Category: Salvation

Season After Pentecost (Proper 26[31]) – The Epistle Passage: The value of commitment, love, and sacrifice

“But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!” (Hebrews 9:11-14)
Granted that the writer of Hebrews (Paul) is trying to make a point of how Jesus Christ is the perfect high priest and worthy to be the Messiah – but I am trying to make a point too. Jesus did not shed his blood so that he could be seen as the perfect Messiah; he did it because of unconditional love, and a commitment achieve redemption and salvation for all of creation. And I guess that really says all that needs to be said. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

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Season After Pentecost (Proper 25[30]) – The Epistles Passage: Our rescuer the Lord God Jesus Christ

“Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:23 – 25)
The writer of the book of Hebrews (scholars are not sure it was Paul) wrote to persuade his audience that Jesus was worthy of the role of Messiah. In this section he makes his argument that Jesus Christ the Messiah makes a better high priest than the priests who served the Jewish people down through time. The writer of the book of Hebrews carefully lays out an argument as to why Jesus was better. The first point made is that there is little continuity in the line and lineage of high priests. Yes, they may have been in one line from stemming back to Levi but the skills and abilities of those in the line of Levi varied greatly.
“For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.” (Verses 26 – 28)
While there was variation in commitment and skill, each of the high priests had the same fault – they were sinners. And in order to offer a sacrifice to sanctify the congregation, the high priests had to first sanctify themselves – over and over again.
Quite honestly beloved reader, in our modern times, it is a superfluous argument. Firstly, we no longer make sacrifices, or at least not ones that are burnt on an altar. Yes, we offer up ourselves and our personal human agenda in order to accept the calling Christianity and the life it requires. But the concept of a “high priest” is one we do not necessarily ascribe to.
It may be true that Catholicism does hold on to that hierarchy; however, the flaws in that system are quite evident. In fact . . . . as I think about it, there is a line of commonality between Judaism and Catholicism in that regard. Which is quite ironic since the Roman Catholic faith and the Jewish faith many times are at odds. Set aside for a moment that the Roman Catholic church is based on the believe in Jesus Christ and the Lord God. In both faith traditions there is one person who heads up the circle of faith – the Pope/the High Priest. Then there are levels of priests/Levites & Jewish leaders. All of these people (okay, let’s admit the reality, they are all men) are sinners and before they can atone for the sins of their congregations, they need to appease for their own sins. Protestant and other non-Catholic faith traditions (I am thinking of my own faith system, Anabaptist) do not have such leadership . . . per se.
Maybe I was too quick to disavow the whole “high priest” concept for our modern times. But my point still stands – we do not rest our salvation and sanctity on the shoulders of another human being. How ever we make our way up the chain of faith, the Lord God Jesus Christ is on the upper most level. And to the Divine we submit our pleas for confession, forgiveness, salvation, and restoration (to name just a few of the supplications to the Lord God).
I feel like I have traveled a good bit from where this passage had is starting point and the bulk of its content. The point that was being made was that Jesus Christ is best suited to absolve our sins and to be the means of forgiveness and appeasement. And that no matter what attributes and characteristics that our religious leaders (and other types of leaders) might have, they fall far short of being the means of redemption. Maybe that is a good thing to remember in our modern day. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 23[28]) – The Epistle Passage: The gospel according to Paul in the book of Hebrews, from a medical/theological standpoint

“Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
Yesterday I floated the idea that sinfulness might be seen as a type of illness – perhaps the type of illness that Amos the prophet saw in some of the Jewish people of his time. Or the type of illness that Job’s friends thought he had – a punishment for not living a holy and Godly enough life. Paul, being a Jew, saw a divide between the soul – that is the body life and existence – from the spirit – the immortal and everlasting which remains after physical death and which we define as soul. Illness would directly impact the Jewish concept of soul, the living force that makes our body function. To a lessor extent illness might affect the spirit, what Jesus came to save through his crucifixion. Sin would more directly affect the spirit as the Jews would see it, but they also believed that sin could affect the soul, that is the physical body. It is much easier in our modern times when we believe the body and soul are vitally connected. However, that makes the “word of God” much sharper than even as Paul presents it. Paul continues.
“And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” (Verse 13)
When we talk about the physical body and illness, we are placing our understanding of how our brain – our intellect – affects our body. Paul may not have had that nuanced understanding. However, his statement still holds true; the Divine does see all the connections and interconnections of our total body and the God-breathed-in life force that continues after our body ceases. And what ever your understanding, beloved reader, of the body/soul/spirit, each of us must account for how and what we did with all that we are. [The verses that follow seem to move us away from the discussion of sinfulness and illness, but let us seen where it might pop up.]
“Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Verses 14 – 16)
Did Jesus ever get physically ill? We know Jesus never sinned; but did his body come down with a fever? Did he ever get a headache? Did he ever have an upset stomach? We are not told. We ARE told that Jesus was tested as we are. And if physical illness tests us, might it have tested Jesus?
Maybe my tenacity in trying to hold to the theme I started the week with is leading me down thought paths that seem new and unique. Or maybe my own health struggles are providing me with a different type of lens to see scripture. All I know is that I am coming up with more ponderings than sureties. Paul assumes that our needs are to do with not sinning and living faithfully. But the human experience is more than that. Our bodies provide us with temptations and weaknesses, and Paul would readily agree to that. But we cannot always control what our body does – how it reacts to a contagion or illness. What we do when the human body is ill and not under our psyche’s control. Jesus, during his ministry on earth, healed the people who he encountered that were ill – especially when the illness resulted in deviate behavior. So if “ no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare” to the eyes of the Divine, that might not necessarily be a scary thing. I love believing that the Divine sees my illnesses and has mercy on me, forgiving me where my weaknesses have left me vulnerable. It is a hope that I know others who are gravely ill hope for. And I do not see the Divine withholding that from us. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Universalism by John Wesley Hanson

