Saturday, 24 March 2012

Lord, fix my wanter- Jer 31

Jeremiah 31:31-34
New International Version (NIV)

31 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to[a] them,[b]
declares the LORD.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the LORD.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”


  1. Jeremiah 31:32 Hebrew; Septuagint and Syriac / and I turned away from
  2. Jeremiah 31:32 Or was their master

          We are funny creatures- human beings.  Have you ever known that you should do something but weren't able to do it? Maybe you know you should exercise or eat better, but you just don't seem to be able to make yourself do it? Maybe you need to apologize to someone and you have a really hard time bringing yourself to do it. Maybe you want to be more generous and you've always said to yourself, "you know I should really sponsor a Compassion child", but you never do. You tell yourself that you'll do it when you get a bit more stable, but you've told yourself that before and you never quite get around to it. Or maybe it's something else. There is something else that you know you should really be doing, but you just don't seem to ever get around to doing it. 

            Or, have you ever known that you shouldn't do something, but for some reason you can't seem to stop yourself? Maybe you deal with an addiction. Maybe you smoke and you know that its bad for you, but you just aren't able to stop. No matter how many times you plan to do it you just don't seem to be able to do it.

            It's as if our will is broken. Our ability to make choices is broken. Or, that's what it feels like. Why do we do the silly things we do? We hurt those around us? We do things that hurt ourselves even- why? Why do we do these things.

            The prophet Jeremiah was speaking to a fairly broken people in our Old Testament reading. They were the chosen people- Israel. God brought them out of slavery and gave them instructions on how to live and time after time they turned their backs on God. The prophets said they were like a spouse that was always committing adultery. They were always breaking God's heart by running off with someone else. Now the people were feeling the effects of the path they walked down. 600 years before Jesus was born, the Temple (The heart of Israel) was destroyed by a foreign power and the monarchy of the great king David was ended. They ate the fruit of their rebellion- their infidelity, their corrupt kings and priests, the injustice and exploitation of the poor and vulnerable, their idolatry. It all came back on them and it was a very bitter fruit. Jeremiah warned them.

            Why did they do it? Jeremiah warned them. Other prophets warned them, and still they kept on in their rebellion. They were like someone who was diagnosed with Diabetes and their doctor told them what they had to do but they kept on eating everything they weren't supposed to. Suddenly they ended up in the hospital.

            We're not all that different from Israel are we? We have our own idols- we don't call them that, but we place all kinds of things on God's throne. We get all kinds of warnings to stop doing damaging things- from friends, family, doctors, psychologists,  parole officers. We get all kinds of encouragements to do good and healthy things. For some reason over and over we have a hard time deciding to do what is good for us and those around us. We want to do what is right and good and healthy- we don't want to hurt others. We don't want to hurt ourselves- and yet... we do.        

            In Chapter 7 of Paul's letter to the Romans he says this (this is Eugene Peterson's version from The Message): "... I've spent a long time in sin's prison. What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command is necessary.

17-20But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge."

            Just about everyone I know can relate with that passage in the Bible. It may have been written 2000 years ago, but it could have been written yesterday. The people of Israel were told what to do. They had it carved on stone tablets right from God's own hand, but still they didn't follow. We are not so different. We can be told what is right and healthy, but still we have a hard time doing it, or not doing it.

            Part of what's wrong is that our will is broken. We can know what we need to do, but our will seems to be broken. We need something more than information. We need help choosing. We need help wanting the good, and healthy, and true.  The philosopher Blaise Pascal said, "God wants to motivate the will more than the mind. Absolute clarity would be of no more use to the mind and would not help the will." It doesn't matter how much information we have or how smart we are. Our will still betrays us.

            The first three steps of the twelve steps for addicts are: "1) we admitted that we were powerless over our problems- that our lives had become unmanageable; 2) We came to believe that a Power [capital 'P'] greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity; 3) We made a decision to turn our wills and our lives over to the care of God." This is a Christian process.

            In the middle of destruction Jeremiah is given a word of hope for the people of Israel: Jer 31:31The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, [...] “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD."

            At the beginning of this week I asked my friends on Facebook, "what does it mean for God to write his Law on your heart?" One of my Old Testament professors replied, "it means you fell asleep in church again and the vicar had a sharpie". I'm not so sure about that.     
            The Old Testament Scholar Walter Bruggeman translates Jeremiah's words this way, "Behold the days are coming... I will make a new covenant, a new set of relations, a new community, and a new communion. It will not be like the old covenant which you broke. In the new covenant, I will put my torah, my requirements, my expectations, in your heart, and everyone shall know exactly what I require. They shall all know me, from the least to the greatest."

            Through the prophet Jeremiah God promises to put his Law in our heart. God won't just show us what the good thing to do is. God will help us want to do it by writing the law on our hearts. He will give us the power to choose the good and deny the destructive, and it will be what we want.

