Category Archives: New Testament

The Cure for a Corrupt Mind

For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. 15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin (Romans  7:14-25, NRSV)

In the last several weeks, the news media has spent a great deal of energy uncovering instances government mismanagement and corrupt behavior. Classified leaks, secret cover ups and scapegoating have dominated the news cycle. The IRS, NSA, DOJ, Benghazi and the palace intrigue of wondering what the President knew and when he knew it, are the latest parlor games in Washington, DC. The seriousness of these events are still hijacked by much of the media (which for the most part has lost all sense of objectivity), to stoke general fears of government overreach, state monitoring and possible media interference.

Let’s be clear, in a free society there should always be the expectation of free access to people, places and information. Any reason for secrecy should be carefully debated, explained and then continually reviewed to see if the reasons are still valid for secrecy.  Open societies can have secrecy, but what makes them different from totalitarian secrecy is that there are well-defined and oft debated reasons for secrecy. The freedom of information is held with primacy along with the need for security.

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Much of that process took place when the Patriot Act of 2001 was enacted by Congress as a result of the attacks of September 11th. There were many voices of consent and dissent that were part of the discourse but in the end, a free society chose secrecy balance by freedom. The Act has been renewed several times by members of congress with overwhelming support, each time with new hearings and new conversation of the reasons we have for being secretive. To date we have chosen to keep the balance toward secrecy.

Unlike the surveillance programs, the other scandals are true instances of misconduct and negligence on the part of our government. These other scandals are bureaucratic and selfish attempts at government (or persons charged with the public trust in government) to act toward personal ends. We often miss the incredible selfishness that is present in our government structure as institutional preservation outweighs all other considerations toward morality. Whether it is secretly seizing records in a criminal investigation, withholding applications because of political affiliations, and/or the editing of talking points to save political careers; the trouble centers on the will to do right, over the will to do for self.

Government is not the only place where this battle of will is played out. So often we as individuals are faced with this same battle of wills. We battle between what we know is right and moral to do in a situation, and then battle against what we want to do for ourselves. Paul alludes to this very battle in this letter to the Romans. In discussing the work of the Jewish law in the life of the believer, Paul defines the law as convicting and clearly designed to bring us to an understanding of our immorality before God. So then, in light of the law, we are forced to know what the difference is between right and wrong.

As a result of that knowledge, we must choose. Empowered by a will to do either good or evil, we choose to act in the world. We choose to conform to the law or “live in the flesh” (according to Paul). Like much of the foolishness going on in our government, we often choose based upon self gain, preservation and a general belief that ‘no one will find out’.  Unfortunately what results from decision-making in this way are corrupt, ineffective and blatantly selfish actions that cannot be undone.

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If all we had was our understanding of the law and our failure to live up to it, then we indeed would be doomed. But Paul says in verse 25, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”. It is by and with and through Jesus Christ that we are empowered to be different. By taking on HIS will, we see different options for being the good sheep He calls us to be. Sure corruption is always possible, but Paul’s admonishment is to be different for the sake of Christ. This same Christ who took on indifference and hatred make a decision for Him. This same Christ who died for you, the epitome of selflessness. Make the right choice because of who He is to you…

My vision of truth for us is just that: Be different for the sake of the one who became different for you.

 

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A Sacrificial View…

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgins name was Mary. And he came to her and said, Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you. But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. Mary said to the angel, How can this be, since I am a virgin? The angel said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God. Then Mary said, Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-35, NRSV)

One of the most under appreciated roles in our society are the roles of parents. Parenting is one of the most difficult, rewarding, confusing, enlightening, perplexing and stressful positions any human being can undertake. For many of us, parenting is a job that we didn’t sign up for (at least when we intended) and when it was thrust upon us, there was never any clear manual to of ‘dos and don’ts.’ Many more of us (those who planned and those who did not) felt, and feel totally ill-equipped for the position of parent. Having a life depend on your reasonable decision-making, responsible actions, and moral guidance 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for 18 or more years is a level of stress and microscopic supervision that can overwhelm.

The work of parenting on the whole is most fully realized in the office of mother. This is not to say that the father is somehow ‘less than’ mother in the life of a child. Fathers and father/mother figures make up a half of the parental unit that contributes to a stable and balance upbringing. Yet, the mother is so often the one who experiences the full brunt of parenting even before the child is born. It is the mother that first makes the sacrifices that are indicative of parenting, when she gives of her nutrients and gives her body over to the child growing in her body. The mother is first among parents to intuit her child’s feelings and pains. She is also the first to be present when that child is realized in the world. Sadly, mom is often the one who is there when tragedy strikes her child and feels the agony in her very being when her child suffers.

