Sunday, March 31, 2019

Church Write-Up: Hosea 11:1; the Woman Caught in Adultery

For my Church Write-Up this morning, I will first highlight some items from the pastor’s Sunday School class. The class is about the Book of Hosea, specifically the New Testament’s interpretation of it. Then, I will mention some items from the service.

A. Gomer was Hosea’s wife, who played the harlot with other men. The name of her father, Diblaim, relates to grape-seeds, which were a delicacy. Gomer’s family is linked to wealth, luxury, and sensuality. That fits Northern Israel, which is forgetting God in the midst of her luxury and is worshiping other gods. I looked at HALOT. Diblaim actually relates to fig cakes, yet some argue that the term diblaim is the price of a prostitute. The pastor’s overall point may still hold, however, since fig-cakes often are gifts to people or are a sign of fruitfulness or prosperity (see I Samuel 25:18; I Chronicles 12:41). This point stood out to me because harlots are usually stereotyped as poor: they sell their bodies to support themselves. Was Gomer different? Last week, the pastor mentioned the possibility that Gomer was a cult prostitute, in which case she could have been devoted by her wealthy father to the service of a god, out of piety or a desire for blessing, or to confer on his daughter an honor.

B. The pastor talked about how Jeroboam I set up golden calves in the shrines of Bethel and Dan. God was imagined to sit on the golden calves. Later, the pastor said that bulls were a symbol of Baal. The pastor’s comments are similar to the scholarly discussions that I have encountered about the Golden Calf. Was the Golden Calf seen as a throne for the God of Israel? Was it viewed as a symbol of God, in that it depicts God as strong like a bull? Was it a symbol for another god, such as Baal? The Bible says different things about this. When the Israelites made the Golden Calf, they proclaimed a festival to the LORD, the God of Israel (Exodus 32:5), implying that Israel still believed she was honoring the LORD through the Golden Calf; yet, she held that more than one god brought her out of Egypt (“these are your gods”). II Chronicles 13:8, however, states that Jeroboam made the golden calves as gods, and II Chronicles 11:15 affirms that Jeroboam led Israel to worship devils. The pastor suggested that syncretism may have been going on, as the worship of the LORD was mixed with the worship of other gods. Indeed, God in Hosea 2:16 predicts that Israel shall call the LORD “Ishi” (“my husband”) rather than “Baali” (“my lord”), which may indicate that Israel believed she was worshiping the LORD in worshiping Baal.

C. At the same time, the pastor was also saying that Israel forsook the LORD to worship Baal. This, too, is consistent with what is in Hosea, for the Israelites are depicted as committing adultery against God, which implies that she was worshiping other gods. According to the pastor, Israel figured that the LORD was fine for her when she was in the wilderness, but now that she was in Canaan, she would do well to worship the god who had blessed their predecessors the Canaanites with agricultural fertility, namely, Baal. Part of Hosea’s response to that was that Israel was going back into the wilderness (Hosea 2:14). The LORD is fine as a wilderness god? Well, guess what, Israel? You are going back to the wilderness!

D. The pastor argued that the Gospel of Matthew depicts Jesus as the only son of God. The LXX of Hosea 11:1 states that God brought out his sons (plural), an obvious reference to the children of Israel. Matthew 2:15 affirms, by contrast, that God called out his son (singular), and that son is Jesus. Jeremiah 31:15 talks about Rachel weeping for her sons. Matthew, however, has that Rachel wept for her children (tekna); Matthew wants to reserve the term “son” for Jesus. The pastor said that Matthew’s point is that Jesus and his act of salvation are the fulfillment of Israel’s history. The Gospel of Matthew actually uses “huios” for people other than Jesus: for sons or descendants of people, for sons of God (5:9, 45; cp. 17:26), and for the sons of the kingdom who will be cast out (8:12). It is odd, though, that Matthew 2:18 has “tekna” rather than “huios” (“son”). Plus, the Gospel of Matthew does treat Jesus as unique in being God’s son (see 4:3, 6; 14:33; 21:37-38; 28:19).

E. The pastor raised other points. God calls Israel out of Egypt when she is a child and does not know her left hand from her right (cp. Isaiah 7). God found Israel like grapes in the wilderness, which were small and did not look like much, but God cultivated them (Hosea 9:10). Israel in Egypt was safe from the Canaanites’ attacks and influence, and God protected Jesus in Egypt from the Herods, who were Idumeans, descended from Edomites who intermarried with Canaanites.

F. A while back, I encountered the view that Numbers 24 depicts God bringing the Messiah out of Egypt. John Sailhamer promulgated this. I was recently reading Numbers 24 and could understand where he was coming from. Numbers 24:7-9: “He shall pour the water out of his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows. He couched, he lay down as a lion, and as a great lion: who shall stir him up? Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee” (KJV). One way to read this is to say that God brought Israel out of Egypt. Another way to read it is to say that God brought the king of Israel out of Egypt, and this king would defeat the enemies of Israel. The LXX has “Gog” in place of Agag, and Gog is the eschatological enemy of Israel; in this case, the king who is brought out of Egypt is the eschatological king of Israel, or the Messiah. I doubt that is what the text originally meant, since, throughout the Hebrew Bible, it is Israel who is brought out of Egypt, not the Messiah. But perhaps Matthew had in mind Numbers 24:7-9 when he interpreted Hosea 11:1 and held that the Old Testament predicts that God would bring the Messiah out of Egypt. I mentioned this point in class, but I may not have been clear, since the pastor seemed to have thought I was talking about some other king than Jesus.

G. I will mention some items from the service. In the skit, the prosecutor was saying that Jesus may have hung out with tax collectors and sinners because he was from Galilee and did not know better. That got me thinking. Some argue that Galilee was considered a backward area; yet, some contend that Galilee was rife with Jewish religious conservatism, in which case one might expect Jesus to “know better,” according to the prosecutor’s standards. The prosecutor was interrogating the woman caught in adultery in John 8. The woman said that Leviticus requires the death penalty for men and women adulterers, but Jewish tradition held that only women could be executed for adultery. I doubt that was the case; at the same time, as numerous people have mentioned, it is odd that the adulterous man was nowhere to be found when the woman was brought before Jesus. Jesus wrote on the ground, and the pastor, after acknowledging other interpretations, speculated that Jesus may have been reinforcing that dust we are, and to dust we shall return. How can we look down on others, when none of us will leave this world alive? The pastor also observed that we refer to characters according to the negatives rather than the positives: the man born blind, the bent-over woman, the woman caught in adultery. Why do we not refer to them as “the man Jesus healed of blindness,” or “the woman Jesus forgave of adultery”?

