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Great Themes of Scripture: New Testament

Great Themes of Scripture: New Testament

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Week Twenty-Seven Summary and Practice

Sunday, July 4—Friday, July 9, 2021

Sunday
The realm of God is right here, right now, in the present tense. The relationship with God’s love that sets us free is in our midst. The possibility of freedom, of a whole new world, is already here.

Monday
The only moment that has any effect or revolution for us is when we acknowledge God’s active presence in our lives and the power of unconditional love.

Tuesday
When most people say, “We want justice!” they normally mean that bad deeds should be punished or that they want vengeance. But Jesus says that’s simply not the case with God. God’s justice is total, steadfast love, total unconditional giving of love.

Wednesday
In a world full of big challenges, in a time like ours, we can’t settle for a heavy and fixed religion. We can’t try to contain the Spirit in a box. We need to experience the mighty rushing wind of Pentecost. We need our hearts to be made incandescent by the Spirit’s fire. —Brian McLaren

Thursday
God calls us to a new way of living, a new way of relating to God, to others, and to the world. It is a way of cooperating rather than competing, a way of giving rather than getting, a way of faith rather than knowledge, a way of relationship rather than anonymity, a way of love rather than animosity.

Friday
Our journey in the story of creation, the adventure of Jesus, and the global uprising of the Spirit has come full circle. It all came from God in the beginning, and now it all comes back to God in the end. —Brian McLaren

 

Praying the Lord’s Prayer

Perhaps some of the most comforting words Jesus shared in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels are the prayer we Christians call the Our Father or the Lord’s Prayer. While the prayer is most often said in community or as part of ritual prayer, this prayer can also be a contemplative practice when prayed slowly and mindfully, perhaps even as lectio divina. We invite you to pray this modern version of the prayer of Jesus from the Anglican Church of New Zealand, which both honors and reflects indigenous Maori culture.

Eternal Spirit,
Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples
of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth.

With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and for ever. Amen.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
Church of the Province of New Zealand, A New Zealand Prayer Book, He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa (Collins Liturgical Publications: 1989), 181.

Image credit: Oliver, Stoneware (detail), 2014, photograph, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0.
Image inspiration: Four vessels on a windowsill warmed by the sun reveal a simple beauty. The message of Christ to love is simple. We complicate it.
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Great Themes of Scripture: New Testament

Mutual Indwelling
Friday, July 9, 2021

The whole movement of the Bible is toward ever-greater Incarnation and embodiment, until the mystery of mutual indwelling is finally experienced and enjoyed even here in this world, in this life, and in this body. It then becomes the banquet that we call eternal life or heaven. For Christians, Jesus, the Christ, is the ultimate symbol of this divine goal, pattern, and embodiment: “When Christ is revealed, and his life is your life, you will be revealed in all your glory with him” (Colossians 3:4). Henceforth we know our true and lasting life in the new “force field” that Paul calls the Body of Christ and not in individual or private perfection.

Paul’s notion of the Body of Christ has a material and cosmic character to it, and begins in this world. Yes, there is a “new heaven” but there is also a “new earth” (Revelation 21:1). In this mutual indwelling we no longer live just as ourselves, but in a larger force field called the Body of Christ, webbed together by the Holy Spirit.

What the full biblical revelation has given us is the history within the history, the coherence inside of the seeming incoherence. If we don’t get this inner pattern, then religion becomes simply aimless anecdotes—just little stories here and there, with no design or direction. Only in the final chapter of the Bible can it say, “Now God lives among humans, they have become God’s people, and he has become their God” (Revelation 21:3).

Here’s where Brian McLaren envisions the “great themes” of Scripture ending up, in the reconciliation of God’s new heaven and new earth:

Imagine a moment before the Big Bang banged. Imagine a creativity, brilliance, fertility, delight, energy, power, glory, wisdom, wonder, greatness, and goodness sufficient to express itself in what we know as the universe. Try to imagine it, even though you know you cannot: a creative imagination and energy so great that it would produce light, gravity, time, and space . . . galaxies, stars, planets, and oceans . . . mountains, valleys, deserts, and forests . . . . gorillas, dolphins, golden retrievers, and us.

And then dare to imagine that this is the great, big, beautiful, mysterious goodness, wholeness, and aliveness that surrounds us and upholds us even now.

Finally, try to imagine that this is also the great, big, beautiful, mysterious goodness, wholeness, and aliveness into which all of us and all creation will be taken up—in a marriage, in a homecoming, in a reunion, in a celebration. . . .

The whole story flows toward reconciliation, not in human creeds or constitutions, but in love, the love of the One who gave us being and life. . .

So our journey in the story of creation, the adventure of Jesus, and the global uprising of the Spirit has come full circle. It all came from God in the beginning, and now it all comes back to God in the end. [1]

References:
[1] Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (Jericho Books: 2014), 261, 262.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2008), 211-213.

Story from Our Community:
In midlife, I had a spiritual crisis. I found the inconsistencies of a literal Bible reading, along with judgmental and prescriptive attitudes, impossible to reconcile. I gave up on Christianity for many years. After a difficult period, I was drawn back, listening to Scripture and evening prayers, and allowing them to wash over me. I grew to understand that Christ not only loved me all along but loves everyone. Since then I discovered Richard Rohr’s alternative orthodoxy and now know a deep joy in my life, while also trying to serve others and appreciating all that God wants for all of us. —Rob B.

Image credit: Oliver, Stoneware (detail), 2014, photograph, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0.
Image inspiration: Four vessels on a windowsill warmed by the sun reveal a simple beauty. The message of Christ to love is simple. We complicate it.
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Great Themes of Scripture: New Testament

Paul: A New Creation
Thursday, July 8, 2021

Paul, the great apostle to the gentiles, is a unique figure in the New Testament. About half of the books in the New Testament bear his name, either because he actually wrote them or because other early Christians attached his name to their work.

For Paul, salvation is something that is actually experienced. He wrote about the experience in so many ways because he was always trying to get a handle on it. He sought to put into words something for which he had no ready-made vocabulary. One such phrase he used was a new creation. He wrote, “All that matters is to be created anew” (Galatians 6:15). He himself felt like a new man after his conversion, filled with a new power he had never known before. His other phrase is en Cristo, or “in Christ,” which he uses dozens of times to move us to a collective notion of salvation—with scant success up to now.

Through the Church, in the Body of Christ, God calls us to a new way of living, a new way of relating to God, to others, and to the world. Paul believes the Church is meant to be a community whose way of living runs contrary to the prevailing culture. We would call it countercultural today. It is a way of cooperating rather than competing, a way of giving rather than getting, a way of sharing rather than hoarding, a way of sacrifice rather than comfort, a way of faith rather than knowledge, a way of relationship rather than anonymity, a way of love rather than animosity. Through membership in the Body of Christ, this way of living is a sharing in the life of Christ.

Brian McLaren describes the new community we are called to in the Spirit of Christ:

We must find a new approach, make a new road, pioneer a new way of living as neighbors in one human community, as brothers and sisters in one family of creation.

That’s why the apostle Paul repeatedly describes how in Christ we see humanity as one body and our differences as gifts, not threats, to one another. In Christ, Paul came to realize that people aren’t different because they’re trying to be difficult or evil—they’re different because the Spirit has given them differing gifts. . . .

More than ever before in our history, we need a new kind of personal and social fuel. Not fear, but love. Not prejudice, but openness. Not supremacy, but service. Not inferiority, but equality. Not resentment, but reconciliation. Not isolation, but connection. Not the spirit of hostility, but the holy Spirit of hospitality.

So the “most excellent way,” Paul said, is the way of love [1 Corinthians 13:13]. Old markers of gender, religion, culture, and class must recede: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” [Galatians 3:28] . . . [and] “the only thing that counts is faith working through love” [Galatians 5:6]. Where the Spirit is, love is. Where the Spirit teaches, people learn love. [1]

References:
[1] Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (Jericho Books: 2014), 217–218.

Adapted from Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, The Great Themes of Scripture: The New Testament (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 1988), 129, 131, 146; and

“Paul: A New Creation,” The Great Themes of Scripture, tape 11 (St. Anthony Messenger Tapes: 1973).

Story from Our Community:
In midlife, I had a spiritual crisis. I found the inconsistencies of a literal Bible reading, along with judgmental and prescriptive attitudes, impossible to reconcile. I gave up on Christianity for many years. After a difficult period, I was drawn back, listening to Scripture and evening prayers, and allowing them to wash over me. I grew to understand that Christ not only loved me all along but loves everyone. Since then I discovered Richard Rohr’s alternative orthodoxy and now know a deep joy in my life, while also trying to serve others and appreciating all that God wants for all of us. —Rob B.

