God’s House

Owen Kanzler, Urban Neighborhood with Church

A former student told me that his church was once handing out treats for Halloween.  Like the houses in their neighborhood, they had indicated that they were in business by turning on their porch light.  Still, many children were reluctant to approach their door. Finally, one brave child asked, “Doesn’t God live here? Is this candy from God?”

Perhaps, when you were a child, you too thought that the church was God’s house, where God lives, as we live in our own homes.  I remember a picture of Jesus at the front of our sanctuary in the church where I grew up, that I used to think was God, looking at me!

Our Old Testament lesson for Sunday is from Solomon’s prayer to dedicate the temple (1 Kings 8: 10-13, 22-30, 41-43). In the Hebrew Bible, several words are used for the temple. In this week’s Psalm, mishkan is used (Ps 84:1[2]): “dwelling place,” a word related to shakan, meaning “settle, or “camp”– “tabernacle” in KJV. Elsewhere, we find miqdash, “sanctuary,” related to qadosh, “holy;” and hekal, a word likely borrowed from Sumerian or Phoenician, meaning “temple” or “palace,” sometimes used just for the temple’s main room.

When ancient Serendib lured Jewish ships | Daily News

But the most common word used for the temple is bayit, meaning “house.” We hear it later in Psalm 84:4 (“Those who live in your house are truly happy; they praise you constantly”), and throughout our OT lesson for today.  In 1 Kgs 8:13 (NRSV), Solomon says to God, “I have built for you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.”  Yet Solomon’s prayer later calls that claim into question: “But how could God possibly live on earth? If heaven, even the highest heaven, can’t contain you, how can this temple [Hebrew bayit; the NRSV reads “house]  I’ve built contain you?” (1 Kgs 8:27)

Since God is not contained by our houses of worship, does going to church matter? Many clearly say no. When Gallup first measured U.S. church membership in 1937, 73% of those surveyed belonged to a church.  Membership in houses of worship remained near 70% for the next six decades, before beginning a steady decline around the turn of the 21st century. In 2020, only 47% of Americans said that they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque–down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999, falling below 50% for the first time in Gallup’s eight-decade trend.

Golfing At Sunday River Photograph by David McLainWe often hear people insist that they don’t need to go to church–they can meet God in nature, or on the golf course. That is true—God is everywhere, and we might meet God anywhere. But, God does meet us here!

Solomon prays for God to be attentive to the temple, and to the prayers offered both there, and “toward” the temple, by folk far away (as we have often been in this pandemic).

Constantly watch over this temple, the place about which you said, “My name will be there,” and listen to the prayer that your servant is praying toward this place.  Listen to the request of your servant and your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Listen from your heavenly dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive! (1 Kgs 8:29-30).

Not only the prayers of faithful Jews, but prayers offered there by anyone, even foreigners, are heard!

Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name —for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm—when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built (1 Kgs 8:41-43, NRSV).

So, is the church “God’s house”? In the simple sense, no. But still, the church is the place where God comes to meet us. When Jesus’ frantic parents at last found their missing boy in the temple, he said, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). Much later, the adult Jesus would tell his followers, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them” (Matt 18:20).

In today’s gospel, Jesus’ hard teaching about himself as the bread of life causes many to leave him:

Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”

Simon Peter answered, “Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are God’s holy one” (John 6:67-69).

Peter’s question is a good one.  God has promised to be attentive to our gathering in this place.  Jesus has promised to join us whenever and wherever we gather. So, if we truly want to meet God, where–other than the church–should we go?

As disturbing as the church membership statistics may be, there is also good news in the numbers, friends! According to the most recent survey conducted by PRRI, the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans (including atheists, agnostics and some people who say they pray daily but don’t claim a specific faith tradition), the fastest growing religious group in America since 2006, is now in decline: the “nones” peaked at 25.5% of the population in 2018.  Today, they make up just 23% of the country.

While White Evangelicals continue to decline (14.5% of the population, down from a peak of 23% in 2006), other Christian groups have grown: Black and Hispanic Christians (23% in 2006, now 26%) and white Mainline Protestants (now 16.4%–down from 18% in 2006, but up from 13% in 2016).  People are finding their way back to church again.

Friends, I harbor no delusions about the church’s many problems.  Frustration with the church in our day is palpable, and easily understood: like all institutions, the church has been slow to change when change is needed. But the church is still God’s house! God’s presence is still experienced, and God’s will made known, in and through the church. Despite its many troubles and conflicts, the institutional organization of the church remains the means by which ministry gets done. Our challenge is to learn new ways to be the church, in a rapidly changing culture, without losing our identity in the face of change.








File:Giordano Le Rêve de Salomon Prado.jpg - Wikimedia CommonsAt the beginning of David’s reign, all Israel had come to Hebron to acknowledge David’s rulership (1 Chr 11:1), and had followed him to Jerusalem, to conquer that city (1 Chr 11:4).  Similarly, at Solomon’s decree, “all Israel” assembles at Gibeon:  to offer sacrifices to the LORD (2 Chr 1:2-3).  While warrior David’s reign began in conquest, Solomon begins his reign with a pilgrimage, and an act of worship.

Although the authors of Kings apologize for Solomon’s worship at the Gibeon “shrine” (NRSV “high place;” the Hebrew is bamah, a word used for places of idolatrous worship) , in Chronicles, no apology need be given (compare 2 Chr 1:3-6 with 1 Kgs 3:2-4). Until the completion of the temple in Jerusalem, Gibeon was the proper place for sacrificial service, as the altar and the tent of meeting were there (2 Chr 1:5; see also 1 Chr 16:39; 21:29). Indeed, the bronze altar before the tent is here said to be the very altar which Moses’ master craftsman, “Bezalel son of Uri, son of Hur,” had fashioned, following the pattern revealed to Moses (2 Chr 1:5; see Exod 35:30-33; 38:1-2). This is a fitting place, then, to seek the will of the LORD–which is the reason Solomon and the assembly have come to Gibeon (2 Chr 1:5).

