Theological Insights from a Modern Perspective

WWYD?

smiley-face-question-markI’ve seen bumper stickers with WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) but that’s not the real question, instead the question should be What Would You Do? Each person and each situation is different. Our concerns for others, for ourselves, for our loved ones, where we live, and our lifetime experience all come together to make each of us unique. What is the right answer for one might not be the right answer for another.

Several years ago a group of radical Muslims in Africa stopped a bus, boarded it, and demanded all of the Jews stand up. What happened next was unexpected. Everyone on the bus stood up: Jew, Christian, and Muslim. They stood together to protect each other, not knowing if they would all be killed. The terrorists left.

Several years ago terrorists captured a plane and turned it towards Washington DC with the intent of crashing it into the Capitol building. The passengers wouldn’t allow it and tried to take the plane back, we know how that ended.

Last year a friend of mine was driving home after work, it was nighttime. He saw a woman on the side of the road trying to change her tire, so he pulled over to help. Something seemed strange, the tire jack was on the bumper, but the car tire wasn’t off the ground. Just then a glint caught his eye on the other side of the car, he saw something flash off of the light from his headlights. Quickly he put the car in gear and drove off, in his rear view mirror he could see someone come out from the side of the car swinging what looked like a crowbar. He was lucky.

peters-denialWhat would you do in each of these instances: Would you stand up? Would you join in the attack? Would you stop to help? Every action we take comes with possible consequences. People say you should ask WWJD, but we are human. Peter had his doubts and chose to preserve his life when the crowd asked if he knew Jesus. We look at that and say we would do differently. But, if Peter had stood his ground then he might not have been around to lead The Way; Christianity might not be what it is today. It’s okay to not take the “high road” in every circumstance. You are not going to be judged if you don’t always “do the right thing.” Jesus didn’t judge Peter, he didn’t toss Peter out of the group, he understood, and so should we. We’re not always going to make the “right” choice; we’re not always going to do what Jesus would. But we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over it. Jesus would forgive us for being human, just as he forgave Peter.

Love doesn’t judge, it forgives.

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Sin is offending God, or going against His wishes/desires for us. When someone offends you or does something you don’t want then you could say that they have sinned against you, though we usually say that they have pissed us off. Read the rest of this entry »

born_belivers_imageBabies are interesting teachers of theology, and they have a lot to teach us. They do not know hatred, bigotry, racism, sexism, all the baggage that we, as adults, carry with us (whether we see it in ourselves or not). Read the rest of this entry »

Disconnected?

beth-For six days our internet service was down, we were disconnected from our etherfriends it was horrible…for the first couple days. After that you kind of get used to it, missing it only once in a while. It’s like that with church. You missed church Sunday and it was terrible, you felt bad. The following Sunday you missed it again, it was still terrible but not quite so much. After a few Sundays you no longer miss it.

crn1-266x300When the internet came back it was like a long-lost friend came for a visit…it was fantastic! We caught up with old friends (read the accumulated email), reconnected with the lives we followed (blogs), and delighted in things going back to the way they used to be – comfy cozy.

It’s the same with church. If you left for a while then returned you reconnect with old friends, and you feel good being back where your soul knows it belongs. If you’ve lapsed why not go back, maybe you’ll feel delighted that thing are back to they way they they used to be – comfort for the soul.

Zacchaeus

zacchaeus-2016The story of Zacchaeus is a familiar one, Jesus is coming to town and Zacchaeus wants to catch a glimpse, but he’s too short to see over the crowd and the people don’t move to let him in front, so he does the best he can: he climbs a tree to get above the crowd. We’re the same, when a dignitary comes to town everyone rushes down to watch the parade, if we don’t get a front-row seat then we do what we can to see. We put out kids on our shoulders; we shove our cellphones in the air to, hopefully, record the event; we try to get into a high rise and peek through a hall window. Anything to get a view of this remarkable person or event.

But, what about Zacchaeus’ status in the community? To be honest, this is going to be some conjecture using modern society when looking back, kind of the opposite of what I try to do here, but I think it bears scrutiny.

Luke’s gospel is the only place where Zacchaeus is introduced, and most churches spend little time on his tale. The Eastern church puts it at the very beginning of the pre-Lenten season, in fact, if the season is shortened because of the proximity to Christmas, the story is dropped entirely. Luke tells us three things about Zacchaeus, that he is a tax collector, that he is very wealthy, and that he is “short in stature”.

To be a tax collector (a Publican) in ancient Rome you had to be wealthy, very wealth. The reason is that the tax collector would buy the right to collect taxes for a particular region, the cost of this right is the estimated value of those taxes. If he collected more than the estimate that was his profit, if he collected less then it was his loss. Rome didn’t care because they go their money upfront, so the empire was assured of the money it wanted. To be sure, this was no the Jericho of OT times, that city had been nearly destroyed by the Persians, the new Jericho was built in the pre-Herodian era, under the rule of Alexander the Great, as a lush garden outside the royal estates. The people who lived there were neither wealthy nor influential, but they serviced the needs of those who lived and visited the estates. That made tax collection difficult, Rome expected much, but the people had little. To get the money Zacchaeus spent for his position he probably had to tax the wealthy of the city more than their fair share to make up for those who didn’t, or couldn’t, pay the tax. Add to that the Jewish people weren’t thrilled with the idea of paying Roman taxes at all, and Zacchaeus was both unpopular and ostracized from the Jewish community.

Now, let’s add to this the other thing that Luke tells us: “(RSV) he was small of stature”. According to archeological studied of 1st C skeletons in the region the average Jewish person was about 5′ 1″, to be so short that it would be worth noting in the story it is entirely possible he would be considered either a dwarf or a little person by today’s standards. This would make his life difficult, both physically and emotionally. Anyone who falls outside the “norms” are usually treated poorly by the “normal” people, especially in their youth (kids can be especially cruel).

To have grown up with some anger towards those who made his life miserable would not be unexpected, and to seek revenge in some way would be understandable. The best way for him to do this would have been through the taxation system by exaggerating the taxes a person owed. Did he do this? The people certainly thought so with their remark, “(RSV) He (Jesus) has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner (Zacchaeus).” Zacchaeus’ response can be seen two ways, a promised atonement of a wrong knowingly committed, or a claim that he never, intentionally, defrauded anyone and was, in fact, a good Jew, “(RSV) “Behold, Lord, half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.”

Lent is a time for reflection, and the entire pre-Lenten season in the Eastern church is a time to prepare for that reflection by showing us the different ways in which we fall short of a perfect Christian life, along with how we should, ideally, respond in different situations. Zacchaeus, the Publican and the Pharisee, the Prodigal Son, the Final Judgement, and Forgiveness, form the five weeks prior to the start of Great Lent. The purpose of Zacchaeus is to show us how we treat and judge other people, especially those who are different than us, whether in appearance or perceived behavior. Do we prejudge people we see/meet for the first time? Are we guilty of bullying (physically, emotionally, or, these days, on social media)? Do we dislike/hate others because of what we perceive them to be? Have we wronged anyone through our own prejudices? This is the time to make things right.

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Why are we here?

jesus-comforting-mary-of-bethanyThis is a question that has stumped scholars for thousands of years. I would like to offer an answer from an unexpected source, Read the rest of this entry »

Love Conquers All

Jesus asked that we love each other with the same love that he showed to us. Love demands two things: acceptance and forgiveness.

apologizingIf we are unwilling to accept that others may see/feel/believe different that we do then how can we truly love them? God accepts that we are different from each other, he made each of us as we were when we were born, and into the families into which we were born. He did not make us clones of each other, but made each of us different, and incomplete. With all due respect to Simon and Garfunkel, we were not made to be islands, but to need each other. Man needs woman, the hunter needs the gatherer, the warrior needs the diplomat, the liberal needs the conservative, and vice-versa. The Christian needs the Jew, the Muslim, and, yes, even the Hindu and Native American. It is only by seeing God in his Infinite Diversity that we can see God in everyone we encounter. And it is only by seeing God in others that we can accept each other fully.

forgiveness

Forgiveness is the other thing that love demands. We all make mistakes, it’s part of being human. Anyone who claims to not make mistakes has just made another. From Eve to Adam, down through the ages, man has made mistakes, but God has continued to love us. But you can’t forgive them unless you first love them, then accept that it is because of your differences that probably caused the disagreement in the first place. True forgiveness requires that we put the offense behind us, and not bring it up again. We cannot forget that it happened, but we can leave it in the past.

Acceptance and forgiveness aren’t easy, but for a Christian they are necessary. God forgave mankind for abandoning his will, then accepted that it was because of our free will that it happened. Jesus was the sign of that forgiveness, and our promised eternity with him is the sign of his acceptance.

Love, acceptance, and forgiveness. All are required of Christians, and all are the signs that we truly are followers of Christ.

John 13:35 (RSV) By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Will people know you are a Christian?

Love thy neighbor

love thy neighbor 3Do you have a Christian love for your neighbor? We all know the story of the Good Samaritan, and how to identify who your neighbor is: the one who treats you with love and compassion. But is that what it really means? Are we just to love those who love us back? Read the rest of this entry »

An Epiphany on Theophany?

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Epiphany

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Theophany

January 6, a holy day in West and East, but do we both celebrate the same thing? Not at all. It’s unusual for East and West to share a holy date, but to celebrate different events (especially when both churches celebrate the events) on that date tends to lead to confusion. So, what are Epiphany and Theophany, and how do they differ? Read the rest of this entry »

If you have no idea what this photo is, don’t ask, I feel old enough. Read the rest of this entry »

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