Image credit: Oliver, Stoneware (detail), 2014, photograph, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0.
Image inspiration: Four vessels on a windowsill warmed by the sun reveal a simple beauty. The message of Christ to love is simple. We complicate it.
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Great Themes of Scripture: New Testament

Acts: Knowledge on Fire
Wednesday, July 7, 2021

In Luke’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit is fully bestowed on Jesus, the beloved Son who acts with God’s power, speaks with God’s authority, and loves with God’s love. Through the gift of the Spirit given to Jesus, God’s justice is announced and demonstrated as Jesus travels from Galilee to Jerusalem, freeing the sick from their illnesses, liberating the enslaved from their sins, and enriching the poor with the good news of the messianic banquet open to all.

In the Acts of the Apostles, also written by Luke, that same Spirit is bestowed on a body of God’s sons and daughters who surrender their own lives to God’s love. Jesus tells his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit overcomes you, and then you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The spiritual truth is this: there is a difference between knowledge “on ice” and knowledge “on fire.” For many Christians, their belief is often just knowledge “on ice,” not experiential, firsthand knowledge, which is knowledge “on fire.” Even though we call them both faith, there is a difference between intellectual belief and real trust. There is a difference between talking about transformation and God’s love and stepping out in confidence to live a loving life. Only the second is biblical faith: when our walk matches our talk.

The Spirit teaches us this new walk. When Jesus died, the apostles didn’t have a Spirit-filled faith. Though Jesus’ mother Mary and Mary Magdalene stayed, all but one of the men deserted Jesus on the cross. The apostles were demoralized. They lacked conviction. They had no aim or purpose. But shortly afterwards, they were transformed. Changed from within, they acted, lived, and walked in a new way. These lukewarm followers began to act like people “on fire.” Or as Acts describes them, they are “the people who are turning our whole world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

Brian McLaren writes about the need for the fire of the Spirit today:

In the millennia since Christ walked with us on this Earth, we’ve often tried to box up the “wind” [of the Spirit] in manageable doctrines. We’ve exchanged the fire of the Spirit for the ice of religious pride. We’ve turned the wine back into water, and then let the water go stagnant and lukewarm. We’ve traded the gentle dove of peace for the predatory hawk or eagle of empire. When we have done so, we have ended up with just another religious system, as problematic as any other: too often petty, argumentative, judgmental, cold, hostile, bureaucratic, self-seeking, an enemy of aliveness.

In a world full of big challenges, in a time like ours, we can’t settle for a heavy and fixed religion. We can’t try to contain the Spirit in a box. We need to experience the mighty rushing wind of Pentecost. We need our hearts to be made incandescent by the Spirit’s fire. [1]

References:
[1] Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (Jericho Books: 2014), 205.

Adapted from Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, The Great Themes of Scripture: The New Testament (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 1988), 84–86, and

“Luke and Acts: A New Gift,” The Great Themes of Scripture, tape 9 (St. Anthony Messenger Tapes: 1973).

Story from Our Community:
On Maundy Thursday, 25 years ago I was left for dead in a ditch. Three young people saw me and went for help. God immediately called me to forgive with Genesis 50:20: “What you meant for evil God has turned into good. God brought me to this position so that I could save the lives of many people.” Later that year I became involved in a program that helps in youth detention centers. I was able to tell how I came to forgive, which helped several young boys. Forgiveness changes things. —Kathleen H.

Image credit: Oliver, Stoneware (detail), 2014, photograph, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0.
Image inspiration: Four vessels on a windowsill warmed by the sun reveal a simple beauty. The message of Christ to love is simple. We complicate it.
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Great Themes of Scripture: New Testament

Luke’s Good News: God’s Justice
Tuesday, July 6, 2021

For Luke, while the ultimate meaning of the good news is still the nearness of God’s kingdom, he says it differently. He speaks not of God’s kingdom but of God’s justice, and he especially emphasizes the privileged position of the poor. Luke’s Gospel is sometimes called the “Gospel of the poor” or the “Gospel of mercy.” He stresses the freedom and liberation which come from living simply and humbly, in right relationship with others, under the reign of God. He sees Jesus as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 61: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring the good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord” (Luke 4:18–19).

When we think of justice, we ordinarily think of a balance: if the scales tip too much on the side of wrong, justice is needed to set things right. But God’s justice does not make sense to human ideas of justice! We define justice in terms of what we’ve done, what we’ve earned, and what we’ve merited. Our image of justice is often some form of retribution, which we then project onto God. When most people say, “We want justice!” they normally mean that bad deeds should be punished or that they want vengeance. But Jesus says that’s simply not the case with God. The issue is how much can we trust God? How much can we stand in the flow of God’s infinite love? How much can we let God love us in our worst moments?

What is God’s justice? It is certainly not our Western image of a blindfolded woman standing with a scale and weighing the different sides. God’s justice is delivered simply by God being true to God’s nature. And what is God’s nature? Love. God is love, so God’s justice is in fact total, steadfast love, total unconditional giving of love. (Many of us now call this “restorative justice” instead of retributive justice.)

Brian McLaren reflects on Luke’s Gospel and God’s justice through the stories of Mary and Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancies [Luke 1]. He understands these stories as invitations to join an adventure with God in which another world is possible:

What if their purpose is to challenge us to blur the line between what we think is possible and what we think is impossible? Could we ever come to a time when swords would be beaten into plowshares? When the predatory people in power—the lions—would lie down in peace with the vulnerable and the poor—the lambs? When God’s justice would flow like a river—to the lowest and most “god-forsaken” places on Earth? When the brokenhearted would be comforted and the poor would receive good news? If you think, Never—it’s impossible, then maybe you need to think again. Maybe it’s not too late for something beautiful to be born. Maybe the present moment is pregnant with possibilities we can’t see or even imagine. [1]

References:
[1] Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (Jericho Books: 2014), 68–69.

Adapted from Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, The Great Themes of Scripture: The New Testament (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 1988), 73–74; and

“Luke and Acts: A New Gift,” The Great Themes of Scripture, tape 9 (St. Anthony Messenger Tapes: 1973).

Story from Our Community:
On Maundy Thursday, 25 years ago I was left for dead in a ditch. Three young people saw me and went for help. God immediately called me to forgive with Genesis 50:20: “What you meant for evil God has turned into good. God brought me to this position so that I could save the lives of many people.” Later that year I became involved in a program that helps in youth detention centers. I was able to tell how I came to forgive, which helped several young boys. Forgiveness changes things. —Kathleen H.

Image credit: Oliver, Stoneware (detail), 2014, photograph, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0.
Image inspiration: Four vessels on a windowsill warmed by the sun reveal a simple beauty. The message of Christ to love is simple. We complicate it.
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Great Themes of Scripture: New Testament

Mark’s Good News: A Secret Message
Monday, July 5, 2021

At the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, he announces that he is proclaiming the good news about Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God (Mark 1:1). But in the first half of the Gospel, it is the evil spirits who recognize who Jesus is, and Jesus warns them not to reveal his identity (Mark 1:34; 3:11–12). When Peter and the Twelve recognize that Jesus is the Messiah in the eighth chapter, Jesus again admonishes them not to tell anyone (Mark 8:27–30). He tells them that the Messiah must suffer and die, but they don’t understand (Mark 8:31–33; 9:31–32; 10:32–34). When Jesus is finally arrested, they all run away (Mark 14:50–52). In Mark’s Gospel, it is not until the crucifixion that Jesus is recognized (by a Roman soldier!) as the Son of God (Mark 15:39).

Why did Jesus want to keep his identity secret? Was it perhaps that he didn’t fully understand it at that point himself, or because he didn’t want to be accepted for the wrong reasons? He wanted to lead people to a way of greater love and suffering service to others, not be reduced to the role of a magician, or a wonder worker. We see this first come to a climax in Mark’s Gospel when Jesus puts the question to Peter and the disciples: “You, but who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29).

Brian McLaren has written about Jesus’ “secret message,” which is the loving, transforming, nonviolent, and revolutionary message of the Gospels, that institutional Christianity has so often missed or kept hidden. He writes:

What if Jesus had a message that truly could change the world, but we’re prone to miss the point of it? . . .

What if the core message of Jesus has been unintentionally misunderstood or intentionally distorted? What if many have sincerely valued some aspects of Jesus’ message while missing or even suppressing other, more important dimensions? What if many have carried on a religion that faithfully celebrates Jesus in ritual and art, teaches about Jesus in sermons and books, sings about Jesus in songs and hymns, and theorizes about Jesus in seminaries and classrooms . . . but somewhere along the way missed rich and radical treasures hidden in the essential message of Jesus? . . .

