The Evil of Tradition

 

     Give me a minute to explain. It’s just a title, meant to get your attention. Tradition is not evil as in “wicked.” That’s the point. Some traditions are very good and some traditions are not so good. What does evil really mean when we read it in the Bible? In the NT, it arises from the Greek word ponēros. Thayer’s defines it as that which is full of labors, annoyances, hardshipsa. pressed and harassed by labors; b. bringing toils, annoyances, perils. Then it goes on to define it in terms of a bad nature or condition – leaving your imagination to deciding what that might be.

     When I learned the Aramaic word associated with evil, bisa, I came to a new understanding of ponēros that did not leave as much to the imagination.  Bisa is something that is unripe. It’s not fit for its intended purpose. It’s “not ready.” It’s out of rhythm with the right timing. Its roots point toward a sense of what delays or diverts us from advancing, as well as a sense of inner shame for not producing the right action at the right time (Neil Douglas-Klotz). The short ways of saying that are: unripe, corrupt (over-ripe or rotten), immature, a diversion.

     Now, every time I read the word “evil” in the Bible, I change its meaning to one of the Aramaic definitions. The teaching takes on new meaning and makes more sense to me. It removes the satanic or bad intention component from the context. But what does this have to do with tradition?

     Traditions are developed by other people in their unique contexts. Traditions are warm and comfortable. They give people stability because the unknown is removed from them. But some traditions are unripe. They bring hardships and annoyances to some people. For example, the tradition of Catholicism and many Protestant denominations to deny ordination to women. Or the traditions of demeaning people of color, religion, nationality, race, or sexual orientation. Interestingly, these traditions that divert us from expressing the goodness of God as seen in Jesus, as well as bring hardship and annoyances to certain groups of people are founded in the Bible. How do we deal with that?

     We do what Jesus taught.

     One of my favorite parables of Jesus is the one in Matthew 13 where he said the kingdom of heaven (the state of perfect order where everything is working together in harmony) is like a net cast into the sea. It collected some of everything and what was good they kept, but what was “bad” (sapros – corrupted by age and no longer fit for use, worn out), they threw out.

     Jesus compared that story to angels/messengers who would come at the end of the age (left up to your definition or imagination). They will separate what is corrupt (past its time) from what is useful. To make sure the corrupt doesn’t get in the way anymore, they burn it. Destroy it so it can never come back. And a lot of people will be very upset when they do that. Nobody likes to give up their traditions, even when they are hurting others.

     Jesus was no promoter of laws or traditions that were hurting others or disrupting the harmony that he was trying to bring among people. He followed traditions when they were ripe, suited for their purpose, and bringing goodness to people. But he fought against laws and traditions that were past their time. St. Peter followed by eliminating certain food laws that were restricting people and were no longer helpful. Paul eliminated circumcision.

     Maybe we ought to think about doing what Jesus suggested we do. Do a little more sorting out of the rotting laws that promote harm to certain groups and traditions that cause more hardship than good. That might help us love each other more so that we can work together in harmony.

 

John 4:5-42

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The Kingdom of God, Born Again, and Grace

John 3:1-17

          OMG. Why haven’t I noticed this until now? I’ve been preaching and writing about the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God for fifteen years. I even led a group on the kingdom of heaven this morning from my developing Bible study called Dry Bones: Breathing New Life Into Petrified Words In the Bible. Here’s the text:

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.”

          I just noticed that the story of Nicodemus and being “born again” was about the kingdom of God. This changes everything.

          You don’t have to be “born again” to go to Paradise when you die. The kingdom of God and Paradise are not the same. Not even close. I take a lot of time to explain it in ILC: The Kingdom of Heaven for Today. The quickest way to explain it here is to say that the Greek word basilea can be translated as “kingdom, reign, or rule.” The reign of a king or queen is the manner in which a ruler governs his or her territory or subjects. God’s reign is about all things working together with peace, order, harmony, unity, equality, and love. Our God doesn’t play favorites. God was revealed in Jesus Christ. God’s reign, i.e., the reign/kingdom of God, is one of unity empowered by unconditional love.

          Some who love the Jewish scriptures might be convinced that God is just, punishing those who need to be punished and rewarding those who deserve a reward. That’s very Jewish. But it has nothing to do with grace.

