Monthly Archives: November 2008

Luke 1

The Birth of the Messiah: Introduction

Luke: 1 Zechariah and Elizabeth

The Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church, originally broadcast November 30, 2008. Craig D. Atwood

Introduction:                        Good morning and welcome to the Adult Bible Class on this first Sunday in the season of Advent. Millions of Americans are traveling today after spending time with family and friends over Thanksgiving. We offer prayers for safe travel as well as prayers for patience for everyone in crowded airports and on the highways. I spent much of the weekend raking leaves and grading papers. I offered students extra credit to come over and take care of the yard for me, but apparently that is unethical. Alas. Some of the div students claim they want to become Moravians, but that might be because they think they always get coffee in Moravian worship services. Speaking of students, let me invite all of you to our lessons and carols service for Advent, which will be in Wait Chapel on Tuesday at 11:00 a.m. The Divinity School choir is particularly good this year, and I think you’ll enjoy our version of an old Anglican tradition. In the Moravian Church, today is the day that we sing the Hosanna antiphonally. Over the years, I’ve discovered that many children think that we are singing Ho, Ho, Santa! Blessed is he that comes! Here in the chapel of Home Church we have a beautiful homemade Advent Wreath provided by my favorite shepherdess, who has requested that she remain anonymous.

Intro to the Birth Narratives:                        Advent is a season of preparation, and I thought it might be interesting to take a close look at the stories of Jesus’ birth found in Luke and Matthew. We hear these stories read in worship and see children act them out in Christmas pageants, but rarely do we have an opportunity to examine them in detail. We’ll start Luke because his version fits the themes of Advent so well. Judging from past experience, we’ll still be discussing Matthew’s version in January, which is appropriate since that is the season of Epiphany. I will be relying heavily on the monumental work of the late Raymond Brown, a Catholic priest and biblical scholar, who appears to have read every article on the birth narratives published in the major Western languages. He notes:

 “The infancy narratives have an importance far greater than their length. They have offered abundant material for reflection both to Christian and non-Christian, to saint and skeptic. … Nevertheless, these narratives have also been a prime target for rationalistic scoffing. The frequent angelic appearances, the virginal conception, a marvelous star guiding magi from the East, a child prodigiously endowed with wisdom – to many these are patently legendary themes.” (Brown, Birth of the Messiah, 25)

From now until Epiphany (and perhaps beyond), we’ll unpack these stories, looking at their meaning rather than focusing on their historicity. They are important witnesses of the church’s faith in Jesus. The historical facts are less important than the message they communicate about the Lord’s Anointed.

Relationship of Matthew and Luke:                        To begin with, we should note that the birth narratives in Luke and Matthew are quite distinct. We are so accustomed to nativity scenes and tableaux depicting shepherds and magi around the manger in Bethlehem that we fail to notice that Luke does not mention magi and Matthew has neither shepherds nor a manger. When I was in charge of the nativity scene at Moravian Seminary, I moved the magi a little closer to Bethlehem each week, making sure they did not reach their destination until January 6. By then I had sent the shepherd back to the fields, but no one noticed.

Though the narratives are distinct, there are a few things common to both. Jesus’ parents were named Mary and Joseph, who was a descendent of King David. They were legally bound to be married, but had not yet had sexual relations. An angel announced that they would have a special child whose conception was not by human means, and the angel instructed that the child should be named Jesus because he would be a Savior. Matthew and Luke also agree that the baby was born in Bethlehem during the reign of King Herod the Great, but was raised in Nazareth. That is a pretty long list of agreements between the two gospels, and it seems certain that these things were part of the Christian tradition about Jesus long before the evangelists wrote their books.

Despite the agreement on these details, the stories about Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke are so different that it is unlikely either author knew the work of the other. We’ll look at these differences in detail over the next few weeks, but for now I’ll just note that Joseph hardly appears in Luke’s Gospel and Mary never speaks in Matthew’s. In Matthew, the holy family is already living in Bethlehem when the angel appears; in Luke they travel to Bethlehem from Nazareth because of a census. The two gospels give different genealogies for Joseph, and so on. Each author wrote his account of the birth of Jesus in a way that highlighted the theology of the gospel.

Other Gospels:                        It is interesting that Matthew and Luke are the only two gospels in the New Testament that include stories about Jesus’ birth. Scholars today generally agree that Mark is the oldest gospel we have. There may have been earlier gospels that have been lost, but Mark appears to be the first genuine gospel to incorporate the teachings of Jesus in the story of his ministry and passion. The opening line Mark’s Gospel says this is the “beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” but it begins by discussing the preaching of John the Baptist.

In other words, the life of Jesus before his baptism by John was relatively unimportant for understanding Jesus as the Son of God, according to Mark. As we saw in our study of the Gospel of John, that book does not have a birth narrative either. It also begins the story of Jesus’ life with the preaching of John the Baptist, but that evangelist included a prologue about the eternal Word of God having become incarnate. Though most scholars think John is the latest of the four canonical gospels, it betrays no real interest in the birth of Jesus.

There are several gospels excluded from the New Testament have stories about Jesus birth and childhood. Most of these were written in the 2nd or even 3rd century, and some of them are quite outlandish. In the Protoevangelium of James, for instance, there is a great deal about the Virgin Mary and the problems caused by her unexpected pregnancy. Some of the material in that rejected gospel became part of Catholic teaching about Mary, such as the claim that her parents were Joachim and Anne. It is also a very anti-Semetic gospel.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas includes stories about the miracles baby Jesus performed, such as making clay pigeons come to life. According to that gospel, he was definitely not a human being like the rest of us. These late gospels are more like tabloid newspaper stories than gospels, and they have little value for the Christian life. Scholars point out, though, that the rejected gospels demonstrate that over time, Christians tried to fill in the missing parts of Jesus’ biography. Where facts were missing, they relied on imagination. Matthew and Luke were probably written about 80 years after the birth of Jesus, and the authors had to sift through stories, memories, and legends that were told in the church of the time. Luke begins his gospel with a wonderful little prologue that acknowledges that he consulted multiple sources in writing his gospel.

