The Holy Spirit as Guide

John 16:5-15

     This past week,  I wrote a blog about why I believe Jesus would have spoken against all the religious and nonreligious people today who fear and condemn transgender people for not fitting the norm. You can scroll back and read it for yourself.

     In other places in the New Testament, Jesus spoke against the Pharisees of his day for loving the law of Moses more than they were loving people who had leprosy, or who were lame, or blind, or mentally ill, or who had birth defects, or any other condition that made them less than perfect by the standards of those who believed themselves to be favored by God.

     Yet I’m not writing today to change your mind about any one particular injustice in our society today. I’m here to remind you of the universal and spiritual law that is repeated many times in the New Testament: you will reap what you sow. If you sow judgment on any group of people, you will be judged by others. If you sow love, you will reap love. That’s your choice and I’ll let you make it for yourself.

     Instead, I want to turn the conversation to what Jesus said in the verses prior to the gospel reading for Sunday. Context is everything. So this is the context: Jesus said this to his disciples:

“I have spoken these things so that you will not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues. Yes, the time is coming when someone who kills you will think that he’s doing God a service. And they will do these things to you because they (the ones who know the Scriptures backwards and forwards) do not know the Father nor me. But I have told you these things so that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them. I did not tell you these things in the beginning because I was with you. “But now I go away to the One who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ And because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, a Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send him to you. And when he has come, he will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not place their confidence in me; 10 of righteousness because I go to my Father and you see me no more; 11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.  12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 However, when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, he will guide you into all truth…” (John 16:1-13).

     The Helper, according to most scholars, is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will guide you in the truth. So how is the Holy Spirit going to do that?

      I’m going to be the first in line to tell you that the Bible we have received is the most incredible witness to the wisdom of the centuries. It’s a precious book of knowledge and has led many people to love God. But I worship God, not a Book. And I’ve found that truth doesn’t always lie on paper in the black and red ink. The truth is often a hidden treasure, hidden between the letters and the lines on the paper. Martin Luther said it’s in the white spaces where the Holy Spirit teaches. And I agree.

     Yet the Holy Spirit doesn’t need a book to teach you the truth. Millions of people on our planet over two thousand years and even today were not able to read the Book because they don’t know how to read. Still, the Holy Spirit spoke to them and taught them to love God and their neighbors. Millions of Christians today never read the Book because they don’t have any time. Still, the Holy Spirit speaks to them and teaches them to love a God who cares for them and to love their neighbors. So the Holy Spirit, the Helper, doesn’t necessarily need a book to guide you in the truth.

     In the passage quoted, one of the things Jesus said was this, The Helper will convict the world of sin. The Greek word for sin, harmartia, literally means “to miss the mark.” The Holy Spirit tells me that the mark we are to hit is love. Sin isn’t as much about following rules in a book of wisdom assembled in the fourth century as it is about missing the mark of love.

     The Bible tells us that God is Love. If you believe this like I do, that means love (God) trumps rules. Jesus himself set aside the rules in the Book when love was more helpful in caring for his neighbors. He contradicted long-followed rules in the Scriptures that he didn’t agree with. And it’s the Holy Spirit that Jesus said he would send to be your guide who will teach you this. So I’m here to remind you today, that the Holy Spirit dwells in your heart. Not in your logical brain that sees ink on paper. He dwells in hearts that have been softened by love.

     I’m here to tell you to listen to the Holy Spirit who lives in your heart and not to every Bible-thumping Christian who insists that the wisdom of God is found in the black and red ink of your Bibles. It’s found in the white spaces and in the depths of your heart – where the Holy Spirit dwells and speaks to you. Let the Holy Spirit guide you to believe those who promote Love.

     May this Holy Spirit guide you toward hitting the mark of love in all the choices you must make in the world today. And may you sow love rather than judgment, and you will harvest much love in return.

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The Odds If You Are Transgender

Romans 5:1-15

     The odds if you are transgender are three hundred thirty-two to one.

     Several weeks ago, we heard on Palm Sunday that Jesus rode into Jerusalem riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey. The name Jerusalem means “city of peace.” He rode into a city of peace and started a wildfire. I want to connect this image with what the apostle Paul said in his letter to the Romans: 3Let us also boast in our sufferings (which also means persecutions), knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

     Our Christian calling is to follow Jesus into the world to relieve pain and hunger and suffering. You might say we are like colts carrying the mission of Jesus on our backs, even when it brings persecution to us. Paul says we should boast or speak loudly in our persecutions because ultimately, they will build us up and make us stronger people. So I want to talk about persecution and suffering. Sometimes as a Christian, you have to risk being persecuted for trying to alleviate the suffering of others. That’s following in the footsteps of Jesus. I’m going to risk it today.

     My brother is a licensed clinical psychologist in Texas. He was fifty-seven years old when his college aged daughter called and said, “Dad, I’ve fallen in love with my girlfriend.”

     He said, “Stacey, don’t worry about it. Kids in college fall in love with all kinds of things and this will pass. It’s a phase.”

     The next year she called and said, “Dad, I’m the president of my psychology club at Rice University, and I think I meet every single criteria for gender identity disorder, now known as gender dysphoria, or being depressed about your inside not matching your outside body parts.”

     He said, “Stacey, don’t worry about that. A subcommittee of psychologists somewhere made that up and this too will pass.” But it’s now been eleven years and it hasn’t passed.

     My former niece, Stacey, now identifies as a male. He changed his name to “Colt” because he is a very Christian person, and it reminds him of the image of the colt carrying Christ on his back. He went to a Catholic High School. He went to mass four days every week. He was an altar server at his church from fourth grade through senior in high school. He was voted the most religious student in his high school class three straight years and the fourth year they didn’t have the election. He received straight A’s at Rice University, received a Ph.D. from the University of Houston, works as a licensed psychologist now, and he’s starting medical school in the fall. Colt is one of the brightest, most articulate and devotedly religious lay men of any age that I know. He’s working to help people who are LGBT to learn about themselves and accept themselves and to educate the society we are in.

      One out of 333 people is transgender. The school district in NC where this discussion about bathrooms erupted last week has about 5000 students. That’s more people than live in Benton, KY. That mean about 12-15 students in the whole school system might be transgender…if there are 30 children in a class, that means about one in every ten classrooms has a transgender student. 1 in 333 means there might be 12-15 people in the whole city of Benton, KY who are transgender. And they suffer persecution from heterosexuals because we can’t understand why they aren’t like us.

     Concerning the bathroom issue in schools. Most people who are transgender are like Colt. It took him until he was in college to come to the conclusion about his identity after he’d left home. Trans kids often don’t realize why they are thinking uncommon thoughts about themselves until they reach a point in their mental and physical development. I’m hoping to provide some information today that will reduce the lack of knowledge about this small group that has been easy to bully and reject.

     First, transgender people are people whose body does not correspond to their internal perceptions of who they are as people and how they want to live their lives, including the clothes they want to wear, hair styles, the jobs they want to do, etc. Transgender status has to do with gender, what they understand about themselves, and absolutely nothing to do with what gender they are sexually attracted to or sexual perversion.

     Only one in 333 people truly understands what that would feel like. It’s got to be frustrating for them because they can’t say who they are without being called a freak of nature or something evil. All too often it has been by people who go to church and say they want to be more like Jesus.

     Let me tell you how one in 333 people suffer today.

87% of trans students are verbally harassed by other students. Sometimes they act a little different from normal boys and girls. They are easy to pick on – after all – it’s 332 against one. That’s why:

75% approximately do not feel safe at school. If they’ve been bullied, they are the ones who are afraid of going into a bathroom. That’s where they get assaulted, there’s no back door in most bathrooms for escape.

64% of trans people have been sexually assaulted.

63% have experienced a serious act of discrimination, the kind of events that would have a major impact on a person’s quality of life and ability to sustain themselves either financially or emotionally, that’s why transgender people often live in extreme poverty.

55% of trans people have lost jobs due to bias and 61% of trans people have low household incomes.

57% experienced significant family rejection.

50% missed partial or entire days due to bullying.

50% of those who endured bullying attempt suicide.

41% of trans people have attempted suicide one or more times (compared to 1.6% of the general population).

     Jesus said you will be persecuted if you follow my example. You will suffer for standing up for the poor, the mentally unstable, people in prison, those who are unable to provide for themselves, those who are rejected by society, the one in 333.

     When you and I attempt to relieve suffering brought about by the world, we are no longer of the world but we are in Christ. As we begin the work of relieving injustice, you and I will experience another kind of suffering, the suffering of the cross. The cross we bear for Christ is to fight so that all people can have food on the table, and clothes on their back, and a roof over their head, and respect as unique creations of God.

     The world will fight, tooth and nail, to continue the injustices that bring pain, and hunger, and imprisonment, and inequality because Injustice is the demon who doesn’t want to disappear. Our call in baptism is to follow Jesus into the world, and to change a world that thrives on unequal treatment of people. When we fight injustice, we should expect to suffer for it. Jesus said in his sermon on the mount, “Blessed are you when you are persecuted for doing what is right, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Matt. 5:10-12).

     Those defending closing bathrooms say they are only protecting their children from pedophiles. That is being stated as the reason, but it is wrong and extremely offensive to transgender people. Many people do not understand the difference between transgender people and pedophiles. Pedophiles are most often heterosexual men who have sexual contact specifically with children. Data collected by rape crisis clinics indicate that almost all pedophiles are well known by their victims and about 95% of them are family members including stepfathers, mother’s boyfriends, brothers, uncles, and even grandfathers. Very few pedophiles find random victims in bathrooms. They find them in the bathrooms and bedrooms of their relatives’ homes.

     It’s already illegal in the US for people to commit assault against other people no matter where it occurs. The real issue is blatant ignorance of the facts and discrimination against a population that traditionally has not been defended well or supported. There are no recorded instances of transgender people entering bathrooms to do harm other people. Transgender go there to do what other people do there, and you know what that is.

     The proposed laws (i.e. revealing your chest or private parts to prove “who you are”) in many states are making transgender people feel even more unsafe and at risk for harm. You might as well paint a target on a child’s back to make him or her go into “the bathroom” everyone knows is for freaks. 332 to 1 are terrible odds. I think I’d ask my mother to homeschool me if those were the odds against me. Unfortunately, many children dealing with these feelings have parents who do not understand or support them. And that’s why four out of ten try to kill themselves. What is an opinion on a hot-button news issue by those who are uninformed is the difference between life and death for this marginalized population.

     I have a smart phone. I have very little understanding how or why it works the way it does. But I value it highly. I’m not sure what I’d do without it. It’s time true followers of Jesus begin valuing and standing up for this marginalized group of people even though it’s hard to understand how or why they work the way they do. Has God’s love been poured into your heart? These are children of God, created by God for special purposes in the world, beautiful and talented people…and they need to be protected, not singled out. I hope you’ll join me in standing up for them, even when it feels a bit risky, and thereby, reduce the odds against them.

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Metanoia and Forgiveness in Luke 24

Luke 24:44-53

    There are several things to note in a re-translation of Luke 24:44-53. This is what people call the Great Commission in Luke’s Gospel. The key words I’ve changed are noted in the footnotes and explained. They include in his name, repentance, forgiveness, and more. I feel like I get stuck in a particular word’s theological groove (or rut) that makes assumptions beyond the words. That’s why I like to use synonymous options that are viable. It tends to open my mind to further exploration of meanings.

    Then Jesus said to them, “I spoke these words to you while I was still with you, that all the things which were written concerning me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be accomplished.” At that time, he opened up their minds to fully grasp the meaning of the Scriptures.

    He also told them it had been written that the Christ would suffer in this way and rise from among the dead the third day. Moreover, acting in his behalfa, a change of thinkingb that brings the release of unloving actionsc should be preached to all the people,d beginning from Jerusalem. “You are witnesses of these things. Now behold. I send forth the messagee of my Father with you. Nevertheless, remain in the city until you put on strength beyond measure.”f

    Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. Now when he began to bless them, he stood apart from them and was taken up into the air. So after kneeling in profound reverence,g they returned to Jerusalem with great joyfulness. Indeed they were constantly in the temple speaking well ofh God.

a in his name, on the basis of his name. When you do something in one’s name, you are acting as if you are taking his place or doing it in his behalf.

b metanoia means a change of mind, and the result of changing the way you think should be an amendment of life (metanoia does NOT mean “repentance” as in being sorry and we should stop using an inaccurate definition!)

c  forgiveness of sins, forgive means to release, let go.  There’s no reference here that the release or letting go of sins has anything to do with God’s forgiveness. People are to stop sinning and hurting each other.

d  nations.

e  promise, what promise was placed on them? No promise is identified earlier one must invent it from what someone else told you it means based on their learned theology. The message Jesus and John proclaimed was the kingdom of heaven, or as my book about it suggests, the development of harmony/unity. Another message each proclaimed was the letting go of sins.

f from on high, could also be a metaphor for the upper levels of consciousness, the higher processes of the mind. They needed to build up their confidence after the devastation they’d experienced over the weekend.

g bowing down, prostrating themselves, an act of obeisance, respect — but I doubt they were “worshipping” Jesus in the sense of equating him with God at that point.

h praising is the usual translation.

     My soapbox today is about metanoia needing to be correctly translated as “change your mind, change the way you think, amend your life” for the purpose of living together in harmony and love. How does a person change their thinking? Stop living for yourself alone which leads to actions without consideration of others, i.e., sinning. Let go of your unloving actions. Forgiveness can be connected with “God” or “Father” or anything alluding to the Creator when that Person is mentioned in the text, but it’s a mistake to automatically assume this is about God’s forgiveness – what if God didn’t need Jesus’s blood in order to release us from our sins? What if the cross means something other than that? What if the theology that God needed “justice” because everyone that is born offends God’s honor is no better theology than homage paid to all the earlier deities that needed human sacrifice? Haven’t we matured any further than that way of thinking? Metanoia.

     What do you think?

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Another translation of John 14:22-31

 

     When it comes to translation and interpretation, numbers of verses and chapters get in the way. Sometimes they make sense and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they disrupt the continuity of thought. Therefore, I tend to eliminate the numbers. After all, when you read any other story from antiquity, how many of the original authors included chapters and verses? In the reading of John 14:23-31, I’ve eliminated the numbers. And I’ve added the previous verse (22) so you have a hint about what preceded it.

      Judas (not Iscariot) asked him, “Master, why is it that you will make yourself known in us, and not in the harmonious order of creation?”g

    Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone is fully committed to me,h he will closely follow my teachings; and the Nourisher/Protector/Creator* (see below) of me will have a preference forh him. Indeed, we will come to him and make our home with him. The one who is not committedh to me does not closely follow my teachings. Truly, the message that you are hearing is not mine but of the Provider/Nourisher/Creator who sent me. I have told you these things while being present with you. 26 Nevertheless, an intercessor, a reverenti spirit, whom the Creator will send in my name,j that one will teach you all things and will remind you about everything I told you. In peace, I am leaving you.  My serenity I offer to you; not in the manner the harmoniously ordered world brings forth. I supply it to you. Do not let your sensibilitiesk be stirred up, nor shrink in fear. You heard how I told you, ‘I am going away’ and ‘I am coming to you.’ If you were concerned for my well-being,h you would be pleased that I am going on my way to the Creator,’ because the Creator of me is exceedingly wonderful.

      “Therefore I have told you now, prior to it happening, in order that when it occurs, you may think it to be true.I shall no longer speak much with you because the ruler of the ordered world is coming, but he can’t do anything to me. Nevertheless, in order that the ordered world may know that I am fully committedh to the Creator, I am fulfilling the instructionm the Creator delivered to me. Arise, let us leave this place.

 world – The intent of the Greek work kosmos was to signify the way in which the creation was a perfect work, in perfect and beautiful order, not chaos as is usually conceived. Christianity tends to define ‘the world’ in negative terms — as humanity that is separate and fallen away from God rather than as an image of the intricate harmony and perfection of God.

     Maybe Judas (not Iscariot) was asking Jesus why the Christ would be made known in his disciples (including his current day disciples) rather than simply in the beauty and wonder of nature and the created world. I think nature can show us so much of God as love, forgiveness, and guidance. Nature is constantly recovering from the abuses of mankind. It continues to give its of its beauty and benefit to everyone, unconditionally. The children of the lion and the lamb teach us that they have to be taught to act “naturally” as killer and victim. If untaught by their parents, they play together and become friends.

*(see below) my Father, in Greek pater refers to the generator of life; at that time, it was understood that the male was the solitary generator of life giving substance. The female was simply an incubator for that life to grow. Apart from the gender identification as male, Jesus may have been referring to the One who generated him into human form, a claim we can make for ourselves.

love, the Greek word agape has numerous ways of being translated (as you’ll see in the various ways in this short story – it’s much broader in meaning and scope than the emotional affection or attachment to others.

holy, other options are pure, reverent, saint.

     Remember, I am translating this without the fourth century Trinitarian doctrine, which allows me to use any potential word replacement – and not capitalize it to enforce a later interpretation as one of the three Persons of the Trinity.

j a pure spirit sent in my name, could this be the apostle Paul?