          This text is not about going to Paradise when you die. Baptism may assure people that they’ll  go to Paradise, but becoming a new person helps you to experience the reign of God in this life. It’s similar to metanoia. If you change the way you think, you automatically become a new person—assuming of course that you’ve been immersed in a pure/holy Spirit instead of a judging one.

          Those who do not change the way they think about God, not awakening to the evidence in Jesus Christ of a God of unconditional love, will not experience the reign of Love that can bring order and harmony into their lives. They will continue in judgment and trying to make sure everyone gets their due punishment. That’s a pretty thankless job but a lot of people choose it.

          Someone might point to the references to eternal life at the end of the text, but that’s a similar misunderstanding of the location of life in the same way the kingdom of heaven/God is not about Paradise. Bible commentators since the 1980’s have conceded that aionios zoa (eternal life) often means something different than living into eternity after you are dead. Their explanation is this: eternal life sometimes refers to the quality of life God can give you here on earth. Their words, not mine. Bible scholars. I’m not inventing this. And I can’t explain why few people hear this from the pulpit. But I will add that I believe it always refers to a special kind of life on this earth. I’ve got that explanation in an upcoming book, too.

          When you interpret the Scriptures with a view to improving your life and the lives of others in the world today rather than as a reference guide telling you how to get into Paradise after you are dead, it makes more sense. Unconditional love wins. Grace wins. Metanoia. Give it a try.

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Children’s Sermon on Forgiveness

 

Objects needed: pine cones or sweet gum seeds (any seeds with sharp points) for children to hold in their hands.

     Have any of you ever been hit by a friend? Maybe that friend wanted a toy you were playing with. Or maybe someone got angry because you happened to pick up a toy that was on the floor and you didn’t know that person wanted it. We are taught that it’s not a good thing to hurt anyone, but sometimes it happens.

     In our Bible lesson, we learned that we are supposed to forgive others. Sometimes that’s hard to do, isn’t it? We often don’t understand why a person would do something to hurt us. And so it hurts our feelings every time we think about what they did.

     I’m going to show you why it’s a really good thing to forgive someone who hurt you. Everybody take one of these pine cones and hold it in your hand. Be careful. The pine cone has prickly points all around it. If you squeeze it too tightly, those points will get into your skin and they will hurt! So hold the pine cones gently.

     The word forgive means “to let go.” It would be very easy to let go of a prickly pine cone—wouldn’t it? It would be easy because it hurts to hold onto it. The same thing is true when someone you thought you liked hits you. It hurts your feelings. It’s like holding onto a pine cone. Every time you think about them hurting you, it hurts again. So think of the pine cone like a bad memory. If you have a bad memory, and it keeps coming back and making you sad, say, “Go away bad memory. I’m letting you go. I don’t want you to keep hurting me. You’re just a silly pine cone.” Then throw it away. Do it every time the bad memory comes back. And then, it won’t be there to hurt you anymore.

     Let’s practice forgiving. Take your bad memory pine cones and throw them away in this trash can. Can you do that? Great.

Let’s practice forgiving. Take your bad memory pine cones and throw them away in this trash can. Can you do that? See – they can’t hurt you anymore!

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Personal Studies during Lent

 

     Many people like to use the time during Lent to make a personal attempt to grow in their spirit of love for God. I have developed two options using two books I’ve written that lend themselves to this kind of meditation. Both books (in their writing) made profound impacts on the way I think about Jesus, God, and my part in this journey of life. Take a look at the explanations of each book and see if either one of them could provide a means to your own growth of spirit this Lenten season:

 

     Look here for this book’s description.

 

     Go here for the study guide.

 

 

 

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     Look here for this book’s description.

 

     Go here for the study guide.

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Translation of Matt. 6:24-34

 

     Many of you know I’m re-translating the Gospels. Sometimes I’m simply putting in synonyms for English words, but sometimes I’m redefining them from the Greek. I am also correcting – yes, I say correcting – some of the grammar (usually in verb tense and voice) that has allowed for misinterpretation of what some of the original authors intended. It doesn’t matter whether you think it’s possible that fourth or sixteenth century translators made unintentional mistakes or not. I can substantiate every change I make. Yet it’s not my substantiation that is the real proof. The real proof is found by your heart in the recognition that it makes more sense and is in line with what Jesus taught and displayed.

