I have come to favor this translated quote from Voltaire’s “Questions sur les Miracles,”: “Formerly there were those who said: You believe things that are incomprehensible, inconsistent, impossible because we have commanded you to believe them; go then and do what is injust because we command it. Such people show admirable reasoning. Truly, whoever can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. If the God‐given understanding of your mind does not resist a demand to believe what is impossible, then you will not resist a demand to do wrong to that God‐given sense of justice in your heart. As soon as one faculty of your soul has been dominated, other faculties will follow as well. And from this derives all those crimes of religion which have overrun the world.”
Jesus’s disciple, Judas Iscariot, has been known as his betrayer for millennia. The gospels of Luke and John would have us believe that the reason that Judas betrayed Jesus was because Satan had entered Judas. Matthew and Mark leave us to our own interpretation of Judas’s actions. The gospel of Judas would have us believe that Judas was acting as Jesus directed him. Whichever explanation you lean toward, as Jesus’s life played out to the end, ultimately, Judas was the hand that placed Jesus into the custody of those who would scourge and crucify him, the activity necessary for our salvation, according to all the gospels.
A third way of understanding Judas is to observe his love for Jesus. We could consider that Judas believed in the “Warrior Messiah,” the prophets of Hebrew Scriptures portended. It was a Warrior Messiah the Jews of the time expected, one who would crush the Romans and build the new Jerusalem. In the end, Judas was wrong. The vast majority of Jews were wrong, according to Christians. In fact, most Jews still await the coming of the messiah. For Christians, God did not send a Warrior Messiah. God sent a Messiah who would be the salvation of all humanity. At the same time he would consummate the old covenant and invest a new one. For God had sent prophets whose words were not heeded throughout the old covenant. God needed a new covenant to reach out to those who would heed God’s call.
I submit that while Judas loved Jesus, he misunderstood him. And in his despair over his misunderstanding and betrayal, Judas couldn’t live with what he had done to the man he loved and hanged himself.
Today I will consider this third way: Judas cataclysmically misunderstood Jesus even though he loved whoever it was he thought the man to be.
How would that happen?
Can you love someone who is not who you think he or she really is?
Can you think something is true but be deluding yourself because you want it to be so?
Can you misread what you see before your very eyes and misinterpret everything?
How then can you know the difference between delusion and reality when facts can be so readily misinterpreted?
That’s what I want to delve into today.
We live in times where truth is in short supply. We have been bombarded with lies sold to the lowest bidders to decry as truth. We can’t even argue the facts because people without facts claim “I have a right to my opinion.” And civil respondents say, “okay, you have a right to your opinion.” But I say, “yes, you have a right to be a fool! Hold onto your lies and die ignorant. But don’t expect me to respect your opinions based on nothing.”
Over the last five years, we have witnessed men and women in national leadership positions who lie easily, and apparently believably, and without compunction. They affirm previously unsupported beliefs of people who have felt disenfranchised for years for those beliefs. These same seemingly disenfranchised people are entitled in ways people of color, immigrants, and queer people are not. Yet because they are shunned and excluded from polite society when they display their proud ignorance, hate-mongering, racism, nationalism, and conspiracy theories, they feel marginalized.
They are marginalized for a reason. You see, in order to maintain a civilized peaceful society it is necessary to marginalize the extremists on both sides of the spectrum to maintain civility. Let loose and given free reign these fringe extremists would destroy a civilization rather than face Truth and admit they are wrong, and they would do violence to hide their lie.
Zealots in the first century Roman empire were just such fringe extremists. They sought to destroy Greco-Roman civilization. Our fringe extremists today have the same purposes in mind.
What repulses me the most about some of these fringe extremists are the self-named Christian churches and their preachers who indulge in these fringe politics. Churches like Calvary Church of Bangor in Orrington Maine and its preacher, Ken Graves, Kingdom Life Church in Frisco, Texas and its preacher, Brandon Burden, and Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, and its deceased preacher Fred Phelps.
They present themselves as Christian, spout Christian platitudes then indulge in fringe politics and hate speech and disinformation, they incite members to prepare to meet violence with violence. They choose to encourage the least in us rather than raise us up in the teachings of God through New Testament scripture.
What makes me right and them wrong? It’s these five simple tests for whether our beliefs and actions are of the God of Christ. They are:
- Are your actions examples of loving your neighbor as yourself and God with all your heart, mind, and strength?
- Are you seeking to serve rather than rule by your actions?
- Are your actions of creation or destruction? That is, are you building up or tearing down?
- Will you, metaphorically, be carrying a loaf of bread or a sword with your actions? And,
- have you prayed for God’s guidance, fasted, and meditated on your thoughts and actions?
If you are modeling love of neighbor and God, seeking to serve, creating and building up others, society, and the environment, feeding the hungry rather than committing violence, and have prepared yourself for God’s guidance then you are most likely following the principles of Christ.
Years ago, I saw a picture of a bomb being loaded onto a bomber during the Iraq war. A soldier had drawn a cross on it and had written “for Saddam Hussain” on it. I thought it a sign of betrayal of Christ’s death on just such a cross. Christ had transformed a symbol of violence into one of peace. And here a soldier returned it to violence.
Reinterpreting scripture to support our preferred beliefs rather than changing our beliefs to support scripture has been a favored pastime of less than honest individuals and religion for thousands of years. The long-term effects are evident in racism, religious wars, witch hunts, the suppression of science, and delay of progress for humanity by the Church for millennia. The result has been skepticism of religion and faith, and more recently the decline of what we call Mainline religion.
It is not surprising to realize that we prefer our worldviews to find support. We find comfort in our beliefs that we understand cause and effect. Whether our world views are true or not, is beside the point. We would rather shape the world to fit our worldviews than change our worldview to accommodate reality. People are change resistant, for the most part. Altering our worldviews would require us to change.
The advance of this new politic takes advantage of these human traits by feeding one sector of society supportive counter facts that they easily accept because they are comforting. It’s easier for us to understand, without convincing arguments for support, opinions that mirror our own.
For those of you who have attended institutions of higher learning. Have you ever noticed that if you write an essay that supports your professors’ opinions you are more likely to be understood and get a good grade than if you thoroughly lay out a counter argument to your professors’ opinions? That has been my experience, particularly in Seminary.
And just so, to change my mind you will have to thoroughly obliterate the walls my interpretations of experiences have built. I’m no different than those professors I challenged all those years ago. I consider myself to be open-minded in a very narrow-minded way.
We human beings live within a veil of ignorance according to the Kabbalah [an ancient Jewish tradition of mystical interpretation of the Bible]. To see through the veil we have to relinquish our attachment to our egos. The more we can detach from our egos the more clearly, we can allow ourselves to see.
In Mark’s gospel [5.21-43, Mt. 9.20-22, & Lk. 8.43-48] the story is told of a woman who had bled for twelve years. In juxtaposition to the bleeding woman, a leader of the synagogue, Jairus had a twelve-year-old daughter who lay dying. Both required Jesus at the same time. For those who saw within the veil Jesus had to choose one or the other. But the story shows a worldview beyond the veil where Jesus could heal both. And Jesus does just that.
Judas and those on Judas’s path interpret events with the ignorance that exists within the veil. Those on the path Jesus sets for us are able to interpret events with beyond the veil clarity.
We can seek various sources for the truth of facts. We can argue with others to seek enlightenment. We can select friends from a wide assortment of lifestyles, ethnicity, income levels, education levels, and various disciplines of learning and expertise. But until we relinquish our attachment to our egos and open ourselves to the influence of the Holy Spirit of God, our interpretation skills will still be limited to perceptions only within the veil of ignorance. And we can only hope for the closest thing to the truth. This is why there is an acceptance of truth being relative. It is extremely hard to see through the veil. Still, Truth is not relative. And any of us who think that is the case should be cautioned about the danger of such deceit to our relationships with ourselves, society, and our God.
The Gospel of John relates this story: “Pilate said to Jesus, ‘So you are a king, are you?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’ After saying this, he went back out to the Jews and told them, ‘I find no guilt in him’” (John 18:37-38).
SimplyBible.com [ see: https://www.simplybible.com/f75c-pques-pilates-question-what-is-truth.htm ] hits the nail on the head when it explains the passage this way: “Pilate asked the question, ‘What is truth?’ It’s an easy question to ask, especially in the spirit in which Pilate asked it. But what is the answer?
“When Pilate heard Jesus speak of ‘truth’, he asked, ‘What is truth?’ It wasn’t an enquiry. He didn’t wait for an answer. He said it to justify himself. He went out to the mob, pronounced Jesus innocent, then had him flogged and handed over for crucifixion.
