Category Archives: Theology

The Holy Spirit: Getting the Facts, Missing the Point

This is Pentecost Sunday, the day the church celebrates the reality-transforming, church-birthing, human-metamorphosing outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The God who so loved that he gave his Son also so loved that he gave his Spirit … and nothing has been the same since.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost. It has been said that a person without the Spirit can never be more than a second-class Christian, but St. Paul went further than that. He said that without the Spirit, a person cannot be a Christian at all: “…if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9).

Without the Spirit, there would be no church. A religious group can have a nave, altar, sacristy, pulpit, and steeple, but they’ll only have a church if they have the Spirit.

The Greek phrase ἐν πνεύματι (in or by the Spirit) appears 152 times in the New Testament. We are led by the Spirit, we rejoice by the Spirit, we worship the Father by the Spirit, are indwelt by the Spirit, are gifted by the Spirit, are marked as God’s people by the Spirit, love each other by the Spirit – I could go on.

With the Holy Spirit, we are connected to God’s own life. With the Spirit, we are connected to each other. With the Spirit we can confess Jesus Christ and actually know him. With the Spirit, we can live the Christian life now and expect glory in the future.

But what is the Holy Spirit—so ominously called by earlier versions the “Holy Ghost”? Continue reading

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The logical – and theological – problem with Red Letter Christians

ABC published this article by Joel Looper on May 5th. It is thought-provoking and I wanted to share it with you. https://www.abc.net.au/religion/joel-looper-the-logical-and-theological-problem-with-red-letter/12215602 Joel Looper (PhD from University of Aberdeen) is the author of the forthcoming book, A Protestantism without Reformation: … Continue reading

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Good News for Today

The humorist and actor Robert Benchely once wrote, “There may be said to be two classes of people in the world; those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes, and those who do not.”

Benchely then drew the droll conclusion that “Both classes are extremely unpleasant to meet socially, leaving practically no one in the world whom one cares very much to know.”

Benchley’s characterization of the world is funny because he, by dividing people in such a way, has unwittingly placed himself in the first of the two classes, among those one cares very little to know. But, of course, there was nothing unwitting about it, which is what makes his remark so witty.

With his self-deprecating humor, Benchely was taking on a serious subject: the human proclivity to exclude people who differ from us. If we can classify someone, put them into a box and label them, it becomes easier to discount them. They are, after all, just liberals … or conservatives … or whites … or blacks … or Mexicans … or …

In recent years, some politicians have used this human inclination to “otherize” people to their advantage. It has become part and parcel of the political playbook. It is, however, nothing new. Continue reading

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Everyone Is a Storyteller: What’s Your Story?

Every grasping, hoarding, angry person is telling themselves a story. So is every generous, sacrificial, compassionate person – but they are different stories.

The middle school Spanish teacher is a storyteller. So is the foundry worker and the clerk at the gas station. The theologian is a storyteller, as is the banker, the automaker, and the spy. Even the middle school Spanish student is a storyteller.

The stories we tell frame our understanding of the world and explain our experiences. Much of our thinking is done in stories. History is an exercise in storytelling. So is philosophy. So is science.

This is not some abstract truth. It is a daily experience. If you find a ten-dollar bill lying in the driveway, your brain automatically generates a story, or more than one. The bill slipped out of your pocket when you got out of the car to get the mail. Alternately, it fell out of the mailman’s pocket when he got out of his jeep to bring a package to the door. The story you tell yourself helps you know what to do with the ten dollars.

This is not some abstract truth. It is a daily experience. Continue reading

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There Is Love: Our Astonishing Hope (1 Cor. 15)

In the resurrection, Christ cut death down to size. Through Christ, we can rise above our fear of death. The great English poet George Herbert said, “Death used to be an executioner, but the gospel” – he’s referring to the death and resurrection of Jesus – “has made him just a gardener.” When those who are planted with Jesus come up, they will be glorious as he is glorious.

But our hope is far greater than the hope that we will somehow survive death. The resurrection gives us reason to believe that we will be – that nothing can stop us from being – fulfilled, completed, perfected. Paul puts it this way: “The body that is sown” – gardener imagery again! – “is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power…” (vv. 42-43). And verses 52-53: “we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.”

Susan Sontag got it wrong. Earth is not a grave but a garden. This – weakness, sickness, inability, depression, aging, loss – is no more the whole story than the kernel is the whole stalk of corn or the acorn is the towering oak. God’s plan for humanity is not pain and suffering but joy and glory. It is not weakness but power. It is not sadness but joy. It is not the shame we know so well but a glory that eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor human mind imagined. (1 Cor. 2:9). Continue reading

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There Is Love: The Hope of the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:19-28)

https://youtu.be/J8H7LpmRyes What are the implications of St. Paul’s teaching (and that of the entire biblical witness) on the resurrection? That is what this audaciously hopeful sermon explores. I invite you to join for the premier at 11:00 this morning or … Continue reading

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Too Sophisticated for Idolatry? Think Again

Moderns think of idolatry as something that died a natural death in the early centuries of the common era. Zeus fell on hard times. His children, no longer fed by the worship of the humans, grew emaciated and wasted away to nothing.

Hardly. They merely changed their names. Athena became Education. Ares became Technology. Hermes became Media. Plutus became Economy. Nike – okay, Nike stayed Nike. Humans merely shifted their hopes for success and security from the old gods to the new or, more precisely, to the same gods in different guise. Continue reading

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First Stone in an Avalanche

In the four Gospel accounts of the life and death of Jesus – this surprised me when I first realized it and it surprises me still – no one ever uses the word “resurrection” to describe Jesus’s return from death, neither the Gospel writers nor the people whose conversations they reported. They talk about how Jesus rose from the dead, but they never use the one word you would expect them to use: “resurrection.” It’s almost as if they were avoiding it.

That ought to raise a question in our minds: Why didn’t they use the word “resurrection?” The answer, I think, comes in two parts, the first of which is very straightforward: The Gospel writers did not use the word “resurrection” because the men and women whose story they were telling didn’t use the word. The fact that the writers refrained from using what is arguably the most important word in the vocabulary of the early church speaks volumes about their intention to faithfully recount what had happened. Continue reading

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Who Are You Looking For? (An Easter Message)

One of the difficulties in telling the Easter story is that there is almost too much material. Each of the biblical Evangelists gives us glimpses into the story from the perspectives of different people who lived it. One tells what Mary Magdalene sees. Another describes what the other women disciples see. Some tell us what Peter sees, one what John sees, another what Thomas does not see, and yet another what the Roman soldiers see. There are gaps in some stories and overlapping chronologies in others. Trying to put all that together into a cohesive narrative can be a challenge.

I’m not going to try to put it all together this morning – there is not enough time for that. Instead, I’m going to tell the story, at least for the most part, from the disciple Mary’s perspective. There are so many Marys in the Easter story that we need to differentiate between them. This one is routinely distinguished by the town she comes from: Mary of Magdala, or Mary Magdalene or, for short, the Magdalene.

When Mary first met Jesus, her life was an absolute disaster. Sometimes you’ll hear people say, “We all have our demons,” but Mary had hers and enough for several other people besides. She was alone, afraid, and confused. Her life was like a bad dream from which she could not wake up. No one was able to wake her up. For the most part, no one even tried; that is, until Jesus.

He woke her up. He gave Mary back her life. He drove away the demons and, in their place, gave her something she had never known: acceptance. And when he accepted her, so did his friends. For the first time in memory, she felt included, wanted. She was part of something, and that felt good. She didn’t always act right, and she knew it, but these people didn’t push her away because she was weird or because she didn’t have it all together. Continue reading

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RESURRECTION: Mary Magdalene (Part 2)

As the three of us approached the garden, I got worried. During the Sabbath, some of the men were saying that the stone had already been rolled over the entrance to the tomb. If what they said was true (and they were sure that it was), there was no way we could move it. I said that, and Salome said, “Well, who can we get to roll the stone away?” We were still talking about it when we came the garden. Because it was still pretty dark, we were almost at the tomb before we saw what had happened.

We just stood there. Nobody said anything. Nobody had to. I knew immediately what had happened. Those dogs who had murdered the best man who ever lived had taken his body out of the tomb so that we couldn’t give it a proper burial. They had taken it somewhere and were probably doing horrible things to it in order to disgrace him even more. They hated him so much that they weren’t satisfied with killing him, they had to shame him too.

The other girls just stood there, but I ran. They said, “Mary, stop! Where are you going?” But I didn’t stop. I just shouted, “I’m going to tell Peter.” If anybody would know what to do it would be Peter. Somebody had to tell him (and the others) that they had taken his body.

I ran all the way. My side burned like fire and I looked like a fool, running into the city like that, but I didn’t care. The men were still in that same upper room, and when I got there I had to stop and catch my breath. At the top of the stairs I pushed the door, but it was locked, so I knocked and called. I heard the bolt slide and John bar Zebedee stood there, blinking into the morning light. Continue reading

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