25 June 2017

Lectionary Reflection—25 June 2017

Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? Absolutely not! If we’ve died to sin, how can we still live in it? Or don’t you know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we’ve been buried with him through baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life.

For if we’ve become united with him in the likeness of his death, we’ll certainly also be united in the likeness of his resurrection. We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (For someone who has died has been freed from sin.)

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we’ll also live with him. We know that since Christ has been raised from the dead, he’s never going to die again; death no longer has mastery over him. For the death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you too consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

While there is so many good things we could talk about in this passage (I mean, come on, resurrection!), I want to focus on verse 10, “For the death (Jesus) died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.” I’ll admit this verse can be trouble. Here are a few different translations of it:

Common English Bible: He died to sin once and for all with his death, but he lives for God with his life.

Contemporary English Version: When Christ died, he died for sin once and for all. But now he is alive, and he lives only for God.

English Standard Version: For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.

Good News Translation: And so, because he died, sin has no power over him; and now he lives his life in fellowship with God.

Lexham English Bible: For that death he died, he died to sin once and never again, but that life he lives, he lives to God.

New American Bible (Revised Edition): As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God.

New King James Version: For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.

New Revised Standard Version: The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.


Here’s the passage in Greek:2
ὃ γὰρ ἀπέθανεν, τῇ ἁμαρτίᾳ ἀπέθανεν ἐφάπαξ· ὃ δὲ ζῇ, ζῇ τῷ θεῷ.

Here’s the transliteration:3
ho - gar - apethanen - tē - hamartia - apethanen - ephapax - ho - de - zē - zē - tō - Theō.

Here’s the translation:4
that - for - he died - the - sin - he died - once for all (once; all at once) - that - moreover - he lives - he lives - the - God.

And here’s my poor rendering:
“For [the death] he died to (the) sin, he died once for all; moreover, [the life] which he lives, he lives to (the) God.”

The word in question is ἐφάπαξ (ephapax). It’s used only 5 times in the New Testament—Romans 6.10; Hebrews 7.27; 9.12; 10.10; and 1 Corinthians 15.6. As an adverb, ἐφάπαξ means “once” or “at once” (as in a total payment, “all at once”). So, you can see that any of the ways it’s been translated above is acceptable (except for the Good News Translation). But what’s Paul getting at? Is he saying that Jesus died “all at once” or “once for all”? And if it’s “once for all” does that mean for “all people” or for “all time”?

It seems that the only time “all at once” seems appropriate is in 1 Corinthians 15.6 were Paul is talking about Jesus appearing to over 500 people after his resurrection. In the other four passages, “once for all” seems the better translation.

In the three passages from Hebrews, the writer is contrasting Jesus’ death to the blood sacrifices made by the Old Covenant priests. Those sacrifices were made every year whereas Jesus only needed to die once. So, in those places ἐφάπαξ could easily mean “once for all” time, meaning his death doesn’t need to be repeated.5

But here in Romans 6, Paul isn’t talking about the sacrificial system nor the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection. He’s been talking about the universality of sin and grace, of death and life.

While his primary audience were the non-Jews (Gentiles) following Jesus in Rome (1.5-6, 13-14), this whole letter is a universal call to both Jews and non-Jews. In the first chapter, Paul stated that God’s righteousness and justice was being revealed to all people (1.15-19). He stated that creation itself reveals God’s “invisible qualities” to all people so that no one has an excuse (vv. 20ff).

In chapter 2, Paul shows that, just like everyone else, the Jews, too, were without an excuse (2.12ff), even though there was tremendous merit and blessing afforded to the Jews (3.1-4).

In chapter 3, Paul famously states that all people are “under the power of sin” (3.9-20) and “fall short of God’s glory” (v. 23). But all people are now treated as righteous because of the work of Christ (v. 24ff). God, then, is the god of all people (3.29ff).

In chapter 4, Paul shows that faith is universal because Abraham had trust in God before any laws were given to him.

In chapter 5, Paul shows that just as death ruled over all people, life now rules over all people. He goes on to say that all people have been made righteous by the faithfulness of Christ (5.1ff).

As we can see, the context of Paul’s arguments have been about “all people.” Therefore, I think his meaning of the word ἐφάπαξ in Romans 6.10 is that Christ died “once for all” people. As he wrote in the previous chapter:

Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.…So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5.18, 21; NLT6).



~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC


1. Scripture quotations marked (NET) are taken from the New English Translation. Copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.
2. There are different Greek texts available online. This is the Greek New Testament (USB5) from the academic-bible.com web site.
3. These quotes are from The Interlinear Bible at Biblehub.com.
4. Ibid.
5. “All at once” might work here as a contrast to the other sacrifices continuing annually. If those sacrifices were seen as payment toward some kind of debt, then Jesus’ death could be seen as paying the remainder of the debt “in full” or “all at once.” That is, there’s nothing left to pay; Jesus paid it all.
6. Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from The Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

18 June 2017

Lectionary Reflection—18 June 2017

Jesus traveled among all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, announcing the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness. Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The size of the harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers.
Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest.”

He called his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to throw them out and to heal every disease and every sickness. Here are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, who’s called Peter; and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee; and John his brother; Philip; and Bartholomew; Thomas; and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus; and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean; and Judas, who betrayed Jesus.

Jesus sent these twelve out and commanded them, “Don’t go among the Gentiles or into a Samaritan city. Go instead to the lost sheep, the people of Israel. As you go, make this announcement: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, and throw out demons. You received without having to pay. Therefore, give without demanding payment.

[Workers deserve to be fed, so don’t gather gold or silver or copper coins for your money belts to take on your trips. Don’t take a backpack for the road or two shirts or sandals or a walking stick. Whatever city or village you go into, find somebody in it who’s worthy and stay there until you go on your way. When you go into a house, say, ‘Peace!’ If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if the house isn’t worthy, take back your blessing. If anyone refuses to welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet as you leave that house or city. I assure you that it will be more bearable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on Judgment Day than it will be for that city.

“Look, I’m sending you as sheep among wolves. Therefore, be wise as snakes and innocent as doves. Watch out for people—because they’ll hand you over to councils and they’ll beat you in their synagogues. They’ll haul you in front of governors and even kings because of me so that you may give your testimony to them and to the Gentiles. Whenever they hand you over, don’t worry about how to speak or what you’ll say, because what you can say will be given to you at that moment. You aren’t doing the talking, but the Spirit of my Father is doing the talking through you. Brothers and sisters will hand each other over to be executed. A father will turn in his child. Children will defy their parents and have them executed. Everyone will hate you on account of my name. But whoever stands firm until the end will be saved. Whenever they harass you in one city, escape to the next, because I assure that you’ll not go through all the cities of Israel before the Human One comes.]

You know, the more I keep the Lectionary readings in context, the more convinced I am that there’s a very distinct meaning behind phrases like “Whoever stands firm until the end will be saved” and it’s not what we think. It reminds me of that scene in the movie Princess Bride where Inigo Montoya says to Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”



As I stated last month (and over and over again on this blog), the belief that Jesus would soon return to the disciples and the first century followers of The Way (known as eschatology) is dripping from the pages of the New Testament. In the passage before us, it’s no different. Let me explain.

While traveling throughout the region, Jesus is moved with compassion for the people he and the disciples encounter. To him, they’re like “sheep without a shepherd” (that’s how “Matthew” puts it, anyway) because they’re “troubled and helpless.” He then tells the disciples that “the harvest” is bigger than they can even imagine. Jesus encourages them to “pray for more workers.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but in my part of the world, this passage of scripture gets used quite a lot for evangelism. That is, it’s used to “encourage”  people (or maybe guilt them) to “witness” and “save souls” from “Hell”. We’re told that Jesus is talking to all of us throughout the ages in this passage. It’s as if Jesus has taking us up to a spaceship circling the planet and we’re all looking at the world from the observation deck. Well, it would have to be a time machine, too, since the way the passage is used, it’s directed to all people throughout history instead of just the slice of it the disciples and Jesus were living in. So, essentially, Jesus is the Doctor traveling in the TARDIS and we’re all his companions.

Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, indeed.

But that’s not what this passage tells us. That’s not what the context tells us.

Jesus is talking to the disciples (he uses the personal pronoun “you” over 25 times in the context of this passage). These are specific instructions for them, not us. “Then he said to his disciples…” That is, he was speaking directly to the twelve and told them that they should pray for more workers because the harvest was bigger than they imagined.

This is later confirmed when, after Matthew lists the twelve disciples, he writes, “Jesus sent these twelve out and commanded them…” And then the big long list of “you/your” in the rest of the passage—“…your money belts…your trips…you go on your way…” and so on.

And then, as if this wasn’t enough to establish that Jesus was talking to the disciples, there’s the eschatological passage that ties all of it together, Matthew 10.16ff. When the twelve were being persecuted by their own people and families, they would be led by the Spirit as to how to respond. And that’s just what we find. Throughout the book of Acts, we read that the twelve were beaten and betrayed, imprisoned and executed, and mostly because of their fellow Jews. And it’s in the midst of their persecution, Jesus told the twelve, “whoever stands firm until the end will be saved” (we’ll come right back to this). He then promises them that he’d return before they finished their missionary journeys “through all the cities of Israel.”

Notice that. Jesus sent the twelve to “the people of Israel” (10.6) but he said he’d return before they finished their mission (10.23). There’s no way this could be a reference to the “end of the world” popularized by so many today. Jesus is clearly tying his return to the mission of the twelve. The only reason (that I can see) for seeing this passage differently is a misunderstanding of New Testament eschatology, whether willfully or ignorantly (or if one’s wanting to make money from writing fiction and pretending it’s real).

So what event falls into this timeline? You guessed it!—the war between the Jews and the Romans that included the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and ended the Old Covenantal System.

But what, then, does “whoever stands firm until the end will be saved” mean? When seen in it’s context it clearly refers to being rescued from persecution at the hands of the Jews and Romans. What we see happening in the New Testament is that this persecution extended beyond the twelve to include many other Jews and Gentiles who trusted in Christ and became followers of The Way of Jesus (Saint Paul is a good example of this; see Acts 7.54-8.3; 9.1-2). The more I see this term or phrase—“saved” or “salvation” or “being saved”—in context, the more I’m convinced that it’s only meaning is being rescued from the persecution instigated by the Jews and carried out by the Romans. To “be saved” meant to be rescued from physical torture and death.

Are you saying we aren’t saved from our sins?

No.

What I’m saying is that the majority of the passages that talk about “being saved” do not refer to being saved from sin. Instead, they’re about the first century followers of The Way of Jesus being rescued from persecution at the hands of the Jews and the Romans. The problem is that when we in the Christian family see the word “saved” we automatically think it’s talking about being saved “from our sins”. And then, like in the passage above, we twist it out of the context to fit that meaning. We need to take a step back. We need to set aside the suitcase that the word “saved” has become and look at it within the context. If we do that, our understanding of Holy Scripture and the words it contains will only become deeper and richer.



~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,


Br. Jack+, LC

12 June 2017

A Recommended Web Site

I recently posted a link on social media to my short series on all people being God’s people (you can read the first article here). A few days ago, I was contacted by Johannes Steenbuch who runs the web site, Mercy Upon All. He said he’d read my series and asked about putting it up on his site. After checking out his site, I naturally said, “Yes!” So, if you’ve a mind to, check out my article on his site and then take the time to read through his excellent site. It’s filled with articles, sermons, church history, etc. that all point to “the restoration of all things” (Acts 3.21). I’ve been pouring over it when I get some time and, let me just say, it’s fantastic!

So head on over to Mercy Upon All and if you do, tell Johannes that I sent you.


~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,


Br. Jack+, LC

11 June 2017

So...Which is it?

Today marks the 6th anniversary of my ordination. And this weekend, my friends and family were gathered at Casowasco for our annual retreat. There were great sessions and meals and times of prayer. And Saturday, there were others who were noviced and ordained into the ministry. The community has been in my thoughts and prayers all week.

And with that in mind, I wanted to answer what seems to be a simple and often asked question—

“Are you a priest or a monk? Is it ‘Father’ Jack or ‘Brother’ Jack?”

The shorter answer is, “Yes.”

The longer answer is a little more complicated.

I’m a professed member of the Lindisfarne Community, an international, independent, ecumenical religious community with professed members in Indonesia, the UK, and the US. We’re a new (or “secular”) monastic community in the Anglo-Celtic tradition. A friend of the community described us as, “A religious order with apostolic succession.”

And that apostolic succession is the part that trips up some people. For a lot of people, bishops and priests are understood from the Roman Catholic tradition. But there are a different streams of Christianity that all claim apostolic succession, most notably are the Eastern Orthodox and Anglican traditions. For those who don’t understand apostolic succession it’s a lot like a family tree. It traces the current bishops back through history telling the story of their tradition. For the Lindisfarne Community, there are seventeen lines—roots of the family tree—that tie us to the ancient church. I won’t reproduce this ancient tree here, but if you’re interested, please check out the link on our community website. In addition to the information we have on our community website, we’re also included in the Holy Russian Orthodox Synod, the Old Catholic Succession, the Catholic-Patriarchate of Assyria, the the Apostolic Succession of the Metropolitan-Archbishops of Albania, the Greek Melkite Patriarchate of Antioch, the Armenian Catholicate-Patriarchate of Cilicia, the Patriarchate of Moscow, and many others.

It’s into this very wide stream of Christendom that I was ordained, first as a deacon and then as a priest. It’s very humbling and I’m the least of my sisters and brothers (1 Timothy 1:15, Ephesians 3:8).

So, yes, on the one hand, it’s Father Jack+.

But, on the other hand, I prefer Brother. Too often, when people discover one’s a priest, they often look to the priest for answers. They want the priest to “lead” them. I prefer to be seen, not as a leader or as someone in any kind of authority, but as a fellow traveler in The Way. I prefer us to travel together, learning and growing with each other. Listening to each other, offering love, prayer, and support.

So, come, let’s walk together as brothers and sisters in The Way. Let’s share our experiences with each other. Let’s share our sorrows and joys, our ups and downs. For it’s together that we truly grow. My hope and prayer is that our voices will help all of us discover The Voice that speaks in the Sacred Silence within all things.



~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,


Br. Jack+, LC

04 June 2017

Lectionary Reflection—04 June 2017

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

In the last days, God says,
I’ll pour out my Spirit on all people.
   Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
   Your young will see visions.
   Your elders will dream dreams.
   Even upon my servants, men and women,
       I’ll pour out my Spirit in those days,
       and they’ll prophesy.
I’ll cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
   and signs on the earth below,
       blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
The sun will be changed into darkness,
   and the moon will be changed into blood,
       before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Pentecost Sunday. Some say this is the day the “church” was born. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I will say, though, that it definitely marks the beginning of the end of one part of God’s plan to rescue creation and the beginning of the next part. And that’s an important distinction.

Let’s look again at what happened. While the apostles and others were waiting in the upper room (possibly 120 people; see Acts 1.15), a great sound like the “howling of a fierce wind” filled the room. As anyone living in my part of the country can tell you, that’s not a sound one wants to hear! But then, amidst the sound, a fire breaks out—but not upon the tapestries or the furniture. No. Each person was alighted with holy fire but wasn’t burned (cf. Exodus 3.1-3). And God’s Spirit filled them and, in different languages and dialects, they all began “declaring the mighty works of God”!

The “pious Jews from every nation” living in the area heard what was happening and followed the sound until they found its source. Some people were astonished by what they heard. Others said the people in the upper room were drunk.

But then, a burly, blue-colored fisherman stood up. With a new zeal he’d never experienced before he addressed the crowd. Peter tells the gathering throng that he and his companions aren’t drunk (it was much too early for that) but what the gathering was witnessing was actually the fulfillment of something the prophet Joel had said a long, long time ago. Notice again Peter’s words, “This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel…”

But what did God say through Joel?

God said the Spirit would be poured out on “all people” (we’ll come back to this).

When would this happen?

“In the last days…”

The “last days” of what?

For some people when they read the words “the last days,” they have visions of the most ghastly things—nuclear war, the so-called “rapture” of the church depicted by commercial airplanes falling from the sky because the pilot has been “taken,” the rise of a character known as the “anti-christ,” etc. And we’re told that all of this is still in our future (or currently unfolding). But, again, notice what Peter said. He said that the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit upon him and the others was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. In other words, the Spirit falling upon those in the upper room was the beginning of the “last days”! The countdown clock started.

But, again, the “last days” of what?

It surely can’t be the “last days” of the earth for the simple fact that the earth is still here. It can’t be the “last days” of the Church “age” (whatever that means) because the church (we’re taught) had just started at that precise moment. So what’s left?

The “last days” of the Old Covenant.

For a lot of people, though, the end of Old Covenant was the cross. However, the New Testament tells us that the Old Covenant was still in place (see Acts 20.6, 16; 24.11, 17; etc.). In fact, the passage from our Lectionary reading today points to the Old Covenant Feast Day of Pentecost (or Festival of Weeks). It was one of the three annual festivals of the Old Covenant (see Exodus 34.22; Numbers 28.26; Deuteronomy 16.9-10; 2 Chronicles 8.13; Tobit 2.1; 2 Maccabees 12.32). And the book of Hebrews is pretty explicit, too, especially chapter 8. After the writer describes the “main point” so far in the letter—that Jesus fulfills the true purpose of the Old Covenant (without some sort of supposed “third fulfillment” coming later on)—Jeremiah 31.31-34 is quoted showing that Yahweh promised a New Covenant. Hebrews 8 ends with, “When God speaks of a ‘new’ covenant, it means he’s made the first one obsolete. It’s now out of date and will soon disappear (verse 13; NLT*; adapted; emphasis added).

As I’ve stated elsewhere, the eschatology of the New Testament was about the end of the Old Covenant and came to fulfillment in 70 CE with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, just like Jesus predicted. The Spirit of God coming at Pentecost was the beginning of the “last days” of that system.

So, what does that have to do with now? A lot, actually.

The coming of the Spirit is important because it’s the witness of what God has done through Jesus of Nazareth from then until now. Jesus promised he would send the Spirit after his resurrection (see John 14.15ff).

The passage above also shows us the totality of God’s concern for humanity, i.e., who are God’s people. Notice again what God said through Joel:

I’ll pour out my Spirit on all people.
   Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
   Your young will see visions.
   Your elders will dream dreams.

“All people.” Not some people. Not only the “elect.” Not some specific ethnic group. Not some specific gender. Not some specific age group. Not some specific sexual orientation. Not some specific country or political party.

No.

All people.

Everyone.

As Paul points out in Romans, even people who don’t fit within our version of spirituality have God’s spirit within themleading them, teaching them, convicting them (Romans 2.14ff). So, on this day as we celebrate God’s Spirit being poured out upon “all people” may we stop and look deeply within the face of the Other and see—not a stranger or an enemy or even our neighbor—may we look and see our sister and brother.



~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC