Sunday, January 31, 2016

Ministry with Those in Need

Our pastor recently made a point in her sermon (which I wrote down on the bulletin so I wouldn't forget), "Jesus offers a justice that makes things right." She contrasted justice-as-retribution with justice-as-restoration and talked about the restorative power of Jesus. Many of us, on the other hand, would like to see people get some kind of "karma" when they hurt us or otherwise do us (or someone else) wrong. While we need forms of retributive justice, Jesus points us toward the greater good of restoration.

Although our pastor did not refer to the following essays, her sermon did create a mental connection in my mind to these two posts, which a clergy colleague, knowledgable in justice issues, had posted on her Facebook status. The first, by Rev. Mike Mather, is "Five Rules to Keep From Being the Agent of the Devil in the Middle of the Church: A Practical Guide to 'Ministry with'": The post concerns ways that the church can be truly in ministry with the poor and those in need, compared to a more programmatic approach to ministry.

As my clergy colleague noted, be sure to read the accompanying article by John McKnight, which provides the context: "Why 'Servanthood' Is Bad." McKnight writes, for instance, "Service systems build on people's deficiencies; communities on their capacities." To paraphrase our pastor, these ideas help us think not only of issues of distributive justice (like service systems) to the challenges of restorative justice.

I share these pieces here on my blog in case others would like to think along with me about these ideas!

Just As Jesus Is

One of the devotional periodicals that I read, Living Faith, has a devotion for January 30, "Come As You Are" by Mitch Finley. The lesson was Mark 4:35-41, which I quote here in part:

"On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to [the disciples], ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him."

The author noticed that clause, "just as he was" and was intrigued by it. What does that mean? I think of the old hymn, "Just as I am, without one plea," which affirms our ability to give our highly imperfect selves to Christ and to be accepted and loved. But this verse has these "don't blink or you'll miss it" words that invite pondering.

I read a few commentaries, both in books and online. Since Jesus had been teaching to large crowds all day, "just as he was" suggests that he was exhausted and overwhelmed, especially since he shortly falls asleep in the boat---and he sleeps so deeply that the frightening storm that comes up does not awaken him. And Jesus may not have whatever provisions and preparations were necessary for a sea journey. The passive quality of the verse---the disciples took Jesus with them in the boat, rather than "Jesus boarded the boat"---may suggest that they were taking care of Jesus in his time of need.

In the passage immediately preceding this one, Mark writes that Jesus taught in parables but to his disciples he explained his teachings privately. This companionable story of Jesus' friends taking care of him is a kind of parable, too, wherein Jesus demonstrated his power, even over natural forces---and even over his own tiredness and vulnerability.

Is there a sense that we, too, "take in" Jesus and give him companionable help and love?

Friday, January 29, 2016

Considering Odd Emotions

My daughter and I went to the drug store yesterday this afternoon, and I picked up the new issue (Feb. 2016) of Psychology Today, with an interesting cover story, "Odd Emotions: Mastering the Feelings You Can't Name."

The article by Rebecca Webber (pp. 42-51, 77) discusses several emotions that many of us have experienced, which can be overwhelming yet difficult to describe:

* the overwhelming experience of one's eventual non-existence (not only the event of death itself, but of not existing at all)

* the dual feeling of facing a churning ocean, which is potentially deadly yet exhilarating to see

* the way that nature can look different to us after we've experienced certain great works of art

* the way time seems to slow drastically when one is in the midst of an accident

* the combination of both anxiety and peace when undertaking a right course of action

* schadenfreude, but also the opposite of schadenfreude: a lack of exhilaration when someone gets what they deserve.

* a strong feeling of feeling connected to strangers we see coming and going

The article goes on to list words for such emotions that are found in other languages but not in English, and even lists neologists developed for certain odd emotions.

One can certainly see how some of these emotions can fit into a religious framework. In fact, that last one is much like Thomas Merton's famous experience of love for humanity as he mingled in the crowds in downtown Louisville, KY. I also remember reading that the philosopher Martin Buber, when he was a sensitive young person, felt overwhelmed and frightened---nearly to suicide---by a realization of his smallness in the universe. And haven't many of us made important decisions about our religious life, based on the knowledge that we'll eventually die and thus our time is limited for doing good?

I know the feeling of doing the right thing (apologizing, for instance), simultaneously feeling terrible and yet full of peace. I feel I'm doing God's will as best as I can and am being guided (which is itself an odd emotion!). I've also felt pleased when I'm not smug about someone else's "bad karma"---perhaps I'm growing in forgiveness.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Perpetual Feeling of Betrayal

Here is an interesting article today, that discusses GOP "fighter pointing" over the rise of Donald Trump.

