...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness Sat, 19 Apr 2014 00:53:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer no The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer (The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer) 2006-2009 ...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness Why the Change in the Crowd? Fri, 18 Apr 2014 11:41:51 +0000 Palm Sunday Procession in the Streets of Jerusalem

A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest!” Matthew 21:8-9

22″What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!”

23″Why? Whatcrime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” Matthew 27:22-23

(Originally posted May, 2008)

What a difference a week makes! In one week, the people have gone from shouting “Hosanna” to shouting “Crucify him!” Unfortunately, in almost every sermon I have heard on the topic, the pastor gets it wrong. (Not picking on any particular pastor here, I have heard this preached badly six or seven times.) The Pastor assumes that the crowd in Matthew 21 is the same as the crowd in Matthew 27. But this is not the case.

In Matthew 19 we find Jesus way north of Jerusalem, in Galilee, his home turf so to speak. This was where Jesus had grown up, based his ministry, and performed most of his miracles. Like most others he starts to make his way south to celebrate the passover in Jerusalem.

First he heads down to Judea, to the far side of the Jordan (possibly on the route that skirted Samaria.) He crosses back over the Jordan into Jericho, which we find him leaving in Matthew 20. He arrives at Bethpage and Bethany which he makes as his headquarters for Passover week (Matthew 21 & 26). Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims, and Jesus did what many others did who lived outside the immediate area, they slept in the towns surrounding Jerusalem, and then came into Jerusalem for the events of each day.

So when Jesus has his triumphal entry that we read about in Matthew 21, he is surrounded by his supporters from the north. They had also camped outside the city and were also coming in for the day.

In Jerusalem awaits the political elite, the leaders of the temple, who are quite happy with their lifestyle and the degree of autonomy that they have under Roman rule. Someone who might upset their applecart would need to be dealt with quickly.

So what does Jesus do? He drives the money changers and sellers from the temple, directly challenging the leadership of the temple. Then he heads back to Bethany for the night.

He comes back in the next morning, curses the fig tree on the way in, and then spends the day telling parables that insult the chief priests and pharisees. It is then that they decide to arrest him (Matthew 21:45-46). Note that the passage says that they were afraid to arrest him because of the crowd.

Christ continues to clash with the teachers of the law and the pharisees in Mattew 22 & 23. Jesus continues to teach in Matthew 24 & 25 and heads back to Bethany where we find him again in Mattew 26.

Meanwhilethe chief priests and elders meet to plot against Jesus.

3Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of

the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, 4and they plotted to arrest Jesus in

some sly way and kill him. 5″But not during the Feast,” they said, “or there may

be a riot among the people.” Matthew 26: 3-5

Notice that the plot involved getting Jesus away from his followers. That is the ones who camped outside the city.

Jesus comes back into town to pray on the Mount of Olives at night. It is at the Garden of Gethsemene that he is arrested at night (Matthew 26:47). Jesus himself comments (verse 55) that he was in the temple all day, why didn’t they arrest him then? Why, because his supporters were all in the temple area during the day!

He is immediately taken before the sanhedrin for his first trial. Again, this was still in the middle of the night, and the sanhedrin had gathered for the express purpose of getting rid of Jesus.

Matthew 27 opens by saying that “early in the morning” he was taken before Pilate. It is when he is before Pilate that the crowd shouts “crucify him”.

This is not the same crowd that shouted “Hosanna”. The “Hosanna” crowd are still camped outside the city or making their way in. The “Crucify crowd” is made up of the priests, elders, and pharisees, and those that they have assembled, who wanted nothing to do with Jesus and just want him out of the way.

So why the change in the crowd? Two different crowds. The second crowd planted at a time when the first crowd could not be there.

So why does this matter?

What struck me about this story is that the chief priests, temple leaders, and pharisees represented what society would have considered to be among the most spiritual people in society. Yet these people were the ones that were most threatened by the new wave of the Spirit that had come in the form of Jesus Christ. It is a natural inclination to be suspicious of change, to be resistant to ideas that might threaten your place in society, and to be wary of a new religious movement.

Then I thought of us today in our churches. Are we suspicious, resistant, and wary of new things. Do we like things just the way they are? “If it ain’t broke. Don’t fix it.” Over the last couple of years I have heard a couple of astute church leaders suggest that if the congregation is quite happy with the status quo, then some faith stretching exercises are in order. What happens when a new Pastor comes into our church (I am speaking generically here) and suggests that significant change is necessary in order for the church to move beyond its plateaued state? Are we part of the crowd that shouts “Hosanna!”, or are we part of the crowd that shouts “Crucify him!”

That is not to say that resistance to change is necessarily wrong.  I do think however it is important for us to examine ourselves, and make sure we are responding with the right motivations.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

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Holy Thursday at the Tea Party Thu, 17 Apr 2014 05:34:24 +0000 mad_hatter_teapartySometimes, I’ve got nothing.

Nothing to write about. No insightful words to impart. No interesting metaphors to spark the imagination. No provocative prose, no poetry to prime the pump. I’m sitting and trying to think, but everything is fuzzy, my mind full of inchoate thoughts, like bats fluttering around in an attic.

I get the sense that these are auspicious days, that we have important things to talk about, that if we don’t we might miss the moment and the parade will have passed us by. But I’m blank, bleary, and “I don’t find this stuff amusing anymore” (Paul Simon).

I’m like the disciples on Thursday evening.

There I am, in the upper room — right there mind you — but I haven’t a clue about what’s going on.

Jesus is washing our feet (what?) and Peter is complaining (of course!).

We recline around the table and though the tension is palpable, no one can seem to put a finger on it.

Between bites Jesus is saying something about going away.

There are whispered conversations between him and individual disciples.

Every now and then I suspect covert signals are being passed, but I’m apparently outside the loop.

John leans over and whispers to the Master.

Judas leaves the room.

I keep hearing mysterious words and combinations of words, like body and bread, paracletes and orphans, branches and vines, wine and blood, joy and tribulation, judgment and the ruler of this world — what in the world is Jesus talking about?

To see him is to see the Father?

To be hated by the world is to be loved by the Father?

For Jesus to go away is better than to have him with us?

I’m in over my head and feel as clueless as Alice at a tea party.

Alice_in_Wonderland_by_Arthur_Rackham_-_08_-_A_Mad_Tea-PartyThe Hatter opened his eyes very wide on hearing this; but all he SAID was, `Why is a raven like a writing-desk?’

`Come, we shall have some fun now!’ thought Alice. `I’m glad they’ve begun asking riddles.–I believe I can guess that,’ she added aloud.

`Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?’ said the March Hare.

`Exactly so,’ said Alice.

`Then you should say what you mean,’ the March Hare went on.

`I do,’ Alice hastily replied; `at least–at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know.’

`Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter. `You might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see”!’

`You might just as well say,’ added the March Hare, `that “I like what I get” is the same thing as “I get what I like”!’

`You might just as well say,’ added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, `that “I breathe when I sleep” is the same thing as “I sleep when I breathe”!’

`It IS the same thing with you,’ said the Hatter, and here the conversation dropped, and the party sat silent for a minute, while Alice thought over all she could remember about ravens and writing-desks, which wasn’t much.

I suppose it will all make sense eventually.

I suppose I’ll find words to articulate this fog.

Maybe tomorrow, on Friday, things will be clearer.

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Church: Not Where We “Find God” Wed, 16 Apr 2014 04:01:29 +0000

BrightAbyssGeoffrey Hill:

What is there in my heart that you should sue
so fiercely for its love?
What kind of care
brings you as though a stranger to my door
through the long night and in the icy dew

seeking the heart that will not harbor you,
that keeps itself religiously secure?

- from “Lachrimae Amantis”

Religiously secure. A brilliant phrase, and not simply because it suggests the radical lack of security, the disruption of ordinary life that a turn toward Christ entails, but also this: for some people, and probably for all people for some of the time, religion, church, the whole essential but secondary edifice that has grown out of primary spiritual experience — all this is the last place in the world where they are going to find God, who is calling for them in the everyday voices of other people, other sufferings and celebrations, or simply in the cellular soul of what is…

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer
- Christian Wiman

* * *

One great misconception about the Church is that is to be the place where people go to “find God.” It is natural to think this way in a consumer society, where it seems you can always go somewhere to find what you’re looking for. The Church is the place to go to find God.

Except — everything in the Bible protests against that notion. For God is Creator of the world, the Giver and Sustainer of life. In him we live and move and have our being, and he is not far from any of us. The idea that there are particular places where we go to access God, specific places where God “lives,” waiting for us to come and find him, is the essence of idolatry not genuine faith.

For spiritual seekers, churches and faith communities function (or should function) more like signposts, pointing their neighbors to the God who made them, who knows them, who is at work already in their lives, and who loves the ordinariness of their daily worlds every bit as much as he delights to hear praises in the sanctuary.

For people of faith, who have found a home in the Church, this means learning to view our gatherings as only a small part of the story. For God is with us, close to us, speaking and working as much when we scatter into our communities to work and play as he is when we come together. We do not “leave the world” to “come into God’s presence.” I am not denying that there is something special about how God meets his people in worship, especially in the Word and Sacraments, but I am protesting the common assumption that our services are somehow more “sacred” than our daily lives.

Unfortunately, local churches try to make hay on this bad theology all the time. In fact, they go further than calling people to “the Church” to find God. They then identify what is happening in their particular congregations and church programs with God’s presence and activity. That in turn unleashes the tendency to compare and compete with other churches, and the message easily becomes: God is here in a way that he is not in other congregations. Come here = find God. Go there = be disappointed (and risk your soul!)

All of which guarantees that Christian Wiman’s words will be verified. Church is the last place in the world where many people are going to find God.

Before you jump all over me (or Wiman) for promoting a kind of spirituality without religion and encouraging people to abandon the Church for a fuzzy, undefined “personal faith,” please know that Wiman dismisses that notion as a “modern muddle of gauzy ontologies and piecemeal belief.” He commends definite beliefs and practices as necessary, steady spots from which we may glimpse the truth, give some form to the mysteries of life and faith, and withstand the sufferings that threaten to uproot us. I agree, but religious practices, such as involvement in a church, are meant to enrich our lives, not take over our lives.

My big point is simply this: we don’t really find God anywhere but in life itself. Real life. Daily life. Not just “church life.”

If any church tries to tell you God is present in some special way among them and you need to go there to find him, smile politely but shake the dust off your feet. Hard.

