“If you want to make enemies, try to change something” ~President Woodrow Wilson
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
My wife, kids, and I are helping an effort to plant a church in our neighborhood, one that is within walking distance from one of our city’s Housing Authority’s apartment complexes. (I hate the words “the projects.”) This Sunday our pastor had invited a local men’s restoration program called Pivot Ministries to come sing and share testimonies. They brought in their choir. The men shared how they had entered the program with lives filled with hurt, destruction, and many on the verge of suicide. Drugs, alcohol, and life on the streets had taken its human toll. They explained how their lives had also ruined family and friends, and especially their children. Some shared how they had tried everything—12 step groups, counseling, and other rehab-programs. But it was the Pivot Ministries’ center emphasis on having a right relationship with God through Christ that made the difference. About a dozen of the men shared their testimonies about how they had found both forgiveness and the strength to change what only God can change--themselves. Almost all cried or were at a loss of words over their emotions to explain how God had helped them. Strong, street-wise men broken down to crying, shedding tears at how God had helped them conquer what had held them captive for so long. One gentleman, barely stammering out his words, eyes weld up with tears, barely able to say, “If you want to see hope…” No words followed, just enough to point his fingers at himself.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)
There is an intentional and deliberate tie between v 3 (Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven ) and v 10, as can be seen by the underlined above and here in v 3. I will be honest, to know what was in Jesus’ and Matthew’s mind is near impossible—but the draw is there. There is reason to link the “poor in spirit” and those “who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness.” Perhaps the question is to ask, what is this righteousness? We know later in the Sermon Christians are to pursue God’s righteousness (6:33), but before we even get there we know those who thirst after righteousness will be satisfied (5:5), those who wish to enter the Kingdom must surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (5:20), and that practicing one’s righteousness before men disqualifies for any heavenly reward (6:1). We know for sure the latter case (in 6:1) refers to the righteousness (i.e., the right actions) extended to the poor (6:2f). So at least there is internal contextual linkage also in the Sermon on the Mount to suggest that the righteousness referred to in Matthew 5:10 is, but certainly not limited, to the righteousness God expected (from the plentiful texts and contexts from the Old Testament) toward the poor and economically vulnerable. Perhaps that is why the righteousness of the religious leaders were not enough for entrance into the Kingdom, for their righteousness pertained to looking like they were keepers of the Law, but not real keepers of it.
When Jesus extends the final B-Attitude, we can hear that those who pursue God’s righteousness on earth will be cut off verbally and by action from the places of power and status found on earth, in society:
“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me (11). “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (12).
This, too, parallels those who are economically vulnerable (i.e., the poor in spirit) who have no place or power as well. I would suggest it is fair to assume application of the Sermon on the Mount would target the Christian community’s association and advocacy for the poor and economically vulnerable—this upsets the societal tables and places before those with wealth and power and status God’s righteous concerns for the poor. Perhaps a reason for being persecuted for righteousness sake.
I contend that the Sermon on the Mount is more about the Kingdom Community’s witness in the larger community than about private matters of the heart. We hear immediately after the B-Attitudes texts that affirm this hearing of the Sermon on the Mount:
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).
And the section on “you have heard it said, but I say to you” (5:21-48) can be read as having more to do with our associations and relationships with people than just matters of the heart which privatize Christianity. Reading through the entire text of the Sermon (5-7), one can easily be drawn to an introspective Christianity, but that is not what the whole of the text is about—it is outward focused. A reading that places the emphasis on the outward witness of the Community of the Kingdom, and it is formed by the beginning of the Sermon which highlights this new community’s association and advocacy of the poor and economically vulnerable.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Business hindered completing the next and final post to this thread...so I continue yesterday’s with this…
As noted yesterday, there is an entirely different way to read these B-attitudes (which I suggest is closer to how Jesus and Matthew meant them to be understood) beyond the love affair we have with the self-centered-private sphere which is all-about-us (me,me, me, me!). When we get to the powerful words, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (v 9), why do we cheapen them through small and petty application? On two fronts, these words spoken by the Son of God, who left His majestic throne in unspoiled and untainted heaven to come down to sin-filled, corrupt, and self-centered earth, and who would soon die on a shameful cross as the ultimate peace-maker, ought to carry that same weight. First, the crowds that day would have well understood the great movements of history that left them—that is the poor in spirit, those who mourn, and the meek who have no place on the earth—as pawns, marginalized, subject to the whims of history and those with power, and powerless to advocate for themselves. They would have known the brave few peace-makers that had come to stall or avert the powerful who were there to enslave or capture them. They would have known their end—whether in triumph or defeat (mostly defeat). Second, in their time they would have understood that to be a “Son of God” was akin to being a king or emperor (e.g., Caesar was called and referred to as a “son of the gods” himself). Here is the twist—the biblical spin—the sons of God as referred to by Jesus would certainly have the ring of royalty and chosen-ness, but one also of suffering.
