Larry Mudd teaches on being clay in the Potter's hand.
Larry Mudd teaches on being clay in the Potter's hand.
Sin Attacks – Family and Religion; Ignorance and Anger
Gen 1-11: Parabolic stories. Twists to make us think. How did we get in alienation and exile?. 1: Creation of Cosmos. 2: Creation of Human. 3: Knowing good and evil and exile from life.
Gen 4: Sin emerges: Family/brothers. Religion. Cain and Abel bring offerings. God’s two views! Most striking is what we don’t know! Why does God favor Abel? Justified? Arbitrary? No explanation given. Humans, like Job, want to know “Why?” We must deal with not knowing.
Cain burns in anger. Unfair to me. God comes but doesn’t explain. “Go forward. Do the good you can do.” Anger at God/Abel is the opening for sin to attack. You must rule over it. But rage empowers sin, breaks relationship of brothers. Murder. Uncaring. The ground exiles Cain, people threaten him, but God is still gracious and protects him even in wandering.
Paul also personifies sin using a good command to kill. Jesus: don’t react to evil and be drawn in.
Floods Don’t Work to Turn Hearts from Evil
How does God deal with sin? 10 long generations ... evil and violence. God regrets creation! Wipe sin off the earth. Start new with Noah. The Flood is an interim story (like making animals), not the great narrative (Abraham...). Fascinating details about ark, flood, birds.
But what God sees after the flood is that it didn’t work. We learn a Human heart universally inclines to evil. Weakness, meanness show even in Noah. The earth is good but suffers under human rule. The failure points to why God chooses such a long road to deal with sin: Abram, Israel, Moses, David ... Messiah, all the world. God stays with broken people.
Let’s Talk About God ...
Jesus tells his disciples about saving their life or losing it (Mk 8:35). The issue goes back to the beginning. We’ve heard the story. Strange, amazing. No mention in Gn 3 of a “Fall,” of sin, Satan. The Snake: clever: Different reality. The woman and man seem still united: Before they eat, they act as one. Yahweh, creator, is absent as creatures discuss him.
Snake asks an innocent, knowing, probing question. Woman defends God. Only one tree. “God said not to eat or touch it.” Warned us of death. Woman shows humans have reflected on God’s command. Good intent, cautious. They’ve expanded the forbidden sphere. They attribute that to God. They’ve learned good and evil, and control how to obey. Snake shows he knows more: Responds to lie. Suggests alternate reason for God’s command, not so benevolent, blocking something wonderful God has: insight, wisdom.
The woman sees, eyes open! They don’t seek to be God. She sees food, beauty, wisdom, all good things. God may not intend warning but hindrance. They’ve already chosen to control their obedience. They take and eat. The snake was right. They see more: that they are naked and vulnerable. They cover themselves – from each other, from God? Now they both know and experience good and evil. Fear, hiding, avoiding God. Lost self.
Brokenness Begins: Life that Mixes the Worst with the Best.
The fruit doesn’t poison. God doesn’t kill. But human life becomes mixed – our present. Snake: mystery symbol. Woman, bearer of life, in pain. In conflict with Human, oppressed. Human, producer of food, with thorns, pain. Clarity about their limit, made of dust: death.
But life continues. “Human” (Adam) and “Life” (Eve) wear skins (?). She’ll begin all life.
Exile Begins: The Real Death and Finding the Way to Life.
Humans have fallen and risen – “like us,” God says. They share fully in moral choice. Also in vulnerability, fear, deception. God exiles them from the garden of delight into our world.
How much will fear and delusion grip them? How can humans learn the way to true life?
The beginning: Yahweh god first makes the human-formed from Dust and Gdos' breath. Yeahweh plants a great garden of delight and in the middle trees of life and knowledge. Four rivers from one source flow from the garden, marking out vast portions of the earth. God assigns responsibility to the human with freedom to eat all except one deadly fruit. The human is alone. God makes animal life, and the human names them. But is still alone. Looking at the creation again humans and relationships. The human in God's garden of wonder, work, and worry. Finding an ally for the journey, responsibility, and delight.
Walking with a God of Wild Surprise
My first sermon, 55 yrs ago, was on Mic 6:6-8. I loved its poetry, call to simple, powerful transformation: Justice, Hesed, a humble walk with God. Challenging. The wild card, explosion is in that phrase “walk with God.” God surprises! A surprise may be announced in advance, but is of such character that no one can believe it’s really coming.
Pentecost is the great surprise. When leaders of Israel and Gentiles combined to destroy God’s Messiah – who embodies Israel, humanity, God – what’s the last thing God would do? Pour out God’s own self – Spirit – life on these people. Claim their evil deed as his own. Help them to change their thinking (repent) and be plunged into the one they crucified. Forgive them! Make them into a new inclusive – all humanity – community of Grace.
Think Focused. Think Large!
Paul has urged us to think about what happened in Jesus: Hymn in 2:5-11. Think this one thing. Reason: What God said by raising and exalting Jesus was God defining the very nature of God in a new way. Yes, there have always been ways of feeling after God in sacrifices, vows, temples, myths, liturgies, care for ancestors, etc. But God chose to define God’s self by emptying, becoming human, no ordinary power, signs of care and the depth of reality, humbling, slave, death, cross. This human is God’s own self- expression! This self-giving love, service, empathy in a broken world – God, Lord!
This is your lens to bring everything into focus. (Very different from rigorous orthodoxy.) No matter who you are: Actor, mechanic, financier, social worker, educator, CEO. But through that lens you see everything. In a world of Hubble one; we need Hubble two.
Whatever is true. What a category! God is the center of reality and everything that’s true is in some way related to God, revealing the reality God built into the world. The world is open for exploration, science, history, literature, social research. Scientific method can’t have God as an object, but God includes science. Physicist, biologist, poet, creator.
Often what is true is not good, especially about humans. In literature, history, psychology, art, etc., we try to understand the potent mix of bad & good in us. True, not distorted.
Whatever is beautiful.... The bad tends to control the images & talk. We’re drawn in. In a world of slavery, conquest, no human rights, Paul says stay true to what’s deeply true.
Jesus – Resurrected but Unrecognized
Paul writes to the believers in Philippi from a hard situation: he’s in prison and they’refacing persecution. It focuses the mind. He helps them think about life and death. He takes them into the core reality that brought him to them and changed their lives:
In Jesus God showed his self-giving love concretely. By raising the human Jesus from death, God shouted that Jesus taking our suffering is God’s very identity LORD/Yahweh.
But really grasping the meaning of resurrection has always been hard. The Gospel resurrection narratives point to this by recounting how disciples often could not recognize Jesus. Road to Emmaus: prod, scripture, bread. Mary Magdalene: name! We live with death. New glorious physical life beyond death is challenging. What does it mean? We snap back into old fears, old priorities. We lose who we are in Jesus. Paul leads the Philippians into knowing Jesus in his resurrection by modeling the path.
Who is God? The Quest to Know God’s Glory
What does “God” mean? “We seek to worship and glorify God.” Sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, glorious beyond imagination. Does that carry over to his people? Paul is in a center of emperor worship: God is real power, Augustus, Rome, empire.
Or is God exalted far from human life, distant watchmaker, maybe breaks in with miracles.
Paul’s been dealing with his own chains and the Philippians’ suffering. Do they belong to a glorious God? The true God? Then why chains? Why not empire? Where’s God’s glory when you’re in prison, your family in danger. Paul models, challenges, guides.
He describes a way of life focused on a way of thinking – community in Messiah Jesus. He leads them into a hymn about Jesus centered on the remarkable journey from “God’s form” and “equality with God” to “death on a cross.” But the hymn is not just about Jesus. It is about God and God’s glory. Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation by God is God’s most emphatic and defining statement about God’s identity. Jesus is graced with God’s own name “LORD” (Kurios) the translation of Yahweh. God calls for scripture to be read in a new way – to understand we must see where God is going.
Philippians 1:15 – 2:4
How Jesus’ Story becomes My Story
Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are the climax of the whole event of Jesus among us. Jesus’ followers realized that this great event changed their perception of everything and everyone, including God and themselves and all creation. The NT is the record of their explorations of what it means to live in a world with Jesus’ cross and resurrection.
Paul brought Jesus’ whole story to Philippi. Jews, Pagans, women, slaves, Roman veterans, were drawn into a community. There was violent reaction, beating, prison, release. Paul left for other cities. Now he’s in prison in Ephesus. Philippi sent help, but worried.
Paul describes his situation, expressing the way being in Christ (Anointed King) shapes life, death, calm before opponents, hope. He proclaimed a new emperor in a center of Roman power and doesn’t back down. He wants more boldness: To live is Christ.
The diverse believers in Philippi experience persecution. He wants them to stand firm,
but how? Everything they see around them says no. Paul moves from how his own life is shaped by Jesus to how their lives can experience the same power. The love that is the heart of Jesus – God’s self-giving love, our response in heart and action –becomes the lens that lets them see what really matters (1:9-10).
Learning the Joy of Faith in a World of Trouble
We focus on Philippians in this period between Easter and Pentecost: a time of Disciples beginning to grasp the reality and transformation of the resurrection. Paul is living and carrying that resurrection power into a world that had no grasp of it – Roman cities.
Paul is in Ephesus and writes to Philippi. Both were cities of Roman government. Ephesus, capital of Roman Asia, center of Artemis and Emperor worship. Jewish community, culture, magic, riots, etc. Luke shows complex situation. Philippi was a Roman colony. Little Jewish presence, but strong patriotism to Rome. Close relation to Paul.
What happened? Paul is in prison/chains in Ephesus. His Roman citizenship got him out of jail in Philippi, but not in Ephesus. Paul is in danger of execution. Paul has both supporters and enemies (Demetrius). Believers have become bolder. Paul’s friends are in danger. Many people are talking about this King that Paul proclaims!
A New World of Life – Breaking Into the Empire of Death
Celebrating Jesus’ resurrection is rejoicing in a challenge that hits us every day and never goes away. We humans everywhere structure life around power over others in all its forms, raw violence, manipulative enticement, structures of control, financial reward.... Even our best intentions and policies must be enforced. Behind all is death’s power.
Jesus’ resurrection is the event in which God reveals that his own world/reality is creating life, not threatening death. He shows our patterns of religion, politics, life struggle, are not his eternal reality. He broke into our human empire of death with his Kingdom of life and challenges each of us to see his reality of Love, Grace, Trust. It’s there in plain sight, if we’re not blinded. But it’s hard. We are blinded by our little reality, by fear!
Our modern world knows when the ages turned – Galileo, Newton, Enlightenment, French Rev. Breaking ecclesiastical domination, free thought, human autonomy. Important! But that eccl. domination had domesticated and hid the great revolution, the truly new age that we celebrate: Easter when God breaks in to overcome the ultimate power of death and create new life.
Palm Sunday and all this week sets the stage. Death is still master. Hopes blossom. A long history feeds anticipation with prophetic poetry. Imperial oppression holds in boiling resentments. Aristocratic religious leaders are threatened by the very faith they’re supposed to foster. Religio-political groups propose ways of reform. The crowds long for Passover deliverance!
A young prophet from Galilee, riding a donkey, comes over the hill and sees the city and temple and weeps over it. He sees things others can’t yet see. He is someone more than they imagine.
Jesus’ Astounding Authority
Jesus: “Change your way of thinking, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” (Mt 4:17) Seek God’s kingdom! You don’t create it. It’s here, real! Do you know reality to see it? The change of mind is in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and his signs of healing and life.
People flocked to Jesus for healing power, but felt something more – authority. “But I say to you” unfolds a vision of God, of solid life, of faith and everyday practice. Doing “the will of my Father” is the same as “listening to these words of mine and doing them.”
Mighty Works by Your Name! ... I Never Knew You!
This week we are going to look at how Paul’s words orient us HORIZONTALLY in light of our vertical relationship with God.
Paul views the gathering of vertically aligned people as an entirely new humanity.
The horizontal relationships we have in this body are critically important because in here we are being told a story that has the power to not only transform us, but to transform our families, our friends, our school, our work places, even our social media feeds. Taken all together, this story can change the world.
God intends for the church to be inside out kind of place, and Paul knows that in order for us to be what God intends, we have to be people who understand who we were as outsiders, before we were brought inside by the cross of Christ.
Through the lens of Ephesians, we see that there are unexpected aspects in our relationship with God that have more and farther reaching impact than we imagine. The countercultural impact of the gospel rocks the world in Paul's time and in ours, and transforms our daily Christian walk.
Who’s really Great in God’s Kingdom? – a real Saint!
Jesus: “Change your way of thinking, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” Thinking about Saint Patrick’s day. Also about the growth of faith in Jesus in Asia, Africa, etc. The distinctive forms of churches, music, organization, architecture.
Is St. Patrick a saint? In what sense? Someone canonized? Someone great in Christianity? What does that mean? The word “saints” is used in many NT translations. What does it mean? “Holy” (hagios)! Is that some special achievement in religion? Martyrdom?
Jesus and the Law and the Prophets
Many in Jesus time wanted to be God’s “holy people.” Most movements wanted to create a purified people. Especially the Pharisees with Teachers of Law, famous for rigorous obedience to Torah. They condemned Jesus’ lack of rigor – “tax collectors & sinners.”