“Pilate apparently went along with the idea that truth is relative. For him it was ‘truth’ that Jesus was innocent, but for the Jews it was ‘truth’ that Jesus was guilty. So Pilate in all ‘fairness’ washed his hands and let the Jews follow their truth.
“So much for relative truth! A good man was crucified because in a mob’s version of ‘truth’ he was a criminal, and their truth was considered as valid as Pilate’s. Jesus is not the first victim of relative truth, nor the last.
“This notion that there is no universal truth is very dangerous. If all truth changes from person to person and from situation to situation, there is no firm ground, no reference point. There’s a valid contradiction for everything.
“Pilate found no fault in Jesus, but the mob said, ‘Crucify him!’ and Pilate found it expedient to hear that as a valid contradiction to what he believed to be true.”
So long as we believe we need to be in control of our worldview we will walk on the Judas path, a path that Pilate took easily because of the current politic of his society. Truth was relative in Rome. Jesus said he came to bear witness to the Truth. His actions bore out that claim. If only Judas and Pilate had carefully and honestly been able to see Jesus truly by Jesus’s actions, they could have seen the Truth. But they were too wrapped up in their own situations and beliefs to see clearly.
So long as we need to make others acquiesce to our beliefs, we are in danger of traveling on the Judas path. Quite often it is I who needs to see clearly. Quite often it is I who must change. Quite often it is I who needs to expand my worldview. Quite often it is I who must submit to the teachings of Christ and pray and meditate and fast so that I can be willing to let go of my ego and embrace the changes and opportunities life affords me through divine enlightenment.
It was Judas’s mistake that he thought he could influence Jesus’s path. It was his arrogance, his ego, that led him to think that he was right, and Jesus needed Judas to force Jesus’s hand to become the “Warrior Messiah”. Too many of us suffer from the same affliction. Too many of us follow the wrong leaders. Too many of us are satisfied with our own ignorance and are susceptible to manipulation because of it. To many of us would tear down civilization rather than adapt to the world as it really is. And too often, I am the fool who needs to reassess my worldview less I hold onto my lies and will die ignorant.
Did Judas love Jesus even though he didn’t understand him? I think he did. He loved the big and little things that Jesus did. Judas loved Jesus’s genuine love for others and Jesus’s faith and Jesus’s moments of intimate instruction. In Judas’s love he wanted Jesus to be who Judas thought he should be.
So, what about us? What about you? Can there be Truth that you don’t yet understand? Are you willing to set aside your preconceptions and explore what might really be true? Do you think you know the Truth about anything? Like what? Let me know your thoughts.
[COMMENT: Your experiences and thoughts are more than welcome. Your posts are important to me. You can leave likes and comments both, on my this blogsite searching-for-god.com. If you do, I will respond to you.
The Night Watch Service is a New Year’s Eve version of John Wesley’s Covenant Service. The heart of this service is the Covenant Prayer. It requires persons to commit themselves to God. This covenant is serious and assumes adequate preparation for and a continual response to the covenant. You can participate in the responses by opening the transcript at http://www.searching-for-god.com or at http://www.theology21ce.com. I hope this episode serves as an inspiration for you throughout the new year.]
May you continue to accept the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
O God, Searcher of all our hearts,
you have formed us as a people and claimed us for your own.
As we come to acknowledge your sovereignty and grace,
and to enter anew into covenant with you,
reveal any reluctance or falsehood within us.
Let your Spirit impress your truth on our inmost being,
and receive us in mercy, for the sake of our Mediator, Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
LITANY OF THANKSGIVING
Let us give thanks for all of God’s mercies.
O God, our Covenant Partner,
you have been gracious to us through all the years of our lives.
We thank you for your loving care,
which has filled our days and brought us to this time and place.
R = We praise your holy name, O God.
You have given us life and reason,
and set us in a world filled with your glory.
You have comforted us with family and friends,
and in their absence, you have comforted us with a knowledge of your presence.
Then you ministered to us through the hands of our sisters and brothers. R
You have filled our hearts with a hunger after you,
and have given us your peace.
You have redeemed us and called us to a high calling in Christ Jesus.
You have given us a place in the fellowship of your Spirit
and the witness of your Church. R
You have been our light in darkness
and a rock of strength in adversity and temptation.
You have been the very Spirit of joy in our joys
and the all–sufficient reward in all our labors. R
You remembered us when we forgot you.
You followed us even when we tried to flee from you.
You met us with forgiveness when we returned to you.
For all your patience and overflowing grace. R
Brothers and sisters in Christ,
the Christian life is redeemed from sin and consecrated to God.
Through baptism, we have entered this life
and have been admitted into the new covenant
of which Jesus Christ is the Mediator.
He sealed it with his own blood, that it might last forever.
On the one side, God promises to give us new life in Christ,
the Source and Perfecter of our faith.
On the other side, we are pledged
to live no more for ourselves but only for Jesus Christ,
who loved us and gave himself for us.
From time to time we renew our covenant with God,
especially when we reaffirm the Baptismal Covenant
and gather at the Lord’s table.
Today, however, we meet, as the generations before us have met,
to renew the covenant that binds us to God.
Let us make this covenant of God our own.
WESLEY’S COVENANT SERVICE
Commit yourselves to Christ as his servants.
Give yourselves to him, that you may belong to him.
Christ has many services to be done.
Some are more easy and honorable,
others are more difficult and disgraceful.
Some are suitable to our inclinations and interests,
others are contrary to both.
In some we may please Christ and please ourselves.
But then there are other works where we cannot please Christ
except by denying ourselves.
It is necessary, therefore,
that we consider what it means to be a servant of Christ.
Let us, therefore, go to Christ, and pray:
Let me be your servant, under your command.
I will no longer be my own.
I will give up myself to your will in all things.
Be satisfied that Christ shall give you your place and work.
Lord, make me what you will.
I put myself fully into your hands:
put me to doing, put me to suffering,
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and with a willing heart
give it all to your pleasure and disposal.
Christ will be the Savior of none but his servants.
He is the source of all salvation to those who obey.
Christ will have no servants except by consent;
Christ will not accept anything except full consent
to all that he requires.
Christ will be all in all, or he will be nothing.
Confirm this by a holy covenant.
To make this covenant a reality in your life, listen to these admonitions:
First, set apart some time, more than once,
to be spent alone before the Lord;
in seeking earnestly God’s special assistance
and gracious acceptance of you;
in carefully thinking through all the conditions of the covenant;
in searching your hearts
whether you have already freely given your life to Christ.
Consider what your sins are.
Consider the laws of Christ, how holy, strict, and spiritual they are,
and whether you, after having carefully considered them,
are willing to choose them all.
Be sure you are clear in these matters, see that you do not lie to God.
Second, be serious and in a spirit of holy awe and reverence.
Third, claim God’s covenant,
rely upon God’s promise of giving grace and strength,
so you can keep your promise.
Trust not your own strength and power.
Fourth, resolve to be faithful.
You have given to the Lord your hearts,
you have opened your mouths to the Lord,
and you have dedicated yourself to God.
With God’s power, never go back.
And last, be then prepared to renew your covenant with the Lord.
Fall down on your knees, lift your hands toward heaven,
open your hearts to the Lord, as we pray:
[The people kneel or bow.]
O righteous God, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
see me as I fall down before you.
Forgive my unfaithfulness in not having done your will,
for you have promised mercy to me
if I turn to you with my whole heart.
God requires that you shall put away all your idols.
I here from the bottom of my heart renounce them all,
covenanting with you that no known sin shall be allowed in my life.
Against your will, I have turned my love toward the world.
In your power
I will watch all temptations that will lead me away from you.
For my own righteousness is riddled with sin,
unable to stand before you.
Through Christ, God has offered to be your God again
if you would let him.
Before all heaven and earth,
I here acknowledge you as my Lord and God.
I take you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for my portion,
and vow to give up myself, body and soul, as your servant,
to serve you in holiness and righteousness all the days of my life.
God has given the Lord Jesus Christ
as the only way and means of coming to God.
Jesus, I do here on bended knees accept Christ
as the only new and living Way,
and sincerely join myself in a covenant with him.
O blessed Jesus, I come to you,
hungry, sinful, miserable, blind, and naked,
unworthy even to wash the feet of your servants.
I do here, with all my power, accept you as my Lord and Head.
I renounce my own worthiness,
and vow that you are the Lord, my righteousness.
I renounce my own wisdom, and take you for my only guide.
I renounce my own will, and take your will as my law.
Christ has told you that you must suffer with him.
I do here covenant with you, O Christ,
to take my lot with you as it may fall.
Through your grace I promise
that neither life nor death shall part me from you.
God has given holy laws as the rule of your life.
I do here willingly put my neck under your yoke, to carry your burden.
All your laws are holy, just, and good.
I therefore take them as the rule for my words, thoughts, and actions,
promising that I will strive
to order my whole life according to your direction,
and not allow myself to neglect anything I know to be my duty.
The almighty God searches and knows your heart.
O God, you know that I make this covenant with you today
without guile or reservation.
If any falsehood should be in it, guide me and help me to set it aright.
And now, glory be to you, O God the Father,
whom I from this day forward shall look upon as my God and Father.
Glory be to you, O God the Son,
who have loved me and washed me from my sins in your own blood,
and now is my Savior and Redeemer.
Glory be to you, O God the Holy Spirit,
who by your almighty power have turned my heart from sin to God.
O mighty God, the Lord Omnipotent, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
you have now become my Covenant Friend.
And I, through your infinite grace, have become your covenant servant.
So be it.
And let the covenant I have made on earth be ratified in heaven.
You are advised to make this covenant not only in your heart, but in word; not only in word, but in writing. Therefore, with all reverence, lay the service before the Lord as your act and deed. And when you have done this, sign it. Then keep it as a reminder of the holy agreement between God and you that you may remember it during doubts and temptations.
Continue in the ways of the LORD. Be ready to serve and receive God’s grace at any time. You and God are partners in healing creation and realizing the joys of living. Amen.
Long ago I was introduced to the story about the Slaves and the Talents. Today, that story stands out as a mandate to invest what little wealth I have so that it will increase. This is the story from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25:
The Kingdom of Heaven will be like this: “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return, I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (Matthew 25.14-30)
This seems a harsh story about God expecting us to make good use of our gifts and [double-entendre here] our talents. They are not to be hoarded or hidden. We are not to be ashamed of them, nor are we to let others shame our talents and gifts into submission to their judgements. If your talent is dancing, then dance. If your talent is writing, then write. If your talent is boxing, then box. If your talent is making money, then make it.
The hard part of the story is where it says, “…but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away!” On the surface this harsh decree is shocking in its injustice. But its justice becomes apparent with one little piece of information. That tidbit is this: God has given a unique gift to every one of us. Each has his or her blessed talent. If you refuse that gift, stifle it, misuse it, or God forbid, ignore it, or claim you have none, then woe be unto you, as it is written.
So lets all just face it. Each of us has a gift to be acknowledged, trained, and honed, until it becomes our gift to others, and our way of glorifying God.
There is more though. Where ever we find ourselves living, we are expected to seek the prosperity of the place where we live, to get involved in the welfare of that place, to be an asset and invest in the welfare because in its welfare is our welfare.
“These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon… Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29.1, 4-7)
It is laid out clearly that it is our responsibility to use what gifts we have for the welfare of our neighbors, family, and our own welfare.
For those of us who have monetary wealth, we are expected to be charitable. And we are expected to invest in our communities so that others may labor and reap the rewards of that labor, just as we can expect our own welfare to be secured.
A while ago, I learned the phrase, “A budget is a moral document.” Some of us who are organized and like to plan create a household budget. The budget estimates income and expenditures for the coming year. It includes what we expect to earn and lists the areas in which we anticipate costs of living, food, taxes, utilities, maintenance, healthcare, donations, tithes and investments, entertainment and clothing, just to name the most obvious.
I want to talk about the investing money part of my budget. But one more scripture passage before I do. It’s a cautionary passage from each of the four gospels. It is this: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the Eye of the Needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The Eye of the Needle was a narrow pedestrian gate in the wall surrounding Jerusalem. A camel would get stuck every now and then when some ill-reasoning traveler would try to get into the city when the main gates were closed. This was not a claim that a rich man couldn’t get into Heaven. But it was a caution that one’s talent and labor were gifts to be shared for God’s glory. Wealth would be a byproduct of the good use of that trained talent and hard work. The attainment of wealth was not a fitting goal, less wealth or mammon become a false idol. The question for the faithful is, “What other way can I glorify God?”
So, back to investing. There are lots of ways and lots of reasons to invest. As a person of faith, though, why should you invest your money in real estate or businesses or stocks, bonds, or commodities? Simply put, we should invest because we can. When you have used your talent and labor and acquire wealth then your wealth should be put to benefiting the “community.” And there’s nothing wrong if you should benefit too.
I recently retired. I have a modest income from social security and a pension. I tithe to my church, and some charities. Still I feel that it is my responsibility to encourage growth in businesses in various ways including through stock purchases. I buy the stocks as long-term investments. Though, I have bought a few stocks then sold them for a small profit within a few months when I didn’t have a good feel for the company’s goals.
For the most part, I have invested in technical, shipping, food, pharmaceutical research, chemical, real estate, and minerals companies. Some are start-up companies and others are established ones. I have invested for dividends and for growth. The companies spur my imagination of the ways they affect the planet, the human condition, and the prosperity of the national and world-wide community.
Investing feels right. There are enough companies to invest in that I don’t have to tax my conscience by investing in toxin producers, oil, armament, or tobacco. There are enough other people who can do that. Since I like to stay away from gambling, and the stock market is a gamble in some ways, I mitigate the gamble by checking out the companies as best I can by considering their debt, growth prospects, employment policies, and environmental toxicity.
I keep up with the news of the companies I’ve invested in, as well as the peripheral news that will affect their stability or growth. I’ve had to learn about monetary policy, economics and cryptocurrency as well as stay current with international politics in an ever-changing environment.
I’ve had to review my own self-interest set against larger interests for sustainability. By adding investing to my activities, I’ve had to reassess my values and the ways and means by which I glorify God.
Fortunately, my life’s mantra has been “If I am comfortable with my faith, then I am doing it wrong.” Investing is just a new way I have expanded my comfort zone. It’s a new way for me to glorify God and benefit from a too-long under-utilized and untrained talent.
The story I didn’t tell yet is the story of how the story of the Slaves and the Talents became noticeable to me. I was a relatively new member of United Methodism. The church I joined was given ten dollars by the Annual Conference that year to make it grow, just like the good slaves in the parable. Our church members met, and we decided to bury it for the year we were given to use it and report back what happened. We buried it as a protest of the way the denomination was becoming ever more pressing about member giving. It was beginning to take on a more business model than be a model for a place of worship.
Today I look back on that parable and see it as a way God invests in each of us and shares resources with everyone so that each of us has enough.
I like seeing my investment portfolio grow. I like reading about the companies that I help grow in my small way. I like to think that even in this time of financial insecurity that jobs are secure someplace and new places to work are being envisioned.
Investing is not an end all activity. It’s just one more in the ways we can spread the wealth, share resources and encourage prosperity.
What is God?
Paul Tillich, often considered the most influential theologian of the 20th century wrote of God as being itself. In the early 1950s, Tillich wrote, “The only possible answer seems to be that God is being-itself, in the sense of the power of being or the power to conquer non-being.” [Systematic Theology, Vol. 2: Existence and the Christ, University of Chicago Press, 1957, p. 11]
Yael Shy, more recently, in his article “Being-ness: Your God”, in the Fall 2013 issue of Inquiring Mind, [Vol. 30, #1, The God Issue] wrote,
“… I finally understood what the retreat teachers were getting at. The great stillness—the silent ‘emptiness’ full of everything—that was what Judaism meant when it talked about God… God was this present-ness of all things, continually unfolding in each new moment. God was the container that held all the pain and brokenness of the world. And yet, God was also in the pain and brokenness. God was not something to be ‘believed in.’ God was something to be experienced, and God-nature was always being experienced, whether I knew it or not.”
As Hegel believed, God continues to reveal God-self to us through the advance of history. One day, I predict, we will have the proof of God, for which so many search.
In support of that prediction, I want to offer my version of the history of God, with God beginning as a force of cosmic proportions.
Consider the force of the open sea, unwieldy, uncontrollable, devastating, and destructive as well as serene, magnificent, a force of life, a force that creates life as easily as it takes it. Now shift your consideration to the wind, a whisper against your cheek, a category 4 hurricane reeking destruction as it travels across land or water, and a tornado scattering life and limb across scores of miles. Extend your consideration again to earthquakes that result from the shifting of tectonic plates creating lakes, mountains, and continents and taking away continents. These are forces of nature.
Broaden your consideration to the universe. Try to conceive of the power of solar winds, black holes, planet killing meteors, absolute darkness, and vastness without end. Now stretch your consideration, even further, to the force that creates solar systems and life from plankton to complex sentient mammals.
Range your consideration even further to a sentient force behind all that power. That force begins in the void of nothingness, extends its will to create ever more complexities until it achieves sentient, creative, destructive, compassionate, ruthless, healing, murderous, philanthropic, greedy bipeds with opposing thumbs.
What begins as a primitive singularity advances through millennia without end into a vastly creative, complex, and almost benevolent force behind a universe of points of light and life scattered throughout the dark and lifeless.
That is God. God cannot be a being, though God might be an entity without form. God is force. Perhaps Lawrence Kasdan, to whom the conception of “the force” in The Empire Strikes Back, is ascribed, understood more than he knew. And perhaps I know less than I think I know.
Christian philosophers of the late 18th to early 19th century like Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel were onto something as they wrote that God and humanity advance through history together.
The singular sentient force without experience or anything other than itself develops, in complexity of thought, as it creates and destroys, ad infinitum, into what we know as God. That force, once coming to an understanding of its aloneness reaches out to find, through its creating efforts, that which will bring it company. It creates until it senses itself no longer alone in its sentience.
This once primitive force without conscience, without good or evil existing, without time or place, develops a benevolence that is ready to create humanity.
The force, now God, creates humanity as a benevolent act and sees its creation as good. But creating is a work of balance. For something to exist the nothing must be shattered. There is no good without evil – no creation without destruction, no building without excavating. Thus, in God’s creation, in the creation’s vastness of good, is a speck of corruption. In the following millennia, God works to raise humanity, once created in goodness, above its primordial corruption of self-destructive behavior. God reaches out to humanity though incarnations, of itself in limited measures, by way of unique human-beings like Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Samuel, Zoroaster, Plato, Aristotle, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, the Mahatma Gandhi, Paramhansa Yogananda, a Dalai Lama or two, and a Shaman or two, as well as others I don’t know about or recognize, or will speak about in a moment.
If we can imagine the evolution of computers into Artificial Intelligences further evolving into sentient beings, then we can further reach into our imaginations to conjure a force that develops a sentience that evolves into God.
Does imagining make the non-existent real? Yes it does. We know this because we have fire and electricity and space travel and tiny computers on our wrists that we can communicate through and that will tell us our pulse rate.
Of course, our imaginations cannot make something in the past, only in the future. But perhaps, that something in the past has given us our imagination so we can one day perceive it – to some measure.
In Genesis, human beings are defined as “imago dei,” reflections of God. While this phrase has led us to a false narrative, that story may be rewritten. If God is a force than we can consider ourselves also forces, perhaps little forces of nature, as we are part of the ecology of the planet. We can create and destroy, in great numbers we can affect climate, plants, forestation, the very face of the earth and the sufficiency of the seas, and one day visit the planets.
Does force create force? Is our life force a viable part of the great force we call God? If Einstein’s law that energy can neither be created or destroyed, a revelation of a proof of eternal life? If the energy of our life force cannot be destroyed, then do we live and die with our force always existing as part of the great force? If the answer is yes, then there is eternal life and eternal sentience.
Does God speak to us? In what language? For the most part the Holy Spirit, that portion of God that inspires us, refreshes us, and sometimes guides us does not use language but rather intuition or attitudes.
Still God does communicate to us, en masse. And that language of communication, I postulate, is mathematics.
There was a time when scientists and religious leaders viewed science opposing faith or religion. Today, as more people of faith come to accept theories of creation and evolution, more and more people come to accept the evolution of mysticism and Bible stories as pre-scientific attempts to understand God and creation. Today, science explores the universe with the same wonder as early religion did. Today science has acknowledged “the God Particle,” otherwise known as the Higgs-Boson field, considered a field or particle which gives mass to the matter.
The singlet is just a technical term used for a field or particle which doesn’t interact with matter in a way we conceived until today. Theories say that this particle was the fuse that started the big bang. So if the universe is an infinite number of bubbles and if the God particle were to blow these bubbles, it is possible there could be other universes formed from the explosion.
Music is a subset of mathematics. Beauty is measured by mathematical equations, as is art, gravity, architecture, solar systems, DNA, and even chaos. Physics depends on mathematics. As we continue to evolve, we come to understand more and more that science will be the new way to come to understand our place in God’s universe, or multiverse, as the case may be.
Looking back it is easy to observe that Euclid, Blaise Pascal, Archimedes, Isaac Newton, Wilhelm Leibniz, and Zeno of Elea were prophets, as much as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Samuel and Elijah, but proficient in a different language of God’s.
As history, philosophy, theology, and science advance we shall come to new understandings of our relationship to God. I suspect that as we do, God will become more relevant, not less. Faith will be rewarded with equations and proofs that there is a sentient force behind life, love and happiness. It will be called many things. But to us old guys, it’ll always be God.
Thanksgiving is a uniquely American experience celebrating the grace and hospitality of the Wampanoag nation to the ill-equipped Pilgrim settlers of Plymouth Colony in 1621. The Pilgrims response to that hospitality is a blot on American foreign policy and a mockery of Christian values.
So can a 21st century Christian American participate by celebration on this day? My answer is yes.
It is the hospitality that is worth celebrating. The grace of the Wampanoags in welcoming the stranger is a tenet of our faith. While the Puritans’ response was a sin against God and a cautionary tale about the danger of welcoming a stranger, the values of the Wampanoags is worth celebration. Welcome the stranger but exhibit caution lest you put yourself in danger. As the saying goes, “trust but verify.”
In fact, the Wampanoag contracted smallpox from the guests turned invaders. Had they maintained social distancing and not accepted blankets in return, who knows how America would have turned out!
And besides, even though Thanksgiving is overshadowed by the invaders’ genocidal deeds, Christianity is well-known for co-opting celebration days. So why not co-opt Thanksgiving? For instance, Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Christ, is a re-purposing of the Festival of Saturnalia. Easter, the celebration of the resurrection of Christ, is a re-purposing of the Spring Equinox celebrating Ostara, goddess of spring. And All Souls Day, a day of remembrance of our dearly departed, re-purposes Halloween, which is a cultural variation of the Central American, Day of the Dead.
When I was pastor of the Venice United Methodist Church, in collaboration with several organizations that shared our campus, we turned the remembrance of D-Day into a day of Peace offering. The day’s celebrations centered around a shaman from the remnants of the local tribe coming and accepting our apology for the way the land we occupied was taken from his people. He then offered us a blessing to heal the land we occupied. It was our hope that by this small act we might begin the healing of the land and our own souls.
So then, why can’t we re-purpose Thanksgiving to celebrate the abundance of God’s grace and hospitality?
Of course we can. And we can still have turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.
This year, however, will be necessarily different. In the midst of a pandemic, how do we do this celebrating? Hospitality, this year, takes on a whole new meaning.
First, I’d like to make note of a few things. The gospel of John reports Jesus having said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down (θῇ) one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn. 15.13) This “laying down” has been assumed to mean “give up your life.” That’s not the meaning of the word back when it was used, though. A better translation in today’s vernacular would be “give,” as in give your life, not give up your life. Live in service to your friends, die for them if need be. But it’s better to give and live on than to die and be done. I hope I’m being clear here.
In the spirit of this phrase, I recommend that the way to live and celebrate Thanksgiving this year is to do so in a way that protects your friends and family. To be clear, this means to stay at home and encourage them to do the same.
The abundance of grace of God this year is that we have the means to celebrate in new ways. Zoom, for instance, has even extended their 40-minute online time for free users so we can use their format to reach out to others.
God will not save you from yourself. If you choose to endanger your friends and they collaborate with you in their own danger, all bets are off with God. You’re just DOOMED!
We have been given the hope of several vaccines, that will be ready for production by the new year. We have all kinds of health recommendations like masks and social distancing. We have free testing for the virus. We have help with income and payroll protection. People from all across the spectrum of influence have been inspired to help, except for a corrupt few. These are gifts from the holy spirit of God.
That verse of John’s goes on to say, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” It doesn’t matter to God if you have faith in God. God has offered faith in you. There is a story, you’ve probably heard:
A fellow was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help.
Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you.” The stranded fellow shouted back, “No, it’s OK, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.” So the rowboat went on.
Then a motorboat came by. “The fellow in the motorboat shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.” To this the stranded man said, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.” So the motorboat went on.
Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.” To this the stranded man again replied, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.” So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.
Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you, but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. I don’t understand why!”
To this God replied, “I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”
We don’t get to dictate to God how God helps us. God chooses. Our responsibility is to live up to the faith God has in us. It is not God’s responsibility to live up to whatever genuine or misguided faith we put in God. This is humanity’s great folly. To think we can control God by our beliefs.
In part, I blame Santa Clause. As a small child, I was taught to believe in Santa. He knew when I was sleeping. He knew when I was awake. He knew when I was bad or good so I should have been good for goodness’ sake.
Then one day, Santa was a fiction. I was encouraged to replace my faith in Santa with a new faith in God. But God is not Santa. That fantasy that was encouraged by all the adults around me was a lie. Was God then a fantasy I would one day outgrow? Was God a cultural fiction? Eventually, I would have to come to answer that question. This is a cautionary tale of supporting a fiction. I also blame this supported fiction as the opening mental corruption of half of our American population being unable to differentiate fact from fiction, reality from fantasy, and loyalty to a human being over loyalty to God. And too many of us believe in our entitlement without responsibility to our society and loyalty to our values and those who died to protect them.
But I diverge.
Just be responsible. Protect one another. Celebrate God’s gifts especially in the midst of this extremely dangerous time. Give up some freedom now so that we may live in greater freedom tomorrow. Be at peace. Thanks be to God.
Hello everybody. Tom Ziegert here. Welcome to the fifth episode in the third season of my podcast, Theology 21st Century offering the religious outsider alternatives and practical understandings of God’s relationship with us. As with each week’s topic, I offer the apology that in this format, this subject can not be exhaustive. Your experiences and thoughts will be a welcome addition to the discussion. Please post them as comments on my blog site, searching-for-god.com, and I will get back to you. Let’s begin.
Reverend Lynn Munson-Francis is the senior pastor at Laguna Beach United Methodist Church. Lynn is both a colleague and has been a supportive friend for over 20 years. Pastor Lynn received her BS in psychology from Vanguard University and a Master of Divinity degree from the Claremont School of Theology. Lynn is also a licensed ministry coach. Lynn’s ministry work has focused on revitalization ministries and new ministries. She has served on the Board of Congregational Development and currently serves on her district’s Committee on Ordained Ministry. The mother of three adult children, Pastor Lynn is reflected, “I always feel drawn to what God is doing next in his church in our world. I am passionate about Jesus’s great commission to make disciples by sharing. God’s love, acceptance, and our witness to Jesus Christ.”
Today, Lynn and I will talk about a subject we’re mutually passionate about, the Kingdom of God. Welcome Lynn. I’m grateful to be able to share this program with you today.
Hi Tom. I am so grateful that you asked me to be here with you today, and I love the topic that we’re talking about. As you said, the kingdom of God.
I know we’re both very passionate about it. So why don’t we start? What drove you to this passion of the kingdom of God?
To me, a lot of important aspects of our Christian lives sort of collide in this idea of the kingdom of God. I’m passionate about discipleship and about sanctification and growing spiritually, that we all are really called to be mature Christians in the world. That’s as we mature in Christ and as God sanctifies us, I think we’re more useful tools as God’s hands and feet in the world. And I think it’s through that process of sanctification and our growth in our knowledge and love of God. One of the outcomes of that is that we bring the kingdom of God into the world. And God’s kingdom is where God’s ultimate purpose and joy in the world is lived out. And we get to share in that kingdom as well as others who don’t yet know God; and we get to share in the blessings of God’s kingdom on earth.
You like to use the kingdom of God instead of Kingdom of Heaven. Is there any particular reason behind that for you?
Yeah, there is. I know they’re sort of interchangeable in scripture and yet in the beatitudes, some translations have Jesus in one moment saying the kingdom of heaven and in the next moment, the kingdom of God. So it sounds like Jesus is making a distinction between the kingdom of heaven, kingdom of God. And I have to say, I haven’t looked really deeply and studied the difference, particularly in the beatitudes. But for me theologically, it’s an important distinction. I think when we think of the Kingdom of Heaven, we think of a place — we think of a place that’s an eternity. We think of a future place and it’s somewhere we go — somewhere we go to. And the kingdom of God, to me, is something that has to do with our relationships that in God’s kingdom, we have the relationship we’re meant to have with God.
And in the kingdom of God, we are having relationships with one another that reflect who we are as people created in God’s image. And so as we live into the Kingdom of God, as we live out the Kingdom of God, and bring the kingdom of God on earth as the Lord’s prayer says, “as it is in heaven,” as we, as we do that, we’re living out relationships that reflect the fruit of the spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. And so if all of our relationships were characterized by those qualities, we’re living out God’s image in the world. Imagine the goodness that we would all live in every day.
I think, for me, I don’t know when it was my first recognition of this special nature of the Kingdom of God. I think it is from the Prayer that Jesus Taught Us. I wondered what the meaning was of “on earth as it is in heaven.” And then when we look into the New Testament and particularly the gospel of Matthew, the amount of discussion about the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven is immense, It is in all the little parables that wind up throughout Matthew. Whether it’s the story of the 10 bridesmaids or whether it’s the sermon on the Mount that tells the blessings or beatitudes that come to us it just seems really important. And it is. I think that’s where my passion begins to develop: In that importance. I don’t think that pastors or preachers or churches put enough emphasis on what it means to become part of the Kingdom of God on earth.
I have an unproven premise because it’s not even really a full theory. When I have read the story of the 10 bridesmaids and at the end of it, when the groom doesn’t recognize the bridesmaids the subtext overrides the real point of the reading for me. And that is that if the bridegroom is Jesus and the party or the house is Heaven, and the five bridesmaids show up and Jesus doesn’t recognize them why is that? Can it be possible for us to not be invited into the party, so to speak because we have become something that is no longer recognizable by God? That we can change ourselves? That would suggest that we can alter our character sufficiently so that it no longer becomes that which God created, but that which we created. And so we’ve corrupted something God created badly. And that’s just sticking that in there. I mean, it just builds this whole concept of what it means to participate in the Kingdom of God and then move into the Kingdom of Heaven as we pass through the veil between this life and the next. Do you have a response to that?
It’s curious to me the way you set out, because as you were speaking, you said, Kingdom of God is this place sort of here and now or can be. And then when you move through the veil, you move into the Kingdom of heaven. So the God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. So that’s, I guess the reference you’re making.
And that is actually what I think. It’s uncompleted unproven. And like you said, there’s no research behind it. I just want to look more into it and see if I can find something that supports the idea that the Kingdom of God is on Earth and the Kingdom of Heaven is where we transmigrate to.
I think it’s interesting, you know, the question: Can we become something that God no longer recognizes, or can we become something in which the image of God is no longer recognizable? I think, it’s kind of what you’re asking. And several weeks ago I preached on Matthew 22, where there’s, as you said, a lot in Matthew where Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God. And he’s talking about the Kingdom of God is like this or the Kingdom of God is like that. And one of the stories he tells is that the kingdom of God is like this: A King throws a wedding banquet for his son. You remember the story, and you know, all the guests are invited, and the servants go out into the town. And basically to all the important people in town and say, “it’s time for the wedding come.”
And they’re all too busy, you know, they make excuses like I have to work; or, “I’ve got to take a shower.” I mean, I don’t, who knows what they were doing? But they were saying, “Oh, I can’t come. I’m too busy for the King.” So the King essentially gets mad and says to the servants, we’ll invite anyone you can find. And then the way that story ends; there’s a lot of dimensions to that parable. The way that parallel ends is that when the people show up, they’re all given wedding robes and they come in to celebrate. And as the King, the father, makes the rounds — like we would go from table to table if we’re the host at a wedding. As he makes the rounds, he sees this one person who doesn’t have their wedding robe on. And so he tells the servants to bind him up and throw him out where there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth.
And so the thought is that this second group of people that aren’t too busy for God, that are glad to come, they’re the Christian Church; they’re the followers of Christ. And yet one follower of Christ doesn’t have his wedding robe on and he gets thrown out. And in this parable, if the King symbolizes God, then God’s pretty mean because God finds somebody who’s not dressed right and throws him out. Well, that doesn’t sound like the loving God that we know in Scripture. So then who is that person that God? In your words, from the other parable, that God doesn’t recognize him anymore as a guest in the Kingdom of Heaven. My feeling about the interpretation of that Matthew 22 text is that person symbolizes our old self. Paul talks about the new self and the old self. And Paul talks about how the old self is dying away.
The new self is coming to life as a new creation. It’s my theory that the one that doesn’t have the wedding gown symbolizes our old self and our old self gets thrown out. But our new self, the more we live into the new life in Christ, that’s us coming into that wedding banquet to celebrate Christ’s coming and to celebrate Christ coming by putting on the wedding robe — which is putting on the new life in Christ. So I think it’s that same idea as being sanctified and the more we put on the wedding robe, and the more we put on sanctification, the more we bring about God’s kingdom.
Yes. There are semantics that kind of like freak me out with that, like throwing out the old self, because my whole thing about the way that we change and become not what God created is when we try and throw away things we hate about ourselves. It’s like in Walter Winks books when it talks about how a person who hates the log in themself and sees the splinter off that log in someone else. Then they become the “other” and worthy of hate. It’s this idea of us wanting to rip out some part of our self, that results in, or has a by-product of that self-hatred, that is violence. But in the context that you’re using, the transformation that occurs in us as we decide to celebrate our newness in Christ no-one can necessarily take that kind of idea about tearing apart of themselves away.
Well, I appreciate you bringing that up because, one, I don’t think any analogy is perfect. I think we never want to be hating ourselves because we are God’s people. We are God’s. Every human was created in God’s image. Every human is a child of God. And so I think there’s danger if we try to take that analogy of the one person being thrown out. I think there’s danger in taking the idea of that one person or that old self being thrown out. And if we try to extrapolate and include other things in that image, I think it’s that Jesus tells a story in that time and place for a purpose. But I don’t think we can stretch it too far to be this overarching principle that all the old stuff in us or the less than sanctified, less than perfect parts of need to be thrown out. Because I think what God does is receive us in grace and mercy exactly how we are. But it’s the nudging of the Holy spirit that brings about new behaviors, even in spite of the parts of ourselves that I guess would say are part of that old self.
Yeah. We’re getting into the deep stuff now. I think the Kingdom of God reflections are about the depth of who we are. I was listening to James Early talk about the Kingdom of Heaven in his podcast. “The Bible Speaks to You”. There he spoke about the steps to finding the kingdom and the gifts that offers to those who stay and live there. I recommend that our listeners tune in and allow his life affirming and encouraging understanding of the Bible to strengthen them. It helped me recognize that I’ve always thought mostly about our role as building the kingdom more than finding it. But of course, if we build it, others will be able to find it. And then they become builders too. Any thoughts about how that plays out in, in the way that you understand it?
What’s so interesting is the building language. And you say, if we build it, others will come. I think of “A Field of Dreams”, the movie, “if you build it, they will come.” And I think that is such a great analogy to how God brings about the kingdom. Those of us that have experienced the love of God and the life-changing grace and mercy of God, we are the ones that bring about the kingdom on Earth. Jesus uses us, our hands and feet to bring about the kingdom of God on Earth. And then other people, who don’t yet know God’s love and mercy and grace, get to benefit from that. And I think it’s the witness of the glory of the Kingdom of God on Earth that is like the analogy we see in scripture, the shining city on a hill. I think the Kingdom of God needs to be that shining city on a hill. And when people see it, they go, “Oh, I want to go there. I want to be there. I want to be part of that.” And so I think the kingdom of God becomes a witness to God’s love and amazing grace and his mercy
Exactly. Just so. We are invited to let our light shine before others so that they see our good works and give glory to our father in heaven. In that fifth chapter of Matthew there’s also the side where if people do see it, then it becomes like a mustard seed, or like flour leavened with yeast, or like a hidden treasure worth everything. It’s a place of attraction rather than promotion. We don’t have to go out and bang on people’s doors, but it’s our life itself. That becomes something that I want to be able to have — that hope. I want to be able to feel God in my life, even while I’m mourning and grieving, or when I have lost a job, or when I find myself in a life threatening illness, or when all the different things that happen in our life need hope. It’s what we can look forward to, the gifts of the kingdom that James talked about. And like you’re talking about, there are these gifts that are results of living in the kingdom of God. And it’s not a place we can just find and sit down in. It’s a place we find and then become another builder until it does become that shining city on a hill,
Yeah. I like what you say about our witness being a witness of attraction. It’s funny, my husband, John and I, a couple of years ago, took a trip to see his mom in Arizona. And we did a variety of errands for her and just some tooling around in a very small town called Buckeye. They were building these brand new condos. We just kept driving by, driving by, and they were just a kind of a new style, something we hadn’t seen quite the same way before. We finally stopped in because they were so beautiful, and they were interesting, and they caught our attention. They attracted us right? And so I think it’s that same idea with the kingdom of God. When people see people in relationships with one another where they don’t hold grudges, where people are a community of folks that relate to one another without gossiping behind each other’s backs…
when you’ve got a community of folks who only want to be about the best in each other, and that it’s not fake, it’s nota place where you hide your sins and you put on your best face. Everyone accepts everyone — warts and all. And it’s the Kingdom of God. It truly is free grace and merciful living. And it’s being all about Micah 6.8 — justice and humility. And when people see relationships like that, I think they’ll say, “Wow, I want that.” And, “How does that happen? Because that doesn’t happen in my family,” or “It doesn’t happen in my world, my group of friends or where I work, but these people, they live differently.” I think that’s the kingdom of God.
I do too. In my experience, in my little corner of the kingdom of God, where I think I live, it’s here that I have hope. I always have hope. I have a lot of times of joy, and a lot of times I understand my purpose, and times of adversity. This hope remains strong because there’s always a gift from God in the offering. Every time I have suffered, there has been the other end of that, the other side of that, where I have also found renewal such that out of lemons come lemonade, from poop comes fertilizer. There’s something about finding our path, coming to accept who we are, and trying to become that, which we can become. That is part of this living in the Kingdom of God. It’s a place we find with intent. I think that we have to seek it in many ways.
Otherwise we don’t see it when it happens. There is a story of this woman that was waiting for a bus in Beverly Hills, in Los Angeles. She had to go to an appointment, and it was growing late. She knew this because of the bus stops and how long it took a bus to get to the place that she was already late. And she was frustrated and in her own head. She wasn’t really paying attention to anything, except there wasn’t a bus coming. Finally she hears a horn blaring. In front of her is a person she knows driving her Rolls Royce, offering her a ride to her destination. She knows where she wants to go, but she’s just not able to see what’s in front of her because she’s wrapped up in the other stuff. In many ways I think life can be like that. We can get wrapped up in the minutia. We can get wrapped up in our frustrations, in our baggage, in holding onto grudges, or gossip, we can hold onto all kinds of stuff. But when we begin to get through that clutter, then we begin to find the Rolls Royce, so to speak. We begin to find that there is a much better, a much more comfortable, much more joyous way to journey this life. And for me, that’s been the importance of finding my way into my little corner of the kingdom, I think
A woman in my church yesterday, was telling me a story. She was talking about the pandemic right now. For so many of us, there’s so much pain and sadness and grief in the pandemic. Most of us know someone who’s lost a loved one. Just today I learned a colleague has lost two loved ones to the Corona Virus. This woman at church yesterday, she’s on our AV team, which is why I saw her. We’re not gathering in person yet, but we’re doing some live streaming from our sanctuary. And she was telling me that the silver lining in the pandemic for her and her family is that they do a Zoom call for all of her extended family on a regular basis now, weekly. And she said, “I’m seeing my cousins now more than I ever have because of the pandemic.
“And I’m getting to know them in a way that I never did before because of the pandemic.” So what she was saying is that we could either, in any circumstance, probably look at either all the things that are painful and difficult, or we can look at where that silver lining is. We can look at where God’s grace and mercy enter in. And those are those moments where the light is shining. Those are the places where the kingdom of God is coming to the fore. And I really, I just appreciated her difference of perspective that although we have, such difficulty, we can look at the gift that is coming out of this. As horrible as the pandemic has been in many ways, I think one of the places the Kingdom of God shows up is in the midst of how people have, in general, gotten to appreciate their home life and their family closeness and their church life and their need for God in such a more profound way. Because, we don’t have all the other distractions.
Exactly. In a sense, I want to say, it takes practice to be able to make this work for us, this journey through the Kingdom of God. We begin to put our foot in, every now and then, and test it out. When we do, we find there are gifts that come our way, unexpected little things that we, probably more likely, we begin to recognize God’s work in the world, God’s creativity, and the gifts that are just there waiting for us to recognize them. And as that happens more and more, I think we begin to trust the journey until it becomes second nature for us to wait and see what’s on the other side of our times of adversity, to wait to hope, and to know that our hope will be realized in ways better than we even hoped for.
