one of the nightmares of our time

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure during the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have nourished your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.

James 5:1-6

I would like all of us to wake up to what the Bible clearly holds as a priority time and time again, but the theology so many hold won’t allow that. So all we can do is pray and speak and try to encourage and participate in change. Just one of the nightmares here in the United States, the land of “the American dream” is the failure of whatever that dream is supposed to be to take hold for all. We white Christians by and large might think we’re insulated from this, that while we can help this or that person in need, that it’s really not our trouble or business. But that supposition is a failure to understand the repeated witness of Scripture. Also it’s a failure to understand how what harms one group ends up harming all.

Here in the United States we have way more than enough to fund college education for all, childcare and healthcare for all, which would pay itself off in spades. There’s no need or in my case want to get into the details of all of that. Except to say that the rich of the land have been living off the backs of the poor and it is only getting worse as time goes on. There is no good reason why everyone in service and low paying jobs shouldn’t be getting paid double the amount and more right now, along with full health care. None except greed along with a complete failure to understand the point of Scripture about this, and reality.

But we need to get America back to its greatness again, so we’re told. Back to what? A time when segregation was the norm along with laws limiting the rights and privileges of minorities which white Americans could take for granted? And let’s not go back too far: the time when the economy of the south was built on the backs of slaves, and because it was so beneficial for those in the north, nothing much was said. Although a rising tide of dissenting voices led to the Civil War. Like all nations, US history is messy, but we need to face every part of it. Don’t ignore things like the 1619 Project. You’ll learn a lot. We need to face the past squarely, and work at understanding the ramifications for the present time, and work to bring about full reparation in an immediate as well as full way over time.

All of this matters if the witness of Scripture matters. But if it’s just about us and Jesus, then I guess the witness of Scripture is secondary or that we have no responsibility except to get people “saved” and wait for Jesus to come back and take care of the rest. If there wasn’t such compliance with the advantages we live in and ignorance of the disadvantages of others, and if we would actually work at helping those in need, not only with mere handouts, but seeking to overhaul systems of wrong and greed, then such people could be taken seriously. God knows everyone’s hearts of course, and God is a God of grace. But God is not anyone’s fool as some of the wicked in the psalms seem to imagine. And we as followers of Christ do well only when our hearts are aligned where God’s heart is aligned.

Yes, God will judge with good judgment and the salvation to follow. But we as followers of Christ must bear witness to that now, and advocate and be part of needed change in the present, just as we pray that God’s kingdom would come, God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Or else we’re not in step with Jesus whose new way is a fulfillment of the passion of the prophets. The way of love for God and for neighbor in all times and places. In and through Jesus.

(Some of the most important points and a significant part of the impulse to do this comes from a thoughtful woman friend on Facebook who posted a far better critique of the present than I raise here.)

pray and love, love and pray (the theme I keep returning to)

The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:7-8; NRSVue

I keep coming back to the same theme again and again: Love and pray; pray and love. I have often thought I would enjoy or at least appreciate being a part of a monastic (married) order. The idea is not just here and there, now and then practice of this and that, but a regular communal practice of scripture readings, prayers, and partaking of Communion together. That is not likely, so I try to practice it faithfully when it’s offered with others, as well as in my own practice. I am thankful for the newish Mennonite hymnal, Voices Together, which has a helpful morning and evening office in the back which keeps me in scripture, and in regular prayer.

I see the world at a dangerous place, maybe a precarious tipping point. Climate change with catastrophic consequences ahead if it’s not addressed forthrightly, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, racial injustice in the United States and in many other places in the world, an attack on democracy by an authoritarian rule which is even cloaked with the name “Christian” and is often ardently supported by Christians in a deadly and idolatrous union of church and state, and I’m sure there are numerous other concerns that deserve attention. You may not agree with all I list here, or you might see things somewhat differently. What we will agree on is that these are difficult times.

First of all we have to make sure that we’re aspiring to be followers of Christ. Christian is not enough, and especially with ties to a Christendom which fails to see the radical nature and difference of Christ and Christ’s kingdom in this world. While we hope and pray for the best of each nation in which we live, our citizenship and allegiance is elsewhere. We are citizens of anything in this world in a loose, secondary sense. We pay taxes and give due honor and respect and want to contribute to what is good, but as aliens.

I think of those younger: children and grandchildren. What they will be left with. Yes, people like to remind us all the time that “God is in control,” but remember that God lets people have the consequences of their ways. What is important for us who name the name of Christ is to really be led by the Spirit as Christ followers. The fruit of the Spirit evident in our lives.

And what more can we do than love and pray? Good works must follow, or our prayer and love will be empty, hollow, or at least not as full as it needs to be.

