Tag Archives: Jesus

Seeking Christmas

 It isn’t with the Christmas tree
Or presents wrapped for all to see
St.Nick, he didn’t bring it here
Nor Frosty of the Grinch I fear
It isn’t in the shopping mall
Nor songs that sing our ‘Deck the Hall’
Or houses decked in Christmas lights
Or people packed on holiday flights
Family and friends, feast and gift
Do comfort and my spirits lift
Yet sometimes all the noise and light
Distracts me on this silent night
From Joseph’s trip from Galilee
And his new wife, blessed Mary
From Jesus in a manger lay
For no room was found on his birthday
Messiah, the Word of God, the Light
That came upon that Holy Night
When the angel proclamation began
Peace on earth, good will to man
Come let us go and seek and tell
This child who is Emmanuel
The creator to creation come
A new covenant of grace begun
To seek with Magi Bethlehem
To see the king or the great ‘I am’
To ponder deep within our heart
The words the shepherd did impart
For that is what I seek this year
In the middle of the holiday cheer
The place where heaven comes to earth
To fill our hearts and souls with mirth

Mosaic in the Rosary Basilica, Lourdes

Mosaic in the Rosary Basilica, Lourdes

Mark’s Portrait of Jesus and The World He Lived in Part 4

Mark’s Portrait of Jesus and The World He Lived in Part 4: A Scripture Shaped World

Scroll of the Book of Isaiah

Scroll of the Book of Isaiah

When I originally did my presentation on the Gospel of Mark and the way that it interacts with the world in which Jesus lived and breathed I left out a very important part, the way the Gospel of Mark interacts with the Scriptures (at this time the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament most likely in its Greek translation the Septuagint) and uses the language and world of the scriptures to find a way to talk about who Jesus is and what the Kingdom of God means in a world of the Roman empire, Second Temple Judaism and a world where the conflict between good and evil was viewed in terms of conflict between various spiritual forces. Inhabiting a Jewish world where the language of the scriptures would have been a critical part of that world it is not surprising that Mark uses scriptures to help illuminate who Jesus is and to allude to a deeper engagement with the story of the God of Israel and the people of that God.

The question of Mark as a reader of scripture is normally handled by looking at the explicit places where the gospel quotes the scriptures and often without taking some time to examine the broader question of how Mark is using these scriptures to show who Jesus is. Richard B. Hay’s recent work on the way that the gospel authors utilized scriptures is a helpful and generative study of this question in a much more holistic light. In examining the interaction between the way that the Hebrew Scriptures were read by Mark and the way they form a linguistic world that the gospel is able to access Hays argues:

And upon rereading, we discover numerous passages scattered through this Gospel that offer intimations of a disturbing truth: Jesus’ identity with the one God of Israel. Unlike the Gospel of John—which explicitly declares that Jesus is the Logos, the Son who is one with the Father—Mark shies away from overt ontological declarations. Nonetheless, Mark’s Gospel suggests that Jesus is, in some way that defies comprehension, the embodiment of God’s presence. Mark never quite dares to articulate this claim explicitly; it is too scandalous for direct speech. For Mark, the character of God’s presence in Jesus is a mystery that can be approached only by indirection, through riddle-like allusion to the OT. (Hays, 2014, p. 19f.)Emphasis authors.

From the first direct citation in Mark 1: 2-3 which weaves together Malachi 3.1, and Isaiah 40.3, both passages which link back to the LORD, the God of Israel being the one who is coming, Malachi pointing to the LORD coming in judgment and Isaiah who proclaims the LORD God coming with might to rule and to gather together the people of Israel. Right at the very beginning there are the audacious and bold claims about the one who is coming, and yet throughout the narrative of Mark the characters in the story will wonder and will have the secret kept from them who this Jesus is. The demons may know who Jesus is but they are silenced, others may have flashes of who Jesus is but they are also told not to speak to anyone about it, Jesus’ identity is a mystery that is ultimately revealed by his actions and the way these actions resonate with the story of who God is in relation to God’s people.

