whytheology

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Archive for the category “Holiday Post”

The King has Come

Today we celebrate that the King has come.

Today we remember that his death was not the end.

Today we acknowledge that in his death we ourselves died, so that in his resurrection we ourselves will find life.

Today we reflect on the power and glory of his name.

Today we see the emptiness of the tomb.

Today we are commanded to “Make disciples” “through going, teaching, and baptizing.”

Today we marvel that God has become human.

Today we look forward to his arrival again.

Today, Yesterday, and Forever, the King is here and we praise his name.

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The King is Dead, Long Live the King

Something that has really stuck with me about the account of the events of Good Friday was probably best summarized in a talk given by N.T. Wright. He begins talking about this question of authority that Jesus and Pilate had a conversation about (what amounted to his official trial). There’s quite a bit of background to this question that, in the talk I heard, Wright doesn’t really have time to get into. Essentially, Pilate is trying to ascertain whether Jesus is guilty of sedition, of trying overthrow the empire to establish his own Kingdom. It turns out, Jesus is 100% guilty of that charge, but not in the way that Pilate had suspected. The whole dialogue is spread of John 18 and 19.

Pilate asks if Jesus is a King. Jesus responds by asking why he would think such a thing. Heavily implied in Jesus’s response is that Pilate actually has no authority, but does as others ask him. Yet soon it comes about where we have a key line from Jesus “My Kingdom is not from this (ek tos) world.” This is not saying there is a kingdom and it exists somewhere, but not here. Instead, Jesus is boldly declaring that his kingdom does not arise out of this world. It comes from somewhere else. Because it comes from somewhere else, it will be achieved in a radically different way. Jesus is basically telling Pilate that the Kingdom is coming from God himself, and Jesus’s death will only accelerate its arrival. This is why Pilate tries to release him.

The crowd having none of it, Pilate tries to make him king, in a mocking sort of manner, and in the cruelest way possible. Pilate seeks to make him a king completely according to the ways of this world, through violence and insult. Yet it is to no avail. Instead the people remind Pilate of Jesus’s claim, he claimed to be “the Son of God.”

There is a heavy nuance we often miss today in our modern sensibility. Jesus’s claim to be the “Son of God” was not, exclusively, a claim to divinity. There are other, much more explicit passages about that (“I and the Father are one.” “Before Abraham was, I AM (ego eimi)”). Instead, it’s important to note that, by this time, the Roman emperor had taken on a very specific title: son of the gods. It is for this reason Pilate became terrified. This is a true and unmistakable revolution. It also leads Pilate back to touting his authority, rebellions must be squelched, after all.

It is here that Jesus reminds Pilate of what authority actually looks like. Pilate claims to have authority, but any authority he has “comes from above.” The dual meaning here is that it comes only from Caesar, who is in authority over Pilate, but also that it comes from God. That is if he has authority. As it turns out, Pilate does not act like one with authority. His wish, at that point, is to be done with Jesus and not to crucify him, yet he succumbs to the will of the people, those over whom he claims to have authority. Pilate wants to release Jesus, but that is in violation of his authority from Caesar. Still he wants to to release Jesus, but his authority is taken away by the crowds.

And it brings me back to this line from the lecture by N. T. Wright.

“Pilate and Jesus have this debate about authority and who has authority and where authority comes from. Pilate hands Jesus over to be crucified, and Jesus wins.”

Pilate cannot let it go, and must admit Jesus is King, because he acted with authority. And there, on the cross, he is inaugurated. The Kingdom of God has broken into our world. The sorrow of the Friday will turn to joy on the Sunday. But let us not skip over the sorrow too quickly.

The King is dead, long live the King.

Jesus is more than a boyfriend

By Ntametrine via WikicommonsSo in the lead up to Valentine’s Day, I’ve seen quite a few posts making the very adamant point that “Jesus is not your boyfriend.”

Well….

Clearly the motivation seems to be one of annoyance, that is people wanting to be very clear that the sort of relationship you have with Jesus is one of the Creator of the universe to creature. That’s a valid point. There should always be an awesome admiration and reverence before God. So no, you shouldn’t act like Jesus is your boyfriend in that sense of casual romantic involvement. You shouldn’t listen to romantic songs and just replace the words “baby” with “Jesus” (what? I don’t watch Southpark, people just tell me about it, besides that one’s really old). It’s a bad idea. You shouldn’t go into your prayer time, or devotion time, or time at church thinking you are going to “date Jesus”, not even if you are single and it’s really hard.

