Archive for March, 2015

The Prophetic Act

// March 28th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Last Sunday, we talked about the prophet, Jeremiah, and the circumstances under which the book that bears his name was produced.  I read a lot of history, which means that my mind was packed with a lot of details, which rarely serves me well.  I got into the weeds a bit, so let me see if I can narrow this down a little.

Like most of the prophets whose names are remembered, Jeremiah’s life was marked by conflict.  He was the one who dared to speak the truth, even if it hurt him.  Others spoke only of good times, so they became the favorites of royalty and Jeremiah’s chief targets.  He, along with the prophetess Hulda, predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the line of King David.  He even acted out his prophecies, taking on a yoke to symbolize the coming power of Babylon, so they attacked him and marginalized him.  He stayed true to his pronouncements, no matter the cost.

This week is Palm Sunday, the commemoration of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem.  Jesus stood in this long prophetic tradition with Jeremiah.  After time in Galilee ministering to the needs of his people, he came to understand that there were larger systems of power in place to keep people impoverished and dispossessed.  He began to speak out, knowing how it would end.  He went into the belly of the beast, he confronted the powers and principalities of his world, and he demanded justice.  He marked his arrival in Jerusalem with a prophetic act, a provocation that would end the week with his death.

Please join us this Holy Week, beginning with our Palm Sunday service tomorrow at 11am at Church in the Cliff.  See the sidebar for other events or follow us on Facebook for more details.

Grace & Peace,
Scott

Belief and Judgment

// March 21st, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Last Sunday’s conversation was wide-ranging, befitting a couple of scripture passages (Ephesians 2.1-10; John 3.14-21) that are rich in meaning.  Most of our dialog focused on John as it contains what is probably the most memorized verse of scripture in the Christian faith, 3.16.  As I still remember it from my childhood: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever should believe in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Unfortunately, like any text, the meaning and promise of this verse can be distorted by the lack of context that comes with memorizing it in isolation.

The Gospel of John is a very complex book.  The language loops back on itself to call into question what we think we know.  It can be read again and again with new insights.  It’s like watching a movie a second time and seeing all the foreshadowing you missed before you knew the outcome, but more.  Each time one reads the text one is transformed, so that the next reading is done from a different place than you were before.

When we read v. 3.16, we see that the difference between those who are saved and those who will perish is belief.  But in John, that does not mean what you might think it means – believing a set of propositional statements.  No, John uses a unique construction that is best translated as “believe into,” indicating an ongoing process of transformation.  In a sense, “believing” in John is becoming.  In related language, “knowing” is to open oneself to God’s ongoing revelation.  Thus, we are always progressively entering into the life of God as presented in Jesus.  If belief is merely the acceptance of a set of facts, it requires nothing more of us than to name those who disagree, to divide ourselves into believers and non-believers.

But John’s Jesus would reject this division.  Verse 17 tells us that Jesus came to save the world, not condemn it.  The condemnation from which we are saved is actually a trial (krima) that brings about judgment (krisis).  That is, all of life puts us to choices about whether we will live into light or shadow, freedom or slavery, life or death.  Division is a quality of life and our choice is which side of that division we will live into.  It contains its own judgment: if we live into death, we will die.  Jesus, the Light of the World, reveals these choices for what they are and invites all to the life-giving side of those choices, what the Gospel of John calls eternal life.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we continue to talk about suffering and calling.  This week we’ll go old school, like, Hebrew Bible old school, with the prophet Jeremiah (31.31-34) and build some connections with last week’s discussion of John by jumping forward to 12.20-33.  We hope to see you!

Grace & Peace,
Scott

The Conversion of Paul

// March 14th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Last week we talked about the Apostle Paul.  It is hard to read Paul with fresh eyes, without the jaundice of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and the Enlightenment.  Through those interpreters, Paul has become more rigid, shriller, and more pedantic.  It is hard to unhear all of those voices, so I have to reconstruct my apparatus for reading Paul every time the lectionary foists him on us.  To do so, I first turn to John Dominic Crossan because he reminds me of the influence of the Roman Empire on the writings of Paul.

In 70CE, Jerusalem and its temple were utterly destroyed by the Roman Empire.  Much of the Christian Testament was written after that and Jesus’ life and death was interpreted in light of that by those authors.  It seems like fans of the Bible have gotten more sensitive to that in recent years.  I even hear evangelicals talking about colonialism.

But the authentic letters of Paul were written before the fall of Jerusalem, roughly between 50CE and 60CE.  As a result, there wasn’t a single catastrophic event that so clearly focuses the presence of the Roman Empire in the writing of Paul.  This allows us to spiritualize and theologize Paul’s writing.  We imagine that his concerns were those of his later interpreters: faith, grace, law, and works.  However, if we understand the Empire as the backdrop that is present throughout Paul’s writings, we become sensitive to certain language.