As is pointed out in the passage above, this requires self-discipline on our part along with a maintaining of constant love in the community, an attitude with corresponding actions supporting both. What I want to be about, growing in that, whatever else I think. Not letting up and seeking to live that out with others. In and through Jesus.

the problem of patriarchalism, gender and the Bible

“Pray, then, in this way:

Our Father in heaven,
    may your name be revered as holy.”

Matthew 6:9; NRSVue

I recently read that the Bible is a sexist book, or something to that effect. That perhaps come across harshly. It was written into a patriarchal society in which men generally always ruled in government and were the head of their households. And often women were denigrated as second-class citizens, certainly below men in status. Scripture speaks into that world, but with the vision toward the kingdom (rule) of God promised in Jesus in which there’s no longer male nor female, master or slave, etc., but all are one in Christ (Galatians).

The best translations of Scripture in my view don’t obscure this reality, in fact you really can’t. What we need to do is read each part in its context, carry it forward to ours, and with the promise of God’s future rule in view. I think it’s important to see how Scripture deals with each cultural context. I tend to think that God accommodates God’s self to people and life as it is, to culture in general, but at the same time gradually pushes it toward what we see when Jesus comes and what follows with Pentecost and the church. And we also need to remember that Jesus needs to be the interpreter of Scripture, in other words we interpret it all through a Christological lens, and particularly in light of the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

That brings us to the subject of God. I’m part of a church which really tries to be inclusive in language, even with reference to God. We know that strictly speaking God is spirit, neither male nor female, but that humankind both female and male are made in God’s image. Most of Scripture again and again and again ascribes masculinity to God. Though we can see the spirit of God as neuter since that’s the vocabulary, though we also certainly know from Scripture that the spirit is not only wind or breath but is also personal. And God as wisdom actually is feminine tense. God is also likened to a mother in different ways in Scripture.

It’s fine to have a secondary use of a translation, perhaps like the Inclusive Bible which while not without problem, actually ended up much better than what was probably generally anticipated. But I think it’s best to use as one’s main translation a Bible which translates all gender as it was in the original while at the same time not translating male when it doesn’t mean that at all. The NRSV and now NRSVue is considered the most accurate by scholars. The CEB and the NIV are also good and some others with them. But some are more or less good with some problems, seemingly wanting to highlight patriarchalism as if it’s God’s will in creation (and new creation).

By all means if you want to, read Scripture in ways that get around it. The newish hymnbook in my tradition, Voices Together does precisely that. And it’s okay to pray the prayer the Lord taught us (see above) with something other than Father. But forever the original will say father. And there will be some debate and disagreement for sure.

In the end we don’t do well to dwell on such things. We just go on, together humbly trying to understand Scripture in its original context, how to see it in and through Christ, and what that means for us today. That’s where we should dwell. Let the other go. God will help us and in spite of our differences in all of this.

Jesus speaks to the crowds with parables

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on a path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. If you have ears, listen!”

Matthew 13:1-9; NRSVue

Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, but didn’t give the interpretation, only to his disciples as we see later in this passage. But why? Jesus told his disciples that the secret of the kingdom of heaven had been given to his disciples, but not to the rest, citing scripture to that effect. I’ve touched on this before, but it seems like Israel of old, many of Israel had an incorrect picture of what needed to be. They had failed to see God’s big picture, what God wanted. And unfortunately, by and large their religious leaders had failed them as well, they themselves just as lost, the blind leading the blind. Jesus realized that the crowds were not ready to receive the truth he was giving to his disciples, but he wanted to point them in that direction.

I think this kind of teaching was not just a form of God’s just and even wise judgment, but also a form of compassion. Remember that teaching the multitudes many things is said to have come out of Jesus’s compassion for them, as he saw them helpless and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd. It could be at least to some extent that Jesus spoke in parables to cause those listening to ask questions. Instead of thinking they already know what needs to be done, God’s program, what the kingdom promised was all about, Jesus’s teaching of parables would raise questions. And would hopefully make some open to a new understanding. Note Jesus’s words to the crowd at the end: “If you have ears, listen!”

I don’t think I’m a good teacher in this way in causing people to ask questions. I try to point people in the right direction through giving the best answers I can. But probably the best teaching leads people to ask questions, but in a way that is directing them to come up with good answers. Probably faith is at least as much about asking questions, having sitting questions without clear answers. But within that simply  trusting in God.

Just some thoughts on Jesus’s teaching to the multitudes of the parables without explaining the meaning to them as he did to his disciples. In and through Jesus.

devotion to prayer along with certain kind of prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison, so that I may reveal it clearly, as I should.

Colossians 4:2-4

Prayers of all kinds for ourselves and for others should be a practice which we regularly do. We should have a special prayer time along with prayer punctuating our days. Again, all kinds of prayers. For needs, but also with praise and thanksgiving. But looking to God. Waiting on God. Wanting God’s help, even breakthrough for whatever problems we and others are facing.

