Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Parsing John 6: King? Food? They don't get it.

 Jesus feeds the five thousand and then goes off to be alone when some of the crowd, all excited about the wonder of getting free food, wants to take him by force to make him the “king” Messiah that they anticipate.  

His disciples take a ship to go to Capernaum and He joins them later by walking on the water.  

Those he fed discover his departure and follow him to Capernaum, looking for Him.  And then there is this conversation:

The Crowd of Followers (TCOF): When did you come here?  (We can’t figure out how you got here.)

Jesus: You have not followed me here because of the miracles you saw me do that helped others.  You are here because you were hungry yesterday and, to your surprise, I gave you enough bread to eat that you were not hungry anymore.  But that should not be the reason why you are here.  Your motive should not be the fact that you received temporary solution to an ongoing, physical need; that I gave you food.  Your motive for being here should be a hunger for that which gives light and life to the soul sufficient to qualify you for life with God.  The Son of Man (I) can give that to you.

TCOF:  So, what do we need to do to have life with God and do his work?

Jesus:  If you wish to live a godly life, one that involves doing His work, you must believe the one He sent.

TCOF: Okay.  You're saying that's you, right?  Show us a sign so that we may believe.  Show us what you do.   (Ironic…they recently saw a him heal the sick numerous times, see John 6:2.  It seems they are mostly interested in another show.  Miracles for personal entertainment?  Miracles for generating enthusiasm?  They seem to have missed the whole purpose of those healing miracles—compassionate healing for others).  How about manna? “Bread from Heaven”. Moses did that for our ancestors.  That would be a good sign. (Back to the notion of “feed us food” again).

Jesus: Moses did not give you “bread from heaven”.  Manna was a miracle, but it was to meet a physical, earthly need. It was a physical, earthly substance for a physical, earthly need.  Heavenly bread fills a spiritual, heavenly need and comes from God.  Heavenly bread is the person who comes from heaven and gives life to the world.

TCOF: Great!  Give us some of this bread!

Jesus:  I am that bread.  A person who comes to me will never be spiritually hungry.  A person who believes me and trusts what I have said will never be spiritually thirsty.    You have seen me, but you do not believe me.  You will need to believe first.  Every good blessing that God promises, He will give to me.  And if you come to me, I will share it abundantly.  You see, I came from heaven, not with my own agenda, but with the full intent to do what God wants.  And do you know what He wants?  He wants everyone who comes to me, and understands and embraces this new way of life of loving God and fellowmen, to be raised up to everlasting life.  With me that is possible.  I will do that.

TCOF:  Good grief.  The gall of calling himself “the bread that came down from heaven”.  Everyone knows he’s Joseph and Mary’s son.  “Bread from heaven”, indeed!

Jesus: Don’t murmur.  The fact is this:  The only way to come to me is for you to do what the Father wants.  What does he want?  He wants you to accept me for who I really am: the Son.  The Father testifies that that is who I am.  And if you understand and accept that testimony from the Father, and you live a life committed to doing what the Father hopes and wants you to do, then the result will be that I will raise you up in the resurrection of the just.  Every man, woman and child will have the opportunity to be taught this.  And those who learn this from the Father (recognize its truth from personal revelation) and live a life attempting to do the will of the Father are those who “come to me”.  And that believing—the kind that transforms your life—is what everlasting life is all about.  The fact is, I am the bread of life.  That’s different from the manna.  It’s also different from the bread you ate yesterday. Those were helpful, but they did not bring everlasting life.

At this point Jesus then launches into an analogy which refers to his atoning sacrifice, his crucifixion and the ordinance of communion/sacrament which is a renewing of our covenant to come to Him and which he will revisit in his teaching at the time of the Last Supper.  And it is way over the heads of his listeners.

TCOF:  This is just too weird.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Birthday Visit

Look who dropped by to wish L. a happy birthday (and bring him brownies).  We love these fine, young people.  Such courage and goodwill.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Goodman's Home: the site of the last supper and the first Communion/Sacrament

“And they said unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare [the passover meal]?
"And he said unto them, Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in. 
(I know he's not carrying a pitcher...but I really like the expression on this water-carrier's face.)
"And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? And he shall shew you a large upper room furnished; there make ready.”  
Luke 22: 9-12
What we know:
In this household, a man or manservant was not above doing service in the form of unconventional work or traditional women's work in order to maintain the well-being of the people living there. There is an indication here of a household that is more interested in working for the benefit of the group as a whole than it is in maintaining appearances or maintaining traditional hierarchical patterns that designated some tasks as "beneath one's dignity".
Jesus did not name the goodman (head of the household) of the house when he gave his disciples the information they needed to locate him.. It was a man that the disciples did not know by name, though likely Jesus did.
The goodman was a man who recognized Christ as “the Master” and was readily willing to welcome other of his disciples, whom he did not know personally, to use a room in his home for worship.
And it was in this house, where a goodman readily welcomed others to worship, and where household members were humbly willing to serve, regardless of the opinions of others or traditional views of who is supposed to do what, that Jesus, washing his disciples' feet,  again taught his most powerful lesson on servanthood and leadership.
He had taught it earlier: “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant.”  Matthew 23:11
They had not yet understood this fully. Peter's strong, initial objection when Jesus started to wash his feet indicates that he was still too aware of conventional ideas about leadership to fully accept the idea that true leaders engaged in activities that were considered “beneath them”.

And therefore, Jesus' words:
“If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”
There is a correlation, perhaps, between the master who washed his disciples feet, and the man who worked in the house where He did so and who carried the woman's water jug to the well and back. Both were undertaking humble service that was considered beneath them by those who embraced what followers of traditional rules of hierarchy expected of them.
And I find it telling that this household, where a man was not too proud to serve others by doing work that others would consider “beneath him”, and where unknown believers were welcomed, was the place where the first recorded ordinance of the Sacrament was performed. Those qualities of humility, service and welcome that seem to have been part of the culture of the household where the first breaking of bread in remembrance of Him occurred are what I think Jesus hopes and expects in the culture of those of us who are part of a any congregation that partakes of communion/sacrament in remembrance of Him.
The goodman and his servant created and maintained that culture in their sphere.   Do we?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Matthew 4: What I learned this time.

I see three erroneous assumptions being teased out in the devil's temptation of Christ.

a.  That meeting one's physical needs, including food, is of primary importance, ahead of doing that which may be the will of God, or our spiritual needs at any particular moment.

b. That one of God's primary purposes is to prevent us or others from having to suffer; that safety, health and well-being are not only things we can pray for, but also are things we should expect. from God if we are good.

c. That the praise of the world, or power in it, is so desirable, for whatever purpose, that we should have no compunction about indulging in ignoble activities, or embracing evil, in order to attain them. For certainly, we rationalize, think of all the good we could accomplish from such positions!

So, what do I learn this time around?

a) To think soberly about how often I let my appetites for food or other enjoyable aspects of life entice me to avoid spending time and effort doing something else the Lord would wish me to be doing at that time. Certainly supplying what my body needs is good stewardship, but focusing on satisfying cravings to the extent that it gets in the way of my being open and responsive to the will of God, or indulging in them to the extent that it causes me to physically be unable to work well with Him is unwise.

b) Certainly it is reasonable to want the charitable desires of our hearts, including safety from harm for ourselves and those we love, and to pray to God for those. But to expect it when I know about the suffering of the Son of God himself during his lifetime, seems foolish. I should be extremely grateful for those safe and healthy times in my life, certainly. But if maintaining my health and safety and that of those I love is my measure of navigating life successfully, I am misguided in my choice of measuring stick. Praying for health and safety is good. It is best when coupled by understanding that I must expect to be called upon to unselfishly navigate sometimes, with God, situations or periods of time when that is definitely not the case.

c.) Jesus lived in a world not unlike ours. He lived in a country governed by a dictatorship, where many local power brokers were not afraid to wheel, deal, trample and kill in order to maintain their positions, and where the result was frequent abuses of power, and injustice delivered to the poor and oppressed. No wonder many Jews hoped he would be the Messiah they hoped for. Just think what a relief it would be if a person of charity, honesty and vision were the one in power instead! 
 And so we likewise are tempted to “play the political game” or fudge a bit in regards to an annoying law, or galvanize the troops, in order to get ourselves or someone else into a position where we or they will have the power to do enact the good we want to happen in society.

What Jesus chose:
Prioritizing godliness over gratification. 
Appreciating health and safety but not making it a defining definition of a blessed life. 
Never compromising principles in order to secure anticipated opportunities to do good.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Empty Centers and the Fire of the Lord

Thoughtful presentation on why being able to say "I know it is true" is not that which truly fulfills our search for profound spiritual enlightenment and connection with God.

Thank you, Sister James. Thank you, Sister Columba.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

The Iron Rod may be more than you knew. Looking at Lehi’s experience with his dream and Nephi’s understanding of it.

  The Iron Rod may be more than we traditionally think it to be.

In chapter 15 of 1st Nephi, Nephi’s brothers, Laman and Lemuel, quiz him about the meaning of various elements of the dream that Lehi described to them.  “What meaneth the rod of iron which our father saw, that led to the tree?”

And Nephi answered that “it was the word of God; and whoso should hearken to the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations of the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.  Wherefore..give heed unto the word of the Lord; yea, …give heed unto the word of God and remember to keep his commandments always in all things.”

The use of the phrase “the word of God” is one that has its genesis outside of our particular religious faith.  It shows up in both the book of Hebrews and in the book of John.  It is traditionally used by many religious traditions to signify holy scripture. (Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Koran are all referred to by that title by their religious adherents.) 
It is also used to refer to the divine revelation sent through holy prophets as exemplified in the words of Jeremiah and Elisha in the Old Testament who were wont to proclaim “Hear ye the word of the Lord…” as they delivered messages to the people.

As latter-day saints, I think we tend to read these two definitions of “the word of the Lord” into Nephi’s dream: hold fast the teachings of the scriptures and the words of prophets—that is the iron rod, we think, that will “safely guide us through”.

But those are not the only definitions of “the word of God”.   That phrase is also used to refer to personal revelation, as in God’s personal message to Abraham in Genesis 15:1, “the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and they exceeding great reward.’”

And it is also used in an interesting way in the Book of Psalms; to describe the power of God, or
the means by which God creates all things and also effectuates his will.  (examples: Psalms 33, 107, 119, 147).

Some astute theologians also point out that it is exactly this last definition, “the means by which God effectuates his will”, that is behind the apostle John’s reference to Jesus as “the Word”.  For a very interesting treatment on that subject try this article:

So now, knowing that “the word of God” can refer to a number of different things, let’s look at Lehi’s journey to the Tree of Life, which represents “the Love of God”.

The story elements are as follows      
1)      Lehi follows a man in a white robe who bades him to follow him (divinely inspired messenger)
2)      As he does so he finds himself in a dark and dreary waste that he traverses for many hours
3)      He begins to pray to God for mercy (prayer which leads to…)
4)      He sees the large and spacious field and the tree.  (….personal revelation) 
5)      He goes forth and partakes of the fruit.

The process is one of following a divine messenger, praying for guidance and mercy, seeing the tree and walking to it.  Here we see elements of following divine messages from others, communicating personally with God which results in him being able to see clearly (revelation), and then making the effort to move forward towards what he sees (agency) and ultimately partake of it—make it a part of himself.

Later his wife and two of his sons also come to the tree, but their journey is different.  They are first aware of the tree when Lehi calls out to them, and they simply walk to where he is.  They use elements 1 and 5.  (Laman and Lemuel, on the other hand, are not interested in making the journey.)

Next there is large group of people who also are making the journey.  They start out with being able to see the tree as they start the journey, but soon discover that they must take advantage of the opportunity to catch “hold of the rod” as the “mists of darkness” swirl around them (not unlike the dark waste Lehi experienced).  There is a parallel here as both they and Lehi encounter darkness on the journey and need help knowing how to proceed.  It would make sense therefore, that the iron rod that they hold onto in order to continue the journey to the tree represents the same kinds of things that helped Lehi through the journey:  personal revelation and increased vision and understanding that comes from personal communication with God.

So one could make a case that the iron rod represents entering into communication with God and receiving personal revelation.  And since personal revelation is also a scriptural definition of “the word of God”, that should not be surprising.

Since, as I have noted above, there are multiple definitions of “the word of God” I am inclined to believe that there are also elements of those definitions of the meaning of iron rod which Lehi saw.  I believe that is a reasonable assumption, given the way God tends to use symbolism.

But this post is already long enough.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Parsing Hebrews 2 Our reconciliation with God through the suffering and death of Jesus

Paul says:

It has long been established (by words of angels) that for every transgression and disobedience you commit you will have to receive the decreed (logical, natural, divine) consequence.

There is no way around that except through the power of salvation offered by God.

He then quotes Psalm 8:4-6 to point out that mankind, who is lower than the angels, may be crowned by God with glory and honor and set over the works of His hands.  He sees this truth manifested in Jesus who, as a man, "lower than the angels"-mortal, was crowned with glory and honor so that he would be able to experience and overcome both physical death and the pain of spiritual death (the above named consequence) on behalf of each of us.

He says that the Father wishes to bring many of his children to a state of holiness (sanctification) and the way to do that was through making the captain of their salvation (Jesus) perfect through that suffering on their behalf, thus receiving, on their behalf, the decreed consequences, leaving us justified (all consequences received and experienced) in God's eyes, and open to holiness.

Both those who turn to Christ, seeking oneness of purpose with him and sanctification (holiness with no unpaid sins) made possible by Christ's gift to us and also Christ himself, who did make possible our sanctification, become one in this process.  He is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.  We become a package deal with him.

Paul quotes Psalm 18:2 and 22:22 to express what he envisions Jesus saying to us (a),
and what he says about the Father (b).
      a.  I will claim you as my family, and speak of that which is good about you, vouch for you, to the Father
      b. I put my trust in God, trusting Him in His salvation for all who have come unto to me and who have changed, are living repentance, have been born again, into my (Christ's ) family

We are mortal.  So was Jesus, who took on mortality that, through his death and the glory God gave him, he might destroy the post-death plans that the devil had for us.  (The devil counts on our eternal spiritual death--separation from God because of our sins.)  And so we do not have to fear death and the hellish bondage of separation from God, harrowed up by our sins.

Christ came to earth as a man so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest (the high priests in the temple had the responsibility for offering sacrifices as payment for sins)-- offering a sacrifice for sin that reconciles us to God instead of being eternally separated (spiritual death) from him.

And, says Paul, Jesus fully understands what it is like to be tempted to sin, and so he is fully able to help us as we struggle with temptation.  He understands.

And then chapter 3 is an exhortation to remain in that family of Christ, continuing in our repentance and in our confidence in him, and not hardening our hearts.