Beginning on Sunday, February 11th, Episcopalians around the globe will join with our Presiding Bishop in a journey through the Scriptures. During the season of Lent, we will read the Gospel according to Luke. Following that, we will read Luke’s second installment, the Acts of the Apostles during the Great 50 Days of Easter. Various Episcopal organizations are taking part in the Good Book Club. You can read more about who is offering what on the Resources page. I will be joining the Club by engaging in the Acts 8 Movement’s weekly BLOGFORCE challenge. Each week, the Acts 8 Movement will present a question on a particular theme or issue in the readings that may have implications for the church and society. As such, during Lent and Easter, I will be dedicating one day of blogging to the Good Book Club. I invite you, dear reader, to join in as well, as together, we read the Scriptures and grow in faith.
Life is a lot more hectic these days. I feel like my schedule is not my own. I try to plan for the unexpected, but it always lives up to its name. It was about a year ago that I began the process of transitioning from being the First Associate Rector at Saint Paul’s in Foley to the 25th Rector of Christ Church, Bowling Green. During that period of saying good-bye, pondering hello, and experiencing more change than I can recall in my life, people offered me a lot of advice. Much of what they told me was wise. Some of what I heard was ominous. The most frightening thing someone told me in those two months was “good luck keeping up your blogging schedule.”
A year later, I am keenly aware that I have not kept up this blog with the rigor I once had, though I am proud of what I have accomplished this year. Rather than four days a week, I’m probably averaging three. It is a 25% reduction, which I lament, but it is better than a 50% or 100% drop. Still, while some of you have noticed the infrequency, and especially the occasional week of silence, I assure you, no one feels my change in writing more than me. For nearly 15 years now, I’ve been writing a blog about the Bible. More than any other spiritual discipline, I have kept up the practice of reading and journaling the Scriptures. Each year, on the week of Proper 28, I am reminded of the gift blogging has given me when we pray this collect.
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
This blog is, for me, an opportunity to inwardly digest the Scriptures.
Each day, I take time to read the lessons appointed for Sunday. As a word jumps out at me, I pay attention to or mark it. I take that word to BibleWorks or Studylight.org or to one of my commentaries and try to learn more about it. Finally, I turn my attention to how I might take what I’ve learned and inwardly digest it so that I can explain that understanding to someone else. Honestly, I would write this blog if nobody else read it. Though, if I’m honest, I do check my stats daily. But it is in the action of taking what I’ve learned and turning it into words on a screen that I really begin to deepen my understanding of what God is saying through the Scriptures.
Blogging may not be for you. Perhaps you don’t think people need to hear your thoughts on the Bible, or aren’t so conceited as to think you have some insight to offer. Journaling privately might be your way into the Scriptures, but then again, maybe that isn’t for you either. No matter how you do it, I hope this week, as you pray the Collect for Proper 28, you might take some time to consider how you will live it out by hearing, reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting the holy word of God.
The world of Biblical studies is constantly changing. New archaeological discoveries breed new realities. New interpretive lenses bring new understanding. Whether it is the Canonical approach, the Historical-Critical Method, the JEDP Documentary Hypothesis, or the Jesus Seminar, scholars need to publish or perish, and so Biblical studies journals are filled with papers. Some aren’t worth the pixels on the screen, while others will stand the test of time. One that continues to carry weight (pardon the pun), is The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, common called Strong’s Concordance, which was first published in 1890, but continues to find its home on the shelves of preachers to this day. Strong’s is basically a list of every word that appears in the Bible; all 8,674 Hebrew and 5,624 Greek words contained therein. It is a helpful tool for anyone who would like work in the original languages of the Scriptures, but isn’t exactly a Greek or Hebrew scholar.
Strong’s Greek word number 1515 is Eirene, the Greek word for “peace,” which Jesus speaks over his disciples in the opening verse of Sunday’s Gospel lesson. One of the definitions of eirene, way down at the number five slot is “of Christianity, the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is.” How spectacular is that sentence? Anyway, what struck me this morning is the reality of the disciples’ fear, and Jesus’ just as clear declaration of peace.
The disciples, despite having heard the testimony of Mary Magdalene that Jesus was raised from the dead, cannot find peace. They are still very much stuck in fear, and are far from content with their earthly lot. Whatsoever sort it is is still one of confusion, uncertainty, and the stark reality that the news of Jesus’ resurrection meant that the cross hairs of the Roman/Temple Alliance were aimed squarely at them. Whether or not Jesus was actually raised from the dead, the fact that his body was missing from the tomb meant bad things for his closest companions. They gathered in that upper room afraid for their lives, and Jesus entered the locked space, and said:
Shalom, Eirene, Pax, Peace
It’ll take several more encounters with the risen Jesus and a pretty hefty dose of the Holy Spirit before the disciples are able to find that tranquil state in which dying for their faith in the risen Lord isn’t something to be feared. But on this night, the first evening of the resurrection reality, Jesus invites them to begin the journey. He invites us as well. In the midst of whatsoever sort of earthly lot are in, Jesus offers us the eirene of God that passes all understanding. He invites us to find in him the tranquil state of the soul.
The Sermon on the Mount is probably the most written about speech in history. Scholars debate the finer points of what Jesus said, as you might assume, but there has been plenty of ink and pixels spent simply discussing the context and setting in which Jesus gave this sermon. It is helpful, of course, to know something about life in first century Palestine. It is helpful to know that agriculture was the prevailing occupation, that land ownership was difficult for many, and that the Law had been heavily interpreted by the leaders of 2nd Temple Judaism. It is equally helpful, though often impossible to really know, to think about to whom Jesus was actually speaking. This is one of the main sources of controversy around the Sermon on Mount. To whom was Jesus speaking?
It has been a few weeks since we heard Matthew set the scene for this sermon. If you’ll recall, Jesus has been surrounded by large crowds who have been drawn to his ministry of healing. As chapter five opens, Matthew tells us that “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:…” Most scholars read this to say that Jesus and his disciples took leave of the large crowd in order that Jesus might lay the foundation for the work ahead. As his popularity grew, Jesus thought it important to take a moment, before things got way out of control, to make clear what this kingdom he was proclaiming was all about. Some scholars find this reading to be difficult. The idea that Jesus could be surrounded by such a large crowd and somehow find some space away from them seems hard to believe. In their mind, it is more likely that Jesus did attempt to step away from the crowd with his disciples, but the crowd, at least the closest few hundred folks, were able to eavesdrop on the conversation.
I’ve probably been in the minority camp for most of my years of Biblical study, but that seems to be changing. For some reason this morning, as I read the last two of Jesus’ six anti-theses, I found myself really struggling to believe that the crowd could have heard all of this difficult teaching and stuck around. I turned to the end of the Sermon on the Mount, and found chapter 8 opening with these words, “When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him…” I just can’t imagine the Sermon on the Mount as a church growth technique. It seems impossible that the crowd would have heard Jesus say, “if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well” or “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” and not have at least considered turning around and walking away. As we prepare to hear more difficult teaching from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, to whom is it now speaking? How do these hard words ring in the ears of the faithful? The waffling? Those on the margins? How do we take these words and make them real in our context?