It is worth reading in tandem with a review by Garry Willis in the new New York Review of Books, wherein he discusses the current situation of conservatism in the U.S., in particular the fact that "To be on the right is to feel perpetually betrayed."

And still another interesting piece, concerning possible moment toward a "compassionate conservatism"

Good Essay

I appreciated this post by Kevin Garcia: "My Identity in Christ Includes My Sexual Orientation."

For All the Saints: Thomas Aquinas

In Western churches, Thomas of Aquino, or Thomas Aquinas is honored today. He lived from 1224 or 1225 until 1274. A Dominican friar and priest, he is known for his contributions to theology philosophy, scriptural commentary, ethics, and even hymnody. In works like Summa Theologica and Summa contra Gentiles, he synthesized Aristotelian philosophy with Christian philosophy in a way not attempted outside the Muslim world. He was an exponent of natural theology, the way God can be known by reason, although he affirmed that doctrines of the church can only be known via revelation. Although his theology faced controversy and even condemned by a bishop prior to and after his death, his theology soon rose in stature and is now considered the basis of Catholic doctrine. Thomas was canonized and also declared a Doctor of the Church. He is also the saint of Catholic schools.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Year's Music: Mozart's Coronation Mass

Today (January 27) is Mozart's 260th birthday, so I thought I'd listen to his Coronation Mass (Krönungsmesse, or Mass No. 15 in C major, K. 317). I used to have a nice LP set of Mozart's sacred music, on the Phillips label if I remember correctly, and this particular short mass (Missa brevis), was included on the set. It's a favorite since that time when I was a single, rural pastor in a small parsonage on the state highway.

The mass got its name from its use in Viennese imperial coronations and likely premiered on Easter, 1779, not long after Mozart completed it. As this site indicates, "Certainly the music itself is celebratory in nature, and would have fitted a coronation or Easter Day service perfectly. The soloists are continually employed either as a quartet, in pairs or in solo lines that contrast with the larger forces of the choir. The most stunning examples are the central hushed section of the Credo, and later when the Hosanna section of the Benedictus is well under way, the quartet begins the piece again, seemingly in the wrong place! Perhaps the most obvious reason for the mass's popularity in Prague in 1791/2 was the uncanny similarity between the soprano solo Agnus Dei and the Countess's aria Dove sono from Figaro which had been so successful there in the 1780's."

Here is a performance conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt:

Sunday, January 24, 2016

For All the Saints: Francis de Sales

This famous saint (who lived in 1567 till 1622), was Bishop of Geneva, known for books like Treatise on the Love of God and Introduction to the Devout Life. He was canonized in 1665 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1877. Son of a noble family, he had a privileged background, but a religious crisis led him to devote himself to the Virgin Mary, to dedicate his life to God, and to affirm the God of Love in his practice and writings. The king of France appreciated Francis because he was both a devout Catholic and an educated gentleman of noble background. When he became Bishop of Geneva, his resided in Annecy because of the dominant Calvinism in Switzerland. He was known for his gentleness and patience, traits that he practiced as a result of his focus upon God's love and Mary's love.

The site that I use to learn about Roman Catholic saints has this nice piece about Francis:

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Year's Music: Joseph Haydn's Symphonies

Continuing my year-long listening to sacred or spiritual music... Haydn's symphonies aren't sacred music per se, but I love to listen to them as I do about my work, and they cheer me up when I'm blue---all of which is close enough for me.

Several years ago I ordered the Adam Fischer-conducted, 33-CD set of Haydn's 104 symphonies, which included two string quartets for which woodwind parts were discovered, and a sinfonia concertante. At least once a year, I've made it a little "project" to begin with the first disc and play the whole set over a period of weeks. Lately, I've listened to the Antal Dorati-conducted set, downloaded from iTunes, although I enjoy Fischer a little more with Haydn's slow movements. I believe that Dorati's was the first complete recording of Haydn's symphonies.

I don't listen attentively to all the music; it's in the background as I write and work. But that's a way to discover favorite music as certain passages and movements stand out in my subconscious mind. Almost inevitably, I "perk up" to a slow movement or a menuetto movement: for instance, the minuets of symphonies 61, 71, and 80. My favorite movement from all the symphonies is the slow movement of 44, the Trauer ("Mourning") symphony. But I also enjoy the entire symphonies 6, 7, and 8--- named Morning, Midday, and Evening---as well as 16, 22 ("Philosopher"), 82 ("The Bear"), and others. Every time I do a "marathon" I discover a few favorite.

So far, on this marathon, I'm up to #20, so I've a ways to go.

