According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, 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

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Certainty and Doubt: "Can the two live together?"

 
Theropod Footprint, Perot Museum of Nature and Science

“Nature is as truly a revelation of God as the Bible; and we only interpret the Word of God
by the Word of God when we interpret the Bible by science.”
 
 - Charles Hodge, Princeton Theological Seminary

An interesting comment made by a very popular theologian in the middle of the 19th Century.
Apparently churches arguing about the validity of science are a little out-of-date (like, say,
170 years). But as my friends like to say, "I believe what I believe what I believe...
my convictions will never change." - re slater


I find the quote above a very interesting comment made by a popular theologian at the end of the 19th Century. A theologian whose life was as conflicted by his own beliefs as we are today. A theologian who consistently studied the Word of God in order to present the Christian faith as an intelligible source of authority, helpfulness, and reliable spiritual guide:
 
*[Wikipedia] Charles Hodge (December 27, 1797 – June 19, 1878) was an important Presbyterian theologian and principal of Princeton Theological Seminary between 1851 and 1878. He was a leading exponent of the Princeton theology, an orthodox Calvinist theological tradition in America during the 19th century. He argued strongly for the authority of the Bible as the Word of God. Many of his ideas were adopted in the 20th century by Fundamentalists and Evangelicals.[1]
 
As a theologian, Hodge was fully informed about his times, and took a hard stand in the middle both for-and-against slavery as a way to preserve (i) national order without anarchy and, (ii) justice in the face of injustice. In the end, even Hodge's own Presbyterian denomination split for-and-against slavery, and with it, any hopes he may of had of repairing a situation that was irreparable without secession from the Union by the South. As a result Hodge did what he could to effect healing the torn disrepair brought about by America's disunion. Others, like the Beechers of Boston fought equally as hard for the freedom of the black slave from their oppressors, and as well as equally as hard for the resolution of the Union back into federal control.
 
* * * 
*[Wikipedia] Slavery
 
As an archconservative and a believer in both the inerrancy and the literal interpretation of the Bible, Hodge supported the institution of slavery in its most abstract sense, as having support from certain passages in the Bible. He held slaves himself, but he condemned their mistreatment, and made a distinction between slavery in the abstract and what he saw as the unjust Southern Slave Laws that deprived slaves of their right to educational instruction, to marital and parental rights, and that "subject them to the insults and oppression of the whites." It was his opinion that the humanitarian reform of these laws would become the necessary prelude to the eventual end of slavery in the United States.[10]
 
The Presbyterian General Assembly of 1818 had affirmed a similar position, that slavery within the United States, while not necessarily sinful, was a regrettable institution that ought to eventually be changed.[10] Like the church, Hodge himself had sympathies with both the abolitionists in the North and the pro-slavery advocates in the South, and he used his considerable influence in an attempt to restore order and find common ground between the two factions, with the eventual hope of abolishing slavery altogether.
 
*[Wikipedia] Civil War
 
Hodge could tolerate slavery but he could never tolerate treason of the sort he saw trying to break up the United States in 1861. Hodge was a strong nationalist and led the fight among Presbyterians to support the Union. In the January 1861 Princeton Review, Hodge laid out his case against secession, in the end calling it unconstitutional. James Henley Thornwell responded in the January 1861 Southern Presbyterian Journal, holding that the election of 1860 had installed a new government, one which the South did not agree with, thus making secession lawful.[11] Despite being a staunch Unionist politically, Hodge voted against the support for the "Spring Resolutions" of the 1861 General Assembly of the Old School Presbyterian Church, thinking it was not the business of the church to involve itself in political matters; because of the resolutions, the denomination then split North and South. When the General Assembly convened in Philadelphia in May 1861, one month after the Civil War began, the resolution stipulated pledging support for the federal government over objections based on concerns about the scope of church jurisdiction and disagreements about its interpretation of the Constitution. In December 1861, the Southern Old School Presbyterian churches severed ties with the denomination.[12]
 
