Heaven and Hell are not Christian inventions! “Heaven and Hell” are not mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures which Christians call the Old Testament. Heaven and Hell are a product of Hellenization. Hellenization consisted of the dominate Greek Empire and culture, established by Alexander the Great, trickling down into the average way of life of Mediterranean people. Jewish and Christian thinking at the time of Jesus are a product of Hellenization, specifically the teachings of Plato. Surely, many non-Greeks did not like the advancement of Greek culture into their way of life and thinking, but it was inevitable.
Plato in the “Republic” gets the credit with visions of heaven and hell. These beliefs become more mainstream in what historians call the “intertestamental period”. The years between the Old Testament and the New, approximately 400 years, from 400BCE to the time of Jesus. Jesus is very much a product of this Hellenized culture. Martin Luther removed the books of the Old Testament that were written in Greek. Today we call those books, the Apocrypha, and Protestant Bibles do not have those books. Roman Catholic Bibles continue to include these Greek treasures. The Apocrypha is an interesting read, as are other “Greek Old Testament books” such as Enoch. Enoch gets mentioned in Genesis in the Old Testament, and Jude and Hebrews in the New Testament. Enoch was one of those Greek writings that very much influenced Jewish and Christian thinking, especially when it came to the after life.
Nothing happens in a vacuum. Everything has a context and we need to understand Greek culture and philosophy if we want to better understand early Christianity.
Do you believe in Hell? Pew Foundation continues to survey American beliefs of Hell and they list all the different demographics. Women verses Men, Age, race, religion, but overall, American belief in Hell is declining. That’s a good thing. I am and never will be in favor of a faith system based on fear as a motivation for my behavior. Fear might change my behavior but it can’t touch my heart. Jesus wants our hearts and minds. Religion and religious leaders have used fear of Hell effectively. When our actions are based on fear of a future retribution, our hearts become cold. When our actions are based on love, and we seek to follow the teachings of Jesus our generosity and hearts grow. A belief system that requires you to get it right and believe the right things, leads us away from a Grace-centered faith. Believe God is Love! and you can’t go wrong.
1 John 4:18 (NRSV) There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
We can’t reach perfection, but we can strive in that direction. While striving, we can toss away fear, especially a fear of Hell. Live and swim in grace! Let love be the motivation for being.
Prayer. Changing the mind of God!
The power of prayer…Answered prayers, or as Garth Brooks crooned, “Thank God for Unanswered Prayers”.
This past Sunday in our Gospel lesson, the disciples ask Jesus to pray. Luke 11:1-13. Jesus responds with a metaphor. Prayer is like someone who Asks, Seeks, or Knocks. Remember those classic verses?
Luke 11:9-10 (NRSV)
“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
When I first arrived at Christ Lutheran, some members of my Thursday Bible Study class wanted me to include in each Sunday worship service, a segment called, “Answered Prayers”. I refused. I don’t believe God works that way. Sometimes people pray for healing and the person lives, others times, large groups of people pray to end violence, injustice, or heal a child…and all fail. Was God persuaded to heal this person, but not that child? Did I have better “Prayer People” in my group? Were we able to persuade God to see things our way? Can we change the mind of God through our prayers? Is that what it means to “Ask and it will be given to you?”
I don’t believe prayer works that way. The best prayers are prayers in which one is seeking, knocking, searching, listening, and asking….Jesus’ metaphor speaks to the condition of the heart. A searching, asking, knocking heart is a “yearning heart”, a “receptive heart”, a heart desiring something. Initiative is vitally important for the one praying. As the Buddhists say, “When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears.” The posture of seeking, searching, knocking and asking, is the posture of the student, ready to receive. A student with a receptive heart will receive the Holy Spirit. God will not disappoint.
Don’t take literally, Ask and it will be given unto you…Asking is a condition of receptivity that is essential to the spiritual life. When I pray, I offer words of thanks. When we pray in church, we pray that we, those attending worship, would know our responsibility to be God’s hands, or Christ’s presence in the world. We don’t ask for God to fix what we can fix. We don’tpray for God to end violence, when it is within our capacity to make this world more loving. People, grounded in the teachings of Jesus, can be the best ANSWERED PRAYERS!
Answer some prayers today!
April 16, 2019
On Palm Sunday, we remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the hot bed of his frustrations. In our reading this Palm Sunday, Luke 19:39-48, the religious leaders of the day tell Jesus that his disciples should “Shut Up and Get Out”, not a literal translation of the text, but that is the jist. Jesus replies if his disciples are silent the “Stones will Shout out!”
My experience is that in history when humanity experiences a truth, a truth planted within them, God’s word you might say, nothing will be able to keep it quiet. From women and black/civil rights in our country, to religious insights revealed during the Reformation, and the rights for LGBTQ community, these truths will never die.
Will there be forces that resist change? Will there people who want to keep the status quo or “keep it in the closet”? Absolutely, but that is when stones start to shout!
Jesus is embracing a truth. Jesus is revealing a seed within him. Jesus is proclaiming the Word of God. A seed that we share! In the New Testament Letter by James, James calls this seed the “implanted word” (James 2:21). This implanted word seeks the truth in love with humility. It is unstoppable! And its within YOU!
After entering Jerusalem, Jesus goes into the temple and quotes, Isaiah 56:7 which is very similar to Jeremiah 7:11, “for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” In doing so, Jesus condemns the religious practices of his day and insists on making the Temple not a capitalistic machine, but a place of prayer for all people.
He is not the first to make the statement that the temple needs reform, he’s following in Isaiah and Jeremiah’s footsteps, but he might be the most successful…even though he died for his actions and truth telling. As an Emergent Christian, or Progressive Christian, I reject the idea that Jesus died as a human sacrifice for my sins. Jesus live a self-emptying life of love and service to humanity. He did not back away from needed reforms and paid with his life for his love of God and Love of people. We too are called to follow his example of the self-emptying life.
Jesus died because he spoke truth to power! The power of the resurrection is that God’s truth survives the pain and suffering people inflict upon one another. The Power of the resurrection is a defiant “NO”, when people want to eliminate God’s love. Jesus lives, God’s love wins, and nothing will stand in the way of this truth.
Speaking truth can cause pain and death. Truth will not fail. The seed of God implanted in us is also implanted in others. We are not alone. Jesus was not alone! He relied on shouting stones and so must we.
I sense that I am a pastor of a “Shouting Stones Lutheran Church”. Realizing the shallowness of scriptural literalism stones are shouting out. People want more. They are hungry for spiritual growth not being fed beliefs they have to accept. People are looking for a spiritual life that touches their minds and hearts. People want Jesus’ wisdom in helping live their lives.
Call it the Emergent Church or Progressive Christianity, STONES ARE SHOUTING! Join the chorus. Sing of God’s implanted word within you. We do it with humility always asking ourselves, “Is what I am saying and doing loving God and Loving my neighbor”.
This Christian thing is not hard to understand, we just need to be authentic in our struggle to get our Faith in God and Jesus aligned with our actions.
Come join the journey as we seek to love as Jesus loved!
The upside of the Flu was quiet time. No TV, no computer, light classical music, books, articles, my thoughts and meditation.
One of the articles I read mentioned, “Krishna’s Dictum”, a saying from about 5000 years ago. It’s safe to say that the Dictum has stood the test of time.
“The best thing you can give to humanity is the perfection of yourself”.
The way Jesus teaches this same principle is recorded in Matthew and Luke,
Matthew 7:3-5 , Luke 6:40-41
Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
Taking the log out of my own eye first is a life long process. I’d love to create a new Lutheran Church and call is, “Log in your Eye Lutheran Church”. Where do you go to church….I go to Log in my Eye Lutheran……I like that.
Although I am not a therapist, I offer one consistent piece of advice to all people who are struggling with life, I say, “The best thing you can give the world, or your kids, or your spouse, is a GOOD YOU!” It begins with You! That sounds “New Age”, doesn’t it? Its ancient wisdom! The problems of the world begin with me. If only we all will embrace these spiritual truths.
Worldly satisfaction is fleeting. Money, power, ego, climbing the latter of achievement, all have their potential but never satisfy the soul. The inner work of the spirit where life is lived. The great spiritual teachers and religions teach this…and in a world that finds success measured in dollars and cents, in growth and financial returns, we best turn inward where there exists unlimited potential rather than believing that the earth and capitalistic ventures can produce endlessly more bounty for more and more people to profit. The Earth is finite. We cannot keep growing and getting bigger, the earth is limited. We can focus inward, infinitely, and find contentment with what is.
Western Civilization has produced some wonderful results for a vast majority of people. At its best; high education levels, human rights for all people, medicine to cure illnesses, freedom to travel, think, write, and be who you want to be. It is a wonderful system! Much of Western Civilization has focused on economic results rather than inner maturity. Individualism rather than community. We are at a wonderful time in the history of humanity to embrace ancient wisdom as the salve for our wayward spirits.
Christianity is a great diagnostic tool; do not judge, love your neighbor as yourself, turn the other cheek, forgive 7 times seventy. HOW DO YOU LEARN TO DO THAT? What are the steps of increasing ones generosity? Improving patience? Developing a mind that does not judge? How do we learn to forgive? We need to embrace ancient Christian practices as well as other traditions like Zen Buddhist meditation to shape our heart into that of Jesus.
It’s one thing to know what ails us, it another to rectify the problem! Christianity of the future will inspire followers of Jesus to grow hearts, minds and eyes of Jesus.
We need to be part of the solution. It begins with you! The best thing you can give to humanity if the perfection of yourself.
Pastor Phil’s Classes
Wednesday, November 6, 2019, 7-7:45pm. A service of contemplation, introspection, and listening.
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Hike: Sunday, October 27, 2019, 12:15 – 6:00pm
October 17, 7-8pm (TBD). GOD: Who, What, Where, When and How?
Will you be part of a “Think Tank” to help us revision Confirmation?
Sunday, 8:45 – 9:45am in church library—”The Beatitudes”
Thursdays 12:15-1:15pm—Presently reading through Mark. No Bible knowledge needed.