A Scholar at Work:                                    I love the prologue to Luke’s Gospel because it tells us that Luke read other gospels. Scholars are certain he read Mark’s gospel since he copied much of it word for word. It is unlikely that he read Matthew or John, but he may have read gospels that are now lost to us. Scholars call one of those lost gospels “Q” from the German word Quelle, which means “source.” Matthew also used Q since there are many places where Matthew and Luke appear to be using the same source. Assuming this was the case, we can conclude that Q did not have a birth narrative since Matthew and Luke have radically different accounts of Jesus’ birth. In other words, Luke had access to sources and traditions that Matthew, Mark, and John did not.

In his prologue, Luke tells us that he also used stories passed down by the eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, meaning the apostles and evangelists. Luke also tells us another important detail; he intended to write an orderly account of the good news about Jesus. This does not mean he was writing a modern, scholarly biography of Jesus with all of the details of his life. He was writing an orderly account of the life and teachings of Jesus for the use of someone he calls “Theophilus,” which means “lover of God.” Luke tells us from the very beginning that he has crafted his Gospel carefully to enhance its meaning, and scholars agree that it is a beautifully written and complex piece of Greek literature.

The Birth of John the Baptist                        Like Mark and John, Luke begins the story of Jesus with John the Baptist, but unlike them, he begins with a long story about the birth of John. Each of the gospels situations the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry with the work of John the Baptist, and there is little doubt that Jesus and some of his first disciples had followed John, perhaps until John was arrested. John’s Gospel, as we saw, goes out of its way to diminish John and make him subordinate to Jesus. Luke was written about the same time as John, but Luke highlights the importance of John as a way to increase the status of Jesus. The prophet who prepared the way for Jesus was also chosen by God before his birth and was filled with the Holy Spirit. Luke presents the births of John and Jesus in parallel fashion, but with Jesus as the superior figure.

Read Luke 1:5-17

Zechariah the Priest                        Luke claims that the father of John the Baptist was a priest named Zechariah. There is no evidence for this outside of Luke’s Gospel, and scholars are divided over whether it is accurate. John Baptist is mentioned in several ancient Jewish sources, but none of them say that he was the son of a priest. According to I and II Chronicles, there were at least seven priests were named Zechariah, one of whom was stoned to death in the courtyard of the Temple on the orders of the king (II Chr 24:21). It is possible that Luke chose the name Zechariah for the father of John the Baptist because John was killed at the command of an unrighteous king. Later Christian legends claimed that John’s father Zechariah was actually the High Priest, but that is far-fetched. It is also possible that one of Luke’s sources had recorded the name of John’s father and that he was indeed a priest of the division of Abijah and that his wife was also a descendent of Aaron.

Barren Bearers of the Covenant:                        Luke tells us that Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, were old and childless. Barrenness was commonly grounds for divorce in ancient Israel, but Zechariah and Elizabeth had grown old together. The fact that Zechariah had not taken another wife is a testament to his love and faithfulness. There are many couples today that know the sadness of not having children and grandchildren who bring life and joy into the world. This is felt especially during this season of the year, but in the ancient world lack of children was more tragic than sad. Elderly people depended on their children for the necessities of life.

It was commonly believed that barrenness was a punishment from God, but Luke makes it clear that Zechariah and Elizabeth were blameless. They observed the Torah and were as faithful to God as they were to each other. It is almost certain that Luke wants us to remember other couples in the Old Testament who did not have children. There are many parallels between the story of Elizabeth and that of Hannah in I Samuel, as we shall see. Even more important for the meaning of Luke’s Gospel is that the birth of John recalls the story of Abraham and Sarah.

They were the great patriarchs of Israel who did not have a son until they were too old to have children by natural means. Their only son, Isaac, was the child of the promise who was conceived through the power of God. In many ways, the birth of John the Baptist connects the story of Jesus with the story of Israel’s covenant with God. Luke is elegantly informing us that John is the transitional figure between the Old Covenant of Abraham and the New Covenant of Jesus. The fact that birth of John is announced in the Temple indicates the continuity between the covenants.

Lots of Incense                        It appears that Luke had some accurate information about the priesthood in the Judea in the 1st century. One Jewish source from the 1st century claims that there were four major priestly families with about 5000 priests in each family (Brown, 258). That means that there may have been as many 20,000 priests and Levites around the time of the birth of Jesus. Priests only served in the Temple for a week or two every six months. Luke includes the authentic detail that they cast lots to decide who had the great honor of burning incense in the sanctuary. Typically, a priest would have this privilege only once in his life. So this was Zechariah’s once in a lifetime moment as a priest.

Several times in the Old Testament, God makes an appearance to a priest in the Temple, such as when the prophet Isaiah saw the throne of God and an angel took a piece of burning coal and placed it on his lips. With this beginning, we can expect that something special is going to happen to Zechariah in the Temple. We are like the crowds gathered at the Temple in the afternoon, waiting for the priest to bring a blessing from the Lord, but this time, something unexpected happened.

Angelic Messenger:                                    Luke says that an angel appeared to Zechariah. He does not describe the angel, and we should not necessarily assume that he was a winged figure of ambiguous gender. The word Angel means “Messenger,” and there are several angels in the Old Testament. Luke does not dwell on the physical details of Zechariah’s vision, but he does give a detail common to most theophanies; Zechariah was frightened. The German scholar Rudolph Otto discovered that in most cases when humans encounter the Holy, they experience both attraction and fear. Holiness is marked by a sense of the uncanny; that strange sensation that something does not belong in our world. Even mystics who long for union with God are frightened by their experience. A God who does not leave you trembling on the floor is probably not the real God.

Like most angels through the ages, this one tells Zechariah not to be afraid. These are words that have to be said by the Holy One or they have no meaning. It is the Holy One who has to remove the fear that we feel in his presence. Do not be afraid. Without those words of reassurance and encouragement, we cannot hear what comes next. Fear is the natural response of a creature in the presence of the creator, but fear cannot be allowed to dominate our lives or our relationship with God. Do not be afraid, the angel says soothingly to Zechariah, and Zechariah is able to listen to the angel’s promise that Elizabeth will bear a son who will be named John. “The Baptist” gets added later.

Unfortunately, it appears that we are out of time, and so I will leave you with that note of anticipation as we prepare to enter our modern temples and offer our prayers to God.

 

I Samuel 31 – The End

I Samuel 31: The Death of Saul

The Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church, originally broadcast Nov. 23, 2008.