Here’s the thing though.

In a way, Jesus is much more than a boyfriend. And the bible very openly uses the metaphor of a husband and wife to talk about our relationship with Jesus. So no, Jesus is not your boyfriend. He’s your husband, or at least your fiance (that whole “I go to prepare a place for you and I will come back again,” and “Drinking the cup of the covenant of my blood” stuff has marriage proposal written all over it for first century Jews).

So what does that mean?

The picture is clearly not meant to be romantic. But, if you think marriage is built solely (or even primarily) on romantic love, you may have bought into the lie of the culture that it’s all about sex. Granted, romance is an important part of human marriage, but it’s not the only part, nor even the foundation.

Did you ever hear married people talk about being married to “my best friend?” Perhaps you’ve used the phrase yourself, if you’re married. If a marriage is working like it’s supposed to work, that’s completely true. A best friend is one who “sticks closer than a brother.” This is a love that is concerned primarily with the well being of the other person, not temporary personal happiness or pleasure. It’s not “me” centered but “you” centered kind of love. How else could you live with someone willingly after you’ve seen them at their worst? After they’ve openly passed gas in front of you? (if it hasn’t happened, it will. You can only hold out for so long). It only makes sense if it’s not about you.

So, no Jesus isn’t your boyfriend. He’s a lot more than that. And he wants an intimate relationship with you where you can be yourself and know that you are still loved in spite of it. The creator of the universe, wants that kind of relationship with you. He already knows you pass gas, it’s not like it’s a secret to him. He just wants you to be able to admit that you do it (and much worse) and that he loves you anyway. God loves you, way more than a boyfriend.

Dust and Transformation: Ash Wednesday and Lent Reading Plan

Ashes and Death

Well this has, in some ways, been a rough year (in many others it has been fantastic, but that’s not the point of this post). I’ve been to too many funerals (by the way, one is too many), and had friends and acquaintances nearly be killed instantly by cars, or be diagnosed with aggressive forms of cancer, and with it the looming specter of death. When I really thought about it, rarely are we ready or prepared for people to die. Even when we say we are ready, we always wish for one more conversation, to tell them about this one thing they missed, to say I love you one last time. Yet we cannot.

Life is fragile. As I drove in my car the other day I thought, any second I could be hit by another car and that would be it. Done. I don’t think of myself as ready to go, and I’m fairly certain it would be a heavy blow to my family. I know I’m not the only one. The same scenario would hold true for many people, and every day, at least one person in the world dies suddenly, unexpectedly, leaving a gap behind them. Not ready to go. It wasn’t her time. He was so full of life. A shock. Here as though there are years left, and gone in an instant. As J.R.R. Tolkien put it “It’s a dangerous business…, going out your front door.” And yet we do it every day. We think of ourselves as strong, as impervious. We make plans for upcoming years, yet actually have very little control over whether we will be around in those years to come. We are all of us ashes. Embers that burn quickly and then are no more.

Dust and Creation

As the bible puts it, we are dust. We are ephemeral, and cannot be gripped too tightly. We blow away in the wind. Here today, gone tomorrow. Yet the metaphor for dust, as I noted last year at Ash Wednesday, is not just for the fragility of life, but to remind us of our origin. God formed humanity from the dust of the ground and breathed life into him.

Dust you are and to dust you will return.

Rather than a statement of outright sorrow, though there is that, this is also a reminder of the new creation just around the corner. God makes something out of dust and breathes life into it. Lent is not a buildup to Good Friday, and the death of the Son of God. Lent is an anticipation of His Resurrection and the life that comes out of death. And by pointing to the Resurrection of the Son of God, it points to ours as well. In the midst of sorrow, joy. In the midst of death, life. As things are given up, new creation takes root.

Fundamentally, lent is also about something new, something creative, something constructive.

A Constructive Lent

This year, then, I’m not giving up something for Lent. I’m a Baptist and I have that option (we’re not really liturgical, just some of us pretend from time to time). Instead, though, I’m going to do something constructive. If you are going to celebrate Lent, and you haven’t decided what you will give up, let me encourage to you to instead do something constructive. Participate in God’s already present kingdom here on earth, and in so doing catch a glimpse of his return and the new earth he will refine out of this one. Don’t be legalistic about it, be constructive, building a picture of God’s Kingdom. Part of doing something constructive is something I did last year, a reading of a book of the bible for Lent. This year, we’re going to go through James (to look at last year’s where we went through Galatians, see the link at the top of the page). Below is the reading plan. If you just can’t come up with anything else to do for Lent, then perhaps you could join me in the reading plan (or if you want to add to what you have done).

