Category Archives: Jesus

Andrei Rublev (c. 1360–c. 1430): The Hospitality of Abraham

Unity and Relationship

Andrei Rublev (c. 1360–c. 1430): The Hospitality of Abraham
Andrei Rublev (c. 1360–c. 1430): The Hospitality of Abraham

Passover just ended, it is Eastertide, and Ramadan just started. The three Abrahamic religions celebrate Spring differently, but with similar gratitude and hope. Yet we are divided and sometimes violently so.

Perhaps the biggest issue that keeps the Abrahamic religions divided is their seemingly incompatible answers to the question of the nature of God (that is our unique Theologies).

The post-Exilic priests in Jerusalem who invented monotheism in the first place (Isaiah and Jeremiah), made it clear that we can’t answer the Theological question.

Yahweh/Allah/Deus (aka “the Divine Other”) is and must be transcendent (or else we invent God, and whatever we invent can’t be God).

Jews (still) believe that even giving God a name violates the 2nd Commandment and is Idolatry. Early Christians struggled to defy and oppose Roman Emperor Worship, so imbued Christ with the attributes of the anti-Emperor (God, Son of God). Preaching to a very polytheistic culture, Muhammad and his followers stressed that Allah is One / El La, The One.

Early theological thinkers applied adjectives that we can invent; creative, provident, merciful, wise, graceful, just, omnipotent, omnipresent, and so forth. Be careful, however, because it’s almost impossible not to project your own psychological needs and cultural biases.

Early Christians were Jews. They worshipped One Lord. So how did their Trinity idea (a symbol for unity and relationship) become so divisive?

Politics.

By the 4th Century, Jesus, rather than representing non-violent resistance to Roman power, had replaced the Caesar at the top of the power pyramid… or just above it with a direct connection to the man at the top. Not long after that, Islam quickly became the state religion of the Caliphate. Both religions were corrupted to justify terrible violence and murder and theft. Jews were cast in the scapegoat role. However they are just as capable of inhumanity when they are in power.

So where does that leave us today?

Are we freed from the Pharoah or still in Exile? Is it still Lent or Easter? Is Muhammad in Mecca or Medina?

Here’s an icon from the Eastern Church (not influenced by Rome) from before Islam existed. It’s a painting of the Three Angels that visited Abraham and Sarah, hospitality, a shared meal a blessing and a promise. It’s a key moment in the history of all three of our religions.

In this icon, one man/angel is wearing Gold (a symbol for The Creator). One of them is wearing Blue (symbol for the suffering Messiah) and one is in Green (symbol for the Spirit/Advocate/Lord of Life). In those three, Sarah saw the One Lord. This icon omits her laughter. What is important in this old icon is the gesture. One (The Spirit) is inviting the viewer to sit at the Table of Blessing and Promise. Originally there was a mirror attached so you could see your own face in it.

Around a table graciously provided with the hospitality to share everything, there is no divide. Yesterday we took Holy Communion. This month, Linn and I will attend a seminar on resisting anti-Semitism. The Seder is over. We will share at least one Iftar meal with Muslim friends. We are not God but are in Relationship with the Divine and each other, there is just One Author of Love. The gesture to sit at the table is real. The empty place is for you.

Prayers of the People

The Prayers of the People,
Redmond United Methodist Church,
February 3, 2019
Led by Pastor Lara Bruce Bolger

Let us pray

Loving and Gracious God
Where Love and Charity are
You are here; You are there.
You are where all Love can be found.
Even in the places where we don’t think it might be.
We praise you that your Love reaches into far places
Of this world and in our community.
We thank you that it reaches deep into our hearts
In our struggles and in our joys
In our hidden places of fear and shame
In our sorrows and disappointments
We’re so grateful that, in your Love, you meet us where we are
You sweep aside any sense of inadequacy
You overturn misplaced dependencies
You open windows of light and hope
So we can see our true home.
Thank you God.

Thank you for your love that comes gently
That sits beside us
That enters into the stillness of our hearts
We are here with You.
Just as you care for every detail of our lives
Help us care for others
Especially for those people who feel overlooked
For those people who are unnoticed
Driven away by policies that do not include them
Pushed away from the corners of our minds and our society and our world.
Just as you give us people who look us in the eye
Who do not turn away from our vulnerability and pain
Help us to have eyes of love so that we may not turn away from theirs
Give us a different way of seeing
May we see with clarity
Your love.

For all those people who are suffering this day
Due to weather, due to violence
Help us to see them.
All the people you have placed on our hearts this day
We take this time now to lift them up.
(Pause while the people in the congregation mention names of those they’re praying for)
We pray for them
Your Love came to us embodied in the person of Jesus Christ
And we can embody your Love as well
Thank you God.

We continue to pray the prayer Jesus taught us to pray
(Aloud in unison)
Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed by thy name
Thy kingdom come thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses

as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Amen

Wicked and Adulterous

A question came up in a discussion group yesterday evening. It involved a quote from Matthew 16 in the New International Version translation:

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.”

Jesus then left them and went away.”

The quote was used in the context of “the sign of Jonah” and the ideas that might represent.

The question was not, as one might guess, about “Signs of the Times.” Bob Dylan sang “we don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” The question was also not about the Pharisees and Sadducees or why they come off so poorly (after all they were the most religious folks of their day). The question was about this phrase “a wicked and adulterous generation.” The assertion was that this phrase was in Luke. That didn’t sound right to me, so I asked for time to research before sharing my take on it. My guess was that is Matthew’s voice and not aimed at Jesus’ followers (that is, not at the Church) but rather at the employees of Jerusalem Temple, Inc.

I was right on both of counts. I also mentioned that Mohammad refused to give his followers “signs” stating, rather, that there are so many indications of Allah’s existence, wisdom, provision, love, and justice all around us that if our eyes are blind to them no tricks he could perform would open our eyes. That might be the most common theme in the Quran in fact. I remember that more than once he referenced Jesus (Isa) and his phrase “a wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign.”

Matthew and Luke got this story from Mark.

Mark 8 (CEB)
… After Jesus told the crowd to sit down, he took the seven loaves and gave thanks. He then broke the loaves and handed them to his disciples, who passed them out to the crowd. They also had a few little fish, and after Jesus had blessed these, he told the disciples to pass them around.

The crowd of about 4,000 people ate all they wanted, and the leftovers filled seven large baskets.

As soon as Jesus had sent the people away, he got into the boat with the disciples and crossed to the territory near Dalmanutha.

The Pharisees came out and started an argument with Jesus. They wanted to test him by asking for a sign from heaven. Jesus groaned and said, “Why are you always looking for a sign? I can promise you that you will not be given one!” Then he left them. He again got into a boat and crossed over to the other side of the lake.

The context is the miracle of the loaves and fishes and the inquisitors are just the Pharisees. There is no insult. If 4000 families being fed by freely sharing with and trusting each other is not “sign” enough, they won’t get a sign.

Luke 12 (CEB) has it
Then Jesus said to the crowds, “As soon as you see a cloud rising in the west, you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and that is what happens. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It will be hot,’ and it is. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky. Why don’t you know how to interpret the present time?

Luke’s version is a condemnation of those who are unaware of their times, but leaves the religious political parties out of it.

Matthew in Aramaic

My answer is that, likely, Matthew added “wicked and adulterous” to Mark’s story because Matthew was writing after destruction of Jerusalem, the burning of the Temple, the slaughter or enslavement of more than a million Jews by Rome and the loss of the Israeli homeland (renamed to Palestine). Matthew and his congregation in Syria knew that the Sadducees and Pharisees’ bad leadership and infighting were partly to blame.

The literary, translational, and historical context and the Sign of Jonah can lead to interesting discussions, too.

An Epiphany

Edward Burne-Jones - Scanned from Stephen Wildman,Edward Burne-Jones: Victorian Artist-Dreamer, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998, ISBN 0870998595
Edward Burne-Jones – Scanned from Stephen Wildman,Edward Burne-Jones: Victorian Artist-Dreamer, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998, ISBN 0870998595

Matthew included a scene in his Infancy Narrative that was probably based on an actual event in history… arranged to make the point that Jesus came for all people, not just Jews. The Magi were an ancient sect in Persia, scientific thinkers, observers of the heavens, trusted with the task of reading the signs and identifying, as a child, the next King of Persia. That tradition lives on in Tibetan Buddhism in fact, where a similar process is used to identify the next Dalai Lama. So Magi showing up, following a star, to bring the gifts that designated royalty would, to his readers, helped them understand Matthew’s answer to Who do you say Jesus is?”

Matthew is clearly answering, in context of the entire Gospel, “The new Moses, God’s chosen leader, for the whole world.”

There were three Buddhist missionaries in Judea who brought ideas like the Golden Rule and Love is the highest commandment. Traditionally they were named Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar. The ancient Church used those names for the Magi of Matthew’s story. In that conflation it becomes Three Wise Men (Matthew doesn’t number them). Balthasar is an Arabian name. Melchior is Persian and Gaspar is Indian.

Today it is conflated into the season and day of Epiphany (the Magi followed and saw the Light). But that is another layer of meaning in the conflation. The Epiphany at this season was, in Northern Europe, the day folks realized that all human hierarchy, in families, between men and women, in the economy between owners and servants, lords and tenants, in government… all of it is just an invented institution. On Epiphany our ancestors woke up basking in the realization that goodness and provision are gifts none of us owns nor earns.

No matter which layer of the story appeals to you; men on camels, the magical recognition of the next King, Eastern wisdom showing up in nascent Christianity, or pagan traditional world-upside-down celebrations, the meaning is about the same. We are loved by the Author of Love, gifted resources to spread that love to the whole world as a bright star, a light that leads others to truth, forgiveness and healing.

Mike

April 30, 2016

My thoughts as I read “Left Wing Jesus” by Rev. Rich Lang:

Historical terms

“Left Wing Jesus?”

Left Wing” and “Right Wing” came into our vocabulary from just before the French Revolution in the late 18th Century. The National Assembly in Paris was divided into supporters of King Louis XVI and the “Ancient Regime,” men who sat to the president’s right. The supporters of the revolution were thus forced to sit to on the left. The Catholic Church supported the status quo and the Divine Right of Kings. The Deists and Protestants supported the French Revolution.

Right Wing” has thus taken on “conservative” and “support the old system” and “back the elites of power and wealth” associations. Those people honestly believe we already have the system that’s best for everyone and it should not be changed.

Left wing” as taken on “liberal” and “enlightened” and “back the people against economic oppression” connotations. Those people honestly believe that our system is corrupt and unjust and that things need to change.

American Political terms

The groups considered to be “Right Wing” are Fascists, Capitalists, Conservatives (both social and fiscal), Nationalists, Neoconservatives, Neoliberals, Reactionaries, Imperialists, Monarchists Libertarians, Authoritarians, and Religious Fundamentalists. These tend to gravitate into the Republican Party.

The “Left Wing” includes Anarchists, Communists, Socialists, Religious Progressives, Populists, Democratic Socialists, Social Liberals, and Green Party / Ecological Conservationists. These tend to associate with the Democratic Party.

Oddly, Conservationists are considered “Left Wing” but they are trying to conserve the planet. To do that they must challenge the political and economic system, thus leftists. Libertarians self-associate with the “Right Wing” even though they espouse Anarchy. They are Anarchists who have read Ayn Rand so want to be called Conservatives (they’re not), thus righties.

Economic terms like “Fascism” (big businesses and the wealthy run the government) or “Communism” (the workers own the means of production) are often misused, a legacy of World War II’s propaganda. Any of these positions can devolve into Totalitarianism due to Fundamentalist thinking (being sure you are the only one who has things perfectly correct and it’s your duty to force it on everyone and that those who oppose you are evil).

Religious terms

“Who Was Jesus?” How do we read the Bible and try to understand the answers given (always politically charged) by the authors and translators and scholars over the centuries to that question? Would Jesus sit on the Right or the Left in the French Assembly?

My pastor gave me an essay entitled “Left Wing Jesus” by Rev. Rich Lang. I’ve read it 1.5 times now. I wish he didn’t use the term “Fascist” in this context. Overall, I think he’s saying that we need to respect each other and value both “Right Wing” and “Left Wing” views of Jesus.

He’s up against Fundamentalism and “Right Wing Jesus” however. He should know about that imbalance of power. He’s the clergyman who stood with the Occupy Seattle folks and ended up getting pepper sprayed. His gentle words and thoughts, alone, are not going to rescue Coexist Jesus, no matter how important he is to the world we all occupy together.

Rev Rich Lang, author of Left Wing Jesus