     There is so much theological baggage attached to some words in the Bible that the practicality of its message is blurry. Why would anyone read a book that is not easy to understand? That’s why I’m writing a Bible study called Dry Bones: Breathing New Life into Petrified Words of the Bible. I hope it will be finished by June. The simple process of replacing an English word long used by the tradition with one of its synonyms can have an amazing effect on expanding and clarifying the meaning of a verse.

     This week’s lectionary text is about the transfiguration of Jesus in Matt. 17. I’m not there in my translation of Matthew, and it’s one of those texts that is not easily explained in this limited space of a blog. Instead, I’m going to give you my re-translation of an important text in the Sermon on the Mount that will not be part of this year’s lectionary since Lent starts a little earlier. My rendering of this text is subject to change until the day I publish my version of the Gospels. Until then, this is what I hear:

Matt. 6:24-34

     24 “No one is able to surrender to two masters because either he will slight the one and have a preference for the other, or else he will be loyal to one and despise the other. In no way are you able to submit to God and at the same time, to an unjust system of economics based in the accumulation of riches.j

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mammon. A system where the rich dominate the poor, using unequal weights and balances. No one starts on equal ground. Jesus came to proclaim a year of the Lord’s favor – a year of Jubilee – when all things are returned to balance.  “Mammon refers more to a system of meritocrity, of reward & punishment, of buying & selling; you get what you have a right to, you get what you deserve, you get what you’ve worked for.  It’s an economy of merit and achievement.” Richard Rohr, The Art of Letting Go.

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     25 “For this reason I am telling you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, how you will be clothed.  By no means! (not at all). The more excellent life is nourishment of the mind, and what is more excellence in the body is of the outer actions.k

     26 Fix your eyes on the birds of the air, how they sow nothing; and they don’t harvest nor accumulate into barns; yet your heavenly Father nourishes them. Are you not more important than they are? 27 Moreover, which of you by worrying is able to add one cubit to his height?

28 “And why do you worry about outer clothing? Examine closely the lilies of the field, how they increase: they don’t labor to exhaustion nor do they spin; 29 and yet I am telling you that even Solomon in all his splendor was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the vegetation of the field which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will not God clothe you much more abundantly, you who trust too little?

     31 “So never be anxious, saying, ‘What might we eat?’ or ‘What might we drink?’ or ‘How might we be clothed?’ 32 For all these things the multitudes seek diligently and your heavenly Father understands this of everyone. 33 Nevertheless, strive to secure first, perfect order and harmony and its purity of life, and all these things will be provided to you. 34 These things being so, don’t be distracted about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself. The trouble of this day is enough.

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Is not the life more than food and the body more than clothing? is the traditional translation, and it makes good sense. However, following the Greek word definitions in the order they appear in the text, and making note of the metaphorical meanings of food and clothing, Jesus could be encouraging greater attention to spiritual development and the fruit of good works (the outer garment on the outside of people that others can see) produced by the body.

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(If you’re looking for a personal Bible study during the season of Lent, check out my suggestions for meditating on prayers based from the sermons of Martin Luther in his Church Postils.)

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Not Resisting Evil in an Evil World

 

     Why don’t Christians take Jesus’s advice? He has given the world guidance in how we can have more peace in our lives. His advice is not for Christians alone, he came to save the world from itself. But few Christians follow his advice when it appears too ridiculous to believe. Yet that’s not following him. You can’t be a follower of Jesus without following his example or teachings. And some of his instructions are hard.

     The Tao de Ching teaches that only the soft can overcome the hard. Think about it. Does God resist our evil? The ancients of Israel gave God credit for disasters and bad things happening as a punishment for idolatry, but has that held true for you? Did Jesus, as God’s incarnation, fight fire with fire or sword against sword? Did he inflict pain on people who placed religion or possessions or power ahead of love for God? No. He didn’t even resist when his false accusers couldn’t get their stories straight at his trial.