Introduction                                    Good morning and welcome to the Adult Bible Class broadcast live from the chapel of Home Moravian Church. I hope it was a good week for you and those whom God has given you to love. I had a reminder this week that there are many people I’ve never met out there listening to these broadcasts. I took the children to dinner at Cloverdale Kitchen, and a man stopped by the table to ask if I was on the radio. At first I thought he was telling me that I was talking too loud, but he just wanted me to know that he recognized my voice and appreciated these broadcasts.

Today is the Sunday before Thanksgiving in the national calendar, and many of my students slipped out of town a little early so they would have more time with their families and friends at home. I’ll give a shout out to my theology students who have been working very hard this semester, often in very trying circumstances, and I wish them Godspeed in their travels. Thanksgiving is a day set aside to contemplate the many blessings we have in our lives, and it can be hard to be thankful in the midst of suffering. With that in mind, I want to give a shout out to my uncle Raymond as he recovers from surgery. I hope that during this holiday season you will allow yourself to feel the love of God that surrounds us and strengthens us even in the midst of pain and tragedy.

This coming Tuesday is the annual Winston-Salem Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service. This year it will be hosted by Temple Emmanuel. It is always a very meaning and beautiful service that brings neighbors from many different religious bodies together in a spirit of gratitude. Next Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent, which is the day Moravians sing the Hosanna as we begin our preparations for Christmas. It is one of my favorite traditions. Over the next four weeks members of Home Church will spend thousands of volunteer hours at Candle Tea, preparing for lovefeasts, providing music, being dieners, and a host of other joyful duties associated with our celebration of the incarnation. Despite the economic woes afflicting our land, we can still experience the true blessing of this glorious season of the year.

This week Madeleine and I were listening to Performance Today on NPR and they told a true story about a pianist who was performing in South Africa. Instead of hearing “bravo” or “encore”, he heard someone shout out that there was a white rhino behind him. As he was playing Moonlight Sonata, the elephants came out of the woods and were walking in time to the music. Eventually even the rhino was so touched by Beethoven’s music that he came closer to listen. It was a nice reminder that all of God’s creatures are bound together in God’s love, and that we are blessed that our human ears sometimes hear an echo of the music of heaven and even elephants can be graceful.

Our lesson today strikes a much more somber note, I’m afraid. For months we have been carefully reading the book of I Samuel, and this week we come to the end of the scroll. The story itself is so poignant that it does not need a lot of commentary. I’ll be reading chapter 31 from the translation of Hans Hertzberg.

Read ch. 31

Defeat of the Israelites                        We have been prepared for the defeat of the Israelites and the death of Saul for several chapters, but the final story is tersely given. Much of the book of I Samuel has been anticipating the end of Saul’s reign and the rise of David as king, but the biblical author does not rejoice in the death of the Lord’s Anointed. We are not reminded of the prophecies given by Samuel or the many ways in which Saul had undermined his own authority. The narrator merely gives the facts that the Philistines routed the Israelites and that Saul and his bodyguard were cut off from retreat. They were trapped on Mount Gilboa, and Saul’s sons died fighting for him. Such is the tragedy of war in which good men like Jonathan die young because of the decisions of their fathers.

Saul’s fear that David might supplant Jonathan as the next king were proven to be a chimera. David did not kill Jonathan; Jonathan died defending his father, and he might have lived had David been fighting with him. Saul witnessed the death of his dynasty before his enemies brought him down with “slings and arrows,” as Hamlet says. During this season of family gatherings, perhaps we can learn a lesson from Saul. I wonder how many fathers and mothers spend their lives trying to fulfill an ambition for their children only to destroy their children in the process. How many sons and daughters are slain on Mount Gilboa in our day?

Israel was defeated by the Philistines in a rout that was almost as bad as the one we read about at the beginning of the book. You may remember that the Israelites had demanded that Samuel appoint a king for them because the Philistines had overwhelmed them and taken the ark. They believed that a king could make their nation secure and that no harm would come to them as a result. They were willing to give up a great deal of their freedom and even some of their religious principles in order to have a strong protector on the throne. Samuel chose one of the tallest and bravest men of the tribe of Benjamin to be the king, and for years King Saul was the scourge of Philistia. But the Israelites learned the humbling truth that we cannot make ourselves invulnerable and that the quest for security may make us less safe. Saul always had a spear or sword in his hand, and in the end he and the Israelites were defeated by their neighbors.

Suicide of Saul                        Saul was wounded, and he knew that battle was lost. We can speculate that he went into the battle already resigned to defeat thanks to the message he received from the necromancer. He does not want to be taken alive back to Philistia, though. He knows all too well what would happen to him if were at the mercy of his enemies. He knows all too well how much they would delight in taking revenge on Saul who had slaughtered so many of their young men over the years. We have seen the dissolution of Saul as a man over the course of the book, especially in that penultimate scene when he is huddled on the floor of the witch’s hut, but in the end Saul reclaims his dignity. He does not love his life so much that he would prefer dishonor and abuse to death. In the Harry Potter books, the wise teacher Dumbledore repeatedly makes the point that there are worse things than death, which is something Saul knew.

He asks his armor-bearer, his most trusted follower, to have mercy and kill him. We can only imagine how hard this must have been for the young man. It would be like a president asking a Secret Service agent to shoot him. His primary purpose in life has been to protect the king and to die for him if necessary. The armor bearer was willing to take an arrow for Saul, but now the man he has served and loved and admired is broken and bleeding before him. “Have mercy and take my life,” Saul pleads. Those who have faced the difficult decisions related to end of life issues know how dreadful this plea is. Every nerve in your body and every synapse of your brain rebels against this request. You would do anything to prolong the life of a loved one, at least for a little while, but reality is often so different from your hopes and dreams. Saul pleads with his servant to end his life, but the young man cannot do it. It is a too horrible a demand, and his love is too weak to comply. Like David, he cannot raise his hand against the Lord’s Anointed even when commanded to do so.

And so in one of the most famous scenes in Western literature, Saul falls upon his own sword, ending his life. The biblical author does not describe the scene or offer any interpretation or judgment. For centuries, commentators have disagreed over whether the biblical author approved or disapproved of Saul’s actions. For the most part, Christians have seen Saul’s suicide as the end result of his long journey into madness and despair. This is one of the very few suicides recorded in Scripture, and it was a key verse used by the Catholic Church to justify the doctrine that suicide is a mortal and unforgiveable sin. For most of European history, victims of suicide were not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground or given the ministrations of the Church. For the most part, Protestant churches took a less judgmental position and argued that victims of suicide were victims not criminals, and thus the church should be merciful to them and their families. Even so, Protestant commentators have tended to view Saul’s suicide almost as harshly as Catholics. His death is often portrayed as the final act of cowardice.

In modern times, commentators have moved away from blanket condemnation of Saul’s suicide, noting that in the context of the story, his actions seem reasonable and noble. It appears that the main point of this narrative is not that he took his life, but that neither his servants nor his enemies could kill the first king of Israel. He was defeated, but he went down to Sheol bravely where he knew Samuel waited. The armor bearer could not kill Saul, but he joined him in death by falling on his own sword. In verse 6 we can almost see the sweeping panoramic shot of the battle scene with the corpses of Saul, his three sons, the armor-bearer, and other brave Israelite soldiers as mournful music plays. The ruin of Saul’s reign was total.

When Saul fell, Israel fell and the Philistines captured their cities and lived in their homes. This is a grime reminder that in the ancient world, the fate of the leader often determined the fate of the people. The reason people prayed for the health of the king or queen was that they knew what could happen if the monarch faltered. Even in our modern industrialized democracies, we know all too well that the failures of presidents and prime ministers affect the lives of the people. It is a fool who hopes that a president or prime minister from a rival party fails. When our leaders fail, we fall with them.

Saul’s Corpse                        Saul avoided capture by taking his own life, but even in death he was humiliated. The Philistines stripped his armor, which was the custom in ancient times. It is a little disconcerting in the Iliad to read how gleefully warriors paused in their fighting to strip the bodies of their slain enemies, but that was one of the ways they were paid for their service to the king. Armor was also a trophy of victory. Nothing makes a man prouder than to take possession of his rival’s stuff so everyone can see. The trouble with being a scholar is that we don’t have much chance to do this. We don’t get to wear the doctoral hood of someone we’ve bested in an academic debate, for instance. But I did read in The New Yorker recently about a company that specializes in making “tombstones” for Wall Street firms to celebrate their victories over rival companies. These are plastic items that you can line up on a shelf commemorating great deals. A successful hostile take-over of a fast food chain, for instance, might be memorialized by a plastic hamburger being eaten by the firm’s logo.

The Philistines did something worse than take the armor of the dead, though. They desecrated the corpse of Saul and his sons, hanging their bodies on the walls of one of their cities. This was a primal cry of victory and warning to all who would oppose the Philistines. They were not the only folks to did this sort of thing. When the Holy Roman Emperor executed the leaders of the Protestant resistance in Prague in 1621, he had twelve of their heads mounted on the Charles Bridge as a warning to Protestants throughout the Empire. Vlad the Impaler was infamous for his treatment of the corpses of Muslims who had invaded Romania. Today we are much more sensitive about this kind of public display, and war criminals today try to hide the evidence of their atrocities, but even they often want their enemies to know what they did. Sometimes it is hard to believe that humans are indeed a little lower than the angels when they act in ways that animals never would dream of.

Honor in Death            The story of Saul does not end with this humiliation, though. The people of Jabesh-gilead remembered that Saul had been the one who answered their cry for deliverance from Nahash the Ammonite. When they heard what the Philistines had done, they did not turn their back on Saul or scorn the memory of his former greatness. Presumably, many years had passed since Saul’s daring rescue before he had been anointed king, but the people of Jabesh-gilead did not let time dampen their gratitude, which is an important message for Thanksgiving.

All of the valiant men of the city, young and old, marched through the night, not to avenge Saul, but to reclaim his body from his enemies. We aren’t told if they had to fight the people of Bethshan or if they relied on stealth. What is important is that they were courageous and daring enough to bring Saul back in honor to Israel. They treated the bodies of the fallen with respect and buried the royal family under a sacred tamarisk tree. Unlike the Pharaohs, Saul had no tomb, but his people laid his bones to rest with honor and devotion. Today we do not know where his bones lie.

The End of I Samuel            Thus ends the book of I Samuel and the story of Saul. If it were up to me, I would name this book the Book of Samuel and Saul because they are the two main characters. Though David is important in the book, most of his story is told in II Samuel. Over the course of the past year we have seen that I Samuel is a complicated and often difficult book that is striking in its historical realism. Many times, I think we have all been grateful that we are living in a much less violent and brutal age, but we have seen numerous parallels to our own time.

We have seen that the people in I Samuel had to make decisions in difficult situations where it was not always clear what the right answer would be. The book began with the story of Hannah offering her first son to the LORD in gratitude for getting pregnant, and then God chose her son to be the last and greatest judge of Israel. The book narrates times of tragedy and despair, such as when the Ark of the Covenant was taken from the land, and it tells how Samuel responded to crisis as a servant of the LORD.

Much of the book is about the first king of Israel, and we saw that it records two quite different perspectives on the monarchy. Within the book of I Samuel is a debate over government that remains lively in our day. The book makes many theological points related to God’s covenant with Israel, and the rise and fall of Saul was so remarkable, that the Israelites could only interpret it as the will of God. Much of the enduring value of I Samuel lies in its portrayal of the relationships between Saul, Jonathan, and David. These men are not stereotypes or theological symbols; they are complex individuals. At times they were brave and noble, but they could also be cruel and cunning.

There is no doubt that the main reason for writing I Samuel was to narrative and justify David’s rise to power, but in many ways it is Saul who is the most meaningful figure in the book. We saw Saul deliver his people but then slowly dissolve into paranoia, madness, and despair. Too often, preachers and scholars have condemned or simply ignored King Saul in their desire to exalt King David, but Saul was also the Lord’s Anointed and is one of the most tragic figures of biblical history.

Conclusion                        It seems appropriate to end our study of I Samuel by looking ahead to II Samuel and reading David’s lament upon hearing the news from Mount Gilboa. Though Saul and Jonathan died 3000 years ago, we may still be moved by David’s words. (Read II Samuel 2:19-27)

Next week in church we will sing about the coming of great David’s greater son. During the Advent season in this class we will take a look at the birth narratives of Jesus, beginning with the Gospel According to Luke.

I Samuel 29-30

I Samuel 29-30 – David the Warrior

The Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church, originally broadcast Nov. 16, 2008

Craig Atwood

Introduction:                        Good morning and welcome to the Adult Bible Class of Home Church. Today we are celebrating the anniversary of the congregation with a lovefeast. On my blog and on the Home Church website you can read more about the significance of the Moravian lovefeast. Next month I will be going down to Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte to help them do their first ever lovefeast. I had a great time eating lunch with a group of women from the church who were trying to understand this profoundly simple religious service. They even came by to see folks making the candles. I reassured them that the beauty of the Moravian lovefeast is that each congregation develops its own way of doing the service.

Also this week, one of our members hosted a dinner for a delightful scholar from Poland who was researching the history of one of the national treasures of Poland, an altarpiece in the cathedral in Krakow. It had been stolen by the Nazis and returned after the world. She discovered that Frank Albright of Old Salem had played a critical role in returning the altarpiece. It was a thrilling story, and our own Margaret Kolb helped the research by providing photos that Frank had taken during the process of returning the altarpiece. It was a reminder that the people we know may have done extraordinary things before we knew them, and it was a reminder that any one of us might be called upon to play a part of the restoration of all things.

I have been reminded several times in recent weeks of friends who listen to this broadcast because they are unable to attend in person. It would take too long to name everyone, but I want to get a special shout out to Pat, Jack, Hal, Anise, and Juanita. In my theology class we have been talking about creation and the goodness of God. When we someone we love is suffering, it can be hard to believe in God’s goodness and mercy. Love and suffering go together, and I think that is true of God as well. God is love and the tears of God can bring healing to us. I know that it was the love and care of the church that pulled me through some very dark times in my life, and I hope that all of you listening on the radio will be strengthened in God’s love through the church. As I told the theology students at Wake Forest, we must remember that these Scriptures we read, hymns we sing, and doctrines we teach have reclaimed people from the brink of despair, restored them to life, and inspired millions to live as agents of change in a cynical world. We need to treat them with respect.

Last week we saw King Saul haunted and hopeless. Today we turn our attention to the 29th and 30th chapters of the book of I Samuel where the story of David continues.

Chapter 29                        In the interest of time, I’m not going to read chapter 28 on the air. Instead I will summarize it while I comment on it. Chronologically this chapter belongs before the one we discussed last week since in chapter 28 Saul has already seen the massive Philistine army that is being assembled in chapter 29. The author inserted the story of Saul in the middle of the three chapters about David among the Philistines to remind us that the two men have different histories. Saul sees the Philistine host and despairs, but David has joined this same army. The tension is building. Will the son of Jesse actually ride to war with the uncircumcised enemies of Israel in order to fight Saul man to man? Will David become king by being a liege of Achish? Saul, Jonathan, and David have all heard the prophecies and in different ways have come to believe that David will be king, but how will God bring this about?

In order to answer these questions, the author redirects our attention to David who has taken his men to join the massive Philistine assault force. Thousands of soldiers are passing in review past the king and his generals, just those May Day parades in Moscow back in Communist days. Rulers like to see their power displayed publicly, but this time there is a controversy. The other generals notice David and the Hebrews marching at the rear of Achish’s column. The word Hebrew, by the way, was a word of derision used by non-Israelites. The generals were very upset to see these Hebrews, and they questioned the king.

David Sent Home                        When the king told the generals that the Hebrews were led by David who had deserted King Saul, the generals were even more unhappy. They reminded Achish of the reputation of David and sang the ditty about David killing ten thousand Philistines. They rightly feared that David would prove disloyal in battle against his own people. They warned Achish that David would try to regain Saul’s favor by bringing him the heads of Philistines, the way he had once brought foreskins as a bride price for the king’s daughter. The Philistine generals wisely insisted that David be sent back to his home in Ziklag.

We do not know what David’s intentions were. It is plausible that he intended to betray Achish and assist Israel despite his opposition to Saul. We have seen that David had already lied to his new lord, and we cannot assume that he would have been loyal in battle. At the least, we need to acknowledge that David was in a very difficult position. If he failed to fight for Achish, his life could be forfeit. If he fought against Israel, he would never become king. How could the Lord’s Anointed take up arms against the Lord’s chosen people? David faced one of those dilemmas in which there was no right decision, and thankfully he did not have to choose. The Philistine generals chose for him. Though the text does not identify this as a moment of divine intervention, it can be read that way. God sometimes works very subtly in history and in our lives even when we do not make a decision.

The king breaks the news to David who protests against being distrusted. He asserts his loyalty, which must have been a hard thing for an Israelite audience to hear on the lips of their greatest king. Achish goes so far as to tell David that he is blameless, like an angel of the LORD, which is laying it on a little thick. No doubt this was to address the criticism that David had betrayed two kings, first Saul then Achish. Unlike Saul, Achish recognizes David’s morality and loyalty. Of course, the irony of this speech in the context of the whole book is that we know that David has been lying to the king all along. We know that he has been fighting the enemies of Israel not the enemies of Achish. In any event, David is ordered by the king to return home. He will avoid open warfare with Israel and still be praised by king. We can almost hear a sigh of relief on David’s part as he and his men leave Aphek and return to Ziklag. The sigh soon turns into a lament, though.

Read chapter 30

Harsh Realities                        This is a hard story for Americans to relate to in many ways. We do not live in a world that functions in this way any longer, but our ancestors could relate closely to this story of tribal raids and revenge. David’s story was very popular in medieval Europe, and the scene here is not that different from tribal raids in in Iraq and Afghanistan today. For many people in the world, war is not a matter of competing ideologies or even competing religions: it is the old story of one tribe raiding another.

David and his men return home and find that Ziklag has been raided in his absence. This is one of the harsh realities of war. When fighting a distant war, those left behind may be left vulnerable. We can get so focused on fighting a perceived threat from home that we ignore genuine threats.

The Amalekites had raided and destroyed Ziklag. They keep popping up in I Samuel. You may remember that earlier in the book Saul had killed all of the Amalekites except the king, Amalek, whom Samuel personally killed. Saul’s disobedience was repeatedly given as the reason for the kingdom being taken from him. It is perhaps ironic that the Amalekites appear again at this point in the story to harass David in his struggle against Saul. Clearly the reports of genocide were exaggerated since the Amalekites appear to be a large and dangerous tribe.

The Amalekites took advantage of the Philistines’ war with Israel to raid numerous towns and villages throughout the region. They were not engaged in ethnic cleansing; they were equal opportunity brigands. We are reminded of the cruelty of the ancient world when we read that the booty they took included all of the women and children of Ziklag. Some of the women would be given as prizes to the warriors, but most of them were to be sold into slavery. Sadly, women and children are still sold in many countries, and governments do little to protect them. It is an insidious and invisible form of slavery. In ancient times, at least the process was visible and there was a way to respond.

The Amalekites also burned the city. That may have been in revenge for David’s raids against them. You may remember from an earlier chapter that David and his men also raided the region, but he did not take captives. He killed the women and children so there would be no witnesses. The Amalekites were greedy, but in some ways more merciful than David. Their captives were alive, but they did burn the city.

David Strengthened                        We can only imagine the heartbreak of the men who returned to find their homes in ashes and their families gone. These warriors wept until they could weep no more. David shared in the suffering of his men. Both of his wives were taken from him. The text says that David’s own life was in danger since the people wanted to take their anger out on him for failing to protect the city. One of the things that make the story of David so interesting for people of faith is that his life is so hard. He may have been the Lord’s Anointed chosen by Samuel to be king, but so far he has had a really rough road. He was “the eighth son” of Jesse who managed to rise in the king’s service only to have the king try to kill him. He has had to sneak out of his own bedroom window and flee to the mountains. He has been responsible for the slaughter of the priests of God, and spent months living in caves always on the run. He has finally found a measure of security among his old enemies and even has position of a city, and now he returns home to find the city destroyed, his wives captured, and his people threatening to kill him. What can he do?

The text says that he strengthened himself in the Lord. We aren’t told how he strengthened himself in the Lord, but presumably he prayed. He poured out his lament to God and renewed himself. This is what Saul apparently did not how to do. We have read stories of Saul seeking out prophets, priests and mediums to learn what he should do, but no stories of Saul humbling himself before the LORD in prayer. We have stories of Saul making ridiculous religious vows, but no stories of him being strengthened by his faith. This may be what made David different. With all of his complexities and moral ambiguity, David appears to have still been a man who was able to pray and seek to do God’s will. This is one reason so many of the Psalms, including the Psalms of lament are ascribed to David.

And this is something we may be able to learn from his example. There are those who dismiss piety and religious faith as a pointless distraction from doing good in the world, but it is often prayer and worship that keep us going in perilous times. David could have given into his despair, like Saul, but he strengthened himself in the LORD. He could have rashly pursued his enemies, but he paused to gather his strength and find wisdom for the task at hand. That is what prayer is for: to give voice to your lament, fear, and fatigue. Prayer is a way to let the spirit of God renew your hope and clear your vision. Then you can return to the struggle of life, just as David did.

David’s Pursuit                        After he was strengthened, David pursued the Amalekites. Some of the men could not keep up with him in his zeal, and they had to remain at a Wadi that was later named Besor, which means “valley of good news.” This seems like an unnecessary point of information, but it will become a key part of the story at the end. These men are unable to join the attack on the Amalekites, but David does not shame them. He leaves them to watch the supplies and establish a base camp so the rest of the men can travel even faster. David is wise.

They come upon a starving Egyptian slave who has been left by his master to die in the desert. Before he knows anything about this wretched man, David halts his pursuit and takes care of him. They give him food and water, and when he recovered some of his strength, the man tells his story. David is merciful even in the midst of his anger, and it works to his advantage. It so happens that the man was the slave of one of the raiders and he knows exactly where they are encamped with their spoils. History is filled with stories of “expendable” people who are disregarded and discarded by the powerful but who have their own revenge as this Egyptian does.

The Rescue                        The man is no fool. He makes David swear a solemn oath that he will protect, which David does. Then he recounts the bad deeds of his master and shows David where the Amalekites have established their stronghold. They are rejoicing and enjoying the spoils of war. They were dancing and drinking and no doubt doing other things with the captive women. For those who live for pleasure, this was the best of times, but it is also a dramatic illustration of the motto “Eat, drink, be merry, for tomorrow you will die.”

David watched the celebration and planned his attack. There is some ambiguity in the text here, which different translators deal with in different ways. Most say that David attacked them from dusk until evening of the next day, implying a 24 hour battle through the night. That is unlikely. The Hebrew word for twilight, though, may have been like our word “gloaming,” which can mean the dim light either before dawn or after sundown. In other words, David probably waited to attack until very early the next morning when the Amalekites were hung over from the night’s revels. The battle raged all day, but still 400 of the Amalekite cavalry escaped. It must have been a very large camp.

Almost miraculously, all of the captives were rescued alive. It is a thrilling story that would make for a great movie. We can picture the jubilation as families were reunited, and psalms of thanksgiving were sung. To make things even better, David now could distribute the spoils that the Amalekites had taken. By taking bold and shrewd action in a time of crisis, David had quickly gone from being hated by his own people to being loved and respected. Again, the contrast with Saul last week is immense.

Besor                        But that is not the end of the story. There are still two hundred men back at the Wadi waiting with all of the baggage. There is another joyful reunion when David returns their wives and children, but there is also dissension in the ranks. Those who had risked their lives in battle saw no reason to divide the spoils of victory with those who had fallen behind. It is an ancient debate that still plagues us. David’s solution was wise and generous. David, unlike so many of us, recognized that his prosperity depended as much on God’s grace as his courage. He knew all too well that the victory could have gone the other way. Had he and his men gone to war with King Achish, their families would have been lost forever. Had the timing been different, they might have come upon the Amalekites in battle array rather than in the midst of celebration.

Today is our commitment Sunday at Home Church, and it is good to ponder this scene at the Wadi. The famous investor Warren Buffet is wise enough to recognize that much of his wealth is because he was lucky enough to be born in America. He does not make the mistake of many of us who think that we deserve our prosperity, but just think how easily things could be different for us. It is because he is wise, Buffet has also proven to be a good steward and is generous with his wealth. David is grateful that he was successful rather than being arrogant in victory. Since he is grateful, he is also generous. He shares the spoils with those who did not have the opportunity to fight. The more salient point is that he decrees that this will be the law among his people. Those who have to stay behind will also share in the spoils. This is probably why the Wadi was named Besor. This was indeed good news.

Conclusion                        Though this is a bloody and violent tale, we can learn from David here. He will be a good king because he is a man of prayer who is bold when action is needed. But that is not all. He is wise, kind to those who are suffering, and generous to all. These are the qualities of a strong leader. The story ends with David sending some of the spoils back to his own tribe of Judah so they will benefit as well. While Saul has been unmanned by the ghost of Samuel, David has been able to send gifts to the people of Judah and rescue the families of his followers. He is increasing as Saul decreases. Next week we will discuss the death of Saul. 

I Samuel 28 – Saul and the Witch (corrected)

I Samuel 28 – Saul and the Witch of Endor

The Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church, originally broadcast Nov. 9, 2008

Craig D. Atwood

 

Introduction:            Good morning and welcome to the Adult Bible Class broadcast live from the chapel of Home Moravian Church in Old Salem. This week we are continuing our study of I Samuel, but before we turn to the Bible, I think it is important that we take a moment to ponder the events of the past week. Tuesday night was historic, and it may be years before we understand the full significance of the election of Barak Obama. Many tears were shed Tuesday night and there was dancing in the streets across America and abroad. Senator McCain’s concession speech was noble and inspiring. He called for us all to rally behind our new president, and I hope we will. Barak Obama will not only be the first African-American President, he is the first from Hawaii, our youngest states. He is not the youngest person to be chosen for this office, but it is the first time in my life that the president is roughly my own age. I am just six months older than him.

 

I could not go to sleep after the election, and so I got out of bed to work on this lesson. It occurred to me that Senator Obama and I were both born at the very beginning of the space age, when humans first left Earth’s atmosphere. But this was also shortly after the creation of the hydrogen bomb. For our whole lives, we have lived under the threat of nuclear weapons. The Civil Rights movement had already begun when Senator Obama and I were born, and we were both children when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Throughout my childhood, America was involved in the Vietnam War, and George Wallace ran in the first presidential campaign I can remember. I was only seven years old in 1968 when the country was convulsed by riots, but I remember the deployment of the National Guard in several states.

 

Just think how much things have changed in forty years. Not only did Germans rise up and tear down the Berlin Wall, South Africans tore down the wall of apartheid. We watched one American president broker peace between Israel and Egypt, and another president encourage democracy in the former Soviet Socialist republics. The past 48 years of my life have been filled with conflict and pain, but we made great progress as well. Along with millions of Americans, I was inspired by the words of our President-elect on Tuesday night when he reminded of us of the promise of America and the ideals that make us great.

 

We have often failed to live up to those ideals as individuals and as a nation, but that is no reason to doubt those ideals. In the Moravian Church, as in most Christian churches, we regularly confess in worship that we have fallen short of the standards set by our Lord and are often unworthy servants. We know that as individuals and as churches, we are poor stewards of God’s grace, just as we Americans have sometimes been poor stewards of the ideal of “liberty and justice for all.” The reason we confess our failures in church is so that we may change our ways, so that our lives may more perfectly reflect our ideals.

The Christian Church, which started as a small, persecuted group of disciples dedicated to the extraordinary propositions of the Sermon on the Mount, now includes believers who speak over a thousand different languages and whose skin is a thousand different hues. The United States, which began with the extraordinary proposition that “all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” now includes people from nearly every nation on earth. We will soon have a president whose ancestors came from Europe and Africa, who was educated in a university founded by the Puritans, and who chose a life of public service over the pursuit of personal wealth. This week he challenged us all to turn away from cynicism and selfishness so that together we may live into the hope and promise of our ideals as Americans and as people of faith. I hope we will heed that call and that repentance will be matched by deeds of justice and mercy.

 

Our lesson for this week strikes a somber note after the excitement of Election Day. We are continuing our story about politics and religion in ancient Israel, and this week we have a story about necromancy and despair. It is a very weird story that writers have copied for centuries, but remarkably this is the only story of its kind in the Bible. Ancient literature abounds with stories of heroes speaking with the shades of the dead, but this is the only such tale in Scripture. Chapter 28 contains a story that may be more appropriate for Halloween than the Sunday after Election Day, but I think we will find a useful message in it for our lives today. I will read the entire story.

Read chapter 28           

Placement in I Samuel                        One of the first things we notice about this story as we are reading through I Samuel is that it interrupts the flow of the narrative. In fact, it is a rather jarring change of scene. We have seen that I Samuel was assembled from many pieces of ancient literature, including royal documents. Some of the sections of the book, like chapter 28, appear to be stories or legends passed down for generations before being incorporated in this grand history of the origin of the Israelite monarchy. In its current location the story interrupts the story of David serving the Philistines. In the previous chapter David became a liege of the Philistine king, and chapters 29 and 30 continue the chronicle of David’s wars on behalf of King Achish.

Chapter 28 abruptly shifts the scene to King Saul who is preparing to battle the Philistines. This is beautiful stagecraft similar to a good movie. David is not the only character in this drama. We now return to the two men who figured most prominently in the first part of the book: Saul and Samuel. By placing this chapter where it is, the author shows us the contrast between David who has responded creatively and boldly to his dire situation and Saul who is slipping further and further into impotence and despair.

The author inserted a few verses in the original story so that it connects with the larger narrative of the book. We are reminded yet again that Samuel was dead and that all Israel mourned for him. It is like Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, which says that Marley was dead, to begin with it. Like Marley, Samuel was as dead as a doornail, or perhaps a coffin nail. Everyone in Israel knew he was dead, and that his wisdom was lost.

A Small Medium at Large:                        We are also told that Saul had gotten rid of the mediums and wizards, which was consistent with biblical law (Lev. 19:31, 20:6, Deut. 18:11). There is no reason to doubt that the king had indeed tried to stamp out ancient magical practices. Many of the later kings of Israel did similar things, often with brutal efficiency. The author of I Samuel probably approved of this, but this chapter is remarkably non-judgmental. By beginning the story with the statement that it was Saul who had abolished necromancy, the author emphasizes Saul’s desperation in seeking out a medium. It is similar to the situation today when a legislator who passes a law condemning certain activities is caught doing those same things. Saul banished mediums and witches, but when he was distressed he found one.

There are several translation issues in this passage. Scholars disagree over what to call the woman Saul visits. The King James Version calls her a “witch” because she is a woman doing illicit magic. By the way, Samantha’s mother in the TV show Bewitched was named Endora because of this story. Until the 20th century, the word “witch” has almost always been pejorative. Most tribal cultures have a concept of witchcraft, and it is almost always someone who uses supernatural powers to harm people. Those who use occult powers to help people are generally referred as wise women, oracles, herb women, shamans or healers. Such women and men often work on the fringes of society, practicing ancient forms of medicine and divination.

Since the woman in chapter 28 is helping Saul rather than using her power to harm someone, modern translators tend to avoid the word “witch” when describing her. All we know about her is that she is a type of seer or oracle. In the days of King Saul, there was probably less difference between a prophet or seer and the woman in Endor than we might assume, but she is using necromancy, which has often been condemned as dark magic in Christianity. In the 19th century, spiritualism became popular in America and Europe, and some people claimed to be “mediums” who could contact the spirits of the dead. Some translators call the woman in Endor a medium or even a spiritualist, but it is unlikely that Saul was having a séance. Since she is hiding from the authorities, we might say that she is a small medium at large. I will follow tradition and call her the witch of Endor, but keep in mind that she is not like the witches we see on Halloween.

Saul and the Witch                        Even though he is the king of Israel, Saul recognizes that he is losing control of his destiny. In earlier stories we have seen that Saul’s religion was based on superstition and shallow religiosity rather than faith. He depended more on prophecy, oracles, and religious vows than justice and wise administration. Now he is coming to the end of his reign, and is desperately looking for help. He realizes that the Philistines are massing an imposing force against him, and he has alienated one of his best warriors. He wants someone to tell him what he should he do, but none of his old methods of seeking religious confirmation are working. The prophets turned against him and endorsed his rival. The Urim and Thummin stones aren’t working because he had killed the priests.  The Lord has turned against him. What can he do?

Rather than ask himself what he must do to return to God, he asks one of his retainers to find a medium, even though he knows he has driven them all from the land. His war on the witches appears to have been no more successful than our government’s war on drugs. Saul thinks he has gotten rid of the witches, but one of his men knew right away where to find a witch. There is a witch in Endor.  King Saul has to hide his identity and go to her seeking advice. We can feel her fear when the strange man comes to her. She thinks it is a trap, but she is torn by compassion for this suffering man and she agrees to help him. When she hears who Saul wants her to summon, she becomes more frightened. Only someone powerful would dare to wake Samuel from the grave. Moreover, we can assume that it was the prophet Samuel who had instructed Saul to get rid of the witches in the first place. She realizes that the hated king is in her home asking her to break the law. He insists and she relents.

Witchcraft?                        Modern feminists view this woman with more sympathy than male biblical scholars through the centuries. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Protestant and Catholics alike used this story as justification for burning tens of thousands of women on the charge of witchcraft. Many of them were simply midwives who were unfortunate enough to help deliver babies with birth defects. Many of them were probably women like the witch of Endor who were confined to the fringes of society, and yet people still wanted their help in times of crisis.

One of the big debates in Christian theology through the years was whether the woman actually had the power to raise the spirit of Samuel. Many theologians were reluctant to say that a human could do this without demonic help, but surely Satan would not raise Samuel from the dead. Some have argued that God performed a special miracle in bringing Samuel back from the dead for a brief time. Others have argued that this was simply a vision, and that it was really God speaking to Saul.

A careful reading of the text indicates that Saul himself did not see Samuel; it was the witch who saw him. It is possible that the witch of Endor was like modern mediums who claim to have contact with other side while actually telling customers what they want to hear. It is interesting that it is Saul who tells her that the old man with a robe is Samuel.

This description of Saul confirming that the spirit she has contacting is Samuel is very similar to what happens in modern séances or with psychics. It is the customer who provides the interpretation of the experience and creates the message he or she wanted to hear. In other words, chapter 28 may be a surprisingly accurate account of a real event, but that does not necessarily mean that the spirit of Samuel was physically raised from the dead. It sounds like Saul himself did not see Samuel even though he talked to him.

The Ghost of Samuel                        It is interesting that Saul learns nothing new from the necromancer. The ghost of Samuel tells him that the kingdom has been torn from him and that David will be the next king. The ghost confirms Saul’s worst fear; that there is no hope for him and Jonathan. I keep saying “ghost,” which is the traditional translation for the Hebrew here, but it is not clear that this is correct. The woman says that she could see one of elohim rising, but elohim is the Hebrew word for God or gods. This is one reason some ancient scholars speculated that this was actually a vision of God in the form of Samuel. Modern translators generally say that the witch saw a “spirit” capturing the ambiguity of the Hebrew word.

From a literary perspective, the word ghost is helpful, so long as we do not picture someone in a white sheet moaning “boo.” There are many ghosts in world literature, such as the ghost of Hamlet’s father who tells the young prince something he already suspected was true. A ghost is basically an echo of the past speaking in the present; it is a memory that takes shape in our consciousness. But ghosts rarely bring comfort. They haunt us with memories of wrongs unatoned, regrets, and the fear that the past has determined our future. This story brilliantly dramatizes Saul being haunted by his own past and his sense of hopelessness.

Saul’s Collapse                        Saul bows before the spirit as if he were still the judge of Israel. He pours out his lament to the ghost of the man who had made him king. He gets no more sympathy from the dead Samuel than he had from the live Samuel. Just like many of us, Samuel’s ghost reproaches Saul for his failures and sins. The ghosts of remorse and regret are merciless. His past robs Saul of his last remnants of hope and strength. He will go into battle expecting that he will soon join Samuel in Sheol.

Rather than eating and building up his strength, Saul has been fasting all day. Rather than preparing his troops for battle and planning strategy with his generals, Saul has been consulting the dead. He is left shaken and powerless. The witch who had been so frightened of him now shows him kindness. She cooks the fatted calf for the broken king and insists he eat.

Conclusion                        In our lesson for next week, we’ll return to David who represents a new hope for Israel. As we look forward to a new era in American history, we should contemplate the fate of Saul. In the end, Saul was overwhelmed by fear, and he failed to recognize that David was the hope for the future. As his kingdom crumbled, Saul turned to the ghosts of the past instead of meeting the challenges of the present or greeting the dawn. 

Hiatus

This week we had a special lesson from a member of the class who attended the first Tanzanian Moravian Women’s conference over the summer. It was an excellent lesson that will be published in the Hinge. Next Sunday I’ll post the lesson on Saul and the Witch of Endor. You might be interested in the podcasts on Homebrewed Christianity. I did the one for Reformation Day this week. Kudos to Tripp Fuller for an excellent contribution to the emerging church.

Thanks to everyone who is reading and commenting on this blog. We’ve gone over the 10,000 hit mark.