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Archive for the ‘Quote of the Week’ Category

From a sermon I heard at the local Ukrainian Orthodox Church earlier today.  This isn’t quite verbatim but it’s how my big-picture brain summed up the details of what the good padre was saying:

“Just as Eve was taken from Adam’s side to be his bride, the church was taken from Jesus’ side to be his bride.”

In the Genesis story, God causes a deep sleep to come over Adam, and takes a rib from his side and forms a wife for him. “This indeed is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,” Adam remarks later.

In the Passion story, Jesus enters into the sleep of death, and while he is asleep a spear is thrust into his side to be sure he is dead. His sacrifice, and victory over death, makes possible the body of believers — “the bride of Christ” — who witness his resurrection three days later (and continue to witness to his resurrection).

One day Jesus will look at us and say “this indeed is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” and he will delight in us just as Adam and Eve delighted in each other.

If you’ve ever doubted that Jesus loves you…… doubt no longer.

 

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Masada

Masada Storeroom

This one requires a little back-story for context.  The quote is a comment a friend made during a conversation about Masada, the ancient Israeli moutaintop fortress that was built as a palace for King Herod in the first century BC and was the last stand of Jewish rebels against the Romans in the first century AD.  A group of us were looking at the layout of the place, and someone remarked at the vast amount of land – literally acres – taken up by hand-built stone storerooms where various kinds of foods were kept.  Our friend remarked that the size of the storerooms shouldn’t come as a surprise:

“A refuge without sustenance is just another place to go and die.”

He went on to say this applies to spiritual life too — seeking refuge in false spirituality will never sustain, but the True and Living God is both refuge and sustainer, providing all we need.

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“It was not a matter of a few token acquaintances.  Jesus got a reputation as the ‘friend of sinners’.”
– Christopher J.H. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament

There’s something in me that likes the idea of following a Messiah who has a reputation.  I’m glad God doesn’t go along with the crowd or judge people by society’s standards.  If He did, I’d be lost… and so would a lot of people I care about.

Wright details his thought: “Jesus went out of His way to behave in extraordinary ways towards those whom society marginalized… deliberately flouting the religious and social status conventions. […] It was not an occasional gesture… it was a persistent, intentional policy and it cut right across the dominant theology and ethos of the spiritual leaders of Israel.”

It cuts across the dominant theologies of our day as well.  And I have to admit it cuts across my heart too.  I agree with Jesus completely but can I live up to His standards?

There is something about the people society rejects that appeals to God.  Maybe because society rejects God too — we’re in good company!  Maybe because the poor and marginalized know their need and have given up on pride and self-glorification, He chooses to set them in high places and share with them His glory.  I don’t know.  I just join Jesus in giving praise to God that He’s like that.

Luke 10:21 reads, “Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.””

Amen, Lord.  Grant us the grace to be more like You.

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Why is there suffering in the world?  If God is really a good God, why does He allow so much pain in people’s lives?  In his book The Problem of Pain C.S. Lewis gives intellectual answer to those who pose such questions from an intellectual standpoint.  Yet he is the first to admit that a person going through suffering and pain is not looking for an intellectual answer… which brings us to our Quote of the Week:

“…when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than knowledge, a little human sympathy more than courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.” (p. xii)

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“Self-sufficiency is the diametric opposite of the prime quality needed for entrance to the kingdom of God – humble dependence on God in faith.”
— Christopher J.H. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament

Christopher Wright precedes his quote by saying that Jesus “was no ascetic” and enjoyed good food and drink as much as anyone, but that he “saw the insidious idolatry that wealth generates and warned against its utter incompatibility with serving God.”

What is the alternative?  Wright answers that Jesus adopted “on the one hand a carefree (though not careless) attitude to material things born of confidence in God’s provision… and on the other hand a radical generosity that cut right across expected norms of behaviour.”

This is Christian counterculturalism at its best.  Jesus’ perspective is totally opposite that of the lone rugged individualist icon we see so often in American film and literature.  It is a perspective of trust in God, and an other-centered rather than a self-centered focus.  It is one that builds rather than destroys community, one that encourages unity rather than division, one that sees life as joyful rather than rugged.

Anyone dare to follow?

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Quote of the Week:
“Idolatry and injustice went together.  They still do.”
– Christopher J.H. Wright in Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament

The context is the Old Testament and its teaching on economics.  Regarding economic injustice Wright writes, “The same Elijah who stood on Mount Carmel… also confronted [King] Ahab over the seizure of a vineyard.

“Two things about the land of Israel stand out… On the one hand, it was God’s gift to Israel… a gift that was meant for the enjoyment of all Israelites. […] On the other hand, it was still God’s land.  He was its true owner.”

Wright goes on to describe that this arrangement didn’t last long.  By the time Solomon came to the throne, “more and more land was accumulated by fewer wealthy families while poorer ones became dispossessed or driven into debt bondage.”  Sounds very familiar to modern ears… though I caution readers to judge carefully who is rich and who is poor.

Along with this gathering of wealth, the rich and the powerful needed societal norms that would sanction lifestyles of excess, and so the kings and their courts led the people into Baal-worship.  Wright notes, “Baal was the god of a society of stratified wealth and power.  To abandon Yahweh for Baal was no mere spiritual affair, but opened the way to rampant injustice in the socio-economic sphere also…”

Are we advocating for a theocracy? Absolutely not.  We’re talking economics here, not politics.  The point is that economic justice issues are inextricably linked to spirituality.  Idolatry — in which people worship anything other than God, in this case money — is the root cause of injustice.  And so our quote of the week.

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Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is a powerful juxtaposition of Grace and Law represented in the lives of two men.

Valjean represents a life lived by Grace: an ex-convict and parole breaker longing to be innocent, angry at a world where he can never get a fair shake.  He is shown kindness and mercy by a stranger who has “bought his soul for God”.  The circumstances in which this happens confront Valjean with his sin, and he chooses to die to his old self and begin a new life of faith.  From that point on he spends his life and fortune in helping the injured, the poor, the orphaned, the downtrodden of the world.

Javert represents a life lived by the Law: he is an officer of the law, and when Valjean breaks parole Javert makes it his life’s work to hunt down and capture a man he sees as a law-breaker and a thief.  He takes no notice of Valjean’s change of heart or his mercy and generosity to others.  Javert is right, but his righteousness is cold and hard and could never redeem anyone; in fact he’s not interested in redemption, he’s interested only in justice.  In their final confrontation Valjean says to him: “there’s nothing that I blame you for; you’ve done your duty, nothing more.”

In the musical version of Les Miserables, each man sings a song at THE pivotal point in his life.  Valjean’s song starts with the words “What have I done?” after which he begins a new life; Javert’s starts with  “Who is this man?” and ends in his suicide.

The fresh insight is this:  both songs are sung to the same music.  They are two verses of the same song… or more accurately, the two possible responses to Grace upon being confronted with one’s own sin.  Valjean responds with confession and faith; Javert also confesses but cannot bring himself to bend the Law and chooses suicide rather than a life in which there is something greater than the Law.

It’s the choice all of us need to make, sooner or later.  As Javert sings, “It’s either Valjean or Javert“.  It’s either Grace or Law.  The Law kills, but Grace redeems.  It’s either life or death.  God says: “come, let us reason together“.  Which would a reasonable person choose?

Here are the two songs side by side (WordPress permitting!).  Note the richness of the parallels and how often the two men sing the same or similar words, yet end in totally opposite places.

Valjean

What have I done?
Sweet Jesus, what have I done?
Become a thief in the night,
Become a dog on the run
And have I fallen so far,
And is the hour so late
That nothing remains but the cry of my hate,
The cries in the dark that nobody hears,
Here where I stand at the turning of the years?
————————————-

If there’s another way to go
I missed it twenty long years ago
My life was a war that could never be won
They gave me a number and
murdered Valjean
When they chained me and left me for dead
Just for stealing a mouthful of bread
——————————-

Yet why did I allow that man
To touch my soul and teach me love?
He treated me like any other
He gave me his trust
He called me brother
My life he claims for God above
Can such things be?
For I had come to hate the world
This world that always hated me
——————————-

Take an eye for an eye!
Turn your heart into stone!
This is all I have lived for!
This is all I have known!
——————————–

One word from him and I’d be back
Beneath the lash, upon the rack
Instead he offers me my freedom
I feel my shame inside me like a knife
He told me that I have a soul,
How does he know?
What spirit comes to move my life?
Is there another way to go?
———————————-

I am reaching, but I fall
And the night is closing in
And I stare into the void
To the whirlpool of my sin
I’ll escape now from the world
From the world of Jean Valjean
Jean Valjean is nothing now
Another story must begin!

Javert

Who is this man?
What sort of devil is he
To have me caught in a trap
And choose to let me go free?
It was his hour at last
To put a seal on my fate
Wipe out the past and wash me clean off the slate!
All it would take was a flick of his knife.
Vengeance was his and he gave me back my life!
—————————————-
Damned if I’ll live in the debt of a thief!
Damned if I’ll yield at the end of the chase.
I am the Law and the Law is not mocked
I’ll spit his pity right back in his face
There is nothing on earth that we share
It is either Valjean or Javert!
————————————

How can I now allow this man
To hold dominion over me?
This desperate man whom I have hunted
He gave me my life.
He gave me freedom.
I should have perished by his hand
It was his right.
It was my right to die as well
Instead I live… but live in hell.
——————————

And my thoughts fly apart
Can this man be believed?
Shall his sins be forgiven?
Shall his crimes be reprieved?
——————————–

And must I now begin to doubt,
Who never doubted all these years?
My heart is stone and still it trembles
The world I have known is lost in shadow.
Is he from heaven or from hell?
And does he know
That granting me my life today
This man has killed me even so?
———————————

I am reaching, but I fall
And the stars are black and cold
As I stare into the void
Of a world that cannot hold
I’ll escape now from the world
From the world of Jean Valjean.
There is nowhere I can turn
There is no way to go on….

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