I just finished reading John Wesley Hanson’s Universalism. It was a short and easy read. Well, easy insofar as it wasn’t very theologically academic. It was difficult in that the edition I purchased was a print-on-demand from Amazon…the transcription was so poor I found typos and grammatical errors every few sentences. This lead to a lot of double takes, but honestly didn’t interfere too terribly with the process.
I’d like to share the last couple pages of Hanson’s book, because he basically outlines the previous 200 pages in a very succinct and compact way. A way that is potentially more palatable to my social media friends who have no time to sit down and read a dry book on universalism. I added a few thoughts of my own to his points, and tried to clarify some things that my be confusing, but for the most part, this is quoted from his work. I believe his work is now considered in the public domain. Please inform me if this isn’t the case, as I will swiftly remove this.
The whole premise of Hanson’s book is that universalism, as manifested in Christian theology, is not, and was not, considered heretical to Christians from 0-500 A.D. He outlines the history of the belief among prominent and minor Church Fathers (and Mothers) and shows that universalism was actually the dominant belief of Christians, and if we are going to be honest with ourselves, we cannot truly claim the belief to be heretical.
“If we want to be true and honest Christians, we must go back to those earliest ante-Nicene authorities, the true fathers of the church.” ~ Max Muller
1) During the First Century the primitive Christians did not dwell on matters of eschatology, but devoted their attention to apologetics; they were chiefly anxious to establish the fact of Christ’s advent, and of its blessings to the world. Possibly the question of destiny was an open one, till Paganism and Judaism introduced erroneous ideas, when the New Testament doctrine of the apokatastasis was asserted, and universal restoration became an accepted belief, as stated later by Clement and Origen, A.D. 180-230.
2) The Catacombs give us the views of the unlearned, as Clement and Origen state the doctrine of scholars and teachers. Not a syllable is found hinting at the horrors Augustinian endless terror, but the inscription on every monument harmonizes with the Universalism of the early fathers.
3) Clement declares that all punishment, however severe, is purificatory; that even the ‘torments of the damned’ are curative. Origen explains even Gehenna as signifying limited and curative punishment, and both, as all the other ancient Universalists, declare that ‘everleasting’ (aionion) punishment, is consonant with universal salvation. So that it is no proof that other primitive Christians who are less explicit as to the final result, taught endless punishment when they employ the same terms.
4) Like our Lord and his Apostles, the primitive Christians avoided the words with which the Pagans and Jews defined their versions of endless punishmen: aidios or adialeiopton timoria (endless torment), a doctrine the latter believed, and knew how to describe; but they, the early Christians, call punishment, as did our Lord, kolasis aionios, discipline, chastisement, of indefinitie, limited duration.
5) The early Christians taught that Christ preached the Gospel to the dead, and for that purpose descended into Hades. Many held that he released all who were in ward. This shows that repentance beyond the grave, perpetual probation, was then accepted, which precludes the modern error that the soul’s destiny is decided at death.
6) Prayers for the dead were universal in the early church, which would be absurd, if their condition is unalterably fixed at the grave.
7) The idea that false threats were necessary to keep the common people in check, and that the truth might be held esoterically, prevailed among the earlier Christians, so that there can be no doubt that many who seem to teach endless punishment, really held the broad universalistic views in more academic works, as we know the most did, and preached terrors pedagogically to the laypersons.
8) The first comparatively complete systematic statement of Christian doctrine ever given to the world was by Clement of Alexandria, A.D. 180, and universal salvation was one of the tenets.
9) The first complete presentation of Christianity as a system was by Origen (A.D. 220) and universal salvation was explicitly contained in it.
10) Universal salvation was the prevailing doctrine in Christendom as long as Greek, the language of the New Testament and its writers, was the language of Christendom, rather than Latin, as used by Augustinians.
11) Universalism was generally believed in the first three centuries, when Christians were most remarkable for simplicity, goodness, and missionary zeal, giving communally to all, freely sacrificing their lives as martyrs (thus, one does not need the fear of eternal torment to evangelize or love others).
12) Universalism was least known when Greek, the language of the New Testament was least known, and when Latin was the language of the Church in its darkest, most ignorant, and corrupt ages (ie: medieval period).
13) Not a writer among those who describe the heresies of the first three hundred years intimates that Universalism was then a heresy, though it was believed by many, if not by the majority, and certainly the greatest of the fathers (Origen, the Gregorys, Clement, Basil, etc.)
14) Not a single creed for five hundred years expresses any idea contrary to universal restoration, or in favor of endless punishment. All of the creeds we use in modern times, that were written in the Patristic period, were created and written by proponents of universal salvation. These are some of the very creeds biblical inerrantists use to claim in our contemporary times that universal salvation is a damnable belief.
15) With the exception of the arguments of Augustin (A.D. 420), there is not an argument known to have been framed against Universalism for at least four hundred years after Christ, by any of the ancient fathers, even those who did not believe Universalism.
16) While the councils that assembled in various parts of Christendom, anathematized every kind of doctrine supposed to be heretical, no oecumenical council, for more than five hundred years, condemned Universalism, though it had been advocated in every century by the principal scholars and most revered saints.
17) As late as A.D. 400, Jerome says ‘most people’ (plerique) and Augustine says ‘very many’ (quam plurimi), believed in Universalism, notwithstanding that the tremendous influence of Augustine, and the mighty power of the semi-pagan secular arm were arrayed against it.
18) The principal ancient Universalists were Christian born and reared, and were among the most scholarly and saintly of all the ancient saints, as many were the founders of famous seminaries, theological/philosophical libraries, and conducted
themselves in a loving manner, as testified by contemporaries and historians.
19) The most celebrated of the earlier advocates of endless punishment were heathen/pagan born, and led corrupt lives in their youth. Tertullian, one of the first, and Augustine, the greatest of them, confess to having been among the most vile, and believed they deserved to be punished for it.
20) The first advocates of endless punishment, Minucious Felix, Tertullian, and Augustine, were Latins, ignorant of Greek, and less competent to interpret the original meaning of Greek Scriptures than were the Greek universalistic scholars. The prior relied on faulty and erroneous Latin translations.
21) The first advocates of Universalism, after the Apostles, were Greeks, in whose mother-tongue the New Testament was written. They found their Universalism in the Greek Bible and passed down through disciples of the Apostles. Who should be correct, they or the Latins?
22) The Greek Fathers announced the great truth of universal restoration in an age of darkness, sin and corruption. There was nothing to suggest it to them in the world’s literature or religion. It was wholly contrary to everything around them. Where else could they have found it, but where they say they did, in the Gospel? Many in these modern times think universalism is paganistic, but that is quite the opposite: Christian theology is the first to have birthed universalism.
23) All ecclesiastical historians and the best Biblical critics and scholars agree to the prevalence of Universalism in the earlier centuries. Many scholars who once wrote of the lack of Universalism have corrected themselves apologetically after further research and discovery.
24) From the days of Clement of Alexandria to those of Gregory of Nyssa and Theodore of Mopsuestia (A.D. 180-428), the great theologians and teachers, almost without exception, were Universalists. No equal number in the same centuries were comparable to them for learning and goodness in Christian theology.
25) The first theological school in Christendom, that in Alexandria, taught Universalism for more than two hundred years.
26) In all Christendom, from A.D. 170 to 430, there were six Christian schools. Of these four, the only strictly theological schools, taught Universalism, and but one endless punishment.
27) The three earliest Gnostic sects, the Basilidians, the Carpocratians and the Valentinians (A.D. 117-132) are condemned by Christian writers, and their heresies pointed out, but though they taught Universalism, that doctrine is never condemned by those who oppose them. Irenaeus, in his famous ‘Against Heresies’ condemned the errors of the Carpocratians, but does not reprehend their Universalism, though he ascribes the doctrine to them.
28) The first defense of Christianity against Infidelity (Origen against Celsus) puts the defense on Universalistic grounds. Celsus charged the Christians’ God with cruelty because he punished with fire. Origen replied that God’s fire is curative; that he is a ‘Consuming Fire’ because he consumes sin, but not the sinner. The sinner, he saves.
29) Origen, the chief representative of Universalism in the ancient centuries, was bitterly opposed and condemned for various heresies by ignorant and cruel fanatics. He was accused of opposing Episcopacy, believing in pre-existence, etc., but never was condemned for his Universalism. The very council that anathematized ‘Origenism’ eulogized Gregory of Nyssa, who was explicitly a Universalist as was Origen. Lists of his errors are given by Methodius, Pamphilus, Eusebius, Marcellus, Eustathius, and Jerome, but Universalism is never named by one of his opponents. Fancy a list of Ballou’s errors and his Universalism omitted; Hippolytus (A.D. 320) names thirty-two known heresies, but Universalism is not mentioned once. Epiphanius, ‘the hammer that crushes heretics,’ describes eighty heresies, but he does not mention universal salvation, though Gregory of Nyssa, who as we have said, was a strong universalist, was, at the time Epiphanius wrote, the most conspicuous figure in Christendom. Why, if Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, two of the most influential figures of their time, who were both strong universalists, were never called out for their universalism if it was considered heresy?
30) Justinian, a half-pagan emperor, who attempted to have universalism officially condemned, lived in the most corrupt epoch of the Christian centuries. He closed the theological schools, and demanded the condemnation of Universalism by law; but the doctrine was so prevalent in the church that the council refused to obey his edict to suppress it. Lecky says the age of Justinian was ‘the worst form of civilization has assumed.’
31) The first clear and definite statement of human destiny by any Christian writer after the days of the Apostles, includes universal restoration, and that doctrine was advocated by most of the greatest and best (here meaning the most influential, those we know lived their lives according to the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount, those who did not want to persecute heretics [such as the likes of the vicious Augustine], etc.) of the Christian Fathers for the first five hundred years of the Christian Era.
In one word, a careful study of the early history of the Christian religion, will show that the doctrine of universal restoration was least prevalent in the darkest, and prevailed most in the most enlightened of the earliest centuries — that it was the prevailing doctrine of the Primitive Christian Church.
~John Wesley Hanson, Universalism~

