Gay Marriage – Love is the Narrow Gate

Matt. 7:13-14

Gay Wedding Rainbow Rings Isolated on White Background.

     Gay marriage is a holy exception to the biblical generalization of the union of two people. Exceptions to the Law are found by entering the narrow gates of love. Jesus said there are few who enter by way of the narrow gate. This post is part of the July 2015 synchroblog that invited bloggers to write about “Gay Marriage.”

     If all the exceptions to the instructions of Moses were included in the Scriptures, a library of holy exceptions would be needed to cover everything the early writers failed to identify. The children of Israel would have needed an additional forty tabernacles filled with exceptions to drag with them in the wilderness.

     The wide gate is the unsorted accumulation of religious laws, and many are ruined by it.

     Jesus should have brought a paper shredder with him for all the hurtful regulations that had been collected over the centuries. Ultimately, he reduced the Law and the Prophets into one: Do to others what you would have them do to you. St. Paul said love is the fulfillment of the Law. Love is the narrow gate.

   Of course, without electricity, Jesus used parables about the kingdom of heaven to teach people how to get rid of hurtful regulations. I explain them in my book about the kingdom of heaven. I’ll just identify the two parables here – the net cast into the sea, and the wheat and the tares.

     For a long time I walked by way of the wide gate. It was a righteous feeling being in the right and on the right. I won’t go into all the details of how I moved to the middle of the road, unsure which way I was going to finally tip. But I’ll tell you the tipping point that threw me 100% on the side of love over law.

     For six years, I served a loving, united, and harmonious church community as their pastor. It was the kingdom of heaven. In 2009, the universe led my denomination to accept the partnering of gay clergy. That’s when Satan threw some weeds into our garden of Eden. (Seeds in the Bible are metaphors for teachings or “the word”.) Hurtful teachings started stealing the Light and living water from the good teachings. You can’t always tell the weeds from the wheat until you start seeing the fruit they bear. Then the teachings bore their fruit.

     The weeds (hurtful teachings) produced suffering, division, pain, and anger. That was a difficult time in our congregation. For some people, the Law was more important than caring for the outcast. Some left quietly. Some departed loudly and tried to pull as many away from the body as they could. The kingdom of heaven was torn asunder.

     That’s when I knew that to follow the way of Love was the hard way. It was Jesus’ way. And it has led to life—a life that is true to compassion, love, and the well-being of outcasts, strangers, the sick and imprisoned.

   It would have been far easier to follow the Law with so many others in the religious community. But that’s the wide gate. And many people follow it. Yet the wide gate brought anger and division. Only Love can bring life and joy to those who despair.

     Martin Luther gave me both permission and the freedom to let Love be my guide. He said, “Therefore we conclude that all law, divine and human, treating of outward conduct, should not bind any further than love goes. Love is to be the interpreter of law.”

     “When Jesus said, “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it,” he wasn’t talking about gays experiencing difficulty to find life. Christians and other religious traditions have made sure the way for special people of the world is difficult. Jesus was talking about religious people finding it difficult to experience life in its abundance when they are ruled by Law rather than by love. There are many angry, hate-filled, law promoting Christians out there. They are constantly dividing each other.

     Love softens the heart while law hardens the heart.

     Sometimes it takes the universe moving itself forward without the help of the self-righteous to teach the religious world how to love. Fortunately, God is in control of the world. God is love and Love will ultimately bring all things together in perfect harmony as one.

     In the creation story, the human being was alone and it says this was “not good.” He need a “helper comparable to him” (Gen. 2:18 NKJV) to make him complete.

     Love recognized this. Love tried animal companionship first, but that didn’t do it (Gen. 2:18-20). The religious idiot who said gay marriage will lead to marriage with animals forgot God already figured that out. Pets aren’t sufficient to make one whole and complete. The human being needed someone like himself, capable of thinking, speaking, caring, and understanding his innermost needs. He needed someone to assist him and make him complete. Someone to help him through the many struggles on the journey of life.

     Marriage is a covenantal tradition in which two human beings commit themselves to each other in the image of love, uniting their energies to bring wholeness, healing, and harmony to each other. Their completeness brings them closer to the image of God, which is love.

     God is love. Love is the narrow gate. Love is the way of God. The Good Book is helpful in many ways, but love is the law God has written on my heart. That’s why I whole-heartedly support gay marriage.

