Line by Line

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Today’s readings:

Psalms 33; 146, Isaiah 28:9-22, Revelation 20:11-21:8, Luke 1:5-25


Not everyone loves the Christmas story. After forty, fifty, or more years of listening to it, some people feel it has nothing new to say to them. There’s never a twist, and while it speaks to children, adults – especially those who have moved on to a contemplation of theology more sophisticated than The Baby Jesus – are dealing with weightier issues. Where you are on your own journey is your business, but if you’re at a point where the Christmas story is little more than nostalgic, maybe think about the words of Isaiah – or more specifically, his critics.

When Isaiah and other prophets warned religious leaders they had strayed from God’s teachings, the reply of many of them was essentially: “We get it. You repeat it over and over. But we’re not children; we’re experienced leaders. You have nothing to teach us.” Or as Isaiah put it:

Therefore the word of the LORD will be to them,

Precept upon precept, precept upon precept,

line upon line, line upon line,

here a little, there a little.

They were insulted by the repetition, but the truth was they had corrupted the Law by turning it into something so complicated and burdensome that the widows, orphans, ailing, and aliens it was meant to protect were now its victims.

There’s a lot of theology out there, and those of us  who enjoy studying it can bury ourselves in denominational nuance and doctrinal detail … but those things can distract us from actually living our faith. Theory is not more important than reality. Talking about grace is not the same as receiving it.

So when we hear the Christmas story, let’s focus on whether we’ve actually listened to the messages it has for us today:

Finding God in humble places.

Making room for desperate strangers.

Looking beyond social stigma.

Mourning children sacrificed to political expediency.

Trusting God to see us through.

If these are merely theory to us, and not daily practice, we have yet to really master the basics. So at Advent and soon Christmas, as the story unfolds before us again, we are blessed precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little.

Comfort: It’s OK to still be mastering the basics of faith; simple is not the same as easy.

Challenge: This holiday season, make time to read the Nativity story from Matthew or Luke.

Prayer: Glorious and merciful God, I humble myself before Your wisdom. Amen.

Discussion: This year, what will you have to learn from the story of Christmas?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Shifting Perspective

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 98; 146, Exodus 19:1-16, Colossians 1:1-14, Matthew 3:7-12


Many Christian seminaries require students to write a thesis demonstrating they have developed a consistent view of the nature of God and religious belief (systematic theology). This is an important part of preparing students for ordained ministry. Not too many people want to approach their minister with a pressing issue, only to hear: “Well I’ve never really thought about it…” Given the challenges of reading the Bible as a unified and consistent text, developing such a statement is a tall order.

In today’s scriptures we read about multiple understandings of God. In Exodus, God gives the nation of Israel three days to purify themselves for His arrival on Mount Sinai. He descends in a thick cloud and, under pain of death, permits neither man nor beast to approach the mountain while he remains. This God shows power and authority to a nation who doubts.

In Matthew, John the Baptist preparing the way for the coming Messiah. He speaks to the descendant priests of that same nation and tells them they have become like trees bearing rotten fruit and Jesus is on the way with an ax. This God shows his disappointment in a nation where the powerful exploit the weak.

In Corinthians, Paul congratulates the church and encourages them to keep bearing good fruit of the Spirit by holding fast to Christ. This God showers blessing and encouragement on a community of believers.

If we conclude the nature of God changes across time, theology is useless – God could be totally different tomorrow! Better perhaps to think our understanding of and expressions about God change with our personal and community evolution. God is constantly liberating us, and constantly correcting us (whether through supernatural intervention or natural consequences) when we misuse that liberation.

The average age of seminarians is creeping into the 30s and early 40s, an age where certainties from our 20s mature into more questions than answers. Our relationship with God is one we build throughout our lifetime – and beyond. As our vision of God ebbs and flows, we eventually realize God isn’t moving – our perspective changes because we are.

Comfort: God is constant and present to us wherever we may go.

Challenge:  Draw yourself a timeline of your ups and downs, and keep it handy for future updates.

Prayer: Immortal God, thank you for being present to me at all times. Please give me wisdom when I cast my own doubts and limitations on you.  Amen.

Discussion: How has your understanding of God changed over time? When has that been joyful, and when has that been painful?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people.

Miaphysitism?! YOU a physitism!

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 47; 147:12-20, Ezekiel 1:1-14, 24-28(b), Hebrews 2:5-18, Matthew 28:16-20

Readings for The Ascension of the Lord:
Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 47:1-9, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:44-53


Today many churches celebrate the Ascension of the Lord, or the bodily ascent of the risen Christ into heaven. This story challenges the modern and scientific mind. Its accompanying readings are no less difficult. Ezekiel’s vision of four-faced beings and a god of fiery metal are highly symbolic and almost incomprehensible to anyone but a dedicated Bible scholar. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews explains the human and divine interplay in the person of Jesus. Heady material that for many of us is fairly inaccessible.

In contrast, the Matthew reading is short and clear: Jesus asserts his authority and commissions the disciples to spread his commands and teachings to make and baptize more disciples. Notably his teachings did not include technicalities like hypostatic union or Miaphysitism: Christ’s nature in both the human and the divine, versus a nature which is of both. Clearly different… right? Yet centuries ago these semantics, which matter not one iota to loving as Christ instructed, caused schisms that last to this day. Passages like the one in Hebrews fueled the debate. What do we imagine Christ – who brought together Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles – might say about his followers feuding over such distinctions?

Theological discussions have their place; after all, why follow Christ if we do not believe he is a unique confluence of the human and the divine? But sometimes we get so wrapped up thinking or talking about faith we become like people who believe reading a child psychology book equips them to be parents; being able to quote theories does not help us touch a human life in a loving way. Maybe we don’t denounce Monophysitism (don’t ask) on a daily basis, but based on mere opinion we do make “religious” distinctions of the kind Christ worked to overcome. Even our choice of Biblical translation may decide whether we are “in” or “out” with a specific clique, congregation or denomination.

Christ’s nature – human or divine – was radically inclusive. Any effort spent separating us from others, rather than loving them, betrays that nature. Christ tells us to love God and our neighbor. Why add more?

Comfort: Christ’s commands are simple.

Challenge: Look up “Christology” on Wikipedia or another reference.

Prayer: Holy God, may your love live in my heart and not just my head. Amen.

Discussion: When have you encountered religion getting in the way of following Christ?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!