Thursday, October 02, 2008

Family of God

The Family of God

There's a popular hymn called the “Family of God.” Part of the chorus goes, “I’m so glad that I’m part of the family of God.” Now, we certainly are a part of the family of God, but often we picture this family as simply the people around us in church. And it is true that these are our brothers and sisters in the Lord, but what we might miss is that we brothers and sisters have been joined to the family of Jesus. And this Jesus is not only God but also a Jewish man, whose lineage can be traced back to David, Judah, and Abraham. We have been grafted into this family. We have been adopted into the family of Israel

Reading chapter by chapter through the Old and New Testaments in my churches, we're now in Leviticus. It’s amazing stuff, surprising and very down to earth. Just the other day we were reading about skin diseases: yellow or black hairs growing out of the leprous spot, itching, swelling, all these things and more. Woah! Kind of gross, but certainly down to earth! The subject of mildew or other diseases that can affect cloth or even houses also comes up, and that’s talked about just as frankly and realistically.

All this got me asking the question, what is the law? This talk of diseases, leprosy, mildew and mold, not to mention the intricate details of the making of the tent of meeting (Exodus 25), how exactly to offer the atonement sacrifice (Leviticus 8), what to eat (cows, goats ok) and what not to eat (shrimp, pork, not okay), what does it have to do with me? What does the law mean for me, a shrimp loving, pork eating girl who never even knew what a tent of meeting was before reading the Bible? What does this have to do with us average Gentile believers? There is a simple answer. The law is righteousness. It’s what’s right to do and it’s the way to attain life, even eternal life. As I write, I plan on sitting down to a nice pork chop later in the evening if at all possible, so what gives? Am I going against any hope of eternal life and doing what’s right? On the contrary. You and I, bacon lovers all, have been grafted into the family of
Israel by Jesus. Jesus brings us right back to that wilderness, that honeymoon time between God and his people (Hosea). Through Jesus, I attain that righteousness that the law aimed at. Through Jesus I have that eternal life that was the purpose and goal of the law. Both the Jew and the Gentile are brought to the back to the wilderness where God espoused his people to himself. Both Jew and Gentile are brought back to righteousness, brought back to health, wealth and well-being, grace and truth, but not by our own deeds but by the Lord Jesus who seeks and saves the lost. As other writers have pointed out, "Jesus makes us kosher." I do hope to have that pork chop later on and I will eat with joy and thanks because our beautiful savior Jesus makes me as clean and pure as crystalline water from a mountain river.

What does all this thing called the law have to do with me? It is home, the home of truth, the home of life, and God wants me to be there. I notice as read on in the Torah (the first five books of Genesis) that I am actually interested in this stuff. How come? How would any Gentile possibly become interested in these things that are so foreign to us? There’s only one reason; I have been awakened to it by the Lord, “Wake, O sleeper, rise from he dead and Christ with give you life.” Thinking about the chapters we are on now I can’t help but reflect that had I my own way, I’m sure I’d like to remain in la-la land the realm of ideas where things aren't messy, but God has woken me up to real life, the world where there are diseases and mildew, where you actually have to think about exactly how you are going to make that tent or house or bookcase, the real world where your feet on on the ground and your heart is with your fellow man and with
God, soaring to the heights of glory. All I have to say is that this Gentile, this woman who was sitting in darkness, thanks her Lord who brought her into the light, into the family of God. She is home.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mark 2--Dialogue

A: Why do the scribes say that Jesus is blaspheming when he forgives the paralytic's sins? Why do they say, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?"

M: It's true, only God can forgive sins. Thinking that we can forgive sins might make us think we were gods ourselves.

A: But at the Beautiful Gate in Acts 3, Peter says, "I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth stand up and walk." They later say to the crowds, "Men, Israelites, why are gazing as if by our own power or godliness we made him to walk." Jesus says in Mark 2, "which is easier to say to the paralytic, 'your sins are forgiven' or to say, 'stand up and walk."' This implies that both are equally difficult,indeed impossible with man. But with God all things are possible, therefore by God's power we can forgive sins.