Sure, there are many parents and mothers who fall far short of this exercise of the best of the office. But it does not mean that those delinquent mothers are somehow less in the experiences of carrying another human being for 9 months and living with someone for 18+ years.

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At the heart of motherhood (and parenting) is sacrifice. Parents must give of themselves from the beginning, for the sake of their children. Biologically they give genetic material. Emotionally, the give their tears, joys and hope. Physically, they make space, room and provision. Financially, they give all they have to ensure stability and well-being. Psychologically, they give their fears and their psyche. These actions of giving are not just characterized by simple sharing, but sacrifice. As a parent, you give your ALL to your children, for the sake of your children. So many parents and mothers give up or defer their hopes and dreams for the sake of their children. So many parents and mothers give up ‘themselves’ so their children might be greater than they.

The lens of parental sacrifice is the frame through which I approach the above text. What was the life Mary gave up to be the mother of Jesus? She (and we) shall never know. We usually glorify Mary’s faithfulness to God and her ready willingness to serve. However, like all of us in the journey of faith, what we choose in God comes with unintended effects and consequences. Choosing God always results in many actions and events that were not foreseen when you made the initial decision (see Moses, Isaiah, Peter, etc.). So to, being a parent also comes with that same ‘hidden portfolio’. Debt, sadness, happiness, disappointment and gratitude are all parts of the portfolio that you never fully know as emotions until you become a parent. So then, imagine Mary making this choice for God, to be a parent. A child that has never been born before and never will be again. A special class of motherhood that comes with all the stresses of being a parent PLUS working with and by a mysterious and powerful God.

Mary gave up more than we will ever know to be the mother of Jesus. She gave up her life to see that child grow into the fullness of being that we know as God incarnate. She gave attention, time and energy as any parent would. She would give up all of her hopes and dreams for him so much so that she would suffer as he suffered at Calvary’s cross. Now celebrated as chief among mothers we cannot know the agony of the loss she experienced or the joy of reward she felt because of what her child is to the world.

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I simply offer the following vision of truth: We do not know what many of our mother’s have given up for the sake of (or in spite) of their children. We blame wayward mothers for the indiscretions of their choices. Challenge unwed mothers and unconventional motherhood as being ‘bad for the child’. We undermine the work mothers do by limiting time off of work and limiting places for motherly activity (breastfeeding, play and growth, etc.). We even somehow lessen the experience of a mother when she makes a decision that does not line up with our view of parenting.

The simple truth is we don’t know what was given for the sake of being a mother. Only a select few of our parents in our society understand the power of such a choice. Let us celebrate our mothers/parents for what they gave up and what we are. Not just because of what they did, but because of who they are.

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Seeing the Mission with Fresh Eyes

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:16-20, NRSV)

After a four week hiatus from blogging to meditate and reflect (provide some creative restoration), I am resuming our weekly reflections with revisiting the work of the church and the mandate of Christ to his church. 

As Christians I often think that we have misunderstood the mandate of Christ that was given to the church. Much work has been done around the doctrines and beliefs that come about from the self-disclosure of Christ in the Gospels. Ideas about ministry, education, faith and belief are all shaped by the infinite number of teachings that elucidate on the ‘Great Commission’.

Depending on the millennia in which a Christian found themselves, those teachings on the church’s work of proclamation, education and expansion varied and shifted. In the early days of the church, it was “the blood of the martyrs that served as the seeds for the growth of the church”, said the 2nd century church father Tertullian. In the middle ages it was the sword that served as the way to expand, with teaching and proclamation being secondary concerns of the leadership of the church. Later, post reformation, this teaching was the motivation for Christian colonial ambitions and the work of the western (and purportedly Christian) nations to conquer the world.

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The thing that all of this interpretations have in common are the cultural underpinnings that guide any understanding of the commission. For better (and usually for worse), the church interpreted its mandate through the cultural mores of the time in which it existed (often meaning the validation of destructive practices and beliefs). So then, in the age of the martyrdom, it was martyrdom that Christ ‘meant’ when he spreading the church. When the age of sword was dominate, then Christ ‘spread’ the faith on the edge of the sword. When colonialism was the source of strength and power, Christ ‘used’ colonial powers to bring the Gospel to the “savages” in the New World.

But what if the above commission that Christ extends had little to do with verbal proclamation and actively “forcing” the expansion of the faith? It seems to me that the vague emphasis of method of expansion has little to do with a lack of concern of Jesus’ part. Instead, this commission occurs at the end of a Gospel where Jesus has spent all of his life, death and resurrection demonstrating the effects of the kingdom of God……IN HIS BEING!  What if the command of Christ was about BEING the church to the world? Instead of forcing the issue, what if expansion occurs through a witness of BEING the Christ to the world and therefore expanding the kingdom?

What if the church spent more time ‘being’ in the world? A church that is anti-abortion ‘proclaims’ the kingdom through stable loving homes for struggling mothers and “unwanted” children. A church that is pacifist, develops ways to engage adversaries around the things that divide, instead of being divisive itself. A church that provides this witness is not concerned about growth in an active sense, but instead is concerned about the ways the church can BE the church in the world, which achieves growth in the end. A church that lives out the commission in this way is not doctrinally focused, but mission driven. In this case, the mission is TO BE and NOT TO GROW. In the end, Christ is the one that grows the church, by virtue of the authority given to him in verse 18, (thus a COmmission and not just a mission).

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I recently spent a week in the island nation of Haiti. Much of what has gone in Haiti has been ignored by the International media despite a slow but steady attempt at readjusting and stabilizing the nation’s governance and infrastructure. (There will be a series of blog postings that will cover the lessons learned from Haiti.)

Much of the progress that has happened in Haiti has occurred through the work and witness of the Christian church. The church is the integral partner between the government and the work of restoration and healing that is taking place on the ground in Haiti. The church is rebuilding homes and communities and offering permanent housing for people. In being the church, the people of the church can teach and make disciples for Christ in the world.

In the end, the Commission teaches us the importance of being  a vision of truth for the “transformation of the world”!

 

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‘Biblical’ Challenges…

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17, NRSV)

Unless you have been under a rock for the last month or so, you have missed one of the most controversial and yet ‘trendiest’ topics in pop culture……The Bible. This 13-part miniseries seeks to cover some of the pivotal and definitive stories of the Biblical text. Unlike most History channel programming about the Bible, this series contains little to no scholarship or commentary (in fact very little narration). Instead this series seeks to ‘tell the story’ with, according to the series, a fervor and vibrancy that “bring the Bible to life.”

With a multi-racial cast and a eye toward an interpretative acting, the series offers insight into an angle on the scriptures that a segment of our Christian family affirms. Retelling the stories of pivotal stores of Creation in Genesis, Samson in Judges, Moses in Exodus and David in the history texts among others, the series hopes to bring the Bible and its narratives into the mainstream of the public consciousness and conversation. To that end, the series has been widely successful. It has trended on Twitter, been followed closely by TV personalities like TJ Holmes and Roland Martin and has been featured on several news networks. The series has also been deeply criticized by biblical scholars, feminists, and Christians from all over the world. I too, add my voice to that criticism of the series…

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I have watched the series produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, (both avowed evangelical Christians), each week with excitement and bitter resentment. Excitement to see the stories of my Christian heritage brought to life and resentment as to how they would be butchered and skewered in the grinder of cultural, social and contextual blindness. They have selected the stories, chosen what was relevant and used their multi racial cast in such a narrowed view that Egyptians are white and Jews are British. Their choices have left no doubt about their intentions, directions and purposes in telling their narratives about the bible.

In watching last night, I found myself repulsed by the brunette Brit that was supposed to represent my Jesus. Weirdly, I previously tolerated a British Moses and Pharaoh, a peculiarly black Samson (with a thing for white women), the gross mischaracterization of David’s ‘rape’ of Bathsheba and the casting of President Obama’s twin as the devil in the earlier installments of the series. Yet, I found this week that this interpretation of Jesus was a bridge too far….

The truth of the matter is that the casting of colonial Jesus essentially completes a ‘whitewashing’ of the continual portrayal of the Biblical narrative. For centuries, the truths of the African and ‘colored’ heritage of the text has been undermined by colonial powers and forces that sought to rewrite and patronize the what the ancient writers sought to convey. Many folks have said that the color of Jesus shouldn’t matter as long as we appreciate and believe what he did for us. If Jesus’ color doesn’t matter, then why are nearly all of the depictions of Jesus in western culture of a white man? The ‘color’ of our stories matters because they help us to inculcate and in grain the narratives in our lives. Culture, context, gender roles and power all matter in the telling of sacred narratives because they help to expose the continual truth of God’s engagement in the culture, context and power of our present lives.

One colleague commented on reviewing one of the episodes that I, “should not be surprised or astonished, because Burnett and Downey could not be expected to do multicultural telling of the Bible.” My reply was that “my expectations were not unrealistic and in fact were even more normative given that this is the 21st century and we have a broader view of the text and the messages of the text.” Expecting Abraham to be middle eastern and speak something other than English (with a British accent) is not an unreasonable expectation in the 21st century. Expecting a culturally and textually appropriate portrayal of any Biblical character is not an unreasonable expectation of white producers or of the History Channel. Expecting that critical elements of the narratives of Christian heritage not be redacting or edited is also a reasonable expectation.

Unknown-1The text for this week is a passage that I often struggle with. In and of itself, this passage (which has been used by many preachers to support the efficacy of the Bible), on its surface validates the use of scripture because ‘scripture says so’! However, the more nuanced understanding of the text offers a view that the Bible is relevant for teaching because of the inherent truth of the witness of God throughout all generations in the totality of scripture. I believe the writers of the biblical text told the truth of the stories with an awareness of God’s action in and through and by and with the messiness of our human existence. That truth of the text is what makes  the text “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

In my vocation as a pastor and religious educator, I plan to use the series and all of its flaws. I plan to use it to teach the power of hermeneutics and enculturation in reading the bible. The History Channel series is no different than many of the other portrayals of the Bible (see ‘Ten Commandments’, ‘One Night with the King’, ‘Prince of Egypt’, etc.). All of these movies and shows tell the stories of the Bible in ways that are intentional in leading us to believe what they want us to. In many ways, these tellings reinforce cultural mores and norms that continually oppress and undermine the real meaning of the text. In teaching about this form of redaction, I hope to empower many in our faith to counteract these tendencies when we see it so that we may be empowered in our views of pop cultural representations of our faith.

I take REAL issue with redaction (even in the ancient traditions in the Old Testament). Redaction is a power grab and a selective revisionist view toward telling the truth. Its misleading with intent and purpose. If we are ever going to get a free and fair glimpse of the vision of truth, we are going to need to tell the story of our faith free from redaction, revision and with a healthy wrestling with God in the text.

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Learning to Get Unstuck…

At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.’ 3He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. 5Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? 6I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”, you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.’ (Matthew 12:1-8, NRSV)

In our life together we are so often bound by the traditions, rules and regulations of our own creation. Traditions that shape our familial practice, careers, and religious practices all shape our life. After all, these traditions can help to keep us grounded and focused when the vicissitudes of life keep us in flux. Our morning routines, the rules we follow on our jobs, the expectations and standards that we promote in our lives all serve to create consistency that we rely on in the day-to-day moments of existence. But what happens when those rules that guide become ties that bind? When do our traditions and experiences that so helpfully regulate our lives, become limiting and restrictive to the life?

There are times when our expectations and life traditions do in fact hinder us. The rules we make around dating and relationships, what we will and won’t do, and the circumstances by which we would perform and extraordinary task all have the dangerous propensity for limiting life as much as they define it. I have talked with people who have grown old and bitter because of the rules they have made for themselves. They didn’t get married because they wanted a particular type of spouse. They didn’t work in the field of their heart’s desire because of the traditions that their family assumed about being a musician or artist or teacher. They have limited their lives because of the rules and ideologies they made for themselves.

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Such is the case in the New Testament with respect to the rules and traditions of religious practice. Jesus is born into a religious context that has long been shaped by thousands of years of religious tradition and interpretation. The laws and regulations that shape Jewish religiosity are strict and specifically enforced by the Pharisees. Despite the intense regulation of obedience to the laws (and the traditions), Jesus is countercultural in nearly every respect of those very traditions.

In the above passage, Jesus has finished providing instructions and teaching to the disciples. After he concludes they begin their journey to a new town. Nothing wrong in this except that their travel begins and continues on the sabbath. Traveling on the Sabbath means that he is already in violation of the laws concerning work for Jews during this period. Worse yet, in the middle of the journey, the disciples get hungry and instead of stopping and resting, they decide to keep walking through a grain field and pick off the heads of grains. All is well until the disciples gets caught by the Pharisees.

The interchange that takes place between Jesus and the Pharisees is one in which Jesus critiques the understanding of the purpose of the law and not just a general interpretation. By challenging the very notion of the function of tradition, Jesus exposes the risk of strict adherence to the rules. Rules can be dangerously limiting and deny life when you focus on the rule and not the purpose of the rule. Jesus reminds the Pharisees that rules exist for a reason and to ignore the reason and keep the rules makes the rules irrelevant and legalistic.

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The truth of the matter is that we too, build fortresses of rules and traditions and hide inside. We often forget why we create these rules and what purpose they served in our life. Instead we cling to the rules blindly and watch happiness in life pass us by. Jesus in the passage reminds us that rules have a purpose. Once the purpose has changed, the rules need to be changed (or maybe even omitted). Our hypocrisy, contortions of belief and the undermining of relational happiness emanate from blind allegiance to the rules.

Life is happening all around us. Life is engaging and changing in the brief moments of love, charity and interaction. Traditions are important to shaping and defining life for each one of us. Traditions do not, however, bring life, they merely maintain the status quo. Doing what you always have done because it’s what has been done, is never good enough and will never yield life. Being responsive to the needs of life  and the needs you have means sometimes changing (or breaking) the rules. It’s not the end of the world, but the promise of life. After all, the visions of truth only come outside of the rule box!

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Triumph Over the Test

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 3:16-4:1)

I am an educator by vocation and by profession. I teach several classes at local colleges and work with others in teaching at a Seminary and in the parish. I enjoy my work and in fact I get a deep sense of purpose in doing it.

Despite this satisfaction, one of the struggles of the teaching profession is test administration. There is a great deal of work and study that goes into developing a test for your students. You have to review the material and condense the material into a “package” that can be learned  by the students. Additionally, once the instruction of the package has been completed, you then have to assess how well your students have integrated the material that you have presented. The challenge of testing involves the nature of the test in relationship to assessing what a student has learned. That is to say, you have to ensure that the test allows the student demonstrate the knowledge that you have designed it to. All of us have taken tests that were not relevant to the material that we studied and that we were totally unprepared to deal with.

A good teacher however, spends a great deal of time preparing the students for the upcoming test. And a great teacher spends a good deal of time crafting a test that ‘fits’ the student in order that the student can be who they are while demonstrating what the teacher has intended for them to know. (This is part of the intrinsic problems of the standardized tests. The test is so generic and the information so broad that they are not as effective at assessing certain student populations or even the materials that they purport to assess.)

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Our text for today is considered one of the two places where Jesus is tested (the other is the cross). Known as the temptation of Christ, this passage in Matthew (Matt 4:1-11) is a perplexing one for many Christians. Jesus is baptized and then pushed into the wilderness “to be tested.” If you believe in the power of the Christ and his divinity, then the obvious question arises, “How an the incarnate God be tested?” and “What purpose does it serve?”.

Traditional Christian teaching has so often hinged on the temptation passage as a model for resisting the tempting of the satan. So often looking at the superficial questions ans answers between Devil and Jesus was thought to reveal how the enemy attacks and the ways we ought to successfully resist. Through this lens, the text is about God’s refining of Jesus and in the test as one might put a car or plane through ‘testing’ to guarantee reliability. This makes God a bit like a tester or puppet master that designs test to get us to continually prove our worth in the work of the kingdom.

However, I want to view the testing of Jesus through the lens of an educator and that of a great teacher. In starting the temptation narrative where Jesus is baptized (as opposed to the beginning of chapter 4), we find a clear moment of instruction. Specifically, God says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” This statement is both instruction and reminder. God establishes Jesus’ identity and God’s satisfaction with that identity. Jesus in turn learns something about himself that will most likely assures and guarantees his self-identity before  the test. Through this lens, God confirms the lesson that Jesus will be tested on. The test is not about proving readiness, but affirming identity. God is pleased and assured of who you are, the test is about whether or not you know for yourself.

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We have for so long interpreted the trials and tests of our life as mere tricks of the devil. Sometimes we have even interpreted them as punishment for disobedience to God and so we have to prove ourselves as being faithful again to being “God’s will.” I submit to you this week, that the test may not be either of these things. Instead, the test is the sign of God’s pleasure and assurance of your identity. The test is not about God’s proving your worth, but an acknowledgment of it. The teacher already knows who you are, the test is to find out whether you do.

It is time to see the test as a vision of truth. The truth that God has already found something that makes God pleased. The test is to affirm that you are all the things God has already said about you. Now go and pass your tests…..

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The Scandal of it All…

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, “We know that Gods judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that Gods kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:1-4, NRSV)

I must admit that I am a “gladiator in a suit.” For those who are watchers of the ABC hit series Scandal, the preceding phrase is the mantra of ‘discipleship’ in the series. I hesitated in getting on the bandwagon but decided midway through the second season to give it a shot. Needless to say, I am hooked. The show features wonderful storytelling and riveting plots. While those elements of television plots always make for good drama, this is not why I am hooked. The element that has drawn me into the series is its theology.

Scandal is pure entertainment that draws (in part) on the real life ‘fixer’ and PR consultant Judy Smith. Its entertainment value is strengthened by the strong plot and storytelling of veteran producer Shonda Rhimes. Even with the good stories in the plot, there is a strong theology at work. The drama centers on the work of ‘Olivia Pope & Associates’ as legal and political masterminds that help clean up the mess that powerful people can get themselves into. On one level the work of ‘Pope & Associates’ is about covering the sins of people who perhaps are undeserving of such grace. (MESSAGE #1!) The series features everyone from preacher’s wives to potentates seeking to hide their behaviors from the prying eyes of the society that so respects and reveres them.

Scandal

A second theological motif centers on the persons of Olivia Pope and the dysfunctional married President of the United States, one Fitzgerald Thomas Grant III (or ‘Fitz’ for short). These two characters are involved in a mind-numbingly complicated and incredibly passionate love affair in which both seem to think more with the Freudian ‘Id’ than with the intellect that both of them are effective at wheeling. The audience falls in love with the intelligence, power and will that both Olivia Pope and Fitz exude while at the same time abhorring their choice of behaviors that make them so reckless and chaotic. (MESSAGE #2!) They conduct trysts in the most obvious of places (to include the Oval Office on Inauguration night!!) demonstrating their careless blind love/lust.

These two characters (in particular) are trapped by the sum of their choices and their wild reckless abandon toward each other, forsaking all the rules of life. These are very same rules that make each character so powerful, so able and so confident in themselves. Each week, we ‘gladiators in suits’ are addicted to the potential nobility in moral living while at the same time witnessing the hypocrisy that is so often caused by selfish desire and unbridled passion. All of the characters are so much more complex and poly moral than any television show should ever portray. It so often allows for us to take the moral high ground in denying the truth of what we see each week.

 

Fitz and Olivia

Our text for today highlights the irony of our attempts at comparison and competition before the holiness of God. Paul, in writing to the church at Rome, reminds the Romans of the power of our human desires and willingness to compete and compare our behaviors and beliefs to achieve a moral relativism. Our morality is always insufficient in comparison to the righteousness of God. Most pointedly he asks, “Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God?” In other words, do you not see that your behavior is of consequence in God’s economy just as much as your neighbor’s?

Paul’s admonition points to the fact that we always see how bad our neighbor’s behavior is (in spite of our identical behavior), simply because it’s our neighbor that acts in that way. Our morals can be relative to our experience. We compare our behavior to the lowest common morality to make ourselves better than the next person. We subsume God’s righteousness into our own morality and make gods of ourself in the light of another’s behavior. We neglect the scandals of our life in order to shine the light on the scandals of others.

We watch television and compare ourselves to fictional characters and say how much better we are in living (“At least I don’t do that” or “I would never do that” syndrome). However, ‘Pope & Associates’, ‘Fitz’, and the entire cast of ‘Scandal’ are not the worst of human behavior, but reflections of it. They are the personification of our most conflicted, confused and complicated selves. We so often do exactly what many of these characters do (except our behavior is real). True we are not conducting an intense extra marital affair with the POTUS, but we do so often make decisions around what makes us feel good and not what makes sense. True we never rigged a national election to get our candidate elected, but we have rigged the truth to portray ourselves in a positive light! True we never exploited a relationship with an US Senator in order to further a goal for our client. We have exploited our friendships and relationships in order to further our own desires.

Scandal of the Cross

We are Olivia Pope, Fitz, Huck, Cyrus, Hollis and Mel. We seek to enact our will and live out our passions in the most complex of moral circumstances. Behaving in such a way as to be scandalous in all the ways that Shonda Rhimes so effectively displays each Thursday night. This week’s post is not merely about how “bad we are” in our “sin”. Instead, the vision of truth this week is about recognizing ourselves in the behaviors of others. We are no better than our neighbor in the sight of God (nor are we any worse).

Indeed we are scandalous…..but thanks be to God there is a “Gladiator in a suit”who died for you and for me.

 

 

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