The Meaning of Christmas: Clandestine Celebration

Christmas day is a celebration, which Herod must not hear of. Christmas is a whispered celebration. I am not sure that we understand Christmas yet, we western Christians. May I try and unpack this season theologically? I begin with the seasons – please bear with me, the payoff is rich.

The Winter Solstice in Other Cultures

The winter solstice marks the turning of the season. This is longest night of the year. Up until now the nights have lengthened, night by night. And thSnow_on_the_mountains_of_Southern_Californiae climate has become colder and colder. Now from this night, the nights become shorter, and the world begins to warm. The winter solstice is the beginning of new life, and the end of death.

For this reason, ancient agrarian cultures celebrated the winter solstice with anticipation and joy. Feasting was common on this night. In some cultures the winter solstice was the beginning of the new year. In ancient Canaanite culture, it was thought that Baal, the fertility god, came to life on this night, and Baal began to bring life to agriculture and to the wombs of animals and humans. This season was full of mystery and it was pregnant with hope.

The Winter Solstice and Advent

Why is Christmas celebrated on December 25th? Why in the dead of winter—the solstice? A likely (though not certain) view is that the date was borrowed from pagan celebrations. The Romans had their mid-winter Saturnalia festival in late December. According to this theory, early Christians deliberately chose these dates to encourage the spread of Christmas and Christianity throughout the Roman world.

The winter solstice signifies much the incarnation. (Aussies and other Southern Hemispherians need to do some re-appropriation here.) Palestine, under the Roman Empire, felt like winter. The population was poor, and it suffered under heavy taxation. Selfish puppet kings ruled Israel, and the emperor was honoured almost as a god. For Israel this was a time of exile—a return to Egypt. This was the long night of Herod’s reign, and the long night of proud and money hungry chief priests. Where was God?

Into this dark winter, a child is born. Not a full-grown, adult king, but a child. The incarnation is a hopeful whisper, not a shout. And with the incarnation the season has turned. Spring is around the corner, though it is not here yet. Now the nights become shorter, night-by-night. The incarnation is joyful to be sure, and yet it is not the full-blooded victory celebration of Easter Sunday. Rather the incarnation is whispered into the night. The wise men slinked away, undercover, for fear of Herod. And a dreadful slaughter of infants follows. To be sure, Herod still rules in Palestine, for now.

In the North we celebrate Christmas at a particular point within the seasonal calendar, in the dead of winter. The Christmas festival signifies the end of death, and the beginning of new life. We whisper about new life. New life isn’t yet our full reality, for Herod is still alive and well in our world. This narrative raises the question: how can we celebrate advent and Christmas in a way that corresponds to this seasonal movement? How can we experience a strain of warmth, deep within Herod’s winter?

Worshiping through Advent and Christmas

  1. Advent and Anticipation in the Ache of Winter

“Watching, waiting, for the one . . .” Advent comes in the dead of winter. Advent is a time of watching for God, while living subversively and wisely under the rule of other gods and of other powers.

How can we urban dwellers experience something of the dead of winter, and the spark of new life? Perhaps we can share in a star gazing night? Perhaps we can have a contemplative night walk though the snow/heat (for Aussies), as a community. Perhaps these could follow an evening service.

  1. Christmas and Clandestine Celebration

Christmas day is a celebration, which Herod must not hear of. The world’s true king is born, and his rule will overthrow all rulers, in time. “Clandestine” means in secret. Christmas is a whispered celebration. Now the nights are becoming shorter, and new life has begun.

How can we experience Christmas as a clandestine celebration? Perhaps we can plant bulbs in a pot, as a sign of new life, just begun. Our Christmas Eve candle-lit walk to the park is a rich sign to Christ’s whispered beginning. Lots of small, warm gatherings in homes across the neighborhood. Is there a subversive activist participation that might fit here?

Posted in justice, Life, miscellaneous, mission of the local church, politics, theology | 2 Comments

How does “Canaanite Destruction” relate to mission and justice?

The most common grudge people have against scripture is surely the apparent annihilation of the Canaanites. In my estimation those who complain most loudly against this issue, including scholars from the New Atheist camp, have done little serious research into the matter. As it turns out, this theme is not the atrocity that it appears to be. And understanding this theme properly is vital for a proper understanding the mission of Christ. However, you will need to buckle-in and journey with me for a while, back in time, and then back to our time, so that we can understand these ancient texts. I will focus on the book of Deuteronomy.

Moabite Stone, Louve

Moabite Stone, Louve

What follows is an excerpt from my chapter in a forthcoming book with Eerdmans, “A Missional Reading of Scripture: Hermeneutics, Preaching, and Theological Education,” edited by Michael Goheen.

The theme of judgment in Deuteronomy focuses our view of the missional encounter with culture of a worshipping community: God’s people exist both for and against the world.[1] Two great sins are condemned in Deuteronomy: apostasy and injustice. For tolerating these two great sins Israel would ultimately be exiled, as Deuteronomy had predicted. Of course these two themes are dependent on one another, for it is precisely Yahweh’s good rule that forges a society in which every person and all of creation can flourish.

Judgment Upon the Canaanites.

The Deuteronomic texts that command the utter destruction of the Canaanite populations require some discussion at this point (7:2, 5, 23; 12:30: 20:15-16).[2] These texts raise important questions about grace, violence, ethnicity, judgment, and the character of God. In order to clear the ground for our discussion, allow me to address some of the major objections to the ethics of these texts, with three brief points. First, Yahweh’s judgment upon the Canaanites is not arbitrary but is the divine response to their injustice and wickedness (12:31). Second, God’s judgment also fell on Israel itself for the same reasons, demonstrating that judgment upon “the nations” was not ethnically motivated. Third, there is no inherent incongruity between Yahweh’s judgment upon a nation at a particular point on the journey of salvation history and Yahweh’s blessing all nations through Abraham at the destination of the journey. God acts in power throughout history in order to restrain evil and injustice so that blessing may flourish.

Nonetheless there are good reasons for thinking that Deuteronomy does not have in view the entire destruction of the Canaanite populations. Walter Brueggemann asserts that this theme “requires a class reading, this rhetoric is on the lips of those who have no weapons.”[3] Insofar as Deuteronomy was allowed to shape the community during the monarchic period, it was a text in solidarity with those on the margins of society, those without economic power or military capacity. Furthermore, K. Lawson Younger, among others, has investigated the literary techniques of ancient conquest accounts, focusing on Assyrian, Hittite, Egyptian, and Israelite texts. Younger demonstrates that expressions of annihilation in ancient conquest accounts have a highly figurative and an ideological aspect that is commonly communicated through hyperbole. These accounts use stereotyped phrases that overstate the historical reality, expressing the ideology of the text’s sponsor.[4] Younger’s argument is perhaps most easily demonstrated in the well-known Mesha inscription (the Moabite stone) wherein King Mesha of Moab claims: “Israel has gone to ruin, yes, it has gone to ruin for ever,”[5] and claims that every resident in the vicinity of Nebo has been killed.[6] Of course in fact neither Israel nor Nebo were annihilated: the text is hyperbolic and ideological.[7] This observation does not mean that the Mesha inscription is historically void and that these battles never occurred. It does show that this genre of ancient writing communicates through literary conventions that exaggerate elements of annihilation in order to make an ideological or theological point.[8] Younger demonstrates that “Joshua 9-12 shares a similar transmission code with its ANE counterparts.”[9]

In Deuteronomy herem signifies the total loyalty that Yahweh demands and that deep human flourishing requires. Other societies were shaped by a different kind of rule and were therefore in many ways an aberration of Yahweh’s intention for society. Israel is meant to reject utterly the false worship of these kingdoms. Herem amounts to a kind of spiritual map, distinguishing between the kingdoms of darkness and of light. The lens of a missional hermeneutic highlights for us that Deuteronomy’s theology of judgment is preparing a people for a wholesale confrontation with the dehumanizing idols of culture.

