In order to understand racism today, we need to review the history as it has lead us to this point. Below you will find a few helpful links and other resources to help individuals who want to educated themselves and who are leading others. Be sure you listen to the podcast as well for more thoughts and information.
Mary Turner was mentioned in the podcast. Be sure you take time to learn about her as well as other African Americans whose lives have been taken senselessly.
The year 1619 was referenced. This is the year that the first enslaved Africans were brought to North America. Here is a resource to learn more.
Another important point made in the podcast is around the theology of Imago Dei, made in the image of God. It is hard to understand racism if as Christians we believe that EVERYONE is made in the image of God. This is a great way to begin a small group talk on the subject of racism.
We also talk of the merger that happened in 1968 to form the United Methodist Church. You can find out more information here and see the impact that had on the church and on the black communities.
A couple of resources to understand the United Methodist Church’s stand on racism can be found through our Social Principles.
There are six questions that are helpful to guide your conversation:
Who have you talked to/shared this information with?
How have you stepped out of your “comfort zone” to hear from/learn from the affected demographic?
What have you read or learned to increase your knowledge of the subject? What does the Bible say?
How have you invested (time and money) in addressing this issue/topic?
Have you identified policy (in the UMC and in government) that needs to change and considered impact and history?
This blog and podcast will cover later New Testament writing (pastoral epistles) We discuss a popular verse that addresses gender roles.
1 Timothy 3:1-13
1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus are referred to as the “pastoral epistles.” They were traditionally attributed to Paul, but most scholars now agree that they are not genuinely Pauline. These books date to the late 1st or early 2nd century. (Remember that Paul was writing in the mid-1st century.)
We can see in these readings that there is a shift in “tone” regarding what matters in the developing church. There is emerging concern about roles and positions and the attributes that are required to hold these roles within the church structure. It is in indicator that the church is growing and changing, creating a sort of infrastructure to guide their development.
We have talked before about some of the reasons that books might have been attributed to a particular person even though they were written by someone else. We may want to revisit that briefly.
We often group the epistles of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. However, scholars generally agree that Galatians and Philippians were written by Paul while Ephesians and Colossians were not and were probably written between 80-100 CE, after Paul’s death.
A good chunk of Ephesians contains instructions on everyday life, including the passage in our readings. This language about gender roles and the relationship between spouses has been a source of much discussion and disagreement.
How do the rules and regulations about elders and deacons “feel”? Does it sound like material Jesus would have said? Why or why not?
Why would a growing church feel the need to outline these guidelines?
Do we ever create rules and structures that serve one particular group of people? What effect does that have?
How do the roles of men and women described in Ephesians 5 sound to a modern reader? What do we do with this material now?
This passage (Ephesians 5) is still read at weddings fairly regularly. What do you think about that?
What do you remember Jesus having said about men and women? Or what do you remember about the way that Jesus treated men and women, respectively? How does that compare with this passage?
What do you think accounts for an emerging emphasis on defining gender roles more clearly?
A quick look at the 13 books historically attributed to Paul, recognition of which probably were and were not actually written by Paul, and a focus on those that are “authentic.” This is the other “side” of the Pauline story.
Galatians 1:11-17 (Paul’s conversion, per his own description)
Romans 3:21-31 (it’s interesting to read the entire chapter for context)
Romans 6:1-14 (again, would suggest reading the whole chapter)
Traditionally, 13 books (letters) were attributed to Paul: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon. (Hebrews was sometimes included as a 14th attribution.)
In modern scholarship, only 7 letters are agreed upon as authentically Pauline: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon. The remaining 6 (or 7, if you include Hebrews) were probably not written by Paul, though debate remains about some more than others.
When I preach to my congregation about Pauline authorship, I include only the 7 books known to be Pauline.
We want listeners to understand that writing under the pseudonym of one’s mentor/teacher was a common practice at that time and was seen as an honor to the teacher (Paul, in this case). Authors were not trying to be intentionally misleading or trip us up.