* * * 
 
Likewise, Charles Hodge had strong views about Darwinism:
 
*[Wikipedia] Darwinism
 
In 1874, Hodge published What is Darwinism?, claiming that Darwinism, was, in essence, atheism. To Hodge, Darwinism was contrary to the notion of design and was therefore clearly atheistic. Both in the Review and in What is Darwinism?, (1874) Hodge attacked Darwinism. His views determined the position of the Seminary until his death in 1878. While he didn't consider all evolutionary ideas to be in conflict with his religion, he was concerned with its teaching in colleges. Meanwhile at the college across town (a totally separate institution) President John Maclean also rejected Darwin's theory of evolution. However in 1868, upon Maclean's retirement, James McCosh, a philosopher, became president. McCosh believed that much of Darwinism could and would be proved sound, and so he strove to prepare Christians for this event. Instead of conflict between science and religion, McCosh sought reconciliation. Insisting on the principle of design in nature, McCosh interpreted the Darwinian discoveries as more evidence of the prearrangement, skill, and purpose in the universe. He thus argued that Darwinism was not atheistic nor in irreconcilable hostility to the Bible. The Presbyterians in America thus could choose between two schools of thought on evolution, both based in Princeton. The Seminary held to Hodge's position until his supporters were ousted in 1929, and the college (Princeton University) became a world class center of the new science of evolutionary biology.[13]
 
The debate between Hodge and McCosh exemplified an emerging conflict between science and religion over the question of Darwin's evolution theory. However, the two men showed greater similarities regarding matters of science and religion than popularly appreciated. Both supported the increasing role of scientific inquiry in natural history and resisted its intrusion into philosophy and religion.[14]
 
* * * 
 
Theology, was ever a hot bed of beliefs - even as it was back 170 years ago - and no less today in the 21st Century when thinking through the coloured lenses of our preferred personal philosophies and biblical centrisms. In Hodge's day, he was considered an ultra-conservative with very literalistic views of biblical inerrancy. Today, ultra-conservatism is seen as harshly ideological to the tearing of the political system even as its twin, ultra-liberalism, pulls at the same. Too, the literalistic reading of the Bible preferences a style of reading that creates as much ambiguity in its reading as it seemingly sheds enlightenment. Causing many conservative Christians to rethink what they are saying about the Bible's literalism even as many liberal Christians are rethinking their verities when beholding Jesus' divine footprints in Scripture.
 
It would probably be more correct to say that each side of these ideological debates may wish to cast aside their abject dogmatism on the one side, and abject humanism on the other, should they each wish to meet God somewhere in the middle of His Word. A simplistic statement to be sure, but one that portends doubt over conviction, uncertainty over adamant belief, moderation over intolerance, and the art of listening within the heat of argument.
 
I had earlier opined that "churches arguing about the validity of science are a little out-of-date (like, say, 170 years). But as my friends like to say, 'I believe what I believe what I believe... my convictions will never change.'" My concern is that we, as Christians, do not do very well at listening to one another. Thus Relevancy22's many articles attempting to reopen the debates to conservative Christians too use to not questioning their church, pastor, or even God Himself. Thinking that being out-of-step with society and scholarship is spiritually enlightening rather than spiritually blinding as it really comes off to those of us watching Christians flounder about in the headwinds of Postmodern flux and change. Rather than bearing a relevant gospel, their church and faith have become irrelevant with society and scholarship, theology and change.

And at the last, when conservative Christians come out to meet postmodernism head-on they lapse into either a kind of spiritual despair, or a lost of personal faith. At which time they resort either to some sort of mystical / magical interpretation of God's Word ("no one knows, only God, I just do what He says"), or utilize some kind of heavy subjective reading of the Bible unwarranted by contemporary biblical criticism and commentary ("God's Word means what I think it means to me"). While all along trying to reconcile our street-level philosophies, whimsies, and personal preferences, around a kind of spiritual meaning that cannot even begin to better properly inform us about God and His Word.