As I listened to a rather good sermon on this text one Sunday, I mentioned to my daughter that it is in the destiny of biblical “sons of God” to die in their peace-making activities. We, however, prefer a better, more recognized, life-fulfilling destiny as a peace-maker. Biblical peace-makers die on crosses to bring peace. There is a slight twist in this blessed-position, for to be called a “son of God” in the biblical context is to also to own all the potential suffering that goes with the title.
This brings us to the later book-end of the B-attitudes…and for some summary comments and potential application…
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Typically we hear that these Beatitudes are for us “to find true happiness.” In other words, if we just become these (poor in spirit, meek, pure in heart, a peace-maker, etc.) we’d find happiness—you know, be blessed. However, it seems to me that what these B-attitudes are is a description of the presence of the Kingdom and the framework or ingredients that are to make up the community of the Kingdom of God.
As I have stated here before, we seem to take the “poor” out of the poor and seem to read-in that “in spirit” means the poor can be anyone who has a poor spirit about them. But that word for poor is never used that way and the connotation is that someone who is poor is someone who has be robbed of a voice or power within the community. Combine the reference to “poor” with “those who mourn” and “the gentle” (I prefer the translation, meek, which is also a term akin to poor, or one who has no power for self-advocacy in a community) and you really have a description of the down-trodden, the marginalized in a community—you know, the poor in spirit. We suburbanites like to figure out ways to read these verses as if Jesus mean us, you know the poor, meek, and mournful suburbanite non-poor. I am sorry, no way this text is to be read that way. What we have is poor non-poor readers of Scripture when this happens. The first three blessed-people are blessed because of their condition, not because they have humbled themselves and realized they are broken (i.e., poor in spirit) and truly not happy (i.e., mourning), and although we have power, we’re truly gentle, meek and we now realize we are to have our power under control. Hogwash! These first three terms describe how God’s Kingdom turns everything on its head—it’s the poor, and those who mourn because of their loss, powerlessness, or marginalization, and those who are meek and cannot advocate for themselves—it is these in the community who are blessed, for the kingdom belongs to them and they will be comforted, and they will eventually inherit what has been denied them—the earth!
Now that the Kingdom has come, we are to recognize that all is not what it seems in society. Then, it is the next set of B-attitudes that grab us and points us in the direction of witness and advocacy: When those who hunger and thirst for righteousness seek such God first (biblical) righteousness, they often will find themselves at the wrong end of the sword (as it were); for those in power and with power, those who by worldly standards are not poor, mournful, or meek, are not receiving of such righteousness in society—these will resist those who hunger and thirst for such right-ness in society (i.e., advocacy for those who are poor, those who mourn, and those who are meek). It is those who are merciful who will receive mercy. The presence of the Kingdom and the demand for righteousness among people points to judgment—punishment/curse for those who resist God’s righteous demands on society (on behalf of the marginalized—I think you get the point by now) and reward/blessing for those who show mercy. The pure in heart are those who show no duplicity and, as the young say, what you see is what you get. Among those who are advocating for the poor, mournful, and meek, there is no hidden agenda, no duplicity—their advocacy isn’t for show or to be recognized (as we will see in the remaing parts of the Sermon on the Mount). And peace-makers…more on this in the next post in this thread, along with some concluding remarks…
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him (1). He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, (2)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (3).
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (4).
“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth (5).
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (6).
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy (7).
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (8).
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (9).
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (10).
“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me (11). “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (12). (Matthew 5:1-12)
While in seminary I somehow was able to skirt by the oft-given assignment of a Greek exegesis paper on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). But I have been studying and restudying this passages for the last 20 or so years nonetheless. In fact, not that it replaces knowing what the Greek reveals from the passage, I even memorized the Sermon on the Mount during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. One thing I have searched for in this long study and pursuit of this famous text, that is the Beatitudes, is a key, an interpretive key. I have long tried to give this set of sayings a chiastic structure (you know, A B C D C B A or something like that). But such paring up of sayings (i.e., verses) doesn’t seem to be there. But I am convinced that Jesus (or at least Matthew) wanted the readers to make a connection between v 3 and v 10. These are bookends that should help in any interpretion of the text and its meaning and application. Above you can see my underlining to highlight the parallel between v 3 and v 10.
For my Greek nerds, here is the text of 3b and 10b so you can see the obvious parallel being made.
ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν
ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, v 3b
ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν
ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν, v 10b
The same blessed promise is made to the “poor in spirit” and to “those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness,” both are assured that “the kingdom of heaven” is theirs. Without parsing too much of this parallel, one would be hard-pressed not to see the significance since it is the kingdom of heaven that is at issue.
Previously Matthew has crafted his gospel to emphasize the centrality and seriousness of the kingdom’s presence:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:2)
“Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (Matt 4:8)
“From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “ Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4:17)
“Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people” (Matt 4:23)
Second, Luke’s Sermon on the Mount account, although the content is the same, is crafted differently, indicating Matthew’s making of the poor/kingdom (v 3) / persecuted/kingdom (v 10) parallel intentional. Third, the remaining portion of the Blesseds centers on the “persecuted” theme.
“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt 5:11-12).
And immediately, then, Jesus points toward the witness of this present kingdom that His new community is to have. Note the emphasis of the kingdom theme:
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:13-20).
In light of this, over the next few posts, I would like to make a few observations about the Beattitudes here in Matthew, point out how its not about making us “happy,” but crafting the Christian community into a righteous witness of the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Sunday, February 07, 2010
Back in 2006 US News & World Report had a blurb (in ‘Washington Whispers’) that the republicans, according to Ed Gillespie, the former GOP Party chair, expect to increase their minority and in particular its black vote. Gillespie indicated that they will see double or triple their usual share by courting “black veterans, entrepreneurs, and churchgoers.” This doesn’t come as a surprise to me. First off—both parties target groups and then figure out ways to draw them or keep them into the political fold. But, in this particular article, it was his comment that followed that struck my interest: “We will not get the votes of the … upper-middle-class African-American voters in the suburbs … until we demonstrate our commitment to poor African-Americans in the inner cities.” First thing that came to mind was: I wish I could help the GOP see how this can happen and what measures of support would both increase such commitment and actual—really help—to have good, positive, and sustaining outcomes for the urban vulnerable so that the commitment would not just be a show. And then I thought, isn’t this also so true as a basic principle for the church? Not that I am speaking—or thinking—here of just wanting to increase adherents among Africa-Americans (which would in and of itself be a good thing), but in general. We (evangelicals) want people do believe our message of the Gospel and we will not see an increase in that among the population until we demonstrate our commitment to the poor and vulnerable in the inner cities (and of course elsewhere). My studies in the book of Mark and in particular my recent one on Idolatry and Poverty and my essay on the Mark 12 “Widow vs. Scribes” passage has revealed more clearly that there is an eschewing of the evangelical voice in public affairs on issues of poverty. This has made me more acutely aware that it is our deeds and attitudes concerning the less fortunate and vulnerable that are a weak-link in our apologetic and public voice. My papers haven’t necessarily been about institutional advocacy, it is actually a developing thesis that such commitment to the vulnerable needs to be our evangelism, congregation-by-congregation—actual church people believing and acting in roles of doers and advocates for the poor who will, as Jesus said, will always be among us.
