Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Back Door Introduction to the Bible

Looking for summer reading? My colleagues at Rhodes, John Kaltner and Steve McKenzie, have written a wonderful introduction to the Bible. It is light and funny, but gets across important information about how to read the Bible in context. Anyone who needs a crash course in the kind of study we've been doing in Sunday School these last few years will enjoy this book. 



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Matthew 16-18 – Just a Few Highlights

Chapter 16

16:7 – "It is because we have brought no bread." I love that! If I had been one of the disciples I would have been the one who said this. Hmm…Jesus is grumpy about something. It must be because we forgot to bring the food! If you remember the parable about the woman kneading yeast into three measures of flour from last week, then you can see here how pervasive the symbol of yeast as evil and corruption is. 

16:13-26 – As soon as the disciples name Jesus correctly — "the Messiah, the Son of the living God" — he begins to point to his own suffering and to make it clear that following him will mean joining that suffering. We need to remember that both in Jesus' time and in Matthew's the idea that you might "lose your life" for the gospel was taken very literally. In our time the question is different and, in some ways, just as difficult. For us the questions is not for what will we lose our lives, but for what will we live them? 

16:28 – They believed Jesus was returning very soon. The delay of the "parousia" (the return of Christ) was a central theme in much early Christian theology. 

Chapter 17

17:1-8 – The transfiguration. What was Peter thinking?! Did you notice that God told Peter to talk less and listen more? 

17:9-13 – Have you noticed how often questions about John the Baptist arise in this Gospel? Concerns about drawing in John's followers and affirming his importance must have been prominent in Matthew's community.

17:22 – Jesus is becoming more pointed about what is ahead. Earlier Peter rebuked Jesus for the claim that he must suffer. Now the disciples respond with "distress."

17:24-27 – This is a tricky question about taxes. Let's start with Jesus' time. Every Jewish man paid an annual tax to support the work of the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus seems to support this tax. In Matthew's time things are more complicated. When the revolution was crushed the Romans destroyed the Temple and reallocated the Temple tax to support a pagan temple in Rome. When Matthew reports that Jesus claimed "the children are free," what might  he have been saying about the new configuration of temple taxation?

Think of chapter 18 as the book of Numbers. It is the fourth book in Jesus' new Torah.

18:1-7 – Children. Verse 6 alone explains why I don't teach kids!

18:10 – The "little ones" are probably not children, but poor and vulnerable members of the community. In the same way medieval nobles sometimes referred to their peasants as "the small folk."

18:15-17 – This section discusses how to handle conflict within the community, but also maintains the high standards of purity that Jesus had earlier articulated.

18:21-25 – This pericope offers a parable about forgiveness that Christians like to ignore. Please also note that the basic metaphor for sin is debt. Just as debt binds us, so does sin. 

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Matthew 12-15 – some highlights

Sorry for this truncated (not to mention, late) post. I’ve been out of town for a conference in Houston most of the week. Here are a few highlights from chapters 12-15:

1. 12:15-21 draws on the prophet Isaiah, one of Matthew’s favorite sources for interpreting the life of Jesus, to explain why Jesus did not attract more followers.

2. 12:46-50 returns to the by-now-familiar theme of “family values.” Think about how counter-cultural early Christianity must have been.

3. Chapter 13 provides us with the third sermon in Jesus’ new Torah. It consists of a series of parables likening the Kingdom of Heaven to earthly things. When you put these together, what is the image of the Kingdom Jesus offers? Notice, by the way, that Matthew — as a pious Jew who refrains from naming God — prefers the term “Kingdom of Heaven” to “Kingdom of God.”

4. Chapter 14 recounts the death of John the Baptist. How is it like and unlike the death of Jesus? Notice that John’s disciples come to claim his body. That took courage. Compare the response of Jesus’ own disciples to his death.

5. In class I will tell you a fascinating and absolutely weird story about how 15:1-20 got interpreted during the medieval period. Verses 21-28 contain one of my favorite stories in the Gospels: a woman — a Gentile woman! — bests Jesus in an argument!

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Maunday Thursday Sermon

Several people have asked me for a copy of the Maundy Thursday sermon. It wasn’t recorded, and I didn’t have a manuscript for the sermon since we wanted to do a More than a Meal style service. Those sermons are carefully planned, but unscripted. 

I was asked on Sunday if I could re-preach it into a tape recorder, but I couldn’t figure out how to do that without a congregation. (I felt silly — and you know that silliness is just not in my nature!) I thought I might be able to write out some of it though. I didn’t make a manuscript in advance, but I thought maybe I could use the outline I had scratched out to conjure up some of the words.

Here’s my best effort. The result is wholly inadequate. A fixed literary approximation of an ephemeral oral event. My dogs have been listening to me try try out words for the better part of an hour! As you’ll see, the grammar is as horrible on the page as it was on delivery. Let sentence fragments abound! 



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Chapter 10 – Jesus’ Second Sermon

The book of Matthew likens Jesus to Moses in many ways, including having Jesus deliver five sermons that give law and define the shape and structure of the new community. These sermons become a new Torah (the five books of Moses) for a new covenant community. The sermon on the mount (Chapters 5-7) gives new law. Here in chapter ten, we find the second sermon, which focuses on the mission of the new community and some of its characteristics.

·         Look at verse 5. Note that Jesus instructs his disciples to “go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Now look at 28:16-20. What changed? Why?

·         Verse 7 gives the disciples two tasks. What are they? What does that tell you about the values of the early church? Do they match our values?

·         Verses 9-10: how are the disciples to provision themselves for the journey? 

·         Verses 11-15: how should they respond if their message is not welcomed? This is an interesting question about evangelism. We’re often tempted to change the message to make the gospel more palatable. We measure our success by the size of our membership. Jesus gives his disciples a different measure of success. Matthew consistently values faithfulness over popularity. 

·         What do verses 16 through 23 tell you about what Matthew’s community was experiencing? Notice that persecution comes from the synagogues, the government, and even from family members. In the second century there was a popular tale about a woman named Thecla who worked with the apostle Paul. When she decided not to marry and have children so that she could do the work of the gospel her own mother shouted her down in public and called for her execution. Christianity represented a deep threat to Roman values that even a mother would be willing to sacrifice her own daughter rather than let her follow the unconventional path Christianity offered. What does it mean to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves”?

·         Verses 26-31: First the reference to “nothing secret” may be in response to nascent Gnosticism (try saying that three times fast!), the movement that taught Jesus had passed on secret messages to his true disciples. Think about the idea that God provides for the sparrows. The comfort that image offers is different in Matthew’s context than it is in ours.

·         Verses 32-39: More trouble with Jesus’ family values! Compare this section with Luke 12:51-53 and 14:26-27. This is from Q.

·         Verses 40-42: These verses make Calvinists nervous. We have several options available to us. 1. We can ignore them. 2. We can twist them around until they cooperate with our theology. 3. We can change our theology. 4. We can get used to the idea that we disagree with parts of the Bible — indeed that parts of the Bible disagree with other parts and that we join in that argument. Hmm…I wonder what a bunch of contrarians will choose? 


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Maundy Thursday & Reading for April 15

Maundy Thursday

Many of you know that I regularly lead the Thursday evening More Than A Meal worship service. This week the Maundy Thursday service at 7:00 will follow the liturgy of the MTAM service. MTAM worship is contemplative and communal, weaving together song, silence, word, and congregational responses. As usual, I will share leadership of the service with MTAM congregation members and volunteers. I’ll offer a short meditation on Judas’s betrayal of Jesus. I hope you’ll join us for what promises to be a meaningful time of worship and reflection. 

Reading Assignment for April 15

Next Sunday is Easter, so we’ll meet in the T.K. Young room for bread rather than gathering as the contrarian group that we are. The next time we’ll gather is April 15. In class I announced that we would skip chapter 10 and jump right to 11. What was I thinking?! Chapter 10 is filled with good stuff: “Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves;” “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword;” “Children will rise against parents and have them put to death.” Good stuff! How could we skip all of that? So, ignore my announcement. Let’s read chapter 10! It’ll make the “glutton and a drunkard” stuff in chapter 11 even sweeter. 

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