Thursday, April 17, 2014

What is Good about Good Friday? Exegesis and Commentary on John 19:38-42


 Below is a my exegesis/commentary on Jesus' Burial scene in John 19:38-42. This is the scripture chosen for Year A from BCP  for Good Friday.

 Background on Good Friday
         Good Friday exists in the Triduum of the Paschal Season. St. Augustine calls the Triduum, beginning Thursday evening (Maunday) and ending Easter evening, “the three most sacred days.”[1]  Moreover, Good Friday was early on a commemoration and veneration of the Cross as noted in Egeria, Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrose and Augustine. In fact, Holy Week may be the one true apostolic observance because of its orientation around the Jewish dating and the lunar calendar.[2]  Good Friday also plays prominently in the early baptism ritual where catechumens were often prepared for the ritual and brought into the prayers of the people. Also, traditionally this has been a time where, in the prayers of the people, there has been a concentrated time of prayer for the Emperor. As part of the season of Lent, and definitely in Holy Week, weddings have been historically forbidden. Finally in the observance aspects, since Friday was already practiced as a stationary fast, Good Friday took on a greater level of fasting. There is no consensus in the early church about how long, some fasting all week, some fasting 40 hours (the night before and all day), etc. One thing is for sure - the people fasted.

         As we enumerate the observances, practices, and traditions we fail to ask the central question – what makes Good Friday good? The traditional liturgical practices all want to point towards Easter. The fasting, the delayed baptisms, the mourning, the praying all convey a sense of being unfulfilled. I think the hymns are a place where the goodness of this Friday is brought to light. St. Cosmos the Melodist (c. 760) writes/sings:
“You, Jesus Christ, were consubstantial
With this our perishable clay
And, by assuming earthly nature,

Exalted it to heavenly day.
Amidst Caesar’s subjects Thou, at his decreeing
Obeyed and was enrolled: our mortal race
To sin and Satan slave, from bondage freeing
Our poverty in all points did embrace
And by that Union did combine
The earthly with the All-Divine”
Charles Wesley can follow in the lines of Gregory of Nazianzus and Martin Luther in worshiping God on the cross when he writes:
“GOD of unexampled grace, Redeemer of mankind
Matter of eternal praise. We in thy passion find…
Endless scenes of wonder rise, 
            From that mysterious tree,
Crucified before our eyes, 
            Where we our Maker see:
Jesus, Lord, what hast thou done?
                    Publish we the death divine,
           Stop, and gaze, and fall, and own,
   Was never love like thine

Never love nor sorrow was,
Like that my Savior showed:
See him stretched on yonder cross,
And crushed beneath our load!
Now discern the Deity,
Now his heavenly birth declare!
Faith cries out, ' 'Tis He, 'tis He,
My God, that suffers there!'”
The shameful rejection of the cross serves as the victory of God. This is the locus of our salvation. This is greatest revelation of God’s love. This is the only example for our lives of discipleship.

Book of Common Prayer, Year A, Good Friday - Gospel: John 19:38-42

Gospel: John 19:38-42 - Exegetical Observations
1.  Joseph of Arimathea – this tradition is found in all the gospel accounts. In Matthew and John he is a secret “disciple of Jesus.” In Luke and Mark he is part of “the council” and was “looking for the Kingdom of God” What council is he apart of? Why, in John, is he not mentioned to be apart of the council? Is this to distance him from the Jews? Probably not sense Nicodemus shows up, but his secret discipleship is because of the mean old Jews. The Greek word for “Arimathea” also brings up occurrences from 1 Samuel 1 as the birthplace of Samuel (vv. 1, 19). Any figural connections?
2.  Pilate – Pilate gets a more sympathetic representation in John. All of chapter 18 and some of chapter 19 portray this leader as trying to get Jesus off the hook, dialoguing about truth, and, as in this verse, being kind in the midst of tragedy (brought on by the Jewish crowd in this Gospel).

3.  Soma – this seems to be connected, usually, with dead bodies of humans and living or dead with animals. We have a reference in chapter 2 with Jesus calling his soma the temple. I wonder, in the context of all this “custom,” spices, linens, etc, if we are getting a picture of priests working at the temple? Is there other priestly language? Could this be the Samuel/Joseph of Arimathea reference? (Probably too far, but worth checking out). In John 20:12, we, with the woman, see two angels sitting where Jesus’ head and feet were before the resurrection. Is Jesus’ body the cherubic throne of the Holy of Holies? Is it his dead body, or in 20:12, his risen body? Is it his absent body? Chapter 2 and 20:12 seem to form an inclusio around soma if my haunch is at all correct.
  • Also interesting – in verses 38 and 40 – Jesus’ body is mentioned 3 times. But in 42, it is not his “body” that is laid but simply Jesus.
4.  “Nicodemus, who had first come to him by night…” – it must be day still. This is supported by 19:31 where the Jews ask for the killing process to be sped up so that the bodies wouldn’t be there when Sabbath began and the burial wouldn’t be work. Moreover, in themes of light and dark, especially juxtaposed to Joseph’s secret discipleship, Nicodemus must be coming into the light both in believing in Jesus and public declaration of his faith.

5.  Canonically speaking – could we call “myrhh” an inclusio for the Gospel sense it only appears here and the beginning of Matthew. It would seem to connect Jesus’ incarnation and death, which both illumine the other in powerful ways. 
  •    Bringing together the incarnation and death of Jesus is not uncommon in theology or hymns. Wesley writes, “He left his Father’s throne above, so free, so infinite His grace/ Emptied Himself of all but love, and bled for Adam’s helpless race/ ‘Tis mercy all, immense and free; For, O my God, it found out me!”

6.  Litra(n) – occurs twice in John, and nowhere else in the NT, is found here for the hundred/seventy-five “pounds” of aloe-myrrh mixture. In John 12, the other occurrence, Mary takes the “pound” of expensive perfume and anoints the feet of Jesus, wiping it with her hair. The setting in John 12, Lazarus’ death and resuscitation, this anointing, Judas (the betrayer), Jesus predicting his own death, and, “the next day” Palm Sunday – the beginning of Holy Week. Clearly Jesus death and burial preparation is in view for both occurrences.

7.  Why is there so much spice and mixture mentioned and brought? Whether it is 75 pounds (CEB, NASB) or about 100 pounds (NRSV) that seems like a lot. Is that usual or is this for Jesus the King (John’s Jesus - see note on myrrh and Magi above)?

8.  “Bound” – Jesus’ body is bound here. We see a couple occurrences, the first being Lazarus’ bound body and Jesus’ command to unbind him (Jn 11). In John, we also see Jesus being bound in ch. 18. Jesus was also sent bound to Caiaphas the high priest. I wonder if “bound” in the death sense (here and ch. 11) for this author is being bound (in the captive sense) for death. Is Jesus being bound/captive for Death (personified)? I know it is custom to bind the dead, but I can’t seem to shake the notion that Jesus is defeating death by bringing the antidote – eternal life. Death and perishing are the enemies of God in this Gospel.