That said, it is really helpful to know which books are Pauline and which are not, because they are quite different in theme, style and content… and can give confusing messages if we are not clear on their context and timeline.
Paul describes his own conversation in much less detail than does the author of Acts. Paul was writing earlier and, obviously, knew his own story. What do we make of that?
The letter to the Romans is a deeply theological (and complex) book in which Paul articulates his understanding of concepts like sin, grace, justification, and righteousness. These passages from chapters 3 and 6 articulate some of his thinking. How do we make sense of the idea of justification today?
How does Paul seem to explain grace in relationship to our responsibility to avoid sin? This has been a real point of contention in the church over the years! How do we understand it today?
Paul loves to use the metaphors of dying and rising, in conjunction with the idea of baptism, to talk about how we are transformed as Christians. How does this use of metaphor help us understand the way Paul writes?
Though they are not included in our readings, the authentic Pauline letters (like the letters to the Corinthians and Philemon) seek to address some very real problems and conflicts in the church at the time. Who is writing the “contemporary epistles” of our own time and attempting to address and unravel conflict in the church?
We are talking about the new church and what the followers of Christ were going through after his death. It’s interesting to take a look at bodily resurrection, ways to understand and interpret Jesus’ various appearances and the words he shares with followers post-resurrection.
We are coming into the home stretch with our podcast series! These final podcasts address some of the remaining “hot button” questions that we know young people ask and also address (as best we can) the remaining parts of the bible that we have not yet talked about.
Since these podcasts cover broader swaths of scripture, we’ll try to focus in on a few passages here and there as representative of the genre we are discussing.
We want to remain cognizant of the time frame in which these stories were written. The Gospels were written between about 70-110 CE, or 2-3 generations after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Luke, in particular, was probably written around 90 CE. John was the last gospel written, sometime after 100 CE.
It’s important to remember that the authors were writing down parts of the historical memory of Jesus, not necessarily eyewitness accounts that were meant to be taken literally.
We sometimes gloss over the sadness and despair that Jesus’ followers experienced after his death. But they didn’t know how the story was going to end. How do you think they were feeling? What do you they were talking about?
How might this be helpful for us to remember in our own walk of faith?
How does remembering the sadness of the community around Jesus help to frame the Emmaus story? What jumps out in this narrative and what is the author trying to tell us about Jesus?
Luke commonly tells stories about Jesus in lengthy parables. There has been some assertion that the Walk to Emmaus is, in fact, one of those parables. Does this change our understanding of the story?
The idea of a bodily resurrection is one of the theological assertions with which some people struggle. How important is it to believe that Jesus’ physical body was reanimated? Are there other ways to understand resurrection that are equally helpful and valid?
The story of Thomas’ encounter with Jesus in the upper room is often preached as a story about doubt/belief. What do we do with our own doubt? How does Jesus respond to it?
This might be a neat place to talk about the various Greek words that we translate “faith.” (assensus, fidelitas, fiducia, visio)
During this Holy Week, as we prepare for Easter, nothing is the same as before. We can not prepare to gathering in one building for Easter services, or plan Easter dinner with extended family. But we can still celebrate. It may take digging a little deeper this year to search for the blessings, but they are still there. Please take a few minutes to listen to the podcast and challenge yourself to look at the Easter story in a new way.
Theologians assert that this exchange between Jesus and Pilate is a profound statement about non-violence. (It helps to know that other men claimed to be the Messiah and usually tried to prove it through efforts to overthrow the Roman government through violence.) What do you think?
Much ink has been spilled over verse 38, in which Pilate asks, “What is truth?” What do you imagine he was thinking when he asked that question?
The story of Good Friday raises some tough questions for us as Christians.
Do you believe that it was impossible for God to forgive humanity without the death of a sinless person? Why might that story have made sense to Jewish communities? Is it harder for us to understand now?
What is atonement theology? Is that the only way to understand Jesus’ death and resurrection?
The Easter story is central to the Christian faith, and it is not uncommon for Christians to assert that belief in a bodily resurrection is “the” non-negotiable element of being Christian. At the same time, many young people wrestle with the idea of a physical, bodily resurrection from the dead. What do you think about it?