I can’t express enough how my life has excelled over time. There has been a lot of pain. There has been death. There has been grief. There has been illness. There have been jobs lost. There have been times of financial insecurity. And, I’ve always found myself coming out the other side. I have found long terms of time where I have absolutely known my purpose, which is an amazing thing to actually be given, that gift of knowing why I’m here and what I’m here to do. And I am good at what I’m doing. And then there’ve been times when I’ve lost that because I’ve done it. So now what? I’ve felt lost because I had accomplished what I wanted to accomplish. And it felt like I was working with God in making these things happen. And then it was done. Then there was this time of months where I was just faltering because I just didn’t know what to do next.
Then I would have to tell myself, “It’s alright, relax. It will come. This is just the in-between times.” That kind of acceptance of my journey came with a lot of work, a lot of resistance. Ultimately, it has been a journey that I found myself still progressing through. And it just feels like this is what God has meant for me. I wish that for everybody. Their journey will be way different than mine. They’ll discover it in different ways. They’ll build the kingdom in different ways. But when they get involved in this building, wow, how life becomes much more! Any last things on your mind before we conclude?
You know, I think you’re so right. I think the piece that comes with knowing your purpose is knowing the meaning of building the kingdom. I feel like it’s taken me a long time to grow into that understanding in such a complete way. I think of Paul — when he was in jail in Rome. He could have been executed any day. He spoke about his joy and the joy of the Lord being his strength. How do you do that when you know you could be executed any day? And one author was writing about it and said, and I can’t think of who it was now, but just said, “When you know that Jesus has conquered death itself then you don’t fear anymore. You just trust and you have joy in that fact.” So I think it goes to what you were saying, that it takes a lot of work to get to that place where we can rest in the knowledge that God has got us, because God has gotten us before, and God has gotten us before that, and before that, and before that. Then eventually you begin to figure out, “Oh, okay!”
So God’s got me. I’m going to be okay. And so I think that’s why Jesus says several times knock and the door shall be opened, seek and you shall find, ask and it will be given to you. And I think what we find, and the door, and what we’re given is the kingdom of God. This is our purpose in life — to bring about the kingdom and what grander purpose could we have? Because it ends up bringing life and joy and hope to other people.
I just want to say, amen! Thank you, Lynn for being with us today. It has been such a gift.
Thank you. You’re a gift in my life Tom. Thank you.
Thank you for listening in today. I hope you send me your thoughts on today’s topic through my blog site, http://www.searching-four-god.com. If you like these podcasts, you can leave a rating, a like, or a review there. If you’re listening on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcast, iHeart Radio, or Qvercast, you can subscribe, follow, and share my podcasts with friends, or enemies, depending on whether you like my podcast or not. Then they can come to you. My blog site will have supporting documentation, if not a transcript. If you’re interested, please check that site. Again, it is: http://www.searching-four-god.com. Look for next week’s podcast due out by Sunday, November 22nd. I offer my gratitude particularly to my guest, Reverend Lynn Munson-Francis and to those, and the instruments involved, in the making of my podcasts Rode microphones, Audacity, audio editor, Buzzsprout, WordPress Squadcast.fm, Premium Beat, and my gifted editor, Frank Barnes. May God continue to bless and keep you. Stay Safe.
I was listening to James Early talking about the Kingdom of Heaven in his podcast “The Bible Speaks to You.” There he spoke about the steps to finding the Kingdom and the gifts it offers to those who stay and live there. I recommend tuning in and allowing his life affirming and encouraging understanding of the Bible to strengthen you.
In Matthew 3.2, John the Baptist proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Most interpreters say that this phrase is about the belief in the end of times being upon them. However, I have inferred that the phrase here means that Jesus is coming. And soon Jesus arrives at the Jordan for John to baptize him.
In chapter 5 the Sermon on the Mount is described and the beatitudes or blessings of the Kingdom of God and Heaven. They are:
The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the poor in spirit.
Those who mourn will be comforted.
The meek will inherit the earth.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.
The merciful will receive mercy.
The pure in heart will see God.
The peacemakers will be called Children of God.
The kingdom of God will belong to those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
These blessings have always seemed to me to be about the building blocks of the Kingdom of God on earth. These people Jesus is talking about are not going about looking for the Kingdom of Heaven. No, they are building it. Once built they reap the benefits of being its denizens.
As builders of the Kingdom, Jesus goes on to say, “Your are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they see your good works, and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Mt. 5.14-16)
The Kingdom of heaven is like a small seed planted that grows like a mustard seed into a hearty tree that feeds many of God’s creatures. (31-32)
It grows like flower leavened with yeast. (33)
It’s a hidden treasure worth everything to the one who recognizes what it is. (44)
Some seek the kingdom. When they find it they will give up everything else to keep it. (45)
In chapter 13 there are lots of parables attempting to describe what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.
But first, Jesus offers this admonition (13.19-23) “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” This was the warning of the parable told in verses 13.3-9.
Bad seeds get planted among the good. Both will grow. Some wheat will be ruined by the weeds as they grow. But most of the wheat will thrive and be known as wheat in their maturity while weeds will be more evident in their maturity. (24-30)
The important take away from this Kingdom of God and of Heaven is this:
It is possible that finding and/or building the Kingdom of God in this life allows us easy transmigration to the Kingdom of Heaven in the life through the veil. Perhaps this is where the original idea from which Purgatory came. Purgatory could be an intermediary existence while the soul seeks Heaven without the experience of it in life.
If we are able to find and/or be a builder of the Kingdom of God in this life, then life becomes a joyous, satisfying experience even in the midst of grief, adversity, misfortune, and other challenges which wind up being opportunities and building blocks of the kingdom itself.
My experience of my little corner of the Kingdom of God is that here I have hope, times of joy and understanding my purpose. In times of adversity, this hope remains strong because there is always a gift from God in the offering.
This blog’s title is “I Am Who I Am,” a phrase attributed to God and Popeye. (Actually, Popeye said, “I am yam what I yam.”)
Hard to believe that my generation got important theology from a cartoon. But we did. And we learned an important, albeit subconscious, lesson: You can’t be anyone else than who you are. So make the most of what you were given. If someone else doesn’t like it, well, that’s none of your business.
In Genesis chapter 1 verses 26 and 27, the most usual translations from Hebrew and Greek into English say that God created humankind in his Image. I’ve always thought that men saying this was a little on the indulgent side of the human ego.
And there are plenty of Biblical citations that suggest that if this were the case, humans would not be able to look at our own reflections without spontaneously combusting. Moses couldn’t even look at God’s backside without his hair turning white and taking on a mad countenance.
So, I’ve come to think of humankind being created as a reflection of God. This may sound like I’m splitting hairs, but the use of reflection in contemporary society much better plays out the meaning of humankind in God’s plans.
Translations go on to say, “…and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” This part is also misleading. It’s more apparent as history of humanity and the earth evolves that the better translation would be, “…and let them have stewardship over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
If we are a reflection of God, then we are not a sighting of God in God’s wholeness but only a vision of a part of God. This allows me to consider myself and everyone else an element of a Truth of God’s. In this way, we can see something of God in everyone we come to know. In this way, I can be completely different from you, just as you are uniquely different from others. And, that difference is good, even if I don’t like it. And no person of faith can claim the inalienable right to judge that difference.
One of the Truths of God is proclaimed in Exodus 3.13-14, when Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God is who God is. Just so, I am who I am.
In my generations Saturday morning cartoons were a mainstay of entertainment for our early years. Popeye the Sailor Man was one of them. He has been regarded as an existential philosopher sailor as he came to the transformational realization that the only way through the life he led was to eat his vegetables and be himself.
Having confronted his nemesis, Bluto the Bully, and won the day, Popeye would make his claim, “I yam what I yam.” It was a claim to his authenticity. He was a model for children who would search for their authentic selves growing up amid a harsh time of expectations for conformity while the growing population was ever more desirous to express their uniqueness. The clarion call was to us children who would need the reminder that an authentic life would be the best way to overcome our adversity.
There’s this saying in Matthew 7.3, “Why do you see the splinter in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your neighbor’s eye.”
Walter Wink, in his book, Engaging the Powers, says that violence is a byproduct of humans hating something about themselves – their log. When they perceive even a hint of that particular hated trait in another – that person’s splinter – that person is then hated or assigned the negative classification of “other.” As the other that person can be violated because he or she is no longer of equal value.
Understanding this human failing is important. It becomes vital that we teach our children and friends and learn for ourselves, to accept ourselves for who God made us to be. Even if people around us do not accept our differences or uniqueness. It is critical that we should not want to destroy parts of ourselves lest we harm an essential part of who we are meant to be and take it out on others, as well.
In Matthew 25 is told the story of the 10 bridesmaids. Five bridesmaids go off to get oil to keep their lamps alight. While they are gone, the bridegroom arrives and the five that had enough oil go into the party with him. Later the absent five arrive and attempt to go into the house and join the party. Unfortunately, the bridegroom doesn’t recognize them and won’t let them in. It’s very sad. And while this isn’t the point of the story it is implied that it is possible for Jesus, and by extension God, to not recognize some people who were meant to join the party (party being an analogy for Heaven) or otherwise received into God’s presence.
How could such a thing happen?
I refer you back to Genesis 1.6 where God created you as a reflection of a Truth of God. What if that was the part you hated so much you destroyed that part of you, or hid it so deep so that it died or festered and became an illness? If you no longer are who God made you with all the pieces intact, then how will God recognize you? You have become something that God did not create, but someone that you and all those who taught you to hate that part of you created. Do you see where I’m going with this? Hold onto your integrity, the real you. My opinion of you is of far less consequence to you than whether or not God can recognize you as the unique reflection of God’s Truth.
Regarding the second point about humankind’s purpose to have stewardship not dominion over God’s creation: Time, Climate Change, deforestation, the annihilation of thousands upon thousands of species of animals, mammals, fish, birds and insects, including the common bee, the capture and ingestion of animals that should be left alone, toxification of our air and waterways, all authenticate the real meaning of God’s intended role for us as stewards. Because we are lousy at dominion!
What I’m saying is that God wants you to be true to yourself and that unique person God wants you to be. Remember: There’s a fine line between unique and freaking weird though. And God wants you to expand your worldview by trusting that while someone might represent your antithesis, he or she is still justified and just might present a way for you to grow into who God hopes you will become, still uniquely God’s creation, just more so.
It’s particularly troubling at how easily a government can condemn millions of minks because they are vulnerable to a strain of COVID-19 and can threaten humans if not segregated. I understand that all of our leaders are hard pressed to care for their human population and this new complication makes their jobs harder. Still, sometimes the hard choices we have to make are part of the evolutionary process. We learn how to successfully face today’s challenges so we can better deal with tomorrow’s. Human beings might just need to learn that we are not the most important species on Earth. We are the ones who have the ability to create. We need to accept our mandate by God to be stewards of the world we inhabit. As creatures with a creative mind and opposing digits we were made to learn how to live harmoniously with God’s creation and not as abusers of them.
Finally, I have this to say to my colleagues who are appalled at the liberties I’ve taken with re-translating Hebrew and Greek text.
First, I have come to accept that the Bible should not stand in strict adherence to standards that we corrupted in the first place.
Second, I accept the philosophical teachings of Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher, the “Father of Modern Liberal Theology” and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, considered one of the fundamental figures of modern Western philosophy, who both have offered their theories that God reveals more through history.
Last, if God is alive then God is not stagnant and our understanding of God’s purposes and plans for us evolve. So, the same understanding of God’s relationship with us does not apply without progressing for thousands of years, as more becomes clear through history, experience, tradition, reason, and scripture.
Religion has shown its biases for exclusion, hypocrisy, self-indulgence, abuse of the most vulnerable, fear mongering and the making of god into that which benefits the religion or preacher. That said, there is a place for encouraging, life-affirming, inclusive, nurturing, and hospitable communities of faith where people can grow in faith, well-being, mindfulness, grace and acceptance of one another through their evolving relationship with God through learned and caring leadership.
Let us forego the expensive buildings of a foregone era for open arenas where people can commune and interact with one another and God and apply their tithes to God in ways that glorify God through care for God’s creation.
Peace be with you all.
As with every week’s topic I offer the apology that in this format the subject cannot be exhaustive. Your experiences and thoughts will be a welcome addition to the discussion. Please post them as comments and I’ll get back to you.
In this episode, I’ll discuss how, why, and what it means that the Book of Revelation is about something that has already happened. That something is the end of the world as it was known.
Week after week of confronting and ingesting scripture for Sunday sermons led to minute steps whereby, I began to put together several different theses that the scriptures divulged. One of these theses was that when Jesus of Nazareth died that day on a cross the old contract God had with human beings was repealed and a new contract begun. Blood was the ink upon which the contracts were signed.
The temple building with its altar of sacrifice was not just the symbol of Judaism but the very heart of Jewish life, worship and economy. Its destruction in 70ce was the end of a religion. No longer could Jews ritually repent or purify themselves. No longer were their priests to perform those rituals. Once the contract was finished there was no longer an agreement by God to be the god of the Jews, to accept their sacrifices, their prayers or grant them favor.
In the Gospel of John, chapter 19, verses 28-30, it says,
“After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst!’ Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. 30 So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”
All along, we thought Jesus was speaking about his mortal life, or about his purpose on Earth. Little have we suspected that part of Jesus’s purpose was to be the instrument by which the old contract with the Jewish people was finished; but Jesus was to be the vessel thru which the new contract would be built. And, although God ended the old contract, once and for all time, with the destruction of the Temple building, God offered a new Temple of sacrifice, repentance, and purification, as well as forgiveness, favor, and justification, so that the new contract could be forged, not only with the Jews, but with all human kind, in Jesus the Christ.
Jesus was unrecognizable as the promised Messiah to the Jews. The Rapture or Armageddon, or end of the world, though highly anticipated, came and went unobserved…
The touted Kingdom of God snuck into existence without participation. And most sadly, the destruction and resurrection of the Temple of God necessary for Judaism and the Faithful has gone completely unnoticed.
Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (Jn. 2.19)
This pericope, or this line, in the gospel of John has Jesus of Nazareth making known that he is the Temple of the God of Abraham. Upon his physical death he will be rebuilt in physical form in three days. Jesus proclaims that he is the new Temple rebuilt from the blood and ash of the old temple, and he is the end of the covenant between God and the Hebrew sons and daughters of Isaac, son of Abraham. The covenant is built on the son of God.
What was once a place is now a person. No longer needed is the altar of sacrifice. Jesus has been the final sacrifice of atonement and purification. It is a sadly absent commentary that what was stored in a building is now embodied in the Son of God, crucified, and resurrected. Jesus is the Temple. The religion is changed. There is a new world and a new way of atonement, forgiveness, and righteousness.
In the Gospel of Matthew, it says: “Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.” (Mt. 27.50-52) This was the first crow of the cock that was a 35 year or so rewriting of the new covenant.
Around and about 33ce the beginning of the end of time began. In 70ce the cock gave up its last crow and the new time began. What happens to a world where God changes the rules? Where, perhaps God changes? I think a new world begins with new rules and a new way of the creatures of the world engaging that god.
On or around 33ce, Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Man, and the Living God of Abraham, was offered by the Chief Priest and Sadducees as a human sacrifice to the Roman Empire and its god, Juno. One of the great admonitions by the God of Abraham to the people of Israel was that there would be animal sacrifices but never a human sacrifice. By the blood of Jesus, sacrificed thru the intercession of Caiaphas, the Chief Priest, and the Sadducees, to Pontius Pilate, the Governor of Palestine, the Covenant with the God of Abraham was dissolved. The dissolution of the Covenant was displayed by the tearing of the curtain of the Temple, the shaking of the earth, the darkening of the sky and the opening of the tombs. (I don’t know about you, but what more evidence does a person need to understand that things have changed?)
Oh, maybe this: “From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.” (Mt. 27.45)
The covenant began by God with Abraham by the blood of the circumcision of men, the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, only to make an animal sacrifice, and the natural affinity toward hospitality. It ended by the blood of Jesus the Christ, son of man and God.
This is what I think: God formed a contract with the Hebrew people. The terms of the contract were specific. Whether it was the Israelite lack of adhering to Jubilee Justice, the lack of faithfulness of the kings of Israel and Judea, or that God decided to move beyond a small sampling of humanity to all of humanity, it was time for a new contract.
Conveniently, the leaders of the Jewish religion violated the terms of the contract when they colluded with the Romans to sacrifice Jesus of Nazareth for their benefit.
Jesus’s death was the end of the Old Covenant by the spilling of his blood. It was also the signing by Jesus’s blood of a New Covenant between God and all humanity.
The terms of the agreement changed. God changed. No longer would God be an eminent, jealous, vengeful, genocidal god in dealing with human beings. God would now be understanding, loving, forgiving, merciful and imminent in the lives of humanity.
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May God continue to bless and keep you. Stay safe.