The April 2009 issue of Gramophone, page 110, contains this comment from critic Geraint Lewis as he reflected on the 200th anniversary of Haydn's death.

"When he died in 1809, no previous composer in the entire history of music had enjoyed such universal and unanimous acclaim. So something obviously went wrong to turn him into Tovey's 'Haydn the Inaccessible' in 1932 (the bicentenary of his birth) and to become Holloway's 'well kept secret' today. With supreme irony, it was the immediate and subsequent evolution of Western music that unwittingly eclipsed and then proceeded to distort a general understanding of most of the output of its essential progenitor, while none the less retaining his essential DNA deep within his being. Whoa there, you may well be tempted to interject! But just imagine that Haydn had perished in the devastating fire which destroyed his tiny house in Eisenstadt's Klostergasse on August 2, 1767. Where then would have been the grit which gave birth to the pearl in Mozart's oyster-shell? And what would have become of young Beethoven without those pivotal 18 months in 1792-93 spent sitting at Haydn's elbow and looking over his shoulder?"

I also subscribe to Listen: Life with Classical Music. In the second issue (May/June 2009), David Hurwitz writes about “Music’s Greatest Innovator.” Haydn “enlarged the expressive scope of [instrumental] music to include not just happiness and sadness in varying degrees, but also humor, irony, desolation, ambivalence--the entire gamut of emotional expression” (p. 53). Haydn’s music differs from previous music because “it “involves a uniquely musical quality (that branch of harmony called ‘tonality,’ or more commonly ‘key’) that Haydn used as the organizing principal of a large instrumental work--what later became known as ‘sonata form.’ This later term… in Haydn’s hands really means turning a piece of music into a related series of dramatic events moving through time as you listen… His themes have specific personalities or characteristics that we can hear change, evolve and interact over the course of a movement or entire work” (p. 54). Hurwitz writes that “Baroque music tends to explore one basic emotion, or ‘affect,’ at a time” (p. 54), while in Haydn, “each movement shows a whole range of contrasting feelings and seldom restricts itself to just one” (p. 55). Haydn’s discovery of musical development “put abstract music on the same footing in terms of importance as vocal music because in his hands it achieves a similar expressive depth and specificity. And this, by any measure, was a true musical revolution, something that had never been done before” (p. 56). Interestingly, because Haydn’s music was not readily available and because he did not fit the later Romanic conception of the artist, his reputation faded and he was perceived as Beethoven’s precursor (p. 56).

I want to give a shout-out to Haydn's brother, Michael, too. I recently purchased a CD set of twenty of his symphonies. When I log onto Pandora Radio, I often choose the Michael Haydn play list and enjoy most every piece. Both Joseph and Michael were associated with St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, which we were privileged to visit in 2007 when my daughter's choir toured central Europe and sang there for a noon service.

Here is an article, which I just discovered, wherein this listener attempted to put all 104 symphonies "in order of greatness." Whew!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

For All the Saints: Agnes of Rome

The saint honored today is commemorated in both Western and Eastern churches, and is one of the seven women named in the Canon of the Mass.

Agnes of Rome lived from about 291 till about 304. Her name harkens both to the Latin word for lamb, agnus, and the Greek adjective hagnē, which means pure or chaste. According to legends, she was identified as a Christian by a rejected suitor and taken to a brothel, but any man who tried to rape her was struck blind (or, in some versions, a man was struck dead but resuscitated when she prayed for him. She was condemned to be burned but when the wood would not catch fire, she was beheaded (or stabbed) and thus martyred at the age of about thirteen. This was during the reign of emperor Diocletian, when religious persecutions were notably ruthless.

Monday, January 18, 2016

For All the Saints: Athanasius

Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 293-373) is honored today on Western and Eastern church calendars. He was the 20th bishop of Alexandria, from 328 till 373, but nearly half of his episcopate was spent in exile because, as a defender of trinitarian theology, he was opposed by different Roman emperors who were sympathetic to Arianism. Athanasius had a major role in the first Council of Nicaea which affirmed the "consubstantiality" of the Son with the Father, as opposed to the theology of Arius that affirmed that the Son is subordinate to the Father. "Athenians contra mundum" (Athanasius against the world) is an expression that reflects his courageous integrity in affirming what became orthodox Christian teaching about the nature of God .

The Orthodox Saints website ( has this:

"...Even as a child, his piety and devotion to the Faith were so notable that Alexander, the Patriarch of the city, took Athanasius under his protection. As a student, he acquired a thorough education, but was more interested in the things of God than in secular learning, and withdrew for a time into the desert to sit at the feet of Saint Anthony (January 17), whose disciple he became and whose biography he later wrote. On returning to Alexandria, he was ordained to the diaconate and began his public labors for the Church. He wrote his treatise On the Incarnation, when he was only twenty. (It contains a phrase, still often quoted today, that express in a few words some of the depths of the Mystery of the Incarnation: God became man that man might become god.)

"Just at this time Arius, a priest in Alexandria, was promoting his enticing view that the Son and Word of God is not of one essence with the Father, but a divine creation of the Father. This view, which (as Athanasius realized) strikes at the very possibility of mankind's salvation, gained wide acceptance and seemed for a time to threaten the Christian Faith itself. In 325, the Emperor Constantine the Great convoked a Council of the Church at Nicaea to settle the turmoil that had the Arian teaching had spread through the Church. Athanasius attended the Council, and defended the Orthodox view so powerfully that he won the admiration of the Orthodox and the undying enmity of the Arians. From that time forth his life was founded on the defense of the true consubstantiality (homoousia) of the Son with the Father.

"In 326, not long before his death, Patriarch Alexander appointed Athanasius to be his successor, and Athanasius was duly elevated to the patriarchal throne. ... Though the Arian heresy had apparently been condemned once and for all at Nicea, Arius had many powerful allies throughout the Empire, even in the Imperial court, and Athanasius was soon subjected to many kinds of persecution, some local, some coming from the Imperial throne itself. Though he was Patriarch of Alexandria for more than forty years, a large amount of that time was spent in hiding from powerful enemies who threatened him with imprisonment or death. Twice he fled to Rome for protection by the Pope, who in the early centuries of the Church was a consistent champion of Orthodoxy against its various enemies. From his various hiding places, Athanasius issued tracts, treatises and epistles which helped to rally the faithful throughout Christendom to the Orthodox cause... He reposed in peace in 373, having given his entire adult life, at great suffering, to the defense of the Faith of Christ."

Sunday, January 17, 2016

For All the Saints: Anthony of Egypt

In several church calendars, both Western and Eastern, St Anthony of Egypt (or Anthony the Great) is honored today. Not the first Christian ascetic, he nevertheless caught the church's imagination with his desert asceticism, and the way his particular calling inspired the development of Christian monasticism. The Orthodox Saints website has this about Anthony:

 "Saint Anthony, the Father of monks, was born in Egypt in 251 of pious parents who departed this life while he was yet young. On hearing the words of the Gospel: 'If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell what thou hast, and give to the poor' (Matt. 19:21), he immediately put it into action. Distributing to the poor all he had, and fleeing from all the turmoil of the world, he departed to the desert. The manifold temptations he endured continually for the space of twenty years are incredible. His ascetical struggles by day and by night, whereby he mortified the uprisings of the passions and attained to the height of dispassion, surpass the bounds of nature; and the report of his deeds of virtue drew such a multitude to follow him, that the desert was transformed into a city, while he became, so to speak, the governor, lawgiver, and master-trainer of all the citizens of this newly-formed city. But the cities of the world also enjoyed the fruit of his virtue. When the Christians were being persecuted and put to death under Maximinus in 312, he hastened to their aid and consolation. When the Church was troubled by the Arians, he went with zeal to Alexandria in 335 and struggled against them in behalf of Orthodoxy. During this time, by the grace of his words, he also turned many unbelievers to Christ.

"He began his ascetical life outside his village of Coma in Upper Egypt, studying the ways of the ascetics and holy men there, and perfecting himself in the virtues of each until he surpassed them all. Desiring to increase his labours, he departed into the desert, and finding an abandoned fortress in the mountain, he made his dwelling in it, training himself in extreme fasting, unceasing prayer, and fierce conflicts with the demons. Here he remained, as mentioned above, about twenty years. Saint Athanasius the Great, who knew him personally and wrote his life, says that he came forth from the fortress 'initiated in the mysteries and filled with the Spirit of God.' Afterwards, because of the press of the faithful, who deprived him of his solitude, he was enlightened by God to journey with certain Bedouins, until he came to a mountain in the desert near the Red Sea, where he passed the remaining part of his life. Saint Athanasius says of him that 'his countenance had a great and wonderful grace. This gift also he had from the Saviour. For if he were present in a great company of monks, and any one who did not know him previously wished to see him, immediately coming forward he passed by the rest, and hurried to Anthony, as though attracted by his appearance. Yet neither in height nor breadth was he conspicuous above others, but in the serenity of his manner and the purity of his soul.'

"'So passing his life, and becoming an example of virtue and a rule for monastics, he reposed on January 17 in the year 356, having lived together some 105 years.' (Great Horologion)"

Friday, January 15, 2016

For All the Saints: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King is honored today on the anniversary of his 1929 birth. Many important and interesting aspects of Dr. King and his life and theology, as well as information about Mrs. King and the family's ongoing ministry, can be found at the King Center website: A good resource to reflect upon his legacy today and over this weekend!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

For All the Saints: Hilary of Poitiers
I used to live in a community where I daily passed a Catholic parish named St. Hilary. He was a 4th century saint, born in Poitiers in around 310. Educated in Neo-Platonism, he and his family converted to Christianity, and eventually he was chosen as bishop of the Christians of Poitiers. Once in office, he was embroiled in controversy against Arian theology and soon excommunicated an Arian bishop and his supporters. Unfortunately, Hilary himself was shortly sent into exile. While away from Poitiers, however, he wrote epistles that described the differences between Arian and Athanasian/Nicene theology. In affirming and elucidating what became orthodox trinitarian theology, in works like De Trinitate, Hilary became a significant figure in those debates along with Athanasius, the later Cappadocian Fathers, and others. Returning to Gaul in 361, he continued both his diocese leadership and his theological teachings and controversies. He died in about 367, and in honored on this day in both the Western and Eastern churches.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

For All the Saints: Aelred of Rievaulx

 Today is the feast day of Aelred of Rievaulx (1110-1167), An English writer and monk of Northumbrian background. After he became the first abbott at the Rievaulx abbey in Lincolnshire, the abbey grew considerably under his leadership. He was also involved in political negotiations and in writing books like "The Mirror of Charity" and "On Spiritual Friendship," as well as histories. Evidence suggests that he was a homosexual; his own writings emphasize vows of virginity and chastity outside of marriage. Gay-affirming groups such as Integrity (in the Episcopal Church) and the Order of St. Aelred in the Philippines look to Aelred as patron saint. Here is an essay about Aelred's theology of friendship.

Monday, January 11, 2016

For All the Saints: The Venerable Vitalis

Since this past November, I've been writing about persons who are honored on different liturgical lists. A "saint" can mean someone formally canonized by the Roman Catholic church, or any servant of God who became historically memorable. Lord willing, I'll continue this series until All Saints' Day 2016, which puts me in sight of my sixtieth birthday. It's a personal way that I discipline myself to think about matters of the Spirit as the days and weeks go by, plus I'll learn and share interesting things as I go. I've bookmarked sites of saints on the Lutheran and Episcopal calendars and also a Roman Catholic and an Orthodox site. Most days, I select at least one saint from among these calendars and write something about her or him, based on Wikipedia and other online sites.

Today's saint is a little obscure and certainly had a different kind of discipleship! But I loved this last paragraph about him (all from the Orthodox Saints website). What an excellent lesson for many of us!

"The Venerable Vitalis (5th c.). He lived for many years as a monk in Palestine, then went to Alexandria to labor for the salvation of women living as prostitutes. He worked with his hands by day, keeping only a tenth of his earnings for himself. By night, he would take the rest of his earnings to the prostitutes' quarter and offer his money to one of them, on condition that she would not give herself up to sin that night, but instead stay with him, praying all night for his salvation. When he left her, he would make her promise to tell no one of this arrangement. Not surprisingly, complaints soon reached the Patriarch, St John the Merciful (November 12) about this monk who was causing scandal by his immoral life; but the Patriarch, discerning Vitalis' heart, did nothing. When St Vitalis died, a writing tablet was found near his body, on which was written: "Inhabitants of Alexandria, judge not before the time, until the coming of the Day of the Lord." Then many women who had been converted from an immoral life by the Saint came forward and told of his good deeds. The people of Alexandria honored him with a lavish funeral.

"Saint Vitalis shows us in at least two ways that the wisdom of the holy is foolishness to the world: He never sought to justify himself in the eyes of the world, but on the contrary did everything he could to hide his virtues; and, for all his holiness, he counted himself more sinful than the "fallen," asking them to pray for his salvation."

Sunday, January 10, 2016

For All the Saints: Cappadocian Fathers

In the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Cappadocian Fathers are commemorated today; they are also honored in both the Western and Eastern Churches on other days. Basil the Great (330–379), the bishop of Caesarea, his brother Gregory, bishop of Nyssa (c. 332-395), and friend Gregory of Nazianzus (329–389), who became Patriarch of Constantinople, were church leaders influential in Christian theology, especially trinitarian doctrine. The distinction of "one substance" (ousia) in "three persons" (hypostasis) was terminology they used to explain the relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit within the essential unity of the godhead. This terminology became part of orthodox Christian teaching about God.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

"Walking with Jesus" and a Remembered Teacher

My new book, Walking with Jesus through the Old Testament: Devotions for Lent, was just published by Westminster John Knox Press. Please buy several for yourself and your friends and family, LOL. Seriously, I do hope the book is helpful to persons wanting to do a Bible study for Lent---and Lent starts early this year!

The book focuses on Old Testament passages that Jesus fulfilled or that are in other ways connected in the New Testament to Jesus. Because I love Judaism, a challenge in the writing was to avoid supersessionism, the idea that Judaism has been replaced by Christianity. A professor who helped me think about scriptural continuity (as opposed to supersessionism) was R. Lansing Hicks, a Yale Divinity School professor whose obituary can be found at : Hicks was my prof in spring semester 1980, after I had Brevard S. Childs for a class. A few years ago I found online a copy of Hicks' short book, Forms of Christ in the Old Testament: The Problem of the Christological Unity of the Bible, the William C. Winslow Memorial Lectures of 1968 at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. I did not incorporate Professor Hicks' research per se into my Lenten study book, but his ideas about the continuity between the testaments was fascinating and influential to me, and I wanted to share some of the interesting insights from his short book.

At the beginning of the book, Hicks quotes Gerhard von Rad’s question: “how far can Christ be a help to the exegete in understanding the Old Testament, and how far can the Old Testament be a help to him [or her] in understanding Christ?” (p. 6) Hicks offers a form-content approach which, by the end, also give us a stronger appreciation of the Old Testament, shows areas of continuity between the testaments, and provides ideas for ecumenical dialogue.

First, we look at form, specifically the forms of words, actions, and a coalescence of both. (p. 9).

Forms of words. There are “words of suffering” (Job 16:18-17:2, 23; Ps. 22:1-2, 6-8, 14-18; 69:4-21; 116; Isaiah 53:3-9; Lamentations 3:1-24; and cf. Zechariah 12:10f), in which Christians perceived the form of Christ’s suffering (Matt. 8:17; Acts 8:32-35; 1 Peter 2:24f). There are words of forgiveness (Isaiah 40;2; 51:5f; Jer. 31:34; Hosea 14:4-7; Micah 7:19f; Zech. 13:1), in which Christians perceive the form of Christ’s pardon (Mark 2:5; Romans 10;5-13). There are words of salvation (Isa. 43:14-; 61:1-4; Jer. 23:5f; 31:2f; Ez.34:11-16; Zech. 8:13; cf. Ps. 20:30f), and words of life (Deut. 30:15-20; Isa. 25:6-8 [cf. Matt. 27:51; heb. 6:19; 10:20]; 26:19; Isa. 55:3; Amos 5:14); in which Christians perceive Christ’s power, too (Luke 20:37f; John 10:10; 11:25f; Heb. 11:17-19) (pp. 9-10).

Forms of action. There are forms of intercession: Abraham’s prayers for Sodom (Gen. 18:20-33), Moses’ prayers for the Israelites (Ex. 32:11-14, 31f), and the Servant’s actions (Isa. 42:2; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:13), in which Christian’s perceive the form of Christ’s self-oblation and intersession. There are forms of sacrifice, especially the binding of Isaac (Gen. 22:1-18), certainly a text readable as a very Christological text. There are also forms of God’s self-limitation: God’s covenant with Noah never to flood the earth again (Gen. 9:8-17); God’s covenant agreements with Israel (Ex. 34:10-28); God’s selection of a place where God can be met (Ex. 25:8f, 17-22; Deut. 12:10-14; 1 Kings 5:3-5; 8:20f, 29; Ps. 132:14; Ez. 37:26f). In all of these examples of divine self-limitation, Christians perceive the divine self-emptying in Christ (John 1:14; Phil. 2:6f; Col. 1:19f.) (pp. 10-11).

Coalescence of words and actions. Hicks cites Ex. 3:7f as a good combination of God’s verbal promises and God’s saving activity (pp. 11-12) We also look at content. It’s not always the case that the Old Testament provides the form and the New Testament the content. There are reciprocal movements between the testaments:
1. It is Christ’s nature to expose sin, and thus, whenever the Old Testament exposes sin (e.g., Micah 3:8, or the law as understood by Paul in Rom. 7:7-12), “it shares in the work of Christ. “
2. It is Christ’s nature to forgive sins, and thus the Old Testament “knows Christ” where there is forgiveness of sins (Lev. 16:29f; Micah 7:18-20; Isaiah 55:6).
3. Similarly Christ’s suffering for sin, and the Old Testament knows this kind of suffering (Ex. 32:31-32; Jer. 20:7-18; 37-38; Isa. 53:4-6).
4. And also Christ’s redemption from sin (Isa. 40:1-4; 53;12; Ps. 22:30-31; 130:7-8).
5. We also see the Old Testament providing the content of redemption, as in Hosea 3:1-3, in which we see the form of Christ’ s work (pp. 11-14).

Forms of intention. In the Old Testament, we see God’s intention of salvation: Cain (Gen. 4:15ff, Noah (5:29; 8:21f), Abraham (12:1-3, 15:7-21; 17:1-8), as well as the Exodus and Sinai covenant, and God’s many promises like Isa. 1:16ff and 43:4. The divine intention of salvation of course continues into the New Testament as a mutual binding of the two testaments. “And where salvation is offered, there is Christ.” (pp. 15-16). Intention cannot be separated from certain other forms, such as the offering of the innocent for the salvation of the guilty (p. 16).

Forms of Coordinates. Hicks gives the example of Isaiah 45:21f, where “a just God” and “a saving God” are not contrasted but yoked as co-ordinates: God is both just and saving. God’s justice and righteousness, in fact, are showed in Isaiah’s several depictions of the Lord as comforter, vindicator, healer, preserver, and sanctifier (pp. 17-18).

Other examples of coordinate terms are Moses’ writings and Christ’s words (John 5:46f), “the way, truth and life” of John 14:6, the “Son of God” and “life” in 1 John 5:15; and the perfection and gifts of the law in Ps. 19:7-9. All these are coordinates which are also perceived in Christ (Matt. 11:28, John 1:4-9; 8:12; 11:25f) (pp. 19-20).

In an interesting second half of the book, Hicks makes several points. One is that “When reading the Old Testament, early Christians recognized in its words and acts forms of the divine salvation and knowing that there is one salvation, not two, confidentially believed them to be forms of Christ.”As the New Testament affirms the life given through Christ (Romans 10:9, John 14:6), so the Old Testament affirms the living giving power of God (Deut. 30:15; 32:39, Amos 5:6). “[T]he Jew of the Old Testament… was saved no less lovingly or fully than those Jews who encountered Jesus ‘in the days of his flesh’ or we today who profess the Christian faith. In these Old Testament affirms we meet ‘soteriological content.’ The form of each passage quoted differs from the others just as each differs from the form in which Paul makes his declaration [in Romans 10:9]. But the content is the same, and so is the intention—the gift of life abundant; and that life, wherever or whenever offered, is life with Christ and in Christ” (pp. 26-27).

Another point: “Recent editions of Nestle’s Greek New Testament offer an index of Old Testament verses either cited or alluded to in the New Testament which runs to more than 1400 items. Not only the number of citations but their scope also is noteworthy: the list contains all the books of the canonical Old Testament with the exception of four–Ruth, Ezra, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. This is not to imply that the New Testament authors saw Christ in virtually every book of the Old Testament; but these impressive statistics for the frequency and range of Old Testament quotations do indicate beyond reasonable doubt that early Christian writers found material of specific value to them as Christians in every section of the Old Testament…” (pp. 30-31).

These are not “proof texts” and not all are what we would call “Old Testament prophecies”: for instance, Zechariah 9:9 is not a prophecy or a proof-text when used in Matthew 21:4f. But this is part of a drama in Zechariah, in which Matthew found a form for elucidating Christ. Likewise using in Zech. 11:12-13, 12:10, and 13:7b, Matthew could “delineate the form of divine action in Christ’s passion and show its intention” (pp. 33-34, quote on p. 34). Similarly Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1, which is not a promise but a form of the divine action (pp. 35-36). And also: Matthew’s use of Jeremiah in Matt. 2:17f, a word of sorrow which connects us with the divine words of salvation and restoration in Jeremiah 31 (pp. 32-33).

Hicks sees this form-content approach as helpful in Jewish-Christian conversation. We can better understand the variety and intentions of God’s works in both testaments, and we can affirm the uniqueness of Christ without denigrating God’s other works as somehow lesser, or simply preliminary to Christ. Hicks quotes James Sanders: “The Christian will not, even privately, ask why the Jew does not accept Christ as Messiah, and the Jew will not, even privately, ask why the Christian does not accept the Old Testament as Jewish. Each will respect the historic claim on the Bible the other represents….” Hicks adds that the purpose of conversation “is not merely to encourage Jews to converse with us for their own profit but to bring us Christians to ‘the point of such a full and genuine encounter that we are lead into the depth of the Christian Presence amid Judaism’” (p. 38). [Here, Hicks quotes P. Schneider's The Dialogue of Christians and Jews, who continues: "Is it not possible that we have been blind to the further depths in which Jesus is made manifest in the travails and triumph of the Jewish people and faith throughout the ages? This is a dimension of the Lord Christ that Christians have yet to discover" (p. 177, in note 50 of Hicks, p. 45).]

Another way to put it is by N. T. Wright in his article “Paul’s Social Gospel: In Full Accord” (Christian Century, March 8, 2011, 25-28), where he writes, “There’s a swath of Western thought which…has said in effect that since the first plan has gone wrong, God has decided to do something quite different, to send his own Son to die for sinners, so we can forget about all that Isreael stuff….That is to misread Romans and to misunderstand Paul at his very heart. Instead, Paul declares in Romans 3:21 that God’s covenant faithfulness has now been revealed through the faithfulness of the Messiah for the benefit of all those who are faithful. He, the Messiah, is ‘Israel in person’” (p. 29).

Altogether, Professor Hicks, writes, “Herein the identification of Old Testament forms can contribute significantly to our understanding of the scope of Christ’s work through space and time. It widens the perspective through which we are helped to view the totality of Christ’s work. Does this not open further doors of understanding today? … Should not we extend this same affirmation to all works of redemption and deliverance? If so, we face the future of ecumenical discussion of with both confidence and anticipation and we turn eagerly toward dialogue with ‘secular [person]‘ in our ‘post-Christian’ age” (p. 39).

A few years ago (before I wrote my Lenten book), I emailed Professor Hicks, stating that I had appreciated his lectures and help. I forgot about my note until Hicks’ son-in-law emailed me, stating that Hicks had been ill during his last year and hadn’t read his emails, but the son-in-law had found my note and communicated it to Hicks shortly before his death. The moral is: IF YOU WANT TO EXPRESS GRATITUDE TO SOMEONE FOR SOME KINDNESS OR HELPFULNESS, DON’T DELAY, DO IT NOW. This may be your only chance!

(I originally posted these notes in another context, at:

Friday, January 8, 2016

Starting the Year at the Beach, Woot!

"Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer ["stone of help"], saying, 'Thus far the LORD has helped us'" (1 Samuel 7:12). The beginning of the calendar year is always a nice time to "raise mine Ebenezer" in the sense of affirming God's care thus far and seeking it afresh for the upcoming seasons.

We're back home from a nice few days in Miami Beach, where my wife Beth attended (and was plenary speaker at) a conference for the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC). Unfortunately I awakened on the second morning with a bad cold, which has continued all week.

We've visited Florida numerous times but somehow never Miami. The CIC met last year at San Diego, specifically Coronado. I enjoyed the nice shops of Coronado more than South Beach's, but that's okay. I don't really need more "stuff." We took an enjoyable "culinary tour" of nearby Little Havana and got to learn a little more about Miami's Cuban heritage. It was a thrill to visit the Love Hate Social Club, better known as Miami Ink and the subject of a popular TLC show that we loved (and still enjoy in reruns). Someday I may get inked! If you're staying at South Beach, I recommend a visit to the moving and informative---and of course upsetting--visit to the Holocaust Memorial:

I'm an anxious flyer, about delays and canceled flights rather than flying per se. I think we introverts need an "escape plan" from unpleasant circumstances---for instance, when you're at a party where you'd rather be home with a book, so you try to figure out ways to exit gracefully. But of course when you're in airports, you're at the mercy of the airline people and can't go anywhere until your flight is ready to go.

My birthday happened when we were on the trip, so I got to begin my sixtieth year on earth walking with Beth around Miami Beach. Whatever the new year holds, the beginning of it was lovely.

Monday, January 4, 2016

For All the Saints: Elizabeth Ann Seton

Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton (1774-1821) was the first native-born citizen of the U.S. to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church (in 1975). She is honored today on the anniversary of her death.

Elizabeth married at the age of 19, and she and her husband lived in Manhattan where they attended Trinity Episcopal Church. The Setons had five children and also raised her husband's six younger siblings. Elizabeth was widowed in 1803, and shortly thereafter she became a Roman Catholic.

She began an academy for young women, but met a priest who was a member of the Sulpician Fathers. Elizabeth was invited to move to the community in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where she founded St. Joseph's Academy and Free School, so that Catholic girls could be education. She also established a community, called the Sisters of Charity, which founded a religious school or poor children---essentially the beginning of parochial schools in this county.

My daughter went to Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA (below), still maintained by the Sisters of Charity (and not to be confused with Seton Hall University in New Jersery). Other schools and several churches are also named for Mother Seton.

The Roman Catholic site has a good piece on her:

Friday, January 1, 2016

For All the Saints: Blessed Waldo

Today's saint, a monk from northern Italy, is remembered for his solitary calling and the power of his prayers. The Roman Catholic site provides a lovely summary: