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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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, are offended by Christ’s teachings. The offence takes place in the moments leading up to and following Christ’s arrest.

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A Reflection on the word “Apostle”

A Reflection on the word “Apostle”

This reflection originated out of a request from The Commons to talk on my favourite apostle. 

The New Testament describes the way Christ’s disciples become apostles. This word “apostle” means, literally, “to send away.” In order to send someone away, he or she must first be with you. The apostles must have been at some point in the presence of Christ before he dismissed them before he sent them away. And it is this event — the send-off — from which their title is derived. Typically Christians focus on being with Christ, following close behind him, being “Christ-like.” However, to be an apostle means something a little different; it emphasizes a departure from Christ, a commission.

My two adorable little boys follow Jen and me everywhere as they learn, grow, and mature. But a day will come when they must be sent out from under our feet into the world where, as Leland likes to say, it’s “too sunny”. The shift from child to young adult or disciple to apostle is a significant movement. Continue reading

Apocalyptic Literature: A Primer to The Book of Revelation

Apocalyptic Literature: A Primer to The Book of Revelation

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

I remember growing up thinking that the Book of Revelation was impossible to understand. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I was able to acquire a “toehold” on the meaning of the text. This came through a better understanding of the history of apocalyptic writing and a few of its distinctive markers.

What does the word apocalyptic mean?

Often we think the word “apocalyptic” refers to the end times or the destruction of the world. This is partially correct. But a more accurate description defines apocalyptic as the transition between historical ages. As a description of a historical transition, apocalyptic literature describes the old age coming to an end as it experiences destruction and then the beginning of a new age.

Although there are many distinctive characteristics of Apocalyptic literature, I want to consider two: that it originates in oppressive situations and that it uses insider language.

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Belonging as Illustrated by Simon of Cyrene

Belonging as Illustrated by Simon of Cyrene

This post originally appeared on the blog Groundmotive.net

Simon of Cyrene, as his name suggests, was a visitor to Jerusalem. His story is found in all three synoptic gospels but is noticeably absent in John’s account. Each gospel account begins with Jesus mocked and beaten by soldiers, after which he descends to Golgotha. However, as he begins his descent, the soldiers force a man from Cyrene, Simon, to carry Christ’s cross on his behalf.

I want to draw your attention to three aspects of this story. First, Christ needs help, he depends on Simon. Simon, in a sense, saves Christ’s life. Without help, it seems, Christ would have died even before he was able to begin his march towards the place of the skull. Second, Simon is forced to help, although just a sentence or two in each gospel, each account makes sure to specify that Simon doesn’t have a choice in the matter. Finally, it’s noteworthy that the idea of carrying one’s cross is foreshadowed in the Gospel of Luke. In Luke Chapter 14, Christ tells his disciples that the cost of discipleship will require them to a) hate their family and ultimately hate their own life; and b) take up their cross and follow him. Although I don’t want to discuss the specific meaning of this verse here, I think it’s fair to say that Jesus, and Luke specifically, considered carrying one’s cross to be related to one’s sense of belonging to a particular family. With these three points in mind, let us consider a contemporary parallel.

Jean Vanier recently wrote an op-ed for The Globe and Mail that addressed the issue of assisted dying. Although some may be disappointed that Vanier doesn’t absolutely condemn assisted dying, I believe that he accurately describes a dangerous failure in our society that must be considered regardless of our views on this sensitive issue.
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The Homeless God

The Homeless God

This post originally appeared on Westview Christian Fellowship’s blog.

Westview Christian Fellowship is located in the Queenston neighbourhood, a district in St. Catharines that has abnormally high rates of poverty, homelessness, and illiteracy. Westview has become a strong community partner through sharing its resource and expertise with a women’s Centre, Westview Centre4Women. The Centre provides refuge, community, and a variety of services for women living in the Queenston neighbourhood. Although the Centre was initiated by the church as a response to a need in St. Catharines’ downtown context, the Centre, in turn, responded to needs in the church when some of the participants became involved in leadership and support.  Last year a number of women from the Centre expressed interest in an introductory course on Christianity. After trying the Alpha program, an evangelistic program which seeks to introduce the basics of the Christian faith, we decided to create our own curriculum to better suit our situation.

While considering this neighbourhood and the request for a course on Christianity, I was struck by one of the many compelling arguments found in Nik Ansell’s most recent book, The Annihilation of Hell: Universal Salvation and the Redemption of Time in the Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann. Simply stated, Nik argues that Scripture is a story about the work of God and humanity making a home, a place in this world defined by care, respect, and love—something many struggle with in Queenston. This got my imagination turning: if creation is God’s domestic homemaking skills at work, was God homeless before he turned on the lights? Does God experience similar feelings and challenges as those associated with homelessness?* It’s a strange speculative thought, that creation emerges out of a God forsaken space, a space Moltmann argues is within God, akin to a woman’s womb. Continue reading

The Mystery In Ephesians: Part 2, The Egalitarian Mystery

Part 1Part 3

This post outlines egalitarian movement in the first half of Ephesians and addresses the contradiction between such a movement and the patriarchal emphasis in the household code at the end of the epistle. Three observations are made which help explain this difficulty. First, Paul’s sees it has his mission to reveal the consequences of what he identifies as “the mystery.” The consequences of this mystery relativize modes of identity formation. Second, this mystery serve as a temptation to undermine oppressive systems by empowering the disenfranchised. Finally, it is argued that the household codes are an attempt, by Paul, to walk a fine line between holding identities open to critique, while at the same time encouraging unity.

In an effort to support the claim that the mystery revealed by Christ possesses the power to relativize fixed identity structures, we will begin in Chapter one, with Paul’s complex doxology. For exegetical purposes, I have divided the doxology into five sections:

(a) 1.4-5: For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will–
(b) 1.6-7: To the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins,
(c) 1.8: in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
(d) 1.9: And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ,
(e) 1.10: to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
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The Mystery In Ephesians: Part 1, in Conversation with Yoder

On March 14th I’ll be presenting a paper titled, “Ephesians and the Household Code: a Conversation with John H. Yoder” at TST’s Advanced Degree Students’ Association Theology Conference. I plan on posting a version of this paper here in four parts.

As a preface, in addition to the influence of Yoder, my treatment of both the household codes and the mystery found in Ephesians, is informed by a tension schematized by Derrida in many different ways throughout his work. In both Ephesians and Yoder’s treatment of household codes, this tension is revealed between the need for a determinate identity and the need to hold identities open to reevaluation and change. In Ephesians, Paul encourages a mode of negotiating or living in this tension that fosters health rather than death.

“For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Ephesians 5.23-24

The-Politics-of-Jesus-9780802807342

I have attended a number of weddings where couples include a reference to this verse in their vows, stressing that the woman shall submit to her husband. Ironically, more times than not, if my newly-wed friends were honest with each other, they would admit the inverse is true of the power dynamics in their relationship. Yet, I still find the inclusion of such a misogynistic sentiment a tad disturbing. These verses are associated with what biblical scholars call Haustafeln, that is, the New Testament (NT) household codes; and they have been an enduring conflict for biblical interpreters throughout the modern era. From abolitionism to women suffrage, household codes have garnered a variety of (sometimes contradictory) interpretations, having been read as oppressive and liberating. Since these verses continue to impact Christian communities, they require repeated readings that consider their past, present, and future relevance.

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