Scriptures we find God working through community and food. He is not an austere, far-off deity or the kind who does everything himself. God is constantly, intimately involved with every mundane thing in his people's lives, working through them to fulfill his eternal purposes. Even the most profound, sacred thing we do as the Christian movement, taking Holy Communion, is God working through food to transform his people and through them the world.

That's a good reason to be thankful. And it's a good reason to give thanks in this ancient way that also seems  so natural to us.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Last Words

End of the Line
Photo by Willy Volk
Synchroblog is a little community of mostly Christian bloggers who write about "post-modern faith and life," posting on a particular subject each month. Bad news though: Synchroblog is on its last legs and this will be its last set of essays ever. So this post is part of the October 2015 Synchroblog  whose theme is, appropriately enough,‘If this was my last blog post, here’s what I would want to say’.

See the list at the end to read everybody else's final missives.
_______________




I haven't been a very good Synchroblogger, I admit. I joined in October 2013 with a post called The Gospel Truth About Social Justice, which actually became one of the more popular posts I've written here. But as encouraging as that was, I've only posted four more: (Jesus Christ Superstar Saved My Soul, Going Home, The Year of Reading Scripture for the First Time, and Law of Liberty). And this one if I get it done before the deadline.

This time the writing prompt invites me to imagine that this is my final blog post.  Actually I've written final posts for several blogs so it's easy to tell you what those look like: Nothing. Usually I've written until I got sick of it and just stopped.

I did do a little more with a sister blog of this one. My immortal last words there were:

I can't think of a use for this blog. And really I haven't used it a lot anyway.
Pretty moving, huh?

So I'm going to take our theme as not just my last words for this blog, but my last words ever. What if I knew that 5 minutes from now I would be dead? What words would I write on this page then?

Actually, I had an entirely different set of words I was going to include here. But as I thought about it that way -- as the final few sentences I want to leave the world with after my passing -- different words came to mind. And now they seem like the only thing important enough to say.

As you know if you read Authentic Light a lot, I am rather obsessed with the early Christian movement -- the first 300 or 400 years. I am what is called a Paleo-orthodox theologian. Jerome, the ancient Christian scholar from that era, reports an old tradition (in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, 6.10) about the Apostle John once he got up in years.

When John was too weak to deliver full sermons anymore, he still insisted on being carried into Christian meetings where he would invariably hoist himself up on his stretcher and deliver this short message:
Little children, love one another.
After a while of course this became monotonous and a few of the people asked him why he didn't change it up a little.  His answer was: "This is the Lord’s command, and if this alone be done, it is enough."

I always liked that story, so that is the last thing I want to say in my last Synchroblog: Love one another, the way Jesus loves you.

"Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another."




This is a list of the Synchrobog contributors for this final month. Read them all and leave a comment!

K.W. Leslie – Synchrobloggery
Glenn Hager – Parting Shot
Clara Mbamalu – What is love?
Carol Kuniholm – A Final Synchroblog
J. A. Carter – Last Words
Tony Ijeh – Sharing Jesus
Liz Dyer – Last words about love





Sunday, August 23, 2015

One

Irenaeus of Lyon
"There is one body and one Spirit, and God chose you to have one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. There is one God and Father of us all, who rules over everyone. He works through all of us and in all of us."

(Letter to the Ephesians chapter 4 verses 4 - 6, ERV)


___________________

Irenaeus was a leader, thinker, and writer in the early Christian Movement. He had grown up in the church at Smyrna (in today's Turkey) led by Polycarp, a legend in the early church. Polycarp had been a student of John the Apostle himself, and he passed on stories and teachings from John and other "elders" in the Movement. Irenaeus absorbed it all with the fabulous mind he had. As an adult he moved east to Lyons, France where he cared for the Movement's outpost there and handed on the 'deposit of faith' as he had heard it from Polycarp, who had received it from St. John the Apostle who received it from... Well, I imagine you can see what makes Irenaeus so important in the history of the Christian Movement.

Today, Irenaeus describes what was in the revelation Jesus entrusted his Apostles with, and how carefully it was handed on.
Now the Church, although scattered over the whole civilized world to the end of the earth, received from the apostles and their disciples its faith in one God, the Father Almighty, who made the heaven, and the earth, and the seas, and all that is in them, and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was made flesh for our salvation, and in the Holy Spirit, who through the prophets proclaimed the dispensations of God—the comings, the birth of a virgin, the suffering, the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily reception into the heavens of the beloved, Christ Jesus our Lord, and his coming from the heavens in the glory of the Father to restore all things, and to raise up all flesh, that is, the whole human race, so that every knee may bow, of things in heaven and on earth and under the earth, to Christ Jesus our Lord and God and Saviour and King, according to the pleasure of the invisible Father, and every tongue may confess him, and that he may execute righteous judgment on all. 
The spiritual powers of wickedness, and the angels who transgressed and fell into apostasy, and the godless and wicked and lawless and blasphemers among men he will send into the eternal fire. But to the righteous and holy, and those who have kept his commandments and have remained in his love, some from the beginning [of life] and some since their repentance, he will by his grace give life incorrupt, and will clothe them with eternal glory.

Having received this preaching and this faith, as I have said, the Church, although scattered in the whole world, carefully preserves it, as if living in one house. She believes these things [everywhere] alike, as if she had but one heart and one soul, and preaches them harmoniously, teaches them, and hands them down, as if she had but one mouth. For the languages of the world are different, but the meaning of the [Christian] tradition is one and the same. Neither do the churches that have been established in Germany believe otherwise, or hand down any other tradition, nor those among the Iberians, nor those among the Celts, nor in Egypt, nor in Libya, nor those established in the middle parts of the world.

Irenaeus of Lyons (early 2nd century – c. AD 202)
Against All Heresies book 1 chapters 10 sections 1 - 2 (written about AD 180)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Intersection

(This is a slightly expanded repeat of a previous post. I'm still at a conference.)

Jesus of Nazareth taught his students that, "For when two or three gather together in My name, I am there in the midst of them," (Gospel of Matthew 18.20, Voice). The rest of the New Testament, particularly the Acts of the Apostles, is permeated with the idea that he, through the Holy Spirit, is there at meetings of Christians.

This means that church is not a club where we get together for donuts on Sunday, it's a place where Heaven and Earth interlock. Just like Israel's temple in Jerusalem, only more so. Paul the Apostle taught,

What mutual agreement does the temple of God have with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, just as God said, “I will live in them and will walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people."
(Second Letter to the Corinthians 6.16 )

Assuming we haven't forgotten this, the Lord Messiah will quite often speak there.

Are we listening?

"If the voice calls you again, I want you to say, “Speak, Eternal One. Your servant is listening”,” (First Book of Samuel, 3.9, Voice ).