     Will married gays do marriage perfectly? No. And law promoting, heterosexual Christians have provided no leadership or example worthy of following.

     Gay marriage is a positive step toward helping two people find the companionship they need in this journey of life. In my opinion, standing up for gay marriage is loving my neighbor the way Jesus intended. I hope you’ll join me in entering the kingdom by way of the narrow gate.

Here are the links to other bloggers on this topic:

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Is There An Unforgivable Sin?

Mark 3:28-30

     A long time ago, I was praying the gospels. I asked for an answer to this question: Why is the sin against the Holy Spirit unforgivable? Doesn’t that minimize the sacrifice of Jesus, even it’s by only one sin? It took a long time for me to get an answer. Since I’m following up my book The Kingdom of Heaven is for Real with a book about Eternal Life, I was drawn to analyze the question again.

     Part of the problem was that I was focusing on the wrong thing. I was assuming the headings given by the editors of various translations of the Bible was accurate. Headings can send you in a direction that might be a deviation from what Jesus meant.

     I started looking at the Greek words. Eternal is in the verse and that’s why I was drawn to it.

 28“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit” (Mark 3:28-30 NRSV).

     Other translations say “eternal damnation” or “eternal condemnation.”

     Is this an accurate translation? You be the judge.

     (Keep in mind that Jesus’s words came in response to the Pharisees saying he was casting out demons by the power of an unclean spirit, Beelzebul.)

     The Greek words literally translated as “has no forgiveness into the age” were replaced with “never.” Never has no end. But as I describe in my new book, every age has a beginning and an end, but its duration is not always definite.

     Guilty can also be translated as “subject to, liable, in danger of.”

     The primary focus in my book is that eternal (aionios) means “an undefined (but limited) duration of time,” literally, “into the age.” It does not mean “forever.” You’ll have to wait for the book for that full explanation.

     Oddly, the noun modified by “eternal” is not the typical Greek word (hamartēma) translated as “sin.” It’s a word (krisis) usually translated “separating, sundering (dividing, splitting), judgment, or condemnation.” The focus is on separation.

     If I put all these literal translations together, the verse sounds like this:

whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit has no forgiveness into the age, but is subject to an undefined period of separation.

     Separation from what? Separation from the grace, favor, or blessing of God? Or maybe Jesus was simply saying he would separate himself from his accusers until they stopped saying he was casting out demons by the power of Beelzubul.

     Was Jesus proclaiming this as a blanket statement to all the world? Or was Jesus speaking personally to the Pharisees? If Jesus understood the Holy Spirit had descended upon him at his baptism, to speak against this kind-hearted, holy, loving, compassionate, peaceful Spirit within him was hurtful.

     Matthew’s version says, “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, not in this age or in the age to come” (Matt. 12:32). Two ages of unknown length don’t necessarily make an eternity. Maybe Jesus was saying, “You can insult my human nature all you want, but to insult the Spirit that motivates me is going too far. It will take me longer to let it go than normal.” It’s an explanation that returns the meaning to the context of the passage instead of expanding it into a generalized theology that applies to every person in time.

     For how long would there be separation? Maybe for as long as they continued to speak against the Holy Spirit and claim Jesus healed in the power of Beelzebul. If it was for the rest of their lives, then it’s a lifetime. If they saw the Light and changed their minds, then forgiveness would be available to them.

     I don’t mind contradicting (blaspheming) the humanness of editors and translators. I’m seeking a way to avoid blaspheming the Holy Spirit. To suggest blaspheming the Holy Spirit is unforgivable puts a limit on God’s grace. I believe the saving actions of Jesus open the way to forgiveness for every sin including the one unjustly labeled “unforgivable.”

     Let me take this one step further. The verse preceding the passage in Mark says, “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered (3:27 NRSV).

     The New Testament says that you are a temple of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit motivates your actions that bring peace, love, hope, joy, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and self-control.

     The strong man in each of us is the Holy Spirit who motivates our good actions. If someone wants to steal your peace, joy, patience, et all, they simply have to insult you (blaspheme you) and the strong man (the Spirit of goodness) is tied up within you. It’s difficult to act in goodness when someone questions your motivations. The verse makes sense when you look at it this way.

