Psalm 113 and the “-ologies”

hallelujah

 

This Psalm is a reflection on the name of God (Yahweh) which is rendered LORD in most modern translations.

 

First I notice the variations on the phrase “Praise the Lord” which are all variations on the word Hallelujah (“praise Yahweh”).

  • Praise the Lord (hallelu jah)
  • Praise  (him) the servants of the LORD (hallelu abedey yahweh)
  • Praise the name of the LORD (hallelu eth shem yahweh)
  • Let the name of the LORD be blessed (yahi shem yahweh mebarak)
  • Praise to the name of the LORD (mehulal shem yahweh)

This reminds me of musical compositions that take a theme and vary it through the piece, both in classical music and jazz.  It seems a kind of memditation by repetitive variation.

Then I notice contrasts in categories of time, space, people.  So I made this outline.

ps113

These show the LORDS praiseworthiness in regards to

  • time (now and forever)
  • location (place of sun rising and setting)
  • the nations
  • the heavens (which the Lord has to stoop down to even see)
  • classes of people (Poor, princes, childless woman, mother)

It’s a bit ironic that in the tradition of the text, we change the actual NAME of the LORD to the word “LORD” so as not to break the commandment against taking the LORD’s name in vain.

 

Advertisements

Power or Persuasion

It was in 1976 when Jimmy Carter was running for president that it was declared to be the Year of the Evangelical.  It was supposed to be a return from the fundamentalist wilderness, brought on by Scopes and the Modernist/Fundamentalist controversy.

Just three years prior, Roe v Wade was decided.  Abortion became legal (the part about trimesters fell to the side).  By 1980 there was a marriage between “Evangelical” and “Republican” that lasts to this day.

Carter was ambiguous on the issue.  Reagan ran with it.  Though in office he did little until the last months of his second term.  He was really about the economy and the national defense.

It takes 2/3 of the congress of the US and 3/4 of the states to pass an amendment to the constitution.    I was in college in the time of that marriage, and it seemed to me then that it would take a long stretch to get any amendment through congress, and certainly one on Abortion.  After all, some states had already legalized Abortion before Roe.

The term “Evangelical” is hardly usable any longer.

To Charismatics it means those bookish Christians with whom they agree about Jesus.

To Liberals  it means those tho are married to the wrong party.  They chose to marry the Democratic party instead.

To Fundamentalists it means wishy-washy on some of the fighting issues.

To those who used the term back in the day, it meant committed to the Gospel, to the Bible and to an educated presentation of “conservative” or “Biblical” theology.

Now in popular media it means, those people who vote for Republicans almost all the time.  Watch how the term is used in an election year.  Now every year is an election year.  Mid term elections start the day after the Inauguration.  Presidential elections start the day after the mid term elections.

Lots of us (I still use the term “evangelical” to describe my theological position) fell in for using the power of the ballot box to fix the country.  Butevangelicals

the marriage to a party or a candidate makes us an apologist for the same.  Reagan was theologically uninterested.  George W Bush waved his faith to gain votes, but could not speak well for what he was for biblically.  (I give him credit for trying to deal with Immigration, cutting across the grain of the crowd.)  Donald Trump is hard to define politically and religiously. I heard my family members say, “we are electing a president not a Sunday School Teacher.”  However, they were not so forgiving of Bill Clinton.

I think we missed the boat.  Power is held in place by persuasion.  We opted for power, and did little to persuade people about the value of life, and the cause for what marriage should be.

Abortions have gone down since the heyday.  I think that the current technology of ultrasounds destroyed the argument that a fetus was only a “blob of flesh.”  The court appointees of Republican presidents have made no difference on this issue.  Persuasion from technology has.

Dear Fellow Evangelicals, lets go back to the ministry of the word, persuasion, engaging people respectfully without name calling and listening to criticisms of our position. Are we single issue? Can we separate being pro-life for the pre-born from pro-life about health care, poverty, racism, the environment, refugees and other issues?  How does being an American fit with being a Christian?

Whomever we support politically, we cannot promise fidelity. Our fidelity has to be the the Lord and his Word.  If we have common cause, so be it. If not, we can not put up with immoral or indecent words and actions because things we like get done.

Done.

Calm in the Canoe – a parable

canoeFrom the shore we can see the man in the canoe.  He is not paying attention to the danger he is in, because his eyes are closed.  What he does not see, we can see clearly.  Just down river is a quick succession of rapids through large boulders and then a 30 foot waterfall.  We call out, but he is not connected to the world.

I am in my canoe.  It is taking me on a journey.  I do not strive or turn, but am satisfied to follow the path of water and current.   I have closed my eyes and taken the position.  I have been breathing slowly, allowing myself to be completely in this time and place.  The flow of the river, the lapping of the waves, the gentle breeze on my face all are sensed, not as separate sounds, but part of one sound.

We start to shout, but he is not listening.

I heard chattering monkeys just then, but now they have receded.

We call out: Danger is ahead!  Turn to Shore!  Your life is in danger.

Quietly I flow, the water flows, the canoe flows, all time flows, we flow as one.
He must have fallen asleep.  We try tossing a stone against the boat, but it is hard to reach.  The first and second try miss, but on the third we hear the “clunk” of success. He stirs, but then returns to his sleep.

Nature and I are one. The river and I are one.  Time and I are one.  Words have no meaning.  All is at peace.

Just now we see the boat enter the rapids…he awakes at the third stone he hits, but not in time.  He starts to paddle, but will he get to shore in time?

What is that, the flow is interrupted. I open my eyes and the peaceful waters are shouting. The mirror water is mist.  There is a roaring just ahead.  Rapids!  Waterfall!

I grasp my paddle and pull deeply in the water, but the roaring grows louder.

Just as he goes over the edge, he reaches upward and cries out. Then he is gone.

It’s too late.  I’ve come to the edge.  Someone help me!

 

David Carlson

9/26/17

Marks of the Beast – Part 1

666           In Revelation we have hit the jackpot.   In chapter 12, we meet the great Dragon – who is Satan. Then in chapter 13 we discover two Beasts; the first is identified with the Anti-Christ and the second with his High Priest.  To top it off, we have a secret code, the number 666.  Oh what fun we can have with this!

Let me start with a quote.  This is written by a man whose last name is Boring.  He is Eugene Boring.  Yes, that makes this a boring book, by a boring author.  I will leave the rest of the jokes to you.   I do not agree with everything that he says, but this is true.

“…this text about the ‘mark of the beast’ has through the centuries been a happy hunting ground for religious quacks and sensationalizers…[so] it is important to give some clear guidance for preaching and teaching.”  (M. Eugene Boring, Revelation, WJK, 1989, p. 161)

I have heard lots of speculation: the anti-Christ was Michael Gorbachev., because of his birthmark that looked like a wound to his head.  I’ve heard many theories like that. The number 666 could be a tattoo.  Maybe it is three rows of 6 numbers. Maybe it is a microchip inserted beneath the skin.  We actually do have that technology.  People tried to change the name of State Highway 666 in New Mexico, but I think it is good for tourism.  In the Reformation era, Lutherans said the Anti-Christ was the Pope.  The Pope returned to say it was Luther.  So there are many ideas, and little information.

I believe the best way to understand Biblical teaching is that there will be one anti-Christ with a Capitol A.   That term does not come from Revelation, but from I John 2:18

 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.

There will be one Anti-Christ with a capital A in the last hour.  However, even in the early church, there were many little a anti-Christs.

Big A will have  all the worst characteristics of the worlds despots and dictators – wrap up Nero, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, and Kim Il Jung into one  and you get the idea.

But in the meantime, the spirit of anti-Christ is in the world. There have and there will appear again those with the marks of anti-Christ.

Today I do pretend to solve the mystery of the number 666  I want to talk of the things that define all of the anti Christs, the ones with the small a and the one with the big A.  These are the Marks of the beast – marks are plural on purpose.

(Note: there is a prediction that the world will end with a wandering planet tomorrow, September 23. This is based on Revelation 12 and some star charts.  So you better read quick!)

 

Reading Companions?

scribe.2

This is an excerpt from a lecture at a local Christian College class taught by community pastors – my assignment was Neo-Orthodoxy to what is going on now!  The following introduction has to do with our reading companions – who do we consciously or subconsciously rely on to interpret the scriptures?

____

Theology is written by very human theologians.  The truth of God is eternal and unchanging but our understanding is often tied to the other things we know, or think we know.  We interpret the Word of God by our world, our experience and through our culturally conditioned eyes.  We read the Bible through cultural lenses.  So we see that:

  • The Church Fathers were very influenced by Plato and Neoplatonic thought.
  • The Medieval theologians were influenced by Aristotle.
  • Modernist Theologians were influenced by science, Darwin and a view of human progress.
  • This is seen in how we view Creation, for example. Galileo did not so much challenge the Bible, but a consensus view that was based on Aristotle, Ptolemy and the Bible.
  • This is seen in how we view Revelation – is the Bible a Divine Book only (Neoplatonic church fathers), a human book only (higher critical modernists) or both ( Evangelical – e.g. Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy)
  • This is seen in how we view Salvation – The Christ pictured in the Sistine Chapel is unapproachable and busy sending sinners to hell and saints to heaven (is it any wonder that the people turned to Mary?); the Christ of Liberalism is kindly and humane. Albert Schweitzer said of the “quest for the historical Jesus” that European scholars searched carefully and found that Jesus was just like themselves.

C. S. Lewis said that one should alternate reading current books with old ones. This is one way we help see the trap that is the world view of our own times. Reading church history raises this question for us.  Who or what do we use to stand next to the Bible to interpret it?   Tradition (officially co-equal to scripture in Catholic Theology); Theological schools (Calvin v. Arminius); Popular Culture (church should entertain); the Business world (Pastors are CEOs); Social Media; Psychology (as practiced by Oprah, Dr Phil);

Question: What lens do you use to understand the Bible?

(Full notes – NeoorthodoxyEtc.notes )

Circular* Reasoning in John

john-9-healing-blind-man-mosaic

The Johannine books (John; I,II, III John) share a number of characteristics in style.  This is why John the Apostle was held until modern times as the author of all of them.  Of course there are as many other theories as there are scholarly treatises on that.

I’ve been struggling in John’s Gospel with the discourse sections.  There are two that are fairly easy to track: John 3 with Nicodemus, and John 4 with the Woman of Samaria.  But the discourses in chapter 5 Miracle at Bethesda; Chapter 6, Feeding the 5000; Chapter 7, at the Festival of Booths; John 8; John 9 with the healing of the man born blind are all more difficult.

Even the discourse in chapter 4 is rambling – Jesus and the woman talk about water and worship and the holy spirit before all is done.

I’ve struggles to make sense of the shape of these discourses.  They seem to ramble or on occasions bounce between Jesus and some opponent or opponents.  So there is no neat or linear way to represent the discussion.  You know that outline method you learned in school? throw it out!

In desperation I went to my library.  There I found a book I had not spent much time with.  “John: Evangelist & Interpreter” by Stephen S. Smalley.  Smalley made some helpful observations. In the “first act” of John, there are a number of sign/miracles which are followed by discourses.  He describes their structure as being “spiral” in nature.

“John…structures his discourse material so as to advance his subject, almost in spiral fashion, through a series of dramatic disclosures towards a climax.” p. 147

So we have this: a sign/miracle followed by a discourse or disputation with Jesus and another party or parties. The theme of the discourse tends to be repeated in some way in each division in the discourse.

In John 9, the man blind from birth is healed by Jesus who anoints his eyes with mud and asks him to go and wash.

Then there these sub sections, each one except the concluding two repeating something about the man born blind: (p. 143)

  • v. 8-12 Man and Neighbors
  • v. 13-17 man and Pharisees
  • v. 18-23 Man’s parents  and “Jews” (i.e. Authorities)
  • v. 24-34 Man and “Jews”
  • v. 35-38 Jesus and Man
  • v. 39-41 Jesus and Pharisees

The last two parts leave to two conclusions: The man comes to believe in Jesus as the Son of Man and even worships him.  the Pharisees reject Jesus as a sinner because he healed the man on the Sabbath.

Through this we have woven themes of sin (was the man or his parents responsible for his blindness, Did Jesus sin by breaking the Sabbath, are the Pharisees sinners for rejecting Jesus?) and blindness (the man’s physical blindness which is cured, his spiritual insight. the Pharisees who see Jesus’ works but are blind to his light.)

“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind”  v. 39

*This is misnamed “circular reasoning” because a circle returns on itself. A spiral however is circular but it also moves from beginning to end.  One has to hang with all the turns and not get lost.

I am still figuring out how to preach such a passage.

 

Sayings with Strings Attached – John 7:24

spidermanbaloonWhen we lived in New York, we would travel from Queens to Manhattan to see the Macy’s Parade. Up close and personal you see that the balloons are maneuvered down the city streets by many helpers.  The balloons have not one but many strings.  These tie the balloon to the earth.  One year Spider man was not the vigorous super hero you see in the photo here, but having been battered by the wind against lamp posts he was limply carried by the helpers on the ground.

I wonder about embedded sayings in the biblical text.  One example is “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst.” Matthew 18:20.  Is this a saying that is true for potlucks, worship services and prayer meetings? Some say that this is only true for the immediate application to Matthew 18, which has to do with church discipline.  In other words, is the saying relatively free (few strings) or quite bound (many strings).

In John 7, there is a discussion about Jesus legitimacy.  questions about him abound in this passage.  Why is he in a backwater like Galilee when the real action happens in Jerusalem?  How can he be a teacher if he does not have formal education?  How can he break the law by healing on the Sabbath (referring to John 5). How can he be a great prophet or the messiah if he is from Galilee?

Jesus said this “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”  In the immediate context of v. 20-24 he is comparing the practice of circumcision on the Sabbath, which was considered lawful, with his act of healing on a Sabbath.  He is saying, quit just looking at the surface of things, but think deep.

In the context of John 7, this saying applies to the questions surrounding Jesus. Who is he? What right to belief does he have?

In the context of the Gospel as a whole we can find a wider application – that is, will you the reader come to faith in Jesus.  Belief or faith is tied to eternal life throughout John.  So take a deeper look at Jesus.

Can we take this saying and apply it even more generally.  “Christian, quit looking at the outward appearance, but look at the reality. Is it right and true?”  This could be limited to questions of Jesus identity, but could it not be useful for many ethical questions we face.  Is Candidate A truly patriotic because s/he wears a flag on his/her lapel?  Is it pro-life to be anti-abortion and pro-gun?

I think that there are limits (some strings on the balloon) based on the meanings of the words and the general associations with the larger biblical texts.  We should not limit sayings to only one application.

I think, for example, that John 7:24 compares favorable to Isaiah’s beginning chapters that criticize religious ceremony that is not matched by faithful hearts or just lives. (See Isaiah 1:10ff)

The sayings take on the quality of an “aphorism” which is a terse saying embodying a general truth, or astute observation.  There are many of these in the wisdom books and in the teaching passages of Jesus.