Many of the conflicts that emerge between Jesus and the Pharisees early in the gospel revolve around Jesus doing things that are reserved for the God of Israel. In Mark 2.1-12, when Jesus heals the paralytic man who is lowered through his roof the accusation is, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And the scriptures do highlight in several places that the God of Israel does forgive sins, for example Hays lifts up Exodus 34.6-7:

The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation.

A similar dynamic is at play with Jesus declaring he is Lord of the Sabbath at the end of chapter 2, where now Jesus is able to interpret what the commands of God mean and becomes an authoritative interpreter of the scriptures. Perhaps this is some of the wonder that Mark records in 1.22 where the crowds are amazed at him teaching as one with authority.  Mark continues, through Jesus’ actions, to invite us to wonder who Jesus is and how he is connected with the God of Israel, from his healings and exorcisms to the walking on water in Mark 4. 35-41 where the disciples wonder, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” and whether Mark directly evokes Psalm 107 or not, it provides an evocative answer to the question, “Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress; he made the storms be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.” Psalm 107. 28f. Continuing in the story of the feeding of the five thousand with the evoking of the image of the people as sheep without a shepherd there are numerous allusions to the LORD, the God of Israel being the shepherd of the people, most memorably Psalm 23, but more pointedly Ezekiel 34 which rails against the leaders of Ezekiel’s time who have not proved to be faithful shepherd and in response the LORD declares, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the LORD God.” Ezekiel 34.15.  We are left to wonder after each event who is this Jesus, and how is he able to speak in ways that reflect God’s speech, how is he able to act in ways that reflect God’s actions and how does he embody the presence of the God of Israel who has drawn near with God’s kingdom. Mark points us continually to the suggestive but never overt answer that Jesus is fulfilling the role that God has promised to fulfill in the scriptures. That Jesus can forgive, can be Lord of Sabbath, can master the elements and the demonic forces that threaten God’s people and can be the faithful shepherd that the people has longed for.

Mark continues to invite those with eyes to see and ears to hear to sit and wonder about who Jesus is and to listen to the frequently allusive way in which the language of scriptures helps to paint this picture in a suggestive way. Yet it is a mystery that Mark invites his readers into, the mystery of the kingdom of God that arrives in parables rather than outright proclamation. Most of Jesus’ overt quotations of scriptures come at the end of the book of Mark where the question of who Jesus is comes to its ironic and sharply contested conclusion. Jesus’ authority is continually questioned by the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the scribes and the chief priests and Jesus continues not only to allude to scripture but to embody it. Whether it is the allusion to Jeremiah’s temple sermon when Jesus enters the temple in Mark 11.17 and contrasting it with the vision of Isaiah in 56.7 and Jesus continuing to embody the role of Jeremiah in conflict with the temple of his day (see the previous post particularly on Jesus and Jeremiah), and the way this plays into the image of the cursed fig tree and the oracle of Jeremiah 8.13. The allusion to Isaiah 5 with both the parable of the wicked tenants in Mark 12. 1-12 and the denunciation of the scribes in Mark 12. 38-40. The language of Daniel 7 forms the answer to the High Priest in the trial where Jesus is accused of blasphemy, but also forms the background for the Son of Man imagery used throughout the gospel.  Mark uses these images poetically and sometime Jesus seems to take on the role of the God of Israel, other times Jesus walks in the place of Israel and is able to cry out to their God, sometimes he is the fulfillment of the hope of Israel and the scriptures, and yet in every place Mark leaves us with the mystery of the kingdom of God. Yet the use of scriptures continually points that somehow, evocatively, in Jesus we in some way encounter the divine presence of the God of Israel. Mark is not interested in explaining how this comes to be but rather inviting us into the journey and experience of the new people of God trying to find the language to explain who this Jesus was and what he did and finding in the language of the Hebrew Scriptures a vast set of hopes and expectations and words that describe the relationship of God to God’s people. And into that web of images the experience of Jesus mysteriously seems to fall and we wonder with the first hearers of the message what that means for our experience of this Jesus Christ the Son of God whose gospel we receive from Mark.