     If the Spirit of goodness is mature and stronger in you than in most people, it can’t be tied up. Jesus proved this when he said from the cross, “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”

     To tie up the strong man, the Holy Spirit, in a person’s house is to limit the ability of that person to bring forth peace, hope, love, and goodness. How do you tie up someone’s strong man? By casting your insulting and unclean spirit into them. That will tie up the Spirit of goodness within them.

     Do you want to tie up the good actions of someone? Insult them. Say evil things to their face. That will hurt their feelings and it will take a longer time than usual for them to let go of your insult. It’s human nature and you will reap what you sow.

     Is it forgivable? Yes, but it will take longer than usual.

     What do you think? Is there an unforgivable sin?

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The Fires of Hell

     A friend asked me what I thought about “hell,” as in “Is there a hell?” So I thought I’d limit myself to 500 words and put it here:

     There are three words in the Bible that some translators have converted to the word “hell” (Sheol, Hades, and Gehenna).

     Sheol and Hades refer to (1) death, the place where people go when they die, or (2) in poetic language, as metaphors for places of darkness, despair, and pain. David implies he’s been to Sheol.

For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul (also translated as “life”) from the depths of Sheol  Ps. 86:13.

David says he has a choice to go to Sheol.

If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there Ps. 139:8.

If God is in heaven and in Sheol it would negate the explanation that hell is the absence of God or that God is turning His back and not watching people burn.

fire2     Most important for the Bible, fire is a graphic image of pain and sorrow, not of final punishment. The consequence (wages) of sin is death (a place of pain and sorrow).

 “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction(Is. 48:10). 

 “For gold is tested in the fire, and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation(Sirach 2:5).

“The vapor and smoke of the furnace precede the fire; so insults precede bloodshed” (Sirach 22:24).

     Gehenna is the New Testament’s image for the furnace of fire, i.e., pain and sorrow. Gehenna was literally a dump outside Jerusalem where garbage and refuse was burned, among other things.

And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell (Gehenna) fire. Matt. 18:9

 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell (Gehenna) as yourselves. Matt. 23:15.

“and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping (sorrow) and gnashing of teeth (anger)” Matt. 13:42.

     Death itself is also a metaphor in the Bible for the absence of true life, not merely the soul leaving its body. Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full (true life).”    

     The bottom line is this. The Bible is packed with multi-leveled metaphors and images. When we interpret the words literally, we are as the children (of Israel) who were unable to see below the surface of the literal word. The essential teachings lie in the metaphors, if we would only take the time to meditate upon them for what they can teach us that will bring peace and harmony into our lives today.

     Therefore, we create hell (pain and sorrow) for ourselves when we sin because every action has its own karma or consequence (wages). What you sow is what you’ll reap.

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Do the Right Thing

Mark 6:14-29                                    

How many times have you let others pressure you into doing things you really didn’t want to do? Some call it peer pressure. Some call it pride. Some call it wanting to fit in. Some call it avoiding embarrassment. Think about it. Why does something in your gut tell you that you shouldn’t do what you’re about to do? Because your gut is another name for your heart and your heart is the dwelling place of God.

Herod didn’t want to harm John. Something in his gut told him John was a righteous and holy man. Yet he tried to avoid embarrassing himself by having John beheaded. The truth is he’s looked like a weak-minded fool to the world for two thousand years already. How’s that for an embarrassing legacy?

This begs the question: Who are you trying to please or impress? Who is so important in your mind that you’d willingly hurt someone in order to save face?

Sin begins with a chain reaction in people trying to please someone else: Herod wanted to please his wife’s daughter for putting on a good performance. The daughter wanted to please her mother. Herodias wanted revenge and she used her daughter to get it. Herod wanted to save face in front of his friends and community leaders. Ultimately it led to doing harm to a good person.

Have you ever used your influence to get someone to do something they didn’t want to do – maybe to get back at someone who embarrassed you or who offended you? It happens all the time when couples divorce. People hold grudges and they use their children to try to hurt each other. It happens in the workplace, using coworkers to get even.

Not only does Herodias use her husband to get revenge, even worse, she uses her daughter.  Parental pressure is a very strong thing. We teach our children they are supposed to obey their parents: the Bible says so. We teach our children this means they have to do what their parents say, or it will be a sin before God.

Children have a different kind of pressure – they don’t always know what is right.  They can only trust their parent is telling them to do the right thing.  The daughter in our story never even questioned her mother. She didn’t ask, “Why do you want me to do that?”