Saturday, February 06, 2010
“[Adam] Smith may be the patron saint of capitalism and neon-classical economics, but like all such saints his texts are used selectively by his devotees. While commentators may disagree among themselves as to how Smith is to be read, there is no doubt that many modern economists and governments have made of ‘market forces’ a quasi-religious deity far more powerful than anything worshipped in pre-modern cultures. And, in the name of that deity, they have thrown men and women out of work, added insult to injury by blaming the poor for their own poverty, justified the ruthless accumulation of wealth by a few, and squandered the earth’s non-renewable resources. As ‘market forces’ increasingly encroach on every aspect of human life, human beings are reduced to ‘consumers’, human behavior to ‘self-interest’, human society to ‘competitive individuals’, and the worth of every human endeavor to ‘cost-effectiveness . . .” ~Vinoth Ramachandra, Gods That Fail: Modern Idolatry & Christian Mission
Monday, February 01, 2010
Again, a pause in my streaming of babble and other streams of consciousness. It is always good for me to thank all of you who check on my site regularly and to those who ever stay to read a little after bumping, browsing, or googling into Words’nTone. Whenever there is a pause in post, it is most likely related to an overload of writing projects and due dates for reports at my regular 9 to 5. And, yes, it has been busy. Plus I have started our triennial community needs assessment to help our agency respond to the needs of low-income area populations and to the community. Plus I do have some writing projects in the works and I am participating on two interesting church related projects as well.
My writing project is the development of a paper on Mark 1:17, and in particular the use of the phrase “fishers of men.” Unlike most commentators and preachers, I do not hear this term as solely a positive one (that is, go save people, go witness and lead people to Jesus, i.e., fishing for sinners to be saved). I hear it in its Old Testament context as a negative, harsh term of calling agents of God’s pending judgment on the unjust. Personally, it fits the text and the purpose in Mark’s flow of thought and should receive a better hearing—and application. Thus, my paper, “Designed for Discipleship: Fishers as God’s Agents of Judgment (Mark 1:17).” I hope the draft of the paper is done to present in mid-April.
I am also volunteering to help establish a new Church in my neighborhood. It’s called Church at the Seaside. This project surrounds me with good people who have a heart for those living in the urban setting.
On top of that, some crazy person at Church approached me with the ridiculous idea of start a Bible College/Seminary here in Southwestern New England and specifically right in the middle of Fairfield County. With this too, I am surrounded by good people attempting the almost impossible. But there is a need to have a biblically focused institution of higher Christian learning to training committed Christians in SW NE and Fairfield County CT to reach this particular arena and social setting. So, I am part of this crazy idea as well.
Plus there is my every present concern for those in poverty and for the multiple non-poor Christian and evangelical churches living nearby to address the issues of poverty as they should as bible believing Christians…to that end I continue to study and write. I am hoping after all these papers on the Gospel of Mark, I will produce a book on evangelism and social action—at least before I am 92.
In the coming days, I will have more on both more to say on Mark 1:17 and the fishers of men concept, as well as the other small adventures my family is involved with. Again, thanks for dropping, browsing, or googling by the site.
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- Wasted Evangelism - Barriers militating against an open discussion on evangelism
- A thought on atheism’s problem with time
- L&S Quote - Thrust forward to a total testimony of salvation
- The Wasted Evangelism thesis—social action can be evangelism
- Wasted Evangelism-A long argument (my introduction)
- A working definition of biblical social action
- L&S Quotes - Dare to be right when the majority is wrong
- L&S Quotes - Evangelism isn’t table talk, it’s an emergency bulletin
- L&S Quotes - Don’t be pushed off your story
- A conclusion for my wasted sigificance and the Mark 3 commission
- L&S Quote - How holy women and men show their inner spiritual lives
- L&S Quote - This sounds odd: who lives, who dies
- Noah and the flood isn’t a children’s story (revised-reposted)
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