Friday, 9 June 2017

Paul on sin, from Romans

...Sin, as Paul speaks of it, is not first of all a moral category but a religious one.  He does not suggest that every pagan and Jew is locked in vice.  He would grant - if pushed to it - that both Jews and Greeks could be virtuous.  Immorality is a sign and consequence of sin, but it is not sin itself.  The opposite of sin is not virtue but faith.  Thus, sin and faith are the two fundamental responses of a human being to God: "Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin" (14:23).  In such contrasts, Paul speaks of sin in the singular, because it is a rebellion found not in multiple acts of moral failure, but in a basic disposition, or orientation, of human freedom.  It is a turning away from God. 

     At root, sin is the disposition that strives to establish one's own existence and value apart from the claims of the creator God.  It is a refusal to acknowledge contingency and dependency on an absolute other; it is idolatry.  This disposition is what Paul terms "life according to the flesh," for it measures reality apart from the transcendence of the spirit.  He calls it boasting, for it involves a self-aggrandizement that asserts the value of the self at the expense of others.  Refusing that side of contingency that is the gift of being from another, idolaters seek to construct life and worth out of their effort, in effect establishing themselves as the god of their own lives.   This requires such ceaseless toil and vigilance that, combined with the darkening of the mind that results, it leads to slavery.  If the human person is locked in this orientation, then morality, virtue, and even the observance of Torah's commandments can be an expression of sin.  They all can articulate the human attempt to establish life and worth on one's own terms.  Virtue can therefore be a source of boasting over another person who is immoral.  But such judgment is itself a hostile expression of the flesh, and an expression of sin (2:1-3).  Likewise, observance of God's commandments can become a form of boasting (2:23), as one attempts to achieve righteousness apart from God's granting of it. 

     Through all this Paul virtually makes sin into a personified entity, giving it at times an almost mythical coloration (see 5:12-14).  This is because he views human freedom as being inevitably in allegiance with, and in service to, some greater spiritual force, either the spiritual systems of idolatry or of the one true God (6:15-23).  But the capacity for choice remains as a potential, even when the human being is "enslaved" by the "power of sin."  If liberated by the gift of knowledge and love from the Other who was once refused, the human being can be made truly free in faith.

            - Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament, 3rd ed., p. 309

Thursday, 18 May 2017

The reorientation of worship

Common worship, the congregation gathered in worship on the Lord's Day, is the fundamental structure for the nurture of spirituality and the practice of prayer.  But in North America we have experienced a century of subversive anti-worship: the sacred time and place have been subverted to religious entertainment, to the cultivation of pious narcissism, to a staging platform for messianic do-goodism.  But the fundamental need is to attend to God.  Christians are assigned the responsibility of meeting with their brothers and sisters regularly at a time and space set apart for that purpose, and that only.  If we use this precious hour for other purposes, however well intentioned, we betray our friends, our community, and our calling.

     The single most important thing I did for thirty-five years was stand before a congregation each Sunday morning and say, "Let us worship God."  I loved doing that, loved the hours spent getting ready to do it, loved entering into the action that followed.  And then my vocation took an unexpected turn and I wasn't doing it any longer. 

     What I've done for others all these years, I'm now having done for me -- and how I do appreciate it.  Every call to worship is a call into the Real World.  You'd think that by this time in my life I wouldn't need to be called anymore.  But I do.  I encounter such constant and widespread lying about reality each day and meet with such skilled and systematic distortion of the truth that I'm always in danger of losing my grip on reality.  The reality, of course, is that God is sovereign and Christ is savior.  The reality is that prayer is my mother tongue and the eucharist my basic food.  The reality is that baptism, not Myers-Briggs, defines who I am.

     Very often when I leave a place of worship, the first impression I have of the so-called "outside world" is how small it is -- how puny its politics, paltry is appetites, squint-eyed its interests.  I have just spent an hour or so with friends reorienting myself in the realities of the world -- the huge sweep of salvation and the minute particularities of holiness -- and I blink my eyes in disbelief that so many are willing to live in such reduced and cramped conditions.  But after a few hours or days, I find myself getting used to it and going along with its assumptions, since most of the politicians and journalists, artists and entertainers, stockbrokers and shoppers seem to assume that it's the real world.  And then some pastor or priest calls me back to reality with "Let us worship God," and I get it straight again, see it whole.

         -Eugene H. Peterson, Take & Read: Spiritual Reading:  An Annotated List, 27-28.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

On using Prayerbooks and Hymnbooks

     I was reared in a tradition that scorned written and read prayers.  Book prayers.  Dead prayers.  Reading a prayer would have been like meeting an old friend on the street, quickly leafing through a book to find an appropriate greeting suitable for the meeting and then reading, "Hello, old friend; it is good to see you again.  How have you been?  Remember me to your family.  Well, I must be on my way now.  Goodbye."  And then closing the book and going down the street without once looking my friend in the eye.  Ludicrous.  The very nature of prayer required that it be spontaneous and from the heart.

     But along the way, I began to come across books of prayers that gave me words to pray when I didn't seen to have any of my own.  I found that books of prayers sometimes primed the pump of prayer when I didn't feel like praying.  And I found that, left to myself, I often prayed in a circle, too wrapped up in myself, too much confined to my immediate circumstances and feelings, and that a prayerbook was just the thing to get out of the brambles and underbrush of my ego, back out in the open country of the Kingdom, under the open skies of God. 

     In the process of discovering, to my surprise, alive and praying friends in these books, I realized that all along the prayers that had most influenced me were written (in the Bible), and that the lively and spirited singing we did in church was, for the most part, praying from a book, the hymnbook.  My world of prayer expanded.

             - from Eugene H. Peterson, Take & Read: Spiritual Reading: An Annotated List, 22-23.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Easter Sunday, 2017

Once again, from Peter Leithart at Theopolis.

Easter Sunday, 2017
At twilight on the first Easter, two disciples of Jesus were traveling on the road toward the town of Emmaus. They had fled Jerusalem to escape the Jews. They talked excitedly about the strange things they had heard and seen.
Suddenly, Jesus joined them and asked what they were talking about.
They told Jesus His life story – how He was a prophet mighty in deed and in the sight of God, a new Moses; how they hoped He would redeem Israel; how He had been seized and executed. They even told Jesus the story of the resurrection.

They knew the entire gospel story, but they were still too dejected and frightened for mission. They knew the whole gospel story, but they didn’t recognize Jesus.
Jesus started telling Bible stories, from Genesis, through all the Prophets and Psalms. All the way through, He taught them that everything in the Scriptures was about His suffering and glory.
The word wasn’t enough. Jesus’ presence wasn’t enough. They recognized Jesus only when He broke bread. Then, like Adam and Eve, their eyes were opened and they saw Jesus.
Then everything changed. They were fleeing Jerusalem, but now they return. They had left the other disciples, but now they rejoin them. They were perplexed about the resurrection, but now they become witnesses.
If we want to join the mission of the Risen Jesus, we need the whole Bible burning in our hearts. And we need the broken bread, the tree of life that opens our eyes to see that the risen Jesus is with us.
                                                                         - Peter Leithart
...HE is RISEN.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Holy Saturday

Collect for Holy Saturday:
Grant, O Lord, that as we are baptized into the death of thy blessed Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, so by continual mortifying our corrupt affections we may be buried with him; and that, through the grave, and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection; for his merits, who died, and was buried, and rose again for us, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
-  With 1 Peter 3:17-22 and Matthew 27:57-66

"Easter Even or Holy Saturday," From the Anglican The Book of Common Prayer, 1962 Canada, p. 180-181, 

Friday, 14 April 2017

Good Friday, 2017

Again, from Peter Leithart at Theopolis...

Good Friday, 2017

From the cross, Jesus cries, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s from Psalm 22, but the Jews say He’s calling for Elijah. Are they so dull they can no longer recognize Scripture?
More likely, they mean it in mockery. Our Old Testament ends with a promise of a new Elijah who brings “the great and terrible day of Yahweh” (Malachi 4:5). The Jews pretend that Jesus cries for Judgment Day and new creation. “Let’s see if Elijah comes,” they joke.
Does Elijah come? Is the cross Judgment Day and new creation, the “great and terrible day of the Lord”? You bet it is.
When Jesus dies, He hands over His Spirit, fulfilling the promise of the prophets. When He dies, the veil of the temple is torn, fulfilling the Jewish hope to enter God’s presence. When He dies, there’s an earthquake, a sign that God will shake until only permanent things stand.
Israel has been hoping for resurrection, and as soon as Jesus dies, graves open and dead saints appear in Jerusalem. Israel has been hoping for the conversion of the nations, and when Jesus dies a centurion confesses Jesus as the Son of God.
Everything the Jews have been hoping for begins to happen, or happens in symbol, at the cross. “Let’s see if Elijah will save Him,” the Jews say. “Let’s see if His death will bring in the end times.” It did. And it does.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Maundy Thursday, 2017

Peter Leithart's thoughts on Maundy Thursday:

Christians often focus on the intense physical suffering Jesus endured on the cross. During crucifixion, a victim’s body was torn with nails and his limbs stretched, as he slowly suffocated. Think of Matthias Grunewald’s angular, contorted Jesus.
The gospel writers pay little attention to Jesus’ pain. They understood that Romans reserved crucifixion for slaves and rebels. Crosses displayed Roman power while humiliating anyone bold enough to challenge it. Jesus’ suffering is social and political, not merely physical.
Luke’s account of the crucifixion is organized to highlight just this point. He places the mockery of the crowd at the center of a chiasm:

A. Simon of Cyrene carries Jesus' cross, 23:26
    B. Women follow Jesus, beating their breasts, 23:27-31
            C. Criminals crucified with Jesus, 23:32-33
                      D. Jesus forgives mockery and abuse, 23:34-38
            C’. One criminal mocks Jesus, the other
                  believes, 23:39-43
    B’. Events of Jesus’ death lead crowd to beat their breasts;
          women stand at a distance, 23:44-49
A’. Joseph of Arimethea puts Jesus in his own tomb, 23:50-56
The mockery doesn’t stand. At Jesus’ trial, “the people” joined the rulers to demand His death. At the cross, though, Simon and Joseph take Jesus’ side. One of the crucified criminals believes. When Jesus dies, “the multitudes” return to the city beating their breasts in fear and sorrow.
By forgiving His abusers, Jesus shatters the alliance of Romans, people, and chief priests. By showing mercy, He turns political shame into triumph and turns mockery into repentance.
(I received this meditation via email from Theopolis Institute as I am on their mailing list...otherwise I would have linked to it.)