February 26, 2006

The Parousia

The part of this reading that was really interesting to me was about the parousia or second coming of Christ ...

Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away, and that the Lord may grant you times of refreshment and send you the Messiah already appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the times of universal restoration of which God spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.

The NAB says ..... This reference to its (the parousia) nearness is the only explicit one in Acts. Some scholars believe that this verse preserves a very early christology, in which the title "Messiah" (Greek "Christ") is applied to him as of his parousia, his second coming (contrast ÅÀ Acts 2:36). This view of a future messiahship of Jesus is not found elsewhere in the New Testament.

There are other places in the NT that refer to the second coming ... in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul mentions it in a way that shows he expected it to happen in his lifetime ... Mark 13:26-30 speaks of Jesus' return in the time of his generation, with great power and glory ... chapeter 24 of Matthew is about the parousia ... John mentions it in Revelation 22: 12 as well.

If they truly believed that the end of the world was coming in their lifetimes, that the bad people would be punished, that good would be rewarded, that they'd be reunited with the one they loved, it must have had a profound effect on every part of their lives. And what must they have thought when they and thei friends began to die before the expected event?

One main concern of the early chriatian community was what would happen to those that died before Jesus returned. Paul's answer to this was that when Jesus returned, those who had already died would rise first and then those still alive would be snatched up to join them in union with Jesus.

Presently, some believe in a future event called the Rapture - see also Dispensationalism at Wikipedia - this view is more popularly expressed in the Left Behind books.

I think Catholic teaching is different ... there's no belief in the rapture, in which the good are taken away to heaven while the sinners remain on earth to suffer for a length of time until the final judgement. Instead, there is just one "second" coming, where Jesus reurns for everyone at the very end. And some discount even this, seeing the parousia as a metaphor for the eucharist or the second coming as actually the moment of meeting with Jesus when we die ... when Paul realized his death was near and that Jesus had not yet reeturned, he wrote “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Phil 1:23).

Who knows if there will be a parousia, and if so, when it will occur ... but it is interesting to imagine how we would live our lives differently if we believed, as the early chriatians did, that it would indeed happen before our deaths.

- And The Sea Gave Up The Dead Which Were In It by Lord Leighton

a prophet like unto Moses

Two things come to me from this passage.

Moses, for example, said, "From among your brothers the Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me; you will listen to whatever he tells you. Anyone who refuses to listen to that prophet shall be cut off from the people."

From the context I gather Moses did not have in mind one particular prophet but any prophet in Israel who spoke for God. Largely on the strength of Peter's witness later Christians (including first Friends) would interpret Moses words as pointing squarely at Christ Jesus - not simply a prophet like Moses but the prophet like Moses.

So then, real Christian faith -- entails listening to whatever Jesus tells you. And refusing to do so constitutes ground for being cut off from the people -- excommunication - shunning - reading out of the meeting.

It was for you in the first place that God raised up his servant and sent him to bless you as every one of you turns from his wicked ways.

Blessing is contingent upon turning away from evil and doing good. This is not the gospel as I learned it from my InterVarsity friends back in university. For them conversion was about changing your beliefs. God calls us to turn from our wicked ways.

Listening. Obedience. Doing good.

February 25, 2006

Acts 3:11-26 (Jerusalem Bible)

Everyone came running towards them in great excitement, to the Portico of Solomon, as it is called, where the man was still clinging to Peter and John. When Peter saw the people he addressed them, 'Men of Israel, why are you so surprised at this? Why are you staring at us as though we had made this man walk by our own power or holiness? It is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our ancestors, who has glorified his servant Jesus whom you handed over and then disowned in the presence of Pilate after he had given his verdict to release him. It was you who accused the Holy and Upright One, you who demanded that a murderer should be released to you while you killed the prince of life. God, however, raised him from the dead, and to that fact we are witnesses; and it is the name of Jesus which, through faith in him, has brought back the strength of this man whom you see here and who is well known to you. It is faith in him that has restored this man to health, as you can all see.

'Now I know, brothers, that neither you nor your leaders had any idea what you were really doing; but this was the way God carried out what he had foretold, when he said through all his prophets that his Christ would suffer. Now you must repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, and so that the Lord may send the time of comfort. Then he will send you the Christ he has predestined, that is Jesus, whom heaven must keep till the universal restoration comes which God proclaimed, speaking through his holy prophets. Moses, for example, said, "From among your brothers the Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me; you will listen to whatever he tells you. Anyone who refuses to listen to that prophet shall be cut off from the people." In fact, all the prophets that have ever spoken, from Samuel onwards, have predicted these days. 'You are the heirs of the prophets, the heirs of the covenant God made with your ancestors when he told Abraham, "All the nations of the earth will be blessed in your descendants". It was for you in the first place that God raised up his servant and sent him to bless you as every one of you turns from his wicked ways.'

February 19, 2006

miracle stories

My stand on miracles has always been to believe in general and to be skeptical in particular. Claims of modern day miracles tend to be made in similar situations to claims of UFO or sasquatch sightings. All too often there is a lack of scientific evidence to back up the claim -- or as in the case of certain psychics or evangelical "ministries" -- large sums of money riding on belief. And yet, all things are possible for God. That is after all the point of faith.

But scripture stories of miracles fall into a different category. Asking for scientific proof for a miracle that happened thousands of years ago seems to me to be unreasonable. So the only basis for endorsing a miracle from that long ago seems to be a doctrine of scriptural inerrancy I don't subscribe to. Did they happen? I don't think its possible to know or even to agree on what would count as reasonable evidence.

For me miracle stories in scripture point beyond themselves to something other than the miracle. They are signs and not merely wonders.

This miracle of Peter telling a lame man to get up and walk coming as it does so closely on the story of Pentecost stands as a kind of confirmation of Peter's claims in his sermon. It vindicates the Christian faith and also that doctrine of salvation that Larry and I have been calling theosis: that salvation is not just a get out of jail free card but an awakening of the Divine in and through us to the point where we become divine.

For me the real miracle in this story is not the healing -- scripture is filled with healings. It was the authority Peter exercises. He doesn't pray to God for the healing rather, as his Teacher before him did, commands the person into wholeness.


I share Marjorie's scepticism re 'healings'; it seems clear that many healings we have heard about are spurious. I don't know about the biblical ones; in that respect I suspose that I'm something of an agnostic.

However I can witness healings in my own life:

I had been told by the head of the Department of Internal Medicine at Bowman Gray Medical Center that I had emphysema (an incurable malady). At a certain point the symptoms became prominent. At that time Ellie and I were in a really 'high powered' Christian sharing group; many beautiful things were happening. Remembering James' admonition 5:14 "Is any sick among you?" I asked this group for that service.

They laid hands on me and prayed. A few days later I returned to the doctor to find the result of tests he had made. He said I had no problem.

That seemed remarkable but even more remarkable was something that happened after that prayer service. We noticed a strange women leaning against the wall and crying. Dear ladies went out to her and learned that she had attempted suicide the week before. Soon we had her in the chair and prayed for her.

Her suicidal depression appears to be lifted and she became an active and victorious member of that group.

Doctors tell us that half of their patients have imaginary (or at least psychosomatic) ailments. That patient's state of mind has a great bearing on their health. (for years I've been telling doctors that visiting them will make me feel better for at least the next three months!).

Many of these faith healings may concern such cases, which doesn't make them any the less real.

Re biblical healing I have a completely open mind: not enough evidence. Re life's experiences: that's another matter.

Miracles / Marjorie

I suppose this passage should inspire me to praise God for his gift to us that we might heal each other. I think that to look at it plainly, it is beautiful. However, I find that I am looking at it with a skeptics eye and it just seems like it could be a cheap trick -- perhaps this is in light of the 'cult of personality' hucksters who use religion as a vehicle for power. I imagine there were plenty of those back in Biblical times, as well.

Why would I begrudge the performance of God's miracles through man? With God all things are possible, and this is simply evidence to support that. Perhaps this miracle is simply too flashy for my personal taste.

February 16, 2006

Miracles / crystal

... in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.

The Acts of the Apostles is full of miracles like the one Peter performed in healing the lame man. The miracles are all done in Jesus' name and are perhaps meant to be the proof of his resurrection and his gift of the Holy Spirit to the apostles.

Though I believe in the miracles performed in the gospels by Jesus, I'm having some trouble accepting that the apostles had the power to do the same. I know this isn't really logical ... the evidence is just as good for the miracles in Acts as in the gospels ... but I remain unconvinced. It doesn't help that the author of Acts has perhaps contrived to create a parity in the miracles of Jesus and the apostles, and of Peter and Paul.

Having written this, I have to admit that the sucessful spread of the early christian church hardly seems possible without the miracles indeed having taken place. As John A. Hardon, S.J. writes in The Miracle Narratives in the Acts of the Apostles ...

