Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bible Challenge - Section Two - The Gospels

We are beginning the second section of the Bible Challenge - in this section we read the four Gospels - the books that tell us the story of the life and teachings of Jesus.

We start with the Gospel of Matthew.

A few points about the Gospels - they are not first person stories.  They were written between 65 and 100 AD, so between 35 and 70 years after the death of Jesus.  None of them were written by disciples of Jesus - they were all written by students of the disciples.

The first generation of Christians believed that Jesus was returning soon and that their most important task was to tell the story of Jesus to as many people as possible and get as many people to believe as possible before Jesus returned.  It's only after the first generation of Christians begins to die that they begin to think that maybe Jesus isn't coming back as soon as they thought and that it was important to write down those stories.  Between about 65 and about 110 AD there were somewhere around 20 different Gospels circulating among the Christian communities.  In the 300's when the Bible as we know it was being developed the councils decided that there were four that should be included - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Each of the four Gospels are written for different audiences and with different purposes.  Matthew was written to the community of Jewish followers of Jesus and one of it's principle purposes was to show how Jesus and his teachings were a continuation of the story of the people of Israel.

Matthew starts with a genealogy - setting Jesus in the context of the history of the people of Israel.  It also gives a story of Jesus' birth that connects him to the house of David - but also demonstrates that he will draw those outside of the Israel as well.  The story moves quickly to the point - Jesus has come to fulfill the law and the way that the law is fulfilled in in the Great Commandment - Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bible Challenge - Establishing a nation

We have the entire book of Deuteronomy this week.  The book of Deuteronomy is really about two things:

1. The refusal of the people of Israel to trust God when they get to the verge of the Promised land, and God having them wander in the wilderness for 40 years as a result
2. The laws and regulations for the nation that will be established when they come back to the Promised land and enter it.

God has led the people the verge of the land he had promised to give them, but they resist going in and claiming it - they aren't ready.  So God leads them into the wilderness and spends a long time teaching them to trust him and establishing what the structure and rule of the society that will establish will be.

In other words, God realizes that they need to be formed to be his people before they can establish a nation - so he teaches them.

I find that it often that way with me - I often need more formation before I'm ready to follow where God is leading me.

Have that every happened with you?  Has God ever brought you to the brink of something, but you weren't ready, so God led you away only to eventually lead you back?

This brings us to the end of Section 1 - the Torah.  The gathering to discuss these books will be next Wednesday from 5 to 6:30 pm.  If you can't get there until 5:30 - that's okay come along and join in.

Next week we start reading the Gospels - beginning with Matthew.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bible Challenge - On the way to the Promised Land

The section that we have from the book of Numbers is basically the journey of the people of Israel from Mount Sinai.

This is before the 40 years in the wilderness.

I don't know if you noticed but the people of Israel seem to complain a lot.  God is providing for them, but they want meat - so they complain.  Aaron and Miriam are jealous of Moses, so they complain.  Moses is fed up with the complaining so he disobeys God and strikes a rock in anger rather than speaking to it.

I've been thinking about this.  God is giving the people what is best for them.  He is leading them to freedom and a land that will be fertile for them. They are heading to a place where they can establish their families and their nation - and yet, they seem to be dragging their heals and complaining the whole way.

I suspect this comes from two sources.  The first is that a new land means new ways and new things and that means change and human beings resist change instinctively.  The second is that getting to the good things requires some effort, they have to travel, they have to scope out the land, they have to fight some wars. If we are really honest, we would rather have the good things handed to us without having to do any work for them.

So - what is the promised land that God is leading us to?  What are we complaining about along the way?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bible Challenge - Holiness in all things

This weeks Bible challenge readings start with God striking dead Aaron's sons for offering incense other than in the way that God commanded.  It moves on to a whole bunch of rules about what the people of Israel can and can't eat - that form the basis of the Kosher dietary laws that are still used today.  It goes from there to lots of rules about dealing with leprousy.  And then a whole bunch of rules about not mixing unlike things (crops, fibers etc).

We move into the book of Numbers and get the duties of priests and redeeming a first born son and then dividing up of lands.

Most of these chapters will engender one of two reactions - 1. Yuck!! 2. Huh??.  Most of these chapters recount a God that seems very different than the God that we know or rules and practices that make no sense to us today.

One of the things that reading the Old Testament reminds me of is how far God has moved his people over thousands of years.  The point of most of these chapters was to outline for the people of Israel what it meant to be God's people - how to be holy (which means set apart for God) and how important it was to be holy.

You see, we don't remember how radical the rules of the God of Israel were for their time.  This was an era when most God's demanded human sacrifice for most sins and that the standard response to injury by others was to destroy your enemies and their children and their livestock and everything they owned.

God was moving the people of Israel away from that - a few steps on the road that leads to Jesus and love your neighbor as yourself - but they couldn't go all the way down that road at the time of Leviticus.  The thing that is most important to God is that his people are different, and even more importantly are seen to be different.  So holiness in all things - even the minor things of life - is the goal and because this is a time of communal life - having unholiness in the community undermines that - so there are strict rules about excluding the unholy from the community.

What would it look like if we strove for our whole lives and everything we did to be set apart for God?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Bible Challenge - Week Four

Welcome to week four of the St. Paul's Bible Challenge

This week we are reading the end of the book of Exodus and the beginning of the book of Leviticus

The end of the book of Exodus is a weird combination of instructions and regulations and the people of Israel messing up.

Much of the section of Exodus (and all of the sections of Leviticus we have this week) are instructions of how to build the tabernacle of the Lord and what the offerings are to be made of and how they are to be done.

But, in the middle of the rules and diagrams, we have the people of Israel.  Moses goes up on the mountain to get God's commandments for the people and in the short time he is gone the people of Israel give up - they ask Aaron to make them an idol - and the part that still gets me - Aaron does.

They worship the idol and have a large party or a small orgy - it's hard to tell from the Hebrew.

That however sets the stage for one of my favorite conversations with God - God says to Moses, "Your people are messing up - go and fix it"  Up to this point they have been God's people - but now suddenly they are Moses' people.

It makes God sound like an exasperated parent - you know - "Your son crashed the car".  I love those places in Scripture where God sounds like a fed up human - it reminds me that God - while being all powerful and all knowing and all everything - can also be fed up.