M: Okay, but only by God's power. But there is something I still don't like in that formulation. I'm confused.

A: Yeah, me too, let's go back to the original question how come the scribes are saying that only God can forgive sins? Is this because in Torah it is God who gives the sacrifices that cover sin? In Torah the whole thrust seems to be God freeing the children of Israel first from the iron furnace of Egypt and then from their sins. At first as you read Leviticus for instance it seems like these people out in the desert are appeasing God for some reason, then it slowly dawns on you that God is providing for the forgiveness of sins; it's all him. But even in Leviticus it says, "the priest shall make atonement" for so and so's sin.

S: The question still stands then, why do the scribes who know the Bible backwards and forwards say that Jesus shouldn't say, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

A: I'm confused.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Holy Hands

The Godfather

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he writes, “I want men in every place to lift up holy hands in prayer without anger or quarreling (I Timothy 2:8). This is the same passage where Paul tells women they need not “teach” their men. That is, as both the unusual Greek verb and the entire context suggest, women need not “teach” with a frying pan! Neither by cast-iron nor by an unending stream of yelling and nagging are women to “teach” no matter how bull-headed their husbands. In the same way, men don’t need to use their fists, no matter how foolish or how deserving their opponent.. Instead of lifting up hands to hit, men now lift up holy hands to pray.
The idea of holy hands is not new. In Israel’s battle with the Amalekites when Moses lifted up his arms, the battle would turn to the Israelites. When Moses in weariness let his arms come down, the battle would favor the Amalekites. Eventually Aaron and Hur gave Moses a rock to sit on and themselves held Moses’ hands steady until sunset and the victory of the Israelites. The secret of the story is found by looking carefully at the Hebrew. When Moses would raise his hands up either his left or his right hand would touch the throne of God hovering unseen at Moses’ side. Being in touch with God means victory.
Paul remembers all of this when he writes to Timothy about holy hands. Men and women don’t need to be constantly on the offensive because we go hand in hand with God. When we pray, he’s right there.
In that same passage, Paul says that women don’t need to do their hair for five hours a day (as some of the Roman styles of the time literally required). The women of Timothy’s church can get by on say, an hour of preparation if necessary. Why? Because they are in touch with “Fairest Lord Jesus,” who gives them a beauty far beyond the neck-numbing braids and curls of Roman fashonistas. Jesus gives women a beauty both within and without, shining in all that they do and all that they are.
For both men and women, the secret is that we are in contact with the Lord, as David says “I am continually with thee; thou dost hold me by the right hand.” In other words, God has our back, so we can relax. We are in tight with a real “Godfather,” namely, God the Father. We can afford to be generous. We can afford to be long-suffering. We can afford to have largesse, after all we are soldiers of the king of kings.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Beauty Is Truth Article

Did you know that scientists have discovered tiny
chips of paint on the great statues of the ancient
western world? We are inclined to think of Greek and
Roman statues as bone white, unpainted, but it turns
out the statues were definitely done up in glorious
color. And now scientists and scholars have been able
to recreate the way they looked originally. In the
new show at Harvard, we see a copy of the statue of
the goddess Athena. She is dressed in bright green and
yellow. With golden hair and determined eyes she looks
strong, wise and terrifying. A bust of the Emperor
Caligula is also recreated. In color we are able to
see the look of sheer cruelty and perversion on his
petulant yet supremely regal face.

To go into any of the temples and see these statues
must have been overwhelming. The unpainted statues
were beautiful, but painted their beauty is rachetted
up several notches, they become truly awe-inspiring.
It was the Greek belief that in the faces of these
statues one could truly experience the divine. Seeing
the restored versions, I begin to see their point.

It was a painted statue that the cruel Antiochus
Epiphanes(“The Shining One”--215-164 B.C.) put into
the temple at Jerusalem. Let’s look at the situation
for a moment from the Greek point of view. To quote
Keats memorializing this belief in his poem “Ode on a
Grecian Urn”, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty-- that is
all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.”
Antiochus Epiphanes probably really believed that he
was saving the Jewish nation through the sheer
loveliness of the statues of the gods. He believed he
was force for the enlightenment of the whole earth,
bringing truth and glory to benighted Israel. He
despised their lack of imagery, their silly rules for
the Sabbath and their strange belief that pork eating
was forbidden. He would show them what civilization
really meant, and so into the sanctuary he brought the
“abomination of desolation.”

