Posts Tagged ‘NT Wright’

I preached a couple of weeks ago (again!) and I decided to use Matthew 13 as my text. I had been doing some light research on the chapter and taught a little of it in my Sunday school class so I took the next logical step and went ahead with a full blown manuscript. It preached fairly well although I would agree with anyone who said it's a bit long. It preached long too. Anyhow, here's the text of the sermon. Enjoy.

The Kingdom of God

Sermon Text: Matthew 13

One of the things we understand from Jesus, that is, things explicitly taught by Him, to us–about how to do something–is how to pray.

So, when Jesus, for example, said “I will make you fishers of men,” it’s not like he explicitly told you and me–and I assume the majority of us are not fishermen in the sense that Jesus’ first disciples were–how it is that we are to go about doing such a thing. For that matter, what does it mean to be a ‘fisher of men’?

But some will argue that he did in fact teach us how to make disciples at the end of Matthew 28 and thus we do, in actuality, have our blueprints for how to be fishers of men.

We might also take the idea of worshiping in Spirit and truth. We do not really gather from his conversation in John 4 what that means or exactly how such worship might look–and I assume it would look profoundly different in our culture than it would in Samaria in the first century, or in Africa in the 21st century.

But whatever else we may decide about such things as these, and they may be radically different from person to person while remaining profoundly orthodox, is that at the end of the day, Jesus did teach us how to pray. We know the sort of things he taught us to pray–things that are typically quite different from the things we pray for, safe travel, sunshine and safe travel–not that there’s anything wrong with these things but that they are different from what he specifically said to pray for.

And, to put a fine point on this, Jesus told us specifically to pray, “Your kingdom come.” I have heard a lot of people pray before that the Lord provide us with daily bread, and forgiveness of sins, and that his will be done. But I have heard few, very few, people–elders, deacons, preachers, prophets, or little old faithful ladies–pray that God’s kingdom come.

And why? What is it about this kingdom that prevents us from praying ‘your kingdom come’?

It seems that even in this context of Matthew 6, it’s not as odd as it might seem to find Jesus talking to his disciples about the Kingdom. Matthew has had the kingdom in mind from the beginning of his Gospel when he started with a genealogy of ‘Jesus Messiah, the son of King David, the son of Abraham.’ When you start a book by talking about kings, the reign of kings, and the sons of kings well, then I suppose we ought to assume that perhaps the idea is going to be featured in the rest of the book.

And so it is and so it goes. Over and over again in Matthew we see a clash of kingdoms: Jesus collides with Herod near his birth, he collides with the satan after his baptism and many other times too, at times he collides with his own disciples, and other times with the leadership of Israel. Finally, he collides with the kings of Rome.

Matthew’s Gospel is one telling you and me not so much about how to be saved–in some strange sense of going to heaven when we die–but about how God was once again becoming the King of this earth and thus bringing about to fulfillment his plan which he announced in creation–if He created this heavens and the earth, then the heavens and the earth and everything in them are his and he will rule them–and specified in the person of Abraham in Genesis 12–that is, his plan to bless all nations through Abraham and the promised Seed who would crush this earth’s kingdoms which are so masterfully under the control and direction of the serpent.

And in some way we see God becoming King in Jesus and we see Jesus reclaiming the heavens and the earth for God through his death and his resurrection: All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me, he said, now you go and tell this story and make disciples.

Scott McKnight writes, “I lay down an observation that alters the landscape if we embrace it–namely, we need to learn to tell the story that makes sense of Jesus. Not a story that we ask Jesus to fit into. No, we need to find the story that Jesus himself and the apostles told. To us common idiom, If Jesus was the answer, what was the question?’ Or, better, ‘If Jesus was the answer, and the answer was that Jesus was the Messiah/King, what was the question?’ (22) McKnight goes on to state, quite bluntly: “What is the kingdom story of the Bible? Until we can articulate the Bible’s kingdom story, we can’t do kingdom mission.’ (23)

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In his book Simply Jesus, professor Tom Wright lays out for his readers his case that the Bible is, ultimately, a book about Jesus.

“So if, as the Jewish people believed, they were the key element in God’s global rescue operation, it was doubly frustrating, doubly puzzling, and doubly challenging that the Jews’ own national life had itself been in such a mess for so long. By the time Jesus went about Galilee telling people that God was now in charge, it was close to six hundred years since Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians, the greatest superpower of the time. And though many of the Jews had come back from exile in Babylon and had even rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem, they knew things weren’t right yet. One pagan nation after another took charge, ruling the Middle East in its own way.”

In particular, the Jewish people believe that the Temple was where their God was supposed to live. The Temple was the place on earth where ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’ actually met. They saw ‘heaven’ as God’s space and ‘earth’ as our space, the created order as we know it, and they believed that the Temple was the one spot on earth where the two overlapped. But the Temple seemed empty. God hadn’t come back.

So where did the hope come from? How on earth do you sustain hope over more than half a millennium, while you’re watching one regime after another come and go, some promising better things, but all letting you down in the end? How can you go on believing, from generation to generation, that one day God will come and take charge?

Answer: you tell the story, you sing the songs, and you keep celebrating God’s victory, even though it keeps on not happening….This is the story of the Exodus…This is the story Jesus’s hearers would have remembered when they heard him talking about God taking charge at last….When he was talking about God taking charge, he was talking about a new Exodus. (NT Wright, Simply Jesus, chapter 6)

He makes similar, and yet somewhat concluding comments, in another book How God Became King:

That is to say, when Jesus died on the cross he was winning the victory over ‘the rulers and authorities’ who have carved up this world in their own violent and destructive way. The establishment of God’s kingdom means the dethroning of the world’s kingdoms, not in order to replace them with another one of basically the same sort (one that makes its way through superior force of arms), but in order to replace it with one whose power is the power of the servant and whose strength is in the strength of love.

…Jesus, after all, has come to Jerusalem and found the Temple no longer the place where heaven and earth do business, but the place where mammon and violence are reigning unchecked, colluding with Caesar’s rule. Jesus himself, the evangelists are saying, is now the place where heaven and earth come together, and the events in which this happens supremely is the crucifixion itself. The cross is to be the victory of the ‘son of man,’ the Messiah, over the monsters; the victory of God’s kingdom over the world’s kingdoms; the victory of God himself over all the powers, human and suprahuman, that have all usurped God’s rule over the world. Theocracy, genuine Israel-style theocracy, will occur only when the other ‘lords’ have been overthrown.—205-206

So we live in a world much like the world of the Israelites: Fractured, chaotic, rising powers and falling powers, messiah’s everywhere, promises for luxury, means to ends, terrorists, power, influence, intrigue, Hollywood, and celebrity. There’s also the constant bombardment of sin and the war against the flesh.

The church often does its best to imitate and mirror the world and so we do silly things like publicly declare our political affinities on Facebook and Twitter. And we rant (self?) righteously about the influx of Syrian refugees because clearly Jesus told us to be more careful about our own safety than about who we love. And we are, of course, concerned about salvation—our own, to be sure.

This is the world. And this is the church. We keep trying to wrangle power unto ourselves or sell ourselves to the ones we think offer us the best chance of being safe or whom we think we will share their power with us so we can continue to be the church and American. We do this because for some strange reason we have allowed ourselves to think that being an American is more important than being a Jesus follower. We think loving the right people is more important than loving all people. We think as long as I am blessed I can be thankful. We, even the church, keep pointing to the American Dream and American Government as the solution to the world’s woes.

The Bible steadfastly points to Jesus, the Messiah, the Lord, the King as the solution. It’s not without significance that while the world points to everything but Jesus as the fix to what ails us, Jesus continually said: I. Am. The way.

And for the apostles, writes Scot McKnight, “it was all about King Jesus.”

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So, Thanksgiving. This is what I was asked to speak about today because we are approaching that time of the year when we make a point to be thankful. It is that time when we, Americans, gather together with family and friends and enjoy the fruit of our labor and the company of our people.

It’s also the time when we will forget about what really makes us human because we will spend some time the day after Thanksgiving being thankful for nothing except that which is green and or plastic.

But I digress. I want this sermon to be uplifting to you and I’d like to answer a specific question: for what can we, the church, be thankful? Or maybe I should phrase it this way: What can I say to you this morning that will sustain your hope and enable you to give thanksgiving in the midst of all that we see in our world—all the violence, hate, death perpetuated as it is by the leaders of this world.

If you pay any attention to things at all then you know full well that the world is not quite happy right now. There’s a lot of grumbling and complaining and fighting and war and terror and politics and disease and confusion and tumult and chaos. Everybody is fighting something or someone somewhere. It’s all very disheartening.

Everyone is seeking power.

I see nation rising up against nation. I see brothers rising up against sisters. I see children rebelling against their parents. I see Republican Americans rising up against Democrat Americans. I see one Christian denomination rising up against another Christian denomination. It’s all very disheartening.

It’s all very stupid. Especially when the church imitates it.

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ImagesTitle: Simply Jesus:  A New Vision of Who He was, What He Did, and Why He Matters

Author: N.T. Wright

Publisher: HarperOne

Year: 2011

Pages: 240

I am typically disinclined to give an N.T.Wright book a poor review. I'm not going to start doing so here. That's not to say I have no criticisms; I do. But I really have a difficult time understanding why so many folks get their pants in a wad when it comes to Wright's work.

