1 Corinthians 13: The love chapter

Reading: 1 Corinthians 13

I Corinthian 13 is familiar to most of us. I believe it is read at just about every wedding; and, I expect that it will be read at my wedding. We all know from this passage that love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy, love does not boast and is not proud. Love is well behaved, and unselfish. Love is not easily angered, and it does not think evil. Love does not celebrate what is bad, but in what is good and true. Love bears, believes, hopes and endures all things.

It is easy to see why this passage is read at at weddings; people need reminded what love looks like. I know that I need to be reminded of these things. I am not always as patient as I could be. Sometimes I need reminded to be kind, because it is easier to look the other way. Envy is common, boasting happens. It is all too easy to guess a person’s motives, and make rather unkind guesses instead of giving a person the benefit of the doubt. There is a tee-shirt that, while unkind, advises that we should never attribute to malice what can be explained by ignorance or incompetence. While that might not be, on the surface, kind — it is great advice. Very often people have good intentions, but they either don’t know what they should be doing or they cannot.

I know that this is advice that I need as a member of a couple. I know that I can avoid many problems just by believing the best, and acting according to these beliefs — and by realizing that building a family is a team effort, it is not a competition. There is no place for envy, or negative competitive attitudes — no place for a sense of self-worth that is based on being all around better than somebody. This isn’t the easiest advice, but I’m sure that any major fights I have to look forward to will largely be because I forgot one of these points.

Of course, Paul did not write this passage as marital advice. Even though all of the words are perfect advice to people who are founding a family, this is advice directed to a church community; and not only to the community, but most specifically people who are responsible for making sure that the church runs and runs smoothly. Last week, we talked about the how God gives gifts to people in the church, and how these gifts make sure the church runs. In I Corinthians 12, Paul pointed out that there are a variety of gifts, and told the people to stop arguing about who’s gifts were more important. This is the kind of argument that only people who are in positions of leadership might have. I Corinthians 14 continues to talk about gifts, and gives some specific advice on how they should be used in the context of a worship service. I Corinthians 13 lives in that context.

We don’t know very much about the first century church, our first writings that really describe what went on were from the second century. Personally, I think there were several different models of church in the first century; and I think that because of little hints I find in scripture; the church in Jerusalem, prior to significant persecution, for example seems to follow the synagogue model with a fairly large number of people.

In the 2nd century, the dominant model seems to be the house-church model, and I believe that this was the model used by the Corinthian church. Remember, Paul specifically mentioned Cloe’s people in his letter; it seems likely that he was speaking of a specific group within the Corinthian church; a specific house-church, likely meeting in this lady’s home; if Corinth followed the house church model, there would be many gatherings of people throughout the city, each no larger a group than could comfortably sit together in a person’s house.

Eventually, the house church model was developed to the point that the entire network within an entire city would have an overseer who was responsible for the network — this position still remains in the form of bishop. While there is some evidence that a large city such as Rome had more than one network, it became custom, and eventually a matter of law that there would only be one person overseeing the network… though, by the time it became a rule the Church was an accepted part of Roman society, there were lots of big church buildings, and the house-church with its customs was largely forgotten.
So, there is a situation where there are many groups, with many leaders and, judging from this letter these groups see themselves ultimately subordinate to one of 3 different people. The fact that Paul spends such a large portion of the letter, a portion that includes I Corinthians 13 suggests that these leaders were sometimes jealous of each other, and argued over who was best or most necessary. If I were to describe the context of I Corinthians 13, and apply the lesson in as few words as possible I would say: I Corinthians 13 describes the way pastors should act towards each other.

As challenging this is as family advice, it is much more so as professional advice. I’m sure everybody knows how competitive colleagues can be. Sometimes it is challenging to think well of somebody; and if we are jealous the easiest thing in the world is to tell ourselves stories about something that might have happened and then act according to that story. When we do that in our own families, there are a number of opportunities for communication and clarification. Closeness challenges any false narrative we tell ourselves. It is much easier live out love, and to conquer common relationship destroying behaviors when the relationship around us is such a large part of our world; and even when it is, a false narrative can end a marriage.

If this advice is necessary even in situations where there is a natural corrective, such as in the immediate family — imagine how much more necessary it is in situations where there is not only no natural corrective, but even an incentive to tell ourselves stories. Remember, this passage makes it clear that leaders were fighting over who was most important in the city church-network, and in their fighting they tried to appeal to different authorities beyond their local structure.

