Jesus Isn’t Talking to You (Matt. 7. 7-11)

Jesus Isn’t Talking to You (Matt. 7. 7-11)

Picture (wood cutout): Fritz Eichenberg “Christ of the breadlines” (1953)

This post originally appeared on Westview Christian Fellowship’s blog and was adapted from a sermon.

Jesus Isn’t Talking to You. The real audience of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7. 7-11).

Receiving whatever we ask for is scandalous in an age of consumerism. My son, like so many of us, never stops asking for things. If I gave in to all his requests, he’d quickly make himself sick with treats and would soon be able to recite by memory every episode of his favourite animated series. I’d be a truly irresponsible father.  This portrait of an indulgent father probably shouldn’t be the first that comes to mind when we think about God. Perhaps, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount isn’t addressing me and my family — whose material needs are thankfully satisfied — perhaps he has someone less privileged in mind. This subtle shift significantly changes the meaning of the sermon. Suddenly Christ isn’t talking me and mine when he says “ask and you will receive.”

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Transforming Abuse through Mutual Submission (Eph 5:18b-21)

Transforming Abuse through Mutual Submission (Eph 5:18b-21)

Consider a basic revenge flick such as “Taken,” or “The Revenant.” These movies often begin with a shocking injustice — the murder or abduction of a child, for example. The body of the film is then dedicated to the protagonist’s struggle to balance the scales of justice, so to speak, by chasing, outwitting, outmaneuvering, etc.,  the “bad guys” and finally taking sweet revenge. Twists and turns occur along the way, but classic revenge flicks often make us question the logic behind the violence portrayed on screen. Don’t get me wrong, injustice demands a response, and it should always make us upset. However, most revenge stories end in a spectacle of bloodletting, but the sacrifice leaves us unfulfilled, unconvinced that the cycle of abuse is truly ended. If revenge fails to transform injustice, how else might we respond, what kind of response does justice demands?

In many ways, chapter four and five of Ephesians address the above question, describing a better kind of response to “the darkness of injustice.” At the end of chapter four, the reader is first urged to avoid certain activities: “don’t engage in lustful greed” (4:19), for example. And then, in chapter five, there is a call to expose the harm: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (5:11-12). The author repeats these two imperatives — abstain and expose — along with a third: the author calls the reader to pursue change by transforming relationships defined by greed and abuse. We read,

“Instead, be filled with the Spirit,

  • 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,
  • 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:18b-21)

Although speech, song, and thanksgiving are important factors in transformation, I will focus on the third command, one whose dutiful terminology makes us squeamish: submit to one another. The term is even stranger if you consider how it’s used in our text. Think about it, if we all submit to each other, in a conventional sense, nothing would ever get done. Understanding mutual submission in Ephesians, therefore, requires expanding how we think about what it means to submit. For this reason, I want to push our understanding of this concept and see how mutual submission might be capable of transforming our relationships.

Before exploring our examples it important to stress that nothing said below should suggest for a moment that those experiencing abuse ought to submit to their abusers or let the harm continue. On the contrary, before pursuing transformation the author calls us to expose the darkness, naming the abusive relationship for what it is and putting a stop to injury. Addressing the fundamental issues behind abuse, however, demands more. Such a solution often requires a long, arduous journey of recovery.

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Repent and Burn (Matthew 3:7-12)

Repent and Burn (Matthew 3:7-12)

This post originally appeared on Westview Christian Fellowship’s blog and was adapted from a sermon.

Repent and Burn: The Baptism of John the Baptiser

In apocalyptic style, John the Baptist introduces us to three components of Christ’s kingdom of peace: repentance, the Holy Spirit, and fire (Matthew 3:7-12). What comes after is often referred to as “Christ’s Baptism,” but if we consider the examples below and the exegesis that follows, it’s clear that John experiences a kind of baptism as well.

Regrettably, my wife Jenica did the vast majority of our wedding planning on her own. It’s no surprise that my failure to offer help was a source of conflict on several occasions. For example, one evening, while Jenica was making wedding invitations, I looked up from my computer to realize that she was gone. Distracted, I hadn’t noticed her leave the room. Often when Jen’s upset she wisely disappears to cool-off before evaluating the situation. So when I realized that I was alone with a mountain of unfinished invitations, I knew something was amiss.  

The feeling I had at that moment is something I think we’ve all experienced. It’s the moment we realize that we’ve let down those we depend on. Jen expected my help. It was our wedding after all and weddings take at least two people, not counting all the support contributed by family and friends. Repentance, I want to argue, is the realization that we don’t do life on our own. We depend on a power greater than ourselves — friends, family, neighbors, government, water, soil, oxygen and in these God.

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God, Virtue Ethics, and Rythm

God, Virtue Ethics, and Rythm

This post originally appeared on Groundmotive.net

There are countless ways of understanding God’s nature. New atheists such as Daniel Dennett, for example, reject a variety of theisms that defines God as a supernatural agent who desires humanity’s worship. Peter Rollins, a self-identified emergent Christian defines God as “that which we cannot speak of [and] the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking.”* Rollins finds inspiration in Christian mystics such as Meister Eckert, tending away from anthropocentric understandings of God like the one Dennett rejects. Like Dennett, Rollins aims to disturb conventional theism while, unlike Dennett, maintaining a semblance of orthodoxy. Jack Caputo, taking these ideas a step further, conceives of God as an “insistence” with little agency in the world other than the ability to disturb and haunt our actions.

