JOHN 2: Wine, Whips, and Waste

By Stephen W. HiemstraWeddingRings

When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do (Genesis 41:55 ESV).

How does God reveal himself to you?

In John’s Gospel, Jesus first reveals himself to a couple of newlyweds in danger of being stigmatized for their poverty (not enough wine).  More generally, God reveals himself through super-abundance of wine (2:1-11), bread (6:5-14), and fish (21:3-13).

Chapter one ends with Jesus encountering Nathanael and offering a prophecy paraphrasing Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28:12):  Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man (John 1:51).  Nathanael came from Cana (John 21:2).  In chapter 2, this prophecy is fulfilled in a wedding at Cana.

The miracle of water being turned into wine is rich in messianic imagery.  The prophet Isaiah, for example, writes of the messianic banquet:  the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined…He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces… (Isaiah 25:6-8).  When Moses sends spies into the promised land, they come back with a huge cluster of grapes (Numbers 13:23).  Building on the vineyard theme, many of Jesus’ parables tie vineyards to God’s judgment (e.g. Matthew 21:33-40).

In case we missed the significance of Jesus’ first miracle, John writes:  This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him (John 2:11).  John’s use of the word, glory, to refer to Jesus associates him with God’s Shekinah cloud revealed at Sinai (Exodus 24:16-17) and associated with the tabernacle (Numbers 14:10) and, later, with the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:10-11).  John makes this temple association explicit in verses 19-21.

When Jesus cleanses the temple with a whip, he prophetically acts out divine judgment as a prelude to temple abandonment (Psalm 69:9; Isaiah 56:4-7; Jeremiah 7:9-11).  When Jesus died on the cross, the temple sacrificial system became redundant because the atonement for sin had been made for all time (Hebrews 10:12).  Jesus’ resurrection completed the symbolism (John 2:18-21; Acts 17:30-31). God abandoned the temple and it was destroyed by a Roman army in AD 70.

Which of Jesus’ miracles do you remember best?

Questions

How was your week?  Do you have anything about your week that you would like to share? Do you have any thoughts about last week’s lesson?

  1. When did the events in chapter 2 take place? (v 1) Where?  (Who comes from there?  Hint John 21:2) Why are these details important?  Why is Jesus’ mother mentioned?
  2. Who was also invited? (v 2)
  3. What is the significance of the wine running out?(v 3)  Who gets called?
  4. What is Jesus’ response? (v 4)
  5. How does Jesus’ mother react? Why?  (v 5) What does this remind you of?  (Hint: Genesis 41:55)
  6. What does Jesus do? (vv 6-8)
  7. What is the role of the master of the feast? (vv 8-9)
  8. How does the master of the feast react to the wine given him? (vv 9-10).
  9. How do we know that he is not being sarcastic?(vv 10-11)
  10. 10.Where did Jesus and the disciples go after that?  Who else was there?  Why? (v 12)
  11. 11.When did all this happen?  Where did Jesus go next? (v 13)

JOHN 2: Wine, Whips, and Waste

Also see:

JOHN 3: Humility and Love 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter:  http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

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JOHN 1: Who is Jesus Christ?

By Stephen W. HiemstraJesus

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1 ESV).

Who is Jesus Christ?

The session of my home church asks each new member three questions:  Tell us about your walk with the Lord?  Why do you want to join this church?  And, who is Jesus Christ to you?

The Apostle John wrote his Gospel, in part, to answer this final question.  John’s answers include:  Jesus is the incarnate word of God (v 1); the pre-existent one  (v 2); the creator (v 3); light and life of the world (v 4); the victorious light that drives out darkness (v 5); the one about who the prophet John (the Baptist) spoke (v 7); the unknown one (v 10); the one rejected (v 11); the one who introduces us to the family of God (v 12); the one born of spirit rather than flesh (v 13); the one who shows the glory of God (v 14); the one who ranks above the prophet John (the Baptist);  the one who brings grace (v 16); the one who brings both grace and truth (vv 14, 17); the one who is worthy (v 27); the one on who the spirit of God rests (v 32); the one who baptizes not with water but with the Holy Spirit (v 33); the Lamb of God (v 36); the sought after teacher (v 38);  God’s Messiah (v 41);  The one who says “follow me” (v 43);  the good thing that came from Nazareth (v 46); the one who knew Nathaniel before he was born (under the fig tree!; v 48); the Rabbi, Son of God, and King of Israel (v 49); the one of whom Jacob was given a vision (Genesis 28:12; v 51).  The Apostle Peter answered directly:  You are the Christ (Mark 8:29).

Who is Christ to you?

Chapter one of John’s Gospels divides into three parts.  The first part is sometimes thought to have been an early church hymn with four stanzas (vv 1-2, 3-8, 9-13, and 14-18) [1].  The second part focuses on the witness of John the Baptist.  The third part describes the calling of the first disciples.

John’s Gospel is thought to have been the last one written, in part, because it is the most spiritual.  For this reason, it was known in the early church as:  The Eagle.


[1] Gary M. Burge. 2000.   The NIV Application Commentary:  John.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan. Page 53-61.

Questions

How was your week?  Do you have anything about your week that you would like to share? Do you have any thoughts about last week’s lesson?

  1. What is “in the beginning” alluding to? (Hint Genesis 1:1)
  2. Why is Jesus called the Word? Why not the vision?  What is special about the process of hearing? (v 1) (Hint:  how many people are involved in hearing versus seeing?)
  3. How many descriptions of Christ can you count in this chapter? Which is most meaningful to you?  Why?
  4. What is meant by the references to light and darkness? (vv 4,5 8,9) What is meant in Genesis 1:3-5)?
  5. Who are God’s children? (vv 12-13)
  6. Who is John and why did he come? What was his mission? (vv 6-7, 15-36)
  7. Which of John’s disciples went to follow Jesus?Why do we care?  (vv 35-37, 40)
  8. What was special about Andrew and why do we remember him? (vv 40-42)
  9. What is strange about how Nathaniel came to Christ? (vv 46-48)

JOHN 1: Who is Jesus Christ?

Also see:

JOHN 2: Wine, Whips, and Waste

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter:  http://bit.ly/2018_Ascension

Continue Reading

Becoming a Spiritual Lifeguard, Mark 4:35-5:20

Photo of Stephen W. Hiemstra
Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Centreville Presbyterian Church, Centreville, VA

Invocation

Heavenly Father; God of all seasons and all times; Lord of places familiar and places unfamiliar; God of our emotions and our thinking.   In the power of your Holy Spirit silence any voice in our ears but yours.  Make your presence known to us today in the words spoken and the words heard.  In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Story of Reluctant Swimmers

In thinking about this afternoon’s message, I kept coming back to my experience in high school as a swimming instructor at Goshen Scout camps. At one point I was asked to teach a troop of special needs scouts how to swim. Talk about scary moments. The image of a lake full of drowning scouts still comes to mind.

By the end of the week, however, two of these scouts, Elmer and Freddie, had passed their swim test. Both had the swim routine down before I met them, but both also faced certain obstacles to finishing the course.

Elmer

Elmer swam the American crawl perfectly, but only in shallow water where his fingers touched the bottom. He loved to show off his great form, but in his heart of hearts he thought swimming was a scam.  He became visibly upset when I prodded him to venture into deeper water.

Freddie

Freddie swam just fine, but thought it was more fun to be rescued by the lifeguard. He would begin his swim test and swim a lap or two. Then, a great big smile would come across Freddie’s face and he would pretend to drown. I can still see the horror on the faces of those watching me as I got mad at this drowning scout—that is, until they saw Freddie stop drowning and finish his swim test.

Isn’t that so like us when hear God’s call? (2X)

Stop focusing on myself and finish the race?  Who me, Lord?

Swim into deeper waters and trust you to support me? Who me, Lord?

The moment we get over our pretensions and really appreciate how much Christ has done for us, we want to tell the whole world.  When we do, we become spiritual lifeguards.

Scriptural Background

Our scripture lesson is taken from the book of Mark who recorded what is believed to be the witness of the Apostle Peter.  The story of the healing of a man with an unclean spirit appears in the three synoptic Gospels and in each case follows the account of the storm on the Galilee [1].  Mark’s version is the longest and offers details of obvious interest to a modern reader.  The length of Mark’s account is particularly striking because Mark wrote the shortest Gospel.  Why does Mark spend twice as much time on this particular story as does Matthew or Luke? [2]  (2X)

Uniqueness of Mark’s Account

Only in Mark, for example, do we learn that the crossing of the Galilee involved multiple boats and took place in the evening (Mark 4:35-36).  The storm on the Galilee inspired fear, in part, because it happened after dark.  Nightfall might also explain why Jesus was sleeping [3].

The Man with the Unclean Spirit

Two details suggest that Mark expressed great sympathy for the man with the unclean spirit [4].

The first detail is his use of the term, unclean spirit (ἄνθρωπος ἐν πνεύματι ἀκαθάρτω (Mark 5:2 BNT)).  By contrast, Matthew starts by saying the man is demonized (δαιμονιζόμενοι (Matt 8:28 BNT)) while Luke reports that he has a demon (ἀνήρ…ἔχων δαιμόνια (Luke 8:27 BNT)) [5].  The term, unclean spirit, is less judgmental and evokes the image of ritual impurity rather than demonic manipulation.

The second detail is also unique to Mark.  Only Mark tells us that this man cuts himself with stones (κατακόπτων ἑαυτὸν λίθοις (Mark 5:5 BNT)).  In other words, he was a cutter.

What is a Cutter?

In case you have never known a cutter, a cutter is someone, usually a young person, whose emotional pain is so deep that self-induced physical pain comes as a relief.  Cutters feel abandoned by their friends and family.  Cutters are not normally suicidal although they may accidentally kill themselves.  Mark gives us a picture of a young person in unbelievable anguish which is in sharp contrast with Matthew’s image of a raging, fearsome maniac (Matt 8:28) [6].

Can you feel the pain being communicated here?  (2X) If you could heal this kid, would you take the risk to step into his messy life and do it?

Moral Ambiguity

Other details in this passage evoke less pathos but focus more on moral ambiguity.  The synoptic Gospels, for example, differ on the location of this pericope but all place the location in Gentile territory known as the Decapolis, region of ten cities.  Mark and Luke locate this story in the Gerasene while Matthew cites the area of Gadara [7]. Scholars place the location at Gergesa, a relatively unknown location on the Sea of Galilee with a steep slope. The Gerasene and Gadara locations, while better known, are not on the Sea of Galilee [8].

In summary, the location, the man’s lack of clothing, his presence in a graveyard, the presence of demons, and the local raising of pigs (Lightfoot 1979, 254) all reinforce the image of the man as ritually unclean and probably a gentile.  The idea that this man was a gentile makes sense because Apostle Peter led the church in accepting gentile ministry (Acts 10).  Peter’s leadership in accepting gentiles into the church may also explain Mark’s special interest in this story.

Jesus’ Pathos

Jesus’ pathos for the pain of this young man is obvious.  There is a sense here that the man with the unclean spirit is the personification of unrepentant sinner undergoing a difficult conversion (Garland 1996, 212).  As the Apostle Paul put it:  If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17 ESV).  Through the story of this young man, Mark has painted a picture for us of both the old self and the new self in Christ (Eph 4:20-24).

Salvation Message

What does God’s salvation look like to you?  (2X)

The Apostle Paul described salvation in these words: if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved (Romans 10:9-10 ESV).

Exodus as Salvation

For me, salvation evokes memory of the Exodus story when God rescued the people of Israel and brought them out from the land of Egypt.  Remembering the Exodus, the Prophet Isaiah writes:  But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you (Isaiah 43:1-2 ESV).

Downing as a Metaphor

Have you ever felt in over your head?  Do the waters of life leave you grasping for life-preservers that are nowhere to be found?  Do you feel like Jonah trying to run away from God and end up being thrown overboard?   Here in Mark we find the disciples in a raging storm in the middle of the night on the Galilee.

As the Psalmist  writes:  Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.  Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven (Psalm 107:28-30 ESV).

The Lifeguard

Do you see the lifeguard at work?  (2X)

Jesus simply says:  “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm (Mark 4:39 ESV).  What’s the big excitement?  Where is your faith? Jesus asks.

But what if the storm in our lives is more personal?  (2X)

Postmodern Haunting

What if we find ourselves in a strange land, surrounded by strange people, confronting death or, worse, confronting people living hollow, haunted lives?

Jesus, why are you still here?  Jesus, why do you torment me?

But our lifeguard is still on duty.  Jesus asks:  what is your name?

Name?  We have many names!  What name would you like?  Anger? Depression?  Fear? Guilt? Grief?  Humiliation? Shame?

Our lifeguard simply says—you have my permission to give them up.

Anger…(snap) gone.  Depression…(snap) gone.  Fear…(snap) gone.  Grief…(snap) gone.  Guilt…(snap) gone.  Humiliation… (snap) gone.  Shame…(snap) gone.  Gone…gone…gone…(Snap 3 X)

But what happens when the storm is over?  Jesus says:  Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you (Mark 5:19 ESV).  We are called to be witnesses of our own healing and lifeguards for those around us.

Closing Story

Let me close with another story.

A woman by the name of Debra used to live outside my office when I worked downtown in Washington.  Debra lived on the sidewalk there outside my building for seven years—longer than I had worked there.  When I was feeling all full of myself and generous, I would visit with Debra and give her lunch money.  When I was mad at the world and feeling sorry for myself, I sneak out the building so as to avoid her.  I felt the judgment of God in her presence because I was rich, warm, and well-fed while she was poor, cold, and hungry.  For this reason, I prayed that God would cure her of her mental illness and cure me of my moral cowardice [9].

Confronted with someone in pain in a morally ambiguous situation, what do you do?  (2X)

Confronted with a young man in great emotional pain, Jesus set aside his own agenda and healed him.

Prayer

Almighty God.  Father of all compassion.  Beloved son.  Holy Spirit. Thank you for your presence in our lives.  Calm the storms that plague us.  Heal us of the names that haunt us.  Make us whole people created in your image.  Help us to model your love to the people around us.  In Jesus’ mighty name, amen.

Footnotes


[1]Mark 4:35-5:20, Matthew 8:18, 23-34, and Luke 8:22-39.  Note also the allusion in Revelations Rev 21:2. In each account the man with the unclean spirit declares Jesus to be the Son of God (Matt 8:29; Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28).

[2]The word count in Greek is approximately:  Mark (472), Luke (407), and Matthew (236).  This is shocking because the Book of Mark (12, 015) is the shortest compared with Luke (20,683) and Matthew (19,474) (BNT, BibleWorks).  This implies that almost 4 percent of the Mark text is devoted to this story while less than 2 percent is devoted in either Luke or Matthew.

[3]An episode of near drowning in a boat on the Galilee evokes a dramatic image of the exodus from Egypt—a communal baptism.  Because baptism is frequently thought of as a symbolic death and resurrection (Rom 6:4) which is similar to the allusion evoked in mental illness (Foucault 1988, 16), the storm on the Galilee is thematically related to story of the demoniacs that follows.  Both are also miracle stories and display Jesus’ authority (France 2007, 333).  By contrast, Saint Jerome (1977, 163) saw an allusion to the prophet Jonah (Garland 1996, 193).  Taken together, the literary argument is implicitly from the greater to the smaller, if Jesus can command the wind and waves, he can surely cast out demons in a possessed gentile.

[4]The OT provides at least two examples of demonic possession (Judges 9:23 and 1 Sam 16:14-16), but no exorcisms. Casting out demons is a NT innovation.  ἐκβάλλω (exorcise) is frequently used in this sense in the NT, but the LXX uses this word primarily in a military sense of driving one’s enemies out.  The allusion most likely in mind for a first-century Jewish audience is:  then the LORD will drive out [ἐκβαλεῖ] all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you (Deut 11:23 NIV).  ἐκβάλλω (BDAG 2328) . The only hint of a spiritual use of the word in the LXX arises in 2 Samuel 7:23 (driving out nations and their gods), Isa 2:20 (cast away his idols), and Jeremiah 23:31 (against the prophets).

[5]Even authors that question Jesus’ divinity acknowledge that he performed exorcisms (Sanders 1993, 149-154).   Porterfield (2005, 36-37) cites John Meier writing:  What made Jesus unusual, if no unique, was not simply his role as an exorcist but rather his integration of the roles of exorcist, moral teacher, gatherer of disciples, and eschatological prophet all into one person.  She also notes that in Mark, the first even in Jesus’ public life was the healing of a possessed man (Mark 1:23-27).   The early church routinely performed exorcisms as part of the baptism ritual and exorcist was a church office, much like elder or deacon.  For example, see (Hippolytus AD 215, 21:10; Cyprian AD 250).

[6]Because Mark is thought to be recording the experiences of the Apostle Peter, is this sympathetic view of this man a reflection of the heart of the Apostle Peter for the mentally ill?

[7]France (2007, 340) reconciles this discrepancy citing Josephus (Life, 42) who places Gerasene within the jurisdiction of Gadara—a Roman stronghold .  This is more subtle way to make a political inference than naming the demons:  Legion (the name of a Roman military unit).  Later manuscript variants explicitly substitute the Gerasene for Gadara in the Matthew account suggesting that the inference may have been too subtle for a gentile audience to pick up.

[8]Schnabel (2004, 255-256) writes:  Gergesa is identified with ancient Chorsia and located near ruins of modern Tel el-Kurst (Kersa) situated on Wadi Sermakh on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, an area that belonged to the Decapolis.  Near Tel el-Kursi there is a steep slope toward to the lake….A localization in Gergesa, a small and insignificant settlement, could well have been changed by a copyist in West to the well-known city “Gerasa,”  which copyists in the East would have “corrected” to “Gadara.”

[9] Foucault (1988, 26) sees mental illness as a metaphor for death (p. 16) and as a mirror on society.

References

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Ed. Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. <BibleWorks. v.8.>.

BibleWorks. Norfolk: BibleWorks, LLC., 2011. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

Cyprian.  Epistle XVI. Translated By Ernest Wallis.  Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. ANF5.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.  In BibleWorks, V.8. AD 250.

Foucault, Michel.  1988.  Madness and Civilization:  A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. New York:  Vintage Books.

France, R.T.  2002. The Gospel of Mark.  New International Greek Testament Commentary.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

France, R.T.  2007. The Gospel of Matthew.  New International Commentary on the New Testament.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

Garland, David E.  1996.  The NIV Application Commentary:  Mark.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Hippolytus.  The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome. Translated by Kevin P. Edgecomb.  Cited:  31 March 2010.  Online:  http://www.bombaxo.com/hippolytus.html, AD 215.

Jerome.  Commentaire Sur S. Matthieu (398).  Translated from Latin into French by Emile Bonnard.  Paris:  École Normale Supérieure, 1977.

Josephus.  Life of Flavius Josephus.  1:42. In BibleWorks, V.8.

Lightfoot, John.  1979. A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica Matthew – I Corinthians (1859).  Vol. 1.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House.

Porterfield, Amanda.  2005. Healing in the History of Christianity.  New York:  Oxford University Press.

Sanders, E.P.  1993.  The Historical Figure of Jesus.  New York: Penguin Books.

Schnabel, Eckhard J.  2004.  Early Christian Mission.  Downers Grove:  InterVarsity Press.

Becoming a Spiritual Lifeguard,

Mark 4:35-5:20

Also see:

Prayer for Shalom 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

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Unity in Christ’s Mission

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This past summer at General Assembly (GA) in Pittsburgh, I served as a Theological Student Advisory Delegate (TSAD) representing Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS) in Charlotte, NC.  One of the highlights of GA for me was getting to meet both outgoing moderator, Cindy Bolbach, and incoming moderator, Neal D. Presa.  Neal later contacted me about serving on GA committee looking at the Belhar Confession (Belhar)[1] which I was unfortunately unable to follow up on because of my commitment to finish seminary.

Belhar arose as the South African Churches began to reflect on their role during the apartheid years (1948 to 1994).  The confession remarkably anticipated the abolishment of apartheid rather than simply ratified it. The Dutch Reformed Mission Church formally adopted Belhar in 1986[2].  By contrast, the secular response to Jim Crow legislation (the U.S. template for apartheid) was the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which the PCUSA ratified in the Confession of 1967.

Reflecting on Belhar, the question arose.  What are the core principles of the PCUSA and how would Belhar enhance them?  Core principles normally reflect one’s deepest, jointly-held convictions. The Confession of 1967 guides our reflections on questions similar to Belhar. Does putting forward Belhar again suggest that we should amend the Confession of 1967?

The real story in South Africa is not that white churches adopted a confession; the real story is that they threw their doors open to all of God’s children.  What led these churches into revival?

Part of the South African revival story is a mission story.  A recent book by Rollin Grams, Stewards of Grace:  A Reflective, Mission Biography of Eugene and Phyllis Grams in South Africa, 1951-1962[3] documents part of this story.  Rollin is an NT scholar at GCTS and the son of Pentecostal missionaries, Eugene and Phyllis Grams, who labored most of their careers in South Africa among the black townships before it was politically safe to do so. Rollin writes their story in their own words. The book is, however, more than an oral history or a travel diary. Salted throughout the book are asides (he calls them capsules) to explain to a non-Pentecostal audience what is going on.  Far from dry, Rollin poses a sense of humor that makes the stories come alive.

An absence of priorities, not confession refinement, remains the PCUSA’s biggest challenge. Our membership is growing older and our young people are not joining the church.  Furthermore, our members are mostly Caucasian and wealthy while the young people in our communities are increasingly multi-ethnic and poor.  In this sense, the journey of the white churches in South Africa is also our journey—even my own personal journey during seminary.  How do we move from ratification to reformation?  What will lead our churches into revival?

This month Centreville Presbyterian Church welcomed its new associate pastor, the Reverend Dr. Jesse Mabanglo.  Like Neal Presa, Pastor Jesse hails from the Philippines.


[1]Download Belhar at: www.pcusa.org/resource/belhar-confession.

[2]Belhar is now one of the standards of unity of the new Uniting Reformed Church of Southern Africa.  Closer to home, the Reformed Church in America adopted it as a confession in 2010.

[3]Rollin Grams. 2010.  Stewards of Grace:  A Reflective, Mission Biography of Eugene and Phyllis Grams in South Africa, 1951-1962.  Eugene:  Wipf and Stock.

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Can You Drink the Cup? by Henri J. M. Nouwen

Henri J. M. Nouwen.  2006.  Can You Drink the Cup?  Notre Dame:  Ave Maria Press.

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

When a friend of mine in Christ recommended this book, I was surprised and happy to take the recommendation.  I thought that I had read all of Henri Nouwen’s books. The book’s dedication to the l’Arche Daybreak Community here in Northern Virginia added special meaning for me because a friend of mine worked and lived there.

In this book, Nouwen talks at length about his personal history, particularly his ordination. From the age of six, Nouwen wanted to be a priest and he was ordained as Roman Catholic priest on July 21, 1957 in the Netherlands (16). As a gift for his ordination, his uncle gave him a chalice (20). “Can You Drink the Cup?” is a book structured around the metaphor of drinking wine.

The book starts with citing Matthew 20:20-23. In this passage, the mother of Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, comes to Jesus to request that her sons be given seats at the left and right of Jesus when he comes into his kingdom. Jesus denies the request posing a question: “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matt 20:22 ESV).

Nouwen sees the cup as a symbol of our life. He asks: “Can we hold the cup of life in our hands? Can be lift it up for others to see, and can we drink it to the full?” (24) Nouwen structures his book around these three themes: “holding, lifting, and drinking” (25).

Holding. Nouwen comments: “drinking wine is more than just drinking. You have to know what you are drinking and be able to talk about it” (29). (Now I know why I prefer beer!) In talking about this holding of the cup, Nouwen talks about the joys and sorrows of living and working with special needs people. Nouwen writes: “Joys are hidden in sorrows!” (56) In my own work with Alzheimer’s patients, I have come to know both the joy of walking with them and the deep sorrow, deep abandonment they feel.

Lifting. Nouwen writes: “Lifting up the cup is an invitation to affirm and celebrate life together” (61). The symbolism here is not only the toast and the word that are spoken, but the celebration, especially the celebration of communion. A toast is a blessing (68). In Spanish, a blessing is a good word (bendición) and a curse is a bad word (maldición). In the biblical world where worlds are created and destroyed by God’s word, one learns to choose one’s words carefully.

Drinking. Nouwen reminds us that offering a drink to a visitor is a basic act of hospitality (86). Being willing to share is another way of saying that one accepts one’s status in life. At what point do we reach that point? A resident of L’Arche, Gordie, asked Nouwen: “Why are people leaving all the time?” (93). This question cuts to the core of pastoral ministry. As an intern, I was happy to work with Alzheimer’s patients but Gordie’s question cut to core–could I, as Nouwen did, give up the fast track and just simply work in a home with Alzheimer’s patients? What level of sacrifice are we willing to offer? What about our families?

As a seminarian, I found “Can You Drink the Cup?” very convicting. Perhaps, you will too.

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Resting in God, Psalm 23:2

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Riverside Presbyterian Church, Sterling, VA

Invocation

Lord God, heavenly King, loving Father – Rest with us this morning. In the power of your Holy Spirit, inspires the words that are spoken and illuminate the words heard. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Introduction

Monday, February 12, 2007 was a long day for me.

Driving on Route 66 halfway to Washington at about 6:40 a.m., I received a phone call from my mother. She told me that my sister, Diane, had suffered a heart attack and stroke. She is asking for her brothers. After the call from mom, I turned around and headed back to Centreville. A few minutes later, I picked up my brother and we drove to an unfamiliar hospital in Philadelphia. Upon arriving at the hospital at the end of the morning I found my parents. My sister was in a bed on life support. Unfortunately, it was too late. Diane had left us.

We read together Psalm 23, we said goodbye to Diane, and prayed.

Psalm 23 is familiar and powerful. Why do we find comfort resting with God?

Passage

He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters (Psalm 23:2 ESV).

Anyone familiar with the Middle East knows that green pastures are hard to find and wars fought over scarce water resources. The desserts are best known for nasty weeds and drought. So when our verse speaks of green pastures and still waters, the psalmist makes an allusion to the Garden of Eden, one of the biblical visions of heaven. Listen to the words in Genesis:

And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.  And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers (Gen 2:8-10 ESV).

Eden pictures restoration. Here the world’s corruption is not present. Nor there is no sin. We are in full communion with God. There is no death, there is no fear. Here we find peace in the biblical sense of Shalom, which means not only the absence of conflict, but also a fullness of spirit caused by communion with God himself.

Consequently, resting with God gives comfort deeper than just green grass and clear water, because all conflicts and struggles have been eliminated.

He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters (Psalm 23:2 ESV).

Interpretation

The theme of rest appears in the New Testament. Jesus said: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (ἀναπαύσω (BNT), Matthew 11:28 ESV). The author of Hebrews expands on this idea and uses the word, rest, four times with four different meanings. Listen for the four uses of rest in Hebrews 4.

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.  For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.  For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,'” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world.  For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” (Heb 4:1-4 ESV)

These four lines are dense. We could have a Sunday school class on nothing but these four verses. By the end, we see the word, rest, interpreted four different ways: physical rest, Sabbath rest, rest in the Promised Land, and heavenly rest. Please stay with me when I explained why. Vaya conmigo!

The story begins in the Greek text with the word for the rest: κατάπαυσις.  Here is the only place in the New Testament where it is used. However, the text refers to two passages from the Old Testament: Genesis 2 and Psalm 95. Allow me a few minutes to look at these passages.

Genesis 2. This passage is familiar because God rests on the seventh day. Here rest means to stop working. If you think about it, however, this idea seems strange. Ask yourself: was God physically tired when He rested on the seventh day? OBVIOUSLY NOT:  exhaustion is a problem for us, not for God. God was never physically tired from creating. Maybe God stopped creating for spending time with us (2X) (Murray 1996, 159-60).

Psalm 95. This Psalm is less familiar. We read in verses 10-11: forty years I was angry with that generation, and said: For forty years I loathed that generation and said, They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways. Therefore I swore in my wrath, They shall not enter my rest. (Psalm 95:10-11 ESV)

The rest here is a metaphor for the Promised Land. The generation of Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land, they could not enter into the rest of God, because they did not believe that God would keep his word (2X) (Murray 1996, 156).

In Hebrews 4 includes a mystery. Why does the author say that the promise of rest still stands? When this book was written, the people of Israel had lived in Palestine for a long time. How could the author say that the promise of the Promised Land is still standing? The image here is of Jesus as our new Joshua who leads us from this earth to heaven (Murray 1996, 160-61). Here we find heavenly rest.

So we see the word, the rest played four ways in Hebrews 4:  physical rest, Sabbath rest, rest in the Promised Land, and heavenly rest – a return to Eden. Each of these inferences applies also to Psalm 23.

Application

Christian psychologist Henry Cloud, asks the question: which values ​​are not optional in your life? (2X) Our deepest values ​​are not the most urgent, but they determine the quality of your life and are easily overlooked (Cloud 2008, 133-142).

How can we rest as God intended? Three are obvious: practice physical rest, observe Sabbath rest, and mediate on heaven.

First:  Practice Physical Rest. The obvious place to start is the physical rest. If you want to feel more holy, take a nap (2X). People hurried have decreased ability to love God and neighbor. Hurry is not just a messy schedule, but a messy heart (Ortberg 2002, 72, 79, 81). Practice physical rest.

Second: Observe Sabbath Rest. Spend quality time with your family in front of God.  As the psalmist writes:  Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! (Psalm 46:10 ESV).  Abraham Heschel (2005, 15) describes the Sabbath as:  a palace in time that we build (2X). Observe Sabbath rest.

Third: Mediate on Heaven. Heaven is two important things: a place where God lives and our eternal destiny. Because we know that the future lies with Christ, we can afford to take greater risks in life to bring heaven to earth. C.S. Lewis (2001, 134) writes: If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were those who thought most of the next. Mediate on heaven.

In short, the rest practiced three classes: physical rest practice, observe Sabbath rest, and mediate on heaven.

Prayer

Almighty Father. Thank you for the spiritual gift of rest. Help us to rest with you now and always. In the power of your Holy Spirit, guide our thoughts and keep us close to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

REFERENCES

Brueggemann, Walter.  1984.  The Message of the Psalms:  A Theological Commentary.  Minneapolis:  Augsburg.

Cloud, Henry.  2008. The One-Life Solution:  Reclaim Your Personal Life While Achieving Greater Professional Success.  New York:  Harper Business.

Heschel, Abraham Joshua.  2005.  The Sabbath (Orig. Pub. 1951).  New York:  Farrar, Straus, and Ciroux.

Lane, William.  1985.  Hebrews:  A Call to Commitment.  Vancouver:  Regent College Publishing.

Lewis, C.S.  2001.  Mere Christianity (Orig. Pub.1952).  New York:  HarperCollins.

Murray, Andrew. 1996.  The Holiest of All (Orig. Pub. 1894).  New Kensington: Whitaker House.

Ortberg, John.  2002.  The Life You’ve Always Wanted:  Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

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The Wisdom of God. A Meditation on Alzheimer’s Disease

Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Wisdom of God. A Meditation on Alzheimer’s Disease

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Sometimes we experience God in unexpected places.

How do we minister to those who no longer speak?

God tells Moses in the burning bush:  I AM WHO I AM (Exod 3:14). In the Hebrew, the words are actually:  אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה (Exodus 3:14 WTT).  Literally, this means:  I will be that I will be.  God chooses who He will be.  We like to choose, but often don’t get to.

Notice that God does not tell us that being requires speaking.

If you think about it, we actually spend very little time during our lives speaking much of anything.  Most of us sleep about eight hours every day.  When we are young, we scream, we smile, we laugh, we cry, and we sleep a lot but we do not really say much of anything.  When we are old, we revert to the sleeping mode again.  But like God, we are present, but we are mostly silent.

The silence of God is both a blessing and a curse.

When God is silent, we are able to speak and find our voice.  How would we ever grow as individuals, if God did all the talking?  Our identities would be muted because God is all knowing and all powerful.  But we know that God is not a big talker because heaven is full of singing.  As we read in Revelations, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him saying:   Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created (Revelations 4:10-11 ESV)[1].

Yet, when God remains silent, we perish.  The Psalmist writes:  You have seen, O LORD; be not silent! O Lord, be not far from me! (Psalm 35:22 ESV).  The silence of God comes to us as judgment, in part, because He alone can act to save us from our own folly.

The Apostle Paul writes: For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor 1:22-25 ESV).

It seems foolish to us that God would speak to us mostly without words on the cross.  Yet, in not speaking, He said everything.


[1]For Alzheimer’s patients, singing and dancing are startlingly therapeutic.  If you have a relative suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, try singing the Doxology (or any other familiar tune) to them and see for yourself.

Also see:

Brackey: Look for Moments of Joy (https://wp.me/p8RkfV-VY)

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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