            This is a promise that is fulfilled with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit now dwells in us. The Holy Spirit does not override our free will, but the resources have been placed in us to allow us to choose to do what is right and to not do what is wrong. God hasn't only told us what is good and true, but He has also given us the power to choose it. This is Paul's message in Romans- that through the power of the Spirit we have been given power to be the people God wants us to be.

            It's at this point we start wondering why we still have such a hard time. If we have the Holy Spirit, why do we still struggle? The Holy Spirit will not override our free will. Through the Holy Spirit we are drawn into intimate relationship with God. It is through deep, and continuous conversation with God in prayer that we will find ourselves being transformed. We sometimes want to claim the power without the relationship, but it doesn't work that way. God enters into our struggles and struggles there with us giving us power for that day. Our transformation comes through deep relationship with God.     

            Jeremiah's words have started to come true. His words will be fully realized when the kingdom is here fully- it is spreading. Jeremiah's prophecy is realized through sacrifice. In Luke chapter 20 at the Last Supper Jesus "took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." It is through the life-blood of Jesus poured out that we are given the strength to choose what is good and true. This is a costly act. Walter Bruggeman says, "God's power to make new is rather like the painful love of a mother who suffers the hurt of the child, in order that the child may be restored to hope and joy." [It is as if God says,] "I will create a clean heart for you, but it is not as simple as you think. I cannot act as though your wrongness does not exist, but I will take all that wrongness into myself, and you need no longer be burdened with it."  This New Covenant costs something. It is painful. It comes about through Jesus' outpoured blood received by Jesus' followers. 

            We receive the life of Christ knowing we are powerless to change ourselves and knowing that power to change resides in God. God can change us from the inside out. Through the Holy Spirit our hearts will be changed and be filled with love so that we don't have to be told to love our neighbor, we just do it because the life of God lives in us and courses through us and we can't imagine why you'd want to do anything else.

            As disciples we follow Jesus and learn to be more like him living in his kingdom here on earth. And as we learn to be like him we begin to feel that the really hard thing to do isn't the right thing. As we become more like Jesus we begin to feel that the hard thing is the wrong thing. As we work with God and open ourselves to be transformed from the inside out- as we allow him to write His Law on our heart- we begin to be motivated from the inside out and we want what God wants- we love as God loves. And what a beautiful world that will be. Amen.     

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Look at the bronze snake with faith- Numbers 21

Numbers 21:4-9

4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea,[a] to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you [plural] brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.  

8 The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.


John 3:14-21

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,[a] 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”[b]

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

           There are certain patterns in the life of God's people that seem to repeat. One of these patterns is that we have a tendency to complain and take God for granted. When grace flows all around us we sometimes stop seeing it. Familiarity breeds contempt. We can grumble about the worship service and receive the bread and wine in the Eucharist without much thought or prayer. When we think about the amazing thing God has done through Christ in giving us the gift of the Lord's Supper it's amazing we can forget so easily and come to receive with such apathetic hearts. But that is sometimes where we find ourselves- just going through the motions, without a thought that we are receiving the gift of God that graces us with eternal life. 
            That is not far off from where the Hebrews were in our Old Testament reading from the book of Numbers. In our passage they are in the middle of a grump. Despite the miraculous way God has rescued them from slavery in Egypt their familiarity with God and God's provision has caused them to take it all for granted. They complain that they were better off as slaves in Egypt. They complain that they will starve and God provides them with manna (Ex 16). They complain that they are thirsty and Moses strikes a rock and God provides water (Ex 17). They complain that they want meat and God gives them quail (Num 11). After all this miraculous provision- after saving them from slavery- after seeing the miracles- after eating the miraculous food and drinking the miraculous water in a desolate landscape- they still complain. They complain against Moses and they complain against God. 
            We have to be careful to not look down on them too much. Every breath we take and every beating of our heart is a gift of God. Unless we recognize the miracle of our own existence at every moment of every day we have no right to judge them.
            Their complaints and lack of trust in God cause the release of snakes. Some of the people are bitten by the snakes and they die. They see and experience a deadly symbol of the state of fallen humanity. In our rebellion against God we experience suffering and death. After the fall in Genesis 3 God says to the serpent, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” The deadly serpent reminds us of the consequences of our rebellion from God. Because of human rebellion we live in a world drowning in sin and suffering.
            For those who have watched the Kony 2012 video you know what I'm talking about. We live in a world not just of individual sin. One man choosing to harm a child, but we live in a world where a man like Kony can create a system of sin that steals children and destroys lives. And Sin also gets into our systems and allow Kony to keep doing what he's doing. Anyway, I'm sure you really don't need me to prove to you that we live in a broken world. All you need to do is turn on the news.   
            The Hebrew people now feel the pain of turning away from God- in the form of snake bites. They realize the error of their ways and they come to Moses and say, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” They repent. They realize the stupidity of what they've done. Of course turning away from the God of life would mean death. Moses hears their cry and has compassion. He prays to God on behalf of the people. And God give Moses some strange instructions. God told Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” They needed a focus point for their faith. They needed a sacrament. They needed to act in faith. They needed to put their trust into action. They needed to believe that what God said was true- look in trust ... and live.
            Trust in God is different than believing things about God. The people knew God existed, they just didn't believe that God would take care of them. The letter of James reminds us that even demons believe in God, and shudder in terror (2:19). Belief is different than trust. God gave the Hebrew people a sacrament, an outward and visible sign of the inward and invisible grace that God will save them. God instructs Moses to make a bronze serpent. Whoever looks at it, trusting in God's words, will live. Their trust needed a focal point- they needed an action to activate their faith.    
            I heard a story once, I'm not sure where I heard it. It was about a high school student. She was taking a Physics class and she was supposed to present to her class on the physics of a pendulum. She explained to the class how a pendulum worked. It has a weight that is fixed to a point by a wire. She described the physics and how, because of gravity and friction acting on the pendulum that it can never reach the same point it is swung from. She drew diagrams. She showed the class the formula on the black board, and to really make her point she set up a giant pendulum in the classroom.  It had a barbell secured with a rope to the ceiling in the centre of the classroom. She asked if everyone understood and believed what she said and the class agreed. She then asked the teacher if she could use him as a part of her presentation. The student asked her teacher to stand on a chair at one end of the classroom. She then set up the pendulum with the 20 pound barbell. She attached the wire and made sure everything was secure. The student raised the barbell to the teacher's nose and adjusted the chair so the rope was tight. She reminded the classroom, "now remember, because of gravity and the other forces acting on the pendulum the weight will not be able to get this high again. Based on the physics I just showed you, which you all said you believe, when this weight swings back it will not be able to reach the teachers nose". She let the weight drop and the teacher watched as it slowly swung through the pathway between the desks. The class collectively held their breath. The teacher watched as the weight slowed and then stopped at the other side of the classroom and then started back down towards the teacher. The weight got closer and closer and suddenly the teacher jumped off the chair afraid he was going to get his teeth knocked out. The teacher may have understood the physics in theory, but not in his heart. He didn't believe it enough to trust it.
            I like that story. It is a reminder to me that faith is something that has to be more than a theory. It has to get into my heart. I have to be willing to act in a way that reflects my belief. If I jump off the chair like the teacher did, then part of me really doesn't believe it. Of course we need to be sure that what we believe in is worth believing. As the preacher Stuart Briscoe once said, "faith is only as valid as its object. You can have tremendous faith in very thin ice and drown. ... You could have very little faith in very thick ice and be perfectly secure". God had shown Himself over and over again to be worthy of the Hebrew's trust, yet they were unwilling to trust God. God never said it would be an easy walk through the wilderness, but God made promises to protect and keep them. They turned from those promises again and again.
            To help them learn to trust in a very real way God gives Moses some strange instructions. "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." "So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole." They looked at a symbol of their own suffering and death. The snakes were killing their friends and family. Instead of getting rid of the snakes they were taught to trust God in the middle of their suffering. When they were bit, they looked at the bronze snake and they lived. When they looked at that symbol of their suffering and death they lived.      
            Though it may be deeper than a simple reading allows. This is also no ordinary symbol. The serpents that were biting the people were called in the Hebrew "Saraph" serpents. This word "Saraph" can mean a few things. The most plain meaning is "fiery". The Serpent is a "fiery" serpent. This might mean that the bite burned like fire.
            "Saraph" might have a bit more of a mysterious meaning. "Saraph" might point to a kind of winged serpent that we find in the art of ancient Egypt (Glen Taylor- Wycliffe College). If that is what we are talking about, which is very possible looking at the Hebrew, the bronze serpent might have looked something like this [see picture below]. I don't know, I wasn't there, but just maybe this is what the Hebrew people were looking at with eyes of faith- trusting that God would save them from the poison of the world that came about from their own sin. The Hebrews looked upon this sacrament- this means of the grace of God- and lived.
            This cross-like serpent image was important to the Hebrew people. They carried it with them when they established themselves in the promised land. We read that over 500 hundred years later the reforming King Hezekiah smashed the bronze serpent (which may have been kept in the Temple) because people were worshipping it by burning incense to it. What was meant to be a sacrament for healing became a source of idolatry and so it had to be removed. But, imagine that this symbol remained in the hearts and minds of the Hebrew people as an object of faith for over 500 years. Imagine this symbol in the temple.   
               Jesus points to this Bronze serpent in the gospel of John chapter 3, "14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” Jesus is saying that he is like the bronze serpent. Jesus will be lifted up on the cross. We are invited to look at him and believe. We are invited to look at the cross- an instrument of torture and destruction- and receive life. Just as the Hebrew people looked at the symbol of their suffering- the Serpent- so we look at death and suffering symbolized by the cross and through it we receive life because of the work Jesus did there.
            We don't know exactly how it works, but we are told God's motivation for doing it in verse 16, "16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." The cross, was God's self-sacrifice. It was the best way to show that God would hold nothing back- Jesus would hold nothing back- in order to show us how much he loves us.   
            Like the Hebrew people we are invited to respond. It is not enough to have a theory in your head about this. God wants us to respond. His hand is outstretched and he wants us to grab it. The bronze serpent was raised and they were invited to look upon it and believe God would save them from the venom. Jesus was raised on a cross and we are invited to look upon him and believe that this is the ultimate act of love for us- this is God saving us. We are invited to see God entering into our suffering out of love for us. We are invited to get out of our seats and come forward with our hands out to receive the bread and wine- Jesus' body and blood. We are invited to accept that Jesus did this act of love for each of us.
            When we respond in this way, we stay on the chair as the pendulum swings back at us. We believe it. It is not just a theory. It is in our hearts.  When we come forward and open our hands to receive the bread and wine we show that we believe it. God has offered it, all we have to do is receive it. Amen.        