James is a little bit shorter than Galatians, so the readings will be shorter. Also, I will try better this year to keep my own reflections relatively short as well. Most days it is 3 verses, sometimes 4, occasionally 2, and one day is only 1 verse. I think that should be manageable. I’ll be posting them shortly after midnight on the day marked, so if you do your bible reading in the morning it will be ready when you are. The other posts for this blog will come up later in the day, but if you only want to follow the lent readings you can either click the “Lent Series” Category marker, the tab at the top of the main page that will link to this year’s Lent reading calendar (also click here).

Martin Luther King, JR day

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr Day. Also, it being a Monday, I have in the past addressed “difficult passages” in the bible. Today, in light of the day it is, I offer a passage that we likely understand in thought, but fail to put in practice.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 (KJV)

How do we as Christians reconcile this with the quote often attributed to the Rev Martin Luther King, JR:

The most segregated hour in America is eleven o’clock, Sunday morning.

It was true then and its true now. The two should not be. Think on this and how we, the Church, should be one as Christ is one with the Father.

By Phil Stanziola, NYWT&S staff photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Quick word for the new year

Just a quick word of hope on this, the second day of the New Year.

In the words of John Calvin, “Post tenebras Lux

It translates “After darkness, light,” and though it appeared in various times throughout Church History, it was used most frequently and effectively by John (Jean) Calvin, before being adopted by most Protestants. The primary meaning is to give hope. Night is always followed by dawn. Since we think about new beginnings on the New Year, it may be helpful to just take this reminder:

Whatever you’ve done, whatever you’ve neglected to do, what ever you’ve thought or said, whomever you think you are, God isn’t done with you, and after the darkness is light.

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:5a)

 

Hello 2013

What are you excited about this year? Do you have any plans or goals for this year? Are you going to try to read through the bible, or the New Testament? I’d love to hear it. I’ve got a few, mostly practical, such as finishing my degree and finding a job. The one less practical one is that I think I’ll try to start, in earnest, my own popular book.

What about you? God bless you.

New Every Day

Today is New Year’s Eve. Some of us will stay up until midnight, while many will only make it to the live showing of the New York ball drop and then go to sleep at whatever time that is locally (and yes I have some California friends who have done that, no judgment here). We’ll sing a son we don’t really understand based upon a Scottish drinking poem about the good old days, itself based upon an older poem that you probably need an advance degree in Celtic to understand.

Then we will go to bed (or if you are young and without kids, will stay up for a few hours before going to bed), and wake up to a new year. A new year, one of promise and hope. We will make resolutions (most of which will be broken) and frantically try to find that can of black eyed peas or cabbage or whatnot. It is good to mark of the years with some sort of celebration, I think. It is good to take stock of what has happened, to thank God for the year behind and commit to him the year ahead. It offers up goals and markers and commitments and can make our lives easier.

Yet, as a baptist, I am reminded of the reason we don’t strictly follow the liturgical calendar. While it is still Christmas for most Christians, baptists don’t have a “season” for most days. There is one exception. Resurrection Sunday (or Easter). For Baptists, not only do we celebrate every Sunday as a commemoration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (as do most Christians), but we live perpetually in the season of Easter. We don’t have a Lenten period of mourning (though some of us may opt to practice aspects of it from time to time), and while we are always waiting for the return of Christ, we don’t have the anticipatory Advent season. It is perpetually Easter. Easter changed everything. Christ has already come. God already dwells with man. God has turned our mourning into laughing.

Living in the light of the Easter morning also means we don’t wait for one day a year to start over. It also doesn’t mean we lost that chance at our first slip up. Living in the light of the Resurrected Christ means that his mercies are new everyday. A line that used to be popular in the adult baptisms of baptists (but is being fazed out, it seems, as too archaic) is that we are “buried with Christ in baptism, and raised [with him] to walk in the newness of life.” It’s not just new the one time, it is continually new, perpetually being renewed, rescued, redeemed and transformed. New Year’s day is a date on the calendar that comes every year, but doesn’t really change anything. The new life of the Christian is based upon a Resurrection that happened once in history for all time, and changed everything, and can change everyone, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Every day we are made new and raised to life again with him. Day by day, moment by moment.

