January 31, 2006

Acts 2: 14-36 / crystal

I'm having trouble with this passage, but here goes ...

"Now therefore the whole nation of Israel must know beyond the shadow of a doubt that this Jesus, whom you crucified, God has declared to be both Lord and Christ."

... It seems that Peter is basing his arguments for Jesus being the messiah on two things - one, the prophesies from the OT, the other, the miracles J performed.

1)this is something which was predicted by the prophet Joel .... David .... He foresaw the resurrection of Christ, and it is this of which he is speaking.

... I find these references to the OT less than convincing, though I can understnad the necessity of it .... By stressing the continuity between Judaism and Christianity, Luke argues that Christianity is deserving of the same toleration accorded Judaism by Rome. - NAB. And Luke also uses this device to identifies Peter with jesus .... Peter preaches, quoting from the prophet Joel (2:16-36; quoting Joel 2:28-32) - Jesus preaches, after reading from the prophet Isaiah (4:14-30; quoting Isa 61:1-2) - Felix Just SJ

2)Jesus of Nazareth was a man proved to you by God himself through the works of power, the miracles and the signs which God showed through him here amongst you ...

... this I do find a fairly convincing proof of Jesus being God ... not so much the healings, which other Rabbis at the time also performed, but Jesus' ability to still a storm, walk on water, bring the dead back to life, etc. I know most don't believe in the existence of the miracles of the gospels, but I'm sticking with being a supernaturalist :-). An interesting tidbit on divine action/miracles can be read here at the Counterbalance Foundation.

January 30, 2006

Peter's Sermon LC

Note how skillfully Peter connected the events of Jesus' death and resurrection to the O.T. (and perhaps set the mode for all preachers since!). This is a good example of how closely related the N.T. and O.T. are-- true from beginning to end. (It would be very worthwhile to go through the whole N.T. and gather all the O.T. sources together as David has done here for a small portion. It would make an abbreviated O.T., something badly needed IMHO.)

In the gospels, and again in Acts Peter serves as the archetype of a disciple. In what happened to him, his actions and words, I see myself over and over. In this reading I especially noted his tendency to categorize the Jews as murderers of Christ, a looseness of language that had dire consequencies in subsequent Christian history.

It has become more and more painful for me to hear the Jews, the Moslems, the blacks, and many other groups categorized and condemned, probably because I've done it myself too many times.

January 28, 2006

Supplementary references

Because this next passage is presented as Peter's exposition of scripture -- it is then a bible study of a bible study of sorts -- I'm providing folks with some supplementary scripture readings.

Then afterward
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.

For then, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat, and I will enter into judgment with them there, on account of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations. They have divided my land, and cast lots for my people, and traded boys for prostitutes, and sold girls for wine, and drunk it down.

What are you to me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia? Are you paying me back for something? If you are paying me back, I will turn your deeds back upon your own heads swiftly and speedily. For you have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples. You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, removing them far from their own border. But now I will rouse them to leave the places to which you have sold them, and I will turn your deeds back upon your own heads. I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, to a nation far away; for the LORD has spoken.

Joel 2:14-3:8 (NRSV)

* * *

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the LORD, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you."
As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.
Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.
I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.
You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 16 (NRSV)

* * *

Note: Peter's reference the Holy One not being deserted in death (abandoned to Hades in NRSV) or experiencing corruption is lost on me. It must be a paraphrase from the Psalms but I cannot find it.

* * *

The LORD says to my lord, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool."
The LORD sends out from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your foes.
Your people will offer themselves willingly on the day you lead your forces on the holy mountains. From the womb of the morning, like dew, your youth will come to you.
The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek."
The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter heads over the wide earth.
He will drink from the stream by the path; therefore he will lift up his head.

Psalm 110 (NRSV)

Acts 2: 14-36

Peter explains the fulfilment of God's promise

2:14-21 - Then Peter, with the eleven standing by him, raised his voice and addressed them: "Fellow Jews, and all who are living in Jerusalem, listen carefully to what I say while I explain to you what has happened! These men are not drunk as you suppose - it is after all only nine o'clock in the morning of this great feast day. No, this is something which was predicted by the prophet Joel, 'And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on my menservants and on my maidservants I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above and signs in the earth beneath: blood and fire and vapour of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and notable day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'

2:22-28 - "Men of Israel, I beg you to listen to my words. Jesus of Nazareth was a man proved to you by God himself through the works of power, the miracles and the signs which God showed through him here amongst you - as you very well know. This man, who was put into your power by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed up and murdered, and you used for your purpose men without the Law! But God would not allow the bitter pains of death to touch him. He raised him to life again - and indeed there was nothing by which death could hold such a man. When David speaks about him he says, 'I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; moreover my flesh will also rest in hope, because you will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will you allow your holy one to see corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of joy in your presence.'