Syndicated from Interdependently Independent

Season After Pentecost (Proper 21[26]) – The Epistles Passage: The divide between the health of the soul/spirit and the health of the body/psyche

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. “ (James 5:13)
Why is it that sometimes the best advice also sounds like the most trite and shallow advise? Indeed if someone is suffering, prayer is a good thing. But prayer does not always relieve suffering. It is not like a bandage that suddenly turns the suffering into “everything being okay.” It is not that simple. And what makes the first piece of advice son “flighty” is the admonition that those who are cheerful should “sing songs of praise.” It just seems like superficial advise.
“Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.” (Verses 14 – 15)
And if the “prayer of faith” does not “save” them – does not heal them? Then what? And why is forgiveness of sins tied in with being sick? I am suspicious that Old Testament thinking about the body is behind some of the writer of James’ suggestions. Being one who has physical ailments, and is educated in ailments of the mind & the spirit/soul, I dislike very much improper and harmful cause-and-effect theories concerning all three.

“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” (Verse 16)
I consulted with the commentary by Albert Barnes, and as usual his careful discussion and analysis helped me see this passage from a different perspective. Perhaps Barnes’ analysis is not exactly what the writer of the book of James meant; but I am not questioning that. What Barnes helped me see is that it is very possible that the writer of the book of James is giving a quick reminder to his readers who would have understand his brief exhortations are under girded with a much longer preaching at another time/in another place. The writer of the book of James lightly touches on what has a much broader and deeper consideration behind it.
“Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.” (Verses 17 – 18)
If one compares the admonition to pray, praise, and confess with Elijah’s devotion and depth of faith, it comes much closer to what I would have expected in the first place.

“My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (Verses 19 – 20)
If then illness comes from having a sinful nature or by what ever means falling into sin where previously there was no sin, then the turning back from that will be an event for great rejoicing. And if we are to bundle together sin and ill health, then the saving from sin will also return one to health. It is, however, bile on my tongue to lump the two together. I would rather commend the concerned believer who leads a fellow believer back from the edge of sin; or extol a believer who has turned someone from a sinful life to a being a true believer. It makes me uncomfortable to intermingle health and faith belief. Perhaps in that far off (or not so far off) day when I have a chance to discuss such theological issues, I can better see what thinking went into such passages. Or maybe, having been informed of the divide that there is, biblical writers might revise their theology. For now, beloved reader, let us work towards health in both spheres of human experience. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 17[22]) – The Psalm Passage Gospel Passage: Praise and the Beloved Believer of the Lord God

“My heart overflows with a goodly theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe. You are the most handsome of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you forever.” (Psalm 45:1- 2)

I’m up against in, beloved reader. Commentator after commentator insists that this psalm speaks of the Messiah, the Son and Sent of the Divine. So of course it should be filled with superlatives, praising the Lord God and the Triune Lord on all aspects of the Divine. Except . . . there is one or two little problems. First, it is introduced as a “wedding song” and concerns the sons of Korah. Second, the psalms exhorts the warrior to strap a sword onto his thigh. The portion chosen for the lectionary excludes that, as it does verse 10 where the psalm addresses the lady of the couple. The commentators so artfully discern this as directing women to focus on the Lord God as their spouse and not think of human relationships. This makes sense if we cast the Song of Solomon as a love ballad concerning believers and the Lord God. Which actually I did several days ago. But, oh beloved reader, it rubs my strictness of biblical interpretation to allow this psalm to be other than what the psalmist wrote about.
It is filled with praise for the Lord God.
“Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever. Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity; you love righteousness and hate wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions; your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad; . . .” (Verses 6 – 8)
It truly was my intention to let this psalm stand as a praise of the Lord God, lifted up by devoted believers. But I still chafe at some of the verses being so . . . . re-appropriated!
“. . . daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.” (Verse 9)
It is easier to just move on to the next psalms passage, the one attached to the previous Old Testament passage, Deuteronomy chapter four. Here I feel on more solid ground.
“O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the LORD; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved.” (Psalm 15)
But this is less praise of the Lord God and more a description of those who love and follow the Lord.
Back at the beginning of the week, the thrust of my comments centered on how the Lord God instructs us, what type of language the Divine uses to woo us into belief. There was the compassionate passionate invitation to faith from a loving committed God. And there was the stern commands of an authoritative God. And I posed the question, which type of invitation from the Divine would most draw you in? Because, beloved reader, the way you are drawn into the Lord often determines the way you praise the Lord. Do you see yourself in a Lover/Beloved relationship the Divine that has all the outward signs of commitment and matrimony? Or do you see yourself as worthy of being in relationship with the Divine because you have passed all the tests of character that have been given to you? I have to wonder and ponder what your answer might be. Shalom!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 15[20]) – The Gospel Passage: “Eating” and “Drinking” with good sense and judgment

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:51 – 52)
You know, beloved reader, it occurred to me that we have a unique view of this passage because we know what happens to Jesus. We know the story of the Last Supper. We know the motif that Jesus will fulfill at the end of his life. Here, as far as the disputing Jews are concerned Jesus is proposing something totally outside of their understanding, and extremely disdainful considering their dietary laws. Surely at some point the disputing Jesus must have figured out that Jesus was making a metaphor concerning full and total acceptance of what he was preaching.
“So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” (Verses 53 – 55)
So we pass from the disconcerting image of eating human flesh and blood to idea that what Jesus was preaching about had impact for life and death, and an existence beyond this world. And that Jesus was not just a mortal person but something beyond that.
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.” (Verses 56 – 57)
Let us step back for a moment and consider this. Believing in what Jesus is saying is a choice. I find it interesting that the writer of the gospel of John says the Jews were disputing amongst themselves – it does not say disputing with Jesus. But amongst their own group. Can we take this to mean that some of them understood what Jesus was trying to explain to them? That perhaps some of the believed? I would like to hold out the possibility that some did understand the message that Jesus was giving them. That they understood in the same way that Ezekiel ate the scroll offered to him, that they taken in and absorb the ways and wisdom of Jesus.
It also occurs to me that it does not take the wisdom of Solomon to know enough to follow Jesus. As I alluded to before, Solomon offered sacrifices in the “high places” meaning the places where offering to other deities were done. Jesus, looking back over the ancestral Jews, commented that they made choices that did not give them eternal life. And that for the traditions and rituals that the Jews of Jesus’ time abided by would not save them at the last day. Jesus was offering them the only thing that would redeem them and make them acceptable to the Divine.
“This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” (Verse 58)
I said last time we talked, I am optimistic that the majority of people in the world are kind and caring, making choices that reflect concern and undertaking for others. Choices, and more over balanced choices, are they way to make our way through the world and come out at a place where there is eternal life and a world to come. What we choice to believe has consequences, as does how we live out our beliefs. Consider carefully, beloved reader, and make good choices. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 14[19]) – The Epistle Passage: When sins are deep

