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As You Read Living in The Story Archives - Page 2 of 3 - Living in The Story

As You Read. Weeks 14 and 15.

I have a friend from seminary who once tried to write a paper for a class that explored how Leviticus is the Word of God. He couldn’t write it. He worked on it for weeks and weeks and he never could figure out how to understand this odd, ancient book as “the word of the Lord.”

My friend is not the only one. Many of us struggle to understand these kinds of strange passages from the Church’s sacred texts.

  • Just how could it be “the word of the Lord” that people with various disabilities should be excluded from worship?
  • How could it be that people who are born a certain way should be excluded from the ministry of the priesthood?

I believe it is not possible for Christian readers of the Old Testament to make sense of Leviticus without reading it through the lens of Jesus Christ.

And that’s exactly what the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews did two millennia ago: he re-read and re-interpreted Leviticus through his understanding of the Christ Event.

This is why Living in The Story juxtaposes the book of Leviticus and the Letter to the Hebrews as we read during weeks 14 and 15.

Let us allow this Hebrew Christian theologian to help us with our interpretive approach to the Old Testament. Let him help us re-read our Scriptures.

Continue reading “As You Read. Weeks 14 and 15.”

As You Read. Weeks 12 & 13. Esther and Jonah.

As you read the fascinating books of Esther and Jonah, think of them as within the genre of short stories or novellas. Watch the way the storyteller sets the plot and develops the characters. Listen for the historical context: they both are told within the real history of Israel.

Consider how these stories address the core eternal questions: Who is God? Who are we as God’s people?

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The story of Esther and her uncle Mordecai are tales from the Diaspora.

After the Exile, many of those who had been forced to leave their homes in Palestine made new homes in Babylon. After their release, many of the Jews returned to rebuild their devastated country but many Jews and their descendants built new lives in foreign lands all over the world.

(During the time of Jesus, there were probably more Jews living in Alexandria Egypt than there were living in Jerusalem. And remember the stories you’ve heard about the Jews Paul encountered on his missionary journeys; Jews were well-established citizens in cities all across the Roman Empire.)

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In spite of this wide spread presence and the good intentions of Jews to be good citizens in their adopted nations, history (as well as current events!) document repeated pogroms and periods of persecution against the Jews. A popular Jewish saying even in our day is: “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.” That’s the Esther story in a nutshell.

Continue reading “As You Read. Weeks 12 & 13. Esther and Jonah.”

As You Read. Week 11. Tabernacle.

As you read this week’s Living in The Story scriptures, watch how several important stories and themes intertwine with one other.

  • See the people of Israel filled with passion to give extravagantly to create the Tabernacle, a holy place for God’s Glory to “dwell.”
  • See the passion of the God who had created them, called them, rescued them and brought them on eagles’ wings to God’s own self.
  • See Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration filled with passion for the vision of glory he was allowed to witness.
  • See also the passion of the Christ, who – when he left this glorious mountaintop experience – walked resolutely toward the paradoxical glory of the Cross.

As you read Exodus 35-40, relax and enjoy the story – the way it is told and the pictures it creates in your imagination. Don’t over analyze; let the beauty and generosity wash over you.

Continue reading “As You Read. Week 11. Tabernacle.”

As You Read Week 10 Covenant

As you read this week, remember earlier covenants we have seen throughout our Genesis readings.

  • First the Noahic covenant after the great flood; a covenant with all Creation and the sign of the covenant was a rainbow.
  • Then the Abrahamic covenant; a covenant with one man and his descendants and the sign of that covenant was circumcision.
  • Now in the Exodus readings, we experience the Mosaic covenant, the covenant with the people of Israel; the sign of this covenant is Sabbath.

The purpose of all these God initiated relationships is to reveal the Divine to the human: “so that you may know…”

Continue reading “As You Read Week 10 Covenant”

As You Read. Week 9. The Law.

As you read this week, look for a variety of understandings about what the Law is and how it properly functions in the life of the community.

Don’t be afraid to question.

Was the Law literally issued from the mouth of the Lord from a mountaintop or is this metaphorical, powerful story telling?