How many have told their children they don’t have to obey the fourth commandment if a parent is asking them to do something wrong? If following a parent or a superior’s instructions will end up hurting someone – it is our Christian duty to do the right thing because Jesus is our Guide in making our choices. That’s what following Jesus is all about. Jesus gave us a higher command – to love – because love is the fulfillment of the law.

That applies even when the instructions we are told to follow are in the Good Book. You see, there are some instructions in the Bible that have ended up hurting our neighbor. Martin Luther taught that if a law doesn’t serve love, then you can overlook it. More than that, he said get rid of it.

God is Love     How do we know what is the right thing to do? The answer is found in asking that great question – what would Jesus do? He would serve love. What decision will bring good to my neighbor instead of harm?

The New Testament says God is love. To let God reign in your life is to let love reign in everything you do. To let your pride get hurt is better than letting your neighbor get hurt. When Love is guiding you, God is guiding you.

So what is the good news in this story about Herod and Herodias and her daughter? Maybe the good news is that you can trust your heart to tell you the right thing to do. You have invited God into your heart and Love said, “Yes.” God is love. God is in your heart. So you can trust what your heart is telling you when it tells you to do the right thing rather than harm your neighbor.

The good news is that Love is within you. Listen to Love when there’s a hard decision to make. And if you make a mistake, God still loves you, blesses you, forgives you, and doesn’t give up on you.

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Prophecy versus Tradition

     Jesus said, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his friends and his own family.” He couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. (from Mark 6:1-13)

      What’s your understanding of prophecy? The Greek definition says it’s a discourse arising from divine inspiration and explaining the purposes of God. More telling is the Hebrew word that can be translated in these ways:

  1. load, bearing, tribute, burden, lifting
    1. load, burden
    2. lifting, uplifting, that to which the soul lifts itself up
    3. bearing, carrying
    4. tribute, that which is carried or brought or borne
  2. utterance, oracle, burden

prophet     To prophecy is not an easy task. It’s often a burden. Why? Because it’s to carry the burden of telling people what they probably don’t want to hear. And most of the time, people don’t want to hear something different from what they’ve been taught for years and years. It’s the stuff of tradition that people don’t want to let go.

     Let me give you a quick example from the gospel of Mark in the passage above. Jesus couldn’t do any miracles (mighty or wonderful works) in his hometown except to lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.

     Did Jesus instantly make the illness of people go away? That’s what tradition has convinced us. Yet as I explained in my book, The Kingdom of Heaven is for Real…, the word for heal is therapeuo. It means to serve as an attendant (to take care of), to cure (to relieve pain, to make better, voluntarily serve), or to worship (to wait upon, render voluntary service).

     Jesus couldn’t do any mighty works except to lay hands on sick people and voluntarily wait upon them to make them feel better. That’s not as dramatic or almighty Godlike as tradition might want you to believe. Jesus tended their wounds. Maybe he used healing oils to reduce infection or gave them something to relieve indigestion. (After all, he was given the tools of a first century physician by the magi – golden balsam, frankincense, and myrrh.)

     Jesus was more like you and me than tradition (through translators) would have you to believe. And you are also more capable of performing wonderful and powerful works than tradition would have you believe. You can heal [serve voluntarily] in the same way Jesus healed. But let’s not stay with that line of prophecy.

     Let me move to what’s happening in 2015, the burden of declaring things that tradition would not want you to change. Like the Supreme Court decision to allow anyone to commit his/her devotion, love, and life to another person regardless of the complementarity of their genitalia or physical gender appearance.

     The prophets bore the burden of revealing purposes of God that didn’t always agree with the oral and written tradition. The prophets said poor people were valued by God, not being punished by God. Rituals were nice but not when they were placed as higher in importance than the care of people who were hurting. Rules are important but not when they hurt people instead of helping establish equity and order in large groups of people.

     That’s why Martin Luther said things like these: love is the only law for Christians now, and love is to be the interpreter of the law, and if any law, divine or human, does not lead to love and care for people, it should be abolished. People of religious law don’t like to hear things like this. It’s hard to manipulate people to be like you imagine they are supposed to be with something as ambiguous as “love.” And it’s harder to love than to judge.

     I explained two of Jesus’s parables in my book (chapters five and nine) that clearly (in my mind) teach that it’s important to sort through all the things tradition has taught so that you keep the good teachings and get rid of the ones that are not helpful anymore.