     I have a crossbow. When I target practice, I shoot the arrows into a five gallon bucket that has surgical cloths all bunched up inside it. It’s actually very soft material. The arrows are stopped without doing damage to the arrows or to the bucket. The same would happen if I used a bale of hay. The soft response quickly slows the hard. Why? Because there’s nothing fighting back. Without resistance, there’s nothing to keep pushing against.

     There have been some very positive advances made in the last eight years in our country, changes that couldn’t have taken place fifty years or a century ago. But the pendulum always swings back as a compensating force. We can try to resist that, or we can focus on continuing to become more Christ-like in our own worlds and let our non-resistance stop the evil that is looking for an equal and opposite force.

     I do not believe in allowing injustice to happen without a fight. Hitler had to be stopped. Jesus showed evidence of actively, but non-violently, resisting the religious powers who were perpetrating ritual and ceremonial law over the care for people. I will be first in line to defend against the maltreatment of LGBTQ community by those who think heterosexuality or their religion makes them superior in any way to the rest of God’s children. However, to date, this has not become my mission in life. The word in the Gospel lesson that has been translated as “resist” carries deeper meaning than simply voicing your objections. Your voice matters in overcoming evil.

     There are some very special people that God has ordained to correcting the injustices inflicted upon outcasts. Their missions are clear. They live it and breathe it. And I support them in their efforts. There are some people who feel compelled to fight the bigotry and white supremacy in our country. I support them, too. Yet I have been given a different mission, one that feeds me spiritually and gives me a reason to get up in the morning. Anger doesn’t feed my mission, and therefore, it’s a little easier for me to “not resist” some of the things going on in our worlds.

     Here’s my rendering of Matt. 5:38-48:

38 “You heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I am telling you not to set yourself againsta what causes pain and trouble.b But instead, anyone who slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants you to be put on trial and to take away your tunic, leave with him a cloak as well. 41 And whoever in authority compels you into service to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one asking you, and the one who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.

43 “You heard it was said, ‘Be full of good willc for your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I am telling you, extend good will to your enemies, pray for those harassing you, 45 in order that you may become offspring of your Creator in the heavens; for he causes his sun to rise over those who bring hardshipsd and over those who do what is excellent; and he rains on those who do what is right and on those who don’t do what is right. 46 For if you extend good wille to those who extend good will to you, what prize do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you embrace only the members of your community, what more do you than others? Do not even pagans do so in the same way? 48 In doing so, you will reach full maturity of integrity and virtue,f in the same way your Creator in the heavens is fully reliable and virtuous.

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anth-istēmi, to set one’s self against, to withstand, resist, oppose.

b  poneros, the generic translation is “evil.” It has taken on an insidious definition that implies intentionality rather than to be considered according to its official definition: that which brings toils, annoyances, perils.

c agapaō, the generic translation is “love.” But that word doesn’t seem to be working in this context. No one believes you can have affection for your enemy, therefore, this is one of those teachings of Jesus that get ignored. Maybe we should try one of the other explanations of agapaō that makes it more believable and doable: to be full of good-will, wish well to, regard the welfare of. Once you have been nice to your enemy, reducing his fear that you want something of his that he regards as important, like his own trust and beliefs about God, you may find him more likeable.

poneros, same as footnote (b).

e agapaō, same as footnote (c).

teleios, usually translated as “perfection.” Good luck with reaching perfection. Try something closer to its definition: brought to its end, finished; wanting nothing necessary to completeness. Other ways it has been understood include: (of mind and character) one who has reached the proper height of virtue and integrity; (of men) full-grown, adult; of fall age, mature.

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     My encouragement to you is that you take the time to clarify for yourself what your mission is. What feeds your spirit when you do it? What do you get lost in? When does time disappear when you do it? What were you born to do? If it is from God, then you can be sure that investing yourself in it will ultimately work for the good of everything else. You cannot control the whole world. You don’t have to. Just be Christ to all those people God places in your path, and give your heart to what compels you to act in accordance with good will to every person. You will be on the path to teleios.

 

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The Problem with Adultery

Matt. 5:27-32

     I’ve retranslated (in rough drafts) the Gospels of Mark and Luke and now I’m working on Matthew. So far, unfortunately, chapter five of Matthew has to be one of the chapters that I’m most disappointed in how it’s been translated into English. And it’s in the Sermon on the Mount, for God’s sake. Yet I work very hard not to be critical of the sixteenth century men who gave it their best shot.

     I have no problem with the validity, truth, or wisdom of the original authors of the New Testament and what they shared in their writings in ancient Greek. But I’m surprised at how long the King James translators have influenced (mesmerized?) the minds of biblical scholars, theologians, and religious professionals who have studied the Scriptures in good faith. Even the newest translations of the Bible are careful not to move very far from the King James Version. The God said it (in English through the KJV)—I believe it—That settles it mentality has persisted too long. Injustice to women has persisted too long.

     I avoided giving you my version for last week’s text. I believe it says something different than what we’ve received from tradition. But there’s a piece in this week’s that I can’t avoid. In fact, I have a very short book being edited as we speak on the topic of divorce, adultery, and remarriage. I hope to be able to make it available in a month or so. Chapter five of Matthew has one topic in the New Testament that I just have to say the KJV translators got it wrong. The Greek is good and makes perfect sense when translated properly. The English translation is flat out wrong.

     I’m still alive. No lightning or thunderbolts. There I said it, and now I’ll explain my variance with Matthew 5:27-32. My forthcoming book (Divorce & Remarriage: The Blunder of the Church) expands on this text and the other three places where Jesus makes comments on divorce and adultery.

     The first thing I think needs to be said is that the term “adultery” is too limited in its meaning. Why would God give ten all-encompassing commandments that cover almost every facet of sin, and you can’t explain one of them to a pre-pubescent child without fear that it will reveal too much or cause him or her to start researching birth control so they can break it as soon as possible?

     In short, I suggest the term adultery be broadened in its scope or changed so as to expose the root that gave it its sexual implications.  I will remind you of the patriarchal system that was prevalent. When Moses handed down the Ten Commandments, they were aimed at taming the behavior of men. The commandments helped to establish a more orderly and civil way of life. “You shall not commit adultery” was a restriction placed on men, instructing them to stay away from the wives of other men because they were considered another’s valued property.

     The word “adulterate” is an English verb that comes from the same root word as adultery. It means “to contaminate, taint, pollute, poison, or ruin.” To adulterate someone is rarely thought of in sexual terms. It means to contaminate, taint, poison, or ruin. One might also use verbs that refer to domination, unfair control, or devaluation of the worth of another.

     Based on my analysis of the Greek text, especially noting the verb voices (active/passive and other declension rules) that were not followed in the KJV, here’s my translation of verses 27-32:

27 “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall not have unlawful intercourse with another’s wife.’ 28 Yet I am telling you that anyone looks at a woman to lust for her has already devalued her worthh in his heart. 29 Therefore, if your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you because it is better for you that one of your members might be destroyed and not your whole body cast into Gehenna. 30 Likewise, if your dominant hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is better for you that one of your members might be destroyed and not your whole body cast into Gehenna.

31 “Now it was said, ‘Whoever might discard his wife, let him give a certificate of divorce to her.’ 32 But I am telling you that anyone who discards his wife without an admission of illicit sexual intercourse on her part causes her to be unjustly ruined.i Likewise, whoever, if he has divorced a wife, if he marries, she (the divorced wife) is being unjustly diminished in worth (or brought to ruin).j

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adulterated.  To adulterate someone is to unjustly ruin, contaminate, abuse, or devalue them.

this was originally translated into English improperly. The verb voice is passive. She is not the one committing the sin of adultery. The discarded wife is the one being adulterated, i.e., unjustly ruined, abused, diminished in value. Jesus was standing up for women who were wrongfully treated.

this has been shamefully translated and perpetuated, but there’s a possible explanation for why it was done.

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     It’s remarkable that almost every translation since the KJV has ignored one Greek word in verse 32—logos. The traditional translations leave a loophole for the man to claim his wife of unfaithfulness. The loophole is not a bad thing. However, Jesus said she has to admit to unfaithfulness for it to be an exception that allows the man to divorce his wife. First century women had little power. A woman had few options to support herself. In the first century, Jewish law permitted a man to divorce his wife for any reason that displeased him. The Greek text, translated correctly, shows that Jesus was opposing the devaluation of women — that he was clearly and openly challenging and opposing Jewish law (a law that persists today). Jesus was saying women cannot be treated or abused as if they are property.

     The saddest part of this teaching is that the very last sentence has been allowed to persist since the fourth century. I’m going to give translators for King James a break and suggest that it’s possible Jerome (when he translated the Greek into Latin) set the tone for the next twelve hundred years of mistaken interpretation. Translators in the sixteenth century were conditioned to think Jerome must have been right.

     How can a wife who’s been unjustly divorced be declared off limits to any other Jewish man? That has never made any sense. But patriarchy is what it is. It’s a system that perpetuates injustice. (I don’t have room in this post but I explain what I believe happened in my book.) If a translator follows the correct Greek grammar, it ought to sound closer to my rendering, keeping the pressure on men to honor their vows.

     So there. I’m setting the record straight. Adultery goes beyond sex. It’s devaluing the worth of any human being. You could probably do a better job of explaining this to a seven year old child or grandchild. Ultimately, we need some translators with the nerve to disagree with the King James translators when errors are found…and the errors of translation need to be changed in the Bible so they don’t allow injustice to persist.

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Greatest and Least in the Kingdom of Heaven

Matt. 5:13-20

     Are there going to be levels of greatness in Paradise? If there are, it wouldn’t be much different than what we have on earth. It would be a glorified caste system, some people imagining they are better than others. Where do you think you’ll end up? The answer is this: the kingdom of heaven is not Paradise. After all, how can the kingdom of heaven be like a mustard seed, or a woman working yeast into a huge batch of dough? I explained it in my low-cost ebook…which by the way, I’ve given a new cover.

     According to Matthew, you’ll be “greatest” in the kingdom if you are like salt, flavoring and bringing out the best in everything and everyone you touch. How are you influencing your friends and neighbors and your workplace? The purpose of salt is to make everything it comes into contact with better. Salt also preserves the goodness of things by not letting them fall into decay. You and I, as salt, are supposed to bring out the best of every person or situation in which we are placed. If you don’t improve the environment you’re put into, but instead (lose your saltiness and) join in with others in criticizing and demeaning everything that doesn’t meet their fancy, you’ve lost your ability to make anything better.

     If you don’t have any ability or desire to make a situation or a person better, Jesus said, “What good are you?” Complaining rarely makes things better. Positivity, hope, and action is better. Salt makes things better. Do your job. Be salt in the world. And be great in the kingdom of heaven.

     You’ll also be great in the kingdom if you are light. Light overcomes darkness. Adding to the darkness of ignorance and negativity does nothing. What is being light like? When you are light, you are performing good works. When people who live in the dark are treated in unexpected ways (unexpected to them – they expect you to resist them, that’s why they are so defensive). Surprise them. Do something nice for them.

     According to Matthew, Jesus said the Law and the Prophets can be summed up this way: treat others the way you would want to be treated. Jesus came to show people how to do that. He didn’t hide in a hole and avoid expressing his opposition to wrong teachings or actions that bring harm to others. He simply held a mirror up to religious people who thought they were righteous because of their adherence to written rules even when they brought harm to others.

     How many jots and tittles do you see in Jesus’s law? Treat others the way you would want to be treated. What is righteousness? Well, it’s not about going to church, paying your offering dues, or giving up chocolate during Lent. Righteousness is doing what is good and right for the wellbeing of your neighbor.

     If you do that, you will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. By the way, if you change the wording of that to reflect its meaning, it sounds like this—“you will be called great in the development of harmony.” That harmony might refer to the growing peace and contentment within yourself, or it could also reflect the spreading of peace and harmony into the environment in which you are being salt or light.

     Pharisees who care more for words and rules in a Book (a wonderfully profound Book that it is) than they care for the people for whom the Book was written to serve, have missed the whole point of the Law and the Prophets—“treat others the way you would want to be treated.” They are always upset inside because others aren’t doing what they demand of them and they are chasing people out of religion by their lack of light and flavoring abilities. Harmony runs from them.

     Are you salt in the world? Start making everything you touch better. Let your light shine so all will see your good works, and give glory to your Father in heaven. Do what’s right because your heart says it’s right, not because a preacher, a bishop, or a pope says it’s right. Do what is right and good for all people. That’s when you will find peace and harmony – first within yourself, and then your peace can flow out of you to others to bring greater harmony into the world.

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New Book Cover for Praying the Gospels with Martin Luther

 

     In celebration of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses on the church doors, I decided it is time to change the cover of my book. I liked the old cover but it really didn’t give a visual representation of the contents. I thought the image of Luther himself with his hand over his heart might tell the person looking at the cover a little more about its contents.

These are not Luther’s prayers, they are my prayers based on the themes that spoke to me within the Gospel sermons of his Church Postils, a series of sermons he wrote that priests who had little formal training could read from their pulpits. These sermons made a profound impact on my understanding Martin Luther, the preacher, rather than the theologian. Rather than arguing against religious leaders and past doctrines, his sermons were explanations of the biblical texts and how they applied to common life. I wish that theologians would read his sermons and quote from them more often. I’ve listed some quotes that opened my eyes and changed the way I thought on another page (it’s accessible from one of the headings above as well).

I also have a page that provides a plan to use the book as a personal study during the season of Lent that identifies the prayers that might be appropriate for weekly themes during each Lectionary year. Since it’s the culmination of the Luther Decade and the 500th anniversary, this might be a good year to give it a try.

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The Beatitudes – Maturing in Your Faith

Matt. 5:1-12

          I wrote a book about the Beatitudes of Jesus four years ago. I found an Aramaic scholar with a poetic heart whose translation of them came directly from the language Jesus spoke. There is greater depth of meaning in Jesus’s words than our English translation offers. Each beatitude is a sermon in and of itself.

          One key point was that the word “blessed” probably doesn’t mean “happy.” The root word that comes from Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, means “something that is suited for its purpose,” or “that which is done at the right time.” Shorter words for this concept are ripe and maturing. To be blessed is to be coming to the point of full completion, your full potential.

          It’s like when a tomato is ripe on the vine, or when a blackberry willingly lets go of the vine as you put your fingers around it. You know it’s going to be sweet if you don’t have to pull against the stem. For a person, it’s when all the pieces of the puzzle of who you are as a person – true to yourself and to God start coming together because you are identifying your purpose and where you fit as part of the whole in creation. Maturing are those people who have reached the point where they easily let go of their attachments when it’s time to move on.

          I was listening to an audio version of the Tao Te Ching in my truck one day. The teaching sounded like my explanation of: “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” It went like this:

     Men are born soft and supple; dead, they are stiff and hard. Plants are born tender and pliant; dead, they are brittle and dry. Thus, whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death. Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life. The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail.  Tao Te Ching 76

          Wisdom is wisdom no matter who speaks it. Maturing are those who have the strength to be flexible. Hardwood trees break the fastest in a tornado while evergreens stand a greater chance of surviving. Those who are meek, or flexible, have inner strength and possess control over their actions. Pride isn’t sending them off in defensive and destructive reactions.

          Too many churches, i.e., denominations, cannot bend or adjust to changing conditions in life. When put under pressure, they splinter like hardwoods in a tornado. Clinging to tradition is simply a worship of the past. You cannot have life without change. Anything that does not change is dead. You don’t have a single cell in your body that is the same as seven years ago. You’ve been totally replaced in seven years. You can’t remain alive if you don’t accept change as both good and inevitable.

          Some will claim that God never changes. That’s true. God is love. Always was. Always will be. But to imagine that people two thousand years ago understood God perfectly (remember, God is inconceivable), is folly. Jesus told the Pharisees that they didn’t know God. They had memorized their Scriptures and thought they knew God. No wonder they hated Jesus.

          To imagine that you understand God completely is also folly, no matter what you were taught in Sunday school. My understanding of God has changed from what it was a year ago. My fear is that the church hasn’t learned anything new about God in the two thousand years since Jesus was born, thinking that right theology is cemented in concrete.  Spiritual growth is ongoing, not never changing.

          I hope your understanding of God has changed since you were six years old, or ten years old, or twenty years old, or five years ago. And I hope you’re strong enough to bend with the winds of change because “the times, they are a-changing” (Bob Dylan).

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