“So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.
Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.
Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:25 – 30)
Lying, sinful rage, stealing, evil talk – that is quite a list that Paul has started here. While I do not like reading a list of all the terrible things a person can do, what I do appreciate (if that is a sentiment that fits with this topic) is that all of these sins are ones that start with our thoughts and attitudes. Because if it not the human body that is inherently sinful but the human mind and spirit. Yes, we can direct our bodies to do all sorts of actions; but the starting point is always the intent to be contrary to the law of love. And, as Paul so eloquently puts it, to grieve the Holy Spirit of God. That, I think, is the greatest sin. Know what will displease the Divine and doing it anyway. Unfortunately it is a common trait amongst humanity. We may not at the time or in the moment realize what we have done, but the outcome is the same.
“Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (Verses 31 – 32)
And from grieving the Divine it is a short step to causing pain etc for others. Or it may be that causing upset to others is the first intention, and that what it does to the Divine Spirit is a secondary outcome. Doesn’t really matter which end you start at in sinning – the Divine or your fellow human – the end outcome is the same.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Chapter 5, verses 1 – 2)
It does, but it should not, amaze me how many ways we can go wrong in living in this life. And I am including myself. Even if you think you are following Paul’s good examples and teachings as the above, you can still “grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” Did you think, beloved reader, that if you do as Paul says as above you would be sin free? (I know I am being tough here, but bear with me.) Verses 31 to 32 tells us what should avoid doing. But it is the first two verses of chapter 5 that set the benchmark. We may do all the right things and be caring gracious people, and yet miss the mark of being “imitators of God” and being “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”. Does that mean we should give up and not try? By no means!!!
Let me tell you, sinning does not take away the “seal for the day of redemption”. And grieving the Holy Spirit of God does not mean we are lost forever. Throughout this passage Paul is talking about what his readers/audience had done. It is not a condemnation, not a “you missed up so all is lost.” It is an exhortation to see what humanity has done and to mend its ways. If we have grieved the Holy Spirit, we can also make the Holy Spirit rejoice when we set ourselves the task of being the best imitator of God that we can be.
Yes, our sins may be deep. But we are not stuck in that depth. We are not condemned to live at a depth of sin so great that we are lost to the Divine. Take courage, beloved reader. Christ loved us enough to give up himself so that we might be saved and redeemed. Even if we have to be re-saved and re-redeemed every day. The depth of the Divine’s love is deeper than the deepest of any sin. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 13[18]) – The Psalms Passage: Asking for forgiveness for the small and big sins in life

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.” ( (Psalm 51:1 – 5)
I can’t say that I agree with everything the psalmist says here. Actually it is only one thing that I disagree with – that when a child is born it is already guilty of sin. Sin means deciding against God and belief in Jesus Christ, and deliberately choosing to not follow the law of love. Infants and small children have no concept of choosing for or against God. And no concept of the consequences. I firmly belief that the mercy and compassion of God covers children until that point in their lives comes when they realize there is a choice, and that they showed chose. I was about twelve years old when I came to that point. There is no one preset age. But I digress. I guess what I mean is that this psalm is for the adults in the crowd who have come to the place in their lives when they have decided.
“You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.” (Verses 6 – 8)
Here again the psalmist and I diverge slightly. Verse 8 implies that it is good that the Lord has disciplined us and we should be glad of it. Coming to see and realize one’s sins and ask/receive forgiveness is a good thing. I just don’t think has to be or necessarily is “bone crushing” but I allow the psalmist poetic license. But you know, if the psalmist is King David and he was seeing the magnitude of the sins he committed, maybe he did feel that his bones needed to be crushed a little bit!
“Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” (Verses 9 – 12)
This week our theme has been small and large things, minor and major issues and consequences. There is no greater issue than the committing of sin, and no larger need than forgiveness. And actually in the Divine’s sight there is no such thing as small and large sins, no matter how much we may like to categorize levels of “being bad” and assessing people according to the mistakes and missteps they make. If God’s compassion, grace, mercy, salvation, and redemption (to include all the aspects of forgiveness) is sufficient – then we should not give into temptation to judge. That would be sin!
“Yet he commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven;
he rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven.
Mortals ate of the bread of angels; he sent them food in abundance.
He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens, and by his power he led out the south wind;
he rained flesh upon them like dust, winged birds like the sand of the seas;
he let them fall within their camp, all around their dwellings.
And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved.” (Psalm 78:23-29)
The Divine knew that his creation humanity would need forgiveness. If the Divine who created Adam and Eve was/is as knowledgeable as believers believe, then the Divine knew that the Tree of Knowledge would be their downfall. And yet it was created. So the need for forgiveness (and all that it entails) was pretty much brought into being at the same time. The Lord God provided food for the Hebrews in the desert, and Jesus said that was a lessor thing than the Bread of Life that the Divine Lord God established.
The Hebrews asked for sustenance in the desert and it was given. It is the next logical step to ask for something more lasting. Do not be afraid to ask, beloved reader. Ask for what you need, in small or large measure. If it is necessary to your continuing to be a child of God, it will be given. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 13[18]) – The Gospel Passage: Issues in life great and small, clear and unclear

