Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Year 1, Advent 1, Tuesday

Today's Readings:
  • Amos 3:1-11
  • 2 Peter 1:12-21
  • Matt 21:12-22

Amos discusses cause and effect, the lion does not roar unless it has prey, the bird does not fall from the sky unless it has been snared, the trap does not spring unless it has caught something, and the Lord does not act without the prophets revealing it. The Lord says that because Ashdod and Egypt do not know how to do right, they will be surrounded of an adversary and stripped of their defense.
Peter writes that the apostles' story is real, not some myth 'cleverly devised' and states that he heard the voice of God on the mountain at the Transfiguation. Important lesson: "No prophecy of scriptue is a matter of one's own interpretation." I disagree. I also wonder what modern prophecy would look like. Did the ancient prophets prophecy in hindsight? Did they explain what had just happened, or what was going to happen? I know the Jews interpreted their history as "we sin, we lose; we keep faith, we gain" in cycles. I know that in modern times, things like 9/11 were explained after the fact to be the fault of liberals, and Robertson has told Dover Pennsylvania (I think it's Dover) that they will fall because "they have abandoned God" (they voted out the board of education that wanted to install intelligent design in the science classroom, and replaced them with people who promised to keep science in science and religion in comparitive studies). Which of these counts as prophecy? The statement explaining the past or the statement threatening the future?
Jesus cleanses the temple of the money changers. Good for Him. Jesus also kills a fig tree, reminiscent of the banned story of the childhood Jesus killing a playmate. In the banned books, Jesus is a dark child, viscious and petty, and growing up he learns that He had great repsonsibility. This passage, which is hard to take, shows that same selfish side of Jesus, but there is a lesson. One lesson is that the fig tree was not bearing fruit when it should have, it was not following its true nature, and was punished. The lesson the apostles demand is that faith, with no doubt whatsoever, can move mountains.
I think all basic divisions in Christianity (and possibly all other world religions) is the desire for certainty and the desire for mystery. They are the ends of a teeter totter, not an either or proposition. Progressives have very few certain things (God is Good) and Conservatives have many (Harry Potter is Satanic because Rowling isn't a Christian). Progressives are happy to experience mystery, conservatives are wary of it. Sure, they accept "how the miracles happened" as a mystery, but they work hard to fill in gaps in our sacred stories that progressives don't mind at all.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Year Two, Advent 1, Monday

Today's Readings:
  • Amos 2:6-16
  • 2 Peter 1:1-11
  • Matt 21:1-11

Amos continues the Lord's warnings: everything those in authority rely on will be taken away, they will be stripped of their power for their abuse and oppression of prophets. Prophecy is important, it allows anyone (Amos was a farmer, after all)
Peter opens his second letter with encouraging words.
His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.
It is a progression of the self to the corporate body Peter writes about. I think an appropriate cliche is "A chain is only as strong as it's weakest link." It also hints towards a separation of lust and divind nature. One of the early schisms in the Church involved various forms of Gnosticism, which claimed the material world as either an illusion or the creation of a malevolent god (described in the Old Testament). Gnostics were called heretics, but the separation between body and soul have been part of Christianity since the beginning. The world is described in Genesis 1 as being good, but Christians have mostly claimed that things of this world are lesser than the spirit world, and eventually evil. Go figure. Are Christians living in a state of heresy?
Matthew's Gospel relates the events just before Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, just a week before He is crucified. The mixing of Advent and Holy Week has always confused me. Lent is a season of preparation for the Resurrection, Advent is the season of preparation for the Nativity. Both seasons see the world growing darker (Lent is metaphorical, Advent is literal in the northern hemisphere), and the darkness is broken by light in both seasons. We are forced to remember that Jesus' birth, as wonderful as it is, is nothing compared to Easter.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Year Two, Advent One, Sunday

Today's Readings:
  • Psalm 146, 147, 111, 112, 113
  • Amos. 1:1-5,13-2:8
  • 1 Thess. 5:1-11
  • Luke 21:5-19

Amos lists the sins and punishments for Damascus, the Ammonites in Rabbah, Moab in Kerioth, Judah, and Israel.
...because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals, they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way; father and son go in to the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned; they lay themselved down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge; and in the house of their God they drink wine bought with fines they imposed (2:6b-8)

Paul writes to Thessalonia to encourage them to stay awake, be people of the light, and encourage each other.
Jesus speaks about the coming trials for his followers, and tells them not to prepare their defenses in advance, for He will give them words and wisdom at that time.
There are two things about todays readings that strike me. The first is the list of crimes committed by Israel. Selling the righteous for silver is too good for the evangelists to pass up, and so Jesus is bought for 30 pieces of silver, paid to Judas. Okay, so the image is reversed, but the act of betrayal is the same. It isn't betrayal to Jesus Amos is talking about, that's a "prophecy" Christians will want to see, but the charge is about betraying trust of rulers to the people under their care. I've been thinking about social, political, and religious power. Having authority does not mean that those you have authority over are resources for you to play with, trade, or treat as you see fit. Having authority means you are trusted to care for those you have authority over. I see it everywhere power is to be had. The poor are tossed into financial bankrupcy and seemingly eternal debt, the elderly and sick are no longer given affordable health care, and the poor are expected to love and revere those who do this to them. This doesn't make sense, and it goes against God's commandments. "Love your neighbor as yourself". "What you do to the least of these you do to me." That's why Damascus, Moab, and the Ammonites are in trouble with God: they abused their power and trampled their neighbors.
Authority Abuse is also a sign Jesus gives to His followers and instructs them to have strength. The earthly punishment for following Jesus is severe, and they will be hated because of Jesus, but they shall earn their souls. The end of the world has gotten some good publicity lately, or at least a lot of publicity. The whole "Rapture" thing is a bit beyond my understanding, but I see elements here that could lead us to think about signs fortelling the future. Don't we all want that? Don't we want to know what is going to happen and when? We want certainty. Jesus spoke about the end times (either of Jerusalem or the World) as if it was going to happen before his followers died, which meant that it was close at hand. It didn't happen, or it did happen and what we're left with is the post apocalyptic world and haven't figured out that God has already taken His faithful away, and it happened almost 2000 years ago.
Jesus and Paul speak about the end, and how to handle it. I don't see the Biblical end of the world being possible according to physics as we know it, but I am confident that at the end of time, whether the cold death of the universe that the scientists predict, or God breaking all the laws of physics and stopping this crazy existence, all will be well. I don't look for signs of the end of time. I would rather use what little authority I have now to do good, be neighborly, and heal rather than hurt the world I consider myself a steward of.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Proper 9, Saturday

Today's Readings:David volunteers to fight Goliath. Saul gives him his armor, but it is so bulky that David cannot move. Goliath laughs at the unarmored boy who challenges him. David claims that he will kill Goliath and the world will see that the Lord does not save by the sword nor the spear. David hits Goliath on the head with a stone.
Peter recounts his recent activites to the apostles in Jerusalem. They see the light, as it were, and accept the fact that the gentiles have been given redemption. (Interesting side note. Tradition holds that Peter was the first Pope, the first ultimate authority after Jesus, but here Peter must account for himself to the rest of the group. This community is goverened by a group of men, and maybe women.)
After John is arrested, Jesus takes up the mission of proclaiming the good news. He calls Simon and Andrew (brothers) and James and John (sons of Zebedee) to follow him. IN Capernaum, a man posessed by a demon recognized Jesus and calls him the son of God, but Jesus orders the man to keep silent. The unclean spirit leaves him.
There is a casualness in the mention of John's arrest. Again, the audience Mark was writing to knew this stuff already, they knew the context of the story. Jesus takes up the message of John, that baptism and repentance leads to forgiveness. To mix a metaphor, it appears that Jesus took up John's cross, not his own. Jesus has been introduced to his divinity, but is still uncomfortable with it. Did Jesus consider this a compromise with God? "Okay, Lord, Abba, I won't save Israel, because I am just a carpenter, but I will preach John's truth for him."
On the flip side, why would four men drop everything to follow Jesus if they didn't see in Jesus some sort of divinity. Was the actual conversation on the beach as simple as Mark makes it? I can't imagine it that way, but if Simon, Andrew, James, and John all knew Jesus, it would make this a less difficult idea to swallow.
Right now, I am reading Jesus' journey and mission as one of self discovery.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Proper 9, Friday

Today's Readings:Despite watching their baby brother's annointment as King, David's older brothers chastise him for 'coming out to watch the battle.' He witnesses Golith's challenge to the Israelites.
Peter preaches his new understanding that God is not a tribal God and does not show partiality because of race. Peter claims the authority of a witness of the resurrection to preach that Christ is the judge of the living and the dead. Forgiveness of sins comes through Jesus' name. The Gentiles, even the uncircumcized ones, receive the Holy Spirit and are baptized.
Finally, I get to start a progressive reading oy the Gospel of Mark. This is the earliest canonical Gospel and vas used as source material for Matthew and Luke. In studying the early Church, it is important to understand what each community of believers actually believed. I am of the opinion that there was not one community led by the twelve and Christianity had been one faith from the crucifiction on. How many of the named apostles are in Acts? So far, only a few. The way I see it, and I openly admit this may not be accurate, the earliest stories about Jesus are the most common among the various groups, but also closer to the truth. When something hits the news today, various urban legends and outright lies pop up immediately, within twenty four hours on network news. Because of the oral tradition and high illiteracy rates in Biblical times, I don't think that people who told fantastical lies were able to get those lies out to enjoy any kind of popularity. So what is in Mark, the earliest canonical Gospel, is more reliable fact (as we understand fact in the 21st century) than say, the Gospel of John, which was written to a faith community that had been in development of Gnostic ideas for at least fifty years.
Anyway, back to Mark. Mark* starts his Gospel with John the Baptizer, appearing in the wilderness. The books of Malachi and Isiah are quoted early on. John's message is simple: baptism + repentance = forgiveness of sins. Throngs of people go out to him, and he tells them that a great one is coming after him, one who will baptize with fire, the Holy Spirit. Jesus comes from Nazareth and was Baptized in the Jordan. As he came up from the water he hears a voice from heaven: You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.
Jesus goes to the wilderness to pray. Satan tempts him, and angels help him.
This is a very personal message to Jesus. I have often wondered if Jesus understood or knew of the divinity that He is credited with. It is easy to read in Mark the story of a man who is searching for the truth, like everyone around him, and he is told at baptism that He is special, the Son of God, the Beloved. In Mark, no one else hears this statement, and John does not proclaim Jesus as the Lamb of God or the Messiah upon seeing him. The idea that John and Jesus are cousins is not in Mark. Jesus listened, believed, was baptized, and blessed. This must have come as a shock to Jesus, because I don't think Jesus grew up knowing that he was the Messiah. It didn't occur to him. He wasn't the youngest son, like David and Jacob and so many other 'worthless children' in his family. (Of course, if you believe the Roman Catholic myth that Jesus' brothers and sisters are all children of Joseph from a different, earlier marriage, then this works.) Jesus had to get away from everyone else and pray about this. He had to talk to God in a way that wouldn't get him labeled as demon posessed. As we shall see, Mark is full of instances where Jesus tries to keep this quiet.
Mark also does not explain the Roman occupation. Why would he? Estimates vary to the timeline, but Mark was most likely written before (or shortly after) the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. His audience knew what the Romans were about, and knew that the Jews were looking for freedom through military victories. That's the Jewish story. It is hard to believe that the authors of the new testament could imagine their works being read 2000 years later. Paul wrote to the contemporary Church, and I think the Gospels were written for the current generation and the next. The return of Jesus was believed to be coming soon.

*Yes, "Mark" is the name attributed to this document, and nobody knows exactly who wrote it, but the attribution makes it easier to talk about the document and we might as well let the evangelist "Mark" take credit for the unnamed scribe who physically wrote the thing.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Proper 9, Thursday.

Today's Readings:The Spirit of the Lord leaves Saul and an evil spirit of the Lord torments him. On advice, Saul sends for David who is known for his skill with the lyre. David's playing soothes Saul. The Philistines start acting up to war again. They send Goliath as their champion. Goliath, an impressive figure from Gath, challenges the Israelites to send their champion.
Peter thinks about his vision. The men that Cornelius has sent come and the Spirit tells Peter to go with them. They leave for Ceasarea. Cornelius worships Peter, but Peter says "I am only a mortal" Peter interprets his vision as a call to preach to all gentiles.
Jesus appears to the gathered disciples. They are frightened and doubtful. Jesus invites them to touch him. Jesus opens their minds to understand the prophets and Moses. Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. He led them to Bethany, where he was carried up to heaven. The disciples return to Jerusalem and worship God in the temple.
This is too wierd. We read three ways in which God is understood, and they are different from one another. In the book of Samuel God is an interfering God who punishes people He doesn't like through direct intervention. To get David, the annointed King, into the seat of power, Saul must be tortured. Saul has repented for his sins, and it isn't good enough. Jesus deals with the doubt that the discples feel over his resurrection. It was, in Luke, a fleshy resurrection. Many Gnostic communities insisted on a dualistic nature to Jesus, that his flesh died but his spirit lived on, visual but immaterial. Despite Jesus telling the discples to preach to all nations, Peter needs to see this in a trance. Okay, maybe my earlier distrust of Peter is making me say that Peter either still didn't get it, so God had to tell him to follow Jesus' last teaching, or Peter needed to have this revelation so he could be the authority.
God is the Only God. That is the definition of Monotheism. The changes we read in the Bible show the development of monotheism, and the adjustment to the realities that monotheism entails, namely, the idea that the One God is God of All, not just any chosen few.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Proper 9, Wednesday: Suspicious Peter

Today's Readings:God tells Samuel to go to Jesse in Bethlehem to find the new King. Samuel goes through the progression of David's older brothers before annointed David, youngest son of Jesse, King.
Cornelius, a centurion in Ceasarea, worship God, who tells him to send for Simon Peter in Joppa. Peter goes into a trance and sees a vision that allows him to eat any animal.
On the same day the women were discovering the empty tomb, two disciples were walking to Emmaus when Jesus meets them and they don't recognize him. They tell Jesus about Jesus and their disappointment. Jesus calls them fools and interprets the prophets for them. They eat and Jesus breaks the bread, reenacting the Last Supper, and Cleopas andhis companion recognize Jesus. They returned to Jerusalem to the Eleven, where they proclaim the risen Christ and His appearing to Peter.
Wait a sec...Two things seem to be odd here. In Acts, Peter goes in a trance (after not eating and praying for a few days) and receives a vision. This is different from other ways God and Jesus appear to people in the Bible. I don't remember anyone else in the Bible going into a trance to have a little tete-a-tete with God. This vision is used to remove all of the ideas of kosher foods, and I agree with it. The whole idea of a strict dietary code isn't to keep the body pure, but to keep the people together and away from outsiders. Very important when your religion is one of many and your people are in constant battle and live among people who worship different gods. I think the full stretch into real monotheism (which I'm not sure we've acheived) requires us to be allowed to eat anything with anyone. Eating together is an act of communion, and not being allowed to eat with someone is shutting them out of your heart. Look at O.J. Simpson. He wasn't allowed to eat with his family on Thanksgiving, and look what happened. So I agree with the doctrine of no dietary laws, but I am suspicious of the origin. Was Peter doing his own thing here? It's tempting for a Progressive to dismiss Peter and Paul, but that is essentially an ad hominem dislike, and doesn't discount what they've said in particular instances. So, remembering this, I think Peter had a good idea and he implemented it.
But back to the suspicion. In Luke, Peter has run off to the tomb to find it empty and there is no mention of him having a vision, until Cleopas comes back with his story and Peter has taken the vision of Mary and the women for himself. Of course, in Luke Mary and the women didn't see Jesus, they saw a couple of angels. It is possible that Jesus was one of the two men and she did not recognize Him, as Cleopas hadn't. So here I see signs of the power struggle to control the emerging Jesus movement after Jesus' death. Peter is doing things to make sure that he is the authority in the movement, and that makes me suspicious of him.