Every now and again an author comes along on our planet who understands that deep inside the human heart there is a profound emptiness–an emptiness that cannot and will not ever be filled by the things this world has to offer or withhold. What I think N.T. Wright does is points his readers in the direction where that emptiness, that intellectual, spiritual, psychological void, can be filled. But he doesn't do so in the way of so many other authors–where Jesus is a mere helper who teaches folks how to be a good American. Many theologians are just that: therapists or counselors. That is, they have an eye for the great God of the universe, but very little idea of how that great God has effectively taken back this world. Oh, yes, God is sovereign, they say, but only in some sort of strange and controlling way that most folks can scarcely relate to or understand. Thus the stories of the Gospels, the Old Testament, Acts, and the Epistles are merely the stories a good counselor might tell a patient: here's how to pray, here's how to be compassionate, here's how to have a good marriage, or here's what Jesus said about conservative (or liberal!) American politics.

Wright will have none of that. His is the voice not of a counselor or therapist who sics Jesus on a would be patient who is having a bad day or a bad year or a bad life. N.T. Wright is the voice of the prophet crying out in the wilderness: here is your King! So the subtitle, a 'new vision,' is not entirely accurate because what Wright is really doing is pointing us back to what has always been there but what has been covered over by so much encrustation and (wrong) theology in the 2,000 or so years since Jesus walked among us. If Wright is doing anything he is chiseling away the barnacles that have been built up around the Scripture–barnacles I suppose that may have at one time been designed to protect the Bible but that in more recent years have been thickened over in order to protect a theological and/or political system from scrutiny. It is this action of Wright that I suspect lends many folks to label him a theological liberal. To wit:

We have reduced the Kingdom of God to private piety, the victory of the cross to comfort for the conscience, and Easter itself to a happy, escapist ending after a sad, dark tale. Piety, conscience, and ultimate happiness are important, but not nearly as important as Jesus himself. (5)

This is the point in a nutshell. And sermons that do little more than teach me how to be a good Christian or worse a good American (complete with the requisite 'special worship services' on significant holidays) do nothing for me. I want to hear about Jesus and what he has and is doing to upbraid the world and bring about his rule and reign. This is why I read N.T. Wright over and over and over again. He shows me Jesus. "We want someone to save our souls, not rule our world!" (5) And so right he is.

Wright has a way of making God understandable, but certainly not palatable in the 'I'm now comfortable with this God' kind of way, to everyone and I don't really care if you are reading his lofty theologies or if you are reading his 'made for the popular reader' books. He challenges readers at every step of their presuppositions. He confounds them at every point of their preconceptions. He unravels every blanket of theological safety they believe they have wrapped themselves up into. He does this in such a way that, you might not believe me unless you read it, neither political (or theological) conservatives nor liberals come out unscathed. And, frankly, this is so because Jesus spared no such pain to anyone either. Jesus is the King. God is taking back the world. Get on board or get left behind, but there is nothing anyone can do to stop Jesus from being King and, in Wright's words, 'setting things to rights.'

Simply Jesus is another of Wright's books that does so much the same. He places Jesus firmly in the context of his culture and is quite content to interpret the New Testament within that context. And let me be frank: that's exactly where Jesus ought to be interpreted. Preachers spend far, far too much time trying making Jesus 'relevant.' I say leave Jesus in the first century, understand what his words and actions meant then and there, and then figure out how that works out in words and actions in our own time and place. But here's the key: Jesus' words and actions really have one meaning and purpose. Preachers around about our times have made Jesus far too predictable. "Blessed are those who can see this, who can spot what's going on, who are prepared to go with Jesus rather than with the princelings of the earth, even though what Jesus wasn't what they had expected" (84).

The only quibble I have with Wright, in general (and as it particularly pertains to Simply Jesus), is his take on the event of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent war afterwards. I fully understand that, ultimately, our battle is against the satan. Yes! (See pp 126ff.) With this I find no disagreement. I have no doubt that the satan uses people and powers to his/her own end. Yes! But he writes, "It is the battle against the satan himself. And, though the satan no doubt uses Rome, uses Herod, uses even the chief priests themselves, Jesus keeps his eye on the fact that the satan is not identified with any of these, and that to make such an identification is already to give up, and so to lose the real battle" (126). But Wright appears to mitigate human responsibility when he says such things. Maybe I'm not reading closely enough; maybe I'm reading too closely. I'm not sure.

That is, I'm not sure how to understand Wright when he accuses (!) the U.S. government in power during 9/11 (a conservative government, to be sure; yet a government that passed bi-partisan legislation authorizing the sword) and fails to see what those who might otherwise be labeled 'enemies' did to provoke the U.S. government (and many nations around the world besides, including his own!) He is fond of Romans 8; not so fond of Romans 13. I think this is bothersome. He is fond of criticizing the United States (and not so subtly George W. Bush) but eschews criticism of other governments who were also involved in action against those who attacked the U.S.A on September 11, 2001. Here I think Wright is unable to make the correct theological connection and fails to understand the difference between a secular government charged with responsibility to protect its citizens (Romans 13 and elsewhere) and an ecclesial authority not authorized to use the sword ('put your sword away', Jesus said to Peter).

In my opinion, Wright makes a serious error here. Yes, war is bad. Yes, we should avoid it. But the truth is this: in international politics, in global politics, the ethics of the kingdom of God are not always so neat and tidy or evenly applied or understood or appreciated or cared for. Ask one of the folks who flew an airplane into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 if he cares a lick about what Jesus said about war, turning the other cheek, and loving your enemies. I'm not sure what the answer is; I'm not sure Wright's ongoing criticism of the United States government (he rarely says anything about the current government of Barack Obama) is wholly justified. I do know this: the radicals who continue to kill (women, children), main, murder, and provoke wars in the name of God are not the same as those folks who take up the sword to defend women, children, the weak, and others whose daily goal is simply to live life. Is it fair to apply a biblical standard of ethics (loving enemies, turning the other cheek, etc.) to a secular government?

The reality of this life is this: sometimes evil does have a face. Sometimes evil is more than an invisible being or force. Sometimes evil does have a name and we do well to name it as such. I'm not suggesting I have all this worked out, and at times (like when Jesus looked at Peter and commanded Satan to get behind) I am stretched too thin to wholly justify my position. What I am suggesting is that Wright's position at this point is weak and, in my opinion, mitigates human culpability. Suggesting there are no evil people really fails to understand the full workings of evil and the evil one in this world.

I can go on and on telling you how important this book, along with any other by Wright, is. I could tell you that Wright is at his best when he is engaging the text and tying together all the threads he is remarkably twisted from so much ancient history and text. I could tell you of his masterful understanding and application of Daniel, Isaiah, and Zechariah. I could tell you about his superior interpretation of the historical events from the time of Jesus. But to what end? Those who have read Wright already know and those who haven't will not be disappointed.

I have read enough of Wright's work to see and know that a lot of what is in this book is repetitive. How God Became King is a similar, and in my opinion, superior book by Wright. His monumental Jesus and the Victory of God is a much expanded and academic version of Simply Jesus that may appeal to more detail oriented readers. Simply Jesus kind of distills a lot of what is written in the academic volumes to a more popular level; it is no less potent.

The person who knows Jesus will appreciate very much Wright's work to interpret Jesus within his own context. The historical details Wright brings to our attention, the cultural phenomena of the time, the complexities of would be messiahs, revolutionaries, and temple authorities, and the sophistication and intrigue of secular politics are all woven together nicely and interpreted brilliantly to help the reader see that God's plan has always been the same: to reclaim the earth for himself through his appointed Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Man, the Son of God.

And God wins.

4/5 stars (because he has written better versions of these thoughts elsewhere and it gets repetitive, and because I struggle with his interpretation of evil and his seeming inability to distinguish the role of a secular government in protecting innocent people from the forces of evil at play in this world.)

Surprised byTitle: Surprised by Scripture

Author: NT Wright

Publisher: HarperOne

Year: 2014

Pages: 223

Anyone who has read any of my book reviews knows that NT Wright typically gets rave reviews from me–both as a lover of literature and as a Christian who loves Wright's theological perspective. Fact is, I can scarcely ever find anything in his books with which I disagree.

With this book, that changed just a little because I found much of what he wrote to be provocative and challenging to some long held theological ideas I have held. Letting go of long-held ideas isn't easy; being challenged at an intellectual level is sometimes discouraging. If we are not careful, we can label those who challenge us as abrasive or mean. He doesn't hold back, challenging all those sacred-cows current Christians have championed as 'thou shalt not violate orthodoxy in these matters' kind of doctrines. Sad truth is that entire ministries have been built around some of these sacred-cows in recent years–trumpeting theological perspectives that are important, yes, but often exist to the exclusion of a more comprehensive narrative, or to the exclusion of the Person to whom they point. It's kind of like the way a lot of books are put together in today's Evangelical publishing houses: authors find a single verse that supports an idea and then scratch around other tangential passages to find more support and then, voila!, a book is born. And all the while these authors pay very little, if any, attention to the meta-narrative of Scripture.