Continue reading “As You Read. Week 9. The Law.”

As You Read. Week 8. Exodus.

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As you read this week, understand that the story of The Exodus lies at the very heart of Jewish identity. Throughout the centuries, as this people has endured persecution, pogrom and holocaust, the remembrance of God’s deliverance has sustained this passionate community.

This story of Exodus also shaped the telling of the Christian story from the very beginning. Matthew’s gospel sees Jesus as the new Moses. Mark’s gospel characterizes the work of Jesus as deliverance and redemption. The Exodus story also creates hope for any number of communities that have experienced oppression.  Liberation Theology of our own time is a direct descendant of this Exodus tradition and continues to spark a hopeful fire within Black and Brown peoples across the globe.

Whether the liberation from Egypt is a story that is set in time or one of those deeply true stories that transcends time, no one will ever know.

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

There is less archeological confidence in the historicity of the stories of Exodus and Conquest than there used to be, given our growing insights of historical criticism. Some scholars think of this as “paradigmatic history” whereby …

… the narrative is seen to make a claim for intense particularity, but a particularity that invites and permits rereading in a variety of circumstances.

Walter Brueggemann

Consider again the context of the Exile and the very real possibility that this ancient story from Egypt was told from the experience of Exile in Babylon. The story doesn’t have to be what actually happened a long long time ago in Egypt in order for it to be true. The story is “true” because all kinds of people who suffer from the oppression by all sorts of tyrants are enabled to hold on to the hope that their cries will eventually be heard and the Creator-Sustainer-Redeemer of all-that-is will ultimately act for salvation and shalom.

As you read Exodus 1-15, pay special attention to chapter 3. Here is a pivotal introduction of God, YHWH, Yahweh, I Am. Recall the I Am sayings of Jesus from the Gospel of John and consider again how radical John’s Christology is.

As you read the story of the plagues upon Egypt, you may be troubled (as I have been) with the odd phrase repeated again and again: “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” Think about this within the context of the storytellers’ theology. For the Hebrews of Egypt and the exiled Israelites in Babylon, God is the all-powerful Lord of all creation. Even the most powerful kings of the earth cannot resist the indomitable will of the Sovereign Lord of all Lords. The storytellers frame the contest between God and the Pharaoh as an opportunity for God’s glory to be seen, not just to Israel so as to build their faith, but also to the kings and kingdoms of the earth so as to demonstrate the supremacy of the one true God.

In the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, there are two different traditions of the sacrificial lamb. The tradition of the scapegoat seems to be the more dominant one: An animal is sacrificed in substitution for the sins of the people as atonement. This remembrance of sin and forgiveness is celebrated even today in the symbolic rituals of Yom Kippur. (We will unpack this particular notion of the sacrificial lamb more fully in a few weeks when we get to Leviticus.)

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But in our story today, there are no hints of a substitutionary death of the lamb on account of sin. Instead the Passover lamb is strength for the journey; it is the one around whom the community gathers, the sharing of whose life binds the community together. It is celebration and sustenance. This is the other thread of meaning for the sacrificial lamb that is especially appropriate theology for the Christian Communion/Eucharist. This tradition that weaves throughout the biblical texts is the tradition of community and covenant.

As you read the Psalms (24, 90, 105), you will notice that Psalm 90 is attributed to Moses.

Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.

So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.

Be sure to take time to appreciate Psalm 105 and its powerful poetic remembrance of these core stories of Israel. Compare this song with the “psalm” recorded in Exodus 15.

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As you read Mark 11-16, you will notice that Mark’s description of the last supper on the night before his crucifixion was a Passover meal. The Christian celebration of Easter has always coincided with the Jewish celebration of Passover. The dates dance around each other based on the lunar calendar but their relationship is fixed.

Some Christian churches recognize this relationship by celebrating a Jewish Seder with a Christian twist. My friend, Rabbi Jeffrey joined us at one of our Seder meals one year and led my congregation through the traditional ritual. It became very clear to us how the meaning of Passover connected across the ages to the meaning of the Christ. It was a moving experience.