Usually when we read Paul’s personal request in the above passage, we think of it mostly if not completely in terms of souls getting saved. While that’s certainly included, the ramifications of the gospel are often all but lost. We should be praying for those in strategic places, who are in the open, that the word which goes out from them will not only save souls, but shake and shape the world in terms of the gospel. That all the barriers of “race” might be broken down, that the principalities and powers embedded in the world system might be served notice not only that their day is going to come, but that in a sense it’s already here, as we anticipate the curtain closing on them when the present kingdom of God finally enters in in its fullness at Christ’s return.

We need to begin to understand that the wisdom of God through Christ and the way of the cross is not only the power of salvation for all who believe, but also through the church serves notice to the principalities and powers of the world order that something good is coming, a light penetrating the darkness, and indeed exposing them for what they truly are. That is the way of the cross, the way of the love that comes from Christ. So that the world will be shaken, and ultimately turned upside down, really right side up. As we anticipate the Day when all of this will be finalized once forever when Jesus returns.

In and through Jesus.

the heresy of Christian nationalism

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light….

For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

1 Peter 2:9, 13-17

We are beset and besieged by a Christian nationalism which though present from the inception of the United States, is now bearing its full fruit.

Christian nationalism plain and simply is pure heresy. Heresy has to do with wrong theology and the wrong practice which results from that. And Christian nationalism at its core is idolatry. It doesn’t matter how it expresses itself, or who or what party is in power. When we see it as sacred so that it has God’s imprimatur or signature so to speak written on it, then we’ve entered into profane space, bringing into what’s sacred and of God’s kingdom something which is only provisional and subject to God’s judgment.

What is especially egregious about the present expression of this heresy is actually nothing new, but it seems especially rampant and endemic now. I speak sadly about its presence set in evangelical circles, but also found in other churches such as mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic. An easy manifestation of its likely presence is when an American flag is in a church building with a Christian flag.

We must never ever give what is provisional sacred status as if it somehow is part of God’s reign and kingdom in Christ. And yet that is what many do when they equate the sacrifice for the nation to be like Christ’s sacrifice for the world. Or see the nation in its founding as pure good and pure light, and as some ideal it is called to live up to.

We can and should appreciate the good that we find in any and every nation. The ideal within the United States that “all men are created equal” should be something appreciated, which we should hold up as a goal for which this nation should aspire. While we can appreciate all the good, we must not have a blind eye for what is not good, no matter where that may be found.

And more to the point of the post: We must never invest in what is not sacred, the thought that somehow it is. That God is on our side, or at least on the side of the United States as it was formed in the beginning. And yet this is what Christians did back then, and continue to do to this day. And that is blasphemy.

“You will know them or whatever it might be by its fruits.” Heresies often have the same effect as cults in the present day understanding of what cult means. It has a choke hold which won’t let go, no matter what the result. And as we see in the present day, the result is far from pretty or good.

To follow Christ together as church in God’s kingdom present now by the Spirit is something completely different, even antithetical to that. It is an existence of love for all, even for our enemies, just as Jesus taught. With the knowledge that there is only one holy nation and sacred kingdom. That of God in Christ. Only one Lord to whom belongs our allegiance. One word which we follow: The good news in our Lord and Savior, Jesus. In and through Jesus.

Christ’s judgment on the nations

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.”

Matthew 25:31-33

I wish this passage from Christ’s lips would be taken seriously by those who claim to be Christians. But when it’s not taught with its ramifications, then it will be largely lost, not a part of what faith and life consists of for the many who don’t even see themselves as Christ followers. This goes beyond that, and is really an indictment against the church, which can end up not only asleep at the switch, but even a part of the problem if it doesn’t really take seriously a passage like this, and its implications for life based on the rest of Scripture.

Jesus’s words here echo something of the concern of the Hebrew (Old Testament) prophets about God’s vision of shalom: peace and prosperity for all, which while we know will never be entirely fulfilled until he returns, nevertheless is at the forefront of Jesus’s words of blessing and judgment in this passage.

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[a] you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:34-46

Individuals yes, but also nations will be judged by how they treated those in need, and that includes how they treated all. The rich nations who do not help the poor, indebted nations. Who put their own prosperity ahead of ending terrorism and starvation. Who put national interest above the good of others, and are willing to kill innocents in the process. Nations which refuse to help those fleeing war and death. Nations which have made systems of evil and hold on to them, against ethnicities, here in the United States obviously, against African Americans, along with the Native Americans. And the widening gap between the rich and the poor cannot rightfully be ignored. Christ will judge all of that, and will judge whatever complicity we’ve had in it.

So we need to become aware of this, develop a conscience that is no longer seared, but becoming sensitive, so that we can begin to see Christ where we’ve never seen him before. And be present to help in whatever ways we can. 

In and through Jesus.

the one constant

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8

Scripture points us to Jesus, and God’s fulfillment of all things in and through him. One might want to say that Scripture is the constant, and it’s certainly central in all traditions of the Christian faith, of the faith itself, as we might put it. But it points beyond itself to Jesus.

This doesn’t mean for a moment that we shouldn’t pay close attention to all the details in Scripture, because indeed we should. Pre-Christ, during his time on earth, and post-Christ we might say, meaning after his ascension. Jesus made that clear:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter,[a] not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”

Matthew 5:17-18

And what is accomplished includes everything. The church should be the light in Jesus which both exemplifies the beginning of that, as well as speaking out on it by those who are pastors and theologians and lay people who learn from such and are so gifted.

Jesus is the one forever constant, and God’s will fulfilled in him. To bring us into the fullness of God the Source of All Being, the Eternal Word, and the Holy Spirit. To right all wrongs and make all things new.

And the church is central to the beginning of this now. In and through Jesus.

the mistake of Christian nationalism

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

1 Peter 2:9

I ring an old bell, one who is hardly qualified to do that, but we draw from Scripture, from the wisdom given to those who have studied and continue to study Scripture together, from whatever wisdom God might have given us. And I speak as one who is and has been alarmed for some time now over what seems to me to be a clear and present danger, significantly so because of the mistaken thinking of many sincere Christians.

By Christian nationalism I mean the idea that God sets apart a certain nation of the world, whatever nation that may be as somehow more or less a Christian nation, or if not that, at least a nation which has special purposes for the benefit of Christianity and the gospel.

That God uses nations for good and then judges them for the wrongs they commit is a matter of fact, attested to in Scripture and seen over and over again in history. The idea of Christian nationalism carries with it a close tie between the church and state, whatever tie that might be.

That God’s people should pray for and care about the good of the nation in which they live even as exiles was exemplified in Israel of old (Jeremiah 29:4-7). Christians will vary in what specifically that means. Some will be willing to participate in more or less all the activities of the state, though we have examples of those who won’t even vote, much less do any of that. Some of us are somewhere in between.

But the main point I’d like to make here is that we in Christ are the holy nation on earth whom God calls as a light to the nations. No nation-state on earth even has such a calling. At the same time we can hope that each nation in humility will learn to do better through God’s light that is present in Christ, and in the human conscience as well through “common grace.”

This is nothing more than hopefully a gentle heads up over what I see as a clear and present danger in that the ramifications and results from it will be nothing short of devastating, as we’ve seen clearly already in the United States. But we in Christ are called to follow one Lord as one holy nation together, by our good works to point to the greatness and goodness of the One we serve. In and through Jesus.

the gospel and salvation is not only personal

Of Solomon.

Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.

May he live[a] while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish
and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

May he have dominion from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
May his foes[b] bow down before him,
and his enemies lick the dust.
May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles
render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
bring gifts.
May all kings fall down before him,
all nations give him service.

For he delivers the needy when they call,
the poor and those who have no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
and precious is their blood in his sight.

Long may he live!
May gold of Sheba be given to him.
May prayer be made for him continually,
and blessings invoked for him all day long.
May there be abundance of grain in the land;
may it wave on the tops of the mountains;
may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may people blossom in the cities
like the grass of the field.
May his name endure forever,
his fame continue as long as the sun.
May all nations be blessed in him;[c]
may they pronounce him happy.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever;
may his glory fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen.

The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended.

Psalm 72

The vision cast in Scripture is that of the kingdom of God encompassing the earth, a rule in which no one is left behind with particular attention payed to the multitudes which either are left behind or given secondary status now. And that vision includes judgment against rulers and peoples who are directly or indirectly involved in oppressing the poor and marginalized, or who have failed to give them needed help.

God’s heart is especially toward the downcast, and God expects God’s people to have that same heart. If our faith is only about how well we’re getting along in life, even growth in Christ-likeness yet without expressed concern about this, then we’re failing to see and seek the realization of this vision so clearly cast in scripture after scripture.

What we’re referring to here involves not just personal sins, but systemic evil as well. When any people for any reason are relegated to a secondary status and worse, than it’s a mistake to suppose that it doesn’t involve something wrong in the works. Often the poor are looked down on, just as James reminds us, and those of another ethnicity and culture as well. Yet Jesus will have none of that. If we’re followers of Christ we’ll learn to develop discernment and a sensitivity to the same.

If we really want to be biblical, then we’ll develop a passion for this. Precisely what the psalmist wrote about in Psalm 72, above. Yes, to be completely fulfilled someday in Jesus. But that light present now in Jesus, a part of what the world should see we’re about in the present, as the church. In and through Jesus.