Canaanite Destruction and a Missional Encounter with Culture.

Deuteronomy’s stipulations regarding foreign participation in the covenant community demonstrates a certain tension. On the one hand, the pagan practices of the Canaanite people who were established in the land posed a clear threat of syncretism for Israel. Intermarriage in particular would have spelled the end to Israel’s distinctive life and missional identity (7:3-4). On the other hand, Deuteronomy also insists upon the full inclusion of the stranger and the chattel slave in the life of the nation, and many of those included would have been from other kingdoms and would have worshipped other deities. Seemingly these latter groups did not present the same threat to the community’s faithfulness because of their vulnerability. Israel was to keep these principles in tension, taking steps to exclude threats to its own faithful allegiance to Yahweh but also striving to be a radically inclusive community (in line with the exodus motif). The command to separate from the Canaanites is as dependent upon the missional context of the community as the command to radical inclusivity.

This same tension of being both for and against the world faces any missional community, because a missional community must immerse itself in the world’s grief and joys, its structures and sociality and yet not drown in its whelming idolatry. As G. Lohfink puts it: “Precisely because the church does not exist for itself, but completely and exclusively for the world, it is necessary that the church not become the world, that it retain its own countenance.”[10] Missional leaders must persistently ask: “What does it mean to love our neighborhood? And what are the idols that threaten our particular community in this particular place?”

I suggest that one strategy for the western church to live faithfully amidst cultural idolatry is to relocate itself at the margins of society, with the marginalized. Scholars and laypeople reading the New Testament notice that Christ ate his way through the gospels and that he had a reputation for eating with all the wrong people: tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners. But this social rearrangement through Kingdom feasting didn’t begin altogether with Christ. As we have seen in Deuteronomy, Israel was always supposed to live this way, sharing the festal table—indeed all of life—with the vulnerable, with gratitude to God. Certainly, the church is called into every sphere of culture, into education, health, business, politics, and the arts. Some of us are called to influence the very center of culture. Yet no matter what our calling or sphere of influence, we cannot neglect to make our home also at the margins, with “sinners.” This is how we set our table; this is where we feast.

[1] “The Church is for the world against the world. The Church is against the world for the world. The Church is for the human community in that place, that village, that city, that nation, in the sense that Christ is for the world. And that must be the determining criterion at every point” (Lesslie Newbigin, A Word in Season: Perspectives on Christian World Missions [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994], p. 54).

[2] See further, McConville, Deuteronomy, 90, 161; Wright, Ethics, pp. 472-80.

[3] Brueggemann, Theology, p. 243.

[4] K. Lawson Younger,Jr, Ancient Conquest Accounts: A Study in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical History Writing (JSOT Supp. 98; Sheffield; JSOT, 1990), p. 123.

[5] “The Inscription of King Mesha,” translated by K. A. D. Smelik in The Context of Scripture (eds. William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger; Leiden: Brill, 2000), 2.23.

[6] The Hebrew/Moabite word hrm is used here, the same word employed in Deuteronomy.

[7] Bruce E. Routledge argues that the significance of Mesha devoting the Canaanites to Kemosh was that the deity then stood between the two social groups, preventing exchange of any kind and therefore of any kind of human sociability (Moab in the Iron Age: Hegemony, Polity, Archaeology [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004], p. 150).

[8] Similarly C. Wright writes, “We do need to allow for the exaggerated language of warfare” (Ethics, p. 474).

[9] Younger, Conquest Accounts, p. 241.

[10] G. Lohfink, Jesus and Community, p. 146.

Posted in deuteronomy, ethnicity and the bible, mission of the local church, old testament ethics | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Voting and the Kingdom of God

I have had a short article published in light of the upcoming Canadian elections: “Voting and the Kingdom of God.”HAR1444

At the polling booth this election, Christ followers can be guided by the biblical story, which unfolds Christ’s restoring purposes for the world. Christians are not directionless when it comes to politics, for we have a script to orientate us and narrate the true story of the world.

Scepticism is rampant about the integrity of politicians and about the point of participating in politics. Comedian Will Rogers said once, “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts!” Making light of an overwhelming situation is understandable – yet scepticism can’t be our only response. The biblical story is, in part, a story of how humanity is supposed to function in community and that has implications for politics. Therefore, thoughtful voting is a part of our Christian vocation.

“Decisions are made by those who show up,” someone once said. When Christ followers are engaged politically, involving ourselves in the world and creating justice, we honour the global authority of Jesus Christ. We could even say that voting is an act of faith – we vote in faith and we vote out of our faith.

Deuteronomy has been called a “national charter” for ancient Israel – it set the agenda for their nation. Deuteronomy called ancient Israel to live as kin with one another. People were to treat each another as family. So everyone was to be given the opportunity to flourish, especially the slave, the widow, the refugee, and the orphan. All of these were to be kin.

Christ followers are called to discern: which policies are calling our community to care for one another as family? Whose political talk is calling us to count a cost for others? Our culture is post-Christian, and Canadian politics is post-Christian. So we are not seeking a “Christian” figurehead for our “Christian” nation. Voting should be steered by policy that honours Christ rather than by a person’s claim to Christian affiliation.

We can move beyond party-political allegiance to seek policy that reflects Christ’s purposes for His world.  Now six trajectories that emerge from the biblical story. I chose these trajectories by discerning how the biblical story, especially Deuteronomy, encounters western culture.

For the remainder of the article in Light Magazine, click here.

Posted in deuteronomy, justice, politics | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A choice between trust and fear is at the heart of almost every tension

A choice between trust and fear is at the heart of almost every tension.

aaaaaThe pioneer of development psychology Erik Erickson spoke of “basic trust.” This is the confidence that a baby begins to have in its mother. The baby is trusting that the mother is reliably concerned and attentive even when not visibly present. Erickson says that all human beings are finally confronted with the options of trust and fear.

Are we trusting God in these messy, difficult, challenging lives we live? Or do we fear? We all wrestle between trust and fear.

This choice between trust and fear is at the heart of almost every point of tension that we feel: relational complexities, work complexities, living arrangements, decisions about romantic relationships, marriage, parenting . . .

Here is a study in trust: the story of Abraham and Abimelech, Genesis Chapter 20. Abraham fears that Abimelech will kill him for his wife, Sarah. What is Abraham to do? Abraham pretends that Sarah is his sister. Then Abimelech ends up marrying Sarah. When Abraham’s pretence is found out, Abraham makes all sorts of excuses, like, “Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife.” Abraham’s behaviour is pathetic. Ironically, Abimelech, not Abraham, trusts Abraham’s God!

For myself, I have been praying through a relational issue. The more I pray the more I realise that it’s my issue, and that I have to choose between trusting that God is working in this situation, or fear. Abraham gave way to fear. When we live, or speak, out of fear, instead of trust, things go wrong. But when we are trusting in God, with a childlike “basic trust,” then we live wisely, and we speak wisely—and we bring life.

We can rest in God. We don’t have to compromise. We don’t have to grasp. We don’t have to fight. We can wait for the Lord. As Julian of Norwich wrote, “All will be well and all will be well.” We have to wait for the Lord. This time, this era, is all about waiting. And that’s ok. Be faithful. Let’s dig deep in Christ together; let’s dig deep in life together. And wait for the Lord.

Posted in Life, miscellaneous, old testament | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Sacred Year”

deleteConsider Mike Yankoski’s new book, “The Sacred Year.” Here is a book to give your friend who is disenchanted with church—a good fraction of generation Y-Zers in my experience—and who need a fresh vision for following Christ. This is the give-away book that I have been searching for some time. It is also a book for deepening in your own walk with Christ.

Mike Yankoski is a dear friend of mine and a cherished author and speaker. Mike weaves this call to a deeper life into his own journey from living as an airport-dwelling Christian speaker, to slowing down in order to know God and to know God’s world.

Here a personal anecdote from Mike’s book that I enjoyed. Mike is reflecting on his jam-packed, frenzied, itinerant and facebook-saturated life:

Interesting but relatively useless facts stick in my mind like darts in a dartboard. Like this one:

Did you know that so long as it is stretched very, very thin (only a molecule or so thick), a single gallon of water could cover an area five square miles in size? A friend recently fired that one at me.

I winced as its tip hit home, realizing it at once for what it was: a mockery of my current state of being, a chafing metaphor for my life.

Bull’s-eye.

“But if you could focus that same gallon,” my friend continued, “pouring it into a straw about the size of a human hair, it would reach all the way down the center of the world, four thousand miles beneath the ground on which you stand.”

Decreasing breadth increases depth. That’s just the way things work in this three-dimensional world of ours.

You can check out Mike’s book on this link. Chapter 1 is offered for free. http://www.thesacredyear.com/splash/sacredYear.html

Posted in apologetics, Life, miscellaneous | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Preaching Deuteronomy missionally: An eight week series.

Are you interested in going deeper in missional preaching? At the  ‘A Missional Reading of Scripture Conference’, Calvin Seminary, Grand Rapids, Nov. 2013, I presented a workshop, ‘Church for the Thriving of the World: Preaching Deuteronomy Missional-Header-570x362Missionally.’ This included outlining an eight week sermon series on Deuteronomy titled:  ‘Radical Gratitude and the Mission of God.’ If you are a preacher you may be interested in preaching through Deuteronomy missionally.

The book of Deuteronomy mobilizes the church in 2014 to live with gratitude in response to God’s gifts and with generosity for the sake of the world. Reading the Bible missionally includes attending to Biblical ethics and also seeing how these biblical ethics are embedded in theology to shape a display people before the world.

A detailed description of the sermon series is available on this website. It will also be helpful to listen to the audio in preparation for preaching through Deuteronomy (there is a jazz piano performance of Amazing grace a little after the 40 minute mark). I hope you find this material helpful in mobilising your community into the mission of Christ.

Posted in deuteronomy, mission of the local church, preaching, theology | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Extraordinary Conference (at which I get to speak): A Missional Reading of Scripture

A Missional Reading of Scripture Conference: November 20-21, 2013, Calvin Seminary, Grand Rapids.

Missional-Header

Plenary speakers: Chris Wright, N. T. Wright, Mike Goheen, Darrell Guder.

Workshop presenters: Tyler Johnson, Chris Gonzalez, Scot Sherman, Chuck DeGroat, Gayle Doornbos, John Franke, George Hunsberger, Tim Sheridan, Carl Bosmer and myself.

This is the most exciting conference I have encounter in a long while, and it is an honour to contribute. Here is the official write up:

Over the past century a number of scholars have recognized that mission is not simply a peripheral theme in the biblical story. Rather, it is a central thread in the biblical writings and central to the identity of the church. Thus, a missional hermeneutic is a way of reading Scripture in which mission is a central interpretive key that unlocks the whole narrative of Scripture. It does not simply study the theme of mission but reads the whole of the biblical canon with mission as one of its central themes. This conference will explore what it might mean to read both the Old Testament and the New Testament with a missional hermeneutic, and what that might mean for missional praxis of the church, specifically preaching, theological education, and the life of the local congregation.

The program describes my own workshop like this:

 The book of Deuteronomy mobilizes the church in 2013 to live with gratitude and generosity for the sake of the world. Reading the Bible missionally
 includes attending to Biblical ethics and also seeing how these biblical ethics are embedded in theology to shape a display people before the world.
This session will discuss how Deuteronomy gives a pattern for a community in which every person can thrive ­ especially the most vulnerable. We will explore how Deuteronomy can shape the church as a contrast people today. You will come away with a preaching series outline.

If you live on the East Coast or have some ‘points’ to use up, I can’t recommend this conference warmly enough. It will change your conception of the mission of Christ, your preaching, leadership and personal praxis. If you are not able to attend and have any questions about preaching Deuteronomy missionally or on a missional hermeneutic more generally, please comment or email me.

Posted in mission of the local church, preaching | 4 Comments

“Ancient Laws and New Canadian Refugee Legislation: An article with “Refuge” journal.

May I please share with you my article just published with Refuge: Canada’s Journal on Refugees, titled: ”Ancient Laws and New Canadian Refugee Legislation: Evaluating Bill C-31 in Light of the Book of Deuteronomy“. Refuge is a prestigious academic journal held at

Refuge: Canada's Journal on Refugees

Refuge: Canada’s Journal on Refugees

York and Queens University, ON, Canada, in the broad discipline of cultural studies. I am  pleased about this publication for two reasons. Firstly, the sad new parochialism surrounding  refugee legislation in many western countries must be critiqued from every possible angle. The Old Testament Scriptures provides a robust and authoritative foundation for critique and, as I conclude in the article, Scripture roundly declares recent Canadian refugee legislation, Bill C-31, as immoral. Secondly, while this article is seeped in scripture, the journal itself is not religious. The church often receives bad press regarding issues of social justice (often deservedly) and I feel this article contributes to the effort, shared among many good people, to buy some ground back in this regard – to display the ‘good news’ of the kingdom of God.

Below the abstract to follow, is a link to an Australian companion to this article, which addresses recent developments in Australian refugee policy.

Abstract:

Some important innovations within Bill C-31, Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, run contrary to the biblical ethics espoused in the book of Deuteronomy, from the Judeo-Christian scriptures. Components of Bill C-31—such as mandatory detention, no right of appeal, and a five-year delay for application for permanent residence (all these apply to only certain groups of claimants)—are challenged by the ethics, system of justice, and polity of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy, the Hebrew word “ger” (“stranger”) occurs twenty-one times, indicating the importance of ethics concerning the stranger for this book. Townships and families in Israel have the responsibility to include the stranger in their agricultural, ritual, and cultural lives. Deuteronomy’s ethic towards the stranger is embedded in Israel’s own history of being a “stranger” or “refugee.”

The Australian companion to this article is: Laws of Inclusion and Strategies of Exclusion: New Australian Asylum Seeker Policy Under the Scrutiny of Deuteronomy, published with CASE magazine, September 2013.

Posted in deuteronomy, ethnicity and the bible, old testament ethics, politics, stranger/alien/outsider/refugee | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Does Obamacare match with Biblical ethics? The Government shutdown may be a fitting time to reflect.

obama-ObamaCare-TimeDuring this U.S. Government shutdown, it may be an fitting for American Christians to consider how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, at the centre of the dispute, matches up with Biblical ethics. It seems that Biblical ethics may bring some clarity to the discussion. I write as an Australian, a resident of Canada and a reformed pastor/scholar.

At first sight there is much about the Act that is appealing: 20% of Americans currently uninsured (or who get insurance on the individual market) will be eligible for government subsidised health insurance-about 30million people. Yet the high cost of subsidising medical insurance has been sharply critiqued. Also it has been argued that placing rules and restrictions on the health insurance system leads to inefficiency—the free market lowers costs.

Tithe laws demonstrate some biblical principles concerning economics and the protection of the poor. Among Israel’s neighbours in the ancient Near East, a tithe of all agricultural produce was customarily paid as a tax for the benefit of the temple and its elite clergy and also the king. The tithe accumulated wealth for the privileged. The biblical book of Deuteronomy turns this custom on its head in two ways. First, instead of being taxed, the Israelite family consumed the tithe through feasting at the sanctuary—the stranger, orphan, widow and Levite joined in! Here is a wonderful image of generosity and inclusion: the Israelite family includes the underprivileged in their feasts—this would have been at great cost (Deuteronomy 14:22-29; 16:1-17; 26:1-11).  Indeed Old Testament Israel was to invite these people into the daily life of the extended family, sharing in farming and relationship—they became kin.

