Chapter 13.1-7 of Paul’s Letter to the Romans has been highly controversial and is a good subject for a lively conversation on just how Christians should view the government. The Christians that Paul is writing to lived in Rome, the capitol of the world’s biggest empire. Christians claimed that “Jesus is Lord,” the title that the Roman emperor, seen as a divinity, required. Could one say both “Caesar is Lord” and “Jesus is Lord?” Paul would say no, “there is one Lord, Jesus Christ.” So was simply being a Christian an act of sedition against the state?
If this new transformed community said that Jesus, rather than Caesar, is the true Lord how shall they live in the heart of the empire? This is what Paul was addressing in Chapter 13.1-7. Continue reading →
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”
The “Shadow of Death.” That doesn’t sound very good, does it?
I asked Rabbi Josh Breindel of Temple Anshe Amunim in Pittsfield about the phrase and he said it is quite literally “shadow of death” in Hebrew. He said it is a colloquial saying and means something like “mortal peril.” We are all acquainted with that image from the 23rd Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”
Two of the traditional themes for the Epiphany season are “light shining in the darkness” and the “calling to Christian discipleship,” and I hope to combine them today. Continue reading →
The Swiss theologian Karl Barth, who many (among them me) consider the greatest Christian theologian of the Twentieth Century, never stopped being a pastor among the people. In his years as Professor in Basel, he frequently preached to the prisoners at the local prison. Those sermons and prayers are available in a fine little collection called “Deliverance to the Captives.”
Here is a prayer from Christmas, 1958, which to me, has a sad but profound resonance with our own time:
We remember before thee all darkness and suffering of our time; the manifold errors and misunderstandings whereby we human beings afflict one another; the harsh reality which so many must face without the benefit of comfort; the great dangers that hang over the world which does not know how to counter them. We remember the sick and the mentally ill, the needy, the refugees, the oppressed and the exploited, the children who have no good parents or no parents at all. We remember all those who are called on to help as much as men can help, the officials of our country and of all other countries, the judges and civil servants, the teachers and educators, the writers of books and newspapers, the doctors and nurses in the hospitals, the preachers of thy word in the various churches and congregations nearby and afar. We remember them all when we implore thee to let the light of Christmas shine brightly . . . so that they and we ourselves may be helped. We ask all this in the name of the Savior in whom thou hast already hearkened to our supplications and wilt do so again and again. Amen. (p. 143)
“This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” —Ezekiel 1:28b
Bill Holladay, my former Old Testament professor, liked to remind his students of the modesty of the descriptions of God in the Bible. For example, the passage above never comes right out and pictures God. Rather Ezekiel describes “something about” God that is several steps removed. Notice that it is not “the appearance“ of God, nor “the likeness” of God, not even “the glory” of God. Instead the prophet says, “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory” of God. Continue reading →
“But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
—1 John 2:1-2
When I was a child my siblings and I worshipped with our parents and went to Sunday school before worship. I don’t remember much about Sunday school, but I have many powerful recollections of worship.
We were Episcopalians and so worship was out of the old Book of Common Prayer, with its grand 16th century language, a good bit of which I didn’t understand. Nonetheless, my faith was shaped and formed by those words that washed over me from Sunday to Sunday.
The passage above from 1 John was often read in the service. I wasn’t exactly sure what the passage meant, but somehow I knew it meant Jesus was on my side, even amidst whatever sins might befall my little life. It was a comforting thought. Continue reading →