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6 February 2014: Part XIII Matthew: “A Prophet like unto Moses” – Introducing the Sermon on the Mount

It should not be surprising that a Jewish scribe in the first century, which is what the author of the gospel we call Matthew was, would make constant references to Moses, the founder of the Jewish faith tradition. Moses dominated official Judaism and was in every way its creator and guide. The Torah by which …

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Q & A:

I have often wondered why Jesus was supposed to have never married. A celibate tradition was nowhere to be found in the Hebrew religion except with the Essenes. As I understand the Jewish laws and duties in the first century, a father’s responsibility was to secure a wife for his teenage son. Yet Joseph did not (apparently). Why didn’t he? There could be several answers. The most obvious is that there was no father around at the proper time. If this was the case, why did Jesus not find a wife for himself or at the very least ask his mother find one? We must remember that this period is over ten years before his ministry. The other possibilities were that he was not inclined to marry, or he was gay and left the family so as not to be pressured. Another was that he was known in his neighborhood as illegitimate, that is, a bastard, and no decent woman would have him. In which case if he had wanted to marry, he could have gone somewhere where he was not known to find a wife. The logic of this exercise is that Jesus did not want a woman in his life and preferred the company of men; this is until he met Mary of Magdala whom he clearly liked or loved.

 

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30 January 2014: Part XII Matthew: Matthew Introduces John the Baptist-The New Elijah

Matthew has thus far mined the Hebrew Scriptures for texts that will advance his thesis that Jesus has fulfilled the Jewish messianic expectations. In the opening genealogy, he has made Jesus “the son of Abraham,” the son and heir of King David and portrayed him as one who with his people survived the Babylonian exile. …

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Q & A:

Portland, Victoria, Australia, a small tourist town 400 kilometers west of Melbourne, has a branch of every denomination of tribal religion and one can imagine, one by one, they get to broadcast a Sunday sermon on the Sunday morning religious program which is encased in a jukebox of favorite hymns. Despite our multi-cultural country, a December sermon equated the Chaldeans to the Muslim community and stated they were all destined for hell. Babylon was described as still existing in southern Iraq and getting ready to overrun the earth. My knowledge of Habakkuk is restricted to the Chorus that comes from chapter 3, verse 17. I have not seen any comments from you about the Minor Prophets, in particular Habakkuk but I would like you to - if you run out of questions, all of which I enjoy reading. I am looking forward to a hymnal that uses the favorite tunes with some progressive lyrics. Good health and congratulations on the way your contributions are being elaborated on while you are still with us.

 

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23 January 2014: The Wedding of Charles and Robert

It was January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, sometimes called “Old Christmas” in some parts of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. The church was still decorated with its hanging greens and beautiful poinsettias. After all this was the twelfth day of Christmas. About thirty people gathered with me on that day to attend a wedding …

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Q & A:

I was wondering how you would respond to the work done by N. T. Wright on the resurrection; from what I have read, you have argued that there is no notion of a bodily resurrection in the earliest traditions of the church (the Gospel of Mark and Pauline work), but this belief gradually emerged and is reflected in later traditions (e.g. the Johannine corpus). From what Wright says, the belief in a physical resurrection was not alien to the belief system of the second Temple period and so could plausibly stem from the earliest traditions. So I am just wondering what your counter argument is to Wright.

 

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16 January 2014: Part XI Matthew: Proof Texting the Birth Narratives

Matthew never allows us to forget that he is a learned scribe in charge of a synagogue made up of Jewish people who are the followers of Jesus. He is writing at a time in history when a battle is being waged for the soul of Judaism. The issues were clear in his mind. Will …

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Q & A:

I stumbled upon your website via YouTube, where several of your lectures and interviews are shown. How I got there, who knows? let's call it providence. I'm part of the church alumni as you put it. But listening to your thoughts, I started to ask myself, if you take away the literal crucifixion, which I was taught as a little Catholic boy, and thereby take away what I always understood was the divinity of Christ, can you still say that Christianity is a religion or has it become a humanistic philosophy? Can it be both?

 

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9 January 2014: A Political Q and A

From time to time I receive a letter which requires an answer that is too long for the question and answer format of this column, so I have to use it as the column itself. Such is the case this week, so I will interrupt my Matthew series for a week to respond to this …

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Q & A:

I have always had trouble saying the Nicene Creed. It sticks in my throat. I know several others who have the same experience with it. When you were in Amarillo in June, you gave an explanation of it and how you relate to it. I believe others might find it helpful so would you mind repeating it?

 

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1 January 2014: The Passing of Greatness

On December 9, 2013, 65,000 people braved strong rains to gather in the Olympic Soccer Field in South Africa to pay tribute to a man named Nelson Mandela. They were joined by over one hundred heads of state from around the world, the largest number ever to attend a funeral service for a king, a …

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Q & A:

I was brought up Pentecostal. Of course, my church believes in "speaking in tongues." Of course, I hear that an interpreter must be present. Please tell me your thoughts on your "interpretation" of what the "holy spirit" means to you. My thoughts of the holy spirit means the spirit of humanity and anything that takes away that "holy" spirit of life, no matter what that life is to me is considered not "god-infused."

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25 December 2013: Part X Matthew: The Story of the Magi and Their Gifts

The wise men from Matthew’s birth story have been deeply attached to our Christmas celebration, stretching all the way back to the time that Matthew introduced them in the middle years of the ninth decade of the Common Era. They are instantly recognized mounted on their camels and appearing in our Christmas cards, our decorated store …

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Q & A:

I admitted the loss of my fundamentalist beliefs about a year ago. I was 26. I had no idea at the time that I was a fundamentalist. I thought fundamentalists picketed gay funerals, believed in a young, flat earth and “spoke in tongues.” I told myself that my beliefs (that Jesus somehow bodily became undead, that his body was not the product of natural biology, or that he rocketed into space after he was finished here) were somehow less silly. I hope they were less harmful to others.

Through my journey of doubt, I came upon some of your video lectures online. I also read several of your books and very much enjoyed them.

I am writing to you with two questions. First, although I was enraptured by your willingness to question what I thought were the basic tenets of Christianity, I was frustrated by your insistence on continuing to use the word “God.” I understand that your definition of God is very different from many people’s, but you have also expressed a certain eagerness to rid Christianity of meaningless clichés. Why is God not also a cliché?

Second, whatever disagreements we may have over the nature of God (and I suspect that even if they may be very great, you care very little), our plan of action is the same. Living fully, loving wastefully and being all that we can be seem to me to be a very, very good way to exist in the world today. I am at a loss, however, as to how to interact with others still caught in the trap that I have only just escaped from into exile. My parents and most of my friends still believe those things I cannot. Arguing with them seems an unloving, selfish and destructive thing, yet perhaps because I am young, I strain at the traces to do just that. It is deeply saddening to watch them waste their own lives in fear and confusion and to be separated from them by this divide. Is there no way to engage conservative fundamentalists in a non-destructive, life-giving manner?

 

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19 December 2013: Part IX Matthew. Matthew Introduces Joseph – The Earthly Father of Jesus

Matthew’s opening genealogy of Jesus is now complete with the intriguing idea that the line which produced Jesus of Nazareth, traveled not only through the royal family of the house of David, but also through four “tainted’ women: Tamar, who engaged in incest; Rahab, who was called a prostitute; Ruth, who achieved her goals through …

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Q & A:

I should like to know how you understand the biblical text about whether is said that Jesus died either for all or for many. In a paper to the German bishops of the Catholic Church a year or so ago the then pope Benedictus XVI authoritatively stated that this text was to be understood to read “for many” and not “for all."

 

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12 December 2013: Three Spanish Citizens who are Changing the Culture of Spain

Spain is a nation of 47 million people located on the southwestern part of the continent of Europe. It almost touches North Africa at Gibraltar and thus has a much closer contact with the African continent than any other European nation, including in its population a significant number of Muslim persons. It is one of …

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Q & A:

I have been searching for meaning for many years. I was brought up a Catholic and my immediate family still is, but I found it lacking. I have tried evangelical churches as it was very easy to just say, “The Bible is literal, God will take care of me if I say I believe.” That did not match up with my education and interest in the world. Soon conflicting information didn’t make sense anymore and since then I have come to the realization that God is not something to be understood, but something to be lived and felt. I believe Jesus and Buddha and others have given us insight to the true God, which I believe is part of all humanity.

With that background, I find it easy to read scripture without having a nagging that they are not true or, at the least, are discolored by having been written for people at their time. Maybe it is just the Catholic background that is obscuring my reading (“don’t question anything, it is just faith”), but if we are questioning what was written, why not question it all? Why say “the rising into heaven was metaphorical” but not question some other parts of the scripture? I used to subscribe to a daily gospel e-newsletter, but now find it all tainted. Yes, Jesus taught us how to live, how to get closer to God, the creator, but any human commentary on it seems hypocritical and most likely untrue. How do you read the Bible and decide that this part is probably true and this part is made up?

 

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5 December 2013: America’s Health Care Debate and What it Reveals

Every nation I visited on my recent European lecture tour has a National Health System, paid for by tax dollars and run for all the people by the government itself. Contrary to the propaganda of the American political right, these health services are well run and enormously popular in both conservative and liberal circles. The …

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Q & A:

Your columns are always thought provoking and filled with such wisdom. Thanks for sharing your incredible knowledge and insight with us. I was thrilled when you came to Chattanooga several years ago and I actually got to hear you in person at Grace Church. A recent column reminded me of one you wrote last summer right before my granddaughter was to be baptized. In last summer’s column you wrote about performing a baptism and being struck with the language used in the baptismal service.

I have been a member of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Chattanooga for over 40 years, but I have to admit I was a little surprised when my son, who lives with his wife and daughter in California, said he wanted to have his daughter baptized here in the church where he grew up. Although he is a very spiritual person, he hasn’t attended church for years. I myself rarely attend services at our church because when hearing the liturgy and reciting the creeds, I feel as if I am being forced to wear shoes that I have outgrown and that feel several sizes too small. I am eternally grateful, however, that the church allows our dream group to meet there and encourages our “sacred studies” group to hold weekend workshops there as well. I have thanked our priest on more than one occasion for being open to letting me and the others explore our spirituality in unconventional ways.

Back to my granddaughter’s baptism. We couldn’t have the service in the church because there are only certain Sundays used for joint baptisms and their visit didn’t fall on one of those Sundays. We decided to have the service at a family cabin on a lake in the woods and a friend of mine, who is an Episcopal priest, but has no parish, agreed to perform the baptism. When she sent the service to my son to read, he said he didn’t like it because there was way too much talk about sin. It was right about this time that your column came out so I sent it to him. He agreed with everything you said! My priest friend then sent him the Australian service which she thought might be more to his liking. The mention of sin in this version was a turn off as well. He said all they wanted to do was to introduce their daughter to God’s love. The priest was bound by her vows to use some form of Episcopal liturgy so my son went online and found a pastor in Chattanooga from the Unity Church who was thrilled over performing the service. It was his first baptism and he wrote the service himself. It was absolutely glorious!

You have opened up a monumentally important topic in that column and closed with the question, “What can we do about it?” I await your response with an open mind and eager anticipation.

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