Sanctified Defilements: Cleansing Blood

This Sunday I will be preaching from Mark 5:21-43 concerning the raising of Jairus’ dead 12 year old daughter and the healing of the unclean woman with 12 years of bleeding. Such stories are all the more striking in light of the OT and Jewish traditions regarding purity. To touch the dead (as Jesus does with the girl) and to be touched by the unclean (as Jesus is by the woman) should defile Jesus. However, these stories don’t describe such (taking for granted the obvious nature of such). Instead, they point to the restoration, cleansing, and healing that is conveyed.

While Jesus would indeed be defiled by touching the girl and being touched by the woman, the radical nature of these stories points in the opposite direction: the cleansing and wholeness being imparted from Jesus to the girl and woman. In fact, I would contend Jesus offers cleansing precisely through his self-sacrificial taking on their uncleanness.

“The Resurrection of Jairus’ Daughter” (1871) by Vasiliy Polenov

In light of this movement by Jesus, it makes the taking of communion (or Eucharist) all the more powerful. The Church is instructed to consume Jesus’ body and blood in the elements of bread and cup. This would be an ultimate defilement for this community grafted into Israel. And yet this very act constitutes a testimony to the cleansing, healing life of Jesus constituting this community by His Spirit bringing to bear His presence in their midst.

“In the OT the partaking of blood in any form, even blood in meat, was strictly forbidden….However, in the Eucharist, the meal that commemorates the making of the new covenant, believers partake of the bread and wine, elements that represent the body and the blood of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 26:27-28; Mark 14:23-24).  By eating these elements a believer shares in the benefits of Jesus’ death (1 Cor. 10:16; 11:25; Heb. 9:15-22).  The discourse in John 6:52-59 is amazingly radical in its vivid imagery.  Jesus boldly speaks of eating his flesh and drinking his blood …. The intent of these words in John is … to pronounce boldly that in partaking of these elements a believer commemorates Jesus’ death and enters into the deepest communion with his Lord.” (John E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC 4; Dallas: Word, 1992], 279-280)

The bearing of the unclean (his flesh and blood), by the grace of the Lord, becomes the receiving of cleansing … and the communion of saints is made saints by the Spirit of Holiness imparting the life of the cursed one hung on a tree, buried, and raised. Further, in his resurrection, Jesus did not pass through any cleansing rite upon being raised, yet shares meals with his disciples repeatedly and invites faith-confirming contact. How could Jesus be clean? It is the uncleanness of his death that cleanses and gives life in the testimony of God raising him. Jesus is declared (and even made) clean by his being raised. The very nature of his being cursed and unclean willingly has become the very thing which the Father uses to heal and make clean. In the book of Acts it is the testimony of Son and Spirit to Peter that what God has made clean should not be called unclean (Acts 10).

In Christ Jesus a new day has dawned wherein bearing uncleanness is the way to cleansing. And this is the faithfulness of our Great God and Savior! And this is the testimony of the Church in the midst of the world!

God Our Father/Mother (?): On the Divine Name in Christian Scripture

On a number of occasions I have engaged in conversations, or heard podcasts (I’m thinking here of the October 17, 2017 of The Liturgists Podcast on “God Our Mother”), or read articles (or quotes like the one pictured here of Julian of Norwich) by those who contend for broader language in regard to what we might properly call our deity within the Church. Some have contended that the NT language of “Father” is more a construct of cultural embeddedness related to a bygone era that needs this metaphor to be expanded to any number of other possibilities, such as “Mother” that would be more appropriately inclusive and thus representative of the non-gendered deity we claim to worship.
This is an abstracted illusion as it fails to appreciate the very context from which we (the Church) have inherited our language of addressing the divine: Israel and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christopher Seitz has a helpful chapter engaging this very subject in Word Without End: The Old Testament as Abiding Theological Witness (Baylor University Press, 2004), pp. 251-262. I include his closing paragraph as giving voice to my own reading of this issue (p. 262):

To call God “mother” or “she” would be to call attention to God as truly gendered, simply by the fact that such language means to serve as a replacement for or improvement on the biblically grounded language has the capacity to transcend this framework of discussion, because it emerges as a testimony to God’s own name and initiative in revealing it, rather than because it conforms to metaphors whose fitness is determined by human debate or divine defense. To defend God as “father” by appeal to suitability of metaphor would in fact undo the logic with which the language emerged in the first place, which is riveted to Israel’s particular experience of God’s revelation and, through the work of Christ, its extension at Pentecost to all nations and peoples. “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” emerges from a particular story. Our use of this language preserves that particular story and the God who brought it and us into being, making us his people and allowing us to be faithful witnesses who call upon his name, for our own sakes and for the sake of his creation.