2:29-35 - "Men and brother-Jews, I can surely speak freely to you about the patriarch David. There is no doubt that he died and was buried, and his grave is here among us to this day. But while he was alive he was a prophet. He knew that God had given him a most solemn promise that he would place one of his descendants upon his throne. He foresaw the resurrection of Christ, and it is this of which he is speaking. Christ was not deserted in death and his body was never destroyed. 'Christ is the man Jesus, whom God raised up - a fact of which all of us are eye-witnesses!' He has been raised to the right hand of God; he has received from the Father and poured out upon us the promised Holy Spirit - that is what you now see and hear! David never ascended to Heaven, but he certainly said, 'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool'.

2:36 - "Now therefore the whole nation of Israel must know beyond the shadow of a doubt that this Jesus, whom you crucified, God has declared to be both Lord and Christ."

JB Phillip's Translation

January 27, 2006

baptism in the holy ghost

I'm afraid I have little or nothing to add to what's already been said here. I too noticed the connection between this and the Tower of Babel that Crystal discusses.

So lets open this up a bit. What are the elements of reversal here. At Babel, humans try to reach the heavens through a human agency. They think they can get to the divine by a construction project. God thwarts them by confusing their languages and incidentally creating the system of nations and ethnicity and division which has plagued us ever since. Our divisions, our nation states including wars, the game of empire, and all that stuff is basically the result of our attempting to reach heaven through our own efforts.

At Pentecost, the disciples are told to wait (tarry in the King Jimmy). They do as they're told (something they don't do much) and the spirit descends (they find themselves praising God in differing tongues). So this reversal happens through the agency of God and the obedient waiting of humanity. This leads directly into the spiritual wisdom Twyla describes in her posting.

In modern charismatic traditions the attraction is often the speaking in tongues. But the modern practice of tongue speaking isn't quite the same thing here. Here the listeners are hearing God's praises in their own languages. That's not what happens in most Pentecostal revival type services - although I have had people say that the experience does happen occasionally.

I think what interests me and also the first Friends is the experience of power. This small group has suddenly been empowered to go forth and minister, to preach, to heal, and to build a new spiritual community, not in their own strength but in the power of God.

Where I am right now in my life -- I do not feel I know that kind of empowerment.

January 26, 2006

Just a note ...

I saw this posted at another blog and thought those taking part in our discussion of Judas might find it interesting ...
Judas Iscariot to Get Vatican Makeover

January 24, 2006

Stay Until...

Christ's last words before ascension: "And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high". (Luke 24:49)

And so they did. They were "all with one mind continually devoting themselves to prayer". And on the appointed day, they were all together in one place. They found the place they needed to be and they stayed there. How often I fail to do this very thing. How often have I missed the whisper of divine breezes because I was in too much a hurry? How often missed the passion brought by the kiss of the flame?

Come to me...wait upon me...Stay with me...how many ways must I hear before I really listen? Before I understand that to experience all God has for me I must come, I must wait, I must stay.

Acts 2 - lc

Pentecost! If anything could be considered the central chapter of Acts, it would be this: the continuing activity of the H.S.

That's what Acts is all about; the remaining chapters describe further activity of the H.S., and the pity is that so many people think it ends with chapter 28. No, no, no. It goes on right down to 2006, and it's not just about the orthodox tradition, it's about a great deal more, eg all the 'heretics' as well and much more than that.

We already discerned that Pentecost is the reversal of the Tower of Babel, when we learn to understand one another's language; the H.S. doesn't mean for us to speak and understand only our tribalistic lingo; the gift to us is to understand the 'Hindoo', the Sarecen, the mulatto, yes, the chocolates.
The original beneficiaries of this gift went out to all these types and many, many others.

Pentecost freed the original community (who had developed complete community) from any further dependence upon the law, the Testament which had bound the Hebrews (what Blake meant by 'mind forg'd manacles'). And by the same token we are freed from our little parochial viewpoints- if we experience pentecost.

Stephen expressed that freedom, and it cost him his mortal life- and a crown of glory. Few or any of us will choose his route, but to whatever degree we have the courage we may witness to the glory that has been given to us. Glory be; that is the H.S. working in us as it (he,she) did in Stephen, Peter and Paul.