     Who came after Jesus was gone to shed light on the purpose of Jesus’s life and death? The Gospels were written after all the letters of Paul.

I supply it to you. The peace Christ supplies is deeper than what the ordered world can provide us. (Although the ordered world has shown us it has existed and will continue to exist long after our mortal bodies will exist.) Christ’s peace is eternal, a peace that passes understanding, one that assures us of our immortality with him and the Father/Creator.

k heart, the seat of the sensibilities, the mind, affections, emotions, desires, appetites, passions.

l  believe, be persuaded.

     Christianity has infused the idea that Jesus meant we should believe everything the fourth century councils (and decisions of the multiplicity of institutional and denominational churches to the present day) decided by majority vote of a few people. In context, one must identify about what Jesus wanted the disciples to be persuaded.

commandment, order, charge, injunction, instruction, direction, command.

     I assume Jesus heard this “commandment” as a word of the Lord spoken to him, either in meditation when he went into the mountains to pray or even as he was meditating upon the Scriptures. The Holy One within us is the one helping us interpret and receive new insights from the Scriptures.

     Since God dwells within our hearts, you and I often hear a word of the Lord given to guide us. “My sheep hear my voice.” Maybe that’s why I “hear” different things as I translate it. Have you learned how to listen for the word of the Lord?

(Disclaimer: This is probably not a “final” translation for the simple reason that I had to make interpretive choices beginning at verse 22. The very real possibility exists that if I started from verse 1, I may have seen things that would cause me to make an adjustment in these verses. One day, I’ll begin from John 1:1 and try to make it consistent from beginning to end of the Gospel of John.)

     That’s it for today. Do you see anything in this interpretation of John 14 that helps you to understand it a little differently?

 

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Another translation of John 13:31-35

 

My translations remove words and theologies that won the battle of correct theology in the fourth century and were carried over when translated into English in the sixteenth century. Please recognize why I’m doing this: translation is a subjective art that depends upon the perspective and theology of the person who is translating. Even my translations are subject to my personal theologies and experience of God.

I approach interpretation from the starting point that God was, is, and will always be good – all the time. God always was, is, and will continue to be love – all the time. The perception of God by Old Testament writers seems to be from a starting point of God as requiring the obedience of subjects, exhibiting retaliatory justice, and needing sacrifice to be calmed down for failures.

In addition, biblical understanding in the 21st century is bogged down with theological words that have developed singular meanings. Many words are like deep ruts in a dirt road. They lead you in a predetermined direction and give little room for the multiple depths of meanings of many words.

Martin Luther said humanity “blinked” when people moved away from the oral tradition and started putting the words on paper. A teaching can apply at multiple levels of body, mind, and spirit. If you put only one of them on paper, then people unfamiliar with translation will think there’s only one meaning. This highlights the importance of meditating upon scriptures, giving the Holy Spirit time to speak from the white spaces on the page and open up the other levels of meaning that are more personal and unique to one’s experience.

Something as simple as using a different preposition can make a difference in meaning. And that goes back to the subjective perspective of the person making the choice.  I’ve replaced words in today’s text like glorify, love, new commandment, and disciples with other options found in the Greek lexicon. My translation doesn’t change any theology, but hearing it in different words might add some clarity of meaning.

 John 13:31-35

31 Now after Judas left, Jesus said, “Under these circumstances, the son of manp is honored, and Godq is recognizedr through him. 32 Moreover, God will be recognized within him. God will also honor him with himself, and will honor him soon. 33 Dear children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will search for me; but like I told the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you are not ables to come.’ Therefore at this time I say to you: 34 I am giving you an innovativet directive that you deliberately exhibit good willu to one another. Accordingly, I deliberately exhibited good will to you so that you might deliberately exhibit good will to one another. 35 By this all people will come to know that you are my students,v whether you have deliberate expressions of good will to one another.”

     The use of four words in place of one (love) feels unwieldy since it is said four times in two verses, but I left it that way to emphasize the choice to act with good will toward others for whom you may not have warm feelings is sometimes required. Case in point is found in the story preceding this section, where Jesus didn’t publicly berate Judas for the betrayal he was about to commit.

There are several places in the New Testament that have led me to understand Jesus as the revelation of God’s true nature as love. That’s why I replaced the word glorified with “recognized.” And the word commandment is more demanding than instructive for choosing a better way of life. Anyway, those are some of my thoughts. What are yours?

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son of man, another Greek explanation for ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (ho 3588 huios tou anthrōpou) the son of (the) man, signifies humanity itself; not what merely resembles, but what essentially belongs to man.

q  God: Aramaic name for God = Oneness, Unity. Contemporary name = Love.

glorified: recognized, honored, praised. (Note that two of these meanings are used in verses 31-32).

cannot from dunamis: can, could -st, cannot (with a negative) to be able, capable, strong enough. It denotes moral power (while ischuō 2480 denotes physical ability). It is from δύνος (dunos), which is equivalent to divine, good; and the idea is I make myself good, am strong enough, equal, able.

new, from kainos: that is to say newly made; not merely recent, but different from that which had been formerly; new, as coming in the place of a thing that was formerly, and as not yet used.

love, from agape: to be full of good-will and exhibit the same: with acc. of the person, to have a preference for, wish well to, regard the welfare of. Agape love is often a deliberate choice one makes to act in a certain way rather than a response to a feeling,

v disciples: students, pupils, followers.

Greek explanations from http://greattreasures.org/gnt/main.do

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New Translation of John 10:22-30

John 10:22-30

          Interpretation and translation are based on subjective opinion. Opinion is based on limited knowledge and understanding. We all are witnessing how some people interpret teachings from the Bible in rigid and limited ways through the decisions state legislators are making in North Carolina and Mississippi. They are using scripture in a way that hurts and discriminates against isolated groups of people. But that’s not the point of this blog. Instead, I have my own translation of John 10:22-30 based on the limited knowledge I possess.

          I have substituted English terms for what might be more modern language and suggest what I think the writer intended to be heard. Sometimes the simple act of using a synonym or definition of a word that is not the traditional word can expand the meaning of a passage. The goal of my translation is to help anyone who reads it to become more kind, loving, and generous. Isn’t that one of the goals of the Bible?

          In my last post I explained that I am also removing fourth century theology and trying to hear this writing the way a first century person might have heard it. I have also included some brief footnotes below to explain substitutions of words. Tell me what you think.

     Now the Feast of Dedication took place in Jerusalem, and it was winter. Jesus was walking in the temple, in the area of Solomon’s colonnades. Therefore some Jews surrounded him and asked him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, but you are not persuaded. The good deeds that I am doing in the name of the One who createda me, they confirm it of me. But you are not persuaded because you are not amongst those who walkb with me. My followers pay attention to what I say, I even observe them, and they conform to my example. Indeed, I provide a purpose-filled lifec to them, that they might not be drawn down into the desires of the world; nor shall anyone steal them from my protective management.d The One who created me, who has provided the same (purpose-filled life) to me, is the most wonderful of all things; and no one is able to steal them from my Creator’s protective management. Both I and the Creator are united in will and in spirit.”e

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a pater, most often translated into English as “father” but ancient Greek also used it as a metaphor, from the Greek definition, as in (a) the originator and transmitter of anything: πατὴρ περιτομῆς, Ro. iv. 12; the author of a family or society of persons animated by the same spirit as himself: so π. πάντων τῶν πιστευόντων, Ro. iv. 11, cf. 12, 16, (1 Macc. ii. 54); one who has infused his own spirit into others, who actuates and governs their minds, Jn. viii. 38, 41 sq. 44; the phrase ἐκ πατρός τινος εἶναι is used of one who shows himself as like another in spirit and purpose as though he had inherited his nature from him, ibid. 44. And (c) a title of honor [cf. Sophocles, Lex. s. v.], applied to teachers, as those to whom pupils trace back the knowledge and training they have received.

b sheep: as a metaphor, used of the followers of any master.

c eternal life: my revised definition for the Greek term aionios zoa that I explain and justify in my upcoming book about eternal life.

d hand: as a metaphor, under someone’s positive influence.

e one: From Greek definition: In opposition to a division into parts, and in ethical matters to dissensions: ἕν σῶμα, πολλὰ μέλη, Ro. xii. 4 sq.; 1 Co. xii. 12, 20; ἓν εἶναι, to be united most closely (in will, spirit).

+  +  +

          Compare this to your version of the Bible and see how this might provide another perspective of what John was trying to share. And what difference could it make in how you interpret the passage for yourself?

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Retranslating Luke 10

Luke 10:17-20

     I’ve taken on the task of retranslating the Gospels from the Greek. Why not? I’m retired now and it’s kind of like digging for buried treasure. You never know what you might find. Over the last fifteen years of exegesis for sermon preparation, I’ve seen some alternative possibilities that I think make a difference in how the New Testament is interpreted.

     One of my goals is to demythologize the Gospels. One area involves the concept of demons and unclean spirits. There’s a difference between imagining that a Devil has spawned negative spirits that have evil motives to lurk within a person and simply not understanding the way the people of the first century comprehended energies/powers existing in the natural world.

     Another goal is to de-religionize the Gospels, that is, to remove religious doctrines established in the fourth century that became the basis for sixteenth century King James translators so that we might come closer to understanding what first century writers could have meant when they spoke of Good News.

     Translation is not an exact science. It’s very subjective. It’s influenced by what the translator believes to be true. The story that seventy-two separate translators in the 3rd century BCE converted the Hebrew Old Testament into the Greek Septuagint without any differences is pure fairy tale. Maybe people who couldn’t read any language could be convinced of this, but not today.

     I’m not trying to remove any power from Jesus’s hands. I’m trying to show you that he wasn’t kidding when he said, “You will do greater things than me.” You and I have the same access to unseen forces as he did.

    Let me give you an example of how the NKJV translates each verse in Luke 10:17-20 because that’s what I was working on last night, and then look at my interpretation in red. Jesus had recently sent seventy-two disciples out to towns and villages (without food, money, or luggage) he would soon visit.

17 Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.”

17 Therefore the seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Master, even the demons are obedient to us when we follow your methods.”

     I wonder if it’s coincidence that Jesus sent seventy-two (some Greek texts say seventy) disciples out to serve in his name, and there were seventy-two Jewish scholars asked to translate the Hebrew text into Greek? There’s no difference in translation except the differences found in early Greek texts.

    Demons: there is a type of roundworm that crawls under the skin. It was removed in the first century by physicians who twisted it around a stick, a painful process. These roundworms looked like little serpents. Who wouldn’t think they were spawned by the devil?

     In your name: A person’s name stands for everything they do, their reputation and practices. Jesus taught the disciples how to remove parasites from under the skin of those infected.

   I’ve never considered that I could expel demons from people, but I’m pretty sure I could be taught how to remove roundworms and improve someone’s health when using proper procedures.

18 And He said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.

18 So he said to them, “I was watching an adversary of wholeness fall like lightning from the sky.

      Satan is a mythological character. Do you really think he saw the Devil fall out of the sky? The Greek word means “adversary.” An adversary of human health is disease and those things that cause it. This is Jesus’s poetic description of the excitement he felt because of their successes in helping people.

19 Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.

19 Behold, I have entrusted you with the ability to trample on serpents and scorpions, and against every ability of the enemy, and absolutely no one shall treat you unjustly.

