Slugging Through the Foundation

15 Jul

Good Morning,

Let me confess that I am avoiding working through these first chapter of Romans.  They’re hard!! (insert whining sound).

I realize the reason I wanted to talk about Romans was because of the later chapter, but in my neurotic, methodical way, I have to start at the beginning.  So, reading the first part of Chapter 3 in the New Revised Standard Version has done nothing for me, so I have gone to The Message.

Paul is continuing to lay the foundation that whether a person was born Jew or Gentle (really there are only two categories in his mind – neither a Jew or NOT), they are in the same boat when it comes to a relationship with God.  In this first section of Chapter 3, Paul does say that the Jews have more responsibilities.

1-2 So what difference does it make who’s a Jew and who isn’t, who has been trained in God’s ways and who hasn’t? As it turns out, it makes a lot of difference—but not the difference so many have assumed.

2-6 First, there’s the matter of being put in charge of writing down and caring for God’s revelation, these Holy Scriptures. So, what if, in the course of doing that, some of those Jews abandoned their post? God didn’t abandon them. Do you think their faithlessness cancels out his faithfulness? Not on your life! Depend on it: God keeps his word even when the whole world is lying through its teeth. Scripture says the same:

Your words stand fast and true;
Rejection doesn’t faze you.

But if our wrongdoing only underlines and confirms God’s rightdoing, shouldn’t we be commended for helping out? Since our bad words don’t even make a dent in his good words, isn’t it wrong of God to back us to the wall and hold us to our word? These questions come up. The answer to such questions is no, a most emphatic No! How else would things ever get straightened out if God didn’t do the straightening?

7-8 It’s simply perverse to say, “If my lies serve to show off God’s truth all the more gloriously, why blame me? I’m doing God a favor.” Some people are actually trying to put such words in our mouths, claiming that we go around saying, “The more evil we do, the more good God does, so let’s just do it!” That’s pure slander, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

9-20 So where does that put us? Do we Jews get a better break than the others? Not really. Basically, all of us, whether insiders or outsiders, start out in identical conditions, which is to say that we all start out as sinners. Scripture leaves no doubt about it:

There’s nobody living right, not even one,
    nobody who knows the score, nobody alert for God.
They’ve all taken the wrong turn;
    they’ve all wandered down blind alleys.
No one’s living right;
    I can’t find a single one.
Their throats are gaping graves,
    their tongues slick as mudslides.
Every word they speak is tinged with poison.
    They open their mouths and pollute the air.
They race for the honor of sinner-of-the-year,
    litter the land with heartbreak and ruin,
Don’t know the first thing about living with others.
    They never give God the time of day.

This makes it clear, doesn’t it, that whatever is written in these Scriptures is not what God says about others but to us to whom these Scriptures were addressed in the first place! And it’s clear enough, isn’t it, that we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everybody else? Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin.

The parts of scripture that Paul is quoting are from six different Psalms and a couple of verses from Isaiah.  Talk about proof texting.  However, I think that we can agree with Paul’s point.  No one on this planet can call themselves righteous and if we ever met someone who did, we probably wouldn’t want to hang out with them.

The bottom line is that Paul is talking to a group of people who believe that they are “closer” to God because of the group they were born into.  We still have people who believe this, or just believe they are better than anyone else because of their skin color, mating choice, wealth, intelligence, beauty, etc.  Why do you think you are better than or neighbor, or the strange person you encounter today?  I believe that no one person is better than another within the scope of God’s realm.  I think that’s why we have quoted John Bradford (1510-1555) over the centuries, “There, but for the grace of God go I’



Simple argument; lots of words

9 Jul

Good morning,

I am beginning to regret taking on Romans.  Paul really is trying to discuss just one revision to the Jewish faith, but he is going on and on and on.  Think about the discussion and decision to legally recognize marriage between person of the same gender.  That conversation has gone on and on, and it does change our ideas about what marriage is and who is allowed to claim that legal status.  The weight of that change for our world is much the same as the significance of the changes that Paul is asking for in his world.

Paul’s argument is that those who say “God is on our side” because that are a circumcised Jew who has the law of God are not any better than anyone else if they do not keep that law.  In the time of Jesus, and Paul, the Jewish leadership had become very corrupt (Leadership being corrupt; can you imagine??).  So, Paul is arguing that if you have the law of God, but do not obey the law, then what good is it to be a Jew.  AND, some people who are not Jews are following the essence of God’s law better than they are.

It is the same argument that I sometime hear today about people who are Christians and those who are not Christian.  People outside of the church sometimes behave better than those inside the church.  It is a ancient argument that begins with Paul in his effort to open the grace to God to all who will follow.  We have grown up with this understanding of the non-discriminatory nature of God’s love, (Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors) so we sometimes miss the earth shattering change for which Paul is making his plea.

Please read Paul’s words in Romans 2.   Although Jesus was raised from the dead, and the Holy Spirit descended in a way that had not happened before in our world, Paul explained how it made a difference for our daily lives – where the rubber hits the road.

12 All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. 15 They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.

17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God 18 and know his will and determine what is best because you are instructed in the law, 19 and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth, 21 you, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You that forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You that abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You that boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

25 Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 So, if those who are uncircumcised keep the requirements of the law, will not their uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you that have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. 29 Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.

I am thankful today for Paul persistence, intelligence and articulation of the changes that God brought into our world.  After all, God brings the winds of change into our world, then the institutional religious organizations have to figure out how to tame them, harness them, or dissipate them.

Peace and blessing

Equal opportunity rant

8 Jul

It has been a while since I have blogged. I have been caught up in fabric – I am making a baby quilt for my nephew and his wife’s expected off-spring.  AND, Paul is just a tough guy to read and write about.  I am a wimp.

Yet, back to the task at hand.  As soon as Paul finishes passing judgement on all kinds of misdeeds, he rants against those who judge others.  It seems as though all the people that Paul is writing to have behavior issues.

I sympathize with Paul. I have known some church people who come up to the pastor to let them know how ‘certain people’ in the church are misbehaving.  I usually listened to these stories, didn’t believe them, and tried not to have the information influence the way I treated the people who had been ratted out by their ‘brother or sister in Christ’.  And, if I stayed in the church long enough I usually found out that the person who had reported the ‘sin’ was doing just as bad or worse than had been reported.

I think this is where Paul is standing.  He is among new Christian (before the term was really even used) and he is trying to wake them up to the reality that being a new person in Christ should change your behavior for the better.  You couldn’t just pretend to had given up all the ‘life-killing’ thing you used to do; or try to make someone else look worst than you; you had to really change your way of life.

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.”Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

I find it interesting that Paul keeps repeating that God shows no partiality, but he always makes sure that the Jews are mentioned first.  Paul is human, like the rest of us.

The reality Paul points to is real.  We will grow what we plant in our lives.  If it is kindness and gentleness then that is what will grow out of us.  If it is envy or anger or fear, then it will grow out of our lives as well.  God can give us the good things to plant in our spirits.

C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite writers and Mere Christianity is a book I have read many times.  Lewis says that we all think we are fairly good Christians, but it is when we are tried, or rushed, or not feeling well that the true self come out.  The self we are underneath our own attempts to be a good person.  I often think of this when I snap at someone when I am having a bad day.  I pray for God to change my heart all the way through, for me to be living in the Divine Presence, even on a bad day.


The Rant Continues

30 Jun

Paul continues to rant against those who are not following the way of God.  He also makes clear that God is allowing their inappropriate behavior to continue.  This is one of the problem of a theology of an all-powerful God rather than and all-creating God.  When people are allowed to do evil there has to be some explanation why God allows it if we believe that God is “in control” of everything.  I find it is much more reasonable to believe that God always creates rather than controls.  So that God does not control us, or anyone, or any circumstances, but creates us, and everyone, and gives new opportunities in each moment of our lives.

Well, back to Paul.  The list of bad behavior is very extensive. I used The Message today.  I think if you look a the front page of any new paper (or fan magazine) you will find all of these behaviors.  I particularly like the line, They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives.  

28-32 Since they didn’t bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating. Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous, fork-tongued God-bashers. Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags! They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives. They ditch their parents when they get in the way. Stupid, slimy, cruel, cold-blooded. And it’s not as if they don’t know better. They know perfectly well they’re spitting in God’s face. And they don’t care—worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best!

The given is that these people are in our world.  In the next chapter Paul tells us not to judge these people.  Paul is a very complex man.  I am looking forward to this journey with him through his most famous letter.   Peace

Out of context

29 Jun

Hello friends,

One of the frustrations in my life is people who take bible verses out of context to bash people.  This is an age old practice and even the writers of the bible used ‘proof texting’, as it is sometimes called, to prove a point or bash a type of people.

So, let’s do something radical like actually looking at who Paul was writing to before we make conclusion about what he meant by the following passage.

First, Paul is speaking about a group of people that he knows personally.  They are people who, being aware that there is a Divine Presence in our world, choose to worship a humanly created object.  It could something that look like a person, or a bird or an animal, but it wasn’t the eternal divine.  So, Paul is angry that they are belittling the worship of God and claiming to be more intelligent in the process.

These were the upper class of Rome.  They believed in what we would call idols, and they just call gods.  They thought that worship worked by worshiping different gods for different aspects of life; harvest, child-birth, war, prosperity, health, etc.  Also, since they were upper class Romans they had the freedom and financial security to live ‘into their vices.’  It is well know that the Romans during this period engaged in a sexual freedom that we take for granted.  Woman slept with people who were not their husband, which Paul saw as “exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural”.  And men took young men who were usually slave and had sex with them and “committed shameless acts with men.”

Take a minute to read Paul’s rant for yourself.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

To be clear, the relationships that between mutually consenting adults that exist in our culture, were nothing that Paul could have ever imagined.  Just as Paul could have never imagine the church that has become institutionalized, or woman becoming ordained (or ordination for that matter.)  So, Paul is ranting against a people who no long exists.

I think the only thing we can extrapolate about this section of the letter to the church in Rome is that in our culture we still set up false idols what we worship instead of the Eternal Divine.

Image result for Worship false idols mad magazine

Setting the scene

24 Jun

Paul is writing to a Christian community who are primary Jewish, but there are non-Jewish member of the church in Rome.  I think it is important to remember that Jewish communities had been ruled by rules.  There were rules for every aspect of life.  Particularly there were rules about how to worship God, and make their lives “right” to come and worship God.  Following the rules, administered by priests, was the only way to be acceptable to God and forgiven by God.  The rules had been created hundreds of years earlier beginning with the ten commandments.  It is all these historically grounded, religiously sanctioned rules that Paul is willing to throw out in favor of just believing in Jesus as the Son of God.

This is one of the reasons that Paul is unable to visit the folks in Roman since he keeps getting run out of towns and thrown into jail (actually he was under house arrest).  The Jews are offended and angered by the idea that the one true, eternal God would have a Son (that is for the barbarians who believe in lots of gods) and Roman are angered and murderous because Paul is calling a Jewish guy from Nazareth the Son of God, which is the title for Cesar.  Paul had the ability to get everyone pissed off.   So, it was hard for Paul to travel and get where he wanted to go.

I think my favorite verse in this portion of the text is Paul writing, “so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”  Paul works hard at telling everyone that he is an apostle for Christ, but doesn’t want to dictate what their faith should look like; but rather mutually encourage one another.  It is a wonderful imagine.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, 10 asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish 15 —hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”

Paul is certainly not ashamed of the gospel, he is risking his life each day so that everyone hears the Good News of Jesus Christ.  And when Paul writes that the righteousness of God is revealed by faith it means that the righteousness of God is not revealed by the law.  It is really interesting to look through the eyes of the first century at texts that we know so well.

I hope this day brings you insight into the Divine Presence around you.  I hope you take time to think about the incredible legacy that Paul left the Christian church.



Please submit your credentials

23 Jun

Good Morning,

We will begin at the beginning of Romans.  This is a really formal letter that was sent to the community of Christians who were living in Rome.  Roman had long been the seat of power for the civilized world and I think Paul wanted to be impressive in his writing of this letter.

Yet this is more than a letter.  In it Paul has set out a strong biblical and theological foundation for Christianity.  Since Christianity was still a very young faith among ancient beliefs systems such as Judaism and Roman gods, Paul wanted to be clear that this new faith was God-inspired and powerful.  Many of the great theologians of our world has said that Romans is the most important book for understanding the Christian faith.

Notice that the first six verses of this chapter are one sentence!  Paul begins the letter by reciting his credentials as a servant of God.  He wants those to whom he is writing to know that this new faith is a fulfillment of the old faith of Judaism AND it is a faith open to the Gentiles as well.  This was huge!!  Judaism had always drawn strict lines about who was a part of God’s people and who was not.  And although there were people who converted to Judaism at this time it was rare.  Mostly, who had to be born a Jew.    Here, in one sentence Paul has summarize Christianity and included both Jews and Gentles in the faith community.  They are all saints.

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name,including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our entrance into the book of Romans has included two sentences.   I think it is enough.

Here is something that has been bouncing around in my head.  Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan wrote a book called, The Last Week.  In it they explore the Roman practice of calling Caesar the Son of God.  So, when Jesus was called Son of God it was to point out the fact that Caesar was not the one with power, it was Jesus.  Even this first century reality, I wonder if the term Son of God would not have been used for Jesus if it was not being used for Caesar.  I wonder if we would use Messiah or Son of Man more, as was done in the Hebrew Scripture?   I also wonder how it would change our concept of Jesus?

These are the kinds of things that bounce around in my brain – it is a scary place.

Peace, Mary


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