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Randy Thompson: The Church as a Hospice for the Dying Tue, 15 Apr 2014 04:01:56 +0000 Extreme Unction (detail), Poussin

Extreme Unction (detail), Poussin

The Church as a Hospice for the Dying
by Rev. Randy Thompson
Forest Haven, Bradford, NH

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I recently read an interesting article over at Christianity Today’s Parse blog on why the popular metaphor of the Church as a hospital for the sick is wrong headed, despite the popularity of that concept and its antiquity. The article was thought provoking, but for me at least, the thoughts it provoked had nothing to do with the article’s point. I’m inclined to agree with the author about the church not being like a hospital for the sick, but for reasons completely unrelated to his argument.

It seems to me that it’s better to think of the Church as a hospice, rather than as a hospital. The purpose of a hospital is to help people get better. Too often, that’s exactly what many churches strive to do. They provide self-help treatments, complete with psychological anesthetics to numb the pain, dressed up in Biblical language. I’m normally dubious about people whose job description is “The Bible Answer Man,” but Hank Hanegraaf recently coined a wonderful word that captures what I’m talking about, “Osteenification,” which is a state of ecclesiastical affairs where God is stumbling all over Himself so we, His creatures, can grab all the gusto we can. In other words,  faith boils down to thinking happy thoughts, which, in turn, unleash the power of the universe, or, at least, make you rich and happy.  An old trite song sums it up pretty well:

So let the sunshine in face it with a grin,
smilers never lose and frowners never win

My point is, the aim here is to help people get better–better at living the good life as this world defines it, to become better people as this world defines it.  This is the modern version of the church-as-hospital.

I think a more Gospel-based view is that the Church is a hospice–a place where people go to die.

If you stop and think about it for a minute, this makes sense. The people who are most serious about church should be serious about death, too. They’re there in church every week because they know they’re going to die, and they wonder, “Then what?”  It’s that “then what?” question that keeps them in place every Sunday. As that wonderful man, Samuel Johnson, put it, “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

But the Church is like a hospice for another, better reason. There is only one reason why you are admitted to hospice care: you’re going to die, and nothing can be done about it. If you will, the price of admission is death. So it is with the rite of admission into the Body of Christ. In baptism, we die to self. We recognize that our sin-sickness is terminal. We arrive at the baptismal font as though at death’s door, which is exactly what baptism is supposed to be.

This isn’t all gloom and doom, of course, for the One with whom we die in baptism is the One who was raised from the dead.  As Paul said to the Romans, and to us too, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). We like the resurrection part, but we tend to want to avoid the death part of what Paul describes here. But, we need to take seriously that the door to resurrection is death, and the way to Easter is Good Friday.

But wait, as any good infomercial advises, there’s more. The whole point of being in a hospice is to die. You’re not there because you’re going to get better; your life is over, and you’re waiting for the end. Isn’t that the whole Christian life in a nutshell? Isn’t this life lived between the “now” and the “not yet”? The whole point of being part of a church is to die a bit more every Sunday. “I am crucified with Christ,” Paul tells us (Galatians 2:20). If we “have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5).  For Christ’s sake, Paul says,  “I suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him . . that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death that by any means possible I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8b, 10).  And why do we die every Sunday? Because the more we die, the more Christ lives in us. The more we die, the more we experience the life on the other side of death, the resurrection life of Jesus. Good Friday is where we’re given the eyes to see the glory of Easter, which, for now, is our window to God’s eternity.

The Church as hospice makes good, Gospel sense. And, there are very practical implications in this metaphor as well. When people tell the pastor that they are leaving the church because their “needs” aren’t being met, all the pastor has to do is remind them of what the Church is, and point out that their “needs” are indeed being met: They’re being given an opportunity to die to their “needs” in order to experience more of the resurrection life of Christ. So, the church really is meeting their needs; they just don’t know it.

Also, commitment and membership are understood differently in a church which sees itself as a hospice.  Most churches survive because a small minority of hyperactive members keep the church’s ministries and committees going. The rest of the membership has too much to live for to get involved. You get a clear glimpse of this when you watch church families heading off to their kids’ sporting events  Sunday mornings rather than to church. If there’s a conflict between sports and Church, guess which one wins in most cases? But, when the Church is a hospice, things are different.  In Samuel Johnson’s words,

He that considers how soon he must close his life will find nothing of so much importance as to close it well; and will, therefore, look with indifference upon whatever is useless to that purpose.

In a hospice, the dying make time and have time to think about the Big God Questions. Youth sports and weekend ski vacations seem trivial and irrelevant in comparison. When you’re dying, you see things differently, and more deeply. In a church of dying people, they “look with indifference” at  trivia. They don’t go wandering off into Vanity Fair. They tend to stay put, which is another way of talking about “abiding” in Christ (See John 15:1-11).

And, then there’s the matter of spirituality. People who have many things to live for and be distracted by find that all these things have nibbled away at their life, and what’s left is a puzzle with pieces missing. What happened to my life? Where did it go? What did it mean? People in hospice care live moment by moment, for that’s all they have.  There are few distractions for the dying. But, as any spiritual guide will tell you, the only place where you can really encounter God and where you can deeply, personally know Him, is in the present moment–right here, right now.