      Serpents and scorpions: roundworms and things that sting, like scorpions and bees. They had access to many healing essential oils that could be used to reduce pain and inflammation. One just needed to be taught what was effective for each condition. People would be grateful for the service provided to them, providing them with food and shelter.

 20 Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

20 Nevertheless do not be pleased about this, that life-forces are being obedient to you, but be pleased that your deeds/actions/works are being recorded in the skies.”

     Spirits: Another definition of pneuma describes it as the life-force that animates the body.

     Your names: Again, one’s name refers to all the things they’ve done which establishes their reputation.

     Written in the heavens: this is a poetic reference to a universal belief that you might recognize as karma – you will reap what you sow. You will be repaid for your kindnesses.

     So, what do you think? Does this sound more feasible or within your capabilities as a follower of Jesus?

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Moving Away from the Revised Common Lectionary

 

I want to thank those of you who have been reading my blog over the last five or six years. I’ve learned a lot by researching the revised common lectionary topics and I hope I’ve given you reason to think about the way you understand things in these texts in the Bible. But there’s a time to move on to new things.

New ideas. Maybe even new theologies.

What got me started writing was Martin Luther’s Church Postils. Luther gave me permission to judge for myself what people have taught me. He also gave me a filter to use when I read the word of God. Do you need filter for the truth? Luther did. That filter was love.

Luther put forward some new ideas. At least they were new in 1520-1546. But think about that. Five hundred years ago they were new. That means they aren’t new anymore. As Lutherans, I was taught that the Book of Concord is second to the Bible. As least for theologians it is. For some, it’s on the same level as the word of God and might as well be carved in stone.

Does truth change? Sometimes it does. I covered it in my book about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus told a parable about the kingdom of heaven being like a net cast into the sea. You drag it onto the shore and sit down to sort through everything in the net. The good stuff that continues to serve people in love – you keep it. The stuff that no longer is useful, that cannot be salvaged, that might hurt people instead of serve them – get rid of it. Don’t just throw the garbage back into the sea. It will only clog up your nets every time you try to pull something of value out of them. You merely increase your labors and hardship if you don’t permanently get rid of the useless stuff. Throw it in the fire and destroy it so it cannot get in your way anymore.

Those defending church doctrine will call that heresy on the order of Marcion who died around 160 CE. But he wasn’t as terrible of a person as the winners of the early debates made him out to be. Even when I was a teenager, I didn’t think the New Testament God was much like the Old Testament God. Jesus didn’t think so either. Five times in John’s version of the good news he told the Pharisees, “You don’t know God.” Anyone who disagrees with you isn’t a horrible person (not even if it’s about religion or politics).

Truth often changes when new information comes along that serves love better than the old stuff. Jesus said a wise person pulls out of his bag some new things and some old things. Keep what has been used and continues to work toward harmony and love, and when some new stuff comes along that helps bring peace and harmony to others, don’t be afraid to include it with the good old stuff.

I think that’s partly why people are frustrated with religion today. Resistance to change. Resistance to move forward, as if everything done in the past was holy and pure and without error. Do a little reading and you’ll be shocked at how things were decided. They weren’t perfect. Some of the things they did weren’t Christian.

More than in the past, we’re dealing with educated, intelligent people who can read for themselves. They know if something makes sense and if it doesn’t make sense. They are not manipulated as easily. The church can no longer think it’s dealing with literary ignorance the way it was when it all started.

On one hand I’m shocked at how little some Christians know about the Bible. On the other hand, I’m impressed with how freely they are willing to move forward when rational explanations are given. In the same way, I’m impressed with how much some Christians know about the Bible and equally shocked at the inability of these people to move forward if it’s not the way it was done five hundred years ago. Go figure.

I do think there’s a movement of the Spirit going on today in the Christian church. A reformation. A movement away from some traditions and theologies that are no longer helpful. In their day, many of them served a purpose in helping humankind move forward in its spiritual evolution. Some traditions may be beautiful in their own right (or is that rite?), but now they serve only as an anchor to keep the present stuck to the past.

I’ve decided to get away from commenting on things that are coming up in the common lectionary. I hope it helped a few pastors to get a new perspective to talk about in their sermons. But it didn’t seem to attract multitudes to the blog as I really didn’t get much feedback.

Instead, I’ll be making comments about what we might consider taking out of the net and evaluating as to its worth. That might stir the pot a bit. I’ll also insert some things I’ve been praying about in the gospels regarding translation.

You don’t have to agree with everything I postulate. It would be more fun if you didn’t.

+ +  +

     I’ll start with suggesting that congregations and clergy get away from the three year cycle of the same old texts of the revised common lectionary. We have four Gospels with differing perspectives. They tell some of the same stories, but the authors tell them a little different from each other and their placement between differing texts offers a greater variety of meanings. There are some stories that never get told or explained because of the limits of the lectionary.

Yes, there are lots of epistles that could be food for thought, as long as the individual congregations hearing it have the same problems as the apostles were addressing. Yet the gospel reading is the central text. Some faithful listeners have heard the same texts thirty times in their lifetime, and many other teachings zero times.

I only had eleven years to use the lectionary for sermon writing and I started getting bored on the fourth go-round. I can’t imagine doing it for forty years.

I’m aware that some who read this will need to defend what the church has been doing for centuries. That’s okay. Jesus taught things that were not in accordance with the truth connected to traditions that Judaism had passed along for a thousand plus years. That’s what got him killed by people who didn’t want their truth to change. Martin Luther taught things that were not in accordance with the church in Rome. That just about got him killed. Marcion was excommunicated and vilified for his efforts. That didn’t keep him from sharing his opinions with his flock and spreading good news.

There are still some people who can’t accept anything other than the KJV Bible. It’s where they are on the journey and it’s okay. I don’t recommend they read my future blogs for their own peace of mind. But I hope you’ll feel free to share your opinion, as long as it’s in a spirit of love.

My purpose is to give you permission to use your own mind and heart, no matter how much or little you know of the Bible. Ask questions. Don’t accept theological answers that leave you walking away saying, “What does that mean, really? Say it in words that don’t make my eyes glaze over.”

So this week, I recommend moving away from rigid adherence to using the revised common lectionary and using some gospel texts that have never been heard. What do you think?

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Food for Thought – A Palm Sunday Sandwich

Luke 19:28-40

      Have you ever eaten a tuna fish sandwich without the bread? Or packed a hamburger to eat without the bun? The bread holds all the good stuff together. The lettuce, pickles, mustard, onions. The same is true with many stories in the scriptures.

     In scriptural writings, there’s a literary technique that helps you get the full impact of a story. The sandwich technique is where there is a teaching on both sides of the main lesson – and it enlarges the meaning, pulling it all together.  The bread isn’t included in today’s Palm Sunday sandwich. It’s interpretation can get a little messy without it.

     The story prior to Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem is the foundational piece of bread. It was Luke’s version of Jesus parable about the servants who did or did not use the talents given to them by the Master. In Luke’s version, ten servants got one talent apiece (or mina – equivalent to four month’s wages). We only hear about three of the servants when the Master returned home. One of them used his talent and multiplied it tenfold. Another multiplied it fivefold. The third servant hid his talent not even putting it in the bank to earn interest. He was afraid of the Master’s harsh expectations. So the servants who used their talents and increased them on behalf of the Master were rewarded. The servant who didn’t use his talent was put to death. Ouch. That’s one part of the sandwich.

     Then comes the main course of the sandwich – with many good things on the inside. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a colt, a young donkey. The people were expecting a Messiah. The shouts of “Hosanna” tell us they were asking to be saved from the Roman Empire at that time. because Hosanna literally means “save us now.” They wanted someone they could anoint king and this person would help them break the domination of the Romans.

In Living Color: The Kingdom of Heaven for Today     Commercial break: I changed the cover and title for my book about the kingdom of heaven. This is what it looks like now:  In Living Color: The Kingdom of Heaven for Today.  In this book you’ll discover (1) there’s difference between paradise and the kingdom of heaven, (2) an Aramaic understanding of the kingdom of heaven, (3) Jesus’s parables about the kingdom explained in present day terms, (4) how healing is connected to the kingdom, (5) how to cast out demons and unclean spirits, (6) who won’t inherit the kingdom of heaven, (7) how there may be violence in the kingdom of heaven, (8) who will inherit the kingdom of heaven. I think you’ll find some food for thought in it, too.

     Back to the blessing sandwich: You can call on Jesus to save you now – from the power of sin. From the fear of death. From whatever trouble you are in. “Jesus, don’t wait until I am dead to save me; save me now – hosanna.”

      As Jesus was on the road, coming up the hill toward Jerusalem (he’s not actually inside the city yet), people were waving palm branches and throwing their clothes down and spreading them over the road; our typical picture of Palm Sunday. The act of throwing one’s coat down on the ground (on a surface level) was a sign of homage and submission…of laying one’s self down, in hopes that the coming King would be able to bring deliverance.

     But on a deeper level, clothing in the Bible is a metaphor for one’s external actions. People know you by what you allow them to see on the outside…by the coverings or clothing you wear. They can’t see inside you, into your heart. It’s your outside actions that ultimately reveal who you are — people know you best by what they see on the outside.

     So to lay your clothes on the path in front of Jesus, means something more like this — your external actions, your good works that others can see, these prepare the path on which the King of Kings, the Christ, comes and brings peace to people. Your loving actions lay the groundwork for Jesus to come into peoples’ lives and bring healing and joy to them.

     Can you think of any loving actions you performed in the last week or month that you’ve laid out on the road ahead of Jesus so he can ride into the lives of others? When you do good things for others, not only are you laying your coat on the ground in homage and praise of Jesus, but you are inviting him into the lives of the people you are helping. This is an important part of the center of the sandwich – the main lesson. You are using your talents to prepare the way of Christ by serving others. Remember – the person who didn’t use his talents in the service of the master suffered loss and unhappiness. The ones who did use their talents in service were rewarded and praised for their efforts, and received even more.

     Then the bread that goes on top of the sandwich is the teaching that comes after the Pharisees scolded the disciples for laying their coats on the road. Jesus wept at the sight of Jerusalem and said, “If you had only known what would bring you peace.”

     Good works, being kind to each other, loving each other, helping and supporting all people – women, strangers, foreigners, sinners, outcasts. “You could have lived in peace.”

     “But instead, your enemies will build barriers around you, surround you, and shut you down. They will level you and your children with you. Not one stone will be left standing on another.” Because you did not recognize the Prince of Peace and his teachings, and follow them…because you did not take the talent or gift that he gave you and use it to serve and acknowledge Christ by taking care of my sheep… you will suffer great loss. Loss of joy. Loss of hope. Loss of true life in its fullness. Loss of patience. Instead, you will live in anger, despair, grief, sorrow, and pain.

     That’s the sandwich. You have a gift, a talent given to you from the Master.

     If you use the gift in service of the Master, by honoring Christ who lives in every human being, laying your coats – your actions in front of him – by doing good works, then you will be blessed. He will save you now. You will live in peace.

     However, if you choose to not serve him, to not care for him in the sick, the lame, the blind, the outcast, the sinner, etc. – then you’ll suffer the negative consequences of anger, frustration, sorrow, and pain. It’s your choice. Be blessed by serving each other. Or suffer unhappiness because you do not acknowledge that Christ lives in every single person and treat them accordingly.

    Just a little food for thought.

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Have You Let Down Your Hair Lately?

John 12:1-8                                                   

     I appreciate Lady Gaga. If you have ever listened to her album, Born This Way, one of my favorites, you would recognize that she speaks for the ostracized and marginalized of society, those who are not like the cookie-cutter kids we love so much because they fit the mold. Hair seems to be one way we can spot conformists and non-conformists and then implement our plan for treating them accordingly.

Take a look at this tribute video – https://youtu.be/MpHSWMQwovA (lyrics are below to help you understand it all):  

Lyrics to “Hair” by Lady Gaga

Whenever I’m dressed cool my parents put up a fight / And if I’m hot shot, mom will cut my hair at night / And in the morning I’m short of my identity

I scream, “Mom and dad, why can’t I be who I wanna be, to be?” / I just wanna be myself and I want you to love / Me for who I am / I just wanna be myself and I want you to know – I am my hair.

Chorus: I’ve had enough, this is my prayer / That I’ll die livin’ just as free as my hair / I’ve had enough, this is my prayer / That I’ll die livin’ just as free as my hair / I’ve had enough, I’m not a freak / I just keep fightin’ to stay cool on the streets / I’ve had enough, enough, enough / And this is my prayer, I swear / I’m as free as my hair / I’m as free as my hair / I am my hair / I am my hair

     You can tell a lot about people just by the state of their hair. You can tell how they are feeling, how they are feeling about themselves, whether they got up in time to do their hair the way they wanted. Some people will not go out in public without the appropriate amount of time invested in their hair. There are as many men as there are women concerned about their appearance. Hair plays a huge part of our self-definition and self-identity.

     The Bible has a few things to say about hair. In ancient Israel, Old Testament times, cutting the hair was a disgrace for both men and women. Do you remember the story of Sampson and Delilah? Sampson was described as having almost super-human strength. No one could defeat him in battle. So his enemies sent Delilah to find out his secret. She used her powers of seduction to get him to tell her that it was his hair that gave him his strength. Cutting it would drain him of his power. She cut it one night and he lost his strength – and his identity. And his enemies overcame him. He only regained his strength when his hair grew long again. Therefore, when Sampson was true to himself, he was strong. When his identity was taken from him, he became weak.

     Hair is the crown and ornament of the head. The Song of Songs is a love letter of a poet to his beloved. He praises the loose hair of his beloved in the highest terms, with an image that expresses dynamism, fullness, and wild power: (Ladies, see if this would win any brownie points from you if a poetic suitor whispered them.) “Your hair is like a flock of goats, moving down the slopes of Gilead” (Song 6:5) What do you think? Is that a good pickup line?

     In Hebrew, the billy goat was called “the hairy.” It was a symbol of great vitality. So if anyone says your hair is like a flock of goats moving down the slopes, you should take that as a compliment. He’s saying you are full of vitality and life.

     Yet, there is destructive power in hair having that kind of vitality. It might have been Delilah’s hair that overwhelmed Sampson’s common sense. Hair can get people off course and thinking about the wrong things. Hair was sometimes referred to as “the goat demon.” That’s how hair also became symbolic of the demonic. One segment in the movie, Jason and the Argonauts, dealt with getting the head of Medusa. In Greek mythology, her hair was exaggerated and demonized as snakes. If you looked upon her face and hair, it was so mesmerizing (symbolic of the destructive power of sexuality) that it turned people into stone.

     A woman’s glory and honor was her long hair, properly wrapped around her head when she was in mixed company. Letting the hair down was for personal and private matters. To the prudish male leaders of society, however, a woman having loose hair in public symbolized that the woman was loosening herself from social restrictions or expectations. She wasn’t playing by the rules. You could tell it by what she did with her hair.

     So much symbolism is associated with hair. And it’s clearly connected to our identity.

     Mary – in her own home – but with the disciples present, lets her hair down, anoints Jesus’s feet, and wipes them with her hair. Mary is praised by Jesus for her behavior. All the conformists who were following Jesus were shocked. Judas, most concerned about the value of the ointment, criticized her display of love for Jesus.

     Mary was strong enough in her own self-identity to not let the expectations of culture, society, or religious regulations prevent her from serving her Lord. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought. She did was she was compelled to do. She gave lavishly of her possessions. She also gave up the honor and glory of her hair as a decoration for her own head, and used it to serve her Lord.

     What have you done lately to display your love? Have you let your hair down at any time to serve Jesus?

     Many of you have seen Marys anointing the feet of Jesus. You’ve seen it literally when someone grows their hair long enough to have it cut and then donates it to Locks of Love, the Childhood Leukemia Foundation, or an agency who make wigs for those undergoing chemotherapy. Sometimes, when a group is raising money for charity, someone offers to have his/her hair shaved as an incentive to reach a lofty goal. These are literal acts of sacrificing your hair in service to another that takes a self-identity stronger than the need to keep up appearances in public.

     Often those people give up a little dignity in order to care for Jesus’s lambs. And the fragrance of their gift fills the house. The love and beauty of this act of kindness and love is noticed by everyone who enters that place.

     Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he said, “You will always have the poor to help, but you will not always have me.” Sometimes you need to use your time and money to care for those who are with you—while they are with you—and you can give to the poor later.

     There are many things we can learn from Mary’s outrageous actions of anointing Jesus’s feet and wiping them with her hair.

  1. Don’t be afraid to let your hair down, even in the presence of Jesus’s disciples.
  2. Don’t let others force you into a box that conforms to expectations that are manmade. Be the person God created you to be.
  3. And in another way, being who you are may lead you onto holy ground, offering your gifts of time, possessions, and devotion in intimate acts of service to your Beloved. It’s something that may require giving up your own crown and glory, not having time enough to attend to your hair, because you are serving Christ in your friend or family member.

  So, have you let down your hair lately? Are you living as free as your hair?

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