January 22, 2006

Babel / crystal

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability .... Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

Pentecost is shown to reverse the curse of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1–9) ... with the giving of the Holy Spirit, a difference in languages unites people instead of dividing them.

I know this is serious stuff, but I can't help but be reminded of the Babrl Fish of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. According to Wikipedia ...

A Babel fish is a highly improbable biological universal translator. It appears as a "small, yellow and leechlike" fish. When a Babel fish is inserted into the ear canal it allows the wearer to "instantly understand anything said... in any form of language" .... According to the Hitchhiker's Guide, the Babel fish was put forth as a fideist example for the non-existence of God:

"I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."

"But," says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves that You exist, and so therefore, by Your own arguments, You don't. Q.E.D."

"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.


Acts 2:1-13 (NRSV)

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs-- in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."

January 21, 2006

Rejecting Judas (david)

Its interesting this theme of feeling sorry for the betrayer. Judas is hard done by. Too much gloating in the burst intestines. Judas -- patron saint of the outsider.

I tend to read this passage as a political move. If the social movement Jesus created included a broad range of folks from collaborators and tax collectors, to prostitutes and ex-prostitutes, to zealots and sicarii then we have to wonder why such delight is taken in seeing Judas destroyed -- especially if they believed as modern Christians do -- that Christ's death somehow mediated salvation to us all.

I think what happened is that by the time Luke wrote this two things were happening. One was that folks were terrified of another Roman crack down and wanted to distance themselves from the zealots. Secondly, Christians were starting to see themselves not as a reforming sect with Judaism but a a new faith laying claim to the prophetic promises of Judaism. In a word, Luke and others like him saw folks settling down into something like churches, still awaiting the triumphant return of Christ Jesus but maybe getting used to that return being quite a ways away, needing to look oh so normal and inoffensive to Rome while at the same time telling their Jewish neighbours that Christians and not the Jews were the True Israel.

Against this backdrop Luke gives Judas (means "Jew") Iscariot (the knife wielding terrorist) a disgusting finish -- affirms he has no place in the kingdom of God -- and appoints a new person -- Matthias -- a witness to Jesus resurrection -- to complete the number of the Twelve (tribes of Israel).

How does this relate to our church-life and our Quaker meetings today? For me the first is recognize that the sins of anti-semetism and supersessionism have been a part of our faith tradition from the earliest parts -- embedded in our very Bibles. We need to name this and condemn it.

The other issue raised is that Jesus original preaching did not create a church or sect but a social and religious movement. Open to a broad range of people but attractive especially to marginalized and outcasts. Yet what we have become is staid sectarian churches with memberships more homogeneous than milk. What does Jesus create today? Where do we fit into it?

January 17, 2006

Silver, Blood and Hypocrisy

Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver by Rembrandt

1 When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. 2 They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor. 3 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 He said, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." But they said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." 5 Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, "It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money." 7 After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter's field as a place to bury foreigners. 8 For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set,on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, 10 and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me."

Matthew 27

Judas is a saint. The patron saint of the outsider. For millenia he has carried the huge weight of our fears and sadistic fantasies. As 'devil', as the carrier of anti-Semitic hatred, as suicide, as the one who can never belong, the bad seed, the informer, the collaborator, beyond all hope and salvation. In the fantasy of Christian culture we often disown in ourselves the qualities we do not want to recognise or see....and literalising them we project them either upon the criminal or upon the innocents who don't fit....the refugee becomes the illegal immigrant, the Moslem a 'potential terrorist', the lesbian and gay man become subverters of 'family values'.

Judas, at least in Matthew's account realises what he has done....he repents, he tries to make amends but is greeted with disdain...he carried out the dirty work, he is the guilty one. the religious right can wash their hands...'What is that to us?' What do we care, you've served your purpose. In despair this tragic outsider ends his life.

In Acts Peter speaks with the voice of religion. He uses scripture (in a very subjective way) to validate his condemnation of Judas. Peter, insufferably hypocritical, who denied Christ after promising him he would die with him then hid in fear knew that Jesus said that those who denied him before men he would also deny before the Father. He dehumanises Judas as simply the proof of Biblical inerrancy. Scripture also is used by Peter as a justification for condemnation. Peter passes the buck to Judas. There was someone worse than him...let him be the betrayer! But in denying Judas is he not denying Christ who completely identified with the excluded?

It seems to me that the hideous death Judas is ascribed in Acts reflects the violence in our hearts towards those who act out our own secret desires or hidden vices and also our fear of those we perceive as 'different', in religion, culture, ethnicity or sexuality.

In Matthew's account it is interesting that the Potter's field becomes the place where the stranger, the foreigner, the outcast and those without a home are buried. This seems so poignant and yet so fitting. Judas is the patron saint of the disowned shadow within us, of the penitent sinner to whom we refuse compassion and also might help provide some insight into the hatred we project onto the religious and political outcasts who have done no wrong.

In the Orthodox Liturgy it says Let me not give thee a kiss like Judas. Perhaps we might say instead, Let me not deny thee like Peter! Whether 'guilty' or innocent may I welcome the stranger who evokes my fear of otherness.I am human and nothing human can be foreign to me. This is what God has said to the world in the Spirit of the Christian revelation. (Alphose Louis Constant)

And Judas repented of what he had done. I have no doubt that he is welcome in God's Kingdom

January 16, 2006

Ascension scene (david)

With apologies. I was out of town for a few days and just getting back my energy levels. So this is my thoughts on the previous passage.

First I want to thank Jeff for bringing in the Cloud of Unknowing. I've read it maybe five times before and it never occurred to me to see the connection with this scene. But Christ is hidden by clouds. It seems to me it is there -- though how to play that out in my mind I don't know. Perhaps its time for reading number 6.

What interests me is the line, Lord, is this the time when you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?

Much is made of this line. The disciples expected a political kingdom. But Jesus' kingdom isn't political its spiritual. I've heard this so many times before. In sermons and in books. I'm just not sure I buy it.

How could the disciples of all people get this so wrong. I mean I get the wider Judean population getting it wrong. I do. But the disciples? They who ate and slept with him for -- what? -- 2 - 3 years? It is of these same disciples that Luke, author of Acts, has Jesus say, To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that 'looking they may not perceive, and listening they may not understand.'

So what's going on?

I think one or both of two possible things are happening here. I think maybe Luke is using the disciples incredulity as an object lesson for his intended audience. Luke is writing Acts in maybe 85CE. That would be roughly 50 years after the events he narrates. What if his audience was expecting a political kingdom no less than the disciples may have years earlier. To this add the disheartening facts that in 70CE Jerusalem fell to Roman armies and the temple razed. Then the revolt ended with a mass slaughter at Masada in 72CE.

So maybe Luke invented this scene for them. Who were giving up faith when Jesus' soon return on clouds of glory didn't seem to be happening. And maybe, just maybe, was writing it for pagan potentates like his Theophilus, encouraging them not to worry, you wouldn't see any Masadas coming from them. This also maps curiously into the next passage if Judas Iscariot is translated as Judas the Sicarii -- i.e., Judas the terrorist. His horrible death could also be a disavowal of sorts.

Which leads me to the second of my two thoughts. Why would these Christians be expecting a conquering messiah to redeem Israel by force if the disciples were let in on all the secrets of God's kingdom as Luke asserts?

Maybe because Jesus promised them he would. Maybe Jesus gentle and mild preached the violent overthrow of the Roman empire. Maybe Jesus wasn't who we really want him to be after all.

And what then do we do with it? And with him?

Acts 1:12-26 / crystal

Just a few points ...

1) The reason for choosing another member of the group so that the apostles number 12 again - the NAB says ... The need to replace Judas was probably dictated by the symbolism of the number twelve, recalling the twelve tribes of Israel. This symbolism also indicates that for Luke (see ⇒ Luke 22:30) the Christian church is a reconstituted Israel.

2) I could be wrong about this, but perhaps the part about Judas' intestines exploding was just a matter of writing style? We think of graphic violence as being a modern thing but ancient Greek literature was often violent ... an example from the poem, Battle of Frogs and Mice (Hesiod or Homer?) ... But Croakperson kept him off and rushing at the Mouse in turn, hit him in the middle of the belly and drove the whole reed spear into him, and as he drew the spear back to him with his strong hand, all his foe's bowels gushed out upon the ground.

3) The really interesting part of this passage is the drawing of lots, I think. The Old Testament has a number of references to drawing lots, which was then seen to be a fair way of choosing ... "The lot causeth disputes to cease, and it decideth between the mighty' - Proverbs 18:18. ... an interesting article on the history of drawing/casting lots - link.

This is very different from using discernment to decide issues and make choices. A ggod example of this way of deciding can be seen here ... Decision-Making - A More Useful Format For Discerning - John Veltri SJ ... which takes into account not only the influences of good and bad spiritus and the grace of God, but also personal responcibility.

Not a favorite passage (twyla)

This is not one of my favorite passages of Scripture. In fact, I find little to like here, really. In the verses preceding, there was a sense of destiny and unity...then we come to this little section.

One of the things I don't like is the way Peter stands up and talks about Scripture being fulfilled by the betrayal of Judas. While this may be so, it irks me that the two verses he pulls out of his hat, (Ps. 69:25 and 109:8) have no prophetic symbolism that I can see. Just David or whoever complaining about his enemies, as he was wont to do.

Also, the whole guts gushing out bugs me. Matthew says he hung himself. Which is it, then? Did he trip and inadvertently commit hari/kari or did he hang himself? Is the field known as the field of blood from guilt or from guts?

But mostly, what bugs me is the assigning of another apostle. Why was this necessary, I wonder? Is it to keep the magical number 12? So, out of all of these, they pick two men. Then they cry out loud to God to look at their hearts and draw straws. Come on. This is so NOT spiritual. I know is was common in the old days, but can you even imagine this happening at a church business meeting today? Heh. It makes me giggle, actually. And I feel so sorry for poor old Justus. Bet he felt odd. Bet he wondered what God had seen in his heart that made him lose the lottery. Wonder if he got funny, sideways looks.

Anyway, this is my totally unspiritual, grumbly post on Acts 1: 12-26. I'm so glad it gets better really quickly. I'm glad the impotence of lots is replaced with the rush of wind and tongues of fire.

Acts 1:12-26

Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

In those days Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, "Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus--for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry." (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)"For it is written in the book of Psalms,

'Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it';


'Let another take his position of overseer.'

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us-- one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection." So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place." And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.


Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey.

And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James [the son] of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas [the son] of James.

These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said,

"Men [and] brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus;

"for he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry."

(Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out.

And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.)

"For it is written in the book of Psalms: 'Let his dwelling place be desolate, And let no one live in it'; and, 'Let another take his office.'

"Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,

"beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection."

And they proposed two: Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.

And they prayed and said, "You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen

"to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place."

And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

New King James Version

January 14, 2006

The Mountain and the Cloud

I am struck by the archetypal imagery of the mountain (here the Mount of Olives) and the cloud (..'a cloud hid him from their sight'). Obviously this is a real phenomenon which occurs in nature...the mountain tops shrouded with clouds. But in many religions the mountain top is the abode of the Gods and the place holy women and men go to commune with the divine.

In the Bible there are a number of stories in which the mountain and the cloud appear...two in particular come to mind. And I would guess these were in the mind of the writer of Acts.

The first is perhaps the most significant moment in the Old Testament. When Moses ascends Mount Sinai to receive the Law...

Exodus 24

15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days; and on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 And Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

God is within the cloud...hidden, mysterious, transcendent. Like Jesus in the Ascension story Moses ascends and disappears into a cloud. In that place of terrifying unknowing he both communes with the hidden God and he himself is hidden in the process. And in the darkness something of tremendous significance is revealed.

Another story, here from the New Testament which features the same elements is that of the Transfiguration.

Luke 9

28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Eli'jah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.
32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Eli'jah" --not knowing what he said. 34 As he said this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silence and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.

(Elijah also ascended...like Jesus directly into Heaven)

As in the story of Moses a cloud settles on the mountain and the disciples enter into it. Yet here the cloud both 'overshadows' and brings illumination. It recalls the 'dazzling darkness' spoken of by mystics. Beyond the cloud of unknowing God is experienced directly, overwhelmingly, with awe.

I see in the Ascension something of this. Jesus the man (albeit resurrected) enters into the ineffable mystery of God's presence. And this is not just a historical event or mythic story but an experience open to us now. It was known to Paul who wrote in Colossians 3

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

We are 'raised' in resurrection and ascension...our minds turn to heavenly things and our 'life is hid with Christ in God'.

To me this speaks of the contemplative side of the the spiritual life. Entering in silence and awe the everyday 'visible' me disappears into the mystery of divine presence through the cloud of unknowing.

There seems to me much more to be found in these images and the other similar ones in Scripture. These thoughts are hardly coherent and don't express the felt sense these stories evoke in me. Here is a prayer, in words more simple and profound than mine to end with...

Serene Light, shining in the
Ground of my Being,
Draw me to yourself,
Draw me past the snares of the senses,.
Out of the mazes of the mind.
Free me from symbols, from words,
That I may discover
The Signified
The Word Spoken
In the darkness
That veils the ground of my being. Amen.

(William A. Meninger)

January 13, 2006

Post Resurrection Appearences

After the Resurrection we get various accounts of the appearances of Jesus. The most significant difference appears to be at the end of John where Jesus appears to the disciples after they have returned to Galilee.

In Luke's account the ascension occured in Bethany, a short distance from Jerusalem. Then they returned to the upper room; perhaps they were huddled together there more in fear than in joy; they knew it was not healthy to be a follower of Jesus in Jerusalem.

Very likely their prayer was for their physical safety, much like that of the seamen in Shakespeare's Tempest. (That seems to be the primary time that most people pray-- in an extremity.)

The hopeful sign of their gathering was that they were together; this theme is emphasized repeatedly in Luke in connection with the original community: "they had all things in common".

We're given to understand that Jesus ascended 40 days after the Resurrection, and the disciples were secluded together 40 days before the day of Pentecost. This term deserves some reflection: recall that the children of Israel spent 400 years in Egypt; Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness; Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry. There are other examples of the use of this figure: it seems to denote a complete period of time.

In general the metaphoric significance of the events we're studying are at least as worthy of consideration as considering them a detailed factual record.

Ascension / crystal

There are lots of things that struck me about this passage ... the fact that the disciples still seem to hope Jesus will make a political change in the world, the idea of what it means to be a "witness", the mystery surrounding the time of the parousia ... but what caught my interest was the ascension.

That I'm focused more on Jesus leaving than on the arrival of the Holy Spirit, doubtless says something about me, and I don't like what it says. I read somewhere that genuine love is always given in the face of certain loss, rather than in the expectation of keeping our loved ones forever ... perhaps this was true of the disviples.

They were not broken up over Jesus' departure but were jazzed about their futures as witnesses of the good news. With barely a lingering look towards the heavesns, they allowed angels too easily to send them on their way. Jesus was gone and the Holy Spirit had not yet come, but they didn't spend their time mourning his loss or worrying about what was next, they prayed and waited, joyfully.

It's said that the ascended Jesus, at home now in the kingdom of God, turns the future and present into one, that he is with us now always and because of J's ascension, the battles we wage are at the same time already won.

But if I'd been a disciple, I'd have spent the rest of my days searching the sky.

January 12, 2006

Acts 1:4-14

Jesus' parting words before his ascension

On one occasion, while he was eating a meal with them, he emphasised that they were not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father's promise.

"You have already heard me speak about this," he said, "for John used to baptise with water, but before many days are passed you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit."

This naturally brought them all together, and they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"

To this he replied, "You cannot know times and dates which have been fixed by the Father's sole authority. But you are to be given power when the Holy Spirit has come to you. You will be witnesses to me, not only in Jerusalem, not only throughout Judea, not only in Samaria, but to the very ends of the earth!"

When he had said these words he was lifted up before their eyes till a cloud hid him from their sight. While they were still gazing up into the sky as he went, suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them and said, "Men of Galilee, why are you standing here looking up into the sky? This very Jesus who has been taken up from you into Heaven will come back in just the same way as you have seen him go."

At this they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives which is near the city, only a sabbath day's journey away. On entering Jerusalem they went straight to the upstairs room where they had been staying. There were Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Patriot, and Judas the son of James. By common consent all these men together with the women who had followed Jesus, Mary his mother as well as his brothers devoted themselves to prayer.

JB Phillips

* * *

As they met and ate meals together, he told them that they were on no account to leave Jerusalem but "must wait for what the Father promised: the promise you heard from me. 5John baptized in water; you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit. And soon."

When they were together for the last time they asked, "Master, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? Is this the time?"

He told them, "You don't get to know the time. Timing is the Father's business. What you'll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world."

These were his last words. As they watched, he was taken up and disappeared in a cloud. They stood there, staring into the empty sky. Suddenly two men appeared--in white robes! They said, "You Galileans!-why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky? This very Jesus who was taken up from among you to heaven will come as certainly--and mysteriously--as he left."

Returning to Jerusalem
So they left the mountain called Olives and returned to Jerusalem. It was a little over half a mile. They went to the upper room they had been using as a meeting place:

Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James, son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas, son of James.

They agreed they were in this for good, completely together in prayer, the women included. Also Jesus' mother, Mary, and his brothers.

The Message

January 09, 2006

More about the Holy Spirit

I've been thinking about the question David asked me in the comments to my post below ..... What, Crystal, do you think we're called to do differently if the Holy Spirit is so essential to faith and understanding? ..... I read something on Fr. Marsh's blog that speaks to this question. Here's a part of it ...

The spirit isn’t something you have but something you do. The spirit is life, is a way of being alive. It’s a way you or I can be alive. It’s a way our communities can be alive—or can be dead. St Paul has the list of the ways the spirit can die among us: jealousy, quarrels, disagreements, factions, and all kinds of falling out and falling apart. But he also has the list of all the ways the spirit can be alive in us. “What the spirit brings is very different: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control” ...... when we listen to God’s voice in us, the Holy Spirit comes alive in us, burns like a flame in us, fills us with a breath of fresh air, and makes us patient, kind, good, trustful, and gentle.

January 08, 2006

Taught from the Beginning

Over the last couple of days these first three verses of the The Acts of the Apostles have been my companions. I have read them in different translations, read and responded to the other blog entries here, carried them and been carried by them through the day. A sort of extended Lectio Divina has been taking place.

At first sight these verses seemed rather inconsequential but as I read and reread them allowing individual words to stay with me I realised how many reflections they gave rise to, how much potential they contained. They became a little window opening up upon a vast landscape.

It occurred to me that they had a creed-like quality though I wasn't sure why until I was struck by how many foundational ideas Luke calls upon.

There is 'Jesus', the ascension ('he was taken up to heaven'), the 'Holy Spirit', the 'apostles whom he had chosen', the 'passion', the resurrection ('he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs') and 'the kingdom of God'. Phew, he covers a lot in three apparently unpromising verses.

On one level I can read this as a sort of 'proto creed' establishing the 'orthodoxy' of the writer and the account to follow....Asserting this is no gnostic text. The stable doctrinal stage is being set before the rather marvellous narrative follows with the coming of the wild, ever surprising Holy Spirit in rushing winds and tongues of flame.

It is partly the fact that these verses are crammed with words which carry primary significance in the Christian faith which accounts for the richness of reflection they can give rise to. But also from the text in relation to the quality, time and mode of attention given; the action of the Holy Spirit upon the reader; the richness of personal experience; the traditions of our faith communities and the Spirit-drenched quality of Scripture itself. All of these can combine to deeply nourish the heart which has learned to listen.

God-lovers and the Holy Spirit

Safely through another week God has brought us on our way. (This is the work of the Holy Spirit, who gives us breath.)

God lovers: that's all of us, friends. Luke's Acts has been called the gospel of the Holy Spirit; he showed an awareness of the continuing work of God in the world which seems lacking in the other three Evangelists. As Twyla put it, we see God acting and living in them, and in us.

The events we read in the 28 chapters describe some of the work of the H.S. It has gone on, without interruption, until today. The Holy Spirit works right here, in this little Bible Study sharing group, as we confess to one another what God has done and is doing in our lives. That, too, is part of the Living Word.

Fox said, "let Christ be your teacher", and he speaks individually to us, according to our condition. Sharing his lessons we all grow in grace and in knowledge of the ways of God: in our lives and in the world.

There is of course an original intent to the words, written with certain people in mind, and we do well to attempt to ferret it out. But Luke seemed to have more awareness than most that he was writing for the ages. God took his words and made them much more than they were out of Luke's mouth. As he does ours.

A study well begun; God give us grace to continue it thus through the book.

January 07, 2006

God in us

I like the introduction to Acts in The Message:

Because the story of Jesus is so impressive - God among us! God speaking in a language we can understand! God acting in ways that heal and help and save us! - there is a danger that we will be impressed, but only be impressed.

As the spectacular dimensions of this story slowly (or suddenly) dawn upon us, we could easily become enthusiastic spectators, and then let it go at that - become admirers of Jesus, generous with our oohs and ahs, and in our better moments inspired to imitate him.

It is Luke's task to prevent that, to prevent us from becoming mere spectators to Jesus, fans of the Message. Of the original quartet of writers on Jesus, Luke alone continues to tell the story as the apostles and disciples live it into the next generation. The remarkable thing is that it continues to be essentially the same story. Luke continues his narration with hardly a break, a pause perhaps to dip his pen in the inkwell, writing in the same style, using the same vocabulary.

The story of Jesus doesn't end with Jesus
. It continues in the lives of those who believe in him. The supernatural does not stop with Jesus. Luke makes it clear that these Christians he wrote about were no more spectators of Jesus that Jesus was a spectator of God - they are IN on the action of God, God acting IN them, God living IN them. Which also means, of course, in US.

The Holy Spirit - crystal

In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

I like what David said about Theophilus being a lover of God ... some commentator I read siad that he may have been Luke's sponsor. What I noticed most is that Luke places a lot of emphasis on the holy Spirit, its guidance and inspiration. As the intro in the NAB writes ...

In the development of the church from a Jewish Christian origin in Jerusalem, with its roots in Jewish religious tradition, to a series of Christian communities among the Gentiles of the Roman empire, Luke perceives the action of God in history laying open the heart of all humanity to the divine message of salvation. His approach to the history of the church is motivated by his theological interests. His history of the apostolic church is the story of a Spirit-guided community and a Spirit-guided spread of the Word of God.

Acts 1:1-3 (David)

At first blush there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of meat here. Three teeny tiny verses. A recap of Luke 24.

At a kind of critical level what jumps out at me is: Theophilus. Theophilus means lover of God. It could be a proper name. It could be a term used for initiates for baptism or a name used in the faith communities Luke worked in for fellow followers of the Way (i.e., Christians). There were also in ancient times a significant number of pagans who basically converted to Judaism yet for various reasons refused to take full circumcision and I seem to remember but cannot confirm from any books on my shelf that these folks were referred to by the Jews as god-lovers.

Why is this important (to me?). Because I tend I try to be mindful of who the intended or ideal reader of a book is. I think it gives me perspective and limits the range of interpretations I might bring. To a certain extent a text like this is something I cannot claim to own but rather borrow and so I have a kind of obligation to Luke in this regard.

So questions raised here: Is this a book for seasoned members of the faith? For prospective initiates -- like handing a book on the background of Quakerism to someone interested in joining your meeting? Or is this a tract for curious outsiders?

The other words which jump out at me, for very different reasons: he gave his instructions, through the Holy Spirit, to the special messengers of his choice.

Interesting a whole mess of ways. The apostles had access to Jesus' instructions through the Holy Spirit before Pentecost. Is this a recap of Luke 24 or is this new information?

Luke 24:32. They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?"

Luke 24:46. and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day.

His disciples, the ones he personally trained during his earthly life, needed a resurrected Christ to instruct them in the meanings of both their current situation and in the meaning of the scriptures that point towards that present situation. And he does so through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:2).

Acts 1: 1-3 Introduction


My Dear Theophilus, In my first book I gave you some account of all that Jesus began to do and teach until the time of his ascension. Before he ascended he gave his instructions, through the Holy Spirit, to the special messengers of his choice. For after his suffering he showed himself alive to them in many convincing ways, and appeared to them repeatedly over a period of forty days talking with them about the affairs of the kingdom of God.

J.B. Phillips

* * *

1 IN THE former account [which I prepared], O Theophilus, I made [a continuous report] dealing with all the things which Jesus began to do and to teach

2 Until the day when He ascended, after He through the Holy Spirit had instructed and commanded the apostles (special messengers) whom He had chosen.

3 To them also He showed Himself alive after His passion (His suffering in the garden and on the cross) by [a series of] many convincing demonstrations [unquestionable evidences and infallible proofs], appearing to them during forty days and talking [to them] about the things of the kingdom of God.

Cross references:
1. Acts 1:1 : Luke 1:1-4

Amplified Bible

January 03, 2006

ACTS of the Apostles

Well a sense of the meeting seems to be crystallizing and that sense seems to be the book of Acts -- known affectionately as Luke II: The Sequel. If anyone has any objections to this let them speak now or forever hold their peace.

A question and a request. If anyone has any suggestions for changes in process -- how often we post scripture, approaches, etc., feel free to mention them now. And if anyone knows of any good links to sites with insight on scripture study, scripture study helps -- or Acts in particular please let me know and I'll post them in the sidebar.

And yes, it looks like Jeff has indeed joined the Baker Street Irregulars. A link to Jeff's blog has been placed in the side bar for your perusal.

January 02, 2006

our next project (recap of discussion thus far)

Most folks do not want a break. If a break a very short one.

Suggested topics (in order suggested):

  • something canonical - preferably NT;
  • Tobit;
  • One of the epistles;
  • Romans.

Additions? Comments? Preferences?

January 01, 2006

Jesus Without The Miracles: Thomas Jefferson's Bible and the Gospel of Thomas

This links to an article in Harper's magazine comparing the Deist faith of Thomas Jeffferson with the christology of the Gospel of Thomas.

Thought F/friends might find it interesting in light of recent discussions here.

Jesus Without The Miracles: Thomas Jefferson's Bible and the Gospel of Thomas ERIK REECE / Harper's Magazine v.311, n.1867 1dec2005