Are there other ways of understanding resurrection that might be equally valid?
Judas was the one who betrayed Jesus to the Jewish leaders. He had a key role in the story of the arrest and eventual crucifixion of Christ. Was Judas a pawn in this event? Was it free will or predestination? What if he had made a different choice? We dive into these questions and more in this podcast.
Scripture Readings: John 13:21-30 and 17:6-19 (focus v12)
Do you think everything happens for a reason? What situation could arise where this idea may be damaging to a person?
How do we answer that same question from the framework of our faith?
In the gospels, there is some suggestion that Judas was “used” in order to accomplish a greater purpose. What is your reaction to that?
Do you think God uses people to accomplish certain purposes?
How do we understand the relationship between free will and God’s will?
Can you think of other stories in the Bible in which it seems that people do/don’t have free will?
How does this help/change your perspective on your own life?
The Gospel of Luke was written for ALL people. As we look at the parables and stories shared, we see that no matter who you are, Jew, Gentile, poor, man, woman, child, diseased and ill, Jesus came with a message for EVERYONE. This message is still very relevant to us today.
Scripture Reading: Luke 6:17-26, Luke 10:25-37, Luke 15:11-32
First of all, I need to fess up that I am NOT an expert on Acts, so we’re going to be heavy on Luke and weaker on Acts. However, we are treating these two books together because they share a common author.
Luke is written to a Greek-speaking audience, most likely educated. Though he was most likely well-to-do himself, the text shows consideration for those who are manual laborers (“workers”), which is notable.
Luke dates from 80-110 CE, and there is reason to believe it was still being edited well into the 2nd century.
While we sometimes think of Luke as more “earthy” in focus (we’ll discuss this later), his command of Greek is still more refined that what we see in Mark. He also omits some lengthy passages that either show the disciples in an overly negative light and/or make Jesus seem too “magical”.
Luke-Acts does not claim a particular author. For a long time, it was believed that Luke (gospel author) was the same Luke who was a companion to Paul (mentioned in some of Paul’s letters). However, scholars point out many contradictions between the Luke-Acts account of Paul’s activities and that given by Paul himself in his own writings. They also point out that Luke-Acts does not accurately reflect Paul’s theology. For that reason, authorship (from an academic standpoint) is unknown.
In our last two podcasts, we discussed that Mark was a source for both Matthew and Luke. Luke is the longest of the four gospels and introduces the most original material, but he still draws heavily from both Mark and from the Q source. (Incidentally, Luke-Acts makes up over a quarter of the New Testament!)
One suggested scripture reading for this podcast is Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain,” this author’s version of what we call the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew’s gospel. Other than the assignation of different venue, it is interesting to compare the two for content. What is notable about Luke’s version when compared to Matthew’s version? What might this tell us about Luke’s perspective and his authorial intent?
In a previous podcast, we also talked about Luke’s birth narrative and compared it to Matthew. Do we see any trends in the themes Luke emphasizes compared to those Matthew draws out?
The other two recommended readings for today are two parables that are told only in the gospel according to Luke? Is it surprising that these bedrock stories (The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Son) appear in only one gospel? What does it say about Luke’s understanding of Jesus that he includes these stories?
As time allows, we can draw out some neat themes in both The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Son.
This gospel is the first in the new testament but is actually written a generation after Mark. Remember, these stories were not written down in journals while the disciples were with Jesus. The stories were shared verbally for a couple of generations before they were actually written. Take a listen to this podcast to find out some more interesting truths about this book of the Bible.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:1-20, Matthew 11:7-19, Matthew 13
The gospel of Matthew was written in a formal, polished Greek that would have been used in synagogues at the time Matthew was writing. This helps us understand his identity and his audience.
Matthew probably dates from 80-90CE. A few scholars suggest as early as 70CE and a few as late as 110CE.
As with Mark, the author of Matthew is unknown and the name was likely assigned for symbolic reasons. The author of Matthew may have been someone named Matthew (we don’t know), but it was almost certainly not the apostle of the same name. (It would have been the wrong time frame, just for starters.)