Father Forgive Them…A Poem for Good Friday

El Greco, Christ on the Cross (1588)

El Greco, Christ on the Cross (1588)

Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing
Your people chose to listen to the voices that fill the air of this noisy world
The calls of the gods of violence and might they have answered
And in the kiln of conflict the green wood is drying awaiting the spark
Of these angry gods of war and rebellion that are never satiated
Though rivers of blood and the screams of the innocent stream out
Poured out as a libation making the profane sacred and the sacred profane
In the days to come they will cry to the hills to cover them in their terror
Calling the barren blessed and the ones lost in natural disasters lucky
Because of the wrath of their gods that rejoice in the conflict of the nations

Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing
Dividing the world into the righteous and unrighteous, the holy and the mundane
Those who are blessed and those who are cursed, offering to gods of privilege
Those who can be excluded and kept out by their blood and their birth
By the language they speak, the hue of skin or hair, who they love or how they act
They bear the projected fear of the mob by sickness or disease or demonization
Confined to the outskirts of the city, to the graveyards, the asylums and prisons
They are prevented from having a place at the table and the temple
The very outcasts that I once rescued from their sojourn as pariahs
The poor who received good news and the captives that were set free
Now instead of the favor of the Lord receiving the scorn of these tribal gods

Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing
They may be full and laughing and rich now but they live in spiritual destitution
The concerns of the world and the lure of wealth have choked the seed
God’s kingdom came among them and they never saw it snatched away
They have offered their lives to the cruel gods of mammon and security
Offering their lives in to quench the unending thirst for acquisition
Joining house to house, starving the widows and the orphans and yet
Their appetites only yearn to consume more for that is what they are
They are consumers whose lives are built upon the things that in turn consume
I have yearned to gather them together under my wings as a hen
But they would not come for their lives were built around shrines of their own making
Fouling their own nests and poisoning the waters of their children
In their hunger to feed these insatiable gods that delight in their indentured servitude

Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing
Their fathers and mothers didn’t have ears to hear the prophets you sent
And they have not the eyes to see the Son in their midst, and so they cast me out
They rejected the cornerstone and crafted idols of stone and ideology to offer their lives to
Instead of peace they chose war, instead of love they chose hate
They believe they have never been slaves to anyone as they ignore their yoke
Locked into the world of their fears and isolation, cursing what they do not know
They mock me to ‘save myself’ but it is their lives I cry out to save
It is their world that has the sun blotted out; their veils which are torn in two
They and their children will bear the burden of appeasing the gods they chose
Conflict and alienation and slavery may be the path that they have chosen for their own
Yet, Father it is you who pull light from darkness and life from the maw of death
Whose rejected kingdom is at hand and who breathes the life into the new creation
It is into your hand that I commend my spirit and their shattered world as well
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Give unto the righteous and the unrighteous their daily bread
And forgive them their trespasses for they do not know what they are doing

Neil White, 2015

Images for the Third Sunday after Epiphany

The Calling of the Disciples from Matthew’s Gospel

The Calling of the Apostles, Mosaics from San Marco, Santa Maria Assunta in Torcello and Murano

The Calling of the Apostles, Mosaics from San Marco, Santa Maria Assunta in Torcello and Murano

Apostle's Call, Relief from Manastery of San Pedro da Roda

Apostle’s Call, Relief from Manastery of San Pedro da Roda


Calling of Peter and Andrew, Duccio di Buonisegna (1308-1311)

Calling of Peter and Andrew, Duccio di Buonisegna (1308-1311)


James Tissot, The Calling of Saint Peter and Saint Andrew (1886-1894)

James Tissot, The Calling of Saint Peter and Saint Andrew (1886-1894)


