According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Do you read scripture like a Pharisee or like Jesus?

At the time of Jesus, the Pharisees were experts on the bible. In fact, they had managed to find all the laws in the bible – 613 of them. They had further figured out that there were 365 negative laws – thou shall nots. And 248 positive laws – thou shalls. So they knew all about important rules like thou shalt wash your hands before eating, thou shalt not perform miracle healings on the Sabbath and how long to keep the fringe on their garments. Somehow they had managed to miss those very important rules about card playing, drinking alcohol and dancing. No one’s perfect, I guess. But they had mastered the very important biblical teaching to avoid the appearance of evil. Like they wouldn’t eat with unclean people because if they did, the other biblical rule followers might call them evil. And evil is bad, donchano? (I once attended a church which demanded that members not drink alcohol on the grounds that other church members might be scandalized if they saw you coming out of a liquor store.)
So long before the teaching of sola scripture, the Pharisees were experts in biblical living. If you needed to know the biblical way to weave your cloth was, they could tell you. (Using only one type of fiber is biblical. The Pharisees would not have stood for our unbiblical polyester/cotton blends!) The Pharisees were also very good about setting a good example for other people – praying in public or announcing their contributions to the synagogue loudly. Because it was important to “witness” to those around them so that people would be inspired to honor God the right way, of course.
In short, the Pharisees read the bible just like any good fundamentalist – with an eye towards rules, order, proper moral conduct and principles which everything else could be shoved into. As I said last week in my post about truth, if this is what you’re looking for in the bible, it’s easy enough to find. And since it all comes from the bible, you can call it “biblical”, thus making it clear that anyone who disagrees or doesn’t fall in line is outside God’s will. And just like modern fundamentalists, they were quite good at patrolling the borders of God’s will to make sure people didn’t unwittingly end up on the wrong side of the pearly gates. After all, who better to explain God’s ways than the people who know his rules,order and principles best?
Well, God made flesh might be able to do a better job. Jesus read the same scripture that the Pharisees did. In fact, nearly everything he said echoed some other Jewish biblical or religious text. And he came away with things like “love your enemies”, “forgive the one who wrongs you 7 times 70 times”, “the first shall be last and the last shall be made first” and “it’s what comes out of a man that makes him unclean”. Same text – completely different answers. Not only that, but Jesus was very critical of the biblicism of the Pharisees calling them white washed tombs. He told them that rather than pointing the way to God, they were keeping men out of the Kingdom of God.
The difference between Jesus’ form of biblical and the Pharisees’ biblical came from the fact that they read the bible looking for two different things. The Pharisees treated the bible like a rule book – Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, if you will. Jesus read the bible looking for himself – the God who is love. Both found what they were looking for. Both believed that they were being obedient to God and pointing others to God, but only one was correct. The one who went looking for and found Love.
It would be nice to think that the ways of the Pharisees died out with Jesus’ triumph over death. Rising from the dead would seem to be pretty compelling evidence that he was the one to follow. Especially for people who claim to be following him. But there was a reason that Jesus specifically warned his disciples against allowing the yeast of the Pharisees – it only takes a tiny bit of yeast to leaven bread – and leavened bread is unsuitable for a remembrance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
Both the Pharisees and their modern day children read the bible in a way which emphasizes fear. Fear of breaking the rules, of being sullied, of judgment. But as Paul said, “perfect love casts out fear.” If the way you’re reading the bible creates fear, you’re doing it wrong. If you read the bible with an eye towards staying in God’s good graces rather than with an eye towards discovering God’s love, you’re reading the bible like a Pharisee, not like Jesus. It takes courage to reject all the fear-mongers, rule keepers and boundary patrols. There’s always that little niggling fear of “what if they’re right? What if I’m not pleasing God?” If you get in too deep with them, rejecting their way of thinking can invite attacks and shunning. Following Jesus has never been a risk-free endevour, after all.
But if you learn to read the bible the way Jesus did – to discover Love – you will discover a funny thing. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Odds are pretty much 100% that you frequently won’t please God. But when Jesus offers forgiveness – he means it. Seven times seventy he means it. If you’re not pleasing God, it’s not the end of the world – he’s already provided grace for that. Just keep running the race. That’s all he’s asked of us. Not that we keep all the rules straight or keep ourselves unsullied. But just that we run after Love with all we have. That we do the sort of good works which actually do point people to God. That we keep doing it even when it might cost us everything. It’s really just that simple.
So . . . how do you read the bible – like a Pharisee or like Jesus?

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