However, a good theologian learns to listen and to investigate.... And even abandon ideas that have held him hostage for most of his life. At least that has been mine own experience when finally reversing my biblical convictions and attempting to reach beyond my boundary-leveled thinking and self-absorptions. To see that some ideas are not really biblical but preferences of either myself or my church or my denomination. Preferences that are open to interpretation and perhaps not as fully informed as they once were believed. Preferences that when seen in another light don't really work as well as they had in my youth when life was simpler, my knowledge and experiences more limited, my maturity yet forming. With Paul, there comes a time when we put away "childish things and grow up to become men and women of the Word."

Perhaps it begins by questioning ourselves. Our church. Our denomination. Even our faith. And in the doubt and uncertainty to learn to rest in God's timing in our lives, fully certain that His Spirit has brought us to this place in our lives where we might undressed out of our old theologic garments of rags so that God's newer garments of love and life might become our own displays of God's wisdom and grace. That we no longer reach out for the old wines and stale breads on the dining table of a past theology become dated and useless. But reach instead for the newer wine and broken bread of Jesus laying nearer at hand than we had thought. To not simply give up in thinking that "no one can know anything about God and His Word" and begin believing that perhaps it is our own convictions and beliefs that might have to change so that God and His Word may live again within our hearts and minds, bodies and soul.

Divine revelation is meant to tell us a few things about God but when we learn to read God's revelation through our own coloured lenses it is hoped that those lenses aren't so crooked as to mislead us away from God towards a kind of spiritual despair and lostness. Sometimes the solution is to simply find a new optometrist - one who might fit us with a better pair of glasses than the pair we have been using for too many years as they have become crooked and worn. And one way to begin is by seeking a more reasoned discourse in life that might be a little more discerning - not only of cults and misleading religious endeavors - but of a better informed, more relevant discussion of a Postmodern Christianity that puts the past to bed and rises up on the other side of a Monday morning to do the heavy lifting of relearning God's ways and paths in this uncertain life of ours.

Not all is certain... this is true... but of somethings we may be certain. And especially in how we might ask our questions so that they become open-ended and not closed-ended, nor stifling prophetic speech and apocalyptic vision. A kind of speech and vision that is not spoken from the mouths of angels, but the kind that comes from the hard work of everyday reading, studying and listening to the voices of informed men and women sent as heaven's angels (sic, messengers and prophets) into our barren, broken lives. And not the kinds of messengers and prophets that misleads us from Jesus into mystical Christian cults.... My more recent experience has heard Jesus spoken of as my Rabbi rather than my Redeemer; my Mystery rather than God's Son; my Gnosis rather than my certainty; my Myth rather than my Resurrected God.... Truly men will say all kinds of things, but we only wish to know those who keep to Jesus and to the historic Christian faith. But a faith that learns to transition and change within the orthodoxies that it keeps.

At the last, I originally had asked whether certainty and doubt might be able to live together? For the spiritual Christian - for the follower of Jesus - they must, for if they do not than we either become religious or lost. Religious in our faith. Or, lost within our faith. Consequences that God's Word will not portend - for in either instance we see Jesus driving out the Pharisees from the temple of God, or restoring sight to the blind, and healing to the leper, considered anathema to Jewish society. As God's living Word - the divine Logos who is God's very breath - came to give life and light. Not death and darkness. Even so, we may be confident of these verities of our Christian faith.
 
R.E. Slater
July 31, 2013

 
* * * * * * * * * * *



 
 
Christian Faith Requires Accepting Evolution
Author, 'Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics'

June 18, 2012
emendations are mine own - re slater (res)

 
In the evangelical community, the year 2011 has brought a resurgence of debate over evolution. The current issue of Christianity Today asks if genetic discoveries preclude an historical Adam. While BioLogos, the brainchild of NIH director Francis Collins, is seeking to promote theistic evolution [(my preferred terms is "Evolutionary Creationism" over the older terms of theistic evolution - res)] among evangelicals, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary recently argued that true Christians should believe the Earth is only a few thousand years old.
 
As someone raised evangelical, I realize anti-evolutionists believe they are defending the Christian tradition. But as a seminary graduate now training to be a medical scientist, I can say that, in reality, they've abandoned it. [(What have they abandoned?? The historic Christian tradition.... - res)]
 
In theory, if not always in practice, past Christian theologians valued science out of the belief that God created the world scientists study. Augustine castigated those who made the Bible teach bad science, John Calvin argued that Genesis reflects a commoner's view of the physical world, and the Belgic confession likened scripture and nature to two books written by the same author.
 
These beliefs encouraged past Christians to accept the best science of their day, and these beliefs persisted even into the evangelical tradition. As Princeton Seminary's Charles Hodge, widely considered the father of modern evangelical theology, put it in 1859: "Nature is as truly a revelation of God as the Bible; and we only interpret the Word of God by the Word of God when we interpret the Bible by science."
 
In this analysis, Christians must accept sound science - not because they don't believe God created the world, but precisely because they do.
 
Of course, anti-evolutionists claim their rejection of evolution is not a rejection of science. Phillip Johnson, widely considered the leader of the Intelligent Design movement, states that all he's rejecting is the atheistic lens through which evolutionary scientists view the world. Evolution, he argues, is "based not upon any incontrovertible empirical evidence, but upon a highly philosophical presupposition."
 
And to a certain extent, this line of argument makes sense. Science is not a neutral enterprise. Prior beliefs undoubtedly influence interpretation. If one believes God created vertebrates with a similar design plan, one can acknowledge their structural similarities without believing in common descent. No amount of dating evidence will convince someone the Earth is 4.5 billion years old if that person believes God created the world to look old, with the appearance of age.
 
But beyond a certain point, this reasoning breaks down. Because no amount of talk about "worldviews" and "presuppositions" can change a simple fact: "[non-evolutionary]creationism" has failed to provide an alternative explanation for the vast majority of evidence explained by evolution.
 
It has failed to explain why birds still carry genes to make teeth, whales to make legs, and humans to make tails.
 
It has failed to explain why the fossil record proposed by modern scientists can be used to make precise and accurate predictions about the location of transition fossils.
 
It has failed to explain why the fossil record demonstrates a precise order, with simple organisms in the deepest rocks and more complex ones toward the surface.
 
It has failed to explain why today's animals live in the same geographical area as fossils of similar species.
 
It has failed to explain why, if carnivorous dinosaurs lived at the same time as modern animals, we don't find the fossils of modern animals in the stomachs of fossilized dinosaurs.
 
It has failed to explain the broken genes that litter the DNA of humans and apes but are functional in lower vertebrates.
 
It has failed to explain how the genetic diversity we observe among humans could have arisen in a few thousand years from two biological ancestors.
 
Those who believe God created the world scientists study, even while ignoring most of the data compiled by those who study it, might as well rip dozens of pages out of their Bibles. Because if "nature is as truly a revelation of God as the Bible," it's basically the same thing.
 
Many think the widespread rejection of evolution doesn't really matter. Evolution is about what happened in the past, the argument goes, so rejecting it doesn't have an impact on policies we make today. And aside from school curricula, they may be right.
 
But the belief that scientists can discover truth, and that, once sufficiently debated, challenged and modified, it should be accepted even if it creates tensions for familiar belief systems, has an obvious impact on decisions that are made everyday. And it is that belief Christians reject when they reject evolution.
 
In doing so, they've not only led America astray on questions ranging from the value of stem cell research to the etiology of homosexuality to the causes of global warming. They've also abandoned a central commitment of orthodox Christianity.
 
 
 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"The Mercy Prayer," by Robert Gelinas + "A List of Prayers for God's Mercy and Intervention"

  
The Mercy Prayer by Robert Gelinas
 
 
 
 
 Lord, have mercy.
 
A raw plea for intervention. The most common prayer in the Bible. And—most remarkably—a request that God has never failed to grant . . . often in surprising ways that have radically transformed individual lives and the trajectory of history itself. In The Mercy Prayer, Robert Gelinas explores the richness of God’s unfailing compassion by blending biblical insights with penetrating personal encounters and keen insight into familiar stories. The result is a practical guide for receiving the mercy we all desperately need and letting it flow from us into the lives of others.
 
Click here to order
The Mercy Prayer reveals:
 
How God’s abundant compassion is at the core of His character and was central to the earthly mission of Jesus The truth that simply praying the Mercy prayer and anticipating mercy’s arrival can soothe a wounded soul and change a life from the inside out Practical ways to carry God’s mercy into the muck and mire of a hurting world, offering comfort and hope in the name of Christ How you can make the most frequent prayer in the Bible your most prayed prayer, too, by learning to pray with every breath you take and every beat of your heart The Mercy Prayer invites each of us to become a student of heavenly compassion and clemency, to immerse ourselves in it, to embrace the responsibility of seeing all life in view of God’s mercy—and to watch as this simple-yet-profound cry reshapes us and our world. Everybody needs mercy.
 
 

 
 
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publ Date: July 30, 2013
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1400204453
ISBN-13: 978-1400204458
 
 
 
 
37 Bible Verses about Mercy
Compiled by Pastor Duke Taber 

Old Testament Bible quotes on mercy
 
The LORD replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.
 
The LORD passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The LORD! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
 
“About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him to be the leader of my people, Israel. He will rescue them from the Philistines, for I have looked down on my people in mercy and have heard their cry.”
 
“But as soon as they were at peace, your people again committed evil in your sight, and once more you let their enemies conquer them. Yet whenever your people turned and cried to you again for help, you listened once more from heaven. In your wonderful mercy, you rescued them many times!
 
Listen to my prayer for mercy as I cry out to you for help, as I lift my hands toward your holy sanctuary.
 
Praise the LORD! For he has heard my cry for mercy.
 
In panic I cried out, “I am cut off from the LORD!” But you heard my cry for mercy and answered my call for help.
 
[ Psalm 51 ] For the choir director: A psalm of David, regarding the time Nathan the prophet came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba. Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins.
 
People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.
 
then God will establish one of David’s descendants as king. He will rule with mercy and truth. He will always do what is just and be eager to do what is right.
 
They will neither hunger nor thirst. The searing sun will not reach them anymore. For the LORD in his mercy will lead them; he will lead them beside cool waters.
 
Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the LORD that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.
 
[ Praise for Deliverance ] I will tell of the LORD’s unfailing love. I will praise the LORD for all he has done. I will rejoice in his great goodness to Israel, which he has granted according to his mercy and love.
 
“This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another.
 
 
New Testament scriptures about mercy and grace
 
God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
 
Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
 
Jesus Heals the Blind 
27 After Jesus left the girl’s home, two blind men followed along behind him, shouting, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” 28 They went right into the house where he was staying, and Jesus asked them, “Do you believe I can make you see?”
“Yes, Lord,” they told him, “we do.” 
29 Then he touched their eyes and said, “Because of your faith, it will happen.” 30 Then their eyes were opened, and they could see! Jesus sternly warned them, “Don’t tell anyone about this.” 31 But instead, they went out and spread his fame all over the region.
 
But you would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’
 
A Gentile woman who lived there came to him, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely.”
 
“Lord, have mercy on my son. He has seizures and suffers terribly. He often falls into the fire or into the water.
 
32 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.
 
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.
 
He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.
 
Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
 
36 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.
37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”
 
So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it.
 
He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory.
 
[ Treasure in Fragile Clay Jars ] Therefore, since God in his mercy has given us this new way, we never give up.
 
[ There Is Only One Good News ] I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News
 
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much,
 
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
 
But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.
 
he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.
 
So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
 
There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.
 
22 And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. 23 Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.
 
13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
 
“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’
 
I think it is extremely obvious in these verses about mercy that if we are to be true followers of Jesus then we better walk in mercy. Grace has been said to be God giving us what we do not deserve and mercy has been said to be God not giving us what we do deserve. As followers of Jesus you are recipients of His grace and mercy, I think it is time that we all started giving out more grace and mercy and less religion and judgmentalism and start following what the Bible says about mercy. I think we all need to remember that we are just like this guy. - Duke Taber
 
 
* * * * * * * *
 
 
 
“For your name’s sake, O Lord,
do not deliver us up forever,
or make void your covenant.
Do not take away your mercy from us,
for the sake of Abraham, your beloved,
Isaac your servant, and Israel your holy one,
To whom you promised to multiply their offspring
like the stars of heaven,
or the sand on the shore of the sea.
For we are reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation,
brought low everywhere in the world this day
because of our sins.
We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader,
no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense,
no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you.
But with contrite heart and humble spirit
let us be received;
As though it were burnt offerings of rams and bullocks,
or thousands of fat lambs,
So let our sacrifice be in your presence today
as we follow you unreservedly;
for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame.
And now we follow you with our whole heart,
we fear you and we pray to you.
Do not let us be put to shame,
but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy.
Deliver us by your wonders,
and bring glory to your name, O Lord.”
 
(a prayer based upon Daniel 3:34-43)
 
 
 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Luke 7: A Gospel of Reversals - "Who Are the Invited? And Who Are the Sinners?"

 
Photographed by Peter Ruprecht

Three words come to mind when giving a meal or a dinner to invited guests: "Honor. Hospitality. Hosting." And so we see these three very important words re-enacted by Simon Levi, a tax collector who invites his friends to meet Jesus who had called him into discipleship. Earlier, Jesus had healed a leper and a paralytic. Now we find Jesus calling a despised tax collector by the name of Simon Levi. And behind each passage of Luke's accounts we find the ever-present religious Pharisees lurking around the edges questioning Jesus' every move and motive.

As the saying goes, "If Jesus were running for public office He might've been more careful about the company He was keeping." But Jesus has a higher mission than one of popularity:
 
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
 
- Luke 4.18-19 (as quoted from the prophet Isaiah)
 
In first century Jewish culture the needy weren't always clean or respectable. Especially the hated tax collectors of Rome who requisitioned impossible duties upon the burden of the public in order to meet Rome's ever increasing demands for empire and their own ever-expanding appetites for material wealth and political power.
 
Into this environment Jesus calls Simon Levi to leave his employer and to become His own disciple in a ministry of collecting and disbursing the Kingdom of Heaven's funds from Jesus' wealth and store.
 
Within Luke's account (written on behalf of the Apostle Peter) we find seven meals where Jesus was present: twice with Simon Levi, at the feeding of the 5000, a meal with the Pharisees (where we find Jesus immediately breaking protocol in heated debate), a wedding banquet with its corollary Kingdom call, at a last Passover Meal with His disciples, and a final evening meal with Cleopas and his wife Mary after their long walk along the dusty road of Emmaus:

Luke 5.27-32 - Jesus calls Simon Levi then invites his friends to a meal with Jesus:

27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.

29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Luke 7.36-52 - A Pharisee questions Jesus at Simon's meal about an uninvited woman who bathes his feet with her tears:

38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.

Luke 9.10 - 17 - Jesus feed the 5000
 
Luke 11.37-52 - Jesus attends a meal with the Pharisees:
 
37 While Jesus[e] was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. 38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.

42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. 44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”

45 One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” 46 And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. 47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. 48 So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ 50 so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. 52 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”

53 As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, 54 lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.


Luke 14.1-24 - "A Sabbath Healing" and "Inviting the Uninvited"
 
Luke 22.14-38 - Jesus' last Passover Meal with His disciples on the eve of His trial and crucifixion.
 
Luke 24.28-32 - Jesus has an evening meal with two of his disciples, Cleopas and his wife Mary (one of the women who had visited Jesus' tomb earlier that Resurrection morning), after their travels to their village of Emmaus:
 
28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He [Jesus] acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
 
 

My interest today is in the Luke 7 account where Simon Levi's Pharisee friends are appalled by the presence of an uninvited, unclean woman who repeatedly weeps upon Jesus' feet while washing and perfuming His feet with her hair. As the story unfolds we find a crowd that has gathered to a meal; a host we now know by the name of Simon Levi; a honored guest, Jesus, who has been invited by Levi to attend as the designee of distinction; an uninvited woman who enters off the unwashed streets (otherwise known as a woman of prostitution servicing the men of the area); and an ensuing disruption of the first order that immediately splits the gathered guests in two - between those who believe Jesus to be Israel's prophet sent by God to release their shackles from under the bondage of the Roman empire, and those still in doubt.
 
From the outset we find Simon Levi, ever the political aspirant, socially arranging to have his well-connected associates meet Jesus so that he might introduce this self-proclaimed prophet of Israel to them and begin bringing about the support money and the political connections that Jesus would need.... Or so he thought. But the one who was also calling himself Israel's Messiah (Savior) had a far more sublime message than the one Levi had contemplated. Believing only that Jesus had called himself into service (e.g. "discipleship") so that through his connections he might be able to help Jesus create the political momentum required for Israel's insurrection from Rome. But it was to an insurrection that he had not surmised... one that would have surprising consequences for both himself and his guests as he would soon find out.

Into the midst of this auspicious gathering a social disruption soon occurs where no one can withhold from heated comment. A disruption that causes the invited guests to vent their considerable feelings upon a social faux-pas that wasn't acceptable. And quickly taking the lead were the "honored ones" within the ranks of Levi's guests - those that spoke for the Jewish community - who should naturally speak out their alarm to Levi their host. So that at once the Pharisees present at the dinner party turn to Levi demanding that he remove a woman of ill-repute who had come into their midst unwelcomed and socially stained. Into which fray Jesus has been benignly thrown into as this same woman falls upon His feet and begins to weep and anoint his feet over and over, again and again. A woman who understands Jesus' truer identity and more radical insurrection to be directed at the very foundations of Jewish society itself. And ultimately to every man and woman's faith and heart.

Meanwhile, in gapped silence everyone awaits Jesus' auspicious response. But His response is totally unlike their pronounced expectations. Instead, Jesus continues to allow the unwanted woman her remarkable prostrations to the horror of both the crowd and their societal representatives, as they each begin doubting Jesus' prophetic ambitions He had earlier announced in Luke 4, and demonstrated by the healing of the sick at the onset of Luke 5. Jesus does exactly the opposite of what they were expecting.

Growing bolder, and more dogmatically angry, the Pharisees none-too-politely ask Levi the question everyone is by now asking, "That if Jesus is a prophet He would've known whom this woman is!" they demanded and hissed as-in-one-breath. And by one fell utterance from the councils of high Jewish society both the woman and Jesus are rejected along with all pretentious claims made by Levi, their dinner host, to the same. Jesus' mission comes into immediate and deep ruin, and with it, any pretensions to what the guests had earlier thought about Jesus' claim of Davidic kingship and rule by power and might.

Most poignantly we, the readers and hearers of Luke's story, now understand that the argument was not so simply about compassion or love, mercy or forgiveness. But about who was really in, and who was really out, according to the covenantal dictates of the invited teachers, rabbis, and priests at the dinner table. In one collective voice Jesus was out. Why? Because He failed to recognize the harlot in their midst as they had: "How could Jesus be Israel's prophet, much less their Messiah King!" And the differences become even more startling when realizing that even as Simon had not washed, nor kissed, nor anointed Jesus' feet, even so had this woman done so with her hair (yet another symbol of heavy shame in the perspective of Jewish culture as related to her sexual trade). And to stretch the dishonor out completely, Jesus is now dishonored along with the woman, even as Simon Levi's quickly diminishing hopes plunged to the ground before his honored guests.

But in a role of reversals we quickly see Jesus lifting up this woman of ill-repute and claiming before one-and-all that she is the truer host and honored guest at the dinner party by virtue of her actions and function. And with one sling of accusation directed towards His newest recruit, Simon, but directed towards all found in attendance, Jesus asks who really were the blind among them? Who really was the spiritually sick and leper of society? Who really was the one that has truly honored Him? Who really was the sinner in their midst? Who really were the symbols of shame in this story? And just as quickly Jesus forgives the woman's sin and tells her to go in peace. That she is welcomed and honored before the presence of God for her repentance and faith. And by these pronouncements Jesus deftly demonstrates both His prophetic status sent against the wickedness of Israel, His Messiahship as one come to forgive sins, and the quality of His wisdom as Israel's newly resurrected Davidic King.


At which point the story is left unfinished. We don't know if a riot immediately ensued; if Levi collapsed into his seat in dispirited conviction; if those remaining began to understand how horribly wrong they had gotten everything; if the Pharisees found themselves divided in their opinion over Jesus; or, even if the police were called to throw Jesus out of the city. But within the story itself we find it ended so that we - the readers and listeners - become those who are gathered around the banquet table asking the same questions and thinking the same thoughts as those present in the story. A story which calls us to ask who I really am? What might I have done in this same situation? How blinded might I have been if present at this dinner in my opinions about Jesus, myself, or to others considered disrespectable? And whether I would've responded even as the woman of the story did in repentance and faith - rather than as the guests did in anger and disruption, hatred and despise?

If whether we might allow our Father God to take the things that shame us and to turn them around for His own glory and our own shalom. For without a doubt we are the invited ones to God's table who asks us to fully participate in His sacrificial love.... Even as we are to embrace all whom we might consider "unclean" and "unwashed" that comes to this same insurrection table laden with redemption and hope. And at the last, we are the ones who are to enjoy God's banquet meal of love and forgiveness, mercy and compassion, especially with all those around us who have also come to the Passover table of peace and rest, fellowship and refuge. To be wary of following Jesus for any other motives than His call to insurrection to this wicked world of ours. To reclaim it for God by giving up everything we have - even as Simon Levi had belatedly discovered when God stripped him of any last lingering vestiges of worldly hopes and dreams before his peers and honorees. And there discovering that he had it all most horribly wrong. That it wasn't he that could help Jesus, but Jesus who had come to help him, and to deliver him into a more worthy service than his present masters of mammon that he served.

Levi's call was a costly call. And so we will find even in our own lives. That God's Spirit will not rest until all has been undone in our wicked lives of wail and woe until we have come to the end of ourselves and understand it to be chattel worthy only of fire and ash. That in calling us to Himself God is redeeming our souls in every way that a man or woman may be saved. From ourselves and from our crooked worldly aspirations to a life of insurrection meant to restore God's lost Kingdom into this broken world of ours. Who will use all our talents and abilities to wreck this world system we live in if only by heaven's diamond-hardened tools of love and forgiveness. Out of which God Himself will bring about the salvation of all as only He can. Even so Lord Jesus quickly come... coming through us as your human instruments of truth and justice, beauty and judgment, hope and dreams, to be used as swords and battlements to your all-glorious name. Even so, now come. Amen.

R.E. Slater
July 29, 2013

sic, The Cost of Discipleship in Luke - Mars Hill