On Sunday, I highlighted the possibility that Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus was, in large part, a conversion of his response to the oppression of Rome.  Both the author of Acts and Paul himself (in Galatians 1.14) describes Paul as a “zealot,” which could mean he was a Zealot.  The Zealots had a two-pronged response to Rome: 1) rigid enforcement of the law among the people of Jerusalem (violently, if necessary) to return God’s favor to Israel; and, 2) absolute resistance Roman authority (violently, if necessary).  The Zealots were instrumental in the Jewish insurrection of 66CE, which led to the destruction of Jerusalem.  Paul’s presence at the stoning of Stephen suggests he might be a part of this group.

However, after Paul’s conversion, his posture toward Rome shifts.  He still rejects Roman authority, but eschews violent resistance.  He writes almost fondly of his imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Empire.  He understands that God’s presence in Jesus was marked by suffering for the sake of God’s children, so he takes on that suffering in solidarity with the family of God.  Salvation will come, not through violent resistance and the violent enforcement of his theology, but through non-violent resistance and the practice of justice.  The way of God is marked by humility and vulnerability in contrast to the world’s way of power and strength.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we continue to talk about sin, suffering, and salvation.  This week, we will look at a pseudo-Pauline letter that attempts to summarize Paul’s theology of faith, grace, and works (Ephesians 2.1-10), as well as a portion of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus that contains perhaps the best known Bible verse ever (John 3.14-21).  We hope you’ll add your voice to the conversation.

Grace & Peace,
Scott

Taking Up the Cross

// March 5th, 2015 // No Comments » // Church in The Cliff

Sorry about the cold last Sunday.  Still learning about the building’s reaction to crazy Texas weather.  So our conversation was brief, but good.

I shared a little (maybe a lot) about the context of Romans.  Paul is often read through the eyes of previous interpreters and, in our contemporary context, Romans is often the source of our ideas about what it means to be “saved,” the how and the why.  Every time I read Romans, I encounter one of those verses that would seem to tell us that Jesus died because I am awful, because of something I did or said, because I’m just rotten to the core.  I read Romans and see that Jesus was a sacrifice made for my rottenness, that Jesus stood in my place for what I deserved.  Even after all the study I have done, I still fall into that reading.  However, there are other readings.

The Jewish Christians who started the Roman church had been exiled and now returned to find a church filled with Gentile Christians.  As you might imagine, there is tension.  Paul is writing to address that tension, to unify the church so that they might also unite with him in his proposed mission to Spain.  Thus, it is not a treatise on how and why we might be saved.  Rather, Paul cites the faithfulness that both groups have, the trust in God’s promise that is more foundational than law or conversion or ethnicity or history. Specifically, it is trust in God’s promise that life can come out of death, which was revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ.  Most importantly, the Roman Christians have the opportunity to make that promise come true by being new life for one another.  The struggle and suffering of exile and persecution can be redeemed if they choose to live into that promise, to hold fast to one another in a difficult time.

It is the same in the Gospel of Mark.  Jesus tells us that following him means to take up one’s cross.  If the cross of Jesus was the one cross, if the death of Jesus was the singular event to set things right, why follow him at all?  What is left to be done?  Why are there still crosses to bear?  While Paul uses the language of sacrificial atonement, he does not develop the idea, but instead returns over and over again to the idea of participation, of unity in Christ.  We live into the suffering and death of Christ so that we and our world might be transformed into a new life of love, peace, and justice.  Jesus did not carry that cross so that we wouldn’t have to; he carried it so that we would know the Way.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we continue to discuss the meaning of the suffering and death of Jesus in this Lenten season.  This week, we will discuss the foolish ways of the world and the wisdom of the cross (1 Corinthians 1.18-25) informed by Jesus’ cleansing of the temple as depicted in John 2.13-22.  I figured out how to use the heater.

Grace & Peace,
Scott

Progress Report

The workday didn’t happen because it was freezing in the building.  My bad.  However, Mikal Beth got some more painting done this week (thank you!) and I did some odds and ends.  If you’d like to do some work on the building, check out our Google doc task list.  It is fully editable, so feel free to add on if you see something that needs to be done.  No shenanigans!

Fred and Ashley got a lot of stuff for the kitchen (big thanks!), but we still need some stuff from our registry.  We welcome any contributions!

Finally, we have studios to rent.  If you know someone who wants a small studio or office, send them our way.  They are small, about 80sf, but enough room for a desk or wall space for painting.  We’ll try to accommodate people as best we can.  We’re looking for $200/mo in rent.