9.  “Custom”/ethos – this seems like it would be the word that would tie my priest/temple theory together in regards to Jesus’ body. The first use of ethos in the NT is connected to “priesthood” in Luke 1:9. Unfortunately John doesn’t have any other uses of the term. In Acts it becomes a key term “ethos of Moses” as Paul gets accused of violating these.

10.Kepos – “Garden” (more like "orchard") seems to be used here with some strategy. First, I would want to check to see if the same word is used in the LXX for Adam and Eve’s garden in Gen. 2. At first glance it would seem that this isn’t the case. Chapter 2 uses “paradise” and it is translated garden – or so it seems. Second, I would like to follow the word in John. In this account, the disciples enter a garden at the beginning of 18 (the first occurrence). This is where Judas betrays Jesus. Peter’s denial of Jesus is connected to the valley when a family member of the ear-cut victim recognizes Peter from the valley the night before (second occurrence). And now (third and last occurrence – unless you count 20:15) Jesus is placed in a garden. In a very figural reading, I wonder if this garden serves as a reversal of Adam and Eve. Jesus enters the garden, Judas betrays and Peter denies (the sins) and Jesus’ dead body is laid here. Later, the resurrected Jesus will be confused for the gardener (20:15 – kepouros). If the Genesis garden is being recalled, and I am critical that it is, it could be a theological interpretative move for a reversal of Adamic curse.  But more than reversal, Jesus is the gardener of new creation and this garden serves as the seed-bed where the grain of wheat goes to die so that it can rise again and bear much fruit (John 12 – “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.”).

11. “Tomb” – of course we see the connection with Lazarus’ miracle, complete with a stone on top of it. Chapter 20 has 7 occurrences alone as the tomb seems to be a central point in the narrative, mostly to do with its emptiness. Jesus is in the tomb for precisely one verse (19:42). John’s Jesus is smooth like that.
  •  I wonder about the “newness” of the tomb. I would like for it to theologically signify new creation, but I doubt that. It seems more connected to the validity of Jesus’ resurrection. There are no other remnants of dead bodies, there was one and it is now missing. Also, the high Christology of Jesus and reverence therein probably makes this tomb unique for Jesus. Luke and Mark agree again and do not mention “new” in reference to the tomb. Matthew, again, agrees with John on the newness.
12. “They laid Jesus there” – tithemi is a pretty common word, but in John it does seem to occur in relatively significant passages. John 13 and 15 we have the connection of “laying down” of lives. First Peter refuses to hear of Jesus’ departure and swears fidelity through his willingness to die for Jesus. Second, Jesus equates love and “laying down” a life for friends. But the place where I see the most resonance is in John 10 where Jesus repeatedly (four times) says that the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep and of his own accord. More important the Shepherd lays it down so that he can take it up again. Jesus being laid here, in this tomb, seems to be parsed through the good shepherd sermon in John 10. We may be seeing Jesus prepared, spiced, bound, and laid in a fresh tomb behind a huge rock, but it is all under Jesus’ control – he is laying down his life and he will, in all hope, raise it up again. Even in the most hopeless of moments, Jesus’ burial, in John’s Gospel at least, there seems to be some hope.

13. No mention of “stone” until chapter 20 – and only once (with the exception of Lazarus’ stone). Its only reference –it’s “taken” away.


Gospel: John 19:38-42 - Theological Observations
1.  Discipleship with Joseph of Arimathea (JoA)  and Nicodemus – these folks, previously connected with the opposition, are no longer acting as foes of Jesus. Though a lot of ink has been spilled over whether or not these two were true disciples, it is compelling to me that they publicly associated themselves with Jesus in his death. It is not coincidental that the exalted Jesus drew people to himself. And so, our discipleship journeys in Lent begin with hesitation, with equal distrust, with the recognition that there is something to this Jesus character. But in Good Friday, the exalted Jesus draws us to himself in a way where we honor in a similarly royal way. Nic and JoA remind us of Mary in ch. 12 who anoints Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair. Our worship and following of this exalted one requires much from us. The woman offered 300 denarii worth of nard. These men offered fresh tombs, fresh linens, and 60-100 pounds of spices. More importantly, each of these laid aside pride, dignity, reputation, and/or concern for safety to be with Jesus.

2.   Jesus' body is focused on so much in this text. 3 times it is mentioned and there are only 5 occurrences in John. Jesus' body is obviously what our attention is being brought to. It is significant that it is only in the tomb for one verse because John’s Jesus is divine, and the grave only holds him for a short time. Holy Saturday isn’t even alluded to. Here Jesus is both dead and yet still reverenced and focused on. There is something about the body of Christ that I think needs to be fleshed out by larger contexts. If John is the larger context, there could be a temple metaphor here. Aramithea could be a deep reference to Samuel. At the very least, chapter 2 and 20 outline Jesus’ body as the temple, the first being a direct correlation and the second potentially being the cherubic throne. Certainly Hebrews will flesh it out from a lectionary approach, but that is for my intertext. With Good Friday as the theme, we can feel the tension expressed in this text. Jesus is dead. Here is his body. Yet, it was the exalted Christ and his body that brought about these disciples (JoA and Nic). He is being reverenced by fresh tombs and extravagant amount of spices. Jesus’ fresh tomb lends itself to Jesus’ body being unlike any other dead body. Though he bleeds and waters is brought forth, this is a unique body (Origen). His death and body are meaningful, they are the stuff of goodness for Good Friday.

3.  Nicodemus comes in the daylight… Good Friday, as the locus of salvation is the grand rising of the sun. It is the revelation of God who is light. Especially in John’s gospel where Jesus continually pointed to the his own crucifixion as his exaltation that would draw people to him (John 3 - with Nicodemus). Theologically, the cross illumines the will and way of God. In my own theme, “from the wilderness to the cross” we focus on Jesus as unique author and bringer of life and kingdom, but also as the exemplar for how to live faithfully in the new paradigm. The goodness of Good Friday in the theologically significant notion of Nicodemus coming in the Light is that we too can now walk in the Light as Jesus was in the light (1 John). We come to him significantly in the daylight and to hell with our reputation and safety as our foes now becomes empire and religious fanaticism.

4.  The Garden is a significant theme in these later chapters of John. Ch. 18 initiates the reference where Jesus comes to pray. Judas’ betrayal takes place here. Peter’s denial is connected to garden as well (“last night in the Garden”). Yet Jesus is placed in this garden/orchard as his burial place and will even be mistaken for a gardener in the next chapter. It seems that in our time people have tried to make much of this, equating Garden with Eden and Jesus with New Adam. Certainly this would be a Pauline move. Cyril of Jerusalem typifies these two places separately. From the first, for him, comes sin and the second comes salvation. He does see trees as a unifying theme, but nothing much more. Later he will draw on John’s Jesus speaking of being the vine and this is where the vine is planted. If we are going to go this route, I would prefer a John 12 reference since there is already textual evidence to do so (litran). In this chapter Jesus speaks of a grain of wheat falling to the ground and dying -  he says, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (Even the “bears” (phero) is the same word used of Nicodemus’ “bringing” the spice mixture – Jesus’ death brings about much fruit (i.e. Nicodemus’ transformation). The orchard-garden is the place where the grain of wheat “falls into the earth” – where it dies. Again, Jesus assures us that this is good in the grand scheme, for it will produce an abundance of fruit. The goodness is two fold in John 12 – Jesus death produces much fruit and it is the life to which he calls all his disciples.

5.    Laying down and taking up (tithemi) – Our section ends with Jesus’ body being laid in the tomb. It is ominous and final, at least at first glance. Jesus is dead. His body is placed in the tomb. Done. Jesus’ being ‘laid’ down here is mentioned twice in our section (41 & 42). Chapter 13 and 15 also have connections with laying down of life, the first being Peter’s and the second Jesus’ promise. John 10 has a 4-peat rapid-fire occurrence of Jesus laying down his life as the good shepherd. In all of this there is hope that it is not final. Even in our passage, the very historical reality that the women were coming back to do more work on the body after the Sabbath lends to the volatility of the situation. When placed in the larger Johannine text, this laying down of Jesus always is preliminary to him taking it back up. This is not final – though it is thorough and real. Jesus really dies, but he promised to rise. Even in our Good Friday/Lenten context, we have an Easter lens. We know the story, it is our hope and future. It cannot be understated that Jesus is dead, and this is for our glory. And we too must go through the pain of death both figurally and literally. But what Jesus lays down he will raise up. The death of Christ is necessary for our salvation, his resurrection for our glorification. Likewise, we must die to our lives. This is indescribably hard. But our hope is that Jesus will raise us up, first to “eternal life” and then resurrection in the last day. This is the whole paradigm that discipleship is predicated on. It is hard, it will kill us, but we will live holier and happier.

Commentary Work
Green, J. B. “Burial of Jesus” in Dictionary of Jesus and Gospels
  • Serves as transitional material, confirming the death of Jesus and preparing the reader for the empty tomb (88). 
  • Funerary Customs in Antiquity – Roman  
    • Burial was generally the norm with few exceptions, one of which was crucifixion. Often criminals were left on crosses to be eaten by birds as further deterrence for future lawbreakers. There is precedence for giving families the bodies on high festivals for burial (Philo, 89). 
  • Funerary Customs in Antiquity –Jewish 
    • Jews buried their executed criminals, but often without remembrance or allowing it to take place in family tombs 
    • There is strong evidence of a double burial. Buried once in a tomb and then, after 12 months of decomp, bones gathered and buried in family ossuary. 
  • Joseph of A 
    • Some traditions see this man as an enemy (see Acts 13:29), but Green sees Jesus’ death as the point of public declaration of faith for JoA and Nic. 
  • What sort of Burial? 
    •  Mark’s account is simple. Matthew adds clean linens and new tomb. John outdistances Matthew (and Luke) with the enormous amount of sweet smelling spices and aloe brought by Nic. This, coupled with the newness of the tomb, make Jesus’ burial a royal on.
Joseph of A and Nicodemus
  • John alone adds “a secret one for fear of the Jews.” JoA asked something out of the ordinary for both Jews and Romans in a way that “dissociated” himself with his Sanhedrin and showed sympathy for the Jews. It is not surprising that John’s Pilate gave in to the request he he, himself, pleaded for Jesus’ innocence (Beasley, 358) 
  • Nicodemus is a new addition with John. He must have gathered the spices and JoA the grave clothes. Quoting Hoskyns, “the two timorous believers are publicly and courageously drawn to the Christ after his exaltation upon the cross” (Beasley, 359). 
  • “Acknowledging Christ, when even his chosen disciples forsook him. In that extremity Joseph was no longer afraid, Nicodemus no longer ashamed” (Wesley).
Mixture of Myrrh/Spices/Aloes 
  • The weight is extravagant, but not uncommon for royalty. Nicodemus’ wealth is translated into reverence of King Jesus in the amount of spice brought for Jesus. Rabbi Gamaliel had 80 pounds burned by a follower, reported to have equated him to royalty (Beasley, 359). 
  • “a community that handles his crucified body in a royal way” (Maloney, 511). 
Garden
  • Nothing from Wesley or Beasley with the exception that Wesley wants to clarify that the cross wasn’t actually in the garden as the text is ambiguous. 
  • Though Jesus enters into the Garden with sinners and betrayers, “now he is surrounded by his new-found friends, a community that handles his crucified body in a royal way” (Maloney, 511). 
  • Paradise is where sin comes from, this garden is the source of our salvation. They are different and juxtaposed. But the latter redeems the former for Christ, through his death, is with the robber that day in paradise… this is where the vine of abiding is planted for our healing and growth (Cyril of Jerusalem).

Bibliography*
Beasley-Murray, G. R. (1987). World biblical commentary: Orge R. Beasley-Murray. Waco: Word Books.

Carson, D. A. (1991). The Gospel according to John. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

Green, J. B. “Burial of Jesus” in Dictionary of Jesus and Gospels.

Moloney, F. J., & Harrington, D. J. (1998). The Gospel of John. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press.

Elowsky, J. C. (2007). John 11-21. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press.

Wesley’s Notes on the Bible.

Witherington, B. (1995). John's wisdom: A commentary on the Fourth Gospel. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press.



[1] Ep. 55.14.24 as quoted in Jones, C. (1992). The Study of liturgy. (London: SPCK), p. 460.
[2] Study of Liturgy, 459.
*(For this assignment we were encouraged to use varied and wide-ranging sources)


James Cone

"No Christian can evade this responsibility. They cannot say that the poor are in poverty because they will not work, or they suffer because they are lazy. Having come before God as nothing and being received by God into the Kingdom through grace, the Christian should know that they have been made righteous (justified) so that they can join God in the fight for justice. Therefore, whoever fights for the poor, fights for God; whoever risks their life for the helpless and unwanted, risks their life for God. God is active in the lives of those who feel an absolute identification with all who suffer because there is no justice in the land."

~James Cone, "The Gospel of Jesus, Black People, and Black Power." (p. 45 - updated with inclusive language).