Monday, 12 March 2012

Anger for Christians? (my disorganized and messy notes)

Because the last sermon  I posted was about Jesus and his actions clearing the temple I only was able to hint at my thoughts on anger (I hope that I am learning to align my thoughts with Jesus').  The following are some more (sometimes random) thoughts on anger and some notes from other sources to provoke thought.  

            First, I want to acknowledge that it is not wrong to 'feel' anger. That is not something directly under our control. Similarly, having a sexual thought pop into your head is not lust. Indulging, however, in that thought is what transforms a passing and natural sexual thought into lust. I think that this is similar to anger. We may have an angry thought pass into our minds, but dwelling on it leads to sin.

            We often try to justify anger by saying it is necessary for justice. I think compassion is a much better (and less destructive) motivator than anger. When I see an injustice and I am motivated by anger I want to "destroy" the offender. When I am motivated by compassion I want to restore and protect the victim. Anger leans towards destruction. Compassion leads to peace and wholeness. I might even be able to get the same results through compassion as someone motivated by anger. What is better for my own soul and for all those involved? If I can, in compassion, place the offender in jail to be a part of reconciliation and reform isn't that better than doing the same in anger?

            We also sometimes try to justify ourselves by saying that God is sometimes angry in Scripture. Initially I want to point out the obvious that we are not God and so what scripture indicates as God's anger might be something very different from our anger. Also, God has perfect information and therefore is completely justified in His "anger". And on top of this, God is able to "feel anger" and use it in a way that we can't as fallen human beings. God has a strength of character that we lack, which allows Him to be angry in a justified way.  I don't put all my money on these points, but I think it's worth pointing out the above lest we fall into the trap of thinking that because God did something we can imitate Him. Just because Jesus raised Lazarus doesn't mean Jesus wants us to head down to the graveyard and call up dead relatives. We are not Jesus.          

            I'm also not saying that we should suppress our anger. In the case of suppression the anger still exists and we are hanging onto it. Suppression is really another way of hanging onto anger.

            We cannot ignore the fact that Jesus and his followers had very strong teachings about anger. It is very difficult to imagine living the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) if there is a hint of anger in one's mind. They often mention it as something dangerous. Something to hold back on. They acknowledge that we will feel it, but the caution us to not act on it. Jesus said in Matthew 5:22, "But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell." St. Paul also reflects this teaching, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice." ( Eph 4:31; Col 3:8). St. James also warns against anger saying, "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." (James 1:19-20).
       The passage in James is particularly interesting in that we often justify our anger as a part of our desire for righteousness or justice, but James is plain in saying you can't get God's will through anger. A friend once taught a group of protesters about how to protest and he said something like, "Protest in a way that will show the kind of world you're hoping to achieve. If you are angry, you may be producing an angry world through your protesting". I suspect Jesus wants something similar. We are to be the people of the kingdom now. Does anger have a place in the kingdom?

            When I took Clinical Pastoral Education I was taught that anger was the experience of having one's values violated. Often anger is also connected to a violation in our past. Perhaps we deal with abandonment issues (for example) and that anger is triggered when we experience an event that hints at the violation of our value to be kept safe and in the company of those we care about.

            Here are some notes from the Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. The article on Anger is by Dennis Okholm.  John Cassian (360-435) argues that anger can exclude God's Spirit from residing within, and therefore forbade expressions of anger. Evagrius Ponticus (345-399) describes anger as "a boiling and stirring up of wrath against one who has given injury or is thought to have done so".  To this Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) adds that it combines the pain of injury and the pleasures of vengeance and inflicting injury. Some monks believed it interfered with prayer. Some believed that it often arises when the desire to possess or control is thwarted.  Many have pointed out that anger clouds judgement and discernment. It is dangerous and it is often self-justifying. All warned about anger, some said all human expressions of anger were sinful.

