Strike 1

March 24, 2020

Although I’m not overly happy with the technical qualities of the first sermon I posted to the Internet, given the last minute rush to figure it out at all I don’t consider it a strike.  But I was very disappointed today.

I’m a Windows user, as far as computers go.  Though I dabble in Apple products (such as their early generation computers were the norm in high school and college labs, and I use an older model iPhone) my daily work for decades has been done on Windows-based PCs.  Although I enjoyed brief experiences with UNIX and Linux, I never considered them reasonable replacements for Windows.  And more and  move I’ve migrated from proprietary software options (such as Microsoft Office) to freeware solutions (such as OpenOffice).  That is also the case for the software I’ve used to generate audio files over the years – Audacity.

So I hooked up the mixing board and mics to a new computer I had installed Audacity on and put together my first Internet-destined audio file.  The only problem is that when I went to upload it to YouTube, it was rejected because it’s an audio file rather than a video file.  Now I have to figure out if there’s a way to fold the MP3 data into a video file that YouTube will recognize and accept.

Some might ask why I don’t just film me doing the Bible study and post said video.  It would be much simpler, ’tis true.  But I’m a rather cantankerous person at times.  I naturally resist the cultural obsession with visualization and our predilection to juding everything by looks rather than content.  As such, I take opportunities to kick against these goads , resulting in the predicted discomfort (such as losing a District election several years ago by one vote, in no small part because I refused to provide a photo to be used with my bio).

The current example is not wanting to film myself.  Go online and you’ll find scads of preacher videos.  What’s the first thing you notice before you hear a word out of their mouths?  What they look like.  Old or young?  Hip or outdated?  Liturgically vested or skinny jeans?  This is how we’re trained, but the Word of God encourages us to move past these surface level things to examine what’s underneath.  Oftentimes a nice exterior hides rottenness within.  Likewise, if we can ignore how someone looks, we might find they have something valuable to say.

My congregants already know what I look like (and I feel bad for them in that regard!), but those who don’t know me (and who aren’t compelled by a divine Call to listen to me on a regular basis!) should judge me not by what I look like or how I dress but rather by what I say and whether what I say is in line with what God says to us in his Word, the Bible.  If I’m going to reach a larger audience, I want to reach that audience not with me, but with Christ.  And while I’m sure there are plenty of preachers who can upload videos of themselves without a hint of pride, I’m not sure I’m as immune to the temptation to value what I’m doing  by the number of views or likes or whatever other means of cultural approbation we come up with.

So I kick, and it hurts.

I’m hopeful I’ll figure it out, but it’s a learning curve I’d much rather not have to be climbing at the moment!  I’ll keep you posted.

Apocrypha – 1 Esdras

March 23, 2020

With this entry in my Apocrypha posting series, we move from those books associated with Western Christianity to apocryphal writings more prevalent in other Christian  traditions and Judaism.  Again, these are generally not accepted as canonical – on the same level as the books of the Old and New Testaments, but various groups at various times have either included them alongside the canonical Scriptures or even included them with them.

1 Esdras purports to be written either by the Old Testament prophet Ezra or a near-contemporary of his, providing specific details about Ezra’s work in rebuilding Jerusalem and the Temple in the late 6th and early 5th centuries.  It draws heavily on Old Testament passages from 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah.  However it also has several direct contradictions of Biblical passages in Haggai and Esther.  The author undoubtedly did not intend harm in their retelling and reworking of the Biblical accounts, but we should treat it as such, rather than a work inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The book details the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple.  It begins briefly with the timeframe directly before the fall of Jerusalem and then leaps to the time of Cyrus the Persian and the decree allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild.  As with other apocryphal writings it expands greatly on the Biblical material, purporting to record specific prayers and exchanges between Biblical and extra-biblical figures.  One such example is an extended section detailing a competition between three bodyguards of King Darius of the Persians, with each describing what they think the strongest thing in the world is.  One claims wine, another the king, and the third women.  The latter position, voiced by Zerubbabel (who cheats and also includes truth as the alternate, strongest thing) is judged the winner.

The work concludes with Ezra’s reading of the Law to God’s people.  Again, an interesting book to some degree but certainly not as reliable as the Old Testament canon.

Reading Ramblings – March 29, 2020

March 22, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday in Lent, COVID-19 2nd Sunday of Lockdown – March 29, 2020

Texts: Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:1-11; John 11:1-53

Context: We’re in the second week of lockdowns from COVID-19. A second week when we are unable to gather together to encourage one another in hope, both in terms of getting through this pandemic as well as in the larger sense of God’s grace and forgiveness to us which leads us to eternal life and freedom from all such suffering. The readings summon us to faith and hope in our God who works when all hope seems to be lost, who restores us from dry bones, from the depths, from condemnation and sin and from our greatest existential fear, death and the grave. The readings for this Sunday are uniformly hopeful, encouraging, upbuilding – the focus we need not only in a normal season of Lent, but certainly during Lent in the midst of contagion.

Ezekiel 37:1-14 – Ezekiel is part of the first wave of hostages taken from Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 598BC. He apparently spends the entire rest of his life, and the entirety of his formal prophetic ministry, in exile. As such, he speaks to God’s people separated from the land God had promised them, and the city and Temple where they could sacrifice to God and worship him. These are a people in shock, in despair. God had allowed his people to be defeated. Allowed them to be disgraced. Allowed them to be carried away into exile. Would they ever see Jerusalem again? Would they ever be allowed to worship at the Temple again? In a few short years, with another wave of exiles they would have their answer. No, there would be no going back for them. For their children, perhaps. But the adults – they would likely die in exile just as the Israelites had died in the wilderness after refusing to enter the Promised Land when God first brought them to the Jordan River (Numbers 13-14). All their worldly hope is lost and gone. All the plans of their leadership through alliances and diplomacy and military might have failed. But what they could not do for themselves, God alone is capable of doing. Their national spirit was inadequate but the Holy Spirit of God is not. God’s people appears to be defeated and at an end, but out of death the Lord can and will bring life. Hope is not lost. They are to look to him exclusively for their hope, and He will not disappoint them. He will bring his people home.

Psalm 130 – This psalm is the 11th of the 15 psalms of ascent (Psalms 120-134) used by pilgrims on the journey to Jerusalem. It is also one of of the seven psalms grouped as the penitential psalms in the 7th century by the Roman statesman and monk Cassiodorus in the late 6th or early 7th century. Luther referred to this psalm as a proper master and doctor of Scripture – meaning it encapsulates the Gospel beautifully. The form of the psalm is an individual speaking, the voice of one speaking on behalf of and to many. The essential plea is for mercy (vs.1-2). Overwhelmed by sin and death (out of the depths) the speaker calls to God, asking for mercy. Some might find this a counterintuitive move – isn’t God the wrathful God waiting to punish our sin? No, the speaker insists (vs.3-4). The Lord is not waiting to pounce on us for our sins – rather the Lord is merciful! Only with God do we find forgiveness for our sins, because we certainly are not quick to forgive ourselves, or find forgiveness from others. Besides, sin is first and foremost always sin against God, therefore his forgiveness is the only real and lasting forgiveness, the only forgiveness that matters in an eternal sense. Therefore, our lives are lives of faith receiving of God’s forgiveness but also looking forward to his approach or arrival, at which point sin will be banished and we won’t have to struggle in the depths any longer (vs.5-6). Finally the speaker exhorts the assembly of the faithful (vs.7-8). They are exhorted to hope in the Lord and his promises. The Lord alone is fully and perfectly faithful. His love is not fickle but steadfast. His redemption is not feeble but more than adequate, and He has promised to redeem his people from all their sins. The psalm leads us from our own condition – despair and being overwhelmed by sin and death in our lives – to the condition made possible by God alone – life in and by the grace and mercy and love of God. But this text is more than symbolic about the fate of God’s people and their homeland. It is also very much a text about resurrection, about life from death, about restoration possible only in God, as we see in the Gospel text. For God’s people the themes of communal restoration and bodily resurrection have long been woven together, and this text is a powerful and striking example of that.

