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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Week #5: Hebrews 1-6

Our subculture of glib liberal UCC blithely asserts that ‘Jesus is nice’, perhaps even a great teacher, never in conflict with any religious group, since ‘we all believe in the same thing, eh?’  That’s a ‘low Christology’, emphasizing Jesus’ humanity.  We also resist anything miraculous or supernatural, in general.

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Ephesians 6

This writer is a particular kind of humble, asking for prayers in the end today, a final reason I think it’s not the same guy who wrote Paul’s autograph set. Asking help while offering help is a pretty good model, consistent with the community ethic in the cosmic context of the whole letter.

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Ephesians 5

You knew it was coming, and here we are. The ethical reflection brings us back to household codes of morality. This early religious movement is finding a way to synthesize conventional morality of the surrounding culture. Yes, we find in it patriarchy and misogyny.

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Ephesians 4

What a series of centres for love and peace, rather than several distant goals: one body and one Spirit… one hope of your calling… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all’. Once we orient ourselves in relation to such cosmic providential unity, our own modest ethical exercises of prudence don’t seem so overwhelming.

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Ephesians 3

How do you like this revisiting of ‘the conversion of Paul’? Acts, the official biography, gave us the ‘Damascus Road’. Paul’s autograph letters countered with a claim of greater agency, and independence from other religious leaders. This third version has more to do with a mystical revelation of ‘the mystery’, flirting with a Gnostic ‘secret knowledge’ defining characteristic of the faith.

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Ephesians 2

The contrast of living in mortal terms for mortal things, or living in greater terms for ultimate things, either as ‘children of wrath’ or ‘children of light’, risks a ‘two kinds of people’ division, but wins some assurance. We are already saved. This phrase “by grace through faith” in NRSV summarizes our Protestant take – in the audio, you hear Hart’s “For you are those who in grace have been saved by faithfulness”. Beware the slogans of modern religious wars.

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Ephesians 1

Is it really Paul, or another ‘pseudo’? My answer will be not-Paul again, lest that one human writer be just weirdly confused and confusing…. Wait on it for the week, and see if you agree, and why or why not. At least, see what’s distinctive about this book, building on last week’s reminders of Colossians.

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Week #4: Ephesians

Listen to the smooth-talking sophistication of a cosmic Christ. Imagine yourselves called to a ministry of thinking big thoughts, worthy of the one sitting at the right hand of God in the heavenly places, over all the competing powers. Whatever your picture of Paul as appalling or appealing apostle, try to fit these words into the mind of the writer of Romans, Corinthians, Galatians…

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Colossians 4 (Part 2)

Let’s relax on the Sabbath Saturday, toying with the last half of chapter 4 and its recitals of people, a lot like Romans 16. It feels a lot like ‘church bingo’, the game of finding mutual acquaintances in 2 or 3 degrees of separation rather than the secular 6. It might feel like name-dropping if we knew more.

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Colossians 4

Prayer, thanksgiving, submission to this shared ‘prison’ with the writer, may not feel so oppressive, if you give it a chance. What do we reveal, or re-present to the world, about divinity and humanity? What did Jesus reveal, or this writer?

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