Antiochus Epiphanes did not understand or accept
Israel’s critique of the whole notion of beauty as
something of supreme value. The Greeks and the Romans
believed that beauty was “where it was at.” It was
this belief in beauty that helped to cause so much
confusion in the ancient world. In Sparta for
instance, women were lovers of other women and men
with men, because marriage between a man and a woman
did not matter much. It was a low thing in fact. The
Spartans seemed to have believed that beauty
transcended any relationship between the two genders.
It was beauty alone in either man or woman which was
to be worshipped and adored as the pathway to truth.
We can see the same viewpoint in the great Socratic
dialogue, “The Symposium” and throughout the great
writings of the ancient Western world.

Where does the Bible stand? We find that it has
something very surprising to say on this issue.
Beauty is demoted. In what must have seemed almost
inconceivable to the ancient world, to Israel what is
of prime importance is relationship between men and
women. God puts humble Adam and Eve, Jesus and his
bride the church front and center; it is Jesus who is
“the Way, the Truth and the Life” and his first order
of business is to bring truth and life to “Lady
Jerusalem” . In his suffering and death, he carries
away our sins, and makes a sad and grieving woman
(Zion) happy at last (see Isaiah 53 and 54). The
apostle Paul speaks of Jesus and his bride the church
whom he will one day present to himself “a glorious
church, not having spot or wrinkle or any other such
thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish”
(Ephesians 5:27).
God’s critique of the sophisticated Greeks works
itself out into everyday life. We read in Proverbs
31, “charm is a delusion and beauty is vain.” It is
the woman who knows the great goodness of the Lord
that is to be honored, not the Paris Hilton
look-alike. To the pilgrim on his way to visit the
gods and goddesses of Olympus, their images might well
have caused his knees to buckle and his breath to come
short so inspiring were they, but the Bible says these
things are vanity, dust and ashes.
It is the trustworthy woman “who sees that her
business goes well, who buys a field and plants a
vineyard out of her earnings...who reaches out her
hands to the poor” that is truly beautiful. Not to a
statue of Aphrodite does a man sing praises but rather
to his loving wife (Proverbs 31:27).

In the clash between Jerusalem and Athens, and even in
the societal clashes today God is teaching us how to
see. What is truly of value is the woman of Proverbs
31; then as now, it is the not the Playboy bunny
transfixed on glossy magazine pages, but the living
breathing woman who is to be adored and cared for, a
real non-airbrushed woman not a painted image. It is
in the love and liking between men and women that we
see a reflection of God’s glory, not in the beautiful
golden, stoney-hearted Athena.

Thoughts on Saturday's Special Presbytery Meeting

I really am praising God; listening to Dr. Capetz'
answers and the comments upstairs helped me
tremendously in understanding this issue Biblically.
I didn't understand before Saturday WHY the apostle
Paul speaks the way he does in Romans 1 and 2. Paul
does not speak the way he does because he is
a)homophobic or b) relying on traditional Jewish
attitudes towards homosexuals but rather, he speaks
the way he does because he has met Jesus on the road
to Damascus!

On the road to Damascus, Paul meets the Lord God,
Jesus who had died on a cross. This fact, effectively
forces Paul to open the Bible to Isaiah 53, where Paul
reads about a suffering servant. But the direct
result of the sorrows of this God and man is 1) the
justification of "many" and 2) (and here's the kicker)
the happiness and freedom of Jerusalem who is pictured
as a woman. Basically we are getting an updated
version of Adam and Eve here. Turns out, Adam and Eve
are not only in Genesis but in 2nd Isaiah!

Where the rubber meets the road in all of this is that
far from being an issue of relative unimportance,
right relationship, indeed, healed relationship
between men and women is at the very heart of the
Bible, hand in hand with the cross itself, not to
mention justice and mercy.

