Posts Tagged ‘New Testament’

A Call to worship and a prayer of praise for this Sunday.  I love how prayers of praise can be easily adapted to become a meaningful prayer of confession ….


Leader:  Before there were notes on a page, there was rhythm.

People:  Before there was a song in our brain, our heart’s synchronized rhythm could rouse or calm us.

Leader:  Before there was radio or iPods, rhythm could travel.

People:  The first rhythms were occasional in celebration of ordinary stories.

Leader:  When stories found their rhythm, singers lost their fear and trepidation, they found their courage to answer God’s call.

All:  Let us worship our God who loves our rhythm and song.  Amen.


God of our lives, we marvel at the transformation of the mundane.  We can go through the motions and cook a meal, change a diaper, write a card or change a filter but there is no gratitude in going through the motions.  We give you thanks for the emergence of a hum or a whistle that moves our mundane to great fun and joy. Thank you for the people whose rhythms are freely given and infectious. Let us treasure each moment by setting it to rhythm.  We offer this prayer as we remember Mary’s song that surely affected the rhythm of Jesus’ heart.  Amen


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BTW – for the challenge read the end of this blog first!:)

Valentine’s Day originates when a priest refuses to abide by a ban on marriage.  The ban on marriage was issued for soldiers in the Roman empire.  The thought was the marriage made soldiers “soft” and a more aggressive soldier could be produced if they were not distracted by romantic love. The priest married soldiers in secret and defied the emperor’s edict. The priest accommodated an early stage of love (romantic) and engaged a more complex sort of love (challenging oppressive power).  For a more detailed history of Valentine’s Day, click on the following link.   http://www.theholidayspot.com/valentine/history_of_valentine.htm

The premise of this blog is that love emerges through various levels of maturity.  Valentine’s Day calls us to honor not only romantic love but the more complex experiences of love that the human being longs to understand. 

Last week I began a sermon series on the Johannine letters of the New Testament.  The first sermon focused on 1 John 1:5-10, 2:15-17.  The congregation and I considered, together, the definitions of love as presented by David H. Kelsey in his book Eccentric Existence:  A Theological Anthropology (vol. 2).  Most ministers attend to the language loss of love’s meaning as it travels from the Greek text to the English language.  It is not uncommon to hear ministers parse the english “love” into the greek words phileo, agape, and eros. 

Kelsey summarizes the New Testament’s employment of the various Greek words for our English love:

  • the majority of references to love within the New Testament are the greek term, agape (as verb and noun)
  • about dozen references within the New Testament utilize the Greek word, phileo 
  • while no references within the New Testament contain the Greek word, eros

He then defines the three words so that we can hone in on the experience of love that is most relevant for our faith. 

Eros is defined (using non-biblical Greek texts) as “…a desiring love that is grounded in some lack or need and perceives its object to be desirable because it can satisfy the need” (733).     So, in other words…this is the Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger moment….”You complete me!”.  When we human beings look at an object and understand that it will fill us up…we are engaging love as eros.  And our New Testament does not reference this kind of love.

Phileo is defined as the love between brothers and sisters and within the New Testament this is nuanced to include brothers and sisters in the faith. “Outside the New Testament, philanthropia generally means love for humankind or lovingkindness either by a ruler or deity” (734).  This is a love bestowed in order to remedy or fix a feeling or situation.  The New Testament references this only a few times. 

Agape, however, carries the majority of New Testament references but very few references to it in “non-Christian Greek inscriptions and texts”(734).  Kelsey then notes that agape is used in such a wide variety of contexts that one might be lead to believe that its definition might be vague…however the word agape really means something very specific.  Let’s take it step by step:

  1. Agape is God’s love for the creature. 
  2. The creature is not God
  3. Therefore, agape is a love that the Creator has for the Created. 
  4. The created person or thing may fall short of th expectations that the Creator has for him or her…but the Creator still loves (agape). 
  5. The loving that is done ( despite the Creator’s expectations or imagination being unmet) is for the purpose of keeping the Creator and the creature in relationship.

Now, let’s try to apply agape to the human experience.

  1. We human beings are created in God’s image
  2. We are therefore co-creators with God of our relationships and circumstances.
  3. The  relationships and circumstances of  our lives are often less than what we imagined they would be.
    • Often relationships and circumstances fall short of a “brotherly or sisterly love” or they cannot be “fixed” by a brotherly or sisterly love.  (phileo)
    • Often our relationships and circumstances cannot “fill us up” or satisfy us as we thought they might. (eros)
  4. When our created relationships and circumstances are less than we thought they would be we are offered a choice.
    • we can disconnect from relationships or circumstances
    • We can engage agape and be reconciled to the very thing that seems so different from our goals, expectations and hopes. 
  5. Agape opportunities arise not when life and relationships are good….Agape arrives as  a God-given tool when times are difficult and relationships and circumstances fall short of our anticipated mark.

