25 September 2005

Still Speaking of Sin?

Karl Mennenger wrote What Ever Happened to Sin? in the 70's. Barbara Brown Taylor has written a book in the recent past entitled Speaking of Sin: The Lost Language of Salvation.These two books have prompted much thinking in my mind about the language of the Christian faith.

I agree with many contemporary theologians who note the "otherness" of being Christian. Some have noted that Chrisitanity is a learned pracitce; to be Christian is to learn the values, ethics, attitudes and language of the community (see Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon). To be a follower of Jesus, one must apprentice themselves to one or many people who have been living the Christian faith. NT Wright uses the piano metaphor (learning to play the right notes) while Brian McLaren uses the violinist analogy. In all of this the point is clear: The Christian faith does not come naturally to most of us. To be Christian is to be oriented to a whole new way of thinking and living; a whole new approach to seeing the world.

Taylor, in Speaking of Sin, states that "...sin might just be the last best hope of the church." Unless we understand the power of sin over creation we cannot appreciate the ways in which Jesus exposes, names, resists and defeats these cosmic powers. In fact, I encouraged our church this morning to read Romans in light of the ministry of Jesus in the scope of this divine/human drama; the battle between the powers of sin and the powers of Creator God.

Though sin has been a huge focus of evangelical churches for the last several decades, I'm not necessarily advocating more of the same company stuff. I believe we need to talk more about wider definitions of sin (racism, injusice, classism, and sexism) as well as the way in which the Old Testament and New Testament bear witness to God's interest in the communal sins of His people. Conservative Christians often focus only on the "private individual sins" as oppposed to the ways in which the darkness can hold collective groups in a hazy fog.

One need look no further than the way in which conservative churches reacted during the Civil Rights Era in the 1960's in America or the way in which a large portion of Lutherans in the middle of the 20th Century wholesale pledged themselves to the ideologies of the Thrid Reich. I am afraid to ask whether or not the contemporary church might be blind to the call of God in our American culture.

Communal sin is dangerous to the Kingdom of God. And a wider defintion of sin will prevent us from only being passionate about rated R movies, alcohol, and ....well you get the point.

Thank God, He is still pursuing us and empowering us to become more like him. "I am not the man I want to be nor the man with God's help I'll someday become--but thank God I am not the man I used to be," Martin Luther King Jr.

13 September 2005

No Longer...

Men and women gathered, this past Sunday, from all different walks of life to pray and raise money for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. People from black and white backgrounds sang prayed to their Creator for healing and divine presence. People from different neighborhoods uttered the classic words "Our God, He is Alive." African American ministers preaced with their unique cadence and pace. White ministers told their best stories of faith in the midst of joy. It was truly a time in which, if you looked close enough, Christ was present in the tears, confession, and prayers of his people.

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus," The words of St. Paul in Galatians 3:28.

The words of America's greatest preacher were on my mind throughout the entire program: "At times, life is hard, as hard as crucible steel. It has its bleak and painful moments. Like the ever-flowing waters of a river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood. Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of the summers and the piercing chill of its winters. But through it all, God walks with us. Never forget that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace," (Martin Luther King Jr., Eulogy for the Martyred Children, 1963).

07 September 2005

Rabbi Yeshua

NOTE: The following is based on NT Wright, Rob Bell (Nooma Videos and Velvet Jesus), and Ray Vanderlaan’s “One Focus" teaching from a National Pastors Conference held this year.

Jesus the Rabbi. One of the more compelling aspects of the Jewish world I’ve studied over the last few years is the relationship between rabbi and disciple. Jesus was often referred to as rabbi (teacher). Many have written on this subject, some on academic levels and others on more popular levels. It is thought that there were three basic divisions in the Jewish educational system in the ancient world.

1.Bet-serif. This began about the age of 6. Young boys would spend most of their time memorizing the Torah. Now, for some of us recovering legalists, we have to remember that Torah is not LAW but “teaching, instruction, the way.” The Torah is not the Ten Commandments only it is Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These young boys would be able to recite these first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. Memorized! Genesis-Deuteronomy—and I thought my grad program was tough.

2.Bet-Talmud. Most boys would move into apprenticeship roles after this first level of education. But for those who showed exceptional ability some would continue in their religious studies. In this period (from 10 to 15 or so) the young men would memorize the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures: Genesis to Malachi!

3.Bet-midrash. Now the playing field gets dwindled down even smaller. After 15 or so, some men would approach different rabbis in order to become their full-time disciples. Most were turned away but some were chosen by the rabbi. Typically a young boy would latch himself to a rabbi, learning the way of a rabbi (his yoke) until he was ready to step out and become a rabbi himself. This usually didn’t happen until age 30. The point of following the rabbi is fascinating. These men do not simply desire to think like the rabbi—they want to do what the rabbi does because they want to be like the rabbi.

Now, think about this in the context of Jesus for a minute. Jesus comes along around the age of 30 and approaches some individual men who are fishermen, and tax collectors. These are not the elite these are the “he’ll do” men in the given region. They’ve been passed over at some point in the past because they didn’t have what it took to become a religious star. Jesus comes along and says, “Follow me.” Essentially he’s saying, “I think you have what it takes to become a disciple and possibly rabbi.” No wonder the men drop their nets, and ledger books to follow Jesus. Jesus believes in them. “You didn’t choose me, I chose you!”

These men will stumble to understand his teachings, the nature of the Kingdom, the purpose of the cross and the implications of the resurrection. But at the end of their fumbling, Jesus looks at them and commissions them to go into the world to make disciples of all people-regardless of region, gender, education and money. By the grace and power of the spirit Jesus sends them off to be light in the darkness. As one pastor says, “your faith may waver in God, but his faith in you is rock solid.”