Three Days- A Poem

Statue of Mary Magdalene in Mission Santa Monica

Statue of Mary Magdalene in Mission Santa Monica

Three days has my master been gone
Three days since those he loved scattered
Three days since receiving his pierced and battered body
One final gift from the hands of our oppressors

Three days of mourning and preparations
Three days of weeping and working
Three days of trying to hold on to a man who is dead
The tomb awaits the payment of grief

The first day of the week has come
A time of new beginnings, of beginning anew
Yet I find myself walking towards the end, towards death itself
As I walk towards the gaping and devouring maw of the tomb

O tomb, you who could devour life itself
Who hold within you the remains of one who lifted a child from your jaws
One who denied you your prize, who snatched youth from your hands
Now perhaps you can laugh as you hold the one who denied you in your craw

Three days you have haunted me O death
Three days have I journeyed into your home
Three days have I tried to ward off your foul stench for this man’s sake
This man who made me a human and no longer a walking corpse

Three years did I journey with him,
Three years ago did he free me from the demons who tore at the corners of my mind
Three years of freedom and of being a human and not an object of shame
This man who I followed out of Magdala

Three days and I confront once again my fears
Do my demons lurk within this tomb?
Does my fragile self find itself destroyed by maw of death?
Yet, through my fear, for the memory of this true person I defy you.

Three of us walk together, three women, three lost ones
Three and yet incomplete without the one who lies behind the immovable rock
Three unable to pry open the jaws of the grave to snatch his life out of it
Uneasy, uncertain we walk towards the heart of the earth

Yet, as we approach you in the cold dawning of the day your mouth lies open
What has happened, have our oppressors taken away the one last gift we had
Have they shamed him even more, have they taken away our wrestling with death
Can we stand at the gaping maw of death without his presence?
Yet within the tomb sits a young man, a man in white
In the darkness, in the midst of death, youth that will not die sits
Our search ends with his puzzling message,
Our search begins with words that cannot breach our deadened senses
“Fear not, the one you seek is not here, he has gone ahead of you”

Fear not, and yet fear—a fear greater even than my fear of death overwhelms me
Who is this sitting here, who was the Jesus who lay here, what is he?
Is this the first day of a new creation, or is this truly the end?
How do I go home, how can I move, how can I tell his shattered disciples this?

Could I bear the rebuke of being a foolish woman whose dreams are shattered again?
Could I turn back home and tell what I’ve seen, do I even believe it myself?
Could I make the journey back to Galilee and wait for the Lord who lay in the tomb three days?
Or does fear reign in my body and in Mary and in Salome?

O tomb I taunted you, O death I defied you, but you I knew.
But now you stand open while my mouth is sealed shut
I feared your presence while you contained my Lord, now I cannot stand in your presence at all
Fear, confusion, amazement, wonder, silence
I run away

Perhaps the day will come when the stone over my own mouth is rolled away
Perhaps it too will take three days, or three months or three years
Perhaps it will take me finding the Lord who has been spirited away
“Fear not…he has gone ahead of you.”

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com


White Crucifixion, Marc Chagall

White Crucifixion, Marc Chagall

Alone, life is over,
Those whom I ask to wait for me enter into sleep
A sleep deeper than death itself
Seconds creep by, minutes last for years
As I wait for my Father to answer me
Yet no answer comes.

Life, truly lived in God blessed abundance
Good friends, those who love me and whom I love
Those who would drink my cup, those who would share my bread
And yet for them I am alone waiting on the Father
Yet no answer comes.

Love, freely given and rarely returned
The religious mock me and the educated despise me
A few closer than brothers and sisters I have drawn near
Yet the same God brings love and separation
So still I sit alone and await an answer from the Father
Yet no answer comes.

Torment, yet it is the cup I choose
I could allow this cup to pass; yet I drink it to the dregs
I take on the curse so others might have a blessing
For those who curse me and those I have drawn near
I sit alone, the answer from the Father
I am the answer.