What if Jesus’ secret message reveals a secret plan? What if he didn’t come to start a new religion—but rather came to start a political, social, religious, artistic, economic, intellectual, and spiritual revolution that would give birth to a new world? [1]

Christ is asking each of us, “Who do you say that I am?” We each have to come to that moment of deciding who Christ/God/Ultimate Reality is for us. It means nothing if we intellectually accept that there is a God. The only moment that has any effect or revolution for us is when we acknowledge God’s active presence in our lives and the power of unconditional love.

References:
[1] Brian D. McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth That Could Change Everything, (Thomas Nelson: 2006), 3–4.

Adapted from Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, The Great Themes of Scripture: The New Testament (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 1988), 36; and

“Mark and John’s Good News: Jesus is Lord,” The Great Themes of Scripture, tape 8 (St. Anthony Messenger Tapes: 1973).

Story from Our Community:
Sometimes the Daily Meditations are over my head. I know in time I will experience the depth and significance—just like with scripture. It has taken me a long time to allow the truth to settle in. I think the pandemic, like 9/11, is God speaking to us, calling all of us to “spiritual recovery or renewal.” As scary as it might be to say: I love you, God, for all You are and do, with all my heart. —Susan M.

Image credit: Oliver, Stoneware (detail), 2014, photograph, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0.
Image inspiration: Four vessels on a windowsill warmed by the sun reveal a simple beauty. The message of Christ to love is simple. We complicate it.
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Great Themes of Scripture: New Testament

Matthew’s Good News: The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand
Sunday, July 4, 2021
Independence Day in the U.S.

This week I will continue to share portions from my early tapes and books on the Great Themes of Scripture. While these talks first launched my public teaching ministry in 1973, I hope they still contain some relevant wisdom for today, especially when paired with insights from my friend and CAC teacher Brian McLaren.

The great themes of the New Testament continue those of the Hebrew Bible, and one of those “great themes” is the Gospel itself. In ancient times, a “gospel” was a sharing of good news. Why did the Gospel writers choose to use the Greek word euangelion, which means “good news”? I think it’s because the story of Jesus was the news that transformed their lives. It was Good News of unconditional love, that we are loved, and that our entire lives can and should be based on the absolute love of God. That centers and grounds everything. What a tragedy that so much of Christianity has been made bad news, and has joined with the bad news of Empire, scapegoating, racism, war, sexism, and destruction of the planet. How far we must be from the experience of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John!

Matthew wants to show that Jesus has come to proclaim and to establish “the kingdom of God.” Jesus says, “Turn around! The kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17). The realm of God is right here, right now, in the present tense. The relationship with God’s love that sets us free is in our midst. We have to have the humility and trust to turn around and see it.

Here’s how Brian McLaren describes it:

Jesus forms a movement of people who trust him and believe his message. They believe that they don’t have to wait for this or that to happen, but rather that they can begin living in a new and better way now, a way of life Jesus conveys by the pregnant phrase kingdom of God. Life for them now is about an interactive relationship—reconciled to God, reconciled to one another—and so they see their entire lives as an opportunity to make the beautiful music of God’s kingdom so that more and more people will be drawn into it, and so that the world will be changed by their growing influence. [1]

It is a much greater message than just individual salvation, which has not gotten us very far at all.

Jesus preaches to “turn around,” or in Greek metanoia, which literally means to “change your mind.” It does not mean self-flagellation or being really down about ourselves, which is what the word “repent” has implied for most of us. It always involves an attitude of trust, letting go, and surrender. Originating with the Hebrew prophets, the biblical idea of metanoia is that of a change of mind and heart, a full turning around, a whole new transformation of one’s mentality and level of consciousness, more than “going to church” or following a new moral code.

References:
[1] Brian D. McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth That Could Change Everything (Thomas Nelson: 2006), 83.

Adapted from Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, The Great Themes of Scripture: New Testament (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 1988), 9; and

“Matthew’s Good News: The Reign of God,” The Great Themes of Scripture, tape 7 (St. Anthony Messenger Tapes: 1973).

Story from Our Community:
Sometimes the Daily Meditations are over my head. I know in time I will experience the depth and significance—just like with scripture. It has taken me a long time to allow the truth to settle in. I think the pandemic, like 9/11, is God speaking to us, calling all of us to “spiritual recovery or renewal.” As scary as it might be to say: I love you, God, for all You are and do, with all my heart. —Susan M.

Image credit: Oliver, Stoneware (detail), 2014, photograph, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0.
Image inspiration: Four vessels on a windowsill warmed by the sun reveal a simple beauty. The message of Christ to love is simple. We complicate it.
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