“So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” ( John 6:24 – 25)
In other words, “What did we miss?” The success of the loaves and fishes was so great that the crowd was seeking more instant food. Jesus decided to put a stop to that and instead directed their attention of more important matters.
“Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (Verses 26 – 29)
Was this an earnest inquiry? Did the crowd truly want a way to gain eternal life – that is, salvation and redemption? According to some commentators I read, yes the inquiry was sincere. And Jesus’ answer was to tell them it is not works – that is, human endeavors – that bestows salvation but belief in Jesus as Messiah.
“So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?” (Verse 30)
It is this question that makes me doubt the sincerity of those gathered. One commentator posits that it was not the seeking and believing crowd that asked this but those pesky Jewish leaders that were constantly seeking and demanding signs and proofs yet not believing when it was presented to them.
“Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” (Verse 31)
It is also this statement that makes me wonder about this second set of question askers. We seem to be right back at the issue of food being provided. At first glance it seems to connects to the miracle of the loaves and fishes that Jesus performed. But the miracle, according to a commentator I read, is attributed to Moses and not to the Lord God that Moses believed in. And not to the Lord God who lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. Jesus again tries to readjust the “crowds” thinking. That what the “ancestors” received was food; what Jesus is offering sustains not the body but the soul.
“Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (Verses 32 – 33)
I want to add an “aside” at this point; it seems to me this is a fairly disjointed passage. The “crowd” at various points seems to take on different perspectives and attitudes. The writer of the gospel of John does not clearly identify who is in this crowd or what type of members it is composed of. And that it segues into such a clear yet mystical statement by Jesus of his mission on the earth leaves me wondering if we have not been reading a montage of conversations.
“They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (Verses 34 – 35)
We started out at the beginning of this passage being given the crowd’s (that is one type of crowd) perspective on Jesus’ track record of miracles, and this crowd wonders what they have missed in “awesome factor” and food. Then this crowd focuses in on the underlying message of Jesus’ miracles, that he represents a Divine Lord who offers salvation and eternal life. And they want this. But then the crowd (or is it another crowd) asks for proof that Jesus is who he says he is. Is he (Jesus), they ask, like Moses who was on a Divine mission from God? When Jesus answers, I am not really sure anymore which crowd he is addressing; the sincere crowd or the questioning crowd? And that the gospel writer does not seem to give much direction as to who is who makes me wonder if the point was not to give Jesus the opportunity to set down doctrine and theology.
However, beloved reader, in the middle of the muddle we have a clear statement that the work of believers is to believe in the One who was sent and that the Sender is the Divine. In the middle of a muddle it’s nice to have a solid direction. May you, beloved reader, set aside the small issues of life and focus in on the larger more lasting & eternal issues. And may the Holy Spirit make it clear to you. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 10[15]) – The Psalm Passage: The psalmist’s preaching style

“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.” (Psalms 24:1)
It’s one of those times, beloved reader, that I am having a hard time settling my soul and spirit to comment on the Psalm passage. How I wish I had the psalmist calm spirit right. But my soul and spirit are roiled and riled by the cares and concerns of the day. And yet . . . . and yet, the notion that the earth & world, and all that is in it is founded and established on water calms me. The sea and the ocean calm me; flowing rivers, whether fast or slow, calms me. And I am calmed and readied to hear the psalmist’s words.
“Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully. They will receive blessing from the LORD, and vindication from the God of their salvation. Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah” (Verses 2 – 6)
I am glad the psalmist did not say “those who are calm and at peace”! That would sometimes disqualify me. But even in my riled and roiled state my hands are clean (if not dear Lord, cleanse my hands) and my heart is pure (if not dear Lord, purify my heart). And my soul does not cling to that which is false (if that is so dear Lord fasten my soul more closely to you), and my spirit does not swear (that I am sure I do not do!). So maybe I will receive a blessing from the Lord as I seek the face of the “God of Jacob”. Amen!
“Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is the King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle.” (Verses 7 – 8)
This where I might part from the psalmist, where he praises the Lord who is mighty in battle, for I am not one who lauds battle might. However . . . . it is also occurred to me that this Lord God who is “mighty in battle”vies against the evil that too often threatens to overcome the world. And that is the stories of compassion and caring that are the victories in that battle. The thought comforts and appeals to me.
“Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah” (Verses 9 – 10)
May you, beloved reader, find the comfort and care you need in the Lord God who defends us from all that may assail and over come us. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season after Pentecost (Proper 13 [18]): The Psalm Passage – Petitioning the Lord God on the basis of what will be in the future

“Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.” (Psalm 17:1)
While this psalm is being used in conjunction with the story of Jacob awaiting the morning when he will see his brother Esau for the first time in over fourteen years, I am mindful that it is most likely King David who wrote this psalm. While Jacob might have thought about this sort of thing during his fourteen plus years away from home, it is David’s contention of freedom from deceit we are reading.
But we can let it be our thoughts and words. And it is probably a good follow up to yesterday’s reflection on the passage from Matthew where I was talking about the Divine non-sinful nature of Jesus in comparison to us.
“From you let my vindication come; let your eyes see the right.
If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress.” (Verses 2 – 3)
It is interesting to set these verses against the Lord’s prayer, in that section where the pray-er asks the Lord to forgive sins/trespasses/transgressions as others who have wronged the person praying are forgiven. But that is the position and contention of most Christians, that we have not sinned or transgressed. It depends, beloved reader, on who is defining the transgression.
“As for what others do, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.
My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.” (Verses 4 – 5)
“As for what others do” . . . . . that is a very Old Testament perspective. ‘I am clean, O Lord! Others are dirty!” The Lord God judges each individual’s heart. We are not compared against one another. But in the Eyes of the Perfect and Divine Lord, everyone has fallen short.
“I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.” (Verses 6 – 7)
This is the more truer part of this psalm/prayer. It is not because of our relative sin to other people that we are saved and loved. And it is not really that we are only the modest mildly of “bad” people. The Lord God’s steadfast love is for everyone. As is refuge from one’s adversaries.
“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.” (Verse 15)
Here again we have the protestation of the psalmist that he is righteous (no, it is not God’s righteousness that is meant), and because of this righteousness he expects to see the Lord God.
I probably would not have made an issue of this psalm if I had not written as I did yesterday. And not if I had not made note of Jacob’s missteps in relating to his family. And, furthermore, not if I had not been reading about how sin is the Eye of the Lord God as the beholder. All of these things I have lead me to comment as I have.
The psalmist also touches on the reality that the Lord God is ready, able and willing to forgive us for all of our sins. That our lips are only free from deceit because of God’s grace and mercy, and the atonement of Christ. The psalmist and Jacob, and all of the rest of rely on the Lord God’s plan for salvation. From the perspective of the psalmist, that is yet to come. We know it as a reality. So rather than faulting the presumption of the psalmist (when all is said and done) let us commend his faith that the Lord God will undertake for him, and for all of us. Selah!Filed under: Revised Common Lectionary Year A 2017 Tagged: Discipleship, Discipline in the Church, God's Nature, Nature of Jesus Christ, Psalm Passage, Reign of God, Revised Common Lectionary, Salvation, Season After Pentecost, Wisdom
Syndicated from a simple desire

Interview: Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God (Part 2)

Image via Waterbrook Multnomah
Brian Zahnd joins the podcast to discuss his new book, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God. In part 2, they focus on understanding the cross and Hell through the lens of a loving and nonviolent Jesus:

The idea tracing back to Anselm that God is satisfying his wrath, punishing Jesus, in order to gain the capital that allows God to forgive. (0:16)
The kind of justice which takes place at the cross. (6:42)
The view of wrath striking Jesus on the cross, and how we should see wrath instead. (14:11)
Hell and its various meanings which are not from Scripture. (23:16)
The parables of the sheep and the goats and of Lazarus and the rich man. (32:52)
How Brian preaches Hell. (36:48)
Interpreting the book of Revelation. (41:04)
The centrality of love. (45:31)
Brian’s hope for the book. (49:46)
Closing prayer. (50:42)

Links:
Word of Life Church
Brian Zahnd (website)
Brian Zahnd (Twitter)
Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God

http://media.blubrry.com/mennonerds_audio/p/podcasts.mennonerds.com/Interview-BrianZahnd--SinnersintheHandsofaLovingGod-Part2.mp3Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

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