The LORD responds dramatically to Solomon’s magnificent sacrifice (one thousand burnt offerings; see 2 Chr 1:6//2 Kgs 3:4). That night, God appears to the king in a vision, with an astonishingly open-ended offer: “Ask whatever you wish, and I’ll give it to you” (1 Kgs 3:5//2 Chr 1:7).

Similar surprising offers appear in the gospels: “If you have faith, you will receive whatever you pray for” (Matthew 21:22); “Therefore I say to you, whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you will receive it, and it will be so for you” (Mark 11:24); “When you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14).

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Ever since this pandemic began, we have seen Christian churches and pastors insist that, rather than masking or vaccines, they will trust in God to keep them safe–motivated, in no small measure, by their understanding of Bible passages like these. We have also seen, in case after case, where those very pastors have fallen ill to COVID, and those very churches have become epicenters for contagion, illness, and death.

So, what are we to make of such texts?  Surely, if we have lived any time at all in the faith, we know that we don’t always get what we pray for.

Solomon’s response provides the key:

Please give your servant a discerning mind in order to govern your people and to distinguish good from evil, because no one is able to govern this important people of yours without your help (1 Kgs. 3:9)

What Solomon wants turns out to be what God wants for him: that is, to be the best king that he can be.

Maybe the point of these remarkable, open-ended offers in Scripture isn’t, “How can I get what I want out of God?”,  but rather “What, after all, do I want?”, and  “Do I want what God wants?”  It is the lesson Jesus learned in the long night of Gethsemane when, the author of Hebrews writes, “Christ offered prayers and requests with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices to the one who was able to save him from death,” and “was heard because of his godly devotion” (Hebrews 5:7).  Clearly, Jesus was not heard in the sense that he was delivered from death on the cross!  Instead, he was given the strength to pray, “My Father, if it’s not possible that this cup be taken away unless I drink it, then let it be what you want” (Matt 26:42).

Paul says that this empowerment of our prayer life is the work of the Spirit:

In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans.  The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will (Rom 8:26-27).

God is pleased with Solomon’s prayer–so pleased that God promises to give the young king not only what he has asked for, but also what he hasn’t:

God said to him, “Because you have asked for this instead of requesting long life, wealth, or victory over your enemies—asking for discernment so as to acquire good judgment—I will now do just what you said. Look, I hereby give you a wise and understanding mind. There has been no one like you before now, nor will there be anyone like you afterward.  I now also give you what you didn’t ask for: wealth and fame. There won’t be a king like you as long as you live.  And if you walk in my ways and obey my laws and commands, just as your father David did, then I will give you a very long life” (1 Kgs 3:11-14; compare 2 Chr 1:11-12).

So too, Jesus says, “desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33), and Paul affirms, “We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).

In Sunday’s Gospel (John 6:51-58), some of the multitude Jesus had miraculously fed (see John  6:1-15) have come to Jesus asking for more–a request he pointedly refuses to fulfill!  Instead of giving them the bread they seek, Jesus offers them himself:

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.  My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them (John 6:54-56).

Friends, all our wants pale beside what Jesus offers—a share in his own substance, his very life.  When we accept that gift, trusting God’s direction for our lives, we, like Solomon, can surely count on finding fulfillment in God’s will for us.  Knowing that we are in the center of God’s will, we can face anything life throws at us fearlessly, for “whoever eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:58).




Celebrate National Tell a Joke Day with Fozzie Bear! - D23

Did you hear that the Energizer Bunny was arrested? He was charged with battery.

I tried to catch some fog, but I mist.

I know a guy who drinks brake fluid. I told him I think he’s addicted, but he says he can stop any time.

What can I say–I love puns! Hebrew does, too: the Old Testament is full of them.  Exodus 16:15, from this week’s Hebrew Bible text, is a doozy!

Manna - Wikipedia

When Israelites first see the miraculous food God has provided for them in the wilderness, they ask, “What is it?”—in Hebrew, man hu’. But since, in Hebrew, the word for “manna” is also man, they are answering their own question: man hu’ also means, “It is man.” That is why it is called “manna”: literally, “whatsit!”

Deuteronomy 8:3 makes a theological point of this:

He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors was acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD (NRSV).

My teacher and mentor, the late S. Dean McBride, Jr., may light perpetual shine upon him, worked on the NRSV translation of the book of Deuteronomy. He suggested that this famous phrase (quoted by Jesus in the wilderness) could perhaps better be translated, “one does not live by bread alone, but by anything that the LORD decrees.”

Woman eating oyster food photography by Whysall Photography| Whysall Photography | Oysters, Food photography, Eating oysters

The manna was an answer to prayer, but it was also a test. The strangeness of the manna was itself a test: would Israel submit to living on whatever the LORD provided?  It has been said that it was a brave person who ate the first oyster–but what about the Israelites, gathering this “whatsit” off the ground?

The way that the manna was provided was also a test.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I’m going to make bread rain down from the sky for you. The people will go out each day and gather just enough for that day. In this way, I’ll test them to see whether or not they follow my Instruction (Exod 16:4).

The exceptions were the sixth day, when they could gather enough for two days, and save it, and the Sabbath, when no manna fell (Exod 16:23).

The Israelites fail this test. Some try to gather more than they need, but discover they have only gathered enough. Some try to save the manna, but it becomes wormy. Some even go out to gather on the Sabbath.

Surely we can understand and sympathize with their failure. The manna subverts our ideas of economy! It follows no laws of supply and demand. There can be no shortages, for everyone is given as much as they need. There can be no surpluses, for the manna cannot be hoarded. There is no incentive to greater productivity, because however much you gather, you wind up with no more than you need. Longer work hours are not simply discouraged, they are impossible: the manna evaporates as soon as the morning passes, and on your day off, it does not come at all!