St Nick isn’t always so Jolly

So, I wasn’t posting to my blog in the lead up to Christmas. But if you were friends with me on Facebook, you may have seen these pictures before. Even though Christmas has passed, we are still, technically, in the midst of the 12 day Christmas season (yes that is the origin of the song, Christmas is day 1). So I’d like to give a bit of back story on St Nicholas.

We know two things for sure about St Nicholas. 1) He gave large sums of money to poor families, usually when they were considering the terrible decision of whether to sell a child into slavery to save the life of both the child and the rest of the family. Sometimes he gave presents to small children. Often times he is credited with dropping the presents or bags of money through the roofs or through the windows of these families. 2) During the Arian controversy, when Arius suggested Jesus was, while divine, somehow less divine than God, St Nicholas slapped him. He was asked to apologize for doing so, which he did.

For some reason, we like to celebrate the former and not the latter. To help rectify that, I give you one of the most specifically targeted memes I’ve ever seen (I don’t know the original sources):

St Nick 2

St Nick 1

St Nick 3

Merry late (but not really because it’s not yet epiphany) Christmas

A Torch Relay contrasted to a Triumphant Spectacle

So yesterday the torch relay came through our neighborhood on its way to the Olympic stadium to mark the start of the London 2012 games. There was a great buzz of excitement all throughout our neighborhood, as I’m sure there was in every neighborhood through which the torch passed. Essentially, the relay is an extended one person parade as people line the streets to see the procession of the torch as it makes its way to the main show at the stadium here in Stratford (East London). Different people carry the torch as it is passed from one person to another, and there is an excitement surrounding it. These torch bearers are all local or nati0nal heroes, generally selected for outstanding service to the community of the country. It is a unique and interesting, and genuinely exciting, thing to witness.

For some reason, however, the torch relay got me thinking about something else. There’s this theme used in Corinthianian correspondence of a parade. There, it is referring to the “triumphal procession.” It’s not really that related to the Ancient Olympics, despite the fact that Corinth had an early parallel in the Isthmian Games (named for the isthmus that Corinth straddles), but is a very Roman parade. In the parade, a general who had recently conquered new territory for the Roman Empire, was given a huge honor. As part of this honor, he would get to lead a lengthy parade through various parts of the empire. The general would lead the parade, coming as a national hero, followed by his officers and generals and new captives in the back. They would wind their way through most of the major cities finally ending in Rome, the capital, where a fire was lit and they were given an honor by the emperor.

Throughout each of these cities, however, and including up until Rome the general would hold a long chain in his hand. The chain would stretch back throughout the parade, past the officers, and cavalry, and foot soldiers, past most of the captives to the very back. There, at the tail end of the procession, was the conquered leader or king, being led like a dog. Rather than a king, he was a prisoner. At the end of the lengthy procession, once the fires were lit, he along with some of the captives, would be sacrificed

A relief of captives being led by a collar in ancient Rome, via Wikicommons

for the glory of the kingdom (Rome in this instance). The entire process was meant to humiliate the conquered king, who was essentially a walking dead man, and bring honor to the one leading the triumphal procession. With that in mind, let’s look at these two passages, first from 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 (NIV),

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?

and then from 1 Corinthians 4:9 (NIV).

For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.

What is striking is that even though Jesus and God is the triumphant general leading the march, Paul does not consider himself to be among the officers, but among the king who must be killed. There is a real recognition that my own achievements are, as Paul says, rubbish (well that’s the clean translation of Philippians 3:8). He has truly died to himself and his old self is a walking dead man. He mixes his metaphors a bit to talk about the “aroma.” In the triumphal procession, as the captive king approached the stadium, he would begin to smell the fires burning and to him it would be an aroma of death. To the officers and generals, however, it was an aroma of life. For Paul he sees that for his old self it is the aroma of death, but for his new self that is Christ living through him and transforming his very being, it is an aroma of life. At the root though, rather than an honor before people, he sees his service to Christ as a his own humiliation before the entire universe. I’m not saying we shouldn’t give some sort of honor to those who clearly benefit our communities and the world around us, of course we should. I am saying, however, that the Christian should work with no thought for an immediate reward, but only to bring glory to Christ, even if it means humiliation. In contrast to a parade celebrating the honor of human achievement (even if it is for genuinely good work), Paul sees his work as only bringing honor to Christ. So the question, one that we all struggle with, is for whose honor or glory are you working?

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