Tag Archives: gospel

7 Days of Doubt

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Doubt series

  1. The Third Rail – Doubt
  2. Digital Art Photos
  3. 7 Days of Doubt
  4. From Descartes to Indiana Jones

I’m reading Matthew Henry’s commentary on John 20, and he makes an observation that I hadn’t noticed before. In the “Doubting Thomas” story, 8 days pass between Thomas’ proclamation of doubt, and Jesus reappearance to confirm his resurrection. Henry’s interpretation is that the delay serves as a kind of rebuke to Thomas.

That’s not what struck me, though. Thomas basically calls the disciples fools, and says “Someone has duped you, but not me.” And yet, when the story picks up 8 days later, Thomas is hanging out with the 12 (11 at this point, sans Judas). He’s still part of the community, still in the fellowship. Imagine what those 8 days must have been like! What else would the other disciples be talking about, apart from the resurrection? It had to have been the topic at every meal, every gathering. The resurrection, what it meant, what they should be planning for the future. I wonder if, when the week had passed, Thomas had begun to hope that it was true, if he was prepared to believe it, or if he become cynical in the face of their foolish (to him) faith.

I like the precedent that this sets for the church and those of us who are doubters in her midst. There is space for puzzling through, without breaking fellowship.

Previous in series: Digital Art Photos

Next in series: From Descartes to Indiana Jones

10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis

Posts in the 10 Days of Christmas series

  1. 10 Days of Christmas: Rulers from their Thrones
  2. 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1
  3. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey
  4. 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten
  5. 10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis
  6. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders
  7. 10 Days of Christmas: The Meaning of It All

What an absurd celebration we have embraced to remember the incarnation.

We celebrate by filling up. Calendars, full. CD players, full. Gift lists, full. Credit cards, full. Belly, full. Every moment of this season is dedicated, months in advance, to being filled up. Not all of the filling up things are bad things – time with friends and family are good things, gifts given out of selflessness and friendship are always a good thing.

But taken all-together, the result is a season that is every moment filled up, without a second to breathe, and no time to think or reflect.

What an absurd way to celebrate the incarnation. I wish we could push all of that to Easter, the great celebration. Let’s move our Lenten fast to Christmas, and celebrate the incarnation by imitation.

Who, being in very substance God, did not consider his divine prerogatives as things to be gripped tightly, but emptied himself. Made himself nothing. Humbled himself.

This is the Christmas story that has captured me. The folding down of the divine person into the frail and corruptible human story, the setting aside of every perfect glory to take up this mundane flesh. All the redeeming that is to come begins in that moment.

Christmas is the great emptying out.

Previous in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten

Next in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders

10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey

Posts in the 10 Days of Christmas series

  1. 10 Days of Christmas: Rulers from their Thrones
  2. 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1
  3. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary and her Donkey
  4. 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten
  5. 10 Days of Christmas: The Kenosis
  6. 10 Days of Christmas: Mary Ponders
  7. 10 Days of Christmas: The Meaning of It All

We don’t know if Mary rode a donkey to Bethlehem. We like to think she did, because what kind of a jerk would make his pregnant wife walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem?

But that raises a different question, one I haven’t heard much about. Why did Mary make the trip at all? The census (maybe, probably) required only the male head of household to register, so Joseph could have legally made the trip alone.

I don’t know much about 1st Century Judean birthing practices, but somehow I don’t picture the husband hunched over the birthing bed, coaching his wife through her Lamaze breathing. I’m going to rely on the evidence of pre-1980′s world-wide cultural norms here, and say that most of the time the husband waited in the front room smoking the hookah with the fellas while the women of the family (and maybe a trained midwife) coached the mother through her labor. The husbandly role, throughout history, has been to fret nervously in a different room, then boisterously take credit once the child is born. Mary didn’t need Joseph around during the delivery, she needed her family, her female relatives, the local support network. Why go to Bethlehem?

The trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 100 miles, through some rough terrain, and the hill country along the way was constantly populated with bandits (the parable of the Good Samaritan starts with a man being mugged along some of these same roads).  I got nervous when my wife walked a few miles through Rome on a hot summer day while pregnant. I can’t imagine Joseph’s stress over Mary making the trip with him through that rough country. Again, why make the trip? Why not leave Mary in the care of her family while Joseph went to fulfill his legal obligation.

Luke tells us why Joseph went to Bethlehem. Why did Mary go?

There are a few possibilities, I guess. Maybe Joseph was a thoroughly modern and sensitive husband, and just couldn’t stand the thought of his wife giving birth without his support. Maybe Mary was a rock-hard badass, and the thought of grunting out our Lord and Savior un-aided in the barren rocks above Jericho just made her shout, “Bring it on!” Maybe Luke invented the census and the trip to Bethlehem in order to make the birth narrative fit Micah’s prophesy, in which case of course Mary had to go along.

There is another possibility. Maybe Mary had no reason to stay. Maybe the embarrassment of the pregnancy left her estranged from her friends and relatives, with no support and no family. Maybe nobody had added up the dates yet, and everyone was assuming it was Joseph’s child. Perhaps Mary was eager for a chance to get out of town, and give birth away from the chattering gossips and back-biting spinsters, away from the prying questions that an actual birth date would inevitably give rise to.

I don’t know. Maybe you have some better ideas.
laboroflove.mp3

labor of love
photo by introspectre

Previous in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Matthew 1

Next in series: 10 Days of Christmas: Of The Father’s Love Begotten

the gospel according to Pixar

From The Pixar Touch, by David A. Price:

Andrew Stanton, Co-Director of Finding Nemo, “…also spoke of a spiritual aspect to the relationship of Marlin and Dory. Dory was, literally, an angel fish. ‘The protagonist’s battle was to overcome fear by discovering faith, and certainly Dory represented the angel, or the helper who showed him how to let go and not be consumed by his worries,’ he told an interviewer for a Christian-oriented film web site.
He observed that subtlety is critical in giving films such as Pixar’s a spiritual or religious dimension. ‘My personal view is that if you go into things on a pulpit or with an agenda in the creative world, it can easily get in the way of your creativity and quality… Be Christ-like in everything you do, not worrying about whether you’re furthering the cause.’”

The Christmas Stories: Mark

From Rome, 20 years or so after the ascension of Christ, Mark set ink to paper and began to write down the stories of Jesus’ life, as told and retold by the apostles and evangelists. Relying on the conversations that he had with Peter, as well as on some already existing written and oral records of Christ’s years of ministry, Mark’s gospel holds the distinction of being the first written (… probably).

Mark leaves things out of his gospel that we would expect to see in there. It’s the shortest of the canonical gospels, and reading it leaves you with the sense that it’s more like a companion book than an exhaustive biography.p52 For example, in the most reliable manuscripts, the resurrection account in Mark gets 8 verses, and we see only the angel announcing his resurrection to three of the women among Jesus’ disciples. Huge portions of what we would think of as essential teaching material get left out.

The church that Mark is writing to is a story-telling group. Most of the local gatherings in cities throughout the empire have direct connections to one of the apostles, and would have received their knowledge of the life and teaching of Jesus directly from the stories told by the men and women who walked with him. Mark seems to be writing his gospel as a supplement to this tradition of story-telling, as if to say, “You know the stories about Jesus and what he taught us, but here are some of the details that you may not have heard.” In particular, Mark seems to be interested in providing some of the political context for Jesus’ crucifixion.

In keeping with the character of the rest of his book, Mark’s Christmas story is brief. He doesn’t talk about the virgin birth, or Bethlehem, shepherds, or wise men. For Mark, the Advent is a much older story. His gospel is simply this, “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came as the Messianic heir of the God’s covenant with Israel”. Here’s how he writes it:

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

‘Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, saying, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his pathway straight.”’”

Setting aside the theological weight of the gospels for just a second, I am frequently struck by how good these guy were as authors, as word-smiths. Mark does two things in the opening of his gospel that are just plain good writing.

First, Mark uses a very cool turn of phrase in the first line. The closest parallel might be the famous JFK line, “Ask not what your country can do for you.” In JFK’s speech, the word “not” hangs in our ear, because it’s a swinging modifier. It might belong to “ask”, or it might belong to “what”.

ask_not.mp3

In Mark’s opening, the phrase “gospel of Jesus Christ” places both the words “gospel” and “Jesus Christ” in genitive, a case in Greek that is kind of like our possessive apostrophe “s”, but not quite. So, the result is a phrase where both “gospel” and “Jesus Christ” are swinging modifiers, and the reader isn’t sure if the phrase is “This is the gospel that Jesus brings”, or “This is the gospel about Jesus.” Mark probably intends both (called a plenary genitive), something we don’t have good tools to do in English. We might read it as something like this, “This is the good news that Jesus told us about himself.”

It’s clunky in English, but in the Greek it’s elegant, it’s poetic, and it’s deeply theological. For Mark, Jesus is both the source, and the demonstration, of the new truth of God’s covenant with his people.

The second literary technique that Mark uses is this: he sets up a massive historical parallel. The angel of God prepares the way for the nation of Israel to come out of Egypt, travel under the waters of the Red Sea, through the desert, into the covenant kingdom (the Old Testament quotes). John the Baptist prepares the way for the people of Israel to, again, leave their old country behind, be baptized in the Jordan, brought through the desert, and into … and then Mark introduces Jesus. All of the weight of the Old Testament covenant language, that Mark is dredging up with his quotes, comes to rest on the appearance of Jesus in the story.

Mark’s Christmas story, his Advent, is the coming of the hero into the old, old story.