April 29, 2006

The Face of an Angel

Luke parallels Stephen's and Jesus' situations ... they preached in a way unpopular with the religious leaders, were taken before the Sanhedrin, were unjustly accused with false testimony.

The charges that Stephen depreciated the importance of the temple and the Mosaic law and elevated Jesus to a stature above Moses (⇒ Acts 6:13-14) were in fact true. Before the Sanhedrin, no defense against them was possible. With Stephen, who thus perceived the fuller implications of the teachings of Jesus, the differences between Judaism and Christianity began to appear.
- The New American Bible, notes.

- his face was like the face of an angel

April 27, 2006

go here -- read this

Just as I had posted on Pentecostal individualism versus corporate Quaker discernment this caught my eye:

But the promises of God were made to the community, not just to individuals, or to the particular individuals who touched Jesus' wounds or who can honestly say that they "felt" the Holy Spirit. And as a community we have a corporate stewardship of relationships, promises, blessings, strengths, even as those qualities ebb and flow in individuals. I do get strong impressions of God's love and power, and the person next to me in worship is entitled to benefit from that reality even if he or she doesn't have that experience personally. That person might have far more insight into the human psyche, however, and might be just the one to restore my perspective when I'm in despair about a relationship. This isn't theory, by the way; it's my experience.

So, like the captions says: go here -- read this: Can you believe?: Another awkward chorus


I'm gone for the weekend. Off (with spouse) to an AVP weekend. Hope to learn something (assuming I'm not utterly unteachable at this point).

AVP? Wazzat? Alternatives to Violence Project.

April 24, 2006

Acts 6:8-15 Stephen betrayed

What happpened to Stephen does seem remarkably similar to what had recently happened to Jesus. He declared the truth, and for it he was hated and persecuted. Is that still true today? Tell the complete truth about any significant matter, and they will get you one way or another. Why is that? Check John 3:19-20.

It wasn't the original followers of Jesus who made trouble; it was people who came in later. Apparently people had flooded in without preparation.

Churches later came to have standards for admission; new people went through some sort of preparation for membership and met certain qualifications.

In the 19th century Quaker standards for membership were extremely high: one woman lost her membership because she had attended the wedding of a daughter in another church.

In the 20th century (the unprogrammed) Quakers swung back to the opposite extreme. In many cases people were given membership with no preparation. People flooded in like they did in the first century. Many had no Quaker background; they brought their own (spiritual and ecclesiastical) values with them. Sometimes they were given important offices; some of them attempted (often successfully) to impose their foreign values on the Meetings and also to disown some traditional Quaker values.

Inclusiveness is an important value, but it can lead to loss of the integrity of a religious group in various ways. Speaking in general whenever a large body of people come into a church, the church may suffer a loss of its original focus. It's easier to make converts than it is to instill in them the principles for which the church exists. Inclusiveness has a high cost, but most of us still make it a priority.

Quakers believe there is that of God in everyone, so anyone who comes in has a gift to share with the others. Still we have to discern and evaluate their gift to determine if it brings value or disvalue to the community and just how permissive we can afford to be. A knotty issue!

I believe Quakers have dealt with the issue in a creative way. Membership is not emphasized in many Meetings. It's possible to attend for a long time without knowing who are members and who aren't. Quakers have a horror of 'proselytizing'. People are not generally invited to join the meeting. Those who want to take part in the organizational activities have to request membership.

April 22, 2006

Acts 6:8-15

8 Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.

9 Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen.

10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.

11 Then they secretly instigated some men to say, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God."

12 They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council.

13 They set up false witnesses who said, "This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law;

14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us."

15 And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

April 20, 2006

Division of Labor

According to the notes in the NAB, this division of labor was not so much between preaching and serving the poor, but between preaching and keeping the financial accounts that recorded the distribution of food to the needy (wasn't that Judas' former job?). This is an interesting distiction, becuse it's one thing to divide preaching from serving the poor, another to divide it from monetary concerns.