I just have to say how amazing this is; in an earlier
time I was a classics student and you know, there is
simply no other book in the world that centers on
making a woman happy and free and victorious. Oy vey,
that's for sure.
Believe me, Socrates had absolutely no idea of making
any woman happy and Sappho had no idea that a man
could ever possibly do this! There is simply no
precedent in any of the ancient writings for "this
now is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone"

Anyway, I talked to the people at the annual meeting
about all of this and they seemed pretty pleased with

It was only in the car ride home on Saturday that this
all started to sink it...and there's a lot more to go.
I think we've just begun to mine all the treasures.

Letter to the Layman

An Appeal to My Presbytery, the Presbytery of the Twin
Cities Area

On Saturday, Professor Paul Capetz’ asserted that
affirming “chastity in singleness” (Book of Order
G-6.0106b) was tantamount to taking a vow of celibacy.
This assertion at its heart calls into question the
words of the angel Gabriel, “with God nothing will be
impossible” (Luke 1:37, RSV). As Jesus reiterated,
“with men it is impossible, but with God all things
are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
And yet, in restoring Professor Capetz as minister
member in the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, we
say to the church and the world that there is at least
one thing that is impossible with God, namely,
redemption for men who desire men and women who desire
women (see Romans 1:26-27).
That “homosexual orientation” is unchangeable goes
largely unquestioned in Western society today, but God
mercifully calls into question all our
impossibilities. Romans 1 tells us that our savior,
Jesus, “the just who shall live by faith” lives in
order to save us from our enemies. (Romans 1:17). As
King David saved the ancient Israelites from the
Philistines, themselves sent as a manifestation of
God’s wrath (see Judges 2:14, Romans 1:18), so the
clear implication of Romans is that the King of Kings,
Jesus, saves us from enemies far more terrible than
the Philistines, enemies not of flesh and blood, but
the powers and principalities of this world. God’s
mercy does and must abound in his son Jesus.
Romans chapter 1 shows us the glory of just Jesus
against the black background of universal sin (all we
like sheep had gone astray). But the just Jesus is
also the justifying Jesus. Romans 1 begins with the
resurrection of the dead and this is no accident. The
resurrection of the dead is inseparable from
restoration of right relationship between men and
women (R. 1:4,17ff).
Remember the woman of the city who was “forgiven
much” and therefore “loved much” bathing Jesus’ feet
with her tears, anointing him with precious oil (Luke
7:37-50). Somewhere she had heard the word of
forgiveness and in the gospel stories we see a woman
redeemed, transformed. Jesus said of such a one,
“wherever the gospel is preached this will be told in
memory of her” (Mark 14:9). Simon the Pharisee called
this woman a sinner as her tears fell on Jesus’ feet.
One could well guess that in Simon’s view it was
impossible that this woman be anything but what she
was known to be, one whose body and soul were corrupt
But what is inconceivable and well nigh impossible
with men is more than conceivable and do-able by the
word of God. As Luther said, “the word, the word, the
word will do it.” God the father delights, “sings
with joy” over what he has done and is doing in Jesus
(Zephaniah 3:17).
But not only that, it is “these sinners” who go
first into the kingdom and in so doing provide a
shining hope for us all. For when these are saved,
those to whom salvation was accounted by church and
society an “impossibility,” then hope springs up in
our own hearts; perhaps we in the pews and pulpits
and choir lofts too can be saved from our innumerable
miseries, weaknesses, sins and burdens that have grown
to heavy for us to bear. Our heart rejoices in Jesus,
the Anointed One, anointed both by God and by the
sinner who “once was lost but now is found.” Who can
doubt that that unnamed woman is now crowned in light
at the throne of the Lord of hosts?
Beloved brothers and sisters of the Presbytery of the
Twin Cities Area, I appeal to you by the mercies of
God. Let us not be conformed to this age but
transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Amy Flack (Minister Member of the Presbytery of the
Twin Cities Area, Ellsworth and Hager City, Wisconsin)