Betrayal, a brother draws near
With a kiss comes a wound deeper than any sword or spear
One who shared my bread rends my heart in two
I stand surrounded, forsaken by the Father
I am the answer for Judas.

Abandoned, every brother and sister scattered
For the fear of death my name forgotten and denied
All whom I opened myself to now flee as I sit on the altar
Accused, Spat upon, Beaten, a lamb for slaughter
I am the answer for the scattered.

Hated, I bear the weight of Jerusalem
An earthly kingdom I would not claim, so a thief’s death they select
Nothing did I take, only love did I give
Yet in my love I uncovered hatred so dark that hell could not contain it
Marked, Broken, Despised, a Scapegoat
I am the answer for a conquered people.

Disregarded, shown contempt as a peasant
I do not even merit the time of the procurator, only the fervor of the city’s hatred
Places me as King of the Jews before the vassal of Caesar
The power to judge I could wield, yet instead to earthly power I yield
I become the crucified one for the Romans
I am the answer for the empire.

Hung on the mountain, exposed to the world
I bear witness to a kingdom present given my form
I stake my claim as I gasp for air in the God forsakenness of Golgotha
I bear the rebellion of humanity waging war against the Creator
I am love hung on a cross for the world, the embrace of the Father
I am the answer for all creation.

I hang on the cross today bearing the sins of a world come of age
Aging but still turned inward on itself, consuming its own flesh
A world that may know my name, but has forgotten who I am
A world who no longer needs me, but is intent on saving itself at the cost of its own life
Creation is smothered and the oppressed are crushed
The powerful are caught in their paranoia and fathers disown their children
Wives seek other lovers and leaders devour their followers
The blood of the earth cries out for vindication, the desecrated heavens shout for judgement
Yet here I hang, the lamb, the scapegoat, the crucified one, love it self
Forsaken for the world’s sake, and yet I am
I am the answer for the world
Does anyone question anymore?

Composed Neil White, 2013

Updated from a poem originally written in 2002

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com

At the Table- A Meditation and Poem for Maundy Thursday

The Last Supper by Pascal Adolphe Dagnan-Bouvret

The Last Supper by Pascal Adolphe Dagnan-Bouvret

At the table with the others who will stumble and fall
Here with the one who touched us each in our turn
Healing our sickness, dispelling our demons, freeing us from our captivity
At least for the moment we are reclining at the table, a part of the feast
With Peter and John and James, Mary Magdalene and Martha and Lazarus
With saints of all ages and times and sinners from far and near
On this night we are there with them sharing in the feast of deliverance
From slave to liberation, from outsider to insider
No titles, no ranks, no stations or wealth matter here
For at the table this night we are all guests of the Lord
Bound together by his love

On this night we call Maundy, we receive the mandate
A call to love as we have been loved
To serve as we have been served
To make others clean as we have been made clean
Though we may deny and betray the Lord who joins us together
With our words
With our actions
With our hatred
With our exclusion
With our prejudice
With our pride
With our clinging to the old order rather than seeking God’s kingdom
With our addictions to power and wealth and privilege
With our own self-righteousness
Like Judas we may value money over God’s dream
Like Peter we may not be able to see how a master can serve
Or perhaps in our attempts to follow in his tracks we will deny we know him
Before the cock crows in the morn
We come with all the others, as unexpected and unworthy guests of the Lord of love
Receiving forgiveness and mercy, his prayers and his love
Tonight we are a part of the gathering of the feast that is to come in the kingdom