            Anger was countered by the early Christians through the cultivation of the virtue of patience.
1) "Temporary silence and containment that allows one to recall the mercy of others in light of  one's own past transgressions, [this] widens the heart to offset the pressure that increases with anger's constriction, and allows a reappraisal (or reframing) of the situation that aroused the anger to consider whether the harm suffered was really done out of any forethought or ill will."

2) "One should not blame others for one's own inability to exercise the virtue of patience."

3) "People should seek the wisdom and exposure community provides"

4) "They should practice opposite behaviours, such as blessing persecutors and singing psalms."

5) "They must rebuff the need to be in control or possess."

6) "They must have self knowledge and recognize patterns and triggers so as not to be ambushed."

7) "They should Confront the injuring party (Matt. 5:23-26)"    

Here are some notes I took from a Lecture given by Dallas Willard.  Dallas Willard has defined Anger as "will to harm", "an announcement of pain", "the will to change". Anger is caused by the will being crossed. We think circumstances should be other than they are and this causes anger. Human character in most cases cannot handle the fire of anger. Anger also produces more anger in the one we are angry at. Everything you can do with anger you can do better without it. Anger justifies itself in the moment and therefore justifies actions done in anger. Dealing with anger: 1)Surrender your will to God (you don't have to get your way) 2)Living in thankfulness to God, rather than complaints to God for how God has (mis)treated you. 3) Confront the situation, but not in anger. Confronting in anger produces more anger and then the situation is harder to deal with because communication breaks down. 4) Recognize that God loves both you and the people who offended you. Do not see them as worth less than you. 5) The answer to contempt and anger is to willingly love instead.           

"Anger" is often held together with wrath which is one of the seven deadly sins. It's opposing virtue is "meekness".

Here some words from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

1765 There are many passions. The most fundamental passion is love, aroused by the attraction of the good. Love causes a desire for the absent good and the hope of obtaining it; this movement finds completion in the pleasure and joy of the good possessed. The apprehension of evil causes hatred, aversion, and fear of the impending evil; this movement ends in sadness at some present evil, or in the anger that resists it.

2259 In the account of Abel's murder by his brother Cain, Scripture reveals the presence of anger and envy in man, consequences of original sin, from the beginning of human history. Man has become the enemy of his fellow man. God declares the wickedness of this fratricide: "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand."

2302 By recalling the commandment, "You shall not kill," our Lord asked for peace of heart and denounced murderous anger and hatred as immoral.

Anger is a desire for revenge. "To desire vengeance in order to do evil to someone who should be punished is illicit," but it is praiseworthy to impose restitution "to correct vices and maintain justice." If anger reaches the point of a deliberate desire to kill or seriously wound a neighbor, it is gravely against charity; it is a mortal sin. The Lord says, "Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment."

2262 In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord recalls the commandment, "You shall not kill," and adds to it the proscription of anger, hatred, and vengeance. Going further, Christ asks his disciples to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies. He did not defend himself and told Peter to leave his sword in its sheath.

1866 Vices can be classified according to the virtues they oppose, or also be linked to the capital sins which Christian experience has distinguished, following St. John Cassian and St. Gregory the Great. They are called "capital" because they engender other sins, other vices. They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Temple Tantrum? John 2:13-22

John 2:13-22 Jesus cleanses the temple
New International Version (NIV)

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”[a]

18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.


  1. John 2:17 Psalm 69:9

            I have a friend from seminary who referred to the event we read today in our Gospel reading as "Jesus' temple tantrum"- not a 'temper' tantrum, but a 'temple' tantrum. It is a witty play on words, but I think it points to ways that this passage is misunderstood and misused. A tantrum is defined as "an outburst of bad temper..." (Canadian Oxford Dictionary), it is "an emotional outburst, usually associated with children or those in emotional distress, that is typically characterized by stubbornness, crying, screaming, yelling, shrieking, defiance, [and] angry ranting..." (Wikipedia). Is that what happened with Jesus in the temple? Was that the equivalent of a child being dragged by the arm screaming through Toys 'R Us?

            I know my friend was exaggerating. He didn't mean to make Jesus' actions equivalent to a screaming inconsolable child. He did, however, mean that Jesus lost his temper. And that, I do not believe. When we are speaking about Jesus in the temple, I do not believe that Jesus lost his temper.

            Jesus said in Matthew 5:22, "But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell." St. Paul also reflects this teaching, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice." ( Eph 4:31; Col 3:8). St. James also warns against anger saying, "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." (James 1:19-20).  

            Jesus and his followers have strong teachings when it comes to anger. I very much doubt that Jesus would give such a strong teaching and then simply lose his temper in the temple courts.

