Sunday, May 27, 2012

Who is Jesus?

There is no question that Jesus was born a Jew but did he live as a Jew? Jesus came to fulfil the Law so he had to be the perfect Jew, better than the Pharisees or any Jew before him. The question we then need to ask is, did he dispense with his Jewishness once he had completed his ministry and, in a sense, he did because he broke down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile. Paul says, in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile. The important thing is that He made peace between the two.

Crucially, Paul says that the Jews own the legacy and only when they are brought into the fold will the Gentiles have the full measure of the truth. Rediscovering the Jewish Jesus clearly gives us a fuller picture of who the historical Jesus was and what he meant by what he taught.

It seems to me that Paul translated the Gospel into 'Christian' beautifully as did the other letter writers but Jesus, in the Gospels, was speaking to Jews as a rabbi, not to Christians as a pastor.

Much of Christian theology that we consider orthodox is modern and taught in the light of Christian tradition. Not only do we need to read the Gospels in the light of the Old Testament but also with reference to the post-exilic culture into which Jesus was born and in which he was taught, lived and breathed.

So is Jesus a Jew? The word 'Jew' means, 'from the land of Judea', so historically Jesus is a Jew, born of the tribe of Judah. He is also the Christ, the Jew's Messiah. But we are told that Jesus is the author of creation and, in him, everything is held together. The Jews are sons of Jacob and while Jesus was, as a man, descended from Jacob he is also the second Adam, the new man of which every tribe and nation is descended, including Jacob.

When the signatory of a covenant dies the covenant dies with him. Jesus as a perfect Jew fulfilled the covenant established by Moses and upon Jesus' death the covenant was nullified. By his blood he established a new covenant, not dispensing with the old but superseding it. All the requirements of the Law were met in Jesus so that none of them are now binding upon us. A new covenant has been established and our only commitment is to renounce the covenant of sin and death and accept Jesus as our righteousness.

To the Jew Jesus is a Jew, to the Gentile Jesus is a Gentile. But he is not a Christian. We do not worship a Christian God. We are the 'Christ ones' but to understand Jesus fully the emphasis must be on the 'Christ' and not the 'ones'. What we are 'in Christ' is not important but that we are in Christ.

We see Jesus in Creation, in the Bible, in Christian tradition, in Jewish tradition, in each other, in humanity, through experience. God reveals himself in so many ways and the temptation is always to worship the god of revelation. But however we see Jesus, that's not what he is. We believe that God has given us his Holy Spirit through whom we can connect with a God who is beyond all understanding. Its only in his Spirit that we can truly know God and because our puny minds cannot contain that knowledge we have to admit our cognitive ignorance.

Its with this tension that we live as fools for Christ. We understand who Jesus is in part and with that working knowledge we seek to do his will and know him better. Its not in our temporal understanding of truth that we worship God in spirit but by his Spirit we can worship him in truth.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Love and Pray

For Daniel

Softly comes the evening chill
When sun's warm glow is gone
The day is done, its hours are spent
Yet time still trundles on

The day that was gives way to night
But had it not been born
The evening would be colder still
We never would get warm

And though sun's heat and light are quenched
The moment it retires
The trees have been both warmed and fed
To build and fuel our fires

The moon can but reflect the sun
The night yearns for the day
But when dusk calls and all is done
We can but love and pray

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Too Much Rubble

In the 4th chapter of Nehemiah the Jews are mocked as they attempt to rebuild the wall of their devastated city. If being faced with a home city in tatters is not enough their neighbours mock their efforts to rebuild then, to add injury to insult, they threaten physical violence. And it doesn't end there. While their strength is giving out they are faced, not only with rebuilding an entire city wall, but clearing masses of rubble. "There is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall", they say. How do you motivate yourself to face a task that you don't believe you can accomplish when everyone is betting on you failing anyway?

Nehemiah first establishes a plan of action. He positions people at the weakest points with bows, spears and swords. Then he gives them a reason to fight. "Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes," he tells them. I've seen nature programmes where a female will fight another animal far superior in size and strength to protect her young and her home. In some cases the aggressor will give up out of shear bewilderment, totally unprepared for such an encounter.

History is full of examples of armies and individuals who have fought against unassailable odds and won through conviction and self-belief. Being convinced of success can actually work against you because once that conviction is questioned you are vulnerable to doubt. But Nehemiah's brilliance shows in the double-edged sword that he presents to his people. "When you fight for everything you hold dear", he says, "Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome."

Great tacticians will tell you to always ensure you fight the right battles. God does not fight our battles but instead he calls us to fight with him. We fight for what we hold dear but in his name. Jesus tells us to take his yoke. "Put your burdens on my cart," he tells us, "And we'll pull it together." There is so much rubble in our lives, so much baggage, so many unanswered questions, so much heartache; we cannot rebuild. Like Pilgrim from Pilgrims Progress, all we can do is leave it at the foot of the cross and remember our Lord.

It's tempting to skip ahead and see the Jews completing the wall but hindsight is no help in the heat of the battle. So long as we know why we fight and who is our patron we can find the strength to press on with the hope that tells us we are not fighting in vain.

Fear grips us and we are discouraged.
Indignation follows as we realize our adversary has no justification for his accusations.
Game plan is the order of the day.
Hope rises now that we have an objective.
Tenacity is what we need to maintain impetus.

Under Nehemiah the Jews fight or flight response is to F.I.G.H.T.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

God Doesn't Care

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I hear people say, "God won't let you down." But we know from experience that he does. He will stand you up at the street corner. He will ignore your prayer, allow you to screw up and to completely embarrass yourself. Jesus explicitly said that we would experience trouble in the world, that we would be ill treated and killed for being his friend. 11 of the 12 Apostles were murdered for honouring Jesus - counting Paul as an Apostle that makes 12 out of 12. If you're counting on life going smoothly, don't look to God.

If you watch bank adverts with a critical eye you will realize that they all offer you the same thing, precisely nothing, wrapped up with fancy ribbons. They have no vested interest in your happiness. They only need to lure you into the net so they can use and abuse you and spit you out when you're no more use to them. You will find individuals and branches more or less helpful but its not they who are making the real money.

A documentary was recently aired on the BBC about a recent report by the Catholic Church concerning paedophile priests in Donegal. The upshot of it is that the church, despite their confession of wrongdoing and failure and a commitment to ensuring it doesn't happen again, will not fully admit their responsibility or dereliction of duty. You cannot trust an established institution to do the right thing because of its survival instinct. In the same way we have a well founded mistrust of politicians. How, they say, can you tell if a politician is lying? Answer: his lips move. Its the nature of things.

There is a general air of disillusion around at the moment. The people who apparently knew what they were doing with our money have turned out to be well groomed gamblers and pickpockets. The success of Labour in the recent council elections is generally regarded as a backlash against the coalition rather than an endorsement of Ed Moribund. But we shouldn't be surprised. What has been dissed is an illusion after all. Why would we suppose that the government has our best interests at heart or that our money is safe with men in dark grey suits or that the institutional church is a bastion of honesty and integrity?

Read the Bible and you will see that God upholds his glory jealously. He demands that no one will share it with him and woe betide anyone who presumes to do so. He asks that we worship him with everything we have to the exclusion of all others. His will be done, his name honoured, his purposes fulfilled and for this we are to lay down our lives. God declares his love for us but he doesn't have the vested interest of the young lover who will do anything to win the woman he desires. God is God and he will be no less so if we reject him. He has no superior and so cannot be judged. If God says black is white, it is.

Its not difficult to see that a God who will defend himself so vigorously would create a universe in which its creatures and human societies would have the same instinct. Indeed, we are told that we are made in God's image. We are all demigods and don't we know it. Even babies demand their parent's full attention and, "don't think you will have a life while I need you to care for me." But its because God has no vested interest that he will leave you crying, soiled and hungry until he deems it the right time to intervene. The bottom line: God will let you down if it makes sense to him. We could possibly conclude that there is suffering in this world because God doesn't care.

But we can't blame God. Can the pot say to the potter, "I don't like how you made me." Can a selfish son place demands on the father, his own flesh? We are ungrateful children making unreasonable demands on our parent not seeing ourselves in him. But Jesus says, "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!" As a child I rarely had sweets while some of my friends had them all the time. My 'evil' parents denied my personal pleasures in order to save up for holidays and Christmas. How much more will my Father in heaven let me down when my heart is breaking in order to save me for heaven and eternity.

Its good that God doesn't care about some of the things I care about. Nor is he concerned about some of the things I'm concerned about. Jesus didn't say, "I won't let you down" he said, "I will never leave nor forsake you." The difference between God and all other beings and institutions is that he has absolute integrity. He is always right and true to his purpose. He isn't swayed by your emotions though he has compassion and cares for you more than a mother, her child. You are always on God's radar and you can always call him father. Don't have illusions about God and you will not be disillusioned.