Ecclesial Tapestry

Good morning!

Last night at Bible study we were talking about the “household code” found in 1 Peter 2:13-3:7. I think the household codes in Scripture (Ephesians 5:22-6:9, Colossians 3:18-4:1) are really amazing and counter-cultural, and I enjoy teaching on them.

When I lead Bible studies I like to be able to go deep into the text, discuss things, difficulties, bring up questions, all that; but I don’t like to end there. I think people should go away from a Bible study challenged and encouraged, and so at the end of every Bible study I teach I throw on a little “homiletical takeaway–” my attempt to draw the discussion to a close with an encouraging word from the text. So here’s what I said last night:

God wants unity in inequality. I don’t mean inequality of worth; I mean distinction, difference. God doesn’t want a homogenous church, but an integrated one. He doesn’t love his own equally, as though they were all the same; he loves his own fully, as fully as he can love them. God is a Father– what father loves his own without distinction? There are different places, different levels of maturity, different gifts, different sexes, different roles. But one baptism, one church, one Lord, one Spirit, one God and Father of all.
Satan wants to iron out the difference between sexes, giftings, and institutions. God wants a beautiful stained-glass window; Satan want’s a nice uniform mud, which is just another way of talking about entropy, which is just another way of talking about death.
Unity in inequality. Each member fully accepted, fully loved, fully appreciated, for all their differences, their strengths and weaknesses– many members, one body, one Lord.


Worth the Price of the Book

This morning Pastor Kerry mentioned a passage from a book he and I read together, and I remembered that I had wanted to put that same passage up here.

This is from James McClendon’s systematic volume one, Ethics– I’ve mentioned it before. McClendon in this section is talking about forgiveness, and Kerry says that this paragraph alone is worth the price of the book. I agree. So here it is:

This brings up the recurrent belief that forgiving means forgetting. And indeed, Scripture says that God tells Israel he “will remember your sins no more” (Isa. 43:25 NEB). Yet this cannot be understood with literal simplicity, for in the following verse (26) the forgiving God recounts those very forgiven sins Israel has committed. In this passage, then, to forget must mean to cease to harbor resentment, must mean to hold their sins against them no longer. Indeed, it might be more truly said of forgiveness that it is a special kind of remembrance. One who forgives knows the other’s offense to be offense; forgiveness takes its rise, begins, as Butler has shown, from natural resentment, else there is nothing to forgive. Then the forgiving one takes that offense up into his or her own life, makes the other’s story part of his or her own story, and by owning it destroys its power to divide forgiver and forgiven. In this sense, to forgive is truly to love one’s offending neighbor as oneself. Forgiving is not forgetting, for we can repress the memory and still be at enmity with one another; for Christians, forgiving is rather remembering under the aspect of membership in the body of Christ: it is knowing that he who is our body and we, forgiven and forgiver, are all one. (McClendon, 225)

There is one line in the middle that deserves repeating: “Then the forgiving one takes that offense up into his or her own life, makes the other’s story part of his or her own story, and by owning it destroys its power to divide forgiver and forgiven.” This is exactly what Jesus did, and taught us to do, and enables us to do. I think that line alone is worth the price of the book.


Memorial Stump

Good morning!

I hope you like leftovers, because here’s some more Isaiah 6 that didn’t get et up Sunday during my sermon.

After Isaiah is charged by God to preach a message of condemnation, he asks “How long, O Lord?” (cf. Psalm 79:5, 89:46), which is a very understandable question. I think I’d ask this question if I were told to preach a message of condemnation so my people wouldn’t hear, turn, and be saved. And God’s answer to his question seems to exclude the possibility of hope for Israel:

“Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the Lord removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump. (Isaiah 6:11-13)

Though God pronounces a terrible judgment for Israel, he is still the God of hope, and he does not leave Isaiah (or Israel) without hope even in the midst of this fiery judgment, for the very same fire which destroys also purges. “‘And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.’ The holy seed is its stump.” The remnant will be purged, but a stump will remain, and in the stump is a holy seed. Isaiah 11 tells us that a shoot will spring forth from that stump (Isaiah 11:1), and we know that the shoot is Christ, who grew up like a young plant, like a shoot out of dry ground (Isaiah 53:2).

What’s interesting is the word used for stump in Isaiah 6. This is not the same word used in Isaiah 11, but is instead a word translated as “pillar” the only other time it is used in the Old Testament, when Absalom sets up a memorial stone to keep his name in remembrance, since he has no children (2 Samuel 18:18). Now, in Isaiah 6:13 it’s evident that this is a stump being talked about and not a pillar, since the text says it is like a terebinth or an oak when it is felled.

Perhaps Isaiah just felt like using one word for stump instead of another, but perhaps the usage is deliberate. The stump of the old Israel has been burned down to the holy seed, a remnant which becomes a standing stone to God’s holiness and mercy and out of which an eschatological shoot will grow to form a new Israel, a tree of life bearing fruit in its season, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.

I’m no Hebrew scholar, so be a good Berean on this one.


Burning Eyes


I’ve been shamefully inactive the last two weeks- my apologies to you four regular readers. I hope I haven’t lost any of you.

This last Sunday I preached (if the past tense of teach is taught, shouldn’t the past tense of preach be praught?) from Isaiah 6 at Faith Baptist, and in preparation I ran into that age-old problem of too much material (probably better than too little), so I decided to put the overflow here. I’ll just post on Isaiah until I run out of things to say, and though you may fall asleep reading it the same as you would in church, I don’t think your Sunday roast will burn, so we just might finish ahead.

I love verse six of the hymn Crown Him with Many Crowns, and its imagery is partly taken from Isaiah 6:

Crown Him the Lord of love, behold His hands and side,
Rich wounds, yet visible above in beauty glorified,
No angel in the sky can full bear that sight,
But downward bend his burning eye at mysteries so bright.

In Isaiah 6 these seraphim (literally “burning ones”) are flying around the Lord on his throne, and Isaiah describes that each has six wings; with two he covers his eyes, and with two he covers his feet, and with two he flies around, shouting this refrain of God’s holiness and glory to the other seraphim.

Think of it- burning six-winged angels, the sort of beings which we would be tempted to worship if we saw now, cannot look at God. Why not? These are perfect beings. Isaiah’s terror at seeing God comes from the fact that he is a man of unclean lips, but the seraphim have no such problem. I think this helps us to understand what it means for God to be holy. God’s holiness is not simply an absence of sin- if this were the case, unfallen angels would be equal in holiness to God. God’s holiness is a positive quality, not the lack of a negative quality. God is totally other, totally unique, totally above- so much so that these terrifying fiery angels with all wings and who knows what else may not even look at him. This is amazing to me.

What is even more amazing is that when next we are in God’s presence, we won’t have to avert our eyes. We don’t have the same rules for etiquette that perfect angelic beings have when it comes to God. When I see Jesus, I will look him full in the face, right into those burning eyes, and I won’t be consumed.

I’ll see God, and I won’t be undone, I won’t be struck dead, I won’t even be ashamed- I’ll be complete. How about that.