These days, it is no less an issue. As you might guess, candidating at churches can be stressful. Everybody you are competing with are colleagues, some of which you might have known since college. Sometimes this can lead to envy and jealousy — especially when somebody gets a desirable position. Unfortunately, jealous people make up stories to make themselves feel better — and now there is enough distance that the story is never challenged.

So, the lesson is; no matter how brilliant I may be — no matter how well I can unpack a passage and share it’s meaning, if I do not love all this is nothing. Not only must I love, but I must love the very people who I’m set up to compete with and this means putting aside jealousy. I need to learn to stop making stories that make me feel better, and instead to think the best of people; giving the benefit of the doubt when necessary. I am glad for this advice going into a marriage — but, I think I need it while learning to accept that what seems to be competition is really teammates working for the same goal.

I Corinthians 12: But I am not an eye!

I think the most important thing to note about this chapter is that it does not stand alone. The topic of spiritual gifts and body life does not end in chapter 12, but continues through chapter 14. The often quoted Love chapter is not a change of topic, but building on today’s passage. Chapter 13 lists spiritual gifts mentioned in chapter 12, and says: “without love, it is nothing.”

I don’t think I could do better than Paul; I really think that he is pretty clear in these three chapters. There is a part of me that wants to read this entire section without comment; there is another part of me that feels like I need to say a few words; but today I feel only a few need said.

This three chapter section talks about several spiritual gifts: Specifically, it mentions tongues, prophecy, wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, discerning of spirits, and the interpretation of languages. I don’t know how profitable it would be to go into details. Some Christians focus on practicing these gifts, and others critique the charismatic movement. This modern debate does not seem helpful to me, and even describing what these gifts are enters into the realm of the debate.

The reason that I don’t find the debate helpful is that it really misses the point of the very passage that they are quoting to get a list of gifts. I don’t think Paul was dealing with the problem that there was a lack of enumerated gifts. I don’t think that he was making a list to make a list, and even though he starts by saying, `I don’t want you to be uninformed’, it is pretty clear that he is not talking about teaching us the nature of spiritual gifts. If Paul wanted to teach us about prophecy, for example, he would have given a clear definition, and some instructions on how to discern whether or not to listen to somebody who claims to be a prophet.

I believe that this passage, like much of the rest of 1 Corinthians, is dealing with a divided and divisive community, where people are acting in ways that damage the community. Paul is talking about spiritual gifts, reminding the people that these gifts come from the same spirit. He talks about how a body needs to have many members, and how if the whole body were a hand, the body would be blind and deaf. If the whole body were an ear, the body would hear, but would neither see, nor be able to do anything.

Paul reminds the people that they are not identical, should not want to be identical, nor do they have the same gifts. The church is supposed to be a `body’; that is, the Church is a community that works together so that everybody’s gifts and talents add to the whole. Paul is critiquing a group that says things like: “My gift is more important than yours is, so my place in the church is more important than yours.” He is critiquing a group that is failing to speak or act in love.

Now our group is not one that often worries about speaking in tongues, or interpreting. I can tell you right now that neither one is really my gift. While we might debate what it means to be prophetic; I doubt anybody here will jump to claim the gift and calling of prophecy. I’m not saying we are not gifted, I am saying that going through the list, as it is here, is not especially relevant to where we are at. I personally believe that we have gifts; and I believe these come from the same spirit, even if they are not of the same list.

Raysville Friends is blessed to have the best music in the county. Our musicians are truly involved in a ministry, not only here but throughout the wider community. I feel that this ministry should be recognized, and I do recognize it for what it is — a blessing to us and to all of Henry county.

I know that we are not a large group, but something I see of this group is that we are blessed with a heart for the communities we are part of. Our members have lives that touch the lives of others. What I would consider ‘pastoral care’ is part of everyday life for some of you. I know that God gives you the opportunity to show love and care where you are.

Out of every church I’ve been part of, this one is the most generous. There are not many people here, but even with such a small group, I keep learning about something that this group supports. I know you support Quaker Haven, and Whites, and Hispanic ministry in Indianapolis. I also know that you are active in community activities and giving opportunities. I know that this is a congregation that finds ways of helping people.

I see your gifts, and I think God for your gifts. Let nobody say, because I am not a musician, what good is my contribution? Let nobody say, because I am not a great philanthropist I have nothing to offer… and conversely, let nobody say, because you cannot offer what I give, your gift is worthless. God gave us a great blessing in each other, and my we thank God for it.

1 Corinthians 8 –Abuse of conscience

Reading: 1 Corinthians 8

I knew this passage well growing up. Many of my Christian influences were part of the Holiness movement, and several of them professed to be entirely sanctified; they could tell me how many years they lived without sin. One thing that struck me about those who were entirely sanctified is that they were deeply convicted of sin — but, having none in their own lives they felt conviction of other people’s sinfulness.

Of course, it was pretty hard to understand where the sin list came from; but basically, one must avoid movies, 20th century music, popular culture in general. Men needed to have their hair cut short, and women needed to wear skirts. If anybody questioned whether or not these behaviors were sinful, this passage stood out; if my behavior offends the conscience of somebody, I should respect that person’s conscience.

At first this makes sense. Maybe, I realize that there is nothing wrong with wearing my hair past my collar; maybe I realize that there has been quite a bit of good music made recently, and that most of it is inoffensive. Perhaps I recognize that a woman wearing woman’s pants is no more wearing men’s clothing than a man wearing a kilt is wearing woman’s clothing; yet somebody of weaker faith who does not know these things might be offended and find this to be a stumbling block.

The problem was, that all these people of weaker faith who were offended seemed to be those who claimed their faith was the strongest. Those who claimed to be without sin were the only ones offended. This passage does not seem to be about not offending the church leaders; it seems to be about harming the faith of those who are superstitious and new in their faith. Somehow, I doubt that I need to worry about offending the conscience of the people who claim to be mature.

Having had some time to think beyond the wisdom of a teenager who is convinced that he knows better than his elders, I did start to recognize what is going on here. First of all, there was a business meeting about this at Jerusalem. The decision was that Christians should not eat meat that was sacrificed to idols. It is unlikely that Paul is standing against the wider community, it is more likely that he is quoting the letter he got from Corinth.

Paul reads that Idols are nothing, because there is only one God. So far, this is good. Then he likely reads the conclusion that if Idols are nothing, then a sacrifice to nothing is no sacrifice at all, therefore go ahead and eat. There is a good and solid logic to this, but there is also a scandal to this. I’ve read that archaeologists have recovered invitations to a dinner in Corinth; and the dinner was at the temple. “There is only one God, idols are nothing, the Greek gods are nothing — therefore, it is nothing if I go to the temple of Apollo for my friend’s birthday party.” This is not a matter of failing to ask about the meat (Paul suggested… don’t ask), but instead this is very public to the point of appearing to be polytheistic. This is the type of wisdom that makes people ask themselves why they can’t be Christian and pagan — as wise, good respectable Christians seem to have no trouble; and it also manages to hide the person’s connection with Christianity.
If I were to look at current Christianity; I notice that one difference from my childhood and where I am now is that in my childhood drinking was forbidden for both adults and children. As I grew up, people observed that scripture does not condemn drinking — drunkenness, yes, but drinking, in moderation, no. I now have many Christian friends, even from backgrounds that opposed alcohol who drink and enjoy talking about wines or craft beers.

While I can find little justification on an outright ban — it would be unwise for somebody to express such freedom to somebody who is in recovery from addiction. The nature of the disease is that the person is unable to act in moderation — for the addict, there is no freedom, only the disease. If a Christian community has a connection with people in AA, the likely should not serve alcohol.

In my years of reflecting on this passage, three things have come to the surface: First, those who claim to be mature cannot also claim that a less mature Christian is a stumbling block to them; their faith should be mature and strong enough to survive Second, we should not use our freedom as a tool to rationalize behavior that harms the community and 3rd there are those who truly are weaker in some areas, and we should not put obstacles in front of them, but instead should support them as best we can. We might have freedom, but sometimes it is better to live according to love than to make a law… even if the law is one that enumerates freedoms.

I Corinthians 5

Reading:  I Corinthians 5

I read this passage, and I think that today is Father’s day — and, the only thing I can think of to say about Father’s day and I Corinthians 5 is that there are things that a father and son ought not share. Hopefully, we know better, and behave differently.

Of course, I am not going to think of this as a father’s day message. There are many passages in scripture that talk about father’s and sons which offer relevant advice to us. Just because the exact circumstance does not apply to us does not mean that we cannot learn from this; let us think about what is going on.

I’ve mentioned before, I really wish that I had a copy of Chloe’s letter so I could have some context. In this case, I would also like a copy of Paul’s prior letter to the Corinthians, because he mentions what he said before in a letter. Apparently, this is not the first time that the mater of discipline over sexual misconduct came up. I can imagine that Paul is quite annoyed to bring this up again.

It is easy to find it shocking that there were such problems in the Early Church — but, unfortunately, these days are no less scandalous. How many of you remember the scandal that rocked the Roman Catholic church, when it leaked that there were priests who molested children. What made the scandal so much worse was that in several dioceses, instead of addressing the issue, the Bishops would try to hide what happened, and would move the priest around; more concerned that this shameful thing not get out than actually dealing with it.

Even more unfortunately, this is not a problem that is unique to Catholics. A commonly quoted statistic is that 40% of pastors have affairs after they start their ministry. Personally, I feel it likely that this number is over-exaggerated; but what I do know is that there is a problem. Whatever the problem is, it is serious enough that Seminaries everywhere require their students to take a sexual ethics seminar. One of my fellow Seminarians gave a somewhat sarcastic description that it was a seminar where we are told not to sleep with members of the congregation.

These things happen, and they must be dealt with. Not only do they shame the church, but they harm the community. This is a problem that makes communities unsafe. It is, one of the reasons why denominational bodies exist — to keep leaders accountable, and protect the people who they are supposed to nurture. When both the person fails, and the system of accountability fails, the community becomes unsafe, and when the world finds out, the church is shamed.

This in itself explains just about everything. I know that as a teenager, some of my friends noticed that Paul had a double standard; the church was to hold itself to a standard, but that standard does not apply to those on the outside. If you think about it, it makes no sense to police the world, it is far too much work; and even if it were not too much work, the world never agreed to these standards.

Now, one last thing. Remember the topic that brought up this thing in the first place — a man with his father’s wife. Paul notices that this scandal is something that is a cultural taboo even among the pagan Greeks. There is a Greek play by Sophocles that touches on this taboo — I will give a brief summary of the plot.

In Thebes, there is a king named Laius and his wife Jocasta. When their son is born, an oracle offers a prophecy about the son — this the son will kill the father. Laius decides that something must be done, so he tells his wife that they must kill the boy. They give the infant to one of their servants to take him out to the wilderness and let the boy die.

The child is found by a shepherd of Corinth and taken to Corinth where he is adopted by king Polybus of Corinth. The child grows up, unaware that he is adopted. As a young adult, he visits Delphi, and the oracle tells him that he will kill his father, and take his mother as his wife. This young man, Oedipus, decides that he will not return home to Corinth, as if he stays away from home, he cannot kill his father. Oedipus then goes to Thebes. Even when his he hears that his father died, he refuses to return home, even for the funeral; because the idea that he would take his own mother as a wife is offensive… but, he is relieved that he waited out the prophecy, and could no longer kill his father.

When Oedipus is on the road, he meets Laius. He and Laius get into a argument over who must yield to the other, and the fight escalates to the point that Oedipus kills Laius. There are a number of adventures that follow, including Oedipus correctly answering the riddle of the Sphinx… but, what is most important is he ends up taking the throne at Thebes, and marrying Laius’ widow his mother.

A curse comes upon Thebes, and an oracle prophecies that the curse can only be broken by punishing the man who killed Laius, the former king. King Oedipus promises that this man will be exiled. When the events are discovered, according to the play, Jocasta commits suicide and Oedipus puts his own eyes out, and exiles himself; he dies in exile just outside of Athens.

I find it remarkable that Paul speaks to something happening within the Christian community that cannot be found among the Greeks, except in a well known story that had been told by storytellers and turned into a play. I further find it remarkable that this the man who broke this taboo, by accident, was also a man of Corinth. Can you imagine the shame as new stories are told?

Discipline is a very hard issue in the church; the New Testament advises, even within the Christian community, both discipline to the point of expulsion and also ‘letting the weeds grow with the wheat, out of fear that wheat might be pulled by mistake.’ It is challenging to know which advice is best to follow in a situation. Personally, I think it is a dynamic tension between protecting the community and the fact that we believe in grace and forgiveness. The hardest choices one must make are the choices where two principles, both deeply held, seem to demand different courses of action.

John 12:23-33 Trinity as commentary of John’s Gospel

Reading: John 12:23-33

Today our Sunday school class discussed a passage in John where a voice from heaven. There are other similar passages in the gospels such as when Jesus is Baptized, and a voice comes from heaven saying: “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.” and of course at the transfiguration where the voice from heaven instructs the disciples Peter, James and John to listen to Jesus.

In the gospels, Jesus talks about the Father and the Holy Spirit. There are times that a voice comes out of heaven that is understood to be the Father, and at the Baptism the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus, like a dove. When we read the Gospels, especially John, we hit these sections that show a relationship between the Son and the Father; and us readers have to figure out what to do with them.

Today is also the Sunday where pastors everywhere take a vacation, and let somebody else preach the sermon. You see, today is Trinity Sunday where it is traditional to preach a sermon that takes on the doctrine of the Trinity. The surest way to profess heresy is to stand up and try to explain the Trinity. When I started studying Christian theology in an academic setting, and I read the definitions of Trinitarian Theology, along side list of condemned heretical views I quickly realized that just about every metaphor I heard explaining the Trinity had been condemned. A Lutheran pastor, Hans Fiene, made a rather silly video that demonstrates why long term pastors dump this task on whoever is available in the pulpit supply list.

I like this video. This video gives us enough of a summary of the arguments, and the major names that as long as you remember that the council of Nicea was in 325, and the council of Constantinople was in 381, you have enough information to pass the 4th century section of the exam in an into to Church history class. Unfortunately while this is a great overview of the arguments — it is not a very attractive picture of Trinitarian theology.

When I was a student at Friends University, I did a major project on the theological proclamations of the councils of Nicea and Constantinople. At first, this was difficult, as most of what I read from the councils was an expression of how not to talk about God; everything was negative. Eventually, I started reading letters, books, and commentary by people who were involved in the argument; the most important book I read was Athanasius’ Incarnation of the Word of God. When I read Athanasius, I began to understand that Trinitarian theology is above all commentary on John’s gospel. Jesus talks about the Father and the Spirit, and the Father talks about Jesus, and the Spirit shows up. Trinitarian theology is about trying to make sense of this.

Shield-Trinity-Scutum-Fidei-earliest-and-latest-major-variants.svg

Perhaps the best way to explain Trinitarian theology is with a diagram called the “Shield of the Trinity.” This is a little drawing that show that the Father Son and Spirit are God, while the Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct from one another. When thinking about Trinitarian theology as commentary of the Gospel accounts, this is useful. Jesus is Divine, and the voice that speaks from heaven is Divine — but, there is a distinction between the Father and the Son. When Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit, this Holy Spirit is divine, yet distinct from the Son and the Father, and in spite of this distinction, we believe that there is one God.

When I took a class that tried to explain Trinitarian Theology, my teacher, Chris Kettler, tried to explain to us that one reason that God is trinity is that a being in isolation is incomplete. A human, separated from community, is greatly diminished. Without other people, we lose a lot of ourselves because we are most ourselves in and through relationship. There is a reason why in Genesis, God said of Adam that it is not good for Man to be alone.

In the creation account when God creates the world and humanity, God says things such as: “Let us create Man in our own image.” The references are plural. Perhaps the significance of this is that God is complete without our help — God does not need a relationship with creation to be complete. God is complete in Godself.

Perhaps a more important passage is 1 John 4:8, which tells us that God is Love. This is not like a passage that calls God merciful, this is a statement that God is Love — that Love is a basic, fundamental defining aspect of God. Love requires community! The idea that God would need to create in order to be a fundamental aspect of God would make God dependent upon us — this is something that is unacceptable. Dr. Kettler taught us that the Trinity exists as a loving community. God is completely who God is without needing us. While you might say this is a metaphor; it is trying to understand God through human eyes, it has provided a positive way for me to understand Trinity — God is complete.

Now, somewhere there are armchair inquisitors who will decide whether or not I just spouted heresy. I hope I shared a helpful idea in here somewhere. I know sermons often have some sort of call to action — but, when it comes to theoretical theology, the best I can give is a call to think and reflect. I don’t know about you, but I’ve given too much thought to how I can be useful to God — and not enough thought to what it means that God loves me. I think about what I can do for God, forgetting that God does not need me to do anything. We believe in a God that is greater than us — and, we believe that God invites us into relationship.

Acts 2 and John 11:21-44 Pentecost and Resurection

Reading: Acts 2, and John 11:21-44

Today is Pentecost. Today is the day that I secretly hope the Holy Spirit will come down powerfully, and breathe new life into the Church. Today is the day that I wish for something different, today is the day that I wish to see Resurrection.

Pentecost is the end of the Easter celebration. We are not looking so much at points in time as a whole narrative that covers about 2 months. While I cannot say how much time passes between Jesus calling Lazarus out from the tomb to Passover, the very next chapter in John is the triumphal entry. Resurrection is the reason that the political parties unite in the decision that Jesus must die. If I were to guess, I would guess that the Resurrection of John is within a few days of Passover.

The passages we read today are not isolated events, they are the start and the finish of the craziest, most stressful spring that anybody can imagine. When Jesus went into Jerusalem, a crowd might have yelled ‘Hosanna to the king of Israel’, but Jesus and the disciples were fully aware that the end was coming; remember that when Jesus tells the disciples that they are going back to Judea, the disciples are uncomfortable with this, and Thomas says to the rest, ‘let’s go and die with Him.’ When John is raised from the dead, the cross is so clear that even Thomas can see that this is where they are going.

During this period, the disciples with just a few exceptions fall away. Peter falls away in a spectacular way; he denies knowing three times, including to a man who recognized him because he just cut of the man’s cousin’s ear and a servant girl. Peter even tries to deny that he has a Galilean accent when a servant girl notices it. Peter is so afraid of being associated with Jesus on the night of the crucifixion that he does not even want to be from the same country as Jesus.

As you might remember, following the crucifixion was the resurrection. Scripture tells us that the risen Jesus appeared to about 500 people. I love this period, because it is a great metaphor for my faith; Jesus is present in a very real way, and not even death can change that. I also appreciate that even now, the disciples do not always get it — because on the very day Jesus ascended into heaven a disciple asked if it was finally time to overthrow the Romans.

When Jesus ascends into heaven, the disciples watch; they keep staring into the sky, they have no idea what to do. Eventually they actually do what they where told to do and wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit. When the day of Pentecost comes, they had been waiting about 10 days. Over this ten days, the 500 that Jesus met with and taught after the resurrection were reduced to about 120. Too often, I identify with this period of silence and contraction. Sometimes it feels like we wait for a miracle, and we start to wonder if the miracle will ever come.

Pentecost comes, and it is exciting. The Spirit descends like tongues of fire, people talk in other languages, and everybody wonders what is going on. Everybody these days gets excited about how everybody is talking in tongues, and thousands are ready to join the new church.

Me, I am even more impressed with Peter’s speech. The last time Peter had a chance to speak out about Jesus, he said: “I never met the guy.” Peter showed that he was afraid of being recognized by anybody, even a servant girl. Peter gains courage, and the only thing that I see that really changes is now the Holy Spirit is here. It is as if Peter is not the same man he was a 8 weeks ago.

One of my favorite metaphors in Christianity is that of resurrection. I know, it is not only a metaphor; The disciples and early Christians really did believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and were willing to die over this point. The creed really does say “We look forward to the resurrection and to the life of the world that is to come.” I am fully aware that this is not a metaphor, but resurrection is constantly used as a metaphor.

When we read Paul’s epistles, Paul speaks of dying to ourselves, or our sinfulness and being risen in Christ. In other places, Paul speaks of our sinfulness being so destructive that we were dead in it until Christ raised us out. For Paul, salvation and transformation is about being raised up with Jesus and given new life. The coward Peter died, and when Pentecost was fully come, this brave man, Peter, spoke out in a way that the coward named Peter never could.

I love that we are invited to participate in the same sort of resurrection that Peter experienced. I know it is often said that he was restored on the beach when Jesus told him, “feed my sheep” — but, we don’t see proof of how Peter changed until Pentecost. Until Peter stood up to those who could kill him, we do not know the power of the resurrection. There is something life-giving about the Holy Spirit, and there is something meaningful about this metaphor.
If any one of us was dead in our sins, we can be thankful that Christ is able to give us resurrection. The church is always an Easter community, even when Pentecost comes around. We believe that Christ is risen from the dead, but we also believe that when the time comes, it is our turn as well.

John 7:37-49 Arguing about Jesus

Reading: John 7:37-49

In today’s reading, we people arguing about who Jesus is. Some of the people say that Jesus surely the prophet, others say He is the messiah, and others observe that He comes from Galilee — and, thus he must be a nobody. There were arguments in the crowd; was Jesus the messiah, or was he a nobody who came from a province filled with nobodies.

The crowds were not the only people having this argument, but the elites were having the same argument among themselves — although, for the most part, they spoke with the voice that protected their position. The thing is Jesus was the talk of the nation. Everybody had an idea about who he was, and what his mission was. One thing that I find remarkable is that Jesus has continued to hold this place in discussion.

I know some of you have read C.S. Lewis. There were a series of radio lectures that were later turned into a book, and in one of these Lewis posed a famous trilemma, which is summarized that Jesus is a liar, a lunatic, or God, as He claims to be. Lewis elaborated on who Jesus claimed to be, and acted as, in that he claimed the authority to forgive sin, he claimed to have always been, and he claimed that he would come back to judge the world.

I really enjoy C.S. Lewis; even though he was a teacher of literature and not Theology — I consider him to be one of the great 20th century Theologians. Usually when I read modern theology, it is either fails to say anything worth saying or it says what it is trying to say in such a complex way that even other theologians struggle to make out what was just said. I like Lewis because he is able to speak clearly, even when expressing complex and challenging ideas. It requires a unique kind of genius to make complex ideas understandable without “dumbing” these ideas down.

Of course, I find one problem with Lewis’ statement about Jesus — it is used to be the final word in a discussion, but it makes a base assumption that everybody in the conversation agree on what Jesus said about Himself. More specifically, this makes an assumption that Scripture accurately records what Jesus said and taught. For those of us who say, yes of course, Lewis makes an utterly convincing argument. The problem comes when we argue with people who believe something different.

You might be aware that many people search for the historical Jesus — that is, they hope to separate the man from the myth. They study various sources, not just scripture but various ancient sources that quote Jesus, or make a statement about who he is. This attempt has been made many times, but there is no consensus in what sort of man Jesus is when you strip away everything that is miraculous. My opinion is that this task will always be fruitless; but that is because I believe Jesus is miraculous.

This idea, also, as you might know isn’t anything new. Most discussion is limited to books written within our lifetimes, but one of the most famous attempts to distill the teachings of the good teacher, who was in no way divine, was Thomas Jefferson’s “Life and Morals of Jesus Christ.” Thomas Jefferson, the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence believed that Jesus was not divine, but merely a good teacher. Using a razor and some glue, he cut up a Bible and made a book that had Jesus’ teachings, some story, and an account of the crucifixion. Jefferson’s narrative ends with the stone rolled over the tomb; in Jefferson’s Bible, there is no Easter.

If you have the idea that you can strip away the miraculous, then you can also strip away the inconsistent. The brilliant thing that Lewis told us explaining the Jesus of scripture breaks down if you no longer assume that scripture accurately reports who Jesus is. Apologetics are tricky because too often the most convincing arguments are only convincing for ourselves — the arguments start with an assumption of certain shared beliefs. Jefferson’s Bible is different from my own; those who follow his ideas have a different idea of Christ than I do.

The crowds have always been divided, and they still are. I had a Theology teacher named Chris Kettler at Friends University who told us that none of us can prove God — all our best arguments cannot convince anybody. Only God can prove God. Of course, many very important works of Theology start out trying to prove that God exists — then they try to harmonize the god they proved with the God of scripture and the Christian Faith. I understand the problem with this, because many times the God postulated through philosophy is very different than the God we know by knowing Jesus. The God we try to prove falls far short of the God of our Faith.

A good example is the disciples; even if they believed that Jesus was a prophet, or the messiah, they were not convinced that Christ was divine until they encountered the risen Christ. Paul was convinced he was right to persecute the Christians until he met Christ on the road to Damascus. Over time, Christianity became the dominant faith because people saw the ways Faith helped people learn to love one another — and people saw the courage and comfort that came from faith. We can argue all we want, but nothing can come of arguing. What people need to meet the risen Christ, and to see how Jesus has changed us for the better.