Though we know the story, we know these things, we know to love
And we are blessed to be called to do them
To wash feet
To share a meal
To extend forgiveness
To love as we have been loved
To remember again the story that shapes our lives
And to come again to the table to share in the gifts of grace
We are called and gathered here as one
No longer separated as
men and women
slave and free,
Jew and Gentile,
Righteous and unrighteous
Saint and sinner
Lord and servant
Rich and poor
Powerful and pariah
No here we are all beloved
Maybe we are God lovers,or seekers,or lost,or confused
Wondering how it is that we find ourselves here on this night
Yet here we are and once again we are
Washed and cleansed, yet needing to be washed again
Fed and yet not satisfied, with the foretaste until the feast itself comes
Made holy and yet still we may walk from this place labeled by others as a sinner
Forgiven and yet still not free from being led into temptation
And yet we are here at the table this night
As we are moved by God towards our liberation
We share bread and the cup
The bread of affliction is turned into a sampling of the kingdom of heaven
The cup of sorrow is transformed into the elixir of new life
As Christ offers himself to us again and meets us here at the table
As one who serves, so that we might learn to serve
As one who love, so that we might learn to love
As one who forgives, so that we might learn to forgive
As one who welcomes the stranger, as we might welcome the stranger
Shaped and formed by the practice of love to be those who can love one another
So that others may know whose we are
We are those who were here at the table
Invited and shaped by the loving Lord who hosts us this night

Composed Neil White 2013

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com

The Beginning of Jesus Ministry: A Sermon

James Tissot, Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness

James Tissot, Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness

Years ago, when I was going through Airborne School at Ft. Benning, GA, I remember one of the black hats there that would continually shout at us, “This ain’t Burger King, Airborne, you can’t have it your way.” When Jesus came down to dwell among us, the world changed- the Word became flesh and lived among us. The very force that gives creation its shape and form took on our form and was born of Mary and Joseph, two ordinary people with a big problem in the lower story became the parents of God’s Son, the bearers of the Word. And God come down and the very people who should have been able to see and recognize him, did not and there was no room for the Son of God.

Now we see Jesus beginning his ministry, God has come down, dwells with us. The hopes expressed by Isaiah have come to light:

Oh, that you would burst from the heavens and come down! How the mountains would quake in your presence! 2 As fire causes wood to burn and water to boil, your coming would make the nations tremble. Then your enemies would learn the reason for your fame! 3 When you came down long ago, you did awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations. And oh, how the mountains quaked! 4 For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!(Isaiah 64: 1-4)

The people have longed for the barriers that separated God from them to be taken down, for God to be present and active. It is so easy to look out at the world and see all that is wrong, and to want God to come and fix it and the good news, the gospel is that God does…but not on our terms. God was not going to act like in the stories of the Exodus with the same type of mighty works. The mountains were not going to tremble, forests were not going to spontaneously combust and the nations around them were not trembling in their boots. Many seemed to hope that God coming down would mean that the nations around Israel would become their captives and they would come and bring their wealth and serve them, but the God we encounter in Jesus is much different.

Mark’s gospel echoes the language of Isaiah’s bursting from the heavens when Mark discusses the beginning of Jesus’ ministry:

9 One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” (Mark 1: 9-11)

The heavens, that place where God dwells which seems so distant now are split apart, ripped open and God is on the loose in the world. No longer content to stay in a temple or up in heaven, God has come down and everything has changed. We see in Jesus the goal of our own lives, where we are also dearly loved ones who bring God great joy, people in whom God’s Spirit wants to descend upon, people’s whose very identities are made and claimed in the waters of baptism, for it is there that our lives are joined to Christ’s life and we are his brothers and sisters, and yet, this ain’t Burger King, Airborne, you don’t get to have it your way, your isn’t your own. And God will not be God in the way that we think God should be God.

You see we tend to think that being set apart should make us special, and on the one hand it does, but we follow a God who came to serve and not to be served. We are set apart for the sake of others and not for our own sake. We were never set aside to place ourselves higher than others, but that we might serve. Paul talks about sharing the mind of Christ in this way:

5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2: 5-8)

Jesus’ ministry begins, but it is about service not being served. It will involve hardship and suffering. Jesus’ identity and our identity do not preserve us from suffering or guarantee us an easy life. Jesus’ is not Superman, he is not going to fight the battle on those terms-unable to feel pain, unable to suffer and able to shoot laser beams out of his eyes and pulverize his enemies with fists of steel, instead he will enter into the weakness of the world in the confidence of who he is.

All the gospels go directly from the baptism to the temptation, they went together in Jesus life and the go together in ours as well. Mark continues:

12 The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, 13 where he was tempted by Satan for forty days. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of him. (Mark 1: 12-13)

Martin Luther talks about in his Large Catechism that baptism is not to be taken lightly lest we hang a life-long enemy around the neck of a child, for in declaring a child for God it is also declaring the child against the devil and the ways of the world. Just because we are baptized does not save us from temptation, instead it might lead us directly into it.

Luke expands Mark’s brief temptation narrative like this:

Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.

3 Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

4 But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.'”

5 Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. 7 I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”

8 Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the LORD your God and serve only him.'”

9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! 10 For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you. 11 And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.'”

12 Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the LORD your God.'”

13 When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came. (Luke 4: 1-13)

The temptations come from the temptation to be the son of God in the world’s terms, to be the Messiah everyone else thinks he should be. The son of God shouldn’t be hungry, the son of God should wield power and rule over the nations as a king, the son of God should be invincible and strong and be impervious to danger, shielded by the angels from any harm.  If you are really God’s son feed yourself and everyone else along with it , if you really are about God’s kingdom then rule in God’s place, put Caesar and the kings of this earth under your feet, show people how powerful you are and they will follow you. And yet Jesus will not be the Son of God on Satan or our terms, and if we follow him we too may find ourselves walking into some of the same temptations that he faced and be confronted in our own weakness. Yet in our weakness we are not alone, nor are we abandoned, we are beloved by God. Beloved so much that God came down, ripped open the heavens to be on the loose in our world to be among us, to claim us and name us and in the waters of baptism to join us to Christ.

Pastor Erik has mentioned several times in the time I have been here that we need to remember that there is a God and it isn’t us. We don’t get to have it our way, we don’t get to cast God in our own image, when God acts in a way that is different than the way we would choose we don’t get to go out and choose a new god that better suits our liking. And yet the same tempter whispers in our ears: ‘if you are a child of God, you shouldn’t have to struggle’ ‘if you were really the child of God, you would be powerful, or rich, or famous’’or if you are really a child of God you would be a superhero’

Christ’s journey led him from his identity in baptism, into temptation and then to proclamation-pointing to the ways in which God was already on the loose in the world. That God’s kingdom was at hand and calling people to turn their ways back to God. As we continue in our journey may we also come to the point where we can see and say:

14 Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. 15 “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1: 14-15)

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The Place of Authority Part 2-1: The Beginning of the Christian Story

Carl Heinrich Bloch, The Sermon on the Mount, Public Domain Image

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Philippians 2.5-8

This project continues to evolve, and I have started a new major section with the beginning of the Christian story, so I have changed from a simple number (this would be number 6 I believe) to a combined number with a section and for lack of a better term a chapter. My intent was not to make a book, but we shall see how this continues to evolve.

The English New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright wisely states in his The New Testament and the People of God that, “it is impossible to talk about the origin of Christianity without being confronted with the question of God.” (Wright, 81) In Judaism the question of God was mediated throughout the time period we covered by temple or priest, prophet or king, judge or clan leader and yet in the very beginning of the Christian story we see things concentrated in one person like never before and within that early identity all of the previous sources of authority are at least re-evaluated if not completely redefined.

As movement Christianity has its origins in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth and his message about God’s kingdom. In many respects it is a remarkable and unexpected story how a movement could be centered on an individual who was not wealthy, not one of the elites of the time, did not command armies or write any books. Instead Jesus lived a rather short life by our standards. Sometime in his thirties was taken prisoner by the Jewish religious authorities and the Jewish religious authorities in collusion with the Roman political authorities would have him crucified. Crucifixion was a scandalous death reserved for low class citizens and slaves.  An upper class citizen might have been beheaded for treason, but crucifixion was meant to be slow, painful and humiliating—the person was made into a dying billboard to be an example of what it means to mess with the powers that are in charge. Yet, there is something in this one Jewish man, among the thousands of Jews that will be crucified over the time of Roman rule that gave birth a movement that for 2,000 years has grown to become at points one of the major authorities of the western world. No person has probably had more written about him, has inspired more debate and devotion than Jesus of Nazareth.

I am not an unbiased in my examinations of this (and no one ever is really unbiased), I am a part of this movement some two millennia later. Even though I will not be spending much time on what happens in the movement from Good Friday where Jesus is crucified to Easter when his disciples come to accept he is alive and continues to be present with them, that doesn’t mean that this is not important. In fact, to me what is amazing is the way even at this time the followers of Jesus are either fit for the insane asylum or they are the bearers of a new message that will turn the world upside down.

Christianity has its beginnings in Galilee and Judea with the community that gathers around Jesus, who is understood by many following him initially as a prophet and at least by some as a potential king (the words Christ or Messiah both mean king). Jesus embodies for this community what his central message, the kingdom of God, is all about. For this community in the ministry and words of Jesus, “the kingdom of God has drawn near.” His message makes an impact, especially with the community that gathers around him that resonates long after his crucifixion. The community that gathered around him should have either died or found a new leader at that point, but somehow (and this is not the time or place to get into the debate of what happened and how it happened) his followers accepted that death for him was not the final answer, that he was alive and that he was somehow more than just another prophet and more than a ‘messianic pretender’ but that indeed titles like Lord, Son of Man, Son of God, Christ/Messiah, Immanuel and many more applied to him. Even more remarkable they began to see in Jesus a hope for what their lives might embody—that if death was not the final answer for him it was not the final answer for them either.

Post-Easter Jesus becomes even more central as a way in which these early followers of the Way (what the book of Acts reports the first Christians being called) centered their lives on Jesus. Their fellow Christians became their new family, displacing in many cases the authority of families they had grown up in (this was a huge scandal). The Jewish Scriptures (the Old Testament) began to be read through the lens of Jesus and his message and stories of Jesus began to supplement them. They viewed their authority to proclaim and enact this message as granted to them by God.

Then something else amazing happens, something probably present at least in a germinal form in the life and ministry of Jesus, these early followers move beyond the boundaries of the Jewish people. Partially through a sense of mission, partially through oppression and conflict, and somewhere in the midst of this with a sense of God’s design they spread out into the Gentile world. They began to negotiate what it would mean to be Christian and Jewish or Christian and Gentile. This was not an easy transition, there were struggles along the way, but it was a transition the early Christians made.  In the initial decades after Jesus’ crucifixion the community had two primary sources of authority, first was the apostles (those who had seen Jesus and had in some way been called and appointed by him) and the second was the scriptures (the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament).

Beginning around the time of the Jewish war for very practical reasons the early Christian community began collecting the memory of what Jesus said and did into accounts to hand on the memory. The conflict between Rome and the heart of Judaism was one factor, Christianity had in that generation found itself on the outside of Judaism where it started and soon the Temple and Jewish homeland would be gone and the connection between the two would grow weaker. Second and probably the critical reason for recording the stories in the time between 70 and 120 CE was that the original witnesses would no longer be present to witness to and retell these stories.

Christianity began its journey into a strange new world, a world of Greeks and Romans and ‘Barbarians’ and within a generation (at least according to tradition) Christians would spread from modern day Spain to China and India, throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East, across the Roman empire and to the areas where Rome had not expanded.  It would encounter and both transform but also be transformed by each culture it encountered. It would be a minority movement of predominantly immigrants and slaves. It would not start out as something that would look like a threat to transform the most powerful empire of the day, but the level of authority its adherents would grant to Jesus would plant the seeds of a deep change coming.

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