            I have seen this passage of scripture used to justify people's anger, judgement, and  even war. No matter how violent we make Jesus' actions seem in the temple, they cannot be equated with modern day war. Jesus did not kill anyone in this action.

            We should also be very careful about equating ourselves with Jesus. We don't have the right to do something just because Jesus did it. In our reading Jesus turns over the tables of the money changers and drives them out along with the animals with a whip he made. If we agree that Jesus is angry here (which I'm not sure of) at this point we might think we are then justified to inflict our anger on others. If it's true that Jesus was angry here then we feel justified in inflicting our anger on others if we have good reasons (Our anger always seems to justify itself).  We'll call it "righteous indignation". We can pick up our whip when we see some injustice and angrily whip the offenders out of the temple. ... But, I'm not so sure. Jesus also says that if they destroy the temple he will rebuild it in three days. Anyone here feel they can say that? Why do we feel free to ascribe ourselves the right to anger and judgement, but not rebuilding the temple of our bodies in three days? Could it be that the expression of anger, judgment, and rebuilding the temple all belong to Jesus and not to us?

            We are not Jesus, even though we are to imitate him in some ways. In many ways Jesus is absolutely unique and sometimes our only response is to fall at his feet in worship, not attempt to reproduce what he has done.

            There isn't even any mention of anger in our passage, which is why I have doubts about Jesus' anger in the temple courts. For sure Jesus is forceful in his language and his actions, but anger isn't mentioned. The only hint we might have of Jesus' anger is that the Disciples think of a Psalm in reference to the event, "zeal for your house will consume me" (Ps 69). But even "zeal" doesn't necessarily have to mean 'anger'. It is a passionate word, but not necessarily angry.  Even when we read about this event in the other gospels they don't mention Jesus being angry. We read that into the text because we can't imagine ourselves doing anything like that unless we lose our temper. We read our anger into the Gospel. Though, there isn't consensus in the scholarly world on this.  

            So what were Jesus' actions in the temple all about if not a temper tantrum? One of Jesus' roles was as prophet. Prophets were known for sometimes making dramatic actions. For example, the prophet Jeremiah was told by God to publicly break a clay jar (19:10) as a symbol of the coming destruction of the nation. In chapter 28 Jeremiah put on a yoke to symbolize that the people would be led into bondage.   Later in 43:8, while in Egypt Jeremiah is instructed to bury stones in the pavement to show the coming of a foreign king (Nebuchadnezzar). Ezekiel (ch 5) was instructed to shave his head and beard and divide it into thirds each of which represented what would happen to the people of Jerusalem. Jesus' action in the temple in our reading today fits into this prophetic lineage of symbolic action.

            It was near the time of Passover, which was a very busy time at the temple. There would have been pilgrims in Jerusalem from all over. In the temple courts people were selling animals for the Temple sacrifices. People wouldn't bring an animal with them on pilgrimage, so they would buy one when they got to Jerusalem instead. Also, Roman coins had images on them, which were forbidden in the temple. So, there would be money changers who could exchange Roman money for coins that could be used in the temple courts. It was all justifiable. It was a big machine, and potentially, it could be very profitable.

            There are a few things that could have sparked Jesus' actions. It might have been about some corruption in the temple. The temple market may have been full of people trying to take advantage of the pilgrims who were flooding into the city and needed to buy an animal and exchange money. The temptation to inflate prices would have been strong.

            Also, certain people were allowed in certain areas of the temple. The outer court was the only place where the nations (Gentiles, or non-Jews) were allowed.  If Israel was to be the light of the world that drew the nations of the world to worship the one true God, it would be appalling to Jesus to find that the nations are forced to pray in a busy market (Isa 56:6-8). It would not feel like a house of prayer for those limited to the outer court. Using the prayer place of the Gentiles as a market may have been part of what sparked Jesus' actions. Taking financial advantage of pilgrims may have been another reason. Some corruption in the temple religion might have been what sparked Jesus' actions.     

            The more likely reason, however, is reflected in the words of the theologian Bishop Leslie Newbigin, "The action of Jesus is more than an example of prophetic protest against corrupt religion. It is a sign of the end of religion." (The Light Has Come, 33). Jesus' actions signal a new reality where the temple has become obsolete. In John's biography of Jesus the clearing of the temple happens right after Jesus' first sign, which is turning water into wine at the wedding in Canna. In that sign Jesus uses the water jars for ritual cleansing to make an abundance of wine. The wine was symbolic of the wedding feast of God and God's people being united, finally. The ritual hand washing points to the pollution of the world and our need to control it. The old way was about keeping the pollution out, but the new way is about a new age of celebration because the barriers between God and God's people have been removed. The symbol of the polluted world is overtaken by the symbol of wine that points to a completion- the presence of God and the beginning of a new age- a reconciliation between God and God's people.