     The only problem with bearing the burden of prophecy is that people of tradition don’t react with love and kindness to changes in tradition. That’s why they crucified Jesus, and many of the prophets.

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Do Not Resist Evil

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:38-39, NKJV)

      Is the path to peace laid through fear? Sometimes. It’s like disciplining a child. If a child can be helped to recognize there is a negative price to pay for a harmful action, he might refrain from negative actions. It’s a beginning for learning “you reap what you sow.” Yet too many reactions, parental and otherwise, are based on emotions and inaccurate information rather than based in truth. That’s why time is necessary to allow for a mature and appropriate response.

Fear as a preventive tactic does not eradicate the reason for disharmony or discontent. It’s like treating a symptom and not providing a cure. You have to keep generating fear to establish a forced peace…and thus, there can never be true peace.

Is the path to harmony found through a gun? Or a bomb? Or a drone?

Shock and awe? That one sure backfired. Terrorism has multiplied after that display of military power.

Yes, there’s evil in the world. No doubt. And it would be great to get rid of it. How do you do this?

First, let’s revisit what evil is when applied to this teaching from Jesus.

The clearest definition I’ve found comes from the Aramaic word Jesus probably used (bisa) and the Gospel writer replaced with the Greek word ponēros. And then English translators changed to evil. You tell me if you think they mean the same as your definition for evil.

     Bisa means “unripe, not fit for its intended purpose, corrupt, not ready, out of rhythm, immature.”

     Ponēros means full of labors, annoyances, hardships; bringing toils, annoyances, perils.”

     Evil = your definition________________________________________.

      The Aramaic word points to the core reason for the actions that become harmful or annoying or laborious. Lack of development. Lack of maturity. Lack of focus on the reason for which it was created. And yet it also suggests a potential for improvement. What’s immature can become mature.

tomato 1     When I look at my tomatoes on the vine, I can easily see the unripe tomatoes. I don’t bother them. I can’t force them to become ripe simply by commanding them to ripen faster or I’ll cut them off. I have to make sure they get the water, nutrition, and sunlight they need to mature into the good fruit they were created to be.

The potential is there. And I have to see that potential before I will do what I need to do to allow the natural course of events to occur so the tomato can develop and become a mature fruit, suited for the purpose for which it was created.

If someone slaps me, there will be a price to pay. “For whatsoever you sow, that’s what you’ll reap.” But it’s not up to me to become the Grim Punisher. Maybe the slap was part of my reaping what I sowed earlier. The laws of the Universe will take a more appropriate and fairer toll than I could mete out.

It takes a stronger person to restrain their emotions and reactions than to react improperly in an attempt to repay an evil, immature, undeveloped person with the same harm he/she perpetrated.

Do not resist immature, unripe, undeveloped people. Jesus is the model. Repaying evil with evil only proves your own level of development and leads to a never-ending cycle of immaturity, unripeness, and undeveloped actions. Instead, try to discover what it takes to help the undeveloped one reach his or her potential for goodness.

Then everyone can live together in peace.

 

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Your Efforts Matter for the Kingdom of God

Mark 4:26-32

      Each Gospel has its own perspective of Jesus and his life. Some have said it’s because the authors were writing to different audiences. That seems likely for Matthew (to Jews) and Luke (to Gentiles), but for Mark and John, there isn’t as clear of a distinction. Others think that the four Gospels represent different groups of believers and how they differed in the way they understood Jesus and his life…kind of like the beginning of denominations. And doesn’t that make sense? Was there ever a time when anyone agreed upon the same thing?

     So what was the understanding about Jesus by the group that had been hearing and teaching the Gospel of Mark? If you read the whole Gospel, you’ll get the feeling that nobody, not even the disciples, understood Jesus or his mission. The disciples never get it. The original end of this Gospel is verse 8 where the women run away from the tomb and don’t tell anyone. A curious way to end the story. Verses 9-20 were added in the fourth century.

     Back to chapter 4. In verse 12, Jesus quotes Isaiah, repeating God’s instruction to teach in parables so that the people won’t understand and be able to turn their lives around for the forgiveness of sins.

     I have to be honest. I don’t get that. Why didn’t God want people to understand the meaning of parables? Why didn’t God want them to turn around so their sins could be forgiven? If you have the answer, please enlighten us all.

     Of course, since the disciples didn’t understand the parable of the Sower either, Jesus explained it to them.

     Then Jesus talked about a lamp and not hiding it under a basket or bed. I think he was referring to himself. He came to enlighten the world. Set the Lamp on a lampstand for all to see and be enlightened.

plowing 2     “Take heed what you hear – with the same measure you use, it will be measured to you.” How attentive are you to learning what Jesus had to teach? How focused are you on gaining spiritual understanding? If you intensely work at it, much will come from your efforts.

     Then Jesus tells two parables (vs. 26-32) about the kingdom of God. They seem logical. No one knows how or when seeds will grow. It’s the earth (soil) that causes them to grow and produce fruit. Then someone comes along and harvests it. Second, small seeds grow into big bushes that can shelter many creatures.

     The curious part is that the seeds represent the kingdom of God. No one knows how the kingdom of God grows. It just grows when the conditions and soil are right. It starts very small. And when it grows, it protects many creatures.

     The kingdom of God (same thing as kingdom of heaven) isn’t a magical place that is the destination of all believers after they’re dead. It’s something that grows here and now. The kingdom of God grows in places where the conditions are right for it to grow. It won’t grow in places where it is dry, hard, cold, or barren. It needs warmth, moisture, nourishment, and quality of earth/soil (as in the parable of the Sower).

     I suppose the question remains from the parable of the Sower: how’s your soil? Have you tilled it and invested the effort so that the kingdom of God can grow in you? “With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

     I spent a lot more time on this in my book, The Kingdom of Heaven is for Real and It’s Open to Everyone!

     It reminds me of Jesus’s teaching in Matthew – Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you. However intensely you seek the kingdom of God is the measure you will receive. Your efforts matter.

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Jesus, the Serpent, and Eternal Life

John 3:15

     How about another twist on the John 3 text? “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the son of man be lifted up that whoever believes in him should have eternal life.”

     Prior to the Dark Ages (aka, Middle Ages, 6th – 12th centuries) serpents had a pretty good reputation in many societies. Historically, serpents and snakes represented fertility or a creative life force. They were symbols of rebirth and transformation because they shed their skin through sloughing. They were also symbols of immortality and healing.

     One symbol in particular is the ouroboros, an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail. It takes the shape of a circle, a symbol of eternity and continual renewal of life. The ouroboros often symbolizes self-reflexivity or cyclicality in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself. It can also represent the idea of primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting from the beginning with such force or qualities it cannot be extinguished.

     Carl Jung said the ouroboros is a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e. of the shadow. This ‘feed-back’ process is at the same time a symbol of immortality, since it is said of the ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself.

     In some Abrahamic traditions, the serpent represents sexual desire. According to some interpretations of the Midrash, the serpent represents sexual passion. In Hinduism, Kundalini is a coiled serpent, the residual power of pure desire.(1)

     It’s been confusing for me to understand why Jesus paralleled the lifting up of himself on the cross to the snake/serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness…until I learned of the positive image Jesus probably held of serpents. He would become the image of immortality for all.

     Jesus is the Christian symbol for immortality, for healing, for rebirth, for regeneration, and the creative life force. He is our symbol for sloughing off the dead skin of the flesh (our earthly desires) in order to become a new person…born again, born from above.

     Just as Moses lifted up the 10 Commandments as a guide for his people to turn from death to life, Jesus has been lifted up as a guide to help us move from death into a new and abundant life (eternal life – the quality of life God intends for each of us) in the world today. He symbolizes the law of love that is to be lifted up so that all who trust in him and his teachings can be healed and have eternal life today.

     Serpents, like commandments, have lost their ability to keep people from perishing (if they ever had that ability). Yet, Jesus will always be looked to by those who recognize they are perishing. When they look to Christ (follow his example of love) they can begin the quality of life God intends for them to have in the world today – eternal life.

     This is even better news than one might think. Just like serpents need to shed their skins many times in one lifetime, we too need to be reborn, renewed, regenerated as we get snake-bit by fleshly desires, ebbing and flowing toward and away from the example set by Jesus. With each cycle, we can grow in our trust that following His example will lead us back to life.

 

(1) Wikipedia.

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Born of Water and Spirit – Meditation

John 3:1-17

 “No one can see/understand the kingdom of God without being born again.”

“No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.”

      My readings into Aramaic offer a new translation/interpretation of this popular Gospel text from John 3 that can simply be a reference to the spiritual practice of meditation. Neil Douglas-Klotz says that the Aramaic version of the word for “born again” uses the same form that refers to being born from the beginning (and that refers to way back to the beginning, as in returning to the way we were created originally, in the image of God – complete, whole, good). The word for “water” uses the same form as the Hebrew in Genesis 1:2, which also means the flowing, chaotic darkness. And the Aramaic word for “spirit” can also mean “breath” (just like Greek and Hebrew). This parallels the creation story when the “spirit/breath of God moved upon the face of the waters.”

     If you noticed, the spirit referred to in the text is not attached to the word “Holy.” This is an assumption made by clerics and theologians who tend to be attached to fourth century theologies. Translators even capitalize the word “spirit” to make sure you don’t think any different. What if John really meant “breath” instead of the third person of the Trinity? That would mess up a lot of baptismal interpretations so commonly applied here.

     Klotz suggests that Jesus was telling Nicodemus that he needed to “recreate the creation story within himself by returning to the primordial darkness from which the light first arose, using his own spirit-breath as a vehicle.”

meditation     Darkness does not imply evil. It signifies the unknown.

     In other words, to enter a place of harmony and unity within yourself (the kingdom of heaven), you need to establish a practice of meditation, learning to follow the breath into your inner self. In meditation, you seek the Divine Unknown within you who reveals the truth (which in Aramaic means “right or harmonious direction; that which liberates and opens possibilities, or is strong and vigorous”).

     Klotz says, “To be reborn from the breath by following the sensation of it inside, into the seeming darkness and out again, is the foundation of many Western breathing therapies today. One steps off into the unknown, into what seems like the dark and foreboding place of one’s inner emotional life. With perseverance, one comes through to a new state of being.”1

     Wouldn’t it be a disappointment for many if Jesus was simply trying to teach Nicodemus the practice of meditation? Nicodemus was a teacher of Israel and he didn’t know the importance of going away (like Jesus often did) to enter into the primordial darkness in his own heart and enter into the presence of God, to unify the brokenness within.

     When you have found harmony, peace, unity with the One who made you in God’s image through meditation, the kingdom of heaven is within you. When the kingdom is within you, you can offer its peace and joy to those in the world around you. When that happens you can be a teacher of Israel (‘Israel’ means “one who struggles with God”) who offers them the truth – direction towards unity.

     Some will dismiss an interpretation like this as being New Age. But meditation isn’t something new. It’s much older than first century Aramaic. Meditation goes further back than Isaac meditating in the field as Rebekah arrived to be his bride (Gen. 24:63). And to David many years after that, “When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches” (Psalm 63:6).

     Yet it’s too easy to keep promoting that baptism in physical water and the third Person of the Trinity is what opens the gates to the kingdom of heaven – which stereotypically is a reference to life after you’re dead…a concept foreign to Jesus’s teachings. Jesus taught that the kingdom is at hand – not after death.

     Unless you set aside time to enter the primordial darkness through meditation, following the Breath inward to embrace the Unknown, you cannot enter a state of inner peace and unity.

     So, which interpretation is closer to truth for you? Which one liberates you and opens possibilities to new life?

 

1Neil Douglas-Klotz, The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the Spiritual Message of the Aramaic Jesus, (Quest Books: Wheaton, IL, 1999) 37-38, 51

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Baptized with the Holy Goose

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

      Pentecost has always been a bit of a mystery for me. I think it’s one of the hardest events following the resurrection of Jesus to understand: the giving – or baptism – of the Holy Spirit.

 Domestic goose    I did find an interesting bit of trivia this week. The Celtic Christians didn’t choose the dove as their symbol for the Holy Spirit. They chose the wild goose. It sounds strange to us, but it has a long tradition in Ireland. The image of the dove has become so familiar to us, and in fact, we’ve made it sound like doves float in as light as a feather and land with hardly moving a blade of grass. Have you ever seen a dove land? Some of them aren’t so graceful. Sometimes when the Holy Spirit comes, it isn’t so graceful either. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is more like a wild goose descending on you and landing on your head.

     A wild goose can be one noisy, bothersome bird. But it’s not an improper image of the Holy Spirit who often has to jar us out of our complacency. Maybe it’s an image we need to shake us out of an overly safe and overly sweet image of the Spirit when it comes upon a person.

     When the Spirit came to people in the Bible, it never seemed to make dogmatic people happy. The results of the Spirit shocked and upset them. The Spirit inspired prophets to speak to Israel in words that were bold, in-your-face, and sometimes dangerous. Prophets were often noisy and bothersome to the religious establishment who made God all about rituals, sacrifice, and rules.

     John the Baptist was no dovelike image, and he said, “I baptize you with water but he who comes after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  

     Maybe it was this Wild Goose of the Holy Spirit that entered Jesus when he preached his first sermon, quoting Isaiah and saying, “For the Spirit of the Lord is upon me for he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners/captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the time of God’s grace” (Luke 4:18).[1]

     That statement must have been shocking to the religious authorities. The poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed:  these were all the outcasts of society. The dogmatic leaders said God was punishing these people for their sins. It was a shock to hear a new rabbi say the Lord had sent him to help outcasts and sinners, not to berate them.

     The children of Israel had been celebrating Pentecost for 1500 years before Jesus’s birth. They celebrated Pentecost to commemorate the day Moses received the Law on Mt. Sinai. The Law was a good thing. It helped establish order for a large group of people. It set some boundaries that defined how people should treat each other.

     As good as laws might be in helping control the external behavior of some people, it cannot change anyone’s heart. And in reality, the celebration was only lip service because the righteous authorities were constantly  ignoring the poor and the sick. That’s what Ezekiel said was the sin of Sodom – “arrogance, overfed, and unconcerned about helping the poor and needy” (Ezek. 16:49-51). Several prophets told the people, “You honor God with your lips but not with your hearts.” This is the continuing mantra of prophets today.

     So why didn’t God, in the manner of the Old Testament, destroy Jerusalem for killing His Son? Because the truth is — God is good, all the time. The Son who came to reveal the image of the Father said, “I am the truth.”

     On the day of Pentecost, the disciples were shaken by a Spirit that filled them with the fire of passion for this message. They spoke boldly about the wonderful works of God. They proclaimed the things they had witnessed in and through Jesus.

     I wonder if that is what being baptized by the Holy Spirit is all about? When you become so convinced about the truth – that God is good and has been good since the beginning of time – that it puts a smile on your face and a dance in your step.

     People don’t become godly because the Holy Spirit inspires them to follow laws. A change has to take place internally that causes them to fall on their knees in awe – and the only thing that can do that is recognizing the complete goodness of God. The apostle Paul wrote to one of the churches, “Don’t you know that it’s the goodness of God that leads you to repentance?” It’s the goodness of God, not the fear of God, that has the power to change you on the inside.

     The Holy Spirit’s work is to create such certainty of faith in us, an unshakable trust that Jesus Christ has shown us the fullness of the Father and we are convinced we have no reason to fear anything in death. You might be surprised at Martin Luther’s explanation of the role of the Holy Spirit that I found in the Church Postils.

     When the Holy Spirit suggests that you let go of some of the laws in the Bible, that’s when the Holy Spirit feels like a not-so-holy Goose coming in for a landing. It shakes you up and frightens you a little until you get your bearings again.

     Yet, there are times when the Holy Spirit may be more like a softly crashing dove, or like the soft flame of a candle, or even the flip of a light switch when a light bulb goes on in your head and you realize the truth and you say, “I get it! Jesus has shown us the heavenly Father.”

     Instead of fearing Laws that threaten you, you become inspired to be good for Goodness’ sake. You become inspired to love your neighbor because you realize the Divine Breath of the Spirit entered your neighbor when he or she took their first gasp of air, too. All have received the Holy Breath of Life. You can start to treat your neighbor like you would treat God’s own Son, because all of us are God’s sons and daughters who have received the Breath of Life.

     When the Holy Spirit hits you with this truth, you are set free to live with boldness and joy and confidence because you know that all is well with your soul. When the Holy Spirit comes, you will look at Jesus and say what Thomas said when he saw Jesus for the first time after the resurrection, “My Lord, and my God!  I get it! I finally get it! This is the good news! I’ve got to tell someone – God is good…all the time!”

 

[1] Mickey Anders, The Wild Goose, Acts 2:1-13, ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc. ChristianGlobe Illustrations

 

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