Tuesday, April 29, 2014

This week's lesson: Christ and the Sabbath

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it . . . busy.

Look at the way Jesus spends his Sabbaths, after all.
  • He heals a demoniac (Mark 1:21-26).
  • He heals Peter's mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31).
  • He heals a man with a withered hand (Matthew 12:9-13).
  • He heals a crippled woman (Luke 13:10-17).
  • He heals a man suffering from edema (Luke 14:1-6).
  • He heals a crippled man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 15:1-15).
  • He heals a man born blind (John 9:1-41).
What's more, all of these miracles are elective procedures. They are not needed to save lives; they all address chronic conditions that could have waited until sundown to be healed.
But Jesus heals these people now. 
On the Sabbath.
In front of people who get all kinds of grief from the Gentiles -- who are continually being told they are lazy and shiftless -- because they follow God's command to rest on the seventh-day.
And no, I'm not entirely sure myself just what these miracles say about the way we keep Sabbath.
(Though I am a little nervous about parents who use them as an excuse to schedule community service activities on the Sabbath for their children -- community service activities that just happen to look good on their college applications.)
But if nothing else, it tells us something about the way God keeps Sabbath.
Yes, it tells us that God is always ready to heal us, always ready to mend us, always ready to give us a taste of what heaven is like.
We can rest in God's love, in other words -- and the Sabbath can be a reminder of that rest.
That's because God is always on the job.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

This week's lesson: Christ and the Law in the Sermon on the Mount

You can learn a lot with just two words: "Cui bono" (i.e. "Who benefits?").
  • You don't understand why the Zoning Commission okayed a new shopping mall in your neighborhood? Start with the question, "Cui bono?" 
  • You're a detective trying to figure out who shot a man the day after he signed up for a million-dollars in life insurance? The obvious question: "Cui bono?"
  • And if you're wondering why some people focus on the half-dozen texts that condemn homosexuality, but ignore the half-dozen texts that condemn charging interest on loans . . . 
Then it's worth remembering that we all look at the Bible through the lens of self-interest.

Yes, we all pick and choose the texts that make us look good.

We all ignore the texts that make us uncomfortable.

And we all find a way to redefine those uncomfortable texts that can't be ignored. Yes, we tell ourselves that:
  • We only "borrowed" the money.
  • We only "shaded" the truth.
  • And it's not really wrong if we were "just looking."
What's more, we may even convince ourselves that all these things are true!
But in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus invites us to ask, "Cui bono?" -- who benefits from our reading of Scripture? 
And if the answer is always "ourselves" -- if we consistently read the Bible in a way that makes life easier for us (and more difficult for others) -- then Jesus has another phrase for us: "Caveat emptor."
Let the buyer beware.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

This week's lesson: Christ and religious tradition

Every church has its own traditions -- it's own way of doing things . . .

And what's more, these traditions are remarkably stable over time.

Yes, people may come and go at the Anytown SDA Church:
  • But the same kind of food will keep showing up at the potluck,
  • The same kind of people will keep staying after the potluck to clean up,
  • And if the person who guards the dessert table ever dies, then you can be sure that someone is ready and willing to take their place.
Not all of this is bad, of course. No, it saves time and thought to know that "we always bring baked beans to the potluck" -- and given what happened the time Mrs. Schmidt brought her prize-winning chocolate cake, perhaps it's just as well somebody makes sure that nobody takes seconds until everyone's had their chance.
  • But what happens when somebody comes with a different tradition -- when the new Samoan family, for instance, shows up at your potluck with fish?
  • What happens when somebody is tired of the old tradition -- when the people who always clean up would like some help from the people who always stand around and talk?
  • And what happens when people opt out of a tradition -- when the young mother of three isn't up to making a casserole for a dozen people . . . and so she skips the potluck and goes straight home instead?
In short, every church has its own traditions -- its own way of doing potlucks (and song services, and lesson studies, and funding student scholarships to its local Adventist school) . . . 
But how do you know when those traditions need to change?
And who changes them? 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

This week's lesson: Christ and the law of Moses

You could say Jesus was Jewish.

You could also say he was "Jewish."

Consider the story in Matthew 9:20-22 -- the story of a woman who wanted to be healed:  
And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.
Now if Jesus has a "fringe" to his garment, then he's obviously Jewish -- Jewish enough to wear the kind of tzizit  worn by all mensch in Fiddler on the Roof. 

Yet "Jewish" as he is, Jesus isn't bothered by the fact this woman is unclean -- or that her touch has made him unclean and unfit to worship until he's been ceremonially cleansed.

No, all through the Gospels, we learn that Jesus is Jewish -- that Jesus keeps the Sabbath, that he is circumcised, and that he worships in the Temple.

Yet all through the Gospels, Jesus is criticized for doing things that "good" Jews weren't supposed to do -- things such as healing on the Sabbath. Praising the faith of Roman officer. And predicting the destruction of Jerusalem.

In short, Jesus was a reformer . . .

But he was a conservative reformer: he loved Judaism enough to try and make it better . . . 

Which is a very Jewish thing thing to do.

Likewise, the most loyal members of a nation, a school, or a church are not always the people who love the status quo. No, their loyalty is qualified by their dreams; they are committed to what could be, and not just what is.

Like Jesus, in other words, we are called to be Christians.

But sometimes, that means we need to be "Christians."

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

This week's lesson: laws in Christ's day

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened [Romans 1:18-21, NIV, emphasis supplied].
Can you figure out God on your own?
Take a group of adults, for instance, and give them amnesia -- yes, wipe out every memory, every habit, every learned ability that makes them uniquely human . . .
Then drop them on a desert island, and wait.
  • Religion? Almost certainly -- again, we seem to be hard-wired for this.
  • But will these laws and religious beliefs provide some kind of window on God and His will for our lives -- or do we need revelation (i.e. the Bible) to learn about Him?
Christians have never been sure how to answer this.
  • That's why the early church fought over the role of philosophy.
  • That's why the Reformation fought over the role of tradition.
  • And that's why we're fighting over the role of science.
In each case, some believers point to Paul's statement that "what may be known about God is plain" as proof that philosophy, tradition, and science can give us accurate information about God . . . 

While others see these things as "futile thinking" and the product of "darkened hearts."

And that's the question you'll try to answer in this week's lesson -- yes, as you talk about all the various and sundry laws, customs, mores and habits that societies develop, you want to ask yourself:
Do these things lead us to God?
Or do they lead us away from Him?