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.

Peace,

Mary

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

Decades of life

22 Jun

Happy Birthday to me.  This morning I went out early to “dead-head” the knock-out roses in the front yard.  They were overdue, but life has kept me busy.  As I was clipping away I thought about life.  Today is my birthday and so many have past, I have started to consider decades of life.

My memory for life events has never been good.  We always ask my sister for family history.  Yet, I know the first decade of my life was spent in totally dependence on my parents and enjoying the perks of being the baby of the family.  I think the next decade was mostly spent in angst.  I didn’t feel smart enough, pretty enough, tall enough – the general angst of teen years (praise God they will never return.)  At sixteen my surrender of my life to Christ and an intentional spiritual journey of my life certainly influence all that happened after that time.  The third decade of my life was spent acquiring the basics of a white american life; several educational degrees, marriage, and two sons.  My fourth decade is a blur.  From the ages of 30 to 40 I know I worked a lot; cared for the dailiness of family and work, but the details escape me. (I’m sure there are pictures somewhere!)

The fifth decade I became at home in my own body.  It was when I turned forty that I discovered food allergies and what they were doing to my body.  I took time to become more aware of the connection between body, mind, and spirit.  There was a settledness  and  contentment that came in this decade.  I think, “don’t sweat the small stuff’, became my motto.  My sixth decade began by throwing a huge 50th birthday party for myself.  By that time in my life I knew what I could expect from people in my household.  I remember someone marveling that  had made my own birthday cakes (there where several – it was a big party).  I thought, well, who else would make them.  That was life in my house in a nutshell.  Yet, this sixth decade has been about ‘lighting the load’.  Being gentle with myself and trying to be gentle with those around me.  Through the Divine presence I have been able to let go of the old that does not nurture me and find new growth in new adventures.

This morning I spent time dead-heading the roses.  You have to get rid of the old, dead, spent part of the bush, so the new growth can occur.  Here’s to getting rid of that which does not satisfy; clinging closely to God; and enjoying what each day brings.

Happy birthday to me.

Tomorrow I will start working my way through the book of Romans.  It is what I love.  Talking about God and diving deeper in to the Divine Presence that is all around us.

Peace

Hello Again

12 Jun

Good Morning Friends,

I want to bring you up to date on the blog and the Celebration of Discipline study.  As I reached the half-way point on the study, I had participants dropping out like flies.  The spring is always busy for families, a some of the folks were in the middle of “Cancer” stuff.  So, we decided to do the second half in the fall.

If I am going to continue to blog through the summer, I will have to find something to blog about; scripture is my preference.  I was thinking about blogging through the book of Romans – a favorite book of many.

If I don’t have something specific to blog about, I tend to put it off.  What do you think?  Do you want me to continue to blog?  What subject would you pick?

Life since the last time has been full.  I went to the Annual Conference in the area where I am serving now.  The Bishop has not been willing to transfer my membership, so I have no vote at conference sessions.  This makes it more boring than usual.  But, the good news is I saw three Orioles games with my cousin.  Yea!!

I have also re-upholstered a couch for our friends who live next and will finish the matching love seat soon.

On Saturday I performed a wedding for a young couple.  Today I will perform a funeral for Kim, a cousin of the mother of the groom.  Life is amazing and sad and always changing.  The sweet lady I am doing the funeral for was just in her late forties and died of kidney disease. (a kidney transplant failed and dialysis stopped being effective.)

Kim had contacted me a few months ago to renew her marriage vows in the church.  Her and her husband had not had a church wedding the first time around.  It was suppose to be in July, but her body didn’t last that long.  Her husband has requested I use 1 Corinthians 13:13 “13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”  during the service.  How true it is that these three things abide in our lives and even through our death.

One of the reasons I love ministry is I am honored to deal with real things in people’s lives.  The happy moment of marriage and babies and the sad moments of lost and death.  It is the real part of our lives and God is in midst of all of it.

I pray you sense the power of God’s presence in the midst of all you do; reading, re-upholstering, baseball games. prayer, joy and sadness.  God is there loving you and holding you through it all.   Peace

What if?

14 May

What if the world lived like the scripture passage describes?  Jesus was trying to explain the differences that being one of his disciples would make in a persons life.

Matthew 5:38-48

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

What if we lived like this passage described?

There is a classic quote from Leo Tolstoy, “I set out to change the world, and found I could not;  I set out to change my country and found it too was impossible; I set out to change myself and thought that was enough of a challenge.

The challenge that Jesus places before us is to change ourselves – or more to the point – to allow the Spirit of the Divine to transform us.  It is the only way that any of what is in Matthew 5 is possible.  It is our willingness to let our faith and heart shape the agenda of our days that make is possible to walk the road of faith.

The scripture text above makes no sense in our world – and I hold no hope that it will ever embrace these ideas of submission. Our country was actually founded on the idea of the Holy City of God; however, it has not, nor never did live up to the great hope of a country founded for the planting of God’s kingdom.

We are left with ourselves – which is work enough – to allow the spirit of peace and submission to sink deep into our souls.  It is truly a way of shalom.  If you love those who love you, what reward is that – everybody does it; but to love those who need love desperately that is a gift.  How do we do that?  I have a son who is living a life of addiction.  And I love him and I pray for him and I imagine wonderful things he could do with his life if the addiction did not own him.  Yet, I know he must make his own choices and there is pain for me in watching and waiting; and there is always love.   Is this the love God wants me to have for all of his creation.  To love even in the midst of stupidity; to love through the pain and find peace on the other side of the pain.    I know there is a peace there as well.

I don’t believe the passage in Matthew 5 is there to make us a door mat for people to use, but a person of peace.  That in any and all situations to find the love and grace of the Divine, which is ever present, and share it as best we can.  We are human, yet we can be filled with the Divine presence.  It is a good goal to reach for during this journey of life.  Peace

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