“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.” —Matthew 23:23
Jesus was quick to spot religious hypocrisy. The Pharisees have got a bad name because of Jesus’ criticisms of them, but in truth they were the ones Jesus had the most affinity for. They were serious, pious and scrupulous keepers of Torah. Continue reading →
What are we to make of this strange story in which Jacob wrestles all night and gets a new name? I think it tells us something important about who our God is and about the identity of God’s people. And I want to reflect on what this story tells us about our own identity and vocation as Christians.
The first thing to notice is that whenever somebody in the Bible is given a new name it is best to pay attention. A new name signifies a turn, a change, a new chapter in the person’s life, and a new calling. A new name means a New Being.
So, for example, Abram becomes Abraham as God calls him to keep the covenant of promise. Saul becomes Paul on the road to Damascus and is changed from being a zealous persecutor of the church into the Apostle to the Gentiles. Fisherman Simon becomes Peter, the rock on which Jesus will build his church. Continue reading →
“I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”— Acts 2:17
The church marks the Day of Pentecost as the birthday of the church. Some congregations mark the day with a birthday cake, something the children take to readily.
Still, if the presence and power of the Holy Spirit at that first Pentecost marks the beginning of the church, the Spirit’s work was not finished on that day, since it is the Spirit who creates the church in every new generation. Continue reading →
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 →
“You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” —Deuteronomy 10:19
The various summaries of the law in the Bible include strangers as people to be especially cared for. Whether we call them sojourners, immigrants or aliens they need help because they are frequently socially powerless. 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 →