As you read Ephesians, revel in the powerful poetic prayers; there are several. Words have power to stir the human soul; power that is wielded by some to provoke fear and hatred. Power that is used by others to inspire us to awe and goodness.

Notice as you read, the repetition of the persistent biblical theme of God’s deliverance from slavery, sin, and “death.” Also the theme of God’s triumph over pharaohs and tyrants, named here as “rulers and authorities” – not just on earth, but “the cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places…”

See again in the letter to the Ephesian churches the Pauline passion for breaking down barriers between Jew and Gentile.

Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003).

As You Read. Week 7. Joseph.

As you read this week, you will be finishing up Genesis. If you have been reading all along, you will also have completed John, Romans, Colossians, 2 Timothy, Galatians and you are about to wrap up Mark. Look how easy this is! Be pleased about this discipline of Bible study you are developing and think about what this habit of reading Scripture means for you.

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 As you read Genesis 37-50, watch for ways the stories of Joseph and Jesus parallel.

Continue reading “As You Read. Week 7. Joseph.”

As You Read. Week 6. Jacob.

As you read this week, consider the ancient theme of “naming.” The stories of our Scriptures remind us that these ancient people did the best they could making sense of the who and the how and why of God. Often this making-sense is described in the stories as the characters naming their experience.

Abraham names his experience with Isaac and the ram in the bush and the angel who stops the knife as: “The Lord provides” (Genesis 22).

Hagar, the courageous slave of Sarah, the tenacious mother of Ishmael, the cast out one who was found and nurtured by divine intervention, is said even to name God: “The One who Sees” (Genesis 16).

Jacob names the place of his dream with a ladder of angels and a promise of blessing as Bethel: “the house of God” (Genesis 28).

Jacob’s wives name their children in light of their relationships with Jacob and God and life (Genesis 29-30).

Jacob names the place of his wrestling Penuel – “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved” (Genesis 32).

To this day, we moderns also do the best we can asking questions, probing mysteries and naming the experiences of our own lives in ways that attempt to make sense. In this way, we are not really so different from our ancestors.

Continue reading “As You Read. Week 6. Jacob.”

As You Read. Week 5. Isaac.

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As you read this week, consider that – unlike the stories of origins from the first 11 chapters of Genesis – the stories of the Patriarchs are set within a historical context.  These stories would have been told generation after generation as a part of the oral histories of this ancient people, however they probably weren’t written until the time of the Babylonian Captivity 1500 years later.

This is probably the era when the Genesis stories were actually gathered and edited, penned and preserved for posterity. Consider the meaning these stories would have had for the nation of Israel exiled in Babylon.

As you read Genesis 21-26, remember that God had called Abraham and promised him descendants like the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5). In the ancient world and even among some peoples today, having descendants that continue on beyond your life is a kind of immortality as it were. This was the way Abraham believed his life could extend beyond his one lifetime.

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But if Abraham followed this call of God to sacrifice his son, if he consented to give up the long awaited son of promise, the future God had promised him would disappear. His life would have no meaning and Abraham himself would become as if he had never existed.

Continue reading “As You Read. Week 5. Isaac.”

As You Read. Week 4. Abraham

As you read this week, you might consider the fact that Abraham was not a Jew. Is that a startling statement? The people known as “Jews” didn’t come into being until much, much later than the time of the Patriarchs. Abraham is highly honored in the traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam because all three monotheistic religions see him as one who shaped the understanding of these faiths in deep ways. See Charlotte’s blog on Abraham for more reflection on how ALL people of faith (even those without “religion”) can appropriately see themselves as “children of Abraham.”

As you read Genesis 12-20 and as you read all of these stories about the Patriarchs in Genesis, see the numerous descriptions of ancient Middle Eastern culture within the story. For example, the common practice of polygamy, producing children with several wives, concubines and slaves. And also the cultural understanding of the role of women who were subservient to the male head of the household and whose “value” was measured by their ability to produce sons. (In light of this, consider how unwise it is for modern societies to use the Bible as a template for “biblical family values.”)

While there is significant “covenant” language in the story of Noah (God covenants with the earth and promises its continued existence, marked with the sign of the rainbow), in the Abraham story, covenant is personal and more specific. God chooses, calls, guides, protects this one man and creates covenant with him and his descendants. Covenant is always God’s initiative and God’s sustaining grace.

From Abraham, the story will persistently narrow. It is his son, Isaac who continues this particular covenant relationship with God, not Ishmael. It is Jacob who continues The Story, not Esau. Jacob’s twelve sons become the tribal people of Israel who eventually become the political nation of Israel.

There are countless stories of other people and nations who lived during the time of the stories of the Patriarchs and Israel, but they either are not mentioned at all or are mentioned in a kind of footnote. The Hebrew Scriptures are the story of one particular people. It is Israel’s witness of their experience with the one true God; the good, the bad and the ugly of their human experience. Their mistakes, misunderstandings, foolishness and violence are documented with startling honesty.

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As you read Psalms 23 and 25,  consider the nomadic life of Abraham, a shepherd of his time, dependent upon the land and the seasons. Watch for the affirmation of the covenant recognized both in relationship with God and relationship to the land.

As you read John 13-17, you will see the beginning of John’s Passion Story. The washing of the disciples’ feet, the final discourse/teaching, the Lord’s prayer for his followers – watch how John’s Jesus is confident and unshaken by the coming event of the cross. This Jesus is always in charge, always in control.

You also might want to look back at John 8 while you are reading the Abraham story this week. There is an important conversation between Jesus and “the Jews” that discusses the meaning of Abraham for the people of Israel as understood by John. (Remember “the Jews” does not mean all Jewish people; it was John’s designation for those who did not accept Jesus as Messiah and were in constant opposition to the new Jesus movement.)

“Abraham is our father” … these opponents insist.

“If Abraham were truly your father, you would do what Abraham did” … Jesus responds.

“We have one father, God himself” … they counter.

“You are from your father, the devil” … Jesus accuses.

“You are a half-breed, possessed by a demon” … the dialogue heats up.

“Your ancestor Abraham saw my day and rejoiced” … Jesus tantalizes.

“YOU have seen Abraham?!?!” … they mock.

“Amen. Amen. I tell you: before Abraham was, I AM.”

So they picked up stones to stone him…

As John’s Jesus has spoken so often in this gospel, here again he proclaims: “I AM.” It’s a theologically brazen claim; a Christology that conflates the being of Jesus with the being of God. Consider how difficult it would be for faithful monotheists to hear this.

In the journey of faith, remember how crucial it is to “begin with faith.” John demonstrates what it can look like when religion is not actually grounded in faith; when the forms and doctrines become more important than a foundational trust in God. God will not live in our boxes nor jump through our hoops. “Trust” means we trust anyway even when we do not understand.

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As you read Romans 4-8, see how the apostle Paul hearkens back to the Abraham story to make his crucial arguments for the inclusion of Gentiles within the new Christian community.  Abraham is the father of ALL the faithful, he insists, not just those who are circumcised (a crucial symbolic act for all faithful Jewish males.) “Circumcision of the heart” is the sign of unity within the Christian community.

A person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal.

Romans 2:29

Abraham’s faith was “reckoned to him as righteousness” before he participated in the sign of circumcision. This is huge for Paul. It’s not the obeying of the Law that produces righteousness but rather the living in faithfulness, living with trust.

Paul uses Abraham as an example: the way Abraham believed in the promise and trusted in God’s word that he would have a son even when his body was as good as “dead.” Acceptable relationship with God doesn’t come about by our human efforts; relationship (covenant, promise) is God’s divine grace to us.

Just as Abraham experienced grace – with all his mistakes and stumbles, with his “dead” body – so we too experience God’s gift in our weaknesses, in our sinfulness, in our estrangement.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death (8:1-2).

If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness (8:10).

Paul’s letter to the Romans is considered a masterpiece of theological reflection by a master theologian. Romans played a crucial role in the thinking of Martin Luther and was a catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.

Photo (Chris D): This icon representing the embracing of Jewish & Gentile Christians can be found in the St Peter and St Paul Orthodox Church, Antakya, Turkey (formerly Syrian Antioch). Peter was the apostle to the Jews and Paul the apostle to the gentiles.