Conceptions of God play a critical role in shaping our moral lives; some theists practise an escapism because their God shuns the world, while others become champions of social causes because that is what they believe God desires of them. This post will work backwards, so to speak, considering how our daily attempts to act ethically can shed light on God’s nature. To this end, I will employ virtue ethics’ approach to moral life, a school of ethics that emphasizes virtues, opposed to an emphasis on the need to follow rules (deontological) or an emphasis on the consequences of one’s actions (consequentialism).

In a nutshell, virtue ethics claims that we should always make decisions that encourage health. On a personal level, this means being concerned with one’s character, believing that if one engages in the daily practice of care, for example, one will be prepared to act caringly when a weighty ethical situation demands such action. Similarly, on a societal level, a subscription to virtue ethics would aim to develop life together in ways that encourage healthy relationships — for example, by building neighbourhood landscape that create opportunities to practice hospitality.

But what does this ethical school have to do with our conceptions of God?

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Psalm 137’s Haunting Violence

This post was originally given as a prayer at Westview Christian Fellowship

Lament over the Destruction of Jerusalem

  • 1 By the rivers of Babylon—
  •    there we sat down and there we wept
  •    when we remembered Zion.
  • 2 On the willows[a] there
  •    we hung up our harps.
  • 3 For there our captors
  •    asked us for songs,
  • and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
  •    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
  • 4 How could we sing the Lord’s song
  •    in a foreign land?
  • 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
  •    let my right hand wither!
  • 6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
  •    if I do not remember you,
  • if I do not set Jerusalem
  •    above my highest joy.
  • 7 Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
  •    the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
  • how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
  •    Down to its foundations!”
  • 8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator![b]
  •    Happy shall they be who pay you back
  •    what you have done to us!
  • 9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones
  •    and dash them against the rock!

~Psalm 137

It’s difficult to accept the fact that the Bible describes revenge in such brutal detail as found in Psalm 137. There are other Psalms that ask us to direct our anger in ways that promote peace rather than perpetuate violence but not Psalms 137. Psalm 137 doesn’t temper an author’s fierce anger towards injustice and desire for revenge. It’s important to hear and remember the extent of the anger expressed here because it was apocalyptic verses like these that inspire Christ. He too is angry at the injustice he sees around him and condemns Israel in a similar way as Jeremiah (the prophet we think authored Psalm 137) condemns Babylon.

Psalm 137 is remembered for its violence but also because of the haunting tune set to its lyrics by Don McLean titled “Babylon” linked at the beginning of this post. If we let them, the song and its lyrics can haunt us in three healthy ways.

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On Enjoying Wolf Stew: the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:3-32)

It’s important to make two preambles before I begin. First, all the most interesting insights found below are taken from Amy-Jill Levine’s fantastic book Short Stories by Jesus. Second, this post is an attempt to deal with the parables as we think they were given by Jesus. In doing so, I avoid dealing with Luke’s interpretation, the way he relates them, in the voice of Christ, to repentance (more on this at the end). I want to be clear that this doesn’t imply that Luke’s interpretation and repentance are unimportant, but rather to do justice to both would require more space than a normal blog post allows.

Parables have a way of surprising us by inverting our expectations, forcing us in some cases to reconsider commonly held beliefs or to ask difficult ethical questions. Consider the parable of the “Three Little Pigs.” After two failed attempts, the wolf, in desperation, jumps down the third little pig’s chimney only to land in a cauldron of stew. Pig’s enjoying wolf stew is a surprising result (and in some ways disturbing). Similarly, when Christ told parables his aim was to provoke and disturb and it’s no coincidence that he uses parables to do so.

Luke presents a series of three parables: “The Lost Sheep”, “The Lost Coin”, and “The Lost Son”. All three parables follow a similar pattern: (1) a wealthy individual loses part of his or her wealth, (2) he or she finds the thing that was lost, and (3) its recovery is celebrated with a meal. These three parables follow the “rule of three” whereby the first two in the series set up the third. Again consider the parable of “The Three Little Pigs;” the first two pigs with their homes of straw and sticks set up the story of the third pig with his home of brick. Although the three parables in Luke are similar, the first two help explain the events of the third. To understand how Christ provokes his audience, than, it’s helpful not only to understand how the stories are similar but to also notice the details that make the third story unique. Below is each parable, with a consideration of the way in which Christ uses the story of “The Lost Son” to challenge expectations and ask difficult ethical questions.prodigal_son_by_rembrandt_drawing_1642 Continue reading

Judas’ offence (Mark 14:10-21)

Judas’ offence (Mark 14:10-21)

This post was originally presented as a sermon at The Commons and published on their blog.

The gospels are not shy in their portrayal of the way the disciple’s struggle to understand Christ’s potentially life-changing lessons. Part of this difficulty is due to the offensive nature of Christ’s message. In most gospels, it’s not difficult to understand how Christ offends the teachers of the law. Less clear is the way Christ offends his disciples. In the Gospel of Mark, we find evidence of at least two disciples, Peter and Judas, offended by Christ’s teaching. The offence takes place in the moments leading up to and following Christ’s arrest.

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