In our last podcast, we shared that Mark was a source for both Matthew and Luke. This is affirmed by the fact that about 91% of Mark’s content shows up in Matthew (600 of 661 verses). [Note: There is probably a tendency amongst literal readers of scripture to use this similarity as an argument for both gospel authors having been present and rendered Jesus’ words verbatim. We may want to decide if we want to address that or not.]
It might be helpful to suggest the idea that gospel writers were more compilers and editors (storytellers, in a sense) than they were creators of original material. This makes sense when we consider the time frame and that stories had been being passed down for some time. Matthew draws on at least three sources: Mark, material that is common to Luke (“Q”), and material unique to his community and tradition.
The Christian community to which Matthew belonged was still part of the larger Jewish community, but to some degree, they were beginning to be cut off from their Jewish roots. Recall that the Jesus movement began as a movement WITHIN Judaism and only later became a distinct religion. There was undoubtedly conflict between Matthew’s community and other Jewish communities as they began to diverge in their understanding of Jesus.
The gospel of Matthew has its own unique attributes: for example, it identifies Jesus as the “new Moses” (liberator) by telling the story of his family’s flight to Egypt (unique to this gospel). It doesn’t bother to explain Jewish traditions, since its audience was Jewish themselves. It includes a birth narrative that expresses a particular view of Jesus’ kingship.
Plagiarism is a HUGE issue in schools these days. What is the difference between just copying someone else’s story and using it as a source to tell your own story? What are some examples in our world? Song remix, updated movie, etc.
How do we understand the fact that Matthew was using the Gospel of Mark as source material? Is that surprising? Unsettling?
One source calls Matthew a “creative reinterpretation” of Mark’s gospel. What do you think about that?
Matthew stresses the divinity of Jesus, often by making small changes to the narrative. Why do we suppose this was important to
Matthew at the time he was writing? Can we identify how this is a little different than Mark? Is it ok that one gospel writer might stress Jesus’ divinity a little more while another might focus more on his humanity? How might this be helpful for us as readers of scripture?
Matthew often uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” (29 times!) because of a Jewish tradition of not speaking (or writing) the name of God. How might this change our understanding of passages that appear to be referring to heaven but actually refer to the “kingdom of God”? [See, for example, the passages in Matthew 11 and 13.]
It is interesting to know that the four gospels were not written in the order they appear in the Bible. Mark is also an interesting book to look at, especially the last 10 verses that were added in the past century. Nonetheless, it is important that we approach this book like we have been reading the rest of the Bible in this series of blogs, as the truth. Searching for God to find His messages and how we fit into it even today.
Scripture Reading: Reading the entire gospel of Mark is great project! Or just Mark 3:1-12
The gospel of Mark was written in Greek for a Gentile (non-Jewish) audience.
Mark probably dates from around 66-70CE. This is right around when the second temple was destroyed, which may well explain why Jewish followers of Jesus (remember, they aren’t “Christian” yet) started actually writing down their stories and memories about Jesus. The temple was destroyed for ongoing Jewish revolt, and the people began to be more widely oppressed, so they wanted to make sure their stories were preserved.
We will discover as we go along that the authorship of the gospels is largely unknown and their names were assigned largely for traditional purposes. The author of Mark may have been someone named Mark (we don’t know), but it was certainly not one of the disciples or anyone famous to history. There has been some speculation (based on textual clues) that the young person who flees the garden on the night of Jesus’ arrest (see Mark 14:51-52) might have been the author himself, but this will never be known for sure.
There is almost universal agreement amongst scholars that Mark was a source for both Matthew and Luke when they wrote their gospel accounts somewhat later. Thus, we might see Mark as our most “raw” and early account of Jesus’ life. This makes reading the gospel of Mark a very interesting endeavor.
You might recall that we do not have a single manuscript of any of the gospels. Our earliest versions of Mark have the gospel ending at verse 16:8 with the women fleeing in fear from the empty tomb. Some manuscripts add a “short ending” (largely unknown), but the majority of later versions are the “long ending” (verses 9-20), which includes resurrection appearances.
The gospel of Mark has many unique attributes: for example, Jesus frequently asks those he has healed not to tell anyone who he is (see our reading for today). Also, the disciples are portrayed as rather idiotic in Mark’s gospel and almost always fail to understand who Jesus is and what he is doing. Mark also uses the terms “Son of God” and “Son of Man” to describe Jesus, both of which would have been laden with meaning for early readers.
Last week, we noted that Mark does not contain a birth narrative. It also does not contain a genealogy. It is likely that Mark had no problem with the idea that Jesus came from normal, human parentage and felt no need to connect him to the Davidic line to “prove” his significance. How do we feel about these things?
Mark portrays Jesus very much as a healer and miracle worker with supernatural powers. How do we make sense of this in our own time, when so many people are skeptical of miraculous events?
What do we make of the very short “original” ending to Mark?
Why do you suppose Mark has Jesus so often telling people to remain silent about him? There remains scholarly disagreement on this point, though there are several theories. What do you think?
Jesus talked much about power dynamics, money and violence, but yet those topics are not things we tend to discuss in church today. It’s interesting to look at 1st Century Palestine to see the similarities and difference of the time when Jesus walked the earth.
Scripture Reading: Mark 1:1-14 & John 1:1-14
As readers of the gospels, there is much we often overlook about the time in which these books were written. First century Palestine looked very little like the modern world, although we might stumble upon a few similarities. Bear in mind that both women and children were still considered property. Male children became “human” at a certain age when they passed into adulthood and were counted as citizens.
The entire New Testament must be understood as a Jewish writing. Jesus was born into a Jewish family and was, himself, Jewish. Even as the books of the New Testament were being written, after the life of Jesus, the authors were writing to the Jewish community to impress upon them the importance of Jesus. While there is plenty of talk about Jews and Gentiles, it would be quite some time (a couple hundred years) because Christianity would come to be understood as a religion separate from Judaism.
The temple in Jerusalem was the central (and “authentic”) place to worship. Jewish people were expected to travel to Jerusalem annually (or as often as possible) for Passover, and the Sadducees were the resident religious leaders at the temple in Jerusalem. However, since the Jewish people were scattered, there were also synagogues (sort of like local churches), led by Pharisees. Jesus appears in a number of synagogues but (at least in the synoptics) visits the temple in Jerusalem only at the end of his early ministry.
King Herod worked rather hard at ingratiating himself to the Jewish community. He married into a Jewish family. He restored and improved the second temple (can explain) in Jerusalem. However, he was a brutal leader who held none of the values that the Jewish people theoretically observed.
The Roman empire was in charge, and they had a comfortable collaboration with Jewish religious leaders. As long as Jewish people behaved themselves, so to speak, they were permitted to worship and carry on relatively unscathed. However, this was not the vision that Jewish people had for themselves. They desired to be, once again, a proud and independent nation, not a people subjugated and dominated by the Romans. At this time, there were many people who came along claiming to be “the Messiah.” They typically attempted a violent uprising against the Romans and this often resulted in considerable loss of life and a tightening of restrictions on the Jewish people. (See, for example, the Maccabean revolt.)
How was Jesus different from other so-called “Messiahs” who had come before? What were the people expecting? Does this help us understand anything about how they responded to him?
Talk about the notion of the Roman Empire and its values. What do we make of the fact that Jewish religious leaders had quite a good arrangement going with the Romans while everyday people found it to be oppressive and something from which they wished to be “freed.” Does this remind us of anything in our own time?
The US has often been called the new Roman Empire. What does we make of that?
We do not typically think about the issue of violence when we talk about Jesus and the gospels. But much of the difference between his ministry and the prevailing will of the Romans had to do with the exercise (or non-use) of violence. Where are we with the issue of violence today?
Our scripture readings today are from the beginning of the two gospels that do NOT have birth narratives. How do the authors of Mark and John introduce Jesus? What do they want us to understand about him?