Agape is not eros and phileo…though we have plenty of eros and phileo experiences in our life.  Agape is the sort of love that we are invited to exercise.  We might know we are receiving an agape invitation when we are faced with people and circumstances who hassle us.   Then for whatever reason, we begin to realize that the hassle is a more unavoidable challenges that requires our response.  The challenge and the person who embodies the challenge eventually morphs into a messenger for our life and faith. Because of the tenacity of the situation, a person of faith might assume divine initiative.   It is our response will determine if we are able to receive the God-given message. 

Agape is a method to love our way through an agitating message so that our life and faith might be enriched.  Agape can be avoided…but the human being who avoids it will survive in a diminished state.

On Valentine’s Day we are not just to celebrate the romantic love that a saint facilitated.  We are to celebrate the more radical agape as we remember the saint who engaged and challenged an emperor.  As we rise up and lovingly engage life’s contrasts ….process theology would remind us that in so doing we might experience a deeper sense of harmony with our Creator….who loves us.

Be Saint Valentine to the one who is a thorn in your side!  And let God receive a valentine…agape style!

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Have you ever found the Apostle Paul confusing? It may be because there are different dimensions of the Apostle.  In a collaborative effort, John Dominic Crossan and Marcus J. Borg have authored The First PaulThis book argues that Paul was a radical apostle who was subsequently suppressed by the church.  They parse Paul according to scholarly consensus that there are genuine Pauline letters, letters from the “school of Paul” and disputed letters. 

As you may know, the Apostle Paul is a primary subject from the Book of Acts, but his authorship is in the epistles of the New Testament.  He is the undisputed author of seven of the New Testament letters:   1 Thessalonians, Galatians,  1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians (sections of), Philippians, Philemon, Romans.  His ministry and theology influence the books of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus.  These are  otherwise known as the pastoral letters of Paul likely written by someone influenced by Paul.  While the books of Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians are post-Paul entirely.  These are also known as the disputed letters.  

Borg and Crossan describe the Paul of the seven genuine letters as “The Radical Paul”.  The Paul of the three pastoral letters is for Borg and Crossan “The Reactionary Paul”.  And the Paul represented in the disputed letters, they suggest is “The Conservative Paul”.

This may be a very helpful book as one tries to reconcile the teachers of Paul in the local congregation.  Our Adult Sunday School class will be considering this book as we move through Lent and approach the radical truth of Easter!

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Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

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Happy New Year!  There are some 52 references to the good news throughout the New Testament.  Recognizing that this term “the word” or “the word of God” has undergone the historical development beginning with the life and ministry of Jesus through the Jesus Movement and early church and the church of later ages, what does this term mean pragmatically i.e. for the day to day life of the Christian person.

Some believe the good news to be a social/ political activity in which Jesus engaged.  Others believe it to be a spiritual promise for a future event.  Others believe it is an accumulation of wisdom from Jesus’ teachings.   Still others believe it is a task or commission for the Christian community.  But in each of these opinions, good news remains a very general or even generic term that becomes, at worst, a part of church jargon.

I will be facilitating an adult Sunday School class on the subject throughout the month of January.  Thanks for enriching our discussion with your comments.   In your opinion, what does Good News mean???

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Ministry of the Apostles, a complex multi-figu...

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For the Christian, the title the Son of Man finds its earliest reference in Daniel 7 where it is used to describe a cloud-born humanlike figure.   When it is used in the New Testament, it is almost exclusively used in the Gospels and then alwasy on the lips of Jesus.  ( The other occurences are found in Acts 7, Hebrews 2, and Revelation 1 and 14.)   Its usage is cryptic to the extent that Jesus uses the phrase in the third person as if referring to some other person but the context of the passage implies that the reference is to him. (Burkett, 2000 page 32)   

More generally and before our scriptural references, the title was used in the ancient world to reference a specific human being and we often understand when we read scripture that the  being referenced is the risen Jesus.  Thus we might understand that Son of Man holds a tense between our human condition and our desire to transcend it.   

Scholars have wrestled with this phrase in order to “pin it down” and understand it more fully.  However, I wonder if the phrase is not meant to have some play in it.   

If it is confusing to determine whether the reference is to Jesus or another specific human being, then perhaps we are to wonder who Jesus is referring to.  I would like to propose that when Jesus is remembered as using the phrase “Son of Man” this was a reference to Jesus as well as to what he has in common with the human condition.  For example, one of the  days of the Son of Man might be a phrase indicating a hoped for day when one rises above one’s pain suffering and is triumphant over their circumstances.   

If this is possible, the Son of Man becomes a meaningful but generic title for the specific human experience striving toward faithfulness when we are betwixt and between our worst fears and our highest hopes.   For my part, since I am still trying to understand this phrase, I will be playing a little game.  The game will be to insert my name into the places of scripture where The Son of Man title is used and then I will take an alternative view and slip Jesus’ name in.  I will see which one if either make consistent sense.

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Chapters 11 and 12 of the Spirit level conclude part II which focuses on the costs of inequality.   Not surprisingly the authors argue a  a correlation between imprisonment and inequality.  Their research extends from the prisons themselves to the public opinion about prisons.  

1.  Criminologists, Blumstein and Beck have examined the growth of US prison populations.  Only 12 percent of the growth in state prisoners between 1980 and 1996 could be put down to increases in criminal offending…The other 88 percent of increased imprisonment was due to the increasing likelihood that convicted criminals were sent to prison rather than being given non-custodial sentences.  (147)

2.  More unequal states are likely to retain the death penalty.

3.  Prisoner treatment is more human in countries with greater equality.  In the Netherlands, a grouop of lawyers, criminologists and psychiatrists came together to influence the prison system and were committed that offenders must be treated as fellow human beings who are capable of responding to insights and treatments.  (151).  The communal and optimistic prisons of Japan are compared to the supermax prisons of the US where criminals are put in isolation, “which has been condemned by the United Nations Committee on Torture.” (152)

4.  Imprisonment in unequal countries was often driven by a “growing fear of crime and a loss of confidence in the criminal justice system which made the general public more favorable toward harsh criminal justice policies.” (156)

When in Matthew 25:31-46, God’s people are lauded for their attention to the hungry, thirsty, lonely, naked, sick and imprisoned, sure the church has a responsibility to not just visit but to consider how the prison population accumulates and how we participate in the public attitude about prisoners, punishment,sentencing and a return to society.  Wilkinson and Pickett give us clues for our work and ministry. 

In Chapter 12, the authors argue that income inequality tends to yeild societies with restricted social mobility.  Interesting facts include:

1.  Between 1950 and 1980 – social mobility declined rapidly as income differences widened dramatically. 

2.  Education, often understood as primary means to social mobility, was allocated for more generously (97.8%) out of public funds in more equal countries.  In more unequal countries like the United States, the allocation was closer to (68.2%).

3. Since the 1970s inequality has increased in the USA.  Geographical segregation of the rich and poor has also been on the rise.   Paul Jargowsky cites the US Census data showing that the concentration of poverty increased between 1970-1990.  

How do unequal societies , characterized by geographic segregation of classes and lower social mobility reinforce these trends?  The authors cite the “downward social prejudice” whereby working class people “view their failures to get on in the world as a result of their own inadequacies, resulting in feelings of hostility, resentment and shame.” (165).  In this way, snobbery is cited as a method for restraining people’s opportunity and well-being.   The ripple effect of this may have profound impact upon a society. 

As these downward prejudices increase, individuals who live on the lower rungs of the social ladder displace their aggression to individuals who are yet of even lower status.  “When people react to a provocation from someone with higher status by redictring their aggression to someone of lower status psychologists label it displaced aggression(166).   In the animal kingdoms, displaced aggression is known as the bicycling reaction.  “…the image being conjured up is of someone on a racing bicycle, bowing to their superiors, while kicking down on those beneath.” (168). 

As we pastors study the stories of healing within the New Testament gospels, many of us are aware of that in the ancient world the individual’s human body was symbolic of the larger social body.  Pickett and Wilkerson provide us an application of this theory in their research.  Citing research in the areas of heart disease, low birth weight and schizophrenia, the authors suggest that  intense preoccupation with dominance and social rigidity in unequal socieites may take a great toll on physical health of individuals who choose to strive against  the pressure in order to have greater social mobility.  “…the psychological effects of stigma are sometimes strong enough to override the health benefits of material advantage…”(169). 

Surely the church as an institution known for its class distinctions must reconcile itself to God by diminishing our own culture of inequality (whispers about flip flops and shorts as sanctuary attire) in order to provide a healthier environment in which our parishioners can receive and respond to God’s call upon their lives.

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