The dying have a capacity to appreciate the present moment, and value it. Since they don’t know how many more moments they may have, they enjoy and enter into each one as best they can.  Each moment is a gift, each one a grace from God. Often, hospice patients, living fully in the present moment, unsure of how many more moments they have, are more alive than the rest of us, who live like we’re immortal. Christians who are the most “dead” are like this. When you meet them, you vicariously enter into a Presence that is both beyond them and greater than them, a Living Presence that is not somewhere in the unknown future nor a memory of past glories but which meets you now.

Finally, dying people treat other people differently than the so-called living people do.  When you spend time with the dying, it’s as though no one else on the planet exists except you. The dying have an astounding capacity to listen and pay attention to their guests. Although they may not be able to offer conventional hospitality, they offer a deeper hospitality, a hospitality of the heart. They’re not interested in talking about world issues or politics or religious theories. They’re interested in you; their focus is you. Often, meeting them is to come away with a deeper understanding of what Jesus meant by the “meek,” when he said,  “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).  It is the meek who are uninterested in power, influence and control over others. It is the meek who make room for others in their hearts, who do not see other people as obstacles to be overcome, as ciphers to be manipulated, or as bores to be ignored.

This hospice metaphor gives new meaning to the phrase “dying church.” It may well be that there are as many dying churches as there are because they never were dead enough to begin with. It may be that many “exciting” and growing churches look alive, but their life may well be only the twitches and convulsions of a sickness unto death. In pop culture, when someone or something is supposed to be dead but isn’t, you have what’s called “The Undead.”  Zombies, in other words. To refuse to take dying with Christ seriously is to end up Undead. And, instead of being neighbors and salt and light to the world, we end up like the walking dead, seeking converts among people who are doing their best to avoid us.

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Holy Week Thoughts: Another Look – Jesus and the Temple Mon, 14 Apr 2014 16:01:07 +0000 Christ Cleansing the Temple, Mei

Christ Cleansing the Temple, Mei

Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, ‘It is written,

“My house shall be called a house of prayer”;
but you are making it a den of robbers.’

The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, they became angry and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read,

“Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise for yourself”?’

- Matthew 21:12-16, NRSV

* * *

Much that happened during Passion Week took place in and around the Temple. In fact, according to N.T. Wright, the events of that week might be summarized by the question, “The Temple or Jesus?”

In the following video clip, Wright explains how Jesus’ ministry was designed to counteract “Temple” theology and how he pointed to himself as the One who would supersede the “signpost” of the Temple and bring to pass the reality to which it pointed.

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Holy Week with Zechariah (2): Woe to Toxic Leadership Mon, 14 Apr 2014 04:01:47 +0000 Zacharias, Michelangelo

Zacharias, Michelangelo

Zechariah 9-14 was a key passage for the evangelists who told the story of Passion Week in the Gospels. In volume two of his “Christian Origins” series, Jesus and the Victory of God, N.T. Wright gives an overview of the subjects addressed in this text:

The writer promises the long-awaited arrival of the true king (9:9-10), the renewed covenant and the real return from exile (9:11-12), the violent defeat of Israel’s enemies and the rescue of the true people of YHWH (9:13-17). At the moment, however, Israel are like sheep without a shepherd (10:2); they have shepherds but they are not doing their job, and will be punished (10:3) as part of the divine plan for the return from exile (10:6-12). The prophet is himself instructed to act as a shepherd, but in doing so to symbolize the worthless shepherds who are currently ruling Israel (11:4-17). There will be a great battle between Israel and the nations, in which ‘the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of YHWH, at the head’ of the inhabitants of Jerusalem (12:1-9, quotation from verse 8). There will be great mourning for ‘one whom they have pierced’ (12:10; a ‘fountain…for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity’ (13:1); a judgment upon the prophets of Israel (13:2-6); and judgment, too, on the shepherd of Israel, who will be struck down, and the sheep scattered (13:7). In another reminiscence of Ezekiel, this will have the effect of destroying two-thirds of the people, while the remaining one-third will be purified, to be in truth the people of YHWH (13:8-9). The book concludes with the great drama in which all the nations will be gathered together to fight against Jerusalem; YHWH will win a great victory, becoming king indeed, judging the nations and sanctifying Jerusalem (14:1-21).

As you can see, this is a remarkable, complex section of prophecy. Analyzing it all is beyond the scope of our purpose here. We are simply observing that these rich texts inform the narrative of that fateful week in Jerusalem as told by the Gospel-writers. Many of these themes became visible at the climactic moment of Jesus’ life and ministry.

I encourage us all to read through Zechariah 9-14 during this Passion Week. May its powerful images awaken our sacred imaginations and make what happened to Jesus during that week more vivid to our minds and hearts, awakening faith and gratitude.

From N.T. Wright’s description, you can see that the metaphor of “shepherd” is important in Zechariah. Here are three key passages:

Shepherd Tending His Flock, Millet

Shepherd Tending His Flock, Millet

Zechariah 10:2-3
Therefore the people wander like sheep;
they suffer for lack of a shepherd.
My anger is hot against the shepherds,
and I will punish the leaders;
for the Lord of hosts cares for his flock…

Zechariah 11:17
Oh, my worthless shepherd,
who deserts the flock!
May the sword strike his arm
and his right eye!
Let his arm be completely withered,
his right eye utterly blinded!