Friday, January 31, 2014

Hauerwas on Fasting

Hauerwas, S. (2006). Matthew. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Brazos Press), p. 80.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Two dreams about My Grandfather and Faith

In honor of All Saints day I have been reminded of my paternal grandparents who we lost last year seven months and seven days a part. I haven't had many dreams of my grandmother and I find that strangely comforting. But I have had profound dreams about my grandfather. He was a simple man of few words and our relationship was always very distant as, I feel, most of his relationships were.

The first dream was while he was still alive, just after my grandmother died.

While my grandfather was in the hospital, the doctors told the family he had about two weeks left. Two days after hearing that news, my wife, children and I drove down from Seattle. 2 hours into our trip I got a phone call informing me that he had passed. The second dream was a few days after he died.

Unassuming Parousia and Inclusion
The dream began with my wife, Titus, and I living in a blue house in the middle of a grassy field. There was a knock at the door and our demeanor changed immediately to fear and panic. I grabbed a gun and had my family hide in another room as I answered the door. At the door stood another man and his wife asking for a place to stay. My default stance was distrust and I told them they could pitch a tent in our front yard. They were happy to do so as they also seemed paranoid. I  take this to be a symbol of the brokenness of humanity and the world.

All of a sudden there was a flash of light and I was in a crowd of people less than a hundred but more than fifty. We were in a glass dome about 500 feet in diameter. In the middle of the dome was a golden house. The house was small, maybe two bedrooms. It looked like it was built for a 60's suburb. The golden color was less gold and more brown mustard. There was a sidewalk in between two small, manicured yards and a mailbox at the end of the sidewalk.

The crowd and I stood looking at the house in confusion. The front door opened and Jesus walked out. The crowd gasped and fell prostrate as he walked to the end of the sidewalk. I, too, fell down and uncontrollably wept (this, falling at the feet of Jesus and weeping, is not an uncommon theme in my dreams). Jesus stooped down towards me, lifted my head and body with his hand, looked me in the eye, and with a slight, joyful laughter in his voice, said, "There is no need for that - I'm here now." I was overwhelmed with joy.

Immediately, as dreams do, I was on the outside of the crowd looking at others have similar experiences. Then my attention was drawn to the glass dome, or, more importantly, to the thousands of people on the outside of the dome looking in with melancholy faces. My heart broke. Soon enough I caught the face of my grandfather in the crowd outside. We looked at each other for what seemed like a long period of time with silence and stillness that spoke volumes. When all of sudden and without warning, automatic, sliding glass doors, like those at supermarkets, opened up and the outsiders flooded in with rejoicing and shouts. My grandfather and I hugged and my joy returned.

Pilgrim's Prayer

After my grandfather passed, my family spent considerable amounts of time cleaning up the house that my grandparents lived in for about 50 years. My dream begins here, in that process. In my dream my uncle Robert told me to go to my grandparents' house and take anything I wanted to have as a memento or any of my belongings that I had left there. When I first pulled up I saw this miniature 3-wheeled motorcycle near the water meter (which is not something any one in my family would have owned). I grab it and push it around the corner of the "old house" that my grandparents kept on the property. As soon as I rounded the corner, my grandmother walks over to me. And even though she had died about seven months before, in my dream I was not surprised at all. It was as if she hadn't died, which doesn't make sense to the logic of the dream as I was there to clean up the house left empty by their passing. She asked, "what are you doing with that motorcycle?"

I responded, "Robert said I could have it." As I finish the statement my grandfather walks around the corner. I am dumbfounded. He is supposed to be dead. We look at each other with the same understanding - both of us completely surprised at his standing there. We embrace and cry. My grandmother has no idea what is going on. I say, "I thought you were gone."

He tearfully looks at me and says these cryptic words, "If I have died already then don't worry about it, but if I am still lying in the hospital bed come to me and pray the Pilgrim's prayer over me." I assure him I will and the dream ends.

I love studying and reading theology and scripture, present and historical. I had never, in my conscious recollection, heard about a "Pilgrim's prayer." I knew that there probably had been many prayers for pilgrims, and, so, out of shear curiosity I decided to look it up. One of the most famous pilgrimages, still very active, is found in Spain and is called "The Way of St. James." The pilgrimage ends in the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, which is named after the Apostle James who, according to some legends, is buried there. There is an ancient prayer, the Pilgrim's Prayer, that is recited by pilgrims and reportedly offered in the Pilgrims' mass at the conclusion of the journey:

"O God, who brought your servant Abraham out of the land of the Chaldeans, protecting him in his wanderings, who guided the Hebrew people across the desert, we ask that you watch over us, your servants, as we walk in the love of your name to Santiago de Compostela.

Be for us our companion on the walk,
Our guide at the crossroads,
Our breath in our weariness,
Our protection in danger,
Our inn on the way,
Our shade in the heat,
Our light in the darkness,
Our consolation in our discouragements,
And our strength in our intentions.

So that with your guidance we may arrive safe and sound at the end of the Road and enriched with grace and virtue we return safely to our homes filled with joy.

In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen."

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Brief thought on Teenagers, Youth Culture, and Social Media


            In an online discussion group for Kenda Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian every single seminary student, with the exception of one, marked that technology, the internet, or social media was the biggest change since their teenage years. What is even more surprising is that this is coming from students who are as young as 23. The speed up and changing of technology and social media is so pervasive and shifting in our youth culture, and for that reason it deserves to be put under the microscope. I want to explore not only social media’s pervasive aspects into American youth culture, but also its volatility.
            First, it is no secret that the internet and, more specifically, social media has a very high use is in this country. According to Pew Research, “Fully 95% of those ages 12-17 use the internet. Eight in ten online teens use some kind of social media… Facebook, which attracts 77% of online teens.”[1] To basically sum that up, close to 75% of American teens are on Facebook alone. And this monolith shows no signs of stopping, except, of course, with American teenagers.
            Any teenager would gladly tell you’re their dislikes about Facebook, but they would tell them to you on Facebook. For the all the declining attitudes about Facebook, the American teenage demographic is only plateauing and not declining in their use of or signing up for facebook. [2][3] This is rather surprising considering the staggering amount of teenagers already on Facebook. But teens are diversifying their social media use for many different reasons. The top two reasons have to do with the monolithic culture of facebook and adults.
            Facebook may be too much for many American teenagers, with the information being shared, the relational aspects, and the other users. Teens report turning to other social media sites (i.e. Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, and Vine) because of the constant need to be thoughtful about reputation or social interaction (“drama”).  “They …are drained by the ‘drama’ that they described as happening frequently on the site. The stress of needing to manage their reputation on Facebook also contributes to the lack of enthusiasm. Nevertheless, the site is still where a large amount of socializing takes place, and teens feel they need to stay on Facebook in order to not miss out.”[4]
            The second main reason youth are diversifying their time and interaction through social media is because of parent/adult participation in Facebook. . Pew Research reports, “In focus groups, many teens expressed waning enthusiasm for Facebook. They dislike the increasing number of adults on the site…”[5] This should raise some eyebrows for parents and those who work with teens. In attempts to be relevant and connected to teenagers, teens are, for intents and purposes, leaving cyber-places of connection because of the mere fact that it is a place of connection with adults. What does it mean for parents, clergy, and youth leaders that teens want a place without them specifically? Should youth leaders be seeking to create or join parent-less spaces or helping the kids to act appropriately and with integrity when they are in spaces by themselves?
            While teens are always going to want to be in situations, places, and groups without the watchful eye of their ethical moderators, social media seems to be very precarious because of the anonymity and lack of experience from parents in being able to teach, inform, or interact. Continuing the dialogue, modeling appropriate technological behavior and guidelines, and entering into compelling “real-life” community with teens and peers may be good places to start as ever-increasing social media experiences present themselves.


[1] Madden, Mary, et. al. 2013. “Teens, Social Media, and Privacy.” Accessed from: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Teens-Social-Media-And-Privacy/Main-Report/Part-1.aspx

[2] ibid.

[3] Forbes article on teens leaving Facebook, “’Based on our data, that’s simply not true,’ [Zuckerberg] said. What may be true is that they’re not gravitating toward the service in increasing numbers anymore, but that’s just because ‘we’ve been fully penetrated in the teen demo for a while now,’ he said.” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffbercovici/2013/
07/24/mark-zuckerberg-says-teenagers-arent-leaving-facebook/).

[4] Madden, accessed from: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Teens-Social-Media-And-Privacy/Summary-of-Findings.aspx


[5] ibid.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Brilliance - Oh Gracious Light

I couldn't find the lyrics to The Brilliance's song "Oh Gracious Light," based loosely off one of the oldest Church hymns outside of the bible, if not the oldest, "Phos Hilaron" - so here they are:


O Gracious Light, so pure and bright
Dispel the darkness of our hearts
That by Your brightness we may know the light

Incarnate Word, grant that the light
Deep enkindled in our hearts
May shine forth and give us divine life

Dayspring of Life, true Light from light
Pour into every broken heart
Peace and virtue binded by the light

O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed
We sing Thy praises in our hearts
God of heaven, Giver of all life

Bring Your peace, hope, and love
Bring Your peace, Gracious One

O Gracious Light, so pure and bright
Dispel the darkness of our hearts
That by Your brightness we may know the light

------------------------------------------------------------------
In case any one wants the chords as well:

Verse chords
G                       C   G/B          Am   
O Gracious Light, so pure and bright
G              C            G/B    Am      G
Dispel the darkness of our hearts
        D                            Am                       G
That by Your brightness we may know the light

Chorus chords
                    C        G/B           Am
Bring Your peace, hope, and love               
                    C        G/B           Am        D    
Bring Your peace, Gracious One

Interlude: G    D     Em  C      G/B  Am


Peace!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Stop believing in God

I have been noticing more and more this week that my friends are talking about "believing in God." Usually I think this discussion is a great thing, but lately I have been wondering if it is actually good at all.

Somewhere, in the mix of all the science and philosophy, enlightenment and post-modernism, "faith" has been merged with "belief." And, to be fair, I am sure belief is a part of faith somehow. But where the sacred scriptures talk about "faith in God" they rarely mean "belief in God." My sense is that the Bible spends little to no time at all talking about belief in God. And since we have a desire to talk about religion in dichotomies, theists vs. atheists, I feel that we are missing some key aspects about faith.

The simplest possible meaning for faith is trust.

Let that sink in.... .... .... ... can you already feel it? "I believe in God" is radically different than "I trust God." Isn't it? 

But this is where the rubber meets the road. Trust is where love happens. It is where relationship is. This is where our hopes, needs, desires, joys are met. We do God and our selves a disservice if we reduce the whole matter to a truth or opinion to be affirmed or "believed in." The God I know, the God who took on the flesh of humanity in the form of Christ and now dwells within our hearts as the Holy Spirit, does not need nor want us to "believe" but to have "faith." In fact, belief alone may actually hurt us more than help.

Look at it this way: do you believe in your mom or do you have faith in her? Of course she exists. You exist because she exists. But her faithfulness is another question entirely. Does she come through for you? Is she good to you? Does she love you? Is she reliable? Is she worthy of trust? These are the questions of faithfulness.

More so, belief does not require me to know you or even your mom. I can deduce the truth of her existence by the fact of your existence. But faith in your mom requires something altogether different - it requires a relationship and action. It is in knowing her and relying on her that I can come to trust her. So it with the Kingdom of God.

The greatest problem with believing in God is that belief alone allows us to objectify God. Belief allows us to make God into whatever we want whenever we want it. Scripture calls this idolatry. What is belief but a system of power and authority? When we decide to believe or not believe we are ultimately giving ourselves the power to recognize or not. But when we have faith/trust, we put ourselves in a position of vulnerability and weakness. It is in being vulnerable that we have genuine community and are nearest to the heart of God in Christ.

So let's reframe the conversation. No more "believing in" Jesus. That has got a lot of people going nowhere fast. Faith moves us. It shapes us. It defines us. It isn't just a characteristic we add on to our lives, but it transforms us. Faith makes waves in our lives. It causes us to act.

In teaching Christians about the deficiencies of belief alone, the apostle James says, "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder" (James 2).

Here are the questions I am wrestling with as I think through what this all means:
  • What does "Jesus is Lord" mean through the lens of belief? Through the lens of faith?
  • What do positions of violence look like through faith? Why are we violent or support violence? Is it a lack of belief or trust?
  • What does charity look like through faith?
  • What does sacrifice look like?
  • What is happening in my life when I get unjustly angry, frustrated, or upset?
  • What would my daily life look like if I trusted rather than believed?
    • Beliefs need defending, but trusted relationships don't.
    • Would trusting allow me to operate from a more God-centered position or not? 
    • Would my eyes be more open to the Kingdom's abundance or to the world's perceived scarcity?
Blessings!


P.S.  In researching the etymology of "faith" and "belief" I came across a respected biblical scholar's thoughts on the same topic. It may be of some help: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2013/03/why-i-dont-believe-in-god-anymore

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Case for Commandments

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments... They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them" - Jesus (John 14).

It seems to be in vogue these days to want to talk about discipleship in the context of long-term transformation. Basically, the logic presents itself this way: as the Holy Spirit works in our lives over a long period of time, we will be better abled to love/forgive/reach/extend grace to/ give financially to - God and others.

The problem: the above statement is absolutely true. The wholer we become, the holier we can become through the power of the Spirit.

And for that reason we need counseling and small groups and worship and accountability partners and devotionals and prying questions and sermons. We need to grow and become whole. Our capacity at self-deception knows few bounds and our ability to be functionally broken is near limitless. We need to be transformed, to grow, to be whole.

