James 5

God forbid that my epitaph is: ‘he meant well’. Little better is ‘you made me think’. Is that your church and your gospel, a collection of liberal teachings that meant well, or made you think? When you have engaged your Jesus, your faith, your church on a Sunday, has anything changed? Can you hear? ‘Nice church! It doesn’t interfere with my politics, business practice, or religion!’ As Marx wrote on Feuerbach, ‘philosophers try to describe the world. The point is to change it.’

Read More

James 4

Our liberal crew doesn’t like the ‘flee from the devil’ talk – but the clarification that we can’t blame God for our own temptations is worth a pause.

The closing line reminds us of the sins of omission, not just commission – a critical distinction in our culture in which ‘our institutions do our sinning for us’.

Read More

James 3

The little letter of James, near the back of your bible, is always on about ‘walking the walk, not just talking the talk’.  James is suspicious and warning of the risk of being full of talk – or worse, of bad talk.  We know a lot about that, in the promise and risk of our choices of ‘teaching elders’, in churches that gather weekly for a ‘service of the word’ with lots of preaching.

Read More

James 2

Our discrimination between church visitors who are well-dressed and ragged continues – but we are in fact resistant to any kind of difference from our narrow demographic, without an alternate standard of what makes ‘us’ distinct…

Read More

Hebrews 13

1 Let mutual love continue.

2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

3Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured

4Let marriage be held in honour by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.

5Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’

6So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’

7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.

9Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by regulations about food, which have not benefited those who observe them.

10We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat.

11For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp.

12Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood.

13Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured.

14For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

15Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.

16Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing —for that would be harmful to you.

18 Pray for us; we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honourably in all things.

19I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you very soon.

20 Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant,

21make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

22 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.

23I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been set free; and if he comes in time, he will be with me when I see you.

24Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy send you greetings.

25Grace be with all of you.*

Hebrews 12

There is an argument about discipline in the middle of this chapter that raises the hair on the back of my neck and yours. The appeal to discipline and punishment by a parental figure has been misused to justify abuse too long. We won’t agree on this writer’s assessment of how we feel about ‘chastisement’ by God through the troubles we feel. Don’t buy this blithely.

Read More

Hebrews 11

Here’s the nugget that you’ve been waiting for, the most familiar bits of Hebrews for those of us raised in the church of the last century. Of course, our teachers loved in a diluted neo-orthodoxy to distinguish between ‘knowing’ and ‘believing’ and reduced ‘faith’ to something less than knowledge, reached by a ‘leap’.

Read More

Hebrews 10

Just as the writer, and this reader, got a bit testy with contemporary peers last Friday in chapter 5, we’re back in the same zone today in chapter 10. What makes the writer crazy is people in the community who got it and wasted it. Sure, we have the Sisyphean task of repetition, hopefully changing ourselves if not the world. But in what way was Christ’s death and resurrection ‘once for all’ and not just like ours?

Read More

Hebrews 9

This elaboration of the argument into the design of the ‘earthly sanctuary’ may take you a step too far, like Michael J. Fox’ guitar riff in ‘Back to the Future’. Did you slog through Leviticus with me last year, or Exodus the year before? The painstaking details of designing the tent of the presence are assumed to be familiar – known by the original writer and original reader/hearers.

Read More

Hebrews 8

If you didn’t quit after yesterday’s chapter, the writer will try again, and so will this reader. What if Christ is like that, like a high priest? What if we tried, as Georg Gadamer invited us last century in our ‘disenchanted modernity’, to begin to ‘re-enchant our universe’? Of course, ‘organism needs environment’, whether of some life beyond death, or this Christ on a throne in a tent/temple.

Read More

Hebrews 7

What was the point of a ‘priest’ – let alone a ‘king’ in the first place? Thomas Carlyle speculated about it elegantly before modern social sciences developed, in his pamphlet ‘Heroes and Hero Worship’. His pecking order included warrior and poet, but culminated in Christ.

Read More

Week #6: Hebrews 7-12

We misuse this text if we simply use it to ‘trump’ Judaism with Christianity – projecting our issues back on this writer, who faces the end of a Temple cult since 70CE, and has not yet discerned the sister religions to be reinvented through Talmud and Christian scriptures. The appeal to antiquity and deeper toledot in Genesis is an appeal to a scheme from wider covenants with humanity through Adam or Noah, to greater specification in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and in turn through Moses, Torah, and the tribes of Israel.

Read More

Hebrews 6

The complaint focuses in on a particular sub-group of sins, close to home for anybody still reading this stuff online: those who once had a piece of ‘blessed assurance’, and now hold it all up to ridicule, not only themselves, but of the whole movement. How dare we? How do we call people back to the table?

Read More

Hebrews 5

How do you imagine the mediatorial role of any priest? What is the point or purpose of gifts and sacrifices to God. The focus here, and through Hebrews, is an atoning sacrifice for sins. Torah has lots of provision for what we call criminal and civil penalties and payments, and for thanks offerings and tithes. This gift is not compensation for loss, but something greater.

Read More

Hebrews 4

How do we try to justify ourselves? How are we ultimately measured and named, by whom or by what? There is an unconditional offer extended – and a real choice to be made ‘today’. Yet, to be continuously on probation is awful. Where is there ever rest, except through trust and mercy?

Read More

Hebrews 3

I shudder at the risk that people will read into this text a medieval cosmology of a three tier universe where ‘enter into rest’ means ‘going to heaven’ and the alternative for mortals is eternal damnation in hell. The text really doesn’t say that – does it?

Read More

Hebrews 2

Today’s reading admits that this is hard work. Perhaps at first glance, this religious stuff is deceptively easy, then becomes tougher, and it’s tempting to drift away. That would be dismissive of our own experience, and that of our elders. Worse, if ours is a divinity of justice as well as of grace, there will be consequences from what we ignore.

Read More

Hebrews 1

Where does Jesus fit in your re-enchanted universe? Is Jesus ‘just a guy’? Today the opening chapter affirms Jesus in relation to Creator and creation, and beside Ruler of All – and then restates how that out-ranks angels. Most North Americans believe in angels and pray – the rest of us are UCC ministers.

Read More