Romans 8:1-11 – How quickly we gloss over verse 1! Yet here is the Gospel! Here is the fullness of Scripture in so very few words! Where once there was only condemnation under the Law, there is now no condemnation – all because of Jesus! Jesus alone did what no human being could do since the Fall. He perfectly obeyed his heavenly Father in every respect. He offered himself as the greatest and final sin offering, and by his blood has freed all those who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, put their faith and trust in him. How do we know this is true for us? The Spirit of God dwells within us. And as Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 12, it is only by the Holy Spirit we can acknowledge Jesus as Lord. This is consistent with what Jesus says in Mark 9. This passage only has meaning for those who know what guilt feels like, who know what it feels like to stand accused and guilty under the Law. As Jesus says in Luke 7:47, the one who thinks they have little to be forgiven of responds in love to God and neighbor far less. But to those who know their guilt, who know their knowledge of their own guilt is inadequate at best, these verses should bring shouts of joy, tears of relief, and transformed lives. Because of Jesus there is life from death, forgiveness rather than condemnation, hope rather than fear!

John 11:1-53 – John does such a masterful job of telling this story it would be a crime to carve it up just to shorten the reading time! Take time to read through this over and over again. Those who think the Bible is nothing but fairy tales should read this passage over and over again. There is nothing fantastical in any of it – until the end. This is no never-never land but rather the brutal reality we each have to face, both in the lives of those we love and our own selves. Death. The grave. Burial cloths. To mourn or be mourned. This is our reality. The past is unchangeable though we often imagine it changed. The future holds the resurrection of the dead but here and now we must bury the dead, or be buried. Here we are in the depths, as the psalmist described it, and we can only cry out to Jesus as Martha and Mary do. If only you could alter the past! If only we were in the future with you already!

Jesus does not offer Martha – or you and I – that. But in the midst of her loss, in the midst of our fear and COVID-19 lockdowns and the specter of death around us, in the midst of all this Jesus stands with Martha and you and I and doesn’t simply make promises for the future. Rather, He promises that right now, in the midst of fear and sickness and even death, here and now, for you and I and Martha Jesus is the resurrection. Our hope embodied and incarnate. He stands with Martha, and the Holy Spirit of God stands with you and I in the midst of self-quarantine and social distancing and nothing can or will separate the Holy Spirit from you and I. Nothing can or will separate or distance the love of God in Jesus Christ for you and I. No power on earth or hell, no plan of Satan can change how God feels about each and every one of us, and the offer made to us in the death and resurrection of the Son of God of life not just someday, off in the future, over the rainbow, but here and now. Life. Hope. Joy. Peace. In and with Christ that’s how it was, that’s how it is, and that’s how it will be forever.

Reading Ramblings – March 22, 2020

March 21, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 22, 2020

Texts: Isaiah 42:14-21; Psalm 142; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

Context: Yes, we’re in Lent. We are also in the time of COVID-19, and so the text from John seems almost unavoidable for us to focus on. But as we’re in the season of Lent rather than Ordinary Time, the readings are intended to work together, and they do so beautifully. They are readings of hope. Readings that do not minimize our present struggles but acknowledge them both physically and spiritually and point us to the hope we have in the restorative work of God the Father, a work evidenced by God the Son in starting the process of healing and restoration with the blind man. This is what we are to focus on rather than obsessing in fear and anxiety. Those are easy things to say when all is going well, but now that we are faced with grave upendings of daily routines, they are no less true and we are to take them no less seriously. The hope we have in Christ is not simply a hope for easy times but a hope for all times.

Isaiah 42:14-21 – Isaiah writes in another period of fear and uncertainty. The people of God in Jerusalem and Judea have been ravaged by Assyrian armies, with Jerusalem being miraculously spared from siege. But the threat of Assyria remains real. God allowed his people to be hard afflicted before sparing them from total destruction. At times it seems as though God’s rescue and mercy are far off, not according to our preferences and timeframes. But God is never absent! God works through and in all things, even those things that most terrify us. God has promised us salvation and restoration and He will make good on that promise ultimately, and in the meantime He abides with us to guide us as restored and saved people here and now. We are called to remain faithful to him and not put our faith and trust ultimately in things that have not and cannot save us. In times of fear it is easy to place our faith and trust in medicine and technology, in best practices as we come to know them. And these things are all well and good but they are not our hope! Our hope is not merely to be spared from contagion. Our hope is to be in Christ for eternity! We look forward not simply to long and peaceful lives here and now, but prepare our hearts and minds for that real and true and final rescue, where our darkness is turned into light and the rough places are made level forever.

Psalm 142 – This is a beautiful psalm of hope and confidence in our God even when things are very bad, and evil appears to have taken the day. It calls us first of all to be in prayer and supplication to God (vs.1-2). This is not because God needs to be informed of our plight, but we need to remember who our refuge and strength is. Social distancing and other precautions are all well and good but it is God alone who knows our paths and directs and controls all things. Verses 3-4 outline the fearful condition we may find ourselves in. Surely there is no rescue, no escape! But this is our perspective, not God’s. We cry out to him knowing that He alone is our source of hope (vs.5-7). And our cries are not in vain. We are confident of our God’s blessing and care not simply within the confines of this life but for all eternity. We are not forgotten. We are not abandoned. And not even death can separate us from the glorious joy of eternal fellowship with God and his redeemed. Our fellowship with one another now is a foreshadowing of this, so that we look forward eagerly to the chance to worship and be together as a sneak preview of the joy we will have forever in Christ.

Ephesians 5:8-14 – The imitation we are to make of God pertains to our treatment of one another in kindness and forgiveness as Paul just finished explaining in chapter 4. Loving one another has very tangible expressions, and we are not free to decide what we will or won’t do in terms of loving one another, but rather are called in obedience and emulation of God to be kind and forgive others. And of course, as we pursue these emulations of God we naturally should be pushing away those things inappropriate for the redeemed. We are to take seriously the commands of God as they apply to our lives, and to reject anyone who tells us these things don’t matter. Not because they can’t be forgiven but because they are inappropriate for the redeemed and can lead ultimately only to our rejection of God’s grace. We are not like the rest of the world that rejects or does not know God and therefore creates other sytems of belief and practice and claims they are fine and good. We know what is good and right and this is the path we are to pursue, seeking to please God rather than ourselves. We have been woken from the slumber of sin and ignorance of the grace and goodness of God and the right way to live. We can’t simply go back to sleep.

In this time of contagion, this means specifically that we refuse to pursue fearfulness and anxiety, that we refuse to think solely of ourselves, but rather are constantly open to how God may use us to help others, and constantly focus ourselves on his promises to us rather than fear-mongering in print or other media. We seek to focus on hope and joy, not in ignorance of what goes on around us but despite what goes on around us, confident in our Lord’s promises to us through his resurrected Son who has conquered death itself and every affliction which contributes towards or leads to it. This does not necessarily exempt us from contagion, but it does dictate how we deal with the possibility or reality of it, and how we deal with others around us.

John 9:1-41 – The issue of blindness runs throughout this story but we miss the central point if we think the blindness is just what Jesus heals in the man. That man can see now, but the others in this account remain blind. The disciples are blind, not seeing the man himself, suffering, but rather seeing only a possibility for theological discourse and intellectual stretching. They want to discern theological truths but ignore the real suffering of the real blind man right in front of them. Likewise the religious authorities are hardly at all interested in the man himself and praising God he now can see. Rather, they only see grounds for potentially convicting Jesus of sinning against the Sabbath. They are indifferent to the suffering the man has been delivered from. They too want to discuss theology abstracted from reality, and are willing even to curse the very real, healed man when he does not suit their theological goals.

The man begins blind, physically. Just as God molded man from the clay of the ground in Genesis 2, Jesus literally molds sight for the blind man from the mud of the ground. But the man still is as blind as the disciples and the Pharisees. But unlike them, his spiritual sight progresses. At first he doesn’t even know Jesus other than by name (v.10). Then he believes Jesus to be a prophet (v.17), hardly a light profession as an authentic prophet has not been recognized among the Jewish people for 400 years! Then he sees Jesus as someone worthy of following (v.27) and asserts that Jesus is sent by God (vs.30-34). Finally he professes faith in Jesus as the Son of Man, as the Messiah (v.38), worshiping him as a demonstration of what he believes to be true.

The one who started out blind is no longer blind, while those who sought deeper spiritual sight at the expense of their physical sight still cannot see, as Jesus asserts at the end of this reading. Theology happens in a real world with real people and real suffering. If we begin to be blind to those people in order to pursue our pure theology, we are dangerously mistaken and only demonstrate our blindness. While we may not be granted the power to restore a blind person’s sight, we do have the power to see God’s creation and creatures around us and seek to love them first, rather than ignoring them or seeing them as object lessons for our theology.

Holy Communion and COVID-19

March 21, 2020

As previously noted, our congregation is suspending corporate worship for the time being.  I make this decision only because I am specifically ordered to by the civil authority and because I do  not sense in this order any intention to suppress God’s people gathering together as God’s people, but only a desire to temporarily avoid gatherings that might spread infection.

This necessitates I as a pastor and my congregational leadership and members thinking about how we carry on as the body of Christ in this time.  I’ve intentionally refused to livestream or record worship services to  post  on Facebook or YouTube because  the sermon I deliver each Sunday is for my congregation.  People that by and large I know fairly well, and who know me.  When we speak to each other, we speak in the context of that relationship and trust, and the sermon is no different.  What I say to them and how I say it to them is in part conditioned by my relationship to them.

Therefore, for someone not part of our immediate community of faith to listen in could be problematic.  Without the relationship and trust, they don’t know how to hear properly what I’m saying.  This isn’t  their fault – at a very real level the words aren’t for them.  They’re for my people.  The Word of God is for everyone, to be sure. But a sermon as an explication and application of  the Word of God has to be crafted and fashioned with a hearer in mind.  Paul’s message to the Greeks on Mars Hill (Acts 17) would hardly have been appropriate to hearers in Jerusalem.

So I’ve maintained for a long time that if we’re going to post things online, they need to be designed for digestion online, by a community I cannot know, and that cannot know me.  The message has to be focused on the Word as it might apply to anyone, rather than the Word as it applies to my small flock of regular hearers.

Enter COVID-19.

Now we’re scrambling to find ways to allow our members to receive the Word of God in a sermon (as well as Bible studies and other things).  We’re going to experiment with livestreaming to our very small congregational group on Facebook tomorrow.  We’re also  arranging for  a phone-in, conference-call type solution for our many members without access to  either Facebook or the Internet.

But one question remains – what about Holy Communion?

Well, that’s going to have to wait.

While there have been efforts made over time to figure  out how to bring Communion to people  when they cannot gather for it together, those solutions are problematic to varying degrees.  Either they end up breaching the very reasons we aren’t gathering together in the first place (the possible spread  of infection) or they somehow alter what happens in Holy Communion.  Our denominational leadership prepared a brief statement indicating why some of these practices are problematic and to be avoided, while reminding us that for centuries, Holy Communion was an infrequently celebrated event.  We receive God’s grace and forgiveness daily, and while we should not willingly despise or avoid Holy Communion, when we must forego it for a period of time it does  not damage us spiritually, even though we might long to partake in it.

For now, patience.  And prayer that this outbreak will subside quickly and we can once again gather as the body of Christ to receive his good gifts to us in Word AND Sacrament.

 

Suspending Worship

March 20, 2020

After some unofficial legal counsel from two Christian attorneys, I’ve made the difficult decision to suspend worship service this coming Sunday.  To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time churches have been told not to gather for worship since the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918.

I do this in obedience to Romans 13, not detecting in the governor’s Executive Order anything specifically targeting religious institutions.  I remain wary, all too aware of how reasonable laws can be turned to troublesome ends.  I am sad, because of the comfort only possible where and when the people of God gather together in praise and prayer, responding to our Creator and Sustainer’s good gifts to us in Word and Sacrament.

But most of all I remain hopeful.  Not simply of the passing of this virus, which history teaches us will indeed pass one way or the other.  Not simply for a return to normalcy, as by many standards normalcy is problematic in and of itself.  But ultimately that God will receive glory and honor as people are shaken from the doldrums of routines and forced to confront things of a much larger scale.  There is an opportunity for God the Holy Spirit to be at work in and through his people and churches to give witness in acts of love and service to the ultimate, sacrificial love of God for his creation through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus the Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria.  

N-33-20

March 19, 2020

The Governor of California tonight issued Executive Order N-33-20.  It makes mandatory the closure of non-essential businesses, defining 16 key industries that MUST be maintained and are not subject to what amounts to a general business shutdown.  Those 16 industries are identified in this document.

The Executive Order lays out the rationale first off,  then explains that the Governor does, in fact, have the authority to make such Executive Orders and bring to bear governmental resources to enforce them.  It then references a Health Order  from the California Department of Public Health on the same issue.

Both the Governor’s order and the CDPH order it is based on deal primarily with the issue of who should be going to work and who should not.  If you aren’t in one of the 16 defined critical infrastructure industries, your job is non-essential and you should close your business.  Neither order specifies any cutoffs for gatherings, but simply indicates people should stay home except to work in one of the pre-defined industries, or to otherwise facilitate authorized necessary activities.  I cannot find a definition of authorized necessary activities that wouldn’t simply be repetitive with the key industry guidelines.

It seems people are allowed to go out for necessary things – to obtain medication or medical care, to buy food and other necessities of life from those places like grocery stores and convenience stores that aren’t simply allowed to continue operating but are commanded to.

None of which addresses the issue of what religious groups should do during this time.

I know quite a few churches in town and in nearby towns that made the decision to suspend worship even before this Executive Order.  The question in my mind is whether that is now mandatory by law, or whether it falls into the nebulous zone of authorized necessary activities.  I have little doubt the Governor and other state officials would say it does not.  But since they haven’t clarified the issue, it is undefined.

The Center for Disease Control has recommended no more than 50 people gather in any one place unless absolutely necessary, and the White House recommends no gatherings with more than 10 people, and churches that violate this are getting press attention.

But these are recommendations, not laws.  And in general, I think they are wise.

The question becomes is worship a necessary activity?  And by what definition?  Again, I have no doubt the government does not view worship (in any religion) as a necessary activity.  But how should Christians define worship?

I don’t fault congregations and pastors that have opted to suspend worship and other gatherings.  But I don’t personally feel called to follow that route.

At least not yet.

Should more clear language be forthcoming, or should someone explain to me how (since I’m not a lawyer) I am misunderstanding what the Executive Order says, then it seems to remain at my discretion as a religious leader as to whether I should suspend worship services.  As I read it, the language of the order seems to be as unclear as possible.  This prevents specific outrage (from, say, religious groups) but rather relies on a great deal of social pressure.

Worship is not a command for Christians, but it is a strong encouragement and a privilege we should not abandon lightly.  Hebrews 10:19-25 is very helpful in this regard.  It isn’t simply the legal technicality of must we worship, but the reminder that worship is a massive blessing.  It emphasizes the communal nature of our faith (note the we and us throughout).  It references confession and absolution (v.22).  It centers us in who and what our hope and faith is – hope and faith in Jesus Christ who has made forgiveness possible to us.  It is God the Father who holds us in his hands, and ultimately him who holds the power of all health and healing in his hands.  This is NOT to toss our worldly wisdom and knowledge out the door, but it is to hold in the proper tension.  Medicine and treatments and other things are blessings from God intended ultimately not simply to elongate our lives but to direct our hearts and minds back to the source of all life and health not simply temporally but eternally.  Worship is also an opportunity to focus us on what we are called to do each and every day – love God and love our neighbors (v.24).  This does not justify needless recklessness, but does remind us that many of the heroes of the faith were willing to set aside their own well-being in order to tend to the needs of others.

Because of all these things, we should not lightly abandon meeting together particularly during difficult and frightening times!  We can still be wise about close contact and social distancing as we gather for worship!

And of course the second text to consider here is Romans 13.  This passage insists that Christians are not exempt of civil authority, but should be subject to it.  Of course, this obedience is mandated up to the point at which civil authority contradicts the Word of God.  At that point, we must like Peter and the apostles insist that we must obey God rather than human beings! (Acts 5:29).

If this Executive Order does mean gathering for worship is illegal for the time being, then I in good conscience as a servant of Christ can (and should) cancel public worship.  For a period of time.  At some point though – whether a point defined by civil authority or not – I will also be equally compelled to begin calling the saints to gather for worship.  It is very possible for a civil law to begin as good and necessary but eventually be misused.  God-willing, that time will not come.

In the meantime, all of God’s people should be praying for the deliverance of the world from this new virus, and a speedy return to a healthier environment both spiritually as well as physically.

 

ANF – Justin’s Hortatory Address to the Greeks

March 18, 2020

This brief apologetic was authored by Justin Martyr in the second century.  It is – along with The Discourse to the Greeks – disputed by some scholars as to whether Justin actually is the author or not.  But barring any conclusive evidence I’ll treat it as likely his.

This is a much more thorough treatment of whether or not the Greeks should continue to believe in their deities or the Christian God.  He does this by dealing directly with not just the Greek myths in general but their particular proponents and adherents – well respected poets and philosophers.  Homer and Hesiod are dealt with as Greek poets claiming to describe divine truths.  The picture they paint of the Greek gods is one less of divine power and authority and more of very human frailties and divisions.

Thales of Miletus is referenced as the start of the great Greek philosophical traditions.  Justin demonstrates the disagreements between great Greek philosophers over the fundamentals of existence and nature, proceeding eventually to Plato and Aristotle whom Justin deals with at more length, demonstrating the lack of agreement between them over the most elemental of issues.  Justin’s major point is there is no unanimity and therefore no authority in the Greek traditions to which the Greeks can reliably adhere.  The Greek deities are hardly gods of any proper or helpful sort, and natural philosophers can’t agree on the nature of reality either in the realm of ideals or the realm of matter.

Justin then goes on to elaborate on the antiquity of the Bible compared to the relatively new ideas of Greek poets and philosophers.  He refers to various Greek ancient Greek writers already familiar to some degree with the writings of the Old Testament and specifically Moses.

One of the most fascinating sections of this writing is in Chapter XIII, where Justin relates the history of the Septuagint – the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek.

Justin moves on to quote Greek oracles and prophets and eventually philosophers (including Plato and Aristotle) that side with the monotheistic principles of Scripture as opposed to the polytheistic stage of Greek deities.

It’s an impressive treatise, utilizing the respected writers of the Greeks themselves to show the religious ideas and assumptions of the Greeks are fundamentally flawed and baseless, and then offering the much older testimony of Scripture, many of the concepts of which were later reinforced by the Greeks’ own writers.

ANF – Justin on the Sole Government of God

March 17, 2020

Another disputed writing of Justin Martyr in the second century, but one certainly in keeping with the other disputed works I’ve already reviewed.

This treatise is aimed at directing his Greek readers and hearers to monotheism utilizing the sayings and teachings of Greek writers.  He calls on Aeschylus, Orpheus, Pythagoras, Sophocles, Euripides, Menander and others, citing them directly as they make statements pertaining to the singular nature of God.

Justin’s point is that Greek polytheism is antithetical to Greek writers themselves.  He is not dealing with Trinitarian issues nor should this treatise be intepreted somehow as an argument against Trinitarianism.  There is a fundamental difference between worshiping multiple, separate and unique deities (polytheism) and worshiping one single God (Deuteronomy 6:4) who is comprised of three distinct aspects or persons bound together in divine unity (John 10:30).

Once again Justin does and admirable job of apologetics by marshaling the respected voices of Greek culture in defense of Biblical monotheism.  He does not spend much time pushing for the Biblical identity of this singular god, content more with pointing out that Christian monotheism should in no way be rejected as baseless when the Greeks themselves revere writers of their own who reached the same conclusions.

Good Advice

March 15, 2020

Thanks to Janelle for pointing me to this quote from Martin Luther regarding how Christians should behave in the face of the plague – literally.  I went to verify it and seek out the source, and it can be found in this publication at the very least.

Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it.

I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.

If God should wish to take me, He will surely find me and I have done what He has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others.

If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.

Moreover, he who has contracted the disease and recovered should keep away from others and not admit them into his presence unless it be necessary.

Though one should aid him in his time of need, as previously pointed out, he in turn should, after his recovery, so act toward others that no one becomes unnecessarily endangered on his account and so cause another’s death.

I love his balance of practicality and faith.  He will not  act in fear, but will act with prudence.  Love for neighbor overrides love of self.  Trust in God as well as the gifts of God in worldly wisdom, medicine, and best practices all find their proper place.

Timely words for today!