Yet this is precisely what NT Wright refuses to do in his writing. Taking a sort of 'damn the torpedoes' approach to the sacred-cows and theological pillars of current incarnation of the church, he plows through each subject by constantly reminding of us what Scripture says, and not just what a verse says. What I mean to say is that the meta-narrative is always in his view when he writes. It matters not the subject matter: Wright always has 66 books in his vision when he is writing about even the smallest word, sentence, paragraph, or book of the Bible. And so it is with Surprised by Scripture. There's not a subject he touches that isn't somehow connected to the larger context of the Bible, of the story of God coming down to rescue broken and sinful humanity in Jesus and the project begun at Jesus' resurrection to rebuild this earth and it's people.

This is what I simultaneously love and hate about NT Wright's books. On the one hand, he always has the meta-narrative in mind so I know that he is not trying to hoodwink me or convince me of some specious theology that is born out of a reaction to some perceived threat or otherwise. Many authors/preachers are good at this and it is reflected in the lack of depth in their work. On the other hand, he always has the meta-narrative in mind so he is constantly challenging my presuppositions about Scripture and God and what God is doing, or has done, in Jesus. That is terrifically threatening and makes me constantly uncomfortable. It ought to be so with all authors who dare speak on matters of faith. It ought to be so with all preachers: comforting the afflicted; afflicting the comfortable.

Surprised by Scripture made me clench my teeth more than any other of Wright's books precisely at this point. Yet I think this is exactly what happens when you take the bulk of Wright's heavy theologies and filter them down to the every day church. And if we do, and if we are honest, we simply must admit that we have gotten a lot of it just plain wrong. We might also go along with admitting that many of the ministries that are build around some of these wrongs are also, sadly, beside the point. Taking the example of the creation stories, for example, we might say something like: It's important that God made the universe; it's not so much important how he did it. But we might go further and say: It's important that God made the universe, and it's tremendously important that all throughout the Scripture the authors affirm that God is going to remake & recreate the universe. We can go even further: It's important that God made the universe, sustains the universe; that the authors reaffirm this frequently; that the authors reaffirm frequently that God will renew, recreate, remake the universe; that God has already begun to do this in Jesus and will bring it to fruition at some point. One way of saying this ignores the big picture; one way affirms it.

Well, we cannot prove creation in any ex nihilo sense of creation. We can surmise. We can guess. We might ask: Is it a mountain upon which I am willing to die? But what we can do is point to the Resurrection of Jesus (chapter 3) as a point in history where God's breaking in and stirring up the pot of recreative materials that can actually be demonstrated. The point, of course, is that we Christians get all frustrated because we have tied ourselves to the posts of things that are not quite as important as some other things–or because we feel compelled to prove something about Jesus that doesn't need proving because we think that if we don't the whole world of faithism will die. But we are to be found in Jesus, loving Jesus, loving people. Seems to me that everything else is so much frosting.

If we are more willing to die for a doctrine than we are for a person then we have utterly missed the point. I suspect at times this is Wright's point. 

The only real gripe I have with this book is Wright's points about politics–especially American politics. He seems very sensitive to the way American politicians do things–especially as it relates to events surrounding September 11, 2001 and the ongoing drama of how 'we' deal with terrorist organizations. He says he's no pacifist; I believe him. But he seems to forget that the 'war on terror' although led mainly by the USA was, in fact, a coalition of nations who decided enough was enough. I disagree with his subtle criticisms of then president Bush (although he never mentions him by name) and the manner of response to the actions of evil people. I think this is even more pertinent now as we see our current president simply doing nothing against terrorist threats, beheadings of women and children, and the systematic destruction of churches and christians in the Middle East.

The problem with Wright's critique of American political processes is that he gives us no viable alternatives. He thinks American democracy is worse than his British Socialism. He thinks that we should be voices in the wilderness hammering out our prophecies against politicians and governments, and perhaps we should, but he doesn't tell us with what or with whom we are to replace them. Should we go back to Medieval Feudalism? Should we revert to the monarchy we escaped from? Should we adopt Sharia? Perhaps we should let Anarchy rule and go back to the time of Judges when 'everyone did as he saw fit in his own eyes'? My point is, it's fine to criticize the way we do things in America if in fact you have a superior alternative. I simply do not see in any of Wright's books a superior alternative to the representative republic in which I happen to live. And if I may add one last point, for as much as I love Wright, for as much as I think he is dead on in keeping the narrative vision alive and in front, I think he is dead wrong when it comes to his critique of the United States. Dr Wright has indeed benefited greatly from the freedoms we enjoy here in America–not least of which is freedom to say what he wants, write what he wants, and criticize who he wants and then return back to the safety of Great Britain. I think it is disingenuous to say on page 112 that 'Western politicians knew perfectly well that al Qaeda was a danger…' and then criticize the reaction to September 11, 2001 as a 'knee-jerk, unthinking, immature lashing out.'

This is a case where the president at the time was damned for doing and would have been damned for not doing (when in fact nearly everyone in government at the time supported the idea of taking action). Frankly, I think Wright's critique beginning on page 112 and ending somewhere on page 114 is wrong (as I think much of his criticism of the American political system is wrong). Perhaps if the British government, who had suffered worse before the USA on September 11, had done something we wouldn't have had to act in the way we did or at all. Fact is, however, no one was doing anything about rampant terrorism until our president took action–and if that's true, then who is to say his actions were merely 'knee-jerk, unthinking, and immature'? It's easy to shift blame which is what Wright does here. His government did nothing about it so when ours did it was, somehow, wrong. And this is all beside the point that our president was acting as the president of a sovereign nation–humanists, atheists, christians, Jews, Gentiles, etc. All of us. He was not acting on behalf of a church or a synagogue or a mosque or professor's chair; he was acting on behalf of the people he swore to protect.

All that being said, I enjoyed the challenge the book afforded. I especially found the last chapter to be one of the best chapters I have read in a long time on the subject of hope. It also goes without saying that Wright is his typical exegetical genius. He brings fresh insights to the Scripture and challenges our presuppositions in a host of ways. I think he would be the first to tell you he doesn't have all the answers to all the problems we face, but in my opinion, he has laser vision on where we should start looking.

4/5 Stars.

I have a long day today with not at all that much to do. I'm happy about that. I can get some reading done and enjoy a relaxing day. Today's readings are from Proper 8, Year 2 of the Book of Common Prayer. I won't have comments for all these selections and remember my thoughts are simply off-the-cuff kind of ideas. I'm simply thinking my way through Scripture each day. I think this is a good way to set the right tone for my heart and mind each day.

Psalm 120-123

Numbers 22:21-38

Romans 7:1-12

Matthew 21:23-32

Psalm 122 It's a terrible thing to live with anxiety. It's a terrible thing to sit around waiting on that phone call from a doctor or a lawyer or a friend or a boss. It's a terrible thing how the bowels get turned inside out and start heaving up into your chest and that tickling feeling spreads across the plane of your entire soul makes matters worse. Is there a solution? Is there a fix? I suppose one could take some pills. I tried that for a while when I was younger, but it didn't help. Anxiety medications do just that: they medicate. They do not solve the underlying problem of why we are anxious in the first place which is not always a biological problem even if the results of anxiety are biological. "I will say 'Peace be within you.'" "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem." "May those who love you be secure." "May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels." Why is there peace in Jerusalem? There's peace in Jerusalem in the throng of worshipers going up to Praise the name of the Lord. Worship isn't, then, a mere distraction or something we do on Sundays. Jerusalem is the city of the Great King (Matthew 5:35). Worship is our citadel of peace and what we do in Jerusalem is seek the Lord who is our peace. Eugene Peterson wrote, "[Peace] gathers all aspects of wholeness that result from God's will be completed in us" (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, 56). Maybe peace flows from trusting God's will and trusting God's will flows from worship–coming face to face with God and knowing him and his character. Maybe our own peace comes not from understanding all things but from being near someone who does, being near someone who is Peace himself. (See Isaiah 9:6 and Ephesians 2:14. Admittedly, these passages are both taken a bit out of context, but in some way they point to true peace as is found in Jesus.)

Numbers 22:21-38 Ever notice how important animals are in the Bible? Aside from the serpent in Genesis 3, animals typically are fairly positive in the Bible. Noah found doves helpful. Here Balaam's donkey talks to him. Later ravens will feed Elijah. In another story Jonah is swallowed up by a great fish. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is the Lion of the Tribe of Juday who sits on God's throne (Rev 4-5). I'm sure there are others, but these few stand out as significant. Kind of makes one think that we ought to be a little or a lot more careful about the way we treat animals–one of them might save us some day from something we'd rather not have to face.

Matthew 21:23-32 "What we should also be asking is this. What should Jesus' followers be doing today that would challenge the powers of the present world with the news that he is indeed its rightful Lord? What should we be doing that would make people ask, 'By what right are you doing that?', to which the proper answer would be to tell, not now riddles about John the Baptist, but stories about Jesus himself?" (NT Wright, Matthew for Everyone, pt 2, page 77). Because people still ask these questions and many Christians simply have no answers. Or we have the wrong answers. Perhaps we rely on some outdated mode of logic or we rely on some well-worn favorite theologian. Or perhaps we put all of our eggs in the basket of US Constitution or decisions by the Supreme Court. Some even rely on the Bible itself–as did slavers in past centuries. But there must be a way where we can say that our lives are in accord with the life and actions of Jesus. It's not merely a matter of what would Jesus do because I don't think that will do for very long. And I don't think it boils down to merely propping up a moral decision that we thing Scripture justifies. So when the Chief Priests and elders came to Jesus they said, "By what authority are you doing these things?" We might ask, "What things are they talking about?" What was he doing but taking over the temple leadership and setting himself up in place of the chief priests and teachers and elders: he was teaching and he was healing and he was concerned that the house of prayer (that is, trusting reliance upon God who will bring about his will in his way in his time) was turned into a hive for brigands and revolutionaries (that is, those who will bring about a kingdom through their own violent ways without regard to God's will or justice).

It seems that our Psalm for today (122) and Jesus's words and actions in Matthew have something in common. Ultimately, they are both about peace and where that peace comes from. "I was glad when my friends said 'Let's go up to Jerusalem' and 'seek the house of the Lord our God.'" And what do we find when we go up and seek the house of the Lord our God? Well, we find Jesus: we find him rebuking the faithless way of violence. We find him welcoming those who had been excluded from temple worship (blind and lame). And we find him teaching the way of God's kingdom, faith, and righteousness. And isn't it funny who gets upset when Jesus does these things? You know, those who seem to have the most to lose–that is, their power. I love how Jesus simply loves, welcomes, and heals people and in so doing strips away the power of the powerful who will not.

That's all for now. I hope to let all this sink deeply into my heart today as I continue this journey of learning to trust God's way and have faith that His will will be done.

I'm working on a project in the month of May. The goal is to read through the entire New Testament, the Psalms, and the Proverbs. It requires reading 14-15 chapters of the Bible per day. That doesn't sound like much until you actually start doing it. Some days the chapters are short, other days not so much. Should be fun later in the month when I catch up to Psalm 119.

I've actually been doing this Psalms/Proverbs reading schedule since the beginning of the year–reading 5 Psalms per day and 1 chapter of Proverbs and it is finished in a month. I think I got the idea while reading N.T. Wright's little book The Case for the Psalms, but I could be mis-remembering. I started slowly but my stamina has increased so that last month I added the book of Revelation to the mix. It's a lot of fun having to consistently make the time to do the reading and being disciplined enough to do it each day.

This month (May), as I noted above, I have added the entire New Testament to the mix so that at the end of the month I hope to have developed a new reading habit. My goal is to read through the New Testament every month, with the Psalms and Proverbs, until the end of the year. My hope is that this will make the Psalms clearer and that the Psalms with make the New Testament clearer. After all, Jesus did say that the Psalms are about himself (Luke 24:25-27, 44). N.T. Wright makes a brilliant point:

Here is the challenge for those who take the New Testament seriously: try singing those psalms Christologically, thinking of Jesus as their ultimate fulfillment. See how they sound, what they do, where they take you. (The Case for the Psalms, 110)

Yet there is a temptation. The temptation is to read quickly, or to skim those sections of Scripture that we find boring or that we know really well already. It is tempting to breeze through some of the longer sections of discourse in Matthew's Gospel (they are long) since we already know full well what they mean and what Jesus is going to say. The challenge is to slow down, take time, drink it in and allow a nice even flow of his words to saturate us and fill us.

My doctor told me this the other day. He said: When you eat, eat slowly. Take your time. This will prevent sugar spikes and, consequently, sugar valleys. His point is that there is a harmony in the body when we slow down and take our time–that fluctuating sugar and insulin patterns are neither wise nor healthy (and, as I have learned, actually greatly affect our mood and emotions). I tend to agree with him purely from experience and not necessarily because I have any medical expertise.

It's important, thus, to actually take our time, taste our food, and enjoy it. So too, Scripture.

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Book Review: The Case for the Psalms

DownloadTitle: The Case for the Psalms

Author: N. T. Wright (Unofficial)

NT Wright: Amazon Page

Publisher: Harper Collins; HarperOne

Page Count: 200

Date: 2013

There are many preachers and theologians I admire to the point of buying anything they write and listening to anything they preach. Among them are Eugene Peterson, D.A. Carson, Frederick Buechner, David Wells, Tim Keller, and Eddie Vedder. I am, however, especially fond of N.T. Wright.

When I was in Bible college and especially after I started preaching in the church, there were always aspects of the Bible that bothered me: things didn't make chronological sense, this verse seemed to contradict that verse, and so on. Then one day I finally figured out that N.T. Wright was not the same person as H.N. Wright and I started reading. And I haven't stopped. His theology simply makes sense to me of all those verses I couldn't reconcile with one another and all those contradictory things are no longer contradictory. And while I still have several volumes I need to read, I have read a great deal of Wright's work and listened to countles lectures/sermons he has preached.

When I was given an amazon.com gift card for a Christmas gift, I knew some new N.T. Wright would soon be in my hands. The Case for the Psalms: Why They are Essential was the first volume I read (currently I'm reading How God Became King and after that will be Scripture and the Authority of God.) 

The Case for the Psalms is a small volume–an aspect that sort of bothered me–but it is a Wright's call for the church to return to the Hebrews Psalter. I agree. I think there is not enough use of the Psalms in the worship (except for a rather shallow use) or in the church in general. Jesus taught us the value–a terrible word–of the Psalms when he uttered in prayer Psalm 22 while was being crucified. Why don't we pray the Psalms in the church? Maybe we are afraid of the language of the psalmists who pray prayers about God destroying enemies and bashing the heads of babies against rocks. Maybe the Psalms are too personal for us in the West.

How does a Christian, not least a modern Christian who values our developed Western democracy, pray these lines? (44)

There is a reason the Psalms use this language–and worse–in prayer to God. It validates our experience, it confirms our pathos, and justifies our wailing, gut-wrenching pleas to God: is there anything we can say to God that is offensive when offered in the context of prayer?

That is why this book is not so much an invitation to study the Psalms–though that, too, is an immensely worthwhile exercise–but to pray and live the Psalms. (22)

The Psalms seem to think not, and if we do not have words of our own to express our deepest anger, grief, pain, or joy we have the Psalms. What better place can we go to find words to offer back to God?

Another important aspect of Wright's thoughts is that the Psalms are more than mere words on paper. The Psalms are transformative–when practiced continuously, carefully, and predictably, the Psalms change us:

And the Psalms are there to enable people not only to become aware of this possible change but actually to help bring it about. (158)

It is a matter for all of us to take seriously. I have begun this very thing: reading 5 Psalms per day, in order, throughout the day instead of all at one sitting.

Finally, as with everything Wright puts on paper or into the air, the Psalms are about showing us Jesus:

Here is the challenge for those who take the New Testament seriously: trying singing those Psalms christologically, thinking of Jesus as their ultimate fulfillment. See how they sound, what they do, hwere they take you. (110)

The book fits nicely with Wright's theology of God becoming king. In fact, it is an invitation for the reader of the Psalms, the pray-er of the Psalms, the singer of the Psalms to get in sync with God in space, time, and matter. The Psalms teach us how to 'offer ourselves as living sacrifices' (Romans 12). The Psalms teach us to number our days.

The aspect of this book that I enjoyed the most was the last chapter where Wright makes a connection between the Psalms and his life. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about his life and the things that have shaped him. Yet what I found is that he always tied his life to Scripture. Wright lets down the curtain for a minute or two and allows us to see his humanity–that side of him that has been shaped by Scripture, not just the side of him who has made understanding Scripture his life.

I actualy found myself doing this just yesterday when we found ourselves 'trapped' in the house due to frighteningly cold temperatures and a power outage. I had been reading through Psalms 8 through 12 during the day and shortly after the power went out, I found myself reading Psalm 11: "In the Lord I can take refuge" (v 1). It was cold. It was getting colder. The house was empty because my wife and sons had gone to warm houses. It was dark. Yet 'in the Lord I could take refuge.' It was a lot of comfort during a short period of physical discomfort ot hear those words at just the right time.

It made me wonder how many times I had missed hearing God's voice in other difficult, disastrous, or discomfitting times.

Only a couple of things bothered me about the book itself. One, I wish the book had been larger and longer. I read it in a day and wish it had taken me two. It felt rushed. Two, I wish the section dividers had been more than a mere double-space. Some headings would have made the text flow and connect better.

I rate this book 5/5 stars simply because if it did nothing else, it gave me the courage to start reading the Psalms all over again. And to pray them too. Which means I have started learning how to talk to the Father again.

 

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Remember the Setting
Blessed

Some Thoughts

Maybe a large part of the problem with christians in general is that when we approach the bible, what we call ‘the word of God’ or the ‘scripture’ (and rightfully so), we do so with the idea that it is a prescription. That is, we have a problem so let’s head to the Physicians Desk Reference and find the cure or something silly like that. Maybe we do not take enough time to consider genre.

That the Bible is made up of different genres was eye-opening for me the first time I heard a professor explain it. Well, of course, I knew there were letters and apocalypses and gospels and suchlike, but even though I knew that, my interpretive skills were not at a level where it mattered. All I was reading was the Bible. I was not reading a ‘letter from Paul to the Colossians’ or a ‘gospel written to the Gentiles in Rome.’ Genre, and thus context, mattered little and I suspect for many christians this holds true.

Quote

The standard practice of preachers linking God’s work so closely to church programs and priorities had a devastating effect on Christians who gave up on the church. For them, leaving the church meant leaving Jesus behind in the church. God was so closely linked to the building that it seemed he was the property of the congregation. The church acted as if it had God on salary, with him keeping regular office hours and even being on called whenever he might be needed.

“The claim on God and his activities, ironically, helps explain the empty pews in most of our churches.” (Michael Spencer, Mere Churchianity, 16)

Today’s readings are from Numbers 22:1-21, Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 21:12-22, and Psalm 106:1-18.

Numbers 22:1-21

Moab needed an ally and their king, Balak son of Zippor, evidently thought that words mattered. Thus he summon Balaam.

This is a curious story. It echoes thoughts from Genesis 12 where God said to Abraham, “I will bless those who curse you and I will curse those who curse you” (Genesis 12:3). Balaam was setting himself up for something terrible as was Balak. Balak says to Balaam, through his emissaries, “For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.” This is terribly problematic because it must be somehow true.

So we will have a conflict here where God, who promised to bless and curse on behalf of Abraham, will be up against a man who also blesses and curses—in this case, on behalf of Balak to Moabite. Strange this conflict that must ensue. God spares Balaam the trouble, “You must not put a curse on these people because they are blessed.” (22:12) It kind of makes me wonder how there can be such a conflict.

Clearly Balaam was bargaining for more cash. Greed is a powerful ally (I’m fairly certain I heard this from a Jedi Knight.) And if it is greed versus God…well, clearly in this case Greed wins hands down.

Romans 6:12-23

NT Wright on Romans 6:

All this helps us, too, to understand the exhortation in chapter 6 to ‘reckon yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (6.11). This is calling for an act, not of guesswork, nor of fantasy or speculative imagination, but of mental deduction: you are in the Messiah; the Messiah has died and been raised; therefore, you have died and been raised; therefore sin has no right to hold sway over you. That mental framework, and that alone, is the basis for the appeal which follows instantly: ‘So don’t let sin reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its desires’ (6.12). All of this—and much more, actually, but at least all of this—stands now behind Paul’s deceptively brief instruction at the start of chapter 12: don’t let yourselves be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” (After You Believe, 154-155)

To use a quaint christian metaphor: there can only be one king reigning in my body and it must not be sin. Yet all of this is couched in grace language: “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” (6:14) I am not governed by sin, law, or anything else that engages in a coup; I belong to Christ.

Frankly, I think that all too often I simply forget that and get caught up in the moment. Not one single part of me belongs to sin and therefore I should not feel compelled to offer one single part of myself to sin—as if I have an obligation to sin.

We learned a ‘pattern of teaching’ and we are to obey from the heart. We have come to obey it. It takes practice to be obedient, it takes time. We are not masters over night. And we do not gain so much from indulgence as we might be led to believe. Freedom consists not in the offering of ourselves to sin, but in the bondage of Christ.

Matthew 21:12-22

The so-called ‘temple incident’ is one that Christians often use to justify their ‘righteous indignation.’ But if we were truthful about this I would say that it has nothing to do with us at all. Frankly Jesus would probably come in to many of our own temples and turn over many of our tables too, and whip us, and drive us out, and remind us what the Scripture says—and how we have made a mockery of Scripture by doing the things we do.

What Jesus did—and, let’s be honest, this is somewhat embarrassing—is strange. I mean, he had been alive for at least thirty some years and had seen this many times over during those thirty years. Why now did it suddenly offend him? Why now did he get bent out of shape about what was going on in the temple? Did it really take him that long to get angry about it? Had he not seen it a thousand times before?

And if that were not enough, after he turns over all the money-changing tables and drives everyone out, he sets up his own shop: the blind and the lame came to him at the temple. The implication is clear: the temple is a place of healing and restoration and some had taken over the temple space for their own objectives. How can the church be a place of healing and restoration when the church has been ransacked by those whose only objective is to secure their money?

There is a lot going on in the temple that day: Jesus driving out the capitalists, Jesus preaching a sermon, Jesus healing people, and children shouting in the temple. I love that: children were shouting in the temple and Jesus didn’t rebuke them but justified them. It was the curmudgeons who did the rebuking.

This scene must have appeared strange to all who saw it and heard it and, in some way, participated in it.

Concerning verses 18-22 I have scratched in the margin of my Bible: the appearance of fruitfulness is not the same as fruitfulness.

Psalm 106

Praise the LORD. 
       Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
       his love endures forever.

Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the LORD
       or fully declare his praise?

Blessed are they who maintain justice,
       who constantly do what is right.

A little ways down in this Psalm it says this, “They forgot the God who saved them, who had done great things in Egypt, miracles in the land of Ham and awesome deeds by the Red Sea” (21-22).

Forgetting is not easy yet sometimes it is easier to forget God than it is to forget those who have wronged us—or at least the wrongs they did to us. I have a suspicion that this is a large part of what is wrong with the world today.

Maybe, too, we have to practice remembering. Maybe we need to daily remember all that God has done, his faithfulness. Then in lean times when he seems strangely absent we will not be so quick to forget and lapse into the ways of Egypt he redeemed us from. Maybe I should start today making a list of all his ways of faithfulness, start remembering all his mighty deeds.

Maybe if we thought more of God, remembered more of his deeds, we would think less and remember less of all that humans manage to accomplish—whether evil or good.

This morning, my second of three days away from work, I sat in a chair on the patio behind my house. There were about a million birds singing—all a different song, but all perfectly intelligible to someone or at least to another bird. The songs were wonderful even though they were not being sung to or for me. Maybe the birds would be offended if they thought I was listening in on their conversations and songs.

I just couldn’t help myself and I found myself wishing I knew their language so that I could sing with them.

While I sat on the patio, I read from Scripture. Specifically, I read from John 11 and the story of the raising of Lazarus. Theologians are quick to point out that what happened to Lazarus was a resuscitation and not a resurrection. This is a terribly important theological distinction.

I don’t think Lazarus cared what it was: all he knew is that he was alive. Nothing else mattered now that breath filled his lungs again and light flooded his eyes and the warmth of blood once again began flowing through his flesh. Jesus did more than raise Lazarus: he recreated blood, fired synapse’s, pushed breathe into his lungs, and gave Lazarus back his movement. Whatever he did, it brought Lazarus out of the tomb. Whatever it was, Lazarus was glad for it.

I suppose I have always thought, probably because I watched some Jesus movie one time, that Lazarus came out of the tomb slowly, stiffly, and without much animation. Maybe. He was, after all, wrapped in ‘grave clothes’ which probably prevented a great deal of motion. But maybe Lazarus came bounding out of the tomb sort of like that fella that Peter healed one day who went ‘walking and leaping and praising God’ in the temple courts. Maybe Lazarus came out with a leap and a shout something like, “He get this stuff off of me I can’t see, or talk, or run and leap and sing.”

Somewhere I read that the reason Jesus said, “Lazarus, come out,” is because if he had just said, “Come out,” the tombs would have emptied that day. He called Lazarus and Lazarus came out. Isn’t it odd that even the dead can hear the voice of Jesus—often are better than the living: the birds obey; the dead obey; the living….well, we practice. Can you imagine Lazarus shouting back, “No thanks! I’m fine where I’m at.” But who among us would refuse the call to life? Even the dead are smart enough to know that when someone calls you to life you hear, listen, and obey.

I wonder if any of those others, the other dead, laying bone dry in dusty tombs near Lazarus’ tomb lay there thinking, “Oh, please call me next! Please call my name! Please Jesus let me hear your voice!” There’s something strange about people not wanting Jesus to call out their name, something odd about those who so continually refuse to hear and heed the call to live and life.

As I read through this story I noticed that people kind of blamed Jesus for Lazarus’ death. Verses 21, 32, and 37 all seem to point in the same general direction: Jesus could have done something but since he wasn’t there he didn’t. I’ll bet they would be angry if they knew he purposely stayed behind for two extra days.

  • Lord, if you had been here… (21)
  • Lord, if you had been here… (32)
  • Could not he who…. (37)

It feels like maybe they were thinking he could have done something but for some reason or other he did not. Let’s be honest and truthful: this is one of the most difficult aspects of faith and Jesus to deal with on a regular basis. And I am only too aware of the platitudes that mutter things like, “What God could have prevented in his power he allowed in his wisdom” or something like that. Frankly speaking, this is of little comfort to the grieving and wailing. Yet there it is. Jesus could have done something after all he did open the eyes of a blind man! If he had been there he could have done something.

Divine restraint is profoundly perplexing and discomfiting.

Sometimes Jesus just isn’t there in time to prevent something. Sometimes Jesus delays for an extra two days so he can shop or catch up on his favorite television programs. I don’t know the reason why he delays and I cannot say that I perfectly agree with it—you know, why not set the world right right now? Why is it wisdom to allow death instead of preventing it?

What would have been the greater joy? Receiving a resurrected Lazarus back from the grave or having him healed before he entered the grave? The only response we know of is that Jesus really made a lot of people angry with this stunt and some others put their faith in him. The raising of Lazarus caused a lot of problems and, to be sure, didn’t go all that well for Lazarus either (John 12:10).

Here’s the thing though. Jesus calculated all this and made the decision and we are privy to the wisdom of his decision with respect to Lazarus even though we are not always privy to the wisdom he employs in his decisions concerning our lives: Jesus was not content to merely ward off death for a little while. No. His goal was to crush death under the weight of its own hubris. Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ death, but it was better to utterly demolish death instead. There is wisdom.

Here I am. I am thinking of that sort of wisdom—wisdom that is powerful enough to prevent anything, but doesn’t always do so. I don’t understand it, but I don’t suppose I have to. Anne Lamott writes beautifully that ‘the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns’ (plan b, 256-257).

Here I am, living in the mystery, living with the mysterious Jesus who evinces a sort of wisdom that allows pain and suffering and death because there’s something better he wants to do. The essence of faith is believing that Jesus’ wisdom, no matter how little sense it makes, is wise. The essence of faith is believing that things make sense to God even when they do not make sense to me. I’m not close to mastering this which is why I write about things like anger, envy, and pride.

So what are we to do with this Jesus? NT Wright has some helpful thoughts at this juncture:

What’s more, the suggestion that we treat Jesus as a moral example can be, and in some people’s thinking has been, a way of holding at arm’s length the message of God’s kingdom on the one hand and the meaning of his death and resurrection on the other. Making Jesus the supreme example of someone who lived a good life may be quite bracing to contemplate, but it is basically safe: it removes the far more dangerous challenge of supposing that God might actually be coming to transform this earth, and us within it, with the power and justice of heaven, and it neatly helps us avoid the fact, as all four gospels see it, that this could be achieved only through the shocking and horrible events of Jesus’s death. (After You Believe, 126)

I have to ‘do something’ with this Jesus who gave us a glimpse of what this transformed earth and life will be like in the raising of Lazarus. This Jesus who does things like raise people from the dead is not safe and cannot be domesticated. He is unruly and out of control: no one stands up to the biggest bully in town. People are typically content to let the bully have his way, and death was content to continue owning every street corner in town. Jesus came along and changed all that.

Jesus is not safe. What are we to do with him? What are we to do with one who purposely lets death have its way only so he can walk right up to its front door and not even knock before demanding that death give up its claim? If anything we can say that Jesus is not one who will deal nicely with death at all so who are we to think we have a chance of resisting him? The biggest bully in town does not stand a chance against Jesus and all Jesus did was say, “Lazarus, come out!”

What I am going to do with this Jesus? I can’t stop him or control him. I can’t resist him. I can’t not follow him.

It’s late now. The birds have put away their songs for the day. They are resting some place safe, waiting and watching for the veil to lift and the the dawn to break. They will awaken me with their songs blaring through my open window in the morning.  I still will not know their song or the language they use so I won’t be able to sing with them. But I know a song of my own, it’s the same song Lazarus sang when he came waltzing or leaping or jumping or hobbling out of the tomb that fine September morning. I can sing it with Lazarus because I, too, have been raised to life.

Jesus let the biggest bully in town do its worst for four days. Then Jesus went to the bully’s turf and completely undid the best and worst the bully had to offer. Completely undid death. Completely.

So what do we do with someone who raises the dead, gives life back to corpses, beats up the biggest bully in town? What do we do with Jesus?

Friends,

A new feature I will try to practice for a while. I have decided that I will follow the Lectionary readings for a while in 2009 for my preaching schedule. As I study and prepare each week, I will post my notes here at the blog for anyone to partake of. It will vary from week to week, but it will always have good resources.

This week’s readings are: Acts 3:12-19, Psalm 4, 1 John 3:1-7, and Luke 24:36-49. My notes are from Luke 24:36-49. You can access all 10 pages of notes from my box.net account.

Notes on Luke 24:36-49: Resurrection Changes Everything

I hope the notes help. Some of them are unfinished thoughts. Others are lengthy quotations. All of them are trying to get at the heart of what happened in the room when Jesus appeared, what it meant, and what it means.

jerry

The First Day of the Rest of Your Life
John 20:19-23

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

There has always been, at least for a great many years, in the history of mankind, a terribly large and unhealthy debate about creation. One the one hand, there are some who are absolutely convinced beyond doubt that we have, gradually, over time, evolved from or at least share common ancestry with other species of life on earth. On the other hand, there are some who dismiss all of these sorts of mechanisms and accept by faith that God, in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth. It’s a fun debate and one that I am certain will not find any resolution this side of divide.

There’s another debate, however, that we rarely hear anything about at all. Well, ‘debate’ is not really the right word, but it seems that Christians, in their zeal to defend a literal 6, twenty-four hour day, creation cycle get caught up in a debate that prevents them entering into a discussion concerning creation that carries far more weight and as infinitely more important. Frankly, even though I happen to believe Genesis is true, I’m not so much interested in the old creation as I am the new creation. Paul wrote as much in Galatians 6: What matters is the new creation.

I mean, the old creation is fine and fun and to an extent theological necessary, but even that creation is going to prove futile. NT Wright wrote, “When the final resurrection occurs, as the centerpiece of God’s new creation, we will discover that everything done in the present world in the power of Jesus’s own resurrection will be celebrated and included, appropriately transformed.” (Surprised by Hope, 294)
________________

The next seven Sundays are considered Easter, meaning Resurrection. Thus seven Sundays between Resurrection and Pentecost. Today is the second.

John began his Gospel with words that recall the book of Genesis and that initial act of creation by God: “In the beginning…” In Genesis we are told “In the beginning God created…” John tells us, “In the beginning was the Word…” Clearly he wants us, at the beginning of his Gospel, to think about what happened at the very beginning.

We stroll through chapter 1 and we see John continuing to recount the Genesis narrative: The next day John was there again…The next day Jesus decided to leave…On the third day, Jesus went to a wedding…and the days keep on rolling. John picks up this theme again in John 20, except that it’s a little different.

In John 20:1: “Early on the first day of the week…” Then again in John 20:19: “On the evening of the first day of the week…” Again in John 20:26: “A week later…” which a week earlier was, clearly, the first day of the week.

The point is simple: The Resurrection of Jesus has ushered in a new day, a new beginning, a new creation. And he has invited us to participate in this new day, this new creation. His resurrection marks a new ‘in the beginning.’ New life. New hope. Again, as NT Wright notes, “The claim advanced in Christianity is of that magnitude: Jesus of Nazareth ushers in not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation.” (Surprised by Hope, 67).
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So the first new day draws to a close. “On the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said.”

Jesus stood among them. John also told his readers, in the Revelation, that there were seven lampstands and that ‘among the lampstands was someone like a son of man…’ Jesus is not afraid to stand among the churches, he is is not afraid to stand among his people…even in his gloriousness…he is not afraid to stand among us and dispel whatever fears we have.

Fears of people! Then he said ‘Peace be with you.’ Then John tells us this interesting little note, “After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.” In other words, peace because he triumphed. Peace because he resurrected. Peace because he was victorious. Oh, be certain of this: the world conquered for a little while—see the hands? See the side? Yes. For a little while the world has its way. But the disciples were overjoyed because ‘they saw the Lord.’

This resurrection of Jesus ushers in a life of vindication. Out with the old peaceless, fearful, comes the new resurrection, peaceful, fearless overwhelmed with joy life of the new creation. Yes there are wounds. Yes there are scars. But the other side of Good Friday is Easter; the other side of death is life; the other side of fear of humans is the peace of Christ; the other side of defeat by the world is vindication by God!
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Then Jesus said to them again: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” We go out in peace. We go out without fear. We go out by order of Christ. We go out…with orders by Christ.

So we look at what Jesus did while he was out. What did he accomplish? What did he do? He gives them, in other words, a new purpose, a new responsibility, a new reason to live and exist and work and serve.

Our work in Christ, our work in obedience to Christ, is no longer futile. But you will recall the old creation and what God said to Adam just before Adam was cast out of the new creation and into the wilderness, and barrenness that is not Eden: “Cursed is the ground because of you: through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

But here Jesus removes the essence of futility by giving us work that is not bound up in the flesh even if it is done in the flesh. This is not merely to spiritualize all the work we do; not at all. It is, however, to transform the nature of that work. We serve a risen Savior who’s in the World today.

This is what Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his great resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15. After telling all about the defeat of the cursed world, and the flesh, and death, he merely writes, “Therefore my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

Go out and be agents of peace, and forgiveness, and hope, and new creation, and love, and mercy, and grace, and forgiveness. Go out and bear fruit…not the fruit of cursed, dead soil, but the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the fruit of new creation, the fruit of Resurrection. By his resurrection, on this new day, we have new work to do in Him and because of Him; and He himself continues this new work through us.

In Genesis he said, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it…” Now Jesus says, “I am sending you.” He sent us.
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And then Jesus did something that I wonder if the disciples weren’t a little shaken by. Jesus continued his re-enactment of Genesis by imitating the actions of God himself, “He breathed on them” and he spoke. “Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

This is Jesus, after His resurrection, not only recreating our purpose, triumphing over the old creation, but recreating humanity and breathing into them his own Holy Spirit. He himself has empowered us to go about doing what he has called and commanded us to do. He himself has empowered us to continue his work. He himself prepares us to be people through whom he can continue his work.

And to the world, and to us, what Jesus has empowered his people to do is simply out of control. Frankly, what he has empowered us to do is the last thing we want to do and the last thing we are capable of doing. But the new creation is marked by this: Go and forgive. Jesus makes perfectly clear the point of being in possession of the Holy Spirit: Go and forgive.

In a different book, Tom Wright notes, “The point [of receiving the Holy Spirit] is so that they can do, in and for the whole world, what Jesus had been doing in Israel.” (John For Everyone, 149) He has sent us out into the harsh and terribly world, recreated, repurposed, and in the new day free to forgive in the Name of Christ.

So I don’t know that this is entirely personal. I don’t know that this is only about learning how to forgive those people who personally crush and bruise you. It could be that Jesus is concerned that we spread the fragrance of forgiveness is spread far and wide and to as many people as possible in as quick a time as possible. I think we should be as generous with forgiveness towards people as he was with us. Grace freely received and grace freely given.

“But,” you might say, “I cannot forgive. Some people are too consumed in their flesh. I must make all sorts of demands upon them before they can be forgiven.” But Jesus thinks you can forgive and he has made certain that you are able to by giving you His Holy Spirit. When he breathed new life into you, as he did the apostles, he gave you power to forgive.

So if we find ourselves in a situation where we say something silly like, “I cannot forgive…” well, there might be a couple of things in play in our lives. First, we might simply be disobeying the commands of Christ. Being unforgiving is simply not an option when it comes to Christians. Second, we might simply be denying the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. That is, we might be saying that we don’t want the Holy Spirit to work in our lives—we are quenching the Spirit.

Or third, we might be, shudder the thought, un-regenerate. That is, if we can muster up the nerve to say that someone has done something in the world that we cannot forgive…shudder the thought…we might not even have the Holy Spirit to begin with. I shudder to think that the words ‘I cannot forgive’ can come out of the mouths of people who claim to be empowered by the Holy Spirit of Christ.

Disobedience. Indifference. Or unregeneration. Yet I suspect that since Jesus empowers us to be forgiving by the power of his spirit, I don’t suppose it matters all that much if it is disobedience, indifferent, or unregenerate: It is all wrong and a denial of the work of Christ in our lives.
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This is the morning of resurrection. This is the new day. This is the ushering in of all newness and hope and grace. This is the end of law and the beginning of freedom. This is Christ remaking each of us and thus remaking the world. This is Christ the firstfruits of resurrection resurrecting each of us now.

I don’t know if those disciples, locked behind doors as they were—because of fear—had any idea what the first day held for them. As they slept off the failures and unforgiveness of the days before, as they limped along in the old creation, as they went about under their power…who knows what was going through their minds. But it wasn’t resurrection: Jesus’s or their own.

Jesus arose, resurrected, cracked the stone table of death and resurrected, bringing with him the dawn of the True First Day, opening our eyes to the beginnings of the New Creation: “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”

Frederick Buechner wrote, in his book The Alphabet of Grace,

To wake up is to be given back your life again. To wake up—and I suspect that you have a choice always, to wake or not to wake—is to be given back the world again and of all possible worlds this world, this earth rich with the bodies of the dead as our drams are rich with their ghosts, this earth that we have seen hanging in space, our toy, our tomb, our precious jewel, our hope and our despair and our heart’s delight. Waking into the new day, we are all of us Adam on the morning of creation, and the world is ours to name. Out of many fragments we are called to put back together a self again. (Frederick Buechner, The Alphabet of Grace, 22)

The problem is that some get stuck between Good Friday and Easter and never wake up. The problem is that some are so concerned about the Old Creation that we are thoroughly unconcerned about the New. The problem is that some are so concerned about their own resurrection that they have no interest whatsoever in waking others by offering them the same forgiveness.

Resurrection is a call to wake up and taste the day. Resurrection is a call to live now on the way to then. Resurrection is the first day of the rest of your life. Resurrection is not just something we hope for, it is something that defines us: We are a live now and Christ has given us peace, power, and purpose to show the world a new creation, and be a new creation, and not just talk about it.

Soli Deo Gloria!!

Sunday, March 1, 2009 (PM)
The Imperatives of Hebrews
The Book of Hebrews

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.”

“The book of Hebrews offers us, quite simply, Jesus. It offers us the Jesus who is there to help because he’s one of us, and has trodden the path before us. It offers us the Jesus who has inaugurated the new covenant, bringing to its fulfillment the age-old plan of God. And it offers us, above all, Jesus the final sacrifice; the one who has done for us what we could not do for ourselves, who has lived our life and died our death, and now ever lives to make intercession for us.” (NT Wright, Following Jesus, 10)

The book of Hebrews begins by reminding us that God spoke, both in the past in various ways and with various means, and in the present in Christ Jesus. This is not an odd way to begin a book that has so many things to say about the finality of God’s voice in Jesus. In these last days, God has spoken to us. He has raised his voice above the din and clutter of noise that is all the other voices so easily heard, and clamoring to be hear, and He spoke. To us.

I am here stuck in the same awe that renowned theologian Karl Barth was stuck in: God spoke to us. Us! He desired that we hear his voice. He desired, and desires, that we engage him in active listening and active speaking. God’s word to us is not mere monologue: we pray, and sing, and worship in any variety of ways. William Willimon notes, “Who is the human being? Someone who is ‘summoned by this Word.’ Our great, God-given dignity is that God wants to talk to us. God speaks to us and what God says is, ‘I will be your God and you will be my people.’” (166) The essence of our existence is that God took initiative and spoke to us!

But Willimon makes another point too, and perhaps an even more important point about what we hear, what our task is as hearers, and our role as speakers:

“Knowledge of God is always in Barth linked to the call of God, communication and disclosure are always linked to commission and call, and revelation divinely given is linked to obedient human response. Our challenge, as preachers, is not to master God’s word but rather to develop the skills to listen to God without despising God for speaking to us. The God of the Bible who speaks is the God who commands and one wonders if many of our hermeneutical and homiletical strategies are designed to manage that command. For Barth, every single verse of scripture is a potential act of vocation. The question to be put to any of God’s three forms of proclamation is never simply, ‘Do I understand?’ or certainly not, ‘Do I agree?’ but rather, ‘How am I being called to change and commit through this word?’” (165)

So the book of Hebrews, as we call it, begins here with “God spoke.” This is the most radical thing God can do and did. He spoke to us in Jesus, his Son. Everything else flows from here and everything else said in the book only makes sense when we accept that God has spoken, in these last days, through his son. We have to get into our heads first who spoke and and how (in the Son) then we can get into our heads what he spoke and then we can try to understand why he spoke it. I think at some level, though, we hear his commands (‘what he spoke’) merely for what they are. They are words with a certain emphasis placed on them, perhaps an imperative, but as a command we are to act out under his watch they are perhaps nonsensical.

Radical Christianity, radical Scripture, Radical God is not for anyone and everyone. It is for those called together by this Son who is the exact character of God in the flesh. And Hebrews offers no apologies for taking such a radical approach to lived out faith. I’m not suggesting that only a few are invited. I think the invitation is wide open to any and all who hear and obey. What I am suggesting is that as we read through the book of Hebrews we hear the voice of God saying to us: Buckle up. It’s not going to be an easy go of things. You will be challenged at every step to turn back and quit. That is where I would like to break into this letter tonight and show you several major stops along the path that is Hebrews.

This book is filled with some of the most profound theology and Old Testament biblical exegesis in the entire canon. However, along the way, the author periodically stops and looks back in order that he might point forward. The call is radical: radical indeed. He speaks for a moment or two on some important issue, and that issue is always the superiority of Jesus or the better nature of the Jesus work, and then he challenges the reader. He marks off these challenges with the word ‘therefore’. There are eleven of these markers found in Hebrews. Let’s begin.

1. The first marker is found in chapter 2:1: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”

What must we pay attention to? God spoke. We have to pay attention to what we hear from Christ who now speaks to us in these last days. He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Fact is, we cannot afford to not pay attention. There are many, many voices clamoring for our attention. The basis of our listening and paying attention is that Jesus is ‘superior angels’ and has ‘inherited a name that is superior.’ Therefore, we must pay attention. He warns us here that if we do not pay attention we will ‘drift away.’ We will be like a boat that has lost its tether and floats off out into the ocean where it can be tossed about by every wind and wave and storm that comes up.

Continue Reading »

Here are the box.net links to four sermons I preached last summer on the resurrection of Jesus. Each sermon was introduced by watching a clip from a DVD featuring NT Wright. There are four sections to the DVD and I roughly followed their progression. The video is ‘on location’ and it is excellent.

The main idea is that the Resurrection of Jesus has real life implications for Christians now. Since He rose, we have no right to be sitting around doing nothing. The Resurrection is our catalyst to action. The end of each sermon is a look at how some Christians are living out the Resurrection of Jesus now.

The sermons follow a rather basic structure, but they are not typical, and cover three areas: History, Theology, Praxis. As I said, I began each sermon with a short 10-12 minute DVD clip from Wright (history). From there, I read a passage of Scripture and did a short exposition on the passage (theology). And finally, I concluded with another video clip or a ministry introduction (praxis). The series was important, and I think it was well received. I confess that the sermons themselves did get a little long due to the many components.

I have listed the primary texts dealt with in each of the sermons. Be blessed. jerry

Resurrection 1: Mark 9:2-10; 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12

Resurrection 2: Acts 17:16-34

Resurrection 3:  Matthew 27:62-28:15

Resurrection 4:  Ephesians 2:1-10

Don’t Be Afraid
Genesis 15, Psalm 7-8

Well, there is a day skipped in here. Sorry.

I think I mentioned the other day that Abram is one of my favorite biblical stories. I would love to spend a day with Abram and learn from him and talk to him about his story and his life. I cannot imagine what life must have been like for him: Called away from his family, given a promise by God that one day he would own land, have an heir, and be a blessing (all of which must have seemed radically impossible, endured a huge battle against a bunch of kings—this was a man who saw a lot of things in his years. He had endured famines, travels to Egypt, the wrath of Pharaoh, quarrels with his nephew, and his life would grow no easier as the years went by and the narrative of God’s providence unfolded.

Chapter 15 is unique, I think, in this sense. It is sort of a peaceful chapter, and yet the things that happen in it are rather frightening. Nevertheless, it is the opening words that thrill and delight me. Can you imagine the ‘Sovereign Lord’ (v 2) speaking to you in such a direct way saying, “ ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.’” Imagine that! God was his reward! This means, to me, that of all Abram had to look forward to (land, blessing, and not least a son), his greatest reward, his ultimate reward, was YHWH himself. God was his protection. Abram would not rely upon military prowess or the gifts of kings or anything but God.

God would do everything needed to protect Abram and bring about His intended purposes; namely, to provide the seed who would destroy the serpent.

For Abram’s part, all he had to do was ‘not be afraid.’

God was calling Abram into scary, uncharted territory. He was asking Abram to do things that no one else had ever been asked to do. He was asking Abram to believe things that no one else had ever had to believe. He was asking Abram to go to places where no one had ever been asked to go. “Abram believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” I seriously cannot imagine doing what God was calling Abram to do, and I can scarcely imagine having the sort of faith Abram had to believe God. Doesn’t it take a lot of effort to go in the direction that God calls us to go?

Isn’t it strange, somewhat, that the first command God gives Abram is, “Don’t be afraid?” You know, I need to read that verse every single day and hear those words spoken to me every minute of the day. I need to hear the word of the Lord speak in the midst of the ‘everydayness’ of every day and remind me that ‘it’ is not dependent upon me: “I am your shield; I am your very great reward.” This is God’s way of letting Abram know that ‘it’ does not depend upon Abram. It is God’s way of taking the burden off of the human and putting it back on himself. It is, to be sure, another instance of God’s grace in action.

“Don’t be afraid.” Why? There are a million reasons every single day to be afraid—especially living here in the world now where everything seems so damned uncertain. But God spoke to Abram about uncertainty too, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country no their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.” There will be uncertainty, but that’s the whole thing. God’s plan doesn’t seem to depend upon the strength of certainty in human circumstances. That is, life can be topsy-turvy and upside down and God remains true and faithful: Don’t look around, Abram, keep your eyes fixed on me, your shield and very great reward. Nothing else you see, nothing else you possess, nothing else I give you is the substance of your reward. Your reward is nothing less than Me.

“Don’t be afraid!” Right. Kids. Money. Bills. How are we to not be afraid? In a sense, not being afraid is the essence of faith because that is when we trust that God’s wisdom and purposes and plans are far greater and far more likely to succeed than our own. Of course we shouldn’t be afraid. Sometimes, however, we are just too darn afraid of living without fear because it is like a crutch that we feel we need to get around from day to day. God, however, was telling Abram: You won’t need the crutch of fear because you belong to me and that is, and will be, enough for you. Your faith will be the standard by which all generations will be measured. Indeed, the righteous will live by the same faith Abram did.

That is the sincere call we have as people of faith, as Jesus followers.

The other day, I posted this but now I think it is worth a re-read:

And the resurrection of Jesus issues the surprising command: don’t be afraid; because the God who made the world is the God who raised Jesus from the dead, and calls you now to follow him. Believing in the resurrection of Jesus isn’t just a matter of believing that certain things are true about the physical body of Jesus that had been crucified. These truths are vital and nonnegotiable, but they point beyond themselves, to the God who was responsible for them. Believing in this God means believing that it is going to be all right; and this belief is, ultimately, incompatible with fear. As John says in his letter, perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4.18). And the resurrection is the revelation of perfect love, God’s perfect love for us, his human creatures. That’s why, though we may at any stage in our lives grasp the truth that God raised Jesus from the dead, it takes us all our life long to let that belief soak through and permeate the rest of our thinking, feeling, and worrying lives.”

Sometimes this process isn’t just a gradual thing; it may involve sudden crises. There’s a hidden chapter in the life of St Paul, which is usually ignored by those who see him either as the heroic missionary or the profound theologian, or possibly the misguided misogynist. Acts doesn’t mention this hidden chapter, but in our second lesson we heard Paul himself speak of it. At one stage of his work in what he called Asia, and we call Turkey, he says that he went through a horrendous and traumatic experience which seem to destroy him totally. ‘I was so utterly, unbearably crush’, he writes, ‘that I despaired of life itself; indeed, I felt as though I had received the sentence of death’ (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). And a good part of the second letter to Corinth actually grows out of this experience; the brash, proud Corinthian church had wanted Paul to be a success story, and he had to explain to them that being an apostle, and ultimately being a Christian, was not a matter of being a success story, but of living with human failure–and with the God who raises the dead. That’s what following Jesus is likely to involve.” (NT Wright, Following Jesus, 68-69)

Resurrection people do not live in fear because perfect love has driven out all fear.

Something to Do with Resurrection
Luke 12, Genesis 13

People are fond of using Jesus for the wrong ends. We have all seen it. Jesus the judge. Jesus the arbiter of relationships. Jesus the ‘good teacher’ of ‘our theology.’ We silly people have all sorts of ideas swirling around inside our toilet bowl heads about what we think Jesus should be and do. Many of these ideas, sadly enough, end up published by ‘Christian’ publishers. More of them end up be bought by ‘Christian’ readers. And way too much of it ends up as ‘Gospel’ (i.e. Left Behind).

‘Jesus’ has said a whole bunch of things that Jesus never said. This is sad because it really messes people up when they are trying to understand the things Jesus did say.

This pericope in Luke 12:13-21 is one such story. “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” This is Jesus’ rather pointed way of saying, “I’m not here to do the things you want me to do. I’m not here to fill roles you have designated. I’m not here to accomplish the purposes of man.” But even this is quite beside the point of these verses. The real point comes in where Jesus uses the occasion to teach about what matters here on earth, among men who live here: “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

There are kinds of greed?

Then Jesus tells a parable. The parable seems simple enough and rather straightforward. There parable has something to do with a type of greed that lingers in the hearts of man. It is the type of greed that ‘stores up things for themselves but are not rich towards God.’ This is a dangerous type of greed and I think it has something to do with resurrection. That is, the person engaged in this type of greed simply does not believe in Resurrection.

I think this is a safe guess because the man in the parable, the unnamed man, the every-man, says something like, “I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’” Well what caught my eye about this verse is that it is quoted by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (32). Paul quotes it in the context of talking about someone who does not believe in resurrection.

This person has nothing to live for later. Those whose lives are defined by resurrection are not defined by the worries and cares and wealths and greeds and ambitions of this world and this life. Those whose lives are defined by resurrection can afford to sell all again and again and give it to the poor. Those whose lives are defined by resurrection can afford to store up treasures in heaven. (See Matthew 6:19-21)

But the resurrection person stands in stark contrast to the man in the parable. The man in the parable is self-reliant and has no use for resurrection talk or of a need to consider himself as the man in the ditch who needs lifting out (see Luke 10:25-37). The man in the parable will use his ingenuity more than faith. He will not acknowledge the source of his blessing and life. He is not prepared to face the prospect of death and all of his stuff, all of the stuff he used to define himself here on earth, will be lost. For him, this life is enough. There’s no need to think about tomorrow because all he has or needs or wants is today. Resurrection people don’t think this way or live this way.

I have a sneaking suspicion that resurrection people are never quite so content. There is always something to do, someone to serve, someone to love. Resurrection people are restless.

So it makes me wonder: What defines us? NT Wright well asks, “We have now reached the point where we must ask: So what? Is all this talk about God’s ultimate future, about ‘life after life after death,’ simply a matter of tidying up our beliefs about what will happen in the very end, or does it have any practical consequences now? Is it simply a matter of getting our teaching and preaching right and of ordering our funerals and other liturgies so that they reflect biblical teaching about death and what lies beyond instead of nonbiblical and even antibiblical ideas that have crept into the church here and there?” (Surprised by Hope, 189)

He’s right, of course. We are resurrection people who are not just building little fiefdoms to the self here. We are resurrection people who, like Abraham, are going around conquering the land, building little altars here and there to the greater glory of God. The ‘parable of the rich fool’ has very little, in fact, to do with the personal wealth of the person and everything to do with the deafening roar of unbelief. Jesus is saying: There’s something more. How can you be so content with mere stuff? How can you miss that you were made for more? How can you ever be satisfied with merely eating, drinking and being merry?

There might just be a life that consists in the absence of possessions. I think this parable has something to do with Resurrection. The resurrection life is necessarily, and decidedly, different from the dead life.