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Biblical Roots of Quaker Worship

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The Biblical Roots of Quaker Worship

The traditional Quaker form of worship is unique among Christian groups. It represented, when it first began to be practiced in the 17th century, a radical departure from the forms of worship utilized by other Christian sects up until that time.  Early Friends frequently cited the New Testament as support for their positions on theology, oath-taking, war, and even the role of women in the church.  For those of us who see the biblical record as an invaluable channel for God's work within us, it is helpful to explore the precursors in that record to the form of worship that Friends have been given as our most central way of being held, transformed, and taught by the Living Christ.

Sacramentally-oriented Christians look to Matt 26:26-8 as the key biblical passage undergirding their practice of group worship.  Faith communities, such as Mennonites and Brethren, that focus more heavily on preaching and Bible study as central to worship often look to the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7).   Although there are many Friends concerned about the anti-Semitic content in the Gospel of John (especially in John 18 &19), the clearest biblical passage undergirding Friends worship is John 4:19-24. 

Jesus' call for ritual-free worship.  The story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well is one of the most extraordinary in the entire Bible. She concludes that Jesus is a prophet based on his in-depth knowledge about her personal life in spite of never having met her before.  She proceeds to ask Jesus to tell her whether God wants to be worshiped in the Temple in Jerusalem (the central location of worship in Judaism) or on Mt Gerizim (the sacred mountain that is the locus of Samaritan worship to this day).  Jesus tells her that the old worship expectations have been superseded by new ones, as "the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth."  The reason for this is breathtakingly simple: "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." In the 11th Proposition "Concerning Worship" of his Apology for True Christian Divinity, Robert Barclay asserts that

This testimony [in John 4:23-4] is the more specially to be observed, for that it is both the first, chiefest, and most ample testimony, which Christ gives us of his Christian worship, as different and contradistinguished from that under the Law. For first, he showeth that the season is now come wherein the worship must be "in Spirit and in Truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship him": so then it is no more a worship consisting in outward observations, to be performed by man at set times or opportunities, which he can do in his own will and by his own natural strength: for else it would not differ in matter but only in some circumstances from that under the law [i.e. the commandments regarding worship God had given to the Jewish people now superseded by Christ's new commandment]. Next, as for a reason of this worship, we need not to give any other, and indeed none can give a better than that which Christ giveth, which I think should be sufficient to satisfy every Christian, to wit, "GOD is a SPIRIT, and they that worship him must worship him in Spirit and in Truth."

Early Friends (for the reasons Barclay explains) forcefully rejected the sacramental forms of worship that had been practiced in Christendom for well over a millennium. When they gathered together large groups of potential converts, Friends relied heavily on periods of preaching with limited doses of silent waiting. These "public" or "threshing meetings" may have had similarities with the type of preaching-focused worship practiced by Baptists, Anabaptists and Calvinists.  Fox and other leading preachers, however, apparently made a practice of waiting in silence (though we cannot say how long) until God gave them the words that they were to deliver. More significantly Friends insisted on the need to refrain from preparing messages in advance, relying instead on the Spirit to guide them extemporaneously in the message they were to deliver in such meetings aimed at sharing the good news of what they had discovered with non-Friends..  From the extensive discussion of this subject in Barclay and other 17th century Friends' writing, it seems safe to assume that other Christian preachers routinely prepared their messages in advance.

When Friends gathered in "retired meetings" with already convinced Friends, on the other hand, their form of corporate worship differed radically from preaching-focused Protestant worship as well as the sacramentally-focused worship practiced by Roman Catholics and Anglicans.  In this second style of worship service, Friends settled into silence to open their hearts together to deep communion with the living Spirit of Christ.  When vocal prayer and preaching occurred in such worship gatherings, it sprang out of this closely-knit silent communion among the faithful.  Again, spoken messages were under the spontaneous direction of the Holy Spirit.  It is easy to understand why Barclay believed that this type of worship was the true form of worship in "spirit and in truth" that Jesus called on his followers to practice in John 4:23-4.

The living water of silent communion with God.  Earlier in the same "Woman at the Well" story Jesus tells the woman that he could have given her "living water" had she asked for it. She misses his point badly, thinking he is talking about a literal source of physical water.  He clarifies for her, however, that "the water that I will give will become [in those who ask for it and receive it] a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." Jesus' words hearken back to Isaiah 55:1-2, where the prophet speaks about true spiritual food and drink, available without price.  (Early Friends, incidentally, also rejected the usual Christian principle that ministers should be paid for exercising their gifts.) 

When our hearts are knit together in powerfully gathered waiting worship do we not enter into living water and drink deeply from it?   What deeper spiritual refreshment could be available to us than this drawing on the living water that Christ offers us every time we gather with Friends to wait expectantly upon this gift? 

The bread of spirit-led vocal ministry.  A few verses later in John 4:31-38, Jesus' disciples are equally clueless when he starts talking about spiritual food. He says that "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work."  He goes on to talk about the spiritual harvest that is ripe and waiting to be gathered. Again, Jesus' words are rooted in Isaiah 55:2-3 where the prophet says to "Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live."

If we hear authentic prophetic vocal ministry directed extemporaneously by God springing out of deeply gathered silent communion with God, we will be fed. If we are given this kind of ministry, listen to it, and heed it, then we will be directed by God in how we can address the great crises facing our world today. Where can we find (or nurture?) Friends willing to go out and reap this harvest today?  (I wrote a poem called The Harvest at the beginning of the new millennium on this subject.)  Is it surprising that many of our meetings are not growing if we are not feeding those who attend with the living bread of this kind of prophetic ministry that changes lives and the world?

Barclay cites the instructions that Jesus gave his early disciples in Mark 13:11 as clear indication that they will be given words that they can speak by the Holy Spirit.

Now, if Christ gave this order to his disciples before he departed from them, as that which they were to practice, during his abode outwardly with them, much more were they to do it after his departure, since then they were more especially to receive the Spirit "to lead them in all things" and to "bring all things to their remembrance" (John 14:26). And if they were to do so when they appeared before the magistrates and princes of the earth, much more in the worship of God, when they stand especially before him, seeing, as is above shown, his worship is to be performed in Spirit; and therefore, after their receiving of the Holy Ghost, it is said (Acts 2:4): "They spake as the Spirit gave them utterance," not what they had studied and gathered from books in their closets in a premeditated way.

In popular lay terms, prophecy is thought of as predicting the future. As the term is used biblically, however, prophecy means God speaking through an individual, using that individual as God's mouthpiece to communicate important truth to God's people. Clearly such prophecy is neither logically thought out nor does it spring from human wisdom.  In fact, I believe (as Barclay does) that the term prophecy as it is used in the Book of Acts and especially in the letters of Paul (e.g. in 1 Cor. 14) refers to the kind of spirit-led vocal ministry that was so evident amongst the first generation of Friends and that we aspire for, at times experience, and need much more of in our Quaker waiting worship today. 

Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus' first disciples are described in the gospels as baptizing with water. In Acts the new churches also utilize water baptism as an outward sign associated with entrance into the new faith community. In Matthew 3:11, John the Baptist says that he baptizes with water but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire.  In Acts 1:4-5 Jesus states: "But wait for the promise of the Father, which," saith he "ye have heard of me: for John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost, not many days hence." Believers in the new church are described through out Acts as experiencing two baptisms, the second being baptism of the Holy Spirit. 

It is usually assumed today that spirit baptism refers to speaking in tongues, drawing especially on the story of Pentecost in Acts 2. If we have experienced deeply gathered worship in God's presence, however, is this not baptism with the Holy Spirit?  As mentioned earlier, Jesus said in John 14:17-26 that when he left his followers he would send a Comforter in the form of the Holy Spirit. Are we not deeply comforted and nurtured by God's presence when our waiting worship is truly "covered"?

I have only limited experience with speaking in tongues. I recognize that it is deeply comforting and transforming to many Christians who experience it. For me personally, however, baptism with the Holy Spirit describes the worship we experience regularly amongst us during gathered meetings for worship, certainly far more than ecstatic speech.

Friends reject the need for water baptism.  We say that spiritual baptism is sufficient to provide us with the return to primordial chaos and fresh creation that water baptism symbolizes.  Past generations of Friends' journals often described a tumultuous period of self-doubt and dark discouragement prior to convincement or in the very early stages of spiritual transformation. God works with us, often painfully, in prayer and in shared worship to "accuse us" and help us to face blocks and rock-hard places within us as an important step in our growing loving relationship with God.  The spiritual baptism available to us in covered worship is the door to change and new birth for us, without the need to either be sprinkled with water or to enter into a font or a river. The way Barclay states this is that "this baptism is a pure and spiritual thing, to wit, the baptism of the Spirit and fire, by which we are buried with him, that being washed and purged from our sins, we may walk in newness of life..." [Apology, 12th Proposition "Concerning Baptism"]

Holy Communion.  Friends have never felt that the Last Supper story in Matt 26:26-8 required them to carry out a ritual with bread and wine. Friends like to say that we believe in spiritual rather than outward communion.  Is not our communion the experience of being knit together in covered worship? 

It is difficult, perhaps to, discern what Jesus meant in the words he spoke to his followers at the Last Supper.  When I have attended Episcopal mass from time to time (bless me Quaker fathers for I have sinned!), I have often been moved by these services.  Nonetheless, like Barclay, I find it impossible to believe that the same prophet who spoke the words to the Samaritan woman that worship henceforth must be in spirit and in truth intended the events that took place during his last hours with his closest disciples to be endlessly repeated as an outward ritual representing the primary or even exclusive way of entering into communion with God or of gaining access to redemptive transformation.

Need to listen in silence for God's voice.  In 1 King 19:11-13 God comes to the prophet Elijah in the wilderness not in a great wind or fire or earthquake but in the "sound of sheer silence" (NRSV) or a "still small voice" (KJV).  The gospels describe on a number of occasions situations where Jesus went into the desert or to lonely isolated places to pray.  Solitary prayer is similar, in a way, to the kind of stripping away that we do in the beginning of waiting worship, seeking to move to a place deep within us away from the day's - and the world's - worries, thoughts, and ideas to allow God to worry secretly within us.

Many of us object (as I expect Barclay might have) to referring to our form of worship as "silent worship".  We do not worship silence.  We worship the Living Christ, the God at the heart of All.  We do, however, need a period of silence to enable God to work within us and amongst us - preparing fallow ground for God's living water to knit us together and enabling us receive open-heartedly the sustenance of God's prophetic word through the mouths of those called to prophetic ministry.  If we do not enter deeply into silence, our ears are blocked, our hearts are not yet sufficiently opened to their inward Teacher, and we remain in our own human wisdom.  Barclay lists many additional biblical passages (see the appendix below) that point towards the importance of waiting on the Lord, use of silence, wordless prayer, and the necessity that spoken ministry be directed extemporaneously by God.

Although it is not difficult in reading the works of early Friends to determine the form that their worship took, it is much more difficult to know with any certitude what form worship took in the early Christian churches.  Early Friends may or may not have been correct in assuming that the form of worship they practiced was a return to the worship used in these early apostolic church communities.  Barclay marshals a convincing argument, however, to suggest that the early church did, in fact, take seriously Jesus' call to worship in spirit and in truth and place a high value on spirit-directed prophetic utterance as a critical source of guidance in their new Christian communities.  It is hard to imagine how different Christianity would be today if the Church had interpreted these New Testament passages over the millennia as early Friends did - and shaped its worship, as a result, in a manner similar to that which early Friends grew quickly into.

The same can be said of the Religious Society of Friends today.   It is hard to imagine how different the Religious Society of Friends would be today if Friends had continued to worship with the power, authority, and direct reliance on the Holy Spirit as they did in the 17th century.

 

Additional Biblical References in Barclay's Apology regarding Waiting Worship
[Note: all emphases below are my own, not Barclay's.]

Barclay lists a number of biblical quotations that support the importance of "waiting upon the Lord":

That to wait upon God, and to watch before him, is a duty incumbent upon all, I suppose none will deny; and that this also is a part of worship will not be called in question, since there is scarce any other so frequently commanded in the holy Scriptures, as may appear from Psalm 27:14; Psalm 37:7, 34; Proverbs 20:22; Isaiah 30:18; Hosea 12:6; Zacharaiah 3:8; Matt. 24:42; 25:13; 26:41; Mark 13:33,35,37; Luke 21:36; Acts 1:4; 20:31; 1 Cor. 16:13; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:6; 2 Tim. 4:5; 1 Peter 4:7. Also this duty is often recommended with very great and precious promises, as Psalm 25:3; 37:9; 69:6; Isaiah 40:31; Lamentations 3:25-26, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength," &c. Now, how is this waiting upon God, or watching before him, but by this silence of which we have spoken? 

He goes on to clarify Friends' belief that praying and preaching must be preceded by silent waiting:

From what is said it doth appear how frivolous and impertinent their objection is, that say they wait upon God in praying and preaching [without actual waiting in silence], since waiting doth of itself imply a passive dependence, rather than an acting; and since it is, and shall yet be more shown, that preaching and praying without the Spirit is an offending of God not a waiting upon him, and that praying and preaching by the Spirit presupposes necessarily a silent waiting for to feel the motions and influence of the Spirit to lead thereunto. And lastly, that in several of these places where praying is commanded, as Matt. 26:41; Mark 13:33; Luke 21:36; 1 Pet. 4:7, watching is specially prefixed, as a previous preparation thereunto. So that we do well and certainly conclude that since waiting and watching are so particularly commanded and recommended, and this cannot be truly performed but in this inward silence of the mind from [women and] men's own thoughts and imaginations, this silence is and must necessarily be a special and principal part of God's worship.

He addresses directly the suggestion that worship in silence is not found in Scripture:

I answer, we make not silence to be the sole matter of our worship, since, as I have above said, there are many meetings, which are seldom, if ever, altogether silent, some or other are still moved either to preach, pray, and praise, and so, in this, our meetings cannot be but like the meetings of the primitive churches recorded in Scripture, since our adversaries confess that they did preach and pray by the Spirit. And then, what absurdity is it to suppose that at some times the Spirit did not move them to these outward acts, and that then they were silent, since we may well conclude they did not speak until they were moved, and so no doubt had sometimes silence (Acts 2:1) before the Spirit came upon them, it is said, "They were all with one accord in one place"; and then it is said, "The Spirit suddenly came upon them"; but no mention is made of anyone speaking at that time, and I would willingly know what absurdity our adversaries can infer, should we conclude they were a while silent.

And that examples of a whole silent meeting cannot be found in Scripture:

I answer; supposing such a thing were not recorded, it will not therefore follow that it is not lawful, seeing it naturally followeth from other Scripture precepts, as we have proven this doth, for seeing the Scripture commands to meet together, and when met the Scripture prohibits prayers or preachings but as the Spirit moveth thereunto, if people meet together and the Spirit move not to such acts it will necessarily follow that they must be silent. But further, there might have been many such things among the saints of old though not recorded in Scripture, and yet we have enough in Scripture signifying that such things were. For Job sat silent seven days with his friends together (Job 2:13); here was a long silent meeting. See also Ezra 9:4 and Ezekiel 14:1 and 20:1. Thus having shown the excellency of this worship, proven it from Scripture and reason, and answered the objections which are commonly made against it, which though it might suffice to the explanation and probation of our proposition, yet I shall add something more particularly of preaching, praying, and singing, and so proceed to the following proposition.

On the difference between inward and outward prayer, and the critical importance of inward prayer as well as outward verbal expressions:

Prayer is twofold: inward and outward. Inward prayer is that secret [and silent] turning of the mind towards God whereby, being secretly touched and awakened by the Light of Christ in the conscience, and so bowed down under the sense of its iniquities, unworthiness, and misery, it looks up to God, and joining issue with the secret shinings of the Seed of God it breathes towards him and is constantly breathing forth some secret desires and aspirations towards him. It is in this sense that we are so frequently in Scripture commanded to "pray continually" (Luke 18:1; 1 Thess. 5:17; Eph. 6:18; Luke 21:36), which cannot be understood of outward prayer, because it were impossible that men should be always upon their knees, expressing words of prayer; and this would hinder them from the exercise of those duties, no less positively commanded. Outward prayer is when as the spirit (being thus in the exercise of inward retirement, and feeling the breathing of the Spirit of God to arise powerfully in the soul) receives strength and liberty, by a superadded motion and influence of the Spirit, to bring forth either audible sighs, groans or words, and that either in public assemblies, or in private.  [cf. Georffrey Kaiser's interesting article on the subject of audible sighing and groaning as these relate to singing in meeting for worship in the Sept. 2011 issue of Friends Journal.]

He quotes Paul's passage in the 8th chapter of Romans on the role the Spirit plays in our efforts to pray:

This necessity of the Spirit's moving and concurrence appears abundantly from that of the apostle Paul (Rom. 8:26-27): "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God." Which first, holds forth the incapacity of men [and women!], as of themselves, to pray or call upon God in their own wills, even such as have received the faith of Christ and are in measure sanctified by it, as was the Church of Rome, to whom the apostle then wrote. Secondly, it holds forth that which can only help and assist men to pray, to wit the Spirit, as that without which they cannot do it acceptably to God nor beneficially to their own souls. Thirdly, the manner and way of the Spirit's intercession, with "sighs and groans which are unutterable." And fourthly, that God receiveth graciously the prayers of such as are presented and offered unto himself by the Spirit, knowing it to be according to his will. Now it cannot be conceived but this order of prayer thus asserted by the apostle is most consistent with those other testimonies of Scripture commending and recommending to us the use of prayer.

On the necessity of the Spirit to true prayer in Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20,

where the apostle [Paul] commands to "pray always in the Spirit," and "watching thereunto"; which is as much as if he had said that we were never to pray without the Spirit or watching thereunto. And Jude showeth us that such prayers as are "in the Holy Ghost" only tend to the "building up of ourselves in our most holy faith."

Paul saith expressly (1 Cor. 12:3) that "no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost." If then Jesus cannot be thus rightly named but by the Holy Ghost, far less can he be acceptably called upon. Hence the same apostle declares (1 Cor. 14:15) that he "will pray with the Spirit," &c. A clear evidence that it was none of his method to pray without it!

Paul suggests the danger of trying to understand matters of the spirit by "human wisdom".  He suggests that we can only be taught by the Holy Spirit.  Barclay cites several passages in the 1st Letter to the Corinthians where Paul emphasizes the importance of spiritual over human understanding, e.g. 1 Cor 1:17 and 1 Cor. 2:3-4 and 2:13.  In 1 Cor. 4 Paul also describes the key role that prophecy (which I have defined earlier in this essay as Spirit-directed vocal ministry) needs to play in Christian worship.

I suggested earlier in this essay that Barclay associated the term prophecy, as Paul uses it, with Spirit-directed vocal ministry in Quaker worship. Whether or not we agree with Barclay on this, it seems clear that he sees Paul's advices about worship in 1 Cor. 4 as describing a form of worship close, at least in spirit, to what he participated in regularly with the Friends of his own day. At the very least we can join with Barclay - and Paul - in believing that prophecy plays a critical role in shaping the life of the faith community.  Without it, we are without a sure guide, as a community and as a prophetic people capable of making a difference in our world today.

Proclaim Jubilee

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Jubilee: Proclaim Liberty Through Out the Land!

Although Jubilee is often thought of as an inward-directed "Sabbath of Sabbaths", inviting us into rest and rejuvenation as a faith community, Jubilee also invokes a prophetic role in the world.  This witness dimension is rooted in the way Jubilee themes were utilized by Isaiah and later Jesus to challenge exploitation of the poor, enslaved and imprisoned (Luke 4:14).  Leviticus 25 is based on the belief that the land and all of God's people belong ultimately to God. The Jubilee year was intended to move us back to our original birthright before God where none is valued any less than another.

This has many echoes in Friends testimonies. Our testimony of equality is rooted in the value of each human as a vessel of the Light. This requires us to challenge a global economic system that denies much of humanity even minimal access to food, shelter, education and healthcare.  Many Friends wrongly assume that our peace testimony was originally based in Jesus' injunction to love our enemies (Matt 5:38-48). In fact early Friends based their objection to war on its spiritual roots in greed, often citing James 4. Woolman also believed that the seeds of war are found in "these our possessions". The violent conflicts of the coming century are likely to spring from conflict over economic inequity and dwindling resources.  Can Friends help our nation understand the profound interconnectedness of violence and injustice in tackling the critical choices facing us all?

Our testimony on integrity requires that we speak (only) what is truth. As Jesus suggests, if we remain silent in the face of oppression, will not the stones themselves cry out? (Luke 19:40)  Our testimony on simplicity teaches us to let go of whatever gets in the way of our capacity to hear and obey God's living voice - and what Woolman believed was most likely to get in the way was material possessions.

Finally, Jubilee reminds us that the earth itself needs relief! One of the most amazing things about Woolman was his prophetic insight into the devastating damage to North America that over-consumption would eventually cause. Jubilee challenges us, therefore, to also proclaim liberty to the air, soil, oceans and creatures of this planet from the consequences of human longing for more and more "stuff". Friends' ability to speak authentically to those around us will be limited by our capacity to take the lead in shedding out own attachment to the death-giving U.S. lifestyle that so many of Earth's peoples long to attain.  May God help our YM use this Jubilee time to rediscover this prophetic voice that our world is longing to hear from us.

 Printed in New England Yearly Meeting News, June 2010, in preparation for the 350th annual sessions of NEYM.

Our Hope for New Life

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Our Hope for New Life

A sermon on 1st Corinthians by Debbie Humphries

The text we read this morning was from First Corinthians (1st Corinthians 15:12-19).  This is a letter that Paul wrote to the members of the church at Corinth.  He had visited Corinth some time earlier, and stayed for a year and a half to establish the church at Corinth.  Paul mentions that he had received at least one letter from the church at Corinth, and had also received messages from members of the Corinthian church with questions and concerns.

The epistles to the Corinthians from Paul that are in the New Testament are one side of a correspondence.  This morning I'm going to share one way the other side of that conversation might have gone, in an epistle from the Ministry and Counsel committee of the church at Corinth to the apostle Paul, following the receipt of what we now call the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians.

To our beloved Paul, called to be an apostle.  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  We send to you with gratitude for the love you have shown us.  You came to us and brought God's message of hope, the message of Christ Jesus that invites us to enter into the kingdom of God.  We lived in the world, as part of the world, knowing not the reality of God's world.  Your teaching has brought us to be infants in Christ.

You taught us of gifts of the Spirit.  We see in our community people with many gifts of the Spirit.  There are those with gifts of wisdom, whose insights open our understanding.  There are those with gifts of teaching, whose lessons we try to live.  There are those with gifts of music, where we hear the eternal in their songs.  There are those with gifts of generosity of heart, where we feel God's love through their actions.  There are those who care for our children where we watch our children come to feel God's love.  There are those who care for our building whose work supports and holds our community together.  We see so many gifts among us.  You remind us that all of these gifts come from the same Spirit.  That there is much work to be done in building God's kingdom here on Earth, and it requires many different gifts.   And we have each been given some of those necessary gifts.   You caution us about eyeing the gifts of another, and lusting after those gifts in our hearts.  You tell us that all of our gifts are needed.   We give thanks for your teaching.

And you taught us of love, telling us that the most precious spiritual gift we should aspire to is love.  That without it we are nothing.  That whatever work we do in this world, however beautiful our music, our art, our writing, our teaching, our food, that if we do it without love, we are but a clashing cymbal.  That if we give shelter to the poor, food to the hungry, care for the sick, give away everything we own to the poor, but do not have love, we have gained nothing.  We give thanks for your teaching.

We cannot describe all the ways our lives have changed because of your work among us, as you shared with us the power of the Spirit as it calls us to be more wholly God's people.  Before your journey we did not know that every day the Spirit invites each one of us to listen, to come to know that Spirit at the center of the universe, that holds each one of us.  And through your preaching you have brought many to that center.  We give thanks for your teaching.

But we must also speak plainly, and seek to settle our disagreements with you directly, as you have taught us.  Parts of your most recent epistle have led to dissension among us.  As ministry and counsel we have struggled with your message, and with how best to help our community understand that message.  In your letter you remind us that when you came to us you came in weakness and fear and much trembling, and your message and proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power.  And we heard and recognized the spiritual power in your message.  That power is what brought us together with you in Christ.

But in your writings to us on the resurrection you give us subtle arguments:  You say if there is no resurrection, then Christ cannot be raised.  This is true.  If there is no resurrection then no one is raised from the dead.  And if there is no resurrection, as you and some of us have said that God raised Christ from the dead, then we have lied.  That is also true.  If there is no resurrection those of us who have said there is, have lied.  And then you go on - If Christ has not been raised, then empty is your teaching and our faith, and our faith is in vain, and we are still in our sins, and those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.   We so value and trust your guidance that we hesitate to speak.  But we struggle to understand this message. 

Within our community there are many different understandings of this resurrection from the dead.  Some say there is no resurrection after death, that when we die that is the end.  And they say that the stories of the sayings of Jesus speak to a new life now.  That they can live as Christians, believing in the teachings of this Jesus, without saying there is a resurrection after death.

Others say there is a resurrection only of the just, and for the unjust, death is the end.  They say that when we die, those whose works of righteousness outweigh their sins, will rise again into eternal life with God.  They believe that the teachings of Jesus call us to works of righteousness, so that we may come into eternal life in the company of saints when we die.

Still others say there is a resurrection for all.  That God's love for each of us, as demonstrated in the love his son, Jesus Christ, has shown us, could not rest with anything other than the resurrection of all.

Among those who say there is a resurrection, whether of the just or of all, some say it will be a resurrection in the Spirit - that our spirits will continue to exist in some manner after we die.  Others say it will be a resurrection in the flesh - that our bodies and spirits will be reunited after we die, and our bodies will be renewed into an eternal flesh. 

There will be a resurrection.  There will not be a resurrection.  There will be a resurrection for some.  There will be a resurrection for all.  There will be a resurrection in the Spirit.  There will be a resurrection in the flesh.  These are very real differences and when we come together to convince each other of the truth of our own beliefs about the resurrection, it leads only to dissension and argument.

But when we sit together and listen for the wisdom and power in your message and in the living Spirit that guides us, we know that how the living Christ has come to be is a mystery.  Whether it is by resurrection of the Spirit, resurrection in the flesh, or some other way, we do not know.  Perhaps as infants in Christ we are not ready to understand the mysteries that you write of.

We also know that even if Christ has not been raised, the teachings and path of Jesus called Christ, shown to us by you and other teachers, are not empty.  Your teaching is not empty, our faith is not empty, and our faith is not in vain.  We speak of that power that brings us to new life every day, as we heed the promptings of the Spirit. 

What we believe and share together, is an awareness of how our lives have been made new through your ministry.  We have been taken from our lives as natural men, and shown a new vision of the world.  We are come into a world where love is the first movement in our hearts to our brothers and sisters.

There was a man, a shopkeeper, who worked each day seeking to get the greatest advantage for himself in every sale or purchase that he made.  He worried that he would not have enough to care for himself in his old age.  His days were full of arguments, anger and jealousy as he worked to be sure that whatever happened, he came out ahead.  And then one day a child came to his shop, a child who shared her story of need with such gentleness, hope and love that the shopkeeper's heart was touched.  His eyes were opened to the emptiness in his own life.  And his heart was moved and his life changed.  So, also, are our lives changed when we are touched by the love and grace of God.

You say that if our hope in Christ is only for this life, then we are a most pitiable people.  And yet we find that our hope in Christ is realized in this life, when we find our lives made new, through the gentle workings of the Spirit in our hearts.  Our hearts are touched, not through the arguments, but by the transforming power of love and of the living Christ.

We testify to you of how our lives have changed.  Each one of us has stories to tell, how once we would have responded with angry words and bitterness, and now we can respond with love.  Stories of how once we would have argued, and now we can listen humbly, and hear the good in the hearts of those with whom we disagree.  We know that their hearts are human and frail as our own, and they too can be brought to rise again through the Spirit that calls us all.  We have stories to tell of the forgiveness that we find in our hearts for those that have harmed us, of the love that we feel through the power of the Spirit that you led us into.

We know that we are yet infants in Christ.  That every day we fail to live up to your teachings.  And every day we fall short in living what we have heard of the teachings of Jesus.  And yet every day we try again, resolved anew with each daybreak, to hold in our hearts the love and life shown to us by the power of the Spirit.  And we hold tightly to our hope that our lives will continue to be made new, through the transforming power of the living God.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. Our love to you in Christ Jesus.

This was a sermon given at Allen's Neck Monthly Meeting, located in Dartmouth MA on February 11, 2007.  It was reprinted in Quaker Life in May/June 2008.

New Testament course

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New Testament Course
(Note: this course was taught at Westtown School in 2001-2)

NT Worksheet #1   INTRO TO NEW TESTAMENT

Homework:  Use your bibles to answer the following questions & to help familiarize you with the content & organization of the New Testament.  You should be able to answer these questions easily even if you are not using a study bible.  You can use the table of contents at
the beginning of your bible and brief looks at the books themselves.

How many books are in your NT? ____ (Unlike the OT, the NT canon is the same for all Christians)

How many books are in your Old Testament? ________

What were the 5 sections of the OT? (see back of Worksheet #7 or #20a)  

  

The New Testament also includes 5 sections. (If a section includes only one book, name it.)

I. Gospel.   How many books make up this section?  

What are they basically about?

Which is the shortest?  __________    Which 2 are the longest? ___________  & ___________

Given what apocryphal books in the OT were, what do think "apocryphal gospels" are?

 

II. History.  How many books make up this section?

What is the subject matter:

III. Letters (or "epistles") by the apostle, Paul.  How many of these are in the NT?

Which 2 are the longest?    Which is the shortest?

How are they arranged in the NT?

What section of the Old Testament was arranged in the same way?

IV. Letters by church leaders other than Paul.  How many of these are there? ______

1st Corinthians is written by _____     It is addressed  ________________________

1st Peter is written by ______     It is addressed to _______________________

Who wrote Hebrews? __________   Whom is it addressed to? ________________________

V. Apocalyptic prophecy.  How many books are in this section? _______________________

What is the content of this section? ________________________________________________

What book(s) in the OT had similar content? _________________________


(This side for class notes only.)      What does the word "Gospel" mean? ______________

The contents of 3 gospels overlap in so many places, that it is possible to lay out all the passages in these 3 books side by side to compare how they are arranged.  An example can be found on Page 1841-55 of the HarperCollins Study Bible.  These 3 gospels are called _____________ gospels (meaning to view side by side "at a glance").  These 3 gospels are:

_____________ , ______________ & _____________ .

The "synoptic question" involves theories as to why these 3 gospels are so similar.

Which gospel is shortest? _______ . Nearly all of it is included in  _________ & _________

The gospel of Mark includes primarily ________________________ & __________________

In addition, most of what is included in the 2 longer synoptic gospels but is missing from the shortest synoptic gospel is the same, although it is arranged differently.  This has led to the theory that the authors of the 2 longer gospels had access to another collection besides Mark which these scholars call _______ from the German word for "source". Note that no one has an actual copy of this collection-it's only a theory! (part of one answer to the "synoptic question".)

This additional shared material includes: 

For example, 2 sections we already learned are included in these 2 gospels but found nowhere else in the gospels are ________________________  & __________________________

Make a diagram that shows                2 early sources:
this theoretical answer to
the synoptic question:                      (
are used later by)

In this theory, which gospel              
2 gospel writers:
was written first? _________

Although the content of the synoptic gospels is very similar, there are important differences.  These include:

1.                                                   4.

2.                                                   5.

3.                                                   6.

Characteristics of the Gospel of John:          3.

1.                                                            4.

2.                                                                                                                         5.

Do scholars & believers agree on who actually wrote the books of the NT? _____ .         (But:

virtually everyone agrees that ___________ & ___________ were written by the same author.)

 


NT - Worksheet #2  BIRTH OF JESUS

Reading Assignment (for next class)

Matthew 1:18-2:12 (skim 1:1-17)

Isaiah 7:14 (this verse only)

Luke 1:1-2:20 - especially 1:5-45 and 2:1-20. 

John 1:1-14.   Also look briefly at opening of Mark's gospel.

Notes on reading:  Matthew 1:23 quotes Isaiah 7:14. Are they the same? If not, how do they differ?

 

What explanation would you suggest for the difference? (Hint: if you have a study Bible you can use footnotes.)

 

 

What two contrasting explanations of Jesus' origins is Matthew trying to establish in 1:1 and 1:18-20? (Note: Luke also uses both of these, though his geneology comes later in 3:23-38.)

1.

2.

Which gospel includes wise men? 

 

How do the wise men refer to Jesus? (i.e. with what title?)

 

Which gospel includes shepherds?

 

Who in Genesis had a birth story similar to Elizabeth's birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:7-13)?

 

What happened when Mary goes to see Elizabeth (Luke 1:44)?

 

What English word (translation of the Greek word "Logos") does John use to refer to Jesus in 1:1-14?

 

How is Jesus' birth described in the gospels of Mark and John?

 

Notes on Class Discussion:   Define the Jewish idea of Messiah:

 

Which is the earliest of the four gospels?

 

How does that gospel describe Jesus' birth?

 

Jesus was popularly known to have come from Nazareth.  Why is it considered so important for Luke to put his place of birth as being in Bethlehem?

 

Is there a certain inconsistency in Matthew and Luke's two different accounts for Jesus' origins (one of Jesus' geneology and one of his virgin birth)?

 

Are the geneologies in Matt 1: and Luke 3:23-38 the same? If not, how do they differ?

 

Why might Luke go to such lengths to describe the relationship between John and Jesus' mothers?

 

What name do Roman Catholics give to Mary's song in Luke 1:47-55? 

 

What role does it play in the faith practice of many Roman Catholics?

 

What are some of the positive and negative dimensions of the special role that Mary plays in the faith of many Roman Catholics?

 

Joseph Campbell urges people to re-interpret old religious principles of their tradition in a new light that is more meaningful for them in their own time and life experience.  How could this be done with the virgin birth?

 

What parts (if any) of the accounts of Jesus' birth strike an especially positive chord for you?

 

How does the account in John fit in with the general way in which John approaches his account of Jesus' life and role?

 


NT - Worksheet #3   Jesus' Childhood

Reading:  Read carefully Luke 2:21-52.
Read through lightly the marked passages from an apocryphal "infancy gospel".

What 2 actions does Luke report Jesus' parents did with the baby Jesus in 2:21-24?

What does 2:41 describe his parents doing each spring?

What does this suggest is Joseph & Mary's attitude towards the Jewish law codes we looked at in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy?  (Note this is being reported by Luke, a gospel-writer who is generally believed to have been a gentile, that is a non-Jewish, Christian.)

What 3 things does Luke say the Holy Spirit did to/with Simeon (2:25-7)?

1.

2.

3.

What did the Holy Spirit do earlier to Mary (in Lk 1:35 - cf. Matt 1:20)? 

To Elizabeth (in Lk 1:41)?

What is this Holy Spirit we are beginning to hear a lot about?

What is the key message Luke is trying to drive home by including the story of Simeon in his gospel?

Anna is included only in Luke's gospel.  She is described as a prophet.  Who is the only other woman referred to as being a prophet so far in the Bible?

Women play a more important role in Luke than in any of the other gospels.  Many scholars believe the gospel writer Luke lived in an area outside Judea.  How might this have impacted the way Luke described the role of women in his gospel?

What is the difference between a canonical and an apocryphal gospel?

Only one story about Jesus' youth is included in the canonical gospels (Lk 2:41-51).  What idea about Jesus does this try to communicate?

How does this contrast with the childhood stories in the apocryphal infancy gospel?

What do you think it would be like to have miraculous or supernatural powers as a child?

Some Christians believe that Jesus took on the role of messiah (i.e. to be the special instrument of God's redeeming role in the world) when he was baptized by John the Baptist as an adult (when the Holy Spirit descended upon him and a voice spoke from heaven saying "This is my son of whom I am well pleased") rather than at conception.  How does this effect one's view of Jesus' childhood and adolescence?


NT - Worksheet #4  John, the Baptist

Readings:  For the 1st class: Isaiah 40:1-9, Mark 1:1-20, Matthew 3:7-10 and Luke 3:15-22
     (Also: skim
John 1:6-9, 19ff.)

For the 2nd class read: Matthew 3: 13-15, Luke 7:18-34, Matthew 14:1-13

R = notes on reading (answer before class)   C = notes on class discussion (answer in class)

Class 1: Who Is John the Baptist and Jesus' Baptism BY JOHN

R: How many of the 4 gospels include the story of Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist?  ____

Which gospels start their account of Jesus' life with this story? ___________________________

What response does Mark report (in 1:5) that John is getting to his preaching?

 

What does Mark report (vs.6) John wears and eats?

How would you characterize John's message (content & "tone") as reported in Matthew 3:7-10?

 

All 4 gospels quote Isaiah 40 in describing John's ministry. What 2 words in 40: 1-2 seem to contrast with the tone or spirit of John's message? ________________ and _________________

Does John believe himself to be the messiah (Luke 3:15-18)? What does he say about this?

 

What does Jesus see when he is baptized by John (Mark 1:9-11)?

What does he hear?

C: What were the characteristics we listed of a prophet's message earlier (Wksheet #24 pg 3-4)? 

 

In terms of this definition, should we consider John the Baptist a prophet?

 

Which Hebrew Bible prophets we studied had a message with a tone similar to John's?

 

What was the meaning of water baptism by John?

What was its meaning to early Christians?

To Christians today?

How did the early church interpret the phrase to "baptize with the Holy Spirit"?

Why do Quakers reject water baptism?

How do Quakers interpret baptism with the Holy Spirit?

Extra credit: The film describes water batpism as an "ancient Hebrew rite". Can you find any record of its being used by Jews prior to John as reported in the gospels?


The Relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus

R: How does Mark (reread 1:14-15) describe the timing between John's and Jesus' ministries?

 

What phrase does Mark report Jesus begins his preaching with (1:15)?

 

C: According to the film, how would the Roman authorities have interpreted this phrase?

 

Matthew (in 3:2) begins his account with John proclaiming exactly this message.  What does this suggest about the relationship between John and Jesus?

 

In Mark's report in 1:15 of Jesus' first preaching has him using a phrase from Isaiah 40: 9 that is not in John's message.  How does this indicate a possible shift in Jesus' message from John's?

 

R:  Mark and Luke are silent on why Jesus comes to John to be baptized.  The biblical scholars in the film assert that it seems obvious that Jesus was (at least for a some period) a follower of John's.  How does Matthew (in 3: 13-15) describe John's response when Jesus comes to be baptized by him?

 

C: A biblical scholar in the film called this a "gloss" by the gospel writer.  What does this mean?

 

How does the gospel writer John (no relation! - in John 1:29-36 and 3:25-4:3) describe John the Baptist's view of Jesus?

R: Does Luke (see Lk 7:18-20) support this viewpoint on how John the Baptist views Jesus?

How does Jesus respond to the questions from John's followers?

 

What contrasting picture do we get of Jesus' and John's lifestyle from what Jesus says (in Luke 7:33-34) they were each being criticized for by strict Jews? 

 

C: Which lifestyle seems to you to be more "holy" - the one described for John or for Jesus?

 

R: What happens to John (see Matt 14:1-11)? 

 

How do Jesus & his followers respond to John's death (v.12-13)?


IN-CLASS WRITING (John the Baptist)

 

(Checking your notes on page 3 & 4 of Worksheet #24)

 

(  )  What is the Hebrew Bible prophets' role:

 

 

 

(  )  Who do they direct their message towards (i.e. who's their audience)?

 

 

(  )  What is their message?

 

(  )  What response do they get?

 

Check off on which of these John the Baptist seems to fit the definition?

 

Why do you think all four gospels begin Jesus' ministry with John's baptism?  Why do they consider him critical to their gospel about Jesus?


NT - Worksheet #5  Temptation in the Desert

Readings:  Luke 4: 1-13

What do you think Luke means in saying Jesus is "full of the Holy Spirit"? 

 

What just occurred in Chapter 3 that caused Jesus to be in this state?

 

When did we read about important things happening in the desert in the Hebrew Bible?

 

These three temptations have great symbolic meaning.  You do not have to believe in the devil to recognize these as real threats to the integrity and mission of great men and women.  These represent very real challenges that leaders, particularly powerful spiritual leaders, have to face successfully.

Define temptation:

What was the 1st temptation?

What do you think this symbolizes?

What was the 2nd  temptation?

What does it symbolize?

What is the 3rd temptation?

What does this symbolize?

Discussion questions in class:

1. What are some of the other temptations that leaders face?

2. What are the greatest temptations faced by prophets we've studied like St. Francis, Gandhi and Martin Luther King?

3. Which of these kinds of temptation do you think would be the most challenging for you?

NT - Worksheet #6  Jesus Begins His Ministry

Readings:  Luke 4:14-5:11 (We won't really study 4:31-44 now, but note what happens.)   John 1:35-51. 

R = notes on reading (answer before class)   C = notes on class discussion (answer in class)

R - What does Luke describe Jesus doing in the synagogue in Nazareth as the first act of his ministry?

Does this sound like a primarily religious or political announcement? (It's from Isaiah 61:1-2)

What kind of response does he get initially from the people there?

Why does the response of his listeners change?

What do they then try to do to him?

C - What is the "year of the Lord's favor" refer to? (see Leviticus 5:8-12)

Why is a prophet often not accepted in his or her own hometown?

Luke 5:1-11. Calling of the first disciples.

R - What does Luke say these men are doing just before they become disciples?

What convinces Peter to follow Jesus?

C - Do you think you would be willing to drop everything and follow a leader like Jesus if unexpectedly called to do so?

John 1:35-51.  A different story of the first two disciples

R - Where does John say the first two disciples are when they decide to follow Jesus?

What convinces them to follow Jesus?

C - How does this reflect the basic intent and message of John's gospel?

Readings:  Luke 4:14-5:11 (We won't really study 4:31-44 now, but note what happens.)   John 1:35-51. 

R = notes on reading (answer before class)   C = notes on class discussion (answer in class)

R - What does Luke describe Jesus doing in the synagogue in Nazareth as the first act of his ministry?

As a special guest or favorite son returning home he is invited to read from the Torah. He selects a passage in Isaiah that is a messianic prophesy (Isaiah 61:1-2). He says "This passage is fulfilled today in your hearing."

Does this sound like a primarily religious or political announcement? (It's from Isaiah 61:1-2)

It sounds fairly political - or at least economic

What kind of response does he get initially from the people there?

At first people are impressed - by his eloquence, his speaking "with authority" as Friends would say

Why does the response of his listeners change?

He suggests that a prophet (like himself) will not be accepted at home. He implies that favor may pass from Jews to others.

What do they then try to do to him?            Try to toss him over a cliff.

C - What is the "year of the Lord's favor" refer to? (see Leviticus 5:8-12)

"Jubilee Year" =every 50 years when slaves are freed, debts forgiven, land redistributed (given back to original family owners, etc. - a Mosaic law never really practiced.  A kind of "super Sabbath".

Why is a prophet often not accepted in his or her own hometown?

Too familiar. Can't let go of old limited stereotype of the person, too threatening, etc.

Luke 5:1-11. Calling of the first disciples.

R - What does Luke say these men are doing just before they become disciples?

Fishing (very ordinary, every day activity)

What convinces Peter to follow Jesus?

He does a miracle (although biblical scholars have suggested that this really isn't a miracle since casting net on other side will often lead to a better catch in Sea of Galilee!)

C - Do you think you would be willing to drop everything and follow a leader like Jesus if unexpectedly called to do so?   (general discussion - no right answer)

John 1:35-51.  A different story of the first two disciples

R - Where does John say the first two disciples are when they decide to follow Jesus?

They are present when Jesus is being baptized by John the Baptist.

What convinces them to follow Jesus?

Statement of John the Baptist that he is the messiah (and perhaps having seen heavens opening?)

C - How does this reflect the basic intent and message of John's gospel?

Focus on Jesus as son of God, divine - many people acknowledging this.


NEW TESTAMENT QUIZ #2 (homework check on Worksheet #6)

What does Luke say Jesus does in the synagogue in Nazareth?  Jesus:

a.    Calls the Pharisees a "brood of vipers"

b.    States that the Torah reading has just been "fulfilled in their hearing"

c.    Delivers the Sermon on the Mount

d.    Tells the people to repent

e.    Announces that the "Kingdom of God is at hand."

 

What response does he get initially?  The people:

a.    Ask him to read another Torah passage

b.    Try to stone him

c.    Ask him questions

d.    Are amazed by the gracious words that come from his mouth

e.    Call the Roman authorities for help.

 

At the end of his visit to the synagogue do those present:

a.    Try to throw him over a cliff

b.    Invite him to their home

c.    Call him "Rabbi" (teacher)

d.    Become his disciples

e.    Go tell John the Baptist about him.

 

Where does Simon Peter first encounter Jesus according to Luke 5:1-11:

a.    In the wilderness

b.    On the road to Damascus

c.    At a meeting of John's disciples down by the riverside

d.    Fishing

e.    In the temple in Jerusalem

 

In this story, why does Simon Peter decide to follow Jesus?

a.    Jesus speaks with gracious words

b.    He knows how to talk with the rabbis and wise men

c.    A fishing miracle

d.    Jesus cures the sick and gives sight to the blind

e.    On John's recommendation

 

According to John 1:35-51, where does Simon Peter first encounter Jesus?

a.    In the wilderness

b.    On the road to Damascus

c.    At a meeting of John's disciples down by the riverside

d.    Fishing

e.    In the temple in Jerusalem

 

Why do Andrew (Simon's brother) and Simon Peter decide to follow Jesus?

a.    Jesus speaks with gracious words

b.    He knows how to talk with the rabbis and wise men

c.    A fishing miracle

d.    Jesus cures the sick and gives sight to the blind

e.    On John's recommendation


NT - Worksheet #7  The Disciples of Jesus

Readings for Class #1:  Luke 6:12-16;  9:1-6;   10:1-12 and 16-24.

Readings for Class #2: (on the "Cost of Discipleship): Luke 8:19-21,  9:23-25,  14:25-33,  18:18-30

  Reverse is for 2nd day (homework & discussion)    Again, R=notes on reading  C=in-class discussion

Choosing the Twelve Apostles - Luke 6: 1-12

R - How does Jesus prepare himself for the important decision of choosing disciples?

C - What are other times Jesus (with or without his closest disciples) choose a similar way to pray?

Have you found Jesus' way of preparing for this decision a helpful way for you to feel close to the Spirit or get in touch with something important in your heart?

What are "Apostles"?

The Apostles' Mission - Luke 9: 1-6

R - What does Jesus give the apostles before he sends them out?

1.                                                            2.

What does he tell them to do?

1.                                                            2.

              What traveling instructions does he give them?

C - Why?

Sending Out the "Seventy Disciples" - Luke 10:1-12, 10:16-24

Why should disciples travel in pairs?  How did Quakers later utilize this same principle?

What kind of harvest is Jesus talking about?  Do you think there is a need for such a harvest today?  Why or why not?

How do you imagine the community of Jesus' closest followers related to each other? Worshipped?  Supported themselves?  Made decisions?

Who is your "true family"? - Luke 8:19-20

R - How does Jesus respond when his family tries to talk to him?

C - What is Jesus trying to get across here?  Does this mesh with the 5th Commandment (see Exodus 20:12, p. 116 in Study Bible)?  Do you agree with Jesus about this?

II.           What does it mean to "hear the will of God and do it?

Take up your cross & follow Christ - Luke 9:23-25

R - What are the 3 things Jesus says are required to be a follower of his?

1.                                          2.                                          3.

C - What do these actually mean in practical terms?

Can someone who wants to be a follower of Jesus (or the "Inward Christ") still do these today?

Is suffering for a cause foolish?  Do you think martyrs make the choices they do for personal glory?

Do you see "denying yourself" as a negative or a positive act?  Can it be a joyful act?

Weighing the cost of faithfulness - Luke 14: 25-33

Jesus suggests it is reasonable to estimate costs before one acts.  Is this a good idea before one chooses to be a follower of a great spiritual leader or of the Living Spirit?

Why does he end up this section by suggesting that people have to give up their possessions to become his disciple?

The Rich Ruler - Luke 18: 18-30

R - The young ruler asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. How does Jesus' reply first?

What was the "one thing still lacking" that Jesus felt this man needed to do?

C - Dietrich Bonhoffer was a Christian pastor who took part in a plot to kill Hitler. He who wrote a book in a German prison shortly before his death, called The Cost of Discipleship.  In the end, how do you feel about this whole idea of discipleship?


NT Handout

New Testament

Some useful definitions from the dictionary

dis·ci·ple

Etymology: from Latin, pupil
Date in English: before 12th century
1
: one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another: as a : one of the twelve in the inner circle of Christ's followers according to the Gospel accounts b : a convinced adherent of a school or individual
2
capitalized : a member of the Disciples of Christ founded in the U.S. in 1809 that holds the Bible alone to be the rule of faith and practice, usually baptizes by immersion, and has a congregational polity
synonym
see FOLLOWER

apos·tle
Etymology: from Greek apostolos,
from apostellein to send away, from apo- + stellein to send
Date in English: before 12th century
1
: one sent on a mission: as
  a
: one of an authoritative New Testament group sent out to preach the gospel and made up especially of Christ's 12 original disciples and Paul
  b
: the first prominent Christian missionary to a region or group
2 a
: a person who initiates a great moral reform or who first advocates an important belief or system b : an ardent supporter : ADHERENT
3
: the highest ecclesiastical official in some church organizations
4
: one of a Mormon administrative council of 12 men

T.Peter's definition: 

a.     group of 12 disciples appointed by Jesus to be his chief followers and leaders of his movement.

b.     after Jesus' death, became the leaders with the most authority in the new Christian church

c.     a new apostle was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot after Judas' betrayal of Jesus & death

d.     Paul called himself an apostle after his conversion. As such he is obviously in a different category since he did not know Jesus personally while Jesus was on earth, nor is there any record of him being selected officially by the other apostles.

 

blas·phe·my
Date: 13th century
1 a
: the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God
   b
: the act of claiming the attributes of deity
2
: irreverence toward something considered sacred or inviolable

 


NT - Worksheet #8  Miracles

Readings for Class #1 (on faith healing):.Luke 4: 31-44;  5: 12-26;  6: 17-19;  8: 40-56.

Readings for Class #2: (on other miracles) John 2: 1-11;  Matthew 8: 23-27;  Matt 14: 13-36.

  Reverse is for 2nd day (homework & discussion)    Again, R=notes on reading  C=in-class discussion

  We will study a variety of stories today of Jesus healing the sick and casting out demons.  Pay attention to his  
  methods.  Do you believe it is possible to cure mental or physical illness by spiritual means? 

Healings at Capernaum - Luke 4: 31-44  Capernaum was a village on the sea of Galilee that Jesus made the center of his ministry. See map in back of study bible.  These are the 1st  healings reported in Mark and Luke. 

R - What phrase does Jesus use in addressing the demon in v. 35?

What role does touch play in Jesus' healings? (v. 40)

C - What does it mean to speak with "authority and power"?

What do you think it means to "rebuke a fever"? (v. 39)

Is "laying on of hands" used today in churches?

Faith and the forgiveness of sins - Luke 5: 12-26

R - What do friends of the paralyzed man do that impresses Jesus (v. 19-20)?

What does Jesus do that the Pharisees consider blasphemous (v.20-21)?

C - Why does Jesus tell the leper to go to a priest after he's healed (v. 15)?

Is it harder to heal paralysis or forgive sins?  Who do you think can forgive sins?

The crowds following Jesus - Luke 6:17-19

R - What are the 2 reasons the crowds are coming to Jesus (v. 18)?

1.                                                                                                       2.

What happens when people in the crowd touch Jesus (v. 19)?

Feeling the power   &   Raising a dead girl to life - Luke 8:40-56 (end of chap.)

R - How does Jesus know he was touched by the woman with hemorrhages (v.46)?

Who does Jesus give the credit to for this healing (v. 48)? Why?

C -  What do the Mosaic laws say about being touched by someone hemorrhaging?

Who laughed in the Hebrew Bible because they doubted God's power to work a miracle?

Extra credit: Can you find a case where Jesus uses a paste as part of curing blindness


The Wedding at Cana - John 2:1-11

R - What miracle does Jesus do in this story?

 What motive does John seem to suggest that Jesus has for doing this miracle (v.11)

C - Is this a good reason to do a miracle?

How is this different from the miracles Satan asked Jesus to do in the desert and from the pinnacle of the temple (Luke 4:1-13)?

This is the 1st miracle of Jesus according to John. Why do you think John starts with this miracle?

Calming the waters - Matthew 8:23-7

R - What is Jesus doing while his disciples are petrified by the storm (v. 24)?

 

How does Jesus respond to his disciples fear (v.26)?


C
- Do you think Jesus was judging his disciples too harshly in this?

What does it mean to "rebuke" wind & sea?  What did Jesus rebuke earlier (see reverse of sheet)?

Do you think humans can control nature through command?

Feeding of the 5000 - Matthew 14:13-21

R - What is Jesus' motive or reason for curing the sick (v. 14)?

 

How did the disciples want the crowd to get fed?

 

C - Some people have suggested that this miracle can be explained because once Jesus showed his faith by starting the meal with little food, people began bringing out food they had been hiding.  Which explanation moves you more or has more power for you?

Walking on Water - Matthew 14:22-36

R - How do the disciples react when they see Jesus (v. 26)?

 

What happens to Peter when he becomes afraid?

 

What is the definition of to "worship" someone (as in v.33)? (check a dictionary)

 

C - Have you ever felt like you were sinking in deep water and needed someone to hold you up?

What do some Christians mean by the phrase "I took Jesus to be my Lord and personal savior"?



Name __________________________        Section _______

New Testament Quiz #3 - Discipleship and Miracles (Worksheets #7 & 8)

ON WORKSHEET #7 on Jesus' Disciples  Choosing the Twelve Apostles - Luke 6: 1-12

1. Which is the best definition of a "disciple"?

   a. Christian     b. follower     c. believer     d. spiritual person    e. one who obeys commandments

2. In comparing disciples & apostles:     Does a disciple have   a. more authority   b. less authority

   c. about the same authority as an apostle    or d. neither has authority - only Jesus does.

3. What did Jesus do to prepare himself for the selection of apostles?  He:                a. casts lots  

   b. consults with disciples    c. goes to the Temple    d. stays up all night on a mountain    e. fasts

The Apostles' Mission - Luke 9: 1-6

4. When he sends his Apostles out, what religious mission does he assign them **CHOOSE 2**:

   a. feed the poor           b. gather more disciples                    c. heal         d. gather more disciples

   e. proclaim the kingdom                f. interpret the commandments           g. be peacemakers

5. What traveling instructions does he give them? **CHOOSE 2**:

   a. no change of clothes                  b. pray to decide where they should go        c. honor the Sabbath

   d. only go to places where he told them    e. travel alone       f. stay in one house per town

(from back of worksheet)   Who is your "true family"? - Luke 8:19-20

6. How does Jesus respond when his family tries to talk to him?

  a. quotes 5th commandment (to "honor thy father & mother")          b. says he's too busy

  c. says his true family is those who hear God's will & do it    d. shares food with them

  e. tells them to follow the commandments

Take up your cross & follow Christ - Luke 9:23-25
7.
Jesus lists the 3 things that are required to be a follower of his. These include to take up your cross daily, to follow him, and (Name the 3rd requirement Jesus lists) CHOOSE ONE ONLY

a. to deny yourself      b. to give to the poor      c. to fast             

d. to read the scriptures            e. to pray constantly      

f. to believe he is the Messiah

The Rich Ruler - Luke 18: 18-30

8. The young ruler asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. What does Jesus 1st tell him to do?

a. pray        b. follow the 10 commandments        c. become Jesus' disciple

d. honor his father and mother           e. be baptized

9.    What was the "one thing still lacking" that Jesus tells this man he needs to do?

ON WORKSHEET #8 on Miracles      Healings at Capernaum - Luke 4: 31-44

10. Jesus is described here as using a specific method of touching people that is often today used in churches when people need healing. This method is: _________________________________

Faith and the forgiveness of sins - Luke 5: 12-26

11. The Pharisees accuse Jesus of blasphemy in this story.  This is because : 

   a. what he says is so unpopular       b. he heals on the Sabbath in violation of the Mosaic code

   c.  he claims to be the Messiah        d. he claims to do something only God can do.

The crowds following Jesus - Luke 6:17-19

12. What are 2 reasons crowds are coming to Jesus?**CHOOSE 2**:

a. Because he=the Messiah      b. to hear him                         

c. John the Baptist's recommendation     d. everyone else is coming  

  e. anger at Roman rule     f. be cured of their diseases   g. resentment at the scribes & Pharisees

Feeling the power   &   Raising a dead girl to life - Luke 8:40-56

13. How does Jesus know he was touched by the woman with hemorrhages?

         a. She was certified as healed by a priest      b. By the Holy Spirit      c. Peter tells him"

         d. She called out "Rabbi, heal me!"             e. He felt the power go out of him

14. Why does Jesus give her the credit for this healing ?  ________________________________

(FROM BACK OF WORKSHEET) The Wedding at Cana - John 2:1-11

15. What miracle does Jesus do in this story?

    a. cast out a demon              b. make a paralyzed man walk      c. refills the wine supply    d. keep the bridesmaids' lamps burning       e. provide food for the guests

16. What motive does John suggest that Jesus has for doing this miracle?

a. to reveal his glory                b. he's thirsty                c. compassion

         d. to obey the Holy Spirit                 e. to show his faith in God

Calming the waters - Matthew 8:23-7

17. What is Jesus doing while his disciples are petrified by the storm? He:

     a. prays           b. walks on water           c. fishes       d. sleeps      e. discusses the Torah

Feeding of the 5000 - Matthew 14:13-21

18. Wat reason or motive does it say here that Jesus has for curing the sick?

      a. compassion b. show God's power      c. test others' faith  d. prove he = Messiah

Walking on Water - Matthew 14:22-36

19. How do the disciples react when they see Jesus?  They:

   a. are relieved     b. pray     c. catch a lot of fish         d. fall off the boat         e. think he's a ghost

20. What happens to Peter when he becomes afraid?  He:

      a. prays     b. weeps    c. sinks     d. falls overboard     e. praises Jesus      f. wets his pants


NT - Worksheet #9  Teaching through Parables

Readings:  Luke 10: 29-37, 13:18-21, 14:15-24, and Chapter 15.  (also Matthew 13:10-17.)

We'll break up in class into 5 groups.  Each group will look at 1 or 2 parables in depth, read some commentary on the parable(s) and present it/them to the group.  I'd like you to try and skim through all the parables above, but focus mainly on the 1 or 2 you're assigned. You only have to answer before class the questions below for your own group's parable(s).  Divide up in your small group who will cover what. Assign someone in your group to:

·      read the handout from William Barclay's Daily Study Bible on your passage. 

·      read the footnotes in the HarperCollins study bible on your parable(s)

·      read the other groups' parables & compare them to your group's

·      read the parable out loud (if it's short) or summarize it for the class as part of your presentation and

·      read Matthew 13:10-17 (where Jesus explains why he teaches in parables) and consider whether you feel your parable works well for Jesus' purpose.

You are in Group #: ___  Define a parable: ______________________________________

Group #1 WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR? (The Good Samaritan) Luke 10:25-37 (parable=v.30-5)

Why does Jesus tell this story? (what is it a response to)

 

Why do the first 2 people, who are Jews, refuse to help?

 

What was the relationship between Jews and Samaritans at that time?

 

If Jesus were telling this story in the US today, what group do you think he would choose instead of a Samaritan? 

How about in Serbia?  In Japan?  In India?  In Nazi Germany?

Given the context of attitudes & beliefs at the time, how radical is the message of this parable?

Group #2 - WHAT IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD LIKE? - Luke 13:18-21.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed. According to the film we saw ("From Jesus to Christ") at the beginning of this term, how would farmers at the time be likely to react to this parable?

What characteristics of the kingdom of God is Jesus trying to communicate in this parable?

V.           The Parable of Yeast. What characteristics of the kingdom are communicated by comparing it to yeast?

What do these 2 parables have to say about how people might work who are trying to build the "kingdom of God" today?


Group #3  THE GREAT BANQUET - Read Luke 14:1-24. (Actual parable is in v. 15-24)

Explain the context in which this parable is told:

 

What are people's motives for being generous?

How do the excuses given by the guests relate to the lifestyle of most Americans today?

What kinds of people did Jesus see his ministry as being directed towards?

Many have interpreted this parable as saying that God is moving on from the Jewish people being God's "chosen people" to others. Do you agree with this interpretation?

Group #4  THE PARABLES OF LOST SHEEP & OF THE LOST COIN - Luke 15: 1-10

What is the context or circumstance in which Jesus chose to tell these 2 parables?

What kind of God do these parables describe?  Is this different from the God we encountered in the story of the Flood? Or that in the story of Hosea and Gomor?

What kinds of people do the lost sheep and coin symbolize?

What does it mean to "repent" from your sins? What kind of behavior is required if repentance is real?

Group #5  THE LOVING FATHER ("The Prodigal Son")  - Luke 15:11-32

What is the central theme of this parable?


What are indications of the extravagance of the father's welcome of his younger son?

Who does the father symbolize in this parable?    the younger son?     the older son?

What does this parable say about the covenantal relationship between God & God's people?

 

NT - Worksheet #10   The World Turned Upside Down: The Beatitudes

Reading:  Matthew 5:1-11, Luke 6:17-26.  Extra credit: article on Male Spirituality

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chaps. 5 through 7) is one of the most important statements of religious teaching ever written.  It has had a major impact not only on the Christian church but on many non-Christians like Gandhi.  Few scholars believe that it is really a single sermon.  Instead it is a summary of all of Jesus' most important religious teachings that the gospel writer Matthew was familiar with.  About half of the "Sermon" is found in Luke, broken up into several smaller pieces. This material is almost entirely absent from Mark and John.

The Sermon begins with a section known as "The Beatitudes".  These are paradoxical, revolutionary statements that assert the idea that a number of groups who are considered by society in general to be the lowest or least fortunate in the world are in fact the most fortunate or lucky in God's kingdom or view of reality.  

A shorter list is given in Luke that contrasts rather sharply with Matthew's version.  What is the difference between the two lists?  Compare Matthew 1st beatitude with Luke's 1st  beatitude, Matthew's 2nd with Luke's 3rd, Matthew's 4th with Luke's 2nd , Matthew's 8th & 9th with Luke's 4th.  Which is list seems to you to be more"spiritual"? Which is more political? Which list speaks more powerfully to you?

Homework:  After you read through both passages, choose one of the beatitudes below.  Choose one that seems to speak especially powerfully to you - or that challenges you or perhaps even disturbs you.  Write one half page about what this beatitude seems to be saying to you. I will collect these. 

Note: You do not have to answer the questions below before class. These questions & comments are to help you gain insight into the readings and take notes on class discussion.

Blessed are the poor in spirit - Matthew 5:3. (cf. Luke 6:20 & 24)

This beatitude has been translated in many different ways.  One I especially like is "Happy are those who know their need of God."  If you are utterly destitute, then you are utterly dependent on others.  Dependency is usually considered a bad thing.  How could dependency be considered a blessing or a thing to work towards?

 

Blessed are those who mourn - Matthew 5:4.  (cf. Luke 6:21b & 25b)

This could also be translated loosely as "Happy are those who are vulnerable" - or "Happy are those who are willing to let themselves feel pain."  Does this mean regular mourning or grieving for losses? Some think it refers to mourning for one's shortcomings and wrong acts.  Or for being willing to take on the pain & suffering of the world.  How do most people wall themselves off against the suffering of the world? (on TV, in the papers)

 

Blessed are the meek - Matthew 5:5

Meek is not a word used much today.  If it is used it has a bad connotation - kind of like victim or wimp or a "loser".  One way to put it might be "Happy are those who have none of the world's kind of power." (political power, wealth, weapons, etc.)  It says these will inherit the earth: How revolutionary is this politically!


Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness - Matt 5:6.  (cf. Luke: 5:21a & 25a) This certainly doesn't refer to the kind of temporary, mild hunger & thirst that we experience in a very wealthy part of the world.  When people suffered hunger or thirst in Judea in the 1st century CE, they really suffered! What does it mean to suffer deeply in longing for righteousness? What is righteousness?

 

Blessed are the merciful -  Matthew 5:7  The Catholic Worker talks about the "works of mercy" (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, healing the sick).  Being merciful involves compassion for those who are experiencing suffering and doing something about it.

 

Blessed are the pure in heart - Matthew 5:8  What does it mean to be "single-hearted"?  How hard is this to do?!  Why would those who do this be able to "see God"?


Blessed are the peacemakers - Matthew 5:9

Who are the real peacemakers?  In many periods the church preferred to think of this in terms of inner or spiritual peace.  Do you think this is what Jesus meant?

 

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake - Matt 5:10-11. cf. Luke 6:22-3, 26 Again, what is your attitude towards martyrdom?  Some students were expelled from public schools in the past for wearing a button for peace or an armband for the war dead.  A man was run over by a train and lost his legs during the Vietnam War trying to block shipments of bombs to Vietnam.  Dietrich Bonhoffer was a Christian pastor executed by the Nazis for trying to assassinate Hitler.  Would you consider Martin Luther King a martyr?  Gandhi?  Do you think some people take on persecution joyfully?

 

Extra credit:  Read the article (by yours truly) on the Beatitudes as a new model for male spirituality.  Write ½ page on the article discussing whether you think it would apply to important spiritual issues facing young men - or women - in your generation.

New Testament - Worksheet #11  Jesus, Violence and the State

Reading:  Matthew 5:13-48 (espec. 38-48), 10:34-9, 21:12-13, 22:15-22, 26:51-2, Roman 13.

Was Jesus a pacifist?  Is it right for his followers to fight in wars?  Many people believe that service in the military was considered to be inconsistent with being a Christian in the early church.  If so, this changed radically when the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century CE. 

Extending the Law: Matthew 5:13-37  After the beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount proceeds to a series of lessons where Jesus compares his teaching with what was required in the Mosaic covenant.  In each case Jesus extends or fulfills the requirements of faithfulness under the Hebrew code.  How does the 1st "extension" (v. 21-2) address the roots of violence?


***Love Your Enemies:  Matthew 5:38-48 (cf. Deuteronomy 19:21)***  Many believe that the NT reaches its culmination in this passage.  Is this a realistic way to live personally? As a movement?  As a nation?  Can you see yourself living this way?

 

Peace on Earth or a Sword?  Matthew 10:34-9  Is this about war?  Personal violence?  Or the nature of discipleship?

 

Driving Out the Moneychangers:  Matthew 21:12-3 (cf. Mark 11:15-8, John 2:12-22)

Why is Jesus so upset about what is happening in the Temple?  Does this story justify the use of violence? Is anyone killed?  Is this as an example of "tough love"?

Render unto Caesar  Matthew 22:15-22 (cf. Luke 23:1-3)  This passage is often utilized to justify obedience to the state and its requirements, even though Jesus clearly recognized the question as a trap to get him in trouble with the Romans.  Luke 23:1-3 indicates Jesus was known for advocating tax refusal. What do we owe the state?  What do we owe God?

Government as the Agent of God - Romans 13  Are governments always God's agents working for your good? 

What does it mean to "throw off the deeds of darkness & put on our armor as soldiers of the light?"

In the end, do you think the Amish and other Christian pacifists are right in their reading of Jesus' message?


God Speaks Out!

In response to recent events on Earth, God, the omniscient creator-deity worshipped by billions of followers of various faiths for more than 6,000 years, clarified His longtime stance against humans killing each other.

"Look, I don't know, maybe I haven't made myself completely clear, so for the record, here it is again," said the Lord, betraying visible emotion during a press conference near the site of the fallen Twin Towers. "Somehow, people keep coming up with the idea that I want them to kill their neighbor. Well, I don't. And to be honest, I'm really getting sick and tired of it. Get it straight. Not only do I not want anybody to kill anyone, but I specifically commanded you not to, in really simple terms that anybody ought to be able to understand."

Worshipped by Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike, God said His name has been invoked countless times over the centuries as a reason to kill in what He called "an unending cycle of violence."

"I don't care how holy somebody claims to be," God said. "If a person tells you it's My will that they kill someone, they're wrong. Got it? I don't care what religion you are, or who you think your enemy is, here it is one more time -- No killing, in My name or anyone else's, ever again."

The press conference came as a surprise to humankind, as God rarely intervenes in earthly affairs. As a matter of longstanding policy, He has traditionally left the task of interpreting His message and divine will to clerics, rabbis, priests, imams, and Biblical scholars. Theologians and laymen alike have been given the task of pondering His ineffable mysteries, deciding for themselves what to do as a matter of faith. His decision to manifest on the material plane was motivated by the deep sense of shock, outrage, and sorrow He felt over the Sept. 11 violence carried out in His name, and over its dire potential ramifications around the globe.

"I tried to put it in the simplest possible terms for you people, so you'd get it straight, because I thought it was pretty important," said God, called Yahweh and Allah respectively in the Judaic and Muslim traditions. "I guess I figured I'd left no real room for confusion after putting it in a four-word sentence with one-syllable words on the tablets I gave to Moses. How much more clear can I get?"

"But somehow, it all gets twisted around and, next thing you know, somebody's spouting off some nonsense about, 'God says I have to kill this guy, God wants me to kill that guy, it's God's will,'" God continued. "It's NOT God's will, all right?

"News flash !! -- 'God's will' = 'Don't murder people !!'

"Worse yet, many of the worst violators claim that their actions are justified by passages in the Bible, Torah, and Qur'an.

"To be honest, there's some contradictory stuff in there, okay?" God said. "So I can see how it could be pretty misleading. I admit it -- My mistake. I did My best to inspire them, but a lot of imperfect human beings have misinterpreted My message over the millennia. Frankly, much of the material that got in there is dogmatic, doctrinaire inerrantist bullshit. I turn My head for a second and, suddenly, all this stuff gets twisted around and added in, and everybody thinks it's God's will to kill as retribution for a harm done. It absolutely drives Me up the wall."

God praised the overwhelming majority of His Muslim followers as "wonderful, pious people," calling the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks rare and evil exceptions.


"This whole medieval concept of the jihad, or holy war, had all but vanished from the Muslim world in, like, the 10th century, and with good reason," God said. "There's no such thing as a holy war, only unholy ones. The vast majority of Muslims in this world reject the murderous actions of these radical extremists, just like the vast majority of Christians reject those two bigots on The 700 Club."

Continued God, "Read the book: 'Allah is kind, Allah is beautiful, Allah is merciful.' It goes on and on that way, page after page. But, no, some assholes have to come along and revive this stupid holy-war crap just to further their own hatefilled evil agenda. So now, some people are thinking all Muslims are murderous barbarians. They are not. Thanks, Taliban, 1,000 years of pan-Islamic cultural progress down the drain."

God stressed that His remarks were not directed exclusively at Islamic extremists, but rather at everyone whose ideological zealotry overrides their ability to comprehend the core message of all world religions.

"I don't care what faith you are, everybody's been making this same mistake since the dawn of time," God said. "The Muslims massacre the Hindus, the Hindus massacre the Muslims. The Buddhists, everybody massacres the Buddhists. The Jews, don't even get me started on the hardline, right-wing, Meir Kahane-loving Israeli nationalists, man. And the Christians? You people believe in a messianic prophet who says, 'Turn the other cheek', who gave you the two Great Commandments, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might and all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to it. Love thy neighbor as yourself', but you've been killing everybody you can get your hands on since the Crusades."

"Can't you people see? Can't you see that each and every one of you is a part of Me, and when you kill, you hurt Me? And I don't like getting hurt anymore than you do!!!"

God got quiet for a minute, then said, "You know, I set this thing up with Love, and gave you all My power to think and to create, so that you could learn the meaning of My Love. I could change it, you know, but then you would be no higher than the other animals, which you don't appear to be at present."

"There are a ton of different religious traditions out there, and different cultures worship Me in different ways. They call Me by all sorts of different names, and I don't really care by what name you call on Me, as long as you call on Me often. My basic message is always the same .... Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Shintoism .... in every truly spiritual belief system under the sun, they all say you're supposed to Love your neighbors, folks! It's not that hard a concept to grasp."

"Why would you think I'd want anything else? Humans don't need religion or God as an excuse to kill each other -- you've been doing that without any help from Me since you were freaking apes!" God said. "The whole point of believing in Me, the I AM of you, is to have a higher standard of behavior, to LEARN and KNOW and GIVE and RECEIVE LOVE. How obvious can I get?"

"I'm talking to all of you, everywhere!" continued God, His voice rising to a shout. "Do you hear Me? I don't want you to kill anybody. I'm against it, across the board. How many times do I have to say it? Don't kill each other anymore -- ever! I'm serious!"

Upon completing His outburst, God fell silent, standing quietly at the podium for several moments. Then, witnesses reported, God's shoulders began to shake, and He wept.

The above is from The Onion Site at http://www.theonion.com . © The Onion.


New Testament - Worksheet #12  JESUS & WOMEN

Reading:  Luke 7:36-50, 10:38-42, 18:15-17. John 4:1-34, 8:1-11

The role of women was very poor in Jewish society in the 1st c. CE.  Men were permitted to divorce their wives at will. Women were considered property of their fathers or husbands. One of the most revolutionary aspects of Jesus' life involved his relationship with women.
Homework: summarize stories and at least begin to fill in "interpretations" below.

Bathing Jesus' feet in oil  Luke 7:36-50    

Summarize briefly the story:

 

What does this story tell you about Jesus:

Mary & Martha  Luke 10:38-42  

This story occurs only in Luke. The gospel writer Luke is believed to have grown up outside of Judea in an area where the role of women was better.  This is reflected in a number of differences between his gospel and the other gospels in terms of women's role.

Summarize the story:


What does this story tell you about Jesus:

 

Unless you become like a child...  Luke 18:15-17  

Summarize the story:

 

What does this story tell you about Jesus:


The Woman at the Well   John 4:1-34

Summarize the story:

 

Give 3 reasons why this conversation is extraordinary (so much so that the disciples criticize him for having it):

1.

2.

3.

What do we learn about Jesus from this story?

 

What religious question does the woman pose to Jesus?

 

How does Jesus reply?

Who will cast the first stone...John 8:1-11

Summarize the story:

 

What does this story teach you about Jesus?

What do you think Jesus was writing in the dirt with his finger?

What picture do you gain overall of Jesus from this collection of stories?


New Testament - Worksheet #13  THE FINAL CONFLICT

Part I:  ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM through GETHSEMANE

The Kingdom of God is within you    Luke 17: 20-21

What kind of a Kingdom is this?  How does this contrast with a) a political or military view of the Kingdom of God and b) an Apocalyptic view of the Kingdom?


The entry into Jerusalem    Luke 19: 28-47  

This story is celebrated in Christian churches each year on "Palm Sunday".  What do the disciples & crowd say & do as Jesus passes through the streets?

 

What is the meaning of this cry & action? Why do the Pharisees ask Jesus to stop his disciples?

Do kings usually ride on donkeys?  Why do you think Jesus felt called to enter the city in this way?

The Last Supper     Luke 22: 1-34

What holiday are the disciples celebrating? 

How do different churches interpret Jesus' request to "do this in remembrance of me"?

In the Gospel of John Jesus washes the disciples' feet (see John 13: 1-15).  Why do you think Jesus did this & what does it say about a new kind of leadership?

The Garden of Gethsemane     Matthew 26: 36-46  and  Luke 22: 39-46

How is Jesus portrayed as feeling about his impending death? (note Luke 22:44!)

What reason does Matthew give for the disciples falling asleep? 

What reason does Luke give?

Part II: Who Killed Jesus & Why?

Reading: Matthew 26:3-5, 14-6, 47-68, 27:1-45.  Luke 22:66-23:25.  John 18:19-19:16

Read & compare these accounts of Jesus' trials and sentencing in Matthew, Luke & John.  How is the emphasis different? How do these reflect on the values and assumptions of each gospel writer?

How do these accounts relate to anti-Semitism?

Contrast the reason suggested for Jesus' arrest in the film "From Jesus to Christ":

Part III:  JESUS' EXECUTION

Reading: Matthew 27: 27-54.   Luke 23: 32-49.   John 19:17-30.

Is it likely that a crowd of Jews would be standing around as Jesus died?

What book of the Hebrew Bible do all three gospel writers draw on in their account of the crucifixion of Jesus?

Reflect on what each of the following statements that are attributed to Jesus on the cross imply to you about Jesus' feeling and understanding about what was happening to him.  How do they reflect the viewpoint of each gospel author?

1. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46)

2. "Father: into your hands I commit my spirit." (Luke 23:46)

3. "It is finished." (John 19:30)


Worksheet #14:  The Resurrection of Jesus

Readings:  (you will be assigned one reading)

1) Mark 15: 40-16: 20 (Note: the oldest written versions of Mark omit 16:9-20)

2) Matthew 27: 55 thru end of book (28: 20)

3) Luke 23: 49 thru 24: 12 (the empty tomb)

4) Luke 24: 13-32 (the "Road to Emmaus")

5) Luke 24: 33-53 (appearance to the 11 remaining Apostles)

6) Acts 1: 1-11 (written by author of Luke - comes right after the gospel of John)

7) John 19:38-20:18 (the empty tomb)

8) John 20: 19-31 (appearance to the disciples)

9) John chapter 21 (appearance at the Sea of Tiberias)

(Fill in below from your reading where applicable - otherwise take notes on group discussion)

VII.      THE BURIAL & EMPTY TOMB

Where are most of the disciples after Jesus' arrest and crucifixion?

Who buries Jesus?

Who are the women who go to the tomb? What is their relationship with Jesus and the circle of his closest followers?

Why do the women go to the tomb?

Whom does the angel speak to first?

Who sees Jesus first?

Do you see any significance in the fact that Jesus first appears to his women followers?  Do you see any irony in the role women have traditionally played in the Christian church?

Are the women believed by the other apostles?

LATER APPEARANCES

How many times does Jesus appear according to the book your are reading?

Who else sees Jesus after the women at the tomb?

Where (which part of Palestine) do these other appearances occur?

What evidence is there that Jesus is not a ghost?

What indication is there that he is not a "regular human being"?

What does Jesus do during these meetings?  Does he give his disciples any instructions or orders?

THE ASCENSION

Does your story include an ascension? If so where does it occur and when?

THE MEANING OF THE RESURRECTION
    & ITS IMPACT ON THE NEW MOVEMENT OF HIS FOLLOWERS

Why, according to the film, were the disciples so devastated by Jesus' death?

We may not be able to tell for sure if the resurrection really "happened" historically, but there is no doubt that the early Christian movement believed that it did.  What impact did it have on people in the movement?

How might it be possible for someone to continue to lead a movement beyond death? 

The Pharisees and Sadducees were two competing religious "parties" or sects in 1st century Judaism.  Saul (later St. Paul) was a Pharisee.  Why would the Pharisees be more likely or open than the Sadducees to accept the idea of Jesus being resurrected?

Do you believe in Jesus' literal bodily resurrection from the dead?

If so, what role does it play in your faith?  If not, can you re-interpret (as Joseph Campbell suggested) the idea of the resurrection in some new way that is meaningful for you?

JESUS OF MONTREAL         

We will be watching this film all week in Quakerism.  It is difficult to follow because of the subtitles but you can learn a lot from this film if you give it a chance and follow it closely. 

It is about an actor who is invited to a rather unorthodox priest to develop an updated version of the Passion Play (the Easter story) for the cathedral in Montreal.  He collects a group of actors to join him in this project.  They develop their own script as a group, partly based on some radical ideas about Jesus given to them by the priest.

The film as allegory.  What is this film basically about?  i.e. What story is it trying to tell in a new way?

The troupe of actors. What jobs do the members have before they join this troupe?

What jobs did Jesus' disciples have before they left their work to join him?

What kind of life do the members of the troupe share together in the commune?

How are the individual members of the company changed by their experience of joining the troupe?

The lawyer.  Who does he represent in this allegory?

 

What does he propose to the troupe at the end of the film?  (What does this tell you about the writer's attitude towards the later church?)

The church hierarchy.  Who do they symbolize? 

 

Who do they get to arrest Danielle?

 

Who do you think the priest is in this allegory?

 

The media.  How does the popular view of the troupe shift and why?  Does this seem an accurate reflection on Jesus' shifting popularity with the people of Jerusalem?

 

Danielle.  What kind of person does the film portray Jesus as being?

 

Do you agree with this portrayal?  If not, where do you see it as inaccurate?

NT Worksheet #15   THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN

Assigned reading for class (all in John): 
Chap. 1, 4: 1-42, Chaps. 14-15, Chap. 21
(focus espec. on underlined chaps.)

The first three gospels are so similar that they share many passages that are identical word for word.  They can be laid out side by side for comparison, which is why they are called the "synoptic gospels".  How is John different in language or tone from Luke?  There are also major differences in content.

Although John is believed by many biblical scholars to have been put into its final form later than any of the other gospels, it is almost certainly based on much earlier writings, oral stories and traditions within the early Christian church. These differ almost entirely, however, from the sources used by the other three gospels.

John 1:1-18  The Prologue

This gospel starts off right away with a very different tone than Luke.  This first passage reads a bit like a mystical or philosophical essay.  Only at the end of this section do we realize that the writer is talking about Jesus. 

The synoptic gospels are very circumspect about Jesus' actual identity.  To the extent other people acknowledge him as Messiah, he urges them not to talk about him in this manner.  The author of John comes right out at the very start and declares Jesus' oneness with God, the Father and Creator of the world.  This foreshadows Jesus' striking statement later in this gospel that "Before Abraham was, I am."  How do you respond to these statements about Jesus?

John 1:18-39  John the Baptist

While in Luke, John the Baptist is reported as being unclear about Jesus' role (see Luke 7:18), there is no such ambiguity here.  Note that referring to Jesus as the Lamb of God or Chosen One is similar to declaring him to be the Messiah but is very different than declaring him to be God.

John 1:40-51  Calling of the first disciples

Notice again that Jesus does not mince any words about his own very special role. The term "Son of Man" is another expression used for Messiah.

 

*John 4:1-42  The Woman at the Well  (please read this story closely!)

This is one of the most extraordinary stories in the New Testament.  Like most of the stories in John, it is completely absent from the synoptic gospels.

Samaritans were regarded by Jews at the time as sort of "black sheep" cousins.  When Jesus was asked in Luke "Who is my (true) neighbor", it is no accident whom he chooses as the subject in the story of the Good Samaritan.  Parallels would be Blacks or homosexuals in this country, Communists or Jews in Nazi Germany, Untouchables in India or Koreans in Japan.  It would have been considered extraordinary to Jews at the time that a major religious leader would be speaking to either a woman or a Samaritan, much less discussing salvation with a Samaritan woman.  Who could "Samaritans" be at Westtown?

  What do you think Jesus means when he talks about "living water"?  Does the woman understand his meaning?  Why does she conclude that he is a prophet?

The passage concludes with Jesus and the woman having a theological disucssion! ("Where does salvation come from?")  How does he respond to her question?  Why do you think early Friends liked this passage so much?

John Chap. 14-15 The Farewell Discourses  (you can read through this lightly)

  How does this compare to the beatitudes or other sections in Luke describing Jesus teaching?  How does it compare to using parables to communicate religious ideas?

  Does the way the author of John describes Jesus' teaching appeal to you?  What sections particularly speak to you or give you trouble? 

Many Christians find these sections very comforting.  Do you respond this way?

John Chap. 21  A Meeting on the Beach (read / reflect more closely again)

The Gospel of John appears to come to a close at the end of Chap. 20.  John's writer/editor chose to append a very extraordinary resurrection story at the very end.  Why do you think he included this story?  Do you like this story?

  Why might the author of John have emphasized very ordinary daily activities like fishing and cooking a meal? 

  Why do you think Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him?  What kind of love is Jesus asking of Peter (and of us?)

  Have you ever felt "carried somewhere that you did not want to go"?  Do you like the idea of being carried by God or would it be repulsive or terrifying?


New Testament - Worksheet #16   THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES

The Book of Acts is our best record of the life of the early Christian communities.  Virtually all biblical scholars agree that it was written by the same author as the Gospel of Luke.  Acts is essentially the second half of a single book in two parts, Part I being on the life of Jesus and Part II being his history the early church.

Baptism with the Holy Spirit  Acts 1:7-8, 2:1-21, 8:14-17

Before Jesus dies and again after his resurrection, he promises the disciples that they will be sent a comforter or guide after he is gone.  In Acts 1:7-8 just prior to his ascension he instructs them to wait in Jerusalem "a few days" for this event to occur. 

What does the term "Pentecost" refer to? _________________________

# days between Jesus' triumphal entrance into Jerusalem & his execution? _____

# days from Jesus' death to his resurrection?  ____

# days from the resurrection to the Ascension? _____

# days from Ascension to the Pentecost? _____

What happens?

 

The Holy Spirit has been referred to earlier in the gospels although this term does not appear in the Hebrew Bible.  The Pentecost story is the first account of "baptism by the Holy Spirit" and the speaking in tongues that is almost always associated with it in the early church.

What gifts does the Holy Spirit provide those who receive it in addition to the ability to speak in tongues?

1.

2.

3.

Requirements to be a Christian:  Acts 2:37-41, 8: 14-17

What were the two key elements required for entry into the Christian community?

1.

2.

What was the controversial 3rd step for Gentiles who wanted to become Christian which was eventually abandoned?

 

Communism  Acts 2: 42-7, 4: 32-7, 6: 1-7

These are 3 descriptions of what the life of the primitive Christian communities was like.  What groups that we studied have relied heavily on these passages?

 

What characteristics are ascribed to the early church in addition to the sharing of belongings among the believers?

Healings and miracles  Acts 3:1-10, 4:28-31, 5:12-6, 9:32-43, 20:7-12.  Do these descriptions sound similar to or different from the miraculous acts of healings we read about Jesus doing?

 

Has this kind of faith healing continued to be part of Christian practice to the present?

 

"We must obey God rather than men"  5:27-9  How was the early church treated by Jewish authorities? By Roman authorities?  What happened to Stephen? To Peter? To Paul?

 

"God doesn't live in houses"  7:44  How does this relate to the Jesus' conversation with the woman at the well, where he says that God wants to be worshiped "in spirit and in truth"?

 

George Fox was fond of saying the church is not a building but a group of people and that what most people called churches were simply "steeplehouses".

Conversion of Saul  9:1-31  What party was Saul part of before his conversion?

 

List other "calling" experiences we have read about and compare them to Saul's:

 

Is Paul accurate in referring to himself as an "Apostle" (see 1:21-22)?

 

Peter's Dream 10:1-11:18.  What central controversial question in the life of the early Church does this section deal with?

 

"Church government" How is Jesus reported as saying that people should handle conflict within the disciple community in Matthew 18: 15-18?

 

How is the replacement for Judas selected in Acts 1:21-26 (note also definition of Apostle)?

 

How do Amish select ministers?

 

Selection of elders   6:1-7

 

Council at Jerusalem 15:1-35


NT Worksheet #17   PAUL & HIS LETTERS

Paul

He was a Jew. He was born around 10 AD in Tarsus and known as Saul of Tarsus. (Saul is his Hebrew name - Paul is his Greek name.)  He studied as a Pharisee (the Jewish school of thought who believe in the resurrection of the body) in Jerusalem with Gamaliel, one of the most famous teachers of the day.  He was also a Roman citizen. 

During his early twenties he was actively involved in persecuting the early Christians.  Much of his life and work is described in the book called the Acts of the Apostles.  Acts chapter 9 describes his conversion on the road to Damascus (circa 34 AD). 

He was recognized, along with Barnabus, by the church fathers in Jerusalem, as one of the two apostles to the Gentiles (i.e. non-Jews).

The letters of Paul

Most are clearly written by Paul.  (Most scholars agree theLetter to the Hebrews is an exception.)

These are not treatises or tracts but letters. Similar style to other letters written around that time.

Most are written to churches he founded - are addressed to friends.  (Exception is the Letter to the Romans - he had never been to Rome at the time the letter was written.)

They are each written with a specific purpose in mind - usually to address a specific problem or issue being confronted by a given church.

Key issues addressed by Paul in his letters:

·      Relationship between Judaism and Christianity.  The "true Jew".

·      Encouraging unity within the faith community

·      Ethical issues

·      "Justification by faith"


Passages to read & reflect on today:

Romans 12:1-2  "True Worship" - Being utterly transformed in our very being (metamorphosis) by God.  Not being conformed to the world around us.

Have you ever had a life-transforming experience?

Are there ways in which you feel you are too "conformed to this world"?

1 Corinthians 12:4-31   Spiritual gifts. The faith community as one body.

Are there other spiritual gifts you would add to Paul's list? 

What are gifts you recognize in friends? Your parents? Members of your faith community?  In yourself?

Romans 8:14-39         Adoption into God's family. Liberation of creation. Unformed prayer.

Do you feel part of God's family? 

What signs do you see of the creation groaning? What would it mean for the created universe to be liberated - to come into a relationship with God equal to human children?

Do you ever feel inarticulate spiritually?  Do you feel God helps you with prayer?

Some other fine passages you may want to check out:

Romans 4-5  Faith of Abraham, God's grace & salvation

1 Corinthians 13  Love (often read at weddings...)

1 Corinthians 15  Resurrection & everlasting life      - Peter Blood-Patterson:  bloodpat@erols.com


New Testament Project

Faith into Practice

 

Assignment: Research how a group has tried to live out the New Testament vision of Christianity.  Include in your paper the ways in which you feel this group has or has not practiced in a way consistent with the message and life of Jesus and/or the early Christian community as we have studied it in the New Testament.

 

I have included on the back of this sheet a number of examples you could choose. You are not limited to this list. I am also open to alternative ways of presenting your material such as in an art project, short videotape, script of a play, etc.  Your topic needs to be approved by me.

 

You do not have to personally agree with the faith approach of the group you study.  However, I urge you to try and find a group that you are drawn to, genuinely interested in or as sympathetic with as possible. Please do not choose a group that you are particularly unhappy with and use the paper as an opportunity to describe how bad what they are doing is.

 

Length of written paper:  3-5 pages, typed, doublespaced, 12 point font with 1" margins.

 

You must include a bibliography citing sources. For print sources, utilize any standard bibliographical citation system. If you utilize web sources, citing the web address alone is not sufficient. Include as much of the following information that you can obtain from any website you utilize:

1.   The name of the article you utilized on the site

2.   The name of the author of the article

3.   The name of the website

4.   The name of the organization that sponsors or developed the site (e.g. a university, a church, etc.)

5.   The web address. 

 

Schedule for project:

·      Feb. 4th  or 5th:  present the topic you plan to write about (via email or a note)

·      Feb. 13th or 14th:  submit a one page outline for your paper

·      Feb. 24th or 25th:  written paper due

·      Sometime between Feb. 17th and end of term: schedule a 5 minute verbal presentation to class of your findings.

 


Here are examples of groups you could study:

1.   Unusual forms of church community that try to live out the New Testament message in a radical way.

·      The Amish

·      A cloistered monastery (devote themselves almost entirely to prayer)

·      The Bruderhoff (a 20th century communal Christian movement with communities in Pennsylvania and New York)

·      The Shakers (a 19th century American spinoff from Quakers that practiced celibacy and communal sharing of goods. They also did sacred dance and developed many innovative inventions used today)

·      radical Franciscan friars who try to live out St. Francis of Assisi's vision

·      Reba Place Fellowship (Christians bought many homes together in one urban neighborhood and share incomes, childcare, worship during the week)

·      Church of the Savior in Washington DC. Small church groups where people commit themselves to live out a mission of peace & justice or inner city work.

 

2.   A groups trying to carry their Christian beliefs into the social order

·      The Iona Community (an ecumenical community in Scotland I've visited where members commit themselves to peace & justice work based on the island where Christianity first reached Scotland)

·      The Catholic Worker movement

·      Pro Life movement

·      Liberation theology in Latin America (e.g. the film "Romero" about Salvadoran archbishop, archbishop Dom Helder Camara in Brazil)

·      Archbishop Desmond Tutu & other Christians active in overcoming apartheit in South Africa

·      Dietrich Bonhoffer and other Christians who resisted Hitler

·      Fellowship of Reconciliation - international pacifist organization that has been working for peace for many decades - Aminda Baird (the head's wife) grew up living on the grounds of their North American headquarters.

 

3.   Faith healing as it is practiced today

·      Christian Science

·      other approaches

 

4.   An innovative approach to worship or prayer

·      charismatic movement among Catholics and other churches

·      The Jesus prayer (a simple repeated prayer used in Eastern Europe for many years)

·      use of dance in worship (I have visited a monastery in Vermont that does this)

·      Taizé chants (repeated brief choruses sung over & over)

·      folk masses


 

 

Christ's Jubilee Challenge

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CHRIST'S JUBILEE CHALLENGE

I have been reflecting since late last year on the spiritual meaning of the end of the millenium.  At first I wasn't coming up with much.  I was intrigued by the ideas put forth by Jubilee 2000, a movement using the end of the millenium as an opportunity for challenging developed nations to forgive the crushing debts of poorer countries.  Beyond that, most of the thoughts I had heard seemed to fall into the category of "media hype" rather than serious reflection.

I was carried deeper in this inward journey in an unexpected way.  My wife and I received an invitation by New Zealand Yearly Meeting to do six weeks of music ministry in that country last winter.  After flying for 13 hours across the Pacific, our New Zealand Quaker hostess arranged for us to spend a few days at a retreat house built by Friends on an island across the bay from Auckland.  Amid family preparations for a very different Christmas far from home, I discovered a stack of back issues of the New Zealand Friend.  I decided to skim through these as preparation for our work among Friends there.

Jesus' call to open prison doors.  I came across an extraordinary article in the November 1997 issue of this periodical entitled, "Quakers, Jesus, & the Theology of Prison Abolition".  In this article, Llewelyn Richards zeroed in on what was perhaps Jesus' first act of public ministry, recorded in Luke 4:17-18.  In this passage (long a favorite of mine) Jesus is asked to read from the scripture during Sabbath services in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth.  He unrolls the scroll from Isaiah 61:1-2 and reads: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to announce pardon for prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind; to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's amnesty."

This last phrase is also translated as "the time of the God's favour" or the "Jubilee Year". One translation has Jesus announcing that "This is God's year to act!" Jesus then rolls up the scroll, hands it back and states: "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." Although those present at the service are at first impressed by the authority with which Jesus speaks, they quickly become angry at him. Luke says that Jesus was fortunate to escape with his life.  Richards went on to challenge Friends to use the ending millenium as an opportunity to re-examine deeply our attitudes towards prisons and prisoners.

Reading this article struck me deeply.  What was Jesus talking about in announcing that the good news of Jubilee was fulfilled that very day?  I knew that Jubilee had something to do with forgiveness and new beginnings. Reading through Leviticus 25 I discovered that these rules were all based firmly on the idea that everything and everyone belongs to God: the land, homes and other property, wealth and the Hebrew people themselves. They were based on the understanding that however far we stray from our roots in God, it is critical that we return from time to time to our beginning state of belonging to God.

Origins of Jubilee in Hebrew Bible.  This in turn spurred me to find out more about what the Old Testament idea of Jubilee actually involved. What I discovered (in reading through Leviticus 25) Jubilee were all based firmly on the idea that everything and everyone belongs to God: the land, homes and other property, wealth and the Hebrew people themselves. It said that however far we stray from our roots in God, it is essential that we return from time to time to that beginning state of belonging to God.

According to Leviticus, every seven years was to be a Sabbath year.  In this year all agricultural lands were to be left fallow so that the land itself could experience the spiritual and physical restoration of Sabbath rest.  (You may have heard that there is great controversy today in Israel because the Orthodox leaders of Judaism have decided to no longer endorse the loopholes under which Jewish farmers went through paper transfers of their property to non-Jews each seventh year.)  The earth is the Lord's, not our own.  It deserves to be loved and cared for and rested and given spiritual renewal just as we need to rest every week.  This year, every year we need to love the land (and air and water and all of God's creation) and care for it and allow it to flourish once again.

This status as belonging to God extended down even to the very poorest individuals and families whose desperate economic circumstances caused them to lose everything they owned, leading them not only to sell away their family property or to accumulate large debts, but even to the point of selling away their status as free people and becoming slaves to their neighbors.

As a result, every seven Sabbath years, a much more radical returning to beginnings was to occur.  Once every fifty years, all outstanding debts were to be forgiven, all Hebrews who had the status of slaves were to become free, and all properties that had been sold during the previous fifty years were to be returned to the families that sold them.  (How different U.S. - and New Zealand - history would have been if all the broken treaties and shady land deals under which indigenous people lost their lands were annulled every fifty years!)

It is unclear to historians to what extent these radical principles were ever put into practice in ancient Israel.  To the extent they were, they were applied to the Hebrew people alone. Land acquired from non-Jews was presumably not returned. Nor were non-Jewish slaves or prisoners set free. 

Jesus and Jubilee ethic.  It is also clear, however, that the very heart of Christ's good news was to extend the basic principles of the Old Testament ethics beyond the boundaries of the Hebrew community to the entire human race.  No longer is Christ's message of liberation and forgiveness limited to one's own extended family/faith community.

When Christ unrolled Isaiah in that synagogue 2000 years ago, it didn't fall on the official Jubilee year of the Hebrew community (see Luke 4:14-30)        .  What Christ was saying is: "This is my challenge, my invitation to you right now, today!"  In his promise to be with us always, to the end of time, he challenges us to live this good news every year, not just every 50th year or even every 1000th year. Here, at the very outset of his ministry to this world, Jesus was saying:  "What my messiahship is about is a radical new beginning, a fresh start, a change that will turn the world upside down."  Surely, this provided a key to what this new millennium was about: far beyond the specific issue of forgiving Third World debt!

Our economic system does much good in creating things we treasure and rely upon. It is hard to imagine the upheaval it would create in our economy and social life if those old Jubilee rules (forgiveness of debts, reversal of property sales back to original owners, leaving land fallow for a year, release of prisoners) were put into effect today.  But our economic system also creates almost inconceivable inequities among us, leaving some in enormous wealth and others in utter poverty.  I hear Christ challenging us to remember that every human being is a member of God's family and deserves to be given a fresh chance to start over without crippling burdens from the past of debt or lack of economic resources.  How can Christ's good news extends even to those in prisons or in a state of effective slavery (due to the economic, political, gender or ethnic status they find themselves in) - to all of these he offers a fresh new beginning to under His reign?

These are powerful, disturbing messages.  I recognize the fears in me of trying to put them into practice today. If I listen to a call to prophetic witness to the society around us on these issues, I could easily face the same hostility and resistance from today's "powers that be" as Christ did in Nazareth.  Closer to home, I know I have to face resistance to this Jubilee message in my own heart.

Letting go of attachment to material wealth today.  When I returned from New Zealand I was laid off from my well-paying secure (I thought!) job as a hospital administrator.  I struggled with whether to rush into another job of this kind.  After prayer and discussion it felt scary but right to try and cut way back on our family expenditures and see if we could make it on my wife's much lower salary from a Friends School.  We decided we were not really using the top floor of our large old farmhouse and found a college student to rent it from us. It left us a bit cramped, but not nearly as cramped as most families around the world.  Annie (my wife) acknowledged ways in which she had come to use shopping as recreation or even therapy and expressed readiness to find other outlets.  My six year old has difficulty understanding why we are much less ready and able to buy him as many of the toys he wants as before.  I threw myself into ways we could save money in my new unfamiliar role as primary homemaker.  But I too can easily give way to spending money on non-essentials.  And there are so many "things" we own that I am attached to: it is hard to hold them up to Christ's challenge and know what is right.

I am also just beginning to recognize the need to move beyond these ways of trying to alter my relationship with God's "imprisoned" children in the inner city or across the world through economic changes. I am also trying to practice radical reformation here within my family and in the ways I spend my time each day. What does it mean for me to give all back to God, to make a Jubilee new beginning in my daily life? To make a fresh Jubilee beginning in my response to my son who struggles with an emotional and behavioral disability or in my marriage?

I struggle with ways to establish balance and rhythm in my day-to-day life as I embrace each day as a new beginning in Christ. Our monthly meeting has always been helpful in supporting us when we feel called to carry our ministry around the world. It is harder to ask for help and support when we are struggling with more mundane struggles, such as how to make ends meet or how to achieve peace with God each day.  We still have a long way to go - and yet I know we have many partners available in this journey to faithfulness.

Christ invites us to start over each year as if we are all radically of equal value to God, as we were when God first created us. Only by taking this challenge to heart as a faith community and as a nation can we begin to find the courage and vision to discover how we can respond to his invitation, this millennial year - and every year to come.

(The author spent seven weeks in late 1999 and early 2000 traveling with his wife and family under a minute of religious concern from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to Friends in New Zealand and Hawaii.  A shorter version of this essay was printed in the January 2001 issue of Quaker Life.)

The Harvest

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THE HARVEST

 

I was a picker of fruit - 

I and scores of Young Friends

  gathered in orchards fall after fall,

Circled the trees joyfully,

  lifted each apple

  gently off its hanging home.

Breathed in the clear autumn air,

Looked out over treetop to rolling hills

  and other treetops and blue skies.

Cooked hearty meals and sang and

  prayed with aching bones

  when the day's work was done.

 

The air was so clear you longed to breathe it forever.

The world raged with war

  and dreams of justice.

And we dreamed of a way

  to do no harm in our labors -

  in community.

 

 (I reached too far once:

The supporting bough broke,

  my arm broke.

Helen tended me,

  I healed,

The others picked on.)

 

Jesus said to Peter & Andrew

   that he would make them "fishers of men",

And he did.

Now in this great dark hungry world,

Who will reach out and gather

  disciples today

Who will dream & work together to gather

  souls - ripe & ready for the harvest?

 

 (And will young dreamers pick apples again?)


 Written Dec. 26, 2000, after watching the movie "Cider House Rules" and dreaming the following night about teaching school children to pick apples.  Published in the August 2001 issue of Quaker Life.  © 2001 Peer Blood

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Quote that speaks to me

Death Cannot Kill What Never Dies

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They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it.  
Death cannot kill what never dies.  
Nor can spirits ever be divided that love and live in the same Divine Principle; the Root and Record of their friendship.
If absence be not death, neither is theirs.  
Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still.  
For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent.
In this Divine Glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure.
This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.
 - William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude, 1702.

Note: This passage was quoted by J.K.Rowling as the epigraph of her novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Braithwaite on Outreach

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Men & Women with a Message of Power

It is as a "religion of life" that Quakerism will be presented in the future and is being presented now.

Its distinguishing note will be its resolve to bring all this human life of ours under the transforming power of spiritual life.  It will stand out against all divisions and compartments that separate the sacred from the secular, the sanctuary from the outward world of nature, the sacrament from the days' common work, the clergy from the laity. 

It will tell of a Christian experience that makes all life sacred and all days holy, all nature a sanctuary, all work a sacrament, and gives to every man and woman in the body fit place and service.  Its concern will be to multiply men and women who will have a message of power because they are themselves the children of light.  It will claim the whole of man's life, and the whole of life, individual, social, national international, for the dominion of the will of God.

William C. Braithwaite and Henry T. Hodgkin, The Message and Mission of Quakerism (Philadelphia, Winston, 1912), 25-26.