Second, every third year a tithe of agricultural produce was stored locally, for the benefit of the stranger, orphan widow and Levite (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). This was a costly provision for the benefit of the disadvantaged.

Some biblical principles may be extrapolated here. First, all people, including the vulnerable, have the opportunity to benefit from the productivity of the land that God has given. Second, vulnerable people must be protected, even at a cost. Third, vulnerable people are included in society. Fourth, the potential for the elite to accumulate resources is seriously limited (see too the ‘law of the King, Deuteronomy 17:14-20).

These principles would seem to address the criticism that that medical insurance is too costly: Biblical ethics would seem to suggest that protection for the most vulnerable must be a budget priority. If the deficit is to be reduced it must be reduced by other means (I wonder if the tithe laws suggest that it is the wealthy who ought to bear this burden?).

Regarding the argument that restrictions create inefficiency, these biblical laws urge us not to lose sight of compassion for vulnerable people. Pursuing economic efficiency is an important aspect of Biblical stewardship. Yet no matter how efficient the insurance system, it remains that people without means rely on subsidy if they are to be insured. And it remains that poorer people are the most vulnerable to recalcitrant insurance companies—and are protected by a measure of restriction. The tithe laws call us to pursue a life of flourishing for vulnerable people in our midst.

I have found it useful to take time to consider how these issues affect real people. Here are two examples: Angela Graham, of Aurora Colorado, told the New York Times that she is ‘very interested in taking out a policy’. Angela’s job conducting telephone surveys does not provide her with health insurance. Angela says, ‘I don’t go to the doctor these days. I just pray.’

Mr Messinger is off work on disability payments and currently pays $500 each month for insurance. He says: “I’ve been waiting for this to kick in. Things have been incredibly tight.” Providing affordable health care for vulnerable people is clearly a pressing issue.

In conclusion I think it may be stated emphatically that Christians must think biblically rather than ideologically about this issue. Scripture, rather than political tradition, must be our guide. It seems clear that access to medical care is a key issue implicated in the suffering of those on the bottom rung of the economic ladder in America. Biblical ethics calls for a response of compassion and generosity and the Affordable Health Care Act is such a response. Biblical law has as its goal (at least in part) the flourishing of all, especially the most vulnerable. Christ has secured this flourishing in his resurrection, where new creation has begun. And when ‘shalom’ is embodied in the church and in society, Christ is honoured.

Posted in deuteronomy, justice, miscellaneous, old testament ethics, politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

“Blessed are those who mourn”… the mourners are aching visionaries – Nicholas Wolterstorff

‘“Blessed are those who mourn.” What can it mean? One can understand why Jesus hails those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, why he hails the merciful, why he hails the pure in heart, why he hails the peacemakers, why he hails those who endue under persecution. These are qualities of character which belong to the life of the kingdom. But why does he hail the mourners of the world? Why cheer tears? It must be that mourning is also a quality of character that belongs to the life of his realm.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, 'Lament for a Son'

Nicholas Wolterstorff, ‘Lament for a Son’

Who then are the mourners? The mourners are those who have caught a glimpse of God’s new day, who ache with all their being for that day’s coming, and who break out into tears when confronted with its absence. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm of peace there is no one blind and who ache whenever they see someone unseeing. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one hungry and who ache whenever they see someone starving. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one falsely accused and who ache whenever they see someone imprisoned unjustly. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one who fails to see God and who ache whenever they see someone unbelieving. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one who suffers oppression and who ache whenever they see someone beat down. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one without dignity and who ache whenever they see someone treated with indignity. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm of peace there is neither death nor tears and who ache whenever they see someone crying tears over death. The mourners are aching visionaries.’

Nicholas Wolterstorff, ‘Lament for a Son’

Posted in justice, Life, mission of the local church, preaching | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments