Advent Study

Here is the link for the Second Week of Advent Studies, presented on December 11, 2016 and pertaining to chapters 2 and 3 of Walter Brueggemann’s book Names for the Messiah. If you can’t get to the PowerPoint through this link, please let me know by emailing joe.laguardia@gmail.com.  Here is the link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bz0eis-7BEYva1BZNjdQcTUxb0k/view?usp=sharing. Thanks for participating in this year’s Advent Study at Heights Christian Church.  May your last two weeks of Advent be filled with insights, blessings, and joy.   Joe...

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Advent Study PowerPoint for December 4, 2016

Friends, I don’t know how to upload a PowerPoint presentation to Word Press, but I think  you can get to it on Google Drive, by clicking on this link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bz0eis-7BEYvZkhRc0RPUjdLRkk/view?usp=sharing. See if it works!  I’ll try to remember to add the other two weeks after I present them. Have a great Advent and Christmas season! Joe...

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It Is Finished–Good Friday 2015

It Is Finished–Good Friday 2015

Seventh Last Word: “It Is Finished” (John 19:30) Presented at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Cleveland Heights, Ohio on Good Friday, April 3, 2015 I had the privilege, the honor and the great sadness of being present at the deaths of both my mother and father. They did not die in a hospital or suddenly. They died at home, in bed. I suppose it is a common inclination to dwell on their last words.   We remember last words. My three siblings and I have agreed that Dad’s last words were: “Get some rest.” He apparently felt we were taxing ourselves hovering around his bed. And my mother’s? The ones I remember the best as she spent her nine last days in a semi-comatose state were: “Take time to smell the roses!” And so there are these three last words of Jesus: “It is finished!” They are only recorded in John’s Gospel. John was reportedly at the foot of the cross; he would certainly remember them. Or perhaps he wanted these words to sum up the story of Jesus, who was John’s hero, the person he equated with the Word, with God, and wasn’t John the disciple Jesus loved? So what did Jesus mean when he cried out: “It is finished?” What does the “IT” refer to? The words are translated in Latin as Consummatum est [“It is consummated!”] But look at the original Greek: The word is tetelestai which was written on business receipts in New Testament times indicating that a bill had been paid in full. And so to John’s Greek-speaking readership; it would be unmistakable that Jesus Christ had died to pay for their sins. [From: Bible.org]. So that’s the usual interpretation: And if we agree with it, if we feel we are now close to understanding who God is, if we feel that we owe it to hundreds of years of tradition to believe that Jesus was the scapegoat for our sins, we will feel—what? Guilty?, Repentant? –but comforted? grateful? We laid our sins on him and he was killed so that God could once again love us or see only the sacrifice of his son instead of our ugly sins. It is almost completely irresistible to accept this interpretation. “It is finished” then means that our sins were paid for; God’s wrath appeased; we are redeemed, bought back, restored by the Second Adam to the favor that the first Adam (and his wife, of course) screwed up, lost, forfeited—the original sin! It is comforting, isn’t it, to trace Scripture from that fateful third book of Genesis through the Exodus and Law and Judges and Kings and Prophets and Gospels and Letters and Revelation to conclude: Jesus...

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The Rich Young Man and Redistribution of Wealth

The Rich Young Man and Redistribution of Wealth

Matthew 19:16-26 Isn’t it interesting that Matthew puts this passage about the rich young man right after Jesus blesses the little children.  Of course, these two events may have taken place on different days or even in different years, but switching from the innocent sweetness of little children to someone who has all the resources and sophistication that wealth and education can bring, must have taken a great deal of effort.   I’m told that peace corps volunteers face this culture shock when they return from a third world country and re-enter a grocery store. The wealthy man’s question implies he is coming to grips with the fact that you can’t take your riches with you when you die, and so he is wisely asking Jesus, the teacher and prophet, how he can obtain the one thing he doesn’t yet have: eternal life.  He asks what “good” he needs to do to merit eternal life. When Jesus answers that there is only one who is good; namely, God, and then launches into a recitation of the commandments, the young man counters with what amounts to: “Whoa!  I am good!  I’ve kept all of these commandments.”  Jesus, instead of asking (as I would have): “Then why did you ask me ‘Which ones?’ when I said “keep the commandments?” Jesus must have looked at his clothing, his manner, the care he took of his skin, and then challenged him on the one thing he lacked in THIS life, detachment from his wealth. As the young man went away grieving (“no eternal life for me—yi!”), Jesus commented on the extreme difficulty of getting into that eternal realm with your bags full of money. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible makes the assumption that since the man was wealthy, he could NOT have kept the commandments Jesus quoted; that in that era and culture, he got wealthy by exploiting others, being greedy, and depriving others of what he had accumulated.  The NISB adds: “Contrary to elitist values that often despised the poor and blamed them for their poverty, wealth does not equate with virtue” (p. 1781).  “Wealth has blinded him,” NISB continues, “to unjust, hierarchical social relationships…To follow Jesus is to join a community that renounces domination based on birth and wealth, and where all are slaves (12:46-55; 20:24-28)…To live a life that deprives people of necessary resources, that maintains social inequities, makes it impossible to participate in God’s empire.  Repentance and restructured social and economic practices are necessary.”   Only God can effect that transformation. Wow!  Sounds like a call for the redistribution of wealth, doesn’t it?  Such a call would be fought with great vigor in the United States and labeled “Marxist” by many. ...

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Subduing and Dominating

Subduing and Dominating

Scripture: Genesis 1:27-31 and 2:7, 15, 18-19, 21-22. As those who study Scripture know, there are two accounts of creation in the Book of Genesis.  In the one that appears in chapter 1, “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.  God blessed them, saying: ‘Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.  Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.’  God also said; ‘See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food.” And so it happened.  God look at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” (Gen. 1:27-31).  In the second account, in chapter 2, “the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being (Gen. 2:7)…The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden to cultivate and care for it (Gen. 2:15)…The Lord God said: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a suitable partner for him.” So the Lord God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name (Gen. 2: 18-19)…So the Lord God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.  The lord god then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man (Gen. 2:21-22). In her TEDx Talk of December 9, 2012 [http://youtu.be/575V-CgiVOE], Joan Chittister refers to this first book of the Bible to make the points that (1) they were undoubtedly written by a man from a male point of view; and both (2) hierarchy (man created first; woman second and subject to him; (3) and patriarchy are built in and have influenced history and culture ever since. Why in some countries are women and girls forbidden to become educated or even to drive?  Isn’t the argument that: it is the woman who attracts the man; it is the woman who gets pregnant, carries the child for months, and then...

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Noah in the Movies

Noah in the Movies

Scripture Genesis 6-9: The Flood I suppose we should all be happy that the film industry is still making movies based on the Bible.  It’s another proof that those sacred books will endure as long as people inhabit the earth.  The movie Noah has not received sterling reviews, but it is selling like a blockbuster just the same.  Now raise your hand if you think that the movie stays close to the details about the Flood in Genesis, chapters six through nine.   Right.  The movie runs over two hours.  There are four chapters on which to base it.   What’s a director to do, if he or she wants hordes of people to buy tickets to see it?   Why, interpret, or course, and embellish, and add characters and drama (oh, and use every special effect that has been invented)! It’s just extremely interesting to see how this age-old story is interpreted by 21st century writers and directors.  And who’s to say that the writer(s) of Genesis weren’t doing the same thing as they wrote down this ancient story of a huge flood that wiped out a lot of life.  Some of the early flood stories were found in the Epic of Atrahasis and in the Epic of Gilgamesh (see The New Interpreters’ Study Bible, p. 16).  There were others, usually following accounts of creation from chaos.  With the flood, chaos is allowed to return. As you read chapters 6-9 straight through, it is easy to discover that there are two stories in Genesis, conflated into one.  Primary evidence for that is in the use of two different names for God in the original Hebrew.  Biblical scholars have mapped out which verses belong to the “Yahwist” narrative and which one to the “Priestly” narrative.  In the Yahwist version, it rains for 40 days and 40 nights; in the Priestly tradition, the flood lasts for a year.  In the Yahwist, Noah is commanded to take seven pairs of clean animals, suitable for both eating and sacrifice; in the Priestly, only one pair of each is brought into the ark, whether clean or unclean.  In the movie version, we understand that no real animals at all were used—just virtual ones. Surely the liberties the director took with the movie, the addition of characters, including two granddaughters that Noah imagines he must sacrifice so that no humans would be left on earth; surely this makes the film controversial, and many critics have come forward, their complaints only adding to the hype and persuading more people to see it.  But the real controversy about biblical story of the Flood is that God gives up on his people and causes a natural disaster to wipe them...

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