Archive | July, 2015

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.