The real problem with the above logic is that we can't afford to wait for our own healing before we interact with and minister to others. This is where the commandment becomes important.

Now, I am well aware that the existing generations have a knee-jerk reaction to anything involving commands and obedience. I know because of my own resistance to the ideas, but, nevertheless, we are presented with a scripture full of commands given to us - the imperfect humans beings we are.

Commandments serve, precisely, to meet us in our brokenness. When we become Christians, the veil is lifted from our hearts and we see Christ. We are being transformed from one degree of glory into another. But all the while during that transformation process, we are still accountable for our actions, our responses, our conduct. We are still called to be like Christ - and by "called" I mean commanded. You see, it is the commandment that trumps our transformation and brokenness. No matter where we are in the process, we are still called to obedience. We are not bound to our transformation for the ability to carry out the commands of Christ. And while our transformation may make it easier to obey, it doesn't do the obeying for us. In the same manner, our broken- and sinfulness doesn't have the last word in obeying an expressed command of God. The command trumps our sinfulness by being grace to us by allowing us, through the power of the Spirit, to move away from brokenness and sinfulness. We do not have to wait for perfection or fear our imperfection to obey the commands - the commands are there to help free us from ourselves.

Secondly, there is little transformation without obedience to the commandments. While it may be true that greater wholeness leads to greater holiness, it is also true that greater obedience to the commandments allows for greater wholeness and holiness. We will progress very little in our discipleship if we wait to follow the commands of God until they are easy for us. Commands become easy by practice and obedience - not necessarily by time or education. One only needs to look at the members of their own congregation. There are some who have been in the Church but a short time and their hearts are soft and open towards others. And then there are some who have been in the Church their whole lives and have hearts of stone. Time does not make us more mature or wise, experience and practice do. Likewise, while theological education is invaluable to any Christian, it does not secure our faithfulness to God. There are many people educated beyond their wildest dreams about scripture, theology, the Church, and God, and, yet, they have no faith to speak of at all.

Thirdly, commandments are in place because those things commanded are hard. If they were easy and only required us to become more mature then it would stand to reason that maturing in the faith should receive more weight. But that isn't the case. Commandments are commanded of things that God wants and we won't do if left to our own devises and ways. They go against our inherent nature. Maturity may produce right action, but it most likely won't - at least not by itself. The mere fact that commandments are commanded should give us pause as to their weightiness and difficulty. Their existence alone speaks contrary to who we were and points quietly to who we should become

Finally, the commandments generally try to get the focus off of our selves and on to God and others. This new logic of giving our personal healing priority places the focus back on ourselves. As big a fan as I am of psychology and counseling, which has helped me immensely and I could not recommend it enough, this new logic seems to be a part of the over-psychologizing of Christian discipleship where the self is the primary concern. We are all drawn to the metaphor of each of us being a cup that is so full of God's love that it spills over to others, but what happens when we aren't feeling all that full? Do we not love? The apostles tell us that love always perseveres - does it? By over-focusing on our selves, our journey, our transformation, and our boundaries, we have fallen into the old traps of sin and brokenness - namely, to focus on the self at the exclusion of others. Moreover, we have missed the one obvious function of the commands, which is to help us focus on our selves less. I am now wondering if the focus on long-term discipleship and transformation has not been the greatest cause of long-term discipleship and transformation. Our ancestors reported great and overwhelming instances of God's grace that helped them overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles to our faith, and, yet, we imagine transformation taking decades.

For these reasons, and more, we should be leery of an ethic which over-emphasizes time and prioritizes the individual. Again, we all need individual healing and maturity - which requires time and somewhat of a prioritization of the individual. But it might be more worthwhile to focus on obeying the commandments of Christ. This just may be the greatest pathway to wholeness.

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." - Jesus (Matthew 28).

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Melting Elements and the evil spirits that roam the earth - 1 and 2 Peter

Below is something I wrote out in a discussion and thought it might be able to do some more good here as well:

2 Peter is a VERY difficult book to interpret. All scholars agree. The earth being laid bare at least means the earth survives. This stands with the creation account that the earth and creation are good and very good. But these stoichea/elements are not good. Where the earth is refined, the elements will be destroyed/melted.

Here is the Strong's parsing: http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4747&t=RSV

Notice Paul's use of the same word:

"So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the *elemental spirits* of the universe" (Gal 4:3). Though the RSV translates it "elemental spirits" the greek is "τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου" or "ta stoicheia tou kosmou" or the elements of the world (kosmou being our word for cosmos.).

Also see, "how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly *elemental spirits,* whose slaves you want to be once more?" (Gal. 4:9). Here the phrase is just "stoichea," same exact word as the 2 Peter passage above.

Paul, in Colossians, reiterates, "If with Christ you died to the *elemental spirits* of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?" --- same phrase as above.

More important than the whole biblical witness is Peter's use. We see something similar in 1 Peter 3 where Christ proclaims victory over the spirits in prison after his resurrection, "in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah..." (3:19-20). Peter is probably referring to the extra-biblical witness of Enoch and a Jewish worldview where the Nephilim and sons of God in Genesis 6 were spiritual powers and principalities rebelling against God (this and human rebelling lead to the flood). Paul and Peter reveal to us that most of these dark powers were bound up in the death and resurrection of Christ, but there is residual evil entities roaming the earth that will be destroyed ultimately when the refining fire of God comes to destroy all evil and injustice.

2 Peter 2:4-5 drives this home, "For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgement; and if he did not spare the ancient world, even though he saved Noah..." Here we see both rebelling angels and the flood connected. The stoichea are probably, in some mysterious sense, the offspring or residual consequence of the sinning angels "in prison..." The the ultimate perpetrators are locked up, the residual is still wreaking havoc on earth. Whereas 2 Peter is the problem facing the Church in his time (false teachers and stoichea) chapter 3 is the promise of the destruction of evil so that ultimately God can finish the transformation of our current creation into new creation, bringing "new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home" (2 Peter 3:13).

At the very least, here is John Calvin's thoughts on the matter from his commentary on the matter. He has a great thoughts from 1 and 2 Peter but here is a snippet: "Of the elements of the world I shall only say this one thing, that they are to be consumed, only that they may be renovated, their substance still remaining the same, as it may be easily gathered from Romans 8:21, and from other passages" (He is talking about chemical elements, not stoichea - http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom45.vii.iv.iii.html).

We find the Christian response to all this in Ephesians 6, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm."

Blessings!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Bad Theology Leads to Bad Practice

“I know who made the environment and he’s coming back and going to burn it all up. So yes, I drive an SUV." - Mark Driscoll

Prime example of why bad theology leads to bad practice. Also, great example of why he is such a polarizing figure and why we should be on the frustrated/dissatisfied side of that polarization.

The part that frustrates me most about this is that even the founder of his own tradition (John Calvin) totally disagrees with this interpretation of the Petrine theology. This is a dispensationalist rendering of 2 Peter 3, not a Calvinist or Wesleyan view.

2 Peter 3:10 & 12 says, "the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed... because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire?"

Calvin says, "What afterwards follows, respecting the burning of heaven and earth, requires no long explanation, if indeed we duly consider what is intended. For it was not his purpose to speak refinedly of fire and storm, and other things, but only that he might introduce an exhortation, which he immediately adds, even that we ought to strive after newness of life. For he thus reasons, that as heaven and earth are to be purged by fire, that they may correspond with the kingdom of Christ, hence the renovation of men is much more necessary. Mischievous, then, are those interpreters who consume much labor on refined speculations, since the Apostle applies his doctrine to godly exhortations.

"Heaven and earth, he says, shall pass away for our sakes; is it meet, then, for us to be engrossed with the things of earth, and not, on the contrary, to attend to a holy and godly life? The corruptions of heaven and earth will be purged by fire, while yet as the creatures of God they are pure; what then ought to be done by us who are full of so many pollutions? As to the word godlinesses (pietatibus,) the plural number is used for the singular, except you take it as meaning the duties of godliness. Of the elements of the world I shall only say this one thing, that they are to be consumed, only that they may be renovated, their substance still remaining the same, as it may be easily gathered from Romans 8:21, and from other passages."

Let me paraphrase...
  • Calvin wants to use the word "purge" not "burn it all up."
  • Calvin says that this passage's main point is exhortation or encouragement to godly living. It is not speculation about the end times and people who use it to make grand speculations he deems "mischievous."
  • "Of the elements of the world I shall only say this one thing, that they are to be consumed, only that they may be renovated, their substance still remaining the same..." It will not be burned up, it will be redeemed, restored, re-created, re-purposed - in effect, it will be new creation, new heaven and new earth.
That is the theology, now for practice. Peter writes so that we will live proleptically. That means we live in such a way as to anticipate the future coming of the Lord and his actions. We live the future now because Christ has been raised and we too will be raised. Christ is the first-fruits, the sign of the coming Kingdom.  What are Christ's actions? New creation. What does St. Paul tell us about new creation? "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ..." (2 Corinthians 5).

Christ is making all things new. He has given us this responsibility, this ministry, reconciliation and new creation. Therefore, we live in such a way as to anticipate this. We make things new. We protect, steward, and facilitate people and creation towards new creation. We redeem broken and discarded things. We bring resurrection to everything we touch. We do not discard for all creation is very good and all of creation will be reconciled and made new. There will be a refining of creation. Evil, injustice, death, disease, and sin will be rooted out (those things not of God). But Christ is in the business of redeeming what he made. It was deemed very good and it will be good again.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

SPU's Vision Statement - "Engaging the Culture, Changing the World"

The University I attend held a vision clarifying contest. Students could submit their ideas for how to interpret the school's vision statement. Here is my submission - submitted hastily (sorry the flow is not obvious). This essay was awarded somewhere in the top 8 - but not 1st, 2nd, or 3rd :)

It has been long believed that engaging the culture and changing the world meant taking on power and influence. This has been recently labeled "the captains of industry" model and it suggests that if only enough Christians were equipped to leadership positions in the realm of politics and business, Christians would be able to leverage enough pull for the kingdom of God to shape the culture.

The allure of this idea is that it is at least partially true. If Christians become the majority deciders and main policy makers, the world will be changed. The goal, then, is to have followers of Christ become CEO’s, legislators, school board members, governors, mayors, teachers, and administrators. This model has been used throughout the centuries, from the Moral Majority to Constantine’s conversion of the empire.

But SPU’s theological tradition does not believe that such a model is the best way to foster the Kingdom of God. John Wesley writes:
“I have been long convinced, from the whole tenor of ancient history, that this very event, Constantine’s calling himself a Christian, and pouring in that flood of wealth and honour on the Christian Church… was productive of more evil to the Church than all the ten persecutions put together. From the time that power, riches, and honour of all kinds were heaped upon the Christians, vice of all kinds came in like a flood, both on the Clergy and laity. From the time that the Church and State, the kingdoms of Christ and of the world, were so strangely and unnaturally blended together, Christianity and Heathenism were so thoroughly incorporated with each other, that they will hardly ever be divided till Christ comes to reign upon earth.”[1]
A church or institution that seeks after power, wealth, and honor, no matter how noble the cause or pure the intentions, will grow lukewarm and only hold to the outward form of godliness but lose its power.

No, the Kingdom of God comes without being observed.[2] It is an undiscovered valuable pearl. It is a secret treasure buried in a field.[3] And the whole counsel of God’s word reveals this too us. God takes on the flesh of a baby. The prophet hears the voice in a whisper. The barren woman becomes the mother of promise. The judge conquers thousands with an army of 300.

In Acts 17 St. Paul stands over the city of Athens looking at its need for Christ and lamenting its idolatry. Through his normal routine he is shockingly invited to speak at the Areopagus. This council represents the epitome of conventional wisdom, religious truth, and culture. And Paul preaches the sermon of his life, being culturally sensitive, appealing to his audience, quoting relevant poetry, and laying out the Gospel of Christ’s resurrection and ascension. This sermon is so good it is often pointed to as a “how to” guide in engaging the culture. What is often missed is that Paul utterly fails. The council is not converted. Their idolatry is not removed. Christ is not accepted.

But are we really surprised? The prophets almost always fail to bring about repentance. Christ stands over Jerusalem weeping and wishing that she would gather to him. But she won’t. The world never does. The conventional powers are never converted. Christ and the prophets are killed. No, we aren’t surprised because Acts 17 foreshadows this very outcome. Paul’s enemies rally a mob and some thugs in Thessalonica to fabricate a charge against him. This lie becomes one of the greatest professions of faith and truth in the whole of scripture, “These people… have been turning the world upside down… saying that there is another king named Jesus.”

The Kingdom of God is upside down. It is antithesis to the world. It resists power, and honor, and wealth. Presented here is a two-fold way of engaging the culture and changing the world tha comports better with the call of Christ: a citizen of the Kingdom engages the culture and changes the world by dying to self, denouncing wealth, and resisting the powers.[4]

So how does a Christian university prepare its faithful students to engage the culture and change the world?

First, that university would have to recognize the age-old paradox that it finds itself in. Among the expected outcomes of a university degree coupled with a Christian ethic is that the recipients are able to succeed and excel in their field of study and business. If a degree is unable to help do this, it has betrayed its exact purpose. But it is precisely this function of the combination of Christianity and education that raises the greatest issue. The paradox presents itself in that the success derived from these two are inversely proportional to a Christian’s growth in grace. Wesley laments this exact paradox when he writes, “For wherever true Christianity spreads, it must cause diligence and frugality, which, in the natural course of things, must beget riches! And riches naturally beget pride, love of the world, and every temper that is destructive of Christianity.”[5] And even though this sermon is primarily about the giving up of as much money as possible, it also carries with it the audacious ideal to take Christ’s command of daily dying to our selves very seriously. This, for Wesley, is the only solution to the paradox. Where Christianity and education lead to wealth, power and honor, which ultimately lead to spiritual decay, true discipleship leads to the death of one’s self.

And if spiritual decay were not the result of wealth, honor and power in the life of the Church and individuals ninety-nine times out of a hundred, or even nine times out of ten, then mortification of the flesh would not be the only cure. But we need only look into the lives of the successful by the world’s standard and see that her prayer closet is dusty, the wife of his youth preferred the poorer version of her husband, and the appointment book used to be full of doing good, but now it can only reflect doing well. And Jesus told us this would happen when he described wealth, honor and power as seeds sown among thorns, saying, “but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.”[6]

So it would seem, that the first way for the university to engage the culture and change the world would be to train its students to embrace the call of Christ seriously, in the measure of costly grace and not that of cheap. This would call us to a life of sacrifice, in all areas of life, which would counteract any besetting sin of avarice that might entangle us. Bonhoeffer confronts the matter this way, “We gave away the word and sacraments wholesale, we baptized, confirmed, and absolved a whole nation unasked and without condition... We poured forth unending streams of grace. But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard... Was there ever a more terrible or disastrous instance of the Christianizing the world than this? ...Cheap grace has turned out to be utterly merciless to our Evangelical Church.”[7]

Ultimately, this first step would help the individual negotiate the trajectory of their lives. Instead of trying to climb the latter of success and figure out where Jesus fits in, the cross of discipleship helps us have “…the same mind …that was in Christ Jesus” when he modeled downward mobility from Heaven to the servant of all, even to death, still more, death on a cross. After all, it is the slave of all who is the greatest in the Kingdom of God.

Secondly, the university must emphasize and encourage the student to embrace the larger community of faith working for the realization of the Kingdom of God. Placing an emphasis on the community and the kingdom will train students to navigate the murky waters of individualism and call. Whatever our call in life, from business, to arts, education and ministry, grounding our work in Kingdom purposes will keep our lives on track for Christian success. John Mott, the well-known advocate for Missions and Ecumenism, taught similarly when advocating for medical missionaries, “This is true where the pervading and controlling aim in all the work is, as it should be, evangelistic.”[8] Training students to see their work with a Kingdom directive and perspective will, without a doubt, change the culture and maybe even the entire world in this generation, as Mott was fond of saying.

But the Kingdom, as we know, resists temptations to worldly power, not least because Christ’s kingdom is not from or of the Empires of this world.[9] The Kingdom reinforces the lessons of individual discipleship, and calls both Church and person to pursue downward mobility. This may be most demonstrated in Christ’s parable of the Kingdom as a mustard seed.

Jesus says, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade." Jesus would have been a very popular preacher if he had preached that the Kingdom of God was one of the great Cedars of Lebanon or some other victorious, conquering symbol, but instead, as Chris Shaw and Shane Claiborne point out, Jesus describes the Kingdom as a wild bush – a weed.[10]

No one expects Jesus to compare the ultimate work of God to a weed. And though mustard seeds are very small - they grow into a menace very quickly. In Canada, the world’s top supplier of mustard seed,[11] the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture warns farmers of this dangerous plant by writing[12]:

  • “Wild Mustard is an aggressive weed… and now occurs throughout all Canadian provinces.”
  • “Wild mustard can represent a serious weed problem…”
  • “Wild mustard is common in cultivated fields, gardens, pastures, riverbanks, roadsides and waste places.”
  • When asked how to control this weed, the government of Canada says that getting control of “infested land is often impossible”
The Kingdom that Jesus ushers in is like a weed that is so aggressive it is all over the place from ordinary gardens and farmlands to roadsides and even waste places.  It represents a serious problem because it is so pervasive. Our Kingdom is a weed, small and unassuming from a small and unassuming seed, but it finds its way into the toughest cracks, breaking the toughest concrete foundation, through darkest places and isn’t uprooted. It stands forever impossible to control. And Jesus calls his people to live into that Kingdom wherever it goes, whether in common gardens or waste places, with ordinary people and with the disenfranchised.

But even more surprising is that the birds of the air, sometimes associated with being unclean, make their home in this kingdom tree. This Kingdom of God does not grow like the empire does, and it certainly does not contain the same economy. Rather, this Kingdom spreads everywhere and thrives in the waste places, the unclean, the marginalized, and the poor. After all, the founder of Free Methodism and SPU believed ardently in a Kingdom of God that was a mustard seed. It was vital for the Free Methodists to associate themselves with the poor and marginalized and this idea even became the official guiding vision for the church where, in her discipline, these goals were written, “to maintain the Bible standard of Christianity, and to preach the Gospel to the poor.”[13] It is this very phenomenon that led Jesus to exclaim, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”[14]

It should be noted that I love Seattle Pacific University and Seminary. I chose it over the myriad of other schools because of its tradition, pedagogy, and ethos. Not only did I want to come here, I perceived it to be God’s will for my family and I through prayer and even a dream. The Lord is doing an amazing work in and through this school and I am glad to be involved. The above is not a criticism of the current vision or direction of the school, but hopefully it can lend itself as one theological voice along side the university’s other perspectives.

Ultimately, the best and most lasting way to engage the culture and change the world needs to be done at the lowest level. Students, faculty and staff need training to embrace the sacrificial call of discipleship as embodied in Kingdom ethics and lived out in the Church. Any model that involves worldly concepts of power and wealth, betrays both the ethic of a disciple and the model of the Christ. Any model that emphasizes Christ’s sacrifice and proclaims, “that though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich” gets to boast in suffering as the Apostle did, saying that “as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships… in honor and dishonor… unknown, and yet are well known… as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” This is the way to engage the culture. Surely this is the way to change the world.
 

[1] Wesley, John. “Of Former Times” in Sermons on Several Occasions.   
[2] Luke 17.
[3] Matthew 13.
[4] Luke 14.
[5] Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity, para. 17.
[6] Matthew 13.
[7] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. (New York: Macmillan, 1979), 58. Bottom of Form
[8] Mott, John R. The Evangelization of the World in This Generation. (New York: Student Volunteer Movement for 
      Foreign Missions, 1905), .
[9] John 18:36
[10] Claiborne, Shane, and Chris Haw. Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals. (Grand Rapids, Mich:     
         Zondervan, 2008), 103.
[11]  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mustard_seed#Production
[12] http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/03-043.htm
[13] The Doctrines and Discipline of the Free Methodist Church (Rochester, N.Y.: General Conference, 1870), p. ix.
[14] Matthew 21.