The first possibilty bothers me ... like David and Larry pointed out, this seems to create a moral hierarchy (preaching to others is better than helping others), and also seems to seperate contemplation from action, when I'd like them to be combined.

The second possibility seems more acceptable ... to divide preaching from money worries. I may be going off on an unrelated tangent, but this is one thing I appreciate about the catholic model ... priests are not directly "paid" for preaching by those to whom they preach, at least not exactly. And they don't decide how the money that does come in will be spent. Thus preaching will not be swayed by concerns like ... am I preaching popular stuff that will bring in paying customers? Hmmm, Bob hasn't been in church recently, listening to my great sermons - let's not give him any charity.

At any rate, the NAB also points out that this passage was probably put in to introduce Stephen, who will have a big part to play later as a martyr. Whenever he is mentioned, he's not shown taking care of the finances or handing out food, but preaching.

Journey Inward, Journey Outward

As David has aptly pointed out, Acts 6:1-7 points us to the everlasting dichotomy of the Christian life. The second in the series of books that Elizabeth O'Connor wrote describing the history and activity of the Church of the Savior was called Journey Inward, Journey Outward. This theme was elaborated throughout the life of the church. One of our primary studies there concerned the trappist monk, Thomas Merton who clearly understood that contemplation and activity must go together; neither is effectual without the other: neither solitary Christian nor soulless activist has any place in the kingdom of God.

The most interesting thing to me about the passage is that Stephen, one of those appointed for work in the material realm, became the primary spiritual leader in the ongoing life of the church (See the material in Acts immediately following this passage).

In 1974 I was living at the Ritz, a run down apartment building in the inner city being renovated during the evenings or weekends by white professional people who lived in the suburbs; their project was to upgrade housing in D.C. for the poor; at the Sunday worship service I was so rash as to announce to the congregation after the sermon that the true spiritual leader of the church was the maintenance man at the Ritz.

April 19, 2006

beginning of the end

At this point in the game we Christianity expanding. There seems to be two types of Jewish Christian -- Judean and Hellenist. A Judean was a Jew who was also a cultural Jew -- and likely from rural Judea. A Hellenist would be Jewish by faith and by inheritance but would have absorbed much more of the Greek/Roman culture. Maybe they didn't even speak Hebrew or Aramaic.

The Hellenists who have converted to this messianic Judaism preached by the apostles (because Christianity is still a reformation/renewal movement within Judaism at this point and not a separate faith or sect -- complain that when collections are made of the poor -- the poor from Judean Jewish Christian families are getting a bigger share than the poor from Hellenist Jewish Christian families.

The solution -- provided by the inner circle of Jesus' disciples -- is a division of labour. This inner circle will expand the circle of people who minister but at the same time reserve the office of prayer, teaching and preaching to themselves. This will ultimately lead to the three-fold order of ministry we know in traditional church structures: deacon-priest-bishop.

So what's going on. The group grew so fast the original leadership became overwhelmed. They neglected the duties of care for the poor in favour of teaching ministry. And the neglect broke down -- whether consciously or unconsciously along ethnic lines. The solution of sharing power -- but it was this inner circle that got to decide this -- and they reserved the teaching function for themselves creating a situation where teaching is a superior ministry to feeding the poor.

What this warns me about -- I tend to favour the teaching function myself. I need to be mindful that my calling doesn't make me a superior Christian to those who work for justice and change.

We also need to be aware that having the spirit doesn't make us infallible. We may have gifts of healing and miracles and spectacular teaching or preaching -- but we remain human -- with all our limitations. Humility is a more important virtue for leaders than for the rest of us.

April 16, 2006

Happy Easter

Happy Easter, you guys :-)


Break the box and shed the nard;
Stop not now to count the cost;
Hither bring pearl, opal, sard;
Reck not what the poor have lost;
Upon Christ throw all away:
Know ye, this is Easter Day.

Build His church and deck His shrine;
Empty though it be on earth;
Ye have kept your choicest wine-
Let it flow for heavenly mirth;
Pluck the harp and breathe the horn:
Know ye not 'tis Easter mom?

Gather gladness from the skies;
Take a lesson from the ground;
Flowers do ope their heavenward eyes
And a Spring-time joy have found;
Earth throws Winter's robes away,
Decks herself for Easter Day.
Beauty now for ashes wear,
Perfumes for the garb of woe.
Chaplets for dishevelled hair,
Dances for sad footsteps slow;
Open wide your hearts that they
Let in joy this Easter Day.

Seek God's house in happy throng;
Crowded let His table be;
Mingle praises, prayer and song,
Singing to the Trinity.
Henceforth let your souls alway
Make each morn an Easter Day.

- Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ

April 14, 2006

Acts 6:1-7 (New Jerusalem)

1 About this time, when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenists made a complaint against the Hebrews: in the daily distribution their own widows were being overlooked.

2 So the Twelve called a full meeting of the disciples and addressed them, 'It would not be right for us to neglect the word of God so as to give out food;

3 you, brothers, must select from among yourselves seven men of good reputation, filled with the Spirit and with wisdom, to whom we can hand over this duty.

4 We ourselves will continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the service of the word.'

5 The whole assembly approved of this proposal and elected Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus of Antioch, a convert to Judaism.

6 They presented these to the apostles, and after prayer they laid their hands on them.

7 The word of the Lord continued to spread: the number of disciples in Jerusalem was greatly increased, and a large group of priests made their submission to the faith.

April 08, 2006

the bad guys

We are used to seeing the bad guys as the Pharisees. Pharisee as a word has come down to mean stuck up legalists who don't care who they step on if they can just prove how holier they are than the rest of us.

Yet here it's a Pharisee (Gamaliel) urging prudence and arguing that God's will shows itself in practical events and situations whereas its the Sadducees who are out for the blood and screaming letter of the law.

I wonder how much of this is an internal matter in the Sanhedrin? The Christians didn't have a label yet -- it was just these rabble rousing disciples of Jesus. And the teachings sounded an awful lot like that of the Pharisees: resurrection, love, mutual aid. Maybe there was a fear that if the Christians sided with the Pharisees the Sadducees would lose influence.

It just seems to me that when I do an internet search on Pharisees -- they come up as -- at least for their day -- fairly open-minded fair-minded types compared to the law and nothing else attitude of Sadducees.

The Pharisees were the group that ultimately formed and informed the Rabbinic Judaism we have today. In the face of the sorts of issues we wrestle with here -- Old Testament vs. New, Pharisee versus Christian it would be nice to have a Jewish voice here as a corrective. Most Jews I've met have been reformed and not Orthodox -- but they seem far less legalistic than many Christians I've known.

When a Christian goes out of their way to avoid eating kosher food because kosher is legalistic and not in keeping with the liberty of the gospel, are they not being as or more legalistic than a Jew who keeps the kosher food laws?

April 07, 2006

Acts 5:17-42 A Cooler Head Prevailed

Like our Congress the Sanhedrin was not made up entirely of scalawags and idiots. Gamaliel, thought to be Paul's teacher, was obviously a cut above the generality of the ruling body, who in these stories of Jesus saw the handwriting on the wall for their own position. They stood against the will of the people (as our Congress so often does) but did not dare to defy it openly at this point.

Acts 5:17-42 (NRSV)

Then the high priest took action; he and all who were with him (that is, the sect of the Sadducees), being filled with jealousy, arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, "Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life." When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching.

When the high priest and those with him arrived, they called together the council and the whole body of the elders of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the temple police went there, they did not find them in the prison; so they returned and reported, "We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside." Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were perplexed about them, wondering what might be going on. Then someone arrived and announced, "Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!" Then the captain went with the temple police and brought them, but without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man's blood on us." But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him."

When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, "Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them -- in that case you may even be found fighting against God!"

They were convinced by him, and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.

CTV.ca - Gospel of Judas casts doubt on traditional beliefs- CTV News, Shows and Sports -- Canadian Television

Well, now. The newly translated Gospel of Judas says Friend Judas wasn't such a bad guy after all. What's everyone think of that?

CTV.ca - Gospel of Judas casts doubt on traditional beliefs- CTV News, Shows and Sports -- Canadian Television

April 06, 2006

an experiment

My kwakersaur blog has gone really high academic -- and I'm likely to lose folks as a result. But I have a small experiemnt going there which may interest folks. Click here is so moved.

April 05, 2006

and they all were healed

This story is following directly on Ananias and Sapphira. I think the point is largely to affirm Peter's authority confirmed by signs and miracles after the challenge implicit in the incident of Ananias and Sapphira.

So for me the doubts of authenticity do not come from these being miracles per se. The doubts come form the likely power struggle that occasions the report. Paul is much closer in time to the these events than Luke. Paul describes Peter as a moderate between the extremes of Paul himself and James and presents Peter as backing off from his convictions in the face of pressure from James' people.

It is possible that Peter -- the rock on whom the church is built was not a leadership candidate in the early days. Maybe he was a bridge builder seeking to reconcile hostile factions and dismissed as a fence sitter. This side of his character is shown forth in Paul's criticism of him in Galatians and the claims in the gospels he denied Christ.

If this is true, and I have no way of knowing if it is, then the miracles and the commissioning by the resurrected Christ -- all point to the judgment of a later period looking back and saying -- yes, he was right. He was the peacemaker when we were at each other's throats. And reading that new authority back into an earlier period.

Aak! I'm sounding like the Jesus Seminar folks now. Maybe I should start a Peter Seminar.

St. Peter's Shadow

I came across this epigram by English poet Richard Crashaw

St. Peter's Shadow

Under thy shadow may I lurk awhile,
Death's busy search I'll easily beguile;
Thy shadow, Peter, must show me the Sun,
My light's thy shadow's shadow, or 'tis done.

I don't have much to say about this passage, other than I notice a certain resistance in myself towards believing the story ... not sure why.

April 02, 2006

The Shadow

Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico. None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem.

The apostles faced terrible persecution, and with the previous fate of Annaias and Sapphira, it is really no wonder that, though respected, people did not dare to join the apostles in the temple or wish to work beside them.

Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he came by. A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.

In Acts, 5: 15, people who passed within Peter's shadow were cured. We could assume that people were not cured by the shadow, but by God's power working through Peter.

The shadow is a curious addition to this healing story. Why is the shadow mentioned?

Later, in more recent history, the shadow receives great relevance by Carl Jung. According to Wikipedia, "In Jungian psychology, the shadow or "shadow aspect" is a part of the unconscious mind which is mysterious and often disagreeable to the conscious mind, but which is also relatively close to the conscious mind. It may be (in part) one's original self, which is superseded during early childhood by the conscious mind; afterwards it comes to contain thoughts that are repressed by the conscious mind. The shadow is instinctive and irrational, but is not necessarily evil even when it might appear to be so. It can be both ruthless in conflict and empathic in friendship. It is important as a source of hunches, for understanding of one's own more inexplicable actions and attitudes (and of others' reactions), and for learning how to cope with the more problematic or troubling aspects of one's personality."

April 01, 2006

Acts 5:12-16 Healings

A short passage so I'm going back to two versions for possible comparison:

Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico. None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem. Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he came by. A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.

-- Acts 5:12-16 (NRSV)

* * *

Through the work of the apostles, many God-signs were set up among the people, many wonderful things done. They all met regularly and in remarkable harmony on the Temple porch named after Solomon. But even though people admired them a lot, outsiders were wary about joining them. On the other hand, those who put their trust in the Master were added right and left, men and women both. They even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on stretchers and bedrolls, hoping they would be touched by Peter's shadow when he walked by. They came from the villages surrounding Jerusalem, throngs of them, bringing the sick and bedeviled. And they all were healed.

-- Acts 5:12-16 (The Message)