Zechariah 13:7
“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
against the man who is my associate,”
says the Lord of hosts.
Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered…

Zechariah was called to proclaim God’s displeasure with the shepherds, the leaders of Judah after the exile. Zechariah 11:4-17 describes how the prophet went about doing that. He himself was commissioned to act the part of a shepherd over the besieged people, and his words and actions came to symbolize the toxic leadership of the day. [One interesting detail involves the shepherd's wages in 11:12-13, which were "thirty shekels of silver," which Zechariah took and threw into the temple treasury (cf. Matthew 27:3-5).] God describes the miserable state of the leadership in these terms: they do not “care for the perishing, or seek the wandering, or heal the maimed, or nourish the healthy but [they] devour the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hoofs” (Zech. 11:16).

Passion Week was when Jesus similarly confronted the leaders of Israel in his day. Starting with the cleansing of the temple (Matt. 21:12-17) and the cursing of the fig tree (Matt. 21:18-22), Jesus used symbolic actions and strong words to express divine judgment on the “shepherds” in Jerusalem. Groups of them immediately began questioning Jesus’ authority to say such things (Matt. 21:23-27), and for the rest of the week until he cloistered with his disciples in the upper room, Jesus and the leaders went at it in the streets. They confronted him, debated him, and bombarded him with questions meant to test him. In return, he spoke to them in parables and answered them in ways that confounded and infuriated them. It was deadly serious.

In Matthew’s Gospel, this escalating conflict reaches a crescendo in Matthew 23, when Jesus utters seven “woes” upon Israel’s leaders (the antithesis of the seven beatitudes with which he began his ministry – Matt. 5:3-12). In the final “woe,” he makes specific mention of Zechariah the prophet:

You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation.

- Matthew 23:33-36, NRSV

One theme of Holy Week is God’s rejection of toxic religion, practiced by unscrupulous leaders. Jesus went into enemy territory in Jerusalem that week. The Lamb of God entered a den of wolves dressed up like shepherds. And he called them on it. Over and over and over again. Nearly every word from his mouth that week was a direct or indirect critique of their leadership, the burdens they were placing upon God’s people, and the looming destruction that would come upon them. He pronounced judgment upon these leaders, as Zechariah had done earlier, for refusing to “care for the perishing, or seek the wandering, or heal the maimed, or nourish the healthy but [they] devour the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hoofs.” Jesus made them face the truth: they were devouring the very flock they were called to care for.

I don’t think I need to make specific application here to our own day, do I? Taking up a religious vocation as a way of enriching oneself and gaining a place of power and status has always been a temptation. The body count of victims is as impressive as it is repugnant. The wolves you will have with you always, and you can still hear them howling today. Some of us here at Internet Monk have fled to the wilderness because we’ve seen the hungry look in a shepherd’s eye and had the uncomfortable feeling we were on the menu. One of the reasons this site exists is to speak the truth about toxic religion and its purveyors.

But that is not the end of the story. Zechariah ultimately speaks of a Shepherd who gets struck down and his sheep scatter (Zech. 13:7). The context indicates that this is the source from which a fountain will flow to cleanse from sin and impurity (13:1). Jesus applies these words to himself in Matthew 26:31, just before going out to Gethsemane to fulfill his calling as a different kind of shepherd.

The good shepherd knows his own by name and cares for them.

The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

On this holiest of weeks, Lord, save us from those who would devour us.

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Holy Week Thoughts: A Cross-less Faith Sun, 13 Apr 2014 16:01:27 +0000 Nailing of Christ to the Cross, Fra Angelico

Nailing of Christ to the Cross, Fra Angelico

…let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.

- Matthew 27:42

* * *

At Mockingbird, they have this helpful entry on the subject of “Theology of Glory” in their site glossary:

Theologies of glory are approaches to Christianity and to life that try in various ways to minimize difficult and painful things, or else to defeat and move past them, rather than looking them square in the face and accepting them. In particular, they acknowledge the cross, but view it primarily as a means to an end – an unpleasant but necessary step on the way to good things in the future, especially salvation, the transformation of human potential by God and the triumph of the Kingdom of God in the world. As Luther puts it, the theologian of glory ‘does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil’ (The Heidelberg Disputation, Proof to Thesis XXI). This is the natural default setting for human beings. A theology of the cross, by contrast, sees the cross as revealing the fundamental nature of God’s involvement in the world this side of heaven.

That last sentence is striking. “The fundamental nature of God’s involvement in the world this side of heaven” is the way of the cross.

People don’t like that. I don’t like that.

I want a God I can see, not a God who is hidden.

I want a God who will convince me beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is living and active and on my side.

I want spectacular answers to prayer.

I want to witness remarkable events that can only be explained by God’s intervention.

I want tangible evidence that faith pays off, not only in the end but here and now.

I want a God who solves my problems, eases my pain, answers my questions, and makes me successful.

I want God to enable me to do good works so I can feel good about myself and my contribution to the world.

I want to be made strong, confident, optimistic, fit for the long haul.

I want insight into how life works so that I can follow the right steps and help others do the same.

I want a God who makes a way in the wilderness, not one who leads and leaves me there.

I want fulfillment in my work, health and happiness in my family, grace and cooperation among my neighbors, peace, security, and ample provision in my world.

I want to hear God speak. I detest silence.

I want God to show up when I need God. On time. Bringing what I need.

I don’t want a God who bleeds, who thirsts, who worries about his mother, who lets clueless, cruel people drive nails through his hands and feet, whose lifeless body is carried away by weeping women and timid men.

I don’t want a God who forgives people who do things like this. I want them to pay dearly.

I’m with the crowd here: “Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.”

Show us, God. Prove yourself. Let us see, let us hear, let us experience your power and glory.

And the one on the cross says not a word.

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Holy Week with Zechariah (1): Mismatched Expectations Sun, 13 Apr 2014 05:01:37 +0000 Entry into Jerusalem, d'Ambrogio

Entry into Jerusalem, d’Ambrogio

A book which, as we have already seen, was arguably of great influence on Jesus, and which contained dark hints about the necessary suffering of the people of YHWH, is of course Zechariah, particularly its second part (chapters 9-14).

…The underlying theme of the passage, as of so much Jewish literature of the period, is the establishment of YHWH’s kingship, the rescue of Israel from oppression and exile, and the judgment both of the nations and of wicked leaders within Israel herself….

…There should be no doubt that Jesus knew this whole passage, and that he saw it as centrally constitutive of his own vocation, at the level not just of ideas but of agendas.

- N.T. Wright
Jesus and the Victory of God

* * *

Zechariah, whose oracles are included as a portion of the Book of the Twelve Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, was apparently on Jesus’ mind during Holy Week (especially the part of his book we know as chapters 9-14). Reason enough that these texts might be a source for our own contemplation during these days leading up to the Passion.

Probably the most familiar passage from this prophetic book is the one that mirrors the events on what we call Palm Sunday. This was the day of Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem.

The Entry into Jerusalem, Limbourg Bros.

The Entry into Jerusalem, Limbourg Bros.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
  Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
  triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
  on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
  and the warhorse from Jerusalem;
and the battle-bow shall be cut off,
  and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
  and from the River to the ends of the earth.

- Zechariah 9:9-10, NRSV

The Palm Sunday story is one of those rare events that is recorded in all four Gospels: in (1) Matt. 21:1-9, (2) Mark 11:1-10, (3) Luke 19:28-40, and (4) John 12:12-19. All four Gospels link the narrative with Psalm 118 (esp. vv. 25-26), another passage that plays a key role in the Gospel accounts of Passion week. It is Matthew and John that specifically mention Zechariah 9 (Matt 21:5/John 12:15), but it is obvious that each evangelist is drawing clear allusions to the prophet’s words in that chapter.

We can make the following simple observations from this text:

1. This was to be a day of great rejoicing in Israel and Jerusalem.

2. This day would mark the coming of their victorious king.

3. Their king would present himself to them in humility — riding on a donkey.

4. His victory would mean the end of warfare, his reign would mean peace.

5. His rule would be universal.

N.T. Wright calls Jesus’ enactment of this prophecy on Palm Sunday, “a mismatch between our expectations and God’s answer.”

Sure, we all love a parade, and the crowd on that day by all accounts was celebrating and feeling good about their prospects as they cheered on Jesus. Furthermore, they explicitly recognized him in “son of David” language — they identified Jesus with the Messianic King. He was the One who had “come in the name of the Lord,” and they blessed him and cried out to him, “Hosanna!” (Lord, save us!). They cast down their cloaks before him, as the people had done before Jehu, king of Israel (2Kings 9:13). They cut down palm branches and spread them before his way (the ancient way of giving the “red carpet” treatment). This was reminiscent of the welcome Simon of the Maccabees had received 200 years before (1Maccabees 13:51). (Simon also cleansed the temple like Jesus, but that’s a story for another day.)

Clearly, the people saw Jesus in terms of victory over their enemies and restoration of the Davidic dynasty. In short, they were hoping Jesus would bring an end to the “exile” experience that they had been dealing with for hundreds of years. On Palm Sunday, they thought the time had arrived when they were going to win.

This is what they were expecting. God, in Jesus, had something else in mind.

  • They wanted deliverance, but there were greater enemies than Rome ruling over them. This king had come to set them free from evil powers, not enemy peoples.
  • They wanted a king to bring them victory, but the one who came would win only by losing.
  • They wanted their pride and renown as a nation restored, but their king would call them to take up a cross and follow him.
  • They wanted a special place among the nations, in a promised land, ruling over the peoples of the earth. However, their king offered welcome, on an equal basis, to people from all nations in order that he might call them his sons and daughters as well.
  • They wanted change, security, power and control. He offered them a servant’s position, and life that can only be gained by dying.

What am I expecting during this Holy Week?

What words and symbolic actions will King Jesus use to speak to me of his ways, which are infinitely higher than mine?

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Saturday Ramblings, April 12, 2014 Sat, 12 Apr 2014 04:01:04 +0000 Happy Saturday, imonkers.  It finally feels a little like spring in the Midwest.  And, good news for Chaplain Mike, as of Friday afternoon the Cubbies are only four games out of first place!

Too soon?

Too soon?

Did you know there is a new documentary promoting geocentrism? Star Trek’s Captain Kathryn Janeway (aka Kate Mulgrew) narrates it, and it features snippets (pulled totally out of context) from previously published interviews with leading physicists.  The director is a holocaust denier and anti-Semite who believes there’s a NASA conspiracy to erase all evidence pointing to a geocentric universe. But we should still trust him, because got his Ph.D. in religious studies from “a private distance-learning institution located in Republic of Vanuatu”.  Sounds legit.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said this week that illegal immigration is not a felony, but “an act of love”.Bush is reportedly considering a run for the White House, and will start meeting with evangelical leaders.  First up: Southern Baptist Russell Moore.  Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee has been doing a lot of “value” speaking in Iowa, home of the first caucus, where , “Guys like to go fishing with other men. They like to go hunting with other men. Women like to go to the restroom with other women.” Ok, then.

1-195x293Utility workers in Israel discovered a 3,300 year old coffin in the Jezreel valley, not too far from Nazareth.  Thecoffin appears to be Canaanite, but it has strong Egyptian influences, including a small golden scarab seal bearing the throne name of King Seti I of Egypt.  And here in Indiana excavators once found an arrowhead…

African Christians will be killed if the Church of England accepts gay marriage: that was the message of the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. He said 330 Christians in Nigeria had been massacred by neighbors who had justified the atrocity by saying: “If we leave a Christian community here we will all be made to become homosexual and so we will kill all the Christians.” Welby added, “I have stood by gravesides in Africa of a group of Christians who had been attacked because of something that had happened in America. We have to listen to that. We have to be aware of the fact.” He also argued that if the Church of England celebrated gay marriages, “the impact of that on Christians far from here, in South Sudan, Pakistan, Nigeria and other places would be absolutely catastrophic. Everything we say here goes round the world.”  This leaves us with a very good question: To what degree should American or British denominations take into account the effect on global Christians when implanting change in policy?

Just to show I'm not making this up

Just to show I’m not making this up

Sometimes they just write themselves: “Bring the fun and excitement of America’s favorite family, the Robertsons from the hit A&E television show Duck Dynasty, into your church and teach your kids the gospel at the same time! Willie’s Redneck Rodeo is a simple and easy-to-use VBS program! Your vbs volunteers will enjoy acting out the antics of Willie, Jase, Jep, Phil, Godwin, Martin, Si and others as they teach kids five of the Bible’s most-beloved parables.”

Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis has put up a couple billboards in NYC about the “real Noah”.  The group’s Facebook page noted, “The new boards are designed not only to counter the anti-biblical Noah film that Paramount Studios released nine days ago but also to draw attention to the Creation Museum’s excellent displays about the reality of Noah’s Flood and Noah’s Ark…”.

The working title for the series is “The Young Pope,” and the director hopes to create “fictional mysteries and scandals within the walls of the Vatican.” This from a story about a new TV series chronicling the travails of a young, American Pope named Lenny Belardo in a scandal plagued Vatican.

Headline of the week: ‘Noah’ screening cancelled after theater floods’Wonder what will happen when they show Left Behind?

Shafqat Emmanuel and his wife Shagufta Kausar had their phone stolen.  That isn’t the bad news.  The bad news is that 1) they live in Pakistan and 2) they are Christians, and 3) someone used their phone to text a “blasphemous” text message.  They were tried in court, where their lawyer pointed out that the couple was, in fact, illiterate, and besides, the text message was in English.  They were convicted anyway.  And sentenced to death. 

BRANDEIS-master495Brandeis University has changed its mind.  Tuesday it said it will not award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a campaigner for women’s rights and a fierce critic of Islam, who has called the religion “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death.” You will have to read her backstory to get why she feels so passionate about this. 

Chick-fil-A recently overtook Kentucky Fried Chicken as the largest seller of fast food chicken in America, and this despite having only about a third as many stores as KFC.  Now Chick-fil-A is attempting to expand beyond its southern roots, and its CEO has decided to focus on making money instead of making political statements.

th (2)This week’s “Unsealed: Alien Files” on the Science Channel (!!!) says “new evidence may prove the Vatican is hiding actual aliens from the public.” After quoting a Vatican official who mentions the possibility of extra-terrestrial life, we get the following voiceover: “Vatican officials have publicly acknowledged the likelihood of alien life. This dramatic reversal of Vatican policy demands an explanation. What does the Church know, or what have they found that causes them to reverse a 2000-year-old teaching?”  The Vatican has been arguing against ET for 2,000 years?  Who knew? But there’s more: “The Vatican secret archives is approximately 52 miles of shelving we’re told, and over 32,000 archives. But the secrets hidden within the Vatican can’t stay buried forever. Now new evidence may prove the Vatican is hiding actual aliens from the public.” The program also claims that skulls with elongated heads were found in 1998 under the Vatican Library. “Could these skulls be the remnants of aliens who once lived in the Vatican?”  Wait…elongated heads?



PETA had hoped to turn serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer’s childhood home into a vegan restaurant. They even had a cute name: Eat for Life: Home Cooking. Alas, party-pooping local authorities in Bath Township, Ohio, have nixed the plan.

My favorite listicle of the week: .  And, yay, it is all on one page!

Before I forget, here is your dog pic:

New Cubs third baseman

New Cubs third baseman

You remember the controversy a couple years ago about a business card sized of papyrus that has Jesus saying “my wife?  Well, it was tested for age, and 3 universities dated it to 400-859 A.D., while another dated it several centuries before Christ.  Seems like a pretty wide range, but at least its promoters can claim it is not a modern forgery.  However, Leo Depuydt, an Egyptologist at Brown University, is not convinced: “The papyrus fragment seems ripe for a Monty Python sketch,” Depuydt writes, noting that the Coptic language used in the papyrus contains “a couple of fatal grammatical blunders” that render it “patently fake.”

thED6O0C1KPassover starts Monday, and soon our Jewish friends will be experiencing Matzo fatigue.  Matzo is about the dullest food one can eat.  And it tends to bind up the digestive tract; It’s not called the “bread of affliction” for nothing. A common Passover joke: What do you call someone who derives pleasure from the bread of affliction? A matzochist.  With that in mind, we can only have one video clip to end this week’s rambling:

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Isn’t It Hard? Fri, 11 Apr 2014 05:21:16 +0000 Judean Wilderness

Mouths move without vision — without regard for consequences
Eyes fill with memories poisoned by intimate knowledge of failure to love
Sometimes, sometimes, doesn’t the light seem to move so far away?
You help your sisters, you help your old lovers,
you help me but who do you cry to?

‘Cause isn’t it hard
To be the one who gathers everybody’s tears?
Isn’t it hard
To be the strong one? – Excerpt from “The Strong One” – Bruce Cockburn (1981)

I often approach Thursday evening having thought through an idea or several ideas through the week. Often I will pick up on thoughts that Chaplain Mike has had, and put my own twist on things, other times it will be issues that are on on the front of my mind. Thursday night is then a time of coalescing and expressing, organizing and enunciating.

Then there are times like tonight when I read Michael Spencer’s thoughts published 24 hours ago. It lead me to think about other posts that he wrote about not always having a smile on his face. The linked post contains some of my earliest comments on Internet Monk, and looking back on them, they seem so trite. This was reinforced by Sean’s expressed vulnerability in his comments on Thursday’s post. (Really appreciated your comments Sean.)

The best church sign I have ever seen said, “It’s not always a wonderful life – Summer sermon series 10:30.” It probably communicated in a bunch of different ways to a bunch of different people, but to me it said, here is a place where you don’t have to put on a mask. People at this church will accept you as you are. It made me want to visit their church.

Well, for me and my family life is tough right now for a number of reasons. I won’t go into details for privacy reasons, but we are going through a very rough patch with no end in sight. We are told help is on the way, but it hasn’t arrived yet. As I writer, I want to have all the right answers, but sometimes I just get stuck on the questions. Please pray for me and my family. We desperately need your prayers.

We do not need financial assistance. Our needs are of a different kind.

What I Learned from CancerI do want to draw your attention to another family who could also use assistance. Dennis is a cancer survivor. Twice in fact. His job ended a while ago and his unemployment benefits have run out. His wife has learned that she will be facing unemployment this summer as well.

Dennis has been writing a book, “What I learned from Cancer”. I believe this is a book you will want to read as Dennis is an excellent writer who has much to say about the importance of community in caring for others. On Saturday he will be launching a Kick Starter campaign to fund the publishing of the book. He doesn’t need very much. Here is a short interview he did for Manitoba Healthcare. Take a few minutes to watch it and get to know Dennis a bit. You can also read more about his project here. Finally here is an excerpt from his book:

Living at the mercy of others is a hard place to be. I think that is one of the reasons that it is so frightening to be sick, knowing that at some point we will have to give up our self-determination and release ourselves into the care of others. For some, this is such a terrifying prospect that they would rather take their own lives than endure the ignominy of being cared for by others. For me, it was a hard balance between trying to be self-sufficient as I healed and recognizing my limitations. There were many occasions over the last few days in hospital where I lay in my own vomit or waste and sighed as I called for a nurse to come and clean me up. And on those occasions, I realized that there is a thin line between humility and humiliation. And, for as long as I wanted to be the proud, strong patient, my humiliation remained at the forefront of my experience. The essence of humility is being able to let go of pride and being able to embrace the comfort that comes only from others.

On the day before my release two things happened that turned my mind from depression to hope. The first was a chance encounter with Dr Y in the hallway. At that point, he did not visit me every day for I was beyond the realm of what he could do for me and my recovery was really in the hands of the nurses. So, it had been a couple of days since I had seen him last. I was doing my morning shuffle down the hallway, head down, tired of and nauseated by the smells and the sounds of the hospital and contemplating the possibility that I would never, ever, get out of that place. I looked up and there he was. Now, Dr Y is an imposing man at any time: tall, stockily built, with a deep booming voice. At that time he looked like a giant. I caught his eye and he said to me.

Dr Y: “Dennis, how are you feeling?”
Me: “Awful Doc, I just want to go home.”

I am sure that there was more emotion in my voice than I wanted to communicate at that point. In response, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “It’s going to be ok.”

Something happened with those words. I’m not sure why, but something happened.Here was my doctor, a man with years of training, and many more years of experience. A man who was at the top of his field, both in Manitoba and across Canada. He did not offer me medical wisdom or a treatment plan. He offered me nothing more than a touch and words of hope, “It’s going to be ok.”

I think that was the turning point in my hospital recovery, more psychological than physical. That, coupled with the nurse who told me to “get off my butt, have a shower, and get ready to leave” gave me enough hope to ensure that I was ready to be discharged the next day. This, a testament to both the power of determination as well as the enduring strength that comes in a community willing and able to provide strength to you when you have none for yourself.

I hope that this is what we can be at Internet Monk: A community that is willing and able to provide strength to those who have none for themselves. People like Sean, or Dennis, or Jeff Dunn, or me, or anyone of a number of you who are going through your own struggles right now. “‘Cause isn’t it hard To be the one who gathers everybody’s tears? Isn’t it hard To be the strong one?”

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