Friday, March 29, 2019

Book Write-Up: On Writing, by Stephen King

Stephen King. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Pocket Books, 2000. See here to buy the book.

Stephen King is a renowned author of fiction, particularly in the horror and paranormal genres. This is a book about the craft of writing, specifically how he goes about the task.

Here are some items:

A. In terms of his process, King devotes a certain number of hours each day to reading and writing; he is consistent about this but is not absolutely rigid, since he may take a day off after finishing a project. Ideas come to him, particularly from his life, and he brings his own attitudes, ideas, and interests into his stories and their characters. King usually does not go into a project with an organized plot, but he lets the plot unfold on its own; he is as surprised at what happens as the readers! It is like the story and the characters are real and King is learning about them rather than creating them. King writes down the first draft in seclusion, without showing it to others. As he does so, he keeps in mind his ideal reader, the one he is addressing, his wife Tabitha. After he completes the first draft, he shows it to his wife and select friends and receives their critique. King then puts the manuscript away for six weeks and does not look at it. During those six weeks, he may work on another writing project. After six weeks, he looks at the first draft again with fresh eyes.

B. In terms of his comments on style, some of what he suggests is what you will find in other writing manuals: avoid adverbs, do not get bogged down in boring or unnecessary details, and try showing rather than telling. King offers advice about the length of paragraphs in a novel: they can be short, but writers should take care not to tire their readers with too rapid of a pace. King also discusses characterization, particularly the importance of getting into the minds of characters and uncovering their motivations. King recommends Strunk’s Elements of Style, which is about removing uncertain verbiage and tepid banality in favor of concise, impactful prose. I recently read Strunk and found myself in some of the “do not do this” examples. Some of Strunk’s advice is easy to follow, but other parts may require creativity in coming up with effective words and phrases.

C. King also offers advice about how to navigate one’s way through the writing profession. Where should one submit stories? Does one need an agent? How serious are publishers about not accepting unsolicited manuscripts? King recommends publications such as Writer’s Digest, Writer’s Market, and Literary Market Place for guidance in these areas.

D. The book is also autobiographic. King tells stories about his upbringing, his family, the development of his interest in writing, his ups and downs in the profession, his struggle with addiction, and his nearly fatal accident in 1999. King writes with humor and wit, and he makes his stories come alive, as if the reader is there. What is especially attractive about King is that he does not take himself too seriously. He knows that he has achieved success and thus is qualified to offer advice on writing. At the same time, he realizes that his success has been hard-fought and that he stands on the shoulders of literary greats, and he is candid about the projects he has written that he does not particularly like. (You would expect “Children of the Corn,” but he listed Insomnia, which is one of my favorites!) King also shares that he does not absolutely, always follow the guidelines that he is laying out, and neither do many successful authors; still, he finds them to be generally reliable.

I checked this book out from the library. My review is honest.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Church Write-Up: Epiousios; Craving More

At this week’s LCMS Lenten service, the pastor preached about bread. Here are two points.

A. In the KJV and other English translations, Matthew 6:11 reads, “Give us this day our daily bread.” According to the pastor, the word translated “daily,” “epiousios,” occurs only here and in the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:3). The pastor said that scholars have sought an Aramaic foundation for this extremely rare word, but the word most likely relates to God providing people’s needs for the day.

I do not think that the word itself relates to Aramaic because it is so, well, Greek. “Epi” is a common Greek preposition, and “ousios” is from the Greek verb “eimi,” “to be.” Perhaps the pastor meant that scholars have debated what Aramaic term “epiousios” translates.

Donald Hagner in the Word Biblical Commentary on Matthew surveys scholarly proposals about the word, based on an etymological analysis of it. One view, of course, is that it means “daily,” but Hagner thinks that is redundant, since Matthew 6:11 already mentions “this day.” Another view is that it means necessary “for existence”—-“epi ousia”: Give us this day the bread that is necessary for our existence. Yet another view is that it comes from the Greek verb “epienai” (“to come”) and refers to the coming day: give us this day our coming day’s bread. When I attended Park Street Church in Boston, that is how we recited the Lord’s Prayer. But Hagner inquires if that interpretation would contradict Jesus’s exhortation in Matthew 6:34 not to worry about tomorrow. Hagner goes with a similar interpretation, however: give us this day the eschatological bread: “The disciples should pray for the experience of the eschatological blessing today, of the bread that brings the time of the eschaton, the messianic banquet.”

B. The pastor talked about how Adam and Eve craved more than God was giving them. God in the Garden was providing them with their needs, and they desired more. Similarly, God gave the Israelites manna in the wilderness, but they did not feel that was enough for them: they wanted more. Bread is a sign of warmth, sustenance, and fellowship, but, after the Fall, it became a symbol of humanity’s alienation and fallen state: in the sweat of his brow, Adam shall eat bread (Genesis 3:19).

My question is: Why wouldn’t God’s provision be enough? Is not God’s bread or water supposed to ensure that people never hunger or thirst again (John 4:13-15; 6:35)? If the hole in our heart can only be filled by God, why would we desire more than God? Are we not truly and fully partaking of God, and that is why our hearts are not filled and we desire more?

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Church Write-Up: Logic in John 3, Hosea the Prophet

Here are some items from last Sunday’s LCMS church activities.

A. The main Scripture of the service was John 3, in which Jesus has a secret conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again, and Nicodemus incredulously wonders how a man can go into his mother’s womb a second time. We had a skit in which the prosecutor interrogated Nicodemus. Nicodemus said that he first became interested in Jesus after Jesus displayed passion for God by cleansing the Temple. Nicodemus, too, disliked the selling that went on in the Temple, for it made the Temple look like a marketplace. But he tolerated it, since at least it made the Temple some money.

B. I am wondering what exactly the setting of these skits is supposed to be. I initially thought that the setting was Jesus’s trial, but Nicodemus was talking as if Jesus had already died and was buried, so that must not be it. At the same time, the prosecutor was saying that perhaps Jesus should be found not guilty by reason of insanity, after hearing that Jesus had said one must be born again.

C. Aside from the question of setting, the prosecutor’s statement about insanity got me thinking about Nicodemus’s bafflement at Jesus’s statement. Over two decades ago, I read John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus, and MacArthur doubted that Nicodemus in John 3 interpreted Jesus literally to be saying that a person had to be physically born a second time. For MacArthur, Nicodemus’s problem was spiritual: he did not want to repent and surrender to God, which going into one’s mother’s womb a second time symbolized. One might think that the Jewish authorities would recognize simile and metaphor when they saw them, both from a common sense standpoint and also because rabbinic literature includes figurative language. But, in the Gospel of John, people appear to be more obtuse than that. Nicodemus misunderstands “born again.” The woman at the well in John 4 thinks that Jesus is saying she can literally drink a certain kind of water and never thirst again, meaning she need not come to the well anymore. The Jews in John 6 ask incredulously how Jesus can give them his flesh to eat. They interpret Jesus hyper-literally, and thus Jesus’s word make no sense to them. C.S. Lewis popularized the “Lord-Liar-Lunatic” trilemma: either Jesus is God as he claims, or he is insane, like someone who claims to be a poached egg. Interestingly, Jesus’s critics heard him and thought that he was insane (John 10:20).

D. The pastor commented that Jesus’s critics thought Jesus was being illogical, yet Jesus had logic. John 1 calls him the logos, after all, a term used for the order that underlies the cosmos. Jesus’s logic is that we cannot save ourselves but need God to save us. Nicodemus asked if he himself needed to go into his mother’s womb a second time, as if Nicodemus needed to act. Jesus, however, stressed that Jesus came from heaven and was God’s way of salvation.

E. The Sunday school class will be studying the Book of Hosea. Specifically, the pastor will focus on passages in Hosea that the New Testament quotes. In the first session, the pastor gave background about Hosea. Northern Israel was prosperous, and Israel’s enemies were in a such a state of disarray that they largely left Israel alone. Israel felt that she was doing just fine with God, and Israel in her prosperity forgot God. We, too, tend to forget God when things are going well. True, but Israel did not figure that it needed no religion at all, for it worshiped Baal. I may ask about that in the future, though I am shy about asking questions.

F. The pastor said that Hosea was grouped with the Twelve because the Jews liked fives. The Pentateuch consisted of five books, so the Jews who put together the Hebrew Bible grouped other things into five. In the case of the prophets, they had five books: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and the Book of the Twelve. The point that arises in my mind, of course, is that the Jewish Tanak places Daniel in the Writings section, not in the Prophets section. Moreover, the prophetic writings of the Tanak include, not only books such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, but also Joshua and I-II Samuel. There may still be something to what the pastor is saying, though. The Jews did like to groups things in five: the Book of Psalms has five sections, for example. Plus, the Septuagint includes Daniel among the prophetic writings.

G. The pastor talked about how prophets became institutionalized as an office, such that people could be trained to be prophets, as occurred in the prophetic schools of Elijah and Elisha. God sometimes called prophets charismatically, as he did with Amos, who was not an official prophet. But there was also a prophetic office. I wondered how a person could be “trained” to be a prophet: either one heard from God or one did not. Can one be “trained” to hear from God? Well, in modern day charismatic circles, there is such a notion. Was that the case back then? The pastor replied by saying that people may have been part of multi-generational prophetic families, and they were waiting to hear the divine call; he also said that prophets were the prototypes to the scribes, the interpreters of the law, which would make them preachers who can receive training. A lady in the class remarked that, even if official prophets did not hear from God, they could still claim to do so and deliver a false message, like the false prophets in the Bible. In the Book of Isaiah, Isaiah’s school preserves and passes on his sayings (Isaiah 8). Isaiah hears from God, and his students pass on (and even interpret) what Isaiah hears. That scenario does not really fit the prophetic schools of Elijah and Elisha, who did not write books. Still, perhaps their students continued their legacy. I recall a presentation that someone delivered about prophecy at Hebrew Union College. The presenter went into studies about traditional as opposed to charismatic prophecy, and, unfortunately, I do not remember the meat of what she said. The Anchor Bible Dictionary did not entirely help on this. It did say that, in some countries of the ancient Near East, institutional prophecy included divination, and my guess is that this would entail training. How do you read the goat entrails? The biblical religion shies away from divination, though. Were people appointed to prophetic office after they manifested gifts? Could gifts be passed on to students, as Elijah did with Elisha?

H. Some of the things that were said brought to my mind scholarly discussions. The youth pastor said that Nicodemus probably became a believer because he took care of Jesus’s body after Jesus’s death, which was not done for criminals. That brings to mind the debate that Bart Ehrman put on the table about whether Jesus was historically buried. Acts 13:28-29 says that the Jewish leaders as a group buried Jesus. When Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus buried Jesus in John 19:38-40, was that out of piety, or were they acting as representatives of the Sanhedrin? Could it be both: someone at the Sanhedrin needed to bury Jesus, since that was its job, and, out of their devotion to Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus volunteered?

I. The pastor said that Hosea treats Israel’s time in the wilderness after the Exodus as a honeymoon (see Hosea 2:15), in contrast with her forgetfulness of God amidst prosperity. After the Exodus, Israel was in love with God; Jeremiah 2:2-3 follows that vein. The pastor contrasted that with how the Pentateuch depicts the wilderness period: Israel complains, and God sends serpents to bite the Israelites. Scholars have held that these reflect different traditions about the wilderness period. Many of them would doubt that the Pentateuch’s wilderness stories are historical but rather reflect later political agendas: the dispute between the priests and the Levites, for instance. If one wants to treat both the positive and negative traditions about Israel’s wilderness period as historical, I suppose one can. Israel was enthusiastic about God at first but then complained, or God at times chooses to look at Israel through rose-colored glasses, or to focus on the positive rather than the negative.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Book Write-Up: Decoding Your Dreams, by Jennifer LeClaire

Jennifer LeClaire. Decoding Your Dreams: What the Lord May Be Saying to You While You Sleep. Emanate Books, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

Jennifer LeClaire was the editor of Charisma magazine and has written over twenty-five books. She leads prayer networks and believes that she is a “prophetic voice.”

This book is about the interpretation of dreams. For LeClaire, God can speak to people through dreams. LeClaire examines what the Bible says about the topic. She also offers possible interpretations of motifs that appear in various dreams. In so doing, she considers what the Bible says about a given motif as well as what the motif means in different cultural contexts: a motif in one cultural context may bear a meaning that it does not bear in another. Moreover, LeClaire offers advice as to how Christians can respond to their dreams.

One may legitimately inquire what qualifies LeClaire to interpret dreams. Personally, if I wanted to know what my dreams meant, I would consult a trained psychologist. Whether one finds LeClaire’s book to be helpful is a personal decision. LeClaire brings to the table some of her own experiences with dreams that she believes were from God. To her credit, this book is not overly dogmatic, for it sifts through different options and draws from scientific insights about dreams. LeClaire is probably a little more critical of dreams in which dead relatives appear than secular psychologists might be, on account of biblical warnings against consulting familiar spirits. At the same time, even this discussion ends rather tentatively, after exploring alternatives. Her discussion of deja vu is also enlightening, as she interacts with scientific and conservative Christian proposals about what it is.

And perhaps some of her interpretations overlap with what secular psychologists would say. She consults the Bible, and Jung would not dismiss the Bible as irrelevant but would see it as one manifestation of the human collective consciousness. LeClaire brings a distinctly Christian perspective into her discussion, however, in that she believes that God can use dreams to instruct and to guide people as to how they are to act in response to situations that they and others are experiencing. But could even that overlap with Jungian views on synchronicity?

The book perhaps would have been stronger and more authoritative had it drawn more from secular psychology. Identifying parallels between psychological insights and Christianity would have been impressive, but noting her areas of disagreement with it would have been interesting as well.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through BookLook Bloggers. My review is honest.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Church Write-Up: Atoning for Betrayal

At the LCMS Lenten service today, the pastor preached about Judas, who betrayed Jesus. The pastor said that Jesus bore our sins of betrayal and our failure to live up to our obligations to people on the cross. Judas, however, tried to solve his guilt problem by himself, by returning the thirty pieces of silver that he was paid to betray Jesus. The result, of course, was disastrous, since Judas committed suicide. By contrast, Peter, who had denied Jesus, was restored by Jesus himself.

The pastor said that Jesus atoned for our sins, but that does not necessarily mean that our relationships with people will be as they were prior to the sins. People’s impressions of us may remain the same. He referred to the view that, when James in James 1:6-8 refers to a double-minded man who is unstable in all of his ways, James has in mind Peter, particularly Peter’s denial of Jesus. Peter could not live down the betrayal, according to this view. I don’t know. James says that a double-minded man will not receive anything from the Lord. Would James say that about Peter, a man whose ministry God blessed?

Monday, March 18, 2019

Book Write-Up: Sin and Syntax, by Constance Hale

Constance Hale. Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wicked Good Prose. Revised & Updated. Three Rivers Press, 2013. See here to purchase the book.

Constance Hale is a journalist and an author. This book is about how to craft effective prose. As the back cover states, “mere devotion to grammar commandments won’t make your prose shine.”

Here are some thoughts:

A. On the one hand, Hale promotes an economy of words: getting rid of all those distracting adverbs, for example! Use a simple word like “use” rather than “utilization”! Hale is also critical of being so formal as to sound pompous, by, say, using “one” as a subject rather than “you” (i.e., “one must do such-and-such”). On the other hand, Hale wants writers to be imaginative and creative about the words that they do choose to use, as opposed to being banal. The prose that she advocates does not just tell but shows, enabling readers to see or to feel what is being described.

B. Hale overlaps with other writing manuals in that she encourages writers to keep their prose simple. At the same time, she qualifies the advice of other writing manuals, as when she states that writing manuals are often correct to discourage the use of the passive voice, but that in some cases the passive voice is appropriate.

C. Hale is sometimes a stickler for grammar, and at other times she is more liberal, as in her discussion about whether a writer can end a sentence with a preposition.

D. The book has a lot of political references. Political junkies like me will appreciate that! She even has a sarcastic comment about Donald Trump, before he became a politician.

E. In some cases, Hale could be dismissive, and I rolled my eyes at her corny put-downs of others’ prose, even as I understood why she was criticizing it.

F. The book confirmed something that I have long suspected, and that is that some of the rules that students are taught in school can hinder effective prose. For example, I have often felt as if I have to qualify everything that I say to avoid generalizations or misrepresentations of people’s position. Thus, I use what Hale calls “wimp verbs,” namely, “seem” and “appear.” The problem with this is that readers gravitate towards prose that manifests conviction and a sense of authority.

G. Hale shows what effective prose looks like and explains why it is effective. The book is not as helpful in explaining how writers can become imaginative enough to write it, however. It does not provide much of a road map.

H. I think that there is a place for formal prose, especially in academic writing. Formal prose—-as is four or five syllable words—-can command respect. But, even then, there is a place for getting rid of disruptive jargon.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Church Write-Up: Jesus Heals the Afflicted Woman

At the LCMS church that I attend, the main text was Luke 13:10-17. That is the story of the woman who was bent over due to a disabling spirit, and Jesus got in trouble for healing her on the Sabbath. Here are some items:

A. The youth pastor made the point that Jesus fulfilled the law for us, but that does not mean that we as Christians lack obligations. We are supposed to love God and neighbor. In the case of our story, Jesus’s critics should have loved their neighbor by desiring her healing.

B. Like last week, the church had a skit in which a prosecutor interrogated a witness. This week, the witness was the bent over woman. On the one hand, the woman was detailing how difficult her life was before Jesus healed her. She was bent over, and it was believed that this was due to a demon, so other Jews wanted little to do with her, lest she bring a demon into their presence. She was absent from the synagogue for a year and people forgot about her. But she went one time when Jesus was preaching, and Jesus noticed her, even though she was in the back. He not only healed her but also called her a “daughter of Abraham,” which she appreciated, on account of her feelings of exclusion. On the other hand, the prosecutor was expressing concern about Jesus’s transgression of the Sabbath. If the Jews tolerate violation of their laws, which keep order, define what God wants, and define them as a people, what do they have left?

C. For Sunday school, the pastor was supposed to start a series on the Book of Hosea but there was a miscommunication, so instead he had an open forum. He started by talking about the reading. He noted that Luke, more than Matthew and Mark, focuses on women. Women were seen as property in those days, but they feature prominently in the Gospel of Luke and in Acts. Jesus’s healing of the bent over woman highlights that he, as creator, has the power to heal, and also that people are more important than the Sabbath rules. (Here, I am relaying what the pastor says and do not want to be nitpicked over how high or low Luke’s Christology was.)

The woman was said to have a disabling spirit and to have been bound by Satan. On the one hand, the pastor said that this was how people talked about disease back then. In the story of the person Jesus healed after the Transfiguration, for example, the person was said to have a spirit, but the person’s symptoms were of epilepsy. On the other hand, the pastor seemed a little uncomfortable saying that Luke did not know better, so he noted that, technically, Luke says that the bent over woman was not possessed but was afflicted by Satan, as if Satan were using a disease that she had to afflict her. Jesus did not cast out a demon in her case.

D. The pastor got into other biblical issues. He said that tassels then were a sign of authority, and the bleeding woman who grabbed Jesus’s tassels grabbed a sign of his authority; when David cut off Saul’s garment, he may have been cutting off a tassel, a sign of Saul’s royal authority.
Someone asked about how news about Jesus spread in Jesus’s time. The pastor replied that the Romans built good roads in the Mediterranean and that allowed news to spread. Israel was also smaller than Massachusetts. Jesus may also have been on a predictable itinerary in Galilee, going from one synagogue to another. He also sent the seventy out to heal and to proclaim the Gospel. People at the wells in villages would tell stories about how Jesus healed someone they knew, or maybe even themselves.

E. The discussion then got into institutional issues. People were expressing their opinions about the incumbent President, President Harrison. There was also discussion about LCMS churches training deacons to be pastors, as there is a shortage of pastors in the LCMS. There were a lot of sub-issues in this discussion, but I will stop with the note on which the pastor ended. Although the church in the West appears to be in decline, it is blossoming in Africa; that is the case with other denominations, as well. We should wait and see what the Holy Spirit will do. The church still has a mission, for not everyone on earth yet has heard the Gospel.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Book Write-Up: The Reluctant Disciple, by Jim O’Shea

Jim O’Shea. The Reluctant Disciple. Ambassador International, 2018. See here to buy the book.

The Reluctant Disciple reminded me of the following:

The Devil’s Advocate: You have the offspring of an evil entity, who seduces a woman in a Christian religious environment, of all places.

Frank Peretti’s The Prophet: A cynical, skeptical reporter gets to the point where he makes a firm, public stand for the truth.

Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkin’s Left Behind: Perplexing vanishings are occurring, and a reporter is too close to evil.

The Exorcist: There is a botched attempt at an exorcism.

Ancient Aliens: This TV show presents the “ancient astronaut” view that aliens have visited the earth over the centuries, forming the basis for religious and mythological stories about the gods.

There are differences between this book and some of the above. The vanishings, for example, occur at different points for different people, rather than all at once. The two witnesses have their own YouTube channel! And UFOs get tied into premillennial, pretribulational eschatology.

In the first half of the book, we are introduced to the characters. There is Ryan, the cynical host of a cable show that deals with the paranormal. There is Eleanor, a past love interest. There is Eleanor’s brother Warren, a defrocked priest who unsuccessfully attempted to perform an exorcism.

I do not recall a whole lot that happened in the first half of the book. Apparently, something happened to Eleanor’s daughter. There was occasionally an intriguing discussion, such as one between Ryan and a Christian professor about whether the existence of aliens is consistent with Christianity, and Warren’s musings about whether the Beast and False Prophet will be regular people or something else. The first half of the book had a “comfort food” feel but was not as vivid or as competently executed as, say, a Frank Peretti novel. Still, the part of me that enjoys listening to “Coast to Coast” enjoyed the first half.

The second half of the book clearly resolved the puzzles of the first half and signaled where the author wanted to go, in terms of the book’s ideological framework. Questions occurred in my mind. How are people expected to know the truth, when a very plausible alternative scenario is being presented to them? The book makes some attempt to address this. How exactly does the book arrive at 666? Why does the letter sigma, for instance, represent six? The book presents an interesting proposal that addresses the question of whether the Antichrist will pretend to be Jesus Christ or will publicly oppose Jesus Christ.

This is an enjoyable book to read. The prose is all right. And, as one who actually likes Frank Peretti, the first Left Behind book, and Ancient Aliens, I found The Reluctant Disciple to be engaging.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Bookcrash. My review is honest.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Church Write-Up: Mary Anoints Jesus

At the LCMS Lenten service this week, the pastor spoke about Mark 14:1-9. That is the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with nard. Some saw that as a waste. It could have been sold for three hundred denarii—-three hundred days of wages—-and that could have been given to the poor. But Jesus honors her act of devotion to him.

The pastor talked about how, in the same way that this woman gave so much to Jesus, so Jesus gave so much for us. But he cautioned that we should not treat this good news as a club, guilting people into giving their all for Jesus because he gave his all for them. What was beautiful about the woman’s act was that it was freely given. John 11:2 and 12:3 identifies this woman as Mary of Bethany. She was the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, and she sat at Jesus’s feet listening to his teaching in Luke 10:38-42. She not only recognized Jesus’s value but was also grateful that Jesus gave her back her brother, and that probably contributed to her act of devotion.

The pastor told a story about a school in Africa to which he and his wife donate money. The head of this school, whom I will call “W,” grew up in Africa and was an orphan, but he happened to meet a Westerner who paid for his education. “W” completed his education and decided to start a school in the place in Africa where he grew up.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Church Write-Up: Jesus Eats with Sinners

The LCMS church service this morning focused on Jesus’s outreach to sinners in Mark 2:14-17. That is unusual for the first Sunday of Lent, which tends to focus on the story of Jesus’s temptation in either Matthew 4 or Luke 4.

Here are some items, from both the church service and the Sunday school class:

A. Levi was a collector of either tolls or tariffs. Tariffs were for goods that went through Capernaum from abroad.

B. Mark 2:15 states that, not only was Jesus eating with Levi and the tax collectors and sinners, but also with his disciples, for there were many who followed him. These were not only the Twelve, but numerous other people who were following Jesus.

C. There was a little skit in which a prosecutor was interrogating Matthew about Jesus. The prosecutor was saying that tax collectors were scorned because they collected taxes and a little for themselves on the side. But they were willing to endure the sneers of others because their job provided them with a materially comfortable life. I would not mind that situation: “I have my needs and wants met. I do not care if you like me or not.”

D. Romans 5:7 states that one will scarcely die for a righteous person, though for a good person one would dare even to die. The class was playing off the readings from each other, identifying common themes and possible tensions. Someone was trying to read Romans 5:7 in light of Jesus’s statement that he came to call not the righteous but sinners. Romans 5:7 says that one will scarcely die for a righteous person, and Jesus in Mark 2:17 states that he did not come to call the righteous. I was unclear about what his point was: it may have been that Jesus died for sinners and not the righteous or the self-righteous. People were then saying that Jesus died for the Pharisees, too, but they did not recognize their need for Jesus and thus did not benefit from his death. That student’s point did intrigue me, though. The point of Romans 5:7, of course, is that Jesus did something wonderful and amazing in dying for sinners, since few people can muster the love to die for even a righteous person. Romans 5:7 does seem to distinguish the righteous from the good, however, as if righteousness falls short: perhaps the righteous are those who dutifully follow the externals of the law, whereas the good are those who go beyond the letter of the law and help others even when it is not required, or are good on the inside and not only in their external actions. I am reminded of Romans 4:2: “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God” (KJV). Even if Abraham could be righteous by works, he would not be able to glory before God.

E. Romans 5:6 states: “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (KJV). The teacher said that “without strength” means totally helpless. But, at the right time, Christ did for the ungodly. God knew when he needed to step in. I was wondering if the teacher was connecting human weakness with when God decided to step in. By the first century, had humans arrived at an acute sense of their spiritual weakness? Well, in a sense. Israel had a history of sin and exile, and righteousness could appear to be a high standard that could confront people with their weakness. But a number of people were not conscious of their spiritual need, such as the scribes of the Pharisees whom Jesus criticized. I am reminded of a version of Christ-mythicism, which asserts that Paul treats Christ’s death and resurrection in terms of a personal spiritual experience rather than as a historical event: when we personally arrive at a sense of our weakness, Christ enters the picture and dies for us. I am not saying Christ’s death was not a historical event, but, in a sense, it is something that takes place at a personal spiritual level, as well.

F. The teacher asked if the church is like the Pharisees. One person said that she always told her children to be careful about what friends they chose. Their friends could influence them and define them: we are known by the company we keep. When Christians gather together, they do so to build each other up in Christianity. But she said that she hopes to become more compassionate. After the service, she said that she has a problem with the concept of forgiving everybody, and I certainly identify with that. The controversial nature of Jesus’s association with sinners stood out to me throughout the service. Of course, Jesus did not forget who he was and what he was about when he associated with sinners, yet he associated with them. On a related note, our church is hosting an auction to help a group that reaches out to people in the adult entertainment industry, providing workers there with other jobs.

G. The teacher defined “sinners” in Mark 2:14-17 as people who blatantly disobey the law, or as people who may not find the time to scrupulously observe the Mosaic law, as it was interpreted by the Pharisees. This stood out of me because I have been studying Numbers 15, which distinguishes between unintentional sin, which receive atonement, and deliberate or defiant sin, which despises the word of God and does not receive a sin offering.

H. People complain that the church is full of hypocrites. One of the teacher’s responses was, “You’re right. Come sin and receive forgiveness with us!” Another of his responses was, “If you’re letting hypocrites stand between you and God, then the hypocrites at least are closer to God than you are!”

I. The class talked about how Jesus was a physician. He makes people well. And people go to the doctor, not only when they are sick, but to maintain their health, or to check the status of their health. The law shows us where we fall short, but Jesus is the remedy. The teacher said that he personally falls short of forgiving people: of not allowing his memory of past misdeeds to impact negatively the quality of his relationship with people. The reason this discussion stood out to me is that I often find myself saying to myself, “Okay, I fall short of God’s law, big deal. Nobody’s perfect! I am not going to beat myself up!” It is easy for me to acknowledge that I need grace and forgiveness on account of my sins; I struggle, somewhat, with the idea that I go to church, or to Jesus, to be transformed and healed of my sins. Yet, that may still be a part of my personal spirituality: maybe I figure that I am better inside of a relationship with God than I would be outside of it.

J. The class talked about prioritization. Jesus came not for the righteous, but for sinners. He came for a purpose. Those who failed to recognize their need for Jesus would receive another message at another time, one that challenged them for their sin (I think of Matthew 23). Similarly, the church only has so many resources, so it needs to figure out how to prioritize: what does the most good, where is there most need, or what needs do we encounter? Paul was told not to go to Asia but to spend his time and resources in Europe (Acts 16:6-10).

K. Another of our texts was Hosea 6:6, in which God declares that he desires mercy and not sacrifice. Jesus quotes this in Matthew’s version of the story in which he eats with sinners and the Pharisees criticize that (Matthew 9:13). The Pharisees here were thinking about righteousness but lacked compassion for the sinners. Hosea 6:6 stood out to me because I responded with negative thinking: my churchgoing does not matter if I cannot like or get along with people. And, sure enough, Matthew in that trial (see item C) talked about people getting along and loving each other and Jesus showing them that way of life! I suppose I admire that way of life. Putting it into practice, in the realm of real-life people and conflicting personalities, is much more difficult, such that I barely even bother.

L. The teacher said that the people who criticized Jesus were not the Pharisees but the scribes of the Pharisees: those who wrote things down for the Pharisees. He said they were like the media of the day. The Matthean parallel, however, identifies them as Pharisees. I looked up Joel Marcus’s comments in his Anchor Bible commentary on Mark 1-8. What he says is that some scribes were Pharisees, and some scribes were not. The scribes of Mark 2:16 were Pharisees. Few of the Pharisees worked as scribes, since they had other jobs, but maybe some of the priests and Levites, interpreters of the law, were in the Pharisaic party. I am sure there is more that can be said about this, in terms of scholarly discussion, but I will stop here.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Book Write-Up: Haunted by Christ, by Richard Harries

Richard Harries. Haunted by Christ: Modern Writers and the Struggle for Faith. SPCK, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

Richard Harries is an English scholar, theologian, and radio commentator. He has been active in the House of Lords in the area of human rights.

This book is about the faith, or struggles with faith, of renowned literary authors. These authors include: Fyodor Dostoevsky, Emily Dickinson, Gerald Manley Hopkins, Edward Thomas, T.S. Eliot, Stevie Smith, Samuel Beckett, W.H. Auden, William Golding, R.S. Thomas, Edwin Muir, George Mackay Brown, Elizabeth Jennings, Graham Greene, Flannery O’Connor, Shusaku Endo, Evelyn Waugh, C.S. Lewis, Philip Pullman, and Marilyn Robinson. These authors varied in terms of their profession or commitment to Christianity, but they still thoughtfully engaged it and found it to be of value.

Some chapters are more comprehensive than others. The Dostoevsky chapter, for example, goes through three of Dostoevsky’s classics, whereas the section on Flannery O’Connor focuses on one of her short stories. This is understandable, though, since O’Connor shares the chapter with three other Catholic novelists.

I found that, overall, the chapters that discussed books that I had read came alive to me more than the parts that discussed books that I had not read. That is not because Harries fails to provide background information. He dutifully conveys the plots and the significance of the plots—-not necessarily in stirring prose, but the information is still there. It is just that, with books that I had read, I could think, “Oh, okay, I remember that.”

There is not a whole lot that I can remember from this book that really stood out to me. Maybe that is because some of the spiritual points did not intrigue me or speak to me that much, or they are commonly circulated in the Christian culture. A lot of it amounted to a search for wonder or a tentative praise for simplicity. The chapter about C.S. Lewis and Robert Pullmann was impressive, though, in that it went into how Lewis’s life experiences, background, and ideology shaped his work, as well as critiques of his fiction. The critiques that Harries covers are not so much literary, as they are moral: is Lewis conveying a message in such-and-such a passage that is psychologically harmful for children?

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.

Book Write-Up: Susie, by Ray Rhodes, Jr.

Ray Rhodes, Jr. Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, Wife of Charles H. Spurgeon. Moody, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

Susannah Spurgeon was the wife of the renowned nineteenth century English preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Ray Rhodes, Jr. is a pastor and holds theological degrees from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

This review is based on my preferences, and others’ impressions may differ. Essentially, there were parts of the book that interested me and parts that did not. There were snippets that allowed me to get to know Charles and Susannah better. I think of the story about how Charles on one occasion ignored Susannah because he was so focused, and Susannah was heartbroken, so her mother calmly informed Charles what he had done wrong. There was also the detail that Charles was so well-read that he could converse with almost everyone, of whatever social station, about anything. Susannah donated books to poor pastors, and there is a paragraph that explains why that would be important to poor pastors struggling to feed their families, let alone buy books that could edify themselves and, in turn, their congregations. A detail in the endnotes about Charles’s opposition to slavery and his controversial status in the American South also stood out to me.

These are the sorts of things that interest me when I read a biography in that they make the past and the people come alive. My problem with this book is that there were occasional flashes of light, but they were not really sustained, at least not enough to hold my interest. A lot of the book seemed rather plodding. Maybe I was hoping for more discussion of religious ideas. Perhaps there are things that I consider mundane and uninteresting but which actually deserve admiration, such as Susannah’s self-sacrificial attempts to spiritually educate her children. Where one is in life and one’s personal interests will influence what a person likes and dislikes about a book.

There are helpful features to this biography. There is a timeline at the beginning: what surprised me was how young Charles was when he died. The book is well-researched and draws from numerous primary sources. In the book’s conclusion, Rhodes neatly sums up the main points and what he believes Christian readers can get out of them. There is also an Afterword from Susannah’s great-great granddaughter, who lives in Ireland, where, according to her, Charles Spurgeon is not as well-known. That added a feel of coziness and historical connection to the book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Church Write-Up: Ash Wednesday 2019

I went to the LCMS church’s Ash Wednesday service. Some items, including some rambling ones:

A. The pastor said that people generally do not get rid of grief. Rather, they find some place to put it. I personally find this to be the case with resentment and bitterness. Some days, it is on the surface of my heart. Some days, it is not. But it is still there somewhere.

B. The pastor said that we can be honest before God and invite God into the broken places of our hearts, and God will heal them with God’s love. I used to do my share of personal imprecatory Psalms, of pouring out my heart before God. It was cathartic. Now, I do not do so as much. It just takes a lot of energy. The same goes for my blogging: I no longer write those honest, gut-wrenching posts that I used to write. Nowadays, I simply try to cope, and I ask God to help me not to allow any negative emotions I have to spill out onto others. I also follow a predictable pattern of prayer, calmly following the ACTS paradigm and praying for my own needs and the needs of others. Would such a method of prayer help me were a major crisis to hit my life? Well, it would be something reliable to fall back on: rain or shine, I can fallow that paradigm, letting it carry me.

C. The pastor talked about God using brokenness to break up hard hearts, making them fertile ground. Negative experiences can also harden people’s hearts, though. But, yes, they can also engender compassion.

D. The pastor’s text was Joel 2:12-19. The nation was having a revival, as people fasted and wept before God. The prophet exhorted them to rend their hearts, not their garments. But, after the ritual, they would put on their whole garments again and go about their daily business. I have thought some about these issues lately. I do a “Church of James Pate’s Brain” at nights, in which I preach to myself a sermon to help me fall asleep. Over the past few months, I have been doing those sermons on my daily walks. I have done series on the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the fruit of the Spirit; currently, I am doing a series on the Sermon on the Mount. I went through “Blessed are the poor in Spirit” and “Blessed are those who mourn.” There are many people—-probably the vast majority of people—-who are broken in some way by life: disappointments, disease, alienation, or loss of a loved one. Of course, mainstream conservative Christianity would deny that all of them are saved, since not all of them have placed faith in Christ as their personal Savior. Are they thus lacking in the blessing that Jesus pronounces on the poor in Spirit and the mourners? A number of Christians apply these first two beatitudes to contrition about sin, which leads to repentance and faith in Christ. But what if one simply does not feel that? Granted, there are places in Scripture in which God tries to get people to see the magnitude of their sin, from God’s perspective: to see why it is horrible, how it hurts others, how it is betrayal of the God who has done so much good for them. But what if the feelings of contrition are not there? And can God command people to rend their hearts and not their garments? Can people control what they feel? Well, hopefully going through the ritual of humility and mourning will help them to internalize that humility and mourning, but it does not always.

E. The pastor said that many Christians try to put on their Sunday best before God and other Christians. Whether I do that with God, that is a good question. I am sure that I rationalize to try to convince myself that I am righteous. But, a lot of times, the crap inside of me is so apparent that I cannot do that. I have to be myself before God. The thing is, that easily falls into resentment against God, specifically God’s standards. On putting on my Sunday best before others, I consider that practicing social skills. People talk about how they love for others to be honest and vulnerable, but that is not necessarily the case. My rule nowadays is to go along and to get along. I do not want to be an emotional mess before other people. I am specifically hesitant to be myself before Christians, who may judge me for feeling this, or believing that, or not believing that, or not behaving this way.

F. The pastor told a story about a Lutheran school in which the teacher was saving a banana for a student. Another student ate half of it and tried to cover up what he did by stapling the banana back together. The pastor likened that to how many people try to deal with their sin problem.

More can be said, but I will stop here.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Book Write-Up: Jesus and Muhammad: Their Messages, Side-by-Side

Louis St Michael. Jesus and Muhammad: Their Messages, Side-by-Side. Rising Myhrr, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

This book compares Jesus’s sayings in the biblical Gospels with Muhammad’s sayings in the Quran. On one page is Jesus’s sayings on a given topic, and on the opposite page is Muhammad’s comments on that topic. Rarely is there comment from the author, Louis St Michael, though there is an occasional footnote that provides context. The topics are numerous, but they encompass the mission of the messenger, warfare, the stance towards insiders and outsiders, spirituality, sexuality, morality, Satan, the afterlife, and eschatology.

The book also contains an extensive introduction and conclusion that provides information about the religions. The introduction focuses on Jesus and Muhammad themselves. It has a chart about the wars in which Muhammad was engaged and the question of whether each war was retaliatory, defensive, or a matter of conquest. The conclusion goes more into doctrinal and denominational issues.

The book is recommended by academics in religious studies and in Islam. Some specifically like that Louis St Michael places the quotations side by side without commentary, allowing the texts to speak for themselves.

Some thoughts:

A. To its credit, the book neither whitewashes nor demonizes Muhammad. The sorts of passages that critics of Islam cite are in this book, as are the passages that defenders of the religion cite. For instance, Muhammad talked about the importance of forgiveness, but also retaliation.

B. Of interest to me was Muhammad’s lack of assurance that he would go to heaven after he died. This is stated in the book’s conclusion. The reason that stood out to me was a quote in which Muhammad lists requirements that please God: do one’s prayers, give to charity, etc. One might look at that and think it is an easy enough checklist, in contrast with how some Christians make God’s law into a standard of perfection from which everyone falls short. Apparently, though, the requirements did not give Muhammad assurance.

C. In the section about Jesus’s crucifixion, the book cites the Quranic passage that appears to suggest that Jesus escaped the crucifixion. However, Mark Robert Anderson, in The Quran in Context, cites passages that seem to accept that Jesus died (see, for example, 3.55, 116-118, 144; 5.75; 19.15, 33).

D. The book’s positives are that readers can get a flavor of what Jesus in the Gospels and Muhammad in the Quran value, and they can look up a given topic (i.e., homosexuality, war) to see what, if anything, the source says. The book is good for reference in that sense. It is not exactly a smooth or easy read, though, because not much interpretive context or narrative is provided. The conclusion talks some about the divisions within Islam about what in the Quran is authoritative for today: is all of it authoritative, or have later passages superseded earlier passages? Tying that to the actual passages under discussion may have made the book easier to follow.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author. My review is honest.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Church Write-Up: Transfiguration Sunday 2019

The LCMS church service this morning celebrated Transfiguration Sunday. The Scriptural texts were Deuteronomy 34:1-12, II Corinthians 4:3-6, and Luke 9:28-36. Deuteronomy 34:1-12 is about the burial of Moses. II Corinthians 4:3-6 interacts with the story in Exodus 33-34 about Moses seeing an aspect of God’s glory and shining as a result of it, so Moses had to wear a veil before the Israelites. Paul relates that to the glory of Christ being hidden from unbelievers by the god of this world, but the light shines in the heart of believers. Luke 9:28-36 is Luke’s version of the Transfiguration story.

Here are some items:

A. One of the hymns that we sang is entitled “How Good, Lord, to Be Here.” It is specifically about the Transfiguration. Some stanzas stood out to me:

Before we taste of death,
we see thy kingdom come;
we fain would hold the vision bright,
and make this hill our home.

Jesus in Luke 9:26-27 states: “For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels. But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God” (KJV). Verses like these trouble some, since they seem to suggest that Jesus was predicting that the Second Coming would occur in the lifetime of at least some of his disciples. One way to get around this is to say that Jesus was speaking here about the Transfiguration. And, sure enough, the next verse says, “And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray” (KJV). The text appears to connect the Transfiguration story with Jesus’s statement that some of his disciples will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God. That stanza of the hymn goes with that interpretation.

‘Tis good, Lord, to be here,
yet we may not remain;
but since thou bidst us leave the mount,
come with us to the plain.

I have heard sermons about how Christians should not stay on the mountaintop, with their elevated spiritual experiences, but should come down and make a difference in the world below. This stanza is essentially saying that. But I like how it invites Jesus to come down with us to the world below.

B. The sermon drew a parallel between the Exodus 33-34 story and the Transfiguration. Moses’s shining was a sign that God was still present with Israel through the person and work of Moses, even though Israel had just sinned with the Golden Calf. The Transfiguration is about God being with us through the person and work of Jesus. The Transfiguration was a time of glory, as Jesus’s glory was demonstrated to Peter, James, and John, and as Jesus talked with two of the prominent pillars of Israel’s faith, Moses and Eiijah. But what did Jesus, Moses, and Elijah talk about? They discussed Jesus going to Jerusalem, which was where he would suffer, die, and rise from the dead. The pastor referred to how the disciples were excited by the miracles that they did (Luke 10:17-20), but Jesus continually told them that he would go to Jerusalem, die, and rise again on the third day. We could easily be overwhelmed and even destroyed by the glory of God, but God came to our level through the incarnation.

Jesus, Moses, and Elijah discuss Jesus’s departure, or his exodus, in Luke’s account. Jesus’s departure occurs at his resurrection, which is where he is glorified. The pastor said that Jesus’s resurrection effects our eschatological resurrection, but also new life in the here and now.

C. Some items from the Sunday school class:

—-Moses could not enter the Promised Land due to his sin, but Moses got to be in the Promised Land at the Transfiguration. Not only that, but he got to hear about the point of the Promised Land: the death and resurrection of Jesus.

—-Moses set the stage for Joshua, and the law of Moses set the stage for Jesus, whose name is Joshua.

—-Joshua had huge shoes to fill, like young Lutheran pastors in the midwest taking the place of pastors who served a church for decades. But God gave Joshua a spirit of wisdom.

—-The location of Moses’s grace was kept a secret either so people would not worship Moses or his enemies would not desecrate his grave.

—-There was some discussion about why Elijah appeared at the Transfiguration. Elijah represents the prophets, but why Elijah rather than Isaiah or Jeremiah? I think part of the answer is that Elijah’s appearance set the stage for Jesus’s discussion with his disciples about Elijah preparing the way for the Messiah, which occurs right after the Transfiguration in Mark 9:11-13 and Matthew 17:10-13. In a sense, though, Elijah was a prototypical prophet. He was one of the earliest prophets, and quite a bit of narrative is devoted to his proclamation of repentance and his role in restoring Israel to God.

—-Peter, James, and John did not tell anyone about the Transfiguration right after it occurred. The teacher speculated that perhaps they had not digested it, or they thought that people would not believe them. Jesus in Matthew 17:9 and Mark 9:9 explicitly tells them not to tell anyone until he has risen from the dead. The teacher said that it was not yet the right time. Now, we are supposed to tell people and also show people. In the same way that Jesus’s transformation was obvious to the disciples, Christians’ glorification of Christ is to be obvious to the world, through their love and compassion.

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