The point is that God is generous, and that God’s generosity is not limited by our standards of fairness. In God’s economy, we don’t get what we deserve! God’s grace and acceptance are given to all. God’s generosity challenges us to live generously.

The Audiences of Jesus

In today’s Gospel, the crowds who had been fed by Jesus seek him out at his home in Capernaum, looking for more:

They asked, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” (John 6:30-31)

Jesus confronts them:

Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One will give you. God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life (John 6:27).

Instead of giving them what they came seeking, Jesus offers himself:

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6:35).

Traditional Death & Burial Prayers to Recite at Funerals

As with Israel in the wilderness: God cares about our needs, but will not be reduced to a means to our ends—as though God were a cosmic vending machine. The test, once more, is whether or not we will respond faithfully, and seek, not what we want, but what God wants.





Mary Magdalene

Sue Ellen Parkinson | Christian | icons | Mary Magdalene - Northcoast Artists GalleryToday, July 22, is the feast of Mary Magdalene.  All of the gospels (including the idiosyncratic Fourth Gospel; see John 20:1-18) agree that Mary Magdalene was an eyewitness to Jesus’ resurrection. But Luke in particular “emphasizes the priority of the women’s own experience over the angels’ words” (Charles H. Talbert, Reading Luke : A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Third Gospel [Crossroad, 1982], 227). The women see for themselves that the tomb is empty; then they hear the angels’ explanation (Luke 24:2-7; contrast Mark 16:6-8). The bravery and initiative of the women at the tomb in Luke contrasts with Mark’s gospel, where the witnesses “said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8).

Luke identifies three of the group of brave women bearing witness to Jesus’ death, burial, and empty tomb by name: “It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles” (Luke 24:10). Mark identifies three and only three women (“Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome;” Mark 16:1), while Matthew names only two (“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary;” Matt 28:1). Still, all of the gospels agree that the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection were women, and that Mary Magdalene was present.

Two of the three women named in Luke’s account of Jesus’ resurrection are mentioned earlier in his gospel (Luke 8:2-3): Mary Magdalene, “from whom seven demons had been thrown out,” and Joanna, “the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza.” These two, together with “Susanna, and many others,” served as patrons for the ministry of Jesus and the twelve (Luke says that they “provided for them out of their resources;” Lk 8:3).

Anointing the Feet of Jesus Painting by Ann Lukesh

Somehow, Mary Magdalene came to be identified in Christian tradition with the “woman from the city,  a sinner” in Luke’s account of the woman who anointed Jesus with fine ointment (Luke 7:36-50; compare Matt 26:6-13//Mark 14:3-9; in John 12:1-7, the woman who anoints Jesus is identified as another Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus!).  This led to the common, but mistaken, notion that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. Quite to the contrary, Luke presents her as a respectable matron of independent means, who was delivered from demonic possession by Jesus, and became his follower and supporter.

Mary Magdalene and Joanna are long-time followers and supporters of Jesus. The “other Mary” is likely the mother of two of the disciples. In short, these are reliable witnesses. However outlandish their story may appear, they have earned a respectful hearing.

But then, they are women. In first century Judaism, a woman’s testimony was not regarded as legally admissible. The Jewish historian Josephus wrote, “From women let not evidence be accepted, because of the levity and temerity of their sex” (Antiquities 4.8.15:219).  So the eleven do not listen: “Their words struck the apostles as nonsense [Greek leros], and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). The greatest event in the history of the world is ignored because of the sexist small-mindedness of eleven men.

Only Peter takes the women with sufficient seriousness to check out their claim. Indeed, Peter “ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves” (Luke 24:12; compare John 20:6-7). This is an odd, but significant detail: why would a grave robber have unwound the grave cloths and left them behind? Certainly Peter has no explanation: “he returned home, wondering what had happened” (24:12). Still, he corroborates the women’s claims regarding the empty tomb: his is the second, independent witness required by Jewish law (Num 35:30; Deut 17:6; 19:15-21).

Rather like the eleven in Luke 24:11, who considered the women’s testimony about Jesus’ resurrection “nonsense,” too many refuse to hear the good news when proclaimed by a woman.  Still, in my tradition, women have been preaching for nearly as long as the Methodist movement has been in existence.  In 1787, John Wesley himself gave permission for Sarah Mallet to preach, holding her to standards no different than those expected of all Methodist lay preachers.  However, it was a move severely criticized.

Many regarded women preachers as little more than a novelty; Samuel Johnson, upon hearing of women preaching in the Quaker movement, said, “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

The powerful preaching of women evangelists such as Jarena Lee

and Phoebe Palmer

gave the lie to such condescending nonsense.  But still, though women were recognized as evangelists or local pastors, they were mostly barred from ordination in the various denominations that would form the United Methodist Church (the former United Brethren being an occasional exception).  Not until 1956, the year I was born, were women ordained in the former Methodist Church, a right expressly continued in 1968 when the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren churches joined to form the United Methodist Church.

Tragically, still today, women in ministry face resistance and rejection.  But by refusing to hear God’s word proclaimed in a female voice, we close ourselves off from God.  Particularly on this feast of Mary Magdalene, may the Lord open our minds and hearts and ears, to receive with joy the witness to our Lord’s death and resurrection that faithful women continue to bring.


My Favorite Paradox

The Rick Astley Paradox - Imgur

Rick Astley’s 1987 video “Never Gonna Give You Up” remains enormously popular, largely due to “Rickrolling“–a prank involving the unexpected insertion of the video, or the song, or its lyrics, into. . . well, pretty much anything. But this tweet caught my attention with its opening question: what, after all, is my favorite paradox?

Way up there has to one of the infamous paradoxes of Divine omnipotence: If God is all-powerful, can God create a rock so heavy that God can’t lift it? Attempts to resolve this paradox lead into some unexpected, and quite sophisticated, theological insights.

René Magritte, Exhibitions | The Ralli Museums

One possible answer to the riddle is, No. God can’t make a rock that God can’t lift–not because God’s power is lacking, but because God will never act contrary to God’s own character. Biblically, that solution seems likely to have appealed to the prophet Ezekiel. Some 72 times in his book, God acts, whether in judgment (for example, Ezek 7:4) or salvation (for example, Ezek 37:28), so “that they might know that I am the LORD.” Bible scholar Walther Zimmerli called this the Erkenntnisformel, or “recognition formula,” a motif that sums up the essence of Ezekiel’s message. As Zimmerli wrote,

The whole direction of the prophetic preaching is a summons to a knowledge and recognition of him who, in his action announced by the prophet, shows himself to be who he is in the free sovereignty of his person (Ezekiel 1,  trans. Ronald E. Clements; Heremeneia [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979], 40).

In other words, God does what God does because of who God is. Period.

The Prophet Ezekiel, 1510 - Michelangelo -

The LORD acts for the sake of the LORD’s own honor and name–which is, in the end, extraordinarily good news. For Ezekiel, the history of God’s people has demonstrated that, if our hope for salvation depends upon our faithfulness, we have no hope at all (see Ezekiel 20). The only way that we can have any hope for the future is if our deliverance depends upon God’s character—not upon our worthiness, or even upon our repentance. Therefore, Ezekiel baldly states,

The LORD God proclaims: House of Israel, I’m not acting for your sake but for the sake of my holy name, which you degraded among the nations where you have gone (Ezek 36:22).

The author of Ephesians expresses this truth more positively:

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed.  It’s not something you did that you can be proud of (Ephesians 2:8-9).

As intriguing as this angle on the paradox is, I must confess that I prefer a different solution. Can God create a rock so heavy that God can’t lift it? Yes. Of course God can. But, God chooses not to, and so remains omnipotent.

The Faith of a Physicist (Theology & the Sciences Series): John C. Polkinghorne

The implications of this seemingly glib solution to the riddle are staggering. God, in God’s freedom, voluntarily chooses to limit Godself! This insight is fundamental to the theology of creation posed by Anglican theologian and particle physicist John Polkinghorne in his 1993 Gifford Lectures. He writes:

The act of creation involves divine acceptance of the risk of the existence of the other, and there is a constant kenosis [literally, an emptying or pouring out] of God’s omnipotence. This curtailment of divine power is, of course, self-limitation on his part, and not through any intrinsic resistance of the creature. It arises from the logic of love, which requires the freedom of the beloved. . . God remains omnipotent in the sense that he can do whatever he wills, but it is not in accordance with his will and nature to insist on total control (The Faith of a Physicist [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996], 81).

Polkinghorne’s use of the Greek term kenosis immediately brings to mind the Christ hymn quoted by Paul in Philippians 2:6-11:

Though he was in the form of God,
        he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
[Greek ekenosen]
        by taking the form of a slave
        and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
         he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
        even death on a cross.
Therefore, God highly honored him
        and gave him a name above all names,
     so that at the name of Jesus everyone
        in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
        and every tongue confess
            that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

That the Incarnation was an act of Divine kenosis is undeniable. Christians confess that, while Jesus was fully God, he was also fully human. But if Polkinghorne is right, God’s emptying of Godself–God’s self-limitation–began not in Bethlehem, or on Calvary, but at the very beginning of all things, when God called into being a world that was not God, and granted to that reality its own authentic autonomy.

Nothing demonstrates this truth so powerfully as what God does on the seventh day:

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude.  And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation (Gen 2:1-3, NRSV).

God loves and trusts the world that God has made enough to let it go. Of course, this does not mean that God is absent from the cosmos.  The God of Genesis is certainly not the clockmaker god of the Deists.  Nor, however, is the God we meet in the creation story a divine puppet master, the lone real actor in the cosmic drama. Genesis 2:1-3 affirms that God rests, and the world goes on. Creation is not abandoned by God, and left to its own devices, any more than loving parents abandon their adult children as they prepare to go off on their own.  But like a loving parent, God does, in love and confidence, let the world go. 


Just How Big WAS Goliath?


Title: David and Goliath [Click for larger image view]

The Old Testament reading for this Sunday is 1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49: the familiar story of David and Goliath.  The painting above by folk artist John August Swanson is the way that I recall this scene from my childhood Bible story books.  Goliath is a fairy-tale giant, inhumanly massive.  Little David’s defeat of this monster is a nothing short of a miracle: especially as David eschews armor and weaponry, facing the giant with only his shepherd’s sling and five smooth stones.  That is how we tell the story.  But what does the Bible say?  Just how big was Goliath, anyway?

In the old King James Bible, where I first read this story, his “height was six cubits and a span” (1 Samuel 17:4; see also the NRSV, the NIV, and the ESV)–a literal rendering of the Hebrew shesh ‘ammot wazareth.  The Hebrew units were originally rules of thumb: a cubit is the distance from your elbow to the tip of your middle finger; a span is the width of your outstretched hand, from the tip of your thumb to the tip of your little finger–or, as you can check for yourself, about half a cubit.  According to Kahler and Baumgartner’s Lexicon, that would be about a foot and eight inches (50 cm) for a cubit, and about ten inches (25 cm) for a span, making Goliath ten and a half feet tall!  The CEB (and text critic P. Kyle McCarter in his HarperCollins Study Bible footnotes) presume a more conservative reckoning: “he was more than nine feet tall.”  Now, that is big, to be sure, but it isn’t fairy-tale big: Goliath was not 25 feet tall, or 50 feet tall.  He was much bigger than people usually get, but still a very big man, not a monster (although the marginal notes in one Latin text suggest that Goliath was sixteen cubits tall!).

Top 10 All Time Tallest NBA Players

Intriguingly, the Septuagint–the translation of Jewish Scripture into Greek from north Africa, in the century or two before Jesus’ birth–says that Goliath’s height was four cubits and a span, or (according to McCarter and the CEB footnotes), over six feet tall.  This is still big–particularly in the Late Bronze-Early Iron Age, when (at five and a half feet) I would have been tall.  But it is scarcely gigantic: most pro basketball centers (who average seven feet) would be taller than Goliath!

Sometimes, the differences between the Septuagint and the Hebrew text used in the synagogue, on which our Old Testament is based (called the Masoretic text, or MT) involve the translators re-interpreting or even misreading the text before them.  But the discovery of ancient Hebrew scrolls and fragments at Qumran (commonly called the Dead Sea Scrolls) confirms that often, the Septuagint translators were working with different–and in many cases, older and better–texts of those books.  This is particularly the case with Samuel, which seems to have been poorly preserved by the MT scribes.  One fragmentary Hebrew text of Samuel, found in Cave Four (4Q Sam a), is now the oldest and best text of Samuel available.  In 1 Samuel 17:4, it too reads four cubits and a span.

So, if Goliath was not a giant, but just a big man, why was no one in Saul’s army willing to face him in single combat?  The text tells us why: Goliath was ‘ish-habbanayim–“the man who stands between” (English Bibles render this as “champion”).  In other words, going out alone between combatting forces, to face and defeat the ish-habbanayim of his enemies in single combat, was Goliath’s job.  That he was still alive, and famous, means that he was very good at his job.  Goliath was a dangerous, well-trained, and well-armed professional killer.

To us, this too may sound like a fairy tale: would any army really rely on single combat to determine which side would prevail?  We know that other clan-based cultures did use such contests to resolve their differences.  The Celts, in particular, sometimes settled disputes over property or territory not only by single combat, but by non-lethal contests between bards involving song, poetry, and insults! Such resolutions would be far more economical than pitched battles, with their loss of life and destruction of property.

The description of Goliath’s armor and weaponry tells us much, both about the culture of the times, and this champion’s preferred fighting style:

He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels [about 125 pounds] of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels [about fifteen pounds] of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him.(1 Samuel 17:5-7, NRSV).

The mixture of bronze and iron in Goliath’s weaponry is a reminder of the late eleventh century BCE context of this narrative.  The Philistines (unlike the Hebrews; see Judges 1:19) had mastered the working of iron, but it was still difficult, and expensive.  So only the head of Goliath’s heavy, stabbing spear is made of that wonderful, armor-piercing metal; his armor, and his throwing javelin, are bronze (intriguingly, his sword is not mentioned).  That javelin, note, is Goliath’s only distance weapon–which makes sense, for a single fighter. Goliath counts on closing with his enemy, where his size and strength–and his armor-piercing spear–will make short work of any adversary.

David’s chosen tactic, then, makes good sense!  Being unarmored, he can move quickly: much more quickly than his heavily armored adversary.  Should Goliath opt to throw his javelin, David will be able to dodge.  Goliath, on the other hand, is anything but nimble: a scarcely-moving target for David’s sling stones.  David’s sling catches him in the forehead, just below his bronze helmet, and knocks him senseless–so that David can run up and decapitate the Philistine champion with his own sword (1 Samuel 17:51).

Title: Tapestry of David slaying Goliath [Click for larger image view]

This is a different story than the one in my childhood Bible story book!  But I think it is a better one.  Retelling the story, we tend to heighten the marvelous and miraculous elements, something that indeed the Bible does as well.  Some biblical traditions do claim the the Israelites faced giants in Canaan–monsters descended from the half-human, half-god Nephilim (Numbers 13:33; Genesis 6:4).  But the more human story revealed by the best text of Samuel does not in any way lessen God’s involvement and care.  If anything, it makes the encounter between David and Goliath more real: less a children’s story about “Bible times” and more a promise of God’s presence with us in our encounters with enemies that seem too strong to overcome: whether the besetting sins that threaten our personal spiritual walk, or the national and cultural sins of racism, poverty, and pollution.  With David, we can say to our contemporary adversaries,

You are coming against me with sword, spear, and scimitar, but I come against you in the name of the LORD of heavenly forces, the God of Israel’s army . . . the whole world will know that there is a God on Israel’s side.  And all those gathered here will know that the LORD doesn’t save by means of sword and spear. The LORD owns this war, and he will hand all of you over to us (1 Samuel 17:45-47).



Title: Lift Every Voice and Sing, or, The Harp
[Click for larger image view]

FOREWORD: I am re-sharing this post (slightly edited) from last year, regarding what Juneteenth is, and why it matters to us all.  Pray, friends, for peace with justice, and for the willingness to let God send us forth, giving those prayers hands and feet and a public voice.  


June 19th has long been a famous day in the African-American community, where it is remembered and celebrated as “Juneteenth.” In recent days, more and more white Americans have been brought to realize the significance of this day, as tragic events have brought forcefully and painfully to our national attention America’s original sin of racism and injustice. Juneteenth recalls June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war was over, and that the enslaved were now free. This was over two months after the surrender of General Robert E. Lee on April 9, 1865, and two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, delivered on January 1, 1863. Yet Black Americans in Galveston remained enslaved until the arrival of General Granger’s regiment overcame local resistance to the idea of liberation.

General Granger issued General Order Number 3, which began:


The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.


Perhaps we should not be surprised that freedom came so late to Galveston. After all, while the decades following the Civil War saw the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, promising freedom and equality, they also saw the betrayal of that promise, as with at best the indifference, and at worst the connivance of the federal government, the rights that the Constitution conveyed to all Americans were denied.

Corridor in the National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Whatever the Constitution said, the social norms of white supremacy were codified in Jim Crow laws, and enforced by horrific violence. The Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama honors the memory of more than 4,400 black people lynched in the United States–hanged, burned, murdered, tortured to death– between 1877 and 1950.


That legacy of violence is not past. In this past year alone, the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery, the police killings of Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks, and most of all, the horrific videos of George Floyd‘s public murder by a Minneapolis police officer, prompted not only a national, but a world-wide outcry against racial injustice and police brutality.  Yet sadly, even as justice has prevailed in some of these cases, it remains deferred in others–while new acts of racist violence continue to arise.


Some readers of this blog may be wondering what any of this has to do with the Bible, which is after all the subject of this blog. That, as it happens, is a very good question. It is no accident that nineteenth-century abolitionists did not base their arguments on Scripture. The bulk of the biblical witness seemed to be on the opposite side of the issue–indeed, African slavery was justified then on biblical grounds.  After all, both testaments assume the existence of slavery, and the New Testament repeatedly urges slaves to be obedient to their masters (Eph 6:5; Col 3:22; 1 Peter 2:18).


While I was studying for my doctorate at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, my library carrel was for a time near a tall shelf of books written by Bible scholars teaching and writing at that distinguished Southern school in the years prior to the Civil War. Their books noted, rightly, that the Bible never challenges the institution of slavery. Indeed, some argued that slavery had been a boon for the African people, civilizing these savages and introducing them to the Christian gospel.


What those white antebellum Bible scholars could not see, but new African American Christians could, were texts such as Paul’s statement, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Somehow those distinguished Bible scholars could not see that the heart of the Hebrew Bible–called by philosopher Emil Fackenheim the “root experience” of the Jewish people–was the exodus out of Egypt: God’s action to set slaves free.  Sadly, it still remains possible for us to read the Bible from cover to cover and somehow miss the passion for justice that runs like a river from Genesis to Revelation. Similarly, in white America, racism remains invisible to those who, thanks to white privilege, do not–or cannot–see it, over 150 years after that first Juneteenth.


Community and equality, cooperation and justice, mutual respect and mutual regard are biblical principles. Far from being unreachable ideals, they are the only way that the world truly works, reflecting the identity of the Creator, who is in Godself a community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When any culture elevates one person, class, or race over another, and exalts taking and having over giving and sharing, life itself breaks down. No wonder our economy, our world, and our church are in trouble!

In 2019, Gov. Tom Wolf declared Juneteeth a holiday in Pennsylvania, following the unanimous passage of a bill establishing this holiday in the state House and Senate. “Proud to designate June 19 as #Juneteeth National Freedom Day to commemorate the ending of slavery in the United States,” the Democratic governor tweeted that day. “On this day, let us recognize the importance of continuing to build a nation that truly reflects the self-evident truth that all people are created equal.” This Juneteenth, may we Christians embrace that message, which is at the core of the gospel. As Jesus Christ himself has said,” you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. . . . Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you really will be free” (John 8:31-36).


The photograph at the head of this blog is from “Art in the Christian Tradition,” an on-line gallery linked to the lectionary, managed by The Vanderbilt Divinity School Library. The image comes from The Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP, April 1939. The sculpture by Augusta Savage (1892-1962) appeared in the 1939 New York World’s Fair. It is called “Lift Every Voice and Sing, or, The Harp,” and was inspired by James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson’s hymn, “Lift Every Voice:” sometimes called the African American national anthem.


Re-membering Through Scripture

In the U.S., today is Memorial Day: a day for remembering and honoring the deaths of soldiers, sailors, and pilots who fought for freedom. It is good, and right, that we do so.  But today is also the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth: a celebration of God’s gift of new life, and a prayer for the day when “The bows of mighty warriors are shattered, but those who were stumbling now dress themselves in power!” (1 Sam 2:4).

This line from the Song of Hannah (1 Sam 2:1-10) is reminiscent of the Song of Mary in Luke, often called the Magnificat after its opening word in Latin (Luke 1:46-55):

He has shown strength with his arm.
    He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
    He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
        and lifted up the lowly (Lk 1:51-51).

The Magnificat (the Presbyterian hymnal has a lovely and vigorous setting of this passage!) draws freely in style and imagery on the Song of Hannah.  This is typical of the way that Luke uses Scripture.  Unlike Matthew, who quotes and cites biblical passages (for example, Matt 2:17-18), Luke alludes to texts, writing in the style of the Greek translation of Jewish Scripture, the Septuagint.  According to New Testament scholar I. Howard Marshall, Luke’s “use of a [Septuagint] style must raise the question whether he thought of himself as writing a work of the same kind and thus continuing the ‘salvation history’ which he found in it” (I. Howard Marshall, “An Assessment of Recent Developments,” in It Is Written: Scripture Citing Scripture [ed. D. A. Carson and H. G. M. Williamson; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1988], 9).

The degree to which Luke values Scripture is shown, not only in his Septuagintal style, but also in the content of his gospel.  In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, found only in Luke, the rich man’s plea that Lazarus be sent back from the dead to warn his brothers is answered by Abraham, “They have Moses and the Prophets. They must listen to them” (Luke 16:29).  When the rich man says that if someone came back from the dead, his brothers would be sure to listen, Abraham says, “If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

Two Different Views of the Story of Emmaus — FAITH & CULTURE

This proves an effective foreshadowing of Luke 24, where the resurrection continually prompts doubt and disbelief (with the sterling exception of the women at the tomb!), until Jesus dispels doubt by turning to the Scriptures (Luke 24:27, 44-45).  Of course, reading the Scriptures alone is not enough.  Only when Jesus himself has “interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets” (Luke 24:27) and “opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45) does their meaning become powerful and apparent.  As the two friends in Emmaus say after their encounter with Jesus, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?” (Luke 24:32).

It is difficult to know precisely what Luke has in mind when he writes,

This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day,  and a change of heart and life for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:46-47).

Training Happy Hearts: Planning St. Luke Feast Day Tea: A Resource Round-Up

It seems unlikely that Luke is thinking of a specific text for each claim Jesus makes here about himself (remember, unlike Matthew, Luke does not often quote Scripture).  Rather it seems that the whole of Scripture extends into, and finds its fulfillment in, the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.  This is the point of Luke’s gospel, and the reason he writes as he does, in the style of the Septuagint, echoing its language and themes.  Luke believes that he is writing Scripture, and that Scripture bears witness to God in Christ Jesus.

When I was teaching at Randolph-Macon College, I met a Korean-born Christian named Peter Chang.  Peter, like me, had done his Ph. D. in Hebrew Bible at Union (now Union Presbyterian) in Richmond, VA, and for a time worked as an adjunct in our college Religious Studies department.  We talked often, about common friends at Union, about our discipline of biblical studies, about teaching, but also about faith.

Peter told me how he had become a Christian in South Korea.  He was a university student, he said.  At this time, he knew no Christians: his family was not Christian; he had no Christian friends.  Together with a group of other students, none of whom was Christian, Peter began a study of the gospel of Mark.  In the course of that study, they became convinced of the truth of what they were reading.  Unguided by missionaries or tracts, unproselytized by Protestants or Catholics, without an evangelist or an altar rail in sight, they gave their lives to the Jesus they met in the pages of Scripture.

I found Peter’s story amazing, but not surprising.  In my years of teaching Bible to undergraduates, many of whom had never opened a Bible before, I had often seen similar evidence of the power of Scripture to change lives.  Many times, students have written a note on the last page of their final exams, telling me that they have started going to church, or that they have started listening to their pastor’s sermons.  One student wrote, “I think I know now what I need to do to be saved.”  Scripture has this power, not because the Bible is a magic book, but because in its pages, God comes to meet us.

Through the words of Scripture, we encounter the Word made flesh, our living Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Remembering Christ, we are ourselves “re-membered”–put back together, healed, and made whole.


The statue that I have used to represent Mary and Elizabeth’s encounter is Two Women” (ca. 1950-1960), by Charles LePlae.  It stands outside the Openluchtmuseum voor Beeldhouwkunst Middelheim (Antwerp, Belgium).  I found this image in Vanderbilt Library’s wonderful online resource “Art in the Christian Tradition,” which is linked to the lectionary.  Also from that lectionary site comes this beautiful prayer for the day:

Blessed God,
who invited us to be handmaids of your creative power:
Bless us as you blessed Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary,
filling our barren hearts with your fertile word,
nurturing faith within us,
sustaining us as we ripen with hope,
until your desire calls us to the time of labor,
and we give birth to your incarnate love. Amen.

Muons and Unicorns

The Muon g-2 ring sits in its detector hall amidst other equipment

Recent experiments seem to confirm that the behavior of muons–extremely short-lived subatomic particles related to electrons–does not conform to the expectations of standard physics.  The title of an article in the journal Nature describes one reaction to this find: “Is the standard model broken? Physicists cheer major muon result.”  Indeed, the physicists at Fermilab tweeted, “We’re thrilled to announce that the first results from Fermilab’s Muon g-2 experiment strengthen evidence of new physics!”

This reaction may seem surprising.  After all, the Standard Model has for decades been the foundation of modern physics; scientists have spent their careers teaching, and experimentally validating, its claims about reality.  Why should they celebrate the possible refutation (subject to experimental verification!) of their lives’ work?  The answer is in that Fermilab tweet: these scientists are excited by the prospect of “new physics”–discovering something previously unknown about the way that the world works.

I remember eagerly following the news as the very first high-resolution images of Saturn and its rings came back from Voyager 1 in 1980. One planetary astronomer in particular laughed out loud as he told an interviewer, “We were wrong!  Everything we thought we knew about Saturn and its rings was wrong!”  He was not sad to be wrong at all–nor was he resistant!  He did not claim that the Voyager images must be false, or faked, or misleading.  In fact, he was jubilant at the new science those images revealed–and are still revealing.

I thought of that excitement this past week, as I was chasing down a question from my former student and ministry colleague Kerry Dowdy.  She had shared with me a newsletter celebrating National Unicorn Day (I had not known that there was such a thing!), and asked me what I thought.

The newsletter read in part:

Unicorns Are Mentioned in the Bible   The King James Version of the Old Testament contains nine references to unicorns, thanks to a mistranslation of the Hebrew word re’em.  The original word was likely the Assyrian rimu (auroch), an extinct species of wild ox. 

The relevant passages are Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9-10; Psalm 22:21; 29:6; 92:10; and Isaiah 34:7.  You can readily confirm the KJV reading “unicorn” with any KJV concordance, or by searching the KJV on Bible Gateway.  The Hebrew, as the newsletter observes, is re’em (רְאֵם). In each of these nine references, as you can also confirm by checking the link above, most modern translations, including the CEB and the NRSV, read “wild bull” or “wild ox.”  The translation “unicorn” is apparently due to the Greek Septuagint’s rendering monokeros (μονοκερος; that is, “one horn”).  The Latin Vulgate accordingly reads rinoceros (“rhinoceros”) in Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17, and Job 39:9-10, and unicornis in Isaiah 34:7; Psalm 22:21 (22:22 in Hebrew); 29:6 (28:6 in Greek and Latin texts), and 92:10 (92:11 in Hebrew; 91:11 in Greek and Latin).  I honestly am not at all sure why King James’ translators in 1611 decided to use “unicorn” for all nine, but there we are.

Most Hebrew lexicons, as the newsletter also observes, render re’em as wild bull or ox.  Some suggest that it may refer to the now-extinct (since 1627) aurochs (Bos primigenius), a massive wild bull that was the ancestor of our modern cattle.  Perhaps the Greek translators called the aurochs “one horn”  because Assyrian and Babylonian art typically depicted it in profile (as on the Ishtar Gate).

So, why did this delightful unicorn hunt, through ancient texts and images, remind me of the muon experiment?  In the course of my online searching, I found this page in Kenneth Ham’s Answers in Genesis.  The headline says it all: “To think of the biblical unicorn as a fantasy animal is to demean God’s Word, which is true in every detail.”  To be sure, that page covers much of the same ground that I cover above–although it also suggests a variety of extinct one-horned beasts for the biblical re’em.

But the approach of Answers in Genesis is diametrically opposed to the open attitude of discovery exemplified by the physicists responding to the Fermilab muon experiments, or the astronomers responding to the first images of Saturn’s rings.  The assumption of this article, from its beginning, is that unicorns have to be real because they are in the Bible: that is, that what we hold to be true from our interpretation of Scripture must be correct, whatever the evidence says.  This approach condemns the reader to a stagnant faith, unable to accept the possibility that our reading (or in this case, our translation) may be wrong–and accordingly, unable to learn anything authentically new.  By contrast, Hebrews 4:12 says of Scripture,

God’s word is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates to the point that it separates the soul from the spirit and the joints from the marrow. It’s able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions.

Certainly, this is the way that Jesus reads Scripture in Matthew 5:21-48: not as a dead, static word, but as living!  Six times in this passage, Jesus says, “You have heard it said,” quotes a passage from the Scriptures, and then declares, “but I say.”  Jesus places his own words on a par with Scripture—and not just any Scripture, but the Torah (the first five books of the Bible, still central to Jewish faith and identity) and even the words of the Ten Commandments!

In part, this is what it means to speak of Jesus coming to fulfill the law and the prophets: he is himself the Word of God, made flesh (John 1:14).  But Christian readers should not be too quick to conclude that Jesus sets the Torah aside: after all, Jesus said, “I say to you very seriously that as long as heaven and earth exist, neither the smallest letter nor even the smallest stroke of a pen will be erased from the Law until everything there becomes a reality” (Matthew 5:18).  Jesus’ reading of Scripture is faithful to the tradition, not contemptuous of it.  However, Jesus reads these texts for what they mean, within the whole body of Scripture—not merely for what they say.

For example: the Ten Commandments say, “Do not kill” (see Exodus 20:13).  But that does not mean that any act of violence short of murder is fine.  Jesus knows that violence begins in the heart, in the attitude that demeans and dehumanizes the other.

Words of contempt issuing from such a heart not only lead all too readily to acts of violence, they are themselves already acts of violence.  Rather than narrowing the text to the letter of the law, Jesus’ reading broadens and deepens the text, seeking its spirit.

So too, though the commandment says only, “Do not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14) this surely does not mean that anything short of adultery is okay!  Adultery too begins in the heart, with the lustful attitude that reduces the other to an object for my own gratification.

Like violence, then, adultery begins by denying the humanity of the other—by refusing empathy.  By reading the Bible this way, not narrowing and restricting the texts but broadening and deepening them, Jesus reads like the rabbis before and after him.

On the other hand, the Torah permits divorce.  Deuteronomy 24:1-4 states that if a man finds “something inappropriate about her” (Deut 24:1 NRSV; the Hebrew is ‘erwah dabar, that is “a shameful thing”), he may divorce his wife.  The rabbis debate what “something inappropriate” means.  For example, Rabbi Shammai concludes that ‘erwah dabar means adultery, while Rabbi Hillel says, “If she burns the meat in the pan, you may divorce her.”  Still, all the rabbis accept the legitimacy of divorce.

But Jesus thinks differently.  In first-century Palestine, women could not own property.  Divorced women could then be left homeless and hungry, unable to care for themselves or for their children.  Jesus recognizes that what is permissible is not necessarily good—let alone God’s best.  He therefore rejects divorce, except (like his near-contemporary Rabbi Shammai) when the relationship is already broken by unfaithfulness.

What does this mean for our own time?  Does Jesus’ rejection of divorce and remarriage hold for us today?  My own denomination, the United Methodist Church, recognizes divorce, and permits clergy to perform marriages for divorced persons.  Is this wrong? I have many dear friends and members of my family who are divorced and have remarried; some are pastors themselves.  Should I tell them that their marriages are invalid, or their children are illegitimate?

I don’t think so. Why should we read the Gospels narrowly and legalistically, when Jesus did not read his Bible in that way?  If we want to read as Jesus read, we must look for how best to live out Jesus’ affirmation of faithfulness and commitment in marriage in our own context, rather than applying to his own words a legalism that Jesus rejects.

Jesus approaches each specific text of the Bible in the light of the highest ideals upheld in the whole of Scripture, seeking God’s intention and desire.  Unlike Answers in Genesis, Jesus does not take the Bible literally.  He takes the Bible seriously—and so must we.  I suggest, friends, that we approach Scripture like those physicists responding to the unexpected results of Fermilab’s muon experiments: not assuming that we already know what the answers must be, but ready to learn, from the text and from the Holy Spirit, something new.



Christ Is Risen Indeed!

In the early church, when believers met one another in this holy season, they would greet one another with a hearty and enthusiastic Christe anesti–“Christ is risen!”–to which the only possible response is Allthos anesti–“He is risen indeed!”

This poem by one of my favorite poets, e.e. cummings,  catches for me the exuberant joy of this Easter day:

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

May this Easter find you overwhelmed with joy “for most this amazing” gift of life, from “most this amazing” God!  Brothers, sisters, friends, Christ is risen!