If you don’t want to hear Jesus’ last message to his disciples before his crucifixion, you’d better either close your Bible or skip ahead to John 18. The other gospel authors each spend maybe half a chapter on the Last Supper, but John devotes an entire three chapters to Jesus’ words over the meal, plus a fourth chapter in which Jesus gives a prayer entrusting the disciples to God the Father. It’s time to dig into these meaty chapters, so in the words of professional video game expert Tim Rogers: click that X, or buckle that seat belt. You make the choice.
Stephen’s death was a bit of a sucker punch to the early church. Not only did they have to cope with the loss of one of their most devout members, but also Jerusalem turned hostile to the faith. The majority of the new Christians had to disperse to other regions, and Saul spearheaded the persecution efforts, imprisoning many of those who stuck around. But you don’t get diamonds without pressure, you don’t get pearls without irritants, and it takes a lot of (ahem) fertilizer to make a rose.
Acts 6 begins with strife between the Greek-speaking Jews and the Jews native to Judea. You may be familiar with the situation, in which those who provided meals for the needy were overlooking the widows among the Greek-speaking Jews. As I read it today, I found that I associated it in my mind with Biblical themes of compassion for the poor and opposition to racism, such as we see in Acts 2:44-45 and Galatians 3:28. But Luke includes the story of the overlooked widows to introduce a larger story: Stephen’s martyrdom.
Acts 2 is the chapter where the early church blows up. Boatloads of Jews from all over have come to Jerusalem to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, known in Greek as Pentecost. The Holy Spirit miraculously grants the disciples the ability to speak and comprehend various languages, in a kind of reverse Babel, and Peter preaches a gospel message to the crowds that results in thousands repenting and getting baptized. In the previous chapter, the disciples had been biding their time, waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised them. But here God starts making waves, and he won’t let up until it gets the disciples kicked out of Jerusalem. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Sometimes, Pastor Stephen Kirk is a man after my own heart. Commenting on Ephesians 1:13-14 in the Multiply book that accompanies the Triad study program, he goes to absolute town on the Greek. I could never be a pastor; I imagine that unless your congregation is either extremely generous or nerdy, you only have so many Original Greek Language Points to spend per sermon before they start losing interest. I, on the other hand, had half a mind to just start looking up Greek words from this week’s passage and see what I found, until I realized I’d kinda already done that back in All the Paul.
Remember Walter Brueggemann’s classification scheme for the Psalms: orientation, disorientation, and new orientation? I feel like you could apply the same scheme to my blog here. You’ve got your (i.e. my) posts of orientation, posts of disorientation…and sometimes a move from one mode to another. Take yesterday, where I took a step back, looked at myself and Ephesians 1:3-14 here, and moved from disorientation to new orientation. I’ve got a feeling I might manage a post of disorientation before we close out the week, but man, sometimes I get so tired of trying to whip up some thoughts for the blog. Sometimes I just wanna rest.
Welcome to a new week in the Triad study, with a new passage to investigate every last corner of, like a room in an adventure game where you’re stuck on a puzzle and just start hunting for item and verb combinations in some desperate hope of advancing your progress. Well, okay, hopefully it doesn’t go down like that. We have the first handful of verses in Ephesians locked and loaded for study today, and the Triad study identifies this week’s theme as “guarantee.”
Let’s talk about love today. This passage from Romans 5 is about a lot of things, and if I had to say it’s about one single thing, I’m not sure what I’d say. Is it all about reconciliation? Rejoicing in tribulation? Jesus Christ? Yes, it’s about all those things, and probably others besides. But it’s also all about love.
Back around 2004, whenever I was home from college, a friend and I started going to a home church from time to time. It was a much-needed shot in the arm, as I was going through some rough times back then and needed something fresh and personal. They practiced spiritual gifts there; in particular, I remember them praying in tongues. But I don’t remember anyone interpreting, so I remained clueless as to the meaning of the in-tongues-speakers’ mouth-noises.
This passage is a tricky one for me to approach, because it’s about two kinds of wisdom. And one could easily take Paul’s point as being anti-intellectual, anti-scholarly, anti-knowledge, and in fact plenty of people have done so. Plenty of people reject Christianity for rejecting learning, claiming it necessarily throws the life of the mind out the door–and plenty of other people embrace Christianity while dismissing any kind of intellectual engagement as arrogant and anti-spiritual. The gospel is accessible to everyone regardless of intelligence, but it’s not inherently elitist to think. Let’s take a look at what Paul actually says.