            Jesus' actions at the temple has a similar effect in signalling a new age. Jesus very deliberately makes a whip and drives the people and animals out of the temple area. He scatters the coins and overturns the tables of the moneychangers. Jesus commands the people to leave saying, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" The overall effect was that all sacrifice stopped. The endless sacrifices the people made to atone for their sin stopped. Symbolically, Jesus stopped the sacrifices of the temple. He symbolically destroyed the temple.

            Zechariah 14:21 says, "there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day". Zechariah is referring to the coming new age, when God if fully present with His people. And here Jesus is driving out the traders as Zechariah said would happen on that day. Jesus is declaring that this new age has begun. The presence of God will no longer be based on geography, but on the person of Jesus.    

            The people then asked for a miraculous sign that would prove he has the authority to do what he just did and Jesus replies, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." Jesus has just equated the temple with his own body. The temple was the place where heaven overlapped with earth. Now Jesus has symbolically destroyed the Temple. Now Jesus' person is the place where heaven overlaps with earth. It is through Jesus that the presence of God is now sought.

            Through this prophetic symbolic action Jesus points to the end of the sacrificial system in the heart of Judaism through the Temple in Jerusalem (which was destroyed by the Romans 40 years later in 70 AD). Jesus replaces the temple as the place where the presence of God is sought. Relationship with Jesus, the lamb of God, replaces the need for sacrifices. Jesus' self-offering on the cross becomes the only sacrifice that brings us into right relationship with God. As Christians the temple is now irrelevant- obsolete. The temple expired with the presence of Jesus in the world.

            We should be careful not to place boundaries where Jesus removed them. Do you have a Sacrifice? Do you have the temple tax in the right non-Roman coin? Are you a Gentile or a Jew? Male or Female? Adult or child? Are you disabled or blind? Your answers to these questions changed where and how you worshipped in the temple, or if you were allowed in the temple at all. Now, because of Jesus, your answers to those questions don't change how you worship at all. That whole religious system was ended by Jesus. Because of Jesus all we need to do to approach God is to pray. There is no need for a temple anymore. Jesus' action were for our sake. He freed us from that system of sacrifice. His act of judgment and destruction in the temple was an act of grace. It was the destruction of something to allow for something better to take its place. Now, in Jesus' new order, all are welcome to approach God in Spirit and in Truth.              

Monday, 5 March 2012

weak and the strong 1 Cor 8:1-13

1 Corinthians 8

Concerning Food Sacrificed to Idols
1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.[a]
4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
7 But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.
9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.
  1. 1 Corinthians 8:3 An early manuscript and another ancient witness think they have knowledge do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves truly knows.

There is a book on conflict in marriage called "You Can Be Right, or You Can Be Married". I heard the phrase from a friend and it stuck with me. Those who are married understand both the humour and the truth in the phrase. Sometimes it's just not worth  being right if it means that you are damaging the relationship. Sometimes in marriage we endure certain things patiently for the sake of greater unity in the relationship.

            So there are times when I leave my socks next to the bed and forget to put them in the clothes basket. Crystal never really says anything about it even though she would have every right to hold it against me. It's one of those things she doesn't see as important enough to bring up. "You can be right, or you can be married". We could exert our rights and hold them ahead of our marriage, but most people who are married know that sometimes unity in marriage is worth more than exercising certain rights. We might have the legal right to go out all night with our friends and return home at 4:00 in the morning, but it might not be helpful for our marriage.

            Paul is saying something similar to the Corinthian church in our reading today. If you remember two weeks ago, we were speaking about our freedom in Christ based on 1 Corinthians ch 6. "'I have the right to do anything', but not everything is beneficial... 'I have the right to do anything', but I will not be mastered by anything". Paul was speaking to the Corinthians about the fact that their freedom is for something. They might have the right to do something, but that doesn't mean that there aren't consequences. If you drive on the road and there are no police to give you a ticket you will still feel the consequences of running a red light and getting into an accident. But more than feeling negative consequences, our freedom is based on whose we are. We all serve a master if we realize it or not. Serving Christ is freedom. Our freedom has a context. Our freedom is for something, it is not just about our own individual rights.

            Paul is building on this idea of freedom. The Corinthians were arguing about eating meat that had been part of Pagan sacrifices and they asked for Paul's advice. Corinth was mostly Pagan at the time when Paul wrote his letter.  Some Christians were invited to important dinner parties put on by friends or business acquaintances. These parties had meat that came from temple sacrifices. Pagan temples in cities like Corinth often served as sources of meat. Also, these parties were often held in rooms connected to temples and they were frequently held in honour of a particular Pagan god, though they weren't really services of worship.  Some in the Church believed that since Pagan idols didn't really have any power over them as Christians, that they could eat the meat without any harmful consequences. These Christians could also make the argument that they don't want to offend their Pagan friends by not accepting an invitation, and besides, a dinner party might be a good way to share the Gospel with their Pagan acquaintances. To refuse an invitation to a party like this would be to isolate them from their Pagan friends.

            Others in the Corinthian Church believed that these Christians were playing with fire. Many of the Corinthian Christians were converts from Paganism. These parties looked too much like returning to their old life.  Rubbing shoulders with Pagans in temples, eating meat dedicated to idols, and attending a party held in honour of a Pagan god, was too much of a temptation. Not only is it putting yourself through unnecessary temptation, but they were are also providing a confusing example to new Christians. How could they come from such a pagan party and then receive bread and wine from the Lord's table. Doesn't that just look like hypocrisy? It seems like they are trying to have their cake and eat it too.  They want to be Christian, but they don't really want to make any changes in their life. They want to completely fit in with their culture and their old life. Some have lost family, friends, and business partners in becoming Christian. It doesn't seem fair that some Christians make such personal sacrifices when other Christians carry on with their lives as if nothing changed when they became Christian.

            They both make a pretty good case. So they put their question to Paul. Is it okay to eat meat dedicated to idols? Paul gives an interesting answer. He says essentially that Pagan idols don't have any power over Christians, so the Christians that go to the parties are basically right in their theology. However, he also says that being technically right isn't the only factor in deciding the right action. "You can be right, or you can be married". Being a part of a Christian community means that sometimes we need to take that community into account when we make our decisions. Just because we have the right to do something doesn't mean we should. If our exercising our right causes another Christian to stumble, then we should freely chose to not exercise that right.

            So If I go out to supper with a friend I have the right to have a beer with my meal. However, If I happen to be with a friend who is a recovering alcoholic then maybe I shouldn't have a beer with my meal because I don't want my friend to be tempted. I can freely chose to not drink in front of a friend who struggles with alcoholism. I have the right to, but I can freely wave that right in favor of the relationship. "You can be right, or you can be married". Paul says he would rather never eat meat again if it means that he won't cause a fellow Christian to stumble.

        Relationships matter when it comes to making a free spiritual decision. We are not primarily individuals. We are a community. We are the Body of Christ and that should make a difference when we make decisions. We should ask, "What effect will this decision have on the community?"

            When speaking about the freedom of a Christian the 16th C., reformer Martin Luther said, A "Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all". Our freedom has a context. We are free because we belong to the Body of Christ. That means responsibilities come with our freedom. We have a duty to one another.

            C.S. Lewis commented on this passage in a book he wrote called the Screwtape Letters where he imagines letters written by a demon named Screwtape who is giving advice to another demon who is tempting a particular human being. In the book Screwtape says, "I think I warned you before that if your patient can't be kept out of the church, he ought at least to be violently attached to some party within it. I don't mean on really doctrinal issues; about those, the more lukewarm he is the better. And it isn't the doctrines on which we chiefly depend for producing malice. The real fun is working up a hatred between those who say 'mass' and those who say 'holy communion' when neither party could possibly state the difference between, say, Hooker's doctrine and Thomas Aquinas', in any form which would hold water for five minutes. And all the purely indifferent things- candles and clothes and what not- are an admirable ground for our activities. We have quite removed from men's minds what that persistent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials- namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples. You would think they could not fail to see the application. You would expect to find the 'low' churchman genuflecting and crossing himself lest the weak conscience of his 'high' brother should be moved to irreverence, and the 'high' one refraining from these exercises lest he should betray his 'low' brother into idolatry. And so it would have been but for our ceaseless labour. Without that the variety of usage within the church of England might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility". (Letter 16)

            Of course there are some issues where we should stand our ground, as Screwtape warns. For example, I would say our belief in the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ isn't negotiable. I believe that is core to who we are as Christians. There are some things, however, that are not core. We don't deal with meat dedicated to idols anymore, but we do have non-essentials that are a part of our communities. Musical tastes might be an example of this. Screwtape mentions those who enter worship with their bodies by bowing and kneeling and others who don't. Some of us want to sing and dance and some of us want to kneel in awed silence in the presence of God. There is a famous saying that arose in the 17th Century "in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity" (Marco Antonio de Dominis 1617). 

            We might have very good reason for doing what we do. We might have a solid argument for our particular taste in worship style or music, however, our freedom to choose our action comes from being a part of the body of Christ- it is a freedom won for us by Christ- it is a freedom we have because we belong to Christ rather than some other master.  Just as someone might freely choose to not have a beer when having supper with an alcoholic friend, we can freely chose to withold our point of view on certain nonessential topics for the sake of unity. "You can be right, or you can be married". Sometimes it is important for us to hold our tongue on some non-essential matters.

            Paul is telling us that our relationship to the Body of Christ is important when we are making free spiritual decisions. It is not just a matter of our own individual rights. We have been reborn into a community. That community is where our freedom comes from and it is to that community that we have responsibilities. Our unity in Christ outweighs any divisions we might have about non-essentials. Sometimes relationship is more important than being superficially right. "You can be right, or you can be married".                
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