Jesus Heals the Bethesda Pool Paralytic: Misc Thoughts



Reading through the story of Jesus healing the man by the pool of Bethesda, I was struck by a series of things I wanted to share with you all today, in no particular order. (But first, read the story in John 5.1-9):

First, the man doesn’t go to Jesus or ask him anything–he doesn’t even request the healing himself! Jesus just goes to him and heals him.
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The Gospel of Mark & Laureti’s “The Triumph of the Cross over Paganism”


For each preaching series at my church, we take time in choosing a piece of art to reflect the content. This is a reflection I wrote for our series going through the Gospel of Mark.

Of all the Gospels, the Gospel of Mark is the most stripped-down, earthy, human depiction of Jesus. It is spare and humble, with an earnest pace, and ironic wink. Yet it may seem odd that we’ve decided on Tomasso Laureti’s 1585 fresco Triumph of Christianity as its thematic image—a painting that hangs in one of the most opulent, larger-than-life halls of power in all the world.

Laureti’s piece lives on the ceiling of the Hall of Constantine, the largest room in the Vatican’s Papal Palace. It is not part of the original design: it replaced the original wooden ceiling in 1585, six decades after the room was finished. This being the case, there is an odd tension between this art and the garish displays on the walls below; and this tension embodies much what we will be explore in our sermon series through Mark.
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For Good Friday: “Gabriel Came on Friday (Magnificat)” [a poem]


 

Pierced–
Not of flesh nor will of man
But of heart by will of Him.

Deep within a shot was cast and burrowed in the bow
The fine line of ecstasy and horror homoousion‘d among
And within
Obedience was found on worthy lips, blessing bestowed for ages come.
Yet the blessing’s joy was found as a bell in the mist,
Meaning: it was not.

Until the rocks came.
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“Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices” by Brian D. McLaren [REVIEW]


This book is nearly a decade old now. It ages well, though now what it says may not seem as immediately new and fresh as it once was. Still, I believe its diagnosis and treatment are just as relevant today as it was then. 

Ultimately, as laid out in its introduction, this book (and the series of subsequent books which follow it), seek to lay out a fourth way (“third” ways are soooo 2008) “beyond a reductionistic secularism, beyond a reactive and intransigent fundamentalism, and beyond a vague, consumerist spirituality”. In this sense, this book is a great success. 

Implicit in its prescribed antidote, this book offers the same diagnosis for each of the three problematic ways of existing in the world, despite their radically different orientations–a fundamental disembodying of the human person, as exemplified by their anemic relationship to practices, both communal and private.

To that end, the book outlines ancient historical and theological foundations to spiritual practices. A refreshing aspect of this is that his list goes well beyond the typical Evangelical “pray-and-read-your-Bible quiet time” approach to spiritual practices. There are treatments given to Christian mystical traditions often overlooked by contemporary American Evangelicals, especially when it comes to contemplative, apophatic, and negative theological traditions, wherein one experiences connection through the divine by stopping activity and cogitation to experiencing an emptying rather than a filling.

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Karl Barth: Our Freedom, Home, & God’s Directing [QUOTES]


When looking through old seminary research, I ran across some quotes I pulled out from Karl Barth, my favorite theologian (hands down), and got to soak in the beauty of his words. I wanted to share them. Now, for people that don’t read academic theology, this is it. It’s circular, it repeats itself, and it’s unnecessarily complicated and unclear. I know. I get that. But I promise, if you can spend a few minutes, quiet yourself, and focus, the pay-off is huge. This guy stands as a tower over all of modern theology and deserves more mainstream attention than he gets. I’ve done slight edits to some of the wording and paragraph breaks for clarity. Enjoy.

* * * * * * * *

God’s direction is an all-powerful decision, His own divine act of lordship. By this means, too, God vindicates His honor and maintains His glory. By this means, too, He exercises authority….

God’s direction is the directing of humans into the freedom of His children. It is this which has taken place in Jesus Christ no less uniquely than the once-for-all fulfillment of the divine sentence on all humanity. In suffering in our stead the death of the old nature, and bringing in by His resurrection the life of the new, He has made room for the being of all humanity to be at peace with God.

On the basis of what we are and is not by virtue of the divine sentence passed and revealed in Jesus Christ… we have no other place but this—the kingdom in which God can be at peace with us and us at peace with God. Jesus Christ…is the all-powerful direction of God to us to occupy this place, to live in this kingdom. If we are told in Him who we are and are not, we are also told in Him where we belong, where we have to be and live.

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On Toxic Christian Masculinity [QUOTE]


I know it’s a little long for a quote, but I promise, it’s very worth your time:

Within Christianity, the masculine image of God is often defined in these terms of control, power and dominion. Much of the Christian faith, though, requires that men recognize their limitations and depend on God. We accept salvation through his son and sanctification by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a faith where the last shall be first (Mk 10:31), marked by a life of service to others….

Consider the definition offered by John Piper: “At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships” ([Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood] Piper and Grudem, 2006, p. 35). It is a definition that emphasizes leading, providing for and protecting women. But it offers no insight on how men relate to one another. Depending on your reading of this definition, it either smacks of male chauvinism or places greater value on women’s needs. No doubt well intentioned, it offers little guidance for men who are already confused, wounded and lost about their masculinity….
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Male Feminist Theology & Sinning Against Women


This is an incredibly hard post to write, but an important one, I think.

A couple of years ago, I started (and never really finished–but I will!) a blog series which outlined a systematic way that as a male, I can incorporate feminist perspectives on theology into the way I think about God and life.

I call it “Male Feminist Theology” because there’s something about truly being a “feminist” that requires having embodied the experience of being a woman–which I have not. (Similarly, I could not call myself a “Black Activist” with any kind of integrity.)

I started this series with a bunch of posts about using feminine language for God. There was a lot of blowback from that, most of it entirely unexpected. I still hold to that belief that God is gender–ful (not gender-less) and so the full range of human language, both masculine and feminine, ought to be applied to God.

And yet, in my actual-lived out spiritual life, this hasn’t seeped into my engagement with God as much as one would expect, considering how strongly I intellectually believe these things. Maybe an occasional substitute of “Mother” for “Father” in the Lord’s prayer or a Creed recitation, but I do it quietly under my breath. Only occasionally do I find myself remembering to pray to God in such terms. My unconscious reflexive depiction of God in my imagination is still fundamentally male. I have to actually exert energy and thought to try and conceive of something different.
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Sometimes, Mercy is Sweeter Than Grace


I grew up in a pretty stereotypical Evangelical setting, which led to a pretty stereotypical back-and-forth between guilt and self-righteousness. That is, until I really heard the Gospel of radical Grace.

Many of us have this same story, where it has been so healing to hear that how God relates to us is not, in fact, based on our performance. Instead, everything necessary for God to be pleased with us has been accomplished on our behalf by his Son.

In response to this, we fall in love with God’s Grace. We pray for it, long for it, and cry for it. We read books about it, write about it, and talk about it. We try and speak it into others’ lives while trying to figure out why we don’t apply it to our own. We joyfully build our relationship with God on the glorious foundation of His Grace. It is fundamental, primary, and essential.

In short: we love Grace.

Imagine my surprise, then, as I fell in love with liturgy and ancient forms of worship, to notice the utter lack of “grace” from the prayers and worship of the earliest saints. Continue reading

Philly Tonight: A Discussion on Race & Inequality


Tonight, my church is holding a timely lecture on “The Gospel, Race, and Wealth Inequality” at our Center City Philadelphia Campus (17th and Sansom St). The talk will be given by University of Pennsylvania Professor of Social Work Dr. Amy Castro-Baker.

The event was planned months ago, but one would be hard-pressed to imagine a more appropriate week in which to explore this topic. With the events in Charlottesville this weekend, and the President’s response(s), it’s important to talk about not just the moral and spiritual roots of such division and racism, but to explore its structural rootedness in the very way we structure society and economies.

I don’t know the specific of the talk, or its general direction, but I know Dr. Castro Baker enough to trust her and to know this evening will be challenging, hard, but beneficial to us all. Join us if you can. Here’s the event description: Continue reading

These Days After Pentecost: On Law & Spirit


In the Christian Church Calendar, we are currently in a season that is numbered according to the Holy Day of Pentecost, the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit falling on the apostles fifty days after Jesus’ death (hence the name Penta-cost).

Jesus had told the disciples to go out into the world ministering this Gospel to the world, but first, to wait. What would be so important as to put the brakes on the mission of God in the world?

The Holy Spirit.
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“The First Christian Sermon” [a sermon, ironically]


Well, I’m finally coming off a whirlwind month of preaching three out of four weeks while our lead pastor is on vacation…and while I keep doing my full-time day job. So now, hopefully I’ll be able to post more here again. I do want to share with you these sermons though.

This summer, my church is going through different key texts in the book of Acts, chronicling the opening years of the Christian movement in the world. In the first of these sermons I’ve done during the past month, I got to preach on the Christian holiday of Trinity Sunday and my text was the very first Christian sermon ever preached–Peter’s Pentecost message. I tried to weave these together best I could.

The text is Acts 2.22-39, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here are my notes for your perusal. Continue reading

Protestants, Catholics, Communion–oh my! (Happy Corpus Christi!)


Today is a Christian Holy Day called “Corpus Christi” (Latin for “the body of Christ”). Today we meditate on the mystery of Communion/Eucharist/The Lord’s Supper.

I’ve mentioned some of my Communion views before and what I articulated is a synthesis and summary of the ideas of many theologians, both Protestant and Catholic. And so today, I want talk to all my fellow Protestant brothers and sisters out there.

In my opinion, the popular Evangelical idea of the Catholic view on the Eucharist is not really right or helpful (as is the popular conception of most of Catholic doctrine). Today I want to argue that Catholicism’s “Eucharist problem” is more historical and rhetorical than theological.

Some History

In the earliest decades and centuries of church history, people were able to simply maintain the simple doctrine that at Communion, they are receiving the true presence of Christ in the Bread and the Wine (source, albeit biased). In the middle ages, though, people starting asking themselves “Wait, what does that actually mean?” Differing answers started forming and a diversity of opinion about the Eucharist began taking place. The leaders of the Church tried to bring some commonality to this. In fact, the medieval Catholic church made a few “errant” teachers affirm these statements in 1078 and 1079:
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Ascension: Our glory & the Bible’s hinge


jesus-christ-ascension-iconYesterday in the Christian church calendar was Ascension Day, the day we celebrate Christ ascending into heaven 40 days after his resurrection and now sits at “the right hand of God the Father.”

The Useless Ascension

The idea of “Ascension” doesn’t seem to get a lot of play nowadays in the Church. This, in spite of the fact that it is an essential part of all the Church’s earliest doctrinal formulations, and the subject of the most-quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament:

The Lord says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”

Compared to other, non-creedal things like Hell, homosexuality, and “attacks on biblical authority”, the Ascension isn’t really talked about. Maybe this is because the Ascension isn’t really a “doctrine”–it’s an “event” and a “declaration”.

And we western Christians love our systematic “doctrines” that we can pick apart as nauseam and/or figure out how we can “apply it to our lives” in such a way that we can feel like we’re “good Christians.” But honestly, the Ascension doesn’t have many direct applications for today.
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After the Final “No”, There Comes a “Yes” [Good Friday Sermon 2017]


I’m really looking forward to doing a happy sermon sometime soon. But alas, I find myself preaching on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday this year–not the happiest of Church Holy Days.

And yet there is hope.

It’s fashionable to emphasize the narrative nature of God’s work in the world. And yes, it’s true–there is a progressive nature to Redemption, with a beginning, middle, and end.

But God’s work is also often cyclical, with certain rhythms and movements that return, repeat, and fold within one another.

I had this in mind as I went into this sermon. Yes, we ought to press into the darkness and doubt of the Cross without just quickly comforting ourselves with the Resurrection–we have to sit there for a bit–and yet the Church Calendar gets into our bones and souls to such an extent that it transforms the darkness. We can never sit in the Cross’ forsakenness without feeling the spiritual muscle memory of previous Easters gone by. And in that is hope.

This realization led me to largely do away with my notes (which you can find below) when giving this sermon and largely ad-lib, speaking from the heart as I wrestled with this stuff in real-time. The text selections came from Matthew 26-27, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here are my notes for your perusal. Continue reading

Churches & Theological Growth (on 1 Cor. 1)


peter-preaching-statue

“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1.21-24)

As finite creatures, we cannot fully conceive of an Infinite God in all his Truth. Even his revelation is but partial and enigmatic. His truth, then, exists less like the center of a target, and more like various spectrums and tensions in which we exist. On this side of eternity, we live and speak in dialectics where for every point of doctrine in one denomination there seems to exist a counterpoint in another. Truth is not the Lockean notion of our relating to an objective body of facts, but is the point at which two seemingly opposing or paradoxical ideas exist in tension and harmony (such as Jesus = God + Man).

Thinking of these “truth spectrums” while looking at 1 Corinthians, there seem to be two possible errors we can fall into when thinking about theological truth: “over-objectification” which makes this spectrum too narrow, and “over-subjectification” which makes it too broad.

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