Miracles helped establish the new church .... except for the apostolic miracles, Christianity would not have been so rapidly and firmly established throughout the ancient world. Without the signs and wonders in the early Church, the boast of Tertullian could not have been made within less than two hundred years after the death of Christ: .... "We are but of yesterday, yet we have filled every place among you - cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market places, camp, tribes, town councils, the palace, the senate, the forum. We have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods." (Tertullian / The Apology)

So I'm left with the uncomfortable feeling that I'd rather the Bible had ended with Jesus' resurrection, knowing I'd probably not even be a christian if it hadn't been for the miracles of the apostles. Lots to discern here :-)

Acts 3:1-10 (NRSV)

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o'clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, "Look at us." And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, "I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk." And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

February 12, 2006

The Kingdom Realized

Reflecting on that 'earliest church' one may discern that they were considerably changed by the experience of Pentecost. They actively practiced the first gift and fruit of the Holy Spirit, which had been given to them. We might say that they exemplified the two Great Commandments. (To me this the gospel in its pristine simplicity.)

To know these commandments and to value them highly one is "not far from the kingdom of God". To practice them as actively as they were said to be one is living in the kingdom of God; one is in a heavenly place.

An Acts II church? Yes, it's most likely to be small, sufficiently small that the members know one another intimately; such knowledge is a necessary prerequisite to the ability to practice the kind of love they were doing. (Of course Luke says 3000 were added after Peter's sermon, but I suspect that may have been over a significant period of time.)

We all have needs that will not be completely met until we encounter the kind of love those people demonstrated, which means in effect that we all will continue to be needy-- until we encounter an "Acts 2 church"!!

February 11, 2006


All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.

A while ago, on another blog, there was a discussion of Liberation Theology, which I believe has some of its roots buried in these lines of scripture. Liberation Theology is a kind of christian socialism that focuses on politics, social justice and human rights. It could most easily be seen in example in the Jesuit actions in Latin American in the 60s-70s, though it can be found elsewhere. It has fallen into disrepute in the catholic church of late, but the ideals on which it is based are still relevant ... basically, it's about how we treat each other and what's really important to us and how God informs us on these two points.

an Acts 2 church

I know a fellow. Left the Catholic Church in his youth -- like many of us left the churches of our parents -- as he couldn't cope with the rules, the paper-thin veneer of faith, whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.

I think for most thinking folks the faith of our folks -- no matter how well intentioned -- seem that way. We need to find a way to make it our own.

My friend in Christ is now worshipping with the Presbyterians. And he's finding Presbyterianism pushing all the same buttons as the Catholicism of his ill-spent youth. His constant refrain: I'm looking for an Acts 2 church. He's looking for a vibrant faith. He's looking for the winds of the Spirit. He's looking for faith with signs following.

When I look to signs following I see a community for whom whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. and again all the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. I'm not sure how comfortable I would be in such a church -- but that seems to be Luke's clear implication -- you got the spirit -- the institution of private ownership ceases to exist for you. Voluntary anarchic socialism -- located at the level of the church congregation and not at the level of the state.

Paul warns us, but as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

Miracles exist for two reasons. One to mark a fresh blowing of God's spirit -- to draw attention to a new way of being the church. Two, to offset the limitations and injustices of this world and give us a hint of what could be -- is -- truly possible. When that possibility hinted at in miracles becomes a reality, the signs will no longer be needed. And as Paul promised, then faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

supplementary texts

And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover."

So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.

Mark 16:15-20 (NRSV)

For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty, how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will.

Hebrews 2:2-4 (NRSV)

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

John 14: 10-14 (NRSV)

When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness. Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.

With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Luke 4: 31-35 (NRSV)

Acts 2:43-47

Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Act 2:43-47 (NIV)

* * *

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Act 2:43-47 (NRSV)

February 09, 2006

faithful to the teaching

These remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.

I can't help but think this is key. And I notice the past tense.

Luke offers a really simple ecclesiology: faithful to the teachings of the apostles, faithful to the brotherhood, faithful to breaking bread, and faithful to the prayers. Teaching. Community. Eucharist. Prayer.

And it is the teaching of the apostles. Following Jesus is no longer the issue but not its following the apostles. This is a discipling community.

And again past tense. Luke has the advantage of hindsight. What shipwrecked the early church? An end to discipleship. Disputes which broke the fellowship. Bread was no longer broken with one another. Factions divided the prayers.

February 08, 2006

The Gift

"'You must repent,' Peter answered, 'and every one of you must be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

Crystal wrote on repentance. It seems worthwhile to look at the gift or reward consequent upon repentance and baptism.

This passage in Acts 2 might be called the first evangelistic sermon. For some Christians, even today, the 'gift' is the primary reward. Others (probably) the majority have focused on 'salvation', or more crassly put, 'going to heaven'.

The gift of the Holy Spirit is enough reward for anybody who experiences it as such. The H.S. engages in the life long struggle to change our recalcitrant egos into the 'fullness of Christ'. PTL.

February 06, 2006

Acts 2:37-42 / crystal

Hearing this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'What are we to do, brothers?' 'You must repent,' Peter answered ...

The thing that caught my attention in this reading was the idea of repentance.

What does repentance mean? Though the early church fathers translated the Greek word, metanoia, to mean "penance", the meaning at the time Acts was written was different ... more a change of one's mind ...

In most cases when the English word repent occurs in the NT, it is translating metanoia. Metanoia is not the equivalent of the OT term shu'b. It certainly does not mean "penance". Nor does it normally mean "repentance." Rather, in the NT it retains its pre-Christian meaning of a change of mind. The English reader thus generally needs to read "change of mind "--not turn from sins--when he sees the word " repent" in the NT. - New Testament Repentance: Lexical Considerations

Seeing the need for a change in one's self doesn't come easily and, in our culture, dwelling and reflecting on one's possible mistakes is not only considered unpleasant but dangerous to self-esteem. What makes changing worthwhile? When repentance has to do with relationship, like the one with Jesus/God, it becomes a change of not just mind but heart. Love is the engine that drives repentance and transforms it from a cool-headed alteration of thought or a guilty act of penance into the healing of a relationship.

By the world’s logic repentance runs the range from risky to stupid. What does it change? The past is past. The dead are dead. So why make yourself vulnerable now? Get over it and get on with life. Live for the future. But the past isn’t past and the dead aren’t dead and the future shouldn’t be more of the same. - Sunday Week 1 of Lent Year B

Acts 2:37-42 (New Jerusalem Bible)

Hearing this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'What are we to do, brothers?'

'You must repent,' Peter answered, 'and every one of you must be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The promise that was made is for you and your children, and for all those who are far away, for all those whom the Lord our God is calling to himself.' He spoke to them for a long time using many other arguments, and he urged them, 'Save yourselves from this perverse generation.'

They accepted what he said and were baptised. That very day about three thousand were added to their number. These remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.

February 05, 2006

jesus: jewish messiah?

Yesterday I made a post here on the passage under consideration. Larry advised me that blogger wouldn't let him comment on it. While I was checking the settings the posting disappeared! I came back -- got halfway through rewriting it and saved ir as a draft and now the draft is gone too. I'm starting to worry somebody doesn't like me.

Here's the gist of what I was trying to post (three times lucky?):

Peter in this passage struggles to interpret recent (for him) events: the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and the events of Pentecost in the Upper Room. He draws upon the scriptures he knows -- the Psalms of David and an oracle by the prophet Joel. His approach is something some scholars are starting to call pesher or raz pesher based upon their study of this approach in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The traditional label is prophetic typology.

In effect Peter attributes prophecies about a King of David's lineage on the throne as Israel being fulfilled by Jesus' ascension to the right hand of the Father. He attributes Joel's oracle about an outpouring of prophetic gifts to the events in the upper room.

But it is more complex than that. The heavenly signs in Joel's prophecy -- the moon turning to blood for example -- are signs of the fall of powerful kings. The blood moon is an effect associated with a total lunar eclipse - which for a people with a lunar calendar tends to be a symbol of the overthrow of the established order. If we read Joel in context he's claiming that the world empire harassing the people of God will itself be harassed. The people of God will be gathered back to Israel and the citizens of the former empire will find themselves sold into slavery as they once sold the children of Israel.

For Joel the world empire was Assyria and for Peter it was Rome. For Joel the people of God were the Jews. For Peter they were also -- though he was about to learn otherwise. For me the people of God are all from any corner of the earth and from any faith or non-faith who have the law of God written on their hearts -- those who do what God requires of them out of conscience and concern. If the typology of Pentecost maps to Babel and an end to nation states and our political divisions then Peter's interpretation calls for the formation of a new nation created by God and called forth from exile in the nations of old.

Now Pentecost is not a significant faith symbol for me. But Peter's interpretation tells me it should be. If its right then faith has serious political implications which go straight to the heart of our lives together. But when I look to those folks who see Pentecost as central to their faith lives I do not see a people awaiting political liberation. I see folks seeking personal liberation.

I do not know what to do with this.