We have not constructed our language for the divine, but have received it and do well to faithfully pass this story along in our invocation of the Name. To do otherwise, is to abstract “God” from the story of Israel and God’s self-revelation in and through Jesus as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
How we confess God is a matter of faithfulness to that self-revelation and not a matter of cultural speculation and debate. While metaphors for the divine abound in Scripture (including those which are feminine or motherly) we do well to take up the language of God’s self-giving in prayer and praise, and we refuse the very specificity of God’s self-revelation to do otherwise.

Goin' Fishin': A Brief Comment on John 21:11

Fishing in the TiberiasI was asked today why John 21.11 notes there were 153 large fish caught by Jesus’ disciples in this resurrection appearance. Here is my brief answer:

St. Augustine (in his Commentary on Psalm 50) notes that the number 153 refers to completeness of the Law and Spirit: the law being 10 and the Spirit seven(fold) with their sum being 17. If one takes the sum of the numbers 1 through 17 one gets 153. Case closed. 😉
I still contend it was the memory of a fisherman who notes the actualities of this miracle where there were 153 large fish and the net did not break (as it would be prone to do). A bountiful provision well beyond imagination. And Jesus didn’t need any of it to begin cooking them a fish breakfast, though he invites them to bring him some of their catch as well.
While any number of speculations have been offered for the meaning of the number 153 (imagination can be an incredible thing), the text is simply silent about it’s intent. The miracle returns to the super-abounding grace of God given through Christ Jesus as had happened at the wedding at Cana in chapter 2.1-12.
The goodness of God in Christ is more than sufficient to provide more than one could ever imagine or think to need. This drives the faith demanded by this gospel account (20.31): trust in this one as God’s own self-giving who would send the Spirit in super-abundance that He might remain with and in those who were His as a continuing witness to, in, for, and against the world.

Hearing and Seeing the Apocalypse: A Sunday School Introduction

The following are my brief notes written as a Sunday School introduction for adults to the book of the Revelation that I taught May 13, 2018 at New Life Assembly of God in Ellendale, ND.
What is “apocalypse”? It is a “revealing” of something. This book belongs to a broader genre of writings known to the second temple period of Jewish writings (and early Christian writings) that involved visions, dreams, angelic guides, experiences of the heavenly realm/s all with an eye (and ear) toward the culmination of all things wherein God will set everything right in final judgment (with reward and punishment).
Introduction (1.1-3) – What is the point of this book? Jesus! And remaining faithful to Jesus no matter what comes as God’s self-giving revelation testified to in the Spirit. If we get distracted by anything else in the Revelation than we miss the very point.
Traveling with John the Revelator (these reveal one cannot follow John of their own accord toward understanding)

  • In the Spirit on the Lord’s Day (1.10)
  • In the Spirit in Heaven (4.2)
  • In the Spirit in the Desert (17.3)
  • In the Spirit to a great and high mountain (21.10)

On “hearing” and “seeing” in the Apocalypse

  • 1.3 – Blessed are those who hear… others of the seven beatitudes (14.13; 16.15; 19.9; 20.6; 22.7, 14)
  • Overcomers “hear” in faithfulness and obedience: 2.7, 11, 17, 26-29; 3.5-6, 12-13, 21-22.
  • Hearing and seeing function to highlight and expound (offering interpretations and expansions of each other to further the knowing and worship of those who would hear and see), examples: 1.10-20; 5.1-14; 7.1-17.

A hearing and seeing of sevens (suggesting there is much more than what meets the ears and eyes in the enumeration):

  • Horns and Eyes/Spirits (5.6)
  • Churches (and their angels: 2-3)
  • Seals on the scroll (5-8.5)
  • Trumpets (8.6-11.19)
  • Thunders (silenced: 10.3-4)
  • Bowls with plagues (15-16.21)

Women in Ministry: The Spirit, Creation and Eschaton (with Podcast)

Sister Aimee Semple McPherson
Sister Aimee Semple McPherson of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel

This post is borne out of a need to briefly share my view of women serving in ministry. I am an unabashed Egalitarian. I believe women (and men) can and must serve the Church (global and local) in any capacity that they are called to as ministers of the good news of Jesus in the power of God’s Holy Spirit. This in no way sets aside, ignores, or rejects the teachings of the Scripture on the subject. I take the Scriptures with all seriousness. However, what are the markers by which we interpret Scripture are paramount for me (and what interpretive methodologies we use matter). This is not a post that discusses (or exegetes) specific texts (I’ve done some of that elsewhere), but one that is orienting for my approach to the subject in light of the over-arching orientation of Scripture.
I find three basic orienting testimonies in Scripture address this issue for myself:

  1. The Spirit testifies. This testimony is the most basic to my understanding that whatever the Spirit testifies to must be affirmed. This functions in the way that the Spirit testified for the early church concerning full Gentile inclusion in every way (Acts 15). The same Spirit that is poured out on men is poured out on women. The same Spirit that empowers for witness, the same Spirit that calls to ministry, the same Spirit that sanctifies, anoints, secures and gifts towards the full maturation of the Church until we all come into the fullness of Christ. [Just such a trajectory is proposed in J. C. Thomas, ‘Women, Pentecostals, and the Bible: An Experiment in Pentecostal Hermeneutics’, Journal of Pentecostal Theology 5 (1994), pp. 41-56].
  2. The creation testifies. While complementarians say they appeal to creation order, they actually appeal to the order of the Fall in Genesis 3. However, Genesis one and two address women as co-equals in the call to care for the earth and accomplish the purposes of God in the earth. This is the account pre-Fall and should take precedence as the “order” in which God made things precedes the “order” into which things descended in sinfulness. Redemption, thus, is oriented by creation toward new creation in the midst of fallen-ness, but does not take its first cue from fallen-ness.
  3. The eschaton testifies. While many seem to order their lives by the “now” this disregards the “then” of what God is doing to set all things to rights in the cosmos. The eschaton (or “end”) of all things points to the end of relationship structures as conceived between husband and wife (according to Jesus being “neither married nor given in marriage” Matthew 22:30). It points to the end for which we were created. This end is that for which the Church is oriented in Christ Jesus. Yet we do not simply await that end, but we begin even now to live in light of that end even as we still marry and are given in marriage. Our continuing in marriage is under the banner of Christ’s soon coming kingdom when such structures must be conformed to his intent in everything–that is, in mutual submission, and in living in wholeness towards God and world in redemption.

While I in no way anticipate that this is persuasive for those who hold alternative views, it is at least a look inside my own approach (for whatever that is worth). Related to this (and briefly discussing such things), here is a 13 minute podcast I did three years ago tackling the idea of women in ministry (along with a few other things). It never aired, so I requested permissions to post it myself here.
For a helpful exegetical reading of Paul’s writings on the subject, see Craig Keener, Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Baker Academic, 1992).

Why Narrative Theology?

Within Protestantism (and more specifically Evangelicalism) there has been a tendency toward the abstractions of doctrinal confessions. Theology has most often tended toward bullet pointed statements of confession. While this has its place it fails to grapple with the revelation of God which we confess as such: the very form of the Scriptures. The nature of Scripture itself is not first and foremost abstract universal claims, but primarily story. Why is this? Should it affect the manner in which we reflect upon our theological confessions? How might it be reflected appropriately without simply becoming (like so many sermons) three points and a poem? (Even the “world” regards story as more important to communication than bullet-points).
The following were listed by David F. Ford* as reasons offered “for the attractiveness of narrative” in theological reflection (ironically enough offered in bullet-pointed fashion):

  • it is the main genre of the Bible
  • it is the underlying structure of the Christian creeds, baptism and eucharist
  • its concreteness and particularity deserve primacy in relation to the more abstract, generalizing approach of much doctrine and theology
  • it gives a proper prominence to people in interaction, to specific contexts and to actions and events, all of which tend to be marginalized or treated too generally and abstractly by traditional theological discourse
  • it provides a way into doctrine and ethics which is definite, imaginative and well-suited to the gospel while not claiming an exclusive or imperialistic universality
  • it is the basic, irreducible way to express human experience and identity
  • it enables a fresh approach to the relationship of historical fact to Christian truth
  • it provides a forum for encounter and discussion, not only between very different types of Christian theology, but also between various religions and cultures (all of which have their stories) and between theology and other disciplines (e.g. literary studies, history, psychology, anthropology).

The story of God is the story of redemption and life. It is the story we find ourselves caught up in and carrying various threads of the divine narrative toward their culmination in new creation. The story of Scripture is our story and the cosmos’ story. So let’s at least speak in ways that flows from God’s own self revelation in Scripture, in the Word made flesh, and in the Spirit within. Let us tell the old, old story as the new experience of the divine life…as reflecting Father, Son and Spirit.
_______________________________
* D. F. Ford, ‘Narrative Theology,’ pp.489-91 in R. J. Coggins and J. L. Houlden, eds, A Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation (London: SCM, 1990), pp.489, 490.

Livin' Large and Makin' Babies: A Sermon

jesus-cross-summit-cross-37737.pngThe following is a sermon I preached for chapel at Trinity Bible College & Graduate School on Tuesday, April 10, 2018.

“But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD’s good plan will prosper in his hands.” Isaiah 53:10 (NLT)

“Livin’ Large and Makin’ Babies” (Isaiah 53:10)

The Fig Tree Withers: A Sermon

withered_tree1The following is a sermon I preached at Faith Assembly of God in Lisbon, ND on Sunday, March 25, 2018.

“Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.
Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.” Matthew 21:18-19 (NIV)

“The Fig Tree Withers” (Matthew 21:18-19)

To Harmonize or Not: A Brief Answer

120628-four-gospelsFrom time to time I receive random questions from people I don’t even know. One from yesterday went as follows:
“Does Trinity Bible College hold the position that the four Gospels can or cannot be perfectly harmonized into one account?”
And my brief response (that I thought could be of interest to some who follow this blog) after letting the individual know that Trinity does not have any official position on this:

The four Gospel accounts can be harmonized with one another, but must also be allowed to remain distinct voices from one another. This has been the historic response to such ideas. Irenaeus in the second century contended for the necessity of the four distinct accounts that each in their own ways reveal Jesus as God’s self-revelation and belong being heard together (though as individual voices). Tatian (another second century Church father) attempted a harmony as the text of the Syriac Church (it was called the Diatessaron), but this was rightly rejected by the wider Church as failing to allow for the distinctions of each individual Gospel account. In other words, I would say that while we believe that the Gospels do not actually contradict one another they remain as differentiated testimonies to Jesus that should be honored as distinct witnesses.

Sometimes It Causes Me to Tremble: Reflections on Mark 16.1-8

Following the lectionary, I preached the Gospel portion from Mark 16.1-8 this morning. This may not seem strange to others, but for a Pentecostal preacher to end before the well known long ending of Mark is tantamount to heresy (not really, but it is a rare phenomenon that cuts against the grain). The Gospel of Mark ends quite abruptly in certain of the manuscript traditions (the one I believe better represents the earliest final form; on the variants and textual witnesses see the NET notes). The longer endings which most are familiar with offer appearances of Jesus, empowerment and calling to mission, and the successful engagement of the good news to the ends of the earth. But that is not where the Gospel ends in the most likely origin:

“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16.1-8 NIV)

In this ending there are no angels. There is no earthquake. No appearance of Jesus to any of his disciples or the women. No commission to evangelize. There are only mourning women encountering a “young man” dressed in “white” who reminds them of the words of Jesus and informs them to tell Jesus’ “disciples and Peter” to head up to Galilee where Jesus has gone ahead of them. The passage ends with silence and fear. Talk about a heavy ending. What are we to do with such an ending? (Apparently enough folks believed something needed added thus lending itself to the multiple forms of the endings preserved).
We, likewise, are left with only the witness of others speaking the words of Jesus regarding his resurrection (and soon coming). We do not ourselves encounter the risen Christ directly. It is mediated to us. We find ourselves often confused in silence and fear. But the words return, “Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!” And we also hear the “Go, tell…”. Our hearts tremble. Our minds quake.
But this story continues on in victory. It continues to be passed on and lived out. We only hear this account because those same trembling women did in fact testify to the words concerning the risen Christ. They were faithful! The task they